Why a five-Test series is the Grand Slam of cricket | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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Why a five-Test series is the Grand Slam of cricket

BySanjay Manjrekar, New Delhi
Feb 27, 2024 09:09 PM IST

A 5-setter is long enough duel to know the better warrior, and so is a 5-Test series as India vs England is proving to be, writes Sanjay Manjrekar.

In tennis, a five-set match gives us a very accurate assessment of who the better player is. The greater competitor will often come back from two sets down and take the next three, showing greater sustainability as a player to win the match. Something on these lines is happening with England. It’s a team that I have thoroughly enjoyed watching in this series. When they scored 240 in their very first batting effort in the series, on a typical Indian turner, I thought it was a pretty impressive performance.

England's captain Ben Stokes, left greets India's Dhruv Jurel after India won the Test match in Ranchi(AP) PREMIUM
England's captain Ben Stokes, left greets India's Dhruv Jurel after India won the Test match in Ranchi(AP)

Most touring teams would have capitulated to a 140 all out but England got 246 and followed that up with 420 in the second innings, led by Ollie Pope playing one of the great innings played by a foreign batter in India. India lost the Test and we were all shell-shocked. Now this is going to be fun, I thought. A young Indian batting lineup failed to chase down 230 and the rookie England spinners with meagre, even first-class, experience skittled out India for 202.

I was excited with the possibilities after the Hyderabad Test, because we were all seeing something we have never seen before, Ollie Pope playing the way he did was an eye opener for, first the Indian spinners and then of course the Indian fans.

What’s more, the unconventional approach wasn’t restricted to just batting. It was evident in Stokes’ captaincy too, especially his field placements. This was Ben Stokes actually being disruptive, shaking up the system -- the basic concept of field placements and with it the general approach to Test cricket.

He was out there to get a wicket every ball on a long day and the main trick up his sleeve was playing on the emotions of the Indian batter. For example, a batter who seemed susceptible to bouncers was not going to have the usual two guys on the leg side boundary, but three.

There were also others to catch the completely miscued hook or pull that wouldn't carry to the boundary. So, that’s a total of six fielders, all for one ball -- the bouncer -- and he had a fielder for any eventuality after that. He just put all his money in one stock. No ‘bit of this’ and ‘bit of that’ or waiting for things to happen. Stokes was going to make things happen now, not later.

India are leading 3-1 in the series, but as Stokes said after the Ranchi Test that the contest has been a lot closer than what the scoreline shows. England have come with spinners who have a natural style of bowling that will be effective on Indian pitches, caring two hoots for their experience.

It’s like Pakistan taking Inzamam to the 1992 World Cup in New Zealand and Australia. His natural style of batting where he could pull and cut extreme pace quite comfortably was the main reason. The success of Hartley and Bashir where the former won them the Hyderabad Test and the latter almost won them the Ranchi game proves that this plan has worked.

Especially when you look at England's performances on their two previous tours to India, you would say this has been the best fight they have put up against India in India in recent years. It’s helped Stokes a bit that his inexperienced spinners were also bowling to mostly inexperienced Indian batters.

INDIA SEIZE MOMENTS

At the start, I mentioned a five-setter is a long enough duel to know the better warrior, so is a five-Test series in cricket. India have regularly managed to seize the winning moments and get an upper hand during the last three Tests. In Ranchi, on the Day 3 morning, the stand of 76 between Dhruv Jurel and Kuldeep Yadav dragged India out of a hole, enough to then go on to beat England. On a pitch that was playing tricks, spinners Hartley and Bashir weren’t able to break that long partnership. I want you to visualise or imagine if that would have been possible if Jurel and Kuldeep had to do it against Ashwin, Jadeja and Kuldeep.

Come to think of it, wonder how Kuldeep would play Kuldeep? So, essentially as the series has gone on, the core ability of the two teams is starting to make a difference. When it comes to spinners, well, the difference is obvious, but this fresh-faced Indian batting has competed magnificently with an experienced England batting lineup. Obviously, India are playing in conditions they have grown up in, so they have a slight advantage there.

But the point is about longer the fight, better the chance of the inherently strong team to come through in the end. Long live five Tests series! I am sorry if I am taking a little sheen off the great Indian triumph, the 1983 final World Cup win against the mighty West Indies. Well, West Indies were in India few weeks later and beat India 6-0 in a six-match one-day series.

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