England Caught in a Spin Web
A lot really was expected from England, who according to the ICC Rankings are the World No.1 Test team! But the English boys have tasted two successive Test defeats against Pakistan and are now fearing a 0-3 whitewash! England at the start of their Test Series against Pakistan was the clear favourites but now the tables have turned around. The English team is caught in a spin web so badly. Their batsmen certainly do not how to come out of it! The efforts of their bowlers who have done a decent job in the Tests at Dubai and Abu Dhabi have gone in vain.
Well on paper, England does have the talent to stay as the World No.1 team. England is lucky to have two established openers in Skipper Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook. Both these players are capable of playing the big knocks, especially Cook who is getting addicted to the Daddy Hundreds. The two openers are followed up by the ever consistent Jonathan Trott who has been a run machine of sorts. Next is Kevin Pietersen, the dasher who provides the aggression for the English team and his tall intimidating presence in the middle can tear apart bowling attacks.
Ian Bell has cemented his place with some superb knocks and Eoin Morgan deserves to be in the side for being a left-hander and also for his cool batting under pressure. Matt Prior, the Wicket Keeper has lifted his game as well and is contributing with the bat especially in crucial junctures. Then there are the all-rounders if one cay say in Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann to boost the totals lower down the order. Of course another handy all-rounder is Tim Bresnan but he is missing because of an injury and with him the luck seems to have disappeared from England.
Rounding off the English bowling attack are swing bowler James Anderson and left-arm spinner Monty Panesar who has come back with a bang taking wickets in a hurry in the Abu Dhabi Test. If an amazing fast bowling talent in Steven Finn is sitting out of the playing XI then there must be something really good about the other English bowlers!
With all the right ingredients, England is somehow struggling in the UAE against the spin trio of Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman and Mohammad Hafeez. The old tradition of the English batsmen being clueless against quality spin attack seems to be continuing! A couple of batsmen in the England team are really good against the spinners - Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell. However, both have failed in this Test Series which has been the main problem for England. Eoin Morgan too is pretty good with his innovative batting against the spinners which does remind us of former Zimbabwean great and present England Coach Andy Flower but he too isn’t firing.
So which Team is really the World no.1 Test Team?
Well England does have the players who can handle any type of bowling attack but somehow they are caught in the spin web. What has been the real problem is that the batsmen haven’t picked up the lengths correctly on this UAE tour. Often the English batsmen have gone back to anything that have been flat in trajectories but not short in length and have paid price for that. The Pakistani spinners Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman in particular are having an easy ride exploiting this weakness of the English batsmen. No English batsmen is confidently coming down the track, especially against Saeed Ajmal as they are not sure which way the ball is going to turn!
At present, one can safely say that England certainly do not deserve to be called as the World No.1 Test Team. For that to happen, England have to play well in all conditions - at home or away. Of course, they did superbly in Australia but the real challenge for England is to play well in spinning conditions!
We are caught in an interesting phase of world cricket with no team in the top 5 really ahead of the others in Test Cricket. Lets take the case of South Africa who lost a Test Match at home in Durban to a not-so-strong Sri Lanka and therefore cannot be called the World No.1 team! Now Australia who were bringing in some drastic changes to their side appeared to be weak but now they have bounced back in style whitewashing India 4-0. But the Aussie top order remains to be very fragile and the batting depending on its three senior players. But can the same unit succeed on dusty spinning tracks in the sub-continent, one really doubts!
Coming to India, the former no.1 Test Team, well after eight straight defeats overseas, this giant cricket nation is struggling to compete at times. Having said that ask India to play at home and the same team that is losing abroad will do wonders to pull off victories against any side. Pakistan have done well recently but their real test comes when they play in alien conditions where there will be lots of pace, bounce and movement. Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies aren’t threatening much so they are far away from even being in the top 5. So which side is really the World No.1 Test Team? God Alone Knows!
- A feature by BV Swagath