England have lost the second Test to India in Vizag, and while there are some positives for them in a few areas, this result was an accurate reflection of the relative strengths of these two sides in these conditions. The hosts won the match by 246 runs, handing England a massive loss which they deserved.
Here are our talking points for the visitors going into the third Test in Mohali.
First innings runs are vital
England lost this game because they performed so poorly in their first innings. As we saw in the first Test in Rajkot, if you are going to push India close at home you need to put up big runs in the first innings; things will only get harder as the match goes on. This match was the 253rd Test in India, and in all those games a team has only scored more than 300 in the fourth innings on five occasions. England threw away any hope they had when they stumbled to 80 for five on Day 2. A fine partnership between Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow took England to 255 in their first innings, but that was 200 behind India. It was an impossible situation from which England never recovered.
England can score big runs on these surfaces against this attack, but the inconsistency of their batting line-up that has been so evident over the last 12 months means they are not going to do that every time. That means being competitive across five Tests in India is impossible.
A second innings blob, to go along with a horrible looking five in the first, left Ben Duckett’s position in this team under significant threat. Ravichandran Ashwin is the number one ranked bowler in the world for a reason and he has now dismissed Duckett in each of his three innings in this series. Ashwin is like a cruel child with a magnifying glass hovering over an ant's nest, and Duckett is his hopeless victim. Duckett has now faced 40 balls from Ashwin across the two Tests and has been dismissed three times.
In the first innings, Duckett’s now glaringly obvious technical flaw when facing the spinners was brutally exploited. He doesn’t get in line with his off stump when coming forward in defence and his bat is angled in a way that leaves him in danger of edging the ball to slip or getting bowled. Ashwin has got him both ways.
In the second innings in Vizag, it was clear that Duckett had abandoned all hope of defending and tried to attack. It was no more successful as Ashwin still got him. This England setup are always keen to stick by players rather than leaving them out, but you have to wonder if picking Duckett for the next Test will do him more harm that good.
Seamers are England’s strength
Going into these Tests, on pitches that are so conducive to spin, it is understandable that England wanted to have as many slow bowling options as possible. An off-spinner, a slow left-arm bowler and a leg-spinner is a great attack to be able to field, but that is only going to bring you benefits if all of those bowlers are genuine wicket-taking options. Regardless of conditions, you are better having your best attack rather than the most varied, and England’s best bowling unit features three seamers.
Zafar Ansari is a talented cricketer who has a lot to offer, but he will not run through an Indian batting order in India and will struggle to keep things tight. In this Test, his final contribution of note was when he bowled the last of his 12 overs in the first innings late on day one. From there, he batted twice for not many runs and didn’t bowl again. He was struggling with illness, but he wasn’t really missed. England are not a good enough team to have a player who contributes so little in their starting XI. It is time to back Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali to do the spin bowling duties and pick the best possible attack. That means three seamers.
The importance of being Stokes
Ben Stokes has been such an important part of this England side over the four Tests they have played this winter that it is now difficult to imagine how they ever managed without him. He has found a way to be a genuine top six batsman, and has combined that with his efficacy as a third seamer. His 70 in the first innings means he is England’s leading run scorer in this series with the best average (77.66).
He only has two wickets across the 46 overs that he has bowled, but he has rarely been expensive, allowing Cook to rotate him along with the frontline seamers without any real worries.
And then there is his fielding. He pulled off two stunning catches at first slip to account for Virat Kohli in both innings, both of them worthy of any highlight reel. The real surprise was when he dropped Ashwin in the first innings, an aberration that came as a shock.
England have one of the most exciting players in the world, and now he has started adding consistency to his game he can be one of the best.
Rashid is England’s number one spinner
The make up of England’s bowling line up has evolved over the four Tests they have played in the last six weeks. At the start of the Bangladesh series it was Moeen Ali who was very much England’s go to spin bowler, by the end of the Vizag match it was clear that Adil Rashid was the bowler that would get through most overs. He has sent down more than 600 deliveries in this series, more than any other England bowler, and he has claimed 13 wickets, the most by a bowler in either side.
He is still rough around the edges, he will never be a bowler who can hit the same line and length over and over again, but in a chastening Test match for England, Rashid’s performance is a real bonus.