It Never Rains But it Pours

There wasn’t too much play at the MCG in the end, and what there was proved to be inconclusive.  England are now the only side that can realistically win the match, but a draw is now possibly the most likely outcome. Perhaps though the series to this point colours perceptions, were England in this position, doubtless the expectations would be different, given Australia will likely need to bat into tea to make the game reasonably safe.

In what play there was, England extended their innings by one ball -Anderson being dismissed – and then picked up a couple of wickets before Warner and Smith saw out the day on a surface that is slow and unresponsive.  England certainly tried to get as much out of it as possible, working furiously on the ball, and trying the age old trick of flinging it via the ground at every opportunity in the field in an attempt to create reverse swing.  There was a marvellously manufactured row from Australian television attempting to imply Anderson was digging a nail into the ball, which sadly foundered on the reality that if he was doing so, it was to the shiny side – i.e. the wrong one – meaning that Anderson would have to be the dimmest nefarious cricketer since Herschelle Gibbs.

Of course, Cook’s double century continued to cause debate and, let’s face it, abuse, particularly given the shortage of play and lack of decisive action.  So here’s a cut out and keep guide to the stupidity of the low quality “debate”:

You just can’t give Cook any credit whatever can you?

Um, well apart from saying repeatedly how well he batted and how good an innings it was.

Yes, but you said it’s irrelevant in a dead rubber, don’t deny it.

No, it’s not irrelevant.  Some fabulous innings have been made when a series is gone – Mark Butcher at Headingley, Brian Lara’s world record at St John’s.  In both cases, that series irrelevance was pointed out as a qualifier, mind, however unfair might have been.  And regret that it hadn’t come earlier in the series.  Oddly enough Cook himself said the same thing, he’s obviously frustrated as well as proud. This shouldn’t be too hard to work out, saying it’s meaningless is stupid, saying it’s the greatest and most vital innings ever is equally stupid.

There you go then, you don’t think it matters.

Of course it matters, England were heading for a whitewash.  His knock means that’s now not going to happen and England have shown some fight.  And every Test matters, so well done him, and goodness me, didn’t he bat well?  Irrespective of surface and Starc not playing, that’s the best he’s looked in years.

You just can’t give him any credit at all can you?

We keep saying we are, aren’t you listening?  The reaction from some quarters – knighthoods, pantheon of greats and all that – is a bit over the top though, surely?

See, there you go again, it’s all about Kevin Pietersen.

What?

It is, don’t deny it.

It’s you who keeps bringing him up.  You seem obsessed with this subject far more than anyone else.  

And that’s why you wanted Cook dropped.

Here’s a curious thing.  Nuance is no longer allowed it seems.  This place has been pointing out Cook’s struggles and declining returns for a couple of years, and expressing concern for this series that while England needed him badly to perform, the evidence suggested he probably wouldn’t. But after three Tests, those now screaming with delight were saying he was probably done and should retire.  Those great Cook haters at BOC kept saying this was absurd, he was still one of our two best openers by a distance, irrespective of his struggles.  Losing him weakens the side, why would that anyone who wants England to do well want that?

It’s just about you hating him.

Can’t you read? Has any of that gone in?

You never give him any credit for anything.

He’s been a terrific player, and England’s best opener in a long time, why is that not enough?

There you go, proof you loathe him, qualifying that statement.

Sorry?  What is wrong with that? It’s significant praise.

No it isn’t, it’s grudging.  No credit whatever.

Because we might not think he’s England’s best ever batsman ?  That’s what the problem is?

Clear hatred.

Let’s get this straight, saying he batted really well this Test is not enough, saying he’s a very fine opening batsman indeed is not enough?

You just can’t bear seeing him succeed.

No, what the problem is, is the endless hagiography, the use of Cook as a weapon to beat up everyone who points out double standards, the media treatment of him as an exceptional case and the sheer hypocrisy of it all.  Cook isn’t responsible for that, others are. Why on earth can’t you just be pleased?  Why is it an excuse to win on the internet?

There’s loads of hatred for him on Twitter.

Yes, there is.  Since when has Twitter ever been anything else?  You do realise there’s loads of hatred on Twitter for others too, right?

So what do you have to say about that?

You mean we’re responsible for the stupidity of others?  Blimey.  Is that all stupidity, or just where it applies to Cook?  You have seen the stick others get haven’t you?

It’s not the same.  Cook is one of England’s greatest ever.  

Isn’t this debatable?  Isn’t this something that is rather open to question given the records of others?  He’s been the best opener England have had in a fair while, that’s pretty clear.

Qualifying it again, that’s just like you.

Of course it needs qualification.  Doesn’t everything need qualification?  This is madness, an insistence at genuflecting at the altar of greatness without any context, either for this innings or a career.

I rest my case.  You’re furious he’s done well.

No, we’re furious at the over the top response to him doing well.  Can’t you see the difference?  What’s wrong with praising him for doing well and observing when he hasnt? 

It’s nothing more than abuse, you scumbag.

Sigh. Ok, you win.



Being a writer down might be considered unfortunate, being two is unquestionably careless.  Sean you utter idiot! But it did make us laugh.

Day five is a chance for England to register a win on a tour that has proved a disaster to date.  Should they do so, it doesn’t undo that, but nor is it an irrelevance. It does highlight what was said in the build up to the series, that for England to compete, they needed their main batting guns to fire.  Cook has done so here, and now they’re in a very strong position.  Of all the people thinking if only he’d done it earlier, no one will be feeling it more strongly than Alastair Cook himself.  And that’s kind of the point isn’t it?

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4th Ashes Test, Day One

It’s perhaps a measure of the impressive awfulness of England’s tour that the Boxing Day Test, a clear highlight of the cricketing calendar, felt a low key affair.  In Australia it certainly wasn’t, for pummelling the Poms is always going to have a certain appeal.  But from the English perspective, finishing off Christmas Day with a bit of cricket into the early hours has always had a slightly magical quality to it.  Of course, the true highlight of that in recent years was the 2010 match where England skittled the hosts for under 100 and finished the day well ahead and with all ten wickets intact, described at the time as being arguably the most one sided day of Test cricket in history.  Hyperbole maybe, but a special day nonetheless.  

Indeed, it was sufficiently good as a memory that the ECB also thought it worth mentioning in their build up, a reminder of those times when a 5-0 battering was an exceptional event that could be explained by being up against a truly great side bent on revenge rather than normal service.

This time around, fatalism about the likely outcome was exacerbated by Tom Harrison happily proclaiming that all was generally well and the small matter of a likely series hammering was just one insignificant fly in the ointment of the ECB masterplan.  Seven consecutive away defeats are mere bagatelle in this reading of the game and while something is to be said for refusing to panic the clear suggestion that it doesn’t matter overly was astounding, both for what it said about the priorities of the ECB and also for the muted response from the media.  It doesn’t take too much imagination to feel that such a response only a few years ago would have been ridiculed.  And therein lies the biggest problem for English cricket: indifference.  

In terms of the team, suggestions in the press had made about which deckchairs needed to be rearranged but as it turned out, only Tom Curran came in, a replacement for the clearly injured (it often needs highlighting with England that a bowler needs to be missing a limb before they’re considered definitely unfit) Craig Overton.

That meant that Moeen would play, despite being injured and woefully out of form, plus Broad would play, despite being injured and woefully out of form.  To some extent a case can be made that throwing a young player to the lions in a series going dramatically wrong would be grossly unfair, but equally in the case of Mason Crane, it has to be wondered what the point of him being on the tour was.  Putting aside Moeen’s performances for a second, he clearly isn’t fully fit, but England daren’t leave him out because of worries over the batting, while Broad’s ineffectiveness in a place where he has done well even in heavy defeat previously, may be at least partly to do with his health given rumours about knee problems.

Losing the toss on a proper flattie at the MCG wasn’t the ideal outcome, but England had won the previous three tosses without making best use of conditions before, so they could hardly complain.  And in the first hour they were once again poor.  Overall too short (surprise!) they varied that by offering up half volleys and width, allowing Warner to finally get going this series.  It’s repeatedly said that the first ten overs with the Kookaburra ball are vital, and once again England wasted it.  Once again too, they pulled it back somewhat subsequently.  Broad in particular looked better than he has at any time this series, and offered up the rarity of beating the Warner bat.  

Perhaps it wouldn’t have made too much difference, for this surface went beyond being a road, it was more of Bonneville Salt Flats proportions.  England are rather good at drying teams up and restricting the scoring (without looking threatening) and from the second hour onwards for the rest of the day, that was their strategy, one that all bar Moeen seemed able to achieve. 

A century for Warner had seemed a certainty, but England genuinely frustrated him, and on 99 Curran struck for his first Test wicket.  Oh dear.  There are several conflicting issues with wickets overturned for a no ball, firstly that sympathy may be limited for a bowler who can’t keep his foot behind the line (and this was the third England bowler in four years denied a maiden wicket by this means), but also the reluctance of umpires to call a no ball in live play means that a bowler may not know they are overstepping until it gets called when they take a wicket.  It seems hard to believe that he hadn’t bowled one before and not been called because no wicket had been taken.  Curran himself said he had been checking with the umpire on his foot position the previous ball, and it was merely down to putting in extra effort.  Maybe so, but it is a general issue that could really do with being sorted out, it seems unfair on just about everyone, even if it is clearly still the primary responsibility of the bowler.

It didn’t overly cost England, for four runs later Warner was gone, caught behind off Anderson as England appeared to get just a little movement in the air and off the pitch.  Ten overs later, and Khawaja was gone too, the plumbest of lbws to a Stuart Broad in his best spell of the series by far.  It could have been even better too, Shaun Marsh being pinned on the crease first ball for one of those that the bowlers feel aggrieved when it isn’t given, while the batsmen believe they should get the benefit of the doubt. Handily, DRS backs up whichever call the umpire makes, but on such narrow margins can a day rest.

That was the end of England’s success.  They continued to keep it tight, but Steve Smith eased his way to a comfortable, controlled half century, while Marsh too looked in little difficulty.

Given the placid pitch, 244-3 wasn’t that bad a day for England.  They mostly bowled well enough, they certainly exerted reasonable control, and if they didn’t look especially penetrative, well, plus ca change.  A couple more wickets would have made it a very good day for them, but instead they’ll return in the morning to the ominous sight of a well set Smith.

It’s always possible England will grab a few years quick wickets early on, but that has been the case for so much of the series, and not happened.  Should Australia rack up the huge total that appears inevitable, England will be once again under extreme pressure.  Its becoming hard to see it going any other way.

3rd Ashes Test, Day Four

So here it is.  Rain is the only thing that might prevent Australia regaining the Ashes in the quickest time possible as England seem hellbent on making the last tour look like a high water mark.  Predictable in its ineptitude, exceptional in its execution, the anger doesn’t even apply to what’s happening on the field.  

This has been a tour created over four years, and with all due respect to the hosts who have played well throughout, they aren’t even really a part of it.  Last time out England were obliterated by a bowler who took ample revenge for his previous tribulations, and instead of taking defeat on the chin, English cricket decided to turn in on itself, dismiss all those who dared to question the prevailing line and embark on a process of self immolation exceptional in its stupidity.

There’s no wishful thinking about what might have been, no feeling that had certain players not been kicked out they’d have been the saviours of this particular tour, but merely a total lack of surprise that we have reached this particular point.  A culture gets what a culture deserves, and this is what English cricket is and what it deserves.  

Is there anybody out there who is prepared to take even the smallest amount of responsibility?  It doesn’t seem so.  Not the ECB, who care about money to the exclusion of all else, not the administrators who openly regard people who love cricket with the kind of contempt no other sport quite manages, and not those players above reproach who seem to find any excuse that allows others to be blamed.  At Adelaide, a bowler with 500 Test wickets to his name agreed England could have bowled fuller, but said that the coaches could have told them that.  Did Courtney Walsh need a coach to tell him what to do?  Did Glenn McGrath?  In microcosm, there is England right there, a cricketing organisation where nothing is ever anyone’s fault, and nothing is anyone’s responsibility.

Players come and go, form comes and goes.  But the absolute certainty of the modern England structure is that only a few should ever be blamed for it, useful patsies who can be vilified and discarded, as long as those who are chosen can be protected and kept in place.  Turn the most successful batsman of the modern England era into public enemy number one (and you know, who gives a shit about the rights and wrongs, this is what it amounts to in the round), keep in place, and not only keep in place, but actually create a legend around a captain who has oversaw the most abysmal leadership seen in years, praise to the skies the decisiveness of a new administrator even though he is plainly woefully out of his depth.  And then above all else, insult and abuse anyone who dares to object. All that happened last time, all that has led to this.

Four years in the making, the ability to plumb new depths should come as no surprise to anyone, yet apparently it still does.  Every decision the ECB makes studied in isolation, with no regard to the whole, no consideration of a pattern of behaviour.  Players chosen because they fit into a box of conformity and woe betide anyone who dares to be an individual.  Standards of behaviour that manage to fall despite the attempt to force everyone to be the same, and a side that has no chance of being good enough because of the panic stricken ejection of the latest scapegoat who coincidentally always seems to be an individual. And there’s one coming too.  As it lurches from crisis to crisis there’s one ready made to be castigated, not for his own behaviour, but as the person responsible for everyone else’s failure.  It’s going to happen, and it has happened before.  Why be properly reflective when there’s a useful idiot who can be hung out to dry.

These are chickens coming home to roost. Each exclusion from the side, each whispering campaign against a player which might be the right call on its own as far as selection goes, but is ever underhand, vicious and endlessly repeated.  One after the other, those who aren’t the right sort of chap are removed, and the latest lamb to the slaughter slots in for a few games.  No plan, no strategy, just endless marketing bullshit and excuses.

It’s not like any of this was unexpected.  The “all time great” opening batsman who has been struggling for some time, but all those who dared to point out that might be a concern were told to pipe down.  Again. The bowling attack that lacks pace and variety, with a structure entirely unable to produce anything out of the ordinary, but which manages to wreck the unusual, either via the press or the medical teams.  It’s all part of the whole. Individuals don’t matter, the cosy little club does. 

And then there’s the press.  The most supine, pathetic body as a collective it’s been our misfortune to have inflicted on us.  They haven’t been observers, they have been complicit.  Following the diktats of the governing body, exchanging analysis for access, attacking those who pointed out the lack of emperor’s clothing, failing to consider the reasons for the shambles and justifying the unjustifiable.  Cricket reporting as a means of advancing an agenda, picking on those who dared to be different, refusing to criticise those in charge.  They have been the entirely witting participants in reaching this point, and even now they would rather criticise those individuals who have done the most in a failing team.

They ECB are responsible for cricket in England, they are not meant to be a cabal of self appointed, self promoting, self aggrandising charlatans who view their own interests as being the same as those of cricket.  Yet at every stage, they ignore the wider game, and this is where they’ve led us to.

Test series come and go, players come and go.  There are ups and downs and successes and failures.  None of that is new, none of that will ever change.  But a governing body who loathes the game except as a means of making money won’t be devastated by this performance because it simply doesn’t matter, unless ticket sales and subscriptions fall off.  This is where we are, success is not defined on the field, success is defined in the accounts.  

And perhaps the most damning crime of all, is turning passionate cricket supporters into those who don’t give a stuff how the team does, except as a symptom of the wider malaise. Those who would follow England abroad, those who would buy tickets, reduced to rage at the sport and ennui at the performance of the team.  This is a special achievement, one that can only be managed by deliberate, determined attack.  Replaced by those who care little, but who will attend an irrelevant T20 match to have a few overpriced beers and add further to the coffers. 

And the worst bit of all is that it doesn’t work.  Every sport has its fanatics, those who can be relied upon to be there through thick and thin, while the casual interest fan can bulk it out in time of plenty.  But not the ECB, who expressly push them aside as performance disintegrates, viewing figures plummet and participation amongst males reaches crisis levels.  This is their defeat, this is their disaster.  And it’s not an accident.  

Rain permitting, England are going to lose.  They thoroughly deserve it.  Not the players, who are undoubtedly doing their best, but the structure, the governing body, the media and all those who care for filthy lucre over the game.

I hope you’re proud of yourselves.

Paradise Lost – By Maxie Allen

Would you like to know my dirty little secret?

It might shock you. It could well annoy you. It may make you think less of me.

The thing is, I’m English, we’re in the middle of the Ashes, and I have an inconvenient cricketing truth, gnawing away at me.

Shall I just go ahead and spit it out? Well…here goes. I couldn’t care less whether England win or lose the Ashes. In fact, given a choice, and hand on heart, I’d rather Australia won.

Perhaps I’m not being completely honest with you. I want Australia to win.

So now you know.

I am a heretic. An apostate. A traitor.

I used to support England. Oh yes, I followed England with great passion and loyalty. And I did so for more than three decades, dating back to 1983, when I was eight years old.

For all those years, I hung on England’s every move. Every run, every wicket, every result. I cared. I mean, I really cared. If England were hurting, I was hurting. If England triumphed, so did I.  I was a part of the England team, and the team was a part of me. We were indivisible.

In the days before Sky and the internet, I’d watch entire sessions via Ceefax. I flew to Australia to watch the 2002/3 Ashes. I attended test matches as often as I could. And when this happened, I hugged a series of total strangers. But I also supported England unquestioningly and uncomplainingly through all the bad times, and there were plenty of those in the 1980s and 1990s. No one could have accused me of being a fairweather-fan or a Johnny-Come-Lately. I was the real deal.

So what changed? Some of you may already know, or can guess, as you might remember me from another blog, which I used to jointly run, or indeed saw this piece which I wrote in early 2016. In essence, it boils down to a series of events between February 2014 and May 2015 which left me alienated from, and disgusted by, English cricket.

Now, don’t worry – I’m not going to rehash all of that again. I won’t exhume the details.  The point is, nearly four years later, I’m still unable to move on.

But why? Am I being completely ridiculous? Aren’t I taking nose-cutting to spite-facing to an absurd level of masochism? Haven’t I taken these old events so monstrously out of proportion that I now regard one player and one press release as more important than my country winning the Ashes? I fistpump when Cook gets out: am I mad/twisted/deliberately obtuse? Or just too stubborn to let bygones be bygones? Have I thrown out a huge baby with a drop of bathwater?

The answer to all of these questions is – maybe. Perhaps. Arguably. But I can’t help it. It’s just the way I feel.

I’ve been thinking recently about how this looks to my friends. Or to any third party, especially casual cricket followers. They would see my position thus: I have abandoned my national team, the one I passionately followed, as man and boy, and now want their oldest enemy to beat them, and beat them in the Ashes, of all things. And the reason? A few backstage shenanigans which the majority of cricketer followers were barely aware of and have now entirely forgotten. By any rational analysis, my position is absurd. To any England supporter, it must seem insane. But as I say – I can’t help it. And to me at least, it makes sense.

It all began with the very first Test England played after February 2014. As the match reached a dramatic denouement, I found myself – despite being at work – in front of a TV showing the coverage on Sky.

With the first ball of the final over, Stuart Broad took Sri Lanka’s ninth wicket, and a strange thing happened: instead of punching the air in delight and excitement, my heart sank.”Oh God, England are going to bloody win”, I found myself thinking. With the fifth ball, Nuwan Pradeep was given out LBW, and as Broad and Cook celebrated wildly, I felt forlorn and bitter, as if ‘we’ had lost, not won. There was a twist in the tale, however, because Pradeep then called for a DRS review which revealed a inside edge. Reprieved, he narrowly survived the final ball and Sri Lanka saved the game. I was delighted.

This was my epiphany: the moment I realised my cricketing life was transformed. Unconsciously, and instinctively, I now wanted England to lose, not win. A total reversal of the position I’d held so ardently for the previous three decades. And as the months passed and Test matches came and went, my feelings only hardened in that direction. I supported the opposition, because my enemy’s enemy was now my friend.

It wasn’t that I’d calmly formulated my new position by deductive reasoning on grounds of principle. I hadn’t sat down with a pen and paper and sketched it out. I didn’t say to myself “well, as I think x and y about such-and-such, this regrettably but logically means I must oppose England”. No, it was an instinctive emotional response. But the more I reflected on it, the more it made sense, and the more I saw that it was underpinned by a solid rationale.

In a nutshell – and I’m trying desperately not to reheat old material – my view was the people who ran English cricket had made something very clear: the England team belonged to them, and to them only. The team existed purely as a cricketing representation of their corporate entity. Added to that was my sense of betrayal, and also of outrage at a great injustice. This all combined to corrode and nullify any pleasure I could draw from the actual cricket on the field of play. By extension several of the key individuals became opponents. In sport, opponents become enemies, and you want your enemies to lose. Boy, did I want my enemies to lose.

This might not seem very rational to you. Chiefly, my position appears obtuse because of my apparent sense of priorities. I’ve taken a one-off personnel issue, and a few comments by officials, and made them more important than the team itself – and more important even than England beating Australia in, all of things, the Ashes, with all its history and significance. I’ve abandoned thirty years of passionate support to start cheering on the opposition.

That sounds irrational, to put it mildly, but in sport all support or opposition is fundamentally irrational. Is it rational for Arsenal and Spurs to hate each other? Is is rational to cheer on Mo Farah at the Olympics? Is it rational to want to beat Australia at cricket?

The thing is, I didn’t want any of this to happen in the first place. None of what happened was my doing. I mainly feel sad and regretful about it. I wish things were different. And I had hoped for resolution, as I wrote in April 2015 when it looked like the tide might turn, only for those hopes to be dashed.

It would have helped enormously if England had been hammered in the 2015 Ashes, which I know is an odd thing to say. I longed for the defeat of the Cook/Strauss regime, and what it stood for, but despite Australia’s emphatic victories in the second and fifth tests, it wasn’t to be. Australia’s collapse at Trent Bridge cost me dear, because an England defeat would have lanced the boil and cleared the way for a new start.

I now find myself in very strange and lonely place. I am probably the only person in the world who holds my position, and I certainly don’t know anyone else in everyday life who thinks as I do. My friends don’t understand it, and they definitely don’t like it. They think I’m mad, or being a self-martyr, or being deliberately provocative. But I just can’t help feeling the way I do.

When I talk along these lines on Twitter or Facebook I might come across as a troll, trying to wind people up. I’m not really, I’m just saying what I think. And face-to-face, especially when I meet new people, I’m rather coy about not supporting England – embarrassed to admit it. I’ll be talking to a new acquaintance and the subject of the Ashes comes up, and they assume I’m gutted that England are two-nil down. What do I say? How can I explain where I’m coming from, in the space of a normal conversation? How do I make sense of this to someone with a casual, patriotic attachment to the England cricket team, someone who watches just for fun, who has little idea what I’m talking about, who’s never heard of Giles Clarke, and who believes, quite understandably, that England beating Australia is more fun than obsessing about a four-year-old press release?

Speaking of fun…I don’t find cricket much fun any more, and I derive little enjoyment from watching it save the hollow satisfaction of an England setback. I sorely miss what I used to have – not just a team to support, but a community, a family, of fellow supporters. I miss that camaraderie and fellowship, the sharing of mutual experience. I used to be a part of those conversations, but now I inhabit an alien land.

Nor do I even get much enjoyment from memories of supporting England pre-2014. I can’t dig out the 2005 DVDs and relive that series with joy and pride, because I know what happened later, and that has tarnished everything. With the exception of my village team, my whole life in cricket has been a waste. Every England success I rejoiced in now means nothing.

Now, to you this must sound incredibly self-important and self-pitying. You’ll feel that I am whinging about wounds which are entirely self-inflicted. I don’t believe that’s the case, but I’ll understand why you might think that. People tell me to snap out of it. I can’t. People tell me to move on. I can’t. How can you move on when nothing has changed, and nothing been resolved?

One argument in particular is often put to me. Most sports have bad administrators, and most clubs have bad owners. But everyone else puts that aside and supports the players – and so should I. Regrettably, that analysis doesn’t hold true when it comes to English cricket. The ECB aren’t like the Glazers – they’re not outsiders who barge their way in but eventually sell up and move on. It’s the other way around.

Why? Because the only permanent and irreducible thing about the England team is the ECB. Players come and go but the board and its ethos remain, and the ECB configure the team as a representation of its values and philosophy. The England team is a show they’re putting on. Supporting England means supporting the ECB, and I don’t think you can separate them. I’m open to persuasion, but I’ll need a lot of convincing.

What’s interesting, though, is I now watch cricket in a very different way from how I did in the past. England are a much better team when you’re not supporting them. Seriously. Before, if England were batting, I’d fear a wicket every ball. The batsmen looked like sitting ducks. Now I don’t want them do well, England’s batsmen look composed and authoritative, hard to remove. I used to think Australia’s bowlers were unplayable and their batsmen invincible. Now, to my eye, they often look flawed and unconvincing. From my unusual perspective, beating England looks much more difficult than it used to do.

Will I ever have a change of heart? One of my best friends said to me: “when we’re in our seventies, and we go to the cricket together, will you still be supporting the opposition because of something which happened thirty years ago?”. Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not quite sure what could realistically happen which would change the way I feel. Nor do I know what approach to take should my daughter, currently aged two, develop an interest in international cricket. Pretend to support England, for her sake? Is that actually a beneficial thing to do anyway?

Now and again I get the odd England twinge, the occasional conflicted moment, when I forget myself briefly, and feel a brief pang of connection or empathy with the England players and what they’re trying to achieve. For a beat or two I feel English again. It’s usually to do with players. I’m fond of Jonny Bairstow and when he’s batting there’s a part of me that’s pleased to see him do well. Dawid Malan, too.

Every now and again I slip and refer to England as ‘we’, but by using the word ‘slip’ I don’t mean to say there’s a pretence, or that I’m deliberately trying to subvert my instincts through stubborness. It’s just the old rhythms and cadences of my past life breaking through.

These little ‘twinges’, though – they pass quite quickly and leave me back where I started. What do I do? Do I try to force myself to support England again? Or do I convince myself that I’m just being pointlessly bloody-minded and that if I could only eat humble pie, move on, and support England again, life would be much more rewarding? Again, I don’t know.

I can imagine my hostility fading with the passing of time. But not opposing something isn’t the same as supporting it. Can I ever feel excited about England again? What would it take for my heart to leap with joy, as for so many years it did, at the sight of an England bowler taking a wicket? What might inspire me to cheer when Alastair Cook reaches a century?

I’ll finish by making an important point. Whatever my own position. I’m not trying to convert others. I’m not telling you or anyone else what to do. I’m not scolding England supporters for their adherence to the regime. If you support England, good luck to you, and I hope you enjoy the team’s successes. A part of me wishes I could join you. But for now, at least, I cannot.

Maxie Allen co-founded The Full Toss and has written on cricket ever since, family permitting.

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 . 

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