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Is a turning pitch a bad pitch?

In our book, all pitches are acceptable unless they result in boring cricket. For what it’s worth, our book is entitled The Book of Unarguable Facts.

Some dude in Mohali has curated a cracker (curators curate, yes?) for the first Test between India and South Africa. Flat on a seamer’s length and scuffed to buggery on a spinner’s length it delivers exactly what a Test pitch should – a tough challenge for the touring side.

Dean Elgar wasn’t happy with it, even though he took four wickets on the first day. “I don’t think it’s a very good cricket wicket,” he said. “It is my personal opinion. It is a result wicket.”

Interesting that Elgar equates result wickets with not-very-good wickets – for what are cricket matches about if not attaining a result? It seems the myth of the ‘good’ cricket pitch still persists.

There’s a common belief that green pitches are fair because they subsequently flatten out, while turning pitches are unfair because they deteriorate further. But is this the case? We need only review a week’s worth of Test history to find at least two examples where it hasn’t really worked out like that.

The first, second and third innings of the third Test between Pakistan and England featured escalating scores, while India are now 125-2 in their second innings, which hardly implies a making-a-mockery-of-our-noble-sport minefield.

Play on turning pitches, play on greentops, play on pock-marked concrete if you want – but only judge the quality of the pitch at the match’s conclusion.

England cricketers never last – why learn lessons when you’ll probably never return?

It’s a truism that the England players will learn from this series defeat to Pakistan. You could actually see it happening before your eyes at times: Jonny Bairstow fighting his impulses or Ben Stokes seemingly devising a batting method on the fly. We just wonder whether these players will ever get chance to demonstrate what they’ve taken from this schooling.

We touched on this a few days ago. England cricketers may well play as many Tests as their counterparts from other parts of the world – but they don’t tend to play for as long (quite possibly because of the very fact that they play more frequently).

The class of 2012

Last time England were in the UAE – which was all of three years ago – Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar all learnt plenty. But what for? When did they get chance to use that knowledge?

It’s surely no coincidence that the survivors from that series – Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, James Anderson and Stuart Broad – were among England’s best-performing players this time around. Yes, even Bell – that’s how ineffectual everyone else was. Broad even had the gall to finish with England’s third-highest batting average.

The Trott template

In many ways, Trott is the archetypal England cricketer. Other than a brief aborted comeback as an opener, his Test career basically comprises one Test touring cycle from 2009 to 2012. One tour of Bangladesh, one tour of India, one tour of New Zealand, one tour of South Africa, one tour of Sri Lanka, one tour of the UAE and one full tour of Australia, plus one aborted. Funnily enough, his later reappearance provided his only tour of the West Indies.

All of those lessons learnt. No chance to demonstrate his knowledge.

The one thing in England’s credit this time around is that the comprehensive implosion of that previous side has meant that this current one is that much younger, so there is actually a decent chance of a few of them returning to the UAE if it remains Pakistan’s rented ‘home’. We wouldn’t bet on it though, because no matter what their age, very few England players endure.

What else?

As this series comes to an end, Test cricket’s kicking off elsewhere in the world with four of the five teams above England in the rankings (Pakistan are the other) currently in action. Australia are continuing their annual tradition of comforting themselves that everything’s okay during their home summer, racking up a huge total against New Zealand. Meanwhile India, the home of spin, has just played host to a masterclass from that all-time master of the art, Dean Elgar.

England poised to make some sort of history

It might be an unlikely series-levelling victory; more likely it’ll be a defeat. Either way, someone somewhere will make a note and history will be made. History is always being made. On a personal level, we have a history of drinking tea and typing that stretches back at least as far as this morning.

Our overall assessment of this series is that England have generally made decent decisions and applied themselves well, but that Pakistan bowl better spin and also bat better against it. The tourists compete well in patches, but over time that fundamental gap will probably tell.

So what is there left to look out for?

Will Alastair Cook avoid being dismissed by Yasir Shah four innings in succession by surrendering his wicket to someone else? (Maybe)

Will any England batsman other than him make a hundred in this series? (No)

Will Samit Patel, powered by a majestic lunch, launch a reasonably impressive but ultimately inconsequential batting salvo before subsiding out of the side after this Test, never to return? (Probably)

Will Zulfiqur Babar concede less than a run an over? (Yes)

Will Jonny Bairstow continue playing the cut shot to him and Yasir Shah, even though doing so means it’s clearly just a matter of time before he’s dismissed? (Yes)

Will some sort of history be made? (Yes)

Shoaib Malik adds to the rich tradition of Pakistani cricketer retirements

No-one does retirement quite like a Pakistan cricketer. Mohammad Yousuf’s was a textbook departure, entirely equivocal such that his absence can perhaps only now be considered permanent, some five years later. Or at least it could have been considered permanent if he hadn’t played a number of international matches after that announcement.

That isn’t actually all that impressive by Pakistan standards though. Abdul Razzaq was turning out for the national side some six years after he retired. The latest to deliver a masterful exit is Shoaib Malik who said “the time was right” to stand down from Test cricket, a good fortnight after concluding the time was right for a return after five years out of the side.

That’s still pretty piss-poor as short-lived returns go, however. Shahid Afridi made a four-day cameo comeback before he jacked in the longest format. He was captain at the time too.

Hopefully Shoaib Malik’s got something a little more innovative up his sleeve. We fully expect him to have reversed his decision by the time we click ‘publish’. That’ll set the scene perfectly for him to be named Misbah’s replacement as captain, at which point he can retire again with even more impact.


James Taylor – middle order giant

England in UAE middle-order partnership shocker. Who’d have Liam Plunkett (thunk it)?

Fours and sixes are all well and good, but it’s important to cater for fans of the nurdle as well. Today was a most nurdlesome day. Nudges, leaves, jabs into the offside, works to the legside – all were on display.

James Taylor showed himself to be impressively nurdle-adept. With England’s batting currently weighted towards bombast, that’s most welcome. Batting line-ups should be like your plate after your first incursion into good buffet territory. You want a bit of everything.

This writer is also rather pleased to see Taylor and Jonny Bairstow making a decent labourers-gloved fist of things. People can sometimes get too clever with their tips for the Test team, picking out whatever second division stylist happens to have made a hundred that day – but it’s clear this pair have been too good for domestic cricket for quite some time now. That should mean something.

Last night, in a dream, someone tried to persuade us that there weren’t many famous people called Jim any more. They wouldn’t accept Jimmy Anderson as a Jim, so we very much doubt we’d have got away with suggesting James Taylor. It was still clearly a sign though.

This article was going to end with a bit about why it was the right time to pick James Taylor and how continually overlooking him up until now has helped build inner steel and and indomitable spirit. Turns out we wrote that article last year. Have a read.

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