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England must understand that entertaining cricket does not always equate to strategic cricket. - Mark Ramprakash
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England must understand that entertaining cricket does not always equate to strategic cricket. – Mark Ramprakash


Stokes reached a milestone in his career by playing his 100th Test in Rajkot last week. Prior to the event, there were numerous enthusiastic profiles and articles written about him, depicting him as almost superhuman, with his own unique style and approach. He was hailed as an inventive, forward-thinking captain. However, the world of sports has a way of humbling one, and India certainly did just that.

I do not wish to diminish the accomplishments of Stokes. While attending the Ashes series at Lord’s and the Oval last summer, I conducted Q&A sessions with fans during lunch breaks. The public was undoubtedly captivated by his team. As captain, he inherited a struggling and losing group. However, he has relieved the pressure, united them, and provided them with a successful approach.

But I am left thinking, is that what success is? Is it success for a team to entertain the public whether they win, lose or draw? Or is success getting the job done: winning matches, winning series, competing for the World Test Championship? I don’t for a moment believe Stokes thinks it’s all crash, bang, wallop. The evidence for that is his superb innings in the 2019 World Cup final, when he adapted better than anyone to a slow wicket, and in the way he constructed his magnificent century against Australia at Headingley a few weeks later.

He is an analytical cricketer and his 100th Test match will be a humbling experience. It seems that as captain, he has only completed part of his goal. He has improved the morale of his team, but there is still room for improvement in their mentality.

On the third day, India had a score of 207 for two after their initial score of 445, and Ravichandran Ashwin was absent due to a family emergency. A strategic team would have aimed to reduce the deficit, tire out India’s bowlers, and gain an advantageous position. However, England’s team performed poorly and fell apart instead.

While observing, I reflected on successful football teams and their determination to stay focused, prioritizing physical dominance before winning matches. I recalled Tiger Woods’ exceptional performance, understanding the need for strategic thinking and game knowledge when securing tournament victories, as well as the mental fortitude that propelled Novak Djokovic to 24 grand slam titles. The exceptional athletes and teams possess certain traits that are currently lacking in England.

The issue is that they may not fully recognize this fact. They are focused on playing their sport and being performers, both on and off the field. At times, their press conferences resemble the brash speeches of Muhammad Ali, like when Ben Duckett boldly stated “they can have as many as they want and we’ll still come out on top.” While Ali was a charismatic entertainer, he earned the title of “the Greatest,” and though Duckett’s first-innings century was impressive, he is not on that same level.

India’s Yashasvi Jaiswal hits the ball through the off side during his double century in the Third Test.

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Is Joe Root reminded of his first-innings dismissal, where he attempted a reverse ramp shot and ended up hitting the ball straight to slip? If their only objective is to provide entertainment, then this is completely in line with their brand and they don’t need to go through any criticism, self-reflection, or honesty.

I often ponder if there is a fundamental lack of seriousness in the cricketers we are developing. Several county academies prioritize power hitting and encourage young players to maintain a strike rate of over 100, even in situations where the pitch and match conditions are not suited for it. Rather than focusing on skill development, these young players are urged to not worry and simply enjoy the game. Where are the future Test run-scorers and how are they being nurtured?

I learned about Yashasvi Jaiswal, who achieved his second score of 200+ runs in the series in Rajkot, and his remarkable childhood and upbringing – leaving home at the age of 11, residing in a tent for two years, and selling street food. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to his English counterparts. Ollie Pope and Zak Crawley are excellent players who grew up attending private schools like Cranleigh and Tonbridge.

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England was defeated by 434 runs in the third Test, but Stokes remains optimistic about their chances to win the series 3-2. It’s expected for him to have a positive outlook. Although it’s crucial to learn from losses, there’s no use in dwelling on them. When they were 2-0 behind in the Ashes, they used it as motivation to improve and focus. Now, facing a similar situation with a 2-1 deficit in away conditions, they must do the same.

The team has a number of highly skilled players, and Duckett, Pope, and Crawley have shown significant improvement during this tour. However, some of the more experienced members of the squad are having a tough time – Jonny Bairstow’s average is 17, Root’s is 12.83, Ben Foakes has yet to make a significant impact, and Stokes is hoping for better performances from himself. It’s possible that the team’s carefree attitude, which may have contributed to their current situation, could also help them bounce back from it. If there’s one team that has the ability to move past a poor result and start fresh, it’s this one.

After suffering a humiliating loss, England is currently one game behind with two games left to play. On paper, their bowling team is not as strong as their opponent’s. While they have played enjoyable cricket in the past, they may need to strategize more effectively, as demonstrated by Stokes on his best days. The team will rely on his leadership to keep them united and motivated, viewing the remaining matches as chances for success.

He has already had a fabulous career and it is a remarkable achievement to play 100 Tests and to create such a fun side. As he starts on his second century, he needs to focus on creating a winning one.

Source: theguardian.com