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Thursday, February 25, 2021

India vs England 2nd Test: Spoilt for choice

Sticking to a winning combination is considered a cricketing truism, but England think differently in era of rotation and bio-bubbles.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Chennai |
Updated: February 12, 2021 7:59:55 am
India vs EnglandJames Anderson and Joe Root in action during the first Test against India. (AP)

Jofra Archer will miss the second Test starting on Saturday due to an injured right elbow, the England team management has confirmed. According to an ECB statement, the fast bowler had an injection in his right elbow after experiencing “discomfort” during the first Test.

In any case, the England think-tank has been mulling rotation for the second Test, with Stuart Broad for James Anderson a possibility and Ben Foakes for Jos Buttler a certainty. Olly Stone could replace the injured Archer, while Moeen Ali for Dom Bess is an option. In Covid times and a bio-secure environment, the England team management puts a bigger emphasis on rotation rather than retaining a winning combination.

Broad for Anderson?

Sounds crazy, especially on the heels of his fifth-day masterclass in the first Test, in which Anderson broke India’s backbone in a five-over spell. Of late, though, Anderson and Broad haven’t been playing together much, with an eye to workload management. England adopted the formula in “spring-summer 2018”. Last summer, Anderson played the first Test against the West Indies. He was rested for the second Test against the men from the Caribbean before he returned for the third, while Broad played both the second and the third Tests.

The subsequent home series against Pakistan saw Broad and Anderson hunting in a pair in all three Tests, but in Sri Lanka last month, Broad played the first Test, while Anderson replaced him for the second. The latter was England’s preferred choice in the series opener against India and head coach Chris Silverwood has dropped a hint that Broad will be in the XI for the second Test.

“It’s hard to leave a player like Anderson out… He is a class act. But Stuart Broad didn’t play in the last game and we have many bowlers here who we could play at any given point,” Silverwood told reporters on Wednesday.

The policy comes from higher up in the decision-making pyramid.

“We look to take player management very, very seriously. It’s something we have looked into and worked closely with individual players and also as a group and in that period (since spring-summer 2018) in all three formats we are winning about 70% of the completed matches,” England chief selector Ed Smith said at a press conference on Thursday.

Broad for Anderson?

Like-for-like?

Anderson is 38, while Broad is 34. So managing their workload in a year when England are due to play 17 Tests becomes important. As Silverwood insisted, the tourists will rotate without “weakening” the team. Anderson has 611 wickets from 158 Tests, Broad has 517 from 144. So there’s virtually no difference in terms of quality on offer.

At the same time, Anderson has always been India’s nemesis irrespective of conditions, for a decade and a half. The Chepauk special three days back was his latest. Anderson has taken 31 wickets at a shade over 30 runs per wicket in 11 Tests in India, but impact-wise, the great fast bowler remains unmatched.

In seven Tests in India so far, Broad has accounted for 10 scalps at 53.90, a stat that the England think-tank has to consider. Also, Anderson is going through an ‘Asian’ purple patch at the moment – the Chepauk burst came on the back of a six-for in Galle.

Silverwood, though, is looking at the bigger picture. “I’m not reluctant to change a winning team if it’s the best thing to do for the players and the team and the longevity of it,” he said.

‘Keeping swap

Buttler has flown home and will return for the limited-overs leg of the tour. Again, this is part of the team’s rotation policy. Moving from one bio-bubble to another can affect players’ psyche. This is why Jonny Bairstow returned home after the Sri Lanka tour and will be available from the third Test onwards in India.

Foakes is widely considered the best England wicketkeeper at the moment, notwithstanding that he played his last Test two years ago. A Test average north of 41, including a century and a half-century in five Tests, attests Foakes’ batting credentials. In fact, he has a better Test batting average than Buttler (34.53). However, Buttler is a 50-Test veteran and knows Indian conditions due to being an IPL regular. With the bat, he has the ability to singlehandedly take a game away from the opponents.

“We worked really closely with Jos and his schedule and we are very much working together for the good of England cricket. And everyone felt that was the right thing to do. So there was no thought of a last-minute U-turn,” Smith said.

The head coach believes any changes made due to the rotation policy will not make the England team any weaker, as they brace for an Indian fightback.

“You run the risk of the result being different, but you could play the same team and the result would be different because we know India will come back hard,” Silverwood stuck to his guns.

Moeen’s case

Bess was a mixed bag in the first Test. The off-spinner bowled pretty decently to claim four wickets in the first innings. But he bowled very poorly in the second innings.

Moeen has 2,782 runs and 181 wickets in 60 Tests. In Buttler’s absence, he could offer more batting depth.

Thinking ‘pink’

There’s a school of thought in the England camp that all three frontline fast bowlers should play the third Test, a day-night pink-ball affair in Ahmedabad from February 24. Little wonder then that England want Anderson, Broad and Archer in top shape for that match.

Stone is quick and can make the ball rear from back-of-a-length. Like India, England, too, have a meaty reserve bench to fall back on.

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