Saturday, 22 October 2011

A four-point fightback plan for England

England have given themselves a mountain to climb in the one-day series against India after two thumping defeats in Hyderabad and Delhi. Most worryingly for the visitors the thrashings were handed out in different styles; in the first match it was the power of MS Dhoni and India's spinners, which is an understandable combination to a degree, but in the second game England were hoisted by their own petard as India's bustling pacers did the damage against a batting line-up that flattered to deceive.
A host of 30s and 40s don't win ODIs in the subcontinent, while getting angry in the middle, which happened as Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir built their 209-run stand, doesn't portray the team in a great light. This tour isn't - or shouldn't be - long enough for tempers to fray too much, but it was a sign that England were not dealing with the pressure.
They have one opportunity left to stay in the series and Mohali offers them a decent chance because the seamers can play a role at the northern venue. Still, it will take a big turnaround to ensure the final two ODIs are not just a quest to avoid a whitewash. Ian Bell is being touted for a recall, but his one-day record doesn't suggest he's the solution, so here are a few options for England to change the momentum.
Milk it
England's innings in Delhi included 173 dot balls, more than half the allocated overs, which showed that the batsmen struggled to keep the scoreboard ticking over. One-day cricket doesn't have to be all about fours and sixes (although the absent Virender Sehwag may disagree) and when a field is set back outside the Powerplay overs, six or seven runs-per-over can be achieved by deft placement. Dhoni and Kohli, while they did pepper the boundary, gave perfect examples of how to work the gaps in a field. England's methods have reverted to a hint of block-or-bash which makes it easy for the opposition to set fields. A key part of milking an attack, though, is confident running between the wickets. England have a few dodgy runners - Kevin Pietersen, Ravi Bopara and Samit Patel - and that can sow seeds of doubt through the entire line-up.
Find your range
While working the singles is one method, if England's batsmen are eager to hunt the boundaries then it has to be done with conviction. They practise their range-hitting - standing in the middle of the ground and launching throw-downs into the stands - before most one-dayers, so they can build confidence in clearing the ropes. Throwing caution to the wind has been a success for them before, albeit in very different conditions, when they entered the 2009 Champions Trophy on the back of a 6-1 drubbing by Australia and proceeded to cut loose against Sri Lanka and South Africa. Led by Paul Collingwood's aggression they shed inhibitions and reached the semi-final where their method fell apart against Australia. That's the flip side; when it goes bad it can look ugly so be prepared to face the flak.
Take the chances
Being out-batted and out-bowled by India on home soil is one thing. England, though, have also been out-fielded. This isn't meant as a slight on India, who have improved hugely with the likes of Kohli, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja prowling the inner ring, but with the amount of work they put in, and specialist coaching available, England have few excuses for poor fielding, both on the ground and in the air. The tone for both their stints in the field was set by dropped catches - Jonathan Trott spilling Ajinkya Rahane in Hyderabad and Graeme Swann missing Parthiv Patel in Delhi - and though neither cost many runs it can filter through a performance.
Unleash the youngsters
A host of changes in the wake of defeat can be taken as a sign of panic, but it can also show a dose of realism. An unchanged team was given the chance to make amends in Delhi and came up well short. This is already a young England side, but more youthful players are waiting in the wings. Although Chris Woakes has flown home injured, the legspinner Scott Borthwick, and the fast bowler Stuart Meaker impressed in the warm-up matches. India won't have seen much of either of them, and are clearly getting quite used to the fare currently being served up. Jos Buttler, the Somerset keeper-batsman, is also an unofficial member of the touring party. There is nothing stopping England making him available for selection. It would be an admittance that things aren't going to plan but that's pretty plain to see anyway.

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