I Saw Two Shooting Stars Last Night

England have just bowled New Zealand out, and need 296 runs to win. Which makes this a good point to think about where England are generally, before what happens next in the final innings of this series.

Because 296 is a hell of a lot of runs on a wearing pitch, and New Zealand are surely not only favourites, but really strong favourites. And that’s the funny thing – this is a big ask for England, and supporters, commentators and journalists are so thoroughly caught up in the new England approach that they have started thinking this is extremely gettable. It probably isn’t, but it’s absolutely marvellous to see how the arrival of McCullum, and quite likely Rob Key who appointed him, has entirely changed the mindset of not just the England team, but everyone who follows the England team. Anything is possible. And we now really think anything is possible. It just might be too.

And that’s the reason for writing this up now, because England haven’t magically become a good side overnight – all the flaws in the batting line up are still there, the fragility of the techniques of the top order bar Root is little different to before. And if England fall in a heap and get hammered today and tomorrow, that really shouldn’t affect the perception of what is a fairly seismic shift in the way everyone is looking at the game.

With the same batting line up a year ago, the degree of optimism about England’s chances would have been subterranean, now viewers and spectators are eagerly awaiting England having a right good crack at it.

It’s extraordinary. Kumar Sangakkara said yesterday that he was jealous of the members of this England team, and would have loved to play in it. Fear of failure appears to have been thrown into the bin. They aren’t going to get it right all the time, and there are going to be some pretty horrendous collapses to come as a result, but there were horrendous collapses anyway, match in, match out, there’s little downside from where England have been loitering over the last couple of years. Equally, the reckless abandon needs tempering occasionally with a slightly more rational approach – Ben Stokes’ first innings was more than freewheeling it was reckless slogging and cost him his wicket. No matter, Stokes is more than bright enough to have realised that, and has shown before he’s more than capable of being downright defensive of circumstances permit. The difference is that England seem to just believe they can win from anywhere, and that entire attitude can take them a long way.

And goodness me is it good to watch. Some might think it’s not Test cricket as we know it, and they’d have a point, but when Test cricket itself is under threat from shorter and shorter forms of the game, to have the best and longest format become not just intriguing and fascinating, but thrilling on a constant basis, then that might just be the way to have everyone with a passing interest in cricket open mouthed in disbelief. Anecdote is never data, but I’ve had friends enthusing about the cricket in the past couple of weeks in a way I’ve not heard for years. People without Sky (and that issue doesn’t go away, no matter how the ECB would like to ignore it) following closely and considering the highlights as appointment viewing.

Which means that for the first time in quite a while there are genuine grounds for some guarded optimism. Not just about the England team, because the state of the game that is drawn from to comprise that England side is still in considerable trouble, but about cricket itself in this country. That’s not to say all our troubles are over, it’s scratching the surface. But if we’re quick to point out the problems we should also acknowledge when something offers a ray of hope, and in the space of a couple of weeks, a couple of appointments appear to have provided that.

For Stokes has made an extremely bright start to his captaincy, and not just because England have won a couple of Tests. He appears engaged and willing to gamble. It’s been years since an England captain appeared so willing to show such trust a spinner not called Swann, and in this Test at least, Jack Leach has repaid that faith. The spinner has for years been the last option to turn to when all else has failed – hardly surprising that whoever the spinner was didn’t feel entirely confident or backed.

You can see the same in the rest of the bowling attack – partly because England have by hook or by crook scored runs this series and they’ve actually had a rest for once. And their role has been less about trying to pull the fat out the fire and to sit glowering as the batsmen make a right mess of a chase no one ever believed they had a chance of in the first place. But also because they are hunting their opponents down to then turn it over to batsmen who are itching to have a crack at whatever target they’re set.

Mental attitude is always cited as being important in any sporting, or indeed life, endeavour. It is rare to see it change quite so hugely in such a short period. But it does work. The great Australian and West Indies Test sides carried on winning for a fair while after their finest players departed the scene, because they expected to win, and did, until they stopped running in thin air and finally realised there was nothing underneath them except gravity.

Jonny Bairstow is another who appears to be thriving. He has always been the most sublimely talented of players, but one who has failed to fulfil that talent on a regular basis. His interviews have always been the epitome of spiky aggression, but in years past they have also tended to be extremely defensive. Not any more, he’s embracing every moment, and goodness me his liberation is a sight to behold.

Ah, England have lost a wicket to a quite brilliant run out. Never mind, we move on.

England did this with their white ball team some years back, almost overnight changing their entire attitude to one of unbridled aggression to the point of declaring war. But few thought the Test team would do the same. There were hints last time New Zealand came over with McCullum in their side, and a series of rampant attack took place. But not even close to this level. Perhaps the most similar example in microcosm was the arrival of Kevin Pietersen into the 2005 team, when instead of prodding and poking at Shane Warne he kept depositing him into the stands. Even in defeat in that Lord’s Test, it signalled a shift in approach.

England will lose Tests. They might lose a lot of them. The players aren’t going to be averaging 50 where they were averaging 30. But it might just get the best out of them, and structural change takes a long time. But above all else, the England players look like they’re having a ball, and so do the supporters.

Cricket should be fun. My God this is fun.


42 thoughts on “I Saw Two Shooting Stars Last Night

  1. man in a barrel Jun 26, 2022 / 7:32 pm

    I wonder if New Zealand have turned into the Cook /Flower set up: reacting to what happened last week rather than playing the match in front of them. No specialist spinner…


    • Marek Jun 26, 2022 / 10:36 pm

      It’s more the Glen Chapple playbook I think: no specialist spinner I could have taken–Headingley isn’t well-known for being a spinners’ ground recently, after all–but three specialist bowlers…..is always wrong, except maybe in T10.


  2. Northern Light Jun 26, 2022 / 8:24 pm

    Only another 113 to get. Piece of cake. *

    * usual England fan caveats apply.


  3. Benny Jun 26, 2022 / 9:28 pm

    I agree with much of that. Reflect on the number of times the England camp have said before there is plenty of ability in the team- the issue is to get them to play to their abilities. It seems that someone has discovered how to switch the light on. I’m more optimistic than you. We now have a captain who makes an impact, a number 3 batsman and a number 5, the best keeper, a spinner who can take 10 wickets, another superb quickie from Durham. Not a bad base to build on.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mark Jun 27, 2022 / 7:47 am

    The similarities to the turn around to when Morgan took over the ODI side are very similar. Which only goes to show how important intent and confidence are in sport. I always got the feeling with both Cook and Root they were appointed test captains for every reason other than on the field cricket. Image, sponsors, right type of school.

    Now of course this is very early days. There are going to be setbacks. Probably big ones. I’m not sure this approach will be quite so workable in places like Pakistan and India, but then in the last few years England tours abroad generally have been mostly disasters. So it’s not as if the old way was working. England were regularly struggling to make 150-200

    As you rightly point out….. some will say this is not real Test cricket. But in an era where batsman are brought up with white ball cricket, and that is where the money is, it is only logically that over time the number of players who can play long attritional innings will die out. This may be the only logical way to play test cricket in the modern era. (Caveats in spades applied.) It might ironically save test cricket. However, I do think quality of pitches will be important.

    It’s almost twenty twenty test match cricket. In England’s first innings they scored their runs at a rate of 5.3 an over. So far in the second innings they are going at almost 4.7. The ECB have wasted an enormous amount of time and money on the absurd 100. Upending the whole structure and reorganising the summer to accommodate it. Perhaps what was really needed was to play a more attacking form of test cricket? The 100 will never interest me in any way despite what ever marketing gimmicks they throw at it. But this type of test cricket might just make me want to buy a ticket again!


    • StaffordshireKnot Jun 27, 2022 / 9:52 am

      “…….The ECB have wasted an enormous amount of time and money on the absurd 100. Upending the whole structure and reorganising the summer to accommodate it…….”.

      Fully concur.

      Long-form cricket – and cricketers – require nurturing. You don’t become a seasoned spinner ready for international cricket when you’ve only played 20-30 FC games (Dom Bess – who has been messed around everywhere)……you need 20 games a season for years to learn the art. Hemmings, Emburey, Edmonds, and even Croft and Tufnell had well over 1000 FC wickets when they finished, Underwood had 2,500 – now, spinners will be lucky to finish with 500.

      Abominable incompetence and greed. ENG players have succeeded in this series DESPITE the failings of the ECB.


  5. StaffordshireKnot Jun 27, 2022 / 9:33 am

    A few points:

    1. This series might come to be regarded as the one that restored life (and faith) in Test cricket in Britain. It was important to fend off the challenge – I would say risk – of endless white ball rounders. Death to the Hundred!

    2. Make no mistake, whilst this has been entertaining, ENG have still worked hard to get their results – Broad, Potts and supporting bowlers in particular. Test cricket is still a test. If they win today, it will be the first time a side has chased down three 250+ scores in a series.

    3. Anderson and Broad have reaffirmed their quality, but they will have to be replaced at some stage – and the cupboard ain’t brimming. The attack has been truly bolstered by Potts – though how he will go away from home remains to be seen. The Overtons as bowlers – not convinced. Curran and Woakes? Brilliant at home, poor away. Wood and Stone? Cotton-wool merchants. Robinson? Seems a bit of a dick. It is a long time since we were so excited about Archer knocking Smith about. Am I the only one not to be convinced by Leach’s tenfor? Moeen Ali? Rashid? Bess?

    4. Batting – top marks in this series to Bairstow, Root, Stokes, Pope and Foakes. We will have to persevere with Lees and Crawley (he’s doing ENG a favour by agreeing to open). What a shame that Overton missed his 100.

    5. Fielding – only 7/10.

    6. NZ are in definite decline, I had expected more from what I believed was one of the best seam attacks in the world. Boult, Southee and Wagner seem near the end of the road, Henry too inconsistent at top level, and Jamieson the only one with a long-term future. Their batting is basically where ENG were last year……..though to be fair I doubt we would be looking at 3-0 had de Grandhomme played in all three. Well done to Mitchell, fine achievement.

    7. All in all, an excellent series for ENG. Next week’s test against India will tell us a lot more though – Bumrah is probably the best quick in the world at the moment, and he is well supported in all departments. Hope Anderson will be fit.


    • Marek Jun 27, 2022 / 10:28 am

      Re point 4: why would Crawley be doing England a favour by “agreeing” to open? It’s where he bats.


    • Mark Jun 27, 2022 / 11:46 am

      Am I the only person who thinks the one off India test match is pointless? The series was last year. India decided not to play the last test match because of Covid concerns.We will never know what the result would have been at that time. That series is gone, and the context of the series is no longer of any relevance today.

      Can’t help thinking it is only really about money, and tv contract revenue.


      • ciderwithroebuck Jun 27, 2022 / 12:29 pm

        India decided not to play last summer because of IPL concerns; star players not wanting to miss it’s start. Covid was a handy smokescreen and them pusillanimous ECB caved-in.


      • Marek Jun 27, 2022 / 10:11 pm

        Mind you, what would not caving in to the BCCI look like? India refusing to play tests in England for five years, or the ECB suddenly finding that the series in the next FTP were two tests instead of five? The Edgbaston test–although I agree with you Mark–is the result of not caving in as much as they might have, given that India wanted to cancel the test completely…which is probably welcome in the ECB accounts department given that Sky might be looking at trying to recover several million quid from them for breach of contract otherwise!


  6. Rob Jun 27, 2022 / 12:31 pm

    Barring the situation of over celebrating on Day 4 – that was said to have happened with SA when failing to get 80 odd runs in Bridgetown in 1992 – I fully expect this to be easy for England to get. One also gets a sense that Williamson’s two burnt reviews with the score in the fifties shows how far gone the situation is.

    (And if England collapse in a heap, I will not accept any sentiments of the opposing captain that the result was never in doubt – as Richardson did – though you sensed he would not have made it out of Barbados if they had lost).

    One of the first Tests I saw was in 1987 where I could not understand why England would not chase some 125 in a bit of the evening session once Pakistan had collapsed. My point being that the chase at Trent Bridge has shown that that sort of approach will work for a target upto 450 now, rather than there being any substantive change in England’s abilities. (In the IPL this year, Rovman Powell briefly looked like acquitting himself when striking three sixes of the last over when 36 was required before there was the issue of a height full toss – when those situations are normalised, I will fully lose my interest in cricket).

    These three chases do not compare with the achievement of India in Australia last year. India should be applauded for picking five batsmen (rather than 6) and choosing five bowlers (if not leaving out Ashwin) at least when their Pandya fetish is not being indulged. I hope that Overton’s 97 does not stop England dropping him if the bowling situation warrants it but I suspect he will be nailed on for some years yet as a result of one performance. The 2005 Ashes team were great for all of 4 tests before Simon Jones injury removed the 4.5 bowler attack. And if you are not the best team (or have a pair of outstanding bowlers), you should always go into a Test with at least five frontline bowlers – going with 3.5 as NZ did here is weak. Jones for Collingwood altered the capabilities of that team no end up

    Granted England should be applauded for using a dedicated keeper and hopefully they will not ditch this ideal for the usual pragmatic scenarios that have come to pass – the last Test of a series or an Ashes contest. But the changes to this team are the equivalent of low hanging fruit – getting a cadre of Test quality spin bowlers if not at least two or three genuinely quick bowlers will be the true measure of Baz’s endeavours.

    However I still fear the attitude still prevalent in administrators such as Strauss who do not respect great players thinking that they will come of a production line. In the same way Hoggard and Harmison were ditched in 2009, one could sense Strauss wanted to ditch Anderson and Broad, simply because he could. Like Greenidge being refused a last tour of England because he wanted to go to his parent’s funeral; Strauss does not respect how much better player’s like Pietersen or Anderson are – than him (one is genuinely at a loss to identify who will be the next cricketing knight, at least as far non administrators are concerned). Presumably a goal too far for Mr McCullum. But as Trent Bridge showed, that Bairstow innings was more enjoyable than any of Strauss’ rather staid efforts.


  7. dlpthomas Jun 27, 2022 / 2:36 pm

    Bairstow finishes the game with a 6 because of course he did.


  8. Marek Jun 27, 2022 / 10:21 pm

    So who replaces Crawley for the SA if (when?) he fails this week, given the mission statement set out by Stokes for potential incumbents of the batting berths, which would seem to rule out most of England’s recent openers?


    • Miami Dad's Six Jun 29, 2022 / 8:42 am

      Announce Jason Roy.

      Nah, I would go back to Burns, he’s in good nick with Surrey this season and I get the impression he’s probably just, ya know, better than the other candidates. If Stokes can improve Leach and Bairstow, then even a minor improvement in Burns’ mindset might see him be the sort of opener who can average maybe 35-39 for a couple of years.

      Although Stokes’ words in themselves are pretty interesting – I can’t remember a captain having so much selectoral sway since at least pre-Duncan Fletcher? This statement following the left field selection of Potts who got lucky that they were at the same county, as there was nothing outstanding about his performances that suggested he’d be selected otherwise.


    • Mark Jun 29, 2022 / 10:19 am

      I’m not sure I’m in favour of public mission statements from coaches or captains. You just make yourself a hostage to fortune. Keep those sort of things in house privately with the players themselves. If you publicly state that all batsman have to do x, and non of them manage it, what do you do next? Fire them all? And what if there are no replacements as good?

      But so far a new broom and attitude has certainly changed the atmosphere, and performance. England are certainly getting more out of what they have got than the last couple of years. Early days of course. The test will come when they get bowled out cheaply, and will they have the confidence to keep playing the same way?


    • Marek Jun 30, 2022 / 10:35 pm

      I asked that question largely because I couldn’t think of a single opener in the Championship who is successful and plays the way that Stokes was talking about (and no, Alex Davies doing it for 30 balls at a time doesn’t count!) I could only think of the opposites–Burns, Sibley, Hameed…I was going to say Ali Orr, although he seems to be pretty much on-message this week!

      Now I’ve thought of one, although he’s not opening this year. But he is an opener by trade, he has a f-c strike rate of 71, he seems to have the temperament for international cricket from the limited evidence we have, and he could double up as reserve keeper. So, what odds on Phil Salt making his test debut before the end of the summer?


  9. dlpthomas Jul 1, 2022 / 12:09 pm

    So Stokes asks India to bat. I’m not sure about this strategy – it seems to rely heavily on the pitch not deteriorating and the opposition not having a decent spinner. Also not helped if England keep dropping catches.


    • Marek Jul 1, 2022 / 2:08 pm

      Looks like the elements weren’t unduly impressed with the new start time…:-)


  10. Miami Dad's Six Jul 1, 2022 / 3:18 pm

    Well, I’m going on Sunday so I’m sort of interested in this, although I do agree with Mark’s sentiment – wtf are India doing here for this Test? We actually bought tickets to see England vs South Africa, until the fixture was swapped to India, but the offer of another 100 miles on the journey to get to Old Trafford wasn’t appealing.

    Potts looks a real find according to the commentary, I’m not sure we’ve ever had a 83mph right arm seamer successful in home conditions before.

    I get the impression there’s been an element of luck with the wickets today. Playing on, a couple of genuinely crap shots. Still, you take what you get. Was it Napoleon who coveted a “lucky” general over a skillful one?

    Is it weird that Bumrah is India’s captain? Pujara, Kohli, Pant, Vihari, Jadeja not fancy it?


    • Marek Jul 1, 2022 / 3:49 pm

      Well, this should be fun. Bazball meets Pantball…


      • Miami Dad's Six Jul 1, 2022 / 3:55 pm

        Pant is a clearly destructive batsmen, but is it me or do England just get a bit weird when bowling to him? “Let’s try the spinner early” when it’s been nipping around all morning. He charges once down the pitch to Anderson who then ends up bowling short/at the body for the rest of the over. I dunno. I know it’s a mental sport, I’m just not sure he’s that good to completely affect our own game.


      • dlpthomas Jul 1, 2022 / 4:08 pm

        I was thinking the same thing. I’m torn between wanting to watch Pant get runs and wanting India bowled out cheaply.


      • Marek Jul 1, 2022 / 6:18 pm

        Isn’t that the essence of Bazball though (or Pantball or Eoinball)?–that you play so aggressively and with so little hesitation that you scramble the minds of the other side and they start doing weird things. That’s surely the WHY of this approach.

        On another note, I’m glad to see that Chris Silverwood is still able to coach a side into an entertainingly spectacular batting collapse to someone with no test wickets…:-)


        • dlpthomas Jul 1, 2022 / 6:58 pm

          Silverwood has been quoted as saying he “enjoyed the batters’ intent”. He’d enjoy it even more if they scored some runs.


  11. dlpthomas Jul 2, 2022 / 11:15 am

    I hope that somewhere in the UK there is a secret laboratory working on cloning Jimmy Anderson.


    • Mark Jul 2, 2022 / 11:27 am

      What was it yesterday? 100 or so for 5? Now over 375 for 9.

      A major factor in modern test cricket of the last twenty years it how often the last five wickets score appreciably more runs than the first five wickets. England will do well to avoid defeat in this match now, especially as they have to bat last.


  12. dlpthomas Jul 2, 2022 / 11:27 am

    Extraordinary over by Broad, going for the most runs ever in an voer in a test match – 4, 5w, 7nb, 4, 4, 4, 6 and 1.


    • Mark Jul 2, 2022 / 11:51 am

      Typical Broad……Either Brilliant or Braindead.


  13. dlpthomas Jul 2, 2022 / 11:32 am

    From 98 for 5 to all out for 416. Hmmmm.


    • Mark Jul 2, 2022 / 11:49 am

      Yes, very much Hmmm!!!

      Good batting ? Or really bad bowling? Did England do their usual trick of just losing the plot and bowling short?


      • dlpthomas Jul 2, 2022 / 1:07 pm

        Pant and Jadeja batted really well yesterday but I thought England were poor today – stange fields and bowled short almost immediately at the tail. Maybe they should try attacking the stumps for a few overs before trying to bounce them out.


        • Mark Jul 2, 2022 / 1:24 pm

          Cheers thanks!

          Why would tail end batsman be less likely to struggle against balls pitched to hit the top of off stump than top order batsman? It never makes any sense to me. Yes tail Enders are going to try and swing the bat and score some runs, but surely if you keep putting it in the right place and set the field accordingly the batsman will make the mistake?

          England seem often to just lose the plot and start bowling short. They don’t trust themselves to bowl consistent good lines and lengths. I don’t think they have much patience.


  14. Marek Jul 2, 2022 / 1:31 pm

    Crawley caught in the slips. I’m shocked!

    Now averaging 23.5 in 10 tests since his recall in Australia–which has included two of his three highest scores–and less than 21 in tests and less than 29 in f-c matches overall if you take away his 267, which is one innings in 44 in tests and one in 141 in f-c. He averages 32 for Kent.


  15. dlpthomas Jul 3, 2022 / 11:35 am

    Stokes dropped twice (slogging) and then out (slogging again) to a great catch by Bumrah. With Bairstow on fire, maybe Stokes could have played “normally” – like Jadeja did when Pant was running amok. George Dobell was aksed if Bazball was an excuse for brainless cricket and he said yes. I’m finding it hard to disagree.


  16. dlpthomas Jul 3, 2022 / 12:18 pm

    Bairstow 91 off 113 balls when rain stops play and he’s done it predominantly with proper cricket shots. He’s hitting a lot in the air but he’s not slogging. Amazing stuff.


  17. dlpthomas Jul 4, 2022 / 2:14 pm

    378 to win against a very good attack on a wicket that is misbehaving a bit. Surely there is no way…….


  18. dlpthomas Jul 4, 2022 / 6:37 pm

    The fastest ever 100 opening stand for Enlgand, followed by 3 wickets for 2 runs and then recovering to 3 – 259 at stumps. I thought they’d struggle to get 250 which just goes to show how little I know about cricket.


    • chrisnewlovehorton Jul 5, 2022 / 12:29 am

      How little we all know, it seems.

      Test matches played as a 5 day ODI.

      Can’t say I’m not enjoying it so far!


  19. dlpthomas Jul 5, 2022 / 11:46 am

    I was so nervous I nearly wasn’t going to watch this morning. But I did and just as well because Root has been incredible with Bairstow playing a supporting role. I’m not going to try and understand what is happening, I’m just going to enjoy it.


    • chrisnewlovehorton Jul 5, 2022 / 1:00 pm

      It was almost boring in the end! Lovely stuff.


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