England’s newest Test cap, Sam Curran, is the reason that Test cricket is great, writes SIMON LEWIS.
I don’t mean Curran himself is the actual reason, rather that he symbolises Test cricket’s true greatness. A very decent young player with huge potential, Curran produced an excellent all-round performance in this match with bat and ball and, throughout, he played with the intensity demanded by Test cricket.
However, in England’s 1,000th Test match, you might have anticipated that the script would dictate that the Player of the Match award would go to Test legends and luminaries such as Alastair Cook, Jimmy Anderson or Stuart Broad, players who top England’s all-time caps, runs, catches and wickets lists for their country. Or, of course, India’s kingpin, Virat Kohli. Surely not a one-Test newbie such as Curran?
In this match, there were candidates for the Player of the Match award such as Kohli (149 and 51), Joe Root (80) and Ben Stokes (2-73 and 4-40). Ravichandran Ashwin took 4-62 and 3-59, Ishant Sharma was great value for his 1-46 and 5-51, Mohammed Shami snared 3-64, while Jonny Bairstow scored 70 off 88 balls in the first innings, 28 off 40 in the second, and took five catches in India’s second innings. Some pretty beefy performances in that lot.
However, the match-winning performance came from Curran, something which would have surprised all the pundits. Batting at No 8 for England, he scored an important 24 off 71 balls in the first innings, then rocked India’s top order by taking 4-74 with some incisive bowling (albeit expensive at times). He followed up his great start with a truly match-winning innings of 63 from just 65 balls, as he single-handedly lifted England from staring defeat in the mouth at 86-6, to a more competitive score of 180 all out, with his 63 runs forming the bulk of the 94 runs scored while he was at the crease.
Without Curran’s contribution with the bat in the second innings, India would likely have had a fairly comfortable stroll to victory.
In India’s second innings, Curran only bowled six overs, as Anderson, Broad and Stokes bombarded the batsmen with high-quality pace and movement. Nonetheless, Curran took one wicket for just 18 runs – and that wicket carried a high value in the context of the match. Curran had Ajinkya Rahane (India’s third top Test run-scorer in the side) caught behind by Bairstow for two, just as he and Kohli were looking settled at the crease and ready to establish the match-winning partnership India needed.
‘I can’t take it in,’ he said when receiving the award. ‘It’s all so special, it feels like I’m dreaming. I tried to take it as another game but it is quite hard when the Barmy Army is chanting down there, and you’ve got world-class players on show, and I’m just on my second game, trying to learn my way. But it’s awesome. I’m just taking it in.
‘To be honest, I was trying to learn a bit from Virat in the first innings, when he batted with the tail. A few came out of the middle and I was lucky enough to get a few runs,’ said the humble assassin.
The incredible thing about Test cricket is that it creates the environment in which inexperienced or struggling players can stand up and own a Test match, just like Botham did in 1981. Or seasoned pros can be left red-faced and embarrassed after failing to find their form. It keeps everyone on their toes and honest, and ensures a game of intrigue that is character-building and suspenseful, right down to the last dropped catch.
‘Playing Test cricket in front of these big crowds, with all these players I’ve seen growing up. Stokesy, Jimmy, Broady, I’m just trying to learn a bit every day,’ added Curran.
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