India v England: Task for visitors ahead of final Test
The hosts India and England will play the 4th and the final Test at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad from Thursday, 4th March. The hosts have the added focus of qualifying for the World Test Championship, which they will achieve if they win or even draw this Test match. For the England team, their dreams of qualifying for WTC’s final were shattered when they lost the last Test, a pink ball affair, within two days resulting in worldwide controversy.
What happened so far?
Although the English team has alternate ambitions, a win in the last Test will help them to draw the series 2-2. It will be a great achievement considering India previously lost a home series in 2012. Their win will help Australia to qualify for the WTC final and face their neighbours New Zealand who have already qualified.
England came to the series with lots of confidence after a 2-0 series win in Sri Lanka with their captain Joe Root in great form. They maintained the winning run in the first Test at Chennai as Root scored another double century and became the first player to score three consecutives 150 plus scores.
They posted a big first inning total (578) and batted India out of the Test match, who could not show the resolve on day five to hang in for a draw. Winning the toss resulted in a big benefit for them as their spinners Dom Bess and Jack Leach grabbed 11 wickets on a typical Indian pitch.
But since then, things have moved downhill for the English team, and now after three Tests, they found themselves to be 1-2 down in the series. The pitches became more conducive for spin bowling, and India also got their combination right.
Axar Patel, who could not make his debut in the first Test due to an injury, finally played his first Test and immediately became a nemesis for English batsmen. Patel took 18 wickets in two Test matches with an astonishing average of 9.44. His 11 wickets in the third Test also got him the player-of-the-match award.
On the other hand, Ravichandran Ashwin was as reliable as ever in-home conditions. He picked up 24 wickets and reached the 400 wickets milestone to become the second-fastest bowler to achieve this mark in Test cricket.
Not only that, Ashwin also helped to die down the debate regarding the quality of the pitch at Chennai during the second Test with a century of his own. Without any disrespect to Ashwin, surely on a pitch where India’s number eight can score a century, there is not much explanation for England being bowled out for 134 and 164.
Their performance deteriorated further in the third Test when with a pink ball in hand, Indian spinners ran through the English batting lineup. The Test match lasted for less than two days where they could not even survive 50 overs in either of their innings, and finally, it was a 10-wicket demolition by team India.
Where England went wrong?
The English press has spent millions of words on the quality of the pitch and India’s desperation to win the series by preparing unsportsmanlike pitches. But the fact remained that the English batsmen failed to display the correct technique, patience, and determination to bat in these conditions. They did not survive for long and only applied sweep shots to counter the spin.
Any great spin player generally has outstanding footwork, which is one of the key aspects of playing the spin. Good footwork can help the batsman play the ball of its merit and confuse the bowler’s mind regarding where to pitch the ball. The batter can step out to meet the ball early and then go to the back foot if the bowler bowls slightly short.
Instead, most of the English batsmen batted nervously and were unsure of their movement. They were also panicked because most of Patel’s deliveries were not turning and coming straight, which created bigger confusion in their minds. Even the pink ball also skidded slightly more, especially from Patel, who bowls quicker compared to other regular spinners, resulting in giving them even less time to react.
Takeaways from the Indian camp
Even during the last Australia tour, India showed their bench strength, and here also, they are showing that they have a pool of players from which they can select the best XI for any conditions. In this series also, their spinners utilized the conditions to their benefit and put the English batsmen in a spin.
The newbie, Axar Patel, came as a replacement of Ravindra Jadeja, who is one of India’s main threats to home condition. Still, this performance has surely elevated himself as India’s third spinner, and it will be interesting to see how India can use him once Jadeja is back. Patel does not turn the ball a lot but can mix his variations well, and his sliders and arm balls are proved deadly. Along with that, the straight deliveries could also penetrate English batsmen’s defence and create lots of doubts on their minds.
On the other hand, Ashwin was as intelligent as ever and mixed his classical off spin-with all the other variations like overspin and carrom balls. He brought all his experience against the English batsmen and created all sorts of trouble.
Except for Joe Root and Ben Foakes, no other English batsman looked confident playing spin. Even Ben Stokes was also a big disappointment as he could score only 146 runs in six innings, with 82 of those coming in one innings.
The English batsmen can learn from some of their opposition batsmen. Rohit Sharma gave a great account of prime batsmanship in the second Test and scored a masterful 161. He also looked the least troubled among all 22 players during the third Test.
The secret of his success was his superior and quick footwork which was visible in all his shots. Even Virat Kohli looked assured, although he would love to get back to scoring centuries, and that would not be good news for English bowlers.
Joe Root will be expecting a better show from his team in the fourth Test. The change of the ball’s colour from pink to red will give them some familiarity with whether they can make a strong comeback that would be the interesting aspect of the 4th Test.