Playing catchup in a series, especially a short one, does tend to rather focus minds somewhat, and while it is not in the make up of anyone even remotely associated with the ECB to admit to an error, the 12 announced for tomorrow’s match at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium (let’s be honest, we all miss the Antigua Recreation Ground) by England are as much a tacit recognition of a first Test balls up as is ever likely to be the case. Broad is back in and seems certain to play, Jennings is out in favour of Joe Denly as the revolving door of England openers shows no sign of slowing down. More notable is the dropping of Adil Rashid, a player who might not be the Shane Warne standard that he appears he has to be in order to get any credit, but isn’t the clueless ingenue he gets all to often painted as either. More strikingly with him is the clear lack of any clue as to how to use him, either from the captain or the coaching team. If he’s not going to bowl more than a handful of overs, there’s little point playing him.
As ever, there are cases to be made both for and against any individual instance, but the inability of English sport across the board to be able to handle flair and individuality, whether on or off the field is a constant. It isn’t that Rashid in this instance deserves defending for his performance in the last Test, it’s that it’s impossible to ever know with such players how good they might be, so determined is the sporting culture to force them down narrow channels. This happens at elite youth level all too frequently to begin with, discipline too often coming to mean an insistence on conformity.
There is a consistent focus on what players can’t do rather than what they can. The idea that Rashid can be a stock bowler in Tests is absurd, yet so much of the criticism aimed at him consists of complaints about his accuracy and economy – it’s such a very English thing to do. None of this means that he is the answer to all our prayers, nor that his on field performances shouldn’t be criticised, but the pre-disposition in so many quarters to hold him to a standard he could never possibly achieve is simply bizarre, while the lack of scrutiny over how he is used is a failure of analysis.
Still, Denly can bowl a few leggies if asked, while Rashid can focus on more important personal matters.
For Jennings, there must now be serious questions over his future. He probably does have the aptitude for it, but his technical problems have become a major barrier for him. He has time to go and put that right, but it could be a long haul.
For Stuart Broad, with his new, more economical run up and work on his action, much will be expected. Not because of anything much more than that his omission was deemed in some quarters more culpable for defeat than the abysmal batting display in the first innings and the in some ways worse in the second. Being out of a losing side is one of the best ways to improve a reputation after all.
In the West Indies camp all is serene, the victory in Kensington most obviously allowing the clear anger at a perceived lack of respect to be vented from a position of strength. And why not either.
The weather for tomorrow seems similar to today, cloudy with showers. The dash from the beach to the room in a downpour will have earned me all the sympathy I’m expecting.
Tomorrow morning I daresay I might liveblog it and see how that goes down.
It seemed inevitable. Inexorable. Virat Kohli had removed his helmet, put on his India cap and settled down for the Adil Rashid over. He was on 95. He was preparing to celebrate his hundred, and he’d very much like to do it in that over.
First ball. He blasted a ball through the covers for 2 to take him to 97. Second ball played defensively. Ultra aggressive, he under edged a drive third ball. Robert Key in the commentary box exhorted Adil to bowl it at his pace, not to push it through. Fourth ball, pushed forward. No run. Nothing from ball five. Last ball of the over. A floated delivery, a flash as Kohli clearly wanted to bring three figures up with a cap on and with an expansive drive, an edge, and Stokes pouches a catch at first slip. For the first time in quite a while I jumped up and punched the air. That, Adil, is a first innings scalp, bowled your way, and on a wicket not taking spin at all.
While this was an important moment in the day’s play it was the two hours or so that preceded it that set the tempo of the game. When Kohli and Rahane were going strong in their partnership India took a vulnerable lunchtime position and converted it into a position of ascendancy. Rahane showed a decent return to form, while Virat was just Virat. India showed some resiliency, a willingness to fight and to compete with England. That we are not taking this for granted might be a signal of the problems facing test cricket, but it is welcome nonetheless. Rahane’s 81 might signal more runs in the next few games.
India finished the day on a duff note with Pandya falling to Anderson at the end of the 87th over, where, despite it being 6:26, the umpires decided enough was enough and wandered off, whereupon we will fondly remember the three overs not bowled today. 307 for 6 is a delicate position on a wicket that gave plenty of help in the morning but does lack pace. It could bring spin into the game as it goes on, but then the experts tell us that Nottingham doesn’t take spin. What it looks like is England have a lot of work to do. We don’t react well to first innings scores over 250, and this is a chance to rectify that.
Those early exchanges after England won the toss and inserted India were ominous. While Dhawan and Rahul accumulated runs, and certainly showed ample commitment and desire, the element of danger was there with swing and movement. One of those smug little stats twitter feeds was telling us that there was more swing than when Broad was bowling out Australia in 2015. That’s nice. How can we know if that’s true or not, sitting at home? I digress. Anderson and Broad got a lot of movement but couldn’t make the breakthrough. Root, no doubt trying to get Stokes into the game, took Broad off, and the batting became easier as the pugilistic all-rounder wasn’t on his game. Woakes came on, removed Dhawan who nicked off to slip, Rahul with an LBW that survived a review, and on the stroke of lunch, Pujara who hooked the ball right down Adil Rashid’s throat, which put an end to the tireless “he didn’t do anything for his money” at Lord’s cobblers.
I must confess I did not see much of the afternoon session, as last night’s post-work session took hold and there was a hangover to get shot of! But while I was sleeping wondering why I’d had that extra pint, India accumulated. There were copious mentions of “Chief Executive’s Pitches” and England not providing a total green-top (and then we’ll wonder why our spin bowlers will struggle), and some mentioning that why England losing is good for test cricket is nonsense. The 159 partnership put them past the 200 mark for just the second time in 10 test innings in England (or something like that). Rahane was more fluent, but Kohli more ominous. When the breakthough came, I was hanging on to Sky Sports Saturday and Millwall leading 2-1, when I saw Lawrence Booth’s tweet about a “staggering catch”. I switched over to see a very decent left hand grab to a ball Bairstow should have nabbed. Very good catch, excellent reactions, but it was probably only staggering for Cook. I’m seriously not trying to be a curmudgeon here, but it’s one of those you stick your hand out and go “eff me” when it sticks. I think all of us who have played the game even at our crap levels might have had the same feeling. We had “greatest ever Cook catch” competitions, and the game rolled on. Hardik Pandya came out to bat, and the vendetta Holding seems to have against him continued. It’s almost Selfey/Rashid levels.
At time of writing, Mike Selvey has not commented on the Rashid dismissal of Kohli. His attention was drawn to Cook’s catch, but evidently Rashid’s dismissal has not got through. We await the tablets of stone.
Once Kohli was dismissed, Risabh Pant decided that test cricket needed a bit of livening up and smashed his second ball in tests into the stands. Rashid laughed, and that’s all you can do. Pant has been a talent, no doubt, with a first class triple under his belt, but you have to admire his cheek! He’s still there at close of play.
Woakes took three wickets, the first three, with Rashid, Broad and Anderson one apiece. They will bowl worse and take more, bowl better and take fewer. It was that kind of day. A decent day’s test cricket. The game is very nicely poised.
Some comments, finally, on the commentary today. Put TMS on for the chippie run tonight, and switched it off after two minutes of Swann. He’s just bloody insufferable. Dagnall didn’t help either. While on the shopping run I heard Prakash Wakankar commentate. Absolutely magnificent. He commentated on the game, added some insight and appeared to show his love of the game and passion for it. Not as a vehicle for self-promotion or a comedy routine. How welcome.
Meanwhile on Sky, I’m sorry, but David Lloyd is not a national treasure, and it was very funny to see when he was doing that tired old conversation with two members of the public who were listening to the feed, the director could not end it quickly enough. There was also a very odd moment when a young lad came into the commentary box for no apparent reason other than it was his birthday tomorrow. Bizarre. Then in the afternoon we had fishing stories. It’s all very well trying to mimic TMS, but you are on TV, not radio and sometimes silence or commentating on the game works so much better. David Gower spent his first commentary slot, on with the superb Sangakkara (I love writing the name just for the double k – does that make me a white supremacist?), prattling on and on and on, like a rambling old man. It was atrocious and he crowded out probably Sky’s trump card. Robert Key was also on, and was excellent, because (a) he put the bantz stuff away and (b) he provided insight and perceptive comment, especially leading up to Kohli’s wicket.
OK, enough from me. I’m handing the duties over to Chris for tomorrow, when I am out and about, and on Monday too, I think, as I’ll be at Surrey v Lancashire. This has the potential to be another good game, and that, after all, is what we should really want. Isn’t it?
Two of cricket’s “Big Three” meet in a five test series played over six weeks to determine who holds the Pataudi Trophy.
This is what the pinnacle of the game should look like. World Ranked number 1, against the sleeping giant waiting to give the top team a bloody nose. A contest in the offing.
There are many sub-plots to the ensuing drama, tempting, tantalising, invigorating and fascinating.
How will Virat Kohli cope after the failure in the tests of 2014 when one could be forgiven for thinking that he was out of his depth?
How will the old stagers of Anderson and Broad cope with the furious pace of this series with tests coming on top of each other with little chance of recuperation?
How will England’s batting cope with the Indian spin bowling, and seam too, after years of low output?
How will India’s batting cope with alien conditions, but potentially less alien given the summer we’ve had?
It should be great. Not only for the ECB coffers, for which this is a bumper year with the Indian TV money, but for the fans. They should be lapping it up.
But yet again there is a hollow feeling. A feeling that it might not just be the players going through the motions at the end of this series. A feeling that test cricket, shunted, like the county championship, to the end of the summer (and May), is going through the motions. And as I’ve said many times on this blog, a sense I am going through the motions too. There is only so much anger left to give. This series might epitomise all that is great in test cricket, but we’ve been let down before. This series might garner huge support for the game, but this is the ECB we are talking about, and while they say test cricket is the pinnacle and the long-form fans are their lifeblood, this doesn’t look like it to me. It’s August before this starts.
In their critique of the US emergency services, Public Enemy could well have been talking of the upper echelons of the England and Wales Cricket Board in this part of 911 is a Joke (which, believe it or not, was once covered by Duran Duran);
They don’t care cause they stay paid anyway They treat you like an ace they can’t be betrayed
Well, the morgue truck, to quote the same song, is getting ready to “embalm the goner” if the stories emanating from the ticket sales outside London are to be believed. It appears as though the English cricket public is not exactly enthused with the test match upcoming and is voting with its feet. It may be prices, it may be an England team that appears in the doldrums, it may be the customer experience isn’t what they want, it may be the barmy scheduling, but there appears to be a serious issue if the world’s best test team, and a home team with a decent chance of beating them, can’t draw in the crowds. Remember when appointment to view was an important concept, you know with certainty of start dates? Good luck Edgbaston, with Days 4 and 5 at the weekend. Good luck all. Edgbaston on Wednesday, Lord’s on Thursday, Trent Bridge on Saturday, Southampton on Thursday, The Oval on Friday. These are your Day 1s. The Oval starts when the kids are back at school, which is terrific (I know it is not unprecedented). It’s little wonder the cricket fan is confused. We know who this schedule caters for, and it isn’t the punter at the gate.
But then, how can I exhort the punter to turn up and keep test cricket alive and so on, when I’ve not been myself. Well, after six years away from the Oval Test, which I attended every year for 15 years, many for multiple days (but not Day 5 in 2005), I am due to be attending the first day of the game, weather permitting, on 7 September. Any BOC’ers there that day, please let me know. This is a decision I’ve made because I’ve just not had the chance to see much cricket this year, and I need to stock up on my photo pool! That I’ve not gone has been due to the lack of comfort at The Oval, the exorbitant prices for food and drink, the increase in test prices (and restrictions on how many can be bought) and that instead of enjoyment, it became an ordeal. The ECB and the hosting grounds would do well to pay attention. Sure, you’ll sell out the Ashes if you held it in a car park, but you are seeing what happens with the other teams. Even India.
But that’s enough of that. You’ll probably get more when I can be bothered with my India series memories.
Focusing on tomorrow and the rest of the summer, this series is, as many are, key for a number of reasons. India do not look like a team that needs the endorsement of others to keep it’s inner assurance, and even a defeat here in England will not shake that. There’s a swagger they have which is in many ways something we should aspire to. There’s too much being the “nice guy” which the English media and many who watch want us to be while still winning. To me this most manifested itself in the disparaging of the 2013 Ashes performance. Australia, if genuine, are going to find it tough balancing these two objectives.
The swagger, for want of a better word (confidence?), is embodied by Virat Kohli, their captain, but others have it too – Ashwin, Rahane, Dhawan, Rahul, Vijay and even Ishant. This is a really good team playing, possibly, in really alien circumstances. Pitted against English seam they will soon prove if they are the 1986 model, that came here in early summer and tore us apart, or the 2011 model, that disintegrated once the first test was concluded (Rahul Dravid magnificently excepted). The most recent series in England promised much after India’s sensational Lord’s win, but petered out in exhaustion and possibly lack of commitment. India are driven so hard internationally, that it really can’t be reasonable to expect them to have unbridled enthusiasm and unlimited energy for every series. This is what is holding test cricket back. Fresh teams bring fresh cricket. But it’s pile ’em high for boards around the world and damn the quality. The mug punters will still pay.
Back to the contest itself. From England’s standpoint it’s the batting. The bowling will have its question marks, of course, but it’s the batting that worries me. Starting with the captain. Joe Root is now in the land of needing to score centuries, and big centuries, to ward off the critics. We’ve been waiting quite a while, but then you look at Cricinfo and it was the first test of last summer’s series when he made 190. It was two years ago he made 254. There was a 136 in the West Indies series in 2017. Prior to that he made a 124 in India. He’s making a century in nearly every series, just going a couple without one over the winter, and never going more than three innings without making a 50, dating back to the end of the Pakistan series in 2016 and the start of the Bangladesh one that Autumn. Root knows and the pressure is on. But should it be?
England welcome back Ben Stokes for this test match having missed the Pakistan series, but, of course, he’s not going to be around next week for other reasons. Stokes is a key component in this team and will be welcomed back for cricketing needs, but his role also matters in that he will influence both ends of the card in terms of team make-up. Could he be the trusted third seamer to allow England to play two spinners, or do we need to add another seam bowler, possibly at the expense of a batsman.
Keaton Jennings, after the magic beans of the last test where all the pundits sagely nodded to confirm that his technical difficulties were a thing of the past, is the second opener, aka, The Hot Seat. Jennings has good memories of India, where he made a hundred on debut replacing Hameed, but has done precious little since. Another run of failures, and a few more scores for Burns if he gets a chance to play any cricket, might ramp up the pressure some more. I wish him well, if only so that Rory gets to lead Surrey to the championship!
Dawid Malan is the subject of whispers, as he’s not had a prolific summer. It would seem harsh to jettison him but I can’t help get the feeling is that he’s not quite up to it. I’d love to be proved wrong, because Perth didn’t appear a fluke, but there’s the cloud over him. Another century would be welcome.
Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler give the team exciting potential. It’s nice to have some buzz. Buttler was the star of the first series this summer, but he still has a lot to prove in the test game. Bairstow is about as near a thing there is to being a nailed on selection.
Which brings me to Alastair Cook. Now I have to admit, the reaction to anything this guy does now is one of the reasons I have gone off blogging. Cook is the sort of individual player that attracts a reaction far beyond what he manages on the field. Cook should be opening the batting for England until he’s not the best opener there. Be it through bad form, or two others make a compelling case to leave him out, a la KP and Bell forcing out Thorpe. Anything I say on Cook now that isn’t part of the party line is jumped on. There is the Anti-Cook blog nonsense, the failure to recognise that 244 in a less than live rubber isn’t anywhere near the achievement of a 235* in the first test of the series, the back to his best when he isn’t. Cook needs to have a series where he makes more than one century, and the rest aren’t below 40. Cook and Root have a similar hundred problem, remember the former going the best part of two years without one, but Root strings scores together. Cook is still England’s number one opening bat. But me saying that will never be good enough because of how I reacted after Kevin Pietersen. Because I pointed out how long he was going without scores. That he wasn’t back to his best. That he wasn’t a terrific captain. It’s wearing on the soul, but I’m not going to back down.
I have no real comments on the bowling. Anderson and Broad are permanent fixtures until they either get injured or retire, and a third seamer in the absence of Woakes until he’s fit (certainly in England) has hardly put their hand up. Sam Curran might play, but I think it’s too soon. Jamie Porter might play, but isn’t he just another fast-medium home team bowler? If the wickets do something, or we revert to a proper English summer again, then all might be dandy. That’s to be seen.
So what do I want from the five tests? A really competitive series would be great. If this was 2-2 going into the Oval it would be brilliant. India can win overseas against teams stacking pitches in their favour, and Kohli seems right up for this one. Pujara has to have a decent series, and he’s in horrendous form. Dhawan might be too flaky for tests, while it would be great to see what Rahul can do. Then there is my main man, Mr 303, MTTTT (more test triples than Tendulkar), Karun Nair waiting in the wings. Love to see him get a game. The Indian bowlers need to stay fit and bowl well, something they haven’t done on the previous two tours for the duration. Then again, England’s rickety batting may keep India in all the games, and if it comes down to a battle on good surfaces, I think India are well in it. Last time we met at Edgbaston in a test, England posted 700, Sehwag got a king pair, and Pringle criticised Cook for being too slow in his 294, even though we won with a day to spare. We’ve moved on, but we haven’t.
Comments on Day 1 and the test preview below but for some fun, perhaps you’d like to respond to a few questions below in the comments to get your views. I’m not saying “Have Your Say” because I hate that.
Who wins the series, what score (and why)?
How many hundreds for Virat Kohli?
How many hundreds for Joe Root?
Key player for each team
How many total centuries for England over the five tests?
Finally, Adil Rashid. He may not even play. I have been utterly appalled by the treatment of Rashid this last week. As I see it Ed Smith took the leap, asked Rashid if he wanted to play test matches, Adil said yes and Smith picked him. The county cricket impacts are on Smith, not Rashid. The moaning about Yorkshire is on Smith, not Rashid. The whingeing about stabbing county cricket in the heart are about Ed Smith, not Adil Rashid. You could have fucking fooled me.
The one thing that gets me with our media and pundits is that they never learn. The one thing that riles me is that they bully players, they have their favourites (not many pieces calling for Cook to be sacked, were there, yet Cook believes the media is against him), yet this is following yet another line. Look at who has been sorted out recently – Nick Compton for one. Kevin Pietersen polarised opinion but the media had made up their mind. Now Rashid, who has been in the cross-hairs for two years at least. This has been turned from Rashid picked by a selection committee to play for England when perhaps they shouldn’t have to Adil being a mouthy, mercenary, not all that cricketer who needs to shut up and know his place. By people in houses made very much of glass. I don’t absolve those now who latch on to the Fitzwilliam Foghorn’s piece and say that’s not what THEY mean. Leave off. It’s precisely what you mean, and you know it. Ed Smith has gone out of his way for Adil Rashid. Not good enough to do that, not respectful enough, speaks out when mouth on legs have a go at him, and worst of all, disrespects Yorkshire. It seems strange for Adil to be the hill that Ed Smith dies on, so let’s pick on Adil for a change.
And he might not even play. (STOP PRESS – HE IS. AS THE ONLY SPINNER)
Mixed feelings is the lot of most people for most eventualities in life – good things can happen, but with a caveat. Absolute certainty is forever dangerous, the prerogative of the zealot. Thus it is that England’s 5-0 demolition of Australia in the Meaningless Ashes series evokes several different responses and emotions.
To begin with, the pain of realisation that we are barely a third of the way through the white ball international schedule can be tempered with enjoying the clear irritation displayed by Malcolm Conn, as his beloved Cricket Australia Australian cricket team were demolished by the side he gleefully reminded had been beaten by Scotland. Whether fans or press pack, looking forward to the latest surly, childish tweet from him was always a delight.
Equally, England’s batting line up repeatedly fired, and while Jos Buttler deservedly got many of the plaudits (especially for the extraordinary knock in the final match), he was anything but alone. Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales were all at different times utterly devastating, while Eoin Morgan, without quite getting the volume of runs of his team mates, destroyed Australia’s bowling when he got going. An England batting line up where Joe Root appears to be something of the weak link has something seriously going for it.
Of course, for various reasons this wasn’t Australia’s best side, but the absence of players through suspension cannot be used as any kind of excuse, any more than it could in the winter when a player was missing from the England side for legal reasons. Injuries perhaps, for Australia lacked their primary pace bowling attack, but even there, justifying heavy defeat by complaining about absence is as pointless as it ever was, while belittling English success on the basis of the standard of opposition remains a curious national obsession.
Nevertheless, it can be said that it wasn’t Australia’s best team, certainly, albeit England too were missing a couple of players in the shape of Stokes and Woakes. The best teams available to both were largely selected, and to that extent it was representative. Of more importance is the relevance of the series itself, shoehorned into the heart of the summer, nominally as part of the preparation for next summer’s World Cup, but since that could have been equally done by extending Pakistan’s stay (and they did win the Champions Trophy last year) the reality that it was down to financial considerations is abundantly obvious. The crowds were largely decent, so the ECB will consider it mission accomplished.
Australia explicitly stated in 2011 that they were prioritising Test cricket, and the decline in their ODI performances since then intriguingly correlate with that, particularly given their Test performances have remained strong – the South Africa debacle notwithstanding. Yet, and here is where the excuses about missing players ring hollow – they have lost 14 of their last 16 ODIs. Pretending that the return of those players will make all well for next year flies in the face of poor performance even when all are present and accounted for, but above all else it makes interesting reading and Daniel Brettig goes into more detail here. When considering England’s alternate strategy of focusing on the white ball form of the game, whatever their protestations to the contrary, it is striking that there appears a connection, though India may raise a hand at this juncture. The marginalisation of red ball county cricket, reduction in Test volumes across the summer and creation of wheezes like The Hundred could be argued to have been highly successful in terms of creating the conditions for generating a strong England ODI and T20 side. To that end, the ECB could claim vindication for their strategy, yet they are unlikely to do so precisely because it’s a strategy that finds little favour with England cricket fans. It is, unquestionably, an irony to see the ECB succeed in their aims yet be unable to truly take credit because of the corollary impact and what it would say about them.
If the stated aim is to win the World Cup, then England are in good shape, with a couple of provisos. No team will be confident of setting England a score for the simple reason that no total seems safe from the destructive capabilities of the batting line up. The world record set two years ago was extraordinary, the pulverising of it in this series simply astounding. That 500 became a realistic prospect is something that seems scarcely credible, as was the rather odd feeling of disappointment when they didn’t get there. It must be said that pitches so flat that bowlers become cannon fodder for batsmen is fundamentally unhealthy, and by far the most exciting game in the series came in the final match, where bowlers had the upper hand, and the century from Buttler had real value because of the circumstances.
The belief of most cricket fans tends to be that these make the best matches, a proper balance between bat and ball and the excruciating excitement of a team limping over the line as true batting peril and hunting packs of bowlers come to the fore. Yet the likelihood is that those cricket fans are wrong. Casual observers probably watch to see the ball disappearing to all parts of the ground, caring little for the skill of the bowler, but enjoying the resounding thwack of willow on leather. This may be something of a depressing thought, yet the sidelining of Test cricket where that balance really does apply suggests there is truth in it, no matter what we might wish to believe. Put it this way, it’s more likely to receive a text to turn the television on because Chris Gayle is going berserk than because Liam Plunkett is rattling through the top order.
The final match also highlighted the potential flaw in England’s side, particularly when the ICC get hold of pitch preparation next summer – that England have a tendency to fall in a heap quite spectacularly from time to time. Some context is needed for that, for no one day side, no matter how strong, wins every game. England are defeated rarely, and if the semi-final last summer can be perhaps put in the category of a one off, it doesn’t mean that some caution about their prospects isn’t in order.
Perhaps for that reason the victory at Old Trafford was particularly impressive, for despite the collapse England still found a way to win. Or more specifically, Jos Buttler did. He is in an extraordinary run of form, whether at the IPL, in this series, or indeed in Test cricket. Whether this is just a purple patch, or whether he has found his feet in the wider game of cricket is a moot point, for this can be said of any player suddenly thrust to the fore through sheer performance. It is enough for the present to enjoy his extraordinary run and to hope that it continues.
The arrival of India will perhaps answer some of the questions underlying England’s level of performance, but it seems beyond question that they are among the favourites for next year. Buttler’s supreme displays have overshadowed players who in any other circumstances would be in receipt of unqualified praise – Roy and Bairstow actually scored more runs this series for a start.
This series was also played out in the backdrop of a football World Cup, which has deliciously highlighted both the appetite for watching event sport, and the invisibility of cricket to the wider public. The two England football matches have attracted extraordinary viewing figures – over 20 million for the game against Tunisia, and while the totals were lower for the beating handed out to Panama, the 83% of total television audience (when the cricket was on, note) is one of the highest on record.
Cricket isn’t football of course, and a World Cup is a seminal collective experience, but there are some observations that can be made from that. Firstly that a likeable team whom the public believe are deserving of support receive it, and secondly that the claims of the ECB over the years amount to so much nonsense. The near 10 million who watched the climax of the Ashes in 2005 were specifically discounted as a future factor when justifying the move to pay TV on the grounds that the digital age meant that such community viewing was no longer possible. Young people in particular apparently no longer consumed sport in such a manner, too distracted by social media to sit and watch a game.
The huge audiences for the football demonstrated that this was so much drivel. All ages watched the England football team, all ages cheered the goals. The cricket team could never hope to match those raw numbers, but it is beyond question that were they to move to the latter stages of next year’s World Cup, both the interest, and the audience would climb dramatically if it were widely available, not least because it would be promoted across all media, social or otherwise. Instead, even if England were to win the thing, it will remain a niche occasion. It is this in particular that remains unforgivable, that the ECB blew the opportunity offered to a sport that had captured the public imagination as on few occasions previously. Cricket is not football, but the shared national experience when our team does well is something beyond price, and really does inspire a generation.
The football team may not have beaten anyone of note yet, but kids across the country were kicking footballs afterwards, just as in 2005 they were taking a bat and a ball to the park. For all the protestations about the viability of the professional game without Sky’s money (how on earth did they survive before 2006?), this fundamental importance has been ignored. The argument these days appears to be an almost apologetic one, that ok yes, perhaps they have destroyed the game in national consciousness, but it’s too late now and they can’t survive by changing tack. It is weak, defeatist nonsense driven by self-interest.
Buttler should be a household name. Roy should be a household name, Hales should be a household name, the captain Eoin Morgan should be a household name. Children should be trying to emulate Adil Rashid and make their friends look foolish with one that grips and turns. But they aren’t, and after a series where whatever the caveats, England were both exceptional and thrilling, this is the most disappointing part. Forget for one moment the debate about red ball and white ball cricket, when England really do have a team that can inspire a nation, hardly anyone saw it.
It is that, above all else, that can never be forgiven.
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.
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….