England: the lack of quality is glaring

The last time England visited India for Tests, Kevin Pietersen walked out at No. 4. This time around it is Moeen Ali at this crucial slot. No wonder England is trailing 0-3 in this failed campaign. You don’t replace game-changers like that.

Kevin Pietersen was the Man of the Match in the Mumbai Test of 2012. He scored a sparkling 186 and paved the way for an England victory.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

With quickness of mind and feet, he dismantled attacks with shots marked by daredevilry, decisiveness and precision. The gifted Kevin Pietersen forced a sub-conscious mind-set shift in bowlers, forcing them to switch from attempting to get his wicket to trying to stem the flow of runs. They ended up bowling to Pietersen’s strengths.

The last time England visited India for Tests, Pietersen walked out at No. 4. This time around it is Moeen Ali at this crucial slot. No wonder England is trailing 0-3 in this failed campaign.

You can’t replace game-changers like that.

If England came from behind to pull off a 2-1 triumph on the 2012 tour, Pietersen’s stunning 186 on a Mumbai pitch where there was considerable bounce and turn for spinners played a pivotal role in the astonishing turn-around.

That innings had just about everything. Pietersen sashayed down the track to drive and loft the spinners. He also went right back to play the ball late with soft hands, got on top of the bounce. Given the slightest shortness of length, he cut and pulled. Then, Pietersen swept and reverse swept to disrupt the line of the spinners.

Crucially, he picked spinners from the hand, did not attempt to play them off the surface. And the speed with which he judged length enabled Pietersen to get into terrific positions.

Alastair Cook and Joe Root are accomplished batsmen, but then they do not take the game away from you like Pietersen does.

Pietersen last played Tests for England in 2014 before, yet again, running into problems with the team management. There were allegations that he was self-centred, was not a team-man. At the same time, there were some who felt Pietersen was pushed into a corner and forced to react by a section of the English team that, perhaps, felt threatened by his domineering personality.

Pietersen’s departure is England’s loss. Much of the present English batting — Cook and Root are exceptions — lacks substance, character and the technical attributes to survive in these conditions.

This English team is also without quality spin. In fact, it was at Chepauk in 2008 that Graeme Swann of that classical off-spinner’s action, flight, drift and loop made his Test debut.

Swann went on to take 255 Tests wickets at 29.96. Importantly, he teamed up with left-arm spinner Monty Panesar for a famous Test series victory in India in 2012.

Swann deceived batsmen with flight, consumed them with turn or the lack of it. Panesar was quicker through the air, but still imparted serious revolutions to the ball and operated with control.

In contrast, the combination of Moeen Ali’s off-spin and the leg-spin of Adil Rashid has disappointed. Moeen is pretty ordinary while, Rashid, despite some promise sends down too many boundary balls.

Unlike Swann and Panesar, Moeen and Rashid have simply not created the sort of stress that bites into batting units.