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Ben, it’s time to mend

Updated on: 12 March,2024 07:00 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Ian Chappell |

When Stokes needed to be extremely brave as captain and hope he got lucky, he was abnormally conservative. He could improve his captaincy in demanding chases if he checked out the leadership master—Javed Miandad

Ben, it’s time to mend

England captain Ben Stokes leaves the field during the fifth Test match against India at HPCA Stadium in Dharamsala. Pic/Getty Images

Ian ChappellWe’ve seen a variety of captaincy styles during the twin Test series between the best four sides in the competition, India, England, Australia and New Zealand.

Rohit Sharma and Ben Stokes have waged an intriguing captaincy battle in their Test series. However Stokes’s aggressive leadership faltered at a crucial time and India—well led by Rohit—claimed the series with a resounding victory in the fourth Test at Ranchi.
On the third evening, Stokes desperately needed to start India’s chase with his best two bowlers and try to claim at least one wicket. Incredibly, he gave the ball to a part-timer in Joe Root and ignored the experienced, probing bowling of Jimmy Anderson. India took full advantage and scored an invaluable 40 runs off just eight overs.

Missing a trick

Stokes missed a trick in Ranchi. He then compounded his error by allowing too many easy singles on the final day as he utilised some cautious field placings. At a time when Stokes needed to be extremely brave as captain and hope he got lucky, he was abnormally conservative. “India probably would still have won but at least by going on the attack, Stokes would’ve given England its best chance of an upset victory. Stokes could improve his captaincy in demanding chases if he checked out the leadership master in those situations,” Pakistan’s Javed Miandad said.

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Rohit proceeded to take full advantage of the tentative field placings with a thoughtful innings and India’s solid opening partnership helped seal victory.

The second innings should’ve been a time to force the Indian batsmen into taking a risk but by allowing easy singles, Stokes gave his opponents the upper hand. He also needed to use the experience and guile of Anderson to try and force the issue on the third evening but instead relied on the part-time spin of Root.

The use of Root could have been an over reliance on the right-left combination to get the wicket of India’s accomplished opener in Yashasvi Jaiswal. Nevertheless there are times when captaincy hinges on gut feel rather than statistics or theories; this was such an occasion.

New Zealand’s blunder

In Wellington, New Zealand captain Tim Southee lost the plot by allowing Cameron Green and batting ‘rabbit’ Josh Hazlewood to amass a century stand for Australia’s last wicket. New Zealand made numerous mistakes in comfortably losing the Test but despite Green’s undoubted skill in shepherding the tail, Southee’s leadership blunder was monumental.

Continually dropping catches has certainly hurt New Zealand but allowing a mammoth productive tenth wicket partnership is an unpardonable sin. New Zealand’s feeble batting [they failed to reach the double century mark in either innings] called into question their tentative approach against Australia and an inability to cope with the off-spin of Nathan Lyon.

The inability to battle Australia is in sharp contrast to the New Zealand (All Blacks) rugby team. In recent years the All Blacks have been dominant against Australia on the rugby field but the opposite is true on the cricket ground.

As for playing off-spin in both India and New Zealand, some techniques have been questionable. Why do right-handers get caught at leg-slip from an off-spinner?
In fact, why are they trying to hit the ball there when there is a leg-slip in place? American baseballer ‘Wee’ Willie Keeler’s attitude of “hit ‘em where they ain’t” is equally applicable to cricket.

In the final Test in India, England again capitulated to spin—this time it was the wrist version—the talented Kuldeep Yadav.

He broke open England’s vulnerable batting order while R Ashwin plundered the bottom half as off-spin was again dominant.

This series sees India getting stronger while England are constantly being overwhelmed by spin and is fortunate it’s the final Test. Meanwhile in Christchurch, New Zealand’s capitulation continued; they slumped to a third consecutive score below two hundred, this time at the hands of Australia’s excellent pace men. Despite all the feel-good stories and bold predictions, India and Australia are still flexing their muscles as dominant teams.

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