NASSER HUSSAIN: Poor Chennai pitch has highlighted the lack of consistency from England’s off-spinners… they need to take lessons from Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel to turn their series around
- India put England to the sword during the second day of the second Test
- The poor pitch in Chennai has highlighted England’s off-spinners’ consistency
- There have been too many long hops and full tosses in the Test matches this year
- Phil Tufnell assessment that Bess struggles to control length is clear to see
- Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel have showed how to play the pitch
- Ben Foakes was the only English batsman in the first innings to have some joy
There has been a lot of talk about whether this pitch in Chennai is acceptable for Test cricket, and it has certainly pushed the limit, but what it has highlighted more than anything is the lack of consistency in England’s off-spinners.
If we were talking about wrist spinners like our own Adil Rashid or Kuldeep Yadav, of India, then you would cut them a bit of slack because controlling length is not as easy a skill.
However, for a finger spinner like Moeen Ali — and Dom Bess previously — it should be the focus of what they do. It is all about dialling away at a length.
Moeen Ali was inconsistent as he finished on 4-128 after the first innings of the second Test
Moeen has come in for Dom Bess after the 23-year-old produced some similarly sketchy spells
Yes, they’ve had success in taking wickets and bowled some brilliant balls, but there have been too many long hops and full tosses in three and a half Test matches this year.
I don’t think I have seen England off-spinners bowl as many full bungers as in this sequence of matches and it means that Joe Root as captain cannot set a field or maintain pressure.
Being able to hit a four makes a batter feel so much more comfortable and in the end this was why Bess was left out — because the captain lost faith in him. Let’s be honest, these bowlers have excuses, and it is something that the whole of English cricket needs to look at. Quite simply, the cricket we play doesn’t provide them with the opportunity to bowl enough deliveries in the right conditions.
It might be argued that Moeen took wickets, but figures of 29-3-128-4 on that kind of surface is not what you are looking for. He will know that it’s not good enough. To be fair, he hasn’t played in a Test match since the 2019 Ashes and has hardly bowled in red-ball cricket in the past 18 months.
Hopefully, Bess will realise he needs to make improvements. Going back to last summer, I asked Phil Tufnell what he thought of him and his view was that he doesn’t possess enough control of length. That has become more noticeable as time has progressed.
Now, that lack of control by England’s spinners — and I must exonerate Jack Leach who has been fine — is the real elephant in the room. It needs to change.
Ravichandran Ashwin’s thoughtful bowling paid dividends with first-innings figures of 5-43
Look at India’s Ravichandran Ashwin. Yes, he has some subtle changes — the under-cutter, the big spinner, dip and changes of pace — but there were very few carrom balls. Like spin partner Axar Patel, he showed it was a pitch upon which you need to jam the ball into the surface time after time. Before long, one has the batsman’s name on it.
I wouldn’t be too critical of England’s batting. DRS dictates you must play at the ball in the modern game, not kick it away as we did in our era. It means batsmen must find a way to prosper, which can be easier said than done on a pitch that offers fewer release shots.
For example, the sweep shot that was so productive for Joe Root in the first Test was a much more dangerous stroke to play, as both he and Dom Sibley discovered.
Ben Foakes was the only English batsman to enjoy sustained success against the Indian attack
To his credit, Ben Foakes found a way. Everyone presumes that when a batsman uses his feet to leave the crease, it’s for a big slog over the top but he showed it is also a good way of getting to the pitch of the ball.
The pitch has offered so much to the spinners it is not a good one for five days of Test cricket — but having said that, I have been glued to my screen for every delivery.
It’s been incredible viewing, great entertainment, and to a degree, that’s what Test match cricket is all about.