As one of the privileged number to have the ability to work from home almost effectively as working in an office, and taking that privilege seriously, I didn’t have the test match on until well into the day (and the Olympics as well). So as usual with one of my match reports, you may well have seen more of the day’s play than me. We’ve been doing this for years here, and it always seems to work. I’ll guess you will tell us when it doesn’t.
Prior to this test match I had a bit of a rant on a call with a friend I’ve reconnected with over the past year or so about test cricket. Me? A rant? Surely not. He was comparing the current team with that of the 90s, and I bristled. The standard of opposition in that decade, even from so-called minnows like Zimbabwe, was so much stronger than today. This appears to be an England team formed of people who might shine one test in five, or possibly more. It’s the fault of the system, the neglect to the red-ball game in England in particular, to the prevalence of the money-spinning T20 and similar tournaments. Joe Root might walk into the 90s batting line up, but would any of the others? Probably not (without Stokes). It’s a familiar lament, it’s a familiar story and frankly, only luck is going to get us out of it. Or a change of approach, which is just not in the pipeline at all.
The last few weeks, especially since the launch of the Hundred, has seen the rational, even-headed, tolerant landscape of cricket twitter in rare form. I had to chuckle, because I was getting a lot of 2014 and 2015 nostalgia looking at it. In those days though, we were mainly complaining about test cricket, test cricket performances and paying little heed to white ball stuff. You could tell from the hits and comments back then. Test matches aroused anger and debate, a bad day would be a good day for the blog, and a good day would be an exercise in watching people go overboard. The main thing around this test series has been “no-one is paying attention” and “I’ve never seen such a low-key build up to a major series”. I would contend that the 2012 series v South Africa was paid similar scant attention for a while, even though it was the World Championship up for grabs, but then some loudmouth played a miracle innings, had a mass fall-out with his team mates, volunteered to play all forms, and was sent to the naughty step. That same individual is now on my naughty step for bringing Hundred commentary down to the depths of WWE, and using this to spout off utter twaddle on his social media platforms. Must be something about the Olympics that set’s his house on fire.
Selection was interesting. No time for the lead spinner in either team, but the second spinner for each may have an impact on the match – Root vs Jadeja? I know who I would want if there is a hint of turn, or if you want to bung up an end when the time is right.
England went into the test with the top three that looks, erm, dodgy. AAAA Rory Burns (it’ll never stick) got pinned LBW in the first over, and a million hundred sceptics shook their fists and said “I told you so”. That Burns had the second most first class balls faced since July was a decided concern. He was one who was most “in practice”. Zak Crawley, justifying that Tory MP’s article in the Cricketer last year with every failure, steadied the ship from disaster, but nicked off and Pant heard it (or guessed) to get Kohli to review. Sibley batted the entire session, before getting out soon after lunch and England found themselves at 66 for 3. With these failures Haseeb Hameed’s name was being circulated once more in Twitter-verse. Usually one of the batsman is on the proverbial “hotseat”. We might have three here, even though Burns made a ton two test ago.
Joe Root came in, once again feeling like he was carrying more passengers than the Tokyo Metro system, and set about the rebuild. Controversial selection Jonny Bairstow, picked because genuinely there doesn’t feel like there is anyone else, also built well. Just when it felt like England had taken control and had started to build a really decent foundation, Mohammed Shami pinned Jonny Bairstow in front, and although the appeal was turned down, it was reversed via VAR,/DRS/TMO whatever. Tea was taken at 138 for 4.
After Mel Jones gave it the big one about a 55 average, and that’s the base you want going into test cricket, the next ball Dan Lawrence flicked a ball straight into Pant’s gloves, and the commentator’s curse hit again straight after tea. Watching Jos Buttler bat for 17 deliveries, flailing at off drives and missing them, before finally getting close enough to nick one on ball number 18, was painfully predictable, woefully inadequate and about as good an example of the “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” mantra as you could wish to see. I can’t even get angry about this any more. What’s the point? Bumrah is too good a bowler, as is Shami, to come into a test totally cold. To come into a test when all you’ve done all summer is try to hit a white ball when you haven’t been injured. This is a class attack and we are seeing what happens when you take things for granted.
Joe Root, above it all, looked in reasonable touch, but he can’t perform miracles every time, and at the moment it looks like if he fails, the team fails. When he played around a delivery from Shardul Thakar, and was pinned in front of leg stump, his departure for 64 was mournful. He didn’t even seem that bothered that Sam Curran told him to go, and that it was plumb. When DRS suggested it was an umpire’s call, and thus wouldn’t have lost a review, or changed a thing, it spoke volumes to me. Root can’t carry this team. Again, someone observed to me that Root doesn’t look or sound well. His reaction to the very sombre news about Stokes struck a chord. I hope my friend is wrong. But no-one should be surprised if he isn’t. Ollie Robinson’s shot to get out in the same over would not have cheered anyone up. Broad smacked his first ball for four, but got nailed to rights by Bumrah soon after. A few lusty blows, a little bit of entertainment, and the party ended when Bumrah yorked Anderson, and England were bowled out for 183.
Strauss observed that those that got in, and then got out, ramped up the pressure. Yep. The four ducks, which he rather passed over, were rather inconvenient. The ball was swinging a little, doing a bit, with good seamer skills, but come on Andrew. This team doesn’t make enough centuries. It’s as clear as a bell.
You should always judge a pitch and the score after both teams have batted first/bowled first. So they say. But 183 looks rubbish, doesn’t it?
So, India batted like a proper test team. 10 overs passed with barely an alarm. Jimmy was given three overs and then removed from the attack. In general Rahul and Rohit left quite well, not faultlessly, but well enough. A play and a miss here and there, a review squandered, and a sedate pace. 21 for 0 off 13. Most hilarity came at 6:15 when David Lloyd mentioned there were 12 overs still to be bowled. “We’ll lose 8 overs here” he said. Well, Bumble, to do that they’d need to have bowled their overs at 16 per hour to get 4 in by the close. Laughable. 9 overs lost for eternity. Imagine the Hundred being called the Ninety. Actually, don’t.
This, despite what we think emotionally, is the most important test series in any cycle. If you study the revenue streams in the accounts, you will know how crucial Indian TV revenue is. We bring in more in an Indian test summer than an Aussie one. In trying to strive for some sort of financial release with the Hundred, the baby is going to be thrown out with the bathwater. If this series ends up as a cakewalk for the visitors, a distinct possibility but with a long way to go, that can’t be good. The Hundred has opened up massive cracks in the English cricketing firmament. One might even call it a schism. It’s not attempting to paper over cracks, it’s there to bludgeon its critics into submission, and one thing I’ve learned is that cricket fans are a stubborn bunch. When we see test cricket like this, when we are not in the least bit surprised, when we see a team with such inadequate preparation, when priorities are set for a competition where a bad half hour can lead to the work going to waste, when we see loudmouths boom on about franchise red-ball when they don’t have a clue how this might work, we aren’t sitting quietly. When we have to put up with all this utter confusion, utter stupidity, the price of everything and the value of nothing, and I see people have a pop at people like me for “holding things back” and “You need to get behind the Hundred”. Good grief. Clearly you have no idea where I am coming from.
Because in the words of the song that the title comes from, I love cricket, but all the authorities seem to care about is the rent. I hope today permeates the skulls of Harrison and Patel in particular. During the interval Athers was made to flog the Hundred, Livingstone v Roy, and it felt like I was being insulted.
Well played India. Professional, organised, skilled bowling, played out the day well. Fully on top. I have a horrible feeling we’ll need to get used to it.
Comments on today below, and also on tomorrow’s play.
PS – Watching the Hundred. The fielding standard is absolutely disgraceful.
What the hell is this?
Pretty much what we expected. The batting is dire, and with England’s best player of recent years pulling out before the match you feared the worst. People can argue about team selection, but with little to no red ball cricket in the build up is anybody really surprised?
If you devalue red ball cricket at the height of the summer then this is what you will get. And why would anyone want to learn how to play red ball cricket in this age when the governing body is shouting from the rooftops that they prefer almost every other format?
I just wish I didn’t have this nagging feeling that the powers that be are quite deliberately destroying this format so as to create a new one? Personally I think they have a bloody nerve selling the rights for this test series, and pocketing millions when the cupboard is bare of real talent. Sky didn’t even want the India vs England tour and Channel 4 picked up the rights.
Maybe they are right, maybe Test cricket has passed its sell buy date. It’s demise has become a self fulfilling prophecy. I’m sure many Indian fans will disagree, but will there be any one left to play against soon?India vs India seconds? The strength in depth of test cricket is on life support.
I wouldn’t want to be a travel agent at this time with the Covid, but does anyone want to buy packages for the Ashes with this line up? Never mind, maybe the old timers of Broad and Anderson will go to the well yet again.
Oh and I know this is sacrilege, but I’m not at all sure Root would walk into the 1990s batting line up. It’s amazing how things have changed in just the last ten years never mind 30 years ago. Why doesn’t someone in the media who worshipped at the feet of Alastair Cook not understand that there is no place in the multitude of Mickey Mouse formats for that sort of opening batsman today? Hey, let’s franchise Cooky. The tractor boys!! They all come out to bat riding sheep.
I wonder what is the point of England’s back room staff in an age of such little talent or preparation and warm up matches? England’s batting coach Graeme Thorpe was a great Test player, but what is he supposed to do with such shoddy material?
Perhaps it would be better to let the players just go and play without trying to fill up their heads with theory they are not able to execute. The talent pool is so poor that maybe just let them play to their own natural ability, and let the chips fall where they fall. It can’t get much worse. England struggle now regularly to score 200 in test matches.
When a team is strong it picks itself, when it’s weak coaches and selectors try to reinvent the wheel. Expectations are now very low, so that can become an advantage. The pressure should be taken off. We all see how busted the system is. It’s only the ECB die hands who are shocked by the results.
Pick some younger talent with potential, and a good mental attitude rather than the tried and tested. Averages of most of the players are much of a muchness.. Pick on potential rather than so so averages of 25 to 35. And don’t expect too much from them, and when they do have some success don’t pretend they are Bradman.
It’s fallen so far that you have nothing to lose. Trouble is I’m not at all sure England’s massively top heavy coaching system is capable of keeping it simple. They have to justify their salaries.
The Mel Jones comment is interesting to me as an example of why you need to dig a bit deeper into figures to assess players. (See also, Zak Crawley’s average and why Dawid Malan’s very big hundreds aren’t all they’re cracked up to be).
Sure, Lawrence was averaging 55 this season–although it was bulked up by an undefeated 150 against what the BBC Essex commentators in a later match were describing as one of the worst performances they’d ever seen in a county match, apart from which he’s averaging 34.
But his career average is 38, which is good rather than great (it’s nowhere near Pope’s or Bairstow’s in the Championship for example…or Ballance’s or Josh Bohannon’s for that matter), and in the previous three seasons he’d averaged 23, 38 and 29. He’s got three Championship hundreds in the last four seasons, his test average is under 30 and he’d been out for 3 or less in five of his 13 test innings. He’s essentially been picked on the back of one innings–the hundred he scored for the Lions at Melbourne eighteen months ago.
So, although there’s nothing startlingly hideous about his selection, he’s essentially one of a number of players with similar records any of whom could also have been picked (Clarke, Duckett, Livingstone on his general record although he’s in woeful form this season, and Foakes spring to mind). And if we’re expecting him to pull up trees in tests where Burns, Sibley and (especially) Pope haven’t, then we (or Mel) are possibly misreading the runes slightly.
I think Lawrence’s temperament is his plus point. Not sure he’s a number 6 either, but he’s coming into a shambles, and it’s not a great environment.
George Dobell, in a very good assessment of the situation, also makes an interesting point re selection: if England really were contemplating leaving out Leach because the batting is so weak, wouldn’t it have made sense to add Moeen Ali to the squad (whose test batting average was, after all, within six runs of six of the seven batters they picked and is now higher than one of them but who’s also a front-line bowler).
perhaps, except we all suspect that like a golfer with the yips, Mo just can’t do Test batting any more..
His paragraph on Harrison had me smiling to myself. I sort of think I sussed him out, what, five or six years ago?
You mean the Jack Leach that generally has a reasonable defensive technique, and has the highest average opening the innings for England this century?
Seriously, unless it is a pacer’s paradise, Leach should simply play in all matches.
The reason England need batting all the way to #11 is because their bowling (away from home especially) is weak (when playing aganist competent opposition, of which there are not many teams remaining – 3 at most). Picking better bowlers also reduces the number of runs you have to make to get a par score. A point completely lost on England since, what 2012?
They just put Leach’s test bowling record up on the screen and I was surprised at how good it was. Perhaps Silverwood just doesn’t rate spin.
The theory seems to be that the Indian batsman play spin so well, and our spinners are not as good as theirs so it’s not worth bowling any.
There are a number of problems with this theory. How are our spinners going to improve if they don’t play against good batsman? They think the seamers will take all the wickets in English conditions. If they don’t, a spinner can block up an end and give the seamers a break. Apparently that’s Roots job.
England have no idea how to manage spinners. That don’t know if they want a wicket taking spinner or an economy spinner. Look at their selections on the last Ashes tour. Whatever happened to Crane?
Actually, what did happen to Crane? He did well enough in Sydney grade cricket to get picked for the shield final so I had group hopes for the lad.
Your right – being a england spin bolwer would be a very tough gig.
The early century Indian batsmen were among the best players of spin. This lot certainly are not. Which is backed up by the stats (I thought England were supposedly playing analysts to find evidence of this sort of thing?). England have been utterly incapable of managing a spinner since Swann retired (and even Swann was probably unmanageable). That is both a coaching and a captaincy failure of epic proportions. Even South Africa have managed to do that better in the last decade.
I said it before. Take away 90% of the resources that England pour in the England Test team, and they can’t do worse. That is how dire the return on investment has been. Get rid of the analyst, the 27 batting coaches, the dietician, the chef, and what other utterly useless people are drawing a salary for this, the social media manager who was sleeping on the job (see Robinson). Reduce central contract guaranteed pay by 80% and increase all the bonuses 8-fold instead. So that they actually have to perform to make serious money (it will never catch on!). Right now, England players have far stronger incentives to work on their T20 game, rather than Test game. And we all know how well that is working for Bairstow and Buttler.
Robinson strikes in the last over before lunch, but still 97/1 in response to 183 all out is a solid enough platform for India.
England has a wicket taking bowler in Rashid. He wasn’t the best that has ever lived, but he had potential. And one of the major England cricket journalists, who had close contact with the England brains trust said….”his card has been marked.”
That sums up England’s attitude to spinners. Actually any type of bowler who doesn’t bowl dry is viewed with deep suspicion.
Again how are spin bowlers going to learn when they don’t play red ball cricket at the height of the summer? To be fair to the bowlers, when your batsman can’t make 200 it’s almost impossible against good sides.
It seems to me that I have been ranting for *checks notes* literally years in the comments on this blog about these kinds of performances happening in away games and how far too many in the cricket establishment (including many journos who will decry this one) didn’t care. But now the trouble is home to roost in the shape of teams with bowlers who can use our own conditions against us. This year, first NZ and now India.
Yes, the new county schedule and the Hundred has made things worse. But they have been rotten for a while and we barely faced up to it.
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I think we all have. I remember my rant after a win at home to Pakistan at Headingley, saying flowery 80s might win you a test but are not a blueprint for the future was met by one journo telling me to wind my neck in. Batting is in a parlous state, but hey, a few kids cheered on the home team in the Hundred tonight so us old wrinklies should pipe down.
Because there was little else on last night, I watched the Hundred. Colin Ingram made a good score, but you’d hardly put him at the top level of cricket, and I don’t think I am being unfair there. Then Birmingham pinged a few sixes, Oval fielded like schoolboys, and the home team won.
What wound me up was at the end. We’d seen a perfectly acceptable, if distinctly flawed, game of cricket won by youngsters like Allen, Smeed and Benjamin, who, yes, if this was the Blast would not have had their exploits displayed as prominently. No, Mark Butcher, again, got massively defensive about the competition. “They said people wouldn’t support teams with no background or history. Well the crowd were certainly cheering on their team tonight.”
Straw man raised again. It was said that perhaps diehard county fans might not ever support their “home team” or any team for that matter, but no-one was speaking for new supporters. I feel no affection for Oval Invincibles as a Surrey fan. If you are turning up to a game, you are probably going to pick a side (or a player) to support. That’s human nature. Not entirely sure what point Butcher is trying to make here, other than, again, throwing his coat over the puddle for the Hundred. And there is a lot of that going on with this competition.
The commentating, thankfully, was massively toned down, and for the very largest part, was the same as I would expect for any T20 contest. You don’t have to scream at us, we can make up our own minds.
To be fair to Mark Butcher if you commentate on the 16.4 in the current climate then you have to sell your soul to the devil editorially. If he supports it then fine. I don’t have a problem with people who like it. But I don’t like it when they attack those who don’t. Especially as they refuse to acknowledge the damage it’s going to do to red ball cricket.
As to his claim, well I would be interested to know how many of the crowd were traditionally Surrey and Warwickshire fans? Has Mark Butcher interviewed all county members and found 100% of them said they wouldn’t support new franchises? (Even though they are playing on the same Test county grounds.) Does Mark think there were people coming down from Durham to support the new sides last night?
As you say, this is about new supporters. The ones The ECB claimed were out there. After all, that was the whole big sell of the format. If the narrative is now to claim that the fans at the ground are the same people who come for the Blast matches then what has been the F..ing point of the whole exercise?
You could have saved £50 million and put the Blast on free to air television.
Terrible news about Archer.
England medical team strike again? If so, Archer would be smart to retire from Test cricket now.
Branderson have looked toothless and not even particularly accurate today.
Root won’t bowl himself against right handers.
Curran has actually beaten the bat fairly regularly, and Robinson taking the ball at the start of the day over Broad was justified.
Well, it was no surprise that the moment he bowled a couple of full-ish (but not “full”) balls on off stump, he got some success. Beats back of a length outside off.
He’s got over 600 test wickets but I can’t help wondering how many he’d have if he pitched it up a bit more. (though it does seem a tad sacrilegious to say that)
India are imploding. Pathetic, brainless cricket from the tourists since the stroke of lunch. Headless chickens run with more purpose than Rahane …