The County Championship 2022 So Far

A look back at the most recent round of county championship fixtures.

Another round of County Championship fixtures reached its conclusion yesterday, and this post looks at some of these matches.

STOKES’ INNINGS

Newly appointed England test skipper Ben Stokes was playing his first match since that announcement, turning out for Durham against Worcestershire. By the time Stokes got to the crease in the Durham 1st innings the score was 360-4 and Worcestershire had already bowled about 100 overs. Stokes proceeded to blast 161 off 88 balls including taking 34 (6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 4) off a single over from Josh Baker. This prompted a player turned pundit known in certain circles as FIGJAM (an acronym for F*** I’m Good – Just Ask Me) to jump on his hobby horse calling for the franchising of county cricket. He was roundly taken to task for this, and subsequent developments confirmed that his slating of the Worcestershire bowlers was misguided to put it kindly – Durham declined to enforce the follow on, declared their second innings at 170-1, and Worcestershire saved the match quite comfortably, 21 year old Jack Haynes batting through the final day for a maiden first class century (120*). Stokes bowled 30 overs across the two Worcestershire innings without taking a wicket.

FOUR CONTRASTING MATCHES

I followed parts of four of the matches via the live commentaries available on the bbc website (open a browser, enter http://www.bbc.co.uk/cricket in the address bar, then click the button for live commentaries and select your match). Initially I opted for Surrey v Northants, which ended just over a day early, following a clinical performance by Surrey. Surrey racked up 401 in their only innings, Burns scoring a century and Sam Curran, Jordan Clark and Gus Atkinson all scoring useful runs as well. It was only a good innings by Luke Procter (83*) that enabled Northamptonshire to score 194 in their first innings, and Surrey rightly enforced the follow on. The second Northamptonshire innings improved slightly on the first, but Surrey won by an innings and six runs.

My next port of call was Hampshire v Gloucestershire, where Hampshire won in spite of some curious captaincy by James Vince. Having scored 342 in their first innings Hampshire bowled Gloucestershire out 179, an advantage of 163, which in a four day match is sufficient to be able to enforce the follow on. However, even though this opportunity was combined with a further opportunity to bowl an awkward mini-session at the Gloucestershire second innings and then return refreshed after a night’s rest, Vince took the coward’s option of batting again. He then selfishly tried to protect himself from batting that evening by sending in two nightwatchers, the first of them with nine overs still to be bowled. He still had to go in before the close of play anyway. Hampshire eventually achieved a lead of 367 and Gloucestershire set off in pursuit. There were times when it looked like Vince’s bizarre captaincy was going to be punished, but in the end Gloucestershire came up almost 100 short and Vince got away with it.

Then I switched over to Lancashire v Warwickshire, where three wickets for Matt Parkinson had opened up an outside possibility of a win for the home side. In the event Briggs (28*) and Benjamin (22*) did enough for hands to be shaken an hour before the scheduled close. In view of the tall scoring that has generally been the norm so far this championship season Parkinson’s cumulative bowling figures for the season of 17-397 at 23.36 a piece (very close to his overall career record of 119 at 23.35) are excellent, and to me constitute an ironclad claim to a test spot.

Cheteshwar Pujara has been scoring huge runs for Sussex this season, and their match against Middlesex was no exception. Sussex set Middlesex a tough target of 370 in 77 overs, and Middlesex to their credit went for it, Sam Robson leading the way with 149. By the time I joined the coverage Max Holden and Martin Andersson were together with Middlesex just under 100 away from the target and ahead of the run rate. They stayed together to see the chase through and Middlesex got home with seven wickets and three overs to spare – a tremendous final day run chase by them. Incidentally as a further illustration of how good Parkinson has been this season, Sussex had a former England leg spinner in their bowling attack, Mason Crane, and on a fourth day pitch all he could produce was 16-0-81-0, whereas Parkinson’s figures at Old Trafford were 3-64 from 34 overs.

These matches all had great moments, and all showed in their different ways a county game that contrary to the rantings of certain former international players is in fine health.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

The Smith XI

Inspired by Jamie Smith’s batting at Bristol in the last round of championship games I have selected a team comprised entirely of Smiths (he is twelfth person). Also includes some of my photographs.

This post was inspired by Jamie Smith’s double century for Surrey against Gloucestershire in the last round of county championship fixtures.

THE XI IN BATTING ORDER

For reasons that will become obvious I am including a twelfth person on this occasion.

  1. Graeme Smith (left handed opening batter) – the South African’s record confirms him as one of the finest openers of the modern era. He was also a candidate for the captaincy which I have awarded instead to his opening partner.
  2. *Mike Smith (MJK Smith, right handed opening batter, captain) – The Warwickshire stalwart averaged over 40 in FC cricket.
  3. Robin Smith (right handed batter) – An excellent player of fast bowling but had the gloss taken off his test record when he was found badly wanting against Shane Warne. Still even with the deleterious effect of Warne on his overall record he finished with a test average of 43.
  4. Steven Smith (right handed batter, occasional leg spinner) – The best test batter of the modern era, and possibly his country’s second best ever behind Donald Bradman.
  5. Collie Smith (right handed batter, occasional off spinner) – killed in a road accident at the age of 26 but he had already achieved plenty of note, including scoring 168 in a test innings and racking up a triple century in a Lancashire League game.
  6. Sydney Smith (left handed batter, left arm orthodox spinner) – West Indian born but primarily associated with Northamptonshire. He averaged 31 with the bat and 18 with the ball, figures that would probably equate to 46 and 27 on today’s more batting friendly surfaces. Three years after his arrival at Northamptonshire the county finished second in the championship, a position that they are yet to improve on 110 years later.
  7. +Ian Smith (right handed batter, wicket keeper) – A fine keeper and a good enough bat to have test centuries, including a top score of 173.
  8. ‘Big Jim’ Smith (CIJ Smith – right arm fast medium bowler, very aggressive right handed lower order batter) – still holds the record for the quickest 50 scored of genuine bowling, reaching the landmark in 11 minutes (overall innings 66 in 18 minutes). A good enough quick bowler to be selected for England at his peak.
  9. Peter Smith (leg spinner, attacking lower order batter) – his most famous performance came with the bat, for Essex against Derbyshire, when he came in at number 11 and proceeded to smash 163 out of a last wicket stand of 218. That innings helped him to achieve the season’s double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in first class matches for the first time in his career.
  10. Haydon Smith (right arm fast bowler, right handed tailender) – the Leicestershire quick will form a useful new ball pairing with ‘Big Jim’ in this team.
  11. ‘Razor’ Smith (off spinner, right handed tail ender) – over 1,000 FC wickets at 17.55 a piece. The Surrey and London County player completes a highly dangerous spin trio who all do different things with the ball (of the three Peter Smith the leg spinner is probably the least threatening, but even he took his FC wickets at 26.55 a piece.
  12. Jamie Smith (right handed batter, wicket keeper). The inspiration for this post. His double century at Bristol took his FC average north of 40, but he is not his county’s first choice keeper and I could not leave out Collie Smith to get him into the 11, so for the moment he is twelfthy for this team.

A LOOK AT THE XI

The team has a very strong top five, a genuine all rounder at six, an excellent keeper/ batter at seven, two useful hitters at eight and nine and only two out and out tailenders. The bowling his excellent variety, although it is short in the pace department. I would expect this team to give a good account of itself on most surfaces (only on a green seamer might they be in trouble).

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Given the lack of pace bowling I will start with that department. Gloucestershire left armer Mike Smith did not have a good enough record to merit selection, though he was a good county bowler. Warwickshire all rounder Paul Smith, who bowled fast medium, could only have been accommodated had I left out one of Collie or Sydney Smith, and I did not feel that I could drop either to make way for him.

There were two wicket keeping candidates other than Ian Smith, both with Warwickshire connections – ‘Tiger’ Smith and Alan Smith.

Off spinner Neil Smith, for all that he was briefly an England cricketer, was not of the same calibre as the spinners I have selected. Had Sydney Smith not had an ironclad case for inclusion as an all rounder I might have included a female in the shape of left arm spinner Linsey Smith.

Chris Smith might have had the opening slot I awarded to MJK. David Smith (Surrey, Worcs, Sussex, picked for the 1986 tour of the Caribbean) was a good county player but not (in spite of the fact that he attended a previous incarnation of my own secondary school) good enough to qualify for selection.

Finally, I deliberately did not pick the guy known in his Cambridge days as ‘Smith’ – KS Duleepsinhji, because I would have considered it hypocritical to avail myself of this “cheat code” given my own condemnation of the conduct of a certain county at which a senior overseas pro was referred to as ‘Steve’ by folk who weren’t prepared to pronounce his real name.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My 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…

Channel Islands 5: A Cricketing Journey to Alderney

Journeying through cricket history and from King’s Lynn to Alderney in honour of John Arlott.

Having reached Alderney in my account of my recent holiday it is now time for a special post in honour of John Arlott, the legendary cricket commentator, who lived his last years on the island. We will travel through considerable space and time in the course this journey.

STOP ONE: CAMBRIDGE

Cambridge, which my route from King’s Lynn to Portsmouth passed through, was the birthplace of Jack Hobbs, ‘The Master’. It also provides a specialist spinner for the XI since after his falling out with Yorkshire, which ended his first class career, Johnny Wardle played minor counties cricket for Cambrigeshire.

STOP TWO: VAUXHALL

The train from Waterloo to Portsmouth passes through but does not stop at Vauxhall, which overlooks The Oval, home of Surrey County Cricket Club. It is not my purpose to pick an time Surrey XI here (I did that a while back) so I am not actually using this location to pick any players – I am merely noting it.

STOPS 3,4 AND 5: SURBITON, WOKING, GUILDFORD

As with Vauxhall the train passes through Surbiton. Surbiton is not in itself of major relevance, but a line branches off here to Thames Ditton and Hampton Court, and at one time of his life the legendary fast bowler Tom Richardson had a home in Thames Ditton.

Woking, the first stop on the London-Portsmouth route, was home for many years to the Bedser twins, Alec (right arm fast medium, useful lower order batter) and Eric (right handed batter, off spinner).

Guildford, also a scheduled stop on the route, is home to the earliest verifiable reference to the great game of cricket. Testimony regarding the usage of a piece of land, made in 1598 and referring to the childhood of the man testifying, tells us that some form of cricket was being played in Guildford by the 1550s. Surrey still play the odd match at Guildford and one of the more recent of those games featured Kevin Pietersen scoring a double century in the course of which he hit a number of balls into the river Wey which flows past the ground.

STOPS 6-7: GODALMING AND PETERSFIELD

Godalming is home to Charterhouse School, where George Geary (Leics and England) was cricket coach for a time and one of his charges was Peter May. More recently Martin Bicknell (Surrey and England) has been director of cricket there.

Petersfield has a connection that dates to much earlier in cricket’s history: John Small, one of Hambledon’s finest batters in that clubs glory days of the late 18th century, lived there. According to John Nyren in “Cricketers of My Time” Small was a keen skater and enjoyed skating on the surface of Petersfield Pond when that body of water froze over in the winter.

STOP 8: PORTSMOUTH

Portsmouth was one of Hampshire’s out grounds when such were regularly used. In 1899 Major Robert Poore smashed Somerset for twin tons there, and then confirmed his liking for west country bowling by scoring a career best 304 in the return match at Taunton (when another army officer, Captain Teddy Wynyard, scored 225, in a sixth wicket stand of 411).

STOP 9: GUERNSEY

Guernsey has not to my knowledge produced any significant cricketers, though it has produced a couple of well known sportspeople: tennis player Heather Watson, at one time British number one, and footballer Matt Le Tissier who played for Southampton for many years. However it did indirectly give me a squad member, because it was there that I consumed bottle of ginger beer whose place of origin was significant:

Bundaberg, where this variety of ginger beer comes from, was the birthplace of Don Tallon, Australian keeper batter named by Bradman as keeper in his all time XI and considered by many of his contemporaries to have been the best ever in that role.

THE TERMINUS: BRAYE ROAD, ALDERNEY

Braye Road is one terminus of the Alderney Railway, once a genuine commercial railway transporting stone from a quarry, now a heritage railway using carriages of 1938 tube stock (I was not able to travel it being there too early in the year for it to be open). It also gave me, by way of a piece of lateral thinking, a final player for my cricket journey:

The cricket significance of this picture lies in the name of the road rather than that of the station: it provides a tenuous link to opening batter Tammy Beaumont.

SELECTING OUR XI

In terms of the players I have linked to specific locations we have:

Jack Hobbs, Johnny Wardle (Cambridge), Tom Richardson (Surbiton/ Thames Ditton), Alec and Eric Bedser (Woking), Kevin Pietersen (Guildford), Peter May, George Geary, Martin Bicknell (Godalming), John Small (Petersfield), Major Robert Poore (Portsmouth), Don Tallon (Guernsey, by subterfuge), Tammy Beaumont (Alderney, by cunning use of a street sign). These are 13 players, from whom 11 must be selected. My XI in batting order is:

  1. Jack Hobbs
  2. Tammy Beaumont
  3. John Small
  4. Peter May
  5. Kevin Pietersen
  6. Eric Bedser
  7. +Don Tallon
  8. George Geary
  9. Alec Bedser
  10. *Johnny Wardle
  11. Tom Richardson

This XI is well balanced, with good batting depth. The bowling has a genuine speedster in Richardson, two high quality fast medium/ medium fast bowlers in Geary and A Bedser, a great left arm spinner in Wardle and off spin back up from E Bedser, with Hobbs’ medium pace as sixth bowling option. I end this post with a view of Fort Clonque:

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…

An All Time XI All From Different Countries

A variation on the all-time XI, this time requiring every player to come from a different country. Also some photographs.

I have one other thing to mention besides my main topic, which is a revisit to the All Time XI theme which I have explored here many times, especially during the period immediately after Covid-19 was officially declared a pandemic.

THE BRIEF

This is to be an All Time XI with every selected player coming from different countries. It is to be a team that will pose a formidable threat in any and all conditions, so variety is essential. There are some players (Bradman and Sobers e.g) whose preeminence is such that they have to be their country’s representative, and in the case of some of the minor nations who are represented they had only one player wh0 could even be considered. This in turn limited who could be picked from other countries where the field was theoretically wider.

THE TEAM INCLUDING 12TH

  1. Jack Hobbs (England, right handed opening batter and occasional medium pacer). “The Master”, scorer of 61,237 FC runs including 197 centuries, scorer of 12 Ashes centuries. The oldest ever test centurion, the last of his centuries at that level coming at Melbourne in 1929 by when he was 46 years old. My English representative is highly likely to be one half of a pair that gets the innings off to a strong start.
  2. Sunil Gavaskar (India, right handed opening batter, occasional medium pacer). He was the first to reach the milestone of 10,000 test runs. He had an excellent technique and seemingly limitless patience. One would absolutely ideally prefer one of the openers to be left handed but I can’t see many new ball bowlers queuing up for a crack at this opening pair!
  3. Don Bradman (Australia, right handed batter, occasional leg spinner). The greatest batter ever to have played the game (his test average of 99.94 puts him almost 40 runs an innings ahead of the next best, his FC average of 95.14 puts him 24 an innings ahead of the next best at that level). He is also vice captain of the team.
  4. Graeme Pollock (South Africa, left handed batter, occasional leg spinner). The best test average of any left hander to have played 20 or more test matches, 60.97 per innings.
  5. Garry Sobers (West Indies, left handed batter, left arm bowler of every type known to cricket). Quite simply the most complete player the game has yet seen and one whose absence from this XI I could never countenance.
  6. +Mushfiqur Rahim (Bangladesh, right handed batter, wicket keeper). One of the great stalwarts of Bangladesh cricket, an excellent keeper and a gritty middle order batter whose test record would almost certainly be even more impressive than it actually is had he been part of a stronger side.
  7. *Imran Khan (Pakistan, right handed batter, right arm fast bowler). Has a strong case to be regarded as the greatest genuine all rounder in test history (batting average 37, bowling average 22), and a great captain as well (he is designated skipper of this side, and one of very few who could possibly see Bradman named vice captain rather than captain).
  8. Rashid Khan (Afghanistan, leg spinner and useful right handed lower order batter). This one was fairly inevitable – I need a wide range of top class bowling options, and a leg spinner of undisputed world class who hails from a minor nation is pretty much indispensable in that regard.
  9. ‘Bart’ King (USA, right arm fast bowler, useful right handed lower order batter). The original ‘King of Swing’, taker of over 400 FC wickets at 15 a piece, and good enough with the bat to average 20.
  10. Richard Hadlee (New Zealand, right arm fast bowler, useful left handed lower order batter). With genuine respect to today’s Kiwi side, comfortably the strongest they have ever been able to field, he remains his country’s greatest ever cricketer.
  11. Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka, off spinner, right handed tail end batter). 800 test wickets, taken at a rate of six per game. At The Oval in 1998, on a pitch that was quite hard and quite dry but basically blameless he claimed 16 English wickets in the match (7-155 in the first innings, and then after SL had taken a lead of 150, spearheaded by Jayasuriya scoring a double hundred, 9-65 in the second English innings).
  12. Andy Flower (Zimbabwe, left handed batter, wicket keeper, occasional off spinner). This man covers as many bases as possible as 12th – while I would not relish him coming in for any of the front line bowlers given that he is very much a part timer, and Sobers and Bradman can both be considered impossible to cover for anyway he won’t massively weaken the side even in a worst-case scenario.

RESULTS AND PROSPECTS

I start this little section by looking at the bowling, as it is that department that separates winners and also-rans. A pace bowling unit of Richard Hadlee, ‘Bart’ King and Imran Khan is awesome by any reckoning, and if there is definitely nothing for spinners, there is Sobers in his faster incarnations as fourth seamer. If spinners are called for, Rashid Khan and Muttiah Muralitharan are two of the all time greats, and offer a contrast, being leg spinner and off spinner respectively, and Sobers can bowl left arm orthodox and left arm wrist spin support. Thus there are bowling options available to meet every eventuality, and this side can be very confidently expected to take 20 wickets in any conditions.

The batting features a pair of openers who are highly likely to give the innings a strong start, a trio of fast and heavy scoring batters at 3, 4 and 5, a keeper who scores lots of runs at six, a genuine all rounder at seven, and three bowlers who can genuinely bat as well. Murali is the only bunny in a very deep batting order.

A number of the players in this XI, most notably Hobbs, Bradman and Sobers are rated among the the finest fielders ever to have played the game, and there are no carthorses anywhere, so they will give a good account of themselves in this department as well.

Finally, with Imran Khan as captain and Don Bradman as vice captain and Hobbs also there to be consulted this team has tactical acumen to burn and is highly unlikely to be outmatched in that area.

Thus this team seems to tick every box, and I would confidently expect it to dispose of any opposition put in front of it.

THE STEAM HOUSE CAFE

The STEAM House Cafe on King’s Lynn High Street is a cafe-style safe space for people with mental health issues, and I was there yesterday as part of a group from NAS West Norfolk. We and they are hoping to be able to organize something there specifically for autistic people.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for my usual sign off…

A brief summary of the XI.

The IPL Super Auction

A brief look at the IPL super auction and a special photo gallery.

The IPL Super Auction is over, and all the 10 squads are assembled. I look at some of the key moments and end with a very special picture gallery.

THREE BIG MONEY OVERSEAS SIGNINGS

Royal Challengers Bangalore made the first big money overseas signing of the auction when they went to 10.75 crore INR (just over £1,000,000) to secure Sri Lankan leg spinning all rounder Wanindu Hasaranga. Hasaranga is a superb T20 player and this was probably a good signing even at such a high price. Punjab Kings did good business when they secured Jonathan Bairstow for 6.75 crore. Nicholas Pooran, neither as good nor as versatile as Bairstow then went for 10.75 crore.

DIFFERING STRATEGIES

Punjab Kings were consistent over the two days, making a number of excellent signings. Liam Livingstone was their most expensive at 11.50 crore, and two very different seam bowling all rounders, India Under 19 star Raj Bawa and Gloucestershire’s quirky veteran Benny Howell were both obtained cheaply. Howell at seven, Bawa at eight, Rabada at nine and two other bowlers at 10 and 11 is a good lower part of the order, while Dhawan, Bairstow and Livingstone will all be in the top half of the order (IPL allows four overseas players in a playing XI and up to eight in a whole squad, which can have a minimum of 18 and a maximum of 25 players), and Bairstow, Livingstone, Howell and Rabada would be my four first choice overseas players from their squad.

Mumbai Indians did little on day one but came to the party on day two. They paid 8.25 crore for Archer, who won’t play this season due to injury, but who they can retain for next season. They also secured Tymal Mills and Tim David. They are unlikely to win IPL 2022, but if Archer is fully fit by then they will be formidable in IPL 2023.

Rajasthan Royals left things very late indeed, making a flurry of signings in the closing stages of the auction when nearly everyone else had completed their squads. They got some useful players at this late stage, but overall their approach cannot be said to have worked.

Royal Challengers Bangalore tailed off after a strong start, and exhausted their budget with several places still available in their squad.

Sunrisers Hyderabad did not even make a strong start, and they too ran out of money rather than filling all 25 slots.

The two new franchises, Lucknow Super Giants and Gujarat Titans both had their moments along the way but neither were entirely impressive.

Delhi Capitals had a solid auction, and they should do well in the tournament.

Chennai Super Kings had a good second day, and their squad looks decent.

Kolkata Knight Riders had a mixed couple of days with some good signings and some questionable ones.

The tournament should be good, though it is overly long. I will be supporting Punjab Kings – they had a superb auction.

All squads can be viewed here.

A SPECIAL PHOTO GALLERY

I acquired two lots of interesting cricket related cigarette cards, and they are the subjects of this photo gallery…

The England Test Squad For The Caribbean

A look at the England squad selected for the test series in the Caribbean and some of my own photographs.

After the debacle of the Ashes in Australia (|Australia 4, the weather 1, England 0) a number of ECB management figures departed which was welcome news, although Tom Harrison remained in post. Paul Collingwood was appointed interim head coach, with Andrew Strauss taking over as director of cricket. Their first job together was to pick the party for the test tour of the Caribbean, and this post looks at their choices and includes a suggestion for the permanent head coach role.

INTRODUCING THE SQUAD

There is an article on cricinfo about the squad which I urge to read (click here), and I use their graphic to introduce the squad:

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THOUGHTS RE THE SQUAD

This is one of the worst selections I have ever seen done for England (and I have seen a lot). There are only two recognized openers, Lees (whose presence I welcome, he has built a fine record at Durham over the last few years) and Crawley (averages in the low 30s at FC level and less than that at test level, a poor selection). There is no recognized number three at all (apparently Root, one the best number fours England have ever had, is going bat there, a quite awful call by Strauss/Collingwood). Pope and Lawrence are fine middle order players though neither have done anything great at test level as yet. Stokes of course is a great player. Bairstow does not have a great test record, but he did score a century in the only game in Australia in which England were not utterly destroyed (with the assistance of some weather interventions they hung on for a draw nine down in the second innings). Foakes is one of three selections I am genuinely pleased about (I welcome the inclusion of Parkinson the leg spinner in a full squad for the first time, and Jack Leach has been mishandled but is still the best current English spinner). While I understand the thinking behind the inclusion of Woakes – his all round skills theoretically give England more options – but in practice outside England his bowling is insignificant, which means that what you actually have is an averagely good lower middle order batter. Craig Overton is good cricketer, but unlikely to pose much of a threat with the ball in the Caribbean. Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson and Saqib Mahmood are all fine bowlers and I welcome the inclusion of Mahmood, not quite out and out fast, but quicker than most English seamers. Matthew Fisher has played 21 FC matches for Yorkshire, in which he has taken 63 wickets at 27.52, a respectable but not outstanding record, and he is yet another of the right arm fast medium brigade with which English cricket is overstocked. Neither James Anderson nor Stuart Broad have been included in the party. Defenders of this move are arguing that this tour is being used for experimentation and that we already know what Anderson and Broad are capable of. To this I say: pshaw – England should by now have learnt that they are not strong enough as a test side to take any opposition lightly, especially away from home, and first and foremost their target should be win the current series.

Other than the two veterans (Anderson especially, who at 39 continues to be majestic with the ball) the players I feel have been worst treated in this shambles are Abell, Bohannon and Bracey, three recognized number threes with good recent records, any one of whom could have been included in this party to fill that slot. I also feel that Crawley is very fortunate to be persisted with – a recall for Sibley, or elevation for any one of Libby, Haines or Yates would have looked a better move.

I conclude this section by congratulating West Indies in advance for the series win they have just been handed by the England selectors.

THE HEAD COACH ROLE GOING FORWARD

As far as I am concerned Collingwood by his role in this utter shambles of a selection process has just ruled himself straight out of the permanent role as head coach. The right person for head coach of the test side for me is Gary Kirsten, who should have had the job when it was given to Silverwood instead. Kirsten wants split coaching roles, so that the ODI and T20 sides have a head coach of their own. I am happy to go along with this, and I suggest that the head coach of these sides should be Charlotte Edwards who after an awesome playing career has gone on to build up an excellent coaching record.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for my usual sign off…

An Epic Test Match

A look at the women’s Ashes, some thoughts about women’s test cricket (make matches five days, like the men’s are, an)d play much, much more of it) and some photographs

This post looks at the ongoing Women’s Ashes series in Australia, and especially at the test match in Canberra that concluded with an extraordinary closing session at just after 7:30AM UK time this morning. Before going on to the match and associated issues I need to set the scene with…

THE WOMEN’S ASHES:
AN OVERVIEW

Unlike the Men’s Ashes, which is purely about test matches the Women’s Ashes as currently constituted is a multi-format series: Three T20Is, One test match and Three ODIs. The limited overs games are worth two points each, the test match four points. Australia are the current holders, which means that England need to win the series outright to reclaim them – a drawn series would see Australia retain.

THE STORY SO FAR

It has been uncharacteristically rainy in Australia while this series has on (not one, but two matches in the driest of all Australian cities, Adelaide, adversely affected by rain). Australia won the only one of the T20Is to have enough play to get a definite result, which took them into the test match with a four points to two lead in the series. Thus, a win for them in the test would ensure that they retained the Women’s Ashes, while a draw or an England win would keep the series alive.

A GREAT TEST MATCH

The women play scandalously little test cricket (more on this theme later), to the extent that Katherine Brunt, the most experienced player on either side, who made her test debut in 2005 was playing just her 14th test match in all.

England won the toss and decided to bowl, a decision that looked good early on when three Australian wickets, including the prize scalp of Ellyse Perry, fell quickly, but four Australians topped the 50 mark, two coming close to centuries but falling just short. Katherine Brunt bowled with immense fire and passion, and when Australia declared at 337-9 she had figures of 5-60.

England’s response began atrociously, and although skipper Heather Knight batted with great courage and determination support for her was sadly lacking. At low water mark the score was 169-8, when Sophie Ecclestone the left arm spinner joined her at the crease. Ecclestone resisted bravely, batting a long time in support of her captain and contributing 34 to a stand that ended up worth precisely 100. Kate Cross, the number eleven, helped a further 28 to accrue for the last wicket, meaning that England were 40 behind on first innings. Knight had scored 168 not out by the end of the innings, the second highest ever women’s test score against Australia, 11 short of the 179 that Rachael Heyhoe-Flint scored at The Oval back in the 1970s.

England bowled pretty well again, with Katherine Brunt claiming a further three wickets, in the process becoming the first woman to record 50+ wickets in all three international formats. Australia declared a second time, at 216-7, challenging England to get 257 from 48 overs for the win. To their full credit England responded in kind and went for the runs. Both openers got into the 30s this time, Knight added 48 more runs to her first innings heroics, Natalie Sciver scored a half century, and a lightning quick 45 from Sophia Dunkley, including successive sixes off Annabel Sutherland put England ahead of the rate. Sadly these players all got out before the job was done, and the middle and lower order panicked in the closing stages. There were two overs left when the ninth wicket fell and Kate Cross joined Sophie Ecclestone. Cross saw out the first of these overs, bravely taking a single off the final ball to accept responsibility for seeing the final over out as well, rather than put the pressure on the much younger Ecclestone. Alana King on test debut accepted responsibility for bowling the make or break over (did I mention that the women play scandalously little test cricket?). Cross saw out the first five balls with varying degrees of assurance, and King at the last bowled a rare poor ball to bring the match to an end. England in the end had scored 244-9 in the chase, finishing 12 runs adrift with one wicket standing in a draw that, drab sounding result notwithstanding, has to go down as one of the great test matches played by players of either sex, fit to stand alongside Manchester 2005 or Lord’s 1963 to name just two other draws that remained live right up until the final ball.

There could of course be only one candidate for Player of the Match – one of the greatest test innings ever played, a major contribution in the second innings and her captaincy made Heather Knight quite simply the only choice, and it was confirmed within a few minutes of the last ball being bowled.

WOMEN’S TEST CRICKET

This match, the two matches India Women have recently played (one in England and on in Australia) have made two things very clear. Firstly women’s tests need to be five days, just like men’s tests are – four days are only enough for a result if there is some artifice used, like Australia’s two declarations in this match. Secondly, there need to be far more women’s test matches. I like the multi-format series, but would alter the balance, lengthening it so that there could be at least three test matches and maybe even five (I do not like even numbers of test matches in a series, though I could live with four) in that portion of the series. India playing a couple of recent test matches is a step in the right direction, but only a baby one. Test matches (and more than one at a time) should be part of many more women’s series than they are.

A CURRENT WORLD WOMEN’S TEST XI

Given how little test cricket is played this exercise is quite a challenge, and one of my picks is I admit a cheat, but hope that my justification gets me the blog equivalent of ‘jury nullification’ and a ‘not guilty’ verdict:

  1. Smriti Mandhana (left handed opening batter, India). Wonderful to watch, and as her 127 not out against Australia in Australia shows, she knows how to go big.
  2. Laura Wolvaardt (right handed opening batter, South Africa). She has yet to play test cricket, but everything about her play suggests that she would be a star in the format, so I am cheating and picking her for this XI on a hunch.
  3. *Heather Knight (right handed batter, occasional off spinner, captain). Her performance in this match speaks for itself, and her 168 not out was her second 150+ score in just nine test appearances.
  4. Meg Lanning (right handed batter, vice captain). The Australian skipper has a great record, and for me has to play.
  5. Ellyse Perry (right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler). Though by her own mighty standards this was a very ordinary match for her she has an amazing overall test record, and has to be in the team.
  6. +Amy Jones (right handed batter, wicket keeper). The best keeper on the planet and a fine middle order batter.
  7. Natalie Sciver (right handed batter, right arm medium fast bowler). A must pick for me, and with Lanning and Perry occupying, as they have to places higher in the order she gets the conventional all rounders slot.
  8. Sneh Rana (off spinner, right handed batter). The Indian off spinning all rounder had a fine game against England in India, bowling well and helping her side to save the match with the bat.
  9. Katherine Brunt (right arm fast medium bowler, right handed batter). One of the all time greats of the game, eight wickets in the match this time round to demonstrate her enduring brilliance.
  10. Sophie Ecclestone (left arm orthodox spinner, left handed batter). Manuka Oval had little to offer her, but she is undoubtedly the best female spinner in the world at the moment and has to be in the side.
  11. Darcie Brown (right arm fast bowler, right handed lower order batter). The fastest bowler in the side, selected for that reason. She caused problems in both innings of the match just concluded.

This XI has great batting depth, and a dazzling range of bowling options (the all round skills of Perry and Sciver enable the luxury of a having four genuine seam options and two front line spinners, an attack that can be manipulated to suit all conditions.

PHOTOGRAPHY

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

England Floundering

A look at goings on in the Ashes series so far, a brief glimpse ahead to the rest of it and then a longer look at an (IMO) much needed potential Great Reset of English Cricket. Also some photographs.

This post looks at England’s start to the 2021-22 Ashes series and at what might be done going forward.

THE GABBA

After a rain ruined build up England won the toss and chose to bat. The chosen XI was Burns, Hameed, Malan, *Root, Stokes, Pope, +Buttler, Woakes, Robinson, Wood, Leach. Batting first was the right call, and the XI looked well chosen though it was surprising that neither of the veterans Anderson or Broad got picked (inserting the opposition at the Gabba has a shocking history). Unfortunately, the tone was set for England by Rory Burns who shuffled across his crease to the first ball of the series and made a leg stump half volley look like a swinging yorker – bowled for a duck, England 0-1 one ball into the series. Although Pope, Buttler and Woakes all showed some fight, England never looked like posting a big enough total, and were all out for 147. Robinson, Woakes and Wood all bowled decently, Leach was rusty after playing little recent cricket and took heavy punishment, Stokes was not fully fit and did little. Warner and Labuschagne both batted well but were overshadowed by Travis Head whose place in the XI had been questioned in some quarters. Australia’s number five scored an amazing 152, getting his team to a final total of 425, a lead on first innings of 278. England then had their best period of the series to date, ending day three on 220-2 with Malan and Root in the 80s. Unfortunately both batters fell right at the start of day four, and thereafter the innings was a procession, and England in the end mustered only 297, leaving Australia 20 to win. They lost one wicket just before getting there, which enabled Labuschagne to become the first non-opener to be 0* (0) in a test match – on every previous occasion this happened the target had been one and had come off one ball.

ADELAIDE

Adelaide is one of the most beautiful of all cricket venues, set amidst the city’s northern parklands and with St Peter’s Cathedral part of the backdrop, along with the river Torrens. It is also known for being a batters paradise, and if the ball does anything there it turns. Australia had lost Hazlewood to injury and Cummins because he was identified as a close contact of a covid-positive after eating at a restaurant the night before the game. Steve Smith of sandpaper infamy was thus elevated to the captaincy, while Michael Neser and Jhye Richardson filled the vacant fast bowling slots. England, in defiance of logic, common sense and Adelaide history went in without a specialist spinner and with four right arm fast medium bowlers backed up by Stokes.

Australia won the toss and decided to bat (in view of their circumstances and the nature of the Adelaide pitch a decision to bowl would have made Ponting’s insertion of England at Edgbaston in 2005 look like a stroke of genius!). England bowled accurately, but were consistently half a yard or so too short to be maximally effective with the result that the ball went past the edge of the bat many times but the batters had little real trouble. Additionally, one of the few genuine chances created by England was squandered when Buttler dropped an absolute sitter offered by Labuschagne. Australia ended the opening day on 221-2 from 89 overs (England’s over rate, which had already cost them their match fees at Brisbane was once again an utter disgrace). Ominously skipper and part time off spinner Joe Root got a few balls to turn when he bowled a spell on this opening day.

In the early part of the second day (today) England fared reasonably well, and the fifth Aussie wicket fell at 331. However, Steve Smith was still at the crease, and wicket keeper Alex Carey proceeded to score a 50. Michael Neser on debut at no8 scored a rapid 35, Smith fell just short of a century (93, trapped LBW by one from Anderson that kept low). Mitchell Starc and Jhye Richardson then shared a brisk, carefree partnership for the ninth wicket, before Richardson snicked one from Woakes and was caught behind. Woakes had shown the problem with selecting him overseas because “we want a number eight who can score runs”, namely that he is ineffective overseas in his main role: bowling – before being gifted that wicket which triggered a declaration at 473-9 Woakes had conceded 100 runs without ever posing a threat.

Before a thunderstorm brought an early close to proceedings England lost both openers, Burns to Starc and Hameed to the debutant Neser (the bowler’s second delivery in test cricket). Malan and Root were in occupation, with England 17-2.

Australia are 18 wickets away from going 2-0 up in the series, and in very little danger of being beaten whatever happens in the next three days.

LOOKING AHEAD 1: THE REST OF THE SERIES

England are in deep trouble and have boxed themselves into a corner by sending home the Lions players en bloc, including Bracey who had just scored a battling hundred in the Lions last innings and Foakes, England’s best keeper. They have also left themselves little choice but to persist with Burns and Hameed since the only back up opener they have averages 11 in tests in 2021, 18.80 outside his one big innings at that level overall. They cannot go without a spinner again, and I also think they need to pick Wood for the rest of the series so that they have some genuine pace available. For the MCG I would select: Burns, Hameed, Malan, *Root, Stokes, Pope, +Buttler, Robinson, Wood, Leach, Anderson. At the SCG I might rotate Broad in for Anderson. The final match will be played at Bellerive Oval, Tasmania and much remains to be seen before thinking about that one.

LOOKING AHEAD 2: TIME FOR THE GREAT RESET

Before any of the suggestions I am about to make can be acted on one thing has to happen: Chris Silverwood, an unmitigated failure as England head coach, has to be given his P45.

Of the batters I would retain only Root and Stokes from the current squad. The bowling situation looks better, but although I advocate for him to be given this series I believe that like Bess and Ali before him Jack Leach has had his confidence ruined by the hamfisted way in which he has been managed and going forward would look to the younger spinners.

  1. Openers: unless Burns and Hameed go really well in what is left of this series I would want two new openers, and I see five who merit consideration for that role: Hasan Azad, Sam Evans, Tom Haines, Jake Libby and Rob Yates.
  2. Number three: Tom Abell, with Bracey in reserve. I would also be strongly inclined to name Abell as captain right from the start – Root is not a good captain, while his batting is indispensable.
  3. Nos 5,6,7: Stokes will occupy one of these slots, Ben Foakes will be at six and keeping wicket (he averages 38 to Buttler’s 31 in FC cricket and is a far better keeper). Ollie Pope will usually be the third of this trio, either batting down at seven or up at five, with Stokes in the slot he doesn’t get (I want Foakes at six to reduce the chances of him having to bat exclusively with the bowlers).
  4. The fast bowlers: Woakes in England remains in contention (I kept an open mind about him succeeding overseas, knowing him to be much improved of late, but his bowling has been toothless so far this tour). I want at least one of Archer, Stone and Wood in the side, fitness permitting. If none of these three are available then Brydon Carse or Saqib Mahmood (the latter is not express, but he is quicker than the common run of English seamers) would be considered. Henceforth only one of the two uber veterans can ever be in the side at a time. Robinson has earned his spurs and would be part of the squad and most likely the final XI.
  5. The spinners: I would establish a spinner’s camp, the first members of which would be Matt Parkinson, Jack Carson, Amar Virdi, Dan Moriarty and Liam Patterson-White (the last named is almost good enough with the bat to be classed as an all rounder, and would combine well with any of the first three should two spinners be warranted. England’s handling of spinners has been shocking in recent years, and needs to change.

A new look England to front up against the next test match opposition, the West Indies might have an XI of: Haines, Yates, *Abell, Root, Pope, +Foakes, Stokes, Robinson, Archer/Stone/Wood, Anderson and Parkinson, or if feeling bolder still, select two of the expresses to go with Robinson and Parkinson (assuming they are fit).

Making such huge changes is high risk, but persisting with the current non-working test set up means accepting the certainty of further failure in the premier format of the game. I prefer letting the dice fly to resignation.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…