After England’s defeat in the first Test there have been many calls to change the side for the Mumbai Test and particularly change the bowling which badly underperformed. There will be an enforced change with Ian Bell leaving and so Flower et al must decide how they want their batting to look as well.
With regard to Bell’s spot I don’t think the discussion should be very long; Jonny Bairstow is the only real choice. There was some talk about playing Eoin Morgan simply because he is left-handed (and India’s spinners had more success against right handers in the first Test), but there is no way that should matter. The fact that Morgan may have a slight statistical edge must not outweigh the fact that he is far from a Test quality batsman. Not only has he never made significant runs at Test level, he has never even done it at the first class level. He is in the side because of his abilities as a pyjama batsman and a wholly mythical strength against spin. He out to be watching the Test series from England before flying out in the new year with the hard-done-by James Taylor in his place. The other option in the squad available is to push Nick Compton into the middle order and open with Joe Root. After Compton’s relative success opening with Cook in the first Test I don’t think that is wise, however, and certainly I don’t think it is necessary with Bairstow available.
But the real focus will be on the bowlers. Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan badly underperformed in the first Test and particularly in the first two sessions of the match in which India racked up 250-3. James Anderson did better, but all he could really do was try to keep it tight on a flat and slow pitch. But it is important to remember as well that the pitch never did a lot to help the bowlers at all and especially not on the first two days when India were batting. Steven Finn might have had a better time with his extra pace, but I don’t think Monty Panesar would be nearly as effective as most people seem to think. Graeme Swann was England’s best bowler, yes, but that says more about the underperforming seamers than anything else; Swann’s wickets mostly came to terrible shots. After England’s usual horrific collapse India’s spinners got another go on a wearing third and fourth day pitch. They took a collective 5-257 whilst their seamers took a combined 5-129 and that against an English side who play spin rather worse than the Indians. The pitch turned, but not sharply. Mostly it was just a road with marginally less in it for the seamers than the spinners. England simply contrived in their first innings to make it look a lot more spicy than it was.
Apart from the week’s worth of statements that Panesar ‘must’ be brought in for the second Test there have been also suggestions that Broad and/or Bresnan be dropped. None of the three are imminently unreasonable and I would not be surprised to see some change. But Finn has not recovered from his thigh injury as expected and has actually re-aggravated it which throws a spanner into the works for England. The obvious change was going to be Finn for Bresnan; now they have to wait to see if Finn will even take any further part in the series. England do have Graham Onions and Stuart Meaker still in the squad as possible replacements. Meaker offers pace as well and is the closest thing to a like-for-like replacement for Finn, though has never played Test cricket. I think, however, that Onions’ wicket-to-wicket bowling may be the better option. The umpires in the last Test only seemed to give lbws if the ball was going down leg, but they might have a better Test this time and even if they don’t England’s only success in the first Test came from consistent lines that kept the scoring down.
I would bring Onions in for Bresnan. Bresnan’s batting is making a slow comeback after his elbow surgery, but unfortunately his bowling is still miles away from where it was at this time last year. He got his place by bowling well in the warmups, but could not translate that into success in the Test. His pace is down and he does not seem to be able to get the ball to reverse swing much anymore. Stuart Broad has not had a great time either; since his eleven-fer at Lord’s to start the summer his pace has also been down and the only really good spell he had was in the second innings of the Headingley Test and that was against some declaration batting. He does, however, look more like he is simply out of form than suffering from a long-term problem as Bresnan does. He can’t be persisted with forever, of course, but I think it is still too soon to drop him. It was only nine months ago that he was running through the Pakistani batting in the UAE.
As for Panesar, I think he could play. But he should only play in place of a seamer if the pitch is a real raging turner, which by recent accounts it does not appear to be. In fact the suggestion is that it will offer more help (though not a lot more) to the seamers than the one at Ahmedabad did. If that’s the case I think the option is to either play Panesar in place of Samit Patel or not at all; England should certainly play three seamers though unless the pitch very heavily favours the spinners. It would be a bit harsh to drop Patel after he got two poor lbw decisions, but I prefer having five bowlers anyway and dropping him in favour of Panesar will give England flexibility to adapt to the conditions even if they don’t read them perfectly.
This arrangement would weaken the batting; there are only five specialists and a long tail. I don’t think England should worry too much about the tail though. Their deep batting has helped them get up to a competitive score or put matches away in the past, but mostly in England. certainly in the last Test and in the two tours last winter having a long batting lineup didn’t help. So with the bowling struggling a bit in the first Test it is imperative to ignore batting and just focus on who will get us twenty wickets. Nor should they worry greatly about only having five specialist batsmen (plus Prior). England could pick eleven specialist batsmen, but still would not get a decent score if they batted the way they did in the first innings at Ahmedabad. England have to just back the batsmen to actually do their job and pick a bowling attack that can turn that into a victory.
My XI for Mumbai: Cook*, Compton, Trott, Pietersen, Bairstow, Prior†, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Onions, Panesar