Take the positives out of that then. Better to burn out than fade away and England’s cricketers certainly ended their white‑ball tour of India in a shared magnesium flare at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. The insistence on building towards the Champions Trophy in June has been so relentless it was tempting to ask Eoin Morgan afterwards what positives he would be taking, what lessons learnt, skill-sets executed from losing eight wickets for eight runs in 19 balls in Bengaluru – on the bare figures, .
Except of course the end was not a reflection of the whole. This was a tour that brought frustration rather than disintegration. Even the meltdown at the Chinnaswamy was not really a pure collapse, more a reaction to a game that was already gone, with no other way left to play. By the same token it is possible to argue England could have won every short‑form game in India before that final thrashing had they not been undone by a series of improbable events.
The fun, punchy Kedar Yadav is unlikely to score another 64-ball hundred like the winning one in Pune. , 70 years combined, are unlikely to have another partnership quite like the winning one in Cuttack. The umpire Chettithody Shamshuddin will – you would like to think – never have such a cinematically pivotal shocker as he did in Nagpur. And yet, all these things did happen. England struggled to find the variation and edge to break partnerships at vital moments. They seemed to come into the series lacking specific bowling plans to India’s best players. And anyone who really thinks it was a certainty Joe Root was all set to bludgeon the series-clinching runs off Jasprit Bumrah in Nagpur when he was given out lbw probably did not see Bumrah bowl in these last two games, or indeed Root bat.
So what about that Champions Trophy, then? It was a little jarring how often a home tournament five months down the line was mentioned in India, with the insistence that all of this must be seen simply as preparation, even the T20s billed as an intensive skill-honing session. With further prep in the Caribbean, home ODIs against Ireland, some selected Indian Premier League and even a couple of rounds of domestic white‑ball cricket in the mix, one thing is certain. No England team have ever been so minutely primped and cosseted leading up to a tournament, from scheduling, to the presence of as head coach, to the rare seam of talent in a genuinely engaging set of players. Chuck in early summer home conditions and this England team really do have nowhere to hide. This had better work.
There were fine, competitive passages of play, and genuine highlights even in defeat on the flat pitches of Pune and Cuttack. The batting of Jason Roy and Ben Stokes in the first game was an exuberant joy. In the second game Chris Woakes produced a supreme spell of new‑ball cut and swing to reduce India to 25 for three and scored England’s only hundred of the series.
At the end of which the batting still looks settled for the summer. There is a slight issue over Alex Hales, who has had a bitty winter, but has a weight of runs behind him. Roy gained a reputation for twitchiness against spin, but his early assaults on the hard white ball were thrilling and his record as an England opener is formidable now. Root got in and got out. Jos Buttler did not get in often enough.
Crucially Morgan asserted himself both with that slow-burn, ultimately brutal hundred in Cuttack and with some icy captaincy throughout. There is a slight sense about Morgan now of a condition known as Early Rooney Syndrome, a sportsman who burned bright, plateaued out, became very good if not great, and has since become an easy target for snarking from the sidelines when his confidence is low. In reality Morgan remains the defining presence in this team, committed to attack, revered by his team‑mates and secure in his captaincy.
At times the bowlers did struggle on easier pitches. Jake Ball had his moment in Kolkata, bowling full and straight at the death as England had their best day of the tour. The regular sight of Bayliss, baseball mitt in hand, whacking balls at Ball was a reminder that his fielding remains a game but slightly raggedy affair.
If England missed Mark Wood’s extreme, cartwheeling speed, Stuart Broad’s continued absence in 50-over cricket is hard to understand fully from the outside. Whatever the team‑building process, whatever pecking order is in place, Broad is still a serious threat in England in early June whatever the format. Plus, like Morgan, he knows what it is to win a final or a final game, something England have done just three times in the past 11 opportunities.
“It’s certainly something we’ve got to get better at,” Bayliss said after the defeat in Bengaluru. “But we’re not going to get better at it without competing in finals and these final games. It’s disappointing that we lost those last ones. At some stage we’ve got to learn from those experiences and actually be good enough under pressure to perform the skills.”
If England do lack a real sense of devil in the clinches it is probably just a case of getting a little better, learning new or slightly more refined tricks. With this mind Bayliss remains open to his players going to the IPL, albeit even England’s coach is not exactly sure how many will be entering the auction, which has now been moved to later in February. The best current guess is that Stokes, Hales, Chris Jordan, Tymal Mills and (possibly) Morgan will enter as lots.
There was also a word in Bengaluru from England’s head coach on the Test captain, although the mystery of exactly if and to what extent intends to carry on remains a slightly incurious mystery to all concerned. “I haven’t spoken to Cookie since he left, I haven’t even had any messages with him at all,” Bayliss said. “I hope he continues playing and I said to him when he left I’d be happy if he stays, I’d be happy if he wants to go from his point of view, from a captaincy point of view. He’s the only one that will know if the time’s right for him to go.”
Beyond the disappointing results, or the formal dance of Cook’s captaincy endgame, the most notable aspect of this five‑city white‑ball tour of India was evidence of cricket’s enduring vitality and good health. is still everywhere in India, still in the cities, where the game is played as well as passionately imbibed. India has now given the world its first really modern superstar in Virat Kohli, a truly state of the art, pop-ish global A-lister. The sell-out crowds, the mass media coverage, the popularity even of the second‑string T20 domestic league: all of this feels like confirmation not just that cricket – an odd, flukish, strangely complex pastime – still can be a national sport, available to all, object of widespread rather than specialist fascination.
England are right to focus on the forms of the game where this obvious light and heat exists. What a shame it will be if the resources poured into white‑ball cricket do end up bearing fruit at the Champions Trophy but those beyond the immediate audience, ready to be captivated by the talent and energy of this team, are instead largely unaware of its existence.