Thursday, 2 February 2012

What can England learn from India's dead rubbers?

A fair amount of the build up to the third Test between England and Pakistan has focused on the fact that it's a dead rubber, and what both teams will be looking to get out of it. But what can England learn from how India have handled dead rubbers recently, and what should they do different.

Genuine dead rubbers don't happen all that often in these days of two and three test series, so that India's last three series have all involved dead rubbers.is an interesting stat in itself. Of course, two of them were part of humiliating whitewash defeats against England then Australia, and tucked in the middle was a series win over the West Indies.

In the first of those dead rubbers a lack-lustre India improved on their third test performance but were still comfortably dispatched by an innings. They surely would have been looking for some pride to salvage from the tour, but this eluded them.

Particularly worrying in that match was RP Singh and what he symbolised to the Indian team. The left-arm bowler hadn't bowled in a first class match since January yet was called up for the final test and looked woeful, a shadow of the bowler he used to be. That sort of panicky selection is not needed by England, and while the Morgan v Bopara debate should not be closed, now is not the time to make big changes.

Now is the time however to make big changes to how England bat against spin, and in many ways this echoes India's struggle against swing. Both teams have swung between strokeless and reckless against their respective Achilles heels. England need to show intent to score, rotate the strike, but be content to defend when they have to, and most importantly they need to take advantage of the bad balls. Ajmal, Hafeez and Rehman are not the best spinners who have ever lived, they are playable, and if England are to prosper in Sri Lanka, they need to start learning now.

Looking at India's loss in the fourth test against Australia what struck me most was the lack of real desire for the win. England know that this win could help them cling on to their number one spot. Surely that's enough to motivate them to use this test as a springboard to better things, rather than a damp squib ending to what for them has been a damp squib of a series.

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