England need to fix middle-order and bowling woes ahead of Mohali Test
What England needs to do to turn the tides in the ongoing test series.
England needed 405 runs to win in the fourth innings on a track which had not become one of the toughest to survive. The track had wear and tear, but not demons underneath to make the turning balls behave like a spitting cobra. The English batsmen just needed to occupy the crease for a bit more time and mix caution with composure according to the demand of the situation.
Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed’s approach on the fourth day was not eye-catching, but more like Michael Atherton’s defiant resistance in the fourth innings at Johannesburg against the likes of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock in 1995 on a testing track. Such a ploy never ensures entertainment, but guarantees saving Test matches.
Cook and Hameed concentrated on leaving and blocking the ball to weather the storm, but their brief resistance was cut short at the last moment of the fourth day. What could have been 87 for 0, turned into 87 for 2 at stumps on day 4. It was up to the rest of the batsmen to carry on the Cook-and-Hameed style of batsmanship on the final day and ensure a draw.
But sadly, the English batters could not even manage to take the match into the final session and ended up on the losing side quite early. Mohammed Shami, Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and the debutante Jayant Yadav knocked out the English batsmen within 38 overs of day 5.
The Indian bowlers bowled well, but one cannot term those as unplayable or blame the track for such a disgraceful capitulation.
Survival on the fifth-day track tough, but not impossible
Alastair Cook hinted that winning the toss was a lucky one for Virat Kohli and in the subcontinent, the flip of the coin matters a lot. But if a team wishes to win matches, they should have a plan B to deal with the tougher matters. Alastair Cook cannot expect to win the toss everyday and so it’s a must for him and the team’s think tank to come out with an alternative plan which can be effective.
England’s batting and spin attack were a thorn in the throat in Vizag. Their batsmen, not only let them down in the first innings, but let them down miserably in the second as well. It seemed as if they were haunted by the ghosts of Mirpur on both occasions and neither their middle order exhibited the right intent nor the correct footwork or defense against spinners.
So, before they focus fully on the third Test, it will be ideal for them to fix the middle order and spin attack.
England’s number four position is occupied by Ben Duckett. Duckett is a very promising prospect and his talent was evident during the limited overs series against Bangladesh. But in white-clothings, he failed to justify his talent, especially against the turning ball his miseries knew no bound.
So far, he has failed to use his feet properly and get behind the line of the ball and thus invited strings of failures which dented his confidence. And, his short stay at the crease only invited enough pressure to the English batting line-up. His dismissal in the final day hinted he has lost it at the back of the mind needs a break to sort out his shortcomings.
The English think tank has made a smart decision to consider Jos Buttler instead of Duckett for the third Test. He can be used as a wicketkeeper and free Jonny Bairstow from his keeping duties and used as a middle-order batsman. Bairstow has been fantastic with the bat throughout this year and should not be wasted at number seven. Moreover, technically and temperamentally, Bairstow is perfect to end England’s middle-order woes.
Meanwhile, the spinners of England have been flat at Vizag. Yes, Adil Rashid came out better in the second innings, but in the first, he failed to pitch it up against Virat and Pujara and bring them forward. Thankfully, Adil rediscovered his rhythm later on, but his partner Zafar Ansari remained the same.
Ansari simply lacks the cutting edge as a spinner. The captain of any team would love his left-arm spinner to spin the ball away from a length, deliver the arm-ball and use the rough as much as possible. But Ansari’s nag to pitch it short more often made Cook suffer. When a spinner delivers short and half volleys too much, it gets tough for the captain to maintain the pressure.
If the English think tank sticks to the plan of playing three spinners, it will be ideal to invest faith in Gareth Batty instead of Ansari. He is neither a Graeme Swann or Monty Panesar, but has the experience which can be productive for England.
Above all, England must realise that their main strength is the pace bowlers and it is always sensible enough to script a game plan around your strength.
England are still not sure whether Stuart Broad will feature in the third Test or not, but the fast bowler has not given up yet. The England seamer revealed that he will wear a protective "moon" boot to try and help his recovery, with four days between the second and third Test.
Broad sustained the injury diving in the field in the opening moments of the match, but still produced an impressive performance with the ball.
If Stuart Broad is fit and features at Mohali, England should include Chris Woakes who was rested at Vizag due to a niggle and “normal wear and tear of bowling” according to Cook. Woakes’ aggression gives England’s bowling attack the pressure-building opportunity which was wasted by Ansari’s flat bowling. Moreover, Woakes is a very good batsman as well.
England can utilise Moeen and Rashid as spinners and rely more on the pace bowling prowess of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes.