As we did with the Ashes, and prompted by The Bogfather pressing me on an earlier idea, here is a hastily put together panel to discuss the series coming up against India.
To introduce the panel:
- Man In A Barrel
- PGP Cricket
- Martin Payne
- The Bogfather
- Cricket Fan Bob (from Twitter)
- Matt Hallett
- David Oram
They were posed five questions and the answers are below:
1. How do you think England sit as an international team after the 1-1 draw in Bangladesh? Glass half-full or half-empty?
MH – Much like previous series, we’ve come out of it with as many questions as we started the series with. Which is obviously very frustrating – despite the reputation this blog gets, I want England to win and for all individual players to succeed, but we’re still half a side which means when we’re good, we’re very good and when we’re bad can be very bad. Stokes’ bowling was a big plus and bodes well for the future (I was a little worried that he would unbalance the side by not being quite good enough in either discipline in these conditions), but overall we’ve moved backwards with questions remaining over batting positions and the spin bowlers.
Bob – About where they did before really, we’re not that bad, nor are we that good. We saw spinners clearly out of their comfort zone, but all trying hard and performing to one degree or another. As is often the case, the batting fails but there’s more questions about the bowling which seems a bit strange. In a funny kind of way, we didn’t learn much at all about England. Ben Stokes is still some consistency away from being a world beater. Oh, and Bangladesh are quite good…
PGP – Difficult to say. Eng played a not full strength side in the second game and paid the price. Not picking Batty was batty. Picking Finn was also daft.
Finn needs to go away and have his bowling action rebuilt or give up on international cricket.
The lasting issue of lack of top 4 runs has really come back to bite us, there is no simple solution. Plus when you are in a spin induced collapse it is much harder for the excellent middle order to battle back.
More on this for questions 3 and 4…!
But in reality, I think the result will help England in the short term as it will make them think longer about how they rotate players, which they will need to do.
Martin – Certainly an inconsistent side. Persistent problems in the middle order and yet to find a truly settled team. Difficult to place the Bangladesh result in context until they have played more Test matches, especially at home. Would say England’s current ranking is about reflective of where they are at the moment.
MiaB – For me, England are a very average team amongst a whole set of average teams – beaten badly by Pakistan in UAE, winning convincingly in South Africa, drawing against Pakistan in England and Bangladesh. The top-order batting is unconvincing. The middle and lower order is stuffed with people averaging mid to low 30s. The sheer depth of the batting will tend to mean the team makes some kind of total but you would not bet on them making 400+ on a regular basis. The seam bowling looks good on a green seamer but lacks penetration on anything else. The slow bowling is inconsistent but intermittently good. Glass half-empty. There are plenty of places for someone to win by putting in good performances over more than one match.
David – Definitely glass-half-full. I still think England sit very near the top of world cricket. But their arrogance at believing so, and taking their foot off the pedal in the last Test in successive series v Pakistan and Bangladesh – thinking they merely had to turn up to deliver the coup de grace – has been their undoing. Good sides don’t just give up when they are a match down in a series (which England expected their opponents to do having taken the lead with one to play) – likewise I don’t believe England will give up if they go behind early in this 5-Test contest.
Come fill my glass…
Such half-arsed preparation,
Shows no class,
By any intimation,
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail,
But it’s away, on foreign soil,
Oh! the heat, the sweat (not our Cookie), the toil,
E’en the taunts from Taunton pitched,
Have not scratched the ECB bloodsucking no Leach itch,
Sadly, the term International no longer exists,
It’s home money spun riches, that Boards kiss,
As they send their ‘products’ away,
Go do as we say…
Pour me another one, this won’t be fun.
2. Ravichandran Ashwin? All time great, or product of the current environment?
MH – Still only 39 Tests into his career. He’s a very effective bowler and should be the leading wicket taker this series. Yes he’ll struggle outside the sub-continent but many very good non-sub-continent bowlers struggle there, it’s just the way things are. In an earlier era, I think he would still be very good, just not one of the world’s best. Can bat too – a 6/7/8 of Ashwin/Saha/Jadeja could provide some stubborn partnerships.
Bob – Not yet. He’s only played seventeen tests outside of India, and his record outside of the sub-continent is at best unestablished. That being said, there are few bankers in test cricket quite like Ravi Ashwin in India these days, particularly given how many left handers England have. No doubt many people who don’t watch much outside of England tests will only be convinced when he does it in this series, but the big surprise would be if he walks away with fewer than 30 wickets in this series.
PGP – Not sure it matters, he will be more than a handful on his home patch. I think too much time (however fun) is wasted worrying about who is great or not.
What we know is that he is in form and a high class act.
Martin – On the way to being an all-time great. Formidable in home conditions. His record of 21 5 wicket hauls in 39 Tests is very impressive. Handy batsman too.
MiaB – It’s hard to judge Ashwin. He has more wickets at a better average than Prasanna in 10 fewer matches but 70% of his wickets have come in India (and 22 of his 39 matches). His record in England and Australia do not look like anything special. I guess it is too early to tell.
David – All-time ‘very, very good’. I suspect he would be a genuine asset in any era in Test cricket, but he shines more brightly in the current firmament because fine spinners are not plentiful. These are not rich days of Warne & Murali; or Underwood & Bedi; or Laker & Benaud; or Verity & O’Reilly etc.
There’s nothing wrong with being on song to harvest home,
On pitches laid with panicked strokes played, he roams,
For SimonH, he’s really ‘Into The Valley’, sending us into Skids,
Of ‘Fields of Fire’ as we sweep, we’ll weep as each batsman is rid,
In A Big Country, he’s larger than life,
e’en more so than Alice, Cookie’s wife…
3. Three seamers or three spinners for England? How would you go?
MH – Current paper talk is that England are thinking of going 4+2 rather than 3+3 with Broad joining Finn rather than replacing him. But given his recent showings, I can’t see Finn warranting a place over any of the spinners. Ball maybe, but he wasn’t given much of a go during the warm-ups so he’d be picked on the basis of a (very good) ODI series. Ansari offers the left arm angle and though he hasn’t been tight enough he has been creating chances – albeit with a number of dropped chances both in the Test and the warm-up games. And who knows, maybe something will click for Rashid. So I’d be inclined to stay 3+3.
Bob – If I was sitting on the fence I’d say it depends on the conditions. People were highly critical of England in both Bangladesh tests with their spinners but I’m not sure they bowled that badly – the three in the first test took the majority of the top seven wickets. I wouldn’t play four seamers though, three often felt redundant in the Bangladesh series so unless there’s a compelling case I wouldn’t do it. That being said I’m not sure I’d play six bowlers at all, if it’s a three spinners pitch then you shouldn’t need three quicks too, particularly with England’s batting issues.
PGP – Both, if we could! The real question is Rashid or Ansari. (Moeen and Batty have to play). I have never been a Rashid fan, but plenty are.
Whoever you pick having big runs on the board is vital.
I would go with 3 and 3.
Which begs the question of what should our team be… (going to give an answer next)
Martin – Three spinners to start with. I expect once Anderson regains fitness for England to revert to type.
MiaB – I don’t think that 4 seamers is the answer for England. From memory, English fast-medium bowlers get about 2-3 wickets per innings in India – with a few exceptions such as Botham and Geoff Arnold once each on juicy pitches and J.K. Lever with the innovative use of strips of paper smeared with Vaseline all over his forehead, allegedly to divert sweat from his eyes. For all the hype about Anderson (was Dhoni just talking him up?), his figures are 22 wickets in 13 innings in India with a best match analysis of 6/79. In that sense, if you can rotate 4 seamers who all take 2-3 wickets then you can bowl India out. The question is how many runs India will have on the board by then and how many overs it will have taken. I would not be surprised if India took counter-measures to discourage reverse swing. And as well as a poor history of success in India with 4 quicks, there has to be a question-mark over Anderson’s fitness – so basing a 4 seamer attack round him seems a gamble too far to me. Spin is generally more of a wicket-taking threat. Rashid and Moeen will pose an attacking threat but they will need some proper captaincy. I do not know whether Ansari or Batty is the answer as the “holding” bowler or whether the quicks will be employed in that role. The key though will be for the batsmen to score some runs.
David – Three spinners. With a plethora of all-rounders England can afford to select a side covering both seam and spin – and Finn was a waste of space in Bangladesh. As was Ballance, who must be replaced – Bairstow or Ali can bat at no. 4. My own side would be: Cook, Duckett, Root, Bairstow, Ali, Stokes, Buttler, Woakes, Rashid, Broad, Batty.
For tis not the numbers tis the numbness of captaincy shown,
Where ‘trust’ is thrown away, as runs on the board are grown,
Captain clueless, placing fields blind of mind,
Needs putting down, and that’s being kind,
Yet Broad will lead averaging 144 (that may have changed…)
Pick players for purpose, not for perpetuity, that’s just deranged.
4. Do you think Ben Duckett has a future as a test match opener / middle order or no long-term future at all?
MH – Duckett’s had a phenomenal year and deserves his place in the squad. I think he could have a future. A different format, but I saw his 160-odd at Cheltenham and was impressed – thought he picked up length well (he’s a tad short so can pull balls others can’t) and found the gaps with ease. Ideally he would have first division cricket experience but given the number of batsmen who have failed to make the step up, we can’t exactly be too fussy. I wanted England to pick both him and Hameed for Bangladesh, even though it would have meant a slow opening pair, but England wussed out and have now made things more difficult for themselves. Whoever replaces Ballance, it will require a batting order shuffle and they will be short of match practice.
Bob – Who knows? Opening in test cricket is bloody hard and few places moreso than in India. I’d stick with him at the top and back him to become a David Warner type opener. If he makes it through the series with credit in hand, then more power to him.
PGP – The upside and ability of both Hameed and Duckett are huge. We are lucky to have both. So I think both have a huge future. They also have excellent techniques. Much much better than the previous selection of opening batsmen.
For India I would stick with Duckett and Cook up top because we need a dasher and Duckett has vast talent. Long-term, 5 may be a better slot for him. We just need to make sure we don’t break him. Let him settle into the team and hopefully get some big scores in India and the West Indies.
Next to look at the elephant in the room, who bats at 4. Ballance should not have been selected for either tour and he was a ridiculous pick in the summer when he was out of sorts and his technique is still terrible.
I think Bairstow should bat at 4. He is our best batsman after Root. It means he loses the gloves but, we need a number 4 and we have lots of keeper batsmen. Buttler is the reserve keeper, which means he plays, although I think that is mad. The other option is Hameed at 4. I think this would be better for him than opening with Cook. I realise this is a slightly odd suggestion, but two blockers up top in India (or anywhere in my view) is not the way to go. Starting your career in the middle order is much the better option for a teenager.
My team for the first game would be the below. But note we have 6 lefties in that team so Ashwin will be happy…!
Martin – Only in the middle order. Feel it was a mistake for him to open in Bangladesh – would have preferred to see Hameed open with Duckett batting at 4. Certainly has potential, unsure of his temperament.
MiaB – There have been batsmen who have scored lots of runs with unusual techniques but Duckett seemed to score most of his runs from premeditated shots and needed a healthy dose of luck.
Whatever pitches India produce will probably make those kinds of shots more than ordinarily risky. Mark Butcher was quite scathing about his defensive technique – Lord knows what Sir Geoffrey would have been saying about it. I don’t think that Ted Dexter would be too impressed with his foot movement and strange body positioning. But all that counts are runs, in the end. I cannot see him making runs on a regular basis but at least if he does fire he should score fast. So I would play him as opener, to try and get some pressure on the opposition attack while the ball is hard and there might be some bounce.
David – Yes, he has a definite future as either. He clearly has technical issues with a gate wide enough to get a Boeing through; but his county scores indicate immense potential. He may not look like he’s going to succeed with those flaws – but who on Earth would have predicted that Steve Smith would still now be scoring big runs with his wafting bat and feet when he first appeared? Hand-eye coordination is far more important than text-book defence.
No opener has hope until Cookie retires,
And unless his holyness finds form, real form soon, his time will expire,
Be it Duckett, be it Haseem, (or even Buttler has been in someone’s wet dream), To open, still handicapped by press pressure will be hard,
Not playing Has in Bang, keeping 4 so unBallanced, hoist by ECB’s own petard,
I hope we may yet have another Ben to bow down to
Unless the bill from the Flowerpot man is another p!ss pot full of little wee-d blue.
5. Finally, what do you think the series score will be and why?
MH – I don’t have much hope. Given that India have an injured depleted batting line-up and we do have some very good individual players, I think we can win a Test. So if the weather holds (and I have no idea if that’s expected or not), a 4-1 loss. Last time around, we started very badly but Cook showed what a solid method could do, Pietersen provided the inspiration, Anderson offered something no other fast bowler on either side could, and Swann/Panesar out-bowled their Indian counterparts. I think Stokes, Woakes and Broad can do a good job for us, like Anderson last time, but the rest of the side concerns me.
Bob – 5-0 India seems the obvious shout, but five tests is a long time and I don’t think India are that good, nor do I think England are that bad. I think England’s spin bowling will be pretty predictable, but if the seamers can turn up (particularly if Anderson is fit later in the series) and England’s batting can turn up when they get the opportunity to bat first (if we can win a toss or two) I don’t forsee a whitewash. I’ll go 3-1 India.
PGP – I think the series will be closer than expected. India’s batting is brittle and their bowling is good without being mind blowing.
England remain mentally fragile, although they have improved in this regard. They have lots of batting and high quality seam bowlers who can reverse the ball. The spinners will blow hot and cold, but the Indian batsmen will look to take them on so they will give chances.
We will be playing all 5 games on result dust bowls so I think 4-1 India.
Unless England win the first game in which case we are in for a cracking series which Eng could pinch.
India using DRS will also be a thing too.
Here’s hoping to a really good series with not too much needle. I am expecting a decent series with lots of strops and bitching about drs!
Martin – Would be staggered if England win the series. A bad start and I could see a whitewash. Very susceptible to batting collapses against spin. Think they could sneak one Test but that’s about all. 3-0 or 3-1 India.
MiaB – 3/1 to India with 1 draw. There are too many holes in England’s line up to say otherwise. Yes, someone other than Root or Cook might, out of the blue, score a daddy hundred, but who? I suspect that England will go with 4 seamers and, sadly, that Anderson will break down. India have some in-form batsmen. England don’t. England’s catching was awful in Bangladesh. Ashwin will also have the benefit of DRS. Somewhere along the line, England will click and manage to sneak a low-scoring game but, as long as India don’t go overboard with pitch preparation, they should win.
David – I think England has a far greater chance than they are being given credit for – but I do expect them to lose. In the subcontinent the toss plays a great role – first innings is a big advantage. If Cook is lucky, we may be able to really compete – if he’s not, then I think we’ll be stuffed. I reckon if India win more than three tosses they’ll win 5-0. For England to win the series, I reckon they need to win at least 4 out of 5 tosses. I’m predicting India to only win the toss 2 in 5 – but prevail in the series 3-2.
Not a clue, it won’t be 5 zero
There’s enough In our team to find a hero
But realistically, I expect India the series
Not easily, nor completely imperious
So here I say 3-1, but if Eng win the first, oh what fun!
My thanks to all who participated, and feel free to answer the questions yourself in the comments.