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Baseball Takes a Beating



Beating India in their own backyard is like surviving forty days and nights in the desert without food or drink — it requires a miracle. After a triumphant victory in the first test, England lost the second and third by 106 and 434 runs respectively by playing careless, aggressive-for-the-sake-of-aggressive cricket. When Brendon McCullum was appointed as coach of England’s test team, he gained immediate success by his team whacking the ball around the park and imposing themselves on oppositions who hadn’t seen anything like it. The miraculous marriage of entertainment and success generated a near-orgasmic response from English supporters — after over a year in charge, England had failed to lose a test series. 


But after finding themselves 2-1 down with two test matches to play against India, the honeymoon period seemed to be over, and bazball as formula was being questioned. It looked as if entertainment was being prioritised to success, and a messy divorce hung in the balance. 

 

England surrendered the impulse of bazball in the fourth test at Ranchi, returning to their roots in playing a traditional form of test cricket that even Sir Geoffrey Boycott would be proud of. And they were rewarded after the first day, as Joe Root –– highly criticised for his attacking stroke play which led to soft dismissals in the previous tests –– scored a fine, resilient century, one of the most mature of his career given the context. In the morning of the first day, England scored at 4.63 runs per over and lost five wickets. In the afternoon session, the run-rate was 2.33 –– the slowest England have batted in a session under the reins of McCullum –– and yet no wickets were lost. Root, alongside wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, defied the mentality of uncompromised aggression in favour of playing sensibly. They did what the best test sides do — they assessed their vulnerable position in the match and gradually regained control, not through a bullish approach but through a patient, dare I say, orthodox, one.

 

England lost the test match, and with that, the series. Unlike the other matches, however, they didn’t throw the game away, but instead were beaten on merit by a stronger Indian side. The result should not be too dispiriting; England never really stood much of a chance, especially if you compare the experience and quality of the spin attacks. Not that the young series debutants Hartley and Bashir underperformed, in fact the case is quite the opposite; both spinners put their foot in the door for long and prosperous international careers (Bashir’s five wicket haul in the first innings of the fourth test was especially impressive). But it was the veteran spin trio of Ashwin, Jadeja, and Kuldeep (181 caps between them compared to the eight of Hartley and Bashir) who ultimately won the game for India, as England succumbed to their trial by spin and were bowled out for 145 in their second innings. India chased down their target of 192 losing only five wickets. Despite the loss, and an unassailable 3-1 lead for the hosts heading into the final test match, we may have witnessed the start of a new era of test cricket under Brendon McCullum. Positivity and aggression remain the priority, but –– if England’s attitude in the last test is anything to go by –– then in this refined, more intelligent version of Bazball, common sense and caution prevails over sheer brutality only when the state of the game demands it. This may detract from the entertainment factor, but results are sure to improve. And winning comes first, doesn’t it?


Image: Unsplash

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