It feels a lifetime ago that Joe Root brought up his 200 with a six in the first Test against India at Chennai. Almost two months on, a brutal tour under the most difficult of circumstances has reached the close of play, and England have lost series in all three formats. How to digest it all? With an element of leniency, I would suggest.
It needs no reiterating that England wanted more in terms of results. The Test series became predictable in its chaos, and there can be no excuses made for England’s total panic whenever Joe Root failed to get an enormous hundred.
There continues to be this in-built penchant for dread amongst England’s top order when it starts going wrong, the likes of Sibley and Pope shuffling to the crease seemingly with the weight of the world on their shoulders. Talk about pitches all you like, but talented batsmen consistently missing straight balls seemed more a product of mental turmoil, induced by the occasional turning delivery.
It must, however, be shelved, and the positives from Chennai not underestimated. Playing against such high-class bowling can only be a beneficial experience for a relatively young side, who will hopefully return to India in a few years intact and armed with solutions. With a little more backing of the world-class Root, whose captaincy was also a huge tick, England can be a good Test side, and have a genuine chance of regaining the Ashes with their accomplished seam attack.
The T20 series taught us that Morgan remains a resolute operator, sure of a best eleven which has a good opportunity to win the World Cup towards the end of the year. But given the priority England attached to these fixtures, it seems perhaps their biggest failure on the tour.
They missed an opportunity in refusing to utilise squad players and establish a plan B in Indian conditions. The likelihood of the same eleven being fully fit and healthy in seven months, and throughout the tournament itself, is incredibly slim.
The final defeat came in the ODIs, which I am loath to dissect too much. Maybe England should have had a look at the likes of Matt Parkinson, but ultimately credit must go to both teams for putting on such a spectacle in relatively unimportant circumstances and at the back end of a long tour.
Liam Livingstone’s swagger seems a perfect fit for this daring England side, and Reece Topley was rediscovered as a viable option with the new ball. Sam Curran’s coming-of-age with the bat in the final game epitomised a welcome distraction from lockdown.
Perhaps the most striking of cricketing lessons from this tour was delivered in the form of India’s brilliance. They are a magnificent all-round unit who, having been tipped to grow into future world-beaters, find themselves sitting atop the podium already.
They have frightening depth in all three formats, a perfect balance of fresh talent and experience. We love to criticise our cricket team, but it is no mean feat to complete a clean sweep against this strong, well-managed English setup.
This in turn has woken us up to cricket’s transformation at the hands of the IPL. As players such as Washington Sundar, Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav and Axar Patel showed their quality, the fruits of the frenetic T20 tournament were emphatically displayed. It has been the driving force behind India’s surge to the top of the world game and will no doubt inspire a period of prolonged dominance.
The IPL has become so prominent that it has challenged the significance of England’s Tests against New Zealand in June. This has been the harshest of truths for many fans. Test Cricket, at certain stages of the cricketing calendar, is no longer the dominant force. With the immense financial rewards of the IPL and a T20 World Cup looming, Ashley Giles and the ECB have found themselves with too many people to please.
Ultimately, the rotation policy England enforced was necessary for the wellbeing of their players, and will no doubt be replicated as bloated schedules make up for lost time. I still believe it can contribute towards building a deeper, more competitive squad in all formats.
My favoured conclusion on a tour drowning in accusatory analysis would focus on the prosperity of the game of cricket. Without fans for large periods, both sides captivated viewers forced upon their living room sofas. Perhaps England favoured T20 cricket over the Tests, perhaps talk of rotation continuing into the Ashes is worrying. But, with an element of perspective, does this actually matter?
Away from home for months at a time and under intense scrutiny, the moments of joy that England gave us were a welcome interruption of life’s monotony under Covid-19. Watching India innovate the game and take it to new heights is a cause for celebration. Observing the talent that England have and the backdrop of this tour, I for one don’t mind too much that we missed the odd straight one.
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