Root and Bairstow shone but England Test team will eventually be challenged
What unfolded in the sun at Edgbaston yesterday will go down in cricketing history as England completed a record run chase of 378 to topple India and scrape a five-match series draw.
The result amounts to the pinnacle of a Ben Stokes-Brendon McCullum era in its infancy but sets out exactly how this Test side are going to play.
It seems to be a change in mindset that has altered the performance of this five-day team – the playing group isn’t significantly different to the one previously in a rut of one win in 17.
Prior to this Test, captain Stokes insisted he would stick with opener Zak Crawley despite a run of poor innings from the Kent batter and said Ben Foakes was his main keeper despite illness ruling him out.
That certainty and conviction in what Stokes says appears to have galvanised those players: Crawley had his best Test in recent months and Sam Billings, Foakes’s replacement, shone with the gloves to put pressure on the starting position.
So little has changed but everything has changed, and if this is the way England play from now on then there’s no doubt – win or loss – that the imminent future of the team is in good hands.
The root of their success
England started day five 119 behind, having lost three wickets on their 378-run chase on day four.
Former captain Joe Root and in-form Jonny Bairstow were the pair in the middle, and throughout the morning’s play yesterday they never looked remotely uncomfortable.
And by shortly after 12 noon on Tuesday they had chased down the record total – 378 runs inside 77 overs.
It looked as though the duo at the crease were competing to reach their century first, but it was Root who won the race.
The Yorkshire man knocked one for four to claim his 28th ton, much to the dismay of former India captain Virat Kohli.
In November of 2019 – just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the sporting world – the Indian, then captain, had 27 Test hundreds while Root had 16. Yesterday Root hit his 28th while Kohli remains on 27. Root surpassed 700 runs against India in this series,
Bairstow, too, is in red-hot form. Four centuries in five innings have practically made him undroppable after a year where his position in the middle order was under scrutiny.
In those five innings he has scored 589 runs in 578 balls, a rate that sounds more like it belongs in white-ball cricket than Test matches.
So it seems to be a shift in mentality, England will chase whatever the total is and will do it with ease.
The questions that now remain are what happens when they lose, and what happens when they bat first?
“It is really special to knock off 378 with just three down. It is something we’ll never forget,” said Bairstow
“The opening partnership deserves a huge amount of credit, for the way they went about it. The brand of cricket that we’re trying to play, it was epitomised by that opening stand.”
India can be blamed for a poor second innings. They were 200-plus ahead with seven wickets in hand on the fourth day; England were 119 behind with seven wickets in hand on the fifth.
Test cricket in England is in a transition – gone are the defensive days of sitting back and playing for time and in are the days of knocking it all over the park and entertaining the masses.
But England will have their challenges as all sides do, and it will be there where we see what they are really about.