Picking an England XI for the First Test Match v India

I pick my England XI (constrained by the squad from which it will be picked) for the first test match v India which starts on Wednesday.

The first test in the England v India series for the Pataudi Trophy (The senior Nawab of Pataudi, Iftikhar Ali Khan, played for both England and India, playing for the former in 1932-3 and the latter in 1946 when he was captain, while his son, Mansur Ali Khan, played for India) starts on Wednesday. With that in mind I devote this post to selecting an England XI for that match. The squad from which the XI has to be chosen can be viewed here.

THE TOP THREE

The openers are open and shut – Burns and Sibley will occupy those slots. On the face of it there are several options for no3: Zak Crawley is the incumbent, Jonathan Bairstow has batted there in the past and Haseeb Hameed, in good form at the moment and with a century for a County Select XI v The Indians under his belt into the bargain would also be a logical choice. Restricting ourselves to these three, Crawley is in no sort of form and has played only one major test innings, the 267 against Pakistan which is receding ever further into the past. Bairstow’s recent test record is dire – since the start of 2018 he averages less than 25 at that level. Therefore, with the most obvious candidate for England no 3, Tom Abell, injured at present I go with Hameed, reckoning that he and Sibley are in a bat off for who opens alongside Burns once Abell can come into the side.

THE MIDDLE ORDER

Numbers four and five are clear cut, Root and Stokes. Number six is between Pope and Lawrence, and is a very close call. I plump for Lawrence – Pope at test level has developed an unfortunate habit of making impressive starts but then getting himself out before he manages a significant score. At no7, and keeping wicket in the absence of the injured Foakes, is Jos Buttler.

THE BOWLERS

There are two logical candidates for no8, Ollie Robinson and Sam Curran. Although the latter’s left arm creates an extra bowling variation I plump for the former because I see him as more likely to take wickets at test level. At no9 I opt for Mark Wood, the only express pace bowler in the squad, and as such an automatic pick for me. Number 10 and sole specialist spinner is Jack Leach, who is the only serious candidate for that role at present (although there are some promising youngsters starting to emerge at county level). Rounding out the order is England’s all time leading test wicket taker, James Anderson. My feeling is that it would be foolhardy to select both veterans in the first match of a five test series, and I opt for Anderson ahead of Broad (the latter will then get fired up by his omission!).

THE XI IN BATTING ORDER

Tying all this together I present the XI in likeliest batting order as per the above text (I have no truck with XIs being presented in alphabetical order, which is meaningless in a cricketing context – it may be acceptable to present a squad from which the XI is selected in alphabetical order, but never the XI):

  1. Rory Burns
  2. Dominic Sibley
  3. Haseeb Hameed
  4. *Joe Root
  5. Ben Stokes
  6. Dan Lawrence
  7. +Jos Buttler
  8. Ollie Robinson
  9. Mark Wood
  10. Jack Leach
  11. James Anderson

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Possible England Bowling Attacks For Australia

A look ahead to Ashes, focussing especially on the bowling.

This piece was prompted by a little discussion on twitter this morning about this subject. Somebody who tweets as The Slog Sweeper was advocating the selection of five specialist bowlers, Archer, Stone, Wood, Leach and Anderson, all of whom I firmly believe should be in that tour party if fit, in the team at one the same time. I can understand the logic, but it seems to me to be too high risk, with virtually no runs coming from the second half of the innings. I am going to look at possible combinations for that series in more detail here.

THE ROLE OF THE SPINNER

Jack Leach is established as England’s no1 test spinner. Given that English off spinners have generally fared poorly in Australia and the paucity of options with even respectable first class records the only remotely likely choice for the role of second spinner would be Matt Parkinson (FC bowling average 25). Back for Leach in the role of left arm orthodox spinner is hard to find at present, unless Sophie Ecclestone gets offered her chance to try her stuff alongside the men. I have examined the role of left arm slow to medium paced bowlers in successful Ashes campaigns down under elsewhere on this blog. The only regular test venue in Australia that is remotely likely to warrant the selection of two specialist spinners is Sydney. It could well be the case that no spinner is selected in Perth, and at the other three venues Leach will be the chosen spinner.

BALANCING ATTACKS TO SUIT LOCAL CONDITIONS

At the Gabba for the series opener the right bowling attack would feature two out and out speedsters, Leach and Anderson. At Adelaide, where pitches are often favourable for batting there might be a case for slightly weakening the batting order in an effort to get 20 wickets and playing Woakes at seven, two of the speedsters, Leach and either Broad or Anderson depending on form and fitness. At Perth I might well gamble on all three out and out speedsters and a toss up between Leach and Broad for the fourth specialist bowler. The MCG is the one Aussie ground where I would be happy without two out and out speedsters and would pick whichever of the three is bowling best, both veterans and Leach, or possibly Woakes in place of one of the veterans. At the SCG I am either going two out and out speedster and two spinners (Parkinson coming in) or possibly two out and out speedsters, Anderson and Leach.

POSSIBLE XI FOR THE GABBA

The questions if any are over the top of the order. However, unless either:

a) Haseeb Hameed, with a test average before injury interrupted his career of 43, has an epic season and positively demands selection or

b)One of the younger openers hits their straps in the early part of the county season and establishes themselves at international level during the summer

I think that it will be a case of hoping that the existing top order can function well down under – it would be a huge ask of an opener to make their international debut in an away Ashes series. Thus my Gabba XI in batting order reads as follows:

  1. Dom Sibley
  2. Rory Burns
  3. Zak Crawley
  4. *Joe Root
  5. Ben Stokes
  6. Dan Lawrence
  7. +Ben Foakes
  8. Mark Wood/ Jofra Archer (dependent on form and fitness)
  9. Olly Stone
  10. Jack Leach
  11. James Anderson

With two out and out speedsters, the skill and experience of Anderson, Leach and Stokes in the x-factor role I have considerable confidence in this side taking 20 wickets, and while the batting order would not be the deepest England have ever fielded it should be capable of producing enough runs.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

ODI Series Decider Goes To The Wire

An account of the concluding ODI between India and England, plus some thoughts on over rates and some photographs.

This post is devoted to the events of yesterday’s final and deciding ODI between India and England.

THE PRELIMINARIES

England decided to retain both Malan and Livingstone, so Billings missed out. They also opted to replace Tom Curran with Mark Wood, a decision that would have been indisputable had Wood been fully fit, but it rapidly became clear that he was not. India replaced Kuldeep Yadav with T Natarajan, changing the balance of their bowling attack. Jos Buttler won the toss and decided to bowl.

THE INDIAN INNINGS

India got off to a flying start, with Sam Curran and Reece Topley both somewhat wayward. Mark Wood bowled fast in spite of obviously not being well. It took the arrival of the spinners Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali at the bowling crease to stem the flow at all. Rashid accounted for both openers, one bowled and one caught and bowled, in successive overs, while Ali clean bowled Virat Kohli. Liam Livingstone had made his first contribution to the game with a fine piece of fielding out on the boundary that saved two runs. KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant maintained the momentum and for a while it looked like something close to 400 was on for India, but then Livingstone got Rahul, as the batter could only put a filthy full toss straight into the hands of a fielder. Thereafter England picked up wickets regularly, and India were all out for 329 in the 49th over. At that stage it looked anyone’s game, with England possibly favourites.

THE ENGLAND REPLY

For once neither Roy nor Bairstow managed a substantial score, and Stokes and Buttler both also went fairly cheaply. At that stage it was 95-4 and England looked in deep trouble. Livingstone and Malan batted well however and at the end of the 20th England were 132-4, two fifths of the way to the target after two fifths of the overs and having lost two fifths of their wickets. Livingstone was fifth out, having batted well, and then Malan having completed a fine 50 was sixth to go. That brought Sam Curran in join Moeen Ali, with England in deep trouble. At the end of the 30th England were 196-6. Moeen Ali’s departure seemed to be the final nail, but Rashid provided Curran support, and then extraordinarily, Mark Wood, for all that he was obviously not well, continued the support work, while Curran was playing a very special innings. Wood was ninth out, but even Topley, the most genuine of genuine number 11s, did his bit, and at the end of the 49th England were 316-9 needing 14 to win, and crucially Curran was at the strikers end. He did his best, but the task was just too much, and England were beaten by seven runs, with Curran 95 not out off 83 balls.

PLAYER OF THE MATCH

Sam Curran was named Player of the Match for his fighting knock, a decision which Indian skipper Kohli disapproved of. Shardul Thakur with 30 and four wickets was the obvious alternative candidate, and normally I would say that this award should go to someone from the winning side. However, at the point at which Curran came in to bat England were staring an absolute hammering in the face, with a three figure margin looking likely, and Curran turned that around to the extent that the game ended as a nail biter. Also most of Curran’s batting was done with the support of a no9, a sick no10 and a n011. Thus on this occasion I think the decision to give the award to someone from the losing side was justified, although I would not have quarrelled with the award going to Thakur.

OVER RATES

This match was conducted at a tempo that to borrow from the world of music could only fairly be described as ‘adagio molto’ – very slow. 100 overs occupied eight and a quarter hours of actual playing time, with England being in the field for three hours fifty minutes and India for four hours twenty five minutes. This leads me to revisit an old idea of mine in slightly revised form: based on the 15 overs per hour officially required in test matches I would allocate each team a fixed time slot to bowl their overs of three hours and 20 minutes, and for each over they have not bowled in that period the batting team get awarded penalty runs at a rate of ten per over or double the scoring rate, whichever is the greater. Obviously umpires would have to watch out for batters deliberately wasting time in the hope of securing penalty runs. If this was adopted there might be one ODI series/ tournament in which extras had a Bradmanesque aggregate but I reckon over rates would speed up pretty quickly. Here is a very famous slow tempo piece of music, Albinoni’s “Adagio for Organ and Strings”, from youtube:

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

England XI For Thursday

A suggested England XI for the fourth and final test of the current series, which starts on Thursday. Also a couple of important links and some photographs.

I suggested an England XI for the fourth and final test of the India v England series in my post about the end of the third match. Since then Chris Woakes has gone home, which eliminates one of my chosen XI and I have concluded that a couple of specialist pace bowlers are actually required. Therefore I am presenting a new XI here, with a couple of possible variations noted.

THE SERIES SCENARIO AND SELECTION POLICIES

With England’s hopes of winning the series and of qualifying for the World Test Championship both up in smoke and series levelling victory serving only to usher Australia into the WTC final I am thinking that a degree of experimentalism is called for. In my view, with Root able to bowl respectable off spin it is more valuable if the second specialist spinner can bowl leg spin, giving a new variation to the attack.

THE BATTING

Dan Lawrence struggled at number three and should not be asked to bat there again for some while. Jonathan Bairstow, 2021 vintage, does not belong in a test match squad, let alone first XI. Thus the question is whether one goes with a top three of Sibley, Burns and Crawley or whether one promotes Stokes in the hope that his experience stiffens the top part of the order. With this the last test of the series and a home summer followed by an Ashes series down under next up I opt in this case for the top three that is likeliest to feature there rather than promote Stokes. With Stokes not being promoted the nos four and five slots are spoken for – Root and Stokes. Pope deserves to stay on in the middle order, with apologies to Dan Lawrence who has had the rough end of the stick this tour, and Foakes will keep. I might consider trying Foakes at six and Pope at seven as Pope is more likely to able to score fast with the tail, but they definitely occupy those two slots in some order. Thus our 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 will be either Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, Pope +Foakes or Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, +Foakes, Pope.

THE BOWLING

With an eye to the future and also wishing to see something that has not yet been tried I conclude that both veterans should be rested for this one, and also that Archer who has been underwhelming in his outings so far should miss out, naming Wood (who bowled well in SL) and Stone (who bowled well in the second test of this series), opting for two out and out speedsters. Leach holds his place, and rather than Bess I recommend a promotion from the reserves for Parkinson. My 8,9,10,11 is therefore Wood, Stone, Leach, Parkinson. The full XI is encapsulated in the infographic below:

LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS

First up, courtesy of twitter (in this case Trisha Greenhalgh) here is an infographic about masks (link to original here):

Then, as a segue into my usual sign off, a petition calling for new law to protect nature, which you can sign and share from here (screenshot of petition text, from e-activist.com is below):

https://e-activist.com/page/75310/petition/1?ea.tracking.id=email&utm_source=&utm_medium=email&utm_term=&utm_content=2&utm_campaign=

Now, it is time for those photographs…

Sri Lanka In Control In Galle

A look at day two of the second Sri Lanka v England test and some of the issues raised by it.

This post deals with day 2 of the second Sri Lanka v England test match in Galle, and tackles a couple of related issues.

ANDERSON AND THE REST

England achieved their first goal of removing Mathews early on day 2, for 110, but Dickwella who just missed out on a maiden test hundred and Dilruwan Perera with a fine half century took Sri Lanka to 381. James Michael Anderson finished this innings with the following figures: 29-13-40-6. Mark Wood, bowling consistently fast, took three wickets, and the other fell to Sam Curran’s left arm. Both front line spinners, Bess and Leach, were therefore wicketless, and neither posed much of a threat.

EMBULDENIYA’S BUNNIES

The England innings started almost on repeat from the first match, left arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya being entrusted with the new ball, in company with veteran seamer Lakmal on this occasion. Sibley was first to go, pinned LBW (he reviewed, an effort bad enough to be almost worthy of the adjective ‘Watsonian’ in “honour” of the legendary Shane Watson, but the decision was correctly upheld), and then Crawley snicked one into the slips and England were 5-2, and in three innings to date Embuldeniya has now dismissed both openers all three times, without a double figure score from either. Root and Bairstow steadied the ship, and reached the close at 98-2, Root 67 not out. I was actually involved in a video conference at this time, so did not catch this passage of play. To give themselves a chance, given that the ball is already starting to turn, England will need to bat all day tomorrow as a first requirement. To do this they could do with someone other than Root producing a major performance with the bat. Looking ahead, England go to India next, and although Ravi Jadeja is injured, the Indian squad named for this series features Axar Patel, like Embuldeniya, a left arm spinner, and there is a strong case for India giving him the new ball alongside Bumrah, now recovered from his own injury. This strategy of pairing a left arm slow bowler with a right arm fast one at the start of an innings is nothing new. It used to be considered standard just over a century ago. Kent had their greatest period, four county championships in seven seasons, with Arthur Fielder and Colin Blythe, just such a combo, as their new ball pairing. Lancashire had a decade earlier used Mold and Briggs to similar effect. In the 1912 Triangular tournament England more than once used Syd Barnes and Harry Dean as an opening pair, and on one occasion Barnes and Frank Woolley did the honours. Australia’s lowest ever test innings score of 36 all out was made in the face of Rhodes (SLA, 7-17) and Hirst (LFM, 3-15) at Edgbaston in 1902. Sri Lanka’s reinvention of the cricketing wheel is working well for them.

ENGLAND OPENERS

The disastrous time Sibley and Crawley are having at the hands of Embuldeniya has naturally raised the question of whether to continue playing them or not. Whatever the correct answer is, I know what is not correct, though it is being advocated by various people: a recall for Keaton Jennings, a man with a Brearleyesque batting average and without the captaincy skills. For the India series Burns will be available, and he will fill one of the openers slots. I would revert to the Sibley, Burns, Crawley top three and hope it works. For the second innings of this match there is a potentially bigger problem, but it is hard to see a tactical adjustment of the batting order working, as Embuldeniya will surely be called up for a bowl as soon as either Sibley or Crawley appear.

There are some good young top order batters in county cricket, and I would rather look to them than to a never-really-was like Jennings.

THE ‘BRANDERSON’ ISSUE

England’s stated policy is rotate the two veterans, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, but they may well have to rethink – to leave Anderson out after his performance here would look odd to put it mildly. At home against New Zealand and India both should play, while for the Asheis it will depend on form and fitness, but I would be looking as follows: Brisbane – Broad, Adelaide – Anderson, Perth – neither, if all are fit I would go with the outright pace of Archer, Wood and Stone, Melbourne – both, Sydney – Anderson.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off:

Thoughts On The Test Squad For Sri Lanka

I look at the party England have selected for their test tour of Sri Lanka, and am overall unimpressed.

The England test squad for January’s visit to Sri Lanka has been announced today and it is a curate’s egg of a selection. Here it is:

Imagehttps://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

ISSUES WITH THE SELECTIONS

Rory Burns is missing because his wife is about to give birth, and Stokes among those being rested. No issues with those two omissions. However, Jonathan Bairstow should be nowhere near selection for an England test squad, likewise Moeen Ali, who was never actually that great, and has not done anything in red ball cricket for some time. As I indicated in my previous post making my own picks I would also have left out the veterans Broad and Anderson as neither have great records in Sri Lanka and this tour should have been used to experiment. I would also have left out Dom Bess. James Bracey should be in the main squad, not listed as a reserve, ditto Matthew Parkinson and Amar Virdi.

On the plus side, Stone and Wood are both in the main squad, as is Daniel Lawrence. I am also glad to see that Ben Foakes is there, although whether he actually gets selected remains to be seen.

Three of the official reserves, Craig Overton, Ollie Robinson and Mason Crane should not have been picked, Overton and Robinson because their bowling methods are unsuited to Sri Lankan conditions, Crane because he is a proven failure at the highest level, and England needing to be looking forward not back.

This England party has been picked with eyes fixed firmly on the past. From the players listed in the main squad and the reserves I would pick as my starting XI for a match in Sri Lanka: Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, James Bracey, *Joe Root, Daniel Lawrence, Chris Woakes, +Ben Foakes, Sam Curran, Mark Wood, Jack Leach and Matthew Parkinson. This combo is a little light on batting with Woakes and Foakes at six and seven, but absent Stokes it is the only way to accommodate a back up seam option while still playing two genuine front line spinners, and Sri Lanka tends to be a place where games are fairly high scoring, so I err on the side of having more bowling options, as that is where the principal difficulty is likely to be.

SPIN OPTIONS FOR ENGLAND

I have indicated that I would start with Leach and Parkinson, with Virdi as a back up spinner. Lewis Goldsworthy, an all rounder who bowls left arm spin, may well be worth a pick in the not too distant future, if he can build on his good showing for England U19s. Liam Patterson-White has made a promising start to his career at county level. Finally, there is the radical option I have touched on previously: give Sophie Ecclestone a chance to play alongside the men. The spin bowling cupboard is not massively well stocked at present, although a few youngsters besides those I have named have made appearances at county level, but even in its current state it does represent a reason for bringing back average performers (Moeen Ali at test level) or worse still proven expensive failures (Mason Crane).

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Overall, while acknowledging that they faced difficulties due to various players not being available, I have to say that the selection of this touring party represents a clear failure on the part of the selectors. I award them 3 out of 10.

I finish as usual with some of my photographs:

Picking a tour party for Sri Lanka

I don my selector’s hat to name my suggested tour party for the test tour of Sri Lanka in January. Also, as usual there are some photographs.

The dates for the England’s two test matches in Sri Lanka have been confirmed. The first test will take place from 14-18 January and the second from 22-26 January. In this post I name the tour party I would pick given the circumstances. This is not, repeat not, an attempt at prediction. Jofra Archer is confirmed as an absentee, and Jos Buttler is possibly also going to be rested, and I have made this my assumption. Ollie Pope is a doubt due to injury, and Stokes may choose to miss the tour for personal reasons. Here I have assumed that Pope is not available but that Stokes is, though I also explain who I would select as Stokes’ replacement and why. I have two supplementary sections after going through my chosen squad, one explaining the biggest of the unexplained omissions and a controversial footnote.

MY ENVISAGED STARTING XI

My thinking here is informed by several factors: Sri Lanka are currently not one of the strongest of international outfits which means that this could well be a good first tour for youngsters, classic English fast medium bowlers do not tend to fare all that well in Sri Lanka, and the spin options are somewhat limited for England. The scene set, here we go:

  1. Dominic Sibley – right handed opening batter, very occasional leg spinner. There are question marks over his ability to handle spinners, and he could well have difficulty against Sri Lanka’s best current bowler, Dananjaya (bowling average 24.33) but his overall record since his elevation means that he warrants selection. I do not expect him to increase his meagre tally of four first class wickets on this tour.
  2. Rory Burns – left handed batter, occasional wicket keeper. He is also happier against seam than spin, but like Sibley deserves his continued presence in the side.
  3. Zak Crawley – right handed batter. The youngster has been a revelation since his elevation to international level, with his monumental 267 vs Pakistan an obvious highlight.
  4. *Joe Root – captain, right handed batter, occasional off spinner. The skipper has been somewhat short of runs lately, but England will need his experience.
  5. Ben Stokes – left handed batter, right arm fast bowler. The one member of this England squad one cannot even attempt to find a like for like replacement for. If he does pull out it will be a crippling blow for England even considering the less than stellar opposition.
  6. Daniel Lawrence – right handed batter, occasional off spinner. He deserves his chance at the highest level, is known to play spin well, and his bowling is by no means negligible (I would certainly have him ahead of Root in the bowling pecking order). For more on my thinking here see my earlier post arguing against a test recall for Jonny Bairstow.
  7. +Ben Foakes – right handed batter, wicket keeper. Since the retirement from top level cricket of Sarah Taylor his status as England’s finest contemporary keeper has been unchallenged, he had a splendid tour of Sri Lanka last time England were here, and he should be given another opportunity.
  8. Sam Curran – left handed batter, left arm fast medium bowler. His left handedness increases the variety available to the bowling attack and he is also a more than useful lower/ middle order batter.
  9. Mark Wood – right handed batter, right arm fast bowler. Archer is not available for this tour, and I want at least one bowler of serious pace in the side.
  10. Jack Leach – left handed batter, left arm orthodox spinner. I think two genuine spinners are needed on Sri Lankan pitches, Bess has struggled of late, failing to build on his good tour of South Africa, and England are not massively spoilt for choice in this department.
  11. Matthew Parkinson – right handed batter, leg spinner. Deserves a chance to establish himself at the highest level.

We now turn our attention to the reserves. This is a very short tour, but Covid-19 necessitates having plenty of cover available, so I name seven designated reserves, and mention a couple of others.

  1. Liam Livingstone – right handed batter, occasional bowler of both off spin and leg spin. Primarily selected on the basis of his batting, but his bowling may well get some use as well.
  2. James Bracey – right handed batter, wicket keeper. He is more batter than keeper, but he is good enough at the latter role to be designated official reserve keeper as cover for Foakes while also covering a batting slot.
  3. Jordan Cox – right handed batter, occasional wicket keeper. A hugely promising youngster, having scored a double century for Kent against Sussex while still in his teens. I admit that in making this call I am influenced by the success that his county colleague Crawley has enjoyed since his own elevation.
  4. Will Jacks – right handed batter, off spinner. He probably has more bowling pedigree than Moeen Ali did when he was first selected to bowl spin for England, although he is undoubtedly more batter than bowler. He is as close to an all rounder who bowls spin as England have at the moment.
  5. Chris Woakes – right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler. He is much better in England than he is overseas, but his all round skills would enable him to cover any vacancy save in the wicket keeping department without massively weakening the side.
  6. Olly Stone – right handed batter, right arm fast bowler. Cover for Wood, and might replace Curran to give the attack extra pace, although that would give England a decidedly long tail.
  7. Amar Virdi – right handed batter, off spinner. Specialist spin cover, chosen instead of Bess.
  8. Ollie Pope – right handed batter, occasional keeper. Obviously he makes the trip if fit, in which case Lawrence reverts to being a reserve, he is the first of two conditional names here, the other being…
  9. Lewis Gregory – right handed batter, right arm fast medium. Should he pull out Stokes cannot be replaced, and in view of the frequency of high scoring games in this part of the world I feel that bowling depth is more needed than batting depth, so the man who would take Stokes’ place in the event of him pulling out is someone who is more bowler than batter.

1100 TEST WICKETS OVERLOOKED?

I have mentioned elsewhere that Sri Lanka is not a happy hunting ground for fast medium bowlers, and that applies in spades to Stuart Broad, whose record there is quite frankly dreadful. James Anderson has a less bad record in Sri Lanka than Stuart Broad, but it is hardly one to shout about. I therefore feel that England can be best served by not selecting the two veterans, and instead giving younger bowlers a chance to flourish against one the less strong test match outfits. In the future England are due to tour India and Australia, and one would rather not have players making their first test match tour to either of those countries. Also, neither Leach nor Parkinson, my two envisaged spinners, are up to much with the bat, and while I do not subscribe to selecting bowlers based on their batting it has to be said that an 8,9,10, 11 of Broad, Leach, Anderson, Parkinson as it would presumably be looks very fragile.

A CONTROVERSIAL FINISH

I have noted that England are not hugely well equipped in the spin bowling department, and I think that recalling either Adil Rashid or Moeen Ali to the test squad would be a retrograde step, especially in view of the fact that this is a tour where youngsters should be getting a chance. One potential solution is someone who has a phenomenal record at both domestic and international level, just not in men’s cricket: Sophie Ecclestone. I have not named her in my envisaged tour party, but I could see her doing the job.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for my usual sign off – to see a photo at full size please click on it:

Test Match Poised For A Great Finish

A very brief post updating on the situation at the Ageas bowl, as a test match worthy of the occasion (the resumption of cricket after covid-19) draws to what looks like being a great finish. Also includes some of my photographs.

INTRODUCTION

The Test Match at the Ageas Bowl is moving towards its closing stages and is still too close to call, though England are at present probably favourites to win.

THE FINISH OF DAY 4

England needed a good day yesterday, and up to a point they had one. At the high watermark of their second innings batting effort they had reached 249-3 and were looking like taking control of the game. Then Ben Stokes got himself out, and some good West Indian and some poor English batting saw a clatter of wickets, with the score plunging to 279-8. Jofra Archer and Mark Wood saw things through to the close at 284-8, with England 170 to the good.

DAY 5 SO FAR

England advanced their score by a further 29 in the opening session of play before they were all out, thus setting the West Indies precisely 200 to win. Anderson and Archer began magnificently, and the West Indies were soon three down and with an opener nursing an injury. They reached lunch for no further loss, and have fared well since the interval, reaching 72-3, with a further 128 required for victory. It remains anyone’s game, and whatever happens kn what is left of it it has been a superb resumption for international cricket after its longest hiatus since 1971-2 (or in other words the longest international blank since ODIs became a thing). I shall be back tomorrow with a longer post analysing the match as a whole.

PHOTOGRAPHS

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All Time XIs – Durham

Reaching the end of the beginning of my “All Time XIs” series with a whistle stop tour of Durham to complete the 18 first class counties.

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to the latest post in my “All Time XIs” series. This post marks the end of the beginning of the series, as it completes the set of 18 first class counties. Durham has posed difficulties caused by no other county for reasons I shall go into after introducing my XI. Tomorrow’s post, the first in the next stage of this series, will be very different indeed.

DURHAM ALL TIME XI

  1. Mark Stoneman – a reliable county pro who was exposed as being out of his depth at the highest level. He left Durham for Surrey, where he still plays.
  2. Keaton Jennings – unlike Stoneman he did manage to reach three figures at test level, but this achievement should not conceal the fact that he also was not good enough at the highest level. He, like Stoneman, headed for pastures new, in his case Lancashire.
  3. Michael Di Venuto – a rare example of me making a batter my overseas pick. He had an excellent domestic record without ever attracting the attention of the Australian selectors. As well as Durham he played for Derbyshire.
  4. Paul Collingwood – a man who made the absolute most of his talents, which as well as his gritty middle order batting included being a world class fielder and an occasionally useful medium paced bowler. He amassed 10 test centuries, with a highest of 206 at Adelaide in 2006 – a match the England ended up losing, in part because in his second innings Collingwood adopted too purely defensive an approach, meaning that Australia’s eventual chase contained no element of time pressure. Similarly his fighting innings at Cardiff in 2009 nearly led to disaster for the same reason – his passivity at the crease meant that England were still in arrears when he was ninth out leaving Anderson and Panesar to battle hard to secure the draw. Nevertheless, his record makes its own case on his behalf.
  5. +Phil Mustard – a good middle order batter and a fine wicket keeper.
  6. Ben Stokes attacking left handed bat and right arm fast bowler (like Stan Nichols, Essex), a genuine 22 carat gold all rounder. His highest score was 258 against South Africa, but his two most iconic innings were both played in 2019. In the World Cup final at Lord’s his 84 hauled England out of what had looked like an impossible situation to tie the match and take it to a super over in which he then batted along with Jos Buttler (Somerset and Lancashire). The super over was tied, leaving England ahead on boundary count and lifting the World Cup. Then, in the test match at Headingley later that year (I am currently listening to a replay of the commentary on that match as I type this) after England had been bowled out for 67 in the first innings and were set 359 in the second innings he delivered an extraordinary performance. England lost their ninth wicket at 283, bringing Jack Leach (Somerset) in to join Stokes with 76 needed, and it was then that Stokes turned a good innings into the stuff of legends. By the time the winning run was scored Leach was on 1 not out, Stokes 135 not out having scored all bar one of that last wicket partnership. A third extraordinary display from Stokes in the calendar year came in South Africa when Dominic Sibley (Warwickshire) was heading towards a maiden test century, and England needed to increase the tempo for a declaration. Leaving Sibley to go steadily on Stokes blasted 72 off 47 balls to attend to the matter of upping the run rate. South Africa staged a typically defiant rearguard action in the final innings of the game but not quite hold out and England won a well merited victory.
  7. Liam Trevaskis – one of two highly controversial picks which I shall explain in more detail in the next section of the post. His career has only just begun, but both his batting and his left arm spin hold out considerable promise for the future.
  8. Mark Wood – attacking lower order bat and right arm fast bowler. Wood, a slightly built chap of no more than average height, is quite capable of producing 150 kilometre per hour thunderbolts. He hails from the town of Ashington, and has emulated that town’s most famous former residents, Bobby and Jackie Charlton, by helping to win a world cup in his chosen sport. England always look more potent when he is part of the bowling attack, and although he and Jofra Archer (Sussex) have not yet both been fit and firing simultaneously I look forward to seeing and hearing it happen.
  9. *Danielle Hazell – off spinner and useful lower order bat. She, like Wood, has been part of a world cup winning combination. She is also as far as I am aware the only genuinely top class spinner her county has thus far produced, which is why I have selected her in this combination, the only female cricketer I have actually named in one of these XIs – though I have mentioned a couple of others (see Somerset and Nottinghamshire). After her playing days ended recently she has gone into coaching and is bidding fair to be a great success in that role as well (if Covid-19 does not number that tournament among its casualties she will be involved with the highly controversial Hundred – and while I make no secret of my, to put it politely, scepticism as to the virtues of this new creation I recognize that having a coaching role in it is a considerable feather in her cap). For more on possible roles for women playing alongside the men see this post from my ‘100 cricketers‘ series.
  10. Graham Onions – right arm fast medium, and at need an adhesive lower order batter. His accuracy will be an invaluable foil to the more spectacular bowlers who constitute the rest of the attack. Like Jennings he is now to be found in the Lancashire ranks, but it was as a Durham cricketer that he gained England recognition, and achieved most of his best bowling feats.
  11. Stephen Harmison – right arm fast bowler and attacking lower order bat. At his best (e.g when he took 7-12 against the West Indies in early 2004) he was as difficult a proposition as anyone. He was part of the 2005 Ashes winning attack – Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting had literal as well as metaphorical scars to show for their early encounters with him.

This team has a respectable top five one of whom is a good wicket keeper, a genuine X factor all rounder at six, two genuine speedsters and a high quality fast medium to back them up. It is unquestionably deficient in the spin department, with only Hazell’s off spin and the promise offered by Trevaskis’ left arm spin available.

DURHAM’S HISTORY

Durham was promoted to first class status only in 1992, and many did not think it a good move. In the early stages of their first class history Durham had a lot of veterans from other counties come in in an effort to stiffen them up. They opened a new ground at Chester-Le-Street with the stated ambition of staging test matches, something that they achieved for the first time in 2005. They did win two county championships, but their ambition proved larger than their wherewithal, and a few years ago they had to go to the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for a bail out. The bail out came on harsh (possibly overly so) terms, with automatic relegation and a massive points deduction to start the following season. They are still trying to recover from this set back. Many fine cricketers hailed from this part of the world including Cecil Parkin (Lancashire), Tom Graveney (Gloucs and Worcestershire), Peter Willey (Leics and Northants) and Colin Milburn (Northants) among the cream of the crop, but save for pace bowlers and Paul Collingwood (with due respect to Messrs Stoneman, Jennings and Mustard) they have not as a first class county produced a great amount of talent. Even coming from someone as unconventional as me, the selection of Danielle Hazell is revealing as to how little they have produced in the way of spin bowling talent, as a in a different way is that of the youngster, Trevaskis.

OMISSIONS

Had Simon Brown, the first Durham player to be selected by England, been a yard or two quicker than he actually was then as a left arm pace bowler he would have been a shoo-in, but although I did consider selecting him in place of Onions his single experience of test cricket exposed both him, and the selectors who had picked him to play at that level – he managed one wicket in each innings, rarely looked remotely threatening and is a rare example of a ‘one cap wonder’ for whom I feel no sympathy. Melvyn Betts, who has a first class nine-for on his CV was a fine county bowler (he played for Warwickshire after starting with Durham) who gained no international recognition. Brydon Carse of the current team is on the fringes of the England set up, and James Weighell is building up an impressive record, though both his batting (average 24) and bowling (average 28) need some improvement before he can be rated really highly, and may yet get to play at a higher level. Had I been prepared to select a specialist fielder Gary Pratt, of whom Ricky Ponting will have fond memories, would have had a place. Also, I had to ignore the claims of a record breaker: wicket keeper Chris Scott perpetrated the drop that cost more runs than any other in first class history – he dropped Brian Lara (Warwickshire) when that worthy was on 18 and thereafter was a spectator while the Trinidadian went on to the world record 501 not out.

PHOTOGRAPHS

We have reached the end of our whistle stop tour (the world’s first passenger carrying railway line was the Stockton & Darlington, and one of the most famous of the early steam locos was Puffing Billy, which operated at Wylam Colliery, also in the North East) of Durham cricket, and so it remains only to provide my usual sign off…

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England Test XIs With Two Spinners

Some possible ways to incorporate two spinners into the England test team.

INTRODUCTION

This post is inspired by a post that appeared this morning on Toby’s Sporting Views. He was writing about an excellent bowling performance by Somerset’s spinners against Nottinghamshire on day two of their match, and I am looking specifically at an aspect he raised relating to this, namely two spinners playing for England in the Ashes tests this summer.

SETTING PARAMETERS

I am basing all my possible XIs around five specialist batters with Ben Foakes at six and wearing the gloves. The other fixed position, since he is indispensable in test cricket at present is James Anderson at no 11 and as one of new ball bowlers. Therefore the positions up for dispute are 7, 8, 9 and 10, which will be filled by two spinners and two quicks. Thus form my purposes each permutation will involve four cricketers, as I need not mention the others. Neither Adil Rashid nor Moeen Ali have done enough with the ball of late to merit consideration, and Lancashire’s Matthew Parkinson while promising is not as yet ready for elevation, so the two spinners would be Leach and Bess, becoming a latter day Lock and Laker.

1: THE PURE ENGLISH

In so far as such a line-up can be typical English this one is. It features Lewis Gregory at number 7, Sam Curran at number 8 and sharing the new ball with James Anderson, with Bess and Leach the two spinners at nos 9 and 10.

2: EXTRA PACE I

This one dispenses with Curran, and brings in either Jofra Archer or Mark Wood to bowl outright fast, sharing the new ball with Anderson.

3: EXTRA PACE II

This one dispenses with Gregory, having Curran move up to seven and playing one of Archer or Wood  along with the two spinners and Anderson. This is more of a gamble as it misses out on Gregory’s batting, which is better than that of any of the others.

4: THE OUTRIGHT GAMBLE

This one dispenses with both Curran and Gregory, and brings in both of the super-speedsters Wood and Archer, one of whom would perforce come on first change. This would likely mean Archer at no 7, Bess at no 8, Leach no 9, Wood no 10 and Anderson no 11, which is where the gamble is – there is no one who can really be called an all-rounder here, just five bowlers.

5: ANOTHER GAMBLE

My final possibility features picking Ben Stokes as a front-line batter and fill-in pacer, and having only four top-line bowlers, Curran, Bess, Leach and Anderson. If one of Curran or Anderson were to break down this side would then be using Stokes as a new-ball bowler, which makes it a very high risk strategy.

THOMAS’S PICK

Overall I would like one out and out ‘blitzman’ bowler in the team, and picking only two top line pacers for a test match is too rich even for my blood, so with all respect to Sam Curran I am going for Extra Pace I as my bowling combo. Injuries not intervening a possible line-up for match 1 if I was doing the selecting would be:

  1. Beaumont (see here for more on this controversial choice)
  2. Burns
  3. Roy (no 3 has been difficult for some time and Roy is at least in splendid form)
  4. *Root 
  5. Buttler
  6. +Foakes
  7. Gregory
  8. Archer
  9. Bess
  10. Leach
  11. Anderson

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

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