India’s Day In Ahmedabad

A look at the events in day 1 of the fourth and final test of the India v England series.

The fourth and final test of the India v England series started at 4:00AM this morning UK time, at Ahmedabad. This post looks at a day that may very well have booked India their place at Lord’s for the World Test Championship Final.

THE PRELIMINARIES

England sprang a major surprise by naming what amounted to eight batters and three bowlers: Sibley, Crawley, Bairstow, *Root, Stokes, Pope, Lawrence, +Foakes, Bess, Leach and Anderson. I do not believe that Bairstow has a place in test squad, let alone the XI, and relying on three frontline bowlers plus bits and pieces is a massive gamble. Australia tried this strategy at The Oval in 1938 and were on the wrong end of what remains the worst defeat in test history, the margin an innings and 579 runs (England 903-7 declared, Australia 201 and 123, with two batters, Fingleton and Bradman injured during the long England innings and unable to bat). India meanwhile made only one change, Mohammad Siraj coming in for Jasprit Bumrah. England had selected themselves a team that meant they virtually had to win the toss to have a chance. They did so and chose, correctly, to bat first…

THE PLAY

It is never the case that winning the toss means winning the match – you have to make the right decision which England did, and you have to play good cricket, and that is where England slipped up. There was early life for the pacers, but it was the arrival in the attack of Axar Patel, left arm orthodox spin, which started England on their downward spiral. Sibley, obviously spooked by events of the previous two tests, was so anxious to cover possible turn that he was not in the right position to play one that went straight on, and his stumps were rattled. Crawley having hit one four early in an over attacked again a couple of balls later and holed out on this latter occasion. Root got a good ball from Siraj and was trapped LBW and that was 30-3. For a time Bairstow and Stokes went well, but then Bairstow got in a mess against Siraj and was LBW for 28 (he had enjoyed some good fortune along the way too, including a boundary from a shot that had there been a second slip would have been catching practice for them). Pope dug in in support of Stokes, but just after completing a fine 50 Stokes lost a bit of concentration and allowed a ball from Sundar to cannon into his pads. Lawrence then joined Pope and they seemed to be recovering things once again before Pope was unluckily dismissed when he played a ball into his pad from whence it looped up to forward short leg. Foakes was out cheaply. Then, just as a 50 seemed on for him, Lawrence departed for 46, and almost immediately Bess followed to make it 189-9. Leach and Anderson at least saved England the embarrassment of a sixth successive sub-200 total, pushing the score up to 205 before the end came. Patel, who currently has the best bowling average of anyone to take over 20 test wickets (he is on about 10.5 per wicket, with Lohmann, a 19th century great who took 112 wickets in 18 test matches, on 10.75), had 4-68, while there were three scalps for Ashwin and two for Siraj.

Anderson got Gill in the first over of the reply, but that was the limit of England’s success for the day, Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara reaching the close with their side 24-1, 181 adrift. England bowled far better than they had batted but remain well behind the eight ball. This was the best cricket pitch of the series by some way, with players of all types firmly in the game and although one should not generally make judgements until both sides have batted once the instinctive feeling, with few balls doing anything mischievous, is that England fell in the region of 100 short of a decent total. Axar Patel now has 22 wickets in five test innings.

I would say that the ordering of results by likelihood after this day of play is as follows: India Win – defo odds on, England win – substantial odds against but not absolutely out of the question, Tie – now only the third least likely of the four results, though as always long odds against, Draw – not happening.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Cricket and Controversy: Day 1 in Ahmedabad

An account of day 1 in Ahmedabad and some related matters. Plus a few photographs.

This post looks at day 1 of the day-night match in Ahmedabad and at certain issues relating to that day’s play. As a disclaimer before moving into the main meat of the post I wish to make it clear that I India are in the driving seat firstly and mainly because they have played far superior cricket. That does not mean that certain complaints about luck, the pitch and some of the umpiring are invalid.

ENGLAND PAY FOR OVERLONG TAIL

England’s selection for this match showed four changes from the second test of the series in Chennai, with Crawley, Bairstow, Archer and Anderson replacing Burns, Lawrence, Ali and Stone. This resulted in an XI of: Sibley, Crawley, Bairstow, *Root, Stokes, Pope, Foakes, Archer, Leach, Broad and Anderson. My own pre-match feelings were that this was a high risk selection, with such a long tail, and with the selection of three specialist pace bowlers. Ali was not available for selection, and it was always unlikely that Bess would be recalled, which with the refusal to promote either of Parkinson or Virdi from the reserves dictated that only one spinner would play. I would have retained Burns and Lawrence, moving Lawrence back down the order and away from no3, would from the 17 England had named in advance have gone with Woakes at eight, would have retained Stone after his good performance in the second test, and Leach and Anderson were virtually mandatory picks in the circumstances. India opted to strengthen their batting, bringing Washington Sundar in for Kuldeep Yadav and relying on Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma for the pace bowling, with Axar Patel and R Ashwin to bowl spin, and the latter, coming off a century in Chennai quite possibly to bat at number nine. The first news other than the selections was the toss, which England won and chose to bat.

Sibley got a good one and fell without scoring. Crawley was playing nicely, but Bairstow could not pierce the field, and the very first delivery by a spinner, Axar Patel in this case, pinned him LBW for 0, and Bairstow then burned a review, a call by him that was bad enough to warrant the label ‘Watsonian’ in honour of a certain Aussie batter of the not too distant past. For a time Root and Crawley went reasonably well, but then both got out with lunch approaching, and England were 80-4, 53 of them off the bat of Crawley. Immediately after lunch things got worse for England as Pope was dismissed to make it 81-5, and then Stokes fell cheaply as well, leaving Foakes to bat with the tail. It was 98-8 at low water mark, but Foakes, Broad and Anderson inched the score up to 112, off 48.4 overs, before Foakes was last out. Axar Patel had bowled 21.4 overs and had 6-38, following up his five in the final innings at Chennai. R Ashwin had three and also bowled superbly. England were psyched by the fact that there was turn on day 1, and a number of their wickets fell to balls which actually went straight on. Save for Crawley no England batter even managed 20.

INDIA’S RESPONSE

England did not bowl badly, although they did not have the right attack for this pitch, and they were unlucky on several occasions, and there were also two very poor pieces of work by the third umpire. First Shubman Gill edged Broad to Stokes and it was given out on field but then referred upstairs, and the third umpire overturned it very quickly indeed without due care and attention – he may have got it right but if so it was by luck not judgement, and in a test match that is not acceptable. The second incident of poor third umpiring saw Rohit Sharma reprieved for the third time in as many innings, all being controversial. Foakes executed a stumping of Leach, with to all appearances Rohit Sharma’s foot behind the crease but in the air, and it was sent upstairs and again after looking at one replay for a very short period the third umpire overturned it. I am absolutely certain that this one was a wrong call, and the failure to follow protocol even if the call by some chance had been right was unacceptable. In the event Gill’s did not cost much, as he got out not long after to Jofra Archer, being caught by Crawley, too far off the ground for even this third umpire to think of intervening. Leach got Pujara, an LBW that was so plumb that it was not sent upstairs, and just before the close Kohli who had two escapes, first when Pope just failed to pull off what would have been a miracle catch and then when the same player missed a more straightforward effort off a less than impressed Anderson, was bowled by Leach. Rohit Sharma however was still there on 57 not out, with India 99-3, a mere 13 short of matching England’s first innings. Leach currently has 2-27 from 10 overs, meaning that the combined figures of the left arm orthodox spinners on day one of a test match are 8-65 from 31.4 overs. Two days before the start of play this pitch had a respectable covering of grass, but by the day before every last blade of grass had been shaved off, and with nothing to bind it it is already breaking up, and never mind day 5, I would definitely not bet on there being a day 4 and would make it no more than even money that there will be a day 3.

WHERE NOW FOR ENGLAND?

With this test match, and with it, England’s hopes of making the World Test Championship final, effectively gone already, barring miracles, I would go experimental for the third test, promoting Virdi and Parkinson from the reserves with a view to selecting at least one and possibly both, I would rest the veterans Anderson and Broad, probably selecting Woakes and Stone as my new ball pairing if I even picked two front line pacers. Out would go Bairstow, who as regular readers of this blog know would not have been in my tour party anyway, and I would move Stokes up to three, bringing Lawrence back in the middle order. A drawn series, especially when it ushers Australia into the final of the WTC, is less appealing than looking to the future even at the risk of sustaining another defeat. England have mishandled several things in this series, but most egregious has been the Bess/ Moeen Ali situation, where because of Covid (he actually had the disease) and his need to return home to see his family between the test and limited overs legs of the tour Ali was available for just one match, and England were so eager to play this 33 year old who averages 29 with the bat and 36 with the ball that they dropped Bess in a rather insensitive fashion. Even worse, they then allowed it to become public knowledge that they had begged Moeen to change his plans and stay on for the remainder of the series. This left them either to pick Bess with his head not in the right place or, having announced 17 names from which the XI for this match would be selected, to go in with only one specialist spinner. They took the latter option, and we were treated to the sight of four bowlers of above medium pace bowling on a spinning track, as Root was not willing to swallow his pride and acknowledge that England’s chosen bowling attack was unfit for purpose by bringing himself on.

Looking further ahead, to the home season and beyond there are several things that need addressing:

  • The County Championship cannot keep being shoe horned into the worst times of the season for spinners.
  • Counties who dare to produce turning surfaces should not be punished, but rather applauded for offering a wider variety of surfaces for cricket to be played on.
  • England need to find new spinners. Other than Leach and the out of favour Bess only Parkinson and Virdi among the men are remotely close to having records that would justify elevation, which is why I recommend what I am now going to call the ‘Ecclestone Experiment’ – just see what Sophie Ecclestone, with 101 wickets at 25.90 in international cricket at the age of 21 can do playing among the men.
  • England also need to improve their batting against spin. Elizabeth Ammon, who tweets as legsidelizzy, has pointed out that England had a spin bowling camp in Sri Lanka, but no ‘batting against spin bowling camp’, and that that needs to change.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Just a few photographs today…

Sri Lanka In Control In Galle

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

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

ANDERSON AND THE REST

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

EMBULDENIYA’S BUNNIES

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

ENGLAND OPENERS

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

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

THE ‘BRANDERSON’ ISSUE

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

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off:

Rain and Records

A look at the end of the test match summer, and at the state of the Bob Willis Trophy.

INTRODUCTION

From Friday through Tuesday at those times the weather permitted England and Pakistan did battle at the Ageas bowl in the last test match of this strangest of all summers, and from Saturday through Tuesday the fourth round of the Bob Willis Trophy took place, again with considerable interference from the weather. I look back at the test match and forward to the final round of BWT fixtures.

YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE TO THE FORE

England amassed 583-8 declared in their first innings, a performance underpinned by Zak Crawley who scored 267, his first test century. The only higher scores for a maiden test ton have been Brian Lara’s 277 at Sydney, Tip Foster (287 in his first ever test innings at Sydney), Bobby Simpson’s 311 at Old Trafford and Garry Sobers’ 365 not out at Sabina Park. Among England batters only Compton (278 v Pakistan), Foster (287 v Australia), Cook (294 v India), John Edrich (310 not out v New Zealand), Andy Sandham (325 v West Indies), Graham Gooch (333 v India), Walter Hammond (336 not out v New Zealand) and Len Hutton (364 v Australia) have ever scored more in a single innings. Only Hutton has ever scored more at a younger age than Crawley, who is just 22 years old. Thereafter, in the cricket that the weather permitted the spotlight was focussed on 38 year old James Anderson, as he first took a five-for (and had three catches missed) in Pakistan’s first innings, to which skipper Azhar Ali contributed a splendid 141 not out. This put Anderson on 598 test wickets, and England enforced the follow on as they had to. By the end of day 4, as the weather played havoc with the match Pakistan were 100-2 in their second innings, with one of the wickets to Anderson moving him on to 599, and yet another catch having gone begging off his bowling. There was heavy overnight rain, and it continued to rain for most of the morning, finally stopping just after 11AM. The sodden ground then had to dry out before play could commence, but eventually, at 4:15PM, with a possible 42 overs (27 mandatory and a further 15 if a result seemed possible) to be bowled. Anderson did not break through in his first spell, and as England hurried through overs to get to the second new ball Joe Root took a wicket with his part time off spin and Dom Sibley bowled one of the filthiest overs ever seen in a test match with his even more part time leg spin. The new ball was taken, and in his third over with it James Anderson induced a nick from Azhar Ali and the ball was pouched by a waiting slip fielder, bringing him to 600 test wickets. No one who bowled above medium pace had previously reached this landmark, and of the three spinners who had got there only one, Muttiah Muralitharan had done so in fewer balls bowled. Shortly after this a well struck four brought up a remarkable statistical landmark highlighted by Andy Zaltzman on Test Match Special: 1,000,000 runs in test matches involving England. A little later the last 15 overs were called, and after one ball thereof the teams decided to accept a draw as the pitch was doing precious little, and they were all eager to get away from the biosecure bubble and back to loved ones.

At the moment there is no way of knowing when England will next be in test match action, but James Anderson has every intention of still being in action when they do, and since he is still regularly clocking 85mph even at the age of 38 (while it is not unusual for veteran bowlers to be very successful due to the smarts they have acquired from years of experience it is unusual for a bowler of that age not to have slowed down – Walsh was barely exceeding 80mph when he toured England in 2000, likewise Shaun Pollock and Glenn McGrath in their veteran years) and is statistically bowling better than he ever has I for one am not counting him out.

I would like to thank both the West Indies who visited for three test matches immediately before Pakistan came over and Pakistan for braving the uncertainties created by this pandemic and coming to play, ensuring we had some cricket. I also tender a second huge thank you to the West Indies because their women are coming over to play against our women after India and South Africa cried off. I hope that England will reciprocate as soon as possible.

ADVANTAGE SOMERSET IN THE BWT

The format of the Bob Willis Trophy, tailored to fit special circumstances, is that the 18 first class counties have been grouped into three regional conferences, meaning that five rounds of matches will be played, and then the two best group winners will fight out a five day final at Lord’s. After four rounds of matches Somerset lead the central group with 76 points, Derbyshire the north group with 71 points and Essex the south group with 70 points. Although bonus points (of which as readers of this blog will be aware I am not a huge fan) complicate the issue somewhat, basically any win in their final match will qualify Somerset, since it is next door to impossible to win a match without taking full bowling bonus points, which on its own would put Somerset on 95, meaning that Derbyshire could equal them with a maximum point win and Essex could finish on 94 with a maximum win. Somerset crushed Gloucestershire and the most recent round, dismissing them for 76 and 70. Surrey’s nightmare season went from bad to worse as they were beaten by Kent in spite of the restored Ben Foakes contributing a century and a fifty. A major role for Kent was played by Darren Stevens, an all rounder who bowls medium pace, and who remains a force to be reckoned with at county level even at the age of 44. Limited overs cricket will be the order of the day for most of the rest of this season, which will extend into October because of the hugely delayed start. The T20 blast competition gets underway tomorrow afternoon, with commentaries on all matches accessible via www.bbc.co.uk/cricket.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

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England in Control at the Ageas Bowl

A look at the extraordinary events that are unfolding at the Ageas bowl as Zak Crawley establishes himself at the highest level.

INTRODUCTION

It is now all but a 100% certainty that England will win the series against Pakistan, and what follows explains why.

DAY 1

Yesterday after messrs Curran, Foakes and Robinson were allowed to leave the bubble at the Ageas Bowl to play for their counties in the Bob Willis Trophy, leaving an England side of Burns, Sibley, Crawley, *Root, Pope, +Buttler, Woakes, Bess, Archer, Broad and Anderson (Dan Lawrence and Ben Stokes had already been released in both cases for family reasons) Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat. The morning session went England’s way as they reached Lunch on 91-2. The loss of Root for 29 and Pope for 0 in quick succession made it 127-4, and seemingly turning in Pakistan’s favour. However, Zak Crawley was playing a magnificent innings, and Buttler continued his good recent form with the bat (pity he has been so bad with the gloves). By the tea interval it was 183-4 with Crawley on the verge of a maiden test century and England were starting to look good. The evening session was brilliant for England and horrible for Pakistan. Late in the day the runs were coming very fast as the Pakistan bowling got decidedly ragged. The day ended with England 332-4, Crawley 171 not out and Buttler within sight of a century of his own.

DAY 2

There have been two disruptions for rain, but in the cricket that has been played England have fared well, with the Pakistan bowling not looking remotely threatening. The score is now 380-4, and the stand between Crawley and Buttler is an all time England fifth wicket record against anyone, and Crawley is seven runs away from becoming the youngest England player to score a test double century since David Gower against India at Edgbaston in 1979. This is Crawley’s first test century and among those who have gone big on their first venture into three figures at this level are Bill Edrich (219 at Durban in 1939), Tip Foster (287 in his first test innings at Sydney in 1903), Bobby Simpson for Australia against England at Old Trafford (311) and at the top of this particular tree Garfield St Aubrun Sobers, 365 not out for West Indies v Pakistan at Sabina Park. Crawley has just brought up the double century with a four to third man, and England are now 391-4. Crawley was picked on potential, with not a lot in the way of major first class batting achievements behind him, and had passed 50 on three previous occasions in his fledgling test career, but this innings has surely settled the number three position for some considerable time to come – it has been a supreme performance, with no definite chances given. The record score for England against Pakistan is 278 by Denis Compton at Trent Bridge in 1954, which is definitely within Crawley’s compass from here. No3 has caused England many problems since I first started following cricket, with only Michael Vaughan and Jonathan Trott really succeeding there before the emergence of Crawley who has looked like a natural at no3.

THE REST OF THE MATCH

The weather forecast is pretty good for the rest of this match, and it is very hard to see any way of England losing from here, especially given that a draw will give them the series, which means they can shut up shop if trouble threatens. The 400 has just come up, and I reckon the way things are going that Crawley and Buttler should have at least half an eye on the all-time test record with wicket stand by anyone – the 405 that Sidney George Barnes and Donald Bradman put on together against England at Sydney in 1946. For the real pessimists the highest ever first innings to lose a test match is 586 by Australia at Sydney in 1894, when England replied with 325 and then in the follow on 437 and Australia got caught on a sticky in the final innings and were all out for 166, with Bobby Peel taking six cheap wickets. My own reckoning is that with England putting up a total like this after being 127-4 Pakistan will be demoralized and that England will win comfortably. Crawley has just had a little bit of good fortune, with an attempted catch becoming a six, and his score is now 222, moving him one run ahead of his mentor Rob Key’s highest test score. Only two England batters have had a higher maiden century, Hammond with 251 at Sydney in 1928 and Tip Foster’s 287 also at Sydney in 1903. The 300 stand has just come up for the fifth wicket.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

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My England XI For The Second Test Match

My England XI for the test match that starts tomorrow – the team that should be selected though probably will not. Plus some photographs.

INTRODUCTION

I have not yet seen the official XI for the test match that starts tomorrow, and I do not expect it to be the same as mine  – I will outline the possible differences later.

THE XI VIA THE BBC WEBSITE

The BBC have an interactive piece on the cricket section of their website which you can use to pick your England team for this test match. I have done so and mine is:

XI

MORE ON MY XI

  1. Rory Burns – currently averaging 33 in his test career to date but seemingly upwardly mobile in that regard and deserves a few more games yet.
  2. Dom Sibley – his performances in South Africa were highly encouraging, and his second innings at the Ageas bowl was a solid effort, although the manner of his dismissal when in the 40s was disappointing.
  3. Zak Crawley – at the age of 22 he is very much in the ‘up and coming’ bracket, and his second innings 76 at the Ageas bowl was the best batting effort for England in the match, both in quantity and quality.
  4. *Joe Root – England need his batting, and while his captaincy is less impressive there are few appealing alternatives (see yesterday’s post). No4 is his preferred slot, Crawley likes to be high in the order (he opens for Kent), so I position them this way round.
  5. Ben Stokes – He is very much England’s x-factor player, and while his captaincy was less than impressive at the Ageas bowl he had a fine all round game as a player
  6. Ollie Pope – his emergence at test level was one of the highlights of the series in South Africa, his first class batting record is truly outstanding and while he may eventually bat higher in the order it should not be forced.
  7. +Ben Foakes – the best keeper in England at present, and he averages over 40 with the bat in the five test matches he has been allowed to play. Buttler in the long form of the game is no more than an ordinary batter and a substandard keeper – his miss at the Ageas bowl on the final day was the costliest England blunder of the match. Buttler has played 107 first class matches and averages precisely 32 with the bat, and has taken 213 catches and executed two stumpings. Foakes has played 109 first class matches, averages 38.01, and has taken 225 catches and made 23 stumpings. The likelihood therefore is that Foakes would actually score more runs than Buttler, but even if this proved not to be the case his superior keeping  would save more runs than under-performing with the bat could cost.
  8. Dom Bess – the offspinner had a good game at the Ageas bowl, including a spirited effort with the bat in the first innings and should hold his place.
  9. Jofra Archer – he had a poor time with the ball in the first innings, but bowled electrifyingly in the second.
  10. Mark Wood – not a good match for him at the Ageas bowl, but it was chiefly the batting that let England down there, and I hate seeing bowlers thrown under the bus when the batters are more blameworthy, plus as long time advocate of England going with two out and out speedsters I do not want to see the experiment abandoned after one game.
  11. James Anderson – he was bang on the money at the Ageas bowl and when fit is without doubt England’s most reliable performer with the ball. Additionally this match is taking place at his home ground of Old Trafford, and I think he deserves the chance to play there if he is fit enough to do so.

ALTERNATIVES AND CLOSE RESERVES

I fear that England will continue with their indefensible policy of selecting Buttler as keeper. I sincerely hope that it is the end of the road for Denly, but I cannot even be certain of that. I could accept Broad being selected, especially as England have indicated that they are thinking in terms of rotating him and Anderson, but I remind of you of my earlier comments about bowlers being thrown under the bus when it is batters who are really blameworthy. I do not consider that an English surface is likely to demand two specialist spinners, but if it does I have Parkinson ahead of Leach in my personal pecking order. Finally rather than any reprieve for Buttler or Denly I would have Bracey down as cover for any batter in the top three and the wicket keeper and Lawrence earmarked should one nos 4-6 be unavailable at short notice. Denly was selected as a stopgap no3 until that gap could be filled properly, and in Crawley it looks like England have found the person to fill it long term.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

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Test Cricket Back With A Bang

My thoughts on the test match at the Ageas bowl, plus some photographs.

INTRODUCTION

When a match is the first for some months would what be your requests – mine would be:

  1. An interesting match, for preference going right to the wire.
  2. Some good individual performances to talk about.

This match gave us both of the above – it was not until the final session of the final day that it became clear which way it would ultimately go, and Jason Holder, Shannon Gabriel and Jermaine Blackwood for the West Indies, Zak Crawley and Jofra Archer for England produced unforgettable performances. The TMS commentary team did a splendid job in circumstances that must have been tougher than they ever let on, with Carlos Brathwaite a worthy addition as expert summariser, and everyone else close to their best.

ENGLAND BEGIN BADLY

England having opted for a starting XI of Burns, Sibley, Denly, Crawley, *Stokes, Pope, +Buttler, Bess, Archer, Wood and Anderson won the toss and batted. Many hav criticized this decision by Stokes, but for me the problem was not the decision but England’s poor response to it. Virtually every batter got some sort of start (Denly, out for 9, and Pope, 12 were the exceptions), but no one produced a major innings. Stokes top scored with 43, which needed a lot of luck (two clear dropped chances and other iffy moments), while Buttler made 35 before becoming one of many to give his wicket away rather than forcing the bowlers to take it. It was only a spirited innings from Bess, whose 31 showed up his supposed betters, that even got England to 200. Holder, with 6-42 including opposing skipper Stokes, and Gabriel who took the other four wickets both bowled outstandingly, but were also helped by some ordinary batting.

WEST INDIES ESTABLISH A USEFUL LEAD

Kraigg Brathwaite (no relation of Carlos, although both hail from Barbados, that mass producer of cricketing talent) scored a gritty 65, and there were useful runs all down the order from the West Indies. At their high water mark they were 267-5, 63 ahead and threatening a monster lead, but England pegged away, and in the end got them out for 318, an advantage of 114. Stokes got his opposite number Holder, as well as three other scalps, Anderson was his usual self, always formidable, and Bess bowled economically and nabbed a couple of wickets. The two speedsters, Wood and Archer, were both below par, both bowling far too much short stuff on a pitch that required the ball to pitched up.

ENGLAND FIGHT BACK

Burns and Sibley dug in well at the start of the second England innings, but Burns having seemingly laid a solid foundation for a big score got himself out, aiming to crash a long hop through the off side, and edging to deep point. Denly then joined Sibley who moved into the forties, before he too self destructed. That brought Zak Crawley to the crease, with him and Denly seemingly playing for one place, with skipper Root due to return for the second match. Denly, whose first innings failure had seen has test average drop into the twenties (it had stood at precisely 30), got to 29 while Crawley was starting to play nicely. Then Denly played to shot that cost him his wicket and with it surely his international career. Joe Denly, at the age of 34 hardly describable as ‘up and coming’ now has 818 test runs at 29.21 and has not managed a ton. Stokes joined Crawley and we were now treated to the best English batting of the match, as these two raised the score to 249 before Stokes fell having added 46 to his first innings 43. That triggered a clatter of wickets, among them Crawley for a new test best of 76. He has now played eight test innings in five matches, has 250 runs at 31.25 with two half centuries, and at 22 years of age is very much in the ‘up and coming’ category – he is definitely upwardly mobile. He deserves especial credit, because before this match he had never batted at no4 in first class cricket, let alone a test match, but was moved down one place from his regular test berth to accommodate Denly. The most gruesome dismissal from a substantial field was that suffered by Buttler, with only nine to his credit and the ship needing to be steadied. He is barely even a competent keeper, and 44 runs the match plus being the chief cause of his own dismissal in both innings cannot be described as making oneself worth a place as a batter. From 279-8 England staged a mini revival, ultimately reaching 313 on the final morning, a lead of 199.

THE WEST INDIES CHASE

Anderson and Archer took the new ball, and they bowled magnificently, to put the West Indies on the ropes at 27-3 with opener John Campbell having suffered a foot injury. Jermaine Blackwood, in company with first Roston Chase and then keeper Shane Dowrich and finally skipper Holder pulled the innings round. By the time Blackwood was out for a superbly crafted 95 the score was 189-6 and the opener Campbell was ready to return. Had England got through him, then with only Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel to come there would still have been a chance of victory, but he held out in partnership with Holder to see his side to a deserved victory. Seeing a winning score of 200-6 and an opener on 8 not out might suggest a Richard Barlow or William Scotton at work to someone who was not familiar with the circumstances.

PLAYER OF THE MATCH

Shannon Gabriel, the West Indies fast bowler, was named player of the match, for his haul of nine wickets over the two innings, a lionhearted effort. I do not especially quarrel with this, but Jermaine Blackwood’s innings, begun with his side reeling and ending with it in sight of victory also deserved consideration, as did Holder’s all round contribution (he averages 33 with the bat in test cricket and 26 with the ball, making him worth his place purely as a bowler, and a very handy player to have coming at no8).

WELL DONE ALL ROUND

The  West Indies played superbly and deserved to win. England played reasonably well, but need to do better in terms of turning starts into serious scores – Crawley’s 76 was the only major innings played by an England batter in this match. I was also impressed by the commentary, although I would prefer it if ‘natural sound’ was the default option rather than having to switch to it as soon as it becomes available – I do not like the fake background noise in the standard version. The pitch at the Ageas bowl was a good one, although the hoped for spin never materialized. The teams now move to another bio-secure venue, Old Trafford, which like the Ageas bowl has its own hotel and go again on Thursday.

WHITHER ENGLAND?

Most of the team will retain their places, and deserve to. Broad may come in, especially if the plan to rotate him and Anderson is adhered to. Denly must go, permanently (to drop Crawley to make way for Root would be a shocking decision, and England need Root’s batting, even if they decide Stokes can retain the captaincy), and at 34 there ought not to be a way back for him. Buttler needs to go, and again his test career should be over, although he is a vital component of the white ball teams, I would prefer to see Foakes get an extended run, but could live with Bracey getting the nod as keeper (he like Buttler is principally a batter, but he has recent runs in the bank, and has done some work on his keeping). My own XI for Thursday would be Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, Pope, +Foakes, Bess, Archer, Wood and one of Anderson or Broad.

ENGLAND PLAYER RATINGS (OUT OF 10)

  1. Dominic Sibley – 5.5 – twice batted reasonably only to get out when well set.
  2. Rory Burns – 5 – fared less well than Sibley, but again he was not all bad.
  3. Joe Denly – 2 – arguably he is lucky even to get this many, his first innings was awful, his second better, but getting out the way he did with 29 to his name is unforgivable.
  4. Zak Crawley – 8.5 – batted in a position he has never even occupied in first class cricket (Denly should have been the one moved down, not him), and produced the best England innings of the match even so, a splendid 76 in the second innings. I expect to see centuries from him before too long.
  5. Ben Stokes – 8 – the only things he really did wrong were to get out twice when going well (43 and 46). His four cheap first innings wickets were badly needed.
  6. Ollie Pope – 3.5 – his first innings was a miniature gem, but there is a limit to the amount of praise a specialist batter can be given for making 12, and his second effort produced the same modest score and was less impressive.
  7. Jos Buttler – 2 – two self inflicted dismissals for a combined total of 44 runs, and the costliest England mistake of the entire match when he dropped a chance on the final day – had he taken it England would have been firmly back in control of proceedings.
  8. Dominic Bess – 6 – a spirited batting effort when it was much needed in the first innings, and bowled well on a surface that offered less turn than expected. He was a little unfortunate in the second dig, with a couple of very close LBWs going against him.
  9. Jofra Archer – 7.5 – batted reasonably in both innings, bowled poorly in the first but produced an electrifying opening burst in the second that put England in a winning position that they were unable to press home.
  10. Mark Wood – 5.5 – persistent short stuff in his first innings bowling effort, when the wicket of a tail ender flattered him. He bowled better second time around, but was not a match for Archer.
  11. James Anderson – 7 – he commanded respect in both innings, and if not quite the Anderson of old, he has little with which to reproach himself.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS

Although the outcome of this match remained uncertain until deep in the final day it was in truth lost in it’s early stages when England were only able to reach 200 courtesy of Dom Bess’ late innings. Providing England notice the kick up the rear that this result amounts to it could actually benefit them, since a win would have allowed a papering over of cracks, whereas defeat does not come with such a luxury. I like the presence of two out and out speedsters for all that neither had great match here (Archer produced one magnificent spell, and some good bowling later on the fifth day as well) and hope that England will persist with that aspect of things. Now it is time for my usual sign off…

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England Fighting At The Ageas Bowl

Thoughts on the test at the Ageas bowl as England work to build a defensible lead over the West Indies, an important petition and some photographs.

INTRODUCTION

England are making a fight of things in the test match at the Ageas bowl. As things stand they remain second favourites, but the humiliation that looked possible at one stage yesterday is not going to eventuate.

DAY 3 FINISH

At first the West Indies did very well, with Archer and Wood both guilty of bowling too short. The West Indies had no complete failures among their top batting, and never lost clumps of wickets. They moved into the lead with only five wickets down, and seemed to be building a very large lead when the sixth wicket pair carried the score to 267, an advantage of 64, with Holder, averaging 33 in test cricket, still to come. Stokes intervened, Bess bowled tidily, Anderson was as formidable as always, and Wood picked up the wicket of Gabriel to end the innings at 318, a lead for the West Indies of 114. Stokes had 4-49, including his opposite number Holder, the first time both captains had accounted for each other in a match involving England since 1996. Wasim Akram would have been more frustrated at being done by the opposition skipper on that last occasion than Mike Atherton. England had 40 minutes of batting to negotiate, and did so without losing a wicket, being 15-0 of 10 overs at the end of the day.

DAY FOUR SO FAR

Burns and Sibley continued to resist through the morning until 15 minutes before lunch when Burns aimed to crash a long hop from Roston Chase through the off side, executed the shot poorly and succeeded only in edging to deep point to be out for 42. Denly saw things through to lunch in partnership with Sibley. Sibley reached 50, chopped a no-ball into his stumps and then two deliveries later snicked the same bowler, Gabriel, through to keeper Dowrich to be out. That brought Crawley in to join Denly in what looks like being a ‘bat off’ for who keeps their place. Denly has enjoyed some good fortune, while Crawley has looked more solid. England have now wiped off the arrears, and so are building a lead. If they can advance this lead to 200, then with the pitch showing signs of misbehaving, the West Indies will have their work cut out. The batting still to come for England is Stokes, Pope, Buttler, Bess, Archer, Wood and Anderson, of whom all save Anderson are capable to varying degrees of making runs, while Anderson can hold up his end if someone is going well at the other.

LOOKING AHEAD

England have improved as this match has gone on, and the major decision that has to be made is between Crawley and Denly. However, Bracey and Lawrence are knocking on the door for batting spots as well. In the bowling department I do not see an urgent need for changes, although Broad may come in for Anderson if England are in fact adopting a policy of rotating the veterans, and Sam Curran and Oliver Edward Robinson are possibles for bowling slots. I would of course bring Foakes in for Buttler, but it seems that in the eyes of the selectors Buttler can do no wrong, so I do not expect that to happen. Denly has just reached 25, which he does quite frequently, but he rarely goes on – the last five times he has got to 25 he has failed to get as far 40.

AN IMPORTANT PETITION

This petition on change.org, calling for NHS staff be given free parking at work, was drawn to my attention by an aunt who posted the link to it on facebook this morning. Please sign and share it, by clicking on the screenshot below.

Petition

PHOTOGRAPHS

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PS England have reached the 150, still with only two wickets down, and a currently 37 runs to the good.

PPS Joe Denly has just thrown his wicket away for 29, Stokes will be joining Crawley, and that would appear to be the end of Denly’s test career – he was playing in somewhat chancy fashion even before holing out. If Crawley goes on to a big score it is definitely curtains for Denly, and there may also be a case for Lawrence or Bracey coming in, although no3, the disputed slot, is a difficult one to make one’s debut from. England 151-3.

All Time XIs – Kent

My ‘All Time XIs’ series continues with a look at Kent.

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to the next installment in my “All Time XIs” series. Today we look at Kent, and although there will no controversies to match one of my omissions from yesterday’s Lancashire side, this one has also had its challenges.

KENT ALL TIME XI

  1. Bill Ashdown – an attack minded opening bat. He holds the record for the highest individual Kent score, 332, made in just over a day against Essex at Brentwood. Kent were 623-2 at the close of the first day, Ashdown 300 not out, and declared at 803-4 and then bowled Essex out twice to win by an innings and 192 runs. His medium pace bowling was also sometimes of use to the team. He and Sussex pro Bert Wensley once teamed up to defeat a village XI in a reprise of an event that happened a century previously. The original match came about because the landlord of the village pub grew so incensed with the boasting of its team the he told them he would find two players who could beat them without team mates. He came back with two of the best players of the day, and they duly beat the village team. A century later the event was recreated with Ashdown and Wensley taking on the villagers, and the result was the same, a victory for the pros. In the field Ashdown and Wensley alternated between bowling and keeping wicket, meaning that there were just two gaps in the field – the off side and the on side! Andrew Ward’s “Cricket’s Strangest Matches” features this game.
  2. Arthur Fagg – in 1938 at Colchester he scored 244 and 202 not out in the same match, the only time in first class history that anyone has hit two double centuries in a game. Once his playing days were done he became an umpire.
  3. *Frank Woolley – left handed batter who scored 58,969 first class runs including 145 centuries, 2,066 wickets with his left arm spin at less than 20 a piece and 1,018 catches, the most in first class history by anyone who did not keep wicket. He was an integral part of Kent’s first four county championships. He was picked in every England team for a 19 year period (1909-28) – a run which today would give anyone achieving it about 250 test appearances as opposed to his final total of 64. In 1921 at Lord’s when everyone else was being blown away by Gregory and McDonald he scored 95 and 93. In the 1924-5 Ashes he and his county colleague Freeman shared a ninth wicket stand of 128 in ultimately losing cause. His greatest test with the ball was at The Oval in 1912 in the match that settled the Triangular Tournament (an experiment which was ruined by the weather, the weakness of the third team, South Africa, and the fact the the Aussies were hit by a serious dispute) in England’s favour. In that match Woolley had combined figures of 10-49. His volume of cricket related memoir “King of Games” is an excellent read, and I would also recommend Ian Peebles‘ “Woolley: The Pride of Kent”. It is partly on ground of the tactical thoughts expounded in “King of Games” that I have awarded Woolley the captaincy, a post that due to the class-based obsession with amateur captains that prevailed in his day he never actually held.
  4. Colin Cowdrey – a right handed batter who made a record six tours of Australia, the last of them at the age of 42 when he answered an SOS call and replaced his intended festive season with a trip out to attempt to counter Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. At the time his career ended his 114 test match appearances were an all comers record and his tally of 7,624 runs at that level was an England record, while his 22 centuries were a joint record with Wally Hammond. He was part of a family that currently stands alone in having produced four successive generations of first class cricketers (his father Ernest played a handful of games, two of his sons Graham and Chris were stalwarts of Kent in the 1980s and 1990s and his grandson Fabian played for Kent and now commentates on Kent games for local radio. The Tremletts with Maurice, Tim and Chris and the Headleys with George, Ron and Dean have each had three successive generations of first class cricketers and may yet get a fourth.
  5. Fuller Pilch – rated as the best batter of his era. He also featured in a dismissal that suggests a somewhat overly lively pitch – in the Gentlemen vs Players match of 1837 his dismissal reads ‘hat knocked on wicket’. He is one of two players from this era in my Kent team. He was noted for using a bat with a long blade and a short handle.
  6. +Leslie Ames – the only recognized wicketkeeper ever to score a hundred first class hundreds. The ‘wicket keeper’s double’ of 1,000 runs and 100 dismissals in the same season was achieved three times in history, and two of those were by Ames. In 1929 he pouched 78 catches and executed 49 stumpings, for a total of 127 dismissals. He won the Walter Lawrence trophy for the fastest first class hundred of the season twice in the first three years of its existence, and his career high score of 295 took a mere three and a half hours. His test best of 149 came against the West Indies at Sabina Park in 1929-30, when Andrew Sandham scored 325, skipper Calthorpe was overly doctrinaire about not enforcing the follow on in a timeless match (England led by 563 on first innings!) and two days of rain and the necessity of England catching their boat home caused this timeless match to be drawn, with the West Indies 408-5 needing a further 428 to win (yes – they were set 836).
  7. Alfred Mynn – a fast bowling all rounder from the same era as Pilch. He was known as ‘The Lion of Kent’, and would appear in both his physical build and his approach to the game to have been the Freddie Flintoff of the 1830s and 40s.
  8. Arthur Fielder – right arm fast bowler, and useful lower order batter. He once scored 112 not out from no 11, as he and Frank Woolley added 235 for the last wicket.
  9. Tich Freeman – a diminutive (5’2″) leg spinner who made use of his extreme lack of height by releasing the ball upwards so that it spent most of its journey towards the batter above their eyeline. He stands second in the all time list of first class wicket takers with 3,776. In the 1928 season he collected 304 wickets, and he also holds second and third place if the list of season wicket hauls with 298 and 295. He stands alone in having taken all 10 wickets in a first class innings on three separate occasions. He took 386 five wicket innings hauls in his astonishing career and bagged 10 in a match 140 times.
  10. Colin Blythe – a left arm spinner who was killed during World War One, but not before he had taken a lot of wickets very cheaply. Against Northamptonshire in 1907 he took 17-48 in the match, and according to Woolley, writing in “The King of Games” he came within touching distance of getting all twenty in that match. As Woolley describes it, Blythe took all 10 in the first innings, and had the first seven in the second innings, before Vials, the last remaining Northants batter of any substance offered a return catch, which would have left Blythe a couple of absolute rabbits to polish off to claim an ‘all twenty’. Blythe dropped the catch and was apparently so discomposed by doing so that he was unable to refocus on his bowling, and the Kent captain had reluctantly to put another bowler on to finish it. He took 2,503 first class wickets at 16, and his 100 test wickets came in 19 games at that level.
  11. Fred Martin – a left arm fast bowler who took over 900 wickets for Kent at 19 a piece. He was selected for England at The Oval in 1890, and recorded 6-50 in the first innings and 6-52 in the second, still a match record for an England debutant.

These choices give me a team with a strong top five, a wicketkeeper who made big runs at a rapid pace at no 6, a fast bowling all-rounder at 7 and four bowlers of widely varying type. The bowling resources this side has include a left arm fast bowler, two right arm fast bowlers, a leg spinner and two slow left armers, plus Ashdown’s occasional medium pace if needed.  The next section will look to the present and future, and then I will look at some of the other players I have missed out.

KENT PRESENT AND FUTURE

This section deals with three current Kent players who part of the England setup and a fourth who may well become so. Joe Denly, a stop gap selection at no 3 in the test team, has produced a string of consistent performances since taking on the role. I suspect that when play resumes again post Covid-19 he will be displaced as England will go with Sibley, Burns, Crawley as their top three. Zak Crawley was elevated to international level without having what most would consider any considerable weight of achievement ad domestic level in the bank but has unquestionably thrived at the top level, and I suspect that if I revisit this series in ten years or so he will be challenging Ashdown or Fagg for one of those openers slots. Sam Billings is part of the England limited overs setup, but unlikely to feature in test selections. His wicket keeping will not be factor, given Kent’s illustrious history in that department, but were I selecting with white ball cricket in mind he would definitely be a candidate. Finally, Oliver Graham Robinson (as opposed to Sussex medium pacer and useful lower order batter Oliver Edward Robinson – please guys could you allow yourselves to be referred to by your middle names?) is a 21 year old wicket keeper who would appear to have a colossal future ahead of him (here’s hoping that the selectors treat him better than they have Ben Foakes), and even allowing for Kent’s historic riches in this department he may force his way into consideration in time.

OTHER CANDIDATES

Had I not been determined to include the “Lion of Kent” the number seven slot, and the captaincy that I actually awarded to Frank Woolley would have gone to Jack Mason, the subject of John Lazenby’s “Test of Time”, and also mentioned in many other cricket books, including Woolley’s “King of Games”.

There were a number of candidates for the opener’s slots: Wally Hardinge, Mark Benson (a one cap wonder for England in 1986 – 21 and 30 in a drawn game against India), David Fulton (ignored by the England selectors, even in the season in which he notched his 1,000 runs by mid June) and Robert Key being just four who merited consideration. In the middle of the order Kenneth Hutchings, Percy Chapman and Geoffrey Legge would all have their adherents. Among the bowlers to miss out were Doug Wright, who took more first class hat tricks, seven in total, than anyone else in cricket history, Derek Underwood whose left arm slow medium could not quite displace Blythe in my thinking and Bill Bradley, a right arm fast bowler who could have had the slot I gave to Fielder. I genuinely could not think of a Kent offspinner who I could even consider (yes folks, I am well aware that James Tredwell was an England pick at one time, but he was no one’s idea of a great bowler!).

The wicket keeping issue was a knotty (or should that be Knotty?) one, as Kent have had a stack of great practitioners down the years – Fred Huish, John Hubble, Godfrey Evans and Alan Knott most notably, but also in more recent times Geraint Jones has done the job for England and I have already mentioned the emerging talent of Oliver Graham Robinson. However, to select any of these legendary practitioners and play Ames as a specialist batter would have been to deprive myself of a desperately needed slot in the team, hence giving the gloves to Ames.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Yes, a journey that has taken us through nearly 200 years of cricket in the hop county (during any period of which you could if so inclined have partaken of Shepherd Neame’s finest!) is now at an end it is time for my usual sign off…

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Thoughts on The Test Squad for New Zealand

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

INTRODUCTION

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

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE MIDDLE

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

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

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

ZAK CRAWLEY

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

SAQIB MAHMOOD

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

MATTHEW PARKINSON

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

OLLIE POPE

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

DOMINIC SIBLEY

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

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

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

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