India vs England: 2nd Test, Day Three: Oh, I Wept

This match was over long ago, we are merely playing out the details. India ground England into the dirt, setting them a preposterous target, while England lost wickets in their vain pursuit of the impossible. It is distinctly possible this will be done and dusted by lunch tomorrow, so outplayed have the tourists been, so unable to compete with India this match. Today was all about a Ravi Ashwin century, as both he and Virat Kohli pummelled the England attack after a bright start.

England did take early wickets, most notable for some fine wicketkeeping from Ben Foakes, but the match situation removes the pressure entirely – quite simply, it didn’t overly matter if India lost wickets, because they probably had enough runs before even starting their second innings. India had earned the right to play with England like a cat with a mouse, and did just that. So much has been said about the pitch being played on, and in truth it probably has deteriorated too quickly to be satisfactory – the chunks being taken out of it on the first day didn’t bode well for a long game. But that’s a matter of degree rather than anything else. The home team has the right to prepare surfaces that suit them, and everyone does it – yes, including you Australia. That England are incapable of coping as well is neither here nor there. Would England really have made a good total had they batted first? They probably would have been much more in the game, but it’s hard not to conclude that India would still have come out on top. England have said nothing negative about the conditions, it’s all come from outside. It was a slight gamble from India certainly, but far from an outrageous one given they were one down in the series. Fundamentally, they’ve not just played better, they’ve absolutely hammered England. The second innings is important not in the sense of England getting anything out of the game but to try to find a method of combating the Indian spinners, who are just far better than their English counterparts. This is a relative matter – on this pitch England are just not going to get 350 and walk off with their heads held high, they are going to lose by a lot. But an hour at the crease to learn and develop will have benefits later in the series.

1-1 is far from a disaster for England, it’s a better state of affairs than many expected half way through. It’s a challenge undoubtedly, and one that will have indicated to the hosts what kind of surfaces will do the job required, but it doesn’t mean England didn’t play superbly in the first Test, nor does it mean that India are only dominant here because of the pitch. There is a break after this match for England to reassess, but they are well in the series and that’s very much a positive.

Some other items from this game so far include the third umpire having something of a stinker and Virat Kohli berating the on field umpire for failing to give Joe Root out. In the latter case, there’s not a shred of doubt that he was extremely lucky to avoid being given lbw to one that looked extremely out, but the decision was (somehow) backed up by DRS, and arguing about it merely made him look a bit of an idiot, particularly given some of what has gone on this match. He can probably expect a fine to come his way.

Of the England batsmen, Rory Burns has looked most at sea, but he only joined the winter series in India, and his 25 in the second innings was a significant improvement. His form has tailed away considerably to the point that rather than looking like the answer as he did a year ago, his place will be coming under scrutiny. But it’s far from easy for him to arrive and look good, his partner Sibley struggled in Sri Lanka, only to come good in the first Test here. It’s always possible Burns will do the same. But he needs runs sooner rather than later.

There’s little more of substance to say. This one is done, let’s move on to Ahmedabad to a Test under lights and see how that one goes.

India v England, 2nd Test, Day 2 – It’s Driving Me Mad, It’s Just Another Way Of Passing The Day

There was a day, a good while ago now, where I could do what I pleased on here. Where I could decide that if I wanted to write a truncated review, I would do so. Mail it in. So when I floated the idea of my match review being purely “See you for the Ahmedabad tests” I got no reply. I took that as meaning I had to write something.

Damn.

England have lost this match, and you don’t need to be Nostradamus to predict that. I said on a tweet yesterday that England would not make 150 on this, and I was correct. Again, hardly Nostradamus. Root was due a failure, and if he fails, then England are pretty much toast in the batting department. So while England made a more than decent start by finishing off the last four wickets for 29 runs, it was only the warm-up act for the circus about to follow.

I hope everyone knows me, and the team on here, well enough to know we are not a bunch of one-eyed England fanboys, bemoaning every slight, perceived or real, like the most avid of Liverpool fans (had to get that dig in, sorry). If we think England are crap, their authorities get things wrong, the press make up nonsense or whatever, then you know we call it. These are honestly held views. While I don’t have the antipathy to this team that I did for the post-Ashes 2014 Cook era nonsense, I can’t get out of bed any earlier to watch Root’s men. (Sleep has become a more important priority these days). I don’t wish them harm, but I’m a bit too old for rah rah nonsense. I hope this means I can offer up criticism of others as well and it be taken as such. Which is a long preamble into this pitch is an utter nonsense, and whoever is responsible for it needs a word.

The wicket has puffed up huge amounts of dust from the outset. It is ragging square. The bounce isn’t that consistent either. Now I know people will defend it, and that’s their right. Australians who laugh at this as if they never do such a thing should never be left to forget the disgrace of Sydney 1999 (when they opened the bowling with a spinner who could trundle medium pace to an acceptable level). Yes, it is as bad as England providing green seamers, although much of the time in England wickets (I know that annoys Pringle, so definitely going to use it) play up because of what is above rather than what is below. Cricket doesn’t need bore draws, but I do disagree with people who say that the toss decided the first test. England had to bat very very well on it to set up a win. Here, the game became a bit of a lottery, but only a bit.

Because what this pitch has shown is that a great performance will win the game, and Rohit Sharma’s 161 is, by any measure, a magnificent performance on this surface. He outscored England by 27, and if he continues in the manner he has started the second innings, he might even beat England on his own! It’s not just the ragging square that has done for England. Burns getting pinned for a second successive duck was just the start England did not want. Sibley, who has worked on a method which is getting him through, was the first victim of spin, and Joe Root was the first victim of Axar in tests when he spooned a sweep shot – hard to be tough on Joe after his Transport for London passenger services in 2021, but it was predictable. He is human. Lawrence getting out to the last ball before lunch was a blow, but he’d got stuck. These are alien conditions, and in some ways what test cricket should be about, if maybe not so extreme!

After lunch the wickets continued to fall. Stokes bowled by a beauty, Pope strangled down the legside, with Pant taking a good one. Moeen Ali, looking like a “magic beans” selection to me, didn’t deliver with the bat again, and last ball before tea, Oliver Stone conspired to hit a shot to mid-wicket. On any given Sunday that could have happened. It just happened on this one.

After tea Jack Leach looked like he had more idea how to bat than most, but then nicked off, with Pant taking an excellent grab, although made more excellent by the fact his first step was to the right, before diving to his left. I’m not a keeper, and I’m not an expert, but thought one of the studio analysts might have picked that up. We’re not getting that from the comm box, we know that already. If it is India, it is great. Which is a shame, because some of them are really pretty decent (I like Murali Kartik, for instance – let him off the leash). Stuart Broad swept and missed and an improbably popular but utterly tedious Twitter feed went back to sleep. England avoided the follow-on, but barely. Whoever has the Day 4 report is hoping Indian wickets tumble rapidly on Day 3.

Ben Foakes played a very impressive innings. I’m not necessarily on the Foakes bandwagon as others, and his keeping has not been flawless (he has just missed a stumping chance), but my word it has been very fluent and his batting was calm and measured. He looks a test cricketer. The England organisation are wedded to the Jos Buttler experience, and anything else is barking at potential returns.

Ravi Ashwin finished with 5 for 43, which was five fewer than some scribes on Twitter thought he might get on this sandpit. Axar Patel looked quite handy too, but let’s face it, I’ve watched just the post-Tea session, and even that was in allergy-fuelled haze, so you might know better than me.

So with a deficit of a mere 195, England set about the Indian batting to allow themselves to nominally chase something short of the world record. It did not begin well. Rohit again balancing attack and defence, while Gill, who if you look up the phrase “potential benefit” in a dictionary will have his picture next to it, alongside a young Mark Ramprakash, did fall, LBW. Rohit Sharma appeared to encourage the youngster to review, indicating that he thought it could be missing leg stump. His eyesight was proved correct, even if the verdict may have been the incorrect one – it was missing leg, but clattering middle. I’m getting a little sick of nearly every LBW being reviewed these days, if it hits the ankle socket on the back foot plumb in front of middle the batsmen especially, and those with ego especially especially, refer it nowadays. I’d make them lose all their reviews if it is hitting the bottom half of a range between the inside of leg stump and off stump to prevent this nonsense. Don’t try to argue against me with logic (what if he thought he hit it?).

Rohit carried on, surviving an out decision for LBW because he hit it (see), in conjunction with Antonine Pujara, but not before an outrageous LBW review where Rohit blatantly hides the bat behind his pad, and yet the umpires somehow convinced themselves that this was a shot played. This hasn’t been a shot for about 20 years, but you know, reasons. This was so egregious even Sunil Gavaskar lost his mind, and that rarely happens on the coverage. In the whole scheme of things, impact on the game, it’s meaningless and not worth getting riled about, and I am not even accusing bias. It’s just wrong. A great, the greatest current cricket nation, like India has been chronically under-represented on the international elite umpiring panel. They arguably umpire in the toughest conditions to adjudicate in world cricket. Surely there has to be better than this? These guys are getting basics wrong.

The day concluded with India on 54 for 1, with Rohit leading England by 52 runs, and India over the hill and far away. I do hope my recalling of the day’s play has not violated a BCCI rule, and I’m off to post my application to be a third umpire.

UPDATE – Ebony has just said that Ben Foakes will never be a Jos Buttler (I presume in test cricket, which is where the debate is – well Ben averages 41, Jos 34, so I suppose Ben has a way to go!)

And as Magnus Magnusson used to almost say, I’ll finish as I started. See you for the Ahmedabad test.

India vs. England, 2nd Test – Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India vs England: 1st Test, Day Four

At around this time, there’s a decent chance my fellow writers on here will be waking up, having spent the early hours of the morning watching the Superbowl. Since this passes right over my head, to the point that not only do I not know who won as I write this, I don’t even know who was in the final. If it’s called a final. And that’s before I try and get my head around play-offs that aren’t play-offs. Or something. I could be wrong, and probably am, but if there’s something that both amuses and irritates them, it’s that I don’t care if I am. Still, they think it’s my loss. Anyway, it meant that I was duly elected as the one to say something today, and I can assure everyone that the others were unanimous in this view.

Back to the cricket, which is why we’re all here. England will go into the final day needing 9 wickets from 90 overs, and it’s something they ought to achieve. The pitch is still good for a fourth day surface, but it’s also showing disconcerting bounce from time to time, both low and high, and it only takes that to happen a few times to make all the difference. But if India were 8 wickets down and escaping with a draw, there will undoubtedly be fingers pointed at the approach England took in the final session, not being especially aggressive with the bat, and not declaring either.

It is forever the case that armchair observers, whether former players or the wider public, are much more aggressive in their thinking than captain and coach ever are. Alastair Cook did his best to try to explain what England might be thinking about (to have two goes with a fairly new ball both this evening and tomorrow morning) but it was fairly clear he didn’t entirely agree. Yet his own captaincy was littered with extremely conservative declarations, and few would deny that on balance Joe Root is much less so – not least given he had his fingers burned once with a bold declaration. That’s not a criticism of Cook in this instance, but it is to note that his evident frustration watching on was very different from his approach as captain. He was self-aware enough to acknowledge the contradiction, but also correctly pointed out that it was less about the specific timing as much as the very curious negativity in the batting.

India will overall be comparatively pleased – their position at the start of play was far enough behind that they could have ended up with a lot longer to bat than they will. That was down almost entirely to Washington Sundar, who batted with controlled aggression to narrow the gap somewhat. But 241 remained a huge lead for England, and meant that even losing early wickets didn’t materially affect that position. In such circumstances, it’s often most helpful to be bowled out in reasonable time while scoring quickly, and for much of their 2nd innings it was exactly how it seemed to be unfolding. Root and Pope in particular took chances and went along at not far short of a run a ball. With both their dismissals, that suddenly changed.

There have been some quite exceptional run chases in recent times, and perhaps that is more in the minds of captains than it has been, but 381 more runs to set a world record on a day five pitch seems an absurd prospect. Yes, the likes of Rishabh Pant are aggressive players, but to worry about a world record chase at four an over would be to take caution to the most extreme of levels. If they were to pull off a miracle like that, there’s no point in factoring it in, it would be the freak of all freaks.

Having taken one wicket this evening, the draw is by far the bigger risk and it is that that would represent grounds for criticism. It seems likely the thinking was to preserve the freshness of the bowlers, and it’s a view. The outcome this time tomorrow will dictate the wisdom of it.

India v England – 1st Test, Day 3 – I’ve Gotta Take A Little Time

Karun Nair. 303 not out.

OK, got that out of the way. Cricket is all about memories for me, and one of the most memorable test series I recall from my schooldays was the England tour to India in 1984-85. One of the most memorable matches was the 4th Test at Chennai, as England put on one of their most impressive and dominating display on the subcontinent – they bowled India out for 272, racked up 600+ with two double tons in the innings, then chipped away as Azharuddin made another ton but eked the wickets out, and then knocked off a very small target for what was a series clinching win. I remember it for the tour without Botham, when the prospect of that struck at your primal fear of what a post-Beefy era might look like. The rebel tourists would also miss this series, the last of their ban. I remember sneaking a listen to the radio during my Mock O Level exams, as we couldn’t shift Amarnath or Azharuddin on the 4th day. Our spinners were Edmonds and Pocock. Neil Foster was our seam bowling hero. Also, London was hit by a ton of snow, which this morning, despite the projections of a Beast From The East, we haven’t.

I recall these memories because it is always good to think about what has come before in test cricket, and also because, let’s face it, I’m padding the article out a bit because I didn’t get up until 9! The lyric in the title is from the song that was number 1 in that week in 1985, but I could have looked at those from Insomnia. England started the day on 555 for 8 and added another 23 to that formidable score. I was a bit surprised they carried on batting but not totally. While the commentators are going on about England having to win the series by quite a margin to make the World Test Championship Final, it looks like our strategy is to hang in there and then take a chance should it present itself. And hope that Joe Root makes mountains of runs. So the longer England bats, the less chance they have to lose.

Bess was dismissed for 34, pinned in front by the admirable Bumrah (and it is mad that this is his first test at home), and yet again this resourceful cricketer (Dom) has given a good account of himself with the bat. Anderson was LBW to Ashwin for 1, and England finished on 578. Four years ago, in the first test of that series, England made 537, with three centurions, and were on the brink of forcing a win (needed a little more time) so there is precedent for England starting well in India!

On that occasion Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara made hundreds and England toiled for a while as India made 488. Today they had Jofra Archer, and he got Rohit Sharma to nick off with his 9th ball to get England off to a great start. In came Pujara, who, if I may get all Ronay on you, I might want to call Antonine. Why? Because if Rahul Dravid was Hadrian’s Wall, Chet is a smaller, less impressive version, but a very good wall nonetheless. He had been resistant in Australia, and had blocked England to death before. Getting him early would be a real boost. But it’s easier said than done with Antonine.

India were clicking along at 4 an over when Shubman Gill checked a drive and was very well caught at mid-off by James Anderson. Archer again the wicket taker. Gill is being really pumped by the commentators and pundits, and it may well be that this series is his chance to break out, but I see, at the moment, a player that Gooch’s axiom applies to – he used to say, Gooch that is, that if he had two more shots he’s have averaged a lot less – and I see that in what I have seen of the talented left hander. Indeed, his fellow opener is probably the best example of that.

In came Virat. Now, among many England fans and people I am connected with on social media, I am again, not for the first time swimming against the tide. I really like him! Again, tempting a ton of fate, I think he’s lost a little bit of edge, and I pray to heavens he doesn’t find it for England’s sake, but it would be fun to watch him get it back. I’ve not seen his innings at all, so have no feel for how he batted, but 11 off 48 doesn’t suggest the imposing Virat of yore. He was also out to a defensive prod which was well held by Ollie Pope off the much maligned Dom Bess. With that dismissal, and India fell to 71 for 3. When Rahane hit a Bess ball he made into a full toss to a diving Joe Root at cover, and India were 73 for 4, England were in dreamland. Something I’m not bloody experiencing at the moment!

There was always likely to be a revival, as custodial sentences would probably be appropriate if India were bowled out for below 150. It came in the form of Rishabh Pant on the offensive, and Antonine doing his thing. Pant is going to split cricket fans down the middle. He’s fun to watch, has an abundance of talent, but he’s also going to play that really dumb shot at a really dumb time. In the same way that I grew to love Sehwag the more his career went on (and especially when he used to make hay against Australia) I suppose it will be the same with Pant. The bit of his innings I saw he rode his luck, top edging a sweep, hitting in the air where fielders weren’t, but he also hit some mighty blows, and took Leach to the cleaners. The part I also saw of Antonine (I’ll try to make it stick) was a more positive progressive approach so that at one point he overtook Pant’s score when he had got ahead of him. He may just have had more of a share of bad balls.

The partnership was broken in somewhat, well, not somewhat, very fortunate circumstances. Pujara hit a buffet ball straight into Pope’s body, the ball looped up and was caught at mid-wicket. England needed a breakthrough and the partnership, worth 119 was broken. Antonine made 73. We got to see Rory Burns straggly, sill hair cut again.

Pant continued his assault on Leach, but then Jack got some revenge. Bess, yet again having a golden arm knack, induced Pant to launch into a ball outside off that turned a little, Pant belted it up in the air and Leach took a very good catch at deep cover. 91 was a very good return, but as he walked off I wondered what an English press would make of that dismissal should that have been one of our players doing it. Imagine KP at Edgbaston in 2008 – a shot so good they made him captain – for a hint of the furore. The commentators on the feed we get are all about accentuating the positive (does that doctrine of Indian media not criticising the team still exist, if it ever did) and want him to be what he is. After all he’s just played a pivotal role in winning a series in Australia, and is, at least, not a total cymbals player behind the stumps now. Anyhow, India were 225 for 6.

It would be the last success in the day. Ashwin is a really resourceful player, and a fighter to boot (get those cliches in) and played solidly. Washington Sundar was a little more aggressive, and should have been caught when skying a catch to long on and Jordan Archer dropped the pretty tough chance. I am a fan of Jofra, make no mistake, but the England team had snaffled some other tricky catches, and are going to need to take pretty much every chance. Sundar saw out the day on 33 not out, while Ashwin had made 8 off 58. India closed at 257 for 6. Bess currently has 4 for 55.

So, all set up for Day 4. India will obviously aim for 379 to avoid the follow-on, which is a little bit of an irrelevance. I can only see England enforcing it if India take 4 hours to get to 360ish, and even then I doubt they would. I can see India getting quite close, especially if England don’t shift these two early, but that’s the joy of the game. The possibilities are endless. Maybe I’ll reprise 1985 and sneak a look while working.

Elsewhere, and very much under the radar, in the test at Chattogram, we’ve seen someone make history. Chasing 395 to win, and with a history of Bangladeshi pitches becoming quite spin friendly towards the end of games, Kyle Mayers came out with his team at 59 for 3, and proceeded to become the second player in history to make a double century in a successful run chase in men’s test cricket (Gordon Greenidge being the other). When the winning runs came, with three wickets remaining and limited time, Mayers had made 210. If someone beats that as innings of the year, they would have played very very well. Who is Kyle Mayers? He’s not young, making his debut in this test at 28 years old, averages 33 in first class cricket after this innings! There is always the day it is your time to shine. Today, it is shining for Kyle Mayers.

Could a successful run chase also be on the cards in Rawalpindi, where, at time of writing, South Africa are 100 for 1 chasing 370? Test cricket is showing the naysayers just how wrong they are. Try that 4 day cricket thing, eh, Michael? Another couple of games making your 4 day lovefest look as damn stupid as it always did look.

Finally, unheralded yesterday, but I think worth celebrating, Being Outside Cricket was 6 yesterday. Founded on 6 February 2015 after I closed down How Did We Lose In Adelaide, I wanted to start afresh and more under the radar. There were other reasons! Chris came on board as I found the workload unmanageable and England (and the media) gave us so much to write about. From April 2015, the blog exploded, and had its most hit year! While it is a quieter place now, relatively, and I’ve seen other types of cricket writing go awry or get stale, along with Sean and Danny, this blog is still going pretty strong. The Twitter feed has a life of its own, and while the footfall from there to here is not as much as I would hope, it is still “our brand”. Our friendly, and not so friendly rivals, have fallen away, taken new roles, or changed tack, but I think we’ve stayed reasonably the same. I won’t pretend it has always been smooth sailing and good for my mental health (!), and yes, 2020 I took a break and the gang kept the ship moving forward, but I am deeply proud of what I started, I am proud of the friends I have made along the way, and while I might be taking too much of the credit for myself, the best writing now, and that which resonates, is by my colleagues, and I am proud of that too. The biggest risk to its future is boredom. The way test cricket is going at the moment, I am not sure there is much fear of that.

The snow is getting harder, and I’ve got to walk the dog in this. Happy days!

I think it is Chris tomorrow. It could be a very very interesting day.

(Song lyric – the awful “I Want To Know What Love Is” by Foreigner)

India vs England: 1st Test, Day Two

England have, just about, batted through the first two days and put themselves in a dominant position in this Test. In truth, they looked pretty comfortable through most of the day. The pitch still seems relatively placid, although more balls are starting to spin off the surface or bounce erratically through the day.

The day started with Stokes and Root riding their luck somewhat to avoid being bowled by Bumrah’s yorkers. Both managed to get just enough on the ball that it bounced over or away from the stumps, but it was a close thing. That is perhaps the cruel thing about great batsmen, that the difference between being out or not in Test cricket might be a few millimetres or a few milliseconds and some players consistently manage to get enough bat on ball to survive. Root looked very safe, past that early scare at least, but Stokes was significantly looser. Playing several slog sweeps and reverse sweeps, he survived a sharp caught and bowled chance to Ravichandran Ashwin plus an aerial drive in the covers which Pujara dropped.

Eventually Stokes did hole out, not long after the Lunch break, but not before scoring 82 runs. This brought Ollie Pope to the crease, who missed the Sri Lanka tour due to a shoulder injury. It was fair to say that his batting did seem quite rusty throughout his innings, and obviously the circumstances of these winter tours with no practice games won’t help batsmen in his situation. He didn’t last long, although he did manage to score 34 runs before being trapped lbw by Ashwin so it wasn’t a complete loss.

In the next over, Nadeem dismissed Joe Root with a very similar wicket for 218 runs. This whole winter so far has been remarkable by Joe Root. His first innings scores in the three Tests he’s played are 228, 186 and now 218. That is an average of 210.67. It is no exaggeration to say that we are witnessing greatness right now and, considering Channel 4’s coverage, probably the first time many UK cricket fans will have witnessed a batsman in this kind of form. It is traditional for sports fans not to appreciate what they have until its gone, and Test cricket fans are perhaps more traditional than most, but nitpicking Joe Root’s innings would be a petty and small thing to do.

Having said that, his second innings batting average this winter is 6.00 so clearly there’s some room for improvement there…

India had been in the field for two days, and so mistakes in judgement and fielding were bound to occur. The first were exemplified by their use of DRS reviews, wasting them in a vain effort to dislodge Root earlier in the day. Despite each team having three incorrect reviews per inning, India had used them all by the time Buttler was given not out despite edging the ball to the keeper. India, being overall a more balanced and sporting nation than Australia, didn’t attack Buttler’s character or accuse him of cheating and instead just got on with the game.

Tiredness in the field might also be the cause for Rohit Sharma’s drop of Dom Bess, which was one of the easiest chances you will see in Test cricket. Softly looped straight to him at head height, it is the sort of catch you’d give to a 10 year old during catching practice. Both this and Buttler’s edge were from Washington Sundar’s bowling, who finished the day wicketless on 0-98. Sometimes, it’s just not your day.

Buttler didn’t punish the Indians for their error, being bowled soon after by an Ishant Sharma inswinger. There are good leaves and bad leaves, and this was a very bad leave by Buttler. Sharma bowled Archer with his next ball, which triggered England fans’ fears of a quick collapse but Bess and Leach steadied the ship and saw England through to the close.

England finished the day on 555/8, which is a very good first innings score. Despite this, England fans seem determined not to be optimistic about their chances in this game. The word ‘Adelaide’ might well be trending on Twitter. To put this innings into context: No team has ever lost a Test match in India after scoring 500+ runs in the first innings. In the 99 times England have scored 500+ runs in their first innings, they have won 50 Tests, drawn 47 and lost just 2. Don’t panic. It’s fine. England have this.

Channel 4’s coverage improved on day 2. They had a segment with Simon Hughes at Lunch, of whom I’m not the biggest fan but they do need other people to bring into the conversation rather than having the same two people talking during every break in play for five days. They also started interacting with the audience by reading tweets using the #Channel4Cricket hashtag. This should remind viewers that Channel 4 had less than two days from the signing of the contracts to going on air to prepare, and that it will be a work in progress throughout the series. The coverage will hopefully continue to improve and evolve through the series, but it’s started pretty well. Even the Indian commentary, which many people were worried about, has been fine. Perhaps not amazing but, without the likes of Warne and Vaughan (amongst many other candidates), it is at least tolerable.

That’s all for today. If you have any comments about the game, Channel 4, or anything else, add them below.

India vs England: 1st Test, Day one

If England were to compete in this series, so the received wisdom had it, Joe Root would need to have an especially fine series. The early signs are promising, but not just in terms of confirming that widespread belief, but also because other than Root, England looked rather comfortable. Sure, the pitch looked flat, and with little turn (as it should be on day one), but given England’s status as serious underdogs, they looked far from out of their depth even early on. Rory Burns will be kicking himself for his dismissal, having done all the hard work, and the nature of that dismissal inevitably attracted criticism. It is a truism of the game that being out to an attacking shot is automatically deemed worse than being out to a defensive one (even if the players tend to have an opposite view when it happens to them), and something like a reverse sweep is going to result in considerable ire. Yet it has become a normal part of a batting repertoire in recent years, most recently highlighted by Joe Root in Sri Lanka, as he manipulated the field by judiciously playing the stroke throughout his twin hundreds.

There is often the temptation to judge the shot selection by outcome – if a ball just clears a man on the boundary for six, it’s a great piece of batting, but if caught on the line, the batsman should never have played the shot in the first place. It’s not to defend the execution of the stroke, for Burns himself made his views of what he’d done quite clear as he left the field, but it is to defend choosing to play the shot in the first place. Nevertheless, it was an unfortunate end to an innings of promise and placed England under early pressure, particularly when Lawrence quickly followed.

Thereafter, it was the Sibley and Root show. Root is in the form of his life, and just looks like he’s going to go big from the moment he reaches the crease. While it is far too much to hope that he can quite maintain this level of plundering, perhaps as he turns 30 he may be settling down into being a consistently high class performer after the dips of the last few years. Certainly it can be argued the biggest dent in his batting average (which for better or worse is how many tend to measure it) was his poor conversion rate between 50 and 100. If he overcomes that – and nothing helps quite so much as continually scoring hundreds – then a significant uplift is likely.

While Root will rightly get all the plaudits, a partnership is always in two parts, and Sibley deserves huge credit for his knock. He struggled in Sri Lanka, and rather disarmingly openly wondered if he would be playing in India during his half century in the Second Test. There is often a reluctance from some quarters to allow for the possibility that a player can learn; instead calls for their head are common. But Sibley has been a fine example of a player highly inexperienced in these conditions finding his method wanting, and needing to think about how to adapt. Consecutive half centuries don’t prove he’s nailed it, but do show a degree of application that reflects well on him. The days of people complaining about his scoring rate are hopefully over – he is providing a level of solidity at the top of the order that has been absent since the relative decline of Alastair Cook.

What would have been a day of eventual total dominance was only slightly marred by the loss of Sibley in the final over, but England are in a very good position, and most positively of all, look at this stage like a team capable of matching India. But that “at this stage” is the most important rider – it’s one day, it’s one innings, and a Test series can be an arm wrestle where it starts off even before one team begins to twist and strain the other, but at this stage, that’s still a positive, and perhaps more than many hoped for. If it were to continue, well perhaps England might be a better team than they’re often given credit for, for while they have had success recently, this is perhaps the ultimate challenge in world cricket.

Today was also the return of Test cricket to free to air television in the UK for the first time since 2005. There is nothing in this world that is universally welcomed, and sure enough some were soon complaining about the quality being lower than Sky. It is something of a matter of personal preference in that – having favoured commentators for example, but Channel 4 are taking the feed from the host broadcaster, which is very normal for away series even when Sky have the rights, although on some tours they have additional cameras. The difference is in the commentators themselves, for Channel 4 are using that host commentator feed as well. Of course, in terms of practicality, they have no option, even if they’d wished to have their own there was insufficient time to arrange it. But if this tour had been to New Zealand, for example, would people have been queuing up to praise them for the exceptionally strong voices they would hear from one of the best commentary teams in the world game? It’s unlikely, and there is a temptation to conclude at least some element of internal bias in assuming that it’s only Sky who can provide the highest of standards. Irrespective of having a preference for Sky, which is reasonable enough, the very presence of Test cricket on free to air television or streaming is such an unusual experience that it feels slightly surreal. There will be people unable to afford pay TV, watching live Test cricket (or live Test cricket legally in many cases) for the first time since the early years of this century. It’s astounding and wonderful.

On to tomorrow – it is of course possible that England will fall in a heap and waste their good position, but the point of having such a good first day is to ensure that even if they do, they are in the game. And if they do take advantage, they might be in with a real chance of winning the Test. Day one is always the set up day, and day two the one that tends to dictate the rest of the game. A chance is there to be seized.

India vs. England, 1st Test – Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Return of the Mambo

It hasn’t yet been formally confirmed, but assuming all goes as expected, Channel 4 will be showing the India – England Test series. There are some interesting things about this development, beyond the pleasant surprise of the Test game returning to terrestrial television for the first time since 2005.

Strikingly, BT Sport and Sky failed to show much interest, while the mooted plan for primary rights holder Star Sports to distribute it via the Disney+ platform appears to have come to nothing. Amazon don’t seem to have tried terribly hard to get the rights either, and Channel 4 have bought them for a price below what might have been expected.

Certainly the time difference is less than prime time in the UK with starts around 4am, but there is a day/night Test in the schedule, while at weekends in particular at least half the day’s play is at a relatively civilised time.

What is of significant interest is the lack of intent by those channels who have in the last decade been the sole outlets for almost all cricket in this country. Given the relatively low cost, should it be a concern to the ECB that appetite is so thin? Perhaps. It also does emphasise that the oft-repeated line that terrestrial broadcasters are inherently uninterested in the Test format is untrue – and it will be a harder case for them to make in future.

This doesn’t mean that the ECB will see the light – their addiction to money ahead of all other considerations is unlikely to wane, because it would mean difficult decisions about priorities. What would be embarrassing for them would be for the Channel 4 audience to exceed that of Sky – for it would provide ammunition against the ECB who appear to revel in the concept that the public don’t care about the game and won’t watch it on free to air television.

The ECB might have no say at all about who shows this series, but the fall out from it could prove interesting to say the least. If broadcasters’ desire to show cricket has lessened, so will the amount of money they’re prepared to pay. Hiding the game away on satellite pay channels has come with immense costs to the wider game, but been supported by the governing body on the grounds that there is no alternative. Their expectation appears to have been that rights values were only going to go in one direction – upwards. It is distinctly possible that this upcoming series is a first indication that may not be so. If that were to be true, and we have little firm idea what is in the minds of the pay TV channels, it may yet be the ECB have backed the wrong horse even by their own standards of success.

For now, let’s just enjoy the return of the best form of the game to a place where all can access it. But this may well not be the end of the matter for the game in this country.