By Anurag Hegde | Head of Sport
Needing 157-runs to win on the final day with 9 wickets still intact, India were clear favourites to win the game.
Despite England not being completely out of the contest, with overcast conditions predicted for the fifth day, they still had their backs against the wall. As it turned out, play was eventually abandoned on the fifth day due to the infamous British weather and we never got to see the end of what had been an enthralling competition up until that point.
However, worryingly for England, not only did they find themselves behind in the game at the end of the fourth day, but they were also in that position for almost the entirety of the Test. Despite England having their moments in the game, it highlighted a big and persistent problem that’s plagued the side for quite some time now.
England’s failure to seize the ascendency in the 1st Test was largely due to their faulty and unimpactful batting line-up, a batting line-up that has been over reliant on their captain Joe Root for the better part of the last two years.
A full house at Trent Bridge provided the setting to what promised to be an exciting Test match between England and India. On a rather sunny Nottingham morning, England’s captain Joe Root elected to bat first after winning the toss, hoping that his team could seize the momentum from the very outset. Unfortunately, his team managed to do anything but that. England kept losing wickets at regular intervals, starting with Rory Burns in the very first over of the game.
None of England’s specialist batsmen (namely Sibley, Burns, Crawley, Bairstow, Lawrence and Buttler) managed to cross the 50-run mark in the 1st Test. Skipper Joe Root was the obvious exception to that list as his 108-ball 64 in the 1st innings helped England totter along to an ungainly 183. This, coupled with the fact that England were practically forced to play only 4 bowlers after opting to beef up their batting with an extra batsman, meant that India claimed a substantial 95-run lead at the end of their innings.
The story in the 2nd innings was no different either, other than the fact that Joe Root scored a memorable century instead of a fifty. Despite getting starts, none of England’s ‘specialist’ batsmen crossed the 50-run mark. To their credit, they did aid Joe Root in his mission to take the team to a competitive total, but the problem once again was that Root was the lone-standing pillar who was carrying the rest of the team.
The burden, however, did not seem to faze Root as he scored a brilliant 109 runs off 172 deliveries under testing circumstances. Despite being rather edgy at the start of his innings, Root went on to find his composure and once again was the sole force keeping England’s batting unit afloat, barely. But even his heroics, albeit rescuing the team from a precarious position, did not give England the obvious advantage as they were eventually bundled out for 303, setting India a 209-run target in their 4th innings.
India were already in a solid position at the end of Day-4 having knocked off 52 runs whilst losing just 1 wicket. Rain, however, played spoilsport and prevented the game from reaching its natural conclusion. It did not change the fact though that England were staring down the barrel and were relying on their bowlers to produce an exceptional performance to win them the game.
The issue with England’s batting order is nothing new. They’ve struggled to find a solid opening pair post Sir Alistair Cook’s retirement and their middle-order has largely revolved around Joe Root and Ben Stokes. Stokes’ absence has only expounded the problem. Stokes was at least a consistent contributor with the willow while he wasn’t being a solo-matchwinner.
The current crop of batsmen making up England batting line-up, however, all seem to lack either of Stokes’ invaluable qualities. This has meant that the onus has most often been on captain Joe Root. Incidentally, he’s scored nearly 30% of all of England’s runs in Test cricket this year.
There have already been calls from many experts and former cricketers for England to drop Sibley, Bruns, Crawley, and Lawrence. But the problem for England is that they do not really have anybody else to turn to apart from probably Moeen Ali and the young and inexperienced Haseeb Hamid, both of whom will probably be included in the next game.
While the techniques of Sibley and Burns have always been under the scanner, Crawley and Lawrence’s temperament has come under question following the conclusion of this Test. Jonny Bairstow too, who finds himself in the side following Stokes’ withdrawal, hasn’t done much to prove his worth either.
England’s lack of faith in their batting unit during the 1st Test meant that they effectively shot themselves in the foot by electing to play an extra batsman in place of a fifth bowler, who was likely to be left-arm spinner Jack Leach. England’s bowling unit, despite being successful in patches, looked one-dimensional for the most part. It was as if England bought a bigger umbrella to keep the rain out but end up getting soaked anyway after failing to account for strong winds. In blunter terms, their solution to their batting problem ended up destroying their team balance while failing to fix the batting problem as well.
If England are to fare better in the upcoming game at Lord’s starting Thursday, 12th August, they’re going to have to make some radical changes – either to their side or their approach or maybe even both. In other words, it might be time for England to ditch the metaphorical umbrella and move on to a quality raincoat instead.