Captain America: The First Avenger is a weird movie, it sees the debut of a superhero that was basically made in the lab. In the pop culture material, this is usually the way a villain is born, but this one is not about Captain America. The movie also saw the debut of a worldwide faction that fascinates me to the day, that faction is Hydra.
The famous quote “cut off a limb, and two more shall take its place” strikes an unprecedented amount of fear in the minds of anyone who hears it, and that naturally includes me. After roughly 20 months of its inception, it is fair to say that the Bazball mentality is as close as it gets to the Hydra when it comes to cricket. They are fearless, they are ruthless and they are not scared to make the sacrifice achievements on the field to push the game towards the conclusion.
Now obviously, Ben Stokes or Brendon Mccullum are not some red skull or Striker kind of figure even if they are figuratively trying to take over the world (of red ball cricket), what’s more interesting is the resemblance of the mentality and how stronger a team looks when there’s a lot of trust shown in the abilities of a player and they are allowed to play without the fear of instant criticism or being dropped (ridiculously low hopes from the English red ball setup in the past few years aside).
Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Harry Brook and Ben Duckett have all scored more than 1000 test runs in the last 20 months with Stokes being the slowest with a strike rate of 69.06 and Crawley being the least prolific averaging just 34.35.
Everyone else of the 7 has been averaging at least 46 and striking at least 74, even though Bairstow’s form has deserted him post-injury, he still averages 55 and strikes at 87 thanks to his 5-test streak of madness. This group also boasts of scoring as many as 23 centuries and overall 62 scores of 50 or more in this period.
To go with that, there are as many as 7 bowlers who have got 20 wickets or more with all-rounder Joe Root sitting at 20 wickets off 20 games, while Woakes sits at 19 wickets in 3 games for good measure. With a combined 7 fifers and everyone averaging less than 40, which might sound like a very mediocre bar to set but when you realise that this includes up to the 6th bowling option, it becomes far clearer how much of a team effort it has been.
Two 7-headed dragons with so little dependence on the individual success outside Anderson and Root who themselves house an experience of 320 tests is insane. Get one batter out and the other will attack almost instantly, attack one bowler and the other will strike, the Hydra mentality reflects a lot in the mental makeup of the current English red ball team. A lot of teams are built around working together to build the innings which is fair and sensible but the test allows for a lot of flexibility of approach throughout an innings because of the length of the format, the spread-out fields and the pitch easing out later on, which is not utilised enough by a lot of teams who have their eyes on batting long.
England’s on the other hand, look for “that” one innings or the one spell that picks the team, may it be Ollie Pope’s 196 at Hyderabad or Mark Wood’s rather simplistic 24(8) at Leeds. It is more about knowing what can shift the momentum than trying to dig down in a long-game gamble.
Just like the Hydra, England’s confidence in their resources and their chances of succeeding in a given situation is staggering and possibly something that often gets in the opposition’s mind pre-game. Many people across the game might pitch it as a smoke screen or simply something that might get exposed in certain conditions is equally fair but as pointed out previously, test cricket allows for a lot of flexibility in terms of approach which is rarely exploited by the teams and England have tapped well into it.
At the time of writing this, England play India at Vizag with the score for India standing at a rather underwhelming 336/6 on a pretty flat pitch thanks to some great bowling and some very irresponsible batting from the Indian batters despite the frontline English spinners having a combined experience of 2 tests.
With them having won in Pakistan, drawn 1-1 in NZ and standing at 1-0 in India, the future for England’s test cricket is fascinating, to say the least. Will it continue or will it fall apart at a certain, it remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain, these are going to be some exciting times for test cricket.