The speculation is over: with Sky and BT Sports supposedly keeping their powder dry for the Ashes, Channel Four have won the bidding war and will be showing live Test cricket for the first time since 2005. Some proper Test cricket at last : just ten minutes of the abomination that is the Abu Dhabi T10 competition currently showing on Sky was enough for me!
One problem with eleventh hour deals is that they don’t allow much time to tie up the peripherals, for instance small items like commentators. So as I tune in at 4am I am greeted by the sunburnt visage of Sir Alastair Cook together with an unfamiliar link man, Rishi Persad. I gather he has been recruited from the world of horse racing so how that qualifies him as a Test match host is anyone’s guess. Well, it worked with Michael Holding I suppose, although he did also play a bit of Test cricket occasionally.
It does not take Cooky long to revert to type, ahhrm, errrm, and I quickly find myself counting up the ‘you knows’ – there are far too many. Maybe he was a premiership footballer in an earlier life, a great batsman for sure, but not to my taste as a pundit I’m afraid. The first small negative.
Unlike some cricket enthusiasts, I am not pessimistic about this four Test series.
I have seen four Test matches in the flesh in India, and my record so far is: P 4 – W 3 – L 1.
In fact, India is by far my most productive tour for victories. If only my Australian figures were as good!
The pictures eventually come through from Madras: not Chennai for me, sorry, Ive always preferred a Madras. The pitch looks benign although there are some alarming comments from Cooky about the ‘grass being on two levels’ which I didnt quite understand. Has the groundsman missed a bit with his mower? England win the toss and of course decide to bat.
Sibley and Burns stride out, the latter sporting a Foxy Fowler haircut which does not appear to be entirely the product of lockdown. Zak Crawley is a non-runner, as Rishi Persad might say, as he has apparently sprained his wrist slipping on a marble hotel floor. You wouldn’t have had that problem in the Indian ‘hotels’ I have stayed in booked by Freddie and Tremers, lad!
The players are wearing black armbands as a mark of respect for Captain Tom, a nice touch, although I’m sure that foolish London vicar from the Church of the Poisoned Mind would disagree with my observation. Well, balls to him. Captain Tom was a legend whose only tiny flaw was being born in Yorkshire, and even that was totally beyond his control!
A sedate start to the cricket.
The Indian bowlers must have watched Sibley in Sri Lanka, as they are trying to starve him of scoring opportunities through the leg side. Burns turns a difficult chance round the corner, but fortunately Rishabh Pant’s batting is better than his glovework – a bit like England’s current keeper – and the catch is not accepted.
The England opening pair lasted until the 24th over when Burns played a reverse sweep which ran up his arm off his bat and was pouched by the grateful Pant.
The tone of the commentary, which had been bland thus far, changed as if the director had bawled ‘liven it up for f***s’ sake!’ through a megaphone.
“A horror shot from Burns” : ” No need for it, no one saw it coming” Etc. Etc.
Hold on lads, we aren’t doing that badly, we are 63 -1, or do you know something we dont?
Well, maybe they did. Enter Lawrence of Essex. Exit Lawrence of Essex for a duck, trapped plumb in front by Bumrah. I did say in my last blog that the comparisons of Lawrence to Virat Kohli and Viv Richards were somewhat premature, didn’t I?
England reached lunch on 67-2, a good start spoiled by the ten minutes leading up to the break.
First impressions, then, of the C4 coverage. The picture quality is excellent, to my eyes anyway better than the Sky images from Sri Lanka.
A marked absence of commercials, which must be a plus for everyone.
The major downside to me so far has been the commentary, which has been anodyne: as if everyone is trying to be too nice. The choice of Messrs Butcher, Gavaskar, Kartik and Knight probably has much to do with this aspect : they are all nice guys: but I found myself longing for a Mr Nasty to interject and say something pithy and provocative. To some degree, this happened with Mark Butcher in terms of his criticism after Burns got out, as if someone had flicked a switch.
I never thought I would say it, but I’m missing Atherton and Hussain!
Oddly, Channel Four have also decided to include ‘crowd noise’ in their package and it seems incongruous to hear each single being wildly cheered in the cavernous, empty stadium. However, so long as we are not subjected to “Swannys Super Over In Chennai” by the Barmy Army, I suppose I can put up with it.
I gather one of the more noble aims of the Channel Four bid was to attract children to watch cricket on terrestrial TV. Well, if that’s the case, then I cannot imagine the first hour after lunch dragging many of the little angels away from their X- boxes.
Root and Sibley quite rightly dug in, and the cricket was attritional with Ashwin wheeling away skilfully at one end and pace at the other. The run rate kept on sinking, and if the broadcasters had employed a ‘Betway Dot Ball’ pop-up as they do in the Abu Dhabi T10 fiasco, the bloody thing would have been worn out.
Real old school Test batting.
After drinks the tempo increased. The fifty partnership came up and Root and Sibley began to prosper as the main bowlers tired and the change bowlers proved less accurate. The run rate started to climb imperceptibly. Sibley went to a well deserved fifty and looked far more comfortable batting in India than I had expected.
The tea score was 140 – 2 and with no wickets falling all afternoon, advantage England.
Back to Cooky and Rishi in the studio, now accompanied by idiotic tweets on the screen. “Despite just 73 runs scored during the session it belonged to England” pronounced Rishi, rather stating the obvious. If our batsmen score ‘just 73 runs’ in each session without a wicket falling I will settle for that, as that is how matches are won. Maybe Cooky should explain Test cricket to Rishi!
The final session started with Nick Knight and Laxman Shivaramakrishnan on commentary – I shall just call him Laxman from now on I think – and Root quickly went to fifty. Unfortunately, the frequency of adverts increased along with the run rate.
“Its KFC Chicken Tuesday…..nine pieces for only £5.99!” But its only Friday today…..and people will have forgotten by next week. Its very hard to remember what day it is during lockdown!
With the score having reached 163, Root caught up Sibley with a majestic cover drive, both having scored 60 but in Sibley’s case, from roughly double the number of balls. With Trott and Kallis as coaches, slowness is probably understandable, but Sibley has done a great job here putting miles into the legs of the Indian bowlers.
As England motored past 200 helped by four overthrows from Pant, the Indian fielding was getting as ragged as the cricket ball. Just before they were able to take the new one, Joe Root went to another masterful century – he really is in outstanding form at the moment and has put that silly statistic about not being able to convert his fifties to bed.
A thoroughly enjoyable first day ended, unfortunately, with the wicket of Sibley, pinned lbw in the final over. However, England are superbly placed on 263-3.
Saturday is here and I rise early despite the gloomy weather forecast of snow and rain
(for Manchester, not Madras). The cricket is queuing up on my Sky box faster than I can watch it and there are two NZ T20 matches and the Big Bash Final to watch today as well as the Test and all the football. I skip Cooky and Rishi and speed straight to the action. Stokes has joined Root at the crease.
After a brief look at the bowling Stokes lofts Ashwin for a straight six a la Headingley.
Cue Mark Butcher: “Wow! Stokes has decided there is no spin and just donged Ashwin out of the park for six! Wow!” Butch, you have either been covering too much short form cricket, or been listening to too much Pommie Mbangwa commentary.
I am still thinking about Cooky’s comment yesterday about the various levels of grass on the wicket when Ashwin rips one sideways off the middle of the pitch and a huge puff of sand comes up. I’m struggling here. My eyesight isn’t what it once was, but there seems to be little or no grass on this pitch to me. The crease at the end Stokes is batting looks more like Southport beach, except the sea is somewhat closer at Madras Cricket Club.
The first session couldn’t have gone much better for England. Root progressed to an imperious 150 : Stokes got in and reached 50 with two consecutive switch hits for four : and, inexplicably, India wasted two reviews in the space of a couple of overs. The first one, against Stokes for lbw when the ball had clearly hit his glove, would probably have been refused by Stuart Broad. In addition, the odd ball is beginning to leap awkwardly off the pitch, and a little sandpit is forming on a length just outside the left handers off stump. Leach and Bess should be enjoying this. I am, with the score standing at 355-3 at lunch. Could there be a hint of Indian desperation creeping in?
Half an hour into the afternoon, sadly Stokes was caught just inside the boundary by a juggling Pujara for 82. At last a wicket for spinner Nadeem, who had already gone for a hundred prior to lunch. 387-4. Enter Olly Pope for his welcome return, thus allowing Jos Buttler some much needed additional rest. The Lancashire one day fixtures are out today Jos, not that you will be very interested!
Mark Butcher starts a discussion amongst the Indian commentators.
“Which England batsman, of recent times, does Olly Pope remind you of?”
Ha ha, sorry Butch, I beat you to it on that one in my diary from Port Elizabeth over a year ago. For anyone who still hasn’t got it, the answer is Tremers’ favourite cricketer, Ian Bell!
The quote of the day thus far from Ajit Agarkar : “A really good Test Match in Brisbane for India, that Series winning match, but this has been a much bigger test…..”.
Ouch. I bet our Aussie friends will love that one. I assume they will be watching, as they don’t seem to be playing much Test cricket at the moment!
With England on 416-4 a key moment in the game. India threw in all their chips and went for a ludicrous DRS review on Pope, ostensibly for a catch off the glove. The replay showed the folly of this decision as the ball clearly hit Pope’s arm. They tried lbw. No dice there either, and in one fell swoop all India’s reviews were lost. Barmier than the Barmy Army.
I’m conscious I haven’t mentioned Joe Root for a while, so I will just quietly add that he went to his inevitable double hundred with a six off Ashwin. If Rishi Persad was running a book on this in the studio, I bet the best he would have offered was evens. The next over England reached 444-4, which I mention simply as it has a nice ring to it.
99 runs and just one wicket during that session, so I expect Rishi Persad should be happy with that, as we return to the studio at tea. He was. “A masterclass!” More inane tweets, including one purporting to be from KP, which simply read “Sir Joe Root”.
Briefly I nod off, to be awoken by a claxon repeating on TV sounding like a tsunami warning. It dawns on me that this is the signal to denote a no-ball, called down by the third umpire. There have been rather a lot of these in this innings, but I heartily welcome this change to the protocol. There were far, far too many unpunished illegal deliveries when this was left to the onfield umpires. Hopefully our bowlers will learn from the strictness of the rulings here not to transgress when their turn comes.
With the score on 473, Pope was trapped lbw by Ashwin. He didn’t waste a review, and trudged off the field for a “scratchy” – Mark Butcher, not me – 34. I can imagine the sighs in the England dressing room as Jos Buttler dragged his weary bones off his chair and went out into the middle. The stage was set for a classical Buttler onslaught on the tired bowlers.
Root was finally out lbw for 218 in the 154th over after having batted for 377 balls.
Joe, you must try harder in the next Test please.
The Indian fielders were convinced that Buttler had edged the ball to the keeper, but their earlier error in wasting all their reviews was laid bare as the umpire disagreed. To add insult to injury, Buttler clouted the next ball through the covers to bring up the England 500. However, the hoped for onslaught didn’t occur, as Buttler was bowled by Ishant attemping a tired ‘leave’ for 30. I think his bat must have got too heavy to swing. On the plus side, Buttler was only out there for fifty balls, so hopefully he has not wasted too much energy.
Jofra was out first ball, leaving Ishant on a hat trick – which Jack Leach kept out.
In the minutes that remained, England seemed determined simply to spend time wearing out the pitch, although Rohit Sharma dropped Bess from an absolute sitter bowled by the unfortunate (and still wicketless) Washington Sundar. Rohit thought it was funny, and so did Ben Stokes. Not sure about Sundar or Kohli though. Stumps : England 555-8.
I rose early on day three to take in the Cooky and Rishi introduction. Cooky tried to explain an obscure statistic about Ashwins bowling, but struggled to communicate it.
Rishi: “Well, I’ll call your statistic, and raise you with another one! This is the first time England have batted for three days for over twenty years!”
Dear me, Rishi. Not only horse racing, but also poker. I hope you aren’t one of those problem gamblers that the betting adverts allude to in the small print. When the fun stops……!
The fun stopped for England after forty minutes, but not before another 23 precious runs had been added, and this was enough time for Rishabh Pant to again display his dubious wicketkeeping skills. A missed stumping of Jack Leach, followed by four byes.
England all out for 578. Now it was time for our bowlers to shine.
Jofra Archer was bowling with venom and with the score on 19, he induced an edge from Rohit Sharma that was caught behind. Enter Pujara, otherwise known as ‘The Barnacle’. I gather Pujara used to bat like Glenn Maxwell before the Yorkshire coaches got hold of him, but his method now is to cling to the crease like a limpet and he is the man we need out if England are to have any chance of winning this Test.
A few stylish shots from Shubman Gill, then a fatal error as he drives Archer uppishly and is skilfully caught at full stretch by 38 year old Jimmy Anderson.
“There is a franticness about the cricket at the moment!” exclaims Mark Butcher.
Any ‘franticness’ there may be is being caused by the hostile bowling of Jofra Archer.
No further alarms for India before lunch, and during the interval I listen intently as Cooky outlines his cunning plan for India in the afternoon session. This involves starting with Archer and a spinner, and leaving Anderson until the ball starts to reverse swing.
Joe Root mustn’t have been listening, as he starts with Anderson straight after the break. This gives Nick Knight the chance to explain his pet theory for a second time, which is that he thinks Anderson will try to mimic the slant and angle that Pat Cummins used against Kohli in the Australian series.
Listen, Nick. I know you are pally with Freddie, our editor, now but let’s get one thing straight.
Pat Cummins is a male model who has played a bit of Test cricket. Jimmy Anderson is a Test bowler who has done a bit of male modelling. He has over 600 wickets. He doesn’t need to copy anyone, others copy him!!
Half an hour into the afternoon with India going nowhere Dom Bess dismissed Kohli and on 71-3 I suspect a few nerves were jangling in the Indian dressing room. They definitely were when Rahane was claimed by Demon Dom with the help of a spectacular catch by Joe Root. Just two runs added! Should I book my Test Championship final ticket today?
Whatever scurrilous things I might say about Rishabh Pant’s keeping, there is no denying his talent as a batsman and he started an amazing assault on the England spinners as soon as he arrived at the crease. Six followed six and at one stage Pant had scored 41 runs from just 28 balls, a run rate to put some of the Abu Dhabi sloggers to shame.
Pujara was being dragged along in the wake of Pant, and the pair made a fifty partnership at a run a ball. Jack Leach was harshly dealt with, his first five overs costing 49 runs . Things would get worse for Leach. Both batsmen hit fifties just before tea.
The Indian score was approaching 200 at a rate of knots when England had a stroke of luck. The Barnacle hit a firm pull off Bess straight at the left shoulder of Olly Pope, at short leg, and somehow the ball bounced up and was caught by Rory Burns.
Rishabh Pant fell nine short of a century as he attempted one slog too many. Once again, the lucky wicket recipient was Demon Dom Bess. Jack Leach must have had mixed feelings as he caught the ball, having not only gone wicketless himself, but also having been smashed all around Madras by the aggressive Pant. Despite having bowled 8 overs for 77, Leach was immediately brought back into the attack by Root after Pant had departed, which I assume must have been an attempt to bolster his confidence.
The first DRS review shortly afterwards confirmed that Leach’s confidence was intact, if not his judgement-the ball pitched about a yard outside off stump, and would have travelled at least a foot higher than the bails.
A second review quickly afterwards by the same bowler was equally unsuccessful. Don’t overdo the sympathy, Joe, perhaps its just not Jack’s day.
The figures will show that Dom Bess, on the other hand, had a very good day.
To put the record straight at the close of day three, the phrase “Give me lucky Generals!” was in fact attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, rather than Mark Butcher.
India finished at 257-6 at stumps and if you had asked Joe Root if he would have settled for that this morning, I’m sure the answer would be a resounding ‘yes’.
Day four began with a few overs of spin before the second new ball fell due. Enough time for Leach to get a hundred up – off just 20 overs, even I can work out that he must have reined the batsmen in a touch after Rishabh Pant was out. I was hoping that Jofra would atone for his dropped catch late yesterday and blow the last four Indian wickets away with searing pace but Washington Sundar and Ashwin had other ideas. Very soon the follow on figure was within reach.
Jofra got one ball to rear at Ashwin and the edge was taken, flashing through the second/third slip area. Sadly, there were no fielders there. The camera turned to Jon Lewis, England’s bowling coach, who it turns out was Jofra’s mentor, friend and landlord when he played for Sussex. That must be a Southern thing, as landlords are generally despised here up North, and rent something to be delayed or avoided altogether.
The best advice Jon Lewis could have given Jofra today would be – get some bloody fielders in the slips mate, you are bowling with the new ball.
Surprisingly, Leach returned to the fray soon after and glory be, he took a wicket. Ashwin lobbed the ball up high into the air, and Buttler hurled his tired frame sideways to take the catch.
The breakthrough opened the flood gates and the remaining three wickets were mopped up quickly, including a superb low catch by Stokes to give Jimmy Anderson his second wicket of the match. The main question now was regarding the follow on and to nobody’s surprise England elected to bat again. The decision backfired immediately, as Rory Burns was out first ball to Ashwin.
With a lead of 240+ on first innings, defeat should not be a consideration here. My concern was the time factor, and in particular (a) whether we would score quickly enough to declare just after tea and (b) whether Leach and Bess would be able to spin India out on day five.
The wicket of Sibley came quickly, which was probably a blessing in disguise measured against the time factor, then Lawrence of Essex and Root got on with it for a while. Lawrence was warned for running straight up the pitch, a minor infraction compared with some of the antics Shahid Afridi, for instance, used to get up to! Lawrence, duly shaken by his reprimand, was out for 18 next over and became Ishant Sharma’s 300th victim.
At least at this stage the game was moving forward. England 58-3.
Wickets tumbled. Boundaries were hit.
The supply of no-balls from the Indian bowlers continued unabated to boost the total. Jos Buttler was at repose in the dressing room until shortly before tea. Strange, I would have thought this scenario would be tailor made for Buttler – and I expected him in long before this to savage the bowling.
The England lead stood at 360 at the interval and if I had to select one word to describe the afternoon session, it would be ‘franticness’.
Not quite enough runs yet, especially with Rishabh Pant waiting in the wings, so England continued batting after tea. I went into the kitchen for my egg timer, and with each turn of the glass the sands of time were running out. Come on Buttler, get on with it! 14 runs from 16 balls isn’t cutting the mustard here! We need to win this game, don’t we?
Ollie Pope got out for 28 via an airborne reverse sweep with the lead on 371. Illogically, Mark Butcher was nice to him this time – give me “scratchy” over a ridiculous T20 shot any day. The reality is we are down to Bess, and he is now blocking, kicking the ball away and taking the strike off Buttler. I am beginning to get more than a little exasperated at England’s tactics now. There is a complete lack of urgency.
The Indian bowlers knew the score and their over rate now had two speeds – dead slow, and stop. My egg timer is close to being hurled at the TV screen. I’m sorry, but the tactics after tea since Bess arrived at the crease have been absolutely inexplicable. What possible justification can there be for Bess playing out maidens while the ‘usually’ aggressive Buttler leans on his bat at the non-strikers end?
Finally, bloody finally, like a long dormant, dud WWII doodlebug, Bess exploded into action with a few boundaries, and the England lead crept over 400. Buttler continued to lean on his bat at the non-strikers end – he must really need that break.
My regular readers will testify that I am not usually critical of England, but I’m going to have a stab now.
Buttler – out for 24 off 40 balls. Safe flight home Jos, I hope you can score faster than that in the Indian Premier League after you have rested up.
Bess – 25 runs from 54 balls at drinks, and still batting afterwards. I hope that one day, hopefully before I die, someone will explain to me what the f*** that innings was all about. I’m not expecting too much help from the Cooky and Rishi post- stumps wrap up.
The England coaching team – why the f*** is Jack Leach padded up when we are 400 + ahead? Why is Jack Leach now batting? Why is Jimmy Anderson padded up? Why is Jimmy Anderson now batting?
Do we not want to win this?
England were finally all out for 178 off 46.3 overs in one of the most excruciating displays of negativity I have seen. In the 13 overs that eventually remained, India reached 39-1. Leach bowled Rohit Sharma with a jaffa, but that was that for the day. All to play for tomorrow, I hope I do not have nightmares about Virender Sehwag tonight.
Day 5 and I soon hear that England’s batting yesterday in the final session has divided opinion, with some learned scribes eg George Dobell, who I enjoy reading, defending the go slow. I decide not to dilute my criticism. To me, it was neither one thing nor t’ other, just a display of timidity and negativity. We will soon know whether the crawl was justified, but the bald fact remains that despite their array of attacking batsmen, England were incapable of scoring a mere 200 runs quickly to completely squeeze India out of the game.
Jack Leach opened the bowling, and his first over went for eight, including a no-ball. Not an auspicious start – India ahead of the rate. Don’t panic, Captain Mainwaring!
The run rate settled down and after half an hour, an important breakthrough. Leach spun one past The Barnacle, took his edge, and the ball went to the right fielder for the job, Ben Stokes. Pujara out for only 15 – just what England needed.
The aggressive Shubman Gill , now joined by Kohli, continued to take the attack to England and went to 50 in just 81 balls. Looks a top player, this lad. It took the old stager, Jimmy Anderson, to get rid of the young ‘un. With just his second ball of the morning, Jimmy ripped an inswinger through Gill’s defences and the off stump went cartwheeling through the air. India 92-3.
Enter Ajinkya Rahane. Anderson swung the ball in once more, hit his pads, and Rahane looked lbw for all money. Amazingly, the umpire gave not out.
DRS……and umpires call on impact. Agony.
For Rahane, agony all of his own, as the very next ball swung in again, and uprooted his off stump. 92-4.
If I was a member of the Barmy Army, I would probably start singing “Jimmy’s Super Over in Chennai” about now, but I’m not, so I will just say – what brilliant bowling.
The Lancashire legend was not finished there. Shortly afterwards, he removed danger man Rishabh Pant with the aid of a straightforward catch by Joe Root.
At this juncture Anderson had figures of 6 overs, 3 wickets for 7 runs – not bad for a bowler who ‘only takes wickets in English conditions’, eh?
It’s just as well we still have Jimmy. Dom Bess took the wicket of Washington Sundar but soon afterwards started to bowl a selection of humming pies. Even though the fat lady had been sighted in the Madras Cricket Club car park, Virat Kohli took the opportunity to boost his average by repeatedly smashing Bess to the boundary.
Ashwin was in the wars against Jofra Archer. Hit on the glove, hit on the helmet, hit on the fingers. He stuck it out bravely but I doubted the wisdom of damaging his bowling hand and possibly missing the next Test in what must surely be a lost cause.
India staggered to lunch without further calamities. Afterwards the survival mode of the batsmen made for dull viewing. The cameramen probed for other images. The PayTM Cup – a handsome trophy for the winners of the series. Not a Moose antler in sight. The flags fluttering atop the stadium – one of these appears to be an Everton banner, don’t say Barmy Army Eric has managed to get in here, too?
Ironically, it was spin that did for Ashwin, caught behind off Jack Leach. 171-7 and the fat lady is getting her costume out of the car boot.
The heroic effort of Kohli came to an end when the timber was uprooted again, this time by Ben Stokes. The fat lady had better hurry up putting that costume on!
It almost seemed cruel to unleash Jofra Archer on the tail enders, but he duly obliged with the final wicket.
England have completed a memorable win over India in Madras by the astonishing margin of 227 runs. Their sixth away win on the trot. Hard to believe it is little more than a year since we were being battered out of sight by New Zealand in Mount Maunganui – Joe Root has scored an incredible mountain of runs since then, and England are on the crest of a wave.
Back to the Cooky and Rishi Show in the studio and the inevitable set of tiresome tweets.
“Oh Jimmy Jimmy, Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Anderson – our goat” tweeted actor Stephen Fry.
I have some news for you, Mr. Fry. Jimmy Anderson is not your, or anyone else’s, goat – he is quite simply a Lancashire and England legend and the best bowler we have ever produced. Anyone in denial of this fact needs to see a psychiatrist as a matter of urgency.
I have sent a copy of this virtual diary to Buckingham Palace, and I’m confident that we will be watching Sir James Anderson bowling soon!
Regards, Midnight x