England will be buoyed by its performance in the second half of the first Test against India in Nottingham but needs to catch better, captain Joe Root told reporters after the Test was drawn on Sunday.
India needed 157 runs to win on the fifth day, with nine wickets in hand, but no play was possible due to persistent rain at Trent Bridge. Root acknowledged that India held the advantage but felt his team had a chance to win, too, on a pitch tricky for batting.
“I think we could have potentially got 40 overs [of play today]. Within that period, I think we would have been able to create nine chances on a surface like that. So in many ways, the weather has robbed us all of a fantastic final day of Test cricket, which is a slight shame,” Root said.
“We would be lying if we said India weren’t in the drivers’ seat going into today. But you know on a wicket like that that you get a couple of wickets in a cluster, the game can turn on its head. Final day, the pressures of batting on a fifth day wicket: it could have very quickly fallen in our favour,” Root explained.
‘Showed our class’
A win looked far away for England after it was bowled out for 183 in the first innings of the Test, on the first day of the contest. Root felt his team could take confidence from its comeback after lunch on Day Two, when James Anderson shook India’s top order with an excellent spell of bowling, dismissing Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli in two consecutive deliveries.
Anderson finished with four wickets and Ollie Robinson took five as England bowled India out for 278 before putting up a better fight in the second innings with the bat, scoring 303.
“We grew into the game very well, I thought. After the first innings, we were well below par for having played [badly] on it. I think 250 on that wicket would have been a strong first-innings score or at least par. And it would have made life a lot trickier for India, in their first innings.
“That being said, I still think we bowled very well. We probably bowled a little bit wide to start with but after lunch [on Day Two], we came out and we found a really good line. Asked very good questions of their defence and showed our class with the ball. There were a few glimpses of what we were capable of with the bat in the second innings. I thought we played with a better intent.
"We looked like we were really enjoying and thriving in the environment, and you could see guys a bit more relaxed, a bit clearer about how they wanted to go and play. I certainly feel like going into the next Test match if we can carry that forward then you’ll see some better performances.”
‘Unique set of attributes’
Robinson took five wickets for 85 runs in the first innings, his second good performance in a Test since his debut at Lord’s against New Zealand, when his career threatened to turn upside down due to non-sporting reasons.
Root praised him and said he had a unique set of attributes that set him apart from the others.
“I think Ollie has bowled extremely well throughout the game. He’s got a unique set of attributes; he’s got a very high release point, he makes things happen, he gets the ball to zip around and his accuracy throughout this game was exceptional.
“I think more than anything, it’s about the [bowling] end. Trying to find the right ends for each bowler. He seems to find good rhythm at the bottom where it was quite tough for everyone else throughout the whole game; it was quite a strong wind. It somehow clicked very well for him and he managed to do a brilliant job there. Showed what he’s really capable of doing at this level, and in two Test matches, he’s shown everyone how skilful he is,” Root said.
‘Need to catch better’
Root outlined what his team needs to get better at going into the second Test at Lord’s.
“There are lots for both sides to take from this. We go into Lord’s a lot more confident than we would have if we performed how we did in the first innings. We know there’s a lot to work on and there are lots of things we need to be better at. We need to catch better, take our chances in the field, and we need to make big first-innings runs. It’s something we’ve spoken a lot about,” he said.
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England dropped a couple of catches in the slips in the first Test, and Root felt the slip catchers in his team – himself included – could better prepare mentally for the job.
“I think more than anything it’s trying to have an element of calm, and trust and belief in your own ability, which can be hard in pressure situations. Like batting, it can take one shot, it can take one catch, and the world looks very different,” Root said when asked how his team would improve on its fielding.
“As a player, it’s making sure that you’re not panicking and reminding yourself you’re doing all the hard yards and making sure that you are, so that when that next opportunity comes around, you give yourself that best chance.
"It’s very easy to fall into the trap of ‘we’ve dropped x amount in this last period’, and letting that affect you mentally, especially at slip; it is such a mental thing, having done it for a long period of time now. If you can find a way of staying relaxed and trusting your technique there, you are certainly in a better place to take your next opportunity,” he said.
India captain Virat Kohli suggested that although he was open to making changes for the rest of the four Tests, he was happy with how his team combination – four fast bowlers and a spinner – worked in the first Test and that he may be tempted to continue with it for the rest of the Test series. Root, on the other hand, didn’t reveal what his team could look like for the second Test at Lord’s.
When asked whether Zak Crawley’s spot at No. 3 was secure, Root said: “We’ll have a look at selection in the coming days; we’ll have more clarity then.”
Crawley scored 267 during the Test series against Pakistan last year, but hasn’t been able to score big consistently since. He has scored a total of 68 runs in last nine innings, and averages 11.14 this year in Test matches.
Root said Crawley was mentally tough and backed him to find his form again.
“I look back at my career early; at certain stages the game just tests you. You have to keep finding ways of first of all making sure it’s as secure as you want it to be. But ultimately, you have to be a very strong character.
“Zak is certainly that; he’s someone that’s got great maturity for his age, and he has to keep looking at bringing that to the forefront of his game when he goes out there.
"To go and play in the manner that he can. He’s shown everyone that he can perform at this level, and next time he’s out there he’s going to make sure he believes in that and he enjoys that opportunity to go and make big runs again.”
England is still missing the talismanic Ben Stokes, who opted out of the Test series to focus on his mental health, and Jofra Archer, who has now been ruled out of playing cricket for the entire year due to his elbow injury.
Root hoped Jofra would be back again playing for England soon.
“I’m absolutely gutted for Jofra. I know he’s faced some harsh criticism which I personally believe is unwarranted. He’s clearly been battling with a severe injury that’s been hard to define and I really hope that he can get himself fit and healthy again and enjoy his bowling again. At times, it was looking like he was bowling through a lot of pain.
"Hopefully now we can get through some hard rehab and come back and show everyone what a fantastic player he is, because he’s going to be a serious performer for England across the board. There’s no doubt about that. I’m a big fan of his, and I know that when he’s fit he’s at his best; he can win us many Test matches as you’ve seen in his short career so far.”