A resurgent England exposed a recalcitrant India in a stirring five-day show at Birmingham . It was a lesson in discipline and skills that showed India in a bad light. In fact, the incorrigible ways of India once again underlined the fact that there is a huge gap between the team’s strengths in red-ball and white-ball cricket.
India embarked on the tour to England with a firm belief to win the one-off Test which formed part of the series which was abandoned in the summer of 2021 due to COVID. The confidence was based on the form of some of the players but essentially the presence of Rahul Dravid as the coach. Well, it was nothing but an illusion.
India was taught a lesson in five-day cricket by an opposition which has only recently come to realise its potency in the longer format of the game. With Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root literally decimating the Indian bowlers during their magnificent unbeaten partnership of 269 runs off just 316 balls it was utter humiliation for the much-hyped team led by rookie captain in Jasprit Bumrah.
It will take a long time for Dravid to forget this shabby show by his boys in his first Test as coach in England. A team that finished the first day on 338 for seven and posted 416 in its first innings was smashed by seven wickets after setting England a target of 378 runs. But then a Test match confronts the mental strength and endurance of the players and these were areas where India succumbed to pressure.
That India was without Rohit Sharma and K. L. Rahul was not an excuse. It had the best possible players of the future in this team. The much-touted Shubman Gill would need extended sessions back at the National Cricket Academy to improve his technique in conditions that help bowlers. He stood clueless, just as Shreyas Iyer did, when the ball swung and bounced.
There was hope that Virat Kohli would chase the demons of bad form away but then he only surrendered to the tactics of the opposition and to his obstinacy to prove that there was nothing wrong with his batting. In fact, the two innings in this Test only confirmed that there was little that was right as far as his batting was concerned. It is a challenge that only he can overcome.
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The contest was given away by the pedestrian batting display by India in the second innings. The Rishabh Pant spectacle in the first innings and the little entertainment in the second boosted his reputation but not the team’s. Pant’s trait of throwing his wicket to some reckless strokes can’t be repeatedly justified as his “natural” game. It is for Dravid to drill the point that he is a rare gem who can’t be underperforming in his love for flamboyance. Test cricket is about commitment as portrayed so craftily by Root.
The difference between India and England was Root. True, Bairstow was the one who punished the Indian bowlers with a century in each innings but Root was unflappable in an innings so reminiscent of Sunil Gavaskar, without any attempt to compare them. The ease with which Root dominated the Indian attack was a throwback to times when Pakistan great Zaheer Abbas would stride to the middle and plunder runs as a matter of right.
In the extended five-match series, which ended with a 2-2 result, Root amassed 737 runs in nine innings with four impactful centuries. At Birmingham, he came good to script England’s highest successful chase in Test cricket with a comprehensive thrashing of what is widely considered the best fast bowling attack in the world. He was ‘Man of the Series’. And rightly too.
There was little to suggest it was the best fast bowling attack as ‘Man of the Match’ Bairstow tore into the bowlers with disdain. The range of shots were a delight to watch as Bairstow went on a rampage but it was also telling commentary on the wayward stuff that came from the Indian bowlers. The team looked so ragged when Bairstow was on strike as the bowlers leaked runs on both sides of the wicket.
Bairstow’s amazing run with the bat was a tribute to his style of backing himself and playing fearlessly. Obviously the Brendon McCullum influence was evident as the New Zealander, in his role as the new England coach, brought in a refreshing change in the England attitude.
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Bairstow’s sensational batting in 2022 was one of the key reasons for England bowlers having enough to defend in the eight Tests that he figured in. Six centuries in 14 innings puts Bairstow in the top group as an exciting batsman to watch. He destroyed the Indian attack at Birmingham in the first innings in a power-packed knock of 106 and then his unbeaten 114 when fashioning the chase in the company of Root was just what English cricket needed, and deserved too.
This Test would also be remembered for the masterful spells by the one and only James Anderson, who just refused to fade away. With age, he has grown into a phenomenal bowler who literally mocks at these modern batsmen by coming up with clueless deliveries. The way Anderson sets up the batsmen is unique. His five wickets in the first innings triggered the inspiration for the team to have a go at India. By opting to chase, England also showcased its preparation.
The new captain Ben Stokes also came up with an incisive spell in the second innings that got England back into the contest after a first-innings deficit of 132. It would be fair to say that complacency by the Indian team also helped the home team turn it around.
The final day of the Birmingham Test surely raised questions on the ability of some of the Indians - Gill and Shardul Thakur. The twin failures of Hanuma Vihari also hurt the team’s campaign. A shining exception was Ravindra Jadeja with his century in the first innings even though he was an abject failure as a bowler. Was R. Ashwin missed? The Indian team management would know the best.