After a day England's bowlers would rather forget against Mumbai A, Stuart Broad added injury to insult by having a scan on a problematic left ankle to leave their attack looking vulnerable 10 days before the first Test. With Steve Finn already struggling to be fit in time for the opening Test in Ahmedabad on November 15 - the medical team are targeting the second Test for him to be fit - Broad's problem could potentially leave England short of pace and bounce.
Although Stuart Meaker has been called up as cover, those already in the squad, such as Graham Onions and Tim Bresnan, neither of them fast or particularly tall, are likely to be called upon first. Though wicketless from 10 overs, Broad, England's acting captain against Mumbai A, did not look particularly compromised when he bowled on Sunday. He did, however, operate in short spells, the briefest being the one over after tea following which he left the field for four overs. At that point Alastair Cook came on as 12th man to captain the side before Broad returned until the close.
A spokesman for the England and Wales Cricket Board denied Broad had a problem going into the game and said that the injury to his ankle was a fresh one. Being tall and fast, there is large amount of force going through Broad's left ankle every ball he bowls, so even a niggle would be likely to compromise him. A prognosis is expected later.
Before Broad's problem, England's bowling looked so toothless they would have spent most of the day wishing Finn was fit. At one stage Finn, who injured himself in the first warm-up match, jogged on as 12th man to bring his ailing colleagues a drink, which suggests his thigh muscle must be on the mend, but that was about as lively as it got for both the fast bowler and his team-mates as Cheteshwar Pujara and Hiken Shah made 87 and 84 respectively.
Rather than worry about facing spinners with men around the bat, the big challenge for England teams on the benign Indian pitches has always been about how to take 20 wickets. Yesterday, England conned the umpire with their first dismissal while Joe Root took the second. After that, an attack that included James Anderson and Broad were hard pushed to even beat the bat, though Anderson did strike in the final over of the day with the second new ball.
You might argue that is good practice for what lies ahead but it does not take much before a lack of success spills over into despondency. This was Mumbai A and while Pujara is likely to be India's No?3 when their squad is announced today, it was first-class in name only. Apart from Finn's extra pace, which was not available to them, England tried everything from run-deprivation, reverse swing, short-pitched bowling and spin at both ends, but nothing threatened for long. It might have helped if Anderson had taken a sharp chance off Monty Panesar when Pujara was 22, but Pujara and Shah continued largely untroubled.
"I hadn't faced many of England's bowlers before, so it was important I got some practice against them before the Tests," Pujara said. "I was pretty comfortable against all of them."
With a grip that chokes down on the handle, Pujara's style is based on steady accumulation. With only five Tests to his name, runs against England will have boosted his confidence, or that was the impression given his willingness to speak his mind. "It won't be the same in the Test match, because I think the intensity will be higher," Pujara said. "I think their fielding wasn't quite up to the mark here but it will be in the Test," he added.
Pujara was also candid about Root's off-breaks which, despite dismissing left-hander Shikhar Dhawan, Pujara felt were a work in progress. Panesar was his pick of the England bowlers, which was unsurprising given he had got him out caught at slip. Broad might have made it easier for his bowlers by declaring overnight and taking advantage of the swing that seems to happen in the first hour but not once the sun has burnt off the haze. But he decided to bat on and get some time at the crease instead, neither of which worked as he, Samit Patel and Onions fell in quick succession for just seven runs. Actually, Onions did not feel he had edged his caught behind decision but that injustice was evened up when the same umpire upheld his speculative appeal for an edge off Bhavin Thakkar.
India has a way of levelling things out and with one stinker of a day behind them England will expect better things from now on. At least that is what they will be hoping starting with Finn and Broad's injuries.