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:
Mark Wood/ Jofra Archer (dependent on form and fitness)
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.
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.
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.
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:
A speculative little post looking beyond the day-night test to the scenarios that could arise for the fourth match of the series.
This post looks at the last two test of the series and at the implications for the World Test Championship.
THE DAY-NIGHT GAME
I have already outlined my thinking about the team England should have for the this match (see here and here): Sibley, Crawley, Stokes, *Root, Lawrence, Pope, +Foakes, Woakes, Stone, Leach, Anderson.
What happens for the fourth game is heavily dependent on the result of day-nighter. If England win and go 2-1 up in the series they still need to win to qualify for the final of the World Test Championship (badly compromised, but still a global final), as a 2-1 to England or 2-2 series outcome still lets the Aussies in. Any series win for India will see them qualify, so if they win the day-nighter I expect them to go highly conservative for the final match.
For England, a gamble will be warranted one way or the other, but the question is as to the nature of the gamble: If 2-1 up, so that a win and only a win will get them into the final of the WTC then it will be a high stakes gamble increasing the risk of defeat in a bid to maximize the chance of victory, while if 1-2 down it will be a case of using this match to experiment on the grounds that with England out of the WTC running the result no longer matters much.
SCENARIO 1: ENGLAND GOING FOR SERIES WIN
For a day game in India as opposed to a day-nighter I expect two specialist spinners to be required, and given the way Bess has been treated I don’t see him as a likely option, so for me it is time to promote Parkinson from the reserves, and gamble all on a Diplodocus-like tail of Broad, Leach, Anderson, Parkinson, playing both veterans in a match that has assumed such status, using his leg spin to add a bowling variation, with Root/ Lawrence able to bowl off spin should that be required. This to borrow a metaphor from the world of casinos is going all-in, and would I believe be called for in these specific circumstances.
SCENARIO TWO: INDIA GOING FOR SERIES WIN
Here, with England down, I do not play either Broad or Anderson, and I also rest (being very careful to make unmistakably clear that is resting and not dropping) Jack Leach. In this situation I would promote both Parkinson and Virdi from the reserves, and probably go with two out and out speedsters, risking a last four of something like Archer, Stone, Virdi, Parkinson. With victory serving only to usher Australia into the WTC Final I opt to experiment, and may even gamble on Foakes at six with Woakes playing at seven so I have five genuine front line bowling options. I am hoping that someone chooses this as a moment to make a name for themselves, looking to the future.
This post looks at selections for the upcoming day-night test, explaining the reasons for concluding that if one specialist spinner backed by Root/Lawrence is enough then Chris Woakes must play.
The third test match of the India versus England series, which takes place in Ahmedabad, beginning in five days, is a day-nighter. This post looks at the implications of that for England’s bowling selections.
THE FRONT LINE SPINNER(S)
Dominic Bess has been struggling for form and is in any case out of favour with the selectors. Having just dropped him for the game which was taking place on a pitch guaranteed to turn from day 1, session 1 it would make little sense to play him as lone specialist spinner in this match (especially given that two part time bowlers must likely to be used a spin fill-in options, Joe Root and Dan Lawrence bowl off spin in any case). Also, there are very strong positive reasons for sticking with Jack Leach in any case. He has been bowling well and taking wickets, and now has 56 in 14 test appearances, an average of four per game. He is still paying just over 30 (30.37) per wicket, but that average is coming down. The significance of that wickets per game ratio is simply this: most test sides, unless unusually blessed with all rounders do not have more than five genuinely front line bowling options, and 20/5 = 4, so a bowler taking four wickets per match is doing their part in that regard. Also, as I mentioned in my last post, England have a tour to Australia coming up at the end of the year, and having a left arm bowler of slow to medium pace there is a virtual necessity. Thus, Bess can only really be considered if it looks like two specialist spinners are required, which seems unlikely for a day-night game.
THE PACE ATTACK
James Anderson, a no11 batter, is virtually inked in. Having rested him from the second match to keep him fresh for the day-nighter it would be utterly nonsensical to then decide not to pick him. Most would want a bowler of express pace in the attack, which means one out of Stone, Archer or Wood, none of whom rate particularly high with the bat, though Archer’s first class record suggests an ability he has yet to display in tests. That leaves one primarily bowling slot vacant, with the choice, assuming conditions don’t warrant Bess, between Stuart Broad, a second of the speed trio or Chris Woakes. Other than Woakes the only pace bowling option with any sort of batting pedigree is Broad, and he has done little in that department recently, and his bowling in the last match was underwhelming. The choice then, assuming one specialist spinner is the way to go, is between a diplodcus like tail of Broad, Stone, Leach, Anderson or some such permutation, or selecting Woakes for the match in which he is in any case most likely to do well out of any this winter.
In view of his impressive efforts on a surface that offered him zilch I prefer for Stone to get an opportunity in more favourable conditions over Archer or Wood, so my 8,9,10,11 is Woakes, Stone, Leach, Anderson.
THE REST OF THE ORDER
For the sake of completeness here is the rest of my England batting order for the third test: Sibley keeps his spot at the top of the order, while with the chance of having to face spin right at the start being less at Ahmedabad than it was in Chennai the fit again Crawley comes in for the struggling Burns. Stokes moves up to three, as he probably won’t have a huge bowling workload, and as a short term fix for this tour having an engine room of Stokes at three and Root at four rather than the usual Root at four and Stokes at five seems to have a decent chance of working. Root we have just covered, and Lawrence after his struggles at no3 moves down to no5, while Pope retains his slot, and Foakes is now unbudgeable as keeper, and rightly so. The full XI, based on the supposition that one specialist spinner is enough is thus: Sibley, Crawley, Stokes, *Root, Lawrence, Pope, +Foakes, Woakes, Stone, Leach, Anderson.
A look back at the second test in Chennai, with complete player ratings. a look forward to the third test and beyond and some pictures.
Although today’s play was not especially long this post will be because I there are a couple of extra features related to this match and also because owing to the fact that I wish to mark tomorrow being IPL auction day by doing something entirely non-cricket related on here I am going to make a provisional selection for England for the third test match, the day-nighter in Ahmedabad.
THE LAST KNOCKINGS OF THE MATCH
England resumed on 53-3, needing a purely nominal 429 to win on a surface playing serious tricks. The first to fall was Dan Lawrence who showed considerable pluck yesterday, but today charged at Ashwin’s first delivery of the morning and was stumped by half a metre or thereabouts. Stokes, who might have stopped the rot, failed, and it rapidly became a procession. When Stone was dismissed, ninth to go, it looked like England were going to fail as a team to match the opposition’s highest individual score in either innings. Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad provided some late fireworks and just spared England that indignity, raising the total to 164, before Ali, with the quickest test 50 of all time in his sights, was caught to end the brief final flurry. The margin was 317 runs, India’s biggest ever win by a runs margin over England, beating the 279 run margin at Headingley in 1986. Axar Patel on his test debut snared five victims in this second innings, while R Ashwin completed a memorable trio of innings by accounting for three, following his five first innings scalps and second innings hundred. Had England won the toss and batted, it is possible that without 300 already being on the board against them they would have scored 230in the first innings rather than their actual 130, but they would never have won on this surface. It is not so much that India bat better on such surfaces, though they do, the much more pronounced difference is that they bowl hugely much better on them. Only Jack Leach hinted at the control needed on such pitches – India were allowed to score at four an over in their two innings, whereas India, knowing that there was assistance for them went for only two and a half per over. Still, England would have accepted a series scoreline of 1-1 going into the day-nighter when this series started. England played poorly, India superbly, and England must pick themselves up from this, and fortunately have a week in which to do so. Full scorecard here.
In combining a century with a haul of eight wickets in the game Ashwin underlined his status as one of the game’s greatest players. Imran Khan (6-98, 117 not out, 5-82 v India at Faisalabad in 1982), Ian Botham had three such matches, against New Zealand at Christchurch when his maiden test hundred combined with eight wickets and a couple of catches, against Pakistan at Lord’s when a score of 108 was backed with ground record innings figures of 8-34 and at what is now Mumbai in 1980 when his figures were 6-58, 114 not out, 7-48. George Giffen had a first innings 161 and two four wicket hauls in an ultimately losing cause at Sydney in 1894 (Australia 586, England 325 and 437, Australia 166, England won by 10 runs). Alan Davidson’s effort across the four innings of the first ever tied test at Brisbane in 1960 deserves a mention as well: 5-135 (WI 453 all out), 44 (Aus 505 all out), 6-87 (WI 284 all out), 80 (Aus 232 all out). In first class cricket George Hirst stands alone with a remarkable quadruple feat of centuries in each of his team’s innings and five wicket hauls in each of the opposition innings, achieved at for Yorkshire against Somerset in 1906. Finally, a nod to Enid Bakewell, who in 1979, at the age of 39, scored a century and had a ten wicket match haul for England Women against the West Indies Women. After 76 test matches Ashwin’s record reads 2,626 runs at 28.23, 394 wickets at 25.20. Better than five wickets per match, at an eminently respectable average, and he also averages 28 with the bat. For comparison in 61 matches, likely to be his final test tally, Moeen Ali who was Ashwin’s England counterpart in this game, has 2,831 runs at 28.88, fractionally better than Ashwin, and 189 wickets at 36.24, fully eleven runs per wicket worse than Ashwin and not much more than half as many wickets per match.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
The achievement that I just devoted the above section to earned Ashwin player of the match, a decision which might appear unarguable, but nevertheless, though this is a minor kvetch, I am not entirely happy with it. For me the Player of the Match should go to the player who has done most to influence the result, and I would have said that Rohit Sharma with his majestic innings on the opening day, which was incredible at the time and has only looked better as the game progressed was that person. It would have been hard on Ashwin not to have got the award in front of his home crowd, and I would have been happiest with a shared award between the two top performers in the game, while I have to say that if forced to give the award to a single individual I would have plumped for Rohit Sharma.
I will start with England, and my ratings are as follows:
Dominic Sibley: 4. The normally adhesive opener failed in both innings this time.
Rory Burns: 3. It is hard to see him being retained much longer on present form.
Dan Lawrence: 4. He showed some fight in the evening session yesterday, but his dismissal at the start of today’s play brought his mark back down – it was very poor.
Joe Root: 5. Failed to deliver with the bat, but bowled respectably, although it is an indictment of his specialist colleagues that he found himself in action in that role before the end of day 1.
Ben Stokes: 4. It is a rare match in which the all rounder entirely fails to make an impact but this one was perilously close to being just such a game.
Ollie Pope: 4. Played half decently in the first innings in partnership with Foakes, but was part of the procession back to the pavilion on the final day.
Ben Foakes: 8. Confirmed his utter brilliance as a keeper and has surely established himself as England’s #1 in that department. He also top scored in England’s first innings, showing real determination. I would have scored him higher, but he was part of a badly defeated team. I will just point out among those who were open-mouthed with admiration at the brilliance of his keeping was Sarah Taylor, his only serious rival for the title of the most accomplished English keeper of the 21st century.
Moeen Ali: 5. Some of you will look at his figures for this match and think that this is being harsh. The sad truth is that seven of his eight wickets and all of his runs came with England pretty much condemned to defeat. His bowling on the first day, on a pitch that even then was offering turn, when his figures at one point read 1-94 from 20 overs was an utter disgrace, and at that point he was headed squarely for a rating of 1, but he did pick things up, far too late, and I have increased his rating to reflect that.
Olly Stone: 7. Fast bowlers were not major players in this game because of the pitch, but he bowled well, capturing four wickets in total, and has earned the right to play in conditions which will favour him more.
Jack Leach: 7. On the first day, when everyone else was going round the park he went for less than three an over, and at no time can he be said to have done a lot wrong.
Stuart Broad: 5. He was a little unfortunate not to get more reward for his efforts with the ball, but by his own titanic standards he was undoubtedly poor.
Now it is time for India:
Rohit Sharma: 9.5. His innings on the first day pretty much settled the outcome of the match.
Shubman Gill: 6. Not a great game for him, but a few flashes of skill.
Cheteshwar Pujara: 5. A rare ordinary match for him.
Virat Kohli: 7. A first innings duck, but he played beautifully in the second innings. On pure play he deserves more marks than I have given, but I have penalized him for some of his behaviour, which was less than exemplary.
Ajinkya Rahane: 7. Was Rohit Sharma’s best support in the first innings, failed in the second. Had some great moments as a slip fielder.
Rishabh Pant: 7. An entertaining 50 in the first dig and some good keeping on a pitch which caused problems for almost everyone.
Axar Patel: 8. A superb debut for the left arm spinner, highlighted by a five wicket haul in the final innings. Although Ravindra Jadeja will be available again in a few weeks time I expect plenty more good things from this man.
R Ashwin: 9.5: Failed with the bat in the first innings but was magnificent in the other three, producing a truly superb all round performance.
Kuldeep Yadav: 7. Bowled steadily, though overshadowed by his colleagues Ashwin and Patel.
Ishant Sharma: 5. A bit part player because of the pitch.
Mohammad Siraj: 7. Like Ishant reduced to the status of a bit part player, but I have upgraded his score on account of his magnificent celebration of his team mate Ashwin’s century.
I conclude this section with an infographic giving a brief version of the above:
THOUGHTS ON ENGLAND SQUAD FOR THIRD TEST
England have announced a squad of 17 from which the XI for the third test will be chosen. Moeen Ali is needed for the limited overs games, and not fancying what would otherwise be a full five months away from home, is returning for a short break before coming back out to India in time to quarantine before the limited overs leg of the tour starts. Thus, the squad, viewable on the ECB’s website is as shown below:
Rory Burns I think has to go, with Crawley fit again, and my choice for number three in these specific circumstances is Ben Stokes, who should not need to do a huge amount of bowling. I feel that having the engine room of Stokes and Root at three and four is something England need in this situation, and Root loses much of his effectiveness when made to bat at three, so I am prepared to promote Stokes to provide some experience near the top of the order. I believe Lawrence deserves a chance in a position in the middle of the order where he is more likely to succeed, and I am loath to discard Pope so soon after his return from injury, believing he will come good. Foakes is inked in as keeper. That leaves the bowlers, and for a day-night match I am prepared to chance having only one front line spinner in Leach, which means I either have to opt for Woakes or accept a tail of diplodocus proportions (see this article from the Natural History Museum, and the picture below, which comes from said article, for why I have chosen that analogy).
In the circumstances, with Broad not at his best, Anderson mandatory after being rested for this game, rather than gamble on an 8,9,10,11 of Archer, Stone, Leach, Anderson or Wood, Stone, Leach, Anderson (for reasons already outlined I am not in favour of discarding Stone) I go for Woakes as third seamer, giving the XI shown in the infographic below:
LOOKING FURTHER AHEAD
It is relatively unlikely that any English test pitch will warrant the selection of two specialist spinners, and the next tour is Australia, never the happiest hunting ground for English off spinners (In my lifetime only John Emburey on two tours when Australia were fielding weakened sides due first to Kerry Packer and WSC and then to Ali Bacher’s activities arranging for cricketers to make ‘rebel tours’ of apartheid South Africa has had really successful series as an English off spinner in Australia, and the past save for the very earliest days of test cricket tells a similar story), so I would consider Leach the first choice spinner and groom the leg spinner Parkinson as understudy, taking him on the Ashes trip as official second spinner. At the moment after a mere six first class appearances an elevation of Tom Lammonby to international ranks would seem a huge gamble, but if he has another good season for Somerset he too could be picked for the Ashes tour as an opening batter.
LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS
Having mentioned the Natural History museum I cannot resist offering a couple of links relating to that museum’s location, South Kensington:
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.
A very brief post setting out my England XI for the second test of the India v England series in the light of the news that Jofra Archer will not be involved due to a niggle.
Jofra Archer will miss the second test due to a niggle, so ideas about the England XI for that match need rejigging. What follows is my effort.
THE XI IN BATTING ORDER
Dominic Sibley – his long innings at the start of the first match was crucial to England’s eventual success, and they will probably need more of the same from him.
Rory Burns – his dismissal in the first innings was reprehensible, but up to that point he had batted decently, and this is no time for desperate replacements.
Dan Lawrence – two failures in the first match, but with Crawley still not available it makes no sense to give this slot to yet another newcomer.
*Joe Root – the most indisputable of all selections at this time.
Ben Stokes – had a fine first match, and England will need him to produce something in this one as well.
Ollie Pope – A quiet first match back from injury for the youngster, but he deserves to hold his place.
+Ben Foakes – with Buttler heading home for a rest this one is unarguable.
Dominic Bess – He is taking wickets, whatever you think about the manner of some of the dismissals, and exhibit A in the case against an Ali for Bess swap goes by the name of Washington Sundar, selected precisely because he could do it with the bat, did do it with the bat, but was ineffective with the ball. While a case could be made for promoting Virdi or Parkinson from the reserves I am not sure that the middle of an away series against India is a good time to blood a youngster.
Stuart Broad – there was already a strong case for resting Anderson with a view to the day-night match coming up, and Archer’s injury strengthens it.
Olly Stone – the replacement for Jofra Archer. The other options, Sam Curran and Chris Woakes both handle a bat better, but are unlikely to pose any threat with the ball on a Chennai pitch, so I opt to retain some genuine out and out pace in my attack.
Jack Leach – in my view his claim on the no1 spinners spot is currently indisputable, and the way he bounced back from being savaged by Pant in the first innings of the first match speaks volumes for his character.
An XI with East Anglian connections in honour of John Edrich.
As I write this the Melbourne Stars are closing in on victory over the Sydney Sixers, while India enjoyed a good opening day at the MCG, dismissing Australia for 195 and reaching 36-1 in response, Shubman Gill impressing on debut with 28 not out overnight. Most of the players in the XI I present are Norfolk born, as John Edrich was, although there is one Cambridge born player and two brothers (out of three who had first class experience) who were born in Suffolk, while the captain was born in Yorkshire but played for Cambridgeshire after falling out with his native county.
EAST ANGLIAN XI
John Edrich – left handed opening batter. Almost 40,000 first class runs at an average of 45, 103 first class hundreds, a test triple century (a knock that included 52 fours and five sixes) and the highest individual score in the first ever ODI back in 1971.
Jack Hobbs – right handed opening batter, occasional medium pacer, brilliant cover fielder. The Master – 61,237 first class runs including 197 centuries. 3,636 runs including 12 centuries in Ashes matches. Born in Cambridge.
Bill Edrich – right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler. Older cousin of John Edrich and one of four brothers who all turned out at first class level. He lost six of his prime cricketing years to World War Two, in which he distinguished himself as a flying ace but still amassed 85 first class centuries.
Fuller Pilch – right handed batter, rated by contemporary observers as the best of his era (the 1830s and 40s). Also sufferer of a bizarre dismissal for the Players against the Gentlemen in 1837 – the line in the scorebook reads “hat knocked on wicket”. The Players won a very low scoring match by an innings.
Peter Parfitt – right handed batter, brilliant fielder, occasional off spinner. He once took four catches in a test innings, against Australia in 1972.
Michael Falcon – right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler. His averages are just the right way round.
+Eric Edrich – right handed batter, wicket keeper. 53 dismissals in 38 first class appearances.
*Johnny Wardle – left arm orthodox spinner, left arm wrist spinner, useful lower order batter. Born in Ardsley, just outside Barnsley in South Yorkshire. After a distinguished career for his native county and for England (102 test wickets at 20.39) he fell out with the Yorkshire authorities and ultimately played minor counties cricket for Cambridgeshire (Yorkshire in their vindictiveness ensured that no other first class county would touch him). His claim on a place is somewhat tenuous but I needed a quality spin bowler somewhere in the side, so I decided to stretch a point and include him.
Desmond Rought-Rought – right arm fast medium bowler, took his first class wickets at 28 a piece. Born at Brandon in Suffolk.
Rodney Rought-Rought – fast medium bowler, cannot ascertain which arm he used – am hoping it is left for the sake of variety. Brother of Desmond and also born at Brandon.
Olly Stone – right arm fast bowler. In this side, with the two Rought-Roughts, Falcon and Edrich able to bowl seam there would no excuse for using him in other than short spells at top pace.
ANALYSING THE XI
This team has a solid batting line up, one bowler of genuine pace, various fast-medium bowlers and one of the finest spinners of them all. It would give a good account of itself in most conditions. The Sydney Sixers somehow turned their game against the Melbourne Stars around and won by one wicket with one ball to spare, taking all four points.
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, 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.