Thursday, May 23, 2024

CLOSE-IN: First Test of Ashes 2023 establishes a Paradigm shift in Test Cricket (IANS column)

The first Test of the five-match Ashes 2023 series between England and Australia was a nail-biting affair that had one and all rooted to their seat. Australia came through successfully by showcasing a never-say-die attitude.

Their skipper Pat Cummings played a captain’s knock to get them over the line. He showed exemplary leadership qualities of shouldering and fulfilling his responsibility, both with the ball and the bat. One needed nerves of steel to take one’s team to victory and Cummings did so with a cool and calm approach.

This remarkable and engrossing Test match between two of the top sides of world cricket will go down as one that has left an indelible mark on the future of the pure and conventional form of the game. It has established a definite paradigm shift as to how Test cricket will be perceived and played in the future.

There was one team that wanted to change the paradigm and the other who wanted to feed off the other’s mistakes. In this case, the aggressor, that was England, may have been defeated, however, they did bring forth an air of excitement and joy in the way they played the game.

The field placements and positioning were a novel sight to see in Test cricket. England seemed to bring about innovation at every step of the way, unfortunately, this approach did not prove to be productive in the end.

The normally aggressive Australian side, in this case, was subdued from the very first delivery that they bowled. To have fielders patrolling the boundaries to save runs from the very onset of an Ashes Test match showed the submissive and wait-and-watch state of mind of the Australians. Zak Crawley, England’s opening batter made a statement by hitting a beautiful cover drive on the rise to the boundary off the very first ball of the match, a shot that brought a bit of worry of things to come in the mind of the Australians.

Australia, thereafter, looked to be a side trailing to go ahead, waiting rather than planning their moves. The “Bazball” attitude that England have decided to adopt is a wonderful initiative for cricket and the followers of the game, however, Test cricket needs several other ingredients in order to perform well.

Patience, a sensible approach, tenacity by never giving in, resilience and smartness were what Australia brought forth to the contest and this is what led them to their success. Loose punches and jabs in boxing may get one a few points, however, it is the final blow that gets one the Knock-out. Pat Cummings did that beautifully, when he hit two mighty sixes off Joe Root, a part-time spin bowler, to make his statement and stand tall like Sylvester Stallone did in the famous movie “Rocky” movie.

England may have lost this match, however, one could not fault the attitude and positive mindset of their captain, Ben Stokes and his band of men. It takes one back to the stories of the famous Nottingham outlaw, “Robin Hood”. The English team is a bunch of players whose aim seems to be to entertain and in doing so are willing to take the chance and risk a few defeats. One is still sceptical as to whether this will be a consistent ploy to be a successful Test unit in the end.

One has to marvel at England’s bold approach as they have made Test cricket interesting to watch. England’s aim of a result-oriented approach is necessary to keep Test cricket thriving. A 5-day affair resulting in a draw was what drove people away from watching it, the viewers and spectators want to finally see a result. This is where Ben Stokes and their coach Brendon McCullum and their merry band of players need to be appreciated.

They have brought in a paradigm shift in the way they want to play Test cricket. There will be a few hiccups to understand the best way to approach it, however, one feels this will be the trend that other teams may follow. The only question that arises is whether the onus of executing a result base directive is the responsibility of a cricket side. In the end, a nation wants to see its side winning and not being popular losers.

The two centurions of the Ashes Test match, Joe Root and Usman Khawaja, while making their runs played conventional and orthodox cricket. Although Joe Root went his merry way in the second innings scoring a quick-fire 46 runs, his wicket made a huge difference in the final outcome of the match. For Root to get stumped for the first time in his career playing a big heave and attempting to play a reverse scoop off the very first ball he faced in the second innings showed how Bazball has affected him mentally.

This is where sense and not nonsense will play its part in the future. Usman Khawaja, on the other hand, showed maturity. His innings emphasised that one need not be a shot-making superstar, but one who understands the situation better to be successful. His tenacious innings is what kept Australia afloat and stay in the hunt.

The major paradigm shift that one can see in Test cricket is that teams are becoming more result oriented. This has brought about a very positive mindset, not only in batting but in bowling and field placements as well. Limited-overs cricket is playing a major part in the way cricketers are now approaching the game. Players are taking far more risks and hence Test cricket has become much faster and better to watch.

Bazball or not, comparing Limited-Overs cricket to Test cricket is like comparing a hip-hop number to a classical masterpiece. This is why, the first Test match of the 2023 Ashes will always be remembered and embedded in the annals of cricket history for years to come.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)

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