England in Command in Galle

A look at day 1 of Sri Lanka v England in Galle, and a glimpse at the state of play in BBL10. Also some photographs.

Early this morning UK time the test series between Sri Lanka and England got underway. This post looks back at the first day.

ENGLAND DOMINATE DAY 1

Unsurprisingly given the current situation, with a global pandemic happening, neither side had had anything approaching proper preparation for a test match. Sri Lanka had had no cricket at all since taking a hammering in South Africa. England managed one day of an intra-squad fixture, which with both “sides” containing more than 11 players and arrangements being made that each would bat for at least 50 overs in the first innings had precious little resemblance to a real match – it was more in the nature of an extended net with umpires in position. This lack of preparation was shown in some less than stellar cricket.

Sri Lanka batted first, and mustered 135 all out, a poor score, especially given that almost all of their wickets were lost through bad batting rather than good bowling. There were a couple of freakish dismissals – Bess got one when a shot hit Jonathan Bairstow and Buttler caught the rebound, while Leach got a finger tip to a drive, deflecting it into the bowlers end stumps with Embuldeniya way out of his crease. Bess was also the beneficiary when a really succulent long hop was bashed straight into the hands of backward point. Stuart Broad was in the wickets early on, Jack Leach bowled nicely, and, by hook or by crook, Bess emerged from the fray with 5-30.

After that shocking display with the bat Sri Lanka needed things to happen for them with the ball. To that end they gave the new ball to left arm orthodox spinner Embuldeniya, a clever decision given that Sibley and Crawley would both prefer to begin against seam. It paid early dividends, as both openers perished with only 17 on the board. At that point skipper Root joined Bairstow, a choice at no3 which did not meet universal approval. They played beautifully, although Root was given out LBW fairly early on – he reviewed it, and the technology showed that the ball was going over the top of the stumps. By the close Root had reached 66 not out, Bairstow was on 47 not out, and England at 127-2 were in total control of the match.

Root has recently had problems turning starts into major innings, and he needs to dig in again early on tomorrow and make sure this effort does not go to waste. As for England as whole this is the most dominant opening day they have had since Trent Bridge 2015 when they rolled Australia for 60 and were comfortably into a first innings lead by the end of the day.

Those of us following proceedings by way of Test Match Special were treated during the lunch break to an interview with Justin Langer, coach of Australia. His attitude to the controversy over Steve Smith allegedly scuffing up a batter’s guard at the SCG showed a failure of understanding, and also a huge degree of petulance – it was basically an on-air tantrum. Smith’s actions may well have been as innocent as Langer insists, but what both Smith and Langer need to understand and are apparently unable or unwilling to is that a proven cheat will not be given the benefit of the doubt when such incidents occur.

RECENT BBL ACTION

The tenth running of the Big Bash League is still in full swing. Yesterday the two Sydney franchises locked horns in a top of the table clash. Thunder, batting first, began brilliantly, scoring 47-1 from their four overs of Power Play, but then had a disastrous second period of their innings, being 86-4 after 10 overs. They then slowed up in overs 11-15, declining to take the Power Surge in a bid to revitalize their innings, and found themselves 112-5 after 15. They left the Power Surge right to the end, finally taking it at the last moment they could, for the 19th and 20th overs. They did score 24 off this two overs, but they would probably have done that at the tail end of a T20 innings even without it being a Power Surge, so they effectively did not benefit from those two overs. They ended on 166-6 from 20, at a high scoring ground (the average innings score for a T20 at Manuka is 175). Ir rained during the interval, and a delayed start to the second innings led to a DLS recalculation. Sixers resumed needing 129 from 14 overs to win, and 67 off seven to claim the Bash Boost point, while they would have three overs of Power Play and one of Power Surge. They got off to a flier, secured the Bash Boost point with an over to spare, and maintained the momentum, winning in the end by five wickets, with eight balls to spare. That put them six points clear at the top of the group, and left Thunder just about catchable by the chasing pack.

Today, while I was focussed on the test match the Heat took on bottom of the table Renegades. Renegades mustered 149, which rarely wins a T20 these days. Heat made life a little more difficult for themselves than it should have been by surrendering three quick wickets as they entered the closing stages of the chase, but they won by five wickets in the 19th over. This moves Heat, who also took the Bash Boost point, into the fifth and last qualifying slot on 20 points. Renegades remain on nine points, 11 points short of the qualifying zone with only four games to play, and it is now only a matter of when, rather than if, their early exit from the tournament is officially sealed.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

BBL10 And A Great Test Match

A great test match, some fine BBL10 action, a very important petition and some photographs.

Overnight UK time Australia and India were fighting out a test match in Sydney, while this edition of the BBL continues to impress. I am going to start with…

TEST CRICKET IS THE BEST CRICKET – A FIVE DAY DEMO

Australia took a first innings lead of 94 over India – 338 vs 244. Ravi Jadeja suffered an injury which ended his participation in the series, although he said that if necessary he would bat in India’s second innings. Jadeja is almost criminally underrated by the cricketing world at large, being on recent figures the best all rounder in test cricket (although New Zealand youngster Kyle Jamieson is bidding fair to change that if he continues as he has started). This was therefore a massive loss – he had already contributed four first innings wickets, some useful unbeaten runs and a superb run out to this match.

Australia made decent runs for the second time of the match, although they were once again heavily dependent on Smith and Labuschagne to do so. They declared at 312-6, setting India 407 in four sessions to win, or else bat out for a draw. By the close of day four India were 98-2, with Pujara and Rahane together.

Rahane was out almost before the final day had begun, which brought Rishabh Pant to the crease. I regard Pant as a proven liability with the keeper’s gloves, but have never questioned his batting talents, and he played a magnificent innings, which briefly ignited hopes of an incredible victory for the visitors. Once he was dismissed for 97 victory was pretty much off the menu, but Pujara was still there, playing very well. Vihari strained a hamstring taking a run, but battled on gamely. Pujara’s dismissal seemed to have once again swung things decisively Australia’s way, bringing R Ashwin to the crease, since Jadeja was being held back due to his injury. Ashwin to a blow to the ribs, but like Vihari, he refused to allow the pain of his injury to deter him. Some hostile bowling, led as usual by Cummins, and alas some vicious sledging, failed to dislodge either of the pair. Eventually, the close of play arrived, with India 334-5, 73 short of victory, and possibly by then favourites had the match been extended to give a definite result.

This was a match which commanded attention throughout five absorbing days of play, and while the heist did not eventuate, the way Ashwin and Vihari, both incommoded by injuries, battled it out at the death and saw their side to a draw will live long in the memory. The final match takes place at the Gabba, a ground where Australia have not lost since 1988. If India win or draw they retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy, while only a win will do for Australia. In 2010-11 England staged a great escape at the Gabba in the series opener, after trailing by over 200 on first innings, and then obliterated the Aussies in the second match at Adelaide, and just maybe saving this game in such a fashion as they did will be the fillip India need to produce something very special to finish this series.

THE BBL

There have been three BBL games since my last blog post. In the first Scorchers sprang a surprise by beating Thunder who had been topping the group. Scorchers batted first, and after 14 overs were 101-4, at which point they claimed the Power Surge. They made brilliant use of those two overs with fielding restrictions in place, accruing no fewer than 40 runs from them. This was followed by a strong finish and a final score of 185-6. Thunder were behind over the Power Play, ahead in runs at the 10 over mark, giving them the Bash Boost point, but also a wicket behind on the comparison. They had a good start to the second half of their innings, reaching 119-4 after 14, at which point they claimed their own Power Surge. This was where they lost their way, and with it, the match. The two overs of Power Surge yielded them just 18 runs and saw the fall of two wickets – suddenly they were four runs and two wickets worse off than the Scorchers had been at the same stage. Overs 17 and 18 were good for them, and with two overs to go they were 161-7 and still just about in the hunt. The 19th over settled the issue, just two runs coming from it and a wicket falling. 23 off the final over was never going to happen, and in the event Thunder were all out for 168, beaten by 17 runs.

Yesterday morning UK time the Heat were in action against the Sixers. Heat were put in after the Sixers won the bat flip, and after four overs were 29-2. After 10 overs this had become 59-3. After 13 overs, when they claimed the Power Surge for overs 13 and 14 they were 77-3. By the end of the 15th, the second Power Surge over they were 109-4, 32-1 from the Surge. The last five overs of the Heat innings were disastrous, yielding 39-6 for a final score of 148 all out. Sixers were behind most of the way through the chase, though they got the Bash Boost point, being 60-4 after their first 10 overs. They were 104-4 after 15, and in the hunt, but not comfortably placed. In the 18th they looked in real trouble, seven down, and still noticeably adrift, but the veteran Dan Christian was batting very well at one end, and he pulled the game out of the fire for the Sixers, just getting them home off the penultimate possible ball. Heat were unfortunate to come away from this match with nothing, while the Sixers moved to the top of the group.

This morning’s game featured the Stars against the Strikers. The Stars were second bottom and in need of a win, while the Strikers were more comfortably placed but were about to lose the services of Rashid Khan, departing from the tournament to play for his country, Afghanistan, and could do with a cushion between them and those just outside the qualifying zone.

The Stars chose to bat first, and were in trouble for almost the entirety of their innings. They were 17-1 after four overs of what was supposed to be POWER PLAY, picked things up somewhat to be 67-3 after ten, then delayed the Power Surge far too long (my own opinion that the Surge is best taken somewhere between over 11, the earliest point at which it becomes available and over 15 depending on circumstances being strengthened by having heard during today’s commentary that Brian Charles Lara, who certainly knows a bit about batting, is also a fan of using the Surge early rather than leaving it late), eventually taking it at 105-5 after 16 overs. They managed 16 runs and lost two further wickets in those two overs. 121-7 after 18. A flourish at the end got them to 149-7, a total that looked decidedly modest. Strikers missed out on the Bash Boost point, Carey holing out in attempting to get it off the final ball of the 10th. After 14 overs Strikers were 96-3 and they claimed the Power Surge at that point, a sensible move. The Power Surge overs saw Strikers score 20 and lose one wicket. A quiet 17th over seemed to have brought Stars back into things, but the 18th over settled the issue, 18 coming from it, and even with a wicket falling along the way, 12 runs off 12 balls was never likely to test Strikers. In the event the 20th over was not needed, as the winning runs came off the final ball of the 19th, when a difficult catch went down and the batters got through for the two they needed. Save for overs 5-10 inclusive the Strikers had won every phase of the game. Where they were decisively clear was in the Power Play and Power Surge overs – Stars managing a combined 33-3 from those overs of their innings, while Strikers scored 47-2 from the equivalent overs of their innings, 14 runs and one wicket better. As this tournament develops it is becoming clear that the Power Surge needs to be claimed fairly early, firstly so it can act as a springboard to a big finish, and secondly to ensure that you actually have proper batters to cash in on it. Stars should probably have used in overs 11-12 of their innings, when Stoinis, well set, could have used it as a major launching pad. As it was, their last pair of recognized batters were together when they finally took it, with Adam Zampa next man in.

All of this means that Stars, Heat and Scorchers are now all on 16 points, separated only by net run rate, although Scorchers, leading the trio and in the final qualifying place, also have a game in hand. Strikers have temporarily gone third, displacing Hurricanes, who in action tomorrow, and have a four point cushion, equivalent to a win plus a Bash Boost point, on the teams just outside the qualifying zone. The two Sydney based teams, Sixers and Thunder, top the group and are pretty much sure to qualify, Strikers and Hurricanes are also well placed to do so, while Scorchers, Heat and Stars are battling for the remaining place, with Renegades effectively gone.

A PETITION AND PHOTOGRAPHS

Just before my usual sign off, a petition, calling on the government to give key workers a pay rise. Please click here to sign and share the petition, a screenshot of which is below:

The petition I want you all to sign and share.

A Concatenation of Cricket

A look at each of BBL10, AusvInd and SLvENG (preview), including a mention of Claire Polosak’s history making involvement at the SCG, plus a link to a superb thread about Kohli, Smith and Williamson and my usual sign off.

There is a massive amount of cricket going on the moment, with the Big Bash League in full swing, Australia locked in battle with India in the test arena and England engaged in an intra-squad tussle as a warm-up match before their test series in Sri Lanka gets underway. This post will therefore be a long one.

AUSTRALIA V INDIA

Australia managed for the first time in the series to get a respectable first innings score on the board. However, they have plenty of cause for concern nevertheless. 338 is not commanding on a decent batting pitch, and 284 of those runs came from just three players: Smith 131, Labuschagne 91 and debutant Pucovski with 62. India were 96-2 by the end of the second day, and it should develop into a fine game. Ravi Jadeja, whose selection some were questioning, bagged four wickets with his left arm spin and also made an extraordinary run out when he had one stump to aim at from 45 metres, and hit it. Inexcusably, no Indian fielder had got into a position to back the throw up, so it was hit or bust for Jadeja, and he hit. Much of day 1 was lost to rain, which is why the run aggregate looks small for two days play. This match is also significant for the fact that the 4th umpire is Claire Polosak, the first female to officiate in a men’s test match. At the age of 32, she has many years left in which to rise further up the officiating pecking order.

THE BIG BASH LEAGUE

There has been some excellent action in the Big Bash League lately. Today’s game between the Strikers and the Renegades was one of the best games of the tournament, the Renegades getting home with one ball to spare. Renegades also won the Bash Boost point, gaining the full four points. However, even with the rather generous qualifying arrangements in this tournament (the top five go through to the knockout stage, and only eight teams are involved), Renegades remain seven points adrift of a qualifying slot with only five games to play. All of the other seven teams have realistic chances of continuing their involvement. Personally, for an eight team, single group, tournament I would allow just three teams to advance, and incentivize top finishers by arranging the mini-knockout as follows: the group winners go straight into the final, while second place take on third place in an eliminator, with second place rewarded for their own greater success in the group by being given home advantage for that match. With five teams qualifying you do not have to do that well to get through (even Renegades, though rank outsiders, are not completely out of contention yet, and the best they can finish with from their 14 games is won seven, lost seven, an exactly even record, and not one that IMO should have a chance of being rewarded with qualification).

There have been some very individualistic talents on display in the BBL, which set me thinking about a team of players who were uncompromising in doing things their own way. This was my chosen selection:

  1. *WG Grace – right handed opening batter, right arm bowler of varying types, captain. Before his emergence batting was very specialized, batters concentrating on either playing off the back or front foot, and in some cases specializing in one particular stroke. He demonstrated that it was possible for a batter to play a complete game, scoring off both front and back foot, and making use of a wide range of stroked to do so. He was so successful in doing things his way that he single-handedly altered the course of cricket history, setting the game on a course it would follow pretty much unaltered for a century.
  2. George Gunn – right handed opening batter. No one ever knew quite what he would do – he might come down the pitch in a fast bowler’s first over, or he might eschew stroke making altogether.
  3. Ted Dexter – right handed batter, right arm medium fast bowler. He was often accused of losing concentration because he often got out between 70 and 100. CLR James however was of the opinion that what happened was that when a hundred appeared on the horizon Dexter started concentrating, rather than just playing his natural game.
  4. Denis Compton – right handed batter, left arm wrist spinner. It is in keeping with Compton’s general approach that when he decided to develop his bowling he opted for the least frequently used of all bowling styles, left arm wrist spin. On one famous occasion he overbalanced while playing his stroke, brought has bat round in a sweep as he was falling and still collected four runs.
  5. Viv Richards – right handed batter, occasional off spinner. At Old Trafford in 1984 Derek Pringle, following the received wisdom of the day, attempted to tie Richards, going well, but with only lower order batters for support, down with a low full toss. Most batters of the time would have been happy with a single, and delighted had they got the ball away for four. Richards whipped it over mid wicket for six. Richards at the end of that innings had 189 not out in a score of 272-9, an ODI individual scoring record that remained his until Saeed Anwar topped it with 194, some years later. A demoralised England never looked like getting close to chasing those runs down.
  6. Garry Sobers – left handed batter, left arm bowler of every type known to cricket. The most outrageously gifted cricketer of them all, he started as a left arm spinner batting low in the order, became one of the greatest of all batters. He also taught himself to bowl fast, and while playing Lancashire League cricket he learned to swing the ball under the leaden skies that are a feature of that part of the world.
  7. Gilbert Jessop – right handed batter, right arm fast bowler, ‘gun’ fielder. The fastest scoring batter in the game’s history, a useful bowler and a brilliant fielder.
  8. +Alan Knott – wicket keeper, right handed batter. As a batter he was highly effective in a very unorthodox way. Similarly, his keeping, among the best the game has ever seen, was marked by an absolute unconcern for appearance, so long as it worked. He would tape the top of his keeping pads to his trousers to make sure that they could not flap and thereby possibly incommode him.
  9. Cecil Parkin – right arm ‘all sorts’ bowler. He had a penchant for bowling six different types of ball per over. When it wasn’t his day this made setting a field for him difficult, but when it was his day he was well nigh unplayable.
  10. Sydney Barnes – right arm fast medium bowler. That designation tells about 1% of the story. His signature weapon was a leg break delivered at fast medium pace. The nearest any other bowler came to rediscovering this delivery was Alec Bedser immediately after World War II. When Barnes was bowling, it did not much matter who the captain was – Barnes was in control, and everyone, fielders and batters alike knew it.
  11. Jack Iverson – right arm wrist spinner. An unusual designation to use, appropriately since he was a mighty unusual bowler. He bowled with a leg spinner’s action, but sent down off breaks. His extraordinary life and career are covered splendidly in Gideon Haigh’s “Mystery Spinner”.

Two honourable mentions: Johnny Wardle, a master of all forms of left arm spin, but lack of space combined with the presence of Sobers and Compton induced me to not pick him. Derek Underwood’s unique left arm slow/medium bowling was something I would have liked to feature, but not at the expense of Parkin or Iverson who were the only two I could have dropped for him.

ENGLAND IN SRI LANKA

Today England started an intra-squad warm up match, over two days, with each side to bat for fifty overs in the 1st innings and then events to take their course. We have learned little new from today: Ollie Pope, who will not be playing in the test as he is not fully recovered from an injury, bats better with one good shoulder than most of his colleagues with two, which is no great surprise, and the ultimate ‘dog bites man’ story, James Anderson can take wickets anywhere. There was one genuine positive though, Jack Leach relocating form and confidence. The delivery with which he accounted for Ben Foakes was a beauty. This is the XI I would be picking for the first test, limiting my supplementary notes to the controversial selections:

  1. Dominic Sibley
  2. Zak Crawley
  3. James Bracey (with India and Australia being England’s next confirmed opponents and the only others on the menu for this year, New Zealand, now at no1 in the test rankings after thrashing the daylights out of Pakistan, it makes sense to use absences among the seniors to get some new players in against these relatively easy opponents, and I hate the notion of going full-on retrograde by picking Bairstow). He is better suited to no3 than my other envisaged batting newcomer.
  4. *Joe Root
  5. Dan Lawrence – my other envisaged batting debutant.
  6. +Ben Foakes – a recall for England’s best keeper, against opponents he has played well against before, resting Buttler for the big challenges ahead (I want five bowling options in Sri Lanka, which means I cannot accommodate both Buttler and Foakes, and especially after what has happened with Rishabh Pant in Sydney I am not prepared to do without the best available keeper).
  7. Chris Woakes – my chosen all-rounder.
  8. Sam Curran – a three-way battle for this slot, but in view of the risk I have taken with my selections at 9,10 and 11, and the fact that there is little likelihood of a Sri Lankan pitch inspiring an out and out speedster I have opted for Curran’s left arm to add variety, and for his batting skills, rather than go for Wood or Stone for speed.
  9. Jack Leach – the left arm spinner is in form, and it is about time that England started giving genuine spinners some encouragement.
  10. James Anderson – the evergreen Lancastrian looks sharp and ready, and the other veteran, Stuart Broad, has a very poor record in Sri Lanka, so with space IMO for only one of the two I have gone for the man with 600 test wickets.
  11. Matt Parkinson – today after I had advocated for him on twitter I was told by someone that “he is a white ball bowler”. While it is true that he is principally known for his limited overs bowling, a first class bowling average of 25.22, three five wicket innings hauls and one ten wicket match does not bear out the flat statement above – he can certainly handle a red ball.

This team is a little light on batting, with Foakes at six and Woakes at seven, but Sri Lanka do not have a great bowling unit – they have just been harshly dealt with by South Africa. The bowling offers great variety, with Curran and Anderson to share the new ball, Woakes as a third pace bowling option and two contrasting front line spinners, with Root’s occasional tweakers as a sixth option if needed.

A SPLENDID THREAD

This twitter thread about the batting of that great trio Kohli, Smith and Williamson was created by allthingscricket, and I recommend you read it in full by clicking here. Screenshot below:

The start of allthingscricket’s thread about the great trio.

A PETITON & PHOTOGRAPHS

Before my usual sign off, I have a petition to share. This one is open only to UK residents, as it is on the official UK government petition site. It calls for students to be excused some of this year’s tuition fees, as they are not getting what they pay for, since they are quite correctly not able to be at University at present. Click here to sign and share. Screenshot below:

Now it is time for my usual sign off…

BBL10 UPDATE

A look at recent BBL developments, a nickname suggestion and some photographs.

This post looks back at the three BBL games on which the TMS team have provided live commentaries since my last blog post, and also attempts to give impetus to a nickname I have coined.

RENEGADES V THUNDER

The Renegades went into this match in bad position in the tournament and were unlucky to finish it in an even worse one. They batted first, and there was a rain interruption 12 overs into their innings which lasted long enough to reduce the game to 17 overs per side. They took the two over Power Surge immediately on the resumption, to relaunch their innings, an excellent decision IMO, and one that worked well for them. They finished with 167 from their 17 overs, which the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern system (DLS) turned into a target for the Thunder of 173, with the readjusted Bash Boost point target 65 off eight overs. The Thunder had reached 117-2 from 12 overs, helped by a fine knock from Alex Hales, when the rain returned, terminally this time. Thunder were ahead of the official DLS par score and took the points. My own reckoning is that 56 off five overs, even with eight wickets still standing, would have been tough for the Thunder to pull off. Renegades played again today (no commentary), and were soundly thrashed by the Scorchers as the latter continue their attempt at a Lazarus act.

SIXERS V HEAT

The Sixers were going well in the tournament, while the Heat were struggling somewhat. The Sixers had a good first ten overs, scoring 85 from them. It was in overs 11-15 that they let thing slip, being 123-6 after 15. A mini-revival got them to 165 from their 20. The Heat fared well in response, but lost wickets at awkward times. However, a respectable and well timed Power Surge got them back into the contest. At the start of the 17th over of the chase, bowled by Carlos Brathwaite the contest looked even, with maybe the Heat slight favourites, although they did not have a lot of batting in reserve should wickets fall. By the end of that over, which included three wides, and went for a lot of runs the Heat were cruising, and they took a mere four further deliveries to finish the job, Lewis Gregory finishing with 31 not out from 16 balls. The Heat were good value for the win. How would the Sixers respond to such lese majeste?…

SIXERS V STRIKERS

This was today’s commentary game on TMS. The Strikers started slowly and were 58-2 at the end of the tenth. The Power Surge did little to improve their situation, and it was only a late flourish in the last couple of overs of their innings that got them to the respectability of 150. They would have to bowl well to defend such a total. Jonathan Wells made 66 for the Strikers.

Unfortunately, with one exception, they did not bowl well. Rashid Khan bagged three wickets with his leg spin, but at that point Vince, already showing signs of going well, was joined by Jordan Silk.

One of the many subjects I read about is astronomy/cosmology, and anyone who has read remotely seriously about this kind of stuff would have come across Joseph Silk, a top astrophysicist. In quest of bringing some more imaginative nicknames back into the game, I link two J Silks together by dubbing Jordan Silk “Astrophysicist”, which could be shortened to “Astro”, linking to the the novels of Aussie writer Matthew Reilly.

Rashid Khan was given his fourth over early, the 14th of the innings to be precise, but by then the Sixers could afford to play him out without trying anything risky, and he finished with 3-18 from his allocation, a good deed in the naughty world of Strikers’ bowling figures.

Sixers then took the Power Surge, and those two overs plus another two were sufficient to see the Sixers to a seven wicket win, Vince 45 not out, “Astrophysicist”/ “Astro” 38 not out (he is also a fine boundary fielder, and has saved Sixers plenty of runs in that capacity during the tournament).

The Sixers, after their hiccup against the Heat, seem back on track and destined to be involved in the final stages of the tournament. The Strikers meanwhile look like a team in a lot of trouble. With the possible exception of the last two overs of the Strikers innings the Sixers won every phase of today’s game, and were far more dominant in it than the Heat had been against the Sixers, for all that Heat actually had a couple more balls in hand when they completed victory in that game.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Good Riddance 2020

A farewell to 2020 (don’t let the door hit your bum on the way out), an account of the last cricket match of 2020 and a new year’s message to my readers.

The end of 2020 is now less than ten hours distant (in UK, some of you are already into 2021, and have been able to celebrate New Year’s Eve – well done NZ), and it will be a great relief to see it out, though 2021 offers little sign of immediate improvement for us Brits (although those north of Hadrian’s Wall might do themselves a favour by going for a UDI). A stark indication of quite how badly Johnson and his cronies are letting the country down: yesterday 981 people in Britain died due to Covid-19, while across the Irish sea just nine suffered the same fate.

As a cricket fan, 2020 has been a fine year since the resumption of cricket in the summer (my congratulations to the West Indies, both men’s and women’s teams for making the journey and ensuring the home summer saw some international cricket – as soon as a visit from this island becomes an asset rather than a liability those tours should be reciprocated. I am going to devote most of the rest of this post to covering the last top level cricket match of 2020.

ADELAIDE STRIKERS V PERTH SCORCHERS

This BBL match featured one team doing less well than expected or hoped (Strikers) and a team doing appallingly (Scorchers). Strikers batted first, and every time they seemed be getting going a wicket fell. Finch batted well but could find no serious support. Then, down to him and Rashid Khan (best known for being the no1 rated T20 bowler on the planet but also a more than useful lower order batter whose approach is ideally suited to short form cricket), he was overly timid about claiming the Power Surge, and Rashid fell with it still unclaimed. At the end of their innings the Strikers had 146-9, a total that should not pose the chasing side much of a problem, but Scorchers as mentioned earlier were winless.

Scorchers started the chase well, with Jason Roy doing most of the scoring. However when both openers, Roy for 49 and Livingstone for an unconvincing 8, fell in the same over one had to wonder if the Scorchers were about to suffer another case of the collywobbles. Although a third wicket fell just before halfway, a boundary of the final ball of the tenth over secured Scorchers the Bash Boost point. Some would say that they also delayed claiming the Power Surge longer than they ought, but at least they managed to take it with two set batters at the crease, and by the time it ended the chase had been reduced to 14 off four overs, which would take a lot of messing up.

The 17th over of the innings was Peter Siddle’s third and he made a good fist of it, meaning that the target was still 10 going into the 18th. Successive fours off the third and fourth balls of that over completed the job, giving Scorchers a win by seven wickets and all four points. It was a satisfying end for me on two counts: 1) I had predicted at the start of the 17th that Siddle would not get to bowl his 4th because the game would end before he could and 2) much more importantly it meant that the Strikers were properly punished for mucking up over the Power Surge.

The more I follow of this year’s Big Bash the more I think that it must be better to go for the Power Surge too early rather than too late, which is why I cannot wholly endorse Scorchers waiting until the end of the 15th to go for it, but unquestionably they approached it miles better than the Strikers.

If the Scorchers could contrive to use this hugely impressive victory as a springboard back into the tournament it would represent a comeback to send Lazarus green with envy on their part.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Just before my usual sign off, which on this occasion includes a video, I have a few final words of 2020 for my readers: thank you all, and here’s to a better 2021

The Long and Short of Cricket

A look back at the recent Australia v India test match, and at today’s amazing BBL game between Hobart Hurricanes and Brisbane Heat, plus some thoughts on the BBL’s innovations for this year.

No, on this occasion my title does not refer to Mohammad Irfan and Poonam Yadav, though in another context it could! Instead I refer to the longest and shortest formats of top level cricket – 5-day test cricket and T20.

INDIA MAKE IT 1-1 WITH VICTORY AT MELBOURNE

India had lost the first match of the series at Adelaide after being bowled out for 36 in their second innings (see this post for more on that game), and Kohli had departed from the squad to be present at the birth of his child. Australia batted first, and with Bumrah and Ashwin featuring prominently, were dismissed for 195, no one managing to reach 50. India responded with a determined batting effort led by stand-in skipper Rahane who redeemed himself for running out Kohli in Adelaide by reaching a gritty century, while Ravindra Jadeja, one of the finest of contemporary all-rounders and a brilliant fielder to boot, contributed 62 to the cause, and India built a first innings lead of 131. At one point it looked like they might not have to bat again, but young Cameron Green and Pat Cummins resisted stoutly to take Australia into credit and the game into a fourth day. Green and Cummins continued their partnership on the fourth morning, but once they were separated resistance was limited. For the second time in the match no Aussie managed a fifty, but they did just reach 200 before Hazlewood shouldered arms to a straight one and was bowled to end the innings. Low totals have sometimes been defended, but very rarely as low as 70, and India lost only two wickets in reaching their goal.

Steve Smith failed twice, Labuschagne managed some resistance in the first innings but not a substantial score, and Cameron Green’s promise aside there do not appear to many sources of runs for Australia at the moment, and bowlers, even such fine ones as Australia possess, cannot win matches if they don’t have anything to defend. David Warner returns for the next match at the SCG, with presumably the shockingly out of form and lacking in confidence Joe Burns dropping out. Also waiting in the wings, though currently not fully fit for action, is Will Pucovski who has produced some Ponsfordesque scores for Victoria. Travis Head in the Aussie middle order has what appears to be a respectable batting average, but what his average does not show is the fact that he has a severe case of ‘Watsonitis’ – he scores runs, but never seems able to turn a good start into a really major innings.

India meanwhile are strengthened by the return from injury of Rohit Sharma, who will presumably resume his opening berth alongside Agarwal.

BBL THOUGHTS

This section is provoked by today’s astonishing game between Hobart Hurricanes and Brisbane Heat (the Hurricanes were nominally the home team, even though the match was taking place at the Gabba!)

Hurricanes batted first, and after 10 overs were 65-3 with Malan going well and Ingram newly arrived at the other end. Malan fell not long after, bringing Colin Ingram and Tim David together. They shared a good partnership, but Hurricanes failed to take advantage of the opportunity to claim the Power Surge with two destructive hitters together at the crease. After 18 overs they were 140-6, and had to take the Power Surge. Mujeeb Ur Rahman, on of three Afghan spinners (Rashid Khan, leg spin, and Zahir Khan, left arm wrist spin, being the others) to have BBL contracts bowled the 19th, and it was a quite superb over, not only going for only one run, but also yielding three wickets, giving Mujeeb 5-15 from his four overs. The 20th over was better for the Hurricanes, although they only lasted four balls of it, that was enough to boost their total by nine. That gave them precisely 150 to defend, a fairly modest total by BBL standards.

However, the Hurricanes were as brilliant at the start of their bowling innings as they had been poor in the second half of their batting innings, and the Heat were 8-3 early on and looking in some trouble. Then Max Bryant and Lewis Gregory shared an excellent partnership and seemed to have at least secured their side the Bash Boost bonus point for being ahead after 10 overs. Bryant was out to the penultimate ball of the ninth, making it 60-4, six need for the Bash Boost point. However, a combination of good bowling and tentative batting saw them just miss out. Gregory’s dismissal in the 11th over made it 66-5, and brought Bazley into join Peirson. They were still together at the end of the 14th, at which point Heat took the Power Surge. Overall these two overs were good for the Heat, the loss of Peirson not withstanding, and Heat needed 31 from 24 balls for the win. With Bazley going well and Steketee connecting with a couple of decent blows that came down to 15 off 12 balls. The 19th started with two dots, but then Bazley hit a six to reduce the task to nine off nine balls. The over ended with Heat needing seven to win. That came down to four off two balls with Steketee on strike. Steketee got two off the penultimate ball, and that meant two needed off one ball, or one to take it to a Super Over. Steketee went for the tying run off that final ball, but it was judged that although his bat was over the line before the bails were dislodged it was also in the air, and he was given run out, to make it 149-8 and victory for the Hurricanes by one run.

It was a magnificent game, but I would have preferred the Heat to win so that the Hurricanes got properly punished for mishandling the second half of their batting innings.

ON #BBL10’S INNOVATIONS

There have been three innovations to this year’s BBL, two which had their own impact on today’s game. They are: the Bash Boost point for the team who are ahead at the ten over mark, the Power Surge (instead of six overs of power play restrictions at the start of the innings there are four, with two more to be claimed at any time after the tenth over by the batting side) and the ‘x-factor sub’, whereby after 10 overs of the first innings a player who has a) not batted and b) bowled no more than one over can be replaced by a designated ‘x-factor’ sub.

I am a huge fan of the Bash Boost point, it has created points of interest in games which would otherwise have been dead, and today it was very closely fought.

I like the concept of the Power Surge, but it requires flexibility of thought, and not many sides have thus far shown that. I would say that all things being equal the ideal time to take it would be at the end of the 15th, using it as a launch pad for the final quarter of the innings. One might go earlier in two situations: the openers are still together after 10 overs and you want to use the Power Surge to launch you towards a really huge total, and also if you have lost a few wickets, your innings needs a shot in the arm and/or you want to ensure that you have two decent batters to use the Power Surge. I can see no case for delaying it right to the end, and I think the Hurricanes stuffed up big time, for all that it did not end up costing them, in their own innings – they should have taken the Power Surge while Ingram, who could really have cashed in on it was still there.

As for the ‘x-factor sub’, that belongs in the circular file. I fully understand the need for ‘concussion protocol subs’, but basically I remain convinced that teams should finish the match containing the same players who started it.

A final recommendation for the BBL: for goodness sake use the DRS – unlike football with the disastrous VAR we actually have a method of using technology to help with decisions that usually works, and it should be automatic to use it.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

An East Anglian XI In Honour of John Edrich

An XI with East Anglian connections in honour of John Edrich.

As I write this the Melbourne Stars are closing in on victory over the Sydney Sixers, while India enjoyed a good opening day at the MCG, dismissing Australia for 195 and reaching 36-1 in response, Shubman Gill impressing on debut with 28 not out overnight. Most of the players in the XI I present are Norfolk born, as John Edrich was, although there is one Cambridge born player and two brothers (out of three who had first class experience) who were born in Suffolk, while the captain was born in Yorkshire but played for Cambridgeshire after falling out with his native county.

EAST ANGLIAN XI

  1. John Edrich – left handed opening batter. Almost 40,000 first class runs at an average of 45, 103 first class hundreds, a test triple century (a knock that included 52 fours and five sixes) and the highest individual score in the first ever ODI back in 1971.
  2. Jack Hobbs – right handed opening batter, occasional medium pacer, brilliant cover fielder. The Master – 61,237 first class runs including 197 centuries. 3,636 runs including 12 centuries in Ashes matches. Born in Cambridge.
  3. Bill Edrich – right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler. Older cousin of John Edrich and one of four brothers who all turned out at first class level. He lost six of his prime cricketing years to World War Two, in which he distinguished himself as a flying ace but still amassed 85 first class centuries.
  4. Fuller Pilch – right handed batter, rated by contemporary observers as the best of his era (the 1830s and 40s). Also sufferer of a bizarre dismissal for the Players against the Gentlemen in 1837 – the line in the scorebook reads “hat knocked on wicket”. The Players won a very low scoring match by an innings.
  5. Peter Parfitt – right handed batter, brilliant fielder, occasional off spinner. He once took four catches in a test innings, against Australia in 1972.
  6. Michael Falcon – right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler. His averages are just the right way round.
  7. +Eric Edrich – right handed batter, wicket keeper. 53 dismissals in 38 first class appearances.
  8. *Johnny Wardle – left arm orthodox spinner, left arm wrist spinner, useful lower order batter. Born in Ardsley, just outside Barnsley in South Yorkshire. After a distinguished career for his native county and for England (102 test wickets at 20.39) he fell out with the Yorkshire authorities and ultimately played minor counties cricket for Cambridgeshire (Yorkshire in their vindictiveness ensured that no other first class county would touch him). His claim on a place is somewhat tenuous but I needed a quality spin bowler somewhere in the side, so I decided to stretch a point and include him.
  9. Desmond Rought-Rought – right arm fast medium bowler, took his first class wickets at 28 a piece. Born at Brandon in Suffolk.
  10. Rodney Rought-Rought – fast medium bowler, cannot ascertain which arm he used – am hoping it is left for the sake of variety. Brother of Desmond and also born at Brandon.
  11. Olly Stone – right arm fast bowler. In this side, with the two Rought-Roughts, Falcon and Edrich able to bowl seam there would no excuse for using him in other than short spells at top pace.

ANALYSING THE XI

This team has a solid batting line up, one bowler of genuine pace, various fast-medium bowlers and one of the finest spinners of them all. It would give a good account of itself in most conditions. The Sydney Sixers somehow turned their game against the Melbourne Stars around and won by one wicket with one ball to spare, taking all four points.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

All Time XIs – Surrey

In view of the news of John Edrich’s death, and his role in this, the first of the All-Time XIs that I created a few months back, I am repubishing this…

aspiblog

INTRODUCTION

Since there will be no cricket, or any other sport come to that, for a while I am going to fill the void by playing selector for a few all-time squads. Since I grew up in south London I will start with Surrey.

MY SURREY XI EXPLAINED

  1. Jack Hobbs – more first class runs and more first class hundreds than anyone else, also still has the England record for Ashes runs – 3,636 of them, including another record, 12 centuries in those matches. He was also a more than handy bowler of medium pace and a brilliant fielder at cover point. His claim to an opening slot is unanswerable.
  2. John Edrich – the left hander was one of three strong contenders for this slot, and both of the other two, Andrew Sandhamand Tom Hayward, actually did open the innings with Hobbs, but although I see the value of…

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Adelaide Antics

An account of two and a half extraordinary days of cricket at Adelaide.

The first test between Australia and India in the latest series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy has ended after only half the allotted time, with Australia winning by eight wickets. Two and a half days proved ample time for some extraordinary happenings as we shall see…

THE MATCH

This match was a day-nighter which made it slightly easier to follow from the UK (the BBC have rights to Australian radio broadcasts for three years, so there was live commentary on 5 Live Sports Extra) – just a very early morning start as opposed an all-nighter. Both sides had questions over their opening pairs due to injuries. For India Prithvi Shaw got the nod to open with Mayank Agarwal, while with both Warner and heir apparent Pucovski hors de combat for Australia they opted for Matthew Wade, who had never previously opened a first class innings, never mind a test one to partner Joe Burns. The other question was over India’s choice of keeper, and they opted for the superior keeper, Wriddhiman Saha rather than deepening their batting by selecting Rishabh Pant.

India won the toss and chose to bat. The second ball of the game exposed a gap between Shaw’s bat and pad through which an HGV could have been driven, leading to the ‘death rattle’ and India were 0-1. Agarwal also fell cheaply, before Chesteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli stabilized things. Pujara batted well up to a point, but did not do quite enough to keep the scoreboard ticking. Ajinkya Rahane now joined Kohli and for a time all was rosy for India, as the pairing prospered. The falling sweep twitter account piped up to mention that Rahane had never been run out in a test innings, to which I could not resist responding with a question as to whether that related to good running or an ability to ensure that his partners lost their wickets when mix-ups occurred. A few moments after this exchange Rahane proceeded to stitch his skipper up, and India were four down. Rahane himself followed not long after, and Hanuma Vihari also fell cheaply, bringing R Ashwin into join the keeper Saha. None of the remaining members of the batting order, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami could lay claim to any real batting skill, although Bumrah had just notched his maiden first class 50 in a warm-up game against Australia A. Saha and Ashwin made it to the close with the score at 233-6.

The second day began with a flurry of wickets, as India were quickly rounded up for a total of 244. Australia made this total look quite respectable, and it was only a fighting 73 not out from captain/ wicket keeper Tim Paine that kept their deficit to 53. India missed a cartload of chances as well – officially five catches went down, and there was more than one incident of an edge falling short of a fielder who had positioned themselves too deep to make the catch. Among thos reprieved was Paine himself on 25.

India began their second innings 25 minutes before the cut-off time at which stumps had to be drawn, which I thought represented a case for promoting Pujara to open in place of the clearly vulnerable Shaw (check my twitter account and you will see that I posted to this effect at the time). India felt otherwise and in to bat trooped Shaw and Agarwal. This time Shaw did get off the mark, but with four to his name he was bowled in pretty much identical fashion to the first innings, the ball going through a veritable chasm between bat and pad to hit the stumps. Bumrah was then sent in as nightwatchman, and managed to see things through to the close at 9-1.

For some reason known only to themselves the BBC were not joining the broadcast of the third day’s play until 40 minutes after the start, so I missed the beginning of the end, the commentary being joined just as Kohli was dismissed to make it 19-6. I heard commentary on the dismissals that I had missed, as playbacks were presented during the coverage of what remained, and I heard the end of the Indian innings and the entire Australia chase. Agarwal and Bumrah took the score to 15 before Bumrah was out, the first of four successive wickets, the others being Agarwal, Pujara and Rahane to fall with the score at 15. Saha and Ashwin fell in successive balls as well, and that was 26-8. At 31 Vihari, the last recognized batter was ninth out, and five runs later Shami was struck on the arm and retired hurt, leaving the Indian 2nd innings all over for just 36, their lowest ever test score (previously 42 versus England). Australia thus required 90 to win. Burns and Wade batted well, before Wade was run out with Australia 20 short of the target. Labuschage holed out with eight still needed. The end came with Joe Burns hitting a six that also took him to a half century.

His 73 not out, captaincy and excellent wicket keeping, including a fistful of catches in that second Indian innings earned Paine the man of the match award.

THE INDIAN 2ND INNINGS

Normally when a team is out very cheaply there is at least some culpability on the part of the batters. When England sank for 46 to lose a match they had been ahead in at Trinidad in 1994 the rout began with Atherton padding up to the first ball and being plumb LBW, Ramprakash falling in the same over, also to a dismissal that suggested a player and a team in a funk. Here, apart from Shaw at the end of day two, the wickets all seem to have fallen to magnificent bowling, Cummins (four wickets, including his 150th in test cricket) and Hazlewood (five, at one stage 5-3, 5-8 by the end of the innings, including his 200th test wicket) bowling a perfect line and length and benefitting from some good fortune which both thoroughly deserved, as they found numerous edges and each edge was pouched, mostly by the keeper, some by other fielders. 36 all out in a test is a shocker, but here any honest observer has to credit the bowling, not blame the batting.

One crumb of comfort for India: immediately after the 46 all out I referred to earlier, and which I regard as a worse collapse, for all that England then scraped up 10 more runs than India managed this time, England travelled to Barbados where the West Indies had not been beaten in 59 years, and proceeded to win comfortably, Alec Stewart notching a century in each innings.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Obviously India have a mountain climb, and the fact that Kohli is leaving to be with his wife as she gives birth and Shami is in jeopardy due to his injury today makes it even steeper, but they must not give up. The next game is at the MCG, where they won comfortably last time they were in Australia, and Bumrah in particular will have fond memories of that match. At the start of the 1902 Ashes Australia were bowled out for 36 in a single innings, albeit then being saved by the weather, and rebounded to win the series 2-1, with England’s lone victory coming in the final match at The Oval. I await the match in Melbourne with great interest, having enjoyed this one very much.

PLAYER RATINGS

I will start with the winning team:

Matthew Wade – given a job to do that he had never previously done he can be proud of his contribution to a low scoring match. 6/10
Joe Burns – many were questioning his presence in this team, and his first innings effort was far from encouraging. He also struggled in the first part of his second innings, but in the end emerged with flying colours. 7/10
Marnus Labuschagne – a gritty effort in the first innings when the rest of the Aussie front line batters all fell cheaply, and he fell in the second innings when trying to speed Australia over the winning line. 7/10
Steve Smith – R Ashwin demonstrated in the first innings that the least elegant but most effective batter in the game can be dismissed cheaply, and he did not the opportunity to make a noteworthy contribution to the 2nd innings. 3/10
Travis Head – an anonymous match for him. He failed in his only batting innings. 2/10
Cameron Green – a hugely exciting young all rounder of whom I expect to be hearing much more. He did enough in this game to demonstrate that he belongs at the highest level. 5/10
Tim Paine – a gritty innings, some fine keeping and good captaincy (although his use of the DRS still needs plenty of work). His player of the match award was well merited. 9/10
Pat Cummins – the right arm quick demonstrated why he is currently ranked the no1 test bowler in the world, bowling very well in the first Indian innings and magnificently in the second. 9/10
Mitchell Starc – good with the ball in the first innings, not much needed in the second. 7/10
Josh Hazlewood – a superb bowling effort in the second innings in tandem with Pat Cummins, and adequate in the first innings. 8/10
Nathan Lyon – the off spinner was out bowled by his rival Ashwin, but in a match where the quicks were more prominent he was far from failing. 7/10

Now we turn the Indians:

Mayant Agarwal: not a match the established opener will look back on with any pride. 4/10
Prithvi Shaw: a nightmare for the youngster who has a magnificent record in Indian domestic cricket but is not yet established as a test player. I cannot see him continuing as an opener – it is an early wicket every time for the Aussies if he does, but he may have a role in this series nonetheless as there will be a vacancy at no4, where he will be less exposed. 1/10
Cheteshwar Pujara: he did a solid job in the first innings, although he should have done more to keep the scoreboard ticking. Failed in the second innings. 4/10
Virat Kohli: before being stitched up by Rahane in the first innings he looked nailed on for a century. 7/10
Ajinkya Rahane: played well in the first innings, but a lot of the good he did for his side with his personal score was negated by his role in Kohli’s dismissal and his own subsequent dismissal shortly afterwards. Including the run out of Kohli the last 16 Indian wickets plus Shami retired hurt raised just 89 between them. 3/10
Hanuma Vihari: two failures for the youngster. 2/10
Wriddhiman Saha: kept superbly as usual, and looked to have done a valuable job with the bat in the closing stages of the opening day. 4/10
R Ashwin: good work with the bat near the end of the first day, but dismissed right at the start of the second when a decent morning’s batting could have put India out of reach in the match. Bowled beautifully in the Australian first innings and was rewarded with four wickets. 7/10
Umesh Yadav: bowled respectably in the first Australian innings. 5/10
Jasprit Bumrah: bowled impressively and commanded respect from all the Aussies. It must be said that there was little evidence of his much vaunted improvement with the bat and using him as nightwatchman was probably a mistake (if India were going to protect any of their major batters it should have been Shaw, which they could have done by promoting Pujara one place). Still, he did little noticeably wrong, and did manage the nightwatchman’s first task of surviving to the close of play. 6/10

Looking at the players India have available for the second match I would suggest that they select Shubman Gill to open with Agarwal and fill the temporarily vacant no4 slot by moving Shaw down from his current opening berth.

If you wish to see a scorecard and some more recognized views about this match, click here.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Some BBL Thoughts and All Time XIs Revisited

A look at the innovations featured in the tenth edition of the Big Bash League and a visit to all-time XI territory, with place names the link on this occasion.

A two-parter today, first looking at the innovations featured in this year’s Big Bash League and then, inspired by something I noticed during commentary on today’s weather hit game a revisit to all-time XI territory.

BBL INNOVATIONS

The current version of the Big Bash League, the tenth running of said tournament, features three innovations, and I shall touch on each in turn:

  1. Power Surge: instead of a straight six overs of power play and then 14 of standard fielding restrictions there are now four overs of power play, and then a Power Surge of two overs, to be claimed at any time after 10 overs at the behest of the batting side. This has been a really successful innovation, with a lot of thought going into to when to take it. Ideally you would want two set batters at the crease to maximize the potential gain, and also to be quite close to the end of the innings to use it as a kind of springboard into a big finish. I can see the possibility of claiming it for overs 11 and 12 if the openers are still together, on the understanding that a big hitter will be promoted to cash in on it if one of the openers falls. If that is not an option then if two batters are going well at the end of the 15th over, claiming it for overs 16 and 17 with a view to really making the final quarter of the innings pay would appeal. I do not share TMS Commentator Simon Mann’s view about taking it for the last two overs of the innings being a good notion.
  2. Bash Bonus Point – a bonus point is awarded to the team who score more from their first 10 overs, while three are awarded for the outright win. This has led to some interesting situations where teams knowing that overall victory is effectively out of the question go all out for being ahead after 10 overs in an effort to salvage something, as opposed to concentrating on surviving the full 20 overs so that their net run rate does not take a hammering. I consider this to be a success, although I could see a situation where a team gets knocked out due to this innovation, and fans would not be happy with that.
  3. The ‘x-factor’ sub: players designated for this role before the game may be brought in (no more than one per side) after a maximum of ten overs of the first innings of the match. The substituted player must not have batted and may not have bowled more than one over (sensible caveats which prevent a specialist batter being used and then replaced by a specialist bowler, and vice versa). I have witnessed only two matches (via TMS commentaries) in which these players have been used, one of them today’s no-result. I have waited until I had actually seen the usage of such players before commenting on the innovation, but I have seen nothing to alter my initial thinking that if you actually pick your best XI at the start you should not need to make use of this option, and the fact that uptake of it has been very limited is itself a comment on the innovation. Thus I score these innovations at two out of three.

A PLACE NAMES XI

One of the players who featured in today’s match was Joel Paris, a left arm pace bowler, which started me thinking about players who have places in their names. I set myself rules that the place name must be the whole of on the player’s names, not part thereof, and that it must be spelt the same way (as you will see later this latter was germane). After I have been through the batting order I will explain some of those who missed out for one reason or another.

  1. Sir Leonard Hutton – right handed opening batter, occasional leg spinner. Hutton is a place in Essex, on the edge of Shenfield.
  2. Sidney George Barnes – right handed opening batter, occasional leg spinner. A combination of World War Two and the fact that he and the authorities did not always get on limited his test career to 13 matches, in which he recorded an average of 63. Barnes is near Putney, either southwest London or Surrey depending on who you consult.
  3. Frank Woolley – left handed batter, left arm orthodox spinner, excellent close fielder. Woolley is a small village, almost precisely equidistant between Barnsley and Wakefield in Yorkshire.
  4. Ken Barrington – right handed batter, occasional leg spinner. Upper and Lower Barrington are a matched pair of villages in Gloucestershire (Marcus Berkmann mentions them in one of his books about life in cricket’s lower reaches).
  5. Victor York Richardson – right handed batter, fine fielder, occasional wicket keeper. A fine test batter in the 1920s and 30s, and grandfather of two others, Ian and Greg Chappell, his middle name gets him into this team.
  6. *Warwick Armstrong – right handed batter, leg spinner, captain. I rated him the finer of the two regular test captains in this line up, and anyway I wanted Hutton free to concentrate on his batting. In the 1905 tour of England he scored over 2,000 runs and took over 100 wickets in first class matches.
  7. +Jack Blackham – right handed batter, wicket keeper. He played in each of the first 17 test matches ever contested and is regarded as one of the greatest of all keepers. Blackham is a small village almost exactly equidistant between East Grinstead in Sussex and Tunbridge Wells in Kent.
  8. Washington Sundar – off spinner, left handed lower order batter. The 21 year old Indian has been making a name for himself in T20, but he also has a more than adequate FC record, averaging 31.29 with the bat and 26.93 with the ball in that format.
  9. Joel Paris – left arm fast medium bowler, left handed lower order batter. His first class averages are just the right way around – 23.38 with the bat and 23.25 with the ball.
  10. Sydney Francis Barnes – right arm fast medium bowler, right handed lower order batter. In the case of Sidney Barnes the batter I had to use his surname as the place name, but this greatest of all bowlers qualifies twice over, since his first name Sydney is spelt the same way as Australia’s largest city.
  11. Ian Peebles – leg spinner, right handed lower order batter. Peebles is due south of Edinburgh.

This team has a deep batting order, a very varied and strong bowling attack, and would definitely give a good account of itself. Now for some honourable mentions:

William Maldon Woodfull, a fine opening bat and captain for Victoria and Australia would qualify by virtue of his middle name, which is a place in Essex and also the place in Victoria where he was born. Anthony William Greig, an attacking middle order bat good enough to average 40 in test cricket and a decent bowler of both medium pace and off spin missed out by a single letter – the Cornish seaside village of Antony not having an H in its name. Rahkeem Cornwall might have replaced Washington Sundar without unduly weakening the team (he is also an off spinner and more than useful lower order batter). Had I allowed myself to reach back a few hundred years to a long antiquated spelling of a place near York, which is now always spelt Bootham, as it is pronounced, I could have accommodated Ian Terrence Botham – the single o spelling was once a thing. Arran Brindle, a batter for England women who has at least one century in men’s club cricket to her name, could have got in via her first name. Ian Peebles’ place in the XI could have gone to either of two other leg spinners, Richie Benaud, whose name derives from a village in France, but who I would have heading the commentary team, and Amanda-Jade Wellington. Finally, I was tempted to find a place for Mike Gatting who shares a surname with a legendary former UK constituency. The old Gatting constituency, disenfranchised in 1831, contained one grand house, and it happened on one occasion that the butler had a quarrel with the master of the house and stood against the master’s son (the master by this time considering himself to old to be a candidate). The master voted for his son over the butler and that was that.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Now it is time for my usual sign off: