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.