A celebration (of sorts)
Before this starts I want to make something clear. Social media is a wonderful tool that has provided many people with many great friendships and relationships and even recently I have got to know many on the cricket corner of twitter. These are some of the nicest people I've spoken to and I cannot thank them enough for what they’ve done for me and my blog. Naturally there is a dark side and that was shown the other day. There is never any excuse or qualification for one to abuse anyone online. But even more than this a refusal to accept responsibility and the cowardice in trying to pin your actions of others that infuriates me. It is never as simple as deleting a message it is learning from it and being open to criticism about it. Sorry for sorrys sake is almost like sticking 2 fingers in someone's face.
My mother is obsessed with funerals. Many times a week the topic will come up in conversation and the same thing gets said “a funeral should be a celebration”. So whilst everyone else drowns in their own sadness and has sleepless nights over Axar Patel's sunglasses, I will be hosting a celebration of sorts. A celebration of all that is positive from this tour which is more than you’d think. Of course talk of the negatives from this tour will be long and extensive and have to happen but I can promise you this, it won’t all be doom and gloom (so no player ratings).
Of course the obvious must be stated. England simply weren't good enough. It’s as simple as that. In every facet of the game they were poor or just worse than India not just in this fourth test but in every test since the 1st England have been nothing short of dreadful. The bowling was good at times but a failure to sustain pressure was England's downfall throughout the series but particularly in the 4th game. In the batting department England have some truly world class players but by the end of the series it all appeared to be a mental battle as much as anything. Axar Patel had spun his web around England and Ashwin, well he just nestled in his web which he has spun around world cricket. No one in the England batting unit except Root can truly say they did themselves justice. I feel I must add on this is with the caveat of the 3rd wicket being truly awful and England's overall approach in the 2nd game (sweeping India to death) simply not applicable to that surface. One thing that is often underestimated in cricket is fielding and during the first game England fielded superbly and set the tone as they sprinted about full of energy. By the 4th they were lethargic, slow and beaten into the ground. India on the other hand were exceptional in both their bowling and fielding and ok in their batting from the 2nd game onwards.
Well to start with the batting simply must be discussed. Before this series England's batting had been a strong point and it seemed to continue into the first game. Root was once again in the runs carrying on his good form and once again this England side posted a big first innings score (one of the common themes of Silverwoods tenure). Then England posted 200 once more in the series and well when you’re doing that no matter the surface you’re bound to fail no matter where you’re batting in the world. Collapsing soon felt inevitable. So come the 4th test with the entire batting unit shot off confidence no one was able to capitalise on a surface in which batting was favourable. 205 was no good for that surface and had England batted on that in the 2nd test I do feel they would’ve made at a minimum 300. A lot of England's batsmen have a lot to do with the bat in the summer but thankfully they have a lot of time to do it in against *checks notes* ahhh the same bowling attack.
This tour was never a tour in which any batsmen who didn’t play out of his skin was going to make 500 runs, instead it was supposed to be one in which players developed their games and technique against high quality spin bowling (there was plenty of that on offer). Well the signs were few but encouraging in this regard. For me Dom Sibley is the biggest improvement; Sibley began as a walking wicket to slow left arm with his back foot firmly planted. Meaning Sibley found it difficult to move either backwards or forwards and commit to a shot (Ollie Pope suffered a similar issue). Well by the end of the series he had opened up more scoring areas and developed these extraordinary over exaggerated movements to smother the spin as he was far lighter on his feet. Of course technical issues flare up every now and then, meaning Sibley got bowled by one that skidded on, as a batsmen won’t always remember his method and revert to ways of old when under the hammer. As for the rest of England's lineup well Crawley showed technical improvement but his desire to score was what let him down more than once and his game against the quicks is one of the best in the side. Pope seemed stuck on the crease before loosening up in the 1st innings of the final game and then in the 2nd he became erratic playing a shot a ball. But improvement is improvement nonetheless. As i am writing this just after the series has finished I am legally obliged to discuss Dan Lawrence who is the perfect example of the mental battle one faces when promoted up the order to a position they have never batted in. Lawrence batted superbly in the 4th game after some criticism having been bumped up the order in the 1st and 2nd tests. Essexs’ wonder boy has put some real heat on Ollie Pope to deliver in the early stages of the County Championship to retain his place in the side. Ben Stokes was supposedly ‘found out’ by Ashwin but this one is fairly simple. Ben Stokes is a left hander playing against Ravi Ashwin who murders left handers on a bunsen in Asia. Stokes was never going to find it easy. Fitness issues surrounded Stokes all series and to be honest his final dismissal was case and point as he lapped a ball to the man around the corner. Stokes is no worry for England and the improvement in his bowling was huge for the side in the 4th game. Joe Root batted out of his skin for large parts of the tour (as well as his bowling also being superb) but looked defeated by the 4th still the skipper is in the form of his life and long may it continue.
One of the big disappointments of the tour is undoubtedly Ben Foakes ability with the bat. Well known as a good player of spin with many speaking highly of him (including old Surrey teammate Kumar Sangakkara) many thought that with Jos Buttler out of the side for the final 3 games this was Foakes’ time to shine. Well whilst he kept impeccably and made a sturdy 42* in the 1st innings at Chennai Foakes was undoubtedly not what we know he can be. Foakes often played himself in and looked solid before falling right as he got going. Of course there was other external factors. Foakes was often walking in at the team 5 down and collapsing around him this is not the ideal situation for someone playing his first competitive game in 18 months to walk into. Furthermore Foakes was often walking in after keeping in exceptionally hot conditions and he had little rest between keeping and batting and it showed with small lapses of concentration costing him. Understandably Buttler will keep in the summer but with Johnny Bairstow's poor form in this series Foakes is still firmly the number 2 keeper for England and if neither Pope or Lawrence push on there is an argument to be made for Foakes at 7 and Jos at 6.
Johnny Bairstow sadly will never play test cricket for England again. Bairstow is a magnificent cricketer and one of the finest of his generation but his form on this tour was nothing short of dire and you can’t help but feel awful for a man who looks so dejected and beaten. Bairstow never looked comfortable in the day night test and despite his counter punch in the 4th game he still fell to a ball that was full and straight highlighting the exact issue many have with Bairstow's constant inclusion. Bairstow had a series to forget and sadly he won’t be causing anyone any headaches any time soon with his calendar filled by the white ball arena Bairstow is leaving very little time to recognise his ambitions in the red. (I must state Bairstow is a superb white ball cricketer and one of the best one day openers of all time).
England's bowling was also poor and more importantly their spin bowling. First though the seamers all of whom were impressive but most notably Jimmy Anderson and Olly Stone both of whom shone when selected. Anderson operated at superhuman levels this winter and at 38 he is showing no signs of slowing down. Stone bowled fast and hostile and was genuinely unlucky not to feature in the 4th test but has done himself no harm. Broad was largely ineffective but did also have plenty of dropped catches in the 2nd game. Jofra bowled well in spurts but was also tired and his elbow injury was fairly clear to see as he fatigued throughout the 2 tests he played but the signs of Jofra the world class bowler are there.
Spin bowling is the area in which one could argue that England lost the series. India found England's spinners far too easy to score off and neither Moeen Ali or Dom Bess bowled particularly well throughout the series despite Moeen showing flickers in the 2nd innings of the 2nd test.
Jack Leach was good throughout taking 18 wickets at 28 which isn’t bad considering his early onslaught by Rishabh Pant. Leach bowled well and found his pace on the wickets early which is something that is very important in India. A constant threat to the right handed top order of India Leach did fade a bit when the lower order lefties walked in to bat most notably Sundar and Pant on day 2 of the 4th test. Leach still kept things tight and has unarguably made himself England's first choice spinner for the foreseeable future and the confidence Root has in Leach is clear for all to see.
That Bess bowled poorly should come as no surprise to anyone who saw him bowled. Shot of confidence as he knew that the management didn’t want him in the team; obviously the guy was always going to struggle. The signs were there for a long time. Bess returned figures of 12 wickets at 21.25 but his xW (expected wickets) was 7 and his xAvg (expected average) was 35.9 in Sri Lanka. In essence Bess did get lucky but there were also some good balls in there. Bess started off well in the first game but tired and after that let himself down. Bess' numbers show exactly what the issue was with his full toss percentage demonstrably higher than everyone else's, Bess always had a release ball around the corner. Bess has a clear technical issue in his action with his left foot coming over and making his naturally more aimed into leg stump, in turn this brings about the inconsistency that troubled Bess all series. Off course this is something that Bess can and almost certainly will work on and he just needs to bowl. But even in Englands, arguably, worst bowler there was a bright spark. Bess’ setup of Kohli (who is one of the most destructive players of off spin bowling in recent history) was genuine world class test match bowling. A few outside off and then one a bit wider that Kohli prodded at and got caught at short leg. That right there, in my humble opinion, was reason enough to be excited about Bess. Has this opportunity come too soon? Yes. Should we be making assumptions about his entire career based off of this tour? No. So let us let Bess grow, let him play some country cricket and iron himself out and see what happens. Of course what happened to Bess after the fourth game was horrible and I posted about it on my Twitter @therunoutblog1
Many a grey cloud hung over this tour but none bigger than the issues surrounding England's rotation policy. I personally have no issue with the idea of players having premeditated breaks. I think it can help certain players and I also think it’s a very good idea in the contemporary climate. Of course we do not know what conversations have happened behind closed doors and we probably never will so it is not up to us to pass judgement on the decisions to send players home. What I do think we are able to question though is when a player was sent home. Chris Woakes is a prime example of this. Throughout this tour England have needed a number 8 who can offer control and also be effective with the bat as they were reluctant to play Bess (the comments made about Moeen were indicative of this) so how Chris Woakes didn’t play one game is beyond me. Then heading into the final test England decided to bolster their batting and went with 2 frontline spinners. But they had no confidence in Bess, and the pitch didn’t appear as if it was going to spin big frome early on. England should’ve played Chris Woakes in that game but they didn’t as he had already gone home. Why not send him home at the start of the third game? Regardless, I do respect England's decisions to send players home and I have doubts that the rotation policy will not only improve but benefit England long term.
India were outstanding from the 2nd game onwards. Rohit Sharma was totally dominant and essentially made up for the poor returns from Pujara, Kohli and Rahane. Whilst there should be no real issues over India's 3,4 and 5 as of now it could become an issue soon in the near future . But the true standouts for India were Rishabh Pant, Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin. On Pant there is not much I can say that is not in this incredible article by Ben Jones for CricViz https://www.cricviz.com/rishabh-pant-101/ but i will try. Pant was exceptional. we all knew this heading into the series and he's only gotten better. His hundred was one of the most entertaining innings I have ever seen and i imagine in a few weeks i'll still find myself laughing at someone running down the wicket to Jimmy Anderson with the new ball. Pants keeping was also a huge bonus to the side and his stumping of Pope was a work of art on the final day of the series. India's spin twins were incredible, Ashwin just did what he does and worked over every batsmen with his beautiful variation and deception. Axar Patel became the definition of taking to test cricket like a duck to water and was exceptional even borderline unplayable at times his insane accuracy and natural variation. Patel has been a true find for India and will surely be pushing Ravindra Jadeja for a spot in the first Xi especially given his batting exploits in India's 1st innings in the 4th game.
The first test brough the highest of highs as England comfortably out performed a very good India side. The 2nd was ripe with controversy but to be honest England were just poor. The 3rd? Well read all about it https://www.therunoutblog.co.uk/post/the-mighty-must-fall . This match? England failed and failed badly.
But for now it’s all over so what next? Well the same again except this time on our terms. New Zealand come first and whilst that shall be a great series India will be one to remember. This India side will give some England fans a serious shock come the summer and it will be a truly great series. For this test side well you’d imagine that Jos Buttler comes back into the side and Rory Burns’ place is now under pressure and if someone performs big in County Cricket it could be bad for the Surrey man. This England side is young and they’re learning. This summer is their most important challenge yet and it remains to be seen if they can bounce back and put in a huge performance before the Ashes. Competition for places is high and now complacency will be punished. Nevertheless there is something to celebrate about this test tour. It’s done.