The Odran Flynn Column
High drama in Dublin
On Sunday at the Oval India capitulated to England for the fifth successive innings, this time not being able to muster even a hundred runs.
In those five innings they lost 50 wickets in 246.5 overs which is the equivalent of just 2.7 days of Test cricket. Yes the highest paid group of players in world cricket were bowled out FIVE times in under three days.
Their top five batsmen earned an average of a million euro each for the six weeks of this year’s IPL alone, yet could only scrape together 286 runs between them in 25 attempts with a solitary fifty.
Now there are commentators who are attributing their demise to India being unable to cope with English conditions that assist seam and swing but the second Test at Lords was arguably the most bowler friendly wicket of the series yet India won comfortably.
There is no question that the England pacemen bowled much better in the second half of the series but a fair bit of the damage was done by off-spinner Moeen Ali who at the start of the series was considered to be a part time bowler. In the end it came down to pressure and technique and the so-called new generation of Indian stars couldn’t cope with that pressure as their technique was found wanting against the moving ball.
By the end several has hoisted the white flag and just wanted to get out of there as they were not prepared to grit it out.
Given that I normally write about Irish cricket you may be wondering why the opening paragraphs are about India. Allow me to explain. If Ireland were playing a Test match starting tomorrow the top five in the order would be William Porterfield, Paul Stirling, Ed Joyce, Niall O’Brien and Gary Wilson.
This season in the county championship alone these five stalwarts of Ireland cricket have of this morning (18th August) accumulated 3,291 runs at an average of 47.3. Their individual runs and averages range from 955 for Joyce at 63.3 to Porterfield with 617 at 32.5.
All but Porterfield have a better average than every one of the top five in the Indian order throughout the entire five tests (Gambhir replaced Dharwan after the 3rd Test). Only Vijay, who averaged 40.2 for the series bettered Porterfield’s average. If you isolate the last five innings of the series their top five batsmen averaged 11.9 which plummeted even further to 7.85 for the last two Tests.
Now while I’m not suggesting that Ireland would have beaten England I would be very confident that they would not have surrendered so meekly and would have posted much higher totals than India could manage. It is true that the Irish players figures listed above for the county championship were not made against Anderson, Broad or Jordan but they were still facing some formidable bowling well versed in using English conditions.
In Division One they faced bowlers such as Steve Magoffin, Steven Finn, Alfonso Thomas, Chris Woakes, Tim Bresnan, Ryan Sidebottom, Glen Chapple and Jeetan Patel. While there may not have been the same quality in Division Two there was still Saeed Ajmal and Doug Bollinger plus a host of canny county seamers.
It is also worth noting that championship wickets are generally not as well prepared as those used for Tests particularly in this damp early season when a good proportion of championship games were played. It would be much more beneficial for India, and indeed all the other Test nations who come to play England, if their preparation was more meaningful that a couple of pointless matches against understrength county sides.
Playing a three or four day match against Ireland, preferably in Ireland although I wouldn’t be too exercised if it was played in England, would be of much more value and if the ICC are serious about helping the top Associates it would help Ireland greatly as well. India and others might argue that whatever about Ireland’s batting prowess the bowling would not give them an adequate flavour of what they will face in the Tests and there may be a degree of validity in that.
However, especially in early season conditions, Tim Murtagh with a new red ball would be a match for anyone other than Anderson and Broad and the Irish based seamers would be a lot more formidable than most county second eleven bowlers. While this is unlikely to happen it is food for thought when Ireland is negotiating fixtures for the coming seasons.
Yesterday the close proximity of Pembroke and Merrion’s delightful cricket grounds gave me the opportunity to witness the pivotal phases in two key matches of this season. It also provided, for me, the unique experience of seeing a defining hundred in two separate matches on the same afternoon.
I started in Pembroke where the home side were hosting reigning champions Clontarf in the semi-final of the Irish Senior Cup and I stayed there until a heavy rain shower took the players off after seventeen overs with Pembroke on 70-2. Tight bowling from Conor D’arcy had removed both Ryan Hopkins and Andrew Balbirnie inside two overs after an opening stand of 56 had threatened to set the home side on course for a very formidable total. The wicket of Balbirnie in particular was a cause of great celebration as the Ireland batsman and Middlesex 2nd eleven skipper, released for the weekend by his county, has rivalled his Ireland team mate Andrew Poynter in gorging on runs this season.
The five minute spin to Merrion saw me arrive in time for the batsmen coming back out after a delay caused by the same cloud that had briefly drenched Sydney Parade. Merrion started the day 28 points behind their opponents YMCA and defeat would hand the Division 1 title to their near neighbours.
Merrion had also reached 70 when I arrived although they had lost one more wicket. Fortunately for the home side the two batsmen striding out from their resplendent new pavilion had both the ability and the courage to say to YMCA that if you want to win the title it certainly won’t be handed to you on a plate.
Dom Joyce, one of five Ireland International siblings, has Merrion running through his veins, while John Anderson may have been born in Durban but has been infused with the Merrion spirit that has helped him into consideration for Ireland’s World Cup campaign next February. Together they added 114 in just under 25 overs with Joyce blasting 57 off 62 balls.
When Joyce was bowled by wrist spinner Yaqoob Ali, Anderson was on 46 with one ball short of thirteen overs left in the innings. In those overs Merrion scored 99 runs of which Anderson made 65 to take his side to a very defendable 273. It wasn’t just the runs that he made; it was as much about the style and assurance that he displayed.
His 13 fours were a mixture of drives, sweeps both orthodox and reverse and quite a few perfectly clipped shots through and over the leg side field. His innings was also impressive not just because of the context of the match but also because he was facing an attack that had greater depth than is usual at club level.
YMCA has three quality spinners in the aforementioned Yaqoob Ali, Simmi Singh and the former Ireland offie Albert van der Merwe. In addition he faced and was very circumspect against the young pace bowler Bobby Gamble who is getting better by the week. Between them they have taken almost 200 wickets since the beginning of last season. Anderson will have done his chances of further Ireland honours no harm by this performance.
To come back to Gamble for a moment, he is the best young pace prospect that I have seen this season. He has developed considerably since last season both in his physique and his pace. He was instrumental in the Ireland under 19 successes this year and having watched him against the Netherlands a few weeks ago and again yesterday he is one for the very near future. You only get an accurate perception of a bowlers pace when you watch him side on and yesterday he was as quick as any of the home based Ireland bowlers. He was operating on a slow surface but he negated that with his pace through the air without sacrificing accuracy and in the fifty over format just doesn’t get smashed despite bowling in the powerplays and at the death.
It would be intriguing to see him bowl on hard bouncy wickets as he possesses the run up and action of a genuine quick bowler. Ireland could do worse than draft him into the squad for the three ODI’s against Scotland next month. He bowled yesterday with the Chairman of Ireland selectors Alan Lewis in the field alongside him and it would be understandable if Alan was reticent about being accused of promoting one of his own clubmen but if he is, he shouldn’t be as Bobby Gamble has the attributes to be the real deal.
During the break between innings I headed back to Pembroke to what turned out to be one of the most exciting matches of the season. Played out in front of a large and vocal crowd, which incidentally was bigger than for most Ireland games other than against Full Members, Clontarf looked like they were on target to chase down the required 256.
With Leinster Lightning opening bat Bill Coughlan and the tyro Colin Currie together they looked in command until the partnership was disrupted by Coughlan who had just hit a huge six, having to leave the field with what initially looked like a hamstring injury but which subsequently transpired to be cramp.
At that point the score was 62 for 1 in the seventeenth over but Clontarf disappointment at Coughlan’s retirement was tempered by the sight of Andrew Poynter arriving at the crease with 730 runs under his belt for his club this season. With the partnership barely settled in Pembroke skipper Ryan Hopkins threw the ball to Andrew Balbirnie to try a few off-breaks. There were those present who felt that his brother Jack should have been turning his arm over as he had taken 7 for 29 against North County a couple of weeks ago but as it turned out didn’t bowl at all yesterday.
With Poynter on 6 he smashed a half volley straight back to Balbirnie who palmed the heat seeking missile into the air and then pouched the rebound to the visible astonishment of the batsman. Balbirnie’s celebration was worth the free admission as he set off like Usian Bolt, whooping and hollering with his left arm pointing to the heavens, before being engulfed in the arms of his delighted team mates.
At this point a re-hydrated Coughlan resumed his partnership with young Currie and together they added another 52 runs to their initial 26. However before he settled in again Coughlan seemed to decide he wasn’t going to be doing much running and big hits were the order of the day. This led to him being dropped off successive balls, the first a difficult chance at long-on and the second a low catch offered to short cover. Two hours later Pembroke would have real cause to rue those misses as Coughlan went on to blaze 134 off 125 balls including 5 sixes, two of which would have cleared any boundary anywhere. Although he lost Currie, Delany, D’arcy and Ryan along the way Clontarf looked like assured winners as long as the big man stayed even though 24 were still required from 13 balls.
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