Ahmedabad day three: England 111-0

It’s very hard to know what to make of the third day of the first India v England Test. England were appalling for the first two sessions. All of the problems of the past winter re-emerged as they were bowled out for 191 at the stroke of tea and forced to follow-on. England seemed unable to find any sort of middle ground between playing a nervous and ill-fated prod at every delivery and trying to be ‘positive’ and slog everything out of the ground. Ian Bell was the most disappointing. He is such a good player, he has such good technique and can be a genuine world beater. But today he danced down the track to his first ball miscued his slog and was caught at mid-on. It was such an inexplicably poor shot from a player who really should know better and seemed to exemplify all England’s problems this year. After Cook was out for 41 the only resistance was from Prior with a bit of help from the tail-enders. Samit Patel did look okay, but got a dreadful lbw decision.

The question at tea was for how long England might be able to drag the match out and even whether we would have anything to watch tomorrow. Cook and Compton had looked assured in the first innings before Compton got a good ball and the wheels fell off. This time they looked composed and just stayed looking composed. There were two let offs: a very tough dropped catch at slip and an lbw shout against Cook that was inexplicably turned down. But India were the ones who did not want DRS so they can hardly complain. Not that such reasoning deterred MS Dhoni who actually started remonstrating with the umpires very early on and should pay a visit to the match referee sometime tonight. Cook and Compton got through and put on a hundred partnership, a decent feat in their first match batting together and England managed to close on 111-0.

It really was a stunning turnaround; England went from their usual subcontinent horror show to one of their best sessions all year. Despite looking utterly unable to find a suitable middle ground in the way they played spin in the first two sessions in the day they suddenly hit upon an excellent one in the course of twenty minutes at tea. I can not think of a more dramatic change in the fortunes of a batting team between two sessions that I have seen and England must be congratulated for that. Hopefully they can put up a good team total in this innings and then have some confidence going into batting in the next three Tests.

Unfortunately though, having confidence is about all they can hope for as it very much is too late in this Test. England have batted superbly well in this last session, but they did need things to go their way when the batsmen were getting settled and they will need those things to go their way again after a wicket does eventually fall. Not only do they just need luck in the deliveries faced, they need the batsmen to go out with the mentality and plan of Cook and Compton. Trott is in at number three and he could bat long if he gets in, but after that there are not many batsmen who really excel at batting for time. Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell both could play excellent innings if they get in. But Pietersen looks very unlikely to play himself in and focus on rotating the strike and putting bad balls away. Bell might do better, but he has to banish what seem now to be some very nasty mental daemons when batting against spin. Patel looked okay, but his ability to bat long is untested and Matt Prior was also good today but tends to bat with the tail and might not be in a position to settle in for an innings.

The upshot of all that is that once England lose their first wicket or two they will probably lose the next eight much faster. It isn’t guaranteed, of course, but they will really want Cook, Compton and Trott to bat for a long time to have much hope. Even if that happens England face the problem that the first innings performance was so bad that even if they scored at three an over to lunch on day five, almost certainly an unrealistic notion for the reasons above, they would still only set India about 150 to win in two sessions. They would still be almost certain to lose from there. It really would take a miracle for England to get anything out of this Test, but it is the first of four and they need to use the rest of this innings to prepare for the next three. If they can get some form and confidence against spin they will still have a good chance to come back in the series.

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