Rules of Engagement

You know what?  We don’t even want to talk about it in a post.  In the comments, for sure, go for it.  In a blog post?  Not really.  The law took its course, the jury delivered its verdict.  That’s how it works, and he leaves court acquitted and a free man.  Decision made.

What it might mean for England is a little more complex and depends on what path they decide to go down.  There will be an internal inquiry, and whether he faces additional punishment or whether it will be felt to be “time served” given he missed most of last winter is an open question.

There’s a lot to talk about and a lot to discuss, but please forgive us if we feel that a lengthy post isn’t the place to do it, but the comments probably are.

Over to you…

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Day 4 Review – They Don’t Want Your Name

“Plain and simp the system’s a pimp
But I refuse to be a ho
Who stole the soul?”

Public Enemy – Who Stole The Soul?

This may not be the best example of the genre, but the ECB, BCCI, ICC, England cricket and Indian cricket, have long since been in the position to be given the benefit of the doubt. This test match has grave alarm bells tolling, and why much of this may be down to India getting the raw end of the deal when it came to pitch and conditions we’ve seen another game where an away team are all at sea, and England’s crew of home cooking seam bowling has taken apart a team that is ranked number 1 in the world. This England team would be massacred in India, we know that, we all know that, because this is the sort of bowling attack we’d take there. There’s no real new names that could put their hand up and shock us all. There’s no star batsman just waiting to make hay in the Indian sunshine on tracks that take turn. We can try to fool ourselves that Edgbaston is as close as India will get to a neutral venue on this tour, and that the best side won, but it won because it covered up those awful batting fissures that require us to pick bowlers because they can bat.

So while Woakes ended England’s four test long century drought to bring some much needed light to the batting woes, again we are relying on the bowling all rounders to bail us out of tight spots to win games. This is not “we’re doing it all wrong”. England bowled well, really well, in helpful conditions and that hasn’t always been the way of things. Anderson was exceptional in the first innings, and Broad hit the heights in the second. They shouldn’t bowl like clowns because the batsmen are batting like them.

Woakes and Curran added a few more runs to the total before Young Sam’s slog to third man meant that Chris Woakes got the red ink on his 137. Lots of Ian Botham impersonators on line were crying out for the early declaration, but anyone studying the rain radar like the nerd I am would have been able to tell the rain was weakening the further east it got, turning to drizzle. More play than was predicted was predicted! Yes, we could have bowled in favourable conditions, and yes we need to take ten wickets. But there’s a comfort in sitting there saying “declare, declare”. This isn’t a case of them being nine down and clinging on. If they were still there at tea tomorrow, they were going to be ahead. (I’m writing this first part at 5 pm, so before the close of play).

England finally declared after about 37 minutes (well I’m assuming that was how long given that was the interlude for Virat to bat) with a lead of 289. Anderson made short work of Murali Vijay, who will now probably find himself swapped out for Dhawan after this pair. He didn’t take long to remove KL Rahul either, and India found themselves at 13 for 2. Resistance came in some shape or form from Pujara, but Rahane’s disappointing tour continued as he prodded to slip. Pujara hung around but then got bowled, Kohli had a bad back, and he fended to forward short leg after a short innings, and Dinesh Karthik – the same one I see score 91 in 2008 at the Oval – got a booming inswinger first up and was sent on his way. The rain came at 66 for 6. The end looked nigh.

50 runs after the interval and Chris Woakes nailed Hardik Pandya LBW after a review. He’d looked quite comfortable at the crease and had batted well with the first innings performer, Ashwin. This is a difficult batting wicket, and tough conditions, but it is not impossible, and Pandya and Ashwin showed that, although Michael Holding has really got it in for Hardik Pandya for some reason!

Kuldeep Yadav was knocked over having nicked on to the stumps, and looked at least one place too high in the order. After a bad light review and a reprieve from a mistaken umpire decision, Mohammed Shami, who bowled beautifully with little reward, decided to swing for the fences, and was nailed plumb in front. Ishant fell to Woakes, who selfishly, callously denied both Anderson and Broad a five for. England won by an innings an 158 runs.

England have won the test. They lead the series 2-0. The summer game may as well roll  up for the rest of the year now. A test series we prayed might be competitive is repeating 2011 and 2014 before our eyes. This isn’t England’s fault. We didn’t let up. I never really felt any doubt that we would win this series, I rather hoped India would come to play with some form of grit and determination to see this out. They haven’t. What happened in the past two series was the first two tests might have had some competition at the start, as soon as the tide turned, India counted the days towards going home. More and more players got injured. Heads went down. This is not unique for India, but hell, it’s worrying that a number 1 team in the world goes down this meekly. If you’re not worried, then, frankly, you’ve not been paying attention.

There’s a much larger, longer post on the problems with sport at the moment. There is an illusion of sporting wellbeing that is utterly misplaced. Cricket is but one sport that needs to smell the coffee. The veneration of Lord’s, with all its snobbery and class system in full effect, is one symptom of a much larger malaise. When the Premier League starts with all its obnoxious wealth, sub-standard fayre, and slick salesmen selling us snake oil, and garners all the attention, sport as a way out of real life, and to be loved and nurtured is being diminished. Diminished by one-sided contests, pay TV taking major events away from the public (the 4th golf major, anyone), and the rich getting richer. Who stole the soul indeed?

“If you’re not honest, there won’t be progress” said Kumar Sangakkara. How true. How damn true. But while it’s money and short-termism in control, progress is ephemeral. Such progress there is.

On to Trent Bridge.

England vs India: 2nd Test, Day Three

One of the particular joys of putting out a blog and having opinions is the spectacular way to they can come back and bite you on the arse. Thus it is with some amusement that the description of Chris Woakes as “Mr Mediocre” in the preview has to be mentioned here after today, following a quite exceptional maiden Test century to follow up a rather good bowling performance.

Naturally, given that we’re close knit, supportive team on here, who always agree with each other, I shouldn’t remotely mention that. Nor should I mention that personally I’ve always quite liked Chris Woakes, and that when we’ve bickered long into the night about the merits of various players, this has always been a bone of contention. Thus under no circumstances would I have repeatedly texted Sean gleefully reminding him of his comments over the last few years, and he absolutely hasn’t expressed relief he’s not doing tonight because it would mean he had to be nice to Woakes. So I shall be.

Apart from the delicious schadenfreude of this innings, Woakes batted beautifully today, and he bowled beautifully yesterday too. This really says the obvious, at least thus far in his career – that he’s highly effective in England, and less so overseas. The question at hand is how much this matters, given that Woakes is hardly alone in this, and even the likes of Broad and Anderson are criticised for it often enough. Perhaps the problem is that it applies across the bowling line up rather than just with one of them – the ineffectiveness of many of those chosen in foreign conditions being a regular feature of England sides in recent times, and exacerbating the problem. Woakes has bowled well (without quite getting the rewards) in South Africa, certainly. But he’s not the first English fast medium bowler to struggle in Asia or Australia.

Woakes does have talent, of that there’s no question. He moves the (Duke) ball in the air and off the pitch, while his batting has always looked of greater capability than perhaps the results have demonstrated. To put it another way, no one should be that surprised he’s scored a Test century, he’s always looked sufficiently able.

England are now in an impregnable position, the loss of the first day’s play meaning that India are playing purely for the draw given the forecast. Indeed, with tomorrow’s weather now moving from the iffy to the grim with every passing hour, it could be that they escape with that draw, in what has been a curiously unsatisfying Test to date. Certainly India have had the worst of the conditions, being put in to bat with England’s pacemen salivating at the prospect. However, while Anderson, Broad et al are supremely skilful at exploiting such circumstances, it can’t be denied that India batted horribly. They are, at least partially, the architects of their own downfall here.

If climatic conditions may now save them, they’ll still need to play far better in what remains than they have done so far, for otherwise England may not need that much more than a session over the next two days to bowl them out, such was the dominance they exerted with the ball. And it’s not unreasonable to expect some play, whatever the forecast.

Woakes indicated after play that England may bat on, but there is surely a degree of kidology involved there, for 250 runs behind requires India to bat for a day even to get level. It’s arguable that England could have declared earlier, but given the early curtailment of proceedings due to bad light, batting on probably made sense. It should be noted though that this means England were taking the weather into account. Something teams always deny that they do, despite it being entirely obvious that it is always a factor.

India had their chances today. They took early wickets, and at one stage had half the England team out with the scores more or less level. A sliding doors moment in this Test, for from that point on, Woakes and Bairstow first eased away, and then dominated.

Even without Stokes, England’s middle order does look strong, but the troubles at the top continue. Jennings has looked reasonable since his return, but whoever the incumbent, England’s top order looks brittle. Cook started brightly, and even unveiled a couple of off drives, which is usually a sign of his technique being in decent shape. But Ishant Sharma got one to move off the seam, and that was that. It was a good ball, but not an unplayable one. Cook was caught on the crease and squared up. It happens. Lateral movement plays havoc with all batsmen, and it’s not a matter of Cook having done anything radically wrong, but three times this series he has supposedly been out to fantastic deliveries. Is it so hard to say that they were decent nuts, but that Cook at his best would have played them better?

Ollie Pope looked bright in his first Test innings, and certainly not lacking in confidence. No judgement can or should be made of him at this stage, except to say it is a pleasure to see a young player revelling in the excitement of playing Test cricket.

Root failed. This is rather noteworthy actually, because despite the comment about his conversion rate from 50 to 100, his ability to reach 50 in Tests is remarkably high, up there with Bradman. Thus his failure today gets a mention, not as criticism, but as a reminder to us all that Root is a very fine player indeed whatever his own frustrations.

Mohammed Shami was probably the pick of the Indian attack, troubling most of the England line up even as his colleagues wilted somewhat in the second half of the day. Perhaps they could have done with another seamer, for the spinners were ineffective, but conditions have made this look a worse decision than it probably was, given how Lord’s is often unresponsive to seam and swing for the first few days. A couple of recent Tests suggest this may be changing a bit, perhaps in line with English home Tests generally.

After little more than a day in this match, England are completely dominant. Whether they go on to win seems more a matter of the elements than the play, for if the meteorologists are wrong, it is hard to see how India get out of this one. They need some luck, for otherwise this whole series starts to look one sided, as much as the last one in India. For the sake of interest in the remainder of the Test summer, a downpour or three may not be the worst thing.

England vs. India, 2nd Test, Preview

So after catching our breath after what was a truly enjoyable First Test, we now head over to Lords where being seen with the right people is generally more important than the cricket and forking out the best part of £120 for a ticket is never an issue, and pay well over the odds for champagne is the done thing. One of the major things that made the First Test so enjoyable was the pitch that was prepared for Edgbaston had a bit in it for the bowlers, certainly when there was some overhead cloud cover. Sure the batting on both sides (Kohli aside) was pretty flimsy but credit to the bowlers who made the most of the conditions. This unfortunately is where Lords will differ to Edgbaston as Mick Hunt has never prioritised the entertainment of the crowd compared to ensuring that the game lasts well into the final day, after all this is the cash cow Test Match, so you may as well milk it whilst you can. I would expect there to be a little movement early on, but then the pitch should flatten out and make batting relatively serene for both sides certainly compared to Edgbaston. Whether either side has the batting quality (again aside from Kohli and Root) to take such advantage is still to be believed.

England have made two changes to their Test side with a certain balding, ginger all-rounder occupied elsewhere (that’s all you’re getting from me on that subject) and Dawid Malan being dropped after suffering a difficult time with the bat at home and an even worse time in the slips. I would have liked to see Malan succeed as a Test Player but as every innings rolled by, it looked more and more that the 100 he scored in Perth was going to be the exception rather than the norm. I was slightly surprised that Ed Smith stated he felt Malan would suit away conditions rather than home conditions, as this now pretty much rules him out of any home Test series in future. In his place, the exciting Ollie Pope has been called up on the weight of runs that he has scored this season and due to England’s new focus on youth. Would it maybe preferable to have called up a certain Ian Ronald Bell, who is scoring bucket loads of runs and hence let Pope consolidate his game in Division 1? Maybe so, but I can’t fault Smith’s focus on getting a young talent into the Test team. From the little I have seen of Pope live, he does seem to be more comfortable on the back foot rather than the front foot, so it will be interesting to see how his technique goes to the fuller ball, especially if it is swinging. That being said, he has looked supremely comfortable against county attacks this season and whilst Joe Clarke can feel a little unlucky at not being the next cab off the rank, I personally feel that Pope looks the better talent. One must hope that he can take his county form into the Test arena. I would expect Mr. Mediocre, Chris Woakes, to come in for said absent all-rounder unless the dry nature of the recent weather makes Lords a bit of a Bunsen burner, which I would highly doubt (one must have 4 full days of play at least one must remember).

As for India, Bumrah is still not fit so I would presume that they will stick with the same bowling attack that caused England all sorts of problems at Edgbaston. The main call for India is whether they decide to recall Cheteshwar Pujara to the starting line up after their own batting suffered the yips in the First Test. I believe Pujara hasn’t been in the best form this season, but it still surprised me that he was dropped for the First Test as his record against England in our country is miles higher than any of his counterparts. Dhawan looks like a walking wicket to me, so India really do need someone to soak up strike with the new ball to prevent Kohli being exposed too early to a new ball. Much has been written about Kohli in the First Test, quite rightly so as his performance with the bat was heroic; however he is going to need some support from his other batsmen as no matter how talented he his, he really can’t do it all on his own.

As ever thoughts and comments on the game are welcome below:

Look around, Choose your own ground…

In keeping with Dmitri’s musical themes for his posts, I thought I’d add a little bit of Pink Floyd into the mix. ‘Breathe, breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care’ seems especially poignant when it’s quite clear our governing body has constantly shown that they couldn’t care less anymore and there seems to be only a few of us trying to hold these individuals to some sort of account. I read with particular interest our guest article on the T100 yesterday and if you haven’t yet had a chance to read Steve’s excellent article, then I strongly urge you to do so. It was particularly of interest to me having watched most of what was a tight and hard-fought Test Match and from having headed down to the Oval on Friday night to see the habitual shoeing of Middlesex my first T20 game of the season. I’m not going to lie about the fact that my interest in cricket has waned dramatically since the end of the Pakistan series, as everyone knows on here that I’m not a fan of the 50 over white ball fare that has been served up in abundance this summer and quite frankly it’s hardly been fun following Middlesex’s plunge into mediocrity, hence my lack of output on the blog recently. I’ll also admit that I wasn’t as buoyant about the upcoming Test Series with India last week as I usually am for a high-profile Test Series having been worn down by England’s inability to pick anyone decent in the middle order, coupled with the complete farce that is the ECB’s modus operandi and the disgraceful rhetoric aimed at Adil Rashid from those that should know better, but for whatever reason prefer to personally insult an England cricketer for nothing more than accepting a call up to the national squad.

The first day of the Test was underwhelming from an England point of view and made writing a report of the day somewhat difficult when it seemed that another one-sided Test Match was on the cards. Test Match cricket is not to be underestimated though and the next 2.5 days provided a glimpse into why Test cricket can be so great. Sure there was some poor batting on display, but the regular twist and turns of this match, which is something that can’t be replicated in the white ball game, the unlikely rear-guard action by England, the Kohli Century and the tension of the final morning when both teams could have gone on to win the game, was a joy to behold. I’m sure that we’ll deep dive into the relative strengths and weaknesses of each side’s performance in the preview, but as TLG’s elegant post detailed on Friday, there was more to this than just the final result, it showed yet again why our governing body is so foolish to try to underplay the joy red ball cricket can bring to those who have the means to follow it, young or old. It was also good to see Kohli, whose Indian side has been said to prioritize white ball cricket ahead of red ball cricket in the past, come out and say:

“Test match cricket is the best format in cricket and my favourite. We love playing it and I’m sure every player will agree with me.”

It was also interesting that on my way to the Oval on Friday, the ground and certainly the seats in the playing area were half empty whilst the Test Match was going on and even once the game had started. I’m sure part of these were the ‘after work’ lot who head to the Oval for some sunshine and booze but there were many others who seemed to be more interested in what was going on at Edgbaston. I left work at 4:30pm and struggled to get into the pub next to the ground as it was one of the few places with the Test on and judging by the cheers and groans coming from the pub (I had to move outside as it felt about 90 degrees in there) that the majority were taking more than a passing interest in the Test rather than purely getting smashed in time for the game. I also joined a crowd of a good few hundred watching the Test under the very sweaty Oval covers (this was one of about 10 TV’s and the least busy) again highlighting the myth that all of those who attend T20 are disinterested in the longer format of the game. So why exactly do we need a new competition again? Once again surely access to the game is the main blocker for the audience, rather than a game of ‘comedy cabbage patch cricket’ aimed at a so-called new demographic who the ECB has yet to formally identify (the mother and kids thing is a loose justification as to why they feel the need to completely destroy the game of cricket).

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A packed ground at the Oval watching Surrey hit it to all parts

Now I’m aware that the T20 Blast has it’s faults, that it is too expensive certainly down south (the tickets for the Oval were £35, which is at least £15 too expensive in my opinion), that the English climate is not ideal for holding the competition in a block and that the nature of the 18 teams means that it is impossible to follow all of your team’s games unless you are willing to fork out serious dough (this is actually a blessing as a Middlesex fan). However the mad thing is and at the same time the major nail in the ECB’s plans for a game of cabbage cricket, is that the NatWest Blast set new records for ticket sales in 2017, with official attendance rising to 883,000 overall. Indeed Finals Day at Edgbaston was also a record sell-out, while average attendances among the 18 counties were up to 7500. This doesn’t exactly sound like a competition in crisis. I’m by no means a regular T20 visitor, but I’ll admit that Friday was good fun without being totally memorable (despite seeing two tons on a road of pitch). The Oval wasn’t as boisterous as it could have been, there were more individuals who were taking an active interest in the cricket rather than the contents of their overpriced beer cup and even the ‘after work city-lot’ whilst showing no real interest in the game (the ones in sat in front of me turned up after 8 overs had already been bowled) were at least quite pleasant and I’m a believer that England cricket can not be too stuffy as to turn their nose up at paying spectators. There can be a place where people prefer Test Cricket to White Ball cricket and vice versa, but are still interested in the game of cricket as a whole, rather than the excuse of a game the ECB have designed on the back of a fag packet in order to try to line their pockets whilst they still can.

So we have a growing T20 game albeit with some faults and a red ball competition with a solid base of supporters despite being pushed to the margins of the season (I’m not mentioning the 50 over lark, I’d abolish it if I could). Yet the powers that be in their infinite wisdom have decided that what we need more of is a competition that not only alienates its’ own cricket fans but has no proof of the concept of success whilst at the same pushing it’s current successful short ball competition and the red ball season into such obscurity to the extent that many might not know they exist anymore. The only way they could insult the counties and fans further would be to ask them to build the tusks and then paint the whole thing white. Seemingly no-one has had the sense to ask the common fan what they would like to see, despite many of them knowing more than the stooges at ECB head office could ever know. I’d lay my bottom dollar that many would simply reply with easy access to the cricket both in terms of viewing and visiting and for a successful national team, it seems even Paul Newman is gradually coming round to the idea:

Now many on the Sky side of the argument would argue that their input of finance into the game has allowed English cricket to put the finance into their facilities and paying their best players, though many of us lament the opportunity lost to cater for those ‘new fans’ who had been captivated by the Ashes in 2005. Now I would suggest that FTA on just television is not going to attract swathes of new followers though it would attract some, just as the new competition might attract the odd fool, but won’t be a drop on the ocean compared to the money spent on it. The way we consume media has changed and hence it’s now more about the ability to access the content rather than it running on ITV4. I mention this because the Counties have on the whole done a great job of running live feeds from the 4 day game, yet yesterday when there were a number of T20 games on around the country and no Test Cricket on the TV, not one was being shown by Sky. What a waste! Surely there needs to be an opportunity to screen those games that Sky aren’t showing on a local FTA stream much as they have done with the 4 day games. They could even develop 10 minute highlights packages for the kids who supposedly have no patience these days. Why not take a growing product and properly market it to those who could form a new audience? It doesn’t have to have all the mod-cons and camera angles as Sky provide, just a decent camera view and a local commentator giving their insight on the stream.

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Red Sky & Middlesex at night, Surrey’s delight…

Then we get to the real crux of the matter and the point in which I have been going slightly around this houses with in this piece (I could have written this in about 100 words, but it would have been a rather short and pointless article), which is that you could come up with the most wonderful and weird competition in the world and have the best marketing agency promoting this and it will still mean jack without success on the field.  Why do the ECB think that a large number of people turned up to the game at Edgbaston on Saturday knowing they would at best have 2 hours of cricket or why were so many people transfixed in the pub the previous evening? Let me share a little secret with the ECB, people are interested in Test Cricket especially when we have a competitive team playing good (but certainly not great) cricket. Yet this is the very thing that the new competition threatens, as the county championship which is supposed to be the breeding ground for our Test Players of the future, slowly keeps being pushed to the extremities to the point that the ECB won’t even promote it. What is going to happen when Anderson, Cook and Broad and the like retire? Who is there in County Cricket that has the talent and skill to replace these players and keep England competitive in the coming years? The answer looks like a frighteningly bare cupboard of talent certainly based on the Lions tour, with players who are only used to playing medium dobbers on damp, green pitches. It certainly isn’t Chris Woakes! Do you think there would have been as many people watching the game if England were being curb-stomped in the last Test? I think we all now know the answer to this.

So instead of trying to re-invent the wheel with 100 balls or 10 ball overs or the batsmen wearing flippers or whatever, how about the dolts at the ECB concentrate on something that might guarantee cricket’s future such as continued success on the field and wider access to all? It’s not exactly rocket science, but I’m still yet to be convinced this snake pit of greed and self serving even cares anymore. Make money whilst the sun shines and make yourselves scarce when the rain clouds gather. It’s only the game and the fans that will suffer.

Still as Pink Floyd once foretold: ‘Run, rabbit run, Dig that hole, forget the sun; And when at last the work is done; Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one.’ In truth I may have accidentally downloaded the modus operandi for ‘the hundred’ from the ECB’s PR department instead. I guess there’s no way to know these days…

England vs India: Day Four, Live Blog

Morning everyone…

Well isn’t this fun?  We’ve got about a session at most today, and three results are possible.  After a terrific couple of days of play  India need another 84 runs, with 5 wickets remaining.  That Mr Kohli is still in, and as long as he is, India may be favourites.

We’re going to live blog the play, and as ever, we will remind you that this isn’t the BBC, you have to hit the refresh button for updates.  One day we might even work out a way to auto-refresh, but that day ain’t today.

10:30 – Half an hour to go, and there’s the sense of anticipation that only Tests can provide.

10:41 – People accuse us of banging on about some things, but can you imagine how big the anticipation for today would be if this was on free to air television?

10:51 – What I’d really love to see here is this come down to the last run or wicket.  Whoever wins in the end.  For it to be tense throughout.

10:52 – Atherton raises the point that Test cricket is a far better game with the Duke than the Kookaburra.  He’s right too.  Bowlers are what make Test matches, not batsmen.   If the bowlers are flogged into the ground and can get no movement at all, then Test cricket is a very dull game indeed.  The best innings, the most memorable innings, are when faced with a challenge, not pummeling everyone around on a flattie.  Yet another area where cricket doesn’t help itself unfortunately.  Tests in England have become shorter, partly as a result of the style of play.  But this three and a bit day Test is utterly thrilling.  And that’s surely the point?

11:00 – Here we go.  Atmosphere sounds great

11:02 – Holding talking about there being no third man, and sure enough England leak one down there.  The whole no third man in Tests is fascinating, you’d have to think that the stats men in the teams have worked out everything as far as where runs are scored, but it does seem counterintuitive.  Ian Bell was a master at making captains look foolish.

11:03 – WICKET!!  Karthik gone.  Anderson seams the ball away a touch, and Dawid Malan, who hasn’t had the best of times in the slip cordon, takes a good one low down.  A couple of replays and the third umpire confirms it.  Great start for England.

11:05 – India are 113-6 and that target is looking distant.  But there’s a certain Virat Kohli still at the crease…

11:07 – Look I’ll admit it.  I love Stuart Broad.  I love his grumpy him-against-the-world-schtick, I love his sense of burning injustice, I love how he properly sticks it to the Australians.  And he’s a bloody good bowler who for some reason rubs people up the wrong way to the point they call for his dropping despite even in his quiet times still being highly effective.

11:10 – And on that point, we aren’t that far from the end of Anderson and Broad.  And what then?  Said it before, that this is the Walsh and Ambrose of the England team, and what is behind them gives cause for concern.  They are magnificent, and it’s not their fault people go over the top in their assessments of them.   We will miss them when they’re gone.

11:15 – Interesting to see the different approaches of the two bowlers.  Anderson is trying to lure the batsmen into playing outside the off stump, while Broad is targeting the stumps and making them play (nearly) every ball.

11:19 – At the sight of a giant panda in the stands, I often wonder what other nationalities make of the English predilection for going to the cricket in fancy dress.

11:26 – this is excellent bowling this morning.  Kohli is determined to get forward, and Broad nearly sconed him with a terrific short ball, and followed that up with one that swung in significantly the ball after.

11:30 – 121-6.  India inching their way forward…

11:33 – First shot in anger, a gorgeous straight drive down the ground from Pandya off Broad.  Fifteen runs this morning, and one wicket.  It’s extremely tense, as Broad answers back with one snaking past the outside edge.

11:38 – Runs starting to flow a touch…Kohli reaches his half century almost unnoticed.

11:41 – Another beautiful straight drive from Pandya.  Might be time for a change.  The reality is that Rashid is unlikely to get a bowl though, but England are leaking here, two boundaries in the over from Broad.  England don’t have enough to play with to afford this, so Stokes and Curran are now on the agenda.

11:44 – Ah, England are whining about the ball.  Some things never change.

11:45 – Stokes into the attack

11:47 – WICKET!!  Stokes get Kohli lbw, but immediately reviewed…it’s tight on the leg stump, but it’s out.  Huge wicket.

11:50 – WICKET!!  Stokes does it again.  Gets some extra bounce and Shami edges through to Bairstow.  Two in the over, the crowd go mad.  Outstanding over from Stokes, looking lethal every ball. 141-8 and England are looking firm favourites.

11:53 – 53 runs needed, and Curran comes in to the attack.  It’s all resting on Pandya now, who has looked aggressive this morning.  He trusts his partner and takes a single…suspect a lot of India fans are now praying Ishant Sharma shows hitherto unseen depths of batting skill.

11:55 – Sharma has surely hit that straight into the ground?  Yes, clearly so.  Nonsense that the umpires sent that upstairs, pure arse covering.

11:58 – The point needs saying over and over and over.  You can have gimmicks, you can target a particular market.  But when cricket is good, and Test cricket in particular, it’s very, very good.  This is thrilling stuff.

11:59 – Sharma errrr….”guides” the ball down to the third man for four.  Target is now under 50 away.  At this point it only takes a few slogs to cause panic.  Which is exactly why it’s so exciting.

12:01 – Verbals in the middle between the Indian batsmen and Stokes (obviously).

12:03 – 42 needed…The question to put out there, is at what point do England fans start crapping themselves?

12:06 – Adil Rashid on!  Mildly surprising and rather pleasing.  But it has to be with enough runs on the board for him to have a chance.  A brave decision from Root, for few of the journalists would have beaten him up had he not bowled him.  But he got Sharma in the first innings, so why the hell not?  It’s what he’s there for.

12:10 – ReviewWICKET!! Rashid hits the pads and Gaffney gives it not out.  It’s quite close…And it’s out!  Terrific delivery from Adil Rashid, who pays Root’s faith back with a fine over, and a wicket.  And with that one, he superbly sticks two fingers up at those who decided to attack Rashid for the crime of answering his country’s call.

12:13 – Rashid showing his mental fragility yet again with a superb over.  Now then, what does Pandya do here?  Field is spread as England look to try to bowl to Yadav.  This tactic can backfire sometimes, as it starts to look as they’re only trying to get one player out.  But it also puts Pandya under pressure to try to score enough runs to bring his team close without exposing his partner.

12:17 – And there’s an answer.  A magnificent shot over extra cover for four.  But it leaves Yadav to face Rashid.  Tough situation for Pandya, he has to score runs, he can’t just fiddle around getting a single at the end of the over.

12:19 – Rashid has bowled 10 overs and has 3-37 in this Test…  36 runs needed now.

12:21 – Field spread again for Stokes with Pandya on strike.

12:28 – Interestingly, England appear content to concede the single on the fifth ball of the over, leaving just one at Yadav.

12:30 – WICKET!!  Stokes does the trick, getting the outside edge of Pandya’s bat, and Cook, who hasn’t been totally reliable in the slips recently, does the rest.  ENGLAND WIN BY 31 RUNS

12:31 – Being greedy, it would have been particularly fantastic if this had got down to single figures, but the two wickets in an over from Stokes really broke the back of India’s batting, particularly when one of them was Kohli.  Kohli himself was superb this Test, and may well be in with a shout of man of the match despite being on the losing side.  But Stokes with the ball was quite outstanding this morning, as indeed was Public Enemy Number One Adil Rashid.  He can be very proud of his performances, and those who decided to pick on him rather than the selectors, can frankly get stuffed.

12:34 – England’s 1000th Test match turned out to be a very fine one indeed.  There’s plenty to criticise about the performances of both of the sides, and that England won doesn’t shut down debate about the weaknesses they’ve demonstrated here again.  Stokes will be missing from the second Test too (at the least), meaning England will certainly be weaker than they are here.  For India, their bowling looked highly effective, their batting too looked fragile, Kohli apart.  But it’s one match, and one match only.  You’d think that by now people would have learned not to extrapolate a single match over a series, but it’s nailed on that a fair few will do.

12:41 – Returning to the subject of Adil Rashid; apart from his first, solitary over before lunch on day two, he bowled very, very well.  And he batted well too, both innings.  Whatever the future may hold, he can be pleased with his performances here, and more to the point, an awful lot of people should be ashamed of how they specifically targeted him in the build up to the Test.  Sure, it was controversial that he was selected, but that wasn’t down to him, all he did was accept the request to play for his country.  Instead, he was slated, slagged off and abused.  It was disgusting and despicable.  They won’t be ashamed about it, because that’s the kind of people they are.  But they should be.  Not going to forgive that.  Cricket is a game of opinions, and whether he should or shouldn’t be playing in this England Test team is an open question, with honestly held views.  Having a go at Rashid himself is not.  And never will be.  Your cards have been marked.

12:52 – The presentations now.  Man of the Match goes to Sam Curran.  That’s ok, he was outstanding in this game, and his innings yesterday was probably the difference between the sides.  Kohli would have been every bit as good a call, but there’s something about young Mr Curran that is rather exciting.  Hopefully he won’t be over-showered with praise, for we’ve seen that far too often in recent years.  But he was a breath of fresh air.

12:58 – So there we have it.  England go 1-0 up, but there’s a long way to go.  Thanks for your company on here, there’ll doubtless be a review up at some point later, and comments below are always welcome of course.  But that was all really rather fun.

 

Day Three: A love letter to Test Cricket

For most of the summer we’ve been fed a diet of white ball cricket, of limited interest and importance, and giving rise to a sense of frustration that the best part of the summer was being wasted on cricketing frippery.  In some ways it was unfair, the white ball build up to this series was perfectly reasonable, but the insertion of the five matches against Australia undoubtedly led to ennui amongst those weird extremists called cricket fans.  And then the Tests began.

T20s and ODIs are an essential part of the cricket framework.  It may be largely a financial matter, but nevertheless they are, and they always should be.  But nothing, absolutely nothing at all, reminds everyone that Test matches are the apogee of the game more than a genuine thriller, twisting one way and then the other, despair and delight alternating between the fans and players as a battle is played out over days in varying conditions.  Individual players can turn a game in a manner beyond the raw figures of runs scored or wickets taken; the crowd can become an additional player on the field, as they roar their chosen heroes on, and the sense of tension can be palpable thousands of miles away as every single ball desperately matters.

The ECB may argue that the Hundred is a financial imperative, that the funding of the game (the professional part, anyway) is reliant on them introducing yet another competition, and yet another variation on the rules and laws of a sport in desperate trouble.  But above all else, they have given off the stench of an organisation that not only doesn’t care for the game, but one that doesn’t even like it, that constantly apologises for it, and tries desperately to make cricket less crickety wherever possible in order to sell it to a mythical hidden audience.

Sit them down.  Put them in front of this match from start to finish (whoever comes out on top), and remind them that cricket at its best remains a stunning game, a brilliant sport.  And Test cricket is the one.  That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with ODIs or T20s, but not a thing can approach a truly titanic Test match, being wrestled one way and then the other; with brilliance, errors, mental resilience and yes, mental fragility too.  Test matches have always been beautifully named, the stress of sporting combat writ large over several days, and when they are at their absolute best, as has been the case here, there is nothing to touch them.  Nothing in cricket, and not much in other sports either.

Cricket is not a game that doesn’t appeal to people.  Cricket isn’t a game that has to be ripped asunder and re-constructed for a 21st century audience.  It is a sport that offers its own cadences and rhythms, but can offer nerve-shredding tension like little else.  It’s not like this is unknown either – the 2005 Ashes became a national obsession not because of the detailed knowledge of the millions watching, but because the basic principles were simple and universally understood.  The intensity and fascination derived from that, not from gimmickry.  This is not to say that the answer to cricket’s woes lie in the Test arena, but it is to repeat the bleeding obvious that the ECB appears to have forgotten.  Cricket is brilliant.  Cricket is fantastic.  Cricket needs to sell itself as cricket, and the highest level is the one that is the most enthralling, most memorable, and needs to be seen by the widest possible audience.  For that is how a game succeeds, by inspiring others through showing the best of itself.  Cricket can be dull, Test matches can be dull. T20s can be exciting.  It can be every iteration within that too.  It is a sport in the round that offers a vast amount to anyone with even a passing interest should anyone care to reach out to them.

Stop apologising for it.  Embrace the sport, because it is capable of extraordinary heights, as with both yesterday and today.  For this has been a sensational match, a low scoring one (as the best ones so often are), where the batsmen have had to work hard and where the bowlers have been hunting, rather than being ground into the dust.  That is why Sam Curran’s innings today, only 63 runs that might merit barely a footnote in other circumstances became a hat to hang hopes upon as the England innings disintegrated around him.  It’s why Virat Kohli, all at sea in the early stages of his first innings knock, defied the England bowlers in the final session of the day to give his side every chance of knocking off the further 84 runs needed for victory, with half his side already in the hutch.

Tomorrow’s play will be brief – a session at best – yet it is evenly poised, with small errors on either side, or brilliance from an individual the difference between victory and defeat.  Two hours.  Less than a match in the putative Hundred, yet with a Test like this, it will cause players and supporters on both sides nervous flutters this evening about what is to come.

For today had an abject England collapse, of the kind that has become endlessly familiar recently, but it also had an Indian collapse, as Broad threatened to bowl one of “those” spells, and Anderson dredged up from the past his uncanny ability to make even very fine players look totally out of their depth.  The subplot of Adil Rashid providing sterling support for Curran, of Ishant Sharma ripping the heart out of England’s batting with skilled swing and seam.  The dropped catches of a player beginning to come under pressure for his place, among a slip cordon suddenly brittle.  And at the end of it all, seesawing one way, then the other, the teams remain evenly locked, just as they were at the start of play.

Details, details, details.  At one stage, with a crushing England defeat imminent, tonight’s post might have been a lament to the repeated failures inherent in this England team that haven’t gone away.

But sod it.  And sod the chronological blow by blow account of the day too.  This is bloody marvellous.  Go well tomorrow, you twenty two in white.  The worries about the game can wait another day.

England vs India, 1st Test, Day 2

I’ve written this on my phone because my computer is apparently taking a few hours to update, so please excuse the brevity.

It’s been an up and down day for England. If you had offered Root a 13 run first innings lead this morning, he would almost certainly have snatched it gratefully. As it is, he is likely disappointed that England aren’t at least 100 runs ahead.

There are three broad themes for the day. The first was England’s very good bowling performance. Surprisingly good, in all honesty. Whilst the first spell by Anderson and Broad was a bit tame, Sam Curran soon changed that and took 3 wickets in quick succession. Stokes continued this after Lunch, and India were on the ropes at 100-5.

Which brings us to the second theme of the day: missed chances. Cook and Malan both dropped fairly simple slip chances, including one from Kohli when he was on just 22. Hardik and Kohli steadied the ship and, although wickets kept falling at the other end, Kohli guided India’s tail until they were almost level with England.

The third the of the day was Kohli’s brilliance. Particularly at the end of the day, when the ball had stopped swinging, Kohli dominated the English bowlers who were utterly unable to keep him off strike. Much has been written about Root’s conversion rate ”problems”, but one genuine weakness is his (and the other England batsmen’) inability to bat with the tail. They either fail to shield the tailenders from the strike, or play so aggressively that they throw their wickets away. Kohli did neither, and so India scored another 124 runs for their last four wickets.

With a slight lead and almost half an hour left, England will have wanted to just see out the day without losing any wickets. Cook unfortunately couldn’t manage that, falling to an almost exact copy of the ball which dismissed him in the first innings. On one hand, it was a very good ball. On the other, Cook is (by reputation at least) England’s best player of spin, so him getting out in this way is pretty troubling for the rest of the team.

The umpires didn’t have a great day either. There were several successful reviews, plus another two decisions which would have been overturned if they had been referred. In all honesty, I can’t think of any day I’ve seen with more overturned decisions.

As always, feel free to comment about today and tomorrow’s play below.

England vs India, 1st Test, Day 1

Today marks the 1st August and England are only playing their 3rd Test match of the summer, which not only feels wrong but also feels insanely weird. One could almost say that the ECB are not prioritising Test Cricket anymore, but of course only a money grabbing, incompetent and quite frankly insane administrator would do that surely? Answers on a postcard please..

As Dmitri pointed out yesterday in his piece, this Test series has hardly caught the eye of the fans despite India’s large following in the UK. It could be indifference, it could be that the ECB has tried to milk the magic cow too often or it could well be the people are bored of shelling out top dollar to see an ordinary team that has had the same issues for the past few years playing the same brand of cricket that has hardly led to sustained success. This of course augurs badly for the rest of the series and potentially for series to come, with only Lords potentially guaranteed to sell out, and we all know that most of the individuals who do choose to go Lords are not that fussed about what happens on the cricket pitch as long as the Chablis is chilled and the lamb is pink! The ECB are already committed to holding 50% of all Test Matches in London over the coming years and certainly with the lack of advance ticket sales for Edgbaston for a series against one of the big 3 in an area that has a large Indian population, then we might be seeing that percentage increase in the coming years. After all, I would suggest many of the members of the ECB haven’t yet made it past the Watford Star.

There of course could be another reason why Joe Public has stayed away and the blame can be squarely aimed at Mr Graves and Mr Harrison, who have handled this T100 catastrophe with all the PR elegance of a drunken rhino. Those with a vested interest know that this is going to be a catastrophic balls up and have done from Day 1, but interestingly I feel that this has filtered through to the more occasional fan who might switch the cricket on at the weekend or might turn up to a game if they are invited. The absolute classless arrogance combined with the total incompetence that the ECB has displayed in trying to push through the 100 has not only alienated the loyal cricket fan but also those who might not have realized what a shit pit of self-serving incompetence that the ECB is. The alienation of those fans who love cricket but don’t quite fit the fancy ‘mothers and children demographic’ which some overpaid and under talented PR company has sold to the ECB, have been insulted with ’10 ball overs’, ’15 mans squads’ and ‘it’s not for you’ since day 1 and quite frankly they are f*cking sick of it. Naturally not everybody is in the same position, as Sky having paid massive overly the odds for the TV rights, keep sending out their resident clown to drum up support:

Anyone believe this village idiot? Nope thought not. Even the most one-eyed ECB supporter will be able to tell you that this has nothing about safeguarding red ball cricket, but a ruse to try to exploit their last big TV deal whilst cricket has some kind of an audience and for those at the ECB to rake in the cash whilst informing the players that they will not be eligible for a price rise. Sorry Bumble, you’ve shown your true colours to the world as an overpaid ECB stooge. Would the village that has lost their idiot kindly reclaim him please?

So after all this idiocy and counter-idiocy, we then get to the first Test against India and guess what, it’s the ex-pro and journo’s that decide to buy a big gun and promptly shot themselves in both feet. Both Chris and Dmitri have spoken about the treatment of Adil Rashid in more depth than I will, but I not only find the comments against him distasteful but quite frankly I find it pretty disgusting. I know Rashid ‘has had his card marked’ by some members of the written press, but some of the vile diatribe that has been spouted at him for the ‘heinous crime’ of accepting a call up to the England team, should have the perpetrators writhing in embarrassment. Of course these ‘broadcasters’ and I use that term extremely loosely will no doubt state that they should be allowed to publish their opinions; however I am certainly of the opinion that this should not be allowed to be printed in any of the national press. Leave them to the snake pit that is Twitter. In fact as normal, it was left to Michael Atherton to act as the only adult in town when speaking about the Rashid situation:

I certainly know from experience that there is nothing like unfair criticism and alienation to make a player ready and confident for their next game. Personally I hope Rashid stuffs their opinions down their throats but in reality, he can never win. The moment he bowls poorly, drops a catch or does anything else that the written press don’t approve of, then there will be howls of derision and the words ‘mentally weak’ bounded around for anyone that will care. Once the press have decided that you are not an ‘Alastair Cook type’, then your fair game for flack. Just ask Nick Compton.

Anyway, apologies about the slight rant and now onto the actual play today. England won what looked like it could be an important toss and chose to bat first on a pitch that doesn’t look like it will have any demons in it for the first 3 days. Indeed looking at England’s slightly makeshift bowling attack, I absolutely felt that England needed to make hay whilst the sun shines and put some serious runs on the board, which with hindsight looks again like hope over reality. Naturally England’s openers had a bit of trouble with the new ball swinging around and Jennings was lucky to dropped by Rahane from a decent ball from Ishant; however after England looked to have seen off the new ball, then Cook got a good nut from Ashwin, who perhaps unfairly has been cast as a home track bully, that beat him all ends up. I know it has been mentioned around a million times before, but it now more than ever seems to be feast or famine with Cook, with his last few scores of 13, 46, 1, 70, 14, 2, 2, 5, 10, 39, 244*, 14, 7, 16, 37, 2, 17, 10, 23, 11, 243 highlighting this fact that his game has been wildly inconsistent over the past few years (though one could argue that he has been very consistent and that the big scores are getting fewer and fewer). Dmitri also pointed out that Cook is now 11 days older than Ian Bell was when he was jettisoned from the England team after months of whispers that his eyes and hunger had gone and after a period of diminishing returns, despite there being no obvious candidate to replace him. Now I’m not suggesting England jettison Cook at this point in time, but it always amuses me how certain individuals are totally immune from criticism even when presented with hard facts.

England batted well for the rest of the session and went to lunch with relatively few scares and with Root and Jennings settled it did look like for a brief moment that England might be able to put a score on the board. Unfortunately that hope soon disappeared after lunch with the dismissals of Jennings, who can count himself mightily unlucky and then Malan who is looking less and less as the batsman that scored that century in Perth. I have been happy that the England team have given Malan a longer leash than some of his predecessors but we are now getting to the time where Malan now has to get a score in the next couple of innings or it’s likely he will playing county cricket before the end of the season. With England now 3 down with not much more than a 100 on the board, it was once again left to Messer’s Root and Bairstow to do their wine from water trick and again for a while, it looked like these 2 might have saved England’s bacon again. All was going well until both got out to completely needless dismissals with Root unnecessarily run out going for a 2nd run that was never there and then Bairstow chopping onto his stumps from a delivery that was never there to cut. I could easily mention the failure to once again convert a 50 into a match winning 100, but quite frankly it’s beginning to get a little boring now and something that the management needs to effect a change of mindset and quickly! Once Buttler and then Stokes were quickly dismissed by the Indian bowlers and despite a battling red inker for Curran, at 285-9, England are in the mire and well short of the 400 they needed to be competitive on what will remain a decent batting pitch for the next couple of days.

A word too for the Indian bowlers, who were all effective in different parts of the innings but also more importantly didn’t let England get away at any part of the innings. I felt before the series began that on paper the Indian bowling attack looked more potent than the English attack, especially with the dry weather neutering England’s normal tactic against India of producing green seamers. Ravi Ashwin in my opinion was the most threatening of all of the Indian bowlers today, using his guile and changes of pace and angle to befuddle many of the English batting attack. As I mentioned above, many have potentially seen Ashwin as a home-track bully, but based on his performances today, he is going to be a massive handful for the English batsmen for the rest of the series.

Day 1 has not been a good day for England and they desperately need a better Day 2 from the bowling attack; otherwise India could be out of sight by the time England bat again. Oh and just as a side point the paying public lost another 2 overs of action today. I wonder how many we’ll manage to lose over the whole series!

As ever thoughts are welcome on the game below:

Crashing by Design – the Adil Rashid Controversy

In the age of social media, outrage is never too far away. Sometimes it’s over a big issue, but very often it’s not, as people work themselves into a frenzy over a matter that no one had considered before to any great degree, let alone got themselves into a moral fury. In such circumstances the usual approach is to shout ever louder, and certainly never consider that someone with a different opinion might have a valid reason for feeling that way. Debate goes out of the window in a cacophony of noise and tempestuousness, and a subject that all told has limited importance suddenly becomes a cause celebre entirely out of proportion to its significance.

So it is with the curious case of Adil Rashid’s recall to the Test team for the first match against India next week. It is perhaps a slightly surprising decision, but it’s not the first slightly surprising decision, and Ed Smith has probably raised more than a few eyebrows with his inclination to think beyond the narrow parameters employed by England selectors over the last couple of years. Certainly, if some of those currently screaming are to believed, he seems to have discarded the “good bloke” (in the opinion of the ECB hierarchy) qualification in England selection that has caused no end of rancour since 2014 and seemed to defy the natural conditions of every workplace in the land. To that end, it has to be said that Smith hasn’t made a bad start. Whether individual selections are agreed with or not is entirely beside the point, his refusal to follow the path of least resistance thus far is actually rather refreshing. Given the criticism Smith has had for his past troubles with other people’s work (and rightly so – the attempted ignoring of that issue is precisely why it keeps cropping up), it isn’t always easy to give credit where it might be due and, in this case as with any selection, no one knows whether it is inspired or destined to fail. But the point is that he has shown himself prepared to take that risk. And you know what? Well done Ed Smith.

Picking a nice safe England side is easy – we can all do it, who the hell needs selectors if that’s the intention? And if the results aren’t good, well, dump a couple and bring in the latest flavour of the month on the county circuit and see if he sinks or swims. Not the selectors fault if the team isn’t good enough, they’ve all had a crack at it. See? It’s easy.

That’s why the selection of first Jos Buttler and now Adil Rashid is in itself something to be praised. Not necessarily in terms of the players themselves, for that is an arguable point, but because it implies a willingness to do more than be confined by the exceptionally messy structure of the English professional game. And herein lies the rub. For the protestations about the supposed “integrity” of the County Championship are laughable when they come from those who have agreed to, and indeed supported, every diminution in importance of what is supposed to be the proving ground for the Test team. Over the last few years red ball cricket has been pushed ever more to the margins, to the point where the bulk of it is played in April, May and September, a situation only likely to deteriorate further once the heart of the summer is given over to whatever format the Hundred ends up with, alongside the T20 Blast that also too must be given priority.

With that being the case, the role of the selectors has become either extremely easy or extremely difficult, depending on which route they go down. If they choose to only select those players who commit to the County Championship, then they lose those who disappear to the IPL (as was the case with Buttler) because that’s when most of the county matches are played until September. Complaining about players doing that is senseless. Cricketers will go where their opportunities are, and this is particularly the case for those who aren’t central to the Test team for whatever reason. If it’s a Ben Stokes, his position is sufficiently secure that it doesn’t matter – he’s in, subject to Her Majesty’s Courts And Tribunals Service – but if it’s a Jos Buttler, by no means safe in Test selection terms, it is an opportunity to maximise the income from a short career given no security in a full central contract. What on earth do people expect? A player to plod along for a relative pittance in the county game in the vague hope of a call up? Perhaps that’s exactly what they expect, yet it is always the case that the expectations of prominent sportsmen and women among the wider public jar utterly with the way they live their own lives. Offer someone a job paying twice the money, and their own loyalty vanishes in a puff of air, with few suggesting they ought to have paid more attention to the social dimension or their responsibility to a wider group.

Thus, the selectors have a dilemma. Choose who they believe to be the best players, and they are open to the accusation of ignoring the County Championship. Fail to do so, and the side they select may not be the best one available. In the case of Buttler, selecting him worked spectacularly well, his batting proving to be a highlight in both Tests against Pakistan, which certainly set him apart from anyone else. Furthermore, his selection was welcomed by the great and the good, despite barely any first class cricket over a couple of years, and with little success on the rare occasions that he did so. Indeed, since 2015, Buttler had played only six Championship matches before his Test call up, yet this was considered more than sufficient to be selected for the England team – or rather, it wasn’t, but he was called up anyway. There was plenty of scepticism about that too, but he did well, and whatever happens with him in the future, Ed Smith can feel pleased and vindicated about his decision. And rightly so too. But here’s the point: Some were uneasy with what that said about the County Championship and those players involved in it, or more pertinently not involved in it. They were subsequently drowned out by the acclaim Buttler received but they weren’t wrong to raise that question, and when they do so about Rashid they aren’t wrong now either. The debate about the merits and indeed existence of the County Championship as constituted are entirely valid matters for discussion, particularly given the concerns over the future of Test cricket, but it needs to be done from a position of consistency and not a scattergun approach based on who the latest shiny toy is.

The ones who really are wrong, the ones who invite irritation and contempt, are those who cheered to the rafters the choice of Buttler as being creative thinking, while raging about the selection of Adil Rashid now on the basis that it undermines county cricket. This is preposterous cognitive dissonance, made worse by their inability to remember what they said the previous week. In that period when Buttler has played six Championship matches, Rashid has played twenty-four, and the last time both played a Championship match was at the same juncture. It is nothing but sheer hypocrisy to approve of one and decry the other. Ah, but Rashid gave up red ball cricket they say, that’s the difference. But is it? If Buttler isn’t playing County Championship matches, then what actually is the difference? Gary Lineker has retired from international football and I haven’t, but we’ve both played the same number of games in the last few years. It isn’t a matter of what people say, but what they do.

To add to that, the structure of the County Championship itself strongly discriminates against spin bowlers anyway. The early and late season fixtures tend to help the medium-pacers who do a bit with the ball (much as Darren Stevens is a legend, it’s not perhaps his particular skills we should be seeking to emphasise) , meaning that the likes of a Rashid are of limited value, and perhaps more importantly, may not even be selected. Why have a potentially expensive leg spinner in the side in a match where the seamers are going to do the bulk of the bowling? In the Division One bowling averages this season, you have to go down to 32nd place before you find a possible England spinner (Amar Virdi) who has bowled more than 100 overs this season. Given the structure of the County Championship now, spin as a choice is thoroughly marginalised, and Rashid is far from the only one pointing this out. English cricket has not been brilliant at producing top quality spin for a very long time – Graeme Swann was a wonderful anomaly – and the endless search for one who can measure up is only made harder by playing the game in conditions alien to spinners until it comes to the main Test matches where they are called upon to perform miracles, and then criticised when they don’t.

It is here important to note what Rashid himself said when he announced his sabbatical earlier this year:

“That [lack of high summer red ball cricket] was a big part of it. Early season, I may not bowl much. A couple of overs here and there. Doing that, I wouldn’t get my rhythm — two overs before lunch, a few overs before tea. That wouldn’t help my confidence. At the stage, I’d just be going through the motions.

“It’s not a permanent thing. It’s for this season, to see how it goes, how it unfolds and what happens. See what my mind says and what my heart feels. If it changes I could be going back to red ball cricket next season.”

Very, very little of the discussion around Rashid’s selection has focused on this issue, at least until today when Jason Gillespie wrote in the Guardian about the matter, implying there was far more going on here than the narrative about a player who simply didn’t want to play red ball cricket any more. What the truth of that is, is going to be a matter of perspective, but it is at least refreshing to read an alternate take on the character of Rashid, and from someone who is in a strong position to reject the lines of those who insist they know more than anyone else, always, just because.

This doesn’t exempt Rashid from blame, for his decision to quit red ball cricket was clearly a disappointment to Yorkshire, and explains some of their misgivings over his call up, with the proviso that as Gillespie says, this is not a straightforward matter. But it does provide a degree of context, as does the at times weird treatment of him by England. He has undoubtedly shown exceptional ability at carrying the drinks, and as a result England appeared to choose him for that role on a repeated basis. When he did play a full Test series, in India, the opprobrium heaped upon him for failing to win the series bordered on the bizarre, and caused more than one or two to question why he was singled out so specifically, particularly when even some members of the media have confirmed that there was a whispering campaign against him. Attacks on his character were many, in a way few others have received recently, and that too must have contributed to his decision to stand down from red ball cricket. There will be some who consider this confirmation of the supposed character flaws but there is little quite so distasteful as the feeding frenzy among certain quarters of the press with someone either they don’t like, or they have been briefed not to like. Casting aspersions as to the motivation behind such behaviour is easy, lazy and dangerous, but it didn’t need that for many to find the persecution of Rashid far beyond what was acceptable from supposedly professional observers.

Selvey is of course one of those – never slow to remind people of his in-depth knowledge, even of golf, and back in 2016 he wrote:

“Rashid, though, is sailing close to the wind with his club and career: there are sceptics about, some with a greater depth of knowledge than most, and his card has been marked.”

This is classic Selvey, the statement that he is far brighter than everyone else, and that he has the inside track. It is highlighted not because it is wrong, but because of how the repeated nature of the attacks are principally on character, with the cricketing ability being secondary to that. Players must fit into the prescribed format defined by others, or suffer public vilification on a repeated basis, and lest anyone try to pretend it’s just about Rashid, it’s been seen far too often with far too many “difficult” players to be coincidental. Naturally, if the player answers back, this is then considered further evidence of the character flaw, as has happened with Rashid for daring to respond to Michael Vaughan’s comments. This is the justice of witch dunking.

The worst part of this is that his selection has been the excuse for this to start again. There is not the slightest thing wrong with considering Rashid of insufficient standard to play for the England Test team, but the highly personal flavour of some of the comment betrays a personal antipathy that is startling to see. Few will believe that Rashid represents the second coming of leg spin in this country, but most will accept that whether it is him or someone else, the cupboard isn’t exactly well stocked with alternatives. His tour of India has been portrayed in many quarters as an unmitigated disaster, which is a curious reading of events. Sure, he was a long way from being outstanding, but he did take more than twice as many wickets as anyone else. To put it into further context, Rashid’s 23 wickets in that series came at the cost of 37.43 per wicket. Not brilliant by any measure, yet the 17 wickets taken by every other spinner combined that England selected came at an average of 62.53. Not only is that a huge difference, but it’s also entirely symptomatic of likely England spinners’ performances in India with the exception of a single tour.

When considering the performances of England spinners in India this century it is hardly a tale of derring do. Rashid’s wicket-taking measures up perfectly well against most others, and his average is certainly not out of kilter with what should be expected. It appears – as with Moeen Ali all too often – that Rashid is berated for failing to perform above and beyond the level that should be expected of England spinners overseas not called Swann.

This still doesn’t mean that he’s the answer, and it absolutely doesn’t exempt him from debate over whether he is sufficiently good to be in the team. Nor does it mean that his selection having given up red ball cricket shouldn’t be worthy of scrutiny, but it does mean a few other things: Praising the left field selection of Buttler and screaming about the one of Rashid is nothing but rank hypocrisy. Failing to consider how we got to the point where a player who plainly wants to play Test cricket gave up the red ball version of the game is an abrogation of thinking and in a parallel universe, Adil Rashid is being praised for answering his country’s call. Lamenting the loss of integrity of the County Championship while simultaneously applauding every move the ECB makes to sideline it even further is both stupid and taking everyone else for a fool too.

Adil Rashid may be a successful pick. He may not. He may not even play, which would be an entertaining irony. Either way, Ed Smith has certainly stayed true to his expressed determination to bring a fresh approach to his role. And the ever lamentable section of the press corps have stayed equally true to their own lack of principles. Only one of those things is a pleasant surprise.