England vs South Africa: 1st Test, Day two

On the face of it, day two was similar to day one, the batting side getting themselves into a hole, and proceeding to dig themselves out of it, but there can be little doubt that England will be the happier with their work today and with the overall match position, the late dismissal of De Bruyn merely reinforced that. 

Losing Root early on wasn’t in England’s script and losing Dawson straight after added to the furrowed brows, with the possibility that 400 might even be out of reach. Given the alarming start and 76-4, it would have been churlish to consider 400 to be less than hoped, but cricket is all about expectations, and overnight there would have been aspirations towards 500. But England are a funny side, they have a raft of all rounders and players who if they don’t quite fall into that category, can at least be counted on for contributions periodically. If it’s not the same one from game to game then so much the better, and while in recent times (India away notably) the lower order runs rescued disaster rather than created a position of strength, here it both provided entertainment and took the game away from the tourists rapidly. 

It demonstrates both England’s weakness and their strength. The middle and lower order is undoubtedly potent, but the top is somewhat unreliable. We don’t need to say that the top order can’t be bailed out all the time, it’s very recent history that clearly demonstrates that. India more than anything was a failure of the batsmen, even if the bowlers were the ones who got it in the neck for failing to defend inadequate totals. It was ever thus and this one Test innings here doesn’t show anything other than a continuation of the same. 

Still, if Root is the MVP of the England top order, Moeen Ali is the king of the lower middle. Batting at seven isn’t his preferred role, but he’s so damn good at it that it’s hard to advance a case that he improves the side by being anywhere else. He gets more than his fair share of criticism, mostly focused on what he can’t do rather than what he can. Equally, his flaws are sometimes forgiven because he’s just so wonderful to watch in full flow. What we can say is that he’s clearly worked on his game against the short ball. It’s unlikely we’ll see him become truly adept at it, but he certainly looks better than he did, albeit on the evidence of one knock. 

He passed 2,000 Test runs in his innings of 87 (ended by a typically bad-Moeen shot where for all the attempts by the commentators to call it a good ball, still looked more like he missed a half volley to me), and later in the day reached 100 Test wickets. Now, there are lies, damned lies and statistics, but he did that double markedly quicker than Botham and Flintoff, and only one Test behind Tony Greig. Given his bowling limitations that’s quite startling. Flintoff had a poor start to his Test career, but Greig and Botham had anything but. It’s an achievement for which he should be proud. If the innings was ended by Bad-Moeen, the rest of his day was unquestionably Good-Moeen.

If Moeen is Mr Reliable with the bat at seven, Broad is anything but whether at eight or nine these days. Yet he seems to be slowly overcoming the facial blow that did more than anything to destroy his batting confidence. It wasn’t a fluent innings, but it was a highly valuable one, and despite getting away with an lbw South Africa failed to review (Broad escaping a review that should have been taken is deliciously ironic), he generally looked more comfortable than he has for a while. It’s deeply unlikely he will ever be the genuine all rounder he once threatened to be, but he’s a fine bowler and that was always a slightly greedy hope – for it would have propelled him into the great category. But he did well today and periodic destructive innings would be extremely welcome. 

As for James Anderson, his batting always varies from the inept to the glorious, but his truly astounding hook over deep midwicket, having charged Kagiso Rabada and been met with a fast bouncer, is one that he will dream about for the rest of his life. It was an extraordinary shot, one he couldn’t have nailed better in his wildest fantasies. Cricket is sometimes such fun. If you haven’t seen it, check out the highlights, then rewind them 20 seconds and watch it again. 

Towards the end of the innings, South Africa were looking frustrated and irritable, yet Morne Morkel could be proud of his day two efforts as much as Vernon Philander on day one. But where England have a real strength is that they can turn the tables quickly, with attacking venom. It’s what makes them often good to watch. 

Broad made an early breakthrough, as he so often does, but the visitors were looking comfortable enough at 82-1 before it all started to go wrong. Moeen was the catalyst; he might be expensive and not quite up to the job as a defensive spinner when it’s flat, but he does have a happy knack of taking wickets. The ball bowled to dismiss a set Amla was a gem. 

From there South Africa appeared a trifle laboured, even as they fought to stage a recovery. They aren’t out of this game by any means, and any side with Quinton de Kock still to come (Rabada is not the least capable nightwatchman in the world) will believe they can get somewhere close. But they remain a long way adrift, and England are beginning to turn the screw somewhat. The visitors are now in a position where they need to play almost perfectly to stay in the game. They can certainly do so, but it’s not the place they want to be. 

The pitch is going to be, as so often, key. And here South Africa will be hoping it is in keeping with recent Chairman’s pitches which get ever slower and ever more frustrating for the bowlers. The possible difference is that the last month has been dry and hot. Some deliveries from the spinners are dusting the surface, and there is certainly a little bite. Liam Dawson didn’t have a perfect day by any means, but he may yet come into his own. 

On a personal note, it’s good to be back. A month away is a long time, and my thanks to those who popped over to read my travel musings thoughtsonatrip.com . 

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Contextual Adults

So that was that. England went to the Caribbean, they won the three ODIs, and that’s the job done. What exactly did they beat? How well or badly did they play? And perhaps more important than anything else, did anyone really care?

I don’t mean the players, who carried out their duties and won three games of varying closeness – the first was never truly in doubt, but competitive for long parts of the match; the second was England pulling a game out of a self-created hole; and the third was a rout – but the interest in the series from TV audiences, cricket supporters in this country and the host nation’s fans.

Far be it from me to use this site as a gauge of overall interest, but I was struck how, during the first ODI, there were no comments to be had from any of our regulars for large parts of the match. There wasn’t much more during the second and third games either. Now, quite conceivably, you are all getting a bit bored with Being Outside Cricket, and when your scribes are hardly beating a path to the keyboard to write up matches I can hardly blame you, but I think it’s something more serious than that. In Death of a Gentleman Michael Holding, I think, bemoans the “lack of context” in test match cricket. How a 3 match series plonked in the middle of a long stretch without test matches is supposed to be seen as anything other than a bit of international cricket fluff is difficult for me to argue against. Just like the tour to Sri Lanka before the 2015 World Cup, justifying it as a warm up for the Champions Trophy doesn’t really wash either. While the various tourist boards of Antigua and Barbados will no doubt be pleased with the considerable English turnout at the matches, that isn’t all we should look at.

There is also the question of precisely what we were facing. The PSL finished last weekend, so some of the key West Indian players were there, justifiably putting their own financial wellbeing and futures over the international cricket circus and a board that, from the outside, treats them with a disdain usually reserved for returning former England players to the Surrey T20 team,. So when the list came up on Sky of the alternative West Indian team that wasn’t the one facing us, it was sobering. Many words have been written on the demise of Caribbean cricket, and I know a particular tweeter I like (yes, genuinely, I do like him) gets fed up of the “hipsters” constantly wanting the West Indies to be relevant again, but this has been going on for a long time now. What’s the point of international cricket if whole teams are being excluded from selection, and when T20 leagues take priority?

That excuses the West Indians, but England, and the English cricket public, treated these three games with genuine indifference. There’s a cracking test series going on in India, with all the needle you’d expect from two teams that play to the limit, but then also believe (as do the large swathe of their supporters) that in the case of their own side, butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. New Zealand are playing South Africa in another test match which is competitive, played on a wicket suited to the format, and is poised well after three days. Sri Lanka are in a decent contest with Bangladesh too. I sensed, judging by the comments on here while I was in New Jersey, that the respondents here are far more interested in the goings on in the sub-continent than they were with this ODI series. Some of this can be put down to the fatigue we have with this team, but a lot must be because we aren’t interested in the format, and when international cricket becomes us versus a 2nd XI, well, then you can’t expect us to be totally bothered. I was back in the UK for the 3rd ODI and I can tell you, it wasn’t something I was rushing home for. I don’t represent anyone other than myself, but I think it speaks volumes.

Still. It’s all about the Champions Trophy. Never has this competition meant so much to an England cricket board.

A couple of other pieces of news that caught my eye. George Dobell’s latest on cricinfo regarding the saviour of English cricket, the new T20 contains all the old cobblers that we feared from our omnipotent, all seeing, rulers of the game. There’s the threats to non-believers in having money withdrawn; there’s the deception and corporate bullshit of using England internationals in the promotion when playing tests at the same time and thus not participating; there’s the fact the tarnishing of the rest of the game, by playing the 50 over tournament at the same time and intimating that’s the only cricket worthy for outgrounds; and there’s the draft. No-one, it appears, is to be affiliated to anybody. IF Joe Root were eligible for this, if he played for any team other than the putative Yorkshire based team, it would be a joke. Cricket, as if we have to stress it, isn’t football, and England is not Australia.

But then the ECB don’t give a flying f*ck about the opinions of a mid to late 40s grump, and are chasing the youngsters. In doing so, they threaten to alienate the core supporters once more. It’s almost as if they are setting out to do so. For example, I’m going to a T20 this year. Surrey v Essex. Me, and a friend from work, are taking an American who knows nothing about the game for a laugh, and for some beers. The sport itself? Almost incidental. A bit like T20 itself.

Finally, KP’s return to England’s cricket fields actually got a more muted response than I expected. This isn’t because the anti-KP brayers have had their time and run out of steam. Still plenty of them about, of course.  It seems as though it just doesn’t matter any more. There are warning signals everywhere and the authorities, paying the price for the game being hidden behind a paywall for over a decade, have a tough job on their hands. They’ve been handed a lifeline this year – a returning hero/scoundrel – but Surrey don’t need him to fill grounds. It’s a hard thing for many to understand but Pietersen, STILL, is the biggest name in the English game, and the likes of Stokes, Root and yes, Cook, have a way to go. No-one is going to go to a T20 game to see those three. They will for KP. Trust me. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your view. Why this is so? You know why. The ECB know why. The media might even know why (while they are not polishing Sky’s clocks).

Which leads me back to the start. An ODI series lacking context of any kind, plonked into the schedule years ago with no rhyme or reason, has concluded. There was little said, little noticed, and it will be forgotten in no short time. That’s a problem. I’m not sure anyone cares.

India v England – 2nd Test, 2nd Day

This England team really are a mine of material, keeping me motivated to continue. Whenever you think that this blog might die down, go through a period of stability and calm, so that we don’t have to keep stating what appears to be the obvious (to us), they come up trumps with a display full of talking points. I think what gets to me, and looking at the comments, us, is that we are so often right. Sure, a stopped clock and all that, and I don’t have an editor or a line to take to tell me what to do, but some of the stuff I read, or hear on the radio, baffles me. In the words of the late Fred Trueman “I have no idea what’s going on out there” half the time. Are they watching what we are? Are we so off the beaten track of cricket opinion? Is our evaluation of a days play so anathema to the others who report on it?

It’s tough to make it clear how I’m thinking, and it’s nothing to do with a convivial lunch. But there’s a frustration watching this England team. It has ability. It just doesn’t seem to believe in itself enough. I find it hard to define. But if I’m frustrated with the team, it pales into insignificance when I read about the game. There the matters on the field seem, for some, to mean less than how they should be reported against some message that needs to be conveyed.

The last test match did not follow the script. This script appears to be an exercise in managing expectations. England were supposed to lose 5-0, because (a) we can’t spin and (b) we can’t bowl spin. Add to that scraping a draw in a series against Bangladesh, and the fear of God was put in us all. Then, one very positive, encouraging performance, and the managing of expectations is going to be a bit more tough to put out when England played so well. Where do we stand after Rajkot? The players have to be positive, we know that. We would be worried if they weren’t, but the watchers and writers have to display more scepticism. “Now we are ready to take it to India toe-to-toe” they imply, remarking that Ashwin has a block against England…. Kohli still hasn’t really made hay. Then the last two days happened and it is almost a volte face. The expectation management, or as I know it “excuse” is that we lost the toss and then we lose the match. So this is to be expected, or as Newman said this is “the performance we all feared”. Funny, this wasn’t really what I was reading last week. Clearly the toss is important, but as you’ll note from a remark in my “On This Day” below, it doesn’t have to be fatal.

Yesterday four wickets fell, today eleven. The game has moved forward quite rapidly and India hold all the cards. They got first use of the wicket, capitalising on their chance to use the pace and bounces, such as it was, to its fullest, while our bowling wasn’t quite up to it (and I’m not mentioning the captain). Two of India’s top four made centuries. England fought back well this morning, but still 455 looks a good score on this wicket. In fact, there aren’t many test wickets where 455 isn’t a good score.

England’s demise wasn’t so much as predicted as bloody well certain. Now a lot of this is predicated on me not seeing the action (job etc.) but following on Twitter and the comments here, but once Cook was toppled early there was an air of inevitability about this. I saw his dismissal, and a very good ball, make no bones about it, got him, but heavens above they didn’t half go on about how great a delivery it took to get the opener. As you know, I’m not setting up an Alastair Cook Appreciation Society on here, and as you may also conclude, I may go out of my way to find reasons to get angry about it, but the media he gets is preposterous. It’s as if any word of criticism is going to be met by the most awful of repercussions, and any dismissal has to be explained away with reverence reserved for royalty. Honestly, I’ve known nothing like it. Nothing like the Hughes puff piece interview in the Cricketer (which is really getting better if you could just shove #39’s bloody ego out of the way) which might as well have had a soft focus border and ended up with the question “Alastair, sir, do you have any words for your subjects to explain how they could be great like you?”.

This is what gets our ire – Cook is venerated, and even his mistakes are given a veneer. Contrast that with how the Joe Root dismissal has been treated. More of that later.

I’ve not seen the run-out. By the time this goes to press on the blog I would have. Most people indicate that Root was the guilty party, HH the victim. These things happen sometimes. They just do. You can’t legislate for them. Quite often, when they happen, the TV and news pundits will say it is evidence of “a scrambled brain” but that was obviously not going to be put forward for the manchild or for the putative World #1 batsman they’ve all very reasonably buffed up this week. So remember that the next time someone of a fragile mind might get run out, or play an injudicious shot, that scrambled brains don’t happen to the star players or the prodigies. (I’ve seen it now, it’s the sort of thing that happens, but let me make a point. Hameed made 13 in 50 balls and an hour and 20 minutes. He got run out with a dozy piece of cricket. Replace Hameed’s name with Compton. Not Compton now, but the Compton of 2013. Think he’d be getting that same lovely press for an innings every bit as slow as his. It would be unfair to have a go at Hameed, but that never stopped our media laying into Compton).

Next in was last month’s Bright Young Thing, Ben Duckett. Now I really want Ben to do well for a number of reasons, not least that he plays aggressively, seems to have a good head on his shoulders, and it might debunk the myth about Division 2 being too big a gap to bridge to play test cricket. His half-century in Dhaka was greeted with joy unconfined even as England toppled like wet cardboard after he got out to post that ignominious defeat (still not buying Bangladesh being a good side, yet). Today those that were praising are now burying. A number openly calling for him to be removed from the action for his own benefit. Hey, maybe opening with him and letting him get his eye in to quicker bowling might be better for him, instead coming in against spin, cold, is not working out well. There’s a lot being made of his technical flaws (watch out Ramps, they are after you) but two test matches ago we were being feted by tales of a “brilliant half-century”. As I write this Colvile has previewed the next part of The Verdict as “Is Duckett’s career in a spin”. Two tests, two innings, time to go. Now, just as people might be right about Hameed, so they might be wrong about Duckett. Not every top player has a watertight technique. Give the guy a bloody break.

Joe Root’s dismissal is getting the easy, lazy lines out again. Far better for a player to have his technique undressed, albeit in a one-off scenario (Cook) than for you to get out having an attacking shot and getting caught in the deep. I understand Farbrace  said that he did not want to hear anything about “that’s the way I play”, but if he did say that then he’s a dolt. Of course Newman has piled in, comparing this dismissal to his usual bete noire, Ian Bell (and SimonH’s prescience on this in the comments is spooky) playing well and getting out to a soft shot. Really. As usual, we pop at the one who showed most aptitude, rather than those who didn’t. Sure, Root will be mad at himself. He sets himself high standards, but maybe, just maybe, I’m smelling a Cook preservation rat, and Root’s name being discussed recently means a higher bar being set for Joe. Odd, because I think Cook is as secure as he’s ever been. I’m probably looking for my tinfoil hat.

Moeen’s LBW has me chuckling all the way to the end of this piece. For years we have rightly excoriated the BCCI for going their own way in not using DRS. The theory was that Sachin wanted no part of it because he might get out more, and the word of the Little Master was never to be contravened (it kept him playing well past his prime). The other theory is that the other word of the Lord in India, MS Dhoni, was implacably turned against DRS by an LBW decision overturned in the 2011 World Cup against Ian Bell. Whether these two contentions are true or not, let’s recognise that India have taken up the DRS. Now they use it to overturn an LBW decision based on a couple of change of regulations over the years, and suddenly we (well Newman does in the Mail) get all precious about it. “I’m sorry, that’s just not out” isn’t a defence when DRS has given it out. We can’t pick and choose. Sure, Moeen was unlucky. Sure, Moeen wouldn’t have been given out in years gone by, but spare me us moaning about DRS when we wanted it imposed on India.

So what now. The S&B crew need to get us out of trouble again. Stokes has shown much better aptitude against spin this winter, and Bairstow has put out so many fires in the past few months we almost expect him to do so. For the record I think getting to 256 is academic – India are going to bat next in this test match – so it’s a combination of time and runs that are going to matter.

So that’s more than enough for one day – I didn’t see the India innings, but I want to get this out because I have things to do. Which leads me to a topical On This Day…


On this day in 2012, Alastair Cook batted for 90 overs at Ahmedabad adding 94 runs to his overnight score of 74 not out, as he and Matthew Prior undertook a long rearguard to attempt to save the match for England. On a wicket that had seen 8 of England’s first innings wickets fall to spin (Ojha taking 5/45), Cook thwarted all that was thrown at him on the fourth day to take England ten runs ahead with five wickets in hand, and at least give England a chance of saving the match.

I thought I’d put this in because just because a pitch is aiding the spinners, it doesn’t mean you can’t make runs on it.

Sure, on Day 5 we were bowled out for 406 – Cook making 176, Prior 91 – and just five second innings wickets fell to spin, and India completed the win, but their rearguard inspired England that they could play on these wickets, Cook was brilliant all series, and England won on a ragging Mumbai snake-pit having lost the toss.

So for one of his best, most valiant, most stubborn knocks, Alastair Cook is today’s “On This Day”.


Comments on Day 3 below…

On This Day – 1986

15th November…

We like (well I like) a good anniversary and I thought I’d share this one with you tonight. 30 years ago we saw a brilliant individual performance by Ian Botham. It would be his last test hundred…

England resumed the first test at Brisbane on 198 for 2 against Australia. On the infamous “can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field…” tour England were decided second favourites but a very good Day 1 had them believing. However, Day 2 did not get off to an auspicious start. Allan Lamb and Bill Athey, the two overnight batsmen fell, and this brought David Gower and Ian Botham to the crease….

The entire England innings highlights are here…

I may have lost a lot of my regard for Sir Ian in his life as a commentator, but this was pure gold and showed why we were big fans of his playing days.  Merv Hughes was vaunted as a new leader of the attack. Botham put him to the sword. Add to that the mental impact this had on the series. Hell, who knows if the 30th anniversary had a subliminal impact on Australia in Hobart this morning! We also got DeFreitas making 40 on debut, a half century for Gower and England went on to win the match.

Here’s a report by Tony Lewis on the day’s play:

day-2-brisbane

Happy memories of the Gabba, prior to it being turned into a soulless concrete bowl!

14 years ago today Dmitri was in Port Douglas, and England were in Hobart playing Australia A. It was a lovely Friday morning, and we were fresh off our journey to the Barrier Reef the day before (one of my great lifetime experiences) and Sir Peter and I were readying ourselves for a drive up to Cape Tribulation. Before we left we say Martin Love blatantly smack the cover off the ball when on about 7, the bent Aussie umpire had his deaf aid switched off, and Love went on to make 201 not out.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/121124.html

The match reporter showed the usual Aussie disregard for matters trivial..

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/story/121123.html

 

I’ll be returning to these tours post Christmas, when we have a large void to fill in the run up to the English summer, but any memories you have of 1986, let me have them….

The Pataudi Panel – Pre-Series

As we did with the Ashes, and prompted by The Bogfather pressing me on an earlier idea, here is a hastily put together panel to discuss the series coming up against India.

To introduce the panel:

  • Man In A Barrel
  • PGP Cricket
  • Martin Payne
  • The Bogfather
  • Cricket Fan Bob (from Twitter)
  • Matt Hallett
  • David Oram

They were posed five questions and the answers are below:

1. How do you think England sit as an international team after the 1-1 draw in Bangladesh? Glass half-full or half-empty?

MH – Much like previous series, we’ve come out of it with as many questions as we started the series with. Which is obviously very frustrating – despite the reputation this blog gets, I want England to win and for all individual players to succeed, but we’re still half a side which means when we’re good, we’re very good and when we’re bad can be very bad. Stokes’ bowling was a big plus and bodes well for the future (I was a little worried that he would unbalance the side by not being quite good enough in either discipline in these conditions), but overall we’ve moved backwards with questions remaining over batting positions and the spin bowlers.

Bob – About where they did before really, we’re not that bad, nor are we that good. We saw spinners clearly out of their comfort zone, but all trying hard and performing to one degree or another. As is often the case, the batting fails but there’s more questions about the bowling which seems a bit strange. In a funny kind of way, we didn’t learn much at all about England. Ben Stokes is still some consistency away from being a world beater. Oh, and Bangladesh are quite good…

PGP – Difficult to say. Eng played a not full strength side in the second game and paid the price. Not picking Batty was batty. Picking Finn was also daft.

Finn needs to go away and have his bowling action rebuilt or give up on international cricket.

The lasting issue of lack of top 4 runs has really come back to bite us, there is no simple solution. Plus when you are in a spin induced collapse it is much harder for the excellent middle order to battle back.

More on this for questions 3 and 4…!

But in reality, I think the result will help England in the short term as it will make them think longer about how they rotate players, which they will need to do.

Martin – Certainly an inconsistent side. Persistent problems in the middle order and yet to find a truly settled team. Difficult to place the Bangladesh result in context until they have played more Test matches, especially at home. Would say England’s current ranking is about reflective of where they are at the moment.

MiaB – For me, England are a very average team amongst a whole set of average teams – beaten badly by Pakistan in UAE, winning convincingly in South Africa, drawing against Pakistan in England and Bangladesh. The top-order batting is unconvincing. The middle and lower order is stuffed with people averaging mid to low 30s. The sheer depth of the batting will tend to mean the team makes some kind of total but you would not bet on them making 400+ on a regular basis. The seam bowling looks good on a green seamer but lacks penetration on anything else. The slow bowling is inconsistent but intermittently good. Glass half-empty. There are plenty of places for someone to win by putting in good performances over more than one match.

David – Definitely glass-half-full. I still think England sit very near the top of world cricket. But their arrogance at believing so, and taking their foot off the pedal in the last Test in successive series v Pakistan and Bangladesh – thinking they merely had to turn up to deliver the coup de grace – has been their undoing. Good sides don’t just give up when they are a match down in a series (which England expected their opponents to do having taken the lead with one to play) – likewise I don’t believe England will give up if they go behind early in this 5-Test contest.

Bogfather

Come fill my glass…

Such half-arsed preparation,

Shows no class,

By any intimation,

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail,

But it’s away, on foreign soil,

Oh! the heat, the sweat (not our Cookie), the toil,

E’en the taunts from Taunton pitched,

Have not scratched the ECB bloodsucking no Leach itch,

Sadly, the term International no longer exists,

It’s home money spun riches, that Boards kiss,

As they send their ‘products’ away,

Go do as we say…

Pour me another one, this won’t be fun.

2. Ravichandran Ashwin? All time great, or product of the current environment?

MH –  Still only 39 Tests into his career. He’s a very effective bowler and should be the leading wicket taker this series. Yes he’ll struggle outside the sub-continent but many very good non-sub-continent bowlers struggle there, it’s just the way things are. In an earlier era, I think he would still be very good, just not one of the world’s best. Can bat too – a 6/7/8 of Ashwin/Saha/Jadeja could provide some stubborn partnerships.

 Bob – Not yet. He’s only played seventeen tests outside of India, and his record outside of the sub-continent is at best unestablished. That being said, there are few bankers in test cricket quite like Ravi Ashwin in India these days, particularly given how many left handers England have. No doubt many people who don’t watch much outside of England tests will only be convinced when he does it in this series, but the big surprise would be if he walks away with fewer than 30 wickets in this series.

 PGP – Not sure it matters, he will be more than a handful on his home patch. I think too much time (however fun) is wasted worrying about who is great or not.

What we know is that he is in form and a high class act.

Martin – On the way to being an all-time great. Formidable in home conditions. His record of 21 5 wicket hauls in 39 Tests is very impressive. Handy batsman too.

MiaB – It’s hard to judge Ashwin. He has more wickets at a better average than Prasanna in 10 fewer matches but 70% of his wickets have come in India (and 22 of his 39 matches). His record in England and Australia do not look like anything special. I guess it is too early to tell.

David – All-time ‘very, very good’. I suspect he would be a genuine asset in any era in Test cricket, but he shines more brightly in the current firmament because fine spinners are not plentiful. These are not rich days of Warne & Murali; or Underwood & Bedi; or Laker & Benaud; or Verity & O’Reilly etc.

Bogfather

There’s nothing wrong with being on song to harvest home,

On pitches laid with panicked strokes played, he roams,

For SimonH, he’s really ‘Into The Valley’, sending us into Skids,

Of ‘Fields of Fire’ as we sweep, we’ll weep as each batsman is rid,

In A Big Country, he’s larger than life,

e’en more so than Alice, Cookie’s wife…

3. Three seamers or three spinners for England? How would you go?

MH – Current paper talk is that England are thinking of going 4+2 rather than 3+3 with Broad joining Finn rather than replacing him. But given his recent showings, I can’t see Finn warranting a place over any of the spinners. Ball maybe, but he wasn’t given much of a go during the warm-ups so he’d be picked on the basis of a (very good) ODI series. Ansari offers the left arm angle and though he hasn’t been tight enough he has been creating chances – albeit with a number of dropped chances both in the Test and the warm-up games. And who knows, maybe something will click for Rashid. So I’d be inclined to stay 3+3.

Bob – If I was sitting on the fence I’d say it depends on the conditions. People were highly critical of England in both Bangladesh tests with their spinners but I’m not sure they bowled that badly – the three in the first test took the majority of the top seven wickets. I wouldn’t play four seamers though, three often felt redundant in the Bangladesh series so unless there’s a compelling case I wouldn’t do it. That being said I’m not sure I’d play six bowlers at all, if it’s a three spinners pitch then you shouldn’t need three quicks too, particularly with England’s batting issues.

PGP –  Both, if we could! The real question is Rashid or Ansari. (Moeen and Batty have to play). I have never been a Rashid fan, but plenty are.

Whoever you pick having big runs on the board is vital.

I would go with 3 and 3.

Which begs the question of what should our team be… (going to give an answer next)

Martin – Three spinners to start with. I expect once Anderson regains fitness for England to revert to type.

MiaB – I don’t think that 4 seamers is the answer for England. From memory, English fast-medium bowlers get about 2-3 wickets per innings in India – with a few exceptions such as Botham and Geoff Arnold once each on juicy pitches and J.K. Lever with the innovative use of strips of paper smeared with Vaseline all over his forehead, allegedly to divert sweat from his eyes. For all the hype about Anderson (was Dhoni just talking him up?), his figures are 22 wickets in 13 innings in India with a best match analysis of 6/79. In that sense, if you can rotate 4 seamers who all take 2-3 wickets then you can bowl India out. The question is how many runs India will have on the board by then and how many overs it will have taken. I would not be surprised if India took counter-measures to discourage reverse swing. And as well as a poor history of success in India with 4 quicks, there has to be a question-mark over Anderson’s fitness – so basing a 4 seamer attack round him seems a gamble too far to me. Spin is generally more of a wicket-taking threat. Rashid and Moeen will pose an attacking threat but they will need some proper captaincy. I do not know whether Ansari or Batty is the answer as the “holding” bowler or whether the quicks will be employed in that role. The key though will be for the batsmen to score some runs.

David – Three spinners. With a plethora of all-rounders England can afford to select a side covering both seam and spin – and Finn was a waste of space in Bangladesh. As was Ballance, who must be replaced – Bairstow or Ali can bat at no. 4. My own side would be: Cook, Duckett, Root, Bairstow, Ali, Stokes, Buttler, Woakes, Rashid, Broad, Batty.

Bogfather

For tis not the numbers tis the numbness of captaincy shown,

Where ‘trust’ is thrown away, as runs on the board are grown,

Captain clueless, placing fields blind of mind,

Needs putting down, and that’s being kind,

Yet Broad will lead averaging 144 (that may have changed…)

Pick players for purpose, not for perpetuity, that’s just deranged.

4. Do you think Ben Duckett has a future as a test match opener / middle order or no long-term future at all?

MH – Duckett’s had a phenomenal year and deserves his place in the squad. I think he could have a future. A different format, but I saw his 160-odd at Cheltenham and was impressed – thought he picked up length well (he’s a tad short so can pull balls others can’t) and found the gaps with ease. Ideally he would have first division cricket experience but given the number of batsmen who have failed to make the step up, we can’t exactly be too fussy. I wanted England to pick both him and Hameed for Bangladesh, even though it would have meant a slow opening pair, but England wussed out and have now made things more difficult for themselves. Whoever replaces Ballance, it will require a batting order shuffle and they will be short of match practice.

Bob – Who knows? Opening in test cricket is bloody hard and few places moreso than in India. I’d stick with him at the top and back him to become a David Warner type opener. If he makes it through the series with credit in hand, then more power to him.

PGP – The upside and ability of both Hameed and Duckett are huge. We are lucky to have both. So I think both have a huge future. They also have excellent techniques. Much much better than the previous selection of opening batsmen.

For India I would stick with Duckett and Cook up top because we need a dasher and Duckett has vast talent. Long-term, 5 may be a better slot for him. We just need to make sure we don’t break him. Let him settle into the team and hopefully get some big scores in India and the West Indies.

Next to look at the elephant in the room, who bats at 4. Ballance should not have been selected for either tour and he was a ridiculous pick in the summer when he was out of sorts and his technique is still terrible.

I think Bairstow should bat at 4. He is our best batsman after Root. It means he loses the gloves but, we need a number 4 and we have lots of keeper batsmen. Buttler is the reserve keeper, which means he plays, although I think that is mad. The other option is Hameed at 4. I think this would be better for him than opening with Cook. I realise this is a slightly odd suggestion, but two blockers up top in India (or anywhere in my view) is not the way to go. Starting your career in the middle order is much the better option for a teenager.

My team for the first game would be the below. But note we have 6 lefties in that team so Ashwin will be happy…!

Cook

Duckett

Root

Bairstow

Moeen

Stokes

Buttler

Woakes

Ansari

Batty

Broad

Martin – Only in the middle order. Feel it was a mistake for him to open in Bangladesh – would have preferred to see Hameed open with Duckett batting at 4. Certainly has potential, unsure of his temperament.

MiaB – There have been batsmen who have scored lots of runs with unusual techniques but Duckett seemed to score most of his runs from premeditated shots and needed a healthy dose of luck.

Whatever pitches India produce will probably make those kinds of shots more than ordinarily risky. Mark Butcher was quite scathing about his defensive technique – Lord knows what Sir Geoffrey would have been saying about it. I don’t think that Ted Dexter would be too impressed with his foot movement and strange body positioning. But all that counts are runs, in the end. I cannot see him making runs on a regular basis but at least if he does fire he should score fast. So I would play him as opener, to try and get some pressure on the opposition attack while the ball is hard and there might be some bounce.

David –  Yes, he has a definite future as either. He clearly has technical issues with a gate wide enough to get a Boeing through; but his county scores indicate immense potential. He may not look like he’s going to succeed with those flaws – but who on Earth would have predicted that Steve Smith would still now be scoring big runs with his wafting bat and feet when he first appeared? Hand-eye coordination is far more important than text-book defence.

Bogfather

No opener has hope until Cookie retires,

And unless his holyness finds form, real form soon, his time will expire,

Be it Duckett, be it Haseem, (or even Buttler has been in someone’s wet dream), To open, still handicapped by press pressure will be hard,

Not playing Has in Bang, keeping 4 so unBallanced, hoist by ECB’s own petard,

I hope we may yet have another Ben to bow down to

Unless the bill from the Flowerpot man is another p!ss pot full of little wee-d blue.

5. Finally, what do you think the series score will be and why?

MH – I don’t have much hope. Given that India have an injured depleted batting line-up and we do have some very good individual players, I think we can win a Test. So if the weather holds (and I have no idea if that’s expected or not), a 4-1 loss. Last time around, we started very badly but Cook showed what a solid method could do, Pietersen provided the inspiration, Anderson offered something no other fast bowler on either side could, and Swann/Panesar out-bowled their Indian counterparts. I think Stokes, Woakes and Broad can do a good job for us, like Anderson last time, but the rest of the side concerns me.

Bob – 5-0 India seems the obvious shout, but five tests is a long time and I don’t think India are that good, nor do I think England are that bad. I think England’s spin bowling will be pretty predictable, but if the seamers can turn up (particularly if Anderson is fit later in the series) and England’s batting can turn up when they get the opportunity to bat first (if we can win a toss or two) I don’t forsee a whitewash. I’ll go 3-1 India.

PGP – I think the series will be closer than expected. India’s batting is brittle and their bowling is good without being mind blowing.

England remain mentally fragile, although they have improved in this regard. They have lots of batting and high quality seam bowlers who can reverse the ball. The spinners will blow hot and cold, but the Indian batsmen will look to take them on so they will give chances.

We will be playing all 5 games on result dust bowls so I think 4-1 India.

Unless England win the first game in which case we are in for a cracking series which Eng could pinch.

India using DRS will also be a thing too.

Here’s hoping to a really good series with not too much needle. I am expecting a decent series with lots of strops and bitching about drs!

Martin – Would be staggered if England win the series. A bad start and I could see a whitewash. Very susceptible to batting collapses against spin. Think they could sneak one Test but that’s about all. 3-0 or 3-1 India.

MiaB – 3/1 to India with 1 draw. There are too many holes in England’s line up to say otherwise. Yes, someone other than Root or Cook might, out of the blue, score a daddy hundred, but who? I suspect that England will go with 4 seamers and, sadly, that Anderson will break down. India have some in-form batsmen. England don’t. England’s catching was awful in Bangladesh. Ashwin will also have the benefit of DRS. Somewhere along the line, England will click and manage to sneak a low-scoring game but, as long as India don’t go overboard with pitch preparation, they should win.

David –  I think England has a far greater chance than they are being given credit for – but I do expect them to lose. In the subcontinent the toss plays a great role – first innings is a big advantage. If Cook is lucky, we may be able to really compete – if he’s not, then I think we’ll be stuffed. I reckon if India win more than three tosses they’ll win 5-0. For England to win the series, I reckon they need to win at least 4 out of 5 tosses. I’m predicting India to only win the toss 2 in 5 – but prevail in the series 3-2.

Bogfather

Not a clue, it won’t be 5 zero

There’s enough In our team to find a hero

But realistically, I expect India the series

Not easily, nor completely imperious

So here I say 3-1, but if Eng win the first, oh what fun!

 

My thanks to all who participated, and feel free to answer the questions yourself in the comments.

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

Guest Post “40 Years On – England v West Indies, 3rd Test 1976″…by Simon H.

gordon-greenidge-02.jpeg.jpg
Gordon Greenidge – 1984. Although the post deals with 1976, Gordon needs to be in colour!

One of our loyal commenters has offered up his first main cricketing memory for a piece. SimonH, international governance monitor, statistics maestro, memory man for the game has put together this piece on his first test match memory.

I’ve decided to cut it into two pieces, with the first part the build up to the game and the events of Day 1. The second will finish off the game report, and the aftermath of the match.

As always, I’d love to get pieces from you out there on your cricketing memories, or on anything that catches your eye or you want to talk about. We don’t take anything, as it has to be within the blog’s remit (don’t ask me to define it), but we do certainly like pieces like this.

So, SimonH…. this is your test!

FORTY YEARS ON – ENGLAND V WEST INDIES, 3rd TEST 1976

We all have matches that are particularly dear to us. Some of these are dear to most fans because the game is such an obvious classic – Headingley ’81 or Edgbaston 2005 spring to mind. But others are more personal. Often it’s a first that sticks in the memory. My first ‘live Test was bloody awful. England lost to India at Lord’s under leaden skies.

However the first Test I can remember specific moments from watching on TV has stayed with me and it’s a shock to find it was forty years ago this month that it took place……

SOME CONTEXT

Cricket and me – I had been hooked on cricket the previous year by the first World Cup and my father’s love of the game. It was a love  that dare not speak its name at school though (a West Sussex rural comprehensive) where football was king and cricket was seen as dull and posh (if it was noticed at all). This eleven year old was desperate for the game to show it was pretty cool. I’d watched some of the 1975 Ashes but can’t really remember any of it if I’m honest. I don’t remember the first two Tests of this series either (although I do remember watching the ‘Grovel’ interview on ‘South Today’). The Third Test at Old Trafford is the first Test I remember watching – and it turned out to be a game with everything the sport has to offer, except a close finish. It was also one of the most significant games of the modern era, marking the formation of a dynasty that would rule the cricketing world for two decades.

England – England had been the dominant side of the early 70s in world cricket, at times holding all the trophies (TM). What had seemed a settled side inherited by Mike Denness from Ray Illingworth had capitulated in the original ‘difficult winter’ of 74/75 and I got a clear impression from my father that English manhood had somehow been found wanting. Tony Grieg had taken over the captaincy in 1975 and the side recovered some pride as David Steele stood up to Lillee and Thomson. Although Boycott was in self-imposed exile, the team had Edrich’s reassuring presence at the top, SPOTY Steele at No.3, Bob Woolmer fresh off 149 against the Aussies and the new Cowdrey we were told in the middle order, Greig and Knott to halt any collapses at six and seven and plenty of bowling options that seemed to cover all eventualities (pace from Snow and some bloke called Willis if only he’d stay fit, plenty of English type seamers, spin was in the capable hands of Underwood). There was no winter tour 1975/76 so the team was somewhat unproven but there was little sense that this was a team heading for the slaughter.

West Indies – West Indies had been through a rocky patch after 1967 when the great 60s side started to age. From 1967-74 their only great series’ win was in England in 1973 but around that were some poor results. The middle order batting (with Kanhai, Sobers, Lloyd and new bloods Kallicharran and Rowe) and the spin department with Gibbs still looked strong but (ironically, given what was to follow) they had no reliable opener to partner Roy Fredericks and the pace bowling had lacked any real speedster. It all started to come together for West Indies on the 1974 tour of India as new batsmen Greenidge and Richards established themselves and the attack found a new spearhead in Andy Roberts. However that appeared a false dawn as the team went to Australia in 75/76 and were mauled, both on the pitch by Lillee and Thomson (Kallicharran vomited on the pitch after being hit on the head by one bouncer, Bernard Julian had his hand broken by another) and off it by some crowd behaviour that shocked some of the younger players who’d never encountered such blatant racial taunting. West Indies tried to fight fire with fire on that tour and kept losing wickets to hook shots that reinforced the stereotype of ‘calypso cricketers’ who couldn’t knuckle down under pressure. New captain Clive Lloyd, one of the few to sustain his personal performance on that tour and now able to put his stamp on the team with the Sobers-Kanhai-Gibbs generation departing, was determined to change all that.

Cricinfo recently interviewed some of the participants here:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/998589.html

GROVEL – had there been any previous series more famous for what was said to the media more than any of the actual play? And has there been a more infamous line by a Test captain than Greig’s:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TPQbPszfUI

Greig’s choice of words, and his delivery in that unmistakable accent, hung over that tour. The fact that there was some reasonable thinking behind it was obliterated by his crassness. West Indies had just lost 5-1 in Australia. England had beaten them on the 73/74 tour by hanging on in a series of draws until West Indies collapsed, apparently under pressure and to Greig’s own bowling, in the final Test. Greig himself had been involved in the controversial run out of Kallicharran and seemed to thrive on confrontation. My memory of it at the time is that it was controversial but more for Greig’s brashness and impoliteness than for its racial sensitivity. That only became clearer (at least to a white schoolboy in rural Sussex) as the summer unfolded.

What few had noticed was that in their last series before coming to England, West Indies had taken on India at home. Some fellow called Richards (mainly up until then famous for his fielding in the 1975 WC Final) had scored a stack of runs at No.3. The last Test seemed to have some odd goings on with half the Indian team marked down as ‘absent hurt’. There were accounts of fearsome pace from new bowlers Holding and Daniel – but then hadn’t India been bowled by England for 42 only a couple of years earlier by Old and Hendrick? Perhaps Holding and Daniel were as quick as those two? India had also chased a then-world record score to win the Test before Kingston – so it looked at worst as if the West Indies were still crazily inconsistent. Nothing too much to worry about……

The West Indies played warm-up matches against all bar one of the counties on that tour. Win after win didn’t set many alarm bells ringing. The few who saw them thrash a strong MCC side at Lord’s (including a century for Richards and seven wickets for Holding plus putting Denis Amiss in hospital) warned this was a formidable team. Still, Yorkshire had come within 19 runs of beating them and Chris Balderstone had nearly scored two centuries off them for Leicestershire.

THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT

Given what was about to happen, it’s still slightly surprising to realise that the teams went into the Third Test after two draws. Not only that – the matches had been quite even. West Indies had the best of the first game after Viv Richards made 232 (I think I remember him saying that was the best innings of his career) but England held on for the draw relatively easily. Steele and Woolmer made runs which seemed to show their performances against Australia were no one-off. England had the better of Lord’s with Underwood skittling the tourists in the first innings and West Indies had been only four wickets from defeat at the end. The match had ended with Greig resisting Lloyd’s call to call things off early and with England fielders clustered around the bat.

However….. West Indies had not been at full strength for either game. Holding and Daniel had missed the First Test and Richards the Second Test. At Old Trafford, they had everyone fit. England, on the other hand, had problems, especially with the bowling. Snow and Old were injured (possibly others too) so England’s pace attack lacked a cutting edge. However, West Indies had collapsed against spin at Lord’s, had collapsed against spin in 73/74 and OT had a reputation for turning compounded by rumours that, as the hot summer of ’76 took hold, the pitch was dried and cracked. England went in with two English-style seamers in Hendrick and, on debut, Mike Selvey, two support seamers in Woolmer and Greig and two spinners in Underwood and Pocock. There was an issue in the batting too – the openers at Lord’s hadn’t convinced (Mike Brearley had looked out of his depth, Barry Wood had been injured by Roberts) so 45 year old Brian Close (who had top scored at Lord’s) was pushed up to open and local hero Frank Hayes (who had made a debut century against 1973 West Indies) was called up. There were promising young batsmen emerging on the county scene like Gooch, Graham Barlow and Randall but the selectors held off picking them (perhaps remembering Gooch’s tough baptism against Lillee and Thomson the year before). Randall was made 12th man which was one of the few times in his career the selectors did him a big favour.

THE MATCH

DAY ONE – Clive Lloyd won the toss and batted. That was what you did in those days. It was the right decision – and made precious little difference. The start of that day is etched on memory. In his first over, Selvey bounced Roy Fredericks who hooked it straight down Underwood’s throat at long leg. Fredericks falling on his wicket in the WC Final hooking was my first cricket memory and now Fredericks getting out hooking was my first Test memory. I’ve never seen Selvey explain why he bowled that bouncer. In his next over, Viv Richards played his trademark walking on-drive to a big in-swinger, for the only time in his career that I can remember missed it and was bowled. Almost immediately , Kallicharran (who like Lloyd and Rowe was never in any great form on that tour) played on. Lloyd was soon caught at slip off Hendrick and West Indies were 26-4.

What followed was one of those times when you know you’re watching something special. When it’s one of your heroes doing it, it’s something even more. As a young Hampshire fan (although I lived about 800 yards over the border in Sussex I was born in Hampshire, all my family were from Hampshire and there was only one team I was ever going to care about), Richards and Greenidge were my heroes. Greenidge in particular was one of ours. With Greenidge and Roberts playing for West Indies and considerable resentment that Hampshire players (despite the team winning the CC in ’73 and coming second in ’74) were ignored by England, I could feel nothing but enjoyment at what Greenidge was doing. A lifetime of not seeing England as ‘us’ and the opposition as ‘them’ was born. West Indies were more ‘us’ than England to me. I liked him because he hit the ball hard. Very hard. And he had the coolest of cream pads. Later the pleasure would be deepened by discovering Gerenidge had not had an easy upbringing and was a complex and at times difficult man. But mostly he hit the ball hard. When the bowler pitched up, Greenidge waiting on the back foot, would throw his whole weight into the drive in a way that wasn’t textbook, and would get him out sometimes, but was mighty thrilling when it came off. Even better when bowlers pitched short, he took it on. If it was wide, he’d cut – and what a cut! If it was straight, he’d hook – and it very seldom seemed to get him out. No ‘high to low’, no rolling the wrists – he’d try to hook it out of the ground and he usually did. He was everything I wanted to be, but wasn’t. If I couldn’t be it, I could damn well appreciate it in others.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UEo2VDnakw

In bald stats, what Greenidge did that day was score 134 out of 211 (193 while he was at the crease). He gave no chances – the nearest he came to dismissal was a top-edged hook that landed between Knott and Underwood. Only Charles Bannerman in the very first Test had scored a higher percentage of his team’s runs at the time (three more have since):

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/records/283999.html

Not only was it a lone-hand but he scored his runs at a phenomenal rate by the standards up to that time:

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?batting_positionmax1=2;batting_positionval1=batting_position;class=1;filter=advanced;orderby=batting_strike_rate;qualmin1=100;qualval1=batted_score;spanmax1=10+jul+1976;spanval1=span;template=results;type=batting;view=innings

It wasn’t quite Roy Fredericks in Perth – but it would do. Greenidge’s main support came from one of the great unrealised talents in West Indies’ cricket, Collis King, who on debut reined himself in to make a handy 32. King would only play nine Tests but would have his moment in the 1979 WC Final when he eclipsed even Viv Richards for a time. He never seemed forgiven after Packer and ended up a banned SA tour rebel. These days he’d have made a fortune in franchises.

England ended the day on 37-2 with Close and Steele out. Batting had looked tough but the match seemed evenly poised. The next day saw a power-shift in world cricket that would last two decades…..

—————————————————

The second part will be put up in the next day or so. My thanks to Simon for all the effort put into this. I don’t remember this test myself, but do recall Viv’s 232 at Trent Bridge and 291 at The Oval.

England vs Sri Lanka: 1st Test, day one

Unless the team batting first has an absolute horror then the first day invariably leaves the spectator unsure of where the match is going, even more so if a session is lost to the weather.  171-5 is not a great score, that’s certain, but as ever with Headingley the context of the overhead conditions and the pitch may mean it is better than it first appears.  Equally however, the movement off the seam and in the air was anything but prodigious – enough to keep the bowlers interested and the batsmen wary, but no minefield.  Therefore conclusions are entirely impossible to draw except to say that both teams will probably be fairly content with their work overall.  Sri Lanka have dismissed half the side and will hope to wrap up the rest reasonably quickly, while England have recovered well from the parlous position of 83-5.

That they did so was down to one player batting against type and another who is finding Test cricket rather easy at the moment – with the bat anyway.   Alex Hales found himself in the probably unfamiliar position of having to hold the innings together, and as a result batted cautiously throughout.  Without his knock England would have been in dire straits.  And yet it is to be hoped that Hales doesn’t see this as his role in future, for there are much better defensive openers in the game than him, and in the South African series he appeared to be struggling to try and play a game different from that at which he excels.  He does have technical limitations, but so does David Warner, and it isn’t a problem there because his role is to be the dasher.  When in, such players are devastating, but they can be knocked over cheaply by quality bowling.  Today Hales had little choice and deserves immense credit for battling his way through, but it would be a waste of what he is capable of if that is to be how England see him batting, for it is hard to see how he can succeed over the longer term.  But as England’s David Warner, well it might still be a long shot to be as effective, but it’s probably his best chance.  Today however, it was just right.

Jonny Bairstow is either in the form of his life or has thoroughly found his feet at the highest level, and perhaps something of both.  Middle order players who can turn the tide are invaluable, and England have a couple in the shape of him and Ben Stokes.  Ah yes, Ben Stokes.  It didn’t take long for the knives to come out concerning a poor shot.  As needs repeating time and time again, Stokes plays this way.  You cannot stand and cheer if the ball he was out to had gone just out of reach of the fielder and sped away for four – same shot, different outcome.  When Stokes is batting well, he chances his arm and gets away with it, the margins are that narrow, and it is as it always was, two sides of the same coin.  The glory of run a ball double centuries come with the disappointment of poor shots for not very many, it really cannot be something people have both ways.  His overall performance is the key, because there will be glorious highs and abject lows.

Naturally, the pre-match build up and the rain breaks were dominated by the whole story around Alastair Cook approaching 10,000 Test runs.  Sky went as preposterously over the top as they always seem to with all things Cook, offering an interview that was about as incisive as a This Morning chit chat, with unquestioned adoration of the Great Man throughout.  Cook did say that he just wanted the whole thing over with, and that would be quite understandable, for the use of him as an icon by broadcaster, media and the ECB is not his fault.  They have successfully turned what is undoubtedly going to be a fine achievement into something that has created serious irritation at the nature of the idolatry.  It’s quite an achievement, and it is to be strongly suspected that Cook is uncomfortable with the circus.  It’s a great pity, for achievements should be celebrated, instead they are having to be qualified because of the excessive claims.  Cook will get to 10,000 and he will and should be extremely proud of himself for it.  He’s been a fine player with power to add.

For Sri Lanka the man of the day was clearly Dasun Shanaka, who received his first Test cap before play began, and then came on as the fifth bowler just before lunch and promptly removed Cook, Compton and Root in the space of eight balls.  As debut victims go, that’s not bad at all.  He lacks pace, and bowls the kind of line and length that should have county coaches purring, and the ECB grinding their teeth having so recently announced the death of such bowling in the English game. Headingley has often rewarded bowlers of this nature, being the only ground where (back in the days they actually got more than the occasional Test) the phrase “horses for courses” would routinely make an appearance pre-selection.

One final thing to note, in two sessions of play only 53 overs were bowled.  It is unlikely this would have speeded up in the final session, and quite clearly the ICC no longer care, for fines for slow over rates appear to be a thing of the past, let alone suspensions.  It is of course one day, and one curtailed day at that.  But the pattern has been in place for quite some time.

My flight tomorrow is at 16:05 from Heathrow, so that is it from me for this Test and this series, though I daresay something will annoy me enough to post over the next month.  I’ll probably add some travel observations to my travel blog (I’ve already put up an intro for this trip – and if you’re interested in Myanmar, there’s plenty there from the last one), which is http://www.thelegglance.wordpress.com if you feel so inclined to say hello, otherwise, back in mid June!

Enjoy the rest of the Test – oh and day two comments below.

Chris

A New Hope

One of the elements of the notorious description used by the ECB (and PCA) which provided the name of this site was the implied attitude towards those who at amateur level played the game, or who watched, bought tickets or paid television subcriptions.  It was a perfect demonstration of their opinion of the plebians who merely provided all the revenue to allow those either within cricket administration, professional players or indeed journalists or broadcasters to earn a living.  It remains one of the most despicable statements ever used by a sporting body towards those upon whom a game relies, and that statement is still carried on the ECB website, and no apology or even acknowledgement of it has ever been made.

But on its own, in isolation, it could perhaps be seen as the botched missive of an idiocracy which most people could brush off and laugh at.  Except the trouble was that this attitude was pervasive, and not just within the ECB, it went through every level of the international game.  Indeed, the attitude of the ECB was carried forward into the highest echelons of the international game.  The film Death of a Gentleman outlined the perspective that supporters were merely there to be monetised in detail, and the ECB were not just complicit, they led the way alongside India and Australia in attempting to grab as much filthy lucre as possible.

The power grab by the Big Three (one suspects that rather than hear the dripping contempt of that phrase, some within will view it as a badge of honour) was largely about increasing power and increasing the revenues to those boards, entirely at the expense of everyone else.  The remaining Test nations would be worse off, the Associate nations might as well give up, and for a nation like Ireland, the possibility of Test cricket had receded into the distance and has little appeal to it even if they were to achieve it.

Dmitri yesterday wrote a piece about the anniversary of the removal of Kevin Pietersen as an international player.  Even back then, people were told to “move on” and naturally enough, those who always seem to back the ECB no matter what were quick to repeat it.  But as so often, they miss the point.  Pietersen is one tiny part of a wider jigsaw, and in the grand scheme of things, one of the least important.  But what that episode did demonstrate above all was the utter contempt for those who are Outside Cricket not just by word, but by deed.  That attitude, irrespective of whether one is a fan of Pietersen the player or not is precisely the reason the ECB, and Giles Clarke in particular, had no compunctions whatsoever in behaving the way they did, and the reason it was so important is that it highlighted the naked greed and lack of any interest in the consequences so demonstrative of that arrogance.  It was not just that they abrogated their duty of care for the game, they showed they didn’t care about the game at all, merely their own narrow self-interests.  The expression of lofty superiority by authority was echoed in similar ways across the globe, and while Pietersen had his own problems and was to at least some extent the architect of his own downfall, the lack of interest in the game itself reached the point where players were not turning out for their national teams, preferring instead to play the T20 leagues, and the captain of South Africa – South Africa no less – was openly debating giving up Test cricket. Different circumstances, entirely different situations, yet it was possible to draw a direct line between all of them on the basis of the lack of interest the governing bodies had for the integrity of the game.

The Big Three carve up had the consequence of drawing the vast majority of the game’s revenues to themselves, impoverishing the remainder of the Test playing nations and killing any prospect of the game expanding beyond its rather narrow boundaries.  Cricket became the first sport in history to deliberately reduce its footprint on the planet.  It went further, with Clarke’s flat rejection of the idea of T20 cricket being an Olympic Sport, mostly on the grounds that it wouldn’t make his board any money, whatever he said, while slashing the development funds to non-Test playing nations and turning even the Test playing nations outside India, Australia and England into nothing other than vassals.  The three countries took complete control of the ICC, ensuring that all ICC events were to be held solely in their own territories over the following ten years (though no one expected that to change at the conclusion of the agreed period) and challenging all the others to simply lump it or face being excluded from the kinds of tours that would allow them to survive as cricketing entities.

Some journalists objected, and objected vociferously.  In Australia Gideon Haigh was scathing as only he can be, in England Scyld Berry broke ranks from his colleagues to condemn it outright, while Wisden in the form of Lawrence Booth sounded the alarm for cricket as a game.  Since then Nick Hoult at the Telegraph has frequently written about the machinations both within the ECB and beyond.  Cricinfo too raised the matter, with Jarrod Kimber impressively furious and of course along with Sam Collins making Death of a Gentleman, while Tim Wigmore has repeatedly castigated the powers that be for their duplicity and selfishness concerning the wider world game.

From others.  Silence.  From the Guardian, nothing – really nothing.  At the time of writing, there is still nothing on the ICC meeting today.  From Mike Selvey, their chief cricket correspondent, absolutely nothing at any point on the whole topic.  This is no surprise, for Selvey is known to be close to Giles Clarke to the extent that a paper that has prided itself on investigating injustice has appeared to be an echo chamber – indeed a direct hotline – for the views of the ECB.  Selvey’s first response on TMS to the potential for major change in favour of the richest boards was to profess ignorance of the whole matter and regard it as unimportant and when Death of a Gentleman came out he refused to watch it.  As far as anyone knows he still hasn’t.  It is shameful that newspaper has ignored the matter, it is despicable that they have made no effort whatever to cover it, preferring instead to imply approval of Giles Clarke’s claim that no-one is interested in administration, apparently even when it fundamentally changes the nature of the game.  Colleagues such as David Conn may have views on that. For cricket lovers who have adored the Guardian’s previously excellent coverage, it is a dereliction of duty that they will find very hard to ever forgive.  That it requires blogs like this one to point this out, and to try, in our own small way, to back up the work of those excellent journalists in asking questions and making criticisms is unacceptable.

Unless there is some kind of statement to the contrary, the assumption must be this is deliberate policy, for it is rather hard to believe a journalist of the quality of Ali Martin is purposely ignoring the whole subject.

Today the ICC held a meeting which largely reversed the changes made a year ago, the status quo ante prevailing.  This can be viewed as progress of a sort, though Tim Wigmore wrote an excellent piece on Cricinfo pointing out the limitations of what has happened.  It is well worth reading:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci-icc/content/story/969029.html

Wigmore is completely correct, and points to Lord Woolf’s scathing assessment of the ICC at the time, to which we now more or less return.  And yet even this does provide some grounds for hope, and perhaps practicality dictates that in one board meeting the only possible immediate means of rolling back the changes was to re-instate the previous constitution.  The ICC under the jackboot of India, Australia and England would have in short order killed at the very least Test cricket as we knew it.  The West Indies, already in crisis through their own administrative ineptitude have reached the point where they are uncompetitive against almost anyone, their best players preferring instead to play the shortest form of the game as hired hands – and who can blame them?  The battering received in Australia was greeted with sadness in some quarters, and with outrage amongst those who have delved rather more deeply into the wider problems.  It was only going to get worse, the alarm bells were well and truly ringing when AB De Villiers made his statement about giving up Tests.  The clear revenue increase to the majority that applies now at least buys a little time.

The ICC statement from today is worth reading in full:

http://www.icc-cricket.com/news/2016/media-releases/92105/outcomes-from-icc-board-and-committee-meetings

It is a curious thing when an ICC statement provides some degree of cheer for the cricket fan.  The removal of N. Srinivasan back in November when the BCCI withdrew support and the subsequent installation of Shashank Manohar as ICC Chairman provided the first glimpse of the possibility that the theft of the world game by an avaricious few might just come under scrutiny by those with the power to change it.  The other Test playing nations, suddenly aware of their position as turkeys who had voted – or been forced to vote – for Christmas, had raised objections to their diminished status, but the constitution gave them virtually no prospect of changing anything.  It required the BCCI in particular to take the lead.  Manohar was swift to demonstrate things could change, saying upon his appointment:

“I don’t agree with the revenue-sharing formula, because it’s nice to say that India (BCCI) will get 22 per cent of the total revenue of the ICC, but you cannot make the poor poorer and the rich richer, only because you have the clout.  Secondly there is another angle to it which nobody has thought of. India generates money because the other countries come and play in India. If you do not have a fierce competition, the broadcasters are not going to pay you and the sponsors are not going to sponsor your events.”

He went on:

“I don’t agree with the three major countries bullying the ICC.  That’s my personal view, because as I have always said, an institution is bigger than individuals. You cannot guarantee which individual will occupy the top position in either of these countries. And, the ICC constitution, as it stands today, says that in all the major committees of the ICC, these three countries will be automatically there. So all the financial and commercial aspects and the executive committee will be controlled by the representatives of these three countries which according to me is wrong.

“You should have the best man, whether he comes from Zimbabwe, or West Indies, or even from an associate or affiliate to work on a committee, who will promote the interests of the ICC.”

Simple statements of truth, but it garnered attention because it was entirely at odds with everything that had gone before.  Premature it may be, but there is at least a hope that the new man at the top actually gives a shit about the game.  From today’s press release, one line stood out in particular:

“No Member of the ICC is bigger than the other”

Others have been quick to point out that as currently constituted, this is not true, for India in particular have the power that no one else does, and as the major driver of revenue in the game, that is certainly not inherently wrong by any means.  And yet the statement has been made, and while they are merely words, they are good words.  And this is where ideas begin.  At long last there is at the very least a statement of first principles that he and the ICC can be held to.  This is some small progress.

Another item was that the chairman of the ICC could not hold office with any of the boards.  This has direct consequences for Giles Clarke, as President of the ECB.  He has long aspired to be ICC Chairman, but to do so he will have to give up his role at the ECB.  And yet the indications are that despite previously appearing very likely to get it, the change in structure has crippled his prospects.  Australia and South Africa have already made it clear they won’t support him, Sri Lanka are reported to be reluctant.  Given Clarke’s unpopularity in much of the ECB, it would be an irony if the English were the only ones in favour, and it is tempting to wonder if they are even more in favour if it means ridding themselves of him at the same time.  Either way, there will be few in mourning for the dissolving dreams of a man associated with the carve up of the world game like few others.

Other elements from the press release include conducting a review of the T20 leagues and their impact on the world game.  T20 is a reality, and could – and should – be something extremely good for the game, as it raises the profile, popularity, and yes, the revenues of the sport.  That we are in a position where it constitutes a threat to Test cricket and international cricket more generally is not inevitable, and never was.  To review this is again progress, with the tantalising prospect of providing a context for Test cricket in particular, as the form of the game most under threat.

Is it an answer?  No.  Is it even the outline of the answer?  No.  But does it provide the smallest semblance of hope that international cricket, and Test cricket in particular, has a future?  Just the smallest.  It is a start.  If it goes no further, then the downward spiral, which has been paused today, will resume.  But nothing is inevitable, and with the right people at the helm, things can improve.  Today is a good day, the despair is slightly lessened, and maybe, just maybe, Mr Smith has gone to Washington.

 

South Africa vs England: ODI series

Tomorrow, there begins 7 matches – five ODIs and two T20s – against South Africa to finish off the tour.  As is usually the case when these take place after the Test series, there’s a sense of it being a winding down of the trip, as though they were tacked on the end.  Indeed, the Guardian’s preview of the series is entirely with reference to the Test team and what it might mean for that.  Yet, in a month, the World T20 begins, and this series carries far more relevance to that than anything else, particularly for an England team that ought to be in with a shout of doing well in it.

The 50 over game may not be directly translatable, but there are enough similarities for it to be a decent pointer to how the team approaches the one format where England have ever won a global title.  Jason Roy has picked up a back spasm on the eve of play, but assuming he is fit, then the batting line up offers quite some potency all the way down the order.  Whether they come off against a South African team that will pose a stiff challenge is another matter, for while England performed well in the UAE, there’s no sense that it is a settled side.

The core of the team is clearly Stokes and Root in terms of the batting, with the captain Eoin Morgan providing the solidity to the middle order that is now so critical.  Certainly there’s no doubt that shot making is this side’s strength, for of the probable side they bat right the way down to 9 or 10, every one of whom can put bat to ball to explosive effect.

Yet it’s equally true that there’s a brittleness about the line up, with limited experience and form which is essentially unknown.  It makes calling the likely outcome of the series rather difficult, for while England’s approach has been excellent, it’s an open debate as to how much quality is there.

The T20 squad is announced soon, and the 50 over format will be deemed an audition for that.  The notable absentee from the initial squad who could play is Stuart Broad, and while there is logic in managing his workload, it raises the question as to whether he is in their plans at all.  He has been called up as a replacement for Liam Plunkett, but he’s not expected to play the first game at least.

Of course, as far as that tournament is concerned, the spectre of Kevin Pietersen looms large.  The ECB will certainly be hoping that these matches go well, for a hammering will put pressure on them once again.  And so there should be, Pietersen has been a star in the T20 format this winter, and there is simply no getting away from the reality that England would be a stronger side with him than without.  If the ECB were clever, they would select him – and since the exclusion wasn’t on cricketing grounds, the reason it would be clever would also not be on cricketing grounds.  For the Pietersen issue has festered for two years precisely because of the duplicity and ineptitude of the ECB.  Bringing him back for the World T20, in a squad where there are no past issues to be managed, would strengthen the side in a cricketing sense yes, but would also allow a closing of the circle.

Pietersen is highly unlikely to play any more red ball cricket, but making use of his undoubtedly exceptional abilities in T20 would end much of the rancour at a stroke, and allow him to depart the stage with his head held high, and with the bitterness at least partly diffused.  The problem is that the ECB are simply not that clever.  And they almost certainly won’t do it.

And so it is this group of players in the 50 over matches, plus Sam Billings who will probably go into that competition.  Young, unquestionably exciting, and with bags of potential.  Yet with a major challenge ahead of them to win this series, against a very strong side.