This England Test team is at a crossroads and Andrew Strauss has some tough decisions to make about how it will develop in the future.
Do England go straight on and keep everything the same or do they take a new direction? They have the potential to be better than any other England side because they a lot of talent. But potential is one thing, delivering is another.
It is not inconceivable that they will lose this series against India 4-0 and if that happens it will mean England have lost eight Test matches this calendar year, the most since the dark days of the Nineties.
Losing eight Test matches would simply not be good enough for this team when you consider the talent it has at its disposal.
This side has England’s record Test run-scorer in Alastair Cook. Joe Root will arguably end up being England’s best batsman and the wicketkeeper, Jonny Bairstow, is on the verge of scoring more runs than any other England player in a calendar year, and has already taken more dismissals than any other keeper in the history of the game in one year.
Stuart Broad and James Anderson are two of the best bowlers England have ever had in terms of wickets taken and match-winning performances. Then on top of all that you have Ben Stokes, who is going to be in category of Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff by the time he retires. That equates to six top players. Add in the likes of Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid’s leg-spin and you have a side any captain would love to lead.
But they are consistently under performing. Individuals have to ask why. Is the set up too comfortable? Is it all a bit too nice? Only they will know the answer to that. Looking from the outside, there seems to be an aversion to ruffling the feathers of this Test team. The more I look at it the more I wonder if they need to let Root, Stokes and Bairstow take the team forward. Their mentality and energy might be what the team needs. Perhaps the senior players have to take a backward step and accept it is the time for the new generation to lead. Let’s see what they have got.
When a team bats down to nine and has six bowling options like this England outfit then they are a strong side. The bowling unit is not letting the team down. Yes, sometimes the tactics are questionable but that is often just opinion. We all look at tactics differently. But what is not good enough is losing four wickets in the opening session of a Test when you have won the toss, which is what England did on the first day of the third Test in Mohali.
Sometimes you have to play old school cricket. Grind the opposition down, bat 150 overs in the first innings and reach lunch one-wicket down. But England took the mentality to the crease on day one that the pitch would explode so they had to score runs quickly. It was clear the pitch was playing well so they had to bat responsibly like they did in Rajkot. This India set-up is intent on producing fair pitches. They want to beat England without giving them the excuse that they were only defeated on minefields. It means England have to bat properly.
Only six times in the past 20 Tests have England passed 400 in the first innings. Over that period I would argue they have played on only two pitches in Dhaka and Chittagong where 400 would be have been an exceptional score. Take out those two games and that leaves 12 out of 18 occasions, 66 per cent of the time, when England have failed to go past 400 in the first innings and that is all down to mentality, reading situations and not being prepared to work through difficult sessions of bowling.
Have England improved over the past two years in Test cricket? They have shown a huge amount of promise, performance levels that are really high and then as soon as we expect them to deliver they underperform. They look like a team that does not like being under pressure to deliver.
Strauss has to ask is this an era when we are focusing too much on one-day cricket? I agree that one-day cricket needed more attention. But has it meant focus has been taken away from the Test team? Does the balance have to be better?
At the end of the last World Cup England decided they had to move in a different direction in one-day cricket. A new coach was appointed and even though it started under Paul Farbrace, Trevor Bayliss and Eoin Morgan took performances on to the next level.
Different personnel and style of play helped the one-day team reinvent itself. The Test team is still run by Cook, Anderson and Broad and their mentality. Is it time for the youngsters to take it on? Strauss has to decide.