This post looks back at the six test matches England have played in India and Sri Lanka and forward to the future.
THE STORY IN BRIEF
England won both matches in Sri Lanka against a side with a very unthreatening bowling attack, although there were warning signs in the form of Embuldeniya, a left arm orthodox spinner who caused England such problems as they experienced on that tour. In India England started with a victory in the first match, but then lost three in a row as their problems against spin on turning pitches were cruelly exposed. English cricket officialdom has a phobia of turning tracks, as shown by the punishment recently inflicted on Somerset. This combined with the fact that a large proportion of English first class cricket is confined to the margins of the season means that there are not many really good spinners in the game and that in consequence the batters rarely face much if any spin. Anyone shown Axar Patel’s figures in this series and not told who had recorded them would be forgiven for thinking it was Hedley Verity or Derek Underwood operating on rain affected pitches. There were other causes of problems besides this…
ROTATION POLICY AND POOR SELECTIONS
Some element of rotation was going to be necessary due to the circumstances in which these test matches were being played, but I think England took things too far in that regard, and the side became unsettled as a result. In particular the handling of the Moeen Ali/ Dom Bess situation was shocking. England had planned to play Moeen Ali for both Sri Lankan matches and the first two matches in India before resting him prior to the limited overs element of the Indian tour. Had that plan been operable it might have made sense, though Moeen Ali’s test record is unconvincing to put mildly. As it was he caught Covid and by the time he had recovered and quarantined himself for the required period the only match he would be available for was the second of the Indian series. Bess had not bowled especially well but had been picking up wickets, and the logical thing to do in the changed circumstances was send Moeen home earlier than intended and play Bess straight through or promote one of Parkinson or Virdi from the reserves. Moeen Ali was rushed into the XI for that one match, and on brute figures had a decent game, capturing eight wickets and scoring 49 runs. The problem was that most of the good things he did came after he had virtually bowled England out of contention by conceding 94 runs from his first 20 overs on a pitch that was offering assistance to spinners from the start of the game. In selecting Moeen Ali England had directed some harsh words in Bess’ direction (doubtless some even harsher ones in private than the ones we heard about), and then after the game they tried to persuade Moeen Ali to stay on, abandoning his plans to visit his family in England, and allowed this to become public knowledge. Then, still reluctant to promote Parkinson or Virdi, and unwilling to risk Bess, they went into the third match of the series with three specialist quicks plus Stokes and only Leach as a front line spinner. Inexplicably Chris Woakes was also entirely ignored, though with the party the entire time, and he was sent home after the third test. England then had a massive knee jerk reaction to the humiliating defeat they suffered in that third match and brought Bess back, and also brought Lawrence in to strengthen the batting, going into the game with three specialist bowlers plus Stokes. Lawrence had a fine match, showing fight in both innings to amass 46 and 50, but apart from Stokes (55 in the first innings, four wickets), and Anderson, who was his usual self and therefore always formidable, and with a nod to the ever reliable Leach who toiled hard with the ball, basically no one else did. Bairstow, a flawed selection, as I pointed out in December when rumours of a test recall for him first surfaced, needed a bit of luck to make 28 in the first innings and gave his wicket away first ball in the second to one of the softest dismissals in test history. The other problem besides basic disruption and his own inadequate performances with the selection of Bairstow was that he pretty much replaced Burns, which forced Crawley up to open, when the latter has done his best test work from no3.
One or other of Parkinson or Virdi, with a preference for the former, since as a leg spinner he brings something new to the team, should have been promoted from the reserves to partner Leach, rather than the obviously untrusted Bess being recalled. The treatment of Olly Stone, who bowled well in the second match on a surface that did not suit him in the slightest and was thereafter resolutely ignored is also hard to fathom.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
In terms of the batting two things have happened this tour that are of any significance: Lawrence has surely moved ahead of Pope, who seems to have regressed from the good start he made to his test career, in the pecking order, and Bairstow must finally have blown one opportunity too many for even this England management to recall him to the test ranks, though he remains an integral part of the white ball set up. Leach is now established as first choice spinner, and given the unlikeliness of any English test pitch warranting the selection of two specialist spinners (I would put such a pitch being prepared in England rather below a meteorite strike in the betting stakes), and the fact that the next tour is Australia where English off spinners have not fared well (see here for some detail on the spin options in England’s successful Ashes tour parties) I am looking at Leach as sole spinner for the home summer, and Leach and Parkinson as spinners for Australia (unless England go the radical route of inviting Sophie Ecclestone to plat alongside the men). Virdi may well merit an England call up as well, but probably not for Australia. Bess needs to have at least one seriously good season for his new county, Yorkshire, before his credentials can even be considered again, so should not be a factor in England terms before the 2022 home season at the earliest.
Unless someone has a string of superb performances at the top of a county order to start the season I do not see much point introducing another newcomer to the batting order – chronically ill equipped though they were to handle India’s spinners these batters are by and large the best available to England at present. I might consider Buttler as a specialist batter, but he has been so indulged by the England management in recent times that I refuse to officially nominate him for one of my teams. In view of the fact that Anderson and Broad need to be rotated to some degree, and that I prefer not to have four out and out tailenders in the team my XI for the first test of the home season if nothing significant changes mean time would thus be something like: Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, Lawrence, +Foakes, Woakes, Stone, Leach, Anderson. Archer or Wood if fit and firing could replace Stone, though I would like to see the latter given a proper chance, and similarly Broad may play instead of Anderson if conditions seem likely to favour him. Woakes in England is a formidable all round cricketer, and as indicated earlier in this piece he may well have proved useful at times in India had he been given the chance.
Among those who may force their way into contention in the not too distant future are Tom Abell and Tom Lammonby of Somerset, Sam Hain of Warwickshire, Liam Livingstone of Lancashire and Haseeb Hameed of Nottinghamshire. Ben Coad may claim a bowling slot (he pays about 20 per wicket in FC cricket, but England have plenty of pace bowling options). Jordan Cox is an outside chance if he can prove the double century he scored against Sussex last season was not just a one off. Lewis Goldsworthy, a left arm orthodox spin bowling all rounder, may make some sort of mark for Somerset with Leach on England duty. He has yet to play first class cricket but impressed at the Under 19 World Cup last year and has a decent record in the handful of T20s he has played for Somerset. It is also possible that Liam Patterson-White (bowling average 21.00 from five FC games) and Dan Moriarty (17 wickets at just under 21 each from two first class games) will prove that their currently impressive bowling averages are not freaks.
LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS
My first link is to a petition calling on the government to award NHS nurses a 12.5% pay rise. To sign this you have to be a UK citizen or resident. If you are please do so. A screenshot is below:
My second link is related to the above, being to a blog post by Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK that started life as a twitter thread, in which he takes Johnson to task for his derisory 1% offer. The start of what is a longish piece is shown below:
Finally congratulations to the England Women’s team who completed a clean sweep of the T20Is in New Zealand to go with their earlier triumph in the ODI series. Katherine Brunt was Player of the Match, while Tammy Beaumont, as in the ODI leg of the tour, was named Player of the Series. Also, South Africa Women won the first ODI of their series in India, with Laura Wolvaardt making a fine 80. Now it is time for my usual sign off…