England’s bizarre team selection leaves them exposed
Generals, they say, are always fighting the last war. And as Joe Root announced his team for the fourth Test in India, there was more than a sense that England were doing the same. In Ahmedabad last week, England picked three specialist seamers on a pitch that demanded only one. A Test played on fast-forward demanded depth in batting, not bowling. yet England had Jofra Archer batting in the same position as his Test average of eight. Archer and Stuart Broad, two of England’s four specialist bowlers, delivered just 11 overs between them. For this Test in Ahmedabad, England picked the side that, with hindsight, they should have deployed in the day-night Test. They only picked one specialist seamer, Jimmy Anderson, alongside Ben Stokes. Dom Bess was brought in as the second frontline spinner – in the process, providing some lower-order solidity. And, most strikingly, Dan Lawrence was selected as a specialist batsman at number seven, leaving England with only three frontline bowlers, and Stokes and Joe Root, fresh from his 5-8, in support. India vs England, fourth Test – day one: live score and latest updates from Ahmedabad The upshot was one of the most unconventional England sides picked in years. While Moeen Ali was a regular member of the side until 2019, England frequently selected him as the fourth bowler, with Stokes as the fifth, but his Test record as an off-spinner is of a different order altogether to Root’s. England also sometimes picked Andrew Flintoff as part of a four-man attack, with Paul Collingwood as the fifth bowler, but Flintoff bowled ten more overs a Test than Stokes throughout his career. This was not only a decidedly unorthodox team; it also looked like a side picked not to lose a Test rather than win one to level the series. But the Ahmedabad pitch gave England no doubts that the Test would race to a positive conclusion, even if with a little less alacrity than the two-day pink-ball Test. How had England got here? The detritus of five consecutive innings of under 200, culminating in the calamity of scoring 193 across both innings in the third Test, had pushed England to doing everything they could to fortify the batting line-up. A few years ago England had an abundance of all-round cricketers, enabling them to field a six-man attack which still included Adil Rashid, the scorer of 10 first-class centuries, at number six. Now, with Rashid, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran all unavailable for different reasons, England’s lower order has an altogether more porous feel. Read more: Sachin Tendulkar exclusive: The secrets of playing spin, Joe Root’s brilliance – and why Test cricket needs more great rivalries And so, one Test after being dropped, after a sequence of 59 runs in six innings, Dan Lawrence was recalled. While his new position of seven will give him a better chance of thriving than batting at number three – where he has not batted for Essex since 2017 – that Lawrence was selected ahead of Rory Burns as the extra batsman still felt instructive. Burns has 23 Tests to Lawrence’s four, is a left-hander – like only Stokes of England’s top nine – and is seven years older. Picking Burns would also have allowed England to move Jonny Bairstow down the order away from number three. As Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Siraj generated movement and bounce with the new ball, they made clear that Archer and Broad would have been far less redundant than last week. In their absence, Stokes, who has taken only one wicket so far this winter, will have an essential role with the ball. But as he reached a fine 50 to help rectify England’s torrid start in more benign batting conditions, at least he could expect altogether more support with the bat. England’s team selection is an approach fraught with risk. But against these opponents in these conditions, the same would have been true of all the alternatives.