The Third Test Preview – I Say A Little Prayer

Dr Dmitri doing his rounds…..

Dateline: Thursday 16th August (the time of writing most of this) 2018. 

Date of Examination: Saturday 18th August at 11 am for initial tests.

Series Condition: 2-0 to England. India in serious trouble. Could be on life support. Host’s cranium expanding in domestic environment.

Prognosis: Could be all over by Tuesday (4 day tests, innit). Full recovery chances slim for visitors. For host, a case of feet outgrowing footwear eminently possible.

Symptoms: Indian batting in disarray, bowling not able to cover the cracks, single person dependency. England have greatest ever fast bowler* on top of his game, bowling better than ever. Batting may need further operations, although lower half provides a solid base for upper torso convulsions.

Cure: Well, this is England playing. They can be good. They can be bad. A hard fought match keeping the series alive might be just the tonic.

Enough of that. Report cards get me into trouble.

It’s time to say a little prayer. I wasn’t a huge fan of Aretha Franklin, but even I recognise when a legend passes, and she surely was one. Hell, she even worked for Donald Trump. No greater sacrifice. That’s your politics quota for the year from me.

It feels a bit trite using my favourite of her songs for the title of this blog post, but although the song has, quite understandably, sod all to do with cricket, the title resonates with how I feel about test cricket. And yes, we are just two weeks after a really gripping match. There is a more worrying trend that the Edgbaston Epic didn’t mask, and I’ll outline that later. I felt very low after Lord’s. Not because England won easily. Not because of the cheap shots passing themselves off very poorly as humour (mainly because of some of the protagonists) at Adil Rashid’s lack of contribution. Not even because the English summer seems over. No. There are trends, I follow them, and they worry me.

When this series started there were a number out there, sensible people, who wondered how we would ever bowl India out twice. India’s prowess maybe slightly overstated, certainly overseas, but these aren’t callow youths out there. They have scored runs on tricky surfaces. Where in India you wonder when they’ll fail to get 500, now we wonder if they will make 200 in an innings, something they have failed to do in 8 out of the last 9 attempts in England (and the one they did relied on a superb solo effort by their captain). I’m saying a little prayer for another Edgbaston Epic, but that would probably mean our batting would need to live down to order. I’m saying a little prayer for a competitive match, but Indian bowling will need to get better, and they’ve been not so bad so far. I’m saying a little prayer that when I get to go to the test at The Oval on 7th September, there is something worth watching and not an Indian team ready to pack up and go home. Like they were in 2011 (I was there) and 2014 (you couldn’t have paid me to go).

This test really revolves around how India bat and of course that will depend on the surface and atmospheric conditions. The test at Trent Bridge four years ago saw a pitch widely pilloried for producing boring cricket, James Anderson’s test best batting, an Alastair Cook wicket and yes, a draw – but the weather for that test was warm and dry too. Since then Trent Bridge may have become the batting paradise in ODI cricket, but it has not been so amenable for test matches. There was, of course, the Australian subsidence in 2015, and last year was the “you don’t take test cricket seriously” test (Shiny Toy) as England got thumped by South Africa. There’s every expectation that we’ll see another seamer friendly surface at the ground Jimmy Anderson has, I think, the best record at. The weather looks a bit iffy for Sunday, but early forecasts suggest that will be the main impediment over the scheduled five days, but there isn’t talk of glorious unbroken sunshine either. The arrows are all pointing in one direction. But this is England we are talking about.

After the events of this week, the key focus will be around Ben Stokes, who has been brought back into the team for “his own wellbeing”. Well, that’s lovely (stop laughing at the back – is it really six years since Textgate?). Having bowled the last rites at Edgbaston, received the plaudits for removing Kohli on the last morning, and then having missed Lord’s to be with m’learned friends, he’s back. Put back into the squad without so much as a moment’s hesitation, perhaps as a charitable act, Ben is almost certain to play, resume his spot at number 5, and the cards will fall where the cards will fall. Logic suggests that the man to make way will be Sam Curran (and selfishly, if it is, get him down to the Oval for the Lancashire match), as young Sam’s bowling isn’t quite automatic selection stuff, and the batting isn’t quite up to Stokes’ class either [Update – this change has been announced]. The rest of the debate, if debate there is, drags us down that slippery old slope of “sending messages” to the fans, to Sam Curran, to England, to Ben Stokes, to the public, to the media, hell to whoever does and doesn’t want to listen. The problem with sending messages is the recipients speak 907 different interpretative languages, and few make sense. Except mine. Mine always does. To me.

I’m torn, but then I’m not. My rule of thumb is that you should pick your best team, and let the rest fall into place (my exceptions are gross insubordination, professional irresponsibility and illegality). If FICJAM Ed Smith, James Ubiquitous Taylor, Joe “nice 50” Root, Trevor “yukka plant” Bayliss and Chuckles Farbrace want him in the team, think he forms part of the best England team and now has no legal issues to stop him, then yes, he plays. It was good enough two weeks ago, so unless he’s sobbing in the corner every five minutes or walking around like a zombie on Jeagerbombs, then he plays. If he is suspended in a open and transparent way, then that’s the call of the England hierarchy. No whispers, briefings or good journalism.

That said, and pay attention here all those who could and would cast the “best for the team” mantra aside for an individual dislike of a player, I really have little time or love for Ben Stokes the cricketer. He might be the best player we have, he might have the most talent, but I won’t erase that knockout punch, or the barely tethered anger on the field from my memory. But just because I don’t like him doesn’t mean I want him to fail, or want him dropped. He justifies his place in the team on performance, that’s it (subject to obvious caveats). End of. Yes, you know who I’m talking about. I don’t forget. Hypocrites.

Miami Dad’s Six has had his say on selection, so do read that below. The test itself starts on a Saturday, which is mad, but who cares about Monday and Tuesday crowds anyway? #pinnacleofthesport .

The weather doesn’t look that special, but decent enough, the Indian team look like having a redux of both 2011 and 2014 – Trent Bridge was where the wheels fell off in 2011 – but we live in hope. This should be a massive test match for India. They should be right up for it. With Kohli as captain I have more hope that they will be compared to before, but that’s all I’ve got to go on right now. Remember, back in 2007 India inserted England on a difficult wicket, bowled them out quite cheaply, grafted hard (including a certain Dinesh Khartik) and took a decent lead and then chipped away to win. A nice precedent. Then again, five years prior to that Michael Vaughan bowled Sachin Tendulkar at Trent Bridge, so what does that prove.

We hope a specialist England batsman – one of the top four – might make a hundred and not rely on the all-rounders to bail them out. We hope that one of the Indians remembers they can bat. The last thing we need is another one-sided test match, and an Indian subsidence. Test Cricket can be amazing, but often it is not. It needs proper R E S P E C T. Say a little prayer the next five days. Rest In Peace, Aretha.

Comments on Day 1 below.

*Wonder how many will bite.