A look at the latest craziness to emanate from the ECB’s ivory tower – the naming of Moeen Ali as a spin bowling option in the test squad based on his recent form in The Hundred.
It has been confirmed this morning that Moeen Ali has been added to England’s squad for the second test against India. In this post I explain just how flawed this move is.
RECENT SUCCESS DOUBLY IRRELEVANT
Moeen Ali has been going well in The Hundred, an ultra short form competition massively removed from the long haul of test cricket. He has also been especially notable for his batting successes, coming in high in the order and throwing the bat as one has to in that competition. His bowling in that competition amounts to combined figures of 4-115 in five matches, and it is as a spinner that England will play him if they do play him. In other words, he has been succeeding in the form of the game furthest removed from test cricket and not in the department in which England would make most use of him at test level.
TACKLING THE WRONG PROBLEM
England are not short of bowling options but are suffering at the top end of the batting order, with Crawley definitely proven as inadequate at test level, Sibley questionable and even Burns not bombproof. Moeen Ali is therefore a ‘solution’ to a ‘problem’ that exists only in the minds of the England selectors.
DISRESPECT TO SPINNERS ALREADY IN THE SQUAD
England already have two front line spinners available to them, Jack Leach and Dom Bess. Bess is a slightly questionable inclusion in the squad, but Leach from the mere 16 matches he has been given has 62 wickets at 29.98, 3.875 wickets per match. For comparison, Ali takes 3.1 wickets per match and pays 36.24 a piece for them. Frankly the way England’s #1 spinner (Leach) is being treated by the selectors is nothing short of a disgrace.
SHORT SIGHTED AS WELL AS RETROGRADE
Additionally, one must look ahead to England’s next tour, which is the toughest of all – Australia. As I demonstrate in this piece, English off spinners have historically been of limited value in Australia, while left arm orthodox spinners have been very important. England’s two best ever Ashes tours, in 1928-9 and 1932-3 both featured a left arm spinner and a leg spinner in the party (Farmer White and Tich Freeman in the first, Hedley Verity and Tommy Mitchell in the second). Leach is the principal candidate for the left arm spinner’s role, while Matt Parkinson (86 FC wickets at 23.69) is the obvious candidate for the leg spinner’s place. Dan Moriarty with 31 wickets from four FC games at 19.77 a piece is a left arm spinner who might be in the mix, and Liam Patterson-White, who takes his FC wickets at 30.13 and averages 23.12 with the bat may yet make the grade. Also in the wings is Lewis Goldsworthy of Somerset. As a more radical idea, Sophie Ecclestone at the age of 22 has 125 international wickets across formats at 19.49 each. I would rather see any of the players I have just named than yet another recall for Moeen Ali. The latter’s last test was against India in India, and although he took wickets in the end he also bowled England into a losing position by leaking almost five an over in conditions that were helpful to a bowler of his type.
ENGLAND XI FOR THURSDAY
From the players in the squad I select as follows:
Haseeb Hameed (Crawley’s time at the top level is done)
If one wants more batting depth, Overton could replace Wood, and then there would be a 7, 8, 9 of Curran, Overton and Robinson, which should be depth enough for anyone. I prefer Wood because his presence provides some express pace to go with the seam and swing options, which with Curran’s left arm and Robinson’s extra height are well varied (Broad was ordinary in the first test, so I rest him rather than Anderson for this one). There is also England’s best spinner in there, as there should be.
A brief account of today’s second #INDvENG ODI, telling the story of a remarkable chase.
This post is an account of the match that has just finished in Pune.
Morgan and Billings were both injured, being replaced by Dawid Malan and Liam Livingstone, while Reece Topley came in for Mark Wood, leaving England without an out and out speedster. For India Shreyas Iyer was injured and Rishabh Pant was selected in his place. Stand in skipper Jos Buttler won the toss and decided that England would bowl, which at the time looked questionable.
THE INDIAN INNINGS
India started steadily, and built through the middle overs. Rashid Khan and Moeen Ali both bowled reasonably well but neither looked like getting wickets, and after 40 overs India were 210-3. Then, as in match one, England had a horror show in the final ten overs, as the Indian score mushroomed to 336-6. Though he picked up a couple of wickets among the mayhem Tom Curran has surely bowled his last for England. Moeen Ali was economical, but never looked like taking a wicket. India’s total looked formidable.
Roy and Bairstow got England away to a strong start, but when Roy was out the game was far from settled either way. Ben Stokes came in at no3, and reached 50 from 40 balls, though he was a trifle fortunate to be given the benefit of the doubt on a very close run out caused by the fact that he had failed to realize the danger and was jogging rather than running full pelt. Having got himself a start Stokes proceeded to go absolutely berserk, blasting 49 from his next 11 balls before edging one behind to miss out on a century by the narrowest of margins. Bairstow and Buttler fell in quick succession, but England were so far ahead of the rate that even losing three wickets so quickly was barely a set back. Some solid blows from debutant Liam Livingstone and Dawid Malan took England home, Malan enjoying one moment of good fortune when an edged shot flew through third man for four – had India posted anyone in the slip area they would probably have been in business. I will draw a veil over the Indian bowling figures, none of which their owners would wish to be publicised. Hardik Pandya, supposed tn be an all rounder, was not called upon to bowl while his team mates took horrendous punishment. England had 6.3 overs as well as six wickets to spare when they completed the task and levelled the series.
England need to find a way of not being destroyed in the final ten overs – it has happened in both matches this series, though they made up for it today with the bat. They also have a virtual obligation to select leg spinner Matt Parkinson for the final game, given that he has been in bio-secure bubbles since January and played no cricket. India have a quandary in the spin bowling department – Kuldeep Yadav and Krunal Pandya were both slaughtered today. Also there are questions about their batting in the first 40 overs – it is not great to be reliant on a massive burst in the final 10, especially when it is not guaranteed that said burst will be enough: they scored 126 in overs 41-50 inclusive today and England made the chase look like an absolute cake walk. Sunday’s grand finale starts at 9:00AM UK time (an hour later than the first two games because British Summer Time kicks in overnight between Saturday and Sunday, with 12:59AM becoming 2:00AM as the clocks move forward an hour).
A look at day three in Chennai, and provoked by events therein a feature on off spinners who bat.
This post looks at day three in Chennai, where there was much drama.
THE INDIAN INNINGS
India resumed at 54-1, an advantage of 249. England, helped by some sensational keeping from Ben Foakes took five wickets quite rapidly, reducing India to 106-6, at which point R Ashwin came in to bat in front of his home crowd. He and Virat Kohli put on a superb partnership, before Kohli fell to Moeen Ali, and although neither Kuldeep Yadav nor Ishant Sharma lasted long, Mohammad Siraj stayed there to see Ashwin complete a superb century, the third time in his 76 match test career that he has combined a century with a five wicket innings haul (only Ian Botham who did so against New Zealand, Pakistan, India, Australia and New Zealand has done so more frequently in the history of test cricket). The Indian innings ended at 286, an advantage of 481. The record 4th innings chase in test history is 418, although at Lord’s in 1900, in that year;s big showpiece game the Players after being rolled for 136 in their first innings did chase down 501 in just over a full day to beat the Gentlemen. There were four wickets each for Jack Leach and Moeen Ali, with Stone ending the innings with his fourth wicket of the game. This was the fifth successive test match second innings in which Leach had taken four or more wickets.
While victory was clearly the longest of long shots there was plenty for England to play for. A respectable showing with the bat second time round would salvage some pride, and Rory Burns and Dan Lawrence were both in need of runs to secure their positions, with Zak Crawley likely to return from injury for the next game, Bairstow also available, and Foakes surely established as keeper after his performance here.
Sibley fell cheaply to make it 16-1, but Burns and Lawrence played with aggression but not mindlessly so to take the score to 50, before Burns departed. Leach came in as nightwatchman, and almost immediately departed to his left arm orthodox spinning rival Axar Patel to make it 50-3. England nearly suffered a monster hammer blow just before the close, Joe Root being hit on the pad, given not out by the on field umpire, and the DRS technology showed that the point of impact of ball on pad was “umpire’s call”, while the ball would have made a right mess of the stumps had the pad not impeded it. The replay also showed that the ball actually brushed the stump very faintly on its way through even after impact with pad. England had been on the wrong end of some horrible decisions during the first two days, including one clear breach of DRS protocol by the third umpire, and now it was India’s turn to experience some frustration. Kohli disputed this one with the umpires after the DRS adjudication, at least his third significant infraction of that type in the match, following standing there for a clean bowled on day 1 and talking back after being reprimanded for running on the pitch during his own second innings. I gather that he is danger of a suspension, and he richly deserves it – his behaviour towards umpires here has been ‘Punteresque’, and the original ‘Punter’ committed his worst infraction of that type when there was at least the explanation (not, never, excuse) that his team were on the wrong end of a monstering at the MCG in 2010, whereas here it is Kohli’s side who are handing out the thrashing. England closed on 53-3, needing 429 with two whole days to go, while India need seven wickets.
OFF SPINNERS WHO BAT
The fact that Moeen Ali has taken a few wickets in this match, long after it was already pretty much a guaranteed loss, a position that owed much to his earlier dreadful bowling has led to a resurgence of support for him. I remain adamant that replacing a 23 year old with 33 year old whose record is at best moderate is a retrograde step and may well have damaged Bess’s confidence to boot. I have hunted out some figures for players whose main task is to bowl off spin, but whose batting is considered part of the equation. Below I show four sets of figures, three for contemporary cricketers, two of whom are involved in this match, and one for a fine player from the long past, with supplementary explanation. (see mini gallery that ends this section as well)
R Ashwin – the best current purveyor of off spin, and as he demonstrated earlier today a very useful lower order batter: test cricket: Averages 27.54 with the bat and 25.47 with the ball excluding the current match, first class cricket, averages 29.46 with the bat and 26.19 with the ball
Moeen Ali – being regarded at present by far too many as an “all rounder”: test cricket: Averages 28.97 with the bat and 36.59 with the ball excluding this match, first class cricket averages 36.72 with the bat and 37.94 with the ball. His averages in test cricket are the wrong way round by some way, and his first class averages less so, but the relative paucity of his bowling in non-test first class cricket is illustrated by the fact that more than half of his first class scalps have come in test cricket.
Dominic Bess – dropped and replaced by Moeen Ali: test cricket 26.16 with the bat and 32.00 with the ball, though he has played very few matches at that level, first class cricket 24.09 with the bat and 29.32 with the ball. His 37 ordinary first class matches yield a bowling average of 28.54, 3.46 runs per wicket better than his current test average, and at 23 he is very much an improving player who would be expected to hit his absolute peak years in approximately five years.
Billy Bates – someone who was this kind of player in the early days of test cricket. His 15 tests yielded 656 runs at 27.33 and 50 wickets at 16.42, while the much longer sample of his first career yielded a batting average of 21.75 and a bowling average of 17.13. Allowing for inflation due to surfaces being kinder to batters these days that first class record equates in modern terms to averaging 32.36 with the bat and 25.70 with the ball, putting him marginally ahead of Ashwin at that level.
Today’s gallery comes in three parts: a special section marking the 50th anniversary of the introduction of decimal currency in Britain, a standard issue gallery, and a standalone infographic created to serve as the feature image.
A look at day two in Chennai and some matters that arise from it.
This post looks at day two in Chennai, and at a few related issues.
INDIA’S DOMINANT DAY
The second day of the second test match got underway with India 300-6 overnight. Jack Leach began with a maiden over. Moeen Ali was gifted a couple of wickets (one a magnificent stumping by Foakes when Axar gave him the charge in the day’s second over, and one a full toss placed into the hands of the fielder) to bring his tally up to four, but also continued to bowl regular quantities of dross. It fell to Olly Stone, the fast bowler, to end the Indian innings, taking the last two wickets, to go with his earlier wicket of opener Shubman Gill.
England’s response was shocking, as they slumped to 39-4 and then 52-4. At that point the two Surrey men, Pope and Foakes, who had been sensational with the gloves, shared a stand that bolstered the total to 87, before Pope was dismissed. Moeen Ali, whose batting was allegedly part of the justification for his selection, contributed six to a stand of 19 for the seventh wicket, Leach made a run less but batted for longer, and Broad, sent in at number 11, made that position look his natural one, getting out as he did. Foakes was stranded on 41, and England, were all out for 134, a deficit of 195. They had taken the follow-on question out of India’s hands, just, but there was no way India were going to enforce and take even a 0.1% chance of having to bat last on this pitch.
Olly Stone took the new ball with no joy, but Broad did not share it with him, Leach coming on instantly. Moeen leaked 11 from his first over of the second innings. Leach got the wicket of Gill, and England deserved more success but were unlucky on several occasions with close decisions, and victim of at least one scandalously bad piece of umpiring, when Rohit Sharma was given not out for an LBW, and the official grounds for confirming it as not out were that he had played a shot, when even he did not make that claim on his own behalf, having tucked his bat in behind his bat. In the end India closed on 54-1, 249 runs to the good, and the question is when, and not if, they level the series.
Let me make one thing clear here: I am not in the business of deflecting blame or denying India credit. India deserve to be in the box seat in this game, having both batted and bowled better than England. However, it is legitimate to raise questions about a pitch is certain to see the game end with one whole day unused and may even see it end with two days unused. India have made better use of it than England (and how!) but that does not excuse producing such a strip for a match that is scheduled to last for FIVE days.
Secondly, although I do not believe them to have had any serious impact on the match situation, there have been a number of very poor umpiring decisions all of which have gone against England. None of the officials handling this game, either the two on-field umpires or the TV replay umpire have done their jobs anything approaching properly, and none should ever stand again in any match of any importance.
India correctly dropped Sundar, who although he batted well in the first match was a liability with the ball. Ashwin, Axar Patel (who has had a splendid test debut) and Kuldeep Yadav all bowled impressively, especially Ashwin (5-43). By contrast, willfully refusing to learn from what happened with Sundar, England went the other way, dropping Bess and recalling Moeen Ali. For all that he somehow has four wickets against his name Ali is also the single biggest reason that England are in quite such massive trouble, having been leaking runs at nearer five than four per over on a helpful surface. He is almost 34, his bowling average at test level is approximately 37 and not improving, his batting average is below 29 and on the decline. I am absolutely certain that England need to admit to perpetrating a colossal blunder and drop him forthwith. The third match of this series is a day-nighter, and I would be tempted to for that game to go in with Leach the sole specialist spinner, with Stone selected alongside both of Anderson and Broad as a pace attack. If England feel they must have two front line spinners then they should either recall Bess or promote one or other of Parkinson or Virdi in his place. Pardon the all-caps here, something I very rarely do, but just to emphasise: MOEEN ALI IS NOT TEST MATCH CLASS WITH EITHER BAT OR BALL and continuing to pick him will hand the series to India on a plate.
A look at the first day in Chennai, where England made a selectorial howler, the 3rd umpire made two howlers on the day, and England have already pretty much played themselves out of the contest.
The second test match in the India v England series got underway at Chennai today. As you will be finding out it is hard to see other than a 1-1 scoreline at the end of this one, given the events of day 1.
AN EXTRAORDINARY DAY
India won the toss, and chose to bat, as was inevitable, given that the pitch looked a minefield before a ball had been bowled on it. Stone was preferred to Woakes for England, with everything else as expected. The day began well, when after a maiden from Stuart Broad, Olly Stone removed Shubman Gill with India still scoreless. Leach took the wicket of the adhesive Pujara, and Kohli had a wild drive at Moeen Ali and was bowled, his reaction, which virtually compelled the umpire to send it upstairs, making the delivery look better than it actually was. In truth, Kohli played a very poor shot, especially for so early in his innings. Rahane joined Rohit Sharma in a fourth wicket stand that put India firmly on top. At one stage Rohit was on for breaking one of test cricket’s oldest records, for the highest percentage of a completed innings by one batter, set by Charles Bannerman in the first test innings of all (165 in a score of 245 all out, 67.34% of the total), but Rahane upped his own rate as the game increasingly ran away from England. At 248, Rohit Sharma fell for 161, sweeping Leach to deep midwicket and being caught, though the shot had previously brought him rich rewards against the spinners. Rahane was reprieved when the third umpire refused to look further at a replay after it was confirmed that bat had not been involved – unfortunately glove had after the ball bounced off the thigh. There was also a stumping which the third umpire incorrectly refused to give – the batter’s foot was on the line, and the laws of cricket are very specific on this point: “…some part of the foot must be grounded behind the line”. Shortly after his reprieve, Rahane, his mind clearly no longer on the job, swept wildly at one from Moeen and was bowled. Ashwin also fell in this little period, but Rishabh Pant and Axar Patel got India to the close at 300-6, an absolutely mammoth score on a pitch that was already offering considerable turn. I now look at several factors in the day’s play in turn.
ROHIT SHARMA’S INNINGS
My own reckoning is that the Player of the Match award is already done and dusted. Rohit Sharma’s amazing 161 has put his side in command of the match and it will take something extraordinary from England, with R Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel a stronger spin combo than theirs, to even make a contest of it. Knowing that the pitch was already in the process of breaking up, Rohit Sharma knew he had to get runs while it was at all possible, and how brilliantly he succeeded. A near analogue from cricket’s distant past was Victor Trumper’s innings at Old Trafford in 1902, when knowing that England sought to keep him quiet in the morning because conditions would be perfect for Lockwood after lunch, he blasted a century on the first morning of the match. Australia duly won, albeit by only three runs. Credit also to Rahane for playing so well in the support role.
Stuart Broad was not at his best, but did not bowl badly even so. Ben Stokes was not fully fit, and bowled only a few overs. Olly Stone was hugely impressive and may now be ahead of Wood, though still behind Archer, in the outright pace pecking order. Jack Leach was economical, and deserved better figures than 26-2-78-2. Moeen Ali was a ghastly failure, gifted the wicket of Kohli, and also lucky to pick up Rahane given the circumstances, and hideously expensive – at one point he had 1-94 from 20, going at 4.70 per over. His final figures for the day were 26-3-112-2 – 4.31 per over on a spinner’s pitch. For comparison, on a surface that was still fairly flat Dominic Bess in the first innings of the first game recorded 4-76 from 26 overs, double the wickets and only going at 2.92 per over. Joe Root, a part time bowler, used himself at one point, and had figures of 8-2-15-1, a devastating indictment of Ali. Had Leach had serious support in the middle part of the day he would likely have had many more wickets, but in opting for Ali England had shot themselves in the foot, learning nothing from India’s selection of Sundar in game 1 – he batted well, but his bowling was ineffective and India lost. I expressed my opinions of the Ali selection forcibly yesterday, and the evidence of today causes me to metaphorically underline and bold them. For someone selected as a front line spinner to be outdone by Joe Root, and to go at such a rate on a spinning pitch is indefensible. Yes, Rohit Sharma was magnificent, but Ali also bowled a lot of rubbish. With Stokes bowling only two overs and Ali proving expensive England were effectively trying to do the job with three bowlers. This is Moeen Ali’s 61st test appearance, and he has 183 wickets at that level, for an average of three per game. England intended to give themselves five bowling options (Stokes being able to bowl so little was not in the script), and 20/5 = 4, so Ali is a wicket per match down on what is needed, and that can only be made up for by being very economical, and he was the spendthrift of the attack. Centuries on the opening day of a test match do not often end up against the name of a bowler, but Moeen unfortunately was utterly deserving of this one. Had England dropped Bess to clear the way for Virdi or Parkinson I would have had no issue – the only way you can definitively find out whether youngsters can bowl in test cricket is to give them that opportunity, but bringing back Moeen Ali was a hugely retrograde step.
Even if England get the last four wickets quickly tomorrow they will have to bat out of their skins to get back into the match. I sincerely hope England will learn from this disaster.
Christmas report on the England men’s team, and some Muscovy duck pictures.
While the England Women’s team have had a fabulous year, thoroughly deserving to win Team of the Year at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards (and had there been any justice Anya Shrubsole would have been Sports Personality of the Year) life has been tougher for the men. The confirmation in the early hours of Monday morning UK time that the Ashes had been lost (yes folks, I was listening to TMS right to the bitter end) lies behind this post (going up now through a combination of thinking before I wrote and work commitments yesterday). I end as usual with some of my own photographs.
THE FIRST THREE TEST MATCHES
Gritty fifties from Stoneman and Vince on the opening day notwithstanding Brisbane was a bad match for England. The ease with which Warner and Bancroft knocked off the 170 needed to win in the second innings, and the immovability of Aussie skipper Smith in their first innings were the most worrying sings.
Adelaide kicked off with Joe Root deciding to field first when he won the toss. An Australian tally of 442-8D in the course of the first day and a half made that decision look worse than it was (it was still poor, though not down there with Nasser Hussain at Brisbane 2002). England were then all out for 227, and as this was as a day-night test with the night session due to start it seemed mandatory to enforce the follow-on, but Steve Smith declined to do so. Australia stuttered under the lights to 50-4, and England’s best bowling effort of the series so far continued the following morning reducing Australia to 138 all out, leaving England 354 to get. England made a decent fist of things, and at 170-3 it looked like they might just get them. Unfortunately both for England and for cricket as a whole (there are a lot of captains these days who almost automatically decline to enforce the follow-on, and had England chased down this target of 354 it might have made those people think) a wicket just before the close of day 4 and then a clatter the following morning put paid to that.
So it was on the Perth for the last Ashes game to be staged at the WACA (a new stadium just across the road will stage future Perth tests), a venue where England had only one once, way back in 1978. Precedents for a comeback from 0-2 down in a five match series are equally thin on the ground – the only successful example being Don Bradman’s 1936-7 Aussies (Bradman himself produced scores of 270, 212 and 169 in the third, fourth and fifth matches of that series, and also produced a tactical masterstroke in those days of uncovered pitches in that third test when faced with a terror track he sent in tail-enders O’Reilly and Fleetwood-Smith to miss everything until the close of that day – Bradman emerged the following day at 97-5 to join regular opener Jack Fingleton who had come at no 6, and with the pitch now eased they put on 346 for the sixth wicket to settle the issue), although 42 years earlier Australia had won the 3rd and 4th matches after being 0-2 down before England won the final game of that series.
England batted first in Perth, and at 131-4 a familiar pattern seemed to be emerging, but then Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow got going, and both made hundreds. Malan went on to 140. Once their 237 run partnership was broken the rest of the innings subsided quickly, but 403 still seemed a respectable total. When Australia were 248-4 England still looked in with a shout, but by the end of day 3 Australia were 549-4, Smith having set a new career best and Mitchell Marsh in front of his home crowd turning his maiden test hundred into 181 not out. Smith and Marsh both fell quickly the following morning, and Starc was also out cheaply, but Tim Paine and Pat Cummins made useful contributions, and Australia declared at 662-9, leaving England four and a half sessions to survive for the draw. By the close of that fourth day Bairstow and Malan were together once more, with the only convincing batting effort up to then having come from Vince, who played very well for his 55 and was unlucky to get an absolute brute of a ball from Starc.
It rained overnight, and the covers at the WACA proved inadequate, leaving a wet patch on a good length at one end, which delayed the start of the fifth day’s play. Root argued for an abandonment, while Smith of course tried to hasten the start of play. I fully understand why Root tried to get play abandoned, but actually I am glad he failed in the attempt – to keep a series alive in that fashion would have been deeply unsatisfactory. At Headingley in 1975 a delicately poised final day (Australia 220-3 needing 445 to win, and Rick McCosker five away from what would have been a maiden test hundred) was abandoned after protesters sabotaged the pitch (“George Davis is innocent” – according to Peter Chappell, namesake of two members of that Australian team, but not according to the courts, or his future record – released from that sentence for armed robbery, he was soon back inside for another armed robbery to which he pleaded guilty).
Once the game finally commenced it was soon obvious which way the wind was blowing, and for the third time in the space of a year (following two occasions against India last winter) England had managed to lose by an innings margin after tallying 400 first up.
ENGLAND PLAYER BY PLAYER
Alastair Cook: 150 tests, the last 148 of them in sequence – remarkable longevity. At the moment he is having a rough trot, and when Cook is having a rough trot (as he did in the early part of 2010) it is often hard to imagine where his next run is coming from.
Mark Stoneman: some gritty performances thus far, but he needs to start turning those fifties in to hundreds some time soon.
James Vince: to put it mildly a controversial choice for the crucial number three slot, and notwitshstanding two fine innings so far, one in Brisbane and one in Perth, he has not yet done enough to convince – see my closing comment about Stoneman.
Joe Root: would seem to be the latest in a long line of England players to suffer captaincy-itis, not only he is failing to make runs, he is getting out in un-Rootlike ways. England need his batting to be at its best, so perhaps someone else should be made captain (see later for my controversial suggestion).
Dawid Malan: his 140 at Perth and fighting effort in the second innings as well confirms his arrival as a test batsman of quality. Also, while it never looked threatening his part time leg spin was at least economical.
Jonny Bairstow: other than his first innings performance at Perth not thus far a great series for the wicketkeeper-batsman.
Moeen Ali: Fulfils a useful all-round role, although England offspinners have rarely been successful in Australia (the chief exceptions being Laker in 1958-9, Titmus in 1962-3 and Emburey in 1986-7). Also, if England do decide that Root needs to be replaced as captain to enable him to concentrate solely on what he does best – his batting – then Moeen would be my choice for the job.
Chris Woakes: Save for his bowling in the second innings at Adelaide he has not looked very threatening in this series. That game was also the scene of his only significant batting effort of the series so far. Right-arm medium fast when the ball is not deviating (and it generally doesn’t in Australia) simply will not trouble good batsmen.
Craig Overton: Looks like he belongs at this level, but my comments about Woakes’ style of bowling in Australian conditions also apply to him.
Stuart Broad: A nightmare series for him, not because he has bowled especially badly, though he has consistently been pitching it too short, but because he has looked completely unthreatening and has bowling figures that reflect that.
Jimmy Anderson: continues to climb the wicket taking charts. His 12 wickets at 25 apiece in this series, while all his colleagues have been taking drubbings is a remarkable effort in the face of adversity. I fully expect that in the early stages at Melbourne he will move ahead of Courtney Walsh in the wicket takers list (current Anderson 518, Walsh 519), leaving only Glenn McGrath among the quick bowlers ahead of him. He has bowled beautifully this series but with Broad off the boil his ‘support’ has simply not been up to standard.
THE REST OF THE SERIES
Before I get into this section let me clear that I do not believe for an instant that had the likes of Ben Stokes, Mark Wood and Toby Roland-Jones been available England would be doing a whole lot better. Certainly to be deprived of the services of three such excellent cricketers simultaneously is unfortunate but England are 3-0 down because they have been outclassed throughout this series (only in Adelaide to England ever look close to making a game of it – the Malan-Bairstow partnership in the first innings at Perth was the only other major period in the series to date in which England had the whip hand).
The good news for England is that their records at Melbourne and Sydney are better tahn their records elsewhere in Australia. While the batsmen need to score more runs, it is the bowlers who (Anderson apart) really need to pick things up – England have not yet taken 20 wickets in a match in this series, and at Perth they failed to even take 10.
I think England can pick themselves up and win at least one of the two remaining matches. In many ways it would be an injustice to Australia were England to win both and make it look respectable at 3-2 – this England side does not deserve better than 4-1 (though I also think it does not deserve worse – it is not as shambolic as Flintoff’s 2006-7 squad who really did deserve to be on the wrong end of a 5-0, as in the end they were.
The take home message of the three matches played so far is one that England should already have learned a long time ago – a bowling ‘attack’ of four right-arm medium-fast bowlers and an offspinner will not cut the mustard in Oz.
A little while back I reported sighting some birds which turned out to be Muscovyducks (Cairina moschata). Well, I have seen another (this time a single bird), this time in The Walks.
The cricket section of the BBC website gives you a chance to pick your XI for the opening ashes match this winter. It is not a free selection – they give you a pool of names to pick from, which is why I am producing this post.
MY SELECTION ON THE BBC WEBSITE
Restricted by the BBC website I selected the following XI:
Cook, Stoneman, Joe Clarke, Root, Liam Livingstone, Stokes, Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Roland-Jones, Anderson, Leach – yes I overlooked Stuart Broad, but I was being deliberately controversial…
VARIOUS POSSIBLE XIs
In actual fact, depending on conditions my selections could vary considerably. England spinners have rarely enjoyed themselves at Brisbane, so in practice I would probably not select two spinners for that particular match, while at Perth I might even consider leaving out Moeen Ali. At Adelaide, where the pitch tends to be exceedingly batsman friendly I would want more bowling options, and if the pitch was obviously going to favour spin then Moeen might even be third spinner in the XI. Thus here are some possible XIs, unerestricted by the BBC website’s preselections:
Fast bowlers’ paradise (Perth would be a possible): Cook, Stoneman, Westley, Root (C), Lawrence, Stokes, Bairstow, (WK), Woakes, Roland-Jones, Broad, Anderson.
On a ‘bunsen’ (rhyming slang, bunsen burner = turner) – unlikely in Oz but you never know: Cook, Stoneman, Westley, Root (C), Lawrence, Stokes, Bairstow (WK), Moeen Ali, Dominic Bess, Jack Leach, Anderson (this is a colossal gamble, relying on Anderson and Stokes to do all the fast bowling between them, a more cautious approach still catering for lots of spin would see Broad retain his place and Ali and Bess or Bess and Leach have the spin bowling roles).
For the batsman’s paradise (e.g Adelaide, or the Bellerive Oval, Hobart): Cook, Stoneman, Root (C), Lawrence, Stokes, Moeen Ali, Bairstow (WK), Roland-Jones, Bess, Broad, Anderson (note that to play the extra bowler I move Ali up two places, keeping Bairstow at 7 – there is a reason why Gilchrist never moved up from number 7 in Australia’s great days).
My thoughts on the recently concluded series between England and South Africa mens teams, plus some photographs from work.
On Monday I listened to what turned out to be the final day of the test series between England and South Africa (Tuesday would have been available had South Africa taken the game that far but they never really looked like doing so). In this post I look back at the match and the series.
England batted first and made at least 50 more than they should have done in the circumstances, getting to 360. When the ninth England wicket fell South Africa turned to the “clever ruse” of dropping the field back to allow the major batter (Jonny Bairstow on this occasion) to take singles so that they could bowl at the no11. This is a dubious tactic in any case, but South Africa’s execution of it was downright bad – on a number of occasions Bairstow took twos early in the over, which should never happen when this tactic is in play. I can think of no occasion on which it can be demonstrated that a side fared worse by attacking at both ends than they would be adopting this tactic, whereas I offer the following examples of times where adopting it caused problems:
Perth 1978 – Australia eight down for not many facing and England total of over 300, Mike Brearley gives Peter Toohey with 50 to his name singles so as to attack Geoff Dymock. The ninth wicket pair stage a very irritating partnership. In the end England’s superior skill and professionalism tell (Australia were depleted by the Packer affair and Graham Yallop proved to be a very poor captain). My source for this story is Brearley himself in “The Art of Captaincy”.
Melbourne 1982 – The ninth Australian wicket in their second innings falls with them still needing 74 for victory. England allow Border singles so they can attack Thomson, the no 11. Australia get to within a boundary hit of victory before Thomson flashes at a wide one from Botham and is caught by Miller with an assist from Tavare.
Sydney 2010 – Pakistan have bossed the game against Australia, leading by over 200 on first innings, and Australia are only 80 to the good with two second innings wickets standing going into the 4th morning. Pakistan decline to attack Hussey, and Siddle plays a straight bat the relatively few deliveries he has to face. In the end Pakistan need 176 to win, which is far more than they were expecting. The pressure is too much for an inexperienced batting line up, especially once Mohamed Yousuf has compounded his failure as captain by falling to a very poor shot to leave his side 57-4. Australia end up winning by almost 40 runs.
South Africa’s response, if it can be so described, was to scrape together 226 for a deficit of 136. A fine innings by Moeen Ali in the second England innings takes England to a lead of 379. Dean Elgar fell cheaply to start the South African second innings, and by the lunch interval Heino Kuhn and Temba Bavuma had also been accounted for. Amla and Duplessis resisted stoutly for a time, but the dismissal of Amla sparked a collapse, with no one else making a significant contribution as 163-3 at the high point of the innings subsided to 202 all out. Moeen Ali took five of the wickets to finish with 25 for the series alongside over 250 runs for the series (the first time this double has been achieved in a series of fewer than five matches). Moeen Ali was player of the match, and also player of the series for his all-round efforts.
THE SERIES AS A WHOLE
Barring the aberration at Trent Bridge this was a series that England dominated, and 3-1 is a fair reflection of that fact. Lord’s (it is named after Thomas Lord of Thirsk, so Lord’s is technically correct) saw the only really huge first innings tally of the series, and from that point on England were always going to win that match. I wrote in some detail about the Trent Bridge debacle at the time. At The Oval (these days there is always a sponsor’s name attached but I refuse to mention them whoever they may be) England made a respectable first innings total and South Africa crumbled, while this final match at Old Trafford went along similar lines.
I am going to finish the text element of this post by looking at both sets of players, starting with South Africa.
Dean Elgar – a tough competitor whose second innings 136 at The Oval when all around him were surrendering was a stand out performance.
Heino Kuhn – resembles a test-class opener about as closely as Liam Dawson resembles a test-class all-rounder. The only surprise out his dismissal during the morning session fo what turned into the final day of the series was that it did not come sooner.
Hashim Amla – a magnificent batter now nearing the end of his illustrious career. This was not a great series for him but his fighting 83 in the final innings was a splendid effort.
Quinton De Kock – fine wicketkeeper and on his day a very destructive batter, but was miscast in the key number four role where was too often coming in with the team reeling from early blows. He was moved down for the final match of the series, but this was his equivalent of Adam Gilchrist’s 2005 in England – batting wise a series to forget.
Faf Du Plessis – it continues to be debatable whether he is worth a place as a batter, but the team play much better under his captaincy than when he is not present.
Temba Bavuma – a very reliable batter. He needs to develop ways of keeping the scoreboard ticking – at the moment it takes him a very long time to score his runs.
Theunis De Bruyn – anonymous in this series, he did nothing significant with the bat and his bowling was not much used.
Chris Morris – occasional moments with his hard-hitting batting but his bowling was very expensive.
Vernon Philander – a great cricketer, but like Alan Davidson and Chris Old before him he is somewhat of a hypochondriac. He did not contribute fully to this series.
Keshav Maharaj – South Africa’s leading wicket taker of the series.
Kagiso Rabada – A fine fast bowler who bowled well in this series and at times did enough with the bat to have embarrassed some of bhis supposed betters in that department.
Morne Morkel – A solid series – it was not South Africa’s bowlers who were chiefly responsible for their defeat in this series.
Duanne Olivier – more will certainly be seen of this young fast bowler.
Now for England…
Alastair Cook – continues to steadily ascend the test run scoring lists – in the course of this series he went past Allan Border’s aggregate. His effort on the truncated first day at The Oval put England in control of that game, a position consolidated by Ben Stokes’ century.
Keaton Jennings – surely he has run out chances after a series in which his highest individual score was 48 and during which he never looked convincing.
Gary Ballance – given a chance to re-establish himself in the side because he scores so many in domestic cricket he failed, and looked out of place. He was deservedly one of the casualties of the Trent Bridge debacle.
Tom Westley – a solid start to his test career. He looks like he belongs in the test arena and I expect to see a lot more of him.
Joe Root – his first series as test captain, and with a 3-1 series win and himself being leading run scorer on either side for the series it was a splendid start.
Dawid Malan – came in to the side after the loss at Trent Bridge and has not yet done much.
Jonny Bairstow – an excellent series with both bat and gloves.
Ben Stokes – regular contributor of runs, wickets and catches. Like the man I will be dealing with next he is that rarity, a genuine all-rounder.
Moeen Ali – deservedly named player of the series, he was outstanding with bat and ball.
Liam Dawson – my comments about Heino Kuhn suggest that I do not rate Mr Dawson, and that impression is correct. He has neither the batting nor the bowling to be of use in test match cricket. If conditions warrant two spinners pick a real spinner, and if they don’t Moeen Ali will be the sole spinner.
Toby Roland-Jones – he started his test career firing with both barrels – a five-for including the top four in the opposition batting order, and has done well in both his matches so far.
Stuart Broad – a good series for the big fast bowler.
Mark Wood – two matches in the series, total figures 1-197 – ’nuff said.
James Anderson – 20 wickets in the series at 14 each. At the age of 35 he remains arguably the finest user of a new ball in world cricket. The authorities at his home ground of Old Trafford have recently paid him the compliment of naming one of their bowling ends in his honour – and he responded by taking four cheap wickets from that end at the first time of asking. I reckon he still has a couple of good years left in him which would enable him to sign off with a home world cup followed by a home Ashes series.
I always like to include photographs in my posts, and although I have none relating to cricket, here are a few from yesterday at work (these will be going under the hammer on August 30th, our second end of August auction, with a sale happening at our shop on Friday August 25th – more on this in a later post):
England started today needing six wickets to win and go 2-1 up in the series, while South Africa needed to bat the day out to save the game. Roland-Jones took two of the wickets in successive balls after quiet start to the day, and then Moeen Ali snapped up the seventh wicket with the last ball of the morning session. The second session also started quietly before Moeen broke through, accounting for Dean Elgar for 136. One sensed that Soutrh Africa’s last hopes of saving the game went with the opener. This sense heightened when Rabada edged his first ball to Stokes who made no mistake. Morkel was hit on the pads by the next delivery, given not out by the on-field umpire and instantly reviewed, with all 11 members of the fielding side indicating simultaneously. The technology showed that it was out, and the game was over, with Moeen having a hat trick to his credit.
THE ETYMOLOGY OF THE TERM HAT TRICK
This term, which has been borrowed by other sports for less dramatic associations with the number three dates back to a match at Hyde Park, Sheffield in the 1850s in which Heathfield Stephenson, then captain of the All-England Eleven, took three wickets with successive balls, and the crowd spontaneously recognised the feat by passing a hat around to collect money that was then presented to Stephenson. Thus the feat was termed a ‘hat trick’ and has been so called ever since.
THE PLAYER OF THE MATCH AWARD
Ben Stokes has been confirmed as Player of the Match for his century, plus some useful second innings runs, wickets and catches. The only other appraoch to a contender was debutant Toby Roland-Jones (sometimes referred to as the ‘Sunbury Shotgun’ because he played club cricket at Sunbury early in his career and has a double-barrelled surname) who batted well in both innings and took wickets, including the top four of the South African order in the first innings. Tom Westley also had a good debut, looking composed in both innings.
An account of two recent cricket matches involving England and South Africa, first the England men’s humiliation at Trent Bridge, and then the nailbiter of a Women’s World Cup semi-final at Bristol.
Both of the matches of my title were cricket matches between England and South Africa. The first was the test match between the men’s teams, and the second was the women’s world cup semi-final. A couple of notes about links in this piece:
Some links are in red – these are to video footage.
IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES
England had won the first test match of the series handily, with Joe Rootscoring 190 in his first innings as England captain and Moeen Ali being player of the match for his first inning 87 and match haul of 10-112. Among England’s male players only Ian Botham with 114 not out and 13-106 v India in 1979 has topped Ali’s all-round haul in a single game (Enid Bakewell was the first player of either sex to combine a match aggregate of 100 runs with a haul of 10 or more wickets, hence the earlier caveat).
Thus at Trent Bridge England should have been strong favourites. South Africa won the toss, batted first and made 335 in their first innings and England by bad batting handed South Africa a lead of 130, South Africa extended this to 473 with two days to play before sending England back in, messrs Elgar and Amla having demonstrated how to make runs on this pitch, each batting a long time. England’s second innings was quite simply shambolic, with batter after batter handing their wickets away. Four wickets down by lunch on the penultimate day it worse afterwards, with England being all out for 133 at approsimately 3PM. South Africa, having given themselves two days to dismiss England a second time had required less than two full sessions and were victors be 340 runs.
The first mistake England made was with the selection of the side. According to the powers that be Moeen Ali is happier as a second spinner than as either a sole spinner or as first spinner. However I find it hard to believe that even he could really consider himself no2 to Liam Dawson. Dawson is an ill thought out selection reminiscent of the dark days of the 1990s. For his county he averages in the low thirties with the bat and the high thirties with the ball, so even at that level he comes out as clearly not good enough in either department to warrant selection – the reverse of the true all-rounder. If a pitch warrants two spinners (and no Trent Bridge pitch in my lifetime ever has) the other spinner should be a genuine front-line option such as Dominic Bess (first class bowling average 19.83 per wicket – what are you waiting for selectors?). The other logical alternative would have been to bring in an extra batter (there are any number of possibilities) to strengthen this department. England’s batting in both innings smacked of panic. Other than Root whose 78 in the first innings was a gem and Cook who played well for a time in the second no England batter is entitled to be other than embarrassed by the way they played in this match. The scorecard, in all it’s gory detail, can be viewed here.
IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES
On what should have been the final day of the men’s test match but for England’s spinelessness the women’s teams convened at Bristol for a world-cup semi-final. The final will be played at Lord’s and is already sold out. South Africa batted first and were restricted to 218-6 from their overs, Mignon Du Preez top scoring with 76 not out, and Laura Wolvaardt making 66. South Africa bowled better than they had batted, and the outcome remained in doubt right to the end. Anya Shrubsole who had earlier finished with 1-33 from her 10 overs settled things by hitting her first ball, the third-last possible ball of the match through the covers for four. Sarah Taylor’s 54 and a brilliant wicket-keeping performance highlighted by the spectacular stumping of Trisha Chetty off the bowling of Natalie Sciver earned her the player of the match award. Sciver incidentally is the pioneer of a shot that in honour of her first name and the f**tballing term ‘nutmeg’ commentator Charles Dagnall has dubbed the ‘Natmeg’, one example of which she played in this match. Video highlights of this amazing match can be seen here (runs for just under five minutes), while the scorecard can be viewed here.
THE ROLE OF EXTRAS
To set the scene for the rest of this section here are the extras (a cricket term for runs scored not off the bat) from both innings:
When South Africa batted:
When England batted
(b 5, w 17, nb 3)
A note on the designations within extras: Byes (b) stands for runs scored when there is no contact made with the ball but either the batters are able to take runs, or the ball goes to the boundary unimpeded, legbyes (lb), of which there were none in this match, are runs scored when the ball hits the pad but not the bat. Wides are deliveries that are too wide for the batter to be able to play, and no-balls are deliveries that are ruled illegal for some other infraction (bowler overstepping the crease, high full-toss etc). The 21 run difference between the two tallies shown above is of major significance given that England reached the target with just two balls to spare, and there is yet a further point.
WIDES AND NO-BALLS – WHAT APPEARS IN PRINT DOES NOT TELL THE FULL STORY OF HOW EXPENSIVE THEY ARE
England bowled four wides in the match, South Africa 17 and three no-balls. That is a 16-run difference, but the actual costs are likely be even more different because:
When a delivery is called wide, as well as incurring a one-run penalty an extra delivery must be bowled to replace it. Thus a wide costs the original penalty, plus possible extras (if it goes unimpeded to the boundary it costs 5, the original 1, plus four foir the boundary) plus any runs scored off the seventh delivery of the over, which the bowler had they been disciplined would not have had to bowl
When a delivery is called a no-ball, the batter can still score off it, the delivery immediately following it is designated a ‘free-hit’, meaning that the batter cannot be dismissed off it, and as with a wide an extra delivery must be bowled to replace it. Thus a no-ball actually costs the original penalty, any runs hit of that delivery, the lack of a wicket-taking opportunity on the next delivery and any runs of the seventh delivery of the over (which would otherwise not have needed to be bowled).
Therefore the discrepancy between the sides in terms of wides and no-balls is probably much greater than shown on the score-card, and this in a very close match. Sarah Taylor certainly deserved her player of the match award, but the much tighter discipline shown by England’s bowlers than their South African counterparts was also crucial to the result.
After over 1,100 words those of you are still with me deserve some pictures, so here we are: