Tag Archives: Ian Bell

India Not Fit for Purpose

It was to be a fascinating contest; the World Champions against some upstarts with the potential to overwhelm weaker opposition, but not yet tested against the best.  Surely England were still a couple of series from being the real thing?

Yesterday, in the fourth encounter this summer between England and India, and after a first day’s play circumcised by rain, the home side’s openers were removed in a blink of still waking eye to full length deliveries.

However, the next two batsmen like supermodels parading down the Oval catwalk in a record breaking partnership totalling 350 made it another long uphill day for India.

This Oval wicket is without its characteristic pace but possesses the character of a crumbly cheese already offering enough turn to discourage any side from volunteering to nibble it last.

Shortly before close of play Pietersen was back in the changing room for 175 from 232 balls.  Bell is still strutting his stuff on 181 from 304 balls.  Test centurions Morgan, Bopara, Prior and Broad have yet to step forward.

Frankly, in the field, India are not fit to play Test cricket – that is not fit physically or mentally. 

On this historic ground that has provided a stage for great cricketing deeds since the 1840s, India’s aging batsmen are a liability in the field.  The younger ones, perhaps emulating their elders, have absented themselves from effort and struggle.

Catches are being dropped and, worse still, catches are being jibbed.  The derision of the crowd was not without justification.

There will be better (and much fitter) bowlers operating in club cricket this afternoon.  There will be far better fielding sides.

Sharma (1/81 in 27), the best on offer, is five or six miles an hour off the pace that he should be able to operate at and, significantly, the movement is all one way – that is, ‘in’ to the right handers who are at liberty to step across and play him freely to the on side.  It is all corridor, and no uncertainty.

Sreesanth (1/95 in 23) is also ‘off the pace’ and, with a ball and conditions that during this entire series have consistently helped the swing bowler, his movement begins from the hand and ends in the middle of the bat.

In truth, ECB will have provided India with better net bowlers for morning practice than the out-of-condition RP Singh (0/96 in 30) who Bell and Pietersen milked with the care of ethical farmers practicing sustainable agriculture.

Mishra (o/129 in 29) looked as menacing as a particularly somnambulant sloth, his variations offering no alarm, his turn serving monotonous defence rather than attack.

As Bell and Pietersen treated the crowd to an exhibition of batting, it was difficult for spectators not to snooze and dream they were watching May and Cowdrey against Ramadhin and Valentine.

Bell modelling the high elbow of haute couture, Pietersen fashioning his revolutionary ‘New Look’ before their eyes; just as W.G. Grace had paraded his radicalism in an innings of 224 not out on his debut here in 1866, and just as John Small a century before that at Broadhalfpenny Down for Hambledon against Kent had broken new ground with a straight bat and innovative technique to tame the new length bowling in a huge innings of 140 runs.

Then, awakening from such revelry, the spectator remembered the quality of the opposition. Pietersen is still providing a window on the future, but this was nowhere as important an innings as the one he played here against the Australians in 2005.

At 457 for 3, England will endeavour to add enough runs today to ensure they do not have to bat again.  Then the great batsmen of India will have one last chance to shine and Swann the opportunity to play his part in a series that is, like a Christmas dinner, fast demonstrating that too much can be as debilitating as too little.

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Knight-time at Trent Bridge

Cricket is a game of bat and ball and therefore, if a side is to lose, it must be beaten twice-over.  This is cricket’s erudite expression of the adage, ‘It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.’

During the course of the third day of the second Test between England and India, the Indian bowlers were well and truly beaten. 

England began what for them should have been an anxious day 43 runs behind India with one wicket down and an important batsman, Trott, hors de combat.

But they ended it having scored 417 runs for the loss of only 5 wickets with a total of 441 for 6 – giving them a startling and commanding lead of 374 with more to come.

After Strauss had been unhorsed with the lost ground yet to be retaken, Bell first and Pietersen later made a mockery of the perceived difficulties of the batting conditions.  

There followed a day of carnage and mayhem. 

As soon as India had unseated one opponent his replacement picked up the fallen lance and took forward the advance with yet more zeal and vigour.

In England’s list the pugnacious Swann comes into the tilt-yard at 10 and the belligerent Broad, who transformed England’s fortunes in their first innings, has yet to bat.

It is the interminable belligerence of the batting, with its ricochet of the West Indians and the Australians in their pomp, that will have done so much psychological injury to India.

Theirs was a weakened bowling attack.  Not only is Khan missing, but Singh was unable to bowl more than 9 half-hearted overs at a stage in the match when a physically and mentally robust spinner should have bowled 30 or 40.  

Yet, the dismissal of Trott caught off the gloves from a steeply rising delivery from Kumar that was a repeat of one earlier in the day which bounced over the gloves of Dhoni standing up to the same bowler, is evidence that the spite has not been rolled and baked out of this wicket entirely.

However, the day will be remembered for an incident that occurred from the final delivery before tea when Morgan hit the ball to the midwicket boundary and, owing to a mixture of the confusion caused unintentionally by the boundary fielder, Kumar, and the tiredness and sudden break in concentration on the part of Bell (137 at the time), the batsman left his ground for the sanctuary of tea, believing the ball to have gone for four and thus to be ‘dead’.

Kumar unsure whether the ball had reached the ‘ropes’ returned the ball in leisurely fashion, via the wicket keeper, to short leg who calmly removed the bails and appealed.

Bell was given out amid the taunts and jeers of an unattractive crowd whose belligerence easily matched that of England’s batting.

Foot soldiers will say that the valid appeal should have stood.  The cavalry will say that Bell’s error was a misunderstanding and therefore, in the spirit in which cricket is played, the appeal should have been withdrawn.

Following a visit to the Indian dressing room by Strauss and Flower, Dhoni, with the support of his side, chivalrously withdrew the appeal and Bell resumed his assault on the Indian bowling after an interval extended by this diplomacy.

Whether this incident adversely affected the performance of India in the final session or whether it was plain exhaustion, England plundered 187 runs after tea with Prior hacking 64 in 55 balls and Bresnan 47 in 66.

Rahul Dravid, acting as spokesperson for Team India, had evidently been reading The Waning of the Middle Ages in which Johan Huizinga identifies the source of the chivalrous idea to be ‘pride aspiring to beauty, and formalized pride giving rise to a conception of honour, which is the pole of noble life’, told reporters, “It is nice to play the game in the right spirit.”

But chivalry is also a social mechanism for the avoidance of blood-and-treasure-sapping feuds, and the maintenance of dignity amongst a self-preserving elite.

Without questioning the upright motives of India’s senior players, who clearly felt a deep unease at the nature of Bell’s dismissal, the decision was made against the background hubub of a crowd making naked its aggressive intent and the buzz of half the commentariat who were already challenging the honour of this tourney’s visiting combatants.

After his innings of 159, Bell can place his lineage without presumption beside that of Tendulka, Dravid and Laxman in the Peerage – a high rank indeed.

The prospect is dark for India, but these esteemed knights and their fellows will tell themselves that in cricket the batsmen must be beaten too.

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Conjunction of the Spheres – Bangaluru Style

 

Stuff happens.  Sometimes, when men and women play with time and space, patterns emerge.  As India and England began their first encounter in the ICC World Cup there were, however, few signs of untoward conjunctions. 

Those who eagerly traverse the Twittersphere looking for runes to read would have done well to note a tweet from that Mighty Magus, Shane Warne. Unable pre-match to chose between the teams, the Wizard of Oz half joked, “It’ll be a tie”  (for the which he might have given odds of 1,000 – 1).

Note to the wary: Beware Mighty Magi who half-joke.

At first, though, the times looked all a-kilter.  On a flat and tacky deck in Bangaluru, Sahwag’s bat persistently preceded the ball into the space marked ‘Contact Zone’.  The first time it did so, the white sphere shot skywards towards second slip eluding the outstretched hand of Graeme Swan by millimetres and microseconds – an improbable start.

Repeating the partial eclipse of bat and ball, Sehwag, then squirted the orb squarewards in a looping trajectory just over and beyond a diving Bell (irresistible pun) leaving Anderson the bowler, in a time and space of disbelief.  Impossible.

The first pattern to emerge in this awesome encounter between the best on the planet whose batting power stretched before England like a beam of light heading towards the edge of the universe: Tendulka, Sehwag, Gambhir, Kholi, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Pathan, Harbhajan et al … and the Ashes victors who had been all but humbled by the Dutch and whose form coming into this match was questioned even by their staunchest supporters … yes the first pattern to emerge, therefore, was one of disarrangement, as Sehwag continuing to err in bringing bat and ball in line again played a nanosecond too soon – the ball’s predestined elliptical orbit this time describing a route over the head of an out-of-position mid-on.  Impenetrable.

From that moment on, and across the remaining 99 overs, the stuff began to configure.  Sehwag found the middle and the boundary (an oxymoron which can only be achieved in cricket) and produced a pressure-free atmosphere in which Tendulka could harmonize body and bat with sufficient time to treat the millions tuning in through their cathode rays and flat screen sets to the music of the spheres in a flawless innings of 120.

Surely this match, if not this entire tournament, could not produce a better example of batcraft?  But to believe that was to ignore the power of the developing patterns and symmetries in this matchless match.

At the halfway mark, Third Man’s patent predictor suggested a final score of 340, but at the end of the 30th over a simple doubling of India’s score – the more normal forecasting device – gave India hope of 360.

We had witnessed one great innings and were to witness another, but before that Bresnan, who had already removed Sehwag, returned to take four further wickets to deprive India of a stellar score and to keep them tied – yes tied – by a gossamer thread to Mother Earth at 338. 

Brezzer’s figures were 10.1.5.48 with an economy rate of 4.8 runs an over.  The nearest effort by an England bowler was 6.4 and the worst 9.25.  India’s best would be Bhaji with 5.8 and even the sage-like Zhan’s three wickets were obtained at 6.4 runs an over.  Such was the carnage bowling took on this benign wicket, but such also was the eminence of the Yorkshireman whose 5 wickets were surely the equivalent of an innings of 169 runs and deserved for him the title of Man of the Match (which no doubt went to a batsman).

And from the start of England’s innings this appeared ordained to be the bright and hoped for example of Total Cricket with Strauss and Pietersen playing without fear from the off. 

Pietersen fell at 68 to the third ball of the ninth over when his blistering straight drive was parried by Patel who caught the rebound seated on the ground like a child at a birthday party accepting a rabbit from a hat.

Bell brought to the wicket craft to equal Tendulka’s.  They do things right, they do things well, they exhibit a balance that is near perfection and to see them both at their best on a single day is good fortune in deed.

At the other end the England Captain selected his shots with the precision of a great engineer building a bridge across a broad bay.  Give me a lever long enough and I’ll move the world, had said Archimedes.  Strauss effortlessly levered his way to 50, then, 100, and beyond to the 150 mark.  Nothing seemed able to stop him and England, at 281 for 2, from moving the Earth.

But Bell, suffering from cramp, begged his captain to allow him to kill or cure the pain and restriction with a swipe or two.  Strauss called the batting power play and Bell immediately skied to extra cover.  The batsmen having crossed, Strauss was instantly pinioned – hey-presto – by speed of hand from Khan the Incontestable.

After a time of turmoil and falling wickets, England’s collapse looked terminal when Yardy departed with 32 still required off 15 balls.

But the Chinnaswarmy Stadium offered not only a flat track, but short boundaries to provide an environment more suited to Total Cricket than Total Collapse. 

Dhoni chose Chawla to bowl the 49th over with England requiring 29 from 12.  The choice seemed acute when the first ball confined the batsmen to a single.  But then Swann swiped the ball over the midwicket boundary for six and Bresnan smote the fifth in the same direction for another six.

Hope had briefly returned to English hearts with 14 required from 7, but Brezzer missed the next by a mile and was bowled.

The young and inexperienced Shazad strode to the wicket – exactly the qualities Total Cricket demands in this situation.  Swann’s 2, then a single off the first two balls seemed a capitulation, but  that single had brought Shazad and his fearlessness to the time and place of his fate.  He struck his first ball for a six straight that skimmed like a shooting star to the blackness of the sightscreen behind Patel.

Five runs were required from three balls and the batsmen ran a bye to the wicket keeper.  From the second to last ball Swann running frantically and India fielding clumsily, completed a second run. 

On the identical 5th ball of the 49th over in India’s innings, Khan had similarly called for two but the laws of symmetry had ended there.  Khan had not made his ground and, worse, Patel had placed his bat on the line of the crease.  That line belonged to the umprire, aptly named Erasmus, who smiled the smile umprires smile at such times because they love nothing more than to signal and shout ‘one short’. 

This is where Total Cricket brought us yesterday.  To a point in time and space at which a wicket would win it for India, a single would bring the conjunction of the scores in the freakish feature of a Warned tie, and two or more would give England the magician’s cape.

Swann’s single to mid-off was both climax and anti-climax, coincidentally bringing relief, regret and rejoicing in the Total Conjunction of one of the great 50 over matches of All Time.

As the Mighty Magus might have said, “What other result could there possibly have been?”

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Forgive Them for They Know What They Do – at Sydney D3 T5

At the SCG today, Phil Hughes knew immediately that he had not made the catch off Cook on 99.  Ian Bell knew immediately that he had nicked the ball.

From an early age those who go on to play cricket learn the difference between catching a ball on the way down and a ball rising as a half volley from the ground.  The two have a totally different feel on the hands.  Cricketers can tell with their eyes shut.

Similarly, but from a not quite so early an age, a batsman learns the feel that comes through the bat when he has edged the ball. There is no mistaking that sensation of ball on bat, however faint. It is totally different from the feel from a bat having clipped his pad or his foot on the way through its swing.

Both Hughes and Bell also gave the game away in their body language and ill-disguised hesitations when questioned by team mates or interviewers.

These are professional sportsmen who almost daily risk losing their livelihood, especially in the early stages of their careers, at the hands of poor umpiring decisions augmented by the ploys of their opponents. 

That is why there are umpires.  It is why the game must give them every possible technical aid as quickly at their disposal as technically possible.  Why administrators and referees must come down hard on any action that seeks to influence or pressurise the decision taking.  And why there must be no toleratation of descent once a decision has been made. 

Professionalised cricket is an industry. In each match there are in the region of twenty five small firms ‘in play’.  If the chairman and chief executive of one such firm stands, rather than walks, claims falsely, rather than fesses up, we should not be surprised.  It is a business decision.

But there is a place for ethical self-respect in business and in life.  The choice is with the individual.

Meanwhile Bell demonstrated the kind of batting described here yesterday with back foot shots played to the rising ball through a full arc around the field interspersed with sumptuous front foot drives that threaded the field. His balance footwork and timing were magnificent.

A compilation that in early November might have struck the reader as bizarre.

At close of play, Cook confided to an interviewer that, batting the way he has since Brisbane, there have been periods when, as for a Zen master encountering the sublime, time passed in a blurr.  ‘Is it really effing drinks already, mate?’. 

It was meet therefore that his 189 took his series total beyond that of Herbert Sutcliffe’s huge achievement in the Ashes of 1924/25.

Cook’s total is still some way short of W.R. Hammond’s 905 [at an average 113.12] made in 1928/29, which fact underscores Hammond’s achievement and in no way diminishes that of Cook.   1928/29 is still the closest template for this series that sadly for England supporters is drawing to its close.

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Magical Realism in Cricket Part IV – Great Expectations

“There you have it, Gentlemen,” says the old Essex and England warrior, Graham Gooch taking the stage, weathered, stooped and coiled by tendon-tightening age like the veteran of many a campaign that he is.

“What your beautiful mother told you on her bended knee, Cookie; what your father bowling endlessly to you on the Cape repeated time and again, Trotters; what your teacher drummed into you in that posh school Skip; what your coaches yelled at you during all those throw downs, Belly … was wrong!”

“From now on it’s not ‘watch the ball’, gentlemen, it’s ‘expect the ball’.”

At this point Andy Flower takes up the theme. “It’s increasingly clear to us that the Indians have been perfecting predictive techniques for years, imagining the ball so intensely that they’re able to cheat time a little; learning to opening their minds to let the future in.” 

“Blessed if I know how else we can explain Sunil’s mastery of West Indian pace all those years ago?” interupts Gooch.

“Very good, Goochie. For every long hour that Sachin spent in the nets, we think Achrekar had him spending two more sharpening his ability to read those visual cues and make the right predictions.  What moving ball hitters have been doing instinctively for centuries, what according to C.L.R. James a batsman like George Headley did through the night before each innings, the Indians have begun to do deliberatively, scientifically, systematically.”

In what is obviously a choreographed presentation, Strauss seamlessly takes the floor.  “We are fairly certain that the Aussies have been using their time in India this winter to work up their own knowledge and put into effect drills to enhance the predictive capacity of their batting.”

“Looks to be doing them a lot of good, Skip,” interrupts the iconoclast, Bresnan.

“It may not appear to be working well, but we should expect a period of transition, is that right Doctor?”

“What’s the evidence base for this?” asks the team boffin, Collingwood.

“Dr Kuhn here is pretty sure that they have their own magician and illusionist working with them.”

“Yes,” adds Kuhn.  “I feel sure that they have been using the rather controversial work of  Mark Changizi.  We’ve been looking through all the recordings for any glimpse of him but we’ve drawn a blank so far, although, there are indications from peeps through to the back of their dressing room that various practices are being used.”

“Have we tried to get anyone into their camp?” asks Morgan.

“I’m sure you know why I can’t answer that, Eoin.” “We do, however, have someone keeping an eye on their Centre for Excellence for us, but I’m not at liberty to reveal any names at present.”

“Right then, enough of this idle speculation,” concludess the old Essex warrior. “I want all you batsmen down stairs, full equipment, in five minutes.  We have some new tricks to show you don’t we, Dr Kuhn?”

“And remember what Nelson flagged at Trafalgar, ‘England Expects …’”

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