Thomas Edison is quoted as saying that genius is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration. On day three of the fourth Test in Mumbai, all the perspiring was done by the England bowlers and all the inspired play came from the bat of Virat Kohli. There will always be debates about who is the “greatest”; this week the Telegraph ran a poll that elected Andy Murray as Britain’s best ever sportsman to cries of anguish from some. But the need for debate about who is the best at hitting cricket balls is getting more and more redundant.
Across formats, across conditions, regardless of the scenario, Kohli is emerging as the greatest batsman in this era. The only question may have left to answer is whether he can score Test runs in England, but that is an examination that you should back him to ace when he next tours England in 2018. He is better now than he was when he last played a Test innings in England in 2014, and he is still improving.
This England bowling attack can do little but persevere. Neither Moeen Ali nor Adil Rashid, for all of their good qualities, can run through batting line-ups the way that Ravichandran Ashwin can. In India, against these batsmen, all they can do is keep going, bowl wicket-taking balls as often as possible and hope that they can induce a mistake. And this is what they did as they managed to reduce India to 307 for six.
Alastair Cook’s captaincy was under the spotlight again, and that it was while he was off the field and Joe Root was in charge that England got a wicket with a change of tack certainly did little disabuse the notion that Cook’s innate conservatism is holding this team back. Root brought himself on to bowl and got Parthiv Patel caught behind when the India wicket-keeper had a flash at a ball from England’s part-time spinner.
Patel was always going to get out to one of England’s spinners, and it was even more amusing when it was the very occasional off-breaks of Root. On Friday night, Patel was the man put up to answer the media’s questions, and he said England’s bowlers had been “exposed” and that the “quality of our bowling is far better.” This was unusual, in that players rather use such language to describe other teams, and are even less likely to do so in the middle of a game. I guess the chances of schadenfreude, like edging Root to the keeper, are considered too big a risk to do so.
There are two parts to this worth examining. The first is Patel has a point — India’s spinners are better. The second is that if the players involved were reversed, and it was Jonny Bairstow saying that India’s bowlers did not have the same quality as England’s and then got out to a part-timer, he would need to delete Twitter from his phone to avoid all the abuse.
There was one thing that Cook did that differs from the captaincy manuals that he is so often criticised for following. He did not take the second new ball until two deliveries into the 130th over. Instead England had Rashid bowl a 28-over spell spread across two sessions. In that time, he took two wickets for 88 runs and bowled with reasonable control, but first Murali Vijay, and then Kohli, batted brilliantly against him. Especially Kohli.
When it was 307 for six England had a chance, as they have numerous times in this series, to finally get in front of a game and push for a win. Once again that chance was taken from them, and if England are being honest with themselves, they will acknowledge that they meekly surrendered their grip.
England could have had Kohli when he was on 68, he drilled a low, but catchable, chance back to Rashid who should have taken it in his follow through. You can’t afford to drop catches, dropping Kohli is like going wildly over the limit on your credit card. He was 147 not out at the close of play.
While it was Kohli that broke England’s will with his peerless century, it was the partnership between Kohli and Jayant Yadav that completely sapped their remaining energy. It didn’t help that Jayant was put down when he was on 8 when the new ball was finally taken. That allowed their partnership to reach 87 and Jayant to get to the close of play on an undefeated 30. Dropping catches, allowing new batsmen to get off the mark with bad balls, not giving James Anderson or Rashid a bowl for nearly an hour into play. England were poor on Saturday, and you don’t beat this Indian team on their own turf by being poor.
One of the many things that England have got wrong in this series is their team selection, and that was evident again on Day 3. Throughout all the Tests they have had one bowler too many. The identity of the spare man has changed, in Mumbai it was Chris Woakes, in Mohali it was Gareth Batty. England are blessed with two all-rounders in their top six in Ben Stokes and Moeen; they have somehow managed to turn that into a bad thing.
If you are going to have a bowler that doesn’t bowl you may as well pick another batsman, even if he is as low down the order as number eight.
England can still get something out of this Test, but chances are that will be a draw at best. They have all but run out of time to push for a win, and for that to happen it would take an Indian collapse in the final innings. Realistically, all they can hope for is a decent second innings batting effort that makes the game safe. But before they even get that far they need three more wickets. That may not be straightforward.
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Updated Date: Dec 10, 2016 18:47:58 IST