Graham Thorpe: ‘Adapting to the pink ball will be key’

Graham Thorpe, England’s batting coach, believes that the team that adapts quickest to the changed circumstances of day-night Test cricket is the likeliest to come out on top, as England and India prepare for an unfamiliar challenge in a brand-new stadium at Ahmedadad.

Despite being comprehensively beaten in last week’s second Test in Chennai, Thorpe was confident that England can reassert themselves in the series, and expecting a full complement of players to choose from, including James Anderson and Jofra Archer in the bowling stakes – the latter after receiving a cortisone injection in his right elbow after being omitted from the second Test – and Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow as candidates to fill the No. 3 berth.

Crawley was ruled out of the first two matches when he skidded on a marble floor at the Chepauk Stadium and damaged his wrist, but Thorpe believes his form in the nets shows he’s back “in the mix”, while Bairstow – who impressed at No. 3 in the 2-0 series win in Sri Lanka last month – is back with the squad after flying home to the UK for a ten-day break during the Chennai leg of the tour.

“All the players are fit so we have a choice to make going into this match,” Thorpe said. “We know what Jonny’s credentials are. He’s a good player of spin. He has got a decent record, he played well in Sri Lanka. He is certainly going to be in with a shout. But we are still a day out from the Test match and we still want to have a proper look at the pitch as it comes closer to the match as well.”

The ECB’s focus on rest and rotation has come in for some criticism in recent days, particularly in the wake of Moeen Ali’s departure from the squad after an eight-wicket haul in the second Test. However, Thorpe believes that the benefits of giving England’s players a break from the bubble outweigh the drawbacks.

“They do come in a little bit more mentally fresh, possibly,” Thorpe said. “They do seem to be more rejuvenated when they have been out, and then come back in after that break. Jonny has practised very well over the last few days. Maybe a few weeks ago he was playing but he’s looked fine in the nets. Maybe that mental freshness can be a real positive as well.”

Either way, the challenge that both sets of players can expect to face in this next Test is far removed from the events at Chennai. India have played just a solitary pink-ball Test, a one-sided encounter with Bangladesh in 2019, while England’s most recent experience came in Auckland in March 2018, when they were routed by an innings after being rolled aside for 58 on the first day of the match.

“The nature of it, it’s half-day, half-night,” Thorpe said. “The challenge of facing the pink ball in the changing conditions – we’ll have to react and adapt well. It’s a slight unknown quantity but often the pink ball does a little more in the evenings than it does in the afternoons for the seamers. But we’ll also have to take a look at the pitch with regard to the spinners during the day time.”

England are quietly optimistic that the prevailing conditions at Ahmedabad play more to their seam-bowling strengths, with Anderson and Archer both impressing in the first Test of the series.

“It’s possible, without looking into a crystal ball,” Thorpe said. “The ball generally does swing more under the lights. They don’t have a huge database of pink-ball cricket in India, this is the second one. We’re looking forward to it, it is a fantastic stadium. We’ve prepared as well as we can and we have one more night of practice tomorrow.”

So far, England have had one practice session by day and one by night, and from a batting perspective Thorpe said the focus had been on picking up length at different phases of the day. “Purely from that factor, it’s really about how well the players adjust to those conditions, whether they are batting or bowling,” he said. “The team who reacts the best will probably have a good chance of coming out on top in it.”

After England were dismissed for twin scores of 134 and 164 in the second Test – their lowest aggregate for a completed Test since 1995 – a lot of the focus was on their execution of the sweep shot, and the need for more robust support for the captain, Joe Root, whose double-century in the first Test had been the bedrock of England’s 227-run win in that contest.

Thorpe, however, has called on his players to learn from their mistakes in that second match, and reassert themselves in the series.

“I certainly wouldn’t say to any of our players ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that’,” he said. “But I’d ask them to look at all their options and the key thing for all of them is being able to execute the shot to the right ball, that’s from a defensive point of view just as much of an attacking point of view.

“That’s the challenge which is really presented to us, playing against good spinners on turning pitches in India. But I’ve encouraged the players to view it as a challenge and one which they should embrace and excite them as well, because if they do well and score runs against this Indian attack in their own country, then they know they’ve worked very hard and earned their runs.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket