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.
I have done these in info-graphic form:
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).
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.
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.
Looking at a possible England line up for the test match that gets underway tomorrow and a radical solution to their current paucity of spin bowling options. Plus some photographs.
This is my preview post for the third test match of the India v England series which starts tomorrow morning UK time. I also take the time to salute another fine performance by England’s women and, prompted by a comment on twitter from The Cricket Men, to revisit one of my more radical solutions to England’s spinning problems.
ENGLAND XI FOR TOMORROW
Crawley has been declared fit to play, and it seems Burns and Pope are going to be given chances to score runs, though both must be running out of road. This virtually sets the top six as Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, Pope, and Foakes is also inked in as keeper, which leaves the bottom four to be decided. Some are making much of the fact that the pitch which previously had some grass on it has been shaved today, but for me, especially with the selectors having ruled out promotions for Parkinson or Virdi, I still see no reason to select Bess, and although I can understand why people want to see Archer I prefer to give Stone a chance in less unfavourable conditions after his fine efforts in the second test match. Thus, with Anderson a mandatory selection for a pink ball test and some justifiable concern over the lower order, I pick Woakes rather than Broad for the no8 slot, thus arriving at Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, Pope, +Foakes, Woakes, Stone, Leach, Anderson.
ENGLAND’S SPIN ISSUE
Overnight England’s women played an ODI in New Zealand, and won by eight wickets. They restricted the hosts to 178, Sophie Ecclestone with her left arm spin collecting 2-36 from a full allocation of ten overs. Tammy Beaumont (71) and Heather Knight (67 not out) then ensured that this wonderful bowling effort would not go to waste. Ecclestone now has 101 wickets in all forms of international cricket, at 25.90 a piece, and she is still only 21 years old. Other than Leach and Bess, the latter of whom is currently under a cloud the number of male English spinners who have played at least 10 first class matches (basic filter against freak happenings), are still active at that level and pay less than 30 a piece for their wickets totals precisely two: Matt Parkinson (62 wickets at 25) and Amar Virdi (91 wickets at 28). Thus, encouraged by some comments I have seen today (see intro), I am once again going to suggest that Ecclestone deserves to be given a chance to show what she can do playing alongside the men and should be part of England’s elite spin group going forward. For the Ashes tour at the end of the year she could be one of three specialist spinners to travel alongside Leach and Parkinson (unless Bess at his new base of Headingley has a splendid season I cannot see him as a member of that tour party, especially given how poorly English off spinners have generally fared in Oz – see here).
This post looks at selections for the upcoming day-night test, explaining the reasons for concluding that if one specialist spinner backed by Root/Lawrence is enough then Chris Woakes must play.
The third test match of the India versus England series, which takes place in Ahmedabad, beginning in five days, is a day-nighter. This post looks at the implications of that for England’s bowling selections.
THE FRONT LINE SPINNER(S)
Dominic Bess has been struggling for form and is in any case out of favour with the selectors. Having just dropped him for the game which was taking place on a pitch guaranteed to turn from day 1, session 1 it would make little sense to play him as lone specialist spinner in this match (especially given that two part time bowlers must likely to be used a spin fill-in options, Joe Root and Dan Lawrence bowl off spin in any case). Also, there are very strong positive reasons for sticking with Jack Leach in any case. He has been bowling well and taking wickets, and now has 56 in 14 test appearances, an average of four per game. He is still paying just over 30 (30.37) per wicket, but that average is coming down. The significance of that wickets per game ratio is simply this: most test sides, unless unusually blessed with all rounders do not have more than five genuinely front line bowling options, and 20/5 = 4, so a bowler taking four wickets per match is doing their part in that regard. Also, as I mentioned in my last post, England have a tour to Australia coming up at the end of the year, and having a left arm bowler of slow to medium pace there is a virtual necessity. Thus, Bess can only really be considered if it looks like two specialist spinners are required, which seems unlikely for a day-night game.
THE PACE ATTACK
James Anderson, a no11 batter, is virtually inked in. Having rested him from the second match to keep him fresh for the day-nighter it would be utterly nonsensical to then decide not to pick him. Most would want a bowler of express pace in the attack, which means one out of Stone, Archer or Wood, none of whom rate particularly high with the bat, though Archer’s first class record suggests an ability he has yet to display in tests. That leaves one primarily bowling slot vacant, with the choice, assuming conditions don’t warrant Bess, between Stuart Broad, a second of the speed trio or Chris Woakes. Other than Woakes the only pace bowling option with any sort of batting pedigree is Broad, and he has done little in that department recently, and his bowling in the last match was underwhelming. The choice then, assuming one specialist spinner is the way to go, is between a diplodcus like tail of Broad, Stone, Leach, Anderson or some such permutation, or selecting Woakes for the match in which he is in any case most likely to do well out of any this winter.
In view of his impressive efforts on a surface that offered him zilch I prefer for Stone to get an opportunity in more favourable conditions over Archer or Wood, so my 8,9,10,11 is Woakes, Stone, Leach, Anderson.
THE REST OF THE ORDER
For the sake of completeness here is the rest of my England batting order for the third test: Sibley keeps his spot at the top of the order, while with the chance of having to face spin right at the start being less at Ahmedabad than it was in Chennai the fit again Crawley comes in for the struggling Burns. Stokes moves up to three, as he probably won’t have a huge bowling workload, and as a short term fix for this tour having an engine room of Stokes at three and Root at four rather than the usual Root at four and Stokes at five seems to have a decent chance of working. Root we have just covered, and Lawrence after his struggles at no3 moves down to no5, while Pope retains his slot, and Foakes is now unbudgeable as keeper, and rightly so. The full XI, based on the supposition that one specialist spinner is enough is thus: Sibley, Crawley, Stokes, *Root, Lawrence, Pope, +Foakes, Woakes, Stone, Leach, Anderson.
A look back at the second test in Chennai, with complete player ratings. a look forward to the third test and beyond and some pictures.
Although today’s play was not especially long this post will be because I there are a couple of extra features related to this match and also because owing to the fact that I wish to mark tomorrow being IPL auction day by doing something entirely non-cricket related on here I am going to make a provisional selection for England for the third test match, the day-nighter in Ahmedabad.
THE LAST KNOCKINGS OF THE MATCH
England resumed on 53-3, needing a purely nominal 429 to win on a surface playing serious tricks. The first to fall was Dan Lawrence who showed considerable pluck yesterday, but today charged at Ashwin’s first delivery of the morning and was stumped by half a metre or thereabouts. Stokes, who might have stopped the rot, failed, and it rapidly became a procession. When Stone was dismissed, ninth to go, it looked like England were going to fail as a team to match the opposition’s highest individual score in either innings. Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad provided some late fireworks and just spared England that indignity, raising the total to 164, before Ali, with the quickest test 50 of all time in his sights, was caught to end the brief final flurry. The margin was 317 runs, India’s biggest ever win by a runs margin over England, beating the 279 run margin at Headingley in 1986. Axar Patel on his test debut snared five victims in this second innings, while R Ashwin completed a memorable trio of innings by accounting for three, following his five first innings scalps and second innings hundred. Had England won the toss and batted, it is possible that without 300 already being on the board against them they would have scored 230in the first innings rather than their actual 130, but they would never have won on this surface. It is not so much that India bat better on such surfaces, though they do, the much more pronounced difference is that they bowl hugely much better on them. Only Jack Leach hinted at the control needed on such pitches – India were allowed to score at four an over in their two innings, whereas India, knowing that there was assistance for them went for only two and a half per over. Still, England would have accepted a series scoreline of 1-1 going into the day-nighter when this series started. England played poorly, India superbly, and England must pick themselves up from this, and fortunately have a week in which to do so. Full scorecard here.
In combining a century with a haul of eight wickets in the game Ashwin underlined his status as one of the game’s greatest players. Imran Khan (6-98, 117 not out, 5-82 v India at Faisalabad in 1982), Ian Botham had three such matches, against New Zealand at Christchurch when his maiden test hundred combined with eight wickets and a couple of catches, against Pakistan at Lord’s when a score of 108 was backed with ground record innings figures of 8-34 and at what is now Mumbai in 1980 when his figures were 6-58, 114 not out, 7-48. George Giffen had a first innings 161 and two four wicket hauls in an ultimately losing cause at Sydney in 1894 (Australia 586, England 325 and 437, Australia 166, England won by 10 runs). Alan Davidson’s effort across the four innings of the first ever tied test at Brisbane in 1960 deserves a mention as well: 5-135 (WI 453 all out), 44 (Aus 505 all out), 6-87 (WI 284 all out), 80 (Aus 232 all out). In first class cricket George Hirst stands alone with a remarkable quadruple feat of centuries in each of his team’s innings and five wicket hauls in each of the opposition innings, achieved at for Yorkshire against Somerset in 1906. Finally, a nod to Enid Bakewell, who in 1979, at the age of 39, scored a century and had a ten wicket match haul for England Women against the West Indies Women. After 76 test matches Ashwin’s record reads 2,626 runs at 28.23, 394 wickets at 25.20. Better than five wickets per match, at an eminently respectable average, and he also averages 28 with the bat. For comparison in 61 matches, likely to be his final test tally, Moeen Ali who was Ashwin’s England counterpart in this game, has 2,831 runs at 28.88, fractionally better than Ashwin, and 189 wickets at 36.24, fully eleven runs per wicket worse than Ashwin and not much more than half as many wickets per match.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
The achievement that I just devoted the above section to earned Ashwin player of the match, a decision which might appear unarguable, but nevertheless, though this is a minor kvetch, I am not entirely happy with it. For me the Player of the Match should go to the player who has done most to influence the result, and I would have said that Rohit Sharma with his majestic innings on the opening day, which was incredible at the time and has only looked better as the game progressed was that person. It would have been hard on Ashwin not to have got the award in front of his home crowd, and I would have been happiest with a shared award between the two top performers in the game, while I have to say that if forced to give the award to a single individual I would have plumped for Rohit Sharma.
I will start with England, and my ratings are as follows:
Dominic Sibley: 4. The normally adhesive opener failed in both innings this time.
Rory Burns: 3. It is hard to see him being retained much longer on present form.
Dan Lawrence: 4. He showed some fight in the evening session yesterday, but his dismissal at the start of today’s play brought his mark back down – it was very poor.
Joe Root: 5. Failed to deliver with the bat, but bowled respectably, although it is an indictment of his specialist colleagues that he found himself in action in that role before the end of day 1.
Ben Stokes: 4. It is a rare match in which the all rounder entirely fails to make an impact but this one was perilously close to being just such a game.
Ollie Pope: 4. Played half decently in the first innings in partnership with Foakes, but was part of the procession back to the pavilion on the final day.
Ben Foakes: 8. Confirmed his utter brilliance as a keeper and has surely established himself as England’s #1 in that department. He also top scored in England’s first innings, showing real determination. I would have scored him higher, but he was part of a badly defeated team. I will just point out among those who were open-mouthed with admiration at the brilliance of his keeping was Sarah Taylor, his only serious rival for the title of the most accomplished English keeper of the 21st century.
Moeen Ali: 5. Some of you will look at his figures for this match and think that this is being harsh. The sad truth is that seven of his eight wickets and all of his runs came with England pretty much condemned to defeat. His bowling on the first day, on a pitch that even then was offering turn, when his figures at one point read 1-94 from 20 overs was an utter disgrace, and at that point he was headed squarely for a rating of 1, but he did pick things up, far too late, and I have increased his rating to reflect that.
Olly Stone: 7. Fast bowlers were not major players in this game because of the pitch, but he bowled well, capturing four wickets in total, and has earned the right to play in conditions which will favour him more.
Jack Leach: 7. On the first day, when everyone else was going round the park he went for less than three an over, and at no time can he be said to have done a lot wrong.
Stuart Broad: 5. He was a little unfortunate not to get more reward for his efforts with the ball, but by his own titanic standards he was undoubtedly poor.
Now it is time for India:
Rohit Sharma: 9.5. His innings on the first day pretty much settled the outcome of the match.
Shubman Gill: 6. Not a great game for him, but a few flashes of skill.
Cheteshwar Pujara: 5. A rare ordinary match for him.
Virat Kohli: 7. A first innings duck, but he played beautifully in the second innings. On pure play he deserves more marks than I have given, but I have penalized him for some of his behaviour, which was less than exemplary.
Ajinkya Rahane: 7. Was Rohit Sharma’s best support in the first innings, failed in the second. Had some great moments as a slip fielder.
Rishabh Pant: 7. An entertaining 50 in the first dig and some good keeping on a pitch which caused problems for almost everyone.
Axar Patel: 8. A superb debut for the left arm spinner, highlighted by a five wicket haul in the final innings. Although Ravindra Jadeja will be available again in a few weeks time I expect plenty more good things from this man.
R Ashwin: 9.5: Failed with the bat in the first innings but was magnificent in the other three, producing a truly superb all round performance.
Kuldeep Yadav: 7. Bowled steadily, though overshadowed by his colleagues Ashwin and Patel.
Ishant Sharma: 5. A bit part player because of the pitch.
Mohammad Siraj: 7. Like Ishant reduced to the status of a bit part player, but I have upgraded his score on account of his magnificent celebration of his team mate Ashwin’s century.
I conclude this section with an infographic giving a brief version of the above:
THOUGHTS ON ENGLAND SQUAD FOR THIRD TEST
England have announced a squad of 17 from which the XI for the third test will be chosen. Moeen Ali is needed for the limited overs games, and not fancying what would otherwise be a full five months away from home, is returning for a short break before coming back out to India in time to quarantine before the limited overs leg of the tour starts. Thus, the squad, viewable on the ECB’s website is as shown below:
Rory Burns I think has to go, with Crawley fit again, and my choice for number three in these specific circumstances is Ben Stokes, who should not need to do a huge amount of bowling. I feel that having the engine room of Stokes and Root at three and four is something England need in this situation, and Root loses much of his effectiveness when made to bat at three, so I am prepared to promote Stokes to provide some experience near the top of the order. I believe Lawrence deserves a chance in a position in the middle of the order where he is more likely to succeed, and I am loath to discard Pope so soon after his return from injury, believing he will come good. Foakes is inked in as keeper. That leaves the bowlers, and for a day-night match I am prepared to chance having only one front line spinner in Leach, which means I either have to opt for Woakes or accept a tail of diplodocus proportions (see this article from the Natural History Museum, and the picture below, which comes from said article, for why I have chosen that analogy).
In the circumstances, with Broad not at his best, Anderson mandatory after being rested for this game, rather than gamble on an 8,9,10,11 of Archer, Stone, Leach, Anderson or Wood, Stone, Leach, Anderson (for reasons already outlined I am not in favour of discarding Stone) I go for Woakes as third seamer, giving the XI shown in the infographic below:
LOOKING FURTHER AHEAD
It is relatively unlikely that any English test pitch will warrant the selection of two specialist spinners, and the next tour is Australia, never the happiest hunting ground for English off spinners (In my lifetime only John Emburey on two tours when Australia were fielding weakened sides due first to Kerry Packer and WSC and then to Ali Bacher’s activities arranging for cricketers to make ‘rebel tours’ of apartheid South Africa has had really successful series as an English off spinner in Australia, and the past save for the very earliest days of test cricket tells a similar story), so I would consider Leach the first choice spinner and groom the leg spinner Parkinson as understudy, taking him on the Ashes trip as official second spinner. At the moment after a mere six first class appearances an elevation of Tom Lammonby to international ranks would seem a huge gamble, but if he has another good season for Somerset he too could be picked for the Ashes tour as an opening batter.
LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS
Having mentioned the Natural History museum I cannot resist offering a couple of links relating to that museum’s location, South Kensington:
A look at day three in Chennai, and provoked by events therein a feature on off spinners who bat.
This post looks at day three in Chennai, where there was much drama.
THE INDIAN INNINGS
India resumed at 54-1, an advantage of 249. England, helped by some sensational keeping from Ben Foakes took five wickets quite rapidly, reducing India to 106-6, at which point R Ashwin came in to bat in front of his home crowd. He and Virat Kohli put on a superb partnership, before Kohli fell to Moeen Ali, and although neither Kuldeep Yadav nor Ishant Sharma lasted long, Mohammad Siraj stayed there to see Ashwin complete a superb century, the third time in his 76 match test career that he has combined a century with a five wicket innings haul (only Ian Botham who did so against New Zealand, Pakistan, India, Australia and New Zealand has done so more frequently in the history of test cricket). The Indian innings ended at 286, an advantage of 481. The record 4th innings chase in test history is 418, although at Lord’s in 1900, in that year;s big showpiece game the Players after being rolled for 136 in their first innings did chase down 501 in just over a full day to beat the Gentlemen. There were four wickets each for Jack Leach and Moeen Ali, with Stone ending the innings with his fourth wicket of the game. This was the fifth successive test match second innings in which Leach had taken four or more wickets.
While victory was clearly the longest of long shots there was plenty for England to play for. A respectable showing with the bat second time round would salvage some pride, and Rory Burns and Dan Lawrence were both in need of runs to secure their positions, with Zak Crawley likely to return from injury for the next game, Bairstow also available, and Foakes surely established as keeper after his performance here.
Sibley fell cheaply to make it 16-1, but Burns and Lawrence played with aggression but not mindlessly so to take the score to 50, before Burns departed. Leach came in as nightwatchman, and almost immediately departed to his left arm orthodox spinning rival Axar Patel to make it 50-3. England nearly suffered a monster hammer blow just before the close, Joe Root being hit on the pad, given not out by the on field umpire, and the DRS technology showed that the point of impact of ball on pad was “umpire’s call”, while the ball would have made a right mess of the stumps had the pad not impeded it. The replay also showed that the ball actually brushed the stump very faintly on its way through even after impact with pad. England had been on the wrong end of some horrible decisions during the first two days, including one clear breach of DRS protocol by the third umpire, and now it was India’s turn to experience some frustration. Kohli disputed this one with the umpires after the DRS adjudication, at least his third significant infraction of that type in the match, following standing there for a clean bowled on day 1 and talking back after being reprimanded for running on the pitch during his own second innings. I gather that he is danger of a suspension, and he richly deserves it – his behaviour towards umpires here has been ‘Punteresque’, and the original ‘Punter’ committed his worst infraction of that type when there was at least the explanation (not, never, excuse) that his team were on the wrong end of a monstering at the MCG in 2010, whereas here it is Kohli’s side who are handing out the thrashing. England closed on 53-3, needing 429 with two whole days to go, while India need seven wickets.
OFF SPINNERS WHO BAT
The fact that Moeen Ali has taken a few wickets in this match, long after it was already pretty much a guaranteed loss, a position that owed much to his earlier dreadful bowling has led to a resurgence of support for him. I remain adamant that replacing a 23 year old with 33 year old whose record is at best moderate is a retrograde step and may well have damaged Bess’s confidence to boot. I have hunted out some figures for players whose main task is to bowl off spin, but whose batting is considered part of the equation. Below I show four sets of figures, three for contemporary cricketers, two of whom are involved in this match, and one for a fine player from the long past, with supplementary explanation. (see mini gallery that ends this section as well)
R Ashwin – the best current purveyor of off spin, and as he demonstrated earlier today a very useful lower order batter: test cricket: Averages 27.54 with the bat and 25.47 with the ball excluding the current match, first class cricket, averages 29.46 with the bat and 26.19 with the ball
Moeen Ali – being regarded at present by far too many as an “all rounder”: test cricket: Averages 28.97 with the bat and 36.59 with the ball excluding this match, first class cricket averages 36.72 with the bat and 37.94 with the ball. His averages in test cricket are the wrong way round by some way, and his first class averages less so, but the relative paucity of his bowling in non-test first class cricket is illustrated by the fact that more than half of his first class scalps have come in test cricket.
Dominic Bess – dropped and replaced by Moeen Ali: test cricket 26.16 with the bat and 32.00 with the ball, though he has played very few matches at that level, first class cricket 24.09 with the bat and 29.32 with the ball. His 37 ordinary first class matches yield a bowling average of 28.54, 3.46 runs per wicket better than his current test average, and at 23 he is very much an improving player who would be expected to hit his absolute peak years in approximately five years.
Billy Bates – someone who was this kind of player in the early days of test cricket. His 15 tests yielded 656 runs at 27.33 and 50 wickets at 16.42, while the much longer sample of his first career yielded a batting average of 21.75 and a bowling average of 17.13. Allowing for inflation due to surfaces being kinder to batters these days that first class record equates in modern terms to averaging 32.36 with the bat and 25.70 with the ball, putting him marginally ahead of Ashwin at that level.
Today’s gallery comes in three parts: a special section marking the 50th anniversary of the introduction of decimal currency in Britain, a standard issue gallery, and a standalone infographic created to serve as the feature image.
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.
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.
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.
A look at England’s spinning options in the wake of the announcement that Moeen Ali will play as a front line spinner in the second test match.
England have named the 12 from whom the XI for the test match will be picked before the toss tomorrow morning. Jofra Archer has a niggle and will miss the match. Foakes, as we knew, is in for Buttler, and Broad replaces Anderson who is being rested ahead of the day-night 3rd test, while Archer’s place will be taken either by Olly Stone or Chris Woakes. Stone is the like for like replacement, an out and out quick bowler, and is more likely to be effective on this pitch (I have seen preview pictures of it, and it is set to be a raging bunsen) than Woakes, so I would be inclined to opt for him. The disgraceful news, and the reason for this post, is that Dominic Bess has been dropped, and Moeen Ali will play as, allegedly, a front line spinner.
THE PROBLEM AND THE NON-SOLUTION
With Archer out, and Bess dropped due to inconsistency, and two spinners an absolute must, England needed to work out how to replace Bess’s lower order runs. The options other than naming Moeen were two: promote one of Parkinson or Virdi from the reserves and go with Woakes rather than Stone if worried about the lower order, or promote one of Parkinson or Virdi from the reserves, and risk a last four of Broad, Stone, Leach, Parkinson/Virdi. Selecting Moeen Ali, now approaching 34, and with a test bowling average of 36.5 to go with his batting average of 29 is foolish – Sundar got the nod for India in the first match because of the possibilities he offered with the bat, batted well, but was ineffective with the ball, and India were soundly beaten. Ali takes almost exactly three wickets per test match that he plays, somewhat better than his overall first class record of less than two wickets per match, but not enough to qualify as a genuine front line bowler. If you do not take large numbers of wickets, and Ali’s stats show that he does not, you have to be economical so that at least you are providng something. Ali, has as high bowling average of 36.5 shows, is not. For Worcestershire, his county, Ali has always been a top order batter whose bowling is very much a second string – his overall first class bowling average is almost 38 per wicket as against his test average of 36.5 per wicket.
There are two reasons I would favour Parkinson over Virdi: Parkinson has a somewhat better FC bowling average – 25.22 as against 28 for Virdi, and also Parkinson is a leg spinner, posing a different kind of challenge to opposition batters. This is particularly relevant with an Ashes tour coming up, since in the home season it is unlikely that any pitch will warrant two specialist spinners and Leach will have the first berth for bowlers in that category. Since Australian pitches started to improve from the crude nature of their earliest pitches, in the mid 1890s, the record of English off spinners in Australia is not great: Only Laker in 1958-9, a series England lost heavily, Titmus in the drawn 1962-3, and Emburey twice in series when Australia were depleted, firstly due to Kerry Packer and then due to Ali Bacher have had really good series bowling off spin for England in Australia. Left arm orthodox spinners of the Leach type fare better, with Peel, Rhodes, ‘Farmer’ White, Verity and Wardle among those to have had very successful visits to Australia. England have traditionally fought shy of leg spinners, but many of the most successful Aussie spinners have been of that type: ‘Ranji’ Hordern, Mailey, Grimmett, O’Reilly, Benaud, Warne, MacGill.
Whatever the correct answer, it is not recalling an ageing proven failure.
SPINNING OPTIONS AND LOOKING FURTHER AHEAD
England’s spin cupboard is not massively well stocked at the moment (hint, just in case someone in a position of influence is reading this, it does not help to punish the only county that dares to prepare spin friendly surfaces for its bowlers). Other than Leach, Parkinson and Virdi (we will ignore Bess, since the statement about his dropping made it fairly clear that he is not coming back any time soon), there are Liam Patterson-White (FC Bowling average 21.00, but only five matches at that level), Daniel Moriarty (17 wickets at 20.11 from two first class appearances) and no one else whose figures bear any kind of close scrutiny. There is still the radical option of giving Sophie Ecclestone, whose figures are extraordinary, a chance alongside the men and seeing how she goes. The young all rounder Lewis Goldsworthy has yet to play First Class cricket, but was excellent in the Under-19 World Cup, and may yet develop into the genuine article. His three senior appearances, all in T20s, have given him 38 not out in his only innings and five wickets at 17.20. He is one to watch for the future.
I would suggest that for the home season England keep Leach as the first choice spinner, with Parkinson to play if a pitch warrants two specialist spinners. I also suggest that those monitoring pitch preparation watch more for green seamers and for absolute roads than for turners. Unless he has significantly backslid in the course of the home season and/or someone has emerged from nowhere with astonishing figures, Parkinson should go to Australia as officially the second choice spinner behind Leach. I would like to see him play a test or two before then, because making a debut against Australia in Australia would be tough, although Reginald ‘Tip’ Foster with 287 in the first innings at the SCG in 1903 did not find it so.
A very brief post setting out my England XI for the second test of the India v England series in the light of the news that Jofra Archer will not be involved due to a niggle.
Jofra Archer will miss the second test due to a niggle, so ideas about the England XI for that match need rejigging. What follows is my effort.
THE XI IN BATTING ORDER
Dominic Sibley – his long innings at the start of the first match was crucial to England’s eventual success, and they will probably need more of the same from him.
Rory Burns – his dismissal in the first innings was reprehensible, but up to that point he had batted decently, and this is no time for desperate replacements.
Dan Lawrence – two failures in the first match, but with Crawley still not available it makes no sense to give this slot to yet another newcomer.
*Joe Root – the most indisputable of all selections at this time.
Ben Stokes – had a fine first match, and England will need him to produce something in this one as well.
Ollie Pope – A quiet first match back from injury for the youngster, but he deserves to hold his place.
+Ben Foakes – with Buttler heading home for a rest this one is unarguable.
Dominic Bess – He is taking wickets, whatever you think about the manner of some of the dismissals, and exhibit A in the case against an Ali for Bess swap goes by the name of Washington Sundar, selected precisely because he could do it with the bat, did do it with the bat, but was ineffective with the ball. While a case could be made for promoting Virdi or Parkinson from the reserves I am not sure that the middle of an away series against India is a good time to blood a youngster.
Stuart Broad – there was already a strong case for resting Anderson with a view to the day-night match coming up, and Archer’s injury strengthens it.
Olly Stone – the replacement for Jofra Archer. The other options, Sam Curran and Chris Woakes both handle a bat better, but are unlikely to pose any threat with the ball on a Chennai pitch, so I opt to retain some genuine out and out pace in my attack.
Jack Leach – in my view his claim on the no1 spinners spot is currently indisputable, and the way he bounced back from being savaged by Pant in the first innings of the first match speaks volumes for his character.
A look at the closing stages of the test match in Chennai, a brief summary of the whole game, player ratings and more.
This post details the events of the fifth and final day of the 1st test between India and England, looks at the match as a whole and provides a complete set of player ratings.
AN EMPHATIC WIN
At the start of the final day the match situation was England 578 and 178, India 337 and 39-1, meaning India needed 381 to win and England needed nine wickets.
Leach struck first, removing Pujara with a fine piece of bowling, a crucial strike as he was the most likely of the Indians to be able to bat through the day at one end. For a time thereafter India fared respectably, with Kohli in full control of his innings from the start and Shubman Gill completing a good fifty. Then James Anderson intervened in no uncertain terms, removing Gill and Rahane in one sensational over, both bowled by absolute beauties. Pant also fell to Anderson to put Indian five down. Sundar fell for a duck, to well taken catch by Buttler off the bowling of Bess. Ashwin resisted stoutly for a time, before he picked the wrong ball to cut and succeeded only in edging to Buttler who accepted the offering, giving Leach his third wicket of the innings. That was 171-7, and left Kohli with only three tail enders for support. Eight runs later a beauty from Stokes, with a bit of assistance from the pitch (it kept low) got through Kohli’s defences for 72. Shortly after that Shahbaz Nadeem, who made number nine look a rather lofty position, was caught in the gully by Burns off the bowling of Leach, giving him a fourth wicket of the innings. Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah resisted as best they could, with one ball beating everything and going for four byes. The was a bizarre near ending to the match when a bail was knocked off and stump tilted backwards, but the on-field umpire sent it upstairs and sure enough the bail had been dislodged before the ball was bowled, so, quite correctly, dead ball was called. However, the end was not long delayed as Archer located the edge of Bumrah’s bat and Buttler made no mistake with the catch. India were all out for 192 and the margin was 227 runs.
Jack Leach had 4-76 from 26 overs, the same figures that Bess had recorded in the Indian first innings, while Anderson’s spell that ripped the heart out of the Indian innings read more like a PIN code than a set of bowling figures: 5-3-6-3. He now has a better bowling average in test matches in Asia than Kapil Dev did. He also augmented his list of records by overtaking Courtney Walsh to move to the top of list of most test wickets taken after the age of 30, being now on 343 since he attained that age. His next marker is nine wickets away – wicket number 620 will take him to the third in the list of all time leading test wicket takers.
THE MATCH IN BRIEF
England dominated this game, beginning by scoring big runs and batting long into the game, a combination they could not manage on their last visit to India, restricting India to 337 in their first innings, when the pitch was still playing well, and although the latter stages of their own second innings were not great, the lead stretched to over 400. Anderson’s sensational spell on the final morning pretty much settled the outcome, all else that followed being a mere epilogue. Of the 14 sessions that this game spanned (it ended midway through the penultimate possible session) England were clear winners of at least ten (2-6 inclusive, 8-10 inclusive and 13-14, halved the very first session and possibly the seventh, and possibly had the worst of sessions 11 and 12, though by then they were so far ahead it hardly mattered. The session score thus reads at 11-3 to England.
THREE MAJOR INNINGS
In terms of their significance to the outcome of the match there were three major innings played in this game. Obviously Joe Root’s first innings double century stands head and shoulders above anything else in the match, but there were two other innings of major importance played alongside it: Dominic Sibley in batting the whole of the first day for his 87 got some miles into the legs of the Indian bowlers, and built the base from which England assumed command of the match, and Ben Stokes’ 82 on day two, a very different type of innings, was also of huge importance to England. Pant’s first innings fireworks and Kohli’s near infallible effort in the final innings were impressive in isolation, but were not enough to save their team from a sound thrashing and cannot therefore be rated as of major significance.
Jack Leach showed immense fortitude in coming back from the savaging he got from Pant in the first Indian innings to finish the match with six wickets in total. Dominic Bess captured five wickets in the game and contributed some useful lower order runs to the cause, and a) his respectable wicket hauls are becoming too frequent to be attributable to chance – this is now three matches in a row in which he has fared well, plus b) Napoleon’s famous comment about lucky generals also applies. Stokes was not as influential with the ball as he was with the bat, but he did produce the delivery that snuffed out India’s last slender hopes by rearranging Kohli’s stumps. Archer had a fair game, and had the honour of terminating proceedings by dismissing Bumrah. Anderson, in a sunbathed Chennai with barely a hint of green to be seen, showed his enduring class. His wickets in 2021 have come at ten a piece, and all in Asia. He had his problems in the first few years of his career, but as a veteran he is simply brilliant, and I for one will consider all rumours of his impending retirement greatly exaggerated until and unless they originate from the man himself.
THE WORLD TEST CHAMPIONSHIP
This has been rendered very unsatisfactory by Covid-19, though in truth I suspect that the fall out from the pandemic his merely added the word very to the adjective. England are one up in this four match series, and need to win it by two clear games to make the final of the WTC which is likely to be at Southampton. If India win the series outright they make the final, and if any result not covered by the foregoing eventuates then the Aussies sneak in. Things could get very interesting if England are up 2-1 going into the final match – there could be little point in either side settling for a draw which would give Australia a ticket to the final of the WTC.
I have a graphic for these. I will add to that graphic the following details: I was very harsh on Rohit Sharma because as one of the senior pros he should be setting an example for the youngsters whereas he actually failed twice with the bat, and his second innings was inappropriate for a senior pro in a side trying to save the game. Also, my ratings cumulatively give England 77 out of 110, an average across the board of 7/10, whereas those for India come to 59/110, an average of 5.36 out of 10. This reflects the fact most members of the England team contributed something to proceedings whereas India had several ‘passengers’.
I now think that England have a serious chance of winning both this and the home series against India, and even though it has not been done by an England side for half a century I believe they are capable of regaining the Ashes down under in just less than a year’s time. India thumped Australia in Australia just recently. Looking to the next test, Foakes is coming for Buttler of necessity, and there is a case for bringing Broad in for Anderson, who has now played two matches back to back, but I see no need for any other changes. In particular there have been those arguing for Moeen Ali to replace Bess, but to me exhibit A against that notion is Sundar in this match, who contributed with the bat but did very little with the ball. There is no guarantee that Moeen Ali would even contribute significantly with the bat – his test average is only a little bit better than Bess’s, while as a bowler he is leagues below Bess. I would stick with Bess for the present, but if the proverbial gun to the head proposition compelled me to drop him and bring someone else in I would promote Parkinson, the young leg spinner, from the reserves to the full squad and play him. For India meanwhile, the sequence of their last five test matches with the name of the captain in brackets is quite telling: L (Kohli), WDW (Rahane), L (Kohli). Kohli is still worth his place as a batter, but I think that if they are to have any chance of getting back into the series India need to appoint Rahane captain on a permanent basis. I think Kuldeep Yadav whose wrist spin will offer England a different challenge has to be fitted in, with either Sundar or Nadeem missing out.