Monday, October 31, 2011

Blackouts, Whitewashes and Red Faces, England’s One Day Tour of India

Perhaps it was an omen? As the five-match One Day International series between India and England kicked off at Hyderabad on October 14th, Sky Sports were forbidden from broadcasting the game by the BCCI. Normal service was thankfully resumed shortly thereafter, much to the relief of the England fans watching back at home.
At that stage of course optimism was still rife that England could compete in the series, making up for a wretched record in India of only 1 win from their previous 13 matches. Hell, some of us even thought a series win was possible!
Ah the innocence of wild optimism…
India were 129 for 4 batting first at Hyderabad and at one stage England felt they were in with a chance. But then Mahendra Dhoni came in and scored 87 runs off 70 balls including 10 fours and 1 six, all during the supposedly slower “middle overs”.
It’s not just that Dhoni is an incredible finisher; it’s that he can do so on any type of wicket, and at any stage of the match. He played well in England during the summer, apart from Rahul Dravid India’s best player all tour, and he’s been even better back home.
England could do worse than try to emulate Dhoni in their search for a credible wicketkeeper-batsman rather than looking for the next Adam Gilchrist, as has been their want of late.
Craig Kieswetter’s wicket-keeping was erratic and inconsistent this series, taking stunners and dropping dollies in equal measure, but given the explosive nature of his batting, (seldom seen on this tour though to be fair), it is likely he will be given another chance.
In truth though, all of England’s batsmen struggled. Too many starts were not converted and as a result England only batted out their allotted 50 overs once in 5 matches. That simply isn’t good enough in One Day cricket.
Eoin Morgan is England’s best limited overs batsman, particularly when it comes to scoring aggressively against spin, and his absence was sorely missed in India. All of England’s batsmen struggled to keep the runs coming when India’s spinners came on, often giving their wickets away when trying to force the issue. The likes of Ravi Bopara may struggle to come back from this series, failing again to prove that he’s quite up to this level of cricket.
England also failed to embrace spin in their bowling attack. Promising young leg-spinner Scott Borthwick was in India but his only appearance came when replacing Graeme Swann in Mumbai, the series already dead and buried, rather than being picked to bowl in tandem with Swann, which would have been a much braver and more aggressive move on sub-continent wickets.
You can’t pick a spinner just to make up the numbers but if England didn’t think Borthwick was ready for India, why didn’t they take Monty Panesar instead, who at least has the experience to cope with the pressure of playing in front of India’s vociferous fans. Either way, playing two competitive spinners is crucial if you are going to restrict runs and take wickets in India.
Another man sorely missed was Stuart Broad, and perhaps if he had been in India, England would have been more inclined to bowl a second full-time spinner. His inclusion, possibly at the expense of Samit Patel, could have allowed Borthwick to play without having a detrimental effect on England’s batting lineup.
Of course we have to offset the disappointment of this series with the “bigger picture” and that of course comes in the shape of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand 2015. England will still fancy their chances there on the harder, bouncier wickets, but England’s One Day form down under wasn’t much better in January, losing 6-1 against Australia.
The back drop to that series of course was that England had won the Ashes earlier on that tour, and therein lies the biggest obstacle to England’s success of in One Day cricket; their obsession with test cricket.
Domestic cricket in England is set up to produce successful test match players, and obviously we have seen the success of that policy over the past 12 months.
However as a result, One Day cricket comes second. Limited overs County Cricket is still 40-overs-a-side and that immediately puts England at a disadvantage when it comes to the international scene. The middle overs that England failed to convert successfully in India are exactly the part of the game they miss out on when playing domestically. This needs to change if England are to compete in 50 overs international cricket.
Despite 2011 being an incredibly successful year for English cricket generally, this side will return home from India disappointed. 2015 is a long way off, but England will need all of that time to ensure they are competitive at the next World Cup, otherwise there could be a few more England players with red faces in 2015.
Tom Huelin for DieHard Cricket Fans
Follow Tom on Twitter @tomhue1

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