x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Test of character for England

India are sure to ask more questions with spin as the series heads to Mumbai.

England triumphed against India in the third and final Test at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on March 22 in 2006.
England triumphed against India in the third and final Test at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on March 22 in 2006.

After the year that they've had - seven defeats in 12 Tests - you could forgive England's cricketers if they felt a little sorry for themselves.

After the defeat in Ahmedabad, however, there's been tetchiness that makes you wonder just how mentally ready they are for what's sure to be another stern examination by spin in Mumbai.

Stuart Broad started it with a Twitter swipe at those former players who had criticised England's display in the first Test. Sir Ian Botham, one of Broad's predecessors as the team's all-round talisman, responded by pointing out his outstanding numbers in India.

Jonathan Trott, who failed in both innings in Ahmedabad, then made something out of nothing with a surly response to a straightforward question - "You probably didn't ask most of these questions for the last two years, you've got a bigger smile on your face now."

And on the eve of the game, Alastair Cook, the captain, answered a question about the team being too 'matey' with a terse "Not true".

The mood in the Indian camp couldn't have been more different. MS Dhoni smiled his way through the pre-match press conference and even joked about criticism from the likes of Steve Waugh after he asked for pitches that would aid the spinners more.

"I don't read the newspapers," he said. "You'll have to explain to me what was said. I was just trying to take the toss out of the equation. I was doing the good part. But different people have different opinions."

Dhoni's good humour had a lot to do with a pitch that was bone dry and likely to help the spinners from the first session. With Umesh Yadav, the quickest bowler on view in Ahmedabad, sidelined by a back injury, the onus is very much on Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin to keep England's batsmen on tenterhooks. Ojha did that consistently in the first Test, while Ashwin tailed away somewhat after an impressive start.

England have some happy memories of Mumbai, having won by 212 runs in 2006. Going even further back, Botham dominated the Golden Jubilee Test in 1980 with 13 wickets and a belligerent 114.

India, who didn't play a Test here between 2006 and 2011 as the ground was being renovated for the World Cup, will bank on vociferous home support to further rattle what they see as a rickety English cage.

They are sure to turn out in droves to celebrate Sachin Tendulkar, the local hero who scored his only century here way back in 1997. He got to 94 against West Indies last year, but was booed after the Indian collapse against England on the final day of the 2006 Test.

While England address the team balance - Monty Panesar will likely to replace Tim Bresnan, with Eoin Morgan coming in for Ian Bell - and Tendulkar hogs the headlines, someone who modelled his game on the "God of cricket" will play his 100th Test.

Virender Sehwag made a century on debut as a middle-order batsman, but it's as an opener that he's rewritten the history books with the two quickest triple hundreds in history.

That he averages 50.89 despite often playing with cavalier disregard for the match situation says much about his ability.

"His mindset is so different that it doesn't really matter whether he is in form or not," said Dhoni. "He just keeps thinking positive. He was working a lot on his batting, but his approach remains the same."

After a lean trot dating back to the tour of South Africa in 2010-11, Sehwag reaffirmed his credentials with a 90-ball century in Ahmedabad. Whether it's signing Kishore Kumar songs to himself to relax or asking Shoaib Akhtar to 'stop begging and bowl', Sehwag is seldom anything other than entertaining.

His partnership with Gautam Gambhir at the top of the order has produced 11 century stands, and their 134-run association in Ahmedabad was pivotal to India's huge first innings total.

They rotate the strike brilliantly, and Gambhir's wound-up intensity is the perfect foil to Sehwag's laid-back approach. When they score, India seldom lose.

England's middle order managed 68 runs in Ahmedabad, and apart from the need for Cook to continue scoring and for Kevin Pietersen to find his feet against Ojha, they need to find someone unscarred by recent defeats.

Owais Shah's 88 on debut played a big part in the 2006 win, and either Morgan or Jonny Bairstow will need to reprise those heroics if England aren't to head to Kolkata - where they have won only one of nine Tests - feeling even more blue.

 

sports@thenational.ae

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