Sri Lanka vs. England, 2nd Test – Preview

England comfortably enjoyed their best days in the field away from home in more than 2 years in their comprehensive victory in the First Test in Galle, something that a number of us didn’t see coming. They won the toss, recovered from their standard top order wobble in the first innings thanks to a supremely cool maiden ton from Ben Foakes, managed a decent first innings lead and then turned the screw in the second innings thanks to a rather surprising century than none other than Keaton Jennings. With a 450+ lead in the bag, it was no surprise to see England’s spin trio mop up the Sri Lankan innings and with it a fairly crushing defeat for the hosts.

Despite England’s comprehensive victory, it has been a little baffling why very little has been made of this performance or of Sri Lanka’s woeful performance, in fact one would need to look pretty hard to find any mention of this at all. It may be that England are rightly looking to play this victory down owing to the fact that there are 2 games left of the series and that we don’t yet know what type of pitches they will face in the next 2 games (unlikely), that they are mortally embarrassed at having it pointed out that this was the first victory away from home by England in more than 2 years, something that should be unacceptable to the team and board (they should be, but unlikely) or that no-one gives one jot about this series and it is more of an annoyance than anything else (most probably). Indeed, I completely forgot there was a Test Match on tomorrow, hence why I am doing this preview slightly later than I normally would. I know that cricket doesn’t grasp the imagination of many English residents these days, nor does the start time or the fact that it is stuck behind the pay wall help either, but I’ve seen more coverage of the Women’s T20 tournament than any of the Test the past week. It’s almost like everyone hoped it might get rained off and then everyone could get home and put their feet up.

So despite this lack of enthusiasm from the English press or fans, we now move onto Kandy (well I say Kandy, Pallekele is a fair way out, good luck to those trying to get to the ground without access to a car or a favourable Tuk-Tuk driver)! England have named an unchanged team for the Test, which I find mildly strange given that Kandy is up in the hills and generally a much cooler climate and hence this may have been the opportunity to go with 4 seamers. Now I haven’t seen the pitch report yet, but one would hope that this decision is based on these pitch conditions rather than those in Galle, as we have seen England pick unbalanced teams on sub-continental tours in the past based on what they think the pitch will be like rather than what it will actually play like. Talking of mildly perplexing decisions, England in all their wisdom have decided to have Ben Stokes take the number 3 position, when in all reality Root, who might not greatly enjoy batting at 3, should be the man to bat there on this tour. It again smacks of England trying to fit square pegs into round holes and although Moeen hasn’t really made any scores at number 3, I’m not sure how promoting someone who has the same technical flaws and is a cast iron number 6 at Test level, is going to help matters really. They may as well put St. Jimmy of Burnley at number 3 and be done with it! In all seriousness though, England somehow need to find a number 3 for the Summer ahead as none of the surfeit of number 6’s and number 7’s that we have seem to have acquired is going to stand a chance at batting at 3 in English conditions; indeed if the ball does indeed move about early in Pallekele, then one may guess that Root will be in early anyway. In my opinion, it just feels like another wasted opportunity to give a more promising player at that position some game time at 3 rather than having a number of bits and pieces players trying to cover up the glaring hole, not that our friends at The Spin agree, as naturally Ed Smith is the new Sir Alex Ferguson and a master of tactics and selection:

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/nov/07/ed-smith-england-cricket-selections-alex-ferguson-sport

This particular piece of delightful bollocks was by Rob Smyth, but could have been Andy Bull or any other of the strays that the Guardian picks up to write these columns. One could almost hark back to the Mike Selvey era when reading this tripe, although I did say ALMOST.

As for Sri Lanka, it was a sad sight seeing Rangana Herath retiring after such a comprehensive loss, as he has been an integral part of Sri Lanka’s success on the sub-continent and will be a massive loss to them. They will no doubt find another spinner to try and bamboozle England on this tour, but those are big shoes to fill especially with the batting looking weak even before the withdrawal of Dinesh Chandimal through injury.

Of course, this could just be another one of the Test’s where you win the toss, bat first and win the game. If so, then England must hope that Joe Root’s luck in calling the coin toss correctly continues away from home.

We are slightly light in number for this particular game with 2 of our writers unavailable for very different reasons, so please bear with us if the daily reports are shorter than normal, later than normal or in extreme cases might not happen. Due to work commitments, neither Danny or myself will be able to see any of the live cricket and might struggle to catch the highlights, but we will write as much as we can.

As ever comments on the game or anything else (not Brexit) are welcome below:

Advertisements

Sri Lanka v England, 1st Test, Preview

I wasn’t sure whether to write something vaguely incisive about the build up to the First Test or just to post a picture of some puddles and the weather forecast for the upcoming game, in what has quickly become a farce of a tour. I mentioned in ODI review that holding a Test series in the middle of monsoon season was just about as stupid a thing one can do, unless the players and fans particularly enjoying sight seeing in the wet.

If by some miraculous occurrence, the weather does clear up for long enough to hold the game, then one must think England will be at a serious disadvantage. In the past, when teams were actually committed to winning a Test away from home, they would organise at least 3 tour games of sufficient length to try and get their batsmen and bowlers acclimatized to the foreign conditions. This has long since been dumped in favour of shorter tours, combined of more ODI cricket and then the odd 2 or 3 day match to try and get the players somehow ready for the upcoming series and the media wonders why it is so difficult for teams to win away from home in this modern age. Unsuprisingly, the weather has played havoc with England’s warm up preparation with a 50 over knock about on a flat, unresponsive pitch hardly likely to replicate the conditions they will face in Galle, should there be any cricket held there this week. I’m not surprised that Sri Lanka didn’t prepare a rank turner for England’s warm up games, just as I am never surprised that England don’t hold warm up matches on green seamers whilst preparing one for the first Test. This should be something that the ICC actively looks at if they want to keep Test cricket at the forefront of the game and stop it from being a procession of home Test victories; however I’m not going to hold my breath, based on what the ICC and the other governing boards have done in the past.

As for the team itself, for a change it is quite hard to predict what team England will actually go for, especially in light to the injury to Jonny Bairstow whilst playing football in a warm up for one of the ODI series. Now there are many ways a player can get injured on the cricket pitch, so actually losing one of your best players in a warm up during a football knock about is unforgiveable; if Bairstow misses more than just the First Test, then serious questions need to be answered by the English coaching team. I would imagine that Burns will rightfully get a go at the top of the order after a fantastic county campaign last season alongside Keaton Jennings, who is incredibly fortunate to be included on the tour. Jennings has built a reputation as a good player of spin, though that could be heavily weighted on his century in India a couple of years ago, and without doubt if he fails again in this series, a place on the scrapheap with England’s other tried and failed openers from the last 5 years await. As for the rest of the line up, then aside from Root batting at 4, your guess is a good as mine! We’ve had speculation that Buttler will bat at 3, or that it will be Moeen, or that it could be Denly – in other words, no-one has any sort of a clue as to how the English batting line up is going look. Personally I’d have Denly at 3 and Moeen at 5, but then personally I would have had the best player of spin that England currently has at the moment on the tour and in the line up! Whatever James Hildreth has done to upset the English selectors is beyond me, perhaps Mike Selvey has marked his card sometime ago! One would also imagine that the no matter how much rain falls between now and the beginning of the game, that the Galle pitch will be conducive to spin bowling; hence I would guess that England will line up with Anderson, Stokes and one of Broad, Woakes or Curran with the latter probably earmarked for the role due to his batting. As for the spinners, then it will be down to Moeen, Leach and Mike Selvey’s favourite bowler, Adil Rashid, to take the majority of the wickets once the ball stops doing anything for the seamers after 4 over or so.

Sri Lanka, will start the series as hot favourites in my opinion whatever the bookies think, especially if they can reproduce their performances against South Africa earlier in the year, where the decimated the Proteas by 278 and 199 runs in the two Test series. Sri Lanka’s array of spin bowlers befuddled the South African batting line at every turn and we can expect a heavy reliance on this again in this series. As a side note, Galle will be the last Test in his career for Rangana Herath, who despite his portly appearance and lack of a ‘magic ball’ has had a tremendous career at International level, especially on the sub-continent and someone Sri Lanka will miss massively. Herath may not spin the ball prodigiously but the control and accuracy that he has displayed throughout his career has meant that the opposing batsman has not been able to lose concentration for one minute when he is bowling. England will be very grateful to see the back of Herath after Galle. As for the Sri Lankan batting, they will once again lean heavily on Dimuth Karunaratne, who had his breakthrough series against South Africa alongside Angelo Matthew (provided he hasn’t been dropped) and Dinesh Chandimal, who are the backbone of the Sri Lankan batting unit.

The toss will be incredibly important to win and England must hope that Joe Root has his lucky shirt on, as England face a tough enough prospect to win this series, let alone batting 4th on a raging turner. This of course could be rendered completely irrelevant if the forecast stays true and hence, the fans have the pleasure of staring at puddles on the pitch rather than any live cricket. Perhaps they’ll be kind enough to beam the AB De Villiers masterclass into the stadium should the weather forecast prove right.

As ever, all thoughts on the game are welcome below:

Absence, Rain and a Forgettable Series.

Hello all, it’s been a while! As Dmitri pointed out in his last post, personal factors and work factors have made our activity scarcer than a good idea at the ECB and for this we naturally apologise. We know that a number of you log in regularly to the site and that our production has dropped dramatically, but we have all committed to increasing our activity for the Test series and beyond. A major reason for the scarcity of posts, alongside our own personal circumstances, is that the recent ODI series between Sri Lanka and England didn’t really set out pulses pounding.

As many of our parish know, we are not the biggest white ball fans and a series against what has been a poor Sri Lanka team in white ball cricket for some time doesn’t really rank as a must watch series; however the ECB managed to out do themselves with this particular series, yet excuses were quick to come:

The ECB said it had “very little wriggle room” over dates for the tour. After hosting England, Sri Lanka spend the rest of the 2018-19 season touring New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. “They play their first match in New Zealand on 8 December, which left very little wriggle room given our final Test in Sri Lanka finishes on 29 November”

Ah yes, the old future tours excuse, which has been trotted out more times in the past than the England batting unit has managed to make it to 400. Sri Lanka has 4 monsoons a year and despite the weather always being unpredictable there, whatever the time of year, the monsoon seasons rarely move. The ECB could have asked any travel specialist (Mrs TLG springs to mind), who could have told them that, but they decided to go ahead anyway without any thought for the fans who had paid less than an inconsiderable amount to be out there to see the tour. It is a classic case of greedy administrators having their cake and eating it and screwing the fans in the shorts at the same time (don’t even start me on the planned cost of £75 per day that the ECB are letting the Sri Lankan cricket board charge England fans for the Test series). Unless this is a ruse by Harrison to test underwater cricket as part of his whack job plans for the T100 (never rule that out), then it must have been an incredibly frustrating and anti-climatic experience for both the players and fans alike.

sri-lanka-v-england-odi-5-rain-delayed-672x372

As for the series itself, the constant rain interruptions meant that we learnt even less than we thought we would, unless that plan is to chase down low scores under the DLS rules in the 2019 World Cup. The batting line up is pretty stable with only injury or a dramatic loss of form from one of the top 7 likely to result in any change. When we did change the batting line up in the dead rubber game, we got well and truly stuffed (who knew, England losing a dead-rubber). The seam bowling unit looks like it has some depth with Woakes, Plunkett, Tom Curran and Stokes all able to take wickets at regular times and our spin bowling attack looks settled and potent whatever the surface. Rashid may cop a lot of stick from the journo’s and some of the fans (remember his card has been marked) for his less than stellar returns in the Test arena; however he is a truly world class leg spinner in the white ball game. As for the T20 squad, it looks like Root might be on the outside looking in for some time and whilst Denley’s deadly non-spinning leg spinners accounted for a rather meek Sri Lanka batting line up, I have a feeling that this was more a horses for courses game.  The only major downside (from a playing point of view and not a fan point of view, as one can only really visit the Dambulla caves once before seeing everything Dambulla has to offer) is the injury to Bairstow, which could well rule him out of at least the first game of the series and maybe more, alongside the fact that Stokes looks less than fit at the moment. It may be that Stokes is simply carrying a knock at the moment, but if so, it seems less than wise to play him in a pointless series when we already know what Stokes can offer to the team.

As for the Sri Lankan team, one who has a pedigree of fielding fine ODI sides (just think of the 1996 side), this side looked a pretty horrible rehash of a team. Their tactics seemed to have been borrowed from Peter Moore’s 2015 book of how not to play white ball cricket and of course, dropping their captain and probably best ODI player because their administration needed another scapegoat, was never a great idea in retrospect. In previous years, Sri Lanka would have been favourites for both the Test and White ball series, but they looked anything but a competent white ball side, especially in wet conditions where their spinners struggled to grip the ball. The Test series could be very different mind..

There have also been a few things that have happened in the interim which no doubt we shall cover in more depth in the coming week or so. The Director, England Cricket has stepped down for personal reasons, so no doubt there will be a tranche of individuals linked to the job before the ECB hire some friendly goon who will publicly support their plans to ruin cricket, sorry the T100. There has also been the fall-out from Australia, where its culture report into the sandpaper incident has labelled Cricket Australia’s actions as ‘arrogant’ and ‘controlling’. There are probably a few other words that I can think to add to this, though I hasten to add that any cultural report into the ECB would find exactly the same thing. Of course, not everyone agreed with these findings as a certain ex-Australian captain, not known for his commitment to the spirit of the game commented:

“You know they push the boundaries a bit by throwing the ball into the rough on the ground, which they shouldn’t do and then it’s escalated from there. It’s a shame how it got to the point that it did but I guess the authorities let that happen. There have been captains in the past who have been done for tampering with the ball and the penalties have been very lenient so there was no penalty for doing something wrong and it was always going to get to the case where it got out of control”

There is still nothing more Australian, than trying to pin the blame on somebody else, when you’ve been caught cheating red handed! I’m half surprised that they didn’t blame it on the ball for allowing itself to be sandpapered!

With the Test Series against Sri Lanka coming up, despite the threat of more rain throughout this series, we do plan to be a lot more active on the site. So please do feel free to comment below on any thoughts on anything above and thanks for bearing with us during our recent quiet time.

England vs India, 3rd Test, Day 4 – The Painful Reality

Firstly, it would be churlish not to praise India who have well and truly demolished England in this Test. They need one more wicket, but the game is over, the only small delight comes from watching Rashid and Anderson surviving and thus forcing everyone, especially England’s top order, to come back tomorrow.

Some, myself included, thought that India could be on verge of a damning series defeat after Lords as it felt that this tour was starting to descend into free fall. Not one bit of it, as much as England have been poor (and boy have they been poor), India have been very good with bat and ball. Kohli set the tone with the bat once again and showed why he is the quite simply the best batsman in the world and this time he was ably assisted by Rahane and Dhawan amongst others. With the ball, Hardik Pandya secured his first 5 wicket haul in Tests in the first innings with Sharma and Bumrah both bowling superbly in each innings, the latter securing his five-for in the second. Any thoughts of a whitewash have been completely wiped away, it is now India in the ascendency and with a very real chance of securing or at least sharing the series.

Then we come to England (clicks wrists) and it is extremely hard to compose anything that can actually cover how completely and utterly abject they have been in this Test. Sure Stokes and Buttler in particular, who thoroughly deserved his maiden century after showing the top order how to bat properly, managed to salvage a little bit of pride in the 2nd innings when the game was already truly lost, but as much as the media would like to paint the positives here, the damage had already been done. It is almost typical England (John Crawley made a living from this as the archetypal second innings Charlie) that they finally make some runs when they are so far behind the eight ball that it doesn’t matter aside from personal milestones. This hasn’t just been a sanity check or a bad day at the office, these things happen way to often just to be a bad day at the office, this has still been a thrashing –  something that anyone who is associated with this side should be embarrassed about given it was lost on day two. I’m going to give the bowlers a bit of pass here, as although they could have bowled better, certainly on day one by pitching the ball up more consistently, it is not they who have lost this Test for England, though the ironic thing is that one of them is most likely going to pay with his place in the team due to the sheer inadequacy of the England batting and fielding units. I think if you compared these two elements relatively to a village side’s expectations, then you would be doing village cricket a disservice, this was far worse. As I mentioned before, it’s not as if it has been coming, England have lost 10 wickets in a session 3 times more in the past 22 months than they did in the last 80 years, yet still we keep being told to take the positives and that the players are working hard to correct things. One question then, how long do these overpaid and mollycoddled individuals need? We’ve had gaping holes in our batting line up for more time than I remember, we have shown time and time again that we are more than capable of collapsing on the flattest of pitches against the most average of bowling attacks and quite simply things are getting worse not better.

You only have to show highlights of England’s batting in this Test to show quite how bad this unit is. The lack of technique against the new ball, the edging of deliveries to the slips which didn’t need to be played at, the lack of will and application to grind out a session in tough conditions and the general apathy about representing their country. This is not just the players’ fault, though they have to accept that they also have a big responsibility for this mess, but there just also seems to be no accountability in the coaching unit. Bayliss is babysitting the team until the next World Cup, Chuckles Farbrace normally only comes out in the media after a good session and we have a batting coach (whose contract has just been extended whilst England’s batting performances get worse) that averaged a jot over 27 with the bat and admitted that he was unable to deal with the intensity of Test cricket. Andy Flower is doing a great impression of not being remotely seen in public when England are performing badly and one dreads to think where Graves and Harrison are and what they are currently dreaming up. Joe Root, who in my opinion should not be captain being our best batsman by a mile, is the man who keeps getting hung out to dry in the media as the rest of the coaches and players hide behind their handsome salaries and hope no-one notices them.

Let’s not make any bones about it; this batting unit is a wreck. Cook’s eyes have gone and so has his hunger, the best thing Jennings could do is purchase a one way ticket back to Jo’burg, Root shouldn’t be batting at 3 with the added burden of the captaincy, Bairstow and Stokes (who played with some proper acumen today) often seem to play the same innings no matter what the match situation, Buttler (this innings apart as he played extremely well) has yet to show that he has the consistency to be a staple of the English batting line up and Pope is a young kid trying to find his way in the game. The batting line up of the 90’s was much maligned but they would absolutely stomp all over this line up. Can you imagine Jennings, Cook and Buttler et al facing Walsh & Ambrose or Wasim & Waqar, there would be absolute carnage. I bet this team wouldn’t make 100 between them most times. Time after time, collapse after collapse, this unit continues to fail apart from the odd ‘solo innings of excellence’ but here we are, still trying to fix the massive hole in the hull whilst the flood water continues to gush in, with a sticking plaster. Don’t even get me started about the fielding unit, if I have to see another ‘slack-jawed, derp-I-dropped-another-catch-face’ from either Cook or Jennings, then I’m going full ‘Michael Douglas – Falling Down’ on my way to the Oval. The fact that our brains trust can’t even successfully master how to catch a ball at slip, then what hope does the rest of the team have? We have dropped 15 slip catches in 3 games, do you know how hard that is to actually achieve? Now it’s well known that I’m not a fan of St. Jimmy of Burnley’s antics on the cricket pitch, but I would fully condone acts of extreme violence from Jimmy to either of these two butter fingered miscreants.

Do you know what though, this performance is exactly what England and the ECB deserve. The general incompetence and apathy that is the ECB, has manifested itself both on and off the pitch and to be fair the England cricket team now reflects its administrators; a team of greedy, shallow individuals who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. We have a former captain in the throes of batting decline, one who is so paranoid that he believes that the media is out to get him despite being the beneficiary of endless hagiographies during his career. We have just dropped a talented 20 year who was Man of the Match two games ago, because England’s thug of an all-rounder needs an arm round him after getting into trouble on a night out. We have marginalised county cricket so much that it is now irrelevant and unable to supply players to the national team anywhere near international standard, we have upset and marginalised the fans whose money is somehow not good enough, we have the Hundred too all in the name of a focus on white ball cricket by the ECB so that those at the top can still make a mint from the game, whilst the rest watch it burn to the sinews.

Yet back to this series and so poor has the display been that some of our friends in the media might write about their surprise at such a poor performance, even though this has been happening with alarming regularity. There may even be the odd murmur about Cook’s form, which has been consistently on the wane for the past few years. However, don’t expect it to last, before the week is out we’ll be talking about how ‘Cook can decide his own time to retire’ and ‘how important it is for England to hit back after Trent Bridge’ narratives and soon enough this game will be but a distant memory.  Just like every single horrific collapse and every single away tour has been over the past few years. Besides, what would motivate the ‘old boys’ at the top of the chain and their compliant media friends to make waves by doing what’s best for the team when malignant mediocrity pays exactly the same amount?

It’s just one Test.  But it’s not just one Test is it?  And short of a surprise monsoon tomorrow, being 2-1 up doesn’t alter that.

England vs. India, 2nd Test, Preview

So after catching our breath after what was a truly enjoyable First Test, we now head over to Lords where being seen with the right people is generally more important than the cricket and forking out the best part of £120 for a ticket is never an issue, and pay well over the odds for champagne is the done thing. One of the major things that made the First Test so enjoyable was the pitch that was prepared for Edgbaston had a bit in it for the bowlers, certainly when there was some overhead cloud cover. Sure the batting on both sides (Kohli aside) was pretty flimsy but credit to the bowlers who made the most of the conditions. This unfortunately is where Lords will differ to Edgbaston as Mick Hunt has never prioritised the entertainment of the crowd compared to ensuring that the game lasts well into the final day, after all this is the cash cow Test Match, so you may as well milk it whilst you can. I would expect there to be a little movement early on, but then the pitch should flatten out and make batting relatively serene for both sides certainly compared to Edgbaston. Whether either side has the batting quality (again aside from Kohli and Root) to take such advantage is still to be believed.

England have made two changes to their Test side with a certain balding, ginger all-rounder occupied elsewhere (that’s all you’re getting from me on that subject) and Dawid Malan being dropped after suffering a difficult time with the bat at home and an even worse time in the slips. I would have liked to see Malan succeed as a Test Player but as every innings rolled by, it looked more and more that the 100 he scored in Perth was going to be the exception rather than the norm. I was slightly surprised that Ed Smith stated he felt Malan would suit away conditions rather than home conditions, as this now pretty much rules him out of any home Test series in future. In his place, the exciting Ollie Pope has been called up on the weight of runs that he has scored this season and due to England’s new focus on youth. Would it maybe preferable to have called up a certain Ian Ronald Bell, who is scoring bucket loads of runs and hence let Pope consolidate his game in Division 1? Maybe so, but I can’t fault Smith’s focus on getting a young talent into the Test team. From the little I have seen of Pope live, he does seem to be more comfortable on the back foot rather than the front foot, so it will be interesting to see how his technique goes to the fuller ball, especially if it is swinging. That being said, he has looked supremely comfortable against county attacks this season and whilst Joe Clarke can feel a little unlucky at not being the next cab off the rank, I personally feel that Pope looks the better talent. One must hope that he can take his county form into the Test arena. I would expect Mr. Mediocre, Chris Woakes, to come in for said absent all-rounder unless the dry nature of the recent weather makes Lords a bit of a Bunsen burner, which I would highly doubt (one must have 4 full days of play at least one must remember).

As for India, Bumrah is still not fit so I would presume that they will stick with the same bowling attack that caused England all sorts of problems at Edgbaston. The main call for India is whether they decide to recall Cheteshwar Pujara to the starting line up after their own batting suffered the yips in the First Test. I believe Pujara hasn’t been in the best form this season, but it still surprised me that he was dropped for the First Test as his record against England in our country is miles higher than any of his counterparts. Dhawan looks like a walking wicket to me, so India really do need someone to soak up strike with the new ball to prevent Kohli being exposed too early to a new ball. Much has been written about Kohli in the First Test, quite rightly so as his performance with the bat was heroic; however he is going to need some support from his other batsmen as no matter how talented he his, he really can’t do it all on his own.

As ever thoughts and comments on the game are welcome below:

Look around, Choose your own ground…

In keeping with Dmitri’s musical themes for his posts, I thought I’d add a little bit of Pink Floyd into the mix. ‘Breathe, breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care’ seems especially poignant when it’s quite clear our governing body has constantly shown that they couldn’t care less anymore and there seems to be only a few of us trying to hold these individuals to some sort of account. I read with particular interest our guest article on the T100 yesterday and if you haven’t yet had a chance to read Steve’s excellent article, then I strongly urge you to do so. It was particularly of interest to me having watched most of what was a tight and hard-fought Test Match and from having headed down to the Oval on Friday night to see the habitual shoeing of Middlesex my first T20 game of the season. I’m not going to lie about the fact that my interest in cricket has waned dramatically since the end of the Pakistan series, as everyone knows on here that I’m not a fan of the 50 over white ball fare that has been served up in abundance this summer and quite frankly it’s hardly been fun following Middlesex’s plunge into mediocrity, hence my lack of output on the blog recently. I’ll also admit that I wasn’t as buoyant about the upcoming Test Series with India last week as I usually am for a high-profile Test Series having been worn down by England’s inability to pick anyone decent in the middle order, coupled with the complete farce that is the ECB’s modus operandi and the disgraceful rhetoric aimed at Adil Rashid from those that should know better, but for whatever reason prefer to personally insult an England cricketer for nothing more than accepting a call up to the national squad.

The first day of the Test was underwhelming from an England point of view and made writing a report of the day somewhat difficult when it seemed that another one-sided Test Match was on the cards. Test Match cricket is not to be underestimated though and the next 2.5 days provided a glimpse into why Test cricket can be so great. Sure there was some poor batting on display, but the regular twist and turns of this match, which is something that can’t be replicated in the white ball game, the unlikely rear-guard action by England, the Kohli Century and the tension of the final morning when both teams could have gone on to win the game, was a joy to behold. I’m sure that we’ll deep dive into the relative strengths and weaknesses of each side’s performance in the preview, but as TLG’s elegant post detailed on Friday, there was more to this than just the final result, it showed yet again why our governing body is so foolish to try to underplay the joy red ball cricket can bring to those who have the means to follow it, young or old. It was also good to see Kohli, whose Indian side has been said to prioritize white ball cricket ahead of red ball cricket in the past, come out and say:

“Test match cricket is the best format in cricket and my favourite. We love playing it and I’m sure every player will agree with me.”

It was also interesting that on my way to the Oval on Friday, the ground and certainly the seats in the playing area were half empty whilst the Test Match was going on and even once the game had started. I’m sure part of these were the ‘after work’ lot who head to the Oval for some sunshine and booze but there were many others who seemed to be more interested in what was going on at Edgbaston. I left work at 4:30pm and struggled to get into the pub next to the ground as it was one of the few places with the Test on and judging by the cheers and groans coming from the pub (I had to move outside as it felt about 90 degrees in there) that the majority were taking more than a passing interest in the Test rather than purely getting smashed in time for the game. I also joined a crowd of a good few hundred watching the Test under the very sweaty Oval covers (this was one of about 10 TV’s and the least busy) again highlighting the myth that all of those who attend T20 are disinterested in the longer format of the game. So why exactly do we need a new competition again? Once again surely access to the game is the main blocker for the audience, rather than a game of ‘comedy cabbage patch cricket’ aimed at a so-called new demographic who the ECB has yet to formally identify (the mother and kids thing is a loose justification as to why they feel the need to completely destroy the game of cricket).

img_1534
A packed ground at the Oval watching Surrey hit it to all parts

Now I’m aware that the T20 Blast has it’s faults, that it is too expensive certainly down south (the tickets for the Oval were £35, which is at least £15 too expensive in my opinion), that the English climate is not ideal for holding the competition in a block and that the nature of the 18 teams means that it is impossible to follow all of your team’s games unless you are willing to fork out serious dough (this is actually a blessing as a Middlesex fan). However the mad thing is and at the same time the major nail in the ECB’s plans for a game of cabbage cricket, is that the NatWest Blast set new records for ticket sales in 2017, with official attendance rising to 883,000 overall. Indeed Finals Day at Edgbaston was also a record sell-out, while average attendances among the 18 counties were up to 7500. This doesn’t exactly sound like a competition in crisis. I’m by no means a regular T20 visitor, but I’ll admit that Friday was good fun without being totally memorable (despite seeing two tons on a road of pitch). The Oval wasn’t as boisterous as it could have been, there were more individuals who were taking an active interest in the cricket rather than the contents of their overpriced beer cup and even the ‘after work city-lot’ whilst showing no real interest in the game (the ones in sat in front of me turned up after 8 overs had already been bowled) were at least quite pleasant and I’m a believer that England cricket can not be too stuffy as to turn their nose up at paying spectators. There can be a place where people prefer Test Cricket to White Ball cricket and vice versa, but are still interested in the game of cricket as a whole, rather than the excuse of a game the ECB have designed on the back of a fag packet in order to try to line their pockets whilst they still can.

So we have a growing T20 game albeit with some faults and a red ball competition with a solid base of supporters despite being pushed to the margins of the season (I’m not mentioning the 50 over lark, I’d abolish it if I could). Yet the powers that be in their infinite wisdom have decided that what we need more of is a competition that not only alienates its’ own cricket fans but has no proof of the concept of success whilst at the same pushing it’s current successful short ball competition and the red ball season into such obscurity to the extent that many might not know they exist anymore. The only way they could insult the counties and fans further would be to ask them to build the tusks and then paint the whole thing white. Seemingly no-one has had the sense to ask the common fan what they would like to see, despite many of them knowing more than the stooges at ECB head office could ever know. I’d lay my bottom dollar that many would simply reply with easy access to the cricket both in terms of viewing and visiting and for a successful national team, it seems even Paul Newman is gradually coming round to the idea:

Now many on the Sky side of the argument would argue that their input of finance into the game has allowed English cricket to put the finance into their facilities and paying their best players, though many of us lament the opportunity lost to cater for those ‘new fans’ who had been captivated by the Ashes in 2005. Now I would suggest that FTA on just television is not going to attract swathes of new followers though it would attract some, just as the new competition might attract the odd fool, but won’t be a drop on the ocean compared to the money spent on it. The way we consume media has changed and hence it’s now more about the ability to access the content rather than it running on ITV4. I mention this because the Counties have on the whole done a great job of running live feeds from the 4 day game, yet yesterday when there were a number of T20 games on around the country and no Test Cricket on the TV, not one was being shown by Sky. What a waste! Surely there needs to be an opportunity to screen those games that Sky aren’t showing on a local FTA stream much as they have done with the 4 day games. They could even develop 10 minute highlights packages for the kids who supposedly have no patience these days. Why not take a growing product and properly market it to those who could form a new audience? It doesn’t have to have all the mod-cons and camera angles as Sky provide, just a decent camera view and a local commentator giving their insight on the stream.

img_1532
Red Sky & Middlesex at night, Surrey’s delight…

Then we get to the real crux of the matter and the point in which I have been going slightly around this houses with in this piece (I could have written this in about 100 words, but it would have been a rather short and pointless article), which is that you could come up with the most wonderful and weird competition in the world and have the best marketing agency promoting this and it will still mean jack without success on the field.  Why do the ECB think that a large number of people turned up to the game at Edgbaston on Saturday knowing they would at best have 2 hours of cricket or why were so many people transfixed in the pub the previous evening? Let me share a little secret with the ECB, people are interested in Test Cricket especially when we have a competitive team playing good (but certainly not great) cricket. Yet this is the very thing that the new competition threatens, as the county championship which is supposed to be the breeding ground for our Test Players of the future, slowly keeps being pushed to the extremities to the point that the ECB won’t even promote it. What is going to happen when Anderson, Cook and Broad and the like retire? Who is there in County Cricket that has the talent and skill to replace these players and keep England competitive in the coming years? The answer looks like a frighteningly bare cupboard of talent certainly based on the Lions tour, with players who are only used to playing medium dobbers on damp, green pitches. It certainly isn’t Chris Woakes! Do you think there would have been as many people watching the game if England were being curb-stomped in the last Test? I think we all now know the answer to this.

So instead of trying to re-invent the wheel with 100 balls or 10 ball overs or the batsmen wearing flippers or whatever, how about the dolts at the ECB concentrate on something that might guarantee cricket’s future such as continued success on the field and wider access to all? It’s not exactly rocket science, but I’m still yet to be convinced this snake pit of greed and self serving even cares anymore. Make money whilst the sun shines and make yourselves scarce when the rain clouds gather. It’s only the game and the fans that will suffer.

Still as Pink Floyd once foretold: ‘Run, rabbit run, Dig that hole, forget the sun; And when at last the work is done; Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one.’ In truth I may have accidentally downloaded the modus operandi for ‘the hundred’ from the ECB’s PR department instead. I guess there’s no way to know these days…

England vs India, 1st Test, Day 1

Today marks the 1st August and England are only playing their 3rd Test match of the summer, which not only feels wrong but also feels insanely weird. One could almost say that the ECB are not prioritising Test Cricket anymore, but of course only a money grabbing, incompetent and quite frankly insane administrator would do that surely? Answers on a postcard please..

As Dmitri pointed out yesterday in his piece, this Test series has hardly caught the eye of the fans despite India’s large following in the UK. It could be indifference, it could be that the ECB has tried to milk the magic cow too often or it could well be the people are bored of shelling out top dollar to see an ordinary team that has had the same issues for the past few years playing the same brand of cricket that has hardly led to sustained success. This of course augurs badly for the rest of the series and potentially for series to come, with only Lords potentially guaranteed to sell out, and we all know that most of the individuals who do choose to go Lords are not that fussed about what happens on the cricket pitch as long as the Chablis is chilled and the lamb is pink! The ECB are already committed to holding 50% of all Test Matches in London over the coming years and certainly with the lack of advance ticket sales for Edgbaston for a series against one of the big 3 in an area that has a large Indian population, then we might be seeing that percentage increase in the coming years. After all, I would suggest many of the members of the ECB haven’t yet made it past the Watford Star.

There of course could be another reason why Joe Public has stayed away and the blame can be squarely aimed at Mr Graves and Mr Harrison, who have handled this T100 catastrophe with all the PR elegance of a drunken rhino. Those with a vested interest know that this is going to be a catastrophic balls up and have done from Day 1, but interestingly I feel that this has filtered through to the more occasional fan who might switch the cricket on at the weekend or might turn up to a game if they are invited. The absolute classless arrogance combined with the total incompetence that the ECB has displayed in trying to push through the 100 has not only alienated the loyal cricket fan but also those who might not have realized what a shit pit of self-serving incompetence that the ECB is. The alienation of those fans who love cricket but don’t quite fit the fancy ‘mothers and children demographic’ which some overpaid and under talented PR company has sold to the ECB, have been insulted with ’10 ball overs’, ’15 mans squads’ and ‘it’s not for you’ since day 1 and quite frankly they are f*cking sick of it. Naturally not everybody is in the same position, as Sky having paid massive overly the odds for the TV rights, keep sending out their resident clown to drum up support:

Anyone believe this village idiot? Nope thought not. Even the most one-eyed ECB supporter will be able to tell you that this has nothing about safeguarding red ball cricket, but a ruse to try to exploit their last big TV deal whilst cricket has some kind of an audience and for those at the ECB to rake in the cash whilst informing the players that they will not be eligible for a price rise. Sorry Bumble, you’ve shown your true colours to the world as an overpaid ECB stooge. Would the village that has lost their idiot kindly reclaim him please?

So after all this idiocy and counter-idiocy, we then get to the first Test against India and guess what, it’s the ex-pro and journo’s that decide to buy a big gun and promptly shot themselves in both feet. Both Chris and Dmitri have spoken about the treatment of Adil Rashid in more depth than I will, but I not only find the comments against him distasteful but quite frankly I find it pretty disgusting. I know Rashid ‘has had his card marked’ by some members of the written press, but some of the vile diatribe that has been spouted at him for the ‘heinous crime’ of accepting a call up to the England team, should have the perpetrators writhing in embarrassment. Of course these ‘broadcasters’ and I use that term extremely loosely will no doubt state that they should be allowed to publish their opinions; however I am certainly of the opinion that this should not be allowed to be printed in any of the national press. Leave them to the snake pit that is Twitter. In fact as normal, it was left to Michael Atherton to act as the only adult in town when speaking about the Rashid situation:

I certainly know from experience that there is nothing like unfair criticism and alienation to make a player ready and confident for their next game. Personally I hope Rashid stuffs their opinions down their throats but in reality, he can never win. The moment he bowls poorly, drops a catch or does anything else that the written press don’t approve of, then there will be howls of derision and the words ‘mentally weak’ bounded around for anyone that will care. Once the press have decided that you are not an ‘Alastair Cook type’, then your fair game for flack. Just ask Nick Compton.

Anyway, apologies about the slight rant and now onto the actual play today. England won what looked like it could be an important toss and chose to bat first on a pitch that doesn’t look like it will have any demons in it for the first 3 days. Indeed looking at England’s slightly makeshift bowling attack, I absolutely felt that England needed to make hay whilst the sun shines and put some serious runs on the board, which with hindsight looks again like hope over reality. Naturally England’s openers had a bit of trouble with the new ball swinging around and Jennings was lucky to dropped by Rahane from a decent ball from Ishant; however after England looked to have seen off the new ball, then Cook got a good nut from Ashwin, who perhaps unfairly has been cast as a home track bully, that beat him all ends up. I know it has been mentioned around a million times before, but it now more than ever seems to be feast or famine with Cook, with his last few scores of 13, 46, 1, 70, 14, 2, 2, 5, 10, 39, 244*, 14, 7, 16, 37, 2, 17, 10, 23, 11, 243 highlighting this fact that his game has been wildly inconsistent over the past few years (though one could argue that he has been very consistent and that the big scores are getting fewer and fewer). Dmitri also pointed out that Cook is now 11 days older than Ian Bell was when he was jettisoned from the England team after months of whispers that his eyes and hunger had gone and after a period of diminishing returns, despite there being no obvious candidate to replace him. Now I’m not suggesting England jettison Cook at this point in time, but it always amuses me how certain individuals are totally immune from criticism even when presented with hard facts.

England batted well for the rest of the session and went to lunch with relatively few scares and with Root and Jennings settled it did look like for a brief moment that England might be able to put a score on the board. Unfortunately that hope soon disappeared after lunch with the dismissals of Jennings, who can count himself mightily unlucky and then Malan who is looking less and less as the batsman that scored that century in Perth. I have been happy that the England team have given Malan a longer leash than some of his predecessors but we are now getting to the time where Malan now has to get a score in the next couple of innings or it’s likely he will playing county cricket before the end of the season. With England now 3 down with not much more than a 100 on the board, it was once again left to Messer’s Root and Bairstow to do their wine from water trick and again for a while, it looked like these 2 might have saved England’s bacon again. All was going well until both got out to completely needless dismissals with Root unnecessarily run out going for a 2nd run that was never there and then Bairstow chopping onto his stumps from a delivery that was never there to cut. I could easily mention the failure to once again convert a 50 into a match winning 100, but quite frankly it’s beginning to get a little boring now and something that the management needs to effect a change of mindset and quickly! Once Buttler and then Stokes were quickly dismissed by the Indian bowlers and despite a battling red inker for Curran, at 285-9, England are in the mire and well short of the 400 they needed to be competitive on what will remain a decent batting pitch for the next couple of days.

A word too for the Indian bowlers, who were all effective in different parts of the innings but also more importantly didn’t let England get away at any part of the innings. I felt before the series began that on paper the Indian bowling attack looked more potent than the English attack, especially with the dry weather neutering England’s normal tactic against India of producing green seamers. Ravi Ashwin in my opinion was the most threatening of all of the Indian bowlers today, using his guile and changes of pace and angle to befuddle many of the English batting attack. As I mentioned above, many have potentially seen Ashwin as a home-track bully, but based on his performances today, he is going to be a massive handful for the English batsmen for the rest of the series.

Day 1 has not been a good day for England and they desperately need a better Day 2 from the bowling attack; otherwise India could be out of sight by the time England bat again. Oh and just as a side point the paying public lost another 2 overs of action today. I wonder how many we’ll manage to lose over the whole series!

As ever thoughts are welcome on the game below:

England vs. Australia – 2nd ODI open thread

I’m not going to lie, none of the writers are particularly enthused by this ODI series. It feels like the ECB are punishing us once again, for the many that love Test Cricket, with as much white ball stuff as you can shake a stick at (sorry Sri). There is a ready made excuse that these are vital games in the build up to the 2019 World Cup, but many of us see this as a ruse to make some more money by advertising the fact that the ‘cheating’ Aussies are in town. Mind you, they do seem to have suddenly got very thin skinned over the course of the winter.

Still, whilst Malcolm Conn gloated his way in advance of the first ODI, Australia performed like the Scottish 2nd XI with the bat, only for England to do their best to try and grab defeat from the jaws of victory. A 3 wicket victory might well have pleased the English management but it was hardly a performance to write home about, my favourite moment being Moeen trying to launch the bowler into the Thames and majestically failing when a run a ball would’ve been easy enough to secure victory. Brave new England and all of that malarkey.

I doubt I’m going to see much of the game tomorrow, but for those that are bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and better at coming up with bad analogies than me, then please do comment below…

England vs. Pakistan, 2nd Test – The Ostrich Preview

Being the following act after such a strong and on the money piece that was written by Chris a couple of days ago is never an easy act to follow (we all grudgingly congratulated him in the pub last night with the rest of us wishing we had written it). It is also doubly hard when he has basically commented on everything I planned to say alongside the fact that this is simply a Test Match preview. So after the Lord Mayor’s show so to speak…

Whatever the heat Messer’s Graves and Harrison felt before the last Test with their half-arsed 100 ball plan and the ridicule that has rightly come with it, that heat has now turned into a furnace after the debacle of England’s performance in the first test. I didn’t actually get to watch most of the game but it would not be too strong to suggest that absolutely no positive came out of that game, bar the fact that none of our players got a catastrophic injury. It was a farce from start to finish, from Root’s decision to bat first, to watching England’s top order collapse in a heap not once but twice, to watching Pakistan’s bowlers who had very limited experience in these conditions completely embarrass England’s so called ‘best new ball attack of all time’. I would say I felt for the majority of the fans who paid the best bet of 100 quid for the privilege of watching such a spineless performance, but then I remember the game was held at Lords and most of the spectators are there for company networking and to be seen as part of the ‘old boys club, and to whom the cricket most definitely comes second, and then I happily remembered that I couldn’t care less!

This Test Match was the perfect riposte to the hollow words that have emerged out of the ECB over the past few years that Test cricket is the hallowed game (Graves, Harrison and Strauss have the unenviable reputation of making Hugh Morris, David Collier and David Morgan look not only competent but as the guardians of English cricket). The lack of investment in grass roots cricket, the wilful demolition of county cricket, the sheer corporate greed, treating the fans as commodities and then the obsession with T20/T100/dumbing down the sport lie squarely on the shoulders of the ECB. If this was a court then the ECB would have been tried and executed on the grounds of homicide. The gaping holes in the batting line, the over-reliance on two quick bowlers who are coming to the end of their career and the lack of a spinner, all of which were highlighted in our pathetic but unsurprising performance in the last Test is quite simply what the ECB (and not the fans) deserve for years of lip service and a criminal under investment in our red ball game. And guess what? This isn’t even close to the nadir yet! When Cook, Anderson and Broad finally retire in the next couple of years, the pipeline of talent behind them is completely desolate, a very real consequence of greed taking precedence over the health of the sport that they are supposedly the guardians of. It’s all very well for Shiny Toy to call for either Anderson or Broad to be dropped for the next game, but who exactly is going to replace them?? If Ed Smith didn’t think he was in for a challenge when he accepted the Chief Selector role then he has had a very rude awakening, this is the most poisonous of chalices. Of course, Smith could ban all players from social media from now on, but contrary to Simon Hughes’ hair brained and quite baffling declaration that it was this medium that has caused all of England’s travails, I’m afraid the problem is a little more terminal than that. Something the ‘rent-a-quote’ duo either don’t get or willfully choose to ignore.

3B83655800000578-4101778-image-a-32_1483963582209

So off we head to Headingley, with little time for England to lick their wounds after the thrashing at Lords and for me, it will be interesting to see what type of appetite the natives have for the match, considering they had the rare the luxury of a late season Test last season. The current omens look good mainly down to the sensible pricing and promotion of the Test by Yorkshire and the fact that we won’t have a repeat of two teams in the North East fighting for spectator hearts and minds in concurrent Tests against teams that aren’t India or Australia. This is by no means to denigrate the appetite for cricket in the North East, who are some of the most passionate fans out there, nor to denigrate the level of opponent as Pakistan showed in the last Test, but concurrent Tests in the same geographic region was just madness (I certainly know one individual, who will be netting the profits from the advertising around the ground that will be happy at the lack of the competition).

As for the game itself, then Pakistan should surely be in the unusual situation of being favourites away from home. Certainly if they can bat and bowl like they did in the first test, then a very weak England batting line up and an egotistical, old and inconsistent bowling department could be in trouble once again. England have done the merciful thing by dropping a completely out of touch Mark Stoneman, who has looked like he has been batting with a matchstick this season, with the fairly uninspiring choice of Keaton Jennings. Whilst Jennings has scored some runs this season for Lancashire with one century, he still only has a batting average of 43 this season compared to 26 last season, which hardly suggests that he is pulling up trees in county cricket. It will be interesting to see if Jennings has made any tweaks to his technique after being ruthlessly exposed by the South African pace trio last season or whether we will see much of the same – mind you the black cab rank is pretty much empty at the moment. It is also likely that we will see Woakes replace Mark Wood as I would imagine that the England ‘brains trust’ see Headingley as a pitch where you need to pitch it up more and combined with the pitiful contributions from the tail all winter and in the last game. Woakes at least should give them a little bit of stability at 8. Without watching any of the last Test, it is hard for me to properly asses Mark Wood’s performance though I have had heard that his pace has consistently dropped in the 2nd and 3rd spells of the game. It is hard to know whether this is a fitness thing or a confidence thing, but it surely can’t be good for Wood to be bouncing in and out of the team on the whim of the selectors. I think England either have to stick with him all summer or let him go back to the county game (when it eventually starts again) to try and rebuild his fitness, but thinking about it, when has the good of the player ever been on the radar of the English coaches.

This is also an important Test for Joe Root as it has been pointed out that if England lose the series, then they slip down to number 7 in the Test rankings. Root has looked like he is carrying the world on his shoulders over the past 6 months, rather than the happy, cheeky chap he was before he was lumbered with the captaincy. Without doubt, this has not only affected his batting but all the current firefighting has quite possibly carried over to the rest of the team, who have looked anything but a team over the last few months. If England were to lose this game, I like many, am of the opinion that we need to find another captain within the squad. Root scoring runs is by far the most important thing we can ask of him and if the captaincy is wearing him down, then we need to find an interim captain for the next 18 months. Trevor Bayliss will also probably be sweating on the outcome of this Test, as whilst he has done a great job with the ODI side, the Test side smacks of staleness with the Test team knowing that Bayliss will be gone after 2019; after all we have seen in other sports what happens when a manager is pretty much dead man walking, the players stop giving that an extra 10% and often rely on their judgements rather than the instructions of the coaching staff. Still after the few months that the ECB’s have just had, is there anyone out there who doesn’t think they will bungle it? I look forward to Nick Knight being given the Test coaching job in the near future!

For those that have the inclination, please do share your thoughts below: