BIRMINGHAM: Everything you know about Test cricket is wrong.
Well that might be the conclusion of some fans who watched a resurgent England make light of a chase of 378 in the Covid-delayed fifth Test against India.
It was the latest example of ‘Bazball’ in action, with a seven-wicket win in Birmingham England’s fourth successful chase in as many Tests under a new leadership duo of coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes following a 3-0 whitewash of Test world champions New Zealand.
That series saw England chase down seemingly stiff targets of 277, 299 and 296.
No England side, however, had previously made more to win in the fourth innings of a Test than 359, when Stokes’ brilliant century secured a thrilling victory over Australia at Headingley three years ago.
But with Joe Root (142 not out) and Jonny Bairstow (114 not out) sharing an unbroken partnership of 269, that mark was overhauled with ease at Edgbaston as England ended a five-match series all square at 2-2.
Yet as well as former England captain Root and Bairstow batted, they are in-form and experienced internationals.
Arguably the greatest revelation about England’s latest run-chase was how they attacked it from the start, with Alex Lees and Zak Crawley, both of whom had been struggling for runs, sharing a century opening stand in 19.5 overs — the fastest in England Test history.
Stokes said England’s approach was down to a change in attitude from a team that had won just one of its 17 previous Tests prior to the New Zealand series.
“When you’ve got real clarity in what you want to achieve as a team and how you want to play it makes things a lot easier,” said Stokes.
“We know what we were going to do — we knew we were always going to go out and try and chase that down from the get-go.
“A great way to explain is that teams are perhaps better than us, but teams won’t be braver than us.
“(England spinner) Jack Leach said that to me and it is a great way to sum things up at the moment,” the all-rounder added.
Scoring runs quickly in Test cricket is nothing new.
A celebrated West Indies team once chased down a target of 342 inside a day to beat England by nine wickets at Lord’s, with opener Gordon Greenidge making an unbeaten double century.
And the successful Australia teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s looked to score at a rate of four per over in order to give their bowlers as much time as possible to take the 20 wickets needed to win a Test.
But on Tuesday, England were scoring at a rate of nearly five an over, with the way Root reverse scooped medium-pacer Shardul Thakur for six a sign of how T20 shot-making, unknown to previous generations, is influencing the longer game.
Former New Zealand captain McCullum was credited for being the inspiration behind England’s rise from white-ball no-hopers to 2019 50-over World Cup winners and England clearly hope he will have a similar effect now he is directly involved with the Test side.
Four matches is a small sample size, however, and had Rishabh Pant stayed in for just a little longer in India’s second innings, Stokes may have been granted a wish where he “almost wanted them to get 450 (ahead), to see what we did.”
India coach Rahul Dravid, one of the best batsmen of his era, was impressed by England but said the way Pant had scored a typically dynamic 146, in a first innings where Ravindra Jadeja also made a hundred, proved Stokes’ side did not have a copyright on attacking play.
“When your players are doing well, are in good form, then you can play really positively, can take the game forward,” said Dravid.
“We also showed when Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja were playing in the first innings — we played pretty positive cricket.
“But when two positive players or attacking players are in good form, and can play such a big innings, and that happens in three to four matches continuously it looks good for cricket and also for them.”