RIP Peter Roebuck

It’s pretty screwed up that someone’s suicide can make for such an interesting few days of cricket reading.

Inevitably cricket writing is a bit like family reunions – too many people only really show up (in the performance sense) for weddings or funerals. As cricket writers I suppose our weddings are big events like the Ashes, a World Cup final or a plucky good luck story, the funerals a seismic defeat, a resignation or a spot-fixing trial. Rarely is it a death in the literal sense. And nothing makes you remember what a load of nothingness cricket is like death.

One of the often-spouted clichés is that cricket is such a great game because it is so revealing of human character, a metaphor for life. The implication is that cricket in itself doesn’t matter, it just relates to things that do. Maybe that’s why we all cling to the personal details of the game – the characters, the friendships, the feuds – they make cricket more consequential than a 90-mph yorker or a 111-metre six ever can. Maybe that’s why those eulogies were so gripping.

I never met Peter Roebuck, but there was no danger of not hearing all about him when Down Under last winter, he was often the go-to story for the press-box gossips. I’ve heard all manner of tales about him from former colleagues on and off the pitch. Some were silly, some scurrilous – too many of us laughed along or passed them on. It’s difficult to reconcile this with the tributes flowing from every social media crevice over the last few days, but maybe when people spend their lives watching a game, it takes a death to make them think a little.

What else can you take from a load of very different eulogies? Some very human writers are wasted on match reports? Confirmation that often the most stand out people, the most individual, are that way because their minds tread darker passageways than the rest of us?

In a strange way perhaps anyone with ambitions to scribble should see Roebuck’s death as reaffirming – beyond his private life it puts the spotlight on what made his writing great. It reminds anyone who has ever picked up a newspaper and put it down in disgust 12 seconds later that it’s ok to have a different point of view, that it’s possible that the majority are the ones in the wrong, content in their complacency.

Of course to push through that unique train of thought you have to be prepared to disagree, to argue, to be outrageously stubborn and at times even more wrong – qualities that only the fortunate can retain and still be the centre of a crowd.

It’s an uncomfortable generalisation to say people who commit suicide are cowards. We can’t know what tormented Roebuck’s mind before he jumped, but we know that at least in his cricketing dealings he had a spine, knew how to stand up for his beliefs. Check your twitter feeds this afternoon, see how many journalists you can spot moaning about the ICCs Test Championship decision. If even half of them had Roebuck’s conviction to properly champion a cause then maybe cricket wouldn’t be in the trouble it is.

England vs India – the verdict

There are 4-0 series and there are 4-0 series. This was never a 4-0 series. If the same squads lined up at the beginning of 10 series in 10 alternate universes, England would do well to whitewash India twice.

This series was one of those children’s adventure books where every option the kid chooses has a direct consequence – choose option C every time and finally they end up in hell, that sort of thing. This was the tour India kept choosing option C.

England fans might have recognised the signs, seeing as it was basically a low-budget rerun of an England Ashes tour from any time between 1989 and 2007, where absolutely anything that can go wrong does, and then some. 2006-07 will do – for England then read India now, for Duncan Fletcher read, oh, Duncan Fletcher.

India’s injuries were horrible. Losing Sehwag – the one batsman who could have put England’s smugly economical quicks under pressure, was bad enough. Losing Zaheer in the first Test and Harbhajan in the second – leaving them with three bowlers in each, was a cheap shot from fate. Zaheer was the key – with him directing the feisty, frugal Kumar and the sporadic, impressionable Sharma, they would have caused England real problems, as they did on that first morning at Lord’s. Without him India’s attack lacked a leader and their side a chance. Their only hope then was to amass big totals and put pressure on England that way, but only Rahul Dravid read that game-plan.

They were unlucky to run into an England side that has rarely (if ever) been as sure-footed, and with home advantage too. If there is a significant gap between the two sides then it is in how they deal with adversity. England had injuries too, but they were able to replace Chris Tremlett with Tim Bresnan without disrupting their ‘attack through defence’ bowling strategy, and even add some more runs as well. Crucially, when Jonathan Trott injured himself at Trent Bridge, leaving England a batsman down with a first-innings deficit, there was no fuss, Ian Bell just went and got 150 and won them the game.

For India, there was no such depth or strength of character to call upon. The bowling resource was negligible, while the batting line-up reacted to Gautam Gambhir’s one-man injury procession like Anna Wintour stepping in dog shit. That Fletcher was seemingly unable to motivate his team is a huge concern – he has now been whitewashed in two of his last three series as coach and there must be serious doubts as to whether he is the man to stage manage this delicate period of Indian history.

The Indian reaction is key, not just from a board of whom it is easy now to allege an unhealthy obsession with the IPL dollar. Do their players still want it? Preparation for and success over five days of cricket, four times over a month is a lot of hard work. England want it. Rahul Dravid wants it. He’s 38 yet he’s knocking out hundreds like Brangelina do foster-kids. He and Mike Hussey (35 when he stuck 195 on England at Brisbane) are proof that if you want it enough you have a decent chance of getting it. Graham Gooch has made sure England’s batsmen know that – it was instructive to see Alastair Cook in the nets at 9.30am on the last two mornings at The Oval, two days when he was unlikely to get a bat.

For England’s part, Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower are savvy enough not to get carried away. And they shouldn’t. In a weird way England’s players have missed an opportunity this last month – an opportunity to prove themselves against the best side in the world, because that India is not the one we got. What England did is reemphasise what they showed against Australia this winter, that when it comes to beating and demoralising downtrodden, floundering sides there is no team more ruthless.

All square in Cardiff

Sri Lanka 400 (P Jayawardene 112, Anderson 3-66) lead England 47-1 by 353 runs

The following is a report from tea on day two at Cardiff.

It’s been a strange day in Cardiff. England haven’t bowled badly, Sri Lanka haven’t batted great. There’s been posturing, poking and pontificating, and at tea we are no nearer to finding out who’s going to win this game.

The suspicion is that Sri Lanka’s batsmen have done pretty well, but may yet be let down by their bowling attack. They have certainly been bold – winning the toss and batting with five batsmen and two allrounders was gutsy, and they’ll be satisfied to have reached 300 with the potential for more.

England have alternated between menacing and anaemic – Trott opening after lunch was slightly surreal, and his bowling was sufficiently rum to raise eyebrows. Expect Paul Collingwood to look rose-tinted next time you see him. Collingwood has also been missed in the slips – Alastair Cook is a strange choice for 3rd slip given he lumbers in the lunge, while James Anderson will do well to get anywhere near Collingwood’s 18 catches off Graeme Swann.

The four man attack has had one of those days that makes them look a bowler light, especially given Anderson’s back-tweak. Anderson had bowled well for his couple of wickets, but Stuart Broad was again suffering from an identity crisis. Broad was better than yesterday, but is clearly still struggling to work out if he is a genuine quick, or a line and length bowler. Here he was most effective on the occasions he throttled back, shortened his run and asked short-leg to remove his helmet.

Broad’s mood won’t have been helped by tonsillitis, a couple of unsuccessfully referred LBW decisions and a few nicks that have flown through gaps. That 100th Test wicket remains elusive.
For their part Sri Lanka have shown none of the early tour fragility of the past – four of the top six over 50 is an impressive effort, and when the failures go by the name Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene there is scope for further success. If they are to be safe here, Prasanna Jayawardene must go on to a third Test hundred. He received good support from Farveez Maharoof before he fell victim to #trottsfault, while if Tishana Perera bowls like he bats Sri Lankan fans are in for a spicy few years.

Forty-six overs remain in this game – plenty of time for the narrative to develop, but England will know that if they’re not batting long before stumps this game is slipping away.

What happened next?

Jayawardene got his ton. So did Broady, slightly fortuitously.

Sri Lanka got 400, and England lost Strauss before the close. We’ll know much more by close of play tomorrow.

Cardiff day one – Pitch it up Broady

Sri Lanka close on 133-2 (Paranavitana 58*, Dilshan 50)

Welcome to the English Test summer. Throughout the Tests I’ll be producing videos as The Chuck Fleetwood-Smiths for ESPNcricinfo and blogging for Spin.com.

I’ll also be posting stuff here, so here’s the blog I did for Spin on Stuart Broad.

England in May – that famously successful month for the bang-it-in bowler. In hindsight, that England have picked two of them for this Test match, and indeed a third in their 12, looks an oversight.

They’ve got previous. As impressive as England were in Australia, there were times when sentiment clouded their selection. Adelaide stands out – Ajmal Shahzad abandoned after Steven Finn’s wickets in Brisbane. Finn’s figures had been flattering in Brissy, they were again in Adelaide, and while England won, it may have been more comfortable with skiddy Shahzad.

On early evidence in this game the beneficiary has been Stuart Broad, with Shahzad and Graham Onions right to feel aggrieved. Broad hasn’t played much cricket, and it has showed – the pace is there, but not quite the line or the length, too wide and too short. Flip his pitch map vertically and it would probably look about right for the situation – a slowish pitch with moisture and batsmen not totally used to the conditions (whatever double-century stands in both warm up games might suggest). His was a selection that makes sense in the scheme of the summer, but maybe not for England’s attempts to win this match.

However much cricket he’s played, Broad hasn’t helped himself. Yes it’s windy, yes it’s damp, and yes Dilshan pounced on anything drivable. But if you don’t ask you don’t get, and Broad’s short-pitched stuff has been like the teenager who turns up to the school-disco in Black Tie and then gets aggressively smashed in the corner by himself. He seems stuck in a short-pitched groove, but this is the SWALEC, not the SSC.

It’s had an effect on the others too – a wayward first spell necessitating a change of ends, which meant Strauss also had to switch Jimmy Anderson. Anderson, whose excellent first spell of 7-2-7-0 hadn’t yielded a single boundary, splurged three from his three overs from the Cathedral Road end.

If Broad is to convince as a Test bowler of genuine wicket-taking, match-winning consistency, he must adapt quicker – for a ‘thinking’ bowler has shown a lack of nous today. He could do worse than look at Chris Tremlett for how a tall bowler should operate in these conditions. Every short ball Tremlett has bowled has served a purpose – a softener to make the footwork more uncertain against the fuller stuff.

Still, it’s day one of 35 – plenty of cricket left to oil those rusty joints.

Sam Collins is 50% of The Chuck Fleetwood-Smiths

Essex have Bopara but miss Shah and Ten Doeschate as IPL takes effect

Lord’s hasn’t been a happy home for Middlesex supporters in recent years, but when they win here they tend to win well. Last year their two Lord’s victories came by an innings, today the home fans saw 20 Essex wickets fall in a day, leaving success a formality.

It was billed as Steve Finn versus Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara, but in helpful conditions for the bowlers it was nothing of the sort. Finn looked very much an England bowler, noticeably quicker than anything else we’ve seen, and with his bounce and lateral movement was too much for most batsmen, even if he did continue his bad habit of falling away occasionally.

For Cook it was as though the winter never happened, as he prodded and poked at Corey Collymore, falling first lbw to the West Indian and then turning a return catch to Finn in the second knock. If Uncle obduracy himself couldn’t last it out what hope the rest of them? And so it proved…

Bopara fell twice to Finn, before tweeting, “No heavy rollers & tiflex balls is a recipe for low scores. Crap cricket!” Middlesex opener Scott Newman’s response was the closest thing to a contest all day, “dry your eyes big lad. No feet movement and loose shots is a recipie for nicking off lol”. A glance at yesterday’s scorecard would afford Bopara a smile. Newman c Foster b Topley 38.

Bopara is of course playing here after turning down the IPL because he wants to play for England. Heaven forbid there be any great loyalty to Essex. We’re constantly told that loyalty doesn’t exist in sport, and that’s never more obvious than when there’s Indian wonga involved – however understandably.

Owais Shah and Ryan ten Doeschate have no England cause to further, so you couldn’t see the ground for dust when the escape route was offered. You could forgive long-suffering Essex supporters for being a bit irked about two of their best batsmen being unavailable for six Championship matches – over a third of the season. The situation is exacerbated when the rest of the side bat like total numpties, but as it is they are on the verge of two defeats from two and the season is only a week old.

It makes you wonder what the point is of signing Owais Shah on exorbitant wages in the first place – what will Essex do with the compensation while he sits on the IPL sidelines? Splurge it on Dwayne Bravo for Twenty20 finals day again? And what exactly does Shah hope to gain from joining Essex other than a lucrative payday? Because at this moment it sure doesn’t look like it’s a return to the Championship first division.

Is the fault with the players for chasing the money, or the schedulers for doing their best to finish the whole season by June? Whoever’s to blame it makes you slightly grateful that more English players aren’t much kop at T20, as otherwise this would surely be more of an issue. As it is injuries and other bobbins mean Shah, Eoin Morgan and Michael Lumb are the only English players out in India at the moment. That Morgan and Shah, and the Dutch/ Saffer Ten Doeschate all would have been playing today localises the issue conveniently.

Yet imagine if all 37 English players who made themselves available for the IPL auction had been picked up. Imagine if Kent fans hadn’t even been able to watch Simon Cook for six weeks. It doesn’t even bear thinking about.