England’s batsmen and spin in the fourth innings

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England’s second innings batting card looks a bit binary code, but the truth is they weren’t qualified for this job.

The batsman v bowler duel generally favours the batsman, but the balance can shift towards the bowler due to the pitch, the weather and the match situation. In Abu Dhabi, it seemed to reach a tipping point.

Most of us would agree that it reached that tipping point a little too soon, but it’s not that England had a bad innings; it’s that a fourth innings trial by spin is as alien to their batsmen as Alf.

A major deficiency

There are many different ways of winning Test matches, but setting up a fourth innings spin assault is one of the classic tactics. If your batsmen can’t counter that situation, that’s not so much a chink in your armour as a missing breastplate.

Many people will want to replace one or two of England’s batsmen. That may or may not help, but it won’t resolve the problem. England simply don’t have anyone who can deal with fourth innings spin at the minute – that’s the truth of the matter.

Good spin bowling

England’s best batsmen haven’t deteriorated, they just haven’t encountered good spin bowling in relatively favourable conditions for quite some time.

Pakistan’s spin bowlers aren’t so good that they can rip through sides regardless of the conditions; they’re more like England’s pace attack. They’re disciplined and they make the most of anything that’s in their favour.

England were bowled out for 72 in Abu Dhabi and there were all sorts of decisions which could have gone the opposite way. But it wouldn’t have made a difference and that’s very much the point.

A couple of dismissals might have been given not out on another day, while a couple of not out decisions could easily have been given. The point is that the appeals were coming thick and fast and even allowing for the excitability of Adnan Akmal (who appeals even when there’s a successful forward defensive), they were frequent enough that it was only ever a matter of time.

It was exceptional, remorseless spin bowling against batsmen who had stolen and memorised the answers to a completely different exam. Pakistan were by far the better side.


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  1. Not convinced by this argument. England’s batsmen have bigger problems which are becoming clear now. Strauss is horribly out of form. Pietersen is an arrogant celebrity show pony who plays one great innings in every 20. Bell is a flat track bully who freezes when the going gets tough. And Morgan is not yet a good Test match player.

    Ok, all that’s probably a bit harsh. But surely we should have seen this coming. Last summer many sections of the English media were falling over their trousers proclaiming this to be the greatest England side ever. in the words of Andrew Flintoff: “This game has got a funny way of biting you on the arse, mate. I’ve seen it all.”

  2. Bit of a surprise, that.

    Australia should consider this a warning as well, particularly given the younger generation’s complete freakout against Ashwin when given a spin-friendly Adelaide pitch.

  3. Ah, Collingwood would have won this match for England. I bet he could bowl a decent bit of spin if he put his mind to it as well.

  4. Ah well, c’est la vie. I’m not sure it makes a great difference, in the scheme of things. Being unable to play sub-continental sides in sub-continental conditions is a flaw of many good test teams (look at Australia’s last 20 years in India if you don’t believe me, and they were a properly good team). I just don’t think it is a fatal one. It certainly doesn’t, as Javed Miandad wants it to, suggest that England aren’t a real #1 team.

    It’s almost as if the best batsmen can’t be best at everything (with the possible exception of Tendulkar). Lara averaged 33 in India, Ponting 26. We shouldn’t judge how England’s batsmen might perform in Australia or South Africa, or at home, by how well they do away to Pakistan.

    Perhaps the answer is to treat sub-continental matches as we would ODIs, or T20s, and pick an entirely different team of specialist batsmen. Send the Lions team to live in Bangalore for five years, playing nothing but Indian cricket, and use these batsmen when on tour there.

    1. I sure hope you are joking Bert. This is identical logic to India’s “we will see you at home” riposte after getting a hiding in England and Australia. To be a great test team, and certainly to justify the number 1 billing, a team must show the ability to win in all kinds of conditions. That includes spin friendly conditions in the subcontinent, where at least a third of all international cricket is played (including the middle east here for simplicity).

      Australia won in India in 2004 against Kumble and Harbhajan, and that series was special precisely because they proved they could play a very different kind of game than they normally do (defensive, patient, attritional) and win in unfamiliar conditions. On current evidence England are a long way away from playing like that.

    2. By that logic, Australia can’t have been a proper #1 team in 2003, because at that point they’d been #1 for ten years without a win in India.

    3. Thought I should add, Ritesh – England were crap today, and they should have done much better. But I disagree with the win-win-win-win-win-win-win-ohmygodtheyvelostamatchtheymustbeshit theory. #1 teams who never lose, especially at the polar extreme to their home conditions, are rare as hens’ teeth.

      Now, if they lose the next series in a similar manner…

    4. The point is, Australia in the 2000s were always competitive in the subcontinent even if they won a series only once. They won by an innings in Mumbai in 2001, and if not for a collective brain freeze in the second innings, would have won the Kolkata test too (VVS not withstanding). By contrast the only time this England team has looked competitive is the Johnny Cash test of 2006.

      I am in fact not saying England are crap, and certainly not expecting them to win all the time. This team is (sort of) the best in the world today, but is not dominant in the same way as the Australians of the 90s and 2000s, or the West Indians of the 80s, were. They need to prove themselves in the subcontinent to go to the next level.

    5. I agree – I wouldn’t consider for a second comparing this England team to the two best teams in test history. They’re not even in the top twenty. But they were, and are, a good team. It was Javed Miandad who irritated me on this issue, saying that no team was a proper #1 team unless they could win on the sub-continent, because that would rule out almost all teams that have ever been at the top.

    6. Stop debating informatively and respectfully and reaching a consensus. Don’t you know anything about commenting on a website.

      Bert, you take stance A. Ritesh, you take stance B. Endeavour to become more extreme with each comment and ever more steadfast in your view that the other person is completely wrong.

      If you find common ground, urinate on it.

    7. I take stance A? Are you suggesting that I am taking stance A? You have no idea, idiot. I was taking stance Q. Anyone who thinks that my stance was stance A must be a total retard who has no idea about stances. Have you got any idea about the difference between stances A & Q? No obviously not which means imho you must be a retard adn a total one at that lol.

    8. You Stance A takers just don’t get it, do you? When things are good, all you talk about is Stance A and then as soon as things go wrong, you claim you were taking Stance Q all the time.

      Well we’ve got news for you, it doesn’t matter whether you take Stance A or Stance Q. Later in the year, you are going to encounter Scenario G and then you’ll see that Stance R is correct and everyone will laugh at you.

  5. Grim days. KC has his third “I told you so” in a week. Bert’s almost giddy whimsy of recent months has been replaced by a steely articulateness. Ged is absent (and missed).

    I want to write more, but Mrs. Smudge wants the computer.

    1. We all know its actually nothing to do with Spin friendly conditions but is everything to do with KC’s ‘England in the 90’s’ post where he gloried in old failings, meaning that we fans started thinking about them, meaning that – much akin to a commentators curse – it happened.

      MEANING IT IS ALL KC’S FAULT!! (just in case you didn’t grasp where my logic was going).

  6. It was a poor effort, devoid of any attacking shots other than a cut four from Strauss.
    England would have easily chased 145 in 20 overs, but in 120 overs they couldn’t.

  7. Re Ritesh: The Aussies won the 2004 India series in part because the Nagpur track was seamer friendly. One wonders what would have happened if all the tracks were spinner friendly. I agree though that the Aussies were competitive in all conditions, and this surely was a mark of their greatness.

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