A couple of days back, England were outplayed comprehensively by Pakistan at Lord’s in all three departments. Batting first in overcast conditions didn’t bode well for Joe Root and his side as they were knocked over for a low score in the first innings. England’s two vastly experienced bowlers in Stuart Broad and James Anderson struggled to make an impact in the Test match, mainly because of the lengths they bowled. They were a bit too short, which allowed Pakistan to adjust to the movement easily.
England’s batting struggled to cope with the moving ball, which was also evident from their recent outing in New Zealand against the Kiwis. Their batsmen were stuck on the crease which allowed Pakistan quicks to do most of the damage. After being hammered at Lord’s, it was expected that England would come hard at Pakistan in the next Test. Sarfraz’s decision to bat first didn’t go well as England bowlers learned from their mistakes quickly and made the necessary adjustments. They pitched the ball further up which made life harder for the Asian visitors. As a result, Pakistan were bowled out for 174 in the first innings.
From a batting perspective, there was a clear-cut change in the approach from the English batsmen when they came up against Mohammad Abbas at Headingley. Most of them adopted Jos Buttler’s strategy of standing outside their crease to Abbas in order to reduce the impact of lateral movement. So much so, Keaton Jennings was warned by the umpires to not come down the wicket as much as he was getting in the danger zone.
Despite their convincing win over Pakistan at Leed’s, a lot of questions still loom over England’s batting and their inability to stay on the crease and grind out. Jennings was recalled in place of Mark Stoneman for the decisive Headingley Test, given the latter’s average performances in the Tests and his inability to convert half-centuries to big hundreds. His highest score of 60 in 20 Test innings highlights this issue well enough. Although Jennings has returned to the side, yet there is always a sense of vulnerability when a batsman is making a comeback.
England’s batting has looked flaky when the ball starts to do a bit and their top six hasn’t fired for a while which will give India a bit of sniff. Some of the batters are trying to cement their place in the side while the experienced trio of Cook, Root and Bairstow haven’t been at their best.
Alastair Cook has few scores under his belt after a pretty ordinary last year or so. In fact, in the series prior to this, Trent Boult had his complete wood over the veteran opening batsman, dismissing him four times in as many innings. Since then, Cook has worked with Essex head coach Anthony McGrath on transferring his weight onto his front foot and staying more sideways on against left-arm quicks in particular. In the Pakistan series, his back foot at ball release was pointing towards point (instead of cover point) which in turn made him lead with his head and front shoulder instead of losing his shape and pushing at the ball with his bottom hand. Since Cook has started getting forward well enough, India should look to sneak in an odd bouncer, just to keep him crease-bound.
Alastair Cook has found rhythm in his batting ©AFP
England’s premier batsman, Joe Root has scored runs this winter as well as against Pakistan, but again his inability to get big hundreds has been an area of concern. Root’s last hundred came against West Indies in Birmingham in 2017. Effectively, it’s been 19 innings since England captain last scored a hundred which is worrying as big hundreds make massive difference.
Dawid Malan’s tendency to sit back in the crease and playing square of the wicket served him well enough in the Ashes but in the UK, he has had problems coming forward. His place in the side will be questioned and he’ll undoubtedly need runs in County Championship to get his form back.
Jonny Bairstow has been promoted up the order given the fact that he is one of the best batsmen in England right now. However, since South Africa’s tour of England last year, he is averaging 32.35. A lot of his dismissals have been either bowled or lbw which means that India will be looking to attack his stumps and Bairstow, in return, has to work hard on making sure that his bottom hand doesn’t take over as much as it did in the past and should focus on letting the ball come at him.
Ben Stokes has made a comeback to the Test side after missing out on the Ashes. In his last 18 innings, Stokes has scored 677 runs at an average of 37.61. In Test cricket, Stokes’ record against spin isn’t as great but in England, spin won’t be a massive threat.
Buttler’s selection is something which Ed Smith would be really proud of as he was the best batsman of the series. Buttler showed real maturity and calmness after playing a rash shot in the first innings at Lord’s. His method of batting outside of his crease and at times getting down the wicket to Mohammad Abbas worked really well given Pakistan seamers’ ability to move the ball both ways off the pitch.
Average contact points of batsmen at Lord's ©CricViz
There are question marks on England’s batting and in the past we have seen them collapse like a pack of cards. Keeping all this in view, a stern test awaits England’s batsmen in particular as India’s fast bowling stocks have risen tremendously since they last hit the British shores.