Before I get into the main meat of this post, a note on the coverage of this series: radio commentary is in the hands of talksport2, which means a less good commentary team than if TMS had the rights, while TMS will be running what they call a ‘cricket social’, which does not work anything like as well as commentary, and for TV fans the big news is that UK broadcasting rights have gone to Channel Four, the first time since 2005 that a terrestrial broadcaster has had such rights in this country. Radio coverage (the way I will be following the action) begins at 3:45AM on Friday our time, with the first ball scheduled to bowled at 4:00AM.
INS AND OUTS
Rory Burns is back from paternity leave, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer are both available after missing the Sri Lanka tour, and the spin situation remains in flux. Burns will open with Sibley, with Crawley reverting to the number three slot from which he hit 267 against Pakistan not so long ago. Root will be at four. England seem to be being absolutely rigid in their rotation policy re Anderson and Broad, so his heroics in the second match in Galle notwithstanding Anderson is likely to be on the sidelines for this match. The most likely top six given continuing uncertainty over Pope’s shoulder, although he is with the tour party, would seem to be: Sibley, Burns, Crawley, Root, Stokes, Lawrence. Foakes is finally going to get another chance with the gloves, although probably not until match 2, with Buttler available this time, and that leaves the bowling to sort out. England will probably select two spinners given that the pitch at Chepauk Stadium, Chennai will take spin late in the game, which almost certainly means that Archer will be paired with Broad to take the new ball, though I would personally retain Anderson rather than be quite so dogmatic about the rotation policy with the veterans. This leaves the spinners to sort out.
ENGLAND’S SPINNING WOES
Current incumbents Jack Leach and Dominic Bess each had their good moments in Sri Lanka but each also looked innocuous at times, and Bess in particular struggled to keep things tight enough when nothing was happening as he bowled too many loose balls. Amar Virdi and Matt Parkinson are in India, officially as reserves, and also in India is Moeen Ali, a man in his middle thirties whose record (60 test matches, batting average 29, bowling average 37) is that of someone who is not up to the task in either department. There have been rumblings about a test recall for him, including an article published on the usually sensible Full Toss blog making what was supposed to be the case for his recall. Whatever the right answer to England’s spinning woes is it is not selecting an ageing mediocrity such as Moeen Ali. I expect that the selectors will persevere with Leach and Bess, but myself, for all that it makes the England lower order look a bit shaky I would be inclined to promote Parkinson (leg spin, FC average 25.22) from the reserves to partner Leach, with off spin if it is deemed necessary being bowled by either Lawrence or Root (skipper, please not the order in which I have listed these two options!). In the longer haul, rather than looking backwards to Moeen Ali, England need to look forwards, and in addition to Parkinson I suggest that Virdi, Liam Patterson-White and Daniel Moriarty as being worthy of attention, with Simon Harmer, now eligible for England, being considered as a stop gap solution so long as he accepts coaching younger spinners as part of his England duties. I might also consider whether Sophie Ecclestone’s left arm spin could prove as effective among the men as it has in the women’s game. Looking to the future, left arm spinning all rounder Lewis Goldsworthy will be worth keeping an eye on. Finally, England might not struggle so much to find spinners if counties who produced turning pitches did not find themselves the subject of sanctions from the ECB.
TWO ENGLAND XIS
I offer in infographic form two XIs for the match starting on Friday, the one I think we will actually see, and the one I would pick from those available:
Just a few pics today: