Wow. What a difference a year makes!
Last summer England were on the brink of being hammered 3-1 by India, before a Covid crisis in the visitor’s camp led to them fleeing to the IPL with the fifth Test of the series postponed a year.
But with a new hierarchy and mentality, the unrecognisable hosts are the perfect summer gift which keeps on giving. In short, India blew a great chance to win a Test series in England for the first time since 2007 and it came back to bite them as the on-song Lions roared to a famous win.
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After hammering World Test Champions New Zealand 3-0, England have just completed their highest ever run chase as Yorkshiremen Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow smashed unbeaten hundreds to beat India at Edgbaston.
The raucous Birmingham crowd were treated to the latest instalment of ‘Bazball’ as the hosts sauntered to their mammoth 378 run chase with incredible ease.
Renditions of ‘Don’t take me home….please don’t take me home’ rang out of B5 as Brendon McCullum’s hosts flayed India’s weary bowlers to all parts. And no wonder the fans didn’t want it to end after Root and Bairstow made their unbroken stand of 269 runs in just 315 balls look like a club game down the local green on a Saturday.
The manner in which England turned this Test around was phenomenal. They had no right to win the game heading into the penultimate day. We really are witnessing something special.
Ben Stokes’ side trailed by 257 runs with India having seven wickets in hand. And led by fierce captain Stokes, England bowled Jasprit Bumrah’s side out for 245 to set up a tricky chase.
But this side has no fear. No score is seemingly out of reach with their new-found philosophy and joy is a sight to watch. It’s blink and you’ll miss it cricket. And everyone in attendance has been treated to a batting masterclass, similar to watching Ronnie O’Sullivan in full flow at the Crucible edging towards his record-equalling seventh world title earlier this year.
Fittingly, former skipper Root secured the monumental victory with a reverse-swept single. Unburdened by the pain of captaincy, the smiling assassin has taken his batting to a whole new stratosphere.
Last year he was being pummelled into the dirt by this great Indian side as the captaincy slowly slipped away. The dreadful winter, which completed a heart-breaking spell of just one Test victory in 17, was the final nail in the coffin for mentally-wiped Root.
Just two years ago, Root was falling away in the ‘Big Four’ debate of current great Test batters. Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson were also scoring centuries for fun, whilst Root’s 50-100 conversion rate was under severe scrutiny.
But Root’s 12th Test ton since Kohli last reached three figures in the longest format took his incredible tally to 28, one more than his Indian counterpart and Aussie Smith — and four more than Kiwi captain Williamson.
Root beamed: “It was pretty fun doing it. Throughout the whole summer, from that first game we've said 'whatever they get, we'll chase it.' Ben [Stokes] said to us before the toss, 'we're not going to bat first, we're going to chase.' That's the mentality of how we're going about things at the minute.”
As well as England pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat here, Bairstow’s revival in the Test arena has been just as astonishing.
The summer of man-of-the-match Bairstow continued as he notched up his 12th Test ton. Amazingly it was his fourth in five innings; his other knock was a fine unbeaten 71.
If ever an alteration in team philosophy suited anyone better than the love affair between Bairstow and ‘Bazball’ then I, for one, am yet to find it.
Bairstow beamed: “It is fantastic the way we're playing and everyone is really enjoying the success and that is a huge part of it.
"If Joe and I are out there doing it together we're in a really good place. We've been doing it for a long time together now.
"It is really special to knock off 378 with just three down. It is something that we'll never forget. After day two I got asked, 'what do you think is too many?' and I said 'whatever they set we'll go for' and that's exactly what we did.”
Captain Stokes purred: "There is clarity within the team and changing room. It is the language that we speak in and the mentality that we get across. It is amazing the language that you use in a changing room and results have looked after themselves in a way. It's just how we play the game, that has been the most important thing, and five weeks ago that was the main thing.
“As people from Yorkshire say, 'strong Yorkshire, strong England'. It couldn't be more true right now. These two are just phenomenal. Rooty has been doing it for 10 years and Jonny has just honestly been ridiculous over the last five or six weeks. He has got runs but it is the way that he has done it - it's exactly what we talk about.”
England’s Test side now have six weeks off before they host South Africa in an intriguing summer showdown. And I simply cannot wait.
England won the fifth Test by seven wickets to level the series with India 2-2
India: 416 (Pant 146, Jadeja 104; Anderson 5/60) & 245 (Pujara 66, Pant 57; Stokes 4/33)
England: 284 (Bairstow 106; Siraj 4/66, Bimrah 3/68) & 378/3 (Root 142*, Bairstow 114*)