India win by eight wickets

India took a 1-0 lead in their four match series against Australia earlier this week, winning the first Test in Chennai by eight wickets. It wasn’t a comprehensive win for India though and there are still things that both sides need to address.

For Australia, the obvious problem was spin bowling. It looked like a concern when they announced their squad and so it proved. The pitch was a very dry, turning surface but Nathan Lyon ended up with just 4-244 in the match and 3-215 in the first innings. On a surface where even Ravichandran Ashwin took 7-103 in the first innings, it was nowhere near good enough. The usual response is that Indian batsmen play spin well and that even Warne struggled in India, but a cursory glance at the figures for England’s spinners just a few months ago shows that such objections are rather outdated. This is where Australia must improve for the second Test, but the problem is that Lyon actually is their best spinner. Even if they want to play a second spinner in Hyderabad that spinner would appear to be Xavier Doherty, a man best known for having a Test bowling average over one hundred. (His exact figures are 3-306, for which he can largely thank Kevin Pietersen.) The only other options are Steve Smith and a pair of uncapped all-rounders who bowl spin. None of them would appear to be improvements, however. This is going to be an ongoing problem for Australia and unless they get more seam friendly wickets they are going to need Lyon to step up in the next three Tests.

India would be well advised not to think that a return to winning ways means that all their problems are solved, however. It was certainly a decent win and one in which they did a lot right. But they were helped by Australia playing poorly and there are issues at which to look. The obvious one is that their openers combined for just 37 runs in the entire match. Gautam Gambhir was dropped before the series started, but his replacement did not do any better and the man (well one of them) who should have been dropped, Virender Sehwag, had another poor Test. The middle order, and in particular MS Dhoni, utterly saved them. Four hundred and twelve of their 572 runs in the first innings were scored by three players and whilst that is far from a disaster it must be a bit disconcerting given that only Virat Kohli is really a long term option. Sachin Tendulkar’s days are numbered and not numbered very high whilst MS Dhoni can not be relied upon to consistently rescue his side. As long as Australia continue to struggle with the bowling this probably won’t be a huge problem for India, but they will be a lot happier if more of their batsmen contribute.

But as obvious as the imbalance in the results produced by their batting order is, their bowling is probably a bigger concern. The pitch in Chennai was a turner and after the result produced there it’s fair to expect the next three to be similar. But the Indian seamers did not take a single wicket in the match and Australia did put up 380 in the first innings. India are relying on the pitches actually turning as much as they want and on Australia not improving enough with the bat to negate this. Both are risky assumptions and the Indian spinners have not shown a lot of menace on pitches that have not been tailored to give them extra help. It would not take much to go wrong for India to find themselves looking at a big total.

There isn’t a lot of time for either side to do much ahead of the second Test. I expect that India will use the result as an excuse to go in unchanged, but Australia surely have to make at least one change and give themselves at least more spin options. It would not surprise me if they made two or three changes, perhaps bringing in both Smith and Doherty plus the usual rotation of a fast bowler.

India drop Gambhir

India announced a 15-man squad for the first two Tests against Australia, apparently taking a leaf out of the tourists Ashes-preparation manual. The notable feature in it though is that Gautam Gambhir has been dropped and will play for India A instead. It’s not too surprising when one considers Gambhir’s overall form; he has not scored a Test century in over three years and even that was against Bangladesh. (Though he had hit two in three innings in Sri Lanka two months prior to that.)

But recently Gambhir has actually fared okay; he was the lone resistance against England in the second innings at Mumbai and went past fifty in the first innings at Calcutta as well. He finished the series with the second highest average of all India’s specialist batsmen, behind only Cheteshwar Pujara. Whilst that alone would not generally be enough to stay the axe, it is a bit surprising in the context of India’s general woes that it should be Gambhir who was dropped ahead of another. In particular, Virender Sehwag has been just as out of form and arguably looked worse against England. Sehwag has morphed into the very definition of a flat-track bully and has no answer to even slightly above average bowling. That doesn’t mean he won’t get runs at home against Australia, their bowling is so mercurial anything could happen, but of the two Indian openers he certainly looks less likely to make a recovery than Gambhir. And that’s just looking at the openers and saying nothing about a certain SR Tendulkar…

The other aspect of note in the squad is that Harbhajan Singh has been recalled as a third spinner, further underlining the lack of depth India have in the bowling at the moment. India tried many different options against England, including four in the Nagpur Test, and they had very little success as a group, even over the entire series. After looking at all those other options, the fact that Singh is still considered to be the third best spinner in India is quite damming. That said, Australia believe their second best spinner to be Xavier Doherty. For a series in India, the lack of quality spin options on both sides is very interesting; we might be in for some high-scoring matches.

This series may be the start of India’s rebuilding and dropping an underperforming batsman is certainly a step forward. But the Indian selectors have made a soft choice as to which batsman and the squad as a whole still leaves a lot to be desired. The series starts in under a fortnight and I suspect that if India don’t make some difficult decisions before then they will find themselves under a lot of pressure to do so shortly thereafter.

Women’s World Cup group permutations

The final round of group matches in the Women’s World Cup are tonight and especially in Group A there is a lot for which to play. Unfortunately, the matches are not being played simultaneously. I criticised the tournament format in my preview and this is another poor decision by the organisers. India and Sri Lanka will now have the benefit of knowing the result of the England v West Indies match before their ends and that should not happen.

Those matches are in the more interesting Group A. Sri Lanka’s shock win over England means that all the teams in the group are level on two points and the only difference at the moment is Net Run Rate. (And in a quirk of statistics, since every team have both bowled and batted exactly 100 overs the NRRs are just the run differentials for each team divided by 100.) The West Indies’ crushing win over Sri Lanka wiped out their heavy defeat to India and then some, putting them top of the table with a NRR of +1.04. They’re followed by India and England on +0.73 and +0.26 respectively and Sri Lanka still sit at the foot of the table on -2.03.

The practical upshot of this is that whichever two teams win tonight are guaranteed to go through and whichever of the two losers has the best NRR will join them in the Super Sixes. All four teams could theoretically go out with a loss and the other result going against them, but the danger is greater for England in Sri Lanka than it is for India and the West Indies. In fact, the only realistic way for Sri Lanka to progress is to beat India. Any loss and their NRR is so bad that they will go out. It’s not, therefore, quite a must-win match for England. But if England don’t win then they will be relying on India in the late match because if India lose they would have to do so by a lot to end up with a worse NRR than England. For the same reason, a win for the West Indies will probably make India safe. The most likely way for them to go out is to lose to Sri Lanka and have the West Indies lose to England by a reasonable margin, though if they lose very heavily to Sri Lanka (by enough to send their NRR under that of England) they could go out even with a West Indies win. It’s quite unlikely though. The West Indies are the safest team at the moment; they would need to lose heavily to England and have India narrowly beaten by Sri Lanka to go out.

The other interesting aspect of the last round of matches in Group A is the points carried forward. If England beat the West Indies and Sri Lanka go out then England will actually carry forward maximum points despite their early defeat. The only other team capable of doing so is Sri Lanka and that is quite unlikely as it would require the West Indies to be eliminated. There is no way for India to advance, however, without having lost to one of the other teams to go through and it is very unlikely that the West Indies could do so either. They would have to beat England narrowly and have India lose very heavily to Sri Lanka to send India out.

In Group B things are much simpler. Australia and New Zealand are already through and the winner of the antipodean clash will carry maximum points forward to the Super Sixes. On form, one would actually expect the White Ferns to win; they have dominated their group matches so far whilst Australia have had minor scares against both of their opponents. But Australia have had the better of the recent head-to-head matches, so it should be a very interesting match.

The other match in the group is probably the more important though; Pakistan and South Africa will play each other for the last spot in the Super Sixes. I said in my preview that I though South Africa would pull off a minor upset and I still think that will be the case, but there is not a lot from which to choose between the sides.

My guess is that we will end up seeing England, the West Indies, India and South Africa join Australia and New Zealand in the next round, but there are some good looking matches and it should be very interesting.

Women’s World Cup preview

The Women’s World Cup gets underway soon in India and it’s so close that the organisers have even deigned to finalise the fixtures. The hosts play the West Indies on Thursday to start the tournament and the following day will see the defending champions England play Sri Lanka. The final is set for 17 February.

The format for this tournament is the same as the one four years ago, which is disappointing because it really is a poor one. The tournament starts with two groups of four and the top three from each carry their points forward to a Super Six stage. The top two teams from the Super Six stage then play each other in the final whilst the third and fourth teams and fifth and sixth teams, instead of just keeping their places from the group, also have a playoff. I never like having two group stages and I really don’t like having the top two teams in a group play each other for the final. I accept the need for a final, but that means there needs to be either an extended set of knockouts or more than one group. If there is only one table then position in that table should determine where a particular team finishes. (I have a similar gripe about the rugby Premiership.)

It is difficult to have only eight teams play a decent length tournament (though there are other teams who could have been invited and thus eased this problem), but there are ways to construct the tournament better without making it absurdly short and even ways to construct it without making it absurdly long. The obvious solution would be to have the teams from the two groups play knockouts against each other. The various permutations of this can lead to a tournament of almost any length and one that would actually make some sense.

But the format is what it is and the ones that were used for the 2012 T20 World Cups or any of the last few Men’s World Cups would suggest that this problem isn’t about to get better. Group A is England’s group and they share it with India, the West Indies and Sri Lanka. Group B then contains Australia, Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand.

I would expect England and India to compete for the top spot in Group A. England have the better record and are probably the better team, but India might just be favourites as they are at home. England had to work hard to beat India in the ODI series in England last summer and it won’t be easy now. But they should both get through the group comfortably; the only question is who will carry forward the more points. I would expect the last spot in the Super Six to go to the West Indies. They actually have the most wins in ODIs in the last two years with 13 (though a worse W/L ratio than England and Australia) and should not have a problem finishing ahead of Sri Lanka. I would imagine they would finish third, but playing at home a year ago they did beat India 2-1 in a three match series, so might push for second.

Group B looks like the weaker of the two groups and should see Australia dominate. They are an excellent side and their biggest opposition is probably New Zealand – a side against whom they have had great success recently. Pakistan do have a winning record recently and are in relatively familiar conditions, but their preparation was badly disrupted and they have not done well against stronger opposition. South Africa are probably favourites to be knocked out of Group B (certainly they are according to the seeding), but they’ve competed a bit more recently and I think they can get through at Pakistan’s expense. I’d be surprised if either challenge even New Zealand though; the White Ferns are a better side than their record indicates. (Playing Australia and England all the time isn’t a recipe for a lot of wins.)

New Zealand, India, South Africa and the West Indies will all have uphill battles to challenge for a spot in the final though; realistically one of them will have to at the very least beat England or Australia and even then would have to win most of their other matches. New Zealand and India are probably the two most likely contenders, but I expect them to play each other for third place as England and Australia meet in another final. Australia have generally had the better of these encounters recently, including grabbing the T20 World Cup almost out from under England’s nose. The two teams will meet in the Super Six stage as well (which will be true of whichever two teams end up in the final) so there will be a chance to assess them head-to-head during the tournament and in these situations the winner is often the side who make the better adjustments. Right now though, I would say Australia are favourites against any opposition in the final. They are playing very well and have a lot of depth and my guess is a second close defeat in a final for England.

India v England ODI preview

England start the final leg of their tour to India this week with a five match ODI series. I don’t tend to pay much attention to pyjama cricket and certainly I won’t be staying up all night (the start of play in my timezone is 00.30 for the first four matches and 21.30 for the last one) to watch them. But there are some interesting aspects.

Pyjama cricket has generally been a strength for India and a weakness for England and especially in India. England’s last three ODI series in India have yielded a combined 16-1 advantage for the home side as well as a tie in a World Cup match. But England go into the series in good ODI form whilst India do not. England beat Pakistan, the West Indies and Australia to love last year before drawing the ODI series against South Africa. It’s not true to say that India have struggled in that time, but their results have been much more mixed. Most recently they lost a home ODI series to Pakistan which I doubt will have gone down well. I don’t think the fact that England lost their first two warmups will indicate much. They failed to win any of the warmups ahead of the successful Test series and when they played an ODI series in India last October they won both warmups before losing badly in the actual series.

I think England are probably marginal favourites for the series; both sides are difficult to predict, but England are in form and confident. What they will need to do is tighten up the bowling; with players being (rightly) rested from the series and Broad injured it means that there is not a lot on which to rely. James Tredwell is a decent spinner and I’d like to see Danny Briggs bowl alongside him. (Actually, I’d prefer to see Simon Kerrigan bowl alongside him, but he isn’t in the squad.) It would be an interesting blend of different styles and vastly different experience. The seam bowling relies on Steven Finn to be fit and effective; none of Jade Dernbach, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Meaker or Chris Woakes really inspire confidence yet. England’s batting looks strong enough, however, that even if India do manage to exploit the weak bowling (and their batting is out-of-form, so they may not) England will probably still be in the game.

I think the series will see at least couple of one-sided affairs in each direction, but will ultimately go down to a 3-2 margin in favour of England. If India can get their batting going, however, we may see a repeat of the last few series.

What next for India? (Part II)

Eleven months ago, after India lost the Adelaide Test and had finished their second 0-4 defeat in six months, I wrote about what they could learn from it and what they should do afterward. Now, after almost a year of keeping their heads in the sand and insisting that away defeats were nothing about which to be concerned they finally lost at home. After reading all the excuses and denials that have been piling up since they lost in England I am not sure that even this will snap them out of their complacency, but it ought to. (And if it doesn’t I am not sure what will.) If India want to get better they need to make changes and quite a few of them.

First up, MS Dhoni needs to be sacked as captain. The attitude of the entire Indian team has been poor for most of the series against England as it was last year when they were on tour. This may not come from Dhoni, but as captain he should be the one stopping it and keeping the side interested. Instead he is often as bad as the rest of them and the result is the sort of capitulations we have seen from India when they get behind. He deserves credit for promoting himself as India collapsed in the Nagpur Test, but before that (especially in Calcutta) he seemed disinterested and when England were batting for a draw he made no effort to attack and force the issue on the last day. His tactics in general have actually been quite poor; amongst other things he never seemed to recognise that England were actually playing his spinners quite well and decided to play four of them in the last Test. The only reason to keep him on is the lack of a suitable replacement and that is a problem. The heir-apparent is Virat Kohli but his temperament in the last Test was hardly that of a captain. But even he would be a step up from Dhoni (who now has only two wins in his last 14 Tests against England, Australia and South Africa) at the moment and India need to make that change immediately. Ideally the captaincy will go to someone like Cheteshwar Pujara in a few years; India need someone sensible.

India’s batting struggled overall this series. There were bright spots and they were up against very good bowling, but ultimately it was a poor performance. At the top of the order Virender Sehwag played only one decent innings and Gautam Gambhir could not convert any of the starts he made. Cheteshwar Pujara batted well at number three, but Sachin Tendulkar, Kohli and Yuvraj Singh all had variously poor series. There are only two who are crying out to be dropped, however: Sehwag has made an entire career out of batting in India, but now he is having difficulty even there. It is hard to believe that Ajinkya Rahane, with a first class average of 62, would not do at least as well and should be given a go if not against Australia then immediately thereafter. The other batsman who needs to go is Sachin Tendulkar. He has already clung on longer than he should have and he simply looks a shadow of the player he once was. His recent stats speak for themselves and as old as he is there is no good to be had for either himself or the team by staying on. Kohli was poor in the series overall, but he showed in the last Test that he could bat properly; he and Pujara look like the young players around whom India should construct their batting.

India’s bowling was arguably what let them down most of all. England have improved against spin, but it is still hardly a strength of theirs, however India struggled to make a major impact on England’s batting after the first innings of the series. Part of the reason for that was Umesh Yadav picking up an injury and missing the last three Tests of the series; he looked quite good in the first Test and India certainly missed him. This is something with which India might have some problems for a while; a lot of teams have injury concerns, but India don’t appear to have enough depth to really negate those problems. Certainly Parvinder Awana ought to have been selected for the last Test, but they don’t appear to have many fast bowlers demanding a run in the side and their spinners were at best average in this series. But how they must not respond to this is to recall Zaheer Khan. He is barely fit at the best of times and he has been distinctly unimpressive recently. There is no need for him to play another Test. Much the same goes for Harbhajan Singh; India definitely have better spinners than him and enough that he need not play again.

India will not go back to being a top side overnight. They are in a very similar position to that in which Australia were a few years ago as their stars aged and retired and they have to recognise that there will be a period of mediocrity. How they respond and build for the future will determine how long that period lasts; they they must recognise sooner rather than later that they cannot keep going off past records and achievements. The sooner they wake up to their current situation the better they will be in the long run.

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 four: England 161-3

The series is almost in England’s grasp. They need only to bat for another three hours or so on the last day to put the match out of India’s reach and guarantee a 2-1 win. India actually helped them a bit with one of the strangest first hours one will ever see to start the fourth day. I said on day three that India should try to build a lead and the other alternative was to hit out and get to parity as quickly as possible. Instead they decided to farm the strike and went at one an over for a time. It was neither getting enough runs to put England under pressure or giving them time to bowl and was only ended when MS Dhoni inexplicably declared four runs in arrears at drinks. India had essentially taken an hour out of a Test they needed to win.

Like day three, most of the excitement today came in the last hour, but there was some interest in the afternoon this time. England batted very slowly through the start of the day, determined to keep wickets in hand. Alastair Cook eventually fell and fell to a decision just as bad as the one which disposed of him in the first innings. Both were from Kumar Dharmasena who did make some good decisions in the match, but the number of utter howlers he has made will ensure it is a match he wants to forget. It would be over-dramatic to say that his errors have ruined the match, but they are just as bad for the game as the terrible pitch. It is not possible to properly construct innings when the umpire is giving random decisions and undermines the credibility of the game.

These problems would be strongly mitigated with DRS, but India refuse to use it and one of the reasons they refuse is that they thinks it does not show respect to the umpires. But apparently no one told the Indian players. Late in the day Jonathan Trott played at one away from his body and the Indians appealed for a catch behind. There was a noise, but Dharmasena gave it not out. The Indians response to this was simply disgraceful. They surrounded Trott and the umpire and Virat Kohli was particularly loud. It was very reminiscent of the antics of Ricky Ponting and Peter Siddle at the MCG in 2010. It was utterly unacceptable behaviour; Kohli should lose a fair bit of his match fee and Dhoni should not get off either. Having DRS would not necessarily prevent scenes like that one, the 2010/11 Ashes of course did have DRS and that was what sent Ponting into his rage, but it does completely undermine the BCCI’s point about respecting the umpires.

After this things started to get ugly. Ravichandran Ashwin made one of the worst Mankading threats to Trott one will see. I have no problem with Mnkading in principle; if the batsman is trying to steal a run the bowler should be able to stop him. But Trott was not trying to steal a run; he was actually following the law perfectly. He did not leave his ground until Ashwin had started his delivery stride. That is the law, as was subsequently pointed out to me the new playing conditions allow a Mankad up until the delivery swing, but Ashwin actually went through his entire delivery motion without releasing the ball before turning around to talk to have a few more words with Trott. The ball was long since dead by this point so it would have been an utterly futile endeavour either way. Ashwin gave an odd justification for this in the press conference; he said that India were upset that Trott had hit a mistake delivery from Jadeja for four earlier in the day. But this holds little to no water; Trott had hit his four a full session, 34 overs, before the threatened Mankad and at the time even the Indians were chuckling! If they were upset about it then they had an odd way of showing it.

One gets the impression that India were letting their frustrations show as the series started to get away from them. They are very close to losing a series on home soil for the first time since 2004 and they are justifiably upset about this. But they have only themselves to blame for their predicament and lashing out at the umpires and opposition is not at all acceptable.

Nagpur, day three: India 297-8

It’s not fair to say that one could have skipped the first five hours of today’s play and not missed anything, but it isn’t completely inaccurate either. MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli batted very well; they had clearly paid attention to how the pitch had played on the first two days and they both curbed their attacking instincts in favour of slow, gradual build up. It was exactly how they had to play and although England bowled well in the first session all they managed to do was keep India down to 59 runs in 32 overs. England caused brief problems at various points, but could not find the breakthrough until very late and largely because of the patience and discipline shown by India. It was impressive batting in any circumstance, but given how far India have been from showing anything like this kind of fight or application all series it was all the more remarkable.

England by no means bowled poorly for most of the day. Just as there were brief periods where the caused problems there were also some periods, mostly with the new ball, where they had trouble keeping India tied down. But by and large they did what they could; after it looked like the pitch was starting to do a bit last night there was no sign of any sort of life today. It was simply a slightly more emphatic version of what it was on the first day: slow and with nothing in it for either bowlers or batsmen. A reasonably interesting match has developed so far, but that is fortunate and this wicket is not good enough for Test cricket. A Test wicket must have something in it. England actually deserve a lot of credit for continuing to fight so hard even into the last hour. After bowling for five hours with no help and looking rather sore Jimmy Anderson bowled some unbelievable deliveries late in the day, one of which got him his fourth wicket of the innings. It was a fantastic effort.

I seem to be in the minority in thinking that Tim Bresnan also bowled well today. He was as tight as any of the other bowlers and looked threatening more than any of the other bowlers bar Anderson in the first two sessions. He got the ball to swing and troubled the batsmen particularly in a spell before tea in which he came close to an lbw twice and then just barely missed a caught and bowled. I don’t think he is the best choice in a three-seamer attack; as I said after the first Test against the West Indies I think he needed to spend more time with Yorkshire this summer and he has never looked as good as he did before his injury. But it was not ridiculous to have selected him for this Test and there is nothing to suggest that Graham Onions or Stuart Meaker would have done a better job on this pitch. Bresnan was not even England’s worst bowler today, that was Monty Panesar. Which is not to say that Panesar bowled poorly, he didn’t, but he was the only one to never look threatening. With all the tweets going around about Bresnan going 74.4 overs without a wicket it was mysteriously never mentioned that Panesar had just one wicket, a tail-ender, in his last 70.3 overs.

England would have hoped for most of the day that just getting one wicket would instigate a collapse. And this is exactly what happened, though the plan probably did not involve waiting until the last hour of play. It was far from an ideal circumstance for Ravindra Jadeja to make his debut and he never looked comfortable in his innings of twelve. But the more unexpected casualty was Dhoni. He was in the nineties when Kohli was out and the increased pressure and subsequent loss of Jadeja kept him from really scoring. He stayed in the nineties for over an hour and the pressure finally told when he tried for a single that wasn’t quite on and was run out. Even as an England supporter who has been quite harsh about the way Dhoni has led his side in the past I feel for him. He surrendered in the last Test but here he promoted himself and played a real captain’s innings to keep his side alive in the Test. He lost patience just a little bit too soon, however.

Overall this was still India’s day, but the four wickets before stumps mean that England are back on top in the match. But what India have at least done is kept the Test close. India still trail by 37 and although one could see them get a lead close to fifty if Ashwin bats well it is more likely that they will end up within about twenty runs of parity in one direction or the other. They should try to get as many as possible; I don’t think making England bat as soon as possible is really to their advantage as has been suggested. They are going to have to get the runs at some point and they might as well do it now before the pitch has a chance to break up (though it may not), whilst England’s bowlers are a bit tired and at a time when they can use those runs to apply pressure to England’s batsmen. Either way England are probably going to have to bat for about four sessions to secure the Test, but it will be easier to start that early tomorrow and doing so will give them a chance to still win the Test instead of just batting to save it.

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.