England’s Oriental Odyssey
England’s tour of India was expected to be quite attritional, at the least tough, bearing in mind India’s consistency as a home team, the difficulties of touring in a country so different from Britain and England’s frequent ying-yang style of play. And time has certainly proven itself true. The first Test at Rajkot seemed to show signs of England being a certain competitor and a potential winner. The rather fluent, well-paced hundreds of three flamboyant players in Root, Ali and Stokes propelled England to a commanding total of 557. India, well versed in its turf, suitably rebutted with Pujara and Vijay making tons and Ashwin adding some valuable runs to keep the match at the rim for both the teams. England started their second innings with a slender lead of 49 runs. Cook, adding more worth to his incredible record of having the most runs in Asia as a visiting batsmen, and Hameed displaying an unfamiliar confidence and comfort in the shoes of a Test opener made batting seem exceedingly easy and declared at 260/3. India surely had nerves about batting in the fourth innings given England’s impressive batting; Rashid’s subtle tactics and an economical, accurate bowling performance reduced India to tatters with 172/6 in just a session and a half. This Test did raise our expectations as fans and England would have taken a huge impetus of having the capacity to win in subcontinental conditions. Unfortunately, in the subsequent two matches, the momentum gained by England abruptly derailed and lost track.
India, viewing the pitch as a viable differentiator between the two teams, came back to implementing their favoured tactic of the last four years and thus prepared a dry, dusty, spinning track showing the usual signs of waning as the match proceeds. India, utilised the ease of day one conditions and the inexperience of the English attack to press home the advantage with captain Kohli steering the ship forward with total of 167 runs from a huge total of 455. Ashwin and Jadeja did not miss this chance given the healthy situation and conditions presented to them. England got trapped in an abyss after a below par batting display which led to the loss of five wickets in just the morning session, Stokes’ resilient innings led them to a first innings stand of 255 runs. From here, the match was in the hands of the home team and they just had to get the basics right to acquire a series lead. Despite the tourists’ inspired bowling and fight shown by Cook and Hameed, India won the match with panache by a humungous margin of 246 runs.
After this terribly disappointing cricket played by the visitors, they handed the baton over to India. In spite of winning the toss, England were inept in showing the composure and knack in posting mammoth scores, something of high importance on Asian wickets, and were bowled out cheaply for just 283. However, this did not dent the lads’ spirits and they bowled superbly to bring India down to a position of 204/6. From there, most would reckon that the latter would be dismissed within, or at the most, at about 320. However, their lower order came to the party just in time. England did not bowl poorly but merely were not menacing enough. They failed to maintain control albeit in a situation of strength and bowled at a height and pace ideal for Ashwin and the rest to forge century partnerships and again hit a massive pile of 417 runs. And as what goes around comes back. England lost this test in a similar fashion.
On the whole, the grit shown by Hameed in making a very mature knock of 59 with a broken finger shows the skills and resilience he has as an opener. For a 19 year old lad, he has proven his talent enough and I feel he is a perfect partner to Cook. For the remaining two tests, I hope England bring some balmy sunshine from Dubai and put up a team effort which wins an entire match, not certain moments. They have to improvise on some key areas and as fans, we can only hope that England can avenge for the defeats, maybe even win one so that they can take home some success before going back for Christmas.