Will England bring back Anderson-Broad pair for pink-ball Test?
England’s rest and rotation policy has evoked mixed reactions from the commentators, some of whom have played for their country with distinction and have had the honour of leading it.
The team management has defended its policy. But Mike Atherton, who has 116 Test matches under his belt, 54 as captain (won 13, lost 21 and drawn 20) and has been the Chief Cricket Correspondent of `The Times’ believes that skipper Joe Root has not had the leeway of picking the strongest England XI for the Test series in Sri Lanka and India.
The rest and rotation policy has been put in place to reduce the workload of the cricketers, a handful of whom play across all formats (Test, ODI and Twenty20), to ease the mental strain bio-secure life and also ensure that majority of the players are fresh and fit as a fiddle for Twenty20 World Cup to be played in India this year.
That’s not the reason, though, for it to have been swamped aside by a resurgent Indian team in the second of the two Chennai Test matches. Its batsmen’s flaws and limitations against a pair of top-class home international campaigner in Ravichandran Ashwin and a tyro in international cricket, left-arm spinner Axar Patel, came to the fore and eventually the visitors lost by 317 runs for both teams to fly to Ahmedabad for the third Test at Motera Even-Steven.
The first two Test matches have offered a fascinating insight into England’s overwhelming dependence on Root, who has been in cracking form with the bat since he stepped foot on Sri Lankan soil. In keeping with his enormous success in Asia, Root has made 723 runs facing 1,162 balls in four Test matches. The rest and rotation policy and also the injury to Zak Crawley diminished Root’s options in the Chennai leg of the Test series.
While England scored an emphatic 227-run victory in the first Test, thanks to the individual drive of the accomplished new and old ball operator in James Anderson, and the excellent supporting roles played by left-arm spinner Jack Leach and off spinner Dom Bess, it did not demonstrate the craft and wherewithal to deal with Ashwin and Patel on a tricky pitch. As a consequence, it was crushed.
England’s batting is likely to be better off with the arrival of Jonathan Bairstow, who brings in the wealth of a 72-Test experience and Crawley, who made 267 against Pakistan at Rose Bowl last August, but was hoodwinked by Lankan left-arm spinner Lasith Ambuldeniya four times in the two Test matches at Galle. Crawley faced 90 balls and scored 35 runs.
While there could be some measure of assurance within the ranks that its batting would not crumble because of the nature of the pitch that is supposed to make the life of the pink ball a little longer than the red one, England’s strength in third Test would largely hinge on the wealth of its fast bowling talent it deploys.
England has Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Oliver Stone to pick from. Also Jofra Archer, if he is free of his elbow ailment. Anderson, Broad, Woakes and Ben Stokes have featured in England’s previous pink-ball Tests at Edgbaston, Adelaide and Auckland. That was three years ago.
In the spin department, Root and England would stick with left-arm spinner Leach, who has a collection of 218 wickets at 23.39 in the Division I of the English County Championships. He has also played 14 Tests.
Both the home team and visitors would perforce have to explore the pitch prepared by Ashish Bhowmick, chief of the BCCI Elite Panel of Curators.
At the virtual press conference on Saturday, Cheteshwar Pujara said that it was too early to comment on the pitch by its looks four days before the first ball is bowled post noon on February 24.
But the question uppermost is: "Will England bring back Anderson (611 wickets) and Broad (517 wickets) to start the proceedings.’’ Head coach Chris Silverwood has reiterated that the rest and rotation will continue; but unlike Moeen Ali, who has left for home after a lusty hitting before the close of the second Test on the fourth day, Broad will be very much in the new Motera facility premises when Root writes the team sheet!
G. Viswanath is an independent sports journalist based in Mumbai. He has been associated with The Hindu Group for over 36 years and has covered domestic, national and international cricket.