Final ODI selection

England finish their tour of India today/tomorrow with a dead rubber ODI. After winning the Test series in December the tour is unquestionably a success and down 1-3 in the ODI series there is really nothing for which to play in this last match. England can’t even really use it to prepare for the future; they don’t play another ODI in the subcontinent until November of 2014 when they go to Sri Lanka and there are no ODI tournaments in the subcontinent on the Future Tours Programme.

But that’s not to say that England have nothing to lose. Whilst they would no doubt like to win it is important that they not pick up any injuries. The Ashes are still some way off, but there are Tests in New Zealand beginning in just over a month and there is no need to risk someone missing out on those for the benefit of an ODI and especially a dead rubber.

England have done a good job of resting players for the series as a whole, but now with the series effectively over they should look at going a step further. Alastair Cook has played in every match except the T20s on the tour to India and he is due to lead the side against New Zealand just a few weeks after the end of this series. Although he is the captain, the last thing we need is for him to start feeling burnout and I’d like to see him rested. Steven Finn too ought to rest, especially after the injuries that kept him out of three of the Tests in India. Ian Bell can lead the side in Cook and Broad’s absence; he, Kevin Pietersen and Joe Root are the only two of the main Test side I would play. In Bell’s case, he is not in the T20 squad so will have a bit of a break before the ODIs start and unlike Cook has not had to deal with the day-to-day burden of captaincy. Pietersen will be rested for the pyjama portion of the New Zealand tour and whilst it would not be a terrible idea to rest him it isn’t necessary. Root also could be rested, but didn’t play in most of the matches on this tour so shouldn’t need to be.

It would leave a very weak side on the whole, but it doesn’t matter a jot if England lose the series 2-3 or 1-4. The Tests are won and what is important now are the Tests against New Zealand and Australia.

Three small things

1) England won an ODI in India. They have not done so (or at least not done so against India, they obviously did win a few matches at the last World Cup) since the 2006 tour and even that was in a dead rubber win and their only one in the seven match series. I didn’t see most of it, but it was a close affair with both sides scoring over 300. It was also the first match of the new ODI fielding restrictions, so it’s hard to say if the bowlers really underperformed or if scores are going to be higher on average now. We’ll probably never find out though; it surely can’t be long before the ICC simply make every over a powerplay over in the name of increased ‘excitement’. England will be obviously pleased to win and go 1-0 up in the series, but it is especially important with their recent record in India to get that first win out of the way and I think it will give them an excellent confidence boost ahead of the next match.

2) South Africa are 325-4 after the first day of the second Test against New Zealand. At least in the second half of the day, which is the part I saw, New Zealand did not look particularly penetrative and they let South Africa get well ahead from it being about honours even halfway through the day. They didn’t help themselves in the field; there was one dropped catch (against Hashim Amla no less), a low chance missed at slip and a would-be caught behind given not out and then not reviewed. I expected South Africa would put up a good first innings score, but the Kiwis have made it too easy for them at least on the first day. The pitch was turning by stumps, so the fact that neither side have a good spinner might become important.

3) An ICC committee have made another suggestion about DRS, this time that it be left up to the home board. I like this idea and this is the most reasonable implementation apart from simply making it mandatory. It would be simply a part of the conditions for each country, much like the different brand of ball used or the different hours of play. Of course, India have already expressed a dislike of the idea which means that it will be blocked just like all the previous times this has been tried.

South Africa v New Zealand second Test preview

On Friday England’s first ODI against India starts two hours before the second South Africa v New Zealand Test. Even from an English standpoint it’s a bit tricky to know which one is more important. England have already played ten ODIs against India in the past 18 months and have five Tests coming up against New Zealand, so how the Kiwis try to fight back may give a hint of what England can expect starting in March. Plus, England’s recent record in ODIs in India means that the Test might be a closer contest.

The pitch in Port Elizabeth looks like it will make any comparison difficult, however. It has tended to be rather slow in the past and by all accounts it still is. It may actually be closer to the pitch on which England will be playing in Rajkot than the pitch on which they will play in Dunedin. It’s slow enough, in fact, that New Zealand are considering a second spinner for the match after dropping Chris Martin and there is a decent argument for doing so. South Africa actually don’t have a good record at the ground, they’ve not won a Test there this century, and it may be that a bit of extra turn will be their undoing. New Zealand are playing three seamers either way (though I suspect Colin Munro has likely been picked to shore up the batting as much as anything else) so a second spinner is probably a reasonable decision. Bruce Martin does not have great first-class statistics, but they aren’t appalling and I expect they came almost entirely on pitches more conducive to seam bowling.

South Africa don’t appear to be considering a second spinner, though given that said spinner would likely be Imran Tahir it isn’t a surprise. Robin Peterson hardly inspires fear, but he is the best option. Their only change will be the return of Rory Kleinveldt in place of the injured Vernon Philander. Whilst it is a good chance for them to try to develop their bowling in depth, it looks like a fairly big blow as Kleinveldt did not impress in the two Tests he got in Australia. South Africa do need him to step up though. Not so much for this particular Test, they can afford a bit of a let-up, but for the upcoming series against Pakistan. They look to be much tougher opposition and South Africa need to make sure they have someone to back up the main three quicks.

South Africa are still strong favourites in this Test, of course, but New Zealand do have a chance to come back well. They have not changed their batting from the last Test and they will need to perform rather better, but they are boosted by the fact that the pitch will give the South Africans less assistance this time and by the absence of Philander who did most of the damage in the 45 all out. I don’t expect them to win, but I do expect them to compete this time and perhaps push for a draw. I expect that South Africa will put up a fairly large total in the first innings (regardless of who wins the toss), so a lot will depend on how New Zealand’s batsmen can build on their second innings performance from Cape Town. I hope that they do bat better; I want to see a contest. But I suppose if it gets too one-sided I can always turn back over to the ODI…

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.

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.