Despite two early wickets, England had their best day in their series against India on Saturday since the first Test in Rajkot. A formidable total of 477 on the back of vital late order runs has put them in a position from which they shouldn’t lose this Test, although they would have felt the same when they made 400 in the first innings in Mumbai.
England resumed batting on Saturday morning with dreams of a massive hundred from Moeen Ali and a truly significant score from Ben Stokes. In the end they, sort of, got the former but not the latter. Stokes was gone to Ravichandran Ashwin’s second ball of the day, edging a ball that turned away from him through to the ‘keeper. That would have worried England. They would have felt they needed someone to support Moeen if they were going to push on to 400 and beyond.
Those concerns redoubled when Jos Buttler missed a straight, full ball from Ishant Sharma and was pinned LBW for just 6. That left England 300 for six and in danger of throwing away the reasonable platform that they had set for themselves. Thankfully for them, debutant Liam Dawson can bat. First in partnership with Moeen, and then more significantly with Adil Rashid, Dawson took England to a total that should be enough for them to get at least a draw from this game.
Moeen did not look as settled as he had after lunch on Friday, looking particular insecure against the short ball. It took a long while for India to try the tactic, but once they did Moeen couldn’t help himself but hook and pull. Just as in the first innings in Mohali, it was that shot that brought about Moeen’s departure for an excellent 146 — his second highest score in Test cricket.
Things could still have fallen apart for England when Moeen was gone, but Dawson and Rashid put on the second hundred partnership of England’s innings as both men made half centuries. Going into this game England had questions over their batting and the make up of their team. Picking Dawson as a spin bowling all-rounder rather than another batsman meant that they were risking having the same issues that have dogged them throughout this five match series.
Dawson’s excellent innings in his first trip to the crease in Test cricket went a long way to allay those problems. He got off to an inauspicious start when he was struck on the helmet by an Ishant bouncer second ball. From there he looked increasingly at home, and he is another player who has achieved success on debut. That is always a good sign for a team’s setup. If players can arrive in the squad and perform straight away, it suggests a welcoming environment.
England’s coach, Trevor Bayliss, has been a fan of Dawson’s temperament for a while, and his judgement appears to have been well founded. What he can do with the ball is a matter for debate, but he has given some much needed stability and resilience to an England batting order that has struggled for the majority of this tour. Dawson finished on 66 not out, the highest score by an England number eight batsman on debut, and along with 60 from Rashid it helped England to a daunting total.
Rashid’s emergence as a Test cricketer has been one of the few positives for England in these Tests, and his confidence and sense of belonging at this level were evident during his stay at the crease. When he gets himself set he looks to be one of the better players of spin bowling in this England batting order, although it has been rare that he has played himself in. He has the talent to play these kind of innings more often than he has, but despite it seeming that Rashid has been around forever this is just his 10th Test.
The issue for both Dawson and Rashid is what they can bring to an England Test team outside Asian conditions. Dawson is not a good enough batsman to be selected for that facet of his game alone, and it seems unlikely that England will need a spinner who has a middling first-class record in conditions that aren’t conducive to turn. Moeen is a better batsman and a better bowler than Dawson, so he will be the one that fulfils that role for the foreseeable future. Moeen’s two hundreds in this series have only further cemented his place in England’s Test team, baring injury it is difficult to imagine Dawson getting another Test any time soon.
Rashid’s place in England’s team over the next two years is just as debatable, and that is despite him taking 22 wickets in the first four Tests of this series, and his scoring a vital half-century in this match. The next time England play a Test match it will be in England in July. Whether they can find space for Rashid in that team is uncertain. With Moeen an automatic pick they may feel one spinner is enough. But this is such a waste.
With Stokes able to bowl high-quality seam England can afford to have both Moeen and Rashid in the team. It is important to remember that Rashid has close to 500 first-class wickets and all bar a handful of them have been taken in English conditions. It is worth a go. For a long time now England have struggled to take the wickets of tail-enders in home conditions, this is something of a Rashid specialty.
Before England start thinking about team make-up for Tests against South Africa in July they have a the chance to set the pace in this Test. Having lost three matches on the bounce, they will be hoping for a win, but should expect nothing less than a draw. There were no wickets for England in the 19 overs that were bowled in India’s first innings, but a good start on Sunday they can put them under pressure. All that is left for the tourists is the saving of face. They did a far amount of that on Saturday in Chennai.
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Updated Date: Dec 17, 2016 17:48:42 IST