As Cricket returned to terrestrial TV for the first time since 2005, England’s series in India seemed the perfect opportunity for the game to grow. Few could have hoped for England to put on such a show to a nation sheltered in their living rooms. To beat this India side by 227 runs on their turf, rejuvenated after toppling Australia and refreshed by incoming personnel, is a landmark win for an England side openly aspiring to be the best Test team in the world.
It was a near-complete materialisation of Chris Silverwood’s vision within the longest format. When he was promoted to be England’s coach in October 2019, his principal goal was “helping Joe Root, supporting him” to build a line-up “that can bat long periods of time, stack the runs up and put pressure on the opposition”.
Skip to an hour into day three at Chennai and England had batted for 190.1 overs, amassing 578 runs, 218 of which were sumptuously accumulated by Root, whose 100th test performance was up there with, if not superior to, any of the 99 that preceded it. Seemingly unperturbed by the personal milestones that once hurried him after passing 50, Root’s frustration walking off on 218 spoke volumes of a side seeking perfection.
Sibley too was superb, a dream opener for his coach, the 285 balls he faced perhaps even more important than the 87 runs he scored. Facilitating the gloriousness of Joe Root’s scoring and eking out the boundary balls, Sibley’s improvement since arriving in Galle has been impressive. Through this partnership England set the platform that their destructive middle order craves, with Stokes coming in and taking the game yet further away from India.
Silverwood also spoke of his desire to create a bowling attack “that is absolutely relentless”. This is where England, through Dom Bess and Jack Leach, can improve. Leach was bludgeoned to all parts by Rishabh Pant in the first innings, and Bess, particularly in the second innings, served up some real dross. Notable were three successive full tosses to Virat Kohli, whose disdain in putting them away painted a foreboding picture for the rest of the series.
However, Leach came back in the Indian second innings with real drive, producing two beauties to be rid of Rohit and Pujara, the latter averaging 140 against left-arm spin at the time. England can look positively at both of their spinners producing deliveries more than good enough to dismiss the world’s best players of the turning ball, and consistency will come by sticking with them.
England found such relentlessness in their fielding, with Anderson, Stokes and Root – whose captaincy was also superb – all taking rippers to back up the energy that the likes of Ollie Pope and Dom Bess provided. England’s pace bowlers showed their versatility, employing cutters and cross-seamers. They managed to rough the opposition up, even on a deck as flat as this, through Archer’s brutal spell to Ashwin. Most impressive on the fifth day, though, was the inevitable James Anderson, whose double-wicket-maiden will rightly go down in history.
To talk of Jimmy in clichéd, ageist terms seems impossible to avoid for cricket fans. The only worthwhile truism of the Burnley man is that his age is just a number. He is simply a wonderful bowler, who gives nothing away and fits the Silverwood bill perfectly. Rather than following each compliment with “for a 38-year-old”, let us sit back and relish such brilliant, decisive contributions to England victories.
As well as the discipline of their spinners, England can improve on the enaction of their second-innings plan. Criticism of a lack of declaration and impetus was unfounded, with Root successfully taking India out of contention, but England can clearly bat better, Stokes’ tentative dismissal perhaps suggesting a lack of commitment to a clear template in this particular innings.
Yet this is where England are so thrilling. Such a dominant performance can still be built on. Pope will find more form, as will Bess and Leach. Stokes and Sibley will want more on top of their eighty-odds. To beat arguably the best team in the world, away from home, by 227 runs, and have yet more in the tank, says everything about a side that is putting something special together. Of course, India will bounce back, their batting line-up awash with talent and their home record remaining formidable.
But England will look at this as a third box ticked in a year where their path to world number one is beginning to present itself. Performing like this, guided by Silverwood, England have an opportunity to transcend the sport. With a nation locked away from the cold and Covid-19, watching Test cricket on Channel 4 for the first time in 16 years, they are picking their moment to shine perfectly.
Image: Shreeram07 via Creative Commons