England did at least do cricket watchers at home a favour – in that they subsided so quickly the match was over before many had even hauled themselves on to the train or into the car to head to work. No watching or listening with irritation, no lamenting a poor performance or berating a poor shot. Having worked so hard to try and get some semblance of a chance on the final day, it all went wrong within minutes of the resumption.
It would be a mistake to view the events of day five as the reason for defeat; the hole England were in was so deep that it required virtual perfection even to take the game into the final session, but to collapse as badly as they did was not the end hoped for even in a match that they looked destined to lose from the second evening onwards.
There are a few things that can be taken from it though. Firstly, India’s over rate was astounding, bowling ten overs in the first half hour. While they were spin bowlers and England were not smashing the ball to all parts, if nothing else it should put to bed any justification whatever for tardy over rates in the wider game. Teams can do it when they put their minds to it, there is no excuse whatsoever for failing to complete the necessary number in a day.
England seem quite likely to drop Ben Duckett for the third Test. This smacks of the same kind of panic currently afflicting Cricket Australia. He’s played only four Tests, and it’s only a couple ago that he was being lauded for how he played in scoring his maiden Test fifty. If he was good enough then, he’s good enough now, or why pick a young player for the future to begin with if faith isn’t going to be shown? That doesn’t mean that a player is given licence to fail repeatedly, but it’s either a bad selection in the first place or it’s nothing other than panic from the selectors. Neither reflects well on them, and Jos Buttler is no noted player of spin either.
Likewise, only two Tests ago the media were lamenting England’s spin bowling options and expressing a peculiar wish for them to try an all seam attack. No matter what the situation there is always a suitable target for blame which never involves the captain, coaches, selectors or administrators. They are above reproach. Again, creating what David Warner so gloriously described as escape goats doesn’t help anyone, and it’s not a call to shift blame to others in any way. England will lose Tests sometimes, and India is a challenging place in which to tour for English teams. A rational and thoughtful approach in discussing where the shortcomings are is hardly a radical request. Equally, that doesn’t mean people will agree as to what those are, it is a game of opinions after all. But it would be far better if there was less flip flopping around and blame gaming towards some individuals and not others.
For this is what grates more than anything else. It’s not traitorous behaviour to acknowledge that Cook isn’t the most acute captain in the world; he is what he is, and since he’s the skipper then it’s just a question of getting on with it – no one’s perfect. But instead of any discussion around perhaps how India should not have got as many runs as they did in the first innings, instead everything that flowed from that is dissected and other individuals placed under the spotlight. The point about the slating the spin bowlers received after Bangladesh is a case in point – the form of Adil Rashid is now being mentioned as a positive. And so it is – but that was always a possibility anyway, for he’s a talented bowler trying to perfect a difficult art. He deserves far better than having his character questioned repeatedly when things aren’t going well for the team, yet a pretence that it never happened now he’s doing well is quite obvious.
Consistency from the players is very hard to achieve. Consistency from those commenting is not. People can be wrong, and they often are. Observers on cricket and economists could interchange on each others’ discipline with no discernible difference in accuracy, but it’s not asking too much to hope they would maintain a line and stick to it.
Of course, some will say that Cook gets plenty of criticism on this blog and is he not a scapegoat too? Well no, because the whole point of that is that the cricket media never so much as whisper that he’s anything but perfect. Cook is a fine batsman (though not a great, no matter how much some might try to claim it based on volume of games) and his captaincy is certainly better than it was. But it doesn’t make him immune from comment either, and it is abundantly obvious that absolutely anyone else will be criticised before he ever is. Virat Kohli received no end of stick for his captaincy from Nasser Hussain while Cook got none. That’s simply bizarre and an avoidance of comment for reasons unknown, and as ridiculous as Shane Warne slating Cook while refusing to address Australian problems. That doesn’t for a second mean he should be fired as skipper just because England have lost a game, but it does mean a reasonable analysis of all England’s flaws is the least anyone ought to be able to expect. That doesn’t mean a focus on Cook either, for the principal reason for the loss was the batting collapse, but it does mean that it is one of many areas that could and should be discussed.
Where do they go from here? Although there’s been an attempt to massage expectations so that anything other than a 5-0 defeat can be portrayed as a good tour, there’s not that much between the teams; the size of this defeat is slightly misleading. England are well capable of winning against this India side, even in alien conditions. This should be a highly competitive series, and in truth apart from one disastrous session with the bat (day five can be discounted to some extent because of the scale of the challenge) England have competed fairly well. Cook observed that winning a couple of tosses would help, and although some will see that as making excuses, he’s actually quite right. England did have the worst of the conditions here, and the toss is important. It isn’t too hard to imagine that had England batted first here they could be now celebrating a win.
The bowlers have done pretty well overall; although England didn’t have a good day with the ball on day one of this match, that can happen and does happen. They don’t look out of their depth at all, neither the seamers nor the spinners. Could they be better? Absolutely they could, but there’s little point in engaging in wishful thinking – England need to cut their cloth according to what they have. And what they do have is a leg spinner who is a definite weapon, two off spinners who are competent enough, and four seamers (one of whom sits out) who are actually very good.
The batting has been an issue, but not because of an inability to score runs, but because of the tendency – not at all new – to fall in a heap in combination once in a while. That’s shown by the nascent series batting averages to date, four players averaging over 50, and only Duckett genuinely struggling. The implication that it’s all his fault is ludicrous. What England need to do – and there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever why they shouldn’t – is put together partnerships so they compile a good team score. Easy to say, harder to do, but not something that they are incapable of achieving at all.
India haven’t lost at home since England’s last tour here four years ago, and while it’s a big ask for them to repeat the feat, the idea that England are hopelessly outclassed is nonsensical. If they play well, they have every chance of levelling this series. England are not even close to being a great side, but then neither are India. The overreaction to England wins is nauseating. The overreaction to England defeats deeply irritating.
All of which means the match review ultimately amounts to one sentence: England ost the toss, had a bad day or so and it cost them the Test match. Better luck next time lads.