New Test, same old mistakes: England still over-reliant on Joe Root, dropping slip catches and lacking a killer instinct… Victory at Old Trafford would only paper over the cracks. This team break records for all the WRONG reasons
- England came into the final day calling for a miracle run chase against India
- But in reality the hope over expectation is what is propping up English cricket
- The same problems persist and Chris Silverwood’s side never seem to learn
- A win in the final Test to secure a draw would only paper over the cracks
England may yet win the fifth Test in Manchester, and claim a 2-2 share of what would go down as a riveting series. But then that’s the problem with England: they so often end up looking ahead, hoping for the best, seeking their next route out of a tight spot.
Events on the last day at The Oval were very much in keeping with this approach. Joe Root’s team had spent the first four days of a crucial game squandering chance after chance to take control.
Yet they arrived in Kennington telling themselves that, despite everything, they really could pull off a fourth-innings chase to exceed anything they had managed in 144 years of Test cricket.
Joe Root shoulders too much of the burden for England when it comes to batting
Needless to say, they were bowled out soon after tea for 210, leaving India a win – or a draw – away from their first series victory in this country since 2007, and only their fourth in all since their maiden visit in 1932.
Equally needless to say, Root ended the match citing his team’s comeback at Headingley after the defeat at Lord’s, and urging his players to repeat the dose at Old Trafford, where the series resumes on Friday. Don’t fret, guys: there’s always tomorrow.
Hope over expectation is a long-established trope in English cricket. It reached its high point at Headingley in 1981, and was resurrected at the same venue two summers ago by Ben Stokes. Ian Botham is busy these days preparing to do trade deals with Australia, Stokes is recuperating from mental-health issues and a troublesome finger, and miracles are stubbornly few and far between.
John Cleese’s character in Clockwise reckoned it was the hope that kills, but in England’s case it’s the hope that props up the whole system. Even the argument that they’re hard to beat at home – an argument that has long camouflaged disappointments abroad – is starting to fray at the edges.
Virat Kohli’s (left) India dominated the final day of the fourth Test to win shortly after tea
In 2019, England failed to beat Australia in this country for the first time in 18 years. Last summer, they had to come from behind to see off lowly West Indies, then needed an unlikely partnership between Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes to take care of Pakistan.
This summer, obsessed with the Ashes, they picked a weakened side against New Zealand – and lost – and are now on the brink of going down to India. For the first time in 20 years, they have failed to win either of their Test series in a home summer. And if they lose at Old Trafford, they will have lost both for the first time in 35. This is a record-breaking side alright – not just in the manner Root or head coach Chris Silverwood intended.
Victory next week may provide the summer with a rousing conclusion, but it would paper over cracks that have long been apparent. And many were on show at The Oval.
From the over-reliance on the runs of Root, via the haphazard slip catching and the failure to finish teams off, to the botched run-out attempts and the bowlers’ continued travails on flat pitches – England make the same mistakes, time and again. And, time and again, they promise to learn from them.
Rory Burns and Co put down catching chances and they ultimately proved costly
Their next assignment is an Ashes trip, when they will be without two of the three fast bowlers – Jofra Archer and Olly Stone – who a few months ago had been inked in to cause Australia’s batsmen merry hell. The third member of the trio, Mark Wood, is being wrapped in cotton wool ahead of the first Test at Brisbane in December, when England could have done with his cutting edge on a thankless Oval surface as recently as Sunday.
Not for the first time, England have sacrificed their prospects in the here and now on the altar of an over-thought Ashes campaign. Yet who at The Oval would give this side a prayer of winning in Australia?
Root said all the right things after England went down to their sixth defeat in nine Tests since they stunned India at Chennai in February. And it is true that he has not been served well by the absence of key bowlers. But the disconnect between what England say and what they do is in danger of defining this side.
Chris Silverwood must be frustrated by his side’s failure to learn from their mistakes
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