Now I Can’t Protect, A Paid Off Defect – The Second Test Preview

I’ve discovered a new art form. Actually, to be fair, it found me. It comes from the well respected, reserved mouth of the man they call, on here, Lovejoy. I’ll be interspersing this preview (such as this is a preview of a test match) with his bon mots. They are incisive, well thought through, and Betfair needs to be very, very proud.

The aftermath of the first test defeat has been every bit as predictable as the manner of the demise. There’s precious little praise for New Zealand. I plead guilty for not giving them as much praise as they deserved as well. They restricted England, played on their insecurities, batted themselves out of a sticky situation and then took the wickets needed to seal the deal. It was a perfectly executed final three and a half days, and something England should aspire to. I sense most of the England supporting base would have a composite team of the two nations being almost 50/50. At the moment only Stokes would be a certainty from the England team. This…..speaks…..volumes.

“I know Chris “Spoons” Silverwood well, and he’s the right man for the England job”

Ah, nothing spells even-handed thorough analysis than referring to the subject of your article by a nickname and claiming you are mates with them. But the initial reaction in some quarters to a dismal first test has been fascinating. If you are already calling for his head, you are a muppet. Pure and simple (oh dear, I’ve used a Shiny Toy-ism). Of course, we are reminded this week that sport takes a back seat to personal bereavement, and Silverwood will be returning home during this game. It’s something that happens to us all, we can empathise, and send only our best wishes to the coach and his family. A bad result is put into context by these things.

So while we can look at the first test and say Silverwood isn’t off to an auspicious start as coach, and I don’t think anyone is denying that, to snap at his “holistic view” comment from press men who let every bit of nonsense through from past coaches, and threw players under the bus before anyone else, seems a bit, well, premature. Which means, of course, that the laser focus isn’t going to be on “Spoons” but on the other members of the leadership group. Step forward, Joe Root.

“I want to see him enjoy his batting again and play with that cheeky, annoying-little-brother smile that he used to have.”

Now Lovejoy doubted Root’s appointment at the very start for the same reasons. It is true that even the most annoying, horrific individuals say correct things. But this is something that simplifies the issue – and no, I’m not clicking on a Betfair site to read the full horror. Joe Root’s batting malaise is worse than any perceived issues with his captaincy. A tweeter I do like has been saying that most of what is being written about him is rubbish. He’s playing on 250-par wickets in England, and it’s going to be tough to average 40. They are not all like that, and 250 appears to be par when you have crap batting line-ups. It’s a bit chicken and egg. But what we had was a reference point. Pre-captaincy Root was in the Big Four. Now he isn’t. He’s dropped down the batting rankings alarmingly. He is getting out in ways we never really saw. It may be a law of averages, better bowling, iffier wickets, but it’s also of bad messages. Never wanting to bat at 3, then us being told he is fine with it. The obsession with his conversion rate.

Root gives off some peculiar vibes. He appears to want to play all forms, where in T20 he’s now a dinosaur, and even feels like an anachronism in ODI matches where his real worth seems to be if he can bale us out after a dodgy start. He is still very worthy of a place in that team, but he always was, and always should be a test player.

The captaincy is a red herring at this point. Is it bringing him down? Why should it? He was fine for a couple of years, added some decent scores if not always getting to hundred, and only now we seem to think it is the captaincy doing it. Is it bad form, a permanent decline, perhaps a skewed early career on more docile wickets, or is it the whole international grind rather than captaincy doing it?

As a captain he’s no more than passable, from this untrained eye. He’s got a duff team, a mad scientific experiment by Ed Smith most of the time, but his use of Jofra Archer is frightening. He has a fast bowling asset and he’s running him into the ground. That concerns me. We drift in the field, we don’t seem to have inspiration, and we get on the end of some life-altering performances far too often. No-one seemed to care when Cook was captain, but we should now Root is?

Must Do Better is my simple assessment of England’s performance in the first Test. They need to put some fizz back into their game.

Magnificent. Imagine the number of tests you need to have played to come up with the simple assessment that England will need to play better. The main problem was the lack of fizz, that indeterminate article missing from all great performances. Does Lovejoy mean he wants to see England play with more attacking abandon, or like the stubborn test batting team they attempted to be for a day and an hour before they reverted to type? Does he mean abandoning the bowling dry tactics that saw Stuart Broad throw down medium pacers most of the time? What does he mean? I have no idea at all.

So do we fight last week’s battle, or do we start afresh and play a different way. England will not face Trent Boult or Colin de Grandhomme, so it’s a different bowling attack confronting them. Coming into the team are Daryl Mitchell, an all rounder and nothing whatsoever to do with the Worcestershire opener who appears in the Power List. Looking at his stats, he’s never taken a first class five wicket haul, so he’s got to be fancying his chances here. Look how we played Mitchell Marsh at The Oval just a short two months ago. Cricinfo believes Matt Henry will be preferred to Lockie Ferguson, which as replacement stocks go, isn’t too bad at all. It’s good to be prepared with some international ready talent should injuries happen. Especially if you have a board where the international team should be going forward with all thoughts and bases covered.

Like having a proper reserve keeper available should your frontline one go down. Hey, maybe you might cover the gap with someone who made a hundred on his test debut and is widely recognised as one of, if not the, best technicians in the country. But that’s just too vanilla thinking, and instead if Jos Buttler doesn’t make it, Ollie Pope will keep wicket in a test match – not sure he’s done it in a county championship fixture yet. It’s as dense as mercury, and sorry, it can mean only one thing. We genuinely think this test series isn’t important and is a warm up for other matters. Someone should take a damn good hard look at themselves. Ollie Pope is paper covering over a gaping crack. I thought the days of parachuting in someone nowhere near the test team in the role intended had gone years ago. I remember Tony Pigott in 1983, at Christchurch. That went well. They hoped they could get away with it, and now Pope, who copped some criticism for his shot selection in dismissal last time out now has something else piled on top of him. Let’s hope things work out.

The wicket is tempting England to drop their spinner. I wonder when that has ever gone wrong? There’s a chance Zak Crawley (Phoenix) will make his debut if Jos doesn’t make a recovery from his back spasm, in which case heaven only knows where he’ll bat (6?). There is a chance of Chris Woakes playing, there is all sorts of jumbled up thinking going on. Or is there?

George Dobell writes this (bold parts – my emphasis):

While Pope is a relatively inexperienced keeper, England dismissed the idea of calling-up a last-minute replacement; Ben Cox of Worcestershire, for example, who is currently playing Grade cricket in Adelaide. Not only would it have proved tricky to get someone to New Zealand in time, it would have been asking a lot of them to acclimatise to the conditions and the unique team environment. It might also have undermined the position of Pope who was selected as reserve keeper in the original tour party.

“We knew that this was a possibility when we selected the squad,” Root said. “I’m quite happy that Popey’s got the capability of doing a good job for us.”

George! What is this twaddle? Unique team environment? That sounds good that you can’t bring anyone in from outside because they can’t fit in immediately. Great message that sends. What’s different about it that makes it so difficult to acclimatise, given we gave Sibley a debut last time out, brought Pope back in, have a new coach etc. etc. This is the reddest of red flags. What a pile of nonsense.

Undermined Pope. That’s funny. Pope is undermining himself with his batting. He’s a prodigious talent and at county level looks the utter part. But his test career, whether in his best batting position or not, has played expansively and has an early question over his shot selection. What better way to not undermine him is to play him in a position he will not be selected for in future. Do we really want this to ruin his batting potential when we have a perfectly good, temperamentally sound, debut test centurion who would fit nicely into this team if we weren’t so damn obsessed with Jos Buttler (or YJB) becoming our version of Adam Gilchrist.

And Popey? Oh dear.

The test starts tonight, and who knows what it will bring? But this appears not to be England’s finest hour and the mood music, despite New Zealand being without two key players, is not good. But if we have the attitude Lovejoy has, we are in trouble:

With all due respect, New Zealand are not as talented, batting-wise, as some of the England boys. But they ground England into the dirt. BJ Watling’s way of batting will never dominate a game in the same that Steve Smith or Joe Root could. His method is to hang around for a long time and he did it beautifully. He showed the English batsmen how to do it.

We are literally falling over ourselves for people with talent who can bat for nearly two days for double hundreds. We’ve had that talent on tap. The moron.

Comments, should you wish, below. Happy Thanksgiving. Anyone fancy some turkey. I’ve got enough!

Title contains lyric from Welcome to the Terrordome by Public Enemy – of course.