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Day / Nightmare Test Cricket

by Midnight

Ahmedabad, the venue for our next two Tests, is not a place I am familiar with, so a little pre-diary research was required to see what I would be dealing with. First, a five-minute simulated helicopter flight over the town, which does not appear blessed with many scenic attractions. In fact Ahmedabad would appear to have much in common with a similar metropolis closer to my home, Oldham. An industrial town, that in the past has thrived on the textile industry. There is a world famous Calico Museum in Ahmedabad, although I think the one in Oldham may be temporarily closed at the moment – along with everything else – due to lockdown.

The towns are, however, light years apart when it comes to famous residents. An alphabetical search of Oldham’s famous sons and daughters produces Mike Atherton, Bobby Ball, Deirdre Barlow and Christopher Biggins before even reaching the letter C. Ahmedabad, on the other hand, appears to have just one famous resident – someone called Mahatma Gandhi.

Tourism does not seem to be a major feature of either town. The drinking of alcohol is prohibited in Ahmedabad, and normally only possible in five star hotels – Ahmedabad has a few more of these than Oldham. If a visitor is unable to afford five star accomodation, but is prepared to sign a chit confirming that they are alcoholic, then a furtive underground purchase of the forbidden hooch is made possible.  

An anonymous source tells me that the England coaching team are attempting to import their own wine and spirits into Ahmedabad. I imagine they would need quite a big lorry to do this, given the sheer number of advisors, batting and bowling coaches and support staff now in the coterie. However, my source also tells me that if the transshipment of the alcohol is not allowed, then the England staff will be prepared to swallow their pride in order to swallow their beer & wine and register as alcoholics.

Ahmedabad has a much larger cricket stadium than Oldham. A relatively new construction, the Sardar Patel Stadium has today been renamed ‘The Narendra Modi Stadium’. It holds 110,000 people. Maybe we could take a cue from this and start renaming our own cricket grounds after politicians. The BoJo Oval. The Matt Hancock New Headingley Stadium (NHS for short). The Gavin Williamson Educational Academy Club. On second thoughts – maybe not!

Recent indications are that every ticket has been sold for the forthcoming Test match.

Sounds cosy, or should I say crazy, with Covid in the vicinity!

The England team selection for this Test has been complicated by the controversial ‘revolving door’ player rotation policy.

Moeen Ali returned home after the second Madras Test, which at first created a storm in a teacup with certain eminent cricket pundits, namely Pietersen and Vaughan, criticising Mo for ‘leaving the sinking ship’.

Has there been ANY cricket issue in the last few years where Michael Vaughan has not seen fit to add his two pennorth?

Joe Root and Chris Silverwood have since been at great pains to explain, almost daily, that in fact, Moeen is blameless.

Mr Silverwood actually said: “The decision for Moeen to go home was ours, as it was with the other players. We’re trying to be proactive and get the breaks in there for them so we don’t get to a point where they have had enough.”

Would it be labouring the obvious to politely point out that Moeen DOES appear to have had enough, so the revolving doors policy might not be working?

The most frustrating part of all this to me is that there are double standards at work here. ‘Rotation policy’ will conveniently go out of the window when it comes to Indian Premier League eligibility and I suspect this is what pisses off most England fans.

At the insidious IPL auction, Moeen Ali went for £750k, whilst more illustrious English players like Hales and Roy ‘remained unsold’. In a simple twist of fate, Moeen will be going back to Madras next month to play for a team called Chennai Super Kings. Well, good luck to him, I say. Its a short career – fill your wallet while you can Mo, just like Buttler, Curran et al are doing.

Sam Curran has found a different way to avoid Test match jankers. Logistical challenges. The same ‘logistical challenges’ that were present when his original Test presence was planned!

I detect the pungent aroma of bull$hit…..

Before the Indian Premier League starts, we have all been able to enjoy the Pakistan Super League on Sky Sports. The HBLPSL is yet another meaningless, mercenary T20 competition but in this case with decent quality commentators – I caught Lord David Gower and Simon Doull amongst others. It’s hard not to think Channel 4 have missed out here. Commentators of this calibre should be covering our Test series, not the likes of Straussy and Ebony David-Brent.

Finally Wednesday comes. England win the toss and obviously decide to bat. Four changes, all of which I called for in the last diary. The only surprise really is the retention of Broad to the exclusion of a second specialist spinner.

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The stadium is very impressive indeed especially from the aerial shots, it appears bigger than the MCG but thankfully not completely full as Sibley and Crawley come out to bat.

Straussy, in the studio, describes the ground as a ‘colosseum’ and after just two overs I find myself wishing we had selected Russell Crowe instead of Dom Sibley, who nicks off into the slips. 2-1. No runs from the bat yet – not exactly an ideal start. Finally in the fourth over Crawley hits a boundary. Relief.

Crawley is enjoying himself and several splendid boundaries flow from his bat until the first ball of spin claims Bairstow, for another duck. The first review is also blown, God only knows why. 27-2. At this rate, we should have India batting under lights in the third session – maybe that is the master plan. If so, nobody has told Zak Crawley. A series of sumptuous boundaries sees the England 50 up in just the 14th over with Crawley having scored 39 of those.

So what of the pitch? There seems to be help for the seamers and there is certainly spin already, but no doubt the acid test will come in the final session.

I have already mentioned the pungent aroma of bull$hit, and another whiff squirted from my TV set in the seventeenth over when the camera picked out the odious Tom Harrison from the ECB in the crowd, no doubt there in an ‘official’ capacity. I wonder if his journey to India was classed as ‘essential travel’ – poor Dominic Cummings lost his cushy job just for going to bloody Barnard Castle. I make a mental note to obtain the Covid Renunciation Line phone number at the next break and report Harrison to the proper authorities.

A well deserved fifty for Crawley and he isn’t crawling along if you will pardon the pun – just 68 balls required. Out of a total of 66-2, that isn’t bad going at all.

But disaster would soon follow. On 75, Root was given out lbw to Ashwin for just 17. The review showed the decision could have gone either way, but as Crawley had the benefit of a similar umpires call earlier, no real grounds for complaint.

Five runs later, Zak Crawley succumbed to the spin of Axar Patel. Despite young Crawley’s best efforts, this is already looking like another sub – 200 innings to add to the last three such efforts in India.

81-4 at ‘Morning Tea’ and back to the studio we go. Cooky is back in place of Ebony David-Brent, and he wastes no time in enlightening the viewers. “India’s morning” he pronounces. You don’t say, Cooky. Mark Butcher, newly returned to Blighty, appears on a large screen and Rishi Persad asks him about the aggressive antics of Virat Kohli – who appears to have upset a lot of Channel Four viewers. I’m surprised by that. I find Tom Harrison and his cronies at the ECB far more annoying!

Another Fine Mess straight after lunch, as Olly Pope misses one and is bowled by Ashwin. Any advantage from winning the toss is now gone, we are rapidly drifting up $hit creek without a paddle.

Stokes is next. Another ‘unlucky’ lbw dismissal given out via umpires call.

England still haven’t added a run since the break. “We need to wrestle the initiative back” says the unflinchingly smug Graeme Swann, who appears to have replaced Butcher at the ground. Fat chance, with Archer already batting and just Leach, Broad and Anderson to come. After a couple of boundaries, Archer misses a straight ball from Patel by about two hours, and is bowled. 93-7.

The rest I’m sure you know. Nine, ten, jack hung around too long like unwanted guests at a funeral but were unable to add any meaningful runs and England were blown away for the pitiful total of 112. Total and utter humiliation, just what the viewers wanted……not.

My mind wandered back to one of the many war films I have watched during the Johnson incarceration, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’. For some reason, a vision of Donald Pleasence playing Herr Himmler came into my mind next, now working as a Channel Four executive, smirking and chuckling behind his desk.

“Bidding for this England Test Series could make the Charge of the Light Brigade look like a sensible military exercise!”

Well, take the positives out of that one, Rooty. I will help you if you like. At least the ECB Masters of the Universe were here in person to enjoy this shambles, and no doubt they have a great plan to train our batsmen to bat time in Test cricket. It’s called The Hundred!

So, we have India where we want them – batting in the final session under lights. Surely all we at home have to do now is make a brew, get comfortable, and wait for the crash of wickets?

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Well, no. It doesn’t work like that with England. What we get is an increasingly tetchy five overs before the break where Stokes grounds yet another catch (how many is that in this series now Freddie?) The on field umpire gives a soft signal of ‘out’ but despite this, the England players round on him when the third umpire says “not out”.

The worst offender as usual is the bowler, Broad, who carries on chunnering for ages and would do well to calm down. Don’t worry Stuart. If you think you are annoyed, have a look at the mounting criticism on the BBC Sport website and you will see what ‘annoyed’ really means to the thousands of housebound cricket supporters watching England’s feeble efforts.

With the final session an hour through, at last a wicket. The pitch wasn’t doing much when Shubman Gill inexplicably pulled a straight but by no means express bouncer from Archer straight up into the air. Crawley, the one man exempt from criticism today, took the simple catch. 33-1.

Like the number 219 bus….an inordinate wait, then no sooner has one come then the second arrives. Barnacle Pujara, taking a leaf out of the England batting playbook, was lbw for a duck playing for turn that didn’t happen against Jack Leach.

Half an hour to go and its time for Another Fine Mess as Olly Pope drops Kohli from a sitter in the slips, to the great chagrin of Jimmy Anderson. I’m afraid to say Olly is rapidly becoming a liability since his return to the team. He was on his knees, however, in fervent thanks when, with a couple of minutes to go, Kohli chopped Jack Leach onto his stumps playing for non existent spin.

India 99-3 at stumps.

‘A day to forget’ just doesn’t do it justice.

So, to day two. Having done everything wrong yesterday, things can surely only get better. Jack Leach is going to have to do a lot of bowling in this match due to the selection of only one spinner – well done again Ray Ban Smith, you are really justifying your huge salary – and he strikes after half an hour to remove Rahane lbw. Need I say it, playing for spin that wasn’t there. India had just passed England’s paltry first innings total.

Suddenly, England had some hope. Rohit Sharma was given out lbw to Leach missing a sweep, although the ball hit nearer to his appendix than his pads.

No matter, a precious wicket – if we can remove the dangerous Pant, we could be back in this!

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With Leach taking all the wickets, it seemed logical for Joe Root to bring himself on at the other end. This he did, and with just his very first ball had Pant caught behind! 117-6. Definitely game on now with Ashwin and Sundar new to the crease and India only five runs ahead.

What happened next will fuel Barmy Army songs for a generation. In his next over, Joe Root dismissed Washington Sundar and Axar Patel for ducks. Well, good luck to the Barmy songwriter finding something to rhyme with ‘Ahmedabad’. Root at this point had three wickets for no runs, and its hard to argue that a specialist spinner could do any better than that.

Ashwin, India’s last remaining batsman, slogged one up in the air to the reliable Crawley.

Shortly afterwards, Root bagged the final wicket, Bumrah, via an lbw decision. Roots final figures read : 6.2 – 3 – 8 – 5. His best bowling figures in Test, or indeed any other type of cricket. Jim Laker eat your heart out.

India all out for 145, a lead of just 33, and the final wicket fell near enough to the ‘Morning Tea’ break for England not to have to come out and bat. That could be a distinct advantage after watching the events of the first session. What an incredible morning. No celebrations from your writer though – he’s watched England too many times for that!

All the hydrogen in the England balloon dissipated in the first over of their second innings. Axar Patel supplied the pin. Crawley played down the wrong line of a straight ball from Patel and was bowled. Bairstow somehow survived being given out lbw by use of DRS – how the ball was judged to be going over the stumps was anyone’s guess – but he didn’t make the most of his reprieve and was bowled next ball. Absolutely hopeless batting, by both.

A pair for the hapless Bairstow means of course that his trip to India cannot be classed as ‘essential travel’ either, so I might just dob him in along with Tom Harrison of the ECB when I call the Covid Renunciation line. Go back to quarantine in Yorkshire. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200.

Sibley was next out, to a shot that would not have looked out of place from a tail ender batting at my local village club with a pint of lager waiting for him on the bar. A wild slog across the line, edged to the keeper. Clueless.

Ben Stokes had clearly seen enough prodding and poking, and he went on the offensive, hitting a few boundaries and taking England into the lead.

Then – a real tester for the Third Umpire, who it is fair to say, has not been disposed towards giving England much thus far. Root was given out lbw and was unsure whether he had hit the ball, reviewing at the last minute. The spike on ultra-edge occurred with the ball neatly sandwiched between bat and pad. It was impossible to tell which impact was first. After what seemed an eternity, Root was reprieved – a controversial decision to say the least.

The relief didn’t last. Stokes was given out lbw to Ashwin next, and surprisingly didn’t use a review, even though the ball might have missed leg stump.

Drinks break and Rishi Persad from the studio : “I know we are looking at this through the prism of England’s batting not delivering……” I think that must be the politest expression I have ever heard to express the fact that England’s batting has been $hite.

In comes Olly, and all we need now is ‘Dance of the Cuckoos’ being blasted out through the stadium tannoy system.

It was Joe Root, rather than Olly, who was next to take the long walk back to the pavilion. With the lead on just 23 he missed yet another straight ball and was pinned lbw.

Olly didn’t hang about though. He played down the wrong line again to a ‘sensational’ (straight) delivery from Ashwin and was cleaned up. The score – 66-6 – and if you don’t mind me saying so, that is a mighty appropriate number for this batting performance by England, indeed this whole f****** farce of a Test match.

This is NOT Test cricket as I know it. All over in less than two days. The shortest completed Test match since 1935, according to Rishi Persad.

“Its the pitch” says Cooky from the studio. “A quick 60 from Stuart Broad, and suddenly India are 10-4….” I think I need to go and lie down in a dark room and take a couple of happy pills. I’ve never heard such a load of crap in my life.

The inevitable collapse was completed after just 30.3 overs of inept batting with England all out for 81. Stuart Broad in fact scored 1*.

Don’t get me wrong. I know this hasn’t been a great pitch, in truth it’s just another one tailored for spin. Is it an “81 all out” pitch though? I doubt it. No wickets fell at all in India’s second innings, short as it was.

Whenever I have seen England capitulate live, it has normally been in the first innings. Previously, there has been some sort of reaction in the second innings to give the supporter something to cling on to and the odd positive to take away. There has been nothing to cling on to here at all.

The batting coaches must feel like officers on the bridge of the Titanic after that disgraceful shambles. At least those valiant Titanic chaps had a great big iceberg to blame.

The BBC Sport site was by now glowing white hot with sarcasm and I cannot resist repeating my favourite comment here.

“Think England need more support staff”

Thank you, Les of Surrey, I doff my cap to you, Sir. If the said additional support staff are not available, maybe the ECB should instead buy a bowling machine that only delivers straight balls. Once we get the hang of those, our batsmen should start scoring some runs.

The optimism of Messrs Cook and Strauss in the studio was indeed greatly misplaced.

India knocked off the paltry target of 49 runs without any ado, to the accompaniment of much criticism of England by Graeme Swann, who is clearly miffed that his big break as a full time commentator has been cut short. He will have to hand that pink gilet back!

Take the positives out of that lot, then.

I can think of one – and it isn’t Joe Root’s career best spin bowling. No, my comfort is that the well – paid suits from the ECB have been in Ahmedabad in person, squirming in their seats for the indecently short duration of this shambles. I sincerely hope they are stuck there for six days, they will soon get bored with the Calico Museum!

It serves them bloody well right for foisting the unwanted Hundred competition upon us!

The final word must be from Herr Himmler, sat behind his desk in the Channel Four Studios.

“F*** me, it’s ‘Brookside’ repeats for the rest of the weekend now. It will be a cold day in Hell before we put in a bid to cover England Test cricket again! Let those blighters from Sky have it!”

Thank goodness I recorded the New Zealand v Australia T20 game from Dunedin to watch. The foresight that only comes with many years of watching England!

Regards, Midnight x

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