England vs New Zealand, 2nd Test – It’s The Batting, Stupid

Today marks the first time that England have lost a Test series at home since a Sri Lankan team starring Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Matthews beat them in 2014. An historic event, the end of an impressive streak, but one that has been a long time coming.

The England Test team has been scraping series wins for a while now due to just two things: An excellent bowling attack at home, and an abundance of allrounders strengthening their batting. No reasonable person would look at the last seven summers and come to the conclusion that this was a halcyon period for a dominant England side. Here is a table of Test winning percentages at home (including neutral venues for Pakistan and Afghanistan) since the 2017 season:

TeamWinsLossesDrawsWin %
New Zealand1300100%
India121280%
South Africa147067%
Australia132365%
England168457%
Pakistan64250%
Afghanistan22050%
Bangladesh56142%
West Indies67338%
Sri Lanka59133%
Ireland0100%
Zimbabwe0420%

England are, and have been for a while, a mid-tier Test team. To think anything else is just self-delusion. As England is probably the only cricketing nation in which Test cricket is the most popular format, this should be a matter of huge concern for the ECB. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

England simply can’t bat. Not just against spin or in foreign conditions, although those might be particular areas of weakness, but a general and widespread lack of ability and application throughout the team. To put this into context: When England beat India in 2012/13, six of England’s team had Test batting averages which were over 40: Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior and Root (who made his debut in that series). In the last series against India a few months ago, Joe Root was the only one in the whole squad.

It would be easy (and fun) to blame the selectors, but the simple truth is that there aren’t really any county batters making an overwhelming case that they should be in the side. People talk about players like Tom Abell, Joe Clarke, Phil Salt, or Alex Lees, but none of them have a first-class batting average over forty. Every single England-qualified batsman who does has already been tried (with perhaps James Hildreth being the only exception). I don’t follow county cricket closely enough to determine the reasons for this paucity of batting ability. I’ve seen the schedule cited as a possible cause, with fewer games being played in the middle of the season. I would suspect that recruitment plays a part too, with counties perhaps being more inclined to pick white ball specialist batters than they might have been 10-15 years ago. Regardless of the issues, any changes to address this situation might take a decade to feed through to the England team.

England have decided to try and sidestep this by selecting young batters with high potential. Test cricket isn’t an easy place to learn your trade, and it is obviously preferable to begin more or less as the finished article, but players consistently don’t seem to improve once they are in the England dressing room. Sibley and Crawley both made their debut two years ago, and Pope has been in the side for three years. Are any of them noticeably better than they were on debut and, if not, what does that say about England’s coaching?

All of which leads me to the rather depressing conclusion that Joe Root might be the last England Test batter to average over forty for a generation. Maybe more.

If you have any comments about the post, the series, or anything else, please feel free to leave them below.

18 thoughts on “England vs New Zealand, 2nd Test – It’s The Batting, Stupid

  1. Anon Jun 13, 2021 / 3:06 pm

    England cricket coaching setups in the age group teams actively weed out test-match calibre players. The emphasis on batting strike rates and “fearless brand” of cricket has meant actively discouraging the art of leaving the swinging ball in the corridor of uncertainty . Couple this with England increasingly looking to private schools to recruit county players(possibly more than ever in the last decade) means a plethora of players not used to failing or taking on the challenges in men’s cricket League – there ought to be a lot more scrutiny of players’ temperaments and considerations of where they earned their stripes. Root might just be the last English player (picked on basis of Vaughan’s pushy recommendations) who turned out to have the right attitude to fight it out and succeed and allowed back in.

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    • dannycricket Jun 13, 2021 / 3:41 pm

      I don’t think it’s ever not been the case for England that most of their batsmen came from public schools. The emphasis on strike rate might be new though. From the perspective of a county, an out-and-out T20 batter will do a better job in a first-class match than an out-and-out red ball batter will do in a T20. Therefore, to be competitive with the smallest squad size (and therefore lowest costs to the county), they would always favour the young batsmen with power hitting over patience or discipline. Even so, you’d think a few decent players with Test potential would slip through.

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      • dArthez Jun 13, 2021 / 4:11 pm

        A few do come through. And then get coached to ruin, or in the case of Archer (not exactly someone who started learning his trade in England either, mind) managed to ruin.

        I am no fan of Cook the man, but it is noticeable that limited over cricket had done massive harm to his technique (and plenty of batsmen in the poorer cricketing nations as well). And that is someone who was already praised for the better part of a decade on his technique and his patience. What chance does a 20-year up and comer stand then?

        England actually have the financial largesse (due to looting the world game, and the prices they can charge due to Sky sponsoring cricket), to actually afford Test specialists. I don’t think a team like the West Indies could even afford Test only bowlers AND make them miss out on the T20 leagues for instance (like England do with Broad and Anderson (and up to recently also with the batsmen) – one reason for their longevity – don’t play more than 4 FC matches a year (Tests excluded), and keep them out of the limited overs stuff. Not saying what they do is easy, but if they had to play 15 FC matches a season on top of their work load, or had to spend time in say the CPL, IPL and or the Big Bash to make a living, well, that can’t be good for their bowling approach either.

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      • Marek Jun 13, 2021 / 8:55 pm

        I’m pretty sure that your public school batsmen point is incorrect, Danny. I don’t have exhaustive figures, but to check my memory I randomly searched Eng–NZ tests covering seven different years in the last century between 1949 and 1994, and six (including today’s) from this century.

        Only two of the nine up till 2004 had more than two public school batters in the top seven (I’m assuming that if Cricinfo doesn’t list their education it means that no-one paid for it!)–1958 and 1965–and the two in the 1970s only had one between them, and he wasn’t brought up in the UK.

        Since 2008, none of the four years have fewer than four, and two have five–and there have been several tests recently where there were six. So (and I’m also aware that the division between public and private schooling isn’t always all it seems: I’m not at all convinced, for example, that Joe Root is a public schoolboy in the way most people seem to think of it) something seems to have changed in the last fifteen years or so.

        Btw d’A, I’m also not sure about your point about test specialist bowlers: Most of the poorer Full Members have them: think Taijul Islam or Mohammad Abbas. To take your specific example, of the five bowlers that WI have used most often in the recent past, two never play international white-ball, one doesn’t any longer (and I’m pretty sure that those three don’t play very many overseas leagues, if any) and the one of the other two isn’t always in the ODI team and has never palyed a T20I–although the last two do play in leagues.

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        • dArthez Jun 14, 2021 / 6:47 am

          The point is that the bowlers and batsmen who can focus on red ball cricket only have fewer incentives. It is really not that hard to cite a dozen of international Test class batsmen whose technique was ruined by limited over cricket. I alluded to Cook, but the same is true of say a Hashim Amla, and I am not sure that Darren Bravo’s attempts to reinvent him as a limited overs batsmen has not come at the cost of his Test potential either, let alone his Test career.

          Pakistan obviously are blessed that they are barred from IPL (and that is where the biggest pay checks are by quite some distance!). That helps massively. And sure there is a PSL and all that, but the exclusion from the IPL is probably a blessing in disguise for the Pakistani Test team.

          Taijul Islam was in the squad for the ODIs against the West Indies earlier in the year. That is hardly evidence of allowing the bowler to solely focus on his red ball game – and since his last game in the ODI team, Bangladesh have only played 2 other series for which he was not picked. Hardly evidence of a long term plan, but perhaps an accidental coming together of circumstances.

          In the case of the West Indies: Roach does not play limited overs anymore (other than CPL). But we must not forget that he has played international cricket for thirteen years, thus his formative years were way before the money-fuelled T20-craze. Seales has barely started his career, Holder most definitely does play a lot of limited overs (he is the only West Indian with an all-formats contract. Cornwall definitely plays limited overs cricket. Note that all of these (including Seales) were in the IPL auction (with the noted exception of Roach), but simply not deemed good enough. That is hardly evidence that CWI is paying the West Indian bowlers well enough so that they don’t need to bother with the IPL is it?

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        • dArthez Jun 14, 2021 / 9:36 am

          Also note that Broad last played a T20 or List-A match in 2017. Taijul is still playing those domestically. Anderson played 6 List-A games in 2019 (if memory serves partly due to prove fitness), but his last T20 in 2014.

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        • Marek Jun 14, 2021 / 11:24 am

          Yes and no, I think.

          Of the five WI players I was talking about (I hope it was clear from my wording that I wasn’t talking about Seales, who’s only played one game), only three were in the IPL long list (Cornwall wasn’t in what seems to be the BCCI version)–and one of those (Gabriel) doesn’t play international white-ball on any kind of regular basis.

          And sure, Roach doesn’t play because he’s older–but that also applies to Cook, Broad and Anderson. Anderson still plays domestic white-ball; Broad doesn’t I suspect primarily because Notts have a strong team and don’t want to fit in a player who has limited availability and therefore disrupts a settled team. But in the past they did much more–Anderson was a member of England’s WT20-winning squad, Broad went up for the IPL auction loads of times; Anderson is one of England’s most-capped ODI players and Broad one of their most-capped T20 players.

          So yes, WI can’t afford to pay their players to keep out of the IPL auction, but neither can England if the players are going to command good salaries in the IPL: your Cooks and Andersons are simply your Cornwalls. who are realistic enough to know that they simply won’t get picked in it.

          But WI or Bangladesh or whoever CAN afford to contract players who they rarely or never select in white-ball starting XIs.

          I also wonder whether England central contracts are worth more in relation to the median salary in the UK than West Indian ones. While I would suspect that they are compared to one or two Test countries, I also suspect that WI isn’t one of them.

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          • dArthez Jun 14, 2021 / 12:09 pm

            You don’t become a specialist if you are not picked for the other forms of the game. But, the one advantage you have in not being picked for the other formats of the game is that your skills don’t get messed up by the demands of the other formats. Which is often not appreciated. England, mostly have been immune to that (not entirely), certainly compared to the pauper boards (ie. basically anyone not India, England and Australia). Certainly, some skills are transferrable, but the transferrable gets hopelessly overstated.

            A good salary for an England centrally contracted player would be $500k in the IPL – at those sorts of figures does it become attractive (maybe one of the reasons England players were picked less often in the past is because they demanded what, $400k as a base price?). For players from most other nations that is more than what they would have made if they featured in all the international games of their sides. (Including performance bonuses, match fees etc). I honestly don’t think say Jonny Bairstow would slog it out for a mere 100k. If he would, I’d be expecting many England centrally contracted players to feature in CPL, PSL, BPL, etc. And well … that just has not happened, has it? I don’t think it is a question of ability there – simply that the pay compared to the central contract makes it far less worthwhile. So England centrally contracted players play domestic T20s and IPL at most. For South African and West Indians, you can add another 4 or 5 leagues to the list.

            When Stokes was sold for a boatload, the release of the NOC would have paid for a quarter of an ECB central contract. Useful money, but hardly enough to fund the international side. When Morris was sold for a similar boatload, that alone was enough to pay for what 3 central contracts for South Africa? In a perverse way, the likes of Morris going for millions keeps the South African Test team afloat.

            Sure you can argue that Broad and others make themselves available now for IPL auctions. But that is only fairly recently. Remember that Pietersen got hauled over the coals because he wanted to represent England and play in the IPL? It is only fairly recently that the ECB changed their stance on the IPL. Also the fees to the board(s) involved are fairly small for the ECB (10% of contract value I think) – but for boards like West Indies, and South Africa they are useful supplements to the budget.

            We’re talking about 7 years now in the case of Broad. Highly unlikely that he would not have played as an occasional injury replacement, unless he simply does not have to bother anymore. And given that he is earning upwards of $1 million a year, there is no financial incentive that is enormously compelling for him to keep bothering with List-A cricket (or T20s). And if memory serves (and I could be wrong) Jimmy’s last games in List-A were mainly to regain fitness. – Chris Morris on the other hand makes more from a single IPL than he would if he had represented South Africa for 8 years in pretty much all internationals – ie. 2 IPL games would have equalled representing South Africa 80 days on the field per year. If England players could have been offered $15 million per season in the IPL (ludicrous amount of course), well, England would be facing the same problem as all the other boards. But they are not, since that is probably even more than a team’s budget in IPL.

            The incentives to specialise for limited over cricket are much much stronger outside of England than they are in England. So all these complaints by England supporters that T20 is destroying their Test team ring a bit hollow: they were actually the cornerstone of much of the success England have enjoyed (mostly at home) in the past decade, albeit against opposition, that would be trashed by the compatriots of the current sides in the 1960s and 1970s (can you imagine what the 1960s West Indies side would have done to the 2010s West Indies side?).

            That the UK media in particular remain wilfully blind to the deterioration of sides like South Africa, Sri Lanka, etc. does not help matters.

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          • Marek Jun 14, 2021 / 11:03 pm

            My last point though was: there’s a very good reason why England central contracts are much higher than those of some other countries in absolute terms–its median wages (and therefore, presumably, cost of living) are several times higher.

            I’m still unconvinced that an Andre Russell taking a $100K IPL contract is doing any less well relative to his average compatriot than a Jonny Bairstow taking a $500K one–and that’s also reflected in the value of central contracts: In fact, from the figures I could find, the top West Indian and South African central contracts are both more valuable on this scale than England’s,

            That’s important to remember, I think, because the big variable in national boards’ incomes is not the money they get from the ICC (the top nine apart from India get the same at the moment with the exception of England who get around 10% more) but broadcast income. Of course that’s going to vary hugely–because it’s based on the subscriptions paid by precisely those median-earning compatriots. An average-earning Bangladeshi or Jamaican simply couldn’t afford to pay anyway near the money that an average Australian or English fan could.

            So if we’re asking the ICC to solve the problem of cricketers from wildly different income backgrounds all expecting to be paid the same, gigantic earnings for very short tounaments (which in some ways is a very understandable expectation), and saying that the structure of world cricket board handouts should reflect that to stop them leaving international cricket, then we’re actually asking the ICC to solve an issue of world economics rather than cricket.

            That’s not to say that there isn’t the money in cricket to do it–but I suspect it may well not be with the ICC. It’s with people like Shah Rukh Khan–which could be another way of saying that international cricket (and all non-T20 cricket) is doomed if we keep on having these unrealistic expectations.

            I don’t think this is an issue which is limited to non-Big-Three countries either: county salaries in England have been unsustainably high for many years now, and I think that’s at least partly driven by players seeing a small number of their county colleagues get contracts from the IPL or even CPL or PSL which counties can’t hope to match given their incomes. It’s also reflected in ithe English international game: Bairstow, for example, was saying pretty vocally in the wimter that his £230K England contract (or around 6.5 times the median salary) wasn’t enough to stop him playing in international leagues–and he wasn’t talking about the IPL either.

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  2. Nehal Jun 13, 2021 / 7:07 pm

    Good point you make about counties potentially favouring white ball strikers. The likes of Azad and Hameed are anomalies now as county batters who solely play the red ball stuff. Thing is financially it is only lucrative for red ball batters when they nail down a place in the England test setup. Guys like Phil Salt, Tom Abell and Daniel Bell-Drummond will probably end up making more money than the likes of Sibley and Burns if they continue to pick up deals to play in T20 leagues in the off season. There’s now very little motivation for a young batter at say 16/17 to hone a test match technique when they can probably see a quicker and easier path to making a decent living from the game.

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  3. Marek Jun 13, 2021 / 9:21 pm

    Talking about “…already tried”, the last ten days haven’t half improved some failed test batters from the recent past. I’ve even seen James Vince’s name touted for a recall (not by Vughan either!–won’t they ever learn?!)

    But the prize for most improved player goes by a country mile to Dawid Malan. The same Dawid Malan who no-one was talking about as a red-ball batting solution two weeks ago, who averages 27 in tests (that is, less than every single player he might replace) and 20 in home tests.

    As far as I can see, he’s being touted on the basis of his last two (count ’em!) red-ball innings. And it’s true, they look impressive: 418 runs. But it’s also worth having a look at the scorecards: they’re against two of the weakest attacks that counties can ever have put out. In both, he faced a promising but raw young spinner, but four of the six specialist seamers he faced were 22 or under and the other two wouldn’t be anywhere near the side of many counties…and indeed often aren’t in the sides of their own!

    It’s like suggesting that a footballer looks ready for a World Cup place on the basis of a couple of displays against Hereford and Cheltenham with most of their first-choice players missing. To cap it all, he’s being touted as a no. 3, and I’m fairly sure he’d virtually never batted at three until this week.

    If they’re going to recall an old Yorkshire player I can’t see why they wouldn’t be better with Bairstow, who averages several more in tests and probably over ten more in the Championship. Hell, if they’re going to recall a Yorkshire no. 3 I’m not at all convinved they’d be worse with Ballance: at least he’s been in form in the Championship for years, not to mention having a test average ten runs higher.

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  4. Marek Jun 13, 2021 / 9:25 pm

    Interesting stats trawl: in both tests, England’s no. 8 faced more balls in the match than four (and at Edgbaston five) of the top seven. At Edgbaston, so did the no. 9.

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  5. Amit Garg Jun 14, 2021 / 4:57 am

    Balance is such an illusion.
    Before England won the T20 and the 50 over world cups, plenty of fans were questioning their inability to put together a strong white ball team that could compete well and win. Domestic structure, administrator apathy, lack of focus on white ball cricket were among the issues pointed out by many at the time. Prioritisation of white ball cricket led to silverware that had eluded them since 1975.

    Did the administrators lose plot with test cricket in the process? Probably yes.
    Did some fans care more for tests? Absolutely.
    Was ECB right in prioritising shorter formats? Each fan might have their own take on this question.

    The fact that England have not been producing test quality batsmen is not in doubt. Root and Stokes are their two best test batsmen. And yet, Stokes still averages under 40 after 130 innings. 37 might be great for an allrounder, but not nearly sufficient when he also happens to be your second best batsman. Much maligned Gary Ballance averaged above Stokes.

    Bairstow averages 34, as does Buttler. These are two keepers known for their explosive batting.
    Prior averaged above 40.

    Pipeline is running dry. That much is obvious – Ravi Bopara averaged higher than Sibley, Pope, Denly, Crawley but was discarded after fewer games than all of them. Burns only makes it higher on this list after the last few scores but he still averages 33 after 25 games.

    What is clear is that this malaise didn’t start recently. England haven’t been producing test quality batsmen for a while now. They were lucky to have had Cook, Strauss, KP, Root, Bell, Trott, Prior etc. play at the same time (and average above 40) but the next gen has never really arrived.

    In recent years, England have been blessed with allrounders that have saved / won games and series at home. Stokes, Woakes, even Sam Curran have done what the top order has failed to do – score runs when they matter.

    The administrators have got stuff wrong but are the players doing all they can, to be as good as the previous generation was, at playing the red ball? Lopsided nature of Financial rewards that are skewed towards shorter formats are only a part of the story. Can all of these be laid at the door of the white ball game? I don’t think so but some fans might. Most fans of England cricket team will understand the issues better than I do in any case.

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  6. Miami Dad's Six Jun 14, 2021 / 4:56 pm

    Series Ratings, scores outta ten:

    Burns – A decent ton to avoid the whitewash at Lords and an 81 in the second Test – I’m not sure you can expect too much more from an opener – 9

    Sibley – Averaged 34.5 with the bat, which is not the best, but not the worst. Sibley doesn’t give the impression of chucking it away when he does fail, at least – 6

    Crawley – Picked on a funky hunch, my hunch is that we shouldn’t see him in England colours until he scores runs somewhere, anywhere else first – 1

    Root – Two useful and useless 40s at Lords, two duds at Edgbaston. Given that he was picked to be a frontline bowler you’ve also got to judge him on that too, where he was useless. Dropped a sitter, captained as if he didn’t want to be there, and has to take an element of blame for selection issues – 1

    Pope – 4 scores between 19 and 23. I don’t hate Pope, it’s a shame we’re introducing him to such a haphazard batting line up. My gut is that he’s talented but been picked too early and a few more matches for Surrey would be beneficial, but he’s probably got a future at least – 4

    Lawrence – Two ducks either side of an 81*, had he had more support then he might have even been able to bat England to a par score at Edgbaston. Looks really scratchy but that knock makes him worthy of a 6

    Bracey – I won’t pick on his batting as anyone can have a shocker in their first couple of Tests. His wicketkeeping was awful – worse than any of Bairstow, Prior or Buttler when they as wk novices were handed the gloves. 30 byes across two Tests dwarves his contribution with the bat – sorry I said I wouldn’t pick on his batting, but it was naff – 2

    Robinson – Batted well, bowled well, tweeted really poorly 8 years ago – 8

    Stone – Held a bat with more discipline than a chunk of those above him. Had an awful drop off his bowling but didn’t exactly smash it otherwise – 3 wickets at 32.3 and was part of a very lacklustre effort on Day 2 – 5

    Wood – 6 wickets at 34.2 is about where I rate him as a bowler. Did well with the bat at Edgbaston – 5.

    Broad – 6 wickets at 29, and bowled with intensity in the second Test in particular. No runs, as is usual from our experienced former all-rounder – 6

    Anderson – had a shocker. I’ve high expectations from Jimmy, but he was toothless all series, and didn’t even exert that much control. 3 wickets at 68.7, pension him off – 2

    Silverwood – Sometimes life deals you a shoddy hand. Sport is life, and I know structurally the ECB don’t do coaches any favours. He wanted the responsibility of selectorship so the buck started and ended with him – well, unfortunately England keep making basic cricket errors both in selection and tactics, and very few of the “raw” individuals that have racked up a lot of Tests between them now seem to be improving. I’d be astonished if CS is still in post come spring – 2

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    • Marek Jun 14, 2021 / 11:05 pm

      …and Thorpe…?

      (Feel free to take his press conference today into account!)

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      • Miami Dad's Six Jun 15, 2021 / 9:51 am

        I liked Thorpe a lot as a batsman – obviously. I’ve no idea how much time as batting coach that he actually gets to work on batting. What can certainly be said, though, is that he’s got a mammoth task with a core of about 10 players who aren’t good enough at the present to be in the top 6 of a test side – and doesn’t look to be succeeding in it with many of them at the moment. Maybe he is with Burns – so 1/10.

        One thing that struck me last week, was that as I knew I had to shoot off early I was very keen to get there early – and I ended up in my seat about 9:30am. England overnight were batting 7 down, and I was amazed to see us doing all manner of fitness and fielding drills with the whole squad, at 9:30am. I’m not saying that we don’t need to practice our catching – christ we definitely do – but if you’ve got to concentrate really hard in the field for 6 hours in a day anyway during play, I’m not sure that adding an extra hour and a half on top of that is the best thing, mentally. Any physical benefits of warming up at 9:30am would have disappeared by the time England took to the field at midday as well. There were about 3 or 4 coaches present – a classic case of justifying their roles I’d guess. I’ve no idea if Thorpe was one of them.

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      • Marek Jun 15, 2021 / 10:24 am

        Well, you’ve hit on at least part of the problem I think, in that Thorpe isn’t officially the batting coach. Although he has been in the past…for rather unspecified periods.

        Two things from that: one is that it’s very difficult to see who’s responsible for what, especially since we know that Trescothick isn’t going to be working long shifts away from home in his role. So maybe Thorpe actually is de facto the batting coach…sometimes. If he isn’t, what exactly is he doing?

        The reason I’m quite hard on Thorpe is that he’s been the batting coach de facto (or one of them) since the 2013-14 Ashes. So he’s had a LOT of time to sort out the England batting–and whatever he’s done, or suggested to the selectors be done, hasn’t worked. In a big way.

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  7. Marek Jun 19, 2021 / 1:06 pm

    My goodness the ICC don’t help themselves sometimes do they: we’re just starting what, theoretically, is the most prestigious Test ever to have been played and we don’t even know how many days long it is. And nor do the teams playing it.

    “We’ll decide whether to have an extra day on the last originally scheduled day”. Honestly!

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