There’s Only Words And Twisted Songs My Dear – The End Of The Second Test

“The past is a candle at great distance; it is too close to let you quit, it is too far to comfort you.”

I guess the person who put together that little beauty of a quote couldn’t have been at Adelaide Oval in 2006, and probably wasn’t one of the paying guests today on “People’s Monday” at the second home of English Cricket (accept no pale North London imitations). While the gold standard of last day disasters for an England supporter could be that fateful December day nearly 15 years ago, while following the action today two other magnificent meltdowns entered my mind. Of course there was Day 4 at Headingley in 2014 – a fustercluck of captaincy and frazzled brains that Moeen Ali’s fifth day brilliance could not save. The second….well you might wait a little.

According to my Twitter feed, the captaincy, or abject lack of it today, brought back those harrowing memories of 2014 for me. Even a tweet from a member of my favourite band you have never heard of…

By the way, None But The Brave remains an amazing album.

No, I was actually reminded more of a June day in 1989. England were playing Australia in the first test of that series, at Headingley, the location that had scars for all Aussies, or so they said. I was a mere teenager, actually working in a temp job as a ward clerk in a private hospital in Stepney. Many was the time during the day I would sneak into one of the patients private rooms to bring them a cup of tea or something, and then sit with one sports mad fellow who had the cricket on. The chiefs in charge soon realised that the tea didn’t take that long (they were really pissed off I sat in and watched the Derby) and I couldn’t pay so much time. However, that day started without an apparent threat. A flat pitch, 1260 runs for 20 wickets on the board, England needing to bat out time. Except, from nowhere, they didn’t. It was scarcely believable. How the hell had we lost on that deck? To the worst Australian team to leave those shores?

I wasn’t invited back when my two week period expired at London Independent. I wasn’t overly depressed. The stories I could tell…..

“No matter how much suffering you went through, you never wanted to let go of those memories”

So said a supposedly wise person, and they were right. Adelaide and Headingley, both 1989 and 2014, as well as other utter disasters mean that the Cardiffs and Cape Towns, Kandys and Centurions mean so much more. There are the abject failures and the heroic escapes. Test cricket provides you with the full spectrum of possibilities, and the game never ceases to surprise. Just yesterday test cricket reminded you of its taut brilliance with the last wicket win by the West Indies, and the massive efforts of Pakistan to grab that win. Snippy Hundred “agitators” made their points, and were brushed off, in the manner that Michael Jordan might brush off a lippy scoring guard back in the day. Test cricket stretches the nerves for hours on end. All England fans knew this could go sideways, no matter how much they had to chase. That the chase was largely academic….

Foresight is not about predicting the future, it’s about minimising surprise.

The cliche was writ. All four results were possible today. I thought only two were, and, despite the runs India had, it included them winning and us winning. A draw only came into play if it rained (and a band missed London). When the day started the thinking was “if England get Pant early, then it is really on for England”. If Pant made runs, then England might find two tricky sessions to bat. The hosts were on top. And they got Pant early, nicking off to Ollie Robinson, soon to be followed by Ishant Sharma.

Then, with the game in the palm of their hand, England appeared to want to settle scores, rather than settle the score. Suddenly we had a bumper barrage, and two reported bunnies hopped around and then whacked it around. From 209 for 8 all the way up to 298 for 8. A half-century for Mohammed Shami, and a test best for Jasprit Bumrah, and an odd declaration two overs after lunch, and England were facing a nominal target of 272. It was nominal, despite the usual bores saying that we should look for England to go for it. They claim to be cricket writers of some repute. No names.

Anyway, those sorts must have felt like lemons when England lost both their openers for ducks, which was the first time this has happened to England at home. Burns getting a weird one to hit to cover, Sibley nicking off as you always might as an opener, but which happens far too frequently. Hameed and Root dug in, with the former avoiding a king pair. His 45 ball stay was promising but not enough, when he was pinned in front LBW – I confess I was not watching live, and only saw the review, and said “I hope that’s a not out review and not an England one”. Bairstow was nailed on in front before tea, and four down (although bizarrely that was given not out).

Four down at tea, all hopes really rested on Root. That did not last long, with Bumrah getting an edge, and Kohli pouching the catch. Kohli dropped Buttler soon after, and as Jos batted for 96 balls that looked more expensive as the day wore on. Buttler and Ali then saw off a few overs, but Moeen was playing and missing more and more in between some solid defensive work. It just looked inevitable that he was going to nick off, and so he did after nearly 16 overs without a wicket. Sam Curran survived as many balls in this test as a dead man, which incidentally, might be the role he plays in the next test after a chastening game. Ollie Robinson played a sensible knock, but all he was doing, along with Buttler was raising hope. Over to John Cleese in Clockwise

it’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.

Chris and I exchanged WhatsApps – the hope kills you, defending a draw is just amazing cricket etc., and then it happened. The breakthrough. Robinson pinned in front by Bumrah. Buttler followed shortly after nicking off, and Siraj applied the coup de grace by bowling Anderson to bowl England out for 120 and give India a famous win.

India bowled magnificently, they were feisty, perhaps a little too feisty for some tastes. In this attack, which can leave out Ashwin, they have no easy outlet to relax against. All four seamers played their part. The atmosphere of people’s Monday, with many fans of the visitors in attendance, was a bit boisterous as well. It speaks volumes for the stuffiness of Lord’s, as with Wimbledon, that to admit the plebs at something approaching an acceptable entrance fee and not to be booked months in advance for a fee that would make moneylenders blush, is something to be celebrated. You might even have seen someone quoted in the Daily Mail (without his permission) about it today!

I am watching the interview with Joe Root, and fair play for him to say his captaincy let them down. There is no doubt that he had a terrible morning, and he has owned it, but for heaven’s sake, without his 180 England would have been dead and buried. People might ask “aren’t you angry” and the answer is absolutely no. Not with this team. They aren’t leaving the best players out through spite. The captain doesn’t hide behind a media shield and let people say he’s still “learning the job”. The bowlers are, Anderson apart, young and upcoming, or with real promise at times. This isn’t a team that I don’t like. I don’t think it is the best team England have, by some long shot, but I am not angry with players that are up against the best or second best team in the world.

No. I am angry at the ECB. I am angry at the Hundred being the only cricket anyone can play who wants international aspirations at red ball cricket. I am angry at the ECB. I am angry at a head of English cricket who has let the game get into such a god-awful mess. I am angry at the ECB. I am angry at a coach who seems not to care overly about the primacy of the test game when there is a T20 international tournament coming up. I am angry at the ECB.

The Head of the ECB, or whatever Harrison has called himself, had the temerity to show up for an interview during this test. He blamed covid, he blamed the schedule and he blamed pretty much everything except himself. I’ll go through that nonsense in due course. What we have now, six years after he went out on the balcony and supported Strauss and his trust covenants, is an absolutely disgusting mess. England’s test team looks bereft. Root gave about the limpest “we could come back” speech in his post-match interviews, and knows that he has one hand tied behind his back. His governing body, who love the word trust, should never be trusted. This decline has been telegraphed. John Wooden, a famous college basketball coach said “failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be”. If we carry on treating test cricket like this, then we can only expect to fail more. This doesn’t feel like 2014. This India team isn’t that lot. It’s driven. Unless Kohli gives this up, and that isn’t going to happen, the rest of the series does not bode well.

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