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England arrived in Bangladesh full of hope following what was a relatively successful home summer. They were touted as a side capable of regaining the number one test ranking despite an unsettled top order prone to collapse and a fast bowling cartel short of form but not of experience. They move on to India now as rank outsiders following an ego bruising tour of Bangladesh that has seen the cricketing world turn its back on them. A similar fate suffered by the Australian side after they were handed a rollocking at the hands of Sri Lanka following a dominant display on home soil just five months prior.
England’s batting has been shaky to say the very least while their bowling away from home, particularly in the subcontinent, has lacked a genuine wicket taker. England are not short of talent in the spin bowling department, county cricket has provided a host of young spin bowlers capable of forcing their way into the England side. Zafar Ansari is testament to this, and Gareth Batty has shown that persistence trumps age, while Adil Rashid continues to knock patiently at the selectors door. The problem is, they simply cannot match the guile or the control of India’s Ravi Ashiwn and Ravindra Jadeja. Not away from home, and most certainly not on dust bowls prepared to aid and abed spin bowling; which holds an almost inconceivable wicket taking record in India.
England is home to seaming green wickets where fast bowlers are nurtured and churned out for international duty at a rate only matched by Australia. By the same token, their batsmen are designed to survive when the Duke ball is swinging and seaming and the ball is bouncing no greater than ankle height. English cricket share a similar problem to Australia and New Zealand, their players simply haven’t been brought up in an environment that aims, never mind hopes, to produce good players of spin bowling at first class level. Unless a few county cricket fixtures are moved off shore and played in the sub continent, England’s players aren’t going to learn how to cope with the spinning ball. Not until they’ve racked up their frequent flyer miles with the national team on tours to India and the UAE. Looking for a quick fix by shoving a player into an alien environment only fabricated during a net session, as was done in Bangladesh with Duckett and as is about to be the case with Hameed, will never lead to a favoruable outcome. Let us not forget that there were no practice games scheduled due to the limited time available following England’s brief stop off in Bangladesh.
England won their last tour to India in emphatic fashion. Cook, Pietersen, Swann and Panesar were the chief performers during that tour. Only one of those four remain, and he hasn’t looked particularly threatening outside of the last innings of the second test against Bangladesh. His captaincy, and the way he uses and treats his main spinner Moeen Ali, should form the basis on which he is judged, and will likely serve to be a telling factor in whether his legacy will live on beyond this series.
Further comments to come.
The loss of Duckett on the stroke of lunch might well be the beginning of an England middle order collapse, as has been the case so often this year.
India will be ruing the fact they dropped three relatively simple chances inside the first half hour, but will be satisfied with their efforts since, particularly from spin twins Jadeja and Ashwin.
It was pleasing to see the way debutant Hameed went about his work. His patience, a virtue not often associated with Cook’s opening partner, should hold him in good stead for the entireity of this series and beyond.
So, honours even after the first session. India’s spinners have done well to take three English wickets given the uncharacteristic lack of turn, but it’s the seamers who have looked the most damaging. The two paced nature of the wicket and the variable bounce that caused Cook and now Root to get stuck on the crease will only worsen as the game progresses, a pleasing sight for England who will be bowling last.
Teatime Update: (England 222/3 68) Root 100*, Ali 57*
This series couldn’t have gotten off to a more promising start for England. Moeen Ali is relishing his permanent position as a middle order batsman. Joe Root has found the form that alluded him in Bangladesh, and has moved well within site of another test match hundred despite an LBW referral prior to tea. While debutante Hameed showed brief signs of brilliance during his 31.
India haven’t been poor by any stretch of the imagination. There bowling has been tight in patches while their spinners have taken wickets just as the England top order began to look settled. The loss of Shami is a telling blow, but not one which will prevent India from competing in this game. They should look no further than South Africa’s efforts against Australia for inspiration. They were without the services of premier fast bowler Dale Steyn, who was withdrawn from the field mid game due to injury, but managed to stay in the hunt thanks to KG Rabada, who stood up in the absence of his fast bowling mentor to claim five second innings wickets. The spin trio of India will be relied upon to achieve a similar feat.
The game at this stage is still very much in the balance, but if India can’t find it within them to break the Ali/ Root partnership which currently sits at 113, England may be headed towards an unassailable first innings lead. On this wicket, which is likely to deteriorate as the game progresses, anything over 500 may be difficult to track down. Particularly when England unleash their three pronged spin attack on the final two days.