Swann’s elbow and England’s spinners

On the field it was not an exciting first day of the New Zealand v England series, unless one feels that seven hours of rain are particularly interesting. But there was a surprising moment at the toss when England made a late change to the XI after Graeme Swann was ruled out of both the match and the series due to the elbow problem that he has had for the past several years.

Swann is going to America to have surgery on the elbow and he is expected to be back by ‘early summer’ and England are said to be targeting a return in time for the Champions Trophy. But given the utter pointlessness of that competition, it is surely a better idea to have him play in the County Championship and prove his fitness ahead of the back-to-back Ashes. Whilst England could certainly still win the Ashes without Swann, we know just how much of an asset he can be even at home and especially the way Australia have been playing spin in India there is no reason at all to risk Swann in the Champions Trophy. There is literally nothing to gain and plenty to lose.

This brings the question of England’s reserve spinners to the fore, both for the next couple of series and as a reminder that Swann may not have a lot of cricket left in him. For the short term there is Monty Panesar who performed decently in the subcontinent in the last two winters and has replaced Swann in the XI for the Dunedin Test. There is also James Tredwell who has been playing when Swann has been rested from the pyjama squads. Tredwell has been called into the Test squad as (extra) backup, but I would be very surprised if he got a match. There is little to no chance of England playing two spinners and I doubt that Panesar will bowl so poorly as to be dropped, unless England decide to play four seamers. (Which, given Onions’ form in the warmup also seems vert unlikely.)

I expect Panesar to still be in the XI for the return series in May, but it may be wise for England to give a game to one of the younger candidates instead. None of Simon Kerrigan, Scott Borthwick or Ben Stokes impressed on the recent Lions tour of Australia (though to be fair, no one did), but they will have each had a handful of County Championship matches to try to make a case ahead of the first Test as well. If England want to give someone a taste of international experience then one of the early season Tests when everyone is thinking about the Ashes is a decent time for it. I would probably still have Panesar as Swann’s backup in the Ashes (unless he bowls very poorly in New Zealand) simply due to his experience, but it won’t be long until neither he nor Swann are available and England should take this as a reminder to start choosing a replacement and getting him ready now.

England 2012 marks out of ten

Twenty-one different players represented England over fifteen Tests this calendar year. There were, as one can imagine, varying degrees of success and I have given them my year-end marks out of ten here:

Andrew Strauss – 4
The year leading up to Strauss’ resignation and retirement was, as one would expect, not the best for him. He did score a couple of battling fifties in the subcontinent and a pair of centuries to start the summer, but two defeats in four series led to him stepping down.

Alastair Cook – 8
Cook was England’s leading run scorer in 2012 and finished the year by captaining the side to a historic 2-1 series win in India and setting a new English record for most career centuries. He also just barely missed out on finishing the year with a career average above fifty.

Nick Compton – 7
After an incredible season with Somerset, Compton got a chance to open the batting for England in India. He did not quite grab his chance with both hands, but he did play quite solidly throughout and should open again in New Zealand.

Jonathan Trott – 5
It was only an okay year for Trott; he never really played poorly and had a very good innings in Galle. But at the same time he seldom seemed to really click, at least until the excellent 143 he made to help secure a draw in Nagpur.

Kevin Pietersen – 7
On the field it was a great year for Pietersen as he made three excellent centuries, but it was rather more rocky off the field. He came around though and then played the best crafted innings of his career to help put England in a winning position in Calcutta.

Ian Bell – 4
It was a sub-par year for Bell; Saeed Ajmal ran rings around him in the UAE and although Bell batted well after that (he scored six fifties) his mind never quite seemed settled until the last match of the year.

Eoin Morgan – 0
Morgan started the year with a terrible tour of the UAE, scoring only 82 runs in six innings. This wasn’t massively worse than the rest of the team, but coming from a player whose big strength was supposed to be spin bowling it cost him his place in the side. With the number of better options England now have, he should not appear on this list in twelve months’ time.

Jonny Bairstow – 4
Bairstow had a tough start to his career as he was worked over by the West Indies quicks then dropped for the start of the South Africa series. Finally recalled for the Lord’s Test, he made a pair of excellent fifties that helped give England a sniff of victory. He then only got one Test in India and may have fallen behind Joe Root in England’s pecking order.

Ravi Bopara – 0
The reasons why Ravi Bopara should not only not be picked again, but should not have been picked in the first place are fairly well documented here. Suffice to say he did nothing to disprove any of that and seems to have finally fallen completely out of the England picture.

James Taylor – 5
It’s very hard to say anything about James Taylor. He played only two Tests and batted fairly well, being run out by Prior in his last innings. He was then inexplicably left out of the side to tour India in favour of Eoin Morgan. Hopefully he will get another chance, but there are a fair few ahead of him now.

Samit Patel – 3
Patel was picked as a subcontinent specialist in Sri Lanka and India and whilst he never really failed he never did anything of note either and gave no indication that he was a Test player. He was rightly dropped for the last Test.

Joe Root – 7
Root was included in the party to tour India after an excellent season with Yorkshire and although he missed out on the opener’s spot in favour of Compton he did get a chance at six in Nagpur and played an exceptional innings after coming in at a tricky point in the first innings. He is probably the front-runner for the spot in New Zealand, though it’s still not settled.

Matt Prior – 9
It’s hard to ask for much more from Prior. He had another almost flawless year with the gloves and batted brilliantly with England often in strife and with the tail. His biggest problem right now is needless run outs.

Stuart Broad – 6
It was a mixed year for Broad; he started out by demolishing Pakistan in the UAE and taking eleven West Indian wickets at Lord’s. But he struggled to find his pace after that and after a middling series against South Africa he had injury problems in India and was dropped after a pair of shocking Tests. He still finished with a creditable forty wickets in eleven Tests.

Tim Bresnan – 2
After coming off a brilliant 2011, Bresnan started this year with elbow surgery that kept him out of the series in the UAE. He was never quite himself after that; his pace was down and he was not swinging the ball as much. His high point was running through the West Indies at Trent Bridge, but by the end of the year he was only picked due to injuries to other bowlers. His batting is down from what it was as well.

Graeme Swann – 9
He was helped by having nine Tests on the subcontinent, but Swann finishes 2012 as England’s leading wicket taker with 58 in 14 Tests. He was a consistent attacking threat for England and even finished the year with a stylish half-century in the first innings at Nagpur.

James Anderson – 9
Anderson had an incredible year as he seems to quite often. He got swing, both conventional and reverse, even on the notoriously unhelpful subcontinent wickets. He instigated top order collapses in all conditions including twice dismissing Kumar Sangakkara first ball and becoming the all time leading wicket taker against Sachin Tendulkar.

Chris Tremlett – 0
Tremlett played one Test in 2012 in which he failed to take a wicket. Subsequent injury and the success of Steven Finn and Graham Onions means he will have a tough time getting back into the team.

Monty Panesar – 7
Panesar came in as England’s second spinner for six of the nine subcontinent Tests and overall did very well. He took eleven wickets on the raging turner in Mumbai and had a some good performances in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the first innings at Calcutta as well. He did have some trouble maintaining it and Swann will not fear for his place.

Steven Finn – 8
Finn only managed to play in five Tests partly due to injury, but in those Tests he bowled with consistent pace and an improved accuracy, taking twenty wickets. If he can stay fit he looks like he will replace Bresnan as England’s third seamer.

Graham Onions – 6
Onions was probably unlucky to only get one Test this year and especially unlucky to have that Test be almost completely washed out. He did take 4-88 in the only bowling innings though and should stay in England’s thoughts for next season.

India 1-2 England review and player marks

Ten months ago I stayed awake through the night and listened in horror as England capitulated against Pakistan’s spinners in Abu Dhabi. The contrast between that and staying up through the night in this series could hardly have been more pronounced.

England played remarkable cricket to win this series. They had a horror start as India piled on the runs in Ahmedabad and then England’s displayed their same problems against spin. To come back from that massive hole and nine wicket defeat was a massive achievement. After that they batted much better (actually they batted much better starting in the second innings at Ahmedabad) but more importantly they outbowled India. England’s spinners comfortably outperformed their Indian counterparts in Mumbai and then James Anderson took over in Calcutta and Nagpur. England’s willingness to adapt, sometimes ruthlessly, was perhaps their most impressive aspect. Stuart Broad had a shocking two Tests and was dropped despite being the vice-captain. England knew they had someone better. The same thing happened with Samit Patel; he did not play terribly, but England decided they had better batsmen to fill that role and Joe Root performed brilliantly.

That came in sharp contrast to India, who now have a lot of questions to answer. India’s selection throughout the series was muddled, their tactics were questionable and their players badly underperformed. They seemed to have watched England struggle to play spin last winter and at Ahmedabad in the first innings and then simply refused to believe over the next Tests that England had improved in that regard. They seemed certain that they were going to win the series and never responded when England started to get he upper hand. Their minds also seemed out of it. They showed some fight, but very seldom at times that were really important. When their chances of winning the series started to slip away in the second innings at Calcutta their entire middle order surrendered and left it to Ashwin to spare the humiliation of an innings defeat. On the fourth evening at Nagpur they lashed out at the batsmen and umpires instead of trying to actually get wickets before coming out the next morning, still with an outside chance to make something of the series, and doing absolutely nothing for five hours until they could shake hands. MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli showed admirable fight and application in their first innings at Nagpur, but it served mostly to highlight the absence of that mentality for the rest of the series.

As important as the tactics and relative mentality of the two sides were, however, England in the end simply outplayed India. Alastair Cook led the way and could seemingly only be denied a ton by dodgy umpiring. But six of the seven batsmen to get more than one Test for England scored a fifty in the series and so did one of the two who got only one Test. Four of them scored a hundred at some point and as a team England scored more than four hundred in three of their five completed innings. India managed to do the same just one time in six innings. Part of that was down to the bowlers; Stuart Broad aside, England’s generally turned in very good performances. They either took wickets or kept the batsmen tied down. India simply never had the same kind of control. Ashwin had a shocking series, Zaheer Khan was so bad he was actually dropped. Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha were the only ones to do much and even they sometimes looked helpless. India did not help themselves with selection though; picking Piyush Chawla for the last Test was mystifying and it was clear well before he was dropped that India had better bowlers than Khan.

England deserved their victory, their first in India for 28 years. My marks for the individual players are as follows (and unlike the Times I don’t think any of them played for Chelsea at the weekend):

England (88/150, average 5.87)
Alastair Cook* – 10
Perfect ten for the captain. To use the old cliché, he led from the front with the bat and would have finished with the highest average fro England were it not for Joe Root getting his runs with only one dismissal. He also led the side well; his tactics were good, his bowling changes were good and he did not let heads drop after the defeat in the first Test. Now if only he could get a coin toss right more often than once every six times…

Nick Compton – 7
It was a good, if unspectacular series for Compton. He batted solidly in the first three Tests and helped England lay an important platform in the first innings of the Mumbai and Calcutta Tests before getting the winning runs in style in the first and keeping his head on the last day of the second. His final average does not do him justice.

Jonathan Trott – 5
Trott had a bit of trouble at the start of the series; he was a little bit scratchy and got out to some good deliveries and some only mediocre deliveries. But he finished strongly with 87 in Calcutta and 143 in Nagpur to see England to Test and series winning scores. His fielding at slip followed a similar pattern; he put down a sitter in the first Test, but took some very good catches later in the series.

Kevin Pietersen – 8
Pietersen was successfully reintegrated into the England side and marked this by attempting to sweep a ball that went on to hit his off stump. But that was the nadir of the series for him; he went on to play the best constructed century I have seen from him on a very difficult wicket in Mumbai and followed up with a pair of solid fifties in Calcutta and Nagpur.

Ian Bell – 5
Much like Trott, Bell had a poor start to the series. He played a horrific shot in Ahmedabad and although he looked in decent touch throughout he got a bit careless at times to get out. He came through in the last Test, however, playing a vital unbeaten hundred to ensure England’s safety.

Joe Root – 8
Root looked like a Test batsman from the first ball of his debut in Nagpur. He came in with England in a bit of trouble and played very mature 73 to see England most of the way to a good total. He will certainly be on the plane to New Zealand.

Matt Prior† – 9
Prior was very solid throughout the series; he had few errors behind the stumps as usual and scored runs at an average of better than fifty. His biggest blemish was the terrible run out that precipitated England’s collapse in Mumbai.

Tim Bresnan – 1
Bresnan only played the first and last Tests and he had an absolute shocker in the first. He was not threatening and had no control. He was a lot better in the second Test, though could not pick up a wicket on the lifeless Nagpur pitch. He did cause problems and keep the scoring down, however, which was about all a bowler could do.

Graeme Swann – 8
Swann was statistically England’s best bowler in this series. He took a team best twenty wickets at a team best 24.75 average. He never had a single standout performance, but he was always a threat to pick up wickets and made the most of the Mumbai track in taking 8-113 in the match.

James Anderson – 9
Swann was statistically England’s best bowler, but Anderson was England’s actual best bowler. He could only keep the runs down in the first Test and had little to do in the second with the spinners bowling, but turned in exceptional performances in the last two Tests. With the pitches still not giving him any assistance he took six wickets in Calcutta and four in the only innings he bowled in Nagpur.

Monty Panesar – 8
Panesar was left out of England’s defeat at Ahmedabad, but recalled for the raging turner at Mumbai. He took his chance as well as eleven wickets in the match. His performances in Calcutta and Nagpur were significantly less impressive, but he was able to bowl long spells that kept the runs down and pressure on.

Jonny Bairstow – 0
Bairstow only played one Test, filling in for Bell at Mumbai, and contributed nine runs to England’s first innings total before playing a terrible shot and then failing to realise that he wasn’t actually out off it. It was a poor innings and he did not get to bat in the second. He’ll have to fight to get his number six spot back in New Zealand.

Samit Patel – 3
Patel played in the first three Tests as and never really did anything wrong. But he never managed to convert any starts of follow up the promise he showed in the warmup matches and was dropped for Joe Root.

Stuart Broad – 0
Broad was appointed vice-captain before the start of the series, but was troubled by a heel injury and bowled utterly appallingly in the first two Tests. He was then dropped for the fit-again Steven Finn and ultimately returned to England for treatment.

Steven Finn – 7
Finn bowled very well in the only Test he played. But two different injuries (the first of which had a recurrence) kept him out of most of the series. It was a blow to England who clearly missed his pace and bounce in the other three Tests.

India (46/150, average 3.07)
Gautam Gambhir – 6
Gambhir had a surprisingly good series for someone who came into it so out of form. He made a nice rearguard fifty as the rest of the side collapsed around him in Mumbai and similarly made a few runs before the implosion at Calcutta. But he never managed to do anything with those starts and also ran out two partners in Calcutta. He’s only a few overs of surprisingly effective rubbish bowling away from being India’s answer to Shane Watson.

Virender Sehwag – 3
Sehwag scored a blistering 117 on the first day of the series, then returned to his usual form making only 136 runs in the next five innings. A lot of this was down to his terrible technique, but he also was run out by Gambhir when he was looking dangerous in Calcutta.

Cheteshwar Pujara – 8
Started the series by looking like Rahul Dravid had in England. He scored an unbeaten double century at Ahmedabd before scoring a fighting 135 in Mumbai to get India to a respectable, if ultimately insufficient, score. He fell off from there (how could he not), but between incorrect decisions and being run out by his partner he still comes out of the series well.

Sachin Tendulkar – 1
Tendulkar’s top score in this series was the 76 made whilst trying to arrest a collapse in Calcutta. That much is quite respectable, but his next highest score in the series was 13 and he failed to get to double figures in six of his eight innings. He looks very much like a fading force and it his not clear what he gains by hanging on any longer.

Virat Kohli – 3
Kohli scored a fantastic century in Nagpur that rescued India from a position of considerable danger. It was a great innings in which he completely abandoned his usual game and just accumulated runs. But he waited until the last innings of the series to do that; in the first three Tests his top score was exactly twenty.

MS Dhoni*† – 1
Dhoni took some responsibility for his side in the last Test and fought hard for his 99. But his tactical deficiencies throughout the series were glaring and his selection muddled. As much as he fought in the last Test, he surrendered just as much in the third Test. He will be lucky to hang on to the captaincy.

Ravindra Jadeja – 1
Jadeja gets a very low score, but only got to bat once and was trapped by a vicious inswinger from Anderson. There’s really not enough there to judge for the long term. His one point comes from the wickets he picked up bowling.

Ravichandran Ashwin – 3
It’s very hard to judge Ashwin in this series. He was meant to be their main spin bowler and a decent bat down the order. But he was utterly innocuous with the ball and took his wickets at over fifty runs apiece. But he still managed to keep his batting average higher than his bowling one with some excellent rearguards. But those all came too late to help his country; he needed to perform with the ball and didn’t.

Piyush Chawla – 2
Chawla somehow took four wickets in England’s first innings despite bowling fairly poorly throughout. He was never threatening in the second innings and actually never should have been picked.

Ishant Sharma – 4
Sharma was India’s best bowler in the last Test and did okay in the third as well. But that was all relative and it was not a pair of Tests he will put on his highlight reel. The nadir was probably dropping an easy return chance from Alastair Cook, but his fielding overall was worse than lazy.

Pragyan Ojha – 6
Ojha was the only Indian bowler to really show up in the series and he finished level with Swann as the lead wicket taker in the series. Those wickets still came at a cost of over thirty apiece, however, as he was often made to toil during England’s long innings in the second and third Tests.

Yuvraj Singh – 1
Yuvraj Singh was apparently selected off a desire for a fairy-tale comeback story and a thought that he would be useful against Kevin Pietersen. But he has never really been Test quality and he showed that again in the first three Tests before being dropped for Nagpur.

Harbhajan Singh – 0
Selected as a third spinner for Mumbai, Harbhajan Singh took only the wickets of two tail-enders and scored 27 runs in what very well might turn out to be his last Test. Certainly he did nothing to suggest that he was still good enough to play Test cricket and did not even get a recall when India played four spinners at Nagpur.

Umaesh Yadav – 7
Yadav looked very good in the one Test in which he played. Unfortunately for India he then picked up an injury and missed the rest of the series. It was a story very similar to that of Steven Finn for England and like Finn India missed him quite a bit.

Zaheer Khan – 0
Khan is another who may very well have played his last Test; he managed just 4-213 in the first three Tests and three of those came in the first Test. For the most part England were happy to hit him around and happy to find him in the field as well; he was distinctly disinclined to pursue balls hit near him.

Nagpur, day two: India 87-4

After India probably shaded the first day of the Nagpur Test England emphatically won the second. England actually found batting a bit easier in the morning. Perhaps India had been a bit demoralised by Matt Prior and Joe Root playing comfortably the night before and perhaps the pitch was just a tad easier. Prior was ultimately out missing a ball that just went on, but Joe Root continued to bat very well until finally getting a bit too impatient and getting out. It was very similar to the dismissal of Pietersen, actually, and by coincidence occurred on exactly the same score. But it was a very good innings by Root and especially given in how much trouble England were. Perhaps most important was how composed he looked for most of it. It leaves a bit of a selection dilemma for the tour of New Zealand. It would be very harsh to drop Root after this, but Jonny Bairstow had an excellent Test at Lord’s at the end of last summer and the pitches in New Zealand will be closer to that. This is also just the one innings from Root. And then there is James Taylor, who should have been in the squad instead of Eoin Morgan. It is a very tricky problem, but fortunately for England one which can be left for another day.

After Prior was out Graeme Swann came up with a nice reminder of how good a batsman he really can be. A lot of the time when he bats we see him come in at ten with only one of the other bowlers for company and he ends up trying to get quick runs before England are bowled out. This time though he had Root at the other end who was settled and Swann played much more sensibly with him. He still played some shots, but he has the talent to do so within reason and today he had the time to get to 56 before he started getting over aggressive and was lbw reverse sweeping. It isn’t the shot one really minds from a tail-ender, and especially not one batting with Jimmy Anderson, but it is not a shot with a good reward to risk ratio and there was really no need to play it at that point. It was a very good innings overall though and Swann’s first fifty since 2009. Hopefully this innings is enough to ensure that he bats a bit higher up the order next time and has a chance to form a proper partnership.

England’s score of 330 looked like a decent one. India have to win this game and batting last I would estimate they need no fewer than four hundred in the first innings. That did not look like it would be easy to get at the start of the innings and now at stumps it looks very unlikely. I suggested yesterday that the success of Ishant Sharma would bode well for Jimmy Anderson and that is exactly what happened. Anderson was not only the best bowler, he was almost unplayable. He took three wickets and the dismissals of Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir were both set up beautifully. He did not have time to set up Virender Sehwag though: the ball that knocked over Sehwag’s middle stump was only the third of the innings. He beat the bat of Virat Kohli a few times as well and looked an almost constant threat during his spell after tea.

Part of the reason Anderson was so threatening though was the bowling of the rest of the attack. England started off attacking, but eventually settled down into the same plan that India had used. Not only did it have the same effect of building the pressure, but England’s spinners also started to find real turn. With Tim Bresnan getting the ball to move about and Swann and Monty Panesar getting the ball to turn and even bounce a bit there was no way for India to really release the pressure without playing some shots. Anderson was bowling better than the other three, but I don’t think he would have had the same success without the pressure being built at the other end as well.

There was also some very good captaincy by Alastair Cook. Tendulkar had looked uncertain against Panesar, but Cook brought Anderson on to bowl instead and it paid off with the fifth ball. It was the ninth time Anderson had dismissed Tendulkar, giving him sole possession of the record for most dismissals of Tendulkar. It will also bring the questions of how long Tendulkar will stay in Test cricket back to the fore. The ball that got him was a good one that nipped back in, but Tendulkar’s footwork was absent and he seemed surprised that the ball kept low despite almost every ball in the match doing the same. It was a great ball, but he played it very poorly and there was a strong sensation as he walked off that it was his penultimate innings. Certainly it ought to be. He is doing neither the team nor himself any favours by hanging on.

England are in control of the Test. The two batsmen at the crease now for India are out of form and looked very uncertain playing out the rest of the day. The next man in is on debut, though he has had a good domestic season, and after that is only Ravichandran Ashwin and the tail. Ashwin has batted well in the series, but it is not a good idea to put one’s hopes on a number eight, even a good one. Even if he does score some runs again it won’t matter if the other batsmen don’t get some first. India can’t afford to only get up to parity; they have to get a first innings lead which means they will have to bat all day tomorrow and then some. It’s not a task they can leave for the number eight, though may be too much even for the recognised batsmen. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility of course, but it’s less likely than the alternative and at the other end of the spectrum England have a chance to effectively put the match to rest with one very good hour in the first half of the day.

Calcutta, day three: England 509-6

Five hundred and nine for six is an excellent score in any scenario. And England are in a commanding position in the Test, leading by 193 with four first innings wickets in hand. But oddly England actually could have been in an even better position and might be a bit disappointed that they aren’t. The scorecard is actually a bit of an odd one. There is only one poor score, that of Ian Bell, but there is also only one century and England actually lost five wickets for 115 runs in thirty overs on either side of tea. With England playing five number elevens in this Test it actually did feel like a very important partnership at the end of the day between Matt Prior and Graeme Swann.

I said yesterday that India needed to pick up their attitude in the field otherwise the match would get completely out of hand and to their credit they did do that. They bowled threatening spells and kept the batsmen cautious for long periods in much the same way England did on the first day. The difference was that England had runs already on the board and two of the most patient batsmen in the world at the crease so the breakthrough did not come until halfway through the afternoon session. But India’s bowling had the effect that when Trott did fall, getting forward to a good ball from Ojha that spun away and took the edge, England had only put on 122 in the day instead of the 150+ they likely had in mind. India never ran through England, but after that the same combination of testing deliveries and batsman error that worked so well for England resulted in another collapse. India’s fielding was never above average, but it finally reverted back to shambolic with a bit under an hour remaining and Prior and Swann were free to add a quickfire 56 to crush India’s hopes of keeping the deficit under two hundred. The fact that India could not keep the intensity up for an entire day is still problematic for them, though after two days in the field it is understandable.

The biggest event of the day was the run out of Alastair Cook. This was what finally gave India some momentum as Cook was looking well set for a double hundred and then some. But he was run out in a bizarre way when he was backing up and leapt to avoid a sharp throw from Virat Kohli which hit the stumps. Although Cook was taking evasive action, the fact that he had not left his ground to do so meant that he was still out. Agonisingly for Cook he had come very close to grounding his bat before pulling away and it was this which cost him. If he had simply let the ball hit him he would no doubt have had two hundred and more to his name, but it looked like an instinct for self preservation took over and cost him. It is worth remembering, however, that he had been dropped already on 17 and then again in the morning when Ishant Sharma put down a very simple chance. It was an unlucky way for Cook to get out, but he had already had plenty of luck.

England would have been hoping to get the lead past two hundred by stumps tonight and ideally be in a position to get it to three hundred around lunchtime tomorrow. They didn’t quite manage the first part (and only came close because Swann and Prior scored so quickly before stumps) and I don’t think another hundred is on the cards either. England have four wickets in hand, but the next three batsmen are Jimmy Anderson, Steven Finn and Monty Panesar. Swann has done well to get to 21* and if he can get a few more with Prior England could still get close to six hundred, but I don’t see the last three surviving all the way to lunch. My guess is that England will be bowled out with a lead between 225 and 260. It will certainly be a very good lead though and India will probably have to bat well into the last day to save the Test regardless of how many England get tomorrow morning. That does not look like it will be easy with the pitch starting to take quite a lot of turn and if England bowl with the same patient but threatening approach tomorrow I think India will struggle keep enough wickets in hand for the last day.

Mumbai Test, day three: India 117-7

It is safe to say that the Mumbai Test will not be drawn. Of course it never really looked like being drawn after the amount it turned on the first day, but there did seem to be a sniff of a chance when Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen were piling on the runs in the morning. They put on over two hundred together and both scored hundreds to tie the English record for most career hundreds with 22. They both made batting look very easy in the morning and in fact Pietersen started to get very aggressive as the innings went on. By the end he was playing and innings much closer to the sort of swashbuckling one for which he was most famous. This did lead to his downfall, but not until he had already scored 186 and given how he had worked up to that aggression I don’t think there can be any real anger at his dismissal. He has played some brilliant innings, but this was the best of his career. Pietersen actually started scoring so quickly that he almost managed to get to his century before Cook did. Ultimately Cook was the first to get to three figures and kept going for some time thereafter before finally nicking one on 122. It really is a staggering pair of innings he has played in difficult circumstances in the last Test and in this one though and it is amazing to see how well the captaincy seems to suit him. Not only did he tie the English century record, he extended his own worldwide record for most matches with a ton to start a captaincy career with his fourth.

England lost two wickets in the morning and easily the most talked about was the departure of Jonny Bairstow on the stroke of lunch. He had played okay after the departure of Cook, but he played a poor shot to a ball that took a leading edge to Gautam Gambhir who bobbled it before securing it in the end. Bairstow walked off, but the ball had actually hit the grille of Gambhir’s helmet after the first bobble, which under the laws is a dead ball and thus Bairstow should have been given not out. But they went off for lunch and it was only at the end of the interval that the ball was confirmed to have hit the helmet of Gambhir. There was some confusion as to whether Bairstow could come back, but eventually it fell to MS Dhoni who understandably declined. It was in many ways a comedy of errors, though Bairstow will not find the funny side. Bairstow played a poor shot that should have resulted in a wicket almost every time. Gambhir effectively dropped it. The umpires both failed to spot that it had hit the helmet or consider the possibility and Bairstow failed to realise the significance of the ball hitting the helmet and walked off without letting the umpires get involved. The umpires certainly should have done better, but this was not really worse than any of the many other errors they have made. If one wants to be a bit strict, Gambhir also should not have appealed for the catch knowing that it hit his helmet. He probably did not know the law any more than Bairstow did, however, (although like Bairstow, he should know the law) so should not be accused of falsely claiming a catch.

England should have got a bigger lead than they did. That sounds a bit greedy with the score as it is, but the match really should not be close. England let India’s tail add a lot of runs and their own tail added almost exactly nothing. An appallingly bad run out of Matt Prior triggered a collapse of four wickets for just seven runs. The bowlers can be forgiven for that, they immediately went about proving just how hard it was to get in on that pitch, but it still looked quite sloppy from England. They ended up with a handy lead of 86, but a comparison of the scores when the fifth wickets fell in each innings shows a lead of 238 for England. Obviously in any pair of innings there will be some variation in the leads, but to let 156 runs slip at the end of the innings is too careless and is something that needs to be addressed particularly with respect to bowling sides out.

The lead was still enough to put scoreboard pressure on India though and although the certainly did not bat well in the second innings, the bowling of Swann and Panesar was something to behold. They were clearly superior to their Indian counterparts and the amount of help they got showed just how good Cook and Pietersen had batted. India will start tomorrow effectively 31-7 in their second innings. All of the batsmen who really caused problems in the first innings are already out and it is just the unlikely figure of Gambhir holding the innings together at all. India won’t need a big lead though to worry England. There have been 31 individual innings so far in the match, but only five of those have gone past thirty. It does appear to be easier going after that, three of those five are hundreds, but it is very clear that it is hard to get in and if India can make England chase more than a hundred then there will be a few nerves. That is still a big if at this point, but it is imperative that England don’t waste time tomorrow morning.

Mumbai Test, day two: England 178-2

The second day of the Mumbai Test was England’s day and it is one of the more important single days of cricket they have won all year. After they let a good position get away yesterday they fought through a frustrating morning to bowl India out for 327 and then proceeded to bat very well and sensibly on a pitch that was clearly still tricky to set themselves up very nicely for tomorrow.

England’s hero with the ball today was Graeme Swann. He took three wickets in the morning and although two of them were tail-enders he also got the important wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara. Pujara had by then batted unbeaten for over a thousand minutes in the series before Swann beat him in the flight and Prior completed the stumping. Monty Panesar did complete five wicket haul by trapping Ravichandran Ashwin as well and finished with 5-129. It was an excellent effort from him on his return to the side. It was a decent morning overall, but it did take a lot longer to finish off India than England would have liked and 327 was considerably more than England would have liked to concede, especially after having India 119-6 yesterday.

The important question was always going to be how England batted though. The pitch did not look as spicy as it had on the first day, but that was no guarantee that England would not fall to pieces of course. But England mostly batted very well today. Alastair Cook simply looks unstoppable at the moment and not only was he generally calm and assured, but he also took the attack to the Indians a bit. He hit a lofted six over long on (the eighth six of his Test career) against one of the spinners and was executing the sweep shot very well. Nick Compton also batted well alongside him, but occasionally got a bit stuck and finally nicked a good delivery to slip. There wasn’t much he could do about it, but that was not the case for Jonathan Trott. He stayed back to a full-length delivery and was trapped utterly plumb in front of middle stump for a duck.

The main attention will probably be given to Kevin Pietersen though. He played one of the best innings I have seen from him after coming in at a tricky time a few minutes before tea with the score 68-2. Unlike in the last Test and unlike what we have seen so many times from Pietersen he did not go after every ball and try to impose himself on the bowlers. Instead he played positively and brought his solid strokeplay to bear whilst not taking insane risks. It was essentially exactly how one would want an attacking batsman to play; he kept the run rate up, but never looked in danger of throwing his wicket away.

There were some very nervy moments for all the batsmen and it is still a spicy pitch. Cook and Pietersen navigated it pretty well, though each had some luck with balls rearing up and one lbw appeal turned down that would have been overturned had DRS been in play. So far on the first two days the morning has been the best time to bowl with seven of the twelve wickets falling before lunch, so with England still behind by 149 it is important that Cook and Pietersen get themselves back in tomorrow and bat for most of the session. With an uncertain five and six in next one could very easily envision England losing four wickets in the morning session tomorrow and falling behind in the match again. It will also be an important session for Cook who needs just 13 more runs to go level with Boycott, Hammond and Cowdrey for the most Test tons by an Englishman.

England’s selection was correct

After a tough first day of the Test for England there has been a lot of suggestions that England picked the wrong side. England selected three seamers with Graeme Swann the lone specialist spinner. Samit Patel is in the side too, but mostly for his batting and he is not a real attacking option. The seamers struggled badly and did not take a wicket whilst Swann was brilliant for his four-fer suggesting that England should have played two spinners. The notion is that Monty Panesar should have come in for Tim Bresnan who had a terrible day. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. Certainly England selected the best possible team at the toss and I would say that even with hindsight the calls for Panesar are rather misplaced.

I’ve gone over the stats about English spinners in India before, but the heart of the matter bears repeating: English seamers are better than English spinners in India. English seamers have more wickets at a better average and better individual performances in India than their spin colleagues. Yes Indian pitches are spin friendly, but England’s best weapon has historically been seam. That is the general point in favour of three seamers. But there are also the individuals to consider and it is worth noting that Swann and Panesar do not bowl well together. This is the eighth time they have played together in a Test and England have won none of the other seven whilst losing four.

A large part of the reason for that is that they are never both successful. When Swann has a good match Monty has a poor one and vice versa. (Or in some cases they both have been poor.) This makes a bit of sense because Swann and Panesar are very different bowlers. Swann tends to toss it up and spin the ball more whilst Panesar bowls flatter and darts it around. Sometimes one will be favoured and sometimes the other (usually Swann) but they never have both done well. It’s all well and good to say it is a spinning track and England should play two spinners, but it’s a bit like saying that Eoin Morgan should do well against spin: it looks good in theory, but it has been tried and simply does not work.

There’s also the fact that Monty also does not have a very good record in India at all. He has played five Tests there and taken five wickets at an average of almost 56. And although he looked a better bowler in the UAE it was because the pitches suited him. He was back to the same inefficacy in Sri Lanka. That’s not to say that it is impossible for him to do better this time, but that he needs to show that he can before he is picked. That would have to be in the warmups and Bresnan comfortably outbowled him in those matches.

The selectors do not have a crystal ball; they can only go on the data provided. The data show that English seamers do better in India than English spinners, that in Asia Monty has only ever done well in the UAE where his darts are more effective and that Bresnan was taking wickets in India in the warmups and Monty was not. They made exactly the right call based on the evidence they had and even Bresnan’s failure on the first day only shows that Graham Onions would have been a better bet. There is nothing to suggest that playing Monty would have improved England’s chances.

England’s mystery spin problem?

ESPN Cricinfo today published the results of an ‘investigation’ revealing that England use different methods to test the legality of bowling actions than the ICC. The report suggested that this was holding back the development of England’s own ‘mystery’ spinner and that contributed to England’s struggles in the subcontinent over the winter. But that’s a bit of an exaggeration and I think that England are well advised to keep strict restrictions on bowling actions.

The main problem with the suggestion that England cannot play mystery spin because there are no county mystery spinners is that England’s problem is actually not mystery spin, it’s just spin. England badly struggled in the UAE against Saeed Ajmal with many of the batsmen struggling to pick him. But there are two things to remember: the first is that most teams have struggled against Ajmal; he was the lead wicket taker in the 2011 calendar year. The second is that England’s problems are in no way limited to just the ‘mystery’ spin of Ajmal. England also struggled badly against Abdur Rehman in the Pakistan series (19 wickets at 16.73) and then against Rangana Herath in Sri Lanka (19 wickets at 17.94). Both are slow left arm spinners and although Herath did once have a ‘mystery’ delivery it was conventional turn that did for England in Sri Lanka. In fact, the most recent ‘mystery’ spinner England played was the much hyped Sunil Narine who was immediately picked and got hit around the park. He did not even manage to fool Steven Finn. Clearly England’s problem is not then related to ‘mystery’ is is just related to spin and mystery or not they have a problem with it in the subcontinent and little trouble elsewhere.

It is also not true to suggest that England would be better off developing a mystery spinner of their own. Graeme Swann has shown how successful a true off-spinner can be and Ajantha Mendis has shown that simply having variations is not enough to be successful. It is quite right that England have not altered their testing methods to encourage the development of mystery spinners for the sake thereof; there is very little if anything to be gained and it’s certainly not worth compromising what are very good standards set by England. The relaxation of the international standards ought only ever to have applied to bowlers like Murali who physically cannot straighten their elbows; applying it to everyone makes the regulation needlessly complex and difficult to apply. I would be very uneasy if England were to field a bowler with a questionable action and questionable delivery and would also prefer that the international regulations were returned to their original state. In the meantime England should continue to strictly apply their testing methods and standards.

England in the T20WC

England had a dead rubber T20 World Cup match yesterday against India. It’s just as well for England that there was nothing riding on it as it didn’t go as well as one would have liked. England conceded too many with the ball and then looked less than helpless with the bat en route to a comprehensive defeat. The main problem when England were batting was their old nemesis: spin. It wasn’t even good spin, but England still looked helpless in reading it and collapsed quite farcically. There have been several predictable statements about the implications of the collapse and whilst it is bad I think there are only a few things one can take from this match.

The first is nothing to do with the batting and instead relates to England’s failed tactic with the ball. They decided the best way to go after India was with four seamers and a lot of short stuff. It didn’t work. Bresnan was hit around the park, Dernbach had a disastrous last over (and wasn’t great in the other three) and Broad was never terribly effective. The only bowler to do well was Swann, the lone spinner, who took 1-17 off his four overs. It was a dead rubber, so some experimentation was understandable. But England must take note that it didn’t work. Whilst that wasn’t the reason they lost, chasing a large total never helps the batsmen either.

Stuart Broad is still not convincing as a T20 captain. (Or any captain, actually, but this is the only format in which we’ve seen him.) Admittedly it’s harder to judge captaincy in so short a format, but he does not really seem to be on top of matters. From what we saw last year, Graeme Swann looks much better suited and although the ECB did interview several candidates before deciding on Broad I think they might want to reconsider at some point.

Whilst there is no doubting that England do have a big problem against spin, it is important to remember that such things do happen in T20s. At the end of last summer, England collapsed in a very similar manner against the West Indies at the Oval and lost a match they probably ought to have won. No one said anything about there being a fatal weakness that would haunt them in Tests then and rightly so. There are similarities, but the style of play is overall so different that I think it is very hard to draw long-term conclusions from one T20 innings. Again, England do have a problem against spin. But we knew this from watching them in the UAE and Tests against Sri Lanka, not watching a single T20 innings.

Looking at the next round of the tournament, for which England qualified after their first match, they will still have a lot of confidence in getting to the knockouts. Their group contains the West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand and they only need to finish in the top two to the semi-finals. They will want an improved performance before then, but they certainly can do so. They’ve actually done rather better in this group stage than they did two years ago when they won. Of course, this all assumes the rain stays away. Given the forecast, that might be optimistic and we might see some ridiculous rain shortened results.