Graeme Swann: Joe Root cannot bail out England's batsmen all winter

England captain Joe Root
Joe Root starred for England in Galle but it's unreasonable to think he can do that in every Test

After two brilliant Test wins, one for England in Galle and one for India in Brisbane, there are some clues as to what the rest of 2021 might look like for Joe Root's Test side...

"England’s tour of India is more important than the Ashes - and it's huge to have Joe Root in top form"

It's huge for England to have Joe Root firing this winter as he is their best player of spin. He played so well the other day and I really admired the way he played the slow bowlers early in his innings.

Root's masterclass was a lesson for his teammates

A lot of people said that the sweep was his major weapon, but early on he played back an awful lot, getting his front leg out of the way, squaring himself up and playing the ball late. It took short leg and leg slip out of the equation. That's how you bat, against off-spin on especially, on a turning wicket.

Later on he played the sweep shot very well but I hope people notice that he played it very selectively. If you just try to sweep your way out of trouble, it's a bowler's dream because you are going to miss one or top-edge one. So what Root did was a masterclass of batting against spin.

He cannot bail England out every time though, and it's a really different challenge opening the batting on the subcontinent. Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley are not natural players of spin at all as English openers often aren't because they practise a lot against spin but never on turning pitches.
They very much play down the line of the ball, which is fatal, because you can't afford to be nicked off by a ball that spins as little as, for example, the one that got Sibley in the first innings. You have to be able to get on the back foot to a ball that isn't smotherable like Root did and make the pitch work for you.

It's hard for Sibley and Crawley though because they are county opening batsmen by upbringing and you're taught to get forward as much as you can to smother any seam movement, and playing spin out in Sri Lanka and India is tough for anyone at the best of times.

Leach bowled like Herath

Dom Bess did get lucky to a point in that first innings but I never think that you as a bowler should tell yourself that. I remember Steven Finn walking off having taken six wickets at the Gabba and he said to me "I bowled shit though" and I told him he should never say that because one day you'll bowl like a dream, get no wickets and be devastated. Ride your luck, enjoy the plaudits and know deep down you can get better.

The truth was this time though that Sri Lanka's batting in that first innings was laughably bad. It was like club cricket - and not good club cricket, Sunday 3rd XI stuff when it's grandads and the U10s.

And for Dom Bess, looking from the outside at least, it looked like those five wickets actually put a bit more pressure on him in the second innings because the expectation was there. That wicket was just exploding by the time they came to bowl again, and let's face it he bowled badly in the second innings. He wasn't consistent and he couldn't get any drift or a great deal of turn.

By contrast, Jack Leach was just solid in the first innings, bowling straight and on a length to create a lot of the pressure. In the second innings he did much the same and as the wicket got older and turned more, he rolled through the tail. I thought Leach bowled very well in the game by not doing anything wrong. He reminded of Rangana Herath actually because he ran up and bowled straight, and got his rewards.

The whole world was rooting for India


Risbah Pant 1280.jpg

In terms of all-time series wins, what India have achieved is right up there. After that first Test match when they were bowled out for 36, to lose the skipper, to have the allegations of racist abuse, the sledging, the frontline seam bowlers, their best spinner - to go through all that and still win is utterly stunning.

Australia's bowling attack at the moment is far superior to their batting line-up - Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne are class acts but they've got one or two really glaring weak spots. So while India did well to bowl them out twice, the real key to beating the Aussies at the Gabba was getting runs when it mattered.

And it wasn't like one person has scored ton after ton. The likes of Rahane, Gill and Pant have all chipped in. They've really stood up and batted as a team, and that's how they chased 330 on a pitch that was still, even though it didn't deteriorate too much, a fifth-day pitch against a very strong bowling attack.

And best of all, it made a real mockery of Tim Paine telling the Indians how much he was looking forward to getting them up to Brisbane. There was a bit of schadenfreude going around watching Australia lose that Test match. I thought India responded to that aggro very well. The stump microphones did the talking and then India had the last laugh at the Gabba because they've gone up there and beaten them where Australia assumed they'd win. Humility is a big thing in sport, and showing an arrogant lack of it, even if it was meant just for intimidation, means that everyone else in the cricketing world would've been rooting for India at the Gabba.

There is a strong blueprint for how to win in Australia now


England will certainly have looked at India's victory with interest, partially because they obviously face them in a series coming up but also for clues to the blueprint of how to win in Australia. England have often bowled Australia out cheaply fairly regularly on recent tours but crucially haven't been able to cash in with the bat and post big totals.

So the batsmen should look closely at how India constructed totals against the Aussie bowling attack. Stuart Broad spoke about it the other day really wisely. He said that everyone seems to think that winning in Australia is all about having four fast bowlers, but it's not. He rightly pointed out that you need big runs on the board.

When we won in 2010-11, it was because we were scoring massive totals with people piling on the runs: Cook, Strauss, Trott, Bell, Pietersen, Prior... they all got runs. India had a second or even third-choice seem attack and they've just won a Test match at Brisbane.

That should tell you a lot. And England have got a much better batting line-up than Australia in my view: if Joe Root continues his form and Dan Lawrence grows into it, plus you've got Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope to come back in, then I really do think they've got the better batters and they can make it count.

England should examine how India bowled at Steve Smith too. They didn't go really funky or try to change too much which is what England have often tried to do to him.

India vs England is bigger than the Ashes


I'm glad India have gone level with New Zealand at No. 1 in the world now because people might actually give deference to the fact that England's tour there is more important in the whole cricketing picture than the Ashes. Of course I'd love to be able to go and beat Australia in Australia - but pretty much we know what we're getting there and we know how to do it: get loads of runs and get examined by some fast bowlers. In India, it's trial by spin, something we've never been successful at, 2012 aside.

This is the strongest Indian team I've seen in years. The fact that Rishabh Pant is the fastest Indian keeper to 1,000 runs is a huge deal for India. These guys have got talent to burn but the expectation and the pressure have weighed them down, and a lot of guys have fallen by the wayside because of it.

This series win won't help, but a couple of those guys could end up being destroyers for India - so England need to win handsomely in the second Test against Sri Lanka to prove to themselves they are ready to take them on.

In India, they've always had this "Big Three" of MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, and a lot of them do live in Kohli's shadow. It feels a bit like you have to perform superhuman feats to get noticed. Then all of a sudden Kohli's not playing and they are getting more chance to take centre stage - and they've absolutely revelled in it.

They're almost enjoying not having him there - so if that is the case bring him back let them all shrink into his shadow again and England can have a better chance of beating them!

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