Enjoy It, It’s Your Last Chance Anyhow

With England already down 2-0 with only 3 games left to play, it’s fair to say that they’re currently drinking at the last chance saloon. Metaphorically speaking, of course. After the Stokes and Bairstow incidents, they’re probably all teetotal and in bed well before their curfews. But they need to win at least 2 games, and probably 3 since a drawn game seems somewhat unlikely. Looking at the team’s performances so far doesn’t instil us with confidence that they can achieve this, but perhaps they can bring some new blood from outside the current team to turn things around

On a related note, an England XI led by Moeen Ali will play a 2 day game against a Cricket Australia XI in Perth starting tonight. Apart from the England spinner, the 12-man squad for the match contains the 4 players who didn’t play in Adelaide from the senior squad plus 7 from the Lions squad which is also touring Australia. It could be England’s last opportunity to make changes to the squad while it can still make a difference, so the performances in this nonsense game could still make a massive impact.

It’s fair to say that I know almost nothing about county cricket. This could be a problem, because 6 of these players haven’t played for England’s Test team. But seeing as I’m on the internet, I figure I can just bluff it out with 5 minutes of research and, so long as I act confidently enough, I’ll get away with it. So here’s my profile of England’s hopefuls:

Mark Wood – Probably the one player mentioned most from the Lions squad, Wood can reach speeds of 90+mph when he puts his back into it. Never seems to be fully fit, as he’s either injured or returning from injury at any given point. His current Test bowling average of 40.65 doesn’t really suggest that he’s going to blow Australia away, and I’d doubt he’s up to full speed yet.

Mason Crane – Being managed by ISM, there seems a fairly realistic chance that Crane might be selected. A First Class bowling average of 43.98 doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, but he’s only 20 so does have youth on his side. He does have the advantage of having played Shield cricket in Australia last year though.

Jake Ball – A current Test bowling average of 114.33. Match figures of 1/115 against Australia. If Finn was considered “unselectable” in the previous Ashes series, Ball has to be somewhere beyond that now. “Banished from cricket”, perhaps?

Gary Ballance – I’m a big fan of Ballance, I thought it was massively unfair when England dropped him for the first time. But in the 8 Tests he’s played since then, he averages 20.26. On top of that he’s a left-handed batsman, so is presumably vulnerable to Lyon’s off spin.

Ben Duckett – Another left-handed batsman, he averaged 15.71 in his 4 Test innings in India and Bangladesh. Obviously there’s a very different playing surface in Australia, but he lost his wicket all 7 times against spin bowling and was clean bowled 3 times.

Keaton Jennings – Left-handed batsman? Check. Test average under 25 in the last 2 years? Check. Shouldn’t be within a million miles of the England team when they have to face Lyon? Check.

Tom Curran – The only “pace” bowler in the senior squad not to get a game so far, his time will probably come after England are beyond saving the series.

Ben Foakes – His First Class batting average is 41.84, which is higher than 3 of England’s current top 5 batsmen. He’s right-handed. His being in the side would allow Bairstow to bat higher in the order and probably cause a net increase in both England’s batting and fielding. On paper, I cannot fathom why he isn’t in the side.

Dan Lawrence – Also with a career First Class batting average over 40, and right-handed, surely he could replace Malan or Vince in the middle order?

Jack Leach – Just looking at his figures, I wonder why he’s not in the team already. And then I remember that he’s bowled most of his games in the Somerset fortress of spin, Ciderabad. I think I’d need to see what his figures are like away from home before I jumped on this particular bandwagon.

Liam Livingstone – I’ve maybe left the best for last here. His First Class batting average is the second highest in this squad to Ballance, he’s right-handed, and he presumably can’t be any worse than Vince or Malan. Get him in the team already!

So, who would you bring in from this game into the Ashes? Or would you go for someone else who isn’t in this squad? As always, comments welcome below.

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The 2017 Dmitris – Number 1 is Ben Stokes in 2017

It’s December and time for the Dmitris. This is my eclectic mix of stuff that I give an intangible award to and write a long-winded load of nonsense to back it up. There’s one for the best and worst in journalism, a couple of player ones, and some other things. Last year we had Tim Wigmore, 6 6 6 6, Eoin Morgan’s 2016, Virat Kohli and others (I never did get around to writing out the Paul Newman one for worst journo).

Before I start on the citation for the first of this year’s Dmitri Awards, let me explain to the uninitiated, or those who don’t recall, what they try to achieve. It’s more a question of what they are not, than what they are.

Most importantly they are not, necessarily, a merit award, although some will be.

They are not necessarily a worst in class award, although some will be.

It’s not about a greatest ever, or a worst ever.

They ARE about the issues, people, events and anything else that have shaped 2017 for me. For example, last year, one of the awards was 6 6 6 6 to reflect the Carlos Brathwaite salvo that won the World T20. Brathwaite did pretty much the square root of eff all for the rest of the year, but the repercussions of that over flowed out like ripples in the water – for the media, the ECB, the players, the blogging world etc.

I’ve not determined a number, have just a couple of definite winners in mind as I start, but here we go with number 1. Ben Stokes in 2017.

Ben Stokes Spotted In Ashes Action

Ben Stokes hangs over the Ashes like a spectre. The Sunday night shenanigans outside a Bristol night club have loomed around the England team like a Feroz Shah Kotla fog, not allowing England to field their best team, without arguably their best player, but with the tantalising prospect that he might be allowed to play at some point.

This piece is not to discuss the merits or wherefores of the incident. The law of the land takes its course, and it should not be done any more quickly or more slowly because our cricket fortunes require it. What it has done, like a number of incidents before, has been to cause a massive ripple effect across the England team, and to a degree, social media.

I’ve not really discussed this much on the blog or on Twitter. Firstly, funnily, because I don’t feel strongly enough about it. Among England cricket fans, not the first time, this make me odd. Some on here are passionately against him playing in this series, and some on Twitter are passionately against him ever playing for England again. A number believe he should be playing because it is innocent until proven guilty. Many believe the Sun video invalidates that premise. In the midst of this, we have an ECB stooge in the Comma being put in a very difficult position, and his choice, the one I wouldn’t want, is hindering our Ashes campaign. Good luck Comma!

The reason this is such a big deal is Stokes had had a pretty decent 2017. His test hundred at The Oval has been given some of the highest plaudits by social media people I think know the game pretty well. Good enough for me, because highlights never truly reveal the greatness. There is no doubting he is a more than useful bowling asset, and has a key attribute in being a “presence” in the field. People may not like that he is, that he can be too provocative, but in reality Australia is no place for the boy scouts when it comes to the Ashes. Root needs him out there, and it’s not easy to replace a character like him, let alone his performance.

Stokes is not as divisive a character as Kevin Pietersen, but there is the same form of dramatis personae in them both. They walk the walk better than any England players I’ve seen. Stokes was not destroyed by 6 6 6 6 , but took it on the chin, dusted himself down, recovered and took his place.

Ben Stokes is England’s main man, the bloke who gets people out of the bars as they used to say, but in one stupid, filmed, moment, he became its curse. It will certainly damn Comma in even more eyes, whatever he decides. It will be used as an excuse for England if/when, they fail, with the irony being the larger the defeat, the less impact one man could have had on proceedings. Stokes will be invoked on every occasion this series is discussed – yes, but would it have been different with Stokes in the team? – will be the oft quoted question. Then, when he returns, will it really be with “open arms” or will teammates think he’d absented himself from a tough test through a moment of lack of self-control.

As a blogger, how did Stokes impact? He isn’t one of my favourite players, it has to be said, so there’s no emotional response, like there is with a Kevin Pietersen or a Graham Thorpe. He isn’t a figure of hate, or even a figure of media protection, so we don’t really have a Cook problem either ( media protection applying with this example, please). If I don’t have an emotional driver, then opining on a medium that seems to thrive off it is tough. Stokes isn’t seen, I believe, as a sympathetic figure on this blog, even before the Bristol Bash Up. It makes writing about it hard. It is, believe it or not, that I don’t care enough. There are two sides to the argument. There may be context to the brawl. Was I horrified? No. I wasn’t. Maybe where I’m from and some of my life experiences did that. And I’m not a fan of moralising. The most massive story of the year and I couldn’t really be bothered. Greavsie might have said “It’s a funny old game” and he could have been talking about me and blogging.

Ben Stokes made four international centuries in the English summer. He was the middle man in the batting and the bowling. He is a tremendous fielder. He had a magnificent IPL. He had the world at his feet and one massive incident and the world looks a lot stranger now. His impact on the cricket media, agenda, and Ashes fall out is going to be ongoing, immense and very interesting. There’s more to this, and we might even comment on it ourselves. But undeniably, meeting the criteria that you have to have an impact on the blogging world/social media / media, Eoin Morgan’s tumultuous 2016 has been followed by the 2017 of England’s “New Zealand born” all-rounder. Dmitri Number 1 is Ben Stokes’s 2017.