England are expected to react to their crushing nine-wicket defeat to India, in last week’s opening Test, by recalling Monty Panesar and Eoin Morgan to the side for the second Test in Mumbai starting tomorrow morning.
Panesar will certainly have felt aggrieved to be left out in Ahmedabad but has the chance to make amends and highlight what he can offer the side over the course of the next five days. Panesar has taken 16 wickets in his previous three England appearances, including two five-wicket hauls in the U.A.E last winter v Pakistan. Samit Patel’s limitations as a spinner were yet again exposed in the opening game of this series, providing economically over’s without any threat of snaring a key wicket. Patel is most likely to retain his place but this will be primarily for his batting, which saw him score an impressive hundred in England’s opening warm-up in India. Tim Bresnan is expected to miss out instead, unless Broad fails a fitness test, as he pays the price for several toothless spells with the ball in India’s first innings 521-8 declared. If fit, Broad will retain his place, but another lacklustre game with ball in hand should have Graeme Onions and the returning Steve Finn knocking on the door.
Ian Bell’s decision to miss the second Test to attend the birth of his son has been criticised by some, but does remain consistent with England’s policy on this matter. In his place, Eoin Morgan has emerged as the front runner to bat at No.5. Andy Flower is said to favour Morgan as it breaks the run of right-handers in the middle order, as England look to break the metronomic rhythm of Ashwin and Ohja, India’s spin twins. Morgan was horrifically exposed against Saeed Ajmal in the U.A.E last winter, yet he was not alone in this fact and deserves a chance to redeem himself against spin. Jonny Bairstow will no doubt be disappointed to miss out, but he may yet find himself batting a later stage in this series.
England’s issue is where the problem lies. Seven times in 2012 the side have now suffered heavy Test defeats. The top six (Alistair Cook excluded) seem constantly devoid of ideas about how to play spin and without continued improvement, which began in the second innings last week, they will be on the end of three more humiliating losses by the time the players return to Britain on Christmas Eve. The likes of Cook, Jonathon Trott and Kevin Pietersen are all capable of batting patiently for long periods, and they must return to the type of discipline seen during the last tour of Australia if England are to rack up significant totals this week.
It must be remembered though, all is not lost. Three matches remain in the series. This is not a vintage Indian side. They are a good side, a side in transition. They can be destructive at the top of the order whilst Pujara, Tendulkar, Kohli and Yuvraj offer a formidable presence. However, they are susceptible to lapses in concentration and their two-pronged spin attack became very flat as Cook and Prior piled on the runs on day four. England’s performance during the second half of the Ahmedabad is proof that they can make substantial sub-continent runs. If Cook can continue his sparkling form then it will be over to the two best spinners England have possessed in recent times to dismiss India twice. Easier said than done.