Cricket - Third Test - England v Pakistan - Ageas Bowl, Southampton, Britain - August 24, 2020 England's Joe Root before the start of play, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Mike Hewitt/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo(REUTERS)
Cricket - Third Test - England v Pakistan - Ageas Bowl, Southampton, Britain - August 24, 2020 England's Joe Root before the start of play, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Mike Hewitt/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo(REUTERS)

Why did England pick four pacers for a spinning track?

  • In its brief history, day-night Tests have tended to assist fast bowlers. In the 15 day-night Tests that have been played around the world before the ongoing match, fast bowlers have taken 354 wickets at an average of 24.47, and spinners 115 wickets at 35.38.
By Sanjjeev K Samyal, Mumbai
UPDATED ON FEB 25, 2021 09:32 AM IST

Reading the pitch is a tough job. It gets trickier when all the data favours a certain strength, but the evidence in front is different.

In its brief history, day-night Tests have tended to assist fast bowlers. In the 15 day-night Tests that have been played around the world before the ongoing match, fast bowlers have taken 354 wickets at an average of 24.47, and spinners 115 wickets at 35.38.

The look of the Motera track, however, was dry compared to the green layer for the first Day-Night Test played in India, at Eden Gardens, in 2019 November.

In the lead up to the Test, the two teams had distinctly different takes on the pitch. India vice-captain Rohit Sharma was emphatic that it will be no different from Chennai, a turning track.

“We are preparing according to that," he had said on Sunday. "When the day comes, we need to still assess the pitch and what it is going to be like.”

The England camp, on the other hand, was hyping up their pace attack, with Ben Stokes’ saying James Anderson, Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad couldn’t wait to get their hands on the pink ball.

True to their words, the two teams went into the game with heavily contrasting bowling combinations.

Virat Kohli picked three spinners and two fast bowlers—just like he had done in Chennai, while his counterpart Joe Root picked a lone spinner and four-strong pace attack. It was the first time since 2001 that England went into a Test match in India with one spinner.

In anticipation of the assistance in movement, the visitors' even chucked their rotation policy and after a long time decided to pair James Anderon and Stuart Broad. To keep them fresh, the two ageing bowlers are played alternately. Broad had played in the second Test and it was his turn to rest. James Anderson and Jofra Archer returned to lead the attack. England picked only one spinner, Jack Leach to support Anderson, Broad, Archer and pace all-rounder Ben Stokes.

India’s two changes were Jasprit Bumrah joining the spin-bowling all-rounder Washington Sundar, in place of Kuldeep Yadav and Mohammad Siraj. India’s five-man bowling attack being Washington Sundar, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah.

“It looks pretty dry, hot and humid,” Kohli said at the toss.

England delayed naming their eleven as Root said he would wait till seeing the pitch on the first morning before deciding. They had the option of continuing with their double spin combination with an off-spinner to support the left-arm spin of Leach. It had proved successful in the first two Tests. Moeen Ali, who played the last game has left for home, but Dom Bess was available. Bess had bowled well in the first innings of the opening Test.

By the end of Day 1, it seemed like Root had got it horribly wrong and Kohli just right.

From India, it was a masterclass on how to bowl on Day 1 of a Test on a dry pitch. Axar Patel and R Ashwin shared nine wickets between them to bowl out England for 112 all out. The Indian bowling unit attacked almost relentlessly.

Another example of how England misread the wicket was how they played the India spinners, especially Axar Patel. It was the left-arm spinner’s straighter ball which was the England batsmen’s undoing. They decided to play the spin mainly on the backfoot. It was a quicker wicket than Chennai and the strategy backfired. Even the in-form Joe Root chose to shed his natural game against spin of playing the sweep and using his feet. He paid the price when he played back to a well-flighted delivery from Ashwin to be caught in front of the stumps.

It doesn’t rule the England pacers out of the contest. It is a drier surface than normally used for day-night Tests, but it is quicker than the usual sub-continent tracks. The onus is now on Anderson, Broad and Archer to back their captain’s decision.

According to Sachin Tendulkar, the wicket will continue to stay the same, which means the layer of live grass will remain to provide assistance to the pacers. “I have noticed that the Sabarmati river’s close proximity to the ground, will continue to bring in moisture. As a result of this, don’t be surprised if the colour of the wicket continues to remain the same throughout the game,” tweeted Tendulkar.

It is not for the first time that we have seen India and England pick contrasting combinations. For the Indian fans, it will bring back memories of how Kohli had got it wrong in the Lord’s Test of the 2018 series. The match had started in pace-friendly conditions under an overcast sky, with the first day washed out by rain. To the surprise of many, Kohli picked an extra spinner in Kuldeep Yadav instead of Umesh Yadav. Both the India spinners, Ashwin and Kuldeep, went wicketless during England’s innings of 396 for seven declared. Kuldeep bowled his nine overs for 44 runs and conceded at 4.89 per over. England didn’t use a single over of spin as they bundled India out for 107 and 130 to comfortably win the game despite losing the entire first day’s play.

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