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Posted on | November 19, 2012 | 5 Comments
India v England: tourists cannot win this Test series unless their batsmen do a better job.
England have not won a Test series in India since 1984-85 but some people think that could change because India are a side in transition.
Well, they may look a bit vulnerable but I still fancy them to beat England. True, the iconic batsmen such as Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have retired while Sachin Tendulkar is at the end of a fabulous career and nobody really knows how he will play. Virender Sehwag is lacking form but has always been a mercurial player who can be brilliant or bad. Yuvraj Singh has been a devastating batsman lower down the order but he has not played a Test match for a long time and has recently recovered from cancer. These are all genuine question marks hanging over India. But they have still got a fabulous captain in MS Dhoni, who is also an excellent batsman. Gautam Gambhir struggles against the bouncing ball but is a very good player at home on lower, slower pitches. Then there is Virat Kohli, who is a wonderfully gifted young batsman. Seamers have never been a big factor for India but Zaheer Khan is a fine bowler with the new and old ball on his own pitches. He will be difficult to play as long as he can solve his biggest problem: staying fit. India may lack the great spinners of the past, such as EAS Prasanna, Bishan Bedi and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, but if the pitches turn they have enough quality to trouble England, who have not yet convinced anyone they have learnt how to play the turning ball since their pathetic performances in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year. If England are to win, or even just get some pride back, they have to convince themselves they can play when it turns. India are not stupid. They know England have been unconvincing against spin. There are bound to be demons in the minds of the England players so the groundsmen will produce pitches that are dry and offer help to the spinners. India have also been crafty. They have not given England any good spinners to face in the three practice matches. They picked weak sides for them to play against. I don’t blame India but it’s like the next time they come and tour England us giving them Oxford and Cambridge to play against without any fast bowlers. The one good thing to come out of it is that we have got a bit of confidence by playing against modest bowling. Batsmen have got runs and that is a plus but it all starts afresh on the first day of the first Test. Winning the toss may be crucial because it will offer the opportunity to bat first and take advantage of a flat pitch before it starts to turn. The problem is that England have batsmen who have never seen a proper turning ball. Nick Compton makes his Test debut on Thursday, Joe Root is first reserve and Jonny Bairstow will come in when Ian Bell goes home for the second Test. This will be new to them. It is not totally their fault. They have been brought up in four-day county cricket played on flat surfaces with great drainage and wonderful covers. Players hardly ever see the ball spinning like it does in the subcontinent. It is a totally different game and young kids who look brilliant against seam bowling can suddenly be found out against the spinning ball. I have no doubt in my mind that if the pitches are flat for two or three days and don’t spin our batsmen can score heavily. But the nub of it all is when it turns. That will decide the series. With all the backroom staff they have we know England will have been working hard and looking at film of the various bowlers. But in the end it comes down to whether you have the mind to work out the problems, the character to stand up to the pressure and can you do it when it matters? Even the experienced guys face those questions. Look at Bell. He was awful in the UAE. Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott will graft away and do a good job and Kevin Pietersen can play brilliantly. We saw an example of that in Colombo when he helped England win a Test against Sri Lanka in April. But England can’t win a Test series expecting Pietersen to be a messiah and do it all on his own. James Anderson will always do a fine job even if it doesn’t seam much because he is a quality bowler. Our best spinners are Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar but Swann went home after one warm-up match. Monty is probably going to be left out for Samit Patel, who is a lesser bowler but can bat almost as well as the specialists. I am not a great believer in that. If you are playing only four bowlers they have to be your best four wicket-takers. If six batsmen and a wicketkeeper batsman can’t do the job then somebody has to tell them to improve. When the tailenders had to make up for my deficiencies it meant I wasn’t doing my job. I had to buck up. That is what I would be telling some of the batsmen. We can’t win unless you do a better job.