Shame no one made 200: day two at the Oval


A day of largely efficient progress by England, divided into three phases. Solid accumulation; a wobble; and then dominance over a tiring attack.

You can’t help but feel sorry for the Indian bowlers, who’ve bowled decently, tried their best, and shown both fight and perseverance, unlike their batsmen colleagues, who’ve let them down, not least by dropping so many catches. As I mentioned last week, there are more than a few parallels between India’s collapse in this series and England’s over the winter. Both then and now, the bowlers have kept running in, and to varying degrees, taken enough wickets to create a chance of making a contest of it, only for the batting to disintegrate.

England will win this match because of what happened in the first two sessions, and without wishing to pick holes for the sake of it, they were slightly flattered by the pitch, the toss, and India’s catastrophically supine approach. Anderson and Broad didn’t bowl quite as well as at Old Trafford, and there were signs of the ‘old’ England creeping in during the tenth wicket partnership.

Today, Alastair Cook continued his innings and eventually made 79-4. Yes, he’s notching up scores, so to speak, but like at Southampton this performance was again a case of him avoiding getting out rather than one to regale the grandchildren with. And of course he was given four lives: two fortunate LBW reprieves and a brace of dropped catches.

For all the scrutiny on Sam Robson – and his was an ugly dismissal – an inconvenient problem being overlooked is Moeen Ali’s batting contribution. Don’t get me wrong: Moeen looks a very impressive cricketer and I don’t want him to fail. But his scores in the series so far are 14, 32, 39, 12, 13, and 14. His place is not in danger because he’s also taken nineteen wickets – but he’s batting at six, not playing as an off-spinner. Moeen scored a century in the Sri Lanka series, but so did Robson.

Buttler again batted well before getting out rather like Kevin Pietersen sometimes did. The parallels between them – which are subtle – might become all the more intriguing as time goes on.

Joe Root was excellent. He did prosper from India’s tired and demoralised bowling in the last hour and the introduction to the attack of Stuart Binny, whom only his mother would describe as much more than a club bowler. OK, I suppose Roger might agree with his wife on that one, but you get the point. Root and Jordan added 73 in the day’s final ten overs, but before then Root had elegantly navigated India’s best bowling spell and the new ball.

It’s extremely unlikely that Root will not be the next captain. Apart from any other criteria, he went to private school.

In other news, and as you’ve probably seen, the Dark Lord was on TMS yesterday. And he revealed that Cook nearly gave up the captaincy after the disastrous fourth day against Sri Lanka. As reported by Nick Hoult in the Telegraph:

“He was very low that night and he went to his [hotel] room wondering, ‘Do I really need this?’ But he woke up the next morning and said ‘I am in’,” Paul Downton, the managing director of the England team, revealed in an interview with BBC’s Test Match Special. “That was all I wanted to hear, that he was committed to this job.”

“Downton described that Sri Lanka Test as the turning point for Cook”.

In what sense was it the turning point? Nothing improved for Cook after that match. In fact, it got worse – with a difficult game at Trent Bridge, a hugely embarrassing defeat at Lord’s, and four more low scores. If there was a ‘turning point’ it was surely the drop by Jadeja at Southampton.

Downton has tried to portray Cook’s Premier Inn existential crisis as some kind of miraculous epiphany. As the skipper forlornly surveyed his Corby trouser press and tea and coffee making facilities, he suddenly saw the light, and at once his inner steel triumphed over self-doubt to pave the way for England’s glorious rebirth. For England’s boss, this was Cook’s Nickajack Cave moment. For others, it might seem like a stubborn man determined to hang on to his job despite knowing he’s not up to it.

The news that Cook was committed to the job was “all [Downton] wanted to hear”. He wasn’t interested in anything else – Cook’s form, his captaincy, the team’s performances? No, all Downton cared about was that if Cook quit, his entire strategy would unravel – including the sacking of Pietersen – making his own job no longer tenable.

Given that Cook by his own admission came close to resignation in Australia, and again at Leeds, what was it which really changed his mind? Did Downton – perhaps repeatedly – talk him out of it?

Meanwhile, a wonderful day is in store tomorrow (Sunday). As I’ve mentioned previously, Sky Sports are currently celebrating their two hundredth live England test match. To mark this momentous occasion, Giles Clarke will conduct a tea-time presentation to the heroes of the Sky commentary team, some of whom stoically broadcast for up to two hours a day from the rigorous confines of the press box in return for nothing more than a meagre salary and the thanks of a grateful nation.

Earlier this week, according to the Sky press release, “the England men’s and women’s teams wore caps embroidered with ‘200’ in team photos”.

Personally, I find it most heartwarming to see the apparatus of an England test match utilised in this way to help promote the Sky Sports brand. My only hope is that one player on either side is able to score a double century, which would be a fitting final act of tribute.

In a statement, Clarke said he wanted to “congratulate and thank Sky for their commitment to Test cricket”, although a cynic might say that the broadcaster is committed to cricket in the same way as Tescos are committed to loaves of bread: as a commodity and an item of stock.

We should all be grateful to Sky, though, because we only have them to thank for everything the England team’s achieved in recent years. As Clarke says, “the funding that Sky’s investment in cricket has produced has also led to a period of unrivalled success on the field for…the England senior side”. And there were you thinking the players might have had something to do with it.

I wonder if amid all the pomp and circumstance of tomorrow’s jamboree whether the ECB chairman will make any mention of the viewers, who of course actually pay for the whole thing. Or maybe, for the millions of cricket lovers who can’t afford to.



  • Very readable and very interesting piece but you do need to get over he whose name is best not mentioned. Much better for your health.
    I was thinking the same about Moeen Ali. It’s a tricky one but he does exude class in spite of the low scores. Hope he will settle and come good. Joe Root took a long while to find consistency.
    Jos Buttler has spoken of phoning KP for advice. Maybe that is not the best thing for him. Hugely talented young lad.
    Wll be interesting to see the road we go down with the bowling. Woakes and Jordan did well but we have Finn and Stokes in the wings both of whom seem more penetrative.
    I think we need a new opening bat, not in place of Cook! Time will tell with Lyth Lees Vince and Hales in the frame.
    Along with the supporters who turn out to watch I love Alistair Cook but I do agree with what you have written today. A very lucky bu*ger with the bat!
    That’s for your time taken to give us this. Good writing. Appreciated.

  • On Giles Clarke’s “period of unrivalled success”:

    In the last decade England’s away Test win/loss ratio (excluding Tests against Bangladesh) has been 0.48. In that decade that has become a by-word for English cricketing disaster, the 1990s, it was 0.39. So unrivalled success from all those Sky megabucks in away Tests equals an improvement of 0.09…..

    I’d also add that in the 1990s England were up against considerably stronger opposition than they have been in the last decade – only South Africa are better and some, most obviously the West Indies who England faced 15 times away in the 1990s, are much weaker.

    • Oh, and England’s away W/L ratio in the 1970s was 1.33 (W16 L12). And we got to a World Cup Final only losing to a truly great West Indies side.

  • It seems to me that never in the history of cricket conflict has one national side done so much to ressurect the career of an opposing national side’s Captain? Has somebody “had a word” with the Indians? Cynical, I know, but the number of let off’s Cook’s had this series beggars belief at times!

  • It’s all a cunning international plan to keep Cook or as I like to call him (A. Cult) in his job, and therefore cause England long term damage.

    On Test Match special this morning Harmison was telling the greatful nation that Cook can now captain England until he is 34-35 and then Root can take over. Fantastic!!! another 5- 6 years of the Shepard from Essex.

    Now I know some will not like this criticism of the greatest captain England have ever had in 200 test matches. (according to Sky) However , if reports are to be believed in the last 24 hours in some papers Cook is going to stay as one day captain for the India series, and then The World Cup. There has not been an official announcement yet, but this what I feared. Give the ECB an inch and the will take 10,000 miles.

  • Some people are tripping up when they criticise Sky. It isn’t “200 Tests that could have been free-to-air”. About two thirds of them were away Tests, which no-one showed live before 1990. I don’t have a problem with that: they have provided a terrific service for those prepared to pay.

    However, the decision to give them exclusive coverage of home Tests remains an utter disgrace, and one that can be laid right at the door of the thoroughly egregious yet seemingly Teflon-coated Clarke. As for “period of unrivalled success”, swallow this, Clarke:

    Feb 2009 – Aug 2011 (Flower) England P 36 W 20 L 5 D 11
    Jul 2003 – Sep 2005 (Fletcher) England P 33 W 20 L 5 D 8
    (exactly the same but for three draws)
    Jan 2012 – Jan 2014 (Flower) England P 30 W 10 L 12 D 8
    Nov 2005 – Mar 2008 (Fletcher/Moores) P 31 W 10 L 12 D 9
    (exactly the same but for one draw)

    The two glory periods look like closely-matched rivals to me. And I haven’t bent the stats to prove it: both periods start with a new captain (Vaughan/Strauss), peak with an epoch-defining triumph (2005 Ashes/whitewash of India to become world no.1) and are halted by away defeats to Pakistan. Late period Flower (2012-14) has been grotesquely over-rated by virtually everyone “inside cricket”, so their convenient narrative can keep on rolling. Here we see that our record was the same as that under Fletcher and Moores in a period universally (and rightly) regarded as directionless and underwhelming.

    Meanwhile, as a counter to the hideous celebration of Sky Sports’ exclusivity this afternoon, today is the perfect day to re-read this (‘A stake through cricket’s heart’, from Matthew Engel’s Editor’s Notes, Wisden 2006):

    One final thought, Jerry Springer style: this is how broadsheet cricket correspondents used to write about the people running English cricket. That’s progress for you…

    • I don’t blame Sky for having the rights to Test cricket. What I do blame them for is this corporate syrupy bullshit that is so prefelant in the modern corporate world that they are your mate and friend too. NO YOU ARE NOT. If I don’t pay my subscription I will soon find out how matey SKY would be. As Maxi pointed out Sky’s claim to be committed to cricket is as meaningless as ESSO s commitment to Oil. Or Tescos commitment to groceries. They are a commercial outfit, nothing more or less.

      It is always worth remembering that the ECB lobbied the govt very hard to have Home Test matches taken off the ‘protected’ list of sports. Lord Maclaurin was heavily involved with that campaign. Ably assisted by Murdoch’s newspapers who can always be relied on to swing behind anything that benefits Murdoch’s Empire. ECB wanted the money, period. larger exposure was not important. In the short term that decision has been vindicated because of the revenue that has come into cricket. Long term we will have to see if there are numerous young players taking up the sport.

      It has been noticeable over the last 25 years that as the TV rights for sport have got bigger and bigger the broadcasters ability to cover them with a critical eye has declined. Don’t rock the boat or you may loose the rights next time. (Hence ECB’s storming of the Sky commentary box to bring to heal Shane Warne) But it can work both ways. Clarkes cringeworthy press release and participation in Sky’s 200 game jamboree is equaly unsightly. The idea that all England players must put on a funny hat and parade around for the broadcaster is unedifying. Can you imagine if a player refused? The broadcaster and the rights holder together in perfect harmony as Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney might have sung.

    • What a beautifully written piece; we miss Matthew Engel from cricket. There was a *proper* journalist, who knew both the game but also life outside the press box.

      “The decision to give them exclusive coverage of home Tests remains an utter disgrace, and one that can be laid right at the door of the thoroughly egregious yet seemingly Teflon-coated Clarke”

      I can’t improve on that. Remember this?

      The biggest threat to cricket, apparently, is people watching cricket.

      You can’t make this kind of stuff up.

      Thanks also for that statistical analysis. It’s strange how Fletcher is not very well thought of nowadays, at least by the establishment, in sharp contrast to Flower. For me, it’s also often forgotten that with Fletcher as coach we won in South Africa, a unique achievement since readmission.

  • 74 for 8.

    Does anyone think this is good value for money? Under the new ICC stitch up with England and India we can look forward to more 5 test series like this. Perhaps we should allocate tests on ability rather than money.

    5 tests for New Zealand, and Sri Lamka, and 2 test matches for Imdia.

    • It should have been three tests against Sri Lanka and four tests against India surely? Also six tests per summer is enough?

      What are the viewing figures for home tests on Sky?

      I don’t have Sky sports. It’s a shame they pay for “exclusivity” (ie buy up all the cricket to blackmail people like me) so bits of cricket cannot be live on other channels.

      • According to the BARB website, viewing figures for the Tests on Sky Sports 2 have been between 200,000 and 500,000 depending on the day. The highlights get about 80,000.

        They’re by far the highest figures on Sky Sports 2 but It’s not exactly overwhelming.

        Listening figures don’t seem to be available for TMS but it will probably be over a million.

      • If they didn’t get exclusivity, they wouldn’t get subscriptions.

        Getting cricket on to terrestrial TV would not now, admittedly, be a very straightforward business, but Clarke out to be busting his gut to make it happen.

        What he actually does is prostitute the team for Sky marketing purposes.

  • Given the overwhelming success of the 5 back-2-back test series against India, Giles Clarke has announced that the All-New-Alastair Cook-Sky200-Waitrose-Investec- England Cricket Club will be playing Australia next year in 5 all-at-the-same-time-Ashes Series Test Matches. Clarke explained that the current series has proved so successful that all stakeholders are agreed this is the best way forward. The ECB are considering exactly how they will ferry the teams to the different grounds but feel this is the way forward for the world’s greatest team game.


copywriter copywriting