The series that won't quit, is finally over

Notes from day four of the fourth Test in Ranchi

The series that won't quit, is finally over
The Ranchi Test was the slowest that England have batted in a Test match in the Bazball era

Babies are being born, mums are falling ill, and Jack Leach is undergoing an operation on his cartoon-level swollen knee. Stokes loses a Test match by a million runs and complains about an umpiring system that has been around for ages. KL Rahul plays, maybe. Jaiswal becomes one of the ten greatest Indian batters ever to some. And we witness the single greatest tweet pairing ever.

This is just off the field. None of this includes the fact that England brings their greatest modern-day batter and grinds him to the nub with the ball. Ashwin is taking fewer wickets than England spinners, who no one can pick out of a lineup. And India only has one batter turning up for the first few innings, nearly winning the series on his own.

Any series where we can question the timing of Virat Kohli’s semen delivery service and not his cover drive is probably going to be great, as we learned a few years ago.

This one is 3-1, but within those simple numbers is farce, beauty, chaos, anarchy, and romance. Numbers are not the best way to describe this series; we need emojis, verses, poetry and interpretative dance.

Close of play on day three, England is going to lose this series 4-1. Maybe 5-1. Two minutes after lunch they have a chance of being 2-2. What kind of acid has this series been taking? It sways between narratives like an excitable teen trying to tell you about the latest sweaty romance behind the bike sheds.

There have been 155 Test series played over five matches, almost none have been that two-all coming into the final Test. Our sport just makes it hard to play it down to the wire in one match, let alone two, and by the time you get to four, something has usually made it impossible. But when Sarfaraz Khan is out to leg slip, I allow myself to believe again that this could be a 2-2 series going into a magical fifth match.

But have I not already been entertained? The first Test is off the chain.

First Test (Hyderabad)

India is 150 runs in front with three wickets in hand at drinks on day two, the series could be over there. Just a tidy little tail wag and some early wickets and Bazball’s eulogy would be written by all those desperate to stab at the corpse.

But India folds quickly with the bat, which allows for England to come back into the game. Only for the Bazballers to stumble and find themselves on day three, five wickets down and minus 27 in game terms.

Then England’s worst player of spin makes a moral 200, with a specialist keeper not everyone wanted and kids who bat a bit. Just proper Bazball madness as Ollie Pope beats India right right hand leads. 

But India still needs only 231, and is 42 without loss chasing it. Then 119/7. But there is a third twist, because they still edge their way to the total before England wins by 28 runs. That match has more endings than Lord of the Rings. And, how the hell did England just pull off one of the greatest comebacks ever with kid spinners, Root’s bowling, and Ollie Pope making all the runs?

Who had Tom Hartley dancing on tables after a seven-for on their series predictions? I mean, who the fuck even knew who he was? Lancashire members probably wonder why the Old Trafford social media kid is wearing whites.

Second Test (Vizag)

For the second, it looks like a semblance of sanity will prevail. The previous win is merely a blip as the hosts are 172 runs in front with 10 wickets in hand. It doesn’t go as smooth, as India third innings pickled themselves to add 226 more runs.

This still means England will need to chase 399, though not against Ravi Jadeja. Somehow Sir Ravi J remains the fittest least fit man in cricket and has to sit out

You have more chance of chasing down the roadrunner after a knee operation than getting that kind of score on Indian wickets. 

But England are 95 runs one wicket down quicker than you can say “Ben Duckett is our new Tiny King”. They had nighthawked India as well, so they still have all their non-openers ready to go.

The truth is, every single one of us knows this is impossible, but also we have all been so Bazballed that at 95/2 with their understudy nighthawk leaving, we still think they have a chance. Honestly, as big an upset as the first Test was, maybe getting us to believe this batting line up would chase 399 against Bumrah and Ashwin was the greater moment.

Ultimately they lose too many wickets, and all they get is one of those moral victories they cherish but will soon start to despise.

Third Test (Rajkot)

The third Test starts with Sarfaraz Khan’s dad having the most emotional debut ever. But the match should absolutely never ever have felt close. India gets a big first-innings score, and there is no way England will bat long enough to get there. You have to be a damn fool to think otherwise. 

Enter Ben Duckett. He bats like he gives absolutely no shits at all, and slap-boxes India all around the park again. This time not a cameo, but the real deal. At stumps on day two, England is almost 300 behind, but some people feel the game is even.

One of those is R Ashwin. If that isn’t amazing enough, he then pulls out of the match to look after his mum. It means two things, he is a great son, and that a lot of people have to read up on the ICC regulations in case India asks for a compassionate substitute. It is worse for India because the night before, Jadeja bowls like he is still injured.

Luckily for the hosts, Joe Root plays the worst shot an England batter has ever played, and yet, curiously, not even his worst shot of the series. And because of this one failure, all of England’s hopes and dreams end.

India stays on top, and the only fun thing is Mark Wood going crazy as England has one of the biggest losses in Test cricket history while Jadeja takes a bag.

Two things to unpack there, this as the same Jadeja that limped around while trying to bowl at the start of the match. And in the space of three Tests, England has one of the greatest comeback victories ever and then one of the most crushing losses. All while Ben Stokes seems more worried about the umpire’s call, which usually has little impact on 434-run losses. This series is going too hard.

We have not yet mentioned Yashasvi Jaiswal. By this stage, we are all looking up Don Bradman’s records. In the NBA, when Nikola Jokic does something crazy, you add the phrase ‘Not since Wilt’ before it because Wilt Chamberlain tore the arse out of the league with made-up stats. Well, we might need a ‘Not since Don’ for Jaiswal too. He already has a better conversion rate and a first-class average that is in Bradman areas. I don’t know if Bradman would have charged down the wicket to heave Jimmy Anderson out of the attack, but I’m sure he’d be pretty pleased with the rest of it.

But in some ways, Jaiswal is truly inspired by England, so his runs are theirs. This is a weird twist on the old #Rootmaths.

Fourth Test (Ranchi)

Before this Test happens, we have another Kohli entering the world. Rehan Ahmed goes home, and Jack Leach is under the knife.

Five wickets down, Ben Stokes has already spooked the wicket into rolling one along the ground. Then at lunch the following day, it is India in trouble having let Joe Root make a hundred where he ghosts his own damn sweep shot.

Picture Credit - BCCI TV

All India has to do is bat normally, and by that I mean, let ‘Not since Don’ smash another double hundred (I think he has more of them now than he does great backstory details) and the series is over. No, Bazball is over. It was mortally wounded in the previous match, but this will be a death rattle.

But maybe Bazball is a zombie because I swear it has been killed 17 times in this series. Yet, on day four, we are watching a bloke bowl more overs in one match than he ever has; he’s 20, in his eighth pro game, he’s on a hat trick, and nothing makes sense anymore.

Shoaib Bashir is clearly another one in a series of great stories. When he is coming through in Surrey, Gareth Batty, England’s former offie, chooses two other young finger spinners to give contracts to that aren’t him. When that happens to a young player, even if they make it to the Test team, it is usually years later, Bashir doesn’t have any years. He spent longer waiting for a visa than he has on a cricket field.

And look at who he is bowling to, Dhruv Jurel. He comes in as a replacement for the replacement and bats like you will need to wrest the cap from him at knifepoint.

What about his backstory? Oh, nothing big, his mother just has to sell her gold chain in order to buy him a kit bag because the family has no money. This series is more like one of those reality TV singing competitions; it is just one sad lost puppy after another belting out a Mariah Carey song without a dry eye in the house.

But wait, back to the actual cricket for a moment. England is gone at lunch on day one, India is gone in the third session of day two, England is gone at stumps on day three and India is on the edge of gone a few balls after lunch on day four. Stick that up your momentum theories. Ollie Robinson is a batter. That’s cricket chaos. If I am a win-predictor, I’d ask for the next month off.

It is going to be hard to explain this series in the future. A bit like the 2018 England-India contest, the scoreline tells you little. This series is about morals, babies, mums, Bazball and backstories.

One day in the future when we only communicate in digital semaphores via our Musk brain chips, how do we store this series? Good luck explaining the Bumrah ball to Pope, Ollie Robinson’s hair, Jadeja running out Sarfaraz, Ben Foakes catches, Kuldeep Yadav becoming an all-rounder, and Joe Root ruining all cricket history with one shot?

No, the Indian England series of 2024 cannot be summed up quickly, but its madness will stay with those of us who experienced it. We survived the war on Umpire’s call, and all we have to remember it by is 3-1.

The twists and turns of this match (SAK)

At lunch on day one, England had already lost half their side. A Joe Root masterclass with some help from Foakes and Robinson took England to a very competitive first-innings total on this wicket.

India started well on day two, but a collapse from 86/1 to 177/7 meant they were behind the game. Despite Jurel & Kuldeep's partnership, they only had a 37% chance of winning at stumps according to CricViz's win predictor, WinViz.

On day three, England did manage to take a first-innings lead, and were 110/3 when they came up against Kuldeep Yadav. India wrapped up their innings for just 145, and England ended the day with bowling full tosses and half-volleys with the new ball.

Two balls after lunch on day four, another 72 runs seemed very far away, because nobody should chase targets in India with the red ball. But an assured partnership between Gill, who hit two sixes after no boundaries in the first 119 deliveries, and a two Test old Jurel took the hosts home without any more roadblocks.

England’s first normal Bazball Test (JK)

They scored at more than six runs per over in the match against Pakistan at Rawalpindi and Ireland at Lord's. The only time apart from this Test when they scored less than 3.5 runs per over was in the first match, when they weren't as sure of how much they would commit to it. In this match, the pitch, the Root-Foakes partnership in the first innings, and the collapse in the third innings played a part.

You can see in the last two matches that the runs per over was almost par. But before this, they have been about 2-3 runs per over quicker than the other teams in some of these games.

Shubman Gill and other Indian batters in the second innings (JK)

I can't think of too many other players with such a record. Gill looked assured throughout the course of his innings today. Even though he has not had a good start to his Test career, his talent was never in question.

His first-innings average is lower than it should be. Maybe that's when the wicket is at its freshest, and that causes him a few technical problems. We talked about how he did well in the third innings when India were in front of the game. But the bigger issue might be what's going on with him when the wicket is fresher.

Soham from CricViz alerted me about these numbers, which were from before the start of the fourth innings. Think of it this way - not only did they not have Kohli, Pant and KL, but most of this lineup also does not like batting in the fourth innings. Jurel came in today when the ball was a bit soft, but Bashir was also on a hattrick and India were 72 runs away from winning the series.

Rohit Sharma made a fifty today. This was only his second fifty in the fourth innings of a first-class match, and also a new high-score.

India in 4th innings chases (SAK)

These chases tend to get a bit tricky, especially in Asia when the wicket starts deteriorating. This was a great effort from Jurel & Gill India to get over the line, when they were 120/5 right after lunch. At times, it's just one partnership like this which needs to get the job in these relatively small chases. Remember Ashwin & Iyer at Mirpur in 2022?

But India have also lost a bunch of close matches from dominant positions, such as Auckland 2014 and Adelaide 2014, when they were chasing above 350. They also lost a couple of very close games against England - Edgbaston in 2018, and the first game of the series at Hyderabad.

Rajat Patidar’s strange dismissals (SAK)

Rajat Patidar seems to be in pretty good company here.

But on a more serious note, Patidar did show that there was a sense of calm about his batting on his debut innings. However, his dismissals in this series have been all over the place.

Picture Credit - ESPNCricinfo

He is not going to be an automatic pick when India's first-choice batters will be back in the squad. However, it's still a bit early to write him off as a Test prospect. But age is not on his side either, and the other debutants in this series have utilized their opportunities better.

3rd umpires (JK)

So Joel Wilson appeared to call an edge when the bat hit the pad twice in this match. The first one was Root, and the second was Jaiswal. Now, maybe it did hit the bat, but the bat also definitely hit the pad. On both occasions, he does not appear to have noticed this.

This one was very close, but when the wave form comes up, it looks more like bat hitting pad, in that it is a low looking soundwave. Also, as it happens, the bat is on the pad, and there is a gap between bat and ball. 

Picture Credit - JioCinema

Now, mistakes happen. This is not slandering Joel Wilson, it is however pointing out that he is not a full time 3rd umpire. Wilson has been an umpire at the top level of professional cricket 508 times, and this does not count all the matches where he was in charge at lower levels as well. There is no doubt he is a very experienced umpire. 

In those 508, 111 times he has been a third umpire. All his training and background is being an umpire on the field, and then at the elite level one in every three games he has to sit in the seat. While there is clearly overlap in the skills - it is still a form of umpiring - it is very different. You need to follow different protocols, work with the director, understand to ask for, how the technology works and how to phrase your questions in a way that will get the right answers. 

Joel Wilson has done it 111 times, but that still means that he is only in this position once every three matches. You can argue whether he is a great umpire on the field with his decisions, that is a very normal thing. But he did his time, spent years honing his craft, and does his best. 

From a 3rd umpire position, he is still getting very basic things wrong. On both of these occasions - even if there was also an edge - he should be asking for the low camera angle from mid off that often shows a deviation, or bigger gap, to straight bats. 

But this isn’t about Wilson. It is about the many umpires who spend decades honing their craft to get to the international level, and when they get there, they have to be learn another skill, that they do one out of three games. 

There is just no reason to identify which umpires might be better as being in the booth. Learning everything they need to with the technology, studying issues that come up, working with the same technical team. Joel Wilson could be a great third umpire, he might even be better than his normal umpiring. But we need to see specialists. We need to back these umpires up.