India vs England – 4th Test, Day 1 – Pitch, Switch

Most of the pre-match chatter had been about the pitch. The previous game in Ahmedabad was the shortest Test match in the professional era, with most people blaming the groundsman (or whoever gave the groundsman their orders). England clearly expected more of the same, picking a bowling attack of three spinners (including Root) and just two pace bowlers (including Stokes). In hindsight, that may have been a mistake. There haven’t been any explosions of dust on day 1, unlike the previous two Tests, and India’s two pace bowlers have actually had success throughout the day. If anything, the conditions seem reminiscent of the first Test in the series.

Which brings us to England’s XI. Crawley, Sibley, Bairstow, Root, Stokes, Pope, Lawrence, Foakes, Bess, Leach and Anderson. The first thing that jumps out is the sheer depth in batting. Ben Foakes, with a Test batting average of 36.00 (The last two matches have knocked it down somewhat), at 8. The second thing is a lack of options with regards to pace bowling. Just Anderson and Stokes. England were clearly planning for a pitch where their spinners would do the majority of the work. That may have been a miscalculation. India’s fast bowlers were asked to bowl 23 overs today, as opposed to just 11 in the whole of the previous game, and there seemed to be good carry even with the old ball. Archer was unavailable due to an elbow injury, but Stone or Wood might have been helpful in these conditions.

Joe Root won the toss and opted to bat first again. It was all downhill from there. On a pretty benign pitch, with a little spin and bounce but still closer to a proverbial road than minefield, a competent batting line up should be expected to bat until well into Day 2. For a team like England’s which has essentially selected eight batsmen, a total of 400 might be considered their minimum target in these conditions. What we got instead was a rather pitiful score of 205 all out. Only a last wicket partnership from Leach and Anderson even got their total above 200.

England winning the first three Tests of the winter may have masked some of their issues, as all three victories were on the back of a big score by Joe Root. Few teams lose games where one of their batsmen scored 150+. In the eleven innings England have played against Sri Lanka and India this season, their batsmen have scored just ten scores of fifty and above, with Root accounting for three of those. There is simply no plan B if England’s captain doesn’t get a big score.

Anderson gave England a little hope in his first over, taking the wicket of Shubman Gill, but Pujara and Rohit saw India through to the close of play with few issues on 24-1.

Aside from the placid pitch, there has also been a big improvement in the position of third umpire. Anil Chaudhary has taken over from Chettithody Shamshuddin, and things are back to normal. An umpire, like a wicketkeeper, is arguably at their best when no one is talking about them and that is the case with the umpires today. No controversies, no steps skipped, and no rushed decisions. For all of England’s issues today, they certainly can’t blame the officials at all.

County cricket fans will have been pleased to see adverts for the T20 Blast during Channel 4’s live coverage of the Test. The cost is likely a pittance compared to what will be spent on promoting The Hundred this summer, but it’s nice to see any effort from the ECB with regards to promoting its other competitions. It often seems like the ECB forgets that they aren’t just responsible for the international teams (and now The Hundred). Any steps which show even a modicum of interest in county or recreational cricket must be seen as a sign of improvement from them.

As always, feel free to comment on the game or anything else below.

38 thoughts on “India vs England – 4th Test, Day 1 – Pitch, Switch

  1. Vashtar Mar 4, 2021 / 11:43 am

    Sorry but anyone with an ounce of cricket sense could have predicted the Indians would produce a wicket more friendly for batting, they are in the lead and don’t want to lose. Cricket sense is obviously in short supply among the English team management,

    Archer is injured again apparently, yawn, but picking Bess is just moronic.

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    • dannycricket Mar 4, 2021 / 11:59 am

      The two spinning pitches that India produced led to wins by 317 runs and 10 wickets. I don’t think having a third turning pitch would have been much of a gamble. Especially considering England won on a pitch not unlike this one just a few weeks ago.

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    • Mark Mar 4, 2021 / 4:55 pm

      So you admit the Indian authorities manufacture pitches according to the series situation rather than produce the best possible pitch for competitive cricket?

      Interesting admission. Not that people didn’t already suspect this. And yes England do it too. Which is why Test cricket is becoming so predictable.

      I would have thought if India are so much more superior to this very average England team (and yes they are very average) India wouldn’t need to bother.

      As Danny said, it’s hardly a risk to produce another spinning pitch, when most England batsman seem to constantly play down the wrong line and miss straight ones. I suspect India don’t want to make it look too obvious now they can’t lose the series.

      No wonder Sky passed on the TV rights.

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  2. man in a barrel Mar 4, 2021 / 12:05 pm

    Broad was pretty ineffective in the last match, so the Bess decision made some sense. However, Stokes has bowled so few overs this winter that it is a huge gamble to make him a front line bowler rather than the 3rd seamer in a pack of 5. Would they have picked Woakes if he had been available? There just seems to be a lack of planning in England’s approach. What have the batters been doing in practice? To be so vulnerable to the straight ball suggests that they have not done any thinking whatsoever

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  3. Amit Garg Mar 4, 2021 / 1:59 pm

    This was probably the best Day 1 pitch in the series. Chennai was a road for 1st game on which England batsmen made plenty while the other 2 tests have seen ball spin from day 1. This pitch had no demons. None whatsoever. There was good bounce, some turn but neither was exaggerated so as to render batting as difficult.
    Seen in that context, this is as abject a failure of the batting unit as any. Intent alone wasn’t going to save the batsmen without requisite skill.

    Not enough partnerships; no one bar Stokes got to 50 and they only managed to pass 200 with a plucky Anderson cameo of 10 runs towards the end.
    The insurance pick Lawrence worked. Without him, it would’ve been worse.

    Players seemed intent on missing straight balls. Again!

    Siraj did well to take out Root and Bairstow – England might miss a quality seamer if it doesn’t turn square tomorrow.

    Jimmy needs support from the other end. He will be a tired man after the series having carried the fast bowlers through a tough tour.

    This problem will continue, for England continue to rely on Root to do the bulk of scoring in Asia. This is the first tour for some and it was going to be hard. But, the technical shortcomings that get exposed here are not going to be addressed back home in the absence of similar playing conditions and quality of bowlers. So, this could well repeat in future tours.

    India should make the best out of the day tomorrow. Get a sizeable lead on this pitch and they can watch England implode again. Script is not likely to change much. If the pitch holds firm and doesn’t misbehave, expect India to go after the spinners and dent them. These scars will be hard to erase.

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    • man in a barrel Mar 4, 2021 / 3:36 pm

      If the Indian batters get after Bess or Leach, Root does not have any options other than to keep bowling Anderson or to bowl himself. This seems misguided to me but I’m just a social media numptie

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    • Marek Mar 4, 2021 / 9:39 pm

      Echoing you, MiaB, I think it’s way, way, way too early to say whether playing Lawrence has worked.

      It’s one of the worst pieces of selection I can ever remember. There are almost literally no occasions when you need to play eight batsmen–which is a mirage of a notion anyway, because you effectively turn the last of them into a tailender–but on a passably good batting pitch is absolutely not one of those vanishingly few instances.

      It’s sent out an immediate message to the Indian side that England are scared shitless about the state of their batting–which is very important not least because (echoing Darren Lehmann) in some ways this is a nine-test series, the last five of which will be played in a different WTC but with some variation of the same ten England batsmen.

      But most crucially, it’s left the bowlers horribly exposed. England have three specialists, one of whom whasn’t been selected for the last two games and has been wildly inconsistent the whole winter–which isn’t a criticsm of Bess’s selection, which to me was a no-brainer rather than moronic (a different kind of moronic maybe…:-) Of the three part-timers, one is a one-day trundler and a second is ill, apparently injured and most definitely undercooked.

      And all to select someone whose career record would suggest would score 21 but who actually made a pretty 46 at a pace so frenetic compared to his colleagues that it rather underscored the message of fear that his selection had sent out. Almost literally anyone in the extended squad, bar Burns or Bracey, would have been a better selection.

      If I was Kohli, I would be tempted to play the long (as in six-month) game, tell my batsmen that they have anything up to around 260 overs to bat–which would probably mean they got about 900–and to first try and take Leach out of the attack and then to slowly dismantle Bess. Of course it might not work out anything like that, but this selection has the potential to go very, very horribly wrong for England.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Miami Dad's Six Mar 4, 2021 / 10:08 pm

        I’m minorly more positive than that.

        This was a really poor day for England, though. Even 260 or 270 would have given an OK chance not even of a lead but maybe of being in a position where the 3rd innings is the setting of a target rather than trying just to make India bat again. Who else had such low expectations of this tour that to be in this position is a bit of a bonus in itself?

        Hopefully Leach bowls well and Jimmy gets it to reverse. An early wicket or two and this Indian line up mightn’t look too clever either. Not that long ago they were skittled by Joe Root…

        But yeah…I’m well aware I’m clutching. India all out for 330, England out for 160, India win by 9 or 10 wickets.

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      • dannycricket Mar 5, 2021 / 7:50 am

        I don’t know. In the last two Tests, when you could (and probably should) open with spinners, you might do okay with 2 or 3 spin bowlers and the rest just batsmen. Maybe they thought the pitch would be the same again.

        That said, England have India on 125-5 which I don’t think anyone saw coming. Maybe it’s been a masterstroke of selection?

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      • Marek Mar 5, 2021 / 10:25 am

        “You’ve fallen for my cunning little plan….” I rather thought that when I woke up this morning too!

        Even if it works–and there’s still a very long time for it not to–it’s an extraordinarily high-risk strategy. It risks the bowlers simply running out of steam (121-5 has become 217-6 as I write, and as they get tireder that could quite easily transform into 450 all out if Pant continues to have his eye in). But most obviously, it’s susceptible to an injury: Root is clearly reluctant to bowl Bess that much and it’s still unclear how much Stokes will be able to bowl over the whole match, so an injury to Leach or Anderson would be disastrous.

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  4. Amit Garg Mar 5, 2021 / 12:49 am

    Most of these new players are still young that (I suspect), have been picked on potential rather than strong, established FC records playing in county for multiple years. Watching their techniques against spin through the series, a few things stand out:

    1. Hardly anyone plays with soft hands consistently
    2. Don’t seem to have a proper game plan – don’t / can’t seem to play time
    3. Sweep is deeply ingrained as get out of jail shot – most have struggled to play with vertical bats; Sweep is risky with uncertain bounce on turning wickets
    4. Footwork against spin needs a lot of work – seem to get stuck on the crease

    I may be restating this from some of my previous posts, but how exactly does ECB prepare these guys through A team tours? I know India A plays a lot and tends to tour a lot. Players like Siraj, Saini have been through tours to Australia, NZ etc. where they have sharpened their skills while waiting in the wings. If Siraj looks god, having replaced Bumrah, it’s because he has been groomed well.

    I don’t know if Sibley or Crawley or Lawrence or Pope have had enough opportunities to play in Asia before they got picked for national squad. If they did and haven’t learned, it doesn’t bode well for their careers. But it’s worse if they haven’t been given the opportunity to learn before their techniques are so rudely examined and judgment on their careers is passed.

    As an Indian fan, I am obviously happy with the position India finds itself in, but I am surprised with the quality of batting from the English players. Participation in IPL alone isn’t going to solve this. Would anyone here know how ECB go about these tours?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marek Mar 5, 2021 / 10:37 am

      That’s a very good question I think Amit.

      It seems to me though that in the last few years they’re not doing too badly on that front. In the five years up to this winter, the Lions toured both Sri Lanka and India, plus played a series in the West Indies that was a trial by spin, plus played matches in the UAE twice.

      The barriers are more that at one point the selectors seemed confused as to whether the Lions really was England’s next best players from the test team or some kind of emerging players squad (I mean, he’s supposed to be promising, but Zak Chappell?!), simple poor selection, and the selection of players for the test team at such a young age that they’d never played for the Lions.

      So of the players you mention, as far as I can see Lawrence has only toured once with the Lions; Sibley and Crawley too, and in their cases after they had made their test debut (all three of them to Australia). Pope played in India two years ago (103 in four innings), but the other batsmen were Duckett, Hain, Holden, Mullaney and Billings–only one of whom is anywhere remotely near the test side and one of whom isn’t even playing for his county red-ball side.

      Perhaps ominously, in Bess’s one innings on that tour, he took 1-71 off 18 overs!

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      • Amit Garg Mar 5, 2021 / 11:19 am

        Thanks. That just about sums up the approach to talent management. The constant churn isn’t the right way to build a pipeline. It neither inspires confidence in the player nor does it offer reasonable ROI for ECB.

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  5. dlpthomas Mar 5, 2021 / 6:15 am

    Good session from England but it’s going to be a long day for Anderson, Stokes and Leach.

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    • dlpthomas Mar 5, 2021 / 6:30 am

      We should probably acknowledge the skill of the selectors in picking a side that is both short of runs and short of bowlers.

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  6. dlpthomas Mar 5, 2021 / 7:42 am

    Rohit was a bit unlucky (2 x umpires call) but it was a lovely big booming in-swinger by Stokes. This could be interesting.

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  7. dArthez Mar 5, 2021 / 9:42 am

    Looks like England overbowled Stokes and Anderson before tea. Really can’t explain why Root is bowling otherwise. You don’t really want to wait for the new ball with 20 overs to go, in a low scoring game.

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    • Tom Kerr Mar 5, 2021 / 9:51 am

      I think it’s more that Bess can’t bowl an over without two bad balls an over.

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      • Tom Kerr Mar 5, 2021 / 9:58 am

        Apologies, my grammar has been over bowled as well!

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      • dArthez Mar 5, 2021 / 9:59 am

        That too, but you could also bowl a pacer from one end, Leach from the other. But you can’t if you pick just two frontline seamers, and overbowl them in the first two sessions.

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        • Tom Kerr Mar 5, 2021 / 10:16 am

          Well, just watching Stokes now and he’s had it. No criticism intended towards him, he’s given everything. Just think if we’d had one more seamer…

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          • Tom Kerr Mar 5, 2021 / 10:19 am

            Great knock from Pant once again though. Anything to put the commenter’s curse on him…

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          • Mark Mar 5, 2021 / 10:28 am

            The selection policy of England has been ludicrous. Ed Smith, as he does with his writing suffers from the complex syndrome …… of too cleaver by half.

            Yes, I know there has been the pandemic, and the whole issue of bubbles, and players returning home for rests. But I think this has just given Smith another train set toy to play around with. He over complicates things.

            2 Front line seamers is ludicrous. Especially when you don’t have top flight spinners. Stokes has bowled so little in the last few months. He has had injury problems. Which makes it even more stupid to rely on him. But England’s bowling attack is decided by the lack of runs from our batsman. They need 7, 8,9,10, 11 to score lots of runs.

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          • Marek Mar 5, 2021 / 10:40 am

            Don’t think you can blame Smith for this one. On-tour selection is supposed to be the province of Root and Silverwood.

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          • Mark Mar 5, 2021 / 11:22 am

            True, but they can only select from what is available. And that’s Smiths job. But it is an interesting question….Who does actually select the team?

            Whoever selected this team, be it individual or committee seems to have made a big mistake with just two seamers. Surely that’s the advantage of having Stokes? An all rounder who can bat and bowl seam. It allows you to pick the extra bowler.

            I might be wrong, but I can’t remember England going into a test match with Ian Botham as one of just two seam bowlers.

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          • Marek Mar 5, 2021 / 12:26 pm

            Well they did have Stone, Wood, Broad, Virdi, Parkinson and Crane available!

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          • Marek Mar 5, 2021 / 12:35 pm

            …oh, and Robinson and Mahmood…:-)

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  8. man in a barrel Mar 5, 2021 / 10:25 am

    If they thought Bess was leaking runs, just look at that over from Stokes! Mind you, he looks totally shot – he dropped the ball, bowled an unintentional beamer and looked barely faster than Root! Will they take the new ball? Who have they got who is fresh enough to use it?

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  9. dArthez Mar 5, 2021 / 10:43 am

    People may not realise it, but both Washington Sundar and Axar Patel average 33 with the willow in first class cricket. They are certainly no mugs. Ishant is a bit like Jimmy – not many scoring shots, but a fairly decent defensive technique. That can be quite handy if there is a strokeplayer on the other end.

    England struggling massively now. Both quicks look quite tired.

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  10. man in a barrel Mar 5, 2021 / 10:48 am

    Whatever they gave Pant in that drinks interval seems to have done the trick. That new ball assault on Anderson was fabulous

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  11. man in a barrel Mar 5, 2021 / 11:00 am

    The ease with which Pant and Sundar compiled that century stand make you wonder if the pitch really is so tricky. Mind you, they did face knackered seamers and spinners who could not bowl consistently. Root and Leach were tight but not threatening. Bess has simply got the yips. Not a great condition to be in at a Test match

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    • man in a barrel Mar 5, 2021 / 11:02 am

      And at scheduled close they are 16 overs short! I hope they are thankful for the overtime

      Like

      • Miami Dad's Six Mar 5, 2021 / 3:31 pm

        When you’ve an unfit part-time bowler a 40 year old seamer taking the new ball for you, and half your spinners are going at 4 an over, why on earth would you rush to get as many overs in as possible?

        I called 330 at the start of the day, but didn’t anticipate the pendulum swinging that quickly. At tea England were flying. 20 minutes later they all looked completely shagged.

        Pant and Sundar were great. Pant you could say got a bit overexcited and threw his wicket away a bit, when he got out the game was still, slightly, alive – ish – but a ton in the context puts India firmly in the driving seat.

        I mentioned Bess’s issues with hitting a decent length during the English summer a lot when he kept getting driven once or twice an over through the extra cover to backward point arc. Usually that isn’t the worst scenario for an off-spinner, but it wasn’t in a good, “making the batsman take a risk” sort of way, he was just too full. Now those balls aren’t even pitching.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Amit Garg Mar 5, 2021 / 11:30 am

    Pitch is still behaving properly. barring a few balls that have spun sharply, no major threats so far. But then England lost wickets to straight balls.

    That said, India are 90 ahead at the moment. Let’s see how long this pain continues for England.

    Like

  13. Mark Mar 5, 2021 / 11:43 am

    Having criticised England’s selection of bowlers in this match, the simple truth is that in Test cricket you can’t be competitive for very long if you can’t bat very well.

    Even if you have a top bowling attack, if they are defending 150-200 on a regular basis you will struggle.

    In the 2005 Ashes everyone talks about England’s bowling attack, and they were fantastic. But that series was different from most previous Ashes of 20 years in that England’s batsman scored decent first innings totals.

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    • man in a barrel Mar 5, 2021 / 2:42 pm

      It is a regular problem when they tour India, Pakistan, Emirates etc. Especially since they stopped picking KP

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      • Mark Mar 5, 2021 / 3:50 pm

        Indeed. When England won in India nearly a decade ago we all remember Swann and Monty out bowling the Indian spinners. But we forget the batting of KP and Cook who scored big runs to set up the match.

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  14. dArthez Mar 5, 2021 / 3:54 pm

    They picked seven batsmen, a keeper, two spinners, and a pacer. Stokes, with his injuries, ought to be considered a batsman who bowls a bit. Clearly being overbowled here. And it shows.

    Of the other 6 batsmen they picked only Root bowled. Not Lawrence, not Sibley, not Crawley, not Pope and not Bairstow (no idea what the latter two would bowl though). Even if it is just giving others a bit of a breather, that is valuable too.

    Sure, Root came from the high of 5/8, but of all the other batsmen who are barely worth their spot (as evidenced by their batting averages), not not of them can bowl somewhat competently? That is asking too much from #4 and #5 in the batting lineup, when everybody else is hardly worth their spot.

    Just as playing 5 frontline bowlers theoretically should keep the opposition scores down a bit more (compared to picking 4), picking too few frontline bowlers ought to drive opposition scores up. What England would not have given for a second frontline seamer this Test. Just about anyone in the squad, really.

    Liked by 3 people

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