The Two T20s – England v Australia – Comments Thread

Taking a little break over the weekend, to recharge batteries, and to contrast it with last Bank Holiday weekend (the day of 14k hits)!

Anyhow, if the weather is good enough, there are two T20 games on today in Cardiff. Comments here.

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The Test Hundreds – Episode 1 – Graham Thorpe

Thorpe at Newland's
Thorpe at Newlands

As part of a larger project that I doubt I’ll ever finish, but to try to stimulate a little debate and a lot of memories, I thought I’d concentrate on some of our finest players and their test hundreds. It’ll be a little potted history of each, with comments and excerpts along the way. Also there will be memories and personal anecdotes on some of the hundreds. Again, another idea on the walk to the station.

I thought I’d start with Graham Thorpe. As people may know, I’m a Surrey fan. I’m also a massive Thorpe fan. One of my greatest days in test cricket was watching his return from the family crisis that nearly ended his test career. Indeed, that will be in the piece below. But first, we need to go back to that Ashes series of 1993 for the first of Thorpe’s test centuries. The first of 16.

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A Poetic Summer

The Bogfather missed the Ashes Panel, but he did provide me with his poetic input, so I thought, why not. Give him the floor….

So the Ashes Summer, in rhyme….

Where’d our summer go?

Where was the ebb and flow?

No context nor contests

Paucity in every city’s Test

No fight, no thought

Test cricket out-fought

By incredulous scheduling

And nebulous reasoning

If it swung, we won

If it didn’t, we were undone

Batting collapses, memory lapses

No guts in weak glory

Same old media story

Three day Tests played

With real fans betrayed

Enthusiasm drained

Thankfully, then it rained…

Dross on the pitch, not blood

Press puffery not in drips but floods

Strokeplay straight out of kintergarden

Nary a sign of batsmen battle hardened

Bar Root, Rogers and Smith

Far too much inelegant biff or miss

Tho’ I do have a soft spot for Mo

Briefly seen in scintillating flow

Saddened that Buttler never gave it a go

And Cook’s self love and batting ego

Left Lyth high and hopelessly run dry

The question now – who next to try?

Bell seems to have rung his last peal

KP back? We have to be real

Hales not to open, or even at three

Play him at 4/5 is what I’d like to see

Alternative opener is hard to call

We need a presence to strike thru’ the ball

Perhaps Root to three now that Cook ‘leads’ on

Save the captaincy for when sheep has gone…

At last some bowling that found the right length

Some excellent spells, Broad best, true intent

Yet when conditions weren’t as we’d like

The lack of variety left us unable to strike

And with the spin cupboard currently bare

We have to trust Mo’ with responsibility there

Push him up the order to five, use his batting flair

And ferchrissakes give Adil a run, in the UAE sun

Use Jimmy only when conditions suit the grumpy one

Look after Wood, let Stokes have free rein

Or injury management will be spotlit again

Not that the ECB will ever care a jot

Coffers still filling from us, the mob lot

So the Ashes, yes, we beat the feeble Aussies

Yet I still can’t separate the team from the ECB

For their ignorance and bullshit still riles me

And don’t even get me started on the ICC3…

To paraphprase Craig Doyle in those Everest adverts…. now you didn’t think a blog would give you that, did you?

My thanks to the Bogfather. We’re being different here. He’s also promised me a book review of the Barry Richards story written by Andrew Murtagh.

Also Sean B has promised me something too. So no getting out of it, Sean!

Cheers,

Dmitri.

The Ashes Panel – Picking The Bones Out Of That

Not, no more....
Not, no more….

I reconstituted the Ashes Panel for one last go around. The first set will give their immediate responses, and the second set, which I’ll send out in the next couple of days, will have had a little longer to contemplate.

Once again, thanks to everyone for the spirit they entered into this, the excellent contributions and the success of this format. I think it’s worked really well, and we’ve also encouraged a couple of the panel members to write pieces (see Chappers piece below on batting, which had me and TLG debating last night over copious Krusovices).

The panel is large, the answers are large. So for this airing we have Mr North London, Sean B; the Batting Guru, Chappers; the quickest off the draw, Dr. Melf; one of the limited number on here to have met me, KeyserChris; Our Man on The Cote D’Azur, Rooto; and the Agent Provocateur, the meltdown Man in a Barrel. We may be joined later with some poetry from The Bogfather….

This time I asked five questions, with a bonus one that was voluntary. I’d actually like all of you to comment on the last one if you can. It paints a picture.

So, fire away, with six of the best answering six of the best.

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1. First up, your reaction to the series as a whole. What do you think of the five tests played?
Dr.Melf – A truly extraordinary series, but not in a great way. It’s like the two teams agreed who would win each match in advance (possibly through paper-scissors- stone) and made little effort to make it look like a context thereafter. On the whole games were won by who played least badly, rather than most well. We got the Ashes back but there was little to drive engagement with Test cricket. There was more excitement in two tests with the Black Caps than this whole series. Poor stuff.
Chappers – This has been the hardest panel to answer.

Much like the Pointer Sisters, when it comes to an Ashes series, or any test match series, I prefer a slow hand and for it not to come and go in a heated rush.
Frankly the tourists were terrible for three tests and we were pathetic at Lord’s then suffered from dead rubber syndrome at the Oval.
We performed without an opening batsman and a keeper who looked muddled as to his role with the bat. No number 3 and Joe root digging us out of hole after hole.
Hard decisions need to be made with our batting. More on that below.
The bowling has some talent, but I worry about the lack of pace in some of the later spells from both Finn and Wood – for that I have very little answer, although I am not sure how much cricket they will get in the UAE.

Rooto – I’m very glad I didn’t pay any money especially to watch them. I can appreciate the thrill of lesser-quality, rollercoaster cricket when I’m reading, listening to or streaming it for free, but I feel a little sorry for anyone who handed over hard-earned folding stuff expecting to revel in the thrill of Test battles. It was more thud-and-blunder than blood-and-thunder. Conclusions: First, forget Sky, and stick to TMS and insightful writing where I can find it (particularly here). Second, don’t expect many 4 or 5-day pitches in future summers.

KeyserChris There’s been one “normal” Test – Cardiff, won by Root’s ton. The rest of the series has been some below-par cricket punctuated by a handful of good innings & some brilliant bowling spells. I won’t be rushing out to buy the DVD…
Sean B – I think my overwhelming feeling is one that includes a little bit of antipathy, a little bit of hollowness and a lot of ‘meh’, England may have come out on top and won the Ashes, but these were two average sides each showing their clear weaknesses for all to see; indeed this was not a series that was anywhere near high on quality and will probably go down as one of the poorest “close series” in recent times. Compared to what was on offer in 2005, which I believe was the pinnacle of Ashes cricket, and to a lesser extent in 2009, where England squeaked through despite generally being outplayed in most of that series, this series rather resembled two portly men arguing over the last sausage at a BBQ. I’m still not quite sure why neither team were unable to rouse themselves when they were up against the wall or to at least launch a rear guard defence and show some fight, but what is undeniably true, is that the team who were able to exert pressure in the first innings went on to easily win the match. Naturally, I’m happy that we won the Ashes and there were sterling performances by Root and Broad, but my first feelings about this year’s Ashes are that this has been a case of complete overkill, purely designed to feed the ECB coffers, with this being the third Ashes series in the last 3 years; Indeed I think the phrase “over-familiarity can breed contempt” was made for this series. This is something that I seriously worry about in future (now that the big three have carved up international cricket between them) that test series’ will be played not for sporting endeavour or for any attempt to spread growth and equality in the game, but instead series being played purely for the financial gain of the big three. Now that is a truly depressing thought.
MiaB – It was a mediocre series.  I  normally think a series is mediocre when the bowlers on both sides dominate the batting but you tend to get some batsman who can handle things, which makes for interesting viewing.  However, there has been very little quality batting on display – some resolution from Rogers, some class from Smith, Root and Ali, some enterprise from Johnson, Broad and Starc, and in the case of Warner, someone oft-derided as a one-day player, a serious attempt to fashion a method of handling the conditions.  If the English attack had bowled against England’s batters, how would they have fared?  The only one with a reasonable return is Root.   I hate greentops because they destroyed English cricket in the 60s and 70s….any bowler can bang the ball down just short of a length and get unplayable movement.  I remember how Peter Lever, Mike Hendrick, Chris Old, Geoff Arnold and co would seem unplayable in England and then get whacked all over the place in Australia and West Indies.  I still carry the scars.  If Mohammed Asif, who got movement on Pakistani pitches, had been bowling at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, what would his analyses have been? 
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2. The clear narrative is that England have a young team that will have its shares of ups and downs. Pretty much everyone believed we’d lose this series. Should there be such worried noises?
Dr. Melf – It’s a young talented team who will make errors as they learn their craft.  With the right guidance and leadership I think they have the potential to be really exciting. Experience will temper their current bursts of over-excitement. I would really like to see our best ex-players involved in coaching and mentoring.
Chappers – We need a team of consistent hardened performers. That won’t happen overnight, but it will help of we can get some batting which is less flaky and gives our bowlers more time with their feet up. This is vital. Selection and time will help this. Choose the right players and persevere with them. Buttler, Stokes and Root are, Bell and Lyth are not, I don’t know about Bairstow. Rashid is a colossal gamble.
Rooto – I think the ECB and England Team Fans should be delighted. Enough of them have performed above expectations, or been allowed to overperform – no not overperform, justoutperform the Aussies – this series. Job done, rejoice, nothing else to see here. There is still potential for growth and for a bit of dead wood to be removed (BTW that’s not wishing any harm on Wood, in case of deliberate misunderstanding by some…). 
We, Supporters of Cricket, are the ones who should be worried, by how easily the media narrative has been infantilised, dissenting views attacked without scruple and wider issues swept under the carpet – issues which will grow to an unsightly lump under the carpet in the coming years. Short-term, the ECB can celebrate ‘the beginning of a cycle’. Long-term, they’ll go down with the rest of the ship.

KeyserChris – Yes. Opening is still a major issue. Cook had two good knocks, but yet again his partner has failed. Ali replacing Lyth is a cute solution, but only for the UAE. It doesn’t fix the issue for SA & beyond. The middle order needs to improve, but doesn’t need personnel change necessarily. Buttler needs to improve, but the fast bowling is OK. In terms of spin, we are still nowhere. Ali should only be a secondary spinner at best

Sean B – Yes there should, and although we won, it was hardly a glorious victory and this is highlighted by some of the batting and bowling averages which show we should not kid ourselves into thinking we’re a top team yet. We beat an Australian team who were not as good as they thought they are, made some terrible selection errors and couldn’t bat on swinging/seaming pitches (after all, they thrashed us both times the pitch didn’t offer any lateral movement). We can’t keep relying on Root to score runs by the truckload or for Jimmy or Broad to blow away the opposition batsmen, especially away from home where sides will look to play on our weaknesses. The truth is we can’t find an opener for love nor money, our number 3 (who used to be our number 4) may be in terminal decline and may retire and we don’t have an international class spinner (Moeen, for me, is still a batting allrounder). Add this into the fact that Bairstow hasn’t been convincing, Buttler has been in terrible nick and Captain Fantastic isn’t pulling up any trees (nor has he for the past few years), means more than a headache or two for Mr Bayliss & Co, in the face of two very challenging away tours. If I look on a more positive front, I think the seam bowling attack has good potential, Root is a world class player and I do think Buttler will come good, but I think we are at best a mid-table team in the grand scheme of things at the moment.

MiaB – The strange thing is that this young team could not handle the good conditions at Lords and the Oval.  The bowling lacked penetration and imagination – look at what Siddle achieved compared with Finn and Stokes.  The batting lacked application.  If you take Root and Ali out of the series, the England batting was terrible.  Only three times did they get more than 300 runs in an innings and Australia were  not much better.  The problems that we had at the start of the series have not been solved.  The openers are an issue – I think the reason why Cook wants to continue as captain as that is the only way he can rely on being picked.  His batting returns are not so remarkable, especially if the guy batting with you is scoring even less than you.  However, if he can be an opener averaging 37 then Bell should be allowed to continue at #3, averaging 36.  The middle order batting is an issue.  perhaps Ballance should come back in at 5, because I do not think Bairstow is the answer.  He does not look significantly more robust technically than he did when he was dropped.  It is worth sticking with Stokes.

The spinner is still an issue – neither Ali nor Cook have much idea what to do when the opposition target him other than to take him out of the attack.  He is unable to take on the holding role even when he is not targeted.  The lack of a holding seamer – the Mike Hendrick, Matthew Hoggard, Angus Fraser kind of bowler – is a real issue given that Anderson, Broad and Wood all need nursing because of age or chronic injuries.  Management of injuries is a real issue for me.  I know some deranged people think I want Wood to be injured but I am extremely concerned about his long-term health, since he is only 25 and already had at least one cortisone.  I think the current ideas are that you should only have 3 such injections in your lifetime.   I really do not want him to get to the age of 30 and be unable to walk properly because his ankle has been turned to chalk.  Obviously guys like Broad and Wood want to play all the time but, in baseball, they rotate the pitchers to ensure that they are not overworked and injured.  Unless England go down that path – a strict rotation policy – then I am very concerned that we will end up with a bunch of limping wounded who are unable to bowl properly, given the schedule that the team faces.  Wood’s effectiveness was markedly reduced by the time of the Oval – he got 9 wickets in 4 innings against New Zealand and 10 in 7 against Australia.

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3. What was your highlight of the series?
Dr.Melf – It’s a toss up between the true emergence of Joe Root as a world class player or Cooky taking one in the nuts. On balance? I go nuts.
Chappers – In reality it was Stokes’ catch at Trent Bridge and the look of astonishment on everyone’s face.

But I want special mention to go to Ali Cook learning how to captain in the field. For three years he has been dismal, Farbrace and Bayliss have said the right things to him and well done them. Doesn’t reflect well on Flower or Moores.

Rooto – Broad and Finn in the wickets. Ali outscoring most of those batting ahead of him. Listening to Blowers losing all sense of proportion, again, at Trent Bridge.Other elements that pleased me to a greater or lesser extent: Cook revealing doubts and humanity in a couple of interviews; no snotty, in-yer-face behaviour on the pitch – despite the press informing us that the Aussies weren’t capable of behaving themselves; Ed Smith eating “derrière sur une assiette”, served à la Kimber, for lunch on day 1 at Trent Bridge.

KeyserChris – Broad’s 8-15. Sensational bowling.

Sean B – There were a number of highlights worth mentioning, Root maturing into a world class player, Broad learning to pitch the ball up with the rewards that come from it, the atmosphere at Edgbaston on the final day (best atmosphere I’ve ever witnessed in England) and of course laughing at Shane Watson being caught LBW (again and again); however my own personal highlight, and this is very much through my Middlesex tainted eyes, is the emergence of Steven Finn as an international test cricketer again. At the end of the last Ashes series, Ashley Giles commented that Finn “was simply unselectable” – not that I attach any blame to Ashley, the real perpetrator has thankfully left these shores since, hopefully for good. I remember when Finn burst onto the scene in 2010 against Bangladesh and Pakistan and there was genuine excitement that we had a bowler who could bowl at 90MPH with the height to trouble even the most adept of batsmen, so to then hear that he had been reduced to bowling throw downs at a single stump was extremely worrying. Indeed I heard through the grapevine that it had affected him so badly that he was thinking about chucking it in at that stage, so to get off the canvas and be able to not just play test match cricket 2 years later, but to contribute as he did, is testament to both Finn and to Richard Johnson, who has worked tirelessly with him throughout the last couple of years through the good and bad (I will give a small amount of credit to the ECB and Raph Brandon for helping him with his run up, but in the main it should go to the Middlesex team). Finn seems like a very approachable and likeable individual and I genuinely think 99% of the cricketing public had a smile on their face when he got that “five-fer” at Edgbaston, yes there are improvements that can and will be made, but I’m genuinely chuffed for him that he is back playing test cricket again.

MiaB – Either the Stokes catch at Trent Bridge or Mitchell J’s bouncer to Bairstow at Edgbaston.

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4. And, also, what annoyed you the most about this Ashes series?
Dr.Melf – The complete absence of any tension. Every game was so one-sided that no drama or excitement was created. It’s great that England won and the young players know the feeling of beating the Ozzies, but it was pretty boring stuff.

Also have to mention anyone suggesting that winning back the Ashes justifies the total ‘arsehattery’ the ECB made of running English cricket for the last two years.

Chappers – Two things: 1 is Ian Bell not scoring any runs. We are used to it now. But rubbish. I wouldn’t take him to the UAE where he averages 8.5. Give him the tour off and see where we are for SA.

The second things are (!) people being patronising about Nathan Lyon who is a very fine off spin bowler and people slagging off Moeen for not being as good as Swann, give him a break. He is as good as we have and won’t ever be as good as Swann, he is also a quality batsman, which Swann was not.

Rooto – That what we heard on TV and read in the newspapers bore increasingly little resemblance to what we saw.

KeyserChris – The crap batting, Simon Hughes taking any opportunity to spruce his book on batting (the sheer chutzpah), any attempt to make hype the quality of the series up, but the award goes to Ed Smith on TMS. An unbelievably smug, sanctimonious self-proclaimed know it all who turns listeners off in droves.
Sean B –  I again could point out a number of things – the MSM lauding the team as world beaters one day and then clueless the next day (see the same for Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss without the balance of any form of negatives), the dimwits on Twitter who see this blog and any individual that refuses to swallow the ECB rhetoric as the whole truth, as an Anti-English curse that must be rid for good; however I’m going to comment on this from a purely cricketing point of view. My biggest annoyance is that in a series of 5 games, with two supposedly excellent cricket teams, that we could not produce a single match that was in anyway close or genuinely exciting (some of the cricket was exhilarating yes, but not genuinely exciting, that comes from an intense session of high quality cricket where bat vs ball is an event in itself). I don’t want to repeat what I have said in question 1 in any great depth, but this series was not a patch on the New Zealand series earlier on in the summer that displayed all of the traits of a fantastic series, with the added bonus that both teams genuinely had great respect for each other (surely the days of giving NZ a two test series at the start of the summer must be addressed ASAP, though the ECB won’t make as much money, so they probably won’t).
MiaB – Two things really.  First, it would have been great for Bell and Lyth to make a statement at the Oval on a good pitch.  They both failed in their usual ways, which makes it hard to justify their re-selection.  Second, media coverage – the bizarre gloating after Cardiff, the way Simon Mann, Botham and Hussain kept harping on about Smith’s technique (he scores runs, boys), everything written by Ed Smith or the words from him that I had the misfortune to hear on TMS, the fact that Cook was praised to the skies for scratching his nose or putting in 4 slips on a green pitch, Nasser Hussain’s belief that the series victory was Cook’s redemption.  Redemption from what?  He has not proved anything.  He scored no runs to speak of in the victories and he needed some inspired spells of bowling.  What did he do to inspire them? 
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5. What would be your test team for the first test match in the UAE?
Dr.Melf – I assume you mean with current ‘banishments’? I also think Bell will rightly call it a day, so it will be slightly changed line up.

Hales
Cook
Ali
Root
Bairstow
Stokes
Buttler
Rashid
Broad
Anderson
Finn
Chappers – I have gone for a bit of a horses for courses team – based on the likely pitches. Anderson and Broad were both fantastic in UAE last time – I worry about their longevity. I have ignored the merits of having an experienced player with SA heritage in the team with 100 + caps because he just wont get picked so it isn’t worth any further breath. He would play otherwise at 4 in my team. 

Cook
Hales – should have been playing for the last 2 years. A much better foil for Cook.
Root – man up and bat at 3.
Davies – experienced county player who has toured with England. Currently the next best batsman in our game (not just Surrey bias I promise).
Ali – not an opener and not a number 8. 5 is his best spot, regardless if “he bats well with broad” which is a BS argument – he has been poorly treated.
Stokes – going to be better than Flintoff let him play. I really hope he can play spin mind or this will be a chastening tour for him. More likely to do well in SA.
Buttler – going to be better than prior.
Ansari – best spinner in county cricket at the moment – also a foil for all the dashers in the team with the bat
Rashid – can bat and field and offer something with the ball. Not a first spinner, but in this team there is room.
Broad
Anderson/wood
Yup 3 spinners and 3 seamers – a balanced team for the UAE. Also batsmen who can play shots and batsman who can bat time. I can see the request to get Ballance back in the team, but I wouldn’t, he has said he isn’t going to change the way he plays. So he isn’t going to score runs against decent fast bowling. Yorkshire (adopted) stubbornness is rubbish sometimes.
Also batsmen who can actually play spin – Root, Davies and Ali are all excellent against spin bowling, as is Cook. Hales, if he can get in will do a decent job – so long as he is allowed to play himself in and doesn’t try to smash everything first up.
Harsh on bairstow, but he can’t play spin, but I would take him on tour as a back up keeper, other tourists are Finn (and Wood above) and another spinner, no idea who.
Rooto – My team is:
Cook, Hales, Compton, Root, Ballance, Ali, Bairstow(+), Rashid, Plunkett, Broad, Anderson. (squad members: Stokes, Wood, Taylor, Buttler, Bell, Ansari.)

Or is this a trick question, and I’m meant to say “Pakistan” ?!

KeyserChris – Cook Hales Bell Root Ali Stokes Bairstow (wk) Rashid Anderson Broad (10 men, we’ve only got 10 men – Ed.)

Sean B – Team I think they’ll pick – Cook (c), Moeen, Bell, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler, Woakes, Broad, Tredwell, Anderson. Team they should pick (IMHO) – Hales, Cook, Moeen, Root, Ballance, Stokes, Buttler, Rashid, Broad, Wood, Anderson. A caveat I would add is that this team is for the UAE only, naturally I wouldn’t have Moeen batting at 3 in South Africa, but we need to find a way of shoehorning 2 spinners into the team without running Jimmy into the ground on unresponsive pitches.
MiaB – I think Lyth has to be dropped so I would punt on moving Ali to open – hoping that he can handle the pace on a UAE track.  Cook is obviously there because of his great record in the UAE.  Rashid to come in.  Maybe Footit or Willey in place of Wood or whoever the bowler most in need of rest is.  If Bell decides to call it a day, then Taylor.  Bairstow needs to make a score in the next match or else I would bring back Ballance.
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THE BONUS QUESTION
6. If 1 is so outside cricket you want the opposition to win, and 10 is this England team and set-up are bang on, where would you put yourself on the scale, and why (voluntary answer question)?
Dr. Melf – Mmm? There is lots to like about this current team. The new crop of players have a great attitude. Cook has improved his approach. Not much (still) to like about the ECB though. Lots not to like about certain elements of media. Personally? Their attitude & approach and makes it harder to be excited about England. It’s a 6 from me.
Chappers – I get unreasonably upset when England lose. which puts me at an 8 as a supporter (not a 10 because I don’t go to every day of every test match I can) however I am knocked down a few points because I am fed up and remain fed up with the way the game is run – not helped by Aggers tweeting that because of Government Cuts the BBC may not do as much TMS (note to Aggers, BBC is funded by a licence fee which wont get cut and which we all have to pay. TMS given the size of audiences as well as the County coverage is more important than either F1 or athletics so should be a priority for the BBC sport)

Final score a 7.
Rooto – I’m more interested in what you or others think I am. How others see you is often more accurate, if they’re paying attention (and not malevolent). But that would involve reading through all my inane postings, so I’ll save you the trouble and say 3.33 recurring.Positive feelings towards the players in the team? Generally, Yes.

Support for the body they represent and promote? No.

Belief in their methods and leaders? No. I fist-pumped Cook’s wicket, but not the others.

Empathy with those around you? No comment. Depends who I’m talking to, so I’ll call it 1 out of 3.

KeyserChris – Probably about 4.

Sean BFive out of Ten – I would never willingly wish an England team to lose despite the clowns running English cricket; however I have genuine anger at the way the ECB has run cricket over the past few years and trampled over those individuals who are genuine fans of the game of cricket whatever their views on the game (KP gate, Outside Cricket comments, the increasing cost of being able to support my country and deciding to plough ahead with the most selfish, egotistical and genuinely harmful reform of the game in known history with the carve up of international cricket between the big three to name just a few). These are all topics that have been discussed to death both here and on Twitter, and they are still as divisive as they were 2 years ago and hence I’m not going to repeat many of the views that have been elicited; however this has definitely contributed to my current slightly hollow and disenfranchised attitude towards the current England team. Dave Tickner managed to express my exact thoughts on this subject on Twitter, when responding to a BBC poll on cricket myths, and naturally in a far more eloquent way than I ever could – “England winning the Ashes justifies any or all of the assorted ECB clusterfucks in the last two years. #cricketmyths“. Perfect.

MiaB – About 4.  The main reason is Cook and the media/ECB narrative around him.  He is doing a job which he is not particularly good at and he doesn’t enjoy but he stubbornly persists in doing it.  The runs he is capable of scoring would be a lot more valuable than his captaincy – I cannot think of any close games where his captaincy has been vital to the result and he does not seem able to coax performances out of bowlers who are struggling.  He just purses his lips and puts on Joe Root.  I can see that so why do Sky and TMS insist on trying to proclaim him as a world-beater and insist that he is a really nice chap?  
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My thanks to all who contributed to this panel. It’s full of really interesting, and sometimes contrasting views. Feel free to comment below, and as usual, keep it polite. These folk give up their time, and quite a bit of it.
The final, final panel will be up within the week, so keep ’em peeled.

Guest Post: Batting With The Bola…. On Batting!

Excellent news… One of our regular readers, and participant on the Ashes Panel, has kindly volunteered to bring his coaching eye to this blog. It’s something different, but I’m absolutely delighted that he’s put this up for discussion and debate – Dmitri

The former England cricketer from South Africa has a new book being published in October and this time he is going to talk about batting technique. My guess is that there will be some new stuff there, some interesting stuff – some stuff that only people who are more than 6ft will be able to do in there (like comparing KP to Mahela Jayawardene). My other guess is that there will be little stuff in there that won’t be in Douglas Jardine’s book on batting technique written with Jack Hobbs – which I like using!! He will certainly talk about getting your head over the ball – something Jardine and Hobbs call “the topple” as your head guides your feet to the line of the ball.
What this book will suggest is that they way people practice and people’s mindsets have changed more than the shots themselves, in general – Dillscoops and Switch hits and others excepted. But this post isn’t about the the new and fancy, it is about just doing the little things right and not being too stubborn to change.
What I don’t understand is why we see people playing with such poor techniques at international level – look at Ballance and Bairstow, or Robson and Lyth (leave out Steven Smith for now!) – these guys have been scoring runs at county level but don’t have the basic technique for international cricket. I appreciate that nerves will play a part, however, I don’t understand why people don’t have a grasp of this when playing first class cricket. At what point will the selectors realise that talent alone isn’t enough. Why are batting coaches letting this happen? Why did the England Captain have to work with Gary Palmer to sort out his batting? Gary Palmer is a brilliant batting coach, no question, but what was Gooch or Ramps or someone else at Essex doing that they couldn’t see what was obvious and that Cook’s alignment was out and his hips were square on through the shot (a very very common fault with amateurs who are tying to hit the ball too hard). When I talk about alignment – this is what I mean – stances can be different – but feet and hips need to be aligned.
Alignment
The top three show the batsman trying to hit the ball too hard – the back foot going onto the toe and the hips coming through the bottom show the batsman in defence and attack in a better position.
Below are rather better batsmen doing something similar. Vaughan’s position is tremendous through the shot,
Cricket 1
The basics of batting are simple – Grip, stance, alignment – as I say to my 5 year old in the nets – Head, foot, hit. If your grip and alignment is good and you move your head towards the ball – forward or from the back foot you can play the shot – and your weight will be moving through the shot. Gary Ballance isn’t really doing this. Chris Rodgers who sets up in a similar way absolutely does do that.
Rogers
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In the above picture – see the back leg and hip positions and how hard Ballance has gone at the ball compared to Rodgers. With Ballance he is more likely to knick off, much like this horrible position.
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There was an ironic cheer when Steven Finn played a technically correct forward defensive shot on Sunday and followed it up with a second. On the highlights Mark Nicholas commented that it is a shot hardly played any more. Seriously – this isn’t hard and it certainly isn’t new.
Mark Butcher had to do a Nick Faldo and totally rebuild his batting so he could be an international player. Why isn’t Gary Ballance doing the same? Instead he is just doing what he always does and is now being touted for a recall – so will come back with the same issues. How can the England team improve by doing that? Moving him to number 5 wont change anything.
Here is Mark Butcher… again look at the back foot and hip position.
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and for good measure one of Geoff…!
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These issues are going to be exacerbated over the winter when we face the Pakistan and SA – against the spinning ball we the batters will need to be much more confident in getting right over to smother the spin in defence and to play the ball late in attack, being side on and playing the ball under your eyes will be crucial – as will being able to work the ball and rotate the strike. Also worth noting that there is no need to dance like headless chickens down the track against the spinners – you can use the width of the crease as well as the depth to change the bowlers line to your favour – Amla does this better than anyone as Jayawardene also used to do. I really worry for the likes of Bairstow in the UAE – it could break him, like it did to Eoin Morgan last time we were there.
Finally thinking about the mindset for batting for long periods, I can understand why players are struggling with this and knowing how to play – the difference between a 2020 game and a test match is impossible for an amateur to really understand, I also understand the happy hooker issues. But there are some things that can be used in all three forms to release pressure and to make batting long periods easier. Ali Cook scored 85 off 230+ balls over the weekend. But why wasn’t he rotating the strike more – when there were loads of attacking fields – why wasn’t he moving his position in the crease to stop Siddle bowling dots at him – and Cook wasn’t alone in this. These are simple things that should be second nature to a club batsman let alone an international. You don’t have to just smash boundaries to frustrate the bowlers. By making the bowlers work in different ways you take the pressure of you as a batsman. As a batsman you should be looking to put pressure on the bowler to do something different, whilst keeping things simple.
In a very harsh sense, I see Cook’s innings as a failure to score a hundred and get close to the follow on target by putting pressure back on the bowlers rather that the “wonderful rearguard innings” that it has been called (or words to that effect) – off the same number of balls he faced. That isn’t meant to be overly critical with wickets falling at the other end and with Lyon bowling well – it was a good innings, but avoiding the follow on should have been achievable on that pitch – which would have saved the game.
I hope these thoughts spark debate and challenge!
My thanks to Batting with the Bola, aka Philip Chapman, who can be followed on Twitter @pgpchappers . I’m not a technician at all and reading this was very interesting. Be interested to see if this is something our readers like, and if so, would love to invite BwiB back to do more of this.

The Ashes: A Review

This Ashes series was crap.  Bloody awful, one of the worst seen in this country in many years.

There, I’ve said it.  It runs completely counter to the narrative that so much of the media have gone with, whereby for some it was comparable in its wonder to 2005, but sorry it was rubbish.  Not because England won, not for a moment, but because there were five Tests, none of which offered up a contest.

With hindsight, Cardiff was the best of them, and had anyone said after that game that it would prove to be the case, there would have been wringing of hands across the cricketing spectrum.  Yet England’s win by the margin of 169 runs proved to be the closest the sides would be, with every subsequent result being even wider.  Aside from arguably Edgbaston, where the feeling was very much after day one that England had it in the bag, even if the final scorecard didn’t quite reflect that, it’s the only one where the game was in any kind of balance after the first innings were completed.

That England won the series was a welcome surprise, but winning doesn’t mean it was a good series in itself.  The greatest Ashes series of them all is routinely named as 2005, and Australians are as quick to agree about that as the English, even though Australia lost.  Because that series was a slugfest between two teams who fought themselves to a standstill and didn’t give an inch.  This was a series where as soon as one side got on top, the other waved the white flag of surrender and looked to the next match – the lack of fight, the lack of discipline and the lack of gumption was shocking from both teams.  This isn’t good Test cricket, it’s a slaughter.  What made this series a bizarre curiosity was that the slaughter went in both directions, meaning that at the start of every Test the unknown was which team would be wielding the cleaver, and which would be the tethered goat.

Test cricket can be one of the most captivating sports there is, because the timescale involved in each match allows for ebbs and flows, for sides to recover and fight back.  Magnified over a full five match series, it can rise to the heights of the majestic.  Not every five Test series can begin to reach such exalted standards as the very best, and when one side outclasses the other then it can be something of a long haul, even for the victorious supporters, who tend to feel a slight dissatisfaction about the lack of uncertainty about the outcome, but given even a modicum of competition, it is fascinating.

And therein lies the problem.  3-2 looks like it was a good series at first glance, but sport is only ever compelling where there is competition, and in each match there was barely any.  Indeed only one of them had that air of competition beyond the first day.

All of which makes analysing the series somewhat problematic.  Did England win it or Australia lose it?  Given both sides showed quite exceptional levels of incompetence mixed in with occasional brilliance, drawing conclusions from a little over or under half a series means that a caveat must apply in each instance.

For England, only Root so much as managed a century (two of them) in the whole series.  His batting was so far ahead of the rest of the team that when he failed, so did the team as a whole.  To put it another way, only he could look back on it as a batsman with unalloyed pleasure.  His next test will be to see whether he can replicate this kind of run scoring away from home.  There’s no reason to assume he won’t, but at present he is a player in a rich run of form.  If he carries on in the two difficult tours ahead, then he might really begin to be considered the real deal.

Cook had a real mixed bag with the bat.  Two fifties only in itself is a pretty poor return in a normal series, though in this one only Bell and Root passed fifty more often than him.  Yet both fifties were in defeat, and the second of them rather irrelevant given the match situation.  It’s somewhat ironic that in advance of the series this writer was anything but alone in feeling that for England to win, Cook would have to have a fantastic series.  In reality, his contribution with the bat to victory was absolutely nil.  His captaincy in contrast was fine.  Not outstanding, but decent enough.  The problem with Cook is not with Cook himself, it is how the media respond to him.  Competent captaincy is most welcome, he acknowledged himself that he had learned and changed his approach, good on him.  But it is now at the point where such competence is lauded as being worthy of Brearley, and it’s total nonsense.  Cook had a slightly disappointing series with the bat but captained perfectly well.  It isn’t disloyal or anti-England to state reality and not join in the hagiography.  Cook seems immune from any kind of criticism from sections of the press, and it doesn’t do him any favours.

The one thing which is certainly in his favour batting wise is that although he didn’t get the runs, he looks technically much more sound than he did during his miserable run in 2013/14.  At that time his head was far too far across to the offside, which dragged his feet across to the offside, making him vulnerable to both the straight ball and the edge behind.  That particular failing has been corrected, and he appears much more secure in his technique.  To that extent, his quiet series can be put down to one of those things, but given the poor time he had of it previously, he does need to start scoring heavily again fairly soon.

His batting partner Lyth has probably seen his Test career come and go, and the pain etched on his face with his second innings dismissal tugged at the heartstrings.  England have developed a habit of losing openers not called Cook in the last few years, and both Compton and Carberry must feel considerable irritation that they weren’t persevered with, in the latter case in the face of far better bowling than any of the other hopefuls have had to cope with.

Ballance has responded well to being dropped mid series, and time in county cricket getting his game back in order might be just what he needs.  He has plenty of ability, and he’s hardly the first to suffer a difficult sophomore season.

The middle orders of both sides have performed poorly.  Bell seemed to either have a relative feast or total famine, but in the context of the others, those three fifties represent a reasonable return.  There is a real question mark now over his future.  With the exception of the pleasure that was evident from his contribution at his home ground, he has cut an unhappy, if not a detached figure for a little while.  Some with a poor grasp of grammar might have described it as “disinterested” even.  If that is to be Bell’s last appearance in an England shirt, as seems possible from his comment about deciding his future in a couple of weeks, then it’s a loss to England, and one that smacks of carelessness.  He still has much to offer, and he’s only 33.

Bairstow and Stokes both did OK on occasion, and in the first instance deserves persevering with.  In the second, Stokes tended to show the difficulty faced by so many all rounders over the years of trying to get both disciplines functioning at the same time.  He is a player of immense promise, and at the stage of his career he is at, his ability to bowl wonderful spells as well as play match changing innings is as much as should be expected of him.

The same could be said for Buttler, who after coming into the side as someone who had batting talent but whose keeping needed a lot of work, proceeded to turn that on its head by keeping extremely well throughout (the legside catches standing back were good, the one standing up was outstanding) and being barely able to score a run.  His final innings of the series did appear to show a degree of learning from experience, and in itself that’s a promising sign.  The improvement in his wicketkeeping too implies a player willing to learn.

The final member of the middle order, albeit one who batted as low as nine when a nightwatchman was employed was Moeen Ali.  Like with Bell over the years, there is a predisposition to be both frustrated by him and to make excuses for him.  He is simply unutterably gorgeous to watch; his strokeplay is entirely reminiscent of Gower, and when his batting is flowing, there are few players in world cricket more enjoyable to witness.  His position in the batting order often meant he had to go for his shots at the end of an innings, and that’s probably the best way for him to bat, as his technique isn’t a tight one.  Of course, in his case there is a problem, which is that his primary role in this team is as a bowler – something that may be considered unfair on him.  He didn’t do badly in the series overall, looking back at previous posts in advance of the series, his final average of 45 with the ball was even a prediction for being considered adequate.  There are two issues here though, firstly that he was comprehensively outbowled by Nathan Lyon, and secondly England’s refusal to pick Adil Rashid, seemingly under any circumstances.

It’s doubtful there is a much better finger spinner in English cricket, and having gone with Moeen, he should receive sufficient faith for him to continue working on his game.  He will get better.  However, it is becoming ever more difficult to see a justification for Rashid’s continuing exclusion, and even harder to see why so many of the press are so dead set against him.  Moeen was tried out as being far from the finished product, and given time to develop.  Rashid seems to be expected to be a hundred Test veteran on debut.  Surely he will get his chance in the UAE, and long overdue.

Of all the bowlers, Broad was the clear stand out.  Given his record over the last few years, he’s in serious danger of being consistently underrated.  Barely a series goes by without demands for him to be dropped, yet he’s one of England’s most consistent performers with the ball, even without the stunning spell of 8-15 at Trent Bridge which was truly wonderful.  He even did well in the horror tour of Australia last time.  When he’s not bowling through injury, he’s a serious threat to any side in world cricket.  As long as he’s told to pitch the bloody thing up.

Anderson will most of all benefit from the break enforced by injury.  That he was even considered for the fifth Test is concerning.  He’s an exceptionally fit athlete, and could go on for several more years yet, if properly looked after.

The return of Steven Finn has to be the most welcome sight in the England team.  He’s still not back at the pace he was, no matter how much he tries to deny it.  Perhaps the confidence gained from being an integral part of the attack will allow him to up that pace, because a bowler of that height consistently bowling high eighties is going to be a difficult proposition anywhere.  What happened to him in the past is a matter of deep frustration, but looking forward he is still young, still taking wickets at a truly remarkable strike rate and needs to be allowed to just bowl.  If England have changed one thing in regard to their approach to him, then let it be to focus on his wicket taking ability, not how many runs an over he goes for.

Mark Wood is something of a conundrum.  He clearly has a lot of talent, but his injury record isn’t a good one, and there have to be concerns about managing him properly.  Australia did point the way there with Ryan Harris, who they wrapped in cotton wool and as a result got at least two more years out of him than anyone could have hoped for, including him.  Seam bowlers are almost always carrying some kind of injury, so it isn’t a matter of plucking him out of the team at the first sign of trouble, but it is one of ensuring he doesn’t suffer a major injury.

For Australia, this is the end of an era for many of the squad.  Harris finally succumbed to his troublesome body before it even began, and perhaps more than anything that proved to be the ultimate difference between the sides.  He has been an outstandingly good bowler who had an Indian summer to his career.  When he broke down in the 2010/11 series, the sadness was the feeling that would be it, a career over before it had even begun.  He may not have played 80 Tests, but he played a lot more than he had any right to, given his physical problems.

Australia’s top three all had decent enough series, with the proviso that like everyone else, when they were bad, they were very, very bad.  Chris Rogers was outstanding throughout, and probably wishes he could have played his whole Test career against England.  Oh hang, on he more or less did.   Warner in contrast made lots of contributions without ever going on to get a big score.  It means that his figures are decent enough, but lack a match changing or match winning innings.

Smith had a similar series to Bell in some ways, the difference being that when he did get in, he went on to a very big score indeed.  His idiosyncratic technique makes this quite likely, and with him it’s a matter of accepting that, and knowing that when he does get in, he is going to seriously hurt the opposition.  His batting went a fair way to winning two Tests, focusing on his troubles in the other three is somewhat harsh.

Clarke’s retirement at the end of the series broke the last link with the great Australian side of the first decade of this century.  He had a poor series, without question, but very few players call it a day in a blaze of glory, not least because of the need for team mates to do their bit to provide the correct result.  McGrath, Warne et al managed it when they whitewashed England, but that truly great side is an exception.  Few decide to retire because they’ve been playing so well, and Nasser Hussain’s beautifully timed retirement winning a Test match and series with a superb century simply shows he had a sense of timing with his career that wasn’t always present with his batting.

England gave Clarke a guard of honour, and predictably enough (and more than welcome) the English crowd gave him a standing ovation on his approach to the crease.  Sometimes English crowds make you feel quite proud of them.  Clarke deserves it.  He’s been a terrific player, a terrific captain, and for those of us lucky enough not to be Australian, he was our leader in cricket too in the most tragic of circumstances.  His honesty in the face of defeat, and refusal to hide behind platitudes also marked him out.  It has been nothing short of a privilege to watch him play, and to leave the game of cricket having made a positive contribution is as good a cricketing epitaph as there can be.  To lose him in the same week as the peerless Kumar Sangakkara is undoubtedly a blow to the game, and the ICC could do worse than listen to what they say about the future of cricket.  And pigs might fly.

Just like England’s, Australia’s middle order had a woeful time of it.  Ironically enough that failing was just as prevalent in the 5-0 last time, but they were bailed out repeatedly by the lower order.  Not this time, though Johnson and Starc had their moments with the bat.  The jettisoning of Watson was possibly premature, his trials with the lbw law are hardly new, and at Cardiff he was the recipient of a couple of decisions that were fairly questionable, particularly the first innings one.  His replacements didn’t do any better, although his career is now probably at an end, distinguished by being one of the great unfulfilled talents.

Voges made a late bid to extend his Test career, Mitchell Marsh shows a lot of promise as a true all rounder given that bowling was thought to be his weaker discipline (he didn’t bat well), Shaun Marsh showed again – and probably for the final time – that he simply isn’t quite good enough at the very highest level and Brad Haddin also reached the end of the road.  The manner of the conclusion to his Test career seemed to cause some discord in the Australian camp amongst the senior players.  It’s a difficult one.  His batting and keeping had both deteriorated to the point his place should have been in jeopardy even if it wasn’t.  Perhaps it should just be put down to being one of those terribly unfortunate instances where they were faced with two wrong choices, and went for the better cricketing one.

Peter Nevill looks a decent enough replacement anyway, although he didn’t contribute with the bat too much more than the rest of that middle order.  His first class batting record is a very good one though, and he looks a perfectly competent gloveman.

Of the bowlers, given the loss of Harris, Siddle did seem the obvious replacement.  With hindsight.  It is all too easy to look at his performance in the final Test and say he should have been there all along, but there weren’t many calls for him to be in the side at the expense of anyone else, and in advance it was felt that Johnson and Starc’s pace would be more than good enough for England anyway.  Both were intermittently major threats, and the rest of the time expensive.   Ironically enough, it was Josh Hazlewood who made way for Siddle, despite having a better record than either of them, and for reasons hard to fathom bore the brunt of the criticism of the seam bowling selection that saw Siddle called up.

Nathan Lyon too had a good series, and showed what he is – a very fine orthodox finger spinner.  He’s every bit the equal of Graeme Swann, and perhaps at long last Australia will be content with their lot in the spinning department rather than harking back to the days of Warne.

Given how the series unfolded, in this one perhaps more than any other, it can be said that 3-2 was a fair result.  Three times England hammered Australia, twice Australia hammered England.  If there was a sixth Test, it could have gone either way, probably with a hammering.

The England players will rightly look back on the achievement with great pleasure, for they were the underdogs in the eyes of everyone.  The win is there to be enjoyed, but these are two teams who are very much at the crossroads.  Australia will largely need a new one, and will have to spend quite some time rebuilding and finding the right combinations.  England are at least playing a much more positive style of cricket, but they look a deeply flawed side at this stage.  There are plenty of players in that side in the early stages of their careers, and there will be ups and downs in their own performances.  What is more worrying is the collective implosions they seem so prone to.  They have two very difficult tours ahead, and as a young side may well rise to the challenge.  But they are going to have to, because otherwise they are in trouble.

This wasn’t an especially enjoyable series.  When third day tickets become something of a risky purchase not through it being a poor pitch, but because either of the sides are incapable of lasting that long, then there is both something wrong with them, and something extremely wrong with the series.  Some of the batting was genuinely second rate, in shot selection and execution.  It is to be hoped this is something of an aberration, because more of the same is going to pall very quickly.  Recent history around the world suggests winning away is becoming ever more rare, in which case England will face both the next 9 months and the next Ashes series with considerable trepidation.

The most damning indictment of this Ashes series is that the two Test version against New Zealand offered far more entertainment, far more sporting hazard, far more tension that anything the five subsequent games did.  England won, and to that extent it was great.  But Test cricket supporters have always had one eye on the team and one eye on the wider game.  The game itself in this series was dreadfully poor.  Pointing to the other eye and ignoring that is simply refusing to see evil.

@BlueEarthMngmnt