England vs India: 5th Test, Day 5 – Fin

In a remarkable Test match where Cook and Root both played innings which were reminiscent of days past when England had a functional batting unit (if you can remember back that far), it seemed that India had decided to do their own tribute to a previous era of cricket. At the start of today’s play the tourists were 58/3 and, with Kohli already dismissed, almost everyone expected a fairly quick end to the day. What almost no one expected was for India to take the game down to the wire and almost grind out a draw.

The day began with the press talking about Jimmy Anderson standing on the precipice of greatness, having taken the same number of career wickets as Australian great Glenn McGrath. The notion of an Indian rearguard effort seemingly occurred to no one. It was up to Rahul and Rahane to teach them otherwise.

In fairness to England’s bowlers, the conditions were not anywhere near as bowling-friendly as previous games in this series had been. Stuart Broad was also bowling with a cracked rib, although that shouldn’t have been an issue considering England had five other bowlers in their eleven. Nevertheless, it was impressive and surprising when Indian managed to make it through the first hour of play unscathed. Teams nowadays rarely seem to show any application or resolve when faced with a whole day to bat, and this was a welcome change.

In the end, it was a mishit sweep by Rahane from Moeen’s bowling which created the breakthrough England desperately craved. Debutant batsman Vihari fell soon after a faint edge from a Ben Stokes bouncer (not the one from his trial), and India were shaken going into Lunch five wickets down and facing yet another defeat.

Rishabh Pant has been getting some stick this series, in large part deserved, for his performance as a wicketkeeper. There have been so many byes that it is almost unbelievable. This was somewhat expected, but what he is supposed to be very good at is batting. Having a first-class average over 50, India would have been disappointed with his average of 9.6 going into this final innings. Perhaps batting for his position, Pant stood up and played a tremendous and entertaining 204-run partnership with Rahul.

With the Indians making it past Tea and in sight of rescuing a draw, it will be little surprise to most readers here that it was Adil Rashid who broke the partnership. In fact, he took both centurion’s wickets in successive overs. His delivery to take the wicket of Rahul was possibly The Ball Of The Century, or would have been had he not already earned that accolade two months ago against Kohli. It will also not surprise readers to note that, despite Rashid’s penchant for breaking partnerships, Joe Root bowled him very little indeed. In fact, Root bowled himself for six overs compare to Rashid’s seven by Tea.

With both established batsmen gone (and Rashid taken out of the attack after a mere three wicketless overs), it was finally the endgame. India only had an hour more to survive, but England had taken the new ball and the tailenders were no match for Sam Curran’s swing and seam.

But, as the scriptwriter who has been writing this Test’s storyline no doubt planned, the final wicket went to Jimmy Anderson. Whilst bowling a number 10 is usually fairly anticlimactic, this one took Anderson beyond Glenn McGrath as the highest Test non-spinning wicket-taker. It’s been a long time coming and, although he has a higher average and strike rate than McGrath, there is absolutely no doubt that he is a genuinely great bowler.

Of course, the Player Of The Match (not Man Of The Match, as some pundits would claim) was Alastair Cook. He wasn’t particularly involved today, taking no catches and not having the opportunity to add to his one wicket tally as a bowler, but it’s a deserved honour. 218 runs typically gets you the award in any Test, and allowed it him to have one more goodbye from the podium.

As they celebrated Cook and England’s past, there was also a look to the future in England’s Player Of The Series, Sam Curran. In just his fifth Test, he already seems vital to England’s chances at home. It is saying something that, of England’s four allrounders, it is the ‘world-class’ Stokes who had the worst figures. Woakes, Moeen and the young Curran all had better batting and bowling averages than the New Zealand-born allrounder in this series. With a unit like that, and the continued problems England’s new batsmen have had, it is far from inconceivable that selecting six or more bowlers might become the norm at home.

And so ends another English summer. Going into it, I would never have predicted the vital part Jos Buttler and Adil Rashid would play. Nor, quite frankly, would I have predicted England beating the number one-rated team 4-1. It is an achievement tempered somewhat by the fact that the only new specialist batsman to excel did so batting at seven. Between now and next year’s Ashes, England need to find at least one opener (and please God, let’s get rid of Jennings too) and a number three. At a minimum.

So thanks from everyone here for reading our posts this season, even those of you who only do it to mock the vitriolic ‘Cook-hating blog’. I’m kidding of course, virtually all of the people criticising the writers and commenters here have read little or nothing from the site and so have (ironically) jumped to their conclusions with no evidence to base them on.

If you have any thoughts on the game, Cook, England’s future, or anything else, please comment below.

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England vs India: Fifth Test, Day Four – The Long Farewell.

Inevitable really.  Once he’d survived the new ball, it was written in the stars that Cook would finish off with a century, and while fairy tale endings are rare in sport, this one just seemed like it was always going to happen.  Cook batted better than he has done for a couple of years, the mental freedom gained by the decision to retire lending a fluidity and, dare I say it, style that had been absent for even longer than his best form.

Of course, scoring a century meant that some were all too quick to say he shouldn’t retire at all, a superb missing of the context of this final innings if ever there was one.  Yet with Cook, this happens all too often – the determination not to allow his record to speak for itself, but to demand and insist that it be recognised as something far more has caused irritation where it was never required.  This peculiar demand that “greatness” be recognised without qualification, often by those who insist otherwise when it isn’t a player they are so keen on has managed to generate ill feeling where a final superb innings should have been cause for celebration for all, even those who may have objected to the media beatification of him over the years.

For Cook has been a truly excellent opener for England, with a record that reflects longevity, skill and mental strength.  He deserves the plaudits for an outstanding career as a batsman, and if his ability as captain wasn’t at the same level, he’s not the first and won’t be the last of whom that will be said.  His achievements do not need artificially inflating, and particularly not if the intention is to try to prove some kind of point about the moral rightness of past decisions rather than a player being judged on his own merits.  Any player.

For Cook, the best tribute that can be paid to him is the one he said himself – that he was the best player he could possibly be.  There have been many more talented, but few have extracted the maximum from their ability the way he has.  As both a statement of record, and indeed as advice and aspiration for any cricketer, at whatever level, it is profoundly important, and the one he may well be most proud about.   His weaknesses as a batsman were obvious, his flaws laid bare particularly when out of form and struggling technically.  Yet his strengths too were substantial, perhaps nothing quite so much as an extraordinary degree of concentration.  He will be partly defined by the fall out that led to the sacking of Kevin Pietersen, and the sides taken in that argument.  Both of those batsmen have departed the scene now, but the schism in English cricket remains, and is by far a more troubling and damaging issue than two players.  Perhaps both will reflect on their parts in that, perhaps not, but the personalisation of the whole affair reflected badly on all sides.

Today was a day for paying tribute to an excellent player, and deservedly so.  If few get the opportunity to go out in style, players of distinction do at least deserve to be recognised properly for their contributions.  This appears too much to ask, sometimes.

If Cook was all about saying farewell, for Root it was for smacking down those who complained about his clear pulling of rank in terms of batting at number four.  He looked more fluent and in command than he has all summer, and while a dead rubber is hardly the time to make definitive judgements, allowing England’s best player to bat where he feels most comfortable is surely the best way forward rather than trying to patch weaknesses elsewere with him.

The two of them took the game far beyond India, who were already going through the motions midway through the day and simply waiting for the England declaration.  The usual fun and games late on added to the total, and with the target an improbable 464, Root finally decided enough was enough.

If India were going through the motions with the ball, they had one foot on the plane home with the bat, as James Anderson threatened to steal some of Cook’s thunder by drawing level with Glenn McGrath on the all time list.  There’s an irony here – in the determination of some to do all possible to inflate Cook’s record, a particular line has emerged about him being worth far more due to opening the batting in England against the Duke ball.  Yet if that is accepted, it automatically lessens Anderson’s achievements on English pitches using the same Duke ball.  Watching certain observers attempt to square that particular circle could prove amusing.

Rahul and Rahane steadied the ship from 2-3, but this game is more or less done, and England are almost certain to win it 4-1.  India should be wondering how this has happened, England will just be relieved that it has.  The future is an unknown except that at the end of play tomorrow, there’s only one candidate for that Man of the Match award.

England vs India: Fifth Test, Day Three – Just a Little Bit More

The mind is a funny thing.  It’s been said often enough that cricket is a game played in the head as much as on the pitch, and while this surface has been kinder to the batsmen that most in this series, it isn’t quite at the Melbourne 2017 levels of slow and flat.  Yet Alastair Cook has looked in both innings about as good as he has done for a couple of years.  That’s not to say that anyone should be begging him to re-consider his decision, but it is to say that the probable weight off his mind has led him to relax at the crease somewhat.  He batted well in the first innings, and he’s batted well here.  And those heading to the Oval tomorrow will get the chance to watch him tomorrow, which perhaps will help the attendance figures for a September Monday after the kids have gone back to school.  Nothing would quite highlight the way the ECB have managed the game recently as much as Cook departing for the last time in front of a couple of thousand people, and whatever the raging arguments about where he should be placed in the list of England batsmen, that would be an unedifying end.

In some ways, this has been the best Test of the series  (albeit a dead rubber which always removes the sense of jeopardy) perhaps because there’s at least half a chance it might reach the fifth day on its own terms, and perhaps because the bat seems marginally more on top than to date.  If anything, it appears to be getting easier to bat on, and a day on which only six wickets fell seems quite remarkable given all that’s gone before.  Yet the overall patterns continually repeat themselves, a very English set of pitches that produce generally similar cricket, and generally results inside four days.  It is less than surprising that teams struggle when they come here, or that England have so many problems overseas.  This time at the Oval, it’s the same, just slightly less so.

India had an excellent first half of the day, adding 118 runs to their overnight score with their remaining four wickets, largely thanks to an outstanding unbeaten 86 from Ravi Jadeja.  He farmed the strike expertly, the last three wickets adding 55, only 5 of which came from his partners.  Few would have begrudged him reaching a century, while in the match context, getting India within 40 made the match far more interesting than it looked like it was going to be.  England toiled manfully enough, with the biggest surprise being that Adil Rashid actually got a bowl.

India’s trials by DRS continued when they got hold of the ball, through managing to burn both of their reviews within 12 overs of England going out to bat. It was impressive too, given both reviews were palpably not out without so much as the benefit of a replay. One of the best decisions made by the ICC about DRS recently was to abolish the renewal of the two reviews after 80 overs, meaning that teams need to manage them far better than they currently are.  It matters less in England where surviving 80 overs in the first place appears to be a badge of honour, but the carelessness shown means both teams, but particularly India, will have to change their DRS ways on the flatter surfaces elsewhere.

If Cook was playing his final Test innings, many would have thought Keaton Jennings was doing the same, particularly after he left a ball that didn’t so much clip the bails as crash into middle and off stumps.  Leaving such a delivery is usually indicative of a scrambled mind, so he will be pleased to have heard Ed Smith indicate that he’s on the tour to Sri Lanka already.  Smith appears to have regarded this series win as huge vindication of his selections and his approach, which is fair enough as long as the team does win, though unusually strident to imply personal responsibility for that success. There is more than an element of hubris in his revelling in his unorthodox selections, and repeating a certainty that it is the right way to go.  Furthermore, he appeared quite relaxed about the top order difficulties, implying that he was quite content for the runs to come from the lower order.  For now, results are in his favour, but his supreme blithe confidence suggests he could probably do with someone on his shoulder whispering “Remember Caesar, you are just a man”.

Root at four showed all the signs of a man delighted to be batting where he wants to be, which in this England side does at least have a rarity value, as we know at least one of the top four for the winter tours.  Still, there has to be something said for the concept of batting your best player where he is most comfortable, in the hope of getting the best out of him.

154 ahead, two days to go.  England will want to be batting most of tomorrow, but there’s always that England thing of a collapse around the corner.  Even with that, another hundred oughtn’t to be beyond their capabilities, and a target of over 250 should be too much for India.

 

 

England vs. India: 5th Test, Day 1 – Cook Triumphant. England Not So Much.

I have a confession to make: I like Alastair Cook. At least his batting. I am a natural contrarian, and therefore nothing pleases me more than watching the team I support grinding out a score at less than 2 runs per over. You can keep your flashy drives and slogs over deep midwicket, I’ll take 6 hours of leaves and nurdles every day of the week.

I therefore enjoyed the first two sessions of this game immensely. Joe Root won the toss, as he has in every Test this series, and chose to bat first. This gave Cook’s adoring fans (and our own LordCanisLupus) at the Oval a chance to watch their retiring hero at the crease. The first session of the day was slow-going, with little movement in the air and slow bounce from the pitch. Both openers almost reached Lunch before Jennings gave India’s leg slip some catching practice with a glance straight into the fielder’s hands. Hardly the shot of a player who you might expect to be facing Australia next summer.

Moeen Ali came in at three and, together with the greatest English batsman of all time at the other end, made it through to the Lunch interval. Fortunately they didn’t have to watch or listen to the coverage of Cook’s retirement because it honestly almost put me off my food. I had to turn it off in the end. I’m a fan of his batting, as I said at the start, but the way coverage of the former England captain tends to go completely over the top does make me sympathise with those of you here that dislike him immensely. I assume one of the other writers here will go into this week’s interviews and articles after the game finishes. Something for you all to look forward to.

After Lunch, It seemed like India had managed to switch the ball as they suddenly started swinging it round corners. It had all the hallmarks of an England Test collapse, but instead something incredibly odd and unusual happened: The two batsmen dug in and didn’t throw away their wickets. The session wasn’t without incident with two chances in the slip cordon going down, but given the conditions it was the kind of partnership that England have been sorely lacking in recent years.

As seemed almost inevitable after all of the pageantry earlier in the day, Cook reached his half-century with a drive down the ground for two. The accounts of the crowd’s reaction differ, with ESPNcricinfo calling is a “huge ovation” whilst the Guardian say it was “acclaimed like a double hundred”. Our field correspondent suggests it wasn’t quite as great an outpouring of affection as the press might suggest, although perhaps it should have been. It was the first fifty by either team’s openers in this series and only Cook’s third in the last year. If it wasn’t for Cook’s impending retirement, this level of celebration would seem almost sarcastic. The two batsmen continued to grind the Indian bowlers down, and survived to the Tea interval.

Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and Cook’s penultimate innings was no different. Five overs into the evening session, a quick inseamer from Bumrah caught Cook off guard and he dragged it onto the stumps. It was a good innings though, and had laid an ideal platform for the middle order to capitalise on tiring bowlers with an old ball which had stop swinging as prodigiously as it had in the previous session.

In the most predictable turn of events ever, England instead lost a couple of quick wickets. Root was first to go just three balls later for a duck, trapped in front by Bumrah. Not content with missing a straight ball, England captain also completely wasted one of their precious reviews. The question Root asked Moeen at the other end before taking the review is particularly worrying because he seemed very confident that the ball was heading down the leg side. If it was missing leg stump, it was only because it was heading for middle. Root only averages 24.25 this series, and he appears to have no idea where the stumps are when he’s batting. This brought Bairstow to the crease, but as people who have watched this summer will know he’s been prone to bat away from his body a lot recently. Well, he did it again on just his fourth ball and edged it through to Pant.

So despite England’s top order functioning as it should (for once!), England were still in a hole and needed rescuing by their allrounders yet again. India kept the pressure on the hosts by keeping things tight, and Ben Stokes was given LBW by a quick full delivery from Jadeja. Moeen Ali reached his own half-century a few overs later, then got a very faint edge on an Ishant Sharma outswinger. He had played and missed several times in his innings, and was maybe a little lucky to have lasted as long as he did in all honesty. Two balls later and Sharma induced another feather from Sam Curran as the allrounder was trying to pull his bat out of the way.

Jos Buttler and Adil Rashid struggled through to the end of play, although not entirely without incident. Buttler was given out LBW after Shami managed to hit him on the pad with a quick inswinger, and Jos reluctantly reviewed it in hope rather than expectation. To everyone’s surprise, including apparently the batsman, it turned out that he’d hit it. It’s often said that batters know when they’ve hit it, but surely the review system has disproven this quite conclusively.

So England, in spite of a strong start, are probably well under the par score on this pitch. At least the England fans in the crowd (including LordCanisLupus and a few others from the comments section, I think) have been able to watch 90 overs’ play today. A rare treat in this series.

As always, please comment below.

England vs. India: 4th Test, Day 4 – Victory

England confirmed victory in this Test and series, and through the day it rarely seemed in doubt. A good day then for the English bowlers, although not entirely without incident.

The day didn’t get off to a great start for the hosts, with Broad edging a wide ball to the keeper. Curran and Anderson eked out a few more overs before Curran was run out by Ishant Sharma. This was England’s second run out of the innings, and may point to something that needs sorting out of the training ground before the next Test. That wicket ended the innings, leaving India with 245 to chase.

That target didn’t sound impossible to reach for the visitors, but a terrible start soon put them on the back foot. Rahul, Pujara and Dhawan fell in quick succession to Broad and Anderson’s opening overs, with swing and variable bounce causing significant issues for the batsmen. Rahul’s wicket was particularly unfortunate. KL Rahul is the only Indian batsman to average less than England two openers and, as is common for players in that kind of form, he got a genuinely unplayable ball which shot low and quickly towards the stumps.

Not long after, Kohli survived a close LBW shout and the following DRS appeal. Whilst Hawkeye clearly showed the ball hitting the pad in line with the stumps and predicting that it would hit the wicket with the full ball, the controversial decision by the third umpire was that the ball hit the bat on its way through. The pictures clearly showed that Kohli’s bat had hit his pad at the same point the ball was close to the edge, but the official seemed to ignore this whilst making his deliberations. Had India managed to claw their way to victory, this would no doubt have been the main talking point for the game.

Kohli and Rahane managed to weather the initial storm through to Lunch, and not long after Root brought Ali and Rashid into the attack. Continuing his great form from the first innings, it was Moeen who looked the most threatening of the two. Bowling offspinners into the footholes left by Ishant Sharma outside the right-handed batsman’s off stump, Moeen was getting balls to shoot up and cause lots of problems for Kohli and Rahane. It was one such delivery which did for the Indian captain just before the Tea break, when he was found to have gloved a delivery to short leg, despite a forlorn DRS appeal. That left India still needing 122 runs, with their somewhat weak tail to come.

Pant was clearly at the crease for a good time rather than a long time, choosing to go for boundaries rather than the safer singles. Perhaps it was the right decision, with variable bounce meaning that an unplayable ball could come at any moment, but it didn’t work and he holed out to deep cover. Rahane, India’s last remaining batsman, didn’t hang around much longer either as he was adjudged LBW off Moeen’s bowling despite a vanity DRS appeal.

The reason I mention the failed DRS appeals by Kohli and Rahane is that they could have ended up being vital. England’s bowlers rounded up the last three wickets fairly cheaply, but two of those wickets were LBWs which would have been overturned had India not wasted their reviews earlier in the innings. It is massively unlikely that Ashwin, Sharma, Shami and Bumrah could have combined to score 90 runs in such bowler-friendly conditions, but you never know in cricket.

And so England ended up winning the game, and the series, quite convincingly. Amazingly so really, considering the performance of many players. England’s top 5 have scored 94 less runs than the bottom six in this series, with a collective batting average over 5 runs lower. England’s top order has been shockingly bad.

Indian fans might also point to the fact that Kohli lost all four tosses, meaning that India typically had to bat and bowl in the more difficult conditions. The visitors certainly seemed to have improved significantly from their tour four years ago, to the point that they were genuinely in with a chance of winning the series.

Which brings us to the next Test, starting on Friday. With little pressure on the England team with the series in the bag, it will be curious to see which direction they go in with their selection. They could see it as an ideal opportunity to blood some replacements for an underperforming opener or two before the winter tours, rest the two senior bowlers from a dead rubber, or mess around some more with the batting order. On the other hand, they could take the entirely reasonable view that they shouldn’t change a winning team, although that didn’t work out so well for India in the end.

Either way, India have perhaps surprised a lot of people with how well they have performed. Kohli laid to rest the idea that he wasn’t the world’s number one batsman because he couldn’t play the swinging ball, whilst India’s fast bowlers showed a great aptitude at bowling the swinging ball. I certainly wouldn’t bet against them winning the final game at the Oval.

As always, please comment below.

England vs India: 4th Test, Day Three: Same Old (Strangely)

England finish the third day in a fairly handy position all told, a lead well over 200, two wickets still intact, Indian bowlers struggling for penetration (a mild warning note there), and with a pitch that should be starting to deteriorate towards the back end of the match. Naturally, this being England, it’s been done the wrong way around – the top order struggling and the middle and lower order scoring the bulk of the runs.

If England’s defeats over the last 18 months are taken as a whole, it is generally when the middle and lower order fail to bail out the batsmen. Nor can they be expected to on a regular basis, for the normal way cricket works is that the top order score most of them, and the all rounders chip in some of the time. Trust England to develop an entirely different manner of playing. It isn’t a sustainable method for a team to generate continual success, and England’s problems at the top are something that they are going to have to resolve one way or another if they wish to make progress.

Cook failed again, and whether or not he is backed from within, his lean run goes on, and even by the modest returns of the last few years (yes, yes, two double centuries and not much else) he is struggling badly. There remains little evidence against the supposition that he’s coming towards the end, and what he decides will be interesting to observe, for while the Cook of his best years would be a loss, it’s much harder to make a case for him more recently. Whatever the returns in terms of runs scored, he doesn’t look like he’s going to make a big score currently either, and that, perhaps, is the biggest indicator of his plight.

Keaton Jennings in contrast looked rather good today, comfortable against both seam and spin, only to then be palpably lbw when well set. There’s a degree of sympathy for him, for it does show the fine margins at this level, and for all his problems this series, his record isn’t particularly different to Cook’s – the problem for England is two-fold, not just Jennings. He may well join the list of openers tried and discarded permanently.

A surprise was sprung with Moeen Ali coming out at number three. Plenty of speculation ensued about Root dropping a place, with a consensus (which doesn’t mean it’s true) that Root had put his foot down in terms of his desire to bat at four. If so, he’s right to as well, for Root is England’s best batsman, and it is peculiar to use him elsewhere to attempt to cover up for the weaknesses of the team that way. If he scores most runs at four, bat him at four. The roles are slightly different, and if that means another is a slight sacrifical lamb to get the best out of him, so be it – it can’t be said that the current top order is working well at present after all.

Moeen may not be good enough to bat at three, but then who is? It’s not so many years past that plenty were complaining that Trott scored too slowly, even in Tests, but what England would give for that now is immeasurable. It’s also a lesson about those who happily waved off players who they didn’t like assuming that they were easily replaceable. As one selector memorably said of Graham Thorpe, “what does he bring to the side apart from runs?”. More runs. Runs England are consistently short of at the top, and the carelessness with which players have been discarded over recent times is a source of constant wry amusement.

The loss of Jennings just before lunch was compounded by the first ball dismissal of Bairstow immediately after. It can be a mistake to assume a causation that isn’t necessarly there, but it can’t be said that playing Bairstow with a broken finger has been an unqualified success. Perhaps it’s just one of things, perhaps not.

Root and Stokes batted patiently before Root was run out needlessly, and at 122-5 India were on top, and England wobbling. That they recovered is partly down to Stokes batting well within himself (again) but mostly Jos Buttler doing likewise. Buttler this summer can be put down as a success, and whether he truly makes a go of his Test career is rather beside the point right now – he’s doing well. He also found an able ally in Sam Curran. His dropping for the last Test was harsh at the time, but it is delightful to see a young player ramming the error down the selectors’ throats as he is doing presently.

For India, Mohammed Shami was the pick of the bowlers, but it was hard work throughout. They will feel the pitch has slowed and died somewhat, making taking wickets hard work. If they are correct, then a run chase is more than possible as long as they don’t try to force things, and that too should be at the back of England minds.

There’s every chance the day four crowd will be in for a treat tomorrow, for while England are now ahead in the game, it’s not so far that anyone will be feeling comfortable.

Game on.

England vs India:4th Test, Day 2 – Bowlers to the Rescue

First with the bat, and now with the ball.  England’s plethora of all rounders initially got them to at least some kind of score, and then today got them right into the game with the ball.  By the time India passed England’s total with 9 wickets down, Sam Curran’s knock had become ever more important, and for India, Cheteshwar Pujara’s century was every bit as critical – though in his case, at least it could be said that it is his primary role in the side.

Moeen Ali was the star man for England, which always provides plenty of entertainment between those who think he’s under-appreciated, and those who point to his away record (not good) as a reason why he shouldn’t be anywhere near an England team.  The problem is that both are correct, as far as it goes.  Moeen at home has a very decent record indeed, Moeen away does not. Replacing him for away tours is a perfectly reasonable response to that, but there is always a peculiar belief that if done then England’s spinning options will dramatically improve, despite all the evidence to the contrary over the last ten years when discounting Graeme Swann.  He bowled very well today, taking five wickets, which both suggested that England may have their hands full with Ravi Ashwin, and highlighted the oddity of England playing two spinners and then only giving Rashid seven overs.  Two spinners often looks a luxury in England, and in this instance appears to be more about shoe-horning additional batting all rounders into the side than any expectation about the pitch.  Still, it’s always possible the second innings will be more conducive to Rashid’s skills, though leg spinners do tend to need runs on the board to be most effective, something England have been singularly unable to provide recently.

Broad too bowled well, and tested all the batsmen, while Sam Curran was the one who snared the prize wicket of an oddly out of sorts Virat Kohli.  But England used seven bowlers, including Keaton Jennings, who must have dearly wished for a bonus wicket to cheer himself up, and it looked overkill, with Stokes too just bowling the seven overs.

Of course, having bowling options is a wonderful thing, and particularly so when labouring in the field.  It can absolutely be said that England have a pretty balanced attack, with only a real paceman missing from what ought to be a dream combination of seam, swing, left arm, off spin and leg spin.  Whether the personnel are all good enough is a different matter of course.

India’s small lead would have been a disappointment at lunch, and a serious bonus shortly after tea, as this game swung wildly one way and then the other.  A mid order collapse of England proportions followed by the tail providing immense support for Pujara when it had looked like England might gain the most unlikely of first innings advantages.  Pujara himself batted beautifully, in conditions that slightly favoured the bowlers, though not to the extent that these teams appear determined to portray.  His marshalling of the lower order eked out far more runs than it should have, to England’s frustration, but perhaps it should be looked at in terms of praise for him, Sharma and Bumrah rather than anything England did obviously wrong.

As to where this game is going, currently all the pressure is on England’s batsmen, faced with the infamous third innings tension in a tight game.  Jennings and Cook deserve credit for coming through a tricky 20 minute spell unscathed, but the deficit is still there, and England will need to bat extremely well to set India a target where they’ll feel confident in bowling them out.  For England to be warm favourites, they would need to set a target in excess of 250, and there isn’t too much confidence in the England batting order right now – at least not in the top order.

Jennings may well feel this is his last chance, while Cook’s declining returns have consistently left England a couple of wickets down early on.  Either way, if both fail tomorrow England will be in deep trouble, and it’s been a fair old while since England’s openers have truly set a platform for the rest of the team.  No time like tomorrow.

After two days, this is a competitive Test match, and may yet go on to be a truly absorbing one.  But for that to happen England will have to exceed expectations and get into a position where they have at least the prospect of a win, and a series win.  India may well be the more confident, and if they bowl well tomorrow, those with tickets for the fourth day could be cursing their luck once again.  These are two brittle sides, and if low scoring matches are often the most exciting, when it happens repeatedly it merely highlights the flaws in the teams.

Nevertheless, a far better second day for England.  Whether they can make it a good third day as well – that’s more open to question.

England vs. India: 4th Test, Day 1 – Here We Go Again…

…Same old s*** dog, just a different day.

After watching two of the three sessions today, I’m honestly not sure I can muster the enthusiasm to do my job for today. This is clearly something which I share with England’s specialist batsmen.

After England won the toss and chose to bat, anyone who follows cricket could guess how the day went. England’s top order collapsed, and they only avoided an embarrassingly low total thanks to the efforts of a lower order batsman or two. This time it was Moeen and Sam Curran.

It is amazing to me how much better India’s bowlers seem when they’re bowling at Cook, Jennings and Root. Yes, they’re facing the new ball, but when Buttler and Stokes come in to replace them it seems like they’re playing on a different pitch. What was a minefield instantly becomes a normal, flat, first day surface. What was a hand grenade crossed with a homing missile transforms into an ordinary cricket ball. What was the greatest seam attack since the West Indies in the 80s suddenly resembles a solid but not remarkable Test-quality attack. It’s not the conditions, it’s not the ball, it’s not the opposition. All four remaining specialist batsmen look shot.

Sam Curran obviously batted well to bring England towards an almost respectable score, with the other bowlers chipping in, but that’s not the point. The batting output from 6 onwards is supposed to be the icing on the cake. It appears to be England’s plan to produce, on a very regular basis, cakes which are approximately 90% icing. THAT’S NOT HOW YOU MAKE A CAKE!

There has to be a case now for dropping all of England’s batsmen. This isn’t hyperbole. This isn’t me being a devil’s advocate. I’m sick of it. Game after game, series after series, season after season. Cook has had an atrocious year, Jennings averages 17.57 in his latest run in the side, Root has resolved his problem of not converting his half-centuries in an unfortunate way, and Bairstow is inexplicably still being selected with a broken finger. I fail to believe that England’s batting lineup wouldn’t be improved by picking any four good county batsmen. Not Vince, obviously, but four other batsmen.

Not that I think the blame should solely be placed at the feet of the batsmen. It’s notable that no players who have debuted in the last four years or more have secured their place in the side. Now you could take the view that all 26 (or more, depending where you draw the line) debutants weren’t good enough for international cricket. Honestly, that seems unlikely to me. What seems more likely is that at least a handful could have played at that level, but something went wrong.

There has never really been a culture of responsibility at the ECB, but when you see poor batting, bowling, and fielding in the Test team you have to wonder what the coaches are doing. More importantly, you have to wonder how they can justify their positions. Take Mark Ramprakash, for example. He’s been England’s batting coach for almost four years, culminating in this series where the top order batsmen collectively average below 25. Rather than being sacked, which is the fate for most employees exhibiting this level of failure, he appears to be failing upwards. In light of Andy Flower’s temporary promotion he took control of the England Lions team, and he now is considered a top candidate for the vacant head coach role of Middlesex. Why?

Sam Curran’s exploits have at least given England an unlikely chance of winning this game, but they’ll need to bowl extraordinarily well tomorrow. Maybe they could follow India’s example and bowl at the stumps every once in a while. Or maybe they won’t, in which case it will almost certainly be another embarrassing defeat at home.

England vs. India: Fourth Test Preview

The question all week for England has been whether Bairstow can bat with a broken finger, and whether he can keep wicket. According to Joe Root’s pre-game press conference, the answers are “yes” and “no” respectively. Bairstow’s inclusion in the team was a relief to most English cricket fans, since the alternative would presumably have been James Vince having yet another attempt at being a Test batsman. No one (apart from James Vince, Michael Vaughan, and people supporting India) wants that.

The fact that Bairstow will play tomorrow puts into stark relief the lack of depth in English batting right now. That a serious hand injury (which the Indians have declared they will target) isn’t enough to force a player out of the team shows a massive lack of confidence in the people England could call in to replace him. That lack of confidence is fully justified, unfortunately. Haseeb Hameed is the only batsman who has debuted since Bayliss became coach in 2015 and averaged over 30. 30. The gap in quality between Bairstow batting one-handed and his potential replacement James Vince is vast.

In other injury news, Chris Woakes is ruled out with an issue with his quadriceps whilst Ben Stokes was apparently bowling with heavy strapping on his knee in training. With this in mind, it isn’t surprising that England have elected to bring Sam Curran and Moeen Ali in to replace Woakes and Ollie Pope. Whilst it might be a little harsh on Pope, who only had two games to try to cement his place in the team, his low average of 18.00 means that England could justify his replacement with an allrounder as improving the team’s batting overall.

The fact that England have replaced a specialist batsman with a bowling allrounder means that England will have 6 bowlers tomorrow (although Stokes may be used sparingly), which I suspect will test Joe Root’s captaincy in the field somewhat. It also probably suggests that Stokes and Buttler will both bat a place higher than normal, which could be a problem if England’s top order collapses.

Speaking of top order collapses, many people will be watching Alastair Cook closely in the next game after he sustained what was (for him at least) an unprecedented number of questions about his position in the team. His supporters have pointed to his strong record at the Rose Bowl, where he currently averages 110.00 in Test matches, as cause for optimism. I think it is worth pointing out that he has only played three innings there which means it is a very small sample, and his last Test in Southampton was four years ago. He has arguably declined significantly as a batsman since then.

England’s opposition have no such problems. With no reported injuries or selection headaches, it seems likely that India will name the same XI. The only surprise in this is that it would apparently be the first time in Virat Kohli’s tenure as Test captain that India have picked an unchanged team. The tourists have a great opportunity to claim a second win in England, which they haven’t managed in a Test series since 1986.

In lighter news, the ECB are apparently looking for a new President to take over the ceremonial duties from CEO Tom Harrison (who dislikes the spotlight) and Chairman Colin Graves (who seems to cause problems every time he speaks in public). The position is unpaid, and the ECB have made it clear that the new President won’t be allowed to make any public statements without the express consent of the board. Personally I’m hoping Graeme Swann gets the job. Or Michael Vaughan. Or Geoffrey Boycott. Or David Lloyd. Or…

As always, feel free to comment about the game (or anything else) below.

England vs India, 3rd Test, Day 4 – The Painful Reality

Firstly, it would be churlish not to praise India who have well and truly demolished England in this Test. They need one more wicket, but the game is over, the only small delight comes from watching Rashid and Anderson surviving and thus forcing everyone, especially England’s top order, to come back tomorrow.

Some, myself included, thought that India could be on verge of a damning series defeat after Lords as it felt that this tour was starting to descend into free fall. Not one bit of it, as much as England have been poor (and boy have they been poor), India have been very good with bat and ball. Kohli set the tone with the bat once again and showed why he is the quite simply the best batsman in the world and this time he was ably assisted by Rahane and Dhawan amongst others. With the ball, Hardik Pandya secured his first 5 wicket haul in Tests in the first innings with Sharma and Bumrah both bowling superbly in each innings, the latter securing his five-for in the second. Any thoughts of a whitewash have been completely wiped away, it is now India in the ascendency and with a very real chance of securing or at least sharing the series.

Then we come to England (clicks wrists) and it is extremely hard to compose anything that can actually cover how completely and utterly abject they have been in this Test. Sure Stokes and Buttler in particular, who thoroughly deserved his maiden century after showing the top order how to bat properly, managed to salvage a little bit of pride in the 2nd innings when the game was already truly lost, but as much as the media would like to paint the positives here, the damage had already been done. It is almost typical England (John Crawley made a living from this as the archetypal second innings Charlie) that they finally make some runs when they are so far behind the eight ball that it doesn’t matter aside from personal milestones. This hasn’t just been a sanity check or a bad day at the office, these things happen way to often just to be a bad day at the office, this has still been a thrashing –  something that anyone who is associated with this side should be embarrassed about given it was lost on day two. I’m going to give the bowlers a bit of pass here, as although they could have bowled better, certainly on day one by pitching the ball up more consistently, it is not they who have lost this Test for England, though the ironic thing is that one of them is most likely going to pay with his place in the team due to the sheer inadequacy of the England batting and fielding units. I think if you compared these two elements relatively to a village side’s expectations, then you would be doing village cricket a disservice, this was far worse. As I mentioned before, it’s not as if it has been coming, England have lost 10 wickets in a session 3 times more in the past 22 months than they did in the last 80 years, yet still we keep being told to take the positives and that the players are working hard to correct things. One question then, how long do these overpaid and mollycoddled individuals need? We’ve had gaping holes in our batting line up for more time than I remember, we have shown time and time again that we are more than capable of collapsing on the flattest of pitches against the most average of bowling attacks and quite simply things are getting worse not better.

You only have to show highlights of England’s batting in this Test to show quite how bad this unit is. The lack of technique against the new ball, the edging of deliveries to the slips which didn’t need to be played at, the lack of will and application to grind out a session in tough conditions and the general apathy about representing their country. This is not just the players’ fault, though they have to accept that they also have a big responsibility for this mess, but there just also seems to be no accountability in the coaching unit. Bayliss is babysitting the team until the next World Cup, Chuckles Farbrace normally only comes out in the media after a good session and we have a batting coach (whose contract has just been extended whilst England’s batting performances get worse) that averaged a jot over 27 with the bat and admitted that he was unable to deal with the intensity of Test cricket. Andy Flower is doing a great impression of not being remotely seen in public when England are performing badly and one dreads to think where Graves and Harrison are and what they are currently dreaming up. Joe Root, who in my opinion should not be captain being our best batsman by a mile, is the man who keeps getting hung out to dry in the media as the rest of the coaches and players hide behind their handsome salaries and hope no-one notices them.

Let’s not make any bones about it; this batting unit is a wreck. Cook’s eyes have gone and so has his hunger, the best thing Jennings could do is purchase a one way ticket back to Jo’burg, Root shouldn’t be batting at 3 with the added burden of the captaincy, Bairstow and Stokes (who played with some proper acumen today) often seem to play the same innings no matter what the match situation, Buttler (this innings apart as he played extremely well) has yet to show that he has the consistency to be a staple of the English batting line up and Pope is a young kid trying to find his way in the game. The batting line up of the 90’s was much maligned but they would absolutely stomp all over this line up. Can you imagine Jennings, Cook and Buttler et al facing Walsh & Ambrose or Wasim & Waqar, there would be absolute carnage. I bet this team wouldn’t make 100 between them most times. Time after time, collapse after collapse, this unit continues to fail apart from the odd ‘solo innings of excellence’ but here we are, still trying to fix the massive hole in the hull whilst the flood water continues to gush in, with a sticking plaster. Don’t even get me started about the fielding unit, if I have to see another ‘slack-jawed, derp-I-dropped-another-catch-face’ from either Cook or Jennings, then I’m going full ‘Michael Douglas – Falling Down’ on my way to the Oval. The fact that our brains trust can’t even successfully master how to catch a ball at slip, then what hope does the rest of the team have? We have dropped 15 slip catches in 3 games, do you know how hard that is to actually achieve? Now it’s well known that I’m not a fan of St. Jimmy of Burnley’s antics on the cricket pitch, but I would fully condone acts of extreme violence from Jimmy to either of these two butter fingered miscreants.

Do you know what though, this performance is exactly what England and the ECB deserve. The general incompetence and apathy that is the ECB, has manifested itself both on and off the pitch and to be fair the England cricket team now reflects its administrators; a team of greedy, shallow individuals who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. We have a former captain in the throes of batting decline, one who is so paranoid that he believes that the media is out to get him despite being the beneficiary of endless hagiographies during his career. We have just dropped a talented 20 year who was Man of the Match two games ago, because England’s thug of an all-rounder needs an arm round him after getting into trouble on a night out. We have marginalised county cricket so much that it is now irrelevant and unable to supply players to the national team anywhere near international standard, we have upset and marginalised the fans whose money is somehow not good enough, we have the Hundred too all in the name of a focus on white ball cricket by the ECB so that those at the top can still make a mint from the game, whilst the rest watch it burn to the sinews.

Yet back to this series and so poor has the display been that some of our friends in the media might write about their surprise at such a poor performance, even though this has been happening with alarming regularity. There may even be the odd murmur about Cook’s form, which has been consistently on the wane for the past few years. However, don’t expect it to last, before the week is out we’ll be talking about how ‘Cook can decide his own time to retire’ and ‘how important it is for England to hit back after Trent Bridge’ narratives and soon enough this game will be but a distant memory.  Just like every single horrific collapse and every single away tour has been over the past few years. Besides, what would motivate the ‘old boys’ at the top of the chain and their compliant media friends to make waves by doing what’s best for the team when malignant mediocrity pays exactly the same amount?

It’s just one Test.  But it’s not just one Test is it?  And short of a surprise monsoon tomorrow, being 2-1 up doesn’t alter that.