This Test, Day 4 – Open Up Your Lovin’ Arms, Watch Out, Here I Come

Lucky you. You have me again. Danny has tomorrow’s play and given the position of the game as I start writing up the day’s report, he has the prospect of a reasonably rare dull last day. Let’s see how the next two hours play out.

First up, I will never, ever tire of reminding the 4 day test proponents that yet again, you see the impact on a game of a whole day being washed up. If England had only just crawled over 200, the game was dead. As it is, there is some form of life remaining, but you might as well argue with yourself than hope to hear the likes of Vaughan when a rain washout puts his little ideas to the sword.

I put on Thursday that mental health issues remain for me, and now there are physical ones too! Last night my left kneecap made a rather scary cracking noise and I spent the night in a fair deal of pain. So what that meant was not being able to walk Teddy for as far as I would like (I am trying to do 5 million steps in a year), and probably more time in front of the TV, and a real possibility of my sleep deprivation to result in an afternoon snooze. All this is a lead up to the fact that:

  • I did catch the first wicket off the first ball of the day
  • I did miss the rest of the English collapse as I hobbled around my local park looking for sympathy!
  • I did drop off while Stuart Broad was batting
  • I did wake up in time to see Rory Burns make his century
  • I did see a Tweet from one of the original Cookie Crew, calling Burns century “glacial”.

First up, very fair play to Tim Southee for getting on the Honours Board (again – he got there in 2013) for his bowling in this match, A wonderful servant, a skillful exponent now of the bowling arts, he has led the line superbly in the absence of Trent Boult. While Jamieson opened the door by removing Root first ball of the day, with a nick to second slip, Southee crashed in while I limped around the park, getting Pope LBW, Lawrence caught at third slip, and Bracey (I almost typed Blakey) bowled neck and crop. The latter two for ducks. England falling to 140 for 6. At this point England could, if the mood had taken them, subsided to a score where the follow-on could have been enforced. Enter Ollie Robinson. Still not going there.

Robinson looked really good with the bat in dominating a 63 run partnership with the three-toed sloth, Burns, making 42. In doing so he effectively made the game safe, with the follow-on the most likely route to a decisive result. He looked particularly neat through the offside. It may be he might be the best bowler out of the potential number 8 batsmen – I’ve stolen that line from a friend of mine – and that might be his future.

A last wicket stand of 52 took England to even more secure waters. Anderson still got to play his reverse sweeps, but stayed firm while Burns made his third test century. While Broad and Wood, who have said before they prefer batting with each other rather than with “proper batsmen” didn’t hang around, at least Anderson did. When Burns nicked off to Southee after captaincy from Williamson that would probably most politely be called “eccentric”, for a vital 132, England had dragged themselves up to 275. A lead of 103 for the visitors was useful, but is probably going to be filed under “academic”.

As I write, James Anderson and Joe Root have reviewed an LBW decision that pitched a mile outside leg, and got an inside edge. They seem determined to waste these reviews as quickly as possible.

So to Rory Burns. I am a Surrey man, but also I try to be honest. In baseball there is a term for a player too good for the top level of minor league baseball, but just below the top standard of the Major League. It is AAAA (AAA being the highest minor league level). Burns is AAAA for me. Good enough to shine at county level, but just short at the top. How can I say that after this knock? Even with this century he averages 33 in test cricket. That’s how. But that is not to take anything away from this hundred. Sure, he had a wide open missed stumping, was dropped, plonked one in the air between two fielders, and got sconed twice, and that was while I was watching! He stayed there. While the rest drifted off, he took us away from 18 for 2, 140 for 6 and probably made the game safe. No-one is denying he had a horror in India, the pushback from the furore with Hartley (wonder if she sent him a congratulatory message!) which didn’t shine well on either (in my humble opinion) was a sobering lesson in modern comms, and he wasn’t a certainty to play this time around, but getting a century for Surrey a week or so ago was certainly a good thing for his form. He may have been slow, but 267 balls isn’t that slow, and it was vital. When he passed his hundred he played some expansive shots and fell one short of his test best. His three centuries have been made against New Zealand here, and away, and Australia in the first test of an Ashes series. It’s not bad.

While Sky were waxing lyrical about how well England bowled, while wasting the reviews they have, I caught up with other matters. If ever a quote sums up how I feel about the ECB, this is it:

“I knew I couldn’t work with these people any more. There is no trust. They aren’t looking to learn from my experiences; they are looking to silence me and give the impression that things have been resolved. That is misleading and disingenuous.”

I remember a certain chief operating officer of the football club I support do exactly the same thing, albeit on a much less significant matter than institutional racism. It’s almost the ultimate in disrespect.

Oh, there’s more you say?

“Tom Harrison talks about a zero tolerance attitude towards racism while he courts the press and yet the ECB have acknowledged they have fallen below their own standards in this regard. Where is the accountability? It’s a non-existent word at the ECB.”

Tom Harrison courts the press? Great question Wardy.

I know my colleagues have their pens poised on this and I don’t want to steal the thunder. But we really appear to have a bunch of malevolents running a large part of OUR game, don’t we? This isn’t smart, or clever. With people like George around, they aren’t going to fool many people, or hope to get away with this sort of chicanery, are they? They think so. Sky are like a captive broadcaster, and in one individual in particular on the network, a puppet. Gaslighting is a popular pastime these days (and I’m not going into political stuff, honest – I’M NOT GOING THERE), but we have said this stuff for years. Don’t go to these people with mouths wide open, believing what they say. Do some effing journalism. I wonder if some of the Sky team have the freedom to look into this more?

Ollie Robinson ended Conway’s magic test with a nice delivery, but the test is drifting. Also Mark Wood should not be just a “bang it in Billy”, which is a new one on me, Nass. Then Williamson survived an LBW that got a scratch, and then the next ball copped what looked like an odd DRS decison (was that really hitting?) that if it were football would result in a 10 hour VAR debate about common sense. Robinson again the bowler.

So, with the extra half an hour provided to “catch up” for the lost day’s play yesterday, the two teams combined for a very meritorious 88.1 overs in the 7 hours play. Well done everyone. Nasser Hussain just says they never bowl the overs as if this is just peachy, a mere indiscretion that should, well, just be expected. We go on and on and on about it, but this is sickening. It gets one mention and they move on to the selection for the Ashes. If the TV companies, presumably paying for a full day’s play can’t be bothered, what hope is there? You don’t even get 90 overs bowled in an extra hour and there are still utter clowns thinking four day tests could work. I utterly despair.

New Zealand finish the day at 62 for 2. They lead by 165. I hope my friend and work colleague, Simon, has a good day at Lord’s tomorrow (he’s a New Zealander) and to any of the readers who might be going. As always, comments below.

  • Song lyric from You Spin Me Right Round, by Dead or Alive, sung by the late Pete Burns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Zealand’s Warm Up Series: Day One

Just thought I’d flick that around, given they’ve got a big date before too long and too many are viewing this as England’s preparatory series for India.

Test cricket is back, and with crowds. Not a full crowd, but a reasonably sized one, and enough to generate a background noise that is so much better than an artificial backing track. So let’s get something out of the way first, the over rate. It was poor. Again. By the time play came to a close we were four overs short. It’s not new, it’s never been tackled, and it’s abundantly clear the ICC couldn’t care less. It’s also true that a lot of cricket supporters aren’t that bothered either, so why be so annoyed about it? Because after the last 15 months where players and administrators have fallen over themselves to explain why spectators are so important and so valued, it is disrespectful to shortchange them like this, and doubly so to do it without the slightest sense of anyone in authority caring. There have been days when the shortfall has been worse than today, but it is still saying, on a daily basis, that the fans don’t matter, that what they’ve paid doesn’t matter. It is entirely fair enough for those who go and aren’t put out by it, but it’s not about that, it’s about the mentality of players, captains and administrators who don’t care in the slightest, and on the day Test supporters returned after such a long hiatus, it’s unforgivable. Don’t give us the bullshit about how much you value cricket fans and their presence at matches, when you can’t even be bothered to deliver what they paid (a lot) for. The media complain about it, but they barely ever confront the players about what their actions imply, and they should. Every single time. Enough.

As for the cricket, it’s as clearly New Zealand’s day, and they’re in a fine position to go on to dominate the Test. Devon Conway has been the star of the show, so look forward to all the “Devon’s got the Cream” headlines in the morning – and they’re deserved too. A late entrant to Test cricket, he’s taken his chance, and by demonstrating some decidedly old-fashioned skills – that of the patient opener. There’s something rather special about those who are nowhere near the Test arena until relatively advanced into their careers, who then grab the chance with both hands. As ever, one innings says nothing about the future, but a hundred on debut, at Lord’s, is no bad way to start. More to the point, he looks the part – slightly unsettled by Mark Wood’s pace at times, but able to adapt and cope.

His century is more impressive for the lack of consistent support until the arrival of Henry Nicholls midway through the afternoon session. England’s bowlers had chipped away and the innings could have gone in either direction. Digging in – for neither exactly dominated proceedings – and grinding down the England attack to push their team into, if not a dominant position, certainly a healthy one is how Test cricket used to be far more frequently than in today’s game. And it was a welcome return of such past values and skills.

It is a flat surface – there was some movement in the air, and the new ball carry through well enough to the keeper, but aside from one spell from the luckless Broad when he was all over Ross Taylor, it can’t be said New Zealand looked in a great deal of trouble.

Much comment has gone around about England’s choice not to select a front line spinner, relying on Root to get through a number of overs. And while by the end of this match that may prove to have been an error, it can’t realistically be stated so baldly on the first day – the idea one would have been certain to pick up wickets on such a friendly surface at the start of the game is the epitome of a player showing huge improvement by virtue of not playing. Had one been picked, they would have done more or less the same role as Root himself, to get through a few overs as cheaply as possible while rotating the seamers.

Nor have England bowled at all badly – they’ve probed and kept things tight without resorting to anything as base as bowling dry, it’s just that on the day the batsmen, specifically Conway and Nicholls, have been better. It happens, and New Zealand are a good team – which is why they’re in the World Test Championship Final and England aren’t.

England also picked a pair of debutants, James Bracey and Ollie Robinson. The former kept tidily enough, and nearly nabbed a stumping off Root as well. So far so good in his case. Ollie Robinson will be pleased enough with his day on the field – a couple of wickets and bowling nicely. It will be slightly ruined by the realisation that some old tweets as a teenager have garnered attention and it is an issue that will need dealing with. One observation there is that it is something of a mystery why neither player’s agent (assuming he has one) nor the ECB think it a worthwhile idea to check these things properly in advance to ensure there’s nothing detrimental or embarrassing that can come up when a player is selected.

Tomorrow is another day. England may not have bowled badly, but they can bowl better. The modest run rate means New Zealand haven’t got away so this match hasn’t decisively tilted one way just yet. But New Zealand will be the happier, and they deserve it too.

Anatomy Of A Hoax

My name is Danny Frankland, and I am responsible for a surprisingly widespread hoax on cricket Twitter (and by now probably several other social media platforms as well). To be precise, I created this image:

It’s the fourth fake statement from the ECB which I have posted on the @OutsideCricket twitter account, but the only one which got out of hand in this way. This is a big reason why the reaction surprised me, as I thought fewer people would be fooled since I’d already pulled the same ‘trick’ three times before. I am The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and yet the villagers appear to keep falling for the same gag. That’s not how I remember the story…

The first fake statement I wrote was in April, after Hampshire’s Lewis McManus managed to dismiss Leicestershire’s Hassan Azad by stumping despite not having the ball in his glove at the time. A clear breach of the ‘Spirit Of Cricket’, and similar to several incidents which have led to lengthy suspensions. On the other hand, Hampshire are one of the counties routinely favoured by the ECB and a cynic such as myself might therefore expect a slap on the wrist. (This turned out to be the case, with a mere three disciplinary points applied to McManus.)

I had recently seen an ECB statement posted on Twitter and noticed that it had a plain background and simple design which would make it child’s play to edit, even with my limited graphic design abilities. I fired up GIMP (Which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, and is entirely unrelated to any sexual fetishes) and got to work creating this:

The intent was to satirise the ECB’s expected leniency towards Hampshire by referencing three times where they acted entirely without mercy: The deduction of 24 County Championship points from Somerset for a ‘poor’ pitch, the relegation of Durham due to the county’s financial problems, and the continued unofficial international suspension of Alex Hales after he used recreational drugs in 2019. Clearly the idea that the ECB would punish two teams and a player who were not in any way involved in the fake stumping incident is preposterous and most readers saw it as a joke but it did seem to fool a few people, at least briefly. The official-looking image, the formal wording, plus perhaps not applying their full attention meant that some of our followers missed the joke. The highlight of this was when BBC Radio Solent’s commentator Kevan James started reading it out live on air, only to realise his mistake once he reached the part about Alex Hales.

Most of the reactions to my tweet were positive, enjoying the gag, laughing at those who admitted being tricked, and broadly agreeing with the implication that the ECB doesn’t necessarily treat all teams or players equally. Fun was had by all, and it barely took fifteen minutes to mock up a convincing statement, so obviously I was going do it again. The opportunity came a couple of weeks later when twelve European football clubs decided to try and form their own European Super League. Tweets identifying similarities between the marketing of this nascent competition to the ECB’s The Hundred were flooding my timeline and so I figured, “Surely there’s no better way to explain this than saying that the ECB were behind the whole thing?”

Whilst it was perhaps slightly less improbable than my first effort, I thought the very idea that anyone (much less the ultra-wealthy football clubs behind the ESL) would employ the ECB for their marketing expertise is entirely beyond belief. Nevertheless, this one seemed to catch a few more of our followers out. Perhaps their anger at the ECB or ESL blinded them to the ridiculousness of the situation, or the stunning tone-deafness of the wording. I was particularly pleased with the sentence, “It is no exaggeration to say that the profile of the 12 clubs in terms of social media mentions has never been higher than they are right now, thanks largely to the ECB marketing team.” It really tickled me.

A week after this, the ECB and PCA released a joint statement announcing that they would be taking part in a sports-wide social media boycott in order to protest the lack of consequences for people who post racist and sexist abuse on social media, and in particular those who target sports journalists and players.

This piqued my interest in a couple of ways. First, a joint statement from the ECB and PCA is where this blog got its name. Through clumsy wording, it seemed to suggest that those “outside cricket” (i.e. Anyone who isn’t a professional cricketer, coach or journalist) should not be allowed to criticise the ECB, the England team, nor any of its players or staff. Anything the two organisations do together is going to get my attention. The second, more personal reason is that I absolutely abhor hypocrisy.

Both the ECB and the PCA have a long track record on talking a good game on combatting racism or promoting women’s cricket, often using high-profile tactics like this boycott or flashy videos to promote themselves as champions of equality. Unfortunately, this public facade has no substance to it at all. Every time a racist incident occurs, their reaction is always the same: Hide it, minimise it, (if absolutely necessary) punish the perpetrators incredibly leniently, and then move on with no lasting repercussions for anyone but the people who reported it.

That the ECB would demand social media companies ban racial abusers for life whilst they actually employ at least two such people (The head and assistant coaches for Northern Superchargers’ men’s team) is well beyond the threshold of hypocrisy I can countenance. Another example, and the one I chose to use in my fake statement, is that of England and Somerset bowler Craig Overton.

This one appeared to only fool one of our followers, and I was honestly surprised it managed even that. Both the wording and content were wildly out of character with the ECB. No sports governing body in the world would use the phrase “In hindsight, that looks bad.” in a press release, for example. My intent was less to mimic the real statement and more to highlight the 2014 incident. Because it occurred two years before his England debut, most casual observers haven’t heard about it at all. Overton faced almost no consequences for his actions, with him recieving the same penalty for racial abuse (three disciplinary points) that Ryan Ten Doeschate did for disagreeing with an umpire’s decision. Not only that, he’s gone on to play five games for England and is being touted for a recall this summer.

Which brings us to the fourth statement.

Not unlike the first two statements I produced, I intended to satirise the ECB. This time, my target was their greed and lack of principles. They have a long track record of valuing money over the concerns of cricket fans, with the Sky TV deals being the most obvious example. When it was reported that the BCCI wanted to reschedule the fifth Test to make room for the IPL to resume, Sean messaged me to say that this would be a great time for me to do another of my “fake ECB releases”. It takes just a few minutes to churn one out, so I duly obliged.

The first thing I noticed about the reaction was that a lot more were falling for it. I hadn’t expected that. It was the fourth one I had done, and so I thought most of our followers would realise that it was almost a running gag by this point. In particular, people seemed to instantly see through the previous efforts and get the joke or message behind it. This time, many obviously believed that the ECB would screw over English cricket supporters in exchange for the BCCI’s money and support.

Whilst I thought every single element of the statement was ridiculous and absurd, to the point that it would mark it as a clear knock-off, a significant portion of those who read it seemed to think it was genuine. I don’t think the ECB would move a Test match to October, if only because that would presumably anger Sky Sports. I would very much hope that not refunding your customers when you unilaterally change the dates would be illegal in England. Even I, with my very low opinion of the ECB’s general competence, don’t believe that the ECB would trade away part of their valuable summer merely for an agreement to “reconsider” Indian players participating in The Hundred. The response quietened down after a couple of hours with several replies making clear that it was a joke, and that was the end of that.

Except it wasn’t. Whilst it was relatively docile on the @OutsideCricket Twitter account, it was gaining momentum elsewhere. The impetus appears to be users taking the image and re-uploading it themselves, rather than retweeting the original. This had two key ramifications: People seeing the image for the first time wouldn’t know where the image originally came from (i.e. Not from the ECB), and they wouldn’t see the replies underneath which (correctly) called it out as a fake.

It’s hard to track exactly the route the image took since Twitter doesn’t allow you to search for an image, plus several people deleted their tweets once they realised they’d been had, but some high-profile names posted it: Dan Whiting, ‘Sir Fred Boycott’ and Peter Casterton, amongst many others. As well as borrowing credibility from the people who reproduced the image, it seems that someone is more likely to think it is genuine if it pops up multiple times on social media rather than just coming from a single (arguably disreputable) source.

The statement continued circulating, to the point that Wisden Monthly saw fit to post an article on it. We found this hilarious on several levels. It’s such a non-story, I’m amazed a (presumably) paid journalist took the time to write about it, so it must have beeen a very slow news day. We were all amused by the assertion that I am the person “who runs Outside Cricket”. That would technically be Chris (aka thelegglance), although the organisational structure of BeingOutsideCricket is essentially non-existant. Everyone basically does what they want. I was less amused by the suggestion that my fake statement was “fraught with inconsistencies in text and context”, although I did knock it up in about ten minutes so that is probably fair enough.

Even now, I can’t believe people were taken in by such an obvious fake (at least to me). For one thing, it’s made it clear to me that many people have a significantly lower opinion of the ECB than myself. I honestly don’t believe the ECB would even consider the terms I put in the press release, although maybe I’m wrong to think that. It also showed how little fact-checking some people actually do, even with news which they say is “unbelievable”. If a deal between the ECB and BCCI had been agreed, particularly one with such massive consequences for both countries, it would be the top news story in both the Indian and English cricket media. Every cricket website, every cricket magazine, every blue-ticked cricket journalist and player would be talking about nothing else. It wouldn’t just be a single image posted from a handful of Twitter accounts.

I hope that those who were fooled, either momentarily or for a little longer, learn from their experience and become more questioning of news in the future. Even supposedly reliable sources of information, such as professional journalists or the ECB, often put out misleading or incorrect statements. It honestly feels like around half of the posts I have published on this website, excluding match reports, are on that very topic. Many journalists are in fact stenographers, people who will simply copy what others tell them without engaging in any critical thought. It might be due to deadline pressure, or a desire to maintain access, or plain stupidity which causes it. Regardless, I would love it if people were more cynical about what they read.

As I have no doubt caused several people at the ECB at least some mild discomfort with my little joke, it only seems fair to give them the final word:

The Tangled Web

I’ll confess to a considerable degree of amusement that the Australian ball tampering scandal has reared up again on the back of an excellent interview with Cameron Bancroft. Amusement but not outrage, though – for the main crime was in being so extraordinarily brazen about it and getting caught. Teams have operated variations on the theme for time immemorial, and Australia aren’t remotely unique in so doing. The hilarity at their idiocy wasn’t a sense of fury at them doing it, it was always the rank hypocrisy of operating as the arbiters of cricketing morality while being even more obvious about it than everyone else.

So spare me the appalled hand-wringing, both then and now. What is new, and what was entirely predictable, is the seeping out of implications of others being involved beyond the three who admitted to it and who took their punishments. Bancroft wasn’t and isn’t a core member of the Australian team, and has always had less reason to keep his trap shut than Warner or Smith, and while clearly reluctant to dob in his team mates, that is the effect of his words. Rule one of allowing any closing of ranks and permitting people to take all the blame is to ensure that it’s worth their while to do so, not just initially, but over time too. There’s something oddly admirable in Bancroft’s refusal to name names or implicate others, but it has always been wildly implausible that bowlers for whom the condition of the ball is everything would be entirely oblivious to what was going on.

None of this hugely matters, bar as a truly wonderful spectator sport, except to point out that the net result has been that this entire sorry tale has rumbled on for three years and counting, and has now been gifted a new life. It’s not entirely academic either, given the likely change of captaincy of the Australian Test team in the near future and the candidates for that role.

It is thus that the decision to turn the whole affair into a navel gazing exercise on the subject of national character has backfired spectacularly by failing to ensure that it was comprehensive and final. As crimes go, this wasn’t the worst, but the response was so fantastically over the top that it created its own life far beyond the period in question. Cricket Australia’s statement that they would welcome further information has inflamed a whole topic that could have been put to bed long ago. And while social media and crowds (God love them, let’s see them again soon) wouldn’t let the Australian players forget, that didn’t matter and doesn’t matter – opposition crowds are looking for a reason to bait a team, not conducting a rationalisation of virtue.

But as a template for a governing body response, it remains fascinating. To go far over the top in the moral framing, and then accept a hopelessly unlikely explanation has managed to create the worst of all worlds – far from shutting the matter down, it has extended it, and created a glorious feedback loop of further questioning. It’s beautiful to watch.

No, I’m not horrified, appalled, aghast or anything else. But I am chuckling.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

The overnight news about the proposed football European Super League will have caused many a wry smile from cricket followers up and down the country. All the usual words and phrases are in there – “stakeholders” will be consulted, it’s about “partnerships”, a “sustainable commercial approach” and not forgetting “solidarity”. A copy and paste of corporate gaslighting and bullshit meaning little except for a power grab and a desire to enrich themselves yet further and remove the jeopardy that is the essence of sport.

Football is a vastly bigger and wealthier game than cricket, and as such the response is magnitudes higher, but the arguments are the same, the objections are the same, and the lack of any interest in what the little people think is just the same. We’ve been here time and again, and we will see the same degree of pretence that it’s for the good of “the game” (another reminder that those in power only mean the game as it pertains to them, not the game itself) and that it’s nothing other than trying to secure the financial stability of the sport.

Where football differs is that this has attracted the attention and the ire of the politicians, who never fail to sport a point of votes principle on which to opine. To that extent, football fans are luckier. When both the ICC and ECB, internationally and domestically decide to put aside matters of sporting integrity in favour of filthy lucre, there is a deafening silence from all but a very few. Cricket doesn’t particularly matter, and certainly doesn’t matter to enough. Football does.

But the same set of parameters apply – that sport is a means of generating money rather than the other way around, and it’s both reflective of the reality in which we live and also a governance question that has never been addressed. It has been said before that the most dangerous foe any sport can face is a man (always a man) in a suit saying “I can help”. Yet there’s also the endless hypocrisy about it all. Sky News has spent much of the morning decrying the greed involved and parading their new found commitment to tradition and sporting values over dollars and euros – a quite breathtaking demonstration of rank hypocrisy. Should it go ahead and Sky win the broadcast contract, expect a rapid reverse ferret from their news channel to promote it as the greatest sporting invention since the round ball. Likewise, while Gary Neville’s monologue about the tradition of the game is helpful for all those opposed to the Super League, he’s one of those who has benefitted heavily from the concentration of power and resources in the hands of the few. His part ownership of Salford City is the same in microcosm – invested money making a team competitive above the level it would otherwise be – not a thing wrong with that, except the selectivity involved in deciding what is morally acceptable and what isn’t.

Football and cricket are different in so many respects, not least that football clubs have always been rapaciously commercial for a century or more. A quick look at the origins of many of the leading clubs shows very little has changed – all of the so called “traditional” big teams have become that way due to heavy owner investment at different times in the past. Just like cricket, this is nothing more than the logical culmination of a direction of travel that has been in place for decades. Few of those furious today strongly objected to the abolition of gate sharing in the 1980s, nor when directors were first allowed to take money out of the clubs around the same time, let alone the creation of the Premier League which was also sold as being for general benefit rather than personal enrichment. Some greed is apparently fine, it’s only when it goes to the next level that it’s something to object to.

But this is a cricket blog, not a football one, so those arguments can be had elsewhere. The relevance to cricket is only in the parallels, in the way that the ECB have tried, with rather less competence, to move the sport into the same frame with the same kinds of outcomes. While sports are different, the determination to force them down the same path to maximise (in the short term, it should be noted) revenues and ameliorate the bank balances of those already in positions of power is entirely the same. Franchise football with no promotion and relegation removes the essence of any sporting system, namely that teams can rise or fall on their sporting merits (and financial management plays a major role in that). But it is anaethema to investors, who wish to see a return on their down payment with certainty, something that sport is inherently bad at – which is why we watch it.

The Hundred is the cricketing equivalent of the European Super League in these ways. Ignore for now the format – it’s always been the least of the objections anyway – a fixed number of teams able to compete each year with no danger of dropping out is precisely the golden goose for sporting investors. As long as the competition thrives, it’s a one way bet, an almost literal licence to print money. The difference is the serious doubt about the level of interest outside of a pandemic year where the public are desperate for anything to watch, which is why as well as a curse for the ECB’s finances, 2021 is also a golden opportunity to embed a structure that the supporters in general loathe. The IPL and the NFL are models for owners of sports franchises to wish to expand into other areas – irrespective of the latter having various safeguards built in to try to maintain a level playing field. Indeed, the IPL perhaps more so is the perfect template to follow, whereby sport as entertainment in the same way as WWE is the aim and the intention.

The European Super League faces a lot of hurdles to overcome – the hostility from football supporters matters far more than the hostility from cricket ones, because packed grounds are more essential to football than to domestic cricket which doesn’t have that tribal following to anything like the same extent. There will be those who suddenly discover it’s not such a bad thing after all when they realise there is scope for personal professional advancement, and that’s not in itself an unreasonable position to adopt because everyone needs to look out for themselves. But it doesn’t mean everyone else has to fall in line, nor that they have to accept the worldview espoused that is nothing other than self-interest on the part of those doing so – indeed all the Super League needs now is people to come out and say this new competition isn’t aimed at traditional supporters. Some of those who advocate exactly this for cricket have been quick to decry it happening in football – don’t think for a second it hasn’t been noticed.

India, The IPL, And The Hundred

When reports of the ECB seeking private investors in The Hundred were being published by a number of newspapers and website last May, I wrote a quick post on why that would be a stupid idea called The Hundred For Sale. Now that there appears to be speculation around IPL owners and the BCCI being brought in, with the ECB apparently hoping to tap into the vast Indian cricket fanbase, it seems a good idea to write a follow-up piece detailing the problems with this specific proposal.

The proposals mentioned in The Telegraph article are:

  • The BCCI to receive a portion of The Hundred’s TV revenue from Asia in exchange for allowing Indian men’s cricketers to play in the competition. (It seems likely that they will allow India’s women cricketers to play abroad without any concessions, as they already do in the Australian Big Bash League)
  • The owners of the eight current IPL teams to be allocated a 25% share of a team in The Hundred, in exchange for an investment.
  • Exhibition games involving IPL teams to be hosted by English counties.

The first question the ECB and counties might ask is how much would a Indian TV deal for The Hundred involving some Indian players realistically be worth? One hugely important factor to consider would be timezones: India Standard Time is 4.5 hours ahead of England’s British Summer Time. This means that a 2.5 hour game (The planned duration for a game in The Hundred) which starts at 6.30pm in England would finish at the equivalent of 1.30am in India. Even if stars like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ravi Jadeja were all playing, it seems unlikely that tens of millions of Indians would stay up that late. The ECB could choose to start matches earlier (swapping with the women’s games so that the men’s games began at 2.30pm, for example), which would put them into Indian prime time but during work hours in England. That almost certainly lead to fewer tickets sold, fewer British people watching on TV, and the ECB having to deal with a very annoyed Sky and BBC.

It would also be wise the temper expectations about which Indian players would come in the event of the BCCI allowing them to do so. The IPL has essentially created a global gap in the cricket calendar, allowing both their own and other internationals to play in the tournament unimpeded. The Hundred has no such luxury, with even England men’s cricketers playing two Tests during the competition. There is absolutely no guarantee that India won’t have matches scheduled during the competition, which would eliminate most of India’s biggest stars from contention.

The relatively low pay might also discourage the top echelon of Indian T20 players from choosing to play in The Hundred. Virat Kohli receives roughly £1.7m per year to play for Royal Challengers Bangalore, but the most he could get from Welsh Fire is £110,000 (assuming he was captain). For virtually anyone in the current Indian team, that’s not an amount of money which would in any way justify spending a month in Cardiff. Players on the fringes of the Indian team like Axar Patel or Umesh Yadav might be interested, but they wouldn’t have sufficient star power to generate financial gains for the ECB in terms of Indian TV deals or additional ticket sales.

Selling shares of the eight The Hundred teams to IPL owners would also be a mistake. To quote ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, “The key is that any money generated remains in cricket, for the good of all sections of the game”. Investors understandably expect a profit, and so would be looking to take as much money as possible out of English cricket. If their priority is to make as much money as possible, the ECB’s other objectives might have to be sidelined. You wouldn’t expect the owners of Chennai Super Kings to care if cricket participation numbers in Sheffield were decreasing, for example, whilst Yorkshire CCC might. Similarly, outside investors might demand higher ticket prices to increase revenue or a reduction in on-field entertainment to reduce costs.

Having Indian investors having stakes in individual teams could also cause problems between the ECB and the counties. Right now, most of the revenue in terms of ticket sales, merchandise, sponsorship and the TV rights is shared equally between all 18 counties in the form of a £1.3m annual payment. Essentially, the ECB owns all eight teams and only delegates the management to the various counties. Because of this, it almost doesn’t matter which county is associated with which team in The Hundred. Three of the eight teams are run by three counties, four of them by two counties, and Manchester Originals are solely controlled by Lancashire CCC. If the ECB turned them into franchises, with 25% ownership from Indian investors, then all of a sudden Lancashire CCC might have a 75% stake in a team whilst Glamorgan CCC might only have 25%.

The eight teams also have significantly different prospects in terms of profitability and revenue. The Oval Invincibles will play in a 25,500 capacity stadium which invariably sells out all of its T20 Blast games, whilst Welsh Fire will play at a ground which holds a maximum of 15,643 people and in reality struggles to sell even half that many tickets. If team stakeholders get a share of ticket, food and other merchandise revenue then they’d be fools not to want the Oval Invincibles team.

Beyond money, bringing the BCCI and IPL owners into positions of power in English cricket might place the ECB in a very uncomfortable ethical position. It’s escaped few people’s notice that the IPL has the best T20 cricketers from around the world with the sole exclusion of Pakistan. Just one Pakistan international has played in the IPL in the last decade (Azhar Mahmood, 2012-15). If the BCCI were to allow Indian players in The Hundred, it seems doubtful that they would be happy to see them playing alongside Pakistani overseas players. The ECB could be in a position where they would either have to accept this or call it out, which would likely have the effect of the BCCI withdrawing their support.

One of the aims of The Hundred was to engage British Asians, who are significantly more likely to enjoy watching and playing cricket than the ‘average’ Brit but might feel a stronger connection to domestic and national teams outside England. What people often gloss over is that ‘British Asian’ covers a broad swathe of nationalities, religions and other divisions, and that they don’t all necessarily get on with each other. For example, Moeen Ali was constantly booed at his home ground of Edgbaston when playing for England against India in 2014. As it stands, the ECB might be seen as broadly neutral in any internecine rivalries (by virtue of doing absolutely nothing). If they were to endorse the exclusion of one nation’s players to appease another’s, that might also have the effect of excluding a large number of potential fans who they were hoping to attract.

As far as the third proposal regarding exhibition games at grounds like the Oval goes, it’s not inherently ridiculous. Rajasthan Royals played Middlesex Panthers in 2009, for example. That said, I think any IPL team would struggle to assemble anywhere near its full roster for a few games in England in September and almost all of their stars would be missing due to either international commitments or plain lack of interest. The larger issue might be the BCCI, who would probably be more inclined to host such a competition in India rather than allowing an English ground to profit from the IPL’s brand.

Whilst I would love for Indian players to be available for all domestic competitions around the world, as they are from every other country, the costs of doing so for The Hundred seem to far, far outweigh the benefits.

If you have any comments about this post, the ODIs, or anything else, please post them below.

India v England – 4th Test, Day 3 – Are You Gonna Try To Make This Work?

Confession – I’ve seen none of this test match up until 8:30 am. I woke up, looked at the phone and it said England were 65 for 6. Joe Root then got out. A large part of me, and that’s large, said “go back to sleep”, but duty called and I rumbled downstairs to watch it. In the 10 minutes before tea all that seemed to happen was Sunil Gavaskar getting on my nerves. He’s not on his own for doing that when I have just woken up.

I’m also one who sleeps in bunches and looks at the phone. When I looked at 5 and saw no wickets had fallen, it wasn’t a surprise. I then didn’t bother when I briefly woke up around 6:30. I had a thought of Karun Nair, and that Axar and Sundar might put on 200 for the 8th wicket in a mini-Chennai tribute band style, but it appears as though once Axar departed, the last two batsmen were not able to stay with Sundar to get his first test century.

England’s wickets fell in a heap, as we’ve become used to. It does seem a very long time since Joe Root’s magnificent double hundred in Chennai, and downright embarrassing that in the subsequent 7 England innings the team hasn’t managed to make his first test individual score, let alone anyone approach that great feat. It’s also a long time since another premature and ultimately ill-fated Ed Smith victory lap, and we wait with baited breath for the explanation the genius will provide us for the utter calamity that followed. I mean, yeah, it’s terrific to have a pool of players and to rest them during the mentally exhausting bubble environment, but no, when that is followed by abject uselessness, such “how damn clever am I” pontification, lapped up by a media willing to believe this fool, seems somewhat hollow.

Let’s look at this calamity, in the batting because the bowling hasn’t been truly woeful. England managed scores of 178, 134, 164, 112, 81, 205 and 135. We have had two players pass 50 in six test innings – Ben Stokes leading the way with 55. Zak Crawley made a half-century in the early knockings at Ahmedabad Part Un. Dan Lawrence might get there as I write this. We’ve seen Sibley look all at sea, Bairstow, well, if there isn’t an expose of our ridiculous thinking then I don’t know what is. Ben Stokes has not bowled until he was flogged here, and to me seemed mentally somewhere else. Ollie Pope looked decent at times, but that’s not exactly enough and he’s going to hear voices about his place this summer if there are no runs. Rory Burns looked out of his depth, and was chucked in the sea. Joe Root’s mammoth contributions were always going to end. Dan Lawrence has shown promise, and in this innings has looked decent, and with an idea, which is a bit of a damning indictment on his slightly more experienced colleagues. Foakes has flattered to deceive, but everyone is in love with his keeping, so that’s fine (Indian comms trying to put Pant on a level field with him has been one of the more amusing commentary traits). Sometimes it appears as though Jack Leach has more of an idea and a game plan than some of our “better players”.

But what’s the point of caring about this if the authorities are really only playing lip service? They have the T20 World Cup as their priority. Also, the players aren’t absolved of this, as it is clear (and I am not sure I can blame them) that some view the IPL as more important than this test series. Yes, India can also be accused of this, but Stokes not bowling until this test, and Buttler being packed off home is a bit of a tell. Look, it’s the real world we are dealing with here, and money talks, walks and buys houses. Test glory just makes you feel good. It don’t pay the bills. It’s not the only thing, not even the main thing, but there has been mood music that it’s good prep for the IPL, and that’s got to be good for the World T20. That the World T20, and then the Ashes are important this year and that to lose this series is expected. It’s a mish mash of points, I know, but a Joe Root wonder innings could well have stopped a 4-0 thrashing, so that’s OK. At least his tour de force won a game on a result pitch.

Yes, time for one of my golden great “oh no, not again” points. But yes. Ever since we lost an Ashes series 4-0, and seemed happy that the media’s hero had prevented it with a 244, that same media should have that pointed out to them at every turn. At least in that series Malan and Bairstow made a good century each. At least we had some nice moments to watch. But the media said 4-0 was not that bad, and we should just move on. Now, when you see the last three tests resemble something much worse than Ted Dexter’s all at sea garbage of the 1990s, the press and the pundit class need to can it. Your ship sailed.

Dan Lawrence has added a 50, Jack Leach has just got out.

A 3-1 series defeat flatters England. They were eviscerated in this test. Once Sundar and Pant dragged India out of the hole they had made for themselves, put a lead up of 150ish, the game was done. England realistically needed to make 350 to give themselves a live chance, and that was never going to happen. That England have been demolished in a series where Pujara, Kohli and Rahane have not made centuries says it all.

Lawrence is now out, and the game is over. India have won by an innings. Ashwin and Axar take five each. The game is up. In more ways than one.

I really can’t be bothered, because, frankly, once the tide turned, I don’t think England were that massively bothered either. Anger long since passed me by, and despair is something you feel only when really disappointed. England talk about the primacy of the test game, and then subside in a clueless funk. They have a bowler who, possibly despite himself, took wickets in Sri Lanka and the first test, dropped him, let the news run that they thought he was shot, left him out of the test where Joe Root took a five-for, and then picked him here to fail. They did that and had just two seam bowlers, one of which hadn’t bowled much at all all series, and played Lawrence, who they’d dropped, at number 7. This isn’t blue sky thinking. There’s nothing clever about it, It’s an idiot let loose in the laboratory. Whether it is Ed Smith, Chris Silverwood or Joe Root responsible, I don’t know. If Vaughan is decrying the treatment of Bess, as he has been today, then I doubt Joe Root is responsible. The treatment of Moeen was also gob-smackingly ignorant as well. Stop telling these people they are clever.

India were ruthless, they bowled brilliantly on favourable wickets, to which they are absolutely entitled to produce, and in my view to be criticised for if we feel like it. A result pitch, set out as such, is better, whether we like it or not, than a road. But none of us are experts on how wickets play, and I try to steer away from it. But you are judged on results. Ashwin and Axar annihilated England on the helpful wickets. That’s test cricket, these days.

England came out of this with virtually nothing to show for it after a promising start. Reputations were not enhanced. Two day and three day defeats are soul-destroying. England at least clawed back in the last two tests, but from the moment Rohit set about England in Chennai, the die was cast.

It was good to see this on Channel 4, of course it was. That’s a decided positive. But the teams move to the stuff that matters now – white ball. It pays the bills, it gets the crowds, and it is the future. The tests may well be looked at as a curiosity. That we still appear to care feels like nostalgia for a bygone age, even in the present. This was a chastening loss IF it matters. In the immediate aftermath I have no doubts the players are incredibly hurt, but life goes on, and the circus is due to start for the big players and flailing at a spitting cobra on a spinning top is not in the IPL’s modus operandi.

The opening lyric to the song that the title comes from is “You don’t have to take this crap”. As I type Simon Hughes is blathering on. It seems appropriate really.

Cheers for following us through this test series, and one thing we are grateful for is England have allowed us a few extra lie-ins. As they say after the game “we need to take the positives”.

Comments below.

India vs. England, 4th Test, Day 2 – I Closed My Eyes and I Slipped Away

When I wrote the preview for this series back in early Feb, one of the key things I highlighted as a concern for England was their habit of picking a team that they wished they’d picked for the previous Test like they did when they last toured India. Sadly those that ignore history are doomed to make the same mistakes time and time again as Rishabh Pant piled into a tiring England attack who were a bowler short with their selection for this Test.

Whilst Pant took away this game and the Test series in the last session on Day 2, it must have been extremely galling for Stokes and Anderson, the former suffering with a stomach upset, who had bowled quite gallantly in difficult conditions earlier in the day. The lack of quick bowling options forced Stokes into a frontline bowling position, which is not exactly ideal as he is one of England’s best batsmen, yet he bowled with heart and no little skill to get England into a position where a first innings lead was a possibility before the Pant pyrotechnics. The wickets of Kohli to a sharp riser and then a wonderful inswinger to beat the defences of Rohit were a fast bowler’s dream scenario and with Anderson at the other end bowling miserly, the thought of a Mark Wood backing them up would have been the absolute ideal on this pitch. It was only when a clearly exhausted Stokes returned for his final spell that the wheels came off, though that was hardly unexpected due to the heat and workload put upon Stokes. Put it this way, I really don’t want to see our best all-rounder having to bowl 20 overs in a day anytime soon.

Of course at the heart of this was England’s nonsensical decision to go in with only 4 front line bowlers and Joe Root, who was never going to repeat his bowling heroics of the third Test. The recall of Dom Bess in essence gave England 3 front line bowlers as once again he struggled with rhythm, bowled too many full tosses and gave the Indian batsmen easy runs to relieve the pressure. This isn’t me having a go at Bess mind, being an international spin bowler is one of the hardest jobs in cricket and asking a young lad, who has never been first choice at his county, to learn on the job against one of the best attacks against spin bowling was always going to be an incredibly tough ask. I said during the Sri Lanka tour that Bess really looks like he needs a couple of seasons of county cricket to hone his skills before he should be playing for England on a regular basis. Don’t forget Graeme Swann, probably England’s finest proponent of spin in the modern ages was a bit rubbish when he first came onto the international scene but was a different player when he returned to the international side after honing his skills at Northants first and then latterly Nottinghamshire. Of course the ECB’s decision to push 4 day cricket to the outer extremes of the cricket season is not going to help the development of any young spinner coming through, but I would like to see Bess bowling regularly for Yorkshire this summer.

As for Rishabh Pant’s innings, well what can you say that others have not said? His positive approach whatever the scoreboard shows is absolutely refreshing and whilst it might not come off all the time, he has undoubtedly been a big reason why India will compete for the World Test Championship in England later on this year. The two shots that will live in memory for a long time were the sight of him charging down the wicket against Anderson with a new ball in hand and thumping it over mid-off and then the most audacious reverse paddle sweep over the slips from the same bowler. Even though the pitch wasn’t the most conducive to fast bowling, to do that against a guy with over 600 wickets is something else. The look Anderson gave when returning to his mark said everything that needed to be said.

We at BOC don’t like the current culture of besteveritis or comparing young players to past greats, but there are certainly shades of Adam Gilchrist in the way Pant bats and his ability to take the game away from you in a session. Of course, there will be tougher times ahead for Pant on pitches that offer more lateral movement, but I do hope he continues with his approach as it’s wonderful to watch as long as you’re not on the end of it. It would also be churlish not to mention the contribution of Washington Sundar, who looked at ease at the crease and played a gem of an innings as second fiddle to the fireworks going off at the other end.

Whilst it may not be over yet, with England having a squeak of a chance if they can take the final wickets with a lead under 100, it would be a very brave or foolish person to wager on England winning from here. A poor first session tomorrow morning and it may well be start the car time.

As ever thoughts on the game appreciated below.

India vs England – 4th Test, Day 1 – Pitch, Switch

Most of the pre-match chatter had been about the pitch. The previous game in Ahmedabad was the shortest Test match in the professional era, with most people blaming the groundsman (or whoever gave the groundsman their orders). England clearly expected more of the same, picking a bowling attack of three spinners (including Root) and just two pace bowlers (including Stokes). In hindsight, that may have been a mistake. There haven’t been any explosions of dust on day 1, unlike the previous two Tests, and India’s two pace bowlers have actually had success throughout the day. If anything, the conditions seem reminiscent of the first Test in the series.

Which brings us to England’s XI. Crawley, Sibley, Bairstow, Root, Stokes, Pope, Lawrence, Foakes, Bess, Leach and Anderson. The first thing that jumps out is the sheer depth in batting. Ben Foakes, with a Test batting average of 36.00 (The last two matches have knocked it down somewhat), at 8. The second thing is a lack of options with regards to pace bowling. Just Anderson and Stokes. England were clearly planning for a pitch where their spinners would do the majority of the work. That may have been a miscalculation. India’s fast bowlers were asked to bowl 23 overs today, as opposed to just 11 in the whole of the previous game, and there seemed to be good carry even with the old ball. Archer was unavailable due to an elbow injury, but Stone or Wood might have been helpful in these conditions.

Joe Root won the toss and opted to bat first again. It was all downhill from there. On a pretty benign pitch, with a little spin and bounce but still closer to a proverbial road than minefield, a competent batting line up should be expected to bat until well into Day 2. For a team like England’s which has essentially selected eight batsmen, a total of 400 might be considered their minimum target in these conditions. What we got instead was a rather pitiful score of 205 all out. Only a last wicket partnership from Leach and Anderson even got their total above 200.

England winning the first three Tests of the winter may have masked some of their issues, as all three victories were on the back of a big score by Joe Root. Few teams lose games where one of their batsmen scored 150+. In the eleven innings England have played against Sri Lanka and India this season, their batsmen have scored just ten scores of fifty and above, with Root accounting for three of those. There is simply no plan B if England’s captain doesn’t get a big score.

Anderson gave England a little hope in his first over, taking the wicket of Shubman Gill, but Pujara and Rohit saw India through to the close of play with few issues on 24-1.

Aside from the placid pitch, there has also been a big improvement in the position of third umpire. Anil Chaudhary has taken over from Chettithody Shamshuddin, and things are back to normal. An umpire, like a wicketkeeper, is arguably at their best when no one is talking about them and that is the case with the umpires today. No controversies, no steps skipped, and no rushed decisions. For all of England’s issues today, they certainly can’t blame the officials at all.

County cricket fans will have been pleased to see adverts for the T20 Blast during Channel 4’s live coverage of the Test. The cost is likely a pittance compared to what will be spent on promoting The Hundred this summer, but it’s nice to see any effort from the ECB with regards to promoting its other competitions. It often seems like the ECB forgets that they aren’t just responsible for the international teams (and now The Hundred). Any steps which show even a modicum of interest in county or recreational cricket must be seen as a sign of improvement from them.

As always, feel free to comment on the game or anything else below.