Swinging ball added spice to Virat Kohli-James Anderson battle, says Ian Chappell
The opening thrusts in the India versus England encounter had provided a wonderful example of why Test cricket can be such an enticing spectacle. Most of the ingredients that showcase Test cricket in its best light were on display at Edgbaston; the pitches provide some encouragement for the bowlers and the ball swings on a pretty regular basis. If what was on show at Edgbaston had difficulty filling seats, then Test cricket really is in deep trouble.
With swing bowling being such a crucial ingredient in producing a good contest, it’s time to ask; “Should the Duke ball be trialled world-wide with a view to using it in all Test matches?”
The value of swinging deliveries in adding to the spectacle was never more evident than in the enthralling contest between Jimmy Anderson and Virat Kohli. Here we had the King of swing doing battle with the Prince of willow wielders.
Throughout this on-going battle for supremacy, Anderson maintained a high standard of out-swing bowling that not only consistently challenged Kohli but also saw him dropped in the slips. With the game delicately poised and the high skill level of the two contestants involved, it was reminiscent of that wonderful battle between Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar at Chepauk in 1998.
On that occasion, India’s champion counter-attacked brilliantly to take his celebrated Australian opponent down, eventually leading to victory for the home side. At Edgbaston, Kohli took a different tack, utilising a mixture of determination and watchful defence he wore Anderson down - albeit with some help from the butter-fingered English slip fielders.
Having survived Anderson’s challenging examination Kohli went on to dominate the Indian first innings, scoring 82 of the 105 runs accumulated for the last two wickets. It was a similar dominance near the end of Stan McCabe’s glorious double-century at Trent Bridge in 1938 that caused captain Don Bradman to summon his players onto the balcony with the words; “You will never see anything like this again.”
Desperate to erase memories of his failures in 2014, Kohli was at his best in first duelling with Anderson and then dominating the England bowling. He capitalised on his good fortune and the spate of missed catches was the only spoiler in what was overall, an excellent example of Test cricket skills.
Both England and India were sloppy in the slips, with a combination of poor technique and faulty alignment being to blame for the shoddy work. One reason for both sides dropping catches is that the fielders are standing too close to each other thereby causing confusion.
It also didn’t help that England don’t employ their best catchers in the slips. Joe Root quickly moved himself from slip to mid-off which made no sense when Anderson and Stuart Broad, the two most experienced trundlers in the side, were operating.
The absence of the mercurial Ben Stokes from the slips, except when the spinner is bowling, is also mystifying. For their part, the Indian bowlers can’t be bristling with confidence when some slip fielders’ fingers are heavily bandaged; generally that’s a sure sign of misadventure.
VARIETY IN ATTACK
Part of England’s success with the ball can be attributed to the increased variety in their attack. The addition of Sam Curran’s vibrant left-arm swing and Stokes’ rejuvenation with the ball made a huge difference to an attack that lacked variety in Australia.
India’s search for a seam bowling allrounder is still a work in progress but Hardik Pandya displayed determination and discipline to go with his undoubted skills in an important partnership with Kohli. Perhaps a move to number six would further bolster his batting confidence and if he can also profit from watching Stokes’ efforts with the ball, this could be a defining series for the talented allrounder.
Slip catching apart, the early skirmishes at Edgbaston prompt enthusiasm for what could be a hard fought series. Test cricket desperately needs these types of contests and it won’t hurt if India’s tour of Australia then provides more of the same.