This is a compelling test match. We can discuss the quality of the surface, we can discuss the lack of crowds, we can discuss the quality of our spin bowling, or we can discuss who is in the comms box. But as a game of cricket this is a really good one, and the match has turned towards England because of the contributions of Ben Stokes in particular. Stokes will score centuries, has scored centuries, that will not be anywhere near as vital as this 85 here. That would have been enough for one person alone, but this was allied to a bowling spell this morning that limited Bangladesh to just 248 when the hosts could have been expected to take a lead given their overnight position.
I’m strangely neutral on Ben Stokes. It might be the product of the environment that he is in, or the rush to appoint him the new Flintoff/Botham. He’s not in their bowling class, but he’s a much better bat than Freddie, and probably around Botham’s class in my view. But there’s something about the abrasive personality that doesn’t wash with me. But that hardly matters. I wasn’t ever starting the Graham Gooch fan club, but loved every one of his runs when made for England. Stokes is someone I want in my team, rather than against me. In watching his innings today the big shock was when he got out. He’d looked supreme from the time I’d started to watch, and Jonny Bairstow was, once again, his partner in solidity. Stokes was simply superb, and while Ian Watd has called him the “heartbeat” of the team (which usually happens when Joe Root fails), it’s more that he’s our fireman at the moment. Getting us out of sticky situations, with his fellow officer Bairstow.
I’m a bit awry with sleep patterns at the moment, so missed most of the first two sessions, which is where the crux of the action seemed to take place. Sky have not as yet shown me the highlights, so I can’t comment on it, but once again England’s top order collapsed. The fact we have a very long batting line-up (Batty, at 11, had a first class hundred just a few months ago), doesn’t excuse the fact this is happening far too often. Stokes is a top player, so is Bairstow, but you can’t keep relying on this to happen. We go to India next, we go to Australia next year, and we are 80 for 5, it’ll take some stones for Stokes and Bairstow or Ali to keep us above the water. So when James Taylor said, as he just has on Sky, that this day has gone according to plan, he’s talking out of his hat. Cook, for all the plaudits he gets, is needed more than ever, so it may be impertinent of me to comment that he has one century in his last 14 test matches. Cook’s 263 last year may be a once in a lifetime Asian condition monolithic innings, but we need him to really stand up. Odds were stacked against him in this test, coming out with hardly any match practice. Hopefully he needed the run out. Duckett has not made a case yet, but of course he needs time before he starts getting the James Vince treatment. That is being reserved for Gary Ballance, who the media cohorts could not wait to turn on when he dismissed, with the tweets flying (Stocks in an early reprise of his Compton campaign, perhaps?). Joe Root had a failure, which seems to be magnified when he’s at three for some reason.
The cognoscenti believe we have enough. The line to take has been set. Lose this and we will be undertaking a post-mortem on English spin bowling. That there is an obvious deficiency in that department has not come a surprise. It is not Batty or Rashid’s fault they have been selected. Broad can go games without looking like a bowling terror, but that seems fine. However, if you are a spin bowler not running through “only Bangladesh” then there are serious questions to be asked. Swann covered up a multitude of sins when he was in his pomp, and we had an able deputy in Monty (who would walk into this team if he were anywhere near where he was 10 years ago). Now we have what we have. As I said, it’s not their fault they’ve been selected. That Rashid doesn’t seem to be able to have a bad hour without some piling in who should know better is symptomatic of where we are now.
OK, enough from me. Comments on today’s play here, and also for thoughts during the 4th, and possibly final, day from Chittagong. It has been a compelling game, and it may yet have a sting in the tail. I don’t think, despite Jonny’s confidence, that it is in the bag yet, but yes, England are most certainly favourites.
By way of an update, I thought I’d just do some basic stats on how you can extrapolate success in your first test with the potential for a long career with England. I think we all hope that Ben Duckett is the answer, but his first test has thrown up scores of 14 and 15. Of England’s top 20 run-scorers in history, just four did not pass 20 in their first test (Gooch, infamously; Stewart – although he had one knock and was 0 not out when we won in Kingston in 1990; Sir Len Hutton (0 and 1); and Nasser Hussain (13 in the same test as Stewart, and thus one innings).
Of the top 20 run scorers 10 made half-centuries in their debut match, three made centuries, one made it in their first ever innings (Strauss). Cook, Gower and KP all made two scores of 50 or more in their first test. Players to have made 14 in their first test innings? Peter Such and Alan Mullally!!!! Those with batting reps to do it include Rikki Clarke and Darren Maddy. CB Fry made 15 on his second innings.
The most amount of innings between a debut and a half century was Alec Stewart, who took 10 innings. Of the 10 that didn’t make 50s on their debut, Gooch took five innings, Boycott four innings (debut score of 48), Athers took five (a century, also made 47 in his second innings), Cowdrey took five innings (and made a hundred in the sixth), Hutton made a hundred in his third innings, Barrington a 50 in his fourth, Hussain a fifty in his sixth, Vaughan in his seventh and Botham in his fifth.
A good rule of thumb therefore, is if you don’t get to 50 in your first five innings, you might be struggling for a test career. Just three of our top 20 did that.