Test cricket | West Indies give us a peep into the past, England into the future

If fortune favours the brave, it also tends to desert the timid, which is what India were in the Hyderabad Test

Updated - January 31, 2024 08:17 am IST

Published - January 31, 2024 12:30 am IST

England wicketkeeper Ben Foakes celebrates with Tom Hartley after taking the final wicket of Mohammed Siraj as Jasprit Bumrah reacts at the non strikers end during day four of the 1st Test Match between India and England at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium on January 28, 2024 in Hyderabad, India.

England wicketkeeper Ben Foakes celebrates with Tom Hartley after taking the final wicket of Mohammed Siraj as Jasprit Bumrah reacts at the non strikers end during day four of the 1st Test Match between India and England at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium on January 28, 2024 in Hyderabad, India. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Brisbane is 9450 kilometres from Hyderabad, yet in a cricketing sense they became twin cities on Sunday as hope triumphed over probability.

Australia hadn’t lost to the West Indies at home in 27 years. A 24-year-old, Joseph Shamar, playing only his second Test ran through them with seven wickets. Another 24-year-old, Tom Hartley, playing his first, claimed seven too and pushed India to only their fourth defeat at home in 11 years.

If that wasn’t sufficient, in Melbourne a 22-year old fought from two sets down to claim the Australian Open, although Jannick Sinner’s victory wasn’t as surprising. Still, it made for an Underdog Day afternoon.

Sport thrives on surprises. The unexpected is the fan’s best friend.

Vintage Windies

This was the West Indies of old, patently enjoying the game and communicating that enjoyment. There was Kevin Sinclair’s cartwheel-somersault combo on taking a wicket — has anybody else done this ever? There was the fast bowling, the sharp catching, and in the end the race to become the first to jump on their hero who, after taking a yorker on his toe the previous day wasn’t planning to take the field at all.

Shamar Joseph of the West Indies  holds the ball up after his five wickets as he leaves the ground during day two of the First Test in the Test match series between Australia and West Indies at Adelaide Oval on January 18, 2024 in Adelaide, Australia.

Shamar Joseph of the West Indies holds the ball up after his five wickets as he leaves the ground during day two of the First Test in the Test match series between Australia and West Indies at Adelaide Oval on January 18, 2024 in Adelaide, Australia. | Photo Credit: Cricket Australia via Getty Images

And there was the backstory – what is sport without its backstories? Shamar, the boy from the boondocks (Baracara, population 350, two days by boat from New Amsterdam) who began by felling and chopping logs and then moved to the city working as a labourer and security guard for 12 hours a day. He was part of a team that had played less than a third of the number of Tests Australia had. He takes a wicket — Steve Smith no less — with his first ball, and finishes as Player of the Series.

In another corner of the world, Hartley, son of a European 400m champion, whose first ball in Test cricket is hit for six is given up by all except his captain. Ben Stokes bowls him for 25 overs in the first innings (while he leaks 131 runs) as everybody wonders why.

Fear of failure

Bazball isn’t just about striking regularly. It is equally about looking after your players. It is about playing unselfishly, as Ollie Pope did on 196 when the last man came in. No pottering around for four overs while he ran a single off the last ball to get to the landmark. He tries a reverse scoop at Jasprit Bumrah and is bowled. Bazball isn’t about entertainment alone, it is about the power of pulling together. Bazball is, as Stokes keeps emphasising, eliminating the fear of failure.

It was evident in India’s chase that fear of failure ruled. India’s top order had thrown away their wickets in the first innings playing attacking shots. As a consequence, they became overcautious and selfconscious in the chase. The espncricinfo statistican Rajesh, in an excellent analysis has pointed out that Indians actually played fewer false strokes than England but the latter scored more off the deliveries they were in control of. Bazball is also about getting your sums right.

India didn’t have a designated hitter who might have changed the game in three or four overs — presumably Axar Patel was promoted with that tactic in mind. But he dissolved into the prevailing defensiveness. India were risk-averse, England risk-tolerant if not risk-welcoming.

If fortune favours the brave, it also tends to desert the timid, which is what India were.

Those who criticised England for choosing to train in Abu Dhabi when the wickets in India were expected to take spin missed the real reason: batters were practising one stroke — the sweep, both orthodox and the reverse. Pope batted in the first innings with all the confidence of a deer caught in the headlights. But after about 20 runs in the second he unfroze and let the training take over.

India lacked a batter who would go after the spinners. Someone like Rishabh Pant, a brilliant risk-calculator. Yashasvi Jaiswal didn’t make allowance for the changing conditions and fast learning bowlers in the second innings.

He will learn, as will the Indian team. It didn’t matter that India didn’t win, we witnessed one of the great Tests.

This was an England victory inspired by their captain whose moves on the field were occasionally puzzling. But sometimes tactics are not as important as kindness and self-belief as Stokes showed once again during his 14th win in 19 matches.

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