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India v England 2024

Misfiring middle order and Bashir’s lack of back up: where England lost the Ranchi Test

The players at the end of the Ranchi Test
Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read

Defeat at Ranchi consigned England to their first series loss under the leadership of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum.

In the end, 192 just wasn’t enough to work with in the final innings after England ceded the initiative on a chastening third day that they began as overwhelming favourites but ended with only slim hopes of a fightback.

So, where was the Ranchi Test won and lost?

A missed opportunity to go in for the kill

This was a peculiar pitch. It exhibited uneven bounce on all four days but batting did not necessarily become much more testing as the match progressed. After the game Stokes suggested that the pitch’s changeable dynamic reflected temperature swings but whatever the cause, the surface’s behaviour was not easy to predict.

Batting was often hardest in the middle of the day when temperatures peaked and it was then on day two that Shoaib Bashir ran through the India middle order. With India 177-7, England threatened to put the match to bed on day two only for Dhruv Jurel and Kuldeep Yadav to see out the final 18 overs of the day and build on that foundation over the first hour of day three.

Could England have tried more here? As brilliantly as Bashir bowled, he was exhausted by the close, briefly requiring treatment for cramp. His off-breaks were missing the venom and bite that made him so threatening earlier in the day. Tom Hartley was steady but the India pair were comfortable. In that final hour, only three England overs were bowled by anyone other than Hartley and Bashir – with the ball reversing earlier in the piece, Anderson and Robinson could have provided a different avenue of attack. Joe Root did not bowl until the 71st over of the innings; he could have been used more when it went flat for England in the dying stages of the day. Ollie Robinson’s dropped catch of Jurel on 59 on the third morning also proved vital for the hosts not conceding too damaging a first-innings deficit.

Middle order misfires again

England’s Nos. 3-7 have played 40 innings between them this series and only three have resulted in fifty-plus scores. Yes, two of them rank as some of the best overseas hundreds played by Englishmen in recent times but it is an analysis that makes success in India a long shot at best. There is not a simple explanation for the collective middle-order struggle; Pope, a scratchy starter, is without a score since Hyderabad, Root is hopefully back to his best after a recalibration, Bairstow has made several starts but has been dismissed five times between 25 and 40, Stokes’ footwork looked awry in the second innings and while Foakes played a fine hand in the first innings, he is not a natural batter with the tail which is an issue for someone who has only ever batted seven or eight in Test cricket. It is perhaps a reflection of the quality and variety of the India attack; even without Bumrah in Ranchi, Rohit had five top-class options to turn to at all times.

Bashir lacks support

Bashir was outstanding in Ranchi. He took seven of the 12 India top order wickets to fall over the Test and was Stokes’ go-to option throughout. But he lacked support. Hartley had his quietest Test of the series and Ollie Robinson was rusty on his return. He was battling his run-up, averaging a no-ball every other over and looking down on pace. It is remarkable that England have kept India honest for so much of the series with such an inexperienced spin attack, but there were times in Ranchi when the disparity between the two attacks was laid bare, none more so than on the third evening when England’s indiscipline with the ball helped India race off to a flyer.

India’s young guns step up

This is not the same India that has built up a formidable home record over the past decade or so. Of the XI that played in Ranchi, only Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin had more than 25 Tests under their belts heading into this series. The prolific Yashasvi Jaiswal played an important hand once again but the contributions of Dhruv Jurel and Akash Deep, in their second and first Tests respectively, were similarly important.

Deep single-handedly removed England’s dangerous top three on the first morning of the Test while Jurel twice dug India out of a hole displaying the maturity and game awareness of someone far more senior. There is deserved excitement around this new crop of India Test cricketers that perhaps will raise expectations that they will be capable of maintaining their outstanding home record with their next generation of stars.

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