India lost the Edgbaston Test against England on Tuesday after being on top for the majority of the contest. It was a result that highlighted particular trends for both teams in recent times. While India were left with serious concerns about their fourth innings bowling, England seem on course to establish chasing as a viable option in the longest format.
Jasprit Bumrah and Co set England a daunting target of 378 at Edgbaston. The visitors were underwhelming with the bat in their second innings but they were still left with plenty of runs to defend. However, unbeaten centuries by Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow helped the hosts chase down the target inside three sessions in what was an astonishing finish to the series.
It was England’s highest-ever successful run-chase in Test cricket history, and what was just as impressive was the manner in which they did it. Openers Alex Lees and Zak Crawley laid the platform with a blistering century partnership before Root and Bairstow carried forward and bulldozed their team to victory.
For India, Bumrah, who took over captaincy duties after Rohit Sharma was ruled out with Covid-19, finished with an impressive 23 wickets in the series. He was declared the player of the series for the visiting team but his performance wasn’t enough to hide the major cracks in India’s bowling in the final stages.
Consecutive Test series wins in Australia, domination at home, a runners-up finish in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship, and the latest draw in England are proof that India in recent years have probably had their strongest bowling attack in history. The likes of Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Ashwin Ravichandran, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Siraj (and a few more along the way) have delivered a number of fine performances over the years.
However, a look at India’s last three away Test matches will tell you there’s a prominent issue as far as the bowling is concerned. The two Tests in South Africa earlier this year and the latest one in Edgbaston saw India lose by seven wickets each time after having over 200 runs to defend on each occasion.
The Edgbaston Test marked the first time in Test history that India lost the match while allowing opponents to score more than 350 in the fourth innings. And also only the second time in history that India conceded 350-plus in the fourth innings of a Test.
Highest 4th inns totals vs India in men's Tests
|450/7||136.0||3.30||draw||v South Africa||Johannesburg||18 Dec 2013|
|378/3||76.4||4.93||lost||v England||Birmingham||1 Jul 2022|
|369/6||110.0||3.35||draw||v England||The Oval||9 Aug 2007|
|357/6||94.0||3.79||draw||v Australia||Sydney||2 Jan 2004|
|342/8||87.2 (8-ball)||2.93||lost||v Australia||Perth||16 Dec 1977|
India coach Rahul Dravid addressed the issue in the post-match press conference, saying it could be a wide variety of issues, but maintaining the fitness and intensity through all four innings of a match was an area of concern. And it wasn’t just about the bowling.
“It’s been disappointing for us. I mean we had a couple of opportunities in South Africa as well and here as well,” Dravid told the media. “I just think it’s something we need to look at, something we need to probably work on. We have been very good at that over the last few years, in terms of taking wickets and winning those Test matches.”
“But, yeah, we haven’t been able to do that over the last few months. It could be a variety of factors: it could be maybe we just need to maintain that intensity, maintain that level of fitness, or maintain that level of performance right through a Test match.
“In the second innings, we have not batted well as well. If you look at all the third innings of these two Test matches overseas (Cape Town and Johannesburg) and this one, the batting has also probably not been up to scratch. In both areas, we have sort of started the Test matches well but we haven’t been able to finish well and yeah we need to get better at that and certainly need to improve,”
England, on the other hand, served another reminder of their lofty ambitions in Test cricket. Since Ben Stokes took over as captain and Brendon McCullum as coach, they have completed four successful run-chases.
After the victory at Edgbaston, Stokes made a remark that highlighted the space England are in at the moment. He said: “There was a bit of me that almost wanted them to get 450 to see what we could do.”
The manner in which England went about hunting down the target, which was challenging by any measure, vindicated the skipper’s confidence. Lees and Crawley kept picking boundaries in their 107-run opening stand, before Root and Bairstow made a mockery of the Indian bowling attack. England won with two whole sessions to spare and one couldn’t help but wonder how big a total would’ve been safe for India.
In the three Tests against New Zealand prior to the match against India, Stokes and Co notched up a hat-trick of successful chases to complete a remarkable series sweep. Their fourth innings scores in the three Tests were as follows: 279/5, 299/5 and 296/3.
All these four run-chases now feature in England’s all-time best top 15.
England's highest run-chases in men's Tests
|England||378/3||76.4||4.93||4||v India||Birmingham||1 Jul 2022|
|England||362/9||125.4||2.88||4||v Australia||Leeds||22 Aug 2019|
|England||332/7||159.5||2.07||4||v Australia||Melbourne||29 Dec 1928|
|England||315/4||73.2||4.29||4||v Australia||Leeds||16 Aug 2001|
|England||307/6||146.4||2.09||4||v New Zealand||Christchurch||14 Feb 1997|
|England||299/5||50.0||5.98||4||v New Zealand||Nottingham||10 Jun 2022|
|England||298/4||88.1||3.37||4||v Australia||Melbourne||1 Mar 1895|
|England||296/3||54.2||5.44||4||v New Zealand||Leeds||23 Jun 2022|
|England||294/4||88.0||3.34||4||v New Zealand||Manchester||23 May 2008|
|England||284/6||71.3||3.97||4||v New Zealand||Nottingham||10 Jun 2004|
It was also the highest ever successful run-chase against India and also on English soil.
“It’s about trying to have fun and really relishing every opportunity you get to showcase what you’re about and put on a show for everyone,” said Root after the Edgbaston Test. “It’s like being a kid again. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to feel or look like a rock star but for 10 seconds out there I might have done.”
“The Yorkshireman inside me is still saying ‘dig in, play straight and get behind it’. Then there’s the captain on my shoulder saying ‘be a rock star’. So you’re fighting between the two of them, sometimes,” added Root, who is making a habit of playing reverse scoops for sixes.
Stokes added: “Chasing 378 seven weeks ago would have been a scary thing for us to look at but we knew what we were going to try and do. The last five weeks have been an incredible turnaround... we are trying to rewrite how Test cricket is played in England.”
It’s still early days in the Stokes-McCullum era and the four wins so far came at home, but there’s no doubt that the signs are promising. England, under Eoin Morgan’s leadership, revolutionised the 50-over game as they slam-banged their way to the 2019 World Cup title. And now, they seem determined to chart a new course for the longest format.