A Plan for Australia

A detailed look at possibilities for The Ashes.

With the last test of the series against India cancelled officially due to a Covid outbreak in the Indian ranks and unofficially due to the Indian players and board prioritizing the IPL over test cricket, I offer up detailed suggestions for the upcoming Ashes tour.

A BIG SQUAD NEEDED

In view of the situation, with Covid still very much with us, and Australia unlikely to allow reinforcements to be flown in mid-series England will need a large squad to give themselves a chance of getting through the tour. Thus the bulk of this post will look at 22 players who I have arranged into two teams who might contest a warm-up match. Before I get into that part of the post I need to clear up a few details, and after I have finished I will mention a couple of other players of promise.

PLAYERS NOT COVERED
IN THIS POST

There are some well known names who for various reasons do not feature in the main part of the post:

  • Players who are hors de combat for various reasons: Jofra Archer and Olly Stone are both definitely unavailable due to injuries, and even if Stuart Broad recovers in time to make the tour an away Ashes series is probably not advisable for someone coming back from a serious injury. Ben Stokes must also be regarded as unavailable at present – until and unless he himself states that he is ready to return to the side he should not be a factor in anyone’s calculations.
  • Players who are surplus to test requirements: I have seen enough of Moeen Ali, Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow to be certain that none of them belong in the test arena. Ali averages less than 29 with the bat, almost 37 with the ball and appears to be on the decline into the bargain, Bairstow had one good 12 month period starting in December 2015, but either side of that has consistently averaged in the mid 20s in a career that spans nine years, while Malan has produced one major test innings in his life and is now in his mid 30s.
  • Players I do not think need to play a warm up fixture, though they will be in the squad: Joe Root and Jos Buttler. The former would give whichever side he was part of a huge advantage, while we all know what the latter is capable of.

TEAM ABELL

  1. Tom Haines: Sussex, left handed opening batter. This season has been a breakout one for the youngster (23 years old), with him averaging close to 50 with the bat for his county.
  2. Alex Davies: Warwickshire (leaving Lancashire at the end of this season), right handed opening batter, occasional wicket keeper. He has had two strong seasons in a row (is avergaing 48 this season), and the fact that in retaliation for his decision to move to Warwickshire Lancashire have been vindictive enough to drop him (a classic example of cutting the nose off to spite the face) should have no bearing on whether or not he gets picked for this party.
  3. *Tom Abell: Somerset, right handed batter, occasional medium pace bowler, captain. He has been superb for Somerset this season and is an excellent skipper.
  4. Harry Brook: Yorkshire, right handed batter. The 22 year old Yorkshireman has a modest overall record but has been excellent this season and appears to have a fine temperament.
  5. Ollie Pope: Surrey, right handed batter, occasional keeper. Has an awesome record for Surrey but has yet to translate this to a higher level, though he did score 81 in the first innings of the last test at his home ground, and appears one of two genuine candidate for this slot.
  6. Oliver George Robinson: Kent, wicket keeper, right handed batter. The 23 year old is one of a number of talented young keeper batters that England have available to them.
  7. Matt Critchley: Derbyshire, right handed batter, leg spinner. His bowling does not quite allow him to be called an all rounder, but he has been batting well for Derbyshire of late, and his leg spin is not entirely to be disregarded.
  8. Craig Overton: Somerset, right arm fast medium bowler, right handed batter. As Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett showed a decade ago extra height can be a valuable asset in Australia, and the giant Devonian has it in spades. He is also a more than handy batter to have coming at eight.
  9. Mark Wood: Durham, right arm fast bowler, right handed lower order batter. With Archer and Stone both hors de combat he is the only express bowler England can seriously consider (Brydon Carse, his Durham team mate, is just as quick but has an uninspiring red ball record, and I have come to hate seeing players picked for test cricket based on white ball performances).
  10. Jack Leach: Somerset, left arm orthodox spinner, left handed lower order batter. He is the only current England spinner with a respectable test record (62 wickets in 16 matches at 29.98 – so almost four wickets a game and an average the right side of 30). In first class cricket there are a couple of spinners with cheaper averages than his 26 per wicket, but they have many fewer wickets than he does. It is one of the great absurdities of the last couple of years that he has not been England’s first choice spinner on a regular basis.
  11. James Anderson: Lancashire, right arm fast medium bowler, left handed lower order batter. England’s all time leading wicket taker. He was the leading wicket taker in the series last time England won in Australia a decade ago, and there is little sign of his powers waning for all that he turned 39 during this season

This side contains a solid top five, a talented keeper/batter at six, a player in good batting for at seven, and a well balanced front four bowlers, with support available from Critchley’s leg spin and Abell’s medium pace. Now it is time for a look at the opposition…

TEAM BURNS

  1. *Rory Burns: Surrey, left handed opening batter, captain. Only one English batter not named Root has scored a test ton in 2021, this man. He also has two fifties in his last three innings and is showing signs of forming a successful opening partnership with…
  2. Haseeb Hameed: Nottinghamshire, right handed opening batter. Having begun a renaissance after moving from Lancashire following a couple of lean seasons he announced his return to form to a wider audience when he scored a ton for the County Select XI v The Indians. His subsequent recall to the test ranks has seen two fifties in three innings back, both coming in century stands with Burns.
  3. James Bracey:Gloucestershire, right handed batter, occasional wicket keeper. A typical moment in recent England selection history saw this man make his test debut in his second favourite role and batting way out of position at number seven. Not altogether surprisingly he fared poorly on that occasion, but he deserves another chance, this time in his proper position and preferred role.
  4. Liam Livingstone: Lancashire, right handed batter, occasional purveyor of both off and leg spin. Has a good FC record, although he is better known for his white ball exploits.
  5. Dan Lawrence: Essex, right handed batter, occasional off spinner. He and Pope are the principal contenders for the no5 slot, and both have shown promise with neither staking an unassailable claim to the place.
  6. +Ben Foakes: Surrey, right handed batter, wicket keeper. The best English keeper currently playing the game and a fine middle order batter. I put him at six to insulate him just a bit from batting with the tail – nos 7 and 8 can both be counted as all rounders and the no9 is better than most lower order batters.
  7. Chris Woakes: Warwickshire, right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler. With the colossus Stokes having to be regarded as hors de combat this man is the best all rounder available to England, and he would walk into almost any test side. His return to test action against India at The Oval saw him take a good haul of wickets, score a 50 and offer some decent resistance in the second innings when England were slumping.
  8. Liam Patterson-White: Nottinghamshire, left arm orthodox spinner, left handed batter. He recently reached a maiden first class hundred at the expense of Somerset, and his wickets in that match took his bowling average below 30. His temperament appears to be excellent as well. He has less FC experience than anyone else in either side.
  9. Oliver Edward Robinson: Sussex, right arm fast medium bowler, right handed lower middle order batter. He has had a sensational start to his test career, and as a bowler who uses his great height to cause opponents problems he may well enjoy bowling in the homeland of Glenn McGrath. His batting can also be valuable.
  10. Matt Parkinson: Lancashire, leg spinner, right handed lower order batter. After 29 first class games the young leg spinner has 93 wickets at 23.95. That average is excellent, but there is a concern over the relatively low wickets per game ratio. Nevertheless I feel that he deserves a place in this tour party – no current English spinner with over 5oFC wickets has taken them more cheaply than the Lancastrian.
  11. Saqib Mahmood: Lancashire, right arm fast medium bowler, right handed lower order batter. He has 70 wickets in FC cricket at 26 a piece and is quite sharp.

This side contains a good top five, one of the greatest of all wicket keepers, genuine all rounders at seven and eight, a bowler who can bat at nine and two excellent bowlers to round out the XI.

I conclude this section with a graphic:

ODDS AND ENDS

This section looks at a few other players who may be on the radar before long:

  • English off spinners have generally struggled down under (even Graeme Swann paid almost 40 per wicket in 2010-11, and failed to make it through the 2013-14 series), which is why none feature in my selections. There are two whose current records suggest they may make the grade eventually: Jack Carson of Sussex and Amar Virdi of Surrey.
  • Dan Moriarty, a left arm orthodox spinner, has a remarkable record in his fledgling first class career and may well be a candidate for elevation in the near future.
  • Luke Hollman, a leg spinning all rounder, has recently recorded a ten wicket match haul for Middlesex, and he may be a candidate in future.
  • When qualified for England Ricardo Vasconcelos of Northamptonshire will be a candidate for a top order berth.
  • Various fast medium bowlers whose chief weapon is accuracy have been overlooked because bowlers of that type rarely make much impact down under: Ben Coad, Sam Cook, Jamie Porter and Ben Sanderson are four who have very fine county records.

Please feel free to comment with suggestions of your own.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Well done for making it to the end of this post and enjoy my usual sign off…

A Look Back at The Oval and Forward to Old Trafford

A look back at the test match that concluded yesterday at The Oval and a look forward to Old Trafford.

This post looks back at the test match at The Oval that finished yesterday afternoon with India winning by 157 runs and guaranteeing themselves at least a share of the series and forward to the final match at Old Trafford.

A GREAT TURNAROUND

England won the toss and put India into bat. At first all seemed well, with India soon 127-7, but a fifty of record equalling rapidity from Shardul Thakur boosted India to 191. England’s first innings followed an all too familiar pattern: various players got starts but with the exceptions of Pope (81) and Woakes (50) no one went on to a significant score and England’s advantage was 99, much less than it should have been. On days three and four, under cloudless skies and on a pitch with no devil in it England were toothless. Most of the bowlers were at least reasonably economical, with the sore thumb like exception of Moeen Ali who leaked runs at 4.5 an over. England needed a spinner to bowl a long economical spell and enable the quicker bowlers to be properly rested and got 26-0-118-2, with one of the wickets definitely given away and the other a decent dismissal. With Rohit Sharma scoring a ton, Pujara a fifty and Thakur his second fifty of the match India reached 466, leaving England needing to score 368 which had they done it would have been their largest ever successful run chase, and over 100 more than their previous best such effort at The Oval, 263-9 in “Jessop’s Match” of 1902. Burns and Hameed batted through the closing stages of the fourth day with no alarms, closing on 77-0, with the ask down to 291. On the fifth morning this pair completed their second century stand in three innings as an opening pair. Both fell in quick succession after reaching 50s, but England were still only two down at lunch time. The first hour after lunch settled the destiny of the match. Bumrah bowled a magnificent spell and was brilliantly supported by left arm spinner Jadeja. Bumrah’s post lunch spell read 6-3-6-2. One of those wickets was Bairstow, cleaned up for a duck with a yorker that a fast bowler of an earlier era would have described as “wasted on thee” as it was a far better ball than would actually be required to pierce Bairstow’s “defences” early in an innings. Moeen Ali also collected a duck. His dismissal made it 147-6, and it was a question of when the final wicket would fall. England’s lower order resisted gallantly, but they were all out for 210 not long after tea and India had won by 157 runs.

All credit to India for a magnificent comeback and in the end a thoroughly convincing win. England have several problems, two of which the naming of the squad for Old Trafford addresses.

LOOKING AHEAD TO OLD TRAFFORD

England have named a squad of 16 from which the XI at Old Trafford will be picked. They have made two good calls – Buttler has made himself available and is included, and Leach has been recalled to the squad as well. Unfortunately Ali and Bairstow are both still in the squad, and Malan seemingly retains his no three slot.

The best available XI from the named squad in my opinion is: Burns, Hameed, Malan, *Root, Pope, +Buttler, Woakes, S Curran, Overton, Wood and Leach (Anderson is not in the squad, and Robinson is running on fumes and with a drawn series the best England can do should be rested.

To my mind two big mistakes have been made with the naming of this squad. Tom Abell should come in at number three (Malan is in his middle thirties and has a very moderate test record), and Matt Parkinson should be given his debut in front of a home crowd. I would also not have bothered including Ali or Bairstow in the squad as neither deserve to play. My chosen XI would thus have been Burns, Hameed, Abell, *Root, Pope, +Buttler, Woakes, Overton, Wood, Leach and Parkinson, reckoning that on a spin friendly ground Woakes, Overton and Wood plus a few overs of Abell’s medium pace would be enough seam options.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Looking Ahead to Australia

Some ideas for the Ashes tour, a couple of links and some photographs.

This post is prompted by the recent behaviour of Engkand’s test selectors, and my increasing certainty that big changes are needed.

INJURIES AND REJECTS

Various players are hors de combat with injuries or due to other issues. Archer and Stone both have long term injuries that will keep them out of the Ashes, Broad is also injured and may not be able to play the Ashes, Stokes and Buttler have to be treated as not available for the Ashes given that Stokes has already said he is taking time out and Buttler does not want to be away for months on end with his wife about to have their second child. Also I do not believe that any of Ali, Bairstow, Crawley or Malan should be considered for this most demanding of all tours. The last of these four may yet convince me, having just been drafted into the squad, but at the moment that decision just looks like the latest in a series of regressive, backward looking calls the selectors have made recently.

THE CAPTAINCY

I think that Root needs to be relieved of the captaincy, and would at this point give the job to Rory Burns as a temporary measure, hoping that Tom Abell (my choice for number three and Somerset’s current captain) can establish himself at test level and then be given the captaincy.

THE BATTING

This of course is the biggest area of concern for England at present. With Sibley out of form and confidence I see little alternative to Burns and Hameed as openers, Abell would be my choice at three, and Root at four. Number five for me is between Lawrence and Pope, with my preference for the first named. I would give the gloves to Foakes with Buttler not available, with Bracey in the squad as reserve keeper. Foakes would bat six, putting an extra batter between him and the tail. At number seven I would want Chris Woakes in the all rounders role in most conditions. Bracey is cover not only for the keepers gloves but also the number three slot. On my radar as reserve batters are Liam Livingstone, Harry Brook, Jordan Cox, Matt Critchley and, as a gamble on a youngster who seems to have the right temperament, Lewis Goldsworthy. Critchley might be selected at seven in place of Woakes if a second spin option looks like being useful (he bowls a bit of leg spin).

THE BOWLING

Of the bowlers I am prepared to consider available (Wood is injured and there is no way of knowing how long he is out for, so although I am not absolutely ruling him out as I have some others I am for the moment placing him on the sidelines) my first choices are: Overton, Robinson, Leach and Anderson (I want at least one genuine spinner and Leach is first choice in that department). I hope Mark Wood will be recovered in time to make the trip. Other seam back up could be provided by Saqib Mahmood, George Garton or Sam Curran (he has looked fairly unthreatening with the ball of late which is why I have him well down the pecking order). The spin situation, partly dictated by the fact that English off spinners have only rarely done well in Australia, is less happy looking. Although it would be unlikely that he and Leach would be picked in the same XI the next nearest thing England have to a spinner in Leach’s class is Matt Parkinson, the Lancashire leg spinner who currently has 86 FC wickets at 23.69, though his wickets per game rate is on the low side at just a tick over three. Direct back up for Leach is not really available unless one gambles on four first class appearances telling a true story and name Dan Moriarty in the party. However, Liam Patterson-White has a respectable record, and can bat, which would give England two ways of selecting two spinners of differing methods without both being bunnies with the bat – Either Critchley at seven and Leach at 10, or a 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 of Woakes, Patterson-White, Robinson, Anderson, Parkinson.

WRAPPING IT UP

Until and unless they get tried there is no way of knowing whether the above ideas will work, but the selectors continuing with their current approach has one likely result in terms of The Ashes: 5-0 to Australia.

LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS

TFL have recently produced a piece titled ‘Sightseeing on the Northern Line‘, an effort which missed more than it found and prompted me to produce my own version.

Now it is time for my usual sign off…

AN ALL LEFT HANDED XI

An XI of southpaws for World Left Handers Day. Plus of course some photographs.

Today is World Left Handers Day, so I put together an XI of players who did everything cricket wise left handed. This means a lot of famous names are missing because they performed one discipline right handed. My chosen wicket keeper bowled six deliveries in a professional career that spans 470 matches across formats to date, and I have been unable to establish for sure which hand he bowled them with.

THE XI IN BATTING ORDER

  1. Sanath Jayasuriya: left handed opening batter, left arm orthodox spinner. In 1996 he was the MVP at the World Cup. Two years later at The Oval he scored 213 in Sri Lanka’s first innings, the highest individual score of the match.
  2. Warren Bardsley: left handed opening batter. The gritty Aussie scored over 2,000 test runs at an average above 40. He was the first to score twin centuries in a test match, at The Oval in 1909. In first class cricket he tallied 17,000 runs at 49 including 53 centuries. He scored 29 of those 53 centuries in England, proving that he was definitely not a ‘home track bully’.
  3. Frank Woolley: left handed batting, left arm orthodox spinner. The only person to have achieved the career treble of 10,000 runs, 1,000 wickets and 1,000 catches in first class cricket.
  4. *Allan Border: left handed batter, occasional left arm orthodox spinner, captain. Another gritty Aussie, he was the first to the milestone of 11,000 test runs, having been the second after SM Gavaskar to reach 10,000. The first and greatest of four long serving Aussie captains with magnificent winning records to appear in my lifetime – he passed the baton to Mark Taylor, who was succeeded by Steve Waugh and then Ricky Ponting, who oversaw a regression back towards the mean in his last years in the job.
  5. Garry Sobers: left handed batter, left arm bowler of every type known to cricket. Fortunately the most complete cricketer ever to have played the game did everything cricket wise left handed, and is therefore a shoo-in for this team.
  6. John H King: left handed batter, left arm medium pace bowler. A stalwart all rounder for Leicestershire he suffered from ‘unfashionable county syndrome’ to the extent that in spite of a highly impressive record at FC level he was a one cap wonder for England.
  7. +Quinton de Kock: left handed batter, wicket keeper. He has a magnificent record in all formats of the game.
  8. Alan Davidson: left arm fast medium bowler (also occasional orthodox spin), left handed lower middle order batter. 186 test wickets at 20.53 secure his place in this side.
  9. Wasim Akram: left arm fast bowler, left handed lower middle order batter. Fast tracked into his national side when then captain Imran Khan saw him bowling in the nets and liked what he saw he established himself as one of the greatest of left arm pace bowlers and a more than useful batter.
  10. Chaminda Vaas: left arm fast medium bowler, left handed lower order batter. The Sri Lankan never had pace bowling support of the same class at the other end (indeed for most of his career the only other bowler of unquestioned top class in the side was the off spinner, Muralitharan) but still established a fine test record.
  11. Shaheen Shah Afridi: left arm fast bowler, left arm lower order batter. The young Pakistani has already established a remarkable record in his brief career to date, and I expect many more highlights before his time at the top is done.

Below is a condensed version of the above in graphic form:

EVALUATION OF RESOURCES

The side has a strong and deep batting order – Wasim Akram at nine would satisfy even England’s selectors as to depth, while Jayasuriya, Bardsley, Woolley, Border, Sobers and de Kock are all bona fide greats, and King, the all rounder, would probably have averaged 40 had he played on today’s pitches, though he would also have paid more for his wickets. The bowling resources are awesome, with Afridi, Akram, Davidson, Sobers and King to provide pace/ swing/ seam bowling, and Woolley, Jayasuriya and Sobers able to provide top quality spin. Sobers is the only wrist spin option, but there are very few left arm wrist spinners with commanding records. The depth of spin available means that Border, with a 10 wicket haul in a test match to his credit, would almost certainly never get a bowl. This southpaw squad would take a lot of beating.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

England’s “Selection Policy” Goes From Dumb To Dumber

A look at the latest craziness to emanate from the ECB’s ivory tower – the naming of Moeen Ali as a spin bowling option in the test squad based on his recent form in The Hundred.

It has been confirmed this morning that Moeen Ali has been added to England’s squad for the second test against India. In this post I explain just how flawed this move is.

RECENT SUCCESS
DOUBLY IRRELEVANT

Moeen Ali has been going well in The Hundred, an ultra short form competition massively removed from the long haul of test cricket. He has also been especially notable for his batting successes, coming in high in the order and throwing the bat as one has to in that competition. His bowling in that competition amounts to combined figures of 4-115 in five matches, and it is as a spinner that England will play him if they do play him. In other words, he has been succeeding in the form of the game furthest removed from test cricket and not in the department in which England would make most use of him at test level.

TACKLING THE
WRONG PROBLEM

England are not short of bowling options but are suffering at the top end of the batting order, with Crawley definitely proven as inadequate at test level, Sibley questionable and even Burns not bombproof. Moeen Ali is therefore a ‘solution’ to a ‘problem’ that exists only in the minds of the England selectors.

DISRESPECT TO SPINNERS ALREADY IN THE SQUAD

England already have two front line spinners available to them, Jack Leach and Dom Bess. Bess is a slightly questionable inclusion in the squad, but Leach from the mere 16 matches he has been given has 62 wickets at 29.98, 3.875 wickets per match. For comparison, Ali takes 3.1 wickets per match and pays 36.24 a piece for them. Frankly the way England’s #1 spinner (Leach) is being treated by the selectors is nothing short of a disgrace.

SHORT SIGHTED
AS WELL AS RETROGRADE

Additionally, one must look ahead to England’s next tour, which is the toughest of all – Australia. As I demonstrate in this piece, English off spinners have historically been of limited value in Australia, while left arm orthodox spinners have been very important. England’s two best ever Ashes tours, in 1928-9 and 1932-3 both featured a left arm spinner and a leg spinner in the party (Farmer White and Tich Freeman in the first, Hedley Verity and Tommy Mitchell in the second). Leach is the principal candidate for the left arm spinner’s role, while Matt Parkinson (86 FC wickets at 23.69) is the obvious candidate for the leg spinner’s place. Dan Moriarty with 31 wickets from four FC games at 19.77 a piece is a left arm spinner who might be in the mix, and Liam Patterson-White, who takes his FC wickets at 30.13 and averages 23.12 with the bat may yet make the grade. Also in the wings is Lewis Goldsworthy of Somerset. As a more radical idea, Sophie Ecclestone at the age of 22 has 125 international wickets across formats at 19.49 each. I would rather see any of the players I have just named than yet another recall for Moeen Ali. The latter’s last test was against India in India, and although he took wickets in the end he also bowled England into a losing position by leaking almost five an over in conditions that were helpful to a bowler of his type.

ENGLAND XI FOR THURSDAY

From the players in the squad I select as follows:

  1. Rory Burns
  2. Dom Sibley
  3. Haseeb Hameed (Crawley’s time at the top level is done)
  4. *Joe Root
  5. Dan Lawrence
  6. +Jos Buttler
  7. Sam Curran
  8. Ollie Robinson
  9. Mark Wood
  10. Jack Leach
  11. James Anderson

If one wants more batting depth, Overton could replace Wood, and then there would be a 7, 8, 9 of Curran, Overton and Robinson, which should be depth enough for anyone. I prefer Wood because his presence provides some express pace to go with the seam and swing options, which with Curran’s left arm and Robinson’s extra height are well varied (Broad was ordinary in the first test, so I rest him rather than Anderson for this one). There is also England’s best spinner in there, as there should be.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

England v India: Preliminaries and Opening Exchanges

A look at the opening exchanges in the England v India test series which got under way at 11:00 today.

The five match test series between England and India is under way, the first match at Trent Bridge having started at 11:00AM. This post looks at early developments.

ENGLAND SELECTIONS

England’s plans were thrown into confusion when Ben Stokes announced that he would be taking a break from cricket for mental health related reasons. I do not know when or even whether Stokes will return to competitive action – he should take as much time as he needs. However, neither that nor an injury to Ollie Pope excuse England’s actual selection. They have gone hypernegative, selecting only four front line bowlers none of whom is a spinner and none of whom is an out and out speedster. The team they have chosen is Burns, Sibley, Crawley, *Root, Bairstow, Lawrence, +Buttler, S Curran, Robinson, Broad, Anderson. I would have selected Hameed in place of Crawley, with him and Sibley then being in a bat off for who keeps their place in the side when Tom Abell, the man best equipped to bat three for England in this format, is fit again. I would not have selected Bairstow at all, going with Buttler at six and five genuine bowling options. My preferred line up from those available would have been Burns, Sibley, Hameed, *Root, Lawrence, +Buttler, S Curran, Robinson, Wood, Leach, Anderson. I regard the non-selection of Leach as criminal. In 16 test matches he has taken 62 wickets at 29.98 – that is his bowling average is the right side of 30 (only just admittedly) and he takes 3.875 wickets per match, which is around the par mark – most sides have five serious bowling options and to win you need to take 20 wickets, and 20/5 = 4. When then add in leaving out the only genuine speedster available, Wood, you have an attack that has no depth (only four front line options), and very little variety (three right arm fast mediums, all over six feet in height, with the only serious variation Curran’s left arm fast medium – no variation in pace whatsoever).

The side England have named has “picked to avoid defeat” rather than “picked to win” written all over it in bold capitals.

INDIAN SELECTIONS

Far fewer problems for the visitors although they somewhat surprisingly left out Ashwin, probably the best finger spinner in the world at the moment. They decided, again on ground of batting strength to rely on Jadeja as their sole spin option, with Thakur at eight and the three specialist quicks, Siraj, Bumrah and Shami at 9, 10 and 11. The alternative once they had decided on four seamers would have been take a chance an Ashwin at seven. While debatable this selection is not definitively wrong as some of England’s are.

THE PLAY SO FAR

England won the toss and chose to bat, the right thing to do on a sunny morning with clouds forecast for later in the match. They were off to a dreadful start when Burns fell in the first over. Sibley and Crawley held out for a while before Crawley was removed for 27. That brought Root to the crease and he and Sibley saw things through to lunch at 61-2. Sibley’s typically patient innings ended just after lunch, for 18,making the score 66-3. Root and Bairstow are still together at 73-3. Root is on 18, while Bairstow has reached two and has survived 15 balls which is quite impressive by his recent test standards. Bairstow has just scored a four off Bumrah to make it 77-3. Bumrah, Shami and Siraj have a wicket a piece.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off – the butterflies are out in force at the moment…

As I publish this post England are on 82-3, Root on 23 and Bairstow on 6.

Picking an England XI for the First Test Match v India

I pick my England XI (constrained by the squad from which it will be picked) for the first test match v India which starts on Wednesday.

The first test in the England v India series for the Pataudi Trophy (The senior Nawab of Pataudi, Iftikhar Ali Khan, played for both England and India, playing for the former in 1932-3 and the latter in 1946 when he was captain, while his son, Mansur Ali Khan, played for India) starts on Wednesday. With that in mind I devote this post to selecting an England XI for that match. The squad from which the XI has to be chosen can be viewed here.

THE TOP THREE

The openers are open and shut – Burns and Sibley will occupy those slots. On the face of it there are several options for no3: Zak Crawley is the incumbent, Jonathan Bairstow has batted there in the past and Haseeb Hameed, in good form at the moment and with a century for a County Select XI v The Indians under his belt into the bargain would also be a logical choice. Restricting ourselves to these three, Crawley is in no sort of form and has played only one major test innings, the 267 against Pakistan which is receding ever further into the past. Bairstow’s recent test record is dire – since the start of 2018 he averages less than 25 at that level. Therefore, with the most obvious candidate for England no 3, Tom Abell, injured at present I go with Hameed, reckoning that he and Sibley are in a bat off for who opens alongside Burns once Abell can come into the side.

THE MIDDLE ORDER

Numbers four and five are clear cut, Root and Stokes. Number six is between Pope and Lawrence, and is a very close call. I plump for Lawrence – Pope at test level has developed an unfortunate habit of making impressive starts but then getting himself out before he manages a significant score. At no7, and keeping wicket in the absence of the injured Foakes, is Jos Buttler.

THE BOWLERS

There are two logical candidates for no8, Ollie Robinson and Sam Curran. Although the latter’s left arm creates an extra bowling variation I plump for the former because I see him as more likely to take wickets at test level. At no9 I opt for Mark Wood, the only express pace bowler in the squad, and as such an automatic pick for me. Number 10 and sole specialist spinner is Jack Leach, who is the only serious candidate for that role at present (although there are some promising youngsters starting to emerge at county level). Rounding out the order is England’s all time leading test wicket taker, James Anderson. My feeling is that it would be foolhardy to select both veterans in the first match of a five test series, and I opt for Anderson ahead of Broad (the latter will then get fired up by his omission!).

THE XI IN BATTING ORDER

Tying all this together I present the XI in likeliest batting order as per the above text (I have no truck with XIs being presented in alphabetical order, which is meaningless in a cricketing context – it may be acceptable to present a squad from which the XI is selected in alphabetical order, but never the XI):

  1. Rory Burns
  2. Dominic Sibley
  3. Haseeb Hameed
  4. *Joe Root
  5. Ben Stokes
  6. Dan Lawrence
  7. +Jos Buttler
  8. Ollie Robinson
  9. Mark Wood
  10. Jack Leach
  11. James Anderson

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Early Thoughts on The Hundred

A look at cricket’s newest format, The Hundred and some photographs.

It has been a while since I last posted here, and it is time to rectify that omission. The new cricket competition, The Hundred got underway on Thursday evening, and I now offer my early thoughts on it.

ABOUT THE HUNDRED

The Hundred differs from other formats of cricket in the following ways:

  • No overs – there are blocks of five balls, a bowler may bowl either five balls or 10 balls at a stretch depending on the captain’s decision, and the players change ends every 10 balls. The total innings duration is 100 balls per side, hence the name. Commentator Dan Norcross made an intriguing Paris Metro based suggestion for naming these blocks – tickets on that transport are purchasable in blocks of five or ten and the word for such a block is ‘carnet’, pronounced ‘Car-nay’.
  • Each bowler may bowl up to 20 balls in the course of the innings.
  • The fielding captain is permitted to take one strategic time out lasting two and a half minutes at any time after the first 25 balls.
  • The first 25 balls are a Power Play in which only two fielders may be placed more than 30 yards from the bat, while for the rest of the innings five may be placed deep
  • If the fielding side have not started the last set of five balls by a certain preset tine they are punished by being required to bring one extra fielder in close.

PROS AND CONS

Many readers will be aware that when it was first mooted I was strongly opposed to The Hundred. I still think that it is cluttering up an already overcrowded calendar, and still have concerns about the absolute marginalization of the county championship, and I also feel that some of those pushing this competition have been unnecessarily antagonistic towards existing fans in their search for new ones. However, it is here to stay, it is very enjoyable. Also, it has undoubtedly been a huge boon for women’s cricket, with the women’s games an integral part of the tournament rather than a sideshow. On Saturday over 21,000 spectators watched the two women’s games, being respectively the largest and second largest ever audiences for a women’s domestic game in this country.

SOME OF THE MATCHES

The highest score of the competition to date came from Jemimah Rodrigues, who with the top order crumbling around her so that the score at one point was 19-4 chasing 131 to win scored 94 not out off 42 balls to carry her side to victory. Alice Capsey, the youngest player involved in the tournament, lit up Lord’s on Saturday morning with a glorious 59 off 41 balls. Yesterday at Manchester saw a bowling dominated day – in the women’s match Birmngham Phoenix tallied 113 batting first, which proved enough to win by 20 runs. Then in the men’s match Phoenix became the first side to be bowled out inside 100 balls, managing a measly 87 off 86 balls. Matt Parkinson for the home side, the Manchester Originals, took 4-9 from 19 balls, finishing the innings by taking three in four balls including as good a ball as a bowler of his type can produce – pitched on leg stump it tilted the middle stump backwards. Just to ensure that the total would never trouble the Originals Phil Salt gave the reply a flying start with 22 off 11 balls, as half the required runs were knocked off in the 25 ball Power Play. Thereafter there was no way for Phoenix to apply any pressure, although Benny Howell, a crafty medium pacer, bowled well for them.

YOUNGSTERS TO THE FORE

At the same time as the new competition is going on, so is the Royal London Cup 50 overs per side competition. With so many first choice players not available to them the counties have had no option but to select quite a number of youngsters. Yesterday’s match between Yorkshire and Leicestershire saw Harry Duke at the age of 19 rack up his first professional century, helping his side to a convincing victory.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

England’s New ODI Squad

My thoughts on the new ODI squad that England have had to select, and some photographs.

The original England ODI squad for the upcoming series against Pakistan has had to go into self isolation due to seven positive covid-19 tests among their number. A new squad, to be captained by Ben Stokes, who was originally being eased back from injury and had therefore not been called up. In this post I look at the new squad, and provide some thoughts on it. This is the worst disruption faced by England cricket in my lifetime, beating even that caused by the rebel tours of Apartheid South Africa in 1982 and 1989, and overall the ECB have handled it well.

THE NEW SQUAD

The 18 names in the new squad are as follows (courtesy of the ECB website):

Ben Stokes (Durham, captain)
Jake Ball (Nottinghamshire)
Danny Briggs (Warwickshire)
Brydon Carse (Durham)
Zak Crawley (Kent)
Ben Duckett (Nottinghamshire)
Lewis Gregory (Somerset)
Tom Helm (Middlesex)
Will Jacks (Surrey)
Dan Lawrence (Essex)
Saqib Mahmood (Lancashire)
Dawid Malan (Yorkshire)
Craig Overton (Somerset)
Matt Parkinson (Lancashire)
David Payne (Gloucestershire)
Phil Salt (Sussex)
John Simpson (Middlesex)
James Vince (Hampshire)

Most of these names are fairly uncontroversial in the circumstances. The strangest selection among the 18 is John Simpson, a good cricketer but not my idea of international quality. I am also mistrustful of James Vince, whose England record is not impressive. Brydon Carse is a hugely exciting selection – he is in the same pace bracket as his county colleague Mark Wood and can handle a bat. Danny Briggs has a good limited overs record but I would preferred to see Dan Moriarty capped.

The omission of Sam Hain who averages almost 60 and has a strike rate of 86 in List A cricket almost defies understanding. I would have liked to see a call up for the veteran Darren Stevens. Also the ECB would do themselves a favour if they actually fronted up and said in as many words that they will not pick Alex Hales – the announcement of this squad makes it clear what their actual attitude is and it is just silly to keep pretending that the door has not been shut on an England recall for him.

PICKING AN XI

This XI will almost certainly not happen, but this is the way I would from the selected squad:

My opening pair would be Will Jacks and Phil Salt, with the latter keeping wicket, while the former’s off spin may well enter the equation. At number three I would have Dawid Malan, batting in his best position. Dan Lawrence, needed on ground of prior international experience would bat four. Skipper Stokes gets the no5 slot. In view of the make up of the squad I would play Gregory at six, Carse at seven and Craig Overton at eight (all three can bat very effectively), David Payne whose left arm pace offers a variation would be at nine, with Mahmood and Parkinson rounding out the order.

England are by no means out of this series even after having to select a completely new squad just before it starts.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off:

Two Great Test Matches

A look back at two great cricketing occasions – the women’s test between England and India and the World Test Championship final between India and New Zealand.

Now that I have finished my series about my Scottish holiday (all posts therein can be accessed from here) it is time to tackle other things. In this post I look back two great cricket matches which overlapped (poor organization there). I start with:

ENGLAND WOMEN V
INDIA WOMEN

This test match, the first women’s test match in two years and the first involving India Women for seven years was played between the 16th and 19th of June at Bristol. Not only do the women play very little test cricket, their domestic structure does not include long form cricket.

England were 269-6 at the close of the first day, having at one point been 230-2. Heather Knight, the captain, scored 95, Tammy Beaumont 66 and Nat Sciver 42. In occupation overnight were debutant Sophia Dunkley and veteran Katherine Brunt. Brunt fell early on the second morning to make ti 270-7 but Dunkley found excellent partners in Sophie Ecclestone who helped the eighth wicket to add 56 and then Anya Shrubsole who scored a blazing 47 as a further 70 accrued for the ninth wicket. At Shrubsole’s dismissal the score was 396-9 and Knight declared, leaving Dunkley with a debut innings of 74 not out to look back on. Sneh Rana, an off spinner, had 4-131 from 39.2 overs for India.

Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma gave the Indian first innings a magnificent start, putting on 167 before Verma, at the age 17, was out for 96 just missing a debut century. Some good bowling by England in the closing stages of the second day and an odd decision by skipper Mithali Raj to send in a nightwatcher with quite a lot of time left in the day (both the nightwatcher, Shikha Pandey, and Raj herself, obliged to go in anyway, fell in the closing stages) put India in trouble, a situation that got rapidly worse at the start of day three as more quick wickets fell. At one stage the score read 197-8, meaning that eight wickets had fallen for 30 runs. The ninth wicket provided some resistance and forced the taking of the second new ball. It took an absolute beauty from Katherine Brunt to break the stand, and no11 Jhulan Goswami got another good ball, this time from Anya Shrubsole, to end the innings at 231, meaning that, this being a four match, England were able to enforce the follow-on, which they quite correctly did. Ecclestone had taken 4-88 with her left arm spin.

Mandhana fell cheaply at the start of the Indian second innings, but Deepti Sharma, an off spinning all rounder who had batted well in the first Indian innings (she it was who orchestrated the tail end resistance), was promoted to no3 second time round, and by the end of day three she and Verma were still in occupation, with the score 83-1. After 16 runs had been added on the third morning Verma’s wonderful debut finally ended as she fell for 63, giving her 159 runs in the match. Just before lunch Deepti Sharma after the longest innings of her life finally fell for 54, making it 171-3, and the innings defeat avoided. The question now was could India hold out long enough to prevent England from being able to chase the runs down. Punam Raut dropped anchor at one end, but at the other Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur and Pooja Vastrakar all came and went fairly cheaply, with Raut being dismissed in between Kaur and Vastrakar. When Vastrakar fell India were 199-7, still only 34 to the good. Shikha Pandey joined Sneh Rana, and they put on 41, but even at that stage England seemed likely to win. However, Taniya Bhatia, the Indian wicket keeper, now joined Rana and they staunchly resisted everything England could produce. Rana was on 80 not out and might have had half an eye on a century and Bhatia 44 not out and definitely eyeing up a fifty, with the stand worth an unbeaten 104, only three short of the all time ninth wicket record in women’s test cricket when the umpires intervened, deciding it was too dark to continue (given how few overs were left, the draw had long since been certain). Ecclestone had again taken four wickets, although she also took some punishment as she tired in the closing stages, finishing with 4-118 this time. Shafali Verma’s two great innings on debut earned her player of the match, although Sneh Rana, and on the England side Knight (95 and wickets in both innings as well as being captain) and Ecclestone might also have been considered.

Both sides played well, and India showed tremendous fighting spirit to secure the draw the way they did at the end. A full scorecard can be viewed here.

WTC FINAL: NZ V IND

The inaugural World Test Championship had ended with India and New Zealand at the top, so these two teams convened at Southampton for the final. Six days were allotted, although the sixth would only come into play if weather interruptions necessitated it. In the end such was the weather between 18 and 23 June that even a sixth day was only just sufficient.

The first day was entirely washed out, and on day two New Zealand decided to go in without any spin options, picking three specialist pacers in Boult, Wagner and Southee plus a fast bowling all rounder in Jamieson and also at no7 Colin de Grandhomme who bowls medium pace. When they won the toss it was almost inevitable that they would choose to bowl with that team, and they duly did so. The truncated second day ended with India 146-3 and seemingly somewhat ahead of the game. New Zealand bowled fantastically on the third morning to reduce India to 217 all out, and by the close of the third day they were 101-2 in response, the second wicket having fallen just before the close. The fourth day, like the first, saw no play at all. Fortunately the fifth day dawned bright and clear. When NZ were 135-5, India looked to have wrested the initiative back, but the last five kiwi wickets put on a further 114 to give them a first innings lead of 32. India batted poorly in their second innings, with a number of poor dismissals. Rishabh Pant top scored with 41, as they managed a mere 170, leaving NZ just 139 to win. R Ashwin accounted for both openers with his off spin but there was to be no further success for India as Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor saw their side home, with Williamson racking up only the second individual 50+ score of the match in the process, giving him a match aggregate of 101 for once out (49 and 52 not out, the second and third highest scores of the match behind Devon Conway’s first innings 54). Kyle Jamieson with match figures of 7-61 from 46 overs, the most economical by a pace bowler in a test in England since Joel Garner in 1980, and a crucial 20 in his only innings was named Player of the Match. New Zealand thoroughly deserved their victory. While all of the kiwis bowled well, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah were both below their best for India, Ashwin was not helped by the conditions, though he put in a fine effort and Jadeja as a bowler was a virtual passenger on that pitch and in those conditions.

I like the concept of the WTC but I think the following changes are necessary for it to work:

  1. Every team to play the same number of matches in each cycle.
  2. All series to count towards the WTC (immediately before the final England and New Zealand played a non-WTC series, which New Zealand won and won well).
  3. All 12 test playing nations to be involved.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…