I didn’t get enough likes when I tweeted the above ‘joke’ yesterday so I thought I’d try again. How was it for you? I’ll get me coat.
As you can tell from my bad jokes, I’m in a rather good mood today. It’s because England have just won the first test against India. And England wins against decent opposition are few and far between these days. Obviously the batsmen did their very best to lose the game, but our bowlers bailed them out rather well. Good stuff lads!
There are two ways to look at this game. You could say it was a great win, in a fantastic match, against the world’s No.1 team; therefore Joe and the boys are back!
The other way to look at it is that England should win at home on pitches that help our bowlers. And the fact we very nearly blew it by batting like incompetent numpties says a lot about the state of the English game: too many show ponies who can’t knuckle down for toffee.
In normal circumstances I might be inclined to argue the latter. I am a jaundiced old sod after all. However, we’ve had so little to celebrate in recent times that I don’t feel like killing the mood. All we’ve done recently is moan about The Hundred and the marginalisation of the championship, so taking a negative spin on events at Edgbaston would seem excessively miserable.
What was so amazing for me (watching from afar) was the atmosphere generated inside Edgbaston. By all reports it was electric. Only test cricket can create this special atmosphere. It really is unique. Yes the crowd go nuts in ODIs and T20s too, but the results matter so little in these games. They’re basically exhibition matches that have become two-a-penny due to their frequency.
The results in test matches, on the other hand, matter a lot. Just ask Virat Kohli. Say what you like about the Indian skipper but what cannot be denied is his commitment to the longest form of the game. We need more cricketers like him, and we should be relieved that the biggest player from the biggest cricketing nation on earth is such a passionate advocate of test cricket’s worth. Imagine if India’s captain was someone like Chris Gayle who really couldn’t give a toss about the long form? We’d be in desperate trouble then.
So what were your overriding impressions of the game? The thing that occurred to me is that India’s attack is better than advertised and their batting is worse than billed. I’ve always quite rated India’s attack (even away from home) so I wasn’t shocked to see the like of Shami and Ashwin make life very difficult. I was, however, really disappointed by their batting. I know Pujara hasn’t set the world on fire in country cricket but surely there’s room for a player of his quality in this line-up? Other than Kohli the others didn’t impress at all.
As for England, a couple of things struck me. Firstly, I still think our batting order is a mess. I would much prefer to see Bairstow, who now stays too leg side of the ball due to his prolonged exposure to white ball games, batting at 6 in the all-rounders slot. Jonny now muscles the ball through the off-side at will, but he looks more vulnerable defensively as a result.
I would also prefer to see Stokes at 7. I like Ben Stokes as a batsman but I think he’s most suited to the ‘enforcer’ role in the side. As a batsman he’s dangerous, destructive, but also somewhat mercurial. He’s not top order material in my opinion. As for Buttler, who had a poor game, I’d recommend he moves into a proper batsman’s slot. And if he’s not up to batting in the top 5 then he should make way for Clarke, Pope, Hildreth, or someone who can.
The other pleasant surprise from this game was man of the match Sam Curran. Boy do I like his batting. I think No.8 is about right for him now but he clearly has the potential to go higher, much higher. His temperament looks ideal.
When it comes to Curran’s bowling I’m not going to rush to judgement. He looked poor against Pakistan and rather good here. Maybe we have to accept this inconsistency from a cricketer who’s still learning? I did feel a little sorry for the likes of his brother and Craig Overton though. These guys played with a kookaburra ball on flat pitches this winter and looked utterly toothless. I bet they wouldn’t have looked quite so ordinary on this Edgbaston surface. Sam has made his debut at an ideal time.
As Toby Roland Jones proved last year, England seamers who rely on swing and movement off the pitch can look pretty good in home test matches. This doesn’t mean they’re anything special though. We should remember this before we burden young Sam with unrealistic expectations. If it doesn’t swing he may have games where he looks like the second coming of Mike Smith. However, it’s important that we keep the faith, and keep him around the squad, because in 2 or 3 years time he could be a rather useful all-round player indeed.
As the teams move on from here it will be interesting to see if they make any changes. If the weather stays dry I’ll be amazed if India don’t find room for a second spinner. Ed Smith also has a tough call to make re: Dawid Malan. Would you stick or twist? Although the selectors might decide to give him one more game, I think there’s a greater chance they make a change than not.
If England do indeed make a change, the main candidates are Joe Clarke, Ollie Pope, James Vince, and James Hildreth. Although Clarke is the obvious choice – he has come through the Lions system and has spent a lot of time with England’s staff recently – I have a sneaking feeling that Ed Smith won’t be able to resist Pope. After all, picking a prodigious 20 year old with just a few first class games under his belt would be so much funkier than picking the 22 year old Clarke.
There’s also the James Hildreth conundrum. Part of me things Smith would absolutely love to do something that other selectors have consistently eschewed. It would really say “hey look at me”. However, I cannot decided whether picking a 34 year old is outrageously funky or outrageously conservative; and I think Smith will feel the same. Consequently, I think he’ll go the Pope route as it will be recognised as brave by everyone rather than just some.
I’m obviously being a little facetious above. Personally I don’t think it really matters who England pick as anyone would be an improvement. At this point (sadly) I think Malan is probably shot, and I think those two dropped catches (or was it three?) demonstrate how low his confidence is. The fact he’s left handed doesn’t help either. Like all good right arm spinners, Ashwin eats lefties for breakfast. Just ask Alastair Cook.