The first test of the eagerly anticipated India v England test series starts on 9 November. James Morgan, who runs the fantastic Full Toss blog, gives us an England fan’s perspective. What do you guys think?
The last time Alastair Cook’s team toured India, England supporters had a rather pleasant surprise. Cook batted beautifully, Kevin Pietersen played a great innings at Mumbai, and Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar spun us to victory with 37 wickets across the four tests. It was an unexpected victory and an extremely sweet one.
Unfortunately, things have gone pear shaped since. Swann fell foul of an elbow injury, and Monty’s career has disintegrated faster than England’s second innings in Dhaka, and Pietersen’s career is deader than a mummified dodo. Alastair Cook will have to have the series of his life (again) for England to be remotely competitive.
Now don’t get me wrong. England are still a decent side. If India play badly we have enough good cricketers to cause an upset. Unfortunately though, and I don’t think I’m being too pessimistic when I say this, the odds are firmly against it. If India prepare turning pitches (as you guys surely will) then England will be up the creek without a paddle. And by ‘creek’ I mean ‘dustbowl’ and by ‘paddle’ I mean ‘competent spinner’.
England’s main slow bowler over the last few years has been Moeen Ali, who is essentially a batsman who bowls a bit. He had an impressive first summer with the ball (against India no less) but he’s been incredibly erratic since. Although he picks up quite a few wickets – he’ll bowl some absolute dross but then deliver a jaffa out of the blue – England simply can’t rely on him. His test strike rate is a useful enough 65 but his economy rate and average are subpar.
It’s a similar story with Adil Rashid. The Yorkshire leggie is very useful cricketer who does a good job in ODIs, but he’s not accurate enough to be consistent at test level. Alastair Cook doesn’t seem to trust him, and if your batsmen are patient they’ll have more than enough scoring opportunities without having to work too hard. Rashid will bowl the odd beauty – and he does have a useful googly up his sleeve – but it’s hard to see him troubling top class players like Kohli and Rahane.
England’s other spinners are Gareth Batty, who is a fiery character but nothing more than a journeyman, and young Zafar Ansari, who is basically a poor man’s Ravi Jadeja. The fact the selectors turned to Batty, who is 39 years old, shows how bare our spin bowling cupboard is. The selectors could have picked Somerset’s Jack Leach, who is the best English spinner in county cricket by miles, but they decided he was too immature (whatever than means). One assumes he’ll be tucked up in bed, sucking his thumb, while Moeen and Co are being carted to all parts.
Unfortunately England’s batting order is a complete mess too. Our middle-order might have been settled and prodigious back in 2012, but there’s no Trott, Pietersen, Bell and Prior this time around. Instead we have two world-class players in Joe Root and Cook, an extremely good batsman-keeper in Jonny Bairstow … and that’s about it. In fact, England often have to rely on their unusually strong lower order to score competitive totals. England’s likely number eight or nine, Chris Woakes, often looks like one of the best batsmen in the side.
England’s strength at the moment is clearly their seam bowling – even though Jimmy Anderson and our fastest bowler, Mark Wood, are injured. Chris Broad is still high up the world rankings, the aforementioned Woakes has improved dramatically, and Ben Stokes is one of those guys who makes things happen. Steve Finn and Jake Ball are both tall bowlers who provide depth – although the former is maddeningly inconsistent.
The Indian crowds should enjoy watching Stokes with both bat and ball. He’s a real entertainer and loves having a good strop. Someone should try putting him in a room with Sreesanth and see which one spontaneously combusts first. My money would be on Stokes.
Normally you’d expect the spinners to do the damage in Indian conditions but England’s best plan is to rely on their pacemen. If the pitches are dry and turning, one imagines it will reverse swing at some point too. This is where England could be dangerous.
However, although I think England are good enough to win a single test against India, and we could give you a few uncomfortable moments, it’s hard to see us winning over the course of a series. Although England fans don’t think India are necessarily the best team in the world – there’s a perception that the top five ranked sides are very close in terms of ability – India’s batting looks formidable in home conditions. And that, I guess, is the key. Home advantage is usually decisive in modern test cricket.
I’m also somewhat concerned by the surfeit of left-handers in England’s order. Ashwin will be licking his lips. We seem to play spin a little better these days – perhaps thanks to working with Trevor Bayliss – but any batsman is going to be vulnerable against high-class spin bowling on turning decks. India’s belated decision to embrace DRS might also help Ashwin and Jadeja, although it might take Kohli a little time to figure out when to use the technology. This isn’t quite as straightforward as many think. It’s easy to waste reviews.
Consequently (and I say this through gritted teeth) I’m going to predict a 1-3 victory to India. England’s cause isn’t totally hopeless – if Cook and Root score big runs, and England can win the crucial tosses, we might surprise a few – but overall it’s hard for any team to win in India without a quality spinner or two. That, I suspect, will be our Achilles heel.