Remember that one subject in the fifth semester of College that 90% of the class would end up flunking? Yeah? Well, a vast majority of the English team ended up having their fifth semester moment in the series against India.
Dom Sibley: D-
A patient, impeccable 87 on the very first day of the tour made it look like he’d overcome his spin demons, but that turned out to be a false dawn. He accumulated just 47 runs across his next 7 innings and was a walking duck versus spin bowling, falling to the slower bowlers on six occasions. Lack of scoring options versus spinners a major concern, even more than his unsound technique.
Looked like a million bucks versus pace bowling, but, unfortunately, was at sea versus the spinners – particularly against the left-arm spin of Axar Patel. Was dismissed by the slower bowlers in each of his 4 knocks and looked like a man searching for answers; trying to figure out the ideal method to combat spin. Unlike Sibley, though, Crawley did not look short of options and did try a fair few things to turn the tide his way. To his dismay, however, execution was all over the place.
Perhaps if it wasn’t for that damned reverse sweep in the first hour of the first session of the tour, Rory Burns’ winter might have been different. For 59 balls he looked in complete control, but one botched reverse sweep and his fortunes did a 180-turn. He never really recovered post that, managing to score just 25 runs – two ducks – off 3 innings, being at the mercy of Ashwin everytime he walked to bat. The rest of the team failed, yes, but for someone who is a seasoned campaigner, and for someone who has prior sub-continent experience, Burns’ showing was disappointing.
Joe Root: C
The double-hundred in Chennai made the world believe that Root was going to have a tour so dominant that it would be spoken about in the decades to come, but, once the ball started turning, the England skipper was not any better than his rookie teammates. Across the last three Tests – where the ball spun sharply – Root averaged a mere 18.33 and failed to post a single fifty. ‘No support from his teammates’ cannot be an excuse, for, ultimately he did not inspire confidence with his insipid batting against the turning ball. A golden opportunity missed to immortalize himself as one of the all-time great batsmen.
Ben Stokes: C-
Salvaged some pride with a breathtaking, lung-busting display with the ball in the final Test, but ultimately let the team down when it really mattered, particularly being a senior batter. Again, like Root, made no contributions against the turning ball. Averaged 19 across the last three Tests and was, throughout the series, eaten for breakfast by the off-spin of Ravichandran Ashwin. Also, let the team down with the ball in each of the first three Tests. A series in which the wizardry miracle man looked like a mere muggle.
Probably the one player who disappointed the most. He had little match practice heading into the tour, yes, but having displayed elite batsmanship in the first 13 Tests of his career, Pope was no God in the India series. He ended up averaging 19.12 and failed to pass the 35-run mark in each of his 8 innings. Had a fair bit of misfortune, but, against the off-spin of Ashwin, looked more like a baseballer than a cricketer.
Dan Lawrence: C
The only young English batsman who showed genuine signs of improvement as the series progressed. Was initially thrown into the deep end at No.3, and he struggled there but produced a masterful display in the final Test in Ahmedabad. Looked susceptible versus pace, but showcased exceptional problem-solving ability versus spin. The timidity he displayed – both against India and Sri Lanka – might make him England’s banker come their next tour of the subcontinent.
Jonny Bairstow: F
Bairstow being rested for the first two Tests of the series created a furore in England, but, much to the visitors’ utter horror, his return proved to be a tragicomedy. The ‘spin specialist’ not only ended up getting dismissed thrice by the slower bowlers but also registered three ducks to take his tally of ducks against India to 6 in the last 10 innings. The Yorkshireman never looked like a force to be reckoned with, and his technique and temperament were exposed by the faultless Indian bowlers. This tour could very much spell curtains to his red-ball career.
Played a solitary Test owing to the rotation policy and did no wrong in the sole appearance. Did certainly not make a difference, but was solid with both bat and gloves. England sorely missed his batting prowess versus spin in each of the last three Tests.
Ben Foakes: C-
Put up as good a wicket-keeping display as anyone ever has in the subcontinent, but did not do justice to his talent with the bat. Looked extremely organized in his very first outing in Chennai, an unbeaten 42, but only managed to amass 36 runs across the next five innings. With Buttler having tremendously improved his glovework, Foakes might not get a look into the Test side anytime soon. That said, he might just have benefitted by batting a couple of places up the order.
Moeen Ali: B
For someone who hadn’t played Test cricket in 18 months, Moeen Ali’s performance in Chennai, particularly in hindsight, was laudable. He picked 8 wickets, scored a quickfire 43, and despite leaking runs with the ball, bowled more threatening, wicket-taking deliveries than any other English bowler. That his break-time came after the 2nd Test was a huge blow for England, but now with Bess struggling to even land the ball on the wicket, one suspects Moeen might have already regained the tag of the country’s #1 off-spinner.
Dom Bess had a series of two halves – the one that ravaged India with bat and ball in the first innings of the first Test, and then the one that, post the first innings of Chennai, looked like he’d forgotten how to bowl. Within a span of a day – and no one knows how – Bess from being a x-factor to becoming a liability. He turned into a full-toss and long-hop machine, was dropped from the third Test on a raging turner and in the fourth Test put up the worst display by a specialist spinner in recent memory. He was the first-choice spinner for England not so long ago, but, should he continue bowling the way he currently is, he might once again find it hard to get a gig at county level.
Jack Leach: A+
By some distance England’s player of the series. Unlike Bess, Leach had a nightmare of a start to the series, falling victim to the wrath of Rishabh Pant, but from Day 2 onwards he was as good as any other bowler in the series – yes, including Ashwin. With his drift, consistency, accuracy and testing line and lengths, Leach tormented the Indian batsmen and kept his side alive in the series almost single-handedly. He made Pujara look like an over-hyped domestic cricketer and bowled like someone who’d grown up plying his trade on dust bowls. Is now probably the first name in England’s teamsheet.
Jofra Archer: D
Threatened to have a breakthrough series by blowing away the Indian openers in his very first spell in the tour, but that turned out to be his only decent contribution in the series. Was flat, down on pace, and unthreatening in a vast majority of his spells and turned out to be less of an x-factor and more of a burden. And, contrary to popular thought, is probably also the worst batsman in the side. Another opportunity to impress gone begging.
Raised expectations with a stellar showing in the first Test against Sri Lanka, but, in both the Tests he played, let his team down immeasurably. That he only played on rank-turners cannot be denied, but his bowling lacked zip and bite and he also did not showcase the discipline he is famous for. In both the games Broad played, it did feel like England went into the contest with 10 men.
Olly Stone: B+
Olly Stone had a dream start to the tour, striking off his third ball, and the tearaway, despite playing only one Test, ended up enhancing his reputation. Even on a Chennai wicket that had no assistance for the quicker bowlers, Stone’s pace hurried batsmen, but what was more impressive was his control. He kept bombarding the batsmen with rockets and could so easily have had a five-fer to his name. With his showing in Chennai, Stone ensured that, hereon, he will be right in the mix to be an out-and-out enforcer for the side in games away from home.
James Anderson: A+
Words simply won’t do justice to James Anderson’s astounding display in the Test series. On the final day of the first Test, he orchestrated the victory for his side with an all-time-great display of reverse-swing bowling and in the final Test, he almost single-handedly threatened to level the series. Anderson took his 8 wickets at 15.87 a piece, but what is scarcely believable is his economy rate – the 38-year-old maintained a preposterous ER of 1.92 after sending down 65.5 overs. If England had batsmen who were more competent, it goes unsaid that Anderson would have bowled the side to a famous series win.