Amongst the aftermath of the fourth and final Test against India, Chris Silverwood reiterated his and Joe Root’s vision of becoming the best Test team in the world. After three bruising losses in a row, England’s players must take the blame if they are serious about achieving their goals.
A preface to this must acknowledge the excellent attitude of Root and his side. No one has complained about pitches or rotation policies. They have owned up to their inferiority to a rampant Indian team.
Yet it is worthwhile reinforcing this explanation for England’s defeat as onlookers continue to seek out external justification. Rather than complaining about surfaces and selection, this team deserves the respect of an honest appraisal of their performance, which fell very much short.
Observations about India’s dominance have been brief and fading precursors to diatribes against England’s rest and rotation policy, according to many a toxic influence throughout the whole tour. The overarching myth to be debunked, however, is that the policy played a key role in England’s demise.
Indeed, one could go as far as to say it was irrelevant, given the manner of their three defeats. The view that England are neglecting Test cricket by giving Joe Root an under-strength squad is devoid of perspective and unhelpfully sweeps familiar batting failures under the rug. After posting 578 in the first innings at Chennai, England surpassed 200 once in their next seven innings.
Cricket is a nuanced game, but that is a simple stat that bears all. The tourists’ defeats came by 317 runs, 10 wickets, and an innings and 25 runs. Once Root’s form stagnated, they were bereft with the bat, and neither Jos Buttler nor Jonny Bairstow – in good “rhythm” or not – would have solved the conundrum.
The minute both of these players were rested – mutual and necessary decisions – they became far better players in the eyes of the media. Bairstow looked decent in his 35* to win the first Test in Galle and has scored big against spin in the past.
Perhaps going back to Yorkshire for two Tests interrupted his form slightly, but that does not excuse three ducks in four innings. Nor, surely, would he have rescued England from their freefall in the second Test.
Buttler made 30 and 24 in the winning side at Chennai and kept well. “Never change a winning side” was perhaps once a rational adage but is redundant in the realities of a COVID world. England lost nothing with the gloves, with Ben Foakes excelling, and to suggest Buttler would have out-batted the Surrey man seems to flatter his record.
As Rishabh Pant danced to a 100 in the fourth Test, Nasser Hussain questioned why Buttler was in a hotel room – a ridiculous comparison given Pant, having played 30 Tests less, is probably already the more accomplished Test player, making the most of his talent in a way Buttler never really has in the longest form.
After taking eight wickets and smashing 43 off 18 balls in the second Test, Moeen was perhaps England’s biggest loss. But again, as he left so did memories of his inconsistencies with the ball, as understandable as they were. England asking him to stay on was, with all respect, more an indictment of Dom Bess’s form than Moeen’s brilliance.
In Bess, there seems to be a microcosm of the reaction to this series. Having slammed his failure to sustain pressure, the media suddenly feigned empathy for the off-spinner during the 4th Test, suggesting he had been mistreated by England.
This is hugely patronising of a player who has been around the England camp for nearly three years and played 14 Tests. He, like England, must take responsibility. Being dropped and re-included is part of being a sportsman, and he will know better than anyone that he missed a huge opportunity in this series.
England must not be distracted by the media’s assault on the selectors. Their policy remains the envy of the cricketing world, who realise that in the long term it simply will bear fruit. As Dale Steyn has most recently attested, it will create the strength and depth necessary for any successful sporting side in 2021 – Manchester City’s renaissance being one obvious example.
This is a talented England bunch and must be treated as such. Rather than blaming the system, it is important to highlight they let their talent down on this occasion. Facing up to this will allow valuable lessons to be learned in their pursuit of the world number one spot.
Image: Mike Prince via Creative Commons