Some thoughts on the England test captaincy, a section on masks including an important link, and some photographs.
With Joe Root due to return I am going to have a look at the question of the captaincy of the England men’s team ahead of Thursday’s second test.
GREAT BATTER, ORDINARY SKIPPER
Root is England’s leading batter at present, and his selection in that role is absolutely mandatory. However, the captaincy has somewhat adversely affected his batting returns, especially in the matter of converting fifties to hundreds, and he is hardly outstanding as a captain. So should be relieved of the captaincy?
STOKES’ FIRST OUTING NO TRIUMPH
Ben Stokes fared reasonably well as a player in his first outing as skipper, twice scoring 40+ with the bat and taking four cheap wickets in the first West Indies innings. However, he was less impressive as a skipper. His biggest blunder was over Bess in the second innings. Having chosen to bat first in the hope of Bess having a turning pitch to bowl on the final innings Stokes then shied at the last. Although Bess did turn the ball and created two definite wicket taking opportunities and other possibilities he was mysteriously given only ten overs, when he should have been kept going at one end while as many of the overs at the other as practicable were bowled by the blitzmen Archer and Wood. So Stokes is a possible, but certainly not a definite.
It is no secret that I think that neither Denly nor Buttler should be in the test side, and since with all due respect to the legendary Mike Brearley I cannot recommend selecting a specialist skipper in general that rules them out. Archer and Wood as out and out speedsters devote too much energy in the field to their craft and would therefore probably struggle as skipper. Anderson and Broad are apparently intended to play on a rotation basis, which rules them out, although Anderson could well handle the job decently. Sibley, Crawley, Pope and my choice as keeper, Foakes are all too new to international cricket to be serious candidates just yet, and the combination of keeping and captaincy is a tough one for anyone to handle. So, if you accept that he is the undisputed no1 spinner the only alternatives to Root and Stokes would appear to be Dom Bess and Rory Burns. If I was going to appoint a new captain, then I would follow my instincts regarding slow bowlers who can handle a bat and go for Bess, but I think that I would prefer to stay with Root for the home summer, and then maybe appoint Bess as captain for a winter tour if one happens.
SOME THOUGHTS ON MASKS
I am still seeing far too few people using protective masks when out and about. As someone who less than two years ago was in hospital and among other things receiving extra oxygen and who always wears a mask when going out (I have recently emerged from several months of shielding, but I continue to take great care) I can tell you which is the greater inconvenience. There are some minor difficulties associated with masks, and I know that not everyone can cope with them (being autistic I would be did I choose to claim it exempt from wearing one), but for most of us the difficulties associated with mask wearing (they don’t combine well with spectacles, a difficulty I freely acknowledge) are as nothing compared to being in hospital and receiving extra oxygen. So, for yourself and others, please wear a mask whenever you go out. Charlie Hancockhas an excellent piece in Spyglass Magazine about the type of people who throw hissy fits about being asked to wear masks, titled “100 Years of Anti-Maskers“.
Today in ‘all time XI’ territory cricket and politics overlap as a team of players whose surnames begin with B take on a team of players whose surnames begin with S for the Johnson-Cummings trophy. Also a few extras.
Welcome the latest in my series of variations on an ‘all-time XI‘ cricket theme. Today’s takes its inspiration from recent developments in British politics.
The Johnson-Cummings scandal now has more legs than a millipede, as both leading figures in it provided media appearances which managed to conflict with both the truth and each other. One government minister has already resigned in protest, and others may well follow. Today’s variation on an all-time XI theme therefore sees a team og players whose surnames begin with B pitted against a team of players whose surnames begin with S, combining to form BS, competing for the Johnson-Cummings Trophy.
THE B XI
Sidney Barnes – right handed opening batter. A combination of World War II and conflicts with various authority figures limited his test career, but the few matches he did get to play yielded an average of 63.05 at that level. His most famous match was at Sydney in the second match of the 1946-7 Ashes when he and Don Bradman each scored 234, sharing a 5th wicket stand of 405.
Bill Brown – right handed opening batter. Had a fine record at the highest level, with a test best of 206. He was briefly before his death the oldest living test cricketer.
*Don Bradman– right handed batter, captain. The greatest batter the game ever saw.
Ken Barrington – right handed batter, occasional leg spinner. Averaged 58.67 in test cricket. His first nine test centuries were all scored away from home, his first three figure test innings in England being the 256 he made at Old Trafford in 1964 to save that match for England after Bob Simpson, given a plumb pitch on which to take on the task of ensuring at least a draw to guarantee his side retention of the Ashes managed to do so quite literally off his own bat, making 311 in just over two full days at the crease.
Basil Butcher – right handed batter. He averaged 43 in test cricket with a highest score at that level of 209. However, his greatest and most important test knock came at Lords in 1963, when his 133 with the West Indies otherwise doing very little with the bat in their second innings helped save the match for the visitors. A great spell of fast bowling by Wes Hall almost won it for the West Indies, but Colin Cowdrey came out to bat one handed when the ninth England wicket fell, and David Allen survived the last two balls with England needing six for victory.
Ian Botham – right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler, ace slipper. The designated all rounder in this side, although in truth the 6.7 and 8 slots could be moved around without difficulty.
+Ben Brown – wicket keeper, right handed batter. The Sussex stumper has a first class batting average of 40 (he has never had the opportunity to play at the top level, and by now is too old for such to be a realistic prospect) and is a highly regarded keeper.
Billy Bates – off spinner, right handed batter. He played 15 tests in the 1880s, averaging 27 with the bat and 16 with the ball. His greatest highlight came at Melbourne in 1882-3 (as part of Ivo Bligh’s mission to regain ‘The Ashes of English Cricket’, following the defeat at The Oval in 1882 and Regunald Shirley Brooks’ mock obituary in The Sporting Times) when he took 7-28 including the firt hat trick by an English bowler at test level, scored 55 and then took 7-74 to give England an innings win.
Sydney Barnes – right arm fast medium bowler. The greatest there has ever been in this department, 189 wickets in just 27 test matches at 16.43 each.
Bishan Bedi – left arm orthodox spinner. The former Indian skipper had a splendid test record and also did well for Northamptonshire as an overseas player.
Jasprit Bumrah – right arm fast bowler. The best genuine quick bowler his country has ever produced (they have not been overstocked in that department down the years), a rare visiting fast bowler who managed to rattle the Aussies in their own backyard.
This team features a very strong top five, two bowling and one wicket keeping all rounder and three of the finest specialist bowlers you could wish to meet. With Bumrah and Barnes to share the new ball, Bedi and Bates to bowl spin and the ‘golden arm’ of Botham as fifth bowling option a good number of bowling bases are covered. It is true that with Barrington the best available the leg spin department is under stocked, but this side should be able to cope with that.
THE S XI
Bert Sutcliffe – left handed opening batter. One of the greatest batting talents ever produced by New Zealand.
Herbert Sutcliffe – right handed opening batter. Statistically England’s greatest ever opener, averaging 60.73 in test cricket, including 2,741 Ashes runs at 66.8S. The two great Sutcliffes complement each other nicely, Bert the New Zealander being left handed and attack minded, Herbert the Englishmen being more inclined to dig in for the long haul (although never neglectful of scoring opportunities).
*Graeme Smith – left handed batter, captain. A third recognized opener just to make sure that the middle order are not exposed too early. He was a fine captain of his country, and his many batting feats included scores of 259 and 277 in successive matches against England.
Steve Smith– right handed batter, occasional leg spinner. His current test batting average places him second to Bradman among those who have played at least 20 games on the all-time list.
Garry Sobers – left handed batter, left arm bowler of every type known to cricket, ace fielder. The most complete cricketer there has ever been.
Ben Stokes – left handed batter, right arm fast bowler. A clash of the all round titans as he goes head to head with Botham. In this team it is his batting that will count for more, his bowling being used in short sharp bursts.
Greville Stevens – right handed batter, leg spinner. Averaged 29.56 with the bat and 26.84 with the ball in first class cricket.
Amar Singh – right arm fast medium bowler. One of the greatest pace bowlers his country ever produced, capturing his wickets at 18.56 each in first class cricket, at a time when Indian cricket was chiefly known for tall scoring. He is at no 8 here because his batting record included first class centuries.
Harbhajan Singh – Off spinner, occasionally useful lower order batter. His performance against the 2001 Australians when he took 32 wickets in a three match series was the highlight of his career.
+Herbert Strudwick – wicket keeper. Born in Mitcham in 1880 (even today, though to a large extent swallowed by the sprawl of London, Mitcham is classed as Surrey – I grew up a few miles away from there in Tooting, which is very definitely southwest London), he made his Surrey debut in 1902, beginning an association with the county that would last in various guises for over six decades. His first class career, which lasted until 1927 (and he was keeper in the 1926 Ashes) saw him take 1,237 catches and execute 258 stumpings. His 28 test matches yielded 61 catches and 12 stumpings. The batting available to this team, and Strudwick’s brilliance as a keeper between them are enough to pick a specialist with the gloves in this XI.
Brian Statham – right arm fast bowler. 252 test wickets at 24, his overall first class bowling average was a mere 18. He has an end named in his honour at the Old Trafford ground that he graced for so many seasons.
This team has a strong if not entirely aesthetically pleasing top four (remember, there are no style marks in cricket), the most complete player there has ever been at no 5, an x-factor all rounder at six, another genuine all rounder at seven, three bowlers and one of the greatest keepers ever to play the game. The bowling has all bases covered – there is outright pace from Statham and Stokes, fast-medium from Amar Singh, anything left handed that conditions call for courtesy of Sobers, Harbhajan Singh’s off spin and Stevens’ leg spin.
For the B XI Alec Bedser missed out as IMO SF Barnes would do the same job better, I considered Palwankar Baloo for the role I gave to Bishan Bedi, and Bernard Bosanquet would have dealt with the leg spin shortage. For the S XI the biggest miss is John Snow, but I rated Statham higher. If I wished to include an extra pace option and sacrifice the leg spinner then Franklyn Stephenson could come in for Greville Stevens. Finally, there would be some who would have given a batting slot to Guyanese stayer Ramnaresh Sarwan.
THE CONTEST FOR THE
Even though the ‘B’ XI has both Bradman and SF Barnes in its ranks, and they are well backed by quite a few other greats, I do not consider this to be a one-sided contest – the S XI have a quite awesome top five, a keeper in Strudwick who will miss nothing and some awesome bowling options. I cannot predict a winner.
Our ‘all time XI’ exploration takes in Sri Lanka, and more on the Cummings/ Johnson scandal that broke over the weekend and has been getting worse.
Today being a Monday it is time for our ‘all time XI’ cricket themed series to look at an international set up. Today it is Sri Lanka in the spotlight.
SRI LANKA IN MY TIME
Sanath Jayasuriya – left handed opening batter, left arm orthodox spin bowler. At his best he was absolutely magnificent – in a recent post I covered his 213 at The Oval in 1998, and he was the player of the 1996 World Cup.
Marvan Atapattu – right handed opening batter. A test average of under 40 raises an instant question, but the explanation is that his test career consisted of three installments. After the first two of those he had played 14 innings at the highest level and amassed 108 runs at 7.71. The third and main installment of his test career yielded 5394 runs at 42.47, including five double centuries.
Mahela Jayawardene – right handed batter. He holds the record test score for a Sri Lanakn, and the record test score for any right handed batter – 374 versus South Africa. He has numerous other huge scores to his credit.
Kumar Sangakkara – right handed batter, wicket keeper. One of the greatest ever in his role, and he and Jayawardene shared a number of fine partnerships, including 624 against South Africa, a first class record for any wicket.
Aravinda De Silva – right handed batter, occasional off spinner. His highest test score was 267. He demonstrated his flair for the big occasion in the 1996 World Cup when he scored an amazing 66 to rescue Sri Lanka in the semi-final, and then in the final he made undefeated century as Sri Lanka comfortably beat Australia in spite of losing both openers cheaply.
*Arjuna Ranatunga – left handed batter, captain. There are quite a few whose batting records appear to give them a superior claim to this place but I rate his captaincy so high that I am prepared to lose a few runs an innings an exchange for it.
Angelo Matthews – right handed batter, occasional right arm medium pacer. His bowling record does not really qualify him as an all rounder, but his batting record is good enough tat I am prepared to compromise.
Chaminda Vaas– left arm fast medium bowler, useful left handed lower order batter. The list of Sri Lankan pace bowlers with really good records is a short one, and this man is the best such they have ever had.
Rangana Herath – left arm orthodox spinner. His country’s all time second leading test wicket taker.
Muttiah Muralitharan – off spinner. The only bowler to have taken 800 test wickets, claimed at an average rate of six wickets per game. First name on the team sheet.
Lasith Malinga – right arm fast bowler. ‘Malinga the slinger’, possessor of the lowest bowling arm in 21st century cricket. He is the fastest his country has ever produced, and is especially well suited to being Vaas’ new ball partner (sorry, Chaminda, you’re going into the wind).
This team has a splendid top seven, including one of the greatest of all keeper batters and a master of the art of captaincy, and four superbly varied bowlers.
COMPLETING THE ALL TIME XI
There are plenty of honourable mentions to come, but the only player from before my time as a cricket fan to get in is Mahadevan Sathasivam, a man whose brief first class career saw him average 41, and who is regarded as one of the finest batters his country ever produced. He displaces Marvan Atapattu, giving a Sri Lanka all-time order of Jayasuriya, Sathasivam, Jayawardene, +Sangakkara, De Silva, *Ranatunga, Mathews, Vaas, Herath, Muralitharan, Malinga.
I shall work through these in sequence, starting with:
Opening batters – Chamari Atapattu played the finest innings I have personally ever witnessed from a Sri Lankan, her 178 not out vs Australia being a Bannermanesque proportion of her team’s score. Sadly however it has to be considered a flash in the pan – her overall record is only moderate. Among other opening batters Tillakaratne Dilshan came close while Michael Vandort, Upul Tharanga, Roshan Mahanama, Brendan Kuruppu and Sidath Wettimuny all had moments in the sun without establishing really good records.
Middle order batters – historically a strong area for Sri Lanka, with Hashan Tillakaratne, Russel Arnold and Thilan Samaraweera all had records that put them on the cusp of inclusion. Duleep Mendis, the first Sri Lankan to hit twin tons in a test match, was a rival to Ranatunga for the captain’s berth. Roy Dias, scorer of the first two ODI hundreds by a Sri Lankan, did not quite have the overall record to be a genuine challenger. Also acknowledgements are due to two guys who had decent records in the County Championship long before their country was considered for top table international status – Clive Inman and Laddie Outschoorn.
Spin bowling options: There were not many to merit consideration, but I regretted the absence of a leg spinner. However, the only such to come close to meriting inclusion was Upul Chandana whose record definitely falls short. Don Anurasiri bowled a hugely long spell at Lord’s in 1991, but the wickets column told its own sad story about that effort.
Pace bowling options – Sri Lanka have never been spoilt for choice in this department, and other than my chosen duo Nuwan Zoysa and Dilhara Fernando were the only two to merit serious consideration. Rumesh Ratnayake had talent but hus overall record ended up being pretty modest, and Ravi Ratnayeke also fell short. Graeme Labrooy showed promise at one time but again his record does not stack up.
Wicket keepers – the presence of Sangakkara overshadowed all other potential claimants to the gauntlets.
Our cricketing tour of the island that under one of its previous names, Serendib or Serendip (from the Voyages of Sindbad The Sailor in “The Thousand and One Nights”), gave us the word serendipity is at an end. There was an embarrassment of batting riches, but not a lot of competition for bowling slots. Nevertheless I think our team would give a good account of itself.
Since I wrote a bit about the Cummings scandal yesterday things have moved on. The number of Tory MPs to have publicly spoken out against Cummings now numbers at least twenty, and is still increasing as the people concerned check their inboxes and realize just how badly Johnson and Cummings misjudged the public mood. Johnson appeared for a press briefing yesterday and was arrogant, out of touch, off hand and lazy in his conduct of it – his ‘effort’ was the equivalent of showing up for a fire fighting assignment with several barrels of petrol and flinging the contents onto the flames. Apparently Cummings will be putting in a public appearance today, but he can say nothing to save himself – his least bad option would be a brief statement confirming that his political career is over and finally, belatedly admitting his guilt. I also believe that yesterday’s performance rendered Johnson’s position untenable – it is very hard to see how he could possibly have believed that it would be considered acceptable. Not only is Mr Johnson unfit for the office he holds, as far as I am concerned he has brought that office into gross disrepute and he too should publicly abandon his political career, standing down not just as PM but as MP, and publicly confirming that he will not take a seat in the House of Lords. I used Write to Them to contact my own MP, former Johnson advisor James Wild, and my letter can be seen below, as the start of my usual sign off…
Just one of many such letters that MPs will have been receiving today.