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.

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Back to the West Indies

When you have low key series like this one, there’s a temptation to re-use an old post title, asking whether a tree does fall in a forest if no one is there to witness it, but there is an unquestionable appeal to cricket in the West Indies in its own right, not least to the thousands of British tourists who use the opportunity of a cricket tour to get some much needed sunshine at the end of winter.  For the journalists too, it’s still a plum posting to get following the England team about, irrespective of the cricket on offer.  That’s not to criticise them for that, we all have elements of our employment that are rather better than others, and it’s understandable enough to want to go.

Although England are talking a good game about this tour being an integral part of the warm up for the Champions Trophy (which is something of a stretch) there is some importance for the West Indies given the psychological – but not cricketing – shock of failing to qualify for the tournament.  Moreover, there’s no certainty whether they’ll make the next World Cup given the determination to restrict it to as few teams as possible.  As an aside, it would thoroughly serve the ICC right to lose the West Indies if they didn’t make it just to highlight the stupidity of making the premier one day tournament such a restricted affair.  That being said, it would diminish the tournament if they were not there.

Therefore there is something riding on the series, at least for the home team who have only a further five matches to cement their place in the competition before the September cutoff.  Cricket fans around the world have watched in distress as the administrators and players collided repeatedly and often idiotically over the years.  The former powerhouse of world cricket had enough structural problems to deal with without constantly making things even worse.  The blame game got to the point that for many outsiders, they know longer understood what each spat was about, and more damningly they no longer cared.  Across the Caribbean positions were naturally more entrenched, but at the end of it the despair over the collapse of the international team never seemed to concentrated minds sufficiently to the point where all involved actually felt they needed to do something about it.

Given the conduct of the ECB over the last couple of years it’s easy to be cynical about all attempts of governing bodies – who tend to be anything but – to profess a new dawn in how they will run the game, but at some point the civil war in West Indies cricket will have to end.  It might be too much to hope that they will go from their current mess to back challenging all and sundry in the foreseeable future, but any signs of progress have to be welcomed.  If the ICC’s Big Three takeover is properly reversed, there might even  be an opportunity to make the most of doing so, but it will require an alignment of the all the planets to happen.  In England, Andrew Strauss’s title of “Director, Cricket” has been much mocked, yet his role unquestionably has value if done properly.  For the West Indies, the slightly less marketing department inspired Director of Cricket position has been taken up by Jimmy Adams, who is at least a figure who ought to generate widespread respect for his achievements.

George Dobell interviewed him for Cricinfo, and while words in themselves mean little, his desire to have the best players available – no qualification, no hedging – as a straightforward statement of intent, and that all sides need to give ground is perhaps one of the more promising signs for some time.  Whether it ultimately means anything at all, or whether he becomes another in a long line of people to leave in frustration at the Kafkaesque machinations of all sides is still to be seen, but any and all cricket fans around the world will hoping against hope that perhaps he is the one to really push the vested interests into looking after the wider game in the region.

In terms of the on field action most attention has been directed at the reunion of Ben Stokes and Carlos Brathwaite, following the spectacular end to the last World T20 final.  Brathwaite has spoken about his struggles to live up to that day, and it’s perhaps unfair to have expected him to.  There’s every chance it will be the highlight of his career when he comes to look back on it.  If so, there are worse memories to have.

Stokes himself might be worth keeping an eye on, if for no other reason than it’s either in the Caribbean or with Caribbean players that seems to define so many of his actions, from punching a locker to the repeated clashes with Marlon Samuels – which Samuels, it must be said, won.

As far as conditions in Antigua for the first match are concerned, the pitch appears grassy in places and bare in others, but with a 57 metre boundary at one end, the bowlers are going to have their work cut out to stop it being carnage.  As is so often the case with one day or T20 cricket, much discussion is had about bats, fielding restrictions and so on, whereas actually giving the bowlers a chance in the first place tends to be ignored.

England were pretty well beaten in India – in all formats – and perhaps their desire to put right some of those frustrations will make for a watchable series.  But let’s not pretend it’s essential, because it isn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

So, SimonH…. this is your test!

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

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

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

SOME CONTEXT

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

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

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

Cricinfo recently interviewed some of the participants here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT

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

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

THE MATCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—————————————————

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

Dubai Day 3 (and a bit on today)

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - MARCH 2:  Tiger Woods of the USA hits balls from the heli-pad on top of the Burj Al Arab Hotel before the 2004 Dubai Desert Classic played at the Emirates Golf Club, on March 2, 2004 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Tiger Woods
 (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
*** Local Caption *** Tiger Woods

Day 2 is in the books and a fascinating Day 3 is in prospect. An unexected day’s leave, caused by circumstances beyond my control, meant I could watch much of the last two sessions of play (and meaning that I missed the first).

England started brilliantly, getting Misbah in the first over, and then knocking over the rest in reasonably short order. While the stats show that scores over 400 are not common in Dubai, 378 must seem like a bit of a disappointment when considering the score at the start of the day. Mark Wood’s figures of 3/39 were massively impressive and a real hopeful sign for the future. Of course, when it comes to our rider of imaginary horses, we are always worried about his health.

England’s response started as many seem to these days. An early wicket, albeit through a wonderful catch at short leg, meant the Moeen experiment still remains a question to answer. That said, we’ve been looking for an answer to the other opening slot for a while now. Then Bell had a feeble nick off to Imran Khan. 14 for 2. Bell is definitely in the firing line, and he might seek advice from Trott on how to face that, with people acting like he’s got the eyesight of someone at 73, not 33. He’s in an awful rut, and maybe it is time to go somewhere else. But then, I don’t think we should exclude players because their faces don’t fit.

Those of us purporting to be anti-England must have been cock-a-hoop. We must have been fuming when a sweep shot from Cook plonked onto the bottom of the stumps and failed to dislodge a bail.

Cook and Root passed half centuries, quite serenely, and then Yasir Shah, who might as well have been Lord Lucan given the expert knowledge the English cricket fraternity had demonstrated about him (recalling this excellent article from the archives), unexpectedly broke through when our lovely leader clipped a ball to leg slip. His 65 was not quite as good as his 263, but he does look somewhere near his best (best illustrated by his confidence on the drive). This, of course, gives the lie to the “near his best” codswallop around the time of that legendary, scratchy, 95 at the Rose Bowl or whatever it is called now. A solid, hard to dismiss, and scoring at a reasonable pace Cook is something any team needs. With Warner out of form (relatively), Rogers retired, and most of the other countries in flux with their openers, Cook is the best around, probably, at the top of the list.

What can one say about Joe Root? Well, let’s not get overboard too quickly would be my first thing. I remarked on Twitter that his current form reminds me of the way Michael Vaughan was playing in 2002-3. The standard of opposition was better, but peak Vaughan was a big hundred in waiting. Root is giving off an aura something like it. I maybe in violation of my own advice! Root’s footwork and reactions are just wonderful. He gets into position, he can manipulate the ball, and he is pretty solid in defence despite the early working over by Wahab Riaz. He needs to go on to make a big hundred here to keep England in the position they’ve created. The problem here is that maybe we expect Joe to do it all the time, and then when he has the dips in form that are inevitable in test cricket, we might be in trouble.

Jonny Bairstow started very scratchily, but did open up and attack, and then made some runs. Bairstow, in my eyes, is not a keeper we could trust and not a middle order batsman we can rely upon. He falls between two stools in my eyes, but I’ve been wrong before and will be again.

So, Day 3 beckons. England 190-odd behind. Seven wickets in hand. Game in the balance. Worries about our middle order are mentioned freely in the commentary box. I am not sure I’ll be awake for the start of play.

In Colombo the visitors crumbled to 163 all out, with, yet again, most of the line-up getting to double figures. 47 was the top score, by Kraigg Brathwaite, and the spread bet line should certainly be revised after Herath took just one of the ten to fall. Dhamikka Prasad took four, suggesting this isn’t just a spinners surface. Sri Lanka are 76 for 2 in their second innings, 113 in front and looking good. Day 3 provides West Indies with a seemingly final hope.

New Zealand kicked off their tour of Australia with a match under lights and using a pink ball. I’m going to leave it with the Adam Voges thing on social media (which I didn’t see…and isn’t on his twitter feed)

Maybe it’s this quote….

“There wasn’t much pink left on it by the end of the game,” Voges said. “The one that got hit onto the roof [by Martin Guptill] and didn’t come back was 28 overs old and it looked like it was 68 overs old to be fair. To be honest, it didn’t hold up very well at all tonight.

“It looked as though the lacquer had come off and it was turning green basically. There were bits of pink left, but it was more green than pink by the end. I know that it stopped swinging, there was no reverse-swing or anything like that because both sides get chunked up equally, but yeah the older it gets, I can’t see it being any easier to see.”

We’ll be debating that, I’m sure.

Comments on the days play tomorrow, and any other observations, please fire away. Note – I’ve not read the press pages. I still need to have my dinner.

Finally, thoughts with my Aunt. Vascualar dementia is a cruel, horrible curse, and it looks likely to take her soon from us. My wishes and strength to her daughter, my cousin, and her kids, and most of all to my lovely uncle. We are all powerless as the disease takes someone we care about away from us. Love you Auntie. Say hello to Dad.

Mediocre

There ends another series. If we’d just got Jason Holder early on in Antigua, and we’d scored 50 more runs in Bridgetown, it would have been a whitewash. Then it would have been six on the bounce and bring on the Aussies. Sorry. Been chanelling my inner Selfey there. It’s probably all Jos Buttler’s fault.

Instead of a whitewash we’ve got into a decent position here in Bridgetown, had our feet on the home team’s throat, and in another calamity, let them off the hook. To do it in Melbourne could have been understandable on a bad tour; to do it at Headingley could have been considered an understandable, if lamentable, brain fart. This reeked of complacency. This reeked of thinking we had the job done once we’d edged up to around 280 and had the home team a few down early. Blackwood got the West Indies into range and our lamentable, undroppable batting line-up (other than the revolving door non-Cook opener slot) handed another test over to the valiant opposition. Ballance, Root, Bell and Moeen – Headingley, Lord’s and Kensington Oval. Save your Moeen at Headingley stories….this middle order is untouchable we are told.

As a not a real fan candidate (according to Guardian commenters I’m supposed to be nice to – add “the usual malcontents” to the list of glorious things I’m not to be cheesed off about), I can say that I lost contact with this game at around tea. The feed for Sky Sports, which I bloody well pay for, went down. It never came back. I tried TMS, got 10 minutes of Swann’s summarising, and my internet link shut down to prevent further damage. Instead I watched a team live up to its billing in the NBA Play-offs (Golden State Warriors) on the TV and followed updates on cricinfo and Twitter as another team didn’t live up to its star-studded rep. To me this isn’t surprising – we’ve seen the over-hype machine cranked to bursting point after Grenada and it’s not as if we weren’t warning them. We’re not Jeremiahs…we’ve bloody seen this before. Lots of times. Now those who were quick to spray their bile over us after that miracle at St. George’s, will need to take it back. This was utterly abject. But they won’t when it’s easier to shoot the misery messenger telling you as it is.

It may be funny, in a strange sort of way, that Cook’s century was made at last. Because all the while he wasn’t scoring those big runs (and 105 isn’t massive, although very good in the context of the match) there was almost this paranoid need for him to retain all facets of the test job as if this would inspire him to make those scores. You know, all that leading from the front twaddle. There has been an air of defiance from our wonderful captain this tour, with his prickly demeanour reputed to have included a heated discussion with Agnew over his commentary stints with the mortal enemy. Who know’s if this is true? But what I heard from the bits of this series I caught was a concerted effort from some of the Sky crew to really “get behind” our captain, to the extent that there were copious mentions of our dear leader’s “body language” and “I’m in charge” stance. It’s nonsense. That you feel the need to point this out, or to comment on how much better it supposedly is indicates there’s a problem. I’m trying to work out a captain post-Gower who had these comments made about him.

I said after Grenada that:

1. When you win a test, act like you’ve been there before; and

2. When you win the test on a back of an inspirational solo effort, don’t bank on that as a long-term solution.

Instead, even I got sucked in, with my prediction that the WIndies would fall 40 or 50 short in their chase. This was in direct contrast to my suspicion. The suspicion was that the 123 we made in the second innings wasn’t the product of a minefield as seemed to be intimated on the wires last night. It was the product of total, utter incompetence, and watching this morning I didn’t see much devil in the wicket. No, we were perfecting a craft. Losing from winning positions is becoming a lovely little Cooky habit. Bring on Australia, I say. So I dismissed West Indies, wrongly, and they showed what getting your head down and not fretting about the “one with your name on it” as Botham muttered on could achieve. Well played chaps.

I’ve missed the aftermath. I understand Nasser got a bit pointed with Moores. Oh well, it’s always better to a sinner repent and all that. There’s far more good than bad with Mr Hussain. I’ve missed Bob off the long run, although I’m sure it will be the same old same old. It loses its resonance when you’ve been throwing hyperbole all over the place after Grenada. Then there’s the press – ready to stick it to all the doubters on Friday when Cook made his ton, and now ready to stick a belated knife in to whoever is this month’s sacrificial non-Cook lamb. Some have been just totally dismissive of the opposition, but now lay the blame at a comment by a loudmouthed Yorkie who gave the home team a supposed push with his “mediocre” comment.

The West Indies played with passion, with patience, with skill and with no little application when the going got tough. Darren Bravo’s innings summed it up. He has been accused of being flashy and irresponsible. Now he played with a calm head and rode what luck he had to make the crucial contribution. Jermaine Blackwood, a dasher of huge irresponsibility it is claimed, stuck to his task and was there at the end. He’s had a really promising series and I hope he goes on to bigger and better things. The bowling was honest, was clever and too good in the end. We kept being reminded that Jason Holder was “fourth seamer” material and yet he took wickets, whereas our seamers (Stokes and Jordan) appeared to have no clue for much of the time. I am still not seeing what the world sees in Chris Jordan’s bowling that I didn’t when at Surrey. Sure, he bowled a decent spell that took an early wicket, but he’s not consistent enough.

So where does this leave us? I’m fed up with saying what I say about Cook. The batting is now put to bed, and we have no chance of seeing him leave the team on form now. The captaincy position is more interesting, but there’s nothing I haven’t seen before. We’re told he is developing all the time, but I’m fed up with hearing this drivel, month in, month out. The century in Barbados proved nothing. It was a good innings, but not a match-winning one. It was his first in two years, yet this isn’t something to be lauded, but something to be concerned about. It answered no questions, other than one in the media’s mind. We weren’t wrong to criticise his preferential treatment just because me made a ton. You carry on, because the evidence is stacked in our favour. Boycott has had enough, that’s for sure.

I don’t know about Moores. I am not as down on him as others, but the position is becoming more and more untenable. The story book had been set. After the World Cup embarrassment, it was clear that the media message the ECB wanted to portray was that the tests were what mattered now, and we’d just won three on the bounce in that format. Cook was refreshed, there were young pros developing and this is the future. Now we look like a shambles within a week of a “famous victory”. The reports I’m hearing is that we are trying to say the Windies weren’t really “mediocre”. Well, let’s see how the Australians deal with this team. Moores has to be on thin ice, and we’ll see very soon how the new management react.

Jonathan Trott has been sent to the cricketing gallows, so he’ll pay the price. Ian Bell started the series on fire, and finished it fully soaked. Gary Ballance looks good, but I’m still worried about his technique, and Joe Root did not follow up his great effort at Barbados. The bowling is a long-term issue, and you can moan about Moeen until the cows come home, but 123 all out sums it up. Is that Moores fault? Really?

Meanwhile one of the main architects of this struggle remains in Loughborough like the malevolent priest, the power behind the monarchy. We have rumours of his evangelical student Strauss becoming the Director of Cricket, which fills me with all the joy of a root canal procedure, and there remains the thoroughly uninspiring body language king as captain. Good grief. How can you put up with Stuart Broad’s batting as captain of your team. I don’t care if he got hit, we all have who have played the game, and the next time you bat you are nervous. He’s not pulling his weight. If the issue is that serious, he has to go. Just has to. How can you ask people to play through tough times when one of your senior pros is showing such fragility?

I am now listening to TMS and Boycott’s comments. This should be fun.

Vian will have more tomorrow, hopefully, and thanks for all the comments today. We’ll be back tomorrow with more comments and analysis of what has just happened, and some of the reaction.

Buffering

Coming To You Live From The Jersey Shore
Coming To You Live From The Jersey Shore

Watching test cricket in the US is not as impossible as it used to be. I have access to the test match feed, but my internet connection isn’t brilliant and there are also other things to do. It’s a peaceful holiday, a really cool and calm time with a sick mother in law and a wife fussing over her and also getting her home air back in her lungs. Meanwhile it’s sunset and selfies more for me (and I don’t mean the journalist).

I’ll let Vian take over many of the more technical duties relating to this test. I’ve been struck by a couple of things while I’ve been watching. First, listening to one of our Sky Sports finest discussing a pitch pre-game is about as accurate a predictor of the game’s progress as legendary NFL draft seer Mel Kiper Jr has been when confronted with the first round of this year’s horse-trade. We had predictions of a great pitch to bat on and with it breaking up on day 5. Unless there’s a monsoon on the next two days, the public will be on the beach / drinking rum, or if they know what they are doing, going to admire the view at Bathsheba.

There is, of course, the Alastair Cook century to deal with. I have never looked forward to a century watch less. I am probably glad to be by the Delaware Bay than have to read much of the bilge that no doubt accompanied this century. But, let’s get one thing into context. Without it, in this test, we’d be in big, big trouble. It would be churlish in the extreme to be denigrating of this century given the context of the match. These are two really ordinary teams, and the difference is in a couple of extraordinary performances, and not much else. 39 for 5 is really killing this game off, isn’t it? We have just over 100 runs to play with. 150 might be enough, but it might not. Our tail has not exactly been our strong point when it comes to the team’s performance. Bloody hell, we need it now.

Make no mistake, this has not been a rampage, and this does not augur well for the upcoming battles. Much has been made about the Jonathan Trott experiment failing, and I know, I must get round to reading George Dobell’s take on matters. Others have been rather too keen to jump on the bandwagon, and while I note all that has been said on here about his form towards the last couple of years of his first go around, we were hoping for the best. I don’t know if we are seeing a trend here as well – one the press won’t ever go to town on – but that since Strauss, this is another opener who has tried and failed with Cook. They just don’t last long with him. According to some, mentioning this in the same breath is “warped thinking” and that we thought Trott had been put there to fail to make Cook look good. Hey, if there’s an insult from a press-man going, I’ll catch it and run with it. It’s nowhere near as warped a thinking as Cook getting 35 or so test innings to register a century and then to be greeted with a “he’s back” and “you are the ones with problems” nonsense I have seen over the past couple of days. Wind your bloody necks in.

But in between the constant buffering on my feed, I’ve seen two poor batting sides. I’ve seen England lurching between spells where they look like absolute top dollar to others where they’ve been utter, utter dross. The proof of this particular pudding is how we do in the late summer this year with Australia about. That’s what they want us to focus on. I don’t see the up and at them needed to compete. Jimmy Anderson has it in bursts, and again, from what I saw today he was excellent (seriously, spare the bloody “genius” cockwaffle I saw on Twitter from some who should really know better – act like you’ve been there before) but there’s enormous question marks over the rest of the bowling. It might be we get out of here winning 2-0, but portraying it as a brilliant success isn’t going to cut it. There are flaws, massive flaws, and they can’t be covered up that easily.

I have the house to myself tomorrow to watch the denouement. The rest are going out to collect sea glass. I hope our message in a bottle is one of success, and of lower order scoring prowess. Instead, we could be watching a cliff-hanger, with the fragile veneer of English cricket potentially shattered on the mediocre rocks of West Indian cricket. And with that, it’s off to watch the NBA play-offs.

From Town Bank, NJ, it’s Dmitri Old, wishing you well.

Notes and Queries

Over the last few days, the nation has gone into paroxysms of deep celebration, as England pulled off a mighty victory against an impressive West Indies team.  Few could have ever hoped for them to scale such heights of majesty, and fewer still to predict it.  No wonder the press have gone overboard about it all.

Or perhaps not.

It’s a curious situation.  In advance of the Test series, a certain member of the fifth estate was including three victories in his notorious “11 from 17” prediction for the next year, and many others were not much less gung ho.   That one may have been something of an outlier, but there’s no doubt at all that the response to England’s win seems entirely out of keeping to what had been expected to be a comfortable series win in the first place.

Is that a trifle churlish?  Maybe it is.  Certainly England arrived on the last day without having much right to expect a victory, and James Anderson bowled one of those spells to first create an opening, and then to ram home the advantage.  Equally, the West Indies were trying to do the right thing, by being positive and not getting stuck in a hole as England themselves have done so often, but they didn’t quite get the balance right – and some injudicious shots hastened their demise.

All of which leaves us where exactly?

England go into the final Test a match up, and it’s worth noting that Dinesh Ramdin has asked for a pitch with pace and bounce.  Had they got away with the draw in Grenada, you don’t need to be on the inside track of the West Indies team to recognise that’s the last thing they would have wanted.  Even so, that’s the prerogative of the home side, and it does mean at least that we might have some interesting cricket in Barbados.  The criticism of the pitch in St Georges was much overdone – essentially it was fine when England were doing well on it, and boring and turgid when they couldn’t take wickets.  So often, the domestic press are England’s worst enemy, trying to claim black is white and vice versa, and assuming the readership is either myopic or unintelligent. Hype is not necessary, it was a good win.

I can forgive Peter Moores for going a little over the top in his response to success.  He would have felt under severe pressure himself that final morning, and the relief of victory would have been keenly appreciated.

Of course, Alastair Cook has been praised to the skies, in the way we knew we would be.  Again, the written press really aren’t helping here with the hyperbole.  His final day captaincy was decent enough alright, but continual reminders that it was reasonable enough by the Sky commentary team merely drew attention to it being often otherwise.  The implication was quite clear, in Cook’s case being competent is worthy of having attention drawn  to it.  Since when has being competent been notable unless it’s not often the case?

And then there’s his batting.  He did look a little bit better in this Test compared to the first, where he frankly looked all over the shop.  Runs in themselves will do him the power of good, and will also give him confidence in his method.  But it’s still not the Cook of old; he’s fighting it constantly – his head remains too far over to the offside and he doesn’t look balanced in his shot.   Clearly the loss of Jerome Taylor to the West Indies attack was a huge bonus for him – but that’s the luck of the draw and few could begrudge him that.  So the runs were welcome – let’s be clear on this, to have a chance in the summer we need Cook back to his best – but nor do they merit an assumption that all is now well with him, because it isn’t.  Looked at benignly, it is a work in progress, and I doubt too many bowlers in Sydney and Auckland are panicking about their plans just yet.

Jonathan Trott may come under pressure for his place in the final Test, and this is not remotely fair on him.  He’s not an opener, he is a number three.  The jobs are not the same, not least because the number three has a bit more time to relax after coming in from fielding.  Having brought him back to do that role, to drop him after two Tests would be tantamount to ending his career having handed him a hospital pass and complaining when he dropped it.  Nor would it be particularly fair on Adam Lyth who would presumably take over.  He’d have a single Test and as we know, things can change when it comes to the home summer.  He’d be under pressure to score in this match, and fully aware that his predecessor had been dumped after two games.  Selecting Trott to open may well have been the wrong decision in the first place, but having done so, three Tests is the absolute minimum he should expect – and more reasonably he should get the New Zealand series too.

Of the other players, Joe Root is showing signs of being of genuinely exceptional quality.  Certainly there are bigger challenges for him over the coming summer than he’s faced in Tests the last year, but it’s hard to argue with the numbers on this.  He is rapidly becoming our key player.  And in that, he’s only just ahead of Gary Ballance, who has made a superb start to his Test career.  As an aside, when looking at a technical set up, Ballance is an excellent contrast to Cook at the moment – there’s no expectation of similarity of course, but Ballance is….well beautifully balanced.

Moeen Ali did not bowl well, and of course ran himself out for a duck.  OK, the run out happens, few have avoided the odd brain fade in their careers, and Anderson’s was worse.  His bowling looked reflective of someone who had hardly bowled, which is of course the case.  I note Nasser Hussain’s thoughts about it potentially being a reversion to the mean, and of course that is quite possible.  But a little premature to say so after one poor match post-injury.

Buttler’s keeping was overall excellent.  However, as Graeme Fowler observed, his gloves close at the time of the shot when standing up to the stumps.  That’s not good technique, and is something that Peter Moores himself ought to be able to have corrected.  Maybe he’s on to it.

Stuart Broad was a proper curate’s egg in this match, and indeed in the series so far.  His overall pace is way down, but he’s equally bowled some sharp and hostile spells.  He also seems to attract a lot of negative comment even though his form as a bowler has been very strong for England in Tests.  He’s more or less the only established player to come out of the Ashes shambles with his reputation intact.  He deserves time to get it right.

Ben Stokes showed promise.  That’s where we still are with him.  Likewise Chris Jordan.

And Anderson.  He’s not a great bowler, not by any stretch of the imagination.  But so what?  By definition hardly anyone is.  He’s a very fine, exceptionally skilled bowler who can occasionally be completely unplayable.  It should be enough and shouldn’t be a stick with which to beat him.

And then there’s someone who didn’t play, but became a topic of conversation – Adil Rashid.  Geoff Boycott talked about the situation whereby the selectors choose a squad, but that the team on tour is chosen by captain and coach.  And if captain and coach don’t rate a player, then there’s little point in them being selected.  I don’t wish to put words in Boycott’s mouth, as he chose them very carefully, but it seemed to indicate this was the position with Rashid, and perhaps that’s why Yorkshire requested his release from the tour.  England were right to rebuff them by the way.  The question of his selection and whether he ever had a chance of playing is a valid one, but the selectors having done so he’s on the tour and should stay on the tour.

For the West Indies, there are signs of promise.  Developing and struggling teams are always prone to a collapse, particularly when kept under pressure.  They were and they did.  But Brathwaite looked a proper Test batsman, Samuels batted mostly responsibly – well more responsibly than normal – and they fought hard.  There are some green shoots perhaps.  Let’s hope they sprout.

And so we move to the final Test.  A win and England can say they’ve done alright.  And they will have done alright.  You can only beat what’s in front of you.  A draw is problematic, and a defeat, well a defeat and there will be consequences.  England are a better side than the West Indies, even though they have significant problems of their own.  They should win, they ought to win.

And yet….

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West Indies v England 2nd Test Day 2

I’m driving for much of tomorrow so I’ll do this now.

I think I may be slightly against the grain after day one, as I think the West Indies did pretty well to get it to 188-5.  The ball was swinging and seaming a lot early on – it could have been easily a 50-6 outcome.  And with it being such a slow, attritional surface, strokeplay is not easy – though Samuels had a rather good go late on.

The overhead conditions day two are going to be fairly crucial.  If it’s more of the same, then England will find it just as hard.  So clear skies are needed.

What do you all think?  Happy with England after the first day, or disappointed?

LCL update. All comments on day 2 below, as usual. … cheers Vian. Saved me a job!

West Indies v England – 2nd Test preview

Shall I go with a snappy one word title do think?  Or maybe a song title even?  I’m not going to try and channel what Dmitri does so well, so I’ll go down a different line.

I thought I’d open up with a preview of the second Test in Grenada, with some observations about the first Test as well, and see what you think.  Firstly, I know that England got a huge amount of stick for failing to bowl the West Indies out in the first Test, but on balance I think I’d give the credit to the West Indies themselves for surviving.  It certainly wasn’t a normal day five pitch that had deteriorated, it simply became even slower.  On a number of occasions in recent years, England have pulled off minor miracles in drawing matches they had no right to – and I presume that opposition supporters reacted in the same manner about their team failing to get over the line.  Sometimes it just happens.

Now that draw does raise a fair few questions about the second Test.  The pitch is forecast to be even slower and lower, potentially leading to even more attritional cricket than we have seen so far.  And if that is the case, losing the toss and fielding first with only three days rest could prove challenging for the England attack – if the West Indies bat well. England sent down 130 overs in the second innings in Antigua, it’s a big ask for them to do so again.  And that raises the question about Broad’s pace.  There seems little doubt he is down on where he has been, and it was striking to see him deliver 79mph bouncers (quite effectively to be fair) in both innings.

That this series has become a must win for various members of the ECB hierarchy has removed any question of the bowlers being managed as much as they possibly could have been in other circumstances.  With such a fearful schedule over the next year the prospect of one or other of the key men breaking down looms large.

And what of the spinner?  There is always a danger of viewing the man left out to be the answer to all problems faced, and Tredwell didn’t provide the hoped for threat on the fifth day, that his advocates claimed Rashid would have done.  But he did bowl pretty well in the first innings, and could be argued to merit retention.  Bringing Moeen in, on the back of ten overs in a county match is also something of a risk.  And what is Rashid for?  It’s a little hard to see at present any circumstances where he will play, and that’s troubling.  Leg spinners do go for runs with a single exception, but good ones also take wickets.  No one worries about the fact that Dale Steyn doesn’t have a great economy rate. One wonders whether England would have selected Stuart MacGill.

Then there’s the captain.  Even his staunchest defenders would concede that Cook the batsman is of much greater value than Cook the captain, and it’s there that the biggest concerns lie.  To me, his technique looks little changed from last year.  His stance has opened a little bit, but the head position still seems too far over and if so that would create the kind of problems with the full ball that we saw in the first Test.  Possibly under pressure he reverted, but I will be watching closely in this match to see if the same problems are present.

One final cricketing thought.  Colin Graves made it very clear England were expected to win this series.  But is just a win enough?  Did he expect it to be 3-0?  It’s an open question.  But make no mistake, failure to win this one, with Bridgetown to come, and the alarm bells will be ringing.

Vian

https://twitter.com/BlueEarthMngmnt

2015 Test Century Watch #12 – Jason Holder

Jason Holder

Jason Holder – 103 not out v England at North Sound, Antigua

A lot of man-love going on for Jason Holder who made his first first-class hundred in saving a test match for his team against England. His 103 not out was impressive, composed and just class in all he did. I’m a fan.

103 isn’t a great statistical number. This is the 120th score of 103 in tests, making it one of the most common numbers over the century mark (which is obvious given it would probably trigger declarations etc.). It was the 37th not out 103 in test matches. The last man dismissed for 103 was Faf du Plessis in a test match against the Windies at Port Elizabeth in the last knockings of 2014. Shiv Chanderpaul’s was the last 103 for the Windies at Bridgetown against Australia in 2012. AB DeVilliers and Rahul Dravid have three scores of 103. Michael Vaughan has been dismissed twice on that score.

This was the 78th test ton made from the number 8 position in the batting order. JP Duminy was the last to do it, against Sri Lanka, in July last year, but to be absolutely fair, he’s a recognised batsman. The last West Indian to do it was Darren Sammy against England at Nottingham, while the last to do it at home was Clive Lloyd (another you ask what he was doing down there) against India in 1983. Holder is the third player to make a ton from number 8 in the West Indies (Clairmonte Depeiza being the other) and the 7th at any ground (Gerry Alexander, Bernard Julien and Jerome Taylor being the others). The last Englishman to make a ton from number 8? Matt Prior’s match-saving knock in Auckland (we sent in a nightwatchman on the 4th evening). Last genuine number 8 (Matt Prior has another, v Australia in Sydney) for England was probably Ray Illingworth in June 1969.

Of those 78 test tons from number 8, 38 have been since 1 January 2000. Dan Vettori has the most, with four, while Kamran Akmal has three. The highest score made from the number 8 slot in the batting line-up is Wasim Akram’s 257 not out at Sheikhapura, while Pakistanis fill out the top three (Imtiaz Ahmed (209) and Kamran Akmal (154 v England) both at Lahore.

Jason Holder’s century came up off 146 balls and contained 15×4.