India vs. Pakistan – Champions Trophy 2017

The most hyped contest in this year’s Champions Trophy ended in a damp squib with Pakistan never seriously challenging India at any point in the game. It was certainly damp, with three interruptions caused by the rain in Birmingham. There are many fans around the world asking why a country with England’s climate is hosting an international competition at all, and particularly in June and not August.

Having won the toss and chosen to bat second, Pakistan were outplayed virtually from beginning to end. The game started promisingly, with Pakistan only conceding 15 runs from the first 5 overs. After that point, unfortunately for Pakistan’s fans and most neutrals, India never looked like losing the game for a second. Pakistan’s bowling was abject, with Wahab Riaz taking particularly heavy punishment. Only teenage legspinner Shadab Khan and former Portland Young Offenders Institute resident Mohammad Amir finished the innings with respectable figures. They certainly weren’t helped by the Pakistan fielders, who dropped two clear chances and were generally poor in their ground fielding.

It’s often said that teams can only beat what’s put in front of them. India certainly did this with a dominant batting display. Rohit Sharma laid the foundations with a slow and steady 91 from 119 balls whilst Dhawan, Kohli and Yuvraj all contributed quick-fire fifties to take India’s score well over 300. This was a really strong team batting performance which will worry a lot of teams going forward in the competition.

If the first innings was bad for Pakistan, the second was somehow even worse. Whilst Azhar Ali did a reasonable job providing the platform like Sharma did for India, at the other end it was slow-motion carnage. India’s bowlers did a great job keeping the Pakistan batsmen’s scoring below their required run rate, eventually making them go for risky shots or suicidal runs. If one thing might disappoint the Indian team, their fielding was the equal of Pakistan’s and that is certainly not a compliment. They dropped two relatively simple chances, and their ground fielding was also very poor. Of course these mistakes weren’t punished by Pakistan, but they will want to improve before facing any stronger teams.

If anything, only losing by 124 runs (adjusted by DLS) is a result which flatters Pakistan who were never competitive. The massive Net Run Rate differential from this game makes it seem like it’s virtually impossible for Pakistan to make the semi finals, and virtually impossible for India not to. The ICC will no doubt breathe a heavy sigh of relief that India seem destined to make the knockout stages and will keep all the Indian TV viewers (and broadcasting companies) happy.

Elsewhere, England have announced the replacement in the squad after Chris Woakes was sidelined by a side strain. His place will be taken by Steven Finn, which always seemed the most likely choice the ECB would make after revealing it was a three-way contest between Finn, Toby Roland-Jones and Tom Curran. If Roland-Jones or Curran were to actually play, it would be their second and first ODI caps respectively. With 69 ODIs under his belt, Finn is clearly seen as a safer choice.

Of course this puts an end to the rather amusing speculation that Stuart Broad would be brought into the team. To put this into context, the last ODI he played in England was against India in the 2013 Champions Trophy Final. To say that his selection would be seen as a panicked move by England’s selectors would be an understatement, and it’s not really clear how the groundswell of support for the idea in the England press box might have started.

As always, comments are welcomed and appreciated. It’s my first official post on the site after two guest appearances, so be nice! Or don’t. I’m pretty sure I can delete comments and ban people now.

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And now for something completely different

8:00 – The cricket has started.  It’s cold.  I don’t want to get up, but I need to.  I’ve got work to do most importantly.

8:15 – No really, I need to get up.

8:23 – Coffee is on, cricket is on, I’m up.  I seem to have missed Virat Kohli, it’s 21-3.  This is one of those situations where if it was England with that score you’d be absolutely certain it was game over, at least for England of most of the time I’ve been watching them.  But India?  There’s the nagging feeling that after 25 overs they’re going to be 150-3.  Basic rule of this one today is I’m not going to to go back and amend anything that makes me look stupid later on.  Some may say that’s a given anyway.

8:43 – Yep, it’s started.  Yuvraj Singh has spent his career making England miserable by pulling the fat out of the fire, and he’s just pinged Jake Ball for three fours in an over.  Thus it begins.  Watching England involves absolutely certainty that no matter how good the situation, they can find a way to make a mess of it.

8:44 – Djokovic out of the Australian Open.  The reminder that for all the corruption, cheating and theft of sport as a concept in favour of filthy lucre, there’s a reason people love it – the unexpected.

8:49 – Yuvraj and Dhoni, it’s so 2010.

8:50 – Woakes off.  Given he’s taken 3-14 off five it seems a trifle harsh not to have mentioned him.  But I didn’t actually see much.  But well bowled anyway.

8:55 – Yuvraj Singh is a lovely player to watch.

8:56 – Work.  We don’t get paid for cricket.  Although I was once.  I was a professional cricketer. It’s true, it really is.  I was a pro for one day, when my boss for my summer job was due to play for the our club, but had to work, so he got me to do it that day and paid me anyway.

9:02 – Is it just me who really hates the way every other advert on TV is for a betting company?  I don’t object to gambling, but the number of commercials for it pisses me off no end.

9:10 – Nasser Hussain mentions that the England players have black armbands on as a mark of respect for Rachael Heyhoe-Flint.  Quite right too, she put the women’s game on the map in a way that no-one had done before.  There are a lot of female cricketers up and down the country, and across the world, who owe her a nod of thanks for her refusal to accept being patronised.

9:28 – at 88-3 India have fought back well.  England are still on top but it’s a lot more even.  They don’t remotely look like taking a wicket, and it’s something that England have been guilty of for quite a number of years, failing to press home and early advantage and then reverting to run saving and hoping a wicket falls.  Perhaps it’s a mentality thing as much as anything else, but it’s extremely rare to see England determined to take wickets in the middle overs.

9:55 – 135-3 off 26.  It’s a decent recovery alright, you’d think all things being equal 300 was distinctly possible.  Part of the reason for doing today’s report this way was to see how wise after the event I tend to be.  The OBO boys tend to describe the action, and I don’t really blame them – it’s a hostage to fortune to talk about expectations.  So I’m going to do it anyway.  There’ll be acceleration and right now I’ll call India’s final total to be 340.  Which may not be enough.

9:58 – The problem with ODIs is that these overs are just pretty dull.  Yet when at the ground, at least in England, that’s part of it, it’s the time when you wander out to get the beers in or something to eat (after pleading with your bank manager for a loan, especially at Lords).  Yet it’s hard to maintain attention to the television, and perhaps that’s not a bad thing.  In my case, I’m working anyway, so I have plenty to do.  No I really am.  It’s true, I’ve done a fair bit so far.  You don’t believe me I know.

10:10 – Just a comment on England sitting in and not trying to take wickets, there have been three edges through where first slip would be.  The temptation to be Ian Botham and imagine there are 15 fielders on the ground is always there, but that’s how you take wickets, by giving the bowlers a chance.  It’s something England are always prone to do, and then wonder why they end up facing a big total after taking them early on.  It’s not especially a criticism of this one per se, more of an approach issue.

10:15 – The general rule is to double the score at 30 overs, though apparently it’s nearer 31 according to the stattos.  172-3 after 31, so my 340 is looking a decent shout at the moment.

10:25 – Hundred up for Yuvraj.  He seems to have been around forever.  And seems to save his best for England.  No matter, he’s a joy to watch, and given his health problems there’s always a strong sense of goodwill towards him.  Maybe his Test career didn’t fulfil him completely, but as an ODI performer, he’s quite something.  Maybe he’s not quite the player he was, but that’s true of most players as they get towards the end.

10:55 – This is getting messy.  Plenty of chat about what England need to be better, and while it’s true Mark Wood is a loss, the temptation to believe those not in the team would be better by virtue of them not being here is always strong.  Some are saying recall Stuart Broad, but he’s never been that great at ODIs, there’s no reason to assume he’ll suddenly become the best thing since sliced bread.

11:20 – One batsman not out 150, the other not out 100.  As Richie would have said “Problems there”

11:21 – Oh nice, I get an email from an aviation magazine asking if I’ll write them 1,500 words on cultural differences in Asia.  Wonder how I can get out of that.

11:26 – Er.  When did England get Yuvraj out?

11:54 – 340 has been and gone.  The problem when you don’t take wickets is that the slog can be completely unrestricted.  Much doom and gloom, but the boundaries are very small and England aren’t out of it by any means.  A big chase, yes, but not an impossible one.

On that point, some mishits are going for six, which always gets people talking about the bats.  But small boundaries are the bigger issue – and it’s a deliberate choice.  If it’s only said when England are on the receiving end (and it’s glorious batting when they do it) then that’s just lashing out and whining that it’s not fair.

11:57 – Dhoni was brilliant today.  He and Yuvraj, both over 35, both outstanding.  Let’s just remember that in England players get written off in their early thirties all too often purely on the grounds of age.

12:01 – 382 to win then.

12:44 – England under way.  Unless they lose wickets early, there’s never much to say at this stage.

13:08 – 51-1 off the first 8 overs.  Decent start and the complaints about England’s bowlers have quietened for a bit.

13:52 – Root goes, but it’s 127-2 off 19.5.  So England are handily placed.  Still not much to say though, and this is the trouble with the ODIs, they purr along in the background while you wait for the business end of the game.  Maybe it’s just me, as plenty seem to love them.  And I don’t dislike them at all, it’s just that there’s so much setting up time.  The irony is that this is the period that actually dictates the result to a fair extent – England have made a good start, and they bat deep.  The next 10 overs will give a strong idea which way this match is going.

1449 – work does get in the way. Now on my way to an event in London, so having to do the cricket following via Cricinfo. This could make detailed exposition on the good and bad a mite tricky. Oh Buttler is out. Oh dear. At this point India are obviously rather strong favourites, so let’s do the prediction thing again. I’m going for England to be all out for 320 or so. They do bat very deep of course. But 10 an over with half the side out is a big ask. Over to Captain Morgan to make the hacks spit their tea out. 

 1457 – Ashwin and Jadeja look like being the difference. Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth that India have better spinners than England. 

1512 -Biggest shock news of the day, Southern Rail are on time. I feel faint. 

1513 – I’m not the world’s biggest Eoin Morgan fan, but then neither do I dislike or have a problem with him. But I’d really love him to ram the words of those who slag him off back down their throats. 

1531 –  Morgan and Moeen have done extremely well, but this would be the highest number of runs off the last ten over by a side batting second ever. Well, records are there to be broken, and you can usually find one if you look hard enough. 

1538 – Just as I was thinking my 320 was looking pessimistic, bang go two wickets. Big ask now. 

1552 – a game of cricket just isn’t complete until you’ve had a third umpire shambles. 

1601 – Morgan appears to have gone into ‘batting like God’ mode. 

1604 – God’s had a word then

1606 – 22 off an over. Those of a certain age will be thinking about Allan Lamb right now. Younger ones, Carlos Brathwaite

1612 – all over, but close. Morgan almost got England there so it’ll be interesting to see how some manage to blame him for it. At best it’ll be ‘he owed them that’ or similar. 

Curious, I was hoping reading this back to have been miles out, but the format is sufficiently formulaic to follow a script.

I’ve made no changes except to grammar. An interesting experiment for me, and maybe we try it again as an over by over. If it interests anyone. 

India vs England: Fifth Test, Day Five

Predictable.  That has to be the overriding reaction to England’s epic collapse in the evening session.  Defeat in the final Test and a 4-0 series hammering was expected by more than just the most pessimistic, irrespective of the pitch remaining a good one.  England have looked mentally shot for a while now, and perhaps that’s to be expected.  Indeed, the slightly bigger surprise was that for much of the day they appeared to be on track for a draw, before losing 6 wickets for 16 runs post tea and gaining an outstanding if unwanted record for scoring the largest first innings total when suffering an innings defeat in Test history.

In truth, although Cook and Jennings had reached lunch unscathed, it wasn’t a comfortable stand, Cook being dropped early on, and various other near misses for them both.  That they survived to give England a sniff of what some were waiting to write up as a valedictory draw is actually rather to their credit. Immediately post lunch was where it started to go wrong, 103-0 becoming 129-4 in less than an hour.   Alastair Cook is a curious player in that when he starts to struggle, the technical glitches become ever more apparent, in a way that is less obvious with – say – Joe Root.  Over a five match Test series players getting out in the same way try ever more visibly obvious means of countering the problem.  Cook is getting too far over to the offside, which is leaving him both prone to lbw and to the legside catches off the spinners as in the case here.  No one will be more aware of it than him, and it is not offered up as a criticism of his batting, more an acute illustration of the difficulties of a good batsman under severe pressure, both mental and from the bowlers.

Even then, a decent partnership between Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes had taken England to a healthy position, and on reaching tea four wickets down, must have fancied their chances of saving the game.  What happened thereafter will mark a new entry into the charts of England’s most glorious collapses, and had the merit of style points by being largely self-inflicted.

Moeen’s dismissal in particular will be one that gets replayed, for there is little more embarrassing than getting out coming down the track attempting to go over the top when trying to save the game.  And rightly so too, for it looked awful.  There are caveats to this – it is easy to see some praising the approach for throwing the bowling off line and length if it succeeds; likewise, playing a natural game to try to save a match is thoroughly approved of when it succeeds – Matt Prior’s entirely correct – for him – counterattacking rearguard in Auckland in 2013 was downright lucky at times, not least the moment he went through to his century with a miscued hook.  Yet he was praised for that innings for one reason alone – it worked.   Outcome tends to be the determining factor in these things, and the old adage of “hit sixes but don’t take any risks” often seems to apply.

Nevertheless, there’s no getting away from the fact it’s a pretty dire way to get out less than two hours away from safety, and the rest of the batting order were little better.   As much as anything, it’s indicative of thoroughly frazzled minds, leading to poor decision making.  There is often a temptation to blame the first victim of what becomes a collapse for all the subsequent ones, yet this remains as ludicrous as it always has done.  Players are responsible for their own actions, not those of others, and the dismissals of Stokes, Dawson and Rashid were all poor in their own ways; singling out the player who scored nearly 200 runs in the match on his own as the one to blame for how others got out is bizarre.

Once again Jos Buttler was left high and dry as the tail collapsed around him, making the point rather beautifully that it matters little how many batsmen you have if none of them stay in.  For such an attacking player, there is irony in it being him and pretty much only him who appeared mentally up to the challenge of blocking the match out.

India’s celebrations on taking the tenth wicket were joyous, for they have comprehensively outplayed England, and by ever increasing degrees as the series has gone on.  The grinding into the dirt that occurred in this match was ruthless, but deeply impressive, and for all the rationalising of different elements and players, the reality is that England would most likely have lost the series irrespective of calls for changes.  That said, England could and should have played far better than they did; the chasm between the sides need not have been anything like so vast.  There will be attempts at revisionism from some quarters to indicate this was always likely.  It wasn’t.

For Alastair Cook, the questions about his future came immediately after the game.  His response that he shouldn’t be asked about it was clumsy, as is often the case with Cook, but probably right in the sense that it wasn’t the time.  Much as the media would love to get instant decisions, it is far better to wait for the dust to settle and come to a considered view rather then offer up an emotional one in the aftermath of a battering.  That being said, there’s really only one decision to make here, and not in itself because of the series result.  Cook has been prevaricating about his captaincy for quite some time now, announcing to anyone who asked that he is unsure of whether to carry on or not.  By being so unsure, he has made it abundantly clear that he shouldn’t carry on, for while people will have doubts in private, and may discuss them with family or close friends, to openly discuss publicly the possibility of giving up the captaincy says in itself it’s time to go.  Cook cannot possibly be fully committed to the role any longer having effectively admitted he isn’t, and even if he decided to carry on and was allowed to do so, the same feelings would return wholesale upon the next defeat.

Naturally enough, the rest of the management and team were then asked the same question, and equally naturally, they defaulted to supporting the captain and saying he’s the right man for the job.  There is nothing else they can say, even if they don’t believe it – although there’s no evidence they don’t.  This then becomes a feeding frenzy, and that is not at all good for England cricket, and not even good for Cook himself.  Cook’s tenure may have been a period of dissension and division, but the reality now is more prosaic – it’s simply time to go as captain for his own good and for the team’s.

Cook’s agreement that England have stagnated over the last year is probably right.  2016 has been a pretty miserable year for the Test side, the only series win coming against a Sri Lanka team vastly weakened by retirements.  This winter England have lost five of their seven matches, with only a single victory over Bangladesh.  In normal circumstances, no captain would be felt able to survive that kind of record.  Yet with Cook there are enough queueing up to make every kind of excuse for that record, blaming everyone except the captain himself, that it remains in some question.  It shouldn’t.  It’s not because everything can be laid at Cook’s door for that would be scapegoating to the same extent Adil Rashid has suffered, but he’s never been a sufficiently good captain for it to be a justification in itself.  If he was, then a case could be made for retention as an asset in the role, for even a losing captain of a weak side can be a good one, Stephen Fleming is a decent example.  At times he’s been competent, at others, truly abysmal.

The constant refrain has been that Cook is both popular and a good leader in the dressing room.  That may well be true, but a leader is not necessarily a captain, nor vice versa; Cook in the ranks would still be a leader for the younger players in the side who would look up to him by virtue of his record.  The simple question is whether England would be stronger or weaker with him in charge.  That argument has been made many times over the years, but it is particularly acute given the outcome of this series.  It is very hard to make a case for saying that Cook as captain actually makes England a stronger side, even if some would baulk at the idea that he actively weakens them.  There’s a further point, and that is the question of Cook the batsman.  He’s managed the dual roles better than most recent incumbents, his batting has held up fairly well throughout his tenure, with no obvious indication that it has lessened his batting contribution.  But for all the talk about whether taking on the captaincy would negatively affect Joe Root, few ask the question as to whether relinquishing it would positively benefit Cook – for that is the unspoken corollary of that particular argument.  Cook the batsman is simply more valuable than Cook the captain, and he always was, except as an ECB marketing tool.

When England were whitewashed in Australia 2 years ago, the response was to close ranks around Alastair Cook, single out one individual to blame for the farrago and pretend that none of the cracks that appeared needed to be addressed.  There are already attempts to portray this outcome as being within normal parameters, and beyond the Cook captaincy question, there’s little indication that real attention will be paid to why what has transpired recently has happened.  There have to be fears that Adil Rashid will be quietly removed from future consideration given the heavy criticism he has received from sources who have a habit of being unusually close to ECB thinking.   The timing of the leaks (The ECB don’t leak, remember) concerning the action of Jack Leach will raise suspicions about what exactly the ECB hierarchy are up to, not least given the rather over the top praise for Liam Dawson from those same types friendly towards the ECB.  Perhaps such suspicions are entirely wide of the mark, but when an organisation has been so duplicitous in the recent past, they lose their right to be given trust in what they do.

For this is their abiding problem; it isn’t that there are simple solutions to England’s difficulties, it’s that the pattern of deceit over time, throughout the upper levels of the organisation, leads observers to assume they are up to their old tricks even when they aren’t.  In this case they may be, or they may not.  But why would anyone believe them when they say it isn’t so?

England have problems from top to bottom, but there are areas of hope, and young players coming through who look promising.  The experienced ones cannot be written off just yet, but there is a hint of a changing of the guard in this team.  They have six months off from Test cricket, before one of the most insane schedules England have ever put together kicks in.  Next year’s winter tours, including the Ashes, involve England going away from October until April 2018.  If England struggled with five Tests in six weeks this series, they are going to be on their knees by the end of the New Zealand tour following the Ashes.

With the one day tour to the West Indies and Champions Trophy at home, Cook has six months off to recharge his batteries.  He will undoubtedly need it, and it’s to be hoped he is able to relax, free his mind of the clutter that will be swirling at the moment, and come back with a bang as the batsman who at his best can drive opposition bowlers to despair.  If the price of getting that player back was to give up the captaincy, surely even his greatest supporters would think that worth paying?

India vs England; Fifth Test, Day Four

If the third day was chastening, bordering on disastrous, then day four was humiliation.  About the only thing that went in England’s favour all day was that they didn’t lose any wickets in the short session following India’s perhaps belated declaration.

Inevitably when a side receives a flogging of the kind that England did today, there will be a search for someone to blame.  Most likely, it will be the spin bowlers who receive most of it from the media, and of those, it will probably be Adil Rashid who gets it most of all.  The word for this is “scapegoating”, though it’s not the first time the most successful player in his discipline has been blamed for all the ills of a disastrous tour.  By way of illustration, in the last Test Rashid dropped a catch. It happens, it’s in the nature of the game.  As is the possibility that the drop may prove expensive.  But the response from some was to single out that spill as the reason for defeat – because that dropped catch “cost” 150 runs.  In the first place this is of course complete nonsense – if a team fails to create another opportunity then the fault is collective; in the second, Cook’s drop of Karun Nair has cost in the region of 270 runs so by the same method, and given England’s deficit, it must be entirely Cook’s fault.  Preposterous.  And fortunately for him, no one is making that case.

But here’s the point.  All those journalists who mentioned the cost of Rashid’s drop, but failed to do so for Cook’s are pushing an agenda.  There is no other reason and no justification whatever.  It would be grossly unfair on Cook to throw the consequences of a dropped catch on him, which is why this place won’t do it.  But it was and is equally grossly unfair to have done so to Rashid.  Those that did once when it suited but not the other time are a disgrace to their profession.  It is nothing but bullying, and many will wonder why they are doing it.

Cook does bear some responsibility for the debacle, but not so much for the fourth day’s play, where the wheels falling off is something that tends to happen to most sides facing such a battering and to far better captains than Cook.  It is as miserable an experience as can happen on the cricket field.  It was more for the third day, where the approach was one of containment and entirely of containment.  Again, this is not a matter of assuming different actions would have caused entirely different outcomes, for the flatness of the surface meant it was always going to be a difficult task to restrict India.  But by prizing economy over penetration England thoroughly played into Indian hands and made the fourth day even more painful.

Liam Dawson has bowled nicely.  He’s done reasonably well.  He’s certainly maintained a degree of control when looked at on an over by over basis.  But when the opposition rack up a record score of 759 against you, one has to ask what value that control brings.  Bowling a foot outside off stump routinely also offers control, but there’s a reason why it’s not a very popular tactic amongst the better teams.  It’s not to belittle someone who toiled manfully all day, but it is to question what the priority is and should be.

Likewise, it’s unlikely Moeen or Rashid will look back on this innings with fondness, but neither of them bowled especially poorly – though not well, that’s for sure.  The surface made spin bowling unprofitable to begin with – and it seems many have forgotten that Ravi Ashwin, the Ravi Ashwin England have had all kinds of problems against, went for 151 in the first innings for a single wicket. The suggestion that ANY of the England spinners should be taken to task for not vastly improving on that is idiotic.

Some years ago, when Shane Warne retired, Australia went through spinner after spinner in a vain attempt to replicate one of the game’s great bowlers.  Each one who failed to measure up to the impossible was summarily discarded, before eventually press, public and selectors woke up to reality and cut their cloth according to what they had.  Nathan Lyon has been in place ever since; he’s nothing exceptional, nothing special, but he is the best they have and a decent enough performer – and for that matter better than anything England have.

That doesn’t mean England should just give up on their spin options, but it does mean railing at the hideous truth is completely pointless.  Whoever had been selected, the outcome would have been fairly similar.  This is why beating up on the one bowler who has shown an ability to take wickets is more than just unreasonable, it is stupid.  When England won here four years ago, they had Graeme Swann, the best England spin bowler in 40 years.  They no longer have him, and that’s just way it is.  But would Rashid have performed better if Swann had been his partner?  Almost certainly.

One of the questions asked of this site is why we get so angry with sections of the media.  This is the reason why.  Rather than a proper analysis of the whole of the England set up – and yes, that does include the spin bowlers – they single out someone to blame who must never be the captain.  It is fundamentally dishonest.  No one believes Cook is responsible for the whole shambles, but balance does include talking about him too, and not excusing every error, every issue with the strategy, and fixating on players who for all their flaws happen to be the best we have, and without whom the England team will not be an improved one.

Ten years ago Ashley Giles was the England slow bowler of choice.  No one thought he was outstanding, no one thought he matched up to the spinners other teams possessed.  But the cupboard was bare and thus an awareness that the role he performed was done as well as could be hoped for took hold.  The recognition of that dearth of options was considered, certainly, but that is a different question, and one that could be talked about now as well.  George Dobell is one of few who have raised the wider issue.

India did delay their declaration until shortly before the close, seemingly primarily to allow Nair to reach his triple century.  Naturally, this did attract some comment, not the least preposterous of which was how much stick Cook would have got for delaying one for someone to get a triple century.  It perhaps was a little favourable towards an individual landmark than the team position, but at 3-0 and with still an outstanding chance of going 4-0 up, it’s rather easier to justify than in normal circumstances.  In either instance, whether it be Cook or Kohli, such criticism is not reasonable unless it actually costs a decisive win.  In any case, that Mike Atherton still receives criticism 20 years on for declaring on Graeme Hick on 98 demonstrates that all too often people want it all ways.  England have a minimum of 90 overs to bat tomorrow, and if they survive that eight wickets down, it’s unlikely too many Indian fans will be losing sleep over it given the series scoreline.

There is naturally some anger about today, but this hasn’t appeared out of the blue.  The problems have been there and growing all series, and attacking the bowlers rather overlooks that England have only managed to score more than Karun Nair three times as a collective all series.  Whether it be batting, bowling, fielding or captaincy, England have been second best – except perhaps ironically in the last instance, given Kohli’s curious approach.  But for the same reason some of Cook’s poor leadership has been excused when England have been winning (indeed, not just excused, wilfully overlooked or even perversely praised), so Kohli will get a free pass this time.  And to some extent, that is fair enough, for criticism of Cook was swatted contemptuously aside all too often as long as England came out of the game on the right side, so why hold Kohli to different standards?  A recognition that with the win the captain’s own leadership needs to develop is a different thing entirely.

No, the abiding feeling from today, and specifically today, is sympathy.  This was awful, and the England players looked like they felt it with every boundary, every misfield.  Any player is familiar with the feelings of complete powerlessness it creates, the desire simply to get off the field and away from the misery.  When it goes this wrong, everything goes wrong, and the captain is at his wits end.  The anger though, is better directed towards the build up to it, to the targeting of individual players by those who ought to know better (yes Nasser Hussain, you should know better), to the excusing of others to the point that they end up receiving more criticism from those outside cricket than is necessarily fair, in direct reaction to the whitewashing of the chosen one.

The pitch may be benign, but it is the fifth day, and there will be some assistance for the bowlers.  England are playing not so much for pride, but for their dignity, for a batting calamity will rightly evoke memories of the last away Ashes series.  They are certainly capable of batting out the day and claiming a draw, which would be a (very) minor triumph if they manage it.  To do so, they will probably need Cook to bat through much of it, as is often the feeling in such circumstances.  Curiously, he doesn’t have as great record in rearguards as might be expected, although his valiant attempt to stave off defeat four years ago in India remains one of his greatest innings – and not truly in vain given what happened subsequently.  Yet, he remains the prize wicket in these situations, and whatever people may think of him as captain, a skipper’s innings tomorrow would be welcome, and perhaps for himself most of all.

Should they manage it, it must not be portrayed as any kind of vindication.  England are now being hammered by India, and there are a whole series of reasons behind that – not the least of which is that in these conditions, India are simply much better.  But gathering the shreds of the self-respect is no reason for approval, nor is revisionism claiming a 3-0 defeat represents as good a result as England could have wished for.  The trouble is, it’s actually hard to see England managing even that.

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India v England – 5th Test Preview

So people, this is it. Another year of test cricket for England comes to an end. Starting with the carnage in Cape Town, and the Ben Stokes bombardment, through a low-key home summer start v Sri Lanka, which gave us 10000 reasons to be bemused, incorporating a pulsating series against Pakistan, a defining drawn series with Bangladesh and a demolition job by India, 2016 has been full on. It’s been ever so downhill all the way, and now we reach Chennai. The end of the road. The next England test isn’t until July (the day before my birthday, hint hint) and by then who knows what might have happened. But for now there is a sense of finality. The show is over, say goodbye.

Of course, the main issue outside of the game from an England standpoint is is this the last time Alastair Cook captains a test match? There have been a multitude of views and such noise does not come out of the ether. The suspicion is that this will be his last time – I’m not sure because the ECB / Comma / Cook are laws unto themselves – and if so we’ll be filling plenty of pages with discussion on legacy, record, style and all sorts. But for now we have one final match to play on a tour that has gone increasingly awry.

I’m not going to guess at team selection because that’s a fools errand with this England tour. There won’t be changes in the batting line-up, although there’s always the possibility they will mess around with the order. I doubt we’ll play four seamers, in which case Liam Dawson must be in with a really good shout of a debut, and probably the tag as a one cap wonder, but let us watch the reading of the runes on Thursday (this piece is being written on Wednesday night as all three of us are “unavailable for selection” tomorrow night).

Before the concluding diatribe, let’s just go down memory lane and my recollections of previous Chennai tests. When I was a child / teenager India had four iconic test venues – Delhi, and the exotically named Ferez Shah Kotla; Mumbai (or Bombay) and the Wankhede Stadium with all the snorting and snickering that provided; Eden Gardens in Kolkata (Calcutta) with its massive crowds and teeming noise; and the Chepauk at Chennai (Madras), which was the venue for one of my favourite TMS test matches.

The first tour I recall was Keith Fletcher’s of 1981-2. Losing the first test, we proceeded to traipse round India, playing out a succession of tedious draws. The Chennai test was the 5th. Gundappa Viswanath made a double hundred. Yashpal Sharma made 140. India took over two days to make 481, in what looked to be an appallingly slow 152 overs. That’s tea on Day 2 at the current rates (supposed). That was England bowling! 17 wickets fell in the whole tedious spectacle.

In 1985, England recorded one of their greatest overseas victories when winning the 4th Test to take a 2-1 series lead. While many remember it for Graeme Fowler making 201 (and being dropped two tests later to make way for Graham Gooch) and Mike Gatting 207, the key to the match was Neil Foster’s finest (arguably) bowling performance when he took 6 for 104 in the 1st innings and removing Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Amarnath and Shastri. It took Chris Cowdrey to remove the two other danger men – Mohammad Azharuddin and Kapil Dev, as England bowled the hosts out for a inadequate 272. England made 652 for 7, and the pleasure of listening to that on school mornings was immense. I was in the middle of my Mock O Levels, and snow was on the ground in SE London. I then sneaked listens in one exam (naughty) as Amarnath and Azha, on Day 4 threatened to thwart us. Azha made another century, 2 in his first two tests, but we took enough wickets, frequently enough to clinch a great win, with Foster taking 5 more scalps.

We did not tour India for another 8 years, returning for the infamous Dexter Fletcher Gooch tour. This was the infamous dodgy prawn game, costing us the services of our captain Gooch, and Mike Atherton. It ended with India annihilating England, based on a Sachin masterclass (165) and major contributions from pretty much all the batsmen. India posted 560 for 6, with Ian Salisbury, fragile in all probability, taking one third of those wickets. India won by an innings, and without looking, can you name the four England batsmen in that match who recorded their top test scores?

We had to wait a long time to visit Chennai again. This time it was in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and a nervous England, under the leadership of Kevin Pietersen, returned to play a fantastic match. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the conclusion of that game 8 years ago, with Sachin Tendulkar making a composed ton on a decomposing wicket to take India home, ably assisted by Yuvraj Singh, and propelled to the winning line by a rocket named Virender Sehwag. The game was memorable for Comma, who made centuries in each innings, and putting England in a commanding position. Paul Collingwood also made a second innings ton. It was the match, sadly, which has enabled the various numbskulls who pollute Twitter to deride Pietersen’s captaincy. While by no means impressive, there have been greater clusterf*cks in my memory, that have received less bile. But it is what it is. Oh, and it’s also the test match in which Lovejoy debuted. Tomorrow’s match is going to seem tame by comparison, isn’t it?

So, to Test number 5. Number 17 this year. Number 31 is it in the last 19 months. Joe Root was there at the start, in Antigua. So was Alastair Cook. Jimmy Anderson was there but missed some time in the interim. Jos Buttler was there, but lost form later that year. Ben Stokes was in the team, but he’s had some injuries and was still promising, rather than a regular. And there was Stuart Broad, injured, but who may play as a bookend to that run of games. It’s no wonder they are frazzled, that comrades have been lost along the way, that performances might dip, that leaders may feel enough is enough. India will be loving the prospect – and isn’t in interesting how England supposedly can’t be arsed in these sorts of games, but the opposition is supposed to be more up for it – and should hand us another defeat. A win here would be one of the biggest shocks, because I can’t see India passing up the chance to do to us, what we did to them in 2011. Once finished, let the press fun begin. We might be the only organ Chris Stocks hasn’t written for by the end of it.

Happy to receive comments below. We’ll hopefully have one of us in a fit state to write a report on Day 1. That will be you, Sean……

India vs England: Fourth Test, day four

One of the tricks of politics – spin as we call it – is to predict complete catastrophe and then talk up the subsequent normal disaster as being a positive result, better than expected, and evidence that the cause is making progress. A succession of party spin doctors are wheeled out to say the leader is having the desired effect, because they never expected to win anyway, and thus they are very satisfied.

Of course, this is invariably in complete contradiction of everything visible, and the interviewer usually points that out, but it’s a game, a routine to be followed, and at least normally they’ve been clever enough to have set out the predicted calamity in advance. The one group of people thoroughly ignored are all those watching, who roll their eyes at such a transparent fabrication but then they aren’t important anyway, it’s merely a routine to be followed and wilful defiance of the bleeding obvious and living in a fantasy world is considered an entirely normal response in that bizarre world.

Naturally, any statements to the contrary previously are ignored in the hope that anyone watching is so stupid they won’t even realise. This tends not to work.

Now, all of this plays out with the media being the ones making it clear on behalf of the public that this is pure nonsense, but just imagine for a moment that instead, they were to raise the very point of expected flop to the lying bastard…sorry politician offering them a free get out and a nice excuse for failure. And then doing it again. And again. Each time it happens.

England were not expected to win this series, in fact not even the most ardent cheerleaders who usually come up with preposterous predictions of certain victory suggested that. But there’s the realism about what England could have been expected to achieve, and then there’s Agnew claiming England have done well not to lose this winter 7-0. This includes the tour of Bangladesh remember, the team who have never before beaten anyone other than Zimbabwe and the West Indies fourth team.

Now that first series was great, and credit to Bangladesh for how they played. But to attempt to paint the 1-1 draw as being an England triumph is spin doctoring of a level that the West Wing writers would have rejected as unrealistic. Likewise, as this series unfolded England apparently only lost the second Test because they lost the toss, and with a little luck they would bat first in the third and all would be well. And then they did. And got hammered.  Oh and the fourth. And they’re getting hammered.

But then after three matches India really weren’t all that good and England were quite capable of winning and getting back in the series. Which with a fair wind was just about possible, and a reasonable supposition. Except that now it was never possible in the first place and who could ever have suggested such a thing?

Let’s get something clear here, India is a very difficult place to tour, and they’ve not lost at home since England beat them four years ago. So losing this tour is not in itself the problem, for most observers would have thought that was the most likely outcome all along.

But would the England side of four years ago have done better? Almost certainly. They had better spinners, and they had better batsmen. That’s not a lament to a lost side, for time moves on, but it is a recognition that those who said India are good but not unbeatable were right. But to win England would have to play exceptionally well, be led exceptionally well and had their key players perform superbly.

That hasn’t happened.

C’est la vie, for this too is the nature of sport. There’s little point getting too down on an England side who have been outplayed at the key moments in all the matches bar the first one. But it has been remarkable to see an entirely new replacement for the Kubler-Ross model involving some of the fifth estate blaming absolutely everyone possible for wrong reasons at the wrong time. Except one.

Again, to simply point the finger at the captain would be equally wrong, for this is a complex set of circumstances and he has been having a progressively more difficult time of it on the field. But, and this is the constant frustration with his coverage, the endless attempts to excuse the golden boy while lashing out at others is shameful. The cricket press have been supine and by turns spiteful over the last four years. It’s by no means all of them, and of those that do, they seem to be as on the long goodbye as much as Cook now is.  But it remains a grotesque sight, and one that must cause frustration for the more rational objective journalists. They end up guilty by association.

The nub of it is that cricket tragics are well aware that this is a tough tour, they are equally aware that India have better spin bowlers, for the only time they didn’t in recent years was four years ago. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the game also knows that Virat Kohli is a damn fine player, and that he’s anything but alone in that team.

Furthermore, in all team sports the wheels can come off, and on a long tour small margins can become gaping chasms. England really haven’t been completely adrift in this series, they have competed and they have had moments where the opportunity to do something was there. But ultimately the margins of defeat have been large, and they are getting larger. The prospects for the fifth Test are, well let’s just say unpropitious.

But the blame game has another angle to it, the notable whispers about Cook departing as captain. There is an irony that he is now victim of a whispering campaign in the press, for those who objected in the past to the ECB methodology also object now; he may have been a beneficiary in the past, what goes around may come around, but it’s still leaking, and it’s still underhand, and it’s still wrong. Which means that while Cook doesn’t directly get blamed for anything – for that would be to undermine the previous line that he is an outstanding leader who cuddles little lambs – there is an almost pitying theme running through the narrative that he now doesn’t know where to turn when things go wrong.

As if this has only just been noticed.

This morning was an omnishambles, seam bowlers utterly innocuous – and the silence about the way India’s seamers have utterly outbowled England’s is another notable refusal to face the truth – a captain bereft of ideas, catches dropped and a sense of resignation right across the field. Naturally, this is turned into a complaint that the spinners (who suffered from dropped catches, idiotic reviews that subsequently cost wickets and the usual unhelpful field settings) aren’t doing their jobs. As if them not being as good as their counterparts is a major shock.

Adil Rashid in particular continues to be criticised, despite being far and away England’s most successful bowler on the tour. One of a limited number of positive points. It’s not that he can’t do better, it’s that the desire to bully a player in print exceeds the obligation to be objective. It is not the first time it’s happened, and it isn’t going to be the last. The only shock is that it hasn’t happened to Ben Stokes yet.

With such a huge deficit, this match was only going to go one way, and as it turned out England batted reasonably well second time around. When one side is being ground into the dust, it invariably appears the sides are playing on different pitches. And there’s no doubt at all this is now a difficult surface on which to bat, no matter how easy India made it look against a beaten England team. Taken in isolation the approach was a good one, to take some risks, to score some runs and to be positive with footwork and in defence. Root batted well but yet again failed to go on to a really big score, while Bairstow once more did his impression of Horatio on the bridge.

None of it matters. England are gone in this series, and while raging against the dying of the light is meritorious in itself, it doesn’t change anything except to indicate that there are players in this team with the degree of relish for the fight that will serve them well in future years.

A realistic assessment of where they are doesn’t mean focusing on fripperies like Bruce Oxenford making a couple of errors, nor suggesting a game is lost because the current whipping boy dropped a catch and thus the match. It’s an excuse and a pathetic one at that, an attempt to avoid considering the bigger picture, lest the sight of tusks and a trunk be spotted by all and sundry.

Barring the kind of miracle that would genuinely be rather special, India will win the series tomorrow. And they deserve it, for they are a good team, and a very good one at home. There’s no shame in losing to them, there’s not even shame in not playing well. But there is in doing everything possible to avoid facing the facts. The irony is that it may not be the England team on this tour who should be feeling it.

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India vs England: 3rd Test review

As it turned out, England probably did a little better than some might have expected, but the end result was entirely predictable.  To have made the game interesting, another hundred runs or so were needed, and that was would have required something spectacular.  Even then it probably wouldn’t have been enough on a surface that didn’t especially deteriorate, and with a bowling attack that have at no time looked like skittling India.

There was the odd bright spot, Joe Root batted well, although he once again fell between 50 and 100, a habit he needs to break sooner rather than later if he really is going to be as good as he has threatened to be, while Haseeb Hameed scored an enterprising unbeaten 50 from number 8, batting that low due to a finger so badly broken he is to return home to have an operation and a plate put into the bone.  There has been much discussion around the decision of England not to send him for a scan immediately, but to wait.  It’s one of those where the logic behind it – to not make it clear to India that it was badly broken in advance of him batting – is open to question in terms of the player’s welfare, but the rationale can be partly understood, and it mattered little in the wider picture.  The team medics would have had a pretty good idea how badly it was hurt, and it’s a side issue to the bigger problems England have – except in the sense that he is unquestionably a loss to the team.

What it did explain was the three net sessions yesterday; Hameed attempting to amend his technique to find a way to bat with the injury.  He emerges with nothing but credit, for he appeared in little discomfort in the middle and did a fine job in trying to drag England up to a total that with a very fair wind they might have defended.  Indeed, he apparently had to be persuaded to return home to have it treated, insisting that he wanted to play the last two Tests.  In a series where the collective batting has been little short of dismal much of the time, he’s an unquestioned bright spot – even if some of the praise has gone beyond reasonable and into the hyperbolic.

Aside from that Woakes scored runs, but it was never likely to be enough.  Any highly optimistic hopes of an extraordinary win were heightened when Woakes himself dismissed Murali Vijay with seven on the board, but it was plain sailing thereafter, with Pujara’s late dismissal allowing national hero Virat Kohli to come in for the denouement.  Parthiv Patel completed a fine comeback match with an unbeaten and rapid fifty.

For India, the series is going swimmingly, only the form of Rahane offering up succour for England.  In itself, that is a lesson for those picking on the latest England victim, for Rahane has had a miserable time, but the rest of the team have performed more than well enough.  Blaming one player for all the woes of the batting is ridiculous, as many did when Duckett was dropped, for most teams have one player out of form at any given time.  It doesn’t for a second mean that changes shouldn’t be made, but it does mean that focusing on one doesn’t excuse the others when the side fails to make runs.

If it is little surprise that India have the superior spin attack, it is more of one that their seamers have consistently outbowled England’s.  Only Ben Stokes can be considered to have bowled well, although his five wickets in the first innings comprise all but two of those he has taken in the three Tests to date, so he has hardly been exceptional throughout.  Woakes was below par here, though doubtless playing, being dropped, then playing again does little for his consistency, while James Anderson looked entirely innocuous.  This may well have something to do with only bowling six balls in the entire match that would have hit the stumps, for nothing reassures a batsman so much as knowing that he only needs to play at the ball when he wants to score runs.  Anderson was economical alright, as is often the case when players leave the ball alone most of the time, but did not threaten a wicket.  Whether this is a deliberate tactic on his part is impossible to know, but it needs to be addressed urgently.  Mistakes are created when the batsman is unsure what to expect, at the moment they know all too well.

Stuart Broad may well return for the next Test, and at the moment it should probably be Anderson who makes way based on this match, though that is unlikely to be how it pans out, and given his record, probably rightly.  England need to work out how to take wickets, and Anderson is obviously more than capable.  But if he persists in a safe line outside off stump then it’s nothing other than a waste of a seam spot.  Harsh indeed, for whatever the criticism that can be levelled here, Anderson is and has been an outstanding bowler for England.  Which is exactly the reason for the frustration.

Cook and Bayliss were honest enough to say afterwards that they had misread the pitch, with nothing like the amount of turn on offer late on that they had expected.  With all mistakes, it is a matter of whether it could have been foreseen in advance, and few criticised the three spinner approach based on it not turning enough before the match started.  The lack of assistance meant that England had one spinner too many, with Batty and Moeen sharing light duties.  However, Mumbai is much hotter, and the pitch there expected to be more conducive to spin – it would be a serious mistake for England to replay this match and drop one of them on the basis of what happened here.  Conditions may well be different, though whether two or three is best is open to debate.  If one does go, it will probably be Batty.  His return to Test colours hasn’t been an unqualified success by any stretch, but he is what he’s always been, a solid pro who doesn’t let anyone down.

There is latitude however, simply because England have a six man attack.  In itself, this is a good thing, made possible by Stokes and Ali being frontline batsmen and Woakes and Rashid not too far off the all rounder category either, in other words, England aren’t specifically picking six bowlers as such.  Rashid has been excellent all series, and has taken two thirds of all the wickets to fall to bowlers.  Moeen has been adequate as back up but no more.  Rashid is a match winning bowler, Moeen is a useful converted part-timer who has at least done better than either of the other specialist England finger spinners on this tour, and is probably the best England have.  But while Rashid has more than contributed his fair share, for the spinners to really have a chance to impact a match, they require runs on the board to defend.  Which brings us neatly on to the batsmen.

In England’s two defeats this series, they have failed to reach 300 on any occasion.  While last time around they certainly had the worst of the conditions after losing the toss, the same can certainly not be said for Mohali. They won the toss, the pitch was good, and everything was in their favour.  The match was lost in the first innings, indeed was lost on the first morning, with a collection of poor shots aiding India in dismissing England for a woefully sub-par 283.  From there, even with a spirited fightback on day two, the match had a sense of inevitability about its ultimate conclusion.

It is the failure to be disciplined, and the failure to build partnerships that is the major problem.  Jonny Bairstow is top of the batting averages this series, but on each occasion he has come in with a rescue job to do.  That he has managed to do so on a couple of occasions is to his credit, but it doesn’t change the course of the game, it merely keeps England in the match.  Some batsmen have made a big score and done little of note apart from that – Cook and Moeen in particular.  In the latter case, his tendency towards feast or famine is well known, though it’s an especially fine effort this time around, in the former, without him having a strong series England were always going to be in trouble.  Cook’s record this series aside from the hundred is not materially worse than anyone else’s, the difference is in how critical his role is to England being competitive, and in the first innings as well.  In this match, appearing totally at sea to the spinners was a startling sight – he always has been a fine player of slow bowling.

And yet none of the batting order as constituted in this game are having a terrible time of things.  The left handers are struggling against Ashwin, which may cause some cogitation when considering Hameed’s replacement, but all in all they are scoring runs to a reasonable degree.  What they are not doing is putting it together at the same time.  Cricket is a mental game, and in many ways batting is about mentality more than any other discipline.  The problem of not building partnerships is not a new one, the same problem has been apparent over the last couple of years.  For whatever reason, England seem unable to consistently build totals, even if the individuals themselves are making scores.

What should be a major worry, with England needing to win both remaining matches to share the series is that no pitch so far has been a raging turner of the type they struggled on in Bangladesh.  Indeed, given how the tracks have played, England ought to have been comfortable with them, for India’s groundsmen have been exceptionally fair.  It’s a psychological issue rather than a technical one, for apart from the unfortunate Duckett, no player has looked out of their depth on this tour, they merely keep finding often daft or lazy ways to get out.  In some ways that’s a good thing, for the claim from Cook that England are not that far away from India is not completely unreasonable, but the margin of defeat in the last two games is so large there’s only a so long before such a claim becomes absurd rather than hopeful, and it’s pushing it now.

There are two spare batsmen on this tour, Duckett and Ballance.  It appears neither of them is selectable, which begs the question as to what the point of them staying on the tour is.  There is the possibility one of the batsmen from the Lions in the UAE could be called up, with the debate centring around whether that should be an opener.  Joe Root could move up to open with Cook for example, and with England so often being 20-2 the appeal of putting the two senior players out at the start and getting them to take responsibility for the innings is clear.  If England went down that path, then Sam Billings may be the favoured option to slot into the middle order.  If so, at least there would be no concerns about Bairstow hurting himself keeping wicket – there’d be two other players who could take over, quite possibly for the first time in Test history.

Over the three Tests to date, it’s not impossible to see England winning the next match if they get it right, but the trouble is that over the last two games, they’ve not shown that much evidence that they can. India is not an easy place to tour, as the repeated wallopings handed out to visitors have tended to show.  England might play well and still lose, such is the challenge in front of them.  But it would be nice if they did, they’d then at least have given themselves a chance.

 

India vs England: 3rd Test, Day Three

If yesterday was a good one for England, hauling themselves back into contention having wasted first use of a flat pitch on the opening day, then today was the antithesis.  It’s all very well to lament the advantage India had in the last match in winning the toss, and there’s no question at all that it very definitely was an advantage.  But you have to make use of it.  India did and England didn’t.

Day two was certainly a recovery, and at the start of play there would have been hopes that the damage done could be contained; bowling India out fairly cheaply would have evened up the game and allowed England a chance to win the match.  As it turned out, it wasn’t quite a horror day, but it wasn’t too far off.

Ashwin, Jadeja and Yadav all cashed in on a surface that remained placid, with the England bowlers unable to get much purchase.  Eventually, they reverted to attempting to bowl dry, with a degree of success sure, but by then the damage was done.  Ben Stokes and Adil Rashid were once again the pick of the bowlers, the former ultimately picking up a five wicket haul with the two of them taking all nine to fall to bowlers.  The temptation will be to blame the bowlers, which would once again be an example of making them responsible for the failures of the batsmen.  417 is far more than they would have felt India would score in their bleakest moments, but it’s still nothing more than around par for the conditions.  Bowling dry can work sometimes, but with so much time remaining, India were perfectly content to accumulate, while England looked a team out of ideas.

If a deficit of 134 was about 100 more than England would have hoped for, a difficult position was not beyond redemption.  The pitch remains flat, with little spin and little movement.  The occasional ball is keeping low, but nothing more than could be expected on day three.  There is the pressure of the situation to take into account, certainly, and India’s spin attack is overall better than England’s.  This is no surprise, and is as it should be given the native conditions in the respective countries.  Rashid has been excellent, Moeen and Batty a bit limited, though it’s worth noting that kicking stool Moeen has over twice as many wickets this series as specialists Batty and Zahari combined.  Moaning and complaining about them is as pointless as moaning and complaining about the conditions themselves.  What do those whining expect?  A sudden superstar off spinner to appear over the horizon?  There aren’t any, and while a case can be made that others represent a marginal improvement (Adil Rashid is rather more than that – not that it would have been apparent from the slating he received from those who should have known better), it doesn’t mean that these matches would be radically different, and nor does it alter the truth of the matter that England’s problems in this series are down to the batting not the bowling.

Being so far behind didn’t mean England were completely out of the game, they just needed to bat well to give themselves some kind of chance.  And once again they fell short.  Cook is a terrific player of spin bowling and has been throughout his career, and it is only two Tests ago he scored a fine hundred.  Yet he’s also a player who can look thoroughly out of sorts in no time, and here he was all at sea more or less throughout his innings, twice surviving reviews before being bowled through the gate by Ravi Ashwin.  Cook is getting stuck on the crease, neither properly forward nor back, and feeling for the ball.  In this case he was beaten by the flight and simply played down the wrong line.  For England to be truly competitive in this series they needed Cook to bat exceptionally well.  It’s not worked out that way.

With Hameed injured, Cook’s opening partner was Joe Root, and despite some issues with his back, he proved to be the only light amid the gloom of an entirely expected clatter of wickets.  After Cook’s dismissal it was Moeen Ali’s turn.  There’s a curiosity that should come as a surprise to no one, in that Moeen tried to use his feet, was thoroughly beaten in the flight by Ashwin, and chipped it to mid on.  Not a great shot by any means, but the usual queue of suspects lined up to attack someone for apparently being irresponsible when they get out using their feet.  Given how thoroughly stuck England became against Jadeja and Ashwin in particular, almost strokeless at times, the intent was correct, if the execution was flawed.  Immediately, Moeen was heavily criticised.  The problem is this – it’s that a player who hasn’t exactly had a great tour with the bat but has scored not far off a thousand runs this year with an average in the mid forties is once again being singled out for criticism based more than anything on the fact that he was out to an attacking shot rather than a defensive one.   Cook’s shot was at the very least just as poor, and probably worse, but it was a defensive one, and therefore given a free pass.  Any batsman will say that they hate being out to a defensive shot most of all, for it is a concession of defeat to the bowler.

With Moeen’s dismissal in came Jonny Bairstow, a mere 20 overs after he’d stripped off the wicketkeeping pads.  It certainly doesn’t follow that his failure to score an unbeaten triple century is due to that, but there’s a reason keepers tend not to bat high up the order – it’s difficult.  He looked decent enough though, and was undone by one that kept low from Jayant Yadav.  Bairstow did pretty well to get an edge off it, and no blame can be attached to him.  Where he was unlucky was in Parthiv Patel taking an outstanding catch behind the stumps.  It’s been a regular on here to whinge about the cluelessness of most commentators bar the obvious exceptions when it comes to the life of the man with the gloves.  “Good catch” was about as far as the praise went, although James Taylor in the studio afterwards certainly got it, making up for the lack of effusiveness in the comm box.

The reason why the catch was so good is because it was low.  It might not seem to be a big thing, as coming up with the ball is an article of faith amongst all wicketkeepers.  The trouble is that all human beings anticipate based on what they expect to happen rather than what actually does.  It’s why batsmen edge or miss the ball when it seams, spins or doesn’t spin – anything different to what he might expect.  When coming up, it’s far easier to cope with additional bounce, as that’s the direction of travel for the hands anyway.  If the ball keeps low, then changing direction is nigh on impossible given the miniscule time between noticing the bounce and having to catch it.  As a keeper it always amused to be praised highly for taking a catch stood up where it bounced more than expected – it looks magnificent, but it isn’t that special a catch.  Taking one low down like that is a truly fabulous piece of technique.  Patel will be fully aware of how good his catch was, and his celebration made it clear that he rated it.  It’s a shame not too many others do, for it was better than any number of spectacular diving one handers.

Stokes was the final man out today, again beaten by Ashwin who has bowled beautifully.  He’s simply been too good today.

It’s hard to see how England will get out of this. It’s not easy to see how they will even make India chase more than a nominal total.  It’s possible, for while Root is in all possibilities are there.  But it will require him to get a very large score indeed, and at least one of Hameed and Buttler to do very nearly the same.  Possible doesn’t remotely equal plausible, and the expectation has to be that India will go dormie two some time in the middle of day four.

Day Four Comments Below

India vs England: 2nd Test, day five

England did at least do cricket watchers at home a favour – in that they subsided so quickly the match was over before many had even hauled themselves on to the train or into the car to head to work.  No watching or listening with irritation, no lamenting a poor performance or berating a poor shot.  Having worked so hard to try and get some semblance of a chance on the final day, it all went wrong within minutes of the resumption.

It would be a mistake to view the events of day five as the reason for defeat; the hole England were in was so deep that it required virtual perfection even to take the game into the final session, but to collapse as badly as they did was not the end hoped for even in a match that they looked destined to lose from the second evening onwards.

There are a few things that can be taken from it though.  Firstly, India’s over rate was astounding, bowling ten overs in the first half hour.  While they were spin bowlers and England were not smashing the ball to all parts, if nothing else it should put to bed any justification whatever for tardy over rates in the wider game.  Teams can do it when they put their minds to it, there is no excuse whatsoever for failing to complete the necessary number in a day.

England seem quite likely to drop Ben Duckett for the third Test.  This smacks of the same kind of panic currently afflicting Cricket Australia.  He’s played only four Tests, and it’s only a couple ago that he was being lauded for how he played in scoring his maiden Test fifty.  If he was good enough then, he’s good enough now, or why pick a young player for the future to begin with if faith isn’t going to be shown? That doesn’t mean that a player is given licence to fail repeatedly, but it’s either a bad selection in the first place or it’s nothing other than panic from the selectors.  Neither reflects well on them, and Jos Buttler is no noted player of spin either.

Likewise, only two Tests ago the media were lamenting England’s spin bowling options and expressing a peculiar wish for them to try an all seam attack.  No matter what the situation there is always a suitable target for blame which never involves the captain, coaches, selectors or administrators.  They are above reproach.  Again, creating what David Warner so gloriously described as escape goats doesn’t help anyone, and it’s not a call to shift blame to others in any way.  England will lose Tests sometimes, and India is a challenging place in which to tour for English teams.  A rational and thoughtful approach in discussing where the shortcomings are is hardly a radical request.  Equally, that doesn’t mean people will agree as to what those are, it is a game of opinions after all.  But it would be far better if there was less flip flopping around and blame gaming towards some individuals and not others.

For this is what grates more than anything else.  It’s not traitorous behaviour to acknowledge that Cook isn’t the most acute captain in the world; he is what he is, and since he’s the skipper then it’s just a question of getting on with it – no one’s perfect.  But instead of any discussion around perhaps how India should not have got as many runs as they did in the first innings, instead everything that flowed from that is dissected and other individuals placed under the spotlight.  The point about the slating the spin bowlers received after Bangladesh is a case in point – the form of Adil Rashid is now being mentioned as a positive.  And so it is – but that was always a possibility anyway, for he’s a talented bowler trying to perfect a difficult art.  He deserves far better than having his character questioned repeatedly when things aren’t going well for the team, yet a pretence that it never happened now he’s doing well is quite obvious.

Consistency from the players is very hard to achieve.  Consistency from those commenting is not.  People can be wrong, and they often are.  Observers on cricket and economists could interchange on each others’ discipline with no discernible difference in accuracy, but it’s not asking too much to hope they would maintain a line and stick to it.

Of course, some will say that Cook gets plenty of criticism on this blog and is he not a scapegoat too?  Well no, because the whole point of that is that the cricket media never so much as whisper that he’s anything but perfect.  Cook is a fine batsman (though not a great, no matter how much some might try to claim it based on volume of games) and his captaincy is certainly better than it was.  But it doesn’t make him immune from comment either, and it is abundantly obvious that absolutely anyone else will be criticised before he ever is.  Virat Kohli received no end of stick for his captaincy from Nasser Hussain while Cook got none.  That’s simply bizarre and an avoidance of comment for reasons unknown, and as ridiculous as Shane Warne slating Cook while refusing to address Australian problems.  That doesn’t for a second mean he should be fired as skipper just because England have lost a game, but it does mean a reasonable analysis of all England’s flaws is the least anyone ought to be able to expect. That doesn’t mean a focus on Cook either, for the principal reason for the loss was the batting collapse, but it does mean that it is one of many areas that could and should be discussed.

Where do they go from here? Although there’s been an attempt to massage expectations so that anything other than a 5-0 defeat can be portrayed as a good tour, there’s not that much between the teams; the size of this defeat is slightly misleading.  England are well capable of winning against this India side, even in alien conditions.  This should be a highly competitive series, and in truth apart from one disastrous session with the bat (day five can be discounted to some extent because of the scale of the challenge) England have competed fairly well.  Cook observed that winning a couple of tosses would help, and although some will see that as making excuses, he’s actually quite right.  England did have the worst of the conditions here, and the toss is important.  It isn’t too hard to imagine that had England batted first here they could be now celebrating a win.

The bowlers have done pretty well overall; although England didn’t have a good day with the ball on day one of this match, that can happen and does happen. They don’t look out of their depth at all, neither the seamers nor the spinners.  Could they be better?  Absolutely they could, but there’s little point in engaging in wishful thinking – England need to cut their cloth according to what they have.  And what they do have is a leg spinner who is a definite weapon, two off spinners who are competent enough, and four seamers (one of whom sits out) who are actually very good.

The batting has been an issue, but not because of an inability to score runs, but because of the tendency – not at all new – to fall in a heap in combination once in a while.  That’s shown by the nascent series batting averages to date, four players averaging over 50, and only Duckett genuinely struggling.  The implication that it’s all his fault is ludicrous.  What England need to do – and there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever why they shouldn’t – is put together partnerships so they compile a good team score.  Easy to say, harder to do, but not something that they are incapable of achieving at all.

India haven’t lost at home since England’s last tour here four years ago, and while it’s a big ask for them to repeat the feat, the idea that England are hopelessly outclassed is nonsensical.  If they play well, they have every chance of levelling this series.  England are not even close to being a great side, but then neither are India.  The overreaction to England wins is nauseating.  The overreaction to England defeats deeply irritating.

All of which means the match review ultimately amounts to one sentence:  England ost the toss, had a bad day or so and it cost them the Test match.   Better luck next time lads.

 

India v England – 2nd Test, 2nd Day

This England team really are a mine of material, keeping me motivated to continue. Whenever you think that this blog might die down, go through a period of stability and calm, so that we don’t have to keep stating what appears to be the obvious (to us), they come up trumps with a display full of talking points. I think what gets to me, and looking at the comments, us, is that we are so often right. Sure, a stopped clock and all that, and I don’t have an editor or a line to take to tell me what to do, but some of the stuff I read, or hear on the radio, baffles me. In the words of the late Fred Trueman “I have no idea what’s going on out there” half the time. Are they watching what we are? Are we so off the beaten track of cricket opinion? Is our evaluation of a days play so anathema to the others who report on it?

It’s tough to make it clear how I’m thinking, and it’s nothing to do with a convivial lunch. But there’s a frustration watching this England team. It has ability. It just doesn’t seem to believe in itself enough. I find it hard to define. But if I’m frustrated with the team, it pales into insignificance when I read about the game. There the matters on the field seem, for some, to mean less than how they should be reported against some message that needs to be conveyed.

The last test match did not follow the script. This script appears to be an exercise in managing expectations. England were supposed to lose 5-0, because (a) we can’t spin and (b) we can’t bowl spin. Add to that scraping a draw in a series against Bangladesh, and the fear of God was put in us all. Then, one very positive, encouraging performance, and the managing of expectations is going to be a bit more tough to put out when England played so well. Where do we stand after Rajkot? The players have to be positive, we know that. We would be worried if they weren’t, but the watchers and writers have to display more scepticism. “Now we are ready to take it to India toe-to-toe” they imply, remarking that Ashwin has a block against England…. Kohli still hasn’t really made hay. Then the last two days happened and it is almost a volte face. The expectation management, or as I know it “excuse” is that we lost the toss and then we lose the match. So this is to be expected, or as Newman said this is “the performance we all feared”. Funny, this wasn’t really what I was reading last week. Clearly the toss is important, but as you’ll note from a remark in my “On This Day” below, it doesn’t have to be fatal.

Yesterday four wickets fell, today eleven. The game has moved forward quite rapidly and India hold all the cards. They got first use of the wicket, capitalising on their chance to use the pace and bounces, such as it was, to its fullest, while our bowling wasn’t quite up to it (and I’m not mentioning the captain). Two of India’s top four made centuries. England fought back well this morning, but still 455 looks a good score on this wicket. In fact, there aren’t many test wickets where 455 isn’t a good score.

England’s demise wasn’t so much as predicted as bloody well certain. Now a lot of this is predicated on me not seeing the action (job etc.) but following on Twitter and the comments here, but once Cook was toppled early there was an air of inevitability about this. I saw his dismissal, and a very good ball, make no bones about it, got him, but heavens above they didn’t half go on about how great a delivery it took to get the opener. As you know, I’m not setting up an Alastair Cook Appreciation Society on here, and as you may also conclude, I may go out of my way to find reasons to get angry about it, but the media he gets is preposterous. It’s as if any word of criticism is going to be met by the most awful of repercussions, and any dismissal has to be explained away with reverence reserved for royalty. Honestly, I’ve known nothing like it. Nothing like the Hughes puff piece interview in the Cricketer (which is really getting better if you could just shove #39’s bloody ego out of the way) which might as well have had a soft focus border and ended up with the question “Alastair, sir, do you have any words for your subjects to explain how they could be great like you?”.

This is what gets our ire – Cook is venerated, and even his mistakes are given a veneer. Contrast that with how the Joe Root dismissal has been treated. More of that later.

I’ve not seen the run-out. By the time this goes to press on the blog I would have. Most people indicate that Root was the guilty party, HH the victim. These things happen sometimes. They just do. You can’t legislate for them. Quite often, when they happen, the TV and news pundits will say it is evidence of “a scrambled brain” but that was obviously not going to be put forward for the manchild or for the putative World #1 batsman they’ve all very reasonably buffed up this week. So remember that the next time someone of a fragile mind might get run out, or play an injudicious shot, that scrambled brains don’t happen to the star players or the prodigies. (I’ve seen it now, it’s the sort of thing that happens, but let me make a point. Hameed made 13 in 50 balls and an hour and 20 minutes. He got run out with a dozy piece of cricket. Replace Hameed’s name with Compton. Not Compton now, but the Compton of 2013. Think he’d be getting that same lovely press for an innings every bit as slow as his. It would be unfair to have a go at Hameed, but that never stopped our media laying into Compton).

Next in was last month’s Bright Young Thing, Ben Duckett. Now I really want Ben to do well for a number of reasons, not least that he plays aggressively, seems to have a good head on his shoulders, and it might debunk the myth about Division 2 being too big a gap to bridge to play test cricket. His half-century in Dhaka was greeted with joy unconfined even as England toppled like wet cardboard after he got out to post that ignominious defeat (still not buying Bangladesh being a good side, yet). Today those that were praising are now burying. A number openly calling for him to be removed from the action for his own benefit. Hey, maybe opening with him and letting him get his eye in to quicker bowling might be better for him, instead coming in against spin, cold, is not working out well. There’s a lot being made of his technical flaws (watch out Ramps, they are after you) but two test matches ago we were being feted by tales of a “brilliant half-century”. As I write this Colvile has previewed the next part of The Verdict as “Is Duckett’s career in a spin”. Two tests, two innings, time to go. Now, just as people might be right about Hameed, so they might be wrong about Duckett. Not every top player has a watertight technique. Give the guy a bloody break.

Joe Root’s dismissal is getting the easy, lazy lines out again. Far better for a player to have his technique undressed, albeit in a one-off scenario (Cook) than for you to get out having an attacking shot and getting caught in the deep. I understand Farbrace  said that he did not want to hear anything about “that’s the way I play”, but if he did say that then he’s a dolt. Of course Newman has piled in, comparing this dismissal to his usual bete noire, Ian Bell (and SimonH’s prescience on this in the comments is spooky) playing well and getting out to a soft shot. Really. As usual, we pop at the one who showed most aptitude, rather than those who didn’t. Sure, Root will be mad at himself. He sets himself high standards, but maybe, just maybe, I’m smelling a Cook preservation rat, and Root’s name being discussed recently means a higher bar being set for Joe. Odd, because I think Cook is as secure as he’s ever been. I’m probably looking for my tinfoil hat.

Moeen’s LBW has me chuckling all the way to the end of this piece. For years we have rightly excoriated the BCCI for going their own way in not using DRS. The theory was that Sachin wanted no part of it because he might get out more, and the word of the Little Master was never to be contravened (it kept him playing well past his prime). The other theory is that the other word of the Lord in India, MS Dhoni, was implacably turned against DRS by an LBW decision overturned in the 2011 World Cup against Ian Bell. Whether these two contentions are true or not, let’s recognise that India have taken up the DRS. Now they use it to overturn an LBW decision based on a couple of change of regulations over the years, and suddenly we (well Newman does in the Mail) get all precious about it. “I’m sorry, that’s just not out” isn’t a defence when DRS has given it out. We can’t pick and choose. Sure, Moeen was unlucky. Sure, Moeen wouldn’t have been given out in years gone by, but spare me us moaning about DRS when we wanted it imposed on India.

So what now. The S&B crew need to get us out of trouble again. Stokes has shown much better aptitude against spin this winter, and Bairstow has put out so many fires in the past few months we almost expect him to do so. For the record I think getting to 256 is academic – India are going to bat next in this test match – so it’s a combination of time and runs that are going to matter.

So that’s more than enough for one day – I didn’t see the India innings, but I want to get this out because I have things to do. Which leads me to a topical On This Day…


On this day in 2012, Alastair Cook batted for 90 overs at Ahmedabad adding 94 runs to his overnight score of 74 not out, as he and Matthew Prior undertook a long rearguard to attempt to save the match for England. On a wicket that had seen 8 of England’s first innings wickets fall to spin (Ojha taking 5/45), Cook thwarted all that was thrown at him on the fourth day to take England ten runs ahead with five wickets in hand, and at least give England a chance of saving the match.

I thought I’d put this in because just because a pitch is aiding the spinners, it doesn’t mean you can’t make runs on it.

Sure, on Day 5 we were bowled out for 406 – Cook making 176, Prior 91 – and just five second innings wickets fell to spin, and India completed the win, but their rearguard inspired England that they could play on these wickets, Cook was brilliant all series, and England won on a ragging Mumbai snake-pit having lost the toss.

So for one of his best, most valiant, most stubborn knocks, Alastair Cook is today’s “On This Day”.


Comments on Day 3 below…