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England’s defining moment

by Connor

The fallout from the second test, a 317-run defeat against the team ranked 2nd in the ICC World Test Rankings, has been huge. The four-test series is delicately poised at 1-1 but you wouldn’t think that to read some of the headlines written in the last few days.

Moeen Ali was England’s best bowler by far, his returns of 8-226 reflected an expensive, yet fruitful performance. His fluent, aggressive 2nd innings contribution of 42 came from just 18 balls – if you wanted a demonstration that he is still capable of performing at the highest level, this was it. Joe Root misspoke after the test match concluded by suggesting that Moeen had chosen to return to England. In the event, Moeen’s return to England had been pre-planned in line with England’s rotation policy. Both Root and Chris Silverwood have apologised and the issue should be laid to rest there.

England need to move forward quickly for the sake of the tour. There is plenty of room for improvement as the scorecard suggests. England must execute the basics, especially with the bat, but dwelling too long on the Chennai result will not help their cause.

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Playing on a surface which resembles a sand pit is never going to play to England’s strengths and the conditions at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad will be very different anyway. The 110,000 seater venue was completed in February 2020 and is now the largest cricketing stadium in the world. The third test is day/night affair – a factor which will aide Anderson and Archer who are due to return to the team. The pitch has attracted attention too, the lush green covering of grass will help produce an even contest between bat and ball.

England’s fragile top-order will be bolstered by the return of Zac Crawley, who missed the first two test matches of this series with a sprained wrist. He will likely take the place of Dan Lawrence who, despite showing promise on debut, has struggled to assert himself in the team. England shouldn’t panic, Lawrence has played just 4 test matches at the age of 23, his best years are yet to come. Being successful in India so soon into his fledgling international career was always going to be a tall order and he will surely have opportunities to showcase his abilities in the forthcoming test series in England.

The calls to drop Rory Burns are harsh. He has just returned from paternity leave and has played precious little cricket – in more normal times, he would surely have found form in a warm up match first. For me, Burns and Sibley must open with Crawley at Number 3 in the next game – what England need is stability at the top and that goes hand in hand with showing faith in your players. That might seem add odds with my call to drop Lawrence but he is much younger, thrust into the squad precisely because of England’s rotation policy. His time will come.

Whichever top three the selectors choose, England’s innings must be build on solid foundations, we can ill-afford to be 23-3 in the first innings again – India are a world class side and they will pounce on the opportunity to dominate the match should England present them with it. For all of England’s batting talent, they cannot rely on the brilliance of Joe Root and the game-changing impact of Ben Stokes every time.

It was encouraging to see Ben Foakes score 42* on his return to the test side, complementing his lightening quick reactions and neat glovework which helped him claim 3 stumpings and 2 catches in the 2nd test. His convincing performance on Chennai’s raging bunsen should give him confidence. Foakes goes about his work tidily allowing very few deliveries to go for byes, these are all factors which may prove crucial in a tight encounter.

Heading into the 3rd test, England have a wealth of fast bowlers at their disposal. Anderson, Archer, Broad, Stone, Woakes and Wood are all in contention. The combination of the pink ball, grassy pitch and day-night conditions should give England’s fast bowling unit the edge. Whilst Jasprit Bumrah may be licking his lips at the conditions, whichever bowlers England select will be a formidable force.

Taking account of the conditions, England may be tempted to include a third seamer here at the expense of the second spin bowling option – for all his wickets, Bess has been expensive and was consequently dropped for the last test. The continuation of the rotation policy suggests that Anderson and Archer will return for Broad and Stone but the selectors may be tempted to fire up England’s finest bowling partnership once more given the 8-day break between tests. Selecting both Anderson and Broad would be a brave decision given the schedule that lies ahead and I suspect that England’s selectors will favour a more conservative approach with Broad rested as a result.

Chris Woakes and Mark Wood are yet to feature during the tour and would surely fancy their chances in favourable conditions if they were thrown the ball under the lights. If I were to stick my neck on the line, Anderson, Archer and Woakes would be my fast bowling line-up with Wood replacing Archer if he is still sub-par following injury. Chris Woakes has done little wrong during his England career to date but he is a far more potent threat at home than in the sub continent although he would be encouraged by the conditions.

India will start the match as favourites. Rohit Sharma is in fine form with the bat whilst Axar Patel will be full of confidence following his excellent debut but they will be wary. There is nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal and England will be looking to exert revenge here. Joe Root’s men must make sure that they emerge victorious, both for the sake of the series and to keep their hopes of reaching the final of the World Test Championship alive.

If Root’s England are going to become the best team in the world, this may well be their defining moment…

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