A look at ways for England to cope with the enforced absence of Ben Stokes, a look at the cricket that is happening today, an answer to the teaser in my last post and some photographs.
This post looks at how England might cope without Ben Stokes, who will definitely be missing the first test series of the home summer against New Zealand, though he may be able to turn out against India later in the summer. There are also brief mentions of today’s cricket.
There is no such thing as a like for like replacement for Ben Stokes. The question is then whether you want five genuine bowling options or whether your primary concern is to deepen the batting. If you are worried about the batting then the logical approach based on current evidence is to play either Pope at five and Lawrence at six or vice versa, then rounding out the order with +Foakes, Woakes, one of Archer/Stone/Wood depending on form and fitness, Leach and one of Anderson/Broad depending on form and fitness. If you prefer five bowlers, then you pick one of Pope/ Lawrence to bat at five, gamble on +Foakes at six, have Woakes at seven and avoid a diplodocan tail by selecting one of Oliver Edward Robinson, Lewis Gregory or Craig Overton at eight, and then the 9/10/11 on the basis I have already explained. Two sample line ups using the different approaches are below:
Four Bowlers XI
Five Bowlers XI
Oliver E Robinson
Sample England line ups (please read full post) – do you gamble on four bowlers being sufficient and aim for a strong batting line up, or do you insist on having five front line bowlers?
Feel free to comment on these ideas and make suggestions of your own.
It is day two of the second round of County Championship fixtures. Mohammad Abbas has obliterated the top half of the Middlesex batting order (at low water mark, facing a tally of just over 300 they were 14-5, Abbas 5-3) down at the Rose Bowl. In the game I am principally focussed on, the west country derby at Taunton, Gloucestershire are 113-3 in reply to Somerset’s 312, with Tom Lace the most recent casualty, to an entirely self inflicted dismissal. In South Africa the home side are going nicely in their T20I vs Pakistan, 64-1 after seven overs, while the IPL action for the day starts in just under an hour, and the question is will the mere kings (Punjab Kings) be able to get the better of the super kings (Chennai Super Kings)?
The selection of these multiple choice options left a hack just waiting to be exploited, though as far as I am aware I am the only solver who actually admitted to having done so. The total area of the circle is 36pi, which is just over 113 units. No way are either 24 or 36 big enough to be the largest possible, while 144 is larger than the total available area and therefore clearly impossible. This leaves 72 as the only possible answer, and sure enough, it is the correct answer. Had one their largest available answer been 84 or 96 this hack would not have been available (note that 108 is too close to the total available area to be a really convincing alternative) and I would have had to actually work out a proper solution. I now share with you an authentic solution, published by David Vreken:
A look back at the first round of the county championship, especially Middlesex v Somerset, plus some photographs.
This post looks back at an extraordinary turnaround in one of the only three fixtures in the opening round of the County Championship to have a definite result (Gloucs beating Surrey and Hants beating Leics were the other two).
Somerset won the toss and put Middlesex in (see here for more on the early stages of the match). At low water mark Somerset were 89-9 facing a Middlesex total of 313. Marchant de Lange and Jack Leach, nos 10 and 11 for Somerset added 83 for the final wicket to save the follow on (there would have been no sensible case for Middlesex declining to enforce it). When Middlesex were 87-2 at the end of the second day they still looked firm favourites, but great bowling efforts from Overton, Davey and Leach restricted Middlesex to 143 in their second innings, leaving Somerset 285 to win. Three wickets went fairly early, but then Tom Abell and George Bartlett shared a good partnership before Abell was dislodged for 84. Steven Davies and Craig Overton both fell cheaply, and the target was still over 100 away when Lewis Gregory walked in to join Bartlett. Gregory, who had picked up a five-for in the first Middlesex innings came to the party for the second time in the match, and he and Bartlett were still together when the winning run was scored, Bartlett 76 not out, Gregory 62 not out. Appropriately, it was Gregory who sealed the win. Leach’s total match figures of 4-61, going at less than two an over, were huge news for England, since unless they are prepared to go seriously radical and drop Sophie Ecclestone a line there is no other serious specialist spin option for the test team at present – Matt Parkinson, with 62 wickets at 25 each in FC cricket ranks second to Leach, having a similar bowling average but only about a fifth of the number of wickets. Gregory has Woakes (definitely) and Oliver Edward Robinson (probably) ahead of him in the England pecking order. Abell and Bartlett may also be on the radar, and the runs they made in uphill circumstances will count heavily in their favour. On the debit side the other two Toms, Banton and Lammonby failed to do anything of note this time round. Ethan Bamber of Middlesex may have out himself on the radar with a fine bowling performance.
Elsewhere the most significant news from an England perspective were scores of 74 for Burns, the opener whose place is under scrutiny after a tough winter, and 133 for Foakes, who should be first choice keeper, and who must have improved his stocks with that effort.
Here are links to the cricinfo profiles of the players mentioned above in an England context:
A look at the county championship match between Middlesex and Somerset, an XI inspired by the Somerset top order and plenty of photographs.
This post looks at the county championship match between Somerset and Middlesex, with a bonus feature related to Somerset’s batting order. However I begin with…
OLD MAN DIES – BBC WILDLY OVERDOES THINGS
At 12:13PM yesterday an official announcement was made that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, had died at the age of 99. The news was not much of a surprise since it was known that he had been ill, and his death can hardly be considered untimely at that age. Yet the BBC not only devoted all their TV channels and all their principal radio stations to talking about this and only this, they also commandeered every other aspect of their coverage for the same purpose, which meant that my plan to produce a blog post while listening to the cricket yesterday went by the board. I found a live stream on youtube, but that had to be watched, and could not simply be on in the background while I did other things. It may have been justifiable for both BBC1 and BBC2 to be devoted exclusively to this death, and for radio 1,2,3,4 and 5 to be devoted to it as well, though I would have considered even that to be overdoing it. However, to black out specialist content such as cricket commentaries, which one tunes into for one purpose and one purpose only was definitely overdoing it. The BBC is now back at more or less normal service after most of a day and night of blanket coverage of the death. It also seems inappropriate to be making so much of the death of a very old man by natural causes at a time when some 150,000 Brits have died before their time due to the Johnson government’s appalling mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.
MIDDLESEX V SOMERSET
Somerset put Middlesex in, and a so-so bowling performance (only Lewis Gregory with 5-68 and Jack Leach with a superbly economical effort of 1-43 off 22 overs really bowled well) and some very poor fielding allowed the home side to reach 313 in their first innings, Sam Robson making the most of several slices of luck to rack up 165.
At 89-9 it looked like Somerset may well be headed for an innings defeat, but nos 10 and 11, Marchant de Lange and Jack Leach, put on 83, de Lange reaching a half century, to get Somerset to 172, just past the minimum needed to avoid the follow on, 164. Middlesex reached 87-2 by the close of day two, Craig Overton with both wickets, but a brilliant bowling performance today, with Overton getting a third wicket, Josh Davey taking 3-16 from 11 and Leach 3-18 from 11.2 overs saw Middlesex bowled out for 143, leaving Somerset needing 285 to win. Tom Lammonby fell early, but the other two Toms, Banton and Abell are going well, with Somerset 65-1, needing 220 more to win. This segues nicely on to my bonus feature…
THE TOMS XI
The fact that the top three in the Somerset order all answer to Tom got me thinking about an XI all of whom answered to Tom (nb I was very specific that this must be players who were actually referred to as Tom – Thomas or Tommy do not county – I am a Thomas and I dislike any diminutive form of my first name). Below is what I came up with:
Tom Hayward – right handed opening batter, right arm medium paced bowler. He would be delighted to know that in this XI he will definitely by no higher than sixth choice as a bowler – he advised his great protege and fellow Cambridge native Jack Hobbs not let Surrey find out how good a bowler he was, because he felt that he himself was overworked by the county in that department. He was the second to reach 1,000 FC runs in an English season before June after WG Grace, and also second after WG to the career landmark of 100 first class hundreds. He was also a fine fielder.
Tom Lammonby – left handed opening batter, left arm medium pacer. Two failures in the current match has reduced has record to 464 runs at 42.18 (was 459 at 51.00 going into it). That record includes three centuries. He is one the Somerset trio, two of whom I have named in this XI (Banton, who has just gone to make it 79-2, 206 still needed, is the one to miss out).
Tom Abell – right handed batter, right arm medium pacer. The second of the two current Somerset Toms in this XI. He currently averages 32 in FC cricket, but is clearly on an upward trajectory, and an England career would not surprise many. Hayward shared many large partnerships with Bobby Abel – maybe he would also go well with an Abell!
*Tom Graveney – right handed batter, occasional leg spinner, captain. The best batting record of any Tom, and the second most prolific batter to have played all his FC cricket after WWII. In 1966 he was part of a record breaking revival – West Indies had scored 268 and reduced England to 166-7, but Graveney (165), Murray (112 from no 9) and Higgs and Snow with a fifty a piece boosted England to 527 – 361 for the last three wickets! Unsurprisingly the West Indies were knocked sideways by this and went down to an innings defeat.
Tom Killick – right handed batter. He averaged just above 40 through a 92 match first class career. This included 15 centuries and a career best score of 206.
+Tom Blundell – right handed batter, wicket keeper, occasional off spinner. The Kiwi has a test average of 38 including two centuries, slightly better than his FC average of 36.
Tom Emmett – left arm fast bowler, left handed lower middle order batter. Though it is principally his bowling for which he is selected, he was good enough with the willow to record a first class century when such scores were far from being commonplace. He was one of five ‘tykes’ to feature in the first ever test match in 1877.
Tom Cartwright – right arm medium pace bowler, right handed lower order batter. Again picked for his bowling, but again far from valueless with the bat. He played a role in South Africa’s isolation from international cricket – he was named in the original England tour party, and withdrew citing injury but in truth because he did not want to tour in such circumstances. D’Oliveira, who should have been a shoo-in for the original squad anyway was named in his place, and when Balthazar Johannes Vorster then announced that D’Oliveira would not be accepted the tour was cancelled. This same Vorster a couple of years later gave vent to some particularly crass racism during a one to one meeting with Don Bradman which prompted the latter to pull the plug on South Africa.
Tom Wills – right arm fast bowler/ right arm slow bowler. 130 FC wickets at less than 10 a piece. He was a hugely important figure in Australian sporting history, with his involvement in the 1868 Aboriginal tour of England and his role as the pioneer of Australian Rules Football, which he conceived as something for Aussie cricketers to do in their off season.
Tom Goddard – right arm off spinner. He started his long career as a quick bowler and even took a hat trick using that method, but his overall returns were underwhelming, and Gloucestershire’s veteran left arm spinner Charlie Parker noted his big hands and suggested he turn his attention to spinning the ball. Goddard spent three years turning himself into an off spinner and gained his reward in the form of a long career which saw him become the fifth most prolific bowler in FC history with 2,979 scalps at less than 20 a piece. He achieved five more first class hat tricks as an off spinner, putting him joint second (alongside Parker who also achieved the feat six times) in this category, one behind Doug Wright who achieved seven first class hat tricks. As late as 1948 when he was not far short of 50 an England recall was a possibility, scotched by Arthur Morris who accepted responsibility for knocking him out of contention when Australia played Gloucestershire and doing just that, racking up 290 in five hours.
Tom Richardson – right arm fast bowler. He took his 1,000th first class wicket in his 134th match at that level and his 2,000th in his 327th match at that level, both of which remain records for reaching those milestones. In the calendar years 1894, 1895, 1896 and 1897 combined he took 1,005 wickets. Neville Cardus, who named him one of the ‘Six Giants of the Wisden Century’ in a 1963 essay, recounted an incident from a match against Lancashire in brutal heat, when Richardson, deep into one of his customary marathon spells chased a ball all the way to the boundary off his own bowling.
This team has a strong top five, a keeper batter at six, two bowlers who can bat at seven and eight and three excellent specialist bowlers. Although there is only one genuine spinner the attack has plenty of variety. The chief misses due to the tightness of my restrictions were Tommy Andrews, an Aussie batter who was also an outstanding cover fielder and Thomas Godfrey Evans, one of the greatest of all keepers, who was always known by his middle name Godfrey. Please feel free to use the comments to identify any Toms you think I have treated harshly by not including them.
A brief look back at the opening day of the county cricket season and some photographs.
Today saw the first day of play in the county championship and the weather thankfully did not pay a huge part in the action.
A TENSE DAY AT LORD’S
I opted to follow the action in Middlesex v Somerset at Lord’s. Somerset won the toss and decided to bowl. A combination of ordinary fielding (at least four chances went begging) and Sam Robson who cashed in on some of the former to rack up 165 gave the opening day honours to Middlesex, but not by much. The close of play score was 293-8, Lewis Gregory taking four wickets, while Jack Leach did an excellent job as a spinner on day one in England, keeping things very tight (he bowled 22 overs and had 1-43 to his name).
Elsewhere there was some vintage stat padding by James Vince at the expense of Leicestershire, Oliver Graham Robinson the Kent wicket keeper scored a fifty and Oliver Edward Robinson the Sussex fast medium bowler and useful lower order batter did likewise.
A look ahead to Ashes, focussing especially on the bowling.
This piece was prompted by a little discussion on twitter this morning about this subject. Somebody who tweets as The Slog Sweeper was advocating the selection of five specialist bowlers, Archer, Stone, Wood, Leach and Anderson, all of whom I firmly believe should be in that tour party if fit, in the team at one the same time. I can understand the logic, but it seems to me to be too high risk, with virtually no runs coming from the second half of the innings. I am going to look at possible combinations for that series in more detail here.
THE ROLE OF THE SPINNER
Jack Leach is established as England’s no1 test spinner. Given that English off spinners have generally fared poorly in Australia and the paucity of options with even respectable first class records the only remotely likely choice for the role of second spinner would be Matt Parkinson (FC bowling average 25). Back for Leach in the role of left arm orthodox spinner is hard to find at present, unless Sophie Ecclestone gets offered her chance to try her stuff alongside the men. I have examined the role of left arm slow to medium paced bowlers in successful Ashes campaigns down under elsewhere on this blog. The only regular test venue in Australia that is remotely likely to warrant the selection of two specialist spinners is Sydney. It could well be the case that no spinner is selected in Perth, and at the other three venues Leach will be the chosen spinner.
BALANCING ATTACKS TO SUIT LOCAL CONDITIONS
At the Gabba for the series opener the right bowling attack would feature two out and out speedsters, Leach and Anderson. At Adelaide, where pitches are often favourable for batting there might be a case for slightly weakening the batting order in an effort to get 20 wickets and playing Woakes at seven, two of the speedsters, Leach and either Broad or Anderson depending on form and fitness. At Perth I might well gamble on all three out and out speedsters and a toss up between Leach and Broad for the fourth specialist bowler. The MCG is the one Aussie ground where I would be happy without two out and out speedsters and would pick whichever of the three is bowling best, both veterans and Leach, or possibly Woakes in place of one of the veterans. At the SCG I am either going two out and out speedster and two spinners (Parkinson coming in) or possibly two out and out speedsters, Anderson and Leach.
POSSIBLE XI FOR THE GABBA
The questions if any are over the top of the order. However, unless either:
a) Haseeb Hameed, with a test average before injury interrupted his career of 43, has an epic season and positively demands selection or
b)One of the younger openers hits their straps in the early part of the county season and establishes themselves at international level during the summer
I think that it will be a case of hoping that the existing top order can function well down under – it would be a huge ask of an opener to make their international debut in an away Ashes series. Thus my Gabba XI in batting order reads as follows:
Mark Wood/ Jofra Archer (dependent on form and fitness)
With two out and out speedsters, the skill and experience of Anderson, Leach and Stokes in the x-factor role I have considerable confidence in this side taking 20 wickets, and while the batting order would not be the deepest England have ever fielded it should be capable of producing enough runs.
A look at England’s tests in 2021 and forward to the future. Also a very important petition and a related post on Tax Research UK and some deserved mentions of successes by Women’s cricket teams.
This post looks back at the six test matches England have played in India and Sri Lanka and forward to the future.
THE STORY IN BRIEF
England won both matches in Sri Lanka against a side with a very unthreatening bowling attack, although there were warning signs in the form of Embuldeniya, a left arm orthodox spinner who caused England such problems as they experienced on that tour. In India England started with a victory in the first match, but then lost three in a row as their problems against spin on turning pitches were cruelly exposed. English cricket officialdom has a phobia of turning tracks, as shown by the punishment recently inflicted on Somerset. This combined with the fact that a large proportion of English first class cricket is confined to the margins of the season means that there are not many really good spinners in the game and that in consequence the batters rarely face much if any spin. Anyone shown Axar Patel’s figures in this series and not told who had recorded them would be forgiven for thinking it was Hedley Verity or Derek Underwood operating on rain affected pitches. There were other causes of problems besides this…
ROTATION POLICY AND POOR SELECTIONS
Some element of rotation was going to be necessary due to the circumstances in which these test matches were being played, but I think England took things too far in that regard, and the side became unsettled as a result. In particular the handling of the Moeen Ali/ Dom Bess situation was shocking. England had planned to play Moeen Ali for both Sri Lankan matches and the first two matches in India before resting him prior to the limited overs element of the Indian tour. Had that plan been operable it might have made sense, though Moeen Ali’s test record is unconvincing to put mildly. As it was he caught Covid and by the time he had recovered and quarantined himself for the required period the only match he would be available for was the second of the Indian series. Bess had not bowled especially well but had been picking up wickets, and the logical thing to do in the changed circumstances was send Moeen home earlier than intended and play Bess straight through or promote one of Parkinson or Virdi from the reserves. Moeen Ali was rushed into the XI for that one match, and on brute figures had a decent game, capturing eight wickets and scoring 49 runs. The problem was that most of the good things he did came after he had virtually bowled England out of contention by conceding 94 runs from his first 20 overs on a pitch that was offering assistance to spinners from the start of the game. In selecting Moeen Ali England had directed some harsh words in Bess’ direction (doubtless some even harsher ones in private than the ones we heard about), and then after the game they tried to persuade Moeen Ali to stay on, abandoning his plans to visit his family in England, and allowed this to become public knowledge. Then, still reluctant to promote Parkinson or Virdi, and unwilling to risk Bess, they went into the third match of the series with three specialist quicks plus Stokes and only Leach as a front line spinner. Inexplicably Chris Woakes was also entirely ignored, though with the party the entire time, and he was sent home after the third test. England then had a massive knee jerk reaction to the humiliating defeat they suffered in that third match and brought Bess back, and also brought Lawrence in to strengthen the batting, going into the game with three specialist bowlers plus Stokes. Lawrence had a fine match, showing fight in both innings to amass 46 and 50, but apart from Stokes (55 in the first innings, four wickets), and Anderson, who was his usual self and therefore always formidable, and with a nod to the ever reliable Leach who toiled hard with the ball, basically no one else did. Bairstow, a flawed selection, as I pointed out in December when rumours of a test recall for him first surfaced, needed a bit of luck to make 28 in the first innings and gave his wicket away first ball in the second to one of the softest dismissals in test history. The other problem besides basic disruption and his own inadequate performances with the selection of Bairstow was that he pretty much replaced Burns, which forced Crawley up to open, when the latter has done his best test work from no3.
One or other of Parkinson or Virdi, with a preference for the former, since as a leg spinner he brings something new to the team, should have been promoted from the reserves to partner Leach, rather than the obviously untrusted Bess being recalled. The treatment of Olly Stone, who bowled well in the second match on a surface that did not suit him in the slightest and was thereafter resolutely ignored is also hard to fathom.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
In terms of the batting two things have happened this tour that are of any significance: Lawrence has surely moved ahead of Pope, who seems to have regressed from the good start he made to his test career, in the pecking order, and Bairstow must finally have blown one opportunity too many for even this England management to recall him to the test ranks, though he remains an integral part of the white ball set up. Leach is now established as first choice spinner, and given the unlikeliness of any English test pitch warranting the selection of two specialist spinners (I would put such a pitch being prepared in England rather below a meteorite strike in the betting stakes), and the fact that the next tour is Australia where English off spinners have not fared well (see here for some detail on the spin options in England’s successful Ashes tour parties) I am looking at Leach as sole spinner for the home summer, and Leach and Parkinson as spinners for Australia (unless England go the radical route of inviting Sophie Ecclestone to plat alongside the men). Virdi may well merit an England call up as well, but probably not for Australia. Bess needs to have at least one seriously good season for his new county, Yorkshire, before his credentials can even be considered again, so should not be a factor in England terms before the 2022 home season at the earliest.
Unless someone has a string of superb performances at the top of a county order to start the season I do not see much point introducing another newcomer to the batting order – chronically ill equipped though they were to handle India’s spinners these batters are by and large the best available to England at present. I might consider Buttler as a specialist batter, but he has been so indulged by the England management in recent times that I refuse to officially nominate him for one of my teams. In view of the fact that Anderson and Broad need to be rotated to some degree, and that I prefer not to have four out and out tailenders in the team my XI for the first test of the home season if nothing significant changes mean time would thus be something like: Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, Lawrence, +Foakes, Woakes, Stone, Leach, Anderson. Archer or Wood if fit and firing could replace Stone, though I would like to see the latter given a proper chance, and similarly Broad may play instead of Anderson if conditions seem likely to favour him. Woakes in England is a formidable all round cricketer, and as indicated earlier in this piece he may well have proved useful at times in India had he been given the chance.
Among those who may force their way into contention in the not too distant future are Tom Abell and Tom Lammonby of Somerset, Sam Hain of Warwickshire, Liam Livingstone of Lancashire and Haseeb Hameed of Nottinghamshire. Ben Coad may claim a bowling slot (he pays about 20 per wicket in FC cricket, but England have plenty of pace bowling options). Jordan Cox is an outside chance if he can prove the double century he scored against Sussex last season was not just a one off. Lewis Goldsworthy, a left arm orthodox spin bowling all rounder, may make some sort of mark for Somerset with Leach on England duty. He has yet to play first class cricket but impressed at the Under 19 World Cup last year and has a decent record in the handful of T20s he has played for Somerset. It is also possible that Liam Patterson-White (bowling average 21.00 from five FC games) and Dan Moriarty (17 wickets at just under 21 each from two first class games) will prove that their currently impressive bowling averages are not freaks.
LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS
My first link is to a petition calling on the government to award NHS nurses a 12.5% pay rise. To sign this you have to be a UK citizen or resident. If you are please do so. A screenshot is below:
My second link is related to the above, being to a blog post by Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK that started life as a twitter thread, in which he takes Johnson to task for his derisory 1% offer. The start of what is a longish piece is shown below:
Finally congratulations to the England Women’s team who completed a clean sweep of the T20Is in New Zealand to go with their earlier triumph in the ODI series. Katherine Brunt was Player of the Match, while Tammy Beaumont, as in the ODI leg of the tour, was named Player of the Series. Also, South Africa Women won the first ODI of their series in India, with Laura Wolvaardt making a fine 80. Now it is time for my usual sign off…
A suggested England XI for the fourth and final test of the current series, which starts on Thursday. Also a couple of important links and some photographs.
I suggested an England XI for the fourth and final test of the India v England series in my post about the end of the third match. Since then Chris Woakes has gone home, which eliminates one of my chosen XI and I have concluded that a couple of specialist pace bowlers are actually required. Therefore I am presenting a new XI here, with a couple of possible variations noted.
THE SERIES SCENARIO AND SELECTION POLICIES
With England’s hopes of winning the series and of qualifying for the World Test Championship both up in smoke and series levelling victory serving only to usher Australia into the WTC final I am thinking that a degree of experimentalism is called for. In my view, with Root able to bowl respectable off spin it is more valuable if the second specialist spinner can bowl leg spin, giving a new variation to the attack.
Dan Lawrence struggled at number three and should not be asked to bat there again for some while. Jonathan Bairstow, 2021 vintage, does not belong in a test match squad, let alone first XI. Thus the question is whether one goes with a top three of Sibley, Burns and Crawley or whether one promotes Stokes in the hope that his experience stiffens the top part of the order. With this the last test of the series and a home summer followed by an Ashes series down under next up I opt in this case for the top three that is likeliest to feature there rather than promote Stokes. With Stokes not being promoted the nos four and five slots are spoken for – Root and Stokes. Pope deserves to stay on in the middle order, with apologies to Dan Lawrence who has had the rough end of the stick this tour, and Foakes will keep. I might consider trying Foakes at six and Pope at seven as Pope is more likely to able to score fast with the tail, but they definitely occupy those two slots in some order. Thus our 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 will be either Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, Pope +Foakes or Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, +Foakes, Pope.
With an eye to the future and also wishing to see something that has not yet been tried I conclude that both veterans should be rested for this one, and also that Archer who has been underwhelming in his outings so far should miss out, naming Wood (who bowled well in SL) and Stone (who bowled well in the second test of this series), opting for two out and out speedsters. Leach holds his place, and rather than Bess I recommend a promotion from the reserves for Parkinson. My 8,9,10,11 is therefore Wood, Stone, Leach, Parkinson. The full XI is encapsulated in the infographic below:
This post is my account of how one of the most farcical test matches I can recall (with approximately 35 years of being an avid cricket fan behind me) reached its conclusion. A brief disclaimer: England were outclassed in this match, and the pitch did not influence the result – England won the toss, batted (correct thing to do) and still took a hammering, but a surface on which when it is a bare day and a half old Joe Root secures innings bowling figures of 5-8 is NOT a suitable surface for test cricket.
THE CRASH OF WICKETS
Virat Kohli’s dismissal near the end of the first day (see here for an account of that day) saw India 99-3 overnight. Leach struck twice fairly early to make it 117-5, and at that point, more or less coinciding with me putting out a tweet to the effect that he should do so, Joe Root came on for a bowl himself. He picked up the wicket of Rishabh Pant pretty much instantly, and that opened the trap door, as India slid to 145 all out, an advantage of 33, with Root having 5-8 from 6.3 overs. Leach had four wickets, taking his test bowling average below 30, where it stayed (it is actually precisely 29.50 – 60 wickets for 1,770 runs in 15 test matches). Could England bat respectably and give themselves some sort of chance of a win? Could they blazes. Zak Crawley, the first innings batting hero was out to the first ball of the innings, putting Axar Patel on a hat trick, and he nearly had it too, as Bairstow was adjudged LBW, but the TV replay showed a faint nick and the third umpire overturned it. The reprieve lasted one ball as Bairstow was promptly bowled through a ‘gap’ between bad and pad that a bus would have had a decent chance of navigating. This meant that Bairstow’s contribution to the occasion amounted to 11 balls faced, no runs scored, two horrible dismissals and a burned review in the first innings. Root and Sibley seemed to be righting things for a time, but then Sibley played a very un-Sibley like shot to surrender his wicket, and it rapidly became a procession, with England’s resistance levels down in the pico-ohms. The innings limped to 81 all out, leaving India needing just 49. Axar Patel had five wickets to follow his six in the first innings, a superb double, and achieving the rare feat of outdoing R Ashwin whose own haul saw him become the second quickest ever to 400 wickets, in his 77th test. With no other options on that surface Leach and Root took the new ball, but the target was just not enough for any pressure to be created and Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill cantered home to a ten wicket victory.
I have done these in info-graphic form:
There have been various complications with this tour, but to put it bluntly England’s approach to selection has been abysmal. They snookered themselves for this match by naming a group of 17 from whom the final XI would come that effectively given their obvious lack of trust in Bess meant they would be playing only one specialist spinner. Then, rather than shoring up the batting with Woakes at eight they picked three specialist quicker bowlers, Archer, Broad and Anderson, one of whom has no experience of bowling in India and one of whom pays the proverbial king’s ransom for his Indian wickets, giving themselves a tail to rival that of a diplodocus. Ben Foakes was twice left high and dry with this tail, spoiling his chances of doing anything significant with the bat. My suggestion for this match is that England look to the future, with WTC qualification hopes up in smoke, and promote both Parkinson and Virdi from the reserves. I name Woakes as no8 to guard against Foakes being left high and dry with the tail again, not really expecting either him or Stokes to feature with the ball. Thus, with the obligatory dropping of Bairstow (and, surely to goodness, the end of any nonsense about him featuring in any further test squads) and deciding that Lawrence will probably not be an improvement on Pope I arrive at the team in the infographic below:
PETITION AND PHOTOGRAPHS
There is a petition calling for the creation of a direct rail link between King’s Lynn and Norwich on 38 Degrees, and given the state of Norfolk’s transport infrastructure and resultant traffic overload on Norfolk’s roads I can only consider this an excellent idea, so please sign and share it by clicking here (screenshot below as a segue into my usual sign off).
An account of day 1 in Ahmedabad and some related matters. Plus a few photographs.
This post looks at day 1 of the day-night match in Ahmedabad and at certain issues relating to that day’s play. As a disclaimer before moving into the main meat of the post I wish to make it clear that I India are in the driving seat firstly and mainly because they have played far superior cricket. That does not mean that certain complaints about luck, the pitch and some of the umpiring are invalid.
ENGLAND PAY FOR OVERLONG TAIL
England’s selection for this match showed four changes from the second test of the series in Chennai, with Crawley, Bairstow, Archer and Anderson replacing Burns, Lawrence, Ali and Stone. This resulted in an XI of: Sibley, Crawley, Bairstow, *Root, Stokes, Pope, Foakes, Archer, Leach, Broad and Anderson. My own pre-match feelings were that this was a high risk selection, with such a long tail, and with the selection of three specialist pace bowlers. Ali was not available for selection, and it was always unlikely that Bess would be recalled, which with the refusal to promote either of Parkinson or Virdi from the reserves dictated that only one spinner would play. I would have retained Burns and Lawrence, moving Lawrence back down the order and away from no3, would from the 17 England had named in advance have gone with Woakes at eight, would have retained Stone after his good performance in the second test, and Leach and Anderson were virtually mandatory picks in the circumstances. India opted to strengthen their batting, bringing Washington Sundar in for Kuldeep Yadav and relying on Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma for the pace bowling, with Axar Patel and R Ashwin to bowl spin, and the latter, coming off a century in Chennai quite possibly to bat at number nine. The first news other than the selections was the toss, which England won and chose to bat.
Sibley got a good one and fell without scoring. Crawley was playing nicely, but Bairstow could not pierce the field, and the very first delivery by a spinner, Axar Patel in this case, pinned him LBW for 0, and Bairstow then burned a review, a call by him that was bad enough to warrant the label ‘Watsonian’ in honour of a certain Aussie batter of the not too distant past. For a time Root and Crawley went reasonably well, but then both got out with lunch approaching, and England were 80-4, 53 of them off the bat of Crawley. Immediately after lunch things got worse for England as Pope was dismissed to make it 81-5, and then Stokes fell cheaply as well, leaving Foakes to bat with the tail. It was 98-8 at low water mark, but Foakes, Broad and Anderson inched the score up to 112, off 48.4 overs, before Foakes was last out. Axar Patel had bowled 21.4 overs and had 6-38, following up his five in the final innings at Chennai. R Ashwin had three and also bowled superbly. England were psyched by the fact that there was turn on day 1, and a number of their wickets fell to balls which actually went straight on. Save for Crawley no England batter even managed 20.
England did not bowl badly, although they did not have the right attack for this pitch, and they were unlucky on several occasions, and there were also two very poor pieces of work by the third umpire. First Shubman Gill edged Broad to Stokes and it was given out on field but then referred upstairs, and the third umpire overturned it very quickly indeed without due care and attention – he may have got it right but if so it was by luck not judgement, and in a test match that is not acceptable. The second incident of poor third umpiring saw Rohit Sharma reprieved for the third time in as many innings, all being controversial. Foakes executed a stumping of Leach, with to all appearances Rohit Sharma’s foot behind the crease but in the air, and it was sent upstairs and again after looking at one replay for a very short period the third umpire overturned it. I am absolutely certain that this one was a wrong call, and the failure to follow protocol even if the call by some chance had been right was unacceptable. In the event Gill’s did not cost much, as he got out not long after to Jofra Archer, being caught by Crawley, too far off the ground for even this third umpire to think of intervening. Leach got Pujara, an LBW that was so plumb that it was not sent upstairs, and just before the close Kohli who had two escapes, first when Pope just failed to pull off what would have been a miracle catch and then when the same player missed a more straightforward effort off a less than impressed Anderson, was bowled by Leach. Rohit Sharma however was still there on 57 not out, with India 99-3, a mere 13 short of matching England’s first innings. Leach currently has 2-27 from 10 overs, meaning that the combined figures of the left arm orthodox spinners on day one of a test match are 8-65 from 31.4 overs. Two days before the start of play this pitch had a respectable covering of grass, but by the day before every last blade of grass had been shaved off, and with nothing to bind it it is already breaking up, and never mind day 5, I would definitely not bet on there being a day 4 and would make it no more than even money that there will be a day 3.
WHERE NOW FOR ENGLAND?
With this test match, and with it, England’s hopes of making the World Test Championship final, effectively gone already, barring miracles, I would go experimental for the third test, promoting Virdi and Parkinson from the reserves with a view to selecting at least one and possibly both, I would rest the veterans Anderson and Broad, probably selecting Woakes and Stone as my new ball pairing if I even picked two front line pacers. Out would go Bairstow, who as regular readers of this blog know would not have been in my tour party anyway, and I would move Stokes up to three, bringing Lawrence back in the middle order. A drawn series, especially when it ushers Australia into the final of the WTC, is less appealing than looking to the future even at the risk of sustaining another defeat. England have mishandled several things in this series, but most egregious has been the Bess/ Moeen Ali situation, where because of Covid (he actually had the disease) and his need to return home to see his family between the test and limited overs legs of the tour Ali was available for just one match, and England were so eager to play this 33 year old who averages 29 with the bat and 36 with the ball that they dropped Bess in a rather insensitive fashion. Even worse, they then allowed it to become public knowledge that they had begged Moeen to change his plans and stay on for the remainder of the series. This left them either to pick Bess with his head not in the right place or, having announced 17 names from which the XI for this match would be selected, to go in with only one specialist spinner. They took the latter option, and we were treated to the sight of four bowlers of above medium pace bowling on a spinning track, as Root was not willing to swallow his pride and acknowledge that England’s chosen bowling attack was unfit for purpose by bringing himself on.
Looking further ahead, to the home season and beyond there are several things that need addressing:
The County Championship cannot keep being shoe horned into the worst times of the season for spinners.
Counties who dare to produce turning surfaces should not be punished, but rather applauded for offering a wider variety of surfaces for cricket to be played on.
England need to find new spinners. Other than Leach and the out of favour Bess only Parkinson and Virdi among the men are remotely close to having records that would justify elevation, which is why I recommend what I am now going to call the ‘Ecclestone Experiment’ – just see what Sophie Ecclestone, with 101 wickets at 25.90 in international cricket at the age of 21 can do playing among the men.
England also need to improve their batting against spin. Elizabeth Ammon, who tweets as legsidelizzy, has pointed out that England had a spin bowling camp in Sri Lanka, but no ‘batting against spin bowling camp’, and that that needs to change.
Looking at a possible England line up for the test match that gets underway tomorrow and a radical solution to their current paucity of spin bowling options. Plus some photographs.
This is my preview post for the third test match of the India v England series which starts tomorrow morning UK time. I also take the time to salute another fine performance by England’s women and, prompted by a comment on twitter from The Cricket Men, to revisit one of my more radical solutions to England’s spinning problems.
ENGLAND XI FOR TOMORROW
Crawley has been declared fit to play, and it seems Burns and Pope are going to be given chances to score runs, though both must be running out of road. This virtually sets the top six as Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, Pope, and Foakes is also inked in as keeper, which leaves the bottom four to be decided. Some are making much of the fact that the pitch which previously had some grass on it has been shaved today, but for me, especially with the selectors having ruled out promotions for Parkinson or Virdi, I still see no reason to select Bess, and although I can understand why people want to see Archer I prefer to give Stone a chance in less unfavourable conditions after his fine efforts in the second test match. Thus, with Anderson a mandatory selection for a pink ball test and some justifiable concern over the lower order, I pick Woakes rather than Broad for the no8 slot, thus arriving at Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, Pope, +Foakes, Woakes, Stone, Leach, Anderson.
ENGLAND’S SPIN ISSUE
Overnight England’s women played an ODI in New Zealand, and won by eight wickets. They restricted the hosts to 178, Sophie Ecclestone with her left arm spin collecting 2-36 from a full allocation of ten overs. Tammy Beaumont (71) and Heather Knight (67 not out) then ensured that this wonderful bowling effort would not go to waste. Ecclestone now has 101 wickets in all forms of international cricket, at 25.90 a piece, and she is still only 21 years old. Other than Leach and Bess, the latter of whom is currently under a cloud the number of male English spinners who have played at least 10 first class matches (basic filter against freak happenings), are still active at that level and pay less than 30 a piece for their wickets totals precisely two: Matt Parkinson (62 wickets at 25) and Amar Virdi (91 wickets at 28). Thus, encouraged by some comments I have seen today (see intro), I am once again going to suggest that Ecclestone deserves to be given a chance to show what she can do playing alongside the men and should be part of England’s elite spin group going forward. For the Ashes tour at the end of the year she could be one of three specialist spinners to travel alongside Leach and Parkinson (unless Bess at his new base of Headingley has a splendid season I cannot see him as a member of that tour party, especially given how poorly English off spinners have generally fared in Oz – see here).