Hello again! (And thoughts for the first Test)

Looking at the most recent post (before this) two things stand out: first is that it begins with an apology for not writing and the second is that it is eleven months old. So apologies again. In my defence, I spent those elven months first moving house, then starting grad school and preparing to do research in astrophysics. It has been a touch busy. And there is nothing to really suggest that it will get markedly better, but we’ll see how things play out. I did actually watch sport over the winter though and have some thoughts on the winter of discontent going into the international summer.

First off is that England probably made the right choice as far as a new head coach goes. It would have been better if Andy Flower had not left, but having done so it was down to Mike Newell or Peter Moores for me. I was hoping Newell so that Moores would stay at Lancashire, but there is no doubt in my mind that he will do an excellent job. This of course ties into the big story over the winter of Kevin Pietersen. I don’t want to drag that up again too much; I made my feelings very clearly known on Twitter and I’ll only go into detail if his fanboys find some fresh stupidity.

The biggest issue going into the summer is the uncertainty regarding the actual positions. There is one spot at the top of the order free, two in the middle order (assuming that Ben Stokes plays at six in the long-term even if he is not fit for the first Test), the spinner’s role and the third seamer all up for grabs. I am not including the wicket-keeper as vacant because I do not at all think that Matt Prior was dropped for anything other than an experiment; if he is fit he will keep wicket for the first Test.

The opener’s spot is probably the most straightforward: it should go to Sam Robson. He had an excellent year last year, has started well this year and has stated an ambition to bat for England. Give him a shot. The only other option would be Nick Compton and whilst I do think he was harshly dropped he has not done as much as Robson since then. He would be the reserve choice, however.

For the middle order, Joe Root is the incumbent in one of the spots and probably will get another go at five. If he is picked, hopefully he stays there most or all of the summer; he has not had enough time to settle in to any one spot properly and that cannot have helped him. At the same time, however, he did struggle for much of last year and cannot be said to have nailed his spot down. It is mostly due to his potential that he still seems to be a fixture in the side. The other spot is more open. Gary Ballance is technically the man in possession, but as with the wicket-keeper’s spot above I am very reluctant to take the selection late in the winter too seriously. However, he earned his callup with an excellent 2013 and he has started this year well. The same is true of Moeen Ali, however, and his weight of runs has certainly pushed him into the frame. Those are the most likely options but James Taylor, after being so harshly discarded in 2012, has batted well both for Nottinghamshire and the Lions and Jonny Bairstow is technically in the current XI. I don’t see either as particularly likely candidates though. I actually would prefer to see both Ballance and Ali bat in the middle order; I think they have both done more to get the spots than Root has. If Stokes is not fit then I would have Root at six, but otherwise I would let him bat with Yorkshire for at least the series against Sri Lanka.

For Graeme Swann’s replacement, it seems like every spinner in the country has been mentioned at least once. The realistic candidates are Scott Borthwick, Simon Kerrigan, James Tredwell and Monty Panesar. I am biased, of course, but for me it has to be Kerrigan. He only bowled a handful of overs in his previous Test and simply cannot be judged on that. More importantly, none of the other candidates have come close to matching his first-class record over the past few seasons. Kerrigan is, without question, the best spinner in the County Championship and that has to make him the front runner for the vacant England role.

There is one way Kerrigan could reasonably be left out of the first Test against Sri Lanka, however, and that is if England field an all-seam attack and there is a decent argument for doing so. Steve Finn, Graham Onions, Tim Bresnan and Chris Jordan all have cases, but this is possibly the oddest of any of the contest for a place. Just judging on first-class form Finn and Onions have to be the front runners and I think they probably are. But Finn’s mechanics were apparently completely hopeless in Australia and he fell well out of favour. Meantime, Onions did everything anyone could have asked last summer and never seemed to even be considered. Bresnan looks a shadow of his former self and although Jordan looked excellent last year it was the first time he has done so.

This adds up to Bresnan probably being the longest shot; I’d like to see him bowl for Yorkshire and maybe fight his way back into the reckoning, and I think he could be quite good again, but right now he looks a long way from Test quality. There is not a lot to pick between the other three, however, which is why I think picking an all-seam attack against Sri Lanka may be the way to go. Finn and Jordan are probably the best two choices; they are similar styles of bowler and it is a style which probably fits best behind Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. In the longer term, however, I would like to see England be more willing to go ‘horses-for-courses’; if a pitch calls will suit the swing bowlers more then play another one in Onions. If more pace is needed, then supplement the attack with Finn or Jordan.

At least right now (and it is still a month until the first Test, so this may change) my XI for Lord’s would be:
Alastair Cook*
Sam Robson
Ian Bell
Moeen Ali
Gary Ballance
Ben Stokes
Matt Prior†
Stuart Broad
Chris Jordan
Steve Finn
Jimmy Anderson

New Zealand 0-0 England player marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wellington, day one: England 267-2

The first day of this Test was almost as good for England as the first day (of play, not the one where it rained) at Dunedin was bad. England will be grateful to Brendan McCullum for either not having the faith in his own lineup to bat first or for badly misreading the pitch, but either way he decided to bowl first upon winning the toss. After ninety overs on a pitch with little side-to-side movement and not as much pace as had been expected, that decision looks like the wrong one and very possibly a disastrously wrong one.

It has actually been an odd couple of days for McCullum. He said yesterday that he would bowl first if he won the toss and was apparently sincere in that statement. He also paid a compliment to Alastair Cook which was subsequently blown well out of proportion. He said that in his current form, Cook was probably the best batsman since Don Bradman. This was, inexplicably, taken as comparing Cook with Bradman despite very clearly saying that Cook is not as good as Bradman. Also overlooked was the important caveat of current form. And Cook’s form coming into the Test was four centuries in five Tests, certainly worthy of comparison to any batsman of the recent era. McCullum was certainly not helped by the press, but the fact so few bothered to actually see what he said blew what should have been an uncontroversial compliment out of proportion.

In the long run, however, it will be his decision to bowl first that causes him the most regret. His bowlers had not had a lot of time to recuperate from bowling for nearly two days at Dunedin and they were faced with another tough task here. Although Cook played a loose shot to depart fairly cheaply, neither Jonathan Trott or Nick Compton were in a mood to oblige. Both played very patiently, did not try to force the tempo and made sure that England got a good platform set. They actually did not get particularly bogged down either, despite their reputations. England’s run rate was well above three an over when Compton departed and by then the two had put on over two hundred together.

The Barmy Army started singing that England were halfway there when the 250 came up near the end of the day, but England should actually be aiming well over five hundred. From this platform and with the batsmen not only still in but still to come, 550 is certainly possible and perhaps even six hundred. The biggest issue is time. Run rate is not normally a major issue in the first innings of a Test match, but there is rain strongly forecast for the fourth and fifth days and it looks like a guarantee that the match will be shortened. England will have to put New Zealand in at some point tomorrow; if Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Joe Root and Matt Prior can score as quickly as they usually do then England will have time to put on three hundred before declaring very late in the day, but there is a chance that the attempt will result in a collapse and a sub-500 score. It is probably a chance England have to take, however.

It is certainly too early to suggest that New Zealand cannot win this Test, but they are in a position where they will probably have to play for a draw and hope for an opportunity to turn that into a win. But their bowlers have been disappointingly toothless after performing well recently and in the first innings of the series. They have had circumstances turn against them, but in the last 260 overs England have scored 688 runs for the loss of eight wickets. New Zealand are going to have to find something more than what they have been showing if they still want to pull off an upset.

Compton should open in New Zealand

It’s a bit early to start really looking at the XI to play the first Test against New Zealand; the first Test is still over a month away and England are still playing the ODIs in India. But this week Michael Vaughan said that he thought Joe Root should open the batting in New Zealand with Jonny Bairstow coming back at number six. (I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that the former Yorkshire player is advocating two Yorkshire men…) As good as Root has looked and as much as I do think Bairstow deserves more chances, I think it would be a mistake to drop Nick Compton.

Compton looked the perfect Test opener in India; he batted cautiously and wore down the bowlers when he needed to early in the innings and when he had the chance to play more aggressively he showed that he could do that too. He only made the one fifty, but it’s hard to ask for much more from a debutant. Root also played very well in the one Test he played, but not only is that not enough to immediately stick him up the order I don’t think it is enough to even guarantee his place at number six. It was only one Test and I think both Bairstow and James Taylor should still be in the running for the position. Neither have really done anything to be dropped and especially I don’t think that Root’s innings against India were particularly more impressive than Bairstow’s innings at Lord’s against South Africa. (Which is not to take away from Root’s performance, of course.)

The only way Root should open the batting for now is if Compton either gets injured or has a run of failures against New Zealand. This could happen, of course, but Compton has some credit built up and even if he does have some failures he should be given at least a couple of Tests. I would start with Root at six in New Zealand as I don’t think the one warmup England are playing ahead of the Tests will really be enough to knock him off that spot, but I would definitely have Bairstow and Taylor both in the squad. England have three very good options at number six now (making for a pretty drastic change from just a year ago when they didn’t have any) and they shouldn’t chisel any one of them into stone. But at the same time there is no need to get rid of a solid looking opener just to make more room at number six.

England 2012 marks out of ten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India 1-2 England review and player marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calcutta, day two: England 216-1

The second day of the Calcutta Test will be remembered mostly as the one on which Alastair Cook set two records. Upon reaching 88* not out he became the youngest player in history to 7,000 Test runs, displacing a certain Sachin Tendulkar. Twelve runs later he became the first Englishman ever to score 23 Test centuries, passing the record of 22 that had been set by Wally Hammond over seventy years prior. And for good measure the hundred also meant that he extended his record with now a hundred in each of his first five matches as captain.

Cook did offer one chance in his innings; during a difficult spell after lunch he edged a ball from Zaheer Khan low to slip where it went through Cheteshwar Pujara’s hands to continue a poor Test for him. But Cook settled down against the spinners, including lofting a straight six off Ravichandran Ashwin, and looking in command thereafter. He and Nick Compton, who made his maiden Test fifty in the innings, did a fantastic job taking singles and squeezing out extra runs as well. Neither really took the attack to the bowlers or crashed boundary after boundary, as one would expect, but England still scored 99 runs in the afternoon thanks to some relentless running between the wickets. It even brought out a few replays of the Sehwag run out from yesterday on the BCCI broadcast and the contrast was stark.

One of the effects of this style of play was that India appeared to give up again. It is something to which they are very much prone; we saw it many times in Australia and England last year. Once Cook and Compton got well settled and scoring fairly freely India did not seem to have any plans to get a wicket and were utterly lacklustre in the field. Even after Compton played a poor shot to give his wicket away (albeit with a very small umpire error also involved) India did not pick up the energy and go after Jonathan Trott at all. One ball spun sharply and beat the edge of Trott, but other than that he was allowed to settle in for the hour before stumps and he made it to 21* overnight. India are still (exactly) a hundred runs ahead, but they seemed tonight like they were bowling for a declaration and it is the same thing that we saw in the last three Tests in England and two of the Tests in Australia. They just don’t seem to have any fight when things start going against them and in a situation like this it is a very bad trait to have. They are by no means out of this match after only two days, but if they do not turn their attitude around tomorrow they will be and out of any chance to win the series to boot.

The only criticism of what was otherwise a dominant performance by England today was the bowling to the last wicket partnership this morning. After getting Khan and Ishant Sharma out cheaply and early England reverted to the tactic of doing everything they could to get Dhoni off strike so they could bowl to Pragyan Ojha instead. India managed to put on twenty for that partnership including two huge sixes from Dhoni and in the end it was he who got out anyway. The Indian batsmen had struggled throughout the innings, but England simply decided not to try to get one of them out at the end and gift him some runs. It was very frustrating and if they had just bowled at Dhoni in the first place there is every chance they would have bowled India out for under three hundred. It may be a minor point in the grand scheme of the Test, but it is something I would like to see England approach better in the future.

Tomorrow could see England take a strangle-hold on this Test if India do not perform better than they did for most of today. India need to make sure England do not bat through the day and they probably need a wicket with the new ball when it becomes due about half an hour into play. If Cook and Trott see the shine off the second new ball though and continue to set a platform then India will have the problem of Kevin Pietersen. I often become frustrated with Pietersen’s approach, but if he comes in with England almost 300-2 and the Indian attack toiling then it will be the perfect time for him to play one of his aggressive innings and India could find themselves in a massive hole very quickly. They must dislodge Cook or Trott early enough to still have a decent chance at Pietersen.

In the Test at the Eden Gardens in February of 2010 South Africa were bowled out for 296 in the first innings before India responded with over six hundred and ultimately an innings victory. A lot could still change, but England have given themselves a chance to recreate the pattern of that Test and they need to keep their heads tomorrow morning and continue pushing toward a huge score.

Ahmedabad day three: England 111-0

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

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

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

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

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

Second warmup selection

England started their second warmup match, this one against Mumbai A, early this morning/late last night. Most of the regulars sat out this time, but there were a pair of battles of note. Joe Root and Nick Compton went head-to-head at the top of the order as they each vied for the now-vacant spot alongside Alastair Cook and Jonny Bairstow and Eoin Morgan both batted in the middle order as they looked to get the nod to replace Ian Bell when he returns to England for the birth of his child. Graham Onions also played, but Tim Bresnan did not which suggests that Bresnan already has the last bowling place.

There have been some oddities in the selection for this match, chief amongst them Alastair Cook sitting out. I can understand this from the standpoint of wanting all the players to get a match at some point and wanting the likely Test team, or most of it, to play in the final warmup. This means that Root, Compton, Morgan and Baristow all have to play in this match which in turn means that some of the regulars have to sit out and it is better that the centurion does so then someone like Ian Bell who made only five in the first warmup. But at the same time Cook is a new captain and it is important that he stamp his authority on the side. I think it is a bit early for him to be sitting out matches, even if there is a good reason. I would rather see him getting used to his new charges and possibly more importantly making sure that they are used to him. There is also the fact that Broad sat out the first warmup and will likely sit out the last one as well since England will want Stuart Meaker to get a game after being drafted late into the squad as cover for Steven Finn. This means that Cook will not have a single warmup match with his vice-captain before the first Test. This is not a disaster, certainly, but it hardly seems ideal either.

As far as actual selection issues, we have learnt a bit from the first day. Compton failed again, making only one, but Root did not really make the most of this as he fell for only 28. By all accounts Root did look the more settled and composed, but given that he started out as the second favourite he probably needed a big score to put him in front of Compton. England batted first this time, so they each should get another chance in the second innings as well. Bairstow made a century to advance his claims for the reserve middle order spot, but Morgan made 76 as well so it is not fully settled yet. That said, unlike Compton and Root there is previous Test history to consider with Morgan and Bairstow and that also favours Bairstow. Morgan really should not have even been on the plane. The selectors have been inexplicably favourable to Morgan, but Bairstow should have done enough today to secure the spot as Bell’s deputy. Tomorrow/tonight we should see England bowl and see if Onions and Monty Panesar can put any doubts in the selectors’ minds about Bresnan, as well as just how bad an idea it was to let Broad be vice-captain.

England’s selection a bit clearer

I’ve said a few times before that I don’t think England are well advised to select bits-and-pieces players just for a special occasion like India and that therefore Samit Patel should not play. I stand by the first part, but Patel has furnished solid evidence in the first warmup that he could be able to hold his own in the side as a batsman and if he can do that then there is no reason he should not play. He scored 104 in England’s first and only innings and came in when England were under a bit of pressure. Only Alastair Cook made a higher score. I would not say that this guarantees him a place; we still have yet to see what Jonny Bairstow can do and it is a bit harsh to drop him after the excellent innings he played at Lord’s. But Patel made his century against a fairly strong attack and certainly a stronger one than Bairstow will face when he gets a chance. I think Bairstow will have to be very convincing to force a place from here and given the selectors’ clear preference to having someone who can bowl a bit it may already be an impossible task.

The warmup match also clarified the bowling selection, albeit in an unfortunate way. Steven Finn started as the favourite for the final bowling position, but he picked up a thigh injury early on and missed the rest of the match. He is not a doubt for the tour as a whole, but there is little chance of his playing the first Test unless he can guarantee to Flower and Cook that he is one hundred per cent fit and I doubt that will happen. With Patel looking very likely to play that also reduces the chance that England will try to give Monty Panesar a game as a second spinner, meaning that the last bowling place appears to be down to Tim Bresnan and Graham Onions. Bresnan is certainly the initial favourite, as evidenced by the fact that he was chosen ahead of Onions to play in this match in the first place. He also took 3-59 and scored 33 not out to put Onions in a very similar position as Bairstow with two warmups remaining.

The only selection issue that was opened up more was that of Cook’s new opening partner. Nick Compton was given the first crack at the role, but lasted just three balls and failed to score. Unfortunately for him, since India A batted first he did not get a second chance in the match. He likely will in at least one of the remaining warmups, but Joe Root will also get a shot to prove that he is the best option instead. Compton is still probably the favourite until Root makes a strong case otherwise, but I actually would not be surprised to see Cook sit out one of the next two warmups and have Compton and Root go head-to-head.

There was other bad news for England as well. They did manage to put up a good score overall, but five of their wickets fell to the part time spin of Yuvraj Singh. Singh is rather better than Kevin Pietersen’s memorable assessment of him as a ‘pie-chucker’, but it is still a touch worrying that England still pick out the spinner to whom to give their wickets. The good news at least for England was of Singh’s five wickets one was a tailender, one had a century and one had fifty. The dismissals of Pietersen and Ian Bell are both issues that will need to be addressed, but it is at least not as panic inducing as a proper collapse.