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.