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England face fight to overturn form and history books

Tuesday, 20 November 2012 - 3:18pm IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: The Daily Telegraph
England's comprehensive defeat by India in the opening Test has left them an even bigger hurdle than the one faced by Alastair Cook and Matt Prior when trying, but ultimately failing, to save this match.

England's comprehensive defeat by India in the opening Test has left them an even bigger hurdle than the one faced by Alastair Cook and Matt Prior when trying, but ultimately failing, to save this match.

India have only lost a Test series once at home after winning the opening game and that was to David Gower's England in 1984-85.

In fact, only two visiting teams have even come back to draw a series after losing the first game here, New Zealand in 1969-70 and the West Indies in 1994-95, the home side having won the opening Test of a series 21 times. Rather than point to recovery for Cook's team, history suggests this is another campaign that will flounder in the heat and dust.

It is certainly difficult to know what England must do to turn things around except to bat and bowl much better than they did, especially in the first innings. And yet Cook and Prior, who made 176 and 91 respectively in England's second innings in a valiant attempt to save the game, are unlikely to bat as well again in the series.

Others will, but they start from such a low base that any gains will not necessarily improve England's lot. Changes are guaranteed for the next Test, which starts in Mumbai on Friday, and not just because of the nine-wicket defeat which, Cook admitted, suggested they picked the wrong side.

Ian Bell has returned home for the birth of his first child, an event likely to coincide with the second Test. However, his decision to take an earlier flight yesterday before the match had concluded was poor form. Bell had an abysmal match, looking as ill at ease against spin as he did against Pakistan earlier in the year. Jonny Bairstow deserves the chance to replace him in Mumbai, after his 95 and 54 in his last Test against South Africa in August, but England may want to play Eoin Morgan to break up the sequence of right-handers in a middle order which had a stinker here. Over two innings, the efforts of Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Bell and Samit Patel contributed just 68 runs with Pragyan Ojha's left-arm spin claiming half of the eight wickets they represent.

In Ahmedabad, England were without the injured Steven Finn and chose a bowling attack they felt represented their traditional strengths rather than the one the conditions dictated. At the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai, the pitches are composed of red soil which locals say will turn, especially if India's captain, MS Dhoni, gets his way. Given Finn should be fit, England will probably want to play him and Monty Panesar, though getting both into the XI could be tricky.

Mumbai has been known to swing so James Anderson must play, as will Graeme Swann, the only man who looked like taking wickets in Ahmedabad. That means unless Patel is dropped, following two low scores after dodgy lbw decisions, Bresnan and Stuart Broad will be the ones to make way, a big call given Broad has just been appointed vice-captain.

Whatever options are taken, the tail is likely to be lengthened, though it looked long enough yesterday (Monday) once Cook and Prior were dismissed.

After almost two sessions defying India's spinners on Sunday, the pair needed to stay together at least until halfway through the afternoon session for England to have any chance of escape. Instead they managed 50 minutes before Ojha caught and bowled Prior, the ball sticking in the pitch a fraction longer than the batsman anticipated as he neither attacked nor defended off the back foot.

'Get one, get two or three' would have been Dhoni's rallying cry before the start and nine runs later Ojha had added Cook to the nine scalps he took in the match, bowling the left-hander as he played back to one he should have been forward to. It was a rare misjudgment but Dhoni may have played a part by bringing in a leg gully for that very ball, a position that made Cook mindful of lunging forward as he had been doing.

With the inspiration behind England's fightback gone, the others appeared unsure how to play things. Broad was caught and bowled by Umesh Yadav, trying to turn the ball to leg, a dismissal that attracted some verbals from Ojha and Virat Kohli after Broad tapped the pitch on his slow crawl back to the pavilion, his suggestion being that the ball went through the top (it did not).

Swann then batted with the insouciance of a man who knew the game was up and whose place was not in jeopardy, the opposite of Bresnan, who played with care until drilling a catch to extra cover where the substitute fielder, on for Gautam Gambhir who had returned to Delhi the previous day after the death of his grandmother, took a fine diving catch.

Needing 77 to win, Virender Sehwag and Cheteshwar Pujara set off in a hail of boundaries as they sought to ram home the massive scale of their advantage. Sehwag perished in the process, when Pietersen caught him off Swann with balletic precision on the long-on boundary, but Pujara continued the torment he applied in the first innings to see India home in 15.3 overs and into a historically daunting one-nil series lead.




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