With wickets falling every 10 or 20 runs in the South Africa v India series, it’s tempting to resort to the heavyweight boxer cliché. This has the two combatants going toe-to-toe, knocking lumps out of one another with neither taking a backward step.
It’s odd to think of wickets as ‘damage’ rather than the primary aim of the sport. Unlike limited overs, which is a ‘most runs wins’ game, Test cricket is essentially a race to 20 wickets. Wickets are the meaningful currency. Batsmen are necessary impediments and the game only moves forwards when they are dismissed.
In this series both teams have been moving at a ferocious pace, with India thus far not quite able to keep up. This isn’t for lack of trying however, and you wonder whether sooner or later the home team might be the one to crack.
Ajinkya Rahane (detail of photo CC licensed by Mike Prince via Flickr)
We’ve always liked Ajinkya Rahane. He’s always struck us as a batsman who can adapt to different situations and different conditions. India like him too. They like him to be 12th man.
Rahane’s case for inclusion in the second Test against South Africa wasn’t undeniable, we’ll admit. He had a poor run of scores against Sri Lanka at the end of last year and got dropped. But surely he should be among the first names on the team sheet whenever India are away from home?
Last time he played a Test in South Africa, he made 51 not out and 96. Last time he played a Test against South Africa in India, he made 127 and 100 not out (in four innings in that match, only two other batsmen passed 50).
He averages 60 in Australia and 70 in South Africa. You could argue these are small samples, but we’d argue they are inexplicably small samples. He’s been left out of these two Tests when he could have played instead of – ohhh, let’s pick a name at random – Rohit Sharma, say.
Rohit Sharma averages 28 in Australia and nine in South Africa.
In six Tests and ten innings, Sharma has a top score of 25. The fact that he averages 85 in India seems dangerously irrelevant.
All we can conclude is that when Ajinkya Rahane brings out the drinks, they’re crisp and fresh and invigorating, and when Rohit Sharma brings out the drinks, it’s half a mug of lukewarm vegetable stock with a turd in it.
One of the problems with asking questions such as this is what time-frame do you use to make your assessment? Performances over the last year, over the last five years, over the last ten years?
We’re going make our assessment based on performances over the last 24 hours. This leads us to conclude that yes, Hardik Pandya is indeed the best all-rounder in the world.
Emerging with India 76-5 against South Africa, he made 93 off 95 balls. After that, he sauntered in and took 2-17.
Best all-rounder operating today. Without a doubt.
The big question before this fourth Test was could England’s batsmen start making some runs and maybe win a few more Tests?
When the answer revealed itself to be “no and yes” it became apparent that these were actually two separate questions.
England somehow cobbled together a half-decent first innings score while simultaneously making their batting appear even less solid. The second innings was more of the same.
In Top Gun, Maverick’s “hit the brakes and he’ll fly right by” trick is a neat one, but probably not a ploy on which to base a career. We feel similarly about England’s current approach to building totals.
Few initially remarkable features, but you often get nice swing.
If Jimmy has an end, Cricket Badger readers will soon be aware that Vernon Philander has two – a top and a bottom.
This week’s Philander ailment is a light case of back knack. Violent full body convulsions can do that to a man.
Photo by Sarah Ansell
We’ve told you before how we once saw a story in the local paper where a woman had come second in some sort of vegetable growing competition despite being the only person to enter something in that particular category. The judges decided that her entry was only worthy of a silver medal, despite it having zero competition.
So it is with Moeen Ali. Speaking before the second Test, England coach Trevor Bayliss asserted that the man we like to call Bowling Ali was the team’s second spinner.
England promptly dropped their first spinner, but who’s to say that Moeen isn’t still second in a hierarchy of one?
People don’t call Moeen a part-timer quite as much they once did, but the all-rounder is still short of the respect he deserves.
Perhaps it’s a matter of perception and expectation.
As we’ve been saying for three years now, Moeen Ali is not a spinner to tie up an end – nor is that something he should particularly aspire to. Maybe if people accept this and realise that defensive bowling lies down a different road to attacking bowling, England’s best player might be acknowledged as precisely that.
Failing that, this hat trick should at least buy him a couple more matches.
Toby Roland-Jones (via Twitter)
We don’t believe you can draw meaningful conclusions from players’ debuts – but we report on them anyway.
We suppose that if people call you Toblerone, you’re kind of duty-bound to provide the odd peak. 4-39 is pretty useful for a kick-off.
Toby Roland-Jones seems to bowl at around 80mph. On another day, people would be saying that’s not quick enough. But it works for Vernon Philander and it worked for Glenn McGrath. The trick is to keep playing well enough that no-one can find the time to dissect your shortcomings.
One thing you do have, when your pace tends towards medium, is less margin for error. Fortunately, on this evidence, Roland-Jones generally bowls within effective parameters. He hits that very small spot that is inevitably referred to as “good areas”.
Tougher challenges await. It won’t often swing and seam quite like this. At the same time, it seems likely that Roland-Jones will perform if it does. Shorn of debut nerves, he might even bowl better.
So he gets a green swinging conditions pass – and with flying colours. That’s all it was within his power to achieve after one day of bowling and it’s also not a bad qualification to attain if you’re looking to do half your Test bowling in England.
Kevin Pietersen’s career strike-rate was 61.72. Matthew Hayden’s was 60.10. For all that these are batsmen with a reputation for intimidating bowlers, they chose their moments.
This is a large part of the art of Test match batting. It’s about letting bowlers know that you are willing to hit them for four.
Once they’re aware of that, you don’t necessarily need to keep reminding them.
Viv Richards used to come out, blitz his way to 20 and then live off the latent threat for the rest of his innings. This is a smart way to go about things. Use your strengths to make life easier for yourself. The batsman who constantly needs to prove his aggression is an insecure batsman.
Ben Stokes’ innings progress in fits and starts these days. We’re taking this as a sign that he’s increasingly sure of himself.
Tom Westley (via Twitter video)
We don’t believe you can draw meaningful conclusions from debut performances – but we report on them anyway.
If there’s one thing we’ll say for Tom Westley, it’s that he appears to have a pleasing preference for the workmanlike side of the ground.
Legside nurdlery has always worked for Alastair Cook and it worked for Jonathan Trott, so we’re definitely reassured by this. What’s the alternative? The James Vince off-drive?
Westley faced some good bowling and didn’t really do anything stupid. We were moderately encouraged by this.
Chaff (CC licensed by UGA College of Ag & Environmental Sciences – OCCS via Flickr)
As a result of Cricinfo’s redesign, we don’t actually know that a Sri Lanka v India Test is taking place and therefore cannot comment on who has scored hundreds and who has been dismissed for three.
We will instead restrict ourself to an observation that England will be picking at least a couple of debutants: Tom Westley and Toby Roland-Jones (genuinely just had to check that it wasn’t Toby-Roland Jones). Dawid Malan may also join them, once England have exerted a degree of force and so gauged “the balance of the side”.
This kind of thing happens every now and again and it has to be said that it tends to be a bit of a wheat-and-chaff exercise. For example, Michael Vaughan made his Test debut in the same match as Chris Adams and Gavin Hamilton.
Westley is “oft talked about” and “highly regarded”. This week he will become even more oft talked about and we’ll have to see how he copes with that. Roland-Jones has been in the queue since this time last year. Dawid Malan is a cricketer.