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England throw away golden opportunity as India rule in Rajkot

Battered by 434 runs – India’s record-winning margin by runs in Tests – and significantly bruised, were England too reckless in their third Test defeat in Rajkot? And is there still cause for optimism?

“You’d have won quite a lot of money if you’d have said, at the end of day two, that England would lose this game by 434 runs!”

That was former England captain Sir Alastair Cook’s reflection on TNT Sports after Ben Stokes’ side were bundled out for only 122 in their second innings late on Sunday to suffer such a heavy drubbing.

Sky Sports’ England player ratings: Third Test

Zak Crawley 5
Ben Duckett 8.5
Ollie Pope 5
Joe Root 3
Jonny Bairstow 3
Ben Stokes 6.5
Ben Foakes 6
Rehan Ahmed 7
Tom Hartley 6.5
Mark Wood 7
James Anderson 6.5

On the Friday evening, England had been well-placed at 207-2 in their first innings, with Ben Duckett unbeaten on 133 overnight. Trailing their hosts by 238, they headed into the weekend with high hopes of a securing a sizeable lead.

“Ben Duckett played an unbelievable first innings and that was the tone we wanted to set through the whole innings,” Stokes said after his side fell 2-1 behind in the five-match series.

“It was about identifying the opportunity to push the scoreboard on and get as close to India’s total as possible.

“I wanted to be bowling at some point yesterday although it came earlier than we initially wanted…

“Sometime game-plans don’t work out, that’s just sport.”

England captain Ben Stokes dropped India's Dhruv Jurel on 32 in the third Test (Associated Press)
Image: England captain Ben Stokes has urged his side not to enter a ‘downward spiral’ after defeat in the third Test

The point at which England’s game-plan began to unravel can be precisely pinpointed with the dismissal of their best batter Joe Root, caught at second slip for 18, when attempting to reverse-scoop Jasprit Bumrah.

It prompted a batting collapse of eight wickets for 95 runs, earning India a 126-run advantage and a dominant position in the match which they would never relinquish.

“One thing Joe will look at is the timing of that shot,” former England captain Nasser Hussain told Sky Sports. “[Ravichandran] Ashwin wasn’t there, India are down a bowler; [Ravindra] Jadeja is playing off the back of an injury; Bumrah is playing three Tests in a row and there is talk of him needing a rest.

“Bazball is about being attacking but it is also about soaking up pressure. Get Bumrah into his second or third spell, take it deep and then play the shot later in the day.”

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Ben Duckett reacts to criticism of Joe Root’s dismissal attempting a reverse scoop shot against India

Cook also called into question the timing of the shot rather than Root’s decision to play it, recalling his success with it previously during last summer’s Ashes.

“When he played it to the first ball [on day four of the first Test] at Edgbaston, I didn’t mind it at all because it was all about how many runs England were going to score that day to set up a game,” Cook said.

“It sent a real message to everyone in the changing room that England’s best player is going to take on Australia.

“Root will be sitting in his room tonight going, ‘I think I got that one wrong’.”

I can understand why there would be frustration around that because of how good a player Joe is. It’s not a shot you necessarily see Test match players playing. But who am I to question a guy who has 30 Test match hundreds and nearly 12,000 Test match runs? I think he knows what he’s doing.

Ben Stokes on Joe Root’s dismissal on the reverse scoop

Drawing further comparisons with the 2023 Ashes series, former England fast bowler Steven Finn likened Root’s dismissal, and the team’s subsequent collapse, to the second Test at Lord’s last summer.

“Australia got 416 and England, just as Nathan Lyon went off injured, were 188-1 after 38 overs of their first innings – a brilliant position,” Finn told TNT Sports.

“Pat Cummins, the captain, threw all his eggs in one basket, so desperate he was for wickets that he went to the bouncer theory and England then lost three for 34 runs, giving Australia an ‘in’ in that game. They ended up losing by 43 runs and drew the Ashes 2-2.

“That was reckless, and I see similarities with that.”

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Watch as England’s reckless batting prompts a collapse against Australia during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s

But when Stokes was asked if he felt England as a whole were too reckless in their approach, the skipper said after the game: “Everyone has an opinion or a perception of things but the people in the dressing room really matter to us.

“We know things don’t always work out exactly how you want them to. We are 2-1 down and have a chance to win 3-2.

“We will leave this game behind us. We have to win the next two to win the series and that’s what we will be trying to do.”

And if England are indeed to do that, they must ensure they take their chances, with their batting collapse early on day three not serving as their only missed opportunity in this Test.

After India won the toss and elected to bat, England were superb on the first morning in reducing their hosts to 33-3. And that position could have become even better but for Root dropping Rohit Sharma on 27 at slip.

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Former England cricketer Nasser Hussain gives praise to Mark Wood after he picked up three wickets on day one of the third Test

The India captain would go on to score 131, sharing in a 204-run partnership with fellow centurion Ravindra Jadeja (112), as his side would ultimately post an imposing total of 445.

“It’s about taking and winning the big moments in a game,” Finn added. “England let a couple of those slip by.

“And as soon as you get behind the game, in India against these experienced players, they know how to make you pay.”

Hussain too cursed the missed chances in the third Test, telling Sky Sports: “They’ve been sloppy. There have been some soft dismissals.

“Joe Root has had a poor game, with his dismissal in the first innings and the dropped catch of Rohit Sharma. India would have been 47-4 and there would have been a completely different outlook in the game.

“You cannot be giving great players like Rohit Sharma another chance so, yes, they’ve been very sloppy in this game.”

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Sky Sports’ Michael Atherton praises India’s young batsman Yashasvi Jaiswal after his double century in the third Test against England

That said, both Hussain and Cook believe there is still cause for optimism as England look to turn the series around with victories in the final two Tests to take the series.

“It has not been great for the last couple of days, but it’s been pretty good before that,” Hussain added.

“I know that we at Sky Sports have to react to sessions and days of cricket, but the 18 months before that under Stokes and [Brendon] McCullum have been exceptional and a joy to watch.”

Cook, meanwhile, said: “This side is better placed than any other side in England history to park a 434-run loss.

“In isolation that is an incredible figure but Stokes has this unflappable belief that he can win from anywhere. That belief rubs off on his team.”

With all three Tests so far going the way of the side batting first and winning the toss, Cook added: “Stokes will be practising heads and tails as if he can win that one, that’s probably the most important thing he can do.”

Follow over-by-over text commentary from the fourth Test between India and England, in Ranchi, live on and the Sky Sports App from 3.45am on Friday (first ball at 4am).

England Test series in India 2024

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