Was that really a good Test match?

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Virat Kohli out LBW (via Sky Sports)

There’s this odd belief in cricket that people want to see fours and sixes. They don’t. They want to see jeopardy.

What is jeopardy? It’s when wickets matter. It’s when everything you see has an impact on the outcome of the game.

When one team makes 400 and the other makes 500, every run is less valuable because everything derives its value from the result. Runs are just a proportion of a win and the more of them there are, the less significant each becomes.

The story is everything and the story needs to corner. If it turns like a barge, there’s nothing.

At Edgbaston, England reached 216-3 in their first innings; progress was becoming stately. Then Virat Kohli ran out Joe Root. England were all out for 287. India were going to win.

Soon afterwards, India were 50-0, at which point Sam Curran swanned in like a scale model of the world’s greatest left-arm swing bowler. Ben Stokes thought he too would swing it and suddenly the score was 100-5. England were going to win.

That became 182-8, but delusional Virat Kohli was surging. The closer England got to the end of India’s innings, the faster he seemed to move away from them. What was happening? Which team had that most precious of all cricketing commodities, momentum? Who was going to win now?

England’s first innings lead was an almost meaningless 13 runs and when R Ashwin chipped out the top three with the lead barely 50, it was still hard to gauge the value of a run. However, after a percussive intervention by Ishant Sharma and with the scoreboard now reading 87-7, the scarcity principle could confidently be applied. When Sam Curran hit some fours and sixes, it was like stumbling across a massive great savings account you’d totally forgotten you had.

India’s target ended up being 194 – a total that for almost the entire innings felt both entirely attainable or wholly unattainable depending what had happened the previous ball.

A massive great outswinger would beat the bat and you’d envision more edges than a d20 and an England win. A solid punch for four and you’d imagine a growing torrent of runs and an India win. When did a four become such an extraordinary volume of runs, you’d think? When did one shot start to have such an enormous impact on the outcome of a Test match?

Every time there was a wicket, there’d be a clunk as you shifted down a gear and adjusted to the new mental cadence. When Kohli was dismissed after his 200th run in the match, it felt like dropping down from the big chain ring to the little one. It wasn’t an incremental shift. It was a step change.

But still the number of runs required came down and still the value of each run scored went up. 40 to win and a bosh to the ropes became a tenth of the match. With two wickets remaining, a long drawn-out LBW review became half the match.

One wicket to go and all of this – all of the runs; all of the wickets; all of the reviews and appeals and drops and leg-byes; all of the time spent plotting dismissals; all of the hours spent diligently countering bowlers; all of it, all of it – was bound up in whether that wicket would fall or whether those priceless few runs were scored.

Was that really a good Test match?


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  1. I was there for the whole match bar that final session, so please allow me to answer your question in full.

    Yes, it was a good match.

    1. Excellent match. If not for Kohli’s 149, might have been, terribly uncompetitive !

  2. From the point of view of someone getting intermittent updates at a Spanish wedding (which is almost the opposite of being there), it seemed like a good match, but of India had won with 3 or more wickets to spare I suspect I would have a different view.

    1. That is the classic way to follow a great Test match going by reports on this website of how the 2005 Ashes was followed.

  3. I observed the denouement while being dive-bombed by arctic skuas on Handa Island off the coast of Sutherland, where there was surprisingly good 4G signal. No-one else in the vicinity was remotely interested or indeed even knew the match was being played. Magnificent. Would have made a great place to hide had we lost, too.

  4. Would it have been a better match if it started on a Thursday?

    Advocatus Diaboli: provided the overs were made up (use the lights in the evening maybe?) there might be more schedusfaction with four-day Tests. Just a thought.

    1. The players were called off for bad light in evening in midsummer. I’m not sure I’d trust the umps to keep players on in the evening.

  5. I think India lost it in the first innings when the top order failed and we didn’t get a big lead. 194 was impossible in the 4th innings.

    You can talk about how Kohli let Curran get away at 87/7 by taking Ashwin off, but you never really want your entire Test match to hang by such a slender thread by getting into a low percentage situation like that. Ruthless teams take the advantage in the first innings.

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed it. All the more for the win of course but either way i think it would have still counted as a great match.

  7. Is your majesty going to revise the prediction for the test series? It’s hard to see India winning a single test, let alone the series. 4-0 would be a positive result given that we don’t have a batting line up which can put up any fight in these conditions.

  8. Also, not really sure it was a good test match in that realistically there was only one result possible by middle of second day. It was a low scoring test match but England were never really in danger of losing this.

      1. It’s like watching a Bond movie, you know how it ends, the curiosity is only in how you get there.

      2. I think what Sam might mean is that he didn’t think there was only one result possible. I know I didn’t. In fact, by lunchtime on the third day things were looking distinctly India, and even at the end of that day, Kohli still being at the crease meant that India were still well and truly ‘in it’.

        Of course, our respective pessimisms bend in opposite directions. We need a neutral’s opinion really.

      3. Maybe. But the margin of victory underplays how poor the Indian batting was or how comprehensively they were outplayed. Malan played badly enough to lose his spot, he still outscored Vijay, Rahul, Rahane and Karthik and only scored 9 less runs than Dhawan. That’s all the batsmen, except for Kohli.

        Like Deets said, 194 was impossible in the 4th innings. The tension that KC alludes to – two wickets, 40 runs, etc. – I doubt it was that significant.

  9. I’m in New York, the Big Apple, the Big Zucchini, the Big Cucumber. I followed the match on Cricinfo, so I got a good sense of how it was going. But I’m going to assume that I didn’t, and that I only got updates from US Sports (there’s that S that went missing from Maths) reports.

    England out test the India. In the first match of the home series, the England Crickets won by 31 runnings. Sam Curran retired four straight Indians for an MVP performance – he also went 63 for only one out in the top of the 2nd. Virat Kohli went one better with over 200 scores for the match, but he was wicketed late on by Ben Stokes’s leg ball to give England the win. With 40 outs, this equalled the world record for most outs in a cricket game. Next up for England – a return fixture at the home of the Lords in London, England.

    For the next test, I will be in Iceland. Parodying Icelandic sport reporting is going to be a lot trickier. I wonder if they use the extra S?

  10. Very good analysis…
    I think it was a great test match, if one Indian batsman can make such impact, think how much they can play good if other 2-3 will fire with him.

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