Saturday, September 18, 2021
Sports

England v India: ‘Joe Root’s side are fragile but schedule does them no favours’

England live to fight another day, albeit if the draw they earned in the first Test against India was rain-assisted.

They will have the opportunity to start again at Lord’s with the series still level and their captain looking like his old self.

Joe Root has a lot on his plate. He is trying to balance the team, cope with the loss of Ben Stokes, and prop up the batting.

Often an opposition can undermine a skipper in that position, but what is most significant about Root’s wonderful hundred was the way that he made his runs – with a smile on his face and a spring in his step.

As a result, he will go to Lord’s for the second Test starting on Thursday in a better frame of mind, which can only benefit the England team.

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The other positive was the performance of Ollie Robinson, who looks at home in Test cricket after playing only two matches.

His debut in June was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding his historic racist and sexist tweets, yet he returned at Trent Bridge to take five wickets in India’s first innings.

The Sussex pace bowler is unusually confident. In an interview he was asked if he was surprised at the early success he’s had in Test cricket, to which he said he wasn’t, because he felt he was ready two years ago.

That’s a bold thing to say, even if it is what you really think.

Still, he immediately looks to be a fixture in the attack.

How do you fix England’s batting?
We all know that the batting is an issue.

If we take the middle order first, I like the look of the England team when Jonny Bairstow is in it.

I know he can frustrate people, but it is about finding the right place for him to bat. To me, that is number five or six.

Bairstow is punchy and can hurt bowling attacks. In the absence of Stokes, he seems a good option to have in the engine room.

Ollie Pope is hoping to be fit for Lord’s and there is an argument to recall him because he is a very good player.

For that reason, I would leave out Dan Lawrence. As a batsman he looks susceptible to playing around his front pad, and in the field he missed a straightforward run-out opportunity, which belies a lack of confidence.

Which brings us to the top three…

I would keep Rory Burns. Yes, he has a quirky technique, but it is not long ago that he made a big hundred against New Zealand at Lord’s.

I also believe Haseeb Hameed should return. I have spoken to a few of the England players and they say he is ready for a second stab at Test cricket, having played three matches as a 19-year-old in 2016.

Everything about Hameed’s game has improved since he made the move from Lancashire to Nottinghamshire. He is more mature and physically stronger, with more shots and the confidence to play them.

If it was to come down to a choice between Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley, I’m demoting Sibley.

When you analyse Sibley’s batting, it is noticeable when his bat actually comes down straight. There is no intent to be busy or rotate the strike.

I would worry about him in Australia, that their pace bowlers would push him back, then knock him over.

Crawley looks a good player, one who does play straight. However, his poor run of form would suggest he might benefit from a break.

But that would mean a call-up for a player who has only been batting in The Hundred, which is clearly not the right preparation for an important Test series.

The preparation problem
The schedule of the domestic game has been raked over countless times. We know it has been a problem for many years, and we know it is not an issue exclusive to England.

It is not just down to the advent of The Hundred, although that has exacerbated the issue.

I am not advocating that we go back to the Geoffrey Boycott era, when there was always a first-class match between Tests. That is unrealistic.

But it is also unrealistic to ask the players to succeed in the current circumstances. If there is no first-class cricket in the run-up to or during Test series, where are you getting your batting from?

My question to the administrators is this: Do you care about Test cricket? If you do, you are doing it no favours.

Issues surrounding the schedule will not be resolved any time soon, certainly not quickly enough to help England in the remaining four matches of this series.

There is a fragility to their batting and, for that reason, India remain favourites to prevail.

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