NASSER HUSSAIN: England can't use the pitch as an excuse for losing

NASSER HUSSAIN: England CANNOT use the pitch as an excuse for losing in Ahmedabad – a lack of spin options and failure of batsmen to spot the danger showed us where they are as a Test side in these conditions

  • Ahmedabad pitch did not provide a fair contest between bat and ball 
  • India’s spinners Patel and Ashwin exploited the conditions beautifully
  • England batsmen failed to adapt and 14 dismissals were either bowled or lbw
  • England suffer 10 wicket defeat inside two days to go 2-1 down in four-Test series

I don’t believe the Ahmedabad pitch provided a fair contest between bat and ball – but neither do I believe England can use that as an excuse for losing the third Test.

The occasional short Test match isn’t bad for cricket. The amount of chat on social media about that game must have been off the scale, and for five sessions you could not take your eyes off it. When the tea interval arrived on the second evening, I didn’t want the players to leave the field.

But you wouldn’t want every Test to be like that. And what made that surface a more difficult one than the second Test at Chennai was the fact that one ball turned and the next did not – and there was no obvious way for the batsmen to differentiate. You end up prodding at the ball, which deprives batsmen of the chance to get into any sort of rhythm.

Ollie Pope was one of 14 England batsmen to be dismissed by being either bowled or lbw

India’s two spinners – Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin – exploited the conditions beautifully: Patel with his pace and accuracy, Ashwin with his clever variations.

But for batsmen on both sides – and don’t forget India were bowled out for 145 – it was an exhausting business. It was fun to watch, but probably less fun to play. And let’s face it: if Joe Root is taking five for eight, you can hardly say the pitch is a belter.

Having said all that, England should expect little else when they come to India. And they ought to have done better after winning the toss. Above all, this game told us a lot about where England are as a Test side in these conditions.

India’s two spinners Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin exploited the conditions beautifully

The alarm bells began to ring after they won the first Test on a flat surface in Chennai, and Joe Root said that Dom Bess – who had picked up 17 wickets at 22 in three matches – had to go away and work at his game.

He was basically saying he didn’t trust the guy who was England’s first-choice spinner last summer. And when Moeen Ali went home, as planned, after taking eight wickets in the second Test, it left them without many options. That’s a worry for English cricket in general.

Then there was the repetitive nature of the dismissals: 14 of England’s 20 wickets were either bowled or lbw, with Patel claiming five lbws alone.

Alarm bells began to ring after Joe Root said Dom Bess had to go away and work at his game

Maybe because of what happened in the last game, or maybe because they saw one turn big on the first morning to Zak Crawley, the batsmen kept playing for turn, and getting beaten on the inside. There should probably have come a point where they said: OK, let’s make sure we cover ourselves on the inside edge, and if they get us with one that turns and takes the outside edge, then fair enough.

I’m not saying it was easy. With DRS, you can no longer kick it away with your pad, so batsmen are more determined than they once were to get bat on ball.

Also, it’s possible that the lacquer on the pink ball made it skid through more, which turned Patel’s arm-ball into a wicket-taking delivery, because it was coming a fraction faster off the pitch.

But England ought to have been more alert to what Patel was trying to do. It’s a bit like when we batted against Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in their pomp, and they’d get the reverse-swinging yorker going. Our plan – and it wasn’t always successful – was to guard against the one that crushed us on the toe. We realised that was the danger ball, rather than the one that went away outside off stump.

England succumbed to a 10-wicket defeat against India inside two days of the third Test

You try to protect yourself from the danger delivery, and it felt as if England kept repeating the same mistake against Patel.

Take nothing away from India’s spinners, though. Patel’s accuracy is mind-boggling, and part of England’s problem was that he gave them nothing to hit, which meant natural variation came into play.

And Ashwin knows exactly what he’s doing in these conditions. I’ve never seen Ollie Pope hop around as much as he did in this Test.

There’ll be a lot of discussion about the pitch, and the hasty decision-making of the third umpire, and so on. But that’s for others to discuss. The bottom line for England is that they won a good toss, and collapsed from 74 for two to 112 in their first innings. In the end, that’s what cost them the Test. 

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