England rose to the pressure of a tiny bit of expectation by collapsing in a heap before anyone had even finished their first gin of the day.
Watching England on the sub-continent is like going to see a film you’ve seen hundreds of times before, one where you laugh at the jokes a fraction before they’re actually made and can mouth along with the words. Of the 13 sessions in the match, England were competitive in two; they bowled poorly and without ideas on a flat wicket and then proceeded to get bowled out twice in a couple of days on the very same surface they had made to look like the M25 when in the field. Day five was a spectacular, if very much foreseeable, anti-climax as they lost their last five wickets for 66 and India absolutely blasted their way to victory.
And so the post-mortem begins. England have an unusually large squad with them in India,
thanks in no small part to Samit Patel so there are a whole host of players who have improved exponentially through not taking part in Ahmedabad and have become genuine contenders for the side. Ultimately, though, would England have won this game had they picked a slightly different team? Probably not. To focus solely on selection is to ignore the main factors in their defeat, namely a continuation of the problems which have dogged them in 2012 whether in the UAE, Sri Lanka or back home; poor plans, poor execution of the plans they had, truly dreadful fielding and mindless batting. Whether they make one, two, three or seven changes in Mumbai it is difficult to see it proving to be a miracle cure.
For their part, India were very good, although perhaps still a way short of their absolute best. Cheteshwar Pujara’s near-faultless first innings knock propelled him into the international consciousness, while he led India’s dash to victory after lunch on the final day with an aggressive flourish. He should have been out in single-figures on Thursday, 239 runs later and England have come closer to dismissing Rahul Dravid, safely tucked up in the commentary box, than his replacement in the side. The other impressive aspect of their game was the much-maligned bowling attack, particularly the two seamers, who were accurate and threatened consistently whenever they were asked to chip in. Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav are very different bowlers, but in their own way each dealt a stiff slap across the face to England’s ‘pace’ trio and anyone who was inclined to defend their performance because of the conditions.
1-0 down in India is not a good place to be at the best of times. With the home side itching to grind England into the earth as payback for last summer and the tourists suddenly discovering question marks over places in the team they didn’t even know existed, things are looking grim. Reasons for optimism are thin on the ground and even the most optimistic among us would struggle to predict England avoiding an absolutely thumping series defeat. It’s probably time to stock up on canned goods.