Somewhat remarkably, England had managed to claw their way back into this match on Day two of the Mohali Test after their pitiful batting efforts on Saturday. The 13 overs after tea on Sunday saw England give themselves a theoretical chance of getting something out of this game. As play got underway on Monday morning, India were still 12 runs behind and a decent first hour could have seen England restrict them to a manageable first innings lead.
That is not what England had. It was the diametric opposite of a good start, as Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin gave India the lead with both scoring fifties. When Ashwin departed for 72, things did not improve much as Jayant Yadav scored his maiden Test fifty. England were a bit part player in a disaster movie – just as their fingertips were in touching distance of safety, they plummeted to their doom.
This year has seen one awful event being followed by one that is even worse. England in this Test have been 2016 in microcosm, as they followed up their worst day of the tour on Day one with an even worse performance on Day three. It seemed as if Alastair Cook had too many bowling options, and in a vain attempt to keep all of them happy, he ended up bowling none of them at the right time.
The day began with a ball just five overs old and James Anderson was not given first use of it. Chris Woakes was, and he made a mess of it.
Gareth Batty bowled much better on Monday than he had the day before, but he never looked likely to pick up a wicket. This meant that Moeen Ali was under-bowled. Moeen bowled 13 overs out of the 138 that England sent down in India’s innings. For a man who has been England’s number one spinner for more than two years to be given such a limited opportunity is nothing short of bonkers. To give 16 overs to Batty who looked bereft of ideas about how to make inroads into this India lower order is mystifying.
Adil Rashid has been brilliant at picking up tail-end wickets, and he was brought out of the attack when Umesh Yadav was at the crease to give Moeen some bowling. These confused tactics allowed the game to drift as India’s numbers seven, eight and nine all made half centuries. There has been some unjustified criticism of Cook’s captaincy over the years, today he was deserving of all of it.
That is not to say the Indian lower order were fortunate, they were good value for their eventual total of 417 all out. One of the strengths of this England side is a long batting lineup, and the same is true of India. Ashwin has Test hundreds, Jadeja has first class triple hundreds and Jayant and Umesh have centuries in the Ranji Trophy. Wickets 7-11 added 213 to the Indian total. That is match-winning.
Ben Stokes was excellent as he claimed a five-wicket haul, and Rashid was good value for his figures of 4 for 118, but a first innings deficit of 134 is one that you do not came back from very often.
This is now a Test of missed opportunities for England. First when they failed batting first on a good pitch, and then when they didn’t grasp the chance to bowl India out for under 300. Now this match is about them struggling to save face. Again.
For that to happen they needed Cook to make big runs, and things did not improve for England’s captain in that regard. He was saved on review when he was given out LBW on nine. The replay showed the ball from Ashwin pitched outside leg stump and the decision was reversed. But Ashwin did not have to wait long to get his man, Cook was bowled through the gate for 12. He has had better days.
Joe Root was pushed up the order as a makeshift opener with Haseeb Hameed struggling with injury, and he did a decent job to reach 36 not out at the close. The same cannot be said for Moeen, who by coming at the fall of the first wicket, and has now batted in every position from 1-9 in Test cricket. He was completely deceived in the flight by by Ashwin and skied a catch to mid-on. England were two wickets down for 39, still 95 runs behind India. When Jonny Bairstow also went edging behind off Jayant, England’s fate was sealed, three down and still in the red.
For England to take this game into the fifth day, they needed Root and Stokes to make significant scores in a big partnership. When Stokes departed LBW for 5, it meant everyone gets a day off on Wednesday. They are going to lose this game, unless a miracle that is as likely as aliens landing on the Mohali outfield happens. I, for one, will welcome our new extraterrestrial overlords.
England made three changes going into this Test, but they still haven’t got their side right. It seems unlikely that Haseeb Hameed will be able to take part in the Mumbai Test as a result of a broken finger, but even without that enforced amendment to their team this side isn’t right. With both Moeen and Rashid offering control, Batty adds little to this team. He is a fine bowler, and in this squad because he is the third best spinner in England, but picking him just muddies the waters. England would be far better having a third front line seamer, and with Broad potentially fit for the fourth Test, he could be the man that replaces Batty.
The other option is to bolster the struggling batting lineup. The issue here is that the spare two batsmen in this squad, Gary Ballance and Ben Duckett, have already been dropped because of poor form. England may have to look outside of the players currently in India to replace Hameed or to replace a bowler with another batsman. If they are doing so, you suspect that Keaton Jennings of Durham and Nick Gubbins of Middlesex would be the first to get the call. Perhaps it is just nostalgia driving this thought, but Ian Bell could still do a job on this tour. But that is a backwards step and one this England set up is unlikely to make.