Nasser Hussain reflects on England’s defeat in the second Test and believes despite the spinners continuing to take wickets, they need to be able to offer Joe Root more control, while the batsmen can learn from India’s efforts on turning tracks…
England were completely outplayed in pretty much every department on a very difficult, but not impossible, pitch.
I think the toss was more important in the first game when the pitch was flat for two days. Here it started turning after about an hour so, obviously, it was important but not as important.
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England need to dust themselves off, not moan about the pitch, the toss, DRS, umpires or whatever and just try and rectify and improve in the areas they were found short – and knowing this side, I think that is exactly what they will do.
For me, even though they got wickets again and continue to get wickets, the biggest issue is the consistency in the spin department.
It is not just this Test match, if you look back at Sri Lanka, Jack Leach and Dom Bess got wickets but Bess, in particular, was very inconsistent with his length.
In this game, Moeen Ali got eight wickets in the match and bowled well at times – he bowled some real beauties, like the one to bowl Virat Kohli in the first innings and got him out twice in the game – but Mo himself will admit that in that first innings, he didn’t quite have the control and 4-128 is not what you’re looking for on such a minefield for the spinners.
If you compare that to how India’s two spinners bowled and the control of Ravichandran Ashwin, they didn’t do anything magical, they just jammed it in there ball after ball.
I can’t remember a period of four Test matches where I’ve seen more full tosses from England’s off-spinners, Bess and Mo, this winter. Wrist-spin is a difficult art and you can give people like Kuldeep Yadav and Adil Rashid a bit of leeway, but a finger spinner should have control of their length.
Moeen has some very good reasons for it, he hasn’t played a Test since the first Ashes match at Edgbaston in 2019, played very little red-ball cricket, comes back and has Covid on tour then is straight into a Test match. He got better as the game progressed, he bowled better in the second innings.
But if you’re asking me the main reason why England lost the Test match, I would say if you look at India’s main two spinners – Ashwin and Axar Patel – they were more consistent than the England spinners.
People will say, ‘hold on, you only got 130 and 160, what about the batsmen?’ The way that Axar and Ashwin bowled, when you’re coming in on day two, three and four, that was about as difficult as it gets batting; turn and bounce from just about every length and every delivery, the sweep shot became riskier.
It wasn’t a case of which shots you could and couldn’t play, it was about which shots had what percentage risk; in the last game the sweep shot was low risk, in this game with the way it was bouncing and exploding, it was high risk as Joe Root found out in the first innings, Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes in the second.
You have to realise that it is riskier than the last game but you still have to play it because there was always a ball with your name on. It’s just it as risky to stand there and try to defend. What I thought they could have done more of in the first innings is use their feet, try and get to the pitch of the ball, try and smother it.
They tried that in the second innings, they were more proactive but by then it was too late so plenty to work on.
I didn’t watch any of that batting and think ‘oh my goodness, what are they doing!?’ I watched it and thought it looked extremely difficult – that doesn’t mean you give up or you don’t try, Root battled hard in that second innings and Mo at the end played some shots – but you have to find a way.
You have to be busy on pitches like that, you can’t just sit in and defend; it is only a matter of time if you just try and defend on a pitch like that.
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I can’t be overly critical of England’s batting. They can learn though; India had a batsman in Rohit Sharma who scored nearly 200 runs on it and they had a bowling all-rounder in Ashwin who got a second-innings hundred on it so it was not impossible. England have got to look at that and ask what Rohit and Ashwin did so well to try and learn and improve.
There has got to be a strong attitude and a mindset now. When you go to India, you expect to get a pitch like that and you may get another one, we don’t know what Ahmedabad is going to be like under the lights.
But one of the pitches in the last two Tests may be another dustbowl and England have got to work out how they are going to play and improve on it.
With this England side, let’s not get too up when they win and too down when they lose, they had won six in a row away from home and they are a side that’s improving but this was a chastening defeat.
It was about as tricky as it gets for an English cricketer but that’s what the challenge is playing away from home, the same way as it is when you go to Australia and we used to have to cope with the bounce at Perth or when players come to England and have to cope with the moving Dukes ball – it is part of being an all-round cricketer and occasionally you get pitches like that.
But even so, the major point I would make – and this is not a criticism of the individual bowlers, not of Mo, in particular – is about the consistency of the spin bowling over the winter.
They have taken wickets, I can’t stress that enough, and their stats are absolutely fine but Joe can’t set fields to it because there is always a full toss or a short ball to think about.
And just as a batsman, when you’re playing Ashwin and Axar and not getting a ball to hit and you’re going nowhere, it just takes a full toss or a long hop and suddenly you’re 15 or 20 and feeling so much more comfortable. India aren’t giving England’s batsmen that but has been the case when England have been bowling.
It is not just about the three England spinners we’ve seen this winter, it is a more general point about English cricket and what we need to do to help our spinners to become more consistent.
When Somerset produce a pitch at Taunton like the one we’ve just seen in Chennai, they get docked points, then there is where and when we play our red-ball cricket.
These guys Axar and Ashwin have been brought up bowling over after over after over whereas we don’t play the right type of cricket at the right time of year to give our spinners the right type of pitches. They have to take some responsibility as well, the batsmen too after a defeat like that, but it was very difficult.
Follow text commentary of the day-night third Test between India and England in Ahmedabad on skysports.com and the Sky Sports app from 8.30am on Wednesday, February 24.
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