Cricket, Sports

England v India: ‘Breathless Edgbaston proves Tests are still the best’

England v India: Ben Stokes shines as hosts take series lead
England v India: ‘Breathless Edgbaston proves Tests are still the best’

England’s 1,000th Test produced a match befitting the occasion. The home side’s 31-run win over India, completed at the end of a very special hour and a half on a sunny Saturday in Birmingham, left everyone breathless. It was so typical of Edgbaston, a ground that time and again produces these great finishes with the crowd so heavily involved. Recently, we have seen many one-sided Tests, where one team gets on top and steamrolls to victory, with the opposition unable to mount any sort of resistance. This first Test was not like that at all. It ebbed and flowed. Both teams were only ever a 50-run partnership or a couple of wickets away from being on top. When England were 216-3 on the first day, then again when India were 100-5 on the second, Joe Root’s men had the opportunity to nail it down. Then, only 24 hours before the match ended, I was on the outfield with Root, Alastair Cook and James Anderson as part of the 1,000th Test celebrations. They had long faces because they thought they were going to lose. That the game swung this way was because of individual displays, mistakes and the conditions. Performances like Virat Kohli’s batting in both innings, Sam Curran’s counter-attack on the third afternoon and Ben Stokes’ spell on the fourth and final morning. Deficiencies from batsmen on both sides against the moving ball and a number of dropped catches. A pitch that showed the folly of playing Test cricket on rolled-out concrete where batsmen pile on the runs. This match has proved that help for the bowlers makes for exciting contests. You cannot control if a ball will swing or not, but you can offer seam movement or turn, just enough so a batsman never feels in. Time and again we see that the most compelling Tests are the ones where bowlers are given encouragement. England’s greatest Test Which match was voted the best?

There will be comparisons drawn with the Ashes Test of 2005 on this ground. It was nice to hear someone like Curran talk about how that game had an influence on him. He would have only been seven years old at the time. Now, matches like this, finishing with Stokes being roared on by the Hollies Stand, will inspire the next generation. In the short term, after Stokes bowled so well across the entire match, we are left to wonder how England will cope without him for the second at Lord’s, which starts on Thursday. His affray trial begins on Monday, but he allayed any worries he might be distracted with his performance this week. Stokes is a fantastic competitor and he used this as a reminder of what a fine all-round cricketer he really is. ‘That is the moment!’ – Stokes traps Kohli lbwWhile replacing Stokes will be a headache for Root, the England skipper can at least be pleased with his own leadership during that final session. I spoke before the series of how Root is still to stamp his authority on the captaincy, but everything went right for him on Saturday morning. The decision to bring the leg-spin of Adil Rashid into the attack might have looked obvious from a distance, but it is different when you are the captain and you know someone like Hardik Pandya could take him to the cleaners. Instead, Rashid did what he was supposed to do and pinned Ishant Sharma with a googly. Root kept faith with Dawid Malan at second slip, despite the Middlesex player’s drops in this match. Malan repaid him with a smart catch off Anderson. England’s tactic of starving Kohli of the strike also worked. The India skipper was denied the chance of a flying start. Root’s confidence in his own captaincy should now go up a notch or two. Speaking of Kohli, it is now his job to revive an India team that rolled over here four years ago. Kohli played so beautifully in this match, but he told me after the game that making his first century in England was secondary to the result. Virat Kohli scored a century and a fifty in the same Test for the seventh time, equalling Sachin Tendulkar’s India record.

India move on to Lord’s, where it is likely to be dry, suiting the tourists. If, as we expect, they include a second spinner, will it be the mystery of left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav? You feel India have to win in London. If they find themselves 2-0 down heading to Trent Bridge, where we will probably find more traditional English conditions, it’s a long way back. As we leave Edgbaston, Kohli will be one of the memories that I take with me. His ‘mic drop’ celebration, Curran’s six to bring up his half-century, the tension of the wickets falling on the final morning. Who says Tests cannot be the future of cricket? When it is like what we have seen in Birmingham, it is brilliant. When you watch, enjoy and appreciate, it is still the best version of the game.


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Harry Smith
Harry Smith is the Bestselling author of 6 novels. He lives in Manchester, England with “the wife,” “the kids,” “the dog,” “that cat,” and he occasionally wears pants.