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:

England Ignominiously Defeated In Two Days

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.

PLAYER RATINGS

I have done these in info-graphic form:

SELECTION ISSUES

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).


India Seize The Day In Chennai

A look at the first day in Chennai, where England made a selectorial howler, the 3rd umpire made two howlers on the day, and England have already pretty much played themselves out of the contest.

The second test match in the India v England series got underway at Chennai today. As you will be finding out it is hard to see other than a 1-1 scoreline at the end of this one, given the events of day 1.

AN EXTRAORDINARY DAY

India won the toss, and chose to bat, as was inevitable, given that the pitch looked a minefield before a ball had been bowled on it. Stone was preferred to Woakes for England, with everything else as expected. The day began well, when after a maiden from Stuart Broad, Olly Stone removed Shubman Gill with India still scoreless. Leach took the wicket of the adhesive Pujara, and Kohli had a wild drive at Moeen Ali and was bowled, his reaction, which virtually compelled the umpire to send it upstairs, making the delivery look better than it actually was. In truth, Kohli played a very poor shot, especially for so early in his innings. Rahane joined Rohit Sharma in a fourth wicket stand that put India firmly on top. At one stage Rohit was on for breaking one of test cricket’s oldest records, for the highest percentage of a completed innings by one batter, set by Charles Bannerman in the first test innings of all (165 in a score of 245 all out, 67.34% of the total), but Rahane upped his own rate as the game increasingly ran away from England. At 248, Rohit Sharma fell for 161, sweeping Leach to deep midwicket and being caught, though the shot had previously brought him rich rewards against the spinners. Rahane was reprieved when the third umpire refused to look further at a replay after it was confirmed that bat had not been involved – unfortunately glove had after the ball bounced off the thigh. There was also a stumping which the third umpire incorrectly refused to give – the batter’s foot was on the line, and the laws of cricket are very specific on this point: “…some part of the foot must be grounded behind the line”. Shortly after his reprieve, Rahane, his mind clearly no longer on the job, swept wildly at one from Moeen and was bowled. Ashwin also fell in this little period, but Rishabh Pant and Axar Patel got India to the close at 300-6, an absolutely mammoth score on a pitch that was already offering considerable turn. I now look at several factors in the day’s play in turn.

ROHIT SHARMA’S INNINGS

My own reckoning is that the Player of the Match award is already done and dusted. Rohit Sharma’s amazing 161 has put his side in command of the match and it will take something extraordinary from England, with R Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel a stronger spin combo than theirs, to even make a contest of it. Knowing that the pitch was already in the process of breaking up, Rohit Sharma knew he had to get runs while it was at all possible, and how brilliantly he succeeded. A near analogue from cricket’s distant past was Victor Trumper’s innings at Old Trafford in 1902, when knowing that England sought to keep him quiet in the morning because conditions would be perfect for Lockwood after lunch, he blasted a century on the first morning of the match. Australia duly won, albeit by only three runs. Credit also to Rahane for playing so well in the support role.

ENGLAND’S BOWLERS

Stuart Broad was not at his best, but did not bowl badly even so. Ben Stokes was not fully fit, and bowled only a few overs. Olly Stone was hugely impressive and may now be ahead of Wood, though still behind Archer, in the outright pace pecking order. Jack Leach was economical, and deserved better figures than 26-2-78-2. Moeen Ali was a ghastly failure, gifted the wicket of Kohli, and also lucky to pick up Rahane given the circumstances, and hideously expensive – at one point he had 1-94 from 20, going at 4.70 per over. His final figures for the day were 26-3-112-2 – 4.31 per over on a spinner’s pitch. For comparison, on a surface that was still fairly flat Dominic Bess in the first innings of the first game recorded 4-76 from 26 overs, double the wickets and only going at 2.92 per over. Joe Root, a part time bowler, used himself at one point, and had figures of 8-2-15-1, a devastating indictment of Ali. Had Leach had serious support in the middle part of the day he would likely have had many more wickets, but in opting for Ali England had shot themselves in the foot, learning nothing from India’s selection of Sundar in game 1 – he batted well, but his bowling was ineffective and India lost. I expressed my opinions of the Ali selection forcibly yesterday, and the evidence of today causes me to metaphorically underline and bold them. For someone selected as a front line spinner to be outdone by Joe Root, and to go at such a rate on a spinning pitch is indefensible. Yes, Rohit Sharma was magnificent, but Ali also bowled a lot of rubbish. With Stokes bowling only two overs and Ali proving expensive England were effectively trying to do the job with three bowlers. This is Moeen Ali’s 61st test appearance, and he has 183 wickets at that level, for an average of three per game. England intended to give themselves five bowling options (Stokes being able to bowl so little was not in the script), and 20/5 = 4, so Ali is a wicket per match down on what is needed, and that can only be made up for by being very economical, and he was the spendthrift of the attack. Centuries on the opening day of a test match do not often end up against the name of a bowler, but Moeen unfortunately was utterly deserving of this one. Had England dropped Bess to clear the way for Virdi or Parkinson I would have had no issue – the only way you can definitively find out whether youngsters can bowl in test cricket is to give them that opportunity, but bringing back Moeen Ali was a hugely retrograde step.

Even if England get the last four wickets quickly tomorrow they will have to bat out of their skins to get back into the match. I sincerely hope England will learn from this disaster.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Only a few photos today…

England Take An Early Lead With Victory in Chennai

A look at the closing stages of the test match in Chennai, a brief summary of the whole game, player ratings and more.

This post details the events of the fifth and final day of the 1st test between India and England, looks at the match as a whole and provides a complete set of player ratings.

AN EMPHATIC WIN

At the start of the final day the match situation was England 578 and 178, India 337 and 39-1, meaning India needed 381 to win and England needed nine wickets.

Leach struck first, removing Pujara with a fine piece of bowling, a crucial strike as he was the most likely of the Indians to be able to bat through the day at one end. For a time thereafter India fared respectably, with Kohli in full control of his innings from the start and Shubman Gill completing a good fifty. Then James Anderson intervened in no uncertain terms, removing Gill and Rahane in one sensational over, both bowled by absolute beauties. Pant also fell to Anderson to put Indian five down. Sundar fell for a duck, to well taken catch by Buttler off the bowling of Bess. Ashwin resisted stoutly for a time, before he picked the wrong ball to cut and succeeded only in edging to Buttler who accepted the offering, giving Leach his third wicket of the innings. That was 171-7, and left Kohli with only three tail enders for support. Eight runs later a beauty from Stokes, with a bit of assistance from the pitch (it kept low) got through Kohli’s defences for 72. Shortly after that Shahbaz Nadeem, who made number nine look a rather lofty position, was caught in the gully by Burns off the bowling of Leach, giving him a fourth wicket of the innings. Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah resisted as best they could, with one ball beating everything and going for four byes. The was a bizarre near ending to the match when a bail was knocked off and stump tilted backwards, but the on-field umpire sent it upstairs and sure enough the bail had been dislodged before the ball was bowled, so, quite correctly, dead ball was called. However, the end was not long delayed as Archer located the edge of Bumrah’s bat and Buttler made no mistake with the catch. India were all out for 192 and the margin was 227 runs.

Jack Leach had 4-76 from 26 overs, the same figures that Bess had recorded in the Indian first innings, while Anderson’s spell that ripped the heart out of the Indian innings read more like a PIN code than a set of bowling figures: 5-3-6-3. He now has a better bowling average in test matches in Asia than Kapil Dev did. He also augmented his list of records by overtaking Courtney Walsh to move to the top of list of most test wickets taken after the age of 30, being now on 343 since he attained that age. His next marker is nine wickets away – wicket number 620 will take him to the third in the list of all time leading test wicket takers.

THE MATCH IN BRIEF

England dominated this game, beginning by scoring big runs and batting long into the game, a combination they could not manage on their last visit to India, restricting India to 337 in their first innings, when the pitch was still playing well, and although the latter stages of their own second innings were not great, the lead stretched to over 400. Anderson’s sensational spell on the final morning pretty much settled the outcome, all else that followed being a mere epilogue. Of the 14 sessions that this game spanned (it ended midway through the penultimate possible session) England were clear winners of at least ten (2-6 inclusive, 8-10 inclusive and 13-14, halved the very first session and possibly the seventh, and possibly had the worst of sessions 11 and 12, though by then they were so far ahead it hardly mattered. The session score thus reads at 11-3 to England.

THREE MAJOR INNINGS

In terms of their significance to the outcome of the match there were three major innings played in this game. Obviously Joe Root’s first innings double century stands head and shoulders above anything else in the match, but there were two other innings of major importance played alongside it: Dominic Sibley in batting the whole of the first day for his 87 got some miles into the legs of the Indian bowlers, and built the base from which England assumed command of the match, and Ben Stokes’ 82 on day two, a very different type of innings, was also of huge importance to England. Pant’s first innings fireworks and Kohli’s near infallible effort in the final innings were impressive in isolation, but were not enough to save their team from a sound thrashing and cannot therefore be rated as of major significance.

ENGLAND’S BOWLERS

Jack Leach showed immense fortitude in coming back from the savaging he got from Pant in the first Indian innings to finish the match with six wickets in total. Dominic Bess captured five wickets in the game and contributed some useful lower order runs to the cause, and a) his respectable wicket hauls are becoming too frequent to be attributable to chance – this is now three matches in a row in which he has fared well, plus b) Napoleon’s famous comment about lucky generals also applies. Stokes was not as influential with the ball as he was with the bat, but he did produce the delivery that snuffed out India’s last slender hopes by rearranging Kohli’s stumps. Archer had a fair game, and had the honour of terminating proceedings by dismissing Bumrah. Anderson, in a sunbathed Chennai with barely a hint of green to be seen, showed his enduring class. His wickets in 2021 have come at ten a piece, and all in Asia. He had his problems in the first few years of his career, but as a veteran he is simply brilliant, and I for one will consider all rumours of his impending retirement greatly exaggerated until and unless they originate from the man himself.

THE WORLD TEST CHAMPIONSHIP

This has been rendered very unsatisfactory by Covid-19, though in truth I suspect that the fall out from the pandemic his merely added the word very to the adjective. England are one up in this four match series, and need to win it by two clear games to make the final of the WTC which is likely to be at Southampton. If India win the series outright they make the final, and if any result not covered by the foregoing eventuates then the Aussies sneak in. Things could get very interesting if England are up 2-1 going into the final match – there could be little point in either side settling for a draw which would give Australia a ticket to the final of the WTC.

PLAYER RATINGS

I have a graphic for these. I will add to that graphic the following details: I was very harsh on Rohit Sharma because as one of the senior pros he should be setting an example for the youngsters whereas he actually failed twice with the bat, and his second innings was inappropriate for a senior pro in a side trying to save the game. Also, my ratings cumulatively give England 77 out of 110, an average across the board of 7/10, whereas those for India come to 59/110, an average of 5.36 out of 10. This reflects the fact most members of the England team contributed something to proceedings whereas India had several ‘passengers’.

LOOKING AHEAD

I now think that England have a serious chance of winning both this and the home series against India, and even though it has not been done by an England side for half a century I believe they are capable of regaining the Ashes down under in just less than a year’s time. India thumped Australia in Australia just recently. Looking to the next test, Foakes is coming for Buttler of necessity, and there is a case for bringing Broad in for Anderson, who has now played two matches back to back, but I see no need for any other changes. In particular there have been those arguing for Moeen Ali to replace Bess, but to me exhibit A against that notion is Sundar in this match, who contributed with the bat but did very little with the ball. There is no guarantee that Moeen Ali would even contribute significantly with the bat – his test average is only a little bit better than Bess’s, while as a bowler he is leagues below Bess. I would stick with Bess for the present, but if the proverbial gun to the head proposition compelled me to drop him and bring someone else in I would promote Parkinson, the young leg spinner, from the reserves to the full squad and play him. For India meanwhile, the sequence of their last five test matches with the name of the captain in brackets is quite telling: L (Kohli), WDW (Rahane), L (Kohli). Kohli is still worth his place as a batter, but I think that if they are to have any chance of getting back into the series India need to appoint Rahane captain on a permanent basis. I think Kuldeep Yadav whose wrist spin will offer England a different challenge has to be fitted in, with either Sundar or Nadeem missing out.

PHOTOGRAPHS

It is time for my usual sign off…

England Still In Charge

A look at day four in Chennai, including some strange captaincy by Root and some good captaincy also by Root, a fine innings by Sundar and some good bowling from Leach.

This is my account of day four in Chennai, an intriguing day in which we saw two sides of Root the captain and parts of three of the games four innings.

INDIAN FIRST INNINGS

The day started well for India, with Sundar and Ashwin both playing well, but when Ashwin fell to Leach that opened up the tail, and although Sundar continued to play well the remaining wickets fell fairly quickly. Leach got Shahbaz Nadeem, and then Anderson claimed Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah. Sundar was left unbeaten with 85, in an Indian score of 337 all out.

ENGLAND 2ND INNINGS

England chose not to enforce the follow on, opting to leave India a fourth innings chase and rest their bowlers, a correct call as far as I am concerned. They batted well for a time, although losing wickets regularly, an occupational hazard of looking for quick runs, and at tea were 119-5, a lead of 360 overall. I could understand why Root declined to declare at that point, but England’s post tea batting was inexplicable, as was Root’s approach near the end of the England second innings. When Buttler was dislodged, ending a useful if curious partnership between him and Bess, who had most of the strike and signally failed to up the tempo, the declaration seemed virtually compulsory, but Root kept England going with Bess and the tail. Even after Bess fell Anderson was sent out to join Leach, so we briefly had the bizarre sight of England, over 400 to the good, having nos 10 and 11 together at the crease rather than declaring and getting stuck into India’s second innings. Anderson fell second ball, giving Ashwin his sixth wicket of the innings, ninth of the match and 386th of his 78 match test career. Ishant Sharma also took his 300th test wicket during the England innings, and among Indian pacers only Zaheer Khan (311) and Kapil Dev (434) have taken more. This all left India needing 420, a record 4th innings chase if successful, and England needing ten wickets.

INDIA 2ND INNINGS

India started fast, though Root did well to entrust the new ball to Jack Leach on a surface taking spin, and it was a good ball from Leach that dismissed Rohit Sharma, who with two poor scores and horrendous dropped catch while in the field has had a shocking match. Pujara joined Shubman Gill and they saw India through to the close at 39-1, meaning that India need 381 tomorrow and England need nine wickets. England, Root’s unwillingness to declare notwithstanding, are still very much in the box seat, and should take the nine wickets they need tomorrow. If India wriggle of the hook then Root’s tactics in the later stages of the England second innings will undoubtedly be in the spotlight and rightly so. This is a final day not to be missed. For people in the UK there is live TV coverage on Channel Four, live radio commentary on talksport2, the TMS cricket social on radio five live sports extra and of course updates on cricinfo.com as well – I will listen to the live commentary and have a cricinfo tab open for extra detail. This match, the extraordinary game in Chittagong that I mentioned in yesterday’s post and the game in Rawalpindi between Pakistan and South Africa which ended today in a 95 run defeat for the visitors, who lost their last seven wickets very quickly, a collapse which started with Markram and De Kock going in successive balls and then Bavuma who had shared a good stand with Markram falling very shortly after, have all shown that test cricket is doing very nicely thank you.

PHOTOGRAPHS

The snow that we have been forecast for a few days arrived in northwest Norfolk this morning, and dominates my usual sign off…

Quintuple Nelson, No Balls and Dropped Dollies

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

ENGLAND IN CONTROL

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTOGRAPHS

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

England’s Ascendancy

My account of the first day of India v England in Chennai, plus some photographs.

This post deals with day 1 in Chennai, where India and England have been doing battle. For those of us here in the UK coverage has been available on Channel Four for TV fans (which I am not – don’t look here for any comments about TV coverage) and on Talksport 2 for radio fans who want live commentary (TMS have been running a ‘cricket social’ on n 5 live sports extra). The time difference between the UK and India, and my preferred methods of following the game meant that at 3:45AM local time I was tuned into talksport2 and had a cricinfo window open on my computer for extra detail.

PRELIMINARIES

England were without Zak Crawley due to injury but did have Stokes, Pope and Archer all available and all were duly selected. England also departed from their stated rotation policy with the veterans and gave Anderson a second successive match. Fortunately, for all that some who should have known better were spruiking such a move England did not pick Moeen Ali. The selected lineup was thus: Sibley, Burns, Lawrence, *Root, Stokes, Pope, Buttler, Bess, Archer, Leach, Anderson. India meanwhile had lost left arm spinner Axar Patel to injury. Somewhat surprisingly they opted not pick wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav, going instead for deepening their batting by picking both offspinners, Sundar and Ashwin, both of whom are handy with the bat alongside a debutant left arm spinner, Shahbaz Nadeem. Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat. Indian skipper Kohli, being a sensible chap, did not resort to the ‘psychological ploy’ of saying that he would have bowled anyway (note to captains who still do this, no one is buying it, OK?) opting instead for honesty.

THE PLAY

The morning started quietly, but with no great trouble for England. With 15 minutes to go until lunch the score was 63-0, but then Burns essayed a reverse sweep, not wise on day one of a test match and especially not so close to lunch, and edged the ball to Pant who took the catch. In the next over the unfortunate Lawrence got an absolute beauty from Bumrah and was pinned LBW and it was 63-2. The third umpire then spent ages agonizing over a decision on a potential run out after Root was a bit dozy, but fortunately he had made his ground. England took lunch at 67-2, and Root and Sibley were able to regroup. Post lunch scoring was slow initially but neither batter looked in any real trouble. Things picked up somewhat in the second half of the afternoon session and England reached tea at 140-2, with Root playing superbly and Sibley doing precisely what he was in the side to do: bat time and get some miles into the bowlers legs.

After tea Root hit the accelerator, while Sibley continued to be an excellent foil at the other end. Sundar was bowled comparatively sparingly, and was expensive and sadly posed little threat. Nadeem’s debut was marred by the bowling of several no-balls (pretty much inexcusable for a spinner), leaving only Ashwin as genuinely threatening spinner. The faster bowlers were better, Ishant being accurate enough to command respect at all times, and Bumrah bowling splendidly and deserving rather more reward than he actually got.

There were three scheduled balls of the day remaining and we were deep into the half hour over spill in which overs can be bowled when another corker of a ball from Bumrah pinned Sibley LBW. Because we were already over time, the dismissal ended play for the day, which means that England will resume on 263-3, Root 128 not out and Stokes the new batter. Root’s innings was a gem, his handling of the spinners especially brilliant. Sibley was rocklike until that fourth last ball of the day beat him, and his determined effort should not be overlooked. Root’s first innings scores in his last three tests have been 228, 186 and now 128 not out with power to add. In terms of an English batter going big successively in two different away countries I can think only of Hammond in 1933 who scored 101 and 75 not out in the fifth and final Ashes test and then produced scores of 227 and 336 not out in New Zealand in the next two games as a performance to rival Root’s.

Sundar’s figures of 12-0-55-0 indicate the problem with picking someone in a bowling role based on their batting ability, and underline the rightness of England not selecting Moeen Ali who is undoubtedly a less skilled practitioner with the ball than Sundar.

Root and Stokes need to get England through the first hour of tomorrow, and then England should have India where they want them. Root after the close made it quite clear that England are aiming to go big, and on this surface which appears to be very unresponsive that is necessary – I reckon that at minimum England need to double their current score before they can feel in control of things. However, I would much rather be in their shoes than India’s at the moment, hence the title of this piece.

PHOTOGRAPHS

There has been some sun today, and the finches are out in force here in North Lynn…

All Time XIs – Double Letters

An addition to my ‘All Time XIs’ series, this time taking double letters as its theme.

The role of players with a double o in their names for England in recent times got me thinking about a team of players who all featured that combo, and I then started thinking about other names with double letters in, resulting in a new post for my All Time XIs series.

THE DOUBLE O XI

  1. Graham Gooch – right handed opening batter, occasional medium pacer. Scorer of 8,900 test runs, and player of the best test innings I have ever personally witnessed – 154 not out in an innings tally of 252 vs West Indies at Headingley in 1991, with Ambrose running riot on a pig of a pitch.
  2. Alastair Cook – left handed opening batter, scorer of more test runs than any other left hander – 12,475 of them in all.
  3. David Boon – right handed batter, started as an opener, but moved down to no3 to enable the formation of the right-left Marsh-Taylor combination and enjoyed tremendous success in that latter position.
  4. Joe Root – right handed batter, occasional off spinner. Arguably England’s finest batter of the 21st century, Cook’s achievements notwithstanding.
  5. *Frank Woolley – left handed batter, left arm orthodox spinner. The only player to have the treble of 10,000 first class runs, 1,000 first class wickets and 1,000 first class catches, and indeed the only person to have taken 1,000 catches as other than a wicket keeper. In first class cricket he averaged 40 with the bat and 19 with the ball, and his bowling won at least one test match for England. I am sufficiently impressed by his tactical thoughts, as expressed in “King of Games” to name him as captain even though as a professional of that era he never had the job.
  6. Major Booth – right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler. Major was his given name (he was named in honour of a respected Salvation Army figure), not a rank. He would certainly have played many times for England but for the first World War (he lost his life during the battle of the Somme). In the late stages of the 1914 season he and Alonzo Drake, another cut off in his prime by the outbreak of war, bowled unchanged together through four successive first class innings.
  7. +Josephine Dooley – wicket keeper, right handed batter. One of the successes of the most recent edition of the Women’s Big Bash League.
  8. Bill Lockwood – right arm fast bowler, useful lower order batter. He was one of the first fast bowlers to develop a really effective slower ball.
  9. Harold Larwood – right arm fast bowler, useful lower order batter. The list of visiting fast bowlers to have blitzed the Aussies in their own backyard is a short one, and the Notts express features prominently on it.
  10. Fazal Mahmood – right arm fast medium bowler. Pakistan’s first authentically great bowler, he took 12 wickets in their first ever test victory at The Oval in 1954. He was known as a master of bowling cutters, often wreaking havoc on the matting pitches which were standard in his homeland at the time.
  11. Poonam Yadav – leg spinner. The tiny Indian causes huge problems with her craftily flighted slow leg breaks. The greatest demonstration of her ability to change the course of a match came in the most recent World T20 when Australia seemed to be coasting as she began her spell and were obviously beaten by the time she had finished.

This team contains a strong top five, an all rounder at six in Booth, a keeper who can bat at seven and four great bowlers with plenty of variation. Woolley is an excellent second spin option with his left armers, and Gooch and Root might also contribute with the ball.

THE ANY DOUBLE LETTER XI

  1. Jack Hobbs – Right handed opening batter, occasional medium pacer. The Master, scorer of 197 first class centuries in total, 12 of them in Ashes tests. He achieved all that in spite of losing four years of his cricketing prime to World War 1.
  2. Herbert Sutcliffe – right handed opening batter. First class average 52.02, test average 60.73, Ashes average 66.85. When the going got tough, he got going. He formed the most successful opening pairing in test history with Hobbs, their average opening stand being 87.81.
  3. Graeme Pollock – left handed batter. The South African averaged 60.97 before his country’s international isolation ended his test career. I opted for his left handed stroke play in preference to having a third right handed opener in Hutton occupy this slot.
  4. Walter Hammond – right handed batter, occasional medium-fast bowler. 7,249 runs in 85 test matches at 58.45, and that average only ended up below 60 because he returned to test action after World War Two, when into his forties.
  5. Everton Weekes – right handed batter. He had a similar average to Hammond in test cricket.
  6. *Frank Worrell – right handed batter, occasional left arm medium-fast bowler, captain. He averaged 49.48 in test cricket, and was one the most successful captains ever, taking the West Indies from also rans which they had been for their entire history to that point to being champions by the time he finished.
  7. +Alan Knott – wicket keeper, right handed batter. One of the game of cricket’s most noted eccentrics, and also one of the greatest keepers ever to don the gauntlets. He also averaged 32.75 with the bat, and tended to score big runs when the team most needed them.
  8. Malcolm Marshall – right arm fast bowler, useful lower order batter. Arguably the greatest fast bowler of the golden age of West Indies fast bowling.
  9. Dennis Lillee – right arm fast bowler. The Aussie was for some years test cricket’s all time leading wicket taker, and his 164 Ashes wickets is a tally surpassed in the history of those contests only by Shane Warne who finished just short of 200.
  10. Clarrie Grimmett – leg spinner. The New Zealand born Aussie who having moved country to better his cricketing prospects had to then cross two state boundaries before establishing himself in first class cricket at the third time, and did not make his test debut until the age of 33 still became the first bowler ever to take 200 test wickets, capturing 216 from 37 test appearances – nearly six per game at the highest level. His Aussie team mate Bill O’Reilly, who was second choice for this spot, was adamant that Grimmett, then 46, should have been selected for the 1938 tour of England.
  11. Mujeeb-ur-Rahman – off spinner. A bit of a gamble on this one – left armer George Dennett with 2,151 first class wickets at less than 20 a piece could easily have been named for this spot, but the young Afghan off spinner has impressed most times he has had the ball in his hand of late.

This team features a very strong top six, one of the all time great keepers, and four great bowlers. I consider that Hammond and Worrell between them make up for the lack of a genuine all rounder. There are too many honourable mentions to name, but before moving on to the next section I would just like to say that if you have someone who you think I have missed please indicate which of my selections should be dropped to make way for them.

OFF THE FIELD

Clive Lloyd, a near miss for a batting place in the ‘any double letter’ team can be match referee, a role he also filled with distinction. In the commentary box we can have Alison Mitchell, Lizzy Ammon, Dan Norcross and Simon Mann, with expert summarisers Mark Wood (not too far off a bowling spot in the double o XI) and Isabelle Westbury (Middlesex and Holland).

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off:

A Great Turnaround

My account of an astonishing final day of the Sri Lanka v England test series in Galle, complete with England player ratings and an acknowledgement of Lasith Embuldeniya.

This post deals with the events that unfolded in Galle today, which started with England very much second favourites.

ENGLAND FIRST INNINGS

England resumed 42 runs adrift with one wicket left in their first innings. Five runs were accumulated, four of them by way of a reverse sweep from James Anderson before the end came. Embuldeniya did not add to his seven wickets, but his day was far from done…

SRI LANKA SECOND INNINGS

Sri Lanka started their second innings with an advantage of 37, and plenty of time to build a daunting lead. Unfortunately they lost their heads rather dramatically. Jack Leach and Dominic Bess, bowling much better than they had in the first innings and assisted by some kamikaze batting from the Sri Lankans picked up wickets quickly. By lunch Sri Lanka were six down, and two more wickets fell soon after. There were two splendid catches, Crawley doing well to hang on to one that was hit out of the middle of the bat but straight at him, and Anderson getting underneath a swirling mishit. Embuldeniya, barely rested from his bowling stint, proceeded to play an innings that shamed most of his supposed betters with the bat, producing a first class career best 40 chock full of common sense. He succeeded in having Bess removed from the attack, but then he and no11 Asitha Fernando fell to successive Joe Root deliveries, leaving Sri Lanka all out for 126, and England facing a target of 164 to win.

ENGLAND 2ND INNINGS

Crawley did reach double figures for the first time in the series, but then honoured protocol by falling to Embuldeniya for the fourth successive time. Bairstow made a small contribution, Root failed, and Lawrence played a poor shot before he had given himself time to get a proper sight of the ball. At that point the score was 89-4, and England were by no means safe. Embuldeniya had three of the wickets, giving him ten for the match. Sibley was grinding away at one end, and was now joined by Buttler. Buttler batted sensibly, keeping the scoreboard ticking, although Sri Lanka were not doing nearly enough to make things difficult – singles were regularly there for the taking. As England closed in, Sibley completed a 50 which was worth more than a century on a flat track would have been. He had his good fortune, with a couple of close LBW appeals being turned down and being labelled “umpire’s call” by the DRS. However, the second of the two had hit him above the knee roll, and he is quite tall, so one can understand why it was considered too high by the umpire. Also, all fortune, good or ill, to one side, he showed an immense amount of character after a very poor series up to that point. Buttler just missed out on what would have been his second fifty of the match, but he was there at the end as England won by six wickets, to take the series 2-0.

THE PLAYER OF THE MATCH AWARD AND EMBULDENIYA

England’s win by six wickets effectively ensured that Joe Root, who had a second successive great game, would be player of the match. Had Sri Lanka bowled England out a second time and emerged victorious Embuldeniya would have been a deserving recipient, and even had the margin been three wickets rather than six he would have merited consideration. As it was a margin as comfortable as six wickets really did mean that someone from the winning team had to be chosen, and with all respect to Anderson and to Sibley for his gritty second innings effort Root was the only serious candidate. Root was also the Player of the Series, which was an absolute shoo-in. Embuldeniya’s combination of 40 and a 10 wicket haul got some of us thinking about other notable combinations of runs with big wicket hauls, and here are six of the best from test history:

  1. Melbourne 1883 – Billy Bates took seven wickets in each innings, including England’s first ever test hat trick, and scored 55 in England’s only innings
  2. The Oval 1902 – Hugh Trumble scored 64 not out and 7 not out and took eight first innings and four second innings wickets, but as with Embuldeniya could not win it for his side, England sneaking home by one wicket. Trumble had the best match aggregate for Australia with 71 runs, and bowled unchanged through both England innings for his 12 wicket haul.
  3. Alan Davidson 1960 – He took 5-135 in the West Indies first innings of 453, 6-87 in their second innings 284 and contributed 44 to Australia’s first innings 505 and 80 to their second innings 232, having to settle for a place in history as part of test cricket’s first ever tie, rather than a win.
  4. Ian Botham, Bombay 1980 (it was not called Mumbai in those days) – 6-58, 114 not out when no one else even topped 50, 7-48 in an innings victory.
  5. Imran Khan, Faisalabad 1982 – 6-98, 117, 5-82 in an innings win over India
  6. Richard Hadlee, Brisbane 1985 – 9-52 in the first innings, an all time test record for an out and out fast bowler, a blistering 54 (four of each kind of boundary) which enabled skipper Coney to declare with two full days in hand for Australia to be dismissed a second time, and six more wickets to finish the job.

ENGLAND PLAYER RATINGS

Dominic Sibley – 7/10. His gritty second innings saved a dire series for him, and spared England some potentially major blushes, sending him and them on to India in good heart.

Zak Crawley – 3/10. Two horrific failures with the bat, but he did hold one fine catch during the Sri Lankan second innings.

Jonathan Bairstow – 5/10. stabilised the ship in the England first innings after both openers had gone cheaply, but did then get out first thing on the following morning. A modest contribution to the second innings. Although he batted well at times he never did so for long enough in this series, as evidenced by a highest score of 47.

Joe Root – 9/10. 186 in the first innings, a couple of wickets to end the Sri Lankan second innings, but a failure at a crucial moment in the England second innings blotted his otherwise stellar copybook, costing him one mark.

Dan Lawrence – 3/10. A double failure with the bat this time, and his second innings shot was quite awful. He did take a catch in the field along the way.

Jos Buttler – 7/10. A fifty in the first innings, just missed out on that mark in the second, but played a crucial role in seeing England home. A competent effort with the gloves.

Sam Curran – 4/10. Largely unthreatening with the ball, though he did bag a wicket in the first innings, he hung around briefly with the bat, but did nothing to alter the impression that no7 is a place too high for him in a test batting order.

Dominic Bess – 7-10. His first innings bowling was largely unthreatening, he played a fine support knock in England’s first innings, and bagged four wickets in the second innings.

Mark Wood – 5/10. Three first innings wickets, none in the second. His shot near the end of day three was a poor one, and an absolute shocker in the circumstances.

Jack Leach – 7/10. Toiled through 36 overs in the first innings, getting no wickets. Bowled well in the second and was rewarded with four wickets. He now has more wickets in Sri Lanka than any other England bowler.

James Anderson – 8.5/10. Without his bowling in the first innings England would have been buried – SL would have had over 500 on the board. In the second innings he did not get among the wickets but did take a fine catch, doing well to get under a swirling mishit.

This is England’s fifth successive away test victory, their best run on foreign soil since they followed victories in the last four matches of the 1911-2 Ashes with another three to start the 1913-4 tour of South Africa. The bowling spearhead then was another right arm fast medium with Lancashire connections, albeit more to league cricket than to the county, Sydney Francis Barnes, and he was just a shade older than Anderson is now, being past 40 by the end of the South African series. India will be a much tougher tour – this Sri Lankan team are not used to winning, and that manifests itself in an obvious lack of killer instinct at key moments, whereas India surmounted huge difficulties to best the Aussies in their own backyard.

PHOTOGRAPHS

I end as usual with some photographs…

Hotting Up In Galle

A look at day three in Galle and a couple of issues raised therein.

This post looks at day three of Sri Lanka v England and at a couple of issues the arise from today’s play.

ROOT VS EMBULDENIYA

Although others contributed a fascinating third day in Galle was dominated by two players. Joe Root of England confirmed that he has rediscovered the art of going seriously big, as it took a run out in the day;s last over to dislodge him, by which time he had moved to 186. The other overarching performer was Sri Lanka’s left arm spinning find Lasith Embuldeniya who took his haul for the innings to seven wickets, Other than the impertubable England skipper the only person to play Embuldeniya with any great comfort was Jos Buttler who made a decent half century. The other significant batting effort on the day came from Dominic Bess, who came in with England staring down the barrel of a three-figure deficit on first innings with Sri Lanka to bat last. By the time he was dismissed the difference between the sides was under 50, and England were looking in the hunt. Unfortunately the odd looking decision to send the flamboyant Wood in ahead of the adhesive Leach with the close of play approaching did not work out well, and then there was the freakish run out of Root which ended the day, leaving England 339-9 in reply to Sri Lanka’s 381, with Leach and Broad to resume batting tomorrow.

ENGLAND’S BALANCING PROBLEMS ABSENT STOKES

Sam Curran looks a place too high in the order as a test match number seven, and the reason he is there is because on flat wickets England need to equip themselves with plenty of bowling options, and with Ben Stokes not available for this series they did not have their great x-factor player to turn to, which left them to choose between lengthening the batting or the bowling. Rightly in view of the conditions in which this series is happening they opted for the latter. There is strong evidence to support the view that if having to choose between batting and bowling strength the bowling strength is more important:
Surrey won seven county championships in the 1950s with an average batting side that possessed a stellar bowling attack, Yorkshire won seven championships in the 1930s, and again the key ingredient of their success was a devastating bowling unit, spearheaded by Bill Bowes and Hedley Verity. Finally, in the first decade of the 1900s Yorkshire won five titles, although only one of their batters, David Denton, was good enough to be chosen for England purely on batting skill in that decade, with the key again being an awesome line up of bowlers, headed by the Huddersfield area trio of Hirst, Rhodes and Haigh. Sussex in that same decade had a very deep batting line up, but limited bowling resources, and never came seriously close to winning the title. However, a batting line up with Curran at seven does necessitate those at the top coming to the party and so far this series only the skipper has done so – without him England would undoubtedly be staring a 0-2 defeat in the face rather than being favourites to win the series.

THE ROLE OF DOMINIC BESS

England are desperate for Dominic Bess to establish himself as a test class spinner, because he is a splendid fielder and a capable bat as well. Currently in first class cricket he averages 23.77 with the bat and 29.41 with the ball (137 wickets in 48 matches at that level). In test cricket he averages 24.77 with the bat and 33.37 with the ball (27 wickets in 11 matches). The bowling average and the low wickets/matches ratio – just below 2.5 – both point to the issue: as much he offers outside his main role, barring one good series against South Africa he has yet to deliver in his main role, with the ball.

Today he contributed 32, and looked like he was handling the bowling as well as any of his team mates save Root. It may be that ultimately the way forward for Bess as an international cricketer is to concentrate more on his batting, and aim to be picked as batter who bowls, rather than a bowler who bats. Garry Sobers and Steven Smith were both originally selected at test level as spinners (Sobers was at no9 on test debut, Smith at no8) and ended up making their biggest marks with the bat, although Sobers continued to bowl, whereas Smith has all but given up that aspect of the game. Going back further, Wilfred Rhodes was the best spinner in the world early in his career, and batted no11 for England, and went on to tour Australia in 1911-12 as one of the designated opening batters, hardly bowling at all (he would pick up his bowling after World War 1, and return to the top in that department, finishing his career as once more a specialist bowler, as his sight declined – he would go blind during his retirement – and he could no longer bat). At the moment Bess is always likely to get the nod if England want two front line spinners, and the main in more danger of losing out is Leach, who bowled 36 overs in the first innings here without causing any great problems for the batters, but do not be surprised to see Bess moving up the order in the not distant future, as he seeks to find a more secure niche than ‘bits and pieces guy who gets selected when two spinners are needed’.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Today’s gallery starts with seven pictures on the theme of ‘red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning’, although today’s weather in King’s Lynn, while far from pleasant has not really borne out that saying: