x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A remarkable yet predictable script in India-England Test so far

Osman Samiuddin is not surprised that India have an edge in Ahmedabad while the England captain Alastair Cook has shown a lot of pluck even as some of his teammates struggled to play spin.

Alastair Cook is extremely effective as a batsman.
Alastair Cook is extremely effective as a batsman.

Four days into the first Test between India and England and sweet hindsight tells us this: if someone impartial, not prone to hyperbole, and sane, had written a script predicting how things may go in this Test, indeed in this entire Test series, would this not have been it, as things stand tomorrow morning?

India are in the driver's seat, comfortably the favourites to the win the Test and England, though struggling, are not the pushovers that might have been expected.

There is a long way to go, 16 more days possibly, including tomorrow, but this scenario already sounds so much like it could work as a fairly reasonable analysis of the tour for England.

What are we to read into it so far? That England's batting would struggle against spin, on similar surfaces, but not necessarily that all of their batsmen might.

It is difficult to pinpoint precisely why this should be the case, but it is probably something similar to why subcontinent batsmen might struggle to play swing in England; unused to wildly alien conditions, unused to the kind of bowling even more.

But if he is not acknowledged – or celebrated, more accurately – for the batsman that he is, it is only because Alastair Cook is just so, well, is normal the right word? Unassuming, frill-free? Already his second-innings hundred (the first captain to make three in his first three Tests in charge incidentally, although the first two came against Bangladesh) is on its way to acquiring the status of a true epic, its grandness to stand very likely untarnished by defeat.

If he manages any other result, it will be easily his finest innings and one of the great subcontinent rearguards.

And, typically from Cook, it will hardly have been an act of shiny heroism as much as just a supremely competent innings, a nine-to-five shift of an innings, as if this is precisely what he is meant to have done.

Not even close to 30 yet and not far short of 7000 Test runs, a flurry of landmarks in the bag and another batch in view, he is best placed among a group of batsmen to attack the crazy records Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting will leave behind soon.

That Matt Prior gave him company in the second innings was also not surprising. He has actually looked the most comfortable of all England's batsmen against spin this year; over the last two years or so, he is averaging near enough 50 with the bat.

But that England's bowling attack would have been so unprepared for conditions out here, an attack built on a reputation for being so tight, well-drilled and purposeful remember, will be cause for greater worry.

In particular the extent to which they have been out bowled by Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav has been instructive. Both have found significant reverse swing, reverse that has escaped England's three pace bowlers; Zaheer has been far cleverer with and more protective of the new ball than any.

And Yadav has been the quickest of all the fast bowlers; that specifically should raise questions about why James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan are bowling at such a lower pace than they were last year for example, and particularly since the South Africa series this summer.

It is only one innings so far, it is important to remind ourselves, and Anderson and Broad were magnificent in the UAE and Sri Lanka earlier this year. But this seems the right time to be asking deeper questions, as longer-held concerns emerge. Is the balance of the attack right presently, for India? Should Monty Panesar not be playing, if only to ease the burden on Graeme Swann?

Bresnan would be the easier to drop if they do opt to change but England will probably feel it is time they decided to talk about Broad as well. Broad has not had a bad year at all. In fact he was their most dangerous pace bowler in the UAE and picked up wickets against the West Indies at home.

But so muted was he against South Africa and again in the first innings here, that it should be cause for mild alarm.

Down on pace and erring in lengths anyway, he has looked one rejected appeal from losing it entirely (and the appeals have been stupendously ill-judged ones), a muttering, mumbling disaffection of a kind that, in sweet hindsight again, comes to end up symbolising an entire tour.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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