England start strongly as India hold on for a draw

England’s performance in the first of five tests against India was extremely encouraging. Alastair Cook’s men were expected to be outclassed in India this winter, but so far the  two sides look very evenly matched.

Two aspects of the drawn match stood out, and both will encourage England (and England supporters) hugely. Firstly, Cook’s men batted extremely well, even against India’s spinners. Secondly, Moeen and Rashid arguably out-bowled Ashwin and Jadeja. This second point might encourage England even more than their batting performance, as India’s threat of preparing turning pitches will have less effect if their opponents find it just as useful.

To start with, though, England’s batting. “England can’t play spin”. A fair assessment, in many ways, based on the side’s track record in recent times. Trips to Bangladesh and the UAE have proven that the turning ball can wreak havoc on England’s batting line-up, but here,  Ashwin, Jadeja, and Mishra all struggled to trouble England’s batsmen. Ashwin, for example, went wicketless in the first innings, and picked up just one in the second. Considering his position as the number one test bowler in the world, that will encourage England. It should give the visitors a lot of confidence, and banish (for now, anyway) any potential demons that lay in the backs of their minds.

Four of the tourists’ batsmen hit hundreds, and Hameed made a superb 82 in the second innings. The youngster looked solid and compact, and was rarely troubled. While it is far too early to name him England’s opener for the next decade, the early signs are incredibly positive. Furthermore, he can catch at short leg. Joe Root and Alastair Cook’s innings were also hugely significant; it was always going to be important for England’s two premier batsmen to start the tour well, and they certainly did. Root’s dismissal arguably should have been overturned, while Alastair Cook looked at his fluent best in the second innings.

England’s other two centurions, Stokes and Ali, showed why they are regarded as two of the game’s best stroke-players. They punished anything slightly off line or length, but were able to nullify India’s threat, too. Stokes has already highlighted his ability to bat in the subcontinent, with his outstanding hundred in Bangladesh. Moeen Ali’s knock should encourage England too, though, as his promotion to number five is proving an excellent decision.

It wasn’t just with the bat that Moeen was effective, though. Along with Adil Rashid in particular, he asked a lot of questions of India’s batsmen. Even in the game’s first innings, when Pujara and Vijay both hit hundreds, England’s spinners did not bowl badly. Their consistency was much better, as they bowled far fewer loose balls than they did in Bangladesh. If they can maintain such levels of consistency throughout the tour, England will have a chance of winning the series. After England’s effort with the bat in the first innings, social media came to life, with phrases such as “they’ll give us a turning pitch in the next one” appearing frequently. If England’s spinners can perform as they did, then the hosts might just think twice about doing that, for fear of it backfiring.

As a final consideration, Jimmy Anderson is also hoping to be fit for the second test, which starts on Thursday. England’s best bowler for some time, Anderson will add more control and pose more of a threat for Cook’s side. He will probably come in for either Stuart Broad or Chris Woakes, after all three of England’s spinners performed well last week. This poses a slight issue for the selectors, as neither Broad nor Woakes deserve to be dropped. That said, I would leave Broad out for Anderson personally. Because the seamers are less effective in the subcontinent, batting ability for England’s pacemen becomes more important. As Woakes is a vastly better batsman than Broad, he should keep his spot.

All in all, rather encouraging from an England perspective. It will be interesting to see what kind of a pitch India prepare for Thursday’s match. They might feel that a turning pitch would get Ashwin and Jadeja into the game more, but Ali and Rashid’s performance might warn the hosts off doing that.

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