Karun Nair. 303 not out.
OK, got that out of the way. Cricket is all about memories for me, and one of the most memorable test series I recall from my schooldays was the England tour to India in 1984-85. One of the most memorable matches was the 4th Test at Chennai, as England put on one of their most impressive and dominating display on the subcontinent – they bowled India out for 272, racked up 600+ with two double tons in the innings, then chipped away as Azharuddin made another ton but eked the wickets out, and then knocked off a very small target for what was a series clinching win. I remember it for the tour without Botham, when the prospect of that struck at your primal fear of what a post-Beefy era might look like. The rebel tourists would also miss this series, the last of their ban. I remember sneaking a listen to the radio during my Mock O Level exams, as we couldn’t shift Amarnath or Azharuddin on the 4th day. Our spinners were Edmonds and Pocock. Neil Foster was our seam bowling hero. Also, London was hit by a ton of snow, which this morning, despite the projections of a Beast From The East, we haven’t.
I recall these memories because it is always good to think about what has come before in test cricket, and also because, let’s face it, I’m padding the article out a bit because I didn’t get up until 9! The lyric in the title is from the song that was number 1 in that week in 1985, but I could have looked at those from Insomnia. England started the day on 555 for 8 and added another 23 to that formidable score. I was a bit surprised they carried on batting but not totally. While the commentators are going on about England having to win the series by quite a margin to make the World Test Championship Final, it looks like our strategy is to hang in there and then take a chance should it present itself. And hope that Joe Root makes mountains of runs. So the longer England bats, the less chance they have to lose.
Bess was dismissed for 34, pinned in front by the admirable Bumrah (and it is mad that this is his first test at home), and yet again this resourceful cricketer (Dom) has given a good account of himself with the bat. Anderson was LBW to Ashwin for 1, and England finished on 578. Four years ago, in the first test of that series, England made 537, with three centurions, and were on the brink of forcing a win (needed a little more time) so there is precedent for England starting well in India!
On that occasion Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara made hundreds and England toiled for a while as India made 488. Today they had Jofra Archer, and he got Rohit Sharma to nick off with his 9th ball to get England off to a great start. In came Pujara, who, if I may get all Ronay on you, I might want to call Antonine. Why? Because if Rahul Dravid was Hadrian’s Wall, Chet is a smaller, less impressive version, but a very good wall nonetheless. He had been resistant in Australia, and had blocked England to death before. Getting him early would be a real boost. But it’s easier said than done with Antonine.
India were clicking along at 4 an over when Shubman Gill checked a drive and was very well caught at mid-off by James Anderson. Archer again the wicket taker. Gill is being really pumped by the commentators and pundits, and it may well be that this series is his chance to break out, but I see, at the moment, a player that Gooch’s axiom applies to – he used to say, Gooch that is, that if he had two more shots he’s have averaged a lot less – and I see that in what I have seen of the talented left hander. Indeed, his fellow opener is probably the best example of that.
In came Virat. Now, among many England fans and people I am connected with on social media, I am again, not for the first time swimming against the tide. I really like him! Again, tempting a ton of fate, I think he’s lost a little bit of edge, and I pray to heavens he doesn’t find it for England’s sake, but it would be fun to watch him get it back. I’ve not seen his innings at all, so have no feel for how he batted, but 11 off 48 doesn’t suggest the imposing Virat of yore. He was also out to a defensive prod which was well held by Ollie Pope off the much maligned Dom Bess. With that dismissal, and India fell to 71 for 3. When Rahane hit a Bess ball he made into a full toss to a diving Joe Root at cover, and India were 73 for 4, England were in dreamland. Something I’m not bloody experiencing at the moment!
There was always likely to be a revival, as custodial sentences would probably be appropriate if India were bowled out for below 150. It came in the form of Rishabh Pant on the offensive, and Antonine doing his thing. Pant is going to split cricket fans down the middle. He’s fun to watch, has an abundance of talent, but he’s also going to play that really dumb shot at a really dumb time. In the same way that I grew to love Sehwag the more his career went on (and especially when he used to make hay against Australia) I suppose it will be the same with Pant. The bit of his innings I saw he rode his luck, top edging a sweep, hitting in the air where fielders weren’t, but he also hit some mighty blows, and took Leach to the cleaners. The part I also saw of Antonine (I’ll try to make it stick) was a more positive progressive approach so that at one point he overtook Pant’s score when he had got ahead of him. He may just have had more of a share of bad balls.
The partnership was broken in somewhat, well, not somewhat, very fortunate circumstances. Pujara hit a buffet ball straight into Pope’s body, the ball looped up and was caught at mid-wicket. England needed a breakthrough and the partnership, worth 119 was broken. Antonine made 73. We got to see Rory Burns straggly, sill hair cut again.
Pant continued his assault on Leach, but then Jack got some revenge. Bess, yet again having a golden arm knack, induced Pant to launch into a ball outside off that turned a little, Pant belted it up in the air and Leach took a very good catch at deep cover. 91 was a very good return, but as he walked off I wondered what an English press would make of that dismissal should that have been one of our players doing it. Imagine KP at Edgbaston in 2008 – a shot so good they made him captain – for a hint of the furore. The commentators on the feed we get are all about accentuating the positive (does that doctrine of Indian media not criticising the team still exist, if it ever did) and want him to be what he is. After all he’s just played a pivotal role in winning a series in Australia, and is, at least, not a total cymbals player behind the stumps now. Anyhow, India were 225 for 6.
It would be the last success in the day. Ashwin is a really resourceful player, and a fighter to boot (get those cliches in) and played solidly. Washington Sundar was a little more aggressive, and should have been caught when skying a catch to long on and Jordan Archer dropped the pretty tough chance. I am a fan of Jofra, make no mistake, but the England team had snaffled some other tricky catches, and are going to need to take pretty much every chance. Sundar saw out the day on 33 not out, while Ashwin had made 8 off 58. India closed at 257 for 6. Bess currently has 4 for 55.
So, all set up for Day 4. India will obviously aim for 379 to avoid the follow-on, which is a little bit of an irrelevance. I can only see England enforcing it if India take 4 hours to get to 360ish, and even then I doubt they would. I can see India getting quite close, especially if England don’t shift these two early, but that’s the joy of the game. The possibilities are endless. Maybe I’ll reprise 1985 and sneak a look while working.
Elsewhere, and very much under the radar, in the test at Chattogram, we’ve seen someone make history. Chasing 395 to win, and with a history of Bangladeshi pitches becoming quite spin friendly towards the end of games, Kyle Mayers came out with his team at 59 for 3, and proceeded to become the second player in history to make a double century in a successful run chase in men’s test cricket (Gordon Greenidge being the other). When the winning runs came, with three wickets remaining and limited time, Mayers had made 210. If someone beats that as innings of the year, they would have played very very well. Who is Kyle Mayers? He’s not young, making his debut in this test at 28 years old, averages 33 in first class cricket after this innings! There is always the day it is your time to shine. Today, it is shining for Kyle Mayers.
Could a successful run chase also be on the cards in Rawalpindi, where, at time of writing, South Africa are 100 for 1 chasing 370? Test cricket is showing the naysayers just how wrong they are. Try that 4 day cricket thing, eh, Michael? Another couple of games making your 4 day lovefest look as damn stupid as it always did look.
Finally, unheralded yesterday, but I think worth celebrating, Being Outside Cricket was 6 yesterday. Founded on 6 February 2015 after I closed down How Did We Lose In Adelaide, I wanted to start afresh and more under the radar. There were other reasons! Chris came on board as I found the workload unmanageable and England (and the media) gave us so much to write about. From April 2015, the blog exploded, and had its most hit year! While it is a quieter place now, relatively, and I’ve seen other types of cricket writing go awry or get stale, along with Sean and Danny, this blog is still going pretty strong. The Twitter feed has a life of its own, and while the footfall from there to here is not as much as I would hope, it is still “our brand”. Our friendly, and not so friendly rivals, have fallen away, taken new roles, or changed tack, but I think we’ve stayed reasonably the same. I won’t pretend it has always been smooth sailing and good for my mental health (!), and yes, 2020 I took a break and the gang kept the ship moving forward, but I am deeply proud of what I started, I am proud of the friends I have made along the way, and while I might be taking too much of the credit for myself, the best writing now, and that which resonates, is by my colleagues, and I am proud of that too. The biggest risk to its future is boredom. The way test cricket is going at the moment, I am not sure there is much fear of that.
The snow is getting harder, and I’ve got to walk the dog in this. Happy days!
I think it is Chris tomorrow. It could be a very very interesting day.
(Song lyric – the awful “I Want To Know What Love Is” by Foreigner)