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Thursday, 27 October 2011

England in India: a postmortem


There's a deep pessimism inside every English cricket fan. No matter how many times we try to deny it, watching England being good - and consistently good - at cricket is just bloody weird. Many other fans react with anger when their team loses; England fans just laugh it off as another bad job. Despite England whitewashing India in both the Test and ODI series, their ODI record seemed overly optimistic. Critics were watching and waiting for England to come unstuck in the sub-continent, and they did, in the most spectacular fashion.

It seemed like a little bit of everything went wrong for England on this tour. Firstly, the batting. Partnerships were few and far between across the series, and when one was established it lasted for a few overs before someone holed out. Cook and Kieswetter seemed to swing from one extreme to another; the final game saw them put on a partnership of 129, the only partnership that created any sort of decent impetus in the entire innings, whereas in the second game both were removed for a duck. Without Morgan, England were always going to look weak against spin, and there isn't an uglier sight in cricket than someone attempting a sweep shot with absolutely no confidence and sending it spiraling into the stumps or towards the keeper. The Indian spinners seemed to constantly beat the batsman, either inducing a weak defence that the ball spun through or a hefty thwack that went straight down the throat of a waiting fielder.

Craig Kieswetter has come under a lot of fire in this series, for both his batting and keeping. Although at times it has felt as though Kieswetter was putting on his own one man comedy show behind the stumps, in truth his keeping has been consistently poor. His fantastic acrobatics in the final game to remove Tiwary were outstanding, just as his failed run-out of Jadeja, in which Kieswetter trod on the stumps rather than the traditional method of removing the bails with the ball, was oustandingly bad. As well as getting on the nerves of his increasingly angry team-mates, Kieswetter's batting also took a knock. There seems to be an obsession within most one day set ups of having the keeper-batsman opening the innings, no doubt thanks to Adam Gilchrist opening Australia's innings so successfully, but this only works if the batsman is up to the job.

Kieswetter would surely suit a more middle-order role; he is a natural big hitter and could easily propel an innings in the final few overs. Having him open and then fall so quickly means that a loss of an early wicket puts more pressure on the incoming batsman, and with England's middle order unable to build up any real momentum, it's debtable whether or not Kieswetter is a natural opening batsman. While he opens at Somerset, it's Marcus Trescothick facing him at the other end, a man with nearly twenty years experience to his name. Whilst Alastair Cook has developed immeasurably since becoming captain, he is still learning his trade -just as Kieswetter is.

The other batsman who comes under fire, as he does most series, is Jonathan Trott. Trott isn't the quickest soul on this Earth but arguably his level-headedness when batting is just what this England side need. In the third game of the series, Trott scored 98 from 116 deliveries, with a strike rate of 84.50. It was a calm innings, with Trott going about things the way he wanted, building up partnerships with both Pietersen and Patel. This sort of innings is needed from England every once in a while; they don't need every player to come in and smash the ball about. If the opening batsman fail to make a positive start, like England's have done in all but one of the games, it needs someone who can come in and calmly rebuild, whilst letting the bigger hitters in the team do what they need to do at the other end.

The bowling attack has also come under much criticism. The stats don't make for pretty reading:

Steven Finn: 5 matches. 253 runs, 8 wickets (best 3/45) - 5.27 economy rate.
Graeme Swnn: 4 matches. 191 runs, 2 wickets (best 1/35) - 5.30 economy rate.
Tim Bresnan: 5 matches. 245 runs, 5 wickets (best 2/41) - 5.65 economy rate.
Stuart Meaker: 2 matches. 110 runs, 2 wickets (best 1/45) - 5.78 economy rate.
Samit Patel: 5 matches. 182 runs, 4 wickets (best 3/57) - 6.03 economy rate.
Jade Dernbach: 3 matches. 168 runs, 1 wicket (best 1/58) - 6.54 economy rate.

Going into this series, Swann was the number one bowler in the limited overs side (the tables tend to fluctuate every week) but he had a rough time in India. Taking only two wickets, albeit for a reasonable amount of runs, Swann's frustration constantly showed in his bowling. His attitude towards the other fielders - he's never been the most patient of sorts but this was taking it to the extreme - made him seem more like a petulant two year old than the world's best spinner. Steven Finn was the stand-out of the bowlers, but saying he was the best of a bad bunch doesn't give him the credit he deserved. He had plenty of pace, regularly reaching 90mph with a good mixture of line and lengths. He too fell victim to England's amateur dramatics - his "celebration" of Raina's wicket read more 'arrogant schoolboy' than 'top class bowler' - but he was the only bowler who consistently tested the Indian batsman.

Jade Dernbach had an awful time of it in India. Prior to the series he'd played 10 ODI's for England - all on English pitches, it has to be said - and while the inexperience of the side in general is no excuse for their performance, it was Dernbach's lack of international experience that showed the most. The variations that he had become so renowed for in the county scene seemed to abandon him; his slower ball was once again over-used, the Indian batsman wised up to Dernbach's 'variations' relatively quickly and he bowled far too many wides (in the third match a total of 17 extras - India gave away 3), which the batsman took full advantage of. Dernbach has bowled far, far better in the past than these figures suggest, but on the flat Indian pitches he struggled. Why Finn could get pace where Dernbach couldn't is a bit of a mystery.

Andy Flower summed England's series up nicely when he simply said "it wasn't good enough". That's what this all boils down to. Several times, England had the upper hand in the game, and every time they let it slip. The batting capitulation during the fifth ODI, with 47 runs being scored for 10 wickets, made for true car-crash viewing. The haplessness in the field, the constant over-throws, dropped catches and mis-fields on the boundary edge seemed miles away from the ODI side that clinched the Sri Lanka series 3-2 back in July. England's batting and bowling looked weak at times against the Indian attack in England; on India's own soil they looked even worse. MS Dhoni has not lost his wicket for six consecutive matches against England; his performance behind the stumps has improved immeasurably. His batting has been ruthless, and he constantly looks calm and composed. By comparison England have looked tired, strained and worn out. They've been below par, and apart from a few new faces, it feels like nothing has changed since the last 5-0 defeat in 2008.