It may seem odd to consider the world’s top-ranked Twenty20 batsman as a potential loser from England’s India tour, but Dawid Malan will be looking over his shoulder all the way to October’s World Cup.
Not that Malan had a terrible time in a two-month trip that saw England defeated across all formats. He made 68 off 46 balls in the final T20 and his maiden ODI 50 in Sunday’s narrow defeat — but it is who he might be up against for the No3 slot that could well count against him.
England need to get more out of their most influential cricketer — Ben Stokes — in a T20 format he has never quite mastered at international level. Particularly as they will need to beat India in their own backyard to complete a World Cup double.
England suffered three defeats out of three during their tour of India but there were positives
They returned from India with no wins from three but they faced a tough challenge in India
And where better for Stokes to fit in than at No 3, where he took India’s spinners apart in making a blistering 99 in the second one-day international deputising for Joe Root.
It is an embarrassment of riches that sums up the strength of English cricket at the end of a winter trip that was not nearly as bad as three defeats in three series might suggest. For this was no return to the bad old days on the subcontinent.
There may have been issues with rest and rotation and England’s balancing act in an over-crowded, Covid-affected year in which everyone has to be flexible — with the exception of the seemingly non-negotiable Indian Premier League.
But all England’s 3-1, 3-2 and 2-1 defeats proved is that India under Virat Kohli are as close to an unbeatable team in their own conditions as cricket has perhaps ever seen. Hyperbole? Not with the dizzying strength in depth in all departments at Kohli’s disposal.
England still need to get the best out of influential Ben Stokes in T20 at international level
The hosts under Virat Kohli in their conditions are as close to unbeatable as you will see
No-one outside the England camp gave the tourists a sniff of winning the Test series — I predicted a 3-1 win for India and thought I was being optimistic — and all the glorious, Root-inspired first Test win did was poke a stick at a slumbering Indian bear.
India woke up all right, but it needed Kohli, never afraid to push the rules to their limits, to demand pitches that were unfit for Test purpose and ensure his spinners had enough to work with to rush England to three heavy defeats.
There will, of course, be English casualties from the chastening experience. It may be some time before Dom Bess is seen in Test cricket again, while Jonny Bairstow faces an uncertain red-ball future despite his one-day excellence and his prickly response to TV allegations from Sunil Gavaskar that he looked ‘uninterested’ in Test cricket.
But if England can keep Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone, who proved he belonged at the highest level in the second Test, fully fit they can look ahead to the Ashes with optimism.
Jofra Archer (left) and Olly Stone (right) provide optimism going into the Ashes
Certainly, they can expect their preferred Test top three of Rory Burns, Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley to quickly find their feet again away from India’s spin torment.
Not to mention the equally mouthwatering prospect of a five-match return series against Kohli and Co in August. That should be much closer than has become the norm between the teams in English conditions, with Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad armed with a Dukes ball.
It is clear how important Archer has become to English ambitions in all formats. And what a blessing in disguise his elbow injury could prove to be if it means he gets proper rest and can come back fit and firing when it most matters later this year.
For now, Archer faces minor surgery to remove a piece of glass that seemingly became embedded in his right hand in freak fashion when he dropped and broke a fish tank he was cleaning at home before the tour.
Archer still hopes to play in the later stages of the IPL but England will not want him to rush back to India.
Rory Burns is one of three expected to find his feet again after suffering spin torment
So much was made of Eoin Morgan being given a full-strength T20 squad in World Cup year that the 3-2 short-form defeat does represent the biggest disappointment of the tour. Morgan and Chris Silverwood have questions to answer over not only Malan and Stokes, but also their best bowling attack.
Archer, Wood and Adil Rashid are bankers in that line-up but there are doubts over Chris Jordan’s place in the first-choice side and Tom Curran’s presence in the white-ball picture.
At least Curran’s brother Sam provided a welcome reminder of his all-round importance with a brilliant unbeaten 95 on Sunday after a quiet winter.
Sam Curran produced a brilliant unbeaten 95 on Sunday after a quiet winter
That extraordinary effort from the younger Curran was not quite enough to give England a one-day series consolation victory but it is far from a disaster — such is the experimental nature of much of England’s 50-over cricket with the next World Cup two years away.
And there was enough from two fringe players in Liam Livingstone, who looks made of the right stuff for England, and Reece Topley, now a death bowling alternative to Jordan in T20, to provide more encouragement.
Just spare a thought for Matt Parkinson, who spent the whole of the Sri Lanka and India tours in the England bubble without playing a game.
His only real contribution was the emergence of tweets he posted as a teenager insulting Kohli and MS Dhoni.
It can only get better for the 24-year-old leg-spinner from here.
Two red and white ball winners and losers from England’s tour of India
It was Ashley Giles who compared Stone to a Ferrari when he was at Warwickshire but the genuinely quick bowler has spent far more time in the garage than the race track. His promising appearance in the second Test proved he belongs in the fast lane.
Made a good start in Sri Lanka but was thrown under the bus at three in India when Jonny Bairstow went home and Zak Crawley slipped on a marble floor. But came back strongly in the final Test and could put pressure on Ollie Pope for a place against New Zealand in June.
Not helped by being badly handled whatever England protested to the contrary. Took wickets in Sri Lanka and in first Test against India without ever convincing and seemingly bowled himself out of contention – at least for this summer – on his return for the last Test.
Did well on Test return in Sri Lanka but was then sent home for 10 days in the frozen north before a tortuous journey to India and looked desperately rusty against the turning ball in the last two Tests. Says he wants to bat at No3 in the Ashes but that looks a forlorn hope.
Graham Thorpe has long marked him out as a special talent, just as he once did with a young Joe Root, and Livingstone showed glimpses of his power with the bat and versatility with the ball in last two ODIs. As Jonny Bairstow said when presenting him with his 50-over cap, Livingstone’s game fits perfectly with England’s all-action approach.
Remarkable comeback from ‘retiring’ after extensive injury problems to bowling for fun in Australia and then making a comeback with Sussex, Surrey and England. Showed in second 50-over game he has the nous to solve England’s T20 death bowling issues.
Yes, I know. It’s ridiculously harsh to even be questioning a batsman who averages more than 50 in T20 cricket and has a strike-rate of 144. And yet. England need to promote Ben Stokes and there are no other candidates to move. And most of Malan’s success has come on pitches that suit his back foot game. Real dilemma.
Spent three months in bio-secure bubbles in Sri Lanka and India without playing a game. Then he incurred wrath of India when tweets emerged of him calling Kohli an ‘arrogant p****’ as a teenager. Chris Silverwood said yesterday Parkinson has been ‘spectacular’ on the sidelines. That’s one word for it….