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IND vs ENG Tests | This could finish as the finest series ever played in India

India’s Kuldeep Yadav celebrates the wicket of England’s Zak Crawley during the fourth day of the second Test cricket match between India and England at ACA-VDCA Stadium In Visakhapatnam on February 5, 2024.
| Photo Credit: K.R Deepak

This England series is promising to be the most exciting played in India. The teams know how Bazball can succeed as well as how it fails. That knowledge will be important over the next three Tests as each team begins to move closer to the style the other plays in. England might learn that sometimes defence is the better part of valour while India could abandon some of its overcautious approach. It will be fun to watch the process.

England had said they would chase 600 even. But it is usually prudent to have an anchor around whom the others can play. Bazball ought not to mean jettisoning past lessons. On a fourth-day track that was still kind to batters, Joe Root would have been the key in the pre-Bazball days. Here he played with the desperation of a schoolboy trying to impress his coach. As if to compensate, Ben Stokes attempted a run in that casual manner peculiar to those who don’t want to appear desperate. Both paid the price.

At the end of the first Test which England won, skipper Stokes said he had learnt from his counterpart. Well might Rohit Sharma have returned the compliment after the Vizag Test. He still had a tendency to go on the defensive easily, but where it mattered he attacked in the finest Bazball manner. Youngsters Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubhman Gill stroked freely and often, and whenever India needed a wicket, the great Jasprit Bumrah obliged.

Not since Bhagwat Chandrasekhar has there been an Indian bowler who threatened every time he had the ball in hand. The unplayable ball seemed to be just around the corner.

The manner in which the yorker made a mess of the stumps (Ollie Pope, Stokes) was a physical treat, but there were intellectual treats too (Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow), as when a batter was set up and then fooled by the angle or pace of the delivery. Is Bumrah already the greatest fast bowler India have produced?

Watching two masters at work — Jimmy Anderson at 41 still has more tricks up his sleeve than a card sharp — was further indication this might be the finest home series, with every chance of it going into the fifth Test all-square.

Some fifty years ago, India and the West Indies were locked 2-2. India lost the first two Tests to Clive Lloyd’s team still finding its feet, then won the next two, orchestrated by skipper Tiger Pataudi. Lloyd himself made a double century in the decider. Two youngsters who made their debut were Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge; fast bowler Andy Roberts in only his second series showed what a force he would become with 32 wickets. Alvin Kallicharran made a classy century in Bengaluru.

Gundappa Viswanath held India’s batting together. The spin quartet helped bowl out the West Indies for under 250 four times in succession. It was a rebirth of Indian cricket following a 3-0 thrashing in England.

Amidst the modern fashion of two-Test and one-off Test matches, a five-Test series is necessary to unfurl the possibilities of the format. And one like this which imitates the ebbs and flows of a single match makes a mockery of the fears for the survival of Test cricket. Much of the credit for this should go to the England team which has adopted a style of play that is both attractive and vulnerable. It is a winning combination for the spectator, and never mind if the match ends in four days. Often this happens only because there is a fifth day available.

England have taken aboard the possibility of defeat. At any rate it would be bad faith to change their recent approach at the first sign of vulnerability. A retreat would negate all the excellent work done so far. Bazball is not for all teams. It needs a combination of coach and captain that England have to even contemplate it.

Exceptional

Stokes is an exceptional cricketer and captain. He is moving towards that rarefied place occupied by great predecessors like Mike Brearley, Ray Illingworth, Andrew Strauss. Perhaps he is there already.

Captaincy will continue to play a major role in this series. Any future assessment of captains will be based at least partly on what happens here.

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