England v India: Andy Zaltzman on the Edgbaston series decider

England moved above New Zealand to seventh place in the World Test Championship standings after their last win in the series.
Event: edgbaston Dates: July 1-5 Weather: 10:30 BST
Coverage: Test Match Special commentary, text commentary and game highlights on the BBC Sport website and app. Daily highlights at 19:00 on BBC Four

Last September, India came within three hours of starting the fifth Test in Manchester against an England batting line-up that had just fallen to a fifth-day loss for the second time in three games, with only one player fit and having won. . one and lost six of his previous nine Tests, midway through what became his worst streak in nearly three decades.

They pulled out of the game and will now try to secure their fourth series win in England against fundamentally different opposition.

Only five players remain in the current England squad that played in the fourth Test defeat at The Oval (including Craig Overton, who is unlikely to be selected at Edgbaston on Friday), and they will face a new manager, captain and cricket philosophy.

They’ll find Joe Root once again touching heights of hitting perfection, but little more than last year’s familiarity.

England have completed one of the most remarkable Test series in their history: three wins (two more than they have achieved in their previous 17 Tests), three entries in their best 13 successful runs in four innings and the second fastest race. a team’s rate in a Test series of at least three matches (4.54, even with a relatively quiet first Test at Lord’s).

Root has become only the second player, after Australia’s undisputed all-time greatest batsman Don Bradman, to average over 90 in three separate series in England (minimum five innings), also doing so against India both last last summer as in 2014.

Meanwhile, Jonny Bairstow compiled the second fastest scoring singles series by a player who has faced at least 200 balls, his 394 runs coming at a rate of 120 per 100 balls, just behind Shahid Afridi who scored 330 of 272 for Pakistan against India. in 2005-06.

He contributed the bulk of two of the fastest recorded partnerships of 100 or more (with Stokes at Trent Bridge and with Root at Headingley), and shared with debutant Jamie Overton the highest partnership for seventh or fewer wickets ever made by a pair that comes along with fewer than 100 runs on the board (241, surpassing the previous record of 190 held by Pakistan’s Asif Iqbal and Intikhab Alam, who met at 65-8 at The Oval in 1967).

Since his second innings at Trent Bridge, he has scored at a rate that would bring a score of 680-4 in a non-stop day of 90+ Test cricket.

It will be a major challenge for India, themselves under new leadership, with minimal preparation and potentially without Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, the starters whose discipline and restraint, qualities which, contrary to some rumours, remain legal and often valuable in Test Cricket – were instrumental in India’s successes last summer.

How to play trial cricket

If England offered India a ‘model’ of how to play Test cricket, having discarded the various anti-models it had experimented with over the previous 18 months, Daryl Mitchell (only the fourth player to make centuries in three losses in a single test series) and Tom Blundell offered another more traditional one.

His partnerships were the equivalent, at current overrun rates, of batting well into the final session of the third day of a Test, going 724-6 in 236 overs (the most runs added in a series by a pair of hitters). in the middle). organize).

His saves averaged 121 from 39 overs, and provided the perfect lesson in batting against England’s attack, an example that was roundly, repeatedly, and often incomprehensibly ignored by his team-mates.

Outside of Mitchell-Blundell resistance, New Zealand lost a wicket every 39 balls, batting with a carelessness and inaccuracy at odds with the qualities that had carried them to victory in the inaugural World Test Championship.

Kohli staggers

Virat Kohli trains with his teammates
Virat Kohli, right, averaged just 28.21 in test cricket in 2021. In three tests in 2022, he is averaging 37.80

While England was being demolished in Australia, India was playing in South Africa, where they lost a low-scoring series 2-1: the home team won the second and third tests by comfortably chasing fourth-inning targets at over 200 after tight-fought in the first few innings, which has become an extremely modern way of winning test matches.

After the final Test loss, Virat Kohli stepped down as captain, since then he has had three subdued innings in resounding Test wins India against Sri Lanka, and his worst season in the IPL since 2009.

He remains without a century since the end of 2019, during which time he has played 17 Tests and averaged 28, scoring just 42 per 100 balls.

In his previous 55 Tests, dating back to December 2014, he’s averaged 63 with a 61 per 100 shooting rate and converted 21 of his 34 half-centuries into triple-figure scores.

The confident dominance and run-addicted persistence have disappeared from his batting, a decline perhaps caused, and almost certainly exacerbated, by the effects of years of cricket of all formats and captaincy.

Great players have experienced and emerged from similar slumps in their careers: one of England’s best, Wally Hammond, failed to reach 50 in 22 Test innings in a sequence of 14 Tests from 1933 to 1935, having averaged 73 in his 30 earlier tests (since his Ashes breakthrough with 900 runs in Australia in 1928-29), and before averaging 76 in his next 25 matches until the outbreak of war.

After scoring an unbeaten 194 against Pakistan in March 2005, Sachin Tendulkar’s Test career average was 58. From April 2004 to November 2007, excluding four games against a weak Bangladesh team, he averaged 32 against the top eight test teams, with just one hundred. in 27 games. His next 35 Tests brought him 14 centuries and an average of 64.

Joe Root had averaged 31 in his last 21 Tests at home (with only a century left) before India arrived last summer. Since then, in his seven Tests at home, he has 960 runs at an average of 96, and was on a seemingly unstoppable path to a sixth century in those seven games until the final blitz of the Bairstow series on Monday.

Kohli’s ability to emerge from his long-term statistical slumber in this rare series decider with a 10-month delay could define whether last summer turns out to be one of the great triumphs of his now-concluded career as captain.

Scorching Bairstow

The Bairstow who faced India last summer was not, it is fair to say, the player we are looking at in 2022.

He made several promising starts and had largely rectified his problem of being eliminated with alarming frequency, but was unable to develop his innings into anything substantial.

From 2019 to 2021, he fell short of 60 in 19 Tests. In his last nine innings of 25-plus, he’d gotten to 40 just once.

In 2022, in seven Tests, he made four hundred, all of them number five or six with fewer than 60 runs on the board (no other batsman in Test history has had four such innings in a calendar year).

He came in 36-4 in Sydney in January, with England facing another humiliation to follow up his 68 at the MCG, and made a magnificent 113.

In the first Test in the West Indies, he raised England 48-4 with 140 controlled.

In Nottingham, his team was 56-3 into the fourth innings, chasing 299 to win, when he unleashed England’s second-fastest Test century.

And at Headingley, England were 17-3 (soon to be 55-6) before he did the second fastest 150 by an England player.

In all, the last nine of Bairstow’s 10 Test centuries have been conducted with England in something between ‘some trouble’ and ‘absolute chaos’: prior to this year, scores of 83-5, 84-4, 131-4 , 94-5 and 22-1 had been the starting points for his hundreds since reaching triple figures for the first time after joining Ben Stokes at 223-5 in Cape Town in 2015-16.

Fun in the fourth inning

The comparison between England’s three fourth-inning performances with the bat last summer and their trilogy of successful pursuits this summer could hardly be more extreme.

In 2021, in the first test of the summer, they refused to chase 273 in 75 overs on a tame Lord delivery after Kane Williamson’s declaration, even after finishing the first 20 overs unbeaten.

Against India, they managed the rare feat of starting a fourth inning after lunch on the final day and getting beaten.

At The Oval, after going 100-0 on the fifth morning, they were eliminated in a further 52 overs. This year, they have chased over 275 to win in three straight games, scoring a total of 874-13 with 4.8 runs over.

Restlessness and failure have been replaced by extravagant floggings and extravagant bravery.

Why don’t the balls close?

Ball-tracking data shows that the ball is moving considerably less out of the seam during games this summer (about 15% less deviation for fast bowlers, counting deliveries defined as good or complete). in CricViz data) compared to the previous five English Tests. seasons, and also rocking a little less.

The fourth official wandering around with his mysterious suitcase of replacement balls has become one of the spectacles of the summer, along with the shooter and, in the Test Match Special comment box, the speculation about what exactly to call the device the players use. umpires for defining the misform of a cricket ball that misses.

As a result, closers with the oldest ball, in overs 31-80, averaged 48.7 in the New Zealand series, down from 27.8 the previous five English seasons, and even discounting fourth-inning outbursts. England, closers with the old ball in the first three innings averaged 38.2 (up from 2017-2021 of 27.4).

Why this year’s Dukes balls have been so abjectly inappropriate remains a mystery, perhaps caused by a secret cabal of international hitters harnessing the power of the occult, perhaps by Darwin-loving cows rapidly evolving their skin to become less suitable for leather. and thus the use in the manufacture of cricket balls, or perhaps for something else.

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