The morning session of the fourth day of the Mumbai Test was not quite a formality; there was still a worry that India’s tail could hit out and give England a tricky target. But when Graeme Swann got Harbhajan Singh out in the second over of the day that possibility all but vanished and in fact India just managed to grind out another 25 runs over the course of about an hour before setting England 57 runs to win.
But the Test was really won long before the fourth day and it was just as a comprehensive win for England as the scoreline suggests and just as comprehensive a win as India recorded in the first Test. England beat India at their own game in this Test; their spinners comprehensively outbowled India’s spinners and their batsmen put last winter behind them and outdid their Indian counterparts to make a match-winning score in the first innings. That’s not to say it was a perfect victory for England by any means, however. There are still things to address if they want to avoid the tables turning again in Calcutta.
The first is that whilst the batsmen did manage to put up a good score it was off the performance of Cook and Pietersen almost exclusively. A lot of that is down to the pitch; it was never easy to bat on and only five of the 35 batsmen to come to the wicket for both sides even made it past thirty. It was that clear difficulty which made the innings of Cook and Pietersen so special. But not all of England’s wickets fell to good bowling and there is still some uncertainty about the middle order. Trott played very poorly for his duck and then Bairstow played a terrible shot to precipitate the controversy about his dismissal. England will at least reinforce the middle order with Ian Bell in the next Test and hopefully Nick Compton’s fluent thirty not out in the run chase will settle him down. He has never really been at fault in his dismissals, but he has been very nervy at times. If the Calcutta pitch is anything like the Mumbai one, however, England should not necessarily expect a lot from the middle order; they just need to make sure none of the batsmen give their wicket away and deny themselves a chance to get set.
Despite bowling India out for 142 in the second innings, England could look at the bowling as well. Swann and Panesar did pretty much all of the damage which was always going to be likely after it became clear how much the pitch was turning and indeed would turn later. But that was a slight problem in the first innings. England bowled well to restrict India to 119-5, but as the day wore on the batsmen settled in and the spinners started to look tired. England needed another option and although Anderson did manage to look threatening at times the only other seamer was Stuart Broad and he was a liability in this Test. He wasn’t threatening and he wasn’t economical and England really needed him to be at least one of those to give the spinners a break in the first innings and to give the batsmen a different look. If there had been a third seamer that would not have been as much of a problem, but as it was India recovered to 327 all out. If Broad plays in the Calcutta Test then it has to be as part of a five bowler attack, but I don’t think he will or should play at all. What I would have liked to see before the next Test is Broad play in the England Performance Programme match that started today to try to find some bowling rhythm and make sure that he is at full fitness. Steven Finn is playing in it and so is Graham Onions, however, so they might be in the mix for the next Test. Broad is a major asset to England at his best, but he’s been far from that in this series.
India have some questions ahead of Calcutta too, however. Not only did India win what looked like an important toss, but they played three spinners on a pitch that MS Dhoni had specifically asked to be a turner. To lose from there must be alarming. But the fact is that the only one of their spinners to consistently trouble England’s batsmen was Pragyan Ojha. Ravichandran Ashwin was poor for the second innings in succession; he did manage to get Cook which is o small feat with his current form, but he bowled far too many loose deliveries and the only other wicket he got in over 42 overs of effort was Monty Panesar. The decision to recall Harbhajan Singh was clearly an error. Singh was once a great bowler, but his career is coming to a close and this was at least one Test too many. The only wickets he picked up were Broad and Anderson late in England’s innings and generally looked ineffective. He won’t get many better pitches on which to bowl than this one and I don’t see how he can reasonably be picked again.
India’s top order had a fairly poor Test except for Cheteshwar Pujara who hit another century in the first innings. He has shown excellent temperament and technique and batted very well again for his runs. Gautam Gambhir also played a good lone hand in the second innings to possibly save his place in the XI and was unlucky not to carry his bat. But the rest of the top order had a match to forget. Sehwag, Tendulkar, Kohli and Yuvraj Singh made just 89 runs between their eight innings with a combination of poor shots and excellent bowling accounting for them. Kohli’s dismissals were both particularly bad and combined with his dismissal in the first Test might throw up some red flags for India. For Tendulkar this is a continuation of his poor form. Despite what some think, he isn’t immortal and he has now not made more than 27 in any of his last ten innings. I would be amazed if he does not play out the rest of this series, but either this one or the next should be his last. With Tendulkar undroppable, however, it’s Singh who might really be feeling the pressure having made nought and eight in this Test. It’s still a tough situation for the selectors, because Singh of course just made his incredible comeback from lung cancer and everyone wants to see him do well. But he was never really a Test-calibre player even before his illness, he had a batting average under 35 and a bowling average over 55, and that is showing again now. Unfortunately for India the first replacement would appear to be Suresh Raina and he would not only not appear to be an improvement, he actually has an average even worse than Singh’s.
Neither side need to make any sort of decision on their XI for the Calcutta Test this early of course, but I would be surprised to see either of them name the same bowling attack. England will be desperately hoping Finn is fit and India need to look at their other spinners to see if any of them can perform better than Harbhajan Singh. Other than that, I doubt either will change their batting apart from the return of Ian Bell to the England side. Both sides probably should look hard at their number six, however.