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…