England found themselves in seventh heaven after posting a comfortable and commanding 227-run victory in the 1st Test at Chennai. But mere days after that incredible result, the Three Lions were brought crashing down to reality, with India chastening them to a 317-run defeat.
Throughout the fixture, there were palpable murmurs around the nature of the surface, which after being termed placid in the 1st clash, was being dubbed a raging turner and one where batting was deemed ‘impossible’. Yet, while there might be a temptation to blame the pitch, there were enough problems that surfaced, as far as England were concerned.
More worryingly, though, the visitors portrayed a pattern of ailments that have plagued them for quite a while now – issues that could undermine their sensational start to the series.
Firstly, England, after a decent opening stand in the 1st innings of the 1st Test, have not managed to stitch together a respectable partnership at the top of the order. Rory Burns, who arrived on the back of a break, has looked discernibly shaky, meaning that he hasn’t inspired a lot of confidence.
In addition, the left-hander’s footwork has left a lot to be desired, whereas his propensity to play across the line has also been exploited mercilessly. Subsequently, his inability to score runs at the top has exposed the likes of Dan Lawrence and Joe Root to a relatively new ball, which has regularly aided the spinners a lot more.
As for Dan Lawrence, the youngster seems to be completely muddled in his thinking. At this juncture, it seems as if he doesn’t trust his defensive game as much, meaning that he has resorted to unnecessary forays down the track. That it came in the aftermath of a couple of knocks where he was stuck on the crease, only insinuates his cluttered approach.
The larger worry for England though, could revolve around their batsmen’s stubbornness to use the sweep shot as the only scoring avenue. In the 1st Test, the English batsmen found ways to rotate the strike and put the Indians under pressure.
However, in the second installment, they got stuck to the crease for large swathes, which eventually prompted an extravagant sweep stroke and a subsequent demise. And, on tracks that offer quick turn and bounce, that method would always be fraught with danger. Not just because the top edge is exposed, but also due to the fact that there would be little time to adjust.
The most alarming drawback from the second Test though, would be their bowlers’ inability to keep things tight, despite contending with an extremely helpful surface.
England could not utilize the conditions optimally
In the first essay, the likes of Jack Leach and Moeen Ali, despite bagging a few wickets, simply couldn’t exert the pressure that would’ve led to mistakes from the Indian batsmen. Inevitably, each good delivery was followed by a couple of bad balls – something that loosened the valve and enabled Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma to turn the screw.
Stuart Broad, too, apart from a brief spell in the second innings, looked bereft of ideas. In the process, he couldn’t provide the value that James Anderson accorded at the same venue, a few days prior.
Though the pair of Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma batted excellently, their job was made significantly easier, owing to England’s shortcomings. And, if England aren’t careful, their task could get considerably difficult over the next couple of games, for India now have the bit between their teeth.
In order to iron out their flaws, England might have to go back to the drawing board and establish mechanisms that might serve them well, irrespective of the kind of pitch on offer.
For starters, they might do well to surge into the ascendancy early and force India to make the play, rather than handing them the initiative on a platter. To that end, perhaps Zak Crawley could make a difference, although that remains conjecture considering his recent woes on the tour to Sri Lanka.
Thus, the time could arguably be ripe for a certain Jonny Bairstow to walk into the fold and stamp his authority on the series. While the wicket-keeper doesn’t particularly have an enviable record in Test cricket, he boasts experience of having played on Indian tracks – primarily due to his stint in the IPL with the Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Moreover, his ability to instantly transfer the pressure onto the bowlers could be key as he could act as the link between the solidity of Dom Sibley and the craft of Joe Root. In clearer words, Jonny Bairstow, along with Ben Stokes, could be tasked with playing a more belligerent role – something that would give England more balance and might test the Indian spinners a shade more.
On the bowling front though, it is imperative that England’s spinners contain the Indian batsmen. Apart from Jack Leach, none of the other two tweakers have looked capable of keeping a lid on the scoring, meaning that India have been able to get through sticky periods.
For that to happen, England might do well to opt for a seam-spin combination at most times – a ploy that could allow them to control the game from one end and attack from the other. In the 2nd Test at Chennai, England were either too aggressive or too defensive.
Though that isn’t a criticism of Joe Root’s captaincy, it is an indictment of the inconsistencies of their spinners, which is simply unacceptable when playing in India, considering the heavy lifting that needs to be done by that breed.
Additionally, if Ben Stokes is unfit to bowl long spells, England might have to include Chris Woakes or Sam Curran (if he is named in the squad), to provide a third seaming option and a batting alternative. The aforementioned would then mean that England play with three seamers and two spinners.
Though that might shorten their batting line-up a shade, it would increase their chances of skittling out India twice.
Thus, at this juncture, England find themselves firmly in strife, despite the series being deadlocked ahead of the pink-ball Test at Ahmedabad. Rather eerily though, their current problems resemble those that they couldn’t overcome, back in 2016.
On that occasion, the Three Lions wilted after a commendable performance in the 1st Test. This time though, Joe Root will hope that England are able to turn things around and mount a more sustained assault on India’s fortress.
Yet, one can’t ignore the fact that England have a few old ailments to take care of. Over the years, they have proven to be their downfall, and quite regularly at that.
And, unless they can find a new tonic to those chronic maladies, their stupendous start would count for nothing.