Well, that went well. And in a way, I actually mean that. There was some abject batting, and mediocre bowling, but, honestly, to win one test against the best home side in the world? It's not actually awful. But, I suppose I ought to see some more than that, so here's what we learnt...
To start with then, well played to India. There is a reason they are basically unbeatable at home, and they showed it this series. Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant played some brilliant innings, well supported by the middle order and tail. And, Ravichandran Ashwin again showed his brilliance, while Axar Patel had a debut series to remember. India deservedly won, but it was not one-way traffic. It's time for some straw-clutching positives for England!
Jimmy Anderson. Ah yes, classic English. The main positive from a tour of the subcontinent, was that our aging great performed decently. But, at 38, Anderson still managed to take 8 wickets at an average of 15.87-pretty good, for so-called Clouderson! And, with the spin line-up struggling to exert control (don't worry, I'll get to that!), his economy of 1.92 is remarkable. Even Axar Patel, who destroyed England with 27 wickets at 10.59!!!!, didn't have an economy rate as low as that! So yeah, take that, India! One of our bowlers won the lowest economy rate prize!
Dan Lawrence is pretty nice. Again, I'm clutching at straws here, because one 50 in three tests at an average of 24.8 isn't really worth shouting about. Now, he did bat out of position in all three games (at 3 in the first and second tests, and 7 in the final), but, down the order, he managed 46 and 50, which were signs of his skill. The issue is that, in Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler, and Ben Foakes, England have lower-order options aplenty, even if some (yes, coming onto it) didn't cover themselves in glory in this series. But, Lawrence got a fifty, which given England only managed to go past 210 once in the series, is pretty good for Lawrence.
Jack Leach took some wickets. 18 wickets at 28.7 is a good, if not brilliant return for Leach. The issue is, that while these stats would make one stand-up if they were taken outside the subcontinent, in India, the frontline spinner has to take more than 18 wickets. Now, I'm aware this is harsh, but I do put his performance as a positive, mainly because compared to the rest of the spin attack, he did well.
And so, speaking of the spin attack, we move onto the negatives lessons from these tests...
37 plays 67. The above numbers are the number of wickets taken by spin in this series. England, with the Leach, Moeen Ali (8), Joe Root (6) and Dom Bess (5) assortment, managed to take 37 wickets through spin, of the 60 Indian wickets to fall. In turn, Ravichandran Ashwin, and Axar Patel, took 59 of the 80 English wickets to fall, with Washington Sundar (2), Kuldeep Yadav (2), and Shahbaz Nadeem (4) taking the rest.
Two issues here.
Firstly, England only took 60 wickets, despite losing 80. I don't really think I need to add anything to that!
Secondly, India took 83% of their wickets with spin, England only took 61% of theirs. Now, the gulf in batting ability obviously affected this. But, England's spinners simply could not compete on turning tracks. Now, I don't particularly blame them for this. Jack Leach bowled well, Joe Root is a decent part-timer, but not much can be expected of him with ball.
This then brings us on to the Dom Bess and Moeen Ali situations. I'll start on bubbles and rotations.
Rotation, in a bubble, is key. Players cannot be expected to go months in bubbles. Indeed, this not just the opinion of players, but also the ECB’s CMO. The Guardian reported that he found that there was a ceiling of 3-4 weeks for players' mental health in the UK bubbles.
We may not like rotation, we may disagree with priorities, but, it is a justifiable part of modern cricket, and England were right to allow it.
England's plan, Jarrod Kimber reported, was, as is widely known, that Ali would miss the final two tests, and Bess play them. The logic made sense, but there was a complication:
Usually when someone gets Covid, it is them and their family that struggle the most.
But in Moeen Ali’s case, his Covid has actually had the most bizarre knock-on effect to Bess. It now looks apparent the plan for England was for Moeen and Jack Leach to play the first four Tests of their Asian tour. Then have Bess come in after two months of work in the nets for the final pair. But when Moeen was ruled out of the first Test in Sri Lanka, Bess played.
Now, I don't know if this would have been enough for England to win the series. But it was an actual plan!
Then, when Bess kept getting wickets, England didn't want to drop him, but also knew Moeen was going home, and wanted to play him. They had, what Kimber calls, the Agar conundrum:
Australia picked Ashton Agar ahead of Nathan Lyon for the 2013 Ashes. Agar was clearly the inferior bowler, but made 98 batting at 11, and therefore they didn’t drop him. Essentially it means your selection is wrong, and then because of a freak event, you have to stick with it even if you’re unsure.
And, as I wrote a few weeks ago, when England dropped Ali in 2019, "despite [him] having taken 32 wickets in 7 tests at an average of 28.81 in 2018...[and] his five 2019 tests seeing him take 14 wickets in a three test tour of the WIndies, before two [admittedly] poor games (v Ireland, and then Australia)" before his axing.
Bess, for instance, took 5 wickets in the first test, having also picked up wickets in Sri Lanka. He was averaging 22 with the ball, and while getting lucky, he was also getting wickets.
He was bowling a lot of very poor balls (the same piece from Kimber covers this as well), but he was then axed, and brought back for this last test, and bowled awfully, as though a bowler low on confidence! I wonder why!
England's managment of their spinners, even with the Covid complications, is a huge issue.
Now, for one point, I've already gone on far too long. But, the point is, England's spinners, nor the management of them, isn't good enough.
But the major issue? The county circuit's most spinny track, Taunton, is only the 60th most spinny in the world! And, when producing spinny tracks, they get fined for it! This builds, quite brilliantly, into my next negative lesson from this tour:
England can't play spin. Some stats, because words cannot describe the issues. This is all those who can be considered useful with the bat, so Anderson, Stuart Broad, Leach, Jofra Archer and Olly Stone are not included. And note that this is from the India tour alone, with the two tests in Sri Lanka excluded:
I don't really need to add much to. Only Stokes went passed fifty twice, only Root averaged above 30, and only one of those played a not out innings (Foakes), only one made a second innings fifty (Lawrence), and only one made a hundred (Root).
Simply put, England can't play spin.
Without proper pitches to bowl spin on, England don't develop spinners. And nor do batters practice against high quality spin.
The cycle repeats, and England go to India with a side that, while decent, cannot play spin, nor can it bowl spin.
Until England can change this, they won't win in India. This is to take nothing away from India, who played very well, but, England were non-competitive.
And to answer any arguments about pitches, Ashwin made a hundred, Sundar a 96*. These two are both capable batters, but they should not be making hundreds. And if they do, then the pitch is not too difficult to bat on. It was not impossible; England were not good enough.
But, I don't think this was to be unexpected. Since England won 2-1 in the 2012 tour, India have never lost a series at home.
From January 2013, March 2021, India have lost two test matches at home.
One to Australia in 2017, when Steve O'Keefe took a 12-for and Steve Smith scored a hundred, and now one to England, after Joe Root's double, in 2021.
At home, India are near unbeatable.
For England to only lose 3-1, is a decent achievement.
So, what have we learn in India? -India remain very good at home; -England have work to do when batting against spin; -England have work to do when bowling spin; -Jarrod Kimber makes for a useful addition to my writing!
Next, there are 5 T20Is, and 3 ODIs for England, before the home test series against New Zealand starts in June.
So, see you in about a month, for What Did We Learn in India (limited overs)
For more on England's spin troubles, including the stat about Taunton, this (you guessed it) Jarrod Kimber video explains more: