When England won that first Test in Chennai, it was their sixth successive Test win away from home. They had won three in South Africa in early 2020, two in Sri Lanka earlier this year and the Chennai Test became the sixth on the bounce. And it came against an Indian side who were on a high from a heroic series 2-1 win in Australia.
It looked like they may well be on their way to disrupting India’s plans of reaching the World Test Championship (WTC) final. However, their downfall has been remarkable. Irrespective of the pitch, ground, conditions, toss (which they had the better of more often than not), England were simply outplayed and Joe Root and his men didn’t adapt enough.
And it’s the second successive Indian tour that such a thing has happened. England start well in India but somehow tend to fall off the cliff. It happened in late 2016 when they posted 537 in the first Test and drew the game before going on to lose the series 4-0. And here, they won the first Test and went on to lose the series 3-1.
There was a lot of talk about the pitch and how much it turned, bounced and played tricks, especially in the second and third Test. But that was more external noise than within the team. Joe Root and his men accepted whatever they got and that’s the big positive and they hardly cribbed about the tracks on offer. It was the batting that let the down.
They say, the toss is important in the subcontinent as the pitch just gets tougher to bat on as the game progresses. England won three tosses but except for that first Test when they racked up 578 in the first innings, failed to bat long and bat big. They just danced to the tunes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel who just spun a web around the England batsmen.
England failed to go past 200 in four out of the five innings after putting up 578. The only innings they went past 200 was in the first innings of the fourth Test and even that was barely beyond 200 as they finished with 205. In terms of overs, England batted more than 60 overs only once after that first innings in Chennai and that was also when they posted 205.
In fact, the entire England batting line-up could accumulate a mere four half-centuries after that first innings in Chennai. Joe Root couldn’t back up that stunning 218. There were none in the second Test, Zak Crawley got one early in the third Test and Ben Stokes and Dan Lawrence were the ones who got half-centuries in the fourth Test. Let alone individual half-centuries, England couldn’t put together half-century partnerships post that first innings in Chennai.
Overall, only one batsman ended up with a series average in excess of 30 and that was Joe Root which came on the back of that double ton. The next best was Jos Buttler who played just one Test. Only two batters – Root and Ben Stokes went past 200 runs in the series and a total of five players reached a series tally of 100.
The batting lost it in the mind more than anything else. It was always going to be trial by spin in India. Yes, the fast bowlers have done well recently but the Indian spinners were always going to pose a massive threat to the England batsmen. However, the England batsmen never adapted and couldn’t adjust enough. Yes, there was turn and bounce in the second and third Test but it was the straight ball that did more damage.
In fact, even before the fourth Test started, England batsmen looked shot and were pre-meditating most of their shots. There was hardly any assistance for the spinners in the first innings of the first Test and yet, the England batting couldn’t stand up. They constantly played for the turn and pre-meditated quite a bit and that’s where they lost the Test match and the series.
While there is talk of the pitch and the Indian bowlers maximizing it, England bowlers had the same for them as well. And they couldn’t really make the most of the conditions. Inconsistency was the biggest factor. Only one bowler took over 10 wickets and that was Jack Leach. India had two bowlers who took more than 25 wickets in the series.
Leach and James Anderson were the best bowlers for England on this tour, even though the latter doesn’t have a bulk of wickets to show against his name. They did bowl their hearts out and Ben Stokes put in an incredible effort in the fourth Test. However, it just wasn’t enough. The support bowlers couldn’t back up the pressure in the last three Test matches. Dom Bess looked clueless after a decent outing in the first Test and Moeen Ali’s absence didn’t help either.
Add to this the team selection woes. In the pink-ball Test match, England picked three fast bowlers plus Ben Stokes and Joe Root on a rank turner and in the fourth Test match, they played three proper bowlers in addition to Stokes and Root. Thus, England just got it wrong after that first Test.
Yes, there is a lot to talk and criticism about England’s rotation policy and the team selection. However, player management is crucial as well and certain all-format players who have constantly been in the bubble did deserve a break. England played loads of cricket this year. After this tour, there are 12 more Test matches this year, including the Ashes at the end of the year. There is the T20 World Cup and the IPL apart from the other white-ball international cricket.
Bubble life is hard and there are multiple challenges living in the bubble all the time. But the question is, was rotation policy this over-done? Maybe as this Indian Test series is a big-ticket series. Former England captain and current commentator Nasser Hussain made a valid point on Sky Cricket’s podcast late last month, where he stated he would’ve rotated players in ODI cricket and have the multi-format cricketers only in Tests, T20 World Cup and the IPLs.
“It’s not rotation but when you rotate. I would’ve had this as one of my majors. England against India is a major series. So, I would’ve had my best players for this and the World T20 is important. I would’ve rotated in 50-over cricket as there is no 50-over World Cup. You’ve got two IPLs and that’s going to prepare you for white-ball cricket,” Nasser Hussain was quoted saying.
That’s a fair point. With all players around the world wanting to participate in the IPL as it provides both monetary and cricketing benefits, it’s almost impossible for the boards to ask players not to go to the IPL. There are windows created so that there is no international cricket played during the IPL which is only benefitting the players. Thus, rotation was important but the way the players were in and out didn’t really help England’s cause either.
Make no mistake, England did not lose this series due to their rotation policy or players coming in and out, they played poorly. That’s fair and square. They had their moments. In the second Test, they had India down to 86/3 in the first session. In the pink-ball Test match (third Test), they were 70/2 batting first and crumbled to 112 all out. And in the fourth Test, despite scoring just 205 batting first, they did reduce India to 146/6.
Hence, it’s down to England not really capitalizing on the key moments and India finding new heroes time and again, just like what happened in the 2018 series in England where Sam Curran and co kept doing that to India.
There were a few positives but overall, it was more of a disappointment for England, especially after the way they played in Sri Lanka and started in Chennai. As Ravi Shastri mentioned while chatting to the broadcasters, the series score-line of 3-1 doesn’t reflect on how close the series was. There were some big moments which India won or rather dominated to make it look one-sided. England have only themselves to blame and they’ve done that.