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India nearly got whacked

The Sopranos Pine Barrens episode (via YouTube)

The Sopranos Pine Barrens episode (via YouTube)

People often talk of Test cricket as being a battle. A match can at times be like two medieval knights hacking away at each other, inflicting a whole series of ghastly wounds until one or the other finally succumbs.

It doesn’t always work like that in India. Rather than a protracted battle, it can be more akin to a Mob execution of someone from within the family. The decisive moment of violence can’t come about until you get your quarry to the correct location.

In this Test, England fulfilled the Silvio/Paulie/Christopher role pretty well. They spent four and a bit days calmly driving India to the woods, making idle chit-chat and doing nothing to sabotage their chances.

If they didn’t actually manage to finish the job, then it’s worth reflecting on feelings before the Test. They were widely expected to arrive at their destination in the boot of the car.

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Haseeb Hameed is not a blocker

The pace of the world is too much for us these days. Haseeb Hameed is already defying other people’s expectations of him even before we’ve managed to form expectations for him to defy.

Hameed has been labelled ‘Baby Boycott’ in some quarters. On the basis of what exactly? The fact that he hasn’t yet played one-day cricket for his county, mostly.

He’s not a dasher, ergo he’s a blocker, ergo he’s Geoffrey Boycott. A pigeonhole based on a caricature based on minimal evidence.

The lad’s only made four hundreds. If you overlook the fact that one of them was made off 124 balls, he fits the stereotype perfectly.

Today Hameed applied a small blob of Tipp-Ex and completely rewrote history with a six.

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Australia fold like junk mail

Junk mail (CC licensed by Farouq Taj via Flickr)

Junk mail (CC licensed by Farouq Taj via Flickr)

Any batting side can fold like a Bargain Booze leaflet pushed through the door, but it takes a certain amount of preparation to do this when it’s really expected of you. Confronted with a robust hard-to-open letterbox, Australia crumpled impressively.

We watched the first six overs of their 85 all out against South Africa. Vernon Philander’s first over was a heap of shit – none of his first six balls were within 18 inches of the stumps – but still David Warner managed to depart. Kyle Abbott started more consistently and he too took a wicket off the last ball of his over.

Pretty soon after, we went to bed. South Africa had taken a wicket with dross and now they’d found their line, this wasn’t going to take too long.

Playing at home usually cures Australian batsmen of all their ills, so they’ve really had to build up to this. The Sri Lanka tour knocked out one supporting pillar and the one-day series against South Africa knocked out another. This allowed a third pillar to fall despite early reconstruction efforts in the first Test. It seems like they’re trying to build on sand now.

You wonder whether this level of failure would have been possible without those preparations. It might seem ostensibly irrelevant, but we reckon Australia would have made a half-decent total had they picked some bowlers people had heard of for that South Africa one-day series or had they perhaps just not played it at all.

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Why England should ignore Michael Vaughan and just keep sawing

tree-trunk-cc-licensed-by-daehyun-park-via-flickr

Tree trunk (CC licensed by Daehyun Park via Flickr)

In another era, England could have embarked on this Test with no leg-spinner and little comprehension of reverse swing. Working their way through the Indian batting line-up would have been like trying to saw through a tree trunk with a butter knife. After days of toil, they’d have succeeded only in scoring the bark.

Their task still seems pretty tough, but at least they’re serrated these days. They could be sharper, they’re not exactly a power tool, but at least there’s a visible effect.

All they can really do for now is avoid thinking like the Michael Vaughans of the world and persevere. Should the pace of the game pick up in the second innings – and it might – then any kind of a head-start would be handy.

Pitches can only be slagged off after a match. Until then, we can’t be sure what is and isn’t meaningful. It’s easy to say that the pitch is ‘unfair’ right now, but a Test pitch can only be accurately assessed after day five.

Someone should tell Vaughan that you can’t get anywhere in life by echoing ill-informed opinion back at people in some sort of misguided quest for popularity.

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Brad Hogg shoved vitamin C up his jacksie – and there are still some unanswered questions about the story

Another day, another pre-Christmas autobiography by a gnarly old Australian cricketer. Brad Hogg’s The Wrong ‘Un surely warrants a mention though, if only for the anecdote about when Steve Waugh tricked him into thinking that some vitamin C pills needed to be inserted into his outbox.

The story itself has pretty much just been told in the previous sentence. “I felt uncomfortable for a few days, but I never got a cold,” he adds.

However, the background to this is extraordinary.

Firstly, Hogg apparently arrived for that debut tour with a seriously chafed groin after spending an hour on a mechanical nightclub bull before departure.

An hour. Presumably that’s cumulative rather than in one sitting, but still – that seems a hell of a long time, even before we ask how he came to conclude that would be ideal preparation for his first overseas international cricket.

Hogg also says that he was unnerved by room-mate Michael Bevan literally sleeping with his eyes open. As far as we can tell, that terrifying freakishness is something that’s pretty much just mentioned in passing.

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Why ‘par score’ is a fairly useless concept during a Test match

England have made too many runs and they don’t deserve any credit. India will now make more and England will lose.

A lot of England supporters seem to have swiftly moved on from ‘England are doing brilliantly’ to ‘India would have done just as well had they batted so this doesn’t really count.’

This is the problem with Test cricket for many people – the desire to assign a value (marks out of ten, perhaps) even while the match is in progress. A team starts to make runs and they earn respect, but then at some point they make too many runs and their efforts are downgraded, even discarded, thanks to application of the ever-primed flat pitch penalty.

So one can always find cause for a moan. What a wonderful sport.

All we know for certain is this: 537 is never a bad score. England could probably have made more, but would almost certainly have expected to make less. That alone is cause for celebration for fans of the touring side.

Par scores

The concept of ‘par score’ in cricket is woolly and not especially useful. The way the term is normally used, it refers to the score the average batting side would have made when facing the average bowling side on a given pitch.

What this doesn’t take into account is whether the average batting side in question is allied to an average bowling attack, or whether the average bowling side they are up against is backed up by an average batting line-up.

Whether a score is above or below par for the conditions doesn’t really matter when we don’t yet know what’s needed. In this instance, that will depend not just on the runs made, but on how England bowl, how India bat and whether or not the home team’s innings exceeds or falls short of par.

Even then, the changing conditions mean that reference to par doesn’t actually help you know who’s ahead. Test cricket is an unbalanced sport. On a pitch that deteriorates throughout, four ‘par’ innings would see the team batting first win. Par attainment would presumably be little consolation.

Back to the match

You have to admire England’s pragmatism. With the lower order having consistently out-scored the top order in recent times, they’re increasingly filling the team from the bottom up. If the all-rounders are the only ones who are going to score runs, well to hell with it – pick more all-rounders.

Number six used to be the doorway in and out of the England team, but that’s no longer the case. Nowadays number six is Ben Stokes in the corridor; a place you regularly pass by when heading in one direction or the other.

Moeen Ali has been past more times than most.

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At least Moeen Ali made 99 not out

Moeen Ali and Joe Root
Imagine that today is exactly like today only Moeen Ali made a duck. There, you see – things could be slightly worse.

This isn’t so much a ‘glass half full’ attitude as a ‘there’s still something in there, I’m sure – maybe if I tip the glass the right way for long enough the minuscule droplets will gather and form something visible in the corner’ attitude.

You work with what you have. An increasingly polluted world continues spinning. As do R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, for England have managed to bat out a full day of Test cricket.

Big first innings and a game that accelerates alarmingly as it approaches its denouement. That’s our prediction.

Predictions are for fools, of course, but there are so many fools these days that the addition of another one won’t tip the balance.

Joe Root made a hundred, incidentally.

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Gary Ballance climbs wearily onto the treadmill

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

When a player is dropped during a home series, there’s only one way back into the side. They perform well in first-class cricket, they tell themselves they’ve proved the doubters wrong and they return mentally buoyed.

When you’re dropped on tour, things can pan out differently. Gary Ballance has just been dropped at the very start of a five-Test tour of India. Forget being a professional and selection and non-selection being part and parcel of a career, the man himself will feel that he has been evaluated and found wanting. It is a straightforward rejection of him as an individual.

And this guy is now the reserve batsman; a guy who may have to come back into the team should someone else fall ill, sustain an injury or fail.

The treadmill

People talk about international cricket being a treadmill, but let’s appropriate that metaphor and use it differently.

When you’re playing cricket, you’re not on a treadmill – you’re moving. Hopefully, you’re scoring runs and moving forwards, but you could also be having a hard time and edging towards the trapdoor. Either way, things are changing.

Out of the team, you can still make progress one way or another by playing domestic cricket, but on tour, nothing happens – nothing meaningful anyway. You bat in the nets and it can feel like things are changing, but without testing yourself out in the real world, you’re basically putting in a load of effort and going nowhere. You’re on a treadmill.

Captains and coaches seem increasingly happy look at performances in the nets when picking a side, but we’re not convinced that the players themselves feel the same way. They still talk about everything being different ‘in the middle’.

Net worth

Gary Ballance is looking at a lot of net practice over the next few months and should he return to the side, nothing will have changed in terms of his results in competitive cricket matches.

He has been dropped because England think there’s a whole bunch of batsmen who are better than him. If one of those suffers a similar fate later in the series, Ballance probably won’t feel like he’s earned back his Test place. He will feel like he’s been returned to the side thanks to proximity, because another player has been even worse than he was when he was last rejected. It’s hard to imagine a player in that frame of mind really sticking it to the world.

We’re delighted that Haseeb Hameed is playing a Test match. At the same time we can’t help but feel that there may be further changes to come. The decision to send Gary Ballance on tour and then instantly drop him from the team means this England squad is already looking rather thin.

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Our England-India composite XI

All Out Cricket are doing a thing where you can pick your England-India Composite XI from the last 25 years.

Here’s ours:

composite-xi

It’s easy to be distracted by the mouth-watering batting line-up, but there’s more to this team than that. We’ve also picked three spinners, which means either Jonathan Trott or Paul Collingwood may well find themselves opening the bowling.

Tell us you wouldn’t pay good money to watch that.

5-0 predictions

As far as the coming series goes, there’s a lot of English pessimism. This is hardly surprising. If you were qualified to represent England at pessimism, you’d be odds-on to earn a spot in the world team too. It’s in our DNA. It probably came from the Celts or the Romans or the Angles or the Vikings or the Normans. It’s a quintessentially English quality.

But now that everyone else is getting in on the pessimism act, let’s rein it in a little here at King Cricket. England will not out-spin India, but they could out-reverse-swing them. Supplemented by competent spin and the occasional freakish innings, they could snatch a Test and then India could get wobbly.

But more than anything, we’d like to see a draw at some point in the series – ideally early on. There have been just three draws on Indian soil in the last seven years, but should any game have the makings of one, many England fans will be quick to moan that it is ‘typical’ as if Tests in India always end this way.

If you can’t enjoy people moaning about something that almost never happens on the grounds that they think it always happens, just what can you take pleasure in?

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James Anderson’s back!

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

As in ‘returned’. He hasn’t got ankylosing spondylitis or anything.

In Bangladesh, England typically made headway with the ball when they managed to get some reverse swing. Ben Stokes was far and away the most effective practitioner. Should England manage to get Anderson back into the team at some point they could then field a bowling attack that would effectively comprise two new ball bowlers, two spinners and two reverse swing bowlers.

This doesn’t exactly tip the balance in their favour, but it does give them a half-decent way of going about things.

This is fine. Life is mostly about making the best of things, hoping for a bit of luck somewhere along the way and then having a pint at the end of the week whether things have gone your way or not.

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