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Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.'
—Time, Pink Floyd
When David Gilmour sang this epic line from the legendary Dark Side of the Moon album, he could very well have been describing his countrymen's approach against spin bowling in the subcontinent. Dour and apprehensive with an unmistakable sense of Murphy's Law prevailing over each forward defensive prod and every attempted offensive. There have been exceptions along the way - those who have faced up to turn and bounce with some authority. But England's overall experience can very well be summarized by Floyd's lyric.
For all the plaudits that he received following the pluck and ticker exhibited in Ahmedabad, even skipper Alastair Cook doesn't fall too far out of this category. Not in his repertoire is the ability to dominate spin bowling.
And though they did survive the first 31 overs of England's innings, openers Cook and Nick Compton were only hanging on desperately for a major part on Saturday. There were inside-edges, nicks, lbw appeals and close-calls galore. Cook and Compton did each step down the wicket with aggressive intent— the skipper even striking a six over long-on— but they never seemed to have the wood over the Indian spinners during their 66-run stand.
There is one batsman in the England line-up though — we can ignore his country of birth here — who doesn't quite fit the stereotype. And not surprisingly, Kevin Pietersen's late inclusion for the Indian tour was considered a significant boost to English hopes. Here was someone with the skill to dictate terms and overwhelm the spinners.
When Pragyan Ojha struck a double-blow by removing Compton and Jonathan Trott in the space of eight deliveries, the stage was set for Pietersen to do just that. But the towering right-hander wasn't walking in with his usual poise. Ahmedabad had been an embarrassment. A forgettable circus-act. With England at 68 for 2 in reply to India's first innings total of 327— Cheteshwar Pujara was finally dismissed for 135 — the Test match stood on a knife's edge. Especially for the visitors. This was a pitch tailor-made for the Indian spinners to wreck English spirits. More than ever, England required their talisman to fire.