The Ashes: England turn to Panesar at time of need
THE ASHES - SECOND TEST
Stadium: Adelaide Oval
Time: Thursday, 4.00am (UAE time)
Live on: OSN Sport HD1
England are prepared to take a huge gamble tomorrow in pursuit of the Ashes. They are seriously considering trying to counter Australia’s pace and bouncer onslaught by picking two spinners for the second Test on the drop-in pitch at the Adelaide Oval.
Up until 40 years ago, two spinners were all but de rigueur. Then, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann might already have played 50 Test matches together instead of the 10 they have managed in this era.
Alastair Cook, England’s captain, said on Wednesday as he sat in front of the Sir Don Bradman Pavilion overlooking this incomplete new stadium: “I think it is a serious option. The wicket looks good. I haven’t seen it today but it looked quite dry yesterday.
“We will do whatever to make sure we pick the best-balanced XI for those conditions,” he added. “It would be wrong to look at the Australian side and think, ‘this is what they would least like us to do’. We must do what we want to for the conditions.”
It is possible that Cook and England are merely teasing. By the time play starts at 10.30am local time, they might have plumped for something slightly less bold, recalling the paceman Tim Bresnan in an attack containing the habitual three seamers and a spinner.
That would probably mean Gary Ballance of Yorkshire coming into the side for his debut at No6. Perhaps nothing should be read into Panesar, who missed the first Test in Brisbane, spending 15 minutes out in the middle on Wednesday with the spin bowling coach, Mushtaq Ahmed.
They appeared to be speaking the language of spin bowlers, assessing wind direction and which end might be more suitable for the left-arm spinner.
But the tourists were pushed mischievously in the direction of two spinners by Australia’s captain, Michael Clarke, who named England’s team for the first Test a week before it was officially announced and was spot on. This time he declined to have a bash at all XI.
“I have no idea who they’re going to select, and I’m not going to get involved in that,” said Clarke. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if they played two spinners. The wicket generally in Adelaide is pretty good, I think there is the possibility as the game goes on that the wicket will spin, there’s no doubt about that.
“With so many right-handers through our middle-order I think Monty Panesar could bowl to the right-handers; spinning the ball away, he certainly has an advantage. So I wouldn’t be surprised if England picked two spinners.”
A year ago, the Swann-Panesar combination in Mumbai hauled England back into the series against India after a heavy loss in the first Test. Between them they took 19 of India’s 20 wickets.
If that is bound to come into England’s thinking, they resisted the temptation to play them both at home last summer on dry, slow, turning pitches.
Perhaps Clarke was right and the plethora of right-handers allied to Australia’s determination to plunder Swann will persuade England on a bold course.
Its implementation would substantially increase the chances of Ben Stokes making his debut as a batting all-rounder at No6 to pick up the slack as third seamer.
That would also enhance the audacity because there is a general feeling that Stokes is not yet ready to be the fulcrum of England’s middle-order.
The last time England played two spinners in a Test match in Australia was in 1990-91: Eddie Hemmings and Phil Tufnell at Sydney. At Adelaide, John Emburey and Phil Edmonds both played in 1986-87 and bowled 149 of England’s 261 overs.
England (from): A Cook (C), M Carberry, J Root, K Pietersen, I Bell, G Ballance, M Prior (WK), T Bresnan, S Broad, G Swann, J Anderson, M Panesar.
Australia (from): M Clarke (C), C Rogers, D Warner, S Watson, S Smith, G Bailey, B Haddin (WK), M Johnson, P Siddle, R Harris, N Lyon, J Faulkner
Umpires: M Erasmus (SA), K Dharmasena (SL).
Third umpire: T Hill (NZ)
Match referee: J Crowe (NZ).
AUSTRALIA - Mitchell Johnson
The left-arm pacer has given Australia a massive lift with a stupendous display of fast bowling and effective batsmanship at Brisbane. He will be fired up for an encore irrespective of the status of the Adelaide pitch. Johnson will also be aiming to prove his detractors wrong as he has often been criticised for his inconsistent displays. ENGLAND - Alastair Cook
The England captain remains the most technically equipped and best batsman in the team to counter the Johnson threat. It was evident in the calm manner in which he dealt with the Australian bowlers at Brisbane where he had scores of 13 and 65. The sooner Cook returns to his elements the better will be England’s health.
England will be desperate to regroup after wilting under Australia’s bowling and verbal barrage in Brisbane. They will also be seeking solutions to cope with the hostile bowling of Mitchell Johnson.
In captain Alastair Cook and Ian Bell they have the best men to counter the Johnson threat and the rest can bat around them. By including Monty Panesar in the squad, they have certainly shown their inclination to try something different and unsettle the Australians.
The left-arm spinner can indeed be quite a handful as he showed during the Test series in India last year. However, the shrewd Australian captain Michael Clarke, one of the best batsmen against spinners, has already anticipated Panesar’s inclusion and is ready for it.
Australia pack too many guns and unless the hosts implode or England manage something extraordinary they will remain second best. Australia to win and take 2-0 lead in the five-match series.