England v India – 3rd Test, Day 3 – The World Is Full Of Fools, Who Never Get It Right

Sack The ECB – Save Test Cricket” Banner on Aircraft Flying Over Headingley

After two days of out of character cricket, normal-ish service was resumed today. England struggled to make the same breakthroughs India did from the second day tea interval, and as they had done on the first day. In truth it made for a compelling (which is probably the cricketing equivalent of football’s “intriguing” – aka dull) day’s play. The weather matched the mood, the grey skies not seeming as threatening. India batted sensibly and, as I start this report with about an hour’s play to go, have set a decent base to eliminate the deficit. With their long tail (and I am really tempting fate) and a long time to go, India will probably need to bat until lunch (or just before) on Sunday to make a game of it.

England started the day in fine shape, and would probably have been very disappointed to add so few this morning. We did have the bizarre sight though of a number 10 on 0 turning down a single to protect a number 11 with a test best of 81! Still, a lead of 354 is a rare pleasure, and like all pessimists, I’ve found a way England can lose from here (indeed, while I was listening on TMS, they raised the very game I was thinking of – Durban in 2004).

The ball swung early but this time edges weren’t induced. A bungled review deprived England of a morning wicket until the last ball before lunch when Overton induced an edge and Bairstow took a fine catch to dismiss Rahul. Rohit Sharma played a watchful role, and I think his slowest 50 in tests, before falling to an LBW appeal upheld by Richard Kettleborough. Ollie Robinson breathed a sigh of relief when on review the ball was ruled to be grazing the leg stump. It was actually nice to hear Deep Dasgupta on the radio saying he had little problem with the decision and it definitely wasn’t a howler. He won’t go far if he doesn’t dive in with a controversial take when the situation presents itself.

Those were the two wickets to fall. Cheteshwar Pujara played an innings the world knows he is capable of, but hasn’t shown so far, with a little more fluidity and solidity. He will be looking to move towards a real big one. He is also playing himself a little bit more into form, and so has his compatriot at the other end. To me Virat’s bat still doesn’t come down as straight as it does in his pomp, and he’s maybe not playing quite as late to my untrained eye (and it is), but it won’t take much to put that together, and the length of time he spent out there today could be of huge benefit.

England were forced to bowl spin for the last 10 or so overs of the day, and so allowed India to take another 20 or 30 off the lead while looking largely unthreatening – although Root got one to go through the gate and bounce over Virat’s stumps. India finished the day on 215 for 2 – Pujara unbeaten on 91, Kohli on 44. England will have something to think about and India will feel a bit better, knowing there is a ton of work to do. England have the new ball to take first thing tomorrow.

And that’s about it, really. Sometimes there is no sense in trying to tell you something more than what happened. It is, in its way the essence of test cricket, ebb and flow. Hard work wins games, and getting into great positions allows you to have days like these and still be in it. 139 behind is not as great as it could have been (I wouldn’t have bowled spin for 10 overs and let India milk it, but that’s a minor criticism).

Of course, there was the aeroplane, and some joker in a cricket costume. Vic Marks and Jonathan Agnew were joking on the radio that Harrison would be looking to see who had put that aeroplane banner up, but that would give credence to the assumption that he cares a jot what people think. I’ve not seen evidence of that. As the Lightning Seeds sang in the song of the lyric above “A change in style, for a little while, is only make believe”. That could apply to England, it could apply to Tom Harrison allowing himself to be interviewed.

A few other quick thoughts to finish off the day. RIP Ted Dexter. While people of my generation will always remember him from the chairman of selector days, when heaven only knows what I would have written about him if the blog was a thing, his career and reputation as a dashing batsman also stood tall. No-one will ever doubt his commitment to the game, and his love of it. The rankings were his brainchild, I do believe, and so I could blame him from Cricviz! But that would be unfair. A life lived well, we can only aim to try to do the same.

I have listened to a lot of TMS in the last couple of days. There are some good parts, some not so. Some good analysis, some absolute nonsense. I suppose that’s life. I then get to watch the last hour and a half on TV, and I am sorry, but Bumble’s days must be numbered. Mustn’t they. As I am wont to say at the moment, “not for me, Clive”.

India will continue their graft tomorrow….

“Cause I’ll be working long as my two hands are fit to use, I drink a little beer that evening, Sing a little bit of these working man blues” Merle Haggard

Comments on today and tomorrow’s action below.

England vs India: 3rd Test, Day Two – Normal Test Cricket

I joined Being Outside Cricket in 2017. This may well be the first time that I’ve been asked to write the match report for a day where England have batted through the whole day, with just one collapse in the evening session. I am genuinely stumped on what to write.

The day began in a similar vein to the day before, with conditions favouring the bowling team. The ball started swinging and seaming again, and India’s attack thoroughly testing England’s newest opening partnership. Burns and Hameed did well to survive as long as they did, Hameed taking a blow to the head after ducking into a not-quite bouncer, before both fell in the morning session. Malan impressed at three, scoring at a decent rate (unlike, arguably, his T20I performances) and putting India on the back foot.

Joe Root came in and did what he’s done all year: Make Test batting look ridiculously easy. This was his sixth century from eleven Tests in 2021. Where Hameed and Burns struggled and got tied down by Bumrah and Shami, Root seemed like he was facing a bunch of club cricketers. He scored singles at will and hit the bad balls for boundaries. It was only in the last hour, when he looked physically and mentally shattered, that India were able to dismiss him. It’s difficult to think of an English batter who has been in such dominant form over this period of time. At the same time, the constant attention he needs on his back during these long innings makes me only too aware of how fragile and fleeting this might be. Particularly considering the usual level of competence that England’s medical team usually displays.

Bairstow added a useful 29 runs, but his dismissal led to a flurry of wickets. Buttler, Ali and Root all fell within the space of a few overs. In their defence, they may have been disoriented by coming to the crease with a healthy first innings lead and facing tired, dispirited bowlers. It will have been a long time since they faced such a situation.

This innings from England’s top order has been historically good. It began with the first England opening partnership to last 50 overs since 2016, coincidentally when Haseeb Hameed was last in the team. Each of England’s top four went on to score at least fifty, which last occurred in 2013. This is by far the most complete batting performance England have managed in recent years. That said, it is important to avoid hyperbole and remain at least somewhat balanced. The pattern in recent years has been for promising batters to come into the side, impress at first before being ‘found out’ and unable to adapt to bowling attacks targeting their weaknesses. There have been too many false dawns for England’s batting, and the past few years have beaten all but the merest sliver of hope out of me.

With a first innings lead of 345, it’s hard to see any other result than an England win in this game. Given that the morning sessions have been the best times to bowl in this game so far, an early declaration might give Anderson the best chance to run through the Indian top order for a second time.

Off the field, I am surprised by how little attention the Yorkshire CCC report (or the lack of a report) has been getting. There seemed to be a groundswell of pressure building up to this game, but it has largely been ignored during the game itself. I am conflicted on this, since I definitely prefer watching cricket to hearing about bad stuff happening behind the scenes. I fear that the chances of there being a real positive change in English cricket decreases the longer Yorkshire are able to delay facing their own issues. The ECB and PCA’s silence on the matter has been deafening, but also unsurprising. I don’t think any progress is likely to be made until pressure from outside, whether fans, the press, or politicians force Yorkshire and the ECB into action, and that isn’t happening right now.

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments about the game, or anything else, leave them below.

England vs India: 3rd Test, Day One – Resurrection Joe

Cricket is a bloody weird game. Virat Kohli couldn’t win a toss, India’s tail-enders were smashing the England bowlers around the park, England (bar the captain) were unable to determine which end of the bat is which, and more of the same was due today. Except it didn’t happen. None of it happened. Instead we got a day of total English domination, and an India team in need of a something approaching a sporting miracle to get away with anything other than a defeat. After one day. The usual rules about not tempting fate applied to the eternally pessimistic England fans, but more than anything, as many were quick to note, this was most similar to the opening day of the Melbourne 2010 Test match, with the difference that here India chose to bat.

India’s batting hasn’t looked that hot in the series so far, but crumbling to 78 all out wasn’t on the agenda. Cue lots of complaining from the sub-continent about the pitch, which would have been a fair point had England not coasted past their total in the evening sunshine with all wickets standing. It was cloudy, there was some swing and some seam, but hardly excessive, and by Headingley standards, relatively tame. Though the injured Stuart Broad was quick to point out in the morning that it tends to get better for batting and that choosing to bat was a brave call. There’s a fair degree of mind-games in that of course, and it seems unlikely that Root would have sent India in had he called correctly. Cliches always abound in such circumstances, but “a good toss to lose” may well be a reasonable assessment.

In the morning session Anderson operated on that serene higher level that he can sometimes reach, especially at home. There are endless banal superlatives that can be applied to him, but at 39 years old and still able to crank it up to the mid eighties miles per hour (this perhaps is the most remarkable thing about him – his skill won’t wane, but his athleticism will) and with all the nous of a 20 year career, he was far above the level of any of his team-mates, and ripped out the heart of the India batting. He’s just someone to be enjoyed.

Four down at lunch, India had the chance to recover if they batted well, but if the morning had been about an exceptional Anderson, the afternoon was about some pretty ropey batting. Rishab Pant played a really poor shot, and then four wickets in six balls destroyed the innings entirely, kicked off by a shocker from Rohit Sharma.

Nothing gives a batting order quite so much confidence as knowing you’ve skittled the opposition for peanuts; nothing makes a bowling attack less incisive than knowing you’ve barely any runs to defend. Ishant Sharma hardly helped things with a dire first over of no balls, wides and boundaries, and the tone was set. Burns and Hameed batted with confidence and some panache at times, but you could almost see the hope draining out of the Indian team, as fielding errors were made and catches dropped. In the time honoured style of a side in trouble, India tried to get the ball changed, and eventually succeeded, only for Burns to pull it into the stands for a rare six. If ever a metaphor for how bad a day India have had was needed, there it was. Both Burns and Hameed passed fifty, in the case of the latter in particular, a welcome return to Test runs. Few will be anything other than delighted for him.

Oh yes. Over-rate. Again. It’s doubtful many of the crowd felt shortchanged by once again falling far short of the required 90 overs, and equally India are hardly going to hurry given the match position. But it’s now routine not to bowl the minimum mandated overs and nothing is ever done about it. Today won’t matter, hell, it probably won’t matter in this match, but it’s situation normal these days.

India need to have an exceptional morning tomorrow just to recover the situation to one of being in deep trouble. If they could bowl England out for another hundred or so, then just maybe they could turn it around. But that would still require an exceptional 2nd innings on their part. India might win every remaining day and still lose the game heavily. One day into this match, and England are closing on a win. Final point: The Hundred wasn’t the reason for England’s capitulation in the 2nd Test, and today doesn’t mean that the structure of the domestic game isn’t damaging the Test side. It’s not that hard to avoid kneejerk reactions, but too hard for some even so.

A Sort Of Preview – Picture It Now, See Just How, The Lies And Deceit Gained A Little More Power

The Grabbing Hands, Grab All They Can, All For Themselves, After All Martin Gore

It seems to me that most sport now seems to exist to relieve the public at large of their money. There does not seem to be that sense of getting things right, striking a balance between the need to fund and the need to maintain the history of where the sport came from. There does not seem to be any real priority in making sport, in totality, for all. It doesn’t seek to inspire through context, it doesn’t seek to exhilarate through tradition. It doesn’t so much as seek context these days, rather than to create it. It looks at the past and turns up its nose. Evolve, change or stagnate.

Tomorrow the third test of what is England’s largest money-spinning series will begin in the last week of August – you could even laugh at the fact that this is a Bank Holiday weekend, yet given England’s batting form, the chances of two of those three days having cricket is slim, unless, weather. Definitely no chance of Bank Holiday finale action. The circus will be on to the Oval for the non-final test of the summer, because, well, reasons for that too. Can’t have a non-working day with test cricket, can we?

There are still two test matches to go, with the series concluding on 14 September. While not quite in Autumn’s full blast, we are not far away. That, in itself, is slightly maddening, with five tests crammed into around 6 or so weeks. Sure, in the past, we played India in three test series – indeed in 1986 and 2007 India won those events – but now money means five test series are back for the mightiest financial foe. Let’s see how many the World Champion test team gets the next time they come over. Put it this way, when India came over in 2018, total ECB turnover for the year was £172m. In 2019, with an Ashes summer and a World Cup it was £227m. The last year without either, 2017 it was £125m and the year before that, £112m. Sorry New Zealand. Big Three and ICC only matter here. Money talks louder than Maces.

To wail against this is to be shaking a fist at a cloud. It doesn’t matter to those up there. It doesn’t even matter really to the players. I have sympathy with top players who cite major hardships in long tours, and especially in this climate of bubbles and Covid. I am not fully aware of the financial consequences of this at this stage – views are that players took a pay cut last year – but that has most certainly not been the direction of travel. Players get a lot more than they used to, and the IPL and increasing TV contract values are major contributors. Top test players in this country are very well rewarded, and to a degree, so they should be. But spare me the “short career” cobblers I hear for the justification. They earn more for providing us with the same content, but we have to pay for it. I am not doubting that they all love test cricket, this England team, and they are all trying their hardest. But for some, failure isn’t quite the disaster it might have been. For Sibley, being dropped, with the voices heard behind him, is a calamity. For KP, being sacked allowed him to become a T20 gun for hire – not deniable – and while being excluded stung, it wasn’t a career, or money-earner, ending decision. Two different talents, two different environment. An even further cry from the days of 2005. The AD of English Cricket.

Let’s take my usual trip to the Oval Test back in the day – ended because the fan experience was too expensive, too uncomfortable and I didn’t fancy doing an impression of a beer towel. Now if memory serves, my Ashes ticket for the Oval in 2005 was somewhere around £50. I could dig it out, but let’s go with that. India used to be considerably less than that – around £35-40 for my seats. Now those prices have, at least, doubled up until now. With inflation bobbing below 3% for all of that 15 year interlude, and sometimes a fair way below that, the cost has increased in real terms. So have the value of TV contracts. Both of these are what we pay for, prices set by the powers that be.

So I’ll get my little moan in first with the players. You have sources of income at the very highest level that were only dreams back in the day. Get an IPL contract and it can be very lucrative. Get on the T20 train, and you can accumulate some nice amounts. Be a red-ball star seems too much like hard work, with only the very top getting the really big amounts. Players, with their short careers, aren’t going to be human if they don’t want to take the shorter route. Why play in tests? The danger is not that they don’t see the value and history – clearly players like Kohli, for all his sins, most certainly do – but that the authorities, our authority patently by their actions, don’t give the first toss about it. Joe Root still hankers after T20 status, while being England’s greatest player in a generation in tests. Why? He’s so good at batting they made him captain!

Tomorrow England go into the 3rd Test with half a squad injured, replacements having had little, if any, first class, red-ball cricket since before England had played the Euro 2020/21 Final (and that seems a lifetime ago) and yet they make no statement to tell the world just how they’ve cocked up this schedule except Covid. How that has meant no red-ball cricket this year, you tell me. If anyone is buying this crap, then don’t open your e-mail account, and certainly not that one from a retired General who can’t get his money out of his homeland. Harrison hid behind this ludicrous fig-leaf while being marginally threatened in an interview with Atherton – I will come to that when I do a full review of it, soon – as if it explained everything. Covid devastated finances last year, and will affect this years to a lesser degree. There is some sympathy there, even gratitude for some cricket last year But don’t push it. Because, as you mentioned back in 2015 old pal, you have serious trust issues with yours truly, your humble scribe, and many others out there. And I really think you need to rebuild that trust with us obsessives before crying in front of us. One might even start to believe there is an ounce of humility in your soul.

And then, Ali Martin dropped the bombshell last night. As part of some cooked-up little earner back in the day, around “six or seven” ECB senior staff are going to share around £2.1m between themselves. It appears to be contractual, so has to be paid. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house to hear that Tom Harrison had taken a pay cut to just over half a million quid (double what Downton was paid, for example) from his astronomical £700k which he got in the 2018/19 accounts. Presumably this was a “reward” for getting Sky to bid against themselves and raise the TV cash. Sky get to keep all the crown jewels safely away from the hoi polloi, and ECB get to tell the world that they are saving the game, and women’s cricket, and disabled cricket and so on.

(Note – According to the 2018 accounts, the highest paid employee received £604k. In 2019 they received £719k. In 2020 they received £582k. 2021 accounts are not due until 31/10 – they can be earlier – and he is reported, it seems to be receiving a basic salary of £512k). In Harrison’s first two years the highest earner was on £341k and £360k. In Paul Downton’s last year, that number for the highest earner was £290k – if interested here is a link to it all – https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/03251364/filing-history?page=1 ).

Since the high water mark, Harrison has set about county cricket in the same way Liam Gallagher sets about peacemaking with his brother. Making the turkeys vote for Christmas, he and Graves pulled recalcitrant counties into line with bribery and threats. It amazes me, oh well, no it doesn’t that the ECB’s Articles of Association STILL refer to a new Twenty20 tournament to start in 2020, but we’ve been down this line before about how the Hundred was a formatting solution in search of a problem. In doing so, and you know the story, the ECB, guided on this sensitive path by a man with all the subtlety of your average road-builder, various representatives when selling this Hundred revolution insulted county fans as “obsessives”, mums and children as too thick to understand the game in its current form, and promising family friendly fun for 6 hours while the bars will still open. In doing so he created new teams with no roots, players who came from the system he apparantly wants to marginalise, and also laid waste to a schedule so that the current World 50 over champions don’t play it at domestic level, the test team is a sick joke, and all the eggs are in a T20 World Cup basket in alien conditions where a bad half hour can render all planning meaningless.

Since then we have had pundits falling over themselves to call the thing a success, when before the competition, when the ECB were bricking it there was only mention of developing a product, a brand, and the age old scammer’s charter of “long-term engagement” and “raising awareness” with undefined results in public that the old con merchants will set later and meet. Most of these, including pundits long-since bereft of credibility, commentators who appeared to binge on ecstasy before screaming at the populace to be awestruck at another hit-and-giggle fest, paid stooges, laughable social media “influencers”, tweeters we’ll only hear about this time next year, and possibly worst of all, paid “analytical” firms who see this nonsense as a potential entry to flogging their stat-gobbledegook to the IPL.

And boy, there’s a post coming about that lot, so I’m keeping my powder dry there. You are supposedly analysing, not acting as the Hundred’s PR company. The computer-geek equivalent of the know-nothing asking you “who’s winning”. No more.

And then, these people in charge are getting their huge salaries, and they are huge, increased. Having sacked the grunts last year. Having alienated a ton of the core support. Having cast any non-believer into the wilderness and told them to ignore the hundred elephants in the room because it is “not for them”. Having refused to speak to some of the cricket media, because, and I roughly quote “we have given up hope of being given fair coverage by certain media outlets”. They said that to Paul effing Hayward. Hardly a rabble rousing, tabloid lunatic.

These people have crashed and burned, set the fans against each other, claimed that they are the victims of some mad fringe, and then, rewarded themselves with lots of cash to tell them that they were all on the side of right and ability in the end. If I were the new Chairman of the ECB, and having had his experience of consultants and free-loading loudmouths in the procurement arena of the civil service, I wouldn’t just fire this lot, I’d put them in a cannon and fire them into space. Following Clarke and Graves isn’t just going to grant him a honeymoon period – coming on stage after those two should be the definition of an easy ride – but you wouldn’t put it past the head hunted ECB honcho to cock it up. It’s what they do.

Because not only have they done all this sterling groundwork, which Borat couldn’t have scripted, and thought they have been brilliant and innovative in doing so, they then throw out the implied threat, in that charlatan, mealy-mouthed word of “Retention”, that if you don’t pay these magnificent specimens what they deserve, they’ll leave, and their undoubted skills will travel with them, never to be replaced by mere mortals who might actually be able to conduct an interview that isn’t softball and not look like they are confessing to the Great Train Robbery, or not get a quote that they won’t deal with you because you are just so beastly to a magazine edited by a buffoon who once appointed himself number 39 in England’s most important power figures. I like my CEO at work. He turned around a team that were beaten down by an appalling prior regime. I know him well, get on well with him, he respects me, it would be terrible if he left. But leave he will. They all do. And someone takes their place. That is the way of the world. You aren’t paying them to retain them – if the Premier League offered anyone of them a much higher paying role, they’d be gone in a heartbeat. Retention implies a lack of loyalty. A lack of commitment. A lack of long-term thinking. It takes those paying for it, and directly and indirectly, it is us, for mugs. But in the nearly 8 years now since that ill-fated Ashes tour, the ECB have been doing precisely that. We want to retain these people? Can someone give me a good reason why?

At the moment the ECB, the so-called guardian of the game in all its guises, is presiding over a racism case that it seems steadfastly unable, or unwilling, to chivvy along so that the giant ball of poison that it appears to contain can be addressed. Azeem Rafiq is finding out that justice delayed, isn’t simply justice denied, but humanity erased, as Yorkshire get set to hold its first test v India since 2007. Danny is following this a lot more closely and may well add more to this when he does the match report on Thursday (currently according to our schedule) but as someone not as clued up, I see an accused prevaricating and kicking things into the longest grass they can, an accuser being held out to dry, and a governing body earning its bonus by hiding behind the couch, when real leadership would be, frankly, kicking Yorkshire CCC’s heads in. And they moan that someone might not think the Hundred is being reported on fairly, but stay silent over this horror? That’s leadership for you.

Oh, before I forget, to ameliorate some of the more mealy-mouthed in the reporting establishment. Of course a load of people at the ECB do a good job. A lot of them are totally committed, and possibly chronically underpaid and undervalued. Many of them, after last year, are also out of jobs. They deserve our support when necessary, our sympathy when appropriate, We all know who I am talking about. Those at the top who have sold themselves as cricket’s saviours, the heroes and heroines dragging us into the 21st century and beyond, engaging new fans as if the decisions of the past were made by some other body to take the sport, lock, stock and live barrels, off “free to air”, the single most catastrophic mistake made by the body in causing the current participation malaise. They make themselves sound like Red Adair, but they tap dance around the truth like Lionel Blair (other people with that surname, possibly available), scream nonsense like Ric Flair, and have all the moral fortitude of Yogi Bear (was he a coward? or was that Scooby Doo – well they appear not to have a Scooby*, so that works)?

There’s a test match starting tomorrow. You might not know because you were blown away by a tedious couple of Lord’s finals. Mark Nicholas marvelled at Liam Livingstone you know. Anyway, your guess at the line-up for England is as good as mine. Haseeb to open with Burns, Malan at three? Pope at six? Sam Curran keeps his place because everyone else has fallen over. Saqib Mahmood to debut? Don’t get me on the Mark Wood injury – another winner from the medical marvels. Will Joe Root continue to carry more passengers that the Staten Island Ferry? Are India going to change their team. Will they look for another fight, have another few rows, with the England peace corps? Who knows. It’s test cricket, and no-one will be raving about the DJs or other guff.

This has been a rant and a half, and I don’t think I’ve covered half of it. I haven’t mentioned how Chris Silverwood must be thanking his lucky stars all this is going on, because otherwise we might be asking questions about him and his new all-powerful role. Or how Thorpe is doing a great job as batting coach. Or Kohli being an utter arse in the last test. Or bad light. Or how Lord’s makes People’s Monday a great thing and yet still revels in its exclusivity the rest of the time. And that it is treated as a laugh. Or commentary selection. Or how Vaughan appears to be in two Management teams now, so we can double his conflict of interest accusations. Or how BBC promised a new, invigorating approach to the Hundred and gave us Duffers and Torn. Or how Sibley and Crawley have been cast to the wind in favour of magic beans. Or Jos Buttler giving off warning signs. Ben Stokes being out of cricket. The Royal London fighting for survival and being really really good and the charlatans who strangled it want credit for not killing it. The list just bloody goes on.

Oh. I forgot. The Hundred was marvelous for women’s cricket. You have to say that. First because it is true. And second because if you don’t, you clearly have an agenda.

So enjoy the test match, held at the ground of a club suppressing a potentially devastating report into wrongdoing, governed by a board that rewards its senior staff and wants to keep them because clearly they’ve not done enough damage yet, and watched by us. The poor punter who no-one actually, really, gives a flying f*ck about unless they really, really need your money. Pay up and shut up. Flick on the TV, Click on approved social media.

“Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.” David Byrne

*For some readers this is even more gibberish than the rest of this. Scooby Doo = Clue. So not a Scooby means Clueless. Also known as being Alicia. As in the star of the film Clueless.

PS – Not even read the Ali Martin piece today about the players being unhappy. How about sacked staff or current employees. Anyone going to tell their story?

Oh, and I did forget. Comments below on the first day’s play. On a Wednesday. Just because.

There’s Only Words And Twisted Songs My Dear – The End Of The Second Test

“The past is a candle at great distance; it is too close to let you quit, it is too far to comfort you.”

I guess the person who put together that little beauty of a quote couldn’t have been at Adelaide Oval in 2006, and probably wasn’t one of the paying guests today on “People’s Monday” at the second home of English Cricket (accept no pale North London imitations). While the gold standard of last day disasters for an England supporter could be that fateful December day nearly 15 years ago, while following the action today two other magnificent meltdowns entered my mind. Of course there was Day 4 at Headingley in 2014 – a fustercluck of captaincy and frazzled brains that Moeen Ali’s fifth day brilliance could not save. The second….well you might wait a little.

According to my Twitter feed, the captaincy, or abject lack of it today, brought back those harrowing memories of 2014 for me. Even a tweet from a member of my favourite band you have never heard of…

By the way, None But The Brave remains an amazing album.

No, I was actually reminded more of a June day in 1989. England were playing Australia in the first test of that series, at Headingley, the location that had scars for all Aussies, or so they said. I was a mere teenager, actually working in a temp job as a ward clerk in a private hospital in Stepney. Many was the time during the day I would sneak into one of the patients private rooms to bring them a cup of tea or something, and then sit with one sports mad fellow who had the cricket on. The chiefs in charge soon realised that the tea didn’t take that long (they were really pissed off I sat in and watched the Derby) and I couldn’t pay so much time. However, that day started without an apparent threat. A flat pitch, 1260 runs for 20 wickets on the board, England needing to bat out time. Except, from nowhere, they didn’t. It was scarcely believable. How the hell had we lost on that deck? To the worst Australian team to leave those shores?

I wasn’t invited back when my two week period expired at London Independent. I wasn’t overly depressed. The stories I could tell…..

“No matter how much suffering you went through, you never wanted to let go of those memories”

So said a supposedly wise person, and they were right. Adelaide and Headingley, both 1989 and 2014, as well as other utter disasters mean that the Cardiffs and Cape Towns, Kandys and Centurions mean so much more. There are the abject failures and the heroic escapes. Test cricket provides you with the full spectrum of possibilities, and the game never ceases to surprise. Just yesterday test cricket reminded you of its taut brilliance with the last wicket win by the West Indies, and the massive efforts of Pakistan to grab that win. Snippy Hundred “agitators” made their points, and were brushed off, in the manner that Michael Jordan might brush off a lippy scoring guard back in the day. Test cricket stretches the nerves for hours on end. All England fans knew this could go sideways, no matter how much they had to chase. That the chase was largely academic….

Foresight is not about predicting the future, it’s about minimising surprise.

The cliche was writ. All four results were possible today. I thought only two were, and, despite the runs India had, it included them winning and us winning. A draw only came into play if it rained (and a band missed London). When the day started the thinking was “if England get Pant early, then it is really on for England”. If Pant made runs, then England might find two tricky sessions to bat. The hosts were on top. And they got Pant early, nicking off to Ollie Robinson, soon to be followed by Ishant Sharma.

Then, with the game in the palm of their hand, England appeared to want to settle scores, rather than settle the score. Suddenly we had a bumper barrage, and two reported bunnies hopped around and then whacked it around. From 209 for 8 all the way up to 298 for 8. A half-century for Mohammed Shami, and a test best for Jasprit Bumrah, and an odd declaration two overs after lunch, and England were facing a nominal target of 272. It was nominal, despite the usual bores saying that we should look for England to go for it. They claim to be cricket writers of some repute. No names.

Anyway, those sorts must have felt like lemons when England lost both their openers for ducks, which was the first time this has happened to England at home. Burns getting a weird one to hit to cover, Sibley nicking off as you always might as an opener, but which happens far too frequently. Hameed and Root dug in, with the former avoiding a king pair. His 45 ball stay was promising but not enough, when he was pinned in front LBW – I confess I was not watching live, and only saw the review, and said “I hope that’s a not out review and not an England one”. Bairstow was nailed on in front before tea, and four down (although bizarrely that was given not out).

Four down at tea, all hopes really rested on Root. That did not last long, with Bumrah getting an edge, and Kohli pouching the catch. Kohli dropped Buttler soon after, and as Jos batted for 96 balls that looked more expensive as the day wore on. Buttler and Ali then saw off a few overs, but Moeen was playing and missing more and more in between some solid defensive work. It just looked inevitable that he was going to nick off, and so he did after nearly 16 overs without a wicket. Sam Curran survived as many balls in this test as a dead man, which incidentally, might be the role he plays in the next test after a chastening game. Ollie Robinson played a sensible knock, but all he was doing, along with Buttler was raising hope. Over to John Cleese in Clockwise

it’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.

Chris and I exchanged WhatsApps – the hope kills you, defending a draw is just amazing cricket etc., and then it happened. The breakthrough. Robinson pinned in front by Bumrah. Buttler followed shortly after nicking off, and Siraj applied the coup de grace by bowling Anderson to bowl England out for 120 and give India a famous win.

India bowled magnificently, they were feisty, perhaps a little too feisty for some tastes. In this attack, which can leave out Ashwin, they have no easy outlet to relax against. All four seamers played their part. The atmosphere of people’s Monday, with many fans of the visitors in attendance, was a bit boisterous as well. It speaks volumes for the stuffiness of Lord’s, as with Wimbledon, that to admit the plebs at something approaching an acceptable entrance fee and not to be booked months in advance for a fee that would make moneylenders blush, is something to be celebrated. You might even have seen someone quoted in the Daily Mail (without his permission) about it today!

I am watching the interview with Joe Root, and fair play for him to say his captaincy let them down. There is no doubt that he had a terrible morning, and he has owned it, but for heaven’s sake, without his 180 England would have been dead and buried. People might ask “aren’t you angry” and the answer is absolutely no. Not with this team. They aren’t leaving the best players out through spite. The captain doesn’t hide behind a media shield and let people say he’s still “learning the job”. The bowlers are, Anderson apart, young and upcoming, or with real promise at times. This isn’t a team that I don’t like. I don’t think it is the best team England have, by some long shot, but I am not angry with players that are up against the best or second best team in the world.

No. I am angry at the ECB. I am angry at the Hundred being the only cricket anyone can play who wants international aspirations at red ball cricket. I am angry at the ECB. I am angry at a head of English cricket who has let the game get into such a god-awful mess. I am angry at the ECB. I am angry at a coach who seems not to care overly about the primacy of the test game when there is a T20 international tournament coming up. I am angry at the ECB.

The Head of the ECB, or whatever Harrison has called himself, had the temerity to show up for an interview during this test. He blamed covid, he blamed the schedule and he blamed pretty much everything except himself. I’ll go through that nonsense in due course. What we have now, six years after he went out on the balcony and supported Strauss and his trust covenants, is an absolutely disgusting mess. England’s test team looks bereft. Root gave about the limpest “we could come back” speech in his post-match interviews, and knows that he has one hand tied behind his back. His governing body, who love the word trust, should never be trusted. This decline has been telegraphed. John Wooden, a famous college basketball coach said “failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be”. If we carry on treating test cricket like this, then we can only expect to fail more. This doesn’t feel like 2014. This India team isn’t that lot. It’s driven. Unless Kohli gives this up, and that isn’t going to happen, the rest of the series does not bode well.

Comments below.

England v India: 2nd Test, Day Four – Slow Down

At the beginning of play today, the match was finely poised with all three results possible. By stumps, the odds of either team winning seemed virtually unchanged. And yet, in spite of this, it was a great day of Test cricket with tension and drama throughout. I complain a lot about various aspects of the sport, but games like this remind me why I love it.

The day began with all eyes on Anderson, England fans hoping that he could break through India’s top order in the morning. Instead, it was Mark Wood who knocked out both Indian openers. Virat Kohli followed soon after, reaching far outside off the edge a wide delivery from Sam Curran to England’s keeper. Kohli has struggled overseas in recent years, averaging just 21.36 outside India in the six Tests he’s played since 2020. India have a wealth of batting depth, and I don’t get the sense that he is quite as well loved in India as Tendulkar was near the end of his Test career, perhaps Dhoni as well. Whilst he’ll certainly see out this tour, I could see him be encouraged to ‘retire’ from Test cricket if his form doesn’t improve in the next year or so. Joe Root had a dip in form himself before a resurgent 2021, but England don’t have any young batters seriously pressuring him for a place in the side like India.

England were rampant at this point, looking to take a few more cheap wickets and finish off the match today. Instead, an obdurate batting display from Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane kept the hosts at bay as the two Indian batters were in for almost half the day and dragged the game back to something approaching parity.

Something which genuinely annoys me is when people, and this includes a large portion of the media, insist that batting strike rate is of any real importance in Test cricket. Aside from a few, fairly rare situations (a challenging run chase on day five, for example), it really doesn’t matter how quickly you score your runs. Every Test team in the world would prefer a batter with a batting average of 60 and a strike rate of 30 to one with an average of 30 and a strike rate of 60. And yet, despite this, there is a constant narrative that slow-scoring batters are putting pressure on their teammates. I think Rohit Sharma trying to hook a bouncer for six but instead toe-ending it to Moeen Ali or Virat Kohli reaching two feet outside off stump and edging the ball to Buttler probably put more significantly pressure on India than Cheteshwar Pujara playing cautiously.

I like aggressive batting as much as the next person, but I often appreciate innings like those from Pujara and Rahane today even more. Partly I enjoy the growing frustration of the fielding team as they throw everything into trying to finagle a wicket, but also because this is something which is unique to Test cricket. A match in The Hundred has 200 deliveries, Pujara and Rahane’s partnership lasted 297. There was tension and drama throughout, unlike most white ball matches where I usually only bother to watch the end of the second innings. Those looking to replace Test cricket with a three-hour music concert interspersed with some cricket are cutting off their nose to spite their face.

As the day reached its conclusion, England finally managed to take a few more wickets. In particular, Moeen Ali drew two edges from Rahane and Jadeja. Whilst I’m happy both for England taking wickets generally and Moeen doing well in particular, the English batters might not particularly look forward to the prospect of facing Ravindra Jadeja on a pitch which seems conducive to spin and has had the odd ball stay low. Any target over 200 could be very tricky indeed.

One thing which potentially makes England’s route to victory even more difficult are the overs lost in the game so far. After managing 90 overs on the day one, neither team has achieved this rather fundamental aspect of cricket in the following three days. Today finished 8 overs short, although England might have managed five or six more had bad light not intervened. The fielding teams on Friday and Saturday had no such excuse, when 13 overs went unbowled. Altogether, we have seen 21 overs less overs than we should have done with the only day which actually delivered the allotted deliveries being the one where it rained several times! Apart from cheating paying customers out of extra cricket, those 21 overs might make a huge difference in terms of whether either team can force a result tomorrow.

India’s captain made something of a spectacle of himself in the last few overs, seemingly gesticulating to the umpires that the game should be halted due to bad light whilst England were bowling their spinners. Trying to shorten the day’s play is rarely going to endear you to the paying public such as ourselves, and is at best gamesmanship. Kohli might be said to have a very Australian approach to fair play in cricket: That something can only be wrong if the opposition are doing it.

Thanks for reading my post. If you have any comments, please leave them below.

England v India: 2nd Test, Day Three – It’s All Too Beautiful

Today might have been England’s best day of Test cricket in a fair while – not in the sense that they were entirely dominant, because (Root apart), it was a workmanlike performance rather than flaying the bowling to all parts. But in terms of the application and intent, it was as impressive as it was unlikely in the minds of many. Perhaps an indication came from the woefully out of touch Jos Buttler. He only scored 23, and it was a quite exceptionally ugly 23 too, but he fought to stay there, scratched around for an hour, added 50 with his captain, and above all made a contribution. Given England have all too often fallen in a heap when placed under any kind of pressure, this is worthy of note, and in this particular game situation also deserving of some praise. Questions around selection or worth in terms of a place are separate to this, it showed a determination that has often been lacking in the England batting and was most welcome.

Bairstow had earlier looked a million dollars in making 57, before rather peculiarly struggling badly against the short ball, and then falling face first into the most obvious of traps. It was annoying, given how telegraphed the plan was, but it was also odd to see; he had terrible difficulties with the short ball when he first arrived in international cricket, but since then (and he did get bombarded in his early matches, so had to learn quickly) he’s looked in little difficulty. Indeed, his technical issues were around anything but the bouncer. Still, he made a score, looked the part, and supported the peerless Root impeccably.

Moeen Ali too scored runs, again not a match defining number, but again enough to allow Root to score freely at the other end and to contribute to a partnership. Moeen’s batting weaknesses are well known, and his dismissal with an edge to the slips entirely predictable, but the aesthetics of his batting also means that few players evoke such a desire from the watching public to see him do well. He did enough today in the match context, which answers nothing about the wider questions, but in terms of today, it was fine. It just would have been nice to have more of it.

And then there’s Root himself. If there’s one thing that unites us all on this blog it’s the descent into greatesteveritis that afflicts the media on a daily basis, and most certainly not just for cricket. Root isn’t a greatest ever anything, and the likely forthcoming articles and polls asking whether he is can be guaranteed to rile everyone, but at this point in his career, with a Test average hovering around that 50 mark, we can start to place him in some context in the more recent England era. And when we do so, what can we say? We can certainly say he’s worthy of being talked about in the last 30 or 40 years with Cook, Pietersen, Gower, Boycott and Gooch, and has a better Test average than any of them for what that’s worth. Beyond that, it’s subjective, not least because comparing bowling and batting is reliant on the function of the two – or to put it another way, a great bowling era would look identical if it was instead a poor batting era. Players can only exist in their own environment, and Root has become one of England’s best in a long time. Perhaps it could be argued that it’s even more so given that a fair chunk of his career has been spent in a pretty poor England batting side. He’s carrying the batting in a way few have needed to in quite some years in England colours. We can, at the least, start thinking about where we place him in the England recent pantheon now he’s past 9,000 Test runs with more to come.

Today he was majestic. Other players hit the ball harder, further and more often, but Root’s manipulation of the field and speed of scoring is impressive generally, but when he’s in the kind of form he currently is, it gives the impression of a player in total control not just of himself, but of the opposition too. He must be driving an otherwise vastly superior Indian batting order up the wall.

As for the match situation, we have a game on. England have a first innings lead, albeit a modest one, and while it’s true that a fourth innings chase is the hardest way to win, the Lord’s pitch tends not to deteriorate too much, indeed it often gets slower, lower and harder on which to take wickets. One ball in the afternoon session scuttled along the ground, so we will have to see if that’s an indication of what is to come.

The third innings brings with it its own pressure with each wicket taken adding to it, a position England have highlighted on all too many occasions. But with the weather set fair, a result seems distinctly possible, and more to the point, England have a chance of coming out on top. Most people would have taken that given the rather low expectations from this series. England may well be accused of being a one man team in the batting, and it’s not an unreasonable jibe. But when that one batsman is playing as well as this, it evens up the contest no end. The captain is very much leading from the front. The last ball of the day provided the conclusion that a terrific day of cricket really deserved, with Anderson dismissed (notably upset with himself too) and England bowled out. It really is now over to the Indian batsmen and the England bowlers.

England v India – 2nd Test, Day 2 – You’ll Be Back To Find Your Way, Again, Again, Again, Again

If ever a moment summed up the state of English test cricket, it came just after 4 o’clock. Dominic Sibley had just succumbed to another loose shot to mid-wicket having seen off the early new ball threat, and in came Haseeb Hameed for his first test in England, five years or so after a promising debut. When Mohammed Siraj’s full pitched delivery missed Hameed’s bat and clattered into the stumps, the first the former prodigy faced, hearts sank. Two dismissals, two individuals, two moments in time. Two massively different reactions. Stagnation removed, hopeful promise dashed in the passage of two catastrophic cricketing moments. Someone “never up to it” being derided, an individual of unfulfilled promise (rightly) sympathised. It smacks of utter confusion, misplaced hope, wishful thinking and all points in between. What else is there?

Before we get back into this moment, let’s set the scene. England started the day on the back foot after a very bad first day and a very good hundred by KL Rahul. The centurion lasted no time at all, falling second ball to Ollie Robinson (not Anderson, lazy writer), hitting straight to Sibley in the covers. Soon after Rahane nicked to slip and was also back in the hutch. Stuart Broad then tweeted that England were one wicket from the tail and could possibly bowl the visitors out for under 300! There is no shortage of misplaced optimism around this England camp. Standing between “the tail” was Jadeja and that pest, Rishabh Pant. The bits I saw of the latter’s innings was a mix of play-and-misses, slogs that avoided fielders and some interesting shots. He’s never dull, I’ll give him that. He was dismissed when I was on my dog walk, caught off the toe end of his bat through to Jos Buttler off the bowling of the strangely low profile Mark Wood.

Shami soon followed, but Jadeja still managed to milk another 33 out of India’s lower order, and he was not able to swing his bat in the sword dance for 50 because he ran out of partners. However, he showed some assurance, solidity, and it is just utterly amazing to me he, oops, I stopped myself. He does have one test century!

Jimmy Anderson takes the plaudits yet again with a seventh honours board worthy set of figures. It’s incredible, of course, how he is continuing to deliver the goods, and yes, it is worrying how we will do without him. Bowlers do step up when they take their time as the lead man, and that’s precisely what Jimmy did once Harmison and Hoggard left the scene. Robinson, although frequently recording deliveries in the high 70s mph, certainly didn’t look out of place, and Wood is just a puzzle wrapped up in an enigma to me. What was clear was that England, if not bowling themselves back into the game – 360 being a dangerous score on a wicket like this – had at least given themselves a chance.

England negotiated the period up to tea in their usual dogged, slow, methodical, boring, resilient, tedious, fighting, subdued way. I am not entirely sure what people expect these days. These aren’t England’s historically most talented players, but there are plenty out there who want them to do things that didn’t get them where they are now? I can’t fathom it sometimes. I remember a while back, when openers were falling by the wayside that commentators and pundits were saying could we at least find openers to see off the first 15 overs! Sibley generally does that, and, well….

Look, Listen or Whatever – I am not a huge Sibley fan but he got into the team because he made a mountain of runs for Warwickshire. He has made two test hundreds, one in South Africa that was pretty damn good. He is clearly struggling. It is clearly better in this world to be someone struggling but looks good doing it, someone struggling who is a media darling (I’m thinking of Jos Buttler here), someone struggling who consistently gets recalled, but for the love of god, don’t struggle if you are slow or particularly unattractive to watch. I reckon if Graeme Smith had started his test career for England rather than South Africa, poorly or had an early bad trot, he’d have been dumped! I am watching twitter and the vitriol is quite something. Someone, who we love dearly on this blog, has made a point of all the criticism coming from “ex-pros” who are united against him. It’s an outrageous pile on and it will only end in one way. Sibley will be gone. Crushed by the limitations of his technique and an audience almost delighting in telling him he’s utter mince.

Contrast that with the return of the prodigal son, Haseeb Hameed. The lachrymose (thanks Latin teacher) reaction is understandable but rife with double standards. He started his career well, on pitches that all the other top line batsmen in the England team, I think, got tons on. He showed huge promise, but the media and the coaching staff got utterly carried away. You know I warned people not to big him up too soon, and I’ve never been more sick that I was proved right. His career went to pot, he may or may not have contributed to his own demise at Lancashire, and yes, he’s had a nice start at Nottinghamshire, but this is a selection based on 2016 Hameed being there. We desperately need it to work. There is rightful sympathy towards him. Any club player, any cricketer, knows first ball ducks can happen and the absolute sense of humiliation there is in that (reading a book describing Chris Smith’s first ball in test cricket and his reaction tells you a lot). As a human being, of course we feel for him. It’s a pity that cup of human kindness isn’t shared around sometimes to others fighting their way through.

After the fall to 22 for 2 (another bleedin’ typo, Dmitri – get a grip) Rory Burns and Joe Root began the rebuilding job. Burns played very well, getting the breaks you need, and looking really assured the longer he got in. Joe Root was the captain carrying more passengers than the New York Subway, doing his usual thing. Reviews were wasted, India looked less threatening, the 100 came up. All that needed to happen was to see the play through to the close. Then, with Burns on 49, Shami got one through his defence, hit the pad, and while it didn’t look out on first look, on review (Burns reviewed) it was out. A hammer blow.

Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow saw the day out, not without a little flutter (I thought JB nicked it, but another superb decision reprieved him). With the day closing at 119 for 3, India are clearly ahead, but not totally out of sight. One suspects England need to get to 300 to have even an outside chance batting last, and that will probably mean an increased passenger load for Captain Root. It’s a well set-up test match.

There is plenty more out there to discuss, including Tom Harrison’s wonderful interview yesterday which had me feeling a warm glow for the Paul Downton-era ECB, and which I may take on after this test. I also went to The Oval on Tuesday for the Royal London game between Surrey and Warwickshire, where I saw a terrific innings by Tim David, with all the pyrotechnics that you could wish to see in any short-form game, and which the varied make-up of the crowd seemed to absolutely love.

The game is in a tenuous state, run by charlatans and cowboys, supported by a loyal base abused by the great and the good, in search of fresh pastures that might not be there. This test is good despite of the authorities, not because of them. It is fascinatingly poised. I hope it runs an exciting course. England resume at 118 for 3, 246 behind. Oh, don’t worry, I noticed they were 6 (thanks Sean) overs short in the 6 and a half hours play today across both teams. Seems that the punishment’s impact didn’t last too long.

Any comments, please do this below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expectation Management

India will probably win, but England have had a pretty good day. Given where they began, and given expectations for a batting line up for whom the word brittle was coined, to set India 209 was a fair few levels above what may have been anticipated by the perpetually pessimistic with good reason England fans. That first innings deficit was both a psychological and and a physical barrier for England to overcome, and that they did so and set a reasonable target was almost entirely down to Joe Root. This was one of his best hundreds, looking in complete control and driving both sides of the wicket with fluency and outstanding footwork. He is nothing short of a joy to watch when he’s in this kind of form.

It is obvious just by looking at the statistics, but it really is quite startling just how far ahead of the rest of the line up he is. It’s not quite the case that when he fails, England fail, but it’s not far off. England got a total that was quite passable, and a target to defend that is big enough to allow for some degree of hope that they might win the match. From 183 all out in the first innings, that’s no bad place to be, for they looked thoroughly out of it and facing a humiliation before Anderson ripped the Indian top order out. Indeed, although the Indian tail wagged irritatingly well, to bowl the visitors out for 278 was a fine performance from the England attack, particularly Robinson and Anderson. Without any hope of putting real pressure on, they maintained control and whittled their way through the Indian order. Conceding a 95 run deficit might not seem like a triumph, and certainly the late runs damaged England’s prospects, but it was still a sterling effort given the match situation.

Two early wickets in England’s second innings made it all the more likely that a day of disaster was on the cards, but Root and Sibley put together a partnership that steadied matters, and allowed England to erase the deficit and start to build. Sibley’s dismissal was a poor shot having done all the hard work, but he does at least give the impression of a work in progress, able to occupy the crease for long periods as often as not. Given the state of England’s batting, and that he’s their second highest run scorer (behind Root) this calendar year, he’s not the most pressing of England’s concerns. Getting out when set is not a great thing to happen, but he is at least getting set in the first place. His slow scoring rate is neither here nor there in the current circumstances. If England need quick runs to set up a declaration or win, he’s not the man – oh to be in a position where that is a consideration. That isn’t to defend him especially, it’s that he’s not the biggest problem right now, and there are quite a few of them.

Bairstow looked rather good but managed to middle the ball straight to Jadeja at deep square leg. Curran played an important little innings and again looked one of the more technically accomplished batsmen in the England team. Technique is only one element of batting, but while at present he may be one of those players who isn’t quite good enough in either the batting or the bowling department to nail down a consistent place, his batting still looks promising. That’s perhaps part of the issue, he’s all promise and at some point needs to turn that into results on a regular basis. Becoming a genuine all rounder remains a hope and a dream, and time is still on his side. But such a hope doesn’t mean it will come to pass – at one time Stuart Broad wasn’t that far away from all rounder status, and his batting decline has been vertical.

Part of the feeling of being relatively pleased with England’s efforts is the suspicion that India, even in English conditions, are a far superior team, and that this could well be a long and chastening Test series. The bowling attack, particularly in the shape of Bumrah, looks more threatening, the batting so far superior to their English counterparts that it is barely in the same equation. Although Robinson got the rewards in the first innings, a feeling persists that the old warhorses of Anderson and Broad aren’t just going to have to lead the attack, they’re going to be trying bail out the batting on a semi-permanent basis. And that’s too much to ask time and again, especially when there are injuries to potential replacements.

Into the evening session and England trying to dislodge the Indian top order. It can’t be said that KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma were under any pressure, because they weren’t, right up to the point that Stuart Broad, with headband on parade, took the former’s outside edge. It had been an oddly low key period of play, the crowds weren’t exactly roaring England on, and the team looked a bit flat, particularly given that bowling conditions were entirely in England’s favour. Once the wicket was taken, things went up a notch, especially with the arrival into the attack of the somewhat unlucky Robinson.

India are warm favourites to win tomorrow, weather permitting, and as a reflection of the match, so far, that would surprise no one. But England did at least fight today, and their captain showed how exceptional a batsman he is, and how far superior to anything else the team has. Given the forecast, we got more play than we expected, and England played better than expected. It’s probably not going to be enough, the old truism applying that you can’t win the game with the bat on the first day, but you can lose it.

It’s Test cricket though, and the most special thing about this finest version of the game is that you just never know. Roll on Sunday.