England have lost all respect for Test cricket - Chris Waters

THIS was the most depressing tour in England’s Test history.

Cutting loose: Joe Root plays a shot during day three of the fourth Test at the Narendra Modi Stadium, Ahmedabad. Pictures: Pankaj Nangia/Sportzpics for BCCI

Why? Because it showed – and really rammed home with no attempt to disguise it – that they no longer care enough about the game’s greatest format to give it the priority and respect it deserves.

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Yes, the players tried hard. Yes, those who took to the field gave it their all. Yes, there will be plenty hurting after the 3-1 defeat to a strong India team in their own backyard.

Out: India celebrate tthe dismissal of Dom Sibley.

But optimism engendered by victory in the first Test in Chennai, which followed the 2-0 triumph in Sri Lanka, has gone.

For this tour has revealed the naked truth.

It has shown that money, not glory, is the No 1 priority and that Test cricket must now take its place behind the Indian Premier League and the white-ball formats.

This was not, it should be stressed, any old Test series, one in which it might have deemed acceptable to rest a couple of players with one eye on the grand scheme of things.

In a spin: Axar Patel on his way to a five-wicket return.

This was the second-most important assignment of the year, above the World T20 and behind only the Ashes in Australia.

Yet England treated it with contempt, effectively putting T20 over the five-day game in a move that starkly demonstrated how much the sport has become fractured, never to be fixed.

They rested and rotated key players to keep them fresh for the upcoming white-ball matches and, in some cases, because those players have contracts in the lucrative IPL.

Some of those players would rather be playing in the IPL than playing for their country. That is the brutal truth of the matter.

Jos Buttler, for instance, missed the last three Tests to go home and rest. But he will not be resting at the IPL.

Nor will there be much talk when that tournament is on about the difficulties of living in biosecure bubbles and mental health issues.

The only thing that talks these days is money. The losers, as always, are the people who watch, the supporters who love Test cricket – the collateral damage.

If the game cared half as much about its supporters as it does about money, thereby mirroring football, it would still be a genuinely great game as opposed to one that flickers only fleetingly now for those who care about first-class cricket above all else.

That this Test series was on free-to-air television should have done more for cricket’s profile than any new competition such as The Hundred, with its myopic attempt to appeal to a mythical audience and its further threat to the first-class game.

Hopes were raised by the 227-run win in the opening Test that a new generation would indeed be inspired by what they were witnessing on Channel 4, and that England might even go on to win the series.

Then reality descended like the blade of a guillotine, the head of England’s Test cricket severed at the neck.

The extent of their dismissive attitude towards the series played a huge part in the subsequent hammerings by 317 runs, 10 wickets and an innings and 25 runs, notwithstanding the excellence of India’s spin bowlers, in particular.

Time and again England struggle against top-class spin in foreign conditions and everyone seems surprised when, in reality, county cricket has long prepared no-one properly for bowling spin or batting against it. Our pitches are not conducive to it and the County Championship is not played at the time of year when spinners often flourish. Instead, it is competitions such as The Hundred that are given 
priority.

Granted, it was not all doom and gloom as the Test series ended in a hurry on Saturday.

Why, England took the final Test into a third day instead of losing inside two, and the series consisted of four Tests as opposed to five, which at least meant that England were unable to lose 4-1.

But sarcasm is just about the only thing left to cling on to. India were beatable – just about – but England also beat themselves by not giving themselves the best opportunity in terms of their strategy.

Yes, they wanted to win, but they did not want it enough. The series was simply not the priority that it should have been. There are numerous problems to address going forward.

The top-order batting remains shaky. Joe Root scored one-third of England’s runs this winter, a worrying over-reliance on the shoulders of one player.

There are young players in the side still making their way, and team selection remains odd, or just plain wrong.

England’s supporters have a right to feel angry and disappointed. They have been let down by the selectors, the management, everyone.

But if you treat Test cricket with disdain, if you take liberties with it and try to take on a side like India in their own conditions with a pre-arranged rotation system that would not look out of place on a pre-season football tour, you are going to come a cropper.

England came a cropper. When the dust settles quickly, as it invariably will, with the T20 series starting on Friday, we can reflect that this was a watershed winter for Test cricket – a format for which England have lost their respect.

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