England vs India: 4th Test, Day Three: Same Old (Strangely)

England finish the third day in a fairly handy position all told, a lead well over 200, two wickets still intact, Indian bowlers struggling for penetration (a mild warning note there), and with a pitch that should be starting to deteriorate towards the back end of the match. Naturally, this being England, it’s been done the wrong way around – the top order struggling and the middle and lower order scoring the bulk of the runs.

If England’s defeats over the last 18 months are taken as a whole, it is generally when the middle and lower order fail to bail out the batsmen. Nor can they be expected to on a regular basis, for the normal way cricket works is that the top order score most of them, and the all rounders chip in some of the time. Trust England to develop an entirely different manner of playing. It isn’t a sustainable method for a team to generate continual success, and England’s problems at the top are something that they are going to have to resolve one way or another if they wish to make progress.

Cook failed again, and whether or not he is backed from within, his lean run goes on, and even by the modest returns of the last few years (yes, yes, two double centuries and not much else) he is struggling badly. There remains little evidence against the supposition that he’s coming towards the end, and what he decides will be interesting to observe, for while the Cook of his best years would be a loss, it’s much harder to make a case for him more recently. Whatever the returns in terms of runs scored, he doesn’t look like he’s going to make a big score currently either, and that, perhaps, is the biggest indicator of his plight.

Keaton Jennings in contrast looked rather good today, comfortable against both seam and spin, only to then be palpably lbw when well set. There’s a degree of sympathy for him, for it does show the fine margins at this level, and for all his problems this series, his record isn’t particularly different to Cook’s – the problem for England is two-fold, not just Jennings. He may well join the list of openers tried and discarded permanently.

A surprise was sprung with Moeen Ali coming out at number three. Plenty of speculation ensued about Root dropping a place, with a consensus (which doesn’t mean it’s true) that Root had put his foot down in terms of his desire to bat at four. If so, he’s right to as well, for Root is England’s best batsman, and it is peculiar to use him elsewhere to attempt to cover up for the weaknesses of the team that way. If he scores most runs at four, bat him at four. The roles are slightly different, and if that means another is a slight sacrifical lamb to get the best out of him, so be it – it can’t be said that the current top order is working well at present after all.

Moeen may not be good enough to bat at three, but then who is? It’s not so many years past that plenty were complaining that Trott scored too slowly, even in Tests, but what England would give for that now is immeasurable. It’s also a lesson about those who happily waved off players who they didn’t like assuming that they were easily replaceable. As one selector memorably said of Graham Thorpe, “what does he bring to the side apart from runs?”. More runs. Runs England are consistently short of at the top, and the carelessness with which players have been discarded over recent times is a source of constant wry amusement.

The loss of Jennings just before lunch was compounded by the first ball dismissal of Bairstow immediately after. It can be a mistake to assume a causation that isn’t necessarly there, but it can’t be said that playing Bairstow with a broken finger has been an unqualified success. Perhaps it’s just one of things, perhaps not.

Root and Stokes batted patiently before Root was run out needlessly, and at 122-5 India were on top, and England wobbling. That they recovered is partly down to Stokes batting well within himself (again) but mostly Jos Buttler doing likewise. Buttler this summer can be put down as a success, and whether he truly makes a go of his Test career is rather beside the point right now – he’s doing well. He also found an able ally in Sam Curran. His dropping for the last Test was harsh at the time, but it is delightful to see a young player ramming the error down the selectors’ throats as he is doing presently.

For India, Mohammed Shami was the pick of the bowlers, but it was hard work throughout. They will feel the pitch has slowed and died somewhat, making taking wickets hard work. If they are correct, then a run chase is more than possible as long as they don’t try to force things, and that too should be at the back of England minds.

There’s every chance the day four crowd will be in for a treat tomorrow, for while England are now ahead in the game, it’s not so far that anyone will be feeling comfortable.

Game on.

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England vs India:4th Test, Day 2 – Bowlers to the Rescue

First with the bat, and now with the ball.  England’s plethora of all rounders initially got them to at least some kind of score, and then today got them right into the game with the ball.  By the time India passed England’s total with 9 wickets down, Sam Curran’s knock had become ever more important, and for India, Cheteshwar Pujara’s century was every bit as critical – though in his case, at least it could be said that it is his primary role in the side.

Moeen Ali was the star man for England, which always provides plenty of entertainment between those who think he’s under-appreciated, and those who point to his away record (not good) as a reason why he shouldn’t be anywhere near an England team.  The problem is that both are correct, as far as it goes.  Moeen at home has a very decent record indeed, Moeen away does not. Replacing him for away tours is a perfectly reasonable response to that, but there is always a peculiar belief that if done then England’s spinning options will dramatically improve, despite all the evidence to the contrary over the last ten years when discounting Graeme Swann.  He bowled very well today, taking five wickets, which both suggested that England may have their hands full with Ravi Ashwin, and highlighted the oddity of England playing two spinners and then only giving Rashid seven overs.  Two spinners often looks a luxury in England, and in this instance appears to be more about shoe-horning additional batting all rounders into the side than any expectation about the pitch.  Still, it’s always possible the second innings will be more conducive to Rashid’s skills, though leg spinners do tend to need runs on the board to be most effective, something England have been singularly unable to provide recently.

Broad too bowled well, and tested all the batsmen, while Sam Curran was the one who snared the prize wicket of an oddly out of sorts Virat Kohli.  But England used seven bowlers, including Keaton Jennings, who must have dearly wished for a bonus wicket to cheer himself up, and it looked overkill, with Stokes too just bowling the seven overs.

Of course, having bowling options is a wonderful thing, and particularly so when labouring in the field.  It can absolutely be said that England have a pretty balanced attack, with only a real paceman missing from what ought to be a dream combination of seam, swing, left arm, off spin and leg spin.  Whether the personnel are all good enough is a different matter of course.

India’s small lead would have been a disappointment at lunch, and a serious bonus shortly after tea, as this game swung wildly one way and then the other.  A mid order collapse of England proportions followed by the tail providing immense support for Pujara when it had looked like England might gain the most unlikely of first innings advantages.  Pujara himself batted beautifully, in conditions that slightly favoured the bowlers, though not to the extent that these teams appear determined to portray.  His marshalling of the lower order eked out far more runs than it should have, to England’s frustration, but perhaps it should be looked at in terms of praise for him, Sharma and Bumrah rather than anything England did obviously wrong.

As to where this game is going, currently all the pressure is on England’s batsmen, faced with the infamous third innings tension in a tight game.  Jennings and Cook deserve credit for coming through a tricky 20 minute spell unscathed, but the deficit is still there, and England will need to bat extremely well to set India a target where they’ll feel confident in bowling them out.  For England to be warm favourites, they would need to set a target in excess of 250, and there isn’t too much confidence in the England batting order right now – at least not in the top order.

Jennings may well feel this is his last chance, while Cook’s declining returns have consistently left England a couple of wickets down early on.  Either way, if both fail tomorrow England will be in deep trouble, and it’s been a fair old while since England’s openers have truly set a platform for the rest of the team.  No time like tomorrow.

After two days, this is a competitive Test match, and may yet go on to be a truly absorbing one.  But for that to happen England will have to exceed expectations and get into a position where they have at least the prospect of a win, and a series win.  India may well be the more confident, and if they bowl well tomorrow, those with tickets for the fourth day could be cursing their luck once again.  These are two brittle sides, and if low scoring matches are often the most exciting, when it happens repeatedly it merely highlights the flaws in the teams.

Nevertheless, a far better second day for England.  Whether they can make it a good third day as well – that’s more open to question.

England vs. India: 4th Test, Day 1 – Here We Go Again…

…Same old s*** dog, just a different day.

After watching two of the three sessions today, I’m honestly not sure I can muster the enthusiasm to do my job for today. This is clearly something which I share with England’s specialist batsmen.

After England won the toss and chose to bat, anyone who follows cricket could guess how the day went. England’s top order collapsed, and they only avoided an embarrassingly low total thanks to the efforts of a lower order batsman or two. This time it was Moeen and Sam Curran.

It is amazing to me how much better India’s bowlers seem when they’re bowling at Cook, Jennings and Root. Yes, they’re facing the new ball, but when Buttler and Stokes come in to replace them it seems like they’re playing on a different pitch. What was a minefield instantly becomes a normal, flat, first day surface. What was a hand grenade crossed with a homing missile transforms into an ordinary cricket ball. What was the greatest seam attack since the West Indies in the 80s suddenly resembles a solid but not remarkable Test-quality attack. It’s not the conditions, it’s not the ball, it’s not the opposition. All four remaining specialist batsmen look shot.

Sam Curran obviously batted well to bring England towards an almost respectable score, with the other bowlers chipping in, but that’s not the point. The batting output from 6 onwards is supposed to be the icing on the cake. It appears to be England’s plan to produce, on a very regular basis, cakes which are approximately 90% icing. THAT’S NOT HOW YOU MAKE A CAKE!

There has to be a case now for dropping all of England’s batsmen. This isn’t hyperbole. This isn’t me being a devil’s advocate. I’m sick of it. Game after game, series after series, season after season. Cook has had an atrocious year, Jennings averages 17.57 in his latest run in the side, Root has resolved his problem of not converting his half-centuries in an unfortunate way, and Bairstow is inexplicably still being selected with a broken finger. I fail to believe that England’s batting lineup wouldn’t be improved by picking any four good county batsmen. Not Vince, obviously, but four other batsmen.

Not that I think the blame should solely be placed at the feet of the batsmen. It’s notable that no players who have debuted in the last four years or more have secured their place in the side. Now you could take the view that all 26 (or more, depending where you draw the line) debutants weren’t good enough for international cricket. Honestly, that seems unlikely to me. What seems more likely is that at least a handful could have played at that level, but something went wrong.

There has never really been a culture of responsibility at the ECB, but when you see poor batting, bowling, and fielding in the Test team you have to wonder what the coaches are doing. More importantly, you have to wonder how they can justify their positions. Take Mark Ramprakash, for example. He’s been England’s batting coach for almost four years, culminating in this series where the top order batsmen collectively average below 25. Rather than being sacked, which is the fate for most employees exhibiting this level of failure, he appears to be failing upwards. In light of Andy Flower’s temporary promotion he took control of the England Lions team, and he now is considered a top candidate for the vacant head coach role of Middlesex. Why?

Sam Curran’s exploits have at least given England an unlikely chance of winning this game, but they’ll need to bowl extraordinarily well tomorrow. Maybe they could follow India’s example and bowl at the stumps every once in a while. Or maybe they won’t, in which case it will almost certainly be another embarrassing defeat at home.

England vs. India: Fourth Test Preview

The question all week for England has been whether Bairstow can bat with a broken finger, and whether he can keep wicket. According to Joe Root’s pre-game press conference, the answers are “yes” and “no” respectively. Bairstow’s inclusion in the team was a relief to most English cricket fans, since the alternative would presumably have been James Vince having yet another attempt at being a Test batsman. No one (apart from James Vince, Michael Vaughan, and people supporting India) wants that.

The fact that Bairstow will play tomorrow puts into stark relief the lack of depth in English batting right now. That a serious hand injury (which the Indians have declared they will target) isn’t enough to force a player out of the team shows a massive lack of confidence in the people England could call in to replace him. That lack of confidence is fully justified, unfortunately. Haseeb Hameed is the only batsman who has debuted since Bayliss became coach in 2015 and averaged over 30. 30. The gap in quality between Bairstow batting one-handed and his potential replacement James Vince is vast.

In other injury news, Chris Woakes is ruled out with an issue with his quadriceps whilst Ben Stokes was apparently bowling with heavy strapping on his knee in training. With this in mind, it isn’t surprising that England have elected to bring Sam Curran and Moeen Ali in to replace Woakes and Ollie Pope. Whilst it might be a little harsh on Pope, who only had two games to try to cement his place in the team, his low average of 18.00 means that England could justify his replacement with an allrounder as improving the team’s batting overall.

The fact that England have replaced a specialist batsman with a bowling allrounder means that England will have 6 bowlers tomorrow (although Stokes may be used sparingly), which I suspect will test Joe Root’s captaincy in the field somewhat. It also probably suggests that Stokes and Buttler will both bat a place higher than normal, which could be a problem if England’s top order collapses.

Speaking of top order collapses, many people will be watching Alastair Cook closely in the next game after he sustained what was (for him at least) an unprecedented number of questions about his position in the team. His supporters have pointed to his strong record at the Rose Bowl, where he currently averages 110.00 in Test matches, as cause for optimism. I think it is worth pointing out that he has only played three innings there which means it is a very small sample, and his last Test in Southampton was four years ago. He has arguably declined significantly as a batsman since then.

England’s opposition have no such problems. With no reported injuries or selection headaches, it seems likely that India will name the same XI. The only surprise in this is that it would apparently be the first time in Virat Kohli’s tenure as Test captain that India have picked an unchanged team. The tourists have a great opportunity to claim a second win in England, which they haven’t managed in a Test series since 1986.

In lighter news, the ECB are apparently looking for a new President to take over the ceremonial duties from CEO Tom Harrison (who dislikes the spotlight) and Chairman Colin Graves (who seems to cause problems every time he speaks in public). The position is unpaid, and the ECB have made it clear that the new President won’t be allowed to make any public statements without the express consent of the board. Personally I’m hoping Graeme Swann gets the job. Or Michael Vaughan. Or Geoffrey Boycott. Or David Lloyd. Or…

As always, feel free to comment about the game (or anything else) below.

Noche y Dia – Is It A Crazy Notion?

“What Kind Of Love Am I In……” Al B Sure! “Nite and Day”

Roll up, roll up for the annual “Dmitri’s been to a county game” (and referring to Dmitri in the third person) post. Every year or so I pluck up the energy, the forward planning, the excitement to make it to a day at county cricket. This one, together with an obscure (in the UK) song from the wonderful Al B Sure! in my head (try finding another cricket blog fusing swingbeat and swing bowling), was the one.

This time around, my annual visit was slightly different. Instead of braving the late commuters on Southeastern trains, ready for an 11 am start, it was a more genteel 1:30pm commencement for the first, and possibly last, day-night County Championship fixture at The Oval. I’ve heard a lot of the fears, the woes, the problems and the moans about this particular exercise in seeing if county cricket has an audience, so I thought I had better go there myself to find out. My first pink ball game. What a time to be alive! The fact that up until a week before the game I never knew it was day-night shows how committed Surrey was to it! It seems their beer festival now appears to be much more limited as well (and that was advertised even less) because there was no sign of it for non-members.

Once again, my day at the cricket would be to see Surrey v Lancashire, On the first occasion, Stuart Law, Mal Loye and Iain Sutcliffe took advantage of a ludicrously small boundary on Good Friday to take us to the cleaners. On another, Ramps played a 4th innings, fourth morning masterclass to cajole Surrey past a twitchy target. Then, two years ago, I went to see Sanga, and while I got a 50 to watch, I also roasted in 90 degree late summer heat (it might have been high 80s but hyperbole and all that). One of the players having a buzz around him that year was Haseeb Hameed, who had made the starting XI for this one for the visitors. Amazing. Two years ago he was making a very good debut for England, now he was in doubt for a place in his county team.

Another Member Of The “I Opened With Alastair Cook And Returned To County Cricket” Club… Still not seen him bat!

I have to say that the portents were not good. My default setting for innovations is “I do not like”. I’m not convinced by day-night test cricket, and was worried we (Surrey) were being pitched into this lottery at a crucial time of the season with warnings of hooping deliveries when the sun went down (see Kent v Middlesex). Surrey had also lost Pope and Curran to the England squad, had to retain Aaron Finch as an oversea player, lost Borthwick and Roy to injury, and thus had a weaker feeling with Harinath at three. As it was, Sam came back into the team, and in an ironic twist, took Tom’s place. He would bat at six. Ryan Patel, the hero of Guildford, would take his place at number 7.

The Sunday play had seen Surrey flop to 211 on a blameless surface and in good weather, clawing it back by taking six Lancashire wickets in the evening session. That 211 was courtesy of some Dernbach/Morkel hitting, which as a long-term strategy has to be up there with recalling James Vince and hoping it’s 14th time lucky. It might just work, and sometimes it does. But relying upon it… it couldn’t happen twice. It was good to watch some of the play on the live feed, which although restricted to just fixed cameras showed more replays of key action than the red button Sky EPL game on the Wednesday (Sheffield Wednesday v Millwall). If we can get a little added coverage, I think there’s a real market there. Without those cameras we would never have seen Will Jacks’ catch to end the game, or Rory’s grab at suicide second slip off Morkel. But I digress to the end, when I’ve not even started on my day there!

Early Morning, I mean Afternoon, Shivnarine Chanderpaul

So, off I popped for Day 2, a Monday, beer in bag, camera at the ready. Meeting a non-cricket loving friend at London Bridge, the weather threatening drizzle, we got to the ground in good time for the opening session. Entrance 4, the old Surridge Stand from my thirties, would be our home for the day. Surrey’s credit card machines had broken down, a dodgy portent.

During that first session sad news reached us of the passing of a good friend and former work colleague. Mike was a good bloke, my darts partner of a number of years, and also a keen sports fans as well as being a follower of Crystal Palace. He will be sorely missed by his friends, and that evening we raised a glass to him. RIP Mike.

The big question about the day’s play would be how would the ambient conditions be accentuated by the pink ball? For the first session virtually nothing happened for Surrey. Sure, there was the comical run out of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who lost in a seniority battle to a debutant when it came to who was going to go, but precious little else. Surrey battled, but looked unthreatening. The hosts thought they might take a first innings lead at the start of play, having fought back well, but with the benign conditions Lancashire pottered onto lunchtime and gradually pulled into the ascendant. Debutant Bohannon looking very assured. Mennie taking his opportunity. Now it looked like limiting the damage.

Lancashire’s tail folded a little just after the interval. Bohannon made a debut half-century and looked mightily impressive in doing so. Mennie and Bohannon both fell to Virdi. Onions slapped one imposing boundary and then slapped a ball to extra cover to get out. It was my first look at Amar Virdi, the young Surrey spinner, and from what you can glean from side on, he looked pretty decent with lots more to learn. I do hope England don’t pick him too soon, and I do hope he gets a chance to show his skills on more favourable wickets. The pressure is going to be on next month at Taunton.

For someone with not the greatest pair of eyes, I have to say that the pink ball was much easier for me to pick up in the daylight, let alone night cricket. Now I know there are huge reservations about the quality of the ball, it being a Kookaburra supposedly, but from a spectator like mine’s perspective, it certainly helped to follow it more easily. I keep hearing this is a spectator sport, but this isn’t one thing I’ve heard from anyone else. Those of you who have gone to day-night cricket, has it been easier for you to see?

Another Member Of The “I Opened With Alastair Cook And Returned To County Cricket” Club – Mark Stoneman

Lancashire took the field with a 36 run lead, which was on the upper end of “negligible” in terms of the match position. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted it to be much more. There seemed to be something in the wicket, as no-one really went on after a start in both innings, so the mind was trying to put a quantum on what would be “enough”. A 300 target would certainly be testing. 250 would be around par, and anything less would need a helping hand of Lancashire choking. All these thoughts were those at the time, not hindsight, I must stress. This was combined with Somerset, at the time, being in a dominant position in their home game against Essex. We know Surrey have, effectively, one win in hand – that is we can afford to draw one, while they win and still be ahead – but Surrey want to keep them at arm’s length and a win here would be crucial.

Surrey needed a solid start, before the twilight, the legendary twilight. Rory Burns is being put forward for England selection, and he came out on the back of a rare failure in the first innings. His partner was the latest in the “Discarded Former Cook Partner” club, Mark Stoneman, who when I last saw him in the flesh, took Essex to the cleaners at Guildford in June 2017. The batting looks a bit ropey below that, with the squad man Harinath due in at 3, Sam Curran as high as 6. The openers did their job in the early going, but Stoneman gave it away with the deficit almost erased, walloping a pull shot straight down deep backward square’s throat.

Stoneman pulls – the chap waiting down there, Matt Parkinson, has a catch coming his way…

At 35 for 1 it was essential that Rory made a score and that Arun Harinath stick around. Arun, to be fair, did a bit more than that and looked pretty solid. Of course, it took me to leave my seat to get a wicket. Off I popped for a call of nature, and out I came to “Next Man In…. Aaron Finch”. He had been run out. 73 for 2. A lead of 37.

In came new county cap Aaron Finch. Aaron was being used as a stop-gap overseas player until Dean Elgar returned and had made 43 in the first innings. Finch may be known as a white ball destroyer, but he does have a career best of 288 not out in his locker – see here – and hey, pink is what you get when you mix red and white, right? Maybe he’s the ideal player. Anyway, Finchy doesn’t like spin bowlers very much, and the impressive (again, as much as you can be from square on) Matt Parkinson got a little bit of treatment. The boundary towards the Harleyford side was the shorter one, but the two sixes he clattered into the OCS Stand would have cleared most boundaries in the world.

Fetch That, Parky Mate….

If this went on for too long, the game would be out of Lancashire’s reach. It was becoming increasingly evident that Surrey were making hay while the sun shone, or at least was vaguely above the horizon, and Lancashire were waiting for evening. Parkinson was too much like shark-bait for Finch, he was taken off, Graeme Onions came on, and with his first ball pinned the Aussie in front for 32. 114 for 3, a lead of 78 and our destructive player gone.

Ben Foakes, the best waiter on the cricket scene having toured Down Under last winter carrying the drinks, was next in. Number 5 seems at least one spot too high for a top team, but needs must. Rory Burns remained there, not always convincing but keeping the score ticking over. The light began to fade, the lights began to take effect and here was the time of day we were supposed to be here for – the action hour and a bit.

But not a lot seemed to change. Sure there were more plays and misses, and Foakes played very defensively, but it was as much the tense game situation as it was the environment that played a part. Burns passed 50 on his way to the highest individual score in the game, with his offside play particularly good, but he never really suggested permanence. I think England will chew him up and spit him out, to be honest, and the pundits will get on his technique. It was the debutant Bohannon who did for him, bowling him for 70. In the context of this match, it was a crucial knock.

Burns on the cut

Foakes was joined by Curran in the full night-time field of play and with the game perched on a precipice. 162 for 4. 126 in front. This was going to be important. The two chose different modes of play. Foakes was all defensive solidity, Sam a bit more expansive, positive, as if emboldened by international status. My Middlesex friend who turned up, who is not a fan, called him a P L C, with the P standing for Punchable, the L for Little, you can fill in the rest. Hell will freeze over before he praises a Surrey player! The two played out the remaining difficult overs, as a decent crowd stayed until almost the end. I thought there was a considerable influx after 6pm, which Surrey had advertised as free admittance.

Foakes – They Shall Not Pass

Surrey finished the day at 197 for 4 – Curran having made 27 out of the 35 added since the Burns wicket. I went back the following evening, to see Lancashire collapse a little – losing three wickets – after tea and then watching Bohannon and Croft do fantastically under the lights to see off the Surrey threat. Morne Morkel gave them both a torrid time, but it did seem, with Surrey a bowler down due to Dernbach’s imjury, that it was Morkel and AN Other in the Surrey seam attack. Sam didn’t bowl a lot, nor did Patel, and Clarke looked largely ineffective. I was joined that evening by my old playing mate, my current blogging mate, and Topshelf of this parish, who I spent a fascinating hour or so with.

The game finished in high tension the following day, with Surrey winning by 6 runs. The best troll would have been if they’d won by 2, because Morne Morkel blatantly did not save a boundary down by us, and “saved” 2 runs, much to the annoyance of the Lancashire fan in my stand, who then turned on Ben Foakes for momentarily having his gloves in front of the line of the stumps before each delivery from Virdi. Both the Surrey and Somerset games ebbed and flowed. and Lancashire, remember, are struggling at the bottom of the division. These were great matches, and an example of what the County Championship can deliver when played in August, and with context aplenty. I was following both at work, and punched the air and shouted yes when the final wicket went down (on scorecards, not live feeds). There’s not many of us about this time of year, so no-one was that bothered! But as a keen fan, there’s a market there for bloody good competition. This was it.

What did I think of day-night cricket? I liked it. I really didn’t see what much of the fuss was about. It is a little artificial in that there are definitely two, perhaps three, distinct pieces of play – the afternoon session when not a lot seemed to happen and batsmen might have played as if they were facing impending doom. Twilight seemed to bring a madness to both teams, and where a lot of the wickets fell. Then night-time when players seemed really locked in, batting became more intense, bowlers more positive. Run rates slowed, passions raised, intensity at this being a chance to make an impact weighing on the fielding side. Foakes was an example, becoming virtually shotless and keeping the attack at bay. Morkel too on Day/Night 3 bowled an intense hostile spell, and the Lanky lads battled hard (Croft and that Bohannon again). I enjoyed it, I could see the pink ball, and I am a believer in it based on this small sample size. Now I recognise that this may be because it was in London, in late August, and the lights actually take effect, rather than there being an extended twilight that the games in late June get, but it worked there and then.

I had a conversation with two chaps on the Northern Line. One of them had been to the infamous Kent v Middlesex day night game which is used as Exhibit A for scrapping the format. Both were converts, both liked being able to come down after work to watch a proper first class game rather than T20. Both thought the quality was the same. Both thought it should continue. The one who had been to Canterbury said that Middlesex could moan all they like, but they batted terribly. Meanwhile, Kent’s number 10 had made a second innings hundred under the lights (it appears he batted until about an hour before the end of play). He wasn’t having any of it being a lottery. I also had some Tweets, with one saying you couldn’t have a day night game in Manchester at this time of year. I think it helped that London isn’t quite as chilly at this time of the year – in September it would be – so I think there’s a narrow window when this game could be played. I think you need proper night-time, and it not to be too cold. Late May, possibly and mid to late August seems the window. June it is just not dark with 9:30 sundown. It’s not easy, but it’s worth a try.

Sam at Sundown

It was an enjoyable couple of days, one full, one evening session. I hope to do the same this week for the Notts fixture – a normal fixture – but I don’t think the experiment should end just yet. If it is the ball, then find or develop a better one. If it is the light issue, then mid-August is better than mid-June. If it is that much of a lottery, then sure, we need to level the playing field as much as possible. But I liked it, and I can’t say any more than that. If they did another one at The Oval, I’d go. I am not sure why there is the ingrained antipathy to it from my one experience.  That’s all I can go on.

Happy to hear experiences of others, but this was a satisfied customer. And what a conclusion to the match it was. County cricket has a lot going for it. Perhaps we should shout it louder.

The ECB: What is it Good For (Say it again)?

The Board and management team have considered the short and long-term goals of the business in order to support and grow the grassroots game while continuing to strive for success at the elite level with our 24 England teams.

Mission statements can be little more than a sop to marketing necessity, and often bear little relation to what is actually happening in a given sport. Put simply, the role of any organisation that is accredited as the supreme authority for a sport is to act as the guardian of the game, both in the present and the future, in order to ensure it is in good shape for future generations. To that end, the short paragraph above encapsulates rather well what a governing body should strive to achieve, particularly in a commercial world where obtaining financial support for the elite level is an exceptionally important part of what they must do.

The trouble is, this one belongs to the FA.

The ECB does have an equivalent, called Cricket Unleashed, that has five “central pillars” to their intentions. Somewhat ironically, the link defines itself as being in the Men’s section of the ECB’s website, which is both unfortunate and wryly amusing given that when someone tells them they’ll be aghast. The strategy makes interesting reading both in terms of the in depth objectives and the broader aims behind it, particularly when measured against what is actually going on:

More Play

The ECB will make the game more accessible and inspire the next generation of players, coaches, officials and volunteers, with a particular focus on families and the young.

Great Teams

The ECB will deliver winning men’s and women’s teams across the international and domestic spectrum that inspire and excite fans through on-field performance and their connection with the public on and off the field.

Inspired Fans

The fan will be at the heart of our game, our thinking and our events, to improve and personalise the cricket experience for all.

Good Governance & Social Responsibility

The ECB will make decisions in the best interests of the game and use the power of cricket to make a positive difference to communities around England and Wales. Protecting the integrity of our sport is critical and we will ensure we have the right governance and processes to achieve that.

Strong Finance & Operations

The ECB will increase the game’s revenues, invest our resources wisely and administer them responsibly to secure the growth of the game.

So far so good. For if a little PR orientated, it provides a benchmark against which the ECB can and should be measured in terms of their own performance and their aspirations. It can’t be denied that as a set of principles, it’s not too bad. There are clearly some clauses inserted to ensure that no one can possibly point out a gap, but that is the modern world, and no bad thing provided that is adhered to, even in part. The question is whether they do, or in some instances whether they even try.

More Play

The ECB will make the game more accessible and inspire the next generation of players, coaches, officials and volunteers, with a particular focus on families and the young.

It’s always been said that the trick of public relations is to get the big lie out of the way in the headline or title – the German Democratic Republic, the Department of Trade and Industry are two examples. Certainly “More Play” would be a positive, yet all the evidence points in the other direction. The ECB have stopped publishing detailed information on participation levels in England and Wales, presumably because they kept showing disastrous falls. One clever wheeze was to start combining the figures of both men and women, which given the rise of female cricket (and here, it must be acknowledged that the ECB have done well, and much as it might grate, perhaps the biggest advocate for it was the otherwise Odious Giles Clarke) has successfully masked to some extent the catastrophic collapse in male participation. Most figures go as far as 2016 so it is always possible that the last two years have seen the trend reversed, however unlikely. Snapshots may have different methodologies, so can’t be compared with the most comprehensive survey available over the last decade, which demonstrated a fall in the numbers of active participants of a quite horrifying 35%. The decline amongst youth players isn’t remotely as marked, but few sports are faced with such a collapse in interest and participation as cricket over that period.

Sport England’s Active People Survey shows a similar level of decline over the same period, albeit with different numbers, also demonstrating that some sports have performed well, and others badly. Cricket is unquestionably one of those that have performed badly, even more so given the rise in women playing to complicate the overall picture. Yet if the figure of just under 2 million women playing football once a week is accurate, then it amounts to approximately seven times as many women playing football as men playing cricket. That can be claimed to be a huge success for women’s sport (and is) but it also highlights rather acutely the problem cricket has, particularly when a fall from just under half a million cricketers to just over a quarter of a million is taken into account. Of course, that doesn’t mean for a second that growing the game shouldn’t be an aspiration, just the opposite, but the record of the ECB in the 21st century hasn’t been a good one, and the removal of cricket from free to air television does coincide with the fall in playing numbers. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, yet it is hard not to draw conclusions from the way the game has struggled for interest at the same time as it was removed from public sight. There is far too much corroboratory evidence to contradict the view that cricket, once one of the three major team sports in the country, is now a minority pursuit in every sense.

Within the body of the clause is a desire to make the game more accessible, and a particular focus on families and the young. This is part of the justification for the Hundred, and indeed reflects a lot of the statements made by various ECB officials in its support. The ECB’s own market research has indicated the cricket simply isn’t on the radar of children, with no recognition either of the game or the key players in the national team. The trouble here is that simply saying this is what it is all for, no matter how clumsily (“mums and kids”) doesn’t mean for a second that the aspiration becomes reality. The social media response to the endless variations on rules and playing conditions has been negative, which doesn’t mean that there is no merit behind any of them per se (nor that social media is representative of anything), but the whole intention behind Cricket Unleashed takes on a rather different hue when allied to the constant refrain that it isn’t aimed at existing cricket fans.

Accessibility can also be inferred to be a reference to cricket on free to air television, and if the omnishambles behind the Hundred to date has any saving grace whatever, it is the tacit admission by the ECB that hiding the game behind a paywall has been hugely damaging. It is vanishingly unlikely that anyone in authority will ever admit that, but the selling the Hundred rights for a relative song to the BBC (and that specific desire that it be the BBC) show that actions speak louder than words.

The trouble is that this particular aspiration collides headlong with many of the others, and that’s where the trouble begins. It is indicative of the mess the ECB have got into that the five pillars are tending towards the mutually exclusive. They needn’t have been.

Great Teams

The ECB will deliver winning men’s and women’s teams across the international and domestic spectrum that inspire and excite fans through on-field performance and their connection with the public on and off the field.

Of course. Wouldn’t anyone want that? Yet despite the statements from the ECB that Test cricket is their priority, this statement is suitably vague in terms of what it might actually mean. They could certainly argue that they are delivering on success in white ball cricket, both male and female, but it provides a nice free pass for the areas that aren’t going so well. It also places a lot of importance on the World Cup next year, and England’s hopes of winning it. A bad World Cup would seriously call into question the entire strategy on its own merits, let alone from the perspective of the Test game. Equally, the reference to domestic cricket being “inspiring and exciting” could be held to be indicating a white ball focus rather than red. The continued marginalisation of the County Championship certainly implies as much, and in the short term at least, the call up of players to the Test team who aren’t even playing red ball cricket for the counties is not a matter of protest so much as an obvious concomitant of the ECB’s own strategy.

The addition of a fourth limited overs domestic competition at the same time as reducing the importance of the County Championship (how else can its being shunted to April, May and September be viewed?) indicates plainly where the priorities lie. At the same time, they have financial imperatives that strongly point to what they are doing now, but ones that are on shaky ground in future given the fall in interest in cricket in the first place – if cricket loses interest, those TV rights become much less valuable. Hence the need for the Hundred, which may increase awareness of the game without directly impacting on the existing domestic and international finances.

Inspired Fans

The fan will be at the heart of our game, our thinking and our events, to improve and personalise the cricket experience for all.

This perhaps of all the five pillars of ECB wisdom will have the cricket supporter chuckling away most. The ever increasing ticket prices alone are hardly an indication of the fan being at the heart of anything other than the ECB’s wallet. To be fair to them, at least on this occasion they managed to include cricket fans in their list of stakeholders rather than ignoring them entirely, but nothing highlights the lack of trust in the organisation more than that even those not overtly critical of the ECB strategy will find this particular clause something of a joke.

It’s not even just the obvious issues that vex many a sporting fan (said ticket prices, food and drink costs, stadium access and so forth), it is also that the cricketing schedule is a mess to the point that fixtures are arranged with no thought whatever for the spectator. Bank Holidays empty of cricket, four day matches with no consistency on start date nor even falling over weekends, even entire swathes of the summer with no cricket in some formats at home grounds.

Naturally, paying lip service to supporters is a common complaint in all sports, but cricket has a particular problem in that the people who have supported the game over a long time are very often the same people who volunteer at clubs or schools to try to promote the sport itself. Treating traditional cricket spectators with contempt has a far greater impact on the game than is the case in previously comparable sports simply because there’s neither depth nor competition for attendance.

Of course, for T20 in particular, crowds have been strong, and some counties such as Surrey have invested heavily in a procedure known as “marketing”, to the point that they have demonstrated consistently high crowds, despite not having the assistance of the Hundred to do so. This might be thought to be worthy of credit, yet the silence from the ECB on this subject has been deafening. Of course, the whole tournament is restricted to Sky subscribers in the first place, and the unwillingness of either the ECB, the counties or both to countenance a drop in income is precisely why an additional tournament has been deemed necessary.

However, the nature of the crowds attending is rather open to debate. T20 cricket is neatly packaged into three hours (this has stretched somewhat – at the beginning it was two and a half, while the IPL has suffered from some games going as long as four hours), and attracts the casual spectator. This ought to be a good thing, for the shortest version of the game – so far – can and should be a gateway to developing an interest in cricket. However there are anecdotal complaints that people attend for a night out rather than game itself, which still isn’t a problem, for it provides much needed revenues from the bars. What is a contradiction is that the ECB have promoted the upcoming Hundred as being a family affair, while repeatedly stating it isn’t aimed at existing cricket fans.

They have a problem here: firstly in that no one has any idea where these prospective fans will be coming from, and secondly the often raucous atmosphere of a T20 is hardly conducive to being a family affair. It is impossible to believe that they will restrict the sale of alcohol for a start, meaning that without a currently entirely invisible to cricket demographic flocking to grounds, the chances are that it will simply replicate existing audiences, at best.

Good Governance & Social Responsibility

The ECB will make decisions in the best interests of the game and use the power of cricket to make a positive difference to communities around England and Wales. Protecting the integrity of our sport is critical and we will ensure we have the right governance and processes to achieve that.

The opening line of this clause is in some ways the most controversial statement of the lot, even more so than the one about fans. For it is beyond question that this should be the primary role of a governing body, the question is whether it actually is.

Is it truly in the best interests of the game to marginalise red ball cricket? Is it truly in the interests of the game to weaken the Test side (for there can be little argument that this is the effect)? Was it truly in the best interests of the game to oversee a sport that has become invisible and that participation has plummeted?

No one has ever said balancing the needs of a sport is easy, and certainly the ECB’s equivalents are subject to plenty of criticism. Yet even an organisation as institutionally controversial as FIFA could argue that they have significantly grown the sport around the world. The ECB can’t even arrest the decline of theirs in England and might well be directly responsible for it. Over the last 20 years or so there have been repeated opportunities to take decisions that were in the interests of the wider game, yet time and again the perception (at the very least) is that this has not been the motivation.

The creation of the Hundred is entirely at odds with the statement that “protecting the integrity of the sport is critical”, as more and more outlandish ideas are bandied around in order to provide a differentiation for what is already there. Whatever the length of a game, the fundamentals of the game of cricket remain. Considering abolishing the lbw law (as they were reported to have done) drives a coach and horses through the very idea that the integrity of the game is sacrosanct. It isn’t going to happen of course, but the very fact that it was even up for consideration is highly indicative that anything, including the game of cricket itself is very much up for grabs when commercial desires apply. Too many people have made the observation that the ECB is the only sporting body to hate its own sport for it to be given the benefit of any doubt. All of which leads to:

Strong Finance & Operations

The ECB will increase the game’s revenues, invest our resources wisely and administer them responsibly to secure the growth of the game.

This is one area the ECB can (and do. Oh my word, they really do) point to success. The move behind a paywall has seen the revenues rise consistently over the last 15 years, albeit some years are better than others. But there appears to be little scope for significant growth as things currently stand, without something such as the Hundred, and that relies on it being a success.

There is a central question here which the ECB have never been able to plausibly dismiss, which is whether the purpose of the money is to support the game, or whether the game is there to generate money. The former should be the sole focus of any governing body – the suspicion is that the latter is specifically what drives the ECB.

What is the money actually for? It is highly questionable whether the revenues have reached the recreational game for one thing – indeed many clubs might not notice much difference were the ECB to disappear entirely, such is the distance of the relationship between them. The clubs themselves have no say whatever over anything the ECB do. In contrast to the FA, where elections occur at every level of the pyramid, the ECB appoint someone to be a voice of the club and village game, with no reference whatever to it.

Likewise, although there are initiatives such as Chance to Shine and All Stars Cricket, much of the funding comes from elsewhere, and most of the work is done by club volunteers. Indeed, in the latter case the degree of subsidy is rather open to question, in terms of whether there is much if any at all. It should always be noted that the various England youth sides are included in the grassroots funding of the game. They are worthy recipients of money, naturally, but grassroots? No.

How well they operate as initiatives is a more open question. Chance to Shine appears to have performed well, in at least trying to stem the losses in interest and participation (sometimes success is measured in managing decline), but All Stars Cricket has had a mixed reception, and it is impossible to know whether the claimed figures represent a genuine uplift in junior interest, or whether it is largely those likely to be involved anyway measured twice.

The county game of course relies in large part on the TV deals done and the subsidy derived from the ECB themselves. Counties haven’t been self-sufficient for much of their histories, but the justification has always been that they are the proving ground and development centres for the international teams. As the ECB imperils the Test team by their strategy, that justification becomes just a little weaker.

Equally, those desiring terrestrial TV coverage, whether of county or international cricket are constantly met with the response that the drop in funding would damage the county game. At this point, the difficult question needs to be put: So what?

All businesses cut their cloth according to their income, the idea that counties would not be able to cope with a drop in subsidy implies that they are unable to run their basic affairs. Football teams cope with relegation, because they address the cost base to reflect the income differential. To suggest that county cricket is the sole industry totally unable to handle this is to say that it is akin to a heroin addict unable to function without their latest fix. It certainly would be difficult, it certainly would involve job losses, and it certainly wouldn’t please players who saw their income level drop. But it could and would survive, unless those who are running cricket are entirely incompetent.

This is why the central question of what that desire for ever increasing revenue remains to ask what it is for. It doesn’t remotely appear to be for the betterment of the game of cricket, it appears to be for the betterment of a subsection of the game of cricket. The amateur game barely notices whether there are rises or falls, only the professional game would, and it is a valid question as to whether that is a price worth paying for a sport now in deep trouble.

Whether a reduction in income in return for vastly greater television exposure would be worthwhile depends entirely on where an observer is standing. Within the upper echelons of the game, it would be viewed as a disaster. Elsewhere, perhaps not so much. Yet this strikes at the very essence of the reason for the ECB’s existence. If it is not for the benefit of the game of cricket itself, but for the benefit of those employed within it, then the ECB haven’t just failed to abide by the terms of their own mission statements, they have demonstrated thoroughly that they don’t deserve to run the game.

And here lies the ultimate irony: Having presided over the transition of the game from one that managed to become a national icon in 2005 to one that barely registers in public consciousness, cricket has become so lacking in importance that the conduct of its governing authority passes without much notice, and without much interest. Giles Clarke once said (smugly) that no one cares about administration. He was correct, but not entirely for the reasons he was suggesting. No one cares about administration when the sport being administered has become irrelevent. And that’s why it’s not the failing of the ECB’s Five Pillars that is the problem, it’s that they’ve made such a monumental mess of it this century that few people any longer care enough to challenge them on it.

England vs India, 3rd Test, Day 4 – The Painful Reality

Firstly, it would be churlish not to praise India who have well and truly demolished England in this Test. They need one more wicket, but the game is over, the only small delight comes from watching Rashid and Anderson surviving and thus forcing everyone, especially England’s top order, to come back tomorrow.

Some, myself included, thought that India could be on verge of a damning series defeat after Lords as it felt that this tour was starting to descend into free fall. Not one bit of it, as much as England have been poor (and boy have they been poor), India have been very good with bat and ball. Kohli set the tone with the bat once again and showed why he is the quite simply the best batsman in the world and this time he was ably assisted by Rahane and Dhawan amongst others. With the ball, Hardik Pandya secured his first 5 wicket haul in Tests in the first innings with Sharma and Bumrah both bowling superbly in each innings, the latter securing his five-for in the second. Any thoughts of a whitewash have been completely wiped away, it is now India in the ascendency and with a very real chance of securing or at least sharing the series.

Then we come to England (clicks wrists) and it is extremely hard to compose anything that can actually cover how completely and utterly abject they have been in this Test. Sure Stokes and Buttler in particular, who thoroughly deserved his maiden century after showing the top order how to bat properly, managed to salvage a little bit of pride in the 2nd innings when the game was already truly lost, but as much as the media would like to paint the positives here, the damage had already been done. It is almost typical England (John Crawley made a living from this as the archetypal second innings Charlie) that they finally make some runs when they are so far behind the eight ball that it doesn’t matter aside from personal milestones. This hasn’t just been a sanity check or a bad day at the office, these things happen way to often just to be a bad day at the office, this has still been a thrashing –  something that anyone who is associated with this side should be embarrassed about given it was lost on day two. I’m going to give the bowlers a bit of pass here, as although they could have bowled better, certainly on day one by pitching the ball up more consistently, it is not they who have lost this Test for England, though the ironic thing is that one of them is most likely going to pay with his place in the team due to the sheer inadequacy of the England batting and fielding units. I think if you compared these two elements relatively to a village side’s expectations, then you would be doing village cricket a disservice, this was far worse. As I mentioned before, it’s not as if it has been coming, England have lost 10 wickets in a session 3 times more in the past 22 months than they did in the last 80 years, yet still we keep being told to take the positives and that the players are working hard to correct things. One question then, how long do these overpaid and mollycoddled individuals need? We’ve had gaping holes in our batting line up for more time than I remember, we have shown time and time again that we are more than capable of collapsing on the flattest of pitches against the most average of bowling attacks and quite simply things are getting worse not better.

You only have to show highlights of England’s batting in this Test to show quite how bad this unit is. The lack of technique against the new ball, the edging of deliveries to the slips which didn’t need to be played at, the lack of will and application to grind out a session in tough conditions and the general apathy about representing their country. This is not just the players’ fault, though they have to accept that they also have a big responsibility for this mess, but there just also seems to be no accountability in the coaching unit. Bayliss is babysitting the team until the next World Cup, Chuckles Farbrace normally only comes out in the media after a good session and we have a batting coach (whose contract has just been extended whilst England’s batting performances get worse) that averaged a jot over 27 with the bat and admitted that he was unable to deal with the intensity of Test cricket. Andy Flower is doing a great impression of not being remotely seen in public when England are performing badly and one dreads to think where Graves and Harrison are and what they are currently dreaming up. Joe Root, who in my opinion should not be captain being our best batsman by a mile, is the man who keeps getting hung out to dry in the media as the rest of the coaches and players hide behind their handsome salaries and hope no-one notices them.

Let’s not make any bones about it; this batting unit is a wreck. Cook’s eyes have gone and so has his hunger, the best thing Jennings could do is purchase a one way ticket back to Jo’burg, Root shouldn’t be batting at 3 with the added burden of the captaincy, Bairstow and Stokes (who played with some proper acumen today) often seem to play the same innings no matter what the match situation, Buttler (this innings apart as he played extremely well) has yet to show that he has the consistency to be a staple of the English batting line up and Pope is a young kid trying to find his way in the game. The batting line up of the 90’s was much maligned but they would absolutely stomp all over this line up. Can you imagine Jennings, Cook and Buttler et al facing Walsh & Ambrose or Wasim & Waqar, there would be absolute carnage. I bet this team wouldn’t make 100 between them most times. Time after time, collapse after collapse, this unit continues to fail apart from the odd ‘solo innings of excellence’ but here we are, still trying to fix the massive hole in the hull whilst the flood water continues to gush in, with a sticking plaster. Don’t even get me started about the fielding unit, if I have to see another ‘slack-jawed, derp-I-dropped-another-catch-face’ from either Cook or Jennings, then I’m going full ‘Michael Douglas – Falling Down’ on my way to the Oval. The fact that our brains trust can’t even successfully master how to catch a ball at slip, then what hope does the rest of the team have? We have dropped 15 slip catches in 3 games, do you know how hard that is to actually achieve? Now it’s well known that I’m not a fan of St. Jimmy of Burnley’s antics on the cricket pitch, but I would fully condone acts of extreme violence from Jimmy to either of these two butter fingered miscreants.

Do you know what though, this performance is exactly what England and the ECB deserve. The general incompetence and apathy that is the ECB, has manifested itself both on and off the pitch and to be fair the England cricket team now reflects its administrators; a team of greedy, shallow individuals who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. We have a former captain in the throes of batting decline, one who is so paranoid that he believes that the media is out to get him despite being the beneficiary of endless hagiographies during his career. We have just dropped a talented 20 year who was Man of the Match two games ago, because England’s thug of an all-rounder needs an arm round him after getting into trouble on a night out. We have marginalised county cricket so much that it is now irrelevant and unable to supply players to the national team anywhere near international standard, we have upset and marginalised the fans whose money is somehow not good enough, we have the Hundred too all in the name of a focus on white ball cricket by the ECB so that those at the top can still make a mint from the game, whilst the rest watch it burn to the sinews.

Yet back to this series and so poor has the display been that some of our friends in the media might write about their surprise at such a poor performance, even though this has been happening with alarming regularity. There may even be the odd murmur about Cook’s form, which has been consistently on the wane for the past few years. However, don’t expect it to last, before the week is out we’ll be talking about how ‘Cook can decide his own time to retire’ and ‘how important it is for England to hit back after Trent Bridge’ narratives and soon enough this game will be but a distant memory.  Just like every single horrific collapse and every single away tour has been over the past few years. Besides, what would motivate the ‘old boys’ at the top of the chain and their compliant media friends to make waves by doing what’s best for the team when malignant mediocrity pays exactly the same amount?

It’s just one Test.  But it’s not just one Test is it?  And short of a surprise monsoon tomorrow, being 2-1 up doesn’t alter that.

England vs India: 3rd Test, Day Three – The Calm Before the Storm

The worst part about one sided Test matches is that long periods of play can amount to going through the motions, at least for the team that is adrift in the match.  Today was certainly in that category, for it wasn’t until the last 9 overs of play that the match perked up somewhat, as we arrived at the business end of events.

Not that any of this is remotely India’s fault, if fault is even the right word.  From the beginning of play it was clear that India’s lead of approaching 300 was already likely to be enough, but with three days of the match to go, they could afford a leisurely day of run building, whilst needing to take few risks in doing so.  The morning was largely soporific, India adding just 72 to their overnight score, whilst England were content enough after the initial burst to opt largely for containment.  Pujara and Kohli accumulated nicely, with the latter much the more fluent, which perhaps surprises no one.  All in all, it was that rarest of beasts in recent times – Test match batting.

Had the outcome of the match been in question, it would have been far more interesting to observe, for certainly England got some life in the air and off the surface, and even created the odd chance, though Buttler dropped one and Jennings another before the innings was done.  It’s not been a happy time of it in the slip cordon, and most have been culpable at one time or another.  A catching success rate against the seamers that amounts to roughly  one in two is going to make life harder than it need be, if nothing else, but it also indicated that a team less generous than England were going to take wickets.

That there was movement in the air was indicated by how one that moved after passing the bat caught Jonny Bairstow on the end of the finger.  It’s always worth finding an old wicketkeeper and asking them what that’s like – the wincing and head shaking rather gives it away.  Little concentrates the mind about catching technique quite as much as being entirely aware of how much it hurts when you get it wrong.  With Bairstow off to hospital for an X-ray that would reveal a fracture, Buttler took over behind the stumps – perhaps the one bright spot of the day being that England at least do have more than one wicketkeeper in the side

The dismissal of Pujara came as something of a surprise, not least to him, but given it was his first fifty in 16 first-class innings, he can be forgiven for taking his time over it, and the extended net that this second innings had become was ideal for playing himself back into form, which may yet be pivotal in the series.  England didn’t give up, they kept at him, and certainly didn’t offer up many freebies, which is probably as much as anyone could ask for in the circumstances.  What is notable is how few commentators were kidding themselves before the start of play that one fantastic session would get England back into the game.  There’s an air of resignation about this match.

Kohli’s dismissal for 103 brought a nice statistical quirk, acutely observed in the comments here by Arron (nonoxcol), that he now has match totals of 200 runs in two Tests this series.  A rarity indeed, and nearly enough to cause people to pay attention to what was going on.

Post tea, the urgency began to increase somewhat, at least in the mind of Hardik Pandya, while Rahane at the other stirred himself once in a while to score a run or two.  India have entirely earned this right, and keeping the England bowlers out there while the pitch wears and the bowlers tire is as much a part of the game as anything else.  But it lacks jeopardy, perhaps the most important element of a game of cricket and the reason to keep watching.  For there was simply no need for India to worry about it; the runs were coming freely enough, and there was no time constraint to cause calculations to be made about time remaining.   Nevertheless, a half hearted effort at a late injection of pace allowed Hardik to complete an enjoyable run a ball half century, and that was that, time for the declaration.

What invariably happens when a team is faced with a preposterous target is that various lists are put up about the highest run chases in history, and when the required runs are vastly in excess of the world record, the timeless Test between South Africa and England is mentioned.  It’s a rite of passage for any cricket fan to be educated on what has happened nigh on a century ago to allow them to pretend that a given Test is not going in one direction only.  Still, it passes the time.

A short session to bat isn’t easy, and Cook and Jennings did well to survive it, albeit with an element of fortune from time to time.  But such circumstances often occur with a day remaining, as one side fights desperately to keep their wickets intact to have a chance of salvaging a draw on the last day.

There are two days to go.

They’re stuffed.

OK, it’s theoretically possible that England could offer some decent resistance, but the problem is twofold:  It’s not just that the player-who-might-conjure-up-a-brilliant-rearguard-in-the-fourth-innings-but-hardly-ever-does looks either hideously out of form or in terminal decline depending on whether someone is an (extreme) optimist or otherwise, it’s that the rest of the batting line up have no sense of permanence about them whatever.  Even if they score runs, they do so quickly.  This is a team without the slightest prospect of hoping to bat 150 overs (let’s be generous and assume some rain).  Indeed, the absurdity of England’s position is such that they probably have a better chance of winning the game than they do of drawing it, and probably in about 120 overs too.  Clearly this is pure whimsy, for there’s not a cat in hell’s chance of that happening, but it’s illustrative of an England side for whom the art of batting in a Test appears to be a receding memory.

The expectation must be that this is done tomorrow.  And then the inquest can begin, with particular prizes on offer to all those in the media expressing surprise that this has happened again.

England v India: 3rd Test, Day Two – Same old Song

Let’s start with the good news.  The series is still alive, and barring something supremely improbable, India will win to make it 2-1.  Given the fug of depression about how cricket is being managed in this country, that amounts to a small mercy – a Test series that will at least go to the fourth game with the outcome in the balance.

That’s pretty much it, from an English perspective at least, as this looks nailed on to be a second Test in the series that is hopelessly one sided, although this time in favour of the tourists.  That tight Edgbaston Test seems a long time ago now.

Play might have started late, but there is time added on at the end.  Wickets might have fallen, but there is half an hour to make up for delays.  And yet still, by the time of the close, the required overs were well short.  Yesterday was three overs, today was a quite staggering ten adrift.  For long enough the authorities have shown no interest in making the players complete the minimum of 90 in a day, and in truth a lot of fans aren’t that bothered either, but if they can get away with this without punishment, then this is only going to get worse.

The one advantage England have is that they are extremely good at compressing play into what’s available – certainly losing all ten wickets in a session for the third time in two years demonstrates an uncanny ability to take time out of the game and ensure that it doesn’t matter.

Indeed, a morning session where England rattled through the Indian lower order presaged what was to follow quite well.   It didn’t take a soothsayer to forecast a batting shambles, the only suprising thing was that Cook and Jennings batted really rather well initially to take England to the break unscathed.  The horror show that followed on the other side of lunch was utterly predictable, for all morning the ball had swung, and all morning India struggled against it.  That much was likely to be obvious for there has been endless coverage about how India’s batsmen have difficulty against movement through the air.  What gets less mention is that England’s batsmen do too.  It’s hardly the first time, whether home or abroad in recent times.  The Kookaburra ball may not retain its shine as long as the Duke, but it doesn’t stop England’s top order falling over in a heap on anything but a low flat surface (hello Melbourne).

Hardik Pandya may have taken all the plaudits with a well earned five-for, but it could have been any of them in truth, such was the total command over the England batting line up.  And yet, how many of the dismissals were down to what was excellent bowling?  Most of the wickets were down to poor shots, playing at deliveries they didn’t need to, edging behind ones that needn’t have been played at.  Cook could have been out three times immediately after lunch, driving loosely, being dropped at slip before finally being put out of his misery.  This isn’t even new – he has found problems with this line of attack for a long time now, and occasional big scores on a flat deck don’t counter the increasing evidence that his decline is looking terminal. Nor do repeated claims that he’s been undone by a wonder ball, when his technical shortcomings are making them look far better than they are.  He’s had a few good balls, sure, but a Cook in form would have coped with them.  This blog is constantly accused of being down on Cook, but it isn’t that he ought to be jettisoned, for there is no evidence at all that anyone else would do better – see the rest of England’s batting for an example.  But it would be nice if some balanced coverage noted that he has had, and is having serious difficulties.  Instead what is more likely is that after having spent a long while refusing to accept the obvious, they will pile on to him now suggesting retirement.  It is, after all, exactly what happened before Melbourne, after which it suddenly became all hagiography.

It’s no better elsewhere in the top order, with the exception of Root, who is at least scoring runs much of the time, even if conversion is an issue.  Five catches to the wicketkeeper and three to slip tell its own story of England utterly at sea against the moving ball.  The victory at Lords wasn’t built on a dominant top order any more than England have had that for the last few years, it was all about the all rounders rescuing the team from a position that was only competitive because of how badly the opposition had batted.

This is the position in which England find themselves time and again, and the pretence that a big score from someone like Woakes (however welcome) covers up the flaws means a failure to recognise that being consistently 80-4 is not just part of the problem, it a major problem.  There’s just no sign at all of any learning going on, or more likely, they aren’t capable of taking that next step.  In the hubbub over the selection of first Buttler and then Rashid from outside the county championship, few noted how the effective abolition of first class cricket from the heart of the season made those kind of decisions more likely, and how the concomitant difficulties of the Test team should come as a shock to no one whatever.  If it had been in rosy health in the first place, it wouldn’t have happened.  England have focused on short form cricket, and done so at the expense of Test cricket.  The odd victory here or there doesn’t mean that the trajectory is any less downward, and while the team may have successes, the game of Test cricket itself looks in ever more fragile health, in one of the two countries who really do value it.  At least the supporters do.

That England got as many as they did was largely down to Buttler, who was ironically freed of the requirement to bat like a Test player by the batting meltdown going on around him.  A few lusty blows at least saved the follow on (not that it would have been enforced) and showed what he is good at.

As is invariably the case when a team has a huge lead, India’s batsmen made it look far easier when they got their go.  Equally invariably, the questions over England’s bowlers surfaced, as if it was their fault that England can’t bloody bat.  Sure, there are always things they can do better, and some things that frustrate, but it remains laughable to focus on the bowlers who are consistently having to try and rescue a catastrophic position defending a pathetic total.  England’s bowling is a concern, and England’s bowling post Anderson and Broad is a serious concern, but it’s still not going to make that much difference if the batsmen are shot out repeatedly by anything more than medium pace, on any surface that offers movement or bounce, or any atmospheric conditions that allow the ball to swing.

It’s not new.  It’s not unusual.  It’s every single damn time, unless one of the all rounders has a golden day.  A strategy of hoping the opposition are even more abject with the bat than England can only work some of the time, while the question marks over five day Tests in England are symptomatic of a total inability to stay in the middle for any length of time rather than anything else.

England are getting stuffed.  And the excuses will come out yet again, preferably ignoring the huge body of evidence for how this has been going on for years without any sign or hint that anyone has a clue why.  At some point, it might be mentioned that they aren’t that good, and that they’ve been carried for a few senior players who are all at varying degrees of being near the end, no matter how much some have stuck their heads in the sand and asserted that there are no problems.  England being 2-0 up has led plenty to assert that all is well, in total defiance of what is in front of them.  England’s position today is not an excuse to go on the attack, but it is to cause a reminder than none of this is new, and none of it is unexpected.

We’ve had two days of this match.  India can bat for as long as they like (which would actually be a pleasant surprise if done by anyone this series), and grind England into the dust.  So they should too, for while it might not make riveting viewing, it is the logical requirement for a team in their position.  If they don’t, then this game might not go three days.  And that is undoubtedly the worst part.  This pitch is not a minefield, impossible to bat on.  The ball is hardly moving extravagantly.  These are slightly favourable to the bowlers Test match conditions of the type seen in this country for decades; the inability to cope in any way with them is what is new.

 

England v India – Day 1 – People Talking Without Speaking

It seemed inevitable. Inexorable. Virat Kohli had removed his helmet, put on his India cap and settled down for the Adil Rashid over. He was on 95. He was preparing to celebrate his hundred, and he’d very much like to do it in that over.

First ball. He blasted a ball through the covers for 2 to take him to 97. Second ball played defensively. Ultra aggressive, he under edged a drive third ball. Robert Key in the commentary box exhorted Adil to bowl it at his pace, not to push it through. Fourth ball, pushed forward. No run. Nothing from ball five. Last ball of the over. A floated delivery, a flash as Kohli clearly wanted to bring three figures up with a cap on and with an expansive drive, an edge, and Stokes pouches a catch at first slip. For the first time in quite a while I jumped up and punched the air. That, Adil, is a first innings scalp, bowled your way, and on a wicket not taking spin at all.

While this was an important moment in the day’s play it was the two hours or so that preceded it that set the tempo of the game. When Kohli and Rahane were going strong in their partnership India took a vulnerable lunchtime position and converted it into a position of ascendancy. Rahane showed a decent return to form, while Virat was just Virat. India showed some resiliency, a willingness to fight and to compete with England. That we are not taking this for granted might be a signal of the problems facing test cricket, but it is welcome nonetheless. Rahane’s 81 might signal more runs in the next few games.

India finished the day on a duff note with Pandya falling to Anderson at the end of the 87th over, where, despite it being 6:26, the umpires decided enough was enough and wandered off, whereupon we will fondly remember the three overs not bowled today. 307 for 6 is a delicate position on a wicket that gave plenty of help in the morning but does lack pace. It could bring spin into the game as it goes on, but then the experts tell us that Nottingham doesn’t take spin. What it looks like is England have a lot of work to do. We don’t react well to first innings scores over 250, and this is a chance to rectify that.

Those early exchanges after England won the toss and inserted India were ominous. While Dhawan and Rahul accumulated runs, and certainly showed ample commitment and desire, the element of danger was there with swing and movement. One of those smug little stats twitter feeds was telling us that there was more swing than when Broad was bowling out Australia in 2015. That’s nice. How can we know if that’s true or not, sitting at home? I digress. Anderson and Broad got a lot of movement but couldn’t make the breakthrough. Root, no doubt trying to get Stokes into the game, took Broad off, and the batting became easier as the pugilistic all-rounder wasn’t on his game. Woakes came on, removed Dhawan who nicked off to slip, Rahul with an LBW that survived a review, and on the stroke of lunch, Pujara who hooked the ball right down Adil Rashid’s throat, which put an end to the tireless “he didn’t do anything for his money” at Lord’s cobblers.

I must confess I did not see much of the afternoon session, as last night’s post-work session took hold and there was a hangover to get shot of! But while I was sleeping wondering why I’d had that extra pint, India accumulated. There were copious mentions of “Chief Executive’s Pitches” and England not providing a total green-top (and then we’ll wonder why our spin bowlers will struggle), and some mentioning that why England losing is good for test cricket is nonsense. The 159 partnership put them past the 200 mark for just the second time in 10 test innings in England (or something like that). Rahane was more fluent, but Kohli more ominous. When the breakthough came, I was hanging on to Sky Sports Saturday and Millwall leading 2-1, when I saw Lawrence Booth’s tweet about a “staggering catch”. I switched over to see a very decent left hand grab to a ball Bairstow should have nabbed. Very good catch, excellent reactions, but it was probably only staggering for Cook. I’m seriously not trying to be a curmudgeon here, but it’s one of those you stick your hand out and go “eff me” when it sticks. I think all of us who have played the game even at our crap levels might have had the same feeling. We had “greatest ever Cook catch” competitions, and the game rolled on. Hardik Pandya came out to bat, and the vendetta Holding seems to have against him continued. It’s almost Selfey/Rashid levels.

At time of writing, Mike Selvey has not commented on the Rashid dismissal of Kohli. His attention was drawn to Cook’s catch, but evidently Rashid’s dismissal has not got through. We await the tablets of stone.

Once Kohli was dismissed, Risabh Pant decided that test cricket needed a bit of livening up and smashed his second ball in tests into the stands. Rashid laughed, and that’s all you can do. Pant has been a talent, no doubt, with a first class triple under his belt, but you have to admire his cheek! He’s still there at close of play.

Woakes took three wickets, the first three, with Rashid, Broad and Anderson one apiece. They will bowl worse and take more, bowl better and take fewer. It was that kind of day. A decent day’s test cricket. The game is very nicely poised.

Some comments, finally, on the commentary today. Put TMS on for the chippie run tonight, and switched it off after two minutes of Swann. He’s just bloody insufferable. Dagnall didn’t help either. While on the shopping run I heard Prakash Wakankar commentate. Absolutely magnificent. He commentated on the game, added some insight and appeared to show his love of the game and passion for it. Not as a vehicle for self-promotion or a comedy routine. How welcome.

Meanwhile on Sky, I’m sorry, but David Lloyd is not a national treasure, and it was very funny to see when he was doing that tired old conversation with two members of the public who were listening to the feed, the director could not end it quickly enough. There was also a very odd moment when a young lad came into the commentary box for no apparent reason other than it was his birthday tomorrow. Bizarre. Then in the afternoon we had fishing stories. It’s all very well trying to mimic TMS, but you are on TV, not radio and sometimes silence or commentating on the game works so much better. David Gower spent his first commentary slot, on with the superb Sangakkara (I love writing the name just for the double k – does that make me a white supremacist?), prattling on and on and on, like a rambling old man. It was atrocious and he crowded out probably Sky’s trump card. Robert Key was also on, and was excellent, because (a) he put the bantz stuff away and (b) he provided insight and perceptive comment, especially leading up to Kohli’s wicket.

OK, enough from me. I’m handing the duties over to Chris for tomorrow, when I am out and about, and on Monday too, I think, as I’ll be at Surrey v Lancashire. This has the potential to be another good game, and that, after all, is what we should really want. Isn’t it?

Day 2 comments below…..

And at 19:03, the sound of silence from Selvey.