England v India: Preliminaries and Opening Exchanges

A look at the opening exchanges in the England v India test series which got under way at 11:00 today.

The five match test series between England and India is under way, the first match at Trent Bridge having started at 11:00AM. This post looks at early developments.

ENGLAND SELECTIONS

England’s plans were thrown into confusion when Ben Stokes announced that he would be taking a break from cricket for mental health related reasons. I do not know when or even whether Stokes will return to competitive action – he should take as much time as he needs. However, neither that nor an injury to Ollie Pope excuse England’s actual selection. They have gone hypernegative, selecting only four front line bowlers none of whom is a spinner and none of whom is an out and out speedster. The team they have chosen is Burns, Sibley, Crawley, *Root, Bairstow, Lawrence, +Buttler, S Curran, Robinson, Broad, Anderson. I would have selected Hameed in place of Crawley, with him and Sibley then being in a bat off for who keeps their place in the side when Tom Abell, the man best equipped to bat three for England in this format, is fit again. I would not have selected Bairstow at all, going with Buttler at six and five genuine bowling options. My preferred line up from those available would have been Burns, Sibley, Hameed, *Root, Lawrence, +Buttler, S Curran, Robinson, Wood, Leach, Anderson. I regard the non-selection of Leach as criminal. In 16 test matches he has taken 62 wickets at 29.98 – that is his bowling average is the right side of 30 (only just admittedly) and he takes 3.875 wickets per match, which is around the par mark – most sides have five serious bowling options and to win you need to take 20 wickets, and 20/5 = 4. When then add in leaving out the only genuine speedster available, Wood, you have an attack that has no depth (only four front line options), and very little variety (three right arm fast mediums, all over six feet in height, with the only serious variation Curran’s left arm fast medium – no variation in pace whatsoever).

The side England have named has “picked to avoid defeat” rather than “picked to win” written all over it in bold capitals.

INDIAN SELECTIONS

Far fewer problems for the visitors although they somewhat surprisingly left out Ashwin, probably the best finger spinner in the world at the moment. They decided, again on ground of batting strength to rely on Jadeja as their sole spin option, with Thakur at eight and the three specialist quicks, Siraj, Bumrah and Shami at 9, 10 and 11. The alternative once they had decided on four seamers would have been take a chance an Ashwin at seven. While debatable this selection is not definitively wrong as some of England’s are.

THE PLAY SO FAR

England won the toss and chose to bat, the right thing to do on a sunny morning with clouds forecast for later in the match. They were off to a dreadful start when Burns fell in the first over. Sibley and Crawley held out for a while before Crawley was removed for 27. That brought Root to the crease and he and Sibley saw things through to lunch at 61-2. Sibley’s typically patient innings ended just after lunch, for 18,making the score 66-3. Root and Bairstow are still together at 73-3. Root is on 18, while Bairstow has reached two and has survived 15 balls which is quite impressive by his recent test standards. Bairstow has just scored a four off Bumrah to make it 77-3. Bumrah, Shami and Siraj have a wicket a piece.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off – the butterflies are out in force at the moment…

As I publish this post England are on 82-3, Root on 23 and Bairstow on 6.

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…

County Championship Washouts

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.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…

Nottinghamshire v Worcestershire has progressed while I have been preparing to put this post up – Worcs, all out for 80 in the first innings are 106-4 in their second, still 214 away from avoiding an innings defeat, and suddenly definitely looking at defeat.

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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