England heading for a whitewash defeat and the batting stats don’t lie

Another day, another poor show with the bat. Couple this with the first underwhelming English performance with the ball on this tour and we have for the third time this series a predicament which sees England staring a Test Match defeat directly in the eye.

Pietersen has been just one of many disappointments against Pakistan

England’s paltry 141 with the bat was perhaps slightly excused after Pakistan were skittled for 99 on day one, but today’s show of solidarity from Azhar Ali and Younis Khan proved that the pitch was, in fact, fairly innocuous and provided the perspective necessary to highlight just how poor England were again throughout their first innings.

Though the bowlers too struggled on day two of the third and final Test, it is hardly fair to apportion much blame in their direction. It has after all been their efforts, almost in isolation, that have spared England complete humiliation in their first Test series since being named the world’s leading side in the format.

Today, the most notable of the negated England bowling threats was that of Graeme Swann whose usually  very effective off-spin was made to look entirely impotent by Pakistan’s star performers on the day. It may sound a little cliched to say that Younus Khan and Azhar Ali succeeded with the bat due to their ‘patience’ early on and their progressive build towards ‘taking the attack’ to England, but that just about sums up the majority of the day’s play.

Aside from this show of resilience from Pakistan and England’s first slip of the series into the realms of ineffective bowling, the current cause for major concern must be the lacklustre batting displays which are a world away from Down Under at the start 2011 and the run-thirst demonstrated on home turf against India in the summer.

The clearest indicator of the fall from grace for England’s batting line-up on this tour is the comparison of their averages so far in the three match Test-Series with those put together during India’s visit in the summer, where England of course dished out a whitewash series victory of their own.

During England’s ‘Indian Summer’ the vast majority of their batting line-up enjoyed huge success and it was Alistair Cook at the top of the order who led them out of the blocks in style, carrying on from his outstanding form away to Australia in the Ashes. His average in the India series was very healthy, up in the high fifties, even if that was courtesy of an outstanding knock of 294 at Egbaston. This stunning contribution in Birmingham meant that his series average was nearly 40 runs-per-innings higher than his collective contributions against Pakistan this winter.

Cook’s partner in crime, Andrew Strauss, didn’t have quite as healthier average as his fellow opener but the captain did manage an average in the high thirties which is better than his low thirties average so far this series.

Jonathan Trott, the recent recipient of the ICC’s top award at their yearly celebration of all things cricket, may have suffered a series ruining injury over the summer against India but prior to this he had chipped in with a series opening 70 before a slump which saw him average in the mid-twenties. His form with the bat in this series has actually seen an improvement on his contribution in the summer, with his average up in the thirties but three scores of sub-twenty out of five innings is still a cause for concern.

Kevin Pietersen who seemed to have returned to something like his dominant best against India with a world-beating average of 89, has too struggled throughout the present tour. After some worrying early indicators in the warm-up matches, KP has continued to struggle against the Pakistan attack managing a measly 49  collective runs scored over his five innings’.

Along with Pietersen, it was Ian Bell who really shone over the summer with an almost as imperious average of 84. Sadly though for Bell who’s summer was seen as something of an affirmation of his world-class status as a Test performer, his role against Pakistan has been far less glamorous. In alarmingly similar fashion to Pietersen, he has sunk without trace on the current tour contributing even fewer runs than his team-mate; a total of just 41 runs from his five visits to the crease.

The fledgling member of England’s supposedly match-winning batting line-up, Eoin Morgan, is one of the only batsmen worthy of a little sympathy for his torrid time out in the middle this series given his lack of Test Match experience. However, his lack of runs has also been a worry given the faith shown to select him ahead of the talented (even if not entirely reliable) Ravi Bopara. Morgan has averaged more than 20 runs less-per-innings during the present tour when compared to his contributions against India on home turf.

The common theme for England’s batting line-up is clearly that they have failed to deliver anywhere near as strongly as they did at home to India in the summer, with the exception being Jonathan Trott who’s average has actually been an improvement. There are of course several reasons for such a rapid decline in form and I am not going to bother claiming that I am next in line to Graham Gooch on the batting guidance front, but the foremost explanations are two-fold.

First, the England batsmen are ‘ring-rusty’. This may sound a little pathetic when they are meant to be top-class performers but a few months out of Test action is a long time and although they may have needed it for the sake of their long-term sanity, it hasn’t exactly helped them in the short-term. Also, there appears to be some serious deficiencies in their approach to batting on Sub-Continental pitches, which have seen the batsmen resorting consistently to either negative and tentative reliance on the back-foot and, alternatively, if all else fails, they have been lured into loose shots designed in vein to relieve pressure.

So then, there is an enormous amount for England to work on in the coming weeks and months but in the short-term a second innings of composure and positivity would go some way to restoring the apparently fragile confidence of their batting contingent.

 

England Vs India Marks out of 10: England take the lead to fuel belief of number one status

What a fantastic Test match and what a great victory for England. Their slightly undercooked opponents looked a little rusty and were never quite a match for the on-song hosts of the 2,000th Test match of all time.

Below are my marks out of ten for the two sides:

India:

Abhinav Mukund – 6/10

This was a plucky first outing at Lords for the youngster filling in for the rather more illustrious figure of Virender Sehwag. A breezy knock in the forties in the first innings demonstrated confidence and a desire to show real intent at the crease even when opening in a Test match.

Gautam Gambhir – 3/10

Nothing really from Gambhir in his new found role as the senior member of India’s opening partnership in the absence of Sehwag. Two small contributions and a nasty whack on the elbow to boot. He will hope the bruising and swelling has eased up a little for Trent Bridge, and after this lacklustre showing England may want to see him fit for action too.

Rahul Dravid – 8/10

First Lords Ton for 'The Wall'

Magnificent showing amidst a real lack of support en route to a first innings hundred. It was his first at the home of cricket and boy did he deserve it. It was a typically rear-guard hundred from ‘The Wall’ and it was just what India needed at the time. Despite not following it up with an equally important knock second time out he must go down as India’s star performer of the Test.

Sachin Tendulkar – 3/10

Usually the man for a crisis but not this time out for the ‘Little Master’. Two knocks of no real note and a bout of the flu for his troubles. Maybe he will get another chance to ton-up for the first time at Lords in what has been an incredible career. If his chance does come again then he might want to score with a little more fluency than today when at one point he had gone 39 deliveries without scoring a run.

VVS Laxman – 4/10

Just when India needed an experienced head to play himself in and settle alongside Dravid in the first innings Laxman holed out in miserable fashion. A flimsy paddle down to deep-square saw him perish and with it went much of India’s optimism. He did somewhat redeem himself in the second innings in an unfamiliar role at number three in the order by making a half-century, but he didn’t hang on long enough to have a real impact upon proceedings.

Suresh Raina – 5/10

The youngster showed real character to follow up a two-baller in his first innings with a rear-guard half-century in the second. Sadly for India his efforts were cut-short when he ran out of partners in the early evening.

MS Dhoni – 3/10

His two minor showings with the bat are worth half a mark, his attempt to at least try and Captain a side ravaged with injury and illness is worth another half, his OK glove-work is worth another half and the nerve as Captain and Keeper to throw off his gloves and turn an arm is worth the rest of his 3 out of 10.

Harbhajan Singh – 2/10

‘The Turbanator’ was ineffective with the ball in both innings as the spinners toiled on the pristine Lords’s track. Add into the mix a wimpy edge outside of off to Chris Tremlett in the first innings and a remarkably poor stroke to hole out in the second and you might come to the conclusion that he had a poor game.

Praveen Kumar – 7/10

The inexperienced military medium swing bowler was the only man to step up in Zaheer Khan’s absence from the attack for most of the first innings. As such he was very deserving of his five-for and he backed this up with a confident but brief lower order knock to help India scrape past the follow-on target.

Zaheer Khan – ?

India will be hoping their attack leader returns at Trent Bridge

A spectator for the majority of the game due to a hamstring strain but his two showings with the bat yielded no runs, not that it would have been him running them anyway. For the early stage of the game when he was fit for action he was very good and he had taken the only two English wickets prior to his injury.

Ishant Sharma – 6/10

Nothing with the bat at 11 and found wanting in a wicketless first innings of bowling. Found his rhythm in the second English innings and for a brief period revelled in tearing apart their top order. However, lunch then came to England’s rescue and Sharma was inexplicably held back for around 40 minutes after this break. When he came back on the aura had gone, promising signs though.

England:

Andrew Strauss – 4/10

Coming in off the back of two top-class knocks in India’s warm-up game the England captain again faltered a little with the bat. Two scores of no great note, but decent captaincy en route to one of the finest Test wins under his guidance.

Alistair Cook – 1/10

Brought back down to earth with a bump. There simply had to be a Test match coming up where Cook wouldn’t fill his boots and this was it. Hopefully better things to come as the series progresses.

Jonathan Trott – 6/10

Important gritty knock of 70 in the first innings in the worst of the conditions but failed to match t up with another good one in the second innings.

Kevin Pietersen – 9/10

KP has described this as his best Test knock

Glorious return to form for KP on one of his most prolific stomping grounds. His third Test double-hundred was outstanding and full of determination and maturity. He went through the motions in this most magnificent of innings, starting out slow in tricky conditions and cutting loose in the sunshine. Shame he tarnished his performance with a cheap dismissal for just 1 in the second innings but still got MOM.

Ian Bell – 4/10

Just as was the case for Cook, there was bound to be a Test where Ian Bell wouldn’t score big and this was it. Fluent forty or so in the first before falling victim to Sharma’s period of destruction in the second. Bell will be hoping this duck wasn’t a sign of things to come.

Eoin Morgan – 2/10

A poor showing from Ireland’s (and England’s) finest. Nothing to speak of with the bat and dropped poorly when the pressure was on to dismiss India in their second innings.

Matt Prior – 10/10

This hundred may well be Prior's most important innings for England thus far

Not the official MOM, but certainly got my vote. Really outstanding performance from England’s wicketkeeper/batsman. A brisk and exciting 70 odd in the first innings was followed up by an incredible unbeaten hundred in the second innings. Add to this an almost flawless performance with the gloves at Lords where keeping is notoriously tough and you can see why he is fast establishing himself as the finest number seven in world cricket.

Stuart Broad – 9/10

Broad allayed any fears over a lack of form

Came into this Test under the cosh with many feeling his place should have gone to Tim Bresnan. Maybe this was the spur behind an outstanding performance with bat and ball. He took the first three wickets of India’s first innings including that of Tendulkar en route to a four-for and followed this up with two more wickets in the second innings when if it weren’t for some suspect fielding and umpiring he could have had at least another two. A golden duck in England’s first innings was less than impressive but his unbeaten 74 alongside the majestic Prior helped save England from meltdown in their second innings. If only time were on his side he might have gone on to score a second Test hundred and it was fitting that he got the match sealing wicket.

Graeme Swann – 6/10

Like Harbajhan he struggled to really impress with the ball but he did comfortably out-bowl his opposite number. In addition to his efforts with the ball he provided able assistance with the bat when KP cut loose in England’s first innings, this contribution helped them assert their authority over their opponents at an early stage of the match.

Chris Tremlett – 7/10

Never looked fully fit but strived hard for his wickets and kept charging in to the bitter end. He got his reward with the prize scalp of Dhoni after tea on the last day and that seemed to be the spark needed to topple the lower order. Hopefully his niggles are minor and he will be all guns blazing come Friday.

James Anderson – 7/10

Not vintage all the way through from Jimmy but a great showing in India’s second innings. He eventually managed five-for and got his name on the honours board again at Lords, he will be disappointed with his lacking performance with the ball in India’s first innings though.

Spot The Fixers; The Pakistani Cricket Scandal

The fourth morning of English cricket’s summer swansong descended into misery and chaos. On a morning that should have been all about the extraordinary achievements of messers Broad and Trott and their record-breaking stand, the News of The World broke the news that Pakistan players had been involved in illegal spot-betting during the test match.

Ashen faces filled the stands at the home of cricket where the vast majority were seen clutching to a copy of the NOTW. Star bowlers Mohammeds Aamer and Asif it had been alleged were involved in spot-betting regarding the bowling of no-balls. Recently appointed Captain Salman Butt was also accused of overseeing and profiting from the scandal. Cricket a ‘gentlemen’s sport’ was left reeling.

Suspicion arose when Asif and Aamer delivered in total three blatant no-ball deliveries at the times which corrupt ‘middle man’ Mazhar Majeed revealed they would in an undercover sting carried out by the NOTW. Since these initial allegations investigations have progressed. Aamer, Asif and Butt have been interviewed by Scotland Yard but were all let go without charge, however, the ICC have suspended all three players from playing until investigations are finalised.

It seems as though all thus far suspended are indeed guilty though no official charges have yet been made. Too much clear evidence seems available and even the team mates of the trio such as Yasir Hameed have come out with revelations regarding the whole Pakistani’s team involvement in spot-fixing over the past few months. The publicly named and shamed trio have all protested their innocence but besides themselves and their team of lawyers very little seems to be on offer in terms of sympathy or defence. One would suspect this is down to their being little to defend.

My personal belief is that all players found guilty of such deviance should be dealt with by the toughest means possible; however, I will offer a crumb of support to the cause of the accused. I in no way advocate their actions but it is perhaps understandable that world class Pakistani cricketers are tempted into such corruption when their average annual central contract is approximately £30,000. Compare that to the average English central contract of £400,000 and you begin to grasp a sense of injustice.

Pakistan after horrific recent flooding is a country in ruins, their idols careers may well be as well. I hope for the sake of a desperate nation that this story can in time reach its most savoury and appropriate resolution.