Matches (33)
BAN v NZ (1)
SA v WI (A tour) (1)
WI v IRE (EME) (1)
Abu Dhabi T10 (6)
Legends League (2)
NZ v PAK (W) (1)
Hazare Trophy (18)
WI v ENG (1)
IND v ENG (W) (1)
AUS v PAK (1)

Good Test technique is still built on a solid defence

England could do well to listen to voices from the past

George Dobell
George Dobell
Chris Tavare, that famously obdurate England batsman*, had an expression he used at the start of each county season. "Every dot ball in April and May," he would say, "is a run in July and August".
Even by Tavare's standards, an innings that takes three or four months to build might be deemed excessive. But Tavare's words provide a revealing insight into not just his mental approach, but the approach of another era of batsmen. What he meant, in essence, was that time invested at the start of an innings - or even a season - is time rewarded later.
England's batsmen could do worse than reflect on Tavare's words in the coming days. For as much as we are often told 'the game has changed' and 'you have to be positive', the somewhat prosaic truth is a good Test technique is still built on a solid defence.
Let's be clear: batting in this game was tough. The combination of the pitch, the ball and the bowling resulted in challenging conditions that would have tested any player of any era. Dennis Amiss, a man who went on three tours of India (two with England and one with a World XI) described it as "as tough as any I've seen," so an England side who rarely encounter such circumstances can probably be cut a little slack however ugly this scorecard looks.
A match aggregate of 193 runs is never going to be satisfactory, but they will probably bat worse and score double. They could console themselves too, that despite losing the one Test on this redeveloped ground, they hadn't produced the worst performance here in recent months. No, that came when Donald Trump tried to pronounce Sachin Tendulkar's name.
There is a difference, however, between tough conditions and impossible ones. And if England really do want to be the best in the world, they are going to have to find a way. At present they have an Achilles heel which will cost them just about every time they come up against these conditions. And as we saw in Dhaka, in 2016, or Abu Dhabi, in 2012 (both occasions when their batsmen have been undone by the ball that skidded on as much as the one that turned), they are going to come up against these conditions.
The modern game is probably as entertaining as it has ever been. The scope of modern batsmen - who now routinely achieve things that could not have been imagined only a couple of decades ago - the agility of modern fielders and the skills of modern bowlers provides us with an almost endless string of breath-taking action. The draw is almost as endangered a species as the rhinoceros.
But, somewhere along the way, we've lost a thing or two. And while the ability to defend the turning, spitting ball might seem arcane, there was a certain beauty - and yes, a certain entertainment - in it. Perhaps, as long as the longest format survives, there will be a place for it, too?
"You earn the right to hit the bad balls by being able to defend the good ones"
Graeme Fowler
So, how can a batsman prosper in such conditions? It seemed the best people to ask were those who had done it. And while Amiss, Roger Tolchard, Graeme Fowler and Kevin Pietersen - all of whom, to varying degrees, helped in putting this article together - each had different scoring methods, they also each had the same premises behind their game: you build an innings on a strong defence.
"The modern batsman seems to think you have to hit your way out of trouble," Amiss, who averaged 48.05 in Test cricket in Asia, told ESPNcricinfo. "We used to think you play your way out of trouble.
"This pitch was about as tough as any I've seen. So, as a batsman, you probably are going to need some luck. But yes, we did play on similar wickets. And yes, we did find a way to score runs on them."
Amiss went back to the Mumbai Test of 1973 for his example.
"I don't know if that was as tough as this surface in Ahmedabad, but it was very demanding," he said. "It turned and it bounced and India had three great spinners.
"But Tony Greig and Keith Fletcher found a way. They quietly went about their business - they didn't try and blast the bowlers into submission - and they both made centuries. And because the rest of us learned from what they did, we went back to India a few years later and we won the series."
And how did Amiss succeed in such conditions? "I always looked to play forward," he said. "But as soon as you saw it was short, you rocked back. You tired bowlers out. And, as you did, they would get more frustrated and give you more loose balls. It's not so different to the way Joe Root and Dom Sibley were batting for a little while."
Like Amiss, Tolchard played for many years on uncovered wickets. Indeed, he recalls one match - in July 1966 - when he suffered a king pair in a day against Derek Underwood's left-arm spin on a surface which overnight rain had rendered treacherous. But he wasn't going to let the experience go to waste and, from then on, he utilised his quick feet to smoother such spin.
"Lesson learned," Tolchard told ESPNcricinfo. "I vowed never to get caught at slip playing defensively again. So [from then], I swept, cut, or ran down the wicket to block it. You get to the other end and you aim to survive six balls so you can gather your thoughts.
"But it's not easy. There were a lot of class batters on my two tours to India and Pakistan and they couldn't all cope. And I'm not sure those pitches turned as much as this one. You have to be quick on your feet and some people aren't."
Not everyone who has prospered in India had had quick feet, though. Fowler, the first England player to register a Test double-century in the country, did not sweep and did not come down the wicket. But he, too, found a way.
"People talk about dominating a bowler as if that means hitting him for fours and sixes," Fowler said. "But you can also dominate them by seeing out seven maidens in a row. You earn the right to hit the bad balls by being able to defend the good ones.
"You can see batsman now are thinking 'there's one with my name on it here' and they don't give themselves a chance to build an innings as a result. The game's got better in nearly every way. But I don't believe the bowlers are faster and I don't believe the batsmen have the defensive game they used to have.
"I used the depth of the crease. I would look to play forward - I don't know what Zak Crawley was doing playing back to the one that bowled him - and I'd look to frustrate the bowlers. If you defend long enough, they will get tired and they will bowl balls you can hit. It's not like England ran out of time here, is it? There's plenty of time to build an innings.
"And I practised. I used to face the spinners in the worst net possible. My thinking was, if I could play the ball in that net, I should be able to play the ball on any pitch I encountered. I'm not sure many modern players think like that."
There may be batsmen of a certain era rolling their eyes at all this and mumbling about the game having changed. And they have a point. For the introduction of DRS a decade or so ago did make a monumental difference. Where once the batsman could get far enough forward to win the benefit of the doubt from umpires, the advent of ball-tracking technology changed that. The pad stopped being another line of defence and instead became a target for bowlers.
But while acknowledging that, one of England's greatest batsmen of the modern era underlined the views of his predecessors.
"DRS made batting more difficult, there's no doubt about that," Pietersen told ESPNcricinfo as he reflected on his Mumbai masterclass in 2012 (a piece to be published in the coming days). "You had to be more precise.
"But I played best when I trusted my defence. The shots you see on highlights shows, they are great. But they come because you are able to trust your defence."
So, how tough were the conditions in Ahmedabad? All interviewed here agreed they were about as tough as it gets. But before we chastise the groundstaff - or, indeed, the BCCI - we do have to acknowledge that the pink ball contributed to the difficulty. That extra lacquer applied to gain that colour seemed to result in the ball skidding on with surprising pace when it came off the surface. The unpredictability of that was a huge factor in these low scores and that's not down to the pitch.
Clearly, the game cannot afford too many two-day finishes. Both broadcasters and hosts miss out financially in such circumstances. But we don't want homogenisation, either, and most would agree this game was entertaining. More entertaining - and arguably less damaging - than the surfaces seen in Hamilton (2019), Melbourne (2017) and Trent Bridge (2014).
And what can England do differently? Well, there's not much chance of a return to uncovered wickets, though Root did call for "serious improvements" in the standard of county wickets to help England combat this long-existing weakness. He meant surfaces on which sides can score "400 or 500" and which enabled spinners to bowl long spells, but a more open mind to surfaces that turn, from the start, like this may be helpful, too.
Modern batsmen tend to like flat tracks on which they can hit through the line of the ball and celebrate their power and audacity. But if they really want to improve - and if they really want to challenge in such circumstances - the ECB may want to rethink their attitude to spinning pitches in the modern game.
Most of all, they may want to rethink their mind-set. Trying to hit your way out of trouble in Test cricket is the get-rich-quick scheme of the sport. It is, generally, there to mask a lack of faith in a defensive technique. If you really want to score runs in Asia - anywhere, really - you have to learn to defend in Asia.
*Tavare, at county level, was an unusually elegant strokemaker. He took on a specific role for England - a sort of sheet anchor - and it is for this role that he is probably best remembered. But there is no intention to deny his wider attributes here.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo