As well as this current match I will be looking to the future (and inevitably back to the past).
ENGLAND IN COMPLETE COMMAND
Alastair Cook has ensured that tomorrow’s sports pages will feature one story and one story only by reaching a century in his final test innings (it is not quite a duplication of Greg Chappell’s ‘full circle’ act of scoring centuries in his first and last test innings, because Cook reached his maiden ton in the second innings of his debut match, but it is a unique bookending double for Cook because he scored a fiftty and a century on debut and has now done the same in his final test match. The hundred was brought up courtesy of Jasprit Bumrah’s KP impression – shying wildly at the stumps with no chance of a run out even if he had hit and seeing the ball race away for four overthrows, allowing Cook the rare distinction of completing his hundred with a five. Cook has just gone for 147. His aggregate of 218 in his final match is not a record – that belongs to Andy Sandham who at the age of 39 scored 325 and 50 against the West Indies at Sabina Park (in a match that was abandoned as a draw after two days were washed out and England then had to catch the boat home). For the home series against Australia England reverted to the regular opening combo of Hobbs and Sutcliffe, and as fortune would have it Sandham never played again, while second in that roll of honour is Bill Ponsford who scored 266 and 23 the Oval in 1934, helping Australia to clinch the Ashes with victory by 562 runs. Among the welter of records generated by this final innings Cook is now established as the most prolific test match left hander of all time, having moved ahead of Kumar Sanggakkara. Cook finishes with 12472 runs at 45.35 and having occupied the crease in test match cricket for just over 621 hours in the course of his career (103.5 days play = batting for the equivalent of just over 20 of his 161 test matches).
The fairytale script for the rest of this match has Anderson moving ahead of McGrath to become the leading wicket taking seamer in test cricket history, preferably with the history making wicket being that of Virat Kohli. Given the size of England’s lead and the amount of time left in the game the victory is pretty much nailed on.
Thanks to their policy of sticking with Jennings long past his sell by date England now need two new openers. I see the following options for England now:
- The cowardly (and in my view indefensible) option of sticking with Jennings and recalling Stoneman so that they have an opening pair who have both played test cricket.
- The “safe” option of going with one of Stoneman/ Jennings and presumably one out of Rory Burns or Nick Gubbins
- Go for a complete fresh start with Burns and Gubbins both debuting at the top of the order. Preferable in my view to either 1 or 2 but hardly ideal.
- The left-field option that I have mentioned in previous posts (here for example) of giving Tammy Beaumont who has been scoring bucketloads in international cricket the opportunity to play alongisde the men and giving the other opening slot to either Burns or Gubbins.
Option 1 if taken would see me breathing fire, option 2 would be disappointing but unsurprising, I would applaud the taking of option 3, while I recognize that there is basically zero chance of option 4 being taken I would love to see it happen.
Apart from the retired Cook and the (I hope) dropped Jennings I would include the other nine from this match, Ollie Pope, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood in the touring party to Sri Lanka, add in Bess as an extra spinning option (likely to be needed in that part of the world), certainly give consideration to further beefing up the spin department with Amar Virdi, and pick top order batters Beaumont, Burns and Gubbins envisaging the first two as regular openers and Gubbins as back-up in case of injury. Certainly three genuine openers are needed, and as far as I am concerned if either Stoneman or Jennings feature the selectors will have failed in their duty. England have seven matches to develop a settled side before the Aussies come calling next year, and need to use them properly – and picking two openers who are proven failures at the highest level would not be doing that.
BACK TO THE PRESENT
While I have been writing this England have reached tea with their lead already past 400. The final session should go as follows: cram on as many runs as possible in 1st hour after tea and then declare if not all out, and then get stuck into India hoping to knock the top off their second innings before the close. Being greedy, and tomorrow being a work day, I hope Anderson gets his three to move ahead of McGrath tonight, as if he doesn’t I will almost certainly miss that historic moment.
If, as now seems likely, England win this series 4-1 will they have deserved it? Absolutely – yes India had good chances at times of four of the five matches in this series but save at Trent Bridge they could not close things out. In match 1 England were 87-7 in their second innings, only 100 to the good, but the last three wickets more than doubled their score to set a target that India could (and ultimately did) get in trouble chasing, in the second game England dominated from start to finish, while in the third India did likewise, in the fourth England were 86-6 in the first innings and recovered to reach 246, and in this match England were 181-7 and then 214-8 in the first innings before India let things slip to such an extent that England tallied 332 in the end, and since that late order revival they have been in control (although India’s tail staged a minor wag of their own to restrict the first innings advantage to a mere 40).
Here are a few photographs to finish with: