What The Hell Was That?

Thanks a bunch England. I was going to take a breather from TFT this week as I’ve belatedly moved into a new house. I’ve been up to my eyeballs in boxes (that’s boxes of the cardboard variety not men’s abdominal guards), and I was planning to simply write a summary at the end of the test rather than compose daily updates. And then shit happened. Unpleasant shit. And England lost all ten wickets in a session for just 38 runs.

It all seemed to be going ok at lunch. Batting wasn’t completely straightforward but Cook and Jennings looked in reasonable fettle. Consequently I made the ill-fated decision to take the kids out for lunch. “Nah I’m not going to miss much here” I thought.

When I returned an hour or so later we were 110-6. What a complete joke! And we were very fortunate that the tail wagged a bit at the end. Kohli momentary lost the plot and allowed Buttler to manipulate the strike and hack a few boundaries in the meantime – some of which were beautiful shots and some of which were, erm, rather agricultural to say the least. I would’ve expected India to simply set an orthodox field and try to get him out. After all, that’s the strategy that did for the top six.

This aberration apart, however, India were excellent. In fact, their seamers have looked better than England’s in this game. Bumrah looks an excellent addition, and has bowled faster than anyone in our ranks, and Shami continues to impress me. The big surprise was Pandya, who gave England five black eyes. What a good effort from him. Ashwin was barely required.

I’m not really sure where to begin when it comes to England’s batting. We’ve said it all before so many times. I heard Aggers on TMS say it’s the third time in just two years that we’ve lost all ten wickets in a session. It’s a deplorable and embarrassing record and it’s got to change. We only ever play one way – ultra positive – and it backfires time and again.

Michael Vaughan tweeted a very revealing statistic that England’s ODI side have averaged just over 300 per innings in the last twelve months whereas the test team have average approximately 280. That’s an absolutely insane statistic, and everyone involved in English cricket – from Colin Graves, Andrew Strauss, Tom Harrison, and Ed Smith to Trevor Bayliss and the players – should be thoroughly ashamed. It really sums up where England’s priorities lie: in winning next year’s 50 over world cup; a plan that could backfire with one bad game in the knockout stages.

In terms of the individual wickets it was same old, same old, too. Cook poked at a ball that he really should’ve left; Jennings hung his bat outside off stump for no apparent reason; Jonny Bairstow drove aggressively at a ball without ever getting his feet in the right position to play such a shot; and Ben Stokes’s dismissal was as aggressive in defence as some claim his actions in Bristol were. Top class batsman defend with soft hands not hard ones. I was also a bit disappointed with Chris Woakes’ wicket, although the damage was probably done by then.

The only batsmen who have any excuse whatsoever are Joe Root, who may or may not have been caught fairly by Rahul, and young Ollie Pope.

I’m a little torn on the Root dismissal. I know all the experts claimed that the ball 100% carried but I was watching in ultra HD for the very first time (a perk of moving house is that I now have Sky Q) and I could’ve sworn I saw a few loose grass cuttings fly up at the precise moment the ball bounced into Rahul’s hands. Maybe this was a result of the ball skimming the ground before it reached his fingers? I really don’t know. Either way it was one of those calls that either goes for you or it doesn’t. There’s no point grumbling about it.

As for Pope, I didn’t see his innings but I’ve heard mixed reports. Some say he still looked born to play test cricket, and others claimed that he came out playing too many shots. I guess I’ll reserve judgement.

I have mixed feelings about his dismissal too. It’s always unlucky to get caught strangled down the legside, but on the other hand he was playing with his hands slightly outside the line of his body. I got out that way once playing for Worcs U17. I expected sympathy from the coach when I returned to the pavilion but instead he gave me a lesson in technique.

Overall today was a pretty chastening experience all round for England’s test team. Despite winning three games in a row it looks like we’ll have a record of played five, won three, lost two this summer by the time this game ends. I simply can’t see us climbing out of this rather substantial hole. To be a massive 292 runs behind after just two days of a test match is incredibly bad.

The one silver lining, however, is that at least an India win would keep this series alive. I’m getting pretty sick of home teams dominating all the time. Had England won the series at Trent Bridge it would’ve made the remaining games pretty boring and meaningless. What’s good for England isn’t necessarily what’s good for test cricket in general.

James Morgan


  • The players just seem to be in denial about it. If anyone in the media starts pushing for answers they all get really upset and offended, “how can you be saying this about me, you were a player once, how very dare you” – it’s absolutely pathetic. I’ve had enough of the batting failures, we’ve said it so many times on this blog last few years but nothing ever seems to change. Hard at the ball playing like it’s a 50 over game, we barely ever make 400. But the players don’t seem to realise this, happy to just stumble from one test to another not changing anything about their approach. The batting is now in such a shambles, I just don’t understand it all. Even the replacements come in and within 5 tests are low on confidence nicking off for 7. Truly shambolic

  • I think it’s Charles Colville who thinks that there is a direct correlation between the improvement in England’s One Day performance and their decline in test cricket. I think this was a pretty good demonstration.

  • It was Rahul rather than Kohli who caught (?) Root.
    I’m afraid that it really wasn’t all that unexpected – this England batting line-up looks very flaky. I’m struggling to think how many of them are justifying their place.
    I’m fed up with saying this, but Buttler should have th gloves.

  • James, I was thinking about getting HD but Root was ‘caught’ by Rahul so if you thought it was Kohli I’ll stick with my old black and white.

    • Great comment! Yes bit of a brain fart on my behalf there. I recall the crowd booing Kohli and someone on TMS said it was because of the Root catch. I assumed Kohli was the fielder. I was out at lunch at that point so only saw the highlights of the dismissal.

  • I posted last time that England no longer play Test cricket. They play two one day games and add the totals up at the end. From the coach downwards, they no longer think in Test terms. It’s certainly shown in this Test.

  • I didn’t see anything wrong with the Root dismissal at all. But what a shambles the whole batting performance was. It seems to me now that hanging onto Cook – and Jennings – is not going to work. I hanker for the more severe selectorial times of the 60s and 70s. The whole batting unit needs a rethink. I would keep Buttler though, and move him up a few places, and shunt Pope down a few. Pope seems to have something about him.

  • Thoroughly deserved for recalling Stokes.Buttler was marooned again .Ill discipline off the field has been passed on it to the batsmen.

  • I demand compensation from the ECB for the therapy I am now having to have following that dismal showing by England today. That was the stuff of nightmares. I can imagine Geoff Boycott throwing objects at his TV as he recovers from his heart by-pass surgery. What is so disappointing about today’s abject display is that we (ie England) actually had a decent start today. It’s not often we run through an opponent’s tailenders quickly. Then TMS described a positive start from Cook and Jennings, a little streaky at times, but apparently some fine shots too. I was toying with popping out at this point, but as I have shingles at the moment I erred on the side of caution, also hoping that Cook and Jennings could put on a 100+ stand. It’s enough to make my shingles worse again as I sat listening to that feeble showing. Credit to India, who held almost all the chances and who seemed to be bowling with more pace than England had done. However, I still feel that it is not a 161 all out wicket. India have rightly piled on the runs in the final part of the day against a dispirited bowling attack, and there has been yet another dropped slip catch. Kohli will probably see tomorrow as a good chance for batting practise to get everyone in better shape for the final games. I could see India about 500 ahead by the time Kohli calls it in. I think they probably already have a big enough lead even now, as Vic Marks was saying on TMS.
    The England players seem to lack the nouse to understand when to defend resolutely and when to go for it. I don’t blame Buttler for slogging at the end, Jimmy was probably not going to hang around that long against some fine seam bowling. Cook keeps failing, and even if he does seem to be getting some great deliveries, surely he cannot tour this winter. Jennings appears to have technical flaws according to Vaughan and co, he is not scoring many and has dropped catches too. Does Burns of Surrey deserve a chance ? Root just can’t quite get going and I do feel the burden of captaincy is weighing him down. They seem to have developed this crash-bang-wallop-wicket style of cricket. That statistic about the ODI team now averaging better per innings than the Test team says it all. I feel the batting is way more of a problem than the bowling, even when allowing for Anderson and Broad being nearer to the end of their fine careers. You get the impression that some of the players just do not have good cricketing brains. Cannot blame Anderson and Broad being cheesed off with the batsmen today. How can the ECB and selectors be happy with this ? England are never more than a wicket or two away from calypso collapso. England were shambolic today after what had been a good first session for them. I cannot see anything other than a win for India now, who will then feel more confident for the final two games in the series.

  • Everyone above has expressed my sentiments about England’s batting so I won’t bother to add to it, except that I have already accepted that we’re not very good at the moment and fully justify our position in the rankings…no wonder Anderson and Broad don’t always bowl as well as they can, probably a bit fed up with pulling the batsmen out of the fire.
    One thing tho’ that has bothered me for years…..why does everyone say that a batsman is unlucky when caught down the leg side – as Pope was today. In my opinion it is a poorly executed shot – as hooking/pulling to Long leg in the air might be. Do it properly and it’s four runs!

  • To answer the question posed in the headline, “that” is “the way we play.”

    Heaven help us all…

  • It is so difficult to play the moving ball (Duke). If anything it is slightly easier to play it earlier in its life but then it’s also at its hardest and carries further. But by the time the ball has been ‘prepared’ by the fielding side and still retains some hardness and the bowlers some freshness it is bloody hard work. So … you have to survive at least 2 sessions with it before batting can dominate … and then of course in dry condition that is the time reverse swing with its own degree of late swing can bring prosperinginnings to a halt.

    I was at Lord’s for the first 3 days and watching behind the bowler’s arm and I was sure that England would have lost 10 wickets had they batted instead of India in the match’s opening session late on Day 2.

    Shouldn’t we marvel at the improvements in bowling, the accuracy of seam placement, the small almost invisible changes in wrist and hand position, the ability to land a ball either on the off-side edge of the seam or the leg-side edge which along with the development of wobble seam has undermined the ability and confidence to leave many balls which a decade or two ago would have been ‘left’.

    It is almost as if the game has caught up with what used to happen before the full covering of wickets. And the improvement in bowling technique in Duke-based Test match cricket matches the development in batting coming out of white ball cricket.

    Certainly good technique is the best counter and the technically very very good batsmen can shine. And it must be admitted that some batsmen in this series and other series England and visitors don’t have good enough technique and the mentality to survive.

    But let’s celebrate this bowling and understand the degree of difficulty batsmen are having in these conditions.

  • I can only say this is predictable and these guys aren’t good enough. Sadly, excuses will be made as to why root should be top 3, stokes in the top six, Bairstow in the top 5 and heaven forbid buttler top 6 ..

    Excuses and over rating of players

  • I fell asleep after lunch and woke to f ind we had lost six wickets. was I surprised? No. So later on I watched the cricket on Channel 5, a relief of listening to the drone that is Gower’s voice and at the end of the programme Vaughan said the team seems to have a mental block about their batting.

    I was thinking about this and it seems to me that our batsmen are frightened all the time of getting out. yes they will ultimately but they are scared stiff of not scoring big. Look at the attempts to find a partner for Cook to open. Failure after failure and I think whoever his partner is is frightened. They are with Cook a wonderful opener who has scored thousands of runs. OK he does not do that now b ut I think his reputation scares them. Drop Cook down the order and have two brand new openers who will get to know each other and who are both about the same in batting skills and averages. It might be awful at first but you never know

    Sam Curran, Woakes are not frightened of batting. Yet. Woakes is primarily a bowler so if he scores big he and we are thrilled but it is not expected of him.

    Pope came out today and played positively. He got out but he is new and young and needs to be given more chances until he settles in

    Root used to score easily./ Now he does not. Bairstow and Stokes are going down the same path.

    It is in the team pysche that they bat to not get out. You watch the likes of Curran et al gradually get more and more cautious and not bat freely and with confidence.

    Batsmen who say ‘it is the way I play and to hell with it’ are soon got rid of and NO I am not thinking of one person only. We all know if you do not conform you will be out.

    This may be total bollocks I am talking. I don’t know but I think they need to get sports pyschologist in to sort this out. When we win we are thrilled and delighted but then next time around we are crap again. Why? Because we are scared. Yes we hae done it once but not sure we can do it again

    I am writing this late at night in bed with a bad back and a bit doped up so if I am not making sense then just ignore me.

  • Every team is entitled to a bad day, and this is certainly one from England. However, I cannot understand the focus on the individual players when the biggest question mark must be about Root’s captaincy. His lack of leadership ability has been masked by an abject India in the first two tests, but the stench could not be hidden for ever.

    If press reports are to be believed (and I admit that is a stretch), it was Root’s call to bring Stokes straight back – and Stokes has looked distracted throughout this game. He should have been left with more time to get his head together as any sports psychologist would have suggested. And again in this match, just as in the first two tests, Root has an unalterable playbook with his seamers; Anderson and Broad open and take the shine off the ball, even when conditions suggest another combination. Root supporters may even argue he got it right today (I disagree), but the point is he does not even consider alternatives. And if Root chose Stokes, did he also pick Buttler? If so, despite a modest shepherding of the tail today, the experiment has failed (and has never made sense. Either Buttler is a specialist bat and should go in above Stokes or he should not be in the side).

    I appreciate that it is a fundamental problem that there is not another established player with leadership credentials (other than Cook), but Root as captain is at the root of many of England’s problems (pun intended).

    • Buttler: or he keeps, and Bairstow plays as a specialist bat. I do agree about Root, though. Clearly the captaincy is weighing on his ability to score big runs (which is what he’s in the team for). He also made the fatal decision to put India in. 307/6 on day 1; 307/16 on day 2 suggests India had the better batting conditions. I’d also agree with Elaine’s suggestion above that Cook should drop down to 3, with 2 fresh openers (maybe Jennings and Burns), and Root at 4 (which he apparently prefers), Pope at 5, then Bairstow, Stokes, Woakes. That does mean no place for Buttler, but his selection (in the test side) is an odd one anyway.

  • Re-Root I agree with you. I don’t usually get too excited about umpiring decisions cos they are pretty damned good most of the time. However, I thought the concept of a catch was that the ball must not touch the ground before going into the hand? It seems now as long as one finger is underneath it is now allowed to be out even when the ball touches the ground.

    It looked not out in real time and on the replays so I just don’t get it. The replay material always makes it look like some piece of finger might be underneath anyway and the third umpire seemed desperate to make it fit the soft signal too.

    The ball would never have bounced into the palm that hard from fingers totally underneath the ball. Broken finger time when they get trapped like that…easy peasy when they half volley into the palm! I may not have played test cricket but I have fielded close to the wicket to guys that bang it in at 80+ mph in a pretty decent standard and this just looked wrong, wrong wrong!

    • It doesn’t matter if it brushed the grass, as every cricketer knows, “the grass is not the ground”.

      His fingers were between the ball and the ground, and given that his fingers are solid and non-permeable to cricket balls, logic states that the ball could not have touched the ground.

  • Look at the scorecard – it says that Root was caught. I certainly would have given him out, but not because he was an idiot for picking his thuggish mate instead of a young lad who performed well. Do not changing a winning team – basic rule of the game and by ignoring it England have received a well-deserved bite on their bums (wherein are contained their collective brains).

    England seem to be afflicted by WKB disease. (That’s We Know Best). Everytime I see Ramprakash on the balcony I get angry. This guy couldn’t even manage hi own international career. But the England dressing room is a loverly loverly place, so we are constantly told.

    As an afterthought, I wonder when was the last time that opposing Test teams were so poorly captained?

  • England have a dreadful match or two every home series (2018 Lord’s v P; 2017 TB v SA: 2016 Lord’s and Oval v P; 2015 Headingley v NZ, Lord’s and Oval v A; 2014 Headingley v SL, Lord’s v I). The home thrashings soon resume. I could try to work out a theory or two why this keeps happening but frankly I no longer care enough to bother. Anyway, it isn’t a good idea to humiliate your ultimate paymasters too badly….

    I saw Bangar praising his batsmen for adjusting to English conditions. Isn’t 0-2 a bit late for that? It’s almost like this is what a proper warm-up schedule used to be for!

    As for the difference between Test and ODI scores, there might be a few questions asked about the relative pitches and balls. All I know is when I watch the former, there seems to be movement all the time; when I watch the latter, it doesn’t move at all.

    • “All I know is when I watch the former, there seems to be movement all the time; when I watch the latter, it doesn’t move at all.” Yes that’s it. The white ball moves for first 5 overs of its life – ie first 10 of the match and reverses well after it is 25 overs old ie after the end of the match.

  • I felt Pope’s shot was a bit ill-judged given the match situation – but I’m being a bit harsh, if the rest of the team hadn’t failed I probably wouldn’t feel it was an unnecessary risk.

    Ok, the real issue here is the state of County Cricket. Ironically, the one thing with the schedule is players get plenty of practice in swinging conditions, so in that way there’s no excuse. The problem is, you look at the averages and beyond Burns and Clarke there’s no-one doing better than Jennings! So, hard to feel like it’s breeding players ready to make the step up.

    I don’t really think that ODIs are the issue, the Cook, Jennings and now Pope are not in the ODI team. Yes Buttler and Stokes are, but they are low enough in the order that I don’t blame them. Bairstow might be an issue, but he’s high in the order because of weaknesses of others. And Root wasn’t great in this match so far, and yes, conversion issues, but you can’t argue with his Test average overall. So… we have failures by the non-ODI players at the top of the order killing us.

    • Itoo have my doubts about the ODI influence – maybe the way England play ODIs: swing at everything. Ironically, Kohli, who has played a few ODIs, is top scorer this series by a mile. Mind you, he is not a basher of the white ball. Tends to treat every ball on its merits.

  • Notable that, in their second innings, India have so far had 50 partnerships for the first and second wickets, and a 100 run partnership for the 3rd. 4th wicket stand looks as if it will pass 50 too. Old fashioned test batting.

  • ODI and 2020is influencing techniques but more importantly mid sets. Simply put, these players are just not good enough for test cricket unless they play it like Odis (which they kind of end up doing). Sure people will say ‘play that way’ but that isn’t test cricket. The idea of test cricket is for you not to be able to do that because otherwise why have different formats.

    Again.. I’ve said this many times and many of you will keep denying it and saying how world class most of our players are.. deluded

    Where are any players as pros or as amateurs going to learn the right skills and mindset for red ball?? No one grows up playing it now !! Everyone just plays slog fest Cricket

    • I don’t think that’s true of amateur juniors – most play in games where batting calmly and scoring at 4 an over will win you the game, eg test match mentality.

      Its more about when they get into the elite pathways, the skills that the coaches focus on them practicing.
      Once a young cricketer has mastered the basics, what are they taught next? In the past, it was learning to first survive and then prosper against different types of bowlers on different pitches. Now its about adding extra shots, adding 100 yard power, learning variations etc.

      How many young cricketers are sent to winter in 1st grade cricket in Australia or to play in the Ranji trophy nowadays? None, they’re all trying to get into the bloody IPL instead.

    • Every young player headed for an academy, or Under 17s county cricket, or an MCCU or County II has grown up playing a very good standard of red ball cricket (as AB infers) where batting and bowling skills develop out of sustained practice and fierce competition. You should go and see a county U11 match next season. By U16 and U17 cricket they are playing a points based version of two day red ball cricket that sets as its ideal that each side bats for a day (112 overs in a day) – points are loaded towards first innings performances. So exposure to ‘long’ distance cricket starts very early. Such a match could well see a No 8 (specialist spinner) coming in to face a new ball in the 81st over of an innings with the responsibility of gaining a couple more batting bonus points. And daddy hundreds at not unknown.

      You really can’t judge how players of this standard are developed by looking at sub Premier League cricket. Players exposed to county development squads and from those the ones which are scooped up by ECB development programmes are hot-housed to an extraordinary degree.

      Counties and especially the ECB development squads are keen on instilling attacking batting – which may have gone too far. And there must be other structural factors at work. They spend hours facing bowling machines and (like pros before them in the 1960/70s) concentrate on being able to hit a ball straight back out of a net. The check-drive could well be responsible for reducing the art of playing with soft hands (when necessary). It may well result in ‘hard hands’. Better bowling, better grooming of the red ball, the use of reverse swing – yes even in under 17s cricket – all make the ‘leave’ a problematic strategy – though again facing the bowling machine that reproduces similar deliveries has reduce the frequency of having to leave in nets. County nets for ECB performance standard and County Academy practice always use ‘out when out’. Waiting a couple of hours for someone to get out does not induce ‘loose’ play when you get your chance. Nick off and there is no second chance.

      Bats now have huge sweet spots and these also may reduce the need for the kind of care and concentration on middling that used to be essential to survive the meat market of selection into pro-cricket and retention of a contract. In my day Barry Richard refused to use a scoop as he wanted to know from feedback through the hands where the middle was.

  • Hi James, it nice to see that our Indian team seems to have finally turned up to play, albeit helped by some hapless English batting. Is Cook past it? If he doesn’t get a decent score in the second innings it could be rather tricky to pick the team for the next match. Ashwin seemed to be injured however, hopefully he recover for our sakes, because I expect he’ll need to bowl a lot tomorrow.

  • Firstly, (possibly premature) congratulations to India, who have played really well this test. Stokes and Buttler played very well yesterday, and I fear it will be used as an excuse to “take the positives” (paper over the chasms, if you prefer). In this test, the top 4 all got to 10 in both innings (ie a start), and only Cook (first innings) got past 20. That, frankly, isn’t good enough. Pope doesn’t look like a test no 4 at the moment. His technique is too loose. Cook and Jennings don’t open with any air of permanence (I’d drop Cook down to 3 if he is to continue, and bring Burns in).

    One man who’s done his reputation no harm is Moeen Ali, who made 219 for Worcs batting at 3 (arguably England’s problem position), and has taken 4/35 (match aggregate 6/75) in Yorkshire’s second innings.


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