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December 15, 2008

Slow scoring rate and Sehwag the key as England crash to defeat

"After day one, if you'd said to us we would be defending 250 on the final day, we'd have taken that” These were the words of Kevin Pietersen after his side had fallen to a six-wicket defeat to India in the first test in Chennai.

Instead of the 250 that Pietersen would have been happy with though, the hosts were set a rather commanding 387 target after Andrew Strauss had recorded centuries in each of England’s innings.

Speaking of England’s batting, it is my opinion that the mentality in the latter part of the second innings played a huge part in the tourists losing the test match. The scoring rate was abysmal with Strauss and Paul Collingwood taking comfortably 200 balls to record their centuries.

After England had ensured a first innings lead, there was a real chance to push on when they ended day three leading by 247 runs with seven wickets in hand. Now, I find it hard to criticise either of the centurions even though they were a bit too watchful. It was when these two were dismissed that I became really frustrated.

England should have assessed the situation and opted to attack. Instead, Andrew Flintoff and Graeme Swann decided to take up valuable bowling time by facing 32 balls for a combined total of 11 runs. Did they not want to win this game? Do they not understand the value of momentum in test cricket?

I suppose the only thing the slow scoring rate did was overshadow the fact that England had suffered yet another devastating collapse from 257-3 to 311-9 before they eventually declared. It was such a limp way to go into the fourth innings and it significantly undone a lot of the previous hard work.

Nevertheless, England were still backed by the cricket odds to win the game. It was muted that the pitch had caused the slow run-rate and that India would inevitably suffer the same fate. Hmm…I don’t think so. Up step Virender Sehwag.

The Indian opener completely turned the game on its head with a blistering innings late on day four. He scored 83 runs from just 68 deliveries as India went into the final day run chase on 131-1, 256 runs from victory.

It was an amazing performance from Sehwag and it was the innings that won his team the match in my opinion. Yes, Sachin Tendulkar’s unbeaten century and Yuvraj Singh’s 86 not out were important, but if it wasn’t for Sehwag they would have come to the crease in much different circumstances.

Had it been on 20-2 when Tendulkar walked out or had India been behind the rate, it could have worked out very differently. However, as it was the ‘little master’ came in with the score on 141-2 with plenty of time to score the remaining runs. A perfect setting for the leading test run-scorer of all time, it has to be said.

As for England, well Pietersen has admitted that the defeat was a ‘very bitter pill to swallow’. He does expect them to bounce back in the second test though, even though a series victory is now beyond them.

To finish with for today, let’s take a brief look at the positive and negative aspects of England’s performance.

Positives

Andrew Strauss – Excellent return to form after limited preparation.
Paul Collingwood – Typically battling display in the second innings.
Matt Prior – Looked composed at number seven and was tidy with the gloves.
Graeme Swann – Excellent test debut for him as he took four wickets.

Negatives

Ian Bell – Only 24 runs in the match. Time for a ‘rest’ I think.
Kevin Pietersen – Only five runs in the match and he must have had an influence about the negative strategy in the second innings.
Monty Panesar – Took three wickets in the first innings, but just doesn’t look confident enough for me. Vary it a bit Monty!

Overall, there were some decent individual performances, but the team display in the second half of the match wasn’t good enough. I’d like to see Owais Shah come in for Bell, but to be honest, cricket betting will be favouring a 2-0 India series win whatever happens.

By Thomas Rooney – A professional sports writer who blogs about England cricket


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