England produced a performance of tremendous resilience, but ultimately they simply weren’t good enough. In the final analysis, the twin failures of Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff were vital. But what was even more so was a lack of bowling penetration.
Monty Panesar has been under considerable pressure of late, and fourth innings figures of 0-105 will only reinforce this. Patently, he has failed to develop since his debut in India almost three years ago, as also illustrated by him being dropped from the one-day side. His record remains very respectable, but it has been boosted by relatively easy pickings against West Indies and New Zealand. And in seven Tests in the sub-continent, he averages close to 60, showing an inability to thrive when denied the bouncy pitches he benefits from in England.
If he struggles in the next Test, he will be under considerable pressure for his place, especially if he is out-bowled by Graeme Swann once more. On debut, Swann looked to attack far more than Panesar, and was unfortunate not to claim more than four wickets. If Swann can score runs at number eight in the next Test, Panesar’s deficiencies in this department will also count against him.
Andrew Flintoff was skilful and wholehearted as ever, but unable to extract much reverse-swing in the fourth innings. India were able to play him out, and score rapidly off James Anderson and Steve Harmison. Anderson is woefully short of confidence, and should be dropped for the next game. Amjad Khan, with more ability to generate reverse-swing, would be worth a gamble.
With the bat, Andrew Strauss was magnificent. So often the subject of criticism on this blog, Strauss proved his quality with two masterful centuries. Displaying solid defence and the ability to manoeuvre the ball into gaps, especially off the back foot, Strauss arguably enjoyed the best game of any English batsman since Alec Stewart’s epic pair of hundreds in Bridgetown 14 years ago. Paul Collingwood has looked so out of form for so much of the last twelve months, and yet has now managed two centuries in three games.
The failings of Pietersen and Flintoff were disappointing, displaying rash shot selection and a lack of subtlety. But one would hardly be surprised if Pietersen responded with a century next match. It was, however, odd that he did not so much as bowl an over of Collingwood or Ian Bell’s medium-pace, when the rest of the attack so clearly lacked penetration.
More worrying is Bell. His ‘breakthrough’ innings – 199 against South Africa – now feels an age away, as he has returned to his old penchant for infuriating. England would be wrong to continue to ignore Owais Shah, superb in the ODI series and scorer of 88 and 38 in his only previous Test in India. He must have greeted Collingwood’s century with more than a little frustration. After three-and-a-half-days England were in an excellent position to wrap up what would have been a phenomenal win.
A great deal of credit must be paid to the magisterial, albeit immensely contrasting, innings of Sehwag and Tendulkar. If they are to earn a share of this ludicrously short series, England need their wicket-taking threat to extend beyond merely Flintoff and Swann. The bottom line, alas, is England performed admirably – and it is worth remembering that they got closer to victory than Australia managed a few months ago - but were simply beaten, and beaten well, by a superior side.