Dmitri’s Review Of The Year – The Year of Peaceful Antagonism

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It’s not exactly original, I know, but the end of a year brings forth a time to reflect, to review and to write tedious end of year pieces looking forward to the next. Good grief, I know I am guilty of that more than most! Be warned, this is a long one……

How will I look back on 2016? It has been a challenging year for blogging, it has to be said. From a personal perspective I’ve found this year quite tough. I’ve not had the pure motivation of previous years, and for quite lengthy periods have not been bothered to write. That’s probably a product of two things.

  • The first is that with a few glorious exceptions, the authorities have upgraded themselves from Keystone Cops to Dad’s Army, and thus haven’t really pushed the buttons. Combined with somehow finishing the KP for England (in the T20) debate despite none of us thinking it was ever an option they would undertake, the ECB mainly steered clear of self-made obstacles. Then they raised their T20 plans and banished Durham, and they gave us some gifts to work on. However, the ECB had a quiet year (by recent standards) it has to be said. The rumblings of old perennial flowers in the garden may give portents to future growth of enthusiasm.
  • The second is blogging burnout. I have said on many occasions how unprepared I was when How Did We Lose in Adelaide took off. Not just the time and effort to write and write and write, but also mentally how draining it can be, especially on top of a very busy job. The whole thing took a lot out of me. Writing the blog became borderline obsessive. Content, no matter how it was derived, mattered. I started feeling the pace during the 2015 Ashes. Having moved from HDWLIA to the new blog, it had become established and even had a new writer to help out (which greatly undersells what Chris has brought to this blog – but that’s how he worded his first offer, “helping out”), but I was thoroughly pissed off by the cricket, the media, the idiots throwing bricks at us, and probably culminated in the Twitter meltdown with Etheridge. I was knackered. At times during 2016 that has resurfaced. I have a life outside of here and work. I have a lot of other interests. It is time I paid attention to them. But, this is like an addictive drug. It keeps pulling me back. I’m sometimes not sure if this is good or not!

For me 2016 was a year when the campaigning, more vociferous (shall we say) blogging was put a little back in its box. This hasn’t been the year for it, although it may have ended a good deal more tetchily than it was in the middle months. That’s not to say I don’t think Being Outside Cricket is declining in relevance, such as we have. There’s still something on here you will not find anywhere else, and that’s a lot of cricket tragics putting forward angry points of view, without fear or favour. The voice is still heard, if a lot less acknowledged in public, and that we have retained a very healthy hit rate and visitor count despite a decline in the number of articles, in conjunction with a test year which, on paper, wasn’t the most attractive in pure media terms, and a lack of major controversies speaks volumes. At the end of 2016 I feel better than at most parts of the year. I do recognise, though, that the next four or five months are going to be absolutely brutal with a lack of England test matches, and only patchy instances of ODI cricket to sustain us. The one thing learned is that test matches drive traffic. Well that and KP and/or Alastair Cook. With an absence of those factors, all of us here are under no illusions how tough the barren lands of early 2017 will be. In contrast, the next year from May 2017 will be absolutely off the charts.

Outside of Being Outside Cricket, I am sad that people like Maxie (totally) and Tregaskis (to a lesser extent) are not rumbling around as they used to. Both are inspirations to me over the past few years, writing in their own styles, and attacking their foe with precision and not a little flair as well. If they are the guided missiles or sniper’s rifle, I’m a big hefty cannon! Maxie in particular is a grievous loss to our cause and to that of cricket blogging. Maxie drives traffic when he writes. You may not agree with him, but you read him. You may argue with him, but you listen to him. He has that skill to get under the right people’s noses. I have said that he will always have a place to write if he ever wanted to “come back” and that stands. Without him, and with the different direction I think The Full Toss has gone, it does feel quite lonely out here, being angry and keeping the fires burning!

That’s because others who were equally vociferous during the tumultuous times are much less so now. That is the writer’s choice, of course, and I don’t want to criticise them for it. Each cricket writer / blogger has to be true to themselves. I have said, many times, that if I wasn’t true to what I believed in you’d see it a mile off, and I wouldn’t be able to write for any length of time. I have a couple of individuals in mind (and not the Full Toss before people put 2+2 together and make 5), and they need to realise that playing both sides of the fence is taking much of their readership for granted. They are still capable of great things, pieces I read and enjoy. But there are other times I think “are you being, have you been, totally honest with your readers?” That’s for them. Call it friendly advice.

It would not be a review of the year without mentioning the madhouse that is Twitter. Contact with the media has fallen off a cliff this year as obviously we don’t need to be acknowledged as we were post-KP. Now that’s a dead issue the media, those who bothered, don’t need to know how the great unwashed feel. That’s no more evident in the recent Cook incidents. The press don’t need to protect him now, because there’s no combined angry backlash if he was to be sacked coming, other than from a couple of diehard pillocks the world can ignore safely. After KP there was an angry backlash from a number of blogs, new and old, and the reporters had to recognise this. Now there’s nothing to get angry about, there’s nothing for them to worry about. I’d be a little bit concerned, if I was a journo, about some of the key big beasts being put out to pasture. They weren’t, in the main, the ones who had the foggiest idea about “social media”, despite being on it.

Twitter has been a lot less confrontational. The odd arsehole that got on my nerves as always – some who follow KP’s twitter feed to have a pop strike me as particularly “obsessed” – but nothing like the rubbish I’ve had to put up with in the past. After the early issues this year with one, we’ve had a spell where we’ve managed, I think, to not get mad at each other, which suits me. The other one I have had constant issues with showed their nasty side by threatening to out my name in a particularly lovely Tweet, but even if they do, no-one cares. Then there was the remarkably odd parody twitter feed. I’ve blocked that old bollocks. Other than that, it’s all quite quiet, and that can only be a good thing for your health, I suppose.

So to the cricket. What, really? If I must? Let’s focus on England.

The year started with the Ben Stokes blitz in Cape Town. This incredible knock didn’t get England a win, but it did set the tone for some high octane stuff during the year. Almost, but not quite, unnoticed in that innings was the magnificent first hundred for Jonny Bairstow, which would lay the table for his year. England actually finished Cape Town on the back foot after a double hundred by Amla and a century by Bavuma, and a last day wobble, but returned magnificently on top at Johannesburg when the stars aligned for another of those Stuart Broad spells. Joe Root’s masterful century on a surface that Broad made hay on is conveniently forgotten by those wishing to criticise him now, and it laid the foundation for the series win. England then went on to lose a one-sided, we don’t give a stuff test, at Centurion. Funny how, when we lose these matches, we don’t give a stuff because we’ve won the series. I suppose it makes us feel like the 1990s Australian team if we think like that.

The ensuing ODI series with South Africa started with England’s attacking play dominating. The first two matches were taken in some style, before the tide turned, and England’s devil may care approach came unstuck in the decider. If one lesson was learned it was not to say we would win a series 5-0 when we hadn’t actually won the series. Maybe we’ll learn. Also, Adil Rashid dropped a catch and copped a ton of blame. That set a tone.

The World T20 competition was greeted with little hope, given it was being played in India and “we never do well in the sub-continent”. England lost to the West Indies in a Gayle tour de force, but came back to win the rest of their group games, including a phenomenal run chase against South Africa that was a much a trait of our new attitude as the loss in the ODI decider in South Africa had been. People, it’s two sides of the same coin. It just isn’t a tuppence, but a nice shiny new £2 one. England qualified for the semi-final, and overcame New Zealand, and when they got to the Final were relieved to be facing West Indies and not India. We all know what happened then, and we also know how important a moment in the cricket year for attitudes going forward in the media and the blogs that was.

The good feelings from the World T20, despite the tumultuous ending, and the start of the new county season seemed to beckon a bright summer. But the first half was low key, and in many ways just dull. The home series v Sri Lanka, both in tests and ODIs, lacked a certain something. There were exciting moments, none more so than Liam Plunkett’s last ball six in the first ODI, but Sri Lanka’s game approach was not matched by results. England won the test series 2-0, with a rain-affected draw the other “result”, and got through the two limited overs portions of the somewhat less than Super Series unbeaten. It was job done for England, but judging by attendances at the test matches, the level of interest on here, and my own (lack of) attempts to keep up with fixtures while on holiday in the US, it raised a number of very awkward questions about the quality of the product on show. This was the first time I had to listen via Guerilla Cricket. A useful service, but really not my cup of Earl Grey. After that it was Cricinfo (and my first question on Polite Enquiries which was met with George saying “I don’t think Dmitri is being totally serious”.

The second half of the summer was covered in my 5th Dmitri for the year. From England’s perspective it was a series that possibly got away. There was much rancour and discord over the omission of Anderson and Stokes from the first test, which grew when the whispers that they were fit were married up with a defeat at the hands of a vibrant opposition and around the same time Andy Flower broke his “dignified silence”. There was a distinct smack of “good journalism” about it all. The second test at Old Trafford was one way traffic once Cook and Root set about the task at hand, with Root becoming only the second domestic player since 1990 to pass 250 in a test match. England took the wickets they needed within the time allotted for a comprehensive win. A tight third test that ebbed and flowed went the way of the hosts when Pakistan failed to survive Day 5 (heard that one before), but any resting on the laurels was rudely awakened when a lax first innings at The Oval was at least 150 runs short (despite a Moeen masterpiece) and Younis Khan’s double hundred pointed the way to a series levelling victory. In both wins Yasir Shah had applied the bowling coup de grace. Yasir was lethal in London, undone up north.

The ODI series that followed had some magnificent performances, most notably the breaking of Robin Smith’s 23 year old record for the highest ODI score by an England player. Hales had 200 at his mercy but had to settle for 171. That new record might not last 23 months. England also made the highest ODI score of 444 for 3, Wahab recorded figures of 0 for 110 (second only to the legend of Mick Lewis in ODIs), Jos Buttler took 22 balls to reach 50 (an English record) and so on and so forth. We also had a number 11 make a 50 in the response! Pakistan rallied towards the end of the series, winning the last game, and then winning the T20 as well, but overall, sentiment towards the white ball team was in the ascendant. They were/are genuinely fun to watch.

The problem with England, its media, and many of its fans, is that there is too much emphasis placed on “doing what is perceived to be the right thing”. Looming at the end of the series was the trip to Bangladesh, where international teams were less keen to go, especially after the early July terrorist attacks at a bakery in Dhaka that was frequented by overseas visitors. After a very thorough review, itself indicative of the tricky nature of the decision, and backed by a host government prepared to throw a shedload of money at security, the tour was deemed safe to proceed. Players were given, by the ECB, keeping in mind the security issues, a choice whether they would go on the tour or stay. Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales said they did not feel comfortable and withdrew, just as Andrew Caddick did in India many years ago. The results were a widespread condemnation of Morgan, an Oliver Holt expedition so shallow that it barely merited being a puddle of a piece, and the generation of nonsensical heat and light about duty, loyalty, courage and leadership. A 2-1 ODI series win, under some interesting and tetchy leadership by Jos Buttler, was greeted like a huge triumph, and now the same heat and light is on whether Morgan should be in the team on merit, or whether we should just throw in the young guns, like, er, Ben Duckett (that went well in the test team). Morgan is a great captain of an ODI team and keeps his place on merit. Cook wasn’t a great captain of a poor performing test team, and was in poor nick for quite a while, and the press could barely mention it. We are a funny bunch.

Once the ODI series and the all the old cobblers that came with had been got out of the way, so we went into the two match test series. Alastair Cook had come back from the UK after the birth of his second child, and assumed the reins of the team, as they sought to hold back the hosts on some very spicy, spinning wickets. Both tests were filled with drama. Batting was perilous, but England got enough to win by a narrow margin at Chittagong, with Stokes being the difference, but the cracks did not hold at Dhaka, and Bangladesh romped to a famous victory. There was lot of great spin in evidence, with the English representatives coming from the media, and the hosts from the team, and especially the exciting talent that was Mehedi Hassan. The media tried to make it look like this was a valiant drawn series against a talented foe. Most of us thought this was a recipe for disaster with India looming, and no-one was being called for it except the three spinners. Batsmen weren’t to blame, they rarely are (unless you should not have been picked in the first place, Gary Balance). Those of us with long memories will recall the over the top reactions to a hit out or get out 50 by Ben Duckett for a while to come. It took all of two matches for him to become “unselectable” after that.

Then on to India. The result was pre-ordained according to the press and other experts. I’m listening to an old Switch Hit where Mark Butcher basically said that anyone with any cricket knowledge should have known that was going to be the result. I am really sorry, but I am not buying it, will not be buying it, and won’t be buying it any time soon. England were competitive, so they said, but lost key sessions and lost 4-0. Because this was the bar set at the start, then it was almost acceptable for it to be the end result. I was half joking when I said anything other than 5-0 would be painted as a success.

But you know, and I know, that this isn’t really what is going on. For the media to, almost as one, indicate that it’s time up for Alastair Cook suggests he’s not really thought of as totally without blame for this one in the same way David Gower wasn’t for the Blackwash of 1984. The captaincy was abject at some points – and all captains go through abject moments – but he seemed to be unable to rouse anyone, to get them enthused or excited. At times it was going through the motions. Karun Nair has a test triple hundred to his name, for heaven’s sake. Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Dravid, Viswanath, Hazare et al have not made one, but Karun Nair has. Jayant Yadav may be a very talented cricketer, but he has a test ton to his name too. Yet this was seen to be almost “expected”. I’m scratching my head.

England played well at Rajkot, batted with discipline, made a massive first innings total, dictated terms, and played with good sense. The declaration caused some ructions, but I wasn’t overly fussed about it. A decent performance after Dhaka was what was needed. Of course, some went silly over it, and then found out why you shouldn’t when we were handily beaten at Vizag. Kohli’s masterful 167 being the key batting difference, and while some were still saying the signs were really encouraging, most of us thought that unless the bleeding was stopped we were in real trouble. Of course, the toss was “crucial” there, and the result might have been different had we won it. When we won the toss at Mohail, we were promptly dismissed for 283 and dead in the water. Of course, this ignores the fact that India were 204 for 6 in reply and were totally let off the hook, as the tail wagged. A 124 run lead for India was enough. England never got back into the game.

At this point Haseeb Hameed had sustained a broken finger and was out of the rest of the tour, which meant his almost legendary start could benefit more from not playing in the final two test matches. Hameed is a talent, for sure, but I do like to see my talents make massive scores before anointing them as the heir apparent to Kumar Sangakkara, even if that means I’m bloody unreasonable in so doing. English sport is littered with kids built up before they are due, and cast aside when they don’t live up to the hype. Let’s hope HH is an exception to the rule.

The last two test matches followed similar patterns. England won the toss, thus gaining an advantage, but still found themselves batting last as they made on the face of it decent totals, but totally inadequate when you neither appeared to have the clue or the sticky hands to constrain Indian batsmen. Are you really telling me that Mumbai was a 631 wicket? I’ve just heard Mark Butcher call England’s second innings as being inevitably below 200, because the deck was doing everything. Yet we couldn’t get shot of the Indian lower order? They were 34 runs behind us when the 7th wicket went down and walked away with a 231 lead! As for Chennai, that was a road. A road we couldn’t be arsed to stick it out on to get a draw.

Look, I recognise, as someone who has watched the game enough that winning in India is tough. I am not bloody stupid. What got me with this is the almost reticent attitude of those following, who seemed to take more time explaining away our failures rather than getting stuck into players who underperformed, unless their name was Adil Rashid. It was quite strange, having lived through some disastrous tours where the press declared open season, even at times when we were expected to be thrashed (every overseas Ashes series it seemed). Now everyone wanted to be ever so reasonable about it. As the beloved says “beware a change of behaviour”.

The year ends with England, touted as possible world number 1s after their win in South Africa in a state of flux. I think most people, in their hearts, know Cook should go. Some have known it a lot longer than others. There is almost ludicrous expectations on Hameed, while Keaton Jennings may have a debut test ton under his belt, but still appears to have a bit to prove. The batting order is a mess, we are playing a wicket keeper batsman as a batsman, and a batsman wicketkeeper as the keeper. Moeen Ali doesn’t know whether he is coming or going. Adil is on the one hand a fragile, catch dropping liability, and within a fortnight our number one spinner. The seam bowling looked worryingly ineffective once the wickets got flat, and James Anderson appears to be an injury prone, too many miles on the clock, up and down bowler (has he lost that nip) on wickets that don’t help him. That doesn’t even mention the coaching staff. Trevor Bayliss got too much praise when things were going well, and pushed off a day early when they weren’t. He’s either managed the press well, or there is something going on. There are a number of grumblings about his test coaching ability, but nothing serious yet. Maybe there’s a nice herbaceous border around him with lots of pretty flowers? As for Paul Farbrace, who knows? Everyone still seems to be in Camp Farby. Nothing to seems to stick to him. If we are doing well, he gets lots and lots of praise. When they go badly, he gets lots and lots of praise. I’m not entirely sure why! Maybe it’s because he’s a cheeky chappy, chirpy and upbeat, a lovely assistant, creating a good environment. 2017 has many many tests – the Champions Trophy had better go well. South Africa won’t be pushovers, and we might freeze West Indies to death by the end of September, while our players will be on their knees. And then….The Ashes!

So to the media. We’ve seen the loss of some of the behemoths of the reporting game. Stephen Brenkley was dispensed with when the Independent went online only, and now is the home of any jobbing freelancer wanting to sell copy. There’s the case of spreading yourself too thinly as a couple of the hardy perennials of the up and coming crew are doing. While Brenkley wasn’t my cup of tea, and to be fair, I’m not really sure who is, I found him more the unthreatening scribe, clearly in love with what he was doing because of the sport and less because he appeared in love with himself. In some ways I miss Bunkers.

Then there was the well trailed removal of Mike Selvey from the Guardian. It is never nice to see a man lose his job, and it is important that this isn’t jumping on his misfortune, but he needed to read the runes and he didn’t. Like Pringle before he gave off the impression the game owed him a living, and the reverence he received BTL in The Guardian often enforced that. The lachrymose tributes on his demise were OTT. His view of embracing social media was to put what he thought out there and slag off anyone who disagreed. As a newspaper man, you can’t do that. Engage, debate, even try to get to know your accusers. Some have done it and found it, I think, of mutual benefit. For Phil Walker to almost cuddle him on Cricket Writers was the last straw for me with AOC. Selvey had no truck with the likes of us, independent of mind, as acerbic in print as he could be. He didn’t want to read views contrary to his, or at least, he might if you’d played the game at the highest level. But he might ask himself why we have a decent relationship with certain journalists and not him while he sups his pint and pines, of course, for a job lost. There were a lot on here who really liked you Mike. Maybe ask why they ended up being on the other side of that line at the end.

Meanwhile the same old correspondents plod along, touring the world, filing copy, being read by fewer people as the game gradually disappears. It’s a bloody shame. Again, to those who block me, namely Paul Newman and Simon Wilde, ask yourselves why we got so damned angry at some of your copy – well that’s Newman, I don’t have the first clue why Wilde blocked me, I quite liked him – because a number of your colleagues did. Think about how the fans are consuming their cricket writing these days. Think beyond scoring a few cheap hits and stupid BTL twaddle, and more about the sport itself. Try not to use your columns to settle other people’s scores.

On TV the new kid on the block, BT Sport, has made a middling start to its coverage. Speaking for myself I think it has a decent panel, even with the odious Lovejoy on it, and it made a splash with the early prominent names of Ponting and KP, knowing these were for a short period of time. This is a practice run for their Ashes coverage next year. Let me give you a number of pieces of advice based on what I have seen of their test and ODI coverage.

  • A highlights show is to watch cricket first, hear you lot jabbering on later. The amount of actual play shown is laughable. When the Ashes are played next year, more cricket and a lot less bunny.
  • Greg James is a promising host but he appears to be limited in what he knows. Now either he is being constrained by the format and the talking heads, or he is limited in what he knows.
  • As for the live coverage, please stop the silly little inserts during the coverage. It’s bad enough with Channel 9 cramming in their imbeciles, without adding to the number of voices. Let it breathe.
  • Separate the action and the chat as much as possible.
  • If you want any more advice, dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk

I have the week off to follow the Sydney test next week, and might provide some more views. It’s good that there are different avenues to watch, but not so good when you have to pay more. The world will, must, have a dedicated cricket viewing source soon, or else it is going to lose revenue and customers.

There’s a bigger piece on domestic cricket to write, and how it interacts with TV. At the moment we have an almighty mess with the ECB and the counties being accused of all sorts by everyone. Until something truly crystallises – ha ha, playing in Beckenham – it’s all heat and light. And dull to watch.

So a year that began with a bang, ended with a dud. There’s too much here already to give a world view of the game, so maybe that’s something I can look into in the New Year. I’ll also be encompassing another aspect in another of the Dmitris, but for now, with cricket, media and blogging in here, it should be enough to be going on.

Happy New Year. One more piece to come.

 

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England v Pakistan – ODI #3 – Preview and Comments

Now. I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to tomorrow’s game with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. I’d be lying if I said this was the number one thing on my agenda tomorrow. I’d be lying if I said this series had gripped me by my lapels, shaking my pent up excitement like a pair of maracas. The first two games have been unutterably dull.

This may be the case of after the Lord Mayor’s Show, given the excitement and verve of the recent test series. It might be that Pakistan are outmatched with a dodgy batting line-up, while England have a murderers row all the way down to Adil Rashid at number 10. The bowling is more even, but England haven’t had massive chases to test how much the visitors might bend. It’s been routine so far, and that’s not what we like to see. ODIs need the touch of the extraordinary or they become extra ordinary. A bad ODI, an uncompetitive one where the first score is low is no recipe for future enjoyment. I sat through Saturday’s game and I was phenomenally bored. I fell asleep for 45 minutes during our chase – part older age, part not caring as much, part the dullness of the game.

This much is true. (cue Spandau Ballet) 18 months ago we were garbage at ODI cricket. Absolute unmitigated rubbish. Now we (I) get bored when we win routine matches. Yes, I sound like an entitled Manchester United fan fed up that we aren’t winning in style. I get this. Except there’s not a lot of fandom, other than dearly hoping Jason Roy or Jos Buttler go off. I don’t mind Hales or Root play very well either. Less enamoured of Morgan, ever since the “that’s from me” macho bullshit, and Stokes really needs to justify his white ball place with performances rather than “I want to bowl because I’m bored” stuff, even if that was tongue in cheek. This isn’t unconditional fandom at all. But you knew that!

Tomorrow the match takes place at Trent Bridge. A couple of months ago there was a thrilling game where England got out of jail with a tie when Liam Plunkett hit the last ball for six. It was the sort of ODI that gets your attention. England, through Buttler and most notably Woakes, gave us a thin chance, and then got the rewards. Last year New Zealand made 349 and England chased them down with six overs, yes six, remaining. Eoin Morgan made 113, and yet not much more than a year later there are whispers that he should not be in the team, He made a half century on Saturday, so maybe that clamour has receded. Just mentioning those two matches show how the landscape has changed, and probably why the last two matches have been dull in comparison.

In my opinion, and I said it on Saturday, Joe Root should be given a couple of weeks off. He plays all three formats, has hardly had a break, and got a knock on Saturday. We do push our players to extremes at times, and I think he’s earned a break. No doubt Joe won’t want one, and no doubt the medical and management staff know better. But it looks to me as if there is no harm in doing so. Maybe, if we clinch the ODI series tomorrow, we can take a more pragmatic line, whether we are placing equal weight on ODIs and tests or not. It’s not as if there isn’t some exciting young talent behind the scenes. Duckett, Billings, Bell-Drummond et al. I know we are building a solid team for the Champions Trophy next year, but health has to come into it.

Comments on the game below. Come on now, you WILL enjoy it.

As a reminder, it’s 12-8 in the Super Series.

DID YOU KNOW? Kevin Pietersen played 5 ODIs at Trent Bridge, but batted just twice? 41* and 0. Why now? Just trailing the upcoming look at his test hundreds

ODI #2 – Match Review

England won by 4 wickets. I think.  Pakistan were 2 for 3 and that was pretty much it. Sarfraz made a hundred, and really enjoyed it. England chased down the runs, Joe Root hobbled to a score of 89, Moeen Ali played enough shots to get people doing the ritual purr, Jason Roy played a shot that said “open in tests in India”, and a tedious 50 over “contest” played out in front of a crowd that had little to ignite it.

For the record, I fell asleep for 45 minutes during it.

I’m not sure the game merits much more comment.

Dmitri.

OOOOPS! 12-8 IN THE SUPER SERIES.

England vs Pakistan: 2nd ODI

No form of cricket can guarantee close matches or excitement, and the first game somewhat petered out in a drizzly mess.  But even though England’s win was ultimately confirmed by Messieurs Duckworth Lewis and Stern, there was little doubt which way the match was going anyway.  It was a curiously old fashioned game, at least as far as Palistan were concerned, as their innings brought back memories of England under Flower and Moores as much as anything.  260 may even be a “winning score” as far as the statisticians are concerned (probably not) but England were in complete cruise control throughout.

The second match therefore will be interesting to see how the visitors look to approach it, for England look a real force in the one day format, one who seem quite capable of reaching another hundred on top of that.  That’s not to say they can’t fall in a heap, for the shorter the game, the higher the level of risk, and the greater the opportunity for collapse.  One of the more pleasing things about this England side is that when that does happen, they regard it as an occupational hazard, shrug it off and continue in the same vein.

Yet if the batting is doing well, it was the bowling, or more specifically, one element of the bowling, that caught the eye.  Mark Wood has shown he has ability and pace before, but his entire England career to date has been while labouring with the presence of an ankle problem.  Having been away for quite some time getting it sorted, he is now back – and my, how he is back.  His pace is right up there with anyone, and it was startling to read that he feels he’s not fully there yet and could get quicker.  It may yet be the best news of the summer providing he suffers no reaction.

In the days between these matches England confirmed that they will tour Bangladesh this autumn.  The ECB rarely earn praise from anyone – well, apart from one or two for whom they can do no wrong no matter what – but while it is impossible to judge the rights and wrongs of this particular decision, they do deserve praise for at least trying wherever possible to ensure these tours go ahead.  It’s not the first time, back in 2008 after the Mumbai terror attacks, England returned to the country, ensuring that normality was restored in sporting terms.

Again, we must trust the Foreign Office and the ECB’s own advisors that this particular decision is the correct one, but assuming it is so, it would still have been easy to use the security situation to cancel it.  Indeed, there must be a suspicion that other countries may well have done so, and thus with the proviso that we do not know the reality of the decision, the ECB do deserve credit for not using it as an excuse to avoid going.  Notwithstanding Pakistan’s wonderful rise to the top of the Test rankings, it would have been crippling to Bangladesh had it got the go ahead.

The ECB have told England’s players that they can drop out of the tour with no effect on their careers, but whilst this is a good thing to say, the truth of the matter is that for all but those absolutely certain of their place, it means nothing.  Players who do well are always going to be in pole position, the man in possession has the advantage.  It means that for some, there will be some soul searching about whether to make themselves available or not.  It is hard to think how else the ECB could have done things, they may be many things, but they are not fools, and they will be as aware of this as anyone.

Finally in other news Somerset have announced the prices for the T20 international between England and South Africa next year.  It is the first time they will host an international in 30 years, and they seem determined to make the most of it, by announcing ticket prices of between £60 and £80.  It’s not the biggest ground, it is a big event for them.  But it is still an outrageous price.  There seems little doubt they will sell out, and therefore in commercial terms it’s justifiable.  Yet once more it is those who support the game being used as a cash cow and nothing else.  Commercially sensible yes.  Grasping and greedy, also yes.  I trust they’ll use the financial bonanza wisely.

2nd ODI comments below

Hand me Down a Solution – Series Review

In the early 1980s when growing up, summer holidays meant tuning in to BBC1 at 10:55 to watch the Test matches.  Come the end of summer, the feeling of melancholy at the conclusion of a series was always strong, with the only subsequent cricket being the end of season Lords one day final, which was akin to pretending to enjoy the sloe gin from the drinks cabinet when everything else has been consumed.  Times change, and cricket now is unending, where the finish to the Tests is merely a pause before the one day internationals begin, and then England go on tour somewhere.  In the same way that the end of the football season is a mere pause in hostilities, the end of the Test match cricket summer no longer normally carries so much power to create sadness.

And yet with this one, perhaps there is a little more in the way of regret at the passing of the season.  This is probably as much as anything due to Pakistan, who have been exceptional tourists, and thoroughly merited their victory at the Oval to draw the series.  Four Tests also offered up the reminder as to why a five Test series remains the best possible format, provided the series is a competitive one.  Few cricket fans would object to a decider for this one, yet it is a lament that so often is heard and never acted upon.  It was at least better than the ridiculous two Test “series” against New Zealand last year.

What the drawn series did do was silence those who were quoting the article of faith about England holding all the bilateral trophies.  It isn’t that doing such a thing isn’t a meritorious achievement, it’s just that something that no one had ever noticed or paid attention to before somehow became the highest possible achievement in the game in their eyes.  As with so many things, the context is all, noting success is a good thing, going overboard about it is not.  Doubtless, the bilateral series record will now return to being what it always was – a minor matter.

Given their troubled previous tour to England, Pakistan clearly intended to win hearts and minds this time around, and in that they succeeded.  It is a remarkable turn around for a side who it is probably fair to say were one of the least popular touring sides in England; they played with a joie de vivre that reminds everyone that cricket – even in its modern, money is all important guide – is a game, a pastime, and above all fun; the reason all of these players first picked up a bat or a ball in the first place.  The repeated press ups may have irritated the England players, but it amused the spectators every time.  Quite simply, the Pakistan team looked like they were enjoying themselves.  One particular moment comes to mind, a catch by Hafeez (who didn’t exactly have many high points) caused a young boy in the crowd to wildly celebrate, being picked up by the TV cameras and leading the player to end almost doubled over laughing, and applauding his young supporter.  It was a delightful moment, and one that re-inforced the image of a team comfortable with where and who they are at last.

Misbah ul-Haq remains under-appreciated in his homeland, but elsewhere he is approaching hero status for cricket fans.  The achievements are verging on the extraordinary, with Pakistan now having the most successful period in Test cricket in their history under his leadership.  It is quite exceptional in itself, and given his age, truly remarkable.  Misbah has made Pakistan competitive, and above all given his team their self-respect.  If it has to be that it is something more recognised for what it is abroad, then that is a pity, but it is still worth recognising.

So what of England?  The first part of the summer was routine enough, a Sri Lankan side shorn of its great players was despatched with little difficulty, but Pakistan proved to be something of a harder nut to crack.  This in itself came as something of a surprise to some, with many predictions of a comfortable England win before the series began.  Yet Pakistan were always going to be a threat, and in advance of the series the assessment of it being between two sides with good seam attacks, and patchy batting proved to be ultimately more or less right.  England had the advantage in the middle and lower order, while Pakistan had a (much) better spinner at their disposal.

Statistics can be gleefully misleading at the end of a series though: take the comparison between Moeen Ali and Yasir Shah, both of whom averaged over 40 in the series with the ball.  Yet Yasir was instrumental in both Pakistan wins, while Moeen – with the ball at least – certainly was not.  This isn’t a particular surprise of course, for Yasir is an outstanding bowler, and even the most adoring fan of Moeen would never make that claim.  But it does highlight the point that players can have an impact in a game disproportionate to their overall figures, perhaps we could call it the Ben Stokes effect.

England did have some real successes in the series, Moeen himself batted absolutely beautifully, that dreadful slog at Lords proving to be very much the exception.  It’s notable in his case that that particular dismissal didn’t stop him from using his feet to the spinners, most gloriously on that final morning at Edgbaston where in the first over of the day he served notice that England were going all out for the win.  That Moeen can bat is not especially surprising news, that his batting improves out of all recognition when given one of the batting spots rather than being in the tail perhaps is.  Either way, and given that England have limited spin bowling options – presumably Adil Rashid will come in for the India tour – his series will count as a success, albeit with a couple of major caveats.  One item of note with Moeen’s bowling is that although his average is certainly not the best, his strike rate is quite decent, comparable with Nathan Lyon for example.  Batsmen do try to attack him, and do get out to him.  In the absence of a truly top class spinner of the calibre of a Graeme Swann, replacing Moeen with another off spinner is unlikely to deliver markedly improved results.  It doesn’t mean defending Moeen irrespective, but it does mean cutting England’s cloth according to what they have.  A decade ago Ashley Giles received no end of criticism for not being Shane Warne, but he did a job, and did it well.  Chasing rainbows is not the means to a successful side.

Joe Root finished top of the batting averages, largely due to that astounding 254.  Aside from that it will represent a mildly frustrating series for him, getting in and getting out with annoying frequency.  An illustration of just how good Root has become is shown by the feeling that the series was a slightly unsatisfying one despite over 500 runs at more than 73.  Such is the penalty for excellence, for brilliance is expected every time.  But Root himself alluded to the irritation of getting out when set, so it is less a criticism, and more a matter of the player being so good now that he can deliver even more than he currently is.  He has a decent shout of being England’s best batsman in many, many years.

Cook too had a mixed time of it, despite a strong set of figures over the series.  He looked somewhat rusty in the first Test, but thereafter his biggest problem appeared to be that his form was too good if anything.  He rattled along, having the highest strike rate of anyone bar Moeen, a most un-Cooklike state of affairs.  He was fluent and even playing cover drives, which tends to be one of the best indicators of an in form Cook.  That would then bring about his downfall – seeing him caught at point off a skewed drive, or dragging pull shots onto the stumps is not something that is expected.  Most batsmen will tell you that they score the most runs when they are just shy of their very best, where there is a degree of caution in the strokeplay.  When feeling on top of the world, more chances are taken, and getting out is more likely.  It is impossible to measure, but the suspicion has to be that this was the case with Cook this time.  Still, a good series for him.

Jonny Bairstow was the other major plus point in the batting order.  He’s the leading run scorer in Tests in the world this calendar year (by dint of having played far more than anyone else, it has to be an Englishman) and scored heavily without ever going on to a truly match defining innings at any point.  Four fifties and no hundreds represents a decent return from a player in excellent form, but perhaps his most notable achievement was muting the comment about his wicketkeeping.  He hasn’t turned into a great ‘keeper overnight, and probably never will, but it is tidier, and with fewer errors than in previous series.  He pulled off a couple of decent catches too.  His wicketkeeping remains a work in progress, but the reality is that his runs balance that out; the age old debate about a specialist keeper versus an auxiliary batsman who keeps has long been settled, in favour of the batting.  Bairstow will make mistakes, but the more he keeps – and it does need to be remembered that much of his career he has been essentially part-time – the better he will get.  There have been some suggestions that he move up the order, effectively to compensate for the flaws in England’s batting, but it would be a big ask to expect him to do that, especially in the heat of India or Bangladesh.  Weakening another player to make up for the failures of others has never been a solution.

England have become something of a team of all rounders in the last eighteen months, and the player who was widely felt to be more of a bits and pieces player than a true example of the breed is Chris Woakes, who probably had the best series of anyone.  He batted well enough, making a maiden half century, but his bowling was a revelation to many.  Yet Woakes has an excellent first class record with both bat and ball, and he was hardly the first player to find the transition to Test cricket a challenge.  The demand for instant success clouds the reality that an immediate impact guarantees nothing, and other players can take time to adjust.  One fine series doesn’t mean that he’s a fixture for the next few years, but he’s started to look the part with the ball for a while; in South Africa he bowled with very well yet was spectacularly unlucky.  This time he got the rewards.  By all accounts he has worked exceptionally hard on his bowling, putting on an extra few mph and improving his control.  Players can and do learn – it is not unlikely that James Anderson is a rather useful resource – and Woakes’ success is a reward for being patient with him.

Stuart Broad is a bowler who attracts considerable ire and much comment, despite a record over the last couple of years that compares with anyone.  This series certainly wasn’t his best, and mutterings about his apparent habit of coasting resurfaced.  Yet 13 wickets at 28.61 is hardly a catastrophic return, and if that now counts as coasting, then it merely demonstrates what a fine bowler he has become.  It was a relatively quiet series for him because he didn’t have one of those spells where he becomes completely unplayable, rather than because he struggled at any point.  Broad is the focal point of the England bowling attack these days, despite Woakes having a better time of it this time.  Criticism of Broad is absurd, he is a fine bowler who had a series that was quiet by his standards.  The “by his standards” is the key.  Where there can be severe disappointment with him is with his batting.  It has completely fallen apart, and the pity of that is that for so long he looked like someone who, if never destined to be a true all rounder, looked a player capable of meaningful contributions on a regular basis.

Anderson too had a reasonably quiet but still moderately effective series.  He didn’t take a whole lot of wickets, but maintained excellent control throughout.  He made more headlines for having a preposterous strop at being rightly sanctioned for running on the track than anything else.  What can be said about him is that at 34 he remains an outstanding athlete, with few obvious signs of diminishing powers.  Assuming he carries on for another few years he will doubtless get slower, but he is a clever bowler, and one who will use the skill developed over a career to take wickets.  At the veteran stage of his cricketing life, he is still a valuable asset.

As for Steven Finn, his raw figures look horrible, but at times he bowled well and with pace.  He’s a difficult one to assess, forever making progress and then regressing.  At 27 he should be coming into his peak, but the nagging worry that he is not going to fulfil the potential he first showed is very much there.  Two away series (assuming Bangladesh goes ahead) in Asia are unlikely to show him at his very best, given that the rampaging, lightning fast Finn of the past now appears to be something we won’t see again.  He is once more at the crossroads, and which way his career goes is open to question.

The bowling overall looks in reasonable shape, the nucleus is there as it has been for some years, and if the spin side of it looks a bit thin, it’s an issue that applies to the English game as a whole more than anything.  Unfortunately the same can’t be said of the batting, for despite the good performances of those mentioned, that they were required to do almost all of it as the rest of the top order had poor series.

Ballance was the best of them, and he at least has a strong record to fall back on.  His return to Test cricket doesn’t appear to have shown any major changes in his technique, beyond batting a little more out of the crease than he used to.  He didn’t appear out of his depth, did get a few good deliveries and made one score of note.  Of all the players who had weak series, he still appears to be best equipped for Test cricket.  Yet the jury remains out on him, as to whether that slightly idiosyncratic style is going to allow him to make a true success of the longest form of the game.  He probably did enough to retain his place in the side, if only because others did worse, but he needs significant runs soon if he is not to be another to shine brightly but briefly.

Hales and Vince are the two who are most at risk, yet for differing reasons.  Hales doesn’t have the purest technique, but was brought into the side to provide a contrast with Alastair Cook’s accumulative style of batting.  Yet it was Cook who was by far the more fluent, while Hales appears to be attempting to bat like a traditional opener.  It’s hard to understand the thinking behind this, for Hales is never going to be as competent at that as others are, his strengths are in playing his shots, taking the attack to the bowling and giving England a fast start.  Once in, he is one of the most destructive players around, but whether it is his own decision, or it is pushed from above, it seems to be the worst of all worlds, a pedestrian style and a technique that doesn’t stand up to the rigours of Test cricket.  It would be easier to comprehend if he was trying to be England’s answer to David Warner, and whether that succeeded or failed, it would at least be an experiment worth trying.  As things stand, it’s hard to grasp what the intention is.

Vince in contrast looks lovely, full of gorgeous and stylish shots, only to fall repeatedly to a fundamental weakness outside off stump.  The health enforced retirement of James Taylor created a vacancy in the middle order, but it wasn’t a position that had carried much strength anyway.  Vince looks every inch the Test cricketer right up to the point he gets out, then rinse and repeat next time around.  Michael Vaughan for one has insisted that Vince be given more time but the ISM factor there lowers the credibility of someone whose views ought to be credible.

What that means is that there are three players in the top five not pulling their weight, an impossible situation for any team.  The only reason it hasn’t proved catastrophic is because of the strength of the middle and lower order.  When England’s top five (with two obvious exceptions) are collectively referred to as the “first tail” it’s clear there is a problem.  Of course, not for the first time the selectors have made a rod for their own backs.  As with the Pietersen situation it requires replacements to be notably better than those that have been dropped, and the discarding of Ian Bell can hardly be said to have been an unqualified success.  The problem here is not the dropping of a player, it so rarely is.  Bell had struggled for a while and not selecting him for the South Africa tour was a decision that could be justified.  Where England go wrong is in at the very least implying that at no point could they ever have made a mistake, and ignoring any and all criticism that they may have done so.  All teams have to create a space for new players to develop, the issue England have is that 60% of the top five are in that position, something completely unsustainable.  The rather transparent attempt to undermine the selectors in the media by the coincidence of several articles at once proposing the creation of a supremo (like we haven’t been here before) don’t alter the truth that the selectors themselves have a fairly patchy record.

Looked at that way, it is something of a miracle England managed to draw the series at all.  With the five matches in India to come, it is difficult to see how they could get away with these flaws.  The one bright spot is that Ben Stokes will return, and while his batting is not entirely reliable it is at least more so than some currently in the side.  It may well be that by bringing in Rashid and dropping one of the seamers (presumably Finn at this stage) they have a ridiculously strong middle order with Stokes, Bairstow, Moeen, Woakes and Rashid comprimising numbers 5 to 9.  Whether that then compensates for the top is another matter.  There are whispers that Adam Lyth may be recalled to top of the order, or it could be that another young player is thrown in.  Eventually no doubt they will find the right player, but repeated discarding of batsmen doesn’t give too much confidence in the method.

A few last items: It has been a regular topic of complaint on here, but this was surely the summer in which poor over rates finally caused the ICC to take action and stop the theft of spectators’ money.  It would take an extraordinarily insular governing body who didn’t have an issue with it, one that considered paying spectators as nothing other than a resource to be exploited.  Perish the thought.

According to the press, should the Bangladesh series go ahead it will be left to the players to decide whether to go, with no adverse reaction should they decide not to do so.  Nice words, but the reality is always different; it may not be deliberate, but a player has a chance to get into the side by making himself available – equally few but the most comfortable will want to take the chance that someone else comes in and takes their spot.  It’s not meant to be critical, the ECB’s position on this is a reasonable enough one.  But reality intrudes on this – there will be some reluctant tourists.

After that comes India, and a huge challenge for the team.  While it is entirely for monetary reasons, it is still welcome to have a five Test series over there, but 2012 is a long time ago and England will do will to escape with a drawn series, let alone anything better.  Cook will need to be at his very best for one thing, but the batting will need to do far better than it has shown itself capable of in recent times in order to compete.

England are not a bad side at all.  The Test rankings show nothing more than that several teams are capable of beating each other on their day and (especially) in their own conditions.  But for all the talk about whether England could get to number one by beating Pakistan, it’s of no importance if they might drop down the series following.  There is no outstanding side in world cricket quite simply, and the focus on being the best is quite some way away.  Although there is necessarily going to be an England-centric focus on that, it’s no bad thing to have a number of competitive sides.  A bigger issue is the difficulty of winning away for anyone – which is why Pakistan drawing this series is such a creditable result.  They have been delightful visitors.

Oh yes one last thing.  It’s 8-8 in Director, Cricket’s  Big Plan To Make Cricket Relevant Idea.  You hadn’t forgotten had you?

4th Test, The End…

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The Oval Test – Another result

And there, ladies, gentleman and blog respondents is your test match summer done for another year. The wave of melancholy as the longest and best form of the game is put away for another summer in jolly old England. We can reflect on the whole summer later, and we will, but for now, let’s concentrate on what we’ve seen over the past four days and reflect on Pakistan’s excellent performance.

At this point I would like to wait for Ed Smith’s piece, so I could copy it and pass it off as my own work, but I fear TLG might suspend me, so that isn’t a great idea.

But after that somewhat snarky point, let’s talk about today’s play. England started the day at 88 for 4, and progressed quite serenly with Ballance and Bairstow ticking the score over and giving England some hope that they might post a lead. Wahab had received a second warning for running on the wicket, and was rendered less effective having to go wide of the crease or round the wicket. Then, from nowhere, Sohail Khan got one to bounce a little and Ballance nicked off to the keeper. This put more pressure on the Recovery Team, YJB and Moeen, but they seemed up to the task. Moeen looked in great nick, following on from the century and while a couple of YJB’s shots were a little uppish, he was past 50 and moving on. Just before Lunch, with a partnership of 65 in good time flowing, again, out of nowhere a Yasir Shah delivery caught the edge of Moeen’s bat, and Sarfraz held the chance at the second attempt. With Moeen, one sensed, went England’s hopes.

A two wicket in two ball calamity shortly after lunch saw Woakes run out attempting a single and getting turned back, with Jonny then hitting a cover drive that did not bounce, and was pouched by Azhar Ali. That was game over. England were still in arrears with 9, 10 and Jimmy to come. They rustled up 44 runs between them, but the damage had been done. As I write, Azhar has just plonked Moeen into the stands for a six to finish off the match. Series drawn/tied at 2-2. Let the spin begin.

I was struck by an interview with Andrew Strauss over the winter where he pretty much discounted the 2-0 defeat in the UAE last winter as being something totally unexpected because it was totally alien conditions. It’s a position that has been readily accepted by many of the cricketing firmament. Pakistan have come to very alien conditions here, and got a drawn series out of it. The main difference from 2010 was the batting. Pakistan were generally woeful with the bat in that series, and I don’t believe any player made a hundred. On this tour Misbah, Azhar, Shafiq and Younus all topped the hundred mark, and in topping 500 in the final test again showed England are a bit tepid when faced with big scores (Cook’s opus in the UAE notwithstanding). Pakistan drawing the series is a major achievement. Looking back  to Pakistan at the Oval, and ignoring the 2006 test when Pakistan were on top when the shenanigans went on, have done very well in South East London’s Field of Dreams. Maybe this isn’t a surprise.

Pakistan have been brilliant opposition, played enterprising and fun cricket (that Day 4 at Edgbaston aside, which still mystifies me) and rewarded all those who showed up to the venues and who watched on TV. Sadly, because we live in a world where money makes the world go round, the bottom line for this series is a reduction in revenue, possibly an ongoing loss, and plenty of financial reasons to delay the return. That would be immensely sad. People can make the very decent point that Pakistan haven’t got the memo that test cricket is dying, but this series is a sticking plaster on a serious wound. The underlying prognosis, no matter how optimistic you are, isn’t good. Tickets weren’t sold out in advance. Some days had some sparse crowds, probably down to scheduling. The series did not deserve it, being massively better than anything we’ve been served up in years. Two close tests, two hammerings. One of each for each team. My thanks to Pakistan for their contribution to the summer of cricket. India, take note.

We’ll do something on the aftermath of the series later, but for now, stick down your immediate thoughts. My first one? It’s August 14th, and the test season is over. It feels as winter gets nearer when the last test ends. Melancholy.

Ooooh. The presentation man has just said it’s 8-8 in the Super Series. We’d forgotten that. Or at least I had.

Talk away…

4th Test, Day 3 – Review Of The Day

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Lovely

While The Leg Glance is posting pictures of cats on Twitter, it falls to me to take up the cudgels and write the review of the day’s play. Now I’m having to write this before the end of the day’s play, with England at the commencement of this piece standing on a very steady 55/2 – I mean 55/3 as James Vince finishes his test career – and stand on the precipice. Carry on with me as we take England down in the last 50 minutes of play.

Definition of optimism…

The day started with Pakistan in the ascendancy with a small lead and four wickets remaining. A solid session for either team and the game may well swing their way. It was Pakistan who took the honours. Sarfraz, without making a massive score this series, once again showed he has a lot to offer with a 44, in support of the increasingly confident, and permanence personified of Younus Khan. I’m going with Younus, by the way. Then after Wahab stayed around to support Khan on the departure of the busy keeper, the lead inexorably rose to Edgbaston levels. Wahab’s Sunday Club Cricket stumping brought Mohammad Amir to the fray, who chose this time to make his test best score. England were looking increasingly punchless, and, it has to be said, not like a World Number One.

Suddenly the almost complacent approach of England’s legion of supporters was looking flawed. This wasn’t the tail stretching the lead, more the imperious, immovable Younus Khan. His contempt for Ali’s efforts, a salutary reminder of our spinners shortcomings exposed again, was frightening. It was summed up with him on 192. He pushed a two to mid-wicket sitting too deep, and every man and his mutt knew what his next move would be. And so it happened, biffed for six over mid-wicket and a double was up. This was majestic stuff, and the lead went over 200. Younus fell via a full ball from Jimmy (think I was watching the Men’s Eights at the time) for 218, joining Rahul Dravid and Sanath Jayasuriya in the last 20 years to visit the South London pastures and come back with a double, and he’d played the vital hand.

Woakes was again the pick of the bowlers, and again Broad seemed a little off kilter. It hasn’t been his greatest summer. Jimmy was rather under-bowled today, it seemed, but all four quicks bowled around the same amount of overs (29 for the elderly, 30 for the youth). Moeen Alis’s 2/128 with an economy rate well over 5 has to be concerning. But as we’ve said, as may have said, there aren’t a litany of options out there to take his place.

It’s 65 for 3 at this time.

A selection of Vince tweets….

There’s been a more forthright tone to this guy’s tweets this summer. Lord knows why. This one was from yesterday!

Yes. It probably did.

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh.

More Stocks. Also Alec Swann still around. Beginning to wonder. But while I agree about his contention about Bell, wasn’t Swann the one who didn’t have KP in his top 10 English players he’d seen? Maybe I’m watching the wrong sport.

OK. Enough of that. I’ll top and tail this at 6:30….

The day finished with England on 88 for 4. They are a long way away from doing anything to avert a defeat. They lost no more wickets after I saw the end of Root to a plumb LBW that he decided to review – as plumb as Hales, who also reviewed his. We’d better hope no-one gets sawn off.

Pakistan have done superbly well in this game, outplaying us yet again – they won here in 2010, they were in the driving seat in 2006 when the ball tampering incident took over, and won here in 1996, 1992 and were very much on top in 1987. They love SE London, just like your author.

Oh. I didn’t mention the skipper. It really doesn’t matter. There will be time to discuss matters when the series finishes. But don’t invoke the great captains of the past, before time. Our media, our fans, our players seem to get ahead of themselves. This game bites you on the arse.

Good luck to Ballance, Bairstow, Moeen et al to get us to a total to bowl at, and this test might have a real sting in the tail.

Comments on Day 4 tomorrow. Anyone wanting to catch Selvey on CWOTV, let me know what happens….I’m off to a birthday bash!

 

4th Test – Preview

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A Fine Vista

In 2014, when England came from 1-0 down after two matches to win the series 3-1, there was much rejoicing in the media and from those who had taken one side of the vicious schism that had afflicted English cricket. In that series the visitors had won a surprising victory at Lord’s and gone on to absolutely collapse as their bowling fell apart and their batting became more feeble. Virat Kohli, the now venerated titan of Indian cricket had a Weston (Super Mare). So on one side there was proclaimed a great victory, on the other a more prominent calling out of the failings of the opposition. The schism remained.

In 2015, when England recovered from a hefty beating at Lord’s that had seemed to snatch away all the momentum gained at Cardiff, there was a reshuffling of the pack (well, Ballance was dropped). Australia came a cropper on two helpful wickets at Birmingham and Nottingham, where England outplayed them. England had beaten what we were given to believe were mighty foes, with the two Mitchells throwing down meteorites of left arm viciousness, and the batting bolstered by a captain who rarely failed, and an opener of Sehwagian feats. When the series was won, as evidenced on this blog, the heat rose to crucible levels. Scores were being settled. The wrong side of the schism were being shown the error of their ways. They were to be mocked, ostracised, humiliated. There would be “no peace”. If anything, the schism had grown wider.

In 2016, when England recovered from a surprise loss at Lord’s, to take a 2-1 lead in a series most of us expect to be closed out with relevant comfort at the original home of English test cricket (accept no posh, snobby North London alternatives), what will the reaction be? For if this should come to pass, England will, I think (because I’m not following it closely) be world ranked number 1. There will be much patting of backs at a job well done. There will be hosannas thrown in the direction of our much loved and much respected captain. There will be a tangible warmth of smug self-satisfaction from the hierarchy at the ECB as the proof that what they did 2 ½ years ago was spot on (if you ignore the Downton thing, the Moores thing, the Al staying as ODI captain thing, the World Cup thing). The cricket media will prostrate themselves at the feet of the leaders of the revolution and the world will anoint the new top team in test cricket. Those that look on this site as a think to revile will be joyous. Personally, I’ll feel like just the other two summers. Less angry, more resigned. Schismed out.

So where are we now? What joy and hope can I find in this? I’m a blogger on the wrong side of the celebrations. Unable to conjure up any warmth for it. Unable to let go of a betrayal. Unable to understand why many don’t see it the way I do. I look at this team and wonder how it might look with a certain player, fit and healthy, at number 4 who had a bogey number of 158, not 42. Yet to do so is to invite the celebrants to invoke their tedious comments. “Fanboy” “Boring” “Idiot”. What joy can I conjure up as Pakistan, initially so vibrant, seem to be collapsing in self-doubt? How a captain, on Day 4, while being celebrated by a former England captain at the time, didn’t so much as let England off the hook after those two early wickets, as turn his fishing vessel back to port and wait for the little blighters to jump out of the sea.

Last time Pakistan visited these shores, six years ago, they won the 3rd Test (of 4) at The Oval. For those of you slightly short of memory, that was a London test that also started on Wednesday, so no, we aren’t always given Thursday starts, and it also finished just after Saturday lunchtime, if I recall correctly (I might not). Azhar Ali played the key role with the bat, and Wahab Riaz with the ball (in the first innings). England got a relatively low score, and then didn’t perform in the second innings. Pakistan didn’t win by a lot, but by enough. Alastair Cook made a hundred that “saved his career”.

Both the first innings Pakistani stars from six years ago have had, to term it politely “mixed” tours. Hafeez has been an abomination at the top of the order, while Shafiq shone well at Lord’s but with less lustre since. As for Younus Khan, heaven knows what is going on there.You can’t help but feel slightly short changed.

We needed a competitive series, and to a degree we have got one, with two really closely fought games, but it was the manner of the capitulation on Days 4 and 5 at Edgbaston that left me melancholy. That had the smack of a team scared to win. Frightened of the moment. One ripe to the slaughter against a motivated England team.

We can be revisionist on here, saying that we were seeing it coming while revelling in the formidable challenge the visitors put up in the first test, but then we aren’t here celebrating a potential 7-0 whitewash of the summer that others were thinking possible. That we are not is due to our climate and our frailties. But if, according to Ali Martin, we win this test (or is it just the series) and India don’t win both remaining games against the West Indies, we become the number 1 ranked nation in test match cricket. In many ways, ascent to that lofty perch was really well summed up by Alex Hales:

It would be an incredible feeling, particularly for a team who are still developing. If we perform as well as we did in the last two Tests hopefully we can win this series and if we can get the No1 spot that’s exciting for us.

Developing teams should not be number 1 in a major international sport. The team shouldn’t have glaring holes at opener, number 4, possibly number 5, and the spin bowling department. Because if that team is number 1, the overall quality of the competition has to be questioned. There is an overall weakness in test cricket that is genuinely scary. There are no giants. There are no super teams. There are just a bunch of worthy teams, who on their day can nick a test or two away from home, but are quite resilient on their own patch. Any comparison of this team to even its 2011 counterparts, or 2005, is, in my opinion utterly laughable. But they’ll match the 2011 one, and surpass the 2005 if three results go their way.

So with Cook in the form of his life (again), Root capable of great things, Moeen as outrageously lauded for his Day 5 bowling as he was castigated for lack of wickets before, the bowling overcoming a strangely quiet Stuart Broad we just have a couple of questions to answer. Will Hales finally nail down the openers slot with a hundred, and will Vince finally get his score which will allow the totally impartial Michael Vaughan to tweet that he told us so?

Please comment on Day 1 below. This will be the fourth year in a row I’ve not gone to The Oval test, despite it being a staple of my summers for 15 years before. It’s not the same any more, whether it’s me or the cricket. I will be going to the Oval for the Lancashire game in the week of the 22nd August though – anyone interested in popping along, e-mail me on dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk

On site matters, I have a couple of posts lined up. There’s Simon’s part 2 of the Old Trafford test from 1976; I have the conclusion of “Nightmare at Nottingham” to stick up as well. There is also a post due from one of our commenters on over rates, and I’ve done a personal one on club cricket linked to the number 42, which I might stick up on “The Extra Bits”. I thought we’d get the test series out of the way before finishing those off, and I also have another, longer series up my sleeve, which is sure to annoy a number, but hopefully engage more. Anything else you would like to see, or if you would like to write it, please let me or TLG know.

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(After I completed the initial draft of this, I came across this little section of our favourite Mail journalist’s piece.

Anderson, a leading member of both teams, believes this outfit even outstrips the team of Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann, Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott, who won the Ashes in Australia.

 

‘I think our team at the moment is better equipped to get to No 1 and stay there,’ insisted Anderson, 34. ‘We are a more talented side, we are mentally tougher and we showed the character we have in the side at Edgbaston.

‘If I’m being brutally honest it would be a bit soon for this team to go to No 1 now because we are still developing, there is still inconsistency, and we have plenty of improving to do. It would be nice if we do it but we have plenty of time.”

 

I am all for buffing up your team, but dear of dear. This is guff.

Still, it’s Newman. The Cheerleader. So there isn’t disagreement. And also, if you read this, has he repeated himself in the same article? Don’t they have editors? )

But let me repeat myself…. Comments on Day 1 below.

England vs Pakistan: 3rd Test Day Five

Pakistan must be wondering how they contrived to lose this game. Having been 257-2 one ball before the close of play on day two, a mere 40 runs behind England, they would surely have expected to go on to win the match. Even though their first innings wasn’t as big as it could have been, it still left them with a lead in excess of 100.

Indeed, although England wiped off the deficit without loss, they were soon back in some kind of trouble at effectively 23-2 and again though less so at effectively 179-5. That turned out to be the final chance to win the game, from there Moeen and Bairstow took the match away from Pakistan and by the start of play today a draw was about the best they could hope for.

Cook has not been especially brave with his declarations during his captaincy but there could be few complaints (whatever the eventual result) with today. The plan was clearly to throw the bat and declare as soon as possible and Moeen rather helped by taking the first over from Yasir for 20. He might be a flawed player (albeit one who has had a great year to date with the bat) but he is exceptionally unselfish. He could have a better batting average than he does by quietly ensuring the red ink, but many a time he has got out desperately seeking runs when batting with the tail. Today his immediate assault ensured that it was quite clear England were going for the win.

344 was the nominal target, but despite a pitch that was still flat, and despite the usual panic about Pakistan making it, the history of the game makes it clear that such targets are unlikely in the extreme. But there was no reason at all the tourists couldn’t bat out the day, the surface showed no signs of breaking up – if anything the only concession to four days of play was for it to have got slower and lower.

When batting out time a key requirement is to have a good start, but Hafeez once again decided to give England a boost. Having slapped a long hop to point in the first innings, this time he decided to hook Broad straight to Woakes at fine leg. Batsmen make mistakes, it’s part of the game, but this was poor batting and given the circumstances, somewhat irresponsible.

Still, there was a recovery from there, Azhar Ali joining the hugely impressive youngster Sami Aslam. For a time, all seemed serene and England were, if not flat, somewhat subdued.

It was not long before tea that all hell broke loose, four wickets falling for a single run as Anderson, Finn and Woakes ripped through the middle order. Edgbaston is the most raucous, noisy ground on the English circuit, and when the home team gets on top – especially with the ball, it creates an air of expectancy and certainty that another wicket is round the corner. Enough sportmen are quick to say that the crowd can be the twelfth player for it to be obvious that this does make a difference, and it takes a strong team to resist that kind of atmosphere.

When Finn (who bowled at times with something approaching his old hostility) persuaded Sami to leave a ball that darted back in to the crash into his off stump, it was all over bar the shouting. An entertaining last wicket partnership merely delayed the inevitable slightly.

Make no mistake about it, this was a fine England victory. The lower order strength in batting rescued them from an unpromising position, and when the seamers get some shape through the air, they look lethally dangerous. England’s bowlers are superb exponents of making the most of favourable conditions, where they look toothless is when there’s nothing to help them, for they don’t have the raw pace or hostility to trouble opponents on flat and unhelpful surfaces/conditions. No matter, for all bowling sides can be criticised for the times they don’t succeed, but England do have a useful unit, one that might be completed by a truly Test class spinner. Ah yes, the Moeen question – he has a poor average but it’s worth noting that he also has a very similar strike rate to Nathan Lyon. It’s hard to see anyone else being a radical improvement, which isn’t to say that they shouldn’t be tried of course.

Today they forced a win they had little right to expect. It was great to watch, and a perfect example of why those who talk about four day Tests are quite simply wrong. 

England can go to the top of the ICC Test rankings if they win the final Test. That is perhaps more reflective of a number of flawed sides in world cricket than anything else, for there is no outstanding team in the game, only ones who look good sometimes, dreadful others. A degree of uncertainty is not something to be unhappy about, though winning away in the modern era looks increasingly difficult to achieve.

This was a second good Test from three this series. If the final one of the summer approaches it then it will have been one of the better ones in recent years. It was therefore slightly disappointing that Edgbaston was barely half full for what was likely to be a good final day. This time it wasn’t about the pricing, as £16 for adults was well judged and good value.

It was a weekend, England had a good chance of winning and it was cheap. But not full or close to it. Perhaps this is having unreasonable expectations, misremembering a time when there were queues to get in; certainly the 80,000 spectators over five days seems a number the authorities are pleased with. It just doesn’t feel like cricket can ever again truly capture the public, and that’s a deep concern.

England 2-1 up, and no one has even thought about the score across the whole tour. I suspect most have forgotten about it. Which probably says it all.

One final point. The over rate today was excellent. Indeed had they needed to really push they might have been able to squeeze another in. Funny that. 

England v Pakistan: 3rd Test, Day 4

You got Dmitri today. Poor you.

It was an odd day, a day of contrasts, a day where the ebbs were certainly deep, and for a long time the only flow was the bowling of deliveries as far from the batsmen as possible without being called wide. The plan at the start of the day for England was to build on last night’s superb work by Cook and Hales and then push on. Cook seemed to be invoking the memories of last year’s innings at Lord’s against New Zealand, and Hales needed a score to confirm his place more emphatically. That both fell early clearly put that plan back, but then came the rather dull passage of play that made me scratch my head and wonder really what is happening to test cricket. Fear of losing took over from taking control. Pakistan, in my view, retreated into their shells when they had a modicum of control. England were effectively 23 for 2. We were in a pickle.

Now I’m one who does appreciate the nuances of the game, but this passage was infuriating, and it wasn’t really England’s fault. There are lots out there who marvel at Misbah, and for bloody good reasons, but the attitude to the new occupiers of the crease (Root and Vince) turned Misbah negative after such a positive start. The pre-lunch session was pretty tedious stuff. Nasser Hussain broke his Twitter silence to say how much he admired the performance of Misbah in that session, and I was surprised, to be honest. It declared, at least in my eyes, that Pakistan were going to rely on England giving it away than them seizing the moment. We mock Warne a lot, I know, but I thought it was a slightly defeatist approach. It was sitting in to the nth degree. England might have felt some pressure, and yes, Root was dropped during his knock, but both Vince and Root (struggling with his back) felt little pressure to survive. Both laid excellent groundwork, but it was dull stuff.

Root’s dismissal, to a sweep, may have been seen as some justification for the negativity, and Vince nibbling at the new ball might have put England into a tricky-ish situation again (at 257 for 4, with a lead of just 154). However, Bairstow got himself in and with Moeen Ali as a fluent, focused ally, took the game away from the visitors with a wonderful post-tea stand. Ballance’s innings of 28 also stabilised matters, but people are so worked up about looking for repeat dismissals that the work, although incomplete, he did to prevent a collapse is underestimated. I much prefer 28s and 42s to single figures!

England finished the day at 414 for 5. I had to go out for the last half hour so not sure how many overs we were short today (if any), but England are 311 in front, which is probably enough now (but no way we declare overnight) and will dictate matters tomorrow. Again, we aren’t about to set the Cook Fan Club up in these parts, but in many ways he must dread these situations. England dug themselves into a hole, and got out of it, and it would be crazy to throw that away with a declaration that gives the visitors a sniff. Their bowling today, in my view, doesn’t earn them a shot we gift them. But he knows that for every minute he delays the declaration, the siren voices will be ringing in his ears. My view, is 45 minutes of 40 runs, whichever is the quicker. I’m sure you all feel differently. But however this game goes, Cook is going to be in the spotlight. Win it and it’s one of our better ones, draw it with 7 or 8 down, and the questions will be there if he delays the declaration.

Other observations – for every decent insight Warne provides, and he does provide some, you have to navigate a mass of noise to get there. Post-lunch him and Botham just pounded at my head with incessant, dull nonsense. When they handed over to Holding and Athers, I could relax. The art of letting the action breathe, dull or exciting, is lost on Warne. In his case, less would really be more.

Seeing an Edgbaston crowd like that on a Saturday was also a little concerning. At £31, and I’m not sure how many seats were available at that price, this is excellent value for a day out. Maybe its the fact that tests have been on the short side recently has made people unwilling to commit to a fourth day’s action that prevented the full house, but if you can’t sell out a Saturday in advance at Birmingham, there’s issues. I really believe that each test in England has to have two of the first three days play at weekends, and starting on a Wednesday is asking for it. All tests should start on Thursdays and Fridays, but in the crowded schedules, I might as well ask for the recall of he who can’t be mentioned.

Game on tomorrow. It could be great. It could be dull. Imagine how much more dull it would have been if this was a four day test. You know those – the ones where we’ll compel teams to bowl 100-105 overs a day when we can’t make them bowl 90 now. Those where any rainfall is going to condemn a test. Those where we have to create more daylight (Durban, UAE for example….) than we have now or make every test a pink ball pandemonium. Michael Vaughan’s text, which I linked on Day 3’s post, sums it up. Thought went out the window a long time ago. It’s all about the Benjamins Baby.

Final Day comments below. I attach a little picture from yesterday at Lord’s, just for the hell of it…..

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He had a good day today….Sam Curran yesterday.