India Beat England By 106 runs
After two Tests in this series, it is an open question as to who is more spooked - IND by the threat of Bazball, or ENG by the threat of spinning pitches. When ENG played at Vizag in 2016, James Anderson and Stuart Broad collected 9/177 between them. ENG have brought Ollie Robinson, a class bowler, on this tour. And yet, Brendom McCullum was speaking about playing 4 spinners. The Vizag pitch didn’t deteriorate over 4 days and 4 innings. ENG’s spinners have spun the ball less and gotten less drift in general than IND’s spinners in this series. The decision to offer Bashir a debut despite the availability of Joe Root (who, on the evidence of these two Tests is at least as good a spinner as Bashir, though not as tall) ahead of Robinson is one which will be debated fiercely in England given the amount of seam movement James Anderson produced on the first three mornings of the match. Or at least it would be if they weren’t so enthralled by Bazball.
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Unlike in Hyderabad where Hartley, Leach and Root all got about 5 degrees of spin on average in the 4th innings, the wicket at Vizag did not turn more as the match progressed. This was not a wicket for finger spin. It was an old fashioned flat pitch with a little bit of speed, on which pace and wrist spin came to the fore. Kuldeep Yadav and Rehan Ahmed had a good match. James Anderson and Jasprit Bumrah bowled superbly. This Test match was, in many ways, James Anderson’s bowling in India in microcosm. When he bowls, he bowls superbly. ENG’s problem is that he doesn’t bowl enough (39 wickets at 27.5 in 14 Tests - less than 3 wickets per match on average) to be a factor. Given that he also doesn’t bat, its an open question as to whether he’s a luxury ENG can afford in India.
While ENG have been spooked by the threat of spinning pitches as the evidence above shows, IND, especially in the first Test, were spooked by the threat of Bazball. 51% of ENG’s runs in Hyderabad were scored in ones, twos or threes (or, Law 18 runs). IND defended the boundaries excessively, and one of the things they wanted to achieve in the second Test was to reduce this figure. ENG scored only 33% of their runs in non-boundary scoring shots in Vizag. IND worked out fields and bowling lines & lengths for each ENG bat, and this homework was effective.
ENG have now batted four times against IND on a fairly good pitch at Hyderabad and a very good pitch in Vizag, and failed to reach 300 three times out of four. In the 4th, they were reduced to 163/5, but thanks to an outlier from Pope, recovered to 420. IND scored 8 runs more than ENG did in boundaries in Hyderabad, and 2 less than ENG in Vizag. It was ENG who spread the field and defended boundaries excessively in Vizag.
My working theory about Bazball, thrilling as it is, has been that it is only marginally useful for ENG. Much of the excitement about Bazball comes from the fact that it is thrilling to watch, and from the hopelessly batting-centred view of cricket which prevails in almost all cricket discussion. The better bowling attack - the attack with greater quality and depth - wins Test matches as a rule. In series when the opposition bowling as not been better than ENG’s bowling, ENG have won in the Bazball era. In series when the opposition bowling has been better than ENG’s (the 2023 Ashes, until Nathan Lyon’s injury restored parity between the two attacks, the ENG’s tour to IND in 2023-24), ENG have struggled. Batting is marginally relevant. It’s not every day that an Ollie Pope style 196 is played. What’s far more prevalent is that bowlers who create jeopardy more often get wickets cheaper in the long run.
When ENG’s bowling is better than the opposition bowling, ENG come out in front in the runs per false shot measurement in a series (as they did against PAK). Otherwise, the risk-reward equation of Bazball tends not to work in their favor. So far in this series, IND have forced a false shot every 4.2 balls from ENG bats, and conceded 2.8 runs per false shot, while ENG have forced a false shot every 6.5 balls from IND bats and conceded 3.5 runs per false shot.
IND’s bowling has been better than ENG's in these conditions mostly because of Jasprit Bumrah. The great fast bowler has been in his element. In 57.5 overs in 2 Tests, Bumrah has conceded 2.8 runs per over, and managed 15 wickets at 10.7 apiece. He has beaten the middle of an ENG bat 80 times in those 347 balls.
IND have needed Bumrah to be as good as he has been. They are playing without five first choice players. Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant would all play if they were available. The other two IND fast bowlers in the series have conceded 1/129 in 23 overs between them. With all these injuries, IND have an XI consisting of three placeholders - KS Bharat, Rajat Patidar and Mukesh Kumar, and very little experience between Rohit Sharma and R Ashwin in the batting order. Yashasvi Jaiswal (6th Test), Shubman Gill (22nd Test), Rajat Patidar (debut), Shreyar Iyer (14th Test), KS Bharat (7th Test) and Axar Patel (14th Test) make one of India’s most inexperienced Test middle orders in more than a decade.
By comparison, apart from Duckett (17th Test) and Foakes (22nd Test), every player in ENG top eight has played at least 40 Tests. Given a choice though, its always better to have experience and quality in the bowling rather than in the batting.
India’s superior bowling told at Vizag. Jasprit Bumrah shone.
Note on sources for data: Records collected and combined from those published by ESPNCricinfo and BCCI