Why have the England players gone to Dubai?

Dubai by night (CC licensed by Crazy Diamond via Flickr)

Dubai by night (CC licensed by Crazy Diamond via Flickr)

England are taking a break. A mid-tour holiday. There’s been a bit of discussion about the fact that they feel they need one and what that might say about international schedules, but there’s been precious little comment about why the holy hell they saw fit to go to Dubai.

We’d be interested to know how our Indian readers take this decision. To us, it sort of gives the impression that England see India as a place to be escaped. Couple of days off? Travel 2,000km to relax because relaxation would be impossible anywhere closer. Maybe they don’t feel that they get enough opportunities for air travel.

And honestly – Dubai? A friend who lives there assures us that there’s plenty to do, yet it’s hard to find a list of attractions which doesn’t list ‘shopping’ fairly high up. Why such a short hop and a skip from Chandigarh if that’s what you’re after? Why not plough on to Manchester for a full weekend at The Traff. Or, you know, India has shops too.

Perhaps this is hypocritical. In our youth we spent 10 days in Sri Lanka midway through a trip to India and it did sort of feel like a holiday. But then we also felt pretty relaxed in any number of Indian coastal towns or up in the mountains or out in the desert.

Someone should tell the England players that the major industrial cities in which they generally find themselves playing cricket aren’t necessarily representative of one of the world’s largest and most culturally varied nations.

For the record, Haseeb Hameed – who went home for surgery, not a holiday, lest we forget – will fly back to India next week to watch the remaining Tests with his family. We’re not sure precisely how many Hero Points he gets for that, but we’re prepared to allocate him plenty.

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Do England play too many all-rounders?

Moeen Ali and Joe Root

The answer is no. But let’s explore the question anyway.

England have just added Liam Dawson to their squad. He joins Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid in one of the most all-rounderly squads England have ever assembled. He also replaces Zafar Ansari, another spin bowling all-rounder.

Dissipation of responsibility

If a team has nine batsmen, the majority of whom are all as good as each other, does any one individual feel that the onus is on them to score runs?

It’s not so much the by-stander effect, where people stand passively by assuming someone else will sort things out. These players are desperate to perform, after all. It’s more to do with the way they go about their business.

It’s often said that the great advantage of being an all-rounder like Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff or Ben Stokes is that it allows a certain freedom. If you’re also a bowler, your place in the side doesn’t hinge on how many runs you score. You can still influence a match, even when you fail with the bat.

This is generally seen as a good thing as it permits the kind of freewheeling innings that a single-bow-stringed cricketer might be loath to even attempt.

Judged solely on weight of runs, the specialist batsman can often be more risk averse and this is perhaps the crux of things. There are times when it is good to take risks and impose oneself and there are other times – such as when conditions are in your favour anyway – when it is better to avoid risk and simply try and cash in to the maximum.

Mass three-dimensionality

So what is the cumulative effect of having a whole raft of players liable to think: “At least I can make up for this failure with the ball”?

Does it cant the side in one particular direction, encouraging just a little too much… let’s not say irreponsibility – that’s a little extreme.

Does it leave the team likely to err on the side of ‘taking the positive option’?

Conclusion

Our view is that even if there is some truth in this, it is surely outweighed by the benefits. If Ben Stokes alone is like having an extra man, then this current England side is incredibly well staffed.

It’s therefore a little dispiriting to think that even with 15 men they’re being totally dominated by India (although on recent evidence, the home team isn’t exactly short-handed itself).

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England get a grip, but India keep a grip

Yet again, it’s one of those win the toss, win the match, if you’re India pitches. The sheer predictability of proceedings only being disrupted when the coin ended the other way up.

There’s an illusion of inevitability when India bat first, but the play is coerced down a certain path simply because the home team can exert control. The players must do long hours with those hand-squeezer thingies because given a slight advantage they always seem able to maintain their grip.

England’s isn’t a wishy-washy limp handshake sort of grip. It’s more of a ‘this is getting a bit heavy, let me just change the position of my hands’ sort of grip. They hoick their burden and try all sorts of different hand positions, but the truth is they just can’t quite take the weight.

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Neil Wagner sacrifices the opportunity to run in for a small fragment of the final session

Pakistan had already lost six wickets in the final session of the match when Kane Williamson brought forth The Great Neil Wagner. Three ducks later, the series was over.

This isn’t going to help Wagner’s reputation one bit. How the hell are you supposed to run in all day when you keep bringing the opposition’s innings to a close.

Maybe that’s why our man waited until right at the death before joining his team-mates in the rampant wicket-taking. He wanted every opportunity to run in for the majority of the day, but with no play tomorrow, he also knew he had a responsibility to deliver a Test win.

Neil Wagner: he maximises his opportunities for in-running, but without compromising New Zealand’s chances of victory.

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Today’s Ben Stokes-induced happenings

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

At one point in the afternoon session, Ben Stokes accidentally spat on his own shirt. You’d think this would be a low point, but he plucked off the deposit with no obvious display of emotion. Perhaps he knew that things were about to get significantly worse.

Shortly after spraying a loose one over his off side, Stokes used the ball to find the edge of a Yadav’s bat. Alastair Cook – a man who we’re confident has dropped more chances for England than any other outfielder in history – duly did his ball-shelling thing.

Stokes looked ever-so-slightly peeved.

Three balls later, Stokes found the edge of another Yadav’s bat. Jonny Bairstow did that thing where he takes a huge step to the left while diving to the right, so that he doesn’t so much stretch for the ball as rotate around a fulcrum somewhere around his navel. The ball passed right by him.

Stokes looked ever-so-slightly more peeved.

But then the wickets came. The next five Stokes deliveries resulted in two wickets and he finished the innings with five scalps and a greater bowling workload than anyone bar Adil Rashid.

Ben Stokes made tiredness and not-quite-so-big-a-first-innings-deficit-as-might-have-been-expected happen.

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Good evening, Mr Kohli?

Before tea, Che Pujara and Virat Kohli, neither of whom had looked too troubled, started to hit a few more fours. It felt predictable and seemed to foreshadow a long evening session for England.

After tea, Pujara – perhaps concerned that he might partially obscure Kohli’s halo – needlessly looped one in Chris Woakes’ general direction. This precipitated change.

Some guy who sort of looks like Ajinkya Rahane briefly continued his attempt to pass himself off as the batsman, before Kohli did Karun Nair with a magnificent piece of absent-minded ambling. The captain drew his partner 15 yards down the pitch for what appeared as if it was going to be a single before lethally withdrawing the offer. The debutant had an excellent view of Jos Buttler’s throw shattering the stumps.

Kohli quite likes everything going horribly wrong because it gives him an opportunity to look serious and deliver something more memorable. Unfortunately, a little while afterwards he for some reason momentarily imagined he was in England and feathered a seamer to the keeper. The bowler, Ben Stokes, made a hand-over-mouth mime happen in reference to yesterday’s reprimand for being a gobby get.

After that, everything went back to normal and everyone put the previous passage of play down to a brief invasion by a parallel dimension.

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Where would India be given another half-revolution of the coin?

Coin tossing (CC licensed by Gerwin Sturm via Flickr)

Coin tossing (CC licensed by Gerwin Sturm via Flickr)

When trying to assess the state of play after the first day’s play, it’s often tempting to imagine a parallel world where the toss-winning captain has opted for heads instead of tails, tails instead of heads, or just totally gone off on one and gone for arms or thoraxes or some other body part not commonly associated with a coin.

Had that happened in this match, most people would reckon that India would most likely be more for fewer. We conclude from this that it was “India’s day.”

It’s worth pointing out at this point that India have a very good attack. Not so many years ago, England might have been facing one seamer, one makeweight seamer and two spinners. Virat Kohli’s India field two excellent seamers and three spinners.

That is quite a difference. There is no drifty afternoon lull. There is no part-time dob.

That is perhaps why so many of the batsmen’s contributions – from Chris Woakes’ 25 to Jonny Bairstow’s 89 – fitted somewhere on the good-effort-but-probably-not-of-any-enormous-consequence-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things scale. Amid talk of whether Jos Buttler would prove to be a success or a failure, his effort was neither, falling pretty much bang in the middle of this range.

If there’s one thing that might encourage the mandatory taking of positives in English quarters, it’s that India managed to get some reverse swing. England are unlikely to outspin or outbat their opponents, so this represents as good an area as any in which to gain an advantage.

That said, India found some reverse swing in the first Test and England pretty much didn’t. There’s a chance that the toss might be the only thing England win in Mohali.

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Even if you’re not normally much into this sort of thing…

It’s worth pointing out that David Gower makes an appearance in our latest Cricinfo Twitter round-up.

Yes, that’s right – Gower.

David Gower.

On Twitter.

His contribution is every bit as wonderful as you would imagine.

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How to dismiss Faf du Plessis – make friends with him

Faf du Plessis is a competitor. That’s the kind of thing people say. It’s a shorthand way of saying that he only seems capable of playing to his full potential when there’s a stronger taste of conflict to proceedings.

Performing in what is never called the crucible of county cricket, du Plessis didn’t really make any runs. Quite often he fails to do so in Tests too.

Then there are the good days, when he looks cut from a different cloth. Nothing silky. It would be some sort of high quality durable fabric, possibly with water repellent properties and a rough finish.

Psyched up for his Test debut, he made 110 not out off 376 balls to earn South Africa a draw after they’d been 45-4. Today, having spent the week being harangued for being a ‘guilty‘ man, he made a hundred in a day-night Test when everyone else struggled.

This particular adrenaline-sharpened form of Faf didn’t even get hit in the nads.

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Rishabh Pant is not India’s wicketkeeper – what possible reason is there for this?

Wriddhiman Saha is injured. India’s selectors said it was too early to hand a debut to Rishabh Pant who is still only 19 years old. They instead picked Parthiv Patel, a 31-year-old who made his Test debut against England in 2002.

In seven innings this season, Pant has made four hundreds. One was a triple, two were made in one match and he has generally scored at around a run a ball. For the second of those twin hundreds, against Jharkand, he upped his pace to two runs a ball.

He is also called Pant. He should be selected if only to see whether he shouts “Pant’s!” should an England batsman accidentally sky one.

Such an exclamation would serve as both a means of claiming the catch and also as a blunt appraisal of the batsman’s performance.

 

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