All Time XIs – Match Ups 33

Continuing my extended analysis of how the all time XIs I selected for each letter of the alphabet fare against one another.

Welcome the the latest instalment in my extended analysis of how the all time XIs I selected for each letter of the alphabet fare against one another. This post sees us move past halfway in the match ups element of the series. The Hs are in the spotlight today and they so far have 36 out of 65 points.

THE Hs V THE Os

The Hs have much the stronger batting, the better new ball pairing (although O’Riordan outranks Hammond as third seamer). The Os have the best individual spinner in this match up in the person of O’Reilly, and they also have a numerical superiority in that department, but Harmer and Herath both outrank Ojha. The Os have the better keeper, though Healy wins the batting element of that match up. The Os may have the better bowling attack and certainly have more options in both pace and spin departments, but the overwhelming superiority of the Hs batting renders that null: Hs 5, Os 0.

THE Hs V THE Ps

The Hs win five of the first six batting match ups, the Pant, Procter and S Pollock all their batting match ups. Healy outranks Pant as a keeper, Procter outranks Hutton as skipper. Hadlee and Holding v P and S Pollock is a close contest for which is the better new ball pairing, but Mike Procter massively outranks Hammond as a bowler. The Hs have the edge in spin bowling. I see this as about even in batting, the Ps ahead in pace bowling and the Hs a tiny bit better in the spin department, and I expect the Ps pace bowling to settle the issue: Hs 2, Ps 3.

THE Hs V THE Qs

This one is clear cut, with the Hs ahead in all departments. Hs 5, Qs 0.

THE Hs V THE Rs

The Hs have the better batting line up, the Rs have the better keeper and also the better bowling – even if Hadlee and Holding are the best available new ball pair, which is open to debate, whoever out of Rabada, Roberts and Richardson ends as third seamer is way ahead of Hammond as a bowler. The spin department is closer, but Rhodes was certainly the finest of the four front line spinners featured in this match up. The Hs batting advantage is not enough to overcome their deficit on the bowling and keeping fronts: Hs 1.5, Rs 3.5.

THE Hs V THE Ss

This is very close on batting, with the Ss extra depth in that department possibly making the difference there. The Hs have the finer keeper, but the use of Sangakkara as keeper plus the presence of Sobers gives the Ss a range of bowling options far greater than that possessed by the Hs. Sobers in his quicker incarnation would be fifth choice seamer for the Ss, and he outranks Hammond, the Hs third seamer, as a bowler. Herath outranks the left arm orthodox version of Sobers, but does not also offer a wrist spin option. Harmer outranks Stevens. I think that with the batting fairly evenly match and the Hs having only a small advantage in spin bowling the Ss vast superiority in pace bowling gives them a huge win: Hs 0.5, Ss 4.5.

THE Hs PROGRESS REPORT

The Hs have scored 14 out of 25 points in this set of match ups, putting them on 50 points out of a possible 90, 55.56% so far.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

All Time XIs – The Letter S

Continuing my exploration of the all-time XIs theme with a look at cricketers whose surnames begin with the letter S. This piece spans two and a half centuries, five continents and even mentions one of the great fictional cricketers.

The exploration of the all-time XI theme continues with a look at players whose surnames begin with the letter S. This one was very tough, not because of any difficulty finding players of sufficient standard but because there was a lot overlap in terms of the expertise of the very best players, and balancing the side was a challenge that required compromise, of which more later.

THE XI IN BATTING ORDER

  1. Andrew Strauss (Middlesex, England). A fine opening bat, and twice an Ashes winning skipper, though I have not given him that role in this side.
  2. Herbert Sutcliffe (Yorkshire, England). 4,555 test runs at 60.73, 2,741 Ashes runs at 66.85.
  3. *Graeme Smith (South Africa). One of the best captains of the modern era, and a top class left handed batter. He was a regular opener, but I believe he would handle first drop superbly as well.
  4. Steven Smith (Australia). First called up on account of his leg spin bowling, he established himself as Australia’s best test batter since Bradman. After serving a ban for cheating (an incident that ruled him out of any leadership responsibilities) he returned to action with twin tons at Edgbaston in 2019.
  5. +Kumar Sangakkara (Surrey, Sri Lanka). One of two serious candidates for the title of best batter his country has ever produced (Jayawardene being the other), and a good keeper as well. Usually I prefer to select a specialist keeper, rather than use a batter to perform this role, but circumstances dictate this selection.
  6. Garry Sobers (Nottinghamshire, West Indies). The most complete cricketer ever to play the game. Devastating batter, left arm bowler of pace, swing, seam and both finger and wrist spin, gun fielder.
  7. Ben Stokes (Durham, England). Attacking left handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler.
  8. Greville Stevens (Middlesex, England). A leg spinning all rounder whose FC averages were the right way round (29 with the bat, 26 with the ball). This slot caused me more grief than any other – with three gun fast bowlers rounding out the order I wanted a spinner, and with Sobers present, neither a left armer of any description, nor a regular off spinner (similar line of attack to Sobers in his wrist spin guise) would be ideal. There were two candidates within these constraints – this chap, and Paul Strang of Zimbabwe, and the latter paid 36 per wicket at test level and over 30 at FC level.
  9. Mitchell Starc (Australia). One of the fastest bowlers in the world at present, and while his highs are not quite up at Mitchell Johnson 2013-14 levels, his lows are nowhere near the depths of 2010-11 Johnson.
  10. Brian Statham (Lancashire, England). One of Lancashire’s greatest ever fast bowlers, and one of the select few to have an end of his home ground named in his honour (James Anderson, also at Old Trafford, is in this club, as are Barbadians Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall).
  11. Dale Steyn (South Africa). The greatest fast bowler of the immediate post McGrath period, and surely a shoo-in for an all time South Africa XI even given their strength in the pace bowling department.

This XI features a super powerful top six, Stokes with full licence to attack and a powerful quartet of bowlers. The pace attack, with the quick version of Sobers arguably fifth choice in that department (behind Steyn, Starc, Statham and Stokes) is awesome, and Stevens plus Sobers in his slower guises should offer sufficient spin to augment that attack. Sangakkara as keeper violates my usual principal of going for the best keeper, but he was good enough to do the job for Sri Lanka on a regular basis.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

A multi-faceted section starting with…

THE NUMBER EIGHT SLOT

There were two off spinners who would have their advocates for these position but missed out for reasons of balance: Harbhajan Singh of India and Graeme Swann of England, who each paid a little over 30 a piece for their test wickets and who were both useful lower order batters.

However, had I been willing to ignore considerations of balance I had a raft of top options to pack out the pace battery: Frederick Spofforth, a legend from the early days of test cricket was probably the pick of those I overlooked, but two present day Indians, Mohammad Shami and Mohammad Siraj would have their advocates as well, Peter Siddle of Australia is a quality practitioner if perhaps a notch below the very top bracket, Amar Singh, part of India;s first ever test side, was also indisputably a great fast bowler. John Snow of England was another great pacer who could have had this slot. Olly Stone, the Norfolk born Warwickshire and England pacer who has been plagued by injuries has the ability, but not the proven track record. Barbadian all rounder Franklyn Stephenson, one of only two cricketers to do the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in first class matches in an English season since the reduction of the programme in 1969 (the other, Richard Hadlee, also played for Nottinghamshire) would appeal to some as a number eight.

I was conscious of the merits of all these players when making the call to select Greville Stevens, and my contention is not that he is a better cricketer than them, but that he is a better fit for the team, given the players who already had irrefutable claims for selection.

OPENING BATTERS

Bert Sutcliffe, the legendary New Zealand left hander, still holder of the record first class score by a native of that country (385 for Otago vs Canterbury, in a team score of 500 all out, with Canterbury contributing 382 off the bat in their two innings combined), and with a fine test record was a serious candidate for Strauss’ slot as left handed opener.

Among the right handed openers I could find no space for were Andrew Sandham, a member of the 100 first class hundreds club, Virender Sehwag, devastating unless the ball was swinging, when he could look very ordinary, Bobby Simpson of Australia, Michael Slater also of Australia and Alec Stewart of England all had impressive records as right handed opening batters. Arthur Shrewsbury of Nottinghamshire and England, second best 19th century batter behind WG Grace, was another who could have done a fine job in this role. Reg Simpson of Nottinghamshire and England had moments at the top level, including a 156* against Australia which set up a test victory for England, but he was not in the same bracket as the others.

MIDDLE ORDER BATTERS

I start this section by drawing your attention to my all time XI of Smiths, so that I do not have to repeat myself regarding players with that surname. Marlon Samuels and Ramnaresh Sarwan of the West Indies can both count themselves unlucky to have surnames beginning with S – under most other letters they would merit serious consideration. Mahadevan Sathasivam of Sri Lanka has legendary status in his own land, but for a series like this I have to deal in hard facts, so he misses out.

WICKET KEEPERS

Roy Swetman was a fine keeper in the 1950s, and Herbert Strudwick of Surrey and England made more dismissals in first class cricket than any keepers bar JT Murray of Middlesex and Bob Taylor of Derbyshire, though he often batted number 11, which with Statham and Steyn having ironclad claims for places was problematic.

ALL ROUNDERS

Darren Stevens’ performances since moving south from Leicestershire to Kent have been outstanding, but he has never played anything other than county cricket.

SPINNERS

Maninder Singh of India was a fine bowler, but as a left arm orthodox spinner he overlaps with Sobers, and he was a genuine bunny with the bat. Reggie Schwarz of Middlesex and South Africa missed out, because for all his importance as the guy who learned the googly from its creator Bosanquet and taught it to a number of his South African colleagues he actually used the googly not as part of his bowling armoury but as his stock ball, therefore becoming effectively an off spinner, a less good fit for the XI than a more standard leg spinner. Molly Strano, a consistently successful performer in Australian domestic cricket, and therefore by definition a superb bowler also misses out because she is also an off spinner.

BLASTS FROM THE PAST

Lack of sufficiently concrete records for two players prevented me from considering them: Edward ‘Lumpy’ Stevens, a great bowler of the late 18th century and Heathfield Harman Stephenson, whose performance for the All England XI at the Hyde Park Ground in Sheffield led to the coining of the phrase ‘hat trick’. He dismissed three of his opponents with successive deliveries, and the Sheffield crowd were so impressed by this display of bowling virtuosity that they used a hat to collect money for Stephenson and made him a presentation of both hat and money.

A FICTIONAL TALENT

Tom Spedegue, hero of a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle, in which he pioneers a new type of delivery which descends on the batter from the clouds “Spedegue’s Dropper” and shatters that season’s visiting Australians by taking 15 wickets in what turns out to be his first and only test would certainly have added variety to the attack had he been real.

WHITE BALL TALENTS

Had been selecting with limited overs cricket in mind Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sanju Samson would both have been close to inclusion.

FUTURE TALENTS

Will Smeed, scorer of the first individual century in The Hundred, is an obvious talent for the future. Glenton Stuurman (pronounced like ‘Steerman’), a young South African quick bowler is very promising, though he has a huge amount to do to come close to dislodging his compatriot Steyn. Sophia Smale, a 17 year old left arm orthodox spinner has announced herself with a couple of fine performances in the Hundred.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Our cricketing journey through the letter S, spanning two and a half centuries and many continents, is at an end, and it remains only to apply the usual sign off…

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…