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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