England plot changes to save series

Tourists need a rapid turnaround in Mohali tomorrow if they are to avoid third loss in a row


If England are to get out of this mess, it will take an amazing change of fortune. So inferior and unsure have they been in all aspects of the game, so witheringly have India brushed off their challenge, that there seems no way back in this series.

The tourists are as doomed as those heroes in Saturday morning matinee serials who were exhausted, tied up and at the mercy of an implacable foe. But at the start of the next week, inexplicably, implausibly, in one bound they were free.

That is what England must achieve in Mohali tomorrow to stay alive in the series. All the right noises were emanating from a subdued camp yesterday as they prepared for the short 140-mile journey from Delhi but this is different from playing in the right way.

In only five days, it has become shockingly apparent that England are still considerably short of the necessary aptitude for limited-overs cricket in subcontinental conditions. Had they fancied a team song to cheer them up they could hardly have gone beyond: "Tell Me the Old, Old Story".

That England came here as a work in progress was always clear, but two victories at home this summer, breasting the tape just ahead of Sri Lanka and taking full advantage of the English climate to see off India before the home straight, might have enhanced their real quality.

England prepared well here for 12 days before the series started and there was a genuine feeling that they could beat an Indian side, tired and deflated after their recent excursion to England, for the first time in 26 years away from home. Instead, England made insufficient runs, outwitted both by spin bowling, in the first match, and by extremely smart seam, in the second.

Their own bowling has adapted slowly and has looked the poorer for having no response to Indian batsmen elated to be back in a place where the ball is not extravagant in bounce and sideways movement. By the end of Monday's defeat by eight wickets (with 80 balls to spare), which followed the 126-run reversal in Hyderabad, the fielding had fallen apart at the seams.

Their tactic of sledging the opposition, for which they were warned by the umpire, Billy Bowden, had perished before Virat Kohli's flashing blade. England, apparently, were responding to India's unruly language in the summer but somebody might tell Jade Dernbach, for one, that it is unwise to be climbing into your opponents when they are 200 or so for two, no matter how many tattoos you have.

Nobody at least is hiding from the truth. "We just haven't played well enough," said Samit Patel, one of the five batsmen who made more than 30 but fewer than 50, a scandalous waste, on Monday. "I believe we are not far away."

If that is the view of them all, and it probably is, the paucity of England's performances and the authority of India's make it easier to agree with the former part of the statement than the latter. England will have to make changes.

Ian Bell will come in to the middle order, though it is time that England seriously contemplated him as an opener. Scott Borthwick, poor blighter, might be asked to subdue India's finest with his attacking leg spin. It is a long shot but it may be the only shot. Patel and Dernbach may be vulnerable, though balance in all things has suddenly become difficult. It must be achieved in the composition of the XI and in the need to win now while still planning for the future by holding on to your selection beliefs. With one bound they were free may be all they have.

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