The Desert Drats


What to make of that series? A closely fought campaign or one where there was a clear winner. An unfortunate team meeting a fortunate one? I have to say, I’m not really sure.

So while I’m reading some ultra-defensive pieces about the team, and also some coruscating attacks on county cricket and the players we have, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I had a twitter discussion with Innocent Bystander before this series where he made a point that he thought England were perhaps transitioning earlier than other teams, and that there is a distinct lack of top class international test cricketers compared to a few years ago. I agree to a degree. Let’s look at Pakistan. There were key batting contributions in the tests by their old guard – Shoaib Malik in the first test, Misbah and Younus in the second test, Hafeez in the final game. But alongside them there is some youthful batting promise, that is becoming increasingly battle hardened. This blog, when it has been bothered to update Century Watch, notes that Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali make test runs regularly. Safraz Ahmed is a more than interesting prospect as a keeper-batsman (and he’ll need to be because Kamran Akmal seems to be making runs in domestic cricket – three centuries in four matches). Their bowling was always interesting. They have some top spinners, and in Yasir Shah a star. Shoaib Malik had a glorious swansong, while Babar is a really good number two spinner (as he showed when being the lead in Abu Dhabi). Wahab Riaz is a really exciting bowler, while Imran Khan and Rahit Ali gave good support. Lurking in the wings is the man to split world cricket, Mohammed Amir, taking wickets for a Gas Company.

Pakistan’s bowling was better than England’s. The results of the last two matches suggested that we were found wanting a little when the heat rose. England’s inability to make more of their position in the first innings at Sharjah was ultimately fatal to their hopes of drawing the series. The fingers were pointed at our spin bowling as if England’s score of just over 300 was acceptable. Maybe Alastair Cook’s monstrous 263 in Abu Dhabi was an outlier, but top players need to be making hundreds against good bowling in difficult conditions. Root did it at Trent Bridge for example. It wasn’t the abomination that was 2012, but it wasn’t a quantum leap forward either. 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s are all well and good, but they need to be your second best score in an innings rather than the highest. Williamson, McCullum, Warner, Latham (twice) and Ross Taylor have scored tons in the UAE in the past three years. Alastair Cook is our only man to score over 90 in six attempts!

Anderson and Broad can’t really be faulted. I saw that some thought this was back to the days of bowling dry, but they took wickets and kept control, which meant exerting pressure. Sure, there were frustrating times when the spinners were hammered, and that’s where the fingers are pointed.

I think the key issue from a series like this is whether England are moving forward, and that is what is so confusing here. We have a winter in India and Bangladesh (I’m not so sure that’s going to happen) next year so our all round development has to be in our thoughts as well as the here and now.

We still don’t have an opening partner for Cook. Many have tried, none have truly succeeded. The least worst have been Compton and Carberry, the oddest was Trott, the most expedient was Moeen, and the two that were given the post and failed to last were Robson and Lyth. Now what? Hales? Yeah. Good luck with that. He looks a test number 6 to me, at best.

Number 3 is currently the residence of Ian Bell. He had a nearly series, but the frustrations of his critics have hardly been calmed by his output here. He’ll bat here against South Africa (unless he jacks it in) and I’ve a feeling we will be saying the same thing as we are now. Is he ever going to be prolific again? Is this the slot James Taylor eventually lands in.

Joe Root is a fixture at 4, and his lack of hundreds on this tour, while a concern, also show how much we rely on him. His output is crucial, perhaps too crucial. I see many saying why doesn’t he bowl more, and I’ll say we need his back spared for batting, not bowling.

At number 5 we had Bairstow and Taylor. Bairstow is going to get the gloves for South Africa, one would imagine, and I thought I saw some development on this tour with the bat. But the question remains over whether he is really good enough. He’s never been given the sort of run he has now, and I think it essential he gets the first two or three tests in South Africa, and if it isn’t a total disaster, stick with it. While I would have stuck with Buttler (but a close call), this role is his now until he loses it,

Ben Stokes is a frustrating talent, but we know that. He’s not the problem, so it’s something we can pass by. But he’s got to get better against spin. His bowling will reap rewards on other days.

The one thing you can’t get away from is that the middle order is a total mess. While we can all look back and laugh to those six months ago who said there were no middle order vacancies so you KP fanboys can go whistle, the fact is if this team were being picked on merit, the spectre from Kwazulu Natal would be looming large. It’s too late now, of course it is, and his record in the UAE last time was dreadful (but he came back to form with that magnificent hundred in Colombo soon after) but that middle order misses him. It….just…..does.

The bowling was odd. Broad couldn’t take wickets early, but then kept the runs down and tooks some scalps. He batted pretty well (his disasters of a year ago seem a thing of the past) too. He’s an unappreciated player, and he’s a superb player. Let’s hope he stays fit. Jimmy bowled very well, of course, and we take him for granted. While I know we all get fed up with the hyperbolic press, making him into the “greatest ever” or the “best in the world”, he’s a world class performer, one of the best around, and he’s on our team. He’s not my favourite player, but that’s irrelevant. He’s a treasure for England.

The spinners were thrown under the bus (the batsmen are as culpable) and to a degree it is deserved. The Adil Rashid that bowled out the Pakistanis in Abu Dhabi must have been fed up with being told how many bad balls he bowled, how he bowls too slowly and those little dog whistles about his commitment carrying over from Lord’s last summer, that it must get to him to a degree. We do focus on what he doesn’t do. His batting in the second test showed he has something to give. I do hope we don’t give up on him. Moeen is being ruined by this team – he’s neither here nor there. A spin bowler asked to open. A middle-order bat asked to spin. A spin bowler batting at 8. He’s not an all-rounder, he’s a utility player. I’m absolutely clueless about what they want from him, what they expect. This is as curious a test career as I can think of. The only player I can think treated anywhere near like this is Shane Watson. That’s not a precedent to be set. Samit Patel won’t play for England again, I suspect. Zafar Ansari will have that sort of place next time, and we might watch England wonder what the hell to do with him, when (or if) they pick him.

So what do we do now? I have absolutely no idea. The Durban test starts on Boxing Day. England will line-up like this, maybe? Cook, Hales, Bell, Root, Taylor, Stokes (if fit), Bairstow, Ali, Broad, Wood and Anderson. Anything else will be down to injury or a shock selection. Who knows if it will be good enough, because we won’t be facing green seamers, but pacier, better wickets, perhaps. There seems some confidence that we will do better on those wickets. I’m not so sure.

I’m really not sure what to make of this. It was better than 2012, maybe the same as 2005. There are calls to reform county cricket. There are cries about the state of spin bowling. There are questions over team selections. I’m at a loss. Probably best to just appreciate an interesting, testing series, with some good cricket and some not so good. It was more appealing than watching green seamers and 60 all out. I don’t think England were bad. They just weren’t as good as Pakistan. Maybe it’s the simplest way to look at it. England to me are a team of confusion, and without an Ashes win, the pitchforks might be well and truly out. Maybe those green seamers saved more than Alastair’s skin; they bought him some time, and his team some time.

I’d be interested in any other thoughts.

52 thoughts on “The Desert Drats

  1. jennyah46 Nov 6, 2015 / 6:46 pm

    Fabulous post Chris. I agree with every word and share every doubt. Can’t comment further as I’m cooking and watching my potatoes! A woman’s work…


  2. Metatone Nov 6, 2015 / 6:51 pm

    I’ve chuntered on a bit through this series, more because I’ve felt the media have been their usual random and biased selves.

    In the end though, I think if you properly credit the quality in this Pakistan team, then you’re right. A team in transition like England was unlikely to do well.

    (Of course, you can ask “quite why are we so in transition?” and point to a lot of past mistakes by management… but that’s old territory by now.)


  3. Tony Bennett Nov 6, 2015 / 7:02 pm

    It seems to me that we’ve learnt very little from this series that we didn’t already know. Ali is not an opener. Taylor is quite useful. Cook can bat for aeons. Buttler has lost form. Bell is in decline. Broad and Anderson are quite useful. We don’t have any spinners. We have only one opener. God knows what will happen in SA but I can’t see it being good for England.


    • LordCanisLupus Nov 6, 2015 / 7:03 pm

      Do you want a job on here 🙂

      Summed up my waffle in a tenth of the time!


  4. paulewart Nov 6, 2015 / 7:17 pm

    Is it worth giving Buttler a go without the gloves? A lot of people were backing him a year or so ago on the strength of his batting. Has he gone backwards or does he still have that star quality? If so, why wait? Imagine how many more runs BMac and Kumar would have scored had they given up the gloves earlier.


  5. Nick Atkinson Nov 6, 2015 / 7:42 pm

    Good article. It was an interesting series. Saffies could be even better.


  6. Rooto Nov 6, 2015 / 7:57 pm

    My optimistic moment of the day:
    England should play Rashid at 8 in SA. Leg-spin on bouncier, pacier pitches, against players less proficient at it. Plus a bit of a sticker at 8 – a sub-Watling, if you like – to counterbalance our gung-ho middle order.
    Meanwhile let Ali bowl and open in ODIs where his natural game lies in all except the peak of his form.


  7. SimonH Nov 6, 2015 / 9:02 pm

    Don’t need spin in SA? I’ve heard and read quite a few comments to that effect. Is it true?

    Pace vs. spin in SA in the last decade:
    Seamers have taken 4x the number of wickets, at a lower average (29 to 37) and with a better SR (55 to 73). Spinners have a slightly better ER (3.05 to 3.23).

    Case closed? Not quite. There are significant ground variations. Jo’burg and Centurion, the 3rd and 4th Test venues, massively favour pace. CT for the 2nd Test favours pace but not as much as some might assume (31 to 38). However spin is crucial at the First Test venue of Durban. Spinners have a better average there (29 to 31) and Swann and Herath have spun visitors to victory there in the last six years. Even quite moderate spinners like Jadeja and Robin Peterson have taken wickets there.

    It’s also worth pointing out that despite their fourth seamer (currently Abbott or Rabada) almost certainly being better than their best spinner, SA seldom don’t play a specialist spinner (recently usually Tahir). SA have only gone into four Tests with Duminy as their only spin option – and don’t have a good record in those games (which is why they don’t do it much).

    I’ve just listened to Switch Hit which on young England spinners has pointed out that Adam Riley went to Loughborough last winter and was encouraged to change his action. He took 42 wickets at 32 the season before, 8 wickets at 53 the season after. Also, they mentioned Matthew Carter the Notts off-spinner who took 10wm in one game and never played another match. It hasn’t been as bad as this for spin in England since the late 1980s.

    On the seamers for SA, are Finn, Wood and Stokes going to be fit? Stokes was moving better when he batted the second time so that was encouraging. Wood’s trip to the specialist is surely going to involve him being told he needs an operation – so the question is when? Finn seems slightly the forgotten man but could be crucial – what’s happening with him? If they aren’t fit, we’re looking at Plunkett, Jordan and possibly Footitt and/or Woakes as the support seamers.


    • LordCanisLupus Nov 6, 2015 / 9:16 pm

      It would be a huge call for England to play two spinners at Durban. Quite frequently the rub on Kingsmead was that it was a very friendly bowling wicket early up, but then flattened out. I believe we’ve never lost there since re-admission.

      But not a lot to disagree with there, Simon.


      • SimonH Nov 6, 2015 / 10:01 pm

        I wasn’t necessarily saying play two spinners in Durban – just that spin’s a bigger factor there. Much would depend on who a potential fourth seamer was. If it was Rashid vs. Finn I’d probably go for Finn, if it’s Rashid vs. Jordan/Woakes then…..

        One other point – the Tests are brutally close together so if Wood delays any op it’s going to be difficult to get three Tests out of him, let alone four.


    • Arron Wright Nov 6, 2015 / 9:24 pm

      Loughborough. Is that where “the ECB spends a lot of time and effort in finding young [spinning] talent and giving it the opportunity to develop”?

      Sssssshhh…. You know who.


      • BoredInAustria Nov 6, 2015 / 9:43 pm

        “Yet England’s many poor performances since late 2013, starting with the 5-0 Ashes whitewash in Australia, have resulted in a more critical examination of Loughborough. It is no secret that Colin Graves, the incoming ECB chairman who takes office on Friday, wonders whether the money spent on Loughborough might well be used more wisely. The 2014 ECB annual report lists 43 “development staff” and 46 “coaching staff” on the board’s books, with an annual wage bill in excess of £4million.”


      • pktroll (@pktroll) Nov 7, 2015 / 9:23 am

        According to George Dobell, Stuart Meaker (remember him?) apparently clocked 95mph at Loughborough.. A mock tweet from someone on my tl replied as to the likely accuracy of those deliveries given the mocked belief in the competence of said coaches there.


  8. BoredInAustria Nov 6, 2015 / 9:33 pm

    15.4 Siboto to Pietersen, FOUR
    15.5 Siboto to Pietersen, SIX
    15.6 Siboto to Pietersen, 1 run

    16.1 van Schalkwyk to Pietersen, FOUR
    16.2 van Schalkwyk to Pietersen, SIX
    16.3 van Schalkwyk to Pietersen, no run
    16.4 van Schalkwyk to Pietersen, 1 wide
    16.4 van Schalkwyk to Pietersen, FOUR

    Dolphins 170/1 (16.4/20 ov)
    Dolphins won by 9 wickets (with 20 balls remaining)
    KP Pietersen not out 100 54 45 9 7 222.22


    • SimonH Nov 6, 2015 / 9:53 pm

      Another good thing about this week’s Switch Hit is Mark Butcher dares to mention ‘him’…..


      • Arron Wright Nov 6, 2015 / 10:10 pm

        Butcher still owns the quote of the last two years, from the Switch Hit review of 2014. We all know the one.


    • Sherwick Nov 6, 2015 / 11:03 pm

      We could well be missing 5 golden years of KP.
      Thanks Strauss, Cook and Flower.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mdpayne87 Nov 6, 2015 / 11:49 pm

        Would certainly bring him back for the World T20s next year. In superb form at the minute.


  9. Rohan Nov 7, 2015 / 7:42 am

    Aus going at almost 6 runs an over in their second innings, in a test match, madness!


    • LordCanisLupus Nov 7, 2015 / 1:01 pm

      Remember, it’s a slam dunk that Cook is the world’s best opener. No criticism of Cook implied, it’s criticism of cricket writers who don’t lift their heads up.


      • paulewart Nov 7, 2015 / 2:03 pm

        Well, to be fair, their heads are in a very warm and cosy place.

        Liked by 2 people

    • fred Nov 7, 2015 / 4:35 pm

      So Saint Brendon sees fit to pass comment on the Stokes obstructed wicket incident from some time ago, of which he had no part, and make an implied criticism of the Australian captain. No one tells him to pull his head it.
      Warner tells him to pull his head in, and it’s proof that Warner is an uncultured attack dog.
      Warner may not be the sharpest knife in the draw, but I suspect there’s a bit more to him than is suggested in the press. The cricket world always needs an Australian villain, and he is fitting the bill at the moment.
      As regards Cook, I know it’s inappropriate to raise this, but maybe if Cook had scored those 250 runs in the first test at slightly faster than a snail’s pace, there might have been time to actually win the game?
      I tried to watch a bit of this Australian dominance yesterday, but all I saw was Williamson stroking the bowling like it was a net session. Brilliant batsman, makes it look so easy.


  10. Arron Wright Nov 7, 2015 / 2:18 pm

    In other news, if anyone can find a more hypocritical pile of crap than Robbie Savage’s column in today’s (ironically named) Mirror, I’ll be impressed.

    Robbie Savage, defending the right of those who haven’t played at the highest level (including callers to phone-ins!) to voice their opinion. Robbie Savage.

    Bet he gets on well with fellow hypocrite and chutzpah merchant Dominic Cork.


    • greyblazer Nov 7, 2015 / 9:32 pm

      The same Dominic Cork who before an injury was a very fine bowler. Remember him bowling a good West Indies side out once, injury robbed him of a yard but he still had a decent career.
      I saw this row on Twitter, I don’t know Cork in the media but I thought KP was a bit naughty. What’s the history here?


      • pktroll (@pktroll) Nov 8, 2015 / 9:13 am

        They spent some time together at Hampshire a few years ago and they didn’t get on.

        I can’t say I ever had that high an opinion of Cork’s bowling to be honest and I was at Lord’s for the final day of the test in 1995. I thought he was a relatively ordinary bowler who had his moment in the sun a la Tim Bresnan 15 years later and I cannot stand Bresnan.


  11. fred Nov 7, 2015 / 4:21 pm

    I’ve four comments to this interesting reflective post:

    1. “We have a winter in India and Bangladesh (I’m not so sure that’s going to happen)”
    Why? Is there some doubrt about those tours?

    2. “Moeen is being ruined by this team – he’s neither here nor there. …This is as curious a test career as I can think of. The only player I can think treated anywhere near like this is Shane Watson.”
    That’s why this blog is superior to the Guardian’s. The writers and commenters are more interested in the cricket than scoring cheap points about Watson’s pad.

    3. “(and he’ll need to be because Kamran Akmal seems to be making runs in domestic cricket – three centuries in four matches).
    Oh God, really? Him again? Much as Pakistani cricket is interesting and adorable, I will never believe that Australia won the Sydney 2010 Test Match fairly, it was fixed, and Akmal was part of it. Peter Siddle being made to look like Bradman, for God’s sake!

    4. Most importantly, I like the reflective nature of this post. Reminds me of Jack Nicholson in that film As Good As It Gets, in a scene in the doctors waiting room, surrounded by misery, having an insight and saying to everyone waiting “What if this is it? What if this is as good as it gets?”
    It’s a good question, and while England of course should strive to be better, they should also celebrate a tour that wasn’t too shabby either.
    I could pick lots of holes: Cook the senior batsman never won a game for his team, Bell probably demonstrated conclusively his limits, spin bowling was poor, Buttler crashed out, Broad was economical but ineffective, Stokes had a modest tour, Ali is treading water at best, Taylor the new guy whinged about an umpiring bad light decision, Root complained stupidly about Riaz touching the ball with his foot, England got upset about 12th man teasing, but that’s all glass half empty. Glass half full says England went to UAE with a quite young team and did quite OK. And it was good, hard cricket, and Pakistan only won by applying long hard constant pressure on England. It was a greeat series, and England did quite well. maybe this isn’t as good as it gets for England, but if it is, that’s not so bad. It could be worse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ArushaTZ Nov 7, 2015 / 8:15 pm

      I agree with you about that Sydney test. There is a clip on youtube of Akmal ‘missing’ a run-out chance, highly dubious.


      • fred Nov 7, 2015 / 9:46 pm

        Thanks BOREDINAUSTRIA.
        The alternative to a fix is Pakistan being incredibly incompetent and tactically stupid. I guess that’s also a possibility.
        That analysis seems to clear Yousuf, which is nice, since I have a soft spot for him.


  12. SimonH Nov 7, 2015 / 6:26 pm

    First All-Stars game fulfilling its dual functions of spreading the game globally and providing copious material for sarcasm on Twitter.

    Crowd looks shocking/decent depending on camera angle/alcohol intake.

    I’m weirdly annoyed that Swann has been left out of the starting XI.


    • SimonH Nov 7, 2015 / 6:55 pm


      • SimonH Nov 7, 2015 / 9:12 pm

        Ricky Ponting made the run chase look like men against older men.


      • Rohan Nov 8, 2015 / 10:43 am

        As great as it was to watch this match, I was strangely upset. This was because I tuned in to watch many of my heroes (players I grew up watching in the late 80s and 90s) only to see a number who were either fat/overweight or were a shadow of their former selves.

        Whilst I can completely understand this due to the inexorable march of time. I think the problem was the image I still had in my mind, was of these players in their prime and perhaps I had tricked myself into thinking this is what I would see……

        Anyway. I really enjoyed the post LCL. I agree with you and it is clear this England team are ‘neither here now there!’ They are a curate’s egg……?


      • SimonH Nov 8, 2015 / 11:01 am

        Rohan, I thought the second innings was a big improvement on the first. Shoaib still had some pace and Ponting and Sangakkara still looked like proper batsmen.

        I’ve read conflicting reports on the crowd. The Guardian says it was +30k but others reckon the 40k stadium was, at most, half full. It looked to me more like the latter but estimating crowds in large grounds is notoriously difficult.

        Elsewhere, it’s infuriating to see England have not only denied the match against HK ODI status but have turned it into a XIII a side game so it won’t even be List A.


  13. fred Nov 7, 2015 / 11:43 pm

    Melinda Farrel is always enthusiastic, but I thought Mark Nicholas was normally a pretty straight-laced sort of guy. Pretty bad when mixed with the Ch9 blockheads, but otherwise a straightforward English toff. Here though I can’t work out if he’s been invited to too many hospitality events, or if the tropical weather is getting to him. Decidedly un-laced. And much more fun than usual.

    The stadium was in danger of collapsing at one point, but fortunately Nicholas had the presence of mind to hold on to it, so it didn’t fall over.

    The chardonnay in Australia has quite a high alcohol content.


    • Mark Nov 7, 2015 / 11:59 pm

      Fred, that is hilarious! Melissa is not sure whether to laugh with him or at him.

      Here is another interview Mark gave earlier….


      • fred Nov 8, 2015 / 12:33 am

        Very good.

        But just in case you think you think that you made up Giles Clarke all by yourself, here’s a reminder that Australia already invented him. Tell me if you can spot the difference.


      • Mark Nov 8, 2015 / 12:52 am

        Sir Les is a bit to up front about what’s shit he is. Giles works in the shadows. He is a shit too, but he hides it. He is more subtle.


      • fred Nov 8, 2015 / 1:12 am

        Sir Les is a caricature, we’re supposed to laugh at him. Clarke is not, he’s real. He actually exists.

        Look at this photo, and say why Sir Les isn’t interchangeable with Giles. Or Sir Giles, as I’m sure he will soon be known as:

        And he’s heading for the ICC, God help us.


  14. SimonH Nov 8, 2015 / 1:04 am

    Tim Wigmore on the Olympic negotiations and Giles Clarke:

    “Mike Selvey, who is known to have a good working relationship with Clarke”.

    Or, as someone said about Bernard Ingham when he was Thatcher’s Press Secretary, he was the sewer but not the sewage.


    • fred Nov 8, 2015 / 1:26 am

      “Certainly the Olympic issue appears worthy of more debate than the current ICC stance as presented by Selvey.”
      Yes, Selvey’s take was very limited, he clearly had no appetite to engage wirth the idea.
      Interesting there seem to be a hint here that Clarke may be reined in by the ECB.


    • Zephirine Nov 8, 2015 / 1:32 am

      ‘A good working relationship’, hmm. That explains a lot, obviously GC has been coaching Mr Selvey on his people skills.

      Hope springs eternal, could it be that Graves has been playing a waiting game?


    • Mark Nov 8, 2015 / 1:50 am

      “Mike Selvey, who is known to have a good working relationship with Clarke”.

      I rest my case your honor. No further witness’s. I knew it. Any one with a brain knew it.

      What a damming Indictment of someone who pretends to be a journalist. Where did the leaks come from Mr Selvey? You are a busted flush. No one with a brain believes anything you say amymore.


    • Arron Wright Nov 8, 2015 / 7:24 am

      “The sewer but not the sewage.”

      He certainly doesn’t pass the smell test.


  15. Pontiac Nov 8, 2015 / 5:58 am

    An off topic hyena says:

    Nathan Lyon, finally getting going, and a captain that won’t yank him the instant he takes a wicket^H^H^H^H happens to be fielding near the wicket on the nonstrikers end when someone on the other team is given out.

    Being nearby Los Angeles these days, and otherwise unoccupied, I thought about going to that T20 exhibition match. However, the cheapest ticket available, in the nosebleed section at Dodger Statdium, was $100! Well, good for them if they sell the seats.

    (What really ought to happen is West Indies having some home T20 games vs India/Pakistan/Sri Lanka in Miami/NYC/Toronto/Los Angeles. ICC managed, throw $50K to the WICB in lieu of, and just get on with it – have some ICC Associates (Afghanistan! Scotland!) or local teams play as a double-header. If the NFL can play at Wembley…)

    Liked by 1 person

  16. SimonH Nov 8, 2015 / 9:59 am


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