1 R&R is hard to do
“Productivity isn’t everything,” wrote the economist Paul Krugman. “But in the long run, it’s almost everything.” When looking for a place to point fingers in response to England’s rotation policy, replace productivity with scheduling. Of course, in a year like no other for workload, they had no option but to mix and match. It’s far from perfect, but – to borrow the maxim of these Covid times – it is what it is.
Then the wheels fell off. Quickly, the discussion around player welfare morphed into another about the primacy of Test cricket compared to the shorter forms. The handling of Moeen Ali during the second Test, when he was asked whether he would be willing to crack on and skip his breather before his block of white-ball commitments, fuelled the fire. But regrettable as it is that England weren’t able to field their best teams, it is going to become routine even after bio bubbles are beyond us, unless frenetic schedules are reformed to meet the realities of the modern game. Dull stuff, for sure, but it’s almost everything.
2 Jimmy Anderson is Richard Hadlee
He’s avoided the moustache, but the arc Anderson is on bears an uncanny resemblance to that of New Zealand’s greatest bowler in comparable periods of their extraordinary careers. In four Tests over the winter, England’s 38-year-old finished with a combined 14 for 173 from 96.5 overs (44 maidens!) at an average of 12.35, going at an absurd 1.78 runs an over.
Tracking back over the past five years, this takes his tally in that period to 181 victims at 19.96 at 2.37 an over. For Hadlee, in his final five years through to his retirement at age 39 – the most productive of his storied journey – it was 165 scalps at 19.81 at an economy rate of 2.57. The commonality: opposing batsmen offering utmost respect, making them as efficient as they are effective. And for Anderson, his march to 700 wickets has well and truly begun.
3 Know your role and stick to it
Finishing a bad tour on a relatively high note as Dan Lawrence did – with 46 and 50 in Ahmedabad – guarantees he will be higher up the pecking order than otherwise might have been when the summer arrives. But it’s the next step that’s more important: finding a place to call his own, having bounced between three, five and seven.
For why, see Jonny Bairstow. The snakes-and-ladders dance is one he knows well, serving him dreadfully. From the world-leading wicketkeeper-batsman at No 7 the last time England were in India, he has now bagged six ducks in his past nine innings against those opponents, including three in four hits after returning at No 3 in this series. It’s a sad mess that the Test career of a player capable of so much might be done at age 31. The lesson? In this business, contrary to most professions, it serves to specialise.
4 The right time for Bess to step back
Dom Bess, so it has been drilled into us from the moment he bolted into the Test arena in 2018, is made of stern stuff. That he made his teammates smile as a 20-year-old helped, as it did when he made a great fist of a second unexpected appearance in South Africa last winter. The proposition with him is sound: every bit of experience the off-spinner acquires now will pay off when he’s at the peak of his powers – a bit like Nathan Lyon a decade ago.
But even good eggs crack, and that’s what happened as India made a calculated decision to attack Bess through his nervous return to the bowling crease having been an unexpected omission for the second Test and missing the third too. All of a sudden this performance was loaded up as a referendum for whether he was up to the task full stop. Sure enough, it didn’t end well. The good news for Bess is there’s a consensus he was dealt bad cards in India. And because he has so much time on his side he will get the chance to regroup with hundreds of overs this season for Yorkshire, his new club. Now to use that time well.
5 India’s growth by choice not chance
Axar Patel and Washington Sundar in this series, Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj in Australia – Shardul Thakur and T Natarajan too. The depth India have displayed in just two-and a-bit months of Test cricket this year is astonishing. But this production line is no coincidence; rather it’s a direct consequence of the hunt for hidden local gems by Indian Premier League franchises over the past decade.
Going back to 2019, a major goal of World Cup organisers was to bring new people to the game at home. It did a fine job, and then 2020 happened. India have filled their talent pool by choice, not chance. In the post-pandemic world, it’s a challenge England must embrace.