Joe Root calls for 'strong response' from England top order
England's misfiring top order will be tasked with turning things around in the week before the fourth Test starts in Southampton, with captain Joe Root highlighting the example shown by Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes at Trent Bridge. Buttler scored his maiden Test hundred during a 169-run partnership but it was not enough to prevent England falling to a heavy defeat on the fifth morning, leaving them 2-1 up against India with two Tests to play.
Facing a notional target of 521, England had slipped to 62 for 4, before Buttler and Stokes showed the application to bat through 57 overs and give the scorecard a measure of respectability. However, England's hopes of winning the Test and taking an unassailable lead in the series had practically disappeared when they were dismissed for 161 in their first innings.
"I think it's fair to say we very much underperformed in that innings," Root said to Sky Sports in a post-match interview. "You look at the second innings, that partnership between Jos and Ben, I think that's a real lesson to our side of how to play Test match cricket. Not the fact that they scored at a slow rate or looked slightly more defensively-minded but the way they adapted to the situation, the way they built that partnership and looked very clear about how they were going to score runs.
"For us that's a really nice thing to see and to learn from and we have to look at that, adapt our own games individually and make sure that when we turn up to Southampton we give ourselves the best chance of getting scores over 400, and do it in the first innings, and try and apply that scoreboard pressure that is so important in Test cricket."
After three Tests against India, only Root among the top four has made a half-century, with openers Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings averaging 16.60 and 18.00 respectively; in eight Tests in 2018, England have not had a centurion at higher than No. 6 in the order. Cook could yet miss the Southampton Test to attend the birth of his third child, but Root defended the openers and said it was up to the batting group as a whole to put bigger totals on the board.
"If you look at this series and some of the conditions we've played in it's been very challenging for the top order - and that's on both sides. It's very easy to look past that, we've got to be quite realistic about things, we've got two very good players at the top of the order. We have got time now to go away and look at individually how we're going to play in these conditions, find our own methods - that's not just those two guys, I think that's the whole batting group, and I'm sure we'll come back with a strong response."
England may need to juggle their batting anyway for the fourth Test, with Jonny Bairstow's fractured finger putting him in doubt - though Root did not rule out the possibility of him relinquishing the wicketkeeping gloves and playing as a specialist batsman.
"It's very early days, we'll have to see how that swelling goes down, see how he pulls up," Root said. "We have got time on our side, over the next couple of days we'll have a clearer idea of where he's at, I'm sure he'll be desperate to play, he's in fine form and you want guys like him in your side, so it would be great if he pulls up well."
Buttler's hundred, in his 23rd Test, came after taking over behind the stumps following Bairstow's injury, and Root was full of praise for his performance, which helped push the game into a fifth day.
"People's perception of Jos is someone who can crash the ball to all areas, and play a very expansive game, but one thing he has got is a great cricket brain, he works out situations very well," he said. "To be able to go out and do everything you're talking about in the dressing room and have that performance in the bank will give him a huge amount of confidence. It's great to see what we all know he's capable of doing and hopefully it's just a start for him to go on and score many more hundreds in this format."
Root was also asked about his decision to insert India at the toss. Despite having been bowled out for 107 and 130 in testing conditions at Lord's, India put on a much-improved display, led by Virat Kohli's 97, to score 329 and set the game up.
"At the toss there was some live grass on the wicket, we've been performing extremely well with the ball and saw it as an opportunity to try and get ahead of the game, unfortunately it didn't quite unfold like that," Root said. "Potentially we could have bowled slightly fuller and a little bit straighter - but that's nit-picking, I though India played extremely well, made it very difficult for our seamers to make those early inroads and you have to give them credit for doing that."