Circular Firing Squad

Sometimes it’s hard to escape the nagging feeling that the ECB  appears to actively dislike its own sport.  It’s also easy to think they are deliberately and specifically trying to kill county cricket, particularly in its four day format.  It’s one of those thoughts that passes through a mind, dismissed as ludicrous, but re-appearing with every new announcement that appears intended to do exactly that.  The Hundred, the marginalisation of the county championship to the edges of the season (and a rather odd celebration in some quarters when a couple of fixtures are not at those margins), the apparently deliberate disdain for its existing audience.  The notion seems preposterous, but if it were to happen, it’s hard to believe the attempt would be done much differently to the way it is now.

There needs to be some full disclosure here:  I am not and never have been a passionate adherent of county cricket – it’s been a matter of relative indifference to me except as a pathway to the international sides, while club cricket was always my focus, with a healthy (or unhealthy depending on who you speak to) disdain for the conduct of the counties over the years.  To that extent, I don’t have an emotional bond to that strata of the game, more a recognition of how vital it is as a cog in the larger wheel, albeit one that could have been managed rather differently over the last fifty years.

And yet, at the same time, I also recognise how much it matters to many others, not least the other writers on this site, who have been spectators at many more games than I have, and who care about the tables and outcomes far more than I do.  That’s just me, I don’t defend it, and I don’t propound it, it’s just how it is.  And yet the finalisation of the format of the Hundred, to start the year after next, remains a subject to stoke my ire, due to the sheer arrogance of its creation and the dismissal of any opposition to it as somehow irrelevant.  Few businesses can survive with such a lofty view of those who might attend, and since the ECB have gone down the route of being a pseudo-business in the first place, it’s a fair stick with which to beat them.  New audiences are all very well, but existing ones are much easier to keep than winning brand new ones – indeed creating an entirely new market would be considered as nigh on impossible in equivalent circles.

Here, a reminder of why the Hundred is deemed necessary is worthwhile.  There is already a T20 tournament in place, but the deal with Sky for exclusive rights to it meant that there was no chance of any of it being free to air.  And the ECB have belatedly realised that their decision to remove any visibility for the sport has had catastrophic effects – the plummeting participation levels being one obvious result.  Therefore a second competition was necessary, one that could be sold to free to air television, at least in part, while also flogging it off to pay TV for more money.  I say sold, but the rumours are that the BBC are picking it up for peanuts, so desperate are the ECB to at least have some degree of public awareness it’s going on.

Having decided that a second short form competition is essential, the ECB were faced with a couple of problems – firstly to shorten it somewhat (although it should be noted that in all the early announcements it was stated to be a T20 competition, and presumably the BBC knew it), and second to give it at least some differentation from the Blast.  Hence the mad scramble for something shorter and with different playing conditions.  Likewise, the franchise idea came about by noting how other countries had fewer teams to make it work, and as a rather useful way of bypassing the counties themselves, given the feeling that 18 sides is too many.  An irony here is that in football, the very strength of the game in England is that there are so many teams – something other countries view with envy.  For cricket here it is deemed a problem, and not an opportunity.

Naturally, a smaller competition means that brand new teams need to be created, and thus the desire for city based franchises came along, preferably with a ready made audience who might affiliate with the urban centres in which they were based.  The trouble was, it was still going to be just another T20 tournament, and one that might even make sense as a financial centrepiece, were it not for there already being a competition in place that provided that.  So why not fiddle around with all the rules and make it “simpler” through various initiatives to render it vastly more complex?  And here we are with the Hundred, a format no one really wants, and no one asked for, all to fit around a succession of requirements forced on the ECB by their own actions and their own long term goal.

The confirmation of five or ten ball “overs” to fit the decimal headline number smacks entirely of trying to force a game into a title, and while it is hardly sacrilegeous to change the number of balls (8 ball overs were a thing for many years – indeed in order to shorten what became T20 many clubs have for years played 15 x 8 ball overs in evening leagues), it is the attempt to present a solution to a mathematical problem of their own making as somehow revolutionary that generates sarcastic responses.

Still, it’s going to happen, and despite the self-imposed strait-jacket, it will doubtless cause some initial interest, simply as something new, and as an event.  It may even catch on, given that the pressure from gambling broadcasters and governing bodies for ever shorter and more numerous forms of cricket is certainly there – as evidenced with T10 tournaments.  If it does, then the question of what happens to the T20 Blast will come up, for that competition can be seen as something of an barrier to what the ECB wish to achieve here – sidelining the annoying self-interested counties and producing a competition that can attract international attention for the benefit of the self-interested ECB.  It’s easy to be sceptical about the ECB’s motives (usually because being sceptical about their motives proves the correct attitude), but the current season structure is not going to be sustainable in the long term, and the creation of franchises moves the professional game in the direction that the avaricious will far prefer.

The other fly in the ointment is the county championship itself.  Although it ought to be a proving ground for Test cricket, the changing nature of Test cricket itself (and the selection of short form specialists to the team) has rendered it less vital in the eyes of those who must be obeyed.  It’s a nuisance – it takes too long, the crowds are small, and the counties need to be subsidised to play in it.  Why would anyone want such a competition when there’s so much money to be made elsewhere?  Thus, the heart of the season has been given over almost entirely to limited overs matches of one form or another, whether domestic or international, with the annoying red ball cricket kept out of the way, like an embarrassing uncle.  Some might argue that it could be nurtured and helped, a format of cricket that needs assistance rather than contempt, but this is not the way the ECB do things.

Having in 2018 created a fixture list that managed to avoid any cricket on a bank holiday (people might go along and watch – can’t have that), for 2019 they have gone the extra mile, avoiding any matches at the weekend where possible, and ensuring that those who work for a living won’t have a chance of getting along to see any play.  The sarcasm is justified, because there are only two possibilities here – firstly that the ECB are so completely incompetent that arranging fixtures at a time people might be able to go is something they’ve never considered, or that it is deliberate.  Despite the feeling that ineptitude is written into the ECB’s mission statement, they can’t possibly be that lacking in basic ability, so it can only be on purpose.  A deliberate decision to make the county championship even less accessible to spectators.  A deliberate decision to make membership of a county even less attractive.  A deliberate decision to turn away people who love the game.

Those who go and watch county cricket might be relatively few in number compared to other sports, but they are also very often the people involved in grass roots cricket, administrators and volunteers – those whose passion for the game exceeds the casual spectator by orders of magnitude.  They get laughed at and belittled, including by some members of the press, let alone the ECB who are supposed to be on the same damn side, but these people have a disproportionate value to the game that goes far beyond them sitting isolated under a blanket at New Road.  All ignored.  All treated with contempt.

This scornful attitude is why those who insist the Hundred is given a chance are missing the point.  It’s not that it can’t succeed, it’s not even that it won’t succeed, for even some free to air live coverage has a chance of generating interest far beyond the niche sport cricket currently is.  It is that the ECB really do not care about taking those who love the game with them.  They have no interest in trying to manage the 21st century commercial realities with the responsibilities that their supposed husbandry of the game of cricket in England and Wales ought to instil.  The dash for cash is the primary aim, the actual game of cricket a cipher, not the end in itself.

Those who play up and down the country are irrelevant.  Those who love cricket for the sake of the game they grew up with are irrelevant, unless they can be switch-sold and monetised.  The game of cricket itself is irrelevant, it is merely a means.  And that is the reason for the anger, not messing around with the rules, not trying to square a circle that wouldn’t be easy in any circumstances.  It’s that they don’t care about you, they don’t care about me.  That you played the game all your life is no more than a footnote, that you watch the game only of value in so far as you can be added up in revenue stream.

The ECB.  The only sports governing body that regards the game for which they are responsible as a hindrance to their aims.

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I Know That Job You Got Leaves You So Uninspired – The 2018 BOC Poll

Come on people, one last push for 2018. It’s poll time, and we need you to participate to make this work.

First up, the most important input. We have Mount Cricketmore – four personalities that embody cricket in the country, if you are an insider – and each year I will put one up for re-election.

BOC Rushmore v2

In my editorial judgement, Giles Clarke and Mike Selvey are firmly carved into our rock, and their term of office, should we last that long, will mean Selvey up in 2021, Clarke up in 2020. With Harrison seen as the architect of the Hundred, and its debut due for 2020, having him up for re-election right before then will see his name go forward in 2019. So this year the decision is should Simon Hughes be replaced. Before we do that, we need a candidate.

Now, I’ve been racking my brains for potential replacements, and am not coming up with much outside of one. So with all due deference to perennial annoyances like Paul Newman, Alastair Cook’s fanboys and girls, Piers Morgan or whoever else takes our fancy, there seems one obvious candidate. It is a vote off between:

1, Simon Hughes stays

2. Colin Graves is carved into stone.

Now we have the key business over with, now to the other essential votes. Either do so by posting them on the comments or to me at dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk – or our collective e-mail if you know where to find it!

  1. Best Journalist of the Year
  2. Worst Journalist of the Year
  3. Best TV / Radio Commentator of the Year
  4. Worst TV / Radio Commentator of the Year
  5. England international cricketer of the Year
  6. World international cricketer of the Year
  7. Best innings by an England player in international cricket
  8. Best innings by an international player in international cricket
  9. The worst thing about cricket in 2018
  10. The best thing about cricket in 2018

Finally

11. Any ideas for the blog?

12. Your views on social media going forward.

13. Any good cricket books you have read that you could recommend?

I always look forward to your feedback, and hopefully we can do something with the results over the Christmas period.

Thanks in advance!

There’s A Kind Of Hush

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Sunset over New Jersey. A Metaphor, perhaps?

Hello from the USA. Where play in the recently concluded series started at 11:30 at night (Eastern Standard Time), where I still cared enough to wake up to check out the score, and am pleased that this team, without needing the help of the really old guard, did something quite special. Never underestimate a team winning in totally alien conditions, no matter what the opposition might be (and Sri Lanka were not as bad as some are painting them to be), and with the results they’ve had in the past couple of years in their own back yard against teams from outside of Asia. 3-0 is a fine result. Well done to England, and to some of the new blood that came up trumps.

This blog has been, quite rightly, very critical of England, and for people jumping on bandwagons at the merest hint of some green shoots. Now we have some, with an eclectic old line-up gelling in the most unlikely fashion at times, and people are rushing to say how crap the opposition has been. I have to smile. Yes, really. That I watched very little of the series, due to circumstances beyond my control, is of little importance. England seem to have a very fresh, yes, I’m using that word, and enthusiastic approach. Whether this is a long-term viable product, who the hell knows, but let’s enjoy this for something that it is, a substantial win in the sub-continent.

I tongue in cheek said on Twitter that when KP was let go for cricketing reasons we promptly lost at home to Sri Lanka – who can forget six inches further carry, two balls, or more importantly, Day Fucking Four at Headingley – while once Cook has been cast aside the team won 3-0, and hell, another opener made a century! I’m not being totally serious, but let me be serious in saying that if the events had been reversed – a whitewash when KP was jettisoned, an embarrassing loss when Cook retired, the media would not have been able to have helped themselves. You think not. One word, one innings. Cook. Southampton.

Yes, there’s always those two hanging over us, but let’s, as the phrase was so readily thrown about, move on. England get a break now before their next tour to the West Indies in early 2019, before we get into the World Cup and then the Ashes. Oh, and a slipped in test vs Ireland. Prices to keep us all very happy, but lots of cricket to comment upon.

Which then brings us, or me, to the blog. 2018 has been a hell of a year. From a personal standpoint it isn’t one I’ll look back on with any great joy, certainly compared to 2017. Losing a family member, even if it is, in the eyes of some “only a dog” has been crushing. Anyone who read the piece on my other blog will know how it devastated both my wife and I. As a childless couple, he was our focus, and without it we are a couple of lost souls at the moment. Being with family in the US has been good, but it’s not really a holiday (it’s bloody freezing and we have a high wind alert for tomorrow), rather a break before we come back next week. I started 2018 fed up with the aftermath of Cook’s 244 not out, and the utter twaddle that followed it, and then endured a summer that was tiresome and wearisome. I lost some of the will to write about cricket, and am not sure I have it back. There’s a lot less to be angry about with this England team, given I like a lot of the players in the team now (though not sure they should all be there), and Surrey gave me a real boost. But my writing is driven by feeling passionate about something, and I’m just not that passionate about English cricket. I’m also phenomenally busy at work – this two week break has been a godsend to get away from that – and cricket takes up less of my time.

In a way that leads me on to the cricket calendar which has been announced for the counties today. As a Surrey fan I’m surprised we’ve given two games to Guildford – Somerset and Yorkshire in June – and while I know that is down to the World Cup, it would have been great if one of them had been at Whitgift. We have Kent at Beckenham, and also, at home, on my big birthday next year. Could be something. The Blast is an irrelevance to me, angry old git that I am, but the calendar is full of games from Monday to Thursday, and that really doesn’t sit right, does it? Add to that we’ll be messing about with the format again next season (2020) and all the joy that the It’s A Knockout imitation of cricket will bring, and it’s really a case of we’ll have to lump it in 2019 because the bad stuff is around the corner.

That’s it. A shrug of the shoulders. Hardly the firebrand passion, eh, you lot?

What else can I put in a post entitled after a bloody Carpenters song? I read Geoff Lemon’s book “Steve Smith’s Men”, and as the saying goes, it was a game of two halves. Lemon tries too damned hard to be a Haigh or Ronay (one of those is good, one, not so) and instead just becomes annoying with idiotic culture references, or stupid analogies. The part of the book dealing with the Ashes is dull, and at times, genuinely annoying. I read the book in a couple of sittings, intending to do a full review, but the annoyance meant I decided not to – and also making notes on a Kindle book is really a pain in the arse.

When the book turns to the crisis itself, the cracks show. Australia truly still does not get it, if this is to be believed. The whole “gotcha” is explained as an elaborate South African TV plot to gain an advantage. While Lemon, to his credit, explains that a similar ruse by Channel 9 against Anderson in the Ashes was a joke, here he seems to castigate the South Africans for being on their guard to catch them. Dash them setting up security cameras to ensnare the burglars! Look, here are the stupid Aussies falling into the snare. Just not cricket. What followed was media mismanagement, a witch hunt that damaged already damaged people, with Smith made to look like some autistic genius, with only one thing in his life, a cartoon character of just one dimension. Warner was imbued with several layers – an amusing anecdote that in grade cricket David Warner was ranked number 2 in the worst sledger poll, behind his brother was a good one – but there was more sympathy and complexity put on him, rather than Smith. Bancroft is seen as some willing accomplice, faithful and happy, wanting to do anything to please his masters, but in the earlier part of the book where it deals with the Bairstow headbutt, Lemon’s interpretation of Bancroft’s stand up routine is a lot more charitable than some. Let’s put it this way, if Bancroft were English, and Malcolm Conn was in charge of adjudication, the results might not have been the same.

Lemon has a little old go at the management in Cricket Australia – apparently Haigh goes to town on them in his book – and makes several excellent points about how the wheels turn there. Some, I’ve seen, sided with the authorities over the players in the dispute last year, but the clear inference here is that the chief shop steward for the players in that impasse was David Warner. Anyone want to hazard a guess how Warner might have been stuck out on the limb as the true bad guy might start from there. Who knows? I like a good conspiracy theory.

It’s an OK read, no more. I hated the writing style, but that’s a personal choice. Did it tell me a lot I didn’t know? Not really. Did it give some meaningful insights? Yes in patches. Did him constantly name-checking other journos get on my nerves? Oh yes.

There’s a lot to write on Australia, going through the image crisis they are at the moment, but we do have a nice looking test series coming up between them and India. I’ll hope to catch some of that in the next few weeks, knowing I have blown all my potential Christmas leave in the meantime which doesn’t give me a lot of chance. The first test in the Emirates was a classic between Pakistan and New Zealand, and the second test historic. There was a pretty decent game between Bangladesh and West Indies, Zimbabwe won a test away from home, and all three games in Sri Lanka were really decent matches. Test cricket is lovable, people get passionate about it. Think anyone would give a stuff about ball tampering in an ODI?

Okey dokey. It’s nearly 11 pm here in Cape May, New Jersey and I’ll have to be signing off as the wind rattles the window frames. We are 150 yards from the sea here, so hopefully nothing too alarming (we had three inches of rain on Monday, Crowded House wrote a song about that). Have a good one, and will be in touch soon. Possibly with an end of year poll and some awards…. You never know.

Peter (Dmitri)

Sri Lanka vs. England, 3rd Test – open thread

We’re all tucked up with work and other things at the moment and judging by the comments (or lack of them during the series), then it hardly seems appropriate to write a preview of a dead rubber Test Match.

Whether we decide to daily reports depends on the interest level of the Test – I.e. no interest, then I doubt we’ll make the time to do a daily report, after all we’re not professional writers just 4 guys who are/have been passionate about cricket.

For those that wish to, then please feel free to comment on the game below.

Sri Lanka vs England, 2nd Test: Victory

That England took the last three wickets to fall relatively quickly is not so surprising, that England have taken the series reasonably comfortably perhaps is. Sri Lanka certainly aren’t the side they were, and have a better justification for the usual excuse for defeat (“rebuilding”) than most do, but it remains a difficult place to go, as South Africa found to their cost only a few months ago.

England haven’t won an away series of any description for three years, and haven’t won in Asia/UAE for six, so there should be a recognition that this is a meritorious achievement. Perhaps most strikingly, they did so through their spinners, Leach, Rashid and Moeen all performing well, and perhaps surprising a few people. Nasser Hussain won a series as captain there, and observed afterwards that by creating pitches exceptionally conducive to turn, the hosts brought England’s more limited slow bowlers into the game – it may be that the same error has been made here again.

Certainly Leach has come out of the series to date with credit, but Moeen Ali for one has also to some degree answered those who maintained his away record was too poor for consideration. It’s just two Tests of course, and doesn’t alter what went before, but nor can it be ignored when he does do well. As for Adil Rashid, he remains a potent weapon, and if perhaps a luxury at times, that’s what wicket takers often are.

Perhaps the difference most of all was to be found in Joe Root’s century, as is often the case when a standout player raises himself to levels others cannot match. Pietersen did that in Colombo on a previous tour, appearing to be playing a different level to everyone else, and if not quite so startling this time, Root certainly showed he is a player of rare ability. There has been too much focus on his failure to convert fifties into hundreds and too little on his ability in the first place in recent times, a batsman being held responsible for the failures of others.

As for the openers, they have performed creditably enough. In neither case can they be said to have permanently cemented themselves, but equally neither has the Cook of the last few years been missed. In a match where it has been so spin friendly that England’s seamers failed to take a single wicket, to come out on top having made contributions counts as a win on more than one level.

England have endless problems off the field, but at times on it they simply deserve credit. This is one of those. A fine win, and a better series win.

Sri Lanka vs England: 2nd Test, Day Four

The whole period between October and December passes in something of a blur for me, a succession of work trips and meetings meaning that opening the front door is vaguely reminiscent of greeting a long lost relative you kind of recognise. Thus it was that plans to wake up early to watch a Test match failed utterly – late to sleep, late to rise and the persistent nagging question as to whether it’s possible to suffer jetlag on a flight back from Belfast.

Day one of this Test happened without realising it, day two similar, day three, yep you’ve got it, and day four was more a case of “oh yes, there’s cricket on. Actually this looks quite a good game”. At such times, with obliviousness concerning the actual game, a fall back to general awareness seems to be the best approach, namely that a target of 300 is a very stiff one, and that in such circumstances the chances are that there’ll be a decent stab at it, before wickets start to fall and the batting side ultimately fall short after a “crucial” wicket falls some time deep into the run chase.

For Test matches do follow a pattern. Not in the same way that ODIs or especially T20s do, where the formula is repeated each time with little variance, but more an echo of the several thousand games over a century and a half, with certain tropes to be followed and specific truths to be obeyed. The other part of this is that the wider public insist on refusing to see the evidence before their eyes and taking an entirely different view of what is going on.

Thus it is that 300+ targets are considered not just achievable (which they obviously are) but not too much more than a walk in the park. To point out that 300 has been chased a mere thirty times in Test cricket over a couple of thousand matches is met with surprise, bordering on disbelief. Now, of course the nature of the game is that fourth innings run chases aren’t a given in a game, while setting or achieving lower targets takes out another bundle, and then there are the dull draws, the games where it rains throughout (and not just in Manchester) and where teams batter another by an innings, so it isn’t quite such a small proportion, but it is somewhat rare. The persistence with which 300 is considered eminently gettable remains one of the odder cricketing beliefs out there.

There are other contradictions to the perceived wisdom held – Moeen Ali taking wickets out here appears to be taking fans’ cognitive dissonance to a whole new level – but it remains endlessly striking that the desperation for a wicket with 120 runs to get coincides so often with that wicket falling. Today, the unlucky man was Angelo Mathews, the latest player to fulfil his role as the “if only” candidate of a run chase.

75 runs to get, 3 wickets to fall. This is the kind of scenario where people set the alarms in anticipation of a thriller, only to see two wickets fall in the first over, or to watch the rain fall for three hours while contemplating the lost comforts of a duvet. And yet, once in a while that thriller happens, just enough to ensure everyone thinks they don’t want to miss it, while at the back of the mind the nagging certainty that it’s going to be a waste of time keeps sticking up a hand and telling the viewer not to bother. And that is quite a special attraction, to know that it could just be worth it.

I’m not going to get up early to watch the denouement. Oh I might. Maybe I will. Maybe I’ll oversleep. Oh who knows? But it’s fun when it gets like this anyway. See you tomorrow. Possibly.

Sri Lanka v England, 2nd Test Day 3 – Sweeps

There were three central themes to today’s batting performance by England: No one batting in the right position, sweep shots and terrible reviews.

The first of these was in large part caused by England’s 16th opener since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012, Jack Leach. Selected for his lack of ability at batting, he had survived the single over he had to face the night before. Showing the kind of longevity most England openers in recent years have demonstrated, he got himself out for just one run having only faced four more deliveries. Missing a wild sweep, Leach was struck plumb in front of the stumps and was given out LBW.

This brought out England’s new number three, Keaton Jennings. Perhaps helped by the fact that Sri Lanka’s only seamer wasn’t facing him, he and Burns actually formed a useful partnership and added 73 runs before Jennings was dismissed gloving an attempted reverse sweep to slip.

At this point, most people expected Ben Stokes to bat next. He batted at three in the first innings, so it was surely his turn? As it turns out, Root is so comfortable batting at four that he still does it even if a nightwatchman messes up the order. Rory Burns continued his rapid accumulation of runs, making his maiden Test fifty at almost a-run-a-ball, before being given out LBW attempting a sweep shot. Unfortunately, Burns (with his captain’s full support) reviewed what appears to have been a contender for plumbest LBW decision in the history of Test cricket, utterly wasting a precious review.

Ben Stokes clearly didn’t take being demoted from three to five particularly well, because he was dismissed second ball in a very similar manner to Burns. Sweep shot, given out LBW, and wasting England’s second review. The tourists were in the familiar position of 109-4, although this time it did include a nightwatchman.

Root and Buttler continued playing aggressively and added another 74 runs until Jos Buttler jumped outside off stump to play a reverse sweep and the delivery from Akila Dananjaya spun behind him and he could only edge the ball onto the stumps. This brought Moeen to the crease as England’s number seven, and he hit his second ball for six. Unfortunately for him, and as heavily foreshadowed earlier in this post, he was soon given out LBW whilst sweeping despite the impact being clearly outside the line of the stumps. Unfortunately Burns and Stokes had already used up both of England’s appeals, so he had to go.

Moeen’s bad luck brought Ben Foakes to the crease, and together with Root they pushed England towards a total which might trouble Sri Lanka, particularly on this pitch. The ball had spun with variable bounce throughout the day, and it was starting to get very tricky to bat on. Root managed to get his century just after Tea, his first century away from home since the 2016 Test series in India, with a glance through the vacant third man region. Eventually, like the six players before him, Root’s innings ended with a sweep. This one was a reverse sweep which he missed, and was struck plumb in front of middle stump.

Sam Curran, England’s saviour in the first innings, came out to bat but left just as quickly as he was bowled first ball by Karunaratne. The Surrey allrounder could at least take solace in the fact that he was the first England batsman in this innings to not get out sweeping, and he played a back foot defensive shot inside the line to a ball which spun away from him and flicked his off stump.

Rashid was next in, and next out fairly quickly. He, like Moeen before him, was somewhat unlucky to be given out. Although struck in front of the wickets on the pads, he had managed to swing his bat down in time and edge it, but the umpire clearly thought otherwise and he was incorrectly given out.

Rashid was Akila Danajaya’s sixth wicket of the innings. Two of these were mistakes by the umpires, but even so it’s clear that the Sri Lankan offspinner has been a vital part of the host’s attack. It does stick in the craw somewhat that he has been cited for a ‘suspect bowling action’ but is still allowed to play in Test matches. One of the more frustrating facets of cricket for me is that punishments for offences almost always occur after the game. It is entirely possible for a player to cheat against one team, affecting the result in his team’s favour, and then be suspended against another team. In Tests it’s annoying, in competitions it’s downright unfair. I wish cricket was able to develop a quicker (or perhaps more severe) form of disciplinary action which actively prevented this delayed form of punishment.

Foakes and Anderson added another 19 runs before bad light ended play about an hour early. This gave England a lead of 278 which is, at the very least, a difficult target for a team to reach in the fourth innings on a spinning pitch. England’s tactics of batting aggressively and using the sweep very frequently seemed to have paid off, perhaps because it played to their strengths. No one thinks that England’s batsmen are capable of surviving for a day and a half on a spinning pitch, but they do have several useful limited overs players who are capable of getting quick-fire fifties on one. It’s not a perfect tactic, and can be vulnerable to collapses with low totals, but it is perhaps the best one this team has at its disposal.

So the day ends with the game yet again in the balance. If England’s bowlers play like they did in the first Test, they will almost certainly win. If they bowl like they did in the first innings, then things might be a bit closer. Either way, it should be interesting.

As always, if you have any comments about the game or anything else, please post them below.

Sri Lanka vs. England, 2nd Test – Day 2, A Swing In Power?

It is always difficult to judge a game after the first day and so this has proved again today. England would have marginally been happier with the outcome of Day 1, especially after finding themselves in a bind again with their batting with only Sam Curran and Jos Buttler taking the attack to Sri Lanka and leading them to what they hoped would be an above par score. As they headed into Day 2 with a wearing pitch even after 1 day, a brittle Sri Lankan batting unit and 3 in-form spin bowlers, England would have been hoping to emerge with a vital first innings lead. That this didn’t would have been a source of great frustration for England.

England had an indifferent start to the day, with the only wicket to fall being that of the night-watchman. It did appear that England were trying to bowl a little too full or were hoping for some kind of magic ball to grip the pitch and spin prodigiously rather than look to bowl in good areas and get the Sri Lankan batsmen out through skill and patience. Indeed it took some divine intervention from Ben Stokes in the field to finally break through the resistance of the Sri Lankan batsmen with the first being a superb run out with only one stump to aim at and the 2nd through an outrageous catch at slip off the bowling of Leach. It has been debated just what Stokes is bringing to the team with his relative poor form with bat and ball and the emergence of Sam Curran; however he is still one of the few England players that can really spark something in the field. These were timely dismissals as England looked like they were a team on the verge of panicking and this was followed up by some excellent bowling from the much maligned (not here) Adil Rashid who bowled a testing spell that took both the wickets of Matthews and Mendis and gave England a shot at the lower order with a decent lead still to preserve.

So with Sri Lanka now 165-6 and staring down the barrel much as England did on Day 1, their lower order batted with some guts and not little skill to frustrate the tourists and carve away at the England lead. Sri Lanka led by Roshen Silva and ably assisted by first Dickwella and then Dhananjaya batted in very much the way I expected them to at the start of the tour. The English spinners suddenly looked less potent whilst the Sri Lankan batsmen milked them around the field and consistently put away the bad ball to first catch up and then surpass England’s lead on what is a tricky pitch and one that is only going to get more difficult. When Sri Lanka were finally bowled out (supposedly the first time since 1976 that an English seamer didn’t take a wicket) with a priceless lead of 46, the momentum had swung immensely and now Sri Lanka were in the box set moving into Day 3. The only slight tarnish on the Sri Lankan batting was when Marais Erasmus decided to penalize Silva for intentional non grounding of the bat and hence awarded 5 runs to England as way of punishment. Personally I think this was very harsh, but England won’t care a jot, in such a tight game 5 runs could be the difference between a loss and a victory. There was also the slightly bizarre sight of Jack Leach padding up and walking out to open the order as night-watchman for the final over, though he’s still probably a better Test opener than Nick Knight ever was.

After 2 days of the Test, we are now basically in a ‘one innings match’, with England hoping to erode their deficit without too much damage and then look to set Sri Lanka something over 200 on a 4th innings pitch. It will be interesting to see how England play over the next day, as one feels that a collapse is just around the corner with this England side especially on a pitch that is already taking a lot of turn. Day 3 will go some way in deciding the match, but either way it is refreshing to see a tightly fought Test match, especially after Sri Lanka were so comprehensively beaten in the First Test.

Thoughts and comments on the game below please.

Sri Lanka v England,2nd Test Day 1

England were on a high coming into this game, and named an unchanged side from the first Test. The only minor alteration was Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali swapping places in the batting order. In terms of helping England’s top order batting order, this move very much echoes the saying “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”, as I don’t see how it will make any difference at all. Sri Lanka were forced into changes by Herath’s retirement and their captain Chandimal’s injury in the first game. Off-spinner Malinda Pushpakumara and batsman Roshen Silva were brought into the host’s team, with bowler Suranga Lakmal.

Crucially, England won the toss. Reports from the Sri Lankan camp had suggested that the team had ordered a spin-friendly pitch from the groundsmen, and England would have been desperate not to bat fourth on it. Luckily for them, Joe Root is a fantastic tosser. He won his seventh consecutive coin toss, and obviously elected to bat first.

Whilst it didn’t seem like a minefield, the spinning conditions on day one always suggested that most English batsmen would struggle. Jennings was first to go this time, hanging his bat outside off stump to Sri Lanka’s only seam bowler (and stand-in captain), Lakmal, and edging it to the wicketkeeper in just the fifth over. Jennings’ weakness against seam bowling (at the very least at the Test level) seems totally bizarre for an English opener. If England are looking to innovate their batting lineup, perhaps they can start with moving him to the middle order?

All eyes were on Stokes, who had been promoted to number three in the batting lineup. He never looked particularly comfortable on a spinning pitch, and he was soon undone by Perera, who spun the ball away from the left-hander and into the pads plumb in front of off stump. Scoring only 19, this was hardly an unqualified success for the England’s team latest ‘innovation’.

This brought captain Joe Root to the middle, although again not for long. Just a few months ago, people were complaining that he scored too many fifties and not enough hundreds. Root has passed fifty just twice in twelve innings since the start of the India series this summer, and today’s wicket was perhaps an indication of why. England’s captain played a forward defensive to off-spinner Pushpakumara, but was bowled through a gap between bat and pad. The whole point of the forward defensive shot is to eliminate the risk on the inside edge, so something has clearly gone wrong with his technique there…

Whilst all of this was happening at the other end, Rory Burns was slowly accumulating runs. This came to an end just before Lunch when Akila Dananjaya, the Sri Lankan off-spinner who was reported for a suspect action in the previous Test match, spun one away from England’s opener who edged the ball to slip. Buttler and Moeen hung on until Lunch, but England were left in the familiar position of being four wickets down at the break.

Moeen’s form, which had already seen him drop three places in the batting lineup, showed little sign of improving as he was dismissed shortly after Lunch. He was squared up by Pushpakumara as he tried to glance the ball into the leg side and was hit right in front of his leg stump.

Foakes and Buttler were scoring quickly until both fell in quick succession. First to go was Foakes, who was dismissed caught behind despite replays showing he never touched the ball. He went for a sweep and the ball hit both of his pads before being caught by slip, but crucially never hit the bat. England had two replays available, so clearly he must have thought he had hit it. Buttler’s dismissal was equally embarrassing, with England’s number five (it’s so hard to keep track of players’ batting positions now) skewing a mis-hit reverse sweep to backward point. I’m not a traditionalist, I’m perfectly fine with Test players playing reverse sweeps, scoops, etc… but the thing I didn’t like about it was he wasn’t playing that particular shot well today. He generally seemed to get nothing or perhaps a single every time he tried a reverse sweep, so I wish he had left it in his locker to use another day.

So England were in the familiar position of having too few runs for too many wickets, 171-7 to be exact, and needing the tailenders to bail them out again. With Buttler and Foakes already gone, there wasn’t much batting talent left. There was Sam Curran though, who played an absolute blinder. His three partnerships with Rashid, Leach and Anderson added another 114 runs to England’s total, with the Surrey allrounder scoring 67 of them himself. The stand-out partnership was the last one with Anderson which added another 60 runs, with Curran facing 82% of the deliveries and clearly doing a great job of farming the strike and extending the innings. Eventually he lost his wicket with a slog to long off, but it was a job well done.

285 is not, in most environments, a particularly good first innings score in Test cricket. The adage that you should wait until both teams bat before judging a total seems particularly apt on this ground. England’s early dismissal meant that the Sri Lankans had 12 overs left to face in the day, and after the initial spell of swing from Anderson and Curran passed came the spinners. Moeen and in particular Leach caused the Sri Lankan batsmen all sorts of problems with exaggerated spin and bounce off the pitch. It was the Somerset left-handed bowler who made the only breakthrough of the session, bowling Kaushal Silva past the batsman’s outside edge with a beautiful legspinner.

England will feel fairly happy after today’s play. Their tail once again pushed the total up to a point which puts some semblance of pressure on the Sri Lankans, and their unusually competent spin attack is obviously capable of getting them a lead at the halfway point in these conditions. Having won the toss and chosen to bat first on a pitch which seems likely to deteriorate fairly rapidly, they’re probably favourites to win this game now.

As always, feel free to comment on the day, or anything else, below.

Sri Lanka vs. England, 2nd Test – Preview

England comfortably enjoyed their best days in the field away from home in more than 2 years in their comprehensive victory in the First Test in Galle, something that a number of us didn’t see coming. They won the toss, recovered from their standard top order wobble in the first innings thanks to a supremely cool maiden ton from Ben Foakes, managed a decent first innings lead and then turned the screw in the second innings thanks to a rather surprising century than none other than Keaton Jennings. With a 450+ lead in the bag, it was no surprise to see England’s spin trio mop up the Sri Lankan innings and with it a fairly crushing defeat for the hosts.

Despite England’s comprehensive victory, it has been a little baffling why very little has been made of this performance or of Sri Lanka’s woeful performance, in fact one would need to look pretty hard to find any mention of this at all. It may be that England are rightly looking to play this victory down owing to the fact that there are 2 games left of the series and that we don’t yet know what type of pitches they will face in the next 2 games (unlikely), that they are mortally embarrassed at having it pointed out that this was the first victory away from home by England in more than 2 years, something that should be unacceptable to the team and board (they should be, but unlikely) or that no-one gives one jot about this series and it is more of an annoyance than anything else (most probably). Indeed, I completely forgot there was a Test Match on tomorrow, hence why I am doing this preview slightly later than I normally would. I know that cricket doesn’t grasp the imagination of many English residents these days, nor does the start time or the fact that it is stuck behind the pay wall help either, but I’ve seen more coverage of the Women’s T20 tournament than any of the Test the past week. It’s almost like everyone hoped it might get rained off and then everyone could get home and put their feet up.

So despite this lack of enthusiasm from the English press or fans, we now move onto Kandy (well I say Kandy, Pallekele is a fair way out, good luck to those trying to get to the ground without access to a car or a favourable Tuk-Tuk driver)! England have named an unchanged team for the Test, which I find mildly strange given that Kandy is up in the hills and generally a much cooler climate and hence this may have been the opportunity to go with 4 seamers. Now I haven’t seen the pitch report yet, but one would hope that this decision is based on these pitch conditions rather than those in Galle, as we have seen England pick unbalanced teams on sub-continental tours in the past based on what they think the pitch will be like rather than what it will actually play like. Talking of mildly perplexing decisions, England in all their wisdom have decided to have Ben Stokes take the number 3 position, when in all reality Root, who might not greatly enjoy batting at 3, should be the man to bat there on this tour. It again smacks of England trying to fit square pegs into round holes and although Moeen hasn’t really made any scores at number 3, I’m not sure how promoting someone who has the same technical flaws and is a cast iron number 6 at Test level, is going to help matters really. They may as well put St. Jimmy of Burnley at number 3 and be done with it! In all seriousness though, England somehow need to find a number 3 for the Summer ahead as none of the surfeit of number 6’s and number 7’s that we have seem to have acquired is going to stand a chance at batting at 3 in English conditions; indeed if the ball does indeed move about early in Pallekele, then one may guess that Root will be in early anyway. In my opinion, it just feels like another wasted opportunity to give a more promising player at that position some game time at 3 rather than having a number of bits and pieces players trying to cover up the glaring hole, not that our friends at The Spin agree, as naturally Ed Smith is the new Sir Alex Ferguson and a master of tactics and selection:

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/nov/07/ed-smith-england-cricket-selections-alex-ferguson-sport

This particular piece of delightful bollocks was by Rob Smyth, but could have been Andy Bull or any other of the strays that the Guardian picks up to write these columns. One could almost hark back to the Mike Selvey era when reading this tripe, although I did say ALMOST.

As for Sri Lanka, it was a sad sight seeing Rangana Herath retiring after such a comprehensive loss, as he has been an integral part of Sri Lanka’s success on the sub-continent and will be a massive loss to them. They will no doubt find another spinner to try and bamboozle England on this tour, but those are big shoes to fill especially with the batting looking weak even before the withdrawal of Dinesh Chandimal through injury.

Of course, this could just be another one of the Test’s where you win the toss, bat first and win the game. If so, then England must hope that Joe Root’s luck in calling the coin toss correctly continues away from home.

We are slightly light in number for this particular game with 2 of our writers unavailable for very different reasons, so please bear with us if the daily reports are shorter than normal, later than normal or in extreme cases might not happen. Due to work commitments, neither Danny or myself will be able to see any of the live cricket and might struggle to catch the highlights, but we will write as much as we can.

As ever comments on the game or anything else (not Brexit) are welcome below: