Tales from India
Regular contributor Geoff Wellsteed, author of Pavilions In Splendour — the Cricket grounds of Cheshire is in India for the current Test series.
Ranchi, Day 4
It's all over. Predictably we lost the match mid-afternoon, and the series with it. England put up a decent show today and made India fight all the way. An overnight 40-0, at one stage advanced to 84, and an early victory looked an absolute formality for the home side.
However, at that score the first wicket fell. Anderson diving forward to take a superb low catch to send Jaiswal back up the flower-decked pavilion steps. When the scoreboard displayed 99 Rohit Sharma advanced out of his crease, deceived by the flight and turn, and was stumped by a distance. The captain looked mortified. When the hopelessly out of form, Patidar went for a duck when only one more run had been added all of a sudden England had hope.
Immediately after lunch two more wickets fell, and with the total now 120-5 the visitors were cook-a-hoop. A simple equation; India needed 72, England needed five wickets. Regrettably there was to be no fairytale ending. Gill and Durel batted sensibly. They played strokes lifted from the MCC coaching manual — play forward, play with a straight bat. This pitch demanded a sound technique and they both demonstrated they possessed that skill in abundance. The harsh facts are that England could not do that on Day 3, and that without a shadow of a doubt was when the match was lost.
Overnight the Times of India reported the Day 3 pitch began to "bite and spit and hiss" but I think that was a misrepresentation of the facts. Durel a Test match rookie, twice in this match (90 & 39 not out) has palpably demonstrated survival (he received 226 balls) and scoring (90 & 39 not out) was quite possible. Root, Stokes and Foakes possess a sound technique, and so does the stroke-maker Crawley (but is too impetuous). After that the cupboard is technically bare. To earn a top degree in cricket requires arduous study, and a thorough technique examination on all surfaces. Practice makes perfect. I'm sorry to say cricketing skills are not acquired on a golf course. The newspaper went on to quote Dhruv Durel. He thinks batting needs hard work, visualisation and manifestation. Crikey! I wonder whether Baz McCullum has a view about that?
And an ending question. Why are colourful England footie flags banned on Indian grounds but home flags and waved in their hundreds? And a final observation. Why do England persist in wearing that awful snow-white kit? The Indians look so much smarter in traditional cream. Just off for my thirty-eighth curry of the tour so far.
Ranchi, Day 3, 25 February
Now, here is a question for you. When was the last time England relied on two pace bowlers who both had hair dye applied to their mop? Robinson has had the full peroxide job but Jimmy Anderson merely has a strawberry blonde highlight squirted onto his quiff. I can't find the answer on Cricket Archive but what I did find was the fact that as of the start of Day Three, Jimmy has bowled 39,727 deliveries in Test cricket to go with his 697 wickets. Only three men have bowled more balls at this level — Murali 44,039 (800 wickets), Kumble 40,850 (619) and Warne 40,705 (708).
So, what does one say after such a debacle? We all went from a breakfast feeling of high expectation to a supper-time of utter dejection. Defeat staring us in the face sometime tomorrow. At one time yesterday India were on the rack at 112-5, but they then recovered somewhat to become 219-7 by the Day 2 close.
The tail was particularly stubborn again this morning thanks to a resilient knock from Durel who made an excellent 90 and resistance from Kuldeep. Eventually they ended up only 46 shy of the England total. Perhaps Stokes got the bowling options wrong, but nevertheless nothing accounted for the disastrous way that England batted the second time around. Crawley made an attractive 60 but the next three highest scores were 30 (Bairstow), 17 (Foakes) and 15 (Duckett). Pope went first ball having last only two deliveries in the first knock.
Categorically, the pitch was not to blame. It flattened out today, it needed some application, no more. Ashwin helped himself to five wickets, Kuldeep four and Jadeja one and the whole sad affair was over in 53.5 overs. By the close India were 40-0 (8 overs) and now they need only another 152 runs to secure the series.
The plain fact is that India bat deeper and their spin bowling attack makes England's look very ordinary. Hardly surprising really, their trio have over 830 victims between them and ours (Bashir and Hartley), less than 30. Jimmy Anderson, our world-class bowler, incredibly, has only bowled 18 overs in the match. There will be no 'get out of jail card'. Surely, Stokes and McCullum will have some explaining to do. Just off to drown my sorrows.
Ranchi, Day 2, 24 February
Achieved a super-quick entry into the ground this morning but bottles of water were banned. (Allowed yesterday!). I should have mentioned entry on the first day was all a bit chaotic. All the tour party had hospitality tickets for the grandly-named 'Luxury Parlour East' but when we arrived at that particular gate it was locked, and, unbelievably, it took someone 15 minutes to find the key!
When I was overheating in the queue my mind strayed to sea frets at Scarborough CC. My annual pilgrimage to that lovely old ground always includes a ritual visit to the brick-built Tea Room at the Trafalgar Square end of the ground where a sausage butty on a paper plate, and tea in an earthenware mug can be bought for just over £2. It is not easy to miss the structure as the sloping roof has 'Tea Room' painted on it in very large white letters. Given its very descriptive, but plain, title I wondered whether a re-badging to the 'Trafalgar Luxury Parlour' might be in order then I came to my senses and realised why we all love the annual jaunt to the east coast. Surely, it is because nothing much has changed there for a hundred years. That is its charm, and long may that be the case.
Without a shadow of a doubt England are in the driving seat at the close of play. The visitors won all three sessions today and now have taken five of the six played. In the morning session, against the new ball, another 51 runs for England proved to be a real bonus. Joe went sweetly on while Robinson scored the bulk of the runs and in doing so made his first Test match fifty.
The pre-lunch wicket of Rohit was a tremendous boost. By teatime India were 131-4 and crucially had lost batters 3,4 and 5, all dismissed by Bashir. In the early part of the evening session the youngster then bowled Jaiswal middle stump. The new Indian superstar, who again looked a millionaire-dollars, stood there in disbelieve. He made 73 and now has 618 runs in the series. Sarfaraz was out at 171, having declared himself Run Out a bit earlier only to be reprieved by the camera. When Ashwin was LBW to Hartley the scoreboard registered 177-7. By the close Jurel and Kuldeep had improved India's position somewhat by adding 42 without further incident.
Remarkably, Bashir bowled 31 overs on the trot. That represents 11% of his entire first-class deliveries and, again in first-class cricket, his four wickets accounted for 22% of his total wickets. It was the first occasion he had taken four wickets in his professional career. Another interesting statistic; Jimmy Anderson went to the crease for England for the 261st time today beating Joe Root's total tally of Test innings by seven.
The new ball will be due after seven overs tomorrow morning. Let's hope England can mop up the rest of the Indian innings quite quickly and establish a substantial first innings lead. Bring it on!
Ranchi Test, Day 1, 23 February
Do you have an eidetic memory? I don't, but perversely I do have a vivid picture in my mind of my first-ever cricket match at The Oval in 1958. I mention this particular point because there is a guy in our tour party who has seen an enormous amount of Championship cricket, and Test matches all around the world, and he has the most amazing recollection of each match, and can readily recall the details of all the scorecards. He's a sort of Cricinfo on legs!
Anyway, I can just about recall what I've been up to since the thrashing at Rajkot. On what should have been the fifth day of the Test a group of us visited Rajkumar College in Rajkot which is the Indian equivalent of Eton/Harrow. It is the most exclusive school in India dating back to 1870. Set in 25 acres its large and imposing buildings sit around a traditional, but majestic quadrant. Ranjitsinhji, the Jam Saheb of Nawanager (1872-1933), and his nephew Duleepsinhji (1905-33) who were both Cambridge Blues, and played for England, were Old Boys.
On route to Ranchi we had a 36-hour stopover in Mumbai. We stayed at the beautifully appointed Trident hotel which offers superb views of the Marine Drive strip. A couple of us pounded the streets for nearly five hours seeking out the sights. Mumbai is big and brash, and large parts of it resemble Mayfair and the best bits of Kensington. We wandered briefly into the Taj Hotel, but a butterscotch ice cream from a street trader, and visiting ten cricket grounds in a radius of one mile, was preferred to afternoon tea in that top-star establishment! (The Wankhede stadium, the magnificent art deco Brabourne ground and the Bombay Gymkhana have all hosted Test cricket and are within a brisk stroll of each other). There are some splendid colonial buildings in this vast city where green space makes up only 1.5% of Mumbai's total area. In the circumstances its 15 million city centre residents have a mere average of less than 0.6 square metre each!
And so to the crick. It was an eventful and intriguing day. There were some pre-match concerns about the state of the pitch, and at lunch when England were 112-5 some of the visiting fans, justifiably, wondered whether the match would last much beyond the third day. In the opening overs one ball climbed very steeply over Crawley's head, another bowled him, and spectacularly sent one of the stumps cartwheeling out of the ground, only for him to be reprieved by a no ball. Duckett edged to the keeper, Pope was LBW after only two deliveries and Bairstow, in his 99th Test was bowled by Ashwin, ironically wearing the number 99 shirt. Stokes was dismissed on the stroke of lunch for 3. Although Crawley made an enterprising 42 off as many balls, and Bairstow a more frenetic 38 off 35 balls (his best score in India on his last two tours of this country) the hosts won the first session hands down.
Thereafter it was England that gained the upper-hand as Root, first with Foakes, who played a little gem of a knock, and then with Hartley and Robinson who played excellent support roles, that helped England win the afternoon and evening sessions. Root, clearly delighted with his century, waved his New Balance sponsored bat to the dressing room and then to the supporters before the Barmy Army trumpeter burst into tune and one of his colleagues furiously waved a large Union Jack flag with a Leeds United FC emblem in the centre. Joe would probably have preferred a Sheffield badge but at least there was a Yorkshire connection.
This was the old Joe Root scoring freely with nudges, little pushes and flicks, and the extragavant Bazball shots (temporarily?) put away, and it was great to see. Quite why Rohit didn't take the new ball which became due when the score was 260-7 was a mystery to me. Surely, facing a new conker was the last thing Joe would have wanted to happen as he approached three figures? At the close England were 302-7. Can Root push-on tomorrow and make a daddy score? There are big numbers of England supporters here, the most on the tour so far, who would like nothing better. Come on Joe!
Rajkot, Day 4, 18 February
When we arrived at the ground this morning, we had a group photograph. Of the thirty-odd people in the picture I am certain that no one expected an England win, but there was considerable optimism that England could put up a good show. How disappointed we all were!
However, that disappointment was countered to some degree by being privileged to witness the emergence of the finest batter in cricket since Brian Lara. OK, Kolhi, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson are all very fine world-class players, but Yashasvi Jaiswal has a very sound technique and, crucially, a flamboyance that only the very great players possess. If his innings at Vizag was a matinee show (209 including 19 fours and 7 sixes) his knock today was as gala performance (214 not out including 14 fours and 12 sixes). For good measure he scored 80 in the Hyderabad match. He is a superstar in the making.
At every Test venue there are literally hundreds of street traders selling cricket shirts in the colours of India, but they only feature the names of Kohli and Rohit. Expect Jaiswal to be having his own print-run very soon. He is not yet 23 but already he has a first-class batting average of 74.17 (twelve hundreds in 39 innings) and a Test match average of 62.58. He has scored 751 from only thirteen Test innings (3 x hundred and 2 x fifty). He plays for Rajasthan Royals so expect him to set this years IPL on fire.
Revenge in Ranchi? Well, who knows. This was an absolute mauling and confidence will be low after such a hammering. It is fair to say it was an annihilation, and Stokes and Mc Cullum have a major task rebuilding confidence levels. The two Yorkies, Root and Bairstow, have lost their way and have only scored 179 in six Test innings on the tour. That is a real concern.
Onto one other thing. The journey from the hotel to the ground takes about 40 minutes and there are some pretty distressing sights on the way. Most of the blokes in the group seem to be able to dismiss the scenes as "it's just India", but I confess, despite having visited India before, to finding it pretty stomach-churning. There are significant numbers of people living in filthy canvas awnings in absolute squalor with no running water or sanitation. Back home we have people part reliant on food banks, but back in the UK we have absolutely no idea about the true definition of poverty. I'll say no more.
Rajkot, Day 3, 17 February
Well, the cricketing chess pieces are falling into place and the King (Stokes) is nearly in check. It was a day of high expectation but low achievement for the visitors. Root started the rot with another quite dreadful shot, and Bairstow then selfishly wasted an LBW review. It was an outrageous challenge — that was hitting halfway up the middle stump!
Thereafter it was a sad procession. India then took full advantage with Jaiswal again looking as if he is ready to assume Kohli's crown. He scored a nonchalant hundred before he decided to retire hurt with a sore back. He'll be back tomorrow to fill his boots again no doubt. In a nutshell India are 322 ahead with eight wickets in hand. Don't be surprised if they leave England to score close to 500 in 4.5 sessions.
In fairness to England, it was extremely hot in the shade of the grandstand so to be in the middle would, undoubtedly, have been very debilitating. Unquestionably, to their great credit, they stuck at it when the chips were down. The Barmy Army were in good voice and entertained the home crowd who looked on in complete bewilderment. Simon Finch, the trumpeter is a great hit with the home fans.
Now, I am reliably informed by a mate that the Chambers Dictionary definitely disqualifies the Arthur Arthur nomination as a forename/surname anagram, but another mate from Kent argues it does count and justifies his logic by merely swapping round the letter 'R'! He also found a James James on Cricket Archive but he hadn't played first-class cricket! Another narrow miss was William Williams currently of Lancashire. Time to move on, I think!
And another thing, Tom Hartley was wearing green socks today, but an umpiring friend of mine has ticked me off for criticising Tom's sock-sense when I was prepared to drop my own standards. He reminded me that when I was the Secretary of the Cheshire Umpires' Association I was the prime mover in campaigning for umpires NOT to wear ties when officiating on the field of play. Ah, so I was! Guilty as charged my lud!
Those of you watching the match on TV at home have probably noticed the varied array of advertising all around the boundaries, but some of it appears to be poorly directed by the marketing people as a company called 'Tiger' are promoting their lawncare product. I admit I have only been in Rajkot for four days, but apart from the cricket ground let me assure you there is not one square foot of grass in the city or its surrounds! Another advert is for Kayam tablets targeted at those with chronic constipation. Maybe for residents but I can't think that many of the English tourists will be purchasing them!!
Rajkot, Day 2, 16 February
I lost a couple of hours sleep last night with a real dilemma, and I squarely blame my sister who, incidentally, knows absolutely nothing about cricket. Embarrassingly she doesn't even know the difference between 'the pitch' and 'the wicket' (oh don't get me on that one again).
Anyway, I suspect with some clever google searching, having read yesterday's snippet about the Brian Brain anagram, she has suggested I might like to consider her nomination of Arthur Arthur. He played two first-class for the Europeans against the Indians at Madras in 1919. But is a replication of a name an anagram?! Better scholars than me will need to advise on that one. That reference will no doubt remind some of you that Neville Neville was the father of footballers, Phil and Gary. Quite odd really.
Anyway, the cricket unfolded intriguingly. India lost a couple of early wickets, including the important one of century-maker Jadeja, and then chugged along to an eventual all out total of 445 (scoring rate of 3.39 per over) whereas England rattled along to a close of play score of 207-2 (scoring rate of 5.91).
Wholly in keeping with Bazball, Ben Duckett played biff, bang, wallop cricket and scored 133 off only 118 deliveries. His hundred came off only 88 balls. He acknowledged the crowd and kissed the badge. Personally, I can do without the latter but it seems to be the modern thing.
It was an exciting afternoon for the England fans as the visitors took the game to India. Visibly uncomfortable the hosts slowed the game to a crawl during the last 40 minutes or so. The umpires should have intervened as India clearly employed deliberate time-wasting tactics. Surely the logical thing for them to do was to attack Root who is struggling for form, and Duckett who was tiring, but they did the very opposite. Tactically nonsensical I though. England will look to push on tomorrow. They are still 238 runs behind India but still have eight wickets in hand. Should be another exciting day at the Niranjan Shah stadium.
Having expressed my dislike for badge-kissing I might also add I am disapproving of young Tom Hartley wearing coloured socks. He wore black ones on day one and red ones today. Whatever next! Oh, for the days when cricketers turned up for matches wearing a cravat and sporting multi-coloured club blazers. Am I wrong in suggesting standards have irretrievably slipped?
The whole tour party spent an enjoyable evening in the hotel being entertained by the England Assistant coach, Paul Collingwood and Nick Hoult of the Daily Telegraph.
Rajkot, 3rd Test, Day 1, 15 February
My dear old things. As we approached the ground today it occurred to me Henry Blofeld would have had such a splendid time describing the goings-on around the stadium. Instead of pigeons on the outfield, and buses going down the Harleyford Road he would be painting a colourful picture of large numbers of people living roadside in primitive canvas awnings, street traders selling flower petals for worshippers to take to the temple, India cricket shirts, car tyres (retreads only), teas from large urns being boiled on open wood fires, cattle wandering aimlessly down the middle of the road, and noisy coaches, motorbikes and tuktuks coming in every direction. Hooting is mandatory!
Before I get onto the crick, I must tell you that part of the tour group, of which I was one, have had a brilliant few days relaxing in Kerala. After an overnight stay on a beautifully appointed houseboat, (and I confess to feeling a little guilty sitting on the deck tucking into fine Indian cuisine while the locals were washing their smalls, and pots and pans in the waterways), we stayed for a couple of nights at a superbly appointed hotel in Kumarakom.
There are some pretty experienced travellers in our party and, collectively, we all agreed it was good as anywhere we had stayed worldwide. The Kerala backwaters are an area of much greenery, inherent tranquillity and largely unscathed by modernisation. Much recommenced.
We were treated like Royalty on arrival at the ground! Very different from Hyderabad. Having lost the toss, things looked rosy for England when Jaiswal, Gill and Patidar were all back in the pavilion when the scoreboard displayed a mere 33-3. The first two had aggregated 364 between them at Vizag. Today they managed 10. Rohit escaped a sharp chance to Root at slip when the score was 47 and he successfully reviewed an LBW decision soon afterwards. Thereafter he serenely went through the gears as did Jadeja and later Sarfaraz. Between the three of them they crashed 32 fours and 6 sixes.
Rohit and Jadeja both hit centuries, and Sarfaraz, on debut, may have joined them had not Jadeja carelessly run him out. Anderson (2.7) was the only bowler to concede less than four an over, but Wood was the most penetrative, bowling consistently short, with 3-69. He also accounted for Sarfaraz; throwing with only one stump to aim at, he spectacularly sent the leg peg cartwheeling out of the ground. Undoubtedly England won the first session, but India took the other two. England went wicketless between lunch and tea. At the conclusion of play 326-5 gives India a slight advantage, but who knows how Day 2 may unfold?
Finally, I was sad to read in The Cricketer magazine that the old Worcestershire and Gloucestershire bowler, Brian Brain had died. He was always a favourite of mine in the 1960/70s. I was always intrigued that his forename was an anagram of his surname. Surely that is unique occurrence for a first-class cricketer?
Vizag Test, Day 4, 5 February
Victorious at Vizag? Sadly not.
Conjecture over breakfast, and on the bus to the ground resulted in at least one fan thinking England would win, and a good number of more realistic thinkers voting for India. The vast majority, all the old sages that can readily recall the deeds of May and Barrington, Trueman and Statham, desperately wanted England to win but, deep-down, knew it was unlikely to happen. Stats are not always a reliable predictor of a match outcome, but had the England team all batted their Test match average they would have scored (in round figures) 316. That they were required to bat last would have reduced that total somewhat, and so a final score of 292 was about par.
Given all the circumstances the omens were not promising. In this match only Crawley scored more than fifty (76 & 73), and in the series so far, in achieving a half-century, he is only joined by Stokes (70) and Pope (196). Root's four knocks have resulted in scores of 29/2/5/16. His dismissal today was an embarrassment. Bairstow, in four innings has yet to exceed 37. That England managed 292 was largely down to Crawley, Foakes and Hartley. The latter has surprised most of the travelling supporters with the way he has adapted to Test cricket. Having had the worst possible start (hit for two sixes in his very first over) he has now taken 14 wickets at an average of 24.57 and made scores of 23, 34, 21 and 36. Red Rose members will be delighted with his progress as will all his old team mates at Ormskirk CC.
Bumrah (3-46) and Ashwin (3-72) tussled with each other for the privilege of pulling the executioners lever and the faster of these two fearsome competitors won that little battle. I suppose at 194-4 England had hope but with Crawley's dismissal went England's chances. After a short break the roadshow goes to Rajkot. Kolhi is expected to return but what about Brook?
One Test match each and three to go. Must read my tea leaves in the morning.
Vizag Test, Day 3, 4 February
The support for the Indian team knows no bounds. Like bees round a honeypot there are hundreds of fans at our hotel each morning to watch the team buses depart. Today, being a Sunday, was even busier than usual. The entrance to the hotel is quite narrow and yesterday morning the fans witnessed the England bus take a chunk out of the wall (and the bus!) By the way, there are two warships in the bay, but presumably nothing to do with the security of the Indian team (or maybe it is?).
We arrived at the ground this morning expecting to see India pile on the runs, but they were not quite so prolific as might have been expected. It was a commendable effort by England to dismissed them for 255. Anderson was his usual mean self, and Rehan and Hartley stuck to their task and were rewarded for their efforts. Stokes, demonstrating strong leadership, held on to a magnificent diving catch to dismiss the dangerous Shreyas Iyer. Shubman Gill made a hundred after two fortunate early escapes no one else got to fifty.
The ground was pretty full today, and every shot was greeted with loud screams, whistles and horns. The noise is difficult to appreciate if you are not here. It is ear-splitting. In mid-afternoon we had a number of Mexican waves, again accompanied with a seething cacophony of noise and excitement close to delirium. The MCC members at Lord's would certainly be tut-tutting!
England had an awkward 15 overs to negotiate this evening, and lost Duckett while, enterprisingly, making 67-1 off 14 overs. Crawley looked good, but can he convert another cameo into a match-winning innings? Surely not?
Tomorrow we all return to the gallows pitched in the centre of the Vizag coliseum. An execution is the most likely outcome. England need another 332 runs to win with nine wickets in hand. Surely, a winning reprieve is as unlikely as Boris returning to No.10. Undoubtedly, this England team will fight to the end, and will firmly believe anything is possible. Bumrah, the master prosecutor will think otherwise. Come on England!
Vizag Test, Day 2, 3 February
The last two evenings have been good fun. On the eve of the Test match, Ali Martin, the chief cricket correspondent of The Guardian came to speak to the group. He shared his thoughts on the current state of the game, and explained the demanding role of a present-day newspaper reporter with a constant requirement for material for websites, as well as twitter feeds, in addition to his daily piece. All a far cry from the days of Swanton and Arlott when they merely submitted one report at the close of play.
Last evening seven of us jumped into a tuktuk and made for the Kamat beachside restaurant. I was cautious and opted for a relatively mild spiced vegetable soup, and a (delicious) chicken kebab but some were over-enthusiastic and are now on fire! A smashing meal for just about £5!
It was an eventful morning and a compelling one. To the delight of everyone in the ground Jaiswal completed a splendid double hundred. His adoring Indian fans raised the roof, and the travelling supporters are always ready to recognise talent and magnanimously joined in. Soon afterwards he played a cross the line and that was that. As he left the field several of the England players, appreciating the high quality of his innings, shook his hand. The Indian tail flapped rather than wagged, and they just fell just shy of 400. Jimmy Anderson bowled beautifully and claimed two of the four wickets which fell during the morning. He is now only seven short of 700 Test match victims.
England made light of a potentially awkward little session up to lunch, and had 32 on the board off only six overs. At the interval, in a footballing context, it felt like a score-draw after four gruelling sessions. Post-lunch Crawley played quite beautifully. Tutored on the playing fields at Tonbridge School he is capable of playing the most exquisite shots, but he needs to convert his cameo performances into a mature Test match innings. His carefree approach never suggests permanency and so it proved today when he was well-set. There is a significant and crucial difference between a cameo and an innings, and it is a lesson which he needs to learn, and sharpish. Contrast his approach to that of Jaiswal.
The worm started to turn in India's favour after Crawley's dismissal. What was 114-1 became 182-7 in a mere twenty overs. The worm's turn quickly became a full somersault. Stokes played with the tailenders to bring some respectability to the scoreboard but a total of 253 left England with a deficit of 146 to which India added 28 in the gathering gloom.
It was a another very hot and humid day, and as England started to crumble so the Indian fans became increasingly excited. The noise of horns and the call of Boom, Boom (for Bumrah) was deafening. Good job the ground is only half-full!
England are staring down the barrel. Shot in the foot by Crawley extravagance?
Vizag Test, Day 1, 2 February
Visakhapatnam calling! It's on the east coast of India, a sort of swanky Skegness but measurably warmer! Sadly, there are no donkeys on the beach here but you can have a camel ride for a few rupees.
Both teams are staying in our hotel. The England party are happy to drift around without a chaperone in sight, but the India team are conspicuous by their absence, locked away on an upper floor, and surrounded by the tightest security.
A couple of reflections about Hyderabad before I get onto this match. One evening we had been recommended to dine in a restaurant we thought was called Erotica. The tuktuk driver looked a bit nonplussed, but nevertheless we were eventually delivered to a very upmarket establishment named Exotica!
Whilst the, never to be forgotten, Hyderabad Test match was unfolding, a first-class Ranji Trophy match was taking place elsewhere in the city. It was all over in two days, the home team winning by an innings and 187 runs, but the proceedings on the first day are worthy of note. Arunachal were dismissed for 172 in 39.4 overs, but by the close Hyderabad had scored 529-1 in 48 overs! Tanmay Agarwal contributed 323 not out from only 147 balls. His innings was the fastest triple century in the history of the game, and by an extraordinary 44 deliveries, but it was not the quickest in terms of time. That record is retained by Denis Compton who completed his triple in 181 minutes against NE Transvaal in 1948. Agarwal took 183 minutes. He was eventually out for 366 on the second morning. By the way, mention of Denis Compton reminds me he had a sweet pea named after him in the late 1980s. It was soft pink with a cream centre. Some of you won't be surprised to know I have a packet of them in my memorabilia collection!
Anyway, on to this match. Can I say at the outset it was pretty hot tucked away in the shade on the upper-level of the grandstand, so it is difficult to imagine how uncomfortable it would be to spend 6.5 hours in the full sun out in the middle of the arena. In the circumstances England did well to contain the Indian batters to a total of 336-6 (Jaiswal 179">on what looks like a very decent batting surface.
Categorically, neither side has yet to establish a position of clear advantage. That said, what is clear is that Jaiswal is a very fine player and looks destined to be the next Indian superstar. He has only played five Test matches and, overall, only 20 first-class but he already has a first-class top score of 265 and an average of 70.50. Watch out for him (and don't be surprised if he goes big tomorrow).
Jimmy Anderson who, remarkably, started his Test match career before either Rehan Ahmed or Shoaib Bashir were born, was the pick of the England bowlers persuading Shubman Gill to nick off and conceding only a miserly 30 runs from 17 overs. The two new British Asian boys did well, both taking a couple of wickets and a catch each.
All to play for on day 2 and the new ball is due. By the way, no problems getting into the ground today, binoculars and sun cream allowable in this part of the country!
Hyderabad, Day 4, January 28
I've been to countless Test matches all over the world, and seen some exceptional finishes to games, but nothing quite like this one! At breakfast this morning there was no one in the hotel who thought England could win (or even draw) but strange things happen in cricket matches!
At the start of play England were 316-6, but with a first innings deficit of 190 that was, in reality, 126-6. Not a promising proposition with two full days remaining, but Ollie Pope, maybe with a papal blessing (?) and most certainly with valuable support from Foakes (34), Raheem (28) and Hartley (34), lifted the lead to 231 just prior to the lunch interval when the last wicket fell.
It was a truly valiant effort from Pope, but on the face of it that total was nowhere near enough to trouble this very talented Indian side. With 95-3 on the scoreboard at the tea interval a routine win for the home side still seemed the most likely outcome. Soon after that break India lost wickets at 95, 107, 119 and 119 again.
At 119-7 England could suddenly smell blood, and Stokes was in no mood to let the cornered opposition escape. He captained the side superbly with wise field placements and managed his bowling resource shrewdly, employing his bowlers in very short spells. His throw-cum-backhanded flick to run out Jadeja was exceptional.
The pick of the bowling bunch was, undoubtedly, Tom Hartley who I, along with many others, thought was a lightweight at this level. What do I know! His match-winning return of 7-62 was a remarkable performance especially after the severe punishment he experienced in the first innings. He has clearly inherited that competitive approach from his father, Bill, who won both Commonwealth and European medals as a 400metre specialist.
When Foakes stumped Siraj off the bowling of England's latest hero in the very last over of the day there was much joy among the players and supporters like. It was a very long evening in the '10 Downing Street' pub adopted by the Barmies as its Hyderabad HQ (and which, I suspect, had record takings!). The bathrooms are labelled 'Maggie' and 'Major'!
What a day! OK, T20 and One-Day cricket have a place but there is nothing that can beat the longer form of the game with all its twists and turns. Long live Test cricket!
Vizag next stop. Oh, and by the way, I failed to smuggle my binoculars into the ground, but you can't win everything!
Hyderabad, Day 3, January 27
Wow, what a day! It started badly with more conflict at the gate, but yet again I managed to get my binoculars (and suntan cream) into the arena. I told the steward I was terribly myopic and when he saw I was wearing one of my umpiring shirts he clearly knew that I wasn't kidding?
In summary England won the first and final sessions, but India convincingly took the after-lunch one. England soon wrapped up the Indian first innings by taking their final three wickets for the addition of a mere 15 runs, and by lunchtime England had 89 on the board for the loss of only Zak Crawley.
It was a quite a different story in the post-lunch session when the visitors lost their middle order for the addition of only 83 runs. As the players left the field at the tea interval they were, in effect, minus 18 for 5. A Day 3 finish looked a certainty, but no! Ollie Pope, ably assisted by Ben Foakes, started skittishly but batted with increasing authority as his innings developed. By the close he had contributed a (magnificent) unbeaten 148. I suspect he now holds the key to the eventual outcome of this match? The lead is 136, but it needs to be significantly more. The bookmakers will still fancy India to win, but England have taken the game into Day 4 and given the Barmy Army something to cheer about. Come on England!
Here is a question for you — how many of the England side would get into the current India team? I say its in the range 0 to 2. (And nearer to nought!) Anderson no. Root maybe, Stokes possibly. Intriguingly, perhaps Foakes is the best shout?
By the way, those of you watching on TV at home will probably have noticed there are no football flags on display? Normally they run into dozens, but this is because they are considered to be a potential weapon. How can that be when they are clipped to fencing so that no waving stick is required. Has the world gone completely mad?
I should have told you that yesterday was a public holiday here to celebrate India's 75th anniversary as a sovereign republic. Apparently, a day to celebrate 'the spirit of people-centric republicanism'. I read in the Hyderabad Times it is a model for the institutionalisation of human welfare. Regrettably, I have to say, it is a great shame that spirit doesn't extend to the visitors at the Hyderabad cricket ground!
Back to the match — look, India are a very fine side. Their bowling attack is superb. Siraj is probably the weakest of the five, but is still a handful given his sharp pace. Arguably, Bumrah is in a class of his own. He runs to the stumps clasping the ball rather awkwardly across his chest but as he arrives at the crease he releases the ball from an action like a side-winding, high-powered catapult. His movement through the air, and off the pitch is exceptional. Observe him closely, he is a top-drawer exponent of his craft.
Ashwin does not resemble today's typical gym-fit cricketer, he has more of a physique resembling that of a dance-hall bouncer. He reminds me of a throw-back to the days when cricketers ate nothing but pie and chips and drank lots of beer, but, by George, can he bowl and all from a languid short approach. Along with Jadeja, a mop of hair, beard, sunglasses and bandana, who looks like a cross between a beach-bum and a Bollywood film star, they form the most formidable spin bowling partnership in world cricket. Both are capable of making the ball explode off the pitch like a firework.
Axar Patel is the third of the threesome and is not to be under-estimated. I make these observations because playing against them in their own backyard is a real examination. If England can win a Test or two in this series it will be quite an achievement. After two days under the cosh, they stood up to be counted this afternoon. Can they stand-up again tomorrow and win? I'd say no chance, but I'd love to be proved wrong. We shall see.
Hyderabad, Day 2, January 26
Well, there was more drama at the main gate this morning. Once again, confiscation was the order of the day, but with a touch more intolerance than on Day 1. That said I did manage to allude the spoilers and nip through the security area with my binoculars and suntan lotion intact, and without a challenge. But maybe not tomorrow!? To be crystal clear here is a list of things that are banned — binoculars, suncream, coins, paper, pencils, power packs, water bottles (even if empty) and chargers. There are virtually no food outlets and those that do exist look decidedly dodgy! Water is only available in cups. Frankly, the whole place is a tip. I've seen better maintained landfill sites in the UK. Enough said about the domestics!
On my way to the stadium I was envisaging that India would probably have a lead of 200 runs by the close with 4 or 5 wickets in hand. By that reckoning England had a decent day given India's advantage was restricted to 175 and with only 3 wickets in hand. In reality the Indian batters, for the most part, gave their wickets away endeavouring to push the score along. England to their credit stuck to their task with some fortitude but the bowling resource is woefully thin and, in the case of Raheem and Hartley, very inexperienced. Root was the most probing. Leach was under-used. Wood was a disappointment. OK his pace was sharpish, but could find the right line or length.
Jaiswal, who looks a very fine prospect, and RK Rahul were the pick of the Indian batters. Both batted enterprisingly, and freely obliged the adoring Indian crowd by taking the aerial route. Fed on a diet of IPL they love six-hits in these parts. And so tomorrow, Jadeja, who incurred the wrath of Ashwin in a muddled run out, will be keen to convert his current score of 81 into a century and to maximise the lead. Can England bat with more authority second time around? There are about 500/600 Brits out here who would love to see a more resilient showing but the odds are heavily stacked against them such is the quality of the home team bowling resource. Sorry, but the outlook, unlike the weather here, is depressingly gloomy.
Hyderabad, Day 1, January 25
On the plane over I'm allocated seat 61J, an aisle seat. Fortunately, 61K is unoccupied. Perfect! Less agreeable was a young child five rows back that set a new Heathrow/Delhi world record by crying for almost the entire 8-hour journey! Less than 40 minutes into the flight the Bombay Sapphire gin and Fever-tree tonics were flowing, and soon afterwards chicken biryani was served with white wine. Now, I am not a wine snob, and I am never offended when I am offered white wine from a screw-top bottle, but surely, I am entitled to be disapproving when the sauvignon blanc arrives in a can! The marketing on the side of the tin informs me it is dry, crisp and vegan, a wine for 'moments that matter'. I decline the invitation to scan the QR code to find out why the can is designed to allow extra breathing space. All that said it slipped down rather easily and it definitely wasn't corked!
And so to the cricket. Entry to the ground is confrontational and unwelcoming. There are police and security guys by the hundred. Tickets are checked, rechecked and checked again. No bags, no water, no food, no suntan lotion allowed within the ground. Our original group tickets in the shade were withdrawn overnight by the BCCI and we were allocated to a block in the south side in the full sun. It was unbearably hot, and at lunchtime there was a mass-migration to cooler parts. Some of us managed to blag our way into the shady north stand. It all felt very uncaring. Others might be harsher, and say it was a form of discrimination? Whatever, it was an unpleasant experience.
England started well by winning the toss and adding 55 before a trio of wickets tumbled. A modest recovery, another collapse, a few belligerent hits from the captain, and all out for 246. Better than it looked at one time. Jadeja, Ashwin and Axar are a real handful. They can make the ball fizz, and are as accurate as Luke the Nuke in hitting the proverbial bullseye.
England's equivalent threesome are a powder-puff by comparison. That duel will, sadly, determine the series. After tea India crashed poor Tom Hartley to all parts of this ground roared on by 20,000 fanatical locals. He was clouted for a big six off his maiden ball in Test cricket, and another cleared the ropes before his first over was completed. Poor lad. England are staring down the barrel, and it is difficult to see how they can take this game much beyond Day 3.
Call me a pessimist, but pessimism and realism are often much the same thing.
By the way, despite everything that happened today, I still love being in India, warts and all. If you have been before you know what to expect. It's not pretty but it is fun.