England v New Zealand: 1st Test 5th Day – Open Thread

England 389 & 429/6 (Cook 153 not out, Stokes 101, Root 84) lead New Zealand 523 by 295 runs.

England have, it seemed, turned the game around. From a position of weakness two contrasting centuries have put the home team in the position to win this match, if things go our way. Alastair Cook’s epic knock, one that he played on a fairly regular basis a few years ago is the “welcome return to form” that we hoped from for our opening batsman for a while now. He looked better from the start, scored at the pace we are used to from our opener (around 120 runs in a day) and laid the foundation for the others to express themselves.

My main take from the day is that it was a joy to see Ben Stokes and Joe Root play their games and not the game. Too many times when England face difficult situations, they revert in on themselves. They seek to defend their way out of trouble. I sometimes believe it is because they are frightened to get out playing attacking shots. Somehow, in England, it is always worse getting out to a positive shot because you make a mental error, or hit it too well and it carries to outfielders, than having your technique undressed. Always worse to be the talent not “fulfilling themselves” rather than the “grafter” who isn’t good enough to score. So beware all those lauding Ben Stokes today for the way his attacking game turned the match, for many of them were lining him up and calling him all sorts last year. Stokes is going to infuriate me every bit as much as Freddie did with the bat, but you have to get over it. When he clicks, as he has twice now in this match with the bat, he’s going to change a match. He bailed us out in the first innings, and turned it in the second.

Joe Root’s role must not be underestimated either. With Ian Bell falling to the third ball (I was walking the dog at the time), he came in at a time of real danger with a wicket then being the recipe for perhaps a BlackCap win today. With Cook looking solid at the other end, Root got himself in and kept the score ticking over (Cook was actually scoring at a decent pace by his standards) and then he accelerated. He’ll be kicking himself that he never went on to three figures in both innings, but he’s our middle order rock, and while I think 5 is one spot too low for him, it looks like that’s where he will stay.

Before we get on to the main man, I thought I’d say I was disappointed with what I saw from the BlackCaps bowling today. It was a tough morning, but I wasn’t buying the narrative that it was THAT tough. Sure, it was decent enough, but maybe this attack has been a little over-rated, maybe based on ODI form rather than tests. As for the spinner, Craig, I’ve been really disappointed. He appears to have been easily dominated at times. Still, that would be nit-picking.

Now to the main matter of the day. Alastair Cook has made 153 not out. I am not going to churlish, nor am I going to be a hypocrite. I think the way he has been projected, the way he has acted, the way he has been protected and the way he has been canonised has been every bit as big a disaster in its handling and its duration as the KP saga with which he is intertwined. If it is true that he is keeping you know who out of the team for whatever personal reasons he cannot tell us, then the opprobrium I have for him, and others here, is well deserved. That said, you cannot argue with the facts. That was an excellent innings today. An excellent innings. I can sit back and say that without any fear, nor any rancour. I’ve been hard on him for his protected status and I was not wrong that his form at times last year did not mean he should be the automatic choice he was. Those who tell us to do one today are the short-termists, not me.

So, to repeat, that was an excellent knock today, it’s what we need him to do, it does not make him a great leader of men, it did not merit the widespread sychophancy eminating from the press and Sky Sports box for how much his team loves him. As I said, I’m more neutral towards this team than I would like – I can’t help it, sorry – and so I look at these things more dispassionately, and Cook’s knock was one of his best given the context of the match. But I couldn’t cheer it to the rafters. Rather appreciate it for what it was – a very good openers knock – rather than those who oppose KP, who seem to spit blood every time he did anything any good, and disparage him at every turn.

I know others here are more passionately against this team, and I can understand that. I will not condemn that. Because when you see those bastards in their box, no doubt believing this vindicates their tough choices, I get it. But today was a good day to look to the future, with the rock opening and allowing them to express themselves. We’ve shown less fear in this game. That I welcome.

Comments for Day 5 should follow below. Century Watch will follow this test match.

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Mediocre

There ends another series. If we’d just got Jason Holder early on in Antigua, and we’d scored 50 more runs in Bridgetown, it would have been a whitewash. Then it would have been six on the bounce and bring on the Aussies. Sorry. Been chanelling my inner Selfey there. It’s probably all Jos Buttler’s fault.

Instead of a whitewash we’ve got into a decent position here in Bridgetown, had our feet on the home team’s throat, and in another calamity, let them off the hook. To do it in Melbourne could have been understandable on a bad tour; to do it at Headingley could have been considered an understandable, if lamentable, brain fart. This reeked of complacency. This reeked of thinking we had the job done once we’d edged up to around 280 and had the home team a few down early. Blackwood got the West Indies into range and our lamentable, undroppable batting line-up (other than the revolving door non-Cook opener slot) handed another test over to the valiant opposition. Ballance, Root, Bell and Moeen – Headingley, Lord’s and Kensington Oval. Save your Moeen at Headingley stories….this middle order is untouchable we are told.

As a not a real fan candidate (according to Guardian commenters I’m supposed to be nice to – add “the usual malcontents” to the list of glorious things I’m not to be cheesed off about), I can say that I lost contact with this game at around tea. The feed for Sky Sports, which I bloody well pay for, went down. It never came back. I tried TMS, got 10 minutes of Swann’s summarising, and my internet link shut down to prevent further damage. Instead I watched a team live up to its billing in the NBA Play-offs (Golden State Warriors) on the TV and followed updates on cricinfo and Twitter as another team didn’t live up to its star-studded rep. To me this isn’t surprising – we’ve seen the over-hype machine cranked to bursting point after Grenada and it’s not as if we weren’t warning them. We’re not Jeremiahs…we’ve bloody seen this before. Lots of times. Now those who were quick to spray their bile over us after that miracle at St. George’s, will need to take it back. This was utterly abject. But they won’t when it’s easier to shoot the misery messenger telling you as it is.

It may be funny, in a strange sort of way, that Cook’s century was made at last. Because all the while he wasn’t scoring those big runs (and 105 isn’t massive, although very good in the context of the match) there was almost this paranoid need for him to retain all facets of the test job as if this would inspire him to make those scores. You know, all that leading from the front twaddle. There has been an air of defiance from our wonderful captain this tour, with his prickly demeanour reputed to have included a heated discussion with Agnew over his commentary stints with the mortal enemy. Who know’s if this is true? But what I heard from the bits of this series I caught was a concerted effort from some of the Sky crew to really “get behind” our captain, to the extent that there were copious mentions of our dear leader’s “body language” and “I’m in charge” stance. It’s nonsense. That you feel the need to point this out, or to comment on how much better it supposedly is indicates there’s a problem. I’m trying to work out a captain post-Gower who had these comments made about him.

I said after Grenada that:

1. When you win a test, act like you’ve been there before; and

2. When you win the test on a back of an inspirational solo effort, don’t bank on that as a long-term solution.

Instead, even I got sucked in, with my prediction that the WIndies would fall 40 or 50 short in their chase. This was in direct contrast to my suspicion. The suspicion was that the 123 we made in the second innings wasn’t the product of a minefield as seemed to be intimated on the wires last night. It was the product of total, utter incompetence, and watching this morning I didn’t see much devil in the wicket. No, we were perfecting a craft. Losing from winning positions is becoming a lovely little Cooky habit. Bring on Australia, I say. So I dismissed West Indies, wrongly, and they showed what getting your head down and not fretting about the “one with your name on it” as Botham muttered on could achieve. Well played chaps.

I’ve missed the aftermath. I understand Nasser got a bit pointed with Moores. Oh well, it’s always better to a sinner repent and all that. There’s far more good than bad with Mr Hussain. I’ve missed Bob off the long run, although I’m sure it will be the same old same old. It loses its resonance when you’ve been throwing hyperbole all over the place after Grenada. Then there’s the press – ready to stick it to all the doubters on Friday when Cook made his ton, and now ready to stick a belated knife in to whoever is this month’s sacrificial non-Cook lamb. Some have been just totally dismissive of the opposition, but now lay the blame at a comment by a loudmouthed Yorkie who gave the home team a supposed push with his “mediocre” comment.

The West Indies played with passion, with patience, with skill and with no little application when the going got tough. Darren Bravo’s innings summed it up. He has been accused of being flashy and irresponsible. Now he played with a calm head and rode what luck he had to make the crucial contribution. Jermaine Blackwood, a dasher of huge irresponsibility it is claimed, stuck to his task and was there at the end. He’s had a really promising series and I hope he goes on to bigger and better things. The bowling was honest, was clever and too good in the end. We kept being reminded that Jason Holder was “fourth seamer” material and yet he took wickets, whereas our seamers (Stokes and Jordan) appeared to have no clue for much of the time. I am still not seeing what the world sees in Chris Jordan’s bowling that I didn’t when at Surrey. Sure, he bowled a decent spell that took an early wicket, but he’s not consistent enough.

So where does this leave us? I’m fed up with saying what I say about Cook. The batting is now put to bed, and we have no chance of seeing him leave the team on form now. The captaincy position is more interesting, but there’s nothing I haven’t seen before. We’re told he is developing all the time, but I’m fed up with hearing this drivel, month in, month out. The century in Barbados proved nothing. It was a good innings, but not a match-winning one. It was his first in two years, yet this isn’t something to be lauded, but something to be concerned about. It answered no questions, other than one in the media’s mind. We weren’t wrong to criticise his preferential treatment just because me made a ton. You carry on, because the evidence is stacked in our favour. Boycott has had enough, that’s for sure.

I don’t know about Moores. I am not as down on him as others, but the position is becoming more and more untenable. The story book had been set. After the World Cup embarrassment, it was clear that the media message the ECB wanted to portray was that the tests were what mattered now, and we’d just won three on the bounce in that format. Cook was refreshed, there were young pros developing and this is the future. Now we look like a shambles within a week of a “famous victory”. The reports I’m hearing is that we are trying to say the Windies weren’t really “mediocre”. Well, let’s see how the Australians deal with this team. Moores has to be on thin ice, and we’ll see very soon how the new management react.

Jonathan Trott has been sent to the cricketing gallows, so he’ll pay the price. Ian Bell started the series on fire, and finished it fully soaked. Gary Ballance looks good, but I’m still worried about his technique, and Joe Root did not follow up his great effort at Barbados. The bowling is a long-term issue, and you can moan about Moeen until the cows come home, but 123 all out sums it up. Is that Moores fault? Really?

Meanwhile one of the main architects of this struggle remains in Loughborough like the malevolent priest, the power behind the monarchy. We have rumours of his evangelical student Strauss becoming the Director of Cricket, which fills me with all the joy of a root canal procedure, and there remains the thoroughly uninspiring body language king as captain. Good grief. How can you put up with Stuart Broad’s batting as captain of your team. I don’t care if he got hit, we all have who have played the game, and the next time you bat you are nervous. He’s not pulling his weight. If the issue is that serious, he has to go. Just has to. How can you ask people to play through tough times when one of your senior pros is showing such fragility?

I am now listening to TMS and Boycott’s comments. This should be fun.

Vian will have more tomorrow, hopefully, and thanks for all the comments today. We’ll be back tomorrow with more comments and analysis of what has just happened, and some of the reaction.

Buffering

Coming To You Live From The Jersey Shore
Coming To You Live From The Jersey Shore

Watching test cricket in the US is not as impossible as it used to be. I have access to the test match feed, but my internet connection isn’t brilliant and there are also other things to do. It’s a peaceful holiday, a really cool and calm time with a sick mother in law and a wife fussing over her and also getting her home air back in her lungs. Meanwhile it’s sunset and selfies more for me (and I don’t mean the journalist).

I’ll let Vian take over many of the more technical duties relating to this test. I’ve been struck by a couple of things while I’ve been watching. First, listening to one of our Sky Sports finest discussing a pitch pre-game is about as accurate a predictor of the game’s progress as legendary NFL draft seer Mel Kiper Jr has been when confronted with the first round of this year’s horse-trade. We had predictions of a great pitch to bat on and with it breaking up on day 5. Unless there’s a monsoon on the next two days, the public will be on the beach / drinking rum, or if they know what they are doing, going to admire the view at Bathsheba.

There is, of course, the Alastair Cook century to deal with. I have never looked forward to a century watch less. I am probably glad to be by the Delaware Bay than have to read much of the bilge that no doubt accompanied this century. But, let’s get one thing into context. Without it, in this test, we’d be in big, big trouble. It would be churlish in the extreme to be denigrating of this century given the context of the match. These are two really ordinary teams, and the difference is in a couple of extraordinary performances, and not much else. 39 for 5 is really killing this game off, isn’t it? We have just over 100 runs to play with. 150 might be enough, but it might not. Our tail has not exactly been our strong point when it comes to the team’s performance. Bloody hell, we need it now.

Make no mistake, this has not been a rampage, and this does not augur well for the upcoming battles. Much has been made about the Jonathan Trott experiment failing, and I know, I must get round to reading George Dobell’s take on matters. Others have been rather too keen to jump on the bandwagon, and while I note all that has been said on here about his form towards the last couple of years of his first go around, we were hoping for the best. I don’t know if we are seeing a trend here as well – one the press won’t ever go to town on – but that since Strauss, this is another opener who has tried and failed with Cook. They just don’t last long with him. According to some, mentioning this in the same breath is “warped thinking” and that we thought Trott had been put there to fail to make Cook look good. Hey, if there’s an insult from a press-man going, I’ll catch it and run with it. It’s nowhere near as warped a thinking as Cook getting 35 or so test innings to register a century and then to be greeted with a “he’s back” and “you are the ones with problems” nonsense I have seen over the past couple of days. Wind your bloody necks in.

But in between the constant buffering on my feed, I’ve seen two poor batting sides. I’ve seen England lurching between spells where they look like absolute top dollar to others where they’ve been utter, utter dross. The proof of this particular pudding is how we do in the late summer this year with Australia about. That’s what they want us to focus on. I don’t see the up and at them needed to compete. Jimmy Anderson has it in bursts, and again, from what I saw today he was excellent (seriously, spare the bloody “genius” cockwaffle I saw on Twitter from some who should really know better – act like you’ve been there before) but there’s enormous question marks over the rest of the bowling. It might be we get out of here winning 2-0, but portraying it as a brilliant success isn’t going to cut it. There are flaws, massive flaws, and they can’t be covered up that easily.

I have the house to myself tomorrow to watch the denouement. The rest are going out to collect sea glass. I hope our message in a bottle is one of success, and of lower order scoring prowess. Instead, we could be watching a cliff-hanger, with the fragile veneer of English cricket potentially shattered on the mediocre rocks of West Indian cricket. And with that, it’s off to watch the NBA play-offs.

From Town Bank, NJ, it’s Dmitri Old, wishing you well.

Philadelphia

The City of Brotherly Love. A place where the name suggests accord and liberty, while 80 miles or so down the road in Baltimore, there’s a fire burning, and people are mad as hell.

But enough of that. I thought brotherly love might be an apt theme for my last post for a while from this side of the pond, as I’ll be heading over to Philly tomorrow, and straight out of it before the rush hour traffic hits. And in the spirit of brotherly love, I’d thought I’d look at what’s been happening the past few days and especially in relation to the man who seems to inspire it throughout the media and a large swathe of the English cricketing public. We are talking about our captain.

Or, is he as thick and creamy as the cheese spread that also takes the name? No comments on that from me….

The attitude that we’ve seen taken to Alastair Cook in the past year or so has been greeted here with a sense of wonder. There was the backing of him post-Ashes when there really wasn’t one of us who posts here who thought, in their heart of hearts, that he could carry on after that disaster. But in an amazing turn of events – and please, press, remember this when you keep harping on about KP’s press team – somehow, someway, he dodged all the bullets when it came to keeping his place. Flower was shunted upstairs, KP was shown the door, the hierarchy had either resigned, or were about to resign, the batting coach was invited to leave, and senior players went. Standing there, unabashed, backed to the hilt by the lost and departed Downton, was Alastair Cook, for whom blame was never attached by the fourth estate or the TV boys.

Now, we stand after a win against West Indies where we are being told by respected cricket writers like Simon Wilde (like Simon, so I wonder how recent, recent is meant to be), this…

and Cook is giving off all the impression that he’s the man with nothing to fear from anybody. He’s reportedly – and given it’s Sale saying it, I mean reportedly – been up to his old tricks of sorting out a journo or two who has done something he doesn’t like and had a pop. There’s a sort of swagger after this win, which came with him bringing us home with a half century after a decent hand in the first innings.

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been told, not directly but I know some of it is aimed our way, to stop moaning and enjoy the win. And they have a point. I contrast this tom my football team in 2004, who got to the FA Cup Final, only to be soundly beaten by Manchester United, as expected. As we came out of the ground, all the Man Utd fans looked miserable. “Cheer up”  I exhorted one of the “you’ve won th FA Cup. Come on, be happy.” It was the retort one of them gave me that I’ll remember “We were supposed to win this, we’re not getting excited. We were expected to beat you”. As a Millwall fan that day, that hurt quite a bit. It actually signalled the starting point of me moving away from football. But think what United fans said, and, sadly, it was true. They were expected to win, it was nice to win, but no biggie.

As expected we’ve seen a deluge of piffle. Now, in the manner only those well-meaning souls can do, I’m showing no brotherly love to people who say “what the hell are you moaning about?” I think you’ll find, I’ve not done a lot. What has cheesed me off is someone started up the hyperbole machine and has forgotten to switch it off. One who has had me scratching my head in disbelief is Nasser Hussain. Seriously Nas, what the hell has happened to you? How is this an acceptable line of praise for an England captain as we aspire to reach the highest peaks.

but for now his game looks in very good order again and he is making very good half-centuries.

I’ve seen that average statistic trotted out as well. You know, the one that cuts off the year preceding Southampton. “Very good half-centuries” Nasser. Against, lets be fair, not top quality attacks. While Ballance, Root and Bell have made centuries in the middle order. This takes us for fools. I’ve downloaded some cricket for my flight, where I have Alastair Cook’s two tons in India in the second and third tests to look forward to. That’s very good order, Nasser, not a gentle 70-odd in five hours against some disappointing bowling, or drop-ridden knocks at the fag end of last Summer. Where’s the analysis in this?

You can’t drop him now for his batting, because half-centuries are good enough for him it seems. That elusive hundred might be very near, but as I’ve said on numerous occasions, when it comes, it doesn’t prove the selectors right for waiting for it. The longer this wait goes on, the longer it becomes an issue. Sure, a century in amidst a load of single figure scores isn’t a cure-all either, but this holy grail of Cook looking better is just wishful thinking masquerading as an analysis. Seriously, I watched five minutes of him playing in Colombo in 2012 a day or so ago and the difference is stark. He was more fluid. At the moment he bats like a metal man who hasn’t seen a drop of oil for a while, all stiff movements… as if he’s been pre-programmed.

I’m not a fan – I’m genuinely not fans of people who are protected on high by establishment and don’t seem to realise how bloody lucky they are to have that backing. This isn’t hatred, which, of course, is levelled at me and my ilk. I would like to see him make a ton of runs at the top of the order, and will be content if they lead to England wins. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the Essex succession in the record breaker charts, or some of the more fanciful stuff, but there’s a prodigal son aspect here and it is worrying. Half centuries are enough now (they weren’t for Mark Ramprakash, for instance but then, blah blah, 25 centuries, blah blah) because he now looks like a leader on the field.

Hogwash.

We won a test match against the 8th best team in the world. James Morgan on The Full Toss sums it up and also uses a football analogy. This win has been greeted by former players, Sky TV, some of the press, and the masses on Social Media like a massive win, a win for the ages. Even Botham is being invoked to reflect a wonderful spell by Anderson (want to watch him in his pomp – try Trent Bridge, 2013). This was a great win – no questions asked.

I love the West Indies, I want them to do so well, and we all know this is a really mediocre side we are playing. They could improve, but this isn’t top notch oppo. Sure, England did well to win, but you saw what I said on Sunday about inspired performances winning games – they aren’t reliable. A real curmudgeon, and I’m not entitled to be that in the glow of victory, would point out that the West Indies had got to 200 for 2 and it was a deck no team in the world could get a team out on if you listened to the media masses on Friday night. No, we bowled badly first time up, and also with the new ball first time round in the second innings. Against good teams, you don’t get second chances. Imagine that’s David Warner instead of Kraigg Brathwaite; AB deVilliers instead of Daren Bravo. Good luck with that.

But no. We must go mad for a win, and we must recognise Alastair’s “I’m In Charge” body language. It’s ludicrous. We’ve beaten a mediocre team. Graves is right.

Cook appears to have learnt from his mistakes. Last summer, for instance, his decision to spread the field when Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews was batting with the tail lost England the Headingley Test but here he kept the field up to Denesh Ramdin in a similar situation and kept the pressure on.

This is top drawer from Nasser. He has learned from being an absolute weapons grade disaster and instead didn’t cave in and make a hash of it. We are celebrating competence. I watched how an Australia team strangled England at Adelaide. They believed they could get us all out, and the one man we had to shepherd the tail wasn’t interested in scoring runs. Watch that. If someone blasts the life out of you, fair play. Here Hussain says Cook lost us a test match, something not often repeated (many criticised the bowlers and Moores for the tactics as well), and yet we can hope the next time he gets a good side in this position, he doesn’t capitulate. Oh, and Mathews was well on his way to a ton at the time, while Ramdin was just starting so let’s not compare apples and oranges.

This doesn’t rank in the top five, easily, of test wins this England team have had away from home in the last 10 years. Mumbai and Kolkata to win in India (under Cook, great stuff) are too fresh in my memory to be erased by a collapse in Grenada. I’d stick Colombo in 2012 to end a run of four straight defeats as well. The demolition in Melbourne would be there, because we’d just lost in Perth, in 2010/11. I’d add the grossly underrated win in Durban in 2009 to the mix, aided by a fantastic hundred by Cook, because it was so unexpected. Mumbai 2006 was also one for the ages, as we squared a series in India.

This win can only be significant because it bolsters a team that needs it. A team coming together but with the captain more important than anything else. Every interview is “I back Cooky” etc etc, and all this good environment and positive vibe bullshit. The last one who didn’t back him got the boot, the media are in the tank because they mostly appear to love him, I’m constantly told on twitter and on podcasts that he’s a lovely bloke, and that no-one wants to see him fail. Fine. But if, like me, you have tons and tons of games on your archives at home, or if you can get to see them elsewhere, you are being sold down the river. Cook’s not back to his best. He’s nowhere near it. And if you are being misled over that, what else are you being misled over? Oh, I’m a tin-hatted conspiracy theorist. No. I don’t like being told something when almost the opposite is staring me in the face.

If we win against New Zealand, fine. Win against Australia, brilliant. I’ll eat the humblest of humble pie. Until then, spare me the great wins claptrap, the reinforced leader of a loyal hardy bunch of men BS, and the back to his best cockwaffle. And I will be a bloody curmudgeon if I want to be. I am a real fan, and real fans don’t go mental over wins pulled out of their arse against a team that is prone to brainfarts. Or as Australia called them in 2006/7 and 13/14 “England”.

That’s my lot. A rant and a half, and still didn’t cover everything I wanted to.

I’m travelling tomorrow, so I’ll leave you in Vian’s capable hands, and see you on the other side of the Atlantic.

Godfather

You may have come here in error – Twitter playing havoc. For the Death of A Gentleman review click here – https://collythorpe.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/death-of-a-gentleman-2/

Or read below…..

We should really have known.

There’s a statement made about NFL players scoring a Touchdown. “When you get into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before”. I think a lot of England fans, and that’s what they are, even if they disagree with me, need to keep that in mind. Sure, celebrate your victories and enjoy them, but don’t get carried away. Act like we’ve been there before. Act like this isn’t a vindication.

I’m happy to heap praise on England for creating an opening and then ruthlessly exploiting it. Hurrah!  Jimmy Anderson pressed the “on” button, got the vital wickets with the new ball, and then let the situation and the pressure do the rest. Busting down the door on a wicket completely condemned as a dead loss (because these same bowlers did not come up to those standards in previous new ball spells, which is going to be forgotten now) was very good to see. Contrary to what those who criticise us think, I enjoyed watching us do that. What I won’t do is get carried away.

There’s something in the English sporting spirit that makes us over-react to victories. It’s the reason we never completely dominate anything for any length of time. While we seem remarkably satisfied with winning the 2005 and 2010/11 Ashes, the fact both of these were followed by total humiliation not long after summed up a lot of our England sporting psyche. I mean, seriously, how do you think Australia would have greeted this win against the 8th rated side in the world? Sure, they’d go on a little, but many would say “how the hell did we need a brilliant session to beat these guys?”

I’m one for parallels with history, and this looks and smells like Spring 2008. England had lost a shocking match to New Zealand at Hamilton, getting turned over for a small total in the 1st Test, and people had the knives out for the captain (Vaughan) and the coach (Moores). Then we won a scrappy test at Wellington on the back of a Tim Ambrose century, and went on to win at Napier as KP bailed us out on day one, and Strauss made his career best in the second. No-one went overboard over those expected victories, because coming up were sterner tests. When we lost the big home series to South Africa, the writing was on the wall for the nightmares to follow. Wellington wasn’t a new dawn, just a false one.

Let me turn to the reaction once more, and I’ll probably start with a reply to a comment below:

You know I was mad at Yossarian’s post in the week and some questioned why I should be. I’m glad I saw BTL because it proved I’m totally right to feel as I do. I’ll pick up on what those who have called people “not real fans” all I like because (and to sound childish) they started it. I’m not having any person question my fandom to the England cricket team. I went on a whitewash in 2006/7 and fronted up and pushed our corner in a foreign land. I went to South Africa. I’ve been to tests in England for many many years, often losing years. I’ve been a county member for many years. You question whether I’m a real fan? Excuse my French but Fuck Off.

If I weren’t a real fan, I’d have left. I’d have not bothered writing a blog nearly every day for a year. I don’t question your status, do not have the absloute front to question mine, and those who come on this blog. Who made you the sole arbiters of fandom? Do one. You don’t get to choose how I follow my team.

That should do it…..

You are not a real fan unless you over-react totally to this win and tell the world that Jimmy Anderson is absolutely amazing (is he a bowler of great spells, rather than a great bowler? To throw that cack back at them) and that Alastair Cook is now a very good captain in good form. If you can’t celebrate this win, what’s up with you?

We’ve beaten the 8th ranked team in the world, without their best quick bowler, and a frail batting line-up having wasted the advantage given us to a large degree on the 1st day. If this was a flawless, ruthless demolition over four days on a good deck, I’d be encouraged. But this was won because of an inspired performance on Day 5. The thing with inspired performances is that by and large, they don’t happen often. You can’t rely on them.

I was very happy with the win last night, but knew this was coming. I despair of the lack of nuanced thought. I’m not going to like Alastair Cook any more for it, but nor am I going to say he was rubbish. I’d just point out that there’s a mighty old elephant in the room if we’re celebrating 70s and cosy little 50 not outs (after the shine went off the new ball, this was no more than a net, albeit one played with some little initial pressure on it) as him being in good form, I recall him being in really decent nick when he reeled off three centuries on the bounce in India or three in five in Australia, including doubles and big tons. You are the ones clutching at straws, not me.

I knew what was coming, so I watched The Godfather for the first time. I might want to make some of those who call me “not a real fan” an offer they can’t refuse.

Horticulture

Well good day all.

Feeling a little better, with a bit more energy today. Absolutely zonked for the last 36 hours, but I’m made of resilient stock. I think.

I’m more certain of my resilience when I have to listen to numerous hours of the Moores-Cook In House TV Channel and embedded media as I did yesterday. It’s quite rare for me to watch a whole day’s play of a tour test match, and yesterday offerered me the opportunity (although I did doze throughout the day). Good grief, what’s happened to them?

The early part of the day was dominated by the Joe Root love-in. Now, fair enough, Joe made an excellent hundred befitting his talent and ability, and more importantly, his temperament. He’s a great player in the making, and is doing what a good batsman should do against bowling attacks like the one is he up against. He should be giving the impression when he walks out that “I’m in form, and the only way you get me out is I make a mistake. You ain’t good enough to get me out.” He is giving off that impression. At this point, of course there were two things really missing from the love-fest from all the team (alongside the love-fest for Bell for his 143 and Ballance for his 122 in the last test):

  • The wicket was a slow one, and you needed to be a decent player to make a ton at a decent rate on it; and
  • If this wicket was such a belter, how come our great line-up had just one ton to its name on it. Most notably, the captain (there, I said it).

The tone had switched by the evening session when players who have made runs in test cricket, like Kraigg Brathwaite (a hundred in South Africa last winter – I’ll bet Botham, for one, never had a clue prior to being told this fact by his scorer/analyst), Darren Bravo (big hundred in India to his name, for one) and Marlon Samuels (100 in difficult conditions early on in this test) made batting look easy, and getting them out hard. Now this wasn’t anyone else’s fault other than the groundsman / cricket authorities for laying on this wicket.

Now don’t confuse this pitch with a great test wicket. But I’d guess the commentators know about as much about pitch preparation as many of them do about the home team’s international playing records. This isn’t St. John’s Rec we are playing on, with 700 playing 700. The home team’s batsmen are allowed to play well. It isn’t against the laws of cricket. As Vian keeps saying, we blew this test in the 1st innings, not this one. This isn’t the allowed narrative, as we found out….

So what we had was Alastair Cook doing what all competent captains should do, and he did it competently. No more. This wasn’t “excellent” captaincy. It was decent. He tried things, but the excellent ones have them come off, whereas the competent ones are those that have tried. I’m not having a pop at Cook here, because it’s not his fault his bowling attack is limited, and especially that he’s been thrown a spinner who has had a side injury and is expected to be better than he’s been. You can only use what is at your disposal. Broad was guff, Anderson has been a disappointment, and Jordan is the bowler us Surrey fans saw a few years ago. Stokes is always going to be inconsistent.

So we had an issue. Clearly we can’t have the TV saying a major reason a tired performance from our bowlers was due to the insanity of back-to-back tests on hard graft wickets. That’s absolutely not on, because it’s like this due to TV schedulers in the main, and this series is being ludicrously shoe-horned as part of our “11 out of 17 wins year of cricket”. So we have the TV and press tripping over themselves to absolve the team of blame, pouring scorn on the “mediocre” jibe by Graves, and telling us time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time….again that this pitch is “flat”.

A regular tweeter in opposite view to many of those expressed in this parish said that Nasser had said Cook had captained excellently, so that will do for him. But even Nas has been at the Kool-Aid on this one. While he pointed out, very astutely in my view, that Moeen Ali’s over-hyping last summer may have been a little premature, he then said Cook had done nothing wrong, and had been excellent. The fact that they need to keep telling us this is a sign indeed, as another poster here or on Twitter has been saying here. Cook’s need, whether explicit or implicit, for positive reinforcement betrays the problem. No-one thinks his captaincy is going to create something out of nothing if has little to work with.

The other clear implication is that this has to be a dead wicket because Kraigg Brathwaite (who has copped some good ones, and got sorted out by a short ball) has made a hundred. Anyone following West Indian test cricket in the recent past knows this guy is made of the right stuff. His technique is quite individual (yet to be convinced of the Dravid comparison, fellow author) but he has temperament and ability, and he showed it. So once we had the rather perfunctory mentions of Brathwaite batting well (Gower’s line of questioning of how proud was he of scoring a century against England in particular struck me as borderline arrogant – he’s got one against a far better attack) it was back to the wicket.

Test cricket is hard. It’s meant to be tough to get wickets. We got 291 runs in the day, which isn’t bad, especially when one side its trying to save the match. Our attack has never been as good as the media portrayed (it is the reason that our two top pace men average 30-ish) and it’s main spinner is having a major off day. This pitch only became a terrible one, responsible for the match situation once Brathwaite had made the ton that, frankly, Alastair Cook failed to complete when he had the chance. Because, to say this pitch is a road, in which you can’t get anyone out on, let’s the real cat out of the bag. The Alastair Cook who made the likes of 294 or 235 on pitches like this, didn’t this time. I have the whole of that Brisbane test in my archives, for one, and you don’t hear about how bad that wicket was anywhere near as much as you did yesterday. There’s the rub. A test wicket only appears terrible when we can’t take wickets on it.

West Indies v England – 2nd Test Day 4

Comments below.

UPDATE – Apologies for the brevity of the post but had a shocking evening and morning. Seems I’ve caught some virus or other which has absolutely wiped me out. I am writing this with the shivers and a duvet over me with arms poking either side. Have the media been using their pins on the voodoo doll?

It would not be appropriate, nor do I have the stamina, to write my proposed post on Alastair Cook. This can wait until the weekend when I hope to feel better.

This test is nicely poised, England need to get this lead to 150 minimum and then think about pulling out. They need to take 10 wickets, and back themselves to chase what they need to in a session or two. Let’s hope Cook’s judgement is there like it was in Antigua.

 

West Indies v England – 2nd Test 1st Day

My sincere thanks to Vian for his preview. Glad it went down well.

I am not about today so this is my one contribution for now so as usual,  comments on the day’s action and anything else below.

I’m cooking at the moment over a comment yesterday. Still not simmered down. Will revert in due course but could people please be awfully nice to everyone. Just like they’ve been to us the last 15 months!

West Indies v England – 2nd Test preview

Shall I go with a snappy one word title do think?  Or maybe a song title even?  I’m not going to try and channel what Dmitri does so well, so I’ll go down a different line.

I thought I’d open up with a preview of the second Test in Grenada, with some observations about the first Test as well, and see what you think.  Firstly, I know that England got a huge amount of stick for failing to bowl the West Indies out in the first Test, but on balance I think I’d give the credit to the West Indies themselves for surviving.  It certainly wasn’t a normal day five pitch that had deteriorated, it simply became even slower.  On a number of occasions in recent years, England have pulled off minor miracles in drawing matches they had no right to – and I presume that opposition supporters reacted in the same manner about their team failing to get over the line.  Sometimes it just happens.

Now that draw does raise a fair few questions about the second Test.  The pitch is forecast to be even slower and lower, potentially leading to even more attritional cricket than we have seen so far.  And if that is the case, losing the toss and fielding first with only three days rest could prove challenging for the England attack – if the West Indies bat well. England sent down 130 overs in the second innings in Antigua, it’s a big ask for them to do so again.  And that raises the question about Broad’s pace.  There seems little doubt he is down on where he has been, and it was striking to see him deliver 79mph bouncers (quite effectively to be fair) in both innings.

That this series has become a must win for various members of the ECB hierarchy has removed any question of the bowlers being managed as much as they possibly could have been in other circumstances.  With such a fearful schedule over the next year the prospect of one or other of the key men breaking down looms large.

And what of the spinner?  There is always a danger of viewing the man left out to be the answer to all problems faced, and Tredwell didn’t provide the hoped for threat on the fifth day, that his advocates claimed Rashid would have done.  But he did bowl pretty well in the first innings, and could be argued to merit retention.  Bringing Moeen in, on the back of ten overs in a county match is also something of a risk.  And what is Rashid for?  It’s a little hard to see at present any circumstances where he will play, and that’s troubling.  Leg spinners do go for runs with a single exception, but good ones also take wickets.  No one worries about the fact that Dale Steyn doesn’t have a great economy rate. One wonders whether England would have selected Stuart MacGill.

Then there’s the captain.  Even his staunchest defenders would concede that Cook the batsman is of much greater value than Cook the captain, and it’s there that the biggest concerns lie.  To me, his technique looks little changed from last year.  His stance has opened a little bit, but the head position still seems too far over and if so that would create the kind of problems with the full ball that we saw in the first Test.  Possibly under pressure he reverted, but I will be watching closely in this match to see if the same problems are present.

One final cricketing thought.  Colin Graves made it very clear England were expected to win this series.  But is just a win enough?  Did he expect it to be 3-0?  It’s an open question.  But make no mistake, failure to win this one, with Bridgetown to come, and the alarm bells will be ringing.

Vian

https://twitter.com/BlueEarthMngmnt

West Indies v England – 1st Test – “The Verdict”

Your comments on the test below. I’ll have a few views tomorrow, but been at a funeral today, and had to get in early this morning, so will be retiring for the evening.

I am aware I have two Centuries to update as well. A busy weekend.

Oh, Starter for 10:

And if you feel brave, read Michael Henderson in the Cricketer.

I like accuracy:

Holder’s unbeaten 103, sealed with two majestic straight boundaries off James Tredwell, could have ended on 66 when Billy Bowden gave him out caught down the legside even though Anderson barely appealed.

Technology rightly reinstated Holder who then, agonisingly for England, could have been caught in bizarre fashion when he drove Tredwell into Gary Ballance’s boot at silly mid-off only to see the ball balloon up just out of the reach of the diving bowler.

Pay attention that man…

113.1

Anderson to Roach, no run, full down the leg side, there’s a cry for a strangle and given out! Bowden raises the finger but West Indies want a review There is no Hot Spot or Snicko for this series so it’s all on the replay and the noises and this first replay looks like Roach has missed it by a long way. We need conclusive evidence to overturn the call but this is conclusive enough and the decision is overturned.

More to follow later, but this amused.

For what I saw of the test I saw two teams searching for a bit of an identity. The West Indies have had a terrible time of it, they have seen most of their most famous players off lording it up in the IPL, and had a chastening World Cup to follow up their withdrawl from the Indian series last year.

There are still major frailties in the top order, with the reversion to Devon Smith as an opener evidence of many of the problems that the WIndies face. But in Jason Holder they have a real star in the making, It remains to be seen if he’s a flash in the pan, but lord, he looked good in saving the game yesterday. His composure was immense, and even his seeming carefree attitude to Kemar Roach facing deliveries seemed fine to me. He’s a good looking player. If his bowling goes up by 10%, then there’s a real all rounder in the mix, and West Indies need heroes.

Jerome Taylor, and to a lesser extent Kemar Roach, bowled well with the new ball and caused our openers trouble. Now a lot of balls appears to have been spoken about balls, but the Caribbean boys certainly looked more threatening up front than we did. The back-up bowling looks limited, and there must be a better man than Benn out there. I think we might see Bishoo in Grenada.

So to England. A quick player-by-player focus:

Alastair Cook – Same report for the past year. Excuses, excuses. Reasons. I’m no technical guru, I just look at results. You can get technical about 95 not being hundred, but that’s his only score over 80 for nearly two seasons too. Pretend all you want. This is wretched stuff. But, on the flip side, the declaration was fine, and he captained quite well in the 4th innings from what I saw.

Jonathan Trott – A chastening return to the test team. Already his place is under threat, not that sticking a number three in the opener slot was going to go well. If England go to form he’ll be given these three tests, and if no good, Lyth might come in for New Zealand.

Gary Ballance – A superb second innings hundred banished some of the demons from the World Cup and the rest of this winter. His fourth hundred in his ninth test is welcome as he has nailed the number 3 slot for the time being. People talking about him being dropped really need to see some sense. However, I’m going to be watching him behind the sofa with that technique against Australia and New Zealand’s top bowlers. I wish him well.

Ian Bell – Another top innings from our form senior pro, and all the praise in the world is due. At the time it was easy to take the 143 for granted, but its worth was shown with the game panning out as it did. A dozy second innings run out gave us reminders why he makes us tear our hair out, but he’s our man and he is going to be vital this summer. Dare one say his 143 was a captain’s innings?

Joe Root – Really, really impressive. Both innings were perfect in their context. He was busy, positive and pressured the opposition. This attitude has to be infectious for this team to reach its potential. His bowling is also a more than useful outlet that he has to keep going with for as long as possible. A livewire, who did much to hurry us along.

Ben Stokes – Bowling was useful if not that potent, and his batting seemed to hark back to the man who burst onto the scene in Australia. Of course, he offers the opportunities to the knockers to keep reminding us of his locker-punching exploits when we should be looking at how to bring this talent on.

Jos Buttler – I missed his putrid first innings, and didn’t see his impressive second dig. Keeping, from what I saw, was a bit scruffy but he’s not the first to suffer there if that was the tale throughout. Jack Russell regularly had horrors in the WIndies.

Chris Jordan – Decent, but I get the feeling he’s akin to a Phil DeFreitas of the 90s. A worthy cricketer, does lots of things well, but maybe a touch short of test class. His tools seem to promise a lot, but there’s not enough for me. Yes, his fielding is amazing. I’d prefer more wickets.

Stuart Broad – Didn’t see a lot of his bowling until the end, where he tried gamely if a bit down on pace (but we are playing on slow surfaces). His batting appears a major concern because we’ll need lower order runs in any series we play and we hope to get some from him. Loved the bit where he bit his tongue when Anderson misfielded off his bowling, and then next ball screamed out loud when Trott saw a pull shot fall short of him….

James Tredwell – Bowled well in the first innings, but not a threat in the second. A real game cricketer who won’t let you down, but he is in the team because this is his role – a replacement squad player if one of your main spinners is injured. However, many would say this was a safe choice given the more exotic Adil Rashid’s leg spinners were available. Many will say Rashid has been bowling nonsense in the warm-ups (well, the press did). Doubt he’ll play on Tuesday.

James Anderson – the record breaker took the four wickets needed to pass Sir Hindsight, but he looked off the ball when it came to the new nut, and I’m petrified we are working him to exhaustion. While many are arguing over his legacy, I see a player I’ve never really taken to, but who has never really let us down. What is noticeable is his batting is improving again, and his last wicket partnership with Jordan was useful to stop a really demoralising second day going into the books.

On to Grenada for the second test. Have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the match and bring on the next one.