As expected, England could not actually fight long enough to save the first India v England Test. They batted until lunch, losing 5-66 in the morning session and India comfortably knocked off the 77 they were set to win the Test.
England’s performance in the Test was a bit of a mixed bag. At the top was Alastair Cook’s incredible 176 in the second innings. He fought and fought before being undone by a ball that kept low from Ojha. There is nothing more that could have been asked from him with the bat in his first Test as captain. Matt Prior also contributed a pair of excellent half-centuries, the last one a 91 that deserved three figures. Farther down there was Nick Compton’s performance; he played well in both innings and got a couple of good deliveries. There is room for improvement, but he played fairly well overall and did nothing to be dropped. Samit Patel is in a similar category after getting a pair of poor lbw decisions. His place is in a bit more doubt though simply because he seems to have been picked more as a subcontinent specialist. Ian Bell played well in the second innings after playing the second-worst shot of the Test in the first and is already on his way back to England for the birth of his child. And at the bottom of the scale is Kevin Pietersen. The man who, stats notwithstanding, has been hailed by the likes of Piers Morgan as England’s saviour in India played two appalling shots to the left arm spinner to be dismissed for 17 and two.
The second innings was about as well as England have played on the subcontinent this year, but England do have to prove that was the new standard and not a rare exception. There is not a lot of time before the Mumbai Test and there is probably not a lot that the coaches can do in that time, however. England will mostly be hoping that the confidence from having played India’s spinners quite well for once will carry over. I don’t think this is an unreasonable hope, but they still must go out and perform.
But perhaps the bigger concern, and by far the more surprising concern, is the bowling. England’s bowling varied between ‘poor’ and ‘passable if not great’ in the first innings and never did what was hoped in the second. Part of the problem was the loss of an important (not match-deciding by any means, but still important) toss and having to bowl on a very flat pitch, but it was not until tea on the first day that they worked out that they had to keep it tight and never were very penetrating. They can take some consolation in that they did get Tendulkar and the much-heralded Virat Kohli out cheaply, but that is about it. England’s seam attack was brilliant last winter in the subcontinent, but they were not nearly as good in the summer in England and they were not great here. The only one to come out with any dignity at all was James Anderson who at least worked out how to keep it tight.
There are always going to be fluctuations in form, of course, but the fact that what was a very strong attack seems to have gone so far off the boil has to trouble England. Steven Finn will likely be back for the second Test and that should be an improvement, but the rest of the attack still have to step up. Stuart Broad is the vice captain now, but apart from the odd spell here and there he has not had a really good Test since the first one of the summer. He was very good in the UAE though. Tim Bresnan did very well in the warmups, but he has not looked the same in Tests since his elbow operation last year and was very poor in this match. There is a strong suggestion, almost an assumption in some quarters, that Monty Panesar should play in Mumbai and one or both of Broad and Bresnan should be dropped. But although Swann was England’s best bowler, it is worth noting that India’s spinners did not have a great time in the second innings and Flower’s aversion to two full-time spinners is well founded historically. I don’t think Panesar would have had any effect on this game at all.
England should not be without hope. They proved that they can play spin, even if not in the absolute most trying circumstances and Pietersen apart they seem to have hit upon the right approach. That does not mean that they will actually perform a second time and they still have the luck of the toss with which to contend, of course, but the fact that they did much better this Test than last winter is something to carry forward. They can also remember that the last time England won in India it was a comeback after losing the first Test. But hope is one thing. They have to actually learn the lessons of this Test and play better in Mumbai.