England's promise that they were ready became a mantra before this Test series began. "We are ready, we are ready," player after player intoned, like brainwashed cult followers lining up on the way to their doom.
What they were ready for remains open to speculation after the third day of the First Test against India. A good hiding? Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding when they get home?
The tourists were still in it after a fashion by the close. Alastair Cook, their captain, and Nick Compton, their debutant, shared in a painstaking, vigilant and, most importantly, unbeaten opening partnership of 111 from 38 overs.
They showed pluck, determination and method, and some other qualities. Unfortunately, it was in the second innings, the first having rather passed the tourists by amid a welter of apprehension and ineptitude in the face of clever but hardly unplayable spin bowling.
This belated endeavour reduced the deficit to a mere 219. England trailed by 330 on first innings, 131 short of saving the follow on, which never looked remotely likely. If they had learned the recent lessons meted out to them in Asia by Pakistan and Sri Lanka it was not immediately apparent.
Starting the day at 41 for 3 and by all accounts in defiant mood, they were all out for 191 with a third of the day left, eight of their wickets falling to spin. If one player must be singled out for embodying all that was wrong – and sadly he must – it was Ian Bell.
There is no doubt that Bell is an authentic Test cricketer, the purest of England's present batsmen with more than 5,500 Test runs. But he has been well short of fulfilment in Asia, where his average is in the mid-30s (and below 30 if Bangladesh is excluded).
He came in after 50 minutes' play yesterday at the dismissal of Kevin Pietersen and danced down the pitch to his first ball, intent on hitting it over the top. It was breathtaking in its audacity and woeful in its execution. He never made it to the pitch and the ball spooned up to deep mid-off, where Sachin Tendulkar had time to set himself to pouch a straightforward catch.
Off trooped Bell for his third first-ball duck in Tests, his second this year. Whatever was going through his mind in the time he was waiting to bat can only be guessed at until he confesses. But all his thought processes were left whence he came.
Bell is flying home after this match to be with his wife when she gives birth to their first child. It is natural that much of his attention is on that – and he will in any case miss the Second Test in Mumbai – but if he was not in the right of state of mind to play in this match he should not have been picked. And if he was not in the right state of mind England, with a retinue that includes coaches, medical men and a psychologist, perhaps should have deduced it.
Nothing quite compared with that in England's sad decline, which was in truth a continuation of their poor form this year. What a fall from grace it has been: a 3-0 defeat against Pakistan, a draw in Sri Lanka after going behind, a victory against an insipid West Indies in cold, cold May, a drubbing by South Africa and now this.
Oh, and a dispute with their star player which virtually brought the game in England to a standstill and which everybody is now trying to pretend never happened. Similar perhaps to the way they think they can now play spin in the subcontinent.
Before Bell's sad demise, Cook and Pietersen had somehow held the spinners at bay. Occasionally Pietersen was sublime, occasionally ridiculous. He was bowled prodding defensively at a straight one from Pragyan Ojha. It was his 21st dismissal in Tests by a left-arm spinner.
Ojha and his spin chum, Ravichandran Ashwin, were both compelling in those morning overs. Four men were usually round the bat, chattering, stalking, waiting. Cook, who had looked in control, edged an off-spinner from Ashwin to slip.
Before lunch, Samit Patel was given out lbw in Umesh Yadav's first over of the match. It was a bad mistake by umpire Aleem Dar, because on first and subsequent viewings it was clearly going down leg. Had the Decision Review System been used in this series it would have saved Patel in normal circumstances.
Then again, DRS would have sent Patel packing when he played across Ashwin on four, only for the appeal to be turned down. There were six poor decisions in all yesterday which DRS might have changed. Dar, the best umpire in the world, had a rare off-day and it was worsened because his mistakes were allowed to stand. But India have a phobia about DRS and simply refuse to play with it.
As the ball grew softer there was belated resistance from England's tail, marshalled by Matt Prior. But Ojha took his tally to five and India wasted no time in enforcing the follow on.
Cook was reprieved when he should have been given out on 41, sweeping, missing and stone-dead lbw to Ojha, but he put it behind him. By the close he and Compo Jnr were rotating the strike, playing comfortably and probably wondering what it would be like if it had still been their first innings.
India's refusal to play with the Decision Review System cost them dear in the First Test yesterday. Four umpires' verdicts went against them which would certainly have been upheld had they been referred to the third umpire.
They were all lbw appeals turned down when England were batting. The most crucial might have been that against Alastair Cook on 41 in the second innings against the left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha.
The balance was slightly redressed because both the lbw appeals upheld against England looked to be missing. India claim that the system is faulty and prefer umpires not to have any guidance.
Their attitude extends to refusing broadcasters permission to use the Hawk-Eye ball-tracking system.
India won toss
India: First innings 521-8 dec (C A Pujara 206 no, V Sehwag 117, Yuvraj Singh 74; G P Swann 5-144)
England: First innings (overnight: 41-3)
*A N Cook c Sehwag b Ashwin 41/0/7/109
K P Pietersen b Ojha 17/0/2/39
I R Bell c Tendulkar b Ojha 0/0/0/1
S R Patel lbw b Yadav 10/0/0/49
†M J Prior b Ojha 48/0/7/100
T T Bresnan c Kohli b Ojha 19/0/2/60
S C J Broad lbw b Khan 25/1/2/23
G P Swann not out 3/0/2/2
Extras (b5, lb12) 17
Total (74.2 overs) 191
Fall 1-26, 2-29, 3-30, 4-69, 5-69, 6-80, 7-97, 8-144, 9-187.
Bowling R Ashwin 27-9-80-3; Z Khan 15-7-23-1; P P Ojha 22.2-8-45-5; Yuvraj Singh 3-0-12-0; U T Yadav 7-2-14-1.
England: Second innings (following on)
*A N Cook not out 74/0/13/124
N R D Compton not out 34/0/2/104
Extras (lb3) 3
Total (38 overs) 111
To bat I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, S R Patel, †M J Prior, S C J Broad, T T Bresnan, G P Swann, J M Anderson.
Bowling U T Yadav 7-1-15-0; P P Ojha 14-3-34-0; R Ashwin 14-3-49-0; V Sehwag 1-0-1-0; Z Khan 1-0-1-0; S R Tendulkar 1-0-8-0.
Umpires Aleem Dar (Pak) and A L Hill (NZ)
TV Umpire S Asnani (Ind)
Match referee R S Mahanama (SL)
England trail by 219 runs with 10 wickets remaining
Why we can't use live pictures
We apologise to all cricket fans as we are unable to print live pictures from yesterday's play. This paper, along with other British media groups, is not publishing any live pictures from the First Test in protest at the Indian Cricket Board's refusal to grant access to certain major picture agencies, which we view as a restriction on the freedom of the press.Reuse content