How England's batsmen fought valiantly to avoid scoring 30 at Trent Bridge

Andy ZaltzmanStand-up comedian; writer7 Minute Read
With his scores, Joe Root has tried to explain the merits of the decimal system to the British: it's about tens, peoplePA Images via Getty Images

India jolted the series back to life with a performance that showed the cricketing value of Learning Lessons From Your Mistakes. It was a superb victory that highlighted the tactical folly of England's batsmen practising in the nets with an elephant as a set of stumps. As a result, when returning to conventionally sized stumps, they have been routinely playing at balls that might have clonked the ECB Nellie on the trunk, but were surely wide enough to leave.

Momentum in cricket often seems to be won and lost in the space of a coin toss, so whether India's all-round brilliance in Nottingham presages a full, series-snatching resurgence remains to be seen, especially as England's full and heroic commitment to the art of inconsistency in home conditions has often enabled them to spring back from an apparently cataclysmic defeat.

(I followed the Test from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where I have been performing a stand-up comedy show every day at 3pm. Audience members have occasionally been providing me with score updates from the cricket, and I am pretty sure that during last Sunday's show, England lost four wickets during the time it took me to deliver the set-up to a joke, and another during the punchline.)

Here is The Statistical Take-Away Set Menu from the third Test.

STARTERS

Struggle of English Openers, served in a confused broth
or
Succulent Kohli Improvements

It has not been a good time to be an England opener. Keaton Jennings has scored no fifties in his past eight Tests; Alastair Cook has one in his. It is fair to say that the Cook-Jennings partnership has yet to fully blossom into a union of HobbsicoSutcliffian splendour.

Jennings is the first England opener to go eight Tests without a half-century since Mark Butcher, who failed to reach 50 in 12 consecutive Tests as opener (although this sequence was interrupted by a considerably more successful run batting at No. 3).

The only other England openers with an eight-Test fifty-free sequence are John Edrich (nine matches, 1971-1975), Alec Stewart (nine matches, 1994-1995) and Mike Atherton (eight matches 1997-1998). Jennings is in esteemed company, although the others had all enjoyed notable and prolonged success before these fallow stretches.

Cook has reached 50 only five times in his last 40 innings (since the third Test in India late in 2016). Of the 21 men to have opened the batting in 40 or more Test innings for England, only Mike Brearley has made fewer 50-plus scores in a 40-innings sequence (four fifties, 1976-1981). Atherton also had a period in which he reached the half-century mark only five times in 40 innings (1997-1999). As the Trent Bridge Test showed, opening batsmen can have a significant impact on a Test match without making a half-century, but the irregularity of Cook's successes has become an increasing concern.

(This is also the first time since 1981 that there have been four consecutive Tests in England in which none of the openers on either side has made 50.)

Virat Kohli, meanwhile, has achieved the goal of having a better tour than he did in 2014. India's skipper could have improved on his 2014 performance simply by appearing at the top of the aeroplane steps at Heathrow, singing a karaoke version of the 1980s pop hit "Walk The Dinosaur", and flying back to India.

In 2018, through a combination of otherwordly skill, granite resolve, and some frying-pan-fingered England catching, Kohli has not merely put the ghosts of 2014 to bed he has held a statistical pillow over their faces until the twitching has stopped.

He has now scored 1006 runs in his last seven Tests against England, including four centuries and four more 50-plus innings, becoming the sixth player to make 1000 runs in seven matches against England. Mohammad Yousuf (2005-2010) was the most recent, preceded by Brian Lara (1994-1995), Viv Richards (1976-1980), Arthur Morris (1947-48), and Don Bradman, who did so in three separate non-overlapping sequences during his two-decade torturing of English bowling.

Before these seven matches, Kohli had played ten Tests against England, in which he had reached 50 once in 19 innings (a century on the comatose Nagpur pitch in 2012-13).

MAIN COURSE

Duo of Unnoticed Historical Moments
or
Smashed Records of Squandered Starts

Ben Stokes was understandably careful in his second innings, not only due to the match situation but also because of the weight of statistical history bearing down on him. As he strode to the crease, he would have been burdened with the onerous pressure of knowing that he needed just ten runs to ensure that this became the first Test in which the top fives of both teams have reached double figures in all four innings.

With due care and attention, amid scenes of wild celebration in cricket-statistics communes around the world, Stokes successfully nudged his way to history. (India, in the process of this epoch-defining statistical quirk, became only the third away team in England whose top five have made double figures in both innings.)

Stokes, moving on from the legal squibblings and squabblings over his fistical contretonks last September in Bristol, then saw another nugget of history beckoning him. Painstakingly eschewing all risk, he accumulated his way to a half-century - the 3000th score of 50 or more in England's Test history.

Perhaps this looming milestone has been constricting England's top order. As Oscar Wilde once wrote during his early days as a cricket hack for the Snoutshire Gazette in the 1870s, "To lose four consecutive top-order batsmen who have reached double figures before they make it to 20 may be regarded as a misfortune. To do so twice in one Test match looks like carelessness."

2014 Kohli to 2018 Kohli: "Thank me you fool, I make you look like a freaking god"Getty Images

In the first innings, England's Nos. 3 to 6 made 16, 10, 15 and 10. In the second, their Nos. 1 to 4 made 17, 13, 13 and 16.

This constitutes a world record, an untouched peak on Mt Failing-to-Consolidate-an-Adequate-Start, new frontiers in the art of 20-avoidance. Never before, in the history of Test cricket, has a team lost eight top-six batsmen for scores in the 10-19 bracket. Only five times had any team had seven top-six players for double-figure scores under 20.

England's top order have proved persistently good at playing themselves in as a prelude to getting themselves out. In three consecutive innings, at Lord's and in both innings in Nottingham, England's top four all made it into double figures, but were out before reaching 30.

In England's first 1000 Test matches, they had had only ten such innings (out of a total of 454 innings in which the top four had all made double figures). The most recent of these was in 1996-97, against Zimbabwe in Harare. In England Test matches No.1001 and no.1002, they have added three more, in three innings.

DESSERT

Deconstructed Captain's Innings
or
Sweetly snaffled slip catches

Joe Root has been criticised of late for his failure to convert fifties into hundreds. He has successfully addressed this issue in his last four innings by, instead, failing to convert his 10s into 20s.

He thus became the fourth Test No. 3 to be out between 10 and 19 (inclusive) in four successive innings at first drop, after South Africa's Dave Nourse (in the triangular tournament of 1912), and Pakistan's Zaheer Abbas (in 1975 and 1976, a sequence interrupted by a score of 2 batting at No. 1; and part of a longer sequence of seven scores between 10 and 19 in nine innings at No. 3), and Ijaz Ahmed (1998-99).

Before his current four-innings-in-a-row glitch, Root was a master at converting 10s into 20s - he had failed to reach 20 in just four of his previous 51 double-figure innings, dating back to August 2015. His lack of centuries has been widely commented upon. At least he has taken a step in the right direction by once again familiarising himself with the art of being out for a score beginning with 1.

England's slip-catching this series has been as impressive as a roadkill rabbit on a motorway. Rumours abound that Theresa May could use the current uncertainty over Brexit to sneak through a new law introducing a conscription system for the England slip cordon, whereby members of the public will be randomly selected to field in the slips for one Test at a time (based on the system used to select England batsmen in the late 1980s).

India had their troubles earlier in the series, but at Trent Bridge, KL Rahul brought some silken-handed edge-snaffling skills to the party. Not only did he, with Shikhar Dhawan, became one half of only the third pair of Indian openers to add 50 in both innings of a Test in England (after Sunil Gavaskar and Kris Srikkanth at Edgbaston in 1986; and Vijay Merchant and Mushtaq Ali at The Oval in 1936), he also showed England how preferable it is for your slips to catch their chances, rather than to fludge them to the ground like unwanted sausages in a vegan kitchen.

Rahul's seven catches put him second on the all-time list for most catches by a non-wicketkeeper, and, importantly, six of his seven victims were top-six batsmen (Root and Stokes in both innings, plus Jonny Bairstow and Alastair Cook). Rahul thus became, by my calculations, only the second non-wicketkeeper ever to pouch six top-six batsmen in the same Test match, after an Indian predecessor, Yajurvindra Singh, who caught six top-sixers on his Test debut, against England in Bangalore in January 1977.

COFFEE
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