The series is gone but England haven’t given up in Chennai. They have half a hope of a dead-rubber victory in the final Test.
India 60-0 trail England 477 (Moeen 146; Jadeja 3-106) by 413 runs
Swindon. The town of XTC, Billie Piper, Mark Lamarr and Nick Hewer (off of The Apprentice and Countdown), has now produced a Test cricketer. Get out the bunting. So far Liam Dawson is enjoying a debut to make his fellow Swindonians very proud indeed.
Dawson wasn’t a popular pick for this tour. Drafted in to replace the injured Zafar Ansari, his inclusion prompted discussion of two things. Firstly, his relatively modest first-class record – especially with the ball – and secondly, the absence of Jack Leach, the best spinner in county cricket last year.
To many it was telling of England’s wrong-headed approach. In picking a defensive overs-bowler who can bat a bit, they exposed a fear of losing – as opposed to a desire to put pressure on India and bowl them out – and undermined the county game that they rely upon. It all felt a bit 1990s, a bit bits-and-pieces, a bit underwhelming. It wasn’t quite Richard Blakey at No.6 but it wasn’t far off.
Dawson, though, is a coach’s player. Like a trustworthy wide man in football who’ll do all the running you want, keep the ball and pick up his man at corners, he can be relied upon to do what is asked of him. Reliance isn’t necessarily the first thing a fan looks for in a player but it can work.
It worked today, Dawson played a fine hand in taking England up to 477, their second highest score of the series and a position from which they really shouldn’t lose. Emphasis there on the shouldn’t. He came in when they’d had a bad morning of it, Stokes and Buttler had departed for the addition of only 16 more runs and Moeen only lasted 21 more. At 321-7 England were right in the thick of throwing away yesterday’s good work.
Initially Dawson and Rashid were patient. The kind of patience that sees the TV-watching fan at home pop on the kettle, clear out the spare room or jump in the car to go and do some Christmas shopping. But as they got used to the surface they accelerated, Rashid in particular unveiling the wristy flair that often sees him bat at No.6 for Yorkshire.
They put on 108 for the eighth wicket, second only to Wasim Akram and Imran Khan for the record at this ground. Dawson ended on 66 – the highest score by any Englishman batting at No.8 or below on debut.
In doing so Dawson became the third England debutant to make a half-century on debut on this tour, following on from Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings. It’s the first time that’s happened this century. Perhaps a little tick in the box of the England selectors who haven’t enjoyed the best of times on this tour. Then again, it could be argued that two of those picks weren’t in the initial squad. Picking teams ain’t easy.
Although Dawson’s selection was a bit unexpected (he admitted to being “very surprised”), he hasn’t come from nowhere. He’s been around England’s limited-overs squads for the last 18 months, making both his ODI and T20I debut, and a look at the earliest scorecards of his career show that even at U13 level Dawson was already competing against the likes of Jason Roy, Rory Burns and Chris Woakes. Back then, while Burns batted No.10 and didn’t bowl, Dawson didn’t bowl and batted No.3.
He went on to captain England U19s before turning himself into a useful county performer with bat and ball; England have always found it hard to resist the lure of all-round cricketers who can do a bit of everything. Where he goes from here is less clear. There’s an argument that he could be a Giles-ish No.8, but with Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid around that feels unnecessary. The last time England played at Chennai there was a debut for Graeme Swann – that seems unattainable – and there are plenty of spinners whose England careers he’ll be intent on not repeating. Ian Blackwell, Richard Dawson, Samit Patel, Scott Borthwick… there’s even a warning tale in the career of his best mate James Vince, discarded after seven Tests of not performing.
He’s given himself a chance, though, and that’s far more than many thought he was capable of. In the short term, he’s given England a chance.
They had 20 overs to bowl at India this evening – shorn of their normal opening batsman Murali Vijay, who wasn’t allowed to bat having been off the field injured – but, like Dawson’s original selection, it was uninspiring. He’s surprised us, though, so you never know…
All Out Cricket’s coverage of the India-England Test series is in association with Southall Travel