A look ahead to Ashes, focussing especially on the bowling.
This piece was prompted by a little discussion on twitter this morning about this subject. Somebody who tweets as The Slog Sweeper was advocating the selection of five specialist bowlers, Archer, Stone, Wood, Leach and Anderson, all of whom I firmly believe should be in that tour party if fit, in the team at one the same time. I can understand the logic, but it seems to me to be too high risk, with virtually no runs coming from the second half of the innings. I am going to look at possible combinations for that series in more detail here.
THE ROLE OF THE SPINNER
Jack Leach is established as England’s no1 test spinner. Given that English off spinners have generally fared poorly in Australia and the paucity of options with even respectable first class records the only remotely likely choice for the role of second spinner would be Matt Parkinson (FC bowling average 25). Back for Leach in the role of left arm orthodox spinner is hard to find at present, unless Sophie Ecclestone gets offered her chance to try her stuff alongside the men. I have examined the role of left arm slow to medium paced bowlers in successful Ashes campaigns down under elsewhere on this blog. The only regular test venue in Australia that is remotely likely to warrant the selection of two specialist spinners is Sydney. It could well be the case that no spinner is selected in Perth, and at the other three venues Leach will be the chosen spinner.
BALANCING ATTACKS TO SUIT LOCAL CONDITIONS
At the Gabba for the series opener the right bowling attack would feature two out and out speedsters, Leach and Anderson. At Adelaide, where pitches are often favourable for batting there might be a case for slightly weakening the batting order in an effort to get 20 wickets and playing Woakes at seven, two of the speedsters, Leach and either Broad or Anderson depending on form and fitness. At Perth I might well gamble on all three out and out speedsters and a toss up between Leach and Broad for the fourth specialist bowler. The MCG is the one Aussie ground where I would be happy without two out and out speedsters and would pick whichever of the three is bowling best, both veterans and Leach, or possibly Woakes in place of one of the veterans. At the SCG I am either going two out and out speedster and two spinners (Parkinson coming in) or possibly two out and out speedsters, Anderson and Leach.
POSSIBLE XI FOR THE GABBA
The questions if any are over the top of the order. However, unless either:
a) Haseeb Hameed, with a test average before injury interrupted his career of 43, has an epic season and positively demands selection or
b)One of the younger openers hits their straps in the early part of the county season and establishes themselves at international level during the summer
I think that it will be a case of hoping that the existing top order can function well down under – it would be a huge ask of an opener to make their international debut in an away Ashes series. Thus my Gabba XI in batting order reads as follows:
Mark Wood/ Jofra Archer (dependent on form and fitness)
With two out and out speedsters, the skill and experience of Anderson, Leach and Stokes in the x-factor role I have considerable confidence in this side taking 20 wickets, and while the batting order would not be the deepest England have ever fielded it should be capable of producing enough runs.
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.
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…
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.
A team of players who performed great deeds when in the veteran stages of their careers.
This post, which revisits all-time XIs territory was inspired by a discussion on radio 5 live about people delivering as veterans. Here therefore is a team composed entirely of players who enjoyed great success during their veteran years.
THE VETERANS XI
Warren Bardsley – left handed opening batter. At the age of 42 he carried his bat through Australia’s first innings at Lord’s in 1926, still the oldest to achieve that feat at test level. His previous test centuries, twin tons at The Oval, had come 17 years previously, a record lapse between test centuries.
Jack Hobbs – right handed opening batter. The Master was 46 when he scored the last of his test centuries, at Melbourne during the 1928-9 Ashes, still the oldest ever to reach three figures at that level (at first class level the palm goes to Billy Quaife of Warwickshire who signed off with a ton in his last first class knock at the age of 56 and 4 months).
Charlie Macartney – right handed batter, left arm orthodox spinner. At the age of 40, in the second, third and fourth matches of the 1926 Ashes he peeled of centuries, including reaching one during the morning session of the first day after a wicket had fallen to the first ball of the match at Headingley.
*Misbah-ul-Haq – right handed batter, captain. More test centuries after the age of 40 than anyone else. One of those centuries as a veteran was the quickest in terms of balls faced in test history.
Michael Hussey – left handed batter. He had to wait until he was into his 30s for a test call up, and made full use of it when it finally came. In the 2010-11 Ashes he performed a series-long ‘Casabianca on the burning deck’ act, not quite enough to save his side, but mightily impressive for a veteran.
Imran Khan – right handed batter, right arm fast bowler. One of the greatest of all all rounders he came out of retirement to lead his country to World Cup glory in 1992. He was the other possible captain, had I not awarded that distinction to Misbah-ul-Haq.
Richard Hadlee – right arm fast bowler, left handed batter. He just seemed to get better as his career went on. He is to date the only person to have played test cricket after being knighted for cricket reasons (the Hon Sir FS Jackson’s knighthood was bestowed for other reasons, while Sir TC O’Brien was a baronet with the honorific inherited). This team’s number 10 may well join him in this club if he does not consider our honours system irretrievably tainted by some of the recent beneficiaries.
+Bob Taylor – wicket keeper, right handed batter. After spending many years as Alan Knott’s understudy at test level it was in the veteran stage of his career that he became officially England’s first choice keeper. He turned 40 during the Headingley test of 1981, and his career still had three years to run at the top level.
Sydney Francis Barnes – right arm fast medium bowler, right handed lower order batter. His greatest test moments were the 1911-2 Ashes (34 wickets, at the age of 38), the 1912 triangular tournament and the 1913-4 tour of South Africa, when at the age of 41 he took 49 wickets in the first four test matches before a quarrel over Ts and Cs led to him missing the final match. He paid just over 10 runs a piece for those last 49 wickets, ending his career with 189 wickets in 27 matches at the highest level, seven per game, which is far more than anyone else to have played a double figure number of test matches (Lohmann, just over six, with 112 wickets in 18 tests is number two on that list). These wickets cost him just 16.43 a piece, and although he played no first class cricket after World War 1, he had professional contracts in various leagues right up to the outbreak of World War 2, meaning that for 44 years of his adult life there was someone willing to pay him to play cricket.
James Anderson – right arm fast medium bowler, left handed lower order batter. He has taken more wickets in tests since turning 30 than anyone else in the game’s history, and his wickets in 2021 are currently costing him just 10 a piece.
Clarrie Grimmett – leg spinner, right handed lower order batter. The Dunedin born leggie had not only to move countries, but then cross two state boundaries to find regular first class cricket. As a result, he was already 33 when called up for his first test match. Even starting that late he took 216 wickets in 37 test appearances, and although he was then 46, many, including his old friend and bowling partner Bill O’Reilly, would have taken to him to England for the 1938 Ashes.
This team has a left/right handed opening combination, three excellent batters one of whom is a left hander in the next three slots, a genuine all rounder at six, a bowling all rounder at seven, one of the greatest of all keepers and three ace bowlers to round out the XI. The bowling is awesome, with Hadlee, Khan and Anderson a formidable pace trio, Barnes the greatest of all bowlers, and two front line spinners in Grimmett and Macartney.
My usual sign off, with the addition of an infographic:
A speculative little post looking beyond the day-night test to the scenarios that could arise for the fourth match of the series.
This post looks at the last two test of the series and at the implications for the World Test Championship.
THE DAY-NIGHT GAME
I have already outlined my thinking about the team England should have for the this match (see here and here): Sibley, Crawley, Stokes, *Root, Lawrence, Pope, +Foakes, Woakes, Stone, Leach, Anderson.
What happens for the fourth game is heavily dependent on the result of day-nighter. If England win and go 2-1 up in the series they still need to win to qualify for the final of the World Test Championship (badly compromised, but still a global final), as a 2-1 to England or 2-2 series outcome still lets the Aussies in. Any series win for India will see them qualify, so if they win the day-nighter I expect them to go highly conservative for the final match.
For England, a gamble will be warranted one way or the other, but the question is as to the nature of the gamble: If 2-1 up, so that a win and only a win will get them into the final of the WTC then it will be a high stakes gamble increasing the risk of defeat in a bid to maximize the chance of victory, while if 1-2 down it will be a case of using this match to experiment on the grounds that with England out of the WTC running the result no longer matters much.
SCENARIO 1: ENGLAND GOING FOR SERIES WIN
For a day game in India as opposed to a day-nighter I expect two specialist spinners to be required, and given the way Bess has been treated I don’t see him as a likely option, so for me it is time to promote Parkinson from the reserves, and gamble all on a Diplodocus-like tail of Broad, Leach, Anderson, Parkinson, playing both veterans in a match that has assumed such status, using his leg spin to add a bowling variation, with Root/ Lawrence able to bowl off spin should that be required. This to borrow a metaphor from the world of casinos is going all-in, and would I believe be called for in these specific circumstances.
SCENARIO TWO: INDIA GOING FOR SERIES WIN
Here, with England down, I do not play either Broad or Anderson, and I also rest (being very careful to make unmistakably clear that is resting and not dropping) Jack Leach. In this situation I would promote both Parkinson and Virdi from the reserves, and probably go with two out and out speedsters, risking a last four of something like Archer, Stone, Virdi, Parkinson. With victory serving only to usher Australia into the WTC Final I opt to experiment, and may even gamble on Foakes at six with Woakes playing at seven so I have five genuine front line bowling options. I am hoping that someone chooses this as a moment to make a name for themselves, looking to the future.
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 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.
A look at day four in Chennai, including some strange captaincy by Root and some good captaincy also by Root, a fine innings by Sundar and some good bowling from Leach.
This is my account of day four in Chennai, an intriguing day in which we saw two sides of Root the captain and parts of three of the games four innings.
INDIAN FIRST INNINGS
The day started well for India, with Sundar and Ashwin both playing well, but when Ashwin fell to Leach that opened up the tail, and although Sundar continued to play well the remaining wickets fell fairly quickly. Leach got Shahbaz Nadeem, and then Anderson claimed Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah. Sundar was left unbeaten with 85, in an Indian score of 337 all out.
ENGLAND 2ND INNINGS
England chose not to enforce the follow on, opting to leave India a fourth innings chase and rest their bowlers, a correct call as far as I am concerned. They batted well for a time, although losing wickets regularly, an occupational hazard of looking for quick runs, and at tea were 119-5, a lead of 360 overall. I could understand why Root declined to declare at that point, but England’s post tea batting was inexplicable, as was Root’s approach near the end of the England second innings. When Buttler was dislodged, ending a useful if curious partnership between him and Bess, who had most of the strike and signally failed to up the tempo, the declaration seemed virtually compulsory, but Root kept England going with Bess and the tail. Even after Bess fell Anderson was sent out to join Leach, so we briefly had the bizarre sight of England, over 400 to the good, having nos 10 and 11 together at the crease rather than declaring and getting stuck into India’s second innings. Anderson fell second ball, giving Ashwin his sixth wicket of the innings, ninth of the match and 386th of his 78 match test career. Ishant Sharma also took his 300th test wicket during the England innings, and among Indian pacers only Zaheer Khan (311) and Kapil Dev (434) have taken more. This all left India needing 420, a record 4th innings chase if successful, and England needing ten wickets.
INDIA 2ND INNINGS
India started fast, though Root did well to entrust the new ball to Jack Leach on a surface taking spin, and it was a good ball from Leach that dismissed Rohit Sharma, who with two poor scores and horrendous dropped catch while in the field has had a shocking match. Pujara joined Shubman Gill and they saw India through to the close at 39-1, meaning that India need 381 tomorrow and England need nine wickets. England, Root’s unwillingness to declare notwithstanding, are still very much in the box seat, and should take the nine wickets they need tomorrow. If India wriggle of the hook then Root’s tactics in the later stages of the England second innings will undoubtedly be in the spotlight and rightly so. This is a final day not to be missed. For people in the UK there is live TV coverage on Channel Four, live radio commentary on talksport2, the TMS cricket social on radio five live sports extra and of course updates on cricinfo.com as well – I will listen to the live commentary and have a cricinfo tab open for extra detail. This match, the extraordinary game in Chittagong that I mentioned in yesterday’s post and the game in Rawalpindi between Pakistan and South Africa which ended today in a 95 run defeat for the visitors, who lost their last seven wickets very quickly, a collapse which started with Markram and De Kock going in successive balls and then Bavuma who had shared a good stand with Markram falling very shortly after, have all shown that test cricket is doing very nicely thank you.
The snow that we have been forecast for a few days arrived in northwest Norfolk this morning, and dominates my usual sign off…
A look at day two of the second Sri Lanka v England test and some of the issues raised by it.
This post deals with day 2 of the second Sri Lanka v England test match in Galle, and tackles a couple of related issues.
ANDERSON AND THE REST
England achieved their first goal of removing Mathews early on day 2, for 110, but Dickwella who just missed out on a maiden test hundred and Dilruwan Perera with a fine half century took Sri Lanka to 381. James Michael Anderson finished this innings with the following figures: 29-13-40-6. Mark Wood, bowling consistently fast, took three wickets, and the other fell to Sam Curran’s left arm. Both front line spinners, Bess and Leach, were therefore wicketless, and neither posed much of a threat.
The England innings started almost on repeat from the first match, left arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya being entrusted with the new ball, in company with veteran seamer Lakmal on this occasion. Sibley was first to go, pinned LBW (he reviewed, an effort bad enough to be almost worthy of the adjective ‘Watsonian’ in “honour” of the legendary Shane Watson, but the decision was correctly upheld), and then Crawley snicked one into the slips and England were 5-2, and in three innings to date Embuldeniya has now dismissed both openers all three times, without a double figure score from either. Root and Bairstow steadied the ship, and reached the close at 98-2, Root 67 not out. I was actually involved in a video conference at this time, so did not catch this passage of play. To give themselves a chance, given that the ball is already starting to turn, England will need to bat all day tomorrow as a first requirement. To do this they could do with someone other than Root producing a major performance with the bat. Looking ahead, England go to India next, and although Ravi Jadeja is injured, the Indian squad named for this series features Axar Patel, like Embuldeniya, a left arm spinner, and there is a strong case for India giving him the new ball alongside Bumrah, now recovered from his own injury. This strategy of pairing a left arm slow bowler with a right arm fast one at the start of an innings is nothing new. It used to be considered standard just over a century ago. Kent had their greatest period, four county championships in seven seasons, with Arthur Fielder and Colin Blythe, just such a combo, as their new ball pairing. Lancashire had a decade earlier used Mold and Briggs to similar effect. In the 1912 Triangular tournament England more than once used Syd Barnes and Harry Dean as an opening pair, and on one occasion Barnes and Frank Woolley did the honours. Australia’s lowest ever test innings score of 36 all out was made in the face of Rhodes (SLA, 7-17) and Hirst (LFM, 3-15) at Edgbaston in 1902. Sri Lanka’s reinvention of the cricketing wheel is working well for them.
The disastrous time Sibley and Crawley are having at the hands of Embuldeniya has naturally raised the question of whether to continue playing them or not. Whatever the correct answer is, I know what is not correct, though it is being advocated by various people: a recall for Keaton Jennings, a man with a Brearleyesque batting average and without the captaincy skills. For the India series Burns will be available, and he will fill one of the openers slots. I would revert to the Sibley, Burns, Crawley top three and hope it works. For the second innings of this match there is a potentially bigger problem, but it is hard to see a tactical adjustment of the batting order working, as Embuldeniya will surely be called up for a bowl as soon as either Sibley or Crawley appear.
There are some good young top order batters in county cricket, and I would rather look to them than to a never-really-was like Jennings.
THE ‘BRANDERSON’ ISSUE
England’s stated policy is rotate the two veterans, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, but they may well have to rethink – to leave Anderson out after his performance here would look odd to put it mildly. At home against New Zealand and India both should play, while for the Asheis it will depend on form and fitness, but I would be looking as follows: Brisbane – Broad, Adelaide – Anderson, Perth – neither, if all are fit I would go with the outright pace of Archer, Wood and Stone, Melbourne – both, Sydney – Anderson.
An account of day 1 in Galle and mentions of a couple of related topics.
This post is a three parter, beginning with the action from Galle, and then touching on a couple of other topics drawn to my attention while I was following the action in the final two sessions of the day by way of radio commentary and a cricinfo tab open for extra detail (I listened to the first session in bed, as the coverage began at 4:15AM UK time).
ANDERSON SHINES BUT SRI LANKA SHADE THE DAY
England’s only change to their XI from the first match was to follow their planned rotation policy with regard to the veterans, bringing Anderson in for Broad. Sri Lanka had Oshada Fernando come in for Kusal Mendis, and Lakmal for Hasaranga. Sri Lanka won the toss and chose to bat, and were very quickly two down, both wickets to Anderson on his return. Thirimanne and Mathews then saw Sri Lanka through to lunch at 76-2. That became 76-3 as Anderson struck instantly on the resumption, removing Thirimanne. Mathews went on, finding another staunch ally in Dinesh Chandimal. Chandimal fell to Wood, the fast bowler’s first wicket of the series, for 52. Mark Wood has been consistently in excess of 90mph this series, and the wicket was long overdue reward for toiling through over 230 balls in the heat of Sri Lanka. It was England’s last success of the day, as Mathews completed a fine hundred, and Niroshan Dickwella reined in his natural aggression to survive to the close. At the end of day one Sri Lanka were 229-4 from 87 overs (yet again, with England in the field the over rate was abysmal and even with the half hour overrun period and no weather interruptions three overs have vanished from the game), Mathews 107 not out, Dickwella 19 not out, James Anderson 19 overs, 10 maidens, 24 runs, three wickets, an outstanding display of bowling from the oldest player on either side. Overall the pitch was flat, and no bowler really got anything out of it. With the pitch likely to break up and/or crumble later in the game Sri Lanka definitely took the honours of day 1, and England will need to strike quickly tomorrow morning to avoid finding themselves in trouble.
TEST CRICKET’S FUTURE
Some people seem to be oblivious of the amazing series that has just concluded between India and Australia, and to be persisting in their belief that test cricket is in trouble. A link to a Telegraph piece arguing that players who play white ball matches should be banned from red ball cricket did the rounds on twitter today. The Telegraph articles are paywalled, and since I consider it a vile rag and absolutely will not countenance contributing to its coffers I have not read it in full, but the headline is enough to enrage me.
Most cricket playing countries have much smaller pools of players to draw on than England, but if this idea was to be adopted then England would immediately be deprived of Root, Stokes, Woakes, Sam Curran, Buttler, Wood, Bairstow and others from their test ranks. England could still put out a functional side without these players, but it would be a lot less good. Yes, players being rotated in and out of squads can be irritating, and yes the cricket schedule is absurdly cluttered, but test cricket is in fine health overall. India were able to chase that total down at the Gabba because they had players who have learned how to chase through playing in white ball cricket.
Other sports have results that they call draws, but the draw in cricket has a uniquely wide range of possibilities: neither side within the proverbial country mile of winning, one side hanging on by its fingernails having been utterly outplayed, both sides trading blows right down to the wire but neither able to land the knock out punch. I understand but don’t necessarily agree with the use of tie-splitting procedures in limited overs matches, but in long form matches the draw is a vital part of the equation. In that match at the Gabba one of the things that made the closing stages so sensation was that it was a three-way contest: India vs Australia vs the clock. Timeless test were once a thing – Australia made all its home tests timeless for over 50 years, and some of the games must have been absolute crackers, but there would also have been some horrendous bores on shirt front pitches. Some of cricket’s greatest moments have been in drawn contests: McGrath surviving the final over at Manchester in 2005 to save Australia when it looked like Ponting’s great rearguard was going to be in vain, Pietersen and Giles saving England at the Oval in the final match of that series, England digging themselves out of a huge hole at the Gabba in 2010, and two injured Indians gritting out the final session at the SCG just recently. The draw has its place in cricket, and although there have been some incredibly dull draws (1990 at the Oval, Surrey 707, Lancashire 863, no time for the second innings) there have also been some utterly compelling draws which would have been much less so without the possibility of that result eventuating.