Swann must get tough with the ball
Spinner's asides in new book distract from the important matter – restricting India's explosive batting
To have talked up England's chances too much before the events of Fridaynight was as daft as talking them down too far now. The loss by 126 runs to India in Hyderabad was unwelcome and unexpected.
It leaves the tourists with plenty to ponder, such as have they been kidding themselves, but what it does not leave them is without a chance in this series. Certainly they will have to respond quickly, though, and of course India will feel that the misfortune that followed them on their tour of England in the summer has now been transferred.
The size of the defeat, England's heaviest since they were 158 runs short in Rajkot three years ago, was sufficient to question policy of preparation, selection and strategy. As if that were not enough, Andy Flower, the team's coach, had to deal with other peripheral matters yesterday.
He did it diplomatically and honestly, trying to conclude that it had not affected attitudes, but the team, indeed any team, could have done without one player criticising another. In an extremely small section of his book The Breaks Are Off, published last week, Graeme Swann discredited Kevin Pietersen's short tenure as captain.
It was three years ago, Pietersen has long since come back to the ranks, Swann has become the best spinner in the world, it is other people's team now, but Swann and Pietersen still share the same dressing room. And Swann's brief aside says: "There is no doubt that Kev is a good player, a really fine batsman, but he was never the right man to captain England in my opinion." Swann adds in the autobiography: "Some people are better leaders of men, and Kev, for all his abundant talent, is not one of those natural leaders."
Since Pietersen is still coming to terms with his place in the one-day world, having barely scored a run – by his own high standards – since the days of his captaincy, that must have rankled. Dressing rooms are delicate flowers in which delicate balances are struck.
Flower said: "I personally disagree with current players making comments about their team-mates. My personal opinion is that it is not the right thing to do." Equally he was certain that equilibrium had remained undisturbed.
When Swann competed on Friday any comments in the book had no place in his mind, Flower said, and the commercial opportunities were not that important. As for Pietersen, Flower said: "I think he has handled it very maturely and he and Swann get on fine. There aren't any issues arising from it."
Good for Pietersen certainly, and good for Flower for making the point about a star player who must wonderwhether he will ever shine so brightlyas he once did. Pietersen was just about coming to terms with the pitch and himself when he ran himself out on Friday night.
This is already a crucial little tour for his one-day career and though both men, Flower and Pietersen, would deny it publicly, they are probably aware of it. If Pietersen does not make many runs here, and a couple of fifties are probably the minimum requirement, then England will start to think that his force is spent.
Eoin Morgan is to return after shoulder surgery at some point, a host of young bloods need blooding well in advance of the next World Cup, in Australia in 2015, by which time Pietersen will be 35 and sounding more jaded at the relentlessness of it all than he did last week. It seems more than likely that Pietersen regained his place in the first of the five-match series on Friday ahead of Ian Bell.
But Flower was at pains to stress yesterday that Bell was a world-class player who had done lots right against India in the summer when Pietersen did not play.
In dropping him, it is to be hoped that Flower did not forget Bell's immense contribution of 69 from 71 balls in the World Cup match against India in Bangalore earlier this year which, almost as much as Andrew Strauss's titanic hundred, helped England to a high-scoring tie. "I respect him a lot as a player and it is tough on him," said Flower.
England must get a lot more things right quickly. They have to consider using Swann, their best bowler, in a different way, so that he is on in the tough part of the innings towards the end and may be a wicket-taking threat.
Their seamers, much vaunted, were not precise enough when MS Dhoni was summoning his sledgehammer wrists. The power-play overs are hard for bowlers, which makes pinpoint accuracy the more important.
The batsmen equally must react to India's spin attack, which accounted for six of the wickets on Friday. It was a difficult surface as the match progressed, but it was a timid effort.
England have won only one of their past 14 matches in this country. They came here with realistic aspirations of redressing the balance, but so overwhelming was Friday's defeat that if the response tomorrow in Delhi is neither swift nor emphatic, the same old story will be repeated.
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