Stokes Sets Up Superb Finish

An account of the extraordinary fourth day’s play between Pakistan and England in Rawalpindi, including an endorsement of Stokes and England’s approach.

Today was day four of Pakistan v England in Rawalpindi, and a remarkable day it was too. In this post I look at the events of the day and ahead to tomorrow and the future of international crickets oldest and greatest format, test cricket.

THE END OF THE PAKISTAN FIRST INNINGS

Pakistan boosted their total from an overnight 499-7 to 579 all out. All three wickets fell to Will Jacks, giving him 6-161 on test debut, his first ever five wicket innings haul in first class cricket. Agha Salman managed a 50.

THE ENGLAND SECOND INNINGS

England went about the business of extending their first innings lead of 78 with considerable spirit and gusto. At lunch they were 46-2, with Duckett and Pope gone. Crawley made exactly 50 before he was third out, and then came a gorgeous partnership between Root and Brook. Root at one point switched to batting left handed (his younger brother Billy, now at Glamorgan after spells with Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, is actually a left handed batter). Root was fourth out, having scored 73, which was just enough to put his test average at 50.00. Stokes fell cheaply, but Jacks hit 24 off 13 balls, and then the injured Livingstone joined Brook, who was on for breaking the record for the fastest ever test ton by an English batter. That was not to be, as when Brook had reached 87 off 64 balls Naseem Shah clean bowled him to make at 264-7, a lead of 342. The umpires called tea, and as it transpired Ben Stokes decided that with only the crocked Livingstone and three specialist bowlers left it was time to declare. This move basically took the draw off the table.

PAKISTAN’S SECOND INNINGS

Pakistan set off in pursuit of the target of 343 with some brio, but Ollie Robinson induced Abdullah Shafique to pull a ball into deep square leg’s hands, and later in the same over the new batter, Azhar Ali, was injured and returned to the pavilion. Ben Stokes had rival skipper Babar Azam caught behind, but Imam-ul-Haq and Shakeel Saud lasted until fading light brought the usual early close to proceedings. Pakistan were 80-2 at that point, and therefore will need 263 with 7+ wickets standing (even if Azhar Ali can resume his innings at some point tomorrow he will not be fully effective when carrying an injury). Thus a game which in other circumstances would have been the drabbest of high scoring draws enters day five with three results possible and the draw (barring rain) not one of them. I would say the England win is most likely of the three, the Pakistan win a not too distant second and the tie, which would only be the third such result in test history cannot be entirely ruled out – in many ways this extraordinary match deserves such an outlandish final outcome.

STOKES’ DECLARATION & TEST CRICKET’S FUTURE

There were many criticisms of Stokes’ declaration on twitter, but none from me. Stokes has said many times that he has no time for draws, echoing the legendary Somerset fast bowling all rounder and skipper of yore, Sammy Woods, who once said “draws…they are for bathing in”, and this was a case of him putting that philosophy into practice. Although it represents a major gamble it was a logical move on two grounds:

  1. With Livingstone injured and having only specialist bowlers for company England were probably not going to score that many more runs anyway, and why gift Pakistan with the morale boost of three cheap wickets post tea?
  2. England’s best route to victory lies paradoxically in keeping Pakistan interested – if the set target was entirely nominal Pakistan would shut up shop and a couple of their number would boost their batting averages courtesy of some red ink.

By taking such a hardline stance and effectively eliminating the draw from consideration Stokes has done test cricket a great service. Many of cricket’s most successful skippers have been so precisely because of a willingness to take risks in pursuit of victory. Stuart Surridge, captain of Surrey for five seasons in the 1950s and winner of the county championship in all five of those seasons, was noted for making declarations that no other skipper would have dared to, and getting away with it very frequently. He once set Somerset, with a batting line up led by the aggressive Harold Gimblett 297 in 315 minutes, and even with Gimblett scoring a rapid century Surrey won with half an hour to spare. On another occasion Surrey had bowled Worcestershire out for 27, and were 92-3 in reply when Surridge declared as he wanted a second bowl at Worcestershire that evening. Laker and Lock took the new ball, and each had nabbed a wicket by the close, and the following morning Worcestershire were all out for 40, losing by an innings and 25 runs. This remarkable victory sealed that year’s championship for Surrey.

Ben Stokes this match has demonstrated how a captain who is fully committed to taking an enterprising and aggressive approach can generate results even on surfaces that are practically tailored to prevent such. Whatever happens tomorrow, in spite of it being played on a surface which is IMO unfit for test cricket due to being ridiculously loaded in favour of the batters this match will go down as a classic test match, fit to stand alongside the great Ashes battles of 2005 and that is down to England and Stokes’ commitment to go all out for victory even if doing so means risking defeat. This match has confounded many people’s expectations of how test cricket is/ should be approached, and that is all to the good as far as I am concerned. Whatever the final result I unreservedly applaud Ben Stokes and his England team for their approach to the game.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Rawalpindi Runfest

A look at goings on in Rawalpindi where Pakistan are playing England in a test match that has already seen seven centuries and the first test wickets by a bowler with first two initials WG since 1890.

The Pakistan vs England test series, the first between these two teams to take place in Pakistan in 17 years (for most of that time Pakistan were restricted to playing “home” series at neutral venues such as the United Arab Emirates because of security concerns) got underway on Thursday morning (earlyish Pakistan time, very early – though “ridiculous o’clock” rather than “ludicrous o’clock” as would be the case for a series in Australia). This post looks at the first three days action.

ENGLAND MANAGE TO NAME A TEAM

There had been fears that the start of this match would be delayed due to illness in the England camp, but although they had to make some last minute changes England were able to come up with 11 fit players. In batting order the final XI was Crawley, Duckett, +Pope, Root, Brook, *Stokes, Livingstone, Jacks, Robinson, Leach, Anderson. Foakes being unavailable meant Pope keeping wicket, and the team looked colossally strong in batting but limited in bowling (while some of the bowlers concerned are excellent practitioners of their art an attack with three specialists – Anderson, Leach and Robinson, and back up options Stokes, Jacks and Livingston is no one’s definition of a stellar bowling unit, with Stokes the nearest thing to a properly fast bowler in the ranks). There was less drama around the Pakistan selections, though their bowling attack was a very inexperienced one. Fortunately for England Stokes won the toss and chose to bat first (IMO a decision to field first would have raised legitimate questions about whether Stokes had been doing deals with dodgy bookies so terrible would it have been).

DAY ONE: THE RUNS FLOW

A barely believable opening day saw England post a new record for the opening day of a test match of 506-4, and that with fading light in the evening restricting play to 79 overs. The previous record of 494 by Australia versus South Africa had stood since 1910. Crawley, Duckett, Pope and Brook all registered centuries on this amazing opening day, and all went at over a run a ball. In amongst the carnage Joe Root just for once failed with the bat. Pakistan bowled poorly, and England’s batters took no prisoners – every loose ball was remorselessly punished.

DAY TWO: PAKISTAN FIGHT BACK

It is not often that a team who score 657 batting first could be disappointed with their efforts, but England were in that position. On one of the flattest pitches ever seen and against an experienced attack they lost their last six wickets in less than a full session, though their blistering scoring rate made up for the lack of time that they batted for. The innings lasted exactly 101 overs, with Brook scoring England’s quickest ever test 150 (at 80 balls his 100 was third on the England list behind Gilbert Jessop and Jonathan Bairstow, while Crawley had taken 86 balls, the same number as Botham at Old in 1981). Zahid Mahmood had the remarkable figures of 33-1-235-4!

By the time fading light forced a second successive early closure of a day’s play Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s openers, were still together and the score was 181-0.

DAY THREE – LATE WICKETS SPARE ENGLAND’S BLUSHES

Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq each completed tons for Pakistan, making this the first test match in which all four openers had scored first innings centuries. Babar Azam also reached three figures, and at 413-3 Pakistan looked well capable of taking a first innings lead. The breaking of Pakistan’s open stand featured a bit of cricket history – debutant Will Jacks became the first person with first two initials WG to claim a test scalp since the original “WG” dismissed Aussie wicket keeper Jack Blackham at Lord’s in 1890. This also meant that it took approximately 19 and a half years less as a test cricketer to claim a scalp on Pakistan soil than Anderson, whose own first scalp in that country came later in the day.

Late in the day England got things to happen, and by the time the light forced a third straight early finish to a day’s play Pakistan were 499-7, still 158 in arrears. Jacks has three of the wickets (remarkable given that at the start of the 2022 English season he had a grand total of three first class wickets), Leach two and Anderson and Robinson one a piece. England will be looking to polish of Pakistan’s tail early tomorrow, and score quick enough in their second innings to have a bowl at Pakistan before the close of tomorrow. Pakistan will be looking to thwart England for as long as possible – for them a draw will now be the summit of their ambitions for this match, while England retain some hope of winning. Incidentally with seven centuries already racked up it is worth noting that the record for any test match is eight and the FC record is nine, in an absurd game between Bombay and Maharashtra in the late 1940s which the former won by 354 runs – Bombay 651-9d and 714-8d, Maharashtra 407 and 604.

Although this game is not utterly dead yet, that is more by accident than by design, and a pitch on which bowlers are as helpless as they have been these three days is a poor one for test cricket. My own feeling is that a draw remains the likeliest outcome, with the Pakistan win and the tie the two rank outsiders and an England win maybe 25%.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Today’s photographs are all work photographs. The auctions in which these items feature can be viewed here and here.

Now on to the second sale (takes place on Dec 14th):

England in Pakistan

A quick look at England’s selections for the first test in Pakistan, due to start early tomorrow morning UK time.

Yesterday I concluded my alphabetical all time XIs project. Tomorrow morning should be seeing the start of England’s first test series in Pakistan in a good many years, and England have named their XI. However an illness is sweeping the England camp and they are in negotiations to delay the start of the match. Before I look at the rights and (mostly) wrongs of this England XI I will say as an English person that England should get no special treatment – if they are not out in the middle and ready to play at the appointed hour the game should be awarded to Pakistan as per the laws of cricket.

THE ENGLAND XI

This is the XI England have named:

Overall I cannot say that I am impressed by this selection. Crawley has no business being in a test side and clearly only retains his place because his father is a golfing buddy of one of the top people in English cricket. Duckett to replace Lees is a reasonable call, though I consider Lees less in need of being replaced than Crawley. Pope, Root, Brook, Stokes and Foakes are all pretty automatic, with Bairstow injured. It is numbers eight to 11 that especially concern me: Livingstone is mainly a batter, with bowling very much his second string, and plays little red ball cricket these days, Robinson has had injury problems and while few could argue with Leach and even fewer with Anderson, the bowling looks to be lacking in both depth and variety, with the seam/ pace element limited to the new ball pair and Stokes, and Leach the only front line spin option, with Root and Livingstone by way of support. Pakistan pitches are usually flat and I cannot see this bowling “attack” taking 20 wickets on a flat track. Frankly this XI has all the appearance of one that has been selected to not lose, rather than selected to win, with extreme emphasis on batting depth and a skeleton bowling unit. Potts should be in there to support Robinson and Anderson, and if a batter who bowls spin is a must, then Brooks should miss out, with Stokes and Foakes each moving up one place and one of Rehan Ahmed or Will Jacks debuting at number seven (NOT Livingstone).

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off….

England 3 New Zealand 0: A Retrospective

A look back at the England v New Zealand test series.

Having finally concluded my series about my Scottish holiday I now look back at the series between England and New Zealand that concluded yesterday.

MATCH ONE: A NEW ERA DAWNS

The length of England’s injury list in the fast bowling department and well justified concerns about the top order batting made what already seemed a tough ask appear even tougher. However, Matt Potts of Durham, given his call up to fill one of the vacant slots in the pace bowling department had a superb debut, Broad and Anderson both bowled well on their return to the side, and England won impressively.

MATCH TWO: A DRAMATIC TURNAROUND

Prospects didn’t seem too rosy when England put New Zealand in on a flat pitch and the visitors racked up 550 in the first innings. However, England responded in kind, with Ollie Pope, whose presence at number three, where he had never previously batted in FC cricket, was a cause of some disquiet making a big hundred, Joe Root confirming his status as the greatest England batter of the 21st century with 176 and various other players producing runs. NZ managed to set England 299 to win, having looked in trouble at one stage of their second innings. When Root departed early and England were three down still needing well over 200 for the win the prognosis looked grim. Jonny Bairstow, enjoying a remarkable revival to his career in red ball cricket, played a remarkable innings, with Ben Stokes providing his principal support. Bairstow scored the second fastest test century by an England batter ever, beaten only by Gilbert Jessop’s 1902 effort against Australia, also in a fourth innings run chase. The Yorkshireman was 136* when England completed a five wicket win, with keeper Foakes undefeated at the other end in support.

MATCH 3: 55-6 AND THEN…

James Anderson was unable to play this match, meaning that Devonian born Surrey fast bowler and lower middle order batter Jamie Overton got a first test cap. New Zealand tallied 329 in the first innings, Leach the left armspinner answering some increasingly vociferous critics with 5-100. When Jamie Overton walked out to bat the score was 55-6 and NZ were probably contemplating enforcing the follow on. They were to end up in deficit on first innings. Overton on debut was 89* by the end of the second day, and the seventh wicket stand between him and Bairstow was worth 209, England being 264-6. On day three Overton agonisingly failed to complete a debut century, falling on 97. Bairstow went on to 162, the lower order providing some support, and England, all out for 360, led by 31 on first innings. NZ mustered 326 second time round, with Mitchell and Blundell sharing yet another long partnership in the middle order. Leach, remarkably, achieved a second five wicket haul, 5-66 this time, on a pitch that has seldom been kind to spinners in recent times. England thus need 296 to win. Lees was out early on this occasion, Crawley made a very fortuitous 25 before a chance offered to the slip/ gully region (a mode of dismissal he suffers unacceptably often), but Joe Root and Ollie Pope saw England to 183-2 by the end of day four, 113 more needed and eight wickets standing. Pope did not last long on the final morning, but his departure merely signalled more Bairstow fireworks. Bairstow was a little too brilliant on this occasion, depriving his fellow tyke Root of what would have been that worthy’s 28th test century. England won by seven wickets and taken the series 3-0. Leach was named Player of the Match for his bowling effort, while Root just pipped Bairstow to the Player of the Series award.

POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES

The new mindset that Brendon ‘Baz’ McCullum has instilled in his charges has been a huge positive. The comeback from the depths of 55-6 in reply to 329 in the third match illustrated the spirit in the camp. Pope finally seems to be reproducing his first class form in the test arena, Bairstow has been a revelation, reigniting a test career that looked done not so long ago. Potts and J Overton have both shown great promise early in their test careers, with Potts in particular seeming destined for great career. Leach has ended any discussion about who England’s no1 test spinner is with his bowling at Headingley (with a tour to Pakistan coming at the end of the summer the question of back up spinners will need looking at, and I have several ideas there which I will explore more fully nearer the time). Although temporarily indisposed (lower back pains which turned out to be an early symptom of Covid) Foakes remains first choice keeper. Lees has played a couple of decent knocks at the top this series, and Pope is looking good at three (and in any case that experiment needs rather more time than one three match series before it can be judged). A new opener is needed to replace Crawley. After 24 test matches Crawley averages 26.68 overall, and much less than that as on opener – in the course of this series Crawley’s average as an opener dipped below that of Mike Brearley, and of course for a lot of Brearley’s career his batting was not the main reason for him having a place in the side. While I can understand that it would have been difficult to call up a replacement opener for the one-off match against India that starts on Friday I am absolutely certain that there should be a new name up top (for me one of Chris Dent or Ben Compton) by the time the series against South Africa gets underway.

Overall this series has been hugely positive for England, and although India are likely to prove tougher opposition England are better placed than one could have imagined when they left the West Indies a few months ago with a record showing one victory in their last 17 test matches.

PHOTOGRAPHS

As always I conclude this post by sharing some of my photos…

Thoughts On New England Squad

My thoughts on the England squad for the first two tests against New Zealand, announced today.

The England squad for the first two tests against New Zealand was announced today – the first major announcement since the appointment of Brendon McCullum as new head coach of the test side. Also announced today was the appointment of Matthew Mott as new head coach of the England men’s white ball side. Mr Mott has experience of rendering a powerful side close to invincible having come to this job from being head coach of the Aussie Women’s side, who became during his tenure arguably the most dominant international cricket side there has ever been. The rest of this post looks at the new test squad and my thoughts about it.

THE SQUAD

The screenshot below, from the secret pear (Worcestershire are known as The Pears) twitter account shows the squad:

THE BATTERS AND KEEPER

Zak Crawley and Alex Lees will open. Lees is a sound call, having demonstrated in the West Indies that he can bat for decent periods of time. Crawley is a quite abysmal selection, with a test average of 28.60, which drops to 22.16 if you take his one freak performance against Pakistan out of the equation, and is 18.60 since he scored that 267. He averages 30.5 for Kent, and is averaging less than 20 for them this season. Among the openers to have shown form this season, which Crawley has not, are Burns, Sibley, Tom Haines, Chris Dent and Crawley’s own Kent team mate Ben Compton. Any of these five would definitely have been a better pick than Crawley.

Ollie Pope is scheduled to bat at three, which is one place higher than he has ever batted for Surrey. Pope is a fine batter who may yet start reproducing his county form at test level, but seeking turn him into a number three is a) foolish and b) downright insulting to Bohannon, Bracey and Abell (Bohannon has an FC average 47.5, while the other two have scored runs this season though can’t match his record) all of whom are regular number threes England might have turned to.

Joe Root will bat in the number four slot where he has been so brilliant down the years, the first likely pick that I unequivocally agree with.

Jonathan Bairstow is likely to bat at five in spite of the fact that a) he has a poor record there at test level and b)he is not currently playing long form cricket having followed the money to India, and c)he has not exactly had a sparkling IPL either. Harry Brook has earned his place in the squad with an avalanche of runs for Yorkshire (over 750 this season and we are still in mid-May, and I would prefer to see him picked ahead of Bairstow but suspect Bairstow will get the nod.

Number six will be the new skipper, Ben Stokes. Number six is a sensible slot for an all rounder, but whether Stokes can cope with being skipper and being fast bowling all rounder remains to be seen. Nonetheless this one is indisputable for the present.

Number seven and the gloves will almost certainly both go to Ben Foakes who has had a fine early season for Surrey and deserves an extended run in the England side. For those who are hellbent on getting Bairstow in one way to do so would to put Foakes at five, where he bats for Surrey and Bairstow at seven, where he has done well for England in the past.

THE BOWLERS

The pace/swing/seam department is severely injury hit (ironically the oldsters, Anderson and Broad are both fully fit). I am pleased that Matty Potts who has been bowling like a demon for Durham has been included and slightly disappointed that Parkinson of Lancashire has not, but Jack Leach, chosen to fill the spinners slot (and only one will play on an English pitch) is in excellent form and I don’t grudge him his place. I expect that the perceived need to deepen the batting will see an England 8,9,10,11 of C Overton, Broad, Leach, Anderson, but I would like to see Potts make his debut in place of C Overton in that line up. If you are getting the impression that I am a good deal less bothered by the bowling than I am by the batting give yourself 10/10 – I am not unhappy with the chosen bowlers whereas I consider that the batting choices leave a lot to be desired.

XIs – THEIRS AND MINE

I end the business part of this post with two XIs – the one I think will be named and the one I would name from the selected squad.

Their likely XI: Crawley, Lees, Pope, Root, Bairstow, *Stokes, +Foakes, C Overton, Broad, Leach, Anderson.

The XI I would name from this squad (though like the Irishman being asked for directions “I wouldn’t start from here”): Crawley, Lees, Pope, Root, Brook, *Stokes, +Foakes, Potts, Broad, Leach, Anderson.

Overall I award the selectors 6/10 for their efforts – Crawley’s retention on its own is worth three marks off, while Bairstow cannot be regarded as an ideal test selection, and while circumstances allow for leniency regarding the seam/ swing/ pace selections I also cannot approve the continuing refusal to pick Parkinson. Also as I have said I regard the attempt to turn Pope into a number three as foolish, and between them these misgivings amount to another mark off in addition to the hit for retaining Crawley.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

England Test Prospects For 2022 Season

A look ahead to the upcoming test summer with Ben Stokes as new captain.

The county championship season 2022 is in full swing, and there have been plenty of successes to celebrate from home grown talents. Ben Stokes has been appointed test captain in succession to Joe Root who resigned that office just before the season started (not a decision I would personally have made, but one that for the moment has to be accepted). Given recent batting efforts by England in test cricket only those two can be said to have nailed down front line batting slots while the bowling is somewhat more settled although finding a genuinely fast bowler who can stay fit remains a challenge, and spin options are somewhat limited. In the rest of this post I look at who is doing what and form my team and some likely alternatives for the coming season.

THE OPENERS

Alex Lees deserves an extended run having been selected for the tour of the West Indies and acquitted himself well there. I would like a right hander to partner him at the top of the order and Zak Crawley is not it for me – he averages below 30 for England and not much above that for Kent. Dominic Sibley is a possibility for a recall, but Tom Haines of Sussex had a good season last season and is in the runs again this time round, and he would be my choice. Rob Yates of Warwickshire is another prospect.

NUMBERS THREE AND FOUR

Joe Root will obviously fill one of these slots, and for me that would be number four owing to the fact that there are two regular number threes who are having outstanding seasons for their counties: James Bracey of Gloucestershire and Josh Bohannon of Lancashire. Bohannon has significantly the better overall record and has recently scored his maiden FC double century, and he would be my choice, with Bracey among the reserves.

NOS FIVE AND SIX

The skipper has one of these slots, leaving one other to fill. For me because his FC record is so far ahead of any other contender that slot goes to Ollie Pope though with a warning that if he fails to deliver some big scores in this summer’s test matches it will be the end of the road for him as a test player.

THE KEEPER AND BOWLERS

The keeper is an obvious choice – it is long past time that Ben Foakes was given an extended run at the highest level. The bowling is tougher, but based on form and fitness I would pick Woakes, who is one of the best in the world when playing in England (he is of questionable value abroad, which complicates matters but I regard his selection for home games as a must), and a 9, 10, 11 of Anderson, Mahmood and Parkinson (I believe it is time for England to trust the leg spinner who is improving rapidly and has a very impressive FC record). Oliver Edward Robinson has bowled well for England since his call up, but there have been fitness issues, notably in the later stages of The Ashes in Australia.

THE FIRST CHOICE XI

In batting order:

  1. Haines
  2. Lees
  3. Bohannon
  4. Root
  5. *Stokes
  6. Pope
  7. +Foakes
  8. Woakes
  9. Anderson
  10. Mahmood
  11. Parkinson

THE RESERVES

Among current openers Rob Yates of Warwickshire should be on the radar, while Ben Compton of Kent is making a strong case for being fast tracked (five centuries in his first 13 FC matches, current batting average 61 for just over 1,000 runs) into international cricket. There is also a case for Gloucestershire veteran Chris Dent who has just racked up a double century against Surrey in the course of which he has passed 10,000 FC runs at an average of 38.

Among middle order batters Dan Lawrence is of course in the mix, and I would add to him the names of James Bracey, Tom Abell and Jamie Smith, the last named another recent double century maker (that innings has pushed his career average above 40, and he is definitely on an upward trajectory at the age of 21).

There are various keepers doing well on the county circuit, and my personal pick for reserve keeper is Kent’s Oliver George Robinson.

Among the seam bowlers Stuart Broad is still going strong, Oliver Edward Robinson may merit further consideration if he can sort his fitness out, the Overton twins have both been in excellent form this season and if one of Archer, Stone or Wood can enjoy an injury free period they would be in the mix.

Jack Leach is the next best specialist spinner behind Parkinson, with youngsters Carson, Moriarty and Virdi all also on the radar. However it is unlikely that in England anyone would pick two specialist spinners, which brings Liam Patterson-White of Nottinghamshire into the equation. He bowls left arm spin and is a more than useful lower order batter. His averages are currently just the wrong way round – 25.45 with the ball and 24.65 with the bat, but he has plenty of time in which to improve, being only 23 years old.

FORECAST

For all that I am not entirely convinced that Stokes is the right choice as captain prospects are not altogether bleak, especially if some of the players I have named are given their opportunities. The batting is where there have been serious problems, and lots of players are scoring heavily in the early part of this season.

PHOTOGRAPHS

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

A Draw in Antigua

A look back at the West Indies v England test match in Antigua.

The first test match in three match series between the West Indies and England ended in a draw yesterday. This post looks back at the match.

THE PRELIMINARIES

England made a cautious selection, opting for both Woakes and Overton, leaving out Saqib Mahmood. The West Indies meanwhile went for Holder at number six and four specialist bowlers as well. Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat first.

ENGLAND FIRST INNINGS

England made a disastrous start, slumping to 48-4. A fightback spearheaded by Bairstow and featuring good contributions from Stokes, Foakes and Woakes saw England end the first day 268-6 and possible back on track. On the second morning England battled on to 311 and it looked very much game on.

WEST INDIES FIRST INNINGS

West Indies did not score at all quickly, but they batted a very long time on a surface which had little life. Wood, the only bowler England had who was capable of bowling genuinely fast, left the field injured fairly early in the innings. Leach bowled well but without luck, keeping things tight but not taking wickets. Stokes, supposedly having his workload managed, was made to bowl 28 overs in the innings. Eventually the West Indies were all out for 375, Nkrumah Bonner scoring a very slow century to anchor the innings.

ENGLAND SECOND INNINGS

Zak Crawley delivered with the bat for once, and Root moved into second place on the England century makers list and became the leading scorer of centuries as England captain (24 in his career, still nine short of Alastair Cook’s tally and 13 as skipper). With Wood injured a measure of caution was necessary when it came to the declaration, and Root declared leaving WI a target of 286 in 70 overs.

WEST INDIES SECOND INNINGS

It was soon obvious that West Indies were not going to attempt the target, but when they lost their fourth wicket with quite a bit of time remaining England had genuine hope. Root made a point about his team’s mindset by staying out there until West Indies had six wickets left with only five balls to go – only then did he accept the draw. There was some adverse comment about this, but he did the right thing, not giving up on the chance of victory until he absolutely had to.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for my usual sign off…

The England Test Squad For The Caribbean

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

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

INTRODUCING THE SQUAD

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

Story Image

THOUGHTS RE THE SQUAD

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

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

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

THE HEAD COACH ROLE GOING FORWARD

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

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for my usual sign off…

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…