Saturday, 30 August 2014

England's recurring nightmare

Saturday, 30 August 2014
Yes, it really is that bad. The World Cup is the next major event on England's horizon, and it's still hard to see them being competitive when they get there. And what might be the worst thing is that it isn't even surprising. England were bowled out for 161 on Wednesday chasing 295, bowled out for 227 today setting a total. It's just not good enough, they don't look able to set or chase the totals of 300-plus that are needed now to win games. It could well be another miserable winter coming up.

It's partly a matter of personnel and partly a matter of mindset. The bowling is more or less there - providing Broad is back fit and firing by the time of the tournament and Finn really settles back into the team, England do have a strong attack - yet the batting continues to come up short. The selectors have finally given into the Hales hype, good to see after such strong performances in the Twenty20 side, yet still the team is short of those power players who really have the ability to change a game. Hales can be one, Buttler is another, Pietersen was one (though really his one-day record over the past few years could have been much better) - but who else? Morgan has been, but has struggled to find the runs this summer. Cook is a player who really innings should be built around, Bell and Root similar though with more natural flair and invention; but the question seems to always be repeating - how many of this type of player can England accommodate? In the mean time, calls for players such as Taylor, Vince, and Roy are growing ever louder as they rack up the runs in county cricket -  how long can England ignore them? Bopara is another who I'd want back in the team, and was rather harshly dropped from the side after arguably being England's best ODI performer last year. Even though he has struggled so far this year, it still seems a bit unfair.

Again, England found themselves in trouble against spin in the middle overs. Only one boundary was hit between the 18th and 44th overs, going from 82/0 to 182/7 in this time. When the more part-time bowling pair of Raina and Rayudu came on, England failed to take advantage when if anything they were the pair England should have been trying to take the game to. But it was the same old story - the spinners strangled them once again. India's spinners were great at really getting through the overs quickly; the batsmen had to go from playing themselves in to needing to hit out in what felt like no time. And as the wickets kept falling and the run rate kept stagnating, more and more pressure was placed on the lower order to rescue England from a situation they should never have really been made to face. When it took James Tredwell - with 30 from 18 - to take England close to 230, it's obvious that something's not going right.

The plus point, if there is one, is that it was a slow pitch quite unlike the ones that England are likely to face when they travel to Australia and New Zealand for the World Cup. On the downside, after making it through this series they travel to Sri Lanka first where they are likely to face more of the same - in itself a slightly odd place to go in preparation. Ideally, they would know their best eleven for the World Cup by now, but if not - as the case does well seem to be - then that tour and these last two games will be the last chance if there are any changes to be made. Myself, I'd like to see Taylor and Bopara back in the side - Taylor has been putting in some great innings for Nottinghamshire over these past through months and has never really been given a proper chance, whilst I do feel Bopara's drop was slightly unfair, plus his bowling is enough to be an extra option and relieve a few overs. Ballance and Ali, currently in the ODI squad as it stands, also have strong List A records and strike rates and would also be worth a shout, though Ballance hasn't really got going in the ODIs he's played so far. Instead, as usually seems to be the case, a bowler will probably be held responsible after the batsmen have failed again. It's been the same old story from the players, and the same old nightmare for everyone else.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

England's progress report

Wednesday, 20 August 2014
So, we have come to the end of the test summer and while it's been a bumpy ride, progress has definitely been made. Once again England have provided a rollercoaster of emotions - going from the tension and disappointment of the tests against Sri Lanka; close to rock bottom after defeat to India at Lord's; to emphatic victories in the last three tests. England have shown progress throughout the summer - but the task is not over yet and there are still plenty of areas for improvement. Here is my take on England's summer and what still needs to be done.

First of all, the captaincy. I was among those who believed Cook should go after Lord's, though still not knowing who the best man was to replace him. Thankfully, it has got better since then. The thing with Cook is that while he does have his moments where he is inventive and makes good decisions, he sometimes has long periods when he has no answers - and particularly when England are put under pressure. This was something particularly visible in the second game against Sri Lanka, when Angelo Mathews' brilliant performance took the game beyond England's reach and set up his team's eventual victory. Credit must be given to Cook though for England's recovery - he does look to have helped create a team spirit with everyone behind him, and he must have said something right for them to come bouncing back in the fashion they have after such a low ebb. He does truly have a team to lead now, not like the fracturing side of the Ashes. Yet England were barely put under any real pressure in the last three tests, so he should not rest easy yet. He still needs to have more back up plans for when England are really under pressure, as they will undoubtedly be when they come to play teams such as Australia, South Africa, and Pakistan in the coming year. But he has shown enough to stay in his job, when at times this summer it really looked like he wouldn't.

The question of the opener is still one that has gone unsolved since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012. Unfortunately, the search may still continue with Robson still not having nailed down his place in the side. He did show his potential with a century and a fifty but too many times he was nervous around his off stump, that famous corridor of uncertainty where batsmen can be exposed in test cricket. He is young enough and has enough promise to come back, and I do hope he gets another chance, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him replaced in the side when England return to test cricket in the Caribbean in April. A strong showing in the one day side could help Alex Hales find his way into the test team, a move that would be popular among many; or perhaps one of the Yorkshire pair of Adam Lyth and Alex Lees could work their way in (Lyth the more likely - Lees just a bit too young). There are options for England, but the man chosen for the spot in the tour of West Indies will in all likelihood be the man they go for in the Ashes - so it will time to stick or twist.

The middle order though does look close to being solved. Gary Ballance looked at home batting at number three despite his lack of experience that high, making three fifties and three centuries and impressing in the calm way he seemed to handle it all. Bell remains a class act, and though he didn't perform to his best he is always a great player to have in the side. Joe Root put his troubled winter behind him and continued to show why he is one of the most promising young players in world cricket. Jos Buttler also showed no nerves stepping up to the test arena, and though his glovework is still a work in progress, his batting brought excitement and youthful energy; he really looks a player who can take a match away from the opposition. The only question mark so far would be over Moeen Ali, though his spin bowling has made up for his lack of runs. He showed great character against Sri Lanka, coming so close to saving the game with his century in the second innings at Headingley, but since then the runs have dried up and a concerning problem against the short ball become evident. England will have to hope he learns fast, because he will certainly be targeted next year by bowlers like Johnson and Harris, Steyn and Morkel. There's also the question of finding the right spot for Ben Stokes - despite his horrible form, number eight is still too low for him really and the right balance has to be found.

The bowling is still a work in progress - though Broad and Anderson are nailed on for England's strongest eleven, the question is about who their support should be. Steven Finn remains around the side, and if he does get back to his best then he has to be a definite pick - his pace and height are just such valuable assets and he has proven ability at international level. Of those we have seen this summer, they have all had their moments. I was pleased to see Plunkett back in the side and finding success with his nine wickets at Headingley before injury put him out of action, and looks a good option to have in the pack. Stokes is an exciting player, a genuine all rounder, and though his batting fell apart I was surprised to see him dropped after doing well in the two tests he played against India - particularly after batting at number eight anyway. Jordan is a player who looks to have something about him and a knack of picking up wickets, though he is still a work in progress with consistency an issue. Woakes is the one I'm least sure about - I'm just not sure he has that extra quality to take wickets at international level (or at least tests - he could fit into the ODI team). But I must say he has seemed to improve with every test, and also didn't always have the luck he deserved. I think generally they have a good crop of young bowlers who it is worth sticking with, and it's good to see that there are several in their plans because with 17 tests in twelve months coming up, rotation will be important.

With spin bowling it does look like England have found an answer as to who should replace Graeme Swann. Moeen Ali has improved as the summer has gone on, going from someone only seen as a part timer at the start of the summer to now being viewed as a genuine front line bowler. The way he has adapted to this level has been impressive; he has taken on advice from other players and people in the game to find what works best, and the results have been visible. Filling the boots of Graeme Swann, one of England's most successful spinners ever, was always going to be a difficult task but he has done a good job of it so far and played a large role in England's victories. He is no world beater yet, but has done away with the doom and gloom foreseen when looking at England's apparently bare spin cupboard at the start of the summer.

The bigger challenges are yet to come for England, and it won't be surprising to see many more bumps along the way with next year's Ashes and tours to South Africa and Pakistan to come within a twelve month period. But there is certainly hope - there are a good young bunch of players who have really started to perform, and that much sought after team spirit looks to have returned. The misery of the start of the year, and of points during the summer, is starting to be dispelled and as fans we have something to cheer about once again. England's jigsaw isn't yet complete - one series win does not make them world beaters - but maybe, just maybe, the pieces are starting to fall into place.

Monday, 18 August 2014

What went wrong for India?

Monday, 18 August 2014
Yesterday, the same story repeated itself - once again India put in a dismal batting display, worse than the previous innings. This time, 94 runs were all that could be managed. They also conceded 101 runs in barely twelve overs at the very start of the day's play. It was the show of a team that had given up, and a long way from the side that had made England suffer with a strong batting display at Trent Bridge and humiliated them at Lord's. Though many had expected England to be the eventual winners of the series - home advantage and better bowlers to be the key - nobody had expected it to end quite this way, with India giving such abject batting displays. It left the simple question: what went wrong?

The batting is the obvious reason for the series loss, given that in their last five innings they failed to pass the 200 mark once. Players such as Kohli, Pujara, and Dhawan failed to live up to the hype surrounding them; simply, the new breed of Indian batsmen post-Tendulkar did not deliver. This would partly be due to a lack of experience in English conditions - and having to face a master of swing like James Anderson in them - with any technical flaws being exposed by the swinging and seaming ball. Some batsmen did perform - though Vijay never topped his century in the first innings at Trent Bridge, he showed sticking power on several occasions; Rahane also impressed at times, making a century at Lord's; Dhoni became his team's only form of resistance at times in the past two tests; and there were a few good knocks from the lower order batsmen, particularly at the start of the series. But it wasn't enough. Though the conditions weren't always suited for batting - and England definitely had the better time with the weather in the last two tests - India still didn't put up enough of a fight, and when England really did bowl well they surrendered all too meekly. After seeing the last two tests, just imagine what England could have done if they had bowled to their potential on that first morning at Lord's.

In terms of bowling it went better for India, often being let down by poor fielding or poor umpiring. Kumar looked a bowler well suited to English conditions - though he doesn't bowl at express pace he bowls a good line and length and swings the ball, often enough to make players struggle and especially when they are out of form. Sharma also bowled well - his height and extra pace offering another dimension to the attack. Even if that haul at Lord's was just as much about England's poor technique against the short ball as Sharma's bowling, India's attack looked much better with him a part of it. Beyond those two it was less simple - many were tried but did not do enough; luck was a factor (poor Pankaj Singh), as was being overworked like Aaron. The spinners also didn't make the impact hoped for, even though conditions weren't always helpful. The bowlers should not be criticised too much though - they certainly can't be faulted for trying. The fielding did let them down several times - catches being dropped in the slips more than once; Jadeja's drop of Cook in Southampton perhaps being the most notable. It wasn't good enough, especially from a young team in an age where fielding standards are ever improving.

In fairness to India, they weren't helped at all by the scheduling. Who thought it was a great idea to put five tests in the space of six weeks, I will never know. There were no opportunities for batsmen to have a knock away from the test arena within the series, not enough time for bowlers to rest up in between games. How was Gambhir supposed to come in and make runs straight away when he replaced Dhawan, if he hadn't had any cricket beforehand? It's also a wider issue, with this being a five test series - something England are used to (albeit not necessarily with this group of players), and India are not. Five match series do need more stamina and strength, mentally and physically; something that Indian players were perhaps not fully prepared for without having such experience. Whilst England got stronger, India faded. Perhaps they should play more of the longer format and have less emphasis on the shorter games - but do we really expect that to happen?

Another issue seemed to be team selection - India just couldn't seem to find the right team. The four bowlers or five bowlers conundrum was one that affected them, and sometimes when players were picked it was difficult to see what role they were there for. Binny is an example - picked for the first test, he batted at eight but then bowled only ten overs in England's innings (out of 144.5 total), before then scoring 78 in India's second innings. Again, at Lord's, he bowled only ten in England's 105.5 over innings, and then didn't even get a go in their second; at The Oval he bowled twelve of 116.3. Though he was expensive, that he was used so little begs the question - what was he there for, what was his role? It was similar with Jadeja, looking not quite like a front line spinner, not quite like a front line batsman. Ashwin was probably a better all round player, yet was only picked for the last two matches. I don't know what the best line up is for India - or which one of four or five bowlers is a better route for them - but it didn't look like they did either.

Finally, the whole 'incident' between Anderson and Jadeja. At first, it seemed like India had come off better from the whole affair (whatever exactly happened), with their victory in the second test. But then the saga dragged on and on, instead firing up Anderson and the England team and perhaps taking India's focus away from what really mattered on the pitch. We might never know the true tale of events, but given the results of the hearing it sounds like far too much was made out of an event where it was always going to be difficult to prove that anything really happened - so was it something really worth pushing for?

As an England supporter, it's difficult for me to complain about a series win and the emphatic manner of the three victories. But still, it was disappointing to see India succumb so easily and give up without a fight towards the end. It's hard to tell if this was worse than the whitewash in 2011, though then they did at least make England work for their victories more. India will come back from this - and players like Kohli and Dhawan will in all probability now go and dominate the ODI series to follow - but it was a dismal defeat, and it looks like much will need to be done in order to improve.

Friday, 15 August 2014

England surge; India crumble

Friday, 15 August 2014
Today, India's batting collapsed again. It has now been four innings in a row with a score under 200, and today's was the worst of the lot as they could only muster 148 - and that was including a counter-attacking innings of 82 from Dhoni, containing 15 fours and a six. The next highest score was Murali Vijay's 18. This time round it only took four balls for the first wicket to fall, four balls for the misery to set in. Vijay was the only one of the top five to make double figures - even Rahane falling for a duck this time - and again India were five wickets down before lunch with the prospects of a series-levelling win disappearing before them. Some small slices of luck came their way to prevent being dismissed for under three figures - an edge behind by Dhoni so slight that even the fielders didn't pick it up, and Bell dropping a regulation slip catch from Sharma. Dhoni's answer was to come out swinging, and he did find success, but even then it was not enough to save the innings. A last wicket partnership of 58 may have taken some of the sheen off for England, but it will be difficult for them to complain with India's total of 148.

Where it could be argued that at Old Trafford, England's supporting pair of bowlers in Jordan and Woakes eased the pressure on India, being more expensive with the ball and not offering the same wicket threat, here came more of a team effort among the bowlers. Jordan's first two overs saw two wicket maidens - a sequence of four wickets in 14 balls when added to his two in two to finish off the last test - and then picking up the wicket of Kumar after lunch. Woakes was also in the wickets either side of the break, finally finding himself with some luck and removing Vijay, Ashwin, and Aaron. The pair took six wickets between them, and also both bowled seven maidens out of the fourteen they each bowled, maintaining the pressure after the opening spells of Broad and Anderson. It was a long time before India's run rate made its way above two an over, only Dhoni's attack able to lift it there. Though Jordan was at times inconsistent (though mostly unpunished), England will nevertheless be pleased with the pair's display - after looking like the weak links in the attack at Old Trafford and Southampton, here they took the main spoils in another strong bowling display.

England's batsmen didn't necessarily find it easy going either, but found luck more on their side. Cook survived a couple of close LBW appeals, and should really have been out with one going on to hit the middle stump. Robson also had the odd streaky shot, one going through where fourth slip might have been. It was good to see a solid opening stand from England, something that has been missing this summer with the pair struggling for form. It will also have done a world of good for Sam Robson, who has been the latest player under scrutiny after his struggles with the bat - particularly around the off stump. To have made a start and survived over night will give him an opportunity to build an innings on what looks to be a sunnier day tomorrow, in what could be make-or-break time ahead of the next test tour to the West Indies and the Ashes series in the summer beyond. Likewise, Alastair Cook will be hoping to take his opportunity and end that ever-growing run without a century. The pair were not bogged down in the way India had been, Robson in particular often finding the boundary, and made their way to the close of play at 62/0.

It leaves England once again in a thoroughly dominant position, well and truly favourites to take this final test and wrap up the first series win of this 'new age'. For India, it continues a horrible turn of events since their victory at Lord's; in many ways it feels like completely different sides are now playing. What could have been an exciting series between two young sides with much to prove on a world stage has since turned one-sided, India's struggles as bad as they were in 2011. Problems can be found in several areas - the batting has been frail, players like Kohli and Pujara not filling their boots; team selection a revolving door - the question of whether to go for five bowlers or four looking a constant issue; Dhoni's captaincy at times questionable - for example his insistence on leg slips. For now, it is advantage to England once again.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A dominant display

Sunday, 10 August 2014
Like London buses, after waiting nearly a year for a test win, two came along at once for England. And if the previous win could be described as emphatic, then this was even more so with India beaten inside only three days. Though just making it to the end of the day could have been enough for India - the weather forecast really looking that bad - they seemed to lose all fight in their second innings, falling apart on the way to an innings defeat.

On the second morning, India were actually the better team - winning what was arguably their first session since Lord's. The wickets of the nightwatchman Jordan and Bell fell in quick succession to Kumar, whilst Varun Aaron also troubled the batsman in his first match of the series, being rewarded with the wicket of Moeen Ali. England fell to 170/6, and with their lead only being 18 it looked like India might be able to get back into the match. Yet the pair of Root and Buttler managed to rebuild before the rain started to fall and brought a premature end to the day's play, England at 237/6. India weren't yet out of it, but the lead was edging closer to 100 and a platform was being set. The pair continued to build upon this progress the following morning, Buttler showing he is just as capable of building an innings as he is outright attacking, and both made it into their seventies before falling to Pankaj Singh. Pankaj had a luckless time on debut with dropped catches and dubious umpiring decisions denying him of his first test wicket, instead seeing him record the worst bowling figures by a debutant. His poor luck was continuing here as he repeatedly beat the outside edge with no reward, but when it did finally come - a glove by Root down leg, of all the ways to get it - it was warmly received by both sets of fans. Unfortunately for India, England now had plenty of runs on the board and after brief attacks from Woakes and Broad (Broad's innings cut short by a horrible blow to the face, leaving him with a fractured nose), England were all out for 367, a 215 run lead. On a pitch where the bowlers would always have a chance, it was a strong total and meant that only the weather was now likely to beat them.

In the second innings, India crumbled away just as easily as they did in the first. There was no 8/4 this time - and by the end of the innings there had been only one duck - but the end result was much the same, and this was without the man who had taken six wickets in the first innings. All the bowlers contributed - Woakes also finally taking a wicket after faring similarly to Pankaj in the previous match - with Moeen Ali this time being the leading light. With every passing match Moeen is looking more suited to test level, changing his pace to suit the conditions and getting a good amount of revolutions on the ball. The six in Southampton was followed up with four here, and helped 53/1 turn into 66/6 - leaving the game virtually over for India. Anderson also chipped in with a couple of wickets - once more removing Kohli for a low score, his disappointing run of form continuing with a series average of only 13.50. What was perhaps the worst shot came from Dhoni - a slog to midwicket only finding the flying Ballance. In many ways it typified India's failure, seeming to show they had just given up. More resistance came in another counterattacking innings from Ashwin, but India couldn't overcome their deficit before the last two wickets fell in two balls to Jordan. India all out for 161; an innings victory for England giving them a 2-1 lead in the series.

Can India come back from this? With the series still alive with a game left, it is not over yet and England came back from a similarly devastating defeat only last week. But now England's morale seems ever rising, as they look to continue their promising form. They are still a work in progress and questions do remain over some players - mainly Robson as opener and the pair of Woakes and Jordan as support to Broad and Anderson, who have looked a class apart in these past two games. Personally, I would like to see Finn return to the team as when he does get it right he is a bowler who can post a constant threat with his pace and steep bounce, and he has bounced back well in county cricket this winter after becoming 'unselectable' over the winter. For India though, the problems are mounting. The new generation of batsmen, barring Rahane and Vijay, have for the most part not lived up to their reputations, and the bowling has been mixed - Kumar successful but not able to do it all by himself, Sharma injured, others such as Binny and Shami tried and then dropped. The team selection has at times been questionable - Ashwin and Aaron not playing until this fourth test; Binny played but barely used; Rohit Sharma in and out for only one game. In all the off field drama regarding Anderson and Jadeja, India seem to have come off worst, perhaps letting it become too much of a distraction from the real action. England will be favourites to take the series at The Oval after two dominant victories, but it is still not time for India to give up yet.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

One wild half hour

Thursday, 7 August 2014
There's a common thought in cricket that while you can't win a match on the first morning, you can certainly lose it. It's something that England arguably did in the second test at Lord's. Now, at Old Trafford, it was India's turn - a bizarre first half hour seeing the top order fall away, leaving them at 8/4 within just six overs. The match is certainly a long way from over - and you might feel that if anyone can mess a position like this up, it is England - but after being routed for 152 in the first two sessions, India are left facing an almost impossible task to save this match.

It felt like a moment that you have to see to actually believe. It all started normally enough; Dhoni chose to bat looking at the pitch rather than the weather, but after Australia racked up 500 in the last test here (and the only one since the pitch was rotated), a precedent was set for a good batting wicket. Alastair Cook even said that if he had won the toss, he too would have chosen to bat. Instead 'a good toss to lose' became the phrase of the day as the clouds loomed and the ball swung and seamed. Where Anderson and Broad had been so wasteful at Lord's, here their lengths were spot on and time after time the ball found itself on its way to the slip cordon. In the space of only thirteen balls, what felt like a blink of an eye, 8/0 became 8/4. England were on fire and, after all the past week's fuss about sledging, the ball was finally doing their talking. Resistance of course duly came - Rahane holding out until falling to Jordan on the brink of lunch for 23; a well fought innings by Dhoni for 71, advancing down the pitch to combat the swing and finding his rewards; a counterattacking 40 from Ashwin, finally given a place in the side. When the sun found its way out, and Woakes and Jordan came on to bowl, it did become relatively easier for India to bat and they did find their way past the 100 mark they had risked not reaching. Yet still they could only muster 152, with only the three batsmen passing double figures and six making ducks. Advantage England.

Still, it wasn't easy going for England's batsmen either, both openers being dismissed cheaply once more. The questions over Cook's place in the side have died down after his performance in the last test, but unfortunately for Robson that has meant the focus has turned to him. Whilst I do believe that he deserves a decent run in the side - six tests not really enough to see if someone can make it at this level - he has so far shown a worrying tendency to lose his off stump, frequently out edging behind or bowled. If his century and his fifty are taken out of his stats, his batting average falls from 29.90 to 14.13 - enough to put his place in the side in jeopardy. That there is only one more test this summer could work in his favour though - would it really be the right time to make a change, given that the next test would be in April? Whether the selectors will show Robson the same faith they have shown Cook this summer (albeit a man with a proven test record), or if they discard him like they have their other openers since Strauss's retirement remains to be seen, but it still appears that the opening pair is a box not yet ticked off.

Nevertheless, in terms of the match situation it is only a minor gripe. Despite three wickets falling, being only 39 runs behind, and with Ian Bell established on 45* overnight, England are firmly in control overnight. Despite the morning's troubles, the surface does look a good one to bat on and especially when the sun is shining - though as ever in tests at Old Trafford, the weather forecast looks set to play its part. After finding themselves in such a good position though at the close of day one, England will be determined to press their advantage.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A Gentleman's Game?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014
It feels like at least once a summer an incident happens that brings up debates over the fabled 'Spirit of Cricket'. This year we've already had a mankading incident in the ODI series against Sri Lanka, and against India the incident between Anderson and Jadeja has raised questions over the role and the nature of sledging in the game. Over the winter we had Michael Clarke's 'broken arm' comment, and in 2008 an altercation leading to a race row between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds. There are more positive examples too: on India's previous tour of England there was the incident involving Ian Bell, allowed back after being run out when strolling off for tea. One of the most famous events in recent history was of course that moment with Flintoff and Lee at the end of the 2005 Edgbaston test. Yet more and more it seems that when this 'spirit of the game' is discussed, it's been because something has happened against it.

The whole Anderson/Jadeja affair reached its conclusion this week (for now at least) with both players given not guilty verdicts on their respective charges, insufficient evidence available to conclusively prove either side of the story. The whole saga has left a sour taste; where attention should be on what is an intriguing full length test series, too often has the focus been on a series of events at Trent Bridge that are sounding ever more sound a playground spat. Whether or not Anderson did push Jadeja unprovoked, as is the Indian side of the story, or if it was a matter of self defence as the England camp are saying; the underlying matter of it all seems to be Anderson's use of sledging. I'm not against sledging and I like to see a bit of banter between sides in the heat of the game, just sometimes it gets overdone and a bit ridiculous really. It's best when humorous - Flintoff's infamous 'mind the windows' comment to Tino Best, and Sangakkara to Shaun Pollock are examples that come to my mind, both getting into a batsman's head whilst still being relatively light hearted. At the moment it seems like the fun and wit has gone and sledging has descended to downright abuse, just shouting and swearing. And Anderson is one of the worst culprits really, always having a word with the batsman - even in the most recent match he was warned by the umpires for his words to Rahane. Whether it's a way for him to get himself psyched up, or to give him an image of a no-nonsense fast bowler to the opposition, recently it has just all got a bit excessive. He should let his bowling do most of the talking, he's certainly good enough.

But whose responsibility should it be to keep the players in line? In the 'Spirit of Cricket' preamble to the laws, the responsibility for fair play is put on the shoulders of the captain. And largely, it is - in cases of a controversial dismissal, the umpires often ask the captains if they want their appeals upheld. It's seen when there are mankad incidents (though now the law has been changed so the batsman is just out), and at other times - the previously mentioned run out of Ian Bell an example of sportsmanship, and in 2008 against New Zealand Paul Collingwood upheld a controversial run out appeal after a bowler/batsman collision, a less positive example. More generally, as the leader of the team, captains are responsible for the behavior of their players on the pitch. But sometimes the captain himself sets a bad example - like Clarke's 'broken arm' comment in the winter and Ponting in the 2010/11 series arguing with the umpire following a review, both fined for their actions. Should it be the umpires, taking a firmer line and not letting it get as far as it has tended to do recently? Or is it down to the individual - playing on the highest international stage, setting an example for other players of all ages? In an age of stump microphones, what they say is more often than not picked up. Really it has to be a combination of all three - umpires should snuff such confrontations out before they reach such a stage as Anderson and Jadeja's did, but the captains and players should take more responsibility as well and leave a lot of the lip behind.

Maybe it's a reflection of the modern game - exhausting touring schedules see players competing against each other again and again in shorter periods of time, with back to back tests and back to back series meaning tempers are bound to flare somewhere down the line. Or maybe the past is being looked at with rose tinted glasses, cricket littered with controversies like WG Grace's gamesmanship, Bodyline, and the row between Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana. Is the spirit of the game real, or is it just a myth? Batsmen not walking, catches being claimed or contested, sledging - all are parts of the game, for better or for worse. Regardless, there has to be a line drawn at some point in regards to sledging and abuse or spats like these could become ever more common, and that fabled spirit of the game become harder to find.
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