The Pope, Bazball double whammy that hurt India | Cricket

England’s victory in Hyderabad was one of the finest in their history. A dramatic come-from-behind win against a side virtually unbeatable in home conditions, represents a truly epic achievement for Ben Stokes’ side.

England’s Ben Stokes celebrates with Ollie Pope and teammates after winning the first Test match(REUTERS)

What was particularly sweet was how the defining performances of the Test came from those who initially struggled in the contest. On debut, Tom Hartley took some tap in the first innings, before returning to bowl his side to victory on the final day – just the second visiting bowler to take a winning five-fer in India this century. While England took plenty of criticism for their focus on attributes over scorecards when selecting Hartley – his high release point was identified as a significant win – they were proved right within four days of the series beginning.

Stay tuned for all the latest updates on Ram Mandir! Click here

Perhaps an even greater turnaround was that of Ollie Pope. Having struggled on the opening day (and on his previous visit to India), England’s vice-captain responded by playing one of the best Test innings you’ll ever see. 196 (278), dragging the visitors from a 190 run deficit to a match-winning lead, Pope’s performance was everything that England have been in recent years: outrageous, unexpected, and outstanding.

In 2021, England started just as well. On that occasion, their series-opening win was built on the back of another big ton from the middle order, with Joe Root’s 218 (536) the basis of a huge first innings total which dictated the shape of the game. Another similarity with Pope’s knock was the constant use of a wide range of sweep shots – indeed, the 48 runs Root plundered from the sweep during that innings is the third most scored against India since records began. It took a longer time for those sweeps to be played (7% of Root’s shots that day were sweeps, compared to 13% for Pope this week), but there was a through-line.

However, the difference in those sweeps is how clinically they were executed. Root’s sweeping led to a false shot just 10% of the time; for Pope, it was 33%. Indeed overall Pope’s innings had a false shot percentage of 21%, among the highest we’ve seen for Test centuries by visiting batters in India. If Root’s masterpiece was the classical orthodoxy of the Mona Lisa, Pope’s was ultra-modern art, as interesting and beautiful for what it’s rejecting than for what’s happening on the field.

Indeed, criticising Pope’s innings for lacking in control is to fundamentally misunderstand the game you are watching, and the doctrine that this England side have been preaching for two years. Almost all data analysis, across a wide range of sports, suggests that players should be more aggressive than they are. Nerves, pressure, external factors beyond their control all typically conspire to make athletes remain orthodox, to play more like everyone else, because if you look like everyone else nobody will call you a fool. In many ways England are a perfect example of why athletes remain close to the orthodoxy, given that even their prolonged success – Stokes currently stands as the second most successful Test captain in the sport’s history, by win percentage alone – has drawn ridicule and anger from opposition and often even their own fans.

However, they are a far greater example of what can happen if athletes do move away from the orthodoxy. England are systematically trying to remove the effect of those nerves and that pressure, to operate far closer to what is optimal and to remove the obstacles standing in their way. They are trying to bat with risk, to operate outside of the usual trade-offs in red ball batting. Even without consideration that with defensive fields becoming an orthodox response to Bazball’s unorthodoxy, and thus England’s false shots being far less likely to lead to a wicket, Pope’s embracing of risk is the genius of the knock, and a testament to the qualities of this leadership group.

Across the Test as a whole, England’s batters attacked 54% of the balls bowled to them. That’s the highest figure for any team in India since records began in 2006, and it’s also the 6th highest for any team in any Test across that period.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. As said, England also took a 1-0 lead in the 2021 series, before succumbing to three successive defeats on exaggerated surfaces that left their batting helpless. Winning individual Tests on tour is always an achievement, particularly in this part of the world, but series wins are the true marker. India themselves managed victories in 2014, 2018, and 2021 when visiting England, and yet they ultimately go down as a missed opportunity at best, and a failure at worst. The injuries to KL Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja, the absence of Virat Kohli – England have earned their lead, but they have been given an outstanding opportunity to extend it to something formidable.

– CricViz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *