England Ignominiously Defeated In Two Days

This post is my account of how one of the most farcical test matches I can recall (with approximately 35 years of being an avid cricket fan behind me) reached its conclusion. A brief disclaimer: England were outclassed in this match, and the pitch did not influence the result – England won the toss, batted (correct thing to do) and still took a hammering, but a surface on which when it is a bare day and a half old Joe Root secures innings bowling figures of 5-8 is NOT a suitable surface for test cricket.

THE CRASH OF WICKETS

Virat Kohli’s dismissal near the end of the first day (see here for an account of that day) saw India 99-3 overnight. Leach struck twice fairly early to make it 117-5, and at that point, more or less coinciding with me putting out a tweet to the effect that he should do so, Joe Root came on for a bowl himself. He picked up the wicket of Rishabh Pant pretty much instantly, and that opened the trap door, as India slid to 145 all out, an advantage of 33, with Root having 5-8 from 6.3 overs. Leach had four wickets, taking his test bowling average below 30, where it stayed (it is actually precisely 29.50 – 60 wickets for 1,770 runs in 15 test matches). Could England bat respectably and give themselves some sort of chance of a win? Could they blazes. Zak Crawley, the first innings batting hero was out to the first ball of the innings, putting Axar Patel on a hat trick, and he nearly had it too, as Bairstow was adjudged LBW, but the TV replay showed a faint nick and the third umpire overturned it. The reprieve lasted one ball as Bairstow was promptly bowled through a ‘gap’ between bad and pad that a bus would have had a decent chance of navigating. This meant that Bairstow’s contribution to the occasion amounted to 11 balls faced, no runs scored, two horrible dismissals and a burned review in the first innings. Root and Sibley seemed to be righting things for a time, but then Sibley played a very un-Sibley like shot to surrender his wicket, and it rapidly became a procession, with England’s resistance levels down in the pico-ohms. The innings limped to 81 all out, leaving India needing just 49. Axar Patel had five wickets to follow his six in the first innings, a superb double, and achieving the rare feat of outdoing R Ashwin whose own haul saw him become the second quickest ever to 400 wickets, in his 77th test. With no other options on that surface Leach and Root took the new ball, but the target was just not enough for any pressure to be created and Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill cantered home to a ten wicket victory.

PLAYER RATINGS

I have done these in info-graphic form:

SELECTION ISSUES

There have been various complications with this tour, but to put it bluntly England’s approach to selection has been abysmal. They snookered themselves for this match by naming a group of 17 from whom the final XI would come that effectively given their obvious lack of trust in Bess meant they would be playing only one specialist spinner. Then, rather than shoring up the batting with Woakes at eight they picked three specialist quicker bowlers, Archer, Broad and Anderson, one of whom has no experience of bowling in India and one of whom pays the proverbial king’s ransom for his Indian wickets, giving themselves a tail to rival that of a diplodocus. Ben Foakes was twice left high and dry with this tail, spoiling his chances of doing anything significant with the bat. My suggestion for this match is that England look to the future, with WTC qualification hopes up in smoke, and promote both Parkinson and Virdi from the reserves. I name Woakes as no8 to guard against Foakes being left high and dry with the tail again, not really expecting either him or Stokes to feature with the ball. Thus, with the obligatory dropping of Bairstow (and, surely to goodness, the end of any nonsense about him featuring in any further test squads) and deciding that Lawrence will probably not be an improvement on Pope I arrive at the team in the infographic below:

PETITION AND PHOTOGRAPHS

There is a petition calling for the creation of a direct rail link between King’s Lynn and Norwich on 38 Degrees, and given the state of Norfolk’s transport infrastructure and resultant traffic overload on Norfolk’s roads I can only consider this an excellent idea, so please sign and share it by clicking here (screenshot below as a segue into my usual sign off).


Cricket and Controversy: Day 1 in Ahmedabad

An account of day 1 in Ahmedabad and some related matters. Plus a few photographs.

This post looks at day 1 of the day-night match in Ahmedabad and at certain issues relating to that day’s play. As a disclaimer before moving into the main meat of the post I wish to make it clear that I India are in the driving seat firstly and mainly because they have played far superior cricket. That does not mean that certain complaints about luck, the pitch and some of the umpiring are invalid.

ENGLAND PAY FOR OVERLONG TAIL

England’s selection for this match showed four changes from the second test of the series in Chennai, with Crawley, Bairstow, Archer and Anderson replacing Burns, Lawrence, Ali and Stone. This resulted in an XI of: Sibley, Crawley, Bairstow, *Root, Stokes, Pope, Foakes, Archer, Leach, Broad and Anderson. My own pre-match feelings were that this was a high risk selection, with such a long tail, and with the selection of three specialist pace bowlers. Ali was not available for selection, and it was always unlikely that Bess would be recalled, which with the refusal to promote either of Parkinson or Virdi from the reserves dictated that only one spinner would play. I would have retained Burns and Lawrence, moving Lawrence back down the order and away from no3, would from the 17 England had named in advance have gone with Woakes at eight, would have retained Stone after his good performance in the second test, and Leach and Anderson were virtually mandatory picks in the circumstances. India opted to strengthen their batting, bringing Washington Sundar in for Kuldeep Yadav and relying on Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma for the pace bowling, with Axar Patel and R Ashwin to bowl spin, and the latter, coming off a century in Chennai quite possibly to bat at number nine. The first news other than the selections was the toss, which England won and chose to bat.

Sibley got a good one and fell without scoring. Crawley was playing nicely, but Bairstow could not pierce the field, and the very first delivery by a spinner, Axar Patel in this case, pinned him LBW for 0, and Bairstow then burned a review, a call by him that was bad enough to warrant the label ‘Watsonian’ in honour of a certain Aussie batter of the not too distant past. For a time Root and Crawley went reasonably well, but then both got out with lunch approaching, and England were 80-4, 53 of them off the bat of Crawley. Immediately after lunch things got worse for England as Pope was dismissed to make it 81-5, and then Stokes fell cheaply as well, leaving Foakes to bat with the tail. It was 98-8 at low water mark, but Foakes, Broad and Anderson inched the score up to 112, off 48.4 overs, before Foakes was last out. Axar Patel had bowled 21.4 overs and had 6-38, following up his five in the final innings at Chennai. R Ashwin had three and also bowled superbly. England were psyched by the fact that there was turn on day 1, and a number of their wickets fell to balls which actually went straight on. Save for Crawley no England batter even managed 20.

INDIA’S RESPONSE

England did not bowl badly, although they did not have the right attack for this pitch, and they were unlucky on several occasions, and there were also two very poor pieces of work by the third umpire. First Shubman Gill edged Broad to Stokes and it was given out on field but then referred upstairs, and the third umpire overturned it very quickly indeed without due care and attention – he may have got it right but if so it was by luck not judgement, and in a test match that is not acceptable. The second incident of poor third umpiring saw Rohit Sharma reprieved for the third time in as many innings, all being controversial. Foakes executed a stumping of Leach, with to all appearances Rohit Sharma’s foot behind the crease but in the air, and it was sent upstairs and again after looking at one replay for a very short period the third umpire overturned it. I am absolutely certain that this one was a wrong call, and the failure to follow protocol even if the call by some chance had been right was unacceptable. In the event Gill’s did not cost much, as he got out not long after to Jofra Archer, being caught by Crawley, too far off the ground for even this third umpire to think of intervening. Leach got Pujara, an LBW that was so plumb that it was not sent upstairs, and just before the close Kohli who had two escapes, first when Pope just failed to pull off what would have been a miracle catch and then when the same player missed a more straightforward effort off a less than impressed Anderson, was bowled by Leach. Rohit Sharma however was still there on 57 not out, with India 99-3, a mere 13 short of matching England’s first innings. Leach currently has 2-27 from 10 overs, meaning that the combined figures of the left arm orthodox spinners on day one of a test match are 8-65 from 31.4 overs. Two days before the start of play this pitch had a respectable covering of grass, but by the day before every last blade of grass had been shaved off, and with nothing to bind it it is already breaking up, and never mind day 5, I would definitely not bet on there being a day 4 and would make it no more than even money that there will be a day 3.

WHERE NOW FOR ENGLAND?

With this test match, and with it, England’s hopes of making the World Test Championship final, effectively gone already, barring miracles, I would go experimental for the third test, promoting Virdi and Parkinson from the reserves with a view to selecting at least one and possibly both, I would rest the veterans Anderson and Broad, probably selecting Woakes and Stone as my new ball pairing if I even picked two front line pacers. Out would go Bairstow, who as regular readers of this blog know would not have been in my tour party anyway, and I would move Stokes up to three, bringing Lawrence back in the middle order. A drawn series, especially when it ushers Australia into the final of the WTC, is less appealing than looking to the future even at the risk of sustaining another defeat. England have mishandled several things in this series, but most egregious has been the Bess/ Moeen Ali situation, where because of Covid (he actually had the disease) and his need to return home to see his family between the test and limited overs legs of the tour Ali was available for just one match, and England were so eager to play this 33 year old who averages 29 with the bat and 36 with the ball that they dropped Bess in a rather insensitive fashion. Even worse, they then allowed it to become public knowledge that they had begged Moeen to change his plans and stay on for the remainder of the series. This left them either to pick Bess with his head not in the right place or, having announced 17 names from which the XI for this match would be selected, to go in with only one specialist spinner. They took the latter option, and we were treated to the sight of four bowlers of above medium pace bowling on a spinning track, as Root was not willing to swallow his pride and acknowledge that England’s chosen bowling attack was unfit for purpose by bringing himself on.

Looking further ahead, to the home season and beyond there are several things that need addressing:

  • The County Championship cannot keep being shoe horned into the worst times of the season for spinners.
  • Counties who dare to produce turning surfaces should not be punished, but rather applauded for offering a wider variety of surfaces for cricket to be played on.
  • England need to find new spinners. Other than Leach and the out of favour Bess only Parkinson and Virdi among the men are remotely close to having records that would justify elevation, which is why I recommend what I am now going to call the ‘Ecclestone Experiment’ – just see what Sophie Ecclestone, with 101 wickets at 25.90 in international cricket at the age of 21 can do playing among the men.
  • England also need to improve their batting against spin. Elizabeth Ammon, who tweets as legsidelizzy, has pointed out that England had a spin bowling camp in Sri Lanka, but no ‘batting against spin bowling camp’, and that that needs to change.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Just a few photographs today…

India Dominant In Chennai

A look at day two in Chennai and some matters that arise from it.

This post looks at day two in Chennai, and at a few related issues.

INDIA’S DOMINANT DAY

The second day of the second test match got underway with India 300-6 overnight. Jack Leach began with a maiden over. Moeen Ali was gifted a couple of wickets (one a magnificent stumping by Foakes when Axar gave him the charge in the day’s second over, and one a full toss placed into the hands of the fielder) to bring his tally up to four, but also continued to bowl regular quantities of dross. It fell to Olly Stone, the fast bowler, to end the Indian innings, taking the last two wickets, to go with his earlier wicket of opener Shubman Gill.

England’s response was shocking, as they slumped to 39-4 and then 52-4. At that point the two Surrey men, Pope and Foakes, who had been sensational with the gloves, shared a stand that bolstered the total to 87, before Pope was dismissed. Moeen Ali, whose batting was allegedly part of the justification for his selection, contributed six to a stand of 19 for the seventh wicket, Leach made a run less but batted for longer, and Broad, sent in at number 11, made that position look his natural one, getting out as he did. Foakes was stranded on 41, and England, were all out for 134, a deficit of 195. They had taken the follow-on question out of India’s hands, just, but there was no way India were going to enforce and take even a 0.1% chance of having to bat last on this pitch.

Olly Stone took the new ball with no joy, but Broad did not share it with him, Leach coming on instantly. Moeen leaked 11 from his first over of the second innings. Leach got the wicket of Gill, and England deserved more success but were unlucky on several occasions with close decisions, and victim of at least one scandalously bad piece of umpiring, when Rohit Sharma was given not out for an LBW, and the official grounds for confirming it as not out were that he had played a shot, when even he did not make that claim on his own behalf, having tucked his bat in behind his bat. In the end India closed on 54-1, 249 runs to the good, and the question is when, and not if, they level the series.

CONTROVERSIES

Let me make one thing clear here: I am not in the business of deflecting blame or denying India credit. India deserve to be in the box seat in this game, having both batted and bowled better than England. However, it is legitimate to raise questions about a pitch is certain to see the game end with one whole day unused and may even see it end with two days unused. India have made better use of it than England (and how!) but that does not excuse producing such a strip for a match that is scheduled to last for FIVE days.

Secondly, although I do not believe them to have had any serious impact on the match situation, there have been a number of very poor umpiring decisions all of which have gone against England. None of the officials handling this game, either the two on-field umpires or the TV replay umpire have done their jobs anything approaching properly, and none should ever stand again in any match of any importance.

SELECTION ISSUES

India correctly dropped Sundar, who although he batted well in the first match was a liability with the ball. Ashwin, Axar Patel (who has had a splendid test debut) and Kuldeep Yadav all bowled impressively, especially Ashwin (5-43). By contrast, willfully refusing to learn from what happened with Sundar, England went the other way, dropping Bess and recalling Moeen Ali. For all that he somehow has four wickets against his name Ali is also the single biggest reason that England are in quite such massive trouble, having been leaking runs at nearer five than four per over on a helpful surface. He is almost 34, his bowling average at test level is approximately 37 and not improving, his batting average is below 29 and on the decline. I am absolutely certain that England need to admit to perpetrating a colossal blunder and drop him forthwith. The third match of this series is a day-nighter, and I would be tempted to for that game to go in with Leach the sole specialist spinner, with Stone selected alongside both of Anderson and Broad as a pace attack. If England feel they must have two front line spinners then they should either recall Bess or promote one or other of Parkinson or Virdi in his place. Pardon the all-caps here, something I very rarely do, but just to emphasise: MOEEN ALI IS NOT TEST MATCH CLASS WITH EITHER BAT OR BALL and continuing to pick him will hand the series to India on a plate.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…