Bangladesh, for the first time in their history, beat England on Sunday. Before analysing any of the technical aspects of the game, the hosts must be congratulated. They could have won the series, 2-0, and it wouldn’t have been an unfair reflection on the side’s performances. While England have, undoubtedly, been a little underwhelming in some areas, Bangladesh have been superb, and deserved to end the series level with their visitors.
Mehedi, in particular, has been outstanding. He picked up 6 wickets in the first innings of his debut test match, and took 12 in only his second game. The performances were enough to earn the youngster the man of the series award, and quite right, too. His discipline was the most impressive aspect of the way he bowled. While Rashid and Ali have struggled to hold a line and length, that is exactly what Mehedi has done so well. Natural variation and consistency has been more than good enough for England’s batsmen. Other outstanding performances from the hosts included Tamim Iqbal’s 104, and the consistent performances of all-rounder, Shakib-al-Hasan.
Now, onto England. Two areas of concern, and predictable ones at that, were highlighted most throughout the series. One is the top order, the other is the spin bowling department. As for the top order, Gary Ballance simply has to go. Personally, I wouldn’t have included him in the squad for the Bangladesh tour, but he has only reaffirmed my suspicion over the past four innings. He is not good enough to play test cricket, and before he can be considered again, he needs to score runs at county level. While an obvious straight replacement for Ballance does not present itself, Alex Hales and Haseeb Hameed will both be available for the India series. One of them should open with Cook, with Duckett batting at 4. The young left-hander showed everyone what he was capable of in the fourth innings on Sunday, and his naturally aggressive style make him a good fit for the number four spot.
The way the top order plays is something else althogether. While a top four of Cook, Hales/ Hameed, Root, and Duckett would be my choice, it is essential that the batsmen who play work out how to bat against spin in the sub-continent. Ben Stokes needs to have a chat with the batting unit, as his 85 in the first test was the perfect example of how to balance attack and defence. England have the players to score big runs in India. They need to work out how to do it quickly, though, or they could be 2-0 down in the blink of an eye.
As for the spinners, consistency is the key. Rashid, Ali, Ansari, and Batty put enough spin on the ball to be successful against India. They also, however, bowl far too many bad balls. Rahshid and Ali, who have played more for England in recent times than the other two, have always tended to be a little hot and cold. An unplayable delivery might be followed by a full-toss, which is then followed by a long hop. The spin bowling unit needs to cut out these loose deliveries, or England will not be able to compete with India. England have world-class seamers. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are among the best in the world, Chris Woakes has matured into a fantastic bowler, and Ben Stokes is fast becoming one of the best all-rounders in the game. Subcontinental conditions do not suit any of those four bowlers, though. Yes, the ball might reverse for them after thirty or forty overs, but forty overs of spin could see the hosts 200-1 by the time that happens.
England need to improve if they are to compete in India. As it stands, I cannot see anything other than a home victory. If, however, the top order and the spinners can make the necessary improvements, the picture changes. England’s quickies and their middle/lower order is outstanding, and if all the departments can pull together then Cook’s men definitely have a chance.