An aggressive batting is exciting to watch, but it should not be at the cost of composure and steadiness…..
Patience, grit, perseverance, and stubbornness (to give up) – these are the tenets which serve as the ultimate requirements to succeed at the most traditional form of our sport. There have been a number of instances in more than 140-year history of our sport which serves as the perfect templates of the aforementioned qualities. Innings like Haneef Mohammad’s marathon 337 (to save the Test for Pakistan in 1958) or more recently Cheteshwar Pujara’s match-turning hundred in Adelaide can be grouped into this example set.
But it is an unfortunate fact that as we are progressing into this ultra-modern 21st century, these tenets are gazing surely towards an impending extinction. An apt example of this theory is the English cricket team which has just suffered the ignominy of losing two straight Tests, in a series of three matches, at the hands of the ‘much-maligned’ West Indians. You don’t normally see a sight where number eight ranked Team hammers the third-ranked Team in the world, that too, quite convincingly.
The losses in Bridgetown and Antigua are not just aberrations, but they are the results of a calamitous (and continuous) change-of-attitude which has settled in the playing style of the English cricketers. England, until their shambolic expulsion from the 2015 World Cup, were believed to be a nation that really prioritized the Test cricket over its two shorter colleagues and this attitude reflected in the way they played the shorter forms of the game. But the shameful exit from the 2015 marquee event led to a miraculous change in the way England approached cricket.
Their approach, especially in the shorter formats of the game, metamorphosed from a defensive one to an aggressive one so much so that if we compare the average run rates of all teams in ODI cricket since the last World Cup, English batsmen easily best all others with the run-rate of 6.23 runs per over-the only team to score in excess of six runs an over in the said period. So, did the change brought any laurels for them? The answer is certainly affirmative as they registered the best win-loss ratio of 2.42 from the 77 ODIs played (and won 51 matches- second most after India’s 54 wins in the period).
But there has certainly been some cost involved for such success in the ODI format and that cost is the number of defeats that they have succumbed to in the aforementioned period. They may have registered the best win-loss ratio in ODIs but they also have registered the highest number of losses in the traditional format of the game. Since April 2015, England’s 25 defeats from 50 Tests played; sit at the top of the pile among the Test playing nations. England have simply been unable to mentally switch over to the rigors of the longest format of the game.
If we talk about switching over mentally, then England can take a lesson or two from the Indian side – a team with which they have competed with; neck-to-neck for the dominance in ODIs. India’s win-loss ratio of over 3, accumulated due to 28 Test wins from just 37 games in the said period, is best among all team by some distance as no other team has even registered a win-loss ratio of over 2. If we look at the performance of England from the start of October 2017 i.e. just before the start of Ashes that year, the slide in the performance is evident with the Englishmen losing nine of the 17 Tests played and that doesn’t reflect the torrid time they had in overcoming the visiting Indians in the Summer of 2018.
Barring the Melbourne marathon of Alastair Cook in the previous Ashes down under, there is hardly an innings by an Englishman which can be categorized in what we call ‘a daddy hundred’. To win (or at times even survive) you need to change over to the player which is completely opposite to your style of play and when you are able to achieve that on a consistent basis in demanding situations, you come closer and closer to becoming a modern-day great. This lesson is best exemplified by the metamorphism abilities of Virat Kohli who, until the English series, wasn’t considered an all-conditions batsman. In the series against South Africa and England in 2018, he was ready to swallow his ego (and in the process his attacking or dominating brand of cricket) in order to just hang in at the crease and the results of such stubbornness are there for everyone to see. One can also include Steve Smith’s defiant ton against the English side, at the Gabba in the ashes in 2017, in this list of inspired Test match performances.
Although there were other factors too which contributed to the English capitulations in the first two Tests in West Indies like the stepping up of bowlers and batsmen alike when the West Indians needed it the most but the English players also need to step up their mental side of the game. England’s head coach, Trevor Bayliss also accepts this view that their players have simply failed to muster up the courage and determination required to overcome the combined force of adverse conditions and the aggression of the opponents.
“We have not been able to soak up areas of pressure West Indies have put on us and we haven’t got anything going in partnerships. Do they (English players) lack mental discipline? Personally, I think so. You don’t have to have perfect technique to be able to score runs or take wickets: it’s about how you go about using it. On this occasion, we’ve certainly been lacking in that department.”
The above words of the head coach perfectly sum up the area that’s going wrong for the Englishmen. Their third and final clash in the series comes up in a day’s time and their mental game has to be stronger than the opposition to salvage some pride in the final encounter and that mental fortitude will come by adopting a cautious approach instead of the aggressive one that they have become prone to. The aggressive approach has served as a very good servant for English cricket in the shorter formats of the game but is becoming a really bad master when it comes to Test match cricket.
Whether England can control this servant-turned-master of theirs in St. Lucia remains to be seen but one thing which is beyond doubt is the fact that a cautious Test match-centric approach, that good old grind, will surely help their cause.