There’s quite a bit of Test cricket going on at the minute. Savour it, because it’s not long before we make a sharp turn and embark on the long, straight approach to the 50-over World Cup. After this week’s final Test, England don’t play the longest format again until the middle of April (whereupon they will play 17 Tests in the space of nine months).
The Africa derby
Zimbabwe have put up a bit of fight in the one-off Test against South Africa, but will lose.
Sri Lanka v Pakistan
First blood to the Lankans. Everyone’s going on about Kumar Sangakkara’s double hundred, but Rangana Herath took nine wickets, including six for not-very-much in the second innings. He’s a canny, doughy, squat little devil and his team are increasingly thankful to have him.
Saeed Ajmal’s action has again been reported. They’ll do some tests.
We’ve mixed feelings about this. People struggle to comprehend that a bent-armed bowler can bowl legally and this is compounded by misleading photos and footage which appear to show straightening where there isn’t any. At the same time, Ajmal’s action is quite extreme. It’ll be interesting to hear the findings.
Motives and attitude
In the wake of India’s twin collapses in the fourth Test, there’s been a return to people questioning their attitude, which was a common theme last time they toured. We’re not enamoured of this.
Players like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane are first and foremost Test cricketers; Murali Vijay hit a hundred and two fifties in the first two Tests of the series; and Gautam Gambhir has only just got back in the side. We don’t see these as being players who don’t give a toss; who are throwing their wickets away so that they can spend more time counting their IPL rupees.
That’s most of the batting line-up. Virat Kohli was the other specialist at Old Trafford and if England fans want him to prove that he has the stomach for Test cricket, they should perhaps be careful what they wish for. After all, the series is 2-1 with one match to go. Just because you’re reading that India are a beaten side about nine times each day doesn’t make it true.
We forgot to mention the latest Shire Horse, so we’re doing that now.19 Appeals
It’s a common criticism of modern cricket that there are too many disruptions; too many conferences and unscheduled drinks breaks. On Sky, David Lloyd has taken to drawing attention to them with an impassioned: “Get on with the gaaaame.”
You can hear the frustration in his voice when he says this and it’s become an irritating catchphrase. Perhaps this is deliberate because at heart it’s not really Lloyd who’s the cause of the irritation.
But there’s more
We knew all of this. We knew stoppages in play were an issue. What we didn’t realise until Saturday was the frequency with which England send messages from dressing room to pitch. These skittering little errands don’t always result in a stoppage. Often it all takes place while the bowler is walking back to its mark, but it’s still annoying.
We go and see a live England match once or twice a year, so it’s not like we were ignorant of the fact that this happened. The difference on Saturday was the frequency. It honestly seemed like one of the team’s high-vis messengers was out there ferrying a helmet, a bottle, some medication or whatever pretty much every other ball.
England station two pitch invaders in camping chairs beneath the balcony, constantly primed for action. When a wicket falls, they both run out carrying bags of bidons. Two balls later, one of them will be out there again, often carrying a single bottle as if the liquid has simply run straight through a bowler’s sieve-like digestive system.
They’re not really there to deliver water, of course. They’re there to deliver something much more valuable – information. The umpires seem to turn something of a blind eye so long as it doesn’t actually slow things down at all. And it doesn’t, for the most part. It is sly and quick, but still infuriating because it gives the impression of a team being micromanaged.
Does it matter?
The regular fall of wickets in that evening session perhaps meant that the interlopers’ tabards were even more highly visible than normal, but that really just highlighted how often this is happening anyway. Maybe we’re assuming too much about what was going on, but it didn’t smack of players being allowed to think for themselves, which was a major criticism of the side at the end of what we’re knowingly going to refer to as the previous era.
We can only guess what is being said – and perhaps the whole problem was exacerbated on this occasion by the captain needing updates about Stuart Broad’s trip to hospital and James Anderson’s lurgy-induced time off the field – but it surely didn’t need to happen as often as it did.
If they really are giving the bowlers advice and new directives are being issued every two or three balls, then there is simply no room for a bowler to test his own theories. This would make the leather-flingers little more than gristly conduits for those who are poring over the data back in the dressing room.16 Appeals
Sometimes the bowling’s good and the ball’s moving around and the fall of wickets seems inevitable. At other times, relentless pressure causes a side to break. Then there are those other days when it seems like you need to take every opportunity presented to you. Day three at Old Trafford was one of those days – only it was the batting side who took the opportunities.
One nose-broken bowler was off the field, another had the shits (it’s uncertain how wild they were) and two more were bowling a fair amount of filth – yet India contrived to be bowled out for 161. That is no mean feat.
If there were any opportunity to lose a wicket, India grasped it. They barely let a single chance go unclaimed. It was very, very impressive.32 Appeals
Luckless at the Rose Bowl, mediocre at Old Trafford, Pankaj Singh has thus far found two ways to avoid taking a Test wicket. Our worry is that two will prove enough; that he’ll fail to take a wicket in this match and will never return to the team.
It’s become a ‘thing’ now. People talk about how many balls he’s bowled without success. “Oh, Pankaj!” they cry as another impassioned appeal peters out, unfulfilled.
We’ll be at Old Trafford today and we’ll be delighted if Pankaj gets that first wicket. If he gets a second, we’ll be nonplussed. A third and we’ll basically hate him.20 Appeals
There have been a few stats of late about James Anderson and Stuart Broad as a bowling partnership. Something about lots of wickets. We forget how many.
On paper, they’re a wonderfully complementary duo. One’s a devious swing bowler; the other’s rangly and hits the deck hard (a phrase which sounds to us more like the individual in question isn’t particularly handy in a fight). It’s like having Ian Botham and Curtly Ambrose in your team. You’ve got all scenarios covered.
Except it doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t work like that at all.
Who is Stuart Broad?
Stuart Broad is James Anderson. He’s James Anderson a bit back, but make no mistake, that’s who he is. He rushes in, lets fly some away swing and wickets ensue. What he doesn’t do is bowl anything like the man he said he wanted to bowl like round about the time he came into the England side. Glenn McGrath he is not.
Does it matter?
Well, to paraphrase a generic England cricketer – he is who he is. There’s no changing that. It’s odd that he somehow always seems to bowl like a much smaller man, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as he bowls well.
If there is an issue, it’s that thing we mentioned before about covering all scenarios. Faux James Anderson doesn’t so much complement Real James Anderson as compound him. When the ball swings – hey-hey, we’re quids in! When it doesn’t, you’ve got all your new balls in one box.
Today it swung.33 Appeals
A quick bit of housekeeping before Test time.
“Do not go into the field with a cigarette or pipe in your mouth”
That was one of WG Grace’s maxims for fielding. We’ve learned more from him than that and have outlined some important points over at Cricinfo.
Another old cricketer
Younus Khan (his preferred spelling) is still knocking about, scoring hundreds. His 177 against Sri Lanka took him past Mohammad Yousuf in the list of top Test run-scorers for Pakistan. Neither batsman is as celebrated as you might expect.
All Out Cricket fantasy league
This website’s mini league, The Kingdom, supplies the fourth- and tenth-ranked sides overall – Balladeer’s Bhangra-Morris Fusion and skid’s Playgue of Extraordinary Gentlemen respectively.
As we’ve said before, this reflects on us well, but surely ‘as a unit’ we can do better still? Come on! Pick intelligently! Accurately forecast future events!
For the record, our side, The Courtiers, lies 24th, which is the kind of nondescript respectablity in which we specialise.27 Appeals
You wonder whether Ishant Sharma’s ‘sore leg’ might have resulted from his workload. And how did Bhuvneshwar Kumar look in the third Test, MS?
“I think Bhuvi seemed to be a bit tired.”
Maybe you shouldn’t have picked just the four bowlers then.
“In the first couple of games we played with that extra bowler, who was part of the side. But we never really used him to that extent, giving him only eight to 10 overs. That’s the reason we thought of making our batting stronger by getting Rohit in.”
If only someone, somewhere had the power to ask a fifth bowler to deliver more overs.19 Appeals
We’ve put the bad news first in the forlorn hope that you might at least finish reading today’s piece with your spirits on an upward trajectory.
The BCCI are asking the ICC to appeal the Jimmy Anderson decision
No, seriously. They are.
Does no-one in the BCCI ever feel embarrassed by their behaviour? We know that anyone who calls themselves an ‘executive’ is fundamentally an embarrassment to all humankind, but the BCCI seem to go further, acting in an utterly shameless playground kind of way. Maybe if they didn’t always, always get their way, they might be ever-so-slightly less inclined to behave like this.
Sri Lanka v Pakistan
We still get excited about any Test series involving Pakistan. It always promises so much, regardless of what is then delivered.
Take that, off stump!
We seem to have found ourself writing about hope rather a lot of late. We’ve covered Andy Caddick’s sublime spell against the West Indies in 2000 for All Out Cricket, explaining what it meant for England fans at the time. There’s also a video, which we’ve just watched twice.15 Appeals
As in ‘returned’. He hasn’t got ankylosing spondylitis or anything.
He’s also only back in the squad, not necessarily the team. Plus he hasn’t been away that long. If we’re honest, we’re only doing this joke because we know we’ll get complaints if we don’t.
But it does feel like Steven Finn’s back. He’s in ostensibly the same situation as at the end of the Ashes tour, but whereas then he was on a downward curve heading towards being considered ‘not selectable’ by Ashley Giles, it now feels like he’s on an upward curve heading towards Godfrey Evans knows where.
We’re quite happy about this because Finn does at least threaten to address the fast-mediumish qualities of the England attack. Tall and sometimes fast, he’s distinct from the others.
Liam Plunkett hasn’t had a chance to play on a non-blancmange pitch yet, but he hasn’t been as eye-wateringly quick as we’d hoped (pace isn’t everything, but it is something), while Stuart Broad really should offer something different being so tall, but somehow doesn’t. He always seems to bowl like a much smaller man.
Finn is undeniably tall and he certainly can be quick. More importantly, he seems capable of bowling those deliveries which make the batsman feel like he has no cricket bat, but additional knuckles.11 Appeals
James Anderson has his hearing about maybe having pushed someone today. There’s much talk about how he’s been singled out as result of being a persistent sledger, but his rage isn’t a patch on that of the retiring (from cricket) Steve Kirby, who was one of the subjects of last week’s Shire Horse.
At Cricinfo, our latest Twitter round-up features all sorts of bollocks from Kemar Roach and we’ve also done a serious piece about whether leading by example really amounts to much or whether it’s just doing well while you happen to be captain.36 Appeals