The Ends of Two Series

Final thoughts on two test series and one major cricketing scandal. Also some photographs.

INTRODUCTION

This post deals with the two test match series that have recently concluded and associated fallout. We start with…

SOUTH AFRICA 3 AUSTRALIA 1

Before getting into my account of the onfield happenings, it is time for an update on…

THE UNHOLY TRINITY

Cricket Australia have hit Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft and David Warner with substantial playing bans, augmented in the case of Smith and Warner with bans on subsequently occupying leadership positions. The trio have a day left to appeal against these bans, and Smith and Bancroft have already said they will not do so (here and here). To my mind the fact that the other two have already accepted their bans leaves Warner with only two choices: accept the ban as they have, or announce his retirement from all forms of cricket with immediate effect (he is the oldest of the trio, and would probably find relaunching a professional career at the age of 33, as he would be when his ban expires, quite tough). It also leaves the Australian Cricketers Association with a lot of egg on their faces, since they have gone into bat on behalf of the trio, two of whom have now accepted the ban handed out by Cricket Australia. 

AUSTRALIA ANNIHILATED

In the final match of the series in which the scandal referred to above broke South Africa batted first and put up a daunting total of 488, (Markram 152, Bavuma 95 not out) before Australia replied with a modest 221. With a draw sufficient to secure their first home series win over the Aussies since readmission in 1992 South Africa declined to enforce the follow on. In the second South African innings Faf Du Plessis made a fluent century and Dean Elgar a limpetlike 81 in five and a half hours, and they batted until tea on the fourth day to ensure complete safety (there were injury worries about three of their frontline bowlers). Faced with a purely nominal fourth innings target of 612 Australia collapsed to be all out for 119. Vernon Philander emerged with figures of 6-21, while Morne Morkel finished his test career by claiming the final Australian wicket. South Africa’s winning margin of 492 runs was the biggest victory by a runs margin in a time limited test (the three bigger margins that have been recorded, 675 runs by England against Australia in 1928, 562 runs by Australia against England in 1934 and 520 runs by Australia against South Africa in 1911 were all in timeless matches, because all test matches in Australia were played to a finish between 1888 and 1946, and the Oval match in 1934 was settling the fate of the Ashes, and was played to a finish for that reason, as had happened in 1926 and 1930 and would happen again in 1938). More information about this match is available on cricinfo.

ENGLAND IN NEW ZEALAND

This was the second match of a two-match series and England needed to win it to square the series. A century by Jonny Bairstow helped England to a first innings total of 307. New Zealand slumped to 36-5 in response before a big stand between wicketkeeper B J Watling and the man with the coolest name in current international cricket, Colin De Grandhomme revived them. England eventually secured a first innings lead, but at 29 it was much smaller than they would have been anticipating. After Alastair Cook fished at one outside his off stump and was caught Mark Stoneman and James Vince, each batting to save a test career, took centre stage. Vince’s stylish 76 may have been sufficient to preserve his place or at least to give him a way back if he scores some big runs for Hampshire during the English season. Stoneman however (he is also a few years older than Vince, hence less time for potential comebacks) would appear to be finished as a test match batsman. His 60 was his fifth score of 50 or more in tests but also his highest, and he was nearly out a number times between reaching 50 and finally contriving to surrender his wicket for 60.

STONEMAN’S UNWANTED PLACE
IN THE RECORD BOOKS

Those noting that 60 would seem both to be a moderate career best for an opener and a moderate career best for someone with five scores of 50 or more give yourselves a bonus point. Mark Stoneman in point of fact now holds the record for the lowest career best for a batsman with five or more test fifties, the previous lowest in that category being 64 jointly held by:

  • Brett Lee, who was picked for his fast bowling, and was not particularly expected to score many runs.
  • Billy Bates, an all-rounder whose off-spin was more than capable of settling matches on its own, and who played in the 1880s when scoring was generally a lot lower due to the nature of the pitches. He was the first England bowler to take a test match hat trick (second ever, after Frederick Robert Spofforth), in a remarkable match performance which saw him take seven wickets in each Aussie innings, after scoring 55 in England’s 294 (a score which proved sufficient to win the match by an innings).

Root scored his seventh fifty plus test score this English winter, and for the seventh time this English winter failed to make it to the century mark. New Zealand were left 380 to chase to win the game. 

Although there were moments when England looked like they could win the match, and New Zealand were never in serious contention, it must also be acknowledged that most of the wickets that fell in this final innings were given by the batsmen rather than being taken by the bowlers. Additionally several chances went begging (Stoneman further blotting his already soiled copybook by shelling two). Finally, taking the Auckland horror show into account, the overall series result is well justified – a drawn series would have seriously flattered England. Full detail on this match is available from cricinfo.

ENGLAND PLAYER BY PLAYER

A new home season is often a time for new blood (ideally if I was giving someone their test chance I would want to see them at that level for at least one home season and one overseas tour before assessing whether to persevere with them), so what of the players who played for England in this match?

  1. Alastair Cook – he is finding it very difficult to get an innings going these days, but on the occasions when he manages it he scores seriously big. Also, he has done enough over the years to be allowed to leave the scene on his own terms.
  2. Mark Stoneman – not good enough at this level. Five fifty plus scores but a highest of 60 points to serious temperament issues. I hope not to see him lining up against Pakistan at Lord’s.
  3. James Vince – too many beautiful miniatures like his first innings 18 and as yet no full-sized masterpiece, though his 76 in the second innings, like his 83 at Brisbane suggests that he may yet come good at the highest level.
  4. Joe Root – his failures to convert fifties to centuries of late are beginning to be a worry, but he has proved in the past that he can go on to really big scores. 
  5. Dawid Malan – has done enough to be retained. Given Root’s dislike of the position and Vince’s less than iron grip on his place in the side he may have to take on the njumber 3 slot.
  6. Ben Stokes – has batted well this series but done very little bowling. His future is uncertain due to the pending court case against him.
  7. Jonny Bairstow – has batted magnificently on both legs of the tour, and his keeping has been pretty well flawless. Another possibility for that no3 slot would be selecting another wicketkeeper and having Bairstow (who is good against the quick stuff) play as a specialist batsman in the no3 position.
  8. Stuart Broad – bowled well in both innings of this match, and barring injury will continue to feature in the test team until he calls time on himself.
  9. Mark Wood – his presence gives the seam element of England’s attack variation through his extra pace. Both he and Broad spent too much of this match testing out the centre portion of an unresponsive pitch.
  10. Jack Leach – finally England select a genuine spinner, rather than a batsman who can roll an arm over. He bowled well in this match, though this was not a great pitch for him, and more should be seen of him. 
  11. James Anderson – he remains as good as ever. In this match he set a new record for the most overs delivered by a pace bowler in the course of a test career, going past Courtney Walsh. At times over the course of this English winter he has been not merely England’s spearhead, but most of the spear as well.

The likelihood is that Broad and Anderson will continue until 2019 so that they can take their final bows in a home Ashes series. Cook may also be thinking in those terms, and while no one would grudge him such a finish, a few more runs between now and then would be good. In the immediate term however England definitely need to find from somewhere the following.

  • A new opening batsman to replace Stoneman
  • Either a new wicketkeeper to take the gloves from Bairstow and enable him to play as a specialist no 3 or a new batsman to play at no 3 (or promote Malan and have the newbie at no 5). Dan Lawrence is an obvious candidate for a batting spot, and the early weeks of this season would be one heckuva time for some young batsmen to score heavily for their counties.
  • Bowling back-up for Anderson and Broad (Wood is good, but injury-prone, and none of the other pace options England have tried this winter have been remotely impressive).
  • A second genuine spinner or spin bowling all-rounder to back up Jack Leach (Moeen Ali’s form and confidence both appear to be thoroughly shattered).

England also need to learn a lesson they should have learned decades ago: taking a phalanx of guys who bowl right-arm just above medium pace overseas does not work – such bowlers are only dangerous if the ball moves in the air for them. 

PHOTOGRAPHS

Finally, for those of you whobhave made it to the end of this post, some of my photographs:

MinsterBoatsBlack headed gullCormorants and gullsJackdawblack backed gullsBlack headed gull IIdouble spreadWingspan VSquawkBlackbird MDCLXVIBlackbird IIDaffodilClimbing squirrelSquirrelSquirrelsBlackbird IVXLCDM

 

A Classic Test Match

some thoughts about the recent test match between England and the West Indies, declarations and umpires.

INTRODUCTION

This post is devoted the second test match of the current England versus West Indies series, which ended at about 6:45PM on Tuesday. 

THE EARLY EXCHANGES

England batted first and reached 258 only because Ben Stokes (100) and Joe Root (59) were reprieved early in their innings by bad West Indies fielding. Kraigg Brathwaite (134) and Shai Hope (147) were the cornerstones of a the West Indies response, which eventually reached 427, a lead of 169. In the second England innings no-one reached three figures but there were solid efforts all the way down the line, and at 490-8 Joe Root decided to declare and give the West Indies a little session of batting just before the close of the fourth day. 

THE FINAL INNINGS

The West Indies made it to the close of the fourth day without losing a wicket. Brathwaite made 95 in this second innings, coming within five of becoming the first batsman ever to score twin centuries in a first-class match at Headingley (and this was the 534th such fixture at the ground), a feat that was finally achieved by player of the match Shai Hope, who also received support from Roston Chase (30) and Jermaine Blackwood (a rapid 41 in the closing stages) who ended up 118 not out, and appropriately enough scored the winning runs. 

There are two features that I am going to make specific comments about, starting with…

JOE ROOT’S DECLARATION

For all that the end result was not what he would have wanted I still say, as I said on twitter at the time, and again a day later when the result was imminent, that this was a good declaration, and that Root was entirely right to go for victory. I remember (though few others will as it was not actually a pafrticularly good match) the Australia v West Indies test match at Adelaide in 2009 when the West Indies were one match down in the series after being soundly defeated at the ‘Gabbatoir’ (a nickname for the Woolloongabba stadium in Brisbane, also known as the Gabba) based on what often happens to visiting teams there) but declined to declare, batting on into the final day. Australia faced a target of 330 off 81, and skipper Ponting decided to settle for the draw rather than going after this target. By the end of the day there were not many people left in the ground (I know whereof I write – I was one of the few who did stay right to the end). I condemn Ponting for this decision to preserve his team’s 1-0 lead in the series rathwer than trying to make it 2-0, as also I condemn the decision of Ryan Ten Doeschate today to extend the Essex second innings into the final afternoon rather than make a serious attempt to win the match by declaring at or even before lunch. PS when I wrote this paragraph I did not realise that Somerset’s “resistance” would be quite so utterly spineless – it now looks like Essex may get their victory after all.

While I do not quite as far as the legendary Sammy Woods (who played for Somerset in the lat 19th and early 20th centuries) who once responded to an enquiry about whether his team might have played for a draw in a game they ended up losing responded with “draws…they’re for bathing in” but I do not hold the draw in high regard and would much prefer a team take risks in the attempt to win than see them play safely for the draw. In the special case of a team being one match to the good going into the final match of a series I would condone a more cautious approach being taken, although Kevin Pietersen’s magnificent series clinching innings at The Oval in 2005 was hardly cautious!

To finish this section: Joe Root was justified in declaring when he did (as was David Gower at Lord’s in 1984 when the result was even more embarrassing for England, courtesy of a magnificent 214 not out from Gordon Greenidge), and this result stands to the credit of the West Indies batting, especially that of Brathwaite and Hope and not to the debit of Root’s declaration. 

SOME SENSIBLE UMPIRING

According to the strict letter of the law play in a purely day game cannot continue if the floodlights are providing more light than the natural light. I congratulate the umpires in this match for not acting with Emeritus Professor of Biosophistry like pedantry and curtailing play due to the light, thus depriving the West Indies of their well-earned victory. There seems little doubt that the light was bad enough to have warranted taking the players off, but the umpires realised given the match situation was such that the players should be kept out there. 

Here are a couple of links relating to this test match:

LOOKING AHEAD

The final match of this series should be good, and almost certainly will feature a moment of history as James Anderson goes into it with 497 test wickets to his credit. Then England have the task of taking on Australia in Australia. This is a seriously tough task, but I think that this England squad can do it.

PHOTOGRAPHS

As always I end this post with some of my own photographs:

squirrel 3squirrel 2squirrel 1wagtails

Close Fought Contest in Chittagong

An account of the amazing Test Match which concluded earlier this morning in Chittagong.

INTRODUCTION

This is going to be a rarity – a blog post from me with no pictures. Please note that although I am a native of one of the countries involved in the Test Match that has just concluded and that is the basis for this post I am writing as a cricket fan first and foremost.

THE FINAL MORNING

At 4:45AM my time the alarm went off, and I tuned in to the coverage of the final day’s play in the first Test Match of the two match series between Bangladesh and England. The situation when darkness ended the fourth days play was that Bangladesh needed 33 to win with two wickets standing. Going into this match the two teams had met eight times in the test arena and England had won all eight, most by ridiculously large margins. The first question to be answered was who Cook would ask to bowl first up, and the fact that his choice fell on Broad and Stokes, the two fast men, and that no one seriously disagreed with said choice on a pitch that has offered serious turn for the entire duration of the match has to count as an indictment of England’s three front line spinners in this game, Batty, Rashid and Ali and by extension of the lack of decent spinners playing in English cricket at the moment.

Bangladesh added 10 runs to their overnight total before Ben Stokes had an LBW appeal against Taijul Islam turned down, sent it upstairs (the 25th time in this game that on on-field decision had been treated thus – easily a new record, the previous highest being a mere 19). For the 11th time umpire Ravi concluded from the evidence he studied that his on-field colleague had made the wrong decision (and for the eighth of those 11 times the on-field umpire involved was Kumar Dharmasena) and Bangladesh were nine down. Two balls later Shafiul Islam was struck on the pads, the finger was raised, the decision was inevitably reviewed, but on this occasion it was deemed to be correct and England had won, with Sabbir Rahman stranded on 64 not out.

If that match was to end in an England victory it was only appropriate that the final wickets should fall to Stokes whose match figures of 6-46 (4-26 and 2-20) were paired with a total match aggregate of over 100 runs, including the highest individual score of the game, 85 in England’s second innings, making the recipient of the man-of-the-match award clear cut. It was also in keeping with this match that it should finish with a decision being reviewed and therefore that it was the TV replay umpire who actually confirmed the final result.

BOWLER FRIENDLY PITCH PROVIDES A MAGNIFICENT MATCH

The pitch at Chittagong has been a curio in a more than one way. It has turned from the first, batting never being easy. It has also reversed the normal in that the spinners have been most dangerous with a new ball and the quicker bowlers more dangerous with an older one – to the extent that the reason England did not take the new ball this morning although they were entitled to was that they had decided to start with two quickies – had they trusted their spinners taking the new ball would have been obvious.

This match was fascinating throughout because it was not high scoring, and because the bowlers were always in the game.

CONGRATULATIONS AND COMMISERATIONS TO BANGLADESH

The heading for this section is not a contradiction – I congratulate Bangladesh for a spirited effort over the whole course of the game and for coming very close to recording their first ever victory over a major test nation (their seven test victories to date have been five against Zimbabwe and two against a West Indies riven by internal strife). It would possibly have been better for cricket as a whole if Bangladesh had actually won, but there is a single solitary counter-argument: this being a two match series if Bangladesh had won no one could then have blamed the groundsman at Dhaka where the second match will take place for preparing a pitch to make Adelaide Oval look like a terror track, whereas in the actual situation it is virtually obligatory to produce a pitch with some life in it.

THE REST OF ENGLAND’S WINTER

After the second and final match of this series (for the record I would make a rule that no series should contain fewer than three matches, my disapproval of ultra-short series being that strong) England head to India for a five match test-series. It is very likely that every pitch England encounter there will turn viciously from moment one, and England cannot rely on Stokes, magnificent cricketer though he is,  to dig them out of every hole they find themselves in. The spinners will need to earn their keep for these six matches.

WHITHER BANGLADESH?

Bangladesh came very close to making history in Chittagong. I hope for their and cricket’s sake that they succeed in scaling the summit of Mt Improbable in Dhaka, which match starts on Friday. This Test Match was Bangladesh’s first in a period of fourteen months – they need to be given more test matches. Another issue raised by the England schedule outlined above is that quite clearly Bangladesh were perceived as being a decent warm-up for the main event in India. They have done enough over four and a bit days in Chittagong to suggest that in the not too distant future a series against Bangladesh could and should be regarded as a serious event in its own right.I end with a couple of links to cricinfo:

Championships and Contrivances

Some thoughts on the closing stages of this years County Championship, as it goes into its final day with three potential winners.

INTRODUCTION

Somerset are within touching distance of their first ever County Cricket Championship, but the situation is complicated by the fact that their only two rivals are in direct opposition.

THE CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

Courtesy of cricinfo, here is the situation in the key matches:

cricinfo

The situation is that a draw in the Middlesex v Yorkshire game is not enough for either side – the five points they would each gain from that would still leave them adrift of Somerset. Tomorrow is the last day of the match, which means that time constraints are well and truly in play. Clearly, with a draw rendered worthless by the situation both sides will do all in their power to win the game, which leads given time limitations to the question of just what would be acceptable in the way of a third innings declaration by Middlesex. It is possible that Yorkshire could win the match in the most satisfactory way, by taking the remaining eight Middlesex wickets early enough to give themselves an easy fourth innings target. For Middlesex the question would be how much risk could they take in setting a target bearing in mind that they have to have a legitimate chance of taking 10 wickets to do so?

ACCEPTABLE VS UNACCEPTABLE

Given that Middlesex are still 39 runs behind, unless Yorkshire deliberately concede runs to hasten a declaration (which would certainly cause raised eyebrows in Taunton) it is unlikely that Middlesex would be in a position to consider a declaration much before teatime. My own rough and ready view is that if come the tea break tomorrow Middlesex have a lead of somewhere in the region of 170 that in the circumstances would be an acceptable risk – Yorkshire would have to go for the target, and an asking rate of approximately 5.5 an over with no fielding restrictions would introduce enough risks that Middlesex could hope for the 10 wickets they need. A declaration giving Yorkshire 120 or so to chase in that final session would definitely (albeit actuated by very different motives) be verging on ‘Cronje’ territory, and almost regardless of when it was made, a declaration giving a target of under 100 should be considered as out and out match fixing.

Although I have indicated previously that as an underdog supporter I would like to see Somerset win, the key thing here is that any victory for Middlesex or Yorkshire should be seen to have been won out on the field, and not in the dressing rooms.

A Spectacular Recovery

An account of the dramatic finish to yesterday’s ODI between England and Sri Lanka, some links and some photographs.

INTRODUCTION

This post is about the closing stages of yesterday’s ODI between England and Sri Lanka, which I listened to once I had got home from work.

A DISTANT PROSPECT

When I switched the commentary on Sri Lanka had made a respectable 286, which by that stage was looking positively mountainous since England were 39-4. When skipper Eoin Morgan was out for 42 to make the score 73-5, and Moeen Ali also fell cheaply to a poor shot the situation looked even grimmer for England, as Chris Woakes walked out to join Jos Buttler…

A GREAT PARTNERSHIP

Buttler and Woakes fared better than had seemd posssible when they came together, and gradually victory moved from the realms of fantasy to a distant but imaginable outcome to a genuine possibility. Two wickets in quick succession, Buttler and then Dvaid Willey seemed to have once again settled things in Sri Lanka’s favour, but Liam Plunkett (surely the most talented batsman ever to be at number 10 by design) played well alongside Woakes who established a record score for a number 8 in an ODI. In the end it came down to…

A SPECTACULAR FINAL OVER

At the start of this final over 14 were needed for England to win. Good bowling restricted England to seven off the first five, meaning that unless a wide or a no-ball was bowled England could no longer win. Neither was forthcoming, but Liam Plunkett did hit that final ball for six to level the scores and earn England a tie after a come-back of epic proportions.

LINKS

My first link, just to tie up the loose ends from the first part of this post is to an official account of yesterday’s ODI, courtesy of cricinfo.

My remaining links are all on the subject of referendums and one referendum in particular. I start with David Hencke’s post about why he will be voting for remain.

My next two links are both to posts from that legal eagle of the blogging world jackofkent, first a detailed analysis of what he sees as the flaws of referendums, and second, acoompanied by a screenshot below and some subsidiary comments of my own afterwards a proposal for banning referendums:

JoK

I would change clause 2 of the above act to read:

2. This Act can only be repealed by a unanimous vote in the house (for the purposes of this Act abstentions and absences count as votes against).

PHOTOS

For anyone who has read all the foregoing text here is your bonus in the form of some recent photographs:

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DSCN6810
Although the day rider plus that is my standard bus ticket specifically excludes the coasthopper whose route map is pictured here, coasthopper buses sometimes run other routes, notably the X8 between King’s Lynn and Fakenham.