Jonathan Trott, England’s batting consultant in India, has stressed the importance of big first-innings runs, with contributions all down the order, as the team puts in its final preparations ahead of Friday’s opening Test at Chennai.
Trott, who has taken over the role filled by Jacques Kallis in Sri Lanka, was a part of the last England side to win a series in India in 2012-13 – a campaign in which Joe Root, now set to play his 100th Test, made his first England appearance in a series-settling draw in Nagpur.
And just as that triumph was built on England’s ability to put big first-innings runs on the board – they posted scores of 413 and 523 in their two victories at Mumbai and Kolkata – so too will be their hopes of competing against an India side riding high after a hard-fought series win in Australia.
“The message varies from player to player, but the fundamentals of playing in India are pretty much the same,” Trott said. “It’s about big runs in the first innings, like anywhere else, but in India it’s really, really important.”
Although England can expect a typically stiff examination of their techniques against spin, with R Ashwin fit again, and either Axar Patel or Kuldeep Yadav set to partner him, Trott also stressed that India’s pace attack is a match for any line-up in the game, with Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma the probable spearheads in Chennai.
“We saw their pace attack in Australia do really well, and they’re very talented all round with the ball,” he said. “For batters nowadays, as you go around the world, everyone’s got a good pace attack, so it’s crucially important to prepare for both.
“I wouldn’t reinvent the wheel with the guys,” he added. “But it’s about making sure that they’re in the right space and ready to do whatever the conditions dictate, and that their all-round game is in tip top shape. That comes down to us as coaches, but also as players taking responsibility, not only in training but in the matches as well.
“Confronting the new ball and perhaps the reversing ball, with spin in the middle, and the seamers doing a very good holding job, your skill level has to be very high, especially when playing in the heat and humidity of Chennai. You have to be very, very switched on.
“And we saw in Sri Lanka that you need to play good cricket for all the four-five days that the Test lasts. It’s not just about first innings, but being able to back it up as batsmen and bowlers in the second innings as well, because that’s when the games are won and lost.”
England’s options with bat and ball are set to be boosted by the return of Ben Stokes, who missed the Sri Lanka leg of the winter but has been training in Chennai since Sunday. And with both Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes available again after coming through their Covid quarantine periods in Sri Lanka, England have the ability to field a deeper batting line-up than was the case in Galle, where Dom Bess produced a gutsy 32 from No. 8 to help turn the tide in the second Test.
“[Depth] is key,” Trott admitted. “It’s always a luxury if you can, but you have to make sure you have the right options with the ball as well, and I think that’s paramount when it comes to winning Test matches.
“You try to find that balance all the time, so that’s why we’re very lucky to have a player like Ben Stokes, but it’s key for everybody to make sure that they have a good game plan as a batter, and make sure that they can chip in and hold up an end.
“Even if you’re down at the lower end of the order, [you have to] understand what your role is, so working with those guys is always enjoyable for myself as a batting coach, and making sure that the guys are ready to perform.”
All eyes, however, are bound to be on Root as he embarks on his 100th Test, fresh from an outstanding series in Sri Lanka where his haul of 426 runs was instrumental in England’s triumph. And looking back on his debut series, Trott admitted his success had not come as a surprise.
“He’s certainly baby-faced still,” he said. “You wouldn’t say he’s played 100 Test matches compared the crow’s feet that most guys get from playing so much cricket in the sun.
“But I wouldn’t be surprised one bit. On that tour [in 2012], he came into the warm-up games and impressed everybody, not only by his skill but the way that he conducted himself.
“He was new to the scene then, but he’s gone from strength to strength. He leads by example, he still has a passion for the game and the desire to improve. I think that rubs off on everyone and England are very lucky to have a guy like that leading from the front and batting in the middle order.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket