TOAfter two months on the subcontinent, England’s test cricketers are a short drive from the departure lounge. Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood will stay in a Twenty20 series that has apparently taken precedence with the selectors but otherwise the red ball players will soon be at home.
Such thoughts inevitably creep in during regular tours, much less those in the biosecure bubbles of the pandemic era. But they will need to be sidelined with the fourth round that begins Thursday at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium, the scene of last week’s two days with the slippery pink ball, very live.
England’s victory in the first test in Chennai feels like a distant memory after a disorienting couple of laps in the spin cycle, but they win this one and secure a 2-2 draw in the series. Considering the resources, and that all the teams that visited India since Alastair Cook’s team won in 2012 ended up frustrated, it would be quite a feat. And after winning 2-0 in Sri Lanka, England’s test winter would end very well.
“The last week [of a tour] there is a part of you that wants to be with your loved ones, but we know how important this game is, what an achievement it would be and the opportunity that we have, “said Joe Root after training on Tuesday. “That vastly outpaces everything else and has our complete focus for the next seven or eight days.
“It would be a phenomenal achievement for the players to have found a path in some very strange and difficult conditions, so it is a great motivation for us.”
In an unusual turn of events, England will be cheered on by Australian cricketers. India must avoid defeat to reach the final of the World Trials Championship; otherwise, Tim Paine’s men will face trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand in June. The point system has been mind-blowing and the pandemic has ruined several games, but the added context of the competition should still be felt for the next few days.
To help their Australian friends, England’s hitters will need to have undergone a full reset when it comes to facing the double threat of Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel. The pair has 42 combined portholes in the series, so while the switch to the red SG ball may reduce the chance of deliveries flying out of the plastic lacquer, they were experiencing problems prior to the day-night test.
Since scoring 112 and 81 in Test 3, England’s hitters have had plenty of time to relax. Root ordered a complete break from cricket for a couple of days (albeit one with few distractions in the bubble) and since he resumed training, the message has been to become more positive in his approach.
“Winning six of our last eight events in Asia shows that we have the tools and the ability to win in these conditions,” said the captain. “It’s important to take advantage of that and keep it in mind, be a little braver and play with a little more freedom.
“That doesn’t mean going out and trying to push yourself or be ultra aggressive. It is not being afraid of conditions. He is embracing them for who they are. If we strike the right balance of that mentality, we will give ourselves a much better chance than last week. “
England’s lineup could still depend on a disease virus on the field, but there doesn’t seem to be a compelling case for changing the numbers from one to seven. Replacement hitters Rory Burns and Dan Lawrence were recently eliminated, and while Bairstow posted a pair upon his return, the very fucking Yorkshireman deserves a chance to atone for it. Ollie Pope has struggled too, but he won’t learn much if he doesn’t play.
From then on, it all comes down to bowlers. Ajinkya Rahane from India suggested a launch similar to those in the second and third tests (the home team is not interested in the draw if so) and it would be strange if Dom Bess did not return. England’s misjudged seam attack barely broke a sweat during the day at night, so whoever retires will be mostly tactical.
If this is Stuart Broad, who prided himself on creating a couple of (missed) chances during his six overs last week, it would mean that England would return to the attack that prevailed in Test 1. The only other variable is whether Olly Stone or Wood replace Archer for the rhythm role, but again there are no workload issues to force a change.
India has had fewer examinations of conscience to do, but is guaranteed to make a change, as speedy bowler Jasprit Bumrah left camp for personal reasons. Mohammed Siraj played in the second round and could return, although a bit more hostile Umesh Yadav is fit again after a calf problem and given an imposing record at home he might be preferred.
England may feel jaded, but it’s worth remembering that their opponents have not been without bubble fatigue. Of course, there is a different mindset when they are 4,200 miles from home, but after nine weeks in Australia, followed by just five nights sleeping in their own beds, the players from India know the same about hotel room walls. that are closed.
That said, whether through the scars inflicted by Ashwin and Patel or Rohit Sharma’s way with the bat, Virat Kohli’s men clearly have more going for them if conditions remain consistent with those of the previous two Trials. They also have a greater incentive, with Rahane, a vice captain not prone to hyperbole, qualifying the World Test Championship as the equal of the World Cup.
If that’s the belief of gamers in general, along with the added chill it’s given at the end of this series, perhaps the concept is worth lingering on.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism