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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mop-up of the day – Steve Smith is the best player in the world

England v Australia: 3rd Investec Ashes Test - Day One

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Okay, first up, our Twitter round-up. Yep, still doing it, so have a read. Nasser Hussain’s in it and there are two absolutely blinding selfies from opposite ends of the selfie-taking spectrum. We still can’t decide which of the two is our favourite.

Second on the order of business, Cricket Badger. A couple of weeks ago, we failed to gain subscribers compared to the previous week and that makes us livid, so either sign-up or tell someone else to. This will not stand.

Finally, Steve Smith scored a hundred today which means everyone forgets where we were yesterday and says that he’s clearly the best player in the world, just ahead of Virat Kohli and Joe Root, who are in turn ahead of Kane Williamson on the grounds that they played more recently.

What no-one seems to care about is that all of these players are batsmen and therefore dull as shit. Oh for a fast bowler to undermine everyone’s pointless lust for a hierarchy.

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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.

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Vehement letter-C denier AB de Villiers also renounces (c)

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

AB de Villiers has stood down as South Africa Test captain. Faf du Plessis has filled the void, much as he has been doing for quite a while now.

This decision makes sense to us for two reasons. Firstly, de Villiers hardly ever plays cricket for South Africa at the minute, while du Plessis does. Secondly, de Villiers is a bad captain, whereas du Plessis seems quite a good one.

They’ve emphasised the first reason in the announcement.

De Villiers always seemed to look upon captaincy much as a schoolboy does, for some reason equating hand-eye co-ordination with aptitude for strategic thinking and man management.

Whether he has actually been disabused of the notion that he should captain his country because he is the best batsman is unclear. Like many skilful cricketers, we suspect he’ll always believe that his physical ability will directly translate into more cerebral activities connected with the sport. A career as a commentator surely awaits.

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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…

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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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England hope to set up a euphemistically ‘awkward’ chase

Get a room, Virat Kohli and everyone who’s watching the Test match. None of us are comfortable with this level of public affection.

As we’ve said before, it’s the hero worship of Kohli that’s so objectionable, not the man himself. Still, the one leads to the other, so it’s only natural to wish him ill so that you’re spared the gushing. We don’t like gushing. We’re not Daniel Plainview.

From an England perspective, a couple of rabbit-in-a-hat tricks offset otherwise playground tactics to leave the team pretty much exactly where you’d expect them to be.

Given a brief opportunity to captain, Joe Root brought himself on to bowl and took two quick wickets. Adil Rashid, meanwhile, got the ‘opportunity’ to bowl 30 overs on the bounce – and occasionally, as he tired, the double-bounce.

Neither made much difference. Root’s success was freakish and Rashid’s workload came about because he appeared as likely as anyone to take wickets. He took 2-152. A third spinner could certainly have accounted for some of those runs without necessarily having any impact on the wicket column.

Alastair Cook has, in our view, made little of a mediocre hand. We wouldn’t damn him for that. We know by now that he is not a captain who transcends his team’s apparent limitations. It would be like going to a chain pub for a two-burgers-for-a-fiver offer only to complain about the quality of the beef. Given better ingredients, the Cook is competent. England’s shortcomings aren’t overwhelmingly down to him.

Still, it was good of India to agree to a handicap match in which England batted first on a pitch liable to go all scuffy and exciting. If they can somehow minimise their first innings deficit, they can hopefully set up some sort of awkward chase for their opponents.

‘Awkward’ means ‘small and easy’ but at least we’ll all be able to pretend for a bit.

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England were supposed to be happy – but Vijay and Pujara may be happier

Jos Buttler

Media coverage has led us to believe that England will be happy with 400 in their first innings. Judging by how they’ve set about their own run-scoring, India will also be happy with England’s total.

Everybody’s happy. Everybody wins. At least until after the second innings when only one of them will win. Probably India.

India’s batsmen went a bit Misbah at Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid early on. Dispassionately, you might view this as a conscious tactic that betrays an Indian perception that England’s spinners will pose a greater threat than their seamers. Viewed as an England fan, it felt like they were able to wade in with impunity. Only one wicket fell.

Murali Vijay remains. He’s supposed to be weak against the short ball – although as Sunil Gavaskar points out, people are quicker to pin a short ball weakness to a player than any other kind of shortcoming. Batsmen generally get out to something or other and openers get more than their fair share of short stuff.

If Cheteshwar Pujara has a weakness, it’s seeming a bit limp for being the subject of diktats from his captain. We find it odd that a batsman should accept being lectured by someone with an inferior batting average, but this deference doesn’t extend to his batting. Submission is something Pujara’s heard about, but at some point he concluded that it isn’t really for him.

Day three could go either way. Or maybe it’s obvious which way it’ll go and we haven’t really thought about it properly.

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