Test Cricket Back With A Bang

My thoughts on the test match at the Ageas bowl, plus some photographs.

INTRODUCTION

When a match is the first for some months would what be your requests – mine would be:

  1. An interesting match, for preference going right to the wire.
  2. Some good individual performances to talk about.

This match gave us both of the above – it was not until the final session of the final day that it became clear which way it would ultimately go, and Jason Holder, Shannon Gabriel and Jermaine Blackwood for the West Indies, Zak Crawley and Jofra Archer for England produced unforgettable performances. The TMS commentary team did a splendid job in circumstances that must have been tougher than they ever let on, with Carlos Brathwaite a worthy addition as expert summariser, and everyone else close to their best.

ENGLAND BEGIN BADLY

England having opted for a starting XI of Burns, Sibley, Denly, Crawley, *Stokes, Pope, +Buttler, Bess, Archer, Wood and Anderson won the toss and batted. Many hav criticized this decision by Stokes, but for me the problem was not the decision but England’s poor response to it. Virtually every batter got some sort of start (Denly, out for 9, and Pope, 12 were the exceptions), but no one produced a major innings. Stokes top scored with 43, which needed a lot of luck (two clear dropped chances and other iffy moments), while Buttler made 35 before becoming one of many to give his wicket away rather than forcing the bowlers to take it. It was only a spirited innings from Bess, whose 31 showed up his supposed betters, that even got England to 200. Holder, with 6-42 including opposing skipper Stokes, and Gabriel who took the other four wickets both bowled outstandingly, but were also helped by some ordinary batting.

WEST INDIES ESTABLISH A USEFUL LEAD

Kraigg Brathwaite (no relation of Carlos, although both hail from Barbados, that mass producer of cricketing talent) scored a gritty 65, and there were useful runs all down the order from the West Indies. At their high water mark they were 267-5, 63 ahead and threatening a monster lead, but England pegged away, and in the end got them out for 318, an advantage of 114. Stokes got his opposite number Holder, as well as three other scalps, Anderson was his usual self, always formidable, and Bess bowled economically and nabbed a couple of wickets. The two speedsters, Wood and Archer, were both below par, both bowling far too much short stuff on a pitch that required the ball to pitched up.

ENGLAND FIGHT BACK

Burns and Sibley dug in well at the start of the second England innings, but Burns having seemingly laid a solid foundation for a big score got himself out, aiming to crash a long hop through the off side, and edging to deep point. Denly then joined Sibley who moved into the forties, before he too self destructed. That brought Zak Crawley to the crease, with him and Denly seemingly playing for one place, with skipper Root due to return for the second match. Denly, whose first innings failure had seen has test average drop into the twenties (it had stood at precisely 30), got to 29 while Crawley was starting to play nicely. Then Denly played to shot that cost him his wicket and with it surely his international career. Joe Denly, at the age of 34 hardly describable as ‘up and coming’ now has 818 test runs at 29.21 and has not managed a ton. Stokes joined Crawley and we were now treated to the best English batting of the match, as these two raised the score to 249 before Stokes fell having added 46 to his first innings 43. That triggered a clatter of wickets, among them Crawley for a new test best of 76. He has now played eight test innings in five matches, has 250 runs at 31.25 with two half centuries, and at 22 years of age is very much in the ‘up and coming’ category – he is definitely upwardly mobile. He deserves especial credit, because before this match he had never batted at no4 in first class cricket, let alone a test match, but was moved down one place from his regular test berth to accommodate Denly. The most gruesome dismissal from a substantial field was that suffered by Buttler, with only nine to his credit and the ship needing to be steadied. He is barely even a competent keeper, and 44 runs the match plus being the chief cause of his own dismissal in both innings cannot be described as making oneself worth a place as a batter. From 279-8 England staged a mini revival, ultimately reaching 313 on the final morning, a lead of 199.

THE WEST INDIES CHASE

Anderson and Archer took the new ball, and they bowled magnificently, to put the West Indies on the ropes at 27-3 with opener John Campbell having suffered a foot injury. Jermaine Blackwood, in company with first Roston Chase and then keeper Shane Dowrich and finally skipper Holder pulled the innings round. By the time Blackwood was out for a superbly crafted 95 the score was 189-6 and the opener Campbell was ready to return. Had England got through him, then with only Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel to come there would still have been a chance of victory, but he held out in partnership with Holder to see his side to a deserved victory. Seeing a winning score of 200-6 and an opener on 8 not out might suggest a Richard Barlow or William Scotton at work to someone who was not familiar with the circumstances.

PLAYER OF THE MATCH

Shannon Gabriel, the West Indies fast bowler, was named player of the match, for his haul of nine wickets over the two innings, a lionhearted effort. I do not especially quarrel with this, but Jermaine Blackwood’s innings, begun with his side reeling and ending with it in sight of victory also deserved consideration, as did Holder’s all round contribution (he averages 33 with the bat in test cricket and 26 with the ball, making him worth his place purely as a bowler, and a very handy player to have coming at no8).

WELL DONE ALL ROUND

The  West Indies played superbly and deserved to win. England played reasonably well, but need to do better in terms of turning starts into serious scores – Crawley’s 76 was the only major innings played by an England batter in this match. I was also impressed by the commentary, although I would prefer it if ‘natural sound’ was the default option rather than having to switch to it as soon as it becomes available – I do not like the fake background noise in the standard version. The pitch at the Ageas bowl was a good one, although the hoped for spin never materialized. The teams now move to another bio-secure venue, Old Trafford, which like the Ageas bowl has its own hotel and go again on Thursday.

WHITHER ENGLAND?

Most of the team will retain their places, and deserve to. Broad may come in, especially if the plan to rotate him and Anderson is adhered to. Denly must go, permanently (to drop Crawley to make way for Root would be a shocking decision, and England need Root’s batting, even if they decide Stokes can retain the captaincy), and at 34 there ought not to be a way back for him. Buttler needs to go, and again his test career should be over, although he is a vital component of the white ball teams, I would prefer to see Foakes get an extended run, but could live with Bracey getting the nod as keeper (he like Buttler is principally a batter, but he has recent runs in the bank, and has done some work on his keeping). My own XI for Thursday would be Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, Pope, +Foakes, Bess, Archer, Wood and one of Anderson or Broad.

ENGLAND PLAYER RATINGS (OUT OF 10)

  1. Dominic Sibley – 5.5 – twice batted reasonably only to get out when well set.
  2. Rory Burns – 5 – fared less well than Sibley, but again he was not all bad.
  3. Joe Denly – 2 – arguably he is lucky even to get this many, his first innings was awful, his second better, but getting out the way he did with 29 to his name is unforgivable.
  4. Zak Crawley – 8.5 – batted in a position he has never even occupied in first class cricket (Denly should have been the one moved down, not him), and produced the best England innings of the match even so, a splendid 76 in the second innings. I expect to see centuries from him before too long.
  5. Ben Stokes – 8 – the only things he really did wrong were to get out twice when going well (43 and 46). His four cheap first innings wickets were badly needed.
  6. Ollie Pope – 3.5 – his first innings was a miniature gem, but there is a limit to the amount of praise a specialist batter can be given for making 12, and his second effort produced the same modest score and was less impressive.
  7. Jos Buttler – 2 – two self inflicted dismissals for a combined total of 44 runs, and the costliest England mistake of the entire match when he dropped a chance on the final day – had he taken it England would have been firmly back in control of proceedings.
  8. Dominic Bess – 6 – a spirited batting effort when it was much needed in the first innings, and bowled well on a surface that offered less turn than expected. He was a little unfortunate in the second dig, with a couple of very close LBWs going against him.
  9. Jofra Archer – 7.5 – batted reasonably in both innings, bowled poorly in the first but produced an electrifying opening burst in the second that put England in a winning position that they were unable to press home.
  10. Mark Wood – 5.5 – persistent short stuff in his first innings bowling effort, when the wicket of a tail ender flattered him. He bowled better second time around, but was not a match for Archer.
  11. James Anderson – 7 – he commanded respect in both innings, and if not quite the Anderson of old, he has little with which to reproach himself.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS

Although the outcome of this match remained uncertain until deep in the final day it was in truth lost in it’s early stages when England were only able to reach 200 courtesy of Dom Bess’ late innings. Providing England notice the kick up the rear that this result amounts to it could actually benefit them, since a win would have allowed a papering over of cracks, whereas defeat does not come with such a luxury. I like the presence of two out and out speedsters for all that neither had great match here (Archer produced one magnificent spell, and some good bowling later on the fifth day as well) and hope that England will persist with that aspect of things. Now it is time for my usual sign off…

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Author: Thomas

I am branch secretary of NAS West Norfolk and #actuallyautistic (diagnosed 10 years ago at the comparatively advanced age of 31). I am a keen photographer, so that most of my own posts contain photos. I am a keen cricket fan and often write about that subject. I also focus a lot on politics and on nature.

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