India vs. England, 4th Test, Day 2 – I Closed My Eyes and I Slipped Away

When I wrote the preview for this series back in early Feb, one of the key things I highlighted as a concern for England was their habit of picking a team that they wished they’d picked for the previous Test like they did when they last toured India. Sadly those that ignore history are doomed to make the same mistakes time and time again as Rishabh Pant piled into a tiring England attack who were a bowler short with their selection for this Test.

Whilst Pant took away this game and the Test series in the last session on Day 2, it must have been extremely galling for Stokes and Anderson, the former suffering with a stomach upset, who had bowled quite gallantly in difficult conditions earlier in the day. The lack of quick bowling options forced Stokes into a frontline bowling position, which is not exactly ideal as he is one of England’s best batsmen, yet he bowled with heart and no little skill to get England into a position where a first innings lead was a possibility before the Pant pyrotechnics. The wickets of Kohli to a sharp riser and then a wonderful inswinger to beat the defences of Rohit were a fast bowler’s dream scenario and with Anderson at the other end bowling miserly, the thought of a Mark Wood backing them up would have been the absolute ideal on this pitch. It was only when a clearly exhausted Stokes returned for his final spell that the wheels came off, though that was hardly unexpected due to the heat and workload put upon Stokes. Put it this way, I really don’t want to see our best all-rounder having to bowl 20 overs in a day anytime soon.

Of course at the heart of this was England’s nonsensical decision to go in with only 4 front line bowlers and Joe Root, who was never going to repeat his bowling heroics of the third Test. The recall of Dom Bess in essence gave England 3 front line bowlers as once again he struggled with rhythm, bowled too many full tosses and gave the Indian batsmen easy runs to relieve the pressure. This isn’t me having a go at Bess mind, being an international spin bowler is one of the hardest jobs in cricket and asking a young lad, who has never been first choice at his county, to learn on the job against one of the best attacks against spin bowling was always going to be an incredibly tough ask. I said during the Sri Lanka tour that Bess really looks like he needs a couple of seasons of county cricket to hone his skills before he should be playing for England on a regular basis. Don’t forget Graeme Swann, probably England’s finest proponent of spin in the modern ages was a bit rubbish when he first came onto the international scene but was a different player when he returned to the international side after honing his skills at Northants first and then latterly Nottinghamshire. Of course the ECB’s decision to push 4 day cricket to the outer extremes of the cricket season is not going to help the development of any young spinner coming through, but I would like to see Bess bowling regularly for Yorkshire this summer.

As for Rishabh Pant’s innings, well what can you say that others have not said? His positive approach whatever the scoreboard shows is absolutely refreshing and whilst it might not come off all the time, he has undoubtedly been a big reason why India will compete for the World Test Championship in England later on this year. The two shots that will live in memory for a long time were the sight of him charging down the wicket against Anderson with a new ball in hand and thumping it over mid-off and then the most audacious reverse paddle sweep over the slips from the same bowler. Even though the pitch wasn’t the most conducive to fast bowling, to do that against a guy with over 600 wickets is something else. The look Anderson gave when returning to his mark said everything that needed to be said.

We at BOC don’t like the current culture of besteveritis or comparing young players to past greats, but there are certainly shades of Adam Gilchrist in the way Pant bats and his ability to take the game away from you in a session. Of course, there will be tougher times ahead for Pant on pitches that offer more lateral movement, but I do hope he continues with his approach as it’s wonderful to watch as long as you’re not on the end of it. It would also be churlish not to mention the contribution of Washington Sundar, who looked at ease at the crease and played a gem of an innings as second fiddle to the fireworks going off at the other end.

Whilst it may not be over yet, with England having a squeak of a chance if they can take the final wickets with a lead under 100, it would be a very brave or foolish person to wager on England winning from here. A poor first session tomorrow morning and it may well be start the car time.

As ever thoughts on the game appreciated below.

India vs. England, 2nd Test – Day 1

After the rightful celebration of after an English victory on Indian soil in the First Test, England came crashing down to earth with a large bump today. On a pitch where winning the toss became vitally important, India won the toss, duly elected to bat and Rohit in particular put England to the sword.

There were a number of discussions on the BOC Twitter feed about what type of pitch we would see for this Test, and to the surprise of not many, the ball spun and spat from the off. There had been rumours that the Indian camp were far from happy with the surface for the First Test and even some who reported that the head groundsman had been replaced, so it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that this is the pitch that we have. This by the way isn’t a criticism of the Indian team, as it is no different from England preparing a green seamer up at Headingley in the early summer, but some also might argue that preparing a pitch so suited to the home side doesn’t exactly help the integrity of Test cricket. That discussion is probably for another day mind.

Today belonged to Rohit Sharma, who bullied the English bowlers from the off and now has a remarkable record of averaging nearly 88 in Tests in India. Perhaps seeing the wear and tear on the pitch and also seeing his opening partner inadvisably shouldering arms to Ollie Stone early in the piece, Rohit played with aggression throughout his innings knowing that he could he easily cop an unplayable one. Naturally he had a little bit of luck throughout his innings, as you need to playing on a Bunsen of a pitch, but it would be churlish to begrudge him any such luck, such was the quality of his innings. By the time he was caught in the deep attempting to slog sweep Leach for 161, the damage had been done and this could very well be a match winning innings.

The ironic thing was that England made some early inroads with Gill, Pujara and Kohli all falling cheaply. Naturally Kohli’s dismissal and refusal to walk after being bowled being the highlight. One did wonder if he was going to go to do a W.G Grace and calmly put the bails back on before taking guard. I have a lot of respect for Kohli the batsman, but it is episodes like this that give his critics plenty of ammo. After this slapstick moment, Rahane joined Rohit in the middle and took the game away from England in the afternoon session. After Rahane was finally given out after a howler of a DRS decision from the Third umpire had previously reprieved him, Pant came in with plenty of positivity and remains a threat being unbeaten at the close of play. The sight of Joe Root getting the ball to rip late in the day, probably won’t help the mindset of the English batsmen either.

As for England, they manfully toiled in the field with Leach and Stone being the pick of the bowlers. Broad was pretty ineffective as has often been the case in Indian conditions, and Moeen’s bowling performance perfectly encapsulated his Test career so far in that he can take wickets with brilliant deliveries but is completely unable to offer any control in helping to restrict the scoring. Ca Plus Change.

It could be argued that the game is already beyond England; however they are going to need to get these last 4 Indian wickets cheaply and then hope someone plays an innings of a lifetime for them. If not, then this could be over in 3 days. Let’s just hope Star Sports don’t manage to fix their camera’s for any stumpings when it’s England’s turn to bat!

As ever thoughts on the day’s play received gratefully below.

India vs. England, 1st Test, Day 5 – A Deserved Victory

It may only be one Test in a 4 Test series, but victory for England in the first Test will feel extremely sweet this evening for the tourists. Let’s not forget that India had only lost once at home in the last 8 years prior to today’s result, so it is quite right to saviour this victory no matter what the final series score turns out to be.

Chasing an unlikely 420 to win the game, India never really got close if truth be told. They lost Pujara early to an outstanding delivery from Jack Leach and despite both Gill and Kohli looking comfortable in trying to bat out the draw, you always felt that one wicket would lead to two or three on this pitch. The fact that the breakthrough came from Jimmy Anderson should surprise nobody given how he has performed over the past few years. In the 27th over of the innings, Anderson bowled one of the best overs in Test match cricket i’ve seen in a long time, indeed evoking memories of ‘that Flintoff over’ in 2005. It was an over that had everything that has made Anderson the leading wicket taker for a pace bowler in Test cricket, a masterclass in how to bowl reverse swing in the sub-continent. Both Gill and Rahane were beaten all ends up by a delivery that reversed back through the batsmen’s defences and took out the off stump. He then also added the wicket of the dangerous Pant to in essence, seal India’s demise.

I genuinely don’t understand the disrespect Anderson gets away from these shores. Yes he is grumpy, spikey and downright gobby on the pitch, but to say he only performs in helpful conditions has been a nonsense for years. It may have been true in his early years in the team, but since then he has matured into the complete bowler, with the nous and skill to perform in any conditions. I’m not sure that I can say anymore that hasn’t been said before but it is testament to his desire to keep playing at a high level that even at 38 years old, he is still the leader of England’s attack.

Once Stokes had got rid of Kohli with a ball that kept low, it then fell to Jack Leach to ultimately finish the Indian tail off, especially with Bess having one of those frustrating days that a young spinner will encounter as he grows into International cricket. It would have been easy for Leach to have lost confidence and become downhearted after being smashed all over Chennai in the 1st innings by Pant; however Leach showed that he has got some internal fortitude and he bowled with control and skill on Day 5 and deserved his 4 wicket haul at the end of the game. For as much credit should that should go to Leach, equal credit should be given to his captain who persevered with him after the Pant show. It would have been easy for Root to tell Leach to have a breather for the rest of the innings after going for 10 an over and I remember a certain former captain with a history of doing just that; however Root immediately bought Leach back on after Pant’s dismissal and ultimately showed his belief in his spin bowler. It might not seem a huge thing, but Root seems to have matured as a captain, even if he does remain ultra-cautious at times, and by backing his spin bowler he ultimately reaped the reward as Leach came to the fore in the 4th innings. Naturally the fact that Root is scoring runs for fun right now, has no doubt aided his captaincy, but it is still heartening to see that he understands the players under his tutelage.

As for India, there will be disappointment that they ultimately were unable to bat out the day. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that they looked a little ring rusty in their home conditions after coming into this series straight off a victory in Australia. It wouldn’t surprise me either if they tinker with their bowling line up in the next game, with Nadeem looking a little out of his depth and Kuldeep, a spinner who does go for runs but does also take wickets, waiting in the wings. That being said, a wounded India is always a dangerous animal, as their performance in Australia showed. Kohli in the 2nd innings looked like he was getting back into the groove and with Ashwin yet again showing why he is so highly regarded in world cricket, India are still rightly favourites for the series. It also wouldn’t surprise me if the pitch in Chennai for the 2nd Test turns from the off, negating the impact of the coin toss.

That however is for another day. It might only be on Test match, but England can feel very proud of their performance in this Test. Tougher times are likely ahead in this series, but for now the pressure is firmly on the shoulders of the hosts.

As ever thoughts on the game are very much welcome below.

India vs. England, 1st Test – Preview

After what can be described as a fairly comfortable yet nonetheless satisfactory series win away in Sri Lanka, now comes the real test – India in their home conditions. It’s pretty much safe to say that this Indian team have pretty much put all comers to the sword at home over the past 7 years having lost only in that period and having won 29 out of the last 35 Tests during that period too. This will not be lost on an English team who were trounced 4-0 on their last visit to India.

If England are to have any chance in this series, then their batsmen are going to need to fire in the first innings and their bowlers are going to have create pressure on the Indian batsmen by not giving away silly runs. For the former, it’s obvious that Joe Root will need to score the bulk of the runs much like he did in Sri Lanka. Root is a brilliant player of spin, who is able to rotate the strike and keep the scoreboard ticking which is vital in the subcontinent where it is all too easy to get stuck in a quagmire. Naturally England can’t just rely on their Captain and it will be vital for the likes of Stokes, Pope and the two English openers to try and take some of the pressure off Roots shoulders; however this will easier said than done as this Indian attack not only has great spinners but some rather handy seamers, who showed their skills and worth in Australia. Of course, losing Zak Crawley to a freak wrist injury on the eve of the Test is hardly ideal, but at least we can be thankful it didn’t happen to Root or Stokes.

As for the latter, it will imperative that the English spinners exert some control and limit the scoring, something which they were unable to do in Sri Lanka. It’s not that Leach and Bess bowled awfully, as some social media pundits insisted as they ‘crowned them as the worst English spinners of all time’, at times they bowled well in Sri Lanka. However there were plenty of times when they were pretty innocuous and the inconsistencies were there for all to see. This is an area the Indian batsmen will likely target and punish if we don’t see an improvement in this department, after all we can’t just rely on Jimmy Anderson and Broad to be the only bowlers that can give England any control on the field.

It will also be interesting to see what the pitches are like, especially as India have introduced a new cricket ball with a more pronounced seam. Now whether this means the ball will more beneficial for the seam bowlers is something we don’t know yet, but it is at least something to think about when thinking about the make-up of the English team. All too often in the last Indian series, England were guilty of picking the team they wished they’d picked for the previous Test rather than on the merits of the pitch in front of them. If England continue to do this, then it could be a long series in the field for Joe Root’s men.

As for India, they’ve probably got one of the strongest lines ups I’ve seen for an Indian side in quite a while. The top 5 of Rohit, Gill, Pujara, Kohli and Rahane is up there in Test cricket as one of the most powerful top 5, that alongside a bowling attack of Bumrah, Shami and Ashwin, who is finally showing that he can has all the skills to be effective both at home and away from home, is going to be a real challenge for any touring team. India will be disappointed that Jadeja has been ruled out of the series as he adds much to this team with ball and bat; however in Thakur, Sundar and Axar Patel, India have plenty of other spin options to give the English batsmen nightmares. 

On a last note, it is wonderful to see cricket being shown on an FTA platform after 16 years locked behind a paywall and Channel 4 deserve a lot of credit for making it happen, especially as negotiating with Star Sports is akin to pulling teeth. It did make me smile yesterday when I saw people complaining on Twitter that it won’t be able to match the coverage of Sky’s production, which to me is like winning £10 million on the lottery and then complaining it wasn’t £12 million. Naturally the commentary feed will be taken from Star Sports who will do anything not to upset the BCCI in any way, shape or manner and naturally the in studio analysis won’t be able to match that of the well oiled Sky machine, but to have cricket on a free to air platform that anyone who is either a fan or just curious about the game can access, far outweighs any negatives.

Of course the view at the ECB might be a little different to the fans, with a prime series going for pretty much peanuts with neither Sky nor BT being inclined to bid for it, might indicate a switch in priorities for both broadcasters moving forward. What is certain is that the next TV deal is not going to look anything like the current one and the ECB are going to need to quicky realise that they’ve been to the well one too many times and plan accordingly. That conversation is for a different time and I for one am looking forward to seeing cricket back on a free to air, with hopefully the viewing figures to match Channel 4’s investment.

As ever feel free to comment on anything about the game below:

England vs. Pakistan, 3rd Test, Day 4 – 599*

England went into today’s play hoping for a couple of things, the weather to stay clear and for Jimmy Anderson to get his 600th wicket with the weather looking pretty dreadful on Tuesday. Unfortunately none of the above happened.

Today was one of those incredibly frustrating days where the weather intervened constantly and nothing much happened on what is a very flat pitch. England’s approach to the day was certainly lackadaisical, somehow how hoping that the Pakistani batsmen would give their wickets away with no hope of winning the game and one eye on the flight home, but this was far from the case. England’s bowlers were too short and too wide throughout the main session before rain ended it and they were even worse in the field, with Jos Buttler shelling a sitter from Jimmy Anderson that might yet cost him his 600th Test Wicket. The Pakistani batsmen also benefitted from a pitch that has just got slower and flatter as this Test has progressed, though that’s not taking away anything from their application and determination not to let this tour end in a 2-0 defeat.

Once the rain halted and the players re-entered the field at 3:45pm, England did at least start to bowl with a little more purpose, with Root adjusting his field having recognised that the pitch was not going to do them any favours. Broad struck early on with a delivery that Masood misjudged and got the merest glance of his pad whilst not playing a shot and was given out LBW. It may have only been clipping the stumps but umpires are never frightened to give someone out when not offering a shot. Anderson then removed Abid with a ball that tailed in with a bit of reverse swing and caught him in front and number 599 was in the bag.

Unfortunately very little happened after that with Bess looking pretty ineffective and Root being forced to bowl before the umpires inexplicably took them off for bad light. Again.

In truth today was one of those days that doesn’t do Test Cricket again good. A flat pitch which isn’t deteriorating, bad weather and overly fussy umpires meant that it was at times a tedious watch. It happens at times, but it is still disappointing when it does. We all know that Test Cricket doesn’t help itself at times especially when the umpires had the opportunity to start the game at 10:30am today and decided to refuse; I guess they like their breakfast in bed.

So we move on tomorrow and the forecast is grim. It is meant to hammer down for most of this evening and tomorrow morning in Southampton and best case scenario is likely for a 3pm start if they can clear the ground of the excess water. Unless something very strange happens, then this game is set for a bore draw, but hey Test Cricket can be a funny beast at times. One thing we can all hope for is that Jimmy Anderson does get the opportunity to bowl and take that final wicket to get to 600. I would hate to be in the shoes of some of England’s slip fielders and the wicketkeeper if the weather fails to play ball or if they drop any more chances off him.

As ever, thoughts and comments always welcome.

 

England vs. Pakistan, 3rd Test – open thread

Naturally we’d like to be able to spend all of our time living rent free and writing previews and blogs for the site; unfortunately life hasn’t dealt us these cards and so at times we’re unable to do just that. Today unfortunately has been one of those times (I did enjoy some nice craft ales in a local pub last night mind, which were very nice and it wouldn’t surprise me if Chris and Danny did the same).

It’s the third Test and final one of the summer, so let’s hope it’s a good one. Mind with winds blowing around 50mph in Southampton today, I’d sure be fighting to bowl with wind if batting wasn’t an option. The fight between Broad and Anderson with which end they get to bowl from could be a classic (if they’re both picked naturally).

Hopefully normal service responds tomorrow with regards to our activity. Comments always welcome.

England vs. Pakistan, 2nd Test, Day 2 – Farcical

I don’t know what it is about our game, you know the one we truly love and cherish, that it keeps wanting to shoot itself in the dick time after time. Today was an absolute farce, no doubt about it, and with the world watching after an enforced lay off from the sport, Test Cricket once again administered self-inflicted wounds to itself. Was the light great? Probably not. Was it dangerous? Certainly not; yet the umpires took it upon themselves to take the players off the field at every possible opportunity. It really does make you despair at times that a sport that is fighting for it’s very survival, can openly make such a pig’s ear of everything that you wonder whether it is actually trying to make itself extinct.

An interesting question has to be asked as to whether the umpires would have made the same decision if there were 15,000 paying punters in the ground? Possibly, possibly not, but even so there are many more of us that pay extortionate Sky subscriptions so that we can watch the game we love. Fans as ever always seem to be an inconvenience to cricket unless we’re paying £90 a ticket or buying overpriced food and merchandise and even then the ‘hoi polloi’ are there to be merely tolerated at best.

Also the question of growing the game amongst our youth has to be asked. If I asked my 10 year old nephew to sit through today, I doubt he wouldn’t have held it against me for the rest of my life. How do you explain to someone that is new to the sport that they can’t play because it’s a little gloomy even though there are powerful floodlights in the ground? How can you explain that the light was fine for 9 balls after an early tea but then a bit too dark to play even when Rizwan was hitting a quick bowler over his head for 4? You just wouldn’t get that in any other game on the planet. No wonder football is our national sport.

I could go on all day about this, but for me, this video from George Dobell, ironically at Old Trafford sums it up perfectly:

As for the play that we actually did have, well let’s be kind and say it was hardly a thrill a minute stuff. The beauty about Test Cricket is that it can ebb and flow dramatically from one session to another. You can get a dull session and then suddenly the game explodes; unfortunately this was just a turgid day of cricket. It does amuse me that in other sports like football a 0-0 bore draw would be described as boring yet try and mention the “B” word with regards to Test Cricket and you are suddenly being called heretic. Test Cricket can be wonderful, but at times it can also be dreadfully dull, unfortunately what we got today was a lot of the latter.

England bowled well at times but looked pretty innocuous for most of the day, in fact it was a rare terrific ball that finally got rid of the set Babar Azam. Jimmy got Shah driving and nicking to slip on a pitch where the drive needs to be put away and then we got the classic Pakistani brain fade run out as Shaheen embraced a bit of yes, no, yes, no, oh crap after being dismissed by a direct hit from Sibley. It would be fair to say that the wheels came off for England after that, who time and time again tried to bowl the magic ball and time and time again failed to pull it off. I don’t what it is about the English mindset that when they have a team 8 or 9 down that they forget to bowl decent deliveries to the set batsman in the hope they can dismiss the tailender at the other end. It rarely ends well and today was no different, even if Broad did manage to dismiss Abbas in the 9 balls after tea by actually bowling at the stumps. This is not designed to in any way denigrate the innings that Rizwan played, who looked to have a very solid defence and cleverly picked the balls to go after when batting with the tail, but it was pretty clueless by England. Unfortunately not for the first time.

The result of which is that Pakistan are very much in the game on a tricky pitch with tricky overhead conditions. That is of course dependent of whether the umpires fancy a round of golf tomorrow or just being pampered by the Aegeas Hilton room service, I mean who cares if we get a game on or not??

Test Cricket can be wonderful at times and deeply frustrating at other times, sadly today will not be remembered for the cricketing action on the pitch; instead it will act as a stark reminder that it’s refusal to change is likely to put it’s very existence into question.

Thoughts and comments very much welcome.

 

 

England vs. Pakistan, 2nd Test, Preview – Feeling Hot Hot Hot

So we’re back down to the Bramsgrove bowl for the 2nd Test and thankfully this time none of the players decided to have a little detour. Naturally the headline leading up to this Test has been the withdrawal of Ben Stokes for the rest of the series, which of course is a huge blow, but pales into insignificance when dealing with obviously a serious family issue. I was pleased on the whole with the reaction on social media with the majority wishing him well, which of course they should, cricket is a game that has bought us much joy (and agony too) and Stokes has played a major part in that, but family must and will always come first. I believe I can speak for the collective in wishing the Stokes family all the best whatever they are currently going through. It was also sad to see Dan Lawrence leave the squad due to a family bereavement especially when there was a decent chance he might have made his debut; thankfully there is still plenty of time for that whenever he is ready to re-join the fold.

So with Stokes and Lawrence out, this provides Zak Crawley with an opportunity to try and cement his place in the side, as you’d expect him to slide in at number 3 and let Root go back to his favoured position of number 4. I’ve been a little surprised about how much criticism Crawley has had in absentia, with various people on social media highly critical of him whilst suggesting he shouldn’t be in the squad in the first place. Now of course it’s natural for people to push their own favourites, Gary Ballance and Sam Northeast are names that crop up time and again, but I do find the criticism of Crawley a little baffling. He easily outplayed Joe Denly in the 1st Test against the West Indies and after getting a duck in the first innings of the 2nd Test was then asked to throw the bat in the hope of quick runs in the 2nd innings. Personally I’ve been pretty impressed with Crawley, he looks like he has a natural flow to his game that keeps the scoreboard moving and hasn’t really looked overawed by Test Cricket despite being only 21. I think there is definitely enough there to warrant being given a decent crack in the side and I’d certainly pick Crawley over Ballance, who has shown that he hasn’t the technique or the mental fortitude for Test Cricket, every day of the week.

As for the rest of the side, the batting line up now picks itself with Buttler remaining at 6; however the bowling line up is one to watch with interest. Despite the heroics of Buttler and Woakes at Old Trafford, our tail looks awfully long against what is a very good Pakistan bowling line up, so I do wonder if England are tempted to pick Sam Curran to shore up the batting and to offer a bit of variety to the attack, but then who do you leave out with Woakes, Broad and according to Joe Root, Jimmy Anderson all set to play. Jofra Archer seems the most likely to be left out, but if so, there must be a temptation to play Mark Wood, to give England a proper pace option. It was interesting that Root has come out already and said that Jimmy is going to play considering the back to back nature of these matches and the fact that a 38 year old Anderson hasn’t played particularly well all summer. Could it be thought of as misconstrued loyalty to a player who has been England’s finest fast bowler for over a decade but perhaps is no longer in England’s top 3 pace bowlers these days? Naturally it would be wise not to write to Jimmy off as he has proved time and time again that he is a quality bowler, but there will certainly be added pressure and scrutiny if he does indeed play at the Aegeas.

As for Pakistan, it will be interesting to see how they respond after losing a match they both dominated and should have won. Certainly Pakistan teams of the past may have let that affect them mentally after such a loss, so Misbah and his coaching staff will have needed to do a lot of work with the team to get them back in the right frame of mind. I have the upmost respect for Misbah, so if anyone can lift this team back up after Old Trafford, then he would be the man to do it. It will also be interesting to see what the make-up of the Pakistan team is in Southampton, as they looked a little top heavy with Shadab batting at 7 and then not really contributing much with the ball. Dependent on the pitch they made decide to go with the extra batsman, a certain Fawad Alam, who despite having an average of over 50 in Pakistani domestic cricket, has consistently been overlooked for selection. It will also be interesting to see if they shuffle their quicks, as playing the same fast bowlers in 3 Tests in such a short period of time is draining. If they do, then I’d expect Naseem Shah to drop out, not because he isn’t a fantastic prospect, more that they don’t want to injure a 17 year old proper fast bowler by over-bowling him. The last thing Pakistan need is for him to pick up a stress fracture and be out for a long period of time.

So fingers crossed that the storms stay away from Southampton, though I’d quite like them to come to London and we get a full day’s play tomorrow. As ever thoughts and comments are much appreciated.

England vs. Pakistan, 1st Test – Day 3 – You Spin Me Right Round, Baby Right Round

So at the end of Day 3, England are still in with a squeak, probably no more than that as a 4th innings score of over 150 has only ever been chased down at Old Trafford twice before, but a squeak nonetheless.

The nature of the line-up that England picked meant that in all reality both Pope and Buttler needed to go on this morning with at least one of them making them a ton; however the Pakistan bowling line meant that this was always going to be a tough ask. Too tough an ask as it proved to be. The morning session was one of those nip and tuck sessions where each of the Pakistani fast bowlers asked some serious questions of the English batsmen, who played and missed at more than a few deliveries. Eventually it took the precocious 17 year old quick, Naseem Shah, to get rid of Pope with a delivery that reared off the pitch and struck the top of Pope’s bat providing a comfortable catch for the slip fielder. I don’t know how and where Pakistan keep finding these young bowling superstars, but it’s a real breath of fresh air to watch someone so young, bowl with such hostility and maturity at this level. Let’s just hope Pakistan provide him with the right support and structure to let him grow and not ruin him like did with Mohammad Amir.

Still England made it to lunch relatively unscathed and with Buttler and Woakes still at the crease there were some hopes that England could somewhere near Pakistan’s total. Unfortunately our ineptitude against leg spin again proved England’s downfall. Buttler, Woakes and Bess quickly fell to Yasir Shah and whilst there was a fun cameo between firstly Broad and Archer and then Broad and Anderson, it was only going to be a matter of time before England were bowled out. The way Buttler got out in particular is a reflection of his time as an International cricketer, failing to pick a straight delivery after a scratchy, but gritty 38. I have been fairly vocal on my thoughts on Jos as a Test player and nothing I saw today has changed that opinion, but I do feel a bit sorry for the guy; I mean he isn’t the one that keeps picking himself. Buttler is a world class white ball batsman, but in truth, even in county cricket, he has never shown much aptitude against the red ball, something that 6 career red ball centuries clearly shows and for me he simply doesn’t look like a Test player. This isn’t to say he isn’t trying as today’s innings showed, where he put away his natural game and tried to grind out a score, but I genuinely feel it’s got to the stage where it’s not doing the player or the team any favours. It naturally didn’t help that Mohammad Rizwan gave him a lesson in how to keep wicket to both the spinners and the seamers, especially considering he gifted Pakistan over 100 runs in the field with his poor keeping in the first innings. Buttler might be a great team man and Ed Smith is definitely a stubborn supporter, but something has to give and now is the right time to take him out of the firing line.

It would also be churlish of me not to give Yasir Shah some rightful praise. He can look innocuous at times and does bowl some absolute dross, but he always seems to have an impact in the game and regularly takes wickets. It just shows the different mentality both sides have with regards to their spin bowling options with Pakistan happy for their spinner to concede runs if he can bowl wicket taking deliveries often and England happy for their spinner to keep it tight and take the odd wicket. Unfortunately that’s always been our mindset and I can’t see it changing anytime soon.

So with a deficit of 107, England needed wickets and quickly and for once they actually got them. Broad strangled Masood down the leg side for a duck, a sobering reminder of the fickle nature of the Cricketing God’s after his first innings and then Bess had Abid caught on the boundary with the sort of hoick that even Shannon Gabriel would have been embarrassed with. Woakes then continued his fine form by removing both Babar and Azhar quickly leaving Pakistan wobbling at 63-4 before a decent partnership between Shafiq and Rizwan steadied the ship. Indeed they looked to be taking the game away from England before a typical suicidal run synonymous with the Pakistani team removed the former before they could do any more damage. Indeed England should rightly be disappointed that they didn’t have Pakistan in a worse position after yet more sloppiness in the field with both Abid and Shafiq the beneficiaries of dropped catches, though one could easily argue that the Anderson drop was a mighty tough chance. Still England will look back at those drops with more than a tinge of regret after Rizwan and Shadab benefitted from some poor bowling from both Bess and Anderson before England desperately turned to a half fit Ben Stokes who did what Ben Stokes does and trapped Rizwan LBW in his 2nd over. Broad then removed Shadab and a visibly limping Stokes removed Shaheen but a few lusty blows from Shah allowed Pakistan to take the lead to an improbable but not impossible total of 244 with 2 wickets remaining.

Pakistan are without doubt in the box seat and England need to take the last remaining 2 wickets in double quick time if they are to stand any chance of winning this match on a pitch that is taking serious turn. This should be Pakistan’s game to win but it’s not quite a done deal yet. We should have those answers on which way the game is going pretty early on Day 4.

As ever thoughts and comments are much appreciated.

England vs. West Indies, 3rd Test, Day 2 – Is Broad Batting

The rain did us all a favour today by deciding to head South rather than sit at its normal location which normally is right above Manchester and to be fair we’ve had a bonus day of good cricket, even if it was cut short abruptly by the Umpires.

England will naturally be the happier team right now even if they were hoping for a bigger score than 369 all out, though they would have bitten your hand off for that score at 280-8 after a significant collapse against the new ball. It is always hard starting again when the bowlers are fresh and have a new ball in their hand and it has to be said that the West Indies bowled superbly for the first half hour; however that being said it was a real shame that neither Buttler or Pope could go on and make a match winning hundred after the graft they put it yesterday. When Woakes and then Archer also went cheaply, the former is really struggling for form with the bat and the latter looks more and more like a number 11, the hearts of most England fans would have sunk. Enter Sir Stuart Broad.

This was not an innings for the purists to say the least and the time when Stuart Broad could be potentially viewed as an allrounder are long gone, but on my was it effective. Whilst Dom Bess played patiently as a proper batsman, Broad was given licence to have a swipe and swipe was exactly what he did with some great and then some fairly fortuitous shots to the boundary. It’s a real shame that Broad is unable to replicate the batting talent he had as a young cricketer, after all he has a higher Test score than a certain Mark Waugh; however when he bats, people watch. He may come off only once a series, but when he does, it certainly is compulsive viewing. England are just mighty glad that it was in this game that Broad managed to come off with the bat otherwise they’d be rueing another costly collapse.

So the West Indies, who had originally thought they’d be chasing under 300, looked pretty deflated when they came off the field and it showed in their batting. The sad thing is that I don’t England bowled all that well, except for Broad’s and Anderson’s spells after tea, which is a weird thing to say when they have a side 137-6. After getting the dangerous Brathwaite out early, England bowled far too short allowing the woefully out of form duo of Hope and Campbell to settle in nicely. Ironically it was a nasty bouncer by Jofra Archer that finally got rid of Campbell and allowed England to open the door. Anderson and Broad then took charge straight after tea, with the former bowling 2 unplayable deliveries that the batsmen did well to nick and the latter celebrating an LBW with an outrageous celebrappeal and probably a trip to the Match referees office too. Blackwood and Holder then looked to gain some semblance of momentum back for the West Indies before the former decided to go for an overambitious drive from a good ball from Chris Woakes that nipped back off the seam.

So we head onto Day 3 with a decent forecast and already talk of declaration speculation, especially as Monday could well be a total write off with the weather. I suspect England will bat again even if they do bowl the West Indies out short of the follow on target, but they probably won’t be hanging about knowing the forecast for Monday and wanting at least a day to bowl at the West Indian batsmen a second time.

One major moan though has to be the continued insistence of the umpires coming off for bad light at around 6pm each night. I even joked that they must have room service booked for 6:15pm every night. The light was murky but no way was it dangerous and we have also invented these crazy new things called floodlights to keep the game going. It’s crazy that in this day and age that we allow cricket to keep shooting itself in the dick and if the light is going to be a problem, start the damn Test half an hour earlier! The umpires are probably grateful that there aren’t any fans in the ground, because if you’d have paid the best part of £70 for the day, you’d be mighty pissed off at seeing the players trudge off the ground with the floodlights standing there. Anyway, slight rant over.

As ever do feel free to share your thoughts on the game or anything else below: