Cook must stay for a year – or go now 

England finally won a game on their Indian tour yesterday -at the eighth time of asking. Having lost the Test series 4-0 and also lost the one day series by losing the first two matches they finally scraped a five run win in the dead third match. 

Still at least the one day team was competitive. The Test series was a complete disaster with England reaching a nadir when in the last two Tests England batted first scored 400 (Fourth Test) and 477 (Fifth Test) and yet managed to lose both by an innings. In the Fifth Test India scored 759 for seven declared the highest score ever conceded by England in 139 years of playing Test cricket.

Unsurprisingly there have been rumours about captain Alistair Cook’s future. Since the end of the Test series he has met with England managing director Andrew Strauss to consider his future but no descion has been made. Cook has time on his side – in a ludicrous piece of scheduling England’s first Test of 2017 is not until July 6th against South Africa – so we don’t know what he will decide. At the end of the Indian debacle he seemed a demoralised man and when he mentioned that he considered his vice captain and almost certain successor Joe Root to be ready for Test captaincy most people thought he would go. It hasn’t happened yet – but it still could. Or maybe being back in England with his friends and family has reinvigorated his appetite for Test captaincy.

One thing is certain in my opinion. If Cook wants to carry on as Test captain he must agree to stay in post at least until January 8th 2018. This is the last scheduled day of the 2017-18 Ashes series in Australia where Cook – if he is still captain – will be trying to avenge the 5-0 humiliation inflicted on his team in 2013-14. If he wants to captain England in that series fine. He has done enough for England to deserve to choose his own departure date. If he wants to resign now hand the captaincy over to Root and give him the summer’s Tests against South Africa and West Indies to bed him into the captaincy job that is fine too. But it’s a possible third scenario that worries me.

I think it’s fair to say that if Cook decides to stay in the job he will be under more pressure post India than he was pre India. So imagine that the home Test series against South Africa does not go well – not an impossible scenario after South Africa’s impressive 2-1 away win against Australia last year. If England lose to South Africa under Cook’s captaincy will he want to carry on or will he want to give up? The last three South African tours to England have seen the England captain either resign during the series (Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan) or immediately afterwards (Strauss). This is the doomsday secenario for England. If Cook did resign after the South African series Root is left with just three Tests against a poor West Indies team to gain captaincy experience before the Ashes series starts in Brisbane on November 23rd. Not enough time in my opinion. 

I hope that Strauss during their meeting told Cook that if he wants to keep the job that he is in it for the next year (he can be reassessed after the Ashes series). It would be a disaster if another England captain was seen off during or immediately after a home series against South Africa. England cannot afford to change the captaincy midway through a pre Ashes summer.

For that reason though I wouldn’t mind if Cook stayed my preference is for him to stand down in favour of Root now. It would take the pressure off Cook and the team as he will be under huge pressure after India (as he was after the 2013-14 Ashes shambles). In contrast Root will be a new captain enjoying his honeymoon period in the job. With the captaincy issue settled there will be less pressure on the team with the result that they might play better. 

One thing is certain. If Cook wants to remain captain – and Strauss wants to let him –  he must committ to the whole year. If he stayed in the captaincy then changed his mind during the summer it would be a disaster. Cook must be told that he must either stay in the captaincy for a year – or go now. 

Recalling a historic British wrestling programme 

Today on Independent Television (ITV) is the return (for one night only) of a popular British institution World of Sport. This programme lasted twenty years (from January 2 1965 to September 28 1985) and it popularised professional wrestling in the UK long before the WWE came anywhere near Britain. The wrestling on World of Sport was the starting point for UK wrestlers who would become WWE stars – the British Bulldog, Dave “Fit” Finlay as well as current NXT Commissioner William Regal. As World of Sport returns to ITV today with current UK wrestlers I thought I would look at the history of World of Sport.

Wrestling on ITV actually pre dated World of Sport by ten years. When commercial TV in the UK started in September 1955 British wrestling was an early part of its schedule (the first bout was broadcast in November 1955). There was a joke doing the rounds in the UK at the time that the BBC was going through the alphabet buying up each sport but had run out of money before they got to wrestling which is why ITV got it! Whether or not it was true the wrestling became a key part of the ITV schedule – usually on Wednesday nights – before it became part of World of Sport. 

It should be said that the old school UK wrestling on World of Sport has little or nothing in common with the current WWE product and differs in many ways. In fact World of Sport wrestling had more in common with boxing and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) than it does with the current WWE product. To start with the matches were under a round system. Rounds lasted either three or five minutes and there were breaks between the rounds. The shortest bouts comprised of six three minute rounds while title matches could last as long as fifteen five minute rounds. The vast majority of matches were two out of three falls (a rarity in current WWE). The rules were different too. Punches, not breaking the hold when the wrestlers got to the ropes and attacking a man while he was down were all illegal and there was a warning system that resembles football. Wrestlers who broke the rules were given public warnings by the referee. Three public warnings meant instant disqualification – just like the three strikes and you’re out rule in baseball.

Another resemblance with boxing and the UFC – and difference with WWE – were the weight classes. There were seven different weight classes in old school UK wrestling – lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, heavy middleweight, light heavyweight, mid heavyweight and heavyweight (interesting that the heavyweight limit in old school UK wrestling was 209 pounds, not dissimilar to the current WWE 205 pounds upper limit for their Cruiserweight division.) Each weight had their own British title but there were also catch-weight contests between wrestlers in different weight classes. 

Another difference between the two types of wrestling was the role of women. While women have not (to put it mildly) always been treated well in WWE at least they have usually wrestled. There was NEVER women’s wrestling on World of Sport. Repeat never. In fact until the 1980s they weren’t on the shows at all. When they did appear they were as managers – the most famous woman was Fit Finlay’s then wife Princess Paula who would be at ringside but unlike Maryse and Lana today never interfered in his matches – even though Finlay was a heel. What Sasha Banks and Charlotte would make of this is anybody’s guess (Women’s wrestling did exist by the 1980s but only in non televised events). One thing World of Sport has in common with current WWE was no blood – in the case of the UK wrestling hardly surprising when it was on at four in the afternoon. 

The key difference between World of Sport wrestling and WWE is that the British wrestling was regarded more as a ligitimate sport than the WWE which is seen by owner Vince McMahon as “sports entertainment”. That is hardly a surprise because wrestling was part of a sports programme. World of Sport was on between 12 and 5 on Saturdays and also featured real sports like football, horse racing, cycling and golf among others. Wrestling was broadcast between 4 and 4.50 pm – during the second half of football matches. I suspect subconsciously the influence of World of Sport is responsible for me and most UK people thinking that WWE should at least pretend to be a legitimate sport (even today WWE in the UK is on the Sky Sports channels – not entertainment). And again the influence of World of Sport probably explains the UK hostility to intergender wrestling which I don’t think will ever be accepted by UK TV companies (Lucha Underground still does not have a UK TV contract). 

Still there is no denying the popularity of UK professional wrestling. At its peak the wrestling attracted ten million viewers – far more than RAW does in the US now despite America’s far higher population. It made superstars of Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo, Jim Breaks, Mark “Rollerball” Rocco, Pat Roach – who ended up acting in films and TV series long before the Rock did – and above all Big Daddy – the UK’s equivalent of Hulk Hogan just as popular and as bad a wrestler and his arch rival Giant Haystacks who that idiot Vince Russo said couldn’t be a star but was the biggest heel in the UK. 

Ironically having compared the UK scene to WWE its decline had more in common with WCW. Big Daddy’s continued dominance in the 1980s made UK wrestling stale and the industry like WCW failed to push new stars. It also had a nemisis in the TV industry – just like WCW. While WCW lost its TV contract (and its existence) when Jamie Kellner axed it from TNT and TBS the decline in UK wrestling began when then head of ITV Sport Greg Dyke axed World of Sport. Although wrestling survived as a stand alone show Dyke kept moving it in the schedule and as a result ratings fell – since people did not know when to find it! – giving Dyke the excuse to axe UK wrestling in November 1988. It has not been on ITV since – until today. 

Initially planned as a one off it will be fascinating to see how well it is received by critics and viewers. But the mere fact that UK wrestling is back on ITV after 28 years is a remarkable achievement in itself…

How to have a winter break without ruining Christmas 

We are in the middle of the most choatic period in the Premier League season the festive fixtures. All Premier League teams will have played three games between Boxing Day and January 4 2017. This is a soft schedule compared to 39 years ago – in the 1977-78 season all English clubs played four games between Boxing Day and January 2 (on Boxing Day, December 27th, New Year’s Eve and January 2). Yet people are still demanding a winter break in English football – either foreign managers who think that if the rest of Europe have a winter break so should Britain – typical of the arrogant European attitude which has led to Brexit – or the FA who seem to think it will help the England national team (conveniently forgetting that the vast majority of England fans care more about their clubs than the national team and don’t want to suffer the garbage Checkatrade Trophy or lose their Christmas entertainment on the off chance it can help a bad team to beat Iceland in a major tournament). 

As I wrote before those who want a Christmas shut down forget that both other sport in Britain (Rugby, Darts and Horse Racing to name but three) and sport in other English speaking countries (the NBA, NFL and NHL in the US, cricket in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) play on in the festive season). And as the EU referendum surely confirmed we in the UK have more in common with our English speaking friends than Europe even if the UK “Remoaners” don’t accept this. 

But even if we did have a winter break why should it mean the end of the Christmas fixtures? Just because most of Europe has a winter break at Christmas doesn’t mean to say we have to. In my opinion there is another option for a winter break that would also preserve the Christmas fixtures. 

That is not the period after the New Year (ie January). Traditionally the first Saturday in January is the day of the third round of the FA Cup and moving it out of January would devalue the competition. The FA should know this as they already moved the FA Cup third round from January to December – in the 1999-2000 season. It was a total disaster and the third round was immediately restored to its traditional date in the calendar. The FA would be incredibly stupid even by their standards if they mucked about with the scheduling of their crown jewel again. 

I’m surprised that nobody has thought of having a winter break in the Saturdays immediately preceding Christmas. For one thing in the old days before season tickets became popular that was generally the time of the season that had the lowest gates as fans went Christmas shopping with their families. If the Saturdays immediately before Christmas were football free fans could do their Christmas shopping without missing their team play. 

Here is how it would work using this year’s dates. The last round of Premier League games before the break would have been on the week of November 29-30. The next four Saturdays (December 3,10,17 and 24) would be the break. The season would resume on Boxing Day and the Christmas programme would start. The only games on would be the European games on December 7-9 but other countries (ie Eastern European ones) already play European games during winter breaks so if they can do it…

For this to work out the football authorities would have to sacrifice the League Cup which as I’ve wrote before is a useless tournament that should never have been invented and reached the end of its limited usefulness in the mid 1990s when Manchester United started fielding reserve teams in the competition. If you got rid of the League Cup itfrees up five midweeks which could be filled with the Premier League games that are currently played in December. For example this season the Premier League games that were played on December 3, 10, 13/14 and 17 could have been moved to the midweeks of September 20-21, October 25-26, November 29-30 and January 24-25. You have your winter break. 

Personally I don’t want a winter break but that is because everybody that wants it wants to sacrifice the Christmas programme which would be stupid as it draws the highest attendances and is clearly popular with the public.

It is interesting to note that there are people in Spain who would like La Liga to play on Boxing Day. Whether or not that happens I don’t know. But if Spain want to play in the festive season why should we stop? Especially as – as I have shown – there is a way to have a winter break and to preserve the tradition of both the Christmas programme and the FA Cup….

Why recent history is a good omen for Christmas number one Chelsea

To quote John Lennon “So this is Christmas”. And as Christmas Day approaches Antonio Conte’s Chelsea sit proudly on top of the Premier League tree. But the question is will they still be there when it matters next May? In theory the omens are mixed but in practice they are very favourable for Chelsea.

This is the 25th season of Premier League football since the breakaway League was founded back in 1992. Of the previous 24 seasons twelve of the leaders at Christmas went on to win the title the next May. So on that basis there is only a 50 per cent chance that this season’s title is heading for Stamford Bridge. 

But it’s not as unfavorable for Chelsea as those statistics suggest. Firstly in recent seasons the pendulum has swung in favour of the Christmas League leaders. In the first twelve Premier League seasons (1992-2003) only three Christmas Day leaders – Manchester United (twice) and Blackburn Rovers went on to win the title. But in the next twelve Premier League seasons (2004-15)  nine of the twelve Christmas Day leaders went on to win the title – Manchester United (three times), Manchester City, last season’s shock troops Leicester City and significantly Chelsea themselves (four times). In fact every time Chelsea have topped the table at Christmas they have gone on to win the title. 

The other thing in Chelsea’s favour – apart from their current eleven game winning streak in the Premier League – is the size of their lead at the top – six points over Liverpool. In the previous twenty four seasons of Premier League football only four teams have had a bigger lead on Christmas Day than Chelsea have now – Manchester United (twelve points in 1993 and eight points in 2000) Chelsea themselves (nine points in 2005) and Newcastle (ten points in 1995). Of those four only Newcastle – in one of the most infamous bottle jobs in football history – failed to win the title. And that was a club that had (and still have) failed to win the title since 1927. The Newcastle players and especially manager Kevin Keegan could not cope with the pressure. But the core of this Chelsea team won the title as recently as 2015 and it is highly unlikely that this team will bottle the title. Nor will manager Conte who has title winning experience in Serie A with Juventus. 

One oddity will have Arsenal fans clutching at straws. The Gunners are the only club to have won the Premier League title, led the table at Christmas but not done both in the same season. They led the League at Christmas in 2002 and 2007 but did not win the title. When they did win the title (1998, 2002 and 2004) they did not top the table at Christmas (not even the 2003-4 “Invincibles” achieved the feat of topping the table at Christmas). Unfortunately for Arsenal they trail Chelsea by nine points and have still to go to Stamford Bridge so their chances are slim to say the least. 

Whether or not Chelsea win the title they have almost certainly achieved one of owner Roman Abramovich’s pre season targets. Last season Chelsea finished a dismal tenth and out of the Champions League for the first time since season 2002-3 – the last season before the Abramovich takeover. But of the previous twenty four Christmas League leaders only one – Aston Villa in 1998 who collapsed to sixth twenty two points behind Champions Manchester United – did not finish in one of the top four spots that give a club Champions League qualification. And the chances of Chelsea finishing outside of the top four are practically nil. 

It is not often both current form and recent historical precedent point to the same event happening. But both suggest it will take either a spectacular Chelsea collapse or at least a ten game winning streak by one of their rivals to deny Chelsea the title. It could happen – Newcastle collapsed spectacularly in 1996 and Arsenal went on winning streaks in 1998 and 2002. But it is much more likely that the title is heading to Stamford Bridge again. 

Finally I would like to say Merry Christmas to everyone who reads me. Have a wonderful day! 

My 2017 WWE pay per view calendar 

Today is Sunday. And if it is Sunday it is highly likely that there will be a WWE pay per view on. And there is today – the Smackdown event Tables Ladders and Chairs (TLC). There will be another pay per view in two weeks – the RAW event Roadblock : End of the Line – held a week before Christmas (what terrible timing). But since the Brand Split returned in July that has been the pattern – two pay per views a month except for the months there is a combined pay per view (August’s SummerSlam and November’s Survivor Series). There will be a total of fifteen pay per views in the WWE in 2016.

And next year will probably be even worse. There were rumours that WWE were going to have NINETEEN pay per views in 2017 with seven months of the year having both a RAW and Smackdown event and five having one combined event (the traditional “Big Four” plus Money in the Bank). Which would be far too many.

A fact that even the WWE seem to be realising. With subscriptions to the WWE Network plateauing there are rumours that WWE will be cutting down the number of pay per views next year (but we don’t know by how many).In my opinion the history of the wrestling industry has shown that a company can get away with one pay per view a month. Anymore is over exposing the company and fans start to pick and choose (which I suspect is happening already). So if I were in charge of WWE there would be twelve pay per views four RAW, four Smackdown and the traditional “Big Four”. This is how my 2017 pay per view calendar would look.

January – Royal Rumble (combined). No more needs to be said. The Rumble is my favourite event. As for the match RAW and Smackdown would both have fifteen men in the match and the winner would get a shot at his brand’s Champion – no jumping to the other brand as Chris Benoit did in 2004. 

February – No Way Out (Smackdown). I would bring back some old names (as the WWE have done with Backlash and No Mercy). In the early 2000s No Way Out was the pay per view between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania and I would bring it back. As the last single brand pay per view this year is a RAW show the first single brand pay per view of 2017 should be a Smackdown show.

March – Fastlane (RAW). For the last two years Fastlane has been the pay per view between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania. With both brands needing a pay per view between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania I’ve kept Fastlane in the schedule just moved it back a month and made it a RAW event. 

April – WrestleMania (combined). No more needs to be said. 

May – Backlash (Smackdown). In September Backlash made a welcome return as a Smackdown pay per view. I would keep it in the calendar and as a Smackdown pay per view but move it back to where it was and where it belongs – as the pay per view after WrestleMania. 

June – King (and Queen) of the Ring (RAW). I’ve always liked the King of the Ring and I would bring it back to the calendar and in its old June slot. But since WWE is now taking women’s wrestling seriously I would add a Queen of the Ring tournament. The event would be a RAW one except that the King and Queen of the Ring events would be open to both brands. Eight men and four women from RAW and Smackdown would compete on their own show until there is a RAW King and Queen of the Ring and a Smackdown King and Queen of the Ring.Each brands King and Queen would fight at the pay per view for brand superiority – about like the World Series or the Superbowl. The rest of the event would be RAW only. 

July – Battleground (Smackdown). Battleground would keep its July place on the calendar and become a Smackdown event. 

August – SummerSlam (combined). Again no more needs to be said. 

September – No Mercy (RAW). No Mercy returned to the calendar in October as a Smackdown pay per view. I would move it back to September and make it a RAW pay per view. This is because I want to bring back….

October – Halloween Havoc (Smackdown). Wishful thinking on my part perhaps. A Halloween themed pay per view was one of those things that made World Championship Wrestling (WCW) different from the WWE. WWE have used a WCW pay per view name before (Great American Bash) so I would bring it back as a Smackdown pay per view. 

November – Survivor Series (combined). Again no more needs to be said. 

December – Armageddon (RAW). From 1999 to 2008 -apart from 2001 – Armageddon was WWE’s December pay per view. It was a RAW, a Smackdown and a combined event in its history but this time I will bring it back as a RAW event. 

And that’s it! A simple one pay per view a month calendar. You’ll notice that there is no Elimination Chamber, Money in the Bank, Hell in a Cell, Extreme Rules or TLC event. That is because the impact of these gimmick matches has been lessened by giving them their own pay per views (three Hell in a Cell matches in one night for example). I would not scrap any of these gimmicks but they would be held on an ad hoc basis when feuds and storylines demanded it rather than “It’s the Hell in a Cell pay per view so we must have Hell in a Cell matches” situation which exists now. 

In my opinion this is far more sensible than WWE’s current clusterfuck of a pay per view schedule… which means there is no chance that WWE will adopt it. But we can but hope….

Australia are now like 1990s England 

On July 26th the Australian cricket team started a Test series in Sri Lanka as the number one Test team in the world – at least according to the ICC rankings. Since then they have been whitewashed 3-0 in Sri Lanka, whitewashed 5-0 in an ODI series in South Africa and have lost the first two Tests at home to a South Africa team whose best batsman AB de Villiers is out injured and whose best bowler Dale Steyn disappeared from the series on its second day. The defeat in Hobart was pathetic – Australia were bowled out for 85 and 161 and they lost in two and a bit days playing time. Only David Warner, captain Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood looked Test quality. 

Watching this current Australian team reminded me of the dumpster fire that was England in the 1990s when failure was expected by England cricket fans and the team supplied it. Here are the ways in my opinion that the Australian cricket team resembles England in the 1990s.

Batting collapses. England in the 1990s were notorious for batting collapses. The nadir was probably 1994 when they were bowled out for less than 100 three times – for 46 by West Indies in Port-of-Spain, 99 by South Africa at Lords, and 92 by Australia at Melbourne. The current Australia team have been bowled out for 88 against Pakistan at Headingley in 2010, 98 by England in Melbourne also in 2010, 47 (after being 21 for nine) by South Africa at Cape Town in 2011, 60 by England at Trent Bridge in last year’s Ashes, and 85 by South Africa in their most recent Test. In fact in their last three Tests they have lost all ten wickets for less than 100 runs in an innings. 

Injured bowlers. England in the 1990s had good fast bowlers – Devon Malcolm, Angus Fraser, Darren Gough, Dominic Cork and Andrew Caddick for instance – but they were never all fit at the same time. The current Australia team has Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood. Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle but again they are never all fit – in fact Cummins has only played one Test five years ago because he is always injured. 

Picking all rounders who are not good enough. Between the Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff eras England kept picking players who both batted and bowled but we’re not Test class in either discipline – Mark Ealham, Ronnie Irani and Adam Hollioake being the best examples. Today’s Australia team has picked players like Mitchell Marsh, Moises Henriques and Glenn Maxwell who can bat and bowl but can do neither to Test standard. If Australia recall Maxwell for the next Test they are making a dreadful mistake. If you don’t have an all rounder of Test class don’t pick one. South Africa have learnt this in the post Jacques Kallis era so should Australia. 

Not making their minds up about players. England in the 1990s kept dropping and recalling the same players the two best examples being Mark Ramprakash and current Australia batting coach Graeme Hick. Again Australia keep dropping and recalling players like Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja. They should make up their minds. If they are good enough persevere with them. If not drop them for good. 

An over reliance on old players. England in the 1990s kept recalling veteran players even when they were past their best – Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting and John Emburey being the best examples. One amazing statistic will show how much Australia has relied on old players. Of the Australian XI who whitewashed England in the 2013-14 Ashes only four have played a part in the current South Africa series. Six of that XI have retired from Test cricket and that is a series that finished less than three years ago! In contrast of the England XI that played in the fifth Test of that series six are on the current tour of India yet England were the team that lost that series 5-0. You would think more Australians than Englishmen would be still playing but its the other way around. Australia have kept going for short term options like Adam Voges -who averages 162.28 against West Indies and New Zealand and only 20.52 against good teams like England, Sri Lanka and South Africa. 

It’s as if the countries have swapped roles. In the 1990s Australia picked young players like Ricky Ponting, Michael Slater and Damian Martyn while England picked veterans. Former Australia captain Ian Chappell was able to reply to an MCC member who asked him “How come you Australians always produce good young batsmen?” by saying “We play them.” But now it is England who pick their young batting talent as the participation of Hassem Hameed and Ben Duckett on the current India tour shows while it is Australia who pick old players like Voges and 31 year old debutant Callum Ferguson. 

I think it is clear that Australia are now England in the 1990s. For that to change Australia need to go back to basics. Australia historically have always given youth a chance. They need to go back to that. There is hope for Australia. Cricket can change suddenly. They need only look at their current opponents for an example of this. As recently as January this year South Africa were bowled out for 83 by England in Johannesburg lost the series and were totally humiliated. South African cricket was in crisis. Now they have won a series in Australia with a Test to spare. And two of the main contributors to this success have been Quinton de Kock (age 23) and Kagiso Rabada (age 21). Both proving that good things can happen if you give youth its head. And this is something Australia have to do. The “make do and mend” policy of picking old players has failed and must go. It cannot get any worse than Hobart. And take it from me you do NOT want to be like England in the 1990s….

England are in danger of a humiliating spinwash 

The England Test cricket team will end 2016 the same way they started it – in a tough away series against the world’s number one Test team. But unlike their famous 2-1 win against South Africa back in January the chances of England winning their five Test series in India which starts on Wednesday are very slim and they are in serious danger of suffering a humiliating 5-0 series defeat.

England’s warm up in Bangladesh did not go well. Before this tour England had won eight out of eight against Test cricket’s minnows. But they only won the first Test by 22 runs because of a mixture of the heroics of Ben Stokes and Bangladesh “bottling it” under pressure. In the second Test England needing 273 to win collapsed from 100-0 to a pathetic 164 all out to lose by an embarrassing 108 runs. The batting was clueless against Bangladesh’s spinners while England’s four spinners Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Gareth Barry and Zafar Ansari bowled far too many bad balls and struggled to contain the Bangladeshi batsmen.

And in India they will face far better players than they did in Bangladesh. India’s spinners Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja are far superior to their Bangladeshi counterparts who humiliated England and their seam bowlers are far superior. While Bangladesh collapsed from 171-1 to 220 all out in the Second Test India’s batsmen will not be so obliging. All in all England face a daunting task.

To show how daunting the task is since England’s 2-1 win in India back in 2012, four non subcontinental teams have toured India – Australia and West Indies (both 2013), South Africa (2015) and New Zealand (September/October this year). They have played a combined thirteen Tests in India between them losing twelve and drawing one. Australia, West Indies and New Zealand lost all their Tests in India and but for rain in Bangalore South Africa would very probably lost all their Tests as well. Between them in 25 innings Australia, West Indies, South Africa and New Zealand could muster only two totals of over 300 and only one century was scored – despite batsmen of the calibre of Michael Clarke. David Warner, Steve Smith, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Kane Williamson being in the visiting teams. All four struggled against India’s spinners especially Ashwin who took a total of 99 wickets in those thirteen Tests. It is clear that England’s task is daunting. 

But why is batting in India so tough? Former England captain Tony Lewis (who captained an England tour to India in 1972-73) has the answer. He said this (in “The Innings of My Life” by Jack Bannister (pages 144- 145)).

“It doesn’t take much for Indian spinners to dominate and, once they are on top, they never let go. It makes for exciting cricket of a type we never see in England. Each time the ball does something, the bowlers and fielders get more wound up -as do the crowd to whom every ball is life and death. Batsmen can hardly hear themselves think – communication with your partner has to be at close quarters – and it seems as though the pair of you haven’t got a friend in the world. 

You lose wickets in clusters, so you are never safe, and the dressing room is always teetering on the edge of a combined nervous breakdown. For instance, in our second innings at Eden Gardens, we went from 17 for four to 114 for five, and then 138 for nine. In Madras we lost our first five wickets for 98, but then got to 242, and in the second innings we were 30 for three, 97 for four, 152 for six and 159 all out. It is an emotional rollercoaster you can laugh at when you have retired, but it is so easy for players to become demoralised when it is happening”. 

Apart from the fact that the crowds for Tests in India are nowhere near as big as in 1972-73, everything Lewis said about batting in India is as true now as it was in 1972-73 (apart from neutral umpires and the Decision Review System (DRS) – which India have finally accepted). It is especially tough to start an innings in India with world class spinners a sharply turning ball and fielders round the bat. So if an English batsman gets to say 50 in India he must go on to at least 100 or even 150 as once a wicket falls the Indian spinners can go “Bang bang bang” and take two, three or four wickets very quickly. As the two batsmen most capable of producing innings of 150+ this puts huge pressure on captain Alistair Cook and Joe Root. But Australia, New Zealand and South Africa also have world class batsmen and they failed in India. Can Cook and Root do better? They have to. Also England’s spinners must improve. Spinners should put pressure on batsmen by bowling maidens but England’s spinners bowled a lot of garbage in Bangladesh and if they do the same in India Virat Kholi and company will feast on the easy pickings.

Is there any hope for England? Only in the past. In 1976-77, 1984-85, and 2012 England were in terrible form before they went to India. But on all three occasions England won famous victories – 3-1 in 1976-77, and 2-1 – after losing the first Test – in both 1984-8 5 and 2012. But in 1976-77 England had a world class spinner in Derek Underwood and in 2012 they had two – Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar. The Indians were hoist by their own petard. In 1984-85 the Indian team were divided among themselves. 

None of this applies today. England’s spinners – as was painfully obvious in Bangladesh – are poor. And Kohli leads a strong, confident rampant Indian team who aim to win all thirteen home Tests this winter (they already have beaten New Zealand 3-0, and after England play one Test against Bangladesh and four against Australia). Frankly this is as pessimistic as I’ve felt about an England Test series since the 2002-3 Ashes – which I thought they would lose 5-0 and if Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne had stayed fit they probably would have lost 5-0 instead of 4-1. Frankly considering England’s form in Bangladesh and the dominating performances of India at home I fear it will take a miracle – or rain – for England to avoid a humiliating 5-0 spinwash.