England Test Prospects For 2022 Season

A look ahead to the upcoming test summer with Ben Stokes as new captain.

The county championship season 2022 is in full swing, and there have been plenty of successes to celebrate from home grown talents. Ben Stokes has been appointed test captain in succession to Joe Root who resigned that office just before the season started (not a decision I would personally have made, but one that for the moment has to be accepted). Given recent batting efforts by England in test cricket only those two can be said to have nailed down front line batting slots while the bowling is somewhat more settled although finding a genuinely fast bowler who can stay fit remains a challenge, and spin options are somewhat limited. In the rest of this post I look at who is doing what and form my team and some likely alternatives for the coming season.

THE OPENERS

Alex Lees deserves an extended run having been selected for the tour of the West Indies and acquitted himself well there. I would like a right hander to partner him at the top of the order and Zak Crawley is not it for me – he averages below 30 for England and not much above that for Kent. Dominic Sibley is a possibility for a recall, but Tom Haines of Sussex had a good season last season and is in the runs again this time round, and he would be my choice. Rob Yates of Warwickshire is another prospect.

NUMBERS THREE AND FOUR

Joe Root will obviously fill one of these slots, and for me that would be number four owing to the fact that there are two regular number threes who are having outstanding seasons for their counties: James Bracey of Gloucestershire and Josh Bohannon of Lancashire. Bohannon has significantly the better overall record and has recently scored his maiden FC double century, and he would be my choice, with Bracey among the reserves.

NOS FIVE AND SIX

The skipper has one of these slots, leaving one other to fill. For me because his FC record is so far ahead of any other contender that slot goes to Ollie Pope though with a warning that if he fails to deliver some big scores in this summer’s test matches it will be the end of the road for him as a test player.

THE KEEPER AND BOWLERS

The keeper is an obvious choice – it is long past time that Ben Foakes was given an extended run at the highest level. The bowling is tougher, but based on form and fitness I would pick Woakes, who is one of the best in the world when playing in England (he is of questionable value abroad, which complicates matters but I regard his selection for home games as a must), and a 9, 10, 11 of Anderson, Mahmood and Parkinson (I believe it is time for England to trust the leg spinner who is improving rapidly and has a very impressive FC record). Oliver Edward Robinson has bowled well for England since his call up, but there have been fitness issues, notably in the later stages of The Ashes in Australia.

THE FIRST CHOICE XI

In batting order:

  1. Haines
  2. Lees
  3. Bohannon
  4. Root
  5. *Stokes
  6. Pope
  7. +Foakes
  8. Woakes
  9. Anderson
  10. Mahmood
  11. Parkinson

THE RESERVES

Among current openers Rob Yates of Warwickshire should be on the radar, while Ben Compton of Kent is making a strong case for being fast tracked (five centuries in his first 13 FC matches, current batting average 61 for just over 1,000 runs) into international cricket. There is also a case for Gloucestershire veteran Chris Dent who has just racked up a double century against Surrey in the course of which he has passed 10,000 FC runs at an average of 38.

Among middle order batters Dan Lawrence is of course in the mix, and I would add to him the names of James Bracey, Tom Abell and Jamie Smith, the last named another recent double century maker (that innings has pushed his career average above 40, and he is definitely on an upward trajectory at the age of 21).

There are various keepers doing well on the county circuit, and my personal pick for reserve keeper is Kent’s Oliver George Robinson.

Among the seam bowlers Stuart Broad is still going strong, Oliver Edward Robinson may merit further consideration if he can sort his fitness out, the Overton twins have both been in excellent form this season and if one of Archer, Stone or Wood can enjoy an injury free period they would be in the mix.

Jack Leach is the next best specialist spinner behind Parkinson, with youngsters Carson, Moriarty and Virdi all also on the radar. However it is unlikely that in England anyone would pick two specialist spinners, which brings Liam Patterson-White of Nottinghamshire into the equation. He bowls left arm spin and is a more than useful lower order batter. His averages are currently just the wrong way round – 25.45 with the ball and 24.65 with the bat, but he has plenty of time in which to improve, being only 23 years old.

FORECAST

For all that I am not entirely convinced that Stokes is the right choice as captain prospects are not altogether bleak, especially if some of the players I have named are given their opportunities. The batting is where there have been serious problems, and lots of players are scoring heavily in the early part of this season.

PHOTOGRAPHS

As usual I end this post by sharing some of my recent photographs…

A Draw in Antigua

A look back at the West Indies v England test match in Antigua.

The first test match in three match series between the West Indies and England ended in a draw yesterday. This post looks back at the match.

THE PRELIMINARIES

England made a cautious selection, opting for both Woakes and Overton, leaving out Saqib Mahmood. The West Indies meanwhile went for Holder at number six and four specialist bowlers as well. Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat first.

ENGLAND FIRST INNINGS

England made a disastrous start, slumping to 48-4. A fightback spearheaded by Bairstow and featuring good contributions from Stokes, Foakes and Woakes saw England end the first day 268-6 and possible back on track. On the second morning England battled on to 311 and it looked very much game on.

WEST INDIES FIRST INNINGS

West Indies did not score at all quickly, but they batted a very long time on a surface which had little life. Wood, the only bowler England had who was capable of bowling genuinely fast, left the field injured fairly early in the innings. Leach bowled well but without luck, keeping things tight but not taking wickets. Stokes, supposedly having his workload managed, was made to bowl 28 overs in the innings. Eventually the West Indies were all out for 375, Nkrumah Bonner scoring a very slow century to anchor the innings.

ENGLAND SECOND INNINGS

Zak Crawley delivered with the bat for once, and Root moved into second place on the England century makers list and became the leading scorer of centuries as England captain (24 in his career, still nine short of Alastair Cook’s tally and 13 as skipper). With Wood injured a measure of caution was necessary when it came to the declaration, and Root declared leaving WI a target of 286 in 70 overs.

WEST INDIES SECOND INNINGS

It was soon obvious that West Indies were not going to attempt the target, but when they lost their fourth wicket with quite a bit of time remaining England had genuine hope. Root made a point about his team’s mindset by staying out there until West Indies had six wickets left with only five balls to go – only then did he accept the draw. There was some adverse comment about this, but he did the right thing, not giving up on the chance of victory until he absolutely had to.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for my usual sign off…

Ashes Ahoy

A preview of Ashes 2021-22, with official coverage starting at 11PM UK time.

Official coverage of the 2021-22 Ashes series gets underway at 11PM tonight UK time, on five live sports extra for radio fans like me and on BT Sports for TV fans. The preliminaries have been turbulent for both sides, though at least England’s woes have largely been weather related (no on-field preparation time due to ridiculous amounts of rain), whereas for the second time in a few years an Australian test skipper has stepped down mired in scandal.

ENGLAND

England welcome Ben Stokes back into the fold after a layoff for mental health reasons. Sensibly Pope, a massive talent and one seemingly well suited to Aussie pitches has been preferred for the number six slot to the perennially underachieving at test level Jonathan Bairstow (a magnificent ODI opener and a fine T20I number four, the two international roles he should now make his sole focus). The basic question left is between Woakes (for extra batting depth and arguably bowling variety), Broad (for maximum bowling firepower) and Leach (there is some talk of going without the spinner, but with Stokes back there is no excuse – three front line pacers plus Stokes as back up is plenty in that department). My own final 11 would be: Burns, Hameed, Malan, *Root, Stokes, Pope, +Buttler, Robinson, Wood, Broad, Leach but I would not unduly quarrel with Woakes being picked ahead of Broad.

AUSTRALIA

Cynics would say that the loss of Tim Paine probably leaves Australia better equipped both batting and keeping wise than they were with him in post (Alex Carey makes his test debut as keeper-batter). Pat Cummins, who was Paine’s vice captain takes over the captaincy for this series (it is not common for a specialist fast bowler to be given this role – the last for England was Bob Willis who held the reins from 1982 to early 1984, and the only one ever to perform the role for Australia was Ray Lindwall in the 1950s – he stepped in on the field due to an injury). Mysteriously, Steve Smith, who could surely never be trusted with the captaincy again, has been appointed vice captain. Australia have a tried and not very trusted at no5 in Travis Head, a newbie at no six in Cameron Green and a debutant keeper in Carey. They have an experienced pace trio of Cummins, Hazlewood and the express paced but sometimes erratic Starc, and the second best test off spinner currently playing the game (sorry Nathan Lyon, Ashwin is definitely ahead of you). Their batting has three proven stars in Warner, Labuschagne and Smith.

PROSPECTS

While neither could be described as top class both of England’s openers, Burns and Hameed, have demonstrated an ability to bat time in test matches, and they provably gel well as a pair – three test century opening stands together already. Malan at number three is frankly a backward looking selection, but he may perform well. Obviously the skipper, batting in his regular number four slot, will be crucial to England’s chances, and at least the Burns/Hameed combo should insure that he is not too often coming in with the ball still new and shiny. It is a huge relief to have Stokes back in action, and a good series for him could well swing things England’s way. This is the series for Pope, who enjoys the type of pitches that Australia usually provides, to establish himself beyond question in England’s middle order, and I am expecting big things from him. Buttler has a respectable test batting record, and though he is not the equal of Foakes as a keeper I can understand why England have opted for him. The bowling, even with Anderson rested due to a minor calf issue, looks impressive. Robinson has been a revelation since his elevation to the test match ranks, Wood is quick and performs well away from home, Leach pays less than 30 per wicket and takes only just short of four wickets per game in his career to date and could well be crucial in this series, Broad has previously had success at the Gabba, and Woakes if picked will probably perform well.

Australia are in some turmoil, with four of their top seven genuinely questionable, though their bowling unit is its usual formidable self. Also Cummins is new to captaincy and there are at least two major ways a bowling captain can err – they can bowl themselves into the ground in an effort to lead by example, and they can go the other way and not give themselves enough overs. Also captaincy can have an adverse effect on form – Ian Botham took 7-48 in his last bowling innings before becoming England captain and 6-95 in his first after resigning the role, but never managed a five-for as captain.

A further factor in the equation is that due to their quarantine policy Perth (where England have only ever won one match, under Brearley in 1978) is off the roster, and if the weather forecasts are correct the opener at the Gabba is highly likely to be drawn.

Thus, even though it is half a century since an England team regained The Ashes down under (three retentions in that period, in 1978-9, 1986-7 and 2010-11), I really believe that England have a genuine chance. Australia will start as favourites and rightly so, but if England get everything right the upset is a definite possibility.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Stokes Out For Three Months

A look at ways for England to cope with the enforced absence of Ben Stokes, a look at the cricket that is happening today, an answer to the teaser in my last post and some photographs.

This post looks at how England might cope without Ben Stokes, who will definitely be missing the first test series of the home summer against New Zealand, though he may be able to turn out against India later in the summer. There are also brief mentions of today’s cricket.

REPLACING STOKES

There is no such thing as a like for like replacement for Ben Stokes. The question is then whether you want five genuine bowling options or whether your primary concern is to deepen the batting. If you are worried about the batting then the logical approach based on current evidence is to play either Pope at five and Lawrence at six or vice versa, then rounding out the order with +Foakes, Woakes, one of Archer/Stone/Wood depending on form and fitness, Leach and one of Anderson/Broad depending on form and fitness. If you prefer five bowlers, then you pick one of Pope/ Lawrence to bat at five, gamble on +Foakes at six, have Woakes at seven and avoid a diplodocan tail by selecting one of Oliver Edward Robinson, Lewis Gregory or Craig Overton at eight, and then the 9/10/11 on the basis I have already explained. Two sample line ups using the different approaches are below:

Four Bowlers XIFive Bowlers XI
Dom SibleyDom Sibley
Rory BurnsRory Burns
Zak CrawleyZak Crawley
*Joe Root*Joe Root
Ollie PopeOllie Pope
Dan Lawrence+Ben Foakes
+Ben FoakesChris Woakes
Chris WoakesOliver E Robinson
Olly StoneOlly Stone
Jack LeachJack Leach
James AndersonJames Anderson
Sample England line ups (please read full post) – do you gamble on four bowlers being sufficient and aim for a strong batting line up, or do you insist on having five front line bowlers?

Feel free to comment on these ideas and make suggestions of your own.

TODAY’S CRICKET

It is day two of the second round of County Championship fixtures. Mohammad Abbas has obliterated the top half of the Middlesex batting order (at low water mark, facing a tally of just over 300 they were 14-5, Abbas 5-3) down at the Rose Bowl. In the game I am principally focussed on, the west country derby at Taunton, Gloucestershire are 113-3 in reply to Somerset’s 312, with Tom Lace the most recent casualty, to an entirely self inflicted dismissal. In South Africa the home side are going nicely in their T20I vs Pakistan, 64-1 after seven overs, while the IPL action for the day starts in just under an hour, and the question is will the mere kings (Punjab Kings) be able to get the better of the super kings (Chennai Super Kings)?

SOLUTION TO TEASER

In my previous post I set a teaser from brilliant.org. I now provide the answer.

The selection of these multiple choice options left a hack just waiting to be exploited, though as far as I am aware I am the only solver who actually admitted to having done so. The total area of the circle is 36pi, which is just over 113 units. No way are either 24 or 36 big enough to be the largest possible, while 144 is larger than the total available area and therefore clearly impossible. This leaves 72 as the only possible answer, and sure enough, it is the correct answer. Had one their largest available answer been 84 or 96 this hack would not have been available (note that 108 is too close to the total available area to be a really convincing alternative) and I would have had to actually work out a proper solution. I now share with you an authentic solution, published by David Vreken:

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

India v England ODI Series Goes To Decider On Sunday

A brief account of today’s second #INDvENG ODI, telling the story of a remarkable chase.

This post is an account of the match that has just finished in Pune.

THE PRELIMINARIES

Morgan and Billings were both injured, being replaced by Dawid Malan and Liam Livingstone, while Reece Topley came in for Mark Wood, leaving England without an out and out speedster. For India Shreyas Iyer was injured and Rishabh Pant was selected in his place. Stand in skipper Jos Buttler won the toss and decided that England would bowl, which at the time looked questionable.

THE INDIAN INNINGS

India started steadily, and built through the middle overs. Rashid Khan and Moeen Ali both bowled reasonably well but neither looked like getting wickets, and after 40 overs India were 210-3. Then, as in match one, England had a horror show in the final ten overs, as the Indian score mushroomed to 336-6. Though he picked up a couple of wickets among the mayhem Tom Curran has surely bowled his last for England. Moeen Ali was economical, but never looked like taking a wicket. India’s total looked formidable.

ENGLAND’S CHASE

Roy and Bairstow got England away to a strong start, but when Roy was out the game was far from settled either way. Ben Stokes came in at no3, and reached 50 from 40 balls, though he was a trifle fortunate to be given the benefit of the doubt on a very close run out caused by the fact that he had failed to realize the danger and was jogging rather than running full pelt. Having got himself a start Stokes proceeded to go absolutely berserk, blasting 49 from his next 11 balls before edging one behind to miss out on a century by the narrowest of margins. Bairstow and Buttler fell in quick succession, but England were so far ahead of the rate that even losing three wickets so quickly was barely a set back. Some solid blows from debutant Liam Livingstone and Dawid Malan took England home, Malan enjoying one moment of good fortune when an edged shot flew through third man for four – had India posted anyone in the slip area they would probably have been in business. I will draw a veil over the Indian bowling figures, none of which their owners would wish to be publicised. Hardik Pandya, supposed tn be an all rounder, was not called upon to bowl while his team mates took horrendous punishment. England had 6.3 overs as well as six wickets to spare when they completed the task and levelled the series.

FINAL THOUGHTS

England need to find a way of not being destroyed in the final ten overs – it has happened in both matches this series, though they made up for it today with the bat. They also have a virtual obligation to select leg spinner Matt Parkinson for the final game, given that he has been in bio-secure bubbles since January and played no cricket. India have a quandary in the spin bowling department – Kuldeep Yadav and Krunal Pandya were both slaughtered today. Also there are questions about their batting in the first 40 overs – it is not great to be reliant on a massive burst in the final 10, especially when it is not guaranteed that said burst will be enough: they scored 126 in overs 41-50 inclusive today and England made the chase look like an absolute cake walk. Sunday’s grand finale starts at 9:00AM UK time (an hour later than the first two games because British Summer Time kicks in overnight between Saturday and Sunday, with 12:59AM becoming 2:00AM as the clocks move forward an hour).

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

T20I Series in India Goes to a Decider

An account of today’s #INDvENG T20I cricket match and a solution to yesterday’s mathematical teaser, plus some photographs.

This post looks at an extraordinary game of cricket that has just taken place in India. I also provide a solution to the mathematical conundrum from brilliant.org that I posed yesterday and of course a few photographs.

THE PRELIMINARIES

England were unchanged, India had two changes. Ishan Kishan had a minor injury and was replaced by Suryakumar Yadav. Yuzvendra Chahal was dropped and replaced by another leg spinner, Rahul Chahar. Eoin Morgan won the toss and chose to bowl.

THE INDIAN INNINGS

Neither of India’s openers were massively convincing, and Kohli at no 4 also failed with the bat. However, Suryakumar Yadav played a quite magnificent innings, at one stage threatening to record a century, and Rishabh Pant also played very nicely. India put up 185-8 in the end, a total that looked defensible but not unassailable. Jofra Archer took four wickets, Mark Wood was also impressive, but Adil Rashid had an off day for once, and Jordan, Stokes and Curran were all unimpressive as well.

THE ENGLAND RESPONSE

Buttler failed, Malan got a bit of a start but did not go on, Roy reached 40 for the third time of the series and for the third time of the series got out with a seriously big score apparently beckoning. Bairstow and Stokes batted well together before Bairstow was out, and then it looked like Stokes and Morgan were taking England close. However, both fell to Thakur in consecutive deliveries at the start of the 18th. Curran and Jordan played decently for the rest of that over, but then Curran fell in the 19th. A four off the last ball of the 19th by Archer reduced the requirement to 23 off the final over. Thakur, who had put India in command with his bowling at the start of the 18th now lost his bearings and at one point the ask was down to ten off three balls, but then he regathered his nerve, and India emerged victorious by eight runs, setting up a final game decider on Saturday. Although the standard of play was high an both sides it is not really acceptable for 40 overs of cricket to occupy four and a quarter hours of playing time as happened today.

SOLUTION TO A TEASER

Yesterday I set you the following:

In total there are 512 small cubes in the structure. Of these 216 (6x6x6) are purely internal and therefore unpainted, eight are corner cubes and painted on three faces, which leaves 288 cubes painted on either one or two faces. The cubes painted on one face are those in the centre of each visible face, which number 36 on each face = 216 in total. This leaves 72 cubes painted on two faces, and 216 – 72 = 144. For a cube with side length n, there will eight corner pieces, (n-2) ^ 3 centre pieces that are thus unpainted, 6 ((n-2)^2) pieces that are painted on one face only and 12 (n-2) pieces that are painted on exactly two faces. Though these equations only start to work once n is greater than 2 – a 2 x 2 x 2 cube has eight blocks each of which are painted on three faces.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

India’s Day In Ahmedabad

A look at the events in day 1 of the fourth and final test of the India v England series.

The fourth and final test of the India v England series started at 4:00AM this morning UK time, at Ahmedabad. This post looks at a day that may very well have booked India their place at Lord’s for the World Test Championship Final.

THE PRELIMINARIES

England sprang a major surprise by naming what amounted to eight batters and three bowlers: Sibley, Crawley, Bairstow, *Root, Stokes, Pope, Lawrence, +Foakes, Bess, Leach and Anderson. I do not believe that Bairstow has a place in test squad, let alone the XI, and relying on three frontline bowlers plus bits and pieces is a massive gamble. Australia tried this strategy at The Oval in 1938 and were on the wrong end of what remains the worst defeat in test history, the margin an innings and 579 runs (England 903-7 declared, Australia 201 and 123, with two batters, Fingleton and Bradman injured during the long England innings and unable to bat). India meanwhile made only one change, Mohammad Siraj coming in for Jasprit Bumrah. England had selected themselves a team that meant they virtually had to win the toss to have a chance. They did so and chose, correctly, to bat first…

THE PLAY

It is never the case that winning the toss means winning the match – you have to make the right decision which England did, and you have to play good cricket, and that is where England slipped up. There was early life for the pacers, but it was the arrival in the attack of Axar Patel, left arm orthodox spin, which started England on their downward spiral. Sibley, obviously spooked by events of the previous two tests, was so anxious to cover possible turn that he was not in the right position to play one that went straight on, and his stumps were rattled. Crawley having hit one four early in an over attacked again a couple of balls later and holed out on this latter occasion. Root got a good ball from Siraj and was trapped LBW and that was 30-3. For a time Bairstow and Stokes went well, but then Bairstow got in a mess against Siraj and was LBW for 28 (he had enjoyed some good fortune along the way too, including a boundary from a shot that had there been a second slip would have been catching practice for them). Pope dug in in support of Stokes, but just after completing a fine 50 Stokes lost a bit of concentration and allowed a ball from Sundar to cannon into his pads. Lawrence then joined Pope and they seemed to be recovering things once again before Pope was unluckily dismissed when he played a ball into his pad from whence it looped up to forward short leg. Foakes was out cheaply. Then, just as a 50 seemed on for him, Lawrence departed for 46, and almost immediately Bess followed to make it 189-9. Leach and Anderson at least saved England the embarrassment of a sixth successive sub-200 total, pushing the score up to 205 before the end came. Patel, who currently has the best bowling average of anyone to take over 20 test wickets (he is on about 10.5 per wicket, with Lohmann, a 19th century great who took 112 wickets in 18 test matches, on 10.75), had 4-68, while there were three scalps for Ashwin and two for Siraj.

Anderson got Gill in the first over of the reply, but that was the limit of England’s success for the day, Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara reaching the close with their side 24-1, 181 adrift. England bowled far better than they had batted but remain well behind the eight ball. This was the best cricket pitch of the series by some way, with players of all types firmly in the game and although one should not generally make judgements until both sides have batted once the instinctive feeling, with few balls doing anything mischievous, is that England fell in the region of 100 short of a decent total. Axar Patel now has 22 wickets in five test innings.

I would say that the ordering of results by likelihood after this day of play is as follows: India Win – defo odds on, England win – substantial odds against but not absolutely out of the question, Tie – now only the third least likely of the four results, though as always long odds against, Draw – not happening.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Quintuple Nelson, No Balls and Dropped Dollies

This is my account of the second day of the test match in Chennai, though I start by congratulation Sixers on their triumph in the Big Bash League – they won very comfortably over Scorchers in the final, with Vince scoring 95. About the only thing they could have done better was to have given the final over to Vince with occasional medium pace, in view of the fact that they had 30 to defend and AJ Tye was one of the batters in for the Scorchers.

ENGLAND IN CONTROL

England started the day on 263-3, Root 128 not out and Stokes coming in as the new batter after the loss of Sibley. Stokes and Root were still in occupation at lunch and the score had moved past 350, with Stokes starting to score rapidly. Stokes fell for 82 to make it 387-4, Pope was in next and contributed 34, his dismissal making it 473-5. Four runs after that Root finally fell for a magnificent 218, the highest score ever by a visiting batter at this venue, beating the 210 Dean Jones made in the first innings of the second ever tied test in 1986. Two of the other three doubles by overseas batters at this ground came in a single innings during the 1984-5 tour when Gatting and Fowler scored 207 and 201. Buttler was never at his most convincing, and he and Archer fell in successive balls to Ishant Sharma making it 525-8, with Leach walking out to join his Somerset colleague Bess. A ninth wicket should have fallen when Bess hit one straight to Rohit Sharma, but India’s opener was obviously already thinking about batting and dropped an absolute dolly of a catch. By the close England had reached 555-8, with Bess unbeaten on 28, and Leach on 6, which included a straight driven four. Ominously for India after almost two whole days of looking like an absolute road the pitch started offering turn and bounce just before the end of day two, something that Bess and Leach will have noted.

For India Jasprit Bumrah looked formidable at all times, Ishant Sharma bowled economically and his two wickets were just reward for his efforts, Ashwin commanded respect most of the time, but the two younger spinners, Washington Sundar and Shahbaz Nadeem, both looked inadequate. Also in picking Sundar and Nadeem alongside Ashwin and overlooking Kuldeep Yadav India had left themselves with three very orthodox finger spinners. Yadav would have posed more of a challenge to England.

India were guilty of frequent no-balling, erring 19 times in total in this regard. In this match the the third umpire has been given sole responsibility for calling no-balls, and each such call was indicated by the sounding of a klaxon. Kohli was also at fault for his use of DRS – India lost all three of their of reviews in a fairly short period of time, and two were burned up in a manner that would have had Tim Paine blushing. The third (actually chronologically the second) was less outrageous, but DRS is supposed to be for the obvious mistake, not for use in an attempt to swing a close one your way, and the ball was clearly going over the top of the stumps. Having followed the series in Australia closely and heard almost every ball of this England innings thus far I am going to risk bringing down a tide of wrath on my head by saying that Rahane is a far superior skipper to Kohli, and that he should have that job, while Kohli plays purely as a batter. After these reviews had been burned a few close calls went against India, but they had only themselves to blame for the fact that they could not send them upstairs.

England will bat on tomorrow – their approach has made it clear that they are hoping to bat just the once in this game, unless the face either a) a tiny chase in the fourth innings or b)circumstances indicate they would be best served by having a lash for 20 to 30 overs before putting India back in for the fourth innings. An example of situation b could arise if England make say 580 in total, India are all out for a total in the upper 300s, either just avoiding the follow on or being close enough to doing so that it makes sense to rest the bowlers, somewhere around halfway through day four, and England look to score as many as they can be midway through the evening session and then get India back in. It would therefore make little sense to declare at this point – when Buttler and Archer fell in successive balls there would have been a case for a declaration to give a tired Indian side a brief mini-session to negotiate today. Ishant Sharma is on 299 test wickets, while Root moved past Alec Stewart to third on the all time list of England test run scorers, and you have to go down the list to Hanmond, 7,249 at 58.45 to find someone with a higher average. Hammond also features in another context here – the last England batter to score 150+ in an innings of each of three straight test matches was Hammond in 1928, when he scored 251 in the first innings at Sydney, 200 in the first innings of the next match at Melbourne and 119 not out and 177 in the fourth match at Adelaide. Gooch on 8,900 is next in Root’s sights and he may well get there this series the way he is going. Cook, on 12,472 is further in the distance, but I am now firmly expecting Root to get there before he is done. England need to win this series by two clear matches to make the final of the World Test Championship, while a series win of any sort will put India into the final, and the results not covered in the foregoing will see Australia face New Zealand in that final (the black caps are already booked in thanks to Australia’s very late cancellation of their trip to South Africa).

For the moment, England have done a fine job over these two days, but even with the pitch apparently starting to offer more to the bowlers taking 20 wickets will not be an easy task.

PHOTOGRAPHS

A combination of the cricket and solidly grey skies mean that I have few new bird pics, so I got one of my favourite old railway maps out to augment the gallery…

Seriously Strange Selections

A look at the selections and the early stages of the third test match between England and the West Indies at Old Trafford.

INTRODUCTION

The third test match is under way at Old Trafford. If England win they regain the Wisden Trophy, any other result and the West Indies retain it. Future series between these sides will be contested for the Botham-Richards Trophy, named after two legends of the game and close friends, although Beefy’s record against the West Indies does not really justify his name being on this trophy.

ENGLAND

Ben Stokes is fit enough to play but will not be able to bowl, which led to England opting for five front line bowlers. Less defensibly given those circumstances they also opted to persevere with the inadequate Jos Buttler, who will bat at six and keep wicket. Zak Crawley misses out, meaning that England have gone in with Sibley, Burns, *Root, Stokes, Pope, Buttler, Woakes, Bess, Archer, Broad, Anderson. I think that to go with five bowlers they should have given the gloves to Pope, keeping Crawley in at no3 and dropping Buttler. I would also have preferred Curran over Woakes for the extra variation offered by his left arm.

THE WEST INDIES

Rahkeem Cornwall plays, certainly the heaviest top level cricketer since Warwick Armstrong, and possibly the heaviest since the mighty Alfred Mynn who was in his pomp in the 1840s. Surprisingly Alzarri Joseph rather than the obviously exhausted Shannon Gabriel was the player to miss out. It is no great surprise that West Indies have opted for extra batting strength in the circumstances.

THE PLAY SO FAR

The West Indies won the toss, an in spite of having picked the extra spinner in Cornwall and a weather forecast that suggests that only today of the first four days will be uninterrupted, both of which argue strongly for batting they have decided to bowl first, the selfsame decision that backfired badly on them on the second match of this series.

Dom Sibley was out early, for a duck. Burns and Root batted reasonably well together until Burns unaccountably given the circumstances took a sharp single and a direct hit ran Root out to make it 47-2. That brought Stokes to the crease far too early for comfort, although the West Indies had already had a warning that their choice of which fast bowler to leave out for Cornwall had been wrong when Gabriel limped from the field. With the score at 92 Stokes was bowled by Kemar Roach, the latter’s 199th test wicket (the last West Indian fast bowler to reach 200 was the legendary Curtly Ambrose), bringing Pope to the wicket. So far Pope is looking very impressive, and England need a big score from him. With Burns and Pope together, the biggest all Surrey partnership at test level stands to the credit of Ken Barrington and John Edrich who once shared a second wicket stand of 369 against New Zealand. Burns has just completed his 50, which he should regard as establishing base camp – the main ascent for him begins here.

THE OFF SPINNING RIVALRY

A curio of this match is that the West Indies have a player named Cornwall as their principal off spinner, and his opposite number for England, Dom Bess, was born in Devon. Which side of the Tamar will prevail?

LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS

We start with the solution to yesterday’s teaser:

Teaser

Powers of two have last digit 2,4,8,6 and then back to 2 and so on ad infinitum. 1,000 being a multiple of four 2^1000 thus has a final digit of 6, which in turn means that 2^1001 ends with a 2.

A video from Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK answering the ‘how are you going to pay for it?’ question:

Please watch the video in full – it is five and a half minutes.

Now for my usual sign off…

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England’s Triumph At Old Trafford

An account of the test match that finished yesterday evening with a victory for England, a look forward to the decider which starts on Friday, some links and some photographs.

INTRODUCTION

This post looks back at the test match that concluded yesterday evening in Manchester and forward to the one that starts at the same ground on Friday morning.

THE TALE OF THE TAPE

Thursday morning at Old Trafford was grey and rainy, and so play got underway late. England were deprived of Archer due to that player’s misconduct in between the Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford, had already decided to rest Wood and Anderson, while Crawley was correctly retained with Joe Denly losing his place, presumably permanently. Thus England’s line up read: Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, Pope, +Buttler, Woakes, Curran, Bess, Broad. This was a very strong batting line up, but there was no genuine pace in the bowling attack, with the possible exception of Stokes. The West Indies were unchanged.

Jason Holder won the toss for the West Indies and immediately made the first mistake of the match when he allowed himself to be influenced by the overhead conditions and chose to bowl first on a very flat looking pitch. At first things did not look too bad for the West Indies as Burns and Crawley fell cheaply, and even when Root was third out the score had only reached 81. At this point Ben Stokes got into the action, and was scarcely to be out of ti again for the rest of the match. Sibley was looking secure at one end, and now Stokes displayed considerable resolve and patience to stay with him. By the end of the first day the fourth wicket pair were still in occupation and the score was 207-3, and the decision to bowl first stood revealed as a ghastly howler on Holder’s part. On the second day Stokes and Sibley consolidated their position, with Sibley reaching his second test century just before lunch, and Stokes completing his tenth such score just afterwards. Finally, with the score at 341 Sibley fell for 120, having also completed a century of a much rarer kind – 100 balls left alone in the course of a single innings. GThe stand of 260 was the second highest ever for any wicket at Old Trafford, though some way short of England’s all time fourth wicket record stand, the 411 put on by Peter May and Colin Cowdrey versus the West Indies at Edgbaston in 1957. Pope fell cheaply, bringing Buttler to the crease at 352-5, and with an opportunity, undeserved in many opnions including mine, to cash in on tired bowlers. Ben Stokes was finally dislodged for 176, his second highest test score, with the score at 395, Woakes fell first ball which brought Curran to the crease. At 426 Buttler who had made a less than impressive (given the ultra favourable circumstances) 40 was caught off the bowling of Holder. One run later Curran was out. Dom Bess, in company with Stuart Broad, played a useful cameo reaching 31 not out before Root declared with the score at 469-9. John Campbell was out in the mini-session of batting the West Indies had before day 2 closed, Alzarri Joseph was sent in as nightwatchman and took them through to the close, at which point they were 32-1. Day three was washed out, a big dent to England’s hopes. In the middle of the fourth afternoon the West Indies were 235-4 and the draw was a strong favourite. Then that man Stokes intervened again, bowling a hostile spell in which he accounted for the obdurate Kraigg Brathwaite and destabilized the West Indies innings. Stuart Broad then bowled a magnificent spell with the second new ball before Woakes took a couple of late wickets, and the West Indies were all out for 287, giving England a lead of 182. With quick runs needed England sent in Buttler and Stokes. Buttler proceeded to be bowled for a third-ball duck, a dismissal which really should end his test career (he is a magnificent limited overs player but has never been anything special in long form cricket), which brought Zak Crawley to the wicket. Crawley made 11 before he too fell, and England closed the 4th day on 37-2, with Stokes and Root in occupation. England, as they had to in the circumstances, needing a win to keep both the Wisden trophy and their slender hopes of the World Test Championship alive, went on the all out attack on the final morning, blazing 91 off 11 overs before declaring at 129-3, with Stokes 78 not out and Pope 12 not out off seven balls. This left the West Indies needing 312 to win and with 85 overs to get them.

Broad bowled superbly with the new ball, and the West Indies rapidly plunged to 37-4. Blackwood and Brooks then put on exactly 100 together before that man Stokes broke the partnership, dismissing Blackwood for 55. Woakes then cleaned up Dowrich for a duck, bringing skipper Holder in to join Brooks. Holder and Brooks took the score to 161 before Curran pinned Brooks LBW, which went to review where it came up as umpires call, the third time a West Indian had suffered that fate in the innings. Holder and Roach offered some resistance before Bess made the crucial breakthrough, bowling Holder for 35, to make at 183-8, and leave three tailenders tasked with holding out for more than 20 overs to save the game. Alzarri Joseph scored nine, was then caught by Bess of the bowling of Stokes to make it 192-9. I had an evening engagement and was not able to catch the fall of the final wicket, that of Kemar Roach, caught by Pope off the bowling of Bess. England took that wicket just after umpire Richard Illingworth had signalled the start of the last 15 overs of the game and had won by 113 runs, meaning that the third match of this series will be a ‘winner takes all’ battle.

STOKES THE COLOSSUS

Stokes’ performance in this match saw him displace Jason Holder at the top of the test match all rounders rankings, and it also saw him rise to no3 in the world batting rankings behind Virat Kohli and ‘sandpaper’ Steve Smith. Stokes’ participation in this match was as follows: 176 off 356 balls spread over 487 minutes at the crease in the first innings, 1-29 off 13 overs in the second, with that wicket coming in the spell that destabilized the West Indies innings, 78 not out off 57 balls to set up the declaration in the third innings and 14.4 overs for figures of 2-30 (he was unable to complete his final over, the last two balls of it being bowled by Joe Root). At Lord’s in 1952 Mulvantrai Himmatlal ‘Vinoo’ Mankad scored 72 in the first innings, bowled a marathon stint of 73 overs in the England reply, scored 184 in the third innings and bowled a further 24 overs in the second England innings, this all round effort all coming to nought as his side were beaten anyway. In first class cricket there are George Hirst’s spectacular dominance over Somerset in 1906 – 111, 117 not out, six first innings wicket and five second innings wickets, George Giffen’s 271 not out, 7-70 and 9-98 for South Australia versus Victoria, while in 1874 WG Grace had a spell of sustained brilliance in which he combined centuries with ten wicket match hauls five times in the space of six matches. At club level there is the feat of Dr M E Pavri, an Indian all rounder who apparently bowled at a lively pace (he toured England in the 1880s, long before his country were promoted to test status, and there is a story of him sending a stump nine yards backwards in a match at Norwich), and who decided on one occasion that teammates were unnecessary, taking on an XI all on his own. In that game he batted first, scored 52 not out before deciding that he had enough runs to serve his purposes, and then without fielders to aid him dismissed the opposing XI for 38 to win the match.

ENGLAND PLAYER RATINGS

  1. Dom Sibley – 9 – a magnificent display of concentration in his only innings, though he was reprieved when Jason Holder dropped a fairly regulation chance, so it was not an absolutely blemish free effort.
  2. Rory Burns – 3 – a failure with the bat, nothing notably good or bad in the field.
  3. Zak Crawley 4a first baller in the first innings, and also failed in the second innings thrash for runs, managing 11 off 15 balls, which does at least represent a half decent scoring rate.
  4. *Joe Root Р6 Рtwo scores in the twenties, though in the second innings he was good foil to Stokes while the latter was lashing out. He was possibly a little conservative in the matter of the second innings declaration, but overall he captained well.
  5. Ben Stokes Р10 Рhe batted England into a commanding position with his first innings effort, his bowling intervention in the first West Indies innings was crucial in reopening the possibility of an England win, his second innings batting effort in altogether different circumstances was precisely what the team needed, and he again made the crucial breakthrough in the final innings when he broke the Brooks/Blackwood partnership. I reckon even Craig Revel-Horwood would have rated this performance a 10.
  6. Ollie Pope – 5 – failed in the first innings, 12 not out off 7 balls in the second to help England to the declaration and he performed the last action of the game, taking the catch that dismissed Kemar Roach.
  7. +Jos Buttler3 – his first innings 40 was unimpressive given the circumstances, he responded to being given the opportunity to open the innings and bat in his best T20 fashion with a third ball duck, and although he held on to three catches in the match this must be the end of the road for Buttler the test cricketer.
  8. Chris Woakes6.5 – failed with the bat in his only innings, but bowled well in both innings, reminding everyone that he is always difficult to play in English conditions.
  9. Sam Curran – 6 – only 17 with the bat, but bowled quite well. It was with his dismissal of Brooks in the second innings to make it 161-7 that moved victory from possible to probable.
  10. Dom Bess – 6.5 – his 31 not out in the first innings was a useful knock, he was economical though not penetrative in the first West Indies innings, and it was his delivery to bowl Jason Holder that effectively sealed the destiny of this match, while he completed a trio of late interventions by then catching Alzarri Joseph and finally picking up the wicket of Roach to complete the victory.
  11. Stuart Broad – 8.5 – he bowled a magnificent spell with the second new ball in the West Indies first innings to ensure that England would have a substantial advantage and bowled another fine spell with the new ball in the West Indies second innings which left them in tatters at 37-4.

LOOKING FORWARD TO FRIDAY

It is possible that England will want to play two spinners in the decider, and they could also maintain their rotation policy with Broad and Anderson, although I suspect that even in King’s Lynn I will not need the assistance of a radio to hear Mr Broad’s response should be told that he is being rested for the decider, and there is also the question of whether to play Archer in the decider. Of the three specialist batters who failed in this match two, Burns and Pope already have test hundreds, and it seems likely that the third, Crawley, will be joining them sooner rather than later, so I am not unduly worried about them. Buttler, just to re-emphasize the point has to go. Thus I offer up three potential line ups, two of which have permutations:

Potential Line ups

The first line up brings in Archer for his extra pace but sticks to one spinner and a choice between Broad and Anderson. The second line up accommodates two spinners but runs the risk of having Stokes as third seamer. The third line up is gamblers line up, entails Pope as keeper, a job he has done in test cricket, and five regular bowlers, with Stokes as back up. If England do decide to go with two spinners that would be my preferred option, although the second line up does at least have variety going for it – right arm fast (Archer), left arm medium fast (Curran), off spin and left arm orthodox spin plus x-factor Stokes. England need a win to regain the Wisden trophy and retain an interest in the World Test Championship, while the West Indies have not won a series in England since 1988, and so although a draw would see them retain the Wisden trophy it would not be a great result for them. So far this has been a splendid series, with England bouncing back well after the loss in Southampton.

TYING THINGS TOGETHER

The full scorecard for this fine match can be viewed here, courtesy of cricinfo. My other posts about this match are:

For a different view, here is the fulltoss blog’s account.

LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS

I have a varied trio of links to share today:

And now it is time for my usual sign off…

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