England’s tour of India is now three Tests old and a familiar pattern has taken shape.
India were slow out of the blocks on their Australian tour, making a record low score in Adelaide and not looking anything like contenders for the top Test spot. They fought back wonderfully well, however, and as we all know, they played some great cricket to take that series.
The England tour of India was expected to be a straightforward affair, with many predicting a four-nil clean sweep to the hosts.
However, England scored an emphatic victory in the first Test, which left plenty thinking their recent resurgence in Test cricket – with series victories over the West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – was going to be capped off with another series win away from home.
India have come storming back though, with crushing victories in the last two Tests. More importantly, they’ve completely wrested momentum away from Joe Root’s men and are currently on course to take the series.
In itself, an Indian series win is of little importance to Australia. Yes, it would be nice for England to win or draw the series, to give Australia a chance to play in the Test championship final. But India winning here then going on to win the series in England later this year will be far more valuable to Australia in the long term.
The England squad have been building nicely under coach Chris Silverwood. After their series win in Sri Lanka, it appeared they had found a number of very promising players and a squad more than capable of challenging for the Ashes in Australia.
The Tests in India have uncovered some batting issues they’ll need to address. The openers have badly under-performed, so much so that Rory Burns has been dropped. This has forced Zak Crawley to open, when England would have wanted him to fill the critical number three spot.
That spot has gone to Jonny Bairstow, who hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, with a top score of 47 in his past six innings and a pair in the last Test.
Joe Root has held the batting together, but he’s had little support from Ben Stokes, at least in India. In fairness, Ben Foakes looks like a fine keeper and a useful batsman. Keeping is one area where England is very well off.
From an Australian perspective, it would be great if India could continue to sow the seeds of doubt with the English batting not only in this series, but in the return series in England.
At Test level, techniques are thoroughly examined and any weaknesses are exposed. The more time a settled line-up has to bat together, the more confidence grows, both individually and collectively.
This has been noticeable in England’s efforts in recent series, but that has all come crashing down in the past three weeks in India.
The Indian bowlers should enjoy both the conditions in England and the Dukes ball. If they bowl as they did in Australia, England’s batsmen could be in for a really tough Test series.
I’m sure the Australian side is not wishing ill of either nation, but they would certainly be hoping India continue to dominate England.
A settled English squad under a comfortable, confident Joe Root would be extremely difficult to beat in the Ashes, whereas an English side that’s struggling will be a far more equal opponent.
Given Australia’s lack of upcoming Test cricket and the team’s own batting issues, this might be the best Tim Paine and company could hope for prior to the first Test starting in November.