Once again, it’s England’s top order that has let them down. After a largely optimistic first test match, India look set to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series, with England four down, and still 56 behind their hosts.
Some will point to India’s tail wagging this morning, as England struggled to contain all-rounders Ashwin and Jadeja, as the main reason for their precarious position in Mohali, but in all honesty Alastair Cook and his team lost the game in the first innings. After winning the toss, England were unable to capitalise on their slice of luck on a good surface. Too many English wickets were gifted to the Indian bowlers, as Hameed was the only one of the top five to be “got out”. Cook, Root, Ali, and Stokes all fell to soft, unnecessary dismissals, when solidity and patience were the order of the day.
Winning the toss in India is half the battle. The other half is applying yourself. Rewind a week or so to the second test, and Vijay and Pujara both hit hundreds against good bowling. Make no mistake, England bowled well at the two Indians in the first innings, but the batsmen played sensibly, weathered the storm, and cashed in. Unfortunately, England were unable to replicate that when they had the chance.
While pessimism helps no-one, it is incredibly hard to see much other than a 4-0 scoreline now. England will lose this match tomorrow, and will likely struggle to get back into the series. In fairness, that might not be entirely their fault. So far this winter, Cook’s men have played five test matches in six weeks in the subcontinent. Granted, not all of the players have played in all of the games, but that schedule is punishing. Quite how any team can be expected to play that amount of cricket in such a short space of time is a mystery, particularly in the harsh conditions of the subcontinent. The heat, the pitches’ lack of reward for the seam bowlers, combined with the cuts in recuperation time together form a grueling test. This, I grant you, is test cricket, but some degree of moderation is required.
All that said, England’s batting is a cause for concern, and there is little to excuse some of the players’ shot selection at times. There is a difference between being pro-active, and taking the attack to the bowlers, and a basic lack of match awareness. So far this winter, England have produced a number of fine individual displays, but few more so than Ben Stokes’ hundred in Bangladesh. There, he took his time to well and truly get himself in before he expressed himself, and that is the way to play in the subcontinent. Lapses in concentration and poor shot selection have conspired to throw a promising series away. If England can draw this series now it will be an incredible turnaround. I, for one, hope that they can, but find it difficult to see how such a feat will be achieved, considering all of the above.
While the series has undoubtedly contained a good number of positives for England, there is clearly some way to go before the number one spot will be back on the realistic agenda.
That said, international sport is full of fine margins. Add some consistency to the top order, and Alastair Cook’s men will not be far off…it’s a shame how significant that consistency is!