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Edgbaston Test versus India

by Five0

DAY 1 Friday 1 July:  The case for the prosecution

I thought I’d got away with it. Midnight had covered the great escape acts at Trent Bridge and Headingley and I hadn’t heard anything from Freddie. No such luck! A WhatsApp arrived at lunchtime today. ‘Are you at Edgbaston this week?’ I knew what the next question was going to be. So welcome to the Edgbaston blog.

I’d had a couple of days with friends in Nottingham after Headingley. Coming in on the train to New Street there was plenty of buzz about what Stokes’s new England would make of India. It was a rejuvenated side with a completely different approach that faced New Zealand. Can Morgan’s one day mentality of attack, play to win, enjoy the moment really be transferred to Test cricket. This one off Test against India is the next step in answering that question.

Certainly there is no doubt from what the players say that Stokes has given them the confidence to play without fear. Isn’t it amazing what a different mind set can do? Credit has to go to Rob Keys who started the process by appointing Stokes and then McCullum. He has always said that there isn’t anything particularly wrong with English cricket and that the players are there. It was the attitude they take into the game that needed to change.

We’ve seen the evidence in the simple attacking belligerence of Bairstow; in the new confidence of Leach bowling wider of the crease and attacking; in two fine innings from Pope, playing at number three in the certain knowledge that he is not playing for his place. Alex Lees is more punchy and no longer the timid tentative player we saw in the West Indies. The old firm of Anderson and Broad say that they’ve never experienced such a buzz in the dressing room – you wonder how this makes poor old Rooty feel! And newbie Matt Potts has slotted in immediately. He is now clearly part of the succession plan for Anderson and Broad. Only Crawley hasn’t caught the zeitgeist.

All this was on display in those games against the Kiwis at Lords, each of those we could easily have lost. I sure  we were all thinking that without this new attitude we certainly would have done so.

But three Tests against an underprepared New Zealand with their star player, captain Kane Williamson, out of form and key players like de Grandhomme and Jamieson missing for most of the series was one thing. Would the new England stand the test of time? What happens when inevitably the wheels come off? India, second in the World Test Championship points table, might give the answer. What a prospect these next five days are going to be!

You could argue, of course, that India are similarly underprepared with only a rather unchallenging practice match against bottom placed Leicestershire. Their star batsman, Virat Kohli, is well and truly out of form and has slipped to ninth in the world rankings. Injury and Covid have put paid to their openers K L Rahul and Sharma, respectively. Bumrah, a bowler, is captain.

England by contrast are pretty settled. Jimmy’s fit again so Jamie Overton, who was probably more impressive at Headingley with the bat than the ball, makes way. Foakes hasn’t fully recovered from the Covid that knocked him out of the Headingley Test so Billings, his Covid replacement there, keeps his place.

My partner in crime for the next five days, as at Headingley, is Irish Pete who is running late this morning so I walk to the ground from the station on my own. The start has been moved to 10.30 to accommodate television schedules in India. Looking at the advertising boards round the ground – JK LAKSHMI Cement; Cycle Agarbathi flute incense; G PAL MATCH STICKS; Hero The Motorcycle Leader; and piasabazaar.com – there isn’t much doubt where the money and hence the power is in world cricket. There plenty of Indians in the crowd too unlike Headingley which was pretty mono-cultural.

Pant’s off

Stokes won the toss and on a green wicket and under cloudy skies opts to bowl, obvs – the attacking option. Jimmy opens the bowling at the Raglan Road end. India’s new openers are Shubman Gill and India’s wall, Pujara, ungainly but effective. There’s no doubt about how Stokes is going to play it: five slips to Jimmy and Potts; four slips, a gully and a leg slip for Broad. Gill and Pujara start with a flurry of fours. Jimmy’s bowling beautifully: Broad a little less so, often a bit too high and wide. On 27 Jimmy moves one away from Gill who is taken at second slip by Crawley.

After four overs Potts takes over from Jimmy, running in with that little skip half way through his run up. His line and length are immaculate. The thing with him is that the batsman almost always has to play the ball. But it was Jimmy in his second spell from the Pavilion end who strikes again, Pujara guiding another one the way of Crawley. The new look is certainly working in this first session.

Shortly after midday the rain came down and the covers went on. I WhatsApped Irish to say that it looked pretty set in for the day but he was already at the ground and appeared at the scrubby little corporate box that I was sheltering in, having played the age card to get a chair to sit on. Leonine mass of curly grey hair and two pints of Hobgoblin in hand, it was good to see him.

I was wrong about the weather. By about two o’clock they were on again. This time it was Potts. He rapped Vihari on the pads. The ball was so plumb that only the briefest of conversations with Kohli was required to send him on his way. 64-3. Kohli, neat and immaculate as ever, had been booed to the crease! What! One of the world’s greats. I love him! I was probably the only person in the RES Wyatt stand who didn’t stand for the national anthem this morning but I was resolute in clapping for Kohli, although he was scratchy and his lack of form was palpable. Bowled by Potts for 11, India were 71-4.

Stokes tried an over from Leach at our end but clearly decided that he wasn’t doing anything so he brought Jimmy back on. Iyer, on 15, carved a ball down the legside for Billings to take a stunning left-handed catch.

But 98-5 was as good as it got. Today was a game of two halves. We clearly dominated the first session and a half but then it was the Pant show. For Bairstow and Overton at Headingley read here at Edgbaston Pant and Jadeja. Less punchy, brutal and bludgeon than Bairstow and with fewer sixes, Pant was more rapier and flashing blade but he was every bit as entertaining. He and Jadeja, a rather more accomplished performer than Overton, put on a double-Nelson partnership and showed that England aren’t the only team who will take the game to the opposition whatever the score is. The crowd loved it. We stood to applaud his 100 off 89 balls and cheered when Root finally got him when the score was 320 having made 146 off 111 balls. Thakur didn’t last long but Jadeja was still there on 83 with Shami at the close. Thanks to Pant and Jadeja India have a par score of 338-7.

DAY 2 Saturday 2 July: Déjà vu or are the wheels coming off

The weather forecast for today was not good. As Irish and I hurried along Pershore Road the clouds were thickening but the rain held off and India were able to resume their innings. England’s bowling was not impressive. By the time we arrived at our seats two overs had been bowled and the 350 was up. Very soon Jadeja, his moustaches bristling like an Indian rajah, brought up his ton, a more measured century than Pant’s fireworks of yesterday.

Not long after, Shami was caught in the deep by Leach and Jimmy bowled Jadeja for 104 by which time the score was 375. If we could take the final wicket we’d settle for that. Sadly it was not to be. Stokes set a field for short balls and cast Broad as the enforcer, a role that he has never performed satisfactorily. With Bumrah facing there then ensued one of the most ridiculous overs ever seen. A top edge that was nearly caught by Crawley made it to the boundary for four. There were then five wides followed by a 6 off a no ball. Bumrah clouted three more fours and another six and took a single off the last ball of this crazy eight ball over. When the over was flashed up on the screen there were so many runs that I couldn’t count them up properly. I made it 29 but in fact it was 35. Broad had just bowled the most expensive over in Test match history to go with the most expensive ODI over when Yuvraj Singh took those six sixes off him.  Bumrah now holds the record for the most runs off an over, 29. More importantly, India had cruised past 400 and although sanity returned when Broad caught Siraj in the deep off Anderson, 416 all out was a good 30 runs more than it should have been,

We’d seen similar tactics, which were equally unsatisfactory, from Overton in New Zealand’s second innings at Headingley. May be Stokes will learn to temper aggression with a bit of a sense. We wondered whether at the end of this Test we will  look back on this over as the moment when the wheels came off. For now the jury is still out. Where would it be when England came to bat?

Not good, I’m afraid. First, though, came one of the many rain delays that punctuated the day which gave us a chance to swap pints with Freddie who was here with a few mates who, bizarrely, given that they had paid good money to be here, were spending the morning in a bar watching the rugby. England lost to the convicts, by the way. Was it worth it? Freddie, full of smiles, was as genial as ever.

After lunch the players were back on. Bumrah opened the bowling from the Ragland Road end. What a bizarre and completely unlikely bowling action he has. He takes a few pantomime steps and then breaks into a little trot. As he reaches his delivery stride his hangs his arm up a moment like a periscope. Pretty effective, though. Shami was tight at the Pavilion end but Bumrah did the damage. First Lees went for 6, bowled off his pads, 16-1. Then Crawley … well, Crawley was Crawley. He played one through the slips. He had an elegant four. Then on 9 he reached out to a delivery from Bumrah that jagged off the seam and he edged it into Gill’s hands at slip. 27-2. Really you have to wonder how much longer Stokes can keep the faith with him.

Things didn’t improve with Pope and Root at the crease. Pope always seems to snatch at the ball in the early part of the innings and sure enough with the score on 45 he guided the ball to Iyer giving Bumrah his third, much deserved wicket.

There was then a passage of play in a partnership between Root and Bairstow with Shami bowling meanly from the Pavilion end and Siraj aggressively from the other. I have never seen Root so uncomfortable and hurried. He survived a review for lbw, he edged through the slips and several times was left in an ungainly tangle from balls which came on to him too quickly.

England were not helped by another rain delay. This time Irish got talking to an opera singer from Newcastle while I caught up with a fellow councillor from Cornwall who had  driven up for the day with his mate. I do feel sorry for people who come to the Test for one day and spend half of it waiting in the rain. Today only 40 overs were possible.

When players returned Root’s torment continued till he was caught for 31 off Siraj. 78-4 quickly became 83-5 when Leach, the nightwatchman, gave Shami a well deserved caught behind.

We now have Stokes and Bairstow together, both, it has to be said, looking pretty comfortable, with the overnight score on 84-5. This is a bit better than the 55-6 we were on in the first innings at Headingley and not much behind India’s 98-5 in their first innings here. As both those innings show, miracles can happen. Will Stokes’s rebranded England do it again? Stokes is there with Bairstow in the morning to show if it’s possible. The jury, however, is still out.

Pete and I walked back through the Chinese quarter where the smells from the restaurants were so appealing that we decided to stop for a meal and Uber it back to Warwick. More by luck than judgement we hit upon The Pepper Chef. Cash only, laminated menus and plastic tables and chairs, it didn’t have instant appeal but there was nothing wrong with the ox aorta on skewers, the pig’s kidneys and the pork intestines. Much to be recommended.

DAY 3 Sunday 3 July: Ok … so there really is only one way to go

Irish and I got on a train from Leamington Spa that was so rammed that there was standing room only. Pete elbowed his way to the door. I saw him helping out a poor old boy who had one of those hospital issue aluminium walking sticks and a bloody dog for God’s sake. (Irish, btw, goes gooey over any stinking canine.) ‘Ah, Pete, what a nice guy you are,’ I thought. Not a bit of it. He fessed up later that he was just making sure there’d be a place on the train from him and me and gave me a shitty quote about altruism. We were standing all the way to Birmingham, crammed body to body. I raised a laugh when I said, ‘Let’s hope that there aren’t any Deputy Chief Whips on this train.’

When Irish and I arrived a few overs late Bairstow and Stokes were still at the crease. Hope springs eternal and it was great. Stokes was clearly going to take them on. As at Headingley he was here to show the England batters how he wanted them to play. It was swish and biff from him. He hoisted one high in the air and Thakur was poised underneath. Stokes was virtually walking already. ‘Drop it!’ I shouted in unison with the young lad who was sitting next to me. Drop it he did. We had a good laugh at that. Undeterred,  in the next over, he clouted a bullet  in the direction of  the mid-off boundary only for that periscope arm of Bumrah to reach up and take a screamer. The score was now 149-6. Whatever message Stokes  was sending, Bairstow didn’t need much telling. Today the foot was back on the pedal. He was seeing it big and hitting with brutal, belligerent force. Boundaries flowed. The boys next to me were entranced. Billings was a sensible foil for Bairstow letting him have the strike. A few runs after saving the follow-on he brought up his third century in successive Tests, pulling England out the mire yet again, although when England finished their innings later in the afternoon on 284 there was still a massive deficit of 132 on the first innings.

Jimmy was immaculate again. Gill creamed a four but on Jimmy’s third ball he nicked one to Crawley and England were on their way. India were circumspect for the rest of the afternoon. Just after Kohli was out to a great reflex catch by Root in the slips off a parry from Billings, Irish showed me what Ramprakash had said on TMS: ‘We’re in a phase of normal Test cricket and the two players at the crease … in contrast to the English batsmen haven’t hit the ball in the air. To me this is classical batting and it’s much lower risk.’ Ramps, mate, tell that to the two lads we were sitting next to. May be he’d missed Day 1 when Pant was carving it all over the ground.

When play finished for the day India were on 125-3 and the lead was 257. It felt as if Pujara (50) and Pant (29) were just biding their time for the onslaught in the morning that would put the game out of sight for England. The BBC’s headline was ‘India in control over England.’ You can say that again.

Obvs there is a massive debate about the new England look. Even Irish was wondering as we walked down the Pershore Road whether we couldn’t do with a dose of ‘good, old-fashioned Test cricket.’ I think that deep down I’m not really an impartial observer of this new scene. I actually want England to play like this.

DAY Monday 4 July: Is this really game on?

The day started badly. When I woke from a surfeit of Negronis last night, I could hear Irish coughing and hacking downstairs. ‘I don’t think I’m going to go today, mate.’ He insisted,though, on driving me to Leamington Station. Even though he had tested negative I kept the window open as a precaution.

I got to the ground in good time. Skip and his charming, somewhat slimmer brother, Andy, were in situ. A hobbling Saint – sport’s injury – and Baby Dave arrived a little late. Skip wondered whether the technology of the Edgbaston app had defeated him, which Saint denied.

Pant as it turned out didn’t go on the rampage. It was Pujara who was the more expansive this morning. But when he was out for 66 India’s wheels started to come off. Somehow the Indian players were suckered in to slapping balls to the boundary fielders, mainly off Stokes who was bowling delightfully aggressively. Each time a wicket fell we looked at each other. ‘Dare we hope?’ Shortly after lunch Bumrah tried to launch Stokes for a second successive six into the hands of Crawley in the deep and India were all out for 245 setting England 378, their biggest ever 4th innings chase. I looked at Andy. ‘Game on?’

When Lees and Crawley came in I was so nervous that my heart was in my mouth every ball. But  Lees went off like a steam train. He stands at the crease, bat raised like a left-handed Gooch, and clouts the ball fearlessly. Crawley was scratchy as ever at first but gradually his beautiful cover drives were hitting the middle of the bat.

Then at 15.06pm as Lees reached his 50 off 44 balls a little bombshell arrived  in the form of pic on WhatsApp from Irish of a positive Covid test and the comment ‘Bugger.’ Suddenly I was a pariah among my erstwhile friends. Andy was moved to the far end of our little row because his wife is vulnerable to Covid and the space of two empty seats was put between Skip and me. If I made a comment to the big man he scrunched up his face and turned away. Convivial pints ceased to arrive. Thanks, Pete!

Crawley started to catch up Lees and by the time they’d notched up their 100 partnership in the 20th over they were rattling along at an incredible rate of 5 runs an over. Only 278 to go with all wickets standing. Piece of piss: we’d chased that score down in the last three Tests against New Zealand. This opening partnership changed the balance of the match. It now certainly was game on.

However, there then ensued a few overs of panic. The most threatening bowler by far was Bumrah. Every time he had the ball in hand danger was in the air. And so it came to pass that Crawley decided to leave a ball that trimmed the top of his off stump. Pope was his usual scratchy self and was caught behind for a duck off the incomparable Bumrah. In the next over, Lees glanced the ball behind him. Root called for a run. Lees was ball watching and was run out, poor chap, for the second time in successive Test matches. In the space of two and a half overs, 107 for no wicket had turned into 109-3.  

But no worries. For the next hour and a half, Root and Bairstow coasted along. Kohli did his best to stir up the large numbers of Indians in the crowd but our boys were unphased. Was this aggressive batting? It’s hard to say it was. Root was Root stroking the ball round the ground, taking the singles, rotating the strike. Twenty overs later he’d scored 50. That’s what Root does. Irish had made an interesting point a couple of days ago about Root and the new style England. He hoped that Root wouldn’t go all gung-ho because he doesn’t need to. I think Root was showing today that he hasn’t  changed.

As for Bairstow, he doesn’t change much, does he? He was punchy and aggressive as he always is but I didn’t feel he was taking many risks. Ramps, what do you reckon, mate?

By the close Root was on 77, Bairstow on 72 and we needed 119. India are on the back foot. Surely … surely!

One benefit, by the way – there may be others – of not having Irish for company is that the alcohol consumption falls to reasonable proportions. I ended the day pretty sober.

DAY Tuesday 5 July: The jury’s verdict is unanimous

I nearly didn’t have a ticket for today! As at Leeds, they announced in the course of the afternoon yesterday that tickets for today were available on the website. I should have learnt from Leeds when Steve went to the ticket office for our Day 5 tickets, such was the length of the queue on the website. But I didn’t know if I had Covid. So I held back till I got to Pete’s last night and tested myself. As soon as it was clear that there was only one red line I went onto the website. Sold out! Aggh! I think I had a bad night’s sleep on account of that, lying there wondering how high I’d go to get a ticket off a tout. Hundred quid? When I woke, I thought, ‘Viagogo!’ I got a ticket for less than a tenner. I hurried with my shower, tested myself again and phoned Pete who was coughing and groaning in another room. I then spent an anxious couple of hours, Ubering to Leamington, training to Birmingham and walking hurriedly to the ground wondering if my Viagogo ticket was a dud. No it was not! Relief! I’m in.

There were two other guys, big units, crammed in beside me in seats we’d each bought from the same source. And, do you know? It was a disgrace: in the end the ground was only half full! How many people must have bought tickets and never used them. Still, it meant that us big guys could spread out.

Oh, what a morning! It was a replica of the last day at Headingley when the same two Yorkshire legends knocked off 113 in just over an hour. Root and Bairstow continued as sublimely as they had yesterday afternoon. By the time the target had got below 100 Bumrah seemed to give up hope of taking wickets and posted fielders round the boundary as if to save runs. At one point Bairstow, as  you might expect, overtook Root but it was Root who got to his ton first. Victory no longer in doubt, Root started taking the piss, obviously hugely enjoying himself. He straight drove a six in to the Pavilion as good as any we’ve seen from Stokes or Bairstow and followed it with an outrageous ramp into the stand behind him.

Bairstow by  contrast progressed through the nineties  with a stately series of singles and some very careful leaves off Jadeja’s rather feeble leg-side darts till he finally ran a dodgy single and exploded with delight at his fourth century in three successive matches.

Root hit a single for the winning run just before midday.

This Test was like a magical, fantastic, unbelievable dream. Chasing down 378 was England’s highest winning fourth innings total. In each of Stokes’s four Tests as captain we have dug victory out of seemingly hopeless positions with such positive joie de vivre. It has been hugely enjoyable.

The jury returns a unanimous verdict: playing positive, attacking cricket works. The jury is stood down and the court adjourned sine die.

… South Africa, bring it on!


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