Written by Shamik Chakrabarty
Updated: June 26, 2022 1:40:04 pm
IND vs ENG 5th Test: Jasprit Bumrah will be leading the side in absence of Rohit Sharma. (FILE)
That was the only time when Jamie Overton looked nervy, after moving into the 90s in his debut Test. Eventually he fell for 97, got a bear hug from Jonny Bairstow and left to a standing ovation from the Headingley crowd. The newcomer was allowed to be nervous as he approached the moment of his cricketing life. Ninety-seven per cent of his innings, though, oozed boldness that ‘Bazball’ demands.
To paraphrase The Beatles, Brendon ‘Baz’ McCullum took a sad song and made it better very quickly.
Exhibit 1: A year ago at Lord’s, New Zealand had declared their second innings and set England a target of 273 in 75 overs on the final day. Joe Root and Chris Silverwood’s team opted to play out for a boring draw instead. About 10 days ago at Trent Bridge, England’s fourth innings target against New Zealand was 299 in 72 overs on the final day of the second Test. Ben Stokes and McCullum’s side romped home in 50 overs, winning by five wickets.
England’s Jonny Bairstow, left, and Jamie Overton leave the field at the end of play on the second day of the third cricket Test match between England and New Zealand at Headingley in Leeds, England, Friday, June 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Exhibit 2: In the ongoing third Test at Headingley, England’s top-order was at sea against Trent Boult’s swing-bowling masterclass. That first spell from Boult would have rattled any top-order to be precise and the hosts slumped to 17/3 and then, 21/4, when Tim Southee removed Joe Root with a beauty. Bairstow and Stokes counter-attacked the New Zealand fast bowlers and even though the England captain perished, trying to force the pace, his team didn’t shed their attacking intent. At 55/6, Overton paired up with Bairstow and a 241-run partnership followed, off just 274 balls. It was exhilarating cricket. And forget Bairstow’s back-to-back hundreds, when a debutant can play in such fearless manner under pressure, he typifies a team’s positive culture shift.
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India will face a new England at Edgbaston in five days’ time. This England team doesn’t get bundled out in one session; they don’t retreat in the face of opponents’ aggression. And India will carry their own problems to the pending fifth Test of a series that started last year and stood at 2-1 in favour of the tourists when it suffered a Covid-forced postponement.
Virat Kohli hasn’t scored an international century for two-and-a-half years now, averaging a shade over 30 in Tests during this period. For the first time in nearly five years, his career average has dropped below 50. Last year, when India toured England, Kohli was the team’s undisputed leader across formats. Much has changed since. England, too, have a new captain in Stokes but his predecessor, Root, hasn’t lost his run-scoring mojo. He is the No. 1 Test batsman in the world, with a match-winning hundred in the first Test against New Zealand at Lord’s being his latest world-class offering. Billing the fifth Test as Kohli versus Root is fraught with risk, for the latter is operating on a different run-scoring stratosphere, while, Kohli, 33, is seemingly heading towards the twilight zone unless there’s a second wind.
Virat Kohli hits an impressive 67 off 98 balls against Leicestershire on Day 3 of four-day warm-up match. (Twitter/BCCI)
Rohit Sharma has contracted Covid and is all set to miss the Test. And more than the captaincy issue – Jasprit Bumrah will stand in – it creates a serious batting void. Rohit was immense for India last year and although he had a poor IPL, he, along with Kohli, is the team’s batting royalty. Also, now India have lost both their first-choice openers. Shubman Gill is a very good replacement for KL Rahul, but Rohit’s absence could have an adverse effect.
Cheteshwar Pujara has returned to the Test fold by dint of his 720 runs in eight innings for Sussex, including four centuries. But he would still walk a tightrope, that a failure at Edgbaston could be curtains for him. And nobody knows which Rishabh Pant would turn up. His sublimity is India’s asset. But at times, Pant can be messy as well.
Bowling hasn’t been India’s problem. Bumrah and company are guaranteed performers irrespective of conditions. But the team’s batting, especially the middle-order when Kohli is not in form, doesn’t inspire confidence. Batting failures cost India the series in South Africa in the winter and in England this time, their challenge is steeper.
Last year, England looked defeatists, a batting line-up that got bullied by Bumrah, and when they went Down Under for the Ashes, they were battered by Pat Cummins’s troops. England have risen from the ashes, under Rob Key, the managing director of the country’s men’s cricket team, who showed the nous to hand over the Test team reins to McCullum, picking him out of the IPL. Stokes taking charge from Root was a formality and it has liberated the former captain.
England will take the confidence of their series win against the defending World Test champions to Edgbaston. Their bowlers are in form and James Anderson would be fresh after a well-earned rest in the third Test. Their batsmen are revelling in their new-found resolve. England are in the middle of their Test season. India are short of red-ball game time. The Indian broadcaster’s ‘ab hogi poori dhulai’ tagline sounds a little over-the-top.
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