India vs England, 4th Test: Poor team selection, ineptitude made tourists’ loss inevitable

England have lost their series against India with a match to spare, and their loss at Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium has been brutally embarrassing as they became the just the third team in the history of Test cricket to score 400 and then lose by an innings. It took India just eight overs to claim the final four England wickets to wrap up victory, with Ravichandran Ashwin claiming all four to finish with match figures of 12 for 167. Ashwin and Virat Kohli made the biggest difference, but man for man, India were just better.

The mistakes that England made in this match, and in this series, were pretty obvious. It began with team selection. On a pitch that was bone dry and dusty on day one, England selected four seam bowlers. It did not take long for it to become obvious that this was the wrong way to go, but England have struggled to find the right balance throughout this series. In the first three Tests they picked too many spinners, in this Test they had one too many seamer.

Ravichandran Ashwin (L) talks to James Anderson after India's win over England in the 4th Test in Mumbai. AP

Ravichandran Ashwin (L) talks to James Anderson after India's win over England in the 4th Test in Mumbai. AP

Ravichandran Ashwin (L) talks to James Anderson after India’s win over England in the 4th Test in Mumbai. AP

It may seem strange to say a side had too many bowling options, but it is hard for a sixth bowler to have much of an impact in Test cricket. You will either have one bowler who is underused or you have to give fewer overs to the men most likely to claim wickets. Over this series, Alastair Cook has found himself doing both of these things, and neither has been successful.

In this Test in Mumbai it was Chris Woakes who was the man to be given virtually nothing to do. Woakes bowled just 16 overs out of the 183 that England sent down in India’s massive innings of 631. There was a period in the middle of India’s innings where Woakes was not given a bowl for 77 overs. While Woakes has a fine first class record as a batsman, you would not select him to do just that. He followed up his 11 runs in the first innings with a duck in the second. He won’t have many joyful memories from his visit to Mumbai.

England are hugely fortunate to have two frontline bowlers who are capable of batting in the top six in Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali. That should allow them to balance their team brilliantly. Instead, they have managed to take that positive and turn it into a large seabird necklace. In the past they have been happy to bat Moeen at eight or nine in the order. This series, they have insisted on keeping him in the top six rather than bolstering a batting line-up that hasn’t fired since the first Test in Rajkot. Even if he is batting at eight, having a batsman low down in the order is better than a bowler who doesn’t bowl.

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The make-up of England’s squad has not aided them in this regard. They have two spare batsmen in the touring party, but both have struggled badly. Picking Gary Ballance for the Tests against Pakistan in the summer didn’t make a huge amount of sense at the time. Ballance had done nothing to suggest the technical flaws that had seen him dropped had been ironed out, and his pitiful series in Bangladesh made him unpickable.

One of the positives of the Bangladesh tour was Ben Duckett’s batting. He made two fifties in the ODIs and a second innings half-century in the second Test in Dhaka as an opener. Ballance’s struggles meant that Haseeb Hameed was brought in to open and Duckett was moved down to number four. Whether Duckett would have done well opening is up for debate, but in the middle order he batted three times, scored 18 runs and was dismissed by Ashwin three times. After two Tests he joined Ballance as a long-term drinks carrier.

So when England were picking a team for the Tests in Mohali and Mumbai, they had nowhere to go from a batting point of view, and when given the chance to bring in a batsman to replace the injured Zafar Ansari, they called upon the services of Liam Dawson, another spin-bowling all-rounder. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Dawson playing in the final Test in Chennai. England don’t have many other options to try.

Having made 400 in their first innings, England would have been hopeful of at least drawing this match, even if winning the game was beyond them. It is rare to lose a match after getting that sort of total batting first, rarer still to do so by an innings. But again, the mistakes crept in. Cook captained on the fourth morning like a disinterested civil servant on his last afternoon in the office before retirement. Neither James Anderson nor Adil Rashid bowled in the first hour of play as Kohli and Jayant took a tricky overnight lead of 51 to a match-winning one of 205 before their partnership was broken. His future as leader of this Test side is up for debate.

Jayant was dropped on eight and went on to score 104. Kohli was dropped on 68 and finished on 235. Even with those drops England had chances to keep themselves in this match. They had India six wickets down with 307 runs on the board and they could have bowled them out for a total of around 400. Instead they allowed India’s lower order to more than double the score. They went from a strong position to a match-losing one as Kohli and India’s long tail ground England into Mumbai’s red dust.

This tour was always going to end in defeat for England. The relative strengths of these two teams in these conditions made that inevitable. Until now, England have managed to stave off a truly embarrassing loss. In Mumbai they were on the wrong end of just that. Their best hope of staving off a 4-0 series defeat is rain in Chennai.

First Published On : Dec 12, 2016 11:20 IST

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