England are starting to suspect the world and his dog are against them. It is not true – though the dog would probably be better at playing spin – but it is a feature of losing sides and it may be more prevalent in losing sides that used to be winning ones.
This has been a grim year for England and seven defeats in 12 Tests tells its own story. If they can prevent it becoming eight from 13, as they insist they can, in the Second Test against India starting on Friday, a corner may be turned.
It has been a rapid decline. Perhaps it has been exaggerated by the sequence of reversals abroad but the loss of a series at home, to South Africa, provided further compelling testimony. In the 12 Tests before this, England suffered only one defeat, in the 12 before that it was two, and in the 12 before that, coinciding with the start of a refreshing new era under Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss, it was also two.
The players are largely the same and they are casting around for reasons why this happened. They seem unable to comprehend, to grasp that what once went so right is now going so wrong. It can’t be them can it, since they used to beat everybody, they were No 1 in the world? Jonathan Trott, who has suffered along with everybody else, had a go at explaining it yesterday.
“For the first two years of my international career we were a very successful team and achieved a lot and a lot quicker than people expected,” he said. “We had our goals and what we wanted to achieve and it happened a lot quicker than we expected. You become the No 1 team and a lot of attention goes on to you, how you deal with it and how you cope with in all conditions. The pressure is on you when you’re producing the results we had in the first two years. But if we turn around and win a couple on the bounce it will all be forgotten. In a month of cricket a lot can change.”
Trott’s form has suffered. He has made one of the team’s seven hundreds this year but otherwise has rarely looked the adhesive character whose early career was full of obstinate, thou-shalt-not-pass performances.
Only in three previous years have England lost eight Test matches: in 1984, 1986 and 1993. In the first two they had to play a rampant West Indies, losing 5-0 both times, and in the third an equally dominant Australia after being crushed in, of all places, India.
They have never lost nine Tests in a year and there is a real fear that a side which was No 1 less than a year ago could achieve that dubious feat.
England are railing about the past, pointing out how hard it is to play in India. It is 28 years since David Gower’s team won here, though that embraces only four series, all no longer than three matches and one of which they drew. They may do better to look at how their predecessors won rather than trying to deride those who also lost. Six years ago, England’s tour was split asunder when their captain, Michael Vaughan, and vice-captain, Marcus Trescothick, were both ruled out of the series.
The improbable figure of Andrew Flintoff took over and the series was just short enough for his infectious brand of enthusiasm to do the trick. England came from 1-0 down to level the series in Mumbai.
Gower’s team in 1985 also came from behind after losing in Mumbai, generating enough swing to disrupt India’s batting. That may be England’s best hope this time, though India’s seam attack, two man though it is, may be their match.
The pitch at the Wankhede Stadium is likely to have more bounce than at Ahmedabad, but England will not dare again to omit Monty Panesar. There is not much recent precedent to go on.
There has been only one Test at the ground since England won in 2006, a thriller against West Indies a year ago. The scores finished level on the last day with India nine wickets down.
To England’s credit, they know they messed up the first Test. But what they have not come to terms with is that they messed up throughout 2012.
It is possible that a team which rose to the top more quickly than expected has declined more quickly than expected as well. No element of their game seems to be working as it was. The batting was awful in Ahmedabad but the fast bowling was not up to snuff. The truth is probably that there are several teams at a similar level.
Trott said: “It’s a frustrating thing. There are no guarantees on anything in life and cricket. You can’t rock up the next day after working in the nets and train as hard as you can and guarantee that it’s going to work. The opposition are allowed to play well and we didn’t play well in the first Test.”
To avoid the unquestioned ignominy of eight defeats in a year they have to make sure that neither of those things happens in the next few days.
Finn to test injury in special game
Steve Finn, the England fast bowler, will remain on the tour of India following hospital tests. After a fortnight out with a thigh injury, a scan showed that Finn, who is unavailable for the Second Test starting tomorrow, has suffered no structural damage.
England intend him to play for the Performance Programme team, effectively England B, in a three-day match in Mumbai next week. They hope that he will then be fit enough for tthe Third Test in Kolkata. It will be a relief for a hard-pressed touring party, since there were fears that Finn would need to go home for treatment.
* India (probable) G Gambhir, V Sehwag, C A Pujara, S R Tendulkar, V Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, M S Dhoni (capt/wkt), R Ashwin, Z Khan, P P Ojha, U T Yadav.
* England (probable) A N Cook (capt), N R D Compton, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, E J G Morgan, S R Patel, M J Prior, S C J Broad, GP Swann, J M Anderson, MS Panesar
Umpires A Dar (Pak) & T Hill (NZ)
TV Sky Sp’ts 1, Friday, 3.30am.
Odds Ind 10-11, Draw 15-8, Eng 9-2.
Weather Hot and sunny; Max: 32C. Pitch report Likely to have some bounce and turn but also encourage pace bowlers. The rebuilt stadium is said to encourage swing.