Andy Flower has admitted England got it badly wrong in leaving spinner Monty Panesar out of their side for the first Test and insisted: ‘Blame me.’
The team director, who makes all selection calls on tour along with his captain, shielded new leader Alastair Cook from criticism by taking full responsibility for what may go down as England’s worst howler since calling up Darren Pattinson out of the blue four years ago.
‘With hindsight, yes, it was a mistake not to play Monty in Ahmedabad,’ said Flower after England’s arrival here in Mumbai for Friday’s second Test. ‘I didn’t expect that pitch to turn as early as it did. I certainly misjudged it.’
The chances of Panesar playing here were improved yesterday when Steven Finn was ruled out after aggravating his thigh injury. It is a big blow for England’s fastest bowler, who was expected to play a significant part in this series.
Ahead of the first Test England believed they were better off concentrating on their seam-bowling strengths but the slow, dry, dusty Ahmedabad surface proved far more conducive to the likes of Pragyan Ojha and Graeme Swann, who took 15 wickets between them in a match India won by nine wickets.
England will look at the pitch at the Wankhede Stadium today and tomorrow before they decide if the time is right to pair Panesar with Swann in a match they have to win.
It is probable Panesar will return at the ground where he made his first big impression as an England player six years ago — but not absolutely certain.
The rebuilt stadium is now more open, with the Mumbai breeze assisting reverse-swing, and the pitch offering more bounce than Ahmedabad.
The feeling remains that Panesar, still a one- dimensional cricketer, is not a man in whom England really trust but Flower dispelled the strong suggestion that the Sussex slow left-armer blotted his copybook with his poor behaviour earlier this year on tour in Sri Lanka. ‘I’ve got no issues with Monty Panesar,’ said Flower. ‘He’s been working extremely well out here and he’s in good form. He’s ready to play if we want him to. He was OK in Sri Lanka.’
Finn was due to have a scan today on an injury he picked up fielding in a warm-up game here and England hope he will be fit enough to play for the Performance Squad in their first game here next week. If he is not then, sadly, he will be on his way home.
His absence means vice- captain Stuart Broad will definitely get a chance to prove that his poor performance in the first Test was an aberration but there was a warning for Broad yesterday about the dangers of Twitter.
The spiky Broad had clashed with Sir Ian Botham after England’s greatest all-rounder called for him to be dropped for the next Test.
‘I’ve had a word with Broady about it already,’ said Flower. ‘You have to be very careful what you say on Twitter. With so many athletes using it and journalists watching very closely, it’s quite easy to write stories about some of the comments. It’s inevitable.
‘We have to educate our players on doing it the right way. In the main our guys are pretty good. I don’t think this is a big thing.’
Flower is likely to miss the one-dayers in India in the new year — a call that, given his workload, would be sensible.
He accepted England’s first innings batting in subcontinental conditions let them down in the first Test, as it did this year in the UAE against Pakistan and in Sri Lanka, but he wants people to wait until the end of this series before being too harsh on his batsmen. ‘Let’s judge at the end of this tour, not after one Test,’ said Flower.
‘I sincerely hope that at the end of this series we will have fought our way back and showed real skill against spin. I still believe our batsmen can do that. There might be a little more bounce here which would help our seamers and we’ve got to overturn what seems predictable at the moment.
‘I hope there is no real reason why our batsmen should keep failing in the first innings. We have to turn that round and I’m as excited about that challenge as I was before the first Test. It will be really interesting to see if we’re good enough to do that.’
England’s reputation as a Test team of substance depends on it. – Daily Mail