India vs England – 4th Test, Day 1 – Pitch, Switch

Most of the pre-match chatter had been about the pitch. The previous game in Ahmedabad was the shortest Test match in the professional era, with most people blaming the groundsman (or whoever gave the groundsman their orders). England clearly expected more of the same, picking a bowling attack of three spinners (including Root) and just two pace bowlers (including Stokes). In hindsight, that may have been a mistake. There haven’t been any explosions of dust on day 1, unlike the previous two Tests, and India’s two pace bowlers have actually had success throughout the day. If anything, the conditions seem reminiscent of the first Test in the series.

Which brings us to England’s XI. Crawley, Sibley, Bairstow, Root, Stokes, Pope, Lawrence, Foakes, Bess, Leach and Anderson. The first thing that jumps out is the sheer depth in batting. Ben Foakes, with a Test batting average of 36.00 (The last two matches have knocked it down somewhat), at 8. The second thing is a lack of options with regards to pace bowling. Just Anderson and Stokes. England were clearly planning for a pitch where their spinners would do the majority of the work. That may have been a miscalculation. India’s fast bowlers were asked to bowl 23 overs today, as opposed to just 11 in the whole of the previous game, and there seemed to be good carry even with the old ball. Archer was unavailable due to an elbow injury, but Stone or Wood might have been helpful in these conditions.

Joe Root won the toss and opted to bat first again. It was all downhill from there. On a pretty benign pitch, with a little spin and bounce but still closer to a proverbial road than minefield, a competent batting line up should be expected to bat until well into Day 2. For a team like England’s which has essentially selected eight batsmen, a total of 400 might be considered their minimum target in these conditions. What we got instead was a rather pitiful score of 205 all out. Only a last wicket partnership from Leach and Anderson even got their total above 200.

England winning the first three Tests of the winter may have masked some of their issues, as all three victories were on the back of a big score by Joe Root. Few teams lose games where one of their batsmen scored 150+. In the eleven innings England have played against Sri Lanka and India this season, their batsmen have scored just ten scores of fifty and above, with Root accounting for three of those. There is simply no plan B if England’s captain doesn’t get a big score.

Anderson gave England a little hope in his first over, taking the wicket of Shubman Gill, but Pujara and Rohit saw India through to the close of play with few issues on 24-1.

Aside from the placid pitch, there has also been a big improvement in the position of third umpire. Anil Chaudhary has taken over from Chettithody Shamshuddin, and things are back to normal. An umpire, like a wicketkeeper, is arguably at their best when no one is talking about them and that is the case with the umpires today. No controversies, no steps skipped, and no rushed decisions. For all of England’s issues today, they certainly can’t blame the officials at all.

County cricket fans will have been pleased to see adverts for the T20 Blast during Channel 4’s live coverage of the Test. The cost is likely a pittance compared to what will be spent on promoting The Hundred this summer, but it’s nice to see any effort from the ECB with regards to promoting its other competitions. It often seems like the ECB forgets that they aren’t just responsible for the international teams (and now The Hundred). Any steps which show even a modicum of interest in county or recreational cricket must be seen as a sign of improvement from them.

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

Welcome to the House of Fun: India vs England, 3rd Test, Day 2

A ridiculous day of cricket. A ridiculous Test. One way or the other, the shortest Test match since 1935 isn’t a great advert for the game, even if the watching of it was intense, breathless and extremely exciting. There are two separate things here: firstly that low scoring matches of whatever format tend to be the most thrilling, and for the obvious reason that every single ball matters, but secondly when conditions are so far in favour of the bowlers, it makes batting something of a lottery, and brings things to a close far earlier than should be remotely the case. When the batsmen are in true peril, scavenging every run has a value, while the bowlers take on the aspect of pack hunters, circling their prey. Yet it’s always been the case that when conditions favour one discipline too much over the other, it leads to an unsatisfactory game, and finishing well within two days (and with slow over-rates) is not something to relish.

The question though is how much the pitch is responsible for that. Watching on television caused no end of head scratching as to just why both teams (at least until India’s second innings when the target was so small as to make little difference) struggled so badly. The Chennai surface in the second Test seemed to turn more, and the ball seemed to go through the pitch far more. But the players made it very clear that this was extremely difficult, and their view is the most important. What seems to have happened was that the ball skidding on made it impossible for the batsmen to cope with it – the number of bowleds and lbws indicated that particularly. It isn’t always the explicit turn or bounce that does for them, any more than a two paced pitch visibly makes it clear to the naked eye why drag ons on driven catches are so prevalent – the outcome dictates the reason to the observer. Therefore it can’t be a criticism of all the batsmen, quite clearly the conditions were such that everybody struggled, but it is possible to accept that point and also note that England struggled far more, and should have done much better in the first innings in particular.

England looked utterly out of their depth, a far cry from the first innings of the first Test, and part of a trend of England’s scores getting progressively worse. The lack of pressure in India’s second innings makes a judgment a little hard, for there is a huge difference between the heat and pressure of a live match and when both sides know which way the game is heading and are going through the motions.

While irrespective of result, the pitch, or the pitch in combination with the pink ball, weren’t good enough, it was still the same for both sides, and England should have had the best of the conditions on offer. They chose the wrong team, with three seamers and one spinner, and Joe Root was not only being forced into action, but also picked up five wickets. That is both a credit to him and an indictment of the team England had chosen in the first place. Equally, this match wasn’t remotely lost by the bowlers, but by the batsmen, especially first time around.

England’s slim hopes of making the World Test Championship final are thus extinguished, on the back of having made five successive scores below 200. It’s hard not to conclude that England are getting precisely what they deserve for increasingly abject batting displays. India might be better at home, indeed are better at home, but there’s a difference between being outmatched and being hammered. England are increasingly being hammered, and while they have the chance to square the series, few would bet on them doing so.

India vs England – 3rd Test, Day 1

There was a lot of talk going into this Test from English fans and journalists about the pink ball favouring the away side in this game, or that the toss was the decisive factor in both of the previous games. Today, England have done their level best to disprove these theories quite thoroughly.

When you go to exchange team sheets with your opposite number and see that they have gone with three spinners whilst you have dropped one from the previous game, it can’t be a great feeling. Joe Root won the toss, which was almost the only thing which went England’s way all morning. It does bear saying that the toss has proven less important in day/night Tests than you might think. The current record for teams winning the toss is 8-7, and it’s also 8-7 in favour of teams batting first. Indeed, the only definitive pattern for games played with the pink ball is that they appear to massively favour the home side with only two losses in the fifteen played so far.

England made four changes to the side which lost in Chennai: Crawley, Bairstow, Archer and Anderson replacing Burns, Lawrence, Ali and Stone. Of these four, only Zak Crawley made a positive impact in today’s play, scoring a quick 53. To put that in context, the other top six batsmen scored a combined total of 24 runs.

Dom Sibley fell early, edging a ball from Ishant Sharma to second slip. Bairstow followed soon after with an lbw to the left arm spin of Axar Patel. It is a little embarassing when a batsman is brought in based on his batting against spin, only to fall for a nine-baall duck. Root managed to steady the ship with Crawley for a while but was trapped in front by Ashwin on 17, whilst Crawley suffered the same fate from Patel. England, having won the toss and chosen to bat, were 81/4 at the end of the first session.

It didn’t get any better after Tea (the 20-minute break being first in this Test) with England’s tail failing to wag or even twitch a little. England lost their last six wickets for just 32 runs, with spinners Patel and Ashwin just dominating the tourists. Pope and Stokes were both dismissed in the first two overs of the session, which left Ben Foakes and a long tail. When England replaced Moeen Ali (England’s top run scorer in the previous Test) with Jofra Archer, that left them with a number 8 who has a Test batting average of 8.00. That decision put a lot of pressure on their specialist batsmen to build a strong platform, and they obviously didn’t respond well to the challenge.

To be clear: This was not the pitch, nor was the pink ball to blame for England’s collapse. There has been spin in Ahmedabad, but without the variable bounce or ‘excessive’ sideways movement we saw in Chennai. The new ball swung, but probably less so than the Dukes ball does in England. It was good bowling by India, and poor batting from England. It’s that simple.

Broad almost claimed the wicket of Gill in the five overs before the second (Supper?) break, but was denied by the third umpire overturning an onfield call of a low catch in the slips. There was dismay from the England team and their fans, not just at the decision but also how that decision was made. First, it came very quickly. From the third umpire asking the director for a replay to his decision being made took less than 30 seconds. Second, and more importantly, he only looked at one front-on angle. It is a basic principle with low catches that you should attempt to view it from side-on where possible, because foreshortening often makes the ball appear lower than it actually is due to the viewing angle and the lenses used.

The commentary was quite forthright in supporting the third umpire’s decision, which was not a surprise. There were two Indian commentators on at the time, and they simply wouldn’t have a job if they didn’t wholeheartedly support an Indian umpire making a decision in favour of the Indian batsman. Of course, they were helped in their certainty by their Star Sports producer declining to show any different angles of the catch (or non-catch). Mark Butcher had been prepared to question things in the first two Tests, and might have prompted further examination, but he has been replaced by Graeme Swann. It’s tough to remember a worse decline in commentary standards in the span just one Test. I’ve been watching it on mute.

In the night session, both sides played what could best be described as as average cricket. India scored 99/3, which is almost up to England’s total with plenty of wickets in hand. The conditions didn’t seem as bowling-friendly as advertised, perhaps because of dew on the ground. It is my vague recollection from when I used to watch the IPL on ITV4 that the ball got damp at night, causing it to seam and spin less. England could have poached a few more wickets, had catches not been dropped and (perhaps) the third umpire had taken more than a cursory look at a stumping.

Ultimately, England’s disappointing first innings total means that there is very little pressure on the Indian batsmen, who I expect to bat for most of tomorrow and put this game beyond doubt. Somehow, despite spinners bowling 47 overs, the day finished 8 overs short. It probably won’t matter, as England seemed the culpable party (bowling just 33 overs in over two and a half hours), but both sides have a chance of qualifying for the World Test Championship final and a points deduction would both hurt them and help Australia. Surely no one wants to help Australia.

I was so looking forward to this Test too, with its reasonable hours and pink swinging balls. After England’s performance, and the prospect of more Swann commentary, I might just stay in bed all day.

Free, to do What I want, Any Old Time.

The announcement about unlocking society yesterday has been timely for the ECB, given that today is the draft day for the Hundred. It is entirely unsurprising that the response from the majority of the commenting cricket fraternity has either been indifferent or negative, but that’s merely a reflection of the ongoing hostility to it, and also the abject failure of the ECB themselves to engage the support base over the last few years.

Where it gets more interesting is whether, in a sense, the ECB have fluked it in terms of the timing. If, as hoped, crowds return to sport this summer, then it just might be that their launch of this concept will work – in 2021 at least. The reasoning for that is simple enough, having been locked up for the best part of a year, there will be latent demand from the public to be out doing something – anything. The Hundred, with its reasonable pricing may well be able to tap into that desire, and the open air and generally spacious (except the seats) nature of cricket watching may attract even those who are nervous about being out and about among the general public.

Put aside views of the format of The Hundred for now, it doesn’t matter. Having something to do will matter, and given it’s summer before anyone can, it largely, if not entirely, bypasses other sports in the same period, and will have an earlier major event that crosses over in the liberalisation period with Euro 2020 taking place in June and July that ought to bring back some familiarity to the concept of going to sporting events.

Against that is the undoubted likely reduction in the numbers of people who are prepared to go anywhere this summer. Each time the pubs were re-opened there was an expectation of them being packed, and in city centres that may have been more the case, but elsewhere there was a clear reluctance from many to go out to public locations. What happens this summer in that general sense is an open question, but it’s probably true that the overall potential footprint is lower, while among those who do wish to partake, their incidence of making use of what is available may be higher.

There is also the economic aspect to this. Many people are dramatically worse off, through job losses, collapses in income or business, and they will not have spare cash to be able to splurge on summer events (in this area, the low price of the Hundred is in its favour), but on the other hand there is a smaller but still sizeable group who are much better off, due to working from home rather than commuting, and the loss of things to spend money on more generally. How much one group might outweigh the other is another unknown, but there is an opportunity for the ECB to promote the entire competition in a slightly different way to had it been a normal year.

None of this undoes the structural problems faced by the entire concept, nor the challenges it will have in future years. An initial frisson of excitement at something new lasts no time at all, but if nothing else, it provides a means of making a good start. For cricket generally, the pricing attraction versus a ticket cost in excess of £150 at Lord’s for an ODI is a clear point of difference, especially for a family, and it shouldn’t be underestimated how that vast difference will play to a group of people who are open to paying for public entertainment, but not to have to sell a kidney for the privilege of attending.

What it won’t do is justify the Hundred itself, although it’s not hard to imagine the PR crowing that will result from busy grounds. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t justified either, it would simply be that the special circumstances of 2021 mean it is impossible to draw wider conclusions about the wisdom or otherwise of the whole venture. But in itself, it has the prospect this year of generating interest and ticket sales. For the ECB and the counties hosting games, that will be enough for now, and with the women’s matches running in parallel at more grounds than the core, it could be wider in reach and scope than anticipated. Indeed, the impact of The Hundred on women’s cricket more generally is a wider topic for debate, but this year, it might just make a material difference.

This would undoubtedly create mixed emotions – the ECB receiving instant absolution for their actions over the last few years would go down badly with many, irrespective of the cost of failure of the launch. But perhaps even for those most implacably opposed, it could be seen as a necessary evil this year to give the game at least a fighting chance of generating cash. Where that takes us in years to follow, that’s a very different question.

The Day After the Day After Tomorrow

Predicting the future is problematic, it’s much easier to predict the past, although Twitter users might be an example of that not being entirely the case. In wider life there seems to be consensus that while the question of whether the pandemic will make material lasting changes is an open one, it almost certainly has accelerated existing trends – such things as the decline of cash or the continued rise of online over physical retail.

Cricket seems little different – there is no reason to assume that this last year will cause wild changes in itself, but an acceleration of what was coming anyway, that’s a different matter.

Television deals are at the heart of the future and the present, and have been the principal driver of the changes over the last 10 years, whatever the disingenous pontifications from governing bodies about trying to engage people in the sport as more than exploitable consumers. The shortening of formats, first to T20 and then to 10 over equivalents or the Hundred are all about packaging the game into compact segments that fit into programming and allow advertising to be maximised. India is undoubtedly the principal power behind this, because their financial muscle is greater than just about everyone else put together. The rise of the IPL to not just be the biggest short form tournament, but the priority for the game full stop has been inexorable, and the players have been part of that for their own financial reasons. In all cases, it’s not something to particularly blame anyone for, it’s merely a reflection of desires that coincide and aims that correlate – the belief in some quarters that professional cricketers with a short career should sacrifice their ability to earn for the sake of tradition is naive at best. Thus the expectation has to be that not only will the IPL continue, but that it will become ever more central to the global game.

The Hundred is the ECB’s attempt to muscle in on the same thing, having blown their chance of making T20 their central selling point to the world game. There are endless problems with the assumption behind that. Globally, the difference between 16.4 overs and 20 is so minimal as to be not worthy of further debate, and the ever lengthening duration of IPL and Big Bash T20 matches to up to 4 hours implies that the purported domestic desire to have a very short game isn’t one entirely shared elsewhere – perhaps short enough is sufficient. That doesn’t mean in itself that it can’t be a domestic success, but the wish the ECB have for it to be a global phenomenon looks hamstrung from the start. Gimmickry has a place in all sports, irritating as many find it, but a successful gimmick is one that does draw people in, that does appear to have a value. The Hundred lacks this entirely, the hundred balls of an innings doesn’t even work as a deception.

It’s not unreasonable to believe that the Hundred will be a domestic option, and one with limited expansionary appeal. The argument made in its favour that it’s still cricket, and that the difference between it and T20 is sufficiently small for it to have sporting integrity is precisely the reason it’s unlikely to truly take off – why abandon the investment in T20 for a game that offers little extra? If The Hundred does remain an entirely domestic concept, it’s hard to see how it has a long term future when everyone else prefers the ironically more traditional T20. All new things attract attention initially, and whatever the complaints about it, it will have that first flush of attraction as something new. The problem it has is beyond that, years three and four. There comes a time when the question will be asked what the point of it is, and whether a T20 tournament would work better. The Hundred itself looks doomed in the longer term, though it may serve its purpose if it garners sufficient commercial attention to cause that debate to happen.

The 50 over form of the game will continue to be squeezed, but it remains a viable option because it still attracts strong crowds and decent quantities of sponsorship and advertising money. There may be experiments made to widen the differential between it and T20, such as four innings of 25 overs, but it is a format that isn’t particularly broken. The attitude towards it may change somewhat as T20 becomes ever more dominant, indeed 50 over cricket may come to be seen as a long form of the game, which has a certain irony, because for club cricketers around much of the world (there are exceptions) that’s exactly what it is and what it always has been, even if concepts such as winning or losing draws offer a slight level of nuance – though note those kinds of playing rules are on the decline.

Where that leaves Test cricket is another matter. The World Test Championship has been positioned as a way of creating context for Test cricket in order to give the bilateral series meaning. It’s always been a slightly confused position – not because it’s a bad idea, far from it, but because the endless ODI bilaterals lack any meaning whatever, yet continue unabated because of the financial return created by them. There are of course tournaments such as the World Cup, but that’s not really the rationale behind holding so many bilateral series, or they would be considered no more relevant than an international football friendly with all the irritation they cause. Cricket is, and always has been different (and has similarities to international rugby in this regard) in that a match has inherent value in itself, and doesn’t necessarily need that bigger context for everything. That doesn’t mean for a single momoment that tournaments like a World Cup aren’t necessary, they both are, and are wonderful things in themselves, albeit the formats of such things are another question. Therefore a World Test Championship can be both a good thing in itself and also a fig leaf that doesn’t address the structural challenges being faced. There is a suspicion that Test series are often organised as a necessary evil rather than something to be embraced as justified and attractive in themselves, entirely for those financial reasons. Or to put it another way, if Test matches provided strong revenue streams for every board, there would be more of them – England don’t play lots of Test cricket because the ECB adore five day cricket. If there was serious money at hand, the players would be less inclined to abandon the Test arena for the more lucrative white ball forms of the game. The decline of Test cricket in favour of white ball cricket is not because of a particular dislike of that form of the game for sporting reasons.

There is no reason to assume this will change in the years to come, rather precisely the opposite. Countries like England play a lot of Test cricket because, at present at least, that is the largest level of spectators – and thus commercial – interest in the game. With big crowds and a big TV deal that has included, in fact focused, on Test cricket, it has been the core of the income of the professional game. It’s not the case elsewhere, and to highlight that particularly, the newer international countries such as Ireland have abandoned Test series because they cannot make them financially viable. Those are two ends of the range, but there are many more countries nearer the Irish end than the English one, and the English extreme is beginning to weaken. Core marquee series will continue, principally between the most powerful boards of India, Australia and England, but Test cricket will wither further beyond that. There is a way to prevent it, and that would be a more equitable wealth distribution globally, and allow the players to choose Test cricket as a viable means of support for them and their families. But let’s be clear – it isn’t going to happen. The handwringing about the decline of Test cricket among the great and the good has no relevance when the actions that could be taken to prevent it are verboten in administrative circles, because of their own narrow interests. Fundamentally, there isn’t a desire within the ICC hierarchy, and particularly the board hierarchies, to save Test cricket. Until or unless that happens, Test cricket is on a one way ticket to irrelevance and extinction.

This also has knock on effects for domestic cricket, not just in England but around the world. After all, the purpose of first class cricket has been largely to provide a training ground for the Test game, something that puts the hackles up for the county cricket fans who see a game that is important in its own right. But it has never been financially viable in itself anywhere since the 19th century, it wasn’t the point of it to be. The diminution in value of first class cricket is a corollary of the decline of Test cricket and its lack of revenue creation has changed its positioning from one that needs support in order to promote the wider game to being viewed as a revenue drain on central resources. This is an important change in focus – county cricket has never been something central in and of itself to the finances of cricket, it has had sporting value and been deemed worthy of support as such. This has changed – the justification for concepts like the Hundred have been to generate financial income in and of itself, and not for the purposes specifically of first class county cricket. This is central to the expectations in years to come, for no longer is it considered inherently valuable.

The arrival of the Hundred has a further likely consequence, in that it introduces franchise cricket to England. It is from a different era that Durham was added to the roster as the 18th county, the desire now is to shrink the base of teams, not expand them. Protests that regional franchises are purely for the shortest form of the game smack of disingenuousness – the strongest counties will survive irrespective, but the weaker ones look like they have no long term future. Formal status is unlikely to be revoked, because it simply doesn’t matter much, they will fall by the wayside as power and money is concentrated in the hands of the few, and the difference between some first class counties and some minor counties will be harder to determine. Salami tactics work in terms of generating change – abolishing counties would invite end of days headlines, allowing them to fade into obscurity will be met with a shrug of the shoulders from all but those directly affected. The protests from county cricket fans will make little difference – they have already been written off as unimportant.

This is not a future that many will relish. But as things stand it is where we are likely to be. Test cricket being in trouble is not breaking news, but the lack of any impetus or desire to change this is what is going to doom it to the margins. First class cricket and county cricket will follow, and the focus on white ball, and particularly T20 cricket is the future to be faced. It can change, certainly, but only if there is a desire to enact what is needed to make that happen. There is no sign of that happening, and no sign of a desire that it should happen. Money has become the driving motivation in sport across the world, but cricket is in a different place, whereby the belief among administrators is that the game of cricket has no future without change, and that the generation of cash is the prime motivation, not the sport itself. Business people can have that view, indeed they always have done, there is no reason to pretend they are other than what they are for good or ill, what is different in cricket is that there are few at the top of the game who believe passionately in the beauty of their own sport, who see their role as primarily to defend and grow it. Instead they consider that change must happen in order to make money, rather than making money to deliver a better sport. Not even the feast of mammon that is football has quite this attitude to their own game – they have a rapacious desire to monetise their sport, not consider the raison d’etre of the sport to be money generation.

The amateur game is far from immune to the fallout. Sunday friendly cricket has undoubtedly declined in a precipitous manner over recent years, as the player base has shrunk. A push to T20 matches from those viewing it from the lofty perspective of their professional career is to miss the central point that a desire for shorter games is as much a reflection of a smaller pool as it is modern life writ large in cricket. Free to air broadcast of cricket may still be the biggest driver of arresting such an unpropitious collapse in the player base, but it isn’t a panacea for the problems of the game either. Like so many things, it is complex to the point of confusion, but in this arena at least, the biggest change would be evidence that there’s much more than lip service to the importance of it from the centre. Here again, there is little reason to believe that will happen, and the decline of the clubs will continue.

For good or ill, it’s our direction of travel. There is no doubt that many will be aghast, but an attempt to be realistic isn’t an endorsement of where we are headed. And more specifically, it’s where we are meant to be headed. This is not a lament for a passing time, nor a wish that if only a few changes could be made. Too often the debate is framed around a tweak here, a nudge there. A few more pennies for a county perhaps, or throw a bone to a former associate nation. None of it matters, and none of it makes any difference, except to allow the drowning to suck in a last few precious breaths of air. It would require fundamental change to move the trajectory, and it won’t happen, can’t happen, because it is not accidental. It is not a game that has lost its way and is seeking a way back. It is far too much of a conspiracy to assume this is the development of a grand plan to reach this suggested destination, but it doesn’t have to be, it isn’t how it works. All it requires is for an acquiescence with the direction of travel, and that contentment is entirely present. For as long as the approach is one of managed decline of the traditional and a defensive mentality of the long standing, while embracing the new, shiny and above all lucrative, there is little reason to doubt where we will end up.

India vs England: 2nd Test, Day Three-And-A-Bit

When Dmitri posted on Day 2 that he was sorely tempted to just post “See you for the Ahmedabad Tests”, I found the idea pretty funny. Now, faced with prospect of having to write a report on the end of England’s rather dismal resistance, I’m warming to the idea of doing it myself. Chris didn’t help matters by doing a great job of summing up the game and England’s performance in yesterday’s post, leaving me with precious little to talk about today. England’s batting didn’t help in this regard either, with few rearguard performances to talk about. Bearing in mind all of this, I’ve decided to mainly look ahead to the next Test match in Ahmedabad.

The big news, at least as far as I’m concerned, is that it is a day/night game. For those of us in the UK, that means 9am starts. I am a huge fan of this. I have to tell you that the 4am starts for the India and Sri Lanka series have been messing with my sleep patterns in the worst way, and the prospect of just having ‘normal’ hours for a couple of weeks is a definite plus in my book.

For the England team, a day/night test means that they will be playing with a pink SG ball. This could be a huge opportunity for England, as pace bowlers accounted for 27 of the 28 wickets to fall in the only other day/night game India have hosted: An emphatic innings victory against Bangladesh last winter. It could potentially allow England to field a standard 4 fast bowlers plus a spinner, which certainly plays towards their squad’s strengths. It also brings into contention some players who might not have been seriously considered for the team up until now, like Chris Woakes. That said, and given England’s issues with both batting and bowling in this Test, there’s every chance that India will still provide a spin-friendly pitch in Ahmedabad.

The next Test sees some of England’s squad members returning from a mid-tour rest. Bairstow and Wood are back, and Archer is expected to have recovered from an arm injury. Together with the week’s break between Tests, that means that Ed Smith should be able to choose from a full contingent of players bar the rested Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali. Bairstow averaged over 40 against Sri Lanka, and so it seems likely that a batsman will make way. Burns, Lawrence and Pope’s positions might all be considered vulnerable based on their record this winter, and I honestly couldn’t guess which batting lineup Smith and Silverwood will end up picking in Ahmedabad. (Dom Sibley could also be included in this group, except that he is by a significant margin the better of the two openers. As the old joke goes: You don’t need to outrun a bear to be safe, you just have to outrun the people next to you)

If Ahmedabad is a spinning track (and given England’s performance in Chennai, it should be), then the debate on which spinners England should pick will reopen. On a pitch which really helped spin bowling, probably to the point that it was technically illegal, neither Jack Leach nor Moeen Ali seemed able to consistently trouble the Indian batsmen. Ali’s quickfire 43 in the second innings would probably be enough to ensure he will keep his place in the side ahead of Bess, but Moeen is due to fly home for a few weeks’ rest before the T20Is and (possibly) the IPL. Whichever spin bowlers England go for, they will need their bowling to improve in the event that the Ahmedabad pitch is another sandpit.

Besides deciding the series, the Tests in Ahmedabad are also the final two ‘live’ games in the inaugural World Test Championship and the maths regarding both teams’ chances is pretty simple now: England need to win both Tests to have any chance of qualifying, whilst India need to win the series by any margin (2-1 or 3-1). Any other result (including England winning the series 2-1) sees Australia sneaking into the final despite both England and India having more points overall. It’s hard not to look at Australia potentially winning the final despite only playing one away Test series (the 2019 Ashes) in the two whole years as an affront to decency and virtue. No change from them, then.

The series is 1-1 and, although the hosts might be the more confident of the two teams, England would certainly have been very happy to be in this position at the halfway point of this series. With everything to play for, and the added bonus of a day/night Test for both England’s bowlers and fans, the next couple of weeks should be interesting to watch. I guess that all I can add is: See you for the Ahmedabad Tests!

India vs England: 2nd Test, Day Three: Oh, I Wept

This match was over long ago, we are merely playing out the details. India ground England into the dirt, setting them a preposterous target, while England lost wickets in their vain pursuit of the impossible. It is distinctly possible this will be done and dusted by lunch tomorrow, so outplayed have the tourists been, so unable to compete with India this match. Today was all about a Ravi Ashwin century, as both he and Virat Kohli pummelled the England attack after a bright start.

England did take early wickets, most notable for some fine wicketkeeping from Ben Foakes, but the match situation removes the pressure entirely – quite simply, it didn’t overly matter if India lost wickets, because they probably had enough runs before even starting their second innings. India had earned the right to play with England like a cat with a mouse, and did just that. So much has been said about the pitch being played on, and in truth it probably has deteriorated too quickly to be satisfactory – the chunks being taken out of it on the first day didn’t bode well for a long game. But that’s a matter of degree rather than anything else. The home team has the right to prepare surfaces that suit them, and everyone does it – yes, including you Australia. That England are incapable of coping as well is neither here nor there. Would England really have made a good total had they batted first? They probably would have been much more in the game, but it’s hard not to conclude that India would still have come out on top. England have said nothing negative about the conditions, it’s all come from outside. It was a slight gamble from India certainly, but far from an outrageous one given they were one down in the series. Fundamentally, they’ve not just played better, they’ve absolutely hammered England. The second innings is important not in the sense of England getting anything out of the game but to try to find a method of combating the Indian spinners, who are just far better than their English counterparts. This is a relative matter – on this pitch England are just not going to get 350 and walk off with their heads held high, they are going to lose by a lot. But an hour at the crease to learn and develop will have benefits later in the series.

1-1 is far from a disaster for England, it’s a better state of affairs than many expected half way through. It’s a challenge undoubtedly, and one that will have indicated to the hosts what kind of surfaces will do the job required, but it doesn’t mean England didn’t play superbly in the first Test, nor does it mean that India are only dominant here because of the pitch. There is a break after this match for England to reassess, but they are well in the series and that’s very much a positive.

Some other items from this game so far include the third umpire having something of a stinker and Virat Kohli berating the on field umpire for failing to give Joe Root out. In the latter case, there’s not a shred of doubt that he was extremely lucky to avoid being given lbw to one that looked extremely out, but the decision was (somehow) backed up by DRS, and arguing about it merely made him look a bit of an idiot, particularly given some of what has gone on this match. He can probably expect a fine to come his way.

Of the England batsmen, Rory Burns has looked most at sea, but he only joined the winter series in India, and his 25 in the second innings was a significant improvement. His form has tailed away considerably to the point that rather than looking like the answer as he did a year ago, his place will be coming under scrutiny. But it’s far from easy for him to arrive and look good, his partner Sibley struggled in Sri Lanka, only to come good in the first Test here. It’s always possible Burns will do the same. But he needs runs sooner rather than later.

There’s little more of substance to say. This one is done, let’s move on to Ahmedabad to a Test under lights and see how that one goes.

India v England, 2nd Test, Day 2 – It’s Driving Me Mad, It’s Just Another Way Of Passing The Day

There was a day, a good while ago now, where I could do what I pleased on here. Where I could decide that if I wanted to write a truncated review, I would do so. Mail it in. So when I floated the idea of my match review being purely “See you for the Ahmedabad tests” I got no reply. I took that as meaning I had to write something.

Damn.

England have lost this match, and you don’t need to be Nostradamus to predict that. I said on a tweet yesterday that England would not make 150 on this, and I was correct. Again, hardly Nostradamus. Root was due a failure, and if he fails, then England are pretty much toast in the batting department. So while England made a more than decent start by finishing off the last four wickets for 29 runs, it was only the warm-up act for the circus about to follow.

I hope everyone knows me, and the team on here, well enough to know we are not a bunch of one-eyed England fanboys, bemoaning every slight, perceived or real, like the most avid of Liverpool fans (had to get that dig in, sorry). If we think England are crap, their authorities get things wrong, the press make up nonsense or whatever, then you know we call it. These are honestly held views. While I don’t have the antipathy to this team that I did for the post-Ashes 2014 Cook era nonsense, I can’t get out of bed any earlier to watch Root’s men. (Sleep has become a more important priority these days). I don’t wish them harm, but I’m a bit too old for rah rah nonsense. I hope this means I can offer up criticism of others as well and it be taken as such. Which is a long preamble into this pitch is an utter nonsense, and whoever is responsible for it needs a word.

The wicket has puffed up huge amounts of dust from the outset. It is ragging square. The bounce isn’t that consistent either. Now I know people will defend it, and that’s their right. Australians who laugh at this as if they never do such a thing should never be left to forget the disgrace of Sydney 1999 (when they opened the bowling with a spinner who could trundle medium pace to an acceptable level). Yes, it is as bad as England providing green seamers, although much of the time in England wickets (I know that annoys Pringle, so definitely going to use it) play up because of what is above rather than what is below. Cricket doesn’t need bore draws, but I do disagree with people who say that the toss decided the first test. England had to bat very very well on it to set up a win. Here, the game became a bit of a lottery, but only a bit.

Because what this pitch has shown is that a great performance will win the game, and Rohit Sharma’s 161 is, by any measure, a magnificent performance on this surface. He outscored England by 27, and if he continues in the manner he has started the second innings, he might even beat England on his own! It’s not just the ragging square that has done for England. Burns getting pinned for a second successive duck was just the start England did not want. Sibley, who has worked on a method which is getting him through, was the first victim of spin, and Joe Root was the first victim of Axar in tests when he spooned a sweep shot – hard to be tough on Joe after his Transport for London passenger services in 2021, but it was predictable. He is human. Lawrence getting out to the last ball before lunch was a blow, but he’d got stuck. These are alien conditions, and in some ways what test cricket should be about, if maybe not so extreme!

After lunch the wickets continued to fall. Stokes bowled by a beauty, Pope strangled down the legside, with Pant taking a good one. Moeen Ali, looking like a “magic beans” selection to me, didn’t deliver with the bat again, and last ball before tea, Oliver Stone conspired to hit a shot to mid-wicket. On any given Sunday that could have happened. It just happened on this one.

After tea Jack Leach looked like he had more idea how to bat than most, but then nicked off, with Pant taking an excellent grab, although made more excellent by the fact his first step was to the right, before diving to his left. I’m not a keeper, and I’m not an expert, but thought one of the studio analysts might have picked that up. We’re not getting that from the comm box, we know that already. If it is India, it is great. Which is a shame, because some of them are really pretty decent (I like Murali Kartik, for instance – let him off the leash). Stuart Broad swept and missed and an improbably popular but utterly tedious Twitter feed went back to sleep. England avoided the follow-on, but barely. Whoever has the Day 4 report is hoping Indian wickets tumble rapidly on Day 3.

Ben Foakes played a very impressive innings. I’m not necessarily on the Foakes bandwagon as others, and his keeping has not been flawless (he has just missed a stumping chance), but my word it has been very fluent and his batting was calm and measured. He looks a test cricketer. The England organisation are wedded to the Jos Buttler experience, and anything else is barking at potential returns.

Ravi Ashwin finished with 5 for 43, which was five fewer than some scribes on Twitter thought he might get on this sandpit. Axar Patel looked quite handy too, but let’s face it, I’ve watched just the post-Tea session, and even that was in allergy-fuelled haze, so you might know better than me.

So with a deficit of a mere 195, England set about the Indian batting to allow themselves to nominally chase something short of the world record. It did not begin well. Rohit again balancing attack and defence, while Gill, who if you look up the phrase “potential benefit” in a dictionary will have his picture next to it, alongside a young Mark Ramprakash, did fall, LBW. Rohit Sharma appeared to encourage the youngster to review, indicating that he thought it could be missing leg stump. His eyesight was proved correct, even if the verdict may have been the incorrect one – it was missing leg, but clattering middle. I’m getting a little sick of nearly every LBW being reviewed these days, if it hits the ankle socket on the back foot plumb in front of middle the batsmen especially, and those with ego especially especially, refer it nowadays. I’d make them lose all their reviews if it is hitting the bottom half of a range between the inside of leg stump and off stump to prevent this nonsense. Don’t try to argue against me with logic (what if he thought he hit it?).

Rohit carried on, surviving an out decision for LBW because he hit it (see), in conjunction with Antonine Pujara, but not before an outrageous LBW review where Rohit blatantly hides the bat behind his pad, and yet the umpires somehow convinced themselves that this was a shot played. This hasn’t been a shot for about 20 years, but you know, reasons. This was so egregious even Sunil Gavaskar lost his mind, and that rarely happens on the coverage. In the whole scheme of things, impact on the game, it’s meaningless and not worth getting riled about, and I am not even accusing bias. It’s just wrong. A great, the greatest current cricket nation, like India has been chronically under-represented on the international elite umpiring panel. They arguably umpire in the toughest conditions to adjudicate in world cricket. Surely there has to be better than this? These guys are getting basics wrong.

The day concluded with India on 54 for 1, with Rohit leading England by 52 runs, and India over the hill and far away. I do hope my recalling of the day’s play has not violated a BCCI rule, and I’m off to post my application to be a third umpire.

UPDATE – Ebony has just said that Ben Foakes will never be a Jos Buttler (I presume in test cricket, which is where the debate is – well Ben averages 41, Jos 34, so I suppose Ben has a way to go!)

And as Magnus Magnusson used to almost say, I’ll finish as I started. See you for the Ahmedabad test.

India vs. England, 2nd Test – Day 1

After the rightful celebration of after an English victory on Indian soil in the First Test, England came crashing down to earth with a large bump today. On a pitch where winning the toss became vitally important, India won the toss, duly elected to bat and Rohit in particular put England to the sword.

There were a number of discussions on the BOC Twitter feed about what type of pitch we would see for this Test, and to the surprise of not many, the ball spun and spat from the off. There had been rumours that the Indian camp were far from happy with the surface for the First Test and even some who reported that the head groundsman had been replaced, so it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that this is the pitch that we have. This by the way isn’t a criticism of the Indian team, as it is no different from England preparing a green seamer up at Headingley in the early summer, but some also might argue that preparing a pitch so suited to the home side doesn’t exactly help the integrity of Test cricket. That discussion is probably for another day mind.

Today belonged to Rohit Sharma, who bullied the English bowlers from the off and now has a remarkable record of averaging nearly 88 in Tests in India. Perhaps seeing the wear and tear on the pitch and also seeing his opening partner inadvisably shouldering arms to Ollie Stone early in the piece, Rohit played with aggression throughout his innings knowing that he could he easily cop an unplayable one. Naturally he had a little bit of luck throughout his innings, as you need to playing on a Bunsen of a pitch, but it would be churlish to begrudge him any such luck, such was the quality of his innings. By the time he was caught in the deep attempting to slog sweep Leach for 161, the damage had been done and this could very well be a match winning innings.

The ironic thing was that England made some early inroads with Gill, Pujara and Kohli all falling cheaply. Naturally Kohli’s dismissal and refusal to walk after being bowled being the highlight. One did wonder if he was going to go to do a W.G Grace and calmly put the bails back on before taking guard. I have a lot of respect for Kohli the batsman, but it is episodes like this that give his critics plenty of ammo. After this slapstick moment, Rahane joined Rohit in the middle and took the game away from England in the afternoon session. After Rahane was finally given out after a howler of a DRS decision from the Third umpire had previously reprieved him, Pant came in with plenty of positivity and remains a threat being unbeaten at the close of play. The sight of Joe Root getting the ball to rip late in the day, probably won’t help the mindset of the English batsmen either.

As for England, they manfully toiled in the field with Leach and Stone being the pick of the bowlers. Broad was pretty ineffective as has often been the case in Indian conditions, and Moeen’s bowling performance perfectly encapsulated his Test career so far in that he can take wickets with brilliant deliveries but is completely unable to offer any control in helping to restrict the scoring. Ca Plus Change.

It could be argued that the game is already beyond England; however they are going to need to get these last 4 Indian wickets cheaply and then hope someone plays an innings of a lifetime for them. If not, then this could be over in 3 days. Let’s just hope Star Sports don’t manage to fix their camera’s for any stumpings when it’s England’s turn to bat!

As ever thoughts on the day’s play received gratefully below.

India vs. England, 1st Test, Day 5 – A Deserved Victory

It may only be one Test in a 4 Test series, but victory for England in the first Test will feel extremely sweet this evening for the tourists. Let’s not forget that India had only lost once at home in the last 8 years prior to today’s result, so it is quite right to saviour this victory no matter what the final series score turns out to be.

Chasing an unlikely 420 to win the game, India never really got close if truth be told. They lost Pujara early to an outstanding delivery from Jack Leach and despite both Gill and Kohli looking comfortable in trying to bat out the draw, you always felt that one wicket would lead to two or three on this pitch. The fact that the breakthrough came from Jimmy Anderson should surprise nobody given how he has performed over the past few years. In the 27th over of the innings, Anderson bowled one of the best overs in Test match cricket i’ve seen in a long time, indeed evoking memories of ‘that Flintoff over’ in 2005. It was an over that had everything that has made Anderson the leading wicket taker for a pace bowler in Test cricket, a masterclass in how to bowl reverse swing in the sub-continent. Both Gill and Rahane were beaten all ends up by a delivery that reversed back through the batsmen’s defences and took out the off stump. He then also added the wicket of the dangerous Pant to in essence, seal India’s demise.

I genuinely don’t understand the disrespect Anderson gets away from these shores. Yes he is grumpy, spikey and downright gobby on the pitch, but to say he only performs in helpful conditions has been a nonsense for years. It may have been true in his early years in the team, but since then he has matured into the complete bowler, with the nous and skill to perform in any conditions. I’m not sure that I can say anymore that hasn’t been said before but it is testament to his desire to keep playing at a high level that even at 38 years old, he is still the leader of England’s attack.

Once Stokes had got rid of Kohli with a ball that kept low, it then fell to Jack Leach to ultimately finish the Indian tail off, especially with Bess having one of those frustrating days that a young spinner will encounter as he grows into International cricket. It would have been easy for Leach to have lost confidence and become downhearted after being smashed all over Chennai in the 1st innings by Pant; however Leach showed that he has got some internal fortitude and he bowled with control and skill on Day 5 and deserved his 4 wicket haul at the end of the game. For as much credit should that should go to Leach, equal credit should be given to his captain who persevered with him after the Pant show. It would have been easy for Root to tell Leach to have a breather for the rest of the innings after going for 10 an over and I remember a certain former captain with a history of doing just that; however Root immediately bought Leach back on after Pant’s dismissal and ultimately showed his belief in his spin bowler. It might not seem a huge thing, but Root seems to have matured as a captain, even if he does remain ultra-cautious at times, and by backing his spin bowler he ultimately reaped the reward as Leach came to the fore in the 4th innings. Naturally the fact that Root is scoring runs for fun right now, has no doubt aided his captaincy, but it is still heartening to see that he understands the players under his tutelage.

As for India, there will be disappointment that they ultimately were unable to bat out the day. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that they looked a little ring rusty in their home conditions after coming into this series straight off a victory in Australia. It wouldn’t surprise me either if they tinker with their bowling line up in the next game, with Nadeem looking a little out of his depth and Kuldeep, a spinner who does go for runs but does also take wickets, waiting in the wings. That being said, a wounded India is always a dangerous animal, as their performance in Australia showed. Kohli in the 2nd innings looked like he was getting back into the groove and with Ashwin yet again showing why he is so highly regarded in world cricket, India are still rightly favourites for the series. It also wouldn’t surprise me if the pitch in Chennai for the 2nd Test turns from the off, negating the impact of the coin toss.

That however is for another day. It might only be on Test match, but England can feel very proud of their performance in this Test. Tougher times are likely ahead in this series, but for now the pressure is firmly on the shoulders of the hosts.

As ever thoughts on the game are very much welcome below.