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India vs England – India crumbles in the face of England’s projected short-ball blitz

The cameras have been following Brendon McCullum all summer, but this time they caught him signaling a strategy to England. “Bowl at the ribs,” he appeared to be saying, possibly to his bowlers as well as the rest of the globe. And it worked, both the strategy and the theatre that surrounded it.

Even if England missed their head coach’s letter on the fourth morning, there was only one way they were going to bowl at Shreyas Iyer, especially given how he was dismissed in the first innings. So catching men were stationed at leg slip, mid-wicket, long leg, and cow corner while Iyer dodged, swayed, and even got on top of the bounce on occasion, looking really better than his initial attempt. But, in the end, the outcome of the innings was unsurprising. Just that this time, Matty Potts, not James Anderson, had him, and the catcher was at mid-wicket rather than leg slip.

Whether it was due to the circumstances of Iyer’s dismissal or something else, England did not stop with the short ball. Potts was meaner with his lengths on the other side of the drinks break; Shardul Thakur would know what I mean. He didn’t have another one in him after ducking straight into a short ball and holed out to fine leg.

The fact that Rishabh Pant, a prolific backfoot player, was caught reverse-sweeping Jack Leach was a shot in the arm for England, who could now pursue their short-ball strategy with double the zeal at both ends.

England also did a good job of containing Ravindra Jadeja, India’s in-form and last recognized batter, at one end. The left-only hander’s boundary during his 58-ball stay at the crease came off an outside edge, increasing the pressure on him to the point where he was bowled while attempting to cut a delivery that was too near to him. The wicket came in the midst of a brilliant stint from Ben Stokes during lunch, a spell that also claimed Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah and meant that India had lost their last six wickets for 55 runs. It’s little surprise that England starter Alex Lees regarded Stokes’ period as the “defining moment” of the day.

“It was our bowling that got us back into the game. Stokes’ spell completely changed the game. That was the turning point in my life. We might easily have chased 450 or 500,” Lees explained.

Vikram Rathour, India’s batting coach, bemoaned India’s “average” day with the bat and their inability to bat England out of the game.

“I will admit that we had a pretty ordinary day in terms of batting,” Rathour stated. “We had the upper hand. In the game, I reasoned. We were in a situation where we could have easily knocked them out of the game, but it didn’t happen. Many folks got started but were unable to convert them. We expected one of them to have a big knock and a major collaboration.”

Rathour said that England’s short-ball technique was completely predictable, but India was caught off guard in the absence of a “better strategy” to cope with it.

“They bowled short balls as part of a strategy.” I won’t say we should have exhibited more intent, but we could have surely demonstrated a better strategy in response. We may have approached it differently. People attempted shots but were unable to execute them adequately. We need a better strategy for dealing with short balls.

England’s day began with wide off-breaks at Rishabh Pant and ended with the prospect of their biggest run-chase in Test cricket. Given the indicators from this summer, they might not even need McCullum’s advice.