This Piece Is For All The Fellow Outsiders…..

So 2016 is nearly over. We’ve had a hell of a year, seen the usual ups and downs of enthusiasm and anger, but now, combined with the last year of HDWLIA, it’s been nigh on three years of this full-on blogging lark.

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My thanks to everyone who has contributed throughout the year. To my two co-editors The Leg Glance and Sean B, to those who have written for us including PGP Chapman, Andy and Simon H. All of you are so appreciated by me you will not know. Chris has been a rock behind the scenes, when Dmitri (speaking in the third person) has his diva moments, while Sean’s pieces while both Chris and I were either away or totally snowed under were both top quality and kept the show on the road. Our newer writers added their own fresh perspective, and we’d love to see more. Simon has already provided some good stuff for the new Glossary.

In terms of hits we were down on 2015, but that was an exceptional year with an Ashes, a World Cup, and a major KP incident or two. This year had two lower profile home series, a more calm environment and some very quiet periods. We’ve seen a decided uptick in hits towards the end of the year, with December easily the busiest month, and we are really happy with where we are.  The blog is closing in on 3/4 million hits, has had its busiest month in 2016 and more visitors than ever. We have a decent core of readers, a wide range of hits, and interest is still there. Thanks for all the support.

So, now it comes to my annual “thanks for commenting” list. If I miss you out, please remember that it’s not as easy this year. This is chronological from 1 January to now, and entailed scrolling through over 700 pages of comments on our admin site, but I want to sincerely thank almost all of you for buying in to what we do. Even if you don’t comment, and we are aware there are a number of you who don’t, I thank you for reading and hope this blog makes you happy/mad and provokes a reaction or makes you think as a result.

So thanks to (and I hope I got you all)….

Rohan (the first commenter in 2016), BigKev67, ArushaTZ, Ian, Arron Wright / Nonoxcol (and for the offline support too), the bogfather (our poet / stirrer of hornet’s nest), Grenville, cricketjon, MDPayne87, paulewart (one of our regulars who went missing – hope all is OK, paul), the one and only Mark (a firm fave of our “haters”), Simon H (just an absolute rock on here), Gambrinus, Sherwick, jomesy, Escort (the spam filter’s favourite), MM, greyblazer/Neil (it is Christmas, goodwill and all that), benny (we must meet up next year, hopefully Southern Trains might have a service), D’Arthez (do not argue with this commenter! Seriously, many thanks), hatmallet, fungineer99, Marees, alecpaton, Tuffers86, Pontiac (one of my US commenters – hope things are well), metatone (my main retweeter, thanks sir), pktroll (who has met Sean – we should sort out Surrey v Essex this year if possible), Zephirine (a voice of calm reason throughout), Rooto (the Nice man), Larry David Niven, AB, Badger, amit/amitgarg (many thanks for your contributions during the recent series), “Iron Balls” McGinty (and I’m never, repeat never, going to ask), camelsticks/sopwithpup/M Echs, northernlight71 (our man on the Guardian BTL never afraid to stick the boot in), Nicholas (and his stack of old cricket magazines, hope you are well, sir), Tregaskis (the man with gravitas), emasl/Elaine Simpson Long (a long time follower, hope life is treating you well), Julie (our KP diehard from Down Under), Steve T, RPoultz (and why do you have that person in your e-mail address), the inimitable “man in a barrel” (we’ll do that Yorkshire post in the New Year), Bob W, Andy (thanks for that piece, feel free to think of some more stuff for us), BoredinAustria (still bored, eh?), Burly, Mike (not heard much from the last two, hope things are good), sidesplittin (I promise I’ll finish that Trent Bridge piece), Oscar da Bosca (again, long time no hear, hope things are ok), Alec, jennyah46 (always a voice of calm), Rufus SG, DmitriOld (who he?), chateleine, keyserchris (still have Day 5 to do), TLG’s main man Jasspass, Narelle, Leningrad Cowboy, Topshelf, Jamie, Mike Westerton (one comment, calling us oddballs and a hate filled bunch), BC (who did much the same), dlpthomas, Grumpy Gaz, alan, Sarah, Matthew, Nashville Pam, Danny, Clivejw, Ian Jones/Ianrsa, Dennis Freedman (with one n), Localboy (the sort of commenter that we probably get a load of, read but rarely say anything. But welcome when they do), dallia.india (a truly odd comment), fred / Deep Purple Fred (can’t wait for the Ashes next year), Vicky/ The Vickster (again, she’s gone quiet…..), Keeper99 (new this year, now a stalwart, it’s that easy), David, David Oram (our expert on all things West Indies, hope things are well in your current posting), my good friend CJDaniels (who revealed my real first name as Peter, by accident), Phillip Chapman, the great Maxie Allen (missed so much around these parts – certainly an inspiration), Oreston (another newbie, now stalwart – the mime artist), John Etheridge ( 🙂 ), THA, Tony Bennett, volkerelle, Helen Grace, Russ Degnan, Tuntun, Phil A (a new Glossary, Phil, if we can tempt you back), cricketcage, Tom (our man in Hawaii, of all places. Humbling really…), sgtcookieblog, Andrew Nixon, Yossarian 1977, Anteater, Boz (if you are still reading, all best wishes to you sir), Adrian S, Distinct, zeitkratzer stockhausen, whiterose76, Simon K, Lawrence Booth, moggahooler (?), JacobSweetman1978 (who is localboy), Sir Peter (keep rollin’ and we’ll build this city), General Zod (ho ho ho), andyinbrum, James (although I think he uses another name – including LondonWasp), quebecer (at last), Rob, Lolly, Jez Moses, Geoff Boycott’s Grandmother, Random, Ed, another David, Harry Badger, jim ovens, Riverman21, nick, simplyshirah (aka Annie), lionel joseph, Glenn, Adam H, May, moosyn, Slats, Editor (Sam Blackledge), Blancrabello, Miami dads Six, Andrew Robertson, Jayman, Adelaide Exile, samisportsupdateindia31, Sri Grins and Silk.

Since putting the initial list together, I think we have another Andy, veturisarma, Scrim and nkumar to add. And possibly another Alec.

So, 2017, here you come. A quiet time for England, then full on for 18 months or so from May. It may be that we face a struggle to keep ourselves in the eye, but we’ll do what we can. With your support, comments, or even if you are one of our silent readers, you keep me going, and I’m sure I speak for Chris and Sean in wishing you all the best.

Happy New Year everyone.

Dmitri (Peter)

Dmitri’s Review Of The Year – The Year of Peaceful Antagonism

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It’s not exactly original, I know, but the end of a year brings forth a time to reflect, to review and to write tedious end of year pieces looking forward to the next. Good grief, I know I am guilty of that more than most! Be warned, this is a long one……

How will I look back on 2016? It has been a challenging year for blogging, it has to be said. From a personal perspective I’ve found this year quite tough. I’ve not had the pure motivation of previous years, and for quite lengthy periods have not been bothered to write. That’s probably a product of two things.

  • The first is that with a few glorious exceptions, the authorities have upgraded themselves from Keystone Cops to Dad’s Army, and thus haven’t really pushed the buttons. Combined with somehow finishing the KP for England (in the T20) debate despite none of us thinking it was ever an option they would undertake, the ECB mainly steered clear of self-made obstacles. Then they raised their T20 plans and banished Durham, and they gave us some gifts to work on. However, the ECB had a quiet year (by recent standards) it has to be said. The rumblings of old perennial flowers in the garden may give portents to future growth of enthusiasm.
  • The second is blogging burnout. I have said on many occasions how unprepared I was when How Did We Lose in Adelaide took off. Not just the time and effort to write and write and write, but also mentally how draining it can be, especially on top of a very busy job. The whole thing took a lot out of me. Writing the blog became borderline obsessive. Content, no matter how it was derived, mattered. I started feeling the pace during the 2015 Ashes. Having moved from HDWLIA to the new blog, it had become established and even had a new writer to help out (which greatly undersells what Chris has brought to this blog – but that’s how he worded his first offer, “helping out”), but I was thoroughly pissed off by the cricket, the media, the idiots throwing bricks at us, and probably culminated in the Twitter meltdown with Etheridge. I was knackered. At times during 2016 that has resurfaced. I have a life outside of here and work. I have a lot of other interests. It is time I paid attention to them. But, this is like an addictive drug. It keeps pulling me back. I’m sometimes not sure if this is good or not!

For me 2016 was a year when the campaigning, more vociferous (shall we say) blogging was put a little back in its box. This hasn’t been the year for it, although it may have ended a good deal more tetchily than it was in the middle months. That’s not to say I don’t think Being Outside Cricket is declining in relevance, such as we have. There’s still something on here you will not find anywhere else, and that’s a lot of cricket tragics putting forward angry points of view, without fear or favour. The voice is still heard, if a lot less acknowledged in public, and that we have retained a very healthy hit rate and visitor count despite a decline in the number of articles, in conjunction with a test year which, on paper, wasn’t the most attractive in pure media terms, and a lack of major controversies speaks volumes. At the end of 2016 I feel better than at most parts of the year. I do recognise, though, that the next four or five months are going to be absolutely brutal with a lack of England test matches, and only patchy instances of ODI cricket to sustain us. The one thing learned is that test matches drive traffic. Well that and KP and/or Alastair Cook. With an absence of those factors, all of us here are under no illusions how tough the barren lands of early 2017 will be. In contrast, the next year from May 2017 will be absolutely off the charts.

Outside of Being Outside Cricket, I am sad that people like Maxie (totally) and Tregaskis (to a lesser extent) are not rumbling around as they used to. Both are inspirations to me over the past few years, writing in their own styles, and attacking their foe with precision and not a little flair as well. If they are the guided missiles or sniper’s rifle, I’m a big hefty cannon! Maxie in particular is a grievous loss to our cause and to that of cricket blogging. Maxie drives traffic when he writes. You may not agree with him, but you read him. You may argue with him, but you listen to him. He has that skill to get under the right people’s noses. I have said that he will always have a place to write if he ever wanted to “come back” and that stands. Without him, and with the different direction I think The Full Toss has gone, it does feel quite lonely out here, being angry and keeping the fires burning!

That’s because others who were equally vociferous during the tumultuous times are much less so now. That is the writer’s choice, of course, and I don’t want to criticise them for it. Each cricket writer / blogger has to be true to themselves. I have said, many times, that if I wasn’t true to what I believed in you’d see it a mile off, and I wouldn’t be able to write for any length of time. I have a couple of individuals in mind (and not the Full Toss before people put 2+2 together and make 5), and they need to realise that playing both sides of the fence is taking much of their readership for granted. They are still capable of great things, pieces I read and enjoy. But there are other times I think “are you being, have you been, totally honest with your readers?” That’s for them. Call it friendly advice.

It would not be a review of the year without mentioning the madhouse that is Twitter. Contact with the media has fallen off a cliff this year as obviously we don’t need to be acknowledged as we were post-KP. Now that’s a dead issue the media, those who bothered, don’t need to know how the great unwashed feel. That’s no more evident in the recent Cook incidents. The press don’t need to protect him now, because there’s no combined angry backlash if he was to be sacked coming, other than from a couple of diehard pillocks the world can ignore safely. After KP there was an angry backlash from a number of blogs, new and old, and the reporters had to recognise this. Now there’s nothing to get angry about, there’s nothing for them to worry about. I’d be a little bit concerned, if I was a journo, about some of the key big beasts being put out to pasture. They weren’t, in the main, the ones who had the foggiest idea about “social media”, despite being on it.

Twitter has been a lot less confrontational. The odd arsehole that got on my nerves as always – some who follow KP’s twitter feed to have a pop strike me as particularly “obsessed” – but nothing like the rubbish I’ve had to put up with in the past. After the early issues this year with one, we’ve had a spell where we’ve managed, I think, to not get mad at each other, which suits me. The other one I have had constant issues with showed their nasty side by threatening to out my name in a particularly lovely Tweet, but even if they do, no-one cares. Then there was the remarkably odd parody twitter feed. I’ve blocked that old bollocks. Other than that, it’s all quite quiet, and that can only be a good thing for your health, I suppose.

So to the cricket. What, really? If I must? Let’s focus on England.

The year started with the Ben Stokes blitz in Cape Town. This incredible knock didn’t get England a win, but it did set the tone for some high octane stuff during the year. Almost, but not quite, unnoticed in that innings was the magnificent first hundred for Jonny Bairstow, which would lay the table for his year. England actually finished Cape Town on the back foot after a double hundred by Amla and a century by Bavuma, and a last day wobble, but returned magnificently on top at Johannesburg when the stars aligned for another of those Stuart Broad spells. Joe Root’s masterful century on a surface that Broad made hay on is conveniently forgotten by those wishing to criticise him now, and it laid the foundation for the series win. England then went on to lose a one-sided, we don’t give a stuff test, at Centurion. Funny how, when we lose these matches, we don’t give a stuff because we’ve won the series. I suppose it makes us feel like the 1990s Australian team if we think like that.

The ensuing ODI series with South Africa started with England’s attacking play dominating. The first two matches were taken in some style, before the tide turned, and England’s devil may care approach came unstuck in the decider. If one lesson was learned it was not to say we would win a series 5-0 when we hadn’t actually won the series. Maybe we’ll learn. Also, Adil Rashid dropped a catch and copped a ton of blame. That set a tone.

The World T20 competition was greeted with little hope, given it was being played in India and “we never do well in the sub-continent”. England lost to the West Indies in a Gayle tour de force, but came back to win the rest of their group games, including a phenomenal run chase against South Africa that was a much a trait of our new attitude as the loss in the ODI decider in South Africa had been. People, it’s two sides of the same coin. It just isn’t a tuppence, but a nice shiny new £2 one. England qualified for the semi-final, and overcame New Zealand, and when they got to the Final were relieved to be facing West Indies and not India. We all know what happened then, and we also know how important a moment in the cricket year for attitudes going forward in the media and the blogs that was.

The good feelings from the World T20, despite the tumultuous ending, and the start of the new county season seemed to beckon a bright summer. But the first half was low key, and in many ways just dull. The home series v Sri Lanka, both in tests and ODIs, lacked a certain something. There were exciting moments, none more so than Liam Plunkett’s last ball six in the first ODI, but Sri Lanka’s game approach was not matched by results. England won the test series 2-0, with a rain-affected draw the other “result”, and got through the two limited overs portions of the somewhat less than Super Series unbeaten. It was job done for England, but judging by attendances at the test matches, the level of interest on here, and my own (lack of) attempts to keep up with fixtures while on holiday in the US, it raised a number of very awkward questions about the quality of the product on show. This was the first time I had to listen via Guerilla Cricket. A useful service, but really not my cup of Earl Grey. After that it was Cricinfo (and my first question on Polite Enquiries which was met with George saying “I don’t think Dmitri is being totally serious”.

The second half of the summer was covered in my 5th Dmitri for the year. From England’s perspective it was a series that possibly got away. There was much rancour and discord over the omission of Anderson and Stokes from the first test, which grew when the whispers that they were fit were married up with a defeat at the hands of a vibrant opposition and around the same time Andy Flower broke his “dignified silence”. There was a distinct smack of “good journalism” about it all. The second test at Old Trafford was one way traffic once Cook and Root set about the task at hand, with Root becoming only the second domestic player since 1990 to pass 250 in a test match. England took the wickets they needed within the time allotted for a comprehensive win. A tight third test that ebbed and flowed went the way of the hosts when Pakistan failed to survive Day 5 (heard that one before), but any resting on the laurels was rudely awakened when a lax first innings at The Oval was at least 150 runs short (despite a Moeen masterpiece) and Younis Khan’s double hundred pointed the way to a series levelling victory. In both wins Yasir Shah had applied the bowling coup de grace. Yasir was lethal in London, undone up north.

The ODI series that followed had some magnificent performances, most notably the breaking of Robin Smith’s 23 year old record for the highest ODI score by an England player. Hales had 200 at his mercy but had to settle for 171. That new record might not last 23 months. England also made the highest ODI score of 444 for 3, Wahab recorded figures of 0 for 110 (second only to the legend of Mick Lewis in ODIs), Jos Buttler took 22 balls to reach 50 (an English record) and so on and so forth. We also had a number 11 make a 50 in the response! Pakistan rallied towards the end of the series, winning the last game, and then winning the T20 as well, but overall, sentiment towards the white ball team was in the ascendant. They were/are genuinely fun to watch.

The problem with England, its media, and many of its fans, is that there is too much emphasis placed on “doing what is perceived to be the right thing”. Looming at the end of the series was the trip to Bangladesh, where international teams were less keen to go, especially after the early July terrorist attacks at a bakery in Dhaka that was frequented by overseas visitors. After a very thorough review, itself indicative of the tricky nature of the decision, and backed by a host government prepared to throw a shedload of money at security, the tour was deemed safe to proceed. Players were given, by the ECB, keeping in mind the security issues, a choice whether they would go on the tour or stay. Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales said they did not feel comfortable and withdrew, just as Andrew Caddick did in India many years ago. The results were a widespread condemnation of Morgan, an Oliver Holt expedition so shallow that it barely merited being a puddle of a piece, and the generation of nonsensical heat and light about duty, loyalty, courage and leadership. A 2-1 ODI series win, under some interesting and tetchy leadership by Jos Buttler, was greeted like a huge triumph, and now the same heat and light is on whether Morgan should be in the team on merit, or whether we should just throw in the young guns, like, er, Ben Duckett (that went well in the test team). Morgan is a great captain of an ODI team and keeps his place on merit. Cook wasn’t a great captain of a poor performing test team, and was in poor nick for quite a while, and the press could barely mention it. We are a funny bunch.

Once the ODI series and the all the old cobblers that came with had been got out of the way, so we went into the two match test series. Alastair Cook had come back from the UK after the birth of his second child, and assumed the reins of the team, as they sought to hold back the hosts on some very spicy, spinning wickets. Both tests were filled with drama. Batting was perilous, but England got enough to win by a narrow margin at Chittagong, with Stokes being the difference, but the cracks did not hold at Dhaka, and Bangladesh romped to a famous victory. There was lot of great spin in evidence, with the English representatives coming from the media, and the hosts from the team, and especially the exciting talent that was Mehedi Hassan. The media tried to make it look like this was a valiant drawn series against a talented foe. Most of us thought this was a recipe for disaster with India looming, and no-one was being called for it except the three spinners. Batsmen weren’t to blame, they rarely are (unless you should not have been picked in the first place, Gary Balance). Those of us with long memories will recall the over the top reactions to a hit out or get out 50 by Ben Duckett for a while to come. It took all of two matches for him to become “unselectable” after that.

Then on to India. The result was pre-ordained according to the press and other experts. I’m listening to an old Switch Hit where Mark Butcher basically said that anyone with any cricket knowledge should have known that was going to be the result. I am really sorry, but I am not buying it, will not be buying it, and won’t be buying it any time soon. England were competitive, so they said, but lost key sessions and lost 4-0. Because this was the bar set at the start, then it was almost acceptable for it to be the end result. I was half joking when I said anything other than 5-0 would be painted as a success.

But you know, and I know, that this isn’t really what is going on. For the media to, almost as one, indicate that it’s time up for Alastair Cook suggests he’s not really thought of as totally without blame for this one in the same way David Gower wasn’t for the Blackwash of 1984. The captaincy was abject at some points – and all captains go through abject moments – but he seemed to be unable to rouse anyone, to get them enthused or excited. At times it was going through the motions. Karun Nair has a test triple hundred to his name, for heaven’s sake. Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Dravid, Viswanath, Hazare et al have not made one, but Karun Nair has. Jayant Yadav may be a very talented cricketer, but he has a test ton to his name too. Yet this was seen to be almost “expected”. I’m scratching my head.

England played well at Rajkot, batted with discipline, made a massive first innings total, dictated terms, and played with good sense. The declaration caused some ructions, but I wasn’t overly fussed about it. A decent performance after Dhaka was what was needed. Of course, some went silly over it, and then found out why you shouldn’t when we were handily beaten at Vizag. Kohli’s masterful 167 being the key batting difference, and while some were still saying the signs were really encouraging, most of us thought that unless the bleeding was stopped we were in real trouble. Of course, the toss was “crucial” there, and the result might have been different had we won it. When we won the toss at Mohail, we were promptly dismissed for 283 and dead in the water. Of course, this ignores the fact that India were 204 for 6 in reply and were totally let off the hook, as the tail wagged. A 124 run lead for India was enough. England never got back into the game.

At this point Haseeb Hameed had sustained a broken finger and was out of the rest of the tour, which meant his almost legendary start could benefit more from not playing in the final two test matches. Hameed is a talent, for sure, but I do like to see my talents make massive scores before anointing them as the heir apparent to Kumar Sangakkara, even if that means I’m bloody unreasonable in so doing. English sport is littered with kids built up before they are due, and cast aside when they don’t live up to the hype. Let’s hope HH is an exception to the rule.

The last two test matches followed similar patterns. England won the toss, thus gaining an advantage, but still found themselves batting last as they made on the face of it decent totals, but totally inadequate when you neither appeared to have the clue or the sticky hands to constrain Indian batsmen. Are you really telling me that Mumbai was a 631 wicket? I’ve just heard Mark Butcher call England’s second innings as being inevitably below 200, because the deck was doing everything. Yet we couldn’t get shot of the Indian lower order? They were 34 runs behind us when the 7th wicket went down and walked away with a 231 lead! As for Chennai, that was a road. A road we couldn’t be arsed to stick it out on to get a draw.

Look, I recognise, as someone who has watched the game enough that winning in India is tough. I am not bloody stupid. What got me with this is the almost reticent attitude of those following, who seemed to take more time explaining away our failures rather than getting stuck into players who underperformed, unless their name was Adil Rashid. It was quite strange, having lived through some disastrous tours where the press declared open season, even at times when we were expected to be thrashed (every overseas Ashes series it seemed). Now everyone wanted to be ever so reasonable about it. As the beloved says “beware a change of behaviour”.

The year ends with England, touted as possible world number 1s after their win in South Africa in a state of flux. I think most people, in their hearts, know Cook should go. Some have known it a lot longer than others. There is almost ludicrous expectations on Hameed, while Keaton Jennings may have a debut test ton under his belt, but still appears to have a bit to prove. The batting order is a mess, we are playing a wicket keeper batsman as a batsman, and a batsman wicketkeeper as the keeper. Moeen Ali doesn’t know whether he is coming or going. Adil is on the one hand a fragile, catch dropping liability, and within a fortnight our number one spinner. The seam bowling looked worryingly ineffective once the wickets got flat, and James Anderson appears to be an injury prone, too many miles on the clock, up and down bowler (has he lost that nip) on wickets that don’t help him. That doesn’t even mention the coaching staff. Trevor Bayliss got too much praise when things were going well, and pushed off a day early when they weren’t. He’s either managed the press well, or there is something going on. There are a number of grumblings about his test coaching ability, but nothing serious yet. Maybe there’s a nice herbaceous border around him with lots of pretty flowers? As for Paul Farbrace, who knows? Everyone still seems to be in Camp Farby. Nothing to seems to stick to him. If we are doing well, he gets lots and lots of praise. When they go badly, he gets lots and lots of praise. I’m not entirely sure why! Maybe it’s because he’s a cheeky chappy, chirpy and upbeat, a lovely assistant, creating a good environment. 2017 has many many tests – the Champions Trophy had better go well. South Africa won’t be pushovers, and we might freeze West Indies to death by the end of September, while our players will be on their knees. And then….The Ashes!

So to the media. We’ve seen the loss of some of the behemoths of the reporting game. Stephen Brenkley was dispensed with when the Independent went online only, and now is the home of any jobbing freelancer wanting to sell copy. There’s the case of spreading yourself too thinly as a couple of the hardy perennials of the up and coming crew are doing. While Brenkley wasn’t my cup of tea, and to be fair, I’m not really sure who is, I found him more the unthreatening scribe, clearly in love with what he was doing because of the sport and less because he appeared in love with himself. In some ways I miss Bunkers.

Then there was the well trailed removal of Mike Selvey from the Guardian. It is never nice to see a man lose his job, and it is important that this isn’t jumping on his misfortune, but he needed to read the runes and he didn’t. Like Pringle before he gave off the impression the game owed him a living, and the reverence he received BTL in The Guardian often enforced that. The lachrymose tributes on his demise were OTT. His view of embracing social media was to put what he thought out there and slag off anyone who disagreed. As a newspaper man, you can’t do that. Engage, debate, even try to get to know your accusers. Some have done it and found it, I think, of mutual benefit. For Phil Walker to almost cuddle him on Cricket Writers was the last straw for me with AOC. Selvey had no truck with the likes of us, independent of mind, as acerbic in print as he could be. He didn’t want to read views contrary to his, or at least, he might if you’d played the game at the highest level. But he might ask himself why we have a decent relationship with certain journalists and not him while he sups his pint and pines, of course, for a job lost. There were a lot on here who really liked you Mike. Maybe ask why they ended up being on the other side of that line at the end.

Meanwhile the same old correspondents plod along, touring the world, filing copy, being read by fewer people as the game gradually disappears. It’s a bloody shame. Again, to those who block me, namely Paul Newman and Simon Wilde, ask yourselves why we got so damned angry at some of your copy – well that’s Newman, I don’t have the first clue why Wilde blocked me, I quite liked him – because a number of your colleagues did. Think about how the fans are consuming their cricket writing these days. Think beyond scoring a few cheap hits and stupid BTL twaddle, and more about the sport itself. Try not to use your columns to settle other people’s scores.

On TV the new kid on the block, BT Sport, has made a middling start to its coverage. Speaking for myself I think it has a decent panel, even with the odious Lovejoy on it, and it made a splash with the early prominent names of Ponting and KP, knowing these were for a short period of time. This is a practice run for their Ashes coverage next year. Let me give you a number of pieces of advice based on what I have seen of their test and ODI coverage.

  • A highlights show is to watch cricket first, hear you lot jabbering on later. The amount of actual play shown is laughable. When the Ashes are played next year, more cricket and a lot less bunny.
  • Greg James is a promising host but he appears to be limited in what he knows. Now either he is being constrained by the format and the talking heads, or he is limited in what he knows.
  • As for the live coverage, please stop the silly little inserts during the coverage. It’s bad enough with Channel 9 cramming in their imbeciles, without adding to the number of voices. Let it breathe.
  • Separate the action and the chat as much as possible.
  • If you want any more advice, dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk

I have the week off to follow the Sydney test next week, and might provide some more views. It’s good that there are different avenues to watch, but not so good when you have to pay more. The world will, must, have a dedicated cricket viewing source soon, or else it is going to lose revenue and customers.

There’s a bigger piece on domestic cricket to write, and how it interacts with TV. At the moment we have an almighty mess with the ECB and the counties being accused of all sorts by everyone. Until something truly crystallises – ha ha, playing in Beckenham – it’s all heat and light. And dull to watch.

So a year that began with a bang, ended with a dud. There’s too much here already to give a world view of the game, so maybe that’s something I can look into in the New Year. I’ll also be encompassing another aspect in another of the Dmitris, but for now, with cricket, media and blogging in here, it should be enough to be going on.

Happy New Year. One more piece to come.

 

Dmitri #6 – Virat Kohli

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First up, let me tell you about some biases I have. When I played cricket I was a batsman. I didn’t have a lot of time for the bowling art. They always gave me the hump. So naturally I am going to be biased in favour of batsmen. The two previous winners of a Dmitri for international cricket were Brendon McCullum and Steve Smith. This year, due to a bit of late season / late year bias I have decided that the player that had the most effect on me, and on the cricket landscape from my perspective wasn’t his colleague Ravi Ashwin, but the skipper himself, Virat Kohli. If it were test cricket alone Kohli would be near to the player of the year, if not the winner, but because he scored all those runs, allied to his phenomenal record in ODIs, his more than decent T20 record (yes, a record, by far, in the IPL for runs in a season) and it actually seems ludicrous if he isn’t your player of the year.

I’ll also admit another bias. If you piss off our bleeding hearts, both among the twitterati and the print media, and our precious little players, then yes, you have a little plus point in my eyes. You have to be a total Shane Warne for me to get angry with you. Yes Kohli can be a little punk on the field of play, but when that’s a Ben Stokes or James Anderson we laud their competitiveness and fire. When it’s in the opposition they are an arsehole. Have a think about that for once. I’d love to have Virat on my team.

Virat Kohli had an almost impossible act to follow. The next gun middle order batsman after Sachin Tendulkar had to be something else to even get the praise that the Little Master seemed to attract without, later in his career, any need to actually produce much. Kohli was one of those fighting around to take the mantle over, and yet it took him a bit of time to make his way in test cricket, scoring his first ton in his 8th match. He is 28 and has played around 80 fewer test matches than Alastair Cook, who is four years older by way of comparison. Kohli still has just 4209 test runs, almost 7000 adrift of Cook. Kohli has only just, after a massively phenomenal year, got his test average above 50. In many ways looking at his career test stats, he’s a late bloomer, and yet already he has a tremendous aura about him. Of course, he still has to do it in England, they say. I’ll be interested to see what 2018 brings.

Much of that aura is to do, I think, with the way he contemptuously dismisses everyone in ODI cricket. He averages nearly 53 in the limited over form of the game over his career, and as stated, in 2016 he has been phenomenal. He has 26 hundreds. His record in chases is spellbinding. Creating an aura is a pre-requisite to sustained great performance, because psychologically you fear what a man can do. You fear what Kohli might do to you in the ODI game, and then when the test performances follow, you might start fearing him in his all-round batting game. This year he put it all together.

In 2016 he scored 1215 runs at over 70 with four scores over 100. Three of those were double tons. All of those came in the second half of the year. India did not play a test before July. In 10 ODIs this year, Kohli scored 734 runs at an average of 92.37 with three centuries. In 2016 Virat played 15 T20 internationals, averaging a rather impressive 106.83 (helped by a ton of not outs) and with a top score of 90* in his 641 total runs. That’s not bad, don’t you think?

Then comes that aura. The captaincy of India in the test form has been something to behold. Tactically there might always be some issues, but what leadership has done has appeared to galvanise his resolve as a test bat. We saw it in the five match series, with a potentially test saving innings at Rajkot, an exhibition of vivacious batting in Vizag, a useful half century at Mohali and then the masterclass of Mumbai, a double century that took the breath away. Of course, it would never happened if Adil Rashid……..

He was all over the England team in the field, an aggressive presence, indulging in some back and forth which seemed to upset the cognoscenti. “He is not the most popular player among the England team” was used more than once than my upcoming Dmitri winner, as if this actually matters.  I’m sure Kohli couldn’t give a flying one what the opposition think about him. He’s a winner, and he wants to win and attack at nearly any opportunity. Having great wickets at home surely helps, but I can’t forget his performances last time in Australia too, where he looked magnificent. His energetic captaincy is in contrast to MS Dhoni’s test efforts. Where MS seemed not to give a FF about tests and captaincy, especially later in his career, Kohli takes every setback like a personal affront. If Virat Kohli were English, would you not want him as your captain, or would you worry that it might affect his game?

Kohli is the nearest I’ve come to watching Brian Lara. I might actually make a point of stopping everything I reasonably can to watch him bat. He’s that good. Both in terms of ability and fun to watch. Like the other members of the core four – Smith, Williamson and Root – he appears to wield a very long bat. It’s not technical, it’s not any great analysis, but the bat just appears longer in their hands than many others (AB seems to have a short bat to me – it’s nonsense I know, but I hope you get the sort of idea I’m on about). They all seem to be able to wield the willow with a lovely backlift and follow through (Smith, maybe not. He has a technique only his mother could love). Kohli’s bat also seems lightspeed fast. There’s wrist work, but it’s Lara-like, not traditional Indian style. It’s the crack and the pace of the bat that seems special. It’s all pretty woolly I know, but there’s a perception of pure pace when Kohli hits it. He can find gaps, he can manoeuvre fields and shots with the best of them, and he is, when not batting against you, a joy to watch.

He’s also massively, massively important for the game. Virat Kohli evidently loves test matches. He looks as though he relishes his own performances in the elite form of the game and that of his proteges. He wants India to dominate test cricket. He wants to dominate test cricket. It is great he’s a brilliant white ball player, but in a world where test cricket is constantly seen as under threat, it is vital that THE icon in THE largest cricket playing nation does not treat test cricket as a chore. Kohli can fill test grounds. In India. That is massively important for the game. Arguably, from our test-loving perspective, he is more important than Tendulkar and Dhoni. He’s a player we need now, and we need him to be this Virat for a number of years yet.

In retrospect, Virat was a slam dunk for this, wasn’t he? Bias or no bias.

Dmitri #5 – Pakistan

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You can probably guess that the individual world player award is going to go to a non-Pakistani player given this collective award, and you would be right. Misbah-ul-Haq, Yasir Shah and Younis Khan all played really well, as did Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq (Ali making a double hundred as I write this piece), but I’ve decided to go elsewhere for that particular Dmitri. However, for an “award” founded on the influence and debate-stirring on a blog, to ignore the tourists of 2016 would be remiss. The good commenters on this blog showed plenty of excitement and happiness at the style of play, the quality of the matches and a somewhat unexpected tight contest. So for Dmitri #5 I am awarding this highly prestigious and awe-inspiring gong to the Pakistan team.

Once they get over their excitement let’s look at why. All through my cricketing life there’s been a special sort of loathing for Pakistan – they were the ones who were quite clear in calling for neutral umpires as they considered David Constant (and others) to be biased. However, we could call their umpires anything under the sun, and did, especially in 1987! They also had players who could be called abrasive – Javed Miandad, I’m looking at you – and would not take a step back, as they showed when winning here in 1987 and 1992. Then there was reverse swing, so lauded in our press now as a skill Anderson and others possess, but at the time of Pakistani mastery, was seen as cheating and ball tampering. There have always been murmurs, and louder, of corruption, match fixing et al, as well as the nonsense at the Oval in 2006. Relations between England and Pakistan have always been “difficult”. Then 2010 seemed to prove all the naysayers right. They were up to their eyes in spot fixing, and three big players were booted out. When their premier spin bowler was effectively booted from the game for chucking, it seemed as though Pakistan were dead in the water. Where was there to go? No home. No throughflow of players despite the talent, the regurgitation of the Akmals, and the presence, always of Shahid Afridi, for good or bad. Within their ranks, they had a true leader. He was just, well, old.

Under Misbah-ul-Haq Pakistan briefly reached the status of world number one in test cricket. Given the team plays no series in its home country, this is possibly the most remarkable achievement in recent times. Of course they are formidable in the United Arab Emirates, and play very well in those conditions, but they have taken some of their form outside of the cosy confines of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah to be able to top the rankings. While they are not unbeatable on their travels, as New Zealand showed, and Australia are going someway to doing so, they are capable of exciting and dashing cricket. They also have that steel in them as well. Azhar Ali has scored a triple hundred and double hundred this year, while converting from a number three batsman to an opener to fill a vulnerable position. Bookending the top order is unsung hero Asad Shafiq, a gutsy, game fighter of a batsman who has given England more trouble than they would have liked. They have another punchy keeper, Sarfraz Ahmed, who is threatening to become a front-line level batsman, capable of match turning knocks.

The bowling is a bit hither and thither. It can look good on its day, but also veer well of tangent. This applies to the seamers, who on paper look a more than useful battery of quickish bowlers, and with decent spare capacity in case of injury. The spin of Yasir Shah is lethal in suitable conditions. He is a clever bowler, not a massive turner of the ball, but constantly at you – more your Kumble than your Warne. They do seem to go through massive dry spells without wickets, perhaps allowing too many games to drift.

Which leads us to the old duo in the middle order – Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. They cannot go on forever, and undoubtedly this will be the last time we will see them playing tests on English shores (or should I doubt that). For long spells of the test summer, Younis looked like someone had him on remote control and was playing him around like an idiot. He couldn’t keep still, got himself in dreadful positions, looked totally awful. Then, when his team needed an innings to punish England for their lax batting at The Oval, Younis came through with a double hundred. At times it wasn’t pretty, but the old stager wasn’t to be denied. Combining with Asad Shafiq, he took Pakistan to a dominant position, over 200 in front, and let Yasir Shah do the rest. Pakistan walked away with an honourable 2-2 draw and put to bed the rubbish emanating from some of the press corps about how fortunate they might have been to win at Lord’s.

Because it was at Lord’s that Pakistan made massive headlines with their play, and their celebrations. For most, the sight of Misbah doing press-ups after his hundred was a joyous one. It was a “I can still do it” moment (in my circle of mates we call this a Spacey, after his role in American Beauty), and most bought into it. When they repeated the celebration as a team at the end, in front of the Lord’s position, some wanted to make a point that it was “rubbing our noses in it”. I don’t know who could have thought, that, or why. But some did. Sport has a lot of growing up to do, and also needs to shed itself of its damn self-righteousness. Pakistan had been a joy for the four days, England contributed to a really good game of cricket, and the game was the winner. What might have been lost was the credibility of the 7-0 merchants prior to this summer’s test matches.

This blog appreciated the series, loved its competitiveness, including an excellent win from behind at Edgbaston by England, and had real empathy for the team’s characters and characteristics. So to Misbah and his team, thanks for a cracking series, and for the entertainment you gave us.

Dmitri #6 will be the International Player award. Coming soon.

Dmitri #4 – Eoin Morgan’s 2016

I trust you all had a very decent Christmas, and given the cricket has resumed (with the exception of the Ranji Trophy, which has carried on through the Holidays) I thought it’s time we did. So back on the 2016 Dmitri’s we go…..

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As I said when I mentioned the thinking behind the Dmitris, the “awards” are given, if that’s the right word, to players, teams, individuals etc. who have played an important part in cricket during the year, or have had a key influence on the blogging side of things. There is little doubt that where Kevin Pietersen laid the ground for the latter, in 2016 Eoin Morgan has taken his place. Morgan divides opinion, he breaks the cricket fraternity out in a rash. There is nothing quite like watching righteous indignation in full flow.

Yet, back earlier in the year, it was all so different. Eoin Morgan was lauded, a great man, a talismanic leader, a man of iron will. Because of three words. That’s. From. Me. With those words he unleashed the blind fury. Morgan was taking ownership for the exclusion of Kevin Pietersen, as unlikely as any comeback might have been, in public, up front, no questions asked in a statement to Nasser Hussain in the Daily Mail. Piers Morgan went apoplectic, and some of the more vociferous KP supporters followed. Yes, I was angry at it, in every way that I was angry in the first place, but this wasn’t from him. If Morgan wanted KP he never could have said so. We all know that. We aren’t stupid. So yes, while the anti-KP band went over the top in their excitement, we had to take a step back.

But if Eoin Morgan thought that cunning could buy him love from the ECB media, he found out how long it took to upset them and become back in the negative column. One decision and he was in the firing line, with the big beasts of the press lined up firing at him. When Eoin Morgan even hinted that he wouldn’t make the trip to Bangladesh, the game was up. He is dead meat. It is only a matter of time before the fatal blow is inflicted upon him. The anger at putting his own personal wellbeing first, regardless of whether the reasons were iron-clad logical, far outweighed failures of captaincy on the field of others. It’s completely fair enough to have your team mess up week after week, but woe betide you go against conventional wisdom of what constitutes leadership.

Once that happens the “manipulation” of statistics we are often accused of is employed against Morgan. The recent lack of centuries being the main one. The lining up of sensational young talent who have not proved much being another. Ignore his captaincy, and the way the team plays with non-stop aggressive intent – Jos Buttler can do that on the back of a tight as you know what ODI series in Bangladesh that Eoin opted out of (in case you forgot). Morgan’s role, once front and centre, became Morgan the expendable. Because he now lacks the ability to lead his team.

This reached its nadir when Oliver Holt jetted out to Bangladesh in one of the most ridiculous stunts I’ve seen in a while. If you look sanctimony up in the Illustrated English Dictionary, Holt’s face would radiate out at you. Holt had a thing about Morgan and was going to go to Chittagong himself to show the world it’s safe. If the Mail’s chief sports writer, or whatever his puffed up title is, was brave enough to pitch up in Chittagong, then so should Morgan. Plus, Morgan’s bleeding Irish, so he’s a wrong ‘un anyway when it comes to playing for England. He doesn’t even sing the National Anthem, the money-grabbing little coward. As journalistic endeavours went, it was risible. Holt pitched in, and pitched out, wrote his nonsensical piece for the Mail on Sunday, and to be very fair, most of those who follow the game and write about it off the media wagon laughed at it for what it was. Holt being a dolt. I think I might have chipped in.

Our beloved Comma, a man of impeccable trust don’t forget, because that is important and trumps all, had said that if a player had reservations about going to Bangladesh they could opt out. Nothing would be held against them. So two players took them at his word, and the denizens of good manners and military leadership were up in arms. Newman is never going to stop mentioning it, reminding you of it. Selfey’s gonna tweet how great Reggie “best in the business” is. All the while Morgan is going to have any achievements downplayed, any failure augmented, any expression of non-regret castigated. It’s the way they play.

On here the debate caused some heat and light, but many came out in favour of Morgan’s right to choose not to play. Most pointed out the ludicrous calls to leadership standards. Many recognised the modus operandi. But most of all, many supported Morgan. Now he will need to repay that support because if he doesn’t, he’s sharkbait.

And that’s from me.

A Christmas Carol (of sorts)

Kevin Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the Director (Cricket), the Chairman, the Chief Executive, and the chief Guardian Cricket Correspondent. Ebenezer “Scrooge” Cook signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to’. Old Kevin was as dead as a doornail.

It was a cold and bleak winter in Essex – has been for years – and the lambs were bleating nearby.  Ebenezer Cook was in his rooms, counting up his runs, when there was a knock at the door.  “Bah” he exclaimed, “I’d just got to to 8,142 as well.  Jimmy!” he called to his faithful servant, Jimmy Cratchit, “Go and see who is at the door”.  Jimmy, puppy dog eyes as ever, returned a moment later.  “There are two men at the door, sir, it’s about Christmas”.

Scrooge got up and went to the door, to be met by Mr Bumble and Mr Beefy, carrying champagne.  “Merry Christmas!” they cried, and explained they were there to collect money for the peasants of Isleworth.  “Humbug” said Scrooge, attempting to close the door.  “But sir, this is for the poor folk of Sky, they need this desperately.  How else will they be able to sell the company for vast profit to Mr Rupert?”

“Bah” said Scrooge again, as he shooed them away only to find his nephew Adil waiting behind them.  “Hello Uncle, come and join us for Christmas!  It’s a wonderful time of the year”.  Cook frowned, “Hang on, you don’t celebrate Christmas”.  “Er.  Ah yes, good point, but it’s too good a character to ignore, so let’s celebrate” said Adil.  “Quite frankly young man, this is another example of you having a weak personality.  I’m going to have nothing more to do with you, and to prove it I’m going to have you running in until your fingers are falling off  and you’re the most successful worker we have.  I don’t think there’ll be any doubt at all about your weakmindedness after that”.

Slamming the door, Scrooge turned to find Jimmy Cratchit in front of him.  “As it is Christmas sir, and I’ve been bowling non-stop for three years now, I was wondering if I could have Christmas Day off?”.  “Don’t be absurd,” Scrooge replied “You’ve had a couple of months off with that shoulder problem of yours, you must be fully rested.  And as far as I can work out, you’ve not done anything on the India work at all.  Oh very well,  but just one day”.

“Christmas, Christmas, Christmas. What a load of nonsense.  It’s been only good for one thing, and that’s the historic birth of a noble creature, one who has changed the world.  One who is known for being the greatest and most important of all, especially in the eyes of the Miller.  Presents?  Celebration?  Humbug!  Runs is all it is good for, lots of runs”.

That night, Ebenezer Cook got ready for bed.  To the side were tomes of articles, praising Cooky for his steel, for his gimlet-eyed approach to the accumulation of runs.  All was well, he read the latest adoring billet doux, sent in the Mail, and he gazed into the mirror to see if the bit about doe eyes was true; they became heavy, and he drifted into sleep.

A noise made him sit bolt upright, and reach for the light.  In front of him was a figure, chained by the hands and feet, carrying a bat and hidden in shadow.  “Who are you?” Scrooge asked.  “Better to ask who I was”, the apparition replied.  “Who were you then?  You’re very particular, for a middle order player”.

“In life I was your batting partner, Kevin Marley.  Most notably against India you might recall. I have been cursed to wander the world, picking up only T20 contracts, banished from my life irritating the hell out of that old telegraph operator, Pringle.  I am here to warn you that you must change your ways, lest you too find the future filled with despair – although admittedly you won’t get the T20 contracts and your Twitter account will be a lot duller.  Should you fail to do so, I fear you too will be forced to spend your days pretending Piers Morgan is your friend”.

“You were always a good friend to me”, Scrooge lied, “tell me how I can avoid your dreadful fate”.  Marley paused, and looked at Scrooge, knowing his old habits were still present.  “You will be visited by three captains.  The first tomorrow night will be the captain of Christmas Past, then it will be the captain of Christmas present, and finally the captain of Christmas to come.  Beware Ebenezer, you will not like what they say”.

The vision of Kevin Marley began to fade, and Scrooge returned to bed.  “Humbug” he exclaimed, and went back to sleep.  By morning, he was convinced it had all been a terrible dream, frightening, but no more real than the time some fool put the city clerk Downton in charge of the livestock.

The following night, convinced it was all his imagination, Scrooge went to sleep, content that he had spent his day wisely, making Jimmy Cratchitt say nice things about their best customers, something he knew he hated.  In the early hours, his repose was interrupted by a presence in the room, a gentle figure, who spoke to him, quietly, calmly and with all the assurance of someone who had a degree in people.

“Who are you?” asked Scrooge.

“I am the captain of Christmas Past.  I am here to show you things”.  “What things?” cried Scrooge.  “Come with me” came the reply.  The bedroom disappeared, and a field came into view.  “What is this dreadful place?  I can’t bear it”.  “It is Leeds”.  “No, no, no don’t make me live through it again” begged Scrooge.

As tears rolled down his cheeks, he watched Angelo Mathews hitting balls to all parts, he saw himself stood at slip, unable to change anything.  He saw people in the distance, appalled at the sight in front of them.  “Can I change it?  Let me change it, what can I do?  Don’t make me wait to talk to Mr Moores again, I can’t cope with it”.

Puzzled, the ghost of the captain turned to him: “I have done nothing, this is who you are and what you did.  Nothing can be changed, nothing can be altered.  It is you, it is what you became”.

The scene dissolved, and Scrooge peered through the mist as it cleared, wondering what punishment would be next.  A face appeared, one who had been precious to him, but who he had not seen for a long time.  Scrooge’s heart leapt, and he called out “Bell! oh my precious Bell, we have spent so much time together, so many wonderful years”.  “He can’t hear you” observed the ghost, “watch closely”.

As Ebenezer observed, he could see Bell was happy, and his heart was filled with joy, and some puzzlement.  For the last time he had seen him, he was not, he was anything but.  As the scene expanded, he saw Bell laughing with other people, full of the joy of life.  Scrooge turned to the ghost and said “but what is this?”.  “It is the happiness of being with friends, it is how he now is, since he moved on from you”.  “This is down to me?” cried Scrooge, “but I thought he was my friend”.  “So he was” came the answer, “until you turned your back on him”.

Before he could reply, Ebenezer Cook found himself back in his bed, but not bathed in sweat for it was well known he didn’t sweat at all.  As he thought about his dreadful experience, he shuddered.  “At least that’s the worst part out of the way” he thought, and eventually he drifted off to sleep.

He spent the following day distracted, his paperwork untidy, finding that the slips were numerous and his pen often simply went down the wrong line.  Increasingly apprehensive, he readied himself for bed, and eventually, sleep overcame him.

Mere moments later, he sat upright.  Another vision was at the end of the bed, one vaguely familiar, yet with an undercurrent of threat that made Scrooge recoil.  The dark face was in shadow, but the beard was visible, as was the shining reflection of the earring, and the sound of thousands of people cheering could be heard softly in the background.  As the hood was pulled back, he gasped, for although the eyes were kind, he did not dare to meet them.

“I am the captain of Christmas present.  Look upon me”.  Scrooge reverently did so, the feeling that this was a presence he had been close to seemingly for weeks strongly in his thoughts.  Nagging at the back of his mind was that he somehow knew there was no way he could get him out, even if he wanted to.

“Touch my robe” commanded the dark, coaly vision.  Scrooge dutifully did so, and found himself in the Cratchits front room.  Christmas was being celebrated, Jimmy Cratchit pouring the drinks.  “A toast to Mr Ebenezer Cook” cried Jimmy.  “I shall do no such thing” answered his wife Broady Cratchit.  “For we all know he is simply obsessed with counting his runs, and gives you nothing.  Here we are at Christmas, you’ve worked all year for nothing, and here am I, preparing everything and getting no credit for it whatever.  No, I shan’t toast him.  And what about the boy?  What has he ever done for him?”

Jimmy’s eyes moved to the corner of the room, where the broken child sat with his crutches.  His eyes were bright, but the pain in them was clear.  “Bless you Markwood Cratchit, it will all be well.  We’ll get you the treatment you need, don’t you worry.  Mr Ebenezer knows all the right people and he’ll see you right”.  “He will not Jimmy and you know it perfectly well.” said Mrs Cratchit.  “Look at how the Prior was treated.  All he needed was a rest, and he wouldn’t have it, even though it was obvious to everyone.  ‘It’s up to him’ he said, and before we knew it that was the end of him”.

Scrooge watched on, knowing in his heart that Markwood would get no help from him.  “What will happen to him?” he asked the ghost.  “I see a vacant seat, at the Finchale End, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved”.  “No, no” cried Scrooge, “say he will be spared”.  The ghost turned to him “If these shadows are unaltered by the future, there is nothing that can be done”.

With a flash of light, Scrooge was back in his bed, and he gazed down at his palms, amazed at the first sight of flecks of sweat on them.  Unsettled, he thought about all he had seen, and resolved to change his ways.  Probably.  When he got round to it.  He went to sleep.

That following night, he resolved to stay awake, to ensure no more visitors.  But try as he might, he could not do so, and moments after he dropped off, a third figure appeared.  “And you are?” said Scrooge.  “I am the captain of Christmas future” squeaked a voice.  “You’re very young” said Scrooge.  “I’m not you know, everyone just thinks so – look at this whisker on my chin.  I’m a proper adult, and I can do a really good Bob Willis impression to prove it.  I am here to show you your future”.

Scrooge peered once again into the gloom, and an office appeared.  The ghost led him through the door, marked ‘Dobell and Son’ into the space beyond.  A group of people sat there, quietly talking among themselves.  He moved in closer, wanting to hear what they were saying:

“Do we have to write about this?  No one cares any more”

“We’d better be getting paid.  I hope these drinks are included”

“He just went on too long. It all went wrong in the end.  Apart from us, everyone is celebrating”

“The only one actually crying is that new man, and no one pays attention to him anyway”

“Good riddance I say”

Scrooge turned to the apparition, “who are they talking about?  This person sounds terrible. Awful.”  The ghost turned his baby face, beckoned, and led him over to a corner, an open booth, with half consumed cans of bitter and a nasty letter from his clerk pinned to the wall.  There on the table was a headline “Cooked!  At last”.  Scrooge fell back, shocked.  “It’s me!  They’re talking about me”.  He began to sob, and looked up at the ghost.  “I will change.  I will be a different person.  I will make sure that everyone remembers me for the right reasons.”  The captain of Christmas future smiled.

The following morning, Christmas Day and his birthday, Scrooge leapt out of bed.  “Merry Christmas” he cried.  He went out to buy a duck, and visited the Cratchits.  “Jimmy my friend, allow me to give you this gift for today!  Young Markwood, I have a gift for you – a small horse for you to ride so you will no longer be confined to those crutches.  Mrs Cratchit, there is nothing more that you could want except to be given the credit for carrying us all even when it all goes wrong.  And the password to a secret Twitter account.  Merry Christmas one and all!”

And so it went on, from house to house.  Scrooge had told everyone he would no longer spend all his time counting runs, that he would help everyone and ensure press conferences were the place to praise others and not himself.  And the spirit of Christmas moved through the whole area, as all gaped at the change in Ebenezer.  The joy he felt was shared by one and all, and he skipped like a newborn lamb through the neighbourhood.

In the churchyard was the grave of Kevin Marley.  Scrooge paused in his celebrations, looked across at it and deliberately turned his back.  For not even a fairy tale can create the impossible…


 

Deep and sincere apologies to the ghost of Charles Dickens, and I will spend Christmas in the hope I receive no visitations from his angry spirit for butchering his work of genius, or from the various characters (apologies to them too!) who have been shamelessly libelled for the sake of a smile or two.  Maybe.

From Dmitri, Sean and myself – have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes to all our readers, commenters and detractors, may it be a time of celebration for you all.

 

 

 

 

Dmitri #3 – Jonny Bairstow

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The very short tradition of the Dmitris is that one goes to an England player who has performed well this year, and who hasn’t won the award before. In 2014 I shared it between Ali, Ballance and Buttler – the new hopes for English cricket. In 2015 it went to Joe Root. For much of 2016 it was an even battle between Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes. It was desperately close, and it has to be said, the recent tour has not favoured the Warwickshire man (although he’s an absolute dead cert for a Wisden Cricketer of the Year, eh, Lawrence?).

Jonny Bairstow has been a rescue act all year, scoring the most runs by a wicketkeeper in a calendar year (aided by having 17 test matches to do it, but still magnificent) and doing so by refining his game without totally reining in his natural attacking instincts. He brought in 2016 with a superb, emotional, 150 in that carnage in Cape Town. It may have been overshadowed by Ben Stokes rampage but it was incredibly important, as his batting at that time had to mask some of his keeping inadequacies. What was also lost that on a nervy Day 5 he steadied a very rocky boat with a 30 not out. That would be much of his role for the rest of the year. Jonny Bairstow had so many rescue acts to perform, he’ll be auditioning for the role of Scott Tracy in any Thunderbirds movie.

The thing I also liked about his three centuries were they were all decent scores post that mark. 150 not out, 140, 167 – a DBTA of 78.5 – and although his problem now seems to be converting 50s into 100s, that is a much better problem than having extended barren spells as Jos Buttler went through before he was dropped. Bairstow has had two single figure scores in tests in 2016 (Cook has had 6, Moeen has had 8, Stokes has 4 (all on this Asia tour) which shows his consistency.

Bairstow came into the team in 2012, on the back of a brilliant ODI the year before, but never settled, and then found himself thrust in the limelight of the KP phone hacking scandal! His 95 at Lord’s was ridiculously lauded by Shiny Toy – who said if he’d made a hundred it would have been the greatest first century he’d ever seen – but once he’d lost his place (after a not bad Ashes 2013, but not a convincing one), and with Buttler the coming phenom, opportunities looked scarce. Given the hospital pass of replacing Prior at the end of the Difficult Winter, he was replaced by him again in early 2014, and waited his chance. He returned for the last three tests of the 2015 Ashes, outscoring Australia’s first innings on his own at Trent Bridge, and then hasn’t missed a test since. He’s one of the first names on the team sheet.

He’s also a fine ODI player, but is part of the logjam. He doesn’t let us down when he does play as his match and series winning innings in the 2015 matches v New Zealand shows.

He’s also improved his keeping – Chris is a much better authority than me on the technical aspects – and I don’t see any reason why Buttler should take the gloves from him.

So Jonny Bairstow is this year’s winner. Over 1400 runs, a sound old record, a man in possession and tenaciously holding it. Well played, sir.

India vs England: Fifth Test, Day Five

Predictable.  That has to be the overriding reaction to England’s epic collapse in the evening session.  Defeat in the final Test and a 4-0 series hammering was expected by more than just the most pessimistic, irrespective of the pitch remaining a good one.  England have looked mentally shot for a while now, and perhaps that’s to be expected.  Indeed, the slightly bigger surprise was that for much of the day they appeared to be on track for a draw, before losing 6 wickets for 16 runs post tea and gaining an outstanding if unwanted record for scoring the largest first innings total when suffering an innings defeat in Test history.

In truth, although Cook and Jennings had reached lunch unscathed, it wasn’t a comfortable stand, Cook being dropped early on, and various other near misses for them both.  That they survived to give England a sniff of what some were waiting to write up as a valedictory draw is actually rather to their credit. Immediately post lunch was where it started to go wrong, 103-0 becoming 129-4 in less than an hour.   Alastair Cook is a curious player in that when he starts to struggle, the technical glitches become ever more apparent, in a way that is less obvious with – say – Joe Root.  Over a five match Test series players getting out in the same way try ever more visibly obvious means of countering the problem.  Cook is getting too far over to the offside, which is leaving him both prone to lbw and to the legside catches off the spinners as in the case here.  No one will be more aware of it than him, and it is not offered up as a criticism of his batting, more an acute illustration of the difficulties of a good batsman under severe pressure, both mental and from the bowlers.

Even then, a decent partnership between Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes had taken England to a healthy position, and on reaching tea four wickets down, must have fancied their chances of saving the game.  What happened thereafter will mark a new entry into the charts of England’s most glorious collapses, and had the merit of style points by being largely self-inflicted.

Moeen’s dismissal in particular will be one that gets replayed, for there is little more embarrassing than getting out coming down the track attempting to go over the top when trying to save the game.  And rightly so too, for it looked awful.  There are caveats to this – it is easy to see some praising the approach for throwing the bowling off line and length if it succeeds; likewise, playing a natural game to try to save a match is thoroughly approved of when it succeeds – Matt Prior’s entirely correct – for him – counterattacking rearguard in Auckland in 2013 was downright lucky at times, not least the moment he went through to his century with a miscued hook.  Yet he was praised for that innings for one reason alone – it worked.   Outcome tends to be the determining factor in these things, and the old adage of “hit sixes but don’t take any risks” often seems to apply.

Nevertheless, there’s no getting away from the fact it’s a pretty dire way to get out less than two hours away from safety, and the rest of the batting order were little better.   As much as anything, it’s indicative of thoroughly frazzled minds, leading to poor decision making.  There is often a temptation to blame the first victim of what becomes a collapse for all the subsequent ones, yet this remains as ludicrous as it always has done.  Players are responsible for their own actions, not those of others, and the dismissals of Stokes, Dawson and Rashid were all poor in their own ways; singling out the player who scored nearly 200 runs in the match on his own as the one to blame for how others got out is bizarre.

Once again Jos Buttler was left high and dry as the tail collapsed around him, making the point rather beautifully that it matters little how many batsmen you have if none of them stay in.  For such an attacking player, there is irony in it being him and pretty much only him who appeared mentally up to the challenge of blocking the match out.

India’s celebrations on taking the tenth wicket were joyous, for they have comprehensively outplayed England, and by ever increasing degrees as the series has gone on.  The grinding into the dirt that occurred in this match was ruthless, but deeply impressive, and for all the rationalising of different elements and players, the reality is that England would most likely have lost the series irrespective of calls for changes.  That said, England could and should have played far better than they did; the chasm between the sides need not have been anything like so vast.  There will be attempts at revisionism from some quarters to indicate this was always likely.  It wasn’t.

For Alastair Cook, the questions about his future came immediately after the game.  His response that he shouldn’t be asked about it was clumsy, as is often the case with Cook, but probably right in the sense that it wasn’t the time.  Much as the media would love to get instant decisions, it is far better to wait for the dust to settle and come to a considered view rather then offer up an emotional one in the aftermath of a battering.  That being said, there’s really only one decision to make here, and not in itself because of the series result.  Cook has been prevaricating about his captaincy for quite some time now, announcing to anyone who asked that he is unsure of whether to carry on or not.  By being so unsure, he has made it abundantly clear that he shouldn’t carry on, for while people will have doubts in private, and may discuss them with family or close friends, to openly discuss publicly the possibility of giving up the captaincy says in itself it’s time to go.  Cook cannot possibly be fully committed to the role any longer having effectively admitted he isn’t, and even if he decided to carry on and was allowed to do so, the same feelings would return wholesale upon the next defeat.

Naturally enough, the rest of the management and team were then asked the same question, and equally naturally, they defaulted to supporting the captain and saying he’s the right man for the job.  There is nothing else they can say, even if they don’t believe it – although there’s no evidence they don’t.  This then becomes a feeding frenzy, and that is not at all good for England cricket, and not even good for Cook himself.  Cook’s tenure may have been a period of dissension and division, but the reality now is more prosaic – it’s simply time to go as captain for his own good and for the team’s.

Cook’s agreement that England have stagnated over the last year is probably right.  2016 has been a pretty miserable year for the Test side, the only series win coming against a Sri Lanka team vastly weakened by retirements.  This winter England have lost five of their seven matches, with only a single victory over Bangladesh.  In normal circumstances, no captain would be felt able to survive that kind of record.  Yet with Cook there are enough queueing up to make every kind of excuse for that record, blaming everyone except the captain himself, that it remains in some question.  It shouldn’t.  It’s not because everything can be laid at Cook’s door for that would be scapegoating to the same extent Adil Rashid has suffered, but he’s never been a sufficiently good captain for it to be a justification in itself.  If he was, then a case could be made for retention as an asset in the role, for even a losing captain of a weak side can be a good one, Stephen Fleming is a decent example.  At times he’s been competent, at others, truly abysmal.

The constant refrain has been that Cook is both popular and a good leader in the dressing room.  That may well be true, but a leader is not necessarily a captain, nor vice versa; Cook in the ranks would still be a leader for the younger players in the side who would look up to him by virtue of his record.  The simple question is whether England would be stronger or weaker with him in charge.  That argument has been made many times over the years, but it is particularly acute given the outcome of this series.  It is very hard to make a case for saying that Cook as captain actually makes England a stronger side, even if some would baulk at the idea that he actively weakens them.  There’s a further point, and that is the question of Cook the batsman.  He’s managed the dual roles better than most recent incumbents, his batting has held up fairly well throughout his tenure, with no obvious indication that it has lessened his batting contribution.  But for all the talk about whether taking on the captaincy would negatively affect Joe Root, few ask the question as to whether relinquishing it would positively benefit Cook – for that is the unspoken corollary of that particular argument.  Cook the batsman is simply more valuable than Cook the captain, and he always was, except as an ECB marketing tool.

When England were whitewashed in Australia 2 years ago, the response was to close ranks around Alastair Cook, single out one individual to blame for the farrago and pretend that none of the cracks that appeared needed to be addressed.  There are already attempts to portray this outcome as being within normal parameters, and beyond the Cook captaincy question, there’s little indication that real attention will be paid to why what has transpired recently has happened.  There have to be fears that Adil Rashid will be quietly removed from future consideration given the heavy criticism he has received from sources who have a habit of being unusually close to ECB thinking.   The timing of the leaks (The ECB don’t leak, remember) concerning the action of Jack Leach will raise suspicions about what exactly the ECB hierarchy are up to, not least given the rather over the top praise for Liam Dawson from those same types friendly towards the ECB.  Perhaps such suspicions are entirely wide of the mark, but when an organisation has been so duplicitous in the recent past, they lose their right to be given trust in what they do.

For this is their abiding problem; it isn’t that there are simple solutions to England’s difficulties, it’s that the pattern of deceit over time, throughout the upper levels of the organisation, leads observers to assume they are up to their old tricks even when they aren’t.  In this case they may be, or they may not.  But why would anyone believe them when they say it isn’t so?

England have problems from top to bottom, but there are areas of hope, and young players coming through who look promising.  The experienced ones cannot be written off just yet, but there is a hint of a changing of the guard in this team.  They have six months off from Test cricket, before one of the most insane schedules England have ever put together kicks in.  Next year’s winter tours, including the Ashes, involve England going away from October until April 2018.  If England struggled with five Tests in six weeks this series, they are going to be on their knees by the end of the New Zealand tour following the Ashes.

With the one day tour to the West Indies and Champions Trophy at home, Cook has six months off to recharge his batteries.  He will undoubtedly need it, and it’s to be hoped he is able to relax, free his mind of the clutter that will be swirling at the moment, and come back with a bang as the batsman who at his best can drive opposition bowlers to despair.  If the price of getting that player back was to give up the captaincy, surely even his greatest supporters would think that worth paying?

India vs England; Fifth Test, Day Four

If the third day was chastening, bordering on disastrous, then day four was humiliation.  About the only thing that went in England’s favour all day was that they didn’t lose any wickets in the short session following India’s perhaps belated declaration.

Inevitably when a side receives a flogging of the kind that England did today, there will be a search for someone to blame.  Most likely, it will be the spin bowlers who receive most of it from the media, and of those, it will probably be Adil Rashid who gets it most of all.  The word for this is “scapegoating”, though it’s not the first time the most successful player in his discipline has been blamed for all the ills of a disastrous tour.  By way of illustration, in the last Test Rashid dropped a catch. It happens, it’s in the nature of the game.  As is the possibility that the drop may prove expensive.  But the response from some was to single out that spill as the reason for defeat – because that dropped catch “cost” 150 runs.  In the first place this is of course complete nonsense – if a team fails to create another opportunity then the fault is collective; in the second, Cook’s drop of Karun Nair has cost in the region of 270 runs so by the same method, and given England’s deficit, it must be entirely Cook’s fault.  Preposterous.  And fortunately for him, no one is making that case.

But here’s the point.  All those journalists who mentioned the cost of Rashid’s drop, but failed to do so for Cook’s are pushing an agenda.  There is no other reason and no justification whatever.  It would be grossly unfair on Cook to throw the consequences of a dropped catch on him, which is why this place won’t do it.  But it was and is equally grossly unfair to have done so to Rashid.  Those that did once when it suited but not the other time are a disgrace to their profession.  It is nothing but bullying, and many will wonder why they are doing it.

Cook does bear some responsibility for the debacle, but not so much for the fourth day’s play, where the wheels falling off is something that tends to happen to most sides facing such a battering and to far better captains than Cook.  It is as miserable an experience as can happen on the cricket field.  It was more for the third day, where the approach was one of containment and entirely of containment.  Again, this is not a matter of assuming different actions would have caused entirely different outcomes, for the flatness of the surface meant it was always going to be a difficult task to restrict India.  But by prizing economy over penetration England thoroughly played into Indian hands and made the fourth day even more painful.

Liam Dawson has bowled nicely.  He’s done reasonably well.  He’s certainly maintained a degree of control when looked at on an over by over basis.  But when the opposition rack up a record score of 759 against you, one has to ask what value that control brings.  Bowling a foot outside off stump routinely also offers control, but there’s a reason why it’s not a very popular tactic amongst the better teams.  It’s not to belittle someone who toiled manfully all day, but it is to question what the priority is and should be.

Likewise, it’s unlikely Moeen or Rashid will look back on this innings with fondness, but neither of them bowled especially poorly – though not well, that’s for sure.  The surface made spin bowling unprofitable to begin with – and it seems many have forgotten that Ravi Ashwin, the Ravi Ashwin England have had all kinds of problems against, went for 151 in the first innings for a single wicket. The suggestion that ANY of the England spinners should be taken to task for not vastly improving on that is idiotic.

Some years ago, when Shane Warne retired, Australia went through spinner after spinner in a vain attempt to replicate one of the game’s great bowlers.  Each one who failed to measure up to the impossible was summarily discarded, before eventually press, public and selectors woke up to reality and cut their cloth according to what they had.  Nathan Lyon has been in place ever since; he’s nothing exceptional, nothing special, but he is the best they have and a decent enough performer – and for that matter better than anything England have.

That doesn’t mean England should just give up on their spin options, but it does mean railing at the hideous truth is completely pointless.  Whoever had been selected, the outcome would have been fairly similar.  This is why beating up on the one bowler who has shown an ability to take wickets is more than just unreasonable, it is stupid.  When England won here four years ago, they had Graeme Swann, the best England spin bowler in 40 years.  They no longer have him, and that’s just way it is.  But would Rashid have performed better if Swann had been his partner?  Almost certainly.

One of the questions asked of this site is why we get so angry with sections of the media.  This is the reason why.  Rather than a proper analysis of the whole of the England set up – and yes, that does include the spin bowlers – they single out someone to blame who must never be the captain.  It is fundamentally dishonest.  No one believes Cook is responsible for the whole shambles, but balance does include talking about him too, and not excusing every error, every issue with the strategy, and fixating on players who for all their flaws happen to be the best we have, and without whom the England team will not be an improved one.

Ten years ago Ashley Giles was the England slow bowler of choice.  No one thought he was outstanding, no one thought he matched up to the spinners other teams possessed.  But the cupboard was bare and thus an awareness that the role he performed was done as well as could be hoped for took hold.  The recognition of that dearth of options was considered, certainly, but that is a different question, and one that could be talked about now as well.  George Dobell is one of few who have raised the wider issue.

India did delay their declaration until shortly before the close, seemingly primarily to allow Nair to reach his triple century.  Naturally, this did attract some comment, not the least preposterous of which was how much stick Cook would have got for delaying one for someone to get a triple century.  It perhaps was a little favourable towards an individual landmark than the team position, but at 3-0 and with still an outstanding chance of going 4-0 up, it’s rather easier to justify than in normal circumstances.  In either instance, whether it be Cook or Kohli, such criticism is not reasonable unless it actually costs a decisive win.  In any case, that Mike Atherton still receives criticism 20 years on for declaring on Graeme Hick on 98 demonstrates that all too often people want it all ways.  England have a minimum of 90 overs to bat tomorrow, and if they survive that eight wickets down, it’s unlikely too many Indian fans will be losing sleep over it given the series scoreline.

There is naturally some anger about today, but this hasn’t appeared out of the blue.  The problems have been there and growing all series, and attacking the bowlers rather overlooks that England have only managed to score more than Karun Nair three times as a collective all series.  Whether it be batting, bowling, fielding or captaincy, England have been second best – except perhaps ironically in the last instance, given Kohli’s curious approach.  But for the same reason some of Cook’s poor leadership has been excused when England have been winning (indeed, not just excused, wilfully overlooked or even perversely praised), so Kohli will get a free pass this time.  And to some extent, that is fair enough, for criticism of Cook was swatted contemptuously aside all too often as long as England came out of the game on the right side, so why hold Kohli to different standards?  A recognition that with the win the captain’s own leadership needs to develop is a different thing entirely.

No, the abiding feeling from today, and specifically today, is sympathy.  This was awful, and the England players looked like they felt it with every boundary, every misfield.  Any player is familiar with the feelings of complete powerlessness it creates, the desire simply to get off the field and away from the misery.  When it goes this wrong, everything goes wrong, and the captain is at his wits end.  The anger though, is better directed towards the build up to it, to the targeting of individual players by those who ought to know better (yes Nasser Hussain, you should know better), to the excusing of others to the point that they end up receiving more criticism from those outside cricket than is necessarily fair, in direct reaction to the whitewashing of the chosen one.

The pitch may be benign, but it is the fifth day, and there will be some assistance for the bowlers.  England are playing not so much for pride, but for their dignity, for a batting calamity will rightly evoke memories of the last away Ashes series.  They are certainly capable of batting out the day and claiming a draw, which would be a (very) minor triumph if they manage it.  To do so, they will probably need Cook to bat through much of it, as is often the feeling in such circumstances.  Curiously, he doesn’t have as great record in rearguards as might be expected, although his valiant attempt to stave off defeat four years ago in India remains one of his greatest innings – and not truly in vain given what happened subsequently.  Yet, he remains the prize wicket in these situations, and whatever people may think of him as captain, a skipper’s innings tomorrow would be welcome, and perhaps for himself most of all.

Should they manage it, it must not be portrayed as any kind of vindication.  England are now being hammered by India, and there are a whole series of reasons behind that – not the least of which is that in these conditions, India are simply much better.  But gathering the shreds of the self-respect is no reason for approval, nor is revisionism claiming a 3-0 defeat represents as good a result as England could have wished for.  The trouble is, it’s actually hard to see England managing even that.

Day Five Comments Below

India vs England: Fifth Test, Day Three

If England spent the day not really trying to win the game, they did so in a manner that left them the only team likely to lose. 

On a surface that is exceptionally placid, but beyond criticism – circumstances in the run up to the match meant that producing any kind of pitch amounts to a triumph, – the team tactics appeared to amount to trying to maintain control and little more.  Taking wickets certainly didn’t appear to be the aim. 

It is hard to understand the decision to start the day with Liam Dawson, and from the less profitable end to boot, unless the intention was simple to try to stifle the Indian batsmen. He’s an honest trier, but not even his most ardent fans would consider him the saviour of English spin bowling. The adage for all eternity in Tests has been to start every session with the best bowlers, the ones most likely to take a wicket, and by no stretch of the imagination has Dawson ever been in that bracket. 

Certainly, the surface makes wicket taking difficult – England’s 477, only achieved thanks to the lower order bailing out the team from another sub-par performance, is if anything light on runs. But it’s still a sizeable total, and provided at least some opportunity to exert pressure, of which the best way to achieve it is by trying to take wickets. 

Yet it was nearly an hour before Adil Rashid was used, while Ben Stokes was barely bowled all day. It may be he’s carrying an injury, which would excuse it, though there’s been no hint of that. 

As a result, Rahul and Patel could gently play themselves in, against an attack focused on damage limitation from the off, even with a lead of nearly 400 at the start of play. By the time Moeen Ali, another made to wait to bowl, came on, the first wicket partnership has heading towards 150. 

Light duties for the seamers overall is understandable. The pitch is slow to the point of being turgid, but to use the third of the three spinners rather than either the one who has taken the most wickets, or the one who has been England’s senior spinner for two years, was simply baffling. To then choose the less efficacious end even more so. 

If there was a plan, it can only be to attempt to bore the Indian batsmen out and bowl dry. Both Moeen and Rashid were more expensive, in the former case that’s a known issue, in the latter it’s entirely within the usual parameters of a leg spinner. Cook has never managed spinners not called Swann well, and here the same reluctance to concede runs, even if it means taking wickets, was in full force, a negative and all too often entirely self-defeating strategic approach. Perhaps it is not the fact they are spinners who cause this, for Cook has long had a reluctance to trust Steven Finn too, a bowler who even when bowling well can be expensive, but who takes wickets.  The lack of trust is apparent to the spectator, it must be blindingly obvious to the players themselves, who will rarely give their best in such circumstances, and in the case of Rashid, means his performances, which have been good, are actually rather impressive. 

It may well be that irrespective of what England did, wickets were going to be extremely hard to come by. Given the surface, that’s probably true. But not trying to find out remains the biggest tactical problem with Cook’s style of captaincy. 

With an Indian line up intent on accumulation, and an England team apparently content to let them, play simply drifted. It wasn’t a riveting watch, but it was remorseless, and with no attempt to try to change the direction of travel it became apparent fairly early on that this day was going to be a grind. 
Further evidence of England being uninterested in trying to force the issue, or try a different approach came from the over rate. In a series dominated by spin, where India have frequently bowled more than the mandated 90 in a day, England failed to meet the requirement, even with the extra half hour. 

This blog has long complained about short changing paying spectators and the ICC have shown no inclination to do anything about it, constantly excusing failure to meet obligations, but there are simply no excuses here whatever. Enough is enough. 

Lokesh Rahul dominated the day, falling one short of a double century. The manner of his dismissal will rankle, chasing after a wide one from Rashid, which as much as anything emphasises the point about leg spinners; they take wickets, even with bad balls. Indeed, even though England took only four in the day, they all went to the ones most likely to get them, emphasising the peculiarity of the tactics, most notably with the removal from the attack of Stokes and reluctance to bowl him thereafter. 

India are now a mere 86 behind, with KK Nair and Murali Vijay well established. Unless England take rapid wickets tomorrow morning, and given both pitch and the approach to bowling, there’s no reason to think they will, then at best they’re going to be facing a deficit. To some extent the size of that doesn’t matter, for with only two days to go, England are going to be batting to save the match, the third innings challenges fully on show. In the final session, there was evidence that it’s now starting to turn, and that means trouble. 

From a position where England chose not to try and put India under any pressure, they are now under pressure themselves. When it is time to bat they’ll need to do so for at least a day, irrespective of how India go tomorrow. Losing this series was always likely, and is no disgrace. How they do so is the key. 

Cook has had worse days as captain, but today was the day where he just went through the motions. England under him look a side who have given up. And that’s the worst thing of all. Perhaps tomorrow will be different, as there is no reason for England to fail. But the problem is that it will be no surprise if they do. The Cook captaincy era has the smell of death about it. 

Day Four Comments Below