Virat Kohli had power tools while Alastair Cook only had rusty manual hand-me-downs

Alastair Cook of England in action during Day Four of the Second Investec Test Match between England and New Zealand at Headingley Carnegie Cricket Ground, Leeds, England on 27 May 2013. Photo by Sarah Ansell.

England haven’t stagnated. They’re just worse at bowling and facing spin than India. And playing Test cricket in India involves bowling and facing an awful lot of spin.

So rather than howling about normality, now might instead be the perfect time to revisit the monumental achievement that was England’s 2012 tour. Reviewed through the prism of the last few weeks, we can better see that series win for the glorious aberration it truly was.

But back to stagnation

There was no point in the last few years when England were a better spin conditions side than India. If there’s been a significant change, it’s that England have been obliged to play Test cricket in India. They should be able to avoid that activity in the immediate future, so the side’s already on the up-and-up.

Yesterday we wrote about perceptions of pitch flatness. We’re less than delighted but not entirely surprised to have had our subtext made explicit. England lost ten wickets for 104 runs in 48.2 overs today. The last six wickets fell for 15.

But this doesn’t sum up the tour. You don’t lose a marathon by half-an-hour in the finishing straight. This last collapse was just the cracking of a side subjected to prolonged stress. The ‘lazy’ shots and apparent incompetence were just a manifestation of all that had gone before.

What had gone before?

Just an awful lot of being worse. India weren’t twice as good – as today’s result perhaps implies – they were just reliably better at almost everything, day after day after day. It wasn’t just the obvious elements, like spin bowling, it was also the related ones, such as bowling seam on Indian pitches.

Playing at home does confer certain advantages. A necessary reliance on spin bowlers is a major one that is always likely to make an India side more effective and an England side less effective. However, it’s hard to avoid concluding that this particular version of England has been more affected by this than most.

Every team is skewed towards some style of cricket or other, but the relative paucity of good spinners and turning pitches in the county cricket ecosystem means England don’t just struggle for bowlers, they also lack spin-adept batsmen.

Can you summarise this with some sort of reference to DIY?

If you need to saw through a floorboard, you can get the job done with a hand saw. It’ll take you a few minutes. However, if you have a circular saw, you can do the job in seconds. This is before you even get started on the plumbing, rewiring or corpse-concealing that necessitated the floorboard removal in the first place.

England set out for their winter tours with a plastic box full of hand-me-down tools and they made do. In Bangladesh, they managed to get some sort of a job done by improvising with pliers and adjustable spanners. Against India and their van full of professional equipment, they simply couldn’t keep up.

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34 Appeals

  1. Every Sky Sports pundit says India’s paceman were better than English in pace, control, and movement.Do you agree with it?Also Ben Stokes was saying that they didn’t get any reverse swing because the SG ball went soft.

    • King Cricket

      December 20, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      They certainly didn’t get any reverse swing and that was a hugely influential factor as reverse swing was arguably England’s only realistic route to victory.

      Wouldn’t say India’s seamers were streets ahead – Shami maybe – but it certainly wasn’t an area where the home team ceded any ground, despite fielding fewer practitioners in each match.

  2. I think in 2012 England fast bowlers did get reverse swing.Don’t know what happened this time.

    • King Cricket

      December 20, 2016 at 2:12 pm

      Who knows. Lusher outfields, different batch of balls. For this reason reverse swing is best considered a bonus rather than something you build your entire strategy around.

  3. Happy to report that I caught large parts of the match live. A match report will attempted in due course.

    • King Cricket

      December 20, 2016 at 2:42 pm

      Ged, is that you?

      Excellent news. More match reports please non-Ged people.

      In fact is it okay if we refer to you all as ‘the unGed’?

    • Did the #knowledeableChennsicrowd :- chant “Buttler for captain”?
      Give a standing ovation when England crossed 200 in the final innings?
      Cheer more loudly for Ravi Jadeja’s 50 then Karun Nair’s 300 ?

      • #KnowledgeableChennaiCrowd

      • Don’t remember any Buttler for Captain chants .. Though a few English supporters were rooting for Bairstow. (Not sure if any bairstowed for Root)
        No and yes for the other two Qs

        Methinks the knowledgeable section of the crowd was well outnumbered by the “Hoo.. Haa..” and “Jadduuuu Jaddu/Kohliiiiii Kohli/Ashwinnnnn Ashwin” types.

      • On second thoughts that would be a No for the third question too.

  4. Aah, excellent. The wait for someone to explain this by reference to some sort of DIY had gone on too long.

  5. Not sure I agree with you here, Oh Glorious King.

    There’s so much talent in this England setup, but since the South Africa tour it hasn’t been fulfilled. We’ve failed to win our last three series, losing seven of our last 11 Tests.

    Surely that suggests more than just being unable to handle India?

    George Dobell today said he feels England have got the wrong coach for their Test team. Interesting theory.

    • King Cricket

      December 20, 2016 at 5:58 pm

      “There’s so much talent in this England setup” is just a thing people say. England’s spin bowling talent is so ordinary that no-one’s yet displaced Moeen Ali as first-choice pick.

      Now we absolutely love Moeen as a cricketer, but we’d argue his bowling returns this winter haven’t especially belied his talent with the ball.

      England’s last seven Tests have been in conditions where spin has been to the fore. They’ve lost five of those. So in the period you’re talking about, we’re left with the two defeats to Pakistan.

      In the first, Yasir Shah – a spinner – took 10 wickets. In the other, the same bowler took a five-for in the second innings.

      Also worth pointing out that England played that series with Alex Hales, James Vince and Gary Ballance. If there is ‘so much talent’ in this England side, much of it has found its way in because the coach has played a part in jettisoning those players.

      • Point taken. The ‘so much talent’ I’m talking about is Stokes, Buttler, Root, Bairstow, Moeen the batsman. More natural ability & potential there than I can remember in an England side.

        For what it’s worth, I think Mo should stick to batting.

      • I could suggest Atherton, Stewart, Hussein, Butcher, Thorpe as another candidate for Most Natural Talent in an England Team. Or how about Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman, Sehwag as a possible world record holder, at the very least a more talentful team than this Indian one.

        The point being that teams packed full of sublime batsmen don’t necessarily win, whereas teams packed with a world-class spinner and a world-class seamer win quite a lot. That’s been the problem here – Anderson has been ineffective, and Graeme Swann has been retired. The former might be due to the conditions, the lack of a replacement for the latter is possibly the natural state of English cricket.

        I’m sorry to have to break this to you, Matthew Hayden, but you had nothing to do with it. It was the pigeon-toed one and the drug-taking friend of the bookies who were the only ones that mattered.

    • Agree strongly about the talent thing just being something people say. Talentwise, this team is nowhere near the 2011 vintage. You would find a place for Root in that team (although I am not sure where, probably for Collingwood), but of the rest not even Stokes would warrant a place. The only other possible argument would be whether you take 2016 Broad over 2011 Broad. Because of the #brand the 2009-13 team played, people forget sometimes that rather than just working hard, they were really fucking good.

      From the players that have played more than 5 Tests since the clean slate of early 2014:

      Root averages 60
      Bairstow averages 50
      Cook and Ballance average in the 40s
      Every other player averages less than 35, with most averaging less than 30

      Anderson, Broad and Woakes are the only 3 to average less than 30 with the ball. Spin averages nearly 44.

      That’s just a bang average team isnt it? An entertaining bang average team sure, but what suggests they are any better than that?

  6. Perhaps this series will help towards a a little more even handed analysis when Asian teams tour outside the sub-continent? Contrasting the blog’s tone with the posts on the 2014 Eng-Ind series with this series there seems to be a significant change in view. During the previous series the posts were more about how abject the Indian performance was and the ruthlessness/brilliance of the English team while currently there seems to be an effort to completely absolve tourists of any responsibility, citing home advantage. Despite the fact that pitches were a lot more even in this series compared to the ones at the end of the previous one. And toss was nowhere as crucial this time around.

    • King Cricket

      December 20, 2016 at 7:00 pm

      You say that like we’ve never seen England get dicked in India before.

      This India side has been just as ruthless as that 2014 England team was and just as admirable. If that’s earned fewer mentions, it’s not lack of recognition on our part – it’s just that we unavoidably write about cricket from an English perspective, so England performances are given more attention.

      If we have treated the series differently, it perhaps reflects how the touring teams eventually measured up to expectations. It seemed pretty obvious before the tour that England would be soundly beaten. The 2014 India team promised more.

    • King Cricket

      December 20, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      Also, not sure how much a side can blame the toss when they lose by an innings batting first and third as India twice did in 2014.

      • I get the English perspective bit. It was more a comment on the difference in the tone of coverage in the media when teams tour the sub-continent as compared to when the Asian teams are playing away. Weakness against seamers is almost portrayed as some sort of a character flaw but when teams struggle against spin, there is talk about dodgy pitches, alien condition as if something underhand is the only cause for such results. Again this is probably because some of the better cricket writers are based in those countries where spin is inconsequential.

        Sorry about the toss bit. Didn’t check the scorecard, assumed they were sent in. I try to not think of that series, except for Ishant’s finest hour.

      • King Cricket

        December 21, 2016 at 8:58 am

        Hopefully we’re not guilty of presenting weakness against seamers as being some greater failing than weakness against spin. It all amounts to the same thing.

        It’s a common reflex in some quarters to equate ability against pace with ‘character’. It reaches its extreme when someone is bounced out a couple of times. On those occasions, the victim is always portrayed as being fearful, when they might simply be technically flawed.

  7. Despite the scoreline, it has been a hard-fought and thoroughly enjoyable series, and I’m sad it’s over. (Grudging) props to the BCCI for organizing a perfectly-paced 5-test series, and also for ensuring the wickets weren’t too one-sided.

    England have batted heroically through the 5 tests, better than any non-Asian team in India since at least Australia 2004, and IMO better than the 2012 team. In Hameed and Jennings they have discovered not only talented but tough young openers, who promise so much for years to come. The middle order of Root, Ali and Bairstow looks solid, and Stokes looks like a genuine all rounder.

    And it’s not just the batting. Probably the biggest difference between the Indian side that lost in England in 2014 and this England side is how India fell away after Southampton, while England fought hard all the way till the fourth day of the final test (when Bairstow could be heard on the stump mic saying “c’mon lads, only 15 minutes till tea”). To see Broad charge in with the third new ball late in the day was something else.

    This is, of course, the proverbial taking of the positives, and I apologize if it sounds patronizing coming from an India supporter. But I did want to point out that the commentary from fans and experts seems far more fatalistic than the attitude of the actual players.

    The scoreline was entirely expected. The closeness of the contest and the spirit of the England cricketers was not.

    • King Cricket

      December 20, 2016 at 7:29 pm

      No, not patronising. Our lack of ire is largely down to a similar feeling that England put in a shift and carried on doing so long after other teams would have clocked off.

      Not that there isn’t stuff to be unhappy about. It’s just broader, long-term stuff. The England players themselves have been pretty game.

      India too haven’t cocked about or rubbed it in. A triple hundred might seem like that, but (the vast majority of ) it was appropriate for the match situation and he didn’t exactly crow about it – he just seemed to enjoy it.

      There is also a welcome meritocratic vibe about this India side where once there was the occasional faint whiff of entitlement from some team members. They are fighters and deserve what they have got.

      • You’re being generous with that “occasional faint whiff” thing. More like the putrid stench of entitlement really, spanning generations of Indian cricketers. Kapil Dev went on at least 2 years past his sell-by date because he was untouchable by the early 90s, and arguably Tendulkar did too.

        The meritocratic vibe, fragile as it is, is probably down to the old firm of Kumble and Dravid (now India A coach crucial to developing players like Karun Nair and Jayant Yadav) – the gentlemen cricketers of the Indian Pantheon who have experienced first hand the damage wrecked by that culture of entitlement.

      • King Cricket

        December 21, 2016 at 8:53 am

        Easy for you to say.

      • Easy is a relative term, particularly when I’ve insulted not one but two cricketing gods in the same sentence. Now the only hope is for Anderson to say something mildly critical of an Indian player, so the wrath of a thousand Cricinfo commenters gets directed elsewhere.

    • Agree about the spirit of the England cricketers.

      On the field, it was good to see Root, Buttler, Bairstow and Stokes really keeping their energy levels high and chasing after every ball – Buttler’s catch of Ashwin on the fourth day was a great example. The players I was less than impressed with were Cook, who seemed felt a bit listless and not getting his bowling changes right, and Rashid, who just didn’t seem to be trying anything in particular.

      In an interview after the test, when asked what they could have DONE differently, Rashid answered, maybe taken a few more wickets!

  8. I think it will also be very interesting to see how Australia go in a few months time in India. I recon the same score line but bigger thumpings.

  9. There’s no doubt that England didn’t have the bowling to compete, but you get the impression their batting is capable of more.

    By the end of a tour like this, there’s so much which has gone wrong (from an English perspective) that it seems as if the team is lacking in all departments, but there’s typically a point in the series when you notice things starting to unravel.

    For England, I think that point was Vishakapatnam and the decision to follow South Africa’s example of a year ago in an attempt to blockathon their way to a draw. While it was, IMO, daft to copy a strange and ultimately unsuccessful strategy, it seemed to subsequently reveal a management disagreement with Bayliss later coming out to say how England should bat positively.

    Its a bizarrely basic debate to be having in the middle of a tough series and could only have served to confuse the English batsmen and made their job harder. Personally, I’m not in favour of any sort of management directive to bat this way or that. Different players have varying levels of comfort with attack or defence – a Pujara or a Cook are probably perfectly fine with defending for longer periods, while a Rahane or a Stokes may look to take chances and relive the pressure on themselves. It’s probably best to let each batsman go about his business.

    • I think Bayliss’s point was that: If England were anyway gonna lose, then they might as well lose it in the Bayliss way rather than the Cook way. I agree with him, losing the Cook way is very demoralizing and this team has a lot of characters such as Stokes & Moeen Ali who should be allowed to express themselves.

      • I don’t really think there’s a non-demoralizing way to lose. Also, without going into the merits of the “cook way” or the “Baylis way”, the fact that there’s even a debate there among senior leadership can’t have made things easier for the batsmen

  10. There seem to be a lot of … ‘opinions’ …. in these comments. I’m not sure how I feel about that (and if I was, I might well keep it to myself)

  11. I’d like to wish Skid all the very best for the several match reports he has now committed himself to submitting.

    I’d like to proffer a word or two of advice to Skid:

    Firstly, keep the match reports short. KC starts to get a bit tetchy once you nip above 400 words, tending towards apoplexy once the 600 word barrier is breached. Think of KC as the equivalent of the England bowling attack in India and your words as the equivalent of runs; except that in this case you want “England” to be happy, not to disintegrate; I’m sure you get the drift.

    Secondly, don’t suppose that writing some match reports in the name of anthropomorphic toys and other possessions will disguise the fact that you are writing the reports. Trust me on this one, Skid, this advice comes from knowledge and deep, bitter experience.

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