On days like this, with England for a long period looking as if they would spend a day in the field without taking a wicket for just the fourth time in their history, their bowling coach David Saker could be forgiven for contemplating different challenges.
Like the chance, for instance, to replace Ashley Giles as Warwickshire’s director of cricket. Saker has not applied for the position, but he has confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that he would be interested in exploring the opportunity if he was approached. Warwickshire are understood to be keen to talk.
“In many ways it would be ideal for me,” Saker said. “But I have an amazing job with England that I love and I would hate to leave it before the 2015 World Cup. Maybe it comes a couple of years early, but I would love to have a conversation with them.”
The attraction for both parties is obvious. Saker, appointed as England bowling coach in April 2010, is highly regarded in the England set-up, has an excellent relationship with England’s Warwickshire duo of Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott and is keen to broaden his coaching horizons beyond the limits of specialised bowling coaching.
He also lives near Birmingham and has a young family that he sees all too infrequently due to the demands of touring – the same sort of personal issues which caused England’s coach, Andy Flower, to negotiate his withdrawal from day-to-day involvement in the limited-overs formats.
A straight-talking, good-natured Australian whose ability to mentor and communicate with players is in contrast to some modern, laptop-based coaches, he would appear to be a very good catch.
Warwickshire have attracted several other very good candidates. The 2012 county champions have an excellent stadium, a strong squad and, despite a difficult year financially, pay well.
Giles, who resigned to become England’s limited-overs coach in the New Year, is known to have favoured an internal appointment – probably the club’s current bowling coach, Graeme Welch or perhaps the club’s academy coach Dougie Brown – but the chief executive, Colin Povey is keen to explore the market in more detail.
Povey was reluctant to be drawn on the subject but, when asked about Saker replied: “People have to pick up phones and have conversations.”
Saker’s departure would be a blow to England. Not only do the bowlers speak highly of his help in analysing opposition batsmen’s weaknesses, but it was Saker who instigated the successful recall of Chris Tremlett ahead of the Ashes of 2010-11 and Saker who is credited with helping Steven Finn develop from a promising but raw youngster into a world-class fast bowler. England’s record this year is far from unblemished but, with one or two exceptions, it has been the batsmen who have let the bowlers down.
His departure to follow that of Flower would be unlikely to destabilise a settled dressing room unduly, but it might serve as a warning to the ECB about the unsustainable burden they are placing on the shoulders of players and coaches in expecting them to fulfil a relentless international schedule.
England’s touring programme might also limit the number of potential candidates applying to replace Saker. It just may be that Giles’ relationship with Welch, the former Derbyshire and Warwickshire allrounder who has performed such sterling work developing Warwickshire’s excellent crop of fast bowlers, could effectively engineer a job swap: Saker to Warwickshire and Welch to England.
There is little Saker could have told his bowlers that would have made much difference on the third day at Nagpur. England did not bowl badly. They simply came up against admirably determined opposition on a desperately slow wicket. James Anderson and Graeme Swann, in particular, could feel pretty satisfied with their performance, if not the results of it.
Tim Bresnan, however, endured a chastening day. Perhaps it is harsh to judge a man by his performance on such a track – this remains a desperately poor Test wicket – but it was hard to avoid the conclusion that Bresnan no longer looks like an effective performer at this level. It was not just that he lacked pace – that is not a huge issue on this surface – but that he drifted on to the batsmen’s legs or pitched short noticeably more often than any of his colleagues.
Thirteen months ago, Bresnan looked to be at the start of a long international career after producing valuable performances in the Ashes and against India. England won the first 13 Tests in which he played and, at that stage, he possessed a Test bowling average of 25.46 and a Test batting average of 40.22.
But an an elbow injury necessitated surgery in December 2011 and, despite his best efforts, he has been unable to recover that bit of nip that made him such a valuable member of the side. Since his return, he averages 55.43 with the ball and, since the start of the series with South Africa, he averages an eye-watering 210 runs per wicket. Perhaps due to falling confidence, his batting has also fallen away and, in 2012, he is averaging just 17.14.
It is hard to understand what he did between Ahmedabad and Nagpur that justified his recall. While Finn and Stuart Broad are absent with injuries, Graham Onions, in particular, must wonder why he was brought on the tour. There were also other options with the England Performance Programme – Stuart Meaker, in particular – who could easily have been called-up. There is a great deal of affection and respect towards Bresnan in the England camp but it is becoming hard to ignore his dip in form.
Bresnan may still have a role to play with the bat in this game. While India did not start the day in a great position, Virat Kohli and MS Dohni played the hand they were dealt perfectly. The fact that both demonstrated the discipline to reign in their natural, aggressive game was testament to their dedication and maturity and while Dhoni may be disappointed not to reach his century, his sadness should be more than assuaged by the knowledge that he has revived his side’s chances of squaring the series.
If England do hold on, or even win, it may prove once again that their superior fitness and fielding made the difference. Alastair Cook’s direct hit to run-out Dhoni was another example of the difference between the sides: England have now conjured three crucial run-outs in India’s last three innings.
Ultimately England will probably have to bat for four sessions to ensure they win the series. It should not prove beyond them on this pitch. But it should not have proved beyond them to save the Test at The Oval on a flat track or win the Test at Abu Dhabi when casing a small total. Remember the wobble in Kolkata, too.
One thing is certain, though: when they set off for this tour almost two months ago, they would have jumped at the chance to bat four sessions to win the series. They are in sight of the summit, but have one last, tough climb ahead.