India vs England preview: Visitors look to slay spin demons in the 4th Test

Ben Foakes looked good for England against spin but could not make a substantial score and he will hoping to make amends in the 4th Test match at Motera.

Can England win the 4th Test to level the series against India?

Despite being on the receiving end of an Indian cannonade characterised by outright quality, England still have a chance to redeem themselves in the 4th Test. Not often a touring side will have that luxury against India in their own backyard.

In retrospect, they may – although a big may – have even had the prerogative of leading the series had they only done so much as to show a bit more composure after winning what looked like a great toss to win.

They were 74/2 with Joe Root and Zak Crawley together stitching arguably the best partnership of the game. Then Root was undone by Ravichandran Ashwin, and inside the space of a maddening hour, England lost the plot, their way and effectively, the game. It was Day 1, mind you.

Mental scars

That Root dismissal best reflects how mentally shot England were. A delivery he could have easily come forward to, somehow had him caught in his crease and playing outside the line. It was not so much the ball. It was him and his doubt.

Imagine when your captain, who, not long ago, got two double hundreds and a 186 in consecutive tests, struggles with his judgement of line and length? What becomes of someone like Ollie Pope? You’d not want to come out to bat, fearing that you might look foolish.

England’s captain Joe Root (L) celebrates after scoring a century (100 runs) as his teammate Ollie Pope looks on during the second day of a four-day practice match between Sri Lanka Board President’s XI and England at the P. Sara Oval Cricket Stadium in Colombo on March 13, 2020. (Photo by LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP) (Photo by LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP via Getty Images)

Which leads to the conclusion that England’s fight is not against the pitch in the 4th Test, not Ravichandran Ashwin or Axar Patel, not Virat Kohli and not the third umpires but themselves. It’s against their own minds. It’s against their own demons, which only they can slay.

It is easier said than done, of course. When the ball spits out differently multiple times after landing on the same spot, you lose all hope. You’d rather not be a cricketer at that time. But this is what Test Cricket is all about. These are the kinds of series that can be the making of a great test side – and Root wants greatness, remember.

 

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Fightback ability

That England has it in them to respond to a crisis is not a secret. They won an Ashes test with the urn on the line after being bowled out for 67 in their 1st innings. It was no miracle. It was ability against adversity.

These are different conditions, yes, but who says they can’t make Motera 2021 their Headingley 2019? Do not forget that some of these England boys perform best when up against it.

If you need further evidence of it, England were in an almost knockout situation at the 2019 Cricket World Cup, after back-to-back losses to Sri Lanka and Australia. But, they beat both India and New Zealand to make progress to the Semi-Finals and eventually win the tournament.

Predicted XI

Who, if not Dom Sibley? If not Ollie Pope, then whom? What about Stuart Broad? Who, if not Jofra Archer? Play two spinners? Is Dom Bess even one of England’s best spinners?

Looking at the number of questions, you’d think England have a number of replacements lined up for the crucial 4th Test. But, in reality they do not. Dropping Dominic Sibley for Rory Burns would seem easier if the latter had done well, which he hasn’t. Neither have come to grips with the spinning track, even against the new ball.

Similarly, dropping Ollie Pope for Dan Lawrence would be a no-brainer if the Essex batsman had done better. And picking Dominic Bess would definitely have been a cakewalk, had he not been asked by his captain to work on his game after the 1st Test.

At this stage, picking an XI has become complicated to the point that Root will almost not want to be involved in it. He does not have too many options, and the ones he does have already had their nightmares under the glorious Indian Sun.

But all factors considered, including the chances Sibley and Pope have had, whether or not Stuart Broad should be dropped, that he has hardly bowled when picked – and the desperate need for a 2nd spinner (plus a shorter tail), the best lineup would be:

England: Rory Burns, Zak Crawley, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root (C), Ben Stokes, Dan Lawrence, Ben Foakes (WK), Dom Bess, Jack Leach, Jofra Archer, Jimmy Anderson.

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