England vs. India, 2nd Test, Day 1 – I Sit There Staring and There’s Nothing Else To Do

Joe Root must surely be wishing he could turn back time after electing to bowl on a Chief Executive’s pitch in the hope that overhead conditions would provide ample swing for their fast-bowling attack. As we know in hindsight, quite simply they did not, through a mixture of bowling too short and a slow Lords pitch that allowed the batsmen ample time to adjust to any swing. It wasn’t quite ‘the Nasser at Brisbane in 2002 moment’, but it wasn’t that far off either. With India 276-3 at the end of Day 1, England are in all sorts of trouble again and this time it looks like the weather won’t be there to save them.

The day didn’t start well with Test cricket doing its daily dose of shooting itself in the foot by engaging in a rain dance with only a hint of rain in the air and then taking the players off the field in bright sunshine for lunch. I have no sympathies for the corporates, who are mainly there for a 3-course meal and plenty of champagne, but for those genuine fans who paid £135+ for the pleasure of attending Lords, it was another slap in the face. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the cricketing fans are always last in English cricket’s priority list, after all, see the wonderful view £135 can get you at the Home of Cricket.

As for the cricket itself, it was a somewhat turgid day, with the pitch hardly helping things, but one thing for sure, is that India will be by far the happier of the two sides. England’s bowlers, without being awful apart from one guilty party, were simply unable to exert any type of sustained pressure on the Indian batsmen. Even in the first hour, when the ball was expected to swing, rarely did either of the watchful Indian openers play a false shot. Wood was too short and too wayward, Robinson was economical but fairly unthreatening bar the wicket of Kohli late in the day, Moeen played the holding role and Sam Curran leaked runs like it was going out of fashion. Only Jimmy Anderson looked in any sort of nick taking the wickets of Rohit with one that went down the slope and inducing an edge from the woefully out of form Pujara. I don’t particularly like to single out individual players but to me there is absolutely no way that Sam Curran looks like a Test player. It reminds me of the 90’s when England tried to shoehorn in an allrounder like Mark Ealham or Mike Watkinson who could bat a bit and bowl a bit but were neither good enough in either department. The truth in my opinion is that Curran is a decent white ball all-rounder and should really focus on that side of the game. He might be able to play a cameo with the bat and get the odd wicket in helpful conditions with the red ball, but as of now, he is not good enough to play as a stand-alone performer in either discipline. His bowling today was at best buffet, which is less than ideal when you’ve got a flat and slow CEO’s pitch.

This is not to take anything away from India’s batting. Rohit Sharma looked in great touch and was unlucky not to make a century and Rahul rode out any difficulties with the new ball before upping his scoring rate and was handsomely rewarded with his first Test century at Lords and second in England, which is all the more impressive as he’s not a natural opening bat. The most interesting thing about them both is that not long ago, many had serious doubts about both their techniques to be successful abroad. However, unlike the English batsmen who seem to have subscribed to the ‘Groundhog Day’ theory of batting, both have gone away and worked on their techniques and have reaped the benefits. There were also some interesting comments on Rahul’s innings which started off at a snail’s pace and how England’s opening batsmen would have got huge amounts of criticism for that approach. I don’t buy this one bit. Both Rohit and Rahul went on to make sizeable scores after setting the platform for the innings. The problem with the likes of Sibley in particular is that he may hang around and take the shine off the ball, but simply doesn’t make enough runs to justify his inclusion. I have no problem with our top 3 being watchful at the start of the inning, but the ability to rotate the strike and then make big runs when the ball is a little softer wherein lies the difference between the two batting top orders.

The most interesting development of the day was the sighting of Tom Harrison (at Lords of course), which has been rarer than sightings of the Loch Ness monster in recent times. He even agreed to do an interview with Sky in the hope that Ian ‘Wardy’ Ward would throw him some gentle throw downs. Fortunately for us, it was Michael Atherton who conducted the interview and actually kept probing with the some fairly difficult questions for the ECB MD. Jeremy Paxman it was not, but it was enough for the veneer that Harrison tries to paint himself in to the media start looking a tad shaky. This was the first time I’ve seen Harrison look visibly uncomfortable when being interviewed, after all most questions previously posed have been, “Tom, can you tell me how great the ECB is and how the Hundred will be world beating?”. Harrison looked defensive and uncomfortable throughout in the face of a good line of questioning, something often missing in previous interviews on TV and was unable to elaborate on key measures of success or the ridiculous schedule that has meant none of our Test team have played any red ball cricket in the build-up to this series. Just so you know, it’s all Covid’s fault according to our Tom.

India are certainly in total control of this game though the pitch looks pretty docile, so all might not be lost for England; however, we all know to never judge a pitch until England have collapsed on it.

As ever thoughts on the game are very much welcome below:

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

If all publicity is good publicity, then the ECB should be thrilled, for the Hundred has undoubtedly been a talking point over the last week, whether in the media, social media or (the newly rediscovered) real life social settings. As far as social media is concerned, it’s largely hostile, as it always has been since the announcement of the entire concept. Twitter never has been a barometer of public opinion, and that it is negative towards it shouldn’t be viewed as meaning anything at all, and most definitely Twitter polls, or Facebook polls have no relevance to anything.

But the thing that has been utterly lost – not for the first time – on social media is any sense of nuance, with too many pointing to the entirely reasonable public interest in the Hundred as some kind of stick with which to beat those who oppose it, are uneasy about it or who simply aren’t interested in it. Tweets or single sentence posts tend to do that, with a complete inability to explore the issues resulting in confrontational shouting. A long form like a blog ought to allow for a more considered discussion, but it’s still easy enough for anyone to pull out a single sentence and berate people based on that too, as many a journalist will reflect upon to their cost. Lord knows we are probably guilty of that ourselves, making assumptions about a meaning that leaves the writer aghast at the assumed intent. It’s normal enough and human enough, and if I’ve done that to someone (I’m certain I will have done) I can only apologise.

That loss of nuance has also meant a lack of respect for contrary views. The county supporters are looking on in despair at the potential destruction of their sporting love; to treat them as irrelevant, old fashioned and out of touch is not just unreasonable and wrong, it’s extremely cruel. The starting point, even for advocates of the Hundred, ought to be one of empathy, not dismissal. Equally, those who do believe the way forward includes the Hundred deserve a hearing as to why they think so even from those hellbent on hating it, and why they believe the undoubted costs of it are worthwhile. People will come to their own conclusions about the wisdom or otherwise, but it would help things immeasurably if such a conversation could occur without shouting. This, undoubtedly, is a pipedream.

There is no contradiction whatever in some people being opposed to the Hundred but enjoying the cricket. They are, after all, cricket fans and are not betraying any greater cause by liking watching people bowling, fielding and batting. Nor is it any switching of sides to acknowledge that some elements of its start that look to be quite promising – the popularity of the women’s competition being high up in any such list. It is true enough that it might not have needed the Hundred for this focus in the media coverage to have occurred, but it’s also quite possibly true that without it, it simply wouldn’t have happened. It’s the Olympic regeneration argument – of course a city could – and probably should – sink billions into resurrecting a derelict area, but would it happen without such an event? Likely not. There have been significant missteps from the ECB in their approach to the women’s game, pushing the idea it is equal to the men’s when it clearly isn’t, either financially or in profile was to create an argument where there didn’t need to be one through overclaiming. In the same way, creating the impression that the women’s matches have no value through the cancellation policy looked awful, even if the intent was honourable. To their credit, they have acknowledged with something of a wince that they need to look at that again – more of that please, errors are forgivable, responding to them is a good thing.

Sam Morshead’s article in the Cricketer (do have a read if you haven’t already) noted some interesting dynamics with their social media engagement that provides a tantalising suggestion there may be some genuinely new engagement .  This is inherently a very good thing already, and were it to continue then a sceptic might well need to revise some preconceptions. That’s a big if, but it can only be a good thing and hoping for it not to happen because of a dislike of the Hundred would be a very skewed set of priorities.  Cricket needs engagement, it needs a wider demographic showing interest, anything else continues the slide to irrelevance.  Whether it required the Hundred to do that is a very open question, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t intriguing and it should most definitely not be ignored. Another area that is worth watching is the level of supporter identification with the teams. In this I declare an interest that’s not an interest: I don’t follow a particular county, and my overriding problem with the overseas T20 franchise leagues is that I couldn’t care less who wins and who loses. That lowers the degree of interest substantially, but mileage clearly varies in this, and creating a fanbase out of new franchises is both concerning and perhaps in another sense pleasing. It depends how it’s looked at, either a shallow level of interest, or a large market of potential cricket lovers waiting to be tapped.

On the other side of the ledger, the determination by some media figures and journalists to act not as guides or observers of the competition, but instead as rampaging zealous missionaries is intensely irritating and playing the audience for fools.  Even the most ardent believer in it would accept there are wider issues that cause disquiet, and while it is not reasonable to expect that to be a topic of debate in coverage, it goes beyond that to steamroller any possibility that this isn’t the greatest sporting show ever created. It shows scant respect, not just to critics, but to those who on balance are enjoying it and looking forward to it, but can spot the Pravda editorial a mile off.  Media coverage should not be akin to politicians announcing their latest initiative to party conference, and it’s something of a betrayal of journalistic values, and broadcasting standards, to treat it as such. 

Some in the media will undoubtedly believe in the concept and the tournament, there’s not a thing wrong with that, and an inability to accept that someone might have a different view without it meaning they’re somehow evil is one of the curses of modern times.  Others, it is less clear that it is anything but glowing support for the purposes of getting paid – there is still nothing wrong with that, except inasmuch as there’s a pretence at impartiality that isn’t plausible.  Therein lies the problem, most employees are expected to toe the corporate line – I have no intention of going wildly off message about those for whom I work, because I’m not an idiot – but if journalists are to claim that their role is different, and they are open-minded truth seekers, they can’t jump into bed for the company shilling and still maintain that air of separation and independence.  They can be an arm of the PR team or they can be journalists, they can’t be both. 

It’s a mild annoyance in the coverage, and it’s a reflection of where we are rather than a particular stand out, but it damages everyone else working in the sector by association, which may be partly why Huw Turberville and George Dobell are so clearly annoyed about the “Kim Jong-un school of journalism” as Dobell put it.

None of the perceived successes of the competition to date alter the initial objections to it, nor have they been in any way answered by the overly-enthusiastic response of some of its adherents.  The relegation of the 50 over competition to irrelevance, the further sidelining of the red ball competition, the potential for county cricket to be marginalised even further, the effect on the Test team – these are all live, real issues and won’t go away.  The amusement at the pickles the ECB got themselves into over the format matter little when the games are on, but the determination of the likes of Michael Vaughan and others to dismiss all criticism by saying it’s just a game of cricket is to attempt to bypass any discussion of the greater issues by focusing on the least relevant subjects.  For it IS just a game of cricket.  And cricket is a bloody brilliant game, messing with the format was never going to change that, and since cricket fans have been trying to tell everyone for decades how good it is why react with surprise?

But the same applied to T20.  There’s a distinct air of revisionism and straw manning in some of this.  There is no doubt that there were some, often journalists, who saw it as the end of civilisation when it was launched, but those didn’t include people who actually played cricket, for club, village, school and parks cricketers were familiar with the format on the simple grounds that they’d played it their whole lives, and they largely shrugged when it was first brought in professionally and wondered why it had taken so long.  That a retired colonel (this is a completely arbitrary assumption – see how easy it is?) wrote to the Daily Telegraph bemoaning it matters in no way whatever, and shouldn’t be used as a pretence that concerns about the Hundred are grounded in a widespread belief that the clock should be turned back to 1920.

Indeed, the initial explosion of interest in T20 when it first arrived should signal something of a warning sign for the Hundred.  So much of that pointed to as success for the new competition applied to 2003 as well (clearly not the women’s element) with the same novelty and excitement.  And while it is undoubtedly true that the ECB would be entirely thrilled with the same pattern and popularity, it also points to one of the other objections that T20 was already highly successful and didn’t need to be tinkered with.

As to where we go from here, perhaps there is one overriding issue that may dictate things, and that is the success or otherwise of the England team.  T20 was launched with the backdrop of a national team on the up, by no means a dominant one, but where the investment in the county game was beginning to show signs of success in the Test arena at least.  The current depth of red ball cricket in England doesn’t hold such promise, and with series at home to India and away to Australia (assuming it goes ahead), the results therein will be watched closely.  India have had some red ball practice in advance of this series, the England players have not.  Australia, for all the Big Bash hype, have maintained a greater degree of balance with their nursery for Test cricket.  There is something of a hope that things will turn out for the best, but if England don’t produce Test cricketers, they will be soundly beaten more often than not.  The wider damage a weak England causes the Test game is a separate, though vital, part of the equation – the patience of the public with such an eventuality may be a different question.  For the ECB do rely on a degree of ignorance among the casual supporter, those who will watch the Hundred and have no awareness of the potential problems ahead, or the impact on other elements of the professional game.  But they do tend to notice if England get thrashed a lot.

There was hope from some that the Hundred would fail, but there was rather more widely made accusation that anyone who expressed reservations about the concept hoped the Hundred would fail.  A curious assumption that those with deep concerns wanted it made even worse.    People have varying views and reductive and simplistic attack lines are no more valid for all on side than they are the other.  Those who approve of the Hundred often do so for the very best and most thoughtful of reasons, and it’s about time that was recognised as a possibility too. There is a contradiction in that with some of the criticism herein, but if there is an intention behind it, it is to try to comprehend a motivation that moves beyond catcalling for daring to hold a different opinion. We all do it, and we all need to do better.

We are where we are is one of those phrases that manages to be true and yet still annoying when used to express an indifference to what might happen next. But the Hundred is here, and it is not going away for the forseeable future no matter how much some might wish it to. But the battle for English cricket is only just beginning, for the unwieldy nature of the domestic season is not sustainable for any length of time, and what happens next is where the action is.

England’s Women vs India’s Women – One Off Test, Open Thread

I had hoped to post this before the opening session of the Test, but unfortunately work gets in the way as it sometimes does, and this is the first opportunity I’ve had today.

I would like to have written about form and favourites for this game; however, this is only the 7th Test match England’s women have played in the last 10 years, so this makes it somewhat difficult for someone who admittedly isn’t an expert on the women’s game. 

A lot of the build-up was around the ECB’s decision to play this on a used pitch, which quite frankly is pathetic and for all their bluster about promoting the women’s game, this combined with the lack of red ball opportunities for women, really does highlight the ECB’s refusal to commit to growing the women’s game. It doesn’t matter that the pitch has played well so far and looks to be a batter’s paradise, if the roles had been reversed and the England men’s team had played a Test on the on a used pitch, there would have been an almighty uproar.

Owing to our work commitments over the next few days, we’re unable to properly cover the Test fully (and unfortunately no-one seemed keen to write reports for us for free). However, we will be retweeting videos and match reports from Raf Nicholson’s fantastic account @crickether. 

If you do wish to comment sensibly about this match or the challenges the women’s game faces, then please do so below.

Faith

I hope the people who read this blog do not mind that tonight I’ve scrapped the post I had written, because of the obvious reason that has dominated the evening. I was watching the Denmark v Finland game as I was writing the post, and saw the horrible, incredibly scary and, as I write this, thankfully not as bad as I think we all feared medical incident with Christian Eriksen. I am just not in the mood to have a go at another poor England display when I’ve just witnessed something that terrible.

So if you do not mind, I (or one of the team) will wrap this all up tomorrow. Hopefully Christian Eriksen will be out of the woods, and we can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Like all those who watched it happen, they will remember it. I can’t be angry at cricket. I just want to hope for the best for a really fine sportsman. I think we all do.

Be safe, look after yourself and yours.

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This Test, Day Five – Slow And Steady Draws The Race

The rain, the slow over rates, and a chief executive’s pitch combined to turn the first Test of the English summer into something of a damp squib. By the end of play, it honestly felt more like a bowling practice session for New Zealand than a full-blooded international.

The morning began as the previous day had finished, with England bowling well and New Zealand hanging in there. The tourists weren’t able to muster quite as much resistance as they had managed in the first innings, with Wagner, Taylor and Nicholls all falling relatively cheaply. This achievement might be mitigated somewhat by the fact that New Zealand were attempting to set a target for England to chase, but all four England bowlers performed very well throughout the second innings.

With the game meandering towards a draw, Kane Williamson briefly livened things up with a declaration at Lunch which left England needing 273 runs from 75 overs (A required rate of 3.64 runs per over, assuming all of the overs were bowled). Unfortunately for everyone watching, neither team seemed to be fully committed to chasing the win. England’s batters accumulated slowly and methodically whilst New Zealand chose not to bring any extra fielders in close, both sides acting like there was a full day to play tomorrow. England had none of their IPL stars who might have been able to provide a Rishabh Pant-like innings, and so the game fizzled out in the final two sessions.

Given the lack of a thrilling climax to the game, I find myself looking to the next Test at Edgbaston and specifically Ollie Robinson’s likely ban/dropping. I strongly believe he should play, and that he should face absolutely no disciplinary measures from the ECB. The first, most obvious reason why he shouldn’t be dropped is that he has played incredibly well in this Test. The best English bowler, and perhaps the third or fourth-best English batter in the whole game. Had he performed as well with the bat and ball as Anderson or Broad did, for example, England would probably have lost this game. There is clearly no justification for him not to play the next match in terms of his performance.

Which brings us to the matter of Ollie Robinson’s tweets. The first thing I would say is that it would be disingenuous to say that they could be used to prove that he genuinely held these views. They seem, at least to me, like clumsy attempts at shock humour; the use of taboo topics to elicit laughter. Jimmy Carr has made a very successful career for himself, mostly on UK national television, covering many of the same subjects. The simple fact is that this brand of humour only elicits laughter if your audience doesn’t believe you actually think that way, because otherwise it turns from a joke into a serious point. The core issue with shock humour, as has been highlighted here (and why I don’t personally do it), is the potential to offend and hurt someone. A few of you might feel inclined to say something about ‘snowflakes’ or being overly sensitive, but I personally consider going out of your way to insult people who have done nothing to deserve it as being the mark of an arsehole.

One issue that might need clearing up is whether the ECB actually has the ability to enforce any punishment if Robinson chose to challenge it. If I was suspended or fired from my job for a tweet I posted seven years before they hired me, I might consider consulting an employment lawyer or a union rep. Whilst this might well depend on the specifics of his contract, it certainly feels somewhat strange to be penalised by an employer for your past, personal conduct in such a way. This might be a moot point though, since the ban could well be unofficial in nature and simply labelled as Robinson being ‘dropped’ or ‘rested’. Because selection in team sports relies on so many factors, it seems like it would be virtually impossible to prove that not being picked in some way breaks employment law. This not only makes it difficult for Robinson to challenge any penalties, official or otherwise, but it also makes it very easy for the ECB to retaliate if he were to do anything other quietly than accept their judgement.

Regardless of all this, I think most people agree that Tom Harrison has handled this matter very poorly. By putting out such a forceful, vehement statement on the subject, Harrison has placed himself and the whole ECB under the spotlight rather than putting the matter to bed. Within a day, links and screenshots of tweets and instagram posts from Eoin Morgan, Sam Billings and Ben Stokes amongst others which could be considered to be mocking Indian cricket fans and they way they speak English (typically their second language).

They look relatively harmless, arguably even being affectionate towards the Indian fans they are imitating, but it seems very likely that these social media posts would never have resurfaced at all (at least for most English cricket fans on Twitter) had Tom Harrison not made such a big deal of Ollie Robinson’s tweets. Now they are faced with the prospect of banning almost half of England’s T20 batting unit or being seen as hypocrites who will only punish expendable players. This could also be just the start, as who knows what other skeletons (real or imagined) might be hiding in the closets of the ECB players’ and staff’s social media history? By any measure, putting your organisation in that kind of position is incredibly bad management.

If Ollie Robinson does miss the next game, as seems likely, the three bowlers who could replace him from the current squad are Jack Leach, Craig Overton, and Olly Stone. Given Overton’s own personal history, it would seem a massive PR own goal for England to pick him even if he is the nearest like-for-like replacement. Choosing Leach would leave England with just three seam bowlers, and so Stone might be the one Chris Silverwood opts for in the end. I’d expect England’s batting to be unchanged, although Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence didn’t impress much in this game.

It might not have been a classic match to watch, but any Test cricket is better than none and forcing a draw against a team who might be World Test Champions in a few weeks is not to be sniffed at. There’s certainly room for improvement at Edgbaston though.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below.

This Test, Day 2 – I Should Have Seen It Coming, Turned Away, Kept Running

Regulars will know one thing about me, and that is I won’t insult your intelligence. I volunteered to do today’s match report when the rota was set, but I have not, as yet, and I am starting this piece just before the end of the second day’s play, seen a ball. I didn’t even catch the highlights last night. So I am not going to be able to give you an account of anything that happened today. I don’t even know what Devon Conway looks like. I’m certainly not going to wade in on the Ollie Robinson tweets, and sorry, but I am just not. I don’t know how good or bad the coverage has been. I don’t know whether we bowled well in the spell when the wickets fell just before lunch. Part of me thinks I should stop here and just let you come back tomorrow when someone who might have been able to watch the play can do the honours.

But then, stop. I did this sort of thing when I hadn’t seen the play in previous years. I never saw the full horror of Day 4 at Headingley in 2014 yet wrote on it at length! That was down to three salient differences between 2014 Dmitri and 2021 Dmitri. The first is that I cared a lot more in 2014. I would follow the play, sneakily at times, on the cricinfo desktop, had wicket alerts on my phone, and yes, converse with some of the blog respondents. They were different, more “exciting” times. The care for the blog drove me caring about cricket. That fire is just not there at this stage. I doubt it will ever, really, return.

Secondly, my work has changed. I am busier, much busier, and arguably doing a whole lot better than 2014. The role takes up more of my time, and brain-space. In 2014 I felt like part of the scenery, now I feel like I am creating some. I have been one of the “fortunate” ones to have a full-time, fully-paid job working from home. I know there is a whole world of hurt out there, and it makes me angry. But don’t be angry at me. I’ve thrown myself into it, and done OK.

Thirdly, and for those of you who have been with me through the fraught early days of How Did We Lose In Adelaide, you will know that I have struggled with chronic anxiety. So why write a blog and invite further? Don’t seek answers for questions where you are in denial has been my modus operandi. I have struggled immensely in 2020 with mental health issues, and a bit more earlier this year. I am not afraid to admit it, I am not ashamed of it, I think it would do well for people to be honest with themselves about it, but to each their own. It’s why the Naomi Osaka story resonated.

The causes of anxiety are unpredictable, but putting additional pressure on oneself is usually not to be recommended. I’ve been stressing a bit about what to write on here all day. It’s not logical – the world won’t give a crap if I don’t write on something, especially cricket – but I feel like I’d be letting down our readership and my colleagues, and I’m not doing that. During that frantic HDLWIA period where I felt like I had to react to everything wasn’t a craving for attention, it wasn’t to let the loyal readership down. Because the thing guaranteed to cause anxiety is feeling I have let people down.

You came here for a cricket report. New Zealand resumed the day in a strong position, built on it before Nicholls was bounced out by Wood, whereupon a cascade of wickets put England in, what could have been considered, a strong-ish position. The latter order wagged, or wagnered, a bit, and took the visitors up to 378, with Conway the last man out for 200. An impressive debut, and I look forward to watching it on the highlights when I have some time. Robinson finished with 4 wickets on his debut, Wood 3, Anderson 2 and our vice-captain 0 (presumably on the hot-seat for Edgbaston). England started in rickety fashion, falling to 18 for 2, before a steady partnership between Rory Burns and Joe Root took the hosts out of immediate danger.

So I’ve had a sneak look at social media, and while it is reassuring that some things don’t change (Selvey babbling on about wind direction and being his usual frightful snob) the new cricket media is really quite disheartening. I realise semi-permanent rage is destructive and can get boring, but it felt exciting to write. I see no-one even close to doing that now. Maybe it is there, and I just don’t see it. Fellow travellers have changed tack, others long for wistful pasts, finding the green shoots of nostalgia in a pandemic freak-show. I see sport stripped to the bones for television, the purpose and meaning relegated below fulfilling TV contracts and making sure the players (and officials) get paid. We persuade ourselves that this is better than nothing, that it is great to see test cricket against New Zealand at Lord’s, but then we aren’t picking our first team, the IPL takes some priority, the calendar is a mess, the World Test Final is played, necessarily, in a ground with no tradition when others might be available, and yet we are to be enthused. I’m just not. I see hobby horses mounted with no room for those scared of the equines, or doubting their ability to sustain the weight of the argument. I see our own authority flogging their own horse, or might it be donkey, for the latter half of the summer, with no regard at all for those pointing out the potential folly.

I never got into cricket blogging to be “someone”. I got into it because I loved writing. That I put that in the past and not present tense is massively important. It isn’t confined to cricket. I haven’t done anything on my personal blog either. A sign of poor mental health is giving up the things you love doing. I realise now that there has been that warning for some time, probably two to three years. I get bursts of enthusiasm, but they are fewer and further between. My pride in this creation means I will never give it up totally, I just can’t. But I wrote in real time, with real life, and real views. It’s how I think I write best. Somewhere down the line I stopped really enjoying test cricket, and only followed it. It is the greatest game, it is being treated with disdain, and yet people still keep the fire going. I admire them for it.

You know, back in the day I cared enough to get into “spirited debates” with people like John Etheridge. Tonight, just before the end of play, he tweeted this:

Chris wrote about it yesterday. It’s just a straight up giveaway about how the cricket authorities think you should be treated. Test tickets are not cheap. The punter takes a lot of the weather risk, already. That the players fart about all day and come up so many overs short, and not a single meaningful action is taken, is just about as contemptuous as can be. Then you are told if you moan about it that you are causing trouble, no-one at the ground seems to care, that it is just par for the course and you know what you are paying for. Still it goes on. A theme persists, pay your ticket money, buy your subscriptions, and shut the hell up. Every single ticket holder should get 10% of their money back. No questions asked. You have their payment details, their address. Refund them. From 1-9 overs short, 10%. From 10-18 overs, 20%. I’ll bet they’d get the overs in.

England finished the day at 111 for 2. Rory Burns on 59, Joe Root on 42. 8 overs short (“a disappointment” says Bumble). Enjoy tomorrow.

Song lyric – Should Have Seen It Coming by Franky Wah featuring AETHO.

The Day After the Day After Tomorrow

Predicting the future is problematic, it’s much easier to predict the past, although Twitter users might be an example of that not being entirely the case. In wider life there seems to be consensus that while the question of whether the pandemic will make material lasting changes is an open one, it almost certainly has accelerated existing trends – such things as the decline of cash or the continued rise of online over physical retail.

Cricket seems little different – there is no reason to assume that this last year will cause wild changes in itself, but an acceleration of what was coming anyway, that’s a different matter.

Television deals are at the heart of the future and the present, and have been the principal driver of the changes over the last 10 years, whatever the disingenous pontifications from governing bodies about trying to engage people in the sport as more than exploitable consumers. The shortening of formats, first to T20 and then to 10 over equivalents or the Hundred are all about packaging the game into compact segments that fit into programming and allow advertising to be maximised. India is undoubtedly the principal power behind this, because their financial muscle is greater than just about everyone else put together. The rise of the IPL to not just be the biggest short form tournament, but the priority for the game full stop has been inexorable, and the players have been part of that for their own financial reasons. In all cases, it’s not something to particularly blame anyone for, it’s merely a reflection of desires that coincide and aims that correlate – the belief in some quarters that professional cricketers with a short career should sacrifice their ability to earn for the sake of tradition is naive at best. Thus the expectation has to be that not only will the IPL continue, but that it will become ever more central to the global game.

The Hundred is the ECB’s attempt to muscle in on the same thing, having blown their chance of making T20 their central selling point to the world game. There are endless problems with the assumption behind that. Globally, the difference between 16.4 overs and 20 is so minimal as to be not worthy of further debate, and the ever lengthening duration of IPL and Big Bash T20 matches to up to 4 hours implies that the purported domestic desire to have a very short game isn’t one entirely shared elsewhere – perhaps short enough is sufficient. That doesn’t mean in itself that it can’t be a domestic success, but the wish the ECB have for it to be a global phenomenon looks hamstrung from the start. Gimmickry has a place in all sports, irritating as many find it, but a successful gimmick is one that does draw people in, that does appear to have a value. The Hundred lacks this entirely, the hundred balls of an innings doesn’t even work as a deception.

It’s not unreasonable to believe that the Hundred will be a domestic option, and one with limited expansionary appeal. The argument made in its favour that it’s still cricket, and that the difference between it and T20 is sufficiently small for it to have sporting integrity is precisely the reason it’s unlikely to truly take off – why abandon the investment in T20 for a game that offers little extra? If The Hundred does remain an entirely domestic concept, it’s hard to see how it has a long term future when everyone else prefers the ironically more traditional T20. All new things attract attention initially, and whatever the complaints about it, it will have that first flush of attraction as something new. The problem it has is beyond that, years three and four. There comes a time when the question will be asked what the point of it is, and whether a T20 tournament would work better. The Hundred itself looks doomed in the longer term, though it may serve its purpose if it garners sufficient commercial attention to cause that debate to happen.

The 50 over form of the game will continue to be squeezed, but it remains a viable option because it still attracts strong crowds and decent quantities of sponsorship and advertising money. There may be experiments made to widen the differential between it and T20, such as four innings of 25 overs, but it is a format that isn’t particularly broken. The attitude towards it may change somewhat as T20 becomes ever more dominant, indeed 50 over cricket may come to be seen as a long form of the game, which has a certain irony, because for club cricketers around much of the world (there are exceptions) that’s exactly what it is and what it always has been, even if concepts such as winning or losing draws offer a slight level of nuance – though note those kinds of playing rules are on the decline.

Where that leaves Test cricket is another matter. The World Test Championship has been positioned as a way of creating context for Test cricket in order to give the bilateral series meaning. It’s always been a slightly confused position – not because it’s a bad idea, far from it, but because the endless ODI bilaterals lack any meaning whatever, yet continue unabated because of the financial return created by them. There are of course tournaments such as the World Cup, but that’s not really the rationale behind holding so many bilateral series, or they would be considered no more relevant than an international football friendly with all the irritation they cause. Cricket is, and always has been different (and has similarities to international rugby in this regard) in that a match has inherent value in itself, and doesn’t necessarily need that bigger context for everything. That doesn’t mean for a single momoment that tournaments like a World Cup aren’t necessary, they both are, and are wonderful things in themselves, albeit the formats of such things are another question. Therefore a World Test Championship can be both a good thing in itself and also a fig leaf that doesn’t address the structural challenges being faced. There is a suspicion that Test series are often organised as a necessary evil rather than something to be embraced as justified and attractive in themselves, entirely for those financial reasons. Or to put it another way, if Test matches provided strong revenue streams for every board, there would be more of them – England don’t play lots of Test cricket because the ECB adore five day cricket. If there was serious money at hand, the players would be less inclined to abandon the Test arena for the more lucrative white ball forms of the game. The decline of Test cricket in favour of white ball cricket is not because of a particular dislike of that form of the game for sporting reasons.

There is no reason to assume this will change in the years to come, rather precisely the opposite. Countries like England play a lot of Test cricket because, at present at least, that is the largest level of spectators – and thus commercial – interest in the game. With big crowds and a big TV deal that has included, in fact focused, on Test cricket, it has been the core of the income of the professional game. It’s not the case elsewhere, and to highlight that particularly, the newer international countries such as Ireland have abandoned Test series because they cannot make them financially viable. Those are two ends of the range, but there are many more countries nearer the Irish end than the English one, and the English extreme is beginning to weaken. Core marquee series will continue, principally between the most powerful boards of India, Australia and England, but Test cricket will wither further beyond that. There is a way to prevent it, and that would be a more equitable wealth distribution globally, and allow the players to choose Test cricket as a viable means of support for them and their families. But let’s be clear – it isn’t going to happen. The handwringing about the decline of Test cricket among the great and the good has no relevance when the actions that could be taken to prevent it are verboten in administrative circles, because of their own narrow interests. Fundamentally, there isn’t a desire within the ICC hierarchy, and particularly the board hierarchies, to save Test cricket. Until or unless that happens, Test cricket is on a one way ticket to irrelevance and extinction.

This also has knock on effects for domestic cricket, not just in England but around the world. After all, the purpose of first class cricket has been largely to provide a training ground for the Test game, something that puts the hackles up for the county cricket fans who see a game that is important in its own right. But it has never been financially viable in itself anywhere since the 19th century, it wasn’t the point of it to be. The diminution in value of first class cricket is a corollary of the decline of Test cricket and its lack of revenue creation has changed its positioning from one that needs support in order to promote the wider game to being viewed as a revenue drain on central resources. This is an important change in focus – county cricket has never been something central in and of itself to the finances of cricket, it has had sporting value and been deemed worthy of support as such. This has changed – the justification for concepts like the Hundred have been to generate financial income in and of itself, and not for the purposes specifically of first class county cricket. This is central to the expectations in years to come, for no longer is it considered inherently valuable.

The arrival of the Hundred has a further likely consequence, in that it introduces franchise cricket to England. It is from a different era that Durham was added to the roster as the 18th county, the desire now is to shrink the base of teams, not expand them. Protests that regional franchises are purely for the shortest form of the game smack of disingenuousness – the strongest counties will survive irrespective, but the weaker ones look like they have no long term future. Formal status is unlikely to be revoked, because it simply doesn’t matter much, they will fall by the wayside as power and money is concentrated in the hands of the few, and the difference between some first class counties and some minor counties will be harder to determine. Salami tactics work in terms of generating change – abolishing counties would invite end of days headlines, allowing them to fade into obscurity will be met with a shrug of the shoulders from all but those directly affected. The protests from county cricket fans will make little difference – they have already been written off as unimportant.

This is not a future that many will relish. But as things stand it is where we are likely to be. Test cricket being in trouble is not breaking news, but the lack of any impetus or desire to change this is what is going to doom it to the margins. First class cricket and county cricket will follow, and the focus on white ball, and particularly T20 cricket is the future to be faced. It can change, certainly, but only if there is a desire to enact what is needed to make that happen. There is no sign of that happening, and no sign of a desire that it should happen. Money has become the driving motivation in sport across the world, but cricket is in a different place, whereby the belief among administrators is that the game of cricket has no future without change, and that the generation of cash is the prime motivation, not the sport itself. Business people can have that view, indeed they always have done, there is no reason to pretend they are other than what they are for good or ill, what is different in cricket is that there are few at the top of the game who believe passionately in the beauty of their own sport, who see their role as primarily to defend and grow it. Instead they consider that change must happen in order to make money, rather than making money to deliver a better sport. Not even the feast of mammon that is football has quite this attitude to their own game – they have a rapacious desire to monetise their sport, not consider the raison d’etre of the sport to be money generation.

The amateur game is far from immune to the fallout. Sunday friendly cricket has undoubtedly declined in a precipitous manner over recent years, as the player base has shrunk. A push to T20 matches from those viewing it from the lofty perspective of their professional career is to miss the central point that a desire for shorter games is as much a reflection of a smaller pool as it is modern life writ large in cricket. Free to air broadcast of cricket may still be the biggest driver of arresting such an unpropitious collapse in the player base, but it isn’t a panacea for the problems of the game either. Like so many things, it is complex to the point of confusion, but in this arena at least, the biggest change would be evidence that there’s much more than lip service to the importance of it from the centre. Here again, there is little reason to believe that will happen, and the decline of the clubs will continue.

For good or ill, it’s our direction of travel. There is no doubt that many will be aghast, but an attempt to be realistic isn’t an endorsement of where we are headed. And more specifically, it’s where we are meant to be headed. This is not a lament for a passing time, nor a wish that if only a few changes could be made. Too often the debate is framed around a tweak here, a nudge there. A few more pennies for a county perhaps, or throw a bone to a former associate nation. None of it matters, and none of it makes any difference, except to allow the drowning to suck in a last few precious breaths of air. It would require fundamental change to move the trajectory, and it won’t happen, can’t happen, because it is not accidental. It is not a game that has lost its way and is seeking a way back. It is far too much of a conspiracy to assume this is the development of a grand plan to reach this suggested destination, but it doesn’t have to be, it isn’t how it works. All it requires is for an acquiescence with the direction of travel, and that contentment is entirely present. For as long as the approach is one of managed decline of the traditional and a defensive mentality of the long standing, while embracing the new, shiny and above all lucrative, there is little reason to doubt where we will end up.

India vs. England, 2nd Test – Day 1

After the rightful celebration of after an English victory on Indian soil in the First Test, England came crashing down to earth with a large bump today. On a pitch where winning the toss became vitally important, India won the toss, duly elected to bat and Rohit in particular put England to the sword.

There were a number of discussions on the BOC Twitter feed about what type of pitch we would see for this Test, and to the surprise of not many, the ball spun and spat from the off. There had been rumours that the Indian camp were far from happy with the surface for the First Test and even some who reported that the head groundsman had been replaced, so it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that this is the pitch that we have. This by the way isn’t a criticism of the Indian team, as it is no different from England preparing a green seamer up at Headingley in the early summer, but some also might argue that preparing a pitch so suited to the home side doesn’t exactly help the integrity of Test cricket. That discussion is probably for another day mind.

Today belonged to Rohit Sharma, who bullied the English bowlers from the off and now has a remarkable record of averaging nearly 88 in Tests in India. Perhaps seeing the wear and tear on the pitch and also seeing his opening partner inadvisably shouldering arms to Ollie Stone early in the piece, Rohit played with aggression throughout his innings knowing that he could he easily cop an unplayable one. Naturally he had a little bit of luck throughout his innings, as you need to playing on a Bunsen of a pitch, but it would be churlish to begrudge him any such luck, such was the quality of his innings. By the time he was caught in the deep attempting to slog sweep Leach for 161, the damage had been done and this could very well be a match winning innings.

The ironic thing was that England made some early inroads with Gill, Pujara and Kohli all falling cheaply. Naturally Kohli’s dismissal and refusal to walk after being bowled being the highlight. One did wonder if he was going to go to do a W.G Grace and calmly put the bails back on before taking guard. I have a lot of respect for Kohli the batsman, but it is episodes like this that give his critics plenty of ammo. After this slapstick moment, Rahane joined Rohit in the middle and took the game away from England in the afternoon session. After Rahane was finally given out after a howler of a DRS decision from the Third umpire had previously reprieved him, Pant came in with plenty of positivity and remains a threat being unbeaten at the close of play. The sight of Joe Root getting the ball to rip late in the day, probably won’t help the mindset of the English batsmen either.

As for England, they manfully toiled in the field with Leach and Stone being the pick of the bowlers. Broad was pretty ineffective as has often been the case in Indian conditions, and Moeen’s bowling performance perfectly encapsulated his Test career so far in that he can take wickets with brilliant deliveries but is completely unable to offer any control in helping to restrict the scoring. Ca Plus Change.

It could be argued that the game is already beyond England; however they are going to need to get these last 4 Indian wickets cheaply and then hope someone plays an innings of a lifetime for them. If not, then this could be over in 3 days. Let’s just hope Star Sports don’t manage to fix their camera’s for any stumpings when it’s England’s turn to bat!

As ever thoughts on the day’s play received gratefully below.

India vs. England, 1st Test, Day 5 – A Deserved Victory

It may only be one Test in a 4 Test series, but victory for England in the first Test will feel extremely sweet this evening for the tourists. Let’s not forget that India had only lost once at home in the last 8 years prior to today’s result, so it is quite right to saviour this victory no matter what the final series score turns out to be.

Chasing an unlikely 420 to win the game, India never really got close if truth be told. They lost Pujara early to an outstanding delivery from Jack Leach and despite both Gill and Kohli looking comfortable in trying to bat out the draw, you always felt that one wicket would lead to two or three on this pitch. The fact that the breakthrough came from Jimmy Anderson should surprise nobody given how he has performed over the past few years. In the 27th over of the innings, Anderson bowled one of the best overs in Test match cricket i’ve seen in a long time, indeed evoking memories of ‘that Flintoff over’ in 2005. It was an over that had everything that has made Anderson the leading wicket taker for a pace bowler in Test cricket, a masterclass in how to bowl reverse swing in the sub-continent. Both Gill and Rahane were beaten all ends up by a delivery that reversed back through the batsmen’s defences and took out the off stump. He then also added the wicket of the dangerous Pant to in essence, seal India’s demise.

I genuinely don’t understand the disrespect Anderson gets away from these shores. Yes he is grumpy, spikey and downright gobby on the pitch, but to say he only performs in helpful conditions has been a nonsense for years. It may have been true in his early years in the team, but since then he has matured into the complete bowler, with the nous and skill to perform in any conditions. I’m not sure that I can say anymore that hasn’t been said before but it is testament to his desire to keep playing at a high level that even at 38 years old, he is still the leader of England’s attack.

Once Stokes had got rid of Kohli with a ball that kept low, it then fell to Jack Leach to ultimately finish the Indian tail off, especially with Bess having one of those frustrating days that a young spinner will encounter as he grows into International cricket. It would have been easy for Leach to have lost confidence and become downhearted after being smashed all over Chennai in the 1st innings by Pant; however Leach showed that he has got some internal fortitude and he bowled with control and skill on Day 5 and deserved his 4 wicket haul at the end of the game. For as much credit should that should go to Leach, equal credit should be given to his captain who persevered with him after the Pant show. It would have been easy for Root to tell Leach to have a breather for the rest of the innings after going for 10 an over and I remember a certain former captain with a history of doing just that; however Root immediately bought Leach back on after Pant’s dismissal and ultimately showed his belief in his spin bowler. It might not seem a huge thing, but Root seems to have matured as a captain, even if he does remain ultra-cautious at times, and by backing his spin bowler he ultimately reaped the reward as Leach came to the fore in the 4th innings. Naturally the fact that Root is scoring runs for fun right now, has no doubt aided his captaincy, but it is still heartening to see that he understands the players under his tutelage.

As for India, there will be disappointment that they ultimately were unable to bat out the day. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that they looked a little ring rusty in their home conditions after coming into this series straight off a victory in Australia. It wouldn’t surprise me either if they tinker with their bowling line up in the next game, with Nadeem looking a little out of his depth and Kuldeep, a spinner who does go for runs but does also take wickets, waiting in the wings. That being said, a wounded India is always a dangerous animal, as their performance in Australia showed. Kohli in the 2nd innings looked like he was getting back into the groove and with Ashwin yet again showing why he is so highly regarded in world cricket, India are still rightly favourites for the series. It also wouldn’t surprise me if the pitch in Chennai for the 2nd Test turns from the off, negating the impact of the coin toss.

That however is for another day. It might only be on Test match, but England can feel very proud of their performance in this Test. Tougher times are likely ahead in this series, but for now the pressure is firmly on the shoulders of the hosts.

As ever thoughts on the game are very much welcome below.

India vs. England, 1st Test – Preview

After what can be described as a fairly comfortable yet nonetheless satisfactory series win away in Sri Lanka, now comes the real test – India in their home conditions. It’s pretty much safe to say that this Indian team have pretty much put all comers to the sword at home over the past 7 years having lost only in that period and having won 29 out of the last 35 Tests during that period too. This will not be lost on an English team who were trounced 4-0 on their last visit to India.

If England are to have any chance in this series, then their batsmen are going to need to fire in the first innings and their bowlers are going to have create pressure on the Indian batsmen by not giving away silly runs. For the former, it’s obvious that Joe Root will need to score the bulk of the runs much like he did in Sri Lanka. Root is a brilliant player of spin, who is able to rotate the strike and keep the scoreboard ticking which is vital in the subcontinent where it is all too easy to get stuck in a quagmire. Naturally England can’t just rely on their Captain and it will be vital for the likes of Stokes, Pope and the two English openers to try and take some of the pressure off Roots shoulders; however this will easier said than done as this Indian attack not only has great spinners but some rather handy seamers, who showed their skills and worth in Australia. Of course, losing Zak Crawley to a freak wrist injury on the eve of the Test is hardly ideal, but at least we can be thankful it didn’t happen to Root or Stokes.

As for the latter, it will imperative that the English spinners exert some control and limit the scoring, something which they were unable to do in Sri Lanka. It’s not that Leach and Bess bowled awfully, as some social media pundits insisted as they ‘crowned them as the worst English spinners of all time’, at times they bowled well in Sri Lanka. However there were plenty of times when they were pretty innocuous and the inconsistencies were there for all to see. This is an area the Indian batsmen will likely target and punish if we don’t see an improvement in this department, after all we can’t just rely on Jimmy Anderson and Broad to be the only bowlers that can give England any control on the field.

It will also be interesting to see what the pitches are like, especially as India have introduced a new cricket ball with a more pronounced seam. Now whether this means the ball will more beneficial for the seam bowlers is something we don’t know yet, but it is at least something to think about when thinking about the make-up of the English team. All too often in the last Indian series, England were guilty of picking the team they wished they’d picked for the previous Test rather than on the merits of the pitch in front of them. If England continue to do this, then it could be a long series in the field for Joe Root’s men.

As for India, they’ve probably got one of the strongest lines ups I’ve seen for an Indian side in quite a while. The top 5 of Rohit, Gill, Pujara, Kohli and Rahane is up there in Test cricket as one of the most powerful top 5, that alongside a bowling attack of Bumrah, Shami and Ashwin, who is finally showing that he can has all the skills to be effective both at home and away from home, is going to be a real challenge for any touring team. India will be disappointed that Jadeja has been ruled out of the series as he adds much to this team with ball and bat; however in Thakur, Sundar and Axar Patel, India have plenty of other spin options to give the English batsmen nightmares. 

On a last note, it is wonderful to see cricket being shown on an FTA platform after 16 years locked behind a paywall and Channel 4 deserve a lot of credit for making it happen, especially as negotiating with Star Sports is akin to pulling teeth. It did make me smile yesterday when I saw people complaining on Twitter that it won’t be able to match the coverage of Sky’s production, which to me is like winning £10 million on the lottery and then complaining it wasn’t £12 million. Naturally the commentary feed will be taken from Star Sports who will do anything not to upset the BCCI in any way, shape or manner and naturally the in studio analysis won’t be able to match that of the well oiled Sky machine, but to have cricket on a free to air platform that anyone who is either a fan or just curious about the game can access, far outweighs any negatives.

Of course the view at the ECB might be a little different to the fans, with a prime series going for pretty much peanuts with neither Sky nor BT being inclined to bid for it, might indicate a switch in priorities for both broadcasters moving forward. What is certain is that the next TV deal is not going to look anything like the current one and the ECB are going to need to quicky realise that they’ve been to the well one too many times and plan accordingly. That conversation is for a different time and I for one am looking forward to seeing cricket back on a free to air, with hopefully the viewing figures to match Channel 4’s investment.

As ever feel free to comment on anything about the game below: