England's batsmen prepare to dig in for victory


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The Independent Online

England may have landed in precisely the right place if they are seeking inspiration to beat India. Passive resistance and infinite patience, two of the main components of their master plan, were practised for years almost to perfection by Mahatma Gandhi three miles up the road from here.

Most of the tourists went for a round of golf on their day off yesterday when they might more profitably have visited the Sabarmati Ashram, where Gandhi, the father of the nation, espoused his principles as the way to win independence from Britain. But presumably the well-regarded team psychologist, Mark Bawden, thinks lowering the handicap might be more beneficial than a spot of spiritual uplifting. However it is achieved, England's batsmen have to dig in for the long haul as soon as the series starts on Thursday. They have to be prepared to occupy the crease for long periods, for hour upon hour, aware that the runs will take care of themselves.

Forgetting these principles has cost them dear in Asia already this year. It went wrong from the off in the UAE last January when they came out blazing on the first morning, wrongly assuming that was the most effective way to nullify Saeed Ajmal, and never stopped paying for their temerity.

The fault has been recognised, as Richard Halsall, the assistant coach, readily conceded yesterday. It seems they have talked of little else as the strategy has been formulated and finalised in the past three weeks.

"Yes, they have got to change," said Halsall. "Graham Gooch has spoken about batting time and how you go about that and the methods they employ," said Halsall. "These are deep discussions the batting group have had. They've sought a lot of opinions from a lot of people.

"The tempo and rhythm of the games out here is very different. It's going to be a massive challenge for our batsmen. But they do genuinely look as if they want to do something quite special."

England have been deprived deliberately of much spin bowling in their warm-up games or indeed much quality bowling of any kind. But five of their batsmen have made hundreds and that itself is an advantage. "You don't know if they've been facile runs or not, but the batsmen have spent time in the middle," said Halsall. "They feel good which, for elite sportsmen, is part of the battle."

With the return of Graeme Swann to the squad yesterday, England now have concerns for the match only about the identity of the three fast bowlers. Halsall confirmed that Steve Finn and Stuart Broad would need to bowl flat out for each of the next two days to convince the selectors that they are ready for five days of attritional Test cricket. But the manner in which he spoke about Finn, in particular, suggests that the tourists want to have him in their XI as soon as possible. He is as quick as can be now, and Halsall admitted it had been genuinely scary taking the ball from him wearing a batting mitten on Sunday.

Clever psychology appears to be at work to restore Kevin Pietersen in the dressing room. Knowing this country as he does, from the Indian Premier League, Pietersen has been tasked with becoming more involved, largely at the behest of batting coach Gooch.

"Playing in the subcontinent, he's sought advice from lots of people, so he's been able to pass that on," said Halsall. "He's been part of that real batting focus." In other words, they are making Pietersen feel wanted – because he is.