A post mortem of Australia’s cursed Champions Trophy campaign

Australia's Aaron Finch and Steve Smith (right) look dejected
Finch and Smith in the cordon – Photo: Indian Express

Losing to the Poms is always a bitter pill for Australian’s to swallow, but it is made far worse when it occurs in a must-win game at fortress Edgbaston and results in the elimination from a tournament you’re expected to get within touching distance of winning.

Sure, we can blame the rain for ending a game we should’ve won. Bangladesh will go through to the finals but they were totally outplayed by Australia and should consider themselves more than lucky.

They finish on three points having beaten New Zealand at Cardiff, and more thrilled for them I could not be. However, something must be done about the DLS system, because Australia have been robbed of the chance to show their wares beyond a sudden death group stage match-up that for only a fleeting moment they looked capable of winning.

Bangladesh have not played better cricket than Australia. Yet they are the one’s progressing to the finals.

At the Oval on Tuesday, Australia were within four overs of sending the Bangladeshis packing when rain intervened and both sides were gifted a point, much to the delight of their captain Mashrafe Mortaza, who said in no uncertain terms that Australia totally outplayed Bangadesh and were on a collision course for victory.

That’s it. Four overs was the difference between qualification and a plane ticket home. How can this be justified?

Call me a whinging Australian with a God complex, but that Australia, the better of the two sides, cannot progress beyond the group stage despite demonstrating their dominance over the very opponents that will, means there is something seriously wrong with the current system that decides upon a victor in the event of rain.

There are no two ways about it, Australia played poor cricket against England and deserved to be beaten. In fact, nothing about the brand of cricket they played across the entire tournament said they were entitled to a finals berth.

In the games against New Zealand and England, the bowlers lost their radar and were unable to take wickets at regular intervals nor stem the flow of runs when batsmen were set; so inconsistent was their line and length. King of the ODI castle Mitchell Starc was Reduced to a mere peasant, rarely able to hone in on a yorker length as he did so routinely back in the 2015 World Cup. Cummins, for all his star power and raw pace, was more expensive than a three course meal at a Turkish restaurant; the quicker he delivered the ball, the quicker it found the rope.

Only Hazlewood and Zampa can be commended for their performances with ball in hand. The former will return to Australia having bagged nine wickets in just three, rain affected matches, while the latter, often neglected by his captain at crucial stages of the innings, can depart knowing he has made a difference in this tournament.

While he couldn’t match the feats of Adil Rashid, who himself has battled through periods without the full backing of selectors, his craft is slowly developing and he is now apart of the fabric of Australia’s ODI team. Why Smith elected to bowl part time slow-bowler Travis Head before him, a specialist leg-spinner, beggars belief and was a tactic that failed to produce enough wicket taking opportunities for it to remain a viable option. Hopefully Australia have learnt their lesson and will stray from this line of thinking in the future.

It was a strange tournament for the batsmen. We can make all the excuses in the world about the weather preventing them from getting any semblance of match practice under their belts, but they are professionals and we need to see more in the way of adaptability.

Finch, a man who is no stranger to English conditions, looked out of touch in the first two games but returned in the last with a typically defiant innings filled with strokes born of power and aggression. His opening partner was just as fluent, but was dismissed after a promising start which saw him crunch a few boundaries in quick succession to kick-start Australia’s innings. If Australia were to win, he too needed to join Finch in reaching a half century at the very least. A start of 21 was never going to suffice.

Other notable performances came from captain Steve Smith, who continues to tick milestones off his list, and Travis Head, whose late order hitting edged Australia towards a respectable total. The rest were, without sugar coating it, extremely poor.

It was rather stupefying not to see Chris Lynn force his way into the Australian side for their clash with England. Moises Henriques was again given the nod ahead of him and provided nothing after a strong start from the top three, eventually falling to a poor stroke which saw Smith hammer the turf with his bat in frustration, perhaps acknowledging he had made the wrong decision.

There is no doubt Chris Lynn was the perfect man for the situation Henriques found himself in. Finch, Warner and Smith had set a platform and Australia were looking at a total of 300+ which, given England’s track record post the 2015 WC, was a requirement if they were to win and progress to the finals.

Lynn’s free-flowing stroke-play and absence of fear could have seen him capitalise on what was, at the time, some wayward bowling from Plunkett and Stokes. But Smith persisted with Henriques, perhaps hoping that his potential and raw skill would transform into an X-factor that could influence the game and help set a challenging total for England’s batsmen. As it stands, he leaves the Champions Trophy with a lowly average of 9 and his career hanging by a thread.

Speaking of outlandish selections, why was Pattinson, and Hastings for that matter, consigned to the carrying of drinks? For those who are unaware, Pattinson has been playing county cricket for Nottinghamshire and performing admirably in the Royal London one-day cup. Of all the Australian’s, he would’ve no doubt understood the conditions more than his other fast bowling counterparts who have been lapping up the dusty wickets in the IPL, yet he was never given the opportunity.

There is a pecking order in Australian cricket and Cummins, quite clearly, through pace and perhaps a smidgen of extra experience, is currently ahead of the Victorian spearhead.

So where do Australia stand now in ODI cricket? Like I said in my last article, they are far from the side that took the field against New Zeland in the World Cup final of 2015; lacking as they are both in experience and genuine match winners capable of matching it with the Stokes, de Villiers and Kohli’s of the world.

Clarke and Johnson, two of Australia’s finest warriors, have left a hole in the ODI side bigger than those at Gina Rinehart’s mining sites. For this reason, and many others that are within the players’ control but don’t appear any closer to a solution, Australia are now well below the powerhouses of the international game – India, England and, err, South Africa – and languishing somewhere around the middle of the field which is currently occupied by New Zealand and Pakistan. They are powerful at their best and woefully inconsistent at their worst.

Sure, some of the stars of the game reside in Australia’s side, but if we can take one thing away from this Champions Trophy it is that you need substance beyond your top order. New Zealand didn’t have it; neither did Australia. But England sure do, and India, with Dhoni and Yuvraj at the helm, have it in spades. That is why we are set for a repeat of the final of four years ago once again this time around. Bat is dominant over ball in this era and a strong order can atone for the sins of the bowlers.

Buckle your seat belts, folks. We are in for a wild ride!

The links between television and the games’ growth cannot be understated

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The Kerry Packer legacy lives on today. Photo: Daily Telegraph

Last Wednesday marked 40 years since the Kerry Packer circus revolutionised the game forever. In many ways, Packer and Channel Nine are in part responsible for cricket as we know it today: flashy, colorful, high octance and perhaps most importantly, giving players the opportunity to accrue wealth beyond their wildest dreams. The television rights for the IPL are so expensive that broadcasters in Australia, who have already outlaid a great deal of cash for home test matches and the month-long BBL bonanza, simply cannot afford them. Elsewhere, in countries such as the UK, New Zealand and even the United States, you’ll need to pay a pretty penny for a pay tv subscription to gain access to the marvels of a Rising Pune Supergiant runchase, or to see a young, uncapped Indian spinner being blasted to all parts of the ground by Virat Kohli, much to the delight of an adoring crowd.

The point here is that television, and its vast riches, rule cricket and has done so for some 40 years now. The IPL, BBL and every other t20 franchise tournament around the globe would be nowhere without the revenue generated through exorbitantly priced television rights deals negotiated between cricket boards and broadcasters. Take away the popularity of the shortest form though, and those television rights would be worth a duck egg. Packer, gifted with a once in a generation business mind and the kind of stubbornness that would rarely see him fail to close a deal with favourable outcomes for Nine, identified 40 years ago that the fan should be the television networks biggest priority because without them, he would be at a loss and, though this wasn’t his modus operandi, so would cricket.

So he got to work designing a competition that would suit television and benefit his media empire. Shortly after losing out on securing the rights to Australian test cricket in the 1970’s, he realised that the game was falling behind. Television audiences were down and, for a businessman as sharp of wit and money obsessed as Packer was, saw to it that these circumstances be rectified.

Limited-overs cricket was soon conceived, a format that promised to maximise viewership through its television friendly sessions of play. Unlike a Test match, fans could park themselves in front of the TV and take in a game in just a few hours, rather than having to wait five days for a result to eventually be reached. This made perfect business sense. Nothing would hook the viewer in more than a game featuring multiple flashpoints that reaches a crescendo shortly before tea time. It was a television goldmine, but further tinkering was still required.

Not yet content with the outcomes of his newly formed competition, Packer and his associates at Nine decided they needed to try something rash, something that would completely change the complexion of cricket and dramatically increase viewing numbers to a level that would sustain profitability. They achieved this by introducing white balls, coloured clothing, floodlit cricket and, perhaps most notably, by giving players rock star paychecks to secure their signatures and tie them down to World Series Cricket. To this day we are still seeing large sums of money lure players away from their commitments at county and international level. Ben Stokes was payed 1.7 million pounds at the last IPL auction and missed two matches for England against Ireland just over a week ago, as did Jos Butler and Chris Woakes. They chose instead to stay on with their IPL franchises, a contentious decision but one that is becoming less so as a result of the regularity with which it now occurs.

It is quite clear that the old school values and practices Packer introduced all those years ago as part of his master plan still live on in the t20 age. He was well before his time in this regard, which probably explains why many believed he was the godfather of cricket and the games’ most influential figure. But we shouldn’t overlook what allowed the humble ‘Supertest’ to develop into the world renowned one-day phenomenon that is still in operation today. The links that can be drawn between what made the Packer empire tick, and what is currently allowing the T20 format to flourish and reach the untapped markets, are there for all to see.

Television is, of course, cricket’s single greatest asset and the ECB must realise that the wealth boards around the world have made from T20 has not been gained through sponsorship’s and ticket sales, but through broadcast rights. If they take one lesson from Packer and the success he had, it is this: cricket fans of all classes, as well as those with only a rudimentary understanding of the game, must be exposed to the sport on a regular basis otherwise it will ultimately fail in its pursuit of increasing revenue and garnering interest amongst the general population. Whether this is achieved through airing it on terrestrial television, or by selling subscriptions at a low cost to the owners of smartphones and/or tablets on an app dedicated to county cricket, one thing is certain – Sky can no longer hold the monopoly. For far too long cricket lovers have been forced to pay through the nose to watch Alastair Cook open the batting for England, or to see up and comer Mason Crane master his craft at Hampshire. If not, they might catch a short glimpse of the days play on Channel Five’s one hour highlights package. What this has achieved though is not of benefit to the ECB, nor the marginalized supporter base. How can the game grow if up to two-thirds of the population cannot access it?

While Packer did not have to co-exist with Pay TV in the 1970’s, he still understood that if nobody is tuned-in, the product is worthless to corporate investors or sponsors and will eventually die off. That is the direction the ECB is headed. And that is why they must ensure the new city-based competition is made available to all audiences on terrestrial television. If the fan, or the channel surfer looking for some entertainment over dinner, is not aware that a game between London and Southampton is on because it has been hidden behind a pay-wall, then the outcome for the ECB is an obvious one: the tournament will not earn enough money to continue operation and will be worthless to television broadcasters, which, as we know, play an enormously influential role in the game’s popularity. It’s a loss-loss situation for the ECB.

When the BBL came into existence six years ago, Foxtel, Australia’s number one Pay TV service, held exclusive rights to the tournament. After a brief period of success during the opening season, interest began to fade, signaling the end to a short lived honeymoon period where, despite disappointing viewership figures, CA caught a glimpse of what this league was capable of. In 2013, the rights were secured by free-to-air television network Channel 10, and the potential CA saw in its brief vigil on Pay TV was finally realised. Since its transition to the FTA network, the league hasn’t looked back and interest continues to peak. It is any wonder it took CA close to a decade to realise that making the Big Bash available to just over 50 percent of the population would mean it would struggle for an audience. You have to question whether changing it from a state based competition to a tournament played between contrived and bizarrely named city teams made any difference whatsoever, or whether it was purely the fact that the whole of Australia now had a means by which to watch it. Common sense seems to get thrown out the window a lot these days by cricket boards when it comes to growing the game.

The counter argument to all of this is constantly repeated by cynics: “If the competition is worth the same amount on Pay TV as it is on FTA, what incentive does the ECB have to offer it to a terrestrial network? The answer to this is, of course, dependent on how you define worth. Sure, the monetary value of the television rights might well be equal no matter who purchases them, but its worth to the viewer decreases dramatically when hidden behind a pay-wall. And without an audience, the television rights will not appreciate in value nearly as much as they could if it was televised for free. Just like interest in theater would decline if there was to be a sudden hike in ticket prices, or if certain blockbuster movies were only screened in a select number of cinemas. This is what the ECB is doing – confining it to the households of a small minority, effectively reducing how much it can make at the box-office.

When Channel Ten purchased the rights to the BBL five years ago, they payed just $100 million for a five-year deal. That value has now more than doubled, with the rights expected to be sold for around $250 million when they are put up for sale next year. Exposure counts. Packer realised this forty years ago and yet cricket boards are still in the dark over the fruits of free-to-air television. The T20 game is built for broadcast, just as World Series Cricket was during the 1970’s, so why can’t it be a driver of growth?

Some may say that by taking this approach we risk selling out the game and turn it into something no more attractive or unique than a Wednesday night soap-opera. But the ECB must stop stalling and take a risk that will see them rejoin the pack of cricketing boards who have welcomed the broadcast of T20 on FTA with open arms and reaped the rewards.

ECB must face tough questions before launching franchise T20 juggernaut

It has been seven months since the counties voted in favour of a franchise style t20 tournament that will revolutionise and reconfigure the cricketing landscape in England forever. Over this period, the debate around its feasibility has not subsided and the repercussions are suddenly being felt as we travel into a new season that will for the last time, it seems, go uninterrupted by t20 cricket played until the cows come home.

At present, this competition – its groundwork, its structure and how it plans on selling itself to the out-of-favor counties, but more importantly, the fans – is still very much an unknown. What we are certain of is that chairman Colin Graves, who has envisaged the many financial benefits and growth opportunities that a city-based t20 tournament can bring the ECB since he first layed eyes on the Big Bash, is fed up with being the black sheep of the cricketing world; operating a t20 league with little appeal to both fan and player. The ECB, Graves, Strauss and Harrison now have their foot in the door following that grim evening in the Lord’s Long Room that, to this day, threatens to tear at the fabric of English cricket and divide the counties into two distinct categories – the powerhouses and the financially unstable.

Around the time the counties voted in favour of the radical changes to t20 cricket in England by a margin of 16 to 3, Graves was accused of a conflict of interest involving his family trust and Yorkshire County Cricket Club, who owed over $18 million to the organisation in October last year. Earlier that month, Durham were handed a penalty for failing to pay back the 7.5 million pounds worth of debt that the ECB themselves are in part responsible for. Many believed the punishment didn’t fit the crime and the unanimous cries of fans that protested against Durham’s treatment served as the ultimate proof. But one overriding theme endured – Durham would be playing in the second division in 2017 with little hope of returning to the top flight for at least the next few years thanks to the wrongdoings of the ECB.

First, there was the Chester-le-street stadium that the ECB recommended be built away from any other major landmarks, and urban hot spots, in a town with a population of just over 25,000 on last count. Not only does this make little business sense as far as getting fans to attend the ground is concerned – which they are essentially relying on to increase cash flow and cover the construction costs – but it also shows how unreliable and self-orientated the ECB are when it comes to providing financial advice to the administrators of small counties. Which is interesting when you consider that those counties are, if not in the traditional sense of the word, a member of the ECB and the financial decisions they make have flow on effects for English cricket.

Then there was the scheduling of test matches and other international events spanning right back to just after the 2013 Ashes test held at the ground. And this is where Graves’ conflict of interest begins to take shape. Last year, Chester-le-street held a test match between England and Sri Lanka – a game best remembered for Alastair Cook’s milestone surpassing innings – to which few fans attended, leaving Durham to lick their wounds, cut their losses and, you’d suspect, reach out to the ECB for financial support. Only three test matches have been held at the ground since 2009 and this trend is set to continue following the ECB’s decision to strip Chester-le-street of test match status as an add on to their already harsh punishment, leaving Durham with one single source of revenue that will likely originate at domestic level, not international. It also remains unlikely that Chester-le-street will host any Cricket World Cup matches featuring full-member nations, given that it will have little funds available to outbid the well-endowed counties. This has left Durham with but one option to break the cycle of debt without falling into further trouble – accept the ECB’s terms and buy into whatever get out of jail free enterprise they are offering.

Compare the treatment of Durham to Yorkshire, for in which Colin Graves has helped out during times of financial stress, and the conflict of interest concerns become blatantly apparent. Headingley has held test matches year in, year out for as long as I can remember and have almost always featured the likes of India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. These high profile nations attract crowds of significant size, generate greater revenue, and thus allow the big counties to make a profit, not hemorrhage money in the way Durham and Hampshire do when they cannot cover the operating costs involved in staging a test due to the quality of opposition. And by awarding Headingley with a test match each year, not to mention the occasional ODI or international t20 match, Graves is able to increase the speed at which the repayments are made to the Graves Family Trust by Yorkshire. To top this off, the ECB have also been accused of an uneven distribution of funds.

Bearing the above in mind, there can be no question as to why the smaller counties such as Durham have voted in favour of a city based t20 competition. It is the only way they foresee an escape from the crippling cycle of debt that will affect their county on the field as much as will off it. They really had no other option but to jump on board the good ship ECB, that played a starring role in their demise, and ride it into the sunset in the hope that it may bring them some kind of financial security and see them return to the first division of the championship free of a burdening salary cap that immediately places them at the back of the field. But it could well be an empty promise if the re-branding sees fund distribution reach another extreme.

A colleague, visiting Australia from England, more specifically Kent, once told me that a Big Bash style competition couldn’t work in the old country because, quite simply speaking, it is not Australia; it has 18 counties that must all be represented, not six states. His logic, while simplistic and based solely on opinion, rang true. In this revenue driven cricketing economy the fan often goes unconsidered, or is there simply for the purpose of monitisation. Whether he/ she wants to see their county, and the championship, put on the back burner for the sake of a domestic t20 tournament bereft of context is often dismissed by the ECB, but it is a factor that must be considered if they want franchise cricket to strike a chord with the English public. The fan is their most important asset and ultimately decides whether it goes up in smoke or gains traction like it has in other parts of the world.

Australia expanded its Big Bash competition from six states to eight franchises six years ago, with each state having at least one team for which the local fans could follow. Since, it has not dared look back. Queensland, for example, is represented by the Brisbane Heat. NSW by either the Syndey Thunder, if you live in the western suburbs, or the Sydney Sixers, if you hail from the city. No state goes unrepresented, or stadium unused, and the expansion has in many ways covered more ground than it might have lost. The revenue has of course increased, but it is equally distributed amongst the states given that the franchises are not privately owned as they are in the IPL.

The ECB, with their city based competition, are essentially condensing the playing field and cutting off its blood supply when it should be doing the exact opposite. It isn’t modelling itself of Australia at all. If it was to follow the Big Bash’s blueprint, Cardiff wouldn’t be representing Somerset because, not only are they separate entities, but its fans have never had an allegiance with Glamorgan, where Cardiff would likely play the majority, if not all of their matches. So why should we expect them to start now?

I’ve long been an advocate for the t20 competition remaining in its current form with some slight remodeling, and if the initial plans to run the two tournaments in quick succession does indeed eventuate, I might just get my wish. But it would be ignorant to suggest that both will operate swimmingly along side each other without conflict caused by a competition for supporters and sponsorships. When one features the counties and the other cities – potentially giving one county more exposure and allowing them to operate independently – there is bound to be some friction as far as revenue sharing is concerned. If Manchester, for example, was to become one of the new city-based teams in the, lets call it ‘Super Slog’, taking players only from Lancashire and playing their home games at Old Trafford, would this not upset the balance and ratio of revenue distribution? Why not continue calling them the Lancashire Lightning?

If all counties are equal stakeholders and receive the same amount of money from television rights, sponsorship etc, than fair game. But this seems like an unrealistic expectation. Manchester would play games at Lancashire’s home ground, receive the windfall from ticket, merchandise and food sales, and the other counties wouldn’t see the light of day because the revenue would be divided up among one county. They would also take many of the current England stars playing for Lancashire – the likes of Jos Buttler or James Anderson – and reap the extra benefits from that, leaving the other city franchises, comprised of multiple counties, to fight among themselves for an even distribution of the revenue that would, more often than not, lie with the dominant county – Hampshire if Southampton was to be made up of Sussex and also Kent as The Cricketer has suggested in the past.

The ECB simply would not be able to police or enforce an even distribution of funds when so much is generated by the counties that have access to test match venues, and as such, are the most likely candidates to house one of the new city based teams. Not to mention that a few of these counties will have an entire franchise to themselves, giving them the perfect opportunity to grow their brand while the others are left in the dark. All of this big county favoritism is extremely unsettling and shows that the ECB are handing out special treatment in the knowledge that these counties are the major players as far as the generation of revenue is concerned. This in itself could lead to a seismic shift in the balance of power amongst the counties that would likely cause irreparable damage to the way we currently understand domestic cricket.

The Blast would stick around for a few years following the launch of a city based tournament, but if it was to be hidden behind a pay wall, as it has been for a number of years, and the franchise tournament took off abroad as well as at home, it would die a painful, yet swift death. The ECB would likely push for an expansion meaning extra games are played throughout the year, leaving no time for the Blast to take place. It’s happening in Australia already and their is a push for extra teams to be added to both increase revenue and raise the value of television rights. Oh, and to reach more rural areas in the hope of getting kids involved in cricket. This is something the Big Bash does extremely well.

We mustn’t underestimate the effects a city based league would have on the longevity and popularity of the County Championship either. With players flying in and out of one city and into another to take the field for their franchise, there is the possibility that those particular players, possibly key members of their respective sides, could miss entire games. Apart from bitter feuds between the counties, franchises and the ECB, this has the potential to weaken a county side to the point of relegation from the first division, and you can hardly expect the fans to take notice of the championship if their team’s best players aren’t on the park and struggling to win games as a direct result.

Then there’s the issue of scheduling and the reduction of championship fixtures if the t20 juggernaut takes off in England like it has done elsewhere. What would Graves be inclined to do when one competition is heavily outweighing the popularity of the other? Reduce its size of course. Just like the BCCI has done in India.

There would be a few losers if these circumstances were to arise but the biggest would undoubtedly be the English test side. Keaton Jennings and Haseeb Hameed were uncovered in the championship last year and found themselves on a plane to India soon after. They were fine additions to the England side and will likely take over from Cook as England’s opening pair when father time catches up with the journeyman. But if the breeding grounds to foster young players are no longer in place or dropping in quality, finding future test cricketers becomes increasingly difficult.

The ECB have plenty to weigh up before they make a decision that has the potential to change more than just a few team names and logos. Imagine a world in which Sussex, Leicester and Hampshire played in an entirely different league to Yorkshire and Lancashire; with its own independent board and separate scheduling. Now think about how this would affect the Championship or the One Day cup in their current form as well as English cricket at large, because it just might pan out this way if the ECB lets financial status dictate whether a county has to operate in conjunction with rival clubs, or independently.

India v England, Day Two Preview

You won’t be receiving a great deal of analysis from me on the second day’s play. Exam time is upon us and that can only mean one thing – this blog takes a reluctant backseat, and my time spent watching cricket is sadly reduced.

However, I will leave you with a brief comment. England will be more than satisfied with the position they have managed to get themselves into, and even more pleased with the fact that they have set the tone for the entire series by taking the upper hand in this game. It is so crucial that a touring side gets off to a good start on the opening day, particualrly in India. There was a stat discussed on air yesterday that no team had surpassed three hundred on the first day of a test match in India for over 20 games. I doubt a team has lost just four wickets on the opening day for some time either. The media, even if their eyes were firmly fixed on the political happenings in the United States, will cease berating the English side for their Mirpur ‘disaster’ and begin lauding what was a productive start to this test match, and tour. We’ll wait an see if this is simply a fleeting moment of praise, or whether England are capable of bucking the touring side ‘curse’ and sustain the strangle hold it currently holds on day one of twenty-five.

Two of England’s premier batsman have played themselves into form. England have been looking for Moeen Ali to take up permanent residency at number five and the early signs are that he won’t be shifting from that position anytime soon. A hundred, of which he is just a miserly single away from attaining, will boost his bowling confidence as well. For my thoughts on Joe Root’s knock, it’s probably best that you peruse my tea time update from yesterday.

In the other camp, India must be wondering what on earth the groundsmen were thinking when they prepared this Rajkot wicket. There’s no spin, very little rough and plenty of live grass. Ravi Ashwin was the pick of the bowlers with his two wickets, but didn’t look particularly threatening at any stage outside of his opening spell. Mishra, on the other hand, offered up ten unimpressive overs of first class standard. At his best he extracted turn that troubled the batsmen. At his worst, particularly late in the day, his bowling was pedestrian. I can’t see him playing a major role on this wicket and England might go after him when a declaration is imminent. If it gets to that point.

So, onto day two then. Feel free to post your comments below. As I said, I will be attending to other things throughout the day so won’t have the opportunity to write up a match report.

India v England First Test, Day One – Live Blog and Preview

Read the preview and follow the action live. To comment during play with other fans, make your way to the comments section of this post. In order to view blog updates, refresh this page at regular intervals. 

England arrived in Bangladesh full of hope following what was a relatively successful home summer. They were touted as a side capable of regaining the number one test ranking despite an unsettled top order prone to collapse and a fast bowling cartel short of form but not of experience. They move on to India now as rank outsiders following an ego bruising tour of Bangladesh that has seen the cricketing world turn its back on them. A similar fate suffered by the Australian side after they were handed a rollocking at the hands of Sri Lanka following a dominant display on home soil just five months prior.

England’s batting has been shaky to say the very least while their bowling away from home, particularly in the subcontinent, has lacked a genuine wicket taker. England are not short of talent in the spin bowling department, county cricket has provided a host of young spin bowlers capable of forcing their way into the England side. Zafar Ansari is testament to this, and Gareth Batty has shown that persistence trumps age, while Adil Rashid continues to knock patiently at the selectors door. The problem is, they simply cannot match the guile or the control of India’s Ravi Ashiwn and Ravindra Jadeja. Not away from home, and most certainly not on dust bowls prepared to aid and abed spin bowling; which holds an almost inconceivable wicket taking record in India.

England is home to seaming green wickets where fast bowlers are nurtured and churned out for international duty at a rate only matched by Australia. By the same token, their batsmen are designed to survive when the Duke ball is swinging and seaming and the ball is bouncing no greater than ankle height. English cricket share a similar problem to Australia and New Zealand, their players simply haven’t been brought up in an environment that aims, never mind hopes, to produce good players of spin bowling at first class level. Unless a few county cricket fixtures are moved off shore and played in the sub continent, England’s players aren’t going to learn how to cope with the spinning ball. Not until they’ve racked up their frequent flyer miles with the national team on tours to India and the UAE. Looking for a quick fix by shoving a player into an alien environment only fabricated during a net session, as was done in Bangladesh with Duckett and as is about to be the case with Hameed, will never lead to a favoruable outcome. Let us not forget that there were no practice games scheduled due to the limited time available following England’s brief stop off in Bangladesh.

England won their last tour to India in emphatic fashion. Cook, Pietersen, Swann and Panesar were the chief performers during that tour. Only one of those four remain, and he hasn’t looked particularly threatening outside of the last innings of the second test against Bangladesh. His captaincy, and the way he uses and treats his main spinner Moeen Ali, should form the basis on which he is judged, and will likely serve to be a telling factor in whether his legacy will live on beyond this series.

Further comments to come.

Lunchtime update:

The loss of Duckett on the stroke of lunch might well be the beginning of an England middle order collapse, as has been the case so often this year.

India will be ruing the fact they dropped three relatively simple chances inside the first half hour, but will be satisfied with their efforts since, particularly from spin twins Jadeja and Ashwin.

It was pleasing to see the way debutant Hameed went about his work. His patience, a virtue not often associated with Cook’s opening partner, should hold him in good stead for the entireity of this series and beyond.

So, honours even after the first session. India’s spinners have done well to take three English wickets given the uncharacteristic lack of turn, but it’s the seamers who have looked the most damaging. The two paced nature of the wicket and the variable bounce that caused Cook and now Root to get stuck on the crease will only worsen as the game progresses, a pleasing sight for England who will be bowling last.

Teatime Update: (England 222/3 68) Root 100*, Ali 57*

This series couldn’t have gotten off to a more promising start for England. Moeen Ali is relishing his permanent position as a middle order batsman. Joe Root has found the form that alluded him in Bangladesh, and has moved well within site of another test match hundred despite an LBW referral prior to tea. While debutante Hameed showed brief signs of brilliance during his 31.

India haven’t been poor by any stretch of the imagination. There bowling has been tight in patches while their spinners have taken wickets just as the England top order began to look settled. The loss of Shami is a telling blow, but not one which will prevent India from competing in this game. They should look no further than South Africa’s efforts against Australia for inspiration. They were without the services of premier fast bowler Dale Steyn, who was withdrawn from the field mid game due to injury, but managed to stay in the hunt thanks to KG Rabada, who stood up in the absence of his fast bowling mentor to claim five second innings wickets. The spin trio of India will be relied upon to achieve a similar feat.

The game at this stage is still very much in the balance, but if India can’t find it within them to break the Ali/ Root partnership which currently sits at 113, England may be headed towards an unassailable first innings lead. On this wicket, which is likely to deteriorate as the game progresses, anything over 500 may be difficult to track down. Particularly when England unleash their three pronged spin attack on the final two days.

 

Pakistan set to rain on England’s parade

Momentum and consistency are fleeting virtues in Test cricket, yet, as England’s Test side has shown, you needn’t have a team of world beaters to achieve them.

Their series triumph against a hapless Sri Lankan side – who showed few glimpses of proficiency in an otherwise ill-fated affair – capped off a stellar 12 months of Test cricket for a rejuvenated, dogged English side that has risen proudly from the ashes of a cataclysmic derailment just two years ago.

The idyllic state of English cricket has extinguished the markedly universal fan divisiveness born of declining form, bringing about aspirations of a return to the helm of the ICC Test rankings.

But Pakistan’s much-eulogised side – when not the subject of a corruption schmooze – might well spoil the English party.

They travel to England this summer in fine fettle and with an air of mystique surrounding their performances whenever and wherever they venture outside of Asia – which has occurred on just six occasions since 2011.

Not since the now-botched tour of 2010 have Pakistan experienced English conditions, and the unpredictable swing and seam of the Duke ball. During that time, Pakistan’s evergreen, fearless leader Misbah-ul-Haq has tossed away the conservative script – with it, Pakistan’s tainted past – to re-engineer a side in dire straits.

The prognosticated destroyers of England’s volatile and ‘fragile’ middle order – the latter being a cobbled summation of Wahab Riaz’s prose describing England’s batting following a tour game – are Mohammad Amir and Yasir Shah.

The former has successfully negotiated a considerable number of rehabilitation hurdles to clamber his way back into the hearts of Pakistan adherents and the minds of English batsmen.

His wide of the crease in-swinger and bouncer, have, if the tour match against Somerset is a suitable means for appraisal, improved out of sight since we last saw him as a shabby haired, impressionable, morally impaired 18-year-old. That’s some feat, given much of the period spent away from the game was under lock and key in a place unfamiliar with even the most reprehensible adaptation of cricket.

The latter is a 30-something leg-break exponent whose Test career, while yet to reach a crescendo, is making waves on the international scene. His participation and influence will go unheeded though if he is unable to extract turn from the mid-summer green seamers he is presented with across the four Tests.

He was the leading wicket-taker in dissimilar, spin-friendly conditions in the UAE against England last October. If he can channel this form, and put into practice his recently revamped googly, he shapes as the series’ chief wicket-taker.

The discernable similarities of the two bowling cartels is an oddity that has made itself scarce in this current decade. Yet, herein lies perhaps the most mouthwatering, decisive battle of the four-match series.

England’s seamers will come into the series high on confidence, having finished off the battered carcass of Sri Lanka in a series where just one touring batsman managed to bat beyond a hundred.

But Pakistan’s street-smart batsmen are a different kettle of fish. Their level-headed middle order, led by the guile of Misbah and accompanied by the eccentric, yet immaculately honed strokeplay of Younis Khan, are bound to prosper no matter how well England’s bowlers execute their discipline.

Their spin-orientated batting line-up mightn’t be the most qualified to cope with the Lord’s slope or an Edgbaston green top, but you can sure as hell expect their tenacity and wristy homegrown techniques – perfected on the slowest wickets the world over – to grind out a great profusion of runs on a regular basis throughout the series.

On the other side of the ledger is an English batting unit struggling for any real consistency. All the signs of a developing fissure in the middle order were there against Sri Lanka’s bowlers, who – bearing little more ammunition than a glorified county attack – proceeded to routinely take the outside edge and batter the front pad of England’s premier batsmen. With the exception of a Moeen Ali hundred at Durham, England’s scores were inflated by the blistering form and twin centuries of Yorkshire’s Johnny Bairstow.

There is a stark contrast between the textbook, forward defence of England’s 10,000-run custodian Alastair Cook, and the gung-ho merchants of Pakistan’s lower order. But this series will seek to prove that application and monotony at the batting crease are reserved for the faint hearted and unadapted in this day and age.

England’s unrushed, more considered stroke play will be required to match the ingenuity of Sarfraz Ahmed and Asad Shafiq operating at full throttle – an eccentric style of play that keeps the scoreboard ticking over with vigor.

England’s one saving grace, Ben Stokes, whose Cape Town double century is an example of this enigmatic style, will be absent from the XI at Lord’s, leaving a significant void in the English middle order.

Is this England’s most settled side in recent history, or are they the most gettable outfit in world cricket? This series will give us an indication.

Originally published at: http://www.theroar.com.au/2016/07/14/pakistan-set-rain-englands-parade/