The Breaks May Be Off, but it’s unlikely that anyone in the England cricket camp is reading the thoughts of their ebullient off-spinner. They are having enough difficulty reading the games they are playing against India to get to grips (ho,ho) with Swann’s deadly prose. This may come as a surprise but it should not.
A central text in England’s five Test matches in Australia last winter was their ability, thanks in large part to their Antipodean bowling coach David Saker, to read the wickets of his homeland, and for Flower and Strauss, armed with those interpretations, to select the appropriate strategy for the conditions.
This skill is even more important in one day cricket where the side batting first has to construe and continuously revise judgement on a target score and the tactics to use.
It is the ability to read the situation ball by ball, as one would a thriller sentence by sentence, that marks the good sides from the mediocre. And the larger the array of
prose styles tactics that a side has at its disposal the better they will be, especially in limited overs cricket.
So, England’s inability in the ODI series that followed the Tests ‘Down Under’ to read the conditions correctly and their sluggishness in responding to those conditions was a large factor in their failure – a failure masked to a large extent by the euphoria induced by their Test successes.
That weakness is again making itself legible two matches into their compressed ODI campaign inIndia.
It did not take much talent for lip-reading to infer the scale of Jonathan Trott’s disappointment and frustration when he edged his 37th ball to Dhoni. Trott with 34 runs already on the board had looked imperious, threading drives to the boundary over a fast outfield. He was batting just as Virat Kohli was to do a few hours later when India were making their reply. And that is high praise, for Kohli batted like a Prince.
Those who bat as Trott and the unselected Bell do (enough said?) dream of being able to express their wonderful talents on such wickets as the one drafted by the groundsman in Delhi, which come rarely even at international level. They hate it when self-inflicted error closes the book on that pleasure.
Trott knew that he had missed out big time. It was one of those wickets on which timing comes easily – in stark contrast to that of the first match. Was that it? Were England still scrutinizing the text from the match in Hyderabad rather than this one ?
On this wicket power was not necessary to score effectively. In fact the use of power induced unnecessary risks.
Cook slashed at his fourth ball from Praveen and was caught in the gully and Kieswetter, when it was already obvious that Vinay Kumar was getting a degree (literally) of away swing, drove with tight hands at a ball just short of a length and was comfortably caught behind to leave England clueless on 0/2.
It was time to adapt and Trott and Pietersen did so. Pietersen, clipping a straight delivery behind square leg for an early boundary, pointed the way that Kohli was later to explore so successfully. Yet England like power crazed addicts persistently attacked the ball as forcefully as they could (excepting Trott). Pietersen copied Kieswetter word for word as a look at the scorebook will reveal.
The Indian bowlers kept up the temptation, very rarely straying onto the stumps and when they did so that tightness of grip made their opponents prone to misread the line.
England’s 3,4,5,6,7 cruised into the thirties and forties, yet blind in these conditions to the superiority of timing over power, none reached fifty.
India in contrast only needed four batsmen to overwhelm their foe’s inadequate 237 in 48.2 overs – two of these scoring 112 and 84.
Kohli and Ghambir’s record breaking 209 run third wicket partnership was pure pleasure for them and for cricket lovers everywhere, but it was aided and abetted by England’s failure to learn from the Indian batsmen who flicked with ease anything straight (and almost everything was) to the legside boundary.
How India bat and what they like in the way of bowling is not a tale of mystery and suspense. How they bowl at England wouldn’t for a minute maintain the attention of a reader of detective fiction. Both could not be more easy to decipher.
It is off to Mohali and a new page for England to try and read, if that is they can get beyond an airport novel.