Bowling improvement essential if England are to beat the hosts

Henry Cowen previews England’s match against India on Sunday morning and argues that, unless their bowling performance increases drastically, it could be a long day

Virender Sehwag lies in wait for an England attack that needs to improve on its performance against the Netherlands. Image: deepfriedbrain via Flickr Creative Commons

Virender Sehwag lies in wait for an England attack that needs to improve on its performance against the Netherlands. Image: deepfriedbrain via Flickr Creative Commons

A deluge of rain has rendered England unable to practice their fielding at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore as they prepare for their eagerly anticipated fixture against India on Sunday. Fielding, and perhaps bowling that doesn’t demand to be dispatched over Cow Corner, should be near the top of Andy Flower’s team’s agenda following their less than spotless performance against the Netherlands on Tuesday.

Since Flower took over, England’s performance in the field has rarely been in doubt; thanks primarily to fellow Zimbabwean Richard Halsall whose tenure as fielding coach has seen a sharp rise in standards. However, you would have been forgiven for questioning which side was the associate nation on Tuesday as England fumbled, dropped and shelled their way through the 50 overs.

Critics were quick to jump on the English performance which at best was ragged and at worst downright humiliating but the focus should not be on the side’s fielding; yes it was poor, yes it was sloppy and yes it gifted the Dutch runs that might otherwise have been prevented but, as Graeme Swann said afterwards, every side has their off-days in the field. What is more worrying was England’s inability to bowl out a side that failed to reach the final of the ICC World Cricket League Division One, even losing to Afghanistan in the third/fourth place play-off.

It goes without saying that Indian pitches are docile but England’s attack, so fearsome during the Ashes, looked a completely different prospect on Tuesday. Jimmy Anderson was poor and with Paul Collingwood playing the role of the fourth seamer there was not enough depth in the line-up to allow anyone a bad day. Sehwag and co would have ripped England to shreds and the issue perhaps lies deeper than just one or two bowlers enduring a tough day at the office.

England have taken all ten wickets in an ODI in only seven of their last twenty matches, compared to the Australian’s eleven and the Indian’s ten. This might not seem to be a massive difference but the runs added in these final few overs can often be all the difference and England’s tendency to not bowl sides out could be a bigger issue.

Another criticism is the make-up of England’s side. On sub-continent pitches Mike Yardy is a superb option. He’s not the most glamorous of cricketers, or gifted for that matter, but he does a job for his captain and ties an end up, allowing others to take wickets. Ravi Bopara, who impressed in England’s successful run chase, will most likely be the man to make way, which would be harsh, but an England bowling unit with two spinners seems far more balanced than throwing Kevin Pietersen the ball for some exploratory off-spin.

England should not be too downhearted going into Sunday’s clash with the hosts. A win is a win and there were positives to take out of Tuesday’s victory; all the batsmen made some runs, Pietersen and Strauss look ideally suited to take advantage of the first ten overs of powerplay and, once again, Graeme Swann did his job perfectly.

Many have suggested England will need to bounce back to overcome the Indians but more realistically they need to bowl in better areas, for longer periods of time, and build up pressure. The lengths need to be re-adjusted in the sub-continent and, as Stuart Broad displayed when he got it right, it is yorkers that hold the key, not slower bouncers. England have a brilliant chance to spoil the party on Sunday but their bowling simply has to improve or messrs Sehwag and Tendulkar will run riot.

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