India Zindabad! (Again)

An acknowledgement of a great performance by India and some magnificent bowling by R Ashwin and Axar Patel, with an honourable mention for ‘Daniel in the lions den’ Lawrence.

This is the second time I have used India Zindabad! as a title (see here). The first referred to a series win in Australia sealed in extraordinary circumstances at the Gabba. This one refers to events at Ahmedabad, which have just concluded with a masterful bowling display by Axar Patel and R Ashwin.

DAY TWO

I covered the events of day one here, so I now resume with coverage of day two. England bossed the opening session, and did likewise for most of the second, at one point having India 148-6, still 57 behind, when Washington Sundar joined Rishabh Pant. England then paid for a team selection that had left them short of bowlers, with Stokes and Anderson both exhausted and Bess unable to provide any control. Pant completed a magnificent century and then fell immediately after, but then Axar Patel joined Sundar, and they were still together at the close, with India 294-7, 89 runs to the good.

THE CONCLUSION TO THE INDIAN INNINGS

Day three began as day two had ended, with India making merry, and it looked for a good while like Sundar would be joining Pant in the centurions club. The breakthrough finally came after 90 minutes, when Axar Patel was run out for 43. Ishant Sharma was then trapped LBW by the persevering Stokes, and then Mohammad Siraj took evasive action in anticipation of a bouncer and was bowled by the full length ball that Stokes actually produced. That gave Stokes four wickets for the innings, with Anderson taking three and Leach two.

ENGLAND 2ND INNINGS: DANIEL IN THE LIONS DEN

The reason for the biblical allusion in the heading of this section will become apparent as the story of England’s second innings unfolds. Zak Crawley was first to go, falling to Ashwin for five, before Bairstow played his first ball straight into the hands of a fielder to end his test career with a golden duck (there can be no way back for him in this format, though he will still be a white ball regular for some time). Sibley was then bowled by Axar Patel to make it 20-3, with Root already looking comfortable. Stokes was sent in at no5 in spite of not having much rest from his bowling endeavours, and he accrued two runs before playing a ball from Patel into the hands of Kohli to make it 30-4. Pope made a decent beginning but was then stumped by Pant off Patel for 15 to make it 65-5, which brought Daniel Lawrence to the crease to join Root. Almost immediately Ashwin trapped Root LBW, which he reviewed out of sheer desperation, but it was never going to be overturned. That was 65-6, and Ben Foakes came out to join Lawrence. Foakes resisted stoutly for a time, lasting 46 balls and 61 minutes for 13 and the partnership between him and Lawrence yielded 44 runs. Bess managed two before Pant took a catch off Axar Patel to account for him and make it 111-8. Jack Leach resisted stubbornly as Lawrence moved towards a 50, and a further four after that would have given him an aggregate of 100 for the match. Just after Lawrence had reached his first milestone Leach edged Ashwin to Rahane and it was 134-9, which brought Anderson to the crease. Anderson got a single, and Lawrence had a big swing at Ashwin and was bowled to end proceedings with England 135 all out and India winning by an innings and 25 runs. Daniel Lawrence had scored 50 out of 70 runs scored while he was at the wicket, off 95 balls and in 112 minutes. R Ashwin had just pipped Axar Patel to the bowling honours, with 5-47 from 22.5 overs to the left armer’s 5-48 from 24 overs. In the series Ashwin had 31 wickets and Patel 28, a combined tally of 59, with Axar Patel not playing the first match, while England’s bowlers between them had accounted for 58 wickets in the series. The pitches for the second and third matches both attracted adverse comment, some of which was merited, but this match was played on an excellent cricket pitch that brought everybody into the game, and England quite simply and abysmally failed to find any sort of counter to two excellent spin bowlers who bowled very few loose deliveries. Ravindra Jadeja is due back fron injury in the not too distant future, and slotting him into the team will give India the right kind of dilemma (I would say that Rahane who has neither current form nor an outstanding past record in his favour and Sundar are the two most vulnerable current team members).

I conclude this post by congratulating India on a magnificent performance. New Zealand will have a tough battle on their hands in the World Test Championship final, though that will be in England. An analysis of England’s two tours in the early part of 2021 is a subject for a separate post, which will be coming either today or tomorrow. A full scorecard for this match can be seen here. Pant’s ton and immaculate keeping have deservedly earned him Player of the Match, while Ashwin’s outstanding all round effort has equally deservedly seen him named Player of the Series.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

India’s Day In Ahmedabad

A look at the events in day 1 of the fourth and final test of the India v England series.

The fourth and final test of the India v England series started at 4:00AM this morning UK time, at Ahmedabad. This post looks at a day that may very well have booked India their place at Lord’s for the World Test Championship Final.

THE PRELIMINARIES

England sprang a major surprise by naming what amounted to eight batters and three bowlers: Sibley, Crawley, Bairstow, *Root, Stokes, Pope, Lawrence, +Foakes, Bess, Leach and Anderson. I do not believe that Bairstow has a place in test squad, let alone the XI, and relying on three frontline bowlers plus bits and pieces is a massive gamble. Australia tried this strategy at The Oval in 1938 and were on the wrong end of what remains the worst defeat in test history, the margin an innings and 579 runs (England 903-7 declared, Australia 201 and 123, with two batters, Fingleton and Bradman injured during the long England innings and unable to bat). India meanwhile made only one change, Mohammad Siraj coming in for Jasprit Bumrah. England had selected themselves a team that meant they virtually had to win the toss to have a chance. They did so and chose, correctly, to bat first…

THE PLAY

It is never the case that winning the toss means winning the match – you have to make the right decision which England did, and you have to play good cricket, and that is where England slipped up. There was early life for the pacers, but it was the arrival in the attack of Axar Patel, left arm orthodox spin, which started England on their downward spiral. Sibley, obviously spooked by events of the previous two tests, was so anxious to cover possible turn that he was not in the right position to play one that went straight on, and his stumps were rattled. Crawley having hit one four early in an over attacked again a couple of balls later and holed out on this latter occasion. Root got a good ball from Siraj and was trapped LBW and that was 30-3. For a time Bairstow and Stokes went well, but then Bairstow got in a mess against Siraj and was LBW for 28 (he had enjoyed some good fortune along the way too, including a boundary from a shot that had there been a second slip would have been catching practice for them). Pope dug in in support of Stokes, but just after completing a fine 50 Stokes lost a bit of concentration and allowed a ball from Sundar to cannon into his pads. Lawrence then joined Pope and they seemed to be recovering things once again before Pope was unluckily dismissed when he played a ball into his pad from whence it looped up to forward short leg. Foakes was out cheaply. Then, just as a 50 seemed on for him, Lawrence departed for 46, and almost immediately Bess followed to make it 189-9. Leach and Anderson at least saved England the embarrassment of a sixth successive sub-200 total, pushing the score up to 205 before the end came. Patel, who currently has the best bowling average of anyone to take over 20 test wickets (he is on about 10.5 per wicket, with Lohmann, a 19th century great who took 112 wickets in 18 test matches, on 10.75), had 4-68, while there were three scalps for Ashwin and two for Siraj.

Anderson got Gill in the first over of the reply, but that was the limit of England’s success for the day, Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara reaching the close with their side 24-1, 181 adrift. England bowled far better than they had batted but remain well behind the eight ball. This was the best cricket pitch of the series by some way, with players of all types firmly in the game and although one should not generally make judgements until both sides have batted once the instinctive feeling, with few balls doing anything mischievous, is that England fell in the region of 100 short of a decent total. Axar Patel now has 22 wickets in five test innings.

I would say that the ordering of results by likelihood after this day of play is as follows: India Win – defo odds on, England win – substantial odds against but not absolutely out of the question, Tie – now only the third least likely of the four results, though as always long odds against, Draw – not happening.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

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…