England contend with a hangover from a big couple of days

Joe Root was late to ask for a review for the lbw appeal against Rohit Sharma
August 27, 2021

Well, life can't be all sangria and zoo visits, can it? There's often a hangover the morning after a perfect day.

It wouldn't be at all fair to suggest that England didn't bowl well on the third day in Leeds. Neither fair or accurate. There were times, particularly in the first half of the day, when Craig Overton and Ollie Robinson bowled beautifully. And while, in India's first innings, 71 false shots produced 10 wickets, in the second, 88 false shots have so far produced two wickets. We might not always like to acknowledge it, but luck plays its part.

That's not to say England's performance couldn't have been improved. There was, for example, a failure to review a leg-before decision (Joe Root actually appeared to call for it, but after the permitted time) which would have seen Rohit Sharma dismissed for 39. These things happen, of course, but an earlier review - also off Robinson - had looked optimistic and perhaps led to them not reviewing this time. It's an area where calmer heads might lead to an improved performance.

You could also make a case that England allowed the emotion of the situation to affect their performance for the second match in succession. On the second afternoon of this game, for example, with England three wickets down and the lead approaching 300, there was a case for knuckling down and grinding out an innings that lasted anything up to 200 overs. This would not only have kept a jaded-looking Indian attack in the field for longer, but put more wear into a pitch that looks easy-paced now. It might have been a tactic that had consequences for later into the series in terms of exhausting those bowlers.

Instead, England took the attack to India. And while that was a perfectly reasonable tactic - they may have known they would need a long time to bowl India out - it was, perhaps, just a little naïve. It was the second day, after all. There really wasn't any need to hurry. It's just possible they could yet face a tricky final day.

James Anderson wasn't quite at his best, either. So good has Anderson been for so long, that there might be a temptation to take his performances for granted. But he is 39 and here, in between trips off the pitch, he was hit for nine fours in 19 overs (he didn't concede any in his eight first-innings overs) allowing Cheteshwar Pujara to settle in with a leg-stump half-volley to get off the mark.

It's now seven Tests - including this one and England's innings defeat in Ahmedabad in March - since Anderson took a wicket in the second innings of a Test. Given how sparingly he was used in the first innings here and you wonder how relevant a statistic it is. But equally, given that he has taken 18 in the first innings of Tests in that same period it is hard to dismiss this as a coincidence. Indeed, going further back, he has now claimed just five wickets at a cost of 66.60 in the second innings of his 14 most recent Tests including this one. It might be noted he didn't bowl in two of those second innings.

But his record in the first innings of those 14 Tests is 40 wickets at an average of 17.30. It's hard to dismiss that as aberrational.

That's not to say that Anderson should be dropped. That would be ridiculous. But he probably does need more support, not just from the other bowlers but from England's batters who, all too often, don't allow him they time he requires to recover between shifts with their inadequate performances. There might be a case for rotating him in series involving back-to-back games, too.

In other circumstances, that support might have come from the likes of Stuart Broad or Jofra Archer. But, as it is, neither of them are available. And with England's two best seam-bowling all-rounders, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes, also on the sidelines, England have been persuaded to pick Sam Curran as a fourth seamer and No. 8 batter.

There's some logic in the selection, too. With his left-arm angle, his ability to swing the ball and his aggressive lower-order batting, he is, without doubt, a handy cricketer. It might be remembered, too, that he was England's player of the series the last time India's Test side toured in 2018.

But in this series he's taking his wickets at a cost of 79.33 apiece. And he's conceding 3.21 runs an over, too. A batting average of 18.50 is hardly off-setting that relative impotence with the ball, either. Going back further, to the start of 2020, he is taking his wickets at 47.53 having not taken more than two in an innings in any of his 10 Tests. In the same period, he is averaging 17.08 with the bat.

Blessed with neither great pace or great height, there are days when he looks short of the weapons required to be a viable frontline seamer. And for all the talk of his batting talent, he has played well over 100 professional matches - 73 of them first-class - without registering a century. He is, in short, looking more Ian than Tony Greig.

England still hold many of the best cards in this match. They have a new ball to utilise at the start of the fourth day and they will know that India's tail remains long and fragile. There's not much margin for error available for India. But this was a sobering day for England. They can't rely on Anderson forever.

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