It has not taken long for England to miss Andrew Strauss, its captain until his sudden retirement last summer and for so long its most reliable slip fielder that he had become invisible.

Of, yes, we thought. Isn’t that Straussy at slip taking all those catches, in command of his own ship; no worries. England needed no-one else, made no preparations for his departure and now it is bereft of his calm presence, his prehensile hands and the total certainty with which the ball went into those grasping hands and stayed there.

On day two of the second Test the realisation began to dawn that for all Alastair Cook’s grasp of the essentials of captaincy, for all the work of the brain’s trust as if gathers in mid-pitch to decide on the next move and for all Cook’s calm, there is a gap.

Poor fielding

Cook tried Jonathon Trott, Graeme Swann and James Anderson at short slip to the bowling of Monty Panesar and Swann and this morning they dived and clutched and scrambled after the ball but to no effect.

The ball kept eluding them as if does when you have the talent for a job but lack the long-term experience and so India made a score of runs more than it ought to have done. Of course we have to acknowledge the persistence of Ashwin and the sheer ability of Pujara — out eventually to the alert stumping of Matt Prior who now lets no-one down.

Instead he has become the most respected keeper and bats with aggression allied to certainty. If he can be persuaded to bat at No. 6, what a difference that will make to England. There is no technical reason to leave him later in the order. He has the shots — beautiful strokes through the offside in particular — and the concentration and the durability.

Like those fumbling slip fielders though Prior needs to practise in matches, to find when to attack and when to keep his powerful hits to himself and when to go flat out and when to restrain himself.

If he makes the grade at No. 6 England’s good side can be made great by the width of selection it will allow.

Imagine, three seamers and two spinners on the sub-continent, four seamers (if you ever need four seamers) at Headingley, a place for another all-rounder; these are riches for any selection panel.

A rounded stumper

At least Prior looks the part: bluff, almost Prince Hal, broad and strong, full of stamina and vim and not often injured. After a carefree, two-hour hundred in his first Test, he began hesitantly behind the stumps, perhaps concerned that he might not be up to the job.

Those days are gone. Bruce French, Alec Stewart and other solid practitioners of the wicket-keeping art have taught him the way and now he is a rounded, full time stumper, no longer an apprentice.

Panesar era

So too with Panesar. Remember the other great slow left-arm bowlers and how long they needed to learn. Wilfred Rhodes, rejected by Warwickshire before he began his collection of 4,000-plus wickets for Yorkshire. Hedley Verity, kept out by Rhodes 30 years later; Jonny Wardle, practising throughout the Second World War, and in his mid-20s when he won a county cap.

It is an art so long to learn as a great writer said and now we can hope that Panesar — if he can find a slip worthy of the name — begins his own era and persuades Swann that there is room for both of them to star in an England side.

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