Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum arrived in India with the aim of accomplishing the most difficult task not only in cricket but perhaps in all sports: winning a Test series in India.
India have won 16 consecutive home Test series over the past 11 years. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are the brothers of destruction; Axar Patel and Jasprit Bumrah are the new additions to the home team’s arsenal, with bowling averages of 16 and 15.43 at home, respectively.
Teams with all kinds of plans have come to India and succumbed. Only thrice India lost a Test match in this period: twice to Australia and once to England in 2021, thanks to an all-time great double-century from Joe Root.
England came with the Bazball hype into this series. From winning only one Test match under Root and Chris Silverwood, England, under Stokes and McCullum, have won 13 out of 18 Tests. All of them, it must be mentioned, have come on good batting surfaces in England, Pakistan, and New Zealand.
India is indeed the toughest challenge for the Bazballers. Not only because of India’s might on the dry surfaces, but more so to see whether England would be bold enough to continue their approach and whether they would stick with it once it inevitably ends up in defeats. (You would have to be a brave man to bet on any other result than an India win.)
England would have been satisfied with their total of 246, which Ben Duckett said they thought was an “above-par” score. However, the onslaught from Yashavi Jaiswal shocked them as India wiped out 119 runs off the trail in 23 overs.
The Hyderabad pitch was, undoubtedly, a better surface than what we saw in the first three Tests last year against Australia, or in the last three Tests in the 2021 series against Root’s side. If a slower ball from a pacer carries into the mittens of the gloveman, you know it’s not the raging turner that India have come to be known for producing in the past 8 years.
8 overs of Bazball excitement burst out by failure to trail by spin
The toss went in Stokes’s favor, and he, expectedly, decided to bat first. Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett got going early on. Even as they got lucky, surviving 12 false shots (according to ESPNcricinfo’s logs), the pair creamed a flurry of boundaries to race to 41/0 after 8 overs. Mohammed Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah offered, at times, some width and bowled full; any error in line or length, especially from Siraj, was attacked.
That got everyone excited. And why not? Bazball seemed to have passed its first test of the openers not being nervy and being true to their nature and plan.
England bat. 450/9 declared today? #INDvENG
— Kevin Pietersen🦏 (@KP24) January 25, 2024
Then the trial by spin began, and England started to lose their way.
The good bowling from the Indian spin trio was met with shots that could have been better thought out by the visitors. While Ashwin had Duckett LBW with a straighter one and Axar bowled Jonny Bairstow with the jaffa, Crawley came down and chipped in the air, and Root swept at anything outside off, which eventually ended with Jadeja getting him with a ball that he dragged back to get the top edge of the batter. Pope and Foakes were cats on a hot tin roof.
England were left tottering at 155/7, familiar territory from their 2021 tour.
Ben Stokes, Hartley take England near to 250
England’s main guy stepped up once again with the bat, slogging, pulling, and reverse-sweeping, handing Jadeja an economy rate of 4.88, which is his worst economy in a home Test in which he’s bowled at least 5 overs. Debutant Tom Hartley audaciously took on R Ashwin for a six and a four. Stokes’ 70 got England to 246, which they felt was certainly competitive on a pitch that was offering turn and had pace.
England’s run rate was 3.81 runs per over, which was 1.01 runs lesser compared to their previous games in the Bazball era. But this is understandable, considering it was the first time they were playing in such conditions, against an intimidating spin triumvirate.
Bloody hell!!!! Might be a two day game! #INDvsENG
— Kevin Pietersen🦏 (@KP24) January 25, 2024
Bazball was going fine till then. Until Stokes took a punt on Hartley, the bowler. Jaiswal welcomed Hartley to Test cricket with a first-ball six and continued to smash him. The inexperience showed in the left-arm finger spinner as he offered short balls and full balls outside off-stump.
But Rohit Sharma’s wicket was brought down by Ben Stokes’ mantra of attacking in the field too. Despite the hammering from both ends—Rohit creamed three fours too—Stokes kept the field up, tempting Rohit for a big shot. The bait worked, and the India captain skied the ball, which Stokes himself caught, back peddling.
So how was Bazball on Day 1 in India?
The batting in the first 8 overs from Crawley and Duckett only reinforced England’s belief that their batters are better off looking to score runs before a ball with their name on it comes. However, their technique and temperament against the Indian spinners were once again dodgy.