England On Top In New Zealand

A look at goings on the second test between New Zealand and England and a large photo gallery.

I am writing this as Australia and South Africa do battle in the final of the Womens’ World T20 Cup in front of a packed house crowd at Newlands, Cape Town – I will cover the closing stages of this tournament tomorrow. In this post I look at the first three days play in Wellington, where England are poised to win the test series against New Zealand.

THE ENGLAND FIRST INNINGS

I missed the first day’s play entirely – this being in New Zealand it is happening overnight my time. England were 21-3 at one point, but Harry Brook (184* by the close) and Joe Root (101* by the close) put on an unbroken 294 in what was left of the day – rain called a halt after 65 overs.

Brook was out early on the second day, but Root kept going, and when he reached his 150 Stokes declared. England had amassed 435-8. Root, the greatest English test batter of the 21st century and his heir apparent Brook had scored 339 of those for once out between them (Brook 186, Root 153*).

THE NEW ZEALAND FIRST INNINGS

By the end of day two, again hastened by bad weather, NZ were 135-7 and in all kinds of bother. A blitz by Southee, who ended with 73 off 48 balls, got NZ passed 200, but at 209 all out they had not quite done enough to dodge the follow-on. Anderson, currently the world no1 ranked test bowler at the age of 40, had three wickets as did Broad, and Leach outdid both of them with four. The next question was what Stokes would do – most current test skippers would not have enforced the follow-on, but as Stokes demonstrated at Rawalpindi not so long ago he is emphatically not most current test skippers…

THE NEW ZEALAND SECOND INNINGS

Stokes did enforce the follow-on, correctly in my view, given that this was day three and the weather was not to be relied on. New Zealand batted better second time round and reached the close on 202-3, still 24 runs in arrears. Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls committed absolutely to defence in the latter stages of the day, which is why NZ are still in debit. If New Zealand can bat through day four they may be in a position to cause England trouble, but at the moment England are heavy favourites, and a couple of early strikes to start day four would underline that status.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

England’s Clean Sweep in Pakistan

A look back at the events of the third Pakistan v England test, which ended in the early hours of yesterday morning UK time.

At just about 5:40AM UK time yesterday Ben Duckett smashed a four to take England from 166-2 to 170-2 in the final innings of the test series in Pakistan, and in so doing created a piece of cricket history – no visiting side had ever won a clean sweep in a three+ match series in Pakistan until that moment. This post looks back at the events of the third match of the series (I covered the first two matches extensively already) and then at the key moments of this extraordinary series.

THIRD TEST: DAY ONE

Rehan Ahmed was given a debut for England, and Ben Foakes was recalled to the XI, Will Jacks and James Anderson being rested. For Pakistan Nauman Ali played in place Zahid Mahmood. Babar Azam won the toss and decided to bat, which looked like good news for Pakistan. Pakistan scored 304, with various players making useful runs but no one getting a massive score, and by the close England had lost Crawley. Nevertheless, England would have considered getting Pakistan all out on day one a good day’s work.

DAY TWO

England looked to be struggling at 145-5, when Ben Foakes joined Harry Brook, but a big stand between these two and some useful contributions from the rest of the order saw England to 354, a first innings advantage of 50. Pakistan were 21-0 by the close.

DAY THREE

This was the day the fate of the match was settled. Pakistan were 54-3 at one point, all three wickets to Leach to give him seven in the match. Then Babar Azam and Saud Shakeel shared a century stand. The key turning point came when Babar Azam smashed a slow long hop from Rehan Ahmed straight to Pope at midwicket. From then on the Pakistan middle and lower order imploded, a combination of poor shots from them and good work from England seeing a high water mark of 164-3 turn into 216 all out. Rehan Ahmed had 5-48 and Joe Root nabbed a wicket with his occasional off spin. Rehan Ahmed’s debut match figures of 7-137 were the best such by an England leg spinner since Charles ‘Father’ Marriott took 11-96 v West Indies at The Oval in 1933. Marriott, then 37 and a part time cricketer (he worked as a schoolmaster and turned out for Kent in the summer holidays) never played for England again, Ahmed should do so on many occasions. Leach’s seven wickets with his left arm spin were enough to make him the leading test wicket taker of 2022.

England needed 167 to win and there were 17 overs to be bowled that evening. Traditional test thinking would suggest a cautious approach and looking to get through without losing any wickets, but Crawley and Duckett set off at a merry pace. When Crawley was out Stokes made a typical Stokes move – the events of Pakistan’s second innings suggested that this was Rehan Ahmed’s day, so Stokes sent him in at number three. This divided opinion among those following the match – some, like me, thought it was superb, others grumbled about it being disrespectful to Pakistan. It had limited success, Ahmed making a rapid 10, but I think it was right nevertheless. In 1986 when John Bracewell scored his maiden test hundred against England, NZ skipper Jeremy Coney tossed him the ball that evening although it was earlier in the England innings than he would usually have deployed his off spinner, and was rewarded with a wicket – it was Bracewell’s day. Stokes then went in himself for the remainder of the evening. Stokes and Duckett played well together and England closed on 112-2, 55 short of victory. I thought, as I said in my post on Monday that this was far preferable to 40-0.

DAY FOUR

Stokes and Duckett never looked like doing anything other than knocking the runs off and the main focus of interest soon became whether Ben Stokes could hit his 108th career test match six, thereby breaking the record held by England head coach Brendon McCullum. The answer to that was no, and with McCullum’s native New Zealand being England’s next opponents the two are tied on 107 sixes in test cricket. England won by eight wickets, with among those not to bat in the innings being Root (thin series but still England’s finest), Brook (soon to collect both the Player of the Match and Player of the Series awards) and Pope. This time last year a rabble of an England test team were being obliterated in Australia, and if you had told me that 12 months on an England test side would be winning 3-0 away from home without Root scoring many runs I would have laughed outright.

PLAYER RATINGS

These my England player ratings in batting order:

Zak Crawley 4 – failed in the first innings, made a half decent score in the second.

Ben Duckett 8 – a comparative failure first up (26), but 82* in the final innings rounded out an excellent comeback series for him.

Ollie Pope 6.5 – a 50 in the only innings in which he batted, and although he was gifted it by a terrible shot from the batter his catch to dismiss Babar Azam and start the implosion of the Pakistan second innings was a good one.

Joe Root 5 – a duck in the only innings in which he batted, but three wickets for him across the two Pakistan innings count for something.

Harry Brook 9 – a superb century which pulled England out of some strife in the first innings. He had a superb series and should be part of the England test side for many years to come.

Ben Stokes 8.5 – a fairly quiet match for Stokes the player (26 and 35* with the bat, eight overs for 20 with the ball) though that second innings carried England to victory, but a fantastic match for Stokes the captain.

Ben Foakes 7.5 – a good and much needed 50 in the only innings in which he was needed to bat, and impeccable as ever behind the stumps.

Rehan Ahmed 8.5 – had a great time with the ball, and an entertaining one as “night hawk” in the final innings. His success bodes well for England’s future.

Ollie Robinson 6 – a useful contribution with the bat in England’s first innings, and didn’t do a lot wrong with the ball, though this was never a surface to suit him and his light workload reflects that fact.

Mark Wood 7 – an entertaining cameo with the bat, and on a surface that offered nothing to a fast bowler he gave it everything he had every time he was asked to bowl.

Jack Leach 7 – England’s work horse in this match – 57 overs across the two innings yielded him combined figures of 7-212 and his scalps included Abdullah Shafique (who had made a splendid start to his test career until this match) in both innings and Shan Masood and Azhar Ali (giving the latter a Bradman-like end to his career – bowled for a duck by an English spinner who batted at number 11) in the second – four of his seven scalps thus coming from the top three in the Pakistan order.

SERIES KEY MOMENTS

  1. Day one – England score 500 in 75 overs. This set a template for attacking cricket, and indicated that England weren’t about to just settle for an all round boosting of batting averages on a flat pitch.
  2. Day four – THAT declaration – Stokes sets Pakistan 343 in four sessions, albeit knowing that the light will be truncating the first and fourth of those sessions.
  3. Day five – England keep pressing, and claim the final wicket with maybe 1.3 overs left before the light closed proceedings.
  4. Second test day one – England attack on a turner. Many criticized England’s approach in the first innings of this match, but they managed 281 from 51.4 overs, and my own belief is that they would have made many fewer runs had they been obsessed with batting time. England went on to win, as a fourth innings target of over 350 proved too much for Pakistan.
  5. Third test day one – England bowl Pakistan out in less than a day after the latter have chosen to bat.
  6. Day two – England bounce back from 145-5 to claim a first innings lead of 50.
  7. Day three – Rehan Ahmed takes five wickets as Pakistan slump from 164-3 to 216 all out, England knock off two thirds of their victory target in the 17 overs they have to face that evening.
  8. Day four – Stokes and Duckett carry England to an eight wicket victory, Duckett making the winning hit, which means that England whose total tally of test match wins in Pakistan prior to this series totalled two had secured a 3-0 win in this series.

PHOTOGRAPHS

These pictures are split – I left the camera I took them with at work on Thursday, which was the peak of the freeze and retrieved it yesterday. To further increase the variation there are some night time pictures there…

England on the Threshold of History

A look at how it is that England stand on the threshold of a historic clean sweep of the test series in Pakistan, plus some photographs.

This post will be a fairly brief one, setting the scene for a more detailed one on Wednesday. The main subject is the match that is nearing its end in Karachi. No visiting men’s team has ever won every match of a three+ match test series in Pakistan, and as things stand England, already 2-0 up in the series are 55 runs away from victory with eight wickets standing (and three of those waiting to bat are Root, Pope and Brook, the latter two of whom have had outstanding series) in the final game. This match has featured three things until Stokes was appointed skipper have been in very short supply for the England men’s test team in recent years, and I tackle each in turn.

A WIN ORIENTED MINDSET

England have all too often approached test matches from a perspective of ‘must not lose’. Under Stokes that has very much become the correct ‘must win’ attitude. The first match of the current series, when Stokes boldly offered Pakistan a target of 342 in four sessions (albeit knowing that due to limited daylight both the first and fourth of said sessions would be of reduced length) exemplified this, as did the way England started their chase of 167 for victory in Karachi – rather than ‘make sure we don’t lose any wickets’ Stokes and England opted to see if they could win it before the end of the third day.

PUBLICLY BACKING PLAYERS

There have been two outstanding on-field examples of this in the current match: Harry Brook caused Stokes to be run out, and Stokes as he left the crease made a point of telling Brook not to worry about it. Brook duly scored a superb century. Today Rehan Ahmed took 5-48, a splendid performance (more on this and him in Wednesday’s post), especially for an 18 year old debutant, and when Crawley was first out Stokes decided that was Ahmed’s day and sent him in at number three to play the ‘night hawk’ role – an attacking version of the ‘night watch’ role. Ahmed only scored 10, but he hit two boundaries and helped maintain England’s momentum. Stokes himself went in at number four, but the light closed in. Nevertheless, so much of the task has already been accomplished that even if Pakistan start tomorrow sensationally it is hard to see England even getting nervous, never mind succumbing to those nerves – doing what England did is far preferable to a more conventional 40-0, and almost 130 still needed.

SPIN BOWLING

English pitches these days do not often favour spinners with the result that England have struggled in that department in recent times. Jack Leach took his 100th test wicket during this series, and in the period in which I have been an active cricket fan (mid 1980s to present) only one England spinner has taken over 100 test wickets at a better average than Leach – Graeme Swann (Derek Underwood played some of his career during my lifetime, but benefitted from uncovered pitches for much of his career – on a rain affected pitch, or at the other extreme, a dustbowl, he was truly ‘Deadly’, but on ordinary surfaces he was merely very accurate, and I don’t think he would take his wickets at much if anything below 30 each these days). In this match Leach and debutant Rehan Ahmed each claimed seven wickets, and even Joe Root had some success with the ball. This is important – many of those talking about England’s approach under Stokes are understandably dazzled by the incredible batting, but to win a match you generally need to take 20 wickets, and one reason England are poised for ninth win in ten test matches is that they have taken all ten of their opponents wickets in each of the last 19 innings in which they have bowled.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Before my regular photos I have two others that have appeared in previous posts to share for a special reason: Karachi is regarded as something of a fortress for Pakistan, and England are 55 runs away from taking it by storm, so which of the two photographs below do you think is more apt for the circumstances:

Please comment with your answer.

Now for my usual sign off…

England Seal Series Win At Multan

A look at England’s win in Multan, sealed earlier today.

This post looks at events in Multan and sets them in context. I have already covered the first two days play here, so this post takes up the story on day three.

DAY THREE

England extended their lead of 281 to 354, Brook completing a century to continue the highly impressive start he has made in test cricket. The last five wickets fell in a bit of a heap, but England had a substantial total to defend by then.

With Imam-ul-Haq initially unable to bat Mohammad Rizwan opened with Abdullah Shafique. These two both fell cheaply, and Babar Azam was also out with Pakistan massively adrift, but at that point Imam-ul-Haq joined Saud Shakeel, and they had a good partnership. Just before the end of the day Leach got Imam-ul-Haque for 60, and by the close Pakistan were 198-5, still needing 157 to win.

DAY FOUR

Saud Shakeel and Mohammad Nawaz got Pakistan to within 70 of the target, but Wood got both in a fiery spell just before the lunch interval, albeit the Shakeel dismissal was a rough one. Agha Salman and Abrar Ahmed resisted for a time immediately after the interval, but Anderson got Abrar Ahmed, and moments later Zahid Mahmood became Wood’s fourth victim. That left the last pair needing 36 runs to win, and they managed nine of them before number 11, Mohammad Ali edged Robinson to Pope to end that match. England were home by 26 runs. Many, including me, would have given debutant Abrar Ahmed the Player of the Match award for his 11 wickets and entertaining batting in both innings, and had been forced to name an England player for the honour I would have gone with Ben Duckett who played two superb innings, but landmark obsession carried the day, and Brook got it for his second innings hundred.

CONTEXT AND LOOKING AHEAD

This win was England’s eighth in nine test matches since Ben Stokes was appointed full time skipper. It also meant that in the space of a week they had doubled their all time tally of wins in Pakistan from two (in 1962 and 2000) to four. Pakistan are the fourth team England have won against (out of four they have played tests against) under Stokes – they came here off the back of home series wins over New Zealand and South Africa and a win in a one-off home test against India. England’s last win in Pakistan before this visit came at Karachi in 2000, and the third and final match of this series is in Karachi.

Jack Leach took his 100th test wicket during this match, and only one England spinner in my time following the game has taken that many wickets at a better average than him, Graeme Swann.

I would personally like to see Rehan Ahmed make his debut in the third test match, possibly in place of Will Jacks – with the series already won England can definitely allow themselves a look at Ahmed.

PHOTOGRAPHS

As this little gallery makes abundantly clear, Norfolk remains literally frozen…

Multan Mayhem

A look at the first two days of the second Pakistan v England test, which is taking place in Multan.

Greetings from the frozen wastes of Norfolk. It is currently four degrees outside with a significant wind chill, and that represents the least bad it has been in the last 48 hours. The second test of the Pakistan v England series is currently taking place in Multan, and may even finish tomorrow, while I would bet money against there being a day five.

THE PRELIMINARIES

England decided to persist with Pope as keeper and number three even though Foakes was available. Mark Wood came into the side to strengthen the bowling. For Pakistan there was a debut for leg spinner Abrar Ahmed and a recall for Faheem Ashraf. Ben Stokes won the toss and chose to bat first. This was soon seen to be a correct call as there was already evidence of turn on day one.

DAY ONE

Ben Duckett made a fluent 63 and Ollie Pope 60, and there were some other useful contributions down the order. The story of the innings however was the debutant Abrar Ahmed, who took the first seven wickets to fall with his leg spin. This puts him second on the all time list to Alf Valentine who took the first eight wickets to fall in his debut match. The other leg spinner, Zahid Mahmood broke the sequence, and in the end claimed the last three wickets. England were all out for 281 from 51.4 overs, and some were condemning the team’s new, much more aggressive approach. However my own reckoning was that England of a year or so ago would not have batted much if any longer on this pitch and would have scored many fewer runs. Also of course, first innings efforts should really be assessed only after both teams have batted – and that would apply with a vengeance this time round.

Pakistan batted well in the remaining overs of day one, reaching 107-2. Babar Azam was especially impressive, while James Anderson, the man who just keeps on bowlin’, claimed the first wicket to fall to seam bowling in the match and Jack Leach extended the tally of wickets taking by bespectacled spinners to eight. With Pakistan looking well placed the would be writers of ‘bazball obituaries’ were having themselves a field day in spite of England’s record since Stokes assumed the captaincy full time being won seven, lost one.

DAY TWO

Pakistan seemed to start day two as they had finished day one, scoring well, but then Babar Azam fell for 75 to make is 145-3. Mohammad Rizwan took his place in the middle and the game tilted on its axis. It took Rizwan 25 balls to get off the mark, and even with two fours he managed in total 10 off 43 balls, and Pakistan went into a tailspin. Leach picked up his second, third and fourth wickets of the innings,, Root bagged two in an over with his part time off spin and Wood took two wickets along the way. It was only a lusty last wicket stand between Faheem Ashraf and Abrar Ahmed that got Pakistan past 200. They were all out 202, and England had a 79 run lead on first innings, precisely the same advantage they enjoyed in Rawalpindi, but one that looked a lot more significant on this surface.

England lost two early wickets, Crawley running himself out and Jacks promoted to number three in order that Pope could have more of a rest from his keeping. Root also failed by his own high standards, but Duckett played superbly once again, scoring 79. His dismissal, bowled by one from Abrar Ahmed that shot through low, was an ominous sign for Pakistan – they had needed him out, but they did not need to see a ball doing that with England already over 220 runs to the good. Pope was run out cheaply to make it 155-5, but skipper Stokes stayed with Brook until the light brought an early end to proceedings. By then England were 202-5, 281 runs ahead, with Brook 74* and Stokes 16*. Abrar Ahmed had taken his tally of wickets on debut to 10, but the two run outs meant that he could not equal the record performance by a debutant (16 wickets, achieved twice, by Bob Massie of Australia in 1972 and Narendra Hirwani of India in 1989). The alacrity with which Pakistan headed for the pavilion when the umpires decided the light was no longer good enough was telling as to their state of mind just two days into this match. The events of this second day’s play, rather like the events post Stokes’ declaration at Rawalpindi, left the naysayers looking more than a little foolish. It is dollars to doughnuts that at some point tomorrow or Monday the series score will be 2-0 to England.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Just before the photographs, I shared an old post in a twitter discussion this morning and it was well received. Now for my usual sign off…

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):

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…

A Plan for Australia

A detailed look at possibilities for The Ashes.

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

A BIG SQUAD NEEDED

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

PLAYERS NOT COVERED
IN THIS POST

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

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

TEAM ABELL

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

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

TEAM BURNS

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

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

I conclude this section with a graphic:

ODDS AND ENDS

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

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

Please feel free to comment with suggestions of your own.

PHOTOGRAPHS

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

The Royal London Cup and England’s World Cup Squad

My thoughts on the early stages of the Royal London Cup and England’s world cup 2019 squad.

INTRODUCTION

The day games in today’s first set of Royal London Cup Fixtures are now at the half way stage (Hampshire v Kent is a day/night game, and did not start until 1PM), and I shall be looking at what has happened thus far and venturing predictions as to the outcomes. Also England released their world cup 2019 squad today and I shall be looking at that. We being with…

THE ROYAL LONDON CUP

This is a 50 overs a side tournament, and is being played over the next month. Today sees the opening fixtures of the tournament and the situations, with all matches bar one at the innings break are:

Durham v Northamptonshire Durham 342-5 from 50 overs
A good score for Durham, with Bancroft making 151 not out and Michael Richardson 102. The Northanmptonshire bowlers gave away almost two and half overs worth of extra deliveries. Bizarrely Luke Procter, the most economical Northamptonshire bowler with 1-33 from 7 overs did not get to bowl his full allocation. Although I would prefer to Durham lose every game at present due to their choice of captain this is a total that should be defensible – it will require a huge effort for Northamptonshire to get them, so my predicted result here is victory for Durham.

Yorkshire v LeicestershireYorkshire 379-7 from 50 overs
A big score for Yorkshire. Gary Ballance top scored with 156 off 133 balls, youngster Harry Brook made 103 off 105, wicketkeeper Jonny Tattersall made 58 off 29 to boost the total at the end. The Ballance/ Brook efforts are notable because Yorkshire had lost three early wickets when they came together. Tom Taylor took 3-57 (the first three to fall) from his 10 overs, a notable achievement in such a score. Yorkshire really should be able to defend this total, so my prediction is victory for them.

Lancashire v WorcestershireWorcestershire 367 all out from 49.1 overs
A big total from Worcestershire. I do not set as much store by using all of the 50 overs as some, so I am not that bothered by Worcs being all out before the end of their allocation. Hamish Rutherford and Daryl Mitchell made centuries for Worcestershire and keeper/batter Ricky Wessels a rapid 72 (he does not share his father Kepler’s approach to batting). Matt Parkinson, a 22 year old legspinner, took 5-51 for Lancashire, a very fine achievement particularly in view of the size of the Worcs total. Worcestershire should win this with that total on the board and that is my prediction.

Gloucestershire v Surrey Gloucestershire 235 all out off 47.1 overs
A poor looking total for Gloucestershire in the match between the county of my birth and the one where I lived for most of formative years. Chris Dent made 75 and wicketkeeper Gareth Roderick 74, but no one else did anything significant. Rikki Clarke took 4-43 and Tom Curran celebrated his world cup call-up with 3-29 from 9 overs. Frankly Surrey should knock these off no bother at all, and such is my predicted result.

Glamorgan v Essex Essex 326-7 from 50 overs
A good looking total for Essex, but definitely chaseable in this day and age (especially given the scoring in the recent championship game at Cardiff). Varun Chopra played the anchor role with 111 off 133, while Tom Westley hit 69 off 54 and Dan Lawrence 56 off 37. Sir Alastair Cook scored 40 off 41 to give the innings a solid start. Graham Wagg with 2-49 and Michael Hogan 2-52 were the pick of the bowlers. Given the nature of the Cardiff pitch so far this season I back Glamorgan to chase this one down.

Kent v Hampshire Hampshire 183-3 after 32.4 overs
Hampshire look to be going quite well here. James Vince made 56, while Sam Northeast and Rilee Rossouw are 38 not and 37 not respectively and seem to be going well. Matt Milnes has 2-24 from 5 overs for Kent. It is too early to attempt to call this one, but if Hampshire have a good finish to their innings and get somewhere close to 300 they will have a chance, while if Kent bowl well and restrict Hampshire to somewhere in the region of 250 they will be favourites.

ENGLAND’S WORLD CUP SQUAD

Here courtesy of Test Match Special’s twitter account is England’s World Cup Squad:

World Cup Squad

I rate Sam Curran a better cricketer than his brother, and would prefer to see him in the squad, but I have no huge problems with the selected squad, which has all bases other than slow left-arm spin covered. Liam Dawson, who some might conisder to fill that niche is not good enough in either department. If Liam Trevaskis develops his bowling to set alongside his promising batting (albeit he made a blob today) he may come to fill that particular niche in future, but unless you are prepared to select a non-batting spinner in Jack Leach for limited overs cricket there is no one else at present. I am glad that the selectors have not rushed the newly qualified Jofra Archer straight into the squad – a world cup is not the place for a player to be starting their international career.

PHOTOGRAPHY

My usual sign off…

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