4th Test – Preview

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A Fine Vista

In 2014, when England came from 1-0 down after two matches to win the series 3-1, there was much rejoicing in the media and from those who had taken one side of the vicious schism that had afflicted English cricket. In that series the visitors had won a surprising victory at Lord’s and gone on to absolutely collapse as their bowling fell apart and their batting became more feeble. Virat Kohli, the now venerated titan of Indian cricket had a Weston (Super Mare). So on one side there was proclaimed a great victory, on the other a more prominent calling out of the failings of the opposition. The schism remained.

In 2015, when England recovered from a hefty beating at Lord’s that had seemed to snatch away all the momentum gained at Cardiff, there was a reshuffling of the pack (well, Ballance was dropped). Australia came a cropper on two helpful wickets at Birmingham and Nottingham, where England outplayed them. England had beaten what we were given to believe were mighty foes, with the two Mitchells throwing down meteorites of left arm viciousness, and the batting bolstered by a captain who rarely failed, and an opener of Sehwagian feats. When the series was won, as evidenced on this blog, the heat rose to crucible levels. Scores were being settled. The wrong side of the schism were being shown the error of their ways. They were to be mocked, ostracised, humiliated. There would be “no peace”. If anything, the schism had grown wider.

In 2016, when England recovered from a surprise loss at Lord’s, to take a 2-1 lead in a series most of us expect to be closed out with relevant comfort at the original home of English test cricket (accept no posh, snobby North London alternatives), what will the reaction be? For if this should come to pass, England will, I think (because I’m not following it closely) be world ranked number 1. There will be much patting of backs at a job well done. There will be hosannas thrown in the direction of our much loved and much respected captain. There will be a tangible warmth of smug self-satisfaction from the hierarchy at the ECB as the proof that what they did 2 ½ years ago was spot on (if you ignore the Downton thing, the Moores thing, the Al staying as ODI captain thing, the World Cup thing). The cricket media will prostrate themselves at the feet of the leaders of the revolution and the world will anoint the new top team in test cricket. Those that look on this site as a think to revile will be joyous. Personally, I’ll feel like just the other two summers. Less angry, more resigned. Schismed out.

So where are we now? What joy and hope can I find in this? I’m a blogger on the wrong side of the celebrations. Unable to conjure up any warmth for it. Unable to let go of a betrayal. Unable to understand why many don’t see it the way I do. I look at this team and wonder how it might look with a certain player, fit and healthy, at number 4 who had a bogey number of 158, not 42. Yet to do so is to invite the celebrants to invoke their tedious comments. “Fanboy” “Boring” “Idiot”. What joy can I conjure up as Pakistan, initially so vibrant, seem to be collapsing in self-doubt? How a captain, on Day 4, while being celebrated by a former England captain at the time, didn’t so much as let England off the hook after those two early wickets, as turn his fishing vessel back to port and wait for the little blighters to jump out of the sea.

Last time Pakistan visited these shores, six years ago, they won the 3rd Test (of 4) at The Oval. For those of you slightly short of memory, that was a London test that also started on Wednesday, so no, we aren’t always given Thursday starts, and it also finished just after Saturday lunchtime, if I recall correctly (I might not). Azhar Ali played the key role with the bat, and Wahab Riaz with the ball (in the first innings). England got a relatively low score, and then didn’t perform in the second innings. Pakistan didn’t win by a lot, but by enough. Alastair Cook made a hundred that “saved his career”.

Both the first innings Pakistani stars from six years ago have had, to term it politely “mixed” tours. Hafeez has been an abomination at the top of the order, while Shafiq shone well at Lord’s but with less lustre since. As for Younus Khan, heaven knows what is going on there.You can’t help but feel slightly short changed.

We needed a competitive series, and to a degree we have got one, with two really closely fought games, but it was the manner of the capitulation on Days 4 and 5 at Edgbaston that left me melancholy. That had the smack of a team scared to win. Frightened of the moment. One ripe to the slaughter against a motivated England team.

We can be revisionist on here, saying that we were seeing it coming while revelling in the formidable challenge the visitors put up in the first test, but then we aren’t here celebrating a potential 7-0 whitewash of the summer that others were thinking possible. That we are not is due to our climate and our frailties. But if, according to Ali Martin, we win this test (or is it just the series) and India don’t win both remaining games against the West Indies, we become the number 1 ranked nation in test match cricket. In many ways, ascent to that lofty perch was really well summed up by Alex Hales:

It would be an incredible feeling, particularly for a team who are still developing. If we perform as well as we did in the last two Tests hopefully we can win this series and if we can get the No1 spot that’s exciting for us.

Developing teams should not be number 1 in a major international sport. The team shouldn’t have glaring holes at opener, number 4, possibly number 5, and the spin bowling department. Because if that team is number 1, the overall quality of the competition has to be questioned. There is an overall weakness in test cricket that is genuinely scary. There are no giants. There are no super teams. There are just a bunch of worthy teams, who on their day can nick a test or two away from home, but are quite resilient on their own patch. Any comparison of this team to even its 2011 counterparts, or 2005, is, in my opinion utterly laughable. But they’ll match the 2011 one, and surpass the 2005 if three results go their way.

So with Cook in the form of his life (again), Root capable of great things, Moeen as outrageously lauded for his Day 5 bowling as he was castigated for lack of wickets before, the bowling overcoming a strangely quiet Stuart Broad we just have a couple of questions to answer. Will Hales finally nail down the openers slot with a hundred, and will Vince finally get his score which will allow the totally impartial Michael Vaughan to tweet that he told us so?

Please comment on Day 1 below. This will be the fourth year in a row I’ve not gone to The Oval test, despite it being a staple of my summers for 15 years before. It’s not the same any more, whether it’s me or the cricket. I will be going to the Oval for the Lancashire game in the week of the 22nd August though – anyone interested in popping along, e-mail me on dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk

On site matters, I have a couple of posts lined up. There’s Simon’s part 2 of the Old Trafford test from 1976; I have the conclusion of “Nightmare at Nottingham” to stick up as well. There is also a post due from one of our commenters on over rates, and I’ve done a personal one on club cricket linked to the number 42, which I might stick up on “The Extra Bits”. I thought we’d get the test series out of the way before finishing those off, and I also have another, longer series up my sleeve, which is sure to annoy a number, but hopefully engage more. Anything else you would like to see, or if you would like to write it, please let me or TLG know.

************************************

(After I completed the initial draft of this, I came across this little section of our favourite Mail journalist’s piece.

Anderson, a leading member of both teams, believes this outfit even outstrips the team of Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann, Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott, who won the Ashes in Australia.

 

‘I think our team at the moment is better equipped to get to No 1 and stay there,’ insisted Anderson, 34. ‘We are a more talented side, we are mentally tougher and we showed the character we have in the side at Edgbaston.

‘If I’m being brutally honest it would be a bit soon for this team to go to No 1 now because we are still developing, there is still inconsistency, and we have plenty of improving to do. It would be nice if we do it but we have plenty of time.”

 

I am all for buffing up your team, but dear of dear. This is guff.

Still, it’s Newman. The Cheerleader. So there isn’t disagreement. And also, if you read this, has he repeated himself in the same article? Don’t they have editors? )

But let me repeat myself…. Comments on Day 1 below.

Advertisements