Kevin Pietersen is not the only English player struggling to come to terms with India's spin. That said, the team has the ability to solve the problem as long as it admits there is a problem in the first place.
Kevin Pietersen did not have a lot of fun in the first Test match since his reintegration with the England team. In Ahmedabad, it would be fair to say KP was more reintegrated with his problems with left-arm spin than with his team-mates. Pragyan Ojha tortured Pietersen in the first innings and could have dismissed him in a variety of ways, narrowly missing having him stumped, lbw and caught close-in. Eventually, KP chose to be bowled in both innings, playing a remarkably strange leg-to-off across-the-line poke in the first innings, what has come to be known as the curtain rail shot in England. In the second dig, Pietersen played what could only be described as a premeditated slog-sweep, and Ojha saw the shot coming so early there was no trouble in defeating it.
Pietersen is perhaps the only England player in a swollen squad not to have addressed the media in the three weeks the team has been in the country. When he does, however, asking about his weakness against left-arm spin would be risky, for KP has consistently maintained that he does not have a specific problem with that kind of bowling.
And he’s right, after a fashion. To accuse Pietersen alone of having a problem against left-arm spin is unfair, when the entire team seems to be prolific at giving their wickets away to the breed. In the last five Tests England have played in India, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates, England have lost 43 wickets between them to Ojha, Rangana Herath and Abdur Rahman. If the entire team is hell bent on giving their wickets to left-arm spinners, how is it fair to single out KP?
On a serious note, though, it’s been as interesting listening to England talk about cricket as watching them play on this tour. From the time they arrived, England have been unmoved on certain points — they don’t have a problem playing spin in general, they’re not especially bad in the subcontinent, and three seamers and one spinner backed up by Samit Patel is their best combination.
While sticking to one’s belief is an admirable trait, the ability to convince yourself that something is true despite all facts being to the contrary is just delusional. Having convinced yourself of something, to be inflexible and obstinate about it is a recipe for disaster.
In Andy Flower and Graham Gooch, England have excellent backroom men of serious stature, and two individuals who are implicitly trusted. Alastair Cook is new to the captaincy, but has already shown a flair for leading from the front and staying incredibly calm when things around him are on the verge of crumbling. What he perhaps does not have, yet, is Andrew Strauss’s capacity for being self critical, and the same level of self awareness regarding his team’s strengths and weaknesses.
The sooner England admit to some of their weaknesses, the sooner they can actually attempt to solve the issues that exist. Flower, who was the last person from the England camp to front up to the media said “he would like to think” there was nothing really wrong with team. He also said: “I hope I’m not making personal excuses here,” and “I hope there is no real reason why it (batting failures) should keep happening in the first innings.”
When a man who rules his set-up with an iron first of the kind Flower prefers, to the extent that Pietersen was dropped for a Test after scoring a dramatic hundred in the series against South Africa, is reduced saying what he would like to think, and then slipped into the realm of hope, two situations are likely. Firstly, Flower is merely posturing for the media and the fans, but at heart knows things are much more dire than he’s letting on. He won’t be the first man to do that when forced to defend the indefensible. The second possibility, the really scary one for England, is that they genuinely believe their own hype.
The first scenario will mean the fall will be that much harder when the guff is exposed for what it is. The second will result in no visible improvement and a continuation of the kind of cricket that has ensured that England have not won a Test series in India since 1985 and one in the subcontinent (save Bangladesh) since 2001.
Anand spent nearly a decade with Cricinfo before becoming the first Chief Cricket Writer of an Indian national daily, with the Hindustan Times newspaper in Delhi. A brief stint as Deputy Editor of Sports Illustrated India was followed by his appointment at Wisden, for whom he writes the much anticipated annual India review. Anand's work in cricket has earned him three national awards and he was the only Indian in the jury that selected the Player and Team of the Tournament for the ICC during the 2011 World Cup.
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