India Zindabad! (Again)

An acknowledgement of a great performance by India and some magnificent bowling by R Ashwin and Axar Patel, with an honourable mention for ‘Daniel in the lions den’ Lawrence.

This is the second time I have used India Zindabad! as a title (see here). The first referred to a series win in Australia sealed in extraordinary circumstances at the Gabba. This one refers to events at Ahmedabad, which have just concluded with a masterful bowling display by Axar Patel and R Ashwin.

DAY TWO

I covered the events of day one here, so I now resume with coverage of day two. England bossed the opening session, and did likewise for most of the second, at one point having India 148-6, still 57 behind, when Washington Sundar joined Rishabh Pant. England then paid for a team selection that had left them short of bowlers, with Stokes and Anderson both exhausted and Bess unable to provide any control. Pant completed a magnificent century and then fell immediately after, but then Axar Patel joined Sundar, and they were still together at the close, with India 294-7, 89 runs to the good.

THE CONCLUSION TO THE INDIAN INNINGS

Day three began as day two had ended, with India making merry, and it looked for a good while like Sundar would be joining Pant in the centurions club. The breakthrough finally came after 90 minutes, when Axar Patel was run out for 43. Ishant Sharma was then trapped LBW by the persevering Stokes, and then Mohammad Siraj took evasive action in anticipation of a bouncer and was bowled by the full length ball that Stokes actually produced. That gave Stokes four wickets for the innings, with Anderson taking three and Leach two.

ENGLAND 2ND INNINGS: DANIEL IN THE LIONS DEN

The reason for the biblical allusion in the heading of this section will become apparent as the story of England’s second innings unfolds. Zak Crawley was first to go, falling to Ashwin for five, before Bairstow played his first ball straight into the hands of a fielder to end his test career with a golden duck (there can be no way back for him in this format, though he will still be a white ball regular for some time). Sibley was then bowled by Axar Patel to make it 20-3, with Root already looking comfortable. Stokes was sent in at no5 in spite of not having much rest from his bowling endeavours, and he accrued two runs before playing a ball from Patel into the hands of Kohli to make it 30-4. Pope made a decent beginning but was then stumped by Pant off Patel for 15 to make it 65-5, which brought Daniel Lawrence to the crease to join Root. Almost immediately Ashwin trapped Root LBW, which he reviewed out of sheer desperation, but it was never going to be overturned. That was 65-6, and Ben Foakes came out to join Lawrence. Foakes resisted stoutly for a time, lasting 46 balls and 61 minutes for 13 and the partnership between him and Lawrence yielded 44 runs. Bess managed two before Pant took a catch off Axar Patel to account for him and make it 111-8. Jack Leach resisted stubbornly as Lawrence moved towards a 50, and a further four after that would have given him an aggregate of 100 for the match. Just after Lawrence had reached his first milestone Leach edged Ashwin to Rahane and it was 134-9, which brought Anderson to the crease. Anderson got a single, and Lawrence had a big swing at Ashwin and was bowled to end proceedings with England 135 all out and India winning by an innings and 25 runs. Daniel Lawrence had scored 50 out of 70 runs scored while he was at the wicket, off 95 balls and in 112 minutes. R Ashwin had just pipped Axar Patel to the bowling honours, with 5-47 from 22.5 overs to the left armer’s 5-48 from 24 overs. In the series Ashwin had 31 wickets and Patel 28, a combined tally of 59, with Axar Patel not playing the first match, while England’s bowlers between them had accounted for 58 wickets in the series. The pitches for the second and third matches both attracted adverse comment, some of which was merited, but this match was played on an excellent cricket pitch that brought everybody into the game, and England quite simply and abysmally failed to find any sort of counter to two excellent spin bowlers who bowled very few loose deliveries. Ravindra Jadeja is due back fron injury in the not too distant future, and slotting him into the team will give India the right kind of dilemma (I would say that Rahane who has neither current form nor an outstanding past record in his favour and Sundar are the two most vulnerable current team members).

I conclude this post by congratulating India on a magnificent performance. New Zealand will have a tough battle on their hands in the World Test Championship final, though that will be in England. An analysis of England’s two tours in the early part of 2021 is a subject for a separate post, which will be coming either today or tomorrow. A full scorecard for this match can be seen here. Pant’s ton and immaculate keeping have deservedly earned him Player of the Match, while Ashwin’s outstanding all round effort has equally deservedly seen him named Player of the Series.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Picking a tour party for Sri Lanka

I don my selector’s hat to name my suggested tour party for the test tour of Sri Lanka in January. Also, as usual there are some photographs.

The dates for the England’s two test matches in Sri Lanka have been confirmed. The first test will take place from 14-18 January and the second from 22-26 January. In this post I name the tour party I would pick given the circumstances. This is not, repeat not, an attempt at prediction. Jofra Archer is confirmed as an absentee, and Jos Buttler is possibly also going to be rested, and I have made this my assumption. Ollie Pope is a doubt due to injury, and Stokes may choose to miss the tour for personal reasons. Here I have assumed that Pope is not available but that Stokes is, though I also explain who I would select as Stokes’ replacement and why. I have two supplementary sections after going through my chosen squad, one explaining the biggest of the unexplained omissions and a controversial footnote.

MY ENVISAGED STARTING XI

My thinking here is informed by several factors: Sri Lanka are currently not one of the strongest of international outfits which means that this could well be a good first tour for youngsters, classic English fast medium bowlers do not tend to fare all that well in Sri Lanka, and the spin options are somewhat limited for England. The scene set, here we go:

  1. Dominic Sibley – right handed opening batter, very occasional leg spinner. There are question marks over his ability to handle spinners, and he could well have difficulty against Sri Lanka’s best current bowler, Dananjaya (bowling average 24.33) but his overall record since his elevation means that he warrants selection. I do not expect him to increase his meagre tally of four first class wickets on this tour.
  2. Rory Burns – left handed batter, occasional wicket keeper. He is also happier against seam than spin, but like Sibley deserves his continued presence in the side.
  3. Zak Crawley – right handed batter. The youngster has been a revelation since his elevation to international level, with his monumental 267 vs Pakistan an obvious highlight.
  4. *Joe Root – captain, right handed batter, occasional off spinner. The skipper has been somewhat short of runs lately, but England will need his experience.
  5. Ben Stokes – left handed batter, right arm fast bowler. The one member of this England squad one cannot even attempt to find a like for like replacement for. If he does pull out it will be a crippling blow for England even considering the less than stellar opposition.
  6. Daniel Lawrence – right handed batter, occasional off spinner. He deserves his chance at the highest level, is known to play spin well, and his bowling is by no means negligible (I would certainly have him ahead of Root in the bowling pecking order). For more on my thinking here see my earlier post arguing against a test recall for Jonny Bairstow.
  7. +Ben Foakes – right handed batter, wicket keeper. Since the retirement from top level cricket of Sarah Taylor his status as England’s finest contemporary keeper has been unchallenged, he had a splendid tour of Sri Lanka last time England were here, and he should be given another opportunity.
  8. Sam Curran – left handed batter, left arm fast medium bowler. His left handedness increases the variety available to the bowling attack and he is also a more than useful lower/ middle order batter.
  9. Mark Wood – right handed batter, right arm fast bowler. Archer is not available for this tour, and I want at least one bowler of serious pace in the side.
  10. Jack Leach – left handed batter, left arm orthodox spinner. I think two genuine spinners are needed on Sri Lankan pitches, Bess has struggled of late, failing to build on his good tour of South Africa, and England are not massively spoilt for choice in this department.
  11. Matthew Parkinson – right handed batter, leg spinner. Deserves a chance to establish himself at the highest level.

We now turn our attention to the reserves. This is a very short tour, but Covid-19 necessitates having plenty of cover available, so I name seven designated reserves, and mention a couple of others.

  1. Liam Livingstone – right handed batter, occasional bowler of both off spin and leg spin. Primarily selected on the basis of his batting, but his bowling may well get some use as well.
  2. James Bracey – right handed batter, wicket keeper. He is more batter than keeper, but he is good enough at the latter role to be designated official reserve keeper as cover for Foakes while also covering a batting slot.
  3. Jordan Cox – right handed batter, occasional wicket keeper. A hugely promising youngster, having scored a double century for Kent against Sussex while still in his teens. I admit that in making this call I am influenced by the success that his county colleague Crawley has enjoyed since his own elevation.
  4. Will Jacks – right handed batter, off spinner. He probably has more bowling pedigree than Moeen Ali did when he was first selected to bowl spin for England, although he is undoubtedly more batter than bowler. He is as close to an all rounder who bowls spin as England have at the moment.
  5. Chris Woakes – right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler. He is much better in England than he is overseas, but his all round skills would enable him to cover any vacancy save in the wicket keeping department without massively weakening the side.
  6. Olly Stone – right handed batter, right arm fast bowler. Cover for Wood, and might replace Curran to give the attack extra pace, although that would give England a decidedly long tail.
  7. Amar Virdi – right handed batter, off spinner. Specialist spin cover, chosen instead of Bess.
  8. Ollie Pope – right handed batter, occasional keeper. Obviously he makes the trip if fit, in which case Lawrence reverts to being a reserve, he is the first of two conditional names here, the other being…
  9. Lewis Gregory – right handed batter, right arm fast medium. Should he pull out Stokes cannot be replaced, and in view of the frequency of high scoring games in this part of the world I feel that bowling depth is more needed than batting depth, so the man who would take Stokes’ place in the event of him pulling out is someone who is more bowler than batter.

1100 TEST WICKETS OVERLOOKED?

I have mentioned elsewhere that Sri Lanka is not a happy hunting ground for fast medium bowlers, and that applies in spades to Stuart Broad, whose record there is quite frankly dreadful. James Anderson has a less bad record in Sri Lanka than Stuart Broad, but it is hardly one to shout about. I therefore feel that England can be best served by not selecting the two veterans, and instead giving younger bowlers a chance to flourish against one the less strong test match outfits. In the future England are due to tour India and Australia, and one would rather not have players making their first test match tour to either of those countries. Also, neither Leach nor Parkinson, my two envisaged spinners, are up to much with the bat, and while I do not subscribe to selecting bowlers based on their batting it has to be said that an 8,9,10, 11 of Broad, Leach, Anderson, Parkinson as it would presumably be looks very fragile.

A CONTROVERSIAL FINISH

I have noted that England are not hugely well equipped in the spin bowling department, and I think that recalling either Adil Rashid or Moeen Ali to the test squad would be a retrograde step, especially in view of the fact that this is a tour where youngsters should be getting a chance. One potential solution is someone who has a phenomenal record at both domestic and international level, just not in men’s cricket: Sophie Ecclestone. I have not named her in my envisaged tour party, but I could see her doing the job.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for my usual sign off – to see a photo at full size please click on it:

The Case Against A Test Recall For Jonny Bairstow

The case against the proposed recall to the England test squad of Jonny Bairstow.

Apparently England are considering recalling Bairstow to the test squad due to an injury to Ollie Pope. In this post I set out the reasons why they should not be doing so.

TRIED AND UNTRUSTED

Bairstow was dropped from the test squad because he was consistently failing to deliver in that format. His brilliance in limited overs cricket is unquestionable, but the case of Jason Roy should serve as a warning. Roy had a fantastic 2019 World Cup, and was drafted into the test squad off the back of it. Save for one good innings against Ireland at Lord’s he never looked like making the grade as a test batter. Not only that, the knock that his confidence took through his failures in test cricket has impacted on his international white ball form to the extent that his place in the squad is now in jeopardy.

DANIEL LAWRENCE AND JAMES BRACEY

On any rational assessment Daniel Lawrence and James Bracey should be ahead of Bairstow in the queue for a test place. Both have fine recent first class records, both made runs in intra-squad games in the preparation for the Covid-hit 2020 home international season. I would probably opt for Lawrence of the two, but fully acknowledge the case for Bracey. Lawrence and Bracey are both very much players for the future, and the upcoming series in Sri Lanka would give them a chance to stake a long term claim, whereas Bairstow would be a very regressive selection.

COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP

The proving ground for long format players is supposed to the county championship, and even in the abbreviated 2020 season, where Essex and Somerset played six matches each and everyone else five more than one youngster accepted opportunities that came their way. The inclusion of Bairstow in a test squad would smack of ‘closed shop’ practices and look suspiciously like a slap in the face not just for the players I have actually named above, but for the County Championship. Jordan Cox of Kent had an amazing season, especially for someone who was still in his teens at the time (he has just turned 20), and has every right to expect a test call to come sooner rather than later, and like Lawrence and Bracey he would be more deserving of such than Jonny Bairstow.

The other alternative route the selectors could go down given his recent success with the bat is to promote Buttler to no 6 and give the wicket keeper’s role to Foakes. This too would be superior to the non-solution of a recall for Bairstow, especially if given the nature of Sri Lankan pitches they plan to elevate Matthew Parkinson, the young leg spinner.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Here are some recent photographs…