If ever a moment summed up the state of English test cricket, it came just after 4 o’clock. Dominic Sibley had just succumbed to another loose shot to mid-wicket having seen off the early new ball threat, and in came Haseeb Hameed for his first test in England, five years or so after a promising debut. When Mohammed Siraj’s full pitched delivery missed Hameed’s bat and clattered into the stumps, the first the former prodigy faced, hearts sank. Two dismissals, two individuals, two moments in time. Two massively different reactions. Stagnation removed, hopeful promise dashed in the passage of two catastrophic cricketing moments. Someone “never up to it” being derided, an individual of unfulfilled promise (rightly) sympathised. It smacks of utter confusion, misplaced hope, wishful thinking and all points in between. What else is there?
Before we get back into this moment, let’s set the scene. England started the day on the back foot after a very bad first day and a very good hundred by KL Rahul. The centurion lasted no time at all, falling second ball to Ollie Robinson (not Anderson, lazy writer), hitting straight to Sibley in the covers. Soon after Rahane nicked to slip and was also back in the hutch. Stuart Broad then tweeted that England were one wicket from the tail and could possibly bowl the visitors out for under 300! There is no shortage of misplaced optimism around this England camp. Standing between “the tail” was Jadeja and that pest, Rishabh Pant. The bits I saw of the latter’s innings was a mix of play-and-misses, slogs that avoided fielders and some interesting shots. He’s never dull, I’ll give him that. He was dismissed when I was on my dog walk, caught off the toe end of his bat through to Jos Buttler off the bowling of the strangely low profile Mark Wood.
Shami soon followed, but Jadeja still managed to milk another 33 out of India’s lower order, and he was not able to swing his bat in the sword dance for 50 because he ran out of partners. However, he showed some assurance, solidity, and it is just utterly amazing to me he, oops, I stopped myself. He does have one test century!
Jimmy Anderson takes the plaudits yet again with a seventh honours board worthy set of figures. It’s incredible, of course, how he is continuing to deliver the goods, and yes, it is worrying how we will do without him. Bowlers do step up when they take their time as the lead man, and that’s precisely what Jimmy did once Harmison and Hoggard left the scene. Robinson, although frequently recording deliveries in the high 70s mph, certainly didn’t look out of place, and Wood is just a puzzle wrapped up in an enigma to me. What was clear was that England, if not bowling themselves back into the game – 360 being a dangerous score on a wicket like this – had at least given themselves a chance.
England negotiated the period up to tea in their usual dogged, slow, methodical, boring, resilient, tedious, fighting, subdued way. I am not entirely sure what people expect these days. These aren’t England’s historically most talented players, but there are plenty out there who want them to do things that didn’t get them where they are now? I can’t fathom it sometimes. I remember a while back, when openers were falling by the wayside that commentators and pundits were saying could we at least find openers to see off the first 15 overs! Sibley generally does that, and, well….
Look, Listen or Whatever – I am not a huge Sibley fan but he got into the team because he made a mountain of runs for Warwickshire. He has made two test hundreds, one in South Africa that was pretty damn good. He is clearly struggling. It is clearly better in this world to be someone struggling but looks good doing it, someone struggling who is a media darling (I’m thinking of Jos Buttler here), someone struggling who consistently gets recalled, but for the love of god, don’t struggle if you are slow or particularly unattractive to watch. I reckon if Graeme Smith had started his test career for England rather than South Africa, poorly or had an early bad trot, he’d have been dumped! I am watching twitter and the vitriol is quite something. Someone, who we love dearly on this blog, has made a point of all the criticism coming from “ex-pros” who are united against him. It’s an outrageous pile on and it will only end in one way. Sibley will be gone. Crushed by the limitations of his technique and an audience almost delighting in telling him he’s utter mince.
Contrast that with the return of the prodigal son, Haseeb Hameed. The lachrymose (thanks Latin teacher) reaction is understandable but rife with double standards. He started his career well, on pitches that all the other top line batsmen in the England team, I think, got tons on. He showed huge promise, but the media and the coaching staff got utterly carried away. You know I warned people not to big him up too soon, and I’ve never been more sick that I was proved right. His career went to pot, he may or may not have contributed to his own demise at Lancashire, and yes, he’s had a nice start at Nottinghamshire, but this is a selection based on 2016 Hameed being there. We desperately need it to work. There is rightful sympathy towards him. Any club player, any cricketer, knows first ball ducks can happen and the absolute sense of humiliation there is in that (reading a book describing Chris Smith’s first ball in test cricket and his reaction tells you a lot). As a human being, of course we feel for him. It’s a pity that cup of human kindness isn’t shared around sometimes to others fighting their way through.
After the fall to 22 for 2 (another bleedin’ typo, Dmitri – get a grip) Rory Burns and Joe Root began the rebuilding job. Burns played very well, getting the breaks you need, and looking really assured the longer he got in. Joe Root was the captain carrying more passengers than the New York Subway, doing his usual thing. Reviews were wasted, India looked less threatening, the 100 came up. All that needed to happen was to see the play through to the close. Then, with Burns on 49, Shami got one through his defence, hit the pad, and while it didn’t look out on first look, on review (Burns reviewed) it was out. A hammer blow.
Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow saw the day out, not without a little flutter (I thought JB nicked it, but another superb decision reprieved him). With the day closing at 119 for 3, India are clearly ahead, but not totally out of sight. One suspects England need to get to 300 to have even an outside chance batting last, and that will probably mean an increased passenger load for Captain Root. It’s a well set-up test match.
There is plenty more out there to discuss, including Tom Harrison’s wonderful interview yesterday which had me feeling a warm glow for the Paul Downton-era ECB, and which I may take on after this test. I also went to The Oval on Tuesday for the Royal London game between Surrey and Warwickshire, where I saw a terrific innings by Tim David, with all the pyrotechnics that you could wish to see in any short-form game, and which the varied make-up of the crowd seemed to absolutely love.
The game is in a tenuous state, run by charlatans and cowboys, supported by a loyal base abused by the great and the good, in search of fresh pastures that might not be there. This test is good despite of the authorities, not because of them. It is fascinatingly poised. I hope it runs an exciting course. England resume at 118 for 3, 246 behind. Oh, don’t worry, I noticed they were 6 (thanks Sean) overs short in the 6 and a half hours play today across both teams. Seems that the punishment’s impact didn’t last too long.
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