It's the hottest ticket in town but England must beware being caught cold
Saturday 26 February 2011
Nothing in recent history suggests England have a prayer here tomorrow.
India, hotter to handle than a vindaloo, have made mincemeat – probably curried – of them lately in one-day cricket and arrive at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium for the Group B World Cup match in splendid form.
In the potentially tricky opening fixture of the tournament against Bangladesh, India made light of their status as favourites, in the eyes both of the people and the bookies. England, on the other hand, almost made a mess of dispatching the Netherlands and at various stages their play was as primitive and imprecise as in the three most recent World Cups – and look where that got them.
There remains the unmistakable sense, however, that this is an authentic big game, the biggest by far of the group stages. The enforced move from the original venue of Kolkata, where the stadium was not completed in time, has naturally lessened the dramatic impact.
At Eden Gardens more than 100,000 would have watched, many of them truly hanging from rafters, while the capacity at the Chinnaswamy is slightly more than 38,000. Tickets, it is fair to say, are at a premium.
Following the stampedes and the police's robust response when 7,000 of the much-sought little treasures went on sale at the stadium on Thursday, thousands of fans were still milling round the place yesterday, hoping against hope that someone would make them a miraculous offer. The police, who had waded into the queues with lathi sticks the previous day, were largely absent and the scenes much more good-natured.
It is impossible to move in the city, however, without being asked for a pass, or the phone number of someone who might have a ticket. Two officials of the Karnataka Cricket Association, who were seen trousering scores of tickets on Wednesday as the crowds lived in hope even as they were assaulted, were in judicial custody yesterday according to Shankar Bidri, the city's police commissioner.
To win, England have to bring their A game and probably up it. India are not impregnable. They have lost two recent series, both away, to Sri Lanka and South Africa, while they have been trying to seek the appropriate blend and balance for this competition.
But against England they have tended to have matters their own way at home. The last two series between the sides in India finished 6-1 and 5-0, the latter being suspended with two matches to play because of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, when 7-0 looked for all the world a certainty.
Those results sandwiched a narrow 4-3 series victory for the home side in England in 2007. The problem for England is that they have simply failed to deal with subcontinental conditions, lacking the hitting ability at the top of the order, the urgency to rotate the scoreboard in the middle and the innovative run-plundering skills required at the end.
Although their top order is still based on a hunch – Kevin Pietersen was brought in to open the innings at the 11th hour – there are at least signs that it is one with a chance of success. Pietersen seems intent on rising to the occasion. It appears that at last England have learned the lessons of the last decade.
"The thing about batting in the subcontinent is that you have to have a positive mindset at all times," said the all-rounder Stuart Broad yesterday. If he was stating the bleedin' obvious, it is still a ploy that has eluded England.
"That is the way we have tried to play our one-day cricket over the last 18 months," Broad said. "We have been very fearless – if you think a shot is on you take it on. Our batsmen are excited about facing the Indian bowlers. We know they are a world-class attack and team. There is no reason why we can't come out and express ourselves like we have done against the likes of South Africa and Pakistan last summer."
But an audacious start must be matched by a controlled middle and a flamboyant end. Rumours are rife that the pitch, which usually has more pace and carry than most of the others in India, will take spin. That is probably as the hosts would want it.
When the game was moved from Kolkata it was generally perceived to be helpful for England. Some voracious watering was taking place on the pitch yesterday and there was a thunderstorm in the early evening which might have added more spice.
If England's batsmen can somehow react accordingly, their bowlers still have to contain the Indian run machine. The opening partnership of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag has resumed what would seem to be normal service if victory against Bangladesh was any yardstick: they put on a breezy 69 and Sehwag clubbed 175 in stand-and-deliver fashion.
England's bowlers were grievously disappointing against the Netherlands. If they could almost be forgiven for failing to take new-ball wickets on a flat pitch, their efforts at the end were abysmal – as they at least had the wisdom and grace to recognise.
"We are a very honest bowling unit and we did not bowl how we wanted to," said Broad. "We want to get early wickets with the new ball but didn't threaten in the way we wanted to.
"We know we can beat the best teams in the world and we have proved that by winning the World Twenty20 and Ashes in Australia. We know we can compete and it is up to us to show that, come Sunday, because it is going to be an amazing day's cricket."
Sehwag, definitely, and Tendulkar, probably, can expect to be greeted with several bars of chin music from Broad and Jimmy Anderson. While England might well play two spinners, which would mean omitting Ravi Bopara who helped them across the line on Tuesday, they are unlikely as yet to open up with one of them, as other sides have done. It is another plan they might have thought of, but have not tried. If nothing else, England must show that they understand what the tenth World Cup is all about.
Battle of Bangalore: The Key Men
This is almost coming home for England's new opening batsman. The M Chinnaswamy Stadium was his base when he played for Royal Challengers in the Indian Premier League. Pietersen will view the entire thing as a personal challenge.
If there is any hint of bounce or carry, Broad is the man to take advantage of it, though he may be neutered if the pitch turns. In that case Graeme Swann will have to do his usual but Broad will hammer it with the new ball.
Who else, if not Virender Sehwag? Opening for the 323rd time, the Little Master will want to stamp his imprint on his sixth World Cup. He has scored 46 one-day hundreds but only one both against England and at Bangalore, figures he wants to double.
The beard and turban have been around for 13 years and now he is among the smartest of bowlers. He has great strike and economy rates: if there's anything in it for him, England must fear the middle overs will come and go.
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