After all of the euphoria of England winning the World Cup, we are back to the nuts and bolts of cricket and the format I love the most. Whilst if you’re English, the recent World Cup will live long in the memory of England finally winning a 50 over trophy, the truth be told that it was a format which was long and often tedious, not overly helped by pitches resembling that of a swamp, which made viewing on the dull side. So with the nation supposedly re-energised in their love of the game, cricket once again slides behind a paywall which only the privileged few are able to watch. The ECB showing once again that they deserve no credit in England’s recent white ball tournament victory.
So on the 24thJuly, a time which has seemed to last forever in many people’s eyes, we are finally greeted by our first Test Match of the summer – at least that’s what those at the ECB will try and tell you. The reason why I put an asterix next to the word ‘Test’ in the title is that whilst Ireland will treat it as a historic occasion and they rightly should, the England camp have barely shown their disdain for this match by making it a four day affair and appear to be at best treating it as a warm up for the Ashes and at worst are treating it as a beer match. Unfortunately for anyone who has followed cricket for some time, this will surprise no-one. The ECB along with their fellow accomplices that make up the big 3 have shown nothing but contempt in their treatment of the smaller Test playing nations and of the Associates. This might be the first time England have played Ireland in a Test Match, but history has shown us time and time again how England viewed playing against their neighbours during one day games in Malahide by sending a few token international players alongside those that should be playing for the England Lions instead. This occasion is no different. England have pretty much picked a second XI for this game except for the inclusions of Bairstow, Root, Broad, Burns and arguably Woakes and as a result, this team looks the weakest team on paper that I have seen for a long time.
The batting looks paper thin unless Burns, Root or Bairstow click or unless Jason Roy is able to transfer his white ball batting skills into the Test arena. I also must admit that thought of Denly batting at number 3 in the Ashes frightens the living daylights out of me. There is an over-reliance on all-rounders with Moeen likely to be asked to bat at 6, even though his batting has deteriorated dramatically over the last 2 years and there is a good chance that Curran and Woakes will be batting long before they would have hoped they had to. As for the bowling, I’m quite surprised that England have included 2 spinners, when the Lords pitch rarely deteriorates, unless England know something that we don’t. I am looking forward to see Ollie Stone bowl though, as it was clear he was highly thought of in the England camp with his call up to the Sri-Lanka tour before injury robbed him of the chance to play (an English quick bowler getting hurt, who’d have thought it!). It will also be interesting to see how Broad leads the attack in English conditions without his long-time partner in crime Sir Jimmy of Burnley, who might be quite glad his calf hasn’t fully healed just yet looking at the weather forecast.
As for the Ireland, whilst this will be a momentous occasion, it will probably be tinged with a bit of sadness that their application to play Test cricket has come when the side is on the downward path. The Ireland side of four years would have given England a real run for their money with Joyce, the O’Brian brothers in their prime and Trent Johnson opening the bowling alongside a fit Boyd Rankin; however this team is a mixture of experienced campaigners who are edging towards 40 rather than in their prime, a handful of decent youngsters and a few county stalwarts who have been phased out in favour of youth. Of course, those at the ICC and ECB will protest that they are protecting the value of the Test Match game and that both Ireland and Afghanistan should be thankful to get Test cricket at all, but as we know these are just white lies, as England certainly would rather just face Australia and India every summer and every winter to cash in. This match is likely to be tokenism in every word as we have seen by the absence of any build up to it on Sky and is likely seen more as an annoyance by the ECB rather than a chance to give our near neighbours the opportunity to develop their game.
As for the match itself, I would imagine that it will pretty much be a batsman’s paradise despite the green tinge on the pitch that George Dobell tweeted about earlier. If the skies are blue at Lords, there will be precious little swing or seam for the bowlers and with temperatures likely to be in the mid-30’s on Wednesday and Thursday, the Irish team might have to spend a fair bit of time in the field if they don’t win the toss tomorrow.
As ever, feel free to share your thoughts on the game below. TLG and I are both at Lords on Friday, though in separate stands I believe, and I’m at least hoping for some sort of competitive game even if the ECB couldn’t care less.