England vs India, 4th Test Preview: Partnerships will be the key
The fourth Test is just around the corner. It has been a topsy-turvy kind of series so far, with both sides dominating at some point.
In a series like this, teams often wonder what exactly is the formula for them to win, since, the graph of performance is invariably zig-zag.
Template for either team to win lies in their earlier performances in the series, either in the form of confidence from the good moments or in the form of learning from the bad moments.
Let's revisit the first three Tests to understand what is key to success for the fourth Test.
During the first Test, the foundation for the disastrous 2nd Indian innings was laid during the first innings. Though India almost equaled the first innings score by England, it was a single-handed effort from Virat Kohli. None of the other batsmen scored runs, which implies there were no partnerships of note.
Not having partnerships has a multi-fold effect on the performance of the team. It means that batsmen are short on confidence since they are not spending enough time in the middle. On the other hand, the opposition bowling unit never gets tested. It implies that they are getting wickets at regular intervals. When there is no resistance from the batsmen, the bowlers don't have to do anything different out of their comfort zone, which makes them look more lethal then what they are.
Looking back at the third Test, the partnership between Rahane and Kohli was the key. Both these batsmen were playing with so much ease and dominance at one point in time, that it made the other batsmen think about their game. Suddenly, the same English bowlers who wrecked havoc during the second Test were looking playable. Other Indian batsmen who were watching this from the dressing room now realized, hang on, conditions are not as bad as we were thinking. This confidence was oozing out from every top-order Indian batsman during the second innings.
This theory stands well for the English team as well. As Joe Root acknowledged, the problem with English batting in the recent past has been that there are too many batting collapses. Collapses result from lack of partnerships. During the first innings of the third Test, England had a terrible collapse. Indian bowlers were looking like taking a wicket on every ball, but, the moment there was a partnership between Buttler and Stokes in the second innings, the same Indian attack was looking impotent. It took the second new ball to dislodge English lower middle order.
Talking about the fourth Test which will begin in a few days time, it is a must-win game for Indians. Bowlers have been doing their job all along, so there is no need for them to do anything different in the fourth Test. Batsmen need to look back at the matches that have gone by to understand what was the difference between their performance in the first two Tests which they lost and the third Test that they won. The answer is partnerships, they need to string together partnerships. Individual performances won't win you Test matches in England. It needs to be a combined effort from them.
Talking about England, English bowling is looking fine with one change in the offering, they will have to bring in Sam Curran. He provides the much-needed variety to this English seam attack. His in-swingers would be handy for Indian top-order loaded with right-handers. It will be a headache for England to decide who they should drop, to bring in Curran. Ideally, Rashid should sit out as he is in the team just for the sake of variety. He has done nothing significant during the first three Tests.
In all probability, the fourth Test would be a battle of attrition. The first innings for both sides would be important, whomsoever blinks first would stand to lose.