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.
Any comments, please do this below.
I think Sibley’s issue at the moment, and possibly generally, is that he’s scoring “Denly hundreds”–the point being that it’s all well and good to be soaking up a lot of balls first up (and, as you say, it’s a lot better than not doing it!), but if you end up averaging 30 by getting out for between 20 and 40 most of the time then there’s a very definite limit to how much pressure you’re putting on the opposition.
But, as you also say, his test hundreds at least hint that he might be able to do more than that. Personally, I’d at the least give him the whole of this series…but I suspect also that there might be room for only one of him and Hameed in the team (I still can’t really see why they recalled Hameed rather than moved Pope up to three).
Well, obviously I wouldn’t make much of a selector seeing as I called for Hameeds inclusion. I understand the arguments against, but things look so bleak, with so little talent available I feel it is worth giving him a go. His problem may be that the expectations will always be more than he can deliver. He was built up too much. We will have to see. I hope for his sake he can make some runs in the second innings.
I don’t know why Sibley gets a bad wrap. It’s not as if we have a long line of riches to choose from. Pick Jason Roy then! But I remember when slow scoring was used against Compton during the Cook era. Certain pro Cook journalists became obsessed with how slow he was scoring on the first morning of a Test match. As if that was a hanging offence. I think we all know that really they took against him for other reasons.
Has the potential to go either way tomorrow, but England need to bat for most of the day if they are going to get back in this match. They need their long line of all rounders to make some runs.
One ball doesn’t make a Summer or a career. I am really hoping that Hameed comes through. Heavens, we need it. I really wanted to contrast it with the absolute pile-on that Sibley is going through at the moment. That’s the main point.
England clearly ahead now. And again, I don’t think anyone would argue that the weather gods have favoured India here.