England guilty of having thoughts in other places than the Test match with India - Chris Waters

MICHAEL VAUGHAN made an excellent point during the last Test match.

Gone: Rishabh Pant successfully appeals for leg before against Ben Stokes. Picture: Saikat Das/Sportzpics for BCCI

As England hurtled to a 10-wicket defeat that meant that they could no longer win the series, or reach the World Test Championship final, the former England captain wondered why some of their players had been doing publicity work on behalf of the England and Wales Cricket Board for the new 100-ball competition the day before the game.

I must admit that I had wondered this myself, seeing as I was professionally obliged to be part of the Zoom call to one of those players, Ben Stokes, that had been arranged to promote The Hundred that starts in July.

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Stokes, who will be playing for the Emerald Headingley based side Northern Superchargers, not only spoke to various journalists but also to television companies during a round of interviews from the team’s base in Ahmedabad, which the ECB had timed to coincide with The Hundred player draft.

Mohammed Siraj of India celebrates the wicket of Joe Root (captain) of England during day one of the fourth test match between India and England held at the Narendra Modi Stadium (Picture: Saikat Das / Sportzpics for BCCI)

Vaughan’s point was this: was it really right that players were having to do that sort of thing just hours before a Test match? Could it not have waited until a more convenient moment, when England were not in the midst of a challenging series?

Of course, the cricketing merry-go-round pauses only briefly, and there is barely enough time to cram in all the fixtures, let alone for publicity work.

But it suggested, once again, that England’s priority has not really been this Test series at all but rather white-ball cricket in its various guises.

Indeed, numerous column inches - not least by yours truly - have been devoted to a rest and rotation policy which effectively means that players are being rested from the Tests so that they are fresh for T20/the IPL, an unacceptable and frankly disrespectful strategy which has, to a greater or lesser extent, enabled India to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.

Mohammed Siraj of India celebrates the wicket of Jonny Bairstow ( Picture: Pankaj Nangia/ Sportzpics for BCCI)

Whether the pre-match publicity work described had an impact in Stokes’s case is difficult to gauge. As with most players, he had a poor or nondescript game last week, aggregating 31 runs across the two innings and bowling three overs for 19 runs.

Stokes had had a poor or nondescript tour full stop, his 82 in the first innings of the opening Test in Chennai having been his only contribution, a performance followed by 64 runs in five innings and one wicket in 15 overs. Not exactly Headingley 2019.

However, Stokes top-scored on day one of the fourth and final Test at the same Ahmedabad ground, making 55 as the tourists totalled a below-par 205 after winning the toss.

On a pitch that held up rather better than the controversial one last time, albeit one which still offered to the bowlers, India reached 24-1 in reply in a match that they must win to book their place in the World Test Championship final against New Zealand; otherwise, the Kiwis will face Australia at Lord’s in June.

Stokes’s innings was impressive - not least because he is suffering from a stomach bug that has swept the camp. He played watchfully at times and powerfully at others, smiting six fours and two sixes in a 121-ball stay that ended when he aimed a rather lazy defensive stroke at off-spinner Washington Sundar and was lbw, the non-spinning ball sliding into the pads.

Still, Stokes ensured that England at least had some sort of total to bowl at in conditions which suggested par was at least 300.

Openers Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley fell cheaply to left-arm spinner Axar Patel, and Joe Root was trapped by an inswinger from Mohammed Siraj, who also pinned Jonny Bairstow.

On a day notable for a unique juxtaposition of events in Antigua, where the West Indian Kieron Pollard hit the Sri Lankan spinner Akila Dananjaya for six sixes in an over in a T20 international, one over after Dananjaya had taken a hat-trick, England’s collapse was contrastingly humdrum and depressingly predictable.

Stokes was far from the only one to perish to the non-spinning ball, with England’s techniques not up to scratch and their minds scrambled in the face of some probing bowling.

Patel took 4-86 and Ashwin 3-47, with only Dan Lawrence - recalled to strengthen the batting at No 7 as England fielded just two seamers - making another contribution of note: 46 from 74 balls.

Bairstow and Ollie Pope fought hard for their 20s, and although James Anderson trapped Shubman Gill with the third ball of the reply, on his way to remarkable figures of 5-5-0-1, India closed on top against a touring party which has had too many players and minds elsewhere.

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