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.

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