January 26 th 2024: The 1st Test match between India and England in Hyderabad was looked at as a challenging start to the 5-match series between the two nations. England were projecting it as the final frontier, all set to break India’s dominance at home. The word “preparation” and “Bazball” were being written and spoken about with gusto. One got the feeling that England were on a serious path of planning and structuring India’s demise. How wrong one was.
The 10 day’s preparation in Abu Dhabi to simulate the Indian conditions seemed to have gone totally awry. The English batters and bowlers were as clueless about the Indian conditions as we are about the English weather.
The England side needed to have got acclimatised through a few practice matches, as going into a major series without match practice is asking for trouble. The famous English Bazball theory was put to rest as well. The basic skills of defense on a slow-turning track of the English batters were unconvincing and uncertain. For them to attack the Indian spinners to play Bazball cricket was like asking for divine help.
The 5-match series is going to be a long and tedious affair for the English team. Their topline spinners are very ordinary. They lack the consistency and guile to either spin the ball or control it through good line and length. A bunch of club-grade cricketers who need time to play the big league. One wonders as to how they will be able to sustain four more matches if India keeps preparing turning tracks at all the venues. The talk of India preparing wickets suitable for spin bowling was a ploy known to all concerned. England in order to counter it effectively filled their playing eleven with more spin options and had just Mark Wood as their only pacer in the first Test.
England erred in their selection. In Test cricket one plays to their strength especially, in the area of bowling, as one cannot win a Test match if one does not take 20 wickets. Good pacers in the past have been successful in Indian conditions. The slow uneven bounce and the dry surface are conditions that fast bowlers have exploited through their cutters and the reverse swing. A good bowler is a good bowler in all conditions and for England to go into the Test match without their most experienced pacer, James Anderson, one felt they missed a beat.
Anderson has loads of experience in the conditions prevalent in India and can reverse swing and bowl accurately all day long. He is a master of his trade and to have him sitting out was a tactical blunder on the part of the English think tank.
The influence of the Limited-overs game is taking shape in Test match cricket as well. Both batters and bowlers seem to lack patience. Many of the Indian batsmen were set for a big score, however, all succumbed to hitting the ball to fielders in the deep, attempting to send the ball out of the ground. Similarly, bowlers seem to lack planning in ways to get a batter out. Their hope of getting a wicket makes them rely on the wicket assisting them or through a rash stroke played by the batter.
In the past, watching Test cricket was all about how captains and bowlers planned the downfall of the batters. In order to do this, bowlers needed to be accurate and needed to have control over their deliveries. The English bowlers seem to lack this basic capability. Unless they improve drastically, this English side under Ben Stokes will be chasing leather over all parts of the ground throughout the matches in this series. India should clinch this Test match series quite convincingly. One was happy to see a good crowd at the stadium in Hyderabad on India’s Republic Day. Watching the Indian cricket heroes demolishing the England side truly reflects on how Indian cricket has progressed over time.
Celebrating the return of Bhagwan Ram to Ayodhya and the 74th Republic Day, a win against England for India will be just the icing on the cake.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)