Ben Stokes is a man not unfamiliar with the drama of international cricket. Prior to his captaincy, his performances at Headingly in the 2019 Ashes and the ODI World Cup Final that same year seemed to personify entertainment in sport, and during his test captaincy things have been no different. An unlucky draw against Australia in last year’s Ashes, following on from spectacular performances against the likes of Pakistan and New Zealand make England one of the hottest outfits in the landscape of test cricket. However, now they are faced with the impossible. India away.
India dominated the first and second innings, with the ever-reliable Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja taking 6 wickets between them. This was then supported well with the bat, as Yashasvi Jaiswal, KL Rahul and then Jadeja all picked up scores of 80 plus runs. Somehow, England managed to overcome the odds and rescue a victory by 28 runs. Two performances stand out from an English perspective. Ollie Pope’s stupendous 196, featuring dilscoops a plenty, helped England to rebuild from a disappointing first and second innings. Tom Hartley then took 7 wickets to help the touring side get across the line as they took India to all-out for a meagre 202.
In a post-match interview, Stokes said that this was the greatest win of his captaincy thus far. From the standpoint of sheer difficulty in regard to environment and opponent, it certainly seems to be true. Prior to this series, India had only lost 3 home tests since 2013, and won 36. They are also currently ranked number 1 among test sides in the world by the ICC. However, Virat Kohli’s absence, as well as that of Mohammed Shami and Rishabh Pant, does take away several of India’s most dangerous players. It must be said that England are also missing Harry Brook, and that their main spinner, Jack Leach, was unable to bowl his normal number of overs due to an injury sustained during the match.
But this mustn’t take away from the scale of England’s achievement. It represented two key aspects of Bazball. A removal of the fear of failure, built on investing trust in players, and an unwillingness to give up in the third and fourth innings regardless of circumstance. Stokes’ repeated use of debutant Hartley, despite him being hit for six in his first ball, shows that he wants his players to know that he is willing to trust in their ability. Also, that he will not be deterred from his philosophy in the face of cricket’s greatest challenge.
It is safe to say that England’s win in Hyderabad will be remembered for a very long time to come. In part due to how difficult and rare it is to win a test match in India, but also that the drama of the game itself has reminded many of the joys of the longest format of the game. Long live test cricket.