Monthly Archives: August 2014

England crumble in pursuit of another lofty chase after Raina ton

 

Just over 7,500 miles away in Harare, Zimbabwe, Australia and South Africa were outlining their credentials as World Cup favourites in a blistering One Day International game that saw 655 runs posted in a little over 96 overs. The South African pairing of Francois Du Plessis and AB De Villiers both scored hundreds at a strike rate of over 100 to ensure their side cantered home with more than three overs to spare. The game acted as a perfect snapshot for the modern game, whilst also providing a glimpse into the future.

The trend of large totals continued at a wet and gloomy Swalec stadium as India biffed their English counterparts to all parts, making 304 in their allotted 50 overs. They were indebted to a stunning century from Suresh Raina, akin to many of the innings he has played in the IPL, unashamedly ambitious and adept against all types of bowling in the absence of the regular short ball barrage he is subject to in Test matches. Raina and co had amassed 148 in the last 15 overs against English bowling seriously lacking in variety. 

It is generally thought that the scores just over the mark of 300 are now thoroughly gettable since the introduction of the new rules, one of which allow only four fielders outside the circle during the powerplay overs, rather than five. The rule, captain and players alike have claimed would particularly affect spinners, who perhaps need greater protection from the big bats and biceps that belong to the modern day batsman.

 From this viewpoint the hardy fans that braved the miserable Cardiff conditions may have expected more of a fight from Alistair Cook and his charges. Instead they got yet another abject display against spin bowling, in bitter conditions that are usually not suited to the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandwan Ashwin. In 19.1 overs Jadeja, Ashwin and Raina took 7 wickets for the loss of just 78 runs. New era, same old England.

The day couldn’t have started much better for the hosts, with James Anderson and Chris Woakes combining to make intelligent use of the new ball. After 5 overs of wafting outside his off stump the beleaguered Shikhar Dhawan finally edged a Woakes delivery through to Buttler and he was swiftly followed by Virat Kohli, who drove his third ball straight to Cook at Mid-off. It was hard to blame Kohli for his overt positivity after a torrid summer, and you feel in time his obvious one-day talent will rise swiftly to the fore in this series and beyond. 19 centuries at the tender age of 25 screams that that will be the case.

With India slightly reeling at 19-2 it was left to Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma to rebuild in a brisk fashion until the ever-dependable James Tredwell had the former stumped and the latter caught at long-off in quick succession, Sharma losing concentration in all too typical fashion. Yet it was Raina and Dhoni that punished the England bowlers with a 144-run partnership, plundering 62 runs off the batting powerplay alone. Chris Jordan compounded England’s problems with an 11-ball over that saw five wides. Jordan’s performances against India have been littered with erratic spells, something that will be a grave concern, especially given Steven Finn’s disastrous Ashes tour just months ago.

Chris Woakes and James Tredwell both performed in an admirable manner, but India had seized the advantage going into the interval against England’s one dimensional bowling. On an eagerly anticipated debut Alex Hales showed his worth, punishing the Indian pace attack both on the front and back foot. Cook appeared less comfortable, and it was his dismissal, LBW to Mohammad Shami, that sparked a monumental collapse. In the same over Ian Bell left a delivery that cannoned into off-stump, and soon after Joe Root would join him in the pavilion as he failed to keep out a jaffer from Bhuvneshwar Kumar. 

England’s collapse prompted Dhoni to use his trump cards, and they did not disappoint. Hales, who had become bogged down due to the dismissal of his colleagues, top edged Ashwin straight into the ever-darkening sky, before Buttler chipped Jadeja meekly to cover. Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes rallied briefly, yet both holed out as India’s ominous total slowly slipped away. By the time Tredwell was dismissed by Ashwin England had gone from 54-0 to 161 all out, failing to chase a score of over 250 for the ninth consecutive time. The more England play, the more the same questions keep popping up.

Is too much faith being placed in test regulars such as Cook, Bell and Root? Why are James Taylor and Gary Ballance, both with averages over 50 and strike rates above 80 in List A cricket, being left out? Has Hales been brought in a year later than he should have been? Is there enough faith being placed in the talented Lions squad? Why have the all-round skills of Ravi Bopara been discarded with so abruptly? How do we deal with our inability to play spin in the middle overs? Where is the variation in our own bowling?

England may consider themselves fortunate that this World Cup will not take place on the subcontinent, but a team in such disarray without a clear game plan when chasing will struggle to have any resonating impact on the biggest one day stage of them all. You can’t help but get the feeling it will be another opportunity squandered?

Broad and Anderson rip through the heart of India

An Ishant Sharma-inspired India may have blown England away in roaring style at Lords to go 1-0 up in the series, but victory in such a splendid manner was clearly not enough to fully erase recent memories of shoddy performances away from home. The fact remains that MS Dhoni’s men have not won a Test series on tour since 2011, and a dismal performance at the Rose Bowl re-opened some unwanted scars.

Here at Old Trafford their captain set the tone with a bold decision to bat under grey Manchester skies, yet his charges failed to react to his rallying cry. Instead what we saw was a wretched performance with the bat that echoed many efforts of the 2011 tour, where they succumbed 4-0 to the same opponent. Once again it was the irrepressible Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad who exposed the technical deficiencies of the Indian top order.

In truth there was no recovering from 8-4, no matter how hard Dhoni tried. England’s opening pair were relentless, making up for their poor showing on a green top at Lords a couple of weeks ago. Gautam Ghambir was playing his first match of the series in place of fellow left-hander Shikhar Dhawan, who had looked all at sea outside his off stump throughout the summer. Yet the underworked Ghambir fared no better, with a leading edge off the bowling of Broad flying to Joe Root at gully.

The score was on eight at the time, and would remain the same while the next three wickets fell. Murali Vijay, who has adapted to conditions well thus far, was tempted by a full swinging delivery outside the off stump. His dismissal was perhaps forgivable, but Virat Kohli’s was not. Many see Kohli as the jewel in the crown of the Indian line-up, the prize wicket. Yet he has not fully imposed his game on Test cricket yet, and he was once again guilty of hanging his bat out to dry away from his body, Anderson once again the man. Kohli will have to find a way to correct his unnecessary largesse around the line of fourth stump; otherwise a place among the greats of the game will be unattainable.

Pujara then edged Broad to slip, to bring to an end a quite woeful first half an hour. Ajinkya Rahane, the batsman who has asserted his game on the English bowler this summer more than any of his team mates, provided some much needed resistance alongside his captain, who must have been wondering what he had let himself in for by electing to bat.

Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan, making up England’s four-pronged pace attack, couldn’t inject the same venom as their predecessors, and India looked as if they would make lunch without any further damage. But Jordan managed to get one full and swinging and subsequently Rahane lost his shape, suffering the fate as his fellow top order batsmen. It had been a morning of rigorous practice for England’s slip fielders.

Straight after the break Anderson got the breakthrough he would have really craved, trapping Ravindra Jadeja LBW, a perfect example of how to set an opponent up, three outswingers followed by the deadly inswinger. Ravichandwan Ashwin, scandalously overlooked before this match, added some impetuous with a valuable 40, but his wicket effectively ended Indian resistance, leaving Dhoni to swing from the hip while his partners lay like sitting ducks. His ingenuity meant they mustered 150, but it wasn’t to be enough.

India had plenty of time left in the day to make inroads into the England innings and thanks to the genuine pace and bite of Varun Aaron they picked up three scalps. Sam Robson may be the only member of the England team to sleep well tonight, as his barren run continued. Gary Ballance fell just before the close of play left the score at 112-3, but trailing by just 41 runs England have a monumental advantage at the end of the first day.