India v England: Fresh ingredients add taste to Alastair Cook’s spoiled recipe
England are still licking their wounds after a humiliating series defeat in India but some positives can be found amid the carnage of a disastrous tour, particularly with the emergence of a pair of batting prospects for the side’s fragile top order.
Before the series began, captain Alastair Cook had opened with nine different players since Andrew Strauss retired four years ago and while he has gone on to become England’s highest ever run-scorer, finding a partner had proved more difficult.
Ben Duckett was not convincing enough to nail down a top order spot, with his suspect technique against Bangladesh’s spinners in a two-Test series there in October forcing selectors to look elsewhere for an opening batsmen in India.
The teenager showed great skill and maturity to score two half-centuries in three Tests before his trip was curtailed by an unfortunate finger injury.
Left-hander Keaton Jennings arrived as his replacement and made a similarly impressive impact, hitting a century on debut and then a fifty in the final test in Chennai to add a little gloss to an otherwise miserable 4-0 series thumping.
“The one thing we came here needing to find was top-quality batters to bat with Cooky and Rooty (Joe Root) at the top of the order,” England assistant coach Paul Farbrace told reporters.
SOLID TOP FIVE
“Haseeb has shown, one huge plus from this series... there’s a young man with an unbelievable technique, a fantastic attitude and more importantly looks like he’s got the right mental approach to play for a long time to come.
We came with a couple of gaps in our batting order and we think we’ve probably got the right people now... so that’s a real bonus.”
The emergence of Hameed and Jennings should also allow batting mainstay Root to drop down a place to number four, a spot which became almost impossible to fill during the seven Tests in South Asia.
Gary Balance and Duckett both performed poorly before Moeen Ali enjoyed some success at four in the last three Tests against India but the all-rounder gave the hosts plenty of chances as he often sought quick runs instead of controlled aggression.
Jonny Bairstow, meanwhile, has enjoyed a breakthrough year, scoring the second most Test runs (1,470) in world cricket behind team-mate Root (1,477) and he could complete a strong top five for England along with Cook, Hameed and Jennings.
There are already calls for him to hand over wicketkeeping duties to Jos Buttler, a move that would free him up to contribute more for the side as a specialist batsman.
England started the year with a series victory in South Africa and followed it up with a home win against Sri Lanka. They led Pakistan 2-1 after three Tests but have since lost six of their last eight matches against South Asian opponents.
The defeats have increased the pressure on Cook to step down as captain but Farbrace suggested the management wanted him to continue in his position at least until the Ashes series in Australia at the end of next year.