Recent Match Report – India vs England 1st Test 2023/24


England 246 (Stokes 70, Bairstow 37, Ashwin 3-68, Jadeja 3-88) and 420 (Pope 196, Duckett 47, Bumrah 4-41, Ashwin 3-126) beat India 436 (Jadeja 87, Rahul 86, Jaiswal 80) and 202 (Rohit 39, Hartley 7-62) by 28 runs

England pulled off one of their greatest Test wins in front of the raucous Barmy Army and a stunned home crowd in Hyderabad. Of all the ways you envisage winning a Test in India, falling behind by 190 in the first innings – a deficit never before reversed by a visiting team in India – is not one. Yet England did the unthinkable with their most experienced spinner injured, half their side gone before scores were levelled, and did so emphatically even though a hilarious last-wicket stand took India to within 29 runs of their target.

The highest lead India have lost from is 192, in Galle back in 2015. That Sri Lankan win was fashioned by a sweep-filled, adventurous, once-in-a-generation knock from Dinesh Chandimal. Ollie Pope played that role for England, scoring 196 runs full of sweeps, reverse sweeps and reverse Dilscoops, messing up with the lengths of the Indian spinners as if they were match predictions after two days of cricket. The other hero was Tom Hartley, the debutant left-arm spinner who was hit for two sixes in his first over in Test cricket and consigned to one of the costliest analysis for a debutant, who ended up with seven wickets in the second innings.

Starting the day 126 ahead with just four wickets in hand, Pope added 48 to his overnight 148 with crucial assistance from Rehan Ahmed and Hartley. Only five times has 230 or more been chased down successfully in India, but the hosts would have had cause for optimism. Jack Leach, the experienced spinner, was at best hobbling. Hartley, the other left-arm spinner, had been punished for 63 runs in his first nine-over spell in the first innings. Ahmed had been so inconsistent and Mark Wood so unsuited to the conditions that Joe Root had been their best bowler until then.

However, fourth-innings chases follow their own rhythms. Ben Stokes, who captained like a millionaire in the first innings to buy wickets, knew he just needed in-out fields here. Root, Hartley and Leach rose to the occasion despite obvious limitations. And India, unlike England, provided them stationary target, letting them bowl good length over and over again, a luxury not afforded to India’s spinners.

You can imagine Pope, Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley spent two weeks in Abu Dhabi just practising the various sweeps more than their front-foot defence against spin. They took those chances in the second innings after having got out playing defensively in the first. Pope’s execution lasted the longest. Some of the shots were sensational, like his repeat of the reverse Dilscoop off Ravindra Jadeja from Saturday.

It is an indictment of the spinners – world-beaters and two of the greatest of all time – that Jasprit Bumrah was India’s best bowler. He got Ahmed early with a reverse-swinging outswinger, and also ended Pope’s innings with a slower ball. Between that, though, Hartley and Pope added 80 for the eighth wicket. During that partnership, with Ashwin and Jadeja bowling, India struggled to hold their lengths and the field settings allowed singles everywhere.

It might not be unfair to say that India didn’t have a response for the time when unorthodox methods worked against them. Pope needed some luck all right, 72 false responses, which is the second-highest for any innings since 2003, but he did do his bit in getting rid of catching men, which reduces the potency of mistakes bowlers induce.

Pope could do what he did because that is the philosophy of Bazball: rather get out reverse-scooping than defending as he did in the first innings. For if he reverse-sweeps, he is playing what he has practised and prepared for. That England had nothing to lose after falling behind by 190 freed him further.

India had none of these liberties. Firstly, they are not natural sweepers, forget reverse-sweepers. They also had a home Test to lose, which they rarely do, and never after taking that kind of first-innings lead.

Stokes, who had looked to manufacture wickets in the first innings with attacking fields, could now fall back on the conventional method: attack with the ball, defend with the fields. Two catchers at the wicket, two at cover and midwicket, but others protecting runs.

Wood bowled only one over with the new ball – in which he had Rohit Sharma dropped at second slip – but Root and Hartley then were all over the good length like a rash. India got off to a good enough start, getting 42 for the first wicket, but the spinners were troubling them and were not making the errors in length they did in the first innings.

Credit has to be given to Stokes, who kept bowling Hartley in the first innings despite that ordinary start and got him into his work. Now that he found his length, India needed someone to work him off his areas. The first time someone did try it, Yashasvi Jaiswal was outside the crease, forced to defend by the length correction, but Pope pulled off a stunning catch at short leg off the face of the bat. Two balls later, Hartley had sent Shubman Gill back, who defended with hard hands and Pope got down on his knees at silly point to catch it off the face of the bat again.

Rohit was the only India batter who showed the willingness to sweep and reverse-sweep spinners off their length. He even played three reverse sweeps after having played the shot only seven times in his Test career. Two of them got him boundaries. However, Hartley was good enough to pin him on the crease and forward-defending at one that didn’t turn, and had him plumb lbw.

India promoted Axar Patel to introduce a left-hand batter in the mix and also use his batting ability better. He and KL Rahul added 32 for the fourth wicket, but the runs came in two spurts. First when Rahul was allowed to sweep from outside leg, and the second when Ahmed missed his length.

Once England controlled the bad balls, the wickets came promptly. Axar gave a return catch to Hartley, and Rahul went back to a full ball from Root, a rare misjudgement of length.

Jadeja then ran himself out, and Shreyas Iyer played arguably the worst shot, giving slip practice to Root when he followed the turn and opened the face for Hartley. The ball had become soft by then, and India were in a position to capitalise on the easiest batting conditions. Instead, KS Bharat and Ashwin added a conservative 57 for the eighth wicket in 21.4 overs. If India had more wickets during this phase, they could have got closer.

In the dying moments of the day, Hartley produced his ball of the match, one that drifted in, pitched leg, and turned past Bharat’s bat to take the off stump. England claimed the extra half hour and, despite a chancy 25-run stand between Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj, got home in the last over of the day.

Sidharth Monga is a senior writer at ESPNcricinfo

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