Angus Fraser, Middlesex’s director of cricket, has insisted that a uniform spread of good cricket wickets remains the best way to develop Test-class cricketers, in spite of the difficulties that England encountered in spinning conditions on their tour of India this winter, where they succumbed to three heavy defeats at Chennai and Ahmedabad.
After dominating the first Test at Chennai in the most batsman-friendly conditions of the series, England had few answers to India’s spin duo of R Ashwin and Axar Patel for the remainder of the campaign, as the pair finished with 59 wickets between them across the four Tests.
Nor could England find a batsman able to thrive on those later surfaces to the same extent as either Rohit Sharma or Rishabh Pant. Each scored a century, in the second and fourth Test respectively, to put both contests out of reach, as England in reply managed a highest total of 205 in seven innings.
In particular, the conditions that England faced in the final two Tests at Ahmedabad, where they slumped to defeats in two and three days respectively, drew comparisons with the situations that many sides face when visiting Taunton in the County Championship – or “Ciderabad”, as it is colloquially known, due to the dominance of spin at the venue.
But Fraser, who once described the pitch for Middlesex’s relegation-sealing defeat at Taunton in 2017 as “dreadful”, believes that it is the disciplines learned by batsmen and bowlers alike on good surfaces that lay the foundations for success in tougher circumstances.
“All pitches need to produce good cricket, that’s the starting point,” he said. “Batsmen need to bat on surfaces that they can trust, so that they can play their shots and they’re not fearful that there’s a ball coming around the corner with their name on it, and therefore think, well, I’ll be aggressive and try and make it pay until that ball comes along,
“And bowlers have got to bowl with discipline. They’ve got to learn to be accurate, as well as spin the ball or bowl with pace, and they’re going to learn those skills by playing on good surfaces.”
Earlier this month, the ECB agreed to increase the number of points available for a draw in the County Championship from five to eight, in response to an appeal from Joe Root, England’s captain, for counties to be incentivised to make their games last longer.
And Fraser said that he welcomed that change, particularly in light of the retention of the three-group format for this year’s County Championship.
“A result of [two-]divisional cricket is the fact that people are willing to roll the dice. If we’ve got seven home games, if we can win four and lose three, it’s better than winning two and drawing four and losing one, or whatever it might be. And I don’t think that mentality produces decent cricketers.
“The conversation we have with Karl [McDermott], our groundsman, is a very short one – just produce the best pitch you can. I want Lord’s to be a good surface, not one where it’s all over in two-and-a-bit days and where 180 is a decent score.
“You can’t get funky with pitches. We’ve turned up at some grounds, historically, and there’s saucer-shaped areas outside off stump on the spinners length that look completely different from the rest of the pitch.
“To me that’s a very short-term look at things. If we’re trying to produce decent cricketers, we want to play on good surfaces and we want to encourage groundsmen to produce those, rather than compromise by asking them to produce something completely in favour of the home side.”
Fraser did acknowledge that the existence of pitches such as Taunton’s could provide players with an insight into the sort of extreme conditions that were encountered in Ahmedabad this winter, and he commended the club on producing both of England’s current first-choice spinners, Dom Bess and Jack Leach.
However, he reiterated his view that such an approach was merely a short-cut, rather than a solution, to England’s problem of producing enough Test-class spin bowlers to compete in overseas conditions, and cited Bess’ struggles this winter as an example of the lack of grounding he has been offered, despite his opportunities to play.
“We get on well with Somerset despite the odd spat,” Fraser said. “As a county we fully respect what they’ve achieved.
“When I first came to the Middlesex position, it was to achieve what Somerset are doing, and compete all competitions on a regular basis. But if you look at the Somerset experiment, how many Somerset batsmen are in the England squad?
“The real positive for Somerset is, yes, they’re providing England with two of their spinners, including Dom Bess, whom I picked as an England selector. But, not that I’ve spoken to the coach, but Bess got dropped because they were worried about his discipline. And the fact that he bowled too many bad balls.
“The Indian spinners were able to exploit those pitches, but I’m sure they play on a lot of flat pitches that don’t offer the spinners a lot of help too, so that they have to bowl with the discipline that’s required.
“The Somerset surface angle is one that is often mentioned when you look at an Ahmedabad situation, but has it has it provided England with the cricketers that have allowed us to go to India to win a series?
“I’m not having a go at the situation there, I’m just looking at it logically, in the same way that playing on a green seamer at Lord’s might give a false account of a fast bowler. If it’s been an overcast summer, such a player is then likely to get exposed at Test level, because they’re playing on flatter pitches against better batsman.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
The Hundred – Jofra Archer not expected to link up with Southern Brave this week
Team hopeful of having the pacer for the last four games as he continues a gradual comeback from elbow surgery
Archer has played twice for Sussex in the last 10 days, first bowling three overs in their Vitality Blast win against Kent and a further six against Oxfordshire in a 50-over warm-up match last Tuesday, but has not linked up with the Southern Brave squad since the start of the Hundred and is not expected to do so this week.
“It’s one of those where I’m staying out of it and leaving it to the experts in that area. Hopefully we do get him because it would be a big boost for us, but if we don’t, we’ve got guys who are capable here.”
An ECB spokesperson said that a further update on Archer’s fitness was expected next week but did not confirm whether he had been given a pain-killing injection in the last two days. Archer underwent elbow surgery in May following an aborted comeback from the injury at the start of the English summer.
The Brave were the pre-tournament favourites for the men’s competition but have lost both of their first two games and are already in danger of missing out on the knockout stages, with only the top three teams progressing. Mahela Jayawardene, their head coach, has regularly recovered from sluggish starts while coaching Mumbai Indians in the IPL, and Vince suggested that his recent experience with Hampshire – who squeezed into the Blast’s quarter-finals in the final round of group games – meant he was not panicking yet.
“I’m sure we’ll realise that we need to start winning soon but I’ve just been part of a Hampshire side in the Blast that got off to a bit of a slow start and then managed to play some great cricket towards the back end and get some momentum going,” he said. “I think this format will be very similar.
“We’re aware we need to improve in a few areas but we were much better [on Tuesday] and had our chance to win the game. The next three or four games coming up will be important to make sure we’re there or thereabouts come the last few.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
Recent Match Report – Somerset vs Glamorgan Group 1 2021
Michael Hogan’s four-for not enough as Glamorgan let several winning positions slip
Somerset 180 for 7 (Green 87, Hogan 4-33) beat Glamorgan 179 for 9 by one run
Andy Gorvin needed a six off the last ball of the game from left-arm spinner Goldsworthy to win the game for Glamorgan and came close with a powerful four over the bowler’s head.
Play did not start until 12.10pm, with the game initially reduced to 42 overs per side. Somerset’s innings had only occupied 2.4 of them, with five runs scored, when rain forced the players off.
That was enough time for Hogan to strike twice, Sam Young caught behind off the fourth ball of the innings and Steven Davies brilliantly snapped up by Gorvin at midwicket from the first delivery of the third over.
On the resumption, the veteran pace bowler took his figures to 3 for 3 by bowling George Bartlett between bat and pad and then had James Hildreth caught at first slip.
Somerset were in disarray at 49 for 5 when Eddie Byrom feathered a ball from offspinner Steven Reingold through to wicketkeeper Cullen.
But Green and Goldsworthy calmly steadied the ship and had taken the total to 84 for 5 in the 26th over when heavier rain brought another stoppage at 2.10pm.
Half an hour later, with a further reduction in overs, Green and Goldsworthy batted with far more intent. Green was the main aggressor, with Goldsworthy notching just one boundary in his valuable innings before slogging a catch to cow corner off Callum Taylor.
Green, cut loose in the closing overs with some majestic shots until playing a ball from Lukas Carey onto his stumps in the final over.
Glamorgan’s reply began badly when Hamish Rutherford fell lbw to the final ball of Jack Brooks’ opening over.
Eighteen-year-old Baker then got a ball to lift at Nick Selman’s ribs, forcing the opener to loop up a catch to the diving Byrom, running in from square leg.
Aldridge produced a similar quick delivery, his first of the game, to have Kiran Carlson caught by wicketkeeper Davies for 21. And when Green also struck with his opening delivery, bowling Reingold for 16, Glamorgan were 52 for 4.
Cullen and Root then put together a well-paced stand of 76 to put their team in sight of victory. It ended when Cullen was caught behind down the leg side off Aldridge, who followed up by having Joe Cooke taken by wicketkeeper Davies.
Root fell to George Drissell, the former Gloucestershire offspinner making his Somerset debut, top-edging a slog-sweep with 38 still needed.
Carey did his best with two boundaries, but other wickets fell cheaply and 10 off the final over for the last pair proved too much.
Recent Match Report – West Indies vs Pakistan 1st T20I 2021
Hasan Ali and debutant Mohammad Wasim impress for Pakistan with the ball
No result West Indies 85 for 5 (Pollard 22*, Hasan 2-11, Qadir 1-6) vs Pakistan
Incessant rain first reduced the first West Indies-Pakistan T20I to a nine-over shootout before eventually washing away the match. Pakistan had chosen to bowl first under cloudy skies with rain also predicted, but the teams raced off to the dressing room just after completing their national anthems. It took almost three hours for the rain to stop and the ground to dry, with the umpires then deciding to curtail the contest.
Debutant Wasim has instant impact
Wasim was taken off after that, but returned to bowl the seventh over. After hurting Simmons, he then had Chris Gayle caught at long-on as the bowler now brought out the slower ball. Gayle, who had come in after Simmons, played away from his body to try and heave that, but only found the fielder in search of rapid runs.
Amidst a flurry of dot balls – which were 30 in total – and a bunch of extras, which contributed 14, there were five wickets claimed with as many sixes slammed from the third over until the eighth. Hasan Ali got two, while Mohammad Hafeez, Usman Qadir and Wasim all grabbed a wicket each. Nicholas Pooran cracked twin sixes off Hafeez, before Gayle deposited Shadab Khan over his head and Andre Russell dispatched Qadir over extra cover – all this, before Pollard got into Ali with a whip.
Pollard provides late entertainment, but Hasan delivers too
Pollard arrived at the crease with one ball of the sixth over left, but watched from the other end as Gayle fell in the following over with West Indies’ run rate still under nine. With Pollard on strike, Ali was brought back for the eighth after foxing Evin Lewis off his first ball earlier in the innings. This time, Ali was whacked first ball over deep square leg as Pollard swung his bat to a good length ball on middle and leg, and despite not quite finding the middle of the bat, sent the ball sailing over deep square leg.
But that was the only boundary Ali conceded off his two overs, digging the slower balls perfectly on a rain-affected pitch to keep the West Indies batters quiet. Ali then got Shimron Hetmyer three balls later – Mohammad Rizwan completed a good diving catch – with the hosts struggling for momentum amidst the numerous cutters from the visiting bowlers.
Pollard was on 10 off 5 deliveries when only four balls remained in the innings, and the West Indies captain ensured they were well taken care of. A dot ball later, Shaheen Afridi pitched one short on middle and leg as Pollard pulled fiercely to bisect deep square leg and deep midwicket for four. After nabbing two more runs, he ended with a maximum by sending the ball crashing over deep square leg when he made room to a length ball on middle and off, and pulled with disdain. Although he got 12 runs off the last three balls, rain would have the final say with Pakistan not having to chase the total.
Himanshu Agrawal is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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