SUPPOSED cricketing wisdom has been mocked all winter in India. The hosts were meant to dominate on slow, spin-friendly tracks and England were meant to pummel the fragile Indian batters on any pitch offering pace, bounce and seam movement.
Yet England won the Test series on turning pitches and, yesterday, India thrashed England at Ranchi on a pitch that could have been specifically requested by Alastair Cook. It was a beauty. Good pace and carry, plenty of bounce and some seam movement and yet batsmen could play good shots and score boundaries.
Perfect, except that England failed dismally with the bat and scored a paltry 155. Not that the locals cared. They filled the ground to the rafters and were desperate for an Indian win for their first-ever international match.
To make it even sweeter they got a good performance by local hero Mahendra Singh Dhoni – a very neat wicket-keeping performance before he smashed the winning runs with a powerful pull shot.
The fans were delirious, such is the way of hero worship among the Indian cricket public, but they also enjoyed some good cricket by the home team.
Virat Kohli, below, again proved why so much is expected of him, with a simply beautiful innings. He hits the ball hard but rarely looks anything other than elegant. His balance at the crease is perfect, he is strong yet light on his toes and, with a flick of his wrists, can send the ball fizzing towards the boundary.
Yuvraj Singh delivered a typically pleasing cameo, muscular yet stylish, but it would all have been so much better if the crowd had witnessed a genuine contest.
England simply never showed up. From the moment Dhoni won the toss and elected to bowl England struggled.
Cook and Ian Bell started neatly without suggesting dominance. The run rate did increase towards five an over when Kevin Pietersen replaced Cook, but a poor decision against Pietersen completely derailed the England innings. Indeed, apart from a composed innings by Joe Root and some stubborn resistance by Tim Bresnan at the end there was little else.
India have now taken a 2-1 lead in the series and the concern for England is that, without Samit Patel’s brilliant innings in the final overs of the first match, India would be heading for a third consecutive ODI series whitewash. The last two matches have been lost by 127 runs and seven wickets with 22 overs remaining. Ashley Giles, three games into his new job as England limited overs manager, has some hard thinking to do.
Firstly he needs to assess what is good about England. Yesterday it was only James Tredwell who, despite a couple of towering sixes by Kohli, bowled well and now has seven wickets in the series.
The middle order needs a re-think. Not necessarily in personnel but certainly in strategy. Ravindra Jadeja is a decent left-arm spinner but the England batsmen play him as if he is delivering live hand grenades. Once a spinner gains a stranglehold on a batsman, it is mighty hard to break and Jadeja is doing that superbly in cahoots with Ravichandran Ashwin.
England need to work out how to rotate the strike consistently against this pair otherwise the only way to a reasonable score is by a quick start or brilliant hitting at the end. Too many extravagant sweeps and reverse sweeps were attempted and too few straight shots pushing mid-off and mid-on back. The Indians play very straight against spin and, once the field is out, work the gaps for easy singles.
Clearly, Pietersen is key to England getting a substantial score. He needs to bat a lot of overs as he is not easily contained and, when he is at the crease, it is a lot easier for his partners. The pressure is off, the scoreboard is moving and the opposition are fully concentrated on the superstar. So far he has got starts but not delivered a big score.
Mohali on Wednesday is now a huge test for England. India are resurgent, key players are in form and an injection of youth has dramatically improved their fielding. They will be hard to beat, but another thrashing must be avoided.