At some point over the next two days England are very likely to be bowled out and go 1-0 down in this series. India’s level of command in this match is now absolute, finishing day three 298 ahead with just three wickets down. They may well already have enough runs on the board on a pitch that looks to be deteriorating rapidly.
To some extent England are unlucky. Quite clearly the toss has proved vital to the outcome, day one was by far the best day on which to bat, but it doesn’t change how England missed chances to keep that first innings score under control, nor does it excuse being 80-5 in reply. From there and through today, England fought hard enough. Stokes and Bairstow almost got through the morning session, and the final total of 255 was a pretty decent effort from the wreckage late on day two.
But England were so far behind, in so much trouble, that it would have taken a monumental effort to get vaguely close. Those two have rescued England on several occasions, often in tandem, but they can’t do it all the time and can’t be expected to. They did pretty well as it was. Stokes is developing nicely as a Test batsman, for someone expected in some quarters to be a rabbit in the headlights against spin he once again showed patience and technique, with the odd flashing blade when a loose ball went down.
But with his dismissal the end came swiftly with only Adil Rashid offering much resistance. Rashid has been making people eat their words with both bat and ball this series, some who should know better have allowed their cricketing prejudices and favouritism to override objective analysis. He’s now getting praise for performances that he’s always been able to produce, given support and a captain that trusts him. His bowling spell in the last session was controlled, dangerous and caused Kohli some difficulty – a novelty in this match.
It shouldn’t need saying but apparently it does. Leg spinners can go for runs, leg spinners can drag down long hops. Leg spinners can take wickets. It isn’t a question of character, and attempts to portray him as weak shamed those who did so. It won’t prevent them repeating the dose whenever the opportunity arises.
It was no surprise at all India didn’t enforce the follow on, with so much time left and a wicket that is only going to get worse. And while England got off to a good start with the ball, courtesy of the hampered Broad and Anderson, even bowling India out for 100 would leave an almost impossible task. Indeed, the challenge now for the hosts will be deciding when to declare. Batting appears easier in the morning session and gets progressively harder across the day. From a purely runs/time perspective half a day’s batting would be about right, leaving England something like 130 overs to survive. It’s hard to see that happening.
Nevertheless, even in likely defeat England need to show some spine. They lost the first Test on the last tour, but Cook’s second innings 176 that never quite seemed to offer up any chance of salvation did demonstrate that scoring runs was possible. Repeating the feat would give something to cling on to for the remaining three matches.
While that is the optimistic view, there is also the nagging feeling that they may instead fall in a heap and go down to a hammering. Momentum simply doesn’t exist in a long Test series, but it would be hard to avoid fearing for the rest of the tour if they lose this one badly.
Of course, managing the expectations and justifying disaster has been the stock in trade for some for a while, the line that anything better than a 5-0 defeat would be a good effort is as idiotic as it always was, which won’t prevent the usual suspects from excusing everything. England are not that inferior to India to make a heavy series defeat in any way acceptable. They are competitive, and in this match they are at least fighting hard. That needs to continue.
The news that Broad has a tendon injury creates a problem for the rest of the series. He was limping at the close of play but is supposed to be fit to bowl tomorrow. Given the match situation it’s hard to see what the benefit of making him do so is. England are not short of bowling options having six front line ones. Even without him there are two seamers and three spinners. Giving him the day off might be the wiser course.
Day Four Comments below