Ashes Ahoy

A preview of Ashes 2021-22, with official coverage starting at 11PM UK time.

Official coverage of the 2021-22 Ashes series gets underway at 11PM tonight UK time, on five live sports extra for radio fans like me and on BT Sports for TV fans. The preliminaries have been turbulent for both sides, though at least England’s woes have largely been weather related (no on-field preparation time due to ridiculous amounts of rain), whereas for the second time in a few years an Australian test skipper has stepped down mired in scandal.

ENGLAND

England welcome Ben Stokes back into the fold after a layoff for mental health reasons. Sensibly Pope, a massive talent and one seemingly well suited to Aussie pitches has been preferred for the number six slot to the perennially underachieving at test level Jonathan Bairstow (a magnificent ODI opener and a fine T20I number four, the two international roles he should now make his sole focus). The basic question left is between Woakes (for extra batting depth and arguably bowling variety), Broad (for maximum bowling firepower) and Leach (there is some talk of going without the spinner, but with Stokes back there is no excuse – three front line pacers plus Stokes as back up is plenty in that department). My own final 11 would be: Burns, Hameed, Malan, *Root, Stokes, Pope, +Buttler, Robinson, Wood, Broad, Leach but I would not unduly quarrel with Woakes being picked ahead of Broad.

AUSTRALIA

Cynics would say that the loss of Tim Paine probably leaves Australia better equipped both batting and keeping wise than they were with him in post (Alex Carey makes his test debut as keeper-batter). Pat Cummins, who was Paine’s vice captain takes over the captaincy for this series (it is not common for a specialist fast bowler to be given this role – the last for England was Bob Willis who held the reins from 1982 to early 1984, and the only one ever to perform the role for Australia was Ray Lindwall in the 1950s – he stepped in on the field due to an injury). Mysteriously, Steve Smith, who could surely never be trusted with the captaincy again, has been appointed vice captain. Australia have a tried and not very trusted at no5 in Travis Head, a newbie at no six in Cameron Green and a debutant keeper in Carey. They have an experienced pace trio of Cummins, Hazlewood and the express paced but sometimes erratic Starc, and the second best test off spinner currently playing the game (sorry Nathan Lyon, Ashwin is definitely ahead of you). Their batting has three proven stars in Warner, Labuschagne and Smith.

PROSPECTS

While neither could be described as top class both of England’s openers, Burns and Hameed, have demonstrated an ability to bat time in test matches, and they provably gel well as a pair – three test century opening stands together already. Malan at number three is frankly a backward looking selection, but he may perform well. Obviously the skipper, batting in his regular number four slot, will be crucial to England’s chances, and at least the Burns/Hameed combo should insure that he is not too often coming in with the ball still new and shiny. It is a huge relief to have Stokes back in action, and a good series for him could well swing things England’s way. This is the series for Pope, who enjoys the type of pitches that Australia usually provides, to establish himself beyond question in England’s middle order, and I am expecting big things from him. Buttler has a respectable test batting record, and though he is not the equal of Foakes as a keeper I can understand why England have opted for him. The bowling, even with Anderson rested due to a minor calf issue, looks impressive. Robinson has been a revelation since his elevation to the test match ranks, Wood is quick and performs well away from home, Leach pays less than 30 per wicket and takes only just short of four wickets per game in his career to date and could well be crucial in this series, Broad has previously had success at the Gabba, and Woakes if picked will probably perform well.

Australia are in some turmoil, with four of their top seven genuinely questionable, though their bowling unit is its usual formidable self. Also Cummins is new to captaincy and there are at least two major ways a bowling captain can err – they can bowl themselves into the ground in an effort to lead by example, and they can go the other way and not give themselves enough overs. Also captaincy can have an adverse effect on form – Ian Botham took 7-48 in his last bowling innings before becoming England captain and 6-95 in his first after resigning the role, but never managed a five-for as captain.

A further factor in the equation is that due to their quarantine policy Perth (where England have only ever won one match, under Brearley in 1978) is off the roster, and if the weather forecasts are correct the opener at the Gabba is highly likely to be drawn.

Thus, even though it is half a century since an England team regained The Ashes down under (three retentions in that period, in 1978-9, 1986-7 and 2010-11), I really believe that England have a genuine chance. Australia will start as favourites and rightly so, but if England get everything right the upset is a definite possibility.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

World T20 Semi-Final Line Ups Complete

A look at the semi-finalists at the T20 World Cup, my team of the tournament and some photographs.

We now know who will be contesting the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup in the UAE. This post looks at the routes the four teams took to reach the SF stage and names an XI of the tournament.

ENGLAND DOMINANT UNTIL THEIR FINAL GAME

England won their first four games, and did so comfortably, accruing a massive net RR of +3.183 in the process. Their last game was against South Africa, third in the group, yesterday. In yesterday’s first game Australia had comfortably beaten West Indies, which meant they were well placed to qualify. South Africa needed a big win to qualify. South Africa batted first and did the first bit very well indeed, scoring 189-2 from their 20 overs. That left England needing 87 to qualify, 106 to top the group, 131 to eliminate South Africa and 190 to make it five wins from five. England went for the win, and went into the 20th over of their innings with a chance of pulling it off. Liam Livingstone hit the longest six of the tournament along the way, a 112 metre monstrosity of a hit. The first three balls of the 20th killed England’s hopes stone dead, as three successive batters holed out to boundary fielders, giving Rabada one of the more bizarre hat tricks ever seen in top level cricket (Charles Townsend’s 1899 effort for Gloucestershire v Somerset, when all three victims were stumped by keeper WH Brain is also noteworthy in this department). SA emerged victorious by 10 runs, but had not quite done enough, and found themselves knocked out in spite of winning four of their five group games, including beating the group winners (England). Australia went through in second place.

THE OTHER GROUP

The second group comprised India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Scotland and Namibia. This morning and very early afternoon UK time New Zealand took on Afghanistan, with India also having a mathematical chance of qualifying, should Afghanistan win by a small margin and then India beat Namibia tomorrow. In the event, with the exception of Najibullah Zadran (73 off 48 balls), no Afghan batter could get going and they posted a modest 124-8. NZ were never in serious trouble against so modest a target, and got home off the first ball of the 18th, confirming their SF place and India’s elimination. This is a case of cricketing justice being done and seen to be done – NZ had won four of their five matches, and had they lost someone would have been qualifying with three wins out of five when a team in the other group went home with four out of five. Pakistan are just starting their last group match against Scotland, in a bid to be the only team to record a 100% win record at the Super 12 stage. India have been the biggest disappointment of this tournament, succumbing tamely to massive defeats at the hands of Pakistan (ten wickets) and New Zealand (a mere eight wickets, but more time in hand than Pakistan had had). It is possibly also significant that their most commanding batting performance saw skipper Kohli, one the 21st century’s greatest batters, not bat at all. Kohli’s last international century in any format was scored almost exactly two years, and it maybe that an outstanding career is approaching its close.

THOMAS’S TOURNAMENT XI

Before giving more details, my team in batting order:

+Jos Buttler (Eng, RHB, WK)
*Babar Azam (Pak, RHB, captain)
Charith Asalanka (SL, LHB, occ OS)
Aiden Markram (SA, RHB, occ OS)
Asif Ali (Pak, RHB, RMF)
Wanindu Hasaranga de Silva (SL,LS, RHB)
Chris Woakes (Eng, RHB, RFM)
Mark Watt (Sco, SLA, LHB)
Anrich Nortje (SA, RF, RHB)
Shaheen Shah Afridi (Pak, LF, LHB)
Tabraiz Shamsi (SA, LWS, RHB)

12th: Liam Livingstone (Eng, RHB, LS/OS)

There were three players contending for two opening slots, and I would not argue with those who went for the proven combination of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, but on any honest reckoning Buttler has been the best opener on show in this tournament, scoring both heavily and very fast.

My choice for number three has really announced himself during this tournament, showing serious talent (anyone who can whip an Anrich Nortje delivery over midwicket for six as he did against SA is a heck of a player).

Aiden Markram has had a superb tournament, and like the rest of his team is entitled to consider himself unlucky to not be still involved. As well as his batting he has been useful with the ball for SA.

Asif Ali is there just in case the team finds itself in a tight finish, in which situation he is a virtual cheat code.

Wanindu Hasaranga de Silva has been one of the stars of the tournament, batting well in the middle order and being devastating with his leg spin.

Chris Woakes has been very important to England’s success in this tournament to date, and it is noteworthy that England’s sole loss saw him have a poor game.

Mark Watt has been for me the Associate Nations Player of the Tournament, taking wickets in every match to date, and generally being very economical. He has also played one crucial innings, when he helped to rescue his side from 56-6 against Bangladesh.

Anrich Nortje has been consistently excellent with the ball, testing all his opponents to the fullest.

Shaheen Shah Afridi has been outstanding with his left arm pace. This place was a toss up between him and Trent Boult, who plays the same role for NZ (Mitchell Starc of Australia has not had his finest tournament) but I have gone for Afridi for his extra pace.

Tabraiz Shamsi is the best bowler of his type in the world, and has managed to enhance an already considerable reputation in the course of this tournament.

Liam Livingstone gets the 12th man slot because he covers lots of bases – he can spin the ball either way and is a ferocious batter.

This team has a stellar top four, a cheat code finisher, two magnificent all rounders of very different types and four wonderfully contrasting specialist bowlers. There are runs aplenty in this line up, and a mouthwatering array of bowling options. I regret not being able to find a place for any of the Aussies, but none has been definitively the best in the tournament in their role.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

A Look at The T20 World Cup

A look at the T20 World Cup, in which there have been some interesting developments, a gesture of solidarity to the folk of Wisbech, a massive open letter and photographs.

The T20 World Cup in the UAE is developing very interestingly, and this post looks at some of the developments.

ENGLAND DOMINATING THEIR GROUP

England have won all three games they have had so far, and have a huge positive net run rate (+3.694, the biggest in either group). They are in action today against Sri Lanka, and are batting first, which is tricky in the UAE, but as Afghanistan have shown twice this tournament it can be done that way. On Saturday they inflicted a body blow on Australia, winning by eight wickets with exactly 50 balls to spare. South Africa almost came unstuck against Sri Lanka but David Miller rescued them when they needed 15 off the last over to win, and they are well placed to take second spot behind England and with it a semi-final berth.

A 2+ WAY SCRAP FOR SECOND PLACE IN THE OTHER GROUP

Pakistan, with three wins from three, are almost sure to top this group, and they have been mightily impressive. They nearly came unstuck against Afghanistan, but with 24 needed off two overs Asif Ali struck four sixes in the penultimate over, bowled by Karim Janat, to take Pakistan over the line.

Second place in the group just about has three contenders, but the third of them are hanging on by a thread. New Zealand beat India by eight wickets yesterday, with a lot of time to spare, which leaves India winless from two games (they went down by ten wickets against Pakistan in their first game), but with their three theoretically easiest opponents to come. Their net run rate is a disastrous -1.609. NZ have won one game out of two, and the big hurdle for them will be Afghanistan – if they win their remaining games they qualify for sure, but defeat against Afghanistan probably finishes them, since while their net RR is respectable at +0.752, Afghanistan’s is a whopping +3.097, due to the fact that beat Scotland by 130 runs and Namibia by 62 runs. Afghanistan almost certainly qualify if they beat either India or NZ, and even two defeats won’t definitely doom them because if NZ or India come unstuck against one of the minor nations that net RR will come to their rescue. My reading of this group is that NZ are the most likely second place team, Afghanistan second most likely, and India while not out of it are in the last chance saloon with last orders having been called.

BOWLERS MAKING THEIR PRESENCE FELT

There is a good contest brewing between Anrich Nortje (SA) and Haris Rauf (Pakistan) for who can bowl the quickest ball of the tournament – both have been significantly above 150KPH. At the moment Nortje just leads the way on 153.5 KPH (95.5MPH). The next most notable performer among the pacers has been Pakistan left armer Shaheen Shah Afridi who has caused everyone problems.

Afghanistan have two top quality spinners, Rashid Khan (leg spin) and Mujeeb Ur Rahman (off spin), and they left Qais Ahmed behind. South Africa have Tabraiz Shamsi (left arm wrist spin), Sri Lanka have leg spinning all rounder Wanindu Hasaranga de Silva who has done the hat trick during this tournament and the young off spinner Maheesh Theekshana. New Zealand have Ish Sodhi (leg spin) and Mitchell Santner (left arm orthodox) who were each allowed to go at less than five an over by India yesterday.

A T20XI FROM BEFORE THE T20 ERA

I am allowing myself one “given man” – a single player in the XI who has actually played T20. I have allowed myself four overseas players, treating this as a franchise type selection. Following these rules this is what I came up with:

  1. G St A Sobers – left handed batter, left arm bowler of every type known to cricket.
  2. Gilbert Jessop – right handed batter, right arm fast bowler.
  3. Frank Woolley – left handed batter, left arm orthodox spinner.
  4. +Les Ames – right handed batter, wicket keeper.
  5. Clem Hill – left handed batter.
  6. *Tony Greig – right handed batter, right arm medium fast bowler, off spinner.
  7. Alan Davidson – left arm fast medium bowler, left handed batter.
  8. Rashid Khan – leg spinner, right handed batter.
  9. Joel Garner – right arm fast bowler, right handed lower order batter.
  10. Derek Underwood – left arm slow medium bowler, right handed lower order batter.
  11. Alfred Shaw – right arm slow medium bowler, right handed lower order batter.

This XI features a strong batting line up with a good mix of left and right handers (the top seven, who are expected to almost all the scoring feature four left handers – Sobers, Woolley, Hill and Davidson; and three right handers – Jessop (the quickest scorer in the game’s history), Ames (winner of the Lawrence trophy for fastest FC hundred of the season twice in its first three years, sandwiching his Kent team mate Woolley) and Greig. Ames as keeper is top bracket – the “keepers double” of 1,000 FC runs and 100FC dismissals for the season was achieved four times, once by JT Murray of Middlesex and three times by Ames. The bowling has an awesome range of options, with only Ames and Hill not able to contribute in this department.

LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS

A few years back we in King’s Lynn fought off plans to plant an incinerator on us. Now, with COP26 just getting under way, another fenland town, Wisbech, is facing the threat of an incinerator. More about this is available here.

Also COP related, there is a massive open letter to presented to the folk at COP26, which you can read and sign here.

Now it is time for 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…

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.

Quintuple Nelson, No Balls and Dropped Dollies

This is my account of the second day of the test match in Chennai, though I start by congratulation Sixers on their triumph in the Big Bash League – they won very comfortably over Scorchers in the final, with Vince scoring 95. About the only thing they could have done better was to have given the final over to Vince with occasional medium pace, in view of the fact that they had 30 to defend and AJ Tye was one of the batters in for the Scorchers.

ENGLAND IN CONTROL

England started the day on 263-3, Root 128 not out and Stokes coming in as the new batter after the loss of Sibley. Stokes and Root were still in occupation at lunch and the score had moved past 350, with Stokes starting to score rapidly. Stokes fell for 82 to make it 387-4, Pope was in next and contributed 34, his dismissal making it 473-5. Four runs after that Root finally fell for a magnificent 218, the highest score ever by a visiting batter at this venue, beating the 210 Dean Jones made in the first innings of the second ever tied test in 1986. Two of the other three doubles by overseas batters at this ground came in a single innings during the 1984-5 tour when Gatting and Fowler scored 207 and 201. Buttler was never at his most convincing, and he and Archer fell in successive balls to Ishant Sharma making it 525-8, with Leach walking out to join his Somerset colleague Bess. A ninth wicket should have fallen when Bess hit one straight to Rohit Sharma, but India’s opener was obviously already thinking about batting and dropped an absolute dolly of a catch. By the close England had reached 555-8, with Bess unbeaten on 28, and Leach on 6, which included a straight driven four. Ominously for India after almost two whole days of looking like an absolute road the pitch started offering turn and bounce just before the end of day two, something that Bess and Leach will have noted.

For India Jasprit Bumrah looked formidable at all times, Ishant Sharma bowled economically and his two wickets were just reward for his efforts, Ashwin commanded respect most of the time, but the two younger spinners, Washington Sundar and Shahbaz Nadeem, both looked inadequate. Also in picking Sundar and Nadeem alongside Ashwin and overlooking Kuldeep Yadav India had left themselves with three very orthodox finger spinners. Yadav would have posed more of a challenge to England.

India were guilty of frequent no-balling, erring 19 times in total in this regard. In this match the the third umpire has been given sole responsibility for calling no-balls, and each such call was indicated by the sounding of a klaxon. Kohli was also at fault for his use of DRS – India lost all three of their of reviews in a fairly short period of time, and two were burned up in a manner that would have had Tim Paine blushing. The third (actually chronologically the second) was less outrageous, but DRS is supposed to be for the obvious mistake, not for use in an attempt to swing a close one your way, and the ball was clearly going over the top of the stumps. Having followed the series in Australia closely and heard almost every ball of this England innings thus far I am going to risk bringing down a tide of wrath on my head by saying that Rahane is a far superior skipper to Kohli, and that he should have that job, while Kohli plays purely as a batter. After these reviews had been burned a few close calls went against India, but they had only themselves to blame for the fact that they could not send them upstairs.

England will bat on tomorrow – their approach has made it clear that they are hoping to bat just the once in this game, unless the face either a) a tiny chase in the fourth innings or b)circumstances indicate they would be best served by having a lash for 20 to 30 overs before putting India back in for the fourth innings. An example of situation b could arise if England make say 580 in total, India are all out for a total in the upper 300s, either just avoiding the follow on or being close enough to doing so that it makes sense to rest the bowlers, somewhere around halfway through day four, and England look to score as many as they can be midway through the evening session and then get India back in. It would therefore make little sense to declare at this point – when Buttler and Archer fell in successive balls there would have been a case for a declaration to give a tired Indian side a brief mini-session to negotiate today. Ishant Sharma is on 299 test wickets, while Root moved past Alec Stewart to third on the all time list of England test run scorers, and you have to go down the list to Hanmond, 7,249 at 58.45 to find someone with a higher average. Hammond also features in another context here – the last England batter to score 150+ in an innings of each of three straight test matches was Hammond in 1928, when he scored 251 in the first innings at Sydney, 200 in the first innings of the next match at Melbourne and 119 not out and 177 in the fourth match at Adelaide. Gooch on 8,900 is next in Root’s sights and he may well get there this series the way he is going. Cook, on 12,472 is further in the distance, but I am now firmly expecting Root to get there before he is done. England need to win this series by two clear matches to make the final of the World Test Championship, while a series win of any sort will put India into the final, and the results not covered in the foregoing will see Australia face New Zealand in that final (the black caps are already booked in thanks to Australia’s very late cancellation of their trip to South Africa).

For the moment, England have done a fine job over these two days, but even with the pitch apparently starting to offer more to the bowlers taking 20 wickets will not be an easy task.

PHOTOGRAPHS

A combination of the cricket and solidly grey skies mean that I have few new bird pics, so I got one of my favourite old railway maps out to augment the gallery…

Scorchers Through to #BBL10 Final and England’s No3

An account of the ‘Challenger’ match between Scorchers and Heat, a note on the England no three situation, a link to an important petition and some photographs.

While the main part of this post deals with today’s ‘Challenger’ match, the penultimate game of BBL10, I will also be touching on the question on England’s no 3 with Crawley injured.

SCORCHERS OUTCLASS HEAT

A quiet opening over from which four runs accrued gave no hint of the fireworks that were to follow. The second over bowled by Mark Steketee went for 13 and Scorchers were properly off and running. Bartlett bowled the third, and his second, saving him from what have been a sixth ‘supersubbing’ of the tournament and at the end of it Scorchers were 23-0. 10 came off the fourth over and Scorchers at 33-0 were going reasonably. They moved into higher gear immediately thereafter, cashing in on Bartlett being given a third successive over by taking 14 from it, and then adding another 14 of the leg spin of Swepson in the next over. Heat’s second leg spinner, Labuschagne, was lucky to escape with his first over going for only nine. By the halfway point Scorchers were 108-0 and looking at a monster total. They did not claim the Power Surge immediately, while the expected ‘supersub’ by the Heat bringing Morkel on for Steketee did happen. With Livingstone falling in the 12th for a magnificent 77 off 39 balls Scorchers endured their only quiet spell, overs 11-14 yielding them 19 for the loss of that wicket. At that point, with Bancroft set and Mitch Marsh starting to go well they took the Power Surge, and they took 22 off the first over thereof, and then 11 more off the second to be 160-1 after 16. They maintained the momentum thereafter and were 189-1 off 18.1 overs when the rain came down.

The interruption lasted long enough to terminate the Scorchers innings and eat into the number of overs available for the Heat to chase in. The resumption came with Heat facing a DLS adjusted target of 200 off 18 overs, four overs of Power Play at the start, but controversially only one over of Power Surge later on. Scorchers used both their Power Surge overs, and did so with devastating effect as shown above, and if after 18.1 overs they had failed to do so there would be no real cause for compensating them for their own stupidity in delaying the surge so long. 200 off 18 overs was a fair enough target given that Scorchers had they had their full 20 would have been somewhere in the region of 215-220 or approximately 11 an over, precisely the task facing Heat, but I do feel that Heat should have had two overs of Surge and not one. I do not for one instant believe that this slightly harsh treatment of Heat affected the result in any way.

Heat made a bright start, scoring 32 off the first three overs, to be not a million miles behind the rate. Disaster struck in the next over however, when openers Denly and Lynn fell in successive balls – Denly caught off a skyer during which the batters crossed and Lynn bowled by the next ball, to end the Power Play at 37-2, with Labuschagne and Heazlett together. Heazlett was unable to even threaten to repeat his ‘Sambulance rescue’ act from Heat’s previous match, and at the halfway point Heat were 66-4, needing 134 off nine at 14.89 per over to win. In a last desperate gamble they claimed the Power Surge hoping to revive their innings, but they could only take nine off their single over of Surge and at 75-4 after ten needed 125 off eight overs to win. By the end of the 12th over they were six wickets down and all but out. A flourish in the next period saw them boost the score to 121-7 after 15, but 79 off three overs is not something that one can expect be achieved, especially by lower order batters. In the end Heat just brought up the 150 with a boundary off the last ball of the match, finishing on 150-9, fully 50 short of the target. Scorchers will thus face Sixers in Saturday’s final, and one hopes there will not be another AJ Tye deliberate wide to end that one.

My only mild criticism of Scorchers today is that they should have taken the Power Surge immediately at 108-0 after ten, rather than enduring that brief quiet patch in overs 11-14, but their timing of the taking of the Surge was by no means foolish, and they did make brilliant use of those two overs of fielding restrictions. Heat did well to get as far as they did after a very poor start in the tournament, and Scorchers also made a slow start, although not as much as Heat, and are in their best form at the right time. Sixers have been superb throughout the tournament and will start the final, at the iconic SCG on Saturday, as favourites. In the end, the bizarre and byzantine qualification system and knock out stage has seen justice done with the two best sides locking horns in the final.

ENGLAND’S NUMBER THREE

England’s intention to revert to their preferred top three of Sibley, Burns and Crawley has been thwarted by an injury to Crawley. My understanding is that Crawley will definitely miss the first two tests, and that his place at no3 will be taken by Dan Lawrence. I approve of this – the other options available to England have even less appeal: Have Pope, returning from injury and with no experience of batting near the top of an order, bat at three, move the skipper up one slot from no4 when he has historically never performed at his best in the no3 slot and is enjoying a bonanza at no4, Stokes at no3, which would be a huge ask for an all rounder, or play Buttler as a specialist batter at no3, which is perhaps the least bad of the alternatives. England are definitely underdogs in this series and will need plenty to go right to have any chance, but if Sibley and Burns can see off the new ball, Lawrence manages something at no3 and at least one of the engine room pair of Root and Stokes can go seriously big they could have a chance.

LINK AND PHOTOGRAPHS

Just before my photographs, I have a petition to share with you calling for key workers to be given a pay rise. There is a screenshot below and I urge you to sign and share it by clicking here.

Now it is time for my usual sign off…

Day 1 of the 2nd SLvE Test at Galle, the Future of Test Cricket and The Draw

An account of day 1 in Galle and mentions of a couple of related topics.

This post is a three parter, beginning with the action from Galle, and then touching on a couple of other topics drawn to my attention while I was following the action in the final two sessions of the day by way of radio commentary and a cricinfo tab open for extra detail (I listened to the first session in bed, as the coverage began at 4:15AM UK time).

ANDERSON SHINES BUT SRI LANKA SHADE THE DAY

England’s only change to their XI from the first match was to follow their planned rotation policy with regard to the veterans, bringing Anderson in for Broad. Sri Lanka had Oshada Fernando come in for Kusal Mendis, and Lakmal for Hasaranga. Sri Lanka won the toss and chose to bat, and were very quickly two down, both wickets to Anderson on his return. Thirimanne and Mathews then saw Sri Lanka through to lunch at 76-2. That became 76-3 as Anderson struck instantly on the resumption, removing Thirimanne. Mathews went on, finding another staunch ally in Dinesh Chandimal. Chandimal fell to Wood, the fast bowler’s first wicket of the series, for 52. Mark Wood has been consistently in excess of 90mph this series, and the wicket was long overdue reward for toiling through over 230 balls in the heat of Sri Lanka. It was England’s last success of the day, as Mathews completed a fine hundred, and Niroshan Dickwella reined in his natural aggression to survive to the close. At the end of day one Sri Lanka were 229-4 from 87 overs (yet again, with England in the field the over rate was abysmal and even with the half hour overrun period and no weather interruptions three overs have vanished from the game), Mathews 107 not out, Dickwella 19 not out, James Anderson 19 overs, 10 maidens, 24 runs, three wickets, an outstanding display of bowling from the oldest player on either side. Overall the pitch was flat, and no bowler really got anything out of it. With the pitch likely to break up and/or crumble later in the game Sri Lanka definitely took the honours of day 1, and England will need to strike quickly tomorrow morning to avoid finding themselves in trouble.

TEST CRICKET’S FUTURE

Some people seem to be oblivious of the amazing series that has just concluded between India and Australia, and to be persisting in their belief that test cricket is in trouble. A link to a Telegraph piece arguing that players who play white ball matches should be banned from red ball cricket did the rounds on twitter today. The Telegraph articles are paywalled, and since I consider it a vile rag and absolutely will not countenance contributing to its coffers I have not read it in full, but the headline is enough to enrage me.

Most cricket playing countries have much smaller pools of players to draw on than England, but if this idea was to be adopted then England would immediately be deprived of Root, Stokes, Woakes, Sam Curran, Buttler, Wood, Bairstow and others from their test ranks. England could still put out a functional side without these players, but it would be a lot less good. Yes, players being rotated in and out of squads can be irritating, and yes the cricket schedule is absurdly cluttered, but test cricket is in fine health overall. India were able to chase that total down at the Gabba because they had players who have learned how to chase through playing in white ball cricket.

THE DRAW

Other sports have results that they call draws, but the draw in cricket has a uniquely wide range of possibilities: neither side within the proverbial country mile of winning, one side hanging on by its fingernails having been utterly outplayed, both sides trading blows right down to the wire but neither able to land the knock out punch. I understand but don’t necessarily agree with the use of tie-splitting procedures in limited overs matches, but in long form matches the draw is a vital part of the equation. In that match at the Gabba one of the things that made the closing stages so sensation was that it was a three-way contest: India vs Australia vs the clock. Timeless test were once a thing – Australia made all its home tests timeless for over 50 years, and some of the games must have been absolute crackers, but there would also have been some horrendous bores on shirt front pitches. Some of cricket’s greatest moments have been in drawn contests: McGrath surviving the final over at Manchester in 2005 to save Australia when it looked like Ponting’s great rearguard was going to be in vain, Pietersen and Giles saving England at the Oval in the final match of that series, England digging themselves out of a huge hole at the Gabba in 2010, and two injured Indians gritting out the final session at the SCG just recently. The draw has its place in cricket, and although there have been some incredibly dull draws (1990 at the Oval, Surrey 707, Lancashire 863, no time for the second innings) there have also been some utterly compelling draws which would have been much less so without the possibility of that result eventuating.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

The First Sri Lanka v England Test Match in Retrospect

A look back at the test match in Galle that finished early this morning. Includes player ratings and selection thoughts for the second match, a look ahead and some photographs.

This post looks back at the test match just concluded in Galle. Another such game reaches its denouement in Brisbane tonight, and if weather permits it should be a cracking finish.

ENGLAND GO 1-0
UP IN THE SERIES

Both teams arrived for this match not so much ‘underdone’ as ‘completely raw’, due to scheduling issues. Sri Lanka slumped to 135 on the first day, with Bess emerging with five wickets for a rather patchy bowling performance. Both England openers then fell cheaply, Sri Lanka’s decision to give the new ball to Embuldeniya with his left arm spin paying off in spades, but Root and Bairstow took England to the close, within sight of a first innings lead. Bairstow was out first thing on day 2, but Dan Lawrence on debut batted like a veteran, making 73, and providing Root with superb support. By the close England were 320-4 and seemingly headed for a monster lead. Buttler fell early on the third morning, triggering a collapse that saw England all out for 421, Root 228, a lead of 286 when at one stage 400+ seemed likely. Sri Lanka dug in and fought hard in their second innings, with both spinners, Bess and Leach, bowling better than they had first time around, Wood bowling quick when he was used, Curran sometimes making things happen and Broad bowling almost as economically as his Notts and England predecessor Alfred Shaw did in the early days of test cricket. Just before the end of the fourth day Sri Lanka were all out for 359 leaving England 74 to get.

The start of the England innings resembled a flashback sequence as the openers Sibley and Crawley both fell cheaply to Embuldeniya, who looks a real find for Sri Lanka. Then Bairstow made a greedy call for a run and succeeded in stitching up his skipper, and that was 14-3, and the possibility of a history making collapse loomed. In 1882, in the match that spawned The Ashes, England were set 85 in the fourth innings and ended up all out for 77, losing by seven runs. It seemed that present day England might be about to choke on an even smaller target. Dan Lawrence joined Bairstow, and they saw England through to the close at 38-3. The fifth day started on time, and with the same two spinners, Embuldeniya and Perera taking up where they had left off. In the event, 35 minutes play was sufficient for England to get home without further loss. The only alarm was a close LBW shout, turned down, and had Sri Lanka sent it upstairs they would have had a wicket. In the event it was Bairstow who made the winning hit, when it would have been more fitting for it to have been Lawrence.

Had Sri Lanka been able to completely dry up England’s scoring (in the great 1882 match Spofforth and Boyle at one point bowled 17 overs for one run) they may have induced serious panic, but England were always able to keep the scoreboard ticking, and in the end the margin was very comfortable.

Sri Lanka can take great credit for fighting back hard enough to take the game into its fifth and final day after they performed so awfully on the first two days. For England the big pluses were Joe Root rediscovering how to go seriously big and Dan Lawrence playing so well on debut, while young Embuldeniya may yet develop into a worthy successor to Muralitharan and Herath. Sibley and Crawley need to improve their approach to spinners, otherwise every test skipper will be tossing the new ball straight to a spinner to get a couple of early scalps. If England’s spinners produce some of the stuff they did in this game when they come up against India they will get absolutely destroyed, but it was good to see both improve considerably as the match went on.

PLAYER RATINGS & STAY/GO

In this section I rate the performances of the England players and offer my opinions about who should stay and who should go.

  1. Dom Sibley – 2/10. Twice fell very cheaply to Embuldeniya and never looked comfortable in either innings. He stays – one bad match should not get someone the chop, but he does need to work on his handling of spin.
  2. Zak Crawley – 2/10. My comments about Sibley apply equally to him, although he has demonstrated that he can play spin well later in an innings, if he manages to get in against pace.
  3. Jonathan Bairstow – 6/10. A solid 47 in the first innings and after running the skipper out in the second he did well to see England home. I would not personally have recalled him to the test squad, but I see little point in dropping him at this juncture and having a newcomer at no3 for the second game of a two game series.
  4. Joe Root – 10/10. His mammoth 228 utterly dominated the England first innings, he also took several catches in the field, and handled his bowlers well as captain. He will need to demonstrate that his rediscovered ability to go seriously big works against the likes of India and Australia as well as against a very weak Sri Lanka, but he could not have done much more here.
  5. Dan Lawrence – 9/10. When a batter reaches 73 they should be able to complete the ton, and that is the sole reason the debutant does not get full marks. He played a fine first test innings, and showed great composure when England were rocking in the final innings. He definitely stays, and it looks like England have found a good one.
  6. Jos Buttler – 5/10. his first innings dismissal marked the start of a collapse, and he was not needed in the second innings. He kept competently other than missing a stumping in the second Sri Lankan innings. However, with spinners so much to the fore, both in Sri Lanka, and later on in India, as far as I am concerned he goes, as England need their best keeper, Foakes.
  7. Sam Curran -6/10. He made things happen with his bowling on a couple of occasions. For me he stays, but I have sympathy for those who would replace him with Woakes. I regard his left arm as a potentially valuable variation.
  8. Dom Bess – 6/10. Eight wickets in a match sounds like a great performance, but the truth is that most of his five first innings wickets were given rather than being taken, and that even in the second innings when he bowled better there were two many loose deliveries from him. He stays, but only because, on what I am expecting to be the ultimate in turners I go with three spinners, with him being in a bowl-off for the role of Leach’s spin partner with the third spinner – and starting that race from behind due to his patchy recent form.
  9. Jack Leach – 7/10. The left arm spinner was understandably rusty at first, but by the end he was bowling very well, and his five second innings wickets were just reward for a fine effort. He stays, his position as England’s #1 spinner confirmed by his performance here.
  10. Mark Wood – 7/10. Sensibly used by his skipper only in short bursts he was always quick, averaging around the 90mph mark, and in conditions that offered him nothing he did very little wrong. Nevertheless, I would leave him out to accommodate Parkinson who will be in a bowl-off with Bess for the second spinner’s slot.
  11. Stuart Broad – 8/10. The veteran took three wickets in the first innings, and although he went wicketless in the second, his extreme economy, reminiscent as I have said of Alfred Shaw, helped to create pressure, which created wickets for other bowlers. He stays, moving a rung up the batting order given the inclusion of Parkinson.

LOOKING AHEAD

England should make it 2-0 on Sri Lanka (the second game gets under way on Friday), but will need to improve to compete effectively with India, who have shown immense determination to take their series in Australia right down to the wire, and then at the back end of this year comes the toughest assignment of all for an England team – Australia in Australia. Lawrence looks a huge find, and with Pope due to return for the India series, Burns back in the reckoning before too long and Bracey waiting in the wings, concerns about Sibley and Crawley against spin notwithstanding the batting looks good. In conditions where out and out speed is of the essence Archer will soon be available as well as Wood, with Stone waiting in the wings. Seam and Swing are always England’s strongest suits, and with no sign of Anderson or Broad leaving, Woakes and Curran about, and Ollie Robinson in the wings that area remains strong. Spin remains a concern, although Leach is looking good, while in Australia I would expect Parkinson, the leg spinner, to fare better than Bess, for another reason I want him to get some test experience in before that tour starts. It is also possible that younger spinners such as Virdi, Moriarty and Patterson-White could be contenders. Finally, there remains the gamble which some would consider heretical of giving Sophie Ecclestone a bell and asking if she fancies having a go alongside the men.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off, with the addition of an infographic about the ratings and stay/go section:

Thoughts On The Test Squad For Sri Lanka

I look at the party England have selected for their test tour of Sri Lanka, and am overall unimpressed.

The England test squad for January’s visit to Sri Lanka has been announced today and it is a curate’s egg of a selection. Here it is:

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ISSUES WITH THE SELECTIONS

Rory Burns is missing because his wife is about to give birth, and Stokes among those being rested. No issues with those two omissions. However, Jonathan Bairstow should be nowhere near selection for an England test squad, likewise Moeen Ali, who was never actually that great, and has not done anything in red ball cricket for some time. As I indicated in my previous post making my own picks I would also have left out the veterans Broad and Anderson as neither have great records in Sri Lanka and this tour should have been used to experiment. I would also have left out Dom Bess. James Bracey should be in the main squad, not listed as a reserve, ditto Matthew Parkinson and Amar Virdi.

On the plus side, Stone and Wood are both in the main squad, as is Daniel Lawrence. I am also glad to see that Ben Foakes is there, although whether he actually gets selected remains to be seen.

Three of the official reserves, Craig Overton, Ollie Robinson and Mason Crane should not have been picked, Overton and Robinson because their bowling methods are unsuited to Sri Lankan conditions, Crane because he is a proven failure at the highest level, and England needing to be looking forward not back.

This England party has been picked with eyes fixed firmly on the past. From the players listed in the main squad and the reserves I would pick as my starting XI for a match in Sri Lanka: Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, James Bracey, *Joe Root, Daniel Lawrence, Chris Woakes, +Ben Foakes, Sam Curran, Mark Wood, Jack Leach and Matthew Parkinson. This combo is a little light on batting with Woakes and Foakes at six and seven, but absent Stokes it is the only way to accommodate a back up seam option while still playing two genuine front line spinners, and Sri Lanka tends to be a place where games are fairly high scoring, so I err on the side of having more bowling options, as that is where the principal difficulty is likely to be.

SPIN OPTIONS FOR ENGLAND

I have indicated that I would start with Leach and Parkinson, with Virdi as a back up spinner. Lewis Goldsworthy, an all rounder who bowls left arm spin, may well be worth a pick in the not too distant future, if he can build on his good showing for England U19s. Liam Patterson-White has made a promising start to his career at county level. Finally, there is the radical option I have touched on previously: give Sophie Ecclestone a chance to play alongside the men. The spin bowling cupboard is not massively well stocked at present, although a few youngsters besides those I have named have made appearances at county level, but even in its current state it does represent a reason for bringing back average performers (Moeen Ali at test level) or worse still proven expensive failures (Mason Crane).

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Overall, while acknowledging that they faced difficulties due to various players not being available, I have to say that the selection of this touring party represents a clear failure on the part of the selectors. I award them 3 out of 10.

I finish as usual with some of my photographs: