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:

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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:

Thoughts on The Test Squad for New Zealand

My thoughts on the England test squad for New Zealand, announced earlier today.

INTRODUCTION

This post looks at the test squad for New Zealand, announced not long ago. There are also of course a few photos.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE MIDDLE

The test squad for New Zealand is as follows (click here for the cricinfo article about it):

Joe Root (capt), Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Saqib Mahmood, Matthew Parkinson, Ollie Pope, Dominic Sibley, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes

I see one definite negative in this squad – the continuing selection of Buttler, although at least he will not be playing as a specialist batter, he will be keeping, one questionable retention (Denly), several non-controversial picks (Root, Archer, Broad – Anderson is still unfit, Curran, Stokes and Woakes), and several interesting newcomers (Sibley, Crawley, Pope, Parkinson, Mahmood). After a quick thank goodness for the absence from the red ball squad of Messrs Bairstow and Roy (retention of either would have been a disgraceful abdication of responsibility) and a brief lament for the continuing non-selection of Ben Foakes (best wicketkeeper around and averages over 40 in the few tests he has been permitted to play) and Lewis Gregory, I will devote the rest of this post to the five new names in the squad.

ZAK CRAWLEY

Opens the batting for Kent, he has 1,908 runs at 31.80 and three first class hundreds. These figures do not really warrant elevation to the status of test opener, and I would have preferred someone else to be picked in his place.

SAQIB MAHMOOD

Pretty much a pure bowler (he averages 14 with the bat in first class cricket), the young Lancashire quick  has 42 wickets at 28.90 in first class cricket (less impressive in other words than most of the younger pace bowlers I mentioned in my last post but one), however I am less unimpressed by this pick than I am by that of Crawley.

MATTHEW PARKINSON

A ‘ferret’ (he comes after the rabbits) with the bat – average 5.37 in that department – the young Lancashire legspinner has 60 first class wickets at 25.20 in his fledgling career. It is unlikely that a New Zealand pitch will warrant the selection of both him and Leach, but they should combine well together should that situation arise. I welcome this selection.

OLLIE POPE

The Surrey batter averages 57.55 in first-class cricket. His first exposure to test cricket last summer did not go well, because he was thrust higher up the order than he regularly batted for his county, but he is a much better cricketer now. He is that rarity among contemporary English batters, someone who is happy playing a long innings against the red ball. England’s middle order should benefit hugely from his presence.

DOMINIC SIBLEY

He has had a huge season for Warwickshire, which has seen his first class average move north of 40 (it currently stands at 41.55), and given England’s woes at the top of the order a failure to select him would have been an utter disgrace. His recent performance against Nottinghamshire when he scored 215 not out in the first innings and then 109 in the successful second innings run chase put him in rare company. Like Pope he is genuinely comfortable digging in for a long haul against the red ball, and alongside the now established Burns he should form the solidest English test opening pair since Strauss and Cook were in their prime nearly a decade ago.

Overall I consider this a respectable effort by the selectors and award them 7/10 for it.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

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New Shoes and England Looking Down Both Barrels

More (as promised) on my new shoes and an account of England’s Ashes Woes, as well as lots of photographs.

INTRODUCTION

In my previous post I included a picture of my new shoes, bought in Holt on Wednesday along with a challenge to my followers. In this post I complete that story and look at England’s current woes in the Ashes series.

THE SHOES

First up, the picture from my previous post and its accompanying challenge:

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The pair of shoes – can you identify their many plus points from this picture (all will be revealed in my next post)?

Here are the particularly good points of these shoes as I noted them:

  • Soft and padded leather uppers
  • user-friendly and sturdy laces
  • soles that are a) thick, meaning that they should last a long time and b) rubber, meaning that they will provide good grip even in wet conditions
  • Also, an advantage that is often available to me as a man with size seven (40 in Continental Europe) feet, they were massively discounted – £49 instead of £125.

Well done if you identified all the above. Here are some more pictures looking more closely at some of the features identified:

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The full underside

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The Ecco name

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See what I mean about the thickness of the soles?

I wore the shoes for a couple of hours on Wednesday to get an early feel for them, and was pleased. Yesterday I put them to a stiffer test, because my physio session was cancelled due to staff sickness. Thus I decided that a long walk was in order (see the photos at the end of this post), and used it to give the new shoes their first real test. They passed with flying colours – my feet were aching by the end of the walk, but that was tiredness, not because the shoes had caused them any problems.

ENGLAND’S ASHES WOES

After a magnificent bowling effort yesterday, spearheaded by Jofra Archer (6-45) accounted for Australia for 179 (and that after they had been 136-2) England’s batters proceeded to throw away the good start, slumping to 67 all out, with only Joe Denly (12) making double figures. Broad has claimed an early wicket in Australia’s second innings, but given that short of rain of ‘ark building’ intensity a draw is now a virtual impossibility it has hard to see how England can keep their Ashes hopes alive. At minimum they need a superlative bowling effort after having had a mere 27.5 overs respite and then a jolly sight more application in their second innings to have a chance.

All of the problems in this innings (most of the wickets were given rather than being taken) are ones we have seen before. The following are the most obvious needs for this squad (and with the Ashes likely gone the last two tests should be used for experimentation):

  1. An opening batter alongside Burns (Roy is not suited to this role in red ball cricket, though he may be able to handle no 3 if the openers see off the new ball). Absent anyone who has made a really commanding case I once again suggest the radical solution of dropping Tammy Beaumont a line and seeing if she is up for having a go alongside the men (I first suggested this about a year ago).
  2. Roy or Stokes (if you fancy a calculated gamble) at no 3, to enable…
  3. Root to revert to no 4 where he really belongs.
  4. Ollie Pope in at no 5 to stiffen up the middle order (he is fresh off the back of a double century, and has a first class average of almost 60).
  5. Stokes down a place to no 6 if you don’t put him at no 3, otherwise Ben Foakes to bat here as keeper
  6. If Stokes is at no 6, then Foakes bats 7, otherwise Roy (if deep batting is needed) or Lewis Gregory (if you want five genuine bowlers possibly with Stokes as 6th).
  7. No change needed at nos 8-11 – the bowlers acquitted themselves well, though Sam Curran has to be considered, and a second spinner (for my money either Matthew Parkinson or Helen Fenby depending on how radical you are prepared to be) should be in the squad.

Thus my 13 for the 4th match would be: Burns, Beaumont, Stokes, *Root, Pope, +Foakes, Roy, Woakes, Archer, Broad, Leach, Gregory, Fenby, with the first 11 names listed likely to play unless conditions warrant Gregory for Roy or Fenby for Roy if two spinners are warranted. As for Denly, he has had too many nearly innings, most of them given away by ill-judged shots and has to go. Australia’s new opener Harris has just fallen to Jack Leach making Australia 36-2. Eight more wickets and then some much better batting now the requirement.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

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I have noticed huges numbers of flies that mimic wasps in King’s Lynn this year, including a numnber that I photographed yesterday.

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A swallow captured in flight…

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…and cropped much closer

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