India vs England, 5th Test: Alastair Cook's prosaic captaincy holds back visitors on Day 3

A featherbed pitch and some excellent Indian batting saw England’s hopes of pushing for their first win of this series ebb away on third day of the final Test in Chennai on Sunday. KL Rahul made his fourth Test hundred and Parthiv Patel and Karun Nair made career best scores, as India finished on 391 for four with the match meandering towards a draw.

As India made runs, it was another day where Alastair Cook’s captaincy was under microscopic scrutiny. With so much speculation about his future in the job, and his own non-committal comments about continuing, it is inevitable that it becomes a discussion point when England are in the field. Cook has had worst days as England captain, but this was yet another example of his prosaic approach to on field tactics.

 India vs England, 5th Test: Alastair Cooks prosaic captaincy holds back visitors on Day 3

Alastair Cook during Day three's play in Chennai. AP

Cook, like a cleric with a sinecure position in the church’s hierarchy, looked a distant observer for much of the day’s play, happy to let things unfold rather than attempting to be proactive. Once again having six bowling options seemed to be too much for him, and his approach was more about giving everyone a go rather than picking the best man for the best moment. Liam Dawson, England’s third choice spinner and sixth choice bowler, was given the first go in the morning session. Worse still, the debutant was given the end that has given the least success to the slower bowlers.

On a pitch that is as flat as anything we have seen in this series so far, the best chance that England had of breaking the first wicket stand between KL Rahul and Parthiv Patel was before they had reestablished themselves at the crease. It took 45 minutes for Moeen Ali to be given a bowl, and he induced an outside edge in his first over. It took over an hour for Adil Rashid to be brought into the attack, and he was able to beat the outside edge of the bat. By then Rahul and Patel were set and looking very comfortable. It could have been that none of England’s bowlers would have found a way to dislodge the makeshift opening pair, but Cook did not give his front line bowlers an opportunity of doing so.

Eventually it was Moeen who took the first wicket, a leading edge from Patel that was caught by Jos Buttler at mid on for a career best 71. Patel had batted brilliantly after being thrust up the order to open as a result of an injury to Murali Vijay. He had been on the field for two balls short of 200 overs, 157 of those keeping wicket, and there was a weariness to the shot that brought about his dismissal.

Cook’s bad day continued when Cheteshwar Pujara edged a ball from Rashid to forward short leg just after the the man who had been there had moved to silly point. Then Moeen was taken out of the attack just after claiming a wicket and the ball was given back to Dawson. Like an Under-14s match at the local park, Cook seemed to feel that everyone needed to be given a crack, regardless of the match situation.

But Cook was not to be deterred. Dawson was given the ball at the start of the afternoon session in combination with Ben Stokes. It was Stokes that got the second wicket, a poor shot from Pujara caught behind.

Stokes was just getting the ball to reverse and had taken a wicket and he was removed from the attack after a spell of just four overs. Perhaps the heat in Chennai played a part in this decision, but the Durham all-rounder is a fit man that could have been pushed for an over or two more while Virat Kohli was still new to the crease. Stokes bowled just seven overs in the day despite looking capable of getting batsmen out. If there is no injury concern over Stokes, this was mystifying. By comparison, Dawson sent down 22 wicketless overs, the most by any England bowler on Day three.

Dawson was bowling a negative line outside the right-handed Rahul’s leg stump, with England giving the appearance that they had all but given up on taking wickets on this placid Chennai surface. The series is gone, England had a big first innings total. There was a chance to go for a win, even if that was futile. Instead England seemed to settle for a stalemate as early as the start of the third day. Dawson gave England control, but did not once look like taking a wicket.

That is Cook’s captaincy of spinners in microcosm. He would rather have a non-wicket-taking spinner keeping it tight, than a guy who can get people out who bowls bad balls. In Graeme Swann he had a combination of both and England have never looked like finding a replacement.

It is very easy to jump onboard the bash Cook bandwagon, but he has been a poor captain on this tour. There is no escaping that fact. Ultimately, a captain is only as good as the bowlers he has available to him, but how they are used can influence how a match unfolds. Both Rashid and Moeen bowl too many bad balls, but they are also the best chance England have of getting wickets in these conditions. On the last tour of India in 2012 it was different, Cook had Swann – the best England spinner in the last 40 years – and Monty Panesar in the form of his life. This time the resources are much thinner, but Cook needs to be better at using them. Or he needs to let someone else have a try, which may be a more likely outcome.

Just at the point where all hope in England and Cook finding a way to make inroads into this Indian batting lineup had gone, Stuart Broad bowled an excellent spell that brought about the end of Virat Kohli. They had a plan, and it worked. England bowled wide outside the off stump to Kohli who was happy to play the ball when it was out there. Broad bowled a slower ball around the wicket that was angled across Kohli and going wider. He mistimed a drive and he was caught in the covers by Keaton Jennings. Perhaps there is some hope in Cook’s captaincy after all.

The next chance that came was off the bowling of Jake Ball with the new ball, a thick edge went fast to first slip and was put down, by Cook of course. It was one of those days, but there have been quite a few of them for Cook this winter.

When Rashid finally replaced Dawson he got the wicket of Rahul for 199. It wasn’t a great ball, it was wide and turning wider, but that is what Rashid does. He gets batsmen out.

On this pitch, against these batsmen, the chances of England taking 20 wickets in a timely enough manner to win were always remote. That does not mean Cook could not have done better in managing his resources. With 477 on the board, he could afford bad balls if they brought about wickets in the process. Instead he went defensive and allowed this game to drift towards a dull conclusion.

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Updated Date: Dec 18, 2016 17:29:46 IST