England v India, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's July 16, 2014

Spat provides useful distraction for England

Alastair Cook, the Lord's groundsman, and Simon Kerrigan have all been ignored while the spat between James Anderson and Ravindra Jadeja takes the headlines

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Chappell: Administrators let on-field exchanges go too far

It tells you everything you need to know about the mood in the England camp that, during their captain's pre-match press conference, the media officer stepped in to request questions on any subject other than the alleged altercation between James Anderson and Ravindra Jadeja. For the first time in many months, England would have preferred to talk about Kevin Pietersen, Shane Warne, Piers Morgan et al. than an incident that could result in the suspension of one of their players for up to four Tests.

It is far from the first time that England have irritated their opposition to a disproportionate level. Maybe it is their sledging, maybe it is their media, maybe it is the perception of their hubris or maybe they are even innocent victims, but the England side is universally unpopular almost across the globe. Sri Lanka is the latest example of a team who were infuriated by their tactics. You might even call the latest issue a case of Jadeja-vu.

To some extent, England may revel in such a reputation. They may claim that it unsettles their opponents and goads them into reckless moments.

But there is equal evidence to suggest it goads them into career-best performances. Just consider Angelo Mathews at Headingley, George Bailey at Perth and Marlon Samuels at Trent Bridge. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that much of England's on-field behaviour is not just posturing, but self-defeating posturing.

It need not be this way. Don Bradman seemed to have managed to concentrate without picking a fight with the bowlers; Joel Garner seemed to have been able to maintain a tight line and length without sledging; Malcolm Marshall seemed to make the ball swing without whispering in the ear of the batsmen. It is a fallacy to suggest the best players need to engage in the orchestrated appeals, the theatrical displays of disappointment, the sledging and posturing. And it makes no difference and provides no excuse that most other modern sides do it. The game can be better than that.

There were moments, towards the end of the Headingley Test between England and Sri Lanka, which showed this. Moeen Ali, apparently serenely calm despite the fact that he was batting to save a Test and his own career, never for a moment became embroiled in the argument between Joe Root and the Sri Lanka team. Moeen did not ask to change his gloves in an attempt to play for time. He did not ask for extra water breaks or pretend that he was distracted by movement behind the bowler's arm. He played each ball on its merits, asked for no quarter and, when he had given his all and the match was lost, accepted and reciprocated the handshakes and congratulations. It does not make him weak. It is the way it should be.

England have not always gained the credit they deserved. There were, for a couple of years around 2010-2011, a very fine team. But it would be nice if they could make their supporters proud not just with their results, but with the way they conduct themselves on the pitch. The two need not conflict.

None of this means that Anderson is guilty, of course. While he has often chuntered and growled, he has never crossed the line into physical contact. It may well be relevant that the stairs up to the dressing rooms at Trent Bridge are unusually narrow. Either way it is regrettable for the game as a whole that this matter cannot be resolved by the two men shaking hands and moving on. It is what adults do.

But actually this whole incident - dis-Gracegate as nobody is calling it - might have been a welcome distraction for several people connected with the England team.

For a start, Alastair Cook was not forced to spend the day before the game defending his grim run of recent form. Not once did anyone ask him to justify the fact that he has now had 25 Test innings since registering a century. Not once did he have to justify his average of 13.85 in 2014. He looked, as he looked at the end of the Trent Bridge Test, noticeably more relaxed than he has for some time.

The groundsman, Mick Hunt, might also have enjoyed the relative lack of attention. After three Test pitches this summer that have done little to help the home attack, there is some pressure on Hunt to provide the surface his country requires of him. But Hunt is an independent fellow and usually provides the sort of flat, slow pitch that chief executives prefer to spectators or England fast bowlers.

Though after the debacle of Trent Bridge, and despite all the usual protestations to the contrary, there are signs that England may have persuaded Hunt into something approaching a compromise. All recent evidence suggests the pitch will be flat but, as of Wednesday afternoon, it still had a relatively long covering of green grass and was not under the normal hover cover but a sheet. One conclusion would be that Hunt is trying to retain a bit more moisture in the surface to at least try and avoid a scenario where the pitch dries out too much. There will surely be a little more pace and carry than at Trent Bridge and little assistance to spin bowlers. It will still be good for batting.

In the furore over Anderson and Jadeja, it might also have gone unnoticed that Steven Finn was back with the England squad. Finn, who has not played Test cricket for more than a year, is not a formal part of the squad, but was invited to bowl at the team in the nets to both encourage him along the road of recovery and to assess how he is bowling. Cook, whom Finn beat several times, can only have been impressed, though in truth, Finn still has some way to go before he recovers the confidence, rhythm and venom that briefly threatened to turn him into a top international bowler. But he is getting there.

Most of all, the distraction allowed Simon Kerrigan, the 25-year-old left-arm spinner, a relatively quiet return to the England squad. Everyone knows that he endured a horrid Test debut. But it might also be remembered that he helped bowl Lancashire to a Championship title in 2011 and that, with his relative pace and turn, he has the weapons to succeed at the highest level. He did not do himself justice on debut and, if he plays at Lord's, he may find it tough to shine on this pitch. But he will remain a viable prospect for the future.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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