India v England – 5th Test Preview

So people, this is it. Another year of test cricket for England comes to an end. Starting with the carnage in Cape Town, and the Ben Stokes bombardment, through a low-key home summer start v Sri Lanka, which gave us 10000 reasons to be bemused, incorporating a pulsating series against Pakistan, a defining drawn series with Bangladesh and a demolition job by India, 2016 has been full on. It’s been ever so downhill all the way, and now we reach Chennai. The end of the road. The next England test isn’t until July (the day before my birthday, hint hint) and by then who knows what might have happened. But for now there is a sense of finality. The show is over, say goodbye.

Of course, the main issue outside of the game from an England standpoint is is this the last time Alastair Cook captains a test match? There have been a multitude of views and such noise does not come out of the ether. The suspicion is that this will be his last time – I’m not sure because the ECB / Comma / Cook are laws unto themselves – and if so we’ll be filling plenty of pages with discussion on legacy, record, style and all sorts. But for now we have one final match to play on a tour that has gone increasingly awry.

I’m not going to guess at team selection because that’s a fools errand with this England tour. There won’t be changes in the batting line-up, although there’s always the possibility they will mess around with the order. I doubt we’ll play four seamers, in which case Liam Dawson must be in with a really good shout of a debut, and probably the tag as a one cap wonder, but let us watch the reading of the runes on Thursday (this piece is being written on Wednesday night as all three of us are “unavailable for selection” tomorrow night).

Before the concluding diatribe, let’s just go down memory lane and my recollections of previous Chennai tests. When I was a child / teenager India had four iconic test venues – Delhi, and the exotically named Ferez Shah Kotla; Mumbai (or Bombay) and the Wankhede Stadium with all the snorting and snickering that provided; Eden Gardens in Kolkata (Calcutta) with its massive crowds and teeming noise; and the Chepauk at Chennai (Madras), which was the venue for one of my favourite TMS test matches.

The first tour I recall was Keith Fletcher’s of 1981-2. Losing the first test, we proceeded to traipse round India, playing out a succession of tedious draws. The Chennai test was the 5th. Gundappa Viswanath made a double hundred. Yashpal Sharma made 140. India took over two days to make 481, in what looked to be an appallingly slow 152 overs. That’s tea on Day 2 at the current rates (supposed). That was England bowling! 17 wickets fell in the whole tedious spectacle.

In 1985, England recorded one of their greatest overseas victories when winning the 4th Test to take a 2-1 series lead. While many remember it for Graeme Fowler making 201 (and being dropped two tests later to make way for Graham Gooch) and Mike Gatting 207, the key to the match was Neil Foster’s finest (arguably) bowling performance when he took 6 for 104 in the 1st innings and removing Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Amarnath and Shastri. It took Chris Cowdrey to remove the two other danger men – Mohammad Azharuddin and Kapil Dev, as England bowled the hosts out for a inadequate 272. England made 652 for 7, and the pleasure of listening to that on school mornings was immense. I was in the middle of my Mock O Levels, and snow was on the ground in SE London. I then sneaked listens in one exam (naughty) as Amarnath and Azha, on Day 4 threatened to thwart us. Azha made another century, 2 in his first two tests, but we took enough wickets, frequently enough to clinch a great win, with Foster taking 5 more scalps.

We did not tour India for another 8 years, returning for the infamous Dexter Fletcher Gooch tour. This was the infamous dodgy prawn game, costing us the services of our captain Gooch, and Mike Atherton. It ended with India annihilating England, based on a Sachin masterclass (165) and major contributions from pretty much all the batsmen. India posted 560 for 6, with Ian Salisbury, fragile in all probability, taking one third of those wickets. India won by an innings, and without looking, can you name the four England batsmen in that match who recorded their top test scores?

We had to wait a long time to visit Chennai again. This time it was in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and a nervous England, under the leadership of Kevin Pietersen, returned to play a fantastic match. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the conclusion of that game 8 years ago, with Sachin Tendulkar making a composed ton on a decomposing wicket to take India home, ably assisted by Yuvraj Singh, and propelled to the winning line by a rocket named Virender Sehwag. The game was memorable for Comma, who made centuries in each innings, and putting England in a commanding position. Paul Collingwood also made a second innings ton. It was the match, sadly, which has enabled the various numbskulls who pollute Twitter to deride Pietersen’s captaincy. While by no means impressive, there have been greater clusterf*cks in my memory, that have received less bile. But it is what it is. Oh, and it’s also the test match in which Lovejoy debuted. Tomorrow’s match is going to seem tame by comparison, isn’t it?

So, to Test number 5. Number 17 this year. Number 31 is it in the last 19 months. Joe Root was there at the start, in Antigua. So was Alastair Cook. Jimmy Anderson was there but missed some time in the interim. Jos Buttler was there, but lost form later that year. Ben Stokes was in the team, but he’s had some injuries and was still promising, rather than a regular. And there was Stuart Broad, injured, but who may play as a bookend to that run of games. It’s no wonder they are frazzled, that comrades have been lost along the way, that performances might dip, that leaders may feel enough is enough. India will be loving the prospect – and isn’t in interesting how England supposedly can’t be arsed in these sorts of games, but the opposition is supposed to be more up for it – and should hand us another defeat. A win here would be one of the biggest shocks, because I can’t see India passing up the chance to do to us, what we did to them in 2011. Once finished, let the press fun begin. We might be the only organ Chris Stocks hasn’t written for by the end of it.

Happy to receive comments below. We’ll hopefully have one of us in a fit state to write a report on Day 1. That will be you, Sean……