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Why England captain Joe Root is right to urge caution despite superb start to India series

·3-min read
<p>Joe Root led England to a magnificent first Test win over India in Chennai</p> (Sportzpics for BCCI)

Joe Root led England to a magnificent first Test win over India in Chennai

(Sportzpics for BCCI)

How soon is too soon to cool the jets of followers of English cricket revelling in one of the great wins?

After his Chennai masterpiece, Joe Root wasted no time at all to exercise caution. Even after a special win like this and all the demystification of the experience of playing in India that comes with it, they are only in the foothills of a series – and things are going to get tougher yet.

This might play to a stereotype of Root as a conservative captain, who does not often enforce the follow-on, declare early or pack in close catchers. All three criticisms levelled at him, even in a special individual performance (he made 258 runs, with the match’s next highest-scorer making 103) that left him uniquely placed to judge the situation.

They ended up winning with 45 overs to spare and the end justified the means. As has often been the case for a captain who has won six overseas Tests in a row, their last six in Asia, and 26 times overall, equalling the England record.

Root was bang on, too, by not getting too carried away: history backs him up. India’s last home defeat, against Australia in 2017, was also a series opener, and they ended up winning that set of four 2-1. The last time England, or indeed any visiting team, won a series in India, they had to come from behind.

Come from behind, incidentally, is exactly what India just did in Australia, when being bowled out for 36, their captain going home, bowlers dropping like flies and racist abuse from the stands, was not enough to send them off course.

From here, things get harder. Root cannot expect to win every toss and some long sessions in the field await; with that batting order – and Kohli looking in formidable touch on Tuesday – India’s wait for a centurion will not last long. The same number of no balls – 27, the most in a Test since 2012 – will not be tolerated again. The attack will likely be better balanced, too.

England are in the strange situation that they are in rude health, but intentionally weakening themselves. Vice-captain Jos Buttler flew home on Wednesday, meaning four players are missing, rested for this game. Ben Foakes is an extremely able deputy, but is not as broad a batsman as Buttler – who averages 50 in the last year – and is not one of Root’s most trusted confidantes.

And they are likely to make even more changes to a winning team. Stuart Broad should return for Jimmy Anderson, because the system of playing one at a time is working beautifully – they have shared 14 wickets at an average of 10 and an economy of 1.6. It is hard to leave Anderson out, but he needs preserving for the day-night Test in Ahmedabad (India’s 36 all out came against the pink ball). Broad will be straining at the leash, too.

If Jofra Archer is fresh, he should go again (Olly Stone or Chris Woakes are on hand if not), but England will consider Dom Bess’s position. Having bowled so well in the first innings, he struggled badly for control in the second. Calling for Moeen Ali’s 181 wickets – plus two centuries in India – when 1-0 up could be an inspired move. Shrewd management, a strength of Root’s, will be required for Bess.

There is one final change that tip the scales in India’s favour this week. Final preparations are being put in place for 15,000 fans to attend each day – and they will not let England know which side they are supporting. England have done particularly well in the behind-closed-doors age and away teams have enjoyed the silence.

A great start, as Root said. But that is it.

Read More

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