By Anurag Hegde | Head of Sport
England’s cricketing summer was brought to an abrupt end after the 5th Test between England and India scheduled to begin on 10th September at Old Trafford, Manchester was ‘cancelled’ owing to a Covid-19 outbreak in the visitors’ camp.
Earlier, during the 4th Test at The Oval, 3 members of India’s support staff including head coach, Ravi Shastri returned a positive result on a lateral-flow test before subsequently testing positive for Covid-19 on an RT-PCR test.
The support staff who tested positive and their close contacts were quickly identified, and they were required to self-isolate for 11-days as protocols demanded. Fortunately, none of the players from the Indian camp tested positive for the virus and the 4th Test remained unaffected.
However, in a move that attracted a lot of criticism, the Indian team decided to pull out of the tour after winning the 4th Test and going 2-1 up in the series. With their team physio also forced into self-isolation, the Indian team cited ‘concerns of a further outbreak’ prompted them to withdraw from the tour with one Test still to go.
This, naturally, did not bode well amongst English fans and experts alike as the general impression was that the Indian players had pulled out of the tour in order to be ready to play the much more financially lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) that’s set to resume on 19th September.
Former England captain Nasser Hussain had this to say;
“Initially, the BCCI was always very concerned about this Test match. They wanted everything moved to make sure the IPL is a huge financial issue hanging over the game, over Indian cricket. They have already moved it, then moved it half of it this time around. Of course, this is about the IPL, but this is about players who are thinking: If get down positive here now, today, I have to do another 10 days.”
A Disappointing Cricketing Summer overall
Despite setting the disappointing and abrupt end aside, English fans did not have much to ride home about this cricketing summer. It started off with a 2-match Test series back in June against New Zealand which England went on to lose 1-0.
There was a long break between Test matches as the 1st Test between England and India didn’t begin until 4th August. While The Hundred, which was sandwiched in between the two tours, provided fans with something fresh, it received mixed reactions.
The highlight of the summer was undoubtedly the 5-match Test series (subsequently a 4-match series) against India. The series began with the 1st Test at Trent Bridge being drawn due to poor weather, but things heated up once the bandwagon reached the Home of Cricket at Lord’s.
While that game was closely contested, it was India that emerged triumphant at the end of a 5-day tussle to go 1-0 up in the series. England, however, made a resounding comeback at Leeds after they claimed a comprehensive win to level the series.
The troupe made its way back to London for the 4th Test at The Oval. On what was touted as the ‘best batting surface’ of the series, England claimed a 99-run first innings lead over the visitors after asking them to bat first.
However, a massive batting effort, spearheaded by opener Rohit Sharma’s century, helped India set a mammoth 368-target. It proved to be a little too much for England’s rather flimsy batting order on a deteriorating surface and on the 5th day of a Test match as they fell 157-runs short to hand India an unassailable 2-1 lead in the series.
Undoubtedly for England, the overarching issue of the summer was their shaky batting order. Despite poor performers like Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley being axed, England’s batting order looked far from convincing.
Their captain Joe Root, however, was the obvious exception as he was riding an incredible purple patch. He scored 3 hundreds in the series and amassed a total of 564 runs in 7 innings at a whopping average of 94. The rest of England’s batting order (no.1-7) collectively averaged under 30.
Ben Stokes, who took an indefinite break from cricket owing to mental-health reasons, was sorely missed throughout the summer. With England’s top order failing to do their job of weathering the new ball more often than not, the middle order found itself exposed relatively early in the innings.
While Stokes and Root were considered to be two of England’s best batsmen and the engine room their batting, the absence of the former meant that captain Root often found himself in a situation where he had to single-handedly carry his team’s batting.
The fact that Root sore to occasion and shouldered all the responsibility is another matter altogether. While players like Rory Burns, Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow showed glimpses of form, none of them went on to play big, match-winning knocks and it was reflected in the fact that Root was the only English batsmen to score a hundred all summer long.
The collective failure of their batsmen will haunt England as the winter looms in the not-too-distant future when they will head down-under to play The Ashes. England will mull over their batting combination and it could lead to players like James Vince, who did relatively well during England’s previous tour to Australia, being recalled.
Whatever England decide to do following this cricketing summer, they require answers and they require them quickly for Australia await hoping to retain the coveted trophy once again on home soil.