India v England – 4th Test, Day 3 – Are You Gonna Try To Make This Work?

Confession – I’ve seen none of this test match up until 8:30 am. I woke up, looked at the phone and it said England were 65 for 6. Joe Root then got out. A large part of me, and that’s large, said “go back to sleep”, but duty called and I rumbled downstairs to watch it. In the 10 minutes before tea all that seemed to happen was Sunil Gavaskar getting on my nerves. He’s not on his own for doing that when I have just woken up.

I’m also one who sleeps in bunches and looks at the phone. When I looked at 5 and saw no wickets had fallen, it wasn’t a surprise. I then didn’t bother when I briefly woke up around 6:30. I had a thought of Karun Nair, and that Axar and Sundar might put on 200 for the 8th wicket in a mini-Chennai tribute band style, but it appears as though once Axar departed, the last two batsmen were not able to stay with Sundar to get his first test century.

England’s wickets fell in a heap, as we’ve become used to. It does seem a very long time since Joe Root’s magnificent double hundred in Chennai, and downright embarrassing that in the subsequent 7 England innings the team hasn’t managed to make his first test individual score, let alone anyone approach that great feat. It’s also a long time since another premature and ultimately ill-fated Ed Smith victory lap, and we wait with baited breath for the explanation the genius will provide us for the utter calamity that followed. I mean, yeah, it’s terrific to have a pool of players and to rest them during the mentally exhausting bubble environment, but no, when that is followed by abject uselessness, such “how damn clever am I” pontification, lapped up by a media willing to believe this fool, seems somewhat hollow.

Let’s look at this calamity, in the batting because the bowling hasn’t been truly woeful. England managed scores of 178, 134, 164, 112, 81, 205 and 135. We have had two players pass 50 in six test innings – Ben Stokes leading the way with 55. Zak Crawley made a half-century in the early knockings at Ahmedabad Part Un. Dan Lawrence might get there as I write this. We’ve seen Sibley look all at sea, Bairstow, well, if there isn’t an expose of our ridiculous thinking then I don’t know what is. Ben Stokes has not bowled until he was flogged here, and to me seemed mentally somewhere else. Ollie Pope looked decent at times, but that’s not exactly enough and he’s going to hear voices about his place this summer if there are no runs. Rory Burns looked out of his depth, and was chucked in the sea. Joe Root’s mammoth contributions were always going to end. Dan Lawrence has shown promise, and in this innings has looked decent, and with an idea, which is a bit of a damning indictment on his slightly more experienced colleagues. Foakes has flattered to deceive, but everyone is in love with his keeping, so that’s fine (Indian comms trying to put Pant on a level field with him has been one of the more amusing commentary traits). Sometimes it appears as though Jack Leach has more of an idea and a game plan than some of our “better players”.

But what’s the point of caring about this if the authorities are really only playing lip service? They have the T20 World Cup as their priority. Also, the players aren’t absolved of this, as it is clear (and I am not sure I can blame them) that some view the IPL as more important than this test series. Yes, India can also be accused of this, but Stokes not bowling until this test, and Buttler being packed off home is a bit of a tell. Look, it’s the real world we are dealing with here, and money talks, walks and buys houses. Test glory just makes you feel good. It don’t pay the bills. It’s not the only thing, not even the main thing, but there has been mood music that it’s good prep for the IPL, and that’s got to be good for the World T20. That the World T20, and then the Ashes are important this year and that to lose this series is expected. It’s a mish mash of points, I know, but a Joe Root wonder innings could well have stopped a 4-0 thrashing, so that’s OK. At least his tour de force won a game on a result pitch.

Yes, time for one of my golden great “oh no, not again” points. But yes. Ever since we lost an Ashes series 4-0, and seemed happy that the media’s hero had prevented it with a 244, that same media should have that pointed out to them at every turn. At least in that series Malan and Bairstow made a good century each. At least we had some nice moments to watch. But the media said 4-0 was not that bad, and we should just move on. Now, when you see the last three tests resemble something much worse than Ted Dexter’s all at sea garbage of the 1990s, the press and the pundit class need to can it. Your ship sailed.

Dan Lawrence has added a 50, Jack Leach has just got out.

A 3-1 series defeat flatters England. They were eviscerated in this test. Once Sundar and Pant dragged India out of the hole they had made for themselves, put a lead up of 150ish, the game was done. England realistically needed to make 350 to give themselves a live chance, and that was never going to happen. That England have been demolished in a series where Pujara, Kohli and Rahane have not made centuries says it all.

Lawrence is now out, and the game is over. India have won by an innings. Ashwin and Axar take five each. The game is up. In more ways than one.

I really can’t be bothered, because, frankly, once the tide turned, I don’t think England were that massively bothered either. Anger long since passed me by, and despair is something you feel only when really disappointed. England talk about the primacy of the test game, and then subside in a clueless funk. They have a bowler who, possibly despite himself, took wickets in Sri Lanka and the first test, dropped him, let the news run that they thought he was shot, left him out of the test where Joe Root took a five-for, and then picked him here to fail. They did that and had just two seam bowlers, one of which hadn’t bowled much at all all series, and played Lawrence, who they’d dropped, at number 7. This isn’t blue sky thinking. There’s nothing clever about it, It’s an idiot let loose in the laboratory. Whether it is Ed Smith, Chris Silverwood or Joe Root responsible, I don’t know. If Vaughan is decrying the treatment of Bess, as he has been today, then I doubt Joe Root is responsible. The treatment of Moeen was also gob-smackingly ignorant as well. Stop telling these people they are clever.

India were ruthless, they bowled brilliantly on favourable wickets, to which they are absolutely entitled to produce, and in my view to be criticised for if we feel like it. A result pitch, set out as such, is better, whether we like it or not, than a road. But none of us are experts on how wickets play, and I try to steer away from it. But you are judged on results. Ashwin and Axar annihilated England on the helpful wickets. That’s test cricket, these days.

England came out of this with virtually nothing to show for it after a promising start. Reputations were not enhanced. Two day and three day defeats are soul-destroying. England at least clawed back in the last two tests, but from the moment Rohit set about England in Chennai, the die was cast.

It was good to see this on Channel 4, of course it was. That’s a decided positive. But the teams move to the stuff that matters now – white ball. It pays the bills, it gets the crowds, and it is the future. The tests may well be looked at as a curiosity. That we still appear to care feels like nostalgia for a bygone age, even in the present. This was a chastening loss IF it matters. In the immediate aftermath I have no doubts the players are incredibly hurt, but life goes on, and the circus is due to start for the big players and flailing at a spitting cobra on a spinning top is not in the IPL’s modus operandi.

The opening lyric to the song that the title comes from is “You don’t have to take this crap”. As I type Simon Hughes is blathering on. It seems appropriate really.

Cheers for following us through this test series, and one thing we are grateful for is England have allowed us a few extra lie-ins. As they say after the game “we need to take the positives”.

Comments below.

India vs. England, 4th Test, Day 2 – I Closed My Eyes and I Slipped Away

When I wrote the preview for this series back in early Feb, one of the key things I highlighted as a concern for England was their habit of picking a team that they wished they’d picked for the previous Test like they did when they last toured India. Sadly those that ignore history are doomed to make the same mistakes time and time again as Rishabh Pant piled into a tiring England attack who were a bowler short with their selection for this Test.

Whilst Pant took away this game and the Test series in the last session on Day 2, it must have been extremely galling for Stokes and Anderson, the former suffering with a stomach upset, who had bowled quite gallantly in difficult conditions earlier in the day. The lack of quick bowling options forced Stokes into a frontline bowling position, which is not exactly ideal as he is one of England’s best batsmen, yet he bowled with heart and no little skill to get England into a position where a first innings lead was a possibility before the Pant pyrotechnics. The wickets of Kohli to a sharp riser and then a wonderful inswinger to beat the defences of Rohit were a fast bowler’s dream scenario and with Anderson at the other end bowling miserly, the thought of a Mark Wood backing them up would have been the absolute ideal on this pitch. It was only when a clearly exhausted Stokes returned for his final spell that the wheels came off, though that was hardly unexpected due to the heat and workload put upon Stokes. Put it this way, I really don’t want to see our best all-rounder having to bowl 20 overs in a day anytime soon.

Of course at the heart of this was England’s nonsensical decision to go in with only 4 front line bowlers and Joe Root, who was never going to repeat his bowling heroics of the third Test. The recall of Dom Bess in essence gave England 3 front line bowlers as once again he struggled with rhythm, bowled too many full tosses and gave the Indian batsmen easy runs to relieve the pressure. This isn’t me having a go at Bess mind, being an international spin bowler is one of the hardest jobs in cricket and asking a young lad, who has never been first choice at his county, to learn on the job against one of the best attacks against spin bowling was always going to be an incredibly tough ask. I said during the Sri Lanka tour that Bess really looks like he needs a couple of seasons of county cricket to hone his skills before he should be playing for England on a regular basis. Don’t forget Graeme Swann, probably England’s finest proponent of spin in the modern ages was a bit rubbish when he first came onto the international scene but was a different player when he returned to the international side after honing his skills at Northants first and then latterly Nottinghamshire. Of course the ECB’s decision to push 4 day cricket to the outer extremes of the cricket season is not going to help the development of any young spinner coming through, but I would like to see Bess bowling regularly for Yorkshire this summer.

As for Rishabh Pant’s innings, well what can you say that others have not said? His positive approach whatever the scoreboard shows is absolutely refreshing and whilst it might not come off all the time, he has undoubtedly been a big reason why India will compete for the World Test Championship in England later on this year. The two shots that will live in memory for a long time were the sight of him charging down the wicket against Anderson with a new ball in hand and thumping it over mid-off and then the most audacious reverse paddle sweep over the slips from the same bowler. Even though the pitch wasn’t the most conducive to fast bowling, to do that against a guy with over 600 wickets is something else. The look Anderson gave when returning to his mark said everything that needed to be said.

We at BOC don’t like the current culture of besteveritis or comparing young players to past greats, but there are certainly shades of Adam Gilchrist in the way Pant bats and his ability to take the game away from you in a session. Of course, there will be tougher times ahead for Pant on pitches that offer more lateral movement, but I do hope he continues with his approach as it’s wonderful to watch as long as you’re not on the end of it. It would also be churlish not to mention the contribution of Washington Sundar, who looked at ease at the crease and played a gem of an innings as second fiddle to the fireworks going off at the other end.

Whilst it may not be over yet, with England having a squeak of a chance if they can take the final wickets with a lead under 100, it would be a very brave or foolish person to wager on England winning from here. A poor first session tomorrow morning and it may well be start the car time.

As ever thoughts on the game appreciated below.

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 – 3rd Test, Day 1

There was a lot of talk going into this Test from English fans and journalists about the pink ball favouring the away side in this game, or that the toss was the decisive factor in both of the previous games. Today, England have done their level best to disprove these theories quite thoroughly.

When you go to exchange team sheets with your opposite number and see that they have gone with three spinners whilst you have dropped one from the previous game, it can’t be a great feeling. Joe Root won the toss, which was almost the only thing which went England’s way all morning. It does bear saying that the toss has proven less important in day/night Tests than you might think. The current record for teams winning the toss is 8-7, and it’s also 8-7 in favour of teams batting first. Indeed, the only definitive pattern for games played with the pink ball is that they appear to massively favour the home side with only two losses in the fifteen played so far.

England made four changes to the side which lost in Chennai: Crawley, Bairstow, Archer and Anderson replacing Burns, Lawrence, Ali and Stone. Of these four, only Zak Crawley made a positive impact in today’s play, scoring a quick 53. To put that in context, the other top six batsmen scored a combined total of 24 runs.

Dom Sibley fell early, edging a ball from Ishant Sharma to second slip. Bairstow followed soon after with an lbw to the left arm spin of Axar Patel. It is a little embarassing when a batsman is brought in based on his batting against spin, only to fall for a nine-baall duck. Root managed to steady the ship with Crawley for a while but was trapped in front by Ashwin on 17, whilst Crawley suffered the same fate from Patel. England, having won the toss and chosen to bat, were 81/4 at the end of the first session.

It didn’t get any better after Tea (the 20-minute break being first in this Test) with England’s tail failing to wag or even twitch a little. England lost their last six wickets for just 32 runs, with spinners Patel and Ashwin just dominating the tourists. Pope and Stokes were both dismissed in the first two overs of the session, which left Ben Foakes and a long tail. When England replaced Moeen Ali (England’s top run scorer in the previous Test) with Jofra Archer, that left them with a number 8 who has a Test batting average of 8.00. That decision put a lot of pressure on their specialist batsmen to build a strong platform, and they obviously didn’t respond well to the challenge.

To be clear: This was not the pitch, nor was the pink ball to blame for England’s collapse. There has been spin in Ahmedabad, but without the variable bounce or ‘excessive’ sideways movement we saw in Chennai. The new ball swung, but probably less so than the Dukes ball does in England. It was good bowling by India, and poor batting from England. It’s that simple.

Broad almost claimed the wicket of Gill in the five overs before the second (Supper?) break, but was denied by the third umpire overturning an onfield call of a low catch in the slips. There was dismay from the England team and their fans, not just at the decision but also how that decision was made. First, it came very quickly. From the third umpire asking the director for a replay to his decision being made took less than 30 seconds. Second, and more importantly, he only looked at one front-on angle. It is a basic principle with low catches that you should attempt to view it from side-on where possible, because foreshortening often makes the ball appear lower than it actually is due to the viewing angle and the lenses used.

The commentary was quite forthright in supporting the third umpire’s decision, which was not a surprise. There were two Indian commentators on at the time, and they simply wouldn’t have a job if they didn’t wholeheartedly support an Indian umpire making a decision in favour of the Indian batsman. Of course, they were helped in their certainty by their Star Sports producer declining to show any different angles of the catch (or non-catch). Mark Butcher had been prepared to question things in the first two Tests, and might have prompted further examination, but he has been replaced by Graeme Swann. It’s tough to remember a worse decline in commentary standards in the span just one Test. I’ve been watching it on mute.

In the night session, both sides played what could best be described as as average cricket. India scored 99/3, which is almost up to England’s total with plenty of wickets in hand. The conditions didn’t seem as bowling-friendly as advertised, perhaps because of dew on the ground. It is my vague recollection from when I used to watch the IPL on ITV4 that the ball got damp at night, causing it to seam and spin less. England could have poached a few more wickets, had catches not been dropped and (perhaps) the third umpire had taken more than a cursory look at a stumping.

Ultimately, England’s disappointing first innings total means that there is very little pressure on the Indian batsmen, who I expect to bat for most of tomorrow and put this game beyond doubt. Somehow, despite spinners bowling 47 overs, the day finished 8 overs short. It probably won’t matter, as England seemed the culpable party (bowling just 33 overs in over two and a half hours), but both sides have a chance of qualifying for the World Test Championship final and a points deduction would both hurt them and help Australia. Surely no one wants to help Australia.

I was so looking forward to this Test too, with its reasonable hours and pink swinging balls. After England’s performance, and the prospect of more Swann commentary, I might just stay in bed all day.

India vs England: 2nd Test, Day Three-And-A-Bit

When Dmitri posted on Day 2 that he was sorely tempted to just post “See you for the Ahmedabad Tests”, I found the idea pretty funny. Now, faced with prospect of having to write a report on the end of England’s rather dismal resistance, I’m warming to the idea of doing it myself. Chris didn’t help matters by doing a great job of summing up the game and England’s performance in yesterday’s post, leaving me with precious little to talk about today. England’s batting didn’t help in this regard either, with few rearguard performances to talk about. Bearing in mind all of this, I’ve decided to mainly look ahead to the next Test match in Ahmedabad.

The big news, at least as far as I’m concerned, is that it is a day/night game. For those of us in the UK, that means 9am starts. I am a huge fan of this. I have to tell you that the 4am starts for the India and Sri Lanka series have been messing with my sleep patterns in the worst way, and the prospect of just having ‘normal’ hours for a couple of weeks is a definite plus in my book.

For the England team, a day/night test means that they will be playing with a pink SG ball. This could be a huge opportunity for England, as pace bowlers accounted for 27 of the 28 wickets to fall in the only other day/night game India have hosted: An emphatic innings victory against Bangladesh last winter. It could potentially allow England to field a standard 4 fast bowlers plus a spinner, which certainly plays towards their squad’s strengths. It also brings into contention some players who might not have been seriously considered for the team up until now, like Chris Woakes. That said, and given England’s issues with both batting and bowling in this Test, there’s every chance that India will still provide a spin-friendly pitch in Ahmedabad.

The next Test sees some of England’s squad members returning from a mid-tour rest. Bairstow and Wood are back, and Archer is expected to have recovered from an arm injury. Together with the week’s break between Tests, that means that Ed Smith should be able to choose from a full contingent of players bar the rested Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali. Bairstow averaged over 40 against Sri Lanka, and so it seems likely that a batsman will make way. Burns, Lawrence and Pope’s positions might all be considered vulnerable based on their record this winter, and I honestly couldn’t guess which batting lineup Smith and Silverwood will end up picking in Ahmedabad. (Dom Sibley could also be included in this group, except that he is by a significant margin the better of the two openers. As the old joke goes: You don’t need to outrun a bear to be safe, you just have to outrun the people next to you)

If Ahmedabad is a spinning track (and given England’s performance in Chennai, it should be), then the debate on which spinners England should pick will reopen. On a pitch which really helped spin bowling, probably to the point that it was technically illegal, neither Jack Leach nor Moeen Ali seemed able to consistently trouble the Indian batsmen. Ali’s quickfire 43 in the second innings would probably be enough to ensure he will keep his place in the side ahead of Bess, but Moeen is due to fly home for a few weeks’ rest before the T20Is and (possibly) the IPL. Whichever spin bowlers England go for, they will need their bowling to improve in the event that the Ahmedabad pitch is another sandpit.

Besides deciding the series, the Tests in Ahmedabad are also the final two ‘live’ games in the inaugural World Test Championship and the maths regarding both teams’ chances is pretty simple now: England need to win both Tests to have any chance of qualifying, whilst India need to win the series by any margin (2-1 or 3-1). Any other result (including England winning the series 2-1) sees Australia sneaking into the final despite both England and India having more points overall. It’s hard not to look at Australia potentially winning the final despite only playing one away Test series (the 2019 Ashes) in the two whole years as an affront to decency and virtue. No change from them, then.

The series is 1-1 and, although the hosts might be the more confident of the two teams, England would certainly have been very happy to be in this position at the halfway point of this series. With everything to play for, and the added bonus of a day/night Test for both England’s bowlers and fans, the next couple of weeks should be interesting to watch. I guess that all I can add is: See you for the Ahmedabad Tests!

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.

India v England, 2nd Test, Day 2 – It’s Driving Me Mad, It’s Just Another Way Of Passing The Day

There was a day, a good while ago now, where I could do what I pleased on here. Where I could decide that if I wanted to write a truncated review, I would do so. Mail it in. So when I floated the idea of my match review being purely “See you for the Ahmedabad tests” I got no reply. I took that as meaning I had to write something.

Damn.

England have lost this match, and you don’t need to be Nostradamus to predict that. I said on a tweet yesterday that England would not make 150 on this, and I was correct. Again, hardly Nostradamus. Root was due a failure, and if he fails, then England are pretty much toast in the batting department. So while England made a more than decent start by finishing off the last four wickets for 29 runs, it was only the warm-up act for the circus about to follow.

I hope everyone knows me, and the team on here, well enough to know we are not a bunch of one-eyed England fanboys, bemoaning every slight, perceived or real, like the most avid of Liverpool fans (had to get that dig in, sorry). If we think England are crap, their authorities get things wrong, the press make up nonsense or whatever, then you know we call it. These are honestly held views. While I don’t have the antipathy to this team that I did for the post-Ashes 2014 Cook era nonsense, I can’t get out of bed any earlier to watch Root’s men. (Sleep has become a more important priority these days). I don’t wish them harm, but I’m a bit too old for rah rah nonsense. I hope this means I can offer up criticism of others as well and it be taken as such. Which is a long preamble into this pitch is an utter nonsense, and whoever is responsible for it needs a word.

The wicket has puffed up huge amounts of dust from the outset. It is ragging square. The bounce isn’t that consistent either. Now I know people will defend it, and that’s their right. Australians who laugh at this as if they never do such a thing should never be left to forget the disgrace of Sydney 1999 (when they opened the bowling with a spinner who could trundle medium pace to an acceptable level). Yes, it is as bad as England providing green seamers, although much of the time in England wickets (I know that annoys Pringle, so definitely going to use it) play up because of what is above rather than what is below. Cricket doesn’t need bore draws, but I do disagree with people who say that the toss decided the first test. England had to bat very very well on it to set up a win. Here, the game became a bit of a lottery, but only a bit.

Because what this pitch has shown is that a great performance will win the game, and Rohit Sharma’s 161 is, by any measure, a magnificent performance on this surface. He outscored England by 27, and if he continues in the manner he has started the second innings, he might even beat England on his own! It’s not just the ragging square that has done for England. Burns getting pinned for a second successive duck was just the start England did not want. Sibley, who has worked on a method which is getting him through, was the first victim of spin, and Joe Root was the first victim of Axar in tests when he spooned a sweep shot – hard to be tough on Joe after his Transport for London passenger services in 2021, but it was predictable. He is human. Lawrence getting out to the last ball before lunch was a blow, but he’d got stuck. These are alien conditions, and in some ways what test cricket should be about, if maybe not so extreme!

After lunch the wickets continued to fall. Stokes bowled by a beauty, Pope strangled down the legside, with Pant taking a good one. Moeen Ali, looking like a “magic beans” selection to me, didn’t deliver with the bat again, and last ball before tea, Oliver Stone conspired to hit a shot to mid-wicket. On any given Sunday that could have happened. It just happened on this one.

After tea Jack Leach looked like he had more idea how to bat than most, but then nicked off, with Pant taking an excellent grab, although made more excellent by the fact his first step was to the right, before diving to his left. I’m not a keeper, and I’m not an expert, but thought one of the studio analysts might have picked that up. We’re not getting that from the comm box, we know that already. If it is India, it is great. Which is a shame, because some of them are really pretty decent (I like Murali Kartik, for instance – let him off the leash). Stuart Broad swept and missed and an improbably popular but utterly tedious Twitter feed went back to sleep. England avoided the follow-on, but barely. Whoever has the Day 4 report is hoping Indian wickets tumble rapidly on Day 3.

Ben Foakes played a very impressive innings. I’m not necessarily on the Foakes bandwagon as others, and his keeping has not been flawless (he has just missed a stumping chance), but my word it has been very fluent and his batting was calm and measured. He looks a test cricketer. The England organisation are wedded to the Jos Buttler experience, and anything else is barking at potential returns.

Ravi Ashwin finished with 5 for 43, which was five fewer than some scribes on Twitter thought he might get on this sandpit. Axar Patel looked quite handy too, but let’s face it, I’ve watched just the post-Tea session, and even that was in allergy-fuelled haze, so you might know better than me.

So with a deficit of a mere 195, England set about the Indian batting to allow themselves to nominally chase something short of the world record. It did not begin well. Rohit again balancing attack and defence, while Gill, who if you look up the phrase “potential benefit” in a dictionary will have his picture next to it, alongside a young Mark Ramprakash, did fall, LBW. Rohit Sharma appeared to encourage the youngster to review, indicating that he thought it could be missing leg stump. His eyesight was proved correct, even if the verdict may have been the incorrect one – it was missing leg, but clattering middle. I’m getting a little sick of nearly every LBW being reviewed these days, if it hits the ankle socket on the back foot plumb in front of middle the batsmen especially, and those with ego especially especially, refer it nowadays. I’d make them lose all their reviews if it is hitting the bottom half of a range between the inside of leg stump and off stump to prevent this nonsense. Don’t try to argue against me with logic (what if he thought he hit it?).

Rohit carried on, surviving an out decision for LBW because he hit it (see), in conjunction with Antonine Pujara, but not before an outrageous LBW review where Rohit blatantly hides the bat behind his pad, and yet the umpires somehow convinced themselves that this was a shot played. This hasn’t been a shot for about 20 years, but you know, reasons. This was so egregious even Sunil Gavaskar lost his mind, and that rarely happens on the coverage. In the whole scheme of things, impact on the game, it’s meaningless and not worth getting riled about, and I am not even accusing bias. It’s just wrong. A great, the greatest current cricket nation, like India has been chronically under-represented on the international elite umpiring panel. They arguably umpire in the toughest conditions to adjudicate in world cricket. Surely there has to be better than this? These guys are getting basics wrong.

The day concluded with India on 54 for 1, with Rohit leading England by 52 runs, and India over the hill and far away. I do hope my recalling of the day’s play has not violated a BCCI rule, and I’m off to post my application to be a third umpire.

UPDATE – Ebony has just said that Ben Foakes will never be a Jos Buttler (I presume in test cricket, which is where the debate is – well Ben averages 41, Jos 34, so I suppose Ben has a way to go!)

And as Magnus Magnusson used to almost say, I’ll finish as I started. See you for the Ahmedabad test.

India vs England: 1st Test, Day Four

At around this time, there’s a decent chance my fellow writers on here will be waking up, having spent the early hours of the morning watching the Superbowl. Since this passes right over my head, to the point that not only do I not know who won as I write this, I don’t even know who was in the final. If it’s called a final. And that’s before I try and get my head around play-offs that aren’t play-offs. Or something. I could be wrong, and probably am, but if there’s something that both amuses and irritates them, it’s that I don’t care if I am. Still, they think it’s my loss. Anyway, it meant that I was duly elected as the one to say something today, and I can assure everyone that the others were unanimous in this view.

Back to the cricket, which is why we’re all here. England will go into the final day needing 9 wickets from 90 overs, and it’s something they ought to achieve. The pitch is still good for a fourth day surface, but it’s also showing disconcerting bounce from time to time, both low and high, and it only takes that to happen a few times to make all the difference. But if India were 8 wickets down and escaping with a draw, there will undoubtedly be fingers pointed at the approach England took in the final session, not being especially aggressive with the bat, and not declaring either.

It is forever the case that armchair observers, whether former players or the wider public, are much more aggressive in their thinking than captain and coach ever are. Alastair Cook did his best to try to explain what England might be thinking about (to have two goes with a fairly new ball both this evening and tomorrow morning) but it was fairly clear he didn’t entirely agree. Yet his own captaincy was littered with extremely conservative declarations, and few would deny that on balance Joe Root is much less so – not least given he had his fingers burned once with a bold declaration. That’s not a criticism of Cook in this instance, but it is to note that his evident frustration watching on was very different from his approach as captain. He was self-aware enough to acknowledge the contradiction, but also correctly pointed out that it was less about the specific timing as much as the very curious negativity in the batting.

India will overall be comparatively pleased – their position at the start of play was far enough behind that they could have ended up with a lot longer to bat than they will. That was down almost entirely to Washington Sundar, who batted with controlled aggression to narrow the gap somewhat. But 241 remained a huge lead for England, and meant that even losing early wickets didn’t materially affect that position. In such circumstances, it’s often most helpful to be bowled out in reasonable time while scoring quickly, and for much of their 2nd innings it was exactly how it seemed to be unfolding. Root and Pope in particular took chances and went along at not far short of a run a ball. With both their dismissals, that suddenly changed.

There have been some quite exceptional run chases in recent times, and perhaps that is more in the minds of captains than it has been, but 381 more runs to set a world record on a day five pitch seems an absurd prospect. Yes, the likes of Rishabh Pant are aggressive players, but to worry about a world record chase at four an over would be to take caution to the most extreme of levels. If they were to pull off a miracle like that, there’s no point in factoring it in, it would be the freak of all freaks.

Having taken one wicket this evening, the draw is by far the bigger risk and it is that that would represent grounds for criticism. It seems likely the thinking was to preserve the freshness of the bowlers, and it’s a view. The outcome this time tomorrow will dictate the wisdom of it.

India v England – 1st Test, Day 3 – I’ve Gotta Take A Little Time

Karun Nair. 303 not out.

OK, got that out of the way. Cricket is all about memories for me, and one of the most memorable test series I recall from my schooldays was the England tour to India in 1984-85. One of the most memorable matches was the 4th Test at Chennai, as England put on one of their most impressive and dominating display on the subcontinent – they bowled India out for 272, racked up 600+ with two double tons in the innings, then chipped away as Azharuddin made another ton but eked the wickets out, and then knocked off a very small target for what was a series clinching win. I remember it for the tour without Botham, when the prospect of that struck at your primal fear of what a post-Beefy era might look like. The rebel tourists would also miss this series, the last of their ban. I remember sneaking a listen to the radio during my Mock O Level exams, as we couldn’t shift Amarnath or Azharuddin on the 4th day. Our spinners were Edmonds and Pocock. Neil Foster was our seam bowling hero. Also, London was hit by a ton of snow, which this morning, despite the projections of a Beast From The East, we haven’t.

I recall these memories because it is always good to think about what has come before in test cricket, and also because, let’s face it, I’m padding the article out a bit because I didn’t get up until 9! The lyric in the title is from the song that was number 1 in that week in 1985, but I could have looked at those from Insomnia. England started the day on 555 for 8 and added another 23 to that formidable score. I was a bit surprised they carried on batting but not totally. While the commentators are going on about England having to win the series by quite a margin to make the World Test Championship Final, it looks like our strategy is to hang in there and then take a chance should it present itself. And hope that Joe Root makes mountains of runs. So the longer England bats, the less chance they have to lose.

Bess was dismissed for 34, pinned in front by the admirable Bumrah (and it is mad that this is his first test at home), and yet again this resourceful cricketer (Dom) has given a good account of himself with the bat. Anderson was LBW to Ashwin for 1, and England finished on 578. Four years ago, in the first test of that series, England made 537, with three centurions, and were on the brink of forcing a win (needed a little more time) so there is precedent for England starting well in India!

On that occasion Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara made hundreds and England toiled for a while as India made 488. Today they had Jofra Archer, and he got Rohit Sharma to nick off with his 9th ball to get England off to a great start. In came Pujara, who, if I may get all Ronay on you, I might want to call Antonine. Why? Because if Rahul Dravid was Hadrian’s Wall, Chet is a smaller, less impressive version, but a very good wall nonetheless. He had been resistant in Australia, and had blocked England to death before. Getting him early would be a real boost. But it’s easier said than done with Antonine.

India were clicking along at 4 an over when Shubman Gill checked a drive and was very well caught at mid-off by James Anderson. Archer again the wicket taker. Gill is being really pumped by the commentators and pundits, and it may well be that this series is his chance to break out, but I see, at the moment, a player that Gooch’s axiom applies to – he used to say, Gooch that is, that if he had two more shots he’s have averaged a lot less – and I see that in what I have seen of the talented left hander. Indeed, his fellow opener is probably the best example of that.

In came Virat. Now, among many England fans and people I am connected with on social media, I am again, not for the first time swimming against the tide. I really like him! Again, tempting a ton of fate, I think he’s lost a little bit of edge, and I pray to heavens he doesn’t find it for England’s sake, but it would be fun to watch him get it back. I’ve not seen his innings at all, so have no feel for how he batted, but 11 off 48 doesn’t suggest the imposing Virat of yore. He was also out to a defensive prod which was well held by Ollie Pope off the much maligned Dom Bess. With that dismissal, and India fell to 71 for 3. When Rahane hit a Bess ball he made into a full toss to a diving Joe Root at cover, and India were 73 for 4, England were in dreamland. Something I’m not bloody experiencing at the moment!

There was always likely to be a revival, as custodial sentences would probably be appropriate if India were bowled out for below 150. It came in the form of Rishabh Pant on the offensive, and Antonine doing his thing. Pant is going to split cricket fans down the middle. He’s fun to watch, has an abundance of talent, but he’s also going to play that really dumb shot at a really dumb time. In the same way that I grew to love Sehwag the more his career went on (and especially when he used to make hay against Australia) I suppose it will be the same with Pant. The bit of his innings I saw he rode his luck, top edging a sweep, hitting in the air where fielders weren’t, but he also hit some mighty blows, and took Leach to the cleaners. The part I also saw of Antonine (I’ll try to make it stick) was a more positive progressive approach so that at one point he overtook Pant’s score when he had got ahead of him. He may just have had more of a share of bad balls.

The partnership was broken in somewhat, well, not somewhat, very fortunate circumstances. Pujara hit a buffet ball straight into Pope’s body, the ball looped up and was caught at mid-wicket. England needed a breakthrough and the partnership, worth 119 was broken. Antonine made 73. We got to see Rory Burns straggly, sill hair cut again.

Pant continued his assault on Leach, but then Jack got some revenge. Bess, yet again having a golden arm knack, induced Pant to launch into a ball outside off that turned a little, Pant belted it up in the air and Leach took a very good catch at deep cover. 91 was a very good return, but as he walked off I wondered what an English press would make of that dismissal should that have been one of our players doing it. Imagine KP at Edgbaston in 2008 – a shot so good they made him captain – for a hint of the furore. The commentators on the feed we get are all about accentuating the positive (does that doctrine of Indian media not criticising the team still exist, if it ever did) and want him to be what he is. After all he’s just played a pivotal role in winning a series in Australia, and is, at least, not a total cymbals player behind the stumps now. Anyhow, India were 225 for 6.

It would be the last success in the day. Ashwin is a really resourceful player, and a fighter to boot (get those cliches in) and played solidly. Washington Sundar was a little more aggressive, and should have been caught when skying a catch to long on and Jordan Archer dropped the pretty tough chance. I am a fan of Jofra, make no mistake, but the England team had snaffled some other tricky catches, and are going to need to take pretty much every chance. Sundar saw out the day on 33 not out, while Ashwin had made 8 off 58. India closed at 257 for 6. Bess currently has 4 for 55.

So, all set up for Day 4. India will obviously aim for 379 to avoid the follow-on, which is a little bit of an irrelevance. I can only see England enforcing it if India take 4 hours to get to 360ish, and even then I doubt they would. I can see India getting quite close, especially if England don’t shift these two early, but that’s the joy of the game. The possibilities are endless. Maybe I’ll reprise 1985 and sneak a look while working.

Elsewhere, and very much under the radar, in the test at Chattogram, we’ve seen someone make history. Chasing 395 to win, and with a history of Bangladeshi pitches becoming quite spin friendly towards the end of games, Kyle Mayers came out with his team at 59 for 3, and proceeded to become the second player in history to make a double century in a successful run chase in men’s test cricket (Gordon Greenidge being the other). When the winning runs came, with three wickets remaining and limited time, Mayers had made 210. If someone beats that as innings of the year, they would have played very very well. Who is Kyle Mayers? He’s not young, making his debut in this test at 28 years old, averages 33 in first class cricket after this innings! There is always the day it is your time to shine. Today, it is shining for Kyle Mayers.

Could a successful run chase also be on the cards in Rawalpindi, where, at time of writing, South Africa are 100 for 1 chasing 370? Test cricket is showing the naysayers just how wrong they are. Try that 4 day cricket thing, eh, Michael? Another couple of games making your 4 day lovefest look as damn stupid as it always did look.

Finally, unheralded yesterday, but I think worth celebrating, Being Outside Cricket was 6 yesterday. Founded on 6 February 2015 after I closed down How Did We Lose In Adelaide, I wanted to start afresh and more under the radar. There were other reasons! Chris came on board as I found the workload unmanageable and England (and the media) gave us so much to write about. From April 2015, the blog exploded, and had its most hit year! While it is a quieter place now, relatively, and I’ve seen other types of cricket writing go awry or get stale, along with Sean and Danny, this blog is still going pretty strong. The Twitter feed has a life of its own, and while the footfall from there to here is not as much as I would hope, it is still “our brand”. Our friendly, and not so friendly rivals, have fallen away, taken new roles, or changed tack, but I think we’ve stayed reasonably the same. I won’t pretend it has always been smooth sailing and good for my mental health (!), and yes, 2020 I took a break and the gang kept the ship moving forward, but I am deeply proud of what I started, I am proud of the friends I have made along the way, and while I might be taking too much of the credit for myself, the best writing now, and that which resonates, is by my colleagues, and I am proud of that too. The biggest risk to its future is boredom. The way test cricket is going at the moment, I am not sure there is much fear of that.

The snow is getting harder, and I’ve got to walk the dog in this. Happy days!

I think it is Chris tomorrow. It could be a very very interesting day.

(Song lyric – the awful “I Want To Know What Love Is” by Foreigner)