Have you ever caught Bill Murray's 1993 film Groundhog Day? If you haven't, then trust me — it's the story of an English cricketer who wakes up in Asia living the same day over and over again: 41 for three, 480 runs behind the opponents, with spinners running riot.
We shouldn't be surprised, should we?
England were reduced to a shambles by 13 overs of spin on day two of the first Test in Ahmedabad. It was an hour in which the chance of a draw rescinded from somewhere in the region of 'well, if the pitch is as flat as it looks' to the bounds of 'yes, well, if these batsmen living up to type stop living up to type, well… yes, probably not even then'.
It was the battle we had been waiting for after the phoney war, in which the spinners had been hidden from England's sight during the warm-up matches, was concluded.
Nick Compton batted with technique but not intent on his Test debut, blocking and prodding until a ball from Ravichandran Ashwin came which was too good for him.
England then betrayed their fear and naivety by sending in a night watchman. India learned that Jonathan Trott would rather a bowler did his job for him in the late evenings, and then exposed James Anderson as not ideally equipped to survive against wily spinners with a bevy of close catchers.
Not that Trott was any better when he was called upon — he only lasted four balls to Anderson's six.
But then England have been bowled out for under 200 in Asia five times this year alone. Rangana Herath took 12/171 in a single Test against them, while Saeed Ajmal managed 24 wickets in a three-Test series.
It's as if seam bowling is fair. It is understandable. It comes along somewhere between 75 and 85 miles per hour. It moves a little to the left or to the right. More so in England, less away from home. It's fine.
But what fresh hell is this? Not fresh hell, obviously — it's something England suffered repeated brain farts for generations over. It's SPINNING!
And it's not spinning in an entirely predictable way. Sometimes the pitch is making it spin a lot. Sometimes the spinner wraps his fingers around the ball with a different grip, and it goes in a different direction to the expected. In fact, sometimes it doesn't spin at all — that's probably the sneakiest method of the lot.
Having seen this for so long, England ought to have developed some kind of coping strategy. Their former coach Duncan Fletcher, now in the opposite corner for India, bestowed upon them the dubious gift of the sweep. Cowers thanks his lucky stars that at least none of the blame for today's dismissals could be laid at that particular door.
The six balls Kevin Pietersen faced showed the way. Move your feet to engineer singles, dispatch bad deliveries, and rotate the strike to move the close fielders back. Yes, just six balls' worth of plan — but at least it was, at least, a plan.
Until the rest of the team gets to grips with batting for lengths of time and scoring against spin in the subcontinent, why would the opposition set themselves up any other way?
Fletcher correctly identified that England would flounder against it — they have not disappointed him. Suddenly this 'road' of a wicket doesn't look quite so harmless, does it?
India backed their spinners to the hilt, with three, four and five close catchers backing up the bowler and wicketkeeper. For all Graeme Swann's impressive toil with the ball, he was never afforded anything near that kind of support from his field. Perhaps the attacking intent would have helped Swann get through the home side quicker — or perhaps, as Cook must have reckoned, he had no platform from which to apply that kind of pressure.
India held their catches, too, while England dropped several, to continue the theme of 'if you do stuff properly, you might just do it better'. As a role reversal of the 4-0 series in England in 2011, where India's fielding was sloppy and disinterested at times, it could scarcely have been more pronounced.
At just three wickets down, of course, there is still plenty of time left in the contest — in theory, there is time for England to get back on course. But on the showing of the first 18 overs of their innings, England don't look like escaping Groundhog Day anytime soon. Cowers just hopes for their sake they're using the time spent repeating each day by learning the piano and trying to convince Andie MacDowell to go out with them.
- Sports & Recreation