English cricket is under such intense pressure that a release would probably give them the bends. 1-0 down in the five-match series and winless for ten Tests, the scrutiny of Alastair Cook and his charges has reached a level of obscenity. One thing that all armchair critics seem to agree upon is that Cook is not the right man to captain the team. One thing that the England Cricket Board vehemently assert is that he is. All that’s certain, is that Cook and England have been outplayed by their Indian counterparts on their home turf and, indeed, many of their opponents in recent times. Something has to give. According to many, it is not merely selection or form problems that have plagued England, but a system and team culture that is destined to fail. Whatever the cause of English decline, another win for MS Dhoni and India will make their tour an overwhelming success. Something has to give.
All things equal, Alastair Cook has three Tests to save his captaincy and possibly his place in the team. While there is no denying the English captain’s talent with the bat, his atrocious run of form can no longer be ignored. Perhaps, all Alastair Cook needs is a stint in the middle away from the public glare and cauldron pressure of the Test arena. A place that he can carve out a well measured century and reclaim his glorious touch. A place called County cricket. However, provided Cook isn’t dropped mid-series, he’ll only get such an opportunity if he misses the scheduled ODIs, or in September. Can a man so visibly shaken by his country’s recent slump afford such a long wait to reclaim his joy for the game? And if so, would it improve his captaincy?
The English board have some tough decisions ahead of them. Seasoned, experienced players within the set-up look jaded and past their best. There is a lack of accountability among the group for the terrible cricket being played. Cook has alluded to that without making accusations. In general, the youngsters promoted into the side following the Ashes debacle have taken their opportunities and have outshone the seniors. While, in a sense, this is a big positive for English cricket, it is worrisome that players proven to be good enough at this level are not performing. The most difficult question being asked of English cricket at present is one that shouldn’t have to be: where is the desire?
Joe Root and Moeen Ali have shown they have the temperament and responsibility to take England forward. Gary Ballance continues to notch up runs, yet general consensus is a switch to five with the promotion of Ian Bell to three. The senior batsman needs to take up a more senior role. Matt Prior has decided to stand down as a result of persistent Achilles trouble, another case of an English stalwart giving up the ghost midway through a series. However, 36 byes at Lord’s and numerous missed chances over the past year have necessitated it. Why Prior himself had to be the one to make that decision, especially considering the selectors would have known before the series that he wasn’t fully fit, is yet another mystery. Popular wicket-keeper choice Jos Buttler should get a run. And what of the likes of Eoin Morgan, Samit Patel, Graeme Onions and Steven Finn? Experimentation is often not ideal, but sometimes necessary. It’s incredible how the fear of losing can so easily translate into a fear of winning.
India’s victory at Lord’s broke a run of three years without success in a Test match overseas. India have never been a side that has toured well, but signs of improvement were visible on their visits to both South Africa and New Zealand. After dominating Tests in Johannesburg and Wellington and failing to leave with the goods, the first session on Day 5 at Lord’s would’ve conjured up images of these destinations in captain MS Dhoni. Despite his assertion that he doesn’t think about the past when changing the present, India going wicketless in the first session attempting to wrap up a Test match would’ve left Dhoni with more than a slight sensation of deja vu. Enter Ishant Sharma. The much-maligned Indian speedster is an unplayable force when firing, which is why the Indian selectors just keep on picking him. Potential can be a dangerous criteria for selection but in the case of Ishant, it was worth the risk.
According to Dhoni, he had to force Sharma to bang it in short through field placings, as the paceman was reluctant to do so. This must have been a first for Ishant Sharma; where have all those wild, short and wide deliveries come from in the past? In any event, it was captain Dhoni who masterminded the English collapse. Noticing their weakness against the short ball in Australia and recently against Sri Lanka, he put three fielders back for the hook and simply waited for England to implode. The oldest trick in the book. While, in the era of T20 cricket, the game continues to evolve at a rapid rate, sometimes the tried-and-tested methods prove to yield the best results. The victory was also India’s second ever at Lord’s. The first, in 1986, led to the axing of David Gower mid-series. English captains generally fold at home, resplendent in front of their greatest detractors, the general public and press. Alastair Cook will be extremely lucky to emerge from this series with his position intact.
The Rose Bowl in Southampton has only hosted one Test prior to this, a draw between England and Sri Lanka in 2011. Judging by the bright green state of the Lord’s pitch, which was a ridiculous overcompensation for the subcontinent-like strip at Trent Bridge, the Rose Bowl will assist seamers. Whether this is actually an advantage for the home side is debatable. Small chances of rain are predicted.
VERDICT: England 16/10
One victory away from home in three years still doesn’t inspire the confidence in India that is necessary. The way that Lord’s was prepared, I also find it difficult to accept that a draw is on that cards. But here’s where it gets tricky; England were gifted one of the greenest strips ever seen, won the toss and still conspired to lose. The home side are definitely not in that proverbial ‘winning space’. But as I said before, something has to give. I suspect Southampton may be the place that it does.
Disagree with our tipster? Let us hear your thoughts. Please comment below.