England may have scored over 400 in their second innings, dragged the first Test into the fifth day and forced India to work a little harder for the win, but they still have plenty of problems to confront before the second Test starts in Mumbai on November 23.
The biggest concern has to be Kevin Pietersen and his frailties against left-arm spin. For a man of Pietersen’s immense talent and self-belief, his apparently inability to combat this type of bowling is baffling. Both his dismissals in this Test will likely keep him up at night. Not only was he comprehensively bowled in both innings, he had no idea about either delivery and didn’t come close to making contact in either instance. If England are to provide India with a consistent challenge over the course of the series, Pietersen has to overcome his demons.
HATE losing! HATE not contributing to the team in a game! 3 to go! Cook, Swann, @mattprior13 outstanding! Chat soon guys.. ☺
— Kevin Pietersen (@kevinpp24) 19 नवम्बर 2012
Beyond Pietersen, England’s middle-order also failed to solve the problems posed by India’s spinners. Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell , and Samit Patel scored a combined 49 runs from six innings. That sort of statistic isn’t going to scare a college bowling attack, let alone a Test-class one. To put things in a larger perspective, Alastair Cook and Matt Prior scored 356 runs in the match. The other England batsmen could only muster 203 combined. Trott in particular his having a lean time of things, averaging 34.66 from 12 Tests over the last year. With Pietersen struggling at No.4, England desperately need Trott to regain his form and provide stability in case they lose an early wicket (Ian Bell is likely to miss the second Test because of the birth of his child, with Jonny Bairstow likely to replace him).
England’s bowling left much to be desired as well. Their ascent to the top of the Test rankings (before they were deposed by South Africa) was built on their seamers taking plenty of wickets, backed up by Graeme Swann, of course, but in Indian conditions their seamers have looked innocuous. The pitches were always going to be set-up to favour spin but England’s seamers, used to conditions where the pitch offers a fair amount of assistance, didn’t seem to know how to make best use of the conditions. Not only do England need to rethink the balance of their attack (play Monty Panesar alongside Swann) but their fast bowlers need to adapt better to the conditions. They can’t just bowl the ball in good areas and expect the pitch to do the work. Steven Finn, if fit, should replace Tim Bresnan, and he should provide a different challenge to India’s batsmen, but he also has a tendency to give away runs, something the home side will not forgive.
If it wasn’t bad enough that England’s bowlers, Swann excepted, did not look like taking wickets, or that their batsmen looked like they were playing on a minefield, their fielding also let them down. Trott in particular looked at sea in the slips and even James Anderson, who bucks the stereotype of fast bowlers being bad fields, made a crucial misjudgement when Cheteshwar Pujara was on 8 in India’s first innings, allowing a leading edge to loop over his head and fall safely. With India’s batting looking ominous in home conditions, England can’t afford to miss so many chances.
Despite the crushing defeat, there were some positives for England. Cook’s ability to combat the spinners will have given the rest of the batsmen a blueprint they can use. Prior’s form with the bat and the resistance of the tail should also be encouraging while Swann troubled most of India’s batsmen in the first innings. Still, those silver linings cannot hide the looming black clouds. If England are to provide India with a challenge over the remainder of the series, they will need to lift their performances substantially and find a way to play spin bowling in sub-continental conditions as a unit, something they have yet to show they can do.