Saturday, November 17, 2012

Monty Got A Raw Deal

It's amazing how a players stock can rise when they're not even involved in a game of cricket. It's like the value of gold rising when equity markets are in crisis.

The trouble with using Monty Panesar as the golden boy in our investment analogy here is that he's far from being the perfectly safe investment England should revert to when their normal game plan defaults.

With England toiling as India reached 521 for 8 on Friday, long before their catastrophic capitulation with the bat to 41/3 at stumps on day two, the age old debate of England sub-continent tours of old has already re-surfaced: where is Monty? 

A run a ball 117 from Virendra Sehwag as well as a spritely 74 from Yuvraj, returning to test cricket after his battle with cancer, helped India into a position of power during their first innings. But it was the stand out performance of India’s new number three, Che Pujara, whose 206 was full of classical shots his predecessor Rahul Dravid would have been proud of, that really drove home India’s advantage.

A lot of the talk in England before this series focussed on the retirements of Dravid and the sublime VVS Laxman, not to mention the fading force of Sachin Tendulkar. But with Pujara delivering in Ahmedabad and the emergence of Virat Kohli as a genuine test cricketer over the past 12 months, India are re-generating their batting line-up. And mighty impressive it looks too.

England’s decision to maintain a three man seam attack resulted in Monty missing out in the first Test, with Samit Patel’s ability to bat well against spin giving him the nod over Jonny Bairstow.

What England must now be realising however is that Patel’s left arm spin is defensive at best, and cannot be considered frontline or threatening, particularly against this accomplished Indian batting line up.

Graeme Swann bowled more than an entire ODI innings, 51 overs in the first innings alone. He took five wickets and in the process surpassed Jim Laker as England’s most successful off-spinner. He bowled a good line and genuinely challenged the Indian batsmen throughout, something of a surprise given the difficult time he had against Amla and co last summer.

The fact that Kevin Pietersen had a couple of spells as well, taking the wicket of Ravi Ashwin late on day two, suggests England desperately need additional spin options, but I still wouldn’t count on Monty playing the next match

Monty has a fine slow left arm, with a good record for England, taking 142 wickets in 42 matches to date. But whilst his forward defensive can be obdurate at times (Cardiff; Ashes; you know the rest), his work in the field is still slightly reminiscent of a newly born foal, barely able to control the movement of its own legs as they stumble their way around a field

Further, England have enjoyed a huge amount of success in Test cricket over the past few years with this formula of three seamers and a spinner. To change that would be a bold statement, and if such a change were to fail, criticism would duly follow.

But do England need three seamers in India, where the pitches are bereft of life, bounce and therefore offer little, if any, assistance to fast bowlers? Bresnan, who replaced the injured Steven Finn here, would have been selected because of his ability to reverse swing the ball as he did in last week’s final warm up match at Ahmedabad’s B stadium, but he has not been able to replicate that in the first two days of this Test.

Finn’s sheer pace and height would surely have presented more problems than the conservative Bresnan has managed so far, and he would get in most people’s first XI ahead of Monty, and if he is fit for the second test he will surely play, so again – where would Monty fit in? Should England drop Patel and replace him with a more effective left arm spinner?

The other option available to the selectors, which has been mentioned by a few fellows on Twitter in recent months, is dropping Stuart Broad. His bowling has been relatively ineffective in recent times and was England’s most expensive bowler in the first innings here, going at over four an over

But then, it would be a pretty brave decision to drop the newly appointed vice captain before he's even demanded the third umpire review a turned-down lbw decision or two, (there’s no DRS in this series either remember!)

Monty fans will say he got a raw deal by not getting a game in the first Test. Many people will say that England’s fans in general have been given a raw deal as not playing him has potentially reduced England’s chances of winning the first Test.

But getting him into the side is going to require England to abandon their favoured six batsmen four bowlers ratio, or drop one of their three tried and tested seamers.

It’s a big call for Cook, in only his second Test as captain, but after just two days of this tour, England’s stock is already starting to slide.

Tom Huelin for DieHard Cricket Fans
Follow Tom on Twitter @tomhue1

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