Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 25, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 24 April 2017

Okay – that’s bad light

Ball One – Ian Bell arrests Warwickshire’s alarming slump

Five of Division One’s eight teams have “Played Three, Won One” in what is shaping up to be a tight race for the pennant after last year’s last day thriller. Surrey lead due to bonus points, having run into a Warwickshire side displaying more backbone that has hitherto been discernible this season. After Ian Westwood’s first dig of the season saw him make anchor a competitive total of 332, the home side looked on as Mark Stoneman and Kumar Sangakkara made centuries to secure a handy lead of 105 for Surrey. But Warwickshire were in no mood to capitulate and, building on the morale fostered by taking the last five wickets for 43 runs, Ian Bell’s men batted out 123 overs for the draw, the captain making 99, Tim Ambrose 85 and the always admirable Keith Barker adding 70*. It’s a start for Warwickshire, but Surrey will worry that without Mark Footitt’s cutting edge (he was hampered by injury and out of sorts on the fourth day), they lack the firepower required to turn draws into wins.

Ball Two – After Hameed comes Livingstone – dare I presume?

If last season saw the elevation of Haseeb Hameed to England’s colours from Lancashire’s ranks, might this season see the same honour awarded to Liam Livingstone? The 23 year-old Cumbrian has backed up his successful England Lions tour with a whirlwind start in the County Championship, playing not one, but two captain’s innings as he led his team to a sensational victory over Somerset. Last man out for 68 in the first innings, he rallied his troops to hold Somerset’s lead to 169, then put on 245 for the third wicket in the company of keeper-opener, Alex Davies (about whom we would all be talking if we were not all talking about Livingstone), before the seamers knocked over the visitors for 130 to send the Old Trafford members into (no doubt) grumpy delirium. While much has been made of the unimaginative signings of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dane Vilas and Ryan McLaren, eight of this Lancashire XI (Hameed, Davies, Luke Procter, Livingstone, Rob Jones, Jordan Clark, Steven Parry and Jimmy Anderson) are products of cricket in the North West of England – and that’s not bad by any standards.

Ball Three – Bad regulations stop play at Lord’s

Was anyone in danger of injury at Lord’s in the afternoon gloom of Day Four? Things aren’t quite so bad as they were in  the days when Dickie Bird would have the players back in the pavilion, feet up, reading the Sporting Life as soon as a cloud scudded across the sun, but umpires are still too cautious about the light for the tastes of many – including me. Some would argue that Middlesex’s James Franklin only has himself to blame, batting on to secure an utterly unassailable lead of 451 before declaring, and others will credit Essex’s Neil Wagner with batting over an hour at Number nine under some pressure. But really – unless the conditions are dangerous, can’t professionals just get on with the game until the scheduled close? Neither side won – but cricket probably lost.

Ball Four – Scales tipping back towards Gary Ballance?

Hampshire enforced the follow-on against Yorkshire, despite their bowlers having sent down nearly 80 overs, but James Vince would probably have settled for starting Day Four with a lead of 46 and seven wickets to get. He’d have been happier still when Test men, Peter Handscomb and Jonny Bairstow, were dismissed inside the first 20 overs, but Tim Bresnan is one of the most reliable Number 7s on the county circuit these days and he got his head down to grind out 37 in nearly three hours, while his skipper, Gary Ballance added a double ton to his first innings century, batting nearly 13 hours in the match. That’s over 500 Division One runs already for the new White Rose skipper after his shattering second casting out from the England ranks in Bangladesh six months ago. Quirky though his technique may be, the Zimbabwe born batsman has 32 hundreds and 40 fifties in 121 first class matches. A wise judge once told me not to sell Ballance futures just yet and, at 27, the age at which Alec Stewart had played three of his 133 Tests, Ballance may play again for England before he’s done.

Ball Five – The best attack in the country thriving in Division Two after Riki “Blood” Wessels stirs Nottinghamshire hearts

Nottinghamshire swept aside Sussex in two very one-sided days at Trent Bridge, making one wonder – not for the first time, nor the last – how they were relegated last season. Boasting one of the strongest XIs in the country for the third week in succession, they were in a bit of trouble at 88-5 before Riki Wessels launched a sustained four hour assault on the Sussex bowling that brought him a maiden double century which, with handy contributions from the bowlers who bat (James Pattinson, Stuart Broad and Luke Fletcher) was enough to post 447 all out. Pattinson and Broad then delivered their day job, reducing the visitors to 11-3 at the close – the Sussex hotel dining room must have been a little quiet that evening. No such problem after Day Two, as the diners headed home to the South coast in the evening sunshine, Fletcher, Jake Ball and Samit Patel joining in the home side’s fun as 17 wickets tumbled. Notts, to the surprise of few, are top of Division Two after three matches in which their international players have raised standards throughout the team.

Ball Six – Kent go three for three to match Notts at the top of Division Two

Kent are hanging on to Notts’ coat tails with a similar 100% record, putting away a Derbyshire side who have now lost their two opening fixtures. Inevitably, it was Darren Stevens who led the charge, the ageless all-rounder taking 6-47 with the ball, then making 90 having come to the crease with Kent 49-4 in their second innings, the lead an ostensibly fragile 149. But Kent’s lower order comprises five “Number 8s” (Wayne Parnell, Matt Coles, Adam Rouse, on-loan James Harris and dear old ex-England skipper, James Tredwell), so they were never really in trouble. Kent’s seamers then swarmed all over the visitors and they ran out easy winners by 169 runs. In three matches each this season, Kent have delivered five overs of spin and Notts 26 – if English players are to learn to bowl spin and to combat the turning ball, that isn’t enough. Still, there’ll be plenty of slow bowlers (not exactly spin bowlers though) firing white ball darts soon enough.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 18, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 17 April 2017

They had some tough paper rounds in Leicester in the late 80s

Ball One – Old pros provoke more prose about pros and cons of buying in overseas pros.

Though some members (certainly at Old Trafford) would prefer to see younger academy prospects given a go, old (very old) hands, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Kumar Sangakkara, continue to deal in cricket’s hardest currency – runs. In a innings that would be described as Chanderpaulesque even if he hadn’t played it, the man from Demerara batted in his own sweet way for 482 minutes to take the Red Rose from 67-5 up to 470 all out. Four hours of those hours, he spent in the company of Jordan Clark, whose maiden century may just herald the season in which the all-rounder finally delivers on his rich promise. After Surrey’s curiously passive first innings left them following on and in trouble, still 85 behind with both openers back in the hutch in the second dig, the veteran Lankan found a partner in Scott Borthwick, who emulated fellow Durham import Mark Stoneman’s feat of last week in scoring a first ton for his new county. The draw took Surrey to the top of Division One and left Lancashire fifth.

Ball Two – Middlesex dig in at the Rose Bowl.

Hampshire are the second of three teams with a win and and a draw after two matches, their attempt to secure a home victory over Middlesex frustrated by some late order resistance from the champions. Bowlers, Steven Finn, Ollie Rayner and Tim Murtagh all batted for over an hour and Toby Roland-Jones, slowly turning himself into a Martin Bicknell style all-rounder, was only eight minutes short of the mark, as a home attack, shorn of the cutting edge of the injured Fidel Edwards, could take only five wickets on the fourth day. Middlesex will be happy to have extended their long unbeaten run in the Champo with a ten points draw and Hampshire, after their controversial promotion, can be satisfied with second place in the table after two matches.

Ball Three – Coad red hot as Warwickshire press the batting panic button.

Middlesex’s predecessors as pennant fliers, Yorkshire, will be much happier after last week’s deflating defeat with an innings win over hapless Warwickshire. Ben “Highway” Coad, the latest in a seemingly inexhaustible supply of effective White Rose seamers, backed up his eight wickets first time out with two “Michelles” to give him 18 Division One wickets already and put his county into third place. He will be hard to drop when the likes of Liam Plunkett, Jack Brooks and Ryan Sidebottom are available for selection. Keith Barker and Jeetan Patel – handy batsmen, but their main job is bowling – scored 145 of Warwickshire’s 293 runs in the match, a testament to the home side’s batting travails, Ian Bell’s team rock bottom of the table having been dismissed for fewer than 180 runs three times in four completed innings this season.

Ball Four – Neil Wagner sends the whiff of napalm into Somerset noses.

Another man whose currency is neither positive body language, tempo shifting biffing nor “move the field” strokes is Alastair Cook, who made 52 out of 129 in the first dig and then 110 in a fourth innings chase of 255 to seal the win that sent Essex fourth in the early standings. If the ex-England captain is an old fashioned batsman, he’ll be happy to acknowledge the skills of team mate, Neil Wagner, the old fashioned Kiwi quick, who is nowhere near the pace of Shane Bond, but nobody has told him that, so he bangs it in and roughs up opponents, running in all day for his skipper. His second innings 6-49 comprised each of the last six Somerset wickets – showing the value of a bit of mongrel when it comes to knocking over a tail.

Ball Five – Crash, bang wallop by both sides sees Northants win in a photo finish

What cricket takes with one hand, it gives with the other, as events on the fourth day at Derby proved. After a morning of nonsense to set up the home side’s declaration, the game started again with Northants looking at a chase of 326 in 65 overs – tough, but fair. Alex Wakeley knew that he had nine decent cards to play, with Saffer slugger, Rory Kleinveldt listed to come in at nine, but in form off the back of a match-turning 86 last week. The visitors could have shut up shop at 124-4 with 202 to get in 38 overs, and again with 27 to get and seven down. But after Rob Newton’s well paced 98 up top and Richard Levi’s booming 99 off 79 balls to get the chase started again, it was that man Kleinveldt who hit the penultimate ball of the match for 6 and the win that took his team joint top of the Second Division. If Luis Reece and Billy Godleman have an asterisk against their morning stand of 333 for Derbyshire, that’s a price worth paying for a splendid, positive conclusion to a match that entered its last over with all four results possible.

Ball Six – DI Stevens builds the case for Kent

Just a point behind the early pacesetters, Kent’s season is off to a fine start, not least as a result of yet another ageing warhorse in peak form. Darren Stevens has an uncomplicated technique with bat and ball – “See ball, hit ball” and “You miss, I hit”, has been his MO for a few years now and, a few days short of his 41st birthday, that’s unlikely to change any time soon. In Kent’s two Championship matches, he has registered three half centuries and two fivefers, his latest the a nap hand comprising the top five in the Sussex order, as the home side fell well short of a fourth day rather distant target of 427. Stevens’ gnarly face and comfortable physique won’t feature on many of the ECB’s posters for its city based T20 tournament, but there’ll always be room for a crafty bugger like him as long as the game is played.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 11, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 11 April 2017

Stuart Broad and James Pattinson eye up Division Two batsmen

Ball One – Every county should start day one on a level playing field

So – eight teams in the top flight, ten teams in the lower: but 14 matches for each. Durham, having finished fourth in Division One last season, start this season in Division Two on -48 points with Leicestershire on -16 points, a penalty prompted by an offence committed in a university match. This just isn’t acceptable. The game is complicated enough – it’s one reason why we love it – but how is anyone, casual observer or avid fan. supposed to keep up with it all? Durham deserved some punishment (and, by God, did they get it) and Leicestershire’s disciplinary rap sheet is deeply unimpressive, but points should be won and lost on the field by scoring runs and taking wickets. You don’t have to employ the imagination of the Marquis de Sade to find sanctions that retain sporting competitions’ fundamental integrity. But, you know, county cricket eh? Never easy is it?

Ball Two – Mark Footitt has Warwickshire hopping mad

Moneybags Surrey sit atop of the nascent Division One table having first swept aside Warwickshire and then, eventually, pushed them off the field, the Midlanders making a much better fist of things having been invited to follow-on. While wor new kid in town, Mark Stoneman, got his feet under the table with 165, members at The Oval will be even more encouraged by Mark Footitt’s 6-14 first innings whirlwind, which included ex-England men, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Rikki Clarke all for ducks. That’s the kind of firepower that wins red ball matches – something that won’t be lost on England’s selectors, even if Footitt is older than Stuart Broad.

Ball Three – Kyle Abbott acquires the wicket-taking habit early for Hampshire

Yorkshire began life without Jason Gillespsie with defeat in yet another tremendous cricket match involving the White Rose men. After new captain, Gary Ballance had anchored the Tykes’ first innings with a splendid 120, seamer Ben Coad, stepped up from Second XI cricket to take 6-37 as the home side secured a first innings lead of 132. Hampshire hurtled back into the match with South African pacer, Kyle Abbott’s 7-41 giving his batsman a gettable, if distant, target of 320 for the win. In an old school chase, Hampshire’s batsmen got their heads down and wore down an attack missing the pace of Liam Plunkett and the craft of Jack Brooks. 101 overs later, the scoreboard showing the highest total of the match, with seven batsmen notching scores between 30* and 72, Hampshire had the job done and left new coach, Andrew Gale, facing an even trickier season than he might have expected.

Ball Four – Have Essex found a crock of gold in DW Lawrence?

While all the pre-match chatter focused on Haseeb Hameed and Jimmy Anderson, Lancashire’s visit to Chelmsford highlighted two more players who may well go through that awkward cap awarding ceremony before long. Alex Davies was attracting rave notices from fine judges last season before injury curtailed his progress in late May. Having taken five catches in Essex’s first innings, he switched pads and gloves and marched straight out to bat six hours for 140* – at 22 years of age taking responsibility to open and keep for the county of his birth. Dan Lawrence, even younger than Davies, then batted even longer, his undefeated seven hours vigil (ensuring that Jimmy Anderson went wicketless) enough to secure a very hard fought draw for the home side. For a teenager to start the final day of a Division One match with the prospect of batting all day for a draw and then deliver – well, that’s the kind of fortitude displayed a generation or so ago by another Essex man, Alastair Cook.

Ball Five – Swift defeat for Welshmen as Northants make a roaring start

Two days into the new season and Glamorgan were already licking their wounds after running into South African Rory Kleinveldt, who channeled the spirit of Lance Klusener in taking six wickets and blasting 86 from 58 balls in a match in which only one other batsman crossed 50. Opponents will be wary of Northamptonshire’s two African heavy hitters in a late middle order full of counter-attacking potential, with Kleinveldt joined by fellow Saffer salad dodger, Richard Levi. “On your toes for the run out lads” will be heard plenty of times with those two in partnership. This won’t be the last time they streamroller a side at Wantage Road.

Ball Six – Stuart Broad and James Pattinson turn Leicestershire’s hopes to ashes

Nottinghamshire soon followed Northants to the top of 2017’s first table, sweeping aside forlorn Leicestershire by ten wickets. Stuart Broad and James Pattinson (a notch or two – or ten – above Division Two standard) predictably took the lion’s share of the wickets, with 12 between them, but they also chipped in with useful runs. When Broad knows that he won’t get one up the hooter, he’s a dangerous customer and Pattinson’s batting is improving by the day, his last knock (80) proving vital to Victoria’s lifting of the Sheffield Shield. The “Rice and Hadlee de nos jours”? Maybe not, since they won’t play too many games together, but cricket fans should enjoy two high class operators playing domestic red ball cricket when we can.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | March 16, 2017

The case for Matt Renshaw

Steve Smith is halfway through the toughest gig in a captain’s career – a tour to India. That’s hardly korma cool at the best of times, but it’s vindaloo hot with the volatile Virat as his opposite number with R. Ashwin picking apart batsmen’s techniques like a keyhole surgeon and Ravindra Jadeja’s deja vu consistency gnawing at the concentration, hour after hour. Smith needs help – anyone would – so who does he turn to? Aw look mate, it’s David Warner.

His vice-captain and senior batsman has reached double figures in all four of his innings to date but has registered a top score of just 38 (in his first knock of the series) undone by impetuosity or flawed technique. There is no shame in that (well, maybe the premeditated swipes could be shelved) but that trot fails to inspire confidence in Warner’s ability to meet the very specific demands of subcontinental cricket. Like a kid nervous in the examinations hall, he’s answering the question he wants to see on the paper and not the one that’s actually been set. The game is different in the Northern Hemisphere, as his record of centuries (17 South, 1 North) suggests.

Though he’ll keep the opening slot and the vice-captain role short of injury or an attempted “Miandad on Lillee” response to Jadeja (though that too might be explained away as a “brain fade”), Warner hardly looks like the man to stand in for Smith or eventually succeed him in a team lacking experience. Nathan Lyon would be an option, but his place in the team is often in question and he seems just too nice a guy to narrow the eyes and chew the gum as an heir to Chappelli et al. So who?

Tall, precocious left-handed openers don’t have a bad record when it comes to leadership. Alastair Cook won 24 and lost 22 of his 59 Tests as captain – not great, but certainly not bad either. Graeme Smith won 53 and lost 29 of his 109 Tests as captain, the job thrust upon him at the age of 22 in (shall we say) less than ideal circumstances.

Matt Renshaw looks cut from the same bloodyminded mould as Cook and Smith. Unlikely to be distracted by IPL or other T20 franchise riches in the short to medium term, he looks perfectly suited to Test cricket. Having already banked a monumental innings of 184 vs Pakistan in his fourth Test, his credit is good for a while yet and, unlike his opening partner, you can almost see him learning on the job, as he plays each ball on its merits according to the pitch’s caprice, considers whether to seek to change the tempo of an innings and acts accordingly and smiles wryly as the wind-ups slide past a sanguine personality. There may be a bit of confirmation bias in play here, but when I look at the Indians, I see a respect for Renshaw that is absent when they bowl to Warner. That too is something the twenty year-old shares with the young Alastair Cook.

Though the game enjoys leaping up to bite on the bum anyone so blasé as to make long term predictions, I’m going to say that Renshaw, seven years younger than Steven Smith, is already a short-priced favourite to be the Baggy Greens’ next captain – so why not get him into the leadership group at the earliest opportunity? Even if the product of the Australian system (though, I must point out, holder of a British passport) is the most reticent Aussie in history, it’s impossible to believe that he’d offer much less than Warner, whose batting might be freed up in overseas Tests without the additional responsibility of vice-captaincy. That said, the self-possession evident in this teenage interview reminds me of one given by Adam Gilchrist at a similar age – and he did okay didn’t he?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 23, 2016

India vs England Test Series: India Report Card

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 29: Virat Kohli of I

Is that Adam Voges in the ICC World Test XI for 2016 you say?

Murali Vijay (357 runs at 45)

After England opened the series with 537, he made 124 in over 8 hours, a crucial ship-steadying innings. Looked in good nick throughout, but cashed in only once more, in Mumbai. His tactic of attacking the first ball of a spinner’s over worked well, his straight sixes particularly sweetly hit.

Gautam Gambhir (29 runs at 15)

Already feels like part of a past generation of Indian batsman – a fine servant whose time has almost certainly gone.

KL Rahul (233 runs at 58)

In and out of the XI with injury, but once he found his feet at Chennai, he produced one of the daddy hundreds that proved the difference between the sides. Desperately disappointed to miss out on a double century after a nervous loss of concentration, but it was the 199 runs scored that mattered, rather than the one that got away.

Parthiv Patel (195 runs at 65; 11 catches 2 stumpings)

Back in the team after a long absence, he seized his chance well, batting with fluency especially at the top of the order against the seamers. His glovework was scrappy at times (what keeper is world cricket isn’t these days?) but it was adequate for what was required. Very much lived up to his captain’s desire for every player to put the team first by opening in Chennai in place of the injured Vijay immediately after keeping for 157 overs. With his place on the line, that’s an impressive show of attitude and confidence.

Cheteshwar Pujara (401 runs at 50)

A more aggressive batsmen this time round than in previous showings against England, centuries in the first two Tests proved the value of his orthodox defensive technique now allied to more ambitious strokeplay. After a period out of the side and with young guns establishing their credentials, Pujara 2.0 has turned up at exactly the right time to lock down the Number Three slot for the foreseeable future.

Virat Kohli (655 runs at 109)

Compelling in every element of his game, he made big runs with the bat (the ball pummelling a tattoo on the middle of his bat throughout the series) and captained his side with tremendous energy and skill. Started the series by standing on his own stumps, but didn’t put a foot wrong thereafter until he failed in Chennai, only to watch, almost paternalistically, the new generation of Indian batsman win their spurs. He really, really wanted to win this match-up and wasn’t afraid to show it – and that matters, not just for Indian Test cricket, but for Test cricket as a whole. (I wrote more about the Young King Kohli here).

Karun Nair (320 runs at 160; 1-0-4-0 average n/a, economy 4.0)

Wise judges told me that when the 25 year old from Karnataka gets a start, he’s likely to go big. In Chennai, that forecast proved to be true in a record shattering 303* in which he showed that he could graft early on, build an innings and then flog tiring bowlers all round the ground. We will be seeing a lot more of him in the future.

Ajinkya Rahane (63 runs at 13)

Looked out of sorts, especially when cleaned up by Adil Rashid’s googly like, well, like an Englishman. Injured, he ceded the vice-captaincy to R. Ashwin, an unstoppable force at home, and will be looking over his shoulder at the men now in possession. He will be back, but the decision on whom to drop and when, is hardly an easy one for selectors with an embarrassment of riches.

Ravichandran Ashwin (306 runs at 44; 307.1-45-847-28 average 30.3, economy 2.8)

Eyed England’s left-handers like a cat with a cornered mouse, knowing they were his, only the time of their demise to be decided. Bowled a tight wicket-to-wicket line to the right-handers too, the subtle changes of flight, spin and speed placing him in the company of India’s legendary tweakers of any age. His carrom ball to trap Jonny Bairstow LBW in Mumbai was a thing of beauty, poor Jonny missing the delivery by feet rather than inches. Batted with the lazy elegance that prompts memories of VVS Laxman scoring vital runs in India’s powerhouse late middle order. And he still wasn’t Man of the Series!

Wriddhiman Saha (49 runs at 12; 6 catches)

All at sea with bat in hand and not much better with the gloves, he lost his place to the recalled Parthiv Patel who immediately improved India’s batting and fielding units.

Ravindra Jadeja (224 runs at 37; 290.1-67-672-26 average 25.8, economy 2.3)

The man who makes things happen – a component all sides aspiring to greatness need. With ball in hand, he hustles through his overs, some balls spinning, some balls sliding, seldom giving much to hit. In the field, he bristles under his beard, a brilliant catcher and ground fielder, setting standards for a team that needs them. Walked to the wicket to replace his captain with his team still 79 runs behind in Mohali and biffed a momentum shifting 90, before holing out going for the quick runs the match situation demanded. Not the most skilful bowler nor the most technically correct batsman, but he is the most watchable cricketer in the side – possibly in the world.

Jayant Yadav (221 runs at 74; 81.3-17-266-9 average 29.6, economy 3.3)

What on earth is he doing at Number Nine? Brought in to keep it tight as a support spinner, he delivered that job description to the letter and then batted like a dream to demoralise England’s bowling with an array of orthodox strokes and splendid concentration, even when discomfited by the short ball. He might need an injury or two in order to be selected overseas, but what a player to have as back-up to the spin twins ahead of him.

Amit Mishra (0 runs at 0; 75.5-12-275-5 average 55.0, economy 3.6)

Rather like his opposite number, Rashid, he bowled too many release balls and too few jaffas when given his opportunities. In an age when bowlers look to apply a tourniquet of dot balls to strangle the scoring rate, his old-fashioned tossing it up above the eye line, looks a little out of place.

Mohammed Shami (35 runs at 35; 103-22-252-10 average 25.2, economy 2.4)

Flogging 10 wickets from three Tests on those pitches is an admirable return from a bowler who was quick and accurate, particularly with a short ball that was directed under the chin and seldom wasted in an unnecessary show of macho bravado. England’s senior seamers may have over 800 Test wickets between them, but Shami was the pick of the pacers.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar (9 runs at 9; 17-1-60-1 average 60.0, economy 3.5)

Back in the side to pitch it up and swing it, he extracted more movement than any other bowler and will look forward to touring England in the future where his method has found success in the past.

Umesh Yadav (38 runs at 10; 143.5-23-464-8 average 58.0, economy 3.2)

A big hearted trier who bent his back all day long for his captain and whose figures do not reflect his contribution at all. That value was is better found in the fact that he bowled 37 more overs then any seamer on either side and he deserved to celebrate the series win as much as anyone.

Ishant Sharma (DNB; 31-8-59-3 average 19.7, economy 1.9)

Always nice to roll up for the final Test of a series already secured, but the tall paceman justified his place with some accurate hit-the-deck bowling against a batting line-up who knew they were beaten. Incredibly, he’s still only 28!

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 23, 2016

India vs England Test Series: England Report Card

Captain Cook at Chennai.

Captain Cook at Chennai.

Alastair Cook (369 runs at 37) –

For such a consummate player of spin, he got out too often to the wrong shots, the bat coming cross the ball instead of meeting it straight down its path. Half of his dismissals were LBW or bowled, modes that are creeping into his game as he gets older. Perhaps, turning 32 on Christmas Day, his eyes might be tiring a little, tiny delays in picking up line and length leading to problems with foot movement and balance – and slip catching. His captaincy came in for much criticism and he could have attacked more at times (leg slip should have been posted for every delivery by a spinner) and he was often curiously reluctant to bowl Ben Stokes, but I’d suggest that any captain in the world, given this attack, would have gone down 4-0, so captaincy hardly mattered in the end.

Haseeb Hameed (219 runs at 44) –

Took on one of the hardest jobs in cricket and made it look… well, if not easy, then certainly natural, with a technique, attitude and temperament that appears to good to be true in a teenager. He can expect plenty of short stuff in the future, but has tenacity to burn and a dedication to improvement that will surely produce a method that works for him. There will be struggles to come, but he can take enormous confidence from a wonderful start to his Test career. It was also splendid to see him embrace touring, watching on from the stands with his family, a smile never far from his face.

Keaton Jennings (167 runs at 42; 5-1-20-0 average n/a, economy 4.0) –

Cashed in with a century after being dropped on 0 in his first knock and has backed that up by top scoring in two of his first four innings in Test cricket. Like most left-handers, he fancies it outside off stump and will need to learn to rein in that instinct for half an hour or so until the feet are moving properly and head is well across towards the ball. He’ll probably find himself at Number Three in the immediate future and might want to take a leaf from India’s Three in terms of adding strike rotating singles and a willingness to hit the bad ball very hard to his game. But a few scoreboards showing England 145-1 at Tea on the first day of a Test would be very welcome indeed.

Ben Duckett (18 runs at 6) –

Many of us wondered if he could survive with the game he showed in Bangladesh and we didn’t have to wait long for the answer. Should definitely continue to play T20Is and probably ODIs too, but has to find a way to get into Division One of the County Championship and then bat through at least two sessions against canny red ball operators. A few long sessions on the bowling machine with the single objective of playing every ball under his eyes would be a good place to start the long road back to the Test XI.

Joe Root (491 runs at 49; 16-2-57-2 average 28.5, economy 3.6) –

Got in and got on with it as usual and looked the class of the field when England were batting. Scores of 53, 78, 77 and 88 (and even his series opening 124) can hardly be deemed failures, but, in India, that means (more often than not) that another player has to better that score if the Test is to be won. The daddy hundreds really count on pitches like these, and he couldn’t go on to post any. Okay, that’s harsh criticism, but descriptions like “England’s finest post war batsman” have been bandied around about him, so the standards to which he is held are sky high – maybe unfairly so.

Moeen Ali (381 runs at 42; 188.1-21-649-10 average 64.9, economy 3.4) –

What a curio he is! He can bat like a dream, a David Gower resurrected, and then play a shot that would embarrass even him (and Gower knew a bit about getting out to crazy, lazy strokes). Bowling can go the same way – the jaffa suddenly turning up between the half volleys and long hops. Copped some unfair stick about some spells though, because the batsmen to whom he was bowling were pretty good and would simply make length (and sometimes line) their decision with positive footwork allied to extreme confidence. The sad fact remains that it seems unlikely that England will take wickets quickly enough on turning pitches nor control runs on flat tracks if Moeen is expected to deliver 15 overs or so per day. So is his batting enough to justify a role as a change bowler only? For such a wonderful player to watch and such a dedicated team man, one has to hope that it is.

Jonny Bairstow (352 runs at 44; 11 catches, 2 stumpings) –

Keeping wicket and batting with the expectation of scoring the runs of a specialist is a tough ask in India with so much standing up to spinners in heat and humidity. It is a testament to his fitness that, at the end of a long year of unprecedented success, he seldom looked tired (though he must have felt it). The keeping, for all the stats piling up, is still scrappy and there are too many relatively straightforward chances missed and too few hard chances taken. 4-0 is a time for home truths to be spoken and “You’re our Five Jonny, but Jos is getting the gloves and doing Seven” might have to be said if the team is to progress.

Ben Stokes (345 runs at 38; 106.2-16-357-8 average 44.6, economy 3.4) –

Scored 227 of his 345 runs in his first three innings and was underbowled by Cook throughout the series, especially when England needed to start sessions with a bang. Given his workload, he must have a few aches and pains, but was he carrying something more restricting? More than any other England player, he needs his workload managed with sympathy through rotation, not through extended periods in the covers – strangely, he was often not found in the slips, despite being England’s best man in the cordon since Ian Botham.

Jos Buttler (154 runs at 38.5) –

Looked a far better batsman than when he last played Test cricket, the feet less anchored, the defensive game more rounded. Surely this huge talent cannot be confined to white ball cricket only, but if he is to be a game-changer at Seven (his most natural position) then he pretty much has to take the gloves. Will that slay the golden goose that has been Jonny Bairstow in 2016? It’s a risk worth taking.

Liam Dawson (66 runs at 66; 43-4-129-2 average 64.5, economy 3.0) –

Showed great sang froid in dropping straight into a Test team and batting as if it were midsummer at the Rose Bowl with Hampshire 270-4, particularly after a second ball ear-ringer on the helmet. Bowled with discipline too, earning more respect from India’s batsmen than England’s other spin options. But there’s a reason why David Hussey never played a Test for Australia, and Liam Dawson is probably his inferior in batting, bowling and fielding.

Chris Woakes (70 runs at 14; 77-16-244-3 average 81.3, economy 3.2) –

The quicker he bowled, the quicker the ball arrived in the middle of the home team bats. After a golden run of form, he had neither the pace nor the movement to trouble the Indian batsmen on home tracks – hardly the first to learn that harsh lesson. He has enough credit in the bank to stay a crucial member of England’s fast bowling squad, from whom three or four will be chosen for each Test.

Adil Rashid (113 runs at 14; 232.2-19-861-23 average 37.4, economy 3.7) –

Suffers a bit for the profligacy of his team mates in that his (standard issue leg spinner) boundaries look worse because there are fours and sixes coming at the other end too. Took plenty of wickets (and not just tailenders) with sharp spun leg breaks and a mystifyingly underused, largely unpicked googly, but too often I found myself saying, “Well, I could have hit that for four”, the bad balls being really bad balls. Whether England can get Moeen and Rashid in the same XI outside the subcontinent is a tricky one to call – like setting a field for a long hop, it feels like a decision rooted in distrust, especially if Joe Root can fiddle a few overs when required. And, just when his batting gifts looked completely squandered in a series in which late middle order runs were crucial, he made a lovely 60 in Chennai to remind us what we’d been missing.

Zafar Ansari (36 runs at 12; 43-3-163-3 average 54, economy 3.8) –

For Surrey, he has played sometimes as a top order batsman and sometimes as a specialist spinner. Unfortunately, in his two matches in this series, he bowled like a top order batsman and batted like a specialist spinner.

Stuart Broad (44 runs at 11; 89-24-248-8 average 31.0, economy 2.8) –

England missed his nous and cutters in the two Tests he sat out injured and his figures do not do him justice in the three he played, he can take solace from the thought that he was the only England bowler not comprehensively outbowled by his opposite number. Seemingly out of the picture for white ball cricket, is there a chance that he might take the captaincy of the Test XI? It wouldn’t harm the gate receipts Down Under next winter for sure.

Gareth Batty (1 run at 1; 19.2-0-65-0 average n/a, economy 3.4) –

Not the new Shaun Udal after all. Did not embarrass himself by any means, but his captain didn’t seem to want to throw him the ball – as if he were a man who still hasn’t paid his subs in July.

Jake Ball (45 runs at 11; 41-7-140-1 average 140, economy 3.4) –

A tough gig for the wholehearted trier from Notts, the pitches not really suiting his “hit the deck” style, although he did try a few cutters (that we could pick on the TV screens). Ravi Bopara – eight inches shorter, 30 clicks slower, ten times as cunning – might have been a better option. Hells bells, if Gareth Batty got a game, why not Darren Stevens!

James Anderson (20 runs at 5; 79-17-214-4 average 53.5, economy 2.7) –

Got plenty of respect from the Indian batsmen, but seldom got the ball to swing conventionally or reversing and didn’t seam it much either. His 12 wickets in four Tests in 2012 looked a long time ago.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 18, 2016

Cricket 2016 – Three Favourite Moments

yjbJonny Bairstow reaches three figures and looks to the skies

Cricket can seem very distant when you’re sitting on a train chugging through the white forests of Scandinavia, especially when the broadband connection is up and down and only strong enough for a text service anyway. But England really did have 500, Ben Stokes really did have 200 and Jonny Bairstow really was 95 not out in the heat and sunshine of Cape Town as lunch was taken on Day Two of the Second Test.

Three years earlier, Young Jonny Bairstow (he’ll always be “Young” Jonny Bairstow – some players just are) had been on 95 against the same opponents with the the Lord’s Honours Board engraver sharpening his blade, when Morne Morkel did what most observers expected sooner or later and bowled him, the Yorkie’s bottom hand dragging the bat across the line from off to leg, a deserved maiden century left out in the middle.

England fans were disappointed, perhaps none more so that the many kids waiting every morning by the Nursery Ground with whom YJB had posed for selfies, the big cheesy grin under the mop of red hair flashed by phones over and over again. Ten minutes later, carrot top the dead giveaway, I saw him besieged again by the Tavern Stand, patient on his walk back to the dressing room, perhaps remembering his own days on the other side of the ropes.

In the period since 2012, he had been in and out of the side, never quite a specialist keeper, never quite a specialist batsman, but scoring mountains of runs for Yorkshire as they secured two County Championships, the eccentricities being expunged from his technique. A 79 in the First Test in Durban (his best since the near miss at Lord’s) was a confidence builder and, then, in the wake of Ben Stokes’ assault and after a nervous lunch, suddenly the helmet was off, the arms aloft and the eyes cast heavenwards. A three and a half year wait was over.

Or maybe the wait was much longer than that. Jonny’s father, David, played 25 times for England, never improving on the 59 he made on Test debut. David took his own life 18 years previously (to the week), Jonny and his family confronting that anniversary every “Happy New Year everybody!” since. The son scored the century for his team, but he also scored it for the father – and for everyone who remembered the gritty, pugnacious Tyke with a tear in their eye whether in sunny Cape Town or snowy Sweden.

Misbah pushes on and pushes up

The Media Centre at Lord’s late in the day changes character from the quiet buzz of sotto voce conversations as old friends catch up and the shape of the day’s play might be discussed, to a place of industry, keyboards tapping as deadlines approach, the odd curse thrown into the air if a Microsoft Windows Update unexpectedly kicks in. The scorer’s announcements are listened to more keenly, as those stats are dropped into copy soon to appear on screens around the world.

Like most colleagues, I was probably typing words like “Misbah’s single takes him to a well-deserved century” in a tweet for an “on the whistle” report  when I heard genuine laughter peal around me and a few “Did you see that?”s and a lot more “What? What happened?”s, the journalist’s nightmare of missing the day’s big story suddenly an unwelcome possibility.

The TV screens soon showed us what many of us had missed. On reaching three figures, Pakistan’s 42 year-old captain had offered a salute to his team-mates and back room staff and dropped to the turf to crank out 10 press-ups like a man half his age. It was a beautifully judged gesture, a small joke against himself, a genuine show of gratitude to the staff who had led the squad’s pre-tour conditioning programme and a reminder that, even after some of Pakistan’s darkest cricketing hours, Misbah knew that cricket was just a game – albeit a glorious one.

Ravichandran Ashwin lands one perfectly

High on the list of players enjoying great years in 2016, one would find the names of Jonny Bairstow (using the springboard of his Cape Town ton to register all kinds of batting and keeping records) and India’s Michelle Machine, Ravichandran Ashwin.

In the Mumbai Test, with England’s inexorably sliding towards defeat in the match and series, only the two Yorkies had held up Virat Kohli’s men, Joe Root making 77 and Jonny Bairstow on 51. So Ashwin bowled and the ball hit Bairstow’s pads right in front of the stumps, plainly LBW. Nothing to see here. Except…

I was commentating at Guerilla Cricket, describing the action ball-by-ball, but `I couldn’t work out what had happened exactly – it looked wrong and I couldn’t do my job for the listeners. Had the ball taken the leading edge and the coming review would save Jonny? Had the bat become tangled with the pad somehow? Had Jonny suffered an uncharacteristic rush of blood and suddenly attempted to hit the ball into the Arabian Sea, the slog failing?

The review revealed all. Ashwin had delivered the carrom ball – not much used in the series so far – from the front of the hand and poor Jonny hadn’t picked it at all. Pitching on a length on middle, it turned to off and squared up the England batsman who missed it by (perhaps) the width of a set of stumps as he played for the off break. I had been confused by the sheer space between the ball and the bat as one went one way, the other going the other.I had, quite literally, not believed my eyes.

If not quite as spectacular as Shane Warne’s Ball of the Century, it was every bit as magnificent an example of the spinner’s art and an illustration of a great player in peak form producing exactly what he wanted at the exact moment he wanted it. One for R. Ashwin’s mantlepiece.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 17, 2016

Three great innings under 50

Not Flintoff nor KP.

Not Flintoff nor KP.

These days, if a batsman makes a century, joy is unconfined, with many taking their cue from Peter Griffin’s celebration of his touchdown for the New England Patriots to punch the air, confirm their religion or, with great wit, drop and give me 10. The half-century is greeted with a little more restraint, with the bat raised and the applause acknowledged. But what about those innings that terminate before even that opportunity arises? What are the great innings under 50? Here’s three that I saw – you may have your own favourites.

Andy Bichel 34* England vs Australia ODI Port Elizabeth 2003

I was out shopping en familie and had manipulated a situation with the younger one asleep in his buggy and the elder one playing computer games in a creche. I had positioned myself in sight of a television screen in a department store, the one tuned into Sky’s coverage of the World Cup match between England and Australia. Earlier, at home, I had seen England reined in from muscular 66-0 inside the first 10 overs, to a flaccid 204-8 after 50, the Aussie hero an unheralded bustling English style seamer, Andy Bichel, whose figures of 10-0-20-7 would have been an ODI best had Glenn McGrath not bullied seven Namibian wickets for five fewer runs just a few days earlier.

Incredibly, England had not rolled over, but had fought back with the reigning champions eight down with 70 to get. Okay, Michael Bevan was still there and he could be awkward, but Brett Lee had spent 23 balls compiling 6, run out as England turned the screw. Just Bichel and McGrath to get I thought, as I pretended to take an interest in the new HD format.

“I’m okay. Not sure when it’ll be finished. Ten minutes or so I guess. I’ll call you back and we can get the kids a drink and something to eat before we get the 77 home”. But Bichel and Bevan (a right pair of Bs as it happens) kept going, the boundary in almost every over keeping the asking rate below a run a ball. England, and I, started to worry.

I shouldn’t have been surprised (but I was) when the Aussies went into the last two overs with 14 required, a young Jimmy Anderson with ball in hand. Bevan took one off the first delivery – mistake, I thought, smirking. Then Bichel, in the days when this sort of thing just didn’t happen, went six, four, one and Andrew Flintoff’s last over might as well have been bowled by me. Bichel finished 34*, Bevan 74*, their ninth wicket stand carrying their side from 135-8 to 208-8 at exactly a run a ball.

“Yes – finished now. Sorry it took so long. Australia yeah. Again yeah. Well, we got closer than we usually do. Okay – I’ll wake him up. See you at the bus stop.”

Matthew Hoggard 8* Fourth Test England vs Australia 2005

I was with my father in his nursing home, grateful at last to have something to talk about other than variants on “Well, they’re treating you very well and, I know it’s not much fun, but you have to put a brave face on it, after all”. We were watching the closing stages of a great day’s play in a great Test match in the greatest Ashes series. England, after a decent start by Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick, had come up against their nemesis yet again, and Shane Warne had got amongst us and the game was suddenly in the balance. “Why didn’t Ponting open with Warne?” asked my father, and I talked about the shiny hard new ball and spinners’ reluctance to use it, and I was pleased, because it’s the kind of question he would have asked me five years earlier – before the stroke. But we didn’t talk much – things were too tense.

It looked like England’s champion, Andrew Flintoff (who had made a brilliant first innings century) and champion-in-waiting, Kevin Pietersen, would get the home side over the line, but a fired up Brett Lee won the testosterone-off with both of them and Geraint Jones arrived in a panic and left in a hurry. England were seven down with 13 required and the Aussies bad-rashing us with three wickets gone in less than four overs.

In a team not short of star quality, England’s most prosaic players were at the crease, charged with transforming themselves from Clark Kents into Supermen to keep The Ashes alive. Ashley Giles prodded and pushed and watched the ball – but he was (praise Duncan Fletcher) an authentic Number Eight and had some technique to fall back on. Matthew Hoggard was a blocker, in at Number Nine, but more a Number Eleven, shambling around as journalists reached for the “yeoman” descriptor one more time. And then, like a butterfly suddenly soaring from its chrysalis, he got a full toss from Brett Lee, striving for the 150kph yorker, and push-drove it through the covers for four, prompting ecstatic scenes all round Trent Bridge. It was one of the greatest shots ever played by an Englishman, the day seized in the most astonishing fashion. Hoggy grinned, the blond hair poking out under his helmet – we all grinned along with him.

There was still four to get, but everyone knew the game was up. I looked at my father and said something utterly bland like, “That’s it!”, and he said something equally unremarkable. It was probably the last proper conversation I had with him – certainly the last not spoken through the curtain of stroke, pain and resignation – and it wasn’t a bad one. Thank you Matthew Hoggard.

Carlos Brathwaite 34* England vs West Indies T20I Kolkata 2016

He looked, in one of Frank Bruno’s endearing catchphrases, “A big, strong boy ‘Arry”, but he had only played a handful of T20Is and had a highest score of 13. He’d bowled well, snaring Joe Root, Jos Buttler and David Willey, but even with Marlon Samuels beginning to stir at the other end, surely 49 runs from 27 deliveries was too loaded towards the bowling side with the pressure on? In fact, scrap that – twenty minutes or so later, it was 19 from six. In a World T20 Final? Ain’t gonna happen, mate.

It did.

Ben Stokes must have felt like a man stuck in an overturned bobsleigh as it careers down the run, battered and bruised, just waiting for it to stop. Carlos Brathwaite had middled – or middled enough – the first four balls of Stokes’ over to rip the trophy from Eoin Morgan’s grasp when he hand two thumbs and seven fingers wrapped round it. The big man was, in the words of another who had turned over enormous odds, The King Of The World (okay, the World T20) and even the most one-eyed of England fans would not begrudge him his glory.

Brathwaite has notched three half centuries in his three Tests, so he’s no mug, but those four deliveries mean that he’ll never have to buy his own rum in a Caribbean bar if he lives until he’s 100. And that’s just from the English tourists.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 1, 2016

Bangladesh vs England Test Series England Report Card

Dhaka (as seen by England after tea, Day Three)

Dhaka (as seen by England after tea, Day Three)

Alastair Cook (89 runs at 22) – With his record on the subcontinent, not many would have predicted that England’s captain would be dismissed three times by a teenager, but Mehedi Hasan’s impeccable line and length on “spin or skid” pitches proved too much, even for Cook. There were signs that he was finding his celebrated batting rhythm in the second innings at Dhaka, when the four balls went to the boundary and his strike rotating pushes and prods kept the scoreboard moving. As captain, he never seemed to know quite what to do with his bowlers, for whom he needed a couple more fielders due to their inability to bowl one side of the wicket. Clearly dissatisfied with his spinners, but curiously reluctant to go to Chris Woakes, who bowled just 25 overs in the series at an economy rate well under three.

Ben Duckett (92 runs at 23) – The David Warner of English cricket? Not yet, for sure – but his chutzpah, his fearless deployment of white ball shots in tough red ball conditions and the marmite reaction he provokes in pundits and fans alike recall the Australian biffer when he broke into the Test side in 2011. In his fifth Test, Warner made an astonishing 180 off 159 balls at Perth against India to silence the doubters, and, before tea on the tumultuous third day at Dhaka, Duckett looked like he might do something similar. But how long can you last in Test cricket premeditating so many shots (even, it seems, the leave)? How long can you last in Test cricket with a front leg that appears to “clear” towards midwicket even defending balls outside off-stump? How long can head, hands and feet get into such extraordinary non-alignment and bat hit ball? If you were to ask me, I’d say that he will make one glorious century in India and nine scores less than 30 – time will tell.

Joe Root (98 runs at 25; 2-0-5-0) – Busy as usual at the crease, but LBW three times out of four as the bat missed the ball – was he watching it closely enough? Lasted just six balls in England’s two second innings, a trend that he will have to rectify in India as the impact of his dismissal seems to have the effect of two wickets going down.

Gary Ballance (24 runs at 6) – That impact is, of course, largely the result of the wretched form of Gary Ballance, who looks wracked with anxiety at the crease and has neither of the two options batsmen often turn to in such circumstances: he can neither hit his way back into form, nor rely on a solid defensive technique to work his way into a bit of nick. Good balls are getting him out, but bad balls will do too, as his dismal cross-batted shovel that could only edge a skier to Tamim in the Dhaka disaster showed.

Moeen Ali (92 runs at 23; 74.5-13-252-11; average 23, economy 3.4) – Perhaps Garry Sobers might have found it a stiff ask to bowl the most overs in the series for his team and bat at 5 – and Moeen, though sharing some of the great Bajan’s aesthetic qualities with the bat, is no Sobers. In the first innings of the series, he spent over three hours guiding England from 21-3 to 194-6 to keep his side in the game, so he is certainly not the most culpable of England’s batsmen, who collectively failed in unfamiliar conditions (ie against spinners who could rip it and land it). With the ball, he bagged a fivefer and took wickets in all four innings, but, despite an impressive average of 23, he was milked for crucial strike rotating singles and smacked to the fence when fractionally off line or length. An impressively phlegmatic character on and off the pitch, who stepped in to calm down Ben Stokes at the right moment (the short-fused all-rounder might owe him a bit of the 85% of his match fee he retained in Dhaka). India will be a definitive examination of his credentials to be in the side as the long term first choice spinner in helpful conditions.

Ben Stokes (128 runs at 32; 48.3-14-111-11; average 10, economy 2.3) – Played the best innings of his career at Chittagong reining in his natural game (because, no matter how often the pundits tell us that the “natural game” is the only way to go, sometimes batsmen and bowlers need to play the match situation and conditions). His three hour 85 took England from 46-4 (and we now know from Dhaka how perilous a position that is) to 197-7  and what everyone believed to be a comfortable winning lead. It’s worth noting that before he hit his first six in that match-turning innings, he had faced 47 balls for his 17 runs. With the ball, he sought (and sometimes found) reverse swing, but even when it wasn’t going, the snap of his wrist and an upright seam produced a smidgeon of movement in air and off the seam and his bouncer and variations kept the batsmen honest. Cook, mindful of November, underbowled him in October – lay that at the door of the ICC. For all his later, good-natured bantz on Twitter with Shakib Al Hasan, his verbals on the field at Chittagong (and, especially, his disdain for both the umpires’ and his captain’s advice to calm down) were unedifying and wasteful of energy.

Jonny Bairstow (126 runs at 32, 7 catches, 1 stumping) – Batted (as we have come to expect) like a Number 5 at Number 7 in Chittagong, but couldn’t repeat the trick at Dhaka where there were signs that the old failing of an overly strong bottom hand pulling the bat across the line, was creeping back into his game (though he was not alone in his desire to play horizontal bat shots on pitches that demanded the straightest of vertical bats for 11 balls out of 12). Difficult conditions in which to keep, but too often the gloves moved late to the ball when it lifted off the surface, though much of his work down the legside to the spinners was effective. That England’s fielding was below par must surely be (psychologically at least) down to so many untidy gathers of returns from the outfield – they don’t produce overthrows, but the ball continually squirting out of the gloves looks terrible and does not set an example to follow.

Chris Woakes (110 runs at 55; 25-8-68-3; average 23, economy 2.8) – I have argued before that Chris Woakes’ batting record for Warwickshire in recent years made him a fringe candidate for England even if he did not bowl, and that was borne out in his relative comfort in dealing with the spinning ball, playing straight, watching the ball from hand to bat and waiting patiently for the long hop or half volley to put away. Amidst all the talk of how England can shuffle the batting order to deal with Ballance’s inevitable dropping, nobody has mentioned Woakes at 6, but he now averages nearly 35 in Tests, which is more than Ben Stokes or Andrew Flintoff. Quite why Cook was so reluctant to turn to his bowling, which offered him control and a wicket-taking threat, asking him to deliver just 11 overs in the second Test, remains a mystery.

Adil Rashid (79 runs at 26; 54.5-4-209-7; average 30, economy 3.8) – In the side to whip out the tail and score a few runs down the order and did so often enough, but outside that narrow remit, the long hops and full tosses were just too frequent between the jaffas and the occasional “stock” delivery. With India likely to bat Ravindra Jadeja at 9, there isn’t much of a tail for Rashid to bowl at on the forthcoming tour and little to suggest, ten years into his career and after nearly 4500 first class overs, that the four balls can be eliminated. Perhaps if England go two down with three to play, he could come into a must-in match, but he looks too much of a risk to me, even turning the ball away from India’s phalanx of right-handers.

Stuart Broad (23 runs at 12; 23-6-43-2; average 22, economy 1.9) – Appeared almost surplus to requirements before his marathon nine overs spell at the end of day four in Chittagong applied pressure through dot balls and wickets to drag England back into a game they were losing. Was actually surplus to requirements in Dhaka when rested, a poor and disrespectful decision to the hosts – will he really be less knackered by the fifth Test in India, if he has played the other four?

Gareth Batty (4 runs at 4; 34-4-116-4; average 29, economy 3.4) – A few years ago, you would have got Leicester-to-win-the-Premier-League odds on the ruddy-faced Surrey captain opening the bowling for England, but that’s what happened in the first Test but he was more Leicester 2016-17 than Leicester 2015-16 in his first spell. He settled after that and picked up four quality wickets without ever suggesting he is more than the good county pro that has been on the circuit for years. Unlucky to miss out in Dhaka on the dubious pretext that England needed a look at county colleague Zafar Ansari – but blame the schedule as much as the selectors for that one.

Zafar Ansari (13 runs at 7; 25-0-112-2; average 56, economy 4.5) – His figures do not do him justice, as he created plenty of chances in a long spell on the third morning at Chittagong, risking being clipped to leg by attacking the stumps. But that just showed up his dilemma – is he an attacking wicket-taker or a man to tie down one end? If England think such a spinner exists in the domestic game, they may spend a long time searching for the next Graeme Swann.

Steven Finn (0 runs at 0; 11-1-48-0) – In contrast to Ansari, Finn’s figures do reflect his performance.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | October 2, 2016

MS Dhoni: The Untold Story – Review

Well it's a bit of a one-eyed film I suppose

Well it’s a bit of a one-eyed film I suppose

In press conferences, most players are guarded, going through the motions and cliches, happy to get away without being stitched up (unless you’re Graeme Swann, in which case it’s a chance for some bantz). But sitting amongst the journos, you can still gain a little insight through the cracks in the carapaces layered by media training and (often well-founded) wariness of the men and women with the recording devices. Rahul Dravid looked you straight in the eye, considered his response for a moment, and then replied in whole sentences, indeed, whole paragraphs, the discussion turning into a kind of seminar. Sreesanth was lively and funny, charming, like a teenage son who might get into a few scrapes (which, of course, he did).

But MS Dhoni? The Indian captain blocked the questions with an impeccably straight bat, speaking fluently in a slightly inflected accent, at some length, but, as the seasoned pros scribbling notes knew, not really telling us much at all. There was no resentment discernible in his work and a clear appreciation that this was territory that came with the job – once time was called by his minder, Dhoni would tick it off his “To Do” list and get on to the next thing. I, not required to sweep up the anodyne quotes that would fill pages and websites with “As a unit, the batting let us down a bit today, but the pitch was never an easy one on which to make runs” and “We need to be more consistent in our lengths in England and I saw signs in the latter stages of the innings that were beginning to get this right’ could think about other things.

The man is what interested me – the hush instantly as he entered the room, the eyes bright with attention (but perhaps cunning too), the carriage of a natural athlete and the looks of a Hollywood leading man. More than any other characteristic of Dhoni, I was struck by the internal stillness that surrounded him like an aura in even the most chaotic circumstances, a presence that converts to charisma and the means to direct people with barely the raising of an eyebrow. He used that sang froid too in his epic innings as a finisher when the game would bend to his will, the scoreboard moving as he saw fit.

When you get up close to famous people, even the most extraordinary ones, they often seem more human, the common ground between you and them becoming more visible through the detail of body language, a shared sense of humour or the little vulnerabilities of life when the spotlight isn’t at full beam – “Has anyone got a bottle of water please”. With Dhoni, the reverse was true – his otherworldliness was enhanced, his power augmented, his superstardom not a cliche, but a reality.

I wondered how the new film MS Dhoni: The Untold Story would approach the (for want of a better term) “Dhoniness” of Dhoni, having dispensed with any notion that the “untold” descriptor in the title foreshadowed revelations about murky goings-on in the IPL, dressing room feuds or forensic examinations of external business interests. That’s fine with me. The film isn’t that kind of film – but it did show that there’s a warts-and-all biography to be written if anyone can get close enough.

Starting with Dhoni’s apotheosis at the Wankhede Stadium in the World Cup Final of 2011, we see “Dhoniness” immediately and explicitly writ large. In the dressing room, the captain watches icons old (Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar) and new (Virat Kohli)  come and go, with the less exalted Gautam Gambhir steady at the other end. When the Lankans’ ace card, Muttiah Muralitharan is introduced into the attack, Dhoni requests of his coach, Gary Kirsten, in a manner that brooked no argument, that he goes in next, above the left-handed Yuvraj Singh, who just happens to be the man who showed him the power of such gestures in an Under-19s match a decade earlier. Yuvraj is remembered as a hero of that match; Dhoni is remembered as the hero, the articles telling you plenty about the men’s careers. We then flash back to a small town maternity hospital and, over the next three hours, discover how that unshakeable will to embrace Carpe Diem was formed.

Having captured what I wanted to see so early and with great skill and sensitivity, I was happy to give much of the film a free pass – and there were times when it needed it. Though short on Bollywood motifs, director Neeraj Pandey has indulged himself with Bollywood pacing, the movie coming in at over three hours with a welcome intermission in the presentation I saw. The film doesn’t drag, but it spends far more time than is necessary (to someone used to American and European storytelling) on Dhoni’s career-stalling work as a provincial railway worker and on phone calls between himself and the two women in his life (not concurrently in his life – that really would have been a scoop!)

The in-play cricket scenes are done very well, indeed in the difficult area of rendering sport on film, these scenes rank amongst the best I have seen. Sushant Singh Rajput is well cast as Dhoni since, though he lacks a facial resemblance, has markedly different teeth and appears to be a good bit taller, the actor is clearly talented in ball games, his batting convincing and a brief clip of badminton showing what looks like his main sport. He does the strong silent type well too and, if a little one-dimensional in the emotional stuff (makes sure he’s alone, quivers the upper lip, sheds a few tears), in the other pivotal scene in the movie, he faces down the selection committee like a young Al Pacino taking charge in The Godfather, also showing in his eyes that same loneliness that will come from the ruthless seizing and execution of power. Rajput moves like an sportsman too, a skill almost no actor gets right in my experience.

There are some fine turns from the support cast, who get to play plenty of familiar types, from the father who dissuades his son from a life in sport in favour of an education, to the lads who scrape together the money their mate needs to get a start in the game, to the almond-eyed ultra-beautiful girlfriends, the first a tragic love, the second the fulfilling relationship that leads to marriage. I suspect that in real life, not everyone was quite so well-disposed to the gifted, charming, but ruthlessly ambitious man from humble roots, but that’s not the film’s standpoint – and so be it.

The story of (not quite) rags to riches is, of course, a familiar one, and its cricketing backdrop doesn’t really add much to it unless you’re a fan like me who enjoys seeing how others view a figure whom I have watched grow up in the game. The wider context is certainly worthy of consideration though, since, in some ways, the rise of Dhoni coincides with the rise of India. In early scenes, set in the late 90s in one of India’s poorer regions, we see no computers (sheaves of paper requiring signatures pile up on Ticket Collector Dhoni’s desk), no mobile phones and only rudimentary sanitation. Ten years later, Dhoni (but one might say India too – or much of it) gleams with the sheen of international success, the latest technologies connecting people around the world, hotel foyers built as big as palaces, freeways stretching into the distance, filled with luxury vehicles. But the film shows us the cost at which Dhoni’s command of that world comes – not only is his wife-to-be besieged by fans and journalists, in the background of a few shots, one sees Dhoni’s armed guards – you have to look for them, but they’re there.

Was this story as “untold” as the title suggests? Of course not – surely nobody would expect that. Does it succeed on its own terms? It does, the faults more quibbles than flaws, once one accepts the film’s scope. Early reports indicate that box office is good and I’m not surprised at that, but some time in the future, when the movie is long-forgotten, a definitive biography will be written and I suspect we’ll learn rather more about this determined, successful cricketer and his unique journey.

 

 

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