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.