This morning, fans of Test cricket around the world were effusively praising this game, with all three (or four) results being possible. As an England fan, I had to wonder if these people had been in a cave for the last eight years. England scoring 291 runs on the fifth day, even with all ten wickets in hand and a remarkably benign pitch? Virtually impossible.
To let you in on the workings behind Being Outside Cricket, all four of us have jobs and so there are times when none of us have the chance to see the day’s play. Today is one of those times. But the thing is, I’ve seen this so many times before that I can practically write the match report blind. There were a couple of brief periods where England looked comfortable, but wickets falling in clusters meant that the few good performances were for nothing. A couple of batters were dismissed through what can only be described as a Vaughan-esque display of stupidity. Some absolute tit ran onto the pitch when he had no business being there (Could be Jarvo, could be any of the England batters bar Joe Root).
The idea that England were in any way capable of scoring almost three hundred runs today was laughable, but you have to think that this was their plan this morning since there is almost no other reason why Dawid Malan could have been run out (I say almost no reason, because there is also matchfixing). This kind of delusion seems utterly bizarre. England haven’t had a batting unit capable of managing that even fifty percent of the time since 2013. The decline has been almost constant. No one has managed to replace Strauss, or Trott, or Prior, or Bell, or Cook when they retired. All of them averaged over forty with the bat, but Joe Root is the only one in the current team to have reached that relatively basic benchmark.
And yet, in spite of their obviously limited ability and the overwhelming odds, I do understand why they might have chosen to attempt the win. For a start, if they played defensively throughout and comfortably made the draw then they would have been attacked by their fans and the media for not playing entertaining cricket or lacking a killer instinct. There is also a lot of positive thinking which is seemingly enforced throughout professional sports. Every time England have been crushed by better opposition, we’ve been told that they are taking the positives and learning the lessons. If you think you can’t achieve something, you almost definitely won’t. Or so the theory goes. That might be fine in a game like tennis, where the results are binary and you must either win or lose. In sports with draws, depriving your opponent of a win can (depending on the situation) be almost as good as winning yourself.
In fairness, it wasn’t the batting that lost this game for England. The bowling and catching in portions of this game have been diabolically bad. Anderson, Robinson, Woakes and Overton are all very good when the ball swings, but when it didn’t swing during India’s second innings they seemingly had no answers. This isn’t necessarily a reflection on the bowlers, but on the selections of Chris Silverwood and the utter ineptitude of England’s medical staff. There are sometimes points in a Test match where you need a bowler who can bowl unplayable deliveries, even if they are less consistent and more expensive. A spinner who can turn the ball both ways, or a pace bowler who can go above 90mph. England had neither, and India punished them for this oversight.
As for who to blame for England’s catching, the obvious culprit would be fielding coach Carl Hopkinson. His own first-class record certainly doesn’t mark him out as a skilled catcher, with only 39 catches in his career. To put that into context, Moeen Ali has 40 Test catches in just a few more innings. Imagine making Moeen Ali your fielding coach. Hopkinson has also had the job since 2018, in which period England have been quite possibly the worst Test team in terms of not taking their chances in the field. It is the stated policy of England’s Test selection that they prefer to give players one game too many than too few. Does this also apply to the specialist coaches?
There are undoubtedly other factors. The revolving door of batting selections has meant that players don’t get used to fielding in one position for a run of games. The slip cordon has changed seemingly every week. I also suspect that England’s white ball cricketers don’t spend a lot of time on close catching practice or other red ball-centric exercises during large parts of the year. Whatever the causes, the ECB seemingly has no answer for what has been a very consistent shortcoming in the test team.
Speaking of history repeating itself, and no one with any sense being surprised: Yesterday marked the anniversary of Yorkshire CCC launching their independent investigation into racism at the club, and absolutely nothing happened. Yorkshire aren’t doing anything, and the ECB and the PCA (the player’s union) aren’t forcing them to do anything. I’ve written about the PCA’s limitations in this regard, so you can read about that HERE if you want. The ECB have a long record of sticking their head in the sand and ignoring any issue until it goes away. It quite often works. That was why I was incredulous when, three months ago, the ECB came down like a ton of bricks on Ollie Robinson for a series of tweets in very poor taste from 2012. There were furious statements from chief executive Tom Harrison, an immediate suspension, and a quick investigation by the Cricket Disciplinary Committee.
Robinson was very unlucky in some respects, because the ECB has never done anything remotely close to this before, or since. On the other hand, the harshness of the punishment and his apparent sense of remorse has seemingly helped rehabilitate him in the eyes of the public. You might compare him to Craig Overton, who is still facing questions on his own racist incident from 2015 and perhaps a greater level of suspicion about his current attitude than Robinson. In that regard, the ECB and Yorkshire might want to consider the merits of publicly admitting their mistakes and showing genuine regret rather than letting the issue rumble on for another year.
If you have any comments on England’s continuing ineptitude, or anything else, feel free to comment below.