Five Days in January

Given the news that England are pushing for four day Tests, the worst outcome at Newlands for the ECB would doubtless be a match that went into the fifth day.  Or that would be the case if anyone truly thought that cricketing requirements made the slightest difference in their quest for short term cash.  Still, it would have the advantage of being mildly embarrassing to have them reminded yet again that at least half of Tests do go to the fifth day, and the groundstaff at Newlands are rumoured to be playing their part by preparing a batting friendly pitch.  That being said, unless it’s slow and low, England have shown plenty of aptitude in terms of backing up their board on the pitch by flopping badly with the bat whenever the opportunity arises, so guarantees are in short supply.

England’s biggest doubt (at least until Rory Burns injured himself playing football) seems to be Jofra Archer, struggling with an elbow injury in the build up.  Should he not make it, then a one paced seam attack will be the outcome, and the Archer-meter will veer back to the “essential” side of the display, highlighting yet again that a player is never more valuable than when he’s not in the team.  If Archer is missing it will also postpone any decision about who to leave out from Centurion.  England made protestations about being happy to make the tough decisions over Broad and Anderson, which more than anything suggested they weren’t happy at all about it, though given the difference in performance between the two in the first Test, it’s curious that anyone would think it that hard a decision in the first place.

The main difference is potentially (though apparently not certainly) the selection of a spinner this time around, with the speculation being that Dom Bess is likely to get the nod in the continued absence of Jack Leach.  Not for the first time, selection policy is where eyes roll and heads shake, and in terms of how England handle their spinners, it’s more a permanent fixture over the last half decade or so, as they forever undermine their own processes and their own players.

Will MacPherson wrote a piece highlighting how the mismanagement of Moeen Ali has left England without the option of recalling him this series, and while Moeen’s dropping from the England team last summer was more a mercy than a blow, it is symptomatic of the inability of the management structure to treat players like valued staff instead of commodities that they managed to turn a necessary decision into a mess.  Moeen had and has severe limitations, but in that he is little different to any of the other options who don’t have even his level of Test success to fall back on.  This is forever the conundrum – awareness that the alternatives are unlikely to be any better shouldn’t be a reason to never make a change, but when making that change, to burn bridges with those who have had at least some success is the kind of ineptitude that England appear to specialise in.

That Leach has been poorly for a while is just unfortunate, though it should be noted that his main contributions in his Test career to date have been more with the bat than the ball – a particular irony given Moeen’s status as a batsman and part-time spinner converted into the main slow bowler – re-inforcing the central issue that the dearth of spin in the English game has no obvious resolution in current circumstances.  That those circumstances are self-inflicted by a board who prefer white ball cricket to the challenge of the longer game is a wider point that should never be overlooked.

The more immediate sour taste would be at the treatment of Matt Parkinson, the second spinner in the Test party until illness spread through the squad prior to the first Test resulting in Bess’s call up.  While it’s true that selection shouldn’t be automatic, to select a player in the original squad and then overlook them in favour of someone not even in it originally will hardly motivate Parkinson to feel he’s part of the set up.  That he’s a leg spinner is part of the problem, for England haven’t shown a great deal of faith or management skill in any of the options they’ve had for the hardest of bowling arts over many years, with Adil Rashid being the latest whipping boy all too often, in the press as much as elsewhere.  The revolving door of England spin selection for players not called Swann and over-expectation of what they might achieve has been a constant for a number of years now, with no sign that it will change any time soon.

The batting options were initially confined to a question of whether Ollie Pope comes in for Jonny Bairstow or not.  England have defended the latter with the age old “playing well in the nets” rationale, but Bairstow only played in the first Test due to Pope being ill, so it seems likely he will return to the middle order.  However, the news today that Burns had hurt his ankle playing football set off another round of comment about whether the team should be playing such a sport in advance of matches.  My own view on this is pretty simple – injuries happen in practice, warm ups are necessary in themselves, and  young athletes want to play games.  Wrapping them in cotton wool is neither possible nor desirable.  Players forced to sit around or do gentle sit ups for fear of breaking would go stir crazy anyway, and that’s before the likely increase in muscular injuries without regular and fairly intense exercise.  Shit happens.

For South Africa, the one probable change is the injury enforced omission of Aiden Markram, with Pieter Malan the man tipped to replace him at the top of the order.  Temba Bavuma has been released from the squad and told to go and make domestic runs, so the superbly named Rassie van der Dussen keeps his place.  Having progressively demolished England in the first Test, all is pretty well with the hosts’ camp, an illustration of how rapidly things can change in short order.  The fundamentals of this series haven’t particularly changed, South Africa’s batting is still brittle, and their back up bowling is as much a concern as it was before the series got under way.  But it is indicative of the way one side seized their opportunities and the other wilted under pressure.

Momentum is as irrelevant in a Test series as it’s ever been, but England will have to perform dramatically better in all facets of the game to get back into this, and while it’s possible that they may do so, another defeat will only increase the clamour from the stands and the press box for a plan to improve.  If only the problems afflicting English cricket had been in any way predictable.


33 thoughts on “Five Days in January

  1. Marek Jan 2, 2020 / 6:33 pm

    Yes, the way Parkinson has been treated as a red-ball player–both by England and Lancs–has been shocking. I’m amazed that he’s been as tolerant of Glen Chapple as he has!

    I notice that his f-c record is actually better than Bess’s, mainly because his strike rate is almost ten balls lower (hey: clue as to where he might fit into the England ATTACK, coaching staff!) Interestingly though, his economy rate is almost identical.

    I have a question for d-Arthez too: Bavuma’s dropping seems (to me, at least) to presage an overturning by Smith, Boucher and du Plessis of the transformation targets, at least in the test team (I’m wondering how much Pretorius signing for Notts influenced this too!). Do you think that this is achievable politically, or are they just going to run into an administrative brick wall about it?


    • dArthez Jan 2, 2020 / 7:17 pm

      Undoubtedly they will turn into an administrative brick wall. They got rid of some of the deadwood, but Nenzani is still in office, as is a lot of other deadwood. Nenzani is most famous, along with Mike Selvey to state that, when the story of the Big 3 power heist broke, he did not see any problem whatsoever. The only question is, whether the suits demand that the Test team must be transformed or that they are okay with T20Is and ODIs being used to make up the quota targets. Time will tell. With the political chaos in South Africa at the moment, your guess may well be as good as mine.

      As I have pointed out before, while it is true that 80% of the population is Black, and roughly 9% is White (and without looking at the numbers, I suspect that the numbers for the relevant age groups are even more skewed), that does not mean that the distribution of access to playing cricket or any other sport is similar to those numbers. The wealthier your family is, the higher your chances of having access to playing cricket. And thus that the relevant pool of Black players is actually disproportionally small (due to the effects of apartheid), and that may mean that average Black talent gets signed up, just to make up the numbers. And that may mean that you have to be a big talent as a White kid to get signed up. If you then have to pick a best XI, chances are that the minority still gets more than their ‘fair’ share of spots as a result of that.

      That has also been a major issue in other sectors of the economy for a long time, including all kinds of corruption to work around these rules / laws (for instance fronting, i.e. a company is “Black” because it has a Black director, but all the decision making power is held by White shareholders, who are the real owners – and having a Black director may land you lucrative state contracts). So it is not peculiar to cricket, or sports in South Africa. Just pointing out, that these issues have been around for quite some time, without ever being properly solved.

      It would be good if the team were more representative, but that requires a lot of funding and broadening the playing base, especially in places where little cricketing infrastructure exists. Things that are not exactly easy for a board that is desperately struggling to pay the bills, avert player strikes over the proposed restructuring of the domestic competition, etc.

      But it is also important that the team achieves success. Far fewer people will support a middling team, rather than a successful team (also for sponsorships, and generating interest among youth). Compare rugby in South Africa and the feelings about the sport in 2015 and 2019. A world of difference, and even in 2015 South Africa made the semis.

      Sorry if I have gone off on a tangent, but these are all complex and intertwined problems. Good solutions take decades to mature, and come to their own. There is no quick fix.

      Liked by 2 people

      • dArthez Jan 2, 2020 / 7:27 pm

        Just to add, the World Cup was terrible for CSA (performance wise, and from a financial perspective too), and that may mean the political pressure veers from transformation to performance, and that may mean that CSA actually want laxer transformation targets, if that means the quality of the teams improve (if only to generate more money to pay the bills). And obviously they can’t say that. There will be conflicting political agendas, some of which are not even in CSA itself.

        Will be interesting to see how it plays out, but realistically speaking I do not think South Africa will ever be a powerhouse in cricket again.


        • jennyah46 Jan 2, 2020 / 10:12 pm

          A brilliant, well written post with the issues clearly explained.

          There is also a tribal problem in South African cricket. Because the Xhosa play the Zulus do not.
          I’m not sure how completely individual this might be, but the problem is there.


          • dArthez Jan 3, 2020 / 6:24 am

            Absolutely. There is also a cultural / tribal angle to this, but let me not delve into that.

            There has been a lot of cricket played by non-White people before and during apartheid. Obviously, due to the laws in place those players never got even a sniff of an international career (d’Oliveira aside, and we all know what that led to), and the powers that were have rendered that history near invisible. But it does exist, and it would be good if it were fully unearthed, and recognised.

            Cricket, more than any other sport, lives on its history, and is made by its history. So to acknowledge, recognise and celebrate that history is very important to nurture the game. In South Africa and elsewhere. Which makes the officials’ deliberate wrecking of the game all the more galling.


      • LordCanisLupus Jan 2, 2020 / 8:04 pm

        Thanks D. Really interesting, and I think, something that appears simpler from the outside than within South Africa.


        • Marek Jan 2, 2020 / 8:11 pm

          Absolutely, thanks. Those were exactly the kinds of tangents I wanted to hear…


        • dArthez Jan 3, 2020 / 6:36 am

          It appears simple does not it?

          Just do the thought experiment of what would happen if counties were allowed a maximum of 1 public school boy in their squads, and England were allowed to pick a maximum of 2 public school boys in their teams. Chaos would ensue (because obviously public school boys are overrepresented as share of their population). I made those numbers up, because I don’t know the exact share of the population that goes to those schools, but you get the idea.

          To avoid a drop in quality, the ECB would be forced to invest in the ‘wrong kind of family’ (just to highlight how loathsome Giles Clarke’s remark really was), and we all know how well they have done that in the last 10-15 years. And they actually have the money to do that (if they stop spending millions on their overhead. And there is much more infrastructure in England than in South Africa to start with. It would take years to undo the damage of neglect, and selling off council grounds, economic marginalisation of working class families and kids, etc.

          And that is just the difference between state and public schools, which is obviously far less damaging than the human monstrosity that apartheid was.

          Liked by 2 people

    • Marek Jan 2, 2020 / 9:27 pm

      “England may consider calling up another batsman to act as cover. Should that be the case, the experienced trio of Keaton Jennings, James Vince and David Malan would be among the candidates….”

      Combined average what, around the same as Steve Smith?! Be afraid, be very afraid!


        • dlpthomas Jan 3, 2020 / 12:20 am

          I was watching Vince play in the BBL yesterday and I found my self wondering, not for the first time, why can’t this bloke make it as a test player. I’m not on the bandwagon but I get why some people are. Pretty 20’s are very seductive (and not just on the cricket field.)


      • Marek Jan 2, 2020 / 9:51 pm

        […checks Cricinfo to see how Chris Woakes’s test batting average compares with those three…]

        (Answer: bit more than two runs better than Vince or Jennings, half a run worse than Malan. The Woakes as emergency opening batting cover bandwagon starts here! He absolutely can’t be worse than Jennings or Vince unless the game is impressing Andy Flower with his attitude…)


  2. man in a barrel Jan 2, 2020 / 7:56 pm

    Well done for pre-empting my inevitable complaint that playing amateurish games of football does not seem an obvious way of preparing for a 5 day Test Match


    • Marek Jan 2, 2020 / 8:09 pm

      Ha! I see your point, TLG…but it irritates me more than it does you! Something about the risk-reward equation between too unbalanced…


      • thelegglance Jan 2, 2020 / 8:14 pm

        Well, I do understand why people get frustrated with it. What I would ask is what the outcome would be if it was banned? They’ll still want to play games, they’ll still do strenuous physical activity with a competitive edge. So the risk of injury is always going to be there, and has to be.

        I do think it’s a fair point that sliding tackles and the like are taking it a bit far though.


        • LordCanisLupus Jan 2, 2020 / 8:33 pm

          I’m also in the “shit happens” camp. The football thing is something people can take seriously or not, but injuries can happen anywhere. Ask Glen McGrath.


        • Mark Jan 2, 2020 / 10:37 pm

          I beg to disagree. Yes shit happens, but loads of shit happens when you piss about in a way that makes a mockery of the title “professional cricketer.” Why do batsman need to be doing “strenuous excercise“ on the eve of a test match? Does it improve their batting technique?

          Sure bowlers will break down, but batsman don’t need to be busting every muscle.

          I’m more pissed off about four day test cricket. It’s clear the fix is in, and the scum bags who run this sport will stop at nothing to get what they want. Which as far as I can see is money. That’s it, Wonga.. They are going to loot test cricket like they loot everything else. Spivs r us. No five day test cricket. No real cricket in June, July, anymore.

          The people who run cricket, hate cricket, hate cricket fans, but love money. It’s all they love.


  3. dArthez Jan 3, 2020 / 8:28 am

    I guess the lesson for Parkinson is that he needs to focus on his batting, and bowl 2 overs of spin in a domestic season. That way he’ll stand a chance of being picked as a spinner.


  4. man in a barrel Jan 3, 2020 / 11:00 am

    Even Selvey has noticed the wheels coming off

    “Been in SA a fortnight. In that time 11 players + 6 support ill; opening bat going home; most dangerous paceman injured; second spinner they daren’t play while best offie they have is home; selected a fast bowler who may not be fit all tour. And we haven’t started 2nd Test yet.”


  5. Grenville Jan 3, 2020 / 1:31 pm

    Wow, they can’t do it can they? They just aren’t very good.

    On the other hand, much as I hate Agnew, can Vaughan please get the Dmitri? He is a speak-your-bollocks machine. He’s so full of himself. He’s so stupid and he’s a corporate shill.


  6. dArthez Jan 3, 2020 / 2:20 pm

    So a perfect batting track, not much in it for the bowlers on Day 1. And yet not even a single fifty from the England top 5.


    • dlpthomas Jan 3, 2020 / 2:24 pm

      Stokes looked pretty good till he had a brain fart and now Buttler looks like he’s playing 20/20.


      • dArthez Jan 3, 2020 / 2:54 pm

        Indeed. He promptly gets out for yet another middling score. And with the new ball around the corner, Pope has to somehow lift England to at least 300.


        • dlpthomas Jan 3, 2020 / 3:11 pm

          I’ll take 250 from here


  7. dlpthomas Jan 3, 2020 / 2:56 pm

    Buttler makes 29 of 27 balls. He gave an interview to cricinfo before the match where he said “I am not performing at the standards I need to” – hard to argue with that.


  8. Sophie Jan 3, 2020 / 3:10 pm

    Maybe one day they should have a look why, Stokes aside, their batsmen have gone backwards over the last few years.


  9. dArthez Jan 3, 2020 / 3:13 pm

    Obviously Parkinson would have done much worse than Bess with the willow. Oh wait. The only way he could have done worse is getting himself runout without facing a ball.


    • dlpthomas Jan 3, 2020 / 3:13 pm

      You beat me to it.


    • dlpthomas Jan 3, 2020 / 3:22 pm

      Would he have done worse than Broad – that was pathetic.


  10. dArthez Jan 3, 2020 / 3:53 pm

    We’re getting yet another Faf masterclass at how not to bowl at the last pair here.


    • thelegglance Jan 3, 2020 / 3:55 pm

      In fairness, he was hopping mad at that short ball Pope scooped.


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