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Edgbaston Test: England Called India’s Bluff and Jasprit Bumrah and Co. Blinked First

By: R Kaushik

Last Updated: July 06, 2022, 09:36 IST

India lost the Edgbaston Test by 7 wickets

India lost the Edgbaston Test by 7 wickets

India were well ahead on points at stumps on the third day, holding an overall lead of 257 with seven wickets standing. They had the opportunity to bat England out of the contest with a little bit of common sense and a little more application

Jasprit Bumrah’s first act as Indian Test captain was to call ‘heads’ at Edgbaston on the opening day of the much-delayed fifth Test against England. As the coin settled on ‘tails’, Ben Stokes told his counterpart, “We’ll have a bowl.”

The England captain then explained the rationale behind the decision. “We’ve done pretty well chasing,” he told Mark Butcher, the former England opener who was doing the toss for the host broadcaster.

For a second, one was taken aback. ‘Done pretty well chasing?’ Are we half an hour before the start of a Test match, or has by some strange twist of fate, this spin of the coin is a precursor to a white-ball international? ‘Done pretty well chasing?’ Really?

Really, yes. After all, in their three previous Tests over the last month, new-look, intrepid, feisty, attacking England had comfortably, successfully chased down targets of 277, 299 and 296 against World Test champions New Zealand to herald a spectacular start to the Stokes-Brendon McCullum management era. But still…


Hindsight will stand testament to the fact that Stokes hadn’t been overstating things. What is generally regarded as the toughest part of Test cricket, a daunting fourth-innings chase, was accomplished without breaking a sweat as England surged back from 1-2 down to square the five-match series against India. There was a certain inevitability to their tryst with 378 from the time their two form batsmen, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, joined hands at a wobbly 109 for three. Long before the end, India had thrown in the towel, merely waiting for the runs to be knocked off so they could retreat to the safety of their dressing room and lick their gaping wounds in private.

How could this have happened? How could a team with arguably the best all-round attack in world cricket bleed runs at 4.93 runs per over for 76.4 overs spread over the fourth and fifth days of a Test match? How could Root and Bairstow be allowed to rattle along at 5.12 runs per over whilst adding an unbroken 269 for the fourth wicket after coming together when their side had lost three wickets for just two runs? How did India let England mount their highest successful chase with such impunity and without so much as a flutter?

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It might be simplistic to invoke the flatness of even a day-five surface and the poor quality of balls that needed constant changing and precluded the possibility of ‘maintaining’ the cherry required to make use of the reverse swing the slightly abrasive surface was enabling as contributory factors. It might be tempting to point to Hanuma Vihari letting Bairstow off at gully when the right-hander was on 14 on the fourth afternoon. But India must admit, to themselves if not to anyone else, that there is no place to hide, that any effort at cocooning inside excuses will be self-defeating. England called their bluff and India blinked first.

As a chastened Bumrah pointed out at the end of the frenetic game which unspooled at a breakneck pace, not even three sustained days of domination means anything in the final analysis in a Test match. India were well ahead on points at stumps on the third day, holding an overall lead of 257 with seven wickets standing. They had the opportunity to bat England out of the contest with a little bit of common sense and a little more application. Instead, they threw their grateful hosts a lifeline by not extending their lead beyond 377, and England, maverick England, ballistic England, cashed in brilliantly, lending further weight and credence to ‘Bazball’, one of those unique and not necessarily pleasant monikers that is guaranteed to stud cricketing lexicon for a long time to come.

‘Bazball’ loosely represents the brand of cricket England have come to embrace in Test cricket since McCullum, the former New Zealand captain, assumed charge at the start of this home summer. Until McCullum’s unexpected but much-anticipated arrival, England had won just one of their preceding 17 Tests. A sound loss in the Caribbean after they ‘rested’ pace aces James Anderson and Stuart Broad was the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back. Root stepped down as skipper, and head coach Chris Silverwood moved to the helm of the Sri Lankan side in the quest for greener pastures. Out went the call to McCullum to resurrect English Test fortunes, a challenge that appealed to the ultra-positive Kiwi.

Armed with an attacking philosophy that sought to marry the best of limited-overs batting with the basic, bare nuances of Test match batsmanship, McCullum’s greatest success – beyond four Test wins in a row – has been getting generally conservative England to buy into his philosophy. There is a sense of purpose and intent to England’s batting not always obvious hitherto. Attack as the best form of defence has percolated through the ranks, starting from a perennial problem area – the opening batsmen – through the middle-order, where Bairstow has taken to the new dispensation with unalloyed glee, to the tail which is no longer content to keep limbs and heads out of harm’s way. Their cause has been helped by flat tracks and unresponsive balls in all four home Tests this season; whether they will be able to sustain ‘Bazball’ in more bowler-friendly conditions such as in the sub-continent where batting fourth is fraught with supreme danger remains to be seen, but that is a story for another day.

Where ‘Bazball’ carried the day for the English, India find themselves with questions galore beyond the obvious as they reconcile to a third successive overseas Test loss this year, each of them by seven wickets. These questions pertain to Virat Kohli and how long a rope he merits, to Shreyas Iyer’s technique against the short ball. They revolve around Shardul Thakur’s sustenance as the fourth pacer, and around the backroom tactics in the Rahul Dravid era that were particularly unedifying in Birmingham when India found themselves powerless in stemming the flow of runs – singles and boundaries – against Root and Bairstow, neither of them looking to be particularly attacking.

True, the return of Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul will bring constancy and solidity to the top of the order, but what about Kohli and another dry run that has extended his century drought – his last international three-figure knock came in November 2019? Kohli must be aware that he is living on borrowed time, just as Iyer will be alive to the fact that oppositions will target the glaring, gaping chink in his armoury and pepper him with short stuff because word travels fast in any grade of cricket these days. It’s disappointing that a batsman who averages nearly 52 in first-class cricket and has been in the India ‘A’ mix for a half-dozen years now is so uncertain against the ball banged in. Admittedly, one Test might appear a minuscule dataset, but there was enough evidence during his brief forays to the middle that his woes against the bouncing ball are anything but minuscule.

This defeat will hurt India badly, and not only because it is the most runs they have conceded in the final innings to lose a Test. They will wonder how, after Johannesburg and Cape Town in January, they again failed to close out a game they were well in control of for so long. Their top-order meltdown in the first innings was camouflaged by the brilliance of the increasingly impressive left-handed duo of Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja, but it will be unfair to expect the charismatic wicketkeeper-batsman and the multi-hued all-rounder to keep pulling the fat out of the fire time after time. Dravid must demand, and command, more meaningful first-innings – any innings – runs from the specialist batsmen, just as bowling coach Paras Mhambrey must come up with answers to how his wards couldn’t defend a total far more substantial than the same attack did in the same country last year at Lord’s and The Oval when Bharat Arun ran the bowling ship.

India’s WTC aspirations have taken a nosedive after this result, though they have six Tests and two series against Bangladesh (away) and Australia (home) to make a late charge for the final. The good news for the Test boys is that they can use the next five months to hone their skills, for between now and November, there is only a steady diet of white-ball cricket with the T20 World Cup in Australia in October-November as the immediate destination. How well they use this period will decide not just where their future is headed, but how Indian Test cricket holds up solid and whether it is able to build gainfully on the wonderful inroads made under the Kohli-Shastri leadership regime.

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first published:July 06, 2022, 09:36 IST
last updated:July 06, 2022, 09:36 IST