Root’s walking wounded face Kohli power
Tourists would match the Australians’ unique feat of 1936-37 by winning from 2-0 down, says Scyld Berry
While England have not lost a home Test series since 2014 – when they were in such chaos that Sri Lanka did the honours – the prospect is growing that they could lose this five-match series against India. Mongoose missed the opportunity to kill cobra when England were 2-0 up and Joe Root sent in India at Trent Bridge, only his seamers let him down.
The chances of a series defeat increased when Jonny Bairstow, one of the few Englishmen capable of more than a couple of dozen Test runs, and with the confidence to match, broke the middle finger of his left hand during the third Test. It grew further on Friday evening when Ben Stokes ended up hobbling on his left knee in Durham’s losing Vitality T20 Blast quarterfinal against Sussex.
Stokes (right) had damaged it during the third Test, and was permitted only to bat for Durham. At this stage Bairstow and Stokes look as though they will only be able to bat for England on Thursday, not keep wicket or bowl. England could select an XI without either invalid, but it would have a long tail, with Sam Curran and
Chris Woakes at seven and eight – and the Ageas Bowl, being a shallow bowl at this stage of its development, is not a swinging ground to suit either.
It is primarily a batting pitch, where the new ball is gold dust for 15 overs of seam movement. Of all England’s Test grounds, Woakes has been least successful at Southampton, where his first-class wickets have averaged 35, while Curran has averaged 38 there. This will be only its third Test, and one of course was against India in 2014, when Moeen Ali came good with his off-spin and took six wickets in India’s second innings to level the series at 1-1.
But India were complacent then, content to have won the Lord’s Test. India’s captain on this tour, Virat Kohli, burns far too intensely to do complacency. His pace bowlers outperformed England’s at Trent Bridge both in speed and quality, and after a week’s rest he will be riding his horses like a Cossack.
Only once have any country come from 2-0 down to win a Test series, and Kohli has already gone a long way to replicate the key figure then.
In the first two Tests of the 1936-37 Ashes series, England caught Australia on wet, uncovered pitches. Gubby Allen’s team had batted first, then it had rained, so they had trapped Don Bradman, because he did not care to hang around on a wet pitch. “Bradman began as though riddled with fallibility, then at the right moment displayed a precision even more inhuman than that which we saw in England in 1930,” wrote Neville Cardus in Australian Summer, still the finest of all cricket tour books.
“The team [England] was never really good enough to beat Australia in Australia; as one or two of the English players said, ‘We are getting away with it’.” And as soon as the sun returned, so did Bradman: in his last four innings he scored 270, 26, 212 and 169. He led Australia to a 3-2 victory in front of 943,513 spectators, still the largest attendance for any Test series.
Kohli so far is doing better than Bradman: he scored 200 runs in the first Test, another 200 in the third, and his aggregate of 440 is twice that of any other batsman on either side. To lead his team home he needs a double hundred or two, and that should not be
To lead his team home, he needs a double hundred or two – that should not be beyond him
beyond his powers at Southampton or the Oval, as he has been able to make single centuries when the ball has been curving round corners.
As Bradman was too single-minded to be popular among his own players, he spent a lot of time with the English journalists; or Cardus at least gives us the impression he did: “When I arrived in Adelaide in November, Bradman assured me that he did not intend to score ‘any more two hundreds in Test matches’; he wished to enjoy himself.” The pair were apparently still talking after “the Don” had snatched the Ashes from under England’s nose, whereupon Cardus summed up Bradman as “a terrible little man, but likeable, and with a wistful something about him, probably that melancholy which Aristotle says is the mark of all the great ones of the earth”.
Kohli is more popular with his team, and more self-expressive, never hiding his emotions, indeed revealing them after every ball that India’s bowlers deliver. He has hardly put a foot wrong so far when batting, given that the pitches could have been made with James Anderson in mind. The only time he has put a hand wrong was at Trent Bridge when a slip chance offered by Adil Rashid sped through his grasp.
England have drawn only one of their past 30 Tests at home, but they would be happy for one this week. Then they could proceed to the Oval in the driving seat, knowing India would have to take risks in the fifth Test and chase the game. But for that to happen they have first to make a large firstinnings total, and somebody has to score a big hundred for England, in addition to preventing Kohli becoming India’s Don.
Injury blow: Jonny Bairstow leaves the field during the third Test and is likely to play as a batsman only for England at the Ageas Bowl