England Take An Early Lead With Victory in Chennai

A look at the closing stages of the test match in Chennai, a brief summary of the whole game, player ratings and more.

This post details the events of the fifth and final day of the 1st test between India and England, looks at the match as a whole and provides a complete set of player ratings.

AN EMPHATIC WIN

At the start of the final day the match situation was England 578 and 178, India 337 and 39-1, meaning India needed 381 to win and England needed nine wickets.

Leach struck first, removing Pujara with a fine piece of bowling, a crucial strike as he was the most likely of the Indians to be able to bat through the day at one end. For a time thereafter India fared respectably, with Kohli in full control of his innings from the start and Shubman Gill completing a good fifty. Then James Anderson intervened in no uncertain terms, removing Gill and Rahane in one sensational over, both bowled by absolute beauties. Pant also fell to Anderson to put Indian five down. Sundar fell for a duck, to well taken catch by Buttler off the bowling of Bess. Ashwin resisted stoutly for a time, before he picked the wrong ball to cut and succeeded only in edging to Buttler who accepted the offering, giving Leach his third wicket of the innings. That was 171-7, and left Kohli with only three tail enders for support. Eight runs later a beauty from Stokes, with a bit of assistance from the pitch (it kept low) got through Kohli’s defences for 72. Shortly after that Shahbaz Nadeem, who made number nine look a rather lofty position, was caught in the gully by Burns off the bowling of Leach, giving him a fourth wicket of the innings. Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah resisted as best they could, with one ball beating everything and going for four byes. The was a bizarre near ending to the match when a bail was knocked off and stump tilted backwards, but the on-field umpire sent it upstairs and sure enough the bail had been dislodged before the ball was bowled, so, quite correctly, dead ball was called. However, the end was not long delayed as Archer located the edge of Bumrah’s bat and Buttler made no mistake with the catch. India were all out for 192 and the margin was 227 runs.

Jack Leach had 4-76 from 26 overs, the same figures that Bess had recorded in the Indian first innings, while Anderson’s spell that ripped the heart out of the Indian innings read more like a PIN code than a set of bowling figures: 5-3-6-3. He now has a better bowling average in test matches in Asia than Kapil Dev did. He also augmented his list of records by overtaking Courtney Walsh to move to the top of list of most test wickets taken after the age of 30, being now on 343 since he attained that age. His next marker is nine wickets away – wicket number 620 will take him to the third in the list of all time leading test wicket takers.

THE MATCH IN BRIEF

England dominated this game, beginning by scoring big runs and batting long into the game, a combination they could not manage on their last visit to India, restricting India to 337 in their first innings, when the pitch was still playing well, and although the latter stages of their own second innings were not great, the lead stretched to over 400. Anderson’s sensational spell on the final morning pretty much settled the outcome, all else that followed being a mere epilogue. Of the 14 sessions that this game spanned (it ended midway through the penultimate possible session) England were clear winners of at least ten (2-6 inclusive, 8-10 inclusive and 13-14, halved the very first session and possibly the seventh, and possibly had the worst of sessions 11 and 12, though by then they were so far ahead it hardly mattered. The session score thus reads at 11-3 to England.

THREE MAJOR INNINGS

In terms of their significance to the outcome of the match there were three major innings played in this game. Obviously Joe Root’s first innings double century stands head and shoulders above anything else in the match, but there were two other innings of major importance played alongside it: Dominic Sibley in batting the whole of the first day for his 87 got some miles into the legs of the Indian bowlers, and built the base from which England assumed command of the match, and Ben Stokes’ 82 on day two, a very different type of innings, was also of huge importance to England. Pant’s first innings fireworks and Kohli’s near infallible effort in the final innings were impressive in isolation, but were not enough to save their team from a sound thrashing and cannot therefore be rated as of major significance.

ENGLAND’S BOWLERS

Jack Leach showed immense fortitude in coming back from the savaging he got from Pant in the first Indian innings to finish the match with six wickets in total. Dominic Bess captured five wickets in the game and contributed some useful lower order runs to the cause, and a) his respectable wicket hauls are becoming too frequent to be attributable to chance – this is now three matches in a row in which he has fared well, plus b) Napoleon’s famous comment about lucky generals also applies. Stokes was not as influential with the ball as he was with the bat, but he did produce the delivery that snuffed out India’s last slender hopes by rearranging Kohli’s stumps. Archer had a fair game, and had the honour of terminating proceedings by dismissing Bumrah. Anderson, in a sunbathed Chennai with barely a hint of green to be seen, showed his enduring class. His wickets in 2021 have come at ten a piece, and all in Asia. He had his problems in the first few years of his career, but as a veteran he is simply brilliant, and I for one will consider all rumours of his impending retirement greatly exaggerated until and unless they originate from the man himself.

THE WORLD TEST CHAMPIONSHIP

This has been rendered very unsatisfactory by Covid-19, though in truth I suspect that the fall out from the pandemic his merely added the word very to the adjective. England are one up in this four match series, and need to win it by two clear games to make the final of the WTC which is likely to be at Southampton. If India win the series outright they make the final, and if any result not covered by the foregoing eventuates then the Aussies sneak in. Things could get very interesting if England are up 2-1 going into the final match – there could be little point in either side settling for a draw which would give Australia a ticket to the final of the WTC.

PLAYER RATINGS

I have a graphic for these. I will add to that graphic the following details: I was very harsh on Rohit Sharma because as one of the senior pros he should be setting an example for the youngsters whereas he actually failed twice with the bat, and his second innings was inappropriate for a senior pro in a side trying to save the game. Also, my ratings cumulatively give England 77 out of 110, an average across the board of 7/10, whereas those for India come to 59/110, an average of 5.36 out of 10. This reflects the fact most members of the England team contributed something to proceedings whereas India had several ‘passengers’.

LOOKING AHEAD

I now think that England have a serious chance of winning both this and the home series against India, and even though it has not been done by an England side for half a century I believe they are capable of regaining the Ashes down under in just less than a year’s time. India thumped Australia in Australia just recently. Looking to the next test, Foakes is coming for Buttler of necessity, and there is a case for bringing Broad in for Anderson, who has now played two matches back to back, but I see no need for any other changes. In particular there have been those arguing for Moeen Ali to replace Bess, but to me exhibit A against that notion is Sundar in this match, who contributed with the bat but did very little with the ball. There is no guarantee that Moeen Ali would even contribute significantly with the bat – his test average is only a little bit better than Bess’s, while as a bowler he is leagues below Bess. I would stick with Bess for the present, but if the proverbial gun to the head proposition compelled me to drop him and bring someone else in I would promote Parkinson, the young leg spinner, from the reserves to the full squad and play him. For India meanwhile, the sequence of their last five test matches with the name of the captain in brackets is quite telling: L (Kohli), WDW (Rahane), L (Kohli). Kohli is still worth his place as a batter, but I think that if they are to have any chance of getting back into the series India need to appoint Rahane captain on a permanent basis. I think Kuldeep Yadav whose wrist spin will offer England a different challenge has to be fitted in, with either Sundar or Nadeem missing out.

PHOTOGRAPHS

It is time for my usual sign off…

England’s Ascendancy

My account of the first day of India v England in Chennai, plus some photographs.

This post deals with day 1 in Chennai, where India and England have been doing battle. For those of us here in the UK coverage has been available on Channel Four for TV fans (which I am not – don’t look here for any comments about TV coverage) and on Talksport 2 for radio fans who want live commentary (TMS have been running a ‘cricket social’ on n 5 live sports extra). The time difference between the UK and India, and my preferred methods of following the game meant that at 3:45AM local time I was tuned into talksport2 and had a cricinfo window open on my computer for extra detail.

PRELIMINARIES

England were without Zak Crawley due to injury but did have Stokes, Pope and Archer all available and all were duly selected. England also departed from their stated rotation policy with the veterans and gave Anderson a second successive match. Fortunately, for all that some who should have known better were spruiking such a move England did not pick Moeen Ali. The selected lineup was thus: Sibley, Burns, Lawrence, *Root, Stokes, Pope, Buttler, Bess, Archer, Leach, Anderson. India meanwhile had lost left arm spinner Axar Patel to injury. Somewhat surprisingly they opted not pick wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav, going instead for deepening their batting by picking both offspinners, Sundar and Ashwin, both of whom are handy with the bat alongside a debutant left arm spinner, Shahbaz Nadeem. Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat. Indian skipper Kohli, being a sensible chap, did not resort to the ‘psychological ploy’ of saying that he would have bowled anyway (note to captains who still do this, no one is buying it, OK?) opting instead for honesty.

THE PLAY

The morning started quietly, but with no great trouble for England. With 15 minutes to go until lunch the score was 63-0, but then Burns essayed a reverse sweep, not wise on day one of a test match and especially not so close to lunch, and edged the ball to Pant who took the catch. In the next over the unfortunate Lawrence got an absolute beauty from Bumrah and was pinned LBW and it was 63-2. The third umpire then spent ages agonizing over a decision on a potential run out after Root was a bit dozy, but fortunately he had made his ground. England took lunch at 67-2, and Root and Sibley were able to regroup. Post lunch scoring was slow initially but neither batter looked in any real trouble. Things picked up somewhat in the second half of the afternoon session and England reached tea at 140-2, with Root playing superbly and Sibley doing precisely what he was in the side to do: bat time and get some miles into the bowlers legs.

After tea Root hit the accelerator, while Sibley continued to be an excellent foil at the other end. Sundar was bowled comparatively sparingly, and was expensive and sadly posed little threat. Nadeem’s debut was marred by the bowling of several no-balls (pretty much inexcusable for a spinner), leaving only Ashwin as genuinely threatening spinner. The faster bowlers were better, Ishant being accurate enough to command respect at all times, and Bumrah bowling splendidly and deserving rather more reward than he actually got.

There were three scheduled balls of the day remaining and we were deep into the half hour over spill in which overs can be bowled when another corker of a ball from Bumrah pinned Sibley LBW. Because we were already over time, the dismissal ended play for the day, which means that England will resume on 263-3, Root 128 not out and Stokes the new batter. Root’s innings was a gem, his handling of the spinners especially brilliant. Sibley was rocklike until that fourth last ball of the day beat him, and his determined effort should not be overlooked. Root’s first innings scores in his last three tests have been 228, 186 and now 128 not out with power to add. In terms of an English batter going big successively in two different away countries I can think only of Hammond in 1933 who scored 101 and 75 not out in the fifth and final Ashes test and then produced scores of 227 and 336 not out in New Zealand in the next two games as a performance to rival Root’s.

Sundar’s figures of 12-0-55-0 indicate the problem with picking someone in a bowling role based on their batting ability, and underline the rightness of England not selecting Moeen Ali who is undoubtedly a less skilled practitioner with the ball than Sundar.

Root and Stokes need to get England through the first hour of tomorrow, and then England should have India where they want them. Root after the close made it quite clear that England are aiming to go big, and on this surface which appears to be very unresponsive that is necessary – I reckon that at minimum England need to double their current score before they can feel in control of things. However, I would much rather be in their shoes than India’s at the moment, hence the title of this piece.

PHOTOGRAPHS

There has been some sun today, and the finches are out in force here in North Lynn…

A Great Turnaround

My account of an astonishing final day of the Sri Lanka v England test series in Galle, complete with England player ratings and an acknowledgement of Lasith Embuldeniya.

This post deals with the events that unfolded in Galle today, which started with England very much second favourites.

ENGLAND FIRST INNINGS

England resumed 42 runs adrift with one wicket left in their first innings. Five runs were accumulated, four of them by way of a reverse sweep from James Anderson before the end came. Embuldeniya did not add to his seven wickets, but his day was far from done…

SRI LANKA SECOND INNINGS

Sri Lanka started their second innings with an advantage of 37, and plenty of time to build a daunting lead. Unfortunately they lost their heads rather dramatically. Jack Leach and Dominic Bess, bowling much better than they had in the first innings and assisted by some kamikaze batting from the Sri Lankans picked up wickets quickly. By lunch Sri Lanka were six down, and two more wickets fell soon after. There were two splendid catches, Crawley doing well to hang on to one that was hit out of the middle of the bat but straight at him, and Anderson getting underneath a swirling mishit. Embuldeniya, barely rested from his bowling stint, proceeded to play an innings that shamed most of his supposed betters with the bat, producing a first class career best 40 chock full of common sense. He succeeded in having Bess removed from the attack, but then he and no11 Asitha Fernando fell to successive Joe Root deliveries, leaving Sri Lanka all out for 126, and England facing a target of 164 to win.

ENGLAND 2ND INNINGS

Crawley did reach double figures for the first time in the series, but then honoured protocol by falling to Embuldeniya for the fourth successive time. Bairstow made a small contribution, Root failed, and Lawrence played a poor shot before he had given himself time to get a proper sight of the ball. At that point the score was 89-4, and England were by no means safe. Embuldeniya had three of the wickets, giving him ten for the match. Sibley was grinding away at one end, and was now joined by Buttler. Buttler batted sensibly, keeping the scoreboard ticking, although Sri Lanka were not doing nearly enough to make things difficult – singles were regularly there for the taking. As England closed in, Sibley completed a 50 which was worth more than a century on a flat track would have been. He had his good fortune, with a couple of close LBW appeals being turned down and being labelled “umpire’s call” by the DRS. However, the second of the two had hit him above the knee roll, and he is quite tall, so one can understand why it was considered too high by the umpire. Also, all fortune, good or ill, to one side, he showed an immense amount of character after a very poor series up to that point. Buttler just missed out on what would have been his second fifty of the match, but he was there at the end as England won by six wickets, to take the series 2-0.

THE PLAYER OF THE MATCH AWARD AND EMBULDENIYA

England’s win by six wickets effectively ensured that Joe Root, who had a second successive great game, would be player of the match. Had Sri Lanka bowled England out a second time and emerged victorious Embuldeniya would have been a deserving recipient, and even had the margin been three wickets rather than six he would have merited consideration. As it was a margin as comfortable as six wickets really did mean that someone from the winning team had to be chosen, and with all respect to Anderson and to Sibley for his gritty second innings effort Root was the only serious candidate. Root was also the Player of the Series, which was an absolute shoo-in. Embuldeniya’s combination of 40 and a 10 wicket haul got some of us thinking about other notable combinations of runs with big wicket hauls, and here are six of the best from test history:

  1. Melbourne 1883 – Billy Bates took seven wickets in each innings, including England’s first ever test hat trick, and scored 55 in England’s only innings
  2. The Oval 1902 – Hugh Trumble scored 64 not out and 7 not out and took eight first innings and four second innings wickets, but as with Embuldeniya could not win it for his side, England sneaking home by one wicket. Trumble had the best match aggregate for Australia with 71 runs, and bowled unchanged through both England innings for his 12 wicket haul.
  3. Alan Davidson 1960 – He took 5-135 in the West Indies first innings of 453, 6-87 in their second innings 284 and contributed 44 to Australia’s first innings 505 and 80 to their second innings 232, having to settle for a place in history as part of test cricket’s first ever tie, rather than a win.
  4. Ian Botham, Bombay 1980 (it was not called Mumbai in those days) – 6-58, 114 not out when no one else even topped 50, 7-48 in an innings victory.
  5. Imran Khan, Faisalabad 1982 – 6-98, 117, 5-82 in an innings win over India
  6. Richard Hadlee, Brisbane 1985 – 9-52 in the first innings, an all time test record for an out and out fast bowler, a blistering 54 (four of each kind of boundary) which enabled skipper Coney to declare with two full days in hand for Australia to be dismissed a second time, and six more wickets to finish the job.

ENGLAND PLAYER RATINGS

Dominic Sibley – 7/10. His gritty second innings saved a dire series for him, and spared England some potentially major blushes, sending him and them on to India in good heart.

Zak Crawley – 3/10. Two horrific failures with the bat, but he did hold one fine catch during the Sri Lankan second innings.

Jonathan Bairstow – 5/10. stabilised the ship in the England first innings after both openers had gone cheaply, but did then get out first thing on the following morning. A modest contribution to the second innings. Although he batted well at times he never did so for long enough in this series, as evidenced by a highest score of 47.

Joe Root – 9/10. 186 in the first innings, a couple of wickets to end the Sri Lankan second innings, but a failure at a crucial moment in the England second innings blotted his otherwise stellar copybook, costing him one mark.

Dan Lawrence – 3/10. A double failure with the bat this time, and his second innings shot was quite awful. He did take a catch in the field along the way.

Jos Buttler – 7/10. A fifty in the first innings, just missed out on that mark in the second, but played a crucial role in seeing England home. A competent effort with the gloves.

Sam Curran – 4/10. Largely unthreatening with the ball, though he did bag a wicket in the first innings, he hung around briefly with the bat, but did nothing to alter the impression that no7 is a place too high for him in a test batting order.

Dominic Bess – 7-10. His first innings bowling was largely unthreatening, he played a fine support knock in England’s first innings, and bagged four wickets in the second innings.

Mark Wood – 5/10. Three first innings wickets, none in the second. His shot near the end of day three was a poor one, and an absolute shocker in the circumstances.

Jack Leach – 7/10. Toiled through 36 overs in the first innings, getting no wickets. Bowled well in the second and was rewarded with four wickets. He now has more wickets in Sri Lanka than any other England bowler.

James Anderson – 8.5/10. Without his bowling in the first innings England would have been buried – SL would have had over 500 on the board. In the second innings he did not get among the wickets but did take a fine catch, doing well to get under a swirling mishit.

This is England’s fifth successive away test victory, their best run on foreign soil since they followed victories in the last four matches of the 1911-2 Ashes with another three to start the 1913-4 tour of South Africa. The bowling spearhead then was another right arm fast medium with Lancashire connections, albeit more to league cricket than to the county, Sydney Francis Barnes, and he was just a shade older than Anderson is now, being past 40 by the end of the South African series. India will be a much tougher tour – this Sri Lankan team are not used to winning, and that manifests itself in an obvious lack of killer instinct at key moments, whereas India surmounted huge difficulties to best the Aussies in their own backyard.

PHOTOGRAPHS

I end as usual with some photographs…

Sri Lanka In Control In Galle

A look at day two of the second Sri Lanka v England test and some of the issues raised by it.

This post deals with day 2 of the second Sri Lanka v England test match in Galle, and tackles a couple of related issues.

ANDERSON AND THE REST

England achieved their first goal of removing Mathews early on day 2, for 110, but Dickwella who just missed out on a maiden test hundred and Dilruwan Perera with a fine half century took Sri Lanka to 381. James Michael Anderson finished this innings with the following figures: 29-13-40-6. Mark Wood, bowling consistently fast, took three wickets, and the other fell to Sam Curran’s left arm. Both front line spinners, Bess and Leach, were therefore wicketless, and neither posed much of a threat.

EMBULDENIYA’S BUNNIES

The England innings started almost on repeat from the first match, left arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya being entrusted with the new ball, in company with veteran seamer Lakmal on this occasion. Sibley was first to go, pinned LBW (he reviewed, an effort bad enough to be almost worthy of the adjective ‘Watsonian’ in “honour” of the legendary Shane Watson, but the decision was correctly upheld), and then Crawley snicked one into the slips and England were 5-2, and in three innings to date Embuldeniya has now dismissed both openers all three times, without a double figure score from either. Root and Bairstow steadied the ship, and reached the close at 98-2, Root 67 not out. I was actually involved in a video conference at this time, so did not catch this passage of play. To give themselves a chance, given that the ball is already starting to turn, England will need to bat all day tomorrow as a first requirement. To do this they could do with someone other than Root producing a major performance with the bat. Looking ahead, England go to India next, and although Ravi Jadeja is injured, the Indian squad named for this series features Axar Patel, like Embuldeniya, a left arm spinner, and there is a strong case for India giving him the new ball alongside Bumrah, now recovered from his own injury. This strategy of pairing a left arm slow bowler with a right arm fast one at the start of an innings is nothing new. It used to be considered standard just over a century ago. Kent had their greatest period, four county championships in seven seasons, with Arthur Fielder and Colin Blythe, just such a combo, as their new ball pairing. Lancashire had a decade earlier used Mold and Briggs to similar effect. In the 1912 Triangular tournament England more than once used Syd Barnes and Harry Dean as an opening pair, and on one occasion Barnes and Frank Woolley did the honours. Australia’s lowest ever test innings score of 36 all out was made in the face of Rhodes (SLA, 7-17) and Hirst (LFM, 3-15) at Edgbaston in 1902. Sri Lanka’s reinvention of the cricketing wheel is working well for them.

ENGLAND OPENERS

The disastrous time Sibley and Crawley are having at the hands of Embuldeniya has naturally raised the question of whether to continue playing them or not. Whatever the correct answer is, I know what is not correct, though it is being advocated by various people: a recall for Keaton Jennings, a man with a Brearleyesque batting average and without the captaincy skills. For the India series Burns will be available, and he will fill one of the openers slots. I would revert to the Sibley, Burns, Crawley top three and hope it works. For the second innings of this match there is a potentially bigger problem, but it is hard to see a tactical adjustment of the batting order working, as Embuldeniya will surely be called up for a bowl as soon as either Sibley or Crawley appear.

There are some good young top order batters in county cricket, and I would rather look to them than to a never-really-was like Jennings.

THE ‘BRANDERSON’ ISSUE

England’s stated policy is rotate the two veterans, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, but they may well have to rethink – to leave Anderson out after his performance here would look odd to put it mildly. At home against New Zealand and India both should play, while for the Asheis it will depend on form and fitness, but I would be looking as follows: Brisbane – Broad, Adelaide – Anderson, Perth – neither, if all are fit I would go with the outright pace of Archer, Wood and Stone, Melbourne – both, Sydney – Anderson.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off:

Thoughts on The Test Squad for New Zealand

My thoughts on the England test squad for New Zealand, announced earlier today.

INTRODUCTION

This post looks at the test squad for New Zealand, announced not long ago. There are also of course a few photos.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE MIDDLE

The test squad for New Zealand is as follows (click here for the cricinfo article about it):

Joe Root (capt), Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Saqib Mahmood, Matthew Parkinson, Ollie Pope, Dominic Sibley, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes

I see one definite negative in this squad – the continuing selection of Buttler, although at least he will not be playing as a specialist batter, he will be keeping, one questionable retention (Denly), several non-controversial picks (Root, Archer, Broad – Anderson is still unfit, Curran, Stokes and Woakes), and several interesting newcomers (Sibley, Crawley, Pope, Parkinson, Mahmood). After a quick thank goodness for the absence from the red ball squad of Messrs Bairstow and Roy (retention of either would have been a disgraceful abdication of responsibility) and a brief lament for the continuing non-selection of Ben Foakes (best wicketkeeper around and averages over 40 in the few tests he has been permitted to play) and Lewis Gregory, I will devote the rest of this post to the five new names in the squad.

ZAK CRAWLEY

Opens the batting for Kent, he has 1,908 runs at 31.80 and three first class hundreds. These figures do not really warrant elevation to the status of test opener, and I would have preferred someone else to be picked in his place.

SAQIB MAHMOOD

Pretty much a pure bowler (he averages 14 with the bat in first class cricket), the young Lancashire quick  has 42 wickets at 28.90 in first class cricket (less impressive in other words than most of the younger pace bowlers I mentioned in my last post but one), however I am less unimpressed by this pick than I am by that of Crawley.

MATTHEW PARKINSON

A ‘ferret’ (he comes after the rabbits) with the bat – average 5.37 in that department – the young Lancashire legspinner has 60 first class wickets at 25.20 in his fledgling career. It is unlikely that a New Zealand pitch will warrant the selection of both him and Leach, but they should combine well together should that situation arise. I welcome this selection.

OLLIE POPE

The Surrey batter averages 57.55 in first-class cricket. His first exposure to test cricket last summer did not go well, because he was thrust higher up the order than he regularly batted for his county, but he is a much better cricketer now. He is that rarity among contemporary English batters, someone who is happy playing a long innings against the red ball. England’s middle order should benefit hugely from his presence.

DOMINIC SIBLEY

He has had a huge season for Warwickshire, which has seen his first class average move north of 40 (it currently stands at 41.55), and given England’s woes at the top of the order a failure to select him would have been an utter disgrace. His recent performance against Nottinghamshire when he scored 215 not out in the first innings and then 109 in the successful second innings run chase put him in rare company. Like Pope he is genuinely comfortable digging in for a long haul against the red ball, and alongside the now established Burns he should form the solidest English test opening pair since Strauss and Cook were in their prime nearly a decade ago.

Overall I consider this a respectable effort by the selectors and award them 7/10 for it.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

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Thoughts for New Zealand and a Calendar Preview.

A few thoughts about the upcoming tour of New Zealand and a preview of the 2020 aspi.blog Wall Calendar.

INTRODUCTION

The England squad for New Zealand is due to be named soon, and I have some suggestions here. I also use this post to offer aspi.blog readers a sneak preview of the aspi.blog 2020 wall calendar, currently in production and due to arrive with me early next week.

SQUAD FOR NEW ZEALAND

It is unlikely that any surface in New Zealand will warrant the selection of two front line spinners, so for this tour I am selecting fewer spinners than I normally would. Seam and swing tend to be important in NZ just as they are in this country, so I do not regard a second out and out super quick alongside Archer, who should be used in short bursts. Finally, I do not think that even if both are fully fit England should be thinking of using Broad and Anderson in the same squad, so only one of those makes the trip. Batting wise I think the experiment of picking white ball specialists to play test cricket has been tried and found seriously wanting. I have argued for some time that Tammy Beaumont deserves her chance alongside the men and I continue to believe that this experiment is warranted, however uncertainty over Stokes’ ability to function as a full-time bowler in test cricket at present leads me to temporarily shelve that idea. Dominic Sibley has made an iron-clad case for selection as a test match opener, and Rory Burns has done sufficient to hang on to his own place, which leaves Ben Stokes my envisaged no 3, Root back at 4 where he scores much more heavily than at 3, Ollie Pope in at 5, Ben Foakes wicketkeeper at six, Lewis Gregory coming at seven (there could be few better places for a seam bowling all-rounder to begin a test career than New Zealand), Sam Curran at 8, Jofra Archer at 9, Jack Leach at 10 and Stuart Broad at 11 (unless Anderson is fully fit, in which he case he replaces Broad). My reserves would be a top order batter (Beaumont – see above), a middle order batter, possibly Dan Lawrence of Essex who has played at least one major innings recently or if you want someone grittier Somerset’s Tom Abell, an out and out fast bowler (Stone or Wood depending on fitness) and a second spinner (Matt Parkinson would be my choice, his lack of skill with the bat not being a serious issue since I am not expecting him and Leach to figure in the same XI). Note that with both Burns and Pope having some experience of the role a reserve wicketkeeper is not needed.

On the radar for the future I would have Josh Bohannon, the young Lancashire batter, if more spinners are required offspinners Bess and Virdi are immediately in the equation and Patterson-White of Nottinghamshire (who have collectively been utterly dreadful this season, making his small success all the more impressive) may develop into a replacement for Jack Leach when the time comes. In the seam bowling department Ollie Robinson and Jamie Porter will warrant consideration, and the emerging fast bowling talent of Worcestershire’s Josh Tongue should also see him being talked about in the right places. Finally, opener Zak Crawley has attracted favourable notices at times, but at the moment he needs to increase the number of major innings on his CV before really meriting consideration as a test opener.

THE 2020 WALL CALENDAR PREVIEW

13 pics here, the front cover and one for each month:

Ashes Gone -What Should England Do Now?

Conceding the fourth test, and with it The Ashes, this post looks ahead to the fifth test at The Oval, with various changes to the England squad suggested. There are also lots of my photographs.

INTRODUCTION

England’s defeat at Old Trafford has yet to be officially confirmed, but barring serious rain it seems inevitable, and that will mean that Australia have retained The Ashes. Even if England somehow escape with a draw (which would be undeserved) they would need to win at The Oval and that looks unlikely given Australia’s overall superiority thus far in the series (save for a few sessions at Lord’s and the amazing final stages of Headingley Australia have been bossing things all through this series). Based on three matches and four days of the fourth cricketing justice demands that Australia retain The Ashes. Thus this post looks at the future and suggests changes for the fifth test based on The Ashes being already gone, though I would still recommend that they make these changes regardless. Having started this post just before play begins on day five there is a question of which will be completed first – this post or Australia’s victory – and my lack of confidence in England’s remaining batting is such that am not betting on which happens first!

THE STORY OF DAYS 1-4

Australia racked up 497-8 declared in their first innings, Steve Smith helping himself to a double century, his third in test cricket, all of them at England’s expense (only Don Bradman, with no fewer than eight, has scored more against England). England just avoided the follow-on, Burns and Root playing substantial innings – the former in the process becoming the first opener not named Cook to score three fifties for England in a series since the retirement of Andrew Strauss. Then Australia went out for quick runs, and got enough to declare yesterday evening, setting England just over 380 to win, Smith by his standards failing, managing a measly 82 (nb – I have had plenty to say regarding his personal conduct, but I have never criticised his batting.). Then Burns and Root fell in successive deliveries in the first over of England’s 2nd innings. Denly and Roy saw things through to the close, but barring more heroics from Stokes, it has hard to see England batting out today.

ENGLAND’S PROBLEMS

Burns’ successes have resolved one of England’s top order problems, but still required there are a)another opener who can do it against the red ball and b) someone who is comfortable at no 3 against the red ball. Additionally I think that Buttler (his first innings effort here notwithstanding) and Bairstow both need replacing, with a genuine frontline batter and a wicketkeeper-batter respectively). The bowling is in a much better state, but at The Oval a second spinner is likely to be needed alongside Leach, and somehow they have to find out a way of getting Smith out.

SORTING THE BATTING

I do not believe that either Roy or Denly belong in a test XI, and even big scores for both of them today will be too little too late as far as I am concerned. I have been arguing in posts since August 31st 2018 for Tammy Beaumont to be given her chance alongside the men, and I stick to that line. At no 3 I opt for a third regular opener, Dominic Sibley, and then Root back where he really belongs at no 4. As wicketkeeper and no 5 I select Ben Foakes, with Ben Stokes rounding out the top six. I then go for all-rounder Lewis Gregory at seven, Jofra Archer at eight, Stuart Broad at nine, Jack Leach at ten, and at 11 my second spinner, to whom I dedicate the next subsection of this post…

HELEN FENBY – THE MYSTERY OPTION

I was alerted to this possibility in a match in which she took four cheap wickets and also surprised all the commentators with her action – if it is a new one on them then perhaps it will be a new one on Steve Smith (all orthodox selections seem to have drawn a blank, so let’s try an unorthodox one). While this would be envisaged XI I would also have in reserve in case conditions warrant it 1) an extra batter, in this case Ollie Pope of Surrey, and 2) a reserve pace bowler, Craig Overton. Thus, my full squad for The Oval would be (all names in hyperlink form):

  1. Rory Burns
  2. Tammy Beaumont
  3. Dominic Sibley
  4. *Joe Root
  5. +Ben Foakes
  6. Ben Stokes
  7. Lewis Gregory
  8. Jofra Archer
  9. Stuart Broad
  10. Jack Leach
  11. Helen Fenby
  12. Ollie Pope
  13. Craig Overton

FURTHER SUGGESTIONS TO COMPLETE A TEST TOUR PARTY

I want another three players to complete a test touring party, and I reckon that they should be a batter, a pace bowler and a spinner. My three choices for these roles are George Bartlett of Somerset (a look to the future, with a youngster who is better suited in both style and temperament to playing long innings against the red ball than to biffing the white one around – his county colleague Abell and Joe Clarke of Nottinghamshire both also merit consideration), Anderson if he is fit, and if not whoever out of Mark Wood and Olly Stone is fit and Dominic Bess (since I have a left arm spinner and leg spinner in my squad I opt for the off spinner Bess in preference to leg spinner Matt Parkinson).

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

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A bit like too many of England’s recent batting efforts – a variety of ducks (the big one with the red face is a Muscovy duck).

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PS – contrary to the mischievous comparison made in the introduction to this post England have not lost a wicket thus far today.