Another middling effort with the bat on the first day of a Test after winning the toss, saw England reach 284 for four at the close of play on Friday. It is remarkable that this Chennai Test is happening at all, given that the city has been ripped asunder by a cyclone, and when it did start, it followed a very similar pattern to the matches that have gone before it – England players looked set before departing or failed early on. The only exception was Moeen Ali, who was not out at the close on 120. This score is what England should be getting as a minimum when batting first on a decent pitch. Given their struggles to get Indian wickets, the bare minimum will not be enough to prevent another defeat.
England have picked the wrong team over the last four Tests, and made an almost identical error at the start of the fifth and final match. Throughout this series they have gone into each match with six bowling options, and in each game one bowler has had virtually nothing to do. And this has been while the batting has struggled. Since their batting efforts in Rajkot saw them secure a draw, they have passed 300 just once, and that in a match that they lost by an innings. England have lost this series because they have been outplayed by India in every facet of the game, but the humbling defeats they have suffered have come as a result of them not scoring enough runs. Things were a little brighter on the first day in Chennai, but the issue of not enough runs has not disappeared.
So it was with the imbalanced team from the previous four matches still fresh in everyone’s mind that England replaced Chris Woakes, a proven wicket taker in Test cricket, with Liam Dawson, a man who has a mediocre record in first-class cricket. It was a calculated gamble; England really rate Dawson, but the reason for his inclusion is as much because there is not a spare batsman in this squad that is selectable. Both Ben Duckett and Gary Ballance have such a deficit of form that neither man could be trusted in this starting line-up. Quite why England did not send another batsman to India is unclear; they were happy enough to send everyone to Dubai for a week off, it would not have taken more effort to come back with an extra batsman from the Lions squad.
Quite what Dawson will bring to this team when England are in the field is yet to be seen, and all England supporters will be hoping that he is a success, but there is little in his record to suggest he will bring more to the team than either Gareth Batty and Zafar Ansari, and neither of them succeeded.
England won the toss for the fourth time this series, and as ever they were reliant on Alastair Cook and Joe Root to get them a really big total. There is plenty of talent in the England top order, but the only men who have the technique and track record of making really big runs are the captain and vice-captain. Just as at Rajkot, hundreds from Cook and Root were England’s best chance of staving off defeat.
Despite his 130 in the first Test, this hasn’t been Cook at his vintage best. He has been undone by Ravindra Jadeja five times in nine innings, including his last three visits to the crease. He has been drawn into shots outside the off stump too often and his release shot to the spinners, when he works the ball into the legside off the back foot, has seen him caught at leg slip. Cook has 320 runs in this series, second only to Root, but for England to have succeeded in India they needed far more from him.
On the first morning it was that outside off stump line that did for Cook, with Jadeja drawing him into a shot that he edged to Kohli at slip for 10. With Keaton Jennings departing early when he wafted at one from Ishant Sharma, England found themselves 21 for two and in need of a partnership to bring them back into the game.
That came in the form of Root and Moeen Ali who put on 146. Both men were past 50 and looking well placed to make a good partnership, a match-defining one when Joe Root fell for 88. The obsession cricket has with batsmen reaching a round number based on our base 10 system of counting is unhelpful, the only difference between 88 and 100 is 12 runs. But that isn’t to say we cannot be critical of Root, despite him being England’s leading run scorer over the last two years. He is so good that when he gets himself set, he should be making massive scores. It isn’t about reaching 100, it is about getting there and beyond.
Virat Kohli got out for 88 against South Africa in December last year. Since then he has got to that score four times and he has gone on to score 200, 211, 167 and 235. Root needs to find a way to be as ruthless as Kohli, because it isn’t that India’s star man has more talent, he just seems to have a greater hunger for scoring runs. Kohli is insatiable, Root needs to be the same. When you are phenomenally talented, the standards to which you are held are greater than those of mere mortals.
When Root was given out having under-edged a sweep shot, he was just 11 runs short of passing Michael Vaughan’s record for the most Test runs by an England player in a calendar year. He may well pass that landmark in the second innings, but Johnny Bairstow could beat him to it. Bairstow made 49, so he is just 13 runs away from beating the record. Bairtsow could have gone on 38 when he came down the pitch to a Jadeja delivery that he edged that could have dismissed him caught or stumped, but Parthiv Patel could not collect the ball. He did not make the most of his chance though.
And then there was Moeen Ali, who played a classic Moeen Ali innings. It was full of lackadaisical drives, wristy flicks and elegant leaves. You always watch Moeen expecting him to clip the ball off his pads and straight into the hands of midwicket, and he almost did exactly that when he had yet to get off the mark. The ball seemed to be sailing into the hands of KL Rahul, but he missed-timed the jump and the chance was gone. From there he always gave you the impression that a similar aberration was just around the corner, but he still glided to his fifth Test hundred, and his second of this series.
Moeen was on 7 from 44 balls at lunch and slowly moved up through the gears to reach his hundred 30 minutes before the close. With the top order gone and England not yet passed 300, they will need Moeen to go on and make the big score that Root had for the taking and failed to grasp.
It has become apparent that Moeen will never silence the doubters, it is difficult to know what more he has to do to please them. You would think 1000 runs and 36 wickets in 2016 would have been enough, but who knows…
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Updated Date: Dec 16, 2016 19:51:13 IST