England struggling to avoid a slow death on India's turning wickets


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The Independent Online

Nobody, probably including backpackers, should come to India without an idea of how to combat spin. It would be useful if there were sections on the subject in guidebooks because sometime, even if all you want to do is see the Taj Mahal, meet a yogi and spend time on the beach at Goa, it is inevitable that you will come across a slow turner intent on stifling your best intentions.

The suspicion, though no more as yet, is that England might once more be found wanting in this department. It has happened in their two previous one-day series when their batsmen often looked as though they needed a yogi to offer some kind of divine help, and the early indications in the first of five matches of this series on Friday night were inauspicious.

Between them, the two Ravis, Ashwin, the off-spinner, and Jadeja, the orthodox left-armer, took six wickets for 69 in 15.1 overs and exerted an uncomfortable grip. There will be more of the same today at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium as Virat Kohli, the thrusting young shaver in India's middle order who comes from Delhi, promised.

"England obviously did struggle in the first match against spin, so we'll probably try to capitalise on those middle overs where they were not that sure," he said. "That will be our strength, especially playing on these kind of wickets in India."

England could have guessed this from thousands of miles away; the trouble is they cannot guess what to do next from 22 yards away. The sort of pitches on which they did for India at home last month, generally encouraging bounce and lateral movement for the seamers, were bound to provoke a response. Slow, turning pitches it is then – and that is also likely to apply in the Test series here next autumn.

Neither Jadeja nor Ashwin should automatically strike fear into the hearts of top-class batsmen but the evidence is that England's top order is still riven by uncertainty. Horizontal-bat shots always have their place, but should not be used as a get-out-of-jail option. It did not help the tourists, of course, though it helped India mightily, that they had lost their first two wickets before the spinners were on the scene.

It is another important match in the life of Kevin Pietersen. England's coach, Andy Flower, has reiterated that he picked him because he expected him to make runs, but he cannot keep coming out with that line. There is a general disbelief here that Ian Bell is not in the side, though that may be based on his magisterial Test form rather than his one-day influence.

Other pressing concerns for England include how to approach the opposition's batting powerplay and beyond, and what to do about MS Dhoni. Bowling yorkers has obvious attractions but two shortcomings, the first being that any error in length can make them hittable, the second that Dhoni is the one man on earth capable of making them an attacking opportunity.

India's captain, who by rights should be out on his feet, has faced 167 balls against England in three unbeaten innings of 78, 50 and 87 since his last dismissal (and he had scored 69 then) and has never looked threatened. As Jade Dernbach, one of those who has struggled to disturb his equilibrium said: "As a bowling unit, we just need to find a way of getting him out, and restricting him." Both sides are likely to be unchanged in personnel but England need to change plenty of other things.

England v India is live on Sky Sports 1 from 9.30am today