Home is not so comforting after all as Dhoni's plan backfires
12:19 GMT, 27 November 2012
England v India – pictures
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One of England’s most famous wins must also rank as one of India’s most wretched defeats. This series, if local TV is to be believed, was all about revenge – not just for fact of the 4-0 loss in 2011, but for the manner of it, played out in what many Indians have convinced themselves were conditions tailored for an English triumph.
And so India, egged on by MS Dhoni, decided two could play at that game. They denied England any meaningful practice against spin during the three warm-up games – a tactic akin to county sides picking four slow bowlers at home against India – and chose three frontline tweakers for the first time in a Test since the visit of Australia in 2003-04.
Dhoni even expressed dissatisfaction with the pitch at Ahmedabad, despite it being precisely the kind of surface on which England have traditionally struggled: slow, ankle-low, flat as a roti.
Back to the drawing board: Dhoni's plan to spin England out backfired spectacularly
More from Lawrence Booth…
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The Top Spin: Why India are clinging to faith in England's ineptitude against spin
The Top Spin: England's batsmen show they are still struggling to get to grips with spin
The Top Spin: England voyage into the unknown on a wing and a prayer
The Top Spin: Bears, Twitter and textgate… a review of the summer that was
The Top Spin: KP's England future is more dependent on his attitude than he may realise
The Top Spin: Strauss's future uncertain after mid-table mediocrity takes hold at precisely the wrong moment
VIEW FULL ARCHIVE
Had he really wanted to rub English noses in it, he would have demanded three more pitches just like that one. Instead, eyes lit up in the first over of the Test, when Jimmy Anderson – as well as removing Gautam Gambhir – had Matt Prior taking the ball above his shoulder.
Bounce: it’s the one ingredient designed to bring England into a Test match in Asia, because it encourages both strokeplay and attacking spin bowlers. India, it turns out, have only one: Pragyan Ojha. England, miracle of miracles, have two.
In the post-match press conference Dhoni stuck manfully to his line about wanting Indian pitches to turn from the first ball, because – he says – this renders the toss less important. Either he’s being genuinely philanthropic or hopelessly disingenuous. Lamentably for India, Plan A backfired. And there was no Plan B.
India can quite obviously still win this series, but it might do their long-term prospects the world of good if they stopped taking refuge in the old chestnut of home advantage.
Let’s rewind for a moment to 2011, the series in which England supposedly knocked them over on a succession of obliging greentops.
Lord’s, the venue for the first Test, is no such thing. It happens to be one of the truest surfaces in the world. India’s problem in that game was the early injury to an unfit Zaheer Khan.
At Trent Bridge, India twice blew match-winning positions, reducing England to 124 for 8 on the first day, then eyeing up a decisive first-innings lead when they reached 267 for 4 themselves. That they lost by 319 runs had little to do with the conditions.
Famous win: England twice came from behind to beat India at Trent Bridge last year
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At Edgbaston, England scored 710 for 7 against an Indian attack containing three seamers. Again, if that really was a seaming track, it was simply the case that India failed to exploit it.
And at The Oval, they lost seven wickets after tea on the final day on a typically flat Kennington pitch and with the game ripe for the saving.
But the narrative that emerged from that series was a convenient one: India had been diddled by home advantage. What hope did they have
At Edgbaston, Gautam Gambhir suggested life would be less congenial for England when they arrived in India. And at Ahmedabad, it most certainly was. Yet England, to their eternal credit, refused to panic, even if Stuart Broad betrayed their tetchiness on Twitter.
Here, though, we come to another twist: England’s win in Mumbai was essentially the work of four men, with a little help from Nick Compton. And all four played out of their skins.
Bowled him: Gautam Gambhir loses his wicket at Edgbaston last year
To apply the law of averages, you might think Alastair Cook is due a failure at Kolkata after scoring 357 runs at 119 in the first two Tests, while Kevin Pietersen’s extra-terrestrial innings tend not to occur more than once a series. (This is not a dig, just an observation.)
Equally, it remains unclear who should partner Anderson as the second seamer at Eden Gardens. Will Steven Finn be fit Will Broad be in the right frame of mind Will Tim Bresnan even be considered
Just as the Ahmedabad win glossed over India’s own deficiencies, so Mumbai runs the risk of over-inflating England. The champagne-glass half-full will have tasted sweet last night.
But the glass half-empty tells you that the normally grounded Jonathan Trott looks at sea against spin, Ian Bell will have to start again – assuming he returns in place of Jonny Bairstow – and Samit Patel is yet to make a serious impact.
And that is the beauty of a Test series longer than three matches. This series has time for the subplots to work their magic or do their worst. England can either make history – or repeat it.
THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS
No laughing matter
Even in the aftermath of England’s historic win in Mumbai came a sense of the touchiness that has been close to the surface ever since the loss in Ahmedabad. Speaking about England’s constant claims over the past few months about how their batting has improved against spin, Alastair Cook suggested that ‘you guys were probably laughing a little bit’ – as if the media were walking around revelling in the latest collapse.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s no fun writing the same old story time and again. If there was any laughter at the Wankhede, it came from a mixture of pleasure and relief: the best tale is the most unexpected one.
Backs to the wall: Cook felt the media were against England after Ahmedabad
Enough is enough
What has happened to the umpiring in this series At times, the lbw and bat-pad decisions have resembled guesswork. When Aleem Dar turned down Monty Panesar’s appeal for the wicket of Pragyan Ojha, who had gloved him to backward short leg, he almost deserved our sympathy.
While the BCCI’s objection to the DRS looks more absurd by the howler, could it be that umpires who have grown used to officiating with the comfort blanket of technology have subsequently lost their bearings without it With DRS, a mistake does not remain a mistake for long; without it, the pressure is on. The need for the ICC’s other Full Members to drag India into line is more urgent than ever. Don’t hold your breath.
A twisted kind of logic
Why does Kevin Pietersen’s for-the-ages 186 demand an apology from those who suggested England were right to drop him in the summer Answer: it doesn’t. It takes a wilfully bone-headed type of logic to claim that KP has shown England what they have been missing, since he was never dropped for a lack of runs in the first place.
Beer we go: England celebrate their win in Mumbai
If that proves a little tricky to grasp, then this should be more straightforward: it was Pietersen himself who retired from one-day international and Twenty20 cricket, Pietersen himself who warned that the Lord’s Test against South Africa could be his last. The one good thing to come from the texting furore was that it brought to a head tensions that had been simmering for months. Now, can we just get on with enjoying the rest of his career
Let’s hear it for Tests
On the same day that England were beating India in Mumbai, South Africa completed a fantastic rearguard in Adelaide, where Test debutant Faf du Plessis batted for 14 minutes short of eight hours to make a mockery of those who claimed the game was already Australia’s. The two matches had as much in common as the batting of Cook and Pietersen – yet both contrasts were a reminder of the endless fascination of Test cricket. We’re lucky to have it.