India v England – 4th Test, Day 3 – Are You Gonna Try To Make This Work?

Confession – I’ve seen none of this test match up until 8:30 am. I woke up, looked at the phone and it said England were 65 for 6. Joe Root then got out. A large part of me, and that’s large, said “go back to sleep”, but duty called and I rumbled downstairs to watch it. In the 10 minutes before tea all that seemed to happen was Sunil Gavaskar getting on my nerves. He’s not on his own for doing that when I have just woken up.

I’m also one who sleeps in bunches and looks at the phone. When I looked at 5 and saw no wickets had fallen, it wasn’t a surprise. I then didn’t bother when I briefly woke up around 6:30. I had a thought of Karun Nair, and that Axar and Sundar might put on 200 for the 8th wicket in a mini-Chennai tribute band style, but it appears as though once Axar departed, the last two batsmen were not able to stay with Sundar to get his first test century.

England’s wickets fell in a heap, as we’ve become used to. It does seem a very long time since Joe Root’s magnificent double hundred in Chennai, and downright embarrassing that in the subsequent 7 England innings the team hasn’t managed to make his first test individual score, let alone anyone approach that great feat. It’s also a long time since another premature and ultimately ill-fated Ed Smith victory lap, and we wait with baited breath for the explanation the genius will provide us for the utter calamity that followed. I mean, yeah, it’s terrific to have a pool of players and to rest them during the mentally exhausting bubble environment, but no, when that is followed by abject uselessness, such “how damn clever am I” pontification, lapped up by a media willing to believe this fool, seems somewhat hollow.

Let’s look at this calamity, in the batting because the bowling hasn’t been truly woeful. England managed scores of 178, 134, 164, 112, 81, 205 and 135. We have had two players pass 50 in six test innings – Ben Stokes leading the way with 55. Zak Crawley made a half-century in the early knockings at Ahmedabad Part Un. Dan Lawrence might get there as I write this. We’ve seen Sibley look all at sea, Bairstow, well, if there isn’t an expose of our ridiculous thinking then I don’t know what is. Ben Stokes has not bowled until he was flogged here, and to me seemed mentally somewhere else. Ollie Pope looked decent at times, but that’s not exactly enough and he’s going to hear voices about his place this summer if there are no runs. Rory Burns looked out of his depth, and was chucked in the sea. Joe Root’s mammoth contributions were always going to end. Dan Lawrence has shown promise, and in this innings has looked decent, and with an idea, which is a bit of a damning indictment on his slightly more experienced colleagues. Foakes has flattered to deceive, but everyone is in love with his keeping, so that’s fine (Indian comms trying to put Pant on a level field with him has been one of the more amusing commentary traits). Sometimes it appears as though Jack Leach has more of an idea and a game plan than some of our “better players”.

But what’s the point of caring about this if the authorities are really only playing lip service? They have the T20 World Cup as their priority. Also, the players aren’t absolved of this, as it is clear (and I am not sure I can blame them) that some view the IPL as more important than this test series. Yes, India can also be accused of this, but Stokes not bowling until this test, and Buttler being packed off home is a bit of a tell. Look, it’s the real world we are dealing with here, and money talks, walks and buys houses. Test glory just makes you feel good. It don’t pay the bills. It’s not the only thing, not even the main thing, but there has been mood music that it’s good prep for the IPL, and that’s got to be good for the World T20. That the World T20, and then the Ashes are important this year and that to lose this series is expected. It’s a mish mash of points, I know, but a Joe Root wonder innings could well have stopped a 4-0 thrashing, so that’s OK. At least his tour de force won a game on a result pitch.

Yes, time for one of my golden great “oh no, not again” points. But yes. Ever since we lost an Ashes series 4-0, and seemed happy that the media’s hero had prevented it with a 244, that same media should have that pointed out to them at every turn. At least in that series Malan and Bairstow made a good century each. At least we had some nice moments to watch. But the media said 4-0 was not that bad, and we should just move on. Now, when you see the last three tests resemble something much worse than Ted Dexter’s all at sea garbage of the 1990s, the press and the pundit class need to can it. Your ship sailed.

Dan Lawrence has added a 50, Jack Leach has just got out.

A 3-1 series defeat flatters England. They were eviscerated in this test. Once Sundar and Pant dragged India out of the hole they had made for themselves, put a lead up of 150ish, the game was done. England realistically needed to make 350 to give themselves a live chance, and that was never going to happen. That England have been demolished in a series where Pujara, Kohli and Rahane have not made centuries says it all.

Lawrence is now out, and the game is over. India have won by an innings. Ashwin and Axar take five each. The game is up. In more ways than one.

I really can’t be bothered, because, frankly, once the tide turned, I don’t think England were that massively bothered either. Anger long since passed me by, and despair is something you feel only when really disappointed. England talk about the primacy of the test game, and then subside in a clueless funk. They have a bowler who, possibly despite himself, took wickets in Sri Lanka and the first test, dropped him, let the news run that they thought he was shot, left him out of the test where Joe Root took a five-for, and then picked him here to fail. They did that and had just two seam bowlers, one of which hadn’t bowled much at all all series, and played Lawrence, who they’d dropped, at number 7. This isn’t blue sky thinking. There’s nothing clever about it, It’s an idiot let loose in the laboratory. Whether it is Ed Smith, Chris Silverwood or Joe Root responsible, I don’t know. If Vaughan is decrying the treatment of Bess, as he has been today, then I doubt Joe Root is responsible. The treatment of Moeen was also gob-smackingly ignorant as well. Stop telling these people they are clever.

India were ruthless, they bowled brilliantly on favourable wickets, to which they are absolutely entitled to produce, and in my view to be criticised for if we feel like it. A result pitch, set out as such, is better, whether we like it or not, than a road. But none of us are experts on how wickets play, and I try to steer away from it. But you are judged on results. Ashwin and Axar annihilated England on the helpful wickets. That’s test cricket, these days.

England came out of this with virtually nothing to show for it after a promising start. Reputations were not enhanced. Two day and three day defeats are soul-destroying. England at least clawed back in the last two tests, but from the moment Rohit set about England in Chennai, the die was cast.

It was good to see this on Channel 4, of course it was. That’s a decided positive. But the teams move to the stuff that matters now – white ball. It pays the bills, it gets the crowds, and it is the future. The tests may well be looked at as a curiosity. That we still appear to care feels like nostalgia for a bygone age, even in the present. This was a chastening loss IF it matters. In the immediate aftermath I have no doubts the players are incredibly hurt, but life goes on, and the circus is due to start for the big players and flailing at a spitting cobra on a spinning top is not in the IPL’s modus operandi.

The opening lyric to the song that the title comes from is “You don’t have to take this crap”. As I type Simon Hughes is blathering on. It seems appropriate really.

Cheers for following us through this test series, and one thing we are grateful for is England have allowed us a few extra lie-ins. As they say after the game “we need to take the positives”.

Comments below.

India v England, 2nd Test, Day 2 – It’s Driving Me Mad, It’s Just Another Way Of Passing The Day

There was a day, a good while ago now, where I could do what I pleased on here. Where I could decide that if I wanted to write a truncated review, I would do so. Mail it in. So when I floated the idea of my match review being purely “See you for the Ahmedabad tests” I got no reply. I took that as meaning I had to write something.

Damn.

England have lost this match, and you don’t need to be Nostradamus to predict that. I said on a tweet yesterday that England would not make 150 on this, and I was correct. Again, hardly Nostradamus. Root was due a failure, and if he fails, then England are pretty much toast in the batting department. So while England made a more than decent start by finishing off the last four wickets for 29 runs, it was only the warm-up act for the circus about to follow.

I hope everyone knows me, and the team on here, well enough to know we are not a bunch of one-eyed England fanboys, bemoaning every slight, perceived or real, like the most avid of Liverpool fans (had to get that dig in, sorry). If we think England are crap, their authorities get things wrong, the press make up nonsense or whatever, then you know we call it. These are honestly held views. While I don’t have the antipathy to this team that I did for the post-Ashes 2014 Cook era nonsense, I can’t get out of bed any earlier to watch Root’s men. (Sleep has become a more important priority these days). I don’t wish them harm, but I’m a bit too old for rah rah nonsense. I hope this means I can offer up criticism of others as well and it be taken as such. Which is a long preamble into this pitch is an utter nonsense, and whoever is responsible for it needs a word.

The wicket has puffed up huge amounts of dust from the outset. It is ragging square. The bounce isn’t that consistent either. Now I know people will defend it, and that’s their right. Australians who laugh at this as if they never do such a thing should never be left to forget the disgrace of Sydney 1999 (when they opened the bowling with a spinner who could trundle medium pace to an acceptable level). Yes, it is as bad as England providing green seamers, although much of the time in England wickets (I know that annoys Pringle, so definitely going to use it) play up because of what is above rather than what is below. Cricket doesn’t need bore draws, but I do disagree with people who say that the toss decided the first test. England had to bat very very well on it to set up a win. Here, the game became a bit of a lottery, but only a bit.

Because what this pitch has shown is that a great performance will win the game, and Rohit Sharma’s 161 is, by any measure, a magnificent performance on this surface. He outscored England by 27, and if he continues in the manner he has started the second innings, he might even beat England on his own! It’s not just the ragging square that has done for England. Burns getting pinned for a second successive duck was just the start England did not want. Sibley, who has worked on a method which is getting him through, was the first victim of spin, and Joe Root was the first victim of Axar in tests when he spooned a sweep shot – hard to be tough on Joe after his Transport for London passenger services in 2021, but it was predictable. He is human. Lawrence getting out to the last ball before lunch was a blow, but he’d got stuck. These are alien conditions, and in some ways what test cricket should be about, if maybe not so extreme!

After lunch the wickets continued to fall. Stokes bowled by a beauty, Pope strangled down the legside, with Pant taking a good one. Moeen Ali, looking like a “magic beans” selection to me, didn’t deliver with the bat again, and last ball before tea, Oliver Stone conspired to hit a shot to mid-wicket. On any given Sunday that could have happened. It just happened on this one.

After tea Jack Leach looked like he had more idea how to bat than most, but then nicked off, with Pant taking an excellent grab, although made more excellent by the fact his first step was to the right, before diving to his left. I’m not a keeper, and I’m not an expert, but thought one of the studio analysts might have picked that up. We’re not getting that from the comm box, we know that already. If it is India, it is great. Which is a shame, because some of them are really pretty decent (I like Murali Kartik, for instance – let him off the leash). Stuart Broad swept and missed and an improbably popular but utterly tedious Twitter feed went back to sleep. England avoided the follow-on, but barely. Whoever has the Day 4 report is hoping Indian wickets tumble rapidly on Day 3.

Ben Foakes played a very impressive innings. I’m not necessarily on the Foakes bandwagon as others, and his keeping has not been flawless (he has just missed a stumping chance), but my word it has been very fluent and his batting was calm and measured. He looks a test cricketer. The England organisation are wedded to the Jos Buttler experience, and anything else is barking at potential returns.

Ravi Ashwin finished with 5 for 43, which was five fewer than some scribes on Twitter thought he might get on this sandpit. Axar Patel looked quite handy too, but let’s face it, I’ve watched just the post-Tea session, and even that was in allergy-fuelled haze, so you might know better than me.

So with a deficit of a mere 195, England set about the Indian batting to allow themselves to nominally chase something short of the world record. It did not begin well. Rohit again balancing attack and defence, while Gill, who if you look up the phrase “potential benefit” in a dictionary will have his picture next to it, alongside a young Mark Ramprakash, did fall, LBW. Rohit Sharma appeared to encourage the youngster to review, indicating that he thought it could be missing leg stump. His eyesight was proved correct, even if the verdict may have been the incorrect one – it was missing leg, but clattering middle. I’m getting a little sick of nearly every LBW being reviewed these days, if it hits the ankle socket on the back foot plumb in front of middle the batsmen especially, and those with ego especially especially, refer it nowadays. I’d make them lose all their reviews if it is hitting the bottom half of a range between the inside of leg stump and off stump to prevent this nonsense. Don’t try to argue against me with logic (what if he thought he hit it?).

Rohit carried on, surviving an out decision for LBW because he hit it (see), in conjunction with Antonine Pujara, but not before an outrageous LBW review where Rohit blatantly hides the bat behind his pad, and yet the umpires somehow convinced themselves that this was a shot played. This hasn’t been a shot for about 20 years, but you know, reasons. This was so egregious even Sunil Gavaskar lost his mind, and that rarely happens on the coverage. In the whole scheme of things, impact on the game, it’s meaningless and not worth getting riled about, and I am not even accusing bias. It’s just wrong. A great, the greatest current cricket nation, like India has been chronically under-represented on the international elite umpiring panel. They arguably umpire in the toughest conditions to adjudicate in world cricket. Surely there has to be better than this? These guys are getting basics wrong.

The day concluded with India on 54 for 1, with Rohit leading England by 52 runs, and India over the hill and far away. I do hope my recalling of the day’s play has not violated a BCCI rule, and I’m off to post my application to be a third umpire.

UPDATE – Ebony has just said that Ben Foakes will never be a Jos Buttler (I presume in test cricket, which is where the debate is – well Ben averages 41, Jos 34, so I suppose Ben has a way to go!)

And as Magnus Magnusson used to almost say, I’ll finish as I started. See you for the Ahmedabad test.

India v England – 1st Test, Day 3 – I’ve Gotta Take A Little Time

Karun Nair. 303 not out.

OK, got that out of the way. Cricket is all about memories for me, and one of the most memorable test series I recall from my schooldays was the England tour to India in 1984-85. One of the most memorable matches was the 4th Test at Chennai, as England put on one of their most impressive and dominating display on the subcontinent – they bowled India out for 272, racked up 600+ with two double tons in the innings, then chipped away as Azharuddin made another ton but eked the wickets out, and then knocked off a very small target for what was a series clinching win. I remember it for the tour without Botham, when the prospect of that struck at your primal fear of what a post-Beefy era might look like. The rebel tourists would also miss this series, the last of their ban. I remember sneaking a listen to the radio during my Mock O Level exams, as we couldn’t shift Amarnath or Azharuddin on the 4th day. Our spinners were Edmonds and Pocock. Neil Foster was our seam bowling hero. Also, London was hit by a ton of snow, which this morning, despite the projections of a Beast From The East, we haven’t.

I recall these memories because it is always good to think about what has come before in test cricket, and also because, let’s face it, I’m padding the article out a bit because I didn’t get up until 9! The lyric in the title is from the song that was number 1 in that week in 1985, but I could have looked at those from Insomnia. England started the day on 555 for 8 and added another 23 to that formidable score. I was a bit surprised they carried on batting but not totally. While the commentators are going on about England having to win the series by quite a margin to make the World Test Championship Final, it looks like our strategy is to hang in there and then take a chance should it present itself. And hope that Joe Root makes mountains of runs. So the longer England bats, the less chance they have to lose.

Bess was dismissed for 34, pinned in front by the admirable Bumrah (and it is mad that this is his first test at home), and yet again this resourceful cricketer (Dom) has given a good account of himself with the bat. Anderson was LBW to Ashwin for 1, and England finished on 578. Four years ago, in the first test of that series, England made 537, with three centurions, and were on the brink of forcing a win (needed a little more time) so there is precedent for England starting well in India!

On that occasion Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara made hundreds and England toiled for a while as India made 488. Today they had Jofra Archer, and he got Rohit Sharma to nick off with his 9th ball to get England off to a great start. In came Pujara, who, if I may get all Ronay on you, I might want to call Antonine. Why? Because if Rahul Dravid was Hadrian’s Wall, Chet is a smaller, less impressive version, but a very good wall nonetheless. He had been resistant in Australia, and had blocked England to death before. Getting him early would be a real boost. But it’s easier said than done with Antonine.

India were clicking along at 4 an over when Shubman Gill checked a drive and was very well caught at mid-off by James Anderson. Archer again the wicket taker. Gill is being really pumped by the commentators and pundits, and it may well be that this series is his chance to break out, but I see, at the moment, a player that Gooch’s axiom applies to – he used to say, Gooch that is, that if he had two more shots he’s have averaged a lot less – and I see that in what I have seen of the talented left hander. Indeed, his fellow opener is probably the best example of that.

In came Virat. Now, among many England fans and people I am connected with on social media, I am again, not for the first time swimming against the tide. I really like him! Again, tempting a ton of fate, I think he’s lost a little bit of edge, and I pray to heavens he doesn’t find it for England’s sake, but it would be fun to watch him get it back. I’ve not seen his innings at all, so have no feel for how he batted, but 11 off 48 doesn’t suggest the imposing Virat of yore. He was also out to a defensive prod which was well held by Ollie Pope off the much maligned Dom Bess. With that dismissal, and India fell to 71 for 3. When Rahane hit a Bess ball he made into a full toss to a diving Joe Root at cover, and India were 73 for 4, England were in dreamland. Something I’m not bloody experiencing at the moment!

There was always likely to be a revival, as custodial sentences would probably be appropriate if India were bowled out for below 150. It came in the form of Rishabh Pant on the offensive, and Antonine doing his thing. Pant is going to split cricket fans down the middle. He’s fun to watch, has an abundance of talent, but he’s also going to play that really dumb shot at a really dumb time. In the same way that I grew to love Sehwag the more his career went on (and especially when he used to make hay against Australia) I suppose it will be the same with Pant. The bit of his innings I saw he rode his luck, top edging a sweep, hitting in the air where fielders weren’t, but he also hit some mighty blows, and took Leach to the cleaners. The part I also saw of Antonine (I’ll try to make it stick) was a more positive progressive approach so that at one point he overtook Pant’s score when he had got ahead of him. He may just have had more of a share of bad balls.

The partnership was broken in somewhat, well, not somewhat, very fortunate circumstances. Pujara hit a buffet ball straight into Pope’s body, the ball looped up and was caught at mid-wicket. England needed a breakthrough and the partnership, worth 119 was broken. Antonine made 73. We got to see Rory Burns straggly, sill hair cut again.

Pant continued his assault on Leach, but then Jack got some revenge. Bess, yet again having a golden arm knack, induced Pant to launch into a ball outside off that turned a little, Pant belted it up in the air and Leach took a very good catch at deep cover. 91 was a very good return, but as he walked off I wondered what an English press would make of that dismissal should that have been one of our players doing it. Imagine KP at Edgbaston in 2008 – a shot so good they made him captain – for a hint of the furore. The commentators on the feed we get are all about accentuating the positive (does that doctrine of Indian media not criticising the team still exist, if it ever did) and want him to be what he is. After all he’s just played a pivotal role in winning a series in Australia, and is, at least, not a total cymbals player behind the stumps now. Anyhow, India were 225 for 6.

It would be the last success in the day. Ashwin is a really resourceful player, and a fighter to boot (get those cliches in) and played solidly. Washington Sundar was a little more aggressive, and should have been caught when skying a catch to long on and Jordan Archer dropped the pretty tough chance. I am a fan of Jofra, make no mistake, but the England team had snaffled some other tricky catches, and are going to need to take pretty much every chance. Sundar saw out the day on 33 not out, while Ashwin had made 8 off 58. India closed at 257 for 6. Bess currently has 4 for 55.

So, all set up for Day 4. India will obviously aim for 379 to avoid the follow-on, which is a little bit of an irrelevance. I can only see England enforcing it if India take 4 hours to get to 360ish, and even then I doubt they would. I can see India getting quite close, especially if England don’t shift these two early, but that’s the joy of the game. The possibilities are endless. Maybe I’ll reprise 1985 and sneak a look while working.

Elsewhere, and very much under the radar, in the test at Chattogram, we’ve seen someone make history. Chasing 395 to win, and with a history of Bangladeshi pitches becoming quite spin friendly towards the end of games, Kyle Mayers came out with his team at 59 for 3, and proceeded to become the second player in history to make a double century in a successful run chase in men’s test cricket (Gordon Greenidge being the other). When the winning runs came, with three wickets remaining and limited time, Mayers had made 210. If someone beats that as innings of the year, they would have played very very well. Who is Kyle Mayers? He’s not young, making his debut in this test at 28 years old, averages 33 in first class cricket after this innings! There is always the day it is your time to shine. Today, it is shining for Kyle Mayers.

Could a successful run chase also be on the cards in Rawalpindi, where, at time of writing, South Africa are 100 for 1 chasing 370? Test cricket is showing the naysayers just how wrong they are. Try that 4 day cricket thing, eh, Michael? Another couple of games making your 4 day lovefest look as damn stupid as it always did look.

Finally, unheralded yesterday, but I think worth celebrating, Being Outside Cricket was 6 yesterday. Founded on 6 February 2015 after I closed down How Did We Lose In Adelaide, I wanted to start afresh and more under the radar. There were other reasons! Chris came on board as I found the workload unmanageable and England (and the media) gave us so much to write about. From April 2015, the blog exploded, and had its most hit year! While it is a quieter place now, relatively, and I’ve seen other types of cricket writing go awry or get stale, along with Sean and Danny, this blog is still going pretty strong. The Twitter feed has a life of its own, and while the footfall from there to here is not as much as I would hope, it is still “our brand”. Our friendly, and not so friendly rivals, have fallen away, taken new roles, or changed tack, but I think we’ve stayed reasonably the same. I won’t pretend it has always been smooth sailing and good for my mental health (!), and yes, 2020 I took a break and the gang kept the ship moving forward, but I am deeply proud of what I started, I am proud of the friends I have made along the way, and while I might be taking too much of the credit for myself, the best writing now, and that which resonates, is by my colleagues, and I am proud of that too. The biggest risk to its future is boredom. The way test cricket is going at the moment, I am not sure there is much fear of that.

The snow is getting harder, and I’ve got to walk the dog in this. Happy days!

I think it is Chris tomorrow. It could be a very very interesting day.

(Song lyric – the awful “I Want To Know What Love Is” by Foreigner)

Sri Lanka v England – 2nd Test, 3rd Day – I’m More Precise, To The Point I’m Nice

This is a report in two parts – one written 45 minutes before the close, and then, well, you’ll see when I changed the tone a bit. That’s test cricket. Never assume it is going to drift, it has drifted for the previous hour or so. You’d think I’d learn!

It was about fifteen years ago, to get all Ronay on you, that I found myself at Whitgift watching Surrey, I think playing Lancashire. It has been another day when a certain Mark Ramprakash had gorged himself on runs, and some wag, sitting near me uttered the line I remember, and use, to this day. “Ramprakash has carried more passengers this season than London Transport”. If Anderson is the bus network when it comes to the bowling in this test, Joe Root is both the Underground and Southeastern. Eat your heart out Barney!

This test match has emphasised just how really handy it is to have your best player, and since KP was ushered off the scene, Root has been that (yeah, yeah, argue about Stokes, but he just isn’t) in top form. This is seriously brilliant stuff, Cook in India 2012 stuff, where you are surprised he gets into any strife. So far he’s got out trying to hit out with the last man in, and been run out in a moment of supreme idiocy in the abbreviated run chase last time out. He’s look reasonably untroubled (as I start writing this a difficult chance at slip has just been missed) while accumulating, all in the hope someone might stay with him in this mission. He did have a fluent partnership with Buttler, and a dogged one with the impressive Bess (seriously like this guy’s temperament) to steer England out of imminent peril, although disaster looms in all directions. Such is the joy of test cricket.

In that sense the game’s position hasn’t really changed for the action of today. England started it in a position to post a lead, or to subside, and to dominate with a strategic partnership or have a weak (on paper) tail subside quickly. It sort of still sits like that. England lost Bairstow early, Lawrence didn’t last long either, both falling to Embuldeniya, who looks impressive but also ought to be asking questions about worktime directives and overtime with the bowling load he has had to carry. Buttler came in to steady the ship, while Root continued to his 19th test century in his 99th test.

While never totally dominating, it wasn’t a minefield either and both players took England away from the rocky shore of a 200 deficit to calmer waters. Buttler passed his 50, and of course the commentators started on the “how great is he doing now” schtick before our talented one reverse swept a shot straight into his boot and straight up in the air giving Ramesh Mendis his first test wicket. I watched the replays – front on nailed Buttler, but the side on made it look, to me, that it hit the ground then hit the boot, which it didn’t. It was an optical illusion. It was given out out out by the 3rd umpire, and England looked vulnerable. 229 for 5 with a reasonably long tail. A 97 partnership that threatened a lot more, and in truth, we probably needed it.

I muttered to myself “I’ll take a deficit of 70 from here”.

Curran hung about for a while, coinciding with my walk of Teddy over the park to beat the snow. He fell to Embuldeniya, nicking the new ball to slip, and the deficit was still 129. Enter Dom Bess! I remember back when he made his debut at Lord’s that he got to 50 and then appeared sick to be out. He looked similarly peeved at Headingley. I like that. As Root, understandably, visibly tired, playing a few rash shots, looking desperate to reach the close, Bess was solid and kept his wicket.

But as time expired and we passed 5pm local time, and he nicked one to gully. The soft signal was out. The replay made it look, as always, as if it hit the grass then the hand. This was the only shot. Not out. But not to be denied Embuldeniya induced the edge and Bess was nabbed at slip. A vital 81 partnership was broken. Bess went for 32.

Mark Wood went down with all guns blazing, and brains held in suspension when he nicked to slip. Thirimanne pouching his 5th. But in the last over of the day, Root perished. 186. Run out as he hit the ball to short leg, who threw the stumps down before a knackered Root could make his ground. The last half hour saw England lose 3 wickets for 6 runs, and finish the day at 339 for 9.

What can you say about that Joe Root innings? Let’s put some things in perspective, this isn’t a vintage Sri Lankan attack. But this is gruelling work, no England player had made more than 151 in a test innings in Sri Lanka prior to this tour. The 228 was good, very good, but this was better. The 228 rammed home a massive advantage the bowlers had given him. This innings kept England within touching distance. A deficit of 44 is not negligible, but it is not large either. Root struggled at the end. He is our captain, and isn’t new to the role when some skippers seemed to get a boost – he’s very much in the worn down by the role zone others encountered. He looked in very little trouble until he got massively tired and limbs and muscles seized up. To quote the song that the lyric in the title is from, he felt like he was going to sweat until he bleeds. This was an amazing physical and mental effort. I was privileged to watch a fair bit of it.

So having prepared a “game has not changed that much in context” piece from 45 minutes out, now it has a little. Sri Lanka are probably going to have a small lead, worth around 45 minutes of batting time. The third innings will be interesting here, as the home team have to make the running. They will need to take risks to set the game up to give them enough time. The 4th innings is not usually England’s friend when batting out to draw, but maybe more interesting given a teasing total to chase. Embuldiniya will be a major obstacle, turning it away from our predominantly right handed batting order. His 7 wickets in just his third test bodes well (let’s hope he doesn’t become a T20 dart thrower). The wicket will deteriorate. It’s the beauty of test cricket, and why I love it.

Needless to say, England have won a test match and Ed Smith can come out and do a victory lap masquerading as high-performance selection. I might go into this more after this test match, but how can one argue with logic like this…

 “We’re not traveling by boat, we don’t go away five months at a time. We need to be more nimble. And if we need to break a tour up so we can get people in and get people out for their good and for England’s good, we’ll do it.”

I mean, you need a Double First to work that one out.

Looking forward to Day 4 which I will not be able to watch as I have to work. Enjoy!

Little Stattage… Last 186 in test matches was made at Galle. Karunaratne in 2015 against the West Indies. 186 is the joint 501st highest score in test history. Two other players have made 186 for England. Paul Collingwood at Lord’s in 2006 (I was there when he brought up his ton) and Kevin Pietersen in Mumbai.

Other Postscripts – 5 overs short. All that spin. Hmmm. We’ve been there before. Also, never met many opposition keepers I liked, they mostly spoke nonsense and bored me senseless. As Michael Vaughan might put it, just saying (with a hashtag).

Sri Lanka v England: 1st Test, 4th Day – Provincial Towns You Jog ‘Round

So. This is my first match report for a bloody long time. Yet today, at times, took me back to around the time I started doing match reports for a humble old cricket blog called How Did We Lose In Adelaide. I confess, when I wasn’t sleeping through the day’s play, I was getting flashbacks to the Sri Lanka test at Headingley in 2014. Mathews at the crease, unfancied tailenders with him, wickets hard to come by.

I’m not going to go into the context of THAT match, because we were living in more emotionally heightened times in terms of the England team, but there is something about Angelo Mathews that sets my senses on edge. He does seem (not sure if the stats bear it out) to play well against England.

The tale of the day was of hard work and attrition. I awoke at 5:00 am and went downstairs to watch the cricket for as long as I could survive. Bess had removed the nightwatchman, Embuldinya, who bunted a ball to Sibley to get England on their way. Thirrimane completed a well deserved and hard earned century, but fell to the new ball when Sam Curran induced an inside edge and Buttler held on to a reasonably difficult chance. Chandimal joined Mathews, who had been extremely watchful when I was watching, and started quite positively. At lunch it was 242 for 4. I thought I’d nab an hour’s sleep……

Fast forward and I wake up and Sri Lanka are 8 down!

Chandimal didn’t last long post lunch. Bess removed him via Joe Root at slip. Chandimal was the key wicket, arguably, but this isn’t quite like the not long passed days when Chandimal at 6 followed the likes of Jayawardene and Sangakkara. The weight of the position may be quite telling on him, for he can be a fine player.

Niroshan Dickwella also added a score in the 20s, but did not go on. Bess removed him, caught behind by Jos Buttler, who while not being in Foakes’s class behind the stumps, has not really let England down in this game. Dickwella had made the vast majority of the partnership, but as parity with England’s total was reached, six wickets had now fallen. Five runs later Shanaka was beaten by a Leach yorker and was bowled, then after another 18 was added, Leach got De Silva to nick to Root, who took an excellent high catch, and with the lead in the 20s, England had their control.

The partnership between Perera and Mathews added 48, but unlike Headingley, Mathews wasn’t scoring at a prodigious clip. The end of the partnership came when, what looked to me a pretty straightforward stumping decision, Perera missed a good Leach ball, but didn’t get into his ground. The 3rd umpire took a lot of time to see if there was any of his foot behind the line, and finally decided there wasn’t.

Mathews tried to farm the strike, but the score didn’t really accelerate at all, and in the end he nicked off to Root at slip from Leach when trying to farm the strike. England were set 74 to win. Simples.

Ha Ha Ha.

Ha Ha.

Ha.

Ooops.

The comparison to Headingley wasn’t over. While we remember the Mathews century, we forget the five wickets that went down that evening. So in a hat tip to nostalgia, Sibley decided to leave a straight one, Crawley tried to be aggressive and nicked off to Mendis, and then Bairstow prodded one into the offside, and calamity ensued as he took a hesitant single, Root bashed into Perera, Dickwella retrieved and threw the stumps down, Root’s bat stuck in the ground (well short) and then fell arse over breast. If it wasn’t so serious, you’d laugh. Well, OK, it was a bit funny. 14 for 3 and your double centurion captain out. Looking good.

Just a few things on the world at large with cricket. Anyone mildly amused that the press are having to do their reporting and writing as we do? At least they get paid to do that. Anyone thinking that hard-pressed, tough economic times, and the need to save costs, that the day of the touring journo is over as they can do 80% of the job (what we do + good journalism) from the comforts of their own living room and a Sky/BT Sport/whoever else subscription. Where would we be if Dean Wilson can’t do “That Is Out” on Twitter from the ground and instead from his chaise lounge? Those good journalism titbits can be easily whatsapped!

I hate cricket with no crowds, and I hate it more with dubbed sound. They haven’t been putting in the dubbed sound from what I am watching, but you can hear the tension and frenetic attitudes without the dubbing as this tense play continues. Sports broadcasters sometimes assume what is wanted when they really don’t have a clue. What this whole nine month (and counting) nightmare has proved is that sport without fans (any fans, even a small crowd brings some reactions) is a corporate nightmare – both in terms of how sport can’t do without the interaction and in terms of how those supporters are treated. Let the paying punters never be abused again. Just remember what has been missed in these past few months.

The Sky at home comms team has largely worked, as far as I can tell. They have gone with a solid team – assume the female commentators are all gainfully employed elsewhere. I can even put up with Bumble, because all I need to remember is a quote from the truly, legendary awful commentary team in Australia – Mark Waugh on this particular occasion – when he said, re Tim Paine “what’s better, a man who scored 70s or a man who scores nought?” (Paine, by the way, has passed 70 just three times in his 56 test innings). I mean, you have to have played hundreds of matches for insight and analysis like that.

Atherton, Nasser and Kumar taking us through that last half hour, with the tension and lunacy of it all were terrific. Treated their audience like adults, decent insight, not too hysterical but in the moment, and most importantly, not talking for the sake of bloody talking.

So England are 38 for 3 going into the final day. The weather forecast is not supposed to be crash hot, but I suppose Galle owes Sri Lanka one after 2007 when England followed on 400 behind and it rained to save them. Yep. I have a long memory, as if you didn’t know that.

Good to be back, and I hope the mojo is returning. Not sure who has Day 5. Good luck to who has. Sad to say with the way work is at the moment, I won’t be getting up at 4ish to watch it. At least, I don’t plan to. But sleep is an elusive beast these days, so I might wander downstairs. Will panic ensue again!

Like The Warm Rays Of The Sun, Her Sweet Love Shines Down On Me

It’s 2 a.m.

This will be short.

I couldn’t sleep tonight, so decided to come downstairs and watch some test cricket. Day 5 of the New Zealand v Pakistan match.

I saw a game played by two teams fighting hard to achieve the day’s aim. New Zealand pressing for a win. Pakistan battling hard to draw. There was spin, pace, medium, left arm, right arm bowling. There is a batsman with a classical style, and one with anything but a classical set-up. There is gorgeous sunny weather, the ground looks superb, the commentary treats its audience like adults, adding insight, but never crowding out the game. There are injuries, people battling through pain to advance their cause. They actually look like they are enjoying. Most importantly, there’s a crowd there. Families, in a venue to cater for them.

I watched, not missing a ball for 80 minutes, before sleep starts to win. But I wanted to write this. For it is what I have forgotten. It is also what I miss. Terribly.

I start hoping that I can get to a county game this year. I feel what I missed last summer.

Thank you New Zealand and Pakistan. You’ve given me joy.

Good Night.

Don’t Like It But I Think I’m Learning – A Series Preview That Isn’t

Hello everyone. I haven’t even told the fab three that I’m doing this, so please forgive me.

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Because I love this picture….

 

I’ve been in a bad place for a month. It’s getting better, but there are bad days still. People are going through much worse than I am, but it pays to remember that we are all individuals and cope with things differently. Look after yourselves, and, wait for this coming from me, don’t get too angry with life. Mental wellbeing is a crucial thing, and frankly, I’ve not been looking after myself. For a lot of late June and early July, it was a dark place to be in, and nothing was worth it. I certainly had no time for the West Indies series.

That said, I am sort of coming around to cricket being played in this time, having first been violently opposed to it. I’m still the good boy who when working from home does not have the TV on, so I don’t get to watch much other than at weekends (and then I am out and about), the last series was interesting probably only because West Indies took a 1-0 lead. The real tensions around the last two, certainly as the games wore on, were weather induced and England got their bowling on track.

Pakistan are going to pose a significant test, certainly on paper they look as though they will be up for this, but it is going to take runs from the batsmen to do so, and yet again, there’s not a massive track record in England. I actually just remembered they played a couple of tests here two years ago, but then I should have, because it brought a fan favourite of mine from a NorthWest regional paper out to have a pop and tell us he was the font of all knowledge! But I must be kind. Let it never be said I don’t hold a grudge.

The guys kept the site going through my issues, for which I am grateful, but I am sincere in saying that I think my voice, and my views, are only really for the rear view mirror now. A different kind of influence is out there now, and it isn’t my belligerence and anger any more, even if it was only limited in its impact at the time. Am I happy about that? No. There’s too much wanting to get along with people who don’t share our interests at all, as if that works. Cricket boards are going to be financially stressed and playing domestic first class cricket just isn’t going to work any more. We will be seeing multitudinous T20 competitions (and less) to make up for the gaps. India, Australia and our Bastard Hundred will hog the lions share of the proper money. Test cricket will fade. I hope I am wrong. If it does, I’ll be long gone.

Some observations from the early coverage:

  • Bumble needs to be put out to pasture. Some of his sessions are embarrassing. The Tea break where he was eating sandwiches and drinking tea while Athers gave serious analysis seemed to this grump as an eff you to cricket fans. We aren’t here to be his audience for a comedy routine.
  • BBC highlights. Oh my god. The advantage of an hour to have your highlights is to show more than Sky’s hour show that has two advert breaks. Instead we start with up to 8 minutes of chat before you see a ball bowled, a review at lunch in a highlights show, and about 10 minutes of chat it seems at the end. Now, this might be masterful given the commentary line-up can consist of Send You To Sleep BBC Idol Cook, Tuffers, who, frankly, is stealing a living, and Vaughan. Now you all know how much I love dear Shiny, but he’s not the worst here. He’s not good, he’s still rent a view, but he’s got more to him than some. Yes, Carlos Brathwaite was surprisingly decent, and Isa Guha has to be eyeing some wider sports roles to take this job, but whoever put that highlights show together, start again. More cricket, a lot less bunny. Does anyone tune in to highlights programmes to watch the presenters babble on?
  • Fake crowd noise doesn’t bother me at all.
  • Rob Key is the most frustrating commentator out there. I’m not humourless, honestly I am not, but when he’s actually commentating he’s not bad. He’s got the hyperbole thing, but he also seems to spark off others in the team. You get that he’s a good colleague. Turn the blokey, chirpy stuff down a notch, Rob. You are good enough, you don’t need to be a comedian. More like Athers, less like Bumble.
  • Cricket twitter is busted beyond redemption. I just don’t understand what’s going on out there. I really don’t. I wouldn’t read another blog on cricket these days. What I think we have that others don’t, and it is certainly my ethos, is that I never wanted to be loved by the cricket establishment, I never wanted to tone down views because it might get me more clicks or “respect”, and while I had some decent drinks with some journos at times, I never felt they thought I wanted to be them, whereas too many out there do. I also never faked my anger. I still won’t. I’m not that angry any more, believe it or not, because there’s too much to be angry about, there’s not enough time. There are too many out there looking for praise, looking to be loved, and not enough out there willing to provoke or provide alternatives. Too many who write for their audience, and not for themselves. As I said, I’m yesterday’s man, my stuff was for a time, and for a purpose. It might be that style comes en vogue in the future. I doubt it. But today’s stuff tires me out. Are you cricket fans, or do you just want to be noticed?
  • I don’t get the love for Barney Ronay. I just don’t. But it might be he’s just doing football at the moment. I’m confused. I have been for six weeks.

OK. Three test series v Pakistan. Enjoy it those who love it. I hope you get out of it what you want. Thanks so much to West Indies and Pakistan for playing in it, and for the England players who are taking a lot on, regardless of how much they get paid, to do this. I respect them enormously for doing so, thus I can’t get rattled too much about Buttler being picked regardless, Stokes worship, who bats three, why Jimmy is playing, why Broad isn’t. It doesn’t really matter. For those who miss cricket, and want it, this is great and who am I to say it shouldn’t happen.

My Irish friend has just whatsapped to claim they are now World Champions. I won’t bite.

I hope the next few days are entertaining, the weather looks great down here, so hope it is up North, and I can leave you again in the capable hands of Sean, Danny and Chris who have not missed my output one bit. In fact, I feel quite cheeky writing this!

All the best.

And I forgot. The Test starts today, comments below.

Peter

Through My Frozen Heart Tonight..

Hello everyone. I am sorry I’ve not been on here recently, and in many ways I feel a little guilty about it. But I hope those that check in every now and then, and those that are regulars, are coping well as they can with the world we live in, and that you are all safe and well, and so are your family and friends. I know that can’t be the case for everyone, but fingers crossed that it is.

I have a confession to make. You may already know it. I do not miss cricket one bit. Not at all. Cricket isn’t on its own in that. I don’t miss football. I don’t miss baseball. I don’t miss F1, the NBA, the Masters, the Grand National. I will not miss Euro 2020 not being played. I won’t miss the Olympics. I love all those things, I have been a sports nut ever since Mum and Dad taught me to read by using the back pages of the newspapers. I don’t miss them for a variety of reasons. At this moment I don’t care who wins. At this moment I am not bothered by gossip, rumour, or even how bloody awful the ECB is, and given Harrison’s open mouth talk nonsense effort this week, they haven’t changed. I don’t want footballers, cricketers, rugby players, athletes to contract a disease that is communicable by asymptomatic people. To themselves, to their loved ones to those they may meet in the shops at the wrong time and the wrong place. Sport is not important right now. Be wary of those telling you it is.

Let’s take some of the suggestions for cricket. You quarantine a load of players in advance of a game to ensure they don’t have it. You lock them in isolation during a test, or a series, and then, at the end, you probably quarantine them again. Now, where do you sign up for that experience of a lifetime? That’s then got to be played in front of empty stadia – remember how we are always reminded that the county championship is no good because it attracts no-one and has no atmosphere? – and here we are only, only talking about elite level, which as Izzy Westbury suggested in her Twitter thread, quite often means “not women”. Then what will we have. A spectacle played to no-one, so that we at home can content ourselves that we are slowly getting back to normal, and the betting industry can pray on those even more vulnerable than they were before. The cynicism of this is blinding. You think they are doing this for their furloughed staff and low-paid ancillary staff. I’ve got some disinfectant as a cure to sell you if you do.

I think for cricket the break will do me good. The whole sport is a treadmill, and a break for players, even in these horrific circumstances, will mean we will love it more, hopefully, when it comes back. Cricket had become mundane, routine. A meaningless test series, usually, but not always, won by the home team followed another. There’s a T20 tournament for someone with an in-demand skill to tide themselves over in some location in the world if the mood is right. An ODI here, another one there. It was such that running a blog commenting on the game was becoming a massive chore. In its absence I have done other things, found filling my time not difficult at all, looking back at great sport and enjoying it again (I think Sky Sports Cricket should be doing more, much more, of that), and also reading, listening to music, watching TV series, and writing, still. I am doing that on my own blog, and if you haven’t read it yet, I am keeping a diary throughout the lockdown. It can be found here – Seven and Seven Eighths II– and it is my hat size.

The guys are doing superb work on Twitter, so please carry on supporting us. We have never been as presumptuous to say we are the voice of the fans, but we are a voice, well four voices as authors and we cover a lot of bases. I gave up Twitter for lent, and found it thoroughly lovely. In fact, I am not actually sure why I returned.

Mentally, for me, it has been tough, but I know a lot of people are a lot more worse off than me. Cricket has been rendered irrelevant by the vast numbers dying, and the fear and trepidation I feel as one of those with the anaesthetised but Orwellian concept of “an underlying medical condition” as if I am someone who should just accept my fate should it come my way because in some shape or form, I deserve it. I’d rather not, thank you. That means you won’t be seeing me at any event any time soon. You can never eliminate risk, but you can do your part to minimise it. That means steering away from the copious amount of ocean going idiots I come across in the park every day when I’m walking Teddy. Stay safe.

One thing on my list is to collate all my cricket recordings in one place. I have loads. I have the entire 2010-11 Ashes series in its entirety. It doesn’t feel bad watching Cook then. I have so much I can do that I’m not bored, and that’s great. I am lucky that my job can be done from home, so I am ok there too. I worry about others. A great friend of mine lost her mum this week (not sure it was of the virus) but she can’t have a funeral as the family would have liked, and how that impacts mentally I don’t know. In all of this, setting up matches in Abu Dhabi to satisfy TV companies and betting outlets seems irrelevant, and even a little distasteful to me. But that’s me. Others can have their views.

Stay safe and well everyone. Let’s dream of the day we can get back to watching sport in safety and for the right reasons. It’s what, I think, we all love.

All I Got Was Cigarettes And Alcohol – The 4th Test Preview (of sorts)

Welcome to the 4th Test match to be played at the Wanderers, Johannesburg. Been there!

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I really enjoyed my time there, back in 2005, when I saw a badly rain affected Day 2 (where Vaughan batted very well and I got my first look in the flesh of the great Dale Steyn) and then Day 3, when Herschelle Gibbs made a century. I flew home that night and missed that match’s conclusion – you know, Trescothick, Hoggard, the South African coach smashing a ball at Smith’s head. That sort of thing. I’m not bitter.

But even recalling these days, a more innocent time in my cricket and life experience, is melancholy. Test cricket was the thing. Test cricket mattered. Two strong teams battling out a thrilling series. England in their pomp, on the crescendo up to the 2005 Ashes. South Africa in a little turmoil, but with players coming through, none more exciting than Steyn. T20 was an embryonic entity, just started in county cricket, with other versions similar to it in other countries. No-one worried about the future of test cricket – strong teams, great competition, many, many great players.

This series, for all its feel good moments in the last two matches for England, has not got that lustre. England are middle of the pack, inconsistent, with some match-winning performers, but all the while bedding in players, with a thinner reserve base to pick from. If the exit of the U19 team from the World Cup isn’t a canary in that particular gold mine, I don’t know what is. Sport doesn’t need to be top class to be entertaining, but an occasion does need to have top class performers. So while this is enthralling sport, it doesn’t have that sense of occasion. England are winning against a team being rendered from inside and out, and with, what looks to be, a bleak future. Yes, three weeks ago after winning in Centurion there were optimistic noises. They have evaporated now, with talk of Faf retiring, of Bavuma coming back despite not establishing himself on form, the bowling about to lose Philander, and whoever a county might want to take on a Kolpak. So while we have a crisis in confidence in England about the future of test matches, South Africa are staring down the barrel of a long wilderness, to mix a metaphor or two, and that’s not good. It really isn’t.

I thought I’d refer to the title of the piece here for some reflection. I’ve written many, many times about how my love for the game is ebbing away. Of how a test match devalued is a sport destroyed. Of how people in power only seem to care about the monetary side of the game, and not the future. They are not the same. A lot of my writing in the past six years, hell 11 since I started How Did We Lose In Adelaide, has been about my concerns, even hatred, at what has been going on. After 2014, writing became an addiction. HDWLIA was an addiction. Like the time I was a smoker, I enjoyed it, it was something I liked, even though I knew it was doing me harm. 2014-16 especially was like starting smoking. But then you realise what a toll it was taking. So you try to give up, but you can’t for long, and you start again, saying you’ll cut back, but then you go back to where you were. You get the tortured analogy. I finally stopped when I was coughing up blood in an overseas hotel, but in blogging terms, I’ve not had that moment!

Days like the last three, though, make me wonder what’s the point? There was the KP interview with Martin Samuel. I’m not sure if you’ve read it, but you know, many of the points we made here about the scandalous briefing against him, how he was the symptom, not the disease, are now entering the mainstream. You know how Flower’s regime was actually a destructive one at the end of the day. You know how the ECB leaked like a sieve, not being paranoid about it. And about how whether we liked it or not, KP was not going to constrain his earnings and now all follow behind him. There’s a lot wrong with KP, of course there is, but he blazed the trail others follow and yet don’t seem to want to acknowledge that. Many of the wounds are healing it seems, but for the Daily Mail, of all rags, to print that and for KP to give an interview to it (even with the sumptuous dig at “other writers at that paper”) is maddening. They did the most to get you out, and now you talk to that? I really do wonder.

Then there was this today.

He didn’t address him directly, but this is in reaction to Michael Vaughan saying Tom Banton should get first class experience and then be fast tracked into the test team, to bat at 6. To do this, he would need to not play in the IPL. Gurney, of course, turning rapidly into the Katie Hopkins of Cricket Twitter, thought he’d make one of his pointed observations about this, and in the process, slagged off county cricket fans once again. Whether it is being funny, or in this case, not, Gurney is being crass. We get it, big shot. There’s a market for your left arm seam in T20 cricket, with your changes of pace and so on. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t. You are more than entitled to earn your crust in the way you see fit. But you start this with supporters. Not us. You can’t have a pop at the pensioners, when they supported you in your early days, and then get wounded when they pop back. To claim the tweet is in response to Vaughan, a person we hold in the deepest contempt for his views post-playing career, is one thing. But when it comes to one moron having a pop at another, we aren’t required to take sides. We can, and do, think you are both morons who seem to have contempt for those that paid for tickets, played your game, and love it from before. Gurney doesn’t bother with the likes of us, and evidently wouldn’t give a shit if he does. But maybe, Harry, just maybe, show some class. You could have made your point without denigrating fans in the process. But you just can’t help yourself.

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This sort of thing makes me sad. It makes me, in some way, long for the day when the addiction to blogging will go, and a normal life not getting angry at these people can take over. Where I can just sit back, and watch the 4th Test, hope England win, hope I can see a special performance, and yes, hope to see one or two from South Africans too. Where I hope England resist the temptation and play a spinner. Where Jofra Archer might return, or have people briefing against him that the elbow injury is in his head. Where Sibley and Crawley make runs. Where Denly might get that elusive hundred to get the yoke off his back. Where Root or Stokes might take to the skies, run amok in Joburg, backing up their talent. Where Jos gets his mojo back, Pope flows like Bell Mark 2. Where Mark Wood bowls like fire, where Stuart Broad reprises the last time at this venue. And where we can enjoy cricket, and not the ceaseless rubbish that accompanies it. Of Crisp-less Hundred Shirts. Of talking about whether a suspension catered for under the rules is merited. Of anything but the game.

I was looking for some action, of magnificent shots, and fantastic bowling. It don’t scan, but who the hell cares?

I am away from Day 4 onwards, having a work trip to South East Asia, (much of which will be spent in legal offices), so I will be leaving you in the capable hands of Sean, Danny and Chris. As always, comments on the first day’s action below. Thanks as always to the readership who keep me going, and are the equivalent of my 20 Silk Cut. Do they still even exist?

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Clap Along If You Feel Like A Room Without A Roof….. The Third Test Ends

The team who write this labour of love sometimes get together to set out the strategic direction this blog should take. They are painfully infrequent, we haven’t all attended one meeting at the same time, and they usually descend into reminiscing about our bad playing days (or in the case of Chris, slightly better). Strategic direction is determining who is purchasing the next round. But on one thing we all agree. We are, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, ’til death, boredom or editorial differences do us part, The BAD NEWS BLOG.

A test like Port Elizabeth isn’t our remit. It isn’t what we are read for. Whether we like it or not. When good things happen, and they have for England, there’s no sense looking for a dark cloud when there isn’t one there.

Like all of you out there, we know the problems with the way cricket is run, the future for counties, the idiotic pursuit of four day cricket, where the public is being gaslighted, should that be a word, by muppets still exist. It’s not gone away because England have summarily dismissed a team that beat them well three or so weeks ago. The fault lines haven’t disappeared due to hugely promising performances by Ollie Pope and Dom Bess, to name two. The rancour and bitterness can be put away for another day to recognise the skills of Ben Stokes, and the return of Mark Wood. Hell, we can even consider Ed Smith on another day when the team now looks like it has something to build upon.

England started the day needing four wickets, and got them before lunch. Sure, there was a breezy 99 run last wicket partnership to set off curmudgeons and bores on Twitter raving on about team over individual performances, but the result wasn’t in doubt unless it rained, and it didn’t until it was too late. Root did not get his five-for, which seemed to be upsetting people that he should actually go for it, but it was neither here nor there. It amazes me that people like Selvey could get that wound up about THIS, but on 2014 he was but a supportive flower, appealing to everyone’s better nature for the saker of England. Root trying to achieve something he will probably never do again… Hang him, flog him! The priorities and things that they get concerned about will never be understood by this mere blogger.

England won by an innings and whatever. They are 2-1 up in the series. They have turned around a difficult start to look very good in their last two outings. Much will be focused on the home side’s inadequacies, but inadequate teams have beaten England before, and will again. What we are seeing is development, and yes, I like it. I thought Sibley looked out of his depth, but I was massively impressed by that hundred in Cape Town, not least he didn’t get to a hundred and pack it in. I think Zak Crawley is growing into the game, he’s nowhere near there yet, but persevere with him, please. There is no need to call back Keaton Jennings. None. Joe Denly is now mentioned as someone to drop, when he continues to blunt attacks and occupy the crease. Sure he’s not someone who should be an automatic choice, but he’s hardly letting the side down at the moment. And a word of caution on Ollie Pope. This will, I hope, be the first of many, but he’s still a work in progress, and I would caution patience. He’s going to go through a trot of some very bad looking dismissals in his career.

Someone else can comment on bowling. As a former very bad batsman, I am now qualified. All I know is that there is healthy competition. You can’t help but want Mark Wood to do well (I loved that catch yesterday off Root, the sort all club cricketers can relate to, the climbing the ladder hamstrung by your own relationship with gravity….). Archer’s elbow is a cause for concern, so rest it some more if you aren’t 100% sure. But this is for another day.

From my angle this wicket was part of test match cricket’s rich tapestry. Wickets had to be earned, scoring wasn’t easy unless you were very well set. The bowlers got something out of it, half of the hosts wickets falling to spin speaks volumes. There were excellent hundreds, and yet wickets could fall. I think, sometimes, we react to quickly to this stuff, but also recognise that other opinions are available and valid.

So on to Johannesburg. There’s already talk of quicker pitches, not picking a spinner, playing the surface, not the opposition. Stuff that. I think for this England team it’s imperative we bat first – I have a lot more faith in them doing that than responding to any sort of total – and that we make runs. They are already talking about leaving out a spinner and playing five seam bowlers. I genuinely hope not.

But, in conclusion, it has to be said, I liked this win. I liked how the team played. I like a fair number of the players within it, and I am genuinely happy how they got this win in a rain-affected match on a slow wicket. It’s nice. But as always, let’s act like we’ve been there before, let’s know that a poor performance could be just around the corner, and let’s not poll this as “greatest away win ever” as the BBC did for something that happened very recently.

England won’t lose in South Africa again. That’s a good record dating back to the Leather Jacket tour. Away wins, however they come, are good. This one made me happy. So clap along….. and ask yourself, if your room didn’t have a roof, wouldn’t you be mad? Especially when it rained this afternoon in PE!