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

England v New Zealand preview

The 2013 Test summer begins this Thursday when England play the first of two Tests against the visiting Kiwis. England are looking to show put their poor performance in New Zealand behind them and go into the Ashes on a high. It should be a good series, however, New Zealand showed in that series two months ago that they are a good team and if they can continue to perform consistently they will remain tough to beat.

There were few surprises in the twelve man squad England named for the first Test; Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan are both back from injury and they are replacing Monty Panesar and Chris Woakes. Other than that, England are unchanged from the team that played in Auckland at the end of March. The only question for Thursday is whether Bresnan or Steven Finn will play, but Finn is the likely candidate. He didn’t overwhelm anyone in New Zealand, but he did manage a six-wicket haul in the final Test and with Bresnan having only just returned from his elbow surgery I would be surprised if England decided to leave Finn out. The only reason why they might is if they wanted to get a look at Bresnan ahead of the Ashes, but I expect they would wait until the second Test to do any tinkering and even then only if England won at Lord’s. This another case where a third Test would do very nicely, but the ECB have only seen fit to schedule two. If Bresnan does not play, then hopefully England will send him up to Edgbaston to take part in Yorkshire’s Championship match there as he really needs to play one way or another.

The lack of any spare batsman in the squad confirmed that England would be playing both Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow in the middle order. They both made good scores for the Lions against New Zealand and Root has had an incredible start to the domestic season, so it’s a reasonable choice though it does seem like one which was made some time ago and is more fortunate than clever. Bairstow certainly and to a lesser extent Root will be under a bit of pressure during the series as one of them will miss out when Kevin Pietersen returns from injury. This has been no bad thing for Root in the past, but England will hope that it does not affect Bairstow as they do badly need the middle order to perform better than they did in New Zealand.

New Zealand don’t have very many selection questions either. There is certainly no pressing need to change the batting after the job they did against England in New Zealand. The bowlers were also generally successful and in fact Daniel Vettori has been left out of the squad after the job Bruce Martin did in the three Tests in March. Neil Wagner also had an excellent series, but his place in the XI is not quite so secure. Wagner was only in the side after Doug Bracewell injured his foot and although he kept his place throughout that series, it isn’t clear whether or not Bracewell will return to the side now. Wagner had the better figures of the two when both played at Derbyshire, but that was not against a strong batting lineup and Bracewell was selected for the match against the Lions as part of what looked like a full-strength New Zealand side. I don’t know as much about the New Zealand selectors, but I suspect it will be Bracewell for the first Test.

That New Zealand have the dilemma of Wagner v Bracewell is something of a luxury as both will be part of an attack that can certainly make life difficult for the England batsmen. But even without Pietersen, I think England will put on a better batting display than they did during most of the New Zealand series. All of the top order have been it at least decent if not very good form early in the season and all have had a decent amount of time in the middle. Because of the early season conditions favouring the bowlers I don’t expect too many really big team scores, but they should be less reliant on Alastair Cook this time and be better able to put up competitive totals.

England will also hope that their batsmen will not need to score as many runs this time. England’s seam attack did not seem to really ‘click’ in New Zealand, though part of that was that they didn’t get a lot of help from the pitch or conditions, and they need to do better in this series. England are at least back up to full strength and like New Zealand have the luxury of leaving out a very good bowler. Stuart Broad and James Anderson both had successful runs for their respective county sides as well, though Finn was less impressive. The New Zealand batsmen have been a bit hit-or-miss in the tour matches as well. That does not necessarily mean a lot, but some of them have had very little time in the middle now and may be vulnerable in the first Test. Getting both of the openers cheaply will be important for England; if they can do that they should be able to bowl New Zealand out cheaply at least in the first Test.

It is very unfortunate that the series is only two Tests; it will make it very hard to get much out of it and one bad innings early on could be the difference. It will also make it harder for England to really assess the players ahead of the Ashes later this summer. Ultimately if England play as well as we know they can, they should prevail. But that was also true in New Zealand and England were quite fortunate to escape with a share of that trophy. The series is short enough that there is a decent chance for New Zealand to get at least a draw, if not an unlikely win, but I think England probably will win the series as long as the weather does not interfere too much. Certainly if they don’t it will sound alarm bells ahead of the Ashes. It should be a fairly hard-fought series and New Zealand should have at least periods where they are on top, but I think England will win 1-0.

England squad for New Zealand announced

England released their 15-man squad for the tour of New Zealand today. It is, of course, different from the one I would have selected. But it’s still a strong one overall and England are clearly taking the Kiwis seriously, which is good. Failures in South Africa notwithstanding, they do pose a threat with their bowling and can pull off an upset.

The biggest aspect is that Tim Bresnan has been dropped in favour of Chris Woakes. Apparently Bresnan is going to have more work done on his elbow; it’s clearly not been right since he had surgery on it a year ago. I had him in my squad of 15, but if there is something that actually can be done for his elbow then I’m glad they are trying that instead. I’m not entirely sold on replacing him with Woakes though. Woakes is talented, but I think a bit too much is made of his all-rounder tag. I view him as a bowler who can bat; he tends to come in well down the order for Warwickshire and he has a first-class batting average under forty. It does make him a bit of a like-for-like replacement for Bresnan and he’s certainly a good bowler, but I don’t think he’s better than Stuart Meaker as a bowler and that is who I would have picked after Bresnan. I don’t think batting ability should come into it unless a player is so good with the bat that he could be picked on it alone. For Woakes this clearly isn’t the case so it should only be a matter of who is the better bowler and I think it’s Meaker.

Eoin Morgan and Samit Patel have both dropped out as expected, but it hasn’t opened the door for James Taylor as I would have liked. Taylor will be captaining the England Lions instead, but I think he can count himself horribly unlucky. He did little wrong against South Africa; he had one good innings and one bad innings before being run out by Matt Prior at Lord’s. But he was left out of the tour to India behind Morgan (inexplicably) and to accommodate the horses-for-courses selection of Samit Patel. Now that they are both out Taylor should be back in the frame, but instead he seems to have been all-but-forgot with Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root ahead of him.

The squad that is selected is a strong one overall and it doesn’t leave much doubt about the likely XI. Unless there is another injury before the series starts (and I’m not delighted with England risking Broad in the one day series ahead of the Tests) the only real battle should be for the number six spot and it looks like Root will go into it as the strong favourite. We’ll know for sure in just over a month.

England 2012 marks out of ten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India 1-2 England review and player marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nagpur, day 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.

England second Test selection

After England’s defeat in the first Test there have been many calls to change the side for the Mumbai Test and particularly change the bowling which badly underperformed. There will be an enforced change with Ian Bell leaving and so Flower et al must decide how they want their batting to look as well.

With regard to Bell’s spot I don’t think the discussion should be very long; Jonny Bairstow is the only real choice. There was some talk about playing Eoin Morgan simply because he is left-handed (and India’s spinners had more success against right handers in the first Test), but there is no way that should matter. The fact that Morgan may have a slight statistical edge must not outweigh the fact that he is far from a Test quality batsman. Not only has he never made significant runs at Test level, he has never even done it at the first class level. He is in the side because of his abilities as a pyjama batsman and a wholly mythical strength against spin. He out to be watching the Test series from England before flying out in the new year with the hard-done-by James Taylor in his place. The other option in the squad available is to push Nick Compton into the middle order and open with Joe Root. After Compton’s relative success opening with Cook in the first Test I don’t think that is wise, however, and certainly I don’t think it is necessary with Bairstow available.

But the real focus will be on the bowlers. Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan badly underperformed in the first Test and particularly in the first two sessions of the match in which India racked up 250-3. James Anderson did better, but all he could really do was try to keep it tight on a flat and slow pitch. But it is important to remember as well that the pitch never did a lot to help the bowlers at all and especially not on the first two days when India were batting. Steven Finn might have had a better time with his extra pace, but I don’t think Monty Panesar would be nearly as effective as most people seem to think. Graeme Swann was England’s best bowler, yes, but that says more about the underperforming seamers than anything else; Swann’s wickets mostly came to terrible shots. After England’s usual horrific collapse India’s spinners got another go on a wearing third and fourth day pitch. They took a collective 5-257 whilst their seamers took a combined 5-129 and that against an English side who play spin rather worse than the Indians. The pitch turned, but not sharply. Mostly it was just a road with marginally less in it for the seamers than the spinners. England simply contrived in their first innings to make it look a lot more spicy than it was.

Apart from the week’s worth of statements that Panesar ‘must’ be brought in for the second Test there have been also suggestions that Broad and/or Bresnan be dropped. None of the three are imminently unreasonable and I would not be surprised to see some change. But Finn has not recovered from his thigh injury as expected and has actually re-aggravated it which throws a spanner into the works for England. The obvious change was going to be Finn for Bresnan; now they have to wait to see if Finn will even take any further part in the series. England do have Graham Onions and Stuart Meaker still in the squad as possible replacements. Meaker offers pace as well and is the closest thing to a like-for-like replacement for Finn, though has never played Test cricket. I think, however, that Onions’ wicket-to-wicket bowling may be the better option. The umpires in the last Test only seemed to give lbws if the ball was going down leg, but they might have a better Test this time and even if they don’t England’s only success in the first Test came from consistent lines that kept the scoring down.

I would bring Onions in for Bresnan. Bresnan’s batting is making a slow comeback after his elbow surgery, but unfortunately his bowling is still miles away from where it was at this time last year. He got his place by bowling well in the warmups, but could not translate that into success in the Test. His pace is down and he does not seem to be able to get the ball to reverse swing much anymore. Stuart Broad has not had a great time either; since his eleven-fer at Lord’s to start the summer his pace has also been down and the only really good spell he had was in the second innings of the Headingley Test and that was against some declaration batting. He does, however, look more like he is simply out of form than suffering from a long-term problem as Bresnan does. He can’t be persisted with forever, of course, but I think it is still too soon to drop him. It was only nine months ago that he was running through the Pakistani batting in the UAE.

As for Panesar, I think he could play. But he should only play in place of a seamer if the pitch is a real raging turner, which by recent accounts it does not appear to be. In fact the suggestion is that it will offer more help (though not a lot more) to the seamers than the one at Ahmedabad did. If that’s the case I think the option is to either play Panesar in place of Samit Patel or not at all; England should certainly play three seamers though unless the pitch very heavily favours the spinners. It would be a bit harsh to drop Patel after he got two poor lbw decisions, but I prefer having five bowlers anyway and dropping him in favour of Panesar will give England flexibility to adapt to the conditions even if they don’t read them perfectly.

This arrangement would weaken the batting; there are only five specialists and a long tail. I don’t think England should worry too much about the tail though. Their deep batting has helped them get up to a competitive score or put matches away in the past, but mostly in England. certainly in the last Test and in the two tours last winter having a long batting lineup didn’t help. So with the bowling struggling a bit in the first Test it is imperative to ignore batting and just focus on who will get us twenty wickets. Nor should they worry greatly about only having five specialist batsmen (plus Prior). England could pick eleven specialist batsmen, but still would not get a decent score if they batted the way they did in the first innings at Ahmedabad. England have to just back the batsmen to actually do their job and pick a bowling attack that can turn that into a victory.

My XI for Mumbai: Cook*, Compton, Trott, Pietersen, Bairstow, Prior†, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Onions, Panesar

India win by nine wickets

As expected, England could not actually fight long enough to save the first India v England Test. They batted until lunch, losing 5-66 in the morning session and India comfortably knocked off the 77 they were set to win the Test.

England’s performance in the Test was a bit of a mixed bag. At the top was Alastair Cook’s incredible 176 in the second innings. He fought and fought before being undone by a ball that kept low from Ojha. There is nothing more that could have been asked from him with the bat in his first Test as captain. Matt Prior also contributed a pair of excellent half-centuries, the last one a 91 that deserved three figures. Farther down there was Nick Compton’s performance; he played well in both innings and got a couple of good deliveries. There is room for improvement, but he played fairly well overall and did nothing to be dropped. Samit Patel is in a similar category after getting a pair of poor lbw decisions. His place is in a bit more doubt though simply because he seems to have been picked more as a subcontinent specialist. Ian Bell played well in the second innings after playing the second-worst shot of the Test in the first and is already on his way back to England for the birth of his child. And at the bottom of the scale is Kevin Pietersen. The man who, stats notwithstanding, has been hailed by the likes of Piers Morgan as England’s saviour in India played two appalling shots to the left arm spinner to be dismissed for 17 and two.

The second innings was about as well as England have played on the subcontinent this year, but England do have to prove that was the new standard and not a rare exception. There is not a lot of time before the Mumbai Test and there is probably not a lot that the coaches can do in that time, however. England will mostly be hoping that the confidence from having played India’s spinners quite well for once will carry over. I don’t think this is an unreasonable hope, but they still must go out and perform.

But perhaps the bigger concern, and by far the more surprising concern, is the bowling. England’s bowling varied between ‘poor’ and ‘passable if not great’ in the first innings and never did what was hoped in the second. Part of the problem was the loss of an important (not match-deciding by any means, but still important) toss and having to bowl on a very flat pitch, but it was not until tea on the first day that they worked out that they had to keep it tight and never were very penetrating. They can take some consolation in that they did get Tendulkar and the much-heralded Virat Kohli out cheaply, but that is about it. England’s seam attack was brilliant last winter in the subcontinent, but they were not nearly as good in the summer in England and they were not great here. The only one to come out with any dignity at all was James Anderson who at least worked out how to keep it tight.

There are always going to be fluctuations in form, of course, but the fact that what was a very strong attack seems to have gone so far off the boil has to trouble England. Steven Finn will likely be back for the second Test and that should be an improvement, but the rest of the attack still have to step up. Stuart Broad is the vice captain now, but apart from the odd spell here and there he has not had a really good Test since the first one of the summer. He was very good in the UAE though. Tim Bresnan did very well in the warmups, but he has not looked the same in Tests since his elbow operation last year and was very poor in this match. There is a strong suggestion, almost an assumption in some quarters, that Monty Panesar should play in Mumbai and one or both of Broad and Bresnan should be dropped. But although Swann was England’s best bowler, it is worth noting that India’s spinners did not have a great time in the second innings and Flower’s aversion to two full-time spinners is well founded historically. I don’t think Panesar would have had any effect on this game at all.

England should not be without hope. They proved that they can play spin, even if not in the absolute most trying circumstances and Pietersen apart they seem to have hit upon the right approach. That does not mean that they will actually perform a second time and they still have the luck of the toss with which to contend, of course, but the fact that they did much better this Test than last winter is something to carry forward. They can also remember that the last time England won in India it was a comeback after losing the first Test. But hope is one thing. They have to actually learn the lessons of this Test and play better in Mumbai.

England’s selection was correct

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

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

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

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

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

England injury concerns

Another England fast bowler has gone down with a mild injury as Stuart Broad bowled only ten overs in England’s warmup match before bruising a heel. He was actually expected to miss the last warmup anyway and this means that if he is fit for the first Test he will go in having hardly bowled a ball in a competitive match. Steven Finn is also still a doubt for both the last warmup and the first Test and he looks less likely to be fit then Broad, so England will at best be going into the first Test with only one member of their pace attack both fit and prepared. England do at least have strong reserves; Tim Bresnan is no stranger to the Test side and has already made a strong case to replace Finn.

If Broad misses the first Test then it will be down to one of Graham Onions, Stuart Meaker or possibly Monty Panesar to replace him. Panesar is the least likely as Samit Patel will already be playing (and actually took three wickets against Mumbai A), but despite the extra spinner probably not being the best balance in India England should pick whoever is most likely to take wickets. In general this won’t be an extra spinner, but with two of the top three pace bowlers out that may cease to be the case. Certainly I think they should all play in the final warmup along with Bresnan. I expect Jimmy Anderson will miss out as he played in the first two matches and Patel might rest as well to allow Graeme Swann another match.

That would make for something of a bowler-heavy XI, but with Nick Compton’s unbeaten fifty in the second innings against Mumbai A they should not now have any more questions to answer with respect to the batting. I see no reason why the top six should not be Cook, Compton, Trott, Pietersen, Bell and Patel unless someone picks up an injury in the final warmup. England, and Flower specifically, like to play to win in the warmups and that is a good thing. But in this case with question marks still hovering over the bowling I think it is a better idea to make sure that all of the possible replacements have a match worth of bowling ahead of the first Test and to fully assess who should play in case Broad turns out not to be fit.

What I suspect is more likely is that Patel will play and Panesar won’t and that England will try to play an XI as close as possible to the one who will play in the first Test with Meaker for Broad being the only difference. I think that Onions will be the one to come into the side if Broad is not fit, but that England will simply take that for granted rather than try to give him another match.