Welcome back to the Ashes Panel, and the comments of some of our regulars, and not so regular, correspondents on the events of Edgbaston. There are five guests, and given I will be in a bunker interviewing people for the next two days, before jetting off to a work assignment in New York in 12 days time, I thought I’d vent too.
Usual format, five questions, answered in differing styles, differing lengths and with their own views by five guests (the five who sent their responses to my hotmail account!). If any of you have sent responses, please let me know and I will add them. The five guests are The Bogfather, who loves this so much he writes poems about it; MM, a former regular commenter, who is either living under another pseudonym, or is so royally peeved with the sport that he can’t be bothered to rant on the comments anymore; there is Growltiger, a great name, and some really good comments too; Alex, who was incredibly keen to get on here, and thanks so much that he did. This is his Jason Roy opening stint, and let’s hope he can grow further from a high base. Finally there is Gareth, who has done this before, and I hope will do it again.
Then there’s me, who has one man in his sights, and he’s not a player.
As always, I’m fair game, so have a pop at me all you want. You’ll lose. For the others, remember they aren’t regular bloggers, they did this in their own time, they are cricket lovers like all of us, I’m sure they can fight their corners, but I for one am absolutely humbled that they take the time to do this, that they feel enough for the blog and what we are to put the effort in, and before I get too soft, and I’ve not been drinking, it brings a little lump in the throat that we get these inputs into the blog
So off we go…..
Question 1 – A brief summary of the first test. Most importantly, they key moments England lost the game?
Gareth – Disappointing from an England perspective, but certainly an engrossing Test Match. It was one where the strengths and failings of English cricket were realised over the course of five days. Helpful conditions and a motivated Broad/Woakes saw Aussie down to 122-8 and then lack of options, poor captaincy and brilliant batting saw Aussie get back into it. Day 3 also swung when England’s much-vaunted middle-order sloggers failed to deliver and it was left to Broad and Woakes to scrape together a lead. Finally on Day 5, onlookers were astounded when a batting unit that has collapsed repeatedly…erm…collapsed.
Alex – Two key moments for England were Jimmy Anderson’s injury and Ben Stokes’ first innings dismissal. To lose your bowling talisman and still one of the best seam bowlers after they bowled four overs is huge. He probably would have finished Australia off earlier in the first innings and challenged them more early in the second.
As for Ben Stokes’ dismissal in the first innings. He had just reached 50 and he and Burns had the game in their hands and then he edges a cut and then Bairstow and Ali are exposed and potentially a 100+ run lead is gone and perhaps more pressure on the Australian top order and Smith.
Overall, England had the game in their hands twice only to have it taken away superbly by Smith twice. Given the circumstances with Anderson that is probably to their credit but they needed the remaining ten players to all step up and two or three of the rest just didn’t get going at all.
MM – As soon as Siddle got to 40 I thought ‘it’s 1993 again’. In my heart I didn’t think we’d get a lead, so I was surprised by that. But I never doubted we’d struggle in the fourth innings. Like you said, draws are a dead entity.
I was very angry about Anderson’s injury. Whether it never healed, has reoccurred, or is a fresh injury, surely someone has to play a competitive match prior to a Test. That’s gotta become a necessity henceforth.
Growltiger – The match was always likely to end with a rearguard action on the fifth day, given the pitch. This was dry, slow, with a bit of variation in bounce to be expected with wear. So the toss was important, and Australia won it. Selection was also important, although mainly negatively; England decided to play Anderson, who broke down after bowling four overs. They also dropped Leach while retaining Moeen Ali as their main spinner. On the fourth day, this selection looked extremely ill-advised, as Ali bowled without control and without threat. As a result of the Anderson selection, they were down to four bowlers, the same number as Australia had chosen to go with, but on the fourth morning this appeared to be an overestimate, as Woakes did not bowl, although officially uninjured. Other poor selections (as seen from before the start) were Denly, Bairstow and (arguably) Buttler.
Surprisingly, England started well, reducing Australia to 120 for 8 before the wicket flattened out on the first afternoon. Broad and Woakes bowled well (and, in the case of Broad, significantly faster than against Ireland at Lord’s). However, once the underlying character of the wicket had emerged, gritty batsmanship got decent rewards on both sides, including the Australian tail in their first innings, and the underrated but eccentric Rory Burns in England’s. Burns succeeded in batting from the end of the first evening well into the morning of the third day, an innings of unusual durability compared with recent England openers, and some character. It was, though, not entirely a surprise when a promising and careful start to the innings translated into a lead of less than 100, even after some pleasing runs from the tail. Not for the first time, the fabled England middle order delivered very little, and did it very unimpressively.
Even at this stage, it seemed likely that the lead was insufficient to compensate England for having to bat on the fifth day pitch. Smith’s second 140 of the match made it morally certain that this would be the case, enabling Australia to declare seven wickets down and setting a massively impregnable target. With runs to bowl at, Paine (in the field a sort of sock-puppet for Smith) was able to set attacking fields and allow Lyon to bowl for the inside edge. There were, in fact, no turning points in the England innings, except, possibly, for the very short bouncer that failed to rise and cramped Burns for room, thus taking the first wicket. Roy was berated for launching himself at Lyon, but this was not a pivotal moment; getting himself dismissed playing an ambitious shot was predictable, although the fact that Roy had batted longer than any of the rest was not (and not much noticed by the press).
The Bogfather –
Our one-day wonders wandered into a wonderland at tea on day one…
Before being cast asunder by the Smith from down-under, twice bar none…
Our batting a mess, few balls to caress, game-plan undressed, sans Anderson…
Mo’ was plundered, his Spedegue’d myth a blunder, Roy swung for fun.
Dmitri – Letting Australia get 280, or whatever, when they were 122 for 8 was the big moment, and utlimately kept Australia in the game. Chasing down anything near 200 was always going to be a challenge, so when England’s 260 for 4 became 320 for 8, the writing was on the wall. This isn’t a test match batting line-up, it’s a mad scientist’s experiment. Sure, losing Anderson was massive, but let’s not just assume Jimmy has to turn up and wickets are bound to fall. I also suspect, for the series, letting bang average players like Matthew Wade make runs is going to be soul destroying.
Question 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?
Gareth – For my money he shouldn’t have been picked as an opener in the first place, so it’s harsh to throw too much shade his way, daft though his dismissal was. They’ve put too much stock in him in now for him to be discarded so soon, and as he has never batted for two sessions in his FC career (stat from BBC) he is very much learning on the job. I don’t see his short-term future being as an opener, nor his medium-term future involving red-ball cricket. I wonder if this selection, more than any other, becomes the one that will define Ed Smith’s approach to selection.
Alex – It would not be where I pick him, but I understand why they have gone for it. They clearly don’t feel there is another opener out there ready for the step up now, particularly as its now the middle of T20 season and think it is better to pick someone who could turn one or two sessions in the series in their favour.
I think he is probably better at 4 or 5 if he has a long term Test future but wouldn’t be surprised if he finishes the series as an opener and then they re-evaluate over winter.
MM – I ain’t a Surrey fan so I know little about him. I understand he’s not a red ball player recently? But I love watching him in limited overs. If Jos Butler gets to play in Tests then Roy shouldn’t really be denied. I think he’d be better off down the order. Probably in Butler’s spot to be honest.
Growltiger – The elevation of Roy to the Test team was bound to happen at some point, and his role in winning the World Cup dictated that it would be now. He is a fine player, with devastating power of attack. In white ball cricket, where the ball doesn’t move and the fields are defensive, his contribution has probably been maximised by getting him to open. The partnership with Bairstow has been a remarkable success – the heaviest scoring and fastest opening partnership in the history of ODIs. But it was always a leap of logic to view him as any sort of solution to England’s post-Strauss opening vacuum (Burns now being, at least for the present, our solution to the post-Cook vacuum). Unfortunately for Roy, the selector saw that there was a gap and decided that it gave him an opportunity to play Roy. Roy worked hard on his defence to the quicks in this game, but hasn’t the soft hands or the compactness for this to be a rewarding use of his talent. He deserves some sort of run in the team, and perhaps can be retained if Buttler or Bairstow or Denly are not. But we need to find another actual opener to partner Burns. None of those already tried merit another look, including Denly. Perhaps Dominic Sibley has done enough, as a red-ball opener who plays long innings regularly, to be given a look at the post-Strauss slot.
The Bogfather –
Let’s get Ed funky
Find another opening flunky
While wearing the coolest of shades
Our white ball heroes
May swing and get zero
Or a ton, so let the blades
Of Roy and YJB flow
(there’s worse ideas, I know…)
Dmitri – Rod Marsh once assessed Scott Newman on an England A tour. It is reported he said “you won’t be an international player while there’s a hole in your arse”. While Jason Roy is no Scott Newman, obviously, he’s a man with a thin first class record. To stick him in as an opener and hoping he’s Sehwag or Warner is not the move of a thinking Chairman of Selectors, but, frankly, a chancer. Because he played a dicey shot to get out in the second dig is neither here nor there, he’s not a test match opener. Sure, he’ll have the talent to make a score one day, but he’s not a test match opener. Just in case you are in any doubt where I stand, Ed Smith is a fucking chancer, and Jason Roy is being messed about because he’s not a test match opener. You might as well stick Jos Buttler there. How about playing an opener that was in form a month ago when we had county games on – like Sibley. It’s checking the averages and picking a player, but it makes more sense than the up himself imbecile currently pretending to have a strategy about selection.
Question 3 – Nathan Lyon was very very good on the fifth day. Great skill, or bad play?
Gareth – Combination of both. I have two Aussie buddies who are perpetually amused at how England always play Lyon like he is bowling grenades, but that ties in to just how poor English batsmen are at playing spin. It’s either poke around in defence, or charge down the wicket and take absurd risks. Who is the best English player of spin? It’s not beyond the realms of common sense to say the man batting at number nine looks better than most. Lyon has a significant edge over both Jos Buttler (in 2015) and Moeen Ali (in this life and the next).
Alex – Hard to be too critical in the circumstances. Yes Roy’s dismissal was bad but otherwise on that pitch on the final day Lyon was always going to be a handful. Damage was really done on Day 4.
MM – He’s an international spinner on a wicket that helps spin. He’s pretty much just doing his job. You’ve got to bowl well nonetheless, and he did so. That doesn’t excuse a capitulation, and it was a capitulation. As was the first innings, in part. So, to answer the question, I’d go 50:50… I think!
Growltiger – [Nathan Lyon] …is a decent international spinner, but no genius. The truth is that he is pretty good at putting the ball on his chosen spot, and spins it enough (although not a lot). The tendency to overspin gives him dip rather than drift, so on slow wickets he can be played off the pitch. I doubt if he would have got Smith in either innings of this match, even if he bowled 100 overs. Unlike Moeen, though, as the pitch got older he did what it said on the tin. It was decent bowling, making decent use of the predicted conditions. It wasn’t great batting, but mostly not completely incompetent either. If Australia had lost the toss, Lyon would not have appeared in the role of match-winner, although he would surely have done better than Moeen in the third innings.
We played into the Lyon’s den
Let him settle, Roy swung, and then
The rest of our mix of goldfish and gazelles
Decided to be divided as their wickets fell
Rather than apply their minds, were divest within
They fell farther into blindness at his best spin
Dmitri – Nathan Lyon was talked up and talked up. As I pointed out, he wasn’t exactly a proficient matchwinner, but he’s taken a stack of wickets. But sure as apples are little green apples, he rolled his arm over, got a few to turn, and our Frankenstein batting order shorted out, as if asked to translate Esperanto into Swahili. Lyon bowled well, but then we fell over in a heap to Roston Chase a few months ago, something the media don’t really seem to recall when bigging up someone for dismissing this line-up of Ed Smith’s follies.
Question 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?
Gareth – Again, combination of both. I wonder as to whether he would have been afforded the opportunity in previous ages, and certainly if we go back to Boycs “uncovered pitches” heyday then I’m sure he would have struggled. That being said you just have to marvel at his application and appetite, whilst praying to whichever deity you hold dearest that he just bleeding nicks one.
Alex – He may have been less successful on uncovered pitches (like most) but if you look at his fundamentals, his hand eye co-ordination, temperament and technique then you have to say he probably would have succeeded in any era. That said, the pitch did negate much of England’s seam attack in the second innings and Moeen was no threat so perhaps some bigger tests lie ahead patticularly if Archer plays.
MM – Steve Smith was at Worcestershire a few years back. He weren’t much cop at all, from my admittedly-poor memory. Wasn’t he just a leg-spinning allrounder back then? He’s batting like Border, Waugh, and Ponting all rolled into one right now. So what is freakish to me is his transformation. Has he modified his approach at the crease or has he undergone some kind of mind-transferal? Jeebus. As a Worcestershire fan, I thought he was almost as duff an import as Shoaib Ahktar was, some years earlier, and Brett Lee’s brother years before that. I still can’t believe what he has since become. Can someone become a freak of nature, having been really rather average? If yes, then there’s hope for us all.
Growltiger – Steve Smith is not pretty, but he is the most impressive run-maker of the age. He has now been doing this for so long, on so many different types of wicket, against very variety of attack, that it is has to be accepted he is very difficult to get out. Period. He would have given Bradman a run for his money, statistically (and it would be fascinating to even out all the environmental factors, mostly favouring the Don, I would guess; nobody bothered to save the fours in his day, for instance). Smith’s judgement of length and angle is such that he never has any difficulty keeping the board ticking over. Of course, he has statistical soft spots. It would be sensible to get one or two left arm bowlers into the side, and also to favour swing against sheer pace (his stats degrade quite badly when there is movement, but pace means nothing to him).
The Bogfather –
He knows his game, his limitations too
He’s come through shame to become the glue
That can’t be erased by sanding sheets
His concentration and play is unique
Because he has the will and desire
To be the best, he’ll ever aspire
So in those days of vastly better attacks
He’d work out a way to improve what he’d lack
It’s not the quality, nor the way he plays
He’d probably thrive in most era’s anyway.
Dmitri – I so want him to be a product of his environment, so that the reason he makes all these runs is because the bowling is nonsense. I imagine what the great West Indian line-up would have done to him, wonder what Waqar and Wasim would have dealt with that dainty dancing in front of the stumps, wonder what Hadlee would have done with his brilliant late movement. But Smith is undeniably a freak. And he’s living inside our heads, rent free, and the media reinforce his invincibility so we’re talking about “if” we can get him out. He’s human, he’s fallible, and he will make mistakes, but he’s also damn good, and a cut above anything England can offer in this mad scientist’s LSD trip of a team.
Question 5 – Your England team for the second test. Your changes and why?
Gareth – Ah. Well I just don’t know. People are clamouring for Sibley/Crawley but I haven’t watched either bat. I think Burns has pencilled himself in for the series (your mileage may vary on how much of a positive that is) and they are unlikely to dispense with Roy.
My theory on Denly is that he’s there because Ed cannot pick himself, and I imagine he will get another go. Buttler and Bairstow need runs but are both high-profile enough to avoid the axe for now. I would drop Bairstow and bring Foakes in but I believe he also has a niggle. I personally like Woakes and his record at Lords and a decent performance at Edgbaston should keep him in the side (I often wonder how he would fare if he dropped bowling and focussed on batting).
Archer will surely feature and I would drop Moeen for his own good at this point.
My team then:-
Really not a lot of excitement there!
Alex – No surprises and don’t think the batting order will fundamentally change and Leach for Ali and Archer for Anderson are probable. If I was being adventurous I would consider Curran for Denly with Stokes up to 4 as strengthens bowling without hugely weakening the batting but can’t see England going for it.
Proper openers; Roy down the order to attack an (ideally) older ball; a real wicketkeeper to allow Bairstow to concentrate on batting alone; 3 players in the middle whose names rhyme (only joking); a frontline spinner. I’d be telling Bairstow he’s gotta knuckle down. This is Test cricket and he’s done enough of it now.
Growltiger – Some of the principles of my selection for the second Test have already been stated: the balance of our attack at Edgbaston was wrong (four right arm medium pacers would have been better then three, but was not the right balance anyway); our batting needs an overhaul; we need a proper opener. In addition to this, we are carrying a number of players who are being asked to perform roles for which they are not suited, or are deeply out of form. On grounds of form, we need to drop Moeen (although he is one of my favourite recent England batsmen, and I say this with regret), but this gives us an opportunity to play a left arm spinner – Jack Leach – against Smith. Bairstow is a hopeless wicket keeper, and seems incapable of batting in Tests nowadays with any sort of calmness or effect; he should be dropped, with the gloves going to Foakes (if fit) or Buttler. Denly was selected to open, and should possibly be given one more go at this, but otherwise should be dropped in favour of Sibley. Roy can drop down to four or five (perhaps ideally coming in below Stokes). If Foakes is fit, I would drop Buttler, who seems generally quite ineffectual in Tests, thus making room for Curran, who brings left-arm swing, and is generally someone who ought to be in the side on guts. Archer comes in for Anderson, so long as his outing for Sussex 2nds hasn’t sprung another injury. Broad and Woakes stay in the team (subject to Woakes actually being fit, otherwise Stone). So my line-up, which will not be the one selected by Ed Smith, is:
Burns, Sibley, Root, Stokes, Roy, Foakes, Curran, Archer, Woakes, Broad, Leach.
Frankly, I don’t see Root as any kind of captain, but the drama and tears of that can wait until the Ashes have been lost.
The Bogfather –
My team in batting order, and if they must continue to flirt
Is this list of ECB/Sky/MSM, with 1 to 11 on their shirts
- Empty Suit – let him feel the heat of the boos
- Andrew Strauss – for his personal trust abuse
- Shiny Toy – Once a Captain, now just crap refrains
- Joe Root – because he wants and should bat four again
- Paul Newman – for his agenda so often bitter
- Ben Stokes – our fiery street-fighting hitter
- Jos Buttler – to compose and swing our late order song
- Lovejoy – banter for those who wing it in a thong
- Jofra Archer – our killer of 2nd XI bowlers and batters
- Barmy Army – trumpets, dire songs and mad hatters
- Stuart Broad – for comedic appeals and being Aggers mate
- Selfey – the loneliest ex-swinger in town…that must grate?
- Giles Clarke – let him run out with towels, bats and gloves
…then field at short leg and feel a hard ball in his, with all our love…
Dmitri – This utter buffoon allowed to indulge his whims as England selectorial genius – he is just ask him – has got us into a position where there are so many problems, I don’t know where to start. I will hate any team I pick because it is a product of the environment we are in now – a god awful mess, made by a moron, who listens too much to pundits and their hobby horses, and his own voice inside, probably from the classical era. Anyway, if you struggle for a three, pick an opener. Two of them might work. So in the absence of evidence and thought, let me do just as crap a job as the charlatan with the shades, and come up with this.
Burns, Sibley, Roy, Root, Stokes, Buttler, Foakes (Bairstow needs to sit), Woakes, Archer, Leach, Broad.
Denly’s possession of the number four slot should be enough to get the stripey-tied fop sacked without a moment’s thought, but in looking at this team, I think Root needs to play where he feels comfortable. Roy at three is a compromise. Buttler at six is borrowed time. Sam isn’t quite good enough at either discipline to merit a place. I would think Northeast should be the next cab on the rank, but they’ll go some other way, no doubt. Crawley looked half decent when I saw him. Foakes is the best keeper to replace Bairstow who needs to sit. The rest are on borrowed time.
OK. That’s the first Ashes Panel of the summer. If you want to have a go, please let any of us know. It will be a quick turnaround between Lord’s and Headingley, so you will need to answer the questions we set within 24 hours or so, because it is a horror to format this! (I had the responses in all pretty colours from Word, and it’s not bloody worked). But once again, many thanks to all who contributed. Sean will be doing a test preview tomorrow, so we are back in the saddle for more content.
I’m not content, but then I never am. Ed Smith out. FICJAM, Foxtrot Oscar.
Number of times the camera pans to Ed Smith in the crowd over the 2nd Test? 20 if there are four days.
Nurse! I need a lie down.