Two Great Test Matches

A look back at two great cricketing occasions – the women’s test between England and India and the World Test Championship final between India and New Zealand.

Now that I have finished my series about my Scottish holiday (all posts therein can be accessed from here) it is time to tackle other things. In this post I look back two great cricket matches which overlapped (poor organization there). I start with:

ENGLAND WOMEN V
INDIA WOMEN

This test match, the first women’s test match in two years and the first involving India Women for seven years was played between the 16th and 19th of June at Bristol. Not only do the women play very little test cricket, their domestic structure does not include long form cricket.

England were 269-6 at the close of the first day, having at one point been 230-2. Heather Knight, the captain, scored 95, Tammy Beaumont 66 and Nat Sciver 42. In occupation overnight were debutant Sophia Dunkley and veteran Katherine Brunt. Brunt fell early on the second morning to make ti 270-7 but Dunkley found excellent partners in Sophie Ecclestone who helped the eighth wicket to add 56 and then Anya Shrubsole who scored a blazing 47 as a further 70 accrued for the ninth wicket. At Shrubsole’s dismissal the score was 396-9 and Knight declared, leaving Dunkley with a debut innings of 74 not out to look back on. Sneh Rana, an off spinner, had 4-131 from 39.2 overs for India.

Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma gave the Indian first innings a magnificent start, putting on 167 before Verma, at the age 17, was out for 96 just missing a debut century. Some good bowling by England in the closing stages of the second day and an odd decision by skipper Mithali Raj to send in a nightwatcher with quite a lot of time left in the day (both the nightwatcher, Shikha Pandey, and Raj herself, obliged to go in anyway, fell in the closing stages) put India in trouble, a situation that got rapidly worse at the start of day three as more quick wickets fell. At one stage the score read 197-8, meaning that eight wickets had fallen for 30 runs. The ninth wicket provided some resistance and forced the taking of the second new ball. It took an absolute beauty from Katherine Brunt to break the stand, and no11 Jhulan Goswami got another good ball, this time from Anya Shrubsole, to end the innings at 231, meaning that, this being a four match, England were able to enforce the follow-on, which they quite correctly did. Ecclestone had taken 4-88 with her left arm spin.

Mandhana fell cheaply at the start of the Indian second innings, but Deepti Sharma, an off spinning all rounder who had batted well in the first Indian innings (she it was who orchestrated the tail end resistance), was promoted to no3 second time round, and by the end of day three she and Verma were still in occupation, with the score 83-1. After 16 runs had been added on the third morning Verma’s wonderful debut finally ended as she fell for 63, giving her 159 runs in the match. Just before lunch Deepti Sharma after the longest innings of her life finally fell for 54, making it 171-3, and the innings defeat avoided. The question now was could India hold out long enough to prevent England from being able to chase the runs down. Punam Raut dropped anchor at one end, but at the other Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur and Pooja Vastrakar all came and went fairly cheaply, with Raut being dismissed in between Kaur and Vastrakar. When Vastrakar fell India were 199-7, still only 34 to the good. Shikha Pandey joined Sneh Rana, and they put on 41, but even at that stage England seemed likely to win. However, Taniya Bhatia, the Indian wicket keeper, now joined Rana and they staunchly resisted everything England could produce. Rana was on 80 not out and might have had half an eye on a century and Bhatia 44 not out and definitely eyeing up a fifty, with the stand worth an unbeaten 104, only three short of the all time ninth wicket record in women’s test cricket when the umpires intervened, deciding it was too dark to continue (given how few overs were left, the draw had long since been certain). Ecclestone had again taken four wickets, although she also took some punishment as she tired in the closing stages, finishing with 4-118 this time. Shafali Verma’s two great innings on debut earned her player of the match, although Sneh Rana, and on the England side Knight (95 and wickets in both innings as well as being captain) and Ecclestone might also have been considered.

Both sides played well, and India showed tremendous fighting spirit to secure the draw the way they did at the end. A full scorecard can be viewed here.

WTC FINAL: NZ V IND

The inaugural World Test Championship had ended with India and New Zealand at the top, so these two teams convened at Southampton for the final. Six days were allotted, although the sixth would only come into play if weather interruptions necessitated it. In the end such was the weather between 18 and 23 June that even a sixth day was only just sufficient.

The first day was entirely washed out, and on day two New Zealand decided to go in without any spin options, picking three specialist pacers in Boult, Wagner and Southee plus a fast bowling all rounder in Jamieson and also at no7 Colin de Grandhomme who bowls medium pace. When they won the toss it was almost inevitable that they would choose to bowl with that team, and they duly did so. The truncated second day ended with India 146-3 and seemingly somewhat ahead of the game. New Zealand bowled fantastically on the third morning to reduce India to 217 all out, and by the close of the third day they were 101-2 in response, the second wicket having fallen just before the close. The fourth day, like the first, saw no play at all. Fortunately the fifth day dawned bright and clear. When NZ were 135-5, India looked to have wrested the initiative back, but the last five kiwi wickets put on a further 114 to give them a first innings lead of 32. India batted poorly in their second innings, with a number of poor dismissals. Rishabh Pant top scored with 41, as they managed a mere 170, leaving NZ just 139 to win. R Ashwin accounted for both openers with his off spin but there was to be no further success for India as Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor saw their side home, with Williamson racking up only the second individual 50+ score of the match in the process, giving him a match aggregate of 101 for once out (49 and 52 not out, the second and third highest scores of the match behind Devon Conway’s first innings 54). Kyle Jamieson with match figures of 7-61 from 46 overs, the most economical by a pace bowler in a test in England since Joel Garner in 1980, and a crucial 20 in his only innings was named Player of the Match. New Zealand thoroughly deserved their victory. While all of the kiwis bowled well, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah were both below their best for India, Ashwin was not helped by the conditions, though he put in a fine effort and Jadeja as a bowler was a virtual passenger on that pitch and in those conditions.

I like the concept of the WTC but I think the following changes are necessary for it to work:

  1. Every team to play the same number of matches in each cycle.
  2. All series to count towards the WTC (immediately before the final England and New Zealand played a non-WTC series, which New Zealand won and won well).
  3. All 12 test playing nations to be involved.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

World Test Championship Final Arrangements

Today has seen confirmation that the final of the World Test Championship will take place at The Ageas Bowl, and this is my response to that news.

Today saw confirmation that the first final of the World Test Championship, between India and New Zealand will take place at the Ageas Bowl, near Southampton. The match is scheduled for 18-22 June. The question had been whether it could be staged at Lord’s or not.

THE PROS AND CONS

From a purely cricketing point of view the Ageas Bowl is a superior venue to Lord’s – it will produce a good pitch on which cricketer’s of all types will be able to get into the game, whereas it would only take one overcast day at Lord’s for the match to settled in favour of whoever was bowling at the time, and spinners would find little assistance at any stage of proceedings.

Of course, from a historical and emotional point of view Lord’s, the home of cricket, would have been far superior to the Ageas Bowl.

However, heretical as it will seem to many devoted cricket followers, I would never have had Lord’s in the equation, for all its history and status as a ground – had I been going for a London venue, for which I can see the logic, I would have preferred The Oval, a ground with a grand history in it’s own right, and far more likely to provide a really good match than Lord’s.

As it is, I expect a cracking game between these two sides.

WHY THE AGEAS BOWL?

The Ageas Bowl is one of two grounds in England, the other being Old Trafford, to have hotel built into it, meaning that if the health situation warrants it can easily be turned into a bio-secure bubble, as it was last summer. For all the Prime Minister’s optimism regarding the health situation and his so called ‘road map out of lockdown’, Chris Whitty has been sounding a much more cautious note, and I for one trust him more than I do Johnson. So it seems do the cricketing powers that be who came to this decision.

GETTING THERE

To put it mildly my expectation is that ordinary spectators will not have to worry about getting there in any case, although it is possible that they will be allowed. The Ageas bowl has a reputation for not being accessible, and there is some justice in that. I did a bit of research based on a hypothetical journey from my home in North Lynn to the Ageas bowl and it went as follows:

  • Use of google maps revealed that the nearest train station to the ground is Southampton Airport Parkway.
  • If one can be at that station by 9:27AM there is a bus that runs to the ground and would arrive at 9:45AM. Otherwise, one either has a seriously long walk (over an hour, and not terribly pleasant either by the look of it), or one has to fork out for a taxi on top of other expenses (this is a station serving an airport, so taxis will be available, but doubtless at a premium price).
  • To arrive at Southampton Airport Parkway at 9:27 I would have to be on the 5:39 train out of Lynn, which means leaving my bungalow by 5:15 at the latest, I would then have to change at King’s Cross to the Victoria line, board a mainline train at Victoria and change at Clapham Junction to the train that calls at Southampton Airport Parkway. If and only if all of these connections worked as they are supposed to I would arrive at Southampton Airport Parkway at 9:13, giving me 14 minutes to be aboard the bus. With four stages at which things could go wrong this hypothetical journey would be a colossal (and doubtless expensive) gamble.

NB it is notoriously difficult to get from Southampton town centre itself to the ground, so at least to that extent my methodology, anchoring to Southampton Airport Parkway, is sound.

HOW THE MATCH SHOULD BE APPROACHED

This is a one-off match, with no ‘rest of the series’ or ‘league table position’ to be thought about, so both sides should look askance at the very idea of a draw and should be eager to force a definite result. I would personally favour allowing extra days, or even making this officially the 100th timeless test ever to be played, and the first such since WWII, in order that we do have a definite winner. In the Centenary Test Match of 1977 Mike Brearley ordered his side to keep going for an unlikely final innings target of 463, even though a defeat was the likely outcome of so doing, and stuck to that intent even going into the final session with 110 needed and only five wickets standing. England ultimately lost by 45 runs, the same result and margin as the inaugural test match 100 years earlier, but Brearley was right to scorn the draw in a one-off match. Brearley talks about the match in “The Art of Captaincy”, while Greg Chappell (Aussie skipper in the match in question) covers it in some detail in “The 100th Summer”.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for my usual sign off…

England Take An Early Lead With Victory in Chennai

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.

ENGLAND’S BOWLERS

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.

PLAYER RATINGS

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’.

LOOKING AHEAD

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.

PHOTOGRAPHS

It is time for my usual sign off…