Work in progress
Dave Fulton defends Kevin Pietersen and Monty Panesar following the first Test defeat to India.
Last Updated: 16/12/08 1:53pm
The first Test match between India and England from Chennai proved a wonderful advertisement for the longer form of the game and provided a much needed shot in the arm for a troubled nation.
The accolades will rightly go to Sachin Tendulkar, who girded his loins to give his home city of Mumbai something to cheer about. His innings of 103 not out was a master class in placement and technique but also a victory for the heart and mind as rarely had he wanted three figures more.
But England deserve massive credit too, not just for turning up, which was a fine collective statement in itself, but for the standard of their cricket throughout an enthralling contest. They played skillfully (Andrew Strauss especially), aggressively - especially when Yuvraj Singh was at the crease - but also with dignity and a newly awakened sense of perspective. Yes, they tried their guts out and yes losing a game they should probably have won hurts, but this was not life and death.
England will still feel they should have done better. One or two members of the press have jumped on Kevin Pietersen's captaincy and the bowling of Monty Panesar. Both could have done things differently but now is not a time for sharpening knives.
Pietersen is in his second Test as England captain. So much has happened since his first -at the Oval against South Africa - it's easy to forget he's still a novice. The Stanford week, the one-day defeats and the terror attacks have thrown a huge spotlight on England's new leader. He's been a revelation off the field. Once perceived as a brash egotist, he has transformed himself into a persuasive man-manager and a respected ambassador for his country in just a few months. But tactically he's going to make mistakes.
Pietersen's biggest strategic error yesterday was allowing a master-craftsman like Tendulkar too many singles. In one-day cricket stopping the boundaries would be regarded as a success but in the longer forms the onus is on taking wickets and building pressure on the batsman.
You have to try to set a batsman a puzzle; give him the bowler and the field he'd like least whenever possible. You have to see the game through the opposing batsman's eyes rather than your own.
Pietersen would enjoy the field up as he'd back himself to strike the ball over the in-field. Tendulkar - though he is quite capable of hitting up and over - was happy nudging and deflecting the spinners because it involved minimum risk and allowed him to stay at the crease to shepherd the relatively inexperienced Yuvraj through the run-chase.
When Yuvraj entered the fray with the game finely poised, Pietersen followed conventional wisdom by looking to bowl at the new batsman. Nothing wrong with that but it was also the time to squeeze Tendulkar's runs. Block off his singles and make him look for the big shot at the very time he's conscious of not doing anything stupid.
I'd be interested in how much advice Pietersen was taking on board from the coach and his fellow players. All new captains have to strike a balance between forging their own path and taking advice from their colleagues.You need to show you're in charge but you also want to be inclusive of others.
You can't have 10 players throwing suggestions at you between every over but you also need to encourage an environment where ideas aren't suppressed. Paul Collingwood or Strauss, two very good thinkers, must have entertained the thought of stifling the singles; someone must have thought Panesar should try bowling around the wicket.
As for Monty I believe he was simply undercooked. Batsmen can come into a Test series without any match practice and score runs but rarely do bowlers do the same and take wickets. Look at Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard in New Zealand last winter. Bowlers need time to find rhythm.
Monty was supposed to play club cricket in Sri Lanka for Bloomfield CC but the plan was abandoned at the last minute when the club allegedly asked for a sum in the region of £7,000 for putting him up. Apparently a token fee of about £500 had been agreed but the club moved the goalposts, perhaps trying to pull a fast-one, perhaps realising that Panesar would get more out of them than they would out of him. Either way an opportunity for Panesar to get some valuable practice bowling on some turning wickets on the subcontinent was lost.
Panesar has been tremendous for England's Test team. His progress to 100 wickets was on a par statistically with Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. Both these two great bowlers, however, were able to evolve to stay one step ahead of the world's best batsmen.
Warne was clever. Not only did he know when to have a word and when to play the showman but tactically he would hit upon the right plan. Murali could spin the ball on ice and when batsmen got across outside off stump to counter his off-break he responded by inventing his 'doosra'.
Monty's method combines unerring accuracy with an ability to give the ball a real tweak. It has proved successful but against the best, for whom he is no longer a surprise package, he might have to discover something new. Bowling from a different angle, experimenting with a different field, tossing the ball up more are all things he should be able to consider without changing his natural game too much.
Tendulkar had all the answers in Chennai; Pietersen and Panesar need to ask him some new questions in Mohali.