Home India 2021 Another fine mess

Another fine mess

by Midnight

Lots of interest leading up to the second Test after the memorable England victory in the first. The subjects of personnel, and pitch quality, seem to be causing much speculation. Jofra Archer will miss this game due to an elbow injury so the opportunity is there to pair Anderson with Broad.

Talksport radio have enlisted the services of pitch expert Steve Harmison and I listen intently on the Friday to his pearls of wisdom. “Win the toss and score 450” says Steve, “Whoever does that wins the game I reckon!” Sounds logical enough, so long as our pace bowler doesn’t propel the ball towards third slip when it is our turn to field.

I have seen a video of the pitch that is to be used and it resembles the Sea of Tranquility on the moon, with massive colour variations, craters and bumps – maybe we should ask for it to be rolled with a moon buggy, and open the batting with Armstrong and Aldrin.

The England squad is duly announced. Disappointingly, Jimmy Anderson has been rested. He bowled a total of 28 overs in the last game….average that out, it’s less than 6 overs per day. At the age of 38 a quick bowler could be one injury away from the end of his career, so my inclination would have been to select Jimmy, as he clearly wants to play – but obviously the management know best as they have proved on countless occasions (please don’t laugh, with hindsight!).

Dom Bess has been dropped, not rested.

Joe Root discussed this decision in his well tutored media – speak.

“I’m sure he’ll come back with questions and I’m sure he will be disappointed, but that’s what you expect from guys that really care and want to be out there all the time, performing for their country. He’s got a very good attitude. He’s still very much at the start of his career and he’ll use this as an opportunity to get better.”

That’s all very polite and admirable, but doesn’t actually explain to anyone why Bess has been dropped. Instead, why not try saying something simpler like : “He’s been dropped because of his poor bowling in the second innings of the last game.”

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Broad and Foakes come into the squad for Jimmy and Jos Buttler respectively. Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes and Olly Stone complete the line-up.

Personnel changes in the Channel 4 studio too. Rishi is still there, but Cooky has gone, and is replaced by a sombre looking Andrew Strauss and Ebony Rainford-Brent, who is wearing a pair of enormous ear rings similar to the handcuffs the umpires use for checking that the ball hasn’t gone out of shape.

It’s straight over to Madras and Mark Butcher, who confirms the quality of the pitch is as anticipated – sure enough, a raging Bunsen. Ebony and Straussy agree that the pitch is a minefield from their London studio so there can be absolutely no doubt about it.

The toss is crucial. Oh shit, we’ve lost it. Not good.

Bumrah and the two spinners from the first Test are missing for India, who unsurprisingly choose to bat.

Joe Root then explains that we have ‘tailored’ our own team selection after analysing the pitch – and it is Woakes, not Stone, that misses out. Moeen Ali also returns. By the end of this game, England just might be looking for a new tailor.

Amazingly, there is a crowd permitted inside the stadium. There is hope for us all.

The sight of all these fans sat together, mostly without masks, will have Messrs Hancock and Johnson scrabbling about to find their tin hats in time for the next Coronavirus Briefing. Unless, of course, a ‘St.Johns Wood Variant’ is detected in Chennai next week.

Stuart Broad comes roaring in, complete with his ‘Deerhunter’ Russian Roulette headband. I wonder if he knows the film is on telly tonight. You need three bullets in the chamber, Stuart, three. Tight first over, a maiden.

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Olly Stone starts at the other end, fast and accurate. With just his third ball, Shubman Gill shoulders arms and is struck on the pad. He is given out! I have never heard the normally placid Nick Knight sound so animated. He is practically foaming at the mouth.

It didn’t take long for spin to appear as Leach took the ninth over. It didn’t take long for the first wasted DRS review either – just Leach’s third ball, despite Broad’s best efforts to squander one before him. Leach carried on his DRS form from the first Test. A ludicrous review against Rohit Sharma, with more green lights than a broadband router.

Mind you, I can see why England wanted Rohit Sharma out. He is now on the attack and reaches 50 from just 47 balls.

With the score on 85, Jack Leach induces an edge from The Barnacle, Pujara and Stokes takes a smart catch at first slip. We needed that, the way the run rate was climbing.

Then – the Brucie Bonus! Moeen Ali turns one back into Kohli – and he is bowled. The crowd cannot believe it. Kohli cannot believe it either from the way he stands there arrogantly like W.G.Grace. “But YOU can’t get ME out like that!”

India stood at 106-3 at lunch, probably England’s morning. That was as good as it got.

The afternoon session belonged entirely to India. Rohit Sharma dominated the bowling at one end, Rahane was steady at the other.

The postman called at my house, and an official looking letter dropped on the mat.

“Oh good, this will be my vaccination invite!” I thought.

No. A reminder that my f****** TV licence is due. Bollocks to that. The local vaccination team had better get to me before the pubs open again, or there will be trouble!

No wickets fell during the afternoon at all. Rohit Sharma reached an impressive century and England were coming under increasing pressure.

A critical studio tweet at tea : “Channel 4 cricket need to give more information about the make up of the wicket square. What’s the top dressing, why is it puffing up when the ball pitches. Lots more information required!”

Come on down Smithy and Tremers, I have emailed your contact details to Rishi Persad. Please don’t forget my percentage.

The final session was filled with incident.

A smart stumping by Foakes, but Rohit Sharma was adjudged not out even though from all angles there didn’t seem to be anything behind the line. Fortunately Sharma miscued a sweep a few minutes later and Moeen Ali took the catch on the boundary. A game changing knock of 161.

Next, some DRS controversy. Rahane was the beneficiary of a very dubious decision as the umpire failed to follow through the entire replay, which showed that the ball had bounced up and hit the cue end of his bat before being fairly caught.

To add insult to injury, England also lost the review, although to be fair this was later refunded faster than a cancelled Ryanair holiday flight.

Fortunately for everyone, before the trolls could reach their keyboards to begin typing umpire death threats, Rahane took a guilty swipe at Moeen Ali and was bowled neck and crop.

This episode is concerning, though, as the DRS has clearly misfired, whether this be a communication issue or something more sinister. Joe Root looked clear enough in his request, from what I saw on the screen, but the umpires have been good in the series thus far so I feel that for now at least we should allow them the benefit of the doubt.

Root had the satisfaction of a wicket late on as Ashwin flicked him to Olly Pope at short leg and India finished the day on 300-6.

Advantage India then, but if England can get the dangerous Pant out quickly in the morning, all is not yet lost.

A great start for England on day two. Another smart stumping effort from Foakes, and this time he is rewarded. Axar Patel troops disconsolately back to the pavilion having added just one run. Ishant Sharma is dismissed almost immediately to become the third duck in this innings. Suddenly India are 301-8. That sounds a lot better!

Joe Root makes an early change and brings himself on to bowl at Rishabh Pant. He is promptly launched over the legside boundary for six. I would have preferred to see Broad have a couple of overs at Pant, myself, even though spin is dominating proceedings. As predicted the pitch is disintegrating and will be increasingly difficult to bat on as the game develops.

Rishabh Pant knows India are down to the tail now and goes on the attack – he reaches fifty in no time with Moeen Ali suffering the most.

But, our batsmen please note, runs CAN be scored on this wicket.

Murali Karthik agrees with me about the introduction of pace but it is Olly Stone, not Stuart Broad, that comes into the attack. Immediate impact. Kuldeep Yadav is caught behind for yet another duck. In the same over, Siraj smashes Stone to the boundary, then attempts an ill-judged waft and is caught behind by Foakes. Rishabh Pant is left stranded at the non strikers end and does not look best pleased.

329 all out – Freddie – I’m happy with that mate, all things considered.

Okay, we haven’t managed to get Pant out, but we have won four speedy second prizes and let’s not forget, we made 200+ more than this just a week ago albeit on a different wicket.

My anti-depression pills must really be kicking in!

However, when England start their innings, I am reaching for the happy pill bottle again very, very quickly.

Rory Burns plays a lackadaisical non-shot at Ishant in the very first over. The ball crashes into his pads and he is given out lbw.

Cue Ebony Rainford – Brent: “It’s a brilliant dismissal!”

No, it isn’t, Ebony – it’s just a straightish ball, and rank bad batting, for which there is zero justification. And, nothing whatsoever to do with the pitch.

I later read some absolute tripe in the Guardian comments section complaining that the umpire shouldn’t have given Burns out, because ball tracking showed it was umpires call outside leg stump. Utter nonsense. Our bowlers would have grabbed that decision with both hands every time.

Perhaps someone should explain to Rory Burns that the piece of wood in his hands is there to hit the ball with – and if he does that, the umpire won’t be able to give him out lbw. Stop looking for excuses!

Freddie, normal service has been resumed. I’m depressed and angry again. It took precisely three balls of one over.

Mark Butcher :”England are gonna have to fight today. It’s gonna be a case of showing real heart on Valentine’s Day for the England team.”

Yes Butch, but unlike many couples, you would think that England don’t want to finish this Valentine’s Day by getting f*****.

Spin appears in the shape of Ashwin after just three overs. Lawrence of Essex, the new batsman, looks all at sea. He still hasn’t scored a run when, in the eighth over, Sibley is out in a similar fashion to Rahane yesterday. At least Sibley walked, despite being given ‘not out’ by the onfield umpire. Strangely enough, the DRS worked properly this time.

Our fortunes now depend heavily upon Joe Root, but our Captain can’t do it every time and is dismissed for just 6, miscuing his favourite sweep shot.

“That wicket now opens the door.” pronounces Ebony Rainford-Brent. Kicks it in, more like. England are 23-3, and we are nowhere near lunch yet.

The sands of time have run out for young Lawrence of Essex. After batting unconvincingly for an hour and being unable to hit the ball off the square, he allows himself to be tricked out by Ashwin with the very last delivery before lunch.

That innings in Galle seems a very long time ago, doesn’t it? Utterly woeful batting.

39-4. For once, I shall try to be dignified and restrained, and simply say that was an extremely challenging & chastening session for England.

To the afternoon, then. When talisman Stokes was bowled by a jaffa from Ashwin that went off the pitch, things were looking very dark.

So dark, in fact, that I was expecting a text from Tremers suggesting an immediate recall for Ian Bell, in the guise of a latter-day Brian Close.

Fortunately, Pope and Foakes steadied the ship a little and at least the follow on target of 130 began to look achievable.

Virat Kohli, meanwhile, was whipping the crowd into a frenzy with his unsubtle gestures. The Tim Paine nuclear retaliation option – “Wait till we get you to Headingley, mate!” – might have even been considered by our batsmen. Probably unwise, given there will likely be more Indian supporters in Leeds this summer than English ones.

Just as the fire seemed to have gone out of the Indian spinners, Olly Pope hit the self- destruct button. The very first ball from seamer Siraj, gloved down leg side and caught by Rishabh Pant. By now, I am blubbering like Stan Laurel.

“That’s another fine mess you’ve got us into, Olly, 87-6 !”

About the only piece of good news on this afternoon of infamy was that India were profligate with their reviews, and in their desperation for lbw decisions they wasted them all before tea – with the obdurate Foakes, and less obdurate Moeen Ali, still at the crease.

Whether the loss of India’s reviews is such good news if wickets fall regularly without the need for DRS is another matter. Another misjudgement, and Moeen Ali was caught in the slips for just 6.

Our second Olly arrived – and our second fine mess, as Olly Stone chipped a tame catch to mid-on last ball before tea. 106-8. Time to hide behind the sofa again.

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After tea, Foakes and Leach quietly took England past the follow-on target, not that India would have enforced it anyway with tickets to sell for days 3 & 4.

Almost as soon as this milestone was reached, Jack Leach was caught behind.

Foakes is by now 39 not out and I am hoping Stuart Broad can bat sensibly and stay with him to help bring about a well deserved fifty. I am disappointed, but not surprised, when Broad reverts to type and takes a wild swing across the line to just his second ball, and is bowled by Ashwin for a duck.

England 134 all out.

“Could England have done better with the bat or are there excuses?” Rishi Persad asks the delicate question of Andrew Strauss.

Out comes the whitewash yet again.

There are always excuses, Rishi – haven’t you heard Jurgen Klopp speaking lately?

I’ve seen many abject batting performances by England on my travels, some of which involved far fewer runs than we amassed here – the immortal 58 all out at Auckland in 2018 springs to mind. But this Madras ‘performance’ was far more disappointing given the momentum and expectation built up in that first Test.

It was almost as though our batsmen expected the pitch to get them out.

In reality, just how many of our dismissals was the pitch responsible for? Stokes, yes, but after that I am struggling. A lack of application was the chief culprit here combined with a puzzling lack of confidence and inability to score.

Foakes was able to put a decent innings together, and Jack Leach managed to bat correctly and hang around, like he does – why were they our only batsmen to cope?

The most galling aspect was that we hardly laid a glove on India – the batting was passive and the run rate timidly slow. As the Sunday cricket club supporter has been known to shout after several shandies when his team are doing badly – “For f**** sake, have a go!”

There was time enough left in the day for India to extend their overall lead to 249-1, aided and abetted by some ‘eccentric’ umpiring decisions.

I’m trying to be dignified and restrained again, to be honest the umpiring has been very poor today.

As I took my final look at the ‘official’ scoreboard I noticed the advertising surround.

‘CYCLE PURE AGARBATHIES – Everyone has a reason to pray.’

Well, England have one more reason to pray after today’s diabolical batting display.

This game is over bar the shouting, and in a sour mood I turned over to watch Pakistan vs South Africa from Lahore, which is an evening T20 series being shown live on Sky Sports.

All the Pakistan / SA games so far have been played in a thick smog, so dense that I half expected to see Jack the Ripper in a tall hat and cloak bringing out the drinks. Ahmedabad, where our next day/night Test is being played, is less than 600 miles distant from Lahore.

Just saying.

Somewhat unenthusiastically I tune in for day three. Since lockdown started, Monday has been a very special day for me. It is the day the rubbish bins are emptied, and I do not want my weekly pandemic treat to be spoiled by watching England let India score another 300 runs.

Right at the start, the pitch does claim a legitimate victim. With one run added to the overnight total, Pujara is smartly run out by Foakes. An aborted single, Pujara tries to get back, but his bat gets stuck in a rut near the crease and falls out of his hand.

Oh, the irony. Well, at least that means I don’t have to watch The Barnacle batting all day!

Soon afterwards Rohit Sharma is stumped by Foakes in an almost identical position to where he was given ‘not out’ in the first innings. This time the decision goes in England’s favour. Almost unbelievably, danger man Rishabh Pant is also stumped off Leach for the third wicket of the morning.

There is one firm ‘positive’ Joe Root will be able to take from this debacle, and that is the superb keeping of Ben Foakes. At last we have found a wicketkeeper – well, we never really lost him, did we? It will make for a very interesting selection discussion for the management team when golden boy Buttler decides to return.

I’ve changed the Barmy Army song again. Its now: “Foakes’ Super Stumping in Chennai!” Maybe I will be invited into Barmy Studios to sing it live on Barmy Army TV – better make sure I’ve got a clean pair of boxers handy.

By the drinks break, even Moeen Ali, who had been bowling mainly dross, had a wicket – Rahane, helped by an diving catch from Olly Pope at short leg.

The play in the first hour has been livelier than I could have ever dared to hope for.

For some reason Axar Patel has come in ahead of Ashwin, but he doesn’t last long either and becomes Moeen Ali’s second victim.

52 runs for 5 wickets, blimey. I might try that ‘CYCLE PURE AGARBATHIES’ prayer again tonight!

Kohli & Ashwin finally put a partnership together and as the India lead mounts, I read a thinly-disguised rant by the normally placid Aggers on BBC Sport about the sub standard pitch. Come on now, Aggers. This is all beginning to sound like sour grapes. India have been able to score runs on this pitch, our batsmen have not. Even with this mornings clatter of wickets, India have bettered Englands first innings total. It is rather naive to expect the Indians to produce a five day pitch just because Test cricket is back on terrestrial TV in the UK, isn’t it?

The first sight of Stuart Broad for some time, I forgot he was playing. In his first over he induces an edge from Kohli and the normally reliable Stokes drops the chance in the slips.

Lawrence of Essex comes on as the novelty turn last over before lunch. An immediate DRS for caught behind down the leg side, which is officially the worst review I have ever seen. There isn’t a clear gap between ball and bat, there is a gaping chasm. Don’t blame the umpires for that one!

To complete an action packed morning, Kohli is rightly cautioned by the umpire for running on the pitch.

Ashwin and Kohli batted most of the afternoon and both scored fifties, so let’s finally put the nonsense about the sub-standard pitch to bed.

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India already had a lead of 400+, so when Moeen Ali finally dismissed Kohli lbw it was cold comfort only.

Ashwin went to a bloody century after tea. England batsmen and pitch critics like Aggers please note – Ashwin is a bowler who bats.

India were finally all out for 286 when Ashwin took a wild slog at Olly Stone and played on.

So that was the appetiser, now for the stodgy, indigestible main course. Just the 482 needed to win.

To begin, a ‘squeaky bum’ period at the end of the day for England.  

Sibley played right across the line to Axar Patel and was lbw for just 3.

The hirsute Rory Burns is probably playing for his career in this innings – he should be, anyway, with Zak Crawley waiting in the wings. He was dropped off Ashwin on 7. He managed to bat for 42 balls but in the end his suspect technique was found out by Ashwin as he played across the line again with a slanting bat and was caught at slip by Kohli. Sorry, Rory, but 25 just isn’t good enough.

Night watchman time, enter Jack Leach. Time for bed, said Zebedee, as Leach was out first ball.

Lawrence of Essex and Captain Root at least managed to ensure there were no further little mishaps before stumps, although Root this time had the benefit of yet more umpiring controversy.

With the same level of expectation as Sydney Carton heading up the stairs to the guillotine, I wander down my own stairs on day 4 and tune in. As I have a vague inkling that the game may just finish early, I decide to watch the pre-match studio offering. Rishi Persad asks what England have to gain out of today, a fair question. Ebony Rainford-Brent, who is wearing compact – disk style earrings today, jumps to the answer.

“Well, some players are playing for their places today! Ben Foakes, Olly Pope, and Moeen Ali.”

Eh? I would have thought Ben Foakes had already secured his place after the last couple of days. Olly Pope still has loads of credit in the bank after his heroics in South Africa and is only just back from serious injury. Moeen Ali is Moeen Ali – you know what you’re going to get and seemingly we’ve no bugger else.

What about Dan Lawrence, Ebony? Is he not playing for his place? Or have you dropped him already regardless of today’s innings, like me?

I needn’t have felt guilty about writing that. Soon after the start, Lawrence of Essex charged up the wicket to Ashwin, who cleverly pushed the ball down the leg side.

Lawrence was hopelessly stranded and stumped for just 26, and not only that, he was so far out that Pant had the bails off before Lawrence even began his dive back to the crease!

Rishi Persad :”People may ask, why was he venturing down the wicket?”

I’m beginning to warm to Rishi Persad, he is starting to ask my kind of questions.

Needless to say, there is no logical response from either Ebony or Straussy.

The morning meanders on. “Joe Root has got a problem with his bat.” says Mark Butcher. I bet he wishes that was his only problem, Butch.

Stokes’ supply of miracles is exhausted, and he is out for just 8, from 51 balls.

Straussy: “Ben Stokes is going to have to think about his method before the next Test match.” Why, Straussy? Are England likely to drop him?

At 110-5, some observers might have thought England were out of the game, but not young Olly Pope – he is still on the charge for quick runs!

A slog sweep, up the ball goes, back to the pavilion Olly goes. Another fine mess, Olly!

Root tried his luck with a reverse sweep and ballooned the ball up in the air to Siraj for the easiest of catches. I could have pouched that catch after a six-hour drinking session with Higgy. Siraj couldn’t, and I actually felt sorry for Kuldeep Yadav, the poor bowler, who hadn’t got a wicket yet. He was rewarded in his next over, Foakes falling after a conventional sweep was caught. Once again, the last ball before the interval.

England 116-7 at lunch.

To the studio, and the crestfallen faces said it all. Channel 4, welcome back to the chaotic, shambolic world of England Test cricket. You didn’t really think every game would be like the First Test, did you?

We have always got a collapse in us!

After lunch Joe Root got a stinker of a delivery from Axar Patel which turned and bounced. He was good enough to edge it and was duly caught at slip. 116-8.

Moeen Ali now got funky. A huge straight six off Kuldeep followed by a square cut for four.

Olly Stone was promptly out lbw for a duck, and – well , you know what I’m going to say.

Another Fine Mess.

Seeing Broad at the other end brought more aggression out of Moeen Ali, who is at least going down fighting. Three more sixes. More lavish boundaries. Moeen now has 43 runs off just 17 balls. Maybe he is fed up with this Test lark and fancies a transfer to the T20 squad. Or maybe he doesn’t fancy another experience like this, as I later hear he is on his way home!

One sashay up the pitch too many and the sorry game is up. Moeen stumped, and England all out for just 164.

India win the Test by 317 runs.

Well, lads at least you have an extra day off tomorrow. From what I’m hearing about the next venue, I suggest you all visit Madras Golf Club for a round and then get thoroughly pissed afterwards.

So what do we do for Ahmedabad?

Our spinners cannot compete with the Indian spin bowlers, but we can do something about the batting line up. This is a bigger concern to me, with our last three innings now reading as follows: 178 all out. 134 all out. 164 all out.

In case Ray Ban Smith our Chief Selector happens to be an Addis Army Twitter follower, here are my suggestions for the way forward.

  1. Ben Foakes must be confirmed as our permanent wicketkeeper. Any attempt to usurp him as wicketkeeper in the future with Buttler or Bairstow will be regarded as an act of treason more heinous than anything Donald Trump may have done.
  2. Burns must be dropped and Crawley brought back, if fit.
  3. Dan Lawrence – he reminds me of an enthusiastic schoolboy completely out of his depth. First plane back to Essex. I wouldn’t insist he pays £1750 for a Heathrow Quarantine Hotel on arrival, though, that is too cruel. Instead, he can self-isolate at Nasser Hussain’s house if he wishes. My money would be on Dan preferring to pay for the airport hotel!
  4. Bairstow must be brought in as a specialist batsman, at least he will get on with it.
  5. Jimmy and Jofra to return. Broad has been totally anonymous in this game and should be dropped. Sadly there is no room for Olly Stone.
  6. Retain Leach. Given Moeen is on his way home, we need another spinner. Give Parky a go!

And finally,

  1. Send Smithy and Tremers out to India to prepare the Ahmedabad pitch. At least that will quieten Aggers down!

Regards, Midnight x

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