England must go back to the basics
England batsmen except for Alastair Cook, who looked relaxed mentally and physically, had the right anxiety level and that reflected in his early judgment of the line and length of the delivery, which helped him in decisive footwork and decision making.
He was sure of his defence and the close-in fielders were not a distraction. He made one mistake and got out to some clever variation by Ravichandran Ashwin, who was backed by runs on the board and was not scared to toss the ball to challenge the batsmen. Thus, he was richly rewarded in the first innings.
Most of the other English batsmen were unsure of their defence against spinners on a turning pitch and the close in fielders were like demons, adding to their anxiety. An over-anxious state of mind and a pounding heart, made it more difficult to relax mentally as well as physically and that clouded their judgment of line and length and shot selection.
The method employed by Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell in the first innings pressed the panic button from which England could not recover.
Their dealing with spinners may work on good pitches but most often it will definitely lead to failure on tuners. All they need is to watch videos of Cheteshwar Pujara, Captain Cook and Matt Prior at the earliest to learn how to successfully deal with spinners in Indian conditions to help their team to come back in the series.
Yuvraj Singh is another good example to follow. His body language was great and to me, he looked a different player than he was before his illness. He seems to be more determined and appears to be on his way to becoming a good Test player. Yuvraj must never lose sight of the fact that 20 years down the line, people will remember him for his Test exploits and not the ones in one-day cricket. At the moment he looks in great touch and very focussed.
India have tasted blood by winning the first Test and will not show any mercy in rubbing salt to the wound.
I was surprised to see that most of the English batsmen, instead of using soft hands while defending to spinners, were jabbing at the ball, helping the edge to carry off the pads into the hands of close catchers. A batsman jabs at the ball when the upper body is not moving forward with the front foot, while playing a defensive stroke and hence, the impact is in front of their head rather than under the head. When the spinner tosses the ball above the eye level of the batsman and he lifts his head to watch the flight of the ball, judging the line and length and deciding to defend the delivery by planting his front foot forward. The lifting of the head makes it difficult for him to get his head over the impact, hence finds groping for the spinning ball in defence.
I think the English batters have forgotten the basics that to tossed up deliveries, one just needs to lift the eyes to follow the flight of the ball, while head remains still.
All credit to the Indian bowlers especially Pragyan Ohja, who looks to be the most improved bowler, bowling slower, allowing the ball to spin in the air to dip. He is willing to toss the ball and smartly varies his pace. This has paid him rich dividend. Ashwin bowled well in the first innings but got entangled in too many gimmickry variations, instead of just keeping things simple as his partner did.
He has the makings of a good off-spinner but has to learn to have patience and focus on the adage – ‘bowl well, wickets will follow.’ I know, certain things are learned only with experience, but a smart cricketer will use others’ experiences to stay ahead – in this case Ojha’s.
England fought well in the second innings but Captain Dhoni used his resources well, showing faith in his pacer to pick wickets on that slow turner. Hats off to Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav, both lived up to their captain’s expectations. They shrewdly used reverse swing to pick wickets, both bowling better than the English fast bowlers. Well done, India, keep up the good work and enjoy the ride.
As the Mumbai Test draws closer, pitch talk will heighten. Dhoni has faced some flak for his comment on how Indian pitches should be from Day One. He chose to speak to the media which I don’t think is a good idea. A quiet word with the grounds men would have been a better option.
Over to Wankhede.