Cricket: Losing is no shame but England must compete

Alastair Cook during a training session at The Sardar Patel Stadium. Picture: Getty
Alastair Cook during a training session at The Sardar Patel Stadium. Picture: Getty
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THE equation is simple. England need to bat for the best part of two days to save this Test match and the realistic likelihood of that is next to zero.

Realistically, what they must do is make India work a lot harder for their wickets to prove that England are genuine competitors in the four-Test series. Following-on, Alastair Cook and Nick Compton started that process last evening with an excellent century partnership, albeit one helped by the absence of the Decision Review System due to opposition by the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

Cook, below, appeared to be clearly lbw to Pragyan Ojha but despite getting away with that one, there is still much more to do by the batting group as a whole.

The problem is that trial by spin continually haunts the England players. Last winter they were humiliated by Pakistan’s twirlers and India’s pair of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ojha have teased and tormented at will so far.

The first innings was abject, from the 18 overs on the second evening in which three wickets were lost right up to yesterday’s collapse.

Cook, pictured, and Matt Prior shaped up well while Samit Patel suffered from a poor decision but the rest, including the returning Kevin Pietersen, disappointed. As ever in a batting collapse, there was one particularly horrendous moment and it came courtesy of a most brainless bit of batting by Ian Bell, who tamely hit out to mid-off first ball.

He is due to miss the next Test for the birth of his child and he played yesterday like a man whose thoughts were miles from cricket.

His dismissal summed up England’s performance, that is to say it was just confused. Indeed ever since the side was selected, England have been one step behind the Indians, both in thought and deed.

India picked two front-line spinners for a flat, slow yet dry pitch. England picked one, Graeme Swann, with a back-up in Samit Patel, and three seamers, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan. It is one seamer too many and one spinner too few.

Monty Panesar needs to play from now on. He would have been an excellent foil for Swann when India batted and that would have eased the pressure on Patel, as he would only have been the third twirler, offering a few overs at the captain’s whim.

The selection issue is much easier to resolve than the batting problems. The pitch is not a minefield and, as well as Ojha and Ashwin bowled, they were flattered by dismissing England for 191. The problem is that the players are so desperate to find positive intent that they too often are forgetting the basics of playing a turning ball. The best players have soft hands when defending, so any edges drop before the fielders, and quick feet, both down the pitch to make half-volleys and back deep into the crease for anything slightly short.

Cook has an effective method, defending with his bat well in front of his pad and working for singles. He has played well all game. He has a century for the taking today if he can get settled but as captain he will know if there is any chance of a draw he will need to match Cheteshwar Pujara’s double century. Compton has also played well second time around and his resolute defence last evening in partnership with Cook suggested he has both the technique and mentality to be a good Test opener.

One of the most impressive aspects of the final session was the manner of the running. Compton is staid and could easily get bogged down at one end but he managed to push relieving singles to mid-off and scamper hard. It was intelligent batting well supported by Cook’s eagerness to run. There is no shame in losing to India in India. They are a formidable outfit at home but England must show improvement and competitiveness.