A slow day at Chennai showed what England have been up against on this tour, and hinted at India’s ability to dominate Test cricket for years to come.
India 391-4 (Rahul 199; Stokes 1-37) trail England 477 (Moeen 146; Jadeja 3-106) by 86 runs
If Kohli doesn’t get you, someone else will.
On a day when England did everything in their sub-continent power (no sniggering at the back) India demonstrated why they’re so strong and why they must start winning away from home. This side can dominate Test cricket for the foreseeable future.
They’ve got the big-name batsmen (we know about them), they’ve got the world’s best bowlers – including some damn handy seamers – and they’ve also got depth. That’s not something you’ve always been able to say about Indian sides who’ve dominated at home but found travelling more of a challenge.
Before today, KL Rahul and Karun Nair had been the weak links in India’s batting line-up. The two players England would have felt reasonably confident of dismissing. Naturally, to round off a tour that’s not been short on frustration, the two young Karnataka batsmen chose today to demonstrate that, actually, they can play a bit, too. They’ve got previous on this ground, they put on 386 together in the Ranji Trophy final in 2015. Today, it was 161.
And they did have to deal with tricky bowling today. Stuart Broad, fit again after a two-match absence, demonstrated that he truly is a threat on slow, sub-continent wickets. No more so than when he picked up Virat Kohli with a leg-cutter that he could only chip straight to cover. Kohli being dismissed short of 100 just felt wrong, like the UK voting to leave the EU or a nutter being elected president.
At the same time Adil Rashid was going through his full array. Rashid has troubled India’s middle order at times in this series – especially with his googly, which was on show a lot today – but Rahul and Nair found it all quite easy. Nair will have felt under pressure. With no scores in his first two Tests and with Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane to come back – as well as the presence of fellow Karnataka batsman Manish Pandey, 12th man and next cab off the rank – he has a short window in which to prove his worth. He went some way to proving it today, albeit not on the world’s toughest track.
Rahul – a Man Utd fan no doubt buoyed by Zlatan’s brace at the Hawthorns – is more settled in the side but runs here have shown that he can add learning quickly to his already impressive set of skills. He put together a fine innings to record his first century in India. It’s his fourth overall, not bad work for a 24-year-old. He’s an elegant player against both spin and seam and he didn’t offer England a chance throughout his century. He made only one error, sadly for him it came just one run away from a double century.
There’s been much talk of what has separated these two sides (it’s the bowling, stupid) but even taking conditions out of the equation you can’t help but be impressed by the number of players India have at their disposal. Their XI for this match was the 27th time in a row that they’ve made at least a change. Dhawan, Sharma, Saha, Bhuvneshwar, Shami, Jayant… none of them on display here, all of them ready to slot back in and perform.
England on the other hand have a far less convincing group of alternatives. In the last 12 months they’ve tried Compton, Vince, Duckett, Ballance, Ansari and Batty. They’ve selected Steven Finn on this tour for seemingly no other reason than to let him build up his hours on Football Manager. Many of them are fine Test cricketers who will come again, but they’re certainly not demanding inclusion right now.
And then there are the players in the side. This hasn’t been as damaging a tour for England as Australia in 2013/14 – they don’t need to rip it up and start again – but they do have things to work out. Their best XI being at the top of the list. Then there’s the fact that India’s seamers have out-bowled England’s throughout the series – another reason this India side should head overseas with confidence – and the growing problem of England’s fielding. It could once be relied upon but more chances are beginning to go down, including that of Karun Nair today, missed by Cook on 34.
It’s maybe just the chance Nair needed. He went on to record his maiden Test fifty, as his state teammate at the other end passed his highest Test score, and as England’s frustration grew the prospect of this becoming a regular sight over the next 10 years became very real. Get the big guns, if you’re lucky, but that doesn’t mean you’re on to a winner. In this innings India have still got Ashwin and Jadeja to come. Jeesh, they’re good.
All Out Cricket’s coverage of the India-England Test series is in association with Southall Travel