Do England have a clear game plan in the subcontinent? As they lost their fifth Test of 2012 (seven defeats in total this year) in such conditions, it looked very doubtful. It’s never good when your team selection is open to vehement questioning after the first hour’s play on the first day of a series…
England under Andy Flower have a clear preference for a bowling unit comprising three quicks and one spinner. The occasions that they have ventured from this haven’t always gone according to plan. Off the top of my head, the 2009 Ashes Tests in Cardiff and Leeds, the final two Tests of the UAE tour this year and the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle. The rearguard draw in Cardiff is the pick of the results, here.
The first Test in the UAE also witnessed the now traditional four man attack. Stuart Broad and James Anderson were joined by Chris Tremlett. Graeme Swann cut a lone figure in the spin department whilst Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman ran riot for Pakistan.
This wrong selection got England off to the worst possible start in the series and a 3-0 whitewash ensued. Fast forward to Ahmedabad and we witness history repeating itself. Swann bowled virtually unaided, Samit Patel, at best a part timer at this level, had to get through a lot more overs than England would have wished.
The camera kept zooming in on Monty Panesar sat in a training top on the sidelines. What Alastair Cook would have given for him after watching Broad, Anderson and Tim Bresnan serve up a veritable feast for the reinvigorated Virender Sehwag.
England’s formula looked tired and predictable, as it had done in the UAE and at home to South Africa this summer. The rigidness of selection now looks stubborn. This is the greatest challenge of Flower’s coaching career. He needs to start over.
Yet, for all the moaning about the make up of the bowling attack, it matters not who bowls if your batsmen can’t score any runs. Being dismissed for 191 in the first innings is where England lost the game, not in the sloppy bowling (Swann exempted) and fielding display.
England’s batsmen have looked devoid of a strategy against top quality spin. Alastair Cook and Matt Prior thankfully showed some application in England’s second innings in Ahmedabad, but the damage had been done and the middle order, 2011’s engine room, is misfiring.
Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Samit Patel all had Tests to forget. Bell’s lunacy in the first innings highlighted the ineptitude of the preparation for these conditions. Pietersen couldn’t settle on a method so produced madness and Patel both benefitted and was punished by poor umpiring. One wouldn’t question Trott, but he is short of runs right now.
Has Graham Gooch deployed the correct training methods to his charges? Last year England comprehensively won the Ashes in Australia, batting on flat, hard tracks. Then they defeated Sri Lanka and India at home. The spin friendly conditions encountered in 2012 seem to have caught them by surprise and wrecked their confidence.
Hopefully England have learnt from Ahmedabad and will improve in Mumbai. Of 22 Tests played at the Wankhede, only seven have been draws. If England get it so wrong again, the series will be unwinnable by this time next week.
By Miles Reucroft