A laughable post-lunch batting performance from England, coupled with one of the best spells from an Indian fast bowler ever caused England to see all of their chances of winning the Second Test at Lord’s fall to pieces, as India won their second Test match at Lord’s in eighty years.
England began the day 105-4, chasing 319 as Joe Root and Moeen Ali rebuilt England after a series of yet more failures from England’s top order. Root and Ali continued to bat brilliantly on the final day and their heroic performance in the first session meant that the match was back in the balance, if not England’s favour, with England 173-4 on the last ball before lunch, needing 146 to win with six wickets remaining. However, England found yet another weakness in their play; facing the short ball. On the very last ball before lunch Moeen Ali got out to a short ball from Ishant Sharma, ducking out of the way but leaving his bat in the ball’s path as he went for 39. That wicket will have demoralised England, but things still looked positive for England and said wicket gives no excuse for the embarrassment which ensued after lunch.
Joe Root and Matt Prior started to build another partnership and got to 198-5 before Prior, whose International career really is falling to pieces, smashed a short ball miles into the air for an easy catch for Murali Vijay off Ishant Sharma’s bowling.
198-6. Two silly wickets meant that England weren’t in quite as strong a position as they should’ve been, but 121 runs is not difficult to get with four wickets, particularly when one of your batsmen is batting as gallantly as Joe Root. However, Ben Stokes, whose last ten innings now look more like a phone number than a professional sportsman’s statistics, came into bat and got yet another duck, adding to the list of English players getting caught off a Sharma short ball.
201-7. Things looking trickier for England now but with Joe Root still there and Stuart Broad, Liam Plunkett and James Anderson all perfectly good batsmen things were still possible. However, even Joe Root got in on the act, lifting an Ishant Sharma short ball (no, really) up in the air and giving Stuart Binny some easy catching practice.
201-8. Game over. A pitiful collapse from England, adding to the long list of collapses which have occurred since last summer, meaning that Joe Root’s and Moeen Ali’s work to save this Test which England should’ve won with ease had gone to waste. Stuart Broad got caught behind off Ishant Sharma and James Anderson was run out in shambolic circumstances- a rather apt end to such a shambolic England innings- and England were all out for 223, losing by 95 runs. England managed to go from 173-4 to 223 all out. Very impressive.
Pathetic as England were today, credit has to go to MS Dhoni and more importantly Ishant Sharma. The gangly Indian carried out his captain’s bold orders perfectly and took an incredible 7-74. India’s tactics throughout the game were very solid and at times innovative, though perfectly predictable at other times, and this victory will go down in history as one of their best ever overseas.
If you’d told someone a few months ago that England would be completely outbowled by India of all teams on a green pitch with plenty of swing in the air he’d have laughed at you. It sums up just how lacklustre England were even with the ball in this Test match. India wanted it more than England and were willing to change their plans; Alastair Cook had his Plan A and if that didn’t work, he’d try Plan A again, with the occasional exception.
It’s not as if there weren’t some positives in England’s performance: Ballance, Plunkett, Root and Ali all batted well at points during the match; Anderson took four wickets in the first innings and is now the highest wicket taker at Lord’s; England’s bowling performance between lunch and tea was one of their best since the Ashes last summer, not that there’s been much competition.
What are England missing? Certainly Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann: two genuinely world-class players with a bit of character and will to win. England are badly missing a spinner and an aggressive batsman with the ability to make huge scores are what England are missing most. Not only that, England are missing a proper captain. There is no question that Alastair Cook was a sensational batsman at the time he took over the England captaincy, but not only has his form totally disappeared, he is not a leader and his tactics have been questionable throughout his time as England captain. Another player who used to be sensational is Ian Bell. What has happened to him is something of a mystery. Last summer he was England’s best player and was continuing his stunning form over the past few years, where he was one of the best batsmen in the world; now he can’t hit a big score for love nor money.
If Cook and Bell ever hit form again England will have a very promising batting lineup: Robson, Ballance, Root and Ali have all proved that they can score runs in recent times and have very bright futures ahead of them. However, there aren’t very many other decent batsmen on offer in the England ranks, and Cook and Bell at least haven’t been anywhere near up to standard. If you were to add Kevin Pietersen into the mix things would look a lot healthier; any of England’s top six would be able to miss Test matches and go back to County Cricket to start scoring runs again.
The top six may have potential, but England’s number 7 and wicket-keeper Matt Prior does not. It seems that his International career is very much on its last legs and any of Jos Buttler, Craig Kieswetter, James Foster and even Chris Read would be more likely to achieve something better than Prior. Not only has Prior’s batting been very poor indeed, it seems that his wicket-keeping is starting to fall apart as well.
As for the bowlers, all four of them would struggle to get into India’s bowling lineup. Only James Anderson has bowled well consistently in this series- even then he’s had some very poor moments- and it seems new blood is needed there as well: Stuart Broad has been very patchy and bowls far too short; Ben Stokes is meant to be an All-Rounder so one can only expect so much from his bowling; Liam Plunkett has showed real promise but is only expected to be used as a stop-gap (or squad player) for some of the younger talent coming in, such as Chris Jordan. The main thing missing is a quality spinner. Moeen Ali has bowled very well when given the chance and has proved he could be used very effectively as a backup spinner, but it’s unfair to expect him to be England’s sole spinner. The list of English spinners who are actually good enough is very sparse indeed. Simon Kerrigan was humiliated at the Oval last summer and it may take some time for him to recover. Scott Borthwick would be interesting but is still learning. Other than those two there is not much else and life after Swann may take a very long time to improve.
The England cricket team as a whole and many of its players are in a very bad place. It will be very interesting to see how this very messy episode will pan out.
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