England’s seven Tests in nine weeks tour of the subcontinent already looks ill fated. The first leg, two Tests against Bangladesh, was supposed to be the easy part – on now, to five Tests against India.
The excuses have already started to pour out in the wake of the drawn series with Bangladesh. Colin Graves, chairman of the ECB has stated that such a hectic tour will not happen again on his watch. Alastair Cook has bemoaned the lack of a world class spinner. He’s said that the side is learning. He has said that they are “massive underdogs” against India.
Had things fallen slightly differently this summer, England could have travelled to Bangladesh and India as the number one ranked side in the world! They were incredibly close to being lauded as such, but couldn’t overcome Pakistan at home.
This side now looks as far away from being the best in the world as it is possible to be.
To look through the excuses, the schedule is completely ridiculous, there are no world class English spinners and England are, now, massive underdogs against India.
Yet they haven’t helped themselves. Cook’s captaincy was questionable (at best) during key passages of play across the two Tests against Bangladesh. He doesn’t have the spinners to back up any plans, at times, and some wretched fielding cost a few runs to boot, but Cook was unsure when to attack and when to defend. That sort of muddled thinking won’t get him or the side very far in India.
The team selection, too, was poor. Persisting with Gary Ballance proved to be a disaster. That he was included in the squad to face India before the end of the Bangladesh series highlights further issues. He simply cannot play against India. His final dismissal of the Bangladesh was him limply scooping a half tracker straight up in the air. He must have known on his walk back to the pavilion that those were his final moments in an England shirt.
Haseeb Hameed, the young Lancashire opener, wasn’t used in Bangladesh. Everyone was screaming before the first Test that Hameed should open with Cook and Ben Duckett should bat at four. Instead, Duckett opened and Ballance wasted two Test mathes.
Given Duckett’s performance in the final innings of the second Test, he must now surely retain his place as Cook’s opening partner. Hameed will again carry the drinks in India.
That leaves the only feasible alternative to replace Ballance as Jos Buttler. Buttler has played one First Class game in the past 12 months and was dropped during the 2015 Ashes series as he struggled to deal with Nathan Lyon, in English conditions. Quite what he’s done since to suggest he’ll suddenly become a successful Test batsman and prosper against R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in their own backyard is beyond me.
Further down the order, Ben Stokes is proving himself to be a cricketer of some note, but of questionable temperament. If he reacts angrily and makes a dick of himself every time England are under the kosh, he’s going to be spending a lot of time writing out cheques to the match officials in India.
Then the spinners. Moeen Ali is the pick of them, but what is his true role in this side? He got a promotion to bat at five in Bangladesh and could move up one place in the order if Buttler comes in. He has been shunted from pillar to post during his Test career – a true batting nomad.
Adil Rashid is clearly untrusted by Cook and is incapable of applying any pressure on any batsman who knows which end of the willow to hold. Similarly, Zafar Ansari is there to be attacked as Tamim Iqbal so brutally demonstrated, so Gareth Batty may well come back into the side if England persist with their ludicrous policy of deploying three spinners.
I appreciate that they will be playing on spinner friendly surfaces in India, but three crap spinners doesn’t make a potent attack – a full toss is a full toss in any conditions.
Then the seamers. Stokes was the leading light and will do well in India and anywhere he plays. Chris Woakes, Steven Finn and Stuart Broad were used sparingly in Bangladesh, but a four pronged seam attack of Broad, Stokes, Woakes and Finn, to complement Ali and Rashid/Ansari/Batty surely looks the best way for England to go.
Now more than ever, is the time to play to your strongest suit. India’s accomplished batting line up won’t be having any sleepless nights about English spinners. Perhaps complacency is England’s best hope.
This is already feeling like the 2013/14 Ashes series all over again for Cook and England. The pressure is on and they are crumbling. There is scarcely a moment to turn this around.
Good luck, fellas.
By Miles Reucroft