England looking down the barrel

SPELLING THEIR DOOM: Indian slow bowlers have combined well to make life difficult for the English batsmen.

SPELLING THEIR DOOM: Indian slow bowlers have combined well to make life difficult for the English batsmen.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: K.R. Deepak

England will need to outbat India if they have to notch up victories, writes W.V. Raman

The warning bells chimed in Mumbai a few days ago as the England batsmen were bowled out for a modest score in the warm-up game but the visitors chose not to read too much out of that debacle. Kevin Pietersen, the England skipper was confident that his team would raise the game in the internationals but with three straight losses they are looking down the barrel as they were beaten convincingly by an Indian team that is brimming with so much of confidence that one could even mistake it for arrogance.

The visitors came into this series riding high on their victory against the South Africans but inadequate preparation and some strange strategy has pushed Pietersen and his boys to the wall.

The England skipper decided to bank on his fast bowlers to tame the Indian batsmen but they ran into a part-hungry and part-angry Yuvraj Singh who vented his fury on their attack with breathtaking centuries. In as much as Yuvraj knocked the daylights out of the Englishmen, their playing combination and the batting order also let them down.

Indians positive

The four-pronged pace attack was mauled and that was due to the fact that the Indians were positive both in intent and in execution unlike their counterparts. The openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir made the power plays count which gave unbridled freedom for the middle order to go berserk. Pietersen somehow failed to realise that on flat Indian pitches, the ball disappears to the boundary as fast as it comes on to the bat. While Yuvraj Singh sealed the visitors’ fate in the first game, they did not meet the requirement in chasing down the score in the second game. The top three batsmen looked to get off to a solid start rather than combining solidity with controlled aggression. Collingwood was left to play the role of a slogger wherein he should have been playing as many overs as possible for he, like Pieterson and Andrew Flintoff, can be a match winner.

Middle order fails

A rectification of errors in the batting order was done at Kanpur and though Ravi Bopara and Ian Bell got off to a flier, the middle order did not cash in. This was largely due to the Englishmen once again falling prey to the slower bowlers. A couple of rippers from Harbhajan Singh created too many doubts in the English ranks and their attempts to slog the spinners across the line rather than through the line cost them dearly.

The Indians have been on top of the game and the street smart skipper M.S. Dhoni has utilised more of the slower variety to torment the English batsmen. Yuvraj has made a huge difference with some consistent stuff with the ball and he seems to have a stranglehold over the visitors in whatever he sets out to do.

The difference

They need to produce something extraordinary to take the series full distance and it is imperative that their batsmen get going as teams with batting prowess prevail in the sub-continent. They will take some heart from their improved performance at Kanpur but how well they handle the Indian spinners in the middle overs will be the difference between victory and defeat.

It is one thing to try and work out ways and means to contain the Indians batsmen but Pietersen & Co. will need to outbat India if they have to notch up victories. Going by the manner in which the series has gone until now, it does seem that only one side is playing cricket and the other one is making a feeble attempt to do so.

It will dawn on Pietersen sooner or later that playing the game that comes naturally does not necessarily go hand in hand with leadership qualities.

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