Boxing Clever

Christmas Day for a cricket fan is one where the festivities of the season take place with a note in the back of the mind that there is Test cricket to watch later. This year we were rather spoiled, with three Boxing Day Tests scheduled, rather than the one (plus random ODIs or T20s) that has been more common in recent years.

Hagley Oval was the gorgeous sight it always is, perhaps the most welcome addition to the Test roster anywhere in the world. New Zealand appear to have got their venues spot on in recent times, a focus on smaller dedicated cricket grounds that fill, rather than the vast multi-purpose arenas that looked deserted even if there is a vaguely healthy attendance. Of course, in Christchurch there are specific circumstances rooted in natural disaster, but New Zealand cricket deserves praise for turning this into a positive, and in this instance building a ground that every lover of the game wishes to visit.

Perhaps surprisingly after a first day where 14 wickets fell on a very green surface, it made it to the fifth day, albeit the outcome was in little doubt by the third, but Sri Lanka showed some fight in the final innings, despite being doomed long in advance.

In all three matches, the quality of the pitches was an issue, certainly at Centurion which remained bowler friendly throughout, to the advantage of the hosts whose pace attack took full advantage.

At the MCG, another turgid surface led to two days of grind, and rapid deterioration thereafter. Winning the toss was the key to winning that one, and the self-inflicted wound under which Australian cricket currently operates was highlighted in their batting in both innings, but perhaps also in their bowling, which has become oddly ineffective with the old ball in recent times. People can draw their own conclusions on that one, and probably will.

Australia were well beaten in the end, and can at best draw the series. They are a team with problems in batting depth, as any side where a 35 year old is still an unproven performer would be.

Smith and Warner are due to return for the Ashes, and there seems little doubt that whatever the problems of re-integration, they will be selected simply because of the fragility of Australia’s batting. This makes the continued blame game intriguing, as Warner continues to be portrayed as the evil genius taking advantage of naive young players with no one else involved. Cameron Bancroft’s recent interview claiming he did it to fit in is an abrogation of the responsibilities of any player, who is, and should be, more than aware of the difference between right and wrong. If he hoped to garner sympathy, it appears to have backfired.

Equally, the idea that the rest of the team and staff were oblivious remains as preposterous now as it was at the time. The crime itself wasn’t the issue, players have always sought an advantage. The brazenness with which it was carried out was remarkably stupid, the claims of innocence elsewhere, especially among the bowlers, implausible. The idea they neither noticed the condition of the ball nor cared what the batsmen were up to with it ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter, except to say that the discussions post-Bancroft remarks about team culture have all failed to consider this element – faux innocence, back-stabbing and finger pointing are at least as damaging to unity as anything else.

How Warner responds to being portrayed as the arch plotter will be fascinating, for England fans in the crowd will be unforgiving in the summer, creating what could prove to be an entertaining sub-plot to proceedings.

The New Year’s Honours List appointed Alastair Cook a knight of the realm, perhaps the ultimate vindication of being part of the establishment. The response to this has been interesting, the delight in some quarters that their man has got his dues, the bewilderment in others that a 34 year old gets such an award so quickly perhaps being the biggest response. It doesn’t really matter overly, whether for or against it, but it does seem remarkably early given it took Ian Botham until his fifties and a lot of charity fundraising to get the same. Presumably James Anderson will get the same upon his retirement, for if he doesn’t, it will smack of double standards, not for the first time.

Perhaps more than anything it demonstrates grade inflation in sporting honours, Andy Murray receiving his while still playing at the highest level. Anyone can point to oversights in the past, but one favourite for me has always been the lack of one for John Surtees, the holder of a truly unique record in being the only man to win world titles on both two and four wheels.

I can’t get that cross about the whole thing, it’s more amusement at the sense of vindication and the sheer tribalism of it all.

And so we move into 2019. First on the agenda for England is a trip to the West Indies, and yours truly will be heading over to Antigua for the second Test. I’m sure the England team can’t wait. After that, a busy summer awaits, with a home World Cup and (another) Ashes series.

A final word. The Christmas period brought the terrible news that Ruth Strauss had passed away. Nothing brings home the pettiness of cricketing squabbles so clearly as human tragedy. Expressing condolences feels so empty and meaningless, yet it’s all we can ever do.

England v India – Day 2 – You Leave Me When I’m At My Worst

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You Can’t Go On, Thinking Nothing’s Wrong

“You are still a whisper on my lips, a feeling on my fingertips, pulling at my skin.

You, you leave me when I’m at my worst, feeling as if I’ve been cursed, bitter cold within

Days go by and still I think of you….”

Dirty Vegas – Days Go By or possibly the UK Print Media (circa December 2018)

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After a day at the test it was time for a day watching the test on TV, in between usual Saturday tasks and manipulating / ruining the nearly 200 pics I took yesterday. Danny took care of the review for Day 1 so it seems a bit silly for me to do the same, but I will refer to some points from yesterday in the review today. Plus you’ll get to see some of the pictures.

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Sorry for laughing, there’s too much happening…..

England resumed on 198 for 7. It was debatable how you could take the day. Sitting at deep backward square / deep extra cover to left handers, the lateral movement and swing wasn’t easily perceptible and I’m not a great watcher of the video boards. Some, like @pktroll enjoyed it a lot, while I felt it a bit dull. Look, I’m not after swashbuckling, reckless cricket, but there is a natural game to be played, and too many got themselves out, or got stuck. Many people thought Mo stuck it out well, despite playing and missing more than you would like. I felt the only one who really did what came naturally was Alastair Cook, and when he was out, 20 minutes after tea, he had 71 out of 133. He was on pace for a hundred plus.

There is a point. This morning, with a new ball, which may be easier to bat against than the older on, England put the foot down and added over 100 runs in the first session. Buttler’s positive approach meant that when he did find the edge to the slips, he had got the field spread and 3rd slip wasn’t there [to drop it]. Rashid and Buttler got the scoreboard moving, and then when Rashid had to go, Broad came in and played as assuredly as he has done all summer. After a session in which England took the game to India, the pitch looking a little better, the swing a little less pronounced than I saw on the highlights last night, England were in charge. 300 looked a good score on this surface, in this era, with this ball, in these conditions, with these teams. After tea Broad was caught brilliantly by KL Rahul, and Buttler was last out for 89, as Ed Smith will no doubt let the world know the genius of his selection as he did with Newman this week. It’s fair enough, I suppose to crow, but Jos has been a success of the summer. Thank heavens, because with this mess of a batting line-up one might think he hasn’t got a scooby!

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All You Need Is Love…..

India’s reply started with an early wicket. Part-time dancer, and casual worker opener Shikar Dhawan was pinned LBW. Cook remains the only opener with a half century, but at least KL Rahul seemed to have more of an idea this time, making 37 before Sam Curran trimmed the top of off with a 79mph beauty. What say ye about all those pace bowlers now. With the Big Two in, it was imperative for India to field a big score from one of Pujara and Kohli, but this hasn’t been a series where consistency (other than Virat) has been a hallmark.

After an LBW had been declined by Kumar Dharmasena which was marginal on outside the line (when I first saw it I said it was outside) but knocking middle and off out, Anderson went on a little tizzy, which Kumar had a word with Root about. In my mind that’s the sort of thing that leads to more – I’m pretty sensitive on this matter after an incident I had in club cricket – and fair play to Nasser for calling him on it. Kohli applied the Kissinger peace methodology to the whole incident, never a man to bring a candle to a burning pyre, but a tanker load of petrol, but all seemed to calm down. Shortly after the incident, Anderson induce a nick from Pujara and he was sent on his way for 37. 101 for 3. Shortly after Rahane nicked to the slips where Cook completed the catch and it was 101 for 4, and the game was now firmly in England’s hands.

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Papa Don’t Preach, Joe’s In Double Deep (the LBW)

The debutant Vihari survived an LBW appeal that was out and not reviewed, then reviewed an LBW that was given out and reprieved by the DRS. Dhawan had coughed one of the reviews up so it was a brave man taking the second one while Kohli was at crease! I hope he got leadership group approval! I then had to pop out and did not expect to come back with him still in. TMS disappeared to the Shipping Forecast (I once read a really dull book on the various areas that are mentioned) and when it came back he was still in. When I came back it wasn’t Vihari falling, but Kohli nicking to slip where skipper Root held on. Kohli left the London Stage to a score of 49, and now neither he and Tendulkar have a test hundred in London in….I’ll look it up… a lot of innings. And with him you sense the test match, as a contest, went up the stairs to the dressing room. England had the game by the scruff of the neck, and the wicket of “what the hell is he doing in the team” Pant at the end, again to Stokes, put the tin hat on it. India finished the day at 174 for 6, trailing by 158, and hoping Vihari and Jadeja can do a passable impression of Jos Buttler.

A round of applause for two things missing today. Bow your heads in remembrance for the five overs lost into the ether. Ravi Jadeja didn’t bowl much today so the one man make the 90 overs quota machine had little effect. Talking of not bowling much today, Adil Rashid wasn’t trusted with a single over. I am beyond amazed. This has all the hall marks of an ostracising. I may be being over-emotional but it’s just not on. When is he supposed to bowl? With the opposition 300 for 1? An over before lunch? Answers on a postcard.

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Slow Down, You’re Going Too Fast, Got To Make The Music Last….

So tomorrow the tears will flow as Alastair will probably bat for the last time in tests. In the audience yesterday, where I was, there was clearly a heartfelt fondness for him. They applauded loudly when England won the toss, reasonably loudly for the 50 and then a big standing ovation on his departure. I’m honest to myself. I stood up when he came out, took pics when he got 50 (see above) and did when he left, but then sat before most. My own reaction is not important, of course, and nor do I criticise those who did. I thank heaven there was something that would lift up the day, though.

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Hit Me With Your Batting Stick, Hit Me

England will probably take a decent lead, with a fair bit of time. Cook has all the time in the world to finish his career on the note all his supporters would like.

I’ll do more full posts on my day at the test and on the KP “revelations” (sigh, haters) next week, but for now we have a test summer to finish.

Comments below.

Godfather

You may have come here in error – Twitter playing havoc. For the Death of A Gentleman review click here – https://collythorpe.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/death-of-a-gentleman-2/

Or read below…..

We should really have known.

There’s a statement made about NFL players scoring a Touchdown. “When you get into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before”. I think a lot of England fans, and that’s what they are, even if they disagree with me, need to keep that in mind. Sure, celebrate your victories and enjoy them, but don’t get carried away. Act like we’ve been there before. Act like this isn’t a vindication.

I’m happy to heap praise on England for creating an opening and then ruthlessly exploiting it. Hurrah!  Jimmy Anderson pressed the “on” button, got the vital wickets with the new ball, and then let the situation and the pressure do the rest. Busting down the door on a wicket completely condemned as a dead loss (because these same bowlers did not come up to those standards in previous new ball spells, which is going to be forgotten now) was very good to see. Contrary to what those who criticise us think, I enjoyed watching us do that. What I won’t do is get carried away.

There’s something in the English sporting spirit that makes us over-react to victories. It’s the reason we never completely dominate anything for any length of time. While we seem remarkably satisfied with winning the 2005 and 2010/11 Ashes, the fact both of these were followed by total humiliation not long after summed up a lot of our England sporting psyche. I mean, seriously, how do you think Australia would have greeted this win against the 8th rated side in the world? Sure, they’d go on a little, but many would say “how the hell did we need a brilliant session to beat these guys?”

I’m one for parallels with history, and this looks and smells like Spring 2008. England had lost a shocking match to New Zealand at Hamilton, getting turned over for a small total in the 1st Test, and people had the knives out for the captain (Vaughan) and the coach (Moores). Then we won a scrappy test at Wellington on the back of a Tim Ambrose century, and went on to win at Napier as KP bailed us out on day one, and Strauss made his career best in the second. No-one went overboard over those expected victories, because coming up were sterner tests. When we lost the big home series to South Africa, the writing was on the wall for the nightmares to follow. Wellington wasn’t a new dawn, just a false one.

Let me turn to the reaction once more, and I’ll probably start with a reply to a comment below:

You know I was mad at Yossarian’s post in the week and some questioned why I should be. I’m glad I saw BTL because it proved I’m totally right to feel as I do. I’ll pick up on what those who have called people “not real fans” all I like because (and to sound childish) they started it. I’m not having any person question my fandom to the England cricket team. I went on a whitewash in 2006/7 and fronted up and pushed our corner in a foreign land. I went to South Africa. I’ve been to tests in England for many many years, often losing years. I’ve been a county member for many years. You question whether I’m a real fan? Excuse my French but Fuck Off.

If I weren’t a real fan, I’d have left. I’d have not bothered writing a blog nearly every day for a year. I don’t question your status, do not have the absloute front to question mine, and those who come on this blog. Who made you the sole arbiters of fandom? Do one. You don’t get to choose how I follow my team.

That should do it…..

You are not a real fan unless you over-react totally to this win and tell the world that Jimmy Anderson is absolutely amazing (is he a bowler of great spells, rather than a great bowler? To throw that cack back at them) and that Alastair Cook is now a very good captain in good form. If you can’t celebrate this win, what’s up with you?

We’ve beaten the 8th ranked team in the world, without their best quick bowler, and a frail batting line-up having wasted the advantage given us to a large degree on the 1st day. If this was a flawless, ruthless demolition over four days on a good deck, I’d be encouraged. But this was won because of an inspired performance on Day 5. The thing with inspired performances is that by and large, they don’t happen often. You can’t rely on them.

I was very happy with the win last night, but knew this was coming. I despair of the lack of nuanced thought. I’m not going to like Alastair Cook any more for it, but nor am I going to say he was rubbish. I’d just point out that there’s a mighty old elephant in the room if we’re celebrating 70s and cosy little 50 not outs (after the shine went off the new ball, this was no more than a net, albeit one played with some little initial pressure on it) as him being in good form, I recall him being in really decent nick when he reeled off three centuries on the bounce in India or three in five in Australia, including doubles and big tons. You are the ones clutching at straws, not me.

I knew what was coming, so I watched The Godfather for the first time. I might want to make some of those who call me “not a real fan” an offer they can’t refuse.