• Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

A look ahead to England’s uphill battle in India: an analysis of the red-ball cricket tour

ByLuca Parrish

Jan 26, 2024
Joe Root and Ben Stokes

It has been a long and bleak winter for fans of English red-ball cricket. Since the conclusion of the County Championship season in September, we have had nothing at all of note to sustain ourselves, save for some all-too-short series between India and South Africa, Bangladesh and New Zealand, and some all-too-predictable Australian drubbings of Pakistan and the West Indies. And yet even the most die-hard Barmy Army travelling fan will find it hard to get too excited about England’s prospects in India.

The first of five test matches started on Thursday morning in Hyderabad, and England will be looking to score their first series victory in India since 2012/13 and just their fourth ever. While the new Stokes-McCullum-Key axis of power within the English game has yielded a bombastic new style and vastly improved results, a tour of India must surely represent the most challenging task in the sport. Because when you go to India, you not only face off against a team featuring some of the 21st century’s finest batters and an extensive array of spin-bowling talent, but you are also up against the BCCI, complete with their heavily turning wickets, designed specifically to suit the home team.

Much has been made of the likely state of India’s wickets. Competitive and engaging test match cricket is very difficult to achieve when batting is nigh on impossible, with the ball turning square from the off. England’s most recent tour of India in 2021 was shambolic, with the pitches offering far too much spin for any balanced cricket to take place, and while Indian pitches have always provided a great deal for spinners, recent series have been excessive in this regard. In last year’s tour, Australia were defeated in very similar circumstances, despite having far greater spin-bowling prowess and far greater run-scoring experience in the subcontinent than England.

Joe Root is the only player within the English ranks with genuine run-scoring history on turning subcontinent wickets, and he was the only player to salvage any dignity from the last tour of India. Some may point to England’s extraordinary Bazballing triumph in Pakistan; that was a series played out on batting-friendly tracks, completely different from what England will be faced with this time. Jonny Bairstow and Ollie Pope share horrendous records in India and are poor players of spin. The openers, Duckett and Crawley, have scored similarly few, although admittedly from small sample sizes. The explosive Harry Brook will also be away from the squad for personal reasons for at least the start of the series, and while he has little experience in India, a player of his talents is surely a miss. The rest of the team is also plagued with question marks, though this has been eased by Brooks’ departure, opening up an extra spot in the middle order. Foakes’ superior keeping ability has ensured his return to the team, taking back the gloves from Bairstow, who had a very poor Ashes behind the wicket. Ben Stokes has returned from serious knee surgery, but there is no guarantee of a return to top form for England’s captain.

Then there is the bowling. England have only brought four seam bowling options, none of whom are the sort of workhorse-style bowler capable of bowling the long, tough spells often required in India, and Gus Atkinson has barely played any first-class cricket at all. As for the spin bowling department, England has selected Jack Leach, Rehan Ahmed, Tom Hartley, and Shoaib Bashir. Both Hartley and Bashir are uncapped, with Bashir selected on the back of impressing with the England Lions, despite a very small, very ordinary first-class record, while Hartley was given the nod over Liam Dawson, who enjoyed an astonishing campaign last summer with both bat and ball for Hampshire, taking 49 wickets at 20 apiece and scoring 840 runs at 40. Rob Key, England’s managing director, gave the official explanation for this as Hartley’s higher release height; however, the obvious gulf in class between the two bowlers makes for a very poor excuse. Dawson’s batting would also have helped to balance the side, which is another challenge facing England if Stokes (as expected) does not bowl. Further issues have recently arisen over Bashir, who, through no fault of his own, has yet to be approved for a visa to go on the tour, with many pointing to his Pakistani heritage as unearthing prejudices within the Indian system.

Like Brook, Virat Kohli will be missing from the tour for personal reasons, and it remains to be seen whether he will play any part in the series, but his test match record in recent years means this may not be as big a loss as when he was in his pomp. However, many of the flaws in the games of India’s batters are against lateral movement and this is far less prevalent on home soil. It would be remiss of me to fail to mention the brilliance of the spin attack, Axar Patel, Ravindra Jadeja, and, of course, the great Ravichandran Ashwin, a trio one feels will make life unrelentingly difficult for England.

On first inspection, it is difficult to see any reason for hope as we approach the series, save for the ever-excellent Root. While the Ashes may have represented the most important and prominent challenge of the Bazball era thus far, an away series in India is unquestionably the most difficult, and England must ensure, at very least, that they are competitive in each match. and give a far better account of themselves than in 2021.

Joe Root and Ben Stokes walk towards the crease from the pavillion at the start of Day 4 of the 3rd 2019 Ashes Test” by Ben Sutherland is licensed under CC BY 2.0.