As Pakistan went about chasing a hugely improbable target of 490 with gusto and aplomb in Brisbane, there was a much more boring affair taking place nearly 6000 miles away in Chennai. In the end Pakistan fell 40 runs short of their target against Australia, making the third highest fourth innings total in the history of Test cricket in the process.
In Chennai the match was heading into the penultimate day with India still in their first innings. This is, with the greatest respect to the curator at the MA Chidambaram Stadium who has done an amazing job to get this match underway at all, a poor pitch for Test cricket. We got to watch a brilliant triple hundred, but this has not been exciting cricket. India deserved every single run that they made on their way to their highest ever total, England deserved every run they conceded of the highest total ever made against them. But it wasn’t riveting sport.
With the cyclone ripping the city apart, the ground being fit for cricket is amazing; but a pitch that sees 1248 runs scored in the first four days for the loss of just 16 wickets is not what Test cricket needs to set pulses racing. The pitches in this series have been very good so far, even in Rajkot, which was the flattest surface we had seen before this Test, there was enough pace and bounce that a positive result was at least a theoretical possibility. Not so in Chennai where a draw was all but guaranteed. Only an England batting collapse on Day five can prevent it – not that the possibility of England doing just that can be completely discounted. The next most likely result after the draw is an India win, but even an England team that has been this brutalised shouldn’t lose from here.
England seemed to have decided that wickets were not going to come by trying to bowl India out, instead thinking the best thing for them to do was to bore them out. For the whole of the first session, Liam Dawson bowled his left arm darts which did not go for runs, but they were rarely a threat. When he did claim a maiden wicket it was a real shock, a ball fired into the pads of Murali Vijay trapping him LBW.
This attempt to induce an India mistake by testing their patience almost worked when Stuart Broad had Murali Vijay caught behind when he was on 21, but by then India had already taken their score past 400. The strange thing was that England seemed to look to contain first and attack second. Rather than having a crack first thing, and then bringing on Dawson to keep things tight once the more attacking option had failed, they allowed Karun Nair to bat his way to a maiden Test hundred with little trouble.
This pitch meant that there was little hope of England running through India’s team, but they had a far better chance of doing so if they actually tried. Dawson did exactly what his captain asked of him, and he did it well, but if Alastair Cook was hoping to disabuse people of the belief that he is a poor captain of spin bowlers, he would not be doing so on this showing. England managed to manoeuvre themselves from a position in which neither team could win, to one where only India could secure victory.
England appear to have lost faith in Adil Rashid. Again. Having seen him blossom on the tour into their frontline spinner, he has been relegated to a peripheral figure, as a debutant spinner with a first-class average of 37 did the bowling he should have been doing. Cook does not seem to have trust in Rashid, despite him having more than twice the number of wickets of any other England bowler.
Nasser Hussain, writing during this match in the Daily Mail, has given some insight into the issue. He says that Rashid fails when there is the pressure of expectation placed on him.
“A pattern has developed on this tour. Whenever something is expected of Rashid, he falls short of expectations,” Hussain wrote. “It happened in Bangladesh, where the pitches were turning, and it happened in the fourth Test in Mumbai, where England had 400 on the board and the stage was set for him to exploit another turning track. Conversely, when the pitch is flat and the pressure is off, Rashid has bowled pretty well — look at the first Test in Rajkot, where he picked up seven wickets, his most in any game on this trip.”
England appointed Saqlain Mushtaq as a spin bowling consultant for this tour, and by focusing on the things Moeen Ali and Rashid can do rather than on what they can’t, he has had some success. Now his contract has come to an end, and Rashid in particular appears to have gone backwards. England’s lack of a full-time spin bowling coach is something of an oddity. It isn’t like they don’t have the money to employ one.
As Karun Nair turned his first Test hundred into a triple – just the third man to turn his first hundred into a grand-daddy hundred – it was a tired and dejected England that watched on as India declared at 755 for seven. There is a scene in The Simpson’s where Homer, dressed as Krusty the Klown, is beating the “Krusty Burglar” into the concrete after mistaking him for a real thief. England were the little man in a striped outfit, India were Homer Simpson, the child that begs Homer to stop his assault was those of us watching.
If England weren’t entirely demoralised before the start of the fourth day of this Test, they were feeling absolutely desolate by the close. There is no such thing as easy runs in Test cricket, but the final session in Chennai was not a contest.
At the start of this series a 3-0 loss would have been a result that many who follow England would have welcomed, but as the tour has worn on it has been difficult for England fans to watch. India have just been far better in every aspect of the game in this series, which can happen. But just at the point where you think there may be a positive for England something comes along to make you gloomy. Haseeb Hameed did brilliantly and then got injured. Keaton Jennings scored a hundred and then looked all at sea in his next two trips to the middle. Rashid seemed to have found his niche and now has lost it again. This has been a bruising trip for this England team, and many of them need to return after Christmas for the white ball leg of the tour.
The remaining positive for England is that this Test series is nearly over.
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Updated Date: Dec 19, 2016 21:58:34 IST