1st Test Review – Things Fall Into Place

There I was, last night, Friday in a pub after work. Every two minutes looking at the score on my phone. Every time saying to the disinterested mates around me “we’ve got to get Kohli out. He’s still there.” A wicket fell and it wasn’t Kohli. It didn’t seem to count as a full wicket while Kohli was there. “He’s still there, bloody hell” I’d mutter. I wonder why I’m running out of social partners these days.

In their 1980 hit, Blancmange summed up how I felt about the past four days. England have kept me running round and round, and that’s been alright with me. I’ve been up the wall, I’ve been up the bloody tree. They’ve raised us, and then they’ve let us fall. Living on the ceiling indeed. If you’re (un)lucky and ever catch the band I sing for, this is one of our numbers!

So after a crappy grandad pop reference, let’s get down to the nitty gritty (there’s your Public Enemy lyric) and the last four days. This was a really good test match. It ebbed, it flowed, it had star performances, it had new players and test match regulars playing well and playing not so well. The ball did move, the bowling was certainly better than the batting, and England dug themselves out of an almighty hole to claw up to a defensible total and then, well, defended it. We had a taut 90 minutes or so as England took the wickets they needed to take a 1-0 lead and everyone came together at the end to say “what a thoroughly enjoyable game of cricket”. And guess what, I agree with them. Because not to do so would be silly.

But, and you know with me there is always a but, there’s a few things nagging away at me and of course I’m going to mention them. First of all the last two series in England where India have visited these shores, the test series fell apart after the first loss by the visitors. I was there for the 5th day – remember that kiddies when we get the 4 day test muppets out again as they have been – in 2011 at Lord’s, another test that was a rollercoaster, as England looked in danger until Prior rescued Day 4 to set up a tense Day 5 and India fighting hard for a draw. It was a great day’s cricket, but once England had taken the match, they weathered early storms in the second test and routed India the rest of the way. 2014 saw India win at Lord’s and then put on the sandals and chill out for the rest of the summer too. I don’t think this will happen with this India team and this captain, because there is too much class in the opposition, but we thought that in 2014 and 2011, and they became depressingly one-sided matches. What we need is more of this. Test cricket needs more of this.

Secondly, there’s the brittle England batting. Yet again our top order failed miserably with one or two exceptions. The blueprint for long-term success is not to ask numbers 8,9,10 and 11 to add 100 on to your score in a tight match. When England were 87 for 7 and just about 100 in front, India had this. They let the match slip, as Curran grabbed it. Sam has a defining performance in just his second test, but the rest of the batting looked frail, and it’s a common theme, whether my critics like it or not. We’ve had one test hundred in the last six test matches. You would think these batsmen are too good to let that happen for much longer, but you just don’t know.

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India will be pleased with their bowling efforts, and especially the effectiveness of Ravi Ashwin, but they need these seamers to last the whole course. They are without Kumar at the moment, but Shami, Sharma and Yadav are decent performers and they looked to keep England in check. Sharma is just a strange cricketer, with performances varying from insipid to inspired and no way of telling what will be coming.

Which brings us to the greatest Surrey player to have never played for us. Kohli has an aura like few others in my life-time. It’s like Lara with the West Indies, Viv maybe back in the day, Mohammed Yousuf when he saw an England shirt. He just looks a million dollars. He gave chances but with force of will and supreme ability made a magnificent first innings hundred and you knew we had to get him soon this morning not to lose this one. I am an unabashed fan of Virat Kohli and most of what he brings to the game. In many ways he is the most important cricketer for many a year. If Virat Kohli didn’t passionately care about test cricket, the existential crisis (I hate that phrase, by the way) test cricket finds itself in would be very much worse. It appears, unless he’s a magnificent liar, that Kohli values the long game, the ability to shape games over longer periods of time, and to not rest on his laurels. He’s eloquent, a little abrasive, but a superstar playing super cricket. Many will remember his contributions to the game – the run out, the hundred, the keeping his team in the game, and his comments afterwards. Cricket is incredibly lucky to have him. Warts and all.

The worry for India is that the other batsman did not shine. Leaving out Pujara raised eyebrows with Michael Holding, for instance, but he’s been woeful for Yorkshire this year. Dhawan had a horror in 2014, and this didn’t inspire confidence. Vijay has been a solid performer, made a hundred on that road at Trent Bridge four years ago, but again never looked solid. Rahul is a talent that needs to learn, in perhaps the same way Virat did. Rahane made that great hundred at Lord’s on a tricky wicket in 2014 so he has game. I don’t think they’ll fail every time, but England will certainly feel more hopeful that there are cracks to exploit.

England’s bowlers worked well as a team. Anderson might have been a little overbowled but without him we would have been floundering. Golden arm Stokes took the wickets today, and the key one of Kohli was the clincher, and as we know he will need to be replaced at Lord’s for reasons of seeing m’learned friends. Broad was under the weather, remains a frustrating cricketer, but again, his opening spell in the second innings when I thought Sam Curran should have been given the new ball, was important. The Dukes ball is given a lot of credit, and there was swift lobbying from many of the usual suspects that it should be used worldwide (do you know how that sounds to those outside of England?), but cloud conditions and an Edgbaston pitch that rewards good play also helped. Holding was spot on saying you need pitches that allow good bowlers to get wickets, and not reward mediocre bowling, while not having pitches too flat to allow ordinary players to make big scores. Fair enough, but he better not be having a go at my main man Karun Nair!

This test match started among a cacophony of nonsense over Adil Rashid, who had a more than fair game and bowled well when given his limited opportunities, and also batted sensibly. It finished as an England win always does. Greatest evers being thrown about, an enthusiasm ignoring the past, a euphoria that feels misplaced. I will be honest, this wasn’t in the same galaxy as Edgbaston 2005, and the tension there. It wasn’t in the same universe as the morning of Trent Bridge 2013, the test match this most closely resembled in my recent memory, when Brad Haddin threatened to take the game away from us. Nor Melbourne 1998, Jo’burg 2005, Cardiff 2009. That may be me, or it may be our need to make everything now something that is the greatest ever. It may be I am throwing a straw man in there, and maybe that’s not what they are saying. But given the sheer insecurities we feel at how the test game is being handled both here and abroad, we need to clutch to matches like this and tell the naysayers “see, this is really great stuff”. We know it is, the players do too. We hope.

I’ve been down on England for a while. Old wounds take a long time to heal. But there are players in this team I really like. I have so much time for Jos Buttler. I really like Joe Root, just wish he wasn’t captain. I’d love Adil Rashid to throw the nonsense back down the likes of Selvey’s throat (if his tweets this morning constituted getting behind Adil, as the phrase goes, I’d want him in front of me so I could see him). And then there is Sam Curran. I remember a couple of years ago sitting at the Oval in a game against Lancashire and he was chatting away to a spectator, happy to be playing, enjoying the game, interacting with the public in an uninhibited way. He still had to strengthen up, but the talent was there. We could all see it. He made runs, he looked good doing so, and I just hoped he wasn’t a Ben Hollioake, a player praised up too soon, disrespected when things didn’t go his way, and then the suspicion that he wasn’t quite good enough in either discipline to nail down an international place. Sam has already made an impact, in fact more than an impact. Without him there was no tense run chase. Without him there wasn’t a 194 target. Without him we might have seen the Indian top order settle in on Day 2. He’s a star. But he’s not the finished article, but what you saw there was temperament. Big game temperament. That’s precious and as a Surrey fan, yep, I’m bloody proud of the guy.

We move on to Lord’s on Thursday. Between then and now we have an excellent guest post on county cricket from a writer who we hope will contribute more for us on the issues in domestic cricket. We’ll do the honours for that tomorrow or Monday. Then we’ll have a preview for the second test and here is hoping for a game somewhere near as good as this. Because it was great test cricket, and in cricket, there is nothing better.

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England vs India: Day Four, Live Blog

Morning everyone…

Well isn’t this fun?  We’ve got about a session at most today, and three results are possible.  After a terrific couple of days of play  India need another 84 runs, with 5 wickets remaining.  That Mr Kohli is still in, and as long as he is, India may be favourites.

We’re going to live blog the play, and as ever, we will remind you that this isn’t the BBC, you have to hit the refresh button for updates.  One day we might even work out a way to auto-refresh, but that day ain’t today.

10:30 – Half an hour to go, and there’s the sense of anticipation that only Tests can provide.

10:41 – People accuse us of banging on about some things, but can you imagine how big the anticipation for today would be if this was on free to air television?

10:51 – What I’d really love to see here is this come down to the last run or wicket.  Whoever wins in the end.  For it to be tense throughout.

10:52 – Atherton raises the point that Test cricket is a far better game with the Duke than the Kookaburra.  He’s right too.  Bowlers are what make Test matches, not batsmen.   If the bowlers are flogged into the ground and can get no movement at all, then Test cricket is a very dull game indeed.  The best innings, the most memorable innings, are when faced with a challenge, not pummeling everyone around on a flattie.  Yet another area where cricket doesn’t help itself unfortunately.  Tests in England have become shorter, partly as a result of the style of play.  But this three and a bit day Test is utterly thrilling.  And that’s surely the point?

11:00 – Here we go.  Atmosphere sounds great

11:02 – Holding talking about there being no third man, and sure enough England leak one down there.  The whole no third man in Tests is fascinating, you’d have to think that the stats men in the teams have worked out everything as far as where runs are scored, but it does seem counterintuitive.  Ian Bell was a master at making captains look foolish.

11:03 – WICKET!!  Karthik gone.  Anderson seams the ball away a touch, and Dawid Malan, who hasn’t had the best of times in the slip cordon, takes a good one low down.  A couple of replays and the third umpire confirms it.  Great start for England.

11:05 – India are 113-6 and that target is looking distant.  But there’s a certain Virat Kohli still at the crease…

11:07 – Look I’ll admit it.  I love Stuart Broad.  I love his grumpy him-against-the-world-schtick, I love his sense of burning injustice, I love how he properly sticks it to the Australians.  And he’s a bloody good bowler who for some reason rubs people up the wrong way to the point they call for his dropping despite even in his quiet times still being highly effective.

11:10 – And on that point, we aren’t that far from the end of Anderson and Broad.  And what then?  Said it before, that this is the Walsh and Ambrose of the England team, and what is behind them gives cause for concern.  They are magnificent, and it’s not their fault people go over the top in their assessments of them.   We will miss them when they’re gone.

11:15 – Interesting to see the different approaches of the two bowlers.  Anderson is trying to lure the batsmen into playing outside the off stump, while Broad is targeting the stumps and making them play (nearly) every ball.

11:19 – At the sight of a giant panda in the stands, I often wonder what other nationalities make of the English predilection for going to the cricket in fancy dress.

11:26 – this is excellent bowling this morning.  Kohli is determined to get forward, and Broad nearly sconed him with a terrific short ball, and followed that up with one that swung in significantly the ball after.

11:30 – 121-6.  India inching their way forward…

11:33 – First shot in anger, a gorgeous straight drive down the ground from Pandya off Broad.  Fifteen runs this morning, and one wicket.  It’s extremely tense, as Broad answers back with one snaking past the outside edge.

11:38 – Runs starting to flow a touch…Kohli reaches his half century almost unnoticed.

11:41 – Another beautiful straight drive from Pandya.  Might be time for a change.  The reality is that Rashid is unlikely to get a bowl though, but England are leaking here, two boundaries in the over from Broad.  England don’t have enough to play with to afford this, so Stokes and Curran are now on the agenda.

11:44 – Ah, England are whining about the ball.  Some things never change.

11:45 – Stokes into the attack

11:47 – WICKET!!  Stokes get Kohli lbw, but immediately reviewed…it’s tight on the leg stump, but it’s out.  Huge wicket.

11:50 – WICKET!!  Stokes does it again.  Gets some extra bounce and Shami edges through to Bairstow.  Two in the over, the crowd go mad.  Outstanding over from Stokes, looking lethal every ball. 141-8 and England are looking firm favourites.

11:53 – 53 runs needed, and Curran comes in to the attack.  It’s all resting on Pandya now, who has looked aggressive this morning.  He trusts his partner and takes a single…suspect a lot of India fans are now praying Ishant Sharma shows hitherto unseen depths of batting skill.

11:55 – Sharma has surely hit that straight into the ground?  Yes, clearly so.  Nonsense that the umpires sent that upstairs, pure arse covering.

11:58 – The point needs saying over and over and over.  You can have gimmicks, you can target a particular market.  But when cricket is good, and Test cricket in particular, it’s very, very good.  This is thrilling stuff.

11:59 – Sharma errrr….”guides” the ball down to the third man for four.  Target is now under 50 away.  At this point it only takes a few slogs to cause panic.  Which is exactly why it’s so exciting.

12:01 – Verbals in the middle between the Indian batsmen and Stokes (obviously).

12:03 – 42 needed…The question to put out there, is at what point do England fans start crapping themselves?

12:06 – Adil Rashid on!  Mildly surprising and rather pleasing.  But it has to be with enough runs on the board for him to have a chance.  A brave decision from Root, for few of the journalists would have beaten him up had he not bowled him.  But he got Sharma in the first innings, so why the hell not?  It’s what he’s there for.

12:10 – ReviewWICKET!! Rashid hits the pads and Gaffney gives it not out.  It’s quite close…And it’s out!  Terrific delivery from Adil Rashid, who pays Root’s faith back with a fine over, and a wicket.  And with that one, he superbly sticks two fingers up at those who decided to attack Rashid for the crime of answering his country’s call.

12:13 – Rashid showing his mental fragility yet again with a superb over.  Now then, what does Pandya do here?  Field is spread as England look to try to bowl to Yadav.  This tactic can backfire sometimes, as it starts to look as they’re only trying to get one player out.  But it also puts Pandya under pressure to try to score enough runs to bring his team close without exposing his partner.

12:17 – And there’s an answer.  A magnificent shot over extra cover for four.  But it leaves Yadav to face Rashid.  Tough situation for Pandya, he has to score runs, he can’t just fiddle around getting a single at the end of the over.

12:19 – Rashid has bowled 10 overs and has 3-37 in this Test…  36 runs needed now.

12:21 – Field spread again for Stokes with Pandya on strike.

12:28 – Interestingly, England appear content to concede the single on the fifth ball of the over, leaving just one at Yadav.

12:30 – WICKET!!  Stokes does the trick, getting the outside edge of Pandya’s bat, and Cook, who hasn’t been totally reliable in the slips recently, does the rest.  ENGLAND WIN BY 31 RUNS

12:31 – Being greedy, it would have been particularly fantastic if this had got down to single figures, but the two wickets in an over from Stokes really broke the back of India’s batting, particularly when one of them was Kohli.  Kohli himself was superb this Test, and may well be in with a shout of man of the match despite being on the losing side.  But Stokes with the ball was quite outstanding this morning, as indeed was Public Enemy Number One Adil Rashid.  He can be very proud of his performances, and those who decided to pick on him rather than the selectors, can frankly get stuffed.

12:34 – England’s 1000th Test match turned out to be a very fine one indeed.  There’s plenty to criticise about the performances of both of the sides, and that England won doesn’t shut down debate about the weaknesses they’ve demonstrated here again.  Stokes will be missing from the second Test too (at the least), meaning England will certainly be weaker than they are here.  For India, their bowling looked highly effective, their batting too looked fragile, Kohli apart.  But it’s one match, and one match only.  You’d think that by now people would have learned not to extrapolate a single match over a series, but it’s nailed on that a fair few will do.

12:41 – Returning to the subject of Adil Rashid; apart from his first, solitary over before lunch on day two, he bowled very, very well.  And he batted well too, both innings.  Whatever the future may hold, he can be pleased with his performances here, and more to the point, an awful lot of people should be ashamed of how they specifically targeted him in the build up to the Test.  Sure, it was controversial that he was selected, but that wasn’t down to him, all he did was accept the request to play for his country.  Instead, he was slated, slagged off and abused.  It was disgusting and despicable.  They won’t be ashamed about it, because that’s the kind of people they are.  But they should be.  Not going to forgive that.  Cricket is a game of opinions, and whether he should or shouldn’t be playing in this England Test team is an open question, with honestly held views.  Having a go at Rashid himself is not.  And never will be.  Your cards have been marked.

12:52 – The presentations now.  Man of the Match goes to Sam Curran.  That’s ok, he was outstanding in this game, and his innings yesterday was probably the difference between the sides.  Kohli would have been every bit as good a call, but there’s something about young Mr Curran that is rather exciting.  Hopefully he won’t be over-showered with praise, for we’ve seen that far too often in recent years.  But he was a breath of fresh air.

12:58 – So there we have it.  England go 1-0 up, but there’s a long way to go.  Thanks for your company on here, there’ll doubtless be a review up at some point later, and comments below are always welcome of course.  But that was all really rather fun.