Calcutta Test preview

The Calcutta Test starts on Wednesday (or late on Tuesday here) with each side looking to secure at least a share of the spoils for the series. After all the fuss about the pitch and groundstaff, it sounds like the wicket will be similar to the one from the Mumbai Test. It is another used one and should have plenty of bounce and turn like the one at Mumbai did. I expect this will suit England; Dhoni may have correctly identified a weakness against good spin bowling, but his spinners will need to bowl a lot better than they did at Mumbai to exploit that weakness and even then they have the problem that England’s spinners are still better. The pitch also means that whilst it is still probably going to be a good toss to win, it will not be vital.

The other good news for England is that Steven Finn is fit and Ian Bell is back from his paternity leave so they can field an improved XI to the one who won in Mumbai. Finn looks guaranteed a place in the XI; England badly missed him in the first Test and although it got lost in the second innings romp by the spinners he was missed in Mumbai too. England looked definitely short a bowler in the first innings and Stuart Broad’s inability to keep things tight was a big part of that. Assuming England will play four bowlers again there is very little else they could do but drop Broad to make way for Finn. But with Samit Patel only bowling four overs in Mumbai he ought to be the one to make way with England playing five bowlers. That way if Broad regains his form he will still play a role, but if he does not England still have the resources to cover him with the bowling and with very little impact on the batting. (Broad’s career average is actually higher than Patel’s and even taking form and Patel’s bad luck into account I don’t think there is a large difference between the two.)

Bell should also come straight back into the side, but there is a bit more question around that. His first innings dismissal in Ahmedabad was terrible and although Jonny Bairstow did play a poor shot for his dismissal in Mumbai he was unlucky to be given out. But I would have Bell return; he looked more convincing in his second innings than Bairstow ever did in Mumbai and he is the overall better batsman in any case. Although I would have Bairstow at six in New Zealand (unless something radically changes between now and then), the only way he should play in Calcutta is if England drop Patel, but decide not to go with five bowlers. There’s probably a better chance of that happening than of them actually going with five bowlers, but I think Patel has shown a bit more with the bat than Bairstow did (admittedly in only one innings) and if he is to be dropped it should be for a bowler.

The worry for England with respect to the batting is that they still only had two players really fire in Mumbai. A lot of that was admittedly to do with the pitch, India also had just two scores over thirty in their first innings, but it does bring up the worry that if Alastair Cook fails this time England might be in trouble. Kevin Pietersen played the best crafted innings I have seen from him in Mumbai, but it’s impossible to know if that Pietersen or the Pietersen who panicked twice against Pragyan Ojha will show up in Calcutta. What England will really be hoping is that this time Jonathan Trott and/or Ian Bell can get themselves in and play a big score. As well as the team did in Mumbai, they do need someone to step up and take some of the burden off Cook and Pietersen.

Especially with Finn back fit and looking like he will be tough to play plus the increase in confidence coming from the Mumbai victory I would say England are probably just favourites in Calcutta. But I would have said India were favourites in Mumbai and we saw how that turned out. England look to have comfortably enough bowling to keep India down to a reasonable score, the question will be if the batsmen can do as well or better than they did in Mumbai. Without that it will just be a replay of the UAE.

My XI for the Calcutta Test: Cook*, Compton, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior†, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Finn, Panesar

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