Lack Of Application Costs England In Mohali

By Sean Wilson for LastWordOnCricket

When England look back on this series and perhaps the whole subcontinent tour, they will see the defeat in Mohali as a golden opportunity missed. With yet more mistakes in this match, the mountain may now be too high to climb.

After performing so admirably in Rajkot, England ended up on the wrong side of the toss in Visakhapatnam and the duo of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara made them pay. Scoreboard pressure put India in a commanding position – a tactic they so often use in their own conditions. And despite showing signs of fight, England were always playing catch up.

Lack Of Application Costs England In Mohali

However, in Mohali, Alastair Cook this time won the toss. The stage was set. This was England’s chance to bat big and really lay down a marker in the series. It was time for the visitors to give India a taste of their own medicine.

Everything was in England’s favour. They brought in the exciting Jos Buttler to stabilise the shaky batting line up and, most importantly, the wicket looked excellent for batting. So for England to only score 283 in that first innings was criminal. It is no secret that in India, first innings runs are imperative to a side’s chances of winning a Test match. From the moment England made that very insufficient score, it was hard to see the home side not taking advantage.

Yet what was most concerning were the mode of dismissals. Joe Root, Cook, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and Buttler were all guilty of inpatient shots when England needed far more application. The obsession of England’s batsmen to beat bowlers into submission is even more puzzling considering how they played in that first Test.

Rajkot was a perfect example of how England should play in the first innings. With the match in the balance at 102-3, Root and Moeen knew that sensible batting was required. The pair then proceeded to play straight and with discipline, resulting in both scoring sublime hundreds that set up the match for England. The majority of strokes played with aggression was on day two, when the platform had been set, as the likes of Stokes and Jonny Bairstow were given a license to attack and press home the advantage.

So in a similar situation in Mohali, why did England divert from the gameplay that proved to effective in Rajkot? What was the hurry? When the first day required application and discipline, England decided to play needless strokes that let India back into the match.

England’s positive approach, enhanced by the influence of coach Trevor Bayliss, has brought them considerable recent success, as Australia and South Africa, in particular, have found out. And perhaps we must be careful when criticising their bold approach to batting – such tactics have made them such a feared side.

Yet there are situations in Test cricket when pragmatism is the right way to go. And for the array of shots that England’s batsmen possess, there will always be room for accumulation and patience. So, in that sense, England’s approach in Mohali was the wrong one. This was a chance to slowly grind down India’s momentum in this series. Instead, England played risky cricket and paid the price.

Positivity is good. However, trying to dominate bowling is not the only way to achieve it. Perhaps England can learn from India’s Pujara and Kohli. While both look to unsettle the opposition attack, they play relatively risk-free shots, looking for gaps and ways in which they can manipulate the field. In Pujara’s case, playing the ball along the turf, while still scoring at a good rate, has been symbolic of his recent resurgence as a high-class Test player.

A perfect example would be on the second day. Pujara and Kohli got together at 73-2 as England looked to take quick wickets. Both batsmen were willing to sit in for a while as they knew that one or two reckless shots would put England in the ascendancy. The situation needed proper Test match batting. England decided to bowl outside off stump, in order to tempt the batsmen, yet Pujara and Kohli, in particular, knuckled down to make sure that their side would not let their momentum slip. By the time the Pujara was dismissed, the pair had put on 75 runs in just over 25 overs. And while the partnership was not as big as their display in Visag, their equanimity showed England how to press home an advantage when it counts.

India ended up scoring 417 – a lead of 134. And by that time, with the pitch offering more turn for the spinners, England were chasing the game and facing an uphill struggle to save the Test. The chance was gone for the visitors.

Nevertheless, there were still encouraging signs. Jonny Bairstow, promoted up to number five, played well for his 89 and in the process continued his record-breaking 2016. Adil Rashid, although with less control in this match, picked up five more wickets – he tops the series wicket-takers list with 18 scalps.

In addition, Joe Root showed his class once again with a fluent and disciplined 78. After such profligacy in Vizag, Root will know that the same application to his innings for the rest of the series should boost England’s chances of scoring 400 – a total the visitors have achieved just five times in 16 Tests this year.

Finally, the innings of Haseeb Hameed on day five was remarkable. Batting with a broken hand, the 19-year-old saw off some testing bowling to keep Root company, with a compact defence helping once again. Then, Hameed showed his attacking talents by hitting Ashwin and Jadeja over midwicket on several occasions, ending on 59 not out. It only emphasised the enormous talent he possesses and how important a player he will be for England in years to come. Unfortunately, his hand injury means he will miss the rest of the series – undoubtedly a huge blow to England’s chances.

Perhaps England are jaded. The busy schedule of this subcontinent tour means that England must use every chance to rest. The period before the next Test in Mumbai offers a chance to do so.

However, England will know that they wasted a big chance to level the series in Mohali. And for all the exciting positivity that this side has, the lack of application shown by the batsmen in the first innings was where this Test was lost. It is an area that must be addressed sooner rather than later.