England on the Threshold of History

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

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

A WIN ORIENTED MINDSET

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

PUBLICLY BACKING PLAYERS

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

SPIN BOWLING

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

PHOTOGRAPHS

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

Please comment with your answer.

Now for my usual sign off…

Multan Mayhem

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

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

THE PRELIMINARIES

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

DAY ONE

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

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

DAY TWO

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

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

PHOTOGRAPHS

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

All Time XIs – Match Ups 60

Continuing my extended analysis of how my all time XIs fare against one another.

Welcome to the latest instalment in my extended analysis of how my all time XIs fare against one another. Today the Rs, with 74 out of 115 points, finish their time in the spotlight and The Ss, with 72 of a possible 90 points banked from the matches in which they are alphabetically second take their place in the hot seat.

THE Rs V THE Ys

The Rs have the better opening pair, the Ys win the batting match ups and three and four, the Rs win at number five and win the batting element of the match up at six, while Yardley as prospective third seamer is massively behind Tom Richardson. The batting match up at number seven is close, but Russell was definitely the better keeper. Rabada and Roberts outrank U Yadav and W Younis as a new ball pairing. Rhodes outranks Young as a left arm orthodox spinner, but Yadav outranks Robins as a leg spinner. The Rs are ahead in batting, way ahead in seam/ pace bowling, have the better keeper. In captaincy and spin bowling it is about level, so I see only one possible scoreline: Rs 5, Ys 0.

THE Rs V THE Zs

The Rs win all the top five match ups, Zulch and Zulqarnain Haider win the batting match ups at six and seven, but Zulch does not offer a bowling option and Russell was a finer keeper than Zulqarnain Haider. Zondeki and Zaheer Khan are massively behind Roberts, Rabada and Richardson. Rhodes comfortably outranks Zia Ur Rehman. Robins v Zahir Khan is closer, but not enough to alter the scoreline: Rs 5, Zs 0.

THE Rs FINAL SCORE

The Rs have scored 84 out of 125 points, 67.2% overall.

THE Ss V THE Ts

The Ss have the better opening pair – while Trumper would undoubtedly have averaged more playing in Sutcliffe’s era I do not think the difference is enough to close the gap. G Smith wins the batting element of the match up at number three, but Tarrant offers a bowling option that outweighs the slower incarnations of Sobers. The Ss win the batting match ups at five, six, seven, eight and nine, and while Bob Taylor massively outranks Sangakkara as a keeper, the quick version of Sobers, and Stokes, are two bowling options with no comparator available in the ranks of the Ts. Trumble definitely outranks Stevens as a bowler, and the Ts pace trio are quicker than the Ss, though there is not much in the overall comparison and the Ss as documented have back up options as well. Both sides are well captained. The Ss win comfortably on batting, win on seam/ pace bowling and lose on keeping and spin bowling, and I will allow the latter to prevent a whitewash: Ss 4, Ts 1.

THE Ss V THE Us

A tale of almost total dominance by the Ss. Underwood outranks Sobers in his slower incarnations as a bowler, and Ur Rahman might outrank Stevens as bowler, but the Ss are miles ahead on batting and pace/ seam bowling, ahead on keeping and level on captaincy. I think the extreme strength of the Ss batting, especially bearing in mind Sutcliffe’s tendency to come good in difficult circumstances will prevent the Us from being able to do much even on a turner and accordingly score this Ss 5, Us 0.

THE Ss V THE Vs

The Ss dominate the batting, winning every match up down to number nine. The Vs have the better keeper, and both sides will be well captained. Verity outranks the slower incarnations of Sobers as a bowling option, and Vogler considerably outranks Stevens as a bowler. The pace attacks are both excellent, though the Ss have a couple of bonus options in that area: Stokes and the quicker version of Sobers. I think the Ss deep batting and stronger pace attack are enough to win this for them, but the Vs are no pushovers even for a powerful side: Ss 3, Vs 2.

THE Ss PROGRESS REPORT

The Ss have scored 12 points today, moving them up to 84 points out of 105, exactly 80% so far.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

All Time XIs – Match Ups 43

Continuing my extended analysis of how the all time XIs I selected for each letter of the alphabet fare against one another.

Welcome to the latest instalment in my extended analysis of how the all time XIs I selected for each letter of the alphabet fare against one another. The Ks continue to occupy the spotlight, and they come into today on 53.5 of a possible 75 points.

THE Ks V THE Qs

An easy one to start – the Ks boss all departments completely, and the Qs can do nothing to prevent the inevitable: Ks 5, Qs 0.

THE Ks V THE Rs

The Rs win the first four batting match ups (sorry India fans, Root has more runs, more centuries and a higher average than Kohli), though Kallis outranks Ranji and offers a bowling option. The Ks have the better all rounder, while both sides are excellently captained. The Rs have the finer keeper. Both sides have superb pace trios, the Rs possibly just the better. The Rs also have a small edge in spin bowling, with Rhodes and Robins being better balanced than the Ks two leg spinners. The Ks have a fourth seam option in Kallis, as against which the Rs have part time off spin available from Root or either Richards. In the end the sheer power of the Rs top batting, and their more varied bowling unit leads me to give them the verdict, just: Ks 2, Rs 3.

THE Ks V THE Ss

The Ss win the first four batting slots, narrowly lose the batting match up at five. Sobers beats I Khan with the bat, though the latter outranks G Smith as a captain. Kirmani wins the keeping match up, but Sangakkara as keeper gives the Ss a bonus pick – Stokes has no match up in the Ks ranks. Both sides have ace fast bowling trios, though the Ss have a small edge there in the form of Starc’s left arm. The Ss not only have Stokes as fourth seamer (he outranks Kallis the bowler), they also have the quicker version of Sobers as a fifth seam option, and a second left armed one. The Ks do have better spinners, but the Ss with Stevens leg spin, and Sobers in his slower guises cover every spin angle (left arm wrist spin is quite similar in angle to off spin). I think the Ss have this one quite comfortably, but the Ks would avoid a whitewash: Ks 1 Ss 4.

THE Ks V THE Ts

The Ts have the better opening pair, and by more than the figures suggest – Trumper played on some rough pitches and would undoubtedly average a lot more on 21st century surfaces. The Ks win the number three slot batting wise. Tendulkar wins the number four slot, Kallis the number five. Ross Taylor outbats I Khan but does not offer a bowling option. I Khan outranks Mark Taylor as a skipper. Bob Taylor wins the keeping match up. Trumble was a better spinner than either of the Ks two, and Frank Tarrant also ranks very high. The Ts pace trio is the fastest in this series, and they outrank the Ks for quality as well. The Ks of course have the Kallis factor on their side, but I do not think that is enough for them to win outright: Ks 2.5, Ts 2.5.

THE Ks V THE Us

The Ks win in all departments. It is just conceivable that Underwood and Ur Rahman would prove better than Kumble and R Khan on a turner, so I will score this as Ks 4, Us 1.

THE Ks PROGRESS

The Ks have scored 14.5 out of 25 today, putting them on 68 out of 100, 68% overall.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

All Time XIs – Match Ups 13

Continuing my extended analysis of how the all time XIs I created for each letter of the alphabet fare against one another.

Welcome to the next installment in my extended analysis of how the all time XIs I created for each letter of the alphabet fare against one another. The Cs still occupy the hot seat, and they are on 14.5 out of of 65 going into today’s match ups.

THE Cs V THE Os

The Cs have an overwhelming advantage in batting, and also have the better captain. Finally, Cummins and Croft are a better pair of opening bowlers than Old and Olivier. However, as against that O’Riordan is certainly a better third seamer than Constantine, and his left arm gives the Os seam attack a point of variation. The Os comfortably win in the spin bowling department, with Odumbe, third ranked spinner for them, clearly better than Cornwall, second ranked spinner for the Cs. Unfortunately for the Os their spin superiority only reduces the margin by which they lose this one: Cs 3.5, Os 1.5.

THE Cs V THE Ps

In theory the Cs have a substantial advantage in the opening position, but that is mitigated by the fact that both the Ps openers are regulars at the top of the order, unlike the C counterparts. Ponting and G Pollock comfortably win their match ups batting wise, and Ponting is not the captain. Chappelli probably does outrank Procter as a captain but not by as much as he would Ponting. G Chappell beats Pietersen in the number five slot. Pant wins the battle of the keepers, Procter is miles clear in the battle of the all rounders.S and P Pollock are outpointed by Croft and Cummins in the new ball stakes, but Parker and Prasanna are the better spin pairing. The Ps win everywhere except one batting slot (G Chappell outpointing Pietersen) and in the matter of the new ball pairing. These are more than compensated for by their overall superiority. Cs 0 Ps 5.

THE Cs V THE Qs

The Qs are massively outpointed in batting, keeping and fast bowling. Their advantage in the spin bowling department is not enough to make a dent in their inferiority elsewhere. Cs 5, Qs 0.

THE Cs V THE Rs

The Rs have the better opening pair, especially given that both of theirs are regular openers. Richards also wins the batting match up vs Chappelli. Root and Compton looks a very close contest, but Compton had more support than Root, who was often holding a dysfunctional order together, so I give that one to the Rs as well. G Chappell outpoints Ranji but not by as much as their figures make it look – Ranji played at a time when batting was a lot more difficult than it was in G Chappell’s pomp. Robins wins the battle of the all rounders, and is little if any inferior to Chappelli as a skipper. The Rs win the fast bowling comfortably – Croft and Cummins may outpoint whichever two of Roberts, Rabada and Richardson take the new ball, but the third of that trio is miles clear of Constantine. Robins and Chandrasekhar are closely matched as leg spinners. Rhodes comfortably outpoints Cornwall – far more so than a comparison of their overall records shows, since Rhodes the specialist spinner, the role I have given him in this XI, was one of the greatest of all time. Quite simply there is no set of circumstances in which I can envisage the Cs getting the better of the Rs: Cs 0, Rs 5.

The Ss have by far the better opening pair – especially given that both of theirs were regular openers. Graeme Smith wins the number three contest and draws the captaincy of element of his match up with Chappelli. Steven Smith beats Compton. Sangakkara wins his batting match up over G Chappell, though he loses the keeping match against Carter. Using Sangakkara as keeper enables the selection of Sobers and Stokes at six and seven. Sobers has no match up in the Cs XI, and Stokes beats Constanine massively on batting and just loses on bowling. Starc and Steyn are outpointed in the battle of the new ball bowlers by Cummins and Croft, but Statham is a far better bowler than Constantine, and the Ss have Sobers in his faster incarnations and Stokes as extra back up options in the seam department. Stevens is a close match for Chandrasekhar with the ball and better with the bat, while Sobers in his slower incarnations is at least as good as Cornwall. This is a complete non-contest: Cs 0, Ss 5.

THE Cs PROGRESS UPDATE

The Cs have scored 8.5 out of 25 points today moving them on to 23 of a possible 90 points, 25.56%.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

England’s Record Run Chase

An account of England’s victory over India which they completed earlier today, and some of my recent photographs.

This post looks back at the match just concluded between England and India, officially the fifth of the 2021 series.

A LONG DELAYED FINALE

India won the the fourth test of the 2021 series comfortably, and then in the run up to the fifth test there was a Covid scare in the Indian camp. By the letter of the law the match should have been forfeited since England were able to play and India were refusing to put a team out, but because the BCCI pulls the ICCs strings a compromise was arranged, whereby the match would be played in 2022 instead. England after a miserable winter in Australia and then the West Indies had started 2022 in a blaze of glory, recording three successive spectacular victories over World Test Champions New Zealand (who won’t get to defend their title in consequence of this). India made some curious selecorial decisions (Pujara as makeshift opener when Mayank Agarwal was available, Thakur preferred to Ashwin, Vihari at three and Shreyas Iyer in the middle order all definitely questionable and the persistence with an aging, chronically out of form Kohli didn’t look right either), England had two obvious question marks, Crawley at the top of the order and the decision to drop Jamie Overton for the returning Anderson (Anderson’s return had to happen, but I would have had Broad make way for him).

INDIA IN CHARGE FOR THREE DAYS…

India had the better of all of the first three days, with only a century by Jonny Bairstow restricting England’s deficit on first innings to 132. India were then 126-3 in their second innings by the end of day three, leading by 258. James Anderson had underlined his enduring class in the Indian first innings by taking 5-60 while everyone else was was being thrashed. Rishabh Pant played a great innings for India, and was the centrepiece of their total of 416. At the end of day three (just under four playing sessions ago) you would have got generous odds on an England win, though probably not quite the 500-1 famously offered at Headingley in 1981.

…AND THEN

In the first part of day four India failed to make the most of their advantage, rather frittering away their last seven wickets for the addition of a further 120. Pujara scored a gritty 66, Pant a more flamboyant 57, but overall India would have been disappointed with a total of 245 all out, and would have been aware that they had not completely killed the game when they might have done. Ben Stokes claimed four wickets for England.

Just for once England did not lose their first wicket ridiculously early. Crawley and Lees both batted well, but just before tea Crawley was out for 46, leaving one that bowled him. This meant that Pope had to begin his innings twice over, either side of the interval. He managed the first, but not the second. Then Root made a horrible misjudgement which caused Lees to be run out. That was 109-3, 269 more still needed for victory, and Bairstow joined Root. Not only were this pair still together at the close, they had done a lot to break the back of the chase, taking England to 259-3, 119 short of victory with the final day to come. The final morning began with India surely needing to break the stand quickly, and probably needing to have both players out within the first half hour to keep their hopes alive. India showed themselves mentally already beaten when they set fields that effectively said “help yourselves to singles but please don’t bash us”. Root and Bairstow accepted the singles but did not comply with the second part of India’s implied request – anything loose (and India provided a fair quantity of this) was ruthlessly punished. After just an hour and a half of the fifth day, including two ball replacements (a huge number of balls have needed to be replaced in this season’s tests) the job was completed, with a single off the fourth ball of the 77th over of the innings. England won by seven wickets, Root 142*, Bairstow 114*. Root’s hundred was his 28th in test cricket, obliterating the so-called ‘curse of 27’, a piece of nonsense that had arisen due to Steven Smith and Virat Kohli both being stuck on 27 test tons for some considerable time. The truth is that a total of 20 players have scored as many as 27 test centuries, and 16, including Root, have gone on to at least 28, while only four (Allan Border, Graeme Smith, Steven Smith, Virat Kohli) failing to do so. It was also Root’s fifth test hundred of 2022, to follow the six he scored in 2021. Bairstow’s century was his fourth in five test innings, his sixth of 2022 and his second of this match. The Root/ Bairstow stand of 269* was the fourth biggest ever in a fourth innings behind 301 by Arthur Morris and Don Bradman at Headingley in 1948 (Aus won by seven wickets), 287* by Gordon Greenidge and Larry Gomes at Lord’s in 1984 (WI won by nine wickets) and 280 by Bill Edrich and Paul Gibb at Durban in 1939 (a preposterous draw, with England 654-5 chasing 696 for victory when play had to be abandoned). This was also the fourth successive time England had chased 275 or over to win a test match, and England’s record successful run chase, beating the 362-9 at Headingley in 2019.

Bairstow was named Player of the Match for his twin tons, and Root Player of the Series for his 737 runs across the five matches. Virat Kohli’s only noteworthy contributions to this match were sledging Bairstow when that worthy was struggling in the first innings, since which moment Bairstow scored a further 207 runs for once out and a disgraceful display of aggression at the fall of an English wicket yesterday which involved charging straight across the pitch and earned him a ticking off from the umpires and may yet have further repercussions in the form of a fine or even a ban.

For England, as well as the two batting guns Root and Bairstow, Anderson maintained his high standing, Potts looked the real deal, Leach came back well from a hammering in the first innings (1-28 from 12 overs in the second). Broad, two second innings scalps not withstanding, looks to be a fading force at test level. Lees and Pope both deserve extended runs in the side (Pope has just been assigned a new role at number three and has done quite well there, and Lees has shown a lot of promise). Zak Crawley’s second innings 46 should not be enough to save him from the axe, and I fully expect Lees to have a new opening partner against South Africa in six weeks time. India’s carelessness with the bat on the fourth morning probably cost them 100 runs, but the way this England handle fourth innings run chases even that might not have been enough. A full scorecard of the match can be viewed here.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

England 3 New Zealand 0: A Retrospective

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

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

MATCH ONE: A NEW ERA DAWNS

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

MATCH TWO: A DRAMATIC TURNAROUND

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

MATCH 3: 55-6 AND THEN…

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

POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES

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

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

PHOTOGRAPHS

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

England Test Prospects For 2022 Season

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

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

THE OPENERS

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

NUMBERS THREE AND FOUR

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

NOS FIVE AND SIX

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

THE KEEPER AND BOWLERS

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

THE FIRST CHOICE XI

In batting order:

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

THE RESERVES

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

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

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

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

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

FORECAST

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

PHOTOGRAPHS

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

A Draw in Antigua

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

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

THE PRELIMINARIES

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

ENGLAND FIRST INNINGS

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

WEST INDIES FIRST INNINGS

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

ENGLAND SECOND INNINGS

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

WEST INDIES SECOND INNINGS

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

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for my usual sign off…

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: