YORKSHIRE legend Ray Illingworth has labelled England’s decision not to play two spinners in their Indian Test opener at Ahmedabad as ‘crackers’ – while insisting that selectors need to be braver with the make-up of their side.
Scores of cricketing pundits have panned selectors for not picking Monty Panesar as a second spinner in the nine-wicket loss in the series opener, with former chairman of selectors and England captain Illingworth among those totally mystified at the decision.
The Sussex tweaker is expected to return for tomorrow’s second Test at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium and while it is a move Illingworth advocates, he would ideally like England to play five bowlers and dispense with their policy of playing six batsmen, which seems to be set in stone.
He said: “I have said all along that you cannot go to India without (playing) two full-time spinners. It has been my cry, full-stop, not just now.
“In India more than anywhere, not to play two spinners is absolutely crackers. They have read the wicket wrong and (coach) Andy Flower admits that, although I do not think the pitches take much reading in India.
“From what I have seen, they all turn on the first day.
“Having two spinners also makes it much easier for Graeme Swann. Don’t forget that when England were in the UAE last time that Panesar outbowled Swann, without a doubt.
“To get someone turning the ball away from the bat when nine out of 10 batsmen are right-handers leaves them wide open. Even more so when they are not using DRS (decision review system) for lbw and umpires have got so used to the fact of batsmen having to play the line of the ball with the bat and not the pad and that makes the outside edge more vulnerable.”
Illingworth, who celebrated his 80th birthday in April, added: “We went in with four bowlers in the first Test and half the seamers are not 100 per cent fit and there is probably only (Tim) Bresnan who is fit; all the others are carrying bits of injuries.
“The seamers were only doing twenty-odd overs between them in the day in the first Test. It is just a crazy situation.
“But we have been so frightened with the batting when picking the England side, that has been the problem. They always want to play the extra batter at six.
“If you lose control in the field, you do not win the game. When you keep control, you have a chance of being in the game. But once a side gets four or five hundred, you are out of the game.”
Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan is the strong favourite to make way for Panesar, if England seemingly bow to the inevitable and answer the calls to play a second spinner.
Batting-wise, England’s line-up will be disrupted by one enforced change, with Ian Bell temporarily back at home following the birth of his first child on Monday.
The likelihood is that there will be a return at number five for rising Tykes star Jonny Bairstow, arguably unlucky to be overlooked for the first Test after making 95 and 54 in his last two innings at the highest level as the then out-of-favour Kevin Pietersen’s understudy against South Africa at Lord’s.
The final batting spot will be between Samit Patel, twice a shade unfortunate to be given out lbw in Ahmedabad, and left-hander Eoin Morgan, who may yet sway selection to try to help captain Alistair Cook break up the lines of India’s two spinners Pragyan Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin.
On Bresnan’s possible omission, Illingworth added: “It is probably right, although ideally (Steven) Finn would have been fit to give us extra pace.
“You look at people like (Stuart) Broad, who has bowled slowly at times in the first Test. With a wicket with green grass on it, suddenly the seamers bowl at 89 miles an hour. If you bowl at that pace, even on an evenly-paced wicket, you have more of a chance of taking a wicket than bowling at medium pace. They do not bend your backs when it does not suit them.”
Finn is to remain part of England’s Test tour after having scans on his injured thigh.
There was some concern that that the fast bowler would be ruled out of the series but Finn now hopes to be able to test his recovery in a three-day match for the England Performance Programme squad next week.
His pace and height are seen as vital to England’s chances and they are keen to keep him in India if there is a chance of fielding him.