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Ali Martin, sports journalist, highlights that England's vision remains focused under the leadership of Ben Stokes as they approach the second Test match with a golden opportunity.
Cricket Sport

Ali Martin, sports journalist, highlights that England’s vision remains focused under the leadership of Ben Stokes as they approach the second Test match with a golden opportunity.


A golden statue of CK Nayudu, the inaugural Indian cricket captain in 1932 and a native of Andhra Pradesh, stands outside the challenging ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium nestled in the lush hills of Visakhapatnam.

It’s likely that Nayudu would have given his approval to this current England team. The plinth beneath his statue proudly displays their accomplishments, including the 153 runs scored for the Hindus against MCC at Bombay Gymkhana in late 1926. This impressive performance played a significant role in convincing the authorities of cricket that India was prepared for Test status. The innings included 14 fours, 11 sixes, and a century achieved in just 65 minutes. It’s an outstanding achievement in the world of cricket.

The strategy that has led England to 14 victories out of 19 is not solely focused on hitting the ball hard; scoring quickly is just a secondary outcome, as Stokes has consistently stated. Additionally, it is not solely about achieving those wins, which can be challenging to justify to the public due to the large number of fans who have spent money to travel to India.

However, with a 1-0 lead heading into the second Test beginning on Friday and the absences of Ravindra Jadeja and KL Rahul adding to India’s list of missing players alongside Virat Kohli and Mohammed Shami, England now have a chance as valuable as Nayudu’s statue. According to Stokes, the key two days before the match is to not dwell on it too much.

According to Stokes, there is more to the game than just focusing on the results. It is important to not let emotions dictate the outcome. While the ultimate goal is always to win, it is crucial to maintain a broader perspective and adapt to the various challenges that arise during a Test match.

“We had an amazing week, but we were aware that we still have four weeks remaining. India is a team that should never be underestimated, and we are definitely not doing so.”

England’s Zak Crawley makes his way to the nets at ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium

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At the risk of putting Stokes on a plinth himself, this outlook is one of the qualities that has made him such a compelling captain. As evidenced during the mammoth turnaround in the first Test, there is an outright refusal to ever throw in the towel. We saw this in the Test innings that immortalised Stokes, Headingley 2019, but now it is coursing through his charges.

Stokes stated that their attitude may be the reason for their success. They believe that not being solely focused on winning and instead living in the present can lead to unexpected opportunities.

“If I had not put my own personal touch as a person and a cricketer to lead the group, it would not have been beneficial for either the group or myself as a leader. I am very positive and being emotionally aware of my teammates off the field is crucial. While cricket is a game based on skill, there is also a lot of emotion involved in everything.”

Perhaps the surprise element for many these past two years has been that empathy; the kind that allowed Tom Hartley to push through a wobbly start for that match-winning nine-wicket debut last week. With Jack Leach out of the second Test, Shoaib Bashir could be thrust into the fray in Visakhapatnam despite the 20-year-old arriving late on tour and being only six first-class games to the good.

Stokes brought Bashir to the attention of Rob Key and Brendon McCullum last summer. While scrolling through social media, they came across a video of the 6ft 4in off-spinner causing problems for Alastair Cook. Bashir was practicing in the nets on Wednesday, even managing to dismiss his captain as if there was an invisible first slip. This was similar to his success against Cook during their training camp in Abu Dhabi before the tour.

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The initial encounter I had with him was through Twitter. I believe the County Championship account shared a short video of him bowling against Sir Alastair. I noticed something unique about his style – the height at which he bowled and the intense spin he put on the ball. I immediately thought that he could be a valuable asset for India.

“I am a member of a WhatsApp group with Keysy and Baz [McCullum]. It is not just about golf swings and casual topics. I shared a clip with them and suggested that it could be useful for our upcoming India tour. This sparked further discussions.”

Shoaib Bashir bowls during practice on Wednesday.

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England has various choices. According to Stokes, Rehan Ahmed’s absence from training was solely because it was a fasting day. Mark Wood is prepared to play again, and there may be a decision to make involving Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson. The pitch will play a significant role, and the groundsman was eager to keep reporters away from it on Wednesday.

This is only Visakhapatnam’s third Test, with England the first visitors in 2016 when Kohli’s flaming bat delivered 248 runs across the match – two more than Cook’s men were defeated by on a surface that began bountiful but gave way to inconsistent bounce.

India has been weakened by the absences of Kohli and Jadeja, but they must also acknowledge that they missed opportunities to secure a strong lead in the first Test. Kuldeep Yadav’s unique left-arm wrist-spin presents a fresh challenge, and it seems likely that Rajat Patidar will make his debut in the middle order based on his strong performance in sweeping during a recent practice session. The fact that England has forced India to consider new shots is a significant development.

Source: theguardian.com