England Test Prospects For 2022 Season

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

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

THE OPENERS

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

NUMBERS THREE AND FOUR

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

NOS FIVE AND SIX

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

THE KEEPER AND BOWLERS

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

THE FIRST CHOICE XI

In batting order:

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

THE RESERVES

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

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

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

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

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

FORECAST

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

PHOTOGRAPHS

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

A Draw in Antigua

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

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

THE PRELIMINARIES

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

ENGLAND FIRST INNINGS

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

WEST INDIES FIRST INNINGS

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

ENGLAND SECOND INNINGS

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

WEST INDIES SECOND INNINGS

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

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for my usual sign off…

The England Test Squad For The Caribbean

A look at the England squad selected for the test series in the Caribbean and some of my own photographs.

After the debacle of the Ashes in Australia (|Australia 4, the weather 1, England 0) a number of ECB management figures departed which was welcome news, although Tom Harrison remained in post. Paul Collingwood was appointed interim head coach, with Andrew Strauss taking over as director of cricket. Their first job together was to pick the party for the test tour of the Caribbean, and this post looks at their choices and includes a suggestion for the permanent head coach role.

INTRODUCING THE SQUAD

There is an article on cricinfo about the squad which I urge to read (click here), and I use their graphic to introduce the squad:

Story Image

THOUGHTS RE THE SQUAD

This is one of the worst selections I have ever seen done for England (and I have seen a lot). There are only two recognized openers, Lees (whose presence I welcome, he has built a fine record at Durham over the last few years) and Crawley (averages in the low 30s at FC level and less than that at test level, a poor selection). There is no recognized number three at all (apparently Root, one the best number fours England have ever had, is going bat there, a quite awful call by Strauss/Collingwood). Pope and Lawrence are fine middle order players though neither have done anything great at test level as yet. Stokes of course is a great player. Bairstow does not have a great test record, but he did score a century in the only game in Australia in which England were not utterly destroyed (with the assistance of some weather interventions they hung on for a draw nine down in the second innings). Foakes is one of three selections I am genuinely pleased about (I welcome the inclusion of Parkinson the leg spinner in a full squad for the first time, and Jack Leach has been mishandled but is still the best current English spinner). While I understand the thinking behind the inclusion of Woakes – his all round skills theoretically give England more options – but in practice outside England his bowling is insignificant, which means that what you actually have is an averagely good lower middle order batter. Craig Overton is good cricketer, but unlikely to pose much of a threat with the ball in the Caribbean. Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson and Saqib Mahmood are all fine bowlers and I welcome the inclusion of Mahmood, not quite out and out fast, but quicker than most English seamers. Matthew Fisher has played 21 FC matches for Yorkshire, in which he has taken 63 wickets at 27.52, a respectable but not outstanding record, and he is yet another of the right arm fast medium brigade with which English cricket is overstocked. Neither James Anderson nor Stuart Broad have been included in the party. Defenders of this move are arguing that this tour is being used for experimentation and that we already know what Anderson and Broad are capable of. To this I say: pshaw – England should by now have learnt that they are not strong enough as a test side to take any opposition lightly, especially away from home, and first and foremost their target should be win the current series.

Other than the two veterans (Anderson especially, who at 39 continues to be majestic with the ball) the players I feel have been worst treated in this shambles are Abell, Bohannon and Bracey, three recognized number threes with good recent records, any one of whom could have been included in this party to fill that slot. I also feel that Crawley is very fortunate to be persisted with – a recall for Sibley, or elevation for any one of Libby, Haines or Yates would have looked a better move.

I conclude this section by congratulating West Indies in advance for the series win they have just been handed by the England selectors.

THE HEAD COACH ROLE GOING FORWARD

As far as I am concerned Collingwood by his role in this utter shambles of a selection process has just ruled himself straight out of the permanent role as head coach. The right person for head coach of the test side for me is Gary Kirsten, who should have had the job when it was given to Silverwood instead. Kirsten wants split coaching roles, so that the ODI and T20 sides have a head coach of their own. I am happy to go along with this, and I suggest that the head coach of these sides should be Charlotte Edwards who after an awesome playing career has gone on to build up an excellent coaching record.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for my usual sign off…

England Floundering

A look at goings on in the Ashes series so far, a brief glimpse ahead to the rest of it and then a longer look at an (IMO) much needed potential Great Reset of English Cricket. Also some photographs.

This post looks at England’s start to the 2021-22 Ashes series and at what might be done going forward.

THE GABBA

After a rain ruined build up England won the toss and chose to bat. The chosen XI was Burns, Hameed, Malan, *Root, Stokes, Pope, +Buttler, Woakes, Robinson, Wood, Leach. Batting first was the right call, and the XI looked well chosen though it was surprising that neither of the veterans Anderson or Broad got picked (inserting the opposition at the Gabba has a shocking history). Unfortunately, the tone was set for England by Rory Burns who shuffled across his crease to the first ball of the series and made a leg stump half volley look like a swinging yorker – bowled for a duck, England 0-1 one ball into the series. Although Pope, Buttler and Woakes all showed some fight, England never looked like posting a big enough total, and were all out for 147. Robinson, Woakes and Wood all bowled decently, Leach was rusty after playing little recent cricket and took heavy punishment, Stokes was not fully fit and did little. Warner and Labuschagne both batted well but were overshadowed by Travis Head whose place in the XI had been questioned in some quarters. Australia’s number five scored an amazing 152, getting his team to a final total of 425, a lead on first innings of 278. England then had their best period of the series to date, ending day three on 220-2 with Malan and Root in the 80s. Unfortunately both batters fell right at the start of day four, and thereafter the innings was a procession, and England in the end mustered only 297, leaving Australia 20 to win. They lost one wicket just before getting there, which enabled Labuschagne to become the first non-opener to be 0* (0) in a test match – on every previous occasion this happened the target had been one and had come off one ball.

ADELAIDE

Adelaide is one of the most beautiful of all cricket venues, set amidst the city’s northern parklands and with St Peter’s Cathedral part of the backdrop, along with the river Torrens. It is also known for being a batters paradise, and if the ball does anything there it turns. Australia had lost Hazlewood to injury and Cummins because he was identified as a close contact of a covid-positive after eating at a restaurant the night before the game. Steve Smith of sandpaper infamy was thus elevated to the captaincy, while Michael Neser and Jhye Richardson filled the vacant fast bowling slots. England, in defiance of logic, common sense and Adelaide history went in without a specialist spinner and with four right arm fast medium bowlers backed up by Stokes.

Australia won the toss and decided to bat (in view of their circumstances and the nature of the Adelaide pitch a decision to bowl would have made Ponting’s insertion of England at Edgbaston in 2005 look like a stroke of genius!). England bowled accurately, but were consistently half a yard or so too short to be maximally effective with the result that the ball went past the edge of the bat many times but the batters had little real trouble. Additionally, one of the few genuine chances created by England was squandered when Buttler dropped an absolute sitter offered by Labuschagne. Australia ended the opening day on 221-2 from 89 overs (England’s over rate, which had already cost them their match fees at Brisbane was once again an utter disgrace). Ominously skipper and part time off spinner Joe Root got a few balls to turn when he bowled a spell on this opening day.

In the early part of the second day (today) England fared reasonably well, and the fifth Aussie wicket fell at 331. However, Steve Smith was still at the crease, and wicket keeper Alex Carey proceeded to score a 50. Michael Neser on debut at no8 scored a rapid 35, Smith fell just short of a century (93, trapped LBW by one from Anderson that kept low). Mitchell Starc and Jhye Richardson then shared a brisk, carefree partnership for the ninth wicket, before Richardson snicked one from Woakes and was caught behind. Woakes had shown the problem with selecting him overseas because “we want a number eight who can score runs”, namely that he is ineffective overseas in his main role: bowling – before being gifted that wicket which triggered a declaration at 473-9 Woakes had conceded 100 runs without ever posing a threat.

Before a thunderstorm brought an early close to proceedings England lost both openers, Burns to Starc and Hameed to the debutant Neser (the bowler’s second delivery in test cricket). Malan and Root were in occupation, with England 17-2.

Australia are 18 wickets away from going 2-0 up in the series, and in very little danger of being beaten whatever happens in the next three days.

LOOKING AHEAD 1: THE REST OF THE SERIES

England are in deep trouble and have boxed themselves into a corner by sending home the Lions players en bloc, including Bracey who had just scored a battling hundred in the Lions last innings and Foakes, England’s best keeper. They have also left themselves little choice but to persist with Burns and Hameed since the only back up opener they have averages 11 in tests in 2021, 18.80 outside his one big innings at that level overall. They cannot go without a spinner again, and I also think they need to pick Wood for the rest of the series so that they have some genuine pace available. For the MCG I would select: Burns, Hameed, Malan, *Root, Stokes, Pope, +Buttler, Robinson, Wood, Leach, Anderson. At the SCG I might rotate Broad in for Anderson. The final match will be played at Bellerive Oval, Tasmania and much remains to be seen before thinking about that one.

LOOKING AHEAD 2: TIME FOR THE GREAT RESET

Before any of the suggestions I am about to make can be acted on one thing has to happen: Chris Silverwood, an unmitigated failure as England head coach, has to be given his P45.

Of the batters I would retain only Root and Stokes from the current squad. The bowling situation looks better, but although I advocate for him to be given this series I believe that like Bess and Ali before him Jack Leach has had his confidence ruined by the hamfisted way in which he has been managed and going forward would look to the younger spinners.

  1. Openers: unless Burns and Hameed go really well in what is left of this series I would want two new openers, and I see five who merit consideration for that role: Hasan Azad, Sam Evans, Tom Haines, Jake Libby and Rob Yates.
  2. Number three: Tom Abell, with Bracey in reserve. I would also be strongly inclined to name Abell as captain right from the start – Root is not a good captain, while his batting is indispensable.
  3. Nos 5,6,7: Stokes will occupy one of these slots, Ben Foakes will be at six and keeping wicket (he averages 38 to Buttler’s 31 in FC cricket and is a far better keeper). Ollie Pope will usually be the third of this trio, either batting down at seven or up at five, with Stokes in the slot he doesn’t get (I want Foakes at six to reduce the chances of him having to bat exclusively with the bowlers).
  4. The fast bowlers: Woakes in England remains in contention (I kept an open mind about him succeeding overseas, knowing him to be much improved of late, but his bowling has been toothless so far this tour). I want at least one of Archer, Stone and Wood in the side, fitness permitting. If none of these three are available then Brydon Carse or Saqib Mahmood (the latter is not express, but he is quicker than the common run of English seamers) would be considered. Henceforth only one of the two uber veterans can ever be in the side at a time. Robinson has earned his spurs and would be part of the squad and most likely the final XI.
  5. The spinners: I would establish a spinner’s camp, the first members of which would be Matt Parkinson, Jack Carson, Amar Virdi, Dan Moriarty and Liam Patterson-White (the last named is almost good enough with the bat to be classed as an all rounder, and would combine well with any of the first three should two spinners be warranted. England’s handling of spinners has been shocking in recent years, and needs to change.

A new look England to front up against the next test match opposition, the West Indies might have an XI of: Haines, Yates, *Abell, Root, Pope, +Foakes, Stokes, Robinson, Archer/Stone/Wood, Anderson and Parkinson, or if feeling bolder still, select two of the expresses to go with Robinson and Parkinson (assuming they are fit).

Making such huge changes is high risk, but persisting with the current non-working test set up means accepting the certainty of further failure in the premier format of the game. I prefer letting the dice fly to resignation.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

A Look Back at The Oval and Forward to Old Trafford

A look back at the test match that concluded yesterday at The Oval and a look forward to Old Trafford.

This post looks back at the test match at The Oval that finished yesterday afternoon with India winning by 157 runs and guaranteeing themselves at least a share of the series and forward to the final match at Old Trafford.

A GREAT TURNAROUND

England won the toss and put India into bat. At first all seemed well, with India soon 127-7, but a fifty of record equalling rapidity from Shardul Thakur boosted India to 191. England’s first innings followed an all too familiar pattern: various players got starts but with the exceptions of Pope (81) and Woakes (50) no one went on to a significant score and England’s advantage was 99, much less than it should have been. On days three and four, under cloudless skies and on a pitch with no devil in it England were toothless. Most of the bowlers were at least reasonably economical, with the sore thumb like exception of Moeen Ali who leaked runs at 4.5 an over. England needed a spinner to bowl a long economical spell and enable the quicker bowlers to be properly rested and got 26-0-118-2, with one of the wickets definitely given away and the other a decent dismissal. With Rohit Sharma scoring a ton, Pujara a fifty and Thakur his second fifty of the match India reached 466, leaving England needing to score 368 which had they done it would have been their largest ever successful run chase, and over 100 more than their previous best such effort at The Oval, 263-9 in “Jessop’s Match” of 1902. Burns and Hameed batted through the closing stages of the fourth day with no alarms, closing on 77-0, with the ask down to 291. On the fifth morning this pair completed their second century stand in three innings as an opening pair. Both fell in quick succession after reaching 50s, but England were still only two down at lunch time. The first hour after lunch settled the destiny of the match. Bumrah bowled a magnificent spell and was brilliantly supported by left arm spinner Jadeja. Bumrah’s post lunch spell read 6-3-6-2. One of those wickets was Bairstow, cleaned up for a duck with a yorker that a fast bowler of an earlier era would have described as “wasted on thee” as it was a far better ball than would actually be required to pierce Bairstow’s “defences” early in an innings. Moeen Ali also collected a duck. His dismissal made it 147-6, and it was a question of when the final wicket would fall. England’s lower order resisted gallantly, but they were all out for 210 not long after tea and India had won by 157 runs.

All credit to India for a magnificent comeback and in the end a thoroughly convincing win. England have several problems, two of which the naming of the squad for Old Trafford addresses.

LOOKING AHEAD TO OLD TRAFFORD

England have named a squad of 16 from which the XI at Old Trafford will be picked. They have made two good calls – Buttler has made himself available and is included, and Leach has been recalled to the squad as well. Unfortunately Ali and Bairstow are both still in the squad, and Malan seemingly retains his no three slot.

The best available XI from the named squad in my opinion is: Burns, Hameed, Malan, *Root, Pope, +Buttler, Woakes, S Curran, Overton, Wood and Leach (Anderson is not in the squad, and Robinson is running on fumes and with a drawn series the best England can do should be rested.

To my mind two big mistakes have been made with the naming of this squad. Tom Abell should come in at number three (Malan is in his middle thirties and has a very moderate test record), and Matt Parkinson should be given his debut in front of a home crowd. I would also not have bothered including Ali or Bairstow in the squad as neither deserve to play. My chosen XI would thus have been Burns, Hameed, Abell, *Root, Pope, +Buttler, Woakes, Overton, Wood, Leach and Parkinson, reckoning that on a spin friendly ground Woakes, Overton and Wood plus a few overs of Abell’s medium pace would be enough seam options.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Looking Ahead to Australia

Some ideas for the Ashes tour, a couple of links and some photographs.

This post is prompted by the recent behaviour of Engkand’s test selectors, and my increasing certainty that big changes are needed.

INJURIES AND REJECTS

Various players are hors de combat with injuries or due to other issues. Archer and Stone both have long term injuries that will keep them out of the Ashes, Broad is also injured and may not be able to play the Ashes, Stokes and Buttler have to be treated as not available for the Ashes given that Stokes has already said he is taking time out and Buttler does not want to be away for months on end with his wife about to have their second child. Also I do not believe that any of Ali, Bairstow, Crawley or Malan should be considered for this most demanding of all tours. The last of these four may yet convince me, having just been drafted into the squad, but at the moment that decision just looks like the latest in a series of regressive, backward looking calls the selectors have made recently.

THE CAPTAINCY

I think that Root needs to be relieved of the captaincy, and would at this point give the job to Rory Burns as a temporary measure, hoping that Tom Abell (my choice for number three and Somerset’s current captain) can establish himself at test level and then be given the captaincy.

THE BATTING

This of course is the biggest area of concern for England at present. With Sibley out of form and confidence I see little alternative to Burns and Hameed as openers, Abell would be my choice at three, and Root at four. Number five for me is between Lawrence and Pope, with my preference for the first named. I would give the gloves to Foakes with Buttler not available, with Bracey in the squad as reserve keeper. Foakes would bat six, putting an extra batter between him and the tail. At number seven I would want Chris Woakes in the all rounders role in most conditions. Bracey is cover not only for the keepers gloves but also the number three slot. On my radar as reserve batters are Liam Livingstone, Harry Brook, Jordan Cox, Matt Critchley and, as a gamble on a youngster who seems to have the right temperament, Lewis Goldsworthy. Critchley might be selected at seven in place of Woakes if a second spin option looks like being useful (he bowls a bit of leg spin).

THE BOWLING

Of the bowlers I am prepared to consider available (Wood is injured and there is no way of knowing how long he is out for, so although I am not absolutely ruling him out as I have some others I am for the moment placing him on the sidelines) my first choices are: Overton, Robinson, Leach and Anderson (I want at least one genuine spinner and Leach is first choice in that department). I hope Mark Wood will be recovered in time to make the trip. Other seam back up could be provided by Saqib Mahmood, George Garton or Sam Curran (he has looked fairly unthreatening with the ball of late which is why I have him well down the pecking order). The spin situation, partly dictated by the fact that English off spinners have only rarely done well in Australia, is less happy looking. Although it would be unlikely that he and Leach would be picked in the same XI the next nearest thing England have to a spinner in Leach’s class is Matt Parkinson, the Lancashire leg spinner who currently has 86 FC wickets at 23.69, though his wickets per game rate is on the low side at just a tick over three. Direct back up for Leach is not really available unless one gambles on four first class appearances telling a true story and name Dan Moriarty in the party. However, Liam Patterson-White has a respectable record, and can bat, which would give England two ways of selecting two spinners of differing methods without both being bunnies with the bat – Either Critchley at seven and Leach at 10, or a 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 of Woakes, Patterson-White, Robinson, Anderson, Parkinson.

WRAPPING IT UP

Until and unless they get tried there is no way of knowing whether the above ideas will work, but the selectors continuing with their current approach has one likely result in terms of The Ashes: 5-0 to Australia.

LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS

TFL have recently produced a piece titled ‘Sightseeing on the Northern Line‘, an effort which missed more than it found and prompted me to produce my own version.

Now it is time for my usual sign off…

Picking an England XI for the First Test Match v India

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

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

THE TOP THREE

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

THE MIDDLE ORDER

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

THE BOWLERS

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

THE XI IN BATTING ORDER

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

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

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Two Great Test Matches

A look back at two great cricketing occasions – the women’s test between England and India and the World Test Championship final between India and New Zealand.

Now that I have finished my series about my Scottish holiday (all posts therein can be accessed from here) it is time to tackle other things. In this post I look back two great cricket matches which overlapped (poor organization there). I start with:

ENGLAND WOMEN V
INDIA WOMEN

This test match, the first women’s test match in two years and the first involving India Women for seven years was played between the 16th and 19th of June at Bristol. Not only do the women play very little test cricket, their domestic structure does not include long form cricket.

England were 269-6 at the close of the first day, having at one point been 230-2. Heather Knight, the captain, scored 95, Tammy Beaumont 66 and Nat Sciver 42. In occupation overnight were debutant Sophia Dunkley and veteran Katherine Brunt. Brunt fell early on the second morning to make ti 270-7 but Dunkley found excellent partners in Sophie Ecclestone who helped the eighth wicket to add 56 and then Anya Shrubsole who scored a blazing 47 as a further 70 accrued for the ninth wicket. At Shrubsole’s dismissal the score was 396-9 and Knight declared, leaving Dunkley with a debut innings of 74 not out to look back on. Sneh Rana, an off spinner, had 4-131 from 39.2 overs for India.

Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma gave the Indian first innings a magnificent start, putting on 167 before Verma, at the age 17, was out for 96 just missing a debut century. Some good bowling by England in the closing stages of the second day and an odd decision by skipper Mithali Raj to send in a nightwatcher with quite a lot of time left in the day (both the nightwatcher, Shikha Pandey, and Raj herself, obliged to go in anyway, fell in the closing stages) put India in trouble, a situation that got rapidly worse at the start of day three as more quick wickets fell. At one stage the score read 197-8, meaning that eight wickets had fallen for 30 runs. The ninth wicket provided some resistance and forced the taking of the second new ball. It took an absolute beauty from Katherine Brunt to break the stand, and no11 Jhulan Goswami got another good ball, this time from Anya Shrubsole, to end the innings at 231, meaning that, this being a four match, England were able to enforce the follow-on, which they quite correctly did. Ecclestone had taken 4-88 with her left arm spin.

Mandhana fell cheaply at the start of the Indian second innings, but Deepti Sharma, an off spinning all rounder who had batted well in the first Indian innings (she it was who orchestrated the tail end resistance), was promoted to no3 second time round, and by the end of day three she and Verma were still in occupation, with the score 83-1. After 16 runs had been added on the third morning Verma’s wonderful debut finally ended as she fell for 63, giving her 159 runs in the match. Just before lunch Deepti Sharma after the longest innings of her life finally fell for 54, making it 171-3, and the innings defeat avoided. The question now was could India hold out long enough to prevent England from being able to chase the runs down. Punam Raut dropped anchor at one end, but at the other Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur and Pooja Vastrakar all came and went fairly cheaply, with Raut being dismissed in between Kaur and Vastrakar. When Vastrakar fell India were 199-7, still only 34 to the good. Shikha Pandey joined Sneh Rana, and they put on 41, but even at that stage England seemed likely to win. However, Taniya Bhatia, the Indian wicket keeper, now joined Rana and they staunchly resisted everything England could produce. Rana was on 80 not out and might have had half an eye on a century and Bhatia 44 not out and definitely eyeing up a fifty, with the stand worth an unbeaten 104, only three short of the all time ninth wicket record in women’s test cricket when the umpires intervened, deciding it was too dark to continue (given how few overs were left, the draw had long since been certain). Ecclestone had again taken four wickets, although she also took some punishment as she tired in the closing stages, finishing with 4-118 this time. Shafali Verma’s two great innings on debut earned her player of the match, although Sneh Rana, and on the England side Knight (95 and wickets in both innings as well as being captain) and Ecclestone might also have been considered.

Both sides played well, and India showed tremendous fighting spirit to secure the draw the way they did at the end. A full scorecard can be viewed here.

WTC FINAL: NZ V IND

The inaugural World Test Championship had ended with India and New Zealand at the top, so these two teams convened at Southampton for the final. Six days were allotted, although the sixth would only come into play if weather interruptions necessitated it. In the end such was the weather between 18 and 23 June that even a sixth day was only just sufficient.

The first day was entirely washed out, and on day two New Zealand decided to go in without any spin options, picking three specialist pacers in Boult, Wagner and Southee plus a fast bowling all rounder in Jamieson and also at no7 Colin de Grandhomme who bowls medium pace. When they won the toss it was almost inevitable that they would choose to bowl with that team, and they duly did so. The truncated second day ended with India 146-3 and seemingly somewhat ahead of the game. New Zealand bowled fantastically on the third morning to reduce India to 217 all out, and by the close of the third day they were 101-2 in response, the second wicket having fallen just before the close. The fourth day, like the first, saw no play at all. Fortunately the fifth day dawned bright and clear. When NZ were 135-5, India looked to have wrested the initiative back, but the last five kiwi wickets put on a further 114 to give them a first innings lead of 32. India batted poorly in their second innings, with a number of poor dismissals. Rishabh Pant top scored with 41, as they managed a mere 170, leaving NZ just 139 to win. R Ashwin accounted for both openers with his off spin but there was to be no further success for India as Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor saw their side home, with Williamson racking up only the second individual 50+ score of the match in the process, giving him a match aggregate of 101 for once out (49 and 52 not out, the second and third highest scores of the match behind Devon Conway’s first innings 54). Kyle Jamieson with match figures of 7-61 from 46 overs, the most economical by a pace bowler in a test in England since Joel Garner in 1980, and a crucial 20 in his only innings was named Player of the Match. New Zealand thoroughly deserved their victory. While all of the kiwis bowled well, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah were both below their best for India, Ashwin was not helped by the conditions, though he put in a fine effort and Jadeja as a bowler was a virtual passenger on that pitch and in those conditions.

I like the concept of the WTC but I think the following changes are necessary for it to work:

  1. Every team to play the same number of matches in each cycle.
  2. All series to count towards the WTC (immediately before the final England and New Zealand played a non-WTC series, which New Zealand won and won well).
  3. All 12 test playing nations to be involved.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

England’s Number Three Slot

A look at the England number three position where for once there are a number of good options, the reverse of the usual situation through my time following the team.

In this post I deal with a topic well known to all who have followed the England men’s cricket team for any length of time: who will bat at number three going forward? However, this is time the question is apposite for the reverse of the usual reason.

ENGLAND’S NUMBER THREE

The number three position has traditionally been a very tough one for England to fill. In the 1960s it was usually either Dexter at three and Barrington at four or vice versa, but since then it has been an almost continual problem. David Steele did well there in 1975-6, Chris Tavare did what was asked of him in the early 1980s – namely give the order something in the way of backbone, David Gower had one superb series there against Australia in 1985, Michael Vaughan made the position his own in the early 2000s, and a decade later Jonathan Trott was as good a number three as England have had in my lifetime. More recently we have seen Joe Denly there playing a holding role to ensure that the opposition bowlers were not instantly into England’s middle order, and this winter in India with Burns recently returned from a layoff we saw Jonathan Bairstow batting there and failing horribly. Suddenly however there appear to be a wealth of options.

NUMBER THREE PRESENT AND FUTURE

The current incumbent is Zak Crawley, who will bat there against New Zealand behind the opening pair of Burns and Sibley. Crawley scored 267 from no three against Pakistan last summer, but has done little since with Lasith Embuldeniya having his number in the Sri Lanka series, and save for one fifty India giving him a thoroughly miserable time. If Crawley does not produce significant runs against NZ then his place is definitely in jeopardy. There are at least three players who are in the running for his slot by dint of batting superbly there for their counties:

  • Tom Abell: The Somerset captain was placed at number three with two other Toms, Banton and Lammonby, opening at the start of this season. Banton has already been dropped from opening though did subsequently feature as keeper in one match. Lammonby has played one decent innings this season, and his strong start in first class cricket (459 runs at 51.00 in his first six matches) has been badly tarnished. He is young enough to bounce back, but currently an England call up looks a long way away. Abell at number three, and often with the innings beginning to disintegrate around him has scored over 500 runs this season at an average of better than 60 and is looking every inch an England number three in waiting.
  • James Bracey: The Gloucestershire batter and occasional wicket keeper was on the fringes of the England squad last season, spending a lot of time in bio-secure bubbles as a reserve. He has continued to impress from number three this season and has been named in the squad for the New Zealand series.
  • Nick Gubbins: The gritty Middlesex batter has had a superb season batting at three, and his masterly 124 on the final day of the last match against Surrey turned a situation in which Middlesex were hoping to avoid defeat and fearing the worst into one in which Middlesex had a definite sniff of victory before the rain made its final intervention, rendering the chase just too steep.

Of the three named, Abell and Bracey (already in the squad) are both in with a strong chance of being selected. Gubbins is an outside shot, but there seems little doubt that given the opportunity he could do a solid job for England.

SOLUTION TO A TEASER

In my last post I included the following teaser, adapted from brilliant.org:

This post looks at such play as there has been in the latest round of championship fixtures, which have been heavily affected by the weather – there have been bands of rain sweeping across Britain, coming in from the west although by some freak my corner of northwest Norfolk has largely escaped, with only Friday being really wet.

THE EARLY GAME

Hampshire v Leciestershire was supposed to run from Wednesday to Saturday. In fact only a tiny amount of cricket was possible. Hampshire scored 233 in the first innings, bowled Leicestershire out for 84, and forfeited their second innings, leaving Leicestershire 22 overs to score 150 to win. Leicestershire made no serious effort to take on this chase on the game was drawn.

AROUND THE GROUNDS

A number of games have been so badly hammered by the weather that there is no real chance of a result. Kent v Glamorgan and Northamptonshire v Lancashire have already been confirmed as draws, though the former saw an amazing performance from Darren Stevens. Kent at low water mark were 93-7 in their first innings, but ended up tallying 307. Stevens, at the age of 45 scored 190, with 15 sixes and 15 fours. He shared a ninth wicket stand of 166 with Miguel Cummins, whose share of that partnership was one not out. Stevens then added the wicket of Marnus Labuschagne to his share of the spoils. Nottinghamshire v Worcestershire, Durham v Derbyshire and Essex v Warwickshire are all headed the same way, and it will take miracles for any of those games to yield definite results. Gloucestershire v Somerset is likely to be a draw as well, but the way Gloucestershire are collapsing means that it is not dead yet – Somerset scored 300-8 declared, with Tom Abell scoring his first century of the season (overall he now has over 500 runs at an average of more than 60 for the season), and Gloucestershire are 27-6 in reply. That leaves the London derby, in which the Surrey openers, Burns and Stoneman have been utterly dominant – they put on 135 in each innings, equalling the highest ever identical opening stands in FC history, a record set in 1979 by Kepler Wessels and John Barclay of Sussex. Surrey declared just before lunch today at 259-2, setting Middlesex 290 (full scores, Surrey 190 and 259-2 dec, Middlesex 160 and 28-1). Burns completed his first century of the season.

A POTENTIAL ENGLAND NO3

Somerset started this season with a plan for their top order – three guys all answering to Tom, Lammonby, Banton and Abell at 1,2 and 3. Banton has already fallen by the wayside, his career as a first class opener over almost before it began. Lammonby has managed one good score all season, and his dismissal in the game currently in progress, run out going for one that was never there, was the product of a scrambled mind. The one to prosper has been Tom Abell who is handling batting at no3 like one born to perform that task. Crawley remains the man in possession for England, but if he does not score runs against NZ then England may decide that change is needed, and Abell would surely be the logical person to turn to in that case: he is just entering the prime years of a cricketer’s career, he is batting superbly at no3 and several of his best scores have come in very testing situations, all of which give him the appearance of a test no3 in waiting.

A MATHEMATICAL TEASER

This problem comes from brilliant.org, but I have added a bonus element as well as slightly tweaking the setting:

A brief note on ‘concatenation’: in a mathematical context it is represented by an equals sign flipped through 90 degrees and it means that the two digits between which it appears are joined to form a single number.

Additional ‘bonus’ question: Once you have worked out the answer to the main problem, if one of the two sums cannot be solved under the given conditions what extra operations would need to be permitted to make it solvable? Full explanation in my next blog post.

The first part is quite easy: problem A is resolved simply by using the concatenation symbol to turn the 1 and 2 into 12 and adding the three to get 15. Problem B cannot be resolved (the biggest number you can get without concatenation is 7 (3 x 2 +1 = 6+1 = 7) and the only numbers you can generate by concatenating are 321 (all numbers used, obviously hopeless), 32 which leaves with with one which enables you to finish with either 31, 32 or 33 and 21, which leaves the three, which appears at the beginning. The only integers you can generate with the three and the 21 this way round are 24 or -18.

For the second part you need to allow a minimum of three more operators: square roots and floor or ceiling functions (you only need the latter, but the two operations come as a package). The floor and ceiling functions are respectively the nearest integer below an actual answer and the nearest integer above an actual answer. With these you can concatenate the two and the one to form 21, the square root of 21 is approximately 4.58, the ceiling function of which is 5, and you have the three unused to multiply and make 15.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Thoughts On England Squad to Face New Zealand

A look at the England squad for the New Zealand series and possible XIs from it.

This post is mainly devoted to looking at England’s squad to face New Zealand in the upcoming test series, but I have one thing to do first:

LYNN NEWS CHARITY
OF THE YEAR 2021

The votes for this have been counted and the result is in, and NAS West Norfolk, of which I am branch secretary are the winners!

THE ENGLAND SQUAD

Here, courtesy of cricinfo.com (read their article by clicking here) is the squad:

Story Image

The above contains few surprises and little in the way of controversy. England have left themselves with no genuine all rounder (Craig Overton comes closest, but although he is an effective lower middle order batter for his county I do not see him as a serious contender for a slot above no8 in an England batting order) and with only one spin option, Jack Leach. I am not surprised that they did not feel the need to name two specialist spinners, but would have liked to see Critchley included as a possibility for a no7 batter/ fill in bowler role. In view of the decision to not call on anyone who had played IPL the lack of a genuine all rounder is not surprising, but there could have been little harm in considering the merits of Ryan Higgins. It is now time to look at…

CHOOSING AN XI

There are three basic variations here: gamble on a slightly substandard batting line up to ensure the presence of five genuine bowling options (Overton bats seven), rely on four bowling options including Leach, or, a different form of gamble to our first option, rely on four seamers as the only bowling options. The XIs could look as follows:

  1. The five bowler combo: Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Pope, +Foakes, Overton, Robinson, Stone, Leach, Anderson.
  2. A balanced bowling quartet: Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Pope, +Foakes, Lawrence, Robinson, Stone, Leach, Anderson
  3. An all seam bowling quartet aiming at maximising batting strength: Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Pope, +Foakes, Lawrence, Overton, Robinson, Stone, Anderson…
    3a) An all seam bowling quartet: Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Pope, +Foakes, Lawrence, Robinson, Stone, Broad, Anderson…
    3b) An all seam bowling quartet including two genuine speedsters: Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Pope, +Foakes, Lawrence, Overton, Stone, Wood, Anderson.

Myself given that even without ace left armer Trent Boult being available for them NZ will feature a formidable bowling unit I consider playing Overton at seven to be very high risk and would not recommend it. I am also not entirely comfortable with an all seam attack (if the proverbial gun to the head proposition forced to me to go this route I would opt for combination 3b above, with Robinson maybe playing ahead of Overton), so my first choice combo would be no2. Please note that in the 7/4 combos I have Foakes at six and Lawrence at seven because I want someone between Foakes and the bowlers and because I believe Lawrence is better suited to producing the kind of controlled aggression often needed when batting with the tail.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…