India’s back level with England – Strap in for one of Test cricket’s greatest series
So here things sit at 1-1 in a five-test series between two Test nations with a very special rivalry. Experience and youth alike are shining through, the games have been fast-paced and exciting and the contest is very even. What was everyone so worried about?
Admittedly, almost no Test series have this kind of interest and intrigue and even fewer go this long, but let’s appreciate it while it unfolds and understand what we’re witnessing.
The first Test in Hyderabad was genuinely historic. After both teams had completed their first innings, England faced a fairly dire situation. Against a team who had won their last 16 home Test series – six more than any other team in history – they found themselves 190 runs behind.
To put this in perspective, India had never previously lost a home Test match when leading by 100 runs after the first innings. England play an aggressive style thought to be unsuited to the conditions, and aren’t noted for their strength against spin, of which they faced plenty. They won.
Bazball won out
Many of us naturally associate the concept of Bazball with constant aggression, which isn’t too far off the mark. But there’s a component we saw in this match that is sometimes less apparent; trust. Tom Hartley was a spinner on Test debut who got destroyed by the home Indian batsmen in the first innings; we’ve seen this movie before.
The temptation of most captains in these situations is to protect their new man (and the team) and throw the ball to him less often. Hartley bowled 25 overs with a very bloated economy rate. But Ben Stokes showed faith in him.
If Hartley had been bowled less in the first innings, his incredible 7/62 in the second probably wouldn’t’ve happened. Without it, England certainly wouldn’t have won. This is the Bazball ethos; detach from a fear of failure, and you’ll be free to perform at your best. Hartley reaped those exact rewards.
The same is true for Ollie Pope. The perennially promising batsman only had 4 centuries in his previous 38 Tests and an average in the mid-30s, yet he’s still batting at number 3 in the order. England started their second innings 190 runs behind, and Pope wiped out that deficit himself, plus 6 more. Just like with Hartley, if England and Stokes didn’t trust Pope, England wouldn’t have won that match.
India reasserted their dominance
The second test was closer to what we expected in terms of result.
Yashasvi Jaiswal, like Pope before him, made a massive score in an innings where none of his teammates reached 50. On a pitch turning plenty and bouncing far more than usual in India, Jaiswal was unflappable as he almost single-handedly built the platform for India. His lofted on-drives oozed quality, and it seems India have finally found an opener for the post-Rohit Sharma era. The good news is he’s already arrived.
On the bowling front, this wasn’t the common story of most of the wickets going to the spinners, but seeing Jasprit Bumrah annihilate a batting order is no surprise. His dismissal of Stokes with a trademark yorker coming in at a wide angle, caused the England skipper to throw his bat. Bazball, it seemed, was feeling the heat.
The 396 runs accrued in India’s first innings was always likely to be tough for England to recover from, and it turned out they fell 106 runs short, with R Ashwin and Bumrah doing most of the damage to close out the match.
What happens from here?
Now we have a beautifully poised series set to recommence on February 15 in Rajkot. Two matches in and England have shown they can compete. Could they do the unthinkable and actually win a five-Test series in India, or will it be 17 home series in a row for the hosts? Let me know what you think in the comments, and check out my profile for more cricket articles.