The English cricket team led by Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes with their new term, Bazball, changed the essence of the game, “Test Cricket”. One was relatively skeptical as to whether such an aggressive and positive attitude could be sustained enough to consistently succeed in Test cricket. Well, England have proven that with four wins in a row and therefore any apprehensions one may have should be allayed.
The attitude of a cricketer has changed drastically over time. There seems to be an air of self-confidence and confidence in their approach that drives them to take risks and not worry about the past.
This brings us back to the famous fairy tale which was later turned into a movie called “Alice in Wonderland”, where there was the famous Mad Hatter’s tea party. The Mad Hatter’s words asking Alice, “Have I gone mad” and Alice’s response, are so fitting to recent rounds played by Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja and even Jasprit Bumrah. She said, “I’m afraid so. You guys are nuts. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”
Cricket has always had such characters. Indians Virender Sehwag, Kris Srikkanth, Kapil Dev, Ramnath Parkar, Sandeep Patil and national hitters such as Jaswant Bakrania, Vijay Telang, Kiran Asher and many more played these unusual innings, which at the time were considered ” it’s not cricket”. Each of them was thrilling to watch. However, pundits and viewers considered their performances a unique marvel.
The Brits were the thought leaders when it came to cricketing opinion and they had established the fact that for a batter to be successful in cricket, you needed technique, good groundstrokes and endless patience.
The flamboyant types were not highly rated. Bowlers too had to adhere to certain standards and that was to bowl a good length and a consistent line in order to get the maximum benefit. The bowlers changed, as the same good length deliveries that had been enjoyed, were now being hit directly overhead. Similar to batters, bowlers also had to have the mad hatter’s approach to bowling. This forced them to bring variety and variation to it.
A good example of a modern duel in cricket was seen in the recent Birmingham Test match between India’s No.10 batsman Jasprit Bumrah and the reliable former England pace setter, Stuart Broad. The former was adamant to hit every delivery he faced in the pit, while the stubborn pitcher was determined to make short deliveries even if he got hit. The two, to those watching, seemed to have gone mad.
Bumrah, emerged victorious by scoring the record for most runs in an over in Test cricket. A bowler, with 550 wickets to his name, has been made to look like a fool by a batsman, who pats his back, every time he puts his bat on the ball.
This is now the new batting approach and attitude towards bowling. The only wonderful fallout from such an aggressive game is that it has caused spectators and viewers to follow Test cricket again. Encounters like this have become the drama that new sports viewers seem to love. How else to explain the cheers Nick Kyrgios’ unsportsmanlike behavior garnered while playing against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Wimbledon singles match recently. It is also fun to see a Virat Kohli doing a song and a dance each time a wicket falls, in which he has not played any hand.
This brings us to the recent loss India suffered against England in the Birmingham test. I wrote that India’s main concern was to have Jasprit Bumrah as captain. This is where selecting a suitable vice-captain is so important. Bumrah has never managed a team before and for him to do so at the highest level is very demanding. Likewise, neither Rishabh Pant nor Hardik Pandya are ready to lead India in Test cricket. The T20 format does not require much thought from a captain. Field and bowling restrictions made it impossible to study and plan for a batter’s death in the game’s shorter format.
Test cricket, on the other hand, requires a captain to outwit and outplay his opponent. Bumrah went through the captaincy moves which was completely understandable for someone who has never been put in this place before. Ben Stokes also made many mistakes in his role as captain. However, the English batter in the fourth inning aired his errors by batting well.
One cannot understand how India could enter a test match without their top spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin. Edgbaston’s wicket is notorious for getting dry, and a good spinner is important in the latter part of the game. India missed Ashwin as they needed a bowler who could extract the trick by flying the ball. India missed a round by not including Ashwin as chasing a target of 378 runs with such ease would have been difficult with him.
The limited version of the game and especially the T20 should be complimented on how a cricketer now adapts to play aggressively. Cricket began with batters playing strokes only in front of the wicket. Ranjitsinhji made the very first change by inventing the leg look. This was followed by the late cut on the outer side. Modern cricket introduced the reverse sweep and shots played 360 degrees on the ground. One wonders what infuriating kicking game will kick in next.
Cricket too has become a mad hatter’s party.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Indian cricketer)
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