At the time of writing, Australia have four confirmed opponents in their group for the Super 12 of the 2021 ICC World T20: South Africa, England, West Indies and Bangladesh.
What a breathtaking few Tests we have been treated to between India and England.
Riveting action with both sides claiming honours at various parts of the match before the momentum swung against them.
There were fantastic displays of skill with both bat and ball from both sides. Considering all that you couldn’t help think India were much further ahead than the 1-0 series margin indicated. England’s batting needed a change, their bowlers and captain Joe Root had fought valiantly to put them into good positions at various points only for the rest of the batting unit to let them down so dramatically.
Changes were rung and the changes have worked, England made some necessary changes to their side ahead of the third Test at Headingly and it has paid dividends. Former England skipper Michael Vaughan was calling for the addition of Dawid Malan and for Dom Sibley to make way for some time.
Now issues surrounding Fishermen’s Friends lollies aside, Vaughan has a good track record identifying what sort of players are up for the fight in Test cricket. He helped mastermind the 2005 Ashes victory when no one thought the all-conquering Australian side could be beaten.
He did that by choosing who was up for the fight and putting together a side that could see past the aurora of the Australians. He didn’t want them to see Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, bowling maestros that had decimated England over and over again. He wanted his team to see that they were just cricketers, and cricketers who could be beaten.
Such was the success of the England side that those personalities would provide the backbone of a very successful run from England. So, if Vaughan is throwing his confidence behind certain players England would do well to pay heed to their former skipper and architect of England’s greatest modern cricketing achievement.
Heading into the third Test India held sway at 1-0. England had capitulated from a position of great strength at Lord’s and after rain likely saved them in the third Test you could forgive them if cracks began to show. They were already missing Stuart Broad and now Mark Wood to go along with the ever-expanding causality ward that was their fast bowling stock. Their batsmen barely knew which end to hold unless it was Joe Root, who has been doing his very best Don Bradman impression so far this series.
The Headingly crowd, still with memories of Ben Stokes’ miraculous innings during the 2019 Ashes series fresh in their mind, got to witness another performance of a lifetime.
India won the toss, elected to bat first and what followed next will be another memory etched into the minds of the Headingly faithful.
A James Anderson masterclass to remove the top order on the way to dismissing India for just 78. All of the England bowlers extracted enough swing to be dangerous and it was one of those days where everything just found the edge of the bat. Other days the Indian batsmen likely play and miss, but not that day.
There were no mistakes bowling to the tail this Test, no heroic action from the likes of Mohammed Shami or Jasprit Bumrah. The England bowlers skittled the Indian side inside of 41 overs and then the 22nd different Test opening combination for England since the retirement set to work. The tweaks to the makeup of the side seemed to have work because Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed were still batting at the close of Day 1 120 runs to the good and England had a 42-run lead to work with.
Dawid Malan’s inclusion was another that paid dividends. The previously maligned English top three were just speed bumps trying to delay Joe Root getting to the crease. This time the top three all passed 50 and Joe Root had a fantastic platform to work from on his way to yet another Test hundred. From the outset England bossed this game, from their sublime bowling display to finally having some backbone to their batting. At the end of England’s innings, India were staring down the barrel of a 300-run deficit.
India’s second innings gave the slightest glimmer of hope when Rohit Sharma, Pujara and Virat Kohli all passed 50 but any hope was dashed when a five-wicket haul from Ollie Robinson skittled the Indians before lunch on Day 4 and England levelled the series at 1 apiece.
Moving forward from here England will be buoyed by their batting performance. Admittedly dismissing India for 78 took almost all of the pressure off them and India seemed to be bowling expecting the pitch to do the work and every ball to be a wicket ball, rather than executing the bowling plans we have seen from them so far this series.
As we have seen in the past India have responded well from harsh defeats, from rallying from being dismissed for 36 in Australia to winning the series at the Gabba with a severely depleted team.
A key consideration will be their batting. Their middle order is sputtering, contributions are coming but not large ones and seemingly not at the same time. Ravi Ashwin may come into consideration, his record overseas in recent times has been very good and is a solid contributor in the lower order.
Not including the heroics at Lords, India’s tail has been incredibly weak. All four of their quicks are racing each other to see who should be batting at number 11. Their batting deficiencies put incredible pressure on the remaining batsmen to begin farming the strike as soon as the sixth wicket falls.
Rishab Pant also needs to stop believing his own hype. Arguably the most talented batsman on his team, he needs to bat with more temperament to continue being a top-six batsman. Pant is one of the most gifted shot makers currently playing but none of it is worth a damn if he throws his wicket away before he even manages to get started.
There is a reason Mark Waugh, who was clearly the more talented out of the Waugh brothers, is consistently rated behind Steve. Steve put a higher price on his wicket and armed with little more than a cut and a slog sweep he forged his name as one of Australia’s greats while Mark, armed with just about every shot found in the textbook, never reached the same lofty heights.
Pant needs to forget about the incredible rearguard knocks he played in Australia and the cavalier, almost disrespectful, knocks against England in India and get back to batting basics. Play each ball on its merit, occupy the crease and wait for the bad balls.
The Duke ball on English decks provides a different challenge and a player of his immense skill owes it to his teammates to come to the crease with a more circumspect demeanour before attempting to flay the bowling to all parts. We all know a player of his ability once settled can change the course of a Test in an hour.
England need to capitalise on the momentum and not let India back into the series. Their batsman have whet their appetites at Headingly but again it was only Joe Root that managed to forge ahead and make a knock of substance. India aren’t likely to be subdued for 78 again and the batsmen will need to continue supporting Root.
The pleasing sign is that players like Rory Burns appear to be the exception in the top four rather than the rule. Before India could stifle the scoring because Burns and Sibley simply couldn’t access parts of the ground effectively. Now, with Hameed and Malan in the top three, the Indian bowlers are facing batsmen with the ability to score in multiple ways.
For too long England selectors confused steady with dour and defensive with a lack of scoring shots. Now armed with some batsmen that have some runs under their belt and the ability to punish wayward bowling, they will be hoping to put pressure back on the Indians before Joe Root has to stride to the crease.
There will be some forced changes for the fourth Test with Jos Buttler making way for the birth of his second child. Jonny Bairstow will be taking the keeping duties and actually bucks the trend common with wicket keepers. Rather than following the adage that keepers drop the gloves and become better batsmen, Bairstow significantly improves his batting average while handling the keeping duties.
Mark Wood and Chris Woakes return from injury to bolster the English bowling stocks and an uncapped Sam Billings comes into the squad as wicketkeeping cover. Reserve batsman Ollie Pope and Dan Lawrence will be eager for a recall in place of the absent Buttler.
After the disappointment of the first two Tests, England have rallied hard at Headingly, while India will be cursing the rain from hampering them from having a 2-1 series lead. The series is very much alive and it will be key to see who seizes momentum early.
Will India follow the trend they have set recently and bounce back strongly from a defeat or will England continue the march they began at Headingly and seize a series lead?
Can Kohli find the answer to batting in England he had in the last tour or can India’s bowlers find some way of slowing down Joe Root, who is batting as well as he ever has?