If a Wicket Falls and Everyone is Asleep, Did it Really Happen?

So there we go, the pitch ultimately won, as always seemed likely, and Australia batted out the day comfortably in the end.  The only point at which it livened up was when David Warner played what must count as one of the worst shots of his entire career, and Shaun Marsh was unlucky enough to get a genuinely good ball.  At effectively 16-4, Australia were in some trouble.  But that was as rocky as it got, and while the play was as turgid as the pitch, it was also a masterclass in saving a Test match.

Probably the area where England do deserve some credit is how well they bowled on the second day, for Australia’s first innings total was ultimately some way below par.  England’s response was excellent, and of course Cook’s innings extremely fine, but the degree of comfort with which Australia batted out the day placed all before it in context.  Losing half a day to poor weather was unfortunate, but there were few indications that it made that much difference given England bowled 124 overs for just four wickets second time around.

On the plus side, England arrested a run of seven consecutive away defeats, although it’s still only their second draw in ten, and likewise a run of eight consecutive away defeats in Australia.  These are pretty small crumbs of comfort and the backdrop of that is hardly cause for much celebration.  Moeen Ali has been fundamentally poor this whole series, and while it’s not so surprising that he’s struggled with the ball, he’s also had problems with the bat.  He must be vulnerable for the final Test, and how responsible his finger injury may be is open to question.  It would hardly be the first time England have picked a player who is unfit and then been surprised they haven’t done well.  England’s batting problems have been presumably the reason for reluctance to pick Mason Crane, but the same old question arises – what is the point of him being on the tour if the primary spinner is struggling so badly that Root and Malan are the ones turned to on the final day.  To put it another way, had either Adil Rashid or Samit Patel been available – and never forget they were both discarded summarily, and it seems not for cricketing reasons – it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have been brought in, if only because both can bat.

Other than that, Stuart Broad was much improved this time around, and while he remains as divisive a character as ever, he was admirably frank about his own shortcomings this series, only to see his words deliberately misinterpreted and used against him in yet another tiresome jab from the Australians.  George Dobell called out the “bullshit” in an unusually annoyed article that rightly mentioned all the times England have been equally guilty of it.

Melbourne usually provides a good Test, and a result.  Here they clearly got the surface preparation wrong, and it ended up the kind of wicket certain to kill any interest in the game and drive viewers to the Big Bash with batsmen unable to score freely and bowlers unable to take wickets.  They’ve had plenty of criticism for that, but c’est la vie, it’s not a normal state of affairs, and in truth England should be grateful for it, as on the showing so far, that was the only way they were going to avoid another pasting. 

Maybe that’s harsh, but with Starc back for Sydney, and a more responsive pitch, it is surely not unlikely normal service will resume.  How Cook performs will be intriguing, not in that it should be expected he repeats a double century, but if he looks as good at the crease as he did in Melbourne.  He’s a funny player in so many ways, when he’s technically off he looks truly dire, and it’s unusual to see a player so visibly battle his technique on such a regular basis.  The SCG will have more pace (not hard) and it may answer a few questions about how much he’s changed his game.  Here he appeared so much more upright in head position and balance.  Irrespective of series position of preposterous media response, that’s as good as he’s looked technically in three years.

After the game there were the usual platitudes from both sides, and the usual statements of regret at not winning, but above all else it was just dull, viewers drifting off to sleep in Australia, let alone England.  

Grateful as they may be for it, 3-0 down with one to play is no position of joy.  The torture tour is not over yet.


India v England – Match Drawn

Maybe we’ll do a more considered piece later, but some immediate reactions are always worthwhile:

  • The declaration – I hate declaration speculation and pretty much always side with the skipper when it comes to them. For example, in the West Indies in 2009, I could understand both Andrew Strauss’s declarations where the opposition were left 8 or 9 down at the end. So, unlike others, I’m not going to lambast Cook over the timing of the declaration. I also have to say that I was asleep until the Indian innings had begun, and with those wickets in hand we might have scored a little more quickly but that is easier said than done. There is no way our media is going to say we didn’t score quickly enough because that would be to criticise our captain, and we aren’t having that. That one member of the media felt it necessary to retweet Alison Mitchell’s pro-Cook piece in TCP immediately after the game finished speaks volumes. As does someone tweeting that this was one of Cook’s best tests as captain (er, really? On what basis?), the message requirement speaks more than the words they contain. Cook did what 95% of international captains would do. Maybe that’ll stop one former correspondent for saying how influential BMac has been on our game after 2015. In summary, we might have batted more quickly, but it’s at the margins.
  • Hameed’s 82 is a really promising start, but just that. Gary Ballance made test hundreds in his second, fifth and sixth tests, with a 71 in the fourth and 74 in the third. I am not doing this to be a killjoy, a malcontent, a churl. I’m doing this to inject some realism. We need a new opener in the worst way. We love the fact the kid is 19. Brilliant. Young talent, temperament to die for, a great story. But he couldn’t get a game in Bangladesh and so there were obviously doubts. He has a career best of 122, so he’s not pummeling in massive hundreds yet. So let’s wait before we anoint him the king of the hill. Why rush to excitement when we’ve been disappointed before after great starts. The other day marked the birthday of Ben Hollioake. Remember how he looked to the manor born on his international debut? Remember how difficult it was to establish yourself in the game once people have seen you play? Remember how Joe Root had a horrible time, and was dropped? Let’s be measured here.
  • Adil Rashid did not win man of the match (but someone tweeted he did – sorry) but had a top match. I could laugh my head off. In fact I will. Stack that fragile, luxury, card marked agenda away for a couple more tests, pundits. He is an attack weapon, not a stock bowler. If he can be our Stuart MacGill, an attacking expensive bowler who took wickets at a rare old click, we should be delighted. Anyone watching notice how Nasser did a complete “Shiny Toy” on Rashid saying we had found a wicket-taking spinner (then qualifying it by saying for one test). We don’t have memories of goldfish Nasser. He was fragile a few days ago. Well bowled Adil, you did your fans proud. I’m sure Bob Willis will be gracious enough to admit his error on The Verdict.
  • Overall – a really good England performance. Four centuries and a good debut by HH. A couple of “what ifs” but none we should really dwell upon. This blogger never thought we’d lose 5-0. One of the reasons is that the Indian batting “ain’t all that” despite the hype. Gambhir opening was a joke. Ashwin at six is at least one place too high on wickets like these. It just takes a little weakness and the chasm could open. Of course, that goes for us too, but this team, as it stands, looks balanced. Of course, there are vacancies in the bowling, despite in the same circumstances as Anderson finds himself now, KP had “no vacancies in the middle order” (don’t laugh). They’ll find a way in for Jimmy, and the rumours are it will probably be Ansari now (as the bigging up of Joe Root’s spin seemed to hint at in the evening session comms). In a test where three spinners seemed to be confirmed as the right way to go, it now appears as though we’ll think of four seamers instead. I do hope they are wrong.
  • For information, Stuart Broad now averages 125.6 with the ball in India after his match figures of 1 for 80-odd.

I enjoyed the bits of the Rajkot test I saw, and it reaffirmed five day tests brilliance in my eyes. Reaction and all the other stuff to follow. Comment away….

UPDATE – On the man of the match thing…

I love you India….