In assessing England's challenge yesterday, their batting coach insisted that there was more to it than spin bowling. The most impressive facet of Graham Gooch's performance was that he kept a deadpan face while announcing it.
“The pitches we have played on have been pretty flat, a little bit of spin, with not a lot of spin bowling, but we’re not majoring on spin bowling as the only thing we have got to be worried about,” he said. It may be true but only in the sense that a driver stuck in a 10 mile motorway tailback may be concerned about late running trains although they are not exactly impinging on his present predicament.
If England play as dozily in the forthcoming Test series against India as they did earlier this year in the UAE against Pakistan and for more than one match against Sri Lanka earlier this year then it will be curtains. India are well aware of this which is why they have kept the tourists well away from spin of any quality so far and have prepared a pitch for their final warm-up, which starts today against Haryana, with some grass on it.
England will not be able to field their preferred Test XI with neither the vice-captain Stuart Broad or Steve Finn likely to play with heel and thigh injuries respectively. Finn remains extremely doubtful for the First Test next week. The batsmen will presumably be those intended for the Test.
It is Gooch’s job to convince them that they can overcome the frailties brutally exposed by Saeed Ajmal and Rangana Herath and repel the twin threat of a rapidly progressing Ravichandran Ashwin and his partner Pragyan Ojha. To do so they will have to make immense advances, above all recognising that boundless patience will be needed to prevail over four matches.
“They’re all going to have to deliver at one stage or another if we’re going to score the sort of totals we’re going to need to give us an opportunity of winning,” said Gooch.
“It’s going to be hard, sometimes attritional. You’re going to have to adapt your game, you have got to find a way of putting the pressure back on the bowler. You have got to be smart about it, it’s a different style of game.
“If things are going their way they slow the game down a little bit, these are the things you have to cope with, that’s the challenge, that should be the enjoyment.”
Whatever he said about the menace coming from seam – and Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are both skilled practitioners – deep down Gooch knows what England have to do here. As will the players. It goes beyond the turning ball, over after over on slow, parched pitches.
As Gooch emphasised there will be men parked round the bat, chattering away perpetually and making a song and dance about the most innocuous delivery. It will be relentless.
There is much riding on the outcome of England’s batting for Gooch. He was a skilled exponent against spin in the sub-continent and although he averaged over 40 in his nine Test matches in India, his reputation is built largely on the hundred he made in the 1996 World Cup semi-final against India when he swept them to distraction.
So far, Gooch likes what he has seen and offered a glowing testimonial to Nick Compton, who is winning the race to be the side’s new opener ahead of the 21-year-old Yorkshireman, Joe Root. “They have all impressed me with the correctness of their technique, Compton and Route,” he said.
“I am delighted that Nick Compton has been selected. We have an academy and a performance system that brings players through but this chap has been in county cricket with two counties.
“He has advanced and upgraded his game he has found his way of scoring runs and he has delivered the results with Somerset over the last couple of years. He has gained selection on merit for his performances in county cricket and I think that is a really healthy thing. I think he is very impressive.”
But it could take an innings of singular ingredients from Kevin Pietersen to swing at least one of the matches England’s way. There has been a deliberate attempt to divert attention away from Pietersen in view of recent discord, which saw him dropped from England’s last Test match of the summer.
“Kevin Pietersen is a world class performer and what I have seen he is focused on scoring runs. He has been practising in the nets well, he has been practising smart and he is developing his technique against the slower ball and the turning ball.
“I think he has is going to be focused not on what has gone in the past but on what he can contribute in the future, that’s the only thing that matters really.” Runs can airbrush much from history.