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.

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