The Third Test Preview – I Say A Little Prayer

Dr Dmitri doing his rounds…..

Dateline: Thursday 16th August (the time of writing most of this) 2018. 

Date of Examination: Saturday 18th August at 11 am for initial tests.

Series Condition: 2-0 to England. India in serious trouble. Could be on life support. Host’s cranium expanding in domestic environment.

Prognosis: Could be all over by Tuesday (4 day tests, innit). Full recovery chances slim for visitors. For host, a case of feet outgrowing footwear eminently possible.

Symptoms: Indian batting in disarray, bowling not able to cover the cracks, single person dependency. England have greatest ever fast bowler* on top of his game, bowling better than ever. Batting may need further operations, although lower half provides a solid base for upper torso convulsions.

Cure: Well, this is England playing. They can be good. They can be bad. A hard fought match keeping the series alive might be just the tonic.

Enough of that. Report cards get me into trouble.

It’s time to say a little prayer. I wasn’t a huge fan of Aretha Franklin, but even I recognise when a legend passes, and she surely was one. Hell, she even worked for Donald Trump. No greater sacrifice. That’s your politics quota for the year from me.

It feels a bit trite using my favourite of her songs for the title of this blog post, but although the song has, quite understandably, sod all to do with cricket, the title resonates with how I feel about test cricket. And yes, we are just two weeks after a really gripping match. There is a more worrying trend that the Edgbaston Epic didn’t mask, and I’ll outline that later. I felt very low after Lord’s. Not because England won easily. Not because of the cheap shots passing themselves off very poorly as humour (mainly because of some of the protagonists) at Adil Rashid’s lack of contribution. Not even because the English summer seems over. No. There are trends, I follow them, and they worry me.

When this series started there were a number out there, sensible people, who wondered how we would ever bowl India out twice. India’s prowess maybe slightly overstated, certainly overseas, but these aren’t callow youths out there. They have scored runs on tricky surfaces. Where in India you wonder when they’ll fail to get 500, now we wonder if they will make 200 in an innings, something they have failed to do in 8 out of the last 9 attempts in England (and the one they did relied on a superb solo effort by their captain). I’m saying a little prayer for another Edgbaston Epic, but that would probably mean our batting would need to live down to order. I’m saying a little prayer for a competitive match, but Indian bowling will need to get better, and they’ve been not so bad so far. I’m saying a little prayer that when I get to go to the test at The Oval on 7th September, there is something worth watching and not an Indian team ready to pack up and go home. Like they were in 2011 (I was there) and 2014 (you couldn’t have paid me to go).

This test really revolves around how India bat and of course that will depend on the surface and atmospheric conditions. The test at Trent Bridge four years ago saw a pitch widely pilloried for producing boring cricket, James Anderson’s test best batting, an Alastair Cook wicket and yes, a draw – but the weather for that test was warm and dry too. Since then Trent Bridge may have become the batting paradise in ODI cricket, but it has not been so amenable for test matches. There was, of course, the Australian subsidence in 2015, and last year was the “you don’t take test cricket seriously” test (Shiny Toy) as England got thumped by South Africa. There’s every expectation that we’ll see another seamer friendly surface at the ground Jimmy Anderson has, I think, the best record at. The weather looks a bit iffy for Sunday, but early forecasts suggest that will be the main impediment over the scheduled five days, but there isn’t talk of glorious unbroken sunshine either. The arrows are all pointing in one direction. But this is England we are talking about.

After the events of this week, the key focus will be around Ben Stokes, who has been brought back into the team for “his own wellbeing”. Well, that’s lovely (stop laughing at the back – is it really six years since Textgate?). Having bowled the last rites at Edgbaston, received the plaudits for removing Kohli on the last morning, and then having missed Lord’s to be with m’learned friends, he’s back. Put back into the squad without so much as a moment’s hesitation, perhaps as a charitable act, Ben is almost certain to play, resume his spot at number 5, and the cards will fall where the cards will fall. Logic suggests that the man to make way will be Sam Curran (and selfishly, if it is, get him down to the Oval for the Lancashire match), as young Sam’s bowling isn’t quite automatic selection stuff, and the batting isn’t quite up to Stokes’ class either [Update – this change has been announced]. The rest of the debate, if debate there is, drags us down that slippery old slope of “sending messages” to the fans, to Sam Curran, to England, to Ben Stokes, to the public, to the media, hell to whoever does and doesn’t want to listen. The problem with sending messages is the recipients speak 907 different interpretative languages, and few make sense. Except mine. Mine always does. To me.

I’m torn, but then I’m not. My rule of thumb is that you should pick your best team, and let the rest fall into place (my exceptions are gross insubordination, professional irresponsibility and illegality). If FICJAM Ed Smith, James Ubiquitous Taylor, Joe “nice 50” Root, Trevor “yukka plant” Bayliss and Chuckles Farbrace want him in the team, think he forms part of the best England team and now has no legal issues to stop him, then yes, he plays. It was good enough two weeks ago, so unless he’s sobbing in the corner every five minutes or walking around like a zombie on Jeagerbombs, then he plays. If he is suspended in a open and transparent way, then that’s the call of the England hierarchy. No whispers, briefings or good journalism.

That said, and pay attention here all those who could and would cast the “best for the team” mantra aside for an individual dislike of a player, I really have little time or love for Ben Stokes the cricketer. He might be the best player we have, he might have the most talent, but I won’t erase that knockout punch, or the barely tethered anger on the field from my memory. But just because I don’t like him doesn’t mean I want him to fail, or want him dropped. He justifies his place in the team on performance, that’s it (subject to obvious caveats). End of. Yes, you know who I’m talking about. I don’t forget. Hypocrites.

Miami Dad’s Six has had his say on selection, so do read that below. The test itself starts on a Saturday, which is mad, but who cares about Monday and Tuesday crowds anyway? #pinnacleofthesport .

The weather doesn’t look that special, but decent enough, the Indian team look like having a redux of both 2011 and 2014 – Trent Bridge was where the wheels fell off in 2011 – but we live in hope. This should be a massive test match for India. They should be right up for it. With Kohli as captain I have more hope that they will be compared to before, but that’s all I’ve got to go on right now. Remember, back in 2007 India inserted England on a difficult wicket, bowled them out quite cheaply, grafted hard (including a certain Dinesh Khartik) and took a decent lead and then chipped away to win. A nice precedent. Then again, five years prior to that Michael Vaughan bowled Sachin Tendulkar at Trent Bridge, so what does that prove.

We hope a specialist England batsman – one of the top four – might make a hundred and not rely on the all-rounders to bail them out. We hope that one of the Indians remembers they can bat. The last thing we need is another one-sided test match, and an Indian subsidence. Test Cricket can be amazing, but often it is not. It needs proper R E S P E C T. Say a little prayer the next five days. Rest In Peace, Aretha.

Comments on Day 1 below.

*Wonder how many will bite.

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Guest Post – Being The Wrong ‘Un About Selection

Back when I was just a lonely old soul, writing mainly for myself and being read mainly by myself, there were a number of bloggers I made sure I read. Up there with The Old Batsman and 99.94 was “The Wrong ‘Un at Long On” (dormant since 2015). I enjoyed his take on things, when he could get the enthusiasm to write, and along with the Full Toss (Maxie and James in full cry), they encouraged me on in the early 2014 madhouse. Now, in a strange circle of fate, the same Wrong ‘Un at Long On, or as we know him on here, Miami Dad’s Six, has penned an article on the upcoming selection for the Trent Bridge test. Not entirely seriously……

Even though MDS is a blogger, remember, he’s guesting for us, so be nice. My thanks to MDS for penning this piece, and if any of you feel up for the challenge, we’d be happy to have you. Take it away Wrong ‘Un.

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So. About me. My username was a keyboard autocorrect of a cricketing moment (an internet based prize for whoever can decrypt it). I used to pen/keyboard/phlegm-up a mediocre blog myself, but was put off/shamed mainly by the unerring accuracy and thoroughness of others, ahem, mainly Dmitri, who were firing off game-changing dramatic soliloquys whilst I was spouting dribble – this was around about the time our foreign-born number 4 was ditched for shocking off-field behaviour.

This time around it’s a foreign-born number 5 in trouble for shocking off-field behaviour, which usually would signal a spell back in county cricket. To be frank though, not many in the side have really nailed their place in the side to the point where you’d guarantee they’ll be about this time next summer, so you’d fancy that our biffing ginger ninja might be slotted back in almost immediately. We all have our own thoughts on whether or not this may be the best course of action, I for one struggle to get bothered either way.

One thing I *do* get bothered about is selection. There are two main selection issues that regularly rile me, namely either players being treated unfairly OR players given special treatment, and they have been joined by a third type of annoyance – the funky, overly-lauded selection that doesn’t get scrutinised enough.  Thanks, Ed. So here are my main thoughts on selection for the 3rd Test at Trent Bridge.

Openers

Weirdly, Edward’s fresh opening batsman selection is neither innovative (he has been tried before), nor funky (he’s a rather straight-laced, nerdy looking fellow). That doesn’t mean (foreign born) Keaton Jennings is a bad player, per se, and there are certainly normal, Championship-based reasons for selecting him this summer. However there seems to be a media consensus that he’s done pretty well in spite of a run of 29, 42, 8 and 11 not exactly boosting his Test average, which sits at 24.00 after 9 Tests. You’d probably think having picked him that England should persevere for the series.  I’m calling it out as a poor selection, neither funky nor successful. (Foreign born) Gary Ballance was sent away to address his underlying issues, didn’t bother, then came back the same player with the same weaknesses. He got slated for it, yet to me Jennings seems to be entirely similar. Can anyone see him scoring a ton in Sri Lanka? Even a 50? I’d chop him now.

His opening partner’s form is boom or bust. Cook averages 27 across 12 Tests in the past year. That stat doesn’t include the double ton against the West Indies, but includes the unbeaten double ton against Australia. That appears to be where we are with Cook at the moment, huge knocks on flat decks, book-ending long periods of stodgy, footwork-related low scores. It’s a problem quite a few batsmen wouldn’t mind having, but not exactly what you want from your opening bat. The main worry I have is that Cook’s prowess against spin appears to be waning. Historically he’s good against slower bowling though, and with a tour to Sri Lanka and the West Indies coming up, I’d persevere with him, just about, for that reason alone.

Top order

Root = number 3. Bat there, try and get a big score once set.

Then there is something  of a mess from 4 to 8, created by the battery of multi-purpose tools England have assembled, combined with the complete absence of quality top order batsmen. I don’t actually mind Pope at number 4, although in an ideal world we’d have a settled top order which saw him slot in initially at 6, where he plays for his county. He’s just the latest one to get thrown in, not exactly a scientific or funky selection, and he’ll either have a sink or have a swim. Sometimes that’s sport.

For the number 5 slot, I’ve learnt nothing new about Stokes since “the video” emerged, and as he’s been playing since then following an initial suspension in Australia, I’d be happy enough for him to get picked again. However on the basis of him averaging 34 across his career, and not appearing in any sort of nick since he was, ahem, nicked – I just don’t see him as a top 5 batsman unless he really hits top form. Without overloading Jonny Bairstow, I think he is worthy of the number five spot.

All rounders

At 6 and especially at 7, Jos Buttler is the funkiest of Ed’s funky selections. Widely lauded as a huge comeback success after two Tests and a couple of 50s against Pakistan, with a ludicrously premature promotion to the vice-captaincy, he has subsequently flunked. I like Buttler, more than a little bit, however he’s never hit a Test ton. If that doesn’t change soon, we are going to reach a situation where he cannot be picked unless he’s the designated wicket keeper, vice -captain or not. Stokes could slot in at 6 which is probably a more realistic spot that a truly top team would pick him in; if you don’t end up using his bowling, is that any worse than not using Buttler’s wicket-keeping?

Chris Woakes’ place is apparently under threat in spite of a match winning century at Lords, plus a home bowling record with a lower average than both Anderson and Broad. Woakes is an interesting comparison with the other new all-rounder to have emerged. In his early 20s, Woakes came on the scene and did alright, but as he was only trundling along at 80-84mph was told to go and put a yard of pace on, so he could trouble batsmen abroad. Although he did so, and is a perfectly serviceable bowler in ODI and T20 across the world, that hasn’t exactly translated into success in Tests away from home. England will be hoping the (foreign born – ED, he was born in Northampton to a famous Zimbabwean cricketer father) Sam Curran’s left-arm angle equates to more overseas success, although there have certainly been fewer murmurings about his pace than Woakes received. Curran also currently has a lower bowling average at home than either Jimmy or Broad. From the top of my head, so does Toby Roland-Jones. To me that sounds like the foundation of an in-depth analysis of how picking the pair indiscriminately over the past 10 years has denied Graham Onions the chance of 500 Test wickets, but I’ll leave that to someone with more time.

Bowlers

Nevertheless, Anderson and Broad are currently bowling miserly spells and taking wickets. On that basis they get to stay in my XI, which I’m sure them and their 900 Test scalps will be delighted to hear.  As does Adil Rashid, who probably won’t bowl much again, but has done fine this summer the times he has been called on (figures of 3-40, admittedly mainly thanks to Ishant Sharma). No-one wants a situation like the Saffer team of the early 2000s, who couldn’t find a spinner in a Christmas cracker selection – and again Rashid has surely been picked with this winter’s tours in mind.

So my team would be:

  1. Cook
  2. ED’S RANDOM FUNKY PICK GENERATOR WHO CAN PLAY SPIN WELL…MARCUS TRESCOTHICK
  3. Root (c)
  4. Pope
  5. Bairstow (w)
  6. Stokes (vc)
  7. Woakes
  8. Curran
  9. Rashid
  10. Anderson
  11. Broad

Let me know your thoughts, criticisms and mind…

Rules of Engagement

You know what?  We don’t even want to talk about it in a post.  In the comments, for sure, go for it.  In a blog post?  Not really.  The law took its course, the jury delivered its verdict.  That’s how it works, and he leaves court acquitted and a free man.  Decision made.

What it might mean for England is a little more complex and depends on what path they decide to go down.  There will be an internal inquiry, and whether he faces additional punishment or whether it will be felt to be “time served” given he missed most of last winter is an open question.

There’s a lot to talk about and a lot to discuss, but please forgive us if we feel that a lengthy post isn’t the place to do it, but the comments probably are.

Over to you…

Day 4 Review – They Don’t Want Your Name

“Plain and simp the system’s a pimp
But I refuse to be a ho
Who stole the soul?”

Public Enemy – Who Stole The Soul?

This may not be the best example of the genre, but the ECB, BCCI, ICC, England cricket and Indian cricket, have long since been in the position to be given the benefit of the doubt. This test match has grave alarm bells tolling, and why much of this may be down to India getting the raw end of the deal when it came to pitch and conditions we’ve seen another game where an away team are all at sea, and England’s crew of home cooking seam bowling has taken apart a team that is ranked number 1 in the world. This England team would be massacred in India, we know that, we all know that, because this is the sort of bowling attack we’d take there. There’s no real new names that could put their hand up and shock us all. There’s no star batsman just waiting to make hay in the Indian sunshine on tracks that take turn. We can try to fool ourselves that Edgbaston is as close as India will get to a neutral venue on this tour, and that the best side won, but it won because it covered up those awful batting fissures that require us to pick bowlers because they can bat.

So while Woakes ended England’s four test long century drought to bring some much needed light to the batting woes, again we are relying on the bowling all rounders to bail us out of tight spots to win games. This is not “we’re doing it all wrong”. England bowled well, really well, in helpful conditions and that hasn’t always been the way of things. Anderson was exceptional in the first innings, and Broad hit the heights in the second. They shouldn’t bowl like clowns because the batsmen are batting like them.

Woakes and Curran added a few more runs to the total before Young Sam’s slog to third man meant that Chris Woakes got the red ink on his 137. Lots of Ian Botham impersonators on line were crying out for the early declaration, but anyone studying the rain radar like the nerd I am would have been able to tell the rain was weakening the further east it got, turning to drizzle. More play than was predicted was predicted! Yes, we could have bowled in favourable conditions, and yes we need to take ten wickets. But there’s a comfort in sitting there saying “declare, declare”. This isn’t a case of them being nine down and clinging on. If they were still there at tea tomorrow, they were going to be ahead. (I’m writing this first part at 5 pm, so before the close of play).

England finally declared after about 37 minutes (well I’m assuming that was how long given that was the interlude for Virat to bat) with a lead of 289. Anderson made short work of Murali Vijay, who will now probably find himself swapped out for Dhawan after this pair. He didn’t take long to remove KL Rahul either, and India found themselves at 13 for 2. Resistance came in some shape or form from Pujara, but Rahane’s disappointing tour continued as he prodded to slip. Pujara hung around but then got bowled, Kohli had a bad back, and he fended to forward short leg after a short innings, and Dinesh Karthik – the same one I see score 91 in 2008 at the Oval – got a booming inswinger first up and was sent on his way. The rain came at 66 for 6. The end looked nigh.

50 runs after the interval and Chris Woakes nailed Hardik Pandya LBW after a review. He’d looked quite comfortable at the crease and had batted well with the first innings performer, Ashwin. This is a difficult batting wicket, and tough conditions, but it is not impossible, and Pandya and Ashwin showed that, although Michael Holding has really got it in for Hardik Pandya for some reason!

Kuldeep Yadav was knocked over having nicked on to the stumps, and looked at least one place too high in the order. After a bad light review and a reprieve from a mistaken umpire decision, Mohammed Shami, who bowled beautifully with little reward, decided to swing for the fences, and was nailed plumb in front. Ishant fell to Woakes, who selfishly, callously denied both Anderson and Broad a five for. England won by an innings an 158 runs.

England have won the test. They lead the series 2-0. The summer game may as well roll  up for the rest of the year now. A test series we prayed might be competitive is repeating 2011 and 2014 before our eyes. This isn’t England’s fault. We didn’t let up. I never really felt any doubt that we would win this series, I rather hoped India would come to play with some form of grit and determination to see this out. They haven’t. What happened in the past two series was the first two tests might have had some competition at the start, as soon as the tide turned, India counted the days towards going home. More and more players got injured. Heads went down. This is not unique for India, but hell, it’s worrying that a number 1 team in the world goes down this meekly. If you’re not worried, then, frankly, you’ve not been paying attention.

There’s a much larger, longer post on the problems with sport at the moment. There is an illusion of sporting wellbeing that is utterly misplaced. Cricket is but one sport that needs to smell the coffee. The veneration of Lord’s, with all its snobbery and class system in full effect, is one symptom of a much larger malaise. When the Premier League starts with all its obnoxious wealth, sub-standard fayre, and slick salesmen selling us snake oil, and garners all the attention, sport as a way out of real life, and to be loved and nurtured is being diminished. Diminished by one-sided contests, pay TV taking major events away from the public (the 4th golf major, anyone), and the rich getting richer. Who stole the soul indeed?

“If you’re not honest, there won’t be progress” said Kumar Sangakkara. How true. How damn true. But while it’s money and short-termism in control, progress is ephemeral. Such progress there is.

On to Trent Bridge.

England vs India: 2nd Test, Day Three

One of the particular joys of putting out a blog and having opinions is the spectacular way to they can come back and bite you on the arse. Thus it is with some amusement that the description of Chris Woakes as “Mr Mediocre” in the preview has to be mentioned here after today, following a quite exceptional maiden Test century to follow up a rather good bowling performance.

Naturally, given that we’re close knit, supportive team on here, who always agree with each other, I shouldn’t remotely mention that. Nor should I mention that personally I’ve always quite liked Chris Woakes, and that when we’ve bickered long into the night about the merits of various players, this has always been a bone of contention. Thus under no circumstances would I have repeatedly texted Sean gleefully reminding him of his comments over the last few years, and he absolutely hasn’t expressed relief he’s not doing tonight because it would mean he had to be nice to Woakes. So I shall be.

Apart from the delicious schadenfreude of this innings, Woakes batted beautifully today, and he bowled beautifully yesterday too. This really says the obvious, at least thus far in his career – that he’s highly effective in England, and less so overseas. The question at hand is how much this matters, given that Woakes is hardly alone in this, and even the likes of Broad and Anderson are criticised for it often enough. Perhaps the problem is that it applies across the bowling line up rather than just with one of them – the ineffectiveness of many of those chosen in foreign conditions being a regular feature of England sides in recent times, and exacerbating the problem. Woakes has bowled well (without quite getting the rewards) in South Africa, certainly. But he’s not the first English fast medium bowler to struggle in Asia or Australia.

Woakes does have talent, of that there’s no question. He moves the (Duke) ball in the air and off the pitch, while his batting has always looked of greater capability than perhaps the results have demonstrated. To put it another way, no one should be that surprised he’s scored a Test century, he’s always looked sufficiently able.

England are now in an impregnable position, the loss of the first day’s play meaning that India are playing purely for the draw given the forecast. Indeed, with tomorrow’s weather now moving from the iffy to the grim with every passing hour, it could be that they escape with that draw, in what has been a curiously unsatisfying Test to date. Certainly India have had the worst of the conditions, being put in to bat with England’s pacemen salivating at the prospect. However, while Anderson, Broad et al are supremely skilful at exploiting such circumstances, it can’t be denied that India batted horribly. They are, at least partially, the architects of their own downfall here.

If climatic conditions may now save them, they’ll still need to play far better in what remains than they have done so far, for otherwise England may not need that much more than a session over the next two days to bowl them out, such was the dominance they exerted with the ball. And it’s not unreasonable to expect some play, whatever the forecast.

Woakes indicated after play that England may bat on, but there is surely a degree of kidology involved there, for 250 runs behind requires India to bat for a day even to get level. It’s arguable that England could have declared earlier, but given the early curtailment of proceedings due to bad light, batting on probably made sense. It should be noted though that this means England were taking the weather into account. Something teams always deny that they do, despite it being entirely obvious that it is always a factor.

India had their chances today. They took early wickets, and at one stage had half the England team out with the scores more or less level. A sliding doors moment in this Test, for from that point on, Woakes and Bairstow first eased away, and then dominated.

Even without Stokes, England’s middle order does look strong, but the troubles at the top continue. Jennings has looked reasonable since his return, but whoever the incumbent, England’s top order looks brittle. Cook started brightly, and even unveiled a couple of off drives, which is usually a sign of his technique being in decent shape. But Ishant Sharma got one to move off the seam, and that was that. It was a good ball, but not an unplayable one. Cook was caught on the crease and squared up. It happens. Lateral movement plays havoc with all batsmen, and it’s not a matter of Cook having done anything radically wrong, but three times this series he has supposedly been out to fantastic deliveries. Is it so hard to say that they were decent nuts, but that Cook at his best would have played them better?

Ollie Pope looked bright in his first Test innings, and certainly not lacking in confidence. No judgement can or should be made of him at this stage, except to say it is a pleasure to see a young player revelling in the excitement of playing Test cricket.

Root failed. This is rather noteworthy actually, because despite the comment about his conversion rate from 50 to 100, his ability to reach 50 in Tests is remarkably high, up there with Bradman. Thus his failure today gets a mention, not as criticism, but as a reminder to us all that Root is a very fine player indeed whatever his own frustrations.

Mohammed Shami was probably the pick of the Indian attack, troubling most of the England line up even as his colleagues wilted somewhat in the second half of the day. Perhaps they could have done with another seamer, for the spinners were ineffective, but conditions have made this look a worse decision than it probably was, given how Lord’s is often unresponsive to seam and swing for the first few days. A couple of recent Tests suggest this may be changing a bit, perhaps in line with English home Tests generally.

After little more than a day in this match, England are completely dominant. Whether they go on to win seems more a matter of the elements than the play, for if the meteorologists are wrong, it is hard to see how India get out of this one. They need some luck, for otherwise this whole series starts to look one sided, as much as the last one in India. For the sake of interest in the remainder of the Test summer, a downpour or three may not be the worst thing.

England vs. India: 2nd Test, Day 2 – The First Day

At the end of the first day’s play, with just 33 overs bowled, I think I can say with certainty that England have the upper hand in this Test match.

It started before the start of play, when England won the toss and chose to bowl first. With cloudy conditions and showers forecast through the day, it was an easy decision to make. Anderson took quick advantage of the situation, bowling Vijay with a spectacular outswinger. On one hand, it’s a ball which would have got many (perhaps most) batsmen out. On the other hand, the way that the Indian opener got squared up trying to clip the ball on the back foot into the leg side was positively Malan-esque. Not great technique for an opener, or indeed any batsman in English conditions.

What followed was a testing, if short session for the Indian batsmen. Pujara and Rahul hung in there, but only just. Anderson’s bowling constantly tested the outside edge, and Broad was also bowling from the other end. As is almost always the way, England made a breakthrough just before the players went off for the first rain delay of the game. Rahul edged Anderson to the keeper, and two balls later the rain began.

There was a brief respite from the showers after Lunch, which allowed the game to continue for a few overs. Whilst the bowling didn’t manage to threaten the Indian batsmen, the visitors still managed to lose another wicket before rain forced them off yet again. This time it was a mix up between Kohli and Pujara, with both batsmen going for the run before the captain made an abrupt u-turn and left Pujara stranded at the other end.

What followed was the kind of downpour normally associated with large boats and two of every animal. Standing water everywhere, the kind of picture in years past which would have would have had everyone going home and coming back the next day. Instead, the Lord’s drainage system did its near-miraculous job and play was able to resume with Indian needing to survive another 28 overs in the day.

The last session started quite well for the tourists. They managed to fend off Anderson’s first spell, and it wasn’t until Woakes and Curran were bowling that England were able to break the crucial partnership between Kohli and Rahane. Kohli edged a full outswinger from Woakes to Jos Buttler at second slip (who has missed a sharp chance the ball before), and that felt like the end of India’s chances in this game. Woakes got Pandya out the same way two overs later, and Curran bowled Karthik the over after that. Anderson returned to clean up the tail, and Broad finally got a delivery aimed at the stumps to account for Ashwin.

And, as if the day couldn’t have gone any more perfectly for England, they took the last wicket late enough so that Cook and Jennings wouldn’t have to bat until tomorrow. India managed just 107 runs in their first inning, and honestly that flatters them a little. The next two days should be rain-free, and it’s hard to see anything but an England victory. But then I remember that India have picked two spinners and England are fully capable of collapsing hilariously in this situation.

As always, comments about the game (or anything else) below.

 

Rain, rain go away…

If there’s one thing to be said for today’s complete washout, it’s that for once after the first day no one will be expressing certainty about which way the game is going. Indeed it’s fair to say neither team has the upper hand…

What it does mean is that over the next four days there will (should) be 98 overs bowled, which in an ideal world would make up a third of the lost play on day one. In reality of course, the teams will probably fail to get the overs in, and with a longer day involved, ironically there are more overs to lose. That we’re at the point where the absolute certainty that the teams will get away without bowling what is meant to be a minimum stipulation – and with an extra half hour to make up for any delays – remains ridiculous. Those that advocate four day Tests have never managed to answer this particular problem besides saying that the overs stipulation should be enforced. Well, yes. But it won’t be, and the overwhelming evidence for that is because it isn’t.

Equally, the loss of day one turns this into a four day game, with the follow on target reduced to 150 runs. A rare example of good sense in the international game.

Other than that, the forecast for tomorrow is for a cool day with light showers, and a weekend of rather better weather before Monday turns iffy again. The nature of the two batting line ups means that there could still be a result, depending on the surface produced. It has certainly looked green in the previews before today, though Lord’s is rarely a bowlers paradise.

Social media carried its fair share of postings about what the players and media had for lunch, which always seems a peculiar way to promote the ground, given how the plebs are confined to bringing their own or selling a kidney in order to buy a ropey burger and chips. Lord’s is a funny place. Half the time it appears to be the Henley Regatta of cricket, a place to see and be seen for a certain kind of person, rather than a sporting venue.

For sure, some will be lining up to point to it being the same old BOC moaning, but the problem is that the general public always appear to be invited in on sufferance rather than welcomed, except financially – and given the extraordinary prices charged, that financially is clearly a major factor. But it always jars somewhat to see what amounts to a celebration of the right kind of people being in attendance, something that doesn’t happen at any other ground – not even the Oval, which is hardly a bargain basement entry fee. Some things they get spot on, the installation of water fountains is an unqualified good thing, the ability to bring in your own drink equally so. It’s not like everything about it is objectionable by any means, but there’s a feeling about visiting, a nagging dislike that won’t go away.

Perhaps it’s me. Perhaps it’s a reverse snobbery to have a problem with the endless hagiography for the place, for undoubtedly it is a special ground for the players, the most special and iconic. But of all the grounds to go and watch cricket, Lord’s is generally my least favourite. I have friends who strongly disagree, and who love the pomp of a visit there, and as a club player, there’s nothing in your dreams quite so much as the outside prospect of reaching the club or village knockout final played there.

It’s beautiful, it’s historic, and it’s genuinely special. But as a paying spectator? Not for me, Clive. Or Sir Clive more likely.

England vs. India, 2nd Test, Preview

So after catching our breath after what was a truly enjoyable First Test, we now head over to Lords where being seen with the right people is generally more important than the cricket and forking out the best part of £120 for a ticket is never an issue, and pay well over the odds for champagne is the done thing. One of the major things that made the First Test so enjoyable was the pitch that was prepared for Edgbaston had a bit in it for the bowlers, certainly when there was some overhead cloud cover. Sure the batting on both sides (Kohli aside) was pretty flimsy but credit to the bowlers who made the most of the conditions. This unfortunately is where Lords will differ to Edgbaston as Mick Hunt has never prioritised the entertainment of the crowd compared to ensuring that the game lasts well into the final day, after all this is the cash cow Test Match, so you may as well milk it whilst you can. I would expect there to be a little movement early on, but then the pitch should flatten out and make batting relatively serene for both sides certainly compared to Edgbaston. Whether either side has the batting quality (again aside from Kohli and Root) to take such advantage is still to be believed.

England have made two changes to their Test side with a certain balding, ginger all-rounder occupied elsewhere (that’s all you’re getting from me on that subject) and Dawid Malan being dropped after suffering a difficult time with the bat at home and an even worse time in the slips. I would have liked to see Malan succeed as a Test Player but as every innings rolled by, it looked more and more that the 100 he scored in Perth was going to be the exception rather than the norm. I was slightly surprised that Ed Smith stated he felt Malan would suit away conditions rather than home conditions, as this now pretty much rules him out of any home Test series in future. In his place, the exciting Ollie Pope has been called up on the weight of runs that he has scored this season and due to England’s new focus on youth. Would it maybe preferable to have called up a certain Ian Ronald Bell, who is scoring bucket loads of runs and hence let Pope consolidate his game in Division 1? Maybe so, but I can’t fault Smith’s focus on getting a young talent into the Test team. From the little I have seen of Pope live, he does seem to be more comfortable on the back foot rather than the front foot, so it will be interesting to see how his technique goes to the fuller ball, especially if it is swinging. That being said, he has looked supremely comfortable against county attacks this season and whilst Joe Clarke can feel a little unlucky at not being the next cab off the rank, I personally feel that Pope looks the better talent. One must hope that he can take his county form into the Test arena. I would expect Mr. Mediocre, Chris Woakes, to come in for said absent all-rounder unless the dry nature of the recent weather makes Lords a bit of a Bunsen burner, which I would highly doubt (one must have 4 full days of play at least one must remember).

As for India, Bumrah is still not fit so I would presume that they will stick with the same bowling attack that caused England all sorts of problems at Edgbaston. The main call for India is whether they decide to recall Cheteshwar Pujara to the starting line up after their own batting suffered the yips in the First Test. I believe Pujara hasn’t been in the best form this season, but it still surprised me that he was dropped for the First Test as his record against England in our country is miles higher than any of his counterparts. Dhawan looks like a walking wicket to me, so India really do need someone to soak up strike with the new ball to prevent Kohli being exposed too early to a new ball. Much has been written about Kohli in the First Test, quite rightly so as his performance with the bat was heroic; however he is going to need some support from his other batsmen as no matter how talented he his, he really can’t do it all on his own.

As ever thoughts and comments on the game are welcome below:

Look around, Choose your own ground…

In keeping with Dmitri’s musical themes for his posts, I thought I’d add a little bit of Pink Floyd into the mix. ‘Breathe, breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care’ seems especially poignant when it’s quite clear our governing body has constantly shown that they couldn’t care less anymore and there seems to be only a few of us trying to hold these individuals to some sort of account. I read with particular interest our guest article on the T100 yesterday and if you haven’t yet had a chance to read Steve’s excellent article, then I strongly urge you to do so. It was particularly of interest to me having watched most of what was a tight and hard-fought Test Match and from having headed down to the Oval on Friday night to see the habitual shoeing of Middlesex my first T20 game of the season. I’m not going to lie about the fact that my interest in cricket has waned dramatically since the end of the Pakistan series, as everyone knows on here that I’m not a fan of the 50 over white ball fare that has been served up in abundance this summer and quite frankly it’s hardly been fun following Middlesex’s plunge into mediocrity, hence my lack of output on the blog recently. I’ll also admit that I wasn’t as buoyant about the upcoming Test Series with India last week as I usually am for a high-profile Test Series having been worn down by England’s inability to pick anyone decent in the middle order, coupled with the complete farce that is the ECB’s modus operandi and the disgraceful rhetoric aimed at Adil Rashid from those that should know better, but for whatever reason prefer to personally insult an England cricketer for nothing more than accepting a call up to the national squad.

The first day of the Test was underwhelming from an England point of view and made writing a report of the day somewhat difficult when it seemed that another one-sided Test Match was on the cards. Test Match cricket is not to be underestimated though and the next 2.5 days provided a glimpse into why Test cricket can be so great. Sure there was some poor batting on display, but the regular twist and turns of this match, which is something that can’t be replicated in the white ball game, the unlikely rear-guard action by England, the Kohli Century and the tension of the final morning when both teams could have gone on to win the game, was a joy to behold. I’m sure that we’ll deep dive into the relative strengths and weaknesses of each side’s performance in the preview, but as TLG’s elegant post detailed on Friday, there was more to this than just the final result, it showed yet again why our governing body is so foolish to try to underplay the joy red ball cricket can bring to those who have the means to follow it, young or old. It was also good to see Kohli, whose Indian side has been said to prioritize white ball cricket ahead of red ball cricket in the past, come out and say:

“Test match cricket is the best format in cricket and my favourite. We love playing it and I’m sure every player will agree with me.”

It was also interesting that on my way to the Oval on Friday, the ground and certainly the seats in the playing area were half empty whilst the Test Match was going on and even once the game had started. I’m sure part of these were the ‘after work’ lot who head to the Oval for some sunshine and booze but there were many others who seemed to be more interested in what was going on at Edgbaston. I left work at 4:30pm and struggled to get into the pub next to the ground as it was one of the few places with the Test on and judging by the cheers and groans coming from the pub (I had to move outside as it felt about 90 degrees in there) that the majority were taking more than a passing interest in the Test rather than purely getting smashed in time for the game. I also joined a crowd of a good few hundred watching the Test under the very sweaty Oval covers (this was one of about 10 TV’s and the least busy) again highlighting the myth that all of those who attend T20 are disinterested in the longer format of the game. So why exactly do we need a new competition again? Once again surely access to the game is the main blocker for the audience, rather than a game of ‘comedy cabbage patch cricket’ aimed at a so-called new demographic who the ECB has yet to formally identify (the mother and kids thing is a loose justification as to why they feel the need to completely destroy the game of cricket).

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A packed ground at the Oval watching Surrey hit it to all parts

Now I’m aware that the T20 Blast has it’s faults, that it is too expensive certainly down south (the tickets for the Oval were £35, which is at least £15 too expensive in my opinion), that the English climate is not ideal for holding the competition in a block and that the nature of the 18 teams means that it is impossible to follow all of your team’s games unless you are willing to fork out serious dough (this is actually a blessing as a Middlesex fan). However the mad thing is and at the same time the major nail in the ECB’s plans for a game of cabbage cricket, is that the NatWest Blast set new records for ticket sales in 2017, with official attendance rising to 883,000 overall. Indeed Finals Day at Edgbaston was also a record sell-out, while average attendances among the 18 counties were up to 7500. This doesn’t exactly sound like a competition in crisis. I’m by no means a regular T20 visitor, but I’ll admit that Friday was good fun without being totally memorable (despite seeing two tons on a road of pitch). The Oval wasn’t as boisterous as it could have been, there were more individuals who were taking an active interest in the cricket rather than the contents of their overpriced beer cup and even the ‘after work city-lot’ whilst showing no real interest in the game (the ones in sat in front of me turned up after 8 overs had already been bowled) were at least quite pleasant and I’m a believer that England cricket can not be too stuffy as to turn their nose up at paying spectators. There can be a place where people prefer Test Cricket to White Ball cricket and vice versa, but are still interested in the game of cricket as a whole, rather than the excuse of a game the ECB have designed on the back of a fag packet in order to try to line their pockets whilst they still can.

So we have a growing T20 game albeit with some faults and a red ball competition with a solid base of supporters despite being pushed to the margins of the season (I’m not mentioning the 50 over lark, I’d abolish it if I could). Yet the powers that be in their infinite wisdom have decided that what we need more of is a competition that not only alienates its’ own cricket fans but has no proof of the concept of success whilst at the same pushing it’s current successful short ball competition and the red ball season into such obscurity to the extent that many might not know they exist anymore. The only way they could insult the counties and fans further would be to ask them to build the tusks and then paint the whole thing white. Seemingly no-one has had the sense to ask the common fan what they would like to see, despite many of them knowing more than the stooges at ECB head office could ever know. I’d lay my bottom dollar that many would simply reply with easy access to the cricket both in terms of viewing and visiting and for a successful national team, it seems even Paul Newman is gradually coming round to the idea:

Now many on the Sky side of the argument would argue that their input of finance into the game has allowed English cricket to put the finance into their facilities and paying their best players, though many of us lament the opportunity lost to cater for those ‘new fans’ who had been captivated by the Ashes in 2005. Now I would suggest that FTA on just television is not going to attract swathes of new followers though it would attract some, just as the new competition might attract the odd fool, but won’t be a drop on the ocean compared to the money spent on it. The way we consume media has changed and hence it’s now more about the ability to access the content rather than it running on ITV4. I mention this because the Counties have on the whole done a great job of running live feeds from the 4 day game, yet yesterday when there were a number of T20 games on around the country and no Test Cricket on the TV, not one was being shown by Sky. What a waste! Surely there needs to be an opportunity to screen those games that Sky aren’t showing on a local FTA stream much as they have done with the 4 day games. They could even develop 10 minute highlights packages for the kids who supposedly have no patience these days. Why not take a growing product and properly market it to those who could form a new audience? It doesn’t have to have all the mod-cons and camera angles as Sky provide, just a decent camera view and a local commentator giving their insight on the stream.

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Red Sky & Middlesex at night, Surrey’s delight…

Then we get to the real crux of the matter and the point in which I have been going slightly around this houses with in this piece (I could have written this in about 100 words, but it would have been a rather short and pointless article), which is that you could come up with the most wonderful and weird competition in the world and have the best marketing agency promoting this and it will still mean jack without success on the field.  Why do the ECB think that a large number of people turned up to the game at Edgbaston on Saturday knowing they would at best have 2 hours of cricket or why were so many people transfixed in the pub the previous evening? Let me share a little secret with the ECB, people are interested in Test Cricket especially when we have a competitive team playing good (but certainly not great) cricket. Yet this is the very thing that the new competition threatens, as the county championship which is supposed to be the breeding ground for our Test Players of the future, slowly keeps being pushed to the extremities to the point that the ECB won’t even promote it. What is going to happen when Anderson, Cook and Broad and the like retire? Who is there in County Cricket that has the talent and skill to replace these players and keep England competitive in the coming years? The answer looks like a frighteningly bare cupboard of talent certainly based on the Lions tour, with players who are only used to playing medium dobbers on damp, green pitches. It certainly isn’t Chris Woakes! Do you think there would have been as many people watching the game if England were being curb-stomped in the last Test? I think we all now know the answer to this.

So instead of trying to re-invent the wheel with 100 balls or 10 ball overs or the batsmen wearing flippers or whatever, how about the dolts at the ECB concentrate on something that might guarantee cricket’s future such as continued success on the field and wider access to all? It’s not exactly rocket science, but I’m still yet to be convinced this snake pit of greed and self serving even cares anymore. Make money whilst the sun shines and make yourselves scarce when the rain clouds gather. It’s only the game and the fans that will suffer.

Still as Pink Floyd once foretold: ‘Run, rabbit run, Dig that hole, forget the sun; And when at last the work is done; Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one.’ In truth I may have accidentally downloaded the modus operandi for ‘the hundred’ from the ECB’s PR department instead. I guess there’s no way to know these days…

Guest Post – The Hundred – A Case of the “Haves” and the “Have-Nots”

Intro

We are always pleased to welcome new writers to our blog, to widen the perspective on cricket on this site. We do know that we do get more interest when test matches are on. But what we also know is that the county game is the pipeline that needs to flow, and the Hundred has raised lots of ire. Concerns we share.

Steve has put together his piece on the Hundred. A regular contributor to the Incider, a Somerset cricket blog, SomersetNorth (as his nom de guerre on here will be) has kindly provided this guest post on the impact The Hundred might have on non-selected counties. It’s well worth a read. (Pictures and captions are mine, not Steve’s).

Surrey v Glamorgan in the T20 Blast last July. Full house, but not enough for the ECB

 

The Hundred – A Case of the “Haves” and the “Have-Nots”

The debate about the “Hundred” continues to rumble around cricket. Hardly a day seems to go by without either another ECB briefing providing yet more surreal details of their proposed new “Hundred” competition or a respected voice adding to the landslide of criticism descending upon the heads of the ECB’s top brass.

Scyld Berry weighed in on the morning of the first test with his criticism of the Board. Writing in the Daily Telegraph Berry sets out his case that the ECB is failing in its responsibility to govern cricket’s future and is not administering the present terribly well either. It is an excellent piece but fails to examine what I believe is the real issue, the relative impact the new competition will have on the 18 first-class counties and the stark differences between those that will host the new franchises and those that won’t.

The starting point for Berry’s attack on the ECB is the latest news that the board is countenancing moving away from the concept of the over in its new competition. Yet another idea which convinces Berry, and with which many of us agree, that a large part of the cricketing summer will in the very near future be taken up by something that, literally, is not cricket.

Whichever way you look at it the England and Wales Cricket Board is at a moral crossroads. One where there is the very real prospect that the decisions it is currently taking will change the face of county cricket forever and end the existence of a number of county clubs while severely damaging many others.

More weight is added to the ECB incompetence argument by the way they handled the selection of Adil Rashid. Whatever your views on the inclusion of Yorkshire’s leggie no one can be in any doubt that the board did not handle the whole process very well. From appearing to sit on their hands while Rashid was not playing in the Roses match prior to selection, through the apparent disconnect between player, his county club and England, and on to their failure to see the damage the selection would do to an already beleaguered county championship.

Am I alone in considering it very strange that the ECB, who in the not too distant past, were commissioning reports with the aim of making the County Championship the best it could be to ensure a healthy English test side, appear now to be actively undermining and marginalising the premier county competition?

But there is a more fundamental point which needs to be addressed. One which to date seems to have received little attention from either the ECB or the media. The impact the new competition will have on those counties that will not host one of the new franchises.

Some might argue that we already have a distinction between the test and non-test playing grounds and that the new competition is merely an extension of this arrangement. Worryingly that appears not to be the case. The financial arrangements for the distribution of funds from the Hundred will almost certainly not mirror the process for test revenues. A funding stream remember which currently keeps many counties heads above water.

Cards on the table time, I am writing this from my perspective of a lifelong Somerset fan. Someone who is very very worried about the financial implications for his county club of the new competition and funding arrangements.

Somerset is a very well-run club. A county which has, over the past 10 to 15 years created a financially stable model of how county clubs should be run. A model which has allied on-field consistency (although disappointingly little silverware to show for it) with the redevelopment of the County Ground. A redevelopment which has retained the feel of a county cricket ground while modernising the facilities to a level that were unrecognisable at the turn of the century.

This development has been achieved within the existing financial structure of the county game and has been adapted to maximise the benefit from the many changes in the structure of county cricket that we have seen in the last decade. The funding model takes advantage of the excellent support the club boasts and increasingly significant off-field revenue streams to operate independent of any central hand-outs.

Based on what we know at present, the new competition is likely to occupy the mid-summer block currently taken up with the Vitality Blast. Scheduling restrictions will almost certainly mean that the Blast will be in direct competition to the new format. If this is the case the financial implications for Somerset and the other “non-Hundred” counties will be severe.

The ECB has stated that they believe the new competition will be targeted at a new audience and, by extension, will generate new cash for the game. This is I believe nonsense. There may be a short-term bounce in revenues but beyond that it is hard to see how sustainable additional revenues will be generated. More likely the devalued Blast will see falling attendances and revenues.

Some clubs, such as Somerset, with deeply loyal, regionalised, hard-core support may be fortunate in retaining numbers for the T20. But this is very unlikely to be universally true across the have-nots.

The obvious source of financial assistance for these clubs is compensation from the centre. But will those counties that are “lucky” enough to host the new competition be prepared to share their new-found riches with their competitors?

Whitgift School – An annual fixture, perhaps a site once the 100 gets up and running. But at what cost?

Clubs such as Lancashire, Yorkshire and Warwickshire will certainly see the Hundred as a solution to the debt burden they have accrued as they have re-developed their grounds. These clubs probably cannot afford to forgo the riches their new franchises will generate even if, altruistically, they want to.

Not only will the Hundred take out a significant chunk of revenue for ten counties but it will further marginalise the county game and most likely the red-ball game that those ten clubs will still be expected to run.

The championship could conceivably become even more peripheral in its scheduling than it is at present. Which in turn would make it harder for those clubs to retain its hard-core membership.

The ECB seems to be blind to how healthy the county game is at present. While the evidence of attendance levels for county championship games does not necessarily indicate a successful product the county game now operates at an entirely different level, being consumed more away from the grounds than at them. The recent developments of live-streaming and BBC local radio commentaries has seen astonishing levels of engagement with those unable to get to as many games as they would like. I cannot, in my lifetime, think of a county championship that better engages with its supporters than the current iteration. And that is despite, I would argue, the best efforts of the ECB in the opposite direction.

Somerset, for the reasons I have set out above, are probably better able to ride out the financial storm that the new competition will inevitably generate. But other clubs may not be so lucky. Counties such as Derbyshire, Kent, Leicestershire and Northants, all coincidentally close to potential franchises, will almost certainly see a drift away of support. A drift which if it is long-term will be severely damaging. If this is the case the current structure of 18 first-class counties is unlikely to survive.

But for those “non-hundred” counties that are able to keep their financial heads above water the challenge of being competitive on the field will be that much greater. Take the example of Dominic Bess. Let’s imagine this is 2021 and that Somerset’s young off-spinning all-rounder has just made his test debut and that the Hundred is up and running.

Bess is drafted to the Bristol Bashers or the Cardiff Crunchers and heads off there for a six-week contract. From a Somerset point of view, will he be selected at the end of that contract for red-ball games ahead of an alternative who has been playing championship or second eleven red-ball cricket for the county? From the player’s point of view, wouldn’t it be easier to move to the county club that hosts the Hundred for professional and logistical reasons?

It’s not a huge stretch to see that within three or four years of the new competition being set up the “haves”, having attracted and retained the cream of the player pool, will occupy division one of the championship. A have-not county will have to punch significantly above its weight in a big way to compete.

So, it is my contention that the consequences of the ECB’s new love-child will be far more far-reaching than have been debated so far. I don’t have any confidence in the ECB’s working party to come up with any solutions to any of the problems this new competition presents. Despite it being chaired by the chief executive of Leicestershire.

Chesterfield – The County Scene In All It’s Glory

Many of us who support the poor-relation non-test hosting clubs will see this as the ECB seeking a way of achieving what it hoped the two-division county championship has failed to deliver. There is no doubt in my mind that they wish to see the counties on the test circuit playing in division one and the “lesser lights” occupying the bottom tier.

It is a source of great pride to Somerset as a club that we have been the county that has remained in Division One the longest and seen all the test host counties go down in that time.

So, the question has to be, will the counties acquiesce with ECB’s plans or will they rebel?

Could we be on the verge of a Premier League style break-away where the counties decide to take control of the domestic game away from the board? It is not as far-fetched a notion as might appear at first sight. Certainly not if the ECB continues its headlong rush toward a new structure which will drive a massive wedge through the county game without consideration of the cricketing and financial implications for all 18 counties.

It will be interesting to see how the ECB wins the support of the host counties for the new structure as this may determine whether this possibility becomes a probability. If the host counties only benefit financially to the extent of the rent of their grounds (while the financial gains go to the separately owned franchises), they are less likely to be supportive. Alternatively, will the eight host counties be asked to take on the not insignificant risk of the new competition being a financial disaster as franchises?

It serves as evidence of how badly thought out this new competition is that, less than two years before it starts, there is the very real possibility that a significant number of the first-class counties will suffer significant financial damage which may irreparably damage the domestic game. As Mr Berry says the ECB is failing in its responsibility to the domestic game.

Outro

You can follow Steve on twitter @stevetancock62 and read more of his writing at www.SomersetNorth.co.uk .

He’s also a Boston Red Sox fan!