England's younger weapons studying on the job communicate for a systemic failure Andy Bull
T.Here was a tired inevitability about the show's final day. England 10 for one, 10 for two, 20 for three, 30 for four, the gates fall like tired eyelids, loss floods them like sleep falling on an exhausted man.
The winter is neatly divided into two parts: three beautiful wins – two in Sri Lanka with seven wickets and then six wickets and one in India with 227 runs – followed by three ugly defeats with 317 runs, 10 wickets and innings and 25 runs.
Joe Root argued strongly that evil shouldn't dwarf good, as Sri Lanka's Akila Dananjaya spelled out the hat-trick he scored in a T20 against the West Indies on Wednesday at the expense of Kieron Pollard, who won it in his next game for six sixes met.
"We have to look at winter as a whole," said Root. "There were three very good performances when the ball spun and we handled them better." All of them are colored by the three very poor performances when it turned over and they didn't.
The watershed coincided with the turn in roots form, from 684 runs averaging 114 in his first half-dozen innings to 110 averaging 18 in the second. Although he was quick to say he was disappointed that he couldn't continue as he did in the first three games, the real problem was that England's fortunes were so closely linked to him.
Without root, there wasn't much to fall back on. After being sacked in the first innings of the First Test, England's batsmen made three fifties in 82 innings: one from Ben Stokes, one from Zak Crawley and one at the very end of Dan Lawrence, the last man in the last innings.
None of them made it to the last 55. Worse, the team failed to make fifty partnerships in those seven innings. The best part was the 48 stokes that were run on Jonny Bairstow on the first day of this test. In the same period India scored more than fifty-ten points, three of which were hundreds, and shared eight estates from half a century.
The series became a long vivisection of England's eyelash, the techniques of which were clinically dissected by Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel, who sandwiched 59 wickets at a cost of 12 runs each.
That brings us to England's other blatant weakness, the lack of a weirdo to back up Jack Leach, who turned out to be a tough, artful, and shrewd bowler. He finished the series with 18 wickets but has no central contract or the fleeting support of his captain. Root was asked if Leach deserved the right to be the crank of first choice, and instead said that at the beginning of summer it was a question to ask again alongside bowling.
The Englishman Jack Leach (left) finished the series with 18 wickets. Photo: Aijaz Rahi / AP
Leach played his part. Lots of older players too. Root and Jimmy Anderson were superb. Not at his best with the bat, Stokes still gave it his all and played a characteristically heroic twist in that match. Slipped into the fringes of the squad, Moeen Ali played well in his only game, more than Stuart Broad in the one game they gave him on that series.
Broad had bowled so well in Sri Lanka, but he didn’t benefit from the rotation policy England was applying in India, any more than the rest of the policy worked out for Bairstow. He left his form somewhere in Yorkshire. It's been two and a half years since Bairstow made his final Test Century and after the way he played in the last two Tests he may not have another chance.
If you measure yourself against India's older players, they don't lose too much by comparison. Aside from Ashwin and Rohit Sharma, India's old hands didn't get along too well: Virat Kohli finished the race with 172 runs, Cheteshwar Pujara 133 and Ajinkya Rahane 112.
That meant that the sharpest contrast was between the young players. Kohli was able to speak in glowing terms about how pleased he was with Patel, Washington Sundar and Mohammed Siraj who played 12 Tests between them, as well as Rishabh Pant, who played 20 and is just starting to become the best wicketkeeper batsman in the world.
Root, on the other hand, explained how much his young players need to learn. There were signs of it. Ollie Pope, apparently employed in 6th place, started moving his feet as the tour progressed. Given a second chance in 7th place, Lawrence showed much in his two innings in this Test that was hidden when he was 3rd place earlier in the series.
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Dom Sibley made progress after spending such a hot time in Sri Lanka. But the fact that she and Bess and Crawley learn so much in the workplace speaks for a systemic failure in English cricket.
Root touched that. He said the problem is we need to encourage more draws in the county championship so that young batsmen have more experience playing long innings under the pressure of the scoreboard.
That's an interesting theory for the ECB's clever clogs to ponder while enjoying the Hundred.