Stokes shines but another England batting failure is hard to stomach

By John Skilbeck 4 March 2021 70
Stokes shines but another England batting failure is hard to stomach

Ben Stokes fought off a stomach upset to prop up another dismal England batting effort as India dominated day one of the fourth Test.

The all-rounder battled his way to 55 in a team total of 205 at the Narendra Modi Stadium, with England's hopes of drawing this series now seemingly in the hands of their bowlers.

James Anderson snatched the wicket of Shubman Gill from the third ball of India's reply, with the home team reaching stumps on 24-1.

After heavy defeats in Chennai and then inside two days last week in Ahmedabad, the second match of the series to be played at this stadium looked to be following a depressingly familiar pattern for England supporters.

England at least passed 200, having not done so for five successive innings, but that was small consolation as they again proved fragile against India's spinners. They need a win in this final match to draw the series.

There was much to enjoy for the Indian crowd, who savoured the sight of Zak Crawley, Dom Sibley and captain Joe Root all back in the hutch with just 30 runs on the board in the morning.

Axar Patel made the first incursions, bowling Sibley (2) off a slight inside edge as the England man waited for the turn that never came. That was from Axar's second ball of the match, and having taken 11 wickets in the previous Test, it was a foreboding message to England.

The left-arm spinner snared his second victim of this match when he had Crawley caught at mid-off, the batsman on the charge but hoisting the ball with a lack of control.

Root's recent hot streak very much ended in Chennai, and his pair of cheap dismissals in last week's third Test in Ahmedabad was emblematic of England's wider failings. His struggles continued when he was removed for just five this time, pinned lbw by Mohammed Siraj.

Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes began to rebuild for England, before Bairstow (28) went the same way as Yorkshire colleague Root when Siraj struck for a second time.

Stokes, shrugging off his stomach complaint, had been going through his repertoire, sweeping, reverse-sweeping, and looking in good shape, until Washington Sundar trapped him in front.

Ollie Pope (29) and Dan Lawrence (46) made starts but could not stay out there long enough.

The tourists scraped their way above 200, but former captain Andrew Strauss, analysing for Channel 4, lamented what he described as "a poor batting performance from England, there's no two ways about it".


New role for Stokes

With Jofra Archer ruled out by his ongoing right elbow problem, England elected to name James Anderson as their one frontline seamer, deciding the pitch would be most receptive to spin and pairing Jack Leach with Dom Bess. It was therefore Stokes to whom England turned as an opening pace partner for Anderson. Stokes has fulfilled various roles in his storied England career but this was his first stint as an opening bowler. With the all-rounder perhaps not in the best health for it, it was little surprise when he was taken out of the attack after bowling two overs.

Axar and Ashwin put England in a spin... again

Three lbw verdicts to spin in England's innings told its own story. Stokes, Bess and Leach could not pick the straight ball, with Axar, Ashwin and Washington Sundar getting a wicket each that way. Axar finished with 4-68, Ashwin took 3-47, and England must hope their own spin squad of Bess, Leach and perhaps skipper Root can inflict similar damage on day two. India took advantage of some poor batting from England though, and a better-focused India effort could see them take the match away from the tourists. Axar, remarkably, has 22 wickets at 10.81 in his Test career to date.

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John Skilbeck

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