While Day 1 of the Hyderabad Test was the test for the Bazballing batters, Day 2 was for England captain Ben Stokes, more than his bowlers. And it can be agreed that Stokes, though confident in his calls, could have and should have done better.
Pointing out that his spinners dished out plenty of bad balls is quite pointless now: Tom Hartley is on debut; Rehan Ahmed is in his second Test; Jack Leach, who missed the Ashes, is playing Test cricket after over 7 months; Joe Root, as handy as he is, is still a part-timer who was England’s best bowler on the day; and Indian batters are simply too good to miss out on bad balls.
But there were a couple of aspects that Ben Stokes could have controlled with more pragmatism than simply Bazballing his way.
Stokes started on the right foot by giving the ball to Joe Root in the first over of the day to target the left-hander Yashasvi Jaiswal, something the English skipper should have done yesterday. Root delivered instantly with Jaiswal’s dismissal.
However, after that, despite Shubman Gill mostly looking to defend and KL Rahul being new to the crease, England failed to assert control and gave away singles quite easily. Credit to Rahul for being nimble and smart on his backfoot and collecting singles, but Stokes’ funky fields even in the morning session meant that England didn’t bowl a single maiden over in the entire first session.
Surprisingly, Stokes removed Joe Root from the attack only after a spell of four overs in which he created a chance each of Rahul and Gill, one not grabbed by Ben Foakes and another not seen by Stokes as long-on.
Another contention-laden call from Ben Stokes was to start the day with Tom Hartley and not Jack Leach, despite both left-arm spinners having a contrasting time in the first day’s evening session when Hartley was smoked around while Leach brought some control and the wicket of Rohit Sharma.
Did Ben Stokes underbowl Jack Leach?
As expected, Stokes brought on Wood immediately after Shreyas Iyer, who is infamous for his short-ball weakness, into the attack. Wood, who would only bowl in small bursts, couldn’t have a crack at Iyer in his first over of the day as Rahul collected three boundaries.
However, throughout Wood’s spell, Stokes should have done better to keep Iyer on strike. In Wood’s fourth over, Rahul faced five balls.
Of whatever deliveries Wood got to bowl to Iyer, he beat his outside edge with a bluff length delivery after setting the field for a short ball, and got Iyer fending on a couple of other bumpers. However, with the pace of the ball decreasing significantly off the pitch, Wood couldn’t make the kind of impact England would have hoped for.
It also made one wonder if Stokes could have called his fielders in when Iyer was on strike and baited the Indian batter – who has grown to have a tendency to attack the short balls instead of ducking or keeping them down, as if to answer his critics – to have a go at Wood, which could result in a top-edge.
Stokes gave Hartley another long spell—it felt that Stokes was desperately trying to justify the move of picking Hartley for this Test match—and introduced Rehan Ahmed and later brought back Root. Amid all this, it was realised only by the end of the session that Jack Leach had bowled only 2 overs in the entire session.
It is baffling that England’s lead spinner got to bowl only two overs in the first session and he remained underbowled. Leach and Hartley both bowled 25 overs each, one leaking at 5.2 runs per over and another conceding at only 2.2 runs per over.
How, or why has Jack leach bowled only 18 overs out of 87 so far?
Stokes' captaincy and calls in this Test have been questionable? Your best bowler should bowl more than only 20 percent of overs.#INDvsENG
— Jatin Khandelwal (@Jatin_Cricket_) January 26, 2024
In the second session, too, the story played out the same way: Stokes’ funky fields allowed KL Rahul to rotate the strike before Ravindra Jadeja got into the act with his enterprising batting.
The lack of control that someone like James Anderson or Ollie Robinson could have given from one end was lacking for England.