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England need to learn from their mistakes

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Players_cricket_rest_tiredThey started with the impossible. They won a toss against Virat Kohli, inviting cheers from England fans who sensed a repeat of the first Test in Rajkot, where England amassed 537 batting first. It should have been the perfect platform to level the series, especially with Cook being dropped twice.

However, just as the visiting supporters started to settle in for an evening of sunbathing and Cook-Root brilliance, their favorite duo was dismissed within six balls of each other.

 

What on God’s green earth were they doing? Joe Root played across the line to a straight one from Jayant Yadav that was not nearly short enough to pull. Cook decided to attack Ashwin’s very first ball, only managing to edge through to Parthiv. These were the kinds of mistakes you would expect from T20 rookies, not two of the world’s best.

They were lucky that Bairstow continued the good form he has maintained throughout 2016 with a gutsy 89. With able support from Stokes and Buttler, England were at a healthy, if not dominant 258-6. They could at least have reached a total of 350, which would still have been under par on this surface. Instead they were dismissed for 283. A chance was missed and that could have been the match.

And then they got back into the game with three wickets in eight balls, restricting India to 204-6. It was advantage England. India was facing the strong possibility of a deficit on a pitch where they would have to bat last. However, Ashwin, Jadeja, and Jayant showed some good old-fashioned application at the crease as India’s last four wickets put on a soul-crushing 213 runs.  

Then came the devastating news that Hameed had broken his finger. It was Cook and Root at the top again, the latter redeeming himself with one of the only two half-centuries England would score in their second innings. Haseeb Hameed’s one-handed heroics simply came too late and a chase of 103 was a forgone conclusion.

However, it was clear for all to see that England had wasted yet another one of numerous opportunities to stamp their authority on a game they should have won. They needed to win in it. Instead they trail the 5-match series 2-0 with just two games to go. Who’s to say that 4-0 is not on the cards? After all, there were talks of 5-0 until the English were greeted with an un-Indian batting paradise in Rajkot.

It’s hard to see a way back for England in the fourth Test at Mumbai, where, in all likelihood, they will once again be tested against the same spin trio as well as the new kings of reverse swing, Shami and Umesh.

We also know that this spin trio can more than competently wield the willow. England, on the other hand, only has Adil Rashid as a spinning threat. It’s hard to include either Moeen or Batty in that category when they rarely get a bowl to begin with.

 

After the Mohali mauling, Cook regretted playing three spinners, claiming that he should’ve picked an extra fast bowler. He just doesn’t get it, does he? There isn’t a single Indian Test venue that requires four fast bowlers. Not a single one. England should be hoping that Zafar Ansari recovers as he provides the option of turning the ball away from right-handers as well as the bonus of lower-order runs. Barring that, they need to pray Liam Dawson pulls off a miracle.

I’m going to take this opportunity to make a case for Samit Patel, who is currently plying his trade for the Rajshahi Kings. Don’t let a First Class bowling average of 39+ distract you from the fact that he’s transformed himself from an attacking batsman into a front-line spinner. More importantly, he bowls at the perfect pace for Indian conditions. Who cares if he’s overweight? It’s not like Gareth Batty is a livewire in the field. In Indian conditions, Samit Patel should be one of the first names on the team sheet.

Aside from that, Hameed’s absence means that England will either have to open with a non-regular from their current squad or South-African born Keaton Jennings, who scored more than 1600 runs in the latest season of the County Championship Division 1. It is understood that the team management is favoring Jennings, which would allow Root to slip down to his preferred No.3 position. It’s certainly wiser than opting for Ben “Sitting” Duckett, who is most definitely a Test match misfit and a walking wicket.

India has issues of their own, especially opening the innings. Parthiv Patel’s fairytale cameo came when the match was already decided and took the spotlight off Murali Vijay, who may soon lose his spot and his hard-earned reputation as India’s best opener. Ajinkya Rahane’s form in this series has also been poor with 63 runs in 5 innings.

All is not lost for England, provided their big guns fire and they are able to dismiss India’s dangerous lower-order. Winning the toss wouldn’t hurt either. There are weaknesses and holes in this seemingly infallible Kohli-led XI. However, if the England that we saw in Mohali shows up, you’re better off making alternate plans for day four and five. England has a mountain to climb and they must stop wasting their oxygen. 

 

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Jay Dansinghani is a freelance writer, researcher, and author based in Hong Kong. Jay got into deep...

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