Thursday, 31 July 2014

Cook and England dominate India to silence the doubters

It all changed on Sunday morning, Alastair Cook tentatively had worked his way to 15 not out, when he offered up a simple slip catch to Ravindra Jadeja, which was not taken.  From then on England dominated every session in the 3rd Test against an out-of-sorts India.  Who knows what would have happened if Jadeja had managed to hold onto that catch.  Cricket, like most sports, is a game of small margins.

England decided to rotate their back-up bowlers, with Ben Stokes being dropped and being made available to play for Durham, in the hope that he finds some form with the bat.  Liam Plunkett was rested for this test, despite bowling well in spells at Lords.  Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes were called up, and whilst they didn't offer the wicket taking threat of Plunkett, they managed to bowl in a tight and economical manner.  Woakes especially will bowl worse and take wickets.  Personally I'm not sure about Jordan's ability at Test Match level, I find that he offers too many 4 balls to the batsmen, and it was only India's strange attitude to this test match, that they did not punish some of his wayward spells. For the next test at Old Trafford, I would hope that Plunkett is recalled, in place of Jordan.

This test match finally was the moment for Jos Buttler's debut, after England showed too much loyalty to Matt Prior by selecting him for this summer's earlier test matches.  Prior's contribution to English cricket should not be forgotten, and his poor displays this summer both behind the wicket, and with the bat should not overshadow his otherwise stellar England career.  Buttler could not have wished for a better time to come to the crease to make his debut, with England cruising along at 420-5.  Whilst Jos hit a typically belligerent 85 off 83 balls, it was a chancy innings and should have been out 3 times.  On one occasion Dhoni missed an easy stumping, which summed up his test match.  It will be interesting to see how Buttler goes when England are under the pump so to speak, and he has to come in when England are 130/5. Nevertheless it was an impressive debut with the bat, and he was tidy and efficient behind the stumps, but it must be said no great improvement on a fit and in form Prior.

It was finally good to see Ian Bell get a score this summer, is there another batsman in world cricket who looks in touch even when they don't get many runs? AB De Villiers is the only one who comes to mind.  Bell's innings of 167 in the 1st innings was sublime, and he also increased his own run-rate when England needed quick runs, and gave away his wicket in that chase for runs.

The only concern over England's batting in both innings was the form of Sam Robson, whilst he has great technique and bats in a tidy manner, there is maybe a clamour for somebody with more flair to open the innings, maybe a Hales or dare I say a Carberry, but I feel Michael's race has run. A little unfairly in my opinion.  I anticipate that Robson will retain his place for the final two tests of the summer, but with the plethora of one day cricket in the next 8 months, there is a real opportunity for Alex Hales to get himself in the forefront of the selectors minds.

Jimmy Anderson along with Dale Steyn are the best leader's of a bowling attack in world cricket, and in this test, Jimmy bowled as well as he has done all summer, quite possibly even for a whole year.  His control of the ball either outswing or inswing was magnificent, and he is only 15 wickets away from breaking Ian Botham's all time English wicket taking record.  Once Jimmy breaks that, it will be fully deserved, and a great honour for the Burnley paceman.

When Stuart Broad is on song, and Anderson is performing to his impeccable best, England have a front line pace attack to be feared by most teams in the world. What England hope is that their back up bowlers can chip in with a few wickets, to ease the pressure on Broad and Anderson.  Which leads me to Mooen Ali, what a superb bowling performance by the part-time spinner, a tremendous 6-67 in the second innings. Mooen Ali rushed England to a deserved victory, and certainly silenced his doubters, me included.  He rattled through the Indian line up which has questionably the best players of spin in the world.  Is Mooen Ali the long term answer, I'm not 100% sure, but again after these two tests there is no test cricket for nearly a year.  A chance again for a Briggs/Riley to impress, or more time for Ali to perfect his art.

Moving onto India, that was a performance as abject as England's was at Lords.  Obviously they were hindered by the injury to Ishant Sharma, but their display in the field in both innings was sloppy and their general demeanour throughout the test gave an impression of half-heartededness.  This all stemmed from MS Dhoni's performance as captain, from his initial team selection, in which he packed the team full of batsmen and again did not select Ashwin, to his quite baffling field placing, and his constant bowling changes, it was a poor test by the Indian captain.

Conversely, this was Alastair Cook's most complete performance as England captain, and whilst I have been critical in the past, I am equally magnanimous to applaud him when it is deserved.  Everyone wants to see a winning English cricket team.  After that drop from Jadeja on Sunday morning, Cook did not look back, and was incredibly unfortunate not to get a deserved century in the 1st innings.  Whilst the Indian batsmen let themselves down in their 1st innings, Cook's fields were generally attacking and he showed more confidence in his back-up bowlers than he has done previously in his tenure.  England's charge for runs in the 2nd innings was well changed, and they declared at a good time in the day, to allow themselves plenty of time to bowl to India before the close of day 4.

Thinking ahead to Old Trafford, England will be hoping that Jimmy Anderson avoids a ban from his hearing for his alleged altercation with Ravi Jadeja.  If Anderson is banned then I expect Jordan to retain his place, with Plunkett coming into the side anyway.  India will be crossing their fingers and hoping Anderson is banned, and surely they must consider picking Ashwin for this test.

It's nice to be able to report on a convincing English victory, and let's hope for another one at Old Trafford.

Chris Clark © 2014    @Chrisclark1975

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