I mentioned in some of my end of day posts during the last Test that the West Indies were bowling their overs very slowly. They finished four overs short, even after allocations were made for unavoidable delays and even after Sammy bowled Marlon Samuels just to try to increase the rate! This led to the players being fined 40 per cent of their match fee and Sammy being fined 80 per cent.

It is good to see the ICC finally take proper action against a side (the fact that the West Indies were allowed to try to drag the Barbados Test to a halt on the final day two months ago remains a disgrace) but there is still more to be done. The West Indians were fined for their rate, but that is small consolation for the spectators who did not get to see a full day’s cricket. Although England looked well set for victory anyway, it also meant that the West Indies stopped trying to win the match in favour of trying to get the over rate back up. This is not at all fair on the spectators, but there is at least an easy solution to that: instead of handing out fines for over rates in the entire Test, hand them out for individual days. This is not only fair for those who can only come for one day per Test, but also will (ideally at least) reduce the number of overs lost at the end of a day’s play. As it is, a team can be so far behind the rate on one of the early days of a Test that overs are lost, but can avoid a fine by bowling very quickly on the last or penultimate day. Those overs that are lost cannot (or can very seldom be) recovered. Sanctioning teams on a day-by-day basis would provide an incentive not to lose overs.

However, I am not convinced that the current sanctions are an appropriate deterrent. It clearly did not work in the most recent Test and looking farther back India never had a good over rate in England or Australia. Despite that, it took until the seventh of those eight Tests for MS Dhoni to be banned. It is simply not enough and too rarely applied to be effective. If one looks at the County Championship, overs are very rarely lost and there usually isn’t even very much time added at the end of the day. This despite there being more overs required per day than in the County Championship than in a Test match. I think there are two main reasons for this: according to the ECB regulations (section 16.4) there is no ‘retrospective negotiation’ about what is and is not an unavoidable delay. The umpires make a decision at the time, inform the captain and scorers and that’s it. Everyone knows, everyone can adjust the calculation (which is displayed on the scoreboard) and there can be no argument. There is no reason why this cannot be implemented in Test matches. The second, and probably more important reason, is that the penalty for a slow over-rate in a Championship match is the deduction of points. It is a clear reduction in what is the most important number at the end of the year.

Unfortunately, that is not applicable to Test cricket because there is nothing analogous to Championship points. If something is done to make the ICC rankings properly important to the majority of fans and players, then there would be an ideal way to punish teams for a slow rate. However, I doubt such a thing will ever happen. Last summer, Geoffery Boycott suggested that teams be penalised runs in a Test as the nearest equivalent. The problem there is that it does not work properly in the last innings of the Test, so for fairness sake it would have to be applied only to the first two. There is, however, little reason why that could not happen: add five penalty runs to the batting side’s total for each over by which the bowling side is short at the end of the day/innings. As handy as that is, I think it would be preferable to have a system that could be equally applied to all days of the match. Which just leaves the current system of fines/bans. What I would suggest is getting rid of the fines and just automatically banning both the captain and one of the main quick bowlers (whoever takes the new ball in the first innings, say). This would be used in conjunction with the inability to debate what is and is not an acceptable delay and be applied on a day by day basis. Given all of the options, I think this one is the most feasible given the current Test set up and would provide teams with a strong incentive to get their overs in. Whatever happens, the ICC need to do something to address the current trend of slow over-rates, but I’m not holding my breath.

Thanks, Windies

The series in the Caribbean is over and the West Indies have lost 0-2. It does not look like a good result and it isn’t, but the Windies do deserve credit for fighting. They did not play well in the series, but they never gave up. I thought they would lose this Test by around 175 runs, but instead they got 100 runs closer. They tried until the last ball of the first Test to win and they came close then too. In the second Test they went for the runs until the rain intervened. In the past year I have watched India play eight Tests and in those eight combined they did not put up as much fight as the West Indies did in this series.

The West Indies did not win a Test, nor did they deserve to, but they never stopped trying. The fact that they kept trying meant that we had entertaining, if not always skilful, cricket and it also meant that they came much closer to winning then they probably ought to have. The contrast with India’s feeble capitulations in England and Australia is striking. India are objectively a better side and have the benefit of famous names, but I know which who I would rather watch. I’d like to hope that someone in the team India set-up took note, but with their festival of mindless slogging in full flow I know that would be a fool’s hope.

CB Series final preview

After Kohli’s heroics kept India’s hopes alive for an extra few days they still failed to make it to the CB Series final. It’s probably fair in the end, that run chase was the first time they’d really shown up in the entire tour. Sri Lanka’s subsequent victory means part of my initial prediction was accurate: an Australia v Sri Lanka final.

A prolonged final might make things a bit interesting later in the month. Sri Lanka have to return home to face England possibly only 18 days after the match and playing 11 ODIs overseas are not the best preparation for a Test series. (Even at home it’s ill-advised, Australia prepared similarly for the last Ashes.) It’s hard to know if Sri Lanka will be affected by the ODIs or not, but I doubt it will help them. (Obviously I’m hoping it affects them rather a lot!)

I also originally predicted that Australia would win, but Sri Lanka won three of four head to head matches in the group stage. Certainly it will be more interesting than I originally thought. Sri Lanka have, for the most part, done themselves proud, but Australia will have seen India’s run chase in the penultimate match and now know that Malinga has a weakness against batsmen who can repeatedly hit him for six and will be looking to exploit that. I actually think that Sri Lanka looked like the better side in the group stage, so I’m changing my prediction to a 2-1 win for Sri Lanka. (Though that may ensure a 2-0 Aussie victory.) It could be interesting to see how it plays out, but someone idiotically scheduled the final to clash with the first New Zealand v South Africa Test. Guess which match I’ll be watching?

Four down, 11 to go…

India have so far done better than I expected they would in the ODI series. They have won matches against both Sri Lanka and now Australia, as the series continues to drag on. After four matches, Australia and India each have two wins, though for some reason Australia got an extra point when they won the first match and are thus topping the table. (If someone knows why, please tell me in the comments, as I can’t seem to find an explanation.)

Australia have looked a bit feeble; their top order collapsed in Melbourne and Perth and did not look perform that well in Adelaide. They ended up winning easily in the first match, but they barely survived an Angelo Mathews blitz in Perth and could not survive MS Dhoni in Adelaide. India for their part have played better than I expected; MS Dhoni has finally remembered how to hold a bat and whilst their bowling has not been exceptional it has been respectable. Australia must be worried about the performance of their top order, however. It wasn’t impressive in the Test series and it hasn’t redeemed itself so far in the ODIs. Ponting hasn’t batted at number three in Tests for a while, so I’m not sure why he’s up the order in ODIs, but it does not look like a sound strategy at this point.

Although I predicted Australia to do well in the ODIs, it was mostly due to the the relative skill of the opposition. I’m not actually too surprised that Australia have not looked overpowering. Their tope order was mostly absent in the Test series as well and we already knew they weren’t the force they once were. Australia have plenty of time to recover, however: we’ve only played four of a scheduled 15 matches.

Saturday Review – 11 Feb

This week has been primarily notable for the predictable, if still disappointing, dénouement of the third Pakistan v England Test and the subsequent reset for the limited overs leg. England handily beat the Lions (which surprised me), meaning there will probably not be dramatic changes for the first ODI on Monday. (More on which tomorrow.) Pakistan warmed up by playing Afghanistan in the latter’s first full international. The Afghanis lost, but did themselves proud. There were also quite a few ODIs in the southern hemisphere. The Australian tri-series kicked off with three relatively poorly attended matches. India overcame Sri Lanka by four wickets in Perth, but otherwise little of note happened. And Zimbabwe’s horror tour of New Zealand continued with two massive defeats in the ODIs and a heavy loss in the first T20 as well. It was a surprisingly exciting week, and there were some very good pieces written, my favourite of which follow:

Third defeat completes humiliating whitewash of England – Batting For Hours

The revolution has been televised – Alex Malcolm, Cricinfo

Phil Tufnell’s England player ratings – BBC

Pakistan v England – England’s series report card – Gary Naylor, The Guardian

Jos Buttler, the latest candidate to be England’s Chosen One – Barney Ronay, The Guardian

Endless ODI preview

Now that the two T20s are over and India have finally managed an away win in some format we can look forward to over a month’s worth of ODIs! I hope you’re all as excited as I am about the prospect of 15 one day internationals. After all, no one got bored senseless after five of the seven match post-Ashes ODI series so the best thing to do is double that number and make sure that four of the matches will be between teams about whom the locals do not care.

Looking at the teams, I can’t see anyone other than Australia winning. Australia did not have the same dip in form in the shorter format as they have had in Test matches, and they are still difficult to beat at home. They won the short series against South Africa recently, and going back farther beat England even after being hammered in the Test series. They did not do as well in the World Cup, but will have the advantage of the conditions this time.

The more (but still not very) interesting question is who they will play in the final. India have finally broken their overseas duck, but almost anything can happen in a T20. They still have a lot of questions to be answered about their batting in foreign conditions, however, none of the problems they had in the Test series will entirely vanish in the shorter form, even if their bowling may tighten up. We saw in England that they still struggle, even against a decidedly mediocre ODI side and I expect them to struggle playing Australia.

Sri Lanka are punching above their weight right now, I’d say. Their players have not been paid properly for quite some time now, and eventually that will take a toll on even the most committed cricketer. The fact that they still managed a famous win in Durban is a massive credit to their spirit. They are another side, however, who have not been threatening outside the subcontinent, losing the ODI series in England and South Africa.

The second finalist will probably be decided by the winner of the head to head matches between India and Sri Lanka and those will be interesting, if sparsely attended. Neither side is suited to exploit the weaknesses of the other side in the conditions. I would expect Sri Lanka to win though, they have shown more fight recently and I think that will count for a lot. Ultimately, I expect Australia to beat Sri Lanka 2-0 in the finals.

Compare and contrast

I’ve complied some quotes following England’s loss in Abu Dhabi and India’s loss in Adelaide. See if you can spot a pattern.

‘We also won 2-0 in India.’ – Virender Sehwag

‘It is a struggle to think of a loss that has hurt more than this.’ – Andrew Strauss

‘We make our own plans, and it didn’t click. It happens with every team, with every player. The time is not good for Indian team, for individuals, so maybe that’s why we are not scoring runs.’ – Sehwag

‘[…] we weren’t good enough to deal with their spinners; we weren’t skilful enough and we didn’t deal with the pressure well enough. We have to face up to those facts.’ – Andy Flower

‘”Embarrassed” is not the right word. Nobody has done any one thing faulty. We have not fooled or cheated anyone. “We are extremely disappointed” is probably the words I can use.’ – Ravichandran Ashwin

‘As a batting unit we have to hold our hands up and say we haven’t done well enough. We have been rolled over three times in four innings this series. There are no excuses – we need to be better than that.’ – Strauss

‘I think there are people that appreciate that once again things – dew, rain, everything – didn’t go our way. I hope that doesn’t happen here. I am sure it will not happen over a period of one month.’ – Ashwin

‘[…] these issues will not disappear and we’ve got to face them with skill and a bit of courage. We’ve got to be a lot better than we were yesterday. Each individual will have to work very hard in working out his method of scoring.’ – Flower

‘Everything is going to be fresh. It is going to be a different ball game. The colour of the ball also changes. Hopefully we could change our luck as well.’ – Ashwin

England have lost a quarter of the Tests away from home that India have lost. I Would suggest that they are thus four times as motivated to win, but I think that may be an understatement.

What next for India?

The past few months have not been kind to India (though I’ve heard many of their fans wanted England to lose more than Pakistan, so they’ll have some consolation). It’s been clear for some time that they need to make changes and I think after their latest result they may finally do so.

They first, and relatively simple, changes are to personnel. They have some very illustrious batsmen, but they are nearing the end of their careers, if not there already. There are at least some questions to be asked about every one of the Indian top seven, though some more than others. Gautam Gambhir is one of the least well known of the Indian batmen, but he is in the eighth year of his career and averages 45. It’s certainly quite respectable, but he has not made a big score for some time now and he looked badly out of his depth in England and Australia. (He was hardly alone, of course.) He has not done very much to suggest that he be dropped, but nor has he stood out. He also has the problem common to Indian batsmen of impatience to score runs, and he does not leave balls outside his off stump well. I would probably keep him around for a bit longer, but only until the replacements are ready. With Virender Sehwag, however, I would get shot of him as soon as possible. At the very least I would never include him in a squad to play outside Asia. He has no technique and does not even come close to having the temperament for Test cricket. He is the very definition of a flat track bully, averaging 61 in Asia and a miserable 36 outside it. Worse, he is one of the most selfish players in the game. He could be one of the best batsmen in the game, but he refuses to adapt his game in difficult conditions and throws his wicket away when the team need him to perform. No where was this more apparent than in the fourth Test of this most recent series. India needed to bat for over a day to save the Test, but he kept throwing his bat at the ball. He added 62, but he runs were purely nominal. India needed a draw, and he refused to even try.

The openers, Sehwag in particular, have consistently put India in a spot of bother early in the innings, but the failing middle order is probably the most pressing concern. The three pillars of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman have had, at best, mixed success in England and Australia, but they are all ageing. Dravid is the oddest case. He was a class apart in England, the lone aspect of resistance. In Australia, however, he has been all at sea. He has been horribly missing straight deliveries and all of a sudden he just doesn’t seem to be seeing the ball. For a batsman of his record, especially as recently as last summer it seems harsh to suggest that it will end his career, but he isn’t going to last forever. Tendulkar is probably only out of form by his lofty standards, but at the same time he seems to have lost his touch a bit. He is batting very aggressively and is certainly making starts but is not converting them. Most of his dismissals have been the result of good bowling, but they still tend to be predictable. He does not seem to treat good bowling spells with the respect he deserves. Despite what some may say, he is not god or even Bradman and at the moment he does not seem to realise that. He has some time left in him, but I suspect he his age means will get will get worse rather than better. Laxman is the worst off of the three. He is the only one who has been quite short of runs in both series. Unfortunately for him and for India his career does look like it’s over. He hasn’t had his touch for some time now, and even if he gets it back he is old enough that it is probably not worth waiting for. Of the three, I would drop Laxman immediately. Ideally he would be encouraged to retire, but however the official announcement goes he should not play in India’s next series. Dravid and Tendulkar are more tricky. Tendulkar’s fame is such that he will certainly never be dropped, but it’s unclear if he will have the wherewithal to retire soon. There is also the matter of the ‘100th’ century to consider; as silly as the notion is they still take it seriously. I think he should go soon, however. He still has the chance to go before he is embarrassed and it would improve his legacy if he does so. Dravid is the most interesting of the three. He may have a fatal flaw in his technique, but if there is one person that India should keep to tutor young players it is Dravid. He is the only one who seems to really care about the team and the only one who has been willing to try to dig in and fight when it is needed. None of the others have shown the same type of desire or application and India need their young players to follow Dravid’s lead as opposed to the rest of them. He might benefit from moving down the order, but certainly I would keep him around for as long as is feasible.

The rest of the players are less of a concern, though Dhoni is a poor captain and Adelaide shows that India have a perfectly good replacement for him as wicket-keeper. The problem for the bowlers is their demeanour. They can get early breakthroughs, but once a partnership starts to develop their heads go down and they seem to give up. At what point in the Sydney Test Australia were 37-3, but it wasn’t long after that India seemed to be bowling for the declaration! There is no clear way to fix that problem, though Duncan Fletcher should be able to help. (And if he can’t, he shouldn’t have the job.) A different captain may also help, though the only one with the right mentality is Dravid and he is not a long term solution. For a clear demonstration of the gap in motivation one needs to look no farther than the statements made by Dhoni and Sehwag about the 8-0 combined thrashing and the statements made by Andrew Strauss after England’s horror show in Abu Dhabi. India need more commitment.

India will host England for four Tests in November and if they play the same XI there as they did in Melbourne they will struggle again. In addition to bringing in younger players, they also must find a way to bet those players experience in alien conditions. Suresh Raina was dreadfully exposed against the short ball last summer, but Kohli showed in Australia that it is possible for them to adjust. A season playing county cricket would probably do them a lot of good, though the BCCI are very unlikely to allow them to do so. At the very least they need more ‘A’ tours to places like South Africa and England. Ideally in a year they will have no more than three of their current top seven still playing; they will still have a bedding in period, but they will at least be on the right track.

Adelaide thoughts

The Adelaide Test is over, and I have not watched as much of it as I feel like I should. On the other hand, the bits that I have seen have been pretty much the same as the first three Tests, but there have been some interesting points:

– Most interesting was that Clarke did not enforce the follow-on despite having a huge first innings lead. The only reason for this I can think is that he wanted to rest his bowlers in the heat, but I think it was a bad idea. It didn’t make a difference to the result, but India did get 400 in the second innings at Sydney (their only score of note admittedly) and it seems unreasonable to jeopardise the match by scoring needless runs. It is the last Test of the home series and only Siddle played in the first five. They can (and maybe should) rest in the ODIs, but first they have a Test to win.

– After Clarke did declare, the declaration batting was fairly poor. Most notable was Haddin, who scored so slowly he provoked a seemingly outraged calling of the side in by Clarke. I understand that he is badly in need of runs, but after playing terrible shots for the better part of a year, the declaration was not the time to suddenly start scratching around. It was selfish play, and it in it’s own way was just as bad as his flashes in Cape Town and Hobart.

– It’s no surprise that Sehwag played like an idiot, but as captain some measure of restraint may have been warranted. In the second innings he was opening the batting in a nominal chase of 500, but in practise the goal would have been to bat out the draw and punish Clarke for not making them follow-on. It was a time for the captain to lead from the front and dig in. Instead he continued to throw his bat at everything, rode his luck past fifty (five aerial edges) and finally played a heave to the spinner that was an insult to the game. It was the very antithesis of a captain’s innings and whilst I’m not optimistic, there ought to be repercussions for his behaviour.

Adelaide, day one

There was probably no need to actually watch the cricket today. (And actually I didn’t watch the entire day, I wanted to see some of the tennis too.) India played the same way they did in England and the same way they did for most of the first three Tests in Australia though. Once again they looked like they cared for about a session and after they had bowled for longer than they would in a limited overs match they seemed to give up and wait for the declaration. It was a flat deck, but after they had got the top three out in the morning they had a chance if they had applied some more pressure. It was not on an atypical Adelaide wicket that England reduced Australia to 2-3 and eventually 245 all out. Australia were only 82 runs better off when they lost their third wicket this time, but India never looked like they were going to press home that advantage. Clarke and Ponting deserve credit though; they batted imperiously for two and a bit sessions in an unbroken stand of over 250.

Part of India’s malaise is almost certainly down to the fact that Virender Sehwag was the captain. It rather surprised me when it was announced that he was to captain the side for this Test as it did not require precognitive powers (not that I have them, or that such powers even exist) to guess what was going to happen. They say that a captain sets the example and I shudder to think what sort of example Sehwag sets. He must be one of the laziest Test cricketers in the world, perhaps even one of the laziest cricketers full stop. The Chuck-Fleetwood Smiths once described his fielding as ‘with a deck chair drinking a piña colada‘ and as far as I can tell that’s his default setting. He absolutely failed to inspire the team in any way when they had been in the field all day and I very much doubt anyone is surprised by that.

India have been so poor in this series that I have almost run out of ways to describe them without getting repetitive. Their only hope in this match is that the pitch is so flat their batsmen can get a few runs and they can draw the game. True Indian fans may hope that doesn’t happen though. Despite the multitude of excuses for their poor form, there are starting to be a few high profile voices calling for major change to the side. India must heed those calls if they are to improve and there is no more effective way to make sure they are ignored than for their batsmen to make enough runs to save the game. If that happens then the media and many fans will say that everything is good again in India and they will continue to say so right up until (and possibly after) they are hammered by England in November.