Two enthralling test matches between these sides has resulted in the series being perfectly poised at 1-1. The next three tests promise to provide drama as both teams aim to grab the spoils by the end of the fifth test.
The first test in Hyderabad was possibly one of England’s greatest wins ever. They were in danger of folding in classic England fashion after conceding a 190-run deficit after the first innings. England’s spinners looked completely at sea. The selection of left-arm spinner Tom Hartley was at the centre of controversy, with many suggesting that he is not good enough for test match level. What unfolded afterwards was remarkable. With England teetering on collapse on day three, with the possible embarrassment of an innings defeat looming, Ollie Pope stepped up. Prior to this knock, his highest score in India was 34 and looked average against India’s high quality spin attack. However, he produced in my opinion the best innings ever by an England player in the sub-continent, with a masterful 196. He made the likes of Jadeja and Ashwin toil as England piled on the runs. Ben Foakes played a critical role as he stuck with Pope throughout most of the afternoon and evening sessions of day three. Their efforts meant that England had a chance. A slim one.
With England bowled out in the morning of day four, India were set a target of 231 to win and the match was in the balance. The question remained whether England’s spinners were good enough to take ten wickets. Tom Hartley ripped through India’s batting line up and ended with a 7-fer on debut silencing his critics. From being targeted by the likes of KL Rahul and Jaiswal in the first innings, it was an incredible comeback from the debutant, who bowled magnificently.
England ended up winning by 28 runs which sealed what Ben Stokes called the best win under his captaincy. This England side keeps creating history under Baz McCullum and Ben Stokes. The mentality of this England team is irrepressible and has been constantly praised over the last few years. England’s emphatic belief in every game they play, no matter how bleak the match situation may be, is the essence of the success of Bazball.
India on the other hand looked like a shadow of themselves. They will have been extremely disappointed by their performance. Their captain Rohit Sharma said that the ‘braver team won’ in the first test. India’s commanding position, with a massive first-innings lead, was due to brilliant performances from Jaiswal and KL Rahul. In contrast, they were lacklustre with the ball in the second innings and with the bat, some of the decision making was extremely poor.
This is not to take away from England’s brilliance. They were fantastic in the field as well as bowling in the right areas. Ben Stokes is renowned as England’s most athletic fielder and one can hardly believe that he had knee surgery only a few months ago. He looks as fit as ever and turned the game on its head when he ran out Jadeja in such extraordinary, athletic style. This really opened the door for England, and they went in for the kill.
The second test was a little bit different. With a very flat wicket on day one, not offering much excitement for the bowlers, India won the toss and batted, and it was a good toss to win. It could’ve been ominous for England, however the bowlers stuck to their task very well. Shoaib Bashir made his England debut at only 20 – an amazing achievement for the young off-spinner. He showed his quality as he picked up 3 wickets in the first innings. The standout performance was from Yashasvi Jaiswal. He smashed 209 and was the only batter to kick on from a start. India’s other batsman were quite disappointing with most giving their wickets away cheaply.
After being bowled out for just under 400, England got off to a fantastic start, once again Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett proving themselves to be very consistent in an England shirt at the top of the order. However, a middle order collapse saw England bowled out, trailing by 143.
England have never feared a run-chase under Ben Stokes, but they were set a massive target of 399 to win. England have barely scored over 200 in any chase in India, usually capitulating on the sharp-turning wickets. This felt a bit different. England fell 106 runs short, but there were positives to take away, especially Zak Crawley’s wonderful 76. The task this time proved too strenuous.
The next test in Rajkot will see India talisman Virat Kohli most likely sidelined once again due to personal reasons. Kohli’s absence is a massive opportunity for England to regain the upper hand in the series. On the other hand, England are indefinitely without Harry Brook, undoubtedly England’s brightest future star. Being a superb player of spin, England will continue to miss his excellent form since he started his test career.
India has been subject to criticism in the past due to the standard of their wickets. Pitches would deteriorate very fast and then spin significantly. In 2021, England were beaten inside two days in Ahmedabad, and even though England were poor, this shouldn’t happen in test cricket. In times where the oldest, best and most exciting form of the game is slowly dying, it is crucial that test matches are exciting to watch and played on proper wickets. In fairness, nobody can criticize the wickets to date in this series. Both have offered enough to both bat and ball and so far, has made for an incredibly entertaining series. India will have an advantage in Rajkot if the pitches are flatter like in Visakhapatnam. The skill of India’s spinners will prevail on wickets that may not spin as much. England will need to improve and avoid bowling loose deliveries which Jaiswal punished in the last test.
Having been sceptical of England’s chances going into the series, my confidence in this team is higher than ever. The once ambitious idea of a series win in India could become not only a possibility, but a reality. I love the way that they play the game, and Stokes’ captaincy is key to their success. Young spinner Rehan Ahmed has recently praised Stokes’ encouraging mentality adding that he is the reason for their success so far. Ahmed, Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir have taken 26 wickets between them in two tests which is more than India’s experienced line-up. This is an incredible feat especially as India’s batsmen are typically the best in the world in their own conditions. England have also been helped by the excellent keeping of Ben Foakes. The difference he makes with the gloves is so extreme and he is
clearly the best in the world. I am still baffled that he was left out of the Ashes squad last year.
England will win another test match in this series, and the optimist in me says we will win the series.
Despite India’s resurgence in the last test, we know that that this England team do not reflect negatively on defeat. Their confidence will be sky-high for the Rajkot test and I, as well as a lot of other England fans, will be up at 4am GMT to watch England (hopefully) win and take the advantage in the series.
Written by Ned Howard-Vyse