Falling Apart at the Seams
Rhys Wallis reviews England’s Cricketing Tour in India and explores their options going forward
England’s Cricketing Winter has been one of the busiest during the Covid Sporting World but it hasn’t exactly been of the best quality, especially in this tour of India. It ended with an unceremonious thrashing at the hands of the Indians, leaving England out of contention for the World Test Championship trophy. So what went wrong this test series, and what can the England team learn from it?
The only test which showed England’s true ability was the opener, where Captain Joe Root hit a double ton to guide England to a strong victory, with a firing James Anderson able to dominate Indian batsmen and a helpful sideshow put on by the Spin Twins of Dom Bess and Jack Leach. Then it all went sour.
The Second Test started well: despite missing Anderson, his replacements didn’t seem to need him – until they did. Only 4 Indian wickets fell to seam in the second test – Anderson took 7 alone in the first – and the England spinners, whilst picking up wickets, were no match for their Indian counterparts, who put them firmly in the host’s shadow. A misfiring Root – his first real failure this year after his superlative showing against Sri Lanka – didn’t help matters, and the batting order looked all fingers and thumbs against the ruthless Indian attack. The Man of the Match for England, spinner Moeen Ali who had missed the first test due to a positive Covid-19 test, was a glimmer of light, the hope we could make breakthroughs in the conditions. And then he, along with other front line test players, returned home. Rotation seemed to be the name of the game.
A complete debacle – that’s what England’s 3rd and 4th Test performances amounted to in the impressive new Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad. The pitch took some by surprise in the 3rd Test of the Series and India were able to romp home to a 10-wicket victory. But to follow the old adage, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me, England were certainly fooled again.
From choosing only one frontline spinner in the third Test, England went batsmen crazy, with only 3 out and out bowlers – 2 of them spinners. With such batting depth, you would expect a more accomplished batting performance, but a crashing innings defeat was the result. When arguably the best bowler in spinning conditions for England is Joe Root, a part-timer in the team for his batting ability and captaincy, then questions need to be asked about who else performed at all in the bowling department.
So what happens now? England need to take time to review the mess that happened over 4 tests and seriously get back on the horse before the cricketing summer, which includes a return series against India (5 matches) and opens with a two match series against New Zealand. These seven tests make up the only Test matches between now and the Ashes next winter, which – if England fail to win – will mark the longest period where England haven’t held the urn since 2005.
Player selection is key, and whilst the destruction by the hands of India was ignominious, it shone a harsh light on the deficiencies in England’s batting line-up. Bairstow didn’t perform on his return to the number 3 spot, Sibley only made 3 scores in double figures, and Pope and Foakes hardly lit the world on fire with their performances. For the bowlers, Anderson carried the pace attack whenever he played and his absence from the second test was noticeable. Archer looks like he’s finding his groove and Stone showed glimpses of impressive seam bowling. The shadow hanging over this England team is rotation. With a T20 World Cup to think about this year as well, rotation is the order of the day for Chris Silverwood.
However, this England Test Team desperately needs solidity if it is to stand even the most remote chance of reclaiming the Ashes. Burns and Crawley need time to gel at the top of the order before the Aussie Hurricane get thrown their way, England still need to fix their Number 3 Problem and the tail, whilst talented, isn’t quite there yet.
The good news is that the summer is 7 Tests long. The bad news is that the 7 Tests doesn’t look like it will be nearly long enough for this side.