Sharjah Day 1 – And Bits Of Other Stuff

night_sharjah_23_by_amirajuli-d4ipmv5

So we move to the Third Test of this fascinating series. Both the first two tests have gone down to the wire, both in unlikely circumstances. In the former, the spinner derided by the journo who tells us know-nothings what’s what, nearly won us a game, and in the latter the spinner derided by the journo who…., nearly saved us when all seemed lost.

But we are where we are, 1-0 down. There’s stuff about we deserve to be level, etc. but that’s just the stuff of hopes and dreams. Winning a test match, as the Pakistanis found in Dubai, is about sealing the deal, closing the match, and sometimes it is bloody hard to do so. Clearly, a win in Sharjah by this team would be up there with Mumbai 2006, Colombo 2001, Karachi 2000 in the pantheon of great, unexpected, away wins. I don’t include either of the two in India in 2012 as that was an experienced, road-tested, England team out there, great as those wins were.

England will make changes. One is forced – Mark Wood’s ankle problems are being managed (and please God, not by another cortisone shot…) and so he steps down. While the wickets column isn’t totally his friend at the moment, he is developing rapidly as a test bowler and has tremendous promise. I fear for his injuries. Fingers crossed for him.

Also, widely trailed, is the “resting” of Jos Buttler. The replacement keeper will be Jonny Bairstow which, in my view, is cripplingly unfair to both of them. Bairstow has shown a bit of stickability in the middle order and is trying to nail down a place. Having to do that while keeping wicket in a one-off test is ratcheting up the difficulty level. Also, will dropping Jos Buttler do him any good? There’s a school of thought that he’ll get his confidence back in the ODIs – that didn’t happen in England.

James Taylor may well be getting the nod for this game, but I’m also seeing others floating someone else opening (Bell – WTF?). I’m pretty sure they’ll stick with Ali for this test, but who knows? Bayliss doesn’t seem the type to chop and change without due thought and process. With the press confirming that Taylor and Bairstow are playing, we have to believe that with Plunkett for Wood, we have our XI. If this tweet is anything to go by, it’s looking good for James. All the best to him.

KP isn’t happy at the dropping of Jos. His article is very insightful though on how to come to terms with spin bowling, and for that, I think it is well worth a read. Haters will hate, though.

Pakistan are without Imran Khan. Will Azhar Ali come into the team? Will we solve the Yasir conundrum? A fascinating contest is in store.

Some statitude….

There have been 15 test centuries in Sharjah. Brendon McCullum’s 202 is the highest. Mohammed Hafeez (197) and Kane Williamson (192) made the next two highest scores in the same test match in November 2014. The next hundred by a Pakistani will be the 10th by a “home” player there. Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Younus Khan (2) all have hundreds there.

New Zealand’s 690 there in 2014 is a major stat outlier which will be tough to beat. The next best innings total is 493 by Pakistan in 2002 v West Indies.

Of 7 test matches played in Sharjah, there has been one draw.

In those 7 tests, there have been hundred partnerships for each of the first 7 wickets. Most vulnerable? 125 for the 4th by Misbah and Mohammad Hafeez? 116 for the 3rd by Taylor and Williamson for New Zealand? Record partnership is for the 2nd between Williamson and McCullum.

Mark Craig has the best ever bowling figures at Sharjah in tests; 7 for 94. Other five wicket hauls have been from Shoaib Akhtar, Shane Warne, Chanaka Welegedara and Rangana Herath.

England have made 20 hundreds in away test matches against Pakistan. Cook has the two highest scores for English players in the UAE – 263 and 94.

Elsewhere we’ve seen the conclusion of the day-night round of the Sheffield Shield. All three matches ended in results:

Tasmania v Western AustraliaScorecard here. Double century watch – Michael Klinger made 202 not out in the first innings

Victoria v QueenslandScorecard here. Including a massive performance by Travis Dean who was on the field for the entire match (unless he nipped off for a call of nature, of course)

South Australia v New South WalesScorecard here. Steve Smith and Ed Cowan with hundreds. Mitchell Starc with 8 wickets.

Of course, double hundreds for Aaron Finch (288*) and Ryan Carters in the warm-up match were buried under the stories over the pitch. Australia are getting a bit of a rep for preparing stupid surfaces for warm-up games. Going to be an interesting test series. My mate in Adelaide has been saying there has been a ton of complaints, but this seems to indicate batsmen can make scores, and bowlers can take wickets. A balance is important. There have been a few 150s, and some decent bowling performances. There will be more news to come.

Some house news. You will note we’ve changed the domain name. Using the old domain still works, but it might be best to update your bookmarks. beingoutsidecricket.com is ours……

Sad to see The Full Toss reaching the end of the road. We were aware something was in the wash as Maxie has a new baby and freelance work to get to grips with and had said to us over a beer in the summer that he thought he would step down after the Ashes. James has a hell of a task widening his remit on the new venture, but we wish him all the best. It may be that we get even more attention than before, now that Maxie, who was increasingly becoming a punchbag for certain posters, will now not be available to have a pop at. Us sinister lot!

On the matters of yesterday, where according to the usual supsects I was part of some conspiracy with Maxie, I am gobsmacked. I had no part in it other than to say to Tregaskis that he still had “it” and saying I was watching while munching popcorn! To be honest, I knew nothing about the golf game, who played with who, or why. Frankly, I don’t care. I’ve been on the end of hospitality before, and I’m not influenced other than I like people who have done it. If they ain’t VFM in what they supply, they don’t have a chance. I think that goes anywhere. I thought the reaction was more interesting than the substance, to be fair. I spoke to some of the contributors during the day but barely touched on the golf. I’m just too busy at work, and enjoying myself with mates after work to be conducting some grand plan. Some people need to look at themselves, frankly.

OK. Test cricket. Sharjah. Game on. Comments below.

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A Hornet’s Nest

Over at our friends at the Full Toss, a proper debate has been going on – it started initially on Twitter, with Tregaskis raising a point, and snowballed from there. ¬†The whole thing can be read through Maxie’s post on TFT, and I’m not going to repeat it here, so the link is as follows:

http://www.thefulltoss.com/england-cricket-blog/the-return-of-caesars-wife/

Here’s the thing. ¬†I like Maxie. ¬†I like his writing, and I like him personally. ¬†I’ve had a couple of good nights out with him, and enjoyed his company thoroughly. ¬†Which is why I know that saying I disagree with his premise is not going to be met with shock and horror, but more “Oh really, why?” ¬† Because if there’s one thing I do know about him, it’s that he’s exceptionally comfortable with the idea people hold different views to him – it’s something that always makes me smile when you get the more virulent criticism of him for his articles, he is quite interested in those who don’t agree.

It’s one of those things that is striking across a few of these blogs. ¬† Dmitri is the same, forever worrying about whether his perspective is a reasonable one. ¬†The irony is that it’s me who tells him to ignore the trolling and the abuse, yet I’m the one who is probably thought of as less polemical and more nuanced. ¬†The true beauty of all of these debates is that it involves real people, who can be hurt.

From his post, it seems Lawrence Booth in particular felt that he was being unfairly maligned, and here I have enormous sympathy with him. ¬†I really can’t see a thing wrong with something like a golf day that might involve a few players. ¬†And this is why – in my own line of work there is a fair bit of what we might call “promotional” activity. ¬†The deal is what is has been for generations across many kinds of career, we take them out, spoil them, show them a good time and when it comes to contracting maybe they’ll be better disposed to us than our competitors. Naturally, our competitors do the same. ¬†It’s the kind of thing that tends to be pontificated about as somehow dubious, but it’s normal practice. ¬†More specifically, I’d fall down in a faint if something like that made a potential client switch to me, it doesn’t happen, it’s way more complex than that involving building trust and – the key point – getting to know people.

For journalists, their stock in trade is copy for their newspapers. ¬†It’s nothing like as simple as on here – I can write any old rubbish and click “Publish” and up it goes. ¬†The press pack have to pass it via their editors and hope that some kind of simulcrum of what they wrote appears in the paper the following day. ¬†It is extremely easy to be totally cynical of all media output, and it just ain’t that simple.

Want the proof? ¬†I can write a piece on here talking about Kevin Pietersen, and the hits we get double from normal. ¬†Hell, just the fact his name is used will add a few extra ones. It’s extremely easy for us to manipulate the content if we were so inclined, and thus when online papers do it, the line that it’s clickbait might be true, but it’s successful¬†clickbait.

Neither Dmitri nor I make a penny from this place, so we can say what we like, but it’s pretty easy to see how commercial sites love it when you can do something that straightforward to get extra hits.

So for a newspaper journalist, first and foremost they need to create copy that attracts attention. ¬†That might be about – say – Joe Root, as we’ve seen with the Telegraph interview with him that has got plenty of notice. ¬†But what we can’t do is expect those articles to come out of the ether, and that’s where the whole point of argument has stemmed from. ¬†It’s a fair bit easier for former England batsman and captain Michael Vaughan to do it, but for a normal cricket journalist, to provide an angle requires them to do the legwork both before and after.

We know what Root (poor lad, still using him as the example) did in raw figures and anyone can write that, it’s just that barely anyone will read it because it’s dull. ¬†How does a journalist provide context and colour? ¬†It’s by getting to know them, talking to them, allowing a sufficient degree of trust that they will speak to them in the first place. ¬†So both because of my rationale about hosting events, and because of the peculiarities of sports journalism, events such as a golf day are critical. ¬†What else would people desire of their correspondents? ¬†Glorious isolation? It simply is not going to happen, and the journalists aren’t doing their jobs if it does happen.

The unguarded comment from someone suckered in by a journalist they trust is in itself part of the job, but they can’t do that unless they know them in the first place. ¬†It’s just not a fair argument to attack people for doing what is in reality their job.

On here we have offered up plenty of criticism for journalists not holding the ECB or ICC to account, and those criticisms stand absolutely. The frustration about that can’t mean though that everything they do is therefore criticised, we have to be fair about this. When we get a fascinating interview with Nick Compton, it’s because that journalist spent time getting to know him well enough for him to talk, and created sufficient trust for him to open up. It doesn’t help anyone to pretend the means by which that happened shouldn’t.

Criticism for not doing their jobs properly is legitimate and necessary. But not for when they are. ¬†And heaven only knows there are enough things to complain about there, for there really is much too cosy a relationship between some journalists and the ECB, while the fact that the senior cricket correspondent of one of the broadsheets can’t even be bothered to watch Death of a Gentleman remains as pathetic a dereliction of duty as there is. ¬†But seeing reds under every bed weakens the argument, it doesn’t strengthen it. ¬†Sometimes they’ve simply done nothing wrong.

The Cricketer – November 2015

Thought I’d do a quick piece summarising what is in the Cricketer this month. A sort of “I read it so you don’t have to……”

There’s an additional insert on “The Playing Fields of England” recognising schools cricket across the country. I see my one isn’t in there….

Mark Wood is on the cover.

The Editor At Large’s article is entitled “Watching England and Pakistan grind out runs in front of Abu Dhabi’s deserted stands was intrinsically depressing”

The first paragraph lays on the depression “It was if we were witnessing the slow death of test cricket (is that why the umpires took the players off?)” Always leave em’ laughing “Analyst”.

We all know why Pakistan are playing test cricket in the Emirates, and thus the conclusion to an article about the revolution of day-night tests etc. is a bit daft. “Tests should be played where people can watch them, and on pitches that offer a proper balance between bat and ball.” If Abu Dhabi had had its full allotment of overs, we’d have had a result! What’s he on about!!!! Green tops rule!

20 questions are with Brian McMillan.

Selvey’s article is written after Day 3 of Abu Dhabi. Arron will not be disappointed….

“Once again, it is no reflection on the effort or skill. He bowls several miles an hour slower than ideal, which makes him easier to play off the back foot and to get down the pitch to, and, in trying to spin the ball hard, invariably bowls bad deliveries, for which the canny batsman can wait.”

Actually Fred will like the comma-fest too. To be fair, he’s actually a good deal nicer about Rashid than we’ve seen elsewhere. Otherwise, it seems to be an article about playing a round of golf with Peter Parfitt. As you do.

Michael Henderson writes a piece about Ian Botham’s 60th birthday calling him “the greatest English cricketer to have lived in the lives of most people who watch the game.” It’s positive. Someone mention Pietersen to him!

The Moment in Time didn’t exist in the world of Giles Clarke. It’s a picture of Allen Stanford and his Superstars!

Tim Wigmore has an article on the Big Three. Not read it yet, but sure it will be good. Tim’s a decent old writer.

There’s a piece on Oman cricket by Derek Pringle. I’ll read it. I really will.

Dileep Premachandran has a piece on the retiring Kumar Sangakkara and Geoff Lemon on Michael Clarke.

Sir Michael Parkinson writes an obituary for Brian Close. Huw Turbevill has a piece on Bob Willis. About his role on The Verdict he says “It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, to call it how it is. It alienates the dyed-in-the-wool, can-see-n0-wrong England fan. You hear the voice of the minority all the time.”

There’s a season review, a piece on the 1993 NatWest Final, an interview with Devon Malcolm and the regulars.

No Alec Swann. Lord have mercy.

2nd Test, a few idle thoughts

As has become traditional for me, I return from a busy work trip of a fortnight to then spend the next week flat on my back ill. Great. The teasing about it being malaria or dengue fever has already begun.

You might think this perfectly allows
me to watch the cricket, but instead I fall asleep through most of it, which given the nature of play in the UAE might actually be the best way to experience it.

So England lost and have gone 1-0 down in the series. As most have pointed out, it stems entirely from the first innings collapse that saw a position of some strength turn into almost certain defeat in a couple of hours.   After two matches, the series has turned on a single session, for England could well be 2-0 up in this series had things gone slightly differently at key moments. Them’s the breaks, sport has always been about seizing the moment when it arrives, and England have shown themselves less than perfect at doing so for some time.

To some extent it could be said England haven’t learned from their last visit to the UAE, some of what happened then is happening now, yet a difference is that it is possible to see England winning in Sharjah and squaring the series – last time it just got worse by the match.

The batting is obviously a concern, as only Cook and Root are getting any runs, but this isn’t exactly new, and has been an issue for some time. Cook loves these slow pitches – he’s an extremely odd kind of opener, one who is vulnerable to pace and the moving ball (more so than many openers) but an outstanding player of spin. Equally, his levels of concentration are the stuff of legend, so his first Test mammoth effort don’t actually come as a surprise; it’s what he does, and does so well.

Root is now getting to the point where we have to start wondering if he’s not just going through a rich vein of form, that maybe he really is this good. Because if so, he’s going to shatter every England batting record there is.

Mark Wood is one who can hold his head up, and not just for his bowling. We know he can bat, but his innings yesterday showed a depth of character as much as anything. In his primary role, he’s been a revelation. The pitches offer him nothing, so he’s taken them out of the equation. It’s clever, thoughtful and effective. 

Adil Rashid too has shown why those who called for him a year ago and more had a point. He’s been inconsistent sure, but leg spinners are. The trouble is that they are all measured by Shane Warne, who is pretty much the only leg spinner ever who wasn’t inconsistent and wasn’t expensive.   Rashid is a Test novice and has done ok. His batting too has been good, all of which should mean he has a decent shot at the South Africa tour. Whether it will…

Ian Bell is once again under pressure. Given that he’s hardly alone in struggling, it seems a bit unfair to single him out, but that’s what the media do, usually having been given a nod that it’s a consideration by the Powers That Be.  If it is near the end, it’s a sad way for a player with his record and skill to fade away. But it’s hard to avoid the sense that this may well be it for him. 

Jos Buttler too has struggled, and for the first time it seems to be affecting his keeping as well. Players do go through poor form, and those that are backed tend to come through the other side. Some players are backed for a couple of years to allow them to do so. It’s more about what is best for him at the moment, but mid series always seems a peculiar time to change horses, especially if it’s just three matches as it implies the selection was wrong in the first place.
Likewise, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Moeen isn’t an opening batsman.

For Pakistan, a quick word about Misbah ul Haq. He’s been captain for a few years now, a player less honoured in his own land than abroad. Pakistan cricket was in meltdown when he took over, the hangover from the spot fixing episode, the continuing inability to play matches at home. Misbah has given them back their self respect, and led from the front throughout, all while giving the firm impression that anyone wanting to suggest match fixing to him had better have their hospital arrangements in place beforehand. He’s been a terrific player, one who has performed far above expectations of someone in the autumn of his career, but more than that he’s been a leader. Whatever happens to England, it’s hard to experience anything but pleasure that one of the good guys has led Pakistan out of the darkness.

And with that, I’m going back under the blanket. Ugh.

The Tenacity Of Hope

England's cricketer Adil Rashid tosses aI’m going to be brief. It is tough to comment on a day’s play when I have been pretty much out of the loop. I sneaked a look during my 11:30 meeting and saw that Wood and Rashid were putting up a hell of a fight….. then a few minutes later, the vibration from the phone signalled a wicket. Another duly followed a bit after. England had lost. They’d lasted almost to my lunch break. Adil Rashid had been the reason.

Rashid has had a whispering campaign against him, most notably by one particular member of the media entourage. He has shown some guts, first in the Abu Dhabi test by getting over a horror show in the first innings, by almost bowling us to victory in the second; and then here by playing a really poor shot in the first innings and making a rearguard half-century in the second. But because he played a loose shot in getting out (being caught at cover), one muppet even called him a “villain”. Oh Degsy, do we miss you?

Because Rashid tried to score runs and play his own way, something deemed crucial in any rearguard according to the “experts”, he has received some admonition for his error.

http://tune.pk/video/3949961/matt-prior-110-match-saving-performance-vs-new-zealand-3rd-test-auckland-2013-hd

Look at the shot (and his reaction) that Prior took to get to his hundred in that clip (about 6 or so minutes in). Prior rode his luck, but also went down in our history as the man who saved a series. That wasn’t a truly defensive knock, but one where he balanced attack and defence.

Well played lads. I am saying that now. I was mightily disappointed that Rashid, Broad, Wood and Anderson didn’t save us. I don’t feel any shame or problem in saying that. They played their hearts out, and they did so on an alien surface against fascinating opposition. This is test cricket, and I’m loving this series more than the Ashes or any home series against India. It has been enthralling, and I include the Abu Dhabi match in that, which saw us respond to scoreboard pressure.

On to Sharjah. We’ll discuss who should, or shouldn’t play, in due course.

Dubai Day 5 (and tales of heroism and error)

Dubai-City-Tour

130 for 3. It is set up with the odds in Pakistan’s favour, with two of the England batsmen capable of causing trouble for the hosts back in the hutch. Seven wickets to take and with memories of how rapidly they can go fresh from Saturday morning, the game looks to be up. But England have been resilient in the past decade and one can but hope that someone other than Root stands up to be counted. I wouldn’t rely on it, but let’s be hopeful.

You know, I could be forgiving of someone who didn’t give the impression as being so above the plebs, but in a piece dripping with his usual superiority, the inability to remember Pakistan’s first innings (and how memorable was the last over of Day 1) in a piece is, well, quite outstanding.

MIsbah hundred Cropped

Misbah missed twin hundreds, but Younus completed his, and this, of course brought out the “he is inexplicably excluded from the conversation over great players”. Well, you may have excluded him, and so do many other British cricket correspondents who last saw him play three and a half years ago, but those on here who watch cricket around the globe know of his brilliance. The winning innings in Sri Lanka being a fitting stamp of class that the experts almost revel in not paying attention to. Saying Younus Khan is unrecognised would be to label the same status on Hashim Amla, who we don’t see for every three years or so on the international circuit. I’m not quite sure what the blind spot is? All the while Asad Shafiq is having a jolly decent series too. He looks a nice little player in the bits I’d seen of him before, and I’ll be fascinated how he does in England this summer. The batting woes of 2010 may be a thing of the past.

I’ll be interested to see what the media make of Cook’s shot. Yes, he was injured – you only had to watch him run for that – but Cook can block and leave better than anyone in test cricket. He top edged a sweep to deep backward square, and there was barely a word of complaint against him. Bell, meanwhile, in Selfey’s piece is called careless for not getting his glove out of the way, while Moeen, rightly, is giving a telling-off for a waft outside off stump. I know people will say “oh no, it’s you having a go at Cook again” but it really isn’t. It’s other people being called out for brain farts, and our captain not. He’ll be excused due to an injury, but really? I was a bit miffed and wonder if any of you really were?

Also, I wish we didn’t do this. It makes us look like whingers.

That said, Cook needs to be fit for the next game. The selection policy, well sign-posted, was that Moeen was the man incumbent in the UAE and that if things went well, they’d consider him for South Africa, and if not, Alex Hales would get a go. There is a feeling out there that this was a mistake, and the worst thing that could possibly have happened would be Cook getting injured. If the captain can walk, he plays. But what if he can’t? Cook looked awful between the wickets, and while he couldn’t channel his inner Gordon Greenidge, he is still an important, no vital, part of this team when playing well. Again, no problems at all in saying that.

I do say that any thoughts of calling Joe Root the best all round player in the world were rather put to bed by another AB deVilliers masterclass in Mumbai, as the visitors destroyed the Indians and put Dhoni’s comments that it would be difficult to score rapidly in the last 10 overs under the new rules into context. Three centuries in the innings, the others by De Kock and Du Plessis, sent South Africa into the stratosphere. India never came close. De Villiers hit 11 sixes in his knock, while Du Plessis went into beast mode as his leg cramped up. England fans should circlet 12 February. We play them at the Wanderers. Hide behind the sofa.

Rain prevented play in Colombo. So all my comments yesterday roll forward to tomorrow.

All comments for Day 5, a morning when I’ll be in wall-to-wall meetings so keeping up to date is going to be tough, should be posted below.

I leave you with Newman….

The official line is that England have ‚Äėno concerns‚Äô about Cook and with five days before the final match in this three-Test series there is a little more time than usual in the packed international calendar for the captain to recover.

But it was painful enough to watch Cook bat let alone for the captain to actually do it as he hobbled his way through 22 balls before falling when his body restricted his attempt to execute his first sweep shot.

Dubai – Day 4 (and a tale of a collapse)

dubai

And just when you thought it was safe to have faith…..

England’s morning session of horror has cost England the test match. The two experienced campaigners just rubbed our noses in it. It seems when England have a bad day they don’t do it by half. They go all in.

Root’s departure this morning set the tone. 7 wickets fell for 36 in a blur of bad shots, bad play and bad timing. Focus inevitably beams in on Jos Buttler, who compounded his batting failure with the bat with some badly-timed wicket-keeping mistakes.

There are many issues with this team, and I’m not sure many of us, whether we are on this blog or criticise it who believe that things should not change. Now we have to wonder what we can do. This team is so maddeningly inconsistent that they can be fun to watch because at times they reach the heights. What is there to do? We’ll discuss this after the match.

I nearly forgot, and apologies for doing so, but Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah were very very good today. Going to be interesting to see them in England this summer.

Meanwhile Younus and Misbah, the old heads, have been imperious. I’m not sure if this is a lesson to England that dispensing with players in the early-mid thirties is a folly, but watching these two just play (and they had their bits of luck) is a pleasure to watch as long as you aren’t a blind England fan. Younus is an absolute legend, a top top player not given his due. Misbah is unassuming and yet eccentric – block, block, block, six.

(Wardy – are there people who really don’t think Kallis is an all-time great? erm…..)

222-3, 358 behind, dead in the water. Not even “two quick wickets” could solve this problem. There will be no rain. Can England bat time. We want to see a fight. Please.

Meanwhile, in bizarre Ceylon, Kraigg Brathwaite takes 6/29. Lord almighty! Did someone say they were the best bowling figures by an opening batsman? Could SimonH confirm this is true? West Indies need 244 to win, and are 20/1, losing Brathwaite from the last ball of the day. Sri Lanka must be hot favourites.

Afghanistan are on the brink of beating Zimbabwe in the ODI series. It speaks volumes about both teams.

I might add to this later, but comments on Day 4 to be put below. Have a good day.

Dubai Day 3 (and a bit on today)

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - MARCH 2:  Tiger Woods of the USA hits balls from the heli-pad on top of the Burj Al Arab Hotel before the 2004 Dubai Desert Classic played at the Emirates Golf Club, on March 2, 2004 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Tiger Woods
 (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
*** Local Caption *** Tiger Woods

Day 2 is in the books and a fascinating Day 3 is in prospect. An unexected day’s leave, caused by circumstances beyond my control, meant I could watch much of the last two sessions of play (and meaning that I missed the first).

England started brilliantly, getting Misbah in the first over, and then knocking over the rest in reasonably short order. While the stats show that scores over 400 are not common in Dubai, 378 must seem like a bit of a disappointment when considering the score at the start of the day. Mark Wood’s figures of 3/39 were massively impressive and a real hopeful sign for the future. Of course, when it comes to our rider of imaginary horses, we are always worried about his health.

England’s response started as many seem to these days. An early wicket, albeit through a wonderful catch at short leg, meant the Moeen experiment still remains a question to answer. That said, we’ve been looking for an answer to the other opening slot for a while now. Then Bell had a feeble nick off to Imran Khan. 14 for 2. Bell is definitely in the firing line, and he might seek advice from Trott on how to face that, with people acting like he’s got the eyesight of someone at 73, not 33. He’s in an awful rut, and maybe it is time to go somewhere else. But then, I don’t think we should exclude players because their faces don’t fit.

Those of us purporting to be anti-England must have been cock-a-hoop. We must have been fuming when a sweep shot from Cook plonked onto the bottom of the stumps and failed to dislodge a bail.

Cook and Root passed half centuries, quite serenely, and then Yasir Shah, who might as well have been Lord Lucan given the expert knowledge the English cricket fraternity had demonstrated about him (recalling this excellent article from the archives), unexpectedly broke through when our lovely leader clipped a ball to leg slip. His 65 was not quite as good as his 263, but he does look somewhere near his best (best illustrated by his confidence on the drive). This, of course, gives the lie to the “near his best” codswallop around the time of that legendary, scratchy, 95 at the Rose Bowl or whatever it is called now. A solid, hard to dismiss, and scoring at a reasonable pace Cook is something any team needs. With Warner out of form (relatively), Rogers retired, and most of the other countries in flux with their openers, Cook is the best around, probably, at the top of the list.

What can one say about Joe Root? Well, let’s not get overboard too quickly would be my first thing. I remarked on Twitter that his current form reminds me of the way Michael Vaughan was playing in 2002-3. The standard of opposition was better, but peak Vaughan was a big hundred in waiting. Root is giving off an aura something like it. I maybe in violation of my own advice! Root’s footwork and reactions are just wonderful. He gets into position, he can manipulate the ball, and he is pretty solid in defence despite the early working over by Wahab Riaz. He needs to go on to make a big hundred here to keep England in the position they’ve created. The problem here is that maybe we expect Joe to do it all the time, and then when he has the dips in form that are inevitable in test cricket, we might be in trouble.

Jonny Bairstow started very scratchily, but did open up and attack, and then made some runs. Bairstow, in my eyes, is not a keeper we could trust and not a middle order batsman we can rely upon. He falls between two stools in my eyes, but I’ve been wrong before and will be again.

So, Day 3 beckons. England 190-odd behind. Seven wickets in hand. Game in the balance. Worries about our middle order are mentioned freely in the commentary box. I am not sure I’ll be awake for the start of play.

In Colombo the visitors crumbled to 163 all out, with, yet again, most of the line-up getting to double figures. 47 was the top score, by Kraigg Brathwaite, and the spread bet line should certainly be revised after Herath took just one of the ten to fall. Dhamikka Prasad took four, suggesting this isn’t just a spinners surface. Sri Lanka are 76 for 2 in their second innings, 113 in front and looking good. Day 3 provides West Indies with a seemingly final hope.

New Zealand kicked off their tour of Australia with a match under lights and using a pink ball. I’m going to leave it with the Adam Voges thing on social media (which I didn’t see…and isn’t on his twitter feed)

Maybe it’s this quote….

“There wasn’t much pink left on it by the end of the game,” Voges said. “The one that got hit onto the roof [by Martin Guptill] and didn’t come back was 28 overs old and it looked like it was 68 overs old to be fair. To be honest, it didn’t hold up very well at all tonight.

“It looked as though the lacquer had come off and it was turning green basically. There were bits of pink left, but it was more green than pink by the end. I know that it stopped swinging, there was no reverse-swing or anything like that because both sides get chunked up equally, but yeah the older it gets, I can’t see it being any easier to see.”

We’ll be debating that, I’m sure.

Comments on the days play tomorrow, and any other observations, please fire away. Note – I’ve not read the press pages. I still need to have my dinner.

Finally, thoughts with my Aunt. Vascualar dementia is a cruel, horrible curse, and it looks likely to take her soon from us. My wishes and strength to her daughter, my cousin, and her kids, and most of all to my lovely uncle. We are all powerless as the disease takes someone we care about away from us. Love you Auntie. Say hello to Dad.

Dubai – Day 2 (and a bit on today)

Dubai Millennium

With things looking to be in the visitor’s favour on the departure of Shan Masood, the experience of Younus Khan and Misbah, together with Asad Shafiq pulled the day back round to Pakistan’s favour. Misbah completing his ton in the final over was the icing on the cake.

England are not out of it but that does depend on ridding us of the turbulent 41 year old and seeing off his young tyros. That’s not easy but not impossible. Beware of the use of “two quick wickets” in the pre-game show.

Being at work today I didn’t get to see much of the action, trying to follow it on the Cricinfo site and Guardian OBO. It seemed, from the little bit I watched, that the wicket had a bit more carry and a bit more life, which, frankly, isn’t hard. But no-one is confusing this with Day 1 of the 3rd test in 2012.

Simon and others have made many really good comments on Misbah’s ton. The obsession on The Verdict over that last over is making me chuckle, because it really appears as though they have nothing else to talk about. I’m not sure it’s the world’s best debate, and as Dominic Cork is on it, the tariff of difficulty is much raised, to get up there.

282 for 4 is a good start, especially given the ground statistics I cited yesterday. England will be doing well to keep them under 400 and then the scoreboard pressure routine begins again.

In the other matches played today, Sri Lanka were skittled out for 200 at P Sara, with West Indies 17 for 1. Again, let’s see how both teams bat on this before we make a judgement but this is still a very decent rebound from the tourists. The main damage was done by debutant Jomel Warrican, described on cricinfo as a slow left arm bowler (again, not had a chance to see any of it) who took four wickets. Innocent Bystander on Twitter was saying that the spread odds on the number of wickets for Herath in this match would be 10.5/11.5 and so we’ll see how much assistance Warrican got from the wicket (anyone who might have caught it, could they comment?). Because if there is assistance, Herath is pretty damn good at getting the most out of it.

India won the ODI in Chennai, and still kept up there record of not making 300 there (just). Virat Kohli made his 23rd ODI century with a score of 138. Despite AB’s heroics in another audacious 112 (I’ve just watched some of the shots… wow) the series is now tied, ready for the decider in Mumbai.

Another series going to a decider is the Zimbabwe v Afghanistan contest. Afghanistan won today’s contest by three wickets with Mohammed Shahzad making an almost run-a-ball 80. Obviously there’s been no coverage I’ve seen, but this is promising for the associates and a little bit worrying for Zimbabwe. Tim Wigmore’s piece in the recent Cricketer magazine explains the new Zim admin’s philosophy, to play more frequently, and I’d recommend reading it (despite being surrounded by a lot of tut).

So two tests tomorrow to concentrate on. Comments welcome.

Anyone guess the horse?