Listen To The Propaganda, Listen To The Latest Slander – My First Test Review

For an Ashes Panel update, please go to the end of the post. This is my first take on the last Ashes test, but I do want to set up the Panel for a preview post for the Lord’s test which starts next Wednesday. Questions are at the end of this. Please do not answer them in the comments. Please. Now, on to my very long first thoughts……

There’s a lot less cricket coverage “free to air” these days. The Telegraph and Times are behind paywalls, and I can’t be bothered with the Mirror’s website because it acts as though it hates its customer. So the first three articles I read on yesterday’s debacle were from George Dobell on Cricinfo, Martin Samuel of the Mail (I hate my eyes and my brain) and Paul Newman of the same parish. Dobell critiques the results of yesterday as an inevitable consequence of the first class cricket strategy from the ECB over the past few years. That if you have desperate selections, desperation is probably the likeliest result. That if you pick a player for attacking intent, that when he attacks and gets out, you shouldn’t be that surprised. That Denly was a walking wicket because he knew he couldn’t defend Nathan Lyon. That this team isn’t made to save tests, they’ve given that aspect up. This is going down in flames or winning in a blaze of glory. There’s not been a drawn test for many years in England.

So while Dobell was as measured, but in his own way very damning of where England are now, let’s sample some of Samuel and Newman. For them, this was on Jason Roy.

Martin Samuel goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on….

Few minds scramble as fast as those of England batsmen under Antipodean pressure on day five. Any number of vignettes could represent how swiftly hopes of survival faded: Rory Burns losing his wicket with the score on 19; Joe Denly’s ludicrous review when the entire ground could have told him he’d hit it. Yet Jason Roy summed it up. Roy by doing exactly what his detractors suspected he would; Roy by conforming to stereotype; Roy by refusing to bend to the demands of the match.

Roy epitomised the reason there was so little hope for England, once it became obvious the weather wasn’t going to come to a flaky batting side’s rescue. He went, clean bowled by Lyon for 28, just at a point in the game when even those who had suspected his temperament as an opening Test batsman were beginning to remark on his discipline.

Yet Roy’s dismissal was desperate. He was not so much outwitted as undone, dancing down the wicket, needlessly looking to knock the spinner into the confectionary stand, and bowled through a gap of the type more usually reserved for delivery drivers.

It summed up an English malaise in these condition, the confusion of purpose and intent. Roy has been encouraged to play his normal, white-ball game. And that involves taking risks.

Yet those risks are calculated, shaped to the situation. Roy has to move the scoreboard along, yes. But that doesn’t mean he swings at the first ball of the day; or the next one; or the one after. He plays the game, as necessary, and Monday’s game demanded patience.

So to try what he did against Lyon was more than foolish. That he almost hesitated before breaching the dressing-room door after it had happened suggests he knew this, too. The argument is that Roy might one day win England a match playing in this manner, but that isn’t true. No batsman wins a game going completely against the demands of the situation. Even those who advocate aggression from the openers – and Trevor Bayliss, England’s coach, certainly does – appreciate the need to balance that with the state of play. Roy didn’t.

No, he’s not finished…

He treated the task as if England were chasing victory, which they were not – at no time was there an attempt to post the 398 required – or that the mission was the same as on day one.

Had Roy got out this way in England’s first innings, it would have been frustrating and his critics would have been furious, but those who supported his selection would have understood. That’s what you get when you pick an attacking opener: attack.

The least that can be hoped, however, is that the same opener recognises when the best, the only form of attack is defence. It wasn’t just that Roy played a lousy shot for Test cricket.

No, still some more to go…

It would have been a shocker in any form of the game: 50-over, Twenty20, it might not even past muster in The Hundred, unless runs are awarded for the breadth of swing plane when missing the ball. And don’t put it past them until they’ve focus-grouped it.

Yet it precipitated one of those middle-order collapses that are as English as cream tea, motorway roadworks or the proroguing of parliament. England lasted two and a quarter hours during that horrid spell and were 86 for nine.

So it is to Paul Newman we look to for a moment of sanity, a cricket writer’s perspective, a calmer head rather than a football writer (and a crap one at that, in my view) guesting on cricket for reasons not known.

When Jason Roy came charging needlessly down the wicket in an attempt to hit Nathan Lyon out of Birmingham and instead missed a wild slog, it became clear England were going down floundering rather than fighting.

Yes, Roy has been chosen for this Ashes on the big-match temperament and attacking game that has made him one of the most destructive batsmen in white-ball cricket.

Those were paragraphs 2 and 3. Jason Roy. All Jason Roy’s fault. He “set the tone”. It was, as always, much worse getting out playing to score runs, to try to dominate, than it is to have your technique undressed. A man playing his second test plays a horrible shot, and it’s on him. A shot we all knew, deep down, Jason Roy was going to play. At some point. You lot wanted him, now you lot bury him? It’s fun watching this press and media corps, it really is.

And, yes, if England are going to put their faith in him in the ultimate form of the game they will have to put up with some overly positive shots and brain-fades made in the name of imposing himself on Test cricket.

But not this. Not such a reckless and headless slog that it offered Lyon the first of his six wickets in England’s woeful last day collapse not only on a plate but gift-wrapped and labelled ‘To Garry, with love from Jason.’

At that stage of this fifth day England had lost only Rory Burns and could still entertain realistic hopes of at least making Australia work hard for their victory on a ground where they had not won since the halcyon days of 2001.

Yet once Roy had departed, running off the pitch and away from the scene of his crime almost in embarrassment, an England team that appear to be struggling to recover from the mental and physical exertions of winning the World Cup, crashed spectacularly.

Be positive, be attacking, don’t get out. Jason Roy didn’t need to be told it wasn’t a good idea, but as always, if that wild slog had netted him a four, a six, or even a harmless squib out to leg, no-one would have remembered it. But it’s always worse getting out when trying to hit out, we know that. We also had a clue that Jason Roy wasn’t or isn’t a test opener, and he certainly isn’t when you need to get out of jail on a turning fifth day pitch, or to defend. It’s like picking Lionel Messi for your football team and sticking him at centre-back against a team who like to lump it high and long. If he gets caught dribbling it out of defence, or playing an ambitious pass, would you slate him? OK, Roy isn’t Messi, but it’s sort of the same thing. It’s the selection that’s the problem, not the player.

Meanwhile, Paul, the man you worshipped Ed Smith for selecting, Jos Buttler, had another horror game against Australia. He averages 12.8 against them. I know many said last time out that the Aussies played on his weaknesses, tying him down, making him take risky shots, but as much as I like Jos, he’s averaging in the mid 30s in his career, and he doesn’t look like a test batsman, as much as I really, really want him to be. You aren’t going to get Paul supporting that case when there’s a Jason Roy to berate. Instead, although Roy played in the World Cup and has no excuses, Bairstow, Buttler and Moeen (who didn’t play every game) are shot.

I don’t think we need to talk about Joe Denly. I said he looks to be a bloke who has turned up to an event, and no-one is quite sure why, and it would be rude to ask him to leave too early.  But if you don’t think he’s test class now, and you haven’t for the majority of his career, what’s the point. The England team is not supposed to be a supper club. Look at the county championship, look at who has made a persuasive case to be given a go, whether he has played Lions cricket or not, and do it. Give him five test matches if you must, you’ll have a good idea after three. (Rory Burns didn’t disgrace himself in Sri Lanka, played a decent knock in the Caribbean and scored a hundred on an iffy-ish pitch against a very decent attack here). Those men are Sam Northeast – 815 at 62.69 – and Dominic Sibley – 940 at 62.67. They may benefit from some nice surfaces, but they have played long innings and made good runs in the First Division. One of them is an opener, the other is a middle order bat. But, I suspect, that’s too vanilla for Ed Smith. It took them long enough to pick Burns, trying virtually everybody else, and then they have the gall to go straight to Smith on the cameras when Burns brought up his hundred as if the selection was a masterstroke.

Australia clearly have the best batsman on either side, but we knew that. Joe Root is much closer to the third best (arguably Warner) than he is to Smith at the moment, and we all know that. He is also incredibly hard to get out, and we know that too. However, talk of Bradman, talk of his immortality, of it being pointless trying to get him out, of just hoping he will make a mistake is folly. He can, and will fail. There are always ways to get him out, and many times he’ll make runs. I look back to the 2001 team, for instance, with a line-up of Hayden, Slater/Langer, Ponting, Mark Waugh, Damien Martyn, Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist. These are all players who averaged well over 40, some over 50, back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. A murderer’s row. Imagine starting the day out against that lot. Here we have an opener who can hit form, a solid number 3 who finds ways to get out when going well (Khawaja must be so frustrating as an Aussie fan), a number five who is game, with potential, and Matthew Wade at six. Come on. Don’t be scared. If you give in, mentally concede ground, do you think that will work. Did the great Aussie sides see Sachin, or Lara, and especially Kallis, and say “no, we can’t get them out”. Smith is in blazing form, has been for ages, but he is human. We’re treating him, talking about him as if he is not.

I’m nearly 2000 words in (many of them the Mail’s) and yet I still can’t quite understand anyone in authority’s thinking. There’s so much wrong, that I can’t quite get to the point where we need to start. It’s a team full of muddled thinking, with a pretend genius at the helm. Merely speaking of prioritising red ball cricket isn’t enough. We have a coach looking at other job applications having met his main performance objective, and knowing he’s leaving. We have a guardian authority taking the plaudits for the World Cup and acting like messiahs, while ignoring the core support in England over the lack of red ball cricket in the summer months, the new franchise competition set to dominate the landscape during test season next year, and downgrading the format we are world champions in. It’s hard to think of a bigger muppet show. But Tom did his lap of honour with the media on Day One, and I doubt will be seen again this year if this goes even more pear-shaped.

This is a team put together by a mad scientist. It manages to be much less than the sum of its parts. It flogs its best players to exhaustion, then puts its hand up and says what else can we do? (How about scheduling three test tours the winter after this summer, that should work) It has a team with one opener, and a one day opener, a captain who doesn’t want to bat three, but then does. It has a number four who was picked to bat three, but was deemed not to be good enough there, so he can fail at four. Our number 5 can’t buy a score against Australia. Our number six is run into the ground bowling, but you suspect is the best of the bunch at the moment. The number seven is a wicket-keeper batsman who rails against the slightest thing that demotes his status, and as he’s not part of Phoenix, you know who will steam right in. The number eight is a spinner / batsman on a lousy trot, who needs to go back to county cricket to recover his form, only to have to return to the T20 Blast until September, by which it is too late. Our number nine, who had a good match, is a bad bowling spell away from being labelled benign, and yet doesn’t appear to be as exhausted as the batsmen, who, you know, don’t have to run steaming in 100 times a day. Our number 10 has probably had his one good spell, and one decent innings of the summer. And our number 11 turned up recovering from injury, got injured, is out injured for the next game, and probably the one after that, and yet we still believe in our medical staff.

I might have more on this later in the week.

Finally, I want some volunteers for an Ashes Panel* in the lead up to next week’s test. PLEASE DO NOT POST ANY ANSWERS TO THESE IN THE COMMENTS. Please e-mail or any of the e-mail addresses in the “contact us” tab above with your answers. I will need to have them by close of play on Sunday.

  1. A brief summary of the first test. Most importantly, they key moments England lost the game?
  2. Jason Roy has copped a lot of stick for being Jason Roy. Your views on the selection of opener, and what would you do for this, and the next few tests?
  3. Nathan Lyon was very very good on the fifth day. Great skill, or bad play?
  4. Steve Smith is being portrayed as a run-making machine. A product of his environment, as test match cricket diminishes in quality, or a freak of nature, who would have thrived in any era?
  5. Your England team for the second test. Your changes and why?


*An example of an Ashes Panel post can be found here. I do it as a full blog post. The first five, presuming I get five, will be published, and possibly more. You know you want to….

I feel like I’ve left a lot to say on this previous test, so may be back later this week with some more comment. Any comments on this are welcome. The Ashes mean so much to so many that defeats leave an out of proportion sense of anger and despair many times. But this one feels bad. We were conditioned, at least some were, to expect a stuffing Down Under last time so that some journalists and pundits who should have known better allowed a free pass because the team wasn’t whitewashed. Now it’s the World Cup hangover as a reason / excuse. Didn’t stop £100 tickets being charged. Didn’t stop players raking in large salaries. Didn’t stop coaches staying on for one last hurrah/raspberry. Didn’t stop the ECB from shoehorning an Ashes after a World Cup, when having one before a World Cup was deemed as counter-productive to a successful campaign.

While Newman and Samuel pull their swords out and thrash at Jason Roy, George Dobell finishes his article with the words that should really resonate… less the grinding of axes, more the finesse of true swordsmanship.

But cracks are appearing up and down this England side and it feels, for perhaps the first time, as if instead of building toward something, they are starting to crumble and fall apart. Nothing that happened at Edgbaston was a surprise. And that should worry England.

Indeed. See you later.