England have won the Pataudi Trophy 3-1 with the final Test at The Oval remaining. On paper, it would seem India have all the personnel and technique issues while it’s smooth sailing for England.
But on closer scrutiny, it becomes apparent that England need to plug a lot more gaps than India when it comes to the Test line-up. Even as India started the series without their two main fast bowlers in Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, the team management had enough faith in the pace attack to take 20 wickets regularly.
England scored more than 300 only once while the Indians did it twice, albeit in the same Test at Trent Bridge. It showed bowling was not the issue for the Indian team. It was the batting. Even with captain Virat Kohli amassing 544 runs – nearly twice as much as the next best Jos Buttler (260) – none of the Indian batsmen could manage even half as many runs as Kohli.
India know all they need is a couple of batsmen to hang around consistently for Kohli to stamp his class and secure Tests.
England, on the other hand, have a batting line-up in a state of flux. There is hardly any stability to it and while they deserve all the credit for winning the close moments and fighting it out throughout four Tests, the lower order contribution of Sam Curran (250 runs) played a disproportionately large part in snatching wins from the jaws of defeat in a low-scoring series.
As things stand, England have no clarity about who their long-term openers are after the retirement decision of Alastair Cook. Jonny Bairstow seems to have lost his wicketkeeping gloves for good and with it his confidence. He is now a number five batsman who might have to bat higher and maybe even open if the management thinks it will work.
Moeen Ali starred with the ball and bat in the fourth Test, picking up nine wickets in the match scoring 40 in the first innings. He batted at number three in the second innings with coach Trevor Bayliss suggesting that can be an option going forward. Then we have captain Joe Root at four followed by the middle and lower order of Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Sam Curran plus three bowlers.
The England management is looking at many options for the future but it doesn’t have to be that complicated. England have one young top-order talent who can fix many problems, provide necessary stability and take pressure off some of the all-rounders – Ollie Pope.
The 20-year-old batsman showed good technique and composure during his three outings in the second and third Tests. Granted his top score was just 28 but for whatever time he was at the crease, he looked in complete control of his game. He got out on some very helpful pitches against a world-class pace attack in a series where almost all batsmen have struggled.
Pope and Root can bat at number three and four (or switch numbers). Keaton Jennings and someone like Rory Burns (or Bairstow if the England management has made up its mind) should open. If Bairstow opens, Buttler comes in at five, Stokes at six and Moeen at seven followed by Curran at eight and then three bowlers depending on conditions – three quicks or two quicks and Adil Rashid.
Pope has a good technique and like Curran, bats without fear. The Surrey batsman has it in him to make runs as conditions won’t be as challenging as they have been in the England-India series. And if England persist with him in the top order, many of their issues can go away and they won’t have to worry about asking Root to bat up or down. Problem solved.