No spin and no Finn, injury adds to England’s tour worries
The warm up matches to any tour are always difficult to judge. Does the selection tell us anything concrete about the possible first XI for the Test Series? Will it give the touring team a good chance to get used to the different conditions? Will they explore each other’s weaknesses? Are they really taking it seriously?
Judging from the opening two days of this three day warm up in Mumbai it would seem that India are taking it very seriously indeed. Not only with some strong batting performances but with the tour’s first sniff of controversy. Tuesday’s revelation in the team selection that the India A team would contain no spin bowlers has already divided opinion. Michael Vaughan hit out at these tactics calling them “pathetic” and was joined by others who now see this game as no more than a vehicle for mind games before the main event. Others however admire the Indian selectors’ ruthlessness.
England’s frailty against spin in the subcontinent is now the largest elephant in the international cricket pavilion. If Abu Dhabi was bad, the collapse in the world T20 to India for just 80 was even worse. Though both teams had a poor T20 world cup, that decimation of England will have been the main positive for India before this much anticipated Test Series. Piyush Chawla and Harbhajan Singh tore through England’s batting line-up and they were only the second choice spin bowlers. What will happen in this series against the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin , Pragyan Ojha or even Ravindra Jadeja?
We will have to wait for the answer. By holding back their not-so-secret weapon against England, it only serves to heighten the tension and keep Alastair Cook thinking about it. The largest presence at the party is often who doesn’t show up, and by wrapping their spinners in cotton wool they have already gotten under England’s skin. Also it has served to eclipse the re-emergence of Kevin Pietersen in England colours. Pietersen’s return has had a long build up that all of a sudden seems to be the smaller issue. Returning with a modest 23, Pietersen looked comfortable enough on Wednesday before being caught and bowled by his old nemesis Yuvraj Singh.
There was no doubt that the first day of this match belonged to India A. Abhinav Mukund opened beautifully with a solid 73 before falling to Swann, and Yuvraj continued to delight on his return to the game with a 59 that included four sixes. But the star innings was from Manoj Tiwary finally taking his chance to make an impressive 93 batting at number six. This may at last be good timing for Tiwary who in the past has missed his chances and never broken into the Test team. More strong batting displays like this will make him a good bet to bat at six in the first Test in Ahmedabad.
India A were bowled out early on the second day for a total of 369. This in itself was always going to test England but there is now a far bigger worry not only for this match but for the whole series. Steven Finn’s thigh injury occurred when fielding on the morning of the first day and scans have not yet confirmed how quickly he will recover. Unable to bowl after just four overs, Andy Flower and Alastair Cook will have every finger crossed that he makes a recovery for Ahmedabad in two weeks. It is Finn, of course, who was England’s only shining light last winter in an otherwise dismal ODI series here in India. Though this is “only a warm up” Finn’s injury is reminiscent of Zaheer Khan limping away from the first morning at Lord’s in 2011. Some would say that India never recovered from that point on; sliding to a 4-0 whitewash. In a team already low on experience England will be hoping they can soldier on without Finn if necessary; Samit Patel filling in with 20 overs but with limited success at 1 – 95 of 20. What is almost certain is that Finn will miss the remaining warm up matches. Perhaps, ironically, England are hiding their own secret bowling weapon too.
England rallied to 286 for four at stumps and trail by 83 runs. After a duck for debutant Nick Compton Cook and Patel put on a massive fifth wicket stand of 153. Finishing not out on 112 and 82 respectively and both will return for the final morning on Thursday.
India have set the tone for a pulsating tour and competitive test series. Nobody here has forgotten last summer’s whitewash at the hands of England and the selectors are showing they mean business. Let us all hope that injuries to key players won’t mar what is set to be a very interesting few weeks.
Fred Charles, Cricket correspondent