MARTIN SAMUEL: England's fragility in Test cricket is a huge concern

MARTIN SAMUEL: The fragility of this England Test side remains a huge concern as they let key moments slip away… India win the passages of play that really matter, as good teams do

  • England got back into the first Test against India, only to lose control of it again
  • India have won almost all the passages of play that have mattered so far
  • England’s fragility remains a big concern – they’re rarely comfortable or settled
  • Their terrible fielding and the call to give Sam Curran the new ball didn’t help 

The good news? The only thing more erratic than English cricket is English weather. It was another day of hokey-cokey at Trent Bridge. In, out, and shaking it all about.

First, England looked like they had clawed their way back into the game, then they lost control of it again. They could be rescued by a strong batting performance over the next 24 hours, or by the weather. On the evidence to here, a strong meteorological intervention seems more likely.

Certainly when the drizzle came again just after 5pm, the way England’s batsmen hurried back to the pavilion suggested they would shake hands on a rain-affected stalemate now. If they could match India’s second innings total — 278 — that would make a fourth innings game of it at least, but the fragility of this England team remains of enormous concern.

The fragility of Joe Root’s England team is a huge concern – they rarely look comfortable

They let Jasprit Bumrah (pictured) and Mohammed Siraj hit their way to a 33-run partnership

Even when batting relatively well — surviving a tricky 25 minutes to a belated tea interval — and creeping to 25 without loss before the next delay, England always appear one poor decision away from collapse. Top order techniques remain an issue. England rarely seem settled, rarely comfortable.

‘If you could change one thing about the openers’ techniques, what would it be?’ David Lloyd was asked. ‘Just one?’ he queried incredulously.

The problem for England is that India have won almost all of the passages of play that matter, those hour-long spells that are the crux of any Test. In the afternoon session on day one when England could either have pushed on to build a score, or fallen substantially short, they collapsed.

Equally, on Friday, having reduced India to 205 for seven it took another 73 runs to work through the tail, including 33 for the 10th wicket stand. Where would 33 have sat in England’s first innings? It would have been the third-highest partnership. And this was a pairing of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj. This is not a tail that traditionally wags. This is a Manx cat of a tail.

Indian seamer Mohammed Siraj. The visitors have won almost all the key passages of play

Yet England allowed them to have fun out there, to swing the bat, to rack up a first innings lead of 95. In a low-scoring game, that is potentially match- defining.

By pure coincidence, 205 for seven was India’s first innings score in the final of the World Test Championship against New Zealand in June. What happened next, decided the game’s course.

New Zealand wrapped up the tail for 12 more runs. Ishant Sharma 4; Bumrah 0; Ravindra Jadeja 15.

From that point India were always chasing. New Zealand’s first innings lead was just 32 but when margins are so tight every little helps. India collapsed in their second innings, New Zealand knocked off 140 to win. The distances between the teams will be slight here, too. In that context, those hour-long passages of play when England failed to take their opportunity could prove vital.

New Zealand won the World Test Championship by clinically wrapping up India’s tail-enders

James Anderson drops Mohammed Shami – one of many shambolic fielding errors by England

Good teams, the best teams, make those moments count. Test cricket ebbs and flows. Its disciples depart to the bar, or for a sandwich on a lawn, confident they are not missing much that matters.

Then there are those other times when no one can be persuaded to budge. Spitting feathers in full sunlight, but the concourses stay empty. It was a spell like that when James Anderson got Shardul Thakur for a duck. He had taken the prime wicket, KL Rahul, for 84 in his previous over. The difference between the teams in that moment was 22. England would most certainly have bought that on day one.

By the time the innings was complete, however, it was India’s game to lose; or have snatched from them by the English summer.

What went wrong? Take your pick. Certainly England’s fielding — a succession of dropped catches and missed run-out opportunities — did not help. Nor did chucking the new ball to Sam Curran for an over that gave up 15 runs, including a six and two fours. Disastrous stuff.

Giving Sam Curran (left) the new ball was a disastrous call – his over was smashed for 15 runs

Curran is one of three England players who had not participated in a single red ball game this summer, before arriving in Nottingham to play India. We think of that in terms of rustiness with the bat, but an absence of first-class bowling counts, too. It is a honed skill shooting out a Test tail, keeping it tight, keeping a lid on the scoring.

Those 15 runs summed up the malaise, England’s failure to take advantage when it mattered. This is a Test that could have been won, with greater focus. Instead, the favourite result, given the forecast, is a draw and if there is a winner it is fancied to be the tourists going to Lord’s with the lead.

Positives? Ollie Robinson took a first Test five-for and then spoke with great maturity about his transgressions on social media, suggesting he will be able to put his unfortunate introduction to the highest level of the game behind him. There was genuine remorse as he spoke of fearing a two-year ban.

And, as ever, Anderson was a complete joy to behold. There were no doubt a number of paying customers who won’t have felt they got value from their stop-start day at the Test but, seriously, he’s 39: catch him while you can.

Anderson was a joy with the ball. Where would England be without him? It’s a sobering thought

With his four-wicket haul Anderson passed Anil Kumble as the third-highest wicket-taker of all time and one can only speculate how many he might have reached had England possessed a more efficient slip cordon.

And do not let anyone argue it is a simple matter of time, and that playing as long as Anderson has is what sets him apart. Surviving, physically, as an athlete is a talent, too. For him to have achieved such longevity in a discipline that has left so many contemporaries — and much younger men — broken, is also a skill.

On Friday, it was Anderson who picked off Rahul, Anderson who lifted the spirits, Anderson whose intelligence dragged England into a potentially commanding position, aided bravely by Robinson.

What a player he is, what a player he has been. Where would England be without him? In a worse position than they are now, certainly. It is a sobering thought. 

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