Thursday, 31 July 2014

That winning feeling

Thursday, 31 July 2014
On August 12th, 2013, England wrapped up a 74-run victory over Australia in Durham to take a 3-0 lead in the Ashes series with a match to play. England were flying high; they had easily beaten Australia without even reaching their best in the series, what could they inflict over the winter when they really found their form? Yet nearly a year on, after ten test matches of near misses, a bore draw, and ever-more dismal defeats, England finally have recorded their next victory in this longest format, and in emphatic fashion.

It was a dramatic turnaround. Seeing England just over a week ago it was difficult to see a way up and out of such a mess. The senior players had again failed to deliver, Cook as captain looked close to breaking point, and the batting had collapsed on the final day in a procession of failed hook shots. In short, in ideal conditions, they were beaten at their own game. At Southampton it was almost like seeing a different team, one that followed the script they would have hoped to at the start of this 'new era' - the experienced players leading the way whilst the new boys also made their mark. From the first day, even the first session, England put themselves ahead in the game and - unlike so many times in the past ten matches - they were not going to let their hold slip. After amassing a grand total in their first innings with the aid of Bell and Cook, England's senior bowlers then proved their worth with the ball. India's batsmen made starts but the wickets fell regularly - seven batsmen passed 20 but none passed 60, and eight of the wickets were shared by Anderson and Broad, Anderson topping it off with a five-wicket haul on his 32nd birthday. After Plunkett and Stokes missed out on this test, support came from Woakes, who bowled well but unluckily went wicketless; Jordan, looking off colour on his return; and Ali, used in a more attacking role and finding his reward with two wickets. India were all out for 330 - no dramatic last wicket stands here - and with a lead of 239, England could start to dream of victory. After a quick hit with the bat - adding 205 from 40.4 overs thanks to fifties from Cook and Root - England set India 445 to win the game, or rather themselves four sessions to bowl India out.

They only needed two. Anderson, Broad, and Woakes bowled tightly with the new ball, but the early breakthrough they needed came with the run out of Vijay - so often a thorn in England's side so far this series. Then came the spinners, and they delivered. Moeen Ali was further backed by Cook and was brought on earlier, finding his reward with the wickets of Pujara and Kohli, whilst Joe Root's occasional spin did for Dhawan. India were four down by the close of play. England struck early again when the morning came, both Sharma and Dhoni being caught behind off Anderson for 6. Rahane, unbeaten on 52, proved the only man to resist on the final morning as Ali shone for England, wiping out India's lower order and finishing with his maiden test five wicket haul - a total of six for 67. India were dismissed before lunch for 178; finally England were victorious, and for many in the team it was their first taste of a test match win.

The contrast in Alastair Cook's post match interviews from the past two test matches couldn't have been any more different; an almost broken man a week ago was happier in every respect after contributions with the bat and captaining the side well across the five days. Cook has always been a 'lead from the front' style captain, England doing best when he gets runs, but there were also several points that could be noted as signs of better leadership. One of these was less reliance upon the pair of Anderson and Broad: Woakes was given the ball ahead of Broad at the start of the third day, rewarding Woakes for his efforts whilst also geeing up Broad to do more. He utilised Moeen Ali much more effectively, having previously been rather hesitant to turn to him but here giving him the backing to perform as a frontline spinner in good conditions, and reaping the rewards. The spinning question has been one of the hot topics of debate in English cricket this summer; it was good to see someone starting to provide an answer. Ali had suffered from being seen merely as an occasional bowler, someone to pick up the odd wicket here and there, but in this match proved himself much more than that. Though its not time to get hopes up too far, bowling out one of the best teams at playing spin is no mean feat and shows he does have a role to play at international level.

Progress, then, for Cook and England, hopefully showing a corner turned. The next match comes a week today at Old Trafford, where Plunkett could return to the side for a ground known for his pace and bounce; Anderson could be the man out depending on the outcome of his disciplinary hearing after the incident with Jadeja at Trent Bridge. England are on the up and with the series level at 1-1 and two matches to go, all is left to play for once again. 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Finding form at last

Monday, 28 July 2014
It was sure a long time coming, but finally in this fifth test match of the summer England's two most experienced batsmen - Alastair Cook and Ian Bell - scored meaningful innings for the team's cause. It had been a feature of the summer so far that while the newer members of the team were making their mark - Robson, Ballance, Root, and Ali all making centuries - the two most expected to be leading the batting line up were consistently falling short, but with innings of 95 and 167 respectively the pair gave fans (and the coaching staff) more reasons to look up.

Although Cook did not make it to the three figures he will be desperately craving - having not passed the milestone since May last year - his 95 will go a long way to silence the questions over his form. Though nobody doubted his class - scoring 25 test centuries is certainly no fluke - the dreadful run of form he had endured, for the most part not even making starts, led many (and I include myself in this) to believe that a rest from the side and from test cricket would be the perfect remedy. It was great to be proved wrong. The effort he had put in was clear; tricks such as standing further forward against Kumar were used to combat the swing, and in general he tried to player straighter. He had a slice of luck too - the story could all have been so different when, having scored just 15, a chance was dropped by Jadeja. Sometimes that is just the case - when a batsman is out of form the bad luck keeps on coming; eventually the tide has to turn. By no means was it a pretty innings - Cook's innings rarely are in any case - but it was the innings of a man determined to fight, and the crowd responded as such - a standing ovation when he brought up his fifty and another after his unfortunate dismissal just five short of the elusive century. The runs aren't the only thing that matters for Cook and questions over his leadership of the side will, quite rightly, remain, but it was good to see him put this trouble aside.

Bell was the hero of the last Ashes summer, but hadn't made a century since the fourth test of that series. This summer he was expected to be the leading light of England's batting line up after the departure of Pietersen, yet apart from a couple of pretty fifties against Sri Lanka he has struggled just as much as the captain. A match at Southampton, a ground he appears to favour as a player, turned out to be just what he needed. The pressure coming off to an extent may also have helped - the captain being back in the runs, plus another century from the ever-consistent Ballance (which could easily be forgotten amongst the return to form of the senior pair) would have eased the situation when he came to the crease somewhat, England being at 213/2 at the time. After Bell settled in he looked at ease, playing as he does so well when on song, and found no trouble going through the nervous nineties as he moved from 94 to 100 with a single hit, one of three sixes in his innings. With Ballance he set a perfect platform for England to accelerate in the final session, looking to head past 500 and towards a declaration.

Jos Buttler was the new face in the side after Matt Prior's withdrawal from the rest of the summer through injury, and the inclusion of such an exciting young player would have been a welcome distraction in some respects away from the inquest into the last match. The real focus will of course be upon his keeping and whether he can become test quality with the gloves, but the buzz will come over his batting after his sparkling limited-overs performances. He was another to be fortunate in gaining a life - though he appeared to have been caught on 0, and started to walk, the umpires judged it (rightly or wrongly) to have gone to ground first. What was unlucky for India was to the benefit of England and the entertainment of the crowd, Buttler playing with the freedom and adventure we have witnessed in ODIs in the evening session and scoring 85 from only 82 deliveries. It was the perfect situation for an attacking young wicketkeeper-batsman to come to the crease, already having 400 on the board and looking to set up the declaration, and Buttler certainly took advantage. Though he will of course find himself in tougher situations, he does look to be the player that can provide an injection of life to England's middle order that can at times find itself rather subdued. After tea England added 117 runs in only 18 overs, declaring on 569/7 after Buttler's dismissal and putting themselves firmly in control of the match. The day was then capped off with Anderson's wicket of Dhawan for 6, leaving India at 25/1 at the close of play on day two.

Though the success of the past two days haven't solved all England's problems, it does mean certain worries can at last be laid to rest. It certainly makes a change: England have been dominant over the first two days; haven't surrendered a strong position like they have all too often recently; and now all the top seven have made notable contributions this summer. Now it's time for Cook's captaincy to shine, and for the bowlers to also show their worth.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The 'Enforcer' Trap

Thursday, 24 July 2014
A thought that has been on my mind for a while now is about why it is that England's bowlers consistently bowl short when it doesn't appear the best option nor suited to conditions; about why they like to have someone labelled as their 'enforcer' when in reality by bowling at their natural length they would be able to do much better and 'enforce' an advantage further.

It seemed to begin with Stuart Broad, around 2011. He's tall with natural pace and bounce, plus a combative attitude, so on they slapped that 'enforcer' label and made him the aggressor. The idea was that with teams such as Sri Lanka and India touring that summer, he would be the one to expose their shortcomings against the short-pitched delivery. In the process they seemed to forget what is usually the secret to success with such a tactic - make it the shock ball, not the stock ball; put the threat of the bouncer into the batsman's mind to make him hesitant to come forward, rather than knowing what to expect and so able to stay back and attack, duck or sway. England won the series, but Broad averaged 48.75 with the ball and by the final innings of the series had lost his position as new ball bowler to Chris Tremlett. Also tellingly, when England lined up with three beanpole fast bowlers in the second test - Broad, Tremlett, and Finn - Sri Lanka racked up 479 with the bat, further showing how variety is often the key. Heading into the India series, on the verge of being dropped, Broad then went back to his more natural, fuller length and it paid off - topping the bowling averages with 25 wickets at 13.84 as England recorded one of their most emphatic series wins and duly went to the top of the test rankings. Quite a contrast.

The role of the enforcer hasn't been seen as much since - though England are still keen on using bouncers and targeting certain players, there hasn't been the talk of one player with that out and out role. But once more with Sri Lanka and India touring - teams from the subcontinent after all not well known for their strengths against the short ball - England seem to be falling into the trap again. This time Liam Plunkett seems to have been picked as the man - he has the natural pace and showed against Sri Lanka how well directed his bouncers can be, and it did bring him some success as he took nine at Headingley. But the secret here was again that it wasn't overused - he threatened with his pace and some close fielders, but his most memorable wickets were when he was threatening (and demolishing) the stumps. The worry is that England are using him in a way where he is repeatedly bowling bouncers even when the pitch doesn't suit - be it a slow low deck like Trent Bridge or a green one like at Lord's - rather than letting him do what got him back in the side. His pace also seems to have dropped, nullifying the threat of the 'enforcer' to some degree anyway, be it from the amount of the workload or other reasons. He hasn't stopped picking up wickets for the team, but there is a feeling that he is being wasted to an extent, his talents not utilised in the right way. Given that he's already on his second spell in the side, it would be a shame to see him not given the chance to reach his best.

But why is it that England seem to persist with this tactic? Is it part of the plans of the bowling coach, David Saker? There was a moment in a recent interview with Steven Finn where he described him as being more of a tactical than a technical coach, something that - though we have always known it - didn't make him look good in a summer where the bowlers have struggled to dismiss the batsmen on several occasions and often looked without answers, the team's tactics often blamed. There have been several changes in the coaching staff recently, with Saker one of the few to remain from the old Flower regime, and with the bowlers' struggles this year there have been suggestions that he should go too. But part of it must be the captain and the bowlers as well - surely they aren't just trained robots without a say in the game they are playing and no ideas of their own. Why not back the bowlers' strengths and just use the short ball as a shock delivery, as an alternative tactic perhaps like used by Sharma on day five? It's something that looks like common sense to those of us watching the game, pundits and fans alike, yet those in and around the England team see it differently.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Where did it all go so wrong?

Monday, 21 July 2014
I am writing this in a state of despair, immediately after seeing England bounced out by Ishant Sharma with an old ball. This isn't even the worst performance or defeat England have had in the past couple of years or so since they lost the number one spot, but it's the manner of the defeat - losing in conditions that would appear tailor made for England against a team from the subcontinent - that makes it a whole new low and obvious that something has to change.

First of all, credit cannot be taken away from India. Both sides have had chances to put themselves on top in this match, and both sides have squandered their opportunities to really put themselves ahead in the game. India fought back from 143/7, Rahane making a brilliant century and showing again that he has a very promising career ahead of him. Bhuvneshwar Kumar put in another strong display with both bat and ball, six wickets in England's first innings and important runs down the order in both India's innings. Jadeja was up for the fight throughout, definitely coming off better in the psychological battle with Anderson, responsible for his dismissals in both of England's innings and his 68 from 57 in the second helping put India in control. Their seamers did better than England's in general - finding that fuller length and being more restrictive throughout. Finally, Sharma's spell of well directed short bowling finished the game off for India, as England's batsmen had no answer and simply followed each other back to the pavilion after making the same bad shot choice.

For England though, questions will have to be asked and changes will have to be made. The ongoing theme of the summer - or even of the whole past year - has been the questions over the form and captaincy of Alastair Cook. With every defeat and every innings, even every day the calls for Cook's head have grown stronger and stronger, and it's difficult to deny that the burden is weighing him down. I have no doubt that he will come back with the bat - he's proved himself too good a player not to - but ever more it looks like the captaincy's just not for him and he needs a break away from the team. Will England miss him if they drop him for the Rose Bowl? Well he's not making a difference with the bat and seeing as his team couldn't do the job on the first day on a green top, it seems his captaincy isn't doing much either. County cricket isn't short of openers who could stake a claim to a place in the team.

In general, the senior players have been letting England down. The newer members aren't without fault of course, but players with such experience should be able to lead the way when a lot of the time - particularly in the batting department - it has felt like the other way round. The writing now looks on the wall for Matt Prior - he hasn't been the safe pair of hands that he had grown to become, conceding byes and putting down chances. At the start of the summer I thought it was a good call to put him back in the test side, adding experience to England's middle order. But aside from the first innings against Sri Lanka (and a couple of dubious umpiring decisions) his batting hasn't been up to scratch, both sides exposing a weakness to the short ball, and though he has had some difficult pitches to keep on, the standard of glovework is falling too. When he was dismissed for 12 in the second innings, there was a feeling of finality about it all. It could very well be a disappointing end to a sparkling career, it looking ever likely that Jos Buttler will come in. Bell's form has been somewhat overshadowed by Cook's struggles, but has been nearly as poor. Broad still looks to be struggling with fitness, and is another of England's bowlers falling into the trap of bowling too short. The same goes with Anderson, bowling too short even though he is a swing bowler who should know better. Is that a matter of poor captaincy or just poor bowling? Both, particularly Anderson, seem to bear the brunt of the workload, Cook seemingly reluctant to turn to the less experienced Stokes and Plunkett even when they were the ones picking up the wickets. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Anderson rested for the next match, one of Woakes, Jordan, or Kerrigan coming in to replace him. 

The way England succumbed so meekly to the short ball in the final innings - and moreover the whole summer so far - has also been especially worrying. Is it a hangover from facing Mitchell Johnson in the Ashes in the winter? Or, with a crop of new players in the team, does it reflect a larger weakness among English players? They've hardly faced anyone of 'express pace' so far, but next year will be facing Australia once more and South Africa - teams with faster bowlers who will expose any weaknesses they see. Ferocious spells of short pitched bowling and regular bouncers are less often found in the county game so players often do have to 'learn on the job' as it may be when they make the step up to international level. Moeen Ali has been exposed more than once this summer; Root didn't look at ease as soon as the tactic was employed and fell to a poor stroke; Stokes was caught without making a run, his disastrous run with the bat continuing. They're going to need to learn fast, because it will only continue.

England have a lot to think about if they are to make their way back into the series. Older players are looking jaded, mentally and physically, and changes will have to be made. When England were at their best, reaching the number one spot in the world, one of their key qualities was that 'never say die' attitude - always coming back when backed into a corner, being able to fight back when under pressure. England have, at times, shown signs of that quality this summer - making it to the last over in the second match against Sri Lanka, Root and Anderson's tenth wicket partnership, Root and Ali's partnership here giving England some hope of winning the match. But too often it's been the other team that's been able to make the fight back, and too often England have succumbed. Something has to give.

Friday, 18 July 2014

The cricket takes stage again

Friday, 18 July 2014
And so the matches have come thick and fast, and we are already two days into this second test. With a particularly green looking pitch, plus an alleged pushing incident between Anderson and Jadeja causing friction between the two sides, this match promises more spice than the first in more ways than one. But after midweek talk of pitches, pushes, and drunken incidents the cricket has again been able to take centre stage.

Unsurprisingly after England won the toss, India were inserted in to bat. Day one saw mixed fortunes for England - poor in the first session, brilliant in the second, and then at their poorest in the evening. Though India's score of 295 all out looks on paper like a decent result for the bowling side, on such a pitch England should have done better. Time and time again they failed to do that most obvious of tactics - pitch the ball up and aim for the stumps or the famous 'corridor of uncertainty'. Once more it was often a case of too short too often. It is all well and good asking for a better pitch, but when you do have a surface that appears tailor made for bowling on it has to be utilised, and from players as experienced as Anderson and Broad you would expect better. India were only one wicket down after the first hour, and only two by the end of the first session - ideally when inserting a team you would have them at least four down by lunch. England were firing after lunch, reducing India to 145/7 shortly after tea and looking like they could knock them over for under 200. But once again England struggled with the lower order and let the innings get away from them, a brilliant century from Rahane helping take India to near 300 - at least ninety runs too many ideally for England.

It was also a mixed bag for England's batsmen. Gary Ballance hit his second test century and was supported in a partnership of 98 by Moeen Ali, but was the only batsman in the top five to pass twenty. England's batsmen were often becalmed by the Indian bowling - their run rate being 2.54 in 86 overs compared to India's 3.21 in 91.4; India's bowlers generally more disciplined and fuller than England and so helping to put pressure upon the batsmen. Ballance though played a top innings, England not being in the easiest of positions early on after losing both openers and seeing the top five crumble away. It's too early to say that England have found their long term replacement at number three for Jonathan Trott who was such a rock for the team, but if Ballance continues the consistency he has shown so far this season - scoring two centuries and two fifties so far and not always in the easiest of circumstances - he could go a long way to filling that role. He looks to be a player unflustered by difficult situations and is able to go through the gears if needs be, as he has shown glimpses of for England but particularly in his county career. More challenges will come of course - providing he is present, next year offers many difficult-looking prospects with series against Australia, Pakistan and South Africa - but for now he looks to be establishing a place in the side and will be pleased to have made the headlines for cricketing reasons after his off-field antics found the headlines more in midweek.

Another concern for England - as if there aren't enough already - will be the form of Ian Bell. With the loss of Trott and Pietersen from the team and many young faces now making up the batting line up, it was hoped that he would be the player to provide the big innings and the impetus in the middle order. Unfortunately so far, it has just not been the case. After being England's star of the home Ashes series last year, his form has just slipped away, averaging under thirty since. Against Sri Lanka he looked in decent touch and scored a couple of quick fifties, but in a sense it was more like the 'old' Ian Bell who made pretty runs but not the defining contribution for the team. It must be said that I am a massive fan of Bell - there are fewer players that I would rather watch make runs - but so often is he frustrating. At 32 he should be in his prime and in an inexperienced lineup should be able to take on that leading role and play the key innings for the team. He's also an ideal player for England's supposed new attacking philosophy, having the natural flair and ability to play attacking innings and put the pressure back on the bowlers when the situation dictates. Yet so far this summer, it's seemed to be the case that the new recruits have been the ones putting in the noteworthy performances without the support of the more experienced members of the batting lineup.

On a more positive note, this match does seem to offer the prospect of a result as opposed to the lifeless nature of the match last week. England closed the day on 219/6 and though they ought to be in a better position in this match in terms of their performances with bat and ball, with a strong late order the chance is there to create a decent first innings lead and put pressure upon India heading towards the end of the match. After taking two late wickets and escaping with the bat in their own innings, India still remain very much in the hunt and the match could be set for an interesting conclusion over the next few days.

Monday, 14 July 2014

The pitch wins out

Monday, 14 July 2014

It was, quite frankly, a bizarre game of cricket. We saw two tenth wicket partnerships worth over a hundred runs, batting collapses and fine centuries on either sides, and finally a wicket for England's captain. There were stages when it all got just a bit surreal.

The one constant was the pitch, which offered next to nothing for the bowlers. There were some brief periods where the ball swung and it offered some turn, but for the most part it was just slow and low. Whether this was a decision from above, a 'chief executive's pitch' that we often hear about, or whether it was due to the drainage systems installed in English pitches in recent years as others suggested; it just wasn't a good pitch for a game of cricket at the highest level. You want to see pitches that offer carry, chances that go to the keeper and the slips rather than always seeing the ball bouncing before them. Matt Prior had to stand much further forward just for the ball to reach him - eventually even standing up to the stumps –  but at the same time it shortened his reaction times and made chances more difficult to take. Really what makes a good match is a contest between bat and ball, a pitch that offers something for both batsmen and bowlers. And especially for England, so far this summer playing four seamers, they need pitches that offer their bowlers some spice.

Another factor that's going to come into play this summer, and especially if pitches like these ones continue, is rotation. In India's first innings all the seamers bowled over thirty overs, in the second innings twenty more. With the whole five test series taking place within the space of a mere 42 days (the next match on Thursday), there will be tired bodies along the way and  to prevent injuries changes to the side will be a must. It's particularly a problem for England now without a front-line spinner to absorb many of the day's overs as well as taking regular wickets. Moeen Ali is decent but far from the finished product - in any case batting being his stronger suit – and was expensive and so unable to build pressure. Simon Kerrigan has been added to the squad for the match at Lord's and so could feature – he had a debut to forget at the end of last summer but the selectors remain keen and Peter Moores, his previous coach at Lancashire, will remain in his corner. The balance of the side is another point to consider when it comes to rotation – would Kerrigan come in for Ali despite his battling century against Sri Lanka, seeing Stokes return to number six; would he give Plunkett a rest to save him for a (traditionally, at least) more bouncy pitch at Old Trafford; or replace Broad, currently managing a knee injury? With test centurions down to number nine in this game, there is room for adjustment if needed.

Though the match was a draw, and with only three innings quite a dull one at that, it did provide its share of enjoyable moments. I wrote about England's problems against tailenders in my last post, and it was a problem shared by India. Joe Root and James Anderson scored a world record tenth wicket partnership of 198, after a swashbuckling innings of 47 by Broad, which really saved the game for England and meant that by the fifth day they were the only team that could realistically have some hope of winning. Anderson's score of 81 was one of the most popular moments of the match, first helping Root reach his century, then giving England the first innings lead, then breaking national and eventual world records; both him and everyone else in a mix of joy and disbelief. It also showed to England that it's a lot easier to enjoy these things when it's not the opposition causing the damage. Then as the match drew to its close, time running down until the sides could shake hands and call it a draw, we saw a rather extraordinary sight. Cook and Ballance got their chance to have a bowl; Ballance walking up like a young Shane Warne and Cook bowling all sorts, even taking a wicket with a bowling impression of Bob Willis. It could even be optimistically described as a moment of captaincy genius, certainly putting smiles on his team's faces after a tough day in the field and doing its bit for team morale.

Both sides got themselves in good positions in this match but I think as a whole England got the better of it, able to put India under pressure on the final day after having looked down the barrel, 159 runs behind at 298/8, when batting. To give credit to Cook, I don't think he had a bad game in terms of captaincy, even if his batting continues to put him under pressure. There were some aspects that he could have done better – putting a third man in would have saved a lot of runs – but he did experiment with the field to some success and couldn't have done much more in the conditions. Both Dhoni and Cook looked powerless as the tenth wickets made hay. But it has to be said that, in this first match of the five test series, the only winner was the pitch.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Finding the killer instinct

Friday, 11 July 2014
It's seemed to be another theme of English cricket over the past couple of years that they have gotten themselves into a good position, before being thwarted by a lower-order partnership – particularly for the tenth wicket. Over the past few seasons we've seen players such as Best, Agar, Harris, Herath, and now the Indian pair of Kumar and Shami get the better of the English bowlers.

England got themselves into a decent position. The pitch has been lacking life from the word go – it's been slow and low, doing very little for the bowler and with the ball often not carrying to the keeper or slip cordon. All in all, it meant the team's effort was for the most part nothing to be ashamed of – the bowlers kept running in and Cook was showing willingness to experiment in the hunt for wickets. When four wickets fell for two runs, leaving India at 346/9, England were on top. But then came the tenth wicket partnership, once again thwarting England. Kumar and Shami played brilliantly, often playing proper cricket shots and looking like proper batsmen, like their positions of nine and eleven respectively were too low down. The bowlers just couldn't find an answer and were tiring. India finished with a total of 457, a tenth wicket partnership of 111. England were left exhausted and embarrassed. 

Maybe it's a matter of a killer instinct, finding the winning habit again. When England were at their best, in 2010 and 2011, it felt like they could just knock teams over like that. But then the aura started to fade. Tino Best came close to making a century down at number eleven, a player far from being known for his batting ability. A year later, and Ashton Agar came even closer, making 98 before England finally managed to dismiss him, though it is unlikely he'll ever be batting at number eleven again. Other tail-enders have also had the better of the bowlers – it was something we saw again and again in the Ashes last winter, England just not able to take advantage when they got into a good position (though the batting of Brad Haddin was also a major factor). The list is too long for comfort. It's difficult to say what the problem is – maybe it's a matter of complacency, maybe it's the bowling tactics – an overload of bouncers hasn't always been the best route and the yorker is too often ignored when it could be effective. However frustrating though, last wicket partnerships are at least very entertaining – Tino Best my favourite for the sheer joy and air of disbelief at the whole thing.

So what's to come over the next three days? Well it remains to be a pitch for the batsmen, so hopefully tomorrow will bring England piling on a stack of runs. The young batsmen should be gaining confidence after their individual successes against Sri Lanka – ignoring the last innings for most – and will be continuing to try to cement their place in the side, particularly Ben Stokes after his return to the team (Chris Jordan can consider himself unlucky, but then again, after his winter Stokes deserves to be back). The difficulty for the batsmen looks to be the timing – on such a slow pitch there were several occasions where Indian batsmen were through their shots too early and it did cause wickets to fall, though I shall stay optimistic. Apart from Cook's unfortunate dismissal and the odd edge that didn't carry, Robson and Ballance looked reasonably comfortable in the short time they had to bat in the evening session and hopefully the runs will continue to come on day three to leave the match nicely poised.

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