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Weather Denies Dramatic Climax

Weather Denies Dramatic Climax


Having started the summer losing to the world’s No 1 ranked nation, New Zealand, England’s hopes of beating the No 2 ranked nation, India, were dealt a severe blow a few days before the series began when Ben Stokes took an indefinite leave of absence from the game, citing the need to protect his mental health. His decision followed soon after similar announcements from tennis star Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles. It is becoming increasingly clear that the pressures on the world’s top stars are mounting, whether caused by the impact of the global pandemic, scrutiny from social media, the sheer unending workload or more personal factors. We need to find a way to give our greatest athletes more help.


The absence of Stokes always leads to a debate on the balance of the side, and at Trent Bridge the selectors decided to go with six batsmen and four seamers, with no spin option beyond skipper Joe Root. With Ollie Pope having recently picked up an injury, there was an unchanged top four of Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Root. Haseeb Hameed didn’t get a recall to the side, but Jonny Bairstow came back at No 5. Dan Lawrence stayed at six, with Jos Buttler unsurprisingly being recalled instead of James Bracey. Among the bowlers, England’s senior pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad led the attack, supported by Ollie Robinson, back after his suspension, and Sam Curran, whose left-arm swing provided some variation.


Meanwhile India made just one change to their batting top order from the World Test final, with K.L.Rahul coming in for Shubman Gill. He was joined by opener Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and keeper Rishabh Pant. Ravindra Jadeja kept the all-rounder spot, meaning there was no room for Ravi Ashwin, which gives some idea of the real strength in depth among the tourists’ squad. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami were joined by Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Siraj in the pace line-up.


Root won the toss and chose to bat, but England got off to the worst start when they lost Burns for a duck in the first over, trapped in front by a great ball from Bumrah. Sibley and Crawley ground along at two runs an over before Crawley edged to the keeper off Siraj, a decision only given on DRS, just three balls after a DRS review had been wasted by Kohli. It brought the captain to the crease at 42 for two, as yet again Root was faced with a situation that looked far from ideal. However, there were no further wickets before lunch, by which time England had moved on to 61 for two.


Sibley was out soon after lunch for 18 off 70 balls, having gone past 1000 runs in Test cricket when he was on 15. His slow scoring rate in his career (at under 35 per 100 balls) is in danger of creating pressure to rotate the scoreboard at the other end. Bairstow then joined his captain, and the two Yorkshiremen put on a valuable 72 runs for the fourth wicket before Bairstow was LBW to Shami for 29: 138 for four at the break, with the game nicely poised.


It didn’t stay that way for long. Despite Root’s excellence, wickets began to tumble at the other end. Lawrence and Buttler both made ducks, before Root was LBW to Thakur for 64. Curran played a few shots, but Robinson, Broad and Anderson survived just 17 deliveries between them as England crumbled to 183 all out – it was the fifth lowest total by England in the first innings of a Test series. Bumrah, with four for 46, was the most successful bowler for India, but the whole attack had been excellent, with Shami taking three for 28 in 17 overs. In the 13 overs that were left in the first day’s play, India reached 21 without loss by the close.


The morning of the second day saw India continue to eat into England’s target, and just as they were about to complete the session without loss, Robinson struck to remove Sharma for 36: 97 for one at lunch. After the break, England quickly found new momentum, as Anderson struck twice in two balls to remove Pujara for 4 and then Kohli first ball. When Rahane was run out by Bairstow for 5, India were 112 for four in the midst of an England-style collapse. Rahul and Pant saw their side through to an early close on 125 for four, as the weather took hold.


The third morning was also interrupted by rain, but India took a narrow first-innings lead by lunch for the loss of just Pant. England then missed a run out, and soon after lunch a regulation slip catch was dropped by Root, off Rahul. But it didn’t prove costly as Rahul then edged to the keeper, falling for 84; it was a significant moment for Anderson as it took him past Anil Kumble, on to 620 wickets, with only Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan ahead of him. He quickly backed it up by removing Thakur for a duck, Root making no mistake at slip.


Jadeja continued to bat aggressively, reaching 56 before skying one off Robinson that was well caught by Broad at mid off. There was another missed run out, then a rare dropped catch by Anderson as England allowed the India lead to go beyond 50. Anderson then missed another run-out opportunity, before the new ball was taken. Two balls later Robinson had his man, and Shami left with his stumps rearranged. The final pair swung away, and Bumrah went past his previous highest score of 10 not out with a six. They put on 33 in total, taking India to 278 all out, a lead of 95, which should have been much smaller had England’s fielding been better. Broad was the catcher as Bumrah fell for 28, and it gave Robinson his maiden five-wicket haul, at the cost of 85 runs.


England had an awkward six-over spell to see out before tea, but Burns and Sibley reached 11 without loss. The evening session was much curtailed, with only 5.1 overs possible, as England closed the day on 25, with the opening pair still together as the hosts trailed by 70 runs.


Needing to bat all day, England could not have got off to a much worse start as first Burns then Crawley fell inside the first six overs. Root joined Sibley and the pair batted through the rest of the morning session, taking England up to 119 for two, a lead of 24. Sibley was next to be dismissed, having put on 89 with Root. Once more, one could admire his stickability, but one also had to question whether 28 runs in almost three-and-a-half hours (at a strike rate of 21) is really enough. He’d added just one run in 5.5 overs after the break.


Unsurprisingly, the arrival of Bairstow saw the action speed up. Bairstow made 30 in 50 balls, and Lawrence 25 in 32, so by tea England were 235 for five, 140 ahead, with Root on 96 – once again, he was a class above all those around him. His hundred, off 154 balls, duly arrived early in the evening session, but with Buttler having fallen for 17, he was out for 109 off the bowling of the excellent Bumrah in the over after the new ball was taken. For Root, it was his 21st Test century, taking him level with Andrew Strauss. He now needs one more to join Ian Bell, Geoffrey Boycott, Colin Cowdrey and Walter Hammond on 22. One feared, at 274 for seven, that the end would be swift. Curran made a breezy 32, becoming one of six England batsmen to be dismissed between 17 and 32 in the innings. Broad was out for nought, his 38th Test duck and his tenth first baller, and England were soon all out for 303. Bumrah’s fine match continued as he finished with five for 64, his sixth five-wicket haul in just 21 Tests.


Having set a target of 209, England were still in the match – something which had rarely looked likely. However, the record for a successful run chase at Trent Bridge is 208, while India have never successfully chased a total greater than 173 in England. India set about their target with a positive intent, and by the close they had reached 52 for one in just 14 overs, Rahul caught behind for 26 off the bowling of Broad.


The final day began with a rain delay, ensuring that all four results remained possible in the morning, but the weather never improved and so the match ended as a draw. Root was named Man of the Match after his two good innings, though Bumrah must have run him close.


With the second Test due to start at Lord’s on Thursday, questions will remain about the batting, which continues to look very fragile. Many have blamed the preponderance of T20 cricket, made even worse by the introduction of a second very short format in the Hundred. However, a comparison of the workloads for both sides since the start of the 2019 season shows that we might need to look elsewhere. In that period, England’s batsmen had, on average, played double the number of first-class innings compared to their Indian counterparts, who had batted in 50 per cent more T20 games.


Instead, one might note that all six of England’s batsmen had a lower Test average than for first-class cricket, suggesting that the county game isn’t quite challenging enough; meanwhile, for India, two of their batsmen have been better in Test cricket, while Kohli has not played a first-class innings outside the Test arena in the whole period. Taking the top five from both sides, based on recent averages, only Root from England would make the combined line-up.


Michael Vaughan was criticised for ignoring the short format as a reason for England’s batting failings, and for suggesting it was the quality of the batsmen that was at fault. These figures would tend to support his argument, while also providing evidence that the current cricket calendar is not helping England’s red-ball players achieve peak performance. As Root commented after the match, Test cricket is the best and most significant format; it is time it was treated that way by those who run the game. Currently, the focus appears to be on the most money-generating shorter formats, rather than on the format the players recognise as the true test of their mettle. Money is obviously essential to the game’s survival, but the traditional formats are the game’s most valuable legacy.


England and India Top Six Since the Start of the 2019 Season


                                    F-c                               Test                                         T20*

                                    Inns     Runs    Ave      Inns     Runs    Ave                  Inns     Runs

R.J.Burns                    67        2618    39.66   34        1229    36.14               18          273

D.P.Sibley                   68        2741    44.93   35          985    30.78               11          261

Z.Crawley                   70        2179    32.52   24          704    29.33               32        1039

J.E.Root                      58        2619    47.61   46        2029    46.11               11          422

J.M.Bairstow               25          493    21.43   22          391    19.55               60        2091

D.W.Lawrence            52        1818    40.40   13          329    33.00               34          875

Average                      56.6                             29                                            27.6


R.G.Sharma                20        1103    58.05   19        1094    60.77               51        1520

K.L.Rahul                     7          228    32.57     4          101    25.25               64        2585

C.A.Pujara                  44        1582    35.95   30          841    28.03               –           –

V.Kohli                       24          934    42.45   24          934    42.45               58        2024

A.M.Rahane                54        1863    38.02   30        1159    42.92               22          514

R.R.Pant                     22          815    42.89   20          707    39.27               55        1381

Average                      28.5                             21.1                                         41.6


*inc The Hundred