Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Review of the 5th Test v India

So it was the farewell match for The Chef. South London, the home of the Richardsons, the gangsters and not Richie of the West Indies and his family, turned out to witness not only an adios but a thrilling Test match. It may have been a dead rubber but it was a fantastic game of proper old fashioned, Test match cricket. Credit to India for their part in a wonderful series, played the right way - hard but fair. This was Test cricket at its very best...

The Oval
England batted yet again. Jennings was out early and Cook ground it out. The century that we all wanted to see didn't come but Cook extracted every ounce of his ability, similar to the way that Mad Frankie Fraser extracted people's teeth in these parts, to grind out a patient 70. Moeen had more misses than Henry VIII but also got a 50. England didn't look like they had enough until a brilliant innings from Jos Buttler saw them to a respectable total. Buttler passed 500 Test runs for the summer and there's me thinking he couldn't cut the mustard with a seaming ball. Fair play to Mick McCarthy look a like, Ed Smith. A nod to Stuart Broad too with excellent support as England got to 338. Shami remained wicketless - how? I really don't know. In a match of good byes, Pant let plenty of bad byes through too.

When India batted, Boris Johnson was in the crowd. Funnily enough, there was a spare seat next to him before he fell asleep. Maybe it was the £6.50 Carling Black Label - criminal even by Sarf London standards? I doubt it was a European lager. The Indian top order got in and then promptly got out. Jadeja spared their blushes with a gorgeous 80 odd twirling his bat like Zorro when he reached 50. He was supported by GH Vihari. There may have been plenty of GHB taken in Vauxhall and plenty of GBH in South London over the years but GHV played very well. Jimmy lost his rag when Kohli was fairly adjacent and will find that some of his match fee will have to be donated. Jennings dropped another catch. His namesake Pat may have had the 'Safest Hands in Soccer' but Keaton hasn't in our summer game.

The Safest Hands...

When England batted again, the Oval gave Cook a rapturous reception. If he got to 20, he'd have had 12345 Test runs. If he got to 50, he'd average 45 in Test cricket - a top feat considering he opens in England against a Duke's ball in an era where the top order struggle. Firstly, Jennings emulated Boris' wife and left one before Mo got bowled out of the rough. Enter Joe Root and a man who needed runs. If England wanted Cook to score a ton to look back on a career, the skipper needed one to move forward.

Cook's came after what should have been a crafty single (leave the Boris jokes - Ed). For the second time at the Oval he brought up a hundred with overthrows. The applause might still be going on now for all we know. It certainly went on for a while. Root, with an innings of slog sweeps and impeccable timing got to his hundred, although was dropped in the 90's. When both were out, after every India fielder shook Cook's hand, there was some clean hitting as they set a total. Everyone thought the declaration was on the conservative side of Jacob Rees-Mogg but was it? Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

When India batted it was left to see if Jimmy could go past Glenn McGrath's total of wickets. At 3-2, including Kohli for a golden duck they looked down and out but it was at this ground in 1979 that the Little Master, Sunil Gavaskar nearly won a 400 plus chase with a brilliant 221. Rahul with 149 looked a different player from the opener we've seen this summer and supported by Pant, who atoned for his shoddy glovework, they made England sweat like Boris at the next General Election.

Sir Al and Jim

Finally Jimmy got his wicket when he bowled Shami and England had won by 118 runs. What a bowler, the Burnley Boy has been. Hopefully we see much more of him. He deserved his reward here, rather than in Colombo, in front of a home crowd.

It has been a fascinating series. India were unlucky to lose 4-1. Their bowling attack was probably better than ours, especially once Bumrah joined them. They had the best bat in the series in Kohli but their top order were poor all summer.

England have been getting better. There are still plenty of questions about this side but for me, they showed heart. My defining moment of the series was Jos Buttler fighting it out at Nottingham when many England sides of the past would have given up. They may well need two new openers and the third spinner to Sri Lanka will probably be Jack Leach. Who gets the gloves? Who bats three? Still plenty of questions need answering.

This though was Cook's match. An ambassador for the game and a top bloke, he will leave a hole at the top of the order. For now though, leave the mourning until the morning and let's reflect on a player who has scored more runs for his country in Tests than anyone else.

Arise, Sir Alastair.


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