Pulling a fast one on England

SP
During the fourth ODI at Mohali, England's run rate did not cross four until after the 25th over. Bhuvneshwar Kumar had by then finished his quota and though wicketless, he had gone for just 30 runs. Ishant Sharma had a wicket for ten runs from his five. Shami Ahmed, except for one over in which an in-form Alastair Cook had eased him for three boundaries, had largely kept England in check too. The chase was tight — India managed to cross the line with 15 balls to spare but the pursuit was not nerveless — and England's early lull might well have played a decisive role.

True, the track at Mohali had influenced the English top-order to treat the fast bowlers with some degree of caution, but it was also their experience from Kochi and Ranchi that urged restraint. During the chase at Kochi, Bhuvneshwar and Shami had ripped out England's top-order by the 15th over. Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan had fallen to Bhuvneshwar while Shami sent back Ian Bell. England had fallen to 74/4 and the spinners polished off the remains in the 127-run win. The tale was only notionally different in the third ODI. Shami did the next to impossible in getting Cook out without the assistance of the umpire. Bell, Pietersen and Root were all caught behind, with Ishant this time nipping out the last two. England were bowled out with 46 balls remaining and predictably lost the game (by seven wickets).

Except for the first ODI on the patently flat track at Rajkot, where, except for James Tredwell and Ravindra Jadeja, none of the front line bowlers from either side had gone for less than 6.3 runs an over, the performance of the fast men has probably been the difference between the sides. Faintly ironic that, considering India played half the Tests in the series against the same opponent with just the lone pacer, and in conditions that have largely suited the pacemen during the ODIs, it was the English that were favoured to exploit any assistance on offer.

Steve Finn, leading the attack in the absence of James Anderson, has missed an incisive or, at any event, disciplined bowler from the other end. Tim Bresnan and the much reviled James Dernbach are proving to be increasingly uni-dimensional, and as new-ball bowler and first change, are surely playing a category above their form or/and abilities would allow for. Surely, England must be tempted to play either Stuart Meaker or Chris Woakes at Dharamsala, where conditions are likely to assist seam bowling.

The inefficacy of the English pacers is as much of a surprise as the way their Indian counterparts have thrived. It would not be too fantastic to imagine the fates of the two sets of bowlers transposed. The trio of Ishant, Bhuvneshwar and Shami could so easily have gone through exactly the same kind of series as have Finn, Bresnan and Dernbach respectively. Which is to say that while their current performances have been robust, there will be stiffer challenges ahead.

Ishant will have to manage his workload across three formats and that may be key to how long he can remain injury free. Bhuvneshwar will have to work out a way to compensate for the lack of swing and genuine pace in less helpful conditions. Shami though promising, hasn't still made his case, and will quickly have to work on his consistency if he is to stay in the run of things.

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