Under-prepared bowlers are over-exposed

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The Independent Online

There is no doubt that England's bowlers have been seriously affected by the lack of proper practice facilities at the start of the one-day segment of their tour. India's stroke-makers were given too many free gifts, especially at the start of their innings.

When England left India on 23 December their confidence was high. Now, they have returned after three weeks off for a different form of the game and in the way of things these days, with six new players, regarded as one-day specialists. They needed time to hit their straps.

The preparation for the second half of this tour was, therefore, crucial for both the old hands and the newcomers. The conditions they were given for practice and the one half-hearted one-day game they were offered in preparation were not nearly good enough.

Indian cricket is at the moment driven by Jagmohan Dalmiya, their newly-elected president who seems hell-bent on getting one over on the English whenever he spots a chance. Mike Denness's controversial performance as the match referee when India visited South Africa before Christmas played into his hands. The First Test against England in early December only went ahead at Mohali after much brinkmanship by Dalmiya over the selection of Virender Sehwag after Denness had banned him for one Test match.

It was the England players' choice to break the tour in half and go home for Christmas and it would have been surprising if Dalmiya had gone out of his way to help them refind their form on their return.

His response to England's complaints at the practice facilities they were offered – "they can't have been that bad, no one was injured'', was that of a non-cricketer. Bowlers did not dare to bowl flat out or batsmen to go for their strokes.

England's lack of worthwhile practice was clear to see when India batted first in Calcutta yesterday. Matthew Hoggard, who had bowled so well out here in December, was clearly short of rhythm or form, as was Darren Gough who had not been available for the Test matches.

There were too many bad balls from them both in the opening overs, which is a present you should never offer to stroke-makers of the calibre of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. It was only the brilliant fielding of Paul Collingwood, Jeremy Snape and Michael Vaughan which limited the early damage.

Later the two spinners, Snape and Ashley Giles, showed the same symptoms. Giles did not have the control he had shown in December and Snape, although he caused problems with his clever flight, bowled too much loose stuff. But again both were indebted to some superb fielding in the middle distances.

All in all, England were short of meaningful practice which cost them dear and it was hardly their fault. This may become a recurring situation as tours are increasingly shortened or divided as this one has been. Players cannot have it both ways, although one hopes that in the future hosts will not be as mean-spirited as the Indian authorities appear to have been on this occasion.