England vs India: 4th Test, Day 2 – Hanging on the telephone

An abiding memory of this Test, for occasionally they happen, will be the increasing irritation within the household with the fall of every wicket, English or Indian. Perhaps this is not how most will see what has unfolded over the first two days of a match that has threatened to go at fast forward, but then not everyone lives with someone who has a ticket for day four. In the same way I recall a drive up to Edgbaston in 2015 listening to day two shouting at the radio as to whether any Australian, any Australian at all, could bloody bat. As it turned out, Mitchell Starc and Peter Neville could, somewhat, so we did get some play to watch. Still, with these two teams, hoping for a full fourth day is always going to be a bit of a gamble, and there remains the distinct possibiluty that tomorrow could see the game done and dusted. And there will be sulking if so, but the good news is that the pitch appears to be becoming easier to bat on rather than harder, certainly judging by fewer wickets falling today.

England did reasonably well with the bat, pleasingly so given the lack of any contribution from Joe Root this time around. Ollie Pope was the top scorer, batting fluently and with purpose, to the point that his dismissal, dragging one on to his stumps was a real surprise. Of all the more recent England batsmen, he is the one that looks most at home – when he’s going well. Or to put it another way, his trials and tribulations leading to him being dropped were perhaps the most disappointing, because his batting envelope looks a lot larger than many others who have come in. Still, there’s no harm in being dropped, it’s all about how a player comes back. Let’s see.

Primary support came from Chris Woakes, last man out for 50 to go with his 4 wickets in the first innings. Much discussion centres around the disparity between his performances at home and those away from home. His batting average in England is around 36, away it is 19. His bowling average at home is 22, while away it is 52. It’s hardly unusual for any cricketer to perform better at home, but the gap is so huge it is hard to understand. Sure, his style is very much that of someone you’d expect to do better in English conditions, but it’s extremely disappointing how poor his away record is. And yet another way of looking at this is to wonder why he isn’t a permanent fixture in the side at home, when fit. His away record might well be poor, but his home one is astonishing. So far this Test, he’s shown why.

Decent support came from Jonny Bairstow, before being trapped lbw to a ball coming back into him for 37 – a depressingly familiar weakness. Moeen Ali did what late career Moeen has done a lot, which is to say played some gorgeous shots, and then got out to one that was….agricultural. But from 62-5, a lead of 99 will have been in wildest dreams territory, especially so given the batting fragility so prominent in this series.

India’s turn to bat again, and surely they would do better than first time around. And so far they have done, it would be too much to say they saw the day out without any alarms, but nor did England look like they were about to run through them either. Which is why it’s fair to say they have batted well, and have reduced the deficit down to 56.

More of the same is required, in fact much more. To be in with any kind of chance in this game, India still have to be batting by at least tea tomorrow, and to be in with a realistic chance, they have to bat the day. In normal circumstances this wouldn’t seem the most onerous of requirements but both these sides have demonstrated a quite exceptional ability to fall in a heap with the bat, which is why a lead of 99 feels so significant. Still, it’s also true that most would have expected India’s batting line up to outperform England’s, so maybe this match will be the one where they show their capability. England are certainly on top, and India now lack any margin for error. But a normal day’s play tomorrow and it means a happy camper who can head up to the Oval on Sunday to watch some cricket. This, more than anything, is the priority in this corner of Outside Cricket Towers.

Oh yes. Short of overs. Again. No one cares, we get it.

England vs India: 3rd Test, Day One – Resurrection Joe

Cricket is a bloody weird game. Virat Kohli couldn’t win a toss, India’s tail-enders were smashing the England bowlers around the park, England (bar the captain) were unable to determine which end of the bat is which, and more of the same was due today. Except it didn’t happen. None of it happened. Instead we got a day of total English domination, and an India team in need of a something approaching a sporting miracle to get away with anything other than a defeat. After one day. The usual rules about not tempting fate applied to the eternally pessimistic England fans, but more than anything, as many were quick to note, this was most similar to the opening day of the Melbourne 2010 Test match, with the difference that here India chose to bat.

India’s batting hasn’t looked that hot in the series so far, but crumbling to 78 all out wasn’t on the agenda. Cue lots of complaining from the sub-continent about the pitch, which would have been a fair point had England not coasted past their total in the evening sunshine with all wickets standing. It was cloudy, there was some swing and some seam, but hardly excessive, and by Headingley standards, relatively tame. Though the injured Stuart Broad was quick to point out in the morning that it tends to get better for batting and that choosing to bat was a brave call. There’s a fair degree of mind-games in that of course, and it seems unlikely that Root would have sent India in had he called correctly. Cliches always abound in such circumstances, but “a good toss to lose” may well be a reasonable assessment.

In the morning session Anderson operated on that serene higher level that he can sometimes reach, especially at home. There are endless banal superlatives that can be applied to him, but at 39 years old and still able to crank it up to the mid eighties miles per hour (this perhaps is the most remarkable thing about him – his skill won’t wane, but his athleticism will) and with all the nous of a 20 year career, he was far above the level of any of his team-mates, and ripped out the heart of the India batting. He’s just someone to be enjoyed.

Four down at lunch, India had the chance to recover if they batted well, but if the morning had been about an exceptional Anderson, the afternoon was about some pretty ropey batting. Rishab Pant played a really poor shot, and then four wickets in six balls destroyed the innings entirely, kicked off by a shocker from Rohit Sharma.

Nothing gives a batting order quite so much confidence as knowing you’ve skittled the opposition for peanuts; nothing makes a bowling attack less incisive than knowing you’ve barely any runs to defend. Ishant Sharma hardly helped things with a dire first over of no balls, wides and boundaries, and the tone was set. Burns and Hameed batted with confidence and some panache at times, but you could almost see the hope draining out of the Indian team, as fielding errors were made and catches dropped. In the time honoured style of a side in trouble, India tried to get the ball changed, and eventually succeeded, only for Burns to pull it into the stands for a rare six. If ever a metaphor for how bad a day India have had was needed, there it was. Both Burns and Hameed passed fifty, in the case of the latter in particular, a welcome return to Test runs. Few will be anything other than delighted for him.

Oh yes. Over-rate. Again. It’s doubtful many of the crowd felt shortchanged by once again falling far short of the required 90 overs, and equally India are hardly going to hurry given the match position. But it’s now routine not to bowl the minimum mandated overs and nothing is ever done about it. Today won’t matter, hell, it probably won’t matter in this match, but it’s situation normal these days.

India need to have an exceptional morning tomorrow just to recover the situation to one of being in deep trouble. If they could bowl England out for another hundred or so, then just maybe they could turn it around. But that would still require an exceptional 2nd innings on their part. India might win every remaining day and still lose the game heavily. One day into this match, and England are closing on a win. Final point: The Hundred wasn’t the reason for England’s capitulation in the 2nd Test, and today doesn’t mean that the structure of the domestic game isn’t damaging the Test side. It’s not that hard to avoid kneejerk reactions, but too hard for some even so.

England v India: 2nd Test, Day Three – It’s All Too Beautiful

Today might have been England’s best day of Test cricket in a fair while – not in the sense that they were entirely dominant, because (Root apart), it was a workmanlike performance rather than flaying the bowling to all parts. But in terms of the application and intent, it was as impressive as it was unlikely in the minds of many. Perhaps an indication came from the woefully out of touch Jos Buttler. He only scored 23, and it was a quite exceptionally ugly 23 too, but he fought to stay there, scratched around for an hour, added 50 with his captain, and above all made a contribution. Given England have all too often fallen in a heap when placed under any kind of pressure, this is worthy of note, and in this particular game situation also deserving of some praise. Questions around selection or worth in terms of a place are separate to this, it showed a determination that has often been lacking in the England batting and was most welcome.

Bairstow had earlier looked a million dollars in making 57, before rather peculiarly struggling badly against the short ball, and then falling face first into the most obvious of traps. It was annoying, given how telegraphed the plan was, but it was also odd to see; he had terrible difficulties with the short ball when he first arrived in international cricket, but since then (and he did get bombarded in his early matches, so had to learn quickly) he’s looked in little difficulty. Indeed, his technical issues were around anything but the bouncer. Still, he made a score, looked the part, and supported the peerless Root impeccably.

Moeen Ali too scored runs, again not a match defining number, but again enough to allow Root to score freely at the other end and to contribute to a partnership. Moeen’s batting weaknesses are well known, and his dismissal with an edge to the slips entirely predictable, but the aesthetics of his batting also means that few players evoke such a desire from the watching public to see him do well. He did enough today in the match context, which answers nothing about the wider questions, but in terms of today, it was fine. It just would have been nice to have more of it.

And then there’s Root himself. If there’s one thing that unites us all on this blog it’s the descent into greatesteveritis that afflicts the media on a daily basis, and most certainly not just for cricket. Root isn’t a greatest ever anything, and the likely forthcoming articles and polls asking whether he is can be guaranteed to rile everyone, but at this point in his career, with a Test average hovering around that 50 mark, we can start to place him in some context in the more recent England era. And when we do so, what can we say? We can certainly say he’s worthy of being talked about in the last 30 or 40 years with Cook, Pietersen, Gower, Boycott and Gooch, and has a better Test average than any of them for what that’s worth. Beyond that, it’s subjective, not least because comparing bowling and batting is reliant on the function of the two – or to put it another way, a great bowling era would look identical if it was instead a poor batting era. Players can only exist in their own environment, and Root has become one of England’s best in a long time. Perhaps it could be argued that it’s even more so given that a fair chunk of his career has been spent in a pretty poor England batting side. He’s carrying the batting in a way few have needed to in quite some years in England colours. We can, at the least, start thinking about where we place him in the England recent pantheon now he’s past 9,000 Test runs with more to come.

Today he was majestic. Other players hit the ball harder, further and more often, but Root’s manipulation of the field and speed of scoring is impressive generally, but when he’s in the kind of form he currently is, it gives the impression of a player in total control not just of himself, but of the opposition too. He must be driving an otherwise vastly superior Indian batting order up the wall.

As for the match situation, we have a game on. England have a first innings lead, albeit a modest one, and while it’s true that a fourth innings chase is the hardest way to win, the Lord’s pitch tends not to deteriorate too much, indeed it often gets slower, lower and harder on which to take wickets. One ball in the afternoon session scuttled along the ground, so we will have to see if that’s an indication of what is to come.

The third innings brings with it its own pressure with each wicket taken adding to it, a position England have highlighted on all too many occasions. But with the weather set fair, a result seems distinctly possible, and more to the point, England have a chance of coming out on top. Most people would have taken that given the rather low expectations from this series. England may well be accused of being a one man team in the batting, and it’s not an unreasonable jibe. But when that one batsman is playing as well as this, it evens up the contest no end. The captain is very much leading from the front. The last ball of the day provided the conclusion that a terrific day of cricket really deserved, with Anderson dismissed (notably upset with himself too) and England bowled out. It really is now over to the Indian batsmen and the England bowlers.

Expectation Management

India will probably win, but England have had a pretty good day. Given where they began, and given expectations for a batting line up for whom the word brittle was coined, to set India 209 was a fair few levels above what may have been anticipated by the perpetually pessimistic with good reason England fans. That first innings deficit was both a psychological and and a physical barrier for England to overcome, and that they did so and set a reasonable target was almost entirely down to Joe Root. This was one of his best hundreds, looking in complete control and driving both sides of the wicket with fluency and outstanding footwork. He is nothing short of a joy to watch when he’s in this kind of form.

It is obvious just by looking at the statistics, but it really is quite startling just how far ahead of the rest of the line up he is. It’s not quite the case that when he fails, England fail, but it’s not far off. England got a total that was quite passable, and a target to defend that is big enough to allow for some degree of hope that they might win the match. From 183 all out in the first innings, that’s no bad place to be, for they looked thoroughly out of it and facing a humiliation before Anderson ripped the Indian top order out. Indeed, although the Indian tail wagged irritatingly well, to bowl the visitors out for 278 was a fine performance from the England attack, particularly Robinson and Anderson. Without any hope of putting real pressure on, they maintained control and whittled their way through the Indian order. Conceding a 95 run deficit might not seem like a triumph, and certainly the late runs damaged England’s prospects, but it was still a sterling effort given the match situation.

Two early wickets in England’s second innings made it all the more likely that a day of disaster was on the cards, but Root and Sibley put together a partnership that steadied matters, and allowed England to erase the deficit and start to build. Sibley’s dismissal was a poor shot having done all the hard work, but he does at least give the impression of a work in progress, able to occupy the crease for long periods as often as not. Given the state of England’s batting, and that he’s their second highest run scorer (behind Root) this calendar year, he’s not the most pressing of England’s concerns. Getting out when set is not a great thing to happen, but he is at least getting set in the first place. His slow scoring rate is neither here nor there in the current circumstances. If England need quick runs to set up a declaration or win, he’s not the man – oh to be in a position where that is a consideration. That isn’t to defend him especially, it’s that he’s not the biggest problem right now, and there are quite a few of them.

Bairstow looked rather good but managed to middle the ball straight to Jadeja at deep square leg. Curran played an important little innings and again looked one of the more technically accomplished batsmen in the England team. Technique is only one element of batting, but while at present he may be one of those players who isn’t quite good enough in either the batting or the bowling department to nail down a consistent place, his batting still looks promising. That’s perhaps part of the issue, he’s all promise and at some point needs to turn that into results on a regular basis. Becoming a genuine all rounder remains a hope and a dream, and time is still on his side. But such a hope doesn’t mean it will come to pass – at one time Stuart Broad wasn’t that far away from all rounder status, and his batting decline has been vertical.

Part of the feeling of being relatively pleased with England’s efforts is the suspicion that India, even in English conditions, are a far superior team, and that this could well be a long and chastening Test series. The bowling attack, particularly in the shape of Bumrah, looks more threatening, the batting so far superior to their English counterparts that it is barely in the same equation. Although Robinson got the rewards in the first innings, a feeling persists that the old warhorses of Anderson and Broad aren’t just going to have to lead the attack, they’re going to be trying bail out the batting on a semi-permanent basis. And that’s too much to ask time and again, especially when there are injuries to potential replacements.

Into the evening session and England trying to dislodge the Indian top order. It can’t be said that KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma were under any pressure, because they weren’t, right up to the point that Stuart Broad, with headband on parade, took the former’s outside edge. It had been an oddly low key period of play, the crowds weren’t exactly roaring England on, and the team looked a bit flat, particularly given that bowling conditions were entirely in England’s favour. Once the wicket was taken, things went up a notch, especially with the arrival into the attack of the somewhat unlucky Robinson.

India are warm favourites to win tomorrow, weather permitting, and as a reflection of the match, so far, that would surprise no one. But England did at least fight today, and their captain showed how exceptional a batsman he is, and how far superior to anything else the team has. Given the forecast, we got more play than we expected, and England played better than expected. It’s probably not going to be enough, the old truism applying that you can’t win the game with the bat on the first day, but you can lose it.

It’s Test cricket though, and the most special thing about this finest version of the game is that you just never know. Roll on Sunday.

England vs New Zealand, 2nd Test – It’s The Batting, Stupid

Today marks the first time that England have lost a Test series at home since a Sri Lankan team starring Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Matthews beat them in 2014. An historic event, the end of an impressive streak, but one that has been a long time coming.

The England Test team has been scraping series wins for a while now due to just two things: An excellent bowling attack at home, and an abundance of allrounders strengthening their batting. No reasonable person would look at the last seven summers and come to the conclusion that this was a halcyon period for a dominant England side. Here is a table of Test winning percentages at home (including neutral venues for Pakistan and Afghanistan) since the 2017 season:

TeamWinsLossesDrawsWin %
New Zealand1300100%
India121280%
South Africa147067%
Australia132365%
England168457%
Pakistan64250%
Afghanistan22050%
Bangladesh56142%
West Indies67338%
Sri Lanka59133%
Ireland0100%
Zimbabwe0420%

England are, and have been for a while, a mid-tier Test team. To think anything else is just self-delusion. As England is probably the only cricketing nation in which Test cricket is the most popular format, this should be a matter of huge concern for the ECB. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

England simply can’t bat. Not just against spin or in foreign conditions, although those might be particular areas of weakness, but a general and widespread lack of ability and application throughout the team. To put this into context: When England beat India in 2012/13, six of England’s team had Test batting averages which were over 40: Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior and Root (who made his debut in that series). In the last series against India a few months ago, Joe Root was the only one in the whole squad.

It would be easy (and fun) to blame the selectors, but the simple truth is that there aren’t really any county batters making an overwhelming case that they should be in the side. People talk about players like Tom Abell, Joe Clarke, Phil Salt, or Alex Lees, but none of them have a first-class batting average over forty. Every single England-qualified batsman who does has already been tried (with perhaps James Hildreth being the only exception). I don’t follow county cricket closely enough to determine the reasons for this paucity of batting ability. I’ve seen the schedule cited as a possible cause, with fewer games being played in the middle of the season. I would suspect that recruitment plays a part too, with counties perhaps being more inclined to pick white ball specialist batters than they might have been 10-15 years ago. Regardless of the issues, any changes to address this situation might take a decade to feed through to the England team.

England have decided to try and sidestep this by selecting young batters with high potential. Test cricket isn’t an easy place to learn your trade, and it is obviously preferable to begin more or less as the finished article, but players consistently don’t seem to improve once they are in the England dressing room. Sibley and Crawley both made their debut two years ago, and Pope has been in the side for three years. Are any of them noticeably better than they were on debut and, if not, what does that say about England’s coaching?

All of which leads me to the rather depressing conclusion that Joe Root might be the last England Test batter to average over forty for a generation. Maybe more.

If you have any comments about the post, the series, or anything else, please feel free to leave them below.

See Saw – 2nd Test Day One

All in all, both teams will be fairly content and also slightly annoyed with how that day’s play has ended up. England made a good start, suffered a collapse and recovered sufficiently well for their total to be, if not decent, then enough to be in the game. New Zealand ripped through England’s batting, but will be frustrated that Dan Lawrence, with the support of Ollie Stone and Mark Wood, got England back into it in the final session.

England’s batting has been a concern for a while, and nothing that happened today made any minds change about that. Rory Burns and Dom Sibley looked good – the former going on to 81, the latter frustratingly getting out when set. Once the first wicket fell, just after lunch, England suffered a familiar collapse. Both sides are missing players, and the loss of Watling and Williamson in this Test means that when New Zealand reply they are weaker than is normally the case, but for England it’s an ongoing issue.

Burns and Sibley attract plenty of criticism, and neither record is a stellar one, but they do look two of the more solid players in the England order, albeit far from being the kind of class seen in years past. The immediate problem is when they fall, and if Root doesn’t score heavily. It’s unsurprising that England lose wickets in clusters. Nor is it an obvious case of transferring players in and out of the side – there’s no queue of Test class players champing at the bit for selection. Stokes is missing, and he’s a loss, but Buttler is hardly a reliable performer, even with recent good scores, so it can’t be said that it is just the missing players that has caused that. Zak Crawley looks hideously out of form, but while one Test innings of note is no reason to give him a sinecure, it does at least suggest a sufficient aptitude to be worth persevering with. As for James Bracey, it’s hard to have any feeling other than sympathy at present – two consecutive ducks at the start of his career say little about how good he is, but a lot about how cruel cricket can be.

Dan Lawrence is an interesting player. Very bottom handed, he does move across the crease and appears an lbw candidate, but as he kept pinging Boult and Wagner through midwicket and not missing, it’s not a problem. There is a very long list of players who have batted that way and been successful, not least most recently Steve Smith. Looking ungainly matters little as long as he scores runs, and while it’s way too early to have any knowledge how things will go for him, he played really rather nicely here.

For the visitors, Boult and Wagner are known properties – high class quick bowlers who are a major reason New Zealand are in the World Test Championship final, but with Tim Southee missing this one, it was Matt Henry who came in and was the catalyst for England falling apart in the afternoon. It’s curious how often visiting bowlers look like they’re made for English conditions, and often much more successful than the “traditional English seamer” sometimes selected. But he might as well have been born in Christchurch, Dorset rather than Christchurch, Canterbury for how at home he looked.

Praise be, we got 90 overs in today. It went into the additional half hour, but that’s what it’s there for. Far too many excuses are made for teams not to manage it (umpire reviews, wickets), but today it was done. That it is worthy of note says it all.

And lastly, the crowd. 17,000 of them. How good was that? They clearly were enjoying themselves, and that snippet of normal life, an echo and a harbinger, was perhaps the greatest part of the day.

New Zealand’s Warm Up Series: Day One

Just thought I’d flick that around, given they’ve got a big date before too long and too many are viewing this as England’s preparatory series for India.

Test cricket is back, and with crowds. Not a full crowd, but a reasonably sized one, and enough to generate a background noise that is so much better than an artificial backing track. So let’s get something out of the way first, the over rate. It was poor. Again. By the time play came to a close we were four overs short. It’s not new, it’s never been tackled, and it’s abundantly clear the ICC couldn’t care less. It’s also true that a lot of cricket supporters aren’t that bothered either, so why be so annoyed about it? Because after the last 15 months where players and administrators have fallen over themselves to explain why spectators are so important and so valued, it is disrespectful to shortchange them like this, and doubly so to do it without the slightest sense of anyone in authority caring. There have been days when the shortfall has been worse than today, but it is still saying, on a daily basis, that the fans don’t matter, that what they’ve paid doesn’t matter. It is entirely fair enough for those who go and aren’t put out by it, but it’s not about that, it’s about the mentality of players, captains and administrators who don’t care in the slightest, and on the day Test supporters returned after such a long hiatus, it’s unforgivable. Don’t give us the bullshit about how much you value cricket fans and their presence at matches, when you can’t even be bothered to deliver what they paid (a lot) for. The media complain about it, but they barely ever confront the players about what their actions imply, and they should. Every single time. Enough.

As for the cricket, it’s as clearly New Zealand’s day, and they’re in a fine position to go on to dominate the Test. Devon Conway has been the star of the show, so look forward to all the “Devon’s got the Cream” headlines in the morning – and they’re deserved too. A late entrant to Test cricket, he’s taken his chance, and by demonstrating some decidedly old-fashioned skills – that of the patient opener. There’s something rather special about those who are nowhere near the Test arena until relatively advanced into their careers, who then grab the chance with both hands. As ever, one innings says nothing about the future, but a hundred on debut, at Lord’s, is no bad way to start. More to the point, he looks the part – slightly unsettled by Mark Wood’s pace at times, but able to adapt and cope.

His century is more impressive for the lack of consistent support until the arrival of Henry Nicholls midway through the afternoon session. England’s bowlers had chipped away and the innings could have gone in either direction. Digging in – for neither exactly dominated proceedings – and grinding down the England attack to push their team into, if not a dominant position, certainly a healthy one is how Test cricket used to be far more frequently than in today’s game. And it was a welcome return of such past values and skills.

It is a flat surface – there was some movement in the air, and the new ball carry through well enough to the keeper, but aside from one spell from the luckless Broad when he was all over Ross Taylor, it can’t be said New Zealand looked in a great deal of trouble.

Much comment has gone around about England’s choice not to select a front line spinner, relying on Root to get through a number of overs. And while by the end of this match that may prove to have been an error, it can’t realistically be stated so baldly on the first day – the idea one would have been certain to pick up wickets on such a friendly surface at the start of the game is the epitome of a player showing huge improvement by virtue of not playing. Had one been picked, they would have done more or less the same role as Root himself, to get through a few overs as cheaply as possible while rotating the seamers.

Nor have England bowled at all badly – they’ve probed and kept things tight without resorting to anything as base as bowling dry, it’s just that on the day the batsmen, specifically Conway and Nicholls, have been better. It happens, and New Zealand are a good team – which is why they’re in the World Test Championship Final and England aren’t.

England also picked a pair of debutants, James Bracey and Ollie Robinson. The former kept tidily enough, and nearly nabbed a stumping off Root as well. So far so good in his case. Ollie Robinson will be pleased enough with his day on the field – a couple of wickets and bowling nicely. It will be slightly ruined by the realisation that some old tweets as a teenager have garnered attention and it is an issue that will need dealing with. One observation there is that it is something of a mystery why neither player’s agent (assuming he has one) nor the ECB think it a worthwhile idea to check these things properly in advance to ensure there’s nothing detrimental or embarrassing that can come up when a player is selected.

Tomorrow is another day. England may not have bowled badly, but they can bowl better. The modest run rate means New Zealand haven’t got away so this match hasn’t decisively tilted one way just yet. But New Zealand will be the happier, and they deserve it too.

India vs England – 4th Test, Day 1 – Pitch, Switch

Most of the pre-match chatter had been about the pitch. The previous game in Ahmedabad was the shortest Test match in the professional era, with most people blaming the groundsman (or whoever gave the groundsman their orders). England clearly expected more of the same, picking a bowling attack of three spinners (including Root) and just two pace bowlers (including Stokes). In hindsight, that may have been a mistake. There haven’t been any explosions of dust on day 1, unlike the previous two Tests, and India’s two pace bowlers have actually had success throughout the day. If anything, the conditions seem reminiscent of the first Test in the series.

Which brings us to England’s XI. Crawley, Sibley, Bairstow, Root, Stokes, Pope, Lawrence, Foakes, Bess, Leach and Anderson. The first thing that jumps out is the sheer depth in batting. Ben Foakes, with a Test batting average of 36.00 (The last two matches have knocked it down somewhat), at 8. The second thing is a lack of options with regards to pace bowling. Just Anderson and Stokes. England were clearly planning for a pitch where their spinners would do the majority of the work. That may have been a miscalculation. India’s fast bowlers were asked to bowl 23 overs today, as opposed to just 11 in the whole of the previous game, and there seemed to be good carry even with the old ball. Archer was unavailable due to an elbow injury, but Stone or Wood might have been helpful in these conditions.

Joe Root won the toss and opted to bat first again. It was all downhill from there. On a pretty benign pitch, with a little spin and bounce but still closer to a proverbial road than minefield, a competent batting line up should be expected to bat until well into Day 2. For a team like England’s which has essentially selected eight batsmen, a total of 400 might be considered their minimum target in these conditions. What we got instead was a rather pitiful score of 205 all out. Only a last wicket partnership from Leach and Anderson even got their total above 200.

England winning the first three Tests of the winter may have masked some of their issues, as all three victories were on the back of a big score by Joe Root. Few teams lose games where one of their batsmen scored 150+. In the eleven innings England have played against Sri Lanka and India this season, their batsmen have scored just ten scores of fifty and above, with Root accounting for three of those. There is simply no plan B if England’s captain doesn’t get a big score.

Anderson gave England a little hope in his first over, taking the wicket of Shubman Gill, but Pujara and Rohit saw India through to the close of play with few issues on 24-1.

Aside from the placid pitch, there has also been a big improvement in the position of third umpire. Anil Chaudhary has taken over from Chettithody Shamshuddin, and things are back to normal. An umpire, like a wicketkeeper, is arguably at their best when no one is talking about them and that is the case with the umpires today. No controversies, no steps skipped, and no rushed decisions. For all of England’s issues today, they certainly can’t blame the officials at all.

County cricket fans will have been pleased to see adverts for the T20 Blast during Channel 4’s live coverage of the Test. The cost is likely a pittance compared to what will be spent on promoting The Hundred this summer, but it’s nice to see any effort from the ECB with regards to promoting its other competitions. It often seems like the ECB forgets that they aren’t just responsible for the international teams (and now The Hundred). Any steps which show even a modicum of interest in county or recreational cricket must be seen as a sign of improvement from them.

As always, feel free to comment on the game or anything else below.

Welcome to the House of Fun: India vs England, 3rd Test, Day 2

A ridiculous day of cricket. A ridiculous Test. One way or the other, the shortest Test match since 1935 isn’t a great advert for the game, even if the watching of it was intense, breathless and extremely exciting. There are two separate things here: firstly that low scoring matches of whatever format tend to be the most thrilling, and for the obvious reason that every single ball matters, but secondly when conditions are so far in favour of the bowlers, it makes batting something of a lottery, and brings things to a close far earlier than should be remotely the case. When the batsmen are in true peril, scavenging every run has a value, while the bowlers take on the aspect of pack hunters, circling their prey. Yet it’s always been the case that when conditions favour one discipline too much over the other, it leads to an unsatisfactory game, and finishing well within two days (and with slow over-rates) is not something to relish.

The question though is how much the pitch is responsible for that. Watching on television caused no end of head scratching as to just why both teams (at least until India’s second innings when the target was so small as to make little difference) struggled so badly. The Chennai surface in the second Test seemed to turn more, and the ball seemed to go through the pitch far more. But the players made it very clear that this was extremely difficult, and their view is the most important. What seems to have happened was that the ball skidding on made it impossible for the batsmen to cope with it – the number of bowleds and lbws indicated that particularly. It isn’t always the explicit turn or bounce that does for them, any more than a two paced pitch visibly makes it clear to the naked eye why drag ons on driven catches are so prevalent – the outcome dictates the reason to the observer. Therefore it can’t be a criticism of all the batsmen, quite clearly the conditions were such that everybody struggled, but it is possible to accept that point and also note that England struggled far more, and should have done much better in the first innings in particular.

England looked utterly out of their depth, a far cry from the first innings of the first Test, and part of a trend of England’s scores getting progressively worse. The lack of pressure in India’s second innings makes a judgment a little hard, for there is a huge difference between the heat and pressure of a live match and when both sides know which way the game is heading and are going through the motions.

While irrespective of result, the pitch, or the pitch in combination with the pink ball, weren’t good enough, it was still the same for both sides, and England should have had the best of the conditions on offer. They chose the wrong team, with three seamers and one spinner, and Joe Root was not only being forced into action, but also picked up five wickets. That is both a credit to him and an indictment of the team England had chosen in the first place. Equally, this match wasn’t remotely lost by the bowlers, but by the batsmen, especially first time around.

England’s slim hopes of making the World Test Championship final are thus extinguished, on the back of having made five successive scores below 200. It’s hard not to conclude that England are getting precisely what they deserve for increasingly abject batting displays. India might be better at home, indeed are better at home, but there’s a difference between being outmatched and being hammered. England are increasingly being hammered, and while they have the chance to square the series, few would bet on them doing so.

India vs England: 2nd Test, Day Three: Oh, I Wept

This match was over long ago, we are merely playing out the details. India ground England into the dirt, setting them a preposterous target, while England lost wickets in their vain pursuit of the impossible. It is distinctly possible this will be done and dusted by lunch tomorrow, so outplayed have the tourists been, so unable to compete with India this match. Today was all about a Ravi Ashwin century, as both he and Virat Kohli pummelled the England attack after a bright start.

England did take early wickets, most notable for some fine wicketkeeping from Ben Foakes, but the match situation removes the pressure entirely – quite simply, it didn’t overly matter if India lost wickets, because they probably had enough runs before even starting their second innings. India had earned the right to play with England like a cat with a mouse, and did just that. So much has been said about the pitch being played on, and in truth it probably has deteriorated too quickly to be satisfactory – the chunks being taken out of it on the first day didn’t bode well for a long game. But that’s a matter of degree rather than anything else. The home team has the right to prepare surfaces that suit them, and everyone does it – yes, including you Australia. That England are incapable of coping as well is neither here nor there. Would England really have made a good total had they batted first? They probably would have been much more in the game, but it’s hard not to conclude that India would still have come out on top. England have said nothing negative about the conditions, it’s all come from outside. It was a slight gamble from India certainly, but far from an outrageous one given they were one down in the series. Fundamentally, they’ve not just played better, they’ve absolutely hammered England. The second innings is important not in the sense of England getting anything out of the game but to try to find a method of combating the Indian spinners, who are just far better than their English counterparts. This is a relative matter – on this pitch England are just not going to get 350 and walk off with their heads held high, they are going to lose by a lot. But an hour at the crease to learn and develop will have benefits later in the series.

1-1 is far from a disaster for England, it’s a better state of affairs than many expected half way through. It’s a challenge undoubtedly, and one that will have indicated to the hosts what kind of surfaces will do the job required, but it doesn’t mean England didn’t play superbly in the first Test, nor does it mean that India are only dominant here because of the pitch. There is a break after this match for England to reassess, but they are well in the series and that’s very much a positive.

Some other items from this game so far include the third umpire having something of a stinker and Virat Kohli berating the on field umpire for failing to give Joe Root out. In the latter case, there’s not a shred of doubt that he was extremely lucky to avoid being given lbw to one that looked extremely out, but the decision was (somehow) backed up by DRS, and arguing about it merely made him look a bit of an idiot, particularly given some of what has gone on this match. He can probably expect a fine to come his way.

Of the England batsmen, Rory Burns has looked most at sea, but he only joined the winter series in India, and his 25 in the second innings was a significant improvement. His form has tailed away considerably to the point that rather than looking like the answer as he did a year ago, his place will be coming under scrutiny. But it’s far from easy for him to arrive and look good, his partner Sibley struggled in Sri Lanka, only to come good in the first Test here. It’s always possible Burns will do the same. But he needs runs sooner rather than later.

There’s little more of substance to say. This one is done, let’s move on to Ahmedabad to a Test under lights and see how that one goes.