England v Pakistan – ODI #3 – Preview and Comments

Now. I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to tomorrow’s game with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. I’d be lying if I said this was the number one thing on my agenda tomorrow. I’d be lying if I said this series had gripped me by my lapels, shaking my pent up excitement like a pair of maracas. The first two games have been unutterably dull.

This may be the case of after the Lord Mayor’s Show, given the excitement and verve of the recent test series. It might be that Pakistan are outmatched with a dodgy batting line-up, while England have a murderers row all the way down to Adil Rashid at number 10. The bowling is more even, but England haven’t had massive chases to test how much the visitors might bend. It’s been routine so far, and that’s not what we like to see. ODIs need the touch of the extraordinary or they become extra ordinary. A bad ODI, an uncompetitive one where the first score is low is no recipe for future enjoyment. I sat through Saturday’s game and I was phenomenally bored. I fell asleep for 45 minutes during our chase – part older age, part not caring as much, part the dullness of the game.

This much is true. (cue Spandau Ballet) 18 months ago we were garbage at ODI cricket. Absolute unmitigated rubbish. Now we (I) get bored when we win routine matches. Yes, I sound like an entitled Manchester United fan fed up that we aren’t winning in style. I get this. Except there’s not a lot of fandom, other than dearly hoping Jason Roy or Jos Buttler go off. I don’t mind Hales or Root play very well either. Less enamoured of Morgan, ever since the “that’s from me” macho bullshit, and Stokes really needs to justify his white ball place with performances rather than “I want to bowl because I’m bored” stuff, even if that was tongue in cheek. This isn’t unconditional fandom at all. But you knew that!

Tomorrow the match takes place at Trent Bridge. A couple of months ago there was a thrilling game where England got out of jail with a tie when Liam Plunkett hit the last ball for six. It was the sort of ODI that gets your attention. England, through Buttler and most notably Woakes, gave us a thin chance, and then got the rewards. Last year New Zealand made 349 and England chased them down with six overs, yes six, remaining. Eoin Morgan made 113, and yet not much more than a year later there are whispers that he should not be in the team, He made a half century on Saturday, so maybe that clamour has receded. Just mentioning those two matches show how the landscape has changed, and probably why the last two matches have been dull in comparison.

In my opinion, and I said it on Saturday, Joe Root should be given a couple of weeks off. He plays all three formats, has hardly had a break, and got a knock on Saturday. We do push our players to extremes at times, and I think he’s earned a break. No doubt Joe won’t want one, and no doubt the medical and management staff know better. But it looks to me as if there is no harm in doing so. Maybe, if we clinch the ODI series tomorrow, we can take a more pragmatic line, whether we are placing equal weight on ODIs and tests or not. It’s not as if there isn’t some exciting young talent behind the scenes. Duckett, Billings, Bell-Drummond et al. I know we are building a solid team for the Champions Trophy next year, but health has to come into it.

Comments on the game below. Come on now, you WILL enjoy it.

As a reminder, it’s 12-8 in the Super Series.

DID YOU KNOW? Kevin Pietersen played 5 ODIs at Trent Bridge, but batted just twice? 41* and 0. Why now? Just trailing the upcoming look at his test hundreds

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4th Test, Day 3 – Review Of The Day

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Lovely

While The Leg Glance is posting pictures of cats on Twitter, it falls to me to take up the cudgels and write the review of the day’s play. Now I’m having to write this before the end of the day’s play, with England at the commencement of this piece standing on a very steady 55/2 – I mean 55/3 as James Vince finishes his test career – and stand on the precipice. Carry on with me as we take England down in the last 50 minutes of play.

Definition of optimism…

The day started with Pakistan in the ascendancy with a small lead and four wickets remaining. A solid session for either team and the game may well swing their way. It was Pakistan who took the honours. Sarfraz, without making a massive score this series, once again showed he has a lot to offer with a 44, in support of the increasingly confident, and permanence personified of Younus Khan. I’m going with Younus, by the way. Then after Wahab stayed around to support Khan on the departure of the busy keeper, the lead inexorably rose to Edgbaston levels. Wahab’s Sunday Club Cricket stumping brought Mohammad Amir to the fray, who chose this time to make his test best score. England were looking increasingly punchless, and, it has to be said, not like a World Number One.

Suddenly the almost complacent approach of England’s legion of supporters was looking flawed. This wasn’t the tail stretching the lead, more the imperious, immovable Younus Khan. His contempt for Ali’s efforts, a salutary reminder of our spinners shortcomings exposed again, was frightening. It was summed up with him on 192. He pushed a two to mid-wicket sitting too deep, and every man and his mutt knew what his next move would be. And so it happened, biffed for six over mid-wicket and a double was up. This was majestic stuff, and the lead went over 200. Younus fell via a full ball from Jimmy (think I was watching the Men’s Eights at the time) for 218, joining Rahul Dravid and Sanath Jayasuriya in the last 20 years to visit the South London pastures and come back with a double, and he’d played the vital hand.

Woakes was again the pick of the bowlers, and again Broad seemed a little off kilter. It hasn’t been his greatest summer. Jimmy was rather under-bowled today, it seemed, but all four quicks bowled around the same amount of overs (29 for the elderly, 30 for the youth). Moeen Alis’s 2/128 with an economy rate well over 5 has to be concerning. But as we’ve said, as may have said, there aren’t a litany of options out there to take his place.

It’s 65 for 3 at this time.

A selection of Vince tweets….

There’s been a more forthright tone to this guy’s tweets this summer. Lord knows why. This one was from yesterday!

Yes. It probably did.

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh.

More Stocks. Also Alec Swann still around. Beginning to wonder. But while I agree about his contention about Bell, wasn’t Swann the one who didn’t have KP in his top 10 English players he’d seen? Maybe I’m watching the wrong sport.

OK. Enough of that. I’ll top and tail this at 6:30….

The day finished with England on 88 for 4. They are a long way away from doing anything to avert a defeat. They lost no more wickets after I saw the end of Root to a plumb LBW that he decided to review – as plumb as Hales, who also reviewed his. We’d better hope no-one gets sawn off.

Pakistan have done superbly well in this game, outplaying us yet again – they won here in 2010, they were in the driving seat in 2006 when the ball tampering incident took over, and won here in 1996, 1992 and were very much on top in 1987. They love SE London, just like your author.

Oh. I didn’t mention the skipper. It really doesn’t matter. There will be time to discuss matters when the series finishes. But don’t invoke the great captains of the past, before time. Our media, our fans, our players seem to get ahead of themselves. This game bites you on the arse.

Good luck to Ballance, Bairstow, Moeen et al to get us to a total to bowl at, and this test might have a real sting in the tail.

Comments on Day 4 tomorrow. Anyone wanting to catch Selvey on CWOTV, let me know what happens….I’m off to a birthday bash!

 

4th Test – Preview

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A Fine Vista

In 2014, when England came from 1-0 down after two matches to win the series 3-1, there was much rejoicing in the media and from those who had taken one side of the vicious schism that had afflicted English cricket. In that series the visitors had won a surprising victory at Lord’s and gone on to absolutely collapse as their bowling fell apart and their batting became more feeble. Virat Kohli, the now venerated titan of Indian cricket had a Weston (Super Mare). So on one side there was proclaimed a great victory, on the other a more prominent calling out of the failings of the opposition. The schism remained.

In 2015, when England recovered from a hefty beating at Lord’s that had seemed to snatch away all the momentum gained at Cardiff, there was a reshuffling of the pack (well, Ballance was dropped). Australia came a cropper on two helpful wickets at Birmingham and Nottingham, where England outplayed them. England had beaten what we were given to believe were mighty foes, with the two Mitchells throwing down meteorites of left arm viciousness, and the batting bolstered by a captain who rarely failed, and an opener of Sehwagian feats. When the series was won, as evidenced on this blog, the heat rose to crucible levels. Scores were being settled. The wrong side of the schism were being shown the error of their ways. They were to be mocked, ostracised, humiliated. There would be “no peace”. If anything, the schism had grown wider.

In 2016, when England recovered from a surprise loss at Lord’s, to take a 2-1 lead in a series most of us expect to be closed out with relevant comfort at the original home of English test cricket (accept no posh, snobby North London alternatives), what will the reaction be? For if this should come to pass, England will, I think (because I’m not following it closely) be world ranked number 1. There will be much patting of backs at a job well done. There will be hosannas thrown in the direction of our much loved and much respected captain. There will be a tangible warmth of smug self-satisfaction from the hierarchy at the ECB as the proof that what they did 2 ½ years ago was spot on (if you ignore the Downton thing, the Moores thing, the Al staying as ODI captain thing, the World Cup thing). The cricket media will prostrate themselves at the feet of the leaders of the revolution and the world will anoint the new top team in test cricket. Those that look on this site as a think to revile will be joyous. Personally, I’ll feel like just the other two summers. Less angry, more resigned. Schismed out.

So where are we now? What joy and hope can I find in this? I’m a blogger on the wrong side of the celebrations. Unable to conjure up any warmth for it. Unable to let go of a betrayal. Unable to understand why many don’t see it the way I do. I look at this team and wonder how it might look with a certain player, fit and healthy, at number 4 who had a bogey number of 158, not 42. Yet to do so is to invite the celebrants to invoke their tedious comments. “Fanboy” “Boring” “Idiot”. What joy can I conjure up as Pakistan, initially so vibrant, seem to be collapsing in self-doubt? How a captain, on Day 4, while being celebrated by a former England captain at the time, didn’t so much as let England off the hook after those two early wickets, as turn his fishing vessel back to port and wait for the little blighters to jump out of the sea.

Last time Pakistan visited these shores, six years ago, they won the 3rd Test (of 4) at The Oval. For those of you slightly short of memory, that was a London test that also started on Wednesday, so no, we aren’t always given Thursday starts, and it also finished just after Saturday lunchtime, if I recall correctly (I might not). Azhar Ali played the key role with the bat, and Wahab Riaz with the ball (in the first innings). England got a relatively low score, and then didn’t perform in the second innings. Pakistan didn’t win by a lot, but by enough. Alastair Cook made a hundred that “saved his career”.

Both the first innings Pakistani stars from six years ago have had, to term it politely “mixed” tours. Hafeez has been an abomination at the top of the order, while Shafiq shone well at Lord’s but with less lustre since. As for Younus Khan, heaven knows what is going on there.You can’t help but feel slightly short changed.

We needed a competitive series, and to a degree we have got one, with two really closely fought games, but it was the manner of the capitulation on Days 4 and 5 at Edgbaston that left me melancholy. That had the smack of a team scared to win. Frightened of the moment. One ripe to the slaughter against a motivated England team.

We can be revisionist on here, saying that we were seeing it coming while revelling in the formidable challenge the visitors put up in the first test, but then we aren’t here celebrating a potential 7-0 whitewash of the summer that others were thinking possible. That we are not is due to our climate and our frailties. But if, according to Ali Martin, we win this test (or is it just the series) and India don’t win both remaining games against the West Indies, we become the number 1 ranked nation in test match cricket. In many ways, ascent to that lofty perch was really well summed up by Alex Hales:

It would be an incredible feeling, particularly for a team who are still developing. If we perform as well as we did in the last two Tests hopefully we can win this series and if we can get the No1 spot that’s exciting for us.

Developing teams should not be number 1 in a major international sport. The team shouldn’t have glaring holes at opener, number 4, possibly number 5, and the spin bowling department. Because if that team is number 1, the overall quality of the competition has to be questioned. There is an overall weakness in test cricket that is genuinely scary. There are no giants. There are no super teams. There are just a bunch of worthy teams, who on their day can nick a test or two away from home, but are quite resilient on their own patch. Any comparison of this team to even its 2011 counterparts, or 2005, is, in my opinion utterly laughable. But they’ll match the 2011 one, and surpass the 2005 if three results go their way.

So with Cook in the form of his life (again), Root capable of great things, Moeen as outrageously lauded for his Day 5 bowling as he was castigated for lack of wickets before, the bowling overcoming a strangely quiet Stuart Broad we just have a couple of questions to answer. Will Hales finally nail down the openers slot with a hundred, and will Vince finally get his score which will allow the totally impartial Michael Vaughan to tweet that he told us so?

Please comment on Day 1 below. This will be the fourth year in a row I’ve not gone to The Oval test, despite it being a staple of my summers for 15 years before. It’s not the same any more, whether it’s me or the cricket. I will be going to the Oval for the Lancashire game in the week of the 22nd August though – anyone interested in popping along, e-mail me on dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk

On site matters, I have a couple of posts lined up. There’s Simon’s part 2 of the Old Trafford test from 1976; I have the conclusion of “Nightmare at Nottingham” to stick up as well. There is also a post due from one of our commenters on over rates, and I’ve done a personal one on club cricket linked to the number 42, which I might stick up on “The Extra Bits”. I thought we’d get the test series out of the way before finishing those off, and I also have another, longer series up my sleeve, which is sure to annoy a number, but hopefully engage more. Anything else you would like to see, or if you would like to write it, please let me or TLG know.

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(After I completed the initial draft of this, I came across this little section of our favourite Mail journalist’s piece.

Anderson, a leading member of both teams, believes this outfit even outstrips the team of Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann, Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott, who won the Ashes in Australia.

 

‘I think our team at the moment is better equipped to get to No 1 and stay there,’ insisted Anderson, 34. ‘We are a more talented side, we are mentally tougher and we showed the character we have in the side at Edgbaston.

‘If I’m being brutally honest it would be a bit soon for this team to go to No 1 now because we are still developing, there is still inconsistency, and we have plenty of improving to do. It would be nice if we do it but we have plenty of time.”

 

I am all for buffing up your team, but dear of dear. This is guff.

Still, it’s Newman. The Cheerleader. So there isn’t disagreement. And also, if you read this, has he repeated himself in the same article? Don’t they have editors? )

But let me repeat myself…. Comments on Day 1 below.

England vs Pakistan: 3rd Test Day One

The trouble with day one of a Test is that unless one side has had a truly grim day every summary at the end of it revolves around it being too early to say whether the score is a good one, the toss decision is a good one or if the pitch is favouring one side in particular.  There are only so many ways to say that it’s in the balance and that after tomorrow we will know more.

Pakistan’s decision to bowl first certainly caused some raised eyebrows, but having bowled England out in a day will have viewed that call as being vindicated.  England’s score of 297 is right in the zone of being enough to be in the game but anything but a good score.  It could become a good score, if England were to bowl Pakistan out cheaply tomorrow, or it could be a bad score if they go past it – self evident of course, but still how it is.  The trouble is, saying as much isn’t about sitting on the fence, there’s nothing but uncertainty around how it will develop from here.

So perhaps the only indication is the relative happiness of the two sides – England trying to convince that it’s not a bad score at all, Pakistan reasonably content with their day’s work.  If that is an indicator then Pakistan could be said to have had the better of the day, and instinctively that feels about right, but not so much so that England are at this stage in any kind of trouble.  Likewise the strong criticism towards Misbah for electing to bowl had dissipated somewhat by the close, again suggesting that decision had – thus far at least – been vindicated.

Certainly England will be a little disappointed with the total, as much due to how many players got in and then got out again as anything else.  Cook started with rare fluency, and while Root’s dismissal was ascribed to overconfidence perhaps the same can be said of the captain.  He appeared in outstanding form, and that is so often when the mistakes come.  No matter, these things do happen, and all cricketers know the frustration of being back in the pavilion having made an error on a day when they felt they could do as they wished in the middle.

Vince again got in and got out, and again it was his flaw outside off stump that did for him.  His 39 was the opportunity to go on and make a meaningful contribution, and he didn’t.  He looks good, then he gets out, and while looking good tends to buy a little more patience (unfairly so, of course, but true nonetheless) than for less attractive players, at some point the chances run out.  Vince needs a good innings urgently, and he’ll be as aware of that as anyone.

Ballance is the antithesis of the stylish player, yet his 70 was the mainstay of the innings.  He scores runs, and while the 142 he’s scored in four knocks he’s since his recall won’t make too many headlines, he looks a far better player than the one dropped last year.  What is interesting there is that the technical adjustment appears minimal, and by some accounts he’s proven entirely resistant to attempts by others to tinker with it.  Confidence and faith in one’s own game is often far more important.  His dismissal was one of those often felt somewhat unlucky, taken down the legside off Yasir Shah by the rather impressive Sarfraz.  It was a good catch too, legside catches standing up are always prized by wicketkeepers – more so than stumpings much of the time.  The angle did allow that rarity when up to the stumps, time to adjust, but it was a significant deflection, and he will be pleased with that one.

Bairstow pushed too hard at a ball that wasn’t really there to drive off the back foot, and Woakes was probably due a failure.  Thus it was Moeen who was principally responsible for getting an unquestionably sub-par 224-6 to a perhaps adequate 297.  There may be better batsmen than Moeen around, but there are few as delightful to watch as he is.  He has that languid (and frustrating style) that is rather reminiscent of David Gower.  One item worthy of note here is that Moeen was today batting at seven.  Helped rather substantially by his unbeaten century against Sri Lanka, his average when batting in that position is now over 80.  The sample remains far too small to draw conclusions either way, but he wouldn’t be the first player to respond to being in the lower order by batting like a lower order player instead of the batsman that he is.

For Pakistan, the man of the day was quite clearly Sohail Khan – a 32 year old playing only his third Test and his first in nearly five years.  His time in the limelight may yet be brief, but there is a special pleasure to be had in seeing an unlikely successful comeback.  That he is a right arm bowler may have worked in his favour, after two Tests with solely left arm seamers for England to negotiate.  But he bowled well, deserved his success and his evident pleasure (and press ups) leaving the field couldn’t help but raise a smile.

The weather forecast for day two isn’t particularly great, and the England bowlers will hope to make the most of the leaden skies. Yet the England total is not big enough to prove decisive barring something extraordinary.  We may well have another good match on our hands.

And finally, the last England wicket fell with five minutes of play remaining, and 86 overs bowled.  Once again the required number of overs in the day fell short, even with the additional half hour, and once again nothing will be done about it.  Given that, we can assume that the ICC approves of literally shortchanging their paying customers.  It remains unacceptable, it remains disgraceful.

Day two comments below

Day 4 of Test 2 – Dominance Confirmed

Joe-Root

Following England cricket for as long as I have should mean that days like these bring unfettered joy. We never used to beat Pakistan like this. Indeed, for a long time, we never really used to beat Pakistan. They had the lightning pace, and swinging bowling that gave domestic batsmen terrors. They would find the resistance of such technically proficient players like Javed, Inzy et al a difficulty too far. Then, if that wasn’t enough, they’d throw a Qadir, a Mushtaq, a Saqlain at you. It was a tough life playing Pakistan.

What has been so noticeable, on English surfaces, is the lack of batting. The last two series have witnessed Pakistan batsmen being all over the place. If I recall, they didn’t make a century in 2010, and just Misbah has made one here, and you wouldn’t put much money on any of them doing it in the remainder of the series. If England bat as well as they did here, and bowl up to standard, it’s going to be tough to see Pakistan putting up much of a fight. Maybe, just maybe, they need to bat first. That might be the key.

It’s 1-1, but it doesn’t feel like a close series to me at this point. Over the last few days I’ve been reading Andrew Strauss’s (aka Comma) book on the 2010-11 Ashes. It must be recalled that on that tour we won three tests by an innings. We demolished them. In the book Strauss says the aim for him was to lead “the greatest England team ever”. That team, as we might recall, carried one batting passenger (Collingwood) while the rest of the team played out of their skins. The point being, that while that team is in the reckoning for the best team we’ve ever put out (2005, IMHO would have battered it) this one isn’t. It’s carrying too many passengers, has won a game thanks to the bowling being superb, and two batsmen making around 500 runs between them, and is prone to some periods where it loses ideas. Yet it has inflicted a 330 run defeat on Pakistan – a team ranked above them in the World list – and it feels as though this isn’t even a surprise. Test cricket is, at this stage, truly baffling. It just feels totally sub-standard. I don’t know if that’s true, but too many teams fold like cardboard under any pressure. I have little hope for the rest of the series being competitive. God, I hope I’m wrong.

So while the main, faintly ludicrous, debate last night focused on whether we should declare or not, I think next week might see calls for one of the two stars of the Lions display today, Duckett and Bell-Drummond, to be included in full squads soon. I wouldn’t be opposed to that. Vince has had five tests, and not done anything to make him indispensable. Ballance has had two back and won’t be ousted yet, but he’s in Compton’s Chair – the selection not endorsed by the media and with no real reason to bring him back – and that’s like the old ducking stool at the moment. But this team prides itself not on short-termism and risk taking, as that has to admit you are wrong, and give off the appearance of not knowing what you are doing. At a time when the selectors have copped some flak, risk aversion might be the order of the day.

I found this game sadly lacking. I’m past the loyal fan boy stage, and now in to wanting to watch contests. It’s like going to watch a top club like Real Madrid play one of those lower Primera Liga sides, and it turns into a 5 or 6 goal romp, with Ronaldo filling his boots. Sure, it’s a pleasure to watch the greats turn it on, but there are only three big clubs, the better competition is few and far between, and it all gets rather dull, unless you support that team. England are winning tests when they get their heads well in front, and when challenged can turn it on (Jo’burg) or flop (Lord’s v Pakistan). I can’t make my mind up about them at all. I think that a team seriously contemplating itself as being World #1 can’t have a top 5 with Hales, Ballance and Vince. That’s indicative of something about test cricket.

Joe Root is a superstar, no doubt, and his average is now over 56. I’m not writing the “greatest ever” stuff just yet (he’d been in the team less than four years) but he is something we have not had for a while. Truly reliable. We’re bound to ruin him.

We have some time between now and Birmingham. Thanks for the comments over the last few days. I’ve enjoyed the writing more than the match! I’m really sorry I can’t be enthused, but those of you who are, good luck. You won’t carry me with you, no matter how much you try. You know that. And you know why.

Just for giggles, and as a finale, here’s this. From Comma’s book….

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Day 3 of Test 2 – Asserting Dominance

There remains one challenge left in this game. The second test is now a matter of can England take ten Pakistan wickets in the time they allow themselves to level the series. They have a lead of nearly 500, more than enough if they wanted to declare overnight, as it would take one of the greatest miracles of test cricket to see our visitors overhaul that, and it now really rests on whether Cook wants to bunt a few more pretty meaningless runs around, or get this over with as soon as possible so the assembled media can hit the links a day early if they possibly can.

Like watching a Steve Davis or Stephen Hendry snooker final when on their game, there is plenty to admire about how England have gone about this match, but then I just never took to those two players because there was, well, just a lack of charm in the whole thing. And yes, I know it derives from THAT series, and I know three years ago, when we were charmlessly winning the Ashes I wouldn’t have said that, but emotions and instincts change over the years. I’m reading Andrew Strauss’s book on winning the Ashes in 2010/11, and there’s a bit about how lovely Alastair Cook is, and how he is the nicest man around, and he’s such a hard worker and doesn’t go on about it. And I stop, and I think, am I wrong to really not care for him? Is it me making the mistake here, and not those who seem so in hock to his aura? I do think hard over these things. I really do. But I can’t just get past the Ashes thing. I really can’t. This has meant to a dripfeed of animosity, that makes me feel numb when I see England handing out such a thrashing.

Because we can’t have it both ways. We can’t laud the Pakistanis for a magnificent display, while they sit above us in the world rankings, and then as soon as they are getting duffed up we bemoan Big Three cricket. Pakistan’s position in the world test arena is a miracle. We all know they’ll never play a home test against England and Australia ever again. Ever is a long time, but I doubt we’ll go to Pakistan in my lifetime. They are an exiled team, playing cricket in empty stadia, and yet they are where they are. It’s not because of any Big Three that they are suffering. It’s circumstance, and certainly their poor relations with India are driven by national politics, not cricketing issues. So on this one, I think we have to say “well done” to England on being in the position they are in. (There are a myriad of other views with the West Indies, who have been demolished by India in Antigua. Are they mediocre yet? If not, when will they reach that lofty standard?)

What did we learn on Day 3? Not a lot. England cashed in, then decided not to enforce the follow on. I have no problem with that, others do. Farbrace at the end, after he finished his audition for the new Mr Men movie – playing either Mr Happy or Mr Chatterbox – was keen to say it would be better to bat the second time with a good pitch than have to on a bad one. Quite what target a team 400 behind almost on first innings would set England is something I’m not sure about, but I’m sure the first test in the UAE, and the legend of Kolkata are in their minds. That’s not a very positive mindset, but then it does ensure we won’t have even the merest hint of losing the test. Cook has been rattling along, Root has come in and got going, while Hales struggled again. The batting looking very dependent on the two big cheeses at the top of the order these days.

As for the wickets, I have to confess I could only watch one day of the test this weekend, due to family stuff, and that was yesterday. After a shopping trip this afternoon, the TV went on, and my lights went out (sick border collie overnight, woken by motorcycle idiots this morning) and the enthusiasm to watch never returned. There was rain, and I saw bits of the action, but it’s not a contest any more, and this is just accumulation for accumulation’s sake now. The sort of thing Australia did, when Slater or Warner would pick up that bargain bucket second innings ton against defensive fields and worse bowling. Will England regret not bowling in overcast conditions? I don’t know. They wouldn’t tell us if they did.

Day 4 tomorrow, and England will probably bat for another hour or so. If they’ve got to lunch without declaring then I’ll probably hear Sir Ian explode from my London office. So don’t declare until lunch, Alastair. England have played well, but I’m sorry, it’s just not exciting to me. Can’t help the feelings, I’m afraid.

Day 4 comments below. It’s getting a little testy….

Day 2 of Test 2 – Asserting Dominance

Back in 2010, when England last met Pakistan on these fair shores, the tests were of dubious quality, and eventually of dubious intention. But although England won the series 3-1, they always had that control of the series, thanks, we tend to forget, for a magnificent hundred that saved our bacon at Trent Bridge by…..*

Anyway, he’s not in our test team any more, and by the end of that series Saeed Ajmal had him fidgeting about like a cat on a hot tin roof. But England’s frail batting in that series, and the awesome, at times, nature of the visitors bowling always kept tests on the edge.  They won a close battle at The Oval. When we saw another such test at Lord’s, those of us on here who worry that such a frail batting side as England are (with two top order places, at least, and possibly three, up for grabs) could ascend to the top of the pile, placed world test cricket’s travails towards the back for a while. This test has them back, front and centre. In Antigua, India are walking over a mediocre West Indies. Here, we are doing the same in this test to Pakistan.

England have done what good test sides do, of course. They’ve taken their opportunity to bat on a great wicket, piled up a massive score, and then knocked off half the top order in no time, with Woakes, yet again, having a terrific day. That two of the more reliable men, or at least billed as reliables, in Hafeez and Younus are struggling is a real concern for the visitors. They simply have to bowl sides out for manageable totals and hope their batsmen can keep them in clover, but I don’t see this Pakistan team topping 500 in English conditions. I may be wrong, and The Oval might be the surface to do it, but it doesn’t look to be in form enough for me. So when England racked up 589/8 in their first innings, the pressure to score nearly 400 just to force England to make a decision looks daunting. Misbah and Shafiq are going to need to play out of their skins.

England were ruthless. Root eschewed risk early, and took the morning session very steadily as Woakes took advantage of his promotion up the order to remind us how good his batting was when he’s 150 wickets into his test career and faded like Stuart Broad! Bairstow and Stokes played their part, and kept the train on the tracks, while Root expanded his game a little more and got past 200. Then, in something I love seeing from England players and always lamented we didn’t do enough of it, he got past the 200s, the 210s and the 220s and piled on. In my days of watching cricket only Gooch and Cook (twice) have made larger scores for England, and of course, almost forgetting Stokes as well – silly me.

Some little nuggets? His is the third 254 in tests, the others by Bradman at Lord’s in 1930 and Virender Sehwag in Lahore in 2006 (his coming in a Sehwag-esque 247 balls). If he’d made 252, he would have been the first person in tests ever to do so. It’s the 5th double hundred of the year, with England having the top two scores so far. It was two short of the English record at Old Trafford (Ken Barrington) and the third highest individual test innings in Manchester.

Oh, and I must not doubt @norcrosscricket stats ever again (x100)

So while England’s mastery is obvious in this match, and Pakistan’s route to survival will need the intervention of weather in some ways, this feels to someone not wedded as strongly to this England team like a disappointment. I want a scrap. I want a match which is won with fight and tenacity. This is a steamrollering and it doesn’t please me any more. Joe Root is a super player, a brilliant talent, temperament to die for, an all round game that one can only marvel at, but….. I can’t put my finger on it. As with Woakes, who is coming good (and yes, I doubted him as well, of course I did) you feel great for people like this. I really do. But it’s the bigger picture. Azhar Ali appears a fine player in the UAE, but he’s like a fish out of water in this series. Why?

That’s enough for tonight, and please keep the comments coming tomorrow. Somehow it doesn’t still feel right having a Day 2 on a Saturday, but I realise I’m an old fuddy duddy now. Day 3 tomorrow, have your say in the usual place. I’m off to read what the “highly respected Cricket Correspondent” ( (c) Charlie Sale) of the Mail has had to say. It’s sure to be enlightening.

* Eoin Morgan, of course…..

Day 1 of Test 2 -The Big Two

COOKY

Evening all. Pleased to know, no doubt, that my laptop appears to be in its final cycle of life for reasons best known to itself, so it has taken a while to get up and running. Add to that my little appointment this afternoon, and cricket has been on the periphery. So the round up will be brief.

314 for 4 after winning the toss is a very good position. Joe Root took the honours with a very impressive 141 not out, and must be looking to convert this one into a super daddy century tomorrow. Virat Kohli, a man he is compared to in this new breed of top test batsmen, has been filling his boots with a double in Antigua and it would be nice to match. I heard Vic Marks say on the radio that this sealed the issue with him at number three, which is a little premature given in 2013, when he played his second test as opener at Lord’s he made a 180+. We do seem to be in an awful rush to anoint changes as successes. Joe is a fine player, I still think he’s better suited at 4, but that doesn’t matter at the moment. What does is that he made a century, has taken England into a strong position, and 314 for 4 seems even stronger knowing he’s back tomorrow.

Of course there was a century for Alastair Cook. These are now greeted like Christmas Day – of course, the birthday of our captain – by children. The punditerati fall over themselves to celebrate his genius. They compare his records to the greats – he matched Bradman’s 29 centuries today, don’t you know, and also the most hundreds by an England captain too – and give off the effect that his hundred today is a return to some normalcy. Well, it isn’t, is it? It’s his second test hundred at home since May/June 2013. Since then he has gone home series against Australia, Sri Lanka, India, Australia and Sri Lanka again without making a century, with just the excellent 162 v New Zealand in there to break the duck. It was Cook’s first first innings ton at home since his century v South Africa at The Oval in 2012. Cook’s centuries are becoming more spaced apart – his last was 11 test matches ago – and yet we are constantly reminded of his record. I know, people will think this is just me nitpicking because I am anti-Cook. I’m anti people telling me incorrect assumptions, that’s what I am. Cook has played a very good innings today, and one that may have taken the initiative back in this series. Well done.

I noted the Manchester humourists were crying out no-ball whenever Amir bowled. You pay your money, you are entitled to have your say as long as it isn’t abusive or offensive. Amir took a couple of wickets and was viewed as the pick of the bowlers, while Yasir Shah had one of those days, and now seems a lot more human.

Chuntering will start over Alex Hales and James Vince. The latter is going to get it first, no doubt. James Vince has never convinced me he’s remotely test class, but I’ve also got to caveat that by saying I’ve not seen a lot of him. Vince was one of those guys that came with a reputation, but George Dobell said last year, or even the year before, that he scores runs off bad balls fine, but has real difficulties with good ones. His penchant here seems to be nicking off after playing a couple of glorious shots. Pringle has been a staunch advocate, but he’s selling his shares now, as once again he invokes Ramprakash (what did Mark do to him to make him invoke him so) in the “he looks nice but doesn’t have the temperament” piece. England are in a quandary now with Vince. Boot him out and what do you replace him with? Keep him, and know that one score could be the outlier that Robson and Lyth (two other discards) scored rather earlier in their truncated test careers. The knives were doubly sharpened for Compton, both this and the first time around, whereas the arms are ready to be put around Vince’s shoulders. There there. Meanwhile, Hales is not starting the innings well for us, and those whispers are going to start.

OK, enough from me. This was a good toss to win, and England have made hay. They find themselves in a strong position, and Root going on will make that stronger. Still Bairstow, Stokes and Moeen to come after Woakes too. Let’s all go off and read what Newman has had to say to complete a wonderful day.

Comments on Day 2 tomorrow, and wishing Chris a safe evening and return to England after the events in Munich. Keep as safe as you can, sir.

The Sore Tooth Test – A Dmitri Review

This has been a very different last few days. My thanks to Chris for stepping up to carry out the reports from the last three days of the test. I just couldn’t do the action justice, at times feeling extremely sorry for myself, as the great match passed by with me swilling salt water, popping painkillers, administering antibiotics, and caressing clove oil onto a very sore tooth that refused to give up telling me how much it hated my guts. I missed Saturday’s play (and a sincere apology to my hosts, yet again, for not being able to make it, and for missing the chance to meet a genuine legend of the past) and spent most of that day laying down trying desperately to get some sleep. It’s not really conducive to blogging. While the pain has eased, no doubt to the great sorrow of some of my biggest supporters, the fact I’ve been in the hands of others to keep the show rolling again is of some concern. Here’s hoping for a successful Friday, when I go under the local at the same time as the afternoon session draws to a close on Day 1 in Manchester.

But I saw enough to bring a smile to my cricketing heart. The temptation is to take this victory as something more than it is – a good win against a good side, which England are – and extrapolate to a whole series. After all, just two years ago India won at Lord’s and we were thinking the same, before they collapsed in a heap in the remaining three test matches, so that Alastair didn’t have to “nearly resign” at the end of that campaign. But we had the sense, did we not, that this win was somehow more substantial than that Indian one? First up, the bowling looks pretty decent, and there are others who might be able to come into the team without markedly weakening it. Also there are three left armers, and England have had their struggles in the past against that form of bowling. Then add on top the leg spin of Yasir Shah, and England are facing a somewhat more deadly foe, it seems, than India. Then, against India, we feared the visitors batting, and thought we would win, easily, a bowling contest (although the Rose Bowl was anything but that). Here, we sense a bowling contest may yield a 50/50 contest, while a batting shootout is not going to be in anyone’s favour it seems, as they are seen to be weaknesses.

Many are saying it was a good toss to win. Many also said after half an hour that this was a nailed on draw, on a boring Mick Hunt wicket, where at the end of play on Day 1, England were seen to be well ahead by many. Step back a bit and look at last Summer for a reference point. England won 4 tests and lost 3. In the three they lost, they batted second. In all three the winners stuck on over 300 in the first innings and England appeared to wilt under scoreboard pressure in English conditions. In the four victories we batted first in two of them – NZ at Lord’s, Australia in Cardiff – and made decent first innings totals. In the two we won, we skittled Australia out for shirt buttons in the first innings. In UAE this winter, Pakistan batted first in all three matches, won the series 2-0, and did that in the two games where they made 378 and 234 in their first innings, not the one where they made 500+. Indeed the only test in recent memory where England faced down a team that got 300+ in the first dig to win was the Joburg test, when England reaped a favourable overhead condition and one of those Stuart Broad spells to whistle out the hosts for next to nothing in the 3rd innings. It may be that batting first against England, on anything other than a green top, is a good recipe for success. Hence, let’s see how Pakistan go if England get a first go to see if this is something worth pursuing further. (Think back to 2013, when in that Ashes series, we won when we batted first, didn’t do well when Aussie did). But it’s a little bit of a pattern, which may indicate some endemic mental frailties?

Of course, after a test like that, questions are asked of the home team. In a sport where there are just 10 wickets per innings going around, and one of your players gets 11 of the total, eyes are going to be cast at the others. Jake Ball had his status as debutant to fall back on, and it will remain to be seen if that is his only test for a while despite not letting himself down by any means. With Anderson and Stokes returning, he seems surplus to requirements. Steven Finn will find himself under a lot of pressure, and rightly so, but every time I think that, I also think what might have been, and why he is still such an enticing presence when he’s not in the team. He has the capacity to be horrible. To be a bowler no-one wants to face, but it doesn’t happen often enough. Chris Woakes had a game for the ages, with his bowling threatening and his lower order batting also resilient and intelligent. It is easy to be seduced by a bowler taking wickets and scoring runs. Broad at the start of his career, and Goughie too, were seen as pseudo-all rounders, good to bat at number 8, but regressed as their number one suit had to take preference. Woakes is showing no signs of either, and his temperament is what impresses me more than perhaps the wicket taking. He seems to have a solid head on those shoulders. Broad had a run-of-the-mill bowling performance, while any time Moeen Ali is attacked, the media push the panic button and start hunting around for the spinner who is taking wickets that week. I note Rashid is back in the squad today.

The fact that two bowlers are likely to be dropped, and a third possibly, is the general hilarity that comes with a match where the batsmen undoubtedly lost it. I think Talking Heads sung it best. Same as it ever was. Alex Hales had, by all accounts as I didn’t see a lot of it, a good series against Sri Lanka, but this was a match he’ll want to forget. Fact is, he’s always going to be hit and miss with the way he goes about things. I think he’ll be the sort that if persevered with is going to give you a series for the ages, followed by one for the aged not long after. It is up to England if that is what they want. Root at three is neither proved a success or failure judged on a performance where he looked ok defensively but got out to two expansive shots which always attract the ire of the cognoscenti. If he’d been got out to a defensive shot against the new ball, the clarion calls would have been deafening. Instead of knowing how Compton felt, he probably knows a little bit more about how KP did. Vince is not convincing (sorry) anyone at this moment. The suspicion that the promotion to test status was based more on some attractive stroke play than longevity and sustainability is growing. Dobell uttered those thoughts on podcasts a good while ago, but other more persuasive voices have held sway. He may have the series, he may just have the next game, but the sands of time are running out. There aren’t exactly many new faces being put forward – the fact the two I’ve seen are Robson and Bell sort of sum it up – is one slight factor in Vince’s favour. Dropping catches while struggling is not a good look.

Gary Ballance was brought back on the say so, we are given to believe, of James Whitaker. His return wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great. He’s not changed the technique that had the scribes panicking but then again it was a style that nabbed him four test hundreds in less than 12 months. His second innings dismissal was alarming for someone who might be needed to play the spin in India this winter, but then again, Strauss once got exposed like that and he did OK. The fact is that Ballance isn’t an exciting pick, but he has the temperament which is one big tick in the box. He’s got a while to go but I suspect we know how this is going to end. Jonny Bairstow was a huge plus for me. He looked very dodgy against Yasir in the UAE and again in the first innings, but his second innings performance showed he learned quickly, not without fault, and his confidence has really helped his temperament for the game. His keeping will always have the pundits and fans nervous. People, we aren’t picking the best keeper if he isn’t capable of test hundreds while this top order is the brittle mess it is at the moment. It just isn’t going to happen, so don’t wish  your life away hoping for it. Moeen’s thrash in the second innings isn’t going to go down in his scrapbook of favourite memories, but one thing with Ali is that he will forget about it, and move on to his next match. Again, he has a couple of test hundreds, plays selflessly for the team, and there isn’t a spinner in county cricket begging to be selected. You have to be practical.

And Cook. 81 in the first innings, a poke and a low score in the second. It’s Cook. It is who he is. While the first innings was aggressive, full of intent and the highest score made by an England player in the match, when he was needed in the second innings, it never happened. SimonH has noted he hasn’t a great record in 4th innings when chasing down a gettable total. I saw his ton in Perth when we were chasing 500+ in the 4th and that was the sort of knock needed here. The ball that got him could have got anyone out, but it was also the sort of ball you expect to receive as a test opener. Let’s put it this way, if Hales had got out to the same ball, no-one would be giving the bowler all the praise, and instead be pointing out that Hales showed a weakness outside off stump. That’s what 10000 runs, a free pass from the media and a Twitter feed in hock to your genius gets you. As for his captaincy, I never really got to see Pakistan bat (work on Thursday, pain on Saturday) so couldn’t comment. His comments after the game? I’d like to see / hear the context before going totally at him for them, but let’s say this. He’s got form for being a little churlish.

The test was won by a team who put together a decent display despite showing weaknesses. The openers aren’t going to scare anyone, although you feel Hafeez might put it together in one knock in the series. I am a big fan of Azhar Ali, but it wasn’t his best game. Younus looked a little dodgy to say the least, but woe betide we let him get into form. Ramiz Raja was going on about him being over the hill, and with his eyes going, while then offering all sorts of praise to a 42 year old! Asad Shafiq is a gritty customer, and played two really vital knocks in a performance that went right under the radar, but vital to stem the bleeding in the first innings and set a target in the second. Misbah’s hundred got all the praise it deserved on Thursday, and his captaincy looks calm and assured, a leader of men indeed. Sarfraz had a funny old game behind the stumps, but appears to be that noisy nuisance that’s a joy for your team in the field and batting, but a pain in the rear end for the opposition. And we’ve said what needed to be said about the bowling before. Amir’s return was overshadowed by Yasir Shah – who went from barely mentioned prior to this test in the Amir brouhaha to Shane Warne status in the space of 48 hours – while Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali were threats throughout in a league above what we saw from Sri Lanka. It was ironic / fitting that Amir applied the final coup de grace with Ball’s wicket, and the wish we had on here, that Pakistan would provide decent opposition was confirmed. 1-0 up in a four match series, in a really fun, hard fought test match.

A couple more observations from the game. We’ve seen Pakistan’s 2-0 win in the UAE almost ignored in the light of the 2-1 win in South Africa and the 3-2 win v the Aussies that preceded it. That defeat was dismissed as “alien conditions” and “we never win there” when teams like New Zealand and South Africa had won tests in the Emirates. Pakistan came to their alien conditions, with only really Younus Khan a dab hand at them in the past (Azhar Ali played a very good knock at the Oval in 2010, but not much else) in terms of batting, and won a closely fought contest. Maybe that 2-0 win will garner some more respect as a result? The other point is that while it was wonderful to see a great test, this doesn’t mean test cricket is “back”. People point to a four day test future, and imagine what that would have done to this game (do you seriously believe we’ll be seeing 100 over test days? really?). England would have shut up shop rather than chasing the game. The five day test needs to be preserved when the pace of over rates is so slow. The test match also conflicted with the Open Golf, the Tour de France, the Davis Cup (and wasn’t that a great win) and football will soon be upon us. Great games don’t hurt, but there’s a long way to go. But it looks an exciting one.

Old Trafford is usually a good cricket wicket, the weather is always dodgy in Manchester (joke) and the last time we played Pakistan there, didn’t we hammer them in 2006 behind top performances by Harmy and Monty (19 wickets and a run out), and a ton each for Cook and Bell? Here’s hoping for another terrific contest, and who knows, maybe some more press-ups for us all to enjoy.

Or was there something else I needed to talk about?

England v Pakistan – 1st Test, 1st Day

Before I move on to any assessment of today’s play, I thought it was right to wish Michael Carberry all the very best wishes from all on here (and I’m pretty sure for once, I’m speaking for all of you) in his battle against cancer. I’m always hit quite hard when hearing about people younger than me, fitter than me etc. falling foul of that awful disease. I wish Michael all the best. It’s all we can do. Good luck.

With that awful news breaking at the end of the day’s play, complaining or moaning about the action seems somewhat out of place. But let’s get the good out of the way first. As Chris said yesterday, real lives really do interrupt our ability to do full justice to what went on. Chris was there today and can no doubt let us know his views on what he saw. I was in the office – the workers, united, will never be able to watch weekday cricket – and could follow it only on the internet, until I managed to sneak out early, courtesy of a ragging toothache (and I’m not moaning, my fault) and watch the last half hour. I therefore missed (just) Misbah completing his century and the brilliant press up celebration. I did catch his interview with Ian Ward afterwards, and there looked a man totally at ease with his place and role in life. 42 years old and looking every bit a test batsman, totally contemptuous of Moeen Ali, on top of many of the other pressures exerted on him. In a world where we dismiss players if they have a bad run on the older side of 32, there is a testament to the class is permanent as long as the body is willing. 10 press ups? I could barely get myself out of bed.

England nicked four out before Shafiq, a very impressive player in the Emirates, and looking a class act here, joined with his skipper to put the Pakistanis in a decent position before he got tempted by a little outswinger (having missed one barely shortly before) and it clipped the bottom of his bat to be pouched by Bairstow. The wicket off the final ball of the day, via a shot that would have had our media tut tutting but appeared to have Misbah laughing, made it a top day for Chris Woakes, who took four of the six wickets to fall and by common consent, it seems, was the pick of the bowlers. George Dobell’s head, I understand, has swollen to the size of a small planet, and there is no truth in the rumour that he is currently marching through St. John’s Wood with a placard saying “I told you so”.

Following the game as much as I could – I have a job, I have a massive interest in the Tour de France, I have a massive interest in the politics at the moment, and wouldn’t mind knowing about the golf too – it seems there was much wailing about Mr. Finn. On the day when David Saker was appointed as assistant manager to Buzz Lehmann (I just made it up, heaven knows why), 4 Fux special project was on display for all to see. Now the Selfey’s of this world place no blame for Finn’s regression on 4 Fux, as of course he is his mate (now, who were we to accuse the media of cosy relationships, how dare we) and he wouldn’t do that, but there’s a massive correlation between his downturn and him being told constantly by all and sundry to change actions, bowl dry etc. etc. I like Finn, but can’t help but feel he’s been a prime asset wasted. Hope is getting less and less. Every time he gets into rhythm, he then seems to lose it as quickly. With Jake Ball performing well, Woakes having a great time and also the added weight he brings with the bat, Finn risks slipping a fair way down the line if Anderson, Stokes and Wood are all fit and firing.

This is based on reports. It seems likely I’ll be able to watch him bowl for a little bit on Saturday as, if I imagine this game will go, we manage to take the last four wickets before lunch tomorrow. Misbah doesn’t have, off the top of my head, a wonderful record past 100, and Sarfraz is placed above what looks quite a long tail. However, while England pundits are saying 350 is below par, they seem to be rather too confident that England will get there given our recent track record. This looks a flat deck, but then they are illegal now for the moanerati who purvey this line like a stuck record every time we have a wicket that isn’t seaming all over the shop (could we wait a bit to see how the game plays out, please?). One wicket fell on day 1 last year, and the game was over within four days. Yeah, let’s see how it goes.

Talking of four days, and I know Chris has been hot on this one, recall how Colin the Never Wrong has been burbling on about four day tests with 100 overs per day in them (looking forward to that in tropical areas – what time you intend to start play, 7:30 am?), today England provided the spectators with 87 overs of action in half an hour over the allotted time. Those three overs will never be seen again. The studio and interviews warbled on for another 30 minutes after play – those three overs could have been bowled, the TV cameras were still there, but hey, no, it’s not important – and cricket that could have been played, wasn’t. Chris is never a happy bunny at this, and made his views very clear:

There’s so much farting about in cricket that you have to wonder why this is still allowed to happen. But it is. And there’s nothing we can do about it. I’ll let the Wanderer go into more detail because believe me, as good as I am at a moan on a pet peeve, this Crampton is Champion.

Look forward to any comments, hope you can get to see some of the action (more than me) and I’ll no doubt have lots of stuff coming out of my visit on Saturday, including a load of pictures, and of course, extra overs for the ones lost today. Ho Ho.

Comments for Day 2 below. Isn’t it nice to have, for at least the first day, some hard competitive cricket. Thanks Misbah.