As a holder of a ticket for the 4th Day at the Oval, I was somewhat worried yesterday that my chances of seeing a decent amount of live play weren’t looking great. Oh how wrong I was. India were superb and dominated a tired and undisciplined England attack, the first over with the new ball excepted and have put themselves in a strong position to go 2-1 up in the series, barring a remarkable 2nd innings with the bat from England.
The day seemed set up for bowling with cloudy overhead conditions and a bowling line up used to get prodigious swing in English conditions. Of course, none of that happened, the seam bowlers whilst generally being economical posed little threat and the swing that we were hoping to see never materialised. As a former bowler, it still interests me how overhead conditions can be so different at different grounds with regard to how the ball behaves and how sometimes a ball will do nothing, then get replaced by another ball after the captain has complained so much and got it replaced and then that ball will suddenly start hooping. An interesting titbit, I read on Twitter (thanks TLG) is that an Indian NASA scientist once did a paper trying to explain reverse swing. It intrigued them so much they ended up supporting the whole project. Long story short was they couldn’t fully work it out. Now if NASA can’t work out why a ball will or will not swing and sometimes reverse, then I think us mere mortals don’t stand a chance. Whatever it was today, be it the pitch, the outfield, or the ball, it simply didn’t swing and hence England’s bowlers looked pretty innocuous on a day where we hoped they could dominate.
That all being said, both Pujara and Rohit batted beautifully, with the latter recording his first century on foreign soil. Both were circumspect in their defence but equally adept at putting away anything loose from the English bowlers, which unfortunately there was a fair amount of. I always thought of Rohit as a one-day player and have memories of him coming in down the order in his early days of Test cricket and struggling. He has obviously worked massively hard at his red ball game, and it has absolutely paid off. Apart from Joe Root, who has had a quite breath-taking series with the bat, Rohit has probably looked the next most assured at the crease. Pujara also looks a different player in the 2nd innings compared to what he does in the first innings and despite being hampered with an ankle injury, played a fluent knock that took the pressure off of Rohit at the other end. Indeed it was a surprise when both departed off consecutive balls of the first over of the new ball, with Rohit mistiming a pull straight down the throat of Chris Woakes and then Pujara nicking one onto his pads that was taken in the slip cordon. Speaking of which, it was another chastening day for Rory Burns, who after dropping Rohit on 6 last night (well he technically didn’t get a hand on it), then dropped Rohit today on 31. It was no means a dolly but those are the sort of chances that you have to take to win Test matches. Quite frankly you could have a cardboard cut out of Alastair Cook in the slips and it would probably have the same chance of catching an edge as Rory Burns.
As for the England bowlers, the quicks looked leggy in what was a placid pitch with 2 set batsmen in. No-one bowled terribly, but there wasn’t really any stage where they looked at all threatening. One might be entitled to answer the question why a 39-year Jimmy Anderson has been picked in 4 consecutive Test matches as there is no doubt that both he and Robinson look like they are getting close to the red zone where bowlers start to break down. I also felt that Woakes, playing his first Test match in a year and recovering from injury, understandably looked a bit short on stamina. If the quicks were tidy without looking too menacing, the same sadly can’t be said for our spinner. I genuinely don’t like to have a pop at Moeen, as he is clearly a classy individual on and off the pitch, but his bowling today as it quite often can be, was at best buffet bowling. Moeen is the classic jack of all trades and master of none, as his brain-dead dismissal yesterday evening showed. Today he was unable to maintain a line or length that could restrict the Indian batsmen and for Root, trying to set a field for him must have felt like trying to put out the Great Crystal Palace fire with a leaky bucket. I like Moeen and think he should be a fixture in the white ball teams, but with Woakes perfectly capable of batting at 7, then there is no need to carry on with the clearly flawed Moeen experiment. After all, there is a spinner that England have chosen not to pick this Summer with a record of 40 2nd innings wickets at an average of 21 during his Test career. I said it at the start of the series and will say it again that Jack Leach should be one of the first names on the team sheet and his continued omission strikes of something a little sinister from Silverwood and Root.
I’m not sure who has tomorrow as I will be frequenting the Oval, but as ever thoughts on the game below are very much appreciated.
I think you’re spot on regarding Moeen Ali. He can bowl the odd wicket taking delivery when conditions assist, but there must be a dozen spinners in county cricket who can do that, and most of them would not go for four an over. Dom Bess would be a marked improvement based on his county form for Yorkshire. But of course Jack Leach should be there. His non-selection of is one of those things that I try to avoid feeling angry about, but I still do.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yep same here. Just doesn’t add up.
“ Jack Leach should be one of the first names on the team sheet and his continued omission strikes of something a little sinister from Silverwood and Root.”
I’m getting disappointed with Silverwood and some of his selections and ideas to be honest. The coaches change but the England group think is exactly the same. And yes, I know the cupboard is not brimming with talent but you have to start picking the best players you have for each discipline.
LikeLiked by 1 person
And don’t get me started on Bairstow.
I must admit if Bairstow is going to play I think I prefer him as a batsman/wicket keeper.to Butler.
I’m happy with him there–for the next few games: mainly because the main alternative is injured at the moment, because I think we’ve come to the point with Buttler (if we hadn’t two years ago!) where we can be fairly sure that he’ll go on averaging 33, and because we know that Bairstow has the potential to do much better than that (both from spending a year averaging 60 in tests and–although it doesn’t always show anything–from having a higher county average than any other current player except Pope).
But there are a couple of things. One is that, although people are very quick to point out that players like Ali and Curran are bits-and-pieces, no-one seems to say it about current-era Bairstow, who’s playing his eighth test of the year and has a top score of 57.
The second is, to state the bleeding obvious, that he needs a big score in his next few tests. At the moment, like Sibley, he’s become a bit too Joe Denly: rarely getting out early but even more rarely making a match-defining score. (His stats this series show this very well: only out for less than 29 once in six innings but he only averages 30).
I’d give him the rest of the year but if we get there and he’s still averaging 33 then I’d bring back Foakes.
I’m not at all convinced by Bess’s record! 26 wickets in 11 games at an average of 32 and a strike rate of 86 doesn’t scream “pick me” to me (for comparison, Parkinson has 31 from 9 at an average of 21, a strike rate of 56 and an almost identical economy rate).
I only half agree with these theories about Ali. Yes, he goes for lots of runs and that always looks fairly awful. But it strikes me that worrying about that is a bit like worrying about Mitchell Starc’s economy rate. The point with Ali is his strike rate–which since the India tour five years ago is the best in the world amongst spinners who’ve taken 35 wickets. (And his average is only a run worse than Leach’s in that time).
Of course, for that to work you need to take wickets, and if you don’t and you go for 3.5 or 4 an over then it looks especially bad. But it happens: it’s like being someone who’s picked on the back of a very low economy rate but quite poor strike rate who then goes for three an over sometimes but still strikes at 90.
I do agree that all this doesn’t mean that he should be playing ahead of Leach (whose career strike rate is the best since the First World War for England spinners who’ve played as mmany matches as he has). In particular it doesn’t mean that the logic for picking Ali is sound: it seems to be that he’s an all-rounder, which he hasn’t been…since that Indian tour. (I also think that, as always, it involves underrating Leach as a test batsman). As you say Sean, it makes especially little sense given that Woakes is playing, whose career batting average is essentially the same as Ali’s.
I don’t think I would see it as sinister though–although I’m pining for the Ed Smith era of selection seeing Silverwood’s selections! (Whether the serial sidelining of Leach most of the England cricketing establishment for several years is not sinister though, might be another matter…) However, it also makes me think, not for the first time (although this is clearly a spectacularly bad time to say so, sadly) that England might get more out of the resources they have with Stokes as captain than Root.
Random statistic of the day (given the predictability of England’s batting!): with his big hundred this week, the career average of the never-mentioned-in-dispatches Josh Bohannon is now a touch under 49.
For some comparison, only Root and Pope have higher and only five other England-qualified players have more than 40 (of whom two are in the team already, one is retired and one realistically too old to select).
It’s not as if they consistently overlooked the leading county wicket taker for a few years and are now surprised that he turns out to be quiet good (at least in England), though
On Ali… why did they try so hard to make him a frontline spinner? Is it because they assume anyone of Asian origin must be a spinner? He was a promising top order player back in the day. Him, Hales, Taylor, Compton, Ballance, Root and Bairstow was the obvious people to try to slot into the late Flower team as the stalwerts moved on. I’m not saying that they would have all made it, but they were the next generation.
I think it’s because of his batting. When he started playing for England they were batting him in the top order. Didn’t he open at one time? Gradually he dropped down to number 7 or 8 and could be justified as a spin bowler who bats.
Right, but it was a clear choice to convert him into a frontline spinner. It’s that choice that meant his batting regressed. It’s not that he was found wanting as a batter, so he worked on his offspin.
I can’t think of an England player in my lifetime who’s been messed about anywhere near as much as Ali in terms of the role he plays in the side. Is he a batting all-rounder? Bowling all-rounder? Opening bat? No.8–that is, a front-line bowler who happens to be an OK bat, like Ollie Robinson? No 4–that is, a front-line batter who bowls some useful spin, like Joe Root? Who knows? Clearly not the management, so why should Ali?
I’m surprised sometimes that he knows which arm to bowl with. Maybe they’ll ask him to be the point-of-difference left-arm seamer for the Ashes next…!
He may be the player closest to replicating Rhodes record (in terms of batting in each and every slot in the batting order). That alone tells you that millions have been paid to people who do not have the foggiest clue on how to utilise Moeen.
In a sense, the ICC stitch up has resulted in lots of countries having to do more with less, while England are doing less with more. Which is constantly reflected in their results (England and West Indies are just the only teams who have lost a Test at home against all other comers in the last 7 years (excluding Ireland, but they practically have Test status in name only).
Just let Moeen be a white ball specialist. And pick a proper g*ddamn spinner for the Test side.
The same with some of the bats that keep being picked. Let them remain white ball players only. If you have 18 counties with what, 400 cricketers on the book, you have the second-largest pool of players to pick from (after India). Pick FC specialists for the open positions (which is #3; #6; #7; #5 in Stokes’ absence; a damn spinner).
It’s interesting that you don”t consider #1 and #2 “open” positions. I would have thought that the jury is still out on Hameed, much as we would like him to succeed. As for Burns, his habit of getting out for next to nothing in three quarters of his innings (I haven’t actually calculated that) suggests that he is a risky selection for the Ashes.
In reality I suppose that both of them will remain, but this is mainly because the selectors, or selector, have painted themselves into a corner. There is no time to blood a new opener, let alone two. Throwing a debutant straight into the Ashes looks a dubious policy at best. And it is hard to claim that there are any candidates pushing for selection. Keaton Jennings is in good form but really? Adam Lyth was in good form at the beginning of the season and can catch in the slips. But he averages 20 in Tests. Return to Sibley.? Jake Libby, Alex Lees, etc etc. It is not promising.
Ideally of course, given that Burns is averaging 30-something, his place should be up for grabs. But England have tried 8 or 9 options in the last 7 years or so, none of which worked out long term.
Burns has done as well as anyone in the job in the last 7 years. Hameed has been just recalled, so would be cruel to axe him (he did not do anything wrong first time around either, other than getting injured). So best to stick with those two – at least for the time being – for Hameed probably can’t even really assess him on the four Tests he is getting, as for one of them he was batted out of position.
If England had not tried just about every opener in England, I’d even argue that the slot for Burns is up for grabs. Hameed deserves some time (this series, and probably the next) before judgment might be made without being too hasty.
Lyth as you alluded to did not exactly thrive in Tests (and may possibly have a Yorkshire report cloud hanging over him). Robson (2014), Roy, Sibley, Jennings, Stoneman, Denly (when played out of position), Hales, Duckett have all been tried in the last 5 or 6 years. All failed. The only one who did not fail as a makeshift opener can’t even get in the team. That would be Leach.
But honestly, the only certainties in Australia for me would actually be Root, Stokes and Anderson. But given the idiotic selection policies (over the past few years), it is really hard to not include Hameed and Burns. Not because they are (currently) doing great, but because you can’t pick 8 debutants / recalled people out of the blue for a series there.
Openers are more prone to low scores than specialist batsmen in other positions. That is due to the vagaries of having to face the new ball.
He was batting at six originally (he only opened in one series, in the UAE, so that they could play more spinners). But he dropped down to 8 within a year or so and it was clear from the start that he was considered to be a front-line bowler.
Which as you say Grenville is mighty odd. But I don’t think it had any racial overtones–they tried it in the previous test match with Borthwick, who even then was a batting all-rounder at best, and they tried later with Dawson (plus of course with Ansari and Patel).
I think–although the “…but he bats a bit too…” line is one that’s trotted out far too much about bowlers–it was more desperation: they thought that there was nobody else. And a look at the 2013 county averages is interesting: only five English spinners got more than Ali (and Borthwick’s) 28, of whom one was a 35-year-old who’d never been very near England selection (Cosker) and another (Rayner) took 40% of his season’s wickets in one game–and I’d be very surprised if Ollie Rayner had a test record as good as Ali’s if he’d played 65 tests.
But the other three names provide an interesting “what-if?” about various aspects of player management: Rashid, Panesar (and I can partly understand the selectors’ desperation because both of them were woefully out of form in 2013, so if they were two of the best five spinners…!) and Kerrigan.
“ he only opened in one series, in the UAE, ”
That’s right, it was against Pakistan. He is a very natural player, good on the eye, but he was never an opening batsman in Test cricket with his loose wafts outside off stump.
The question is…….did his batting deteriorate because they focused more on his bowling? Or did he focus more on his bowling because his batting was not seen as reliable enough to get picked on batting alone? Chicken or egg?
I think white ball cricket has played a lot in this. But under Cook he was the go to spin bowler in test cricket, above Rashid. Cook didn’t seem to trust any other spinner other than Moeen.
And to be fair he took a fair few vital wickets, but I think Cook liked the fact he could hold an end down economically, to give his pace bowlers a rest. If he took a few wickets that was a bonus.
Outside Broad and Anderson England don’t value out and out wicket taking bowlers. They seem more interested if the bowler can bat or if the bowler is economic. They turned Finn into a line and length bowler rather than a strike bowler. And Rashid was always judged on how many runs he conceded.
But with little red ball cricket at the height of summer now, how can anyone learn to bowl spin in an attacking wicket taking way? It’s all about run saving.
Having been at the Oval yesterday, I wanted to offer my thoughts. It was my first visit to a test match for 3 years when India were also the opponents. There did seem to be more expectation from their supporters even though at the start of play they were still over 50 runs in arrears. As Sean rightly said, the bowling was disciplined in the morning but the batsmen largely held firm, the dropped chance by Burns and the Rahul dismissal notwithstanding.
However, where I would like to offer my own thought is that I thought Overton’s post lunch spell was poor and it led to the wheels coming off with Sharma and Pujara, who had been snail like in scoring rate before this match opening up. I share some of other commenters frustration with Leach having not been picked this series but I am far less convinced he would offer that much wicket taking threat away from very spin friendly surfaces that he bowled on last winter. Perhaps he would have been less easily milked than Moeen .
Anyway the two new ball wickets have given a glimmer of hope to England and that a couple more this morning might expose India’s woeful tail, but I am not confident of England chasing anything markedly above 200 and even less above 250, even if the pitch remains good. Have a good there, Sean.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Cheers PK 👍🏻
Was it your impression at the ground yesterday that England bowled a tad short, especially before lunch? Was that a reason why maybe they couldn’t get much swing?
Often by bowling a little shorter it can be more economical. But if wickets don’t fall the runs will come later. Time was never a factor as 13 wickets went down on the first day. England’s priority should have been wickets not keeping the runs down. There is too much time left even if India score at a slow rate.
Did they set attacking fields in the morning? Sometimes you have to offer up scoring opportunities to encourage batsman to make mistakes.
I thought that was a problem especially after lunch from Overton rather than before lunch. Woakes had bowled pretty well and beat the bat but didn’t get the edge. Then there was the dropped chance as well off Robinson, I think.
Yes, Woakes couldn’t get the early nicks. England’s catching has been poor. Too many dropped.
I’m glad you got a full days cricket, and those with tickets should also get the same today.
For me, it is not so much the wicket taking threat, but the control that is vital in situations like yesterday’s. More control means, that the seamers can bowl shorter, more intense spells. Rather than having to contain the scoring rate, AND create chances. Which can be rather helpful.
Woakes strikes twice (Jadeja and Rahane, who is having a rather poor tour), so India are effectively 199/5 now. Still anyone’s game.
I think wickets were the key yesterday, and England didn’t get enough of them. There was still plenty of time left in the game so India could go very slowly.
At the start of play England had a fifty run lead. So in effect they had 250 to play with before the India lead went above 200. They simply did not get the wickets in the first two sessions to put India under any real pressure.
Looks like India are desperate to keep England in the game.
It was tongue in cheek my comment about their logic.
If my memory serves, he was batting three for Worcestershire. My sense was that he was being given the collingwood role. Bat six, average 40 and bowl 10 overs with the old ball to give the seamers a breather. They then took the bizarre decision to turn him into a front line attacking spinner who could average 20-30 at 8. To Moen’s credit he has managed.
My guess is that like many people, they can’t make sense of all rounders who bowl spin. It’s why Jadeja is not feted in the way that Stokes is, as Jarrod Kimber likes to point out. They couldn’t really visualise Ali (or Patel for that matter in the Colly role)
Much as it pains me to say it, this England team keep fighting. I’m impressed. India are playing below their standard but credit to England for pushing them
There arey 2 places (yes, just 2) where he averages above 30. That is held against Jadeja. Those are England and New Zealand. Not exactly places where you expect a spinner to run through sides on a fifth day. But funnily enough the English press refuses to maintain the same standard for Stokes or even the frontline bowlers (Anderson springs to mind failing badly on that metric as well).
So in other words he is more of a frontline bowler than English seamers like Anderson (failing on that metric in Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa) are by such silly metrics.
I remember that that was always the logic with Ali though, it didn’t change over time–which was why it was such a bizarre (or desperate) selection.
The equivalent in seam bowling–especially since Ali was effectively replacing one of England’s best ever spinners–would be replacing James Anderson as opening bowler with Tom Abell. Oddly enough, no-one’s suggesting that….
I am sure that you are right. It must be that I was assuming that they were picking a batsman who bowled handy offspin as a batsman.
Like you say a bizarre selection.
Like I said, I wasn’t being serious about my suggestion that they couldn’t see beyond Ali’s skin in making him a spinner, but I do wonder how much prejudice does play a part in the lack of Asian origin batsmen and fast bowlers at the top level in cricket here (perhaps there isn’t a lack mind and it’s my prejudice against the powers that be)
More likely India will declare than England bowling them out. The lead is already 276. Probably enough already.
No declaration, just the small matter of a target of 368, from a theoretical 126 overs (assuming we don’t lose any today).
That is 100 runs up this Test for Shardul Thakur. Not a bad effort with the willow at all. Crucial knocks in both innings. Was a bit disappointing with the ball.
Lead creeping towards 300, and still enough time in the game + wickets left to think of adding another 80-ish runs or so. It may well depend on whether Pant can unfurl some shots soon.
Yes, the wicket is on the placid side, but England will have serious 4th innings pressure to deal with as well.