@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read
England pulled off a win in the first Test against India that was as comprehensive as it was unexpected.
Most were predicting a 4-0 win in the lead-up, with India coming in off the back of their greatest ever series win, and having lost one Test at home in the last eight years. But from the moment Joe Root won the toss, things could hardly have gone better for England. Another mammoth score from the captain, contrasting 80-odds from his other two most dependable batsmen, and a wonderfully dovetailing performance from the bowling attack secured a superb victory. The series is wide open.
Test cricket might never have had it so good
When revelling in a great win, the immediate impulse is to try and figure out just how great it is, and where it ranks overall. But even with how seismic this shock is, it still might not be the best Test victory in the past week, and it arguable only squeaks onto the podium for 2021. Kyle Mayers’ efforts in Bangladesh take some beating, as does India’s storming of the Gabbatoir. Teams are winning away, big targets are being chased, and previous conceptions of the natural order of things are falling away. Long live Test cricket!
James Anderson is a freak
What more is there to say about James Anderson? Well, plenty, and plenty still to be written too. His searing in-duckers to rip the heart out of India’s batting effort showed Anderson going to another level again. He’s normally saved his unplayable balls for helpful conditions and the new ball, moulding himself into a parsimonious pressure-builder elsewhere, but this was old-ball devastation of the highest order, with not a cloud in the sky. Last summer there were questions surrounding his form. Now, like Stuart Broad, you wonder if he’s now bowling better than he ever has. Only injury can stop him going to the Ashes. Maybe it doesn’t even need to end there.
Jack Leach is one tough nut
In the first innings, Rishabh Pant launched the kind of assault at Jack Leach that can reduce a spinner’s confidence to tatters. The name of Simon Kerrigan is never far from being mentioned when an English twirler takes a pounding, and with Leach open about how he’s having to feel his way back into his bowling after a torrid time interrupted by illness, some wondered whether this could prove a damaging passage of play.
But anyone seriously concerned hasn’t paid much heed to Leach’s career so far, in which he’s had to battle to win a professional contract in the first place, overcome his own county captains doubting him, combat doubts about his action, and deal with the complex baggage that comes with being a cult figure.
The ball to Rohit, a left-arm spinner’s dream, was the moment England fans began to truly believe, while prising out Cheteshwar Pujara was probably the key moment of the last day. What could have been a chastening Test ended up as simply another reminder of how good Leach is.
Dom Sibley isn’t done proving people wrong
In a similar sort of way to Leach, Dom Sibley has spent much of his career scrapping for his chance and doing it his way. After an early first-class double, he fought for opportunities at Surrey, and when no space in the top order was forthcoming, hopped up the M1 to Edgbaston. There, mountains of runs were needed to win him a chance despite his ungainly technique, and even then, after two Tests in New Zealand, people were writing him off as too unorthodox to keep out the very best.
Some slow hundreds showed he could cut it against pace, but worries that he would be rendered shotless against spin were made worse in Sri Lanka, when he looked a walking wicket. Here, he showed his gameplan in England – bat forever, runs are incidental – could be translated to playing the turning ball. The game was set up on day one, and Sibley, once again, did the hard yards.
India really miss Ravindra Jadeja, but don’t write them off
Dreams of an England Test series win should still be tempered. This remains a high-class India side, and there are many reasons to believe they will get better. England came in better prepared after the tune-up in Sri Lanka, while Ishant Sharma and Virat Kohli will each be far better for their match practice here. It shouldn’t surprise if the hosts win the toss in the second and rack up a huge total, putting England back under the pump.
Equally, they have questions to face, and the answers aren’t easy, with the Nos.6-7 slots vexing. Rishabh Pant showed his otherworldly talent with the bat but struggled with the gloves. But bringing in a specialist keeper would leave India a bowler light. Washington Sundar similarly impressed in one discipline but struggled in another. Hardik Pandya would offer one solution, but his bowling fitness remains questionable. It shows just how valuable Ravindra Jadeja has been, a proper all-rounder who renders all balance conundrums moot.