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England vs India: It does not come worse than that

Sunday, 18 November 2012 - 8:55am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
First-innings runs are key in India so the pressure on England's batsmen will be huge for rest of the tour.

England's first innings was the worst possible start to a tour to India. It has put the batsmen under huge pressure for the rest of the trip and opened up the floodgates about playing against spin.

It was encouraging that they staged a mini-recovery in the -second innings but I still think England will lose.

It is an English trait that they allow panic to set in before playing better at a point in the match when they have no choice but to improve, which is why it is bittersweet that they put up a fight in the second innings.

I have said all along that first-innings runs are massive in India otherwise you are chasing the game and that is going to be England's problem.

This time the collapse was not caused by outstanding bowling or a minefield of a pitch and that will be a concern for Andy Flower. This was not Muttiah Muralitharan bowling into massive footholes or Shane Warne at his best.

It was not even Saeed Ajmal. Ravi Ashwin is just a good spinner with a carrom ball and there is no mystery about Pragyan Ojha, he is a left-armer with a Test average of 30 from 17 games.

Apart from Nick Compton, this is an England team experienced in Asian conditions. Obviously it is hard going out when the opposition have 500 on the board but when we were successful in the subcontinent under Duncan Fletcher in 2000 we had a game- plan and stuck with it. We worked out a method of surviving and making the opposition fight for wickets. Bat for time, and that comes down to defence and concentration.

In the subcontinent you have to give yourself a chance to gauge the conditions. Set a target. Bat for 15 minutes or get to 10 just to give yourself the opportunity to know the pitch and send a message that you are calm at the crease.

Ian Bell trying to hit over the top first ball was just down to mental weakness. When he starts playing those shots first ball then he is panicking and not trusting his game. When you lose trust in your game it takes a lot of soul searching to get it back.

I am worried about him because that shot was a real eye opener for me. Perhaps going home for the birth of his child is on his mind. He is a sensitive soul who needs an arm around his shoulder. He is doing the right thing by going home. Family must come first. However, it gives a chance to Jonny Bairstow and he might not get back in the side.

Kevin Pietersen fell yet again to a left-arm spinner and some of his old technical faults crept in to his game. He started opening up again on the on side with his shoulders and feet miles away from the ball. You need to keep dead still, square up and play the ball with spin to extra cover or mid-off. With a -stable base position you have more control and a better chance of sur-viving the ball that spins past the bat.

Kevin just goes through troughs when his technique unravels and that could be why he was looking to be aggressive. He was trying to play his natural game and send a message. It will come off. At some point he will manage a big innings in this series but the left-armers, Ojha and Yuvraj Singh, will be there at every turn.

This tour will not necessarily make or break careers but if they want to play in the subcontinent again these players cannot come home for Christmas not being able to play spin. The coaches can only do so much but they were praised when England were top of the world so they have to take some responsibility now, which I am sure Andy will accept.

The coaches did as much as they could in terms of preparation. But warm-ups mean nothing. The pressure of playing Test cricket, going out to bat when there is 500 on the board is hard. It is a mental challenge you have to solve on your own. The coaches cannot do anything for you at that point. It is time to think for yourself.

The way forward was shown by England's captain, Alastair Cook: a strong defence, rotate the strike, and know your boundary options. Don't worry about men around the bat. Top players do not care if there are close fielders.

Darren Lehmann was a genius against spin. He loved having men around the bat because it opens up gaps in the field. He knew he could defend and with so many wide open spaces he could hit the bad ball for four. He used to think it was Christmas.

At least Cook will have gone to bed last night feeling a bit more confident. He is already respected in the team but by fighting back

in the final session the other -players will have given him a nod of approval when he walked back into the dressing room. Leading from the front in tough circumstances is what it is all about. The other players now have to follow.

 


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