Lord’s, day three: England 180-6

It was finally England’s day at Lord’s and it was so close to being decisively England’s day. England at one point led by 184 runs with eight wickets in hand, but finished it effectively 205-6 and need Ian Bell to bat well with the tail tomorrow.

Right up to the last half an hour, however, everything had been going England’s way. England started the day by getting Brendan McCullum in the first over and from there the Kiwis collapsed as dramatically as England had done the previous day. New Zealand lost their last six wickets for just 52 runs and their last seven for exactly sixty going back to the dismissal of Dean Brownlie last night. As would be expected with those figures, England did bowl better. Stuart Broad in particular was consistently the right length and not coincidentally was consistently threatening. It was he who got the wicket of McCullum, admittedly to an ill-advised swipe outside off. The bowling figures would suggest that Steven Finn also improved dramatically, but his was more a case of it being better to be lucky than good. He was still too short; a pitch map late in the innings showed no balls pitched full of a length. Broad was comfortably the better bowler of the two, but Finn managed to mop up the tail.

The standout performer with the ball was James Anderson, however. He got a much-deserved bit of luck when Kane Williamson strangled one down leg, but picked up his five-fer with an unplayable delivery to Bruce Martin. He finished with staggering figures of 24-11-47-5. His eleven maidens were four more than the rest of the attack managed combined. He now has 303 Test wickets and has a chance to go past Fred Trueman when he bowls in the second innings.

England very nearly managed to bat New Zealand out of the game in the evening session. There was a wobble before tea when Alastair Cook and Nick Compton were both out with the score on 36, but Jonathan Trott and Joe Root batted superbly the blunt the New Zealand attack and build the lead. In a match where only Ross Taylor had looked comfortable for the first two and a half days, it was a fantastic performance. It was so close to putting New Zealand out of the match, though it may yet prove to have been enough.

Tim Southee deserves a lot of credit for continuing to bowl testing deliveries even when his cause seemed lost. He did for New Zealand much what Anderson did for England. But England will be a touch concerned with how softly the four wickets went down before stumps. Root was a bit lazy with a defensive shot and edged the ball onto the stumps, then Bairstow got into a bit of a tangle trying to play an admittedly good delivery. Matt Prior continued a shocking game by tamely pulling a ball straight to square leg and Trott’s resistance was ended when he tried to drive a ball that was spinning back into him. In every case the New Zealanders bowled well, but England were just a bit too casual.

England’s lead is at 205 at stumps, so they are still in a good position. Batting has seldom been easy in this match and the ball is turning and bouncing very sharply already. Anderson and Broad can reasonably expect the ball to continue swing in the fourth innings and Swann will be able to turn it out of the footholes created by the New Zealand left-armers. Williamson showed that the turn from there is very sharp and there is some bounce to go with it. England are 27 runs away from setting New Zealand the highest score of the match to win and certainly anything more than 250 will be very tricky. But New Zealand do have an opening now and the match is far from over. The key tomorrow morning will probably be Ian Bell. He was ill for most of today and he will have to bat with the tail tomorrow. He needs to get some runs as England cannot expect much from the tailenders.

Lord’s, day one: England 160-4

The Test summer has finally started! New Zealand are probably on top after a very interesting day of cricket. Neither side really dominated and the day was primarily one of attrition; New Zealand were not overly threatening for most of it, but it was very hard for England to score runs and New Zealand took wickets at important moments twice.

England’s slow scoring (exactly two an over) did prompt some criticism, but there was very little that they could do given the conditions. The pitch was flat, but on the slow side and the outfield was very slow making scoring difficult. New Zealand bowled well for the most part; they were only directly threatening for about an hour after lunch, but they were seldom wayward and generally put the batsmen under pressure. The ball swung for the first half of the day and England had to focus on seeing off the worst of the conditions; they could not try to increase the scoring rate without taking undue risks. Scoring at three an over was simply not feasible today and given that fact, England’s approach was very good. They worked hard to keep wickets in hand and to try to set themselves up for the rest of the Test. The conditions were actually not dissimilar to those England encountered on the first day in Dunedin a few months ago; there England did not reign themselves in and their subsequent collapse almost cost them the Test. They showed today that they learnt from that and have given themselves a chance to put up a decent score tomorrow.

The crucial moment of the day was when Jonathan Trott was out just before tea. It was a wicket against the run of play; England had done very well to get through a difficult period after lunch with only two wickets gone and Trott and Ian Bell were settling in and starting to score runs more freely. But an excellent delivery from Trent Boult forced Trott to play before taking the edge which was very well caught by a diving third slip. This forced England back onto the defensive with the new batsman coming in just before the tea interval and they then had to spend the better part of another hour consolidating again. Without that wicket, England would have had a chance to start dominating proceedings in the evening session and would have likely been on top at stumps and possibly in a very strong position.

The wicket of Ian Bell was also an important one, but unlike Trott it was a gift to New Zealand. Bell had worked very hard after coming in just after lunch in difficult conditions and by what would prove to be the penultimate over before stumps (actually the 79th in the day) he had ground out 31 off 133 deliveries. But he lost his patience and hung his bat rather tamely at a ball well wide of off stump. There was no need at all to play at it and it turned the game from being slightly in England’s favour to being more strongly in New Zealand’s favour. It was easily the most frustrating moment of the day as Bell threw away a session and a half of very good work.

Tomorrow should also be an interesting day. The second new ball will be due immediately and England have a new batsman at the crease in Jonny Bairstow. England also have two very inexperienced batsmen at the crease, though Joe Root has been in excellent form for Yorkshire and the Lions so far. They will need to consolidate more in the morning and must stick together and put on a decent partnership. Matt Prior is the next man in and if he can come to with wicket with England in a decent position then he can start to transfer the pressure over to New Zealand. It is hard to know how Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad will fare, but they will attack as well and it is important that England are in a position of comfort when they do so. The pitch itself looks like one on which a decent score is possible, but the overhead conditions may yet turn the match into a low scoring affair so it is hard to say what sort of score England need to be competitive. It is highly unlikely that anything under 325 will do, however, and that is still some way off.

New Zealand 0-0 England player marks

England barely managed to avoid a series defeat in New Zealand for the first time in 29 years by clinging on to a draw in the last Test. Whilst it was not a good result for England, it was a good series with New Zealand making a mockery of their number eight ranking. One of the notable aspects of the series was that New Zealand named an unchanged side in all three Tests and England were only prevented from doing the same by an injury to Kevin Pietersen. My full series review has already gone up and my marks out of ten for the 23 players to contest the series are as follows:

New Zealand
Hamish Rutherford – 6
Rutherford started the series and his career with a brilliant knock of 171 that put New Zealand in charge of the Dunedin Test. After that, however, he was restricted to just 75 runs in his next four innings. He has still made sure that New Zealand have a coherent opening partnership for the near future.

Peter Fulton – 7
Fulton had a broadly similar series as Rutherford, but in reverse. he scraped by with the bat at the start of the series before scoring a pair of centuries in the last Test, the second coming with New Zealand having been reduced to 8-3. It was certainly a successful return to the side overall.

Kane Williamson – 5
It was a consistently decent series for Williamson, but little more. In five innings he made four scores over twenty and just one over sixty (and none over one hundred). His unbeaten 55 at the Basin Reserve was instrumental in New Zealand saving that Test and he formed a good partnership with Fulton on the first day at Eden Park, but he never played a really decisive innings. He did, despite some questions about his action, finish at the top of the series bowling averages with six wickets for ninety runs.

Ross Taylor – 2
After playing very well in 2012, Taylor struggled badly on his return to the side after the captaincy fallout. The 41* he made batting for the rain at Wellington was important, but his other four innings were quite poor.

Dean Brownlie – 3
Brownlie only got three innings in the series and although he did not have any truly low scores he never made more than 36. He always looked vaguely out of his depth and not quite ‘in’. His dismissal was part of a larger collapse all three times.

Brendan McCullum* – 9
It was a very good series for McCullum, his second as captain, the only thing lacking was a win. With the bat he came to his team’s rescue twice, either stopping or slowing down a collapse and then he took England’s bowling apart on the penultimate day of the series. He showed good attacking intent with his field settings and was comfortably the best captain of the two. He might rue not enforcing the follow-on in the last Test, however.

BJ Watling† – 4
It was not a terrible series for Watling, he did everything asked of him behind the stumps and occasionally made some useful runs down the order. His best innings came at Wellington where he made 60 as New Zealand very nearly saved the follow-on. He did not have a standout series either, however.

Tim Southee – 3
Although he was coming off a very good winter, Southee struggled in this series, taking only six wickets in the three Tests at a cost of over fifty apiece. Five of those six wickets came in the last Test, the only time he looked at all threatening.

Bruce Martin – 4
Martin was rather fortunate to take four wickets in the first innings of the series as England were very charitable. He bowled better in the rest of the series, but his returns actually dropped off and the fact that he took no wickets in the last Test was costly.

Neil Wagner – 7
Wagner was the surprise of the series for New Zealand. He was not even supposed to play, but got a chance after Doug Bracewell cut his foot before the first Test. Wagner responded with 4-42 in the first innings of the series and finished the series as the leading wicket taker on both sides with twelve.

Trent Boult – 8
Although Wagner was the surprise of the series, Boult probably made the biggest impact. He took eleven wickets at less than thirty, but six of those were in the first innings at Eden Park where he swung the ball both ways and was the main reason England were bowled out for only 204.

Alastair Cook* – 3
It was a disappointing series for the England captain. Not only was a 0-0 far from the desired result, he left a lot to be desired with his handling of the team and his form suffered, at least by his lofty standards. He did play an excellent hundred to help ensure a draw at Dunedin, but his other four innings yielded just 74 runs.

Nick Compton – 7
Compton came into the series with questions, albeit rather ridiculous ones, over his place in the side and he got off to a dreadful start with a four-ball duck. But he followed that up with excellent back-to-back centuries and has secured his place for the first Ashes Test.

Jonathan Trott – 8
Trott was one of the few England batsmen to have a very good series in New Zealand. He tried to hold the innings together in Dunedin as he top-scored with 45, before scoring 52 and 121 in his next two innings. He fell off a bit in the third Test, wasting a review in the first innings and throwing his wicket away in the second. Some of his critics might also be surprised to note that he finished the series with the best strike rate of any member of England’s top six. Surprisingly, he also topped England’s bowling averages with one wicket for 27.

Kevin Pietersen – 3
It was a lacklustre series for Pietersen. He was troubled by a knee injury throughout and was forced to miss the last Test. He only managed 85 runs in three innings in the first two, though the 73 he made in Wellington was one of his better innings.

Ian Bell – 4
On paper it was not a great series for Bell; he managed only 158 runs at an average of 38. He was definitely short of his best overall, but those figures do not do justice to the effort he put in to help England save the Test and the series at Auckland. He scored ‘only’ 75 runs, but off a mammoth 271 deliveries before finally succumbing to a loose shot on the stroke of tea.

Joe Root – 2
Root was built up by the media before the series and so was probably always going to fall short in some way. But 88 runs in five innings was much more dramatic than anyone would have expected. Not only is he not about to replace Compton at the top of the order, his own place at six is not secure.

Matt Prior† – 10
England could not possibly have asked any more from Prior than what he delivered. He went past fifty three times in five innings, including his match saving 110* at Auckland. He also made sure that England got a decent score after wobbling in Wellington and throughout the series did his usual sterling job with the gloves.

Stuart Broad – 7
After a very poor and injury-hampered series in India, Broad came back very well in this series with eleven wickets, the best by an England bowler, including 6-51 as England made New Zealand follow-on in Wellington. After looking miserable with the bat for his first three innings, he also played a stunning innings of six off 77 deliveries as England barely hung on in Auckland.

Steven Finn – 5
Finn struggled through much of the series as he appeared to have trouble adjusting to his new run up and was noticeably down on pace. He finally managed to find a troubling length in Auckland and took six wickets in the first innings as England tried to keep New Zealand to a reasonable score. His main contribution was actually with the bat as he scored a fifty as nightwatchman in the first Test.

James Anderson – 4
Especially by Anderson’s lofty standards, this was a poor series. He struggled to get the ball to consistently swing and like most of the seamers bowled consistently too short. He still ended up with ten wickets, but in generally uninspiring fashion.

Monty Panesar – 3
Panesar only played in this series because Swann was ruled out at the last second with his chronic elbow injury. He will be remembered in this series for his contribution with the bat. He and Prior saw out the last few overs in Auckland and his struggle to make his ground after a tight single may be the iconic image of that Test. It should not disguise the fact that he did next to nothing with the ball, however, and may find himself down the pecking order come the summer.

Jonny Bairstow – 0
Bairstow may be the most unfortunate man on the tour. He came into the last Test as Pietersen’s replacement having not played in the only warmup and thus having not played any first-class cricket since being in the same situation in the second Test in India. He can hardly be faulted for making only nine runs in two innings.

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 one: England 199-5

India are probably on top after a very interesting first day of cricket. Certainly they have played much better today than we saw for most of the last two Tests; they had a clear plan when bowling and some much sharper fielding kept England tied down. But they do appear to have missed a trick with the selection; their most dangerous bowler all day was Ishant Sharma who bowled quite well at the start of the day in particular. But he is their only seamer and they have four spinners. It is hard to say that it has failed given the position in which England find themselves, but one gets the impression that India might be in an even better position if they had backed their seamers more. They did not even give Sharma the second new ball right away.

England’s score looks worse than it actually is, however. The pitch is very slow and it is very hard to score runs. India had a very defensive field all day and they did an excellent job of keeping England tied down and with the variable bounce on offer it was very dangerous to try to break the shackles. It also meant that it was hard for new batsmen to come in and we saw a couple of collapses because of this. It is actually a very poor Test pitch; there is nothing wrong with turners and there is nothing wrong with giving something to the bowlers in any country, even quite a lot to the bowlers, but this had nothing for the bowlers and nothing for the batsmen. It was just slow and low and will probably get even worse as the match progresses.

But although England’s position looks worse than it is, it is still not a good one. Of the five wickets to go down at least four of them were avoidable. The one that was not was Alastair Cook; he got an absolutely shocking lbw decision on a ball that struck him outside the line of off stump and was actually going even further away from the stumps. It was possibly (possibly not definitely) the worst decision I’ve seen so far in this series and that is saying quite a bit. It is yet another example that DRS, even with its flaws both real and imagined, is preferable to having an umpire standing alone. There was a suggestion that Jonathan Trott should have been out a couple of overs before to the same umpire, but the ball actually struck him just fractionally outside the line of off stump and was correctly given not out. The umpire appears to have ‘made up’ for a decision that he got correct in the first place and it could really hurt England on a pitch that would have suited Cook’s patience.

Of the other dismissals, Nick Compton’s early dismissal is borderline. He played at a ball he could have left, but it was in the corridor of uncertainty and bounced a lot more than the previous delivery. It was good bowling as much as it was bad batting. Jonathan Trott grafted hard for 44 before losing his concentration and his off stump. It was a poor bit of batting, but that is the sort of dismissal that becomes more likely on this pitch. Scoring is so slow that any lapse in concentration is magnified. Kevin Pietersen was out in a similar manner; he grafted past tea before losing his patience and slapping a catch to mid-wicket. It was an innings of the sort of ‘new KP’ we saw in Mumbai and to an extent in Calcutta, the KP that can actually construct an innings by playing sensibly for a time and then upping the rate, finished by a return of the classic impatient Pietersen. It is at least a start though and if Pietersen can continue to bat properly after he leaves India his average will end up closer to where it probably ought to be instead of below fifty as it has been.

Ian Bell’s dismissal was the worst. It wasn’t stupid, but it was careless. He pushed tamely at an utterly innocuous delivery outside off and just pushed it straight into the hands of short extra cover. It was the first ball he had faced from Piyush Chawla, but it wasn’t anything to do with the spin. He didn’t misread the delivery in any way; he actually middled it. It was just lazy and it could have happened to any bowler. It’s that which has really been the problem for Bell recently. He has not played poorly by any stretch; he made runs pretty consistently over the summer and even in this series has not looked in poor form at all. He has got in more often than not this year and whilst he has been unlucky at times not to get a hundred (he was stranded by rain and by England winning) he has also got careless and has got himself out between fifty and a hundred no fewer than four times. He needs to find a way to stop doing this because although he should not be dropped in the near future there is an increasing amount of competition for middle order spots.

It is hard to judge what a good first innings score is on this pitch. As much as England wobbled in the afternoon, they have had two good partnerships: Pietersen and Trott and then Matt Prior and Joe Root have both been much more settled and have accepted that they cannot score quickly. It shows how comfortable the latter pair were that by the end of the day India were trying not to bowl any more overs despite needing to win the Test! In a way it is similar to what we saw at Mumbai when India scraped past three hundred and it looked like a very good score before England easily went past it; we won’t really be able to judge this pitch until India have had a bat. There are no demons in the pitch, but nor are there runs and England do still have some advantages in reserve. Sharma got reverse swing very early today and Anderson will be a threat if he can do the same. The pitch will also probably deteriorate a lot at the match progresses and it may be very hard to bat last. It may become a battle of patience and if that happens I think one will have to back England. But that is a long way off as is England’s desired score of over three hundred. They need Prior and Root to get themselves in tomorrow morning and ideally get enough to render the discussion of three hundred irrelevant.

Nagpur Test preview

Of the two teams who will contend the Nagpur Test at this time tomorrow, one will be a lot happier than the other. England go into the Test on the back of two comfortable wins which retained the Pataudi Trophy. They need only a draw to secure the series, but a result seems a lot more likely. There is a lot less information on the pitch than there was before the Calcutta Test, but given how much of the information on the Calcutta Test was inaccurate that may be a good thing. Most likely it will be a result wicket with India needing to win to level the series, but it might be closer to the sort of result wicket we saw in Calcutta than Mumbai.

The type of wicket has not mattered much in the first three Tests, however. In all three cases one team has comprehensively outplayed the other. After the batting collapse to which we had become accustomed in Ahmedabad, England have looked much the better side and it has forced India into a pair of changes for the last Test. Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan have both been dropped and been replaced by Ravindra Jadeja and Parvinder Awana respectively. It is hard to blame India for deciding to ring the changes after two below par performances on the trot, but their problems go a lot deeper than those two players. Jadeja looks like a step up from Singh, if nothing else his recent triple centuries show that he does have the wherewithal to occupy the crease, something that has been conspicuous by its absence from a lot of the Indian middle order. Awana has also had a good domestic season, but he actually played against England once already. He was part of the India A side who England faced at the start of the tour and took 0-60 off twelve overs, the same figures that got Stuart Broad dropped for the Calcutta Test.

I expect India will have only those two changes to the XI that played in Calcutta, but there have been demands for many more and there is still the chance that Ravichandran Ashwin will miss out now that Piyush Chawla has been added to the squad. Despite being India’s lone resistance with the bat in the last Test, he is primarily a bowler and had a terrible match, and indeed series, with the ball. With India needing to win the Test and therefore needing to take wickets I would suggest that they drop him except for the fact that Chawla does not like being any sort of improvement; he has a first class average this year of almost fifty.

England, by contrast, can justifiably select the same XI as they did in Calcutta. I still want a fifth bowler and once again there were periods of the last Test when four bowlers simply did not look like enough, but that is very unlikely to happen and in any case the XI who played in Calcutta did an excellent job. England will not have been happy to lose three quick wickets in the second innings, but it did at least give Ian Bell some time at the crease and he made the most of it. He looked utterly fluent in steadying the ship and guiding England to victory. Despite some suggestions after the first innings, there should be no suggestion of dropping him.

India could certainly come back to level the series in Nagpur. They have failed to make the most of winning the toss twice in a row, but if they win the toss again and do make the most of it for once then England will be in some trouble. England are probably favourites; those are both big ‘ifs’, of course, and I don’t think England will look even at a changed Indian XI with a lot of fear. We also don’t yet know whether India will even be up for the fight. And if England win the toss and bat sensibly again then India are all but out of the series. But England must maintain their intensity in the way they did at Sydney during the last Ashes. Now is not the time to let things slip.

Calcutta Test preview

The Calcutta Test starts on Wednesday (or late on Tuesday here) with each side looking to secure at least a share of the spoils for the series. After all the fuss about the pitch and groundstaff, it sounds like the wicket will be similar to the one from the Mumbai Test. It is another used one and should have plenty of bounce and turn like the one at Mumbai did. I expect this will suit England; Dhoni may have correctly identified a weakness against good spin bowling, but his spinners will need to bowl a lot better than they did at Mumbai to exploit that weakness and even then they have the problem that England’s spinners are still better. The pitch also means that whilst it is still probably going to be a good toss to win, it will not be vital.

The other good news for England is that Steven Finn is fit and Ian Bell is back from his paternity leave so they can field an improved XI to the one who won in Mumbai. Finn looks guaranteed a place in the XI; England badly missed him in the first Test and although it got lost in the second innings romp by the spinners he was missed in Mumbai too. England looked definitely short a bowler in the first innings and Stuart Broad’s inability to keep things tight was a big part of that. Assuming England will play four bowlers again there is very little else they could do but drop Broad to make way for Finn. But with Samit Patel only bowling four overs in Mumbai he ought to be the one to make way with England playing five bowlers. That way if Broad regains his form he will still play a role, but if he does not England still have the resources to cover him with the bowling and with very little impact on the batting. (Broad’s career average is actually higher than Patel’s and even taking form and Patel’s bad luck into account I don’t think there is a large difference between the two.)

Bell should also come straight back into the side, but there is a bit more question around that. His first innings dismissal in Ahmedabad was terrible and although Jonny Bairstow did play a poor shot for his dismissal in Mumbai he was unlucky to be given out. But I would have Bell return; he looked more convincing in his second innings than Bairstow ever did in Mumbai and he is the overall better batsman in any case. Although I would have Bairstow at six in New Zealand (unless something radically changes between now and then), the only way he should play in Calcutta is if England drop Patel, but decide not to go with five bowlers. There’s probably a better chance of that happening than of them actually going with five bowlers, but I think Patel has shown a bit more with the bat than Bairstow did (admittedly in only one innings) and if he is to be dropped it should be for a bowler.

The worry for England with respect to the batting is that they still only had two players really fire in Mumbai. A lot of that was admittedly to do with the pitch, India also had just two scores over thirty in their first innings, but it does bring up the worry that if Alastair Cook fails this time England might be in trouble. Kevin Pietersen played the best crafted innings I have seen from him in Mumbai, but it’s impossible to know if that Pietersen or the Pietersen who panicked twice against Pragyan Ojha will show up in Calcutta. What England will really be hoping is that this time Jonathan Trott and/or Ian Bell can get themselves in and play a big score. As well as the team did in Mumbai, they do need someone to step up and take some of the burden off Cook and Pietersen.

Especially with Finn back fit and looking like he will be tough to play plus the increase in confidence coming from the Mumbai victory I would say England are probably just favourites in Calcutta. But I would have said India were favourites in Mumbai and we saw how that turned out. England look to have comfortably enough bowling to keep India down to a reasonable score, the question will be if the batsmen can do as well or better than they did in Mumbai. Without that it will just be a replay of the UAE.

My XI for the Calcutta Test: Cook*, Compton, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior†, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Finn, Panesar

Ahmedabad day four: England 340-5

There will be a fifth day of the first India v England Test. At the start of today’s play I did not think there would be and halfway through today’s play I though there definitely not be a fifth day. But Alastair Cook has played an innings of legend. That’s not an exaggeration; he is 168 not out over night having spent a mammoth eight hours and 22 minutes at the crease so far and having been on the field for all of the first two days. During the course of today he became the first player to ever score a hundred in his first three innings as Test captain and also passed the English record for longest innings following-on. There is no way to overemphasise his innings; he has kept England alive in this Test when they really have no right to be. He can now also draw serious comparison to Mike Atherton and the epic ten hour 43 minute defiance at Johannesburg; there is still another two and some hours to go to match that and India will be a lot fresher in the morning, but the scale is comparable and we will have to see how close he can come.

But an Atherton-esque innings needs a Jack Russell to partner him and Matt Prior has filled that role. Prior came in with England 199-5 after Ian Bell and Samit Patel had gone to successive deliveries and took very little time to get settled in. The only time he really looked nervy was when tea was approaching and he suddenly started trying to sweep every single delivery. But before and after that he showed not only good composure, but a good mix of attack and defence. He kept the scoreboard ticking over without looking troubled whilst his captain was immovable at the other end. Like with Cook and Compton last night it was exactly how England should play and by the time stumps came India were clearly tired and even a bit desperate.

It was a great fightback by England, but of course to fight back they have to have been behind and the first half of the day was, whilst not nearly as bad as the first half of any of the other days, still bad enough that they were 199-5. Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell all got out to good deliveries and all had actually looked okay before then. Bell in particular had been timing the ball beautifully and was much more relaxed than in his brief first stay at the crease. There has been, and will still be, some suggestion that Bell should not get his place in the XI back for the third Test and whilst part of that depends on how Jonny Bairstow (presumably) does as his replacement I think it is a bit harsh on the whole.

To drop Bell now would be tantamount to dropping him for one absolutely terrible decision and if that was England’s philosophy then there would have been no need to reintegrate Kevin Pietersen as he would have been out of the side long ago. Pietersen provided a reminder of that today as well as he tried to sweep a ball of Pragyan Ojha from outside off. He missed and was bowled for only two. It was the second time that Pietersen had got out to Ojha in the Test and the second time he did so to a terrible shot. As much as he swears that he has no problems against left-arm spin, the fact that he so often gets out playing stupid shots to them suggests otherwise.

Poor Samit Patel though was neither out to a good ball (though it wasn’t a bad one) or a stupid shot; he was given out lbw to a ball that he had inside edged onto his pad. It was the second poor decision to go against Patel in this Test and it means that he will look like he fared a lot worse than he did. It is also another example of the importance of DRS. It’s all well and good to say that decisions ‘even out’ (though they certainly don’t even out reliably enough for that to be a good argument against the DRS), but they don’t even out for individual batsmen. What will be recorded for posterity is that Patel scored ten and nought; the fact that he was not out both times will be largely forgot and the fact that Cook and Prior were both reprieved will be of no help to him when arguing about his place in the side.

India are still strong favourites to win. England are only five down, but India will be refreshed tomorrow and England are effectively still 10-5 in the second innings. If the first wicket goes down appreciably before lunch then it will be a long road for England. They won’t write this Test off, of course, but assuming they do go 0-1 down they can still take a tremendous amount of confidence from this second innings. The England from last winter batted in the first innings, but so far in the second England have been utterly competent. Cook and Prior may have saved them, but it is all the top order together who have kept Ravi Ashwin to figures of 0-104 and the spinners as a group to 2-232 from 91 overs. Those sort of figures would have been unfathomable in the UAE. On a fourth day pitch England were never going to go out and score 300-3, but what they have done, Pietersen aside, is bat competently and correctly and they have done as much as any other side would reasonably expect. They can go into the Mumbai Test knowing that they can play spin.

And they also achieved a bit of a bragging rights milestone when they went to 301-5: it was more than India ever made in England in 2011. India’s top score in that series was 300 all out in the first innings at the Oval. England can now truthfully say that they played spin in India better than India played seam in England. I don’t think anyone would have guessed that at teatime yesterday!

Ahmedabad day three: England 111-0

It’s very hard to know what to make of the third day of the first India v England Test. England were appalling for the first two sessions. All of the problems of the past winter re-emerged as they were bowled out for 191 at the stroke of tea and forced to follow-on. England seemed unable to find any sort of middle ground between playing a nervous and ill-fated prod at every delivery and trying to be ‘positive’ and slog everything out of the ground. Ian Bell was the most disappointing. He is such a good player, he has such good technique and can be a genuine world beater. But today he danced down the track to his first ball miscued his slog and was caught at mid-on. It was such an inexplicably poor shot from a player who really should know better and seemed to exemplify all England’s problems this year. After Cook was out for 41 the only resistance was from Prior with a bit of help from the tail-enders. Samit Patel did look okay, but got a dreadful lbw decision.

The question at tea was for how long England might be able to drag the match out and even whether we would have anything to watch tomorrow. Cook and Compton had looked assured in the first innings before Compton got a good ball and the wheels fell off. This time they looked composed and just stayed looking composed. There were two let offs: a very tough dropped catch at slip and an lbw shout against Cook that was inexplicably turned down. But India were the ones who did not want DRS so they can hardly complain. Not that such reasoning deterred MS Dhoni who actually started remonstrating with the umpires very early on and should pay a visit to the match referee sometime tonight. Cook and Compton got through and put on a hundred partnership, a decent feat in their first match batting together and England managed to close on 111-0.

It really was a stunning turnaround; England went from their usual subcontinent horror show to one of their best sessions all year. Despite looking utterly unable to find a suitable middle ground in the way they played spin in the first two sessions in the day they suddenly hit upon an excellent one in the course of twenty minutes at tea. I can not think of a more dramatic change in the fortunes of a batting team between two sessions that I have seen and England must be congratulated for that. Hopefully they can put up a good team total in this innings and then have some confidence going into batting in the next three Tests.

Unfortunately though, having confidence is about all they can hope for as it very much is too late in this Test. England have batted superbly well in this last session, but they did need things to go their way when the batsmen were getting settled and they will need those things to go their way again after a wicket does eventually fall. Not only do they just need luck in the deliveries faced, they need the batsmen to go out with the mentality and plan of Cook and Compton. Trott is in at number three and he could bat long if he gets in, but after that there are not many batsmen who really excel at batting for time. Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell both could play excellent innings if they get in. But Pietersen looks very unlikely to play himself in and focus on rotating the strike and putting bad balls away. Bell might do better, but he has to banish what seem now to be some very nasty mental daemons when batting against spin. Patel looked okay, but his ability to bat long is untested and Matt Prior was also good today but tends to bat with the tail and might not be in a position to settle in for an innings.

The upshot of all that is that once England lose their first wicket or two they will probably lose the next eight much faster. It isn’t guaranteed, of course, but they will really want Cook, Compton and Trott to bat for a long time to have much hope. Even if that happens England face the problem that the first innings performance was so bad that even if they scored at three an over to lunch on day five, almost certainly an unrealistic notion for the reasons above, they would still only set India about 150 to win in two sessions. They would still be almost certain to lose from there. It really would take a miracle for England to get anything out of this Test, but it is the first of four and they need to use the rest of this innings to prepare for the next three. If they can get some form and confidence against spin they will still have a good chance to come back in the series.