Category: India cricket news (page 1 of 51)

Why waste your best bowler in the final over?

The idea that England might try and bounce out Virat Kohli proved as wide of the mark as a Devon Malcolm loosener. They decided to pepper him with half-volleys instead. And it worked.

They adopted a similar method against Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni, occasionally mixing things up with a surprise full toss. That didn’t work.

Eoin Morgan also gave Chris Woakes the final over and we’ve no idea why. After nine overs, Woakes had 4-46 and had looked England’s only halfway effective bowler. Bowling the final over, what influence could he have?

Even if Woakes taken four wickets in four balls in that over, he’d only have restricted India to 367. Had he bowled his final over a little earlier in the innings, even a single wicket might have resulted in a score less than that.

Teams routinely put their most effective bowlers on for the 50th over of an innings. Why? Unless it is the second innings and the chase is tight, the final over is the one in which you can least affect the outcome of the game.


Your team’s late barrage of sixes is bad news for them

Jos Buttler

A run doesn’t have a set value. That is a recurring theme of this website. The value of a run derives from the game in which it is scored and in all honesty can only accurately be gauged with hindsight. Up until the moment a match is finally decided, all we are doing is gathering evidence and sharpening the picture.

Yesterday, in the first one-day international against India, England whopped a load of sixes at the end. They hit one in the 22nd over and then three more before the 43rd over, before flapping, blamming and punting seven more from then on.

This seems pretty normal. For all that one-day cricket has changed, it’s still not the worst strategy to build some sort of a base before taking more and more risks as the innings wears on. However, the more sixes they hit in this late period, the more we became utterly convinced that India would win the game.

It was almost as if every six was worth minus six. As mishits and flat skimmers cleared the ropes, the value of a ‘maximum’ – and therefore the value of a run – became clearer. Each six seemed to bring with it the shadow of two others that hadn’t been hit earlier on.

In contrast, India had hit 10 sixes by the end of the 38th over. They knew they were there to be had.

Even at its farthest extreme, cricket is never exactly ‘most sixes wins’ – but it is still an indicator; a signal as to how easy it might be to score runs on any given day.

The brilliance of Virat Kohli and Kedar Jadhav was obvious and flaws in the touring side’s defence can also be found. But given their chance again, maybe the England batsmen would – in more ways than one – have aimed higher.


R Ashwin: Lord Megachief of Gold 2016

Our annual Lord Megachief of Gold award is the highest honour in cricket. The title is recognition of performance over the previous calendar year. Here are all the winners.

A nod for Ben Stokes’ relentless Test excellence (904 runs at 45.2 and 33 wickets at 25.81); a second nod for Virat Kohli’s performance across all formats, which included 1,215 Test runs at 75.93; and a third nod for the homicidal capybara Rangana Herath, who took 57 wickets at 18.92.

However, this year’s Lord Megachief of Gold is R Ashwin, a man who can’t so much as look at a cricket ball without winning a Test match for India.

r-ashwin-bowling-cc-licensed-by-james-cullen-via-flickr

R Ashwin bowling (CC licensed by James Cullen via Flickr)

R Ashwin took 72 Test wickets at 23.9 in 2016 and also scored 612 runs at 43.71 during his downtime, which he mostly likes to spend with a bat in his hand. He is a strike bowler who does the donkey work who also bats well enough that his side can field an extra bowler. If his captain is higher profile, it is Ashwin who India would miss most.

To repeat a point we made a few weeks ago, pit a team of 11 Ashwins against one comprising 11 of any other individual player and the Ashwin XI would surely come out on top after the two teams had come up against each other home and away.

We’ll come to the bowling in a second, because that’s the heart of the matter, but before we do that it’s worth closing this section by pointing out that only three Indian batsmen scored more runs than him in 2016.

How to take wickets

R Ashwin is not a mystery spinner. Mystery spin – in the form of the carrom ball – is just something he resorts to when necessary, or when he thinks the pitch suits that particular delivery. Once upon a time, mystery spin was something to aspire to, but Ashwin has transcended it. It is something he is occasionally reduced to.

Mystery spin is Plan B because Plan A generally works pretty well. Against England, Ashwin took 28 wickets, including three five-fors and that was far and away his least successful series of the year. In the West Indies, he took 17 wickets at 23.17 (while averaging 58.75 with the bat) and against New Zealand, he took 27 wickets in three Tests at an average of 17.77.

Expectations

In all honesty, 2015 was probably more impressive in terms of his returns with the ball, but that is arguably what’s so admirable. This has been a continuation; a meeting of already lofty expectations.

Ashwin took no wickets in the first 2016 Test innings in which he bowled (against the West Indies). In the second innings, he took 7-83 and India won the match. Even when he seemingly lets India down – such as when they drew the next Test – you see that he still took 5-52 in the first innings.

Like a badly-trained dog, he has never been down for long. A slow start in the first Test against England was followed by 5-67 in the first innings of the second. As a UK website, we focused on the England batsmen’s response to pressure, but that pressure didn’t come out of thin air. It fizzed down, out of R Ashwin’s right hand.

The series against New Zealand was pretty much relentless wicket-taking.

In a nutshell

As he skips around the outfield like a primitive robot inexplicably constructed out of wet concrete, you remember that R Ashwin isn’t actually flawless. Far from it. He is a trier. He is a ponderous and pondering man who has methodically hewn himself into the most influential cricketer around.

He is the nerdiest nerd who delivers the least fashionable style of bowling. He approaches the crease as if both his arms have been stuck on inside-out, indulges in a brief prance and then delivers the ball without the least bit of ceremony.

And it works.


Virat Kohli had power tools while Alastair Cook only had rusty manual hand-me-downs

Alastair Cook of England in action during Day Four of the Second Investec Test Match between England and New Zealand at Headingley Carnegie Cricket Ground, Leeds, England on 27 May 2013. Photo by Sarah Ansell.

England haven’t stagnated. They’re just worse at bowling and facing spin than India. And playing Test cricket in India involves bowling and facing an awful lot of spin.

So rather than howling about normality, now might instead be the perfect time to revisit the monumental achievement that was England’s 2012 tour. Reviewed through the prism of the last few weeks, we can better see that series win for the glorious aberration it truly was.

But back to stagnation

There was no point in the last few years when England were a better spin conditions side than India. If there’s been a significant change, it’s that England have been obliged to play Test cricket in India. They should be able to avoid that activity in the immediate future, so the side’s already on the up-and-up.

Yesterday we wrote about perceptions of pitch flatness. We’re less than delighted but not entirely surprised to have had our subtext made explicit. England lost ten wickets for 104 runs in 48.2 overs today. The last six wickets fell for 15.

But this doesn’t sum up the tour. You don’t lose a marathon by half-an-hour in the finishing straight. This last collapse was just the cracking of a side subjected to prolonged stress. The ‘lazy’ shots and apparent incompetence were just a manifestation of all that had gone before.

What had gone before?

Just an awful lot of being worse. India weren’t twice as good – as today’s result perhaps implies – they were just reliably better at almost everything, day after day after day. It wasn’t just the obvious elements, like spin bowling, it was also the related ones, such as bowling seam on Indian pitches.

Playing at home does confer certain advantages. A necessary reliance on spin bowlers is a major one that is always likely to make an India side more effective and an England side less effective. However, it’s hard to avoid concluding that this particular version of England has been more affected by this than most.

Every team is skewed towards some style of cricket or other, but the relative paucity of good spinners and turning pitches in the county cricket ecosystem means England don’t just struggle for bowlers, they also lack spin-adept batsmen.

Can you summarise this with some sort of reference to DIY?

If you need to saw through a floorboard, you can get the job done with a hand saw. It’ll take you a few minutes. However, if you have a circular saw, you can do the job in seconds. This is before you even get started on the plumbing, rewiring or corpse-concealing that necessitated the floorboard removal in the first place.

England set out for their winter tours with a plastic box full of hand-me-down tools and they made do. In Bangladesh, they managed to get some sort of a job done by improvising with pliers and adjustable spanners. Against India and their van full of professional equipment, they simply couldn’t keep up.


Zombies, ghosts and theodolites

A pitch’s flatness extends beyond its physical characteristics. No matter what its actual nature, the fielding side is going to struggle to accept that there’s anything there to be exploited when it’s 600-5 and this mentality only smooths the surface further.

By 700-6, a captain will be yearning for a combative bowler who will take it upon himself to shift the game from what by this point will seem a miserable path of inevitability. The problem is that any such player will quite obviously have had their exasperated “I’ve had enough of this” moment long before then.

You hit 700 and all options have been exhausted. Adrenaline and zest have run dry. There is nothing to call on. You’re standing around in Purgatory and the identity of the bowler matters to no-one but the person who is actually delivering the ball. With ghosts in the field, even they might feel somewhat detached from proceedings.

Throw in a batsman who’s by this point already seen everything the opposition can confront him with and even a theodolite wouldn’t allow you to detect an irregularity in the playing surface. That isn’t to say they aren’t there though. Better, fresher, more motivated bowlers can find things zombies cannot.

Karun Nair had a decent day. 303 is a fair knock, even against heat-wearied undead who’ve failed to take on enough carbohydrates.

Virat Kohli is an aggressive captain. We know this because he always tells us so. Today’s act of aggression was to punish the England fielders by making them watch Nair reach a landmark.

There is a case for saying that both India and England have played to about 90 per cent of their potential in this series. The problem for the tourists is that the home team’s potential massively outweighs theirs in these conditions.


Spin bowling is all in the pelvis

Adil Rashid bowls one at the moon

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Apparently.

A forthcoming study on the biomechanics of elite finger spin bowling has found “very strong positive relationships between the orientation of the bowler’s pelvis and the rate at which the ball spins during flight.”

The boffins (for that is what you are obliged to call academics when writing about their research) concluded that there is, “a compelling argument that highly advanced motions of the pelvis are paramount to producing high spin rates to the ball and therefore that spin bowling should not be solely thought of as an upper arm skill.”

For all that Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Liam Dawson performed well with the bat in the first innings of this match, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that their pelvis motions have been insufficiently advanced with the ball.

Advanced pelvis motions are paramount, boys. Paramount!

Amid all the talk of Magnus force and R Ashwin’s open pelvis, the main thing we draw from the study is that spinners should really try and give it a rip.


Joe Root still struggling to get out in single figures

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

When Joe Root made 254 against Pakistan earlier this year, there was much talk of how he’d cracked it; how he’d responded to the move to number three by adopting a newfound merciless approach. The responsibility of batting at three had firmed Root’s desire to eradicate errors and from now on he would transform all those fifties into daddy hundreds.

Even at the time, we thought: ‘Joe Root’s hit a double hundred before.’

Before that innings, Root was a batsman capable of double hundreds who made a lot of fifties – and he’s been much the same since. Today saw his seventh fifty in that period to go with one hundred.

It’s hard to say whether this ‘conversion’ thing is a problem or not. There are plenty who will say that Root should be reaching three figures more often, but maybe that’s not the freakish bit. Maybe Joe Root is an otherwise average batsman who is just uncommonly good at reaching double figures.


Jimmy Anderson gave a lion’s view of Virat Kohli

Lion (Wikimedia Commons licensed by Kevin Pluck)

Lion (Wikimedia Commons licensed by Kevin Pluck)

“If a lion could talk, we could not understand him,” wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein. The point being our feline friend would probably be rambling on about how he’d happened across some other lion’s urine earlier in the day and his specific concerns about this patch of piss would mean nothing to you.

Lions live in a world with different norms, values and preoccupations – and so do fast bowlers.

Ask Jimmy Anderson for his opinion on a particular batsman and you shouldn’t expect him to wax lyrical about how well he’s playing. Jimmy sees batsmen as prey and their techniques as little more than an accumulation of Achilles heels. Jimmy’s reason for being is to cut batsmen down and part of the process of becoming so good at it has involved training his brain to see them in a certain way.

Show Mark Nicholas a Virat Kohli cover drive and he will say something like: “Oh now, that is just exquisite.”

Show Jimmy the same stroke and he’ll say: “I wonder if he’d have tried to play the same shot if it had shaped away from him a touch. There was a bit of a gap between bat and pad too for the one jagging back.”

That is not Jimmy being deliberately unappreciative. That is how he thinks. That is what he spends his life thinking about, because that is his job.

Fast bowlers hate batsmen. They hate opposition batsmen in particular and successful opposition batsmen most of all. After all, a ‘good’ innings from an opponent is not something to be appreciated; it is something which must be endured.

Jimmy Anderson’s favourite batsman is Alastair Cook. Alastair Cook is Jimmy’s favourite batsman for the simple reason that he tends to provide him with a nice long rest.


Cook and Kohli – captains with and without influence

Alastair Cook

Oh for a captain who knows what it’s like to win a Test series in India. England have had just one such leader since David Gower triumphed way back in 1984-85. It was, er, Alastair Cook.

This probably goes to show that ‘knowing how to win in India’ is just the smallest slice of the equation.

England’s tour

Set aside the fact that this India side is superior to the defeated 2012 vintage for a moment, it’s interesting to contrast the two England teams. The overwhelming difference lies in the bowling.

Back in 2012, we were keen to highlight that England had managed to field three or four wicket-taking bowlers, adding:

“That’s not really been possible in places like India and Sri Lanka before. England normally have one or two bowlers who seem like they might possibly threaten for a bit of the time and then a couple of support acts – either good bowlers who aren’t well-suited to the conditions, or county cricket makeweights who are.”

We’re quoting ourself for an obvious reason. Clearly, we have returned to normality.

In this series, Adil Rashid’s the one bowler who seems like he might possibly threaten for a bit of the time. The other spinners, including Moeen Ali, have effectively been county cricket makeweights. All the seamers bar Stuart Broad have been good bowlers not well-suited to conditions and on this tour unable to transcend them.

Take a look at the averages. It’s nasty stuff, whereas the batsmen have actually performed fairly competently.

It’s interesting to ponder what Rashid’s average might have been if anyone else had been chipping in and he hadn’t spent 90 per cent of his time bowling to set batsmen.

India’s future

On the Indian side of things, Virat Kohli appears to have achieved something beyond even his quarryload of runs. He has put his shoulder to the weighty Indian system and somehow shunted it in a different direction.

The team has historically been reluctant to field five bowlers, preferring instead the insurance of a sixth batsman, even in conditions where runs have been readily available. Kohli has however insisted upon it, even when spinners have been likely to do most of the work.

The effect has arguably been threefold. The remaining specialist batsmen, with another rival vying for their place and greater responsibility thrust upon them, appear to have responded well. The all-rounders and lower-order have also upped their game batting-wise.

In the field, the fresher seamers have been sharper and more incisive, while the fifth bowler has provided an additional option.

It’s easy to say that Kohli’s lucky enough to have the players to do this, but we’d make a strong argument for his having contributed to those players becoming what they currently are.

Conclusion

In the 2012 series, Virat Kohli averaged 31. In this series, he averages 128 and has access to a bowling attack that permits him to attack from all angles.

In 2012, Alastair Cook made three hundreds and had access to a brilliant left-arm spinner, a brilliant right-arm spinner, plus a highly effective version of Jimmy Anderson.

Captaincy’s a piece of piss if you can ensure you inhabit the right year. Sometimes you eat the bear…


Virat Kohli was a massive disappointment today

There was an awful lot of fuss after the first half of Virat Kohli’s innings. People said he was unreal, a genius – an unreal genius. Sunil Gavaskar said he was from another planet and lest anyone ask which one, he specified that it was an undiscovered planet.

They said all sorts of things, but the general theme was that Kohli was operating on another plane of existence, playing cricket with almost unimaginable brilliance.

As a result of this, we resolved to pay careful attention today. We wanted to appreciate his extaordinary otherness and drink in his magnificence. If more splendour was in the offing, we were going to quaff it. Every last bit of it.

But you know what? We were left hugely disappointed. Virat Kohli really let us down.

It just seemed so normal. If Kohli was doing anything special, then it was playing like all the other batsmen but for slightly longer. At one point the crowd did an enormous amount of shouting and clapping, but by that point he’d been in ages and we rather felt like we’d seen it all already.

He ran singles and clipped a few fours – as batsmen do – and that was pretty much it. He didn’t even have the decency to levitate.

Journalists, pundits and fans had left us expecting a Ready-Brek glow at the very least, but there was none of that. There were no banana shots, arcing the ball around fielders. He just hit it past them – or quite often to them. He didn’t play too many stupid shots and he didn’t mishit all that many, but it’s hard to get too worked up about what you’re not seeing.

So, in summary: normal cricket, only drawn out for quite an extended period.

England should still endeavour to set India an awkward chase. That step alone is already in the realm of unIikeliness, but if the pitch goes utterly to shit and they then fluke their opponents out for less than a hundred, it would be utterly hilarious. They don’t remotely deserve a win, but there is no role for justice in the formulation of a good joke.


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