Being Outside The Loop

Well, hello to you all.

First up, and I think this really needs to be said, well done to Sean in picking up the slack while the usual duo have naffed off to the other side of the world (different other sides). It would have been extremely difficult for me to report on this test as there is more than just me and this blog to worry about… all the family stuff that comes from a visit to the States. We’ve had a washout on the Bank Holiday Monday here (Memorial Day) as the tropical warm air from a storm called Bonnie has brought lots of warm rain. I’ve rediscovered a love for, wait, jigsaw puzzles, and acted like a kid buying baseball trading cards…including getting one of my favourite player in the second pack I opened!


It’s interesting because Ortiz, above, is retiring at the end of this year, and is being feted by most of the Major League clubs as he does so. He’s having a great season after a few not so wonderful ones, but still is seen as the man for the big occasion, the one who will provide that clutch hit in the circumstances that require it the most. Quite how this links in with Cook getting to 10000 runs I don’t know. There’s something about 500 home runs (the 600 doubles on the card isn’t that vital) that sets the pulses racing. I think what you might be getting from this is that although I followed the scores of both England and Surrey quite closely over the weekend, on the requirement to go the extra mile… no. Sorry folks. A procession, even one not quite as simple as it looked on Saturday, hasn’t drawn me from a 1000 piece puzzle, watching an extraordinary NBA series between Golden State and Oklahoma City (Game 6 was fantastic) and keeping up with the baseball.  It seems such an effort.

I’m going to be even further away for the next few days as I am off on a mini r0ad-trip around Delaware and Eastern Maryland. I have three minor league games on the agenda – at Delmarva Shorebirds, Wilmington Blue Rocks and Lakewood BlueClaws. There’s something of the village cricket atmosphere at minor league games, albeit a little noisier. I’ve been to Lakewood (near where the Hindenburg went down) a couple of times (including standing in the line to get in when I got the first report of last year’s Exit Poll), but Delmarva and Wilmington are new. So far I’ve seen minor league in Burlington, Vermont (from where the Dmitri Old name arose); Harrisburg, Pennsylvania which was indirectly linked to trying to smuggle booze into the Oval Test; Greensboro, North Carolina where I saw the Marlins top pitching prospect throw rubbish; Salem, Virginia, where I saw a Red Sox affiliate team and Rochester, New York.

I thought I had a piece in mind for Cook’s 10000, but you know what, I can’t be bothered. I have no feel for whether Moeen’s innings was due to a resurgence in form or a bad bowling and captaincy perfomance? I don’t know if Sri Lanka made what they did due to a good pitch or bad bowling. It has just been a set of numbers from 3500 miles away. Should I read the news today? Will it make me feel good?

Don’t worry, when I am back I’ll be more than ready to take up the charge. In the meantime, it’s Sean’s show, and what a bloody good one it has been.

Finally, I intend to update the Glossary next week when I might have a bit more spare time. Suggestions welcome.

This is Dmitri Old, signing off.


England vs. Sri Lanka – 2nd Test, The Wrap

Well England did what they needed to do in the end, however they didn’t make things easy for themselves with the way they performed in the field today. Indeed despite Cook and Anderson hitting the headlines for achieving respective landmarks both with the bat and with the ball, the last two days seems to have dredged up more questions than delivered answers around the team make up.

Let’s make no bones about it, they bowled pretty horribly this morning albeit on a pitch that was not conducive to fast bowling. Anderson aside, England looked pretty toothless against stubborn resistance from Chandimal and Herath with Finn and in particular Moeen looking pretty anonymous with the ball. Much as been written about Steven Finn in the press over the last couple of days and it is clear that he is struggling with his action as he has been all season (though I’m not sure I can agree with Mike Selvey’s tweets trying to clear any arguments that David Saker might have been responsible for this.) As I mentioned a few days ago, Finn is the ultimate confidence player and be it through injury or through poor form, his confidence looks pretty shot at the moment. I think he desperately needs some overs with the ball in the county championship when the white ball season kicks off and for that reason, I would leave him out of the one dayers. George Dobell’s piece on Finn is definitely worth a read and a far more eloquent appraisal of the situation that I can muster –

The same thing can be applied to Moeen, who today was going for 5 an over on a pitch that was starting to take some proper spin. We all knew that Moeen was originally a batsman who also offered us a part time spin option; however there had been performances that also gave us hope that he could perform the task of being England’s main spinner one day. Whether it’s a confidence thing or an ability thing, Moeen’s limitations were shown for all to see in the Pakistan Test series in the UAE and I’m not sure he has recovered any semblance of confidence since that series. I think today clearly shows that England can’t rely on Moeen bowling teams out in the fourth innings of Test Matches at the moment. A true international class spin bowler is still very much on England’s wish list, unfortunately there still aren’t many queuing up on the horizon.

As much as England’s bowlers bowled poorly this morning and they definitely did, our predicament was not helped by Cook the captain, who was happy to let proceedings drift until we finally managed to dig the opposition out. This has been on my bugbears with Cook’s captaincy since he took on the role, that when Plan A and sometimes Plan B don’t work, then there is nothing left in the captaincy tank (MS Dhoni was another captain who seemed to freeze when the going got tough). Why not change the field around, bring on a part-time bowler or ask the bowlers to change the angle of the attack? Something, anything to try and prise a wicket out, but no we just seemed to plod on doing the same thing in the hope that Jimmy Anderson could find a bit of magic to eventually pick up a wicket. It is also right to highlight that Bairstow dropped a fairly regulation chance to get rid of Chandimal during the morning. This is always going to be the problem when you want a batsman who keeps wicket, rather than a wicketkeeper who can bat in your team. Bairstow did not have a good day with the gloves routinely spilling deliveries or struggling to take them cleanly. I do think his keeping on the whole has improved since the winter, but it is clear that he is very much a work in progress still and the wicketkeeper debate looks set to rumble on over the summer. Let’s just hope he has got his poor day out of his system for the rest of the summer.

Though, I have been critical of England’s bowling and captaincy today, this should not take away anything from the application of the Sri Lankan batsmen. Herath played a fighting, nuggetty innings for his team (though quite what Chandimal must have thought when he started to trying to reverse sweep when he was stuck on 98 not out, must be something else) and of course it was a classy hundred from Chandimal who looked an assured and classy batsman. Sri Lanka desperately need Matthews and Chandimal to lead from the front in what is a very inexperienced top order, but the signs today were good that Chandimal has the ability and temperament to score runs regularly at this level.

A final note has to go to Cook the batsman. It would be totally churlish of me not to congratulate him on reaching a memorable landmark. Cook without doubt is a fine international player and deserves praise for his longevity and ability to squeeze out the volume of runs that he has. Is he a world-class player? I would suggest his stats show that he isn’t quite in the same league as the Sangakkara’s, Tendulkar’s, Waugh’s and Dravid’s of this world, who were all world class, but that shouldn’t take anything away from the fact that he has been a fine opener for England in years gone past. Let’s now hope that with this landmark burden removed from his shoulders, that he can find some form again and score the runs that this England team needs him to do.

England vs. Sri Lanka – 2nd Test, Day 3

Day 3 finally saw something that has been missing from this entire series, a bit of fight from the Sri Lankan tourists. After we took the last two Sri Lankan first innings wickets in the morning, it could be genuinely feared that this contest wouldn’t last until Tea, such has been the fragility of the tourists batting line up, however thankfully there was no such repeat of the first innings.

The Sri Lankan batsmen did the basics well, left the ball outside off stump, moved their feet better, didn’t go lunging after the ball on a fifth stump line and scored runs when the loose deliveries came. As I said yesterday, there are absolutely no demons in this pitch, nor has there been any swing throughout the whole 3 days, which just shows how meek their first innings performance actually was. All of the Batsmen pretty much got a start except Karunaratne, who doesn’t seem to know where his stumps are, and Silva, Chandimal and particularly Matthews all looked good on a docile batting surface. There will be hopes in the Sri Lankan dressing room that Chandimal in particular can kick on tomorrow, as no doubt he is a decent batsmen, but in my opinion, he was batting two slots to high in the batting order in the first innings.

As for England, it was a frustrating kind of day. I think the bowlers almost expected Sri Lanka to roll over again and they seemed to lack the nip that they had in the first innings. They all bowled fairly tidily against a much-improved batting performance on a fairly placid pitch, but there wasn’t the same intensity as there was yesterday afternoon. . It could just be that being out in the field for 5 sessions has jaded them somewhat, however you guess they will want to remove Chandimal and Siriwardana fairly early with the new ball in the morning; otherwise another frustrating session tomorrow morning might be in order. I thought Moeen bowled well, including an absolute peach of a delivery to get rid of Thirimanne and Woakes again was the quickest of the seamers, but all in all it looked like a day for batting

As for the match situation, England are still massive favourites to win the game tomorrow from here; however if Sri Lanka can eek out another 200 runs or so then England might face a tricky chase as you would expect this pitch to start to deteriorate at some point over the next couple of days. Amusingly, Sri Lanka also have the opportunity to ruin the Cook 10,000 runs party penciled in for his mates at Lords, indeed the cynic in me would quite like to see him stride out to the middle chasing a target of around 12 or so in front of a half empty Chester-Le-Street, but that’s just my cynicism getting the better of me!

Day 4 comments below….

England vs. Sri Lanka – 2nd Test, Day 2

Well that was about a one sided day of cricket as you could possibly have wished for. Sri Lanka undid all of their good work in the field on Day 1 by dropping 2 dolly’s in the opening hour and then unfortunately the wheels truly fell off. Mooen played beautifully for his century and Anderson & Woakes in particular bowled extremely well, but this was quite horrible from Sri Lanka. They looked like a beaten team going through the motions and wanting to be off the cricket field and back at the team hotel as soon as they possibly could. Whereas you could have some sympathy with the tourists at Headingley when the ball was swinging round corners, there can be no sympathy here, the wicket is flat, the sun was out and there was hardly any swing, just a procession of poor shots from their batsmen.

Angelo Matthews was synonymous of this laissez-faire attitude and he can’t have had too many worse days as captain. From the 2 atrocious reviews in the field (and the equally atrocious review when he had clearly edged it) to the quite baffling field placements when Moeen was batting with the tail. Matthews looked absolutely lost on the field and it brought back memories of Day 4 of the Headingley Test back in 2014 when Cook absolutely lost the plot against the very same opponents. The fact that this Sri Lankan team has regressed so quickly is a sad indictment of the lack of talent they have coming through their domestic system and also clearly shows how much they relied on the superb Sangakkara and Jayawardene. With this Sri Lankan team stripped of these two talents, it looks a long and arduous road ahead for them.

As for Moeen, it was genuinely pleasing to see him convert a score into three figures, which is something he hasn’t done enough based on the talent he has. There is something bewitching about watching him bat from the languid covers drives to the stunning straight sixes he unfurls. Yes, he is slightly inconsistent and yes, you always feel that he could quite easily get out next ball (I don’t think he knows the word leave), but one thing I do know is that he is an entertainer with the bat, and we don’t have too many of them in this current England team. It is interesting that he has made both his century’s from number 7 (which I feel is probably his best position) as he didn’t have to spend most of his innings batting with the tail, the only problem being where do you fit Bairstow and Stokes in this batting line up when they are all fit? I’ll leave that one to the selectors, but in a way it’s a nice problem to have.

It was also good to see Chris Woakes have a positive impact with both ball and bat, though the former was the most important thing in my opinion. I wrote in my preview that Woakes really had to stamp his authority on the game to avoid being branded a ‘county trundler’ and I thought he bowled with decent pace and good rhythm and deserved the wickets that he got. It is clear that he has bulked up from when he first came onto the international scene and he is was the quickest of our seamers today. One swallow doesn’t make a summer and he needs to kick on now and start performing regularly on the International scene, but it was certainly a good to step in the right direction.

The one worry in our bowling unit is Steve Finn, who again looked out of rhythm and un-threatening. When Finn is bowling well, he bowls around 86 mph and hits the wicket hard (I’m afraid the injuries coupled with a certain David Saker have meant that the 90 mph bowler we once had, is sadly no more); however today and to an extent at Headingley, Finn was operating around the 82 mph mark and the ball seemed to be looping out of his hand, making him totally ineffective against what was shell-shocked Sri Lankan batting unit. Finn does seem to be the ultimate confidence bowler and when on form he has the ability to be as good as anyone out there, as he showed with some extremely good bowling displays in the Ashes last year; however when he is slightly out of form or low on confidence, the bowling action seems to fall apart a bit and he becomes almost docile. What you do with Finn at the moment is a tough one for Farbrace & Bayliss, drop him and you risk denting his confidence further or stick with him in the hope he comes good at the risk of carrying a passenger in the field, it’s not a call I would particularly like to make.

As for tomorrow, if England roll out the final two wickets early, then you would expect them to ask Sri Lanka to bat again and there beckons another 3 Day Test, which will also ensure a hefty loss for Durham. Whatever your thoughts on this England team or on Test Cricket in general, days like today are not a good advertisement for the longer form of the game. The reason I fell in love with Test Cricket was the duels and sub-plots of the longer game, the fair battle between bat and ball, not to see a match where one side continues to absolutely hammer another side. Perhaps I am being ungracious and maybe I should be over the moon that England are so in the ascendency in this Test series, but I personally think that rather misses the point.

Anyway Day 3 comments below (and just for WCTT’s information, I have not been paid for this article)…..

England vs. Sri Lanka – 2nd Test, Day 1

I’m writing this with the caveat that I’ve only seen a few of the highlights of the day’s play, so it perhaps won’t be as comprehensive as some of the Test match reports on here!

I think England will reflect on it as a decent but not spectacular performance. Hales, Root and Bairstow all played well but no one was able to go on and make that big hundred that would have batted Sri Lanka out of the game. This is a criticism that I have had with the English batting unit for some time as they’re frustratingly consistently inconsistent. When looking back at many of our victories over the past couple of years, it has generally been our bowling that has won us the game with the odd decent support act from one of the front line batsmen (usually Root). If England do have real ambitions to get to the number 1 test position, then our batsmen will have stand up and be counted on a more consistent basis and that starts with converting those 60’s & 70’s into big hundreds.

Cook and Compton both failed again, with the latter falling to a fantastic catch and the former playing a fairly ordinary shot. I don’t like to ratchet up the pressure on any of our batsmen, but you do feel that Compton needs to score some runs in the second innings to prevent the ‘sack Compton’ campaign going into overdrive, however even then it may prove to be too late. It seems that England on average give our batsmen 15 games to prove themselves as an Test player – Morgan, Ballance and Buttler are all stuck on the 15 game mark (though I hasten to say the latter two still have realistic chances of representing England in the Test arena again). This is Compton’s 15th game today and unfortunately it seems it may be his last. As for Cook, the ‘all praise our hero’ media bandwagon has again had to be tucked away ready for another day.

As for Sri Lanka, they seemed to bowl fairly well as they did at Headlingley and the catches that they took to dismiss Compton and Hales were absolutely top drawer. The pitch doesn’t seem to be doing as much as it did at Headingley and if they can bowl out England for 350 and apply themselves sensibly, then we might actually have a fairly even contest on our hands. I think the morning session of tomorrow’s play will probably be the one that defines this Test Match.

On a final note, do try and listen to Jonathan Agnew’s interview with Graeme Fowler on TMS around cricket and mental health. I thought it was a truly superb interview and Fowler was extremely candid about his experiences of poor mental health. It was also heartening to see Monty Panesar coming out in the press about the challenges he faced with his mental health and how he feels in a better place now. The fact that he has been made an ‘Ambassador for Mental Health’ by the PCA hopefully shows that cricket is finally taking this issue seriously and that players will hopefully have the right structures in place should they find themselves in a similar position rather than being branded as ‘difficult individuals’.

I did say this would be a brief post – Day 2 comments below:

England vs. Sri Lanka – 2nd Test Preview

So, we have the 2nd test upon us and the major question (no, it’s not an Alastair Cook one) has to be whether Sri Lanka can actually be competitive in these conditions? As Dmitri covered in his report of the last Test, England performed well bowling wise in seam friendly conditions and had Bairstow and Hales to thank for propping up the batting, but Sri Lanka were embarrassing. They looked like a Division 2 county team who had never come across these conditions and I’m not exactly hopeful they’re going to be much better this Test.

I do really worry about the future of Sri Lankan cricket to be honest, what with a weak domestic game and a Board showing the same greed and incompetence as the WICB have displayed for years, things don’t exactly look rosy in their garden at the moment. I sincerely hope they can rouse themselves for Durham after the pasting they received at Headingley, but in my mind they only have 1 international class batsman in their squad in Angelo Matthews and their best and most promising bowler has gone home injured with a stress fracture. It’s going to be a big challenge to say the least and I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if we saw another 3 day Test match.

As for England, they’ve unsurprisingly been hailed as world beaters again, which is a tad hasty to say the least in my opinion; however that is always the way with the English MSM, after all we’ve got the next Mike Brearley leading us now. The one player however, who seems to have inadvertently pissed on Selvey’s, Stock’s and Pringle’s chips in a former life is poor Nick Compton, who seems to be at the centre of an unpleasant whispering campaign from the Media. Whatever you think of Compton the batsman, and I personally think he’s a decent player who was treated awfully when he first came into international cricket, I think this sort of Chinese whisper campaign is at best unhelpful and at worst is slanderous. Indeed after the first Test it was left to Farbrace to address some of these unsubstantiated rumours: 

“I have read all the stuff about Nick’s intense personality,” Farbrace said. “But I have yet to meet a batman at the top level who is not intense about the way they prepare. He is passionate to score runs for England and I think a couple of scores back to back and he will be off and running. I would say his state of mind has been very good.

“He is not a difficult bloke. He is an easy bloke to work with and he is passionate about scoring runs. He has everything you need from a top quality batter. 

“We felt in South Africa he showed enough to suggest he can score runs in international cricket. He did not necessarily cement his position but we showed him faith by picking him.”

This doesn’t exactly tie in with the moody and difficult individual with few friends that is currently being portrayed in the MSM at the moment, so is this idle gossip from the hacks or is someone with an agenda leaking sound bites to old friends? I don’t think you need two guesses as to what my thoughts on the matter are. It seems that ‘if you’re not one of us, you’re one of them’ an individual from the ‘wrong type of family’ and as a result, no matter how many runs Compton does or doesn’t score this summer, his card has already been marked by those in the realms of power. I’m sure the ECB will phone up ISM to find someone else whose face ‘better fits’.

As to the makeup of the England team, I don’t see any changes occurring with Woakes replacing Ben Stokes as the all-rounder. Chris Woakes is an interesting case as his county stats indicate that he should be an international class cricketer – averaging 35 with the bat and 25 with the ball, indeed he took a 9 wicket haul against Durham this week to remind us how potent he can be (he’s just lucky that he was playing in Division 1, as we know, only Cook’s performances count in Division 2). However it is fair to say that he has looked at best innocuous in the Test arena and at worst a bit lost. I’ve seen an argument that he shouldn’t be judged yet as he hasn’t had a true run in the side to find his feet (6 tests spaced over 3 years), and this is a fair point, but you would think that with Stokes’ injury and a Sri Lankan team looking all over the shop against seam and swing bowling, that he needs to start turning those County performances into something more substantial in the Test arena to avoid being tagged as a ‘county trundler’. I’d also be surprised if they replaced Finn with Ball, despite the former looking a bit out of sorts with the ball in the First Test and Lord Selvey’s divine protestations.

On a final note, it will be interesting to see how many spectators turn up for the 2nd Test. I really feel Durham have been sold a turd here, especially against a Sri Lankan side who hardly turned up at Headlingley and on the back of a 2nd consecutive game in the North East. I do have particular sympathies for Durham with this, they’ve got a great ground, passionate fans and good facilities (despite the sparse public transport) and have always maintained aspirations for hosting Test Match Cricket; however the madness of the ECB bidding system combined with their vision to have at least 9 venues able to host Test cricket means that Durham have had to fork out the princely sum of £950k for the privilege of hosting this Test. This makes no financial sense whatsoever, Durham are forced to raise ticket prices, people therefore don’t attend and all they are left with at the end is a costly bill for a loss making exercise, no wonder they have had to approach the ECB, cap in hand, asking for a loan. Durham have no more Test matches scheduled after this one according to the current future Test calendar and one may sensibly interject that this could be the last ever match they hold there, which would be a sad indictment of the ECB’s cash before fan mentality. Of course, the ECB could rejig the order of Tests, so the Oval doesn’t automatically get the last Test of the main series, we could also agree a rotation of Test Grounds over a 4 year period and even strip away one of the Lords games each summer to make it a fairer playing field for all concerned; however London is where the ECB makes their money and the turkey’s running it aren’t suddenly going to start voting for Christmas any time soon. Spreading the game to the masses is a ‘nice to have’, but in reality it’s the money stupid!

Anyway Day 1 comments below:

The First Test – Quality Street

England did what England needed to do. They recovered well from a tenuous position, got themselves up to nearly 300 and let two experienced world class bowlers do their thing. We genuinely feared for Sri Lanka coming into this test, and arguably this was worse than we thought. Their bowling looked OK, they didn’t let themselves down, but the batting was woeful. Well, what I saw of it was.

Test matches like these are easy to review. England are a very good side – I’m not convinced they have it in them to be the world beaters that Ian Botham does – and pretty unstoppable in favourable conditions. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that. I think the great sides win test matches on flat decks in alien conditions (Durban and Joburg weren’t flat but they were top wins) and this team’s batsmen are still too creaky to be considered a truly vintage side. England needed to get enough runs, they did. They needed to bowl sensibly and with skill, they did. Jimmy took 10 wickets, much to the chagrin of Dennis Does Cricket, and England by and large held their catches. It was as routine as routine could be. It reminded me of the effortless steamrolling of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe when Giddins or Johnson picked up wickets.

But this is Dmitri. I’m always down on England. You never give them credit. You want them to lose.

I want to see entertaining cricket, and a fair contest. I get absolutely petrified if this is the way Sri Lanka are going. We’ve seen how West Indies have gone. They’ll concentrate more and more on white ball cricket. Last time over here Sri Lanka were competitive, they fought, they outplayed England at key moments, and held on by the skin of their teeth on other occasions. This year they came in on the back of two lack lustre displays, and without the aura of a Sangakkara in their midsts. It was grim, it was cold. England won. They’ve given me two days off, and on the brink of a break, that’s most welcome!

The heads turn towards a test in Durham next time out. Will England keep the same team, Stokes fitness permitting, or will the media rumble for Compton’s axeing be persuasive? That’s about as interesting and exciting a talking point that has come out from this test. We have two top bowlers, and that was too much. We had a wicket-keeper batsman in super form and feeling secure, and he played superbly. We had Hales show he’s not a one-trick pony. Above that, we learned nothing. Except we have another few days of 10000 mania.

Test cricket is in trouble. But at least we have a 4-0 lead in the Super Series. That should make you all delighted. Puts this one-sided win in the vital “context” I know everyone loves!

Finally, thanks once again for Sean’s piece yesterday. Delighted he’s taking up the role of writing for us on a more regular basis, and he’ll be the eyes for the next two matches as both Chris and I won’t be able to watch them. Hopefully, I won’t even be missed!

England vs. Sri Lanka – Day 2

TLG is now off on his travels and LCL is preparing for his holiday, so I’m afraid you’re stuck with me tonight!

Day 2 started off as looking like it could be a close contest, but the mid-afternoon gloom, always a decisive factor at Headingley, combined with some great bowling from Anderson and Broad means there is a very real chance that this could be a 3 day Test. Whilst we shouldn’t take anything away from the English bowling this afternoon, it was a pretty meek surrender by an admittedly inexperienced Sri-Lankan batting line up in alien conditions.

I thought Sri-Lanka bowled well in the morning aided by the odd brain fart by the English batsmen. Chameera looks a real prospect having bowled extremely well in New Zealand over the winter and again deserved his wickets today and Pradeep whilst not being incredibly incisive, managed to keep a lid on the run rate. They’re not the world-beaters that Sanath Jayasuriya proclaimed them to be, but in helpful conditions they’re not a popgun attack either.

The fact that we got to nearly 300 is mainly down to the exploits of Jonny Bairstow, who aided by the Watford Wall, launched a counter attack innings that reminded be of Matt Prior in his prime and took the game away from Sri-Lanka in the hour before lunch. Bairstow has had a stop start beginning to his Test career and didn’t necessarily convince to begin with, but it seems like he now feels he belongs in the International arena and is backing that up with some serious performances to match. There have been some interjections that England should move him up to number 5 to accommodate a specialist wicket keeper (me included), but in hindsight I think it’s probably right to leave him where he is for now. Batting at 7 with the tail and often against the new ball is a specialist position and Bairstow seems to thrive on having the licence to attack at number 7.

A small word too for Alex Hales who fell short of his century after what can only be described as a fairly ugly shot. Whilst he didn’t make it through to three figures, I think he deserves some credit for battling through on what looked like a difficult pitch to bat on. I would like to see some more attacking intent from him, but it does look like he has worked on his game since the South Africa series and his footwork when playing outside of off stump looked far more assured. Is he the opener that we’ve been looking for, I’m not so sure, but I think he deserves the rest of the summer to try and cement his place.

A final note is reserved for the bowlers and especially James Anderson. Anderson is now touching on 34, a youngster in my book, but a veteran in cricketing terms. He seems to thrive in conditions such as the ones served overhead today and he bowled with great control throughout the whole innings. The ball that got rid of Shanaka was a typical example of how to bowl with favourable overhead conditions and was a trademark Jimmy wicket. There doesn’t seem to be another Anderson type bowler coming through the ranks, which must serve as a worry when he finally decides to hang up his boots.

On a side note it also the start of the “mediocre” T20 blast tonight with Essex vs. the ‘South London massive’ live on Sky. Now whatever you think of the English T20 competition (there are those that think it’s great and those who want a Franchise competition to replace it), I’m not sure it’s great form for the Chairman of the ECB to label it mediocre, especially when the organisation he works for is far less competent than mediocre. I’m sure his friends from Sky will have called him last night and tomorrow it will be world beating again, either that or he’ll be locked back in his cupboard for another year!

Anyway Day 3 comments below and with any luck you may get LCL back tomorrow so you don’t have to put up with my drivel.

Have a good evening.

Sean B

Update – Day 3 Comments below….


England vs Sri Lanka: 1st Test, day one

Unless the team batting first has an absolute horror then the first day invariably leaves the spectator unsure of where the match is going, even more so if a session is lost to the weather.  171-5 is not a great score, that’s certain, but as ever with Headingley the context of the overhead conditions and the pitch may mean it is better than it first appears.  Equally however, the movement off the seam and in the air was anything but prodigious – enough to keep the bowlers interested and the batsmen wary, but no minefield.  Therefore conclusions are entirely impossible to draw except to say that both teams will probably be fairly content with their work overall.  Sri Lanka have dismissed half the side and will hope to wrap up the rest reasonably quickly, while England have recovered well from the parlous position of 83-5.

That they did so was down to one player batting against type and another who is finding Test cricket rather easy at the moment – with the bat anyway.   Alex Hales found himself in the probably unfamiliar position of having to hold the innings together, and as a result batted cautiously throughout.  Without his knock England would have been in dire straits.  And yet it is to be hoped that Hales doesn’t see this as his role in future, for there are much better defensive openers in the game than him, and in the South African series he appeared to be struggling to try and play a game different from that at which he excels.  He does have technical limitations, but so does David Warner, and it isn’t a problem there because his role is to be the dasher.  When in, such players are devastating, but they can be knocked over cheaply by quality bowling.  Today Hales had little choice and deserves immense credit for battling his way through, but it would be a waste of what he is capable of if that is to be how England see him batting, for it is hard to see how he can succeed over the longer term.  But as England’s David Warner, well it might still be a long shot to be as effective, but it’s probably his best chance.  Today however, it was just right.

Jonny Bairstow is either in the form of his life or has thoroughly found his feet at the highest level, and perhaps something of both.  Middle order players who can turn the tide are invaluable, and England have a couple in the shape of him and Ben Stokes.  Ah yes, Ben Stokes.  It didn’t take long for the knives to come out concerning a poor shot.  As needs repeating time and time again, Stokes plays this way.  You cannot stand and cheer if the ball he was out to had gone just out of reach of the fielder and sped away for four – same shot, different outcome.  When Stokes is batting well, he chances his arm and gets away with it, the margins are that narrow, and it is as it always was, two sides of the same coin.  The glory of run a ball double centuries come with the disappointment of poor shots for not very many, it really cannot be something people have both ways.  His overall performance is the key, because there will be glorious highs and abject lows.

Naturally, the pre-match build up and the rain breaks were dominated by the whole story around Alastair Cook approaching 10,000 Test runs.  Sky went as preposterously over the top as they always seem to with all things Cook, offering an interview that was about as incisive as a This Morning chit chat, with unquestioned adoration of the Great Man throughout.  Cook did say that he just wanted the whole thing over with, and that would be quite understandable, for the use of him as an icon by broadcaster, media and the ECB is not his fault.  They have successfully turned what is undoubtedly going to be a fine achievement into something that has created serious irritation at the nature of the idolatry.  It’s quite an achievement, and it is to be strongly suspected that Cook is uncomfortable with the circus.  It’s a great pity, for achievements should be celebrated, instead they are having to be qualified because of the excessive claims.  Cook will get to 10,000 and he will and should be extremely proud of himself for it.  He’s been a fine player with power to add.

For Sri Lanka the man of the day was clearly Dasun Shanaka, who received his first Test cap before play began, and then came on as the fifth bowler just before lunch and promptly removed Cook, Compton and Root in the space of eight balls.  As debut victims go, that’s not bad at all.  He lacks pace, and bowls the kind of line and length that should have county coaches purring, and the ECB grinding their teeth having so recently announced the death of such bowling in the English game. Headingley has often rewarded bowlers of this nature, being the only ground where (back in the days they actually got more than the occasional Test) the phrase “horses for courses” would routinely make an appearance pre-selection.

One final thing to note, in two sessions of play only 53 overs were bowled.  It is unlikely this would have speeded up in the final session, and quite clearly the ICC no longer care, for fines for slow over rates appear to be a thing of the past, let alone suspensions.  It is of course one day, and one curtailed day at that.  But the pattern has been in place for quite some time.

My flight tomorrow is at 16:05 from Heathrow, so that is it from me for this Test and this series, though I daresay something will annoy me enough to post over the next month.  I’ll probably add some travel observations to my travel blog (I’ve already put up an intro for this trip – and if you’re interested in Myanmar, there’s plenty there from the last one), which is if you feel so inclined to say hello, otherwise, back in mid June!

Enjoy the rest of the Test – oh and day two comments below.


Take my Problem to the United Nations

Ah, May.  A time for the preparation of pitches up and down the summer, for club batsmen to walk ruefully back to the pavilion having horribly mistimed one that stuck in the pitch, and for England to begin their Test schedule for the year with the joys of what is always a warm up series no matter how they try and pretend otherwise.  And this year it’s Sri Lanka.  Again.  It was only two years ago they were last here, when of course they rather memorably won a two Test series, where Alastair Cook had a thorough meltdown as captain, where the glorious Kumar Sangakkara scored a memorable hundred at Lords, and where Jimmy Anderson ended in tears at being out to the penultimate ball to settle the result.

Now apologies are due for mentioning any of that, but it seemed wise, given that this particular series appears to have been wiped from the collective memory banks of the great and good in the media, but it was remarkable for the contrast between sublime and shambolic, and more remarkable still for apparently never having happened.  Yet to come back only two years later for another go is in itself worthy of comment.   It’s really Bangladesh’s turn, who haven’t been to England since 2010, and aren’t scheduled to either.  It will be at least ten years between tours of England for them, and most likely longer.  Pretences about the sanctity of Test cricket and the importance of the game should always be viewed in the context of the ECB not remotely caring about Bangladesh.  The same applies of course to Zimbabwe but here at least they can point to the government not allowing them over, but given the Bangladesh situation, it is not exactly radical thought to believe it would be no different.

Instead we have a young, inexperienced Sri Lanka side shorn of their greats, who in May conditions in the north of England should be beaten comfortably.  There are a couple of points about the venues for these games, Lords of course gets two Tests each summer, but after last summer’s Ashes which didn’t venture north of Nottingham, only one of the main event against Pakistan is in the north of England (Old Trafford).  With Headingley and Chester-Le-Street selected for the lesser series, and only one of the Pakistan series in the north, a year after none of the Ashes matches were suggests that the jibe that Strauss and the others won’t venture outside London seems to have some validity.  Perhaps the ECB boxes aren’t as good.  Indeed, last year and this London will have had six Tests, while the whole of the north of England only four – and only one of those against the main attraction of the summer.

The second issue that always crops up is the supposed unfairness of Sri Lanka and other similar sides being forced to play in the colder spring rather than in conditions more conducive, and here the sympathy is in less abundance.  For few complain about England being forced to play in the heat of Colombo, and it’s no different in principle.  Touring sides play in alien conditions, that’s always been the case, and England don’t get given a free pass for when it doesn’t suit them, and nor should they.

What it does mean is that England’s defeat last time around remains one of the more abject in recent times, made worse by being largely self-inflicted on so many levels.  It is unlikely this will be repeated in 2016, for England, for all their faults, are a better side than they were then, and Alastair Cook’s captaincy has been unquestionably liberated by the replacement of Flower and Cook and is, if not exactly dynamic, rather more competent than it was two years ago.

Cook himself will almost certainly reach the landmark of 10,000 Test runs this series, and it is undoubtedly an achievement of serious merit.  What it won’t be is the mark of all time greatness that the thoughtless will undoubtedly bestow on him.  It is so often regarded as being sour, but it is simply being realistic.  Cook is an excellent player and one of the best England have had in the last 30 years.  He has technical problems certainly, but his ability to overcome them is worthy of high praise, and his concentration levels are genuinely astounding.  When he’s in, he grinds on remorselessly.  So it is nothing other than setting it in context, that a player who plays as long as he has done is likely to reach landmarks that those of the past could only dream about even if they played for the same period in terms of years.  The 16 Tests across the calendar year of 2016 are evidence of that.  Number of Tests played is now the indicator, not time and certainly not age, no matter how often some try to roll out the stat about reaching landmarks earlier than Tendulkar.

Hyperbole rules across so many areas of modern life, but it creates entirely unnecessary resentment by hagiographical approaches to what is a fine achievement on its own terms, without trying to pretend it is something else.

James Vince seems quite likely to make his debut in this series after the health enforced retirement of James Taylor, and he will join a batting order that is still somewhat in flux.  Joe Root, Cook himself, Ben Stokes are all secure, but this is a big series for Alex Hales and also for Nick Compton.  Hales had his troubles in South Africa but is not the first at the top of the order to have had difficulty against strong opposition.  Indeed his record in that series was barely any different from Cook himself, which within the context of one of those players having a thoroughly established record and the other not, still needs to be considered  – seemingly the selectors have done so.  Yet it is probably the case that this series is where Hales needs to make some kind of impact.  Given England’s remarkable ability to go through openers not called Cook (sometimes even when they’ve done better than someone called Cook) it is to be hoped that some stability is around the corner.

Compton on the other hand did ok in South Africa.  Not outstanding, certainly, but he did alright.  The scrutiny on him always appears to be more about his character than anything else – precedents have been thoroughly set.  Further down the order Jonny Bairstow’s main task is to improve his wicketkeeping.  He had a wonderful series with the bat in South Africa, but less so with the gloves.  He’s a part time keeper over much of his career, and patience is needed with him.  Most of the mistakes he made were those of someone who doesn’t do it all the time.  He will get better, and if delving into the dangerous territory of predictions, it would be to say that as his keeping does get better, he’ll go through a drop in batting form.  Getting both disciplines to work at the same time is always a tough challenge.

The exclusion of Ian Bell from this series does suggest England are unlikely to go back to him.  It is to be hoped that England have at least told him where he stands, and done so on the basis of truth not expediency.  England are just terrible at this – there comes a time when it is right to move on, but they so rarely handle it well.  Which brings me to another matter: In the women’s team, Charlotte Edwards’ more or less enforced retirement was entirely out of keeping with the service she has given England over 20 years.  It may well be entirely the right decision to go with younger players, but surely it cannot be right for someone who gives half their life to the England cause (much of which was not paid remember) to be unceremoniously discarded that way.  Cricketing decisions need to be made, but respect is due to her for her achievements and commitment, and it appears to have been forgotten.  Her statement that it came as a shock suggests no-one had talked to her about how they saw the future over the last year, and that’s just poor for such a great servant.  It is is easy to add two and two and make five, so let’s just say it is to be hoped that Sarah Taylor’s sabbatical is unrelated to the management of that.

The Test series beginning tomorrow is one that I shall miss almost in its entirety.  Work is calling and I shall be out of the country until the middle of June (Thailand, Laos and Indonesia if you’re asking – and you haven’t) so all the comments will be my means of keeping up with what has happened.  See you on the other side.

Day One comments below please