Sports Writer Charlie King dissects England’s 5-test series in India, highlighting promising signs in the bowling department but disappointment in the middle-order

Written by Charlie King

It all began so well. Given India’s star quality and their flawless recent record in home tests, England went into this test series far from favourites. However, when England completed one of their greatest ever victories in the first test in Hyderabad, even the sceptics began to believe in another incredible series win driven by the unrelenting positivity of Ben Stokes as captain and Brendon McCullum as coach. India held a first innings lead of 190, and could be forgiven for feeling confident given that they had never before lost a home test match with a cushion of over 100. Yet, thanks to magnificent contributions from Ollie Pope and debutant Tom Hartley, England somehow pulled off the impossible, running out winners by 28 runs on a dramatic fourth day that will live long in the memory. 

The Hyderabad test match was to be the peak in a series characterised by missed opportunities for Stokes’ side


The Hyderabad test match was to be the peak in a series characterised by missed opportunities for Stokes’ side. England lost the next three matches, now having no chance to claim a series victory despite having opportunities to take control in all three. This was encapsulated best in England’s most recent disappointment in the fourth test in Ranchi. England had India on the ropes at 177-7 in the first innings in response to England’s score of 353, only to allow them to reach a total of 303 and collapse in the second innings, meaning India ran out victorious by five wickets. England’s failure will be made even more gut-wrenching when considering the number of notable absentees for India. One of the game’s greatest, Virat Kohli, was missing for all five matches for personal reasons.

Many of these missed opportunities were a symptom of the lack of runs provided by the middle-order batters. While the Crawley-Duckett opening partnership continues to grow in strength, the lack of form shown by the rest of the batting lineup is a concern. Ollie Pope and Joe Root both recorded one century, but otherwise disappointed. Jonny Bairstow looked entirely out of form, with the astonishing feats of the summer of 2022 seeming a distant memory. Ben Stokes provided some innings of grit, as always, but nothing in the Headingley or Lord’s mould. This was compounded by the absence of England’s shining young talent, Harry Brook, from the series due to personal reasons. This led to batting collapses at crucial times in all of England’s defeats.

England under the regime of Stokes and McCullum have set out to revolutionise test match cricket, and have largely been successful. An away series in India was always likely to be a step too far, too soon. However, there are undeniable positives which have come from this series. England’s spin attack in recent years has been an uninspiring proposition. In the last month, two gems have been unearthed in the shape of Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir. Hartley confounded those who doubted his experience and after four test matches is the leading wicket-taker on either side. Even less was known about Shoaib Bashir, but he looked highly impressive in the two matches for which he was selected. Eighteen-year-old Rehan Ahmed now seems a relatively experienced figure in the bowling lineup, having made his debut over a year ago.

two gems have been unearthed in the shape of Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir

How to evaluate a series for England which included their largest-defeat since 1934 (the embarrassing 434-run reverse in Rajkot), one of the great away wins in Hyderabad, and finding themselves in many positions of control only to let it slip away is a difficult question. It would be ignorant not to acknowledge the sheer quality of the opposition. India represents a fearsome prospect on home soil. They have now racked up their seventeenth successive home series win, a record going back twelve years. The sheer passion for the game in India means they generate a wealth of talent. This was best demonstrated by young Yashasvi Jaiswal, who stepped into the large void left by Virat Kohli, to wow onlookers by scoring double centuries in both the second and third test. 

Ultimately, there is much to be excited about from an England point of view. This was another enthralling series, and although it ended in defeat, it served as another demonstration from the Stokes-McCullum duo that they are not about to take a step back from delivering the brand of cricket that has done much to revive interest in the longest (and best) form of the game. There is still another test to go, starting on 7 March in Dharamsala. A second win in India would represent a great achievement and crucial points in the World Test Championship. Stokes and McCullum’s men are next back in action in July, kicking off the home summer with a test series against a resurgent West Indies, who are coming off an historic victory against Australia in Brisbane last month.

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