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India v England 2020-21 – Joe Root says no excuses as England face up to being ‘outskilled’ in spinning conditions

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Joe Root has called on his England team to embrace the realities of a chastening 3-1 series loss in India, and accept that their skills in spinning conditions let them down at key moments of the campaign, rather than the conditions themselves.

After winning the first Test in Chennai by an emphatic 227-run margin, England were put in their place over the course of the next three matches, India turning up the intensity with consecutive wins by 317 runs, 10 wickets and an innings and 25 runs.

Those latter two matches in Ahmedabad spanned less than five days between them, which was a comment for the most part on England’s fallible batting, as they managed fewer runs across four innings (533) than they had made in more amenable batting conditions in their decisive first innings of 578 at Chepauk.

However, having won the toss and batted first each of the Ahmedabad matches, England had their opportunities to fight back in spite of their frailties, as they restricted India to 145 in the third Test, a slender deficit of 32, before reducing them to 146 for 6 in the fourth.

On neither occasion could they close out their fightback, with Rishabh Pant’s stunning counter-attack in this latest game, in partnership with Washington Sundar, epitomising the gulf in batting prowess between the sides.

Sundar made two ducks and two unbeaten near-centuries in his four innings of the series – 85 not out in Chennai and 96 not out in Ahmedabad – and topped the averages by a distance. But Pant and Rohit Sharma were the consistently outstanding performers in tough conditions, returning averages of 54.00 and 57.50 respectively with their contrastingly aggressive styles.

For England, only Root himself could manage an average above the 20s, and even his returns fell away after his double century in the first game, as he finished with 368 runs at 46.00. Ben Stokes was England’s next-most reliable performer, but his 203 runs at 25.37 fell way short of the levels that his side needed to stay in touch.

“It was disappointing,” Root said afterwards. “Credit does have to go to India, they’ve generally outskilled us. They showed us how to bat on that wicket, and similarly today with the ball they were excellent.

“We’ve just got to keep working together to try and find ways of being better in similar conditions in the future,” he added. “There were periods of time throughout when we felt very much in the hunt, but credit to Rishabh and Washington, that partnership was outstanding.”

Pant, quite rightly, was named player of the match after an extraordinary performance in Ahmedabad. He battled through a tough start to his innings, when the contest was very much in the balance, before blitzing his way to a maiden home Test century with a fusillade of boundaries against the second new ball – including an unforgettable reverse lap over the slips off James Anderson.

“The way Rishabh bats makes it very, very difficult for bowlers to build pressure and set fields sometimes,” Root said. “When he pulls out a reverse sweep to a guy with 600 Test wickets, it’s quite a skill and quite a brave move to do.”

As the series began to tilt towards India, a narrative emerged – in the media for the most part, though fuelled by some muffled protestations from the England camp after last week’s two-day defeat – that the pitches were unfairly weighted towards India’s spin strengths.

Their frontline pairing of R Ashwin and Axar Patel certainly thrived in the conditions, claiming 32 wickets at 14.71 and 27 at 10.59 respectively – with Patel’s haul matching the best by an Indian bowler in his debut series.

However, in Root’s estimation, much of that argument was scotched by the fact that India were able to thrive in between whiles with the bat as well.

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