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…

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…

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…

Thoughts About The Ashes Squad

A look at the England tour party for the upcoming Ashes and my selections for the Gabba.

A few days ago the England squad for the upcoming Ashes tour was announced. They opted for a squad of 17, and picked the following players:

In the rest of this post I will look at the problems with this party and then name the XI I would pick for the Gabba.

FOUR SELECTION HOWLERS

There are four players who certainly should not be in the squad. First is Jonathan Bairstow, a great white ball player whose test career comprises one fat year (Dec 2015 to Dec 2016) and eight lean ones. His place should have been given the Ben Foakes, who has been shamefully treated by the England selectors over the last few years.

Second is Dom Bess. English off spinners have generally struggled in Australia. Swann, the best English offie of my lifetime, paid almost 40 per scalp on the successful 2010-11 trip and broke down midway through the 2013-14 trip. Bess is nowhere near being in the same class as Swann, and is a disaster waiting to happen in Australia. This place should have been given to one of Matt Parkinson (pays 23.5 per first class wicket) or if you want more batting depth available Liam Patterson-White (left arm spin bowling all rounder) or Matt Critchley (batter who bowls leg spin and has had a fine season).

Third is Zak Crawley, a man who averages 11 in test cricket since his sole major innings at that level. Tom Abell should have been selected to fill the no three slot, with the bonus that he can offer some support in the bowling department with his medium pace and that if he manages to establish himself at test level he will be a serious candidate to replace Root as skipper when the time comes.

Fourth is Dawid Malan, a man now in his mid-thirties whose test average is rather less than his age. I would have selected Tom Haines as reserve opener in place of Malan.

I will not deem it a mistake but I also have concerns about two veteran seamers, Anderson and Broad both being named in the tour party. Neither have the greatest records in Australia and the likelihood of both of them being fit for the whole of a five match series seems small. Jofra Archer and Olly Stone are both crocked, but a gamble on the extra pace of Saqib Mahmood or Brydon Carse might have been taken.

AN XI FOR THE GABBA

Having laid out my most pressing concerns about the tour party and established the like the Irishman being asked for directions “I wouldn’t have started from here” it is time to select an XI for the Gabba:

The opening pair presents no problems – Burns and Hameed have two century stands in three innings and to break them up at this point would be positively frolicking with disaster.

No three is tougher, but since he is in the party it makes sense to stick with Malan for all my entirely justified misgivings about him.

No four is the one position that no one will argue about – Joe Root, the skipper, retains his regular slot.

Number five is a close call between two players who have yet to fully establish themselves at test level, and I opt for Ollie Pope over Dan Lawrence – Aussie pitches should suit Pope.

Number six is Jos Buttler, the keeper (no six is his best position, and the balance of the side also dictates that he should bat there).

Chris Woakes has to be at seven if one wants four genuine seam options and a spinner, and his record batting at seven in tests is stellar (albeit from a small sample size).

Ollie Robinson has inked himself into the side given the way he has performed in his test career to date, and he is well capable of batting at no eight.

Mark Wood is the only genuinely fast bowler in the squad, and the Gabba should suit him (I would spare him from the thankless task of attempting to extract life from the Adelaide Oval, as I suspect he will need a bit of nursing to get through the series).

There is only one spinner of genuine test standard in the squad, and with possibly exception of Perth he should play every match, so Jack Leach gets in at number ten.

At number eleven is England’s all time leading test wicket taker, James Anderson.

This side (Burns, Hameed, Malan, *Root, Pope, +Buttler, Woakes, Robinson, Wood, Leach, Anderson) is slightly short on batting, with two of the top five definitely unproven (Pope may change that, but I actually regard Malan as proven in the wrong way – provenly not good enough) but does have the bowling resources to take 20 wickets at less than ruinous cost with Anderson, the height of Robinson, the pace of Wood, the spin of Leach and Woakes as fourth seamer. Here courtesy of Wisden is a picture of my team:

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for 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…

A Look Back at The Oval and Forward to Old Trafford

A look back at the test match that concluded yesterday at The Oval and a look forward to Old Trafford.

This post looks back at the test match at The Oval that finished yesterday afternoon with India winning by 157 runs and guaranteeing themselves at least a share of the series and forward to the final match at Old Trafford.

A GREAT TURNAROUND

England won the toss and put India into bat. At first all seemed well, with India soon 127-7, but a fifty of record equalling rapidity from Shardul Thakur boosted India to 191. England’s first innings followed an all too familiar pattern: various players got starts but with the exceptions of Pope (81) and Woakes (50) no one went on to a significant score and England’s advantage was 99, much less than it should have been. On days three and four, under cloudless skies and on a pitch with no devil in it England were toothless. Most of the bowlers were at least reasonably economical, with the sore thumb like exception of Moeen Ali who leaked runs at 4.5 an over. England needed a spinner to bowl a long economical spell and enable the quicker bowlers to be properly rested and got 26-0-118-2, with one of the wickets definitely given away and the other a decent dismissal. With Rohit Sharma scoring a ton, Pujara a fifty and Thakur his second fifty of the match India reached 466, leaving England needing to score 368 which had they done it would have been their largest ever successful run chase, and over 100 more than their previous best such effort at The Oval, 263-9 in “Jessop’s Match” of 1902. Burns and Hameed batted through the closing stages of the fourth day with no alarms, closing on 77-0, with the ask down to 291. On the fifth morning this pair completed their second century stand in three innings as an opening pair. Both fell in quick succession after reaching 50s, but England were still only two down at lunch time. The first hour after lunch settled the destiny of the match. Bumrah bowled a magnificent spell and was brilliantly supported by left arm spinner Jadeja. Bumrah’s post lunch spell read 6-3-6-2. One of those wickets was Bairstow, cleaned up for a duck with a yorker that a fast bowler of an earlier era would have described as “wasted on thee” as it was a far better ball than would actually be required to pierce Bairstow’s “defences” early in an innings. Moeen Ali also collected a duck. His dismissal made it 147-6, and it was a question of when the final wicket would fall. England’s lower order resisted gallantly, but they were all out for 210 not long after tea and India had won by 157 runs.

All credit to India for a magnificent comeback and in the end a thoroughly convincing win. England have several problems, two of which the naming of the squad for Old Trafford addresses.

LOOKING AHEAD TO OLD TRAFFORD

England have named a squad of 16 from which the XI at Old Trafford will be picked. They have made two good calls – Buttler has made himself available and is included, and Leach has been recalled to the squad as well. Unfortunately Ali and Bairstow are both still in the squad, and Malan seemingly retains his no three slot.

The best available XI from the named squad in my opinion is: Burns, Hameed, Malan, *Root, Pope, +Buttler, Woakes, S Curran, Overton, Wood and Leach (Anderson is not in the squad, and Robinson is running on fumes and with a drawn series the best England can do should be rested.

To my mind two big mistakes have been made with the naming of this squad. Tom Abell should come in at number three (Malan is in his middle thirties and has a very moderate test record), and Matt Parkinson should be given his debut in front of a home crowd. I would also not have bothered including Ali or Bairstow in the squad as neither deserve to play. My chosen XI would thus have been Burns, Hameed, Abell, *Root, Pope, +Buttler, Woakes, Overton, Wood, Leach and Parkinson, reckoning that on a spin friendly ground Woakes, Overton and Wood plus a few overs of Abell’s medium pace would be enough seam options.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Looking Ahead to Australia

Some ideas for the Ashes tour, a couple of links and some photographs.

This post is prompted by the recent behaviour of Engkand’s test selectors, and my increasing certainty that big changes are needed.

INJURIES AND REJECTS

Various players are hors de combat with injuries or due to other issues. Archer and Stone both have long term injuries that will keep them out of the Ashes, Broad is also injured and may not be able to play the Ashes, Stokes and Buttler have to be treated as not available for the Ashes given that Stokes has already said he is taking time out and Buttler does not want to be away for months on end with his wife about to have their second child. Also I do not believe that any of Ali, Bairstow, Crawley or Malan should be considered for this most demanding of all tours. The last of these four may yet convince me, having just been drafted into the squad, but at the moment that decision just looks like the latest in a series of regressive, backward looking calls the selectors have made recently.

THE CAPTAINCY

I think that Root needs to be relieved of the captaincy, and would at this point give the job to Rory Burns as a temporary measure, hoping that Tom Abell (my choice for number three and Somerset’s current captain) can establish himself at test level and then be given the captaincy.

THE BATTING

This of course is the biggest area of concern for England at present. With Sibley out of form and confidence I see little alternative to Burns and Hameed as openers, Abell would be my choice at three, and Root at four. Number five for me is between Lawrence and Pope, with my preference for the first named. I would give the gloves to Foakes with Buttler not available, with Bracey in the squad as reserve keeper. Foakes would bat six, putting an extra batter between him and the tail. At number seven I would want Chris Woakes in the all rounders role in most conditions. Bracey is cover not only for the keepers gloves but also the number three slot. On my radar as reserve batters are Liam Livingstone, Harry Brook, Jordan Cox, Matt Critchley and, as a gamble on a youngster who seems to have the right temperament, Lewis Goldsworthy. Critchley might be selected at seven in place of Woakes if a second spin option looks like being useful (he bowls a bit of leg spin).

THE BOWLING

Of the bowlers I am prepared to consider available (Wood is injured and there is no way of knowing how long he is out for, so although I am not absolutely ruling him out as I have some others I am for the moment placing him on the sidelines) my first choices are: Overton, Robinson, Leach and Anderson (I want at least one genuine spinner and Leach is first choice in that department). I hope Mark Wood will be recovered in time to make the trip. Other seam back up could be provided by Saqib Mahmood, George Garton or Sam Curran (he has looked fairly unthreatening with the ball of late which is why I have him well down the pecking order). The spin situation, partly dictated by the fact that English off spinners have only rarely done well in Australia, is less happy looking. Although it would be unlikely that he and Leach would be picked in the same XI the next nearest thing England have to a spinner in Leach’s class is Matt Parkinson, the Lancashire leg spinner who currently has 86 FC wickets at 23.69, though his wickets per game rate is on the low side at just a tick over three. Direct back up for Leach is not really available unless one gambles on four first class appearances telling a true story and name Dan Moriarty in the party. However, Liam Patterson-White has a respectable record, and can bat, which would give England two ways of selecting two spinners of differing methods without both being bunnies with the bat – Either Critchley at seven and Leach at 10, or a 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 of Woakes, Patterson-White, Robinson, Anderson, Parkinson.

WRAPPING IT UP

Until and unless they get tried there is no way of knowing whether the above ideas will work, but the selectors continuing with their current approach has one likely result in terms of The Ashes: 5-0 to Australia.

LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS

TFL have recently produced a piece titled ‘Sightseeing on the Northern Line‘, an effort which missed more than it found and prompted me to produce my own version.

Now it is time for my usual sign off…

England’s “Selection Policy” Goes From Dumb To Dumber

A look at the latest craziness to emanate from the ECB’s ivory tower – the naming of Moeen Ali as a spin bowling option in the test squad based on his recent form in The Hundred.

It has been confirmed this morning that Moeen Ali has been added to England’s squad for the second test against India. In this post I explain just how flawed this move is.

RECENT SUCCESS
DOUBLY IRRELEVANT

Moeen Ali has been going well in The Hundred, an ultra short form competition massively removed from the long haul of test cricket. He has also been especially notable for his batting successes, coming in high in the order and throwing the bat as one has to in that competition. His bowling in that competition amounts to combined figures of 4-115 in five matches, and it is as a spinner that England will play him if they do play him. In other words, he has been succeeding in the form of the game furthest removed from test cricket and not in the department in which England would make most use of him at test level.

TACKLING THE
WRONG PROBLEM

England are not short of bowling options but are suffering at the top end of the batting order, with Crawley definitely proven as inadequate at test level, Sibley questionable and even Burns not bombproof. Moeen Ali is therefore a ‘solution’ to a ‘problem’ that exists only in the minds of the England selectors.

DISRESPECT TO SPINNERS ALREADY IN THE SQUAD

England already have two front line spinners available to them, Jack Leach and Dom Bess. Bess is a slightly questionable inclusion in the squad, but Leach from the mere 16 matches he has been given has 62 wickets at 29.98, 3.875 wickets per match. For comparison, Ali takes 3.1 wickets per match and pays 36.24 a piece for them. Frankly the way England’s #1 spinner (Leach) is being treated by the selectors is nothing short of a disgrace.

SHORT SIGHTED
AS WELL AS RETROGRADE

Additionally, one must look ahead to England’s next tour, which is the toughest of all – Australia. As I demonstrate in this piece, English off spinners have historically been of limited value in Australia, while left arm orthodox spinners have been very important. England’s two best ever Ashes tours, in 1928-9 and 1932-3 both featured a left arm spinner and a leg spinner in the party (Farmer White and Tich Freeman in the first, Hedley Verity and Tommy Mitchell in the second). Leach is the principal candidate for the left arm spinner’s role, while Matt Parkinson (86 FC wickets at 23.69) is the obvious candidate for the leg spinner’s place. Dan Moriarty with 31 wickets from four FC games at 19.77 a piece is a left arm spinner who might be in the mix, and Liam Patterson-White, who takes his FC wickets at 30.13 and averages 23.12 with the bat may yet make the grade. Also in the wings is Lewis Goldsworthy of Somerset. As a more radical idea, Sophie Ecclestone at the age of 22 has 125 international wickets across formats at 19.49 each. I would rather see any of the players I have just named than yet another recall for Moeen Ali. The latter’s last test was against India in India, and although he took wickets in the end he also bowled England into a losing position by leaking almost five an over in conditions that were helpful to a bowler of his type.

ENGLAND XI FOR THURSDAY

From the players in the squad I select as follows:

  1. Rory Burns
  2. Dom Sibley
  3. Haseeb Hameed (Crawley’s time at the top level is done)
  4. *Joe Root
  5. Dan Lawrence
  6. +Jos Buttler
  7. Sam Curran
  8. Ollie Robinson
  9. Mark Wood
  10. Jack Leach
  11. James Anderson

If one wants more batting depth, Overton could replace Wood, and then there would be a 7, 8, 9 of Curran, Overton and Robinson, which should be depth enough for anyone. I prefer Wood because his presence provides some express pace to go with the seam and swing options, which with Curran’s left arm and Robinson’s extra height are well varied (Broad was ordinary in the first test, so I rest him rather than Anderson for this one). There is also England’s best spinner in there, as there should be.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

England v India: Preliminaries and Opening Exchanges

A look at the opening exchanges in the England v India test series which got under way at 11:00 today.

The five match test series between England and India is under way, the first match at Trent Bridge having started at 11:00AM. This post looks at early developments.

ENGLAND SELECTIONS

England’s plans were thrown into confusion when Ben Stokes announced that he would be taking a break from cricket for mental health related reasons. I do not know when or even whether Stokes will return to competitive action – he should take as much time as he needs. However, neither that nor an injury to Ollie Pope excuse England’s actual selection. They have gone hypernegative, selecting only four front line bowlers none of whom is a spinner and none of whom is an out and out speedster. The team they have chosen is Burns, Sibley, Crawley, *Root, Bairstow, Lawrence, +Buttler, S Curran, Robinson, Broad, Anderson. I would have selected Hameed in place of Crawley, with him and Sibley then being in a bat off for who keeps their place in the side when Tom Abell, the man best equipped to bat three for England in this format, is fit again. I would not have selected Bairstow at all, going with Buttler at six and five genuine bowling options. My preferred line up from those available would have been Burns, Sibley, Hameed, *Root, Lawrence, +Buttler, S Curran, Robinson, Wood, Leach, Anderson. I regard the non-selection of Leach as criminal. In 16 test matches he has taken 62 wickets at 29.98 – that is his bowling average is the right side of 30 (only just admittedly) and he takes 3.875 wickets per match, which is around the par mark – most sides have five serious bowling options and to win you need to take 20 wickets, and 20/5 = 4. When then add in leaving out the only genuine speedster available, Wood, you have an attack that has no depth (only four front line options), and very little variety (three right arm fast mediums, all over six feet in height, with the only serious variation Curran’s left arm fast medium – no variation in pace whatsoever).

The side England have named has “picked to avoid defeat” rather than “picked to win” written all over it in bold capitals.

INDIAN SELECTIONS

Far fewer problems for the visitors although they somewhat surprisingly left out Ashwin, probably the best finger spinner in the world at the moment. They decided, again on ground of batting strength to rely on Jadeja as their sole spin option, with Thakur at eight and the three specialist quicks, Siraj, Bumrah and Shami at 9, 10 and 11. The alternative once they had decided on four seamers would have been take a chance an Ashwin at seven. While debatable this selection is not definitively wrong as some of England’s are.

THE PLAY SO FAR

England won the toss and chose to bat, the right thing to do on a sunny morning with clouds forecast for later in the match. They were off to a dreadful start when Burns fell in the first over. Sibley and Crawley held out for a while before Crawley was removed for 27. That brought Root to the crease and he and Sibley saw things through to lunch at 61-2. Sibley’s typically patient innings ended just after lunch, for 18,making the score 66-3. Root and Bairstow are still together at 73-3. Root is on 18, while Bairstow has reached two and has survived 15 balls which is quite impressive by his recent test standards. Bairstow has just scored a four off Bumrah to make it 77-3. Bumrah, Shami and Siraj have a wicket a piece.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off – the butterflies are out in force at the moment…

As I publish this post England are on 82-3, Root on 23 and Bairstow on 6.