So after the initial wave of unbridled optimism after Rajkot and the need for some of the media to compare a batsman in his first Test to one of the all time greats, a more crushing reality was played out in Vizag today. It was perhaps all unsurprisingly ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ once again from England, just as it was in Dubai after Abu Dhabi last year. That isn’t to say that England were particularly bad, they stuck to their game plans on a Day 1 pitch that wasn’t offering much in terms of assistance to the bowlers, but you do feel that this was a toss that the Captain needed to win in order to give England a fighting chance of winning this Test. The pitch is already starting to wear as the odd delivery in the final session started to misbehave and I don’t think our batsmen will fancy batting on this pitch last even if we have the Bradman and Sangakkara elect in our line up!
It will have been of surprise to no-one that Jimmy Anderson started in place of Chris Woakes today, the fact that the ECB’s prime cheerleader had been banging on about it all week suggested that the decision had been made some time ago, though they also nicely added that Woakes had also picked up a niggle, which was highly convenient. That being said, Jimmy by far and away was England’s best bowler of the day by doing what Jimmy does. He got enough shape to trouble both the openers and then came back late in the day to snare both Pujara, who played magnificently again and an oddly out of sorts Rahane. As for England’s other quick bowlers, Broad looked to be suffering with a niggle from the start, which does beg the question why Woakes was binned (sorry rested) for this Test, and despite producing a good ball to get rid of Rahul, he again looked fairly innocuous on a flat sub-continental pitch. Stokes bowled with aggression but again bowled far too short on what is a very slow pitch and whilst he was unlucky with the dropped catch (more on that a little later), he never really looked a threat in these conditions. There is much to admire about Stokes with both bat and ball as he is a naturally aggressive cricketer, but it must also be quite infuriating knowing that if he doesn’t click with the ball, then he’s very unlikely to be able to build pressure from one end as a four ball always seems around the corner. I am probably nitpicking here, but I do think he needs to have a slight change of plan for when he has to bowl on these types of pitches.
As for the spinners, well Rashid aside, it was very much a day to forget. Rashid bowled well and offered control, which is something that he has been criticised for many a time in the past and it was also heartening to see Cook actually have some faith in him by bringing him on before Moeen and then sticking with him, although some of Cook’s fields didn’t exactly smack of total confidence. Whilst Rashid didn’t manage to get any wickets, he was by far the most effective of our spinners though I have no doubt whatsoever that his dropped catch off Stokes, which I thought was a pretty difficult chance, will have the media sharpening their knives. Agenda? What Agenda? As for Moeen and Ansari, the former is cursed with a consistent inconsistency whereby he can look an International class spinner at one moment and then a county trundler the next and the latter looks an average part time spinner being thrown in against one of the best attacks of spin in the world, which without trying to be harsh, he is. Ansari comes across as an intelligent and well-spoken guy in his interviews, but he doesn’t give the appearance that he has the skills and aptitude to play Test Cricket. His action certainly isn’t smooth, in fact I would say it’s as jerky as Simon Kerrigan’s and his batting doesn’t seem like it gives enough to warrant his place as a batting all-rounder. I can understand that England have a desire to get a left hand spinner into the side for variety, even if Kohli averages 161 against them at home, but I feel it would be better to at least have plumped for the Surrey number one spinner, right handed or not.
As for India, Kohli and Pujara once again showed them to be class acts in conditions that they are familiar with. Kohli will get all the headlines and rightly so as it was a quite sumptuous innings, but Pujara seems to be the glue that holds this Indian batting line up together. He isn’t as fluent as Kohli or Rahane, however he has a stout defence, the ability to milk the one’s and two’s and then put the bad balls to the boundary. He slightly reminds me of a wristier Jonathan Trott, and what we would all give to have a Trott type player in this England line up at the moment, despite having the media proclaimed “one of the greatest batsmen to ever play the game” opening the batting…
As for the rest of this Test, much will depend on the new ball and how much damage Anderson can inflict. If we can somehow keep India to under 420, then there may be a sniff of a chance as batting should still be fairly favourable on Day 2; however if we concede 500 or more, then I would certainly start to fear being rolled out cheaply twice as the pitch starts to wear more and Ashwin comes into his own. Let’s hope it’s the former rather than the latter!
On This Day….
On this day in 1923, Herbert “Bert” Sutcliffe, one of New Zealand’s greatest ever batsmen was born in Ponsonby, a suburb of Auckland. Bert played 42 times for New Zealand, never ending up on the winning side, but finishing his career with a test average of over 40. He had many claims to fame, but one of the more obscure ones was that from 27 December 1952 until 6 June 1994, Bert held the record first class score by a left-handed batsman.
Brian Lara, with 501 and 400 now holds the top two slots for those of a sinister disposition.
Bert died in 2001, but his legend lives on. A pioneer in a losing cause, but a legend of the game.
As ever, thoughts and comments on Day 2 below: