There I was, last night, Friday in a pub after work. Every two minutes looking at the score on my phone. Every time saying to the disinterested mates around me “we’ve got to get Kohli out. He’s still there.” A wicket fell and it wasn’t Kohli. It didn’t seem to count as a full wicket while Kohli was there. “He’s still there, bloody hell” I’d mutter. I wonder why I’m running out of social partners these days.
In their 1980 hit, Blancmange summed up how I felt about the past four days. England have kept me running round and round, and that’s been alright with me. I’ve been up the wall, I’ve been up the bloody tree. They’ve raised us, and then they’ve let us fall. Living on the ceiling indeed. If you’re (un)lucky and ever catch the band I sing for, this is one of our numbers!
So after a crappy grandad pop reference, let’s get down to the nitty gritty (there’s your Public Enemy lyric) and the last four days. This was a really good test match. It ebbed, it flowed, it had star performances, it had new players and test match regulars playing well and playing not so well. The ball did move, the bowling was certainly better than the batting, and England dug themselves out of an almighty hole to claw up to a defensible total and then, well, defended it. We had a taut 90 minutes or so as England took the wickets they needed to take a 1-0 lead and everyone came together at the end to say “what a thoroughly enjoyable game of cricket”. And guess what, I agree with them. Because not to do so would be silly.
But, and you know with me there is always a but, there’s a few things nagging away at me and of course I’m going to mention them. First of all the last two series in England where India have visited these shores, the test series fell apart after the first loss by the visitors. I was there for the 5th day – remember that kiddies when we get the 4 day test muppets out again as they have been – in 2011 at Lord’s, another test that was a rollercoaster, as England looked in danger until Prior rescued Day 4 to set up a tense Day 5 and India fighting hard for a draw. It was a great day’s cricket, but once England had taken the match, they weathered early storms in the second test and routed India the rest of the way. 2014 saw India win at Lord’s and then put on the sandals and chill out for the rest of the summer too. I don’t think this will happen with this India team and this captain, because there is too much class in the opposition, but we thought that in 2014 and 2011, and they became depressingly one-sided matches. What we need is more of this. Test cricket needs more of this.
Secondly, there’s the brittle England batting. Yet again our top order failed miserably with one or two exceptions. The blueprint for long-term success is not to ask numbers 8,9,10 and 11 to add 100 on to your score in a tight match. When England were 87 for 7 and just about 100 in front, India had this. They let the match slip, as Curran grabbed it. Sam has a defining performance in just his second test, but the rest of the batting looked frail, and it’s a common theme, whether my critics like it or not. We’ve had one test hundred in the last six test matches. You would think these batsmen are too good to let that happen for much longer, but you just don’t know.
India will be pleased with their bowling efforts, and especially the effectiveness of Ravi Ashwin, but they need these seamers to last the whole course. They are without Kumar at the moment, but Shami, Sharma and Yadav are decent performers and they looked to keep England in check. Sharma is just a strange cricketer, with performances varying from insipid to inspired and no way of telling what will be coming.
Which brings us to the greatest Surrey player to have never played for us. Kohli has an aura like few others in my life-time. It’s like Lara with the West Indies, Viv maybe back in the day, Mohammed Yousuf when he saw an England shirt. He just looks a million dollars. He gave chances but with force of will and supreme ability made a magnificent first innings hundred and you knew we had to get him soon this morning not to lose this one. I am an unabashed fan of Virat Kohli and most of what he brings to the game. In many ways he is the most important cricketer for many a year. If Virat Kohli didn’t passionately care about test cricket, the existential crisis (I hate that phrase, by the way) test cricket finds itself in would be very much worse. It appears, unless he’s a magnificent liar, that Kohli values the long game, the ability to shape games over longer periods of time, and to not rest on his laurels. He’s eloquent, a little abrasive, but a superstar playing super cricket. Many will remember his contributions to the game – the run out, the hundred, the keeping his team in the game, and his comments afterwards. Cricket is incredibly lucky to have him. Warts and all.
The worry for India is that the other batsman did not shine. Leaving out Pujara raised eyebrows with Michael Holding, for instance, but he’s been woeful for Yorkshire this year. Dhawan had a horror in 2014, and this didn’t inspire confidence. Vijay has been a solid performer, made a hundred on that road at Trent Bridge four years ago, but again never looked solid. Rahul is a talent that needs to learn, in perhaps the same way Virat did. Rahane made that great hundred at Lord’s on a tricky wicket in 2014 so he has game. I don’t think they’ll fail every time, but England will certainly feel more hopeful that there are cracks to exploit.
England’s bowlers worked well as a team. Anderson might have been a little overbowled but without him we would have been floundering. Golden arm Stokes took the wickets today, and the key one of Kohli was the clincher, and as we know he will need to be replaced at Lord’s for reasons of seeing m’learned friends. Broad was under the weather, remains a frustrating cricketer, but again, his opening spell in the second innings when I thought Sam Curran should have been given the new ball, was important. The Dukes ball is given a lot of credit, and there was swift lobbying from many of the usual suspects that it should be used worldwide (do you know how that sounds to those outside of England?), but cloud conditions and an Edgbaston pitch that rewards good play also helped. Holding was spot on saying you need pitches that allow good bowlers to get wickets, and not reward mediocre bowling, while not having pitches too flat to allow ordinary players to make big scores. Fair enough, but he better not be having a go at my main man Karun Nair!
This test match started among a cacophony of nonsense over Adil Rashid, who had a more than fair game and bowled well when given his limited opportunities, and also batted sensibly. It finished as an England win always does. Greatest evers being thrown about, an enthusiasm ignoring the past, a euphoria that feels misplaced. I will be honest, this wasn’t in the same galaxy as Edgbaston 2005, and the tension there. It wasn’t in the same universe as the morning of Trent Bridge 2013, the test match this most closely resembled in my recent memory, when Brad Haddin threatened to take the game away from us. Nor Melbourne 1998, Jo’burg 2005, Cardiff 2009. That may be me, or it may be our need to make everything now something that is the greatest ever. It may be I am throwing a straw man in there, and maybe that’s not what they are saying. But given the sheer insecurities we feel at how the test game is being handled both here and abroad, we need to clutch to matches like this and tell the naysayers “see, this is really great stuff”. We know it is, the players do too. We hope.
I’ve been down on England for a while. Old wounds take a long time to heal. But there are players in this team I really like. I have so much time for Jos Buttler. I really like Joe Root, just wish he wasn’t captain. I’d love Adil Rashid to throw the nonsense back down the likes of Selvey’s throat (if his tweets this morning constituted getting behind Adil, as the phrase goes, I’d want him in front of me so I could see him). And then there is Sam Curran. I remember a couple of years ago sitting at the Oval in a game against Lancashire and he was chatting away to a spectator, happy to be playing, enjoying the game, interacting with the public in an uninhibited way. He still had to strengthen up, but the talent was there. We could all see it. He made runs, he looked good doing so, and I just hoped he wasn’t a Ben Hollioake, a player praised up too soon, disrespected when things didn’t go his way, and then the suspicion that he wasn’t quite good enough in either discipline to nail down an international place. Sam has already made an impact, in fact more than an impact. Without him there was no tense run chase. Without him there wasn’t a 194 target. Without him we might have seen the Indian top order settle in on Day 2. He’s a star. But he’s not the finished article, but what you saw there was temperament. Big game temperament. That’s precious and as a Surrey fan, yep, I’m bloody proud of the guy.
We move on to Lord’s on Thursday. Between then and now we have an excellent guest post on county cricket from a writer who we hope will contribute more for us on the issues in domestic cricket. We’ll do the honours for that tomorrow or Monday. Then we’ll have a preview for the second test and here is hoping for a game somewhere near as good as this. Because it was great test cricket, and in cricket, there is nothing better.