Daydream Believer

England’s first Test victory of this summer was rather routine. Not in terms of the run chase, because that was impressive. But it was also entirely orthodox, relying on a proven world class batsman – their only world class batsman – leading his team home with a superb innings. It didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know, namely that England were a brittle batting line up, but that if Joe Root got runs they might have a chance. At the time it seemed little more than that, no indication in particular of anything especially different, and apart from Root’s majestic knock, England probably had the worst of the game. So sure, a win, and a welcome one after the dreadful run of the last 18 months, but maybe not a whole lot more. It’s with hindsight it appears to have been greater than that, with it granting a degree of confidence and belief in the next step. Since then all hell has broken loose, the batting performances becoming ever more extraordinary and insane. After the conclusion of today’s Test Ben Stokes said a part of him had hoped India’s lead had reached 450 in order to see what England did about it. And you can feel this team is absolutely itching to have a go at a world record chase just to see if they can do it. It’s a world record for a reason, but after the absurdly easy and routine chasing down of 380 who is to say they couldn’t do it?

And in a tactical and strategic sense, this has an effect. Teams will be wary of setting England a total that up to now will have been considered a safe one, particularly with a time element. Leaving England 300 to get at 5 an over has been something that could be viewed as placing the pressure entirely on an England team that had little intent to go after it and a couple of sessions to survive. Not any more, opponents would be viewing it as a risk to do so. Even 400 plus will be treated as though it’s a feasible target. That isn’t to say for a second that the game has been entirely turned on its head – in such circumstances the bowling team should feel they were in a strong position and not all fifth day pitches will be remotely as accommodating as the ones this summer, but the mind is a funny thing, and the nagging thought that England won’t just go for it, but might well get it will be present in many an opposing dressing room from now on. A similar thing happened with the ODI team, where teams would often be so aware that they needed a big total against an England side that made it abundantly clear they thought they could chase anything that opponents overreached and fell in a heap. Test cricket isn’t white ball cricket, true, but the difference so far this summer has been narrower than ever seen before.

Likewise, the disquiet when building a lead will be entirely about the potential doubt of whether it’s enough. It shifts the pressure onto England’s opponents in a way that has never been tried before in the longest form of the game, or at least not to this extent. It’s why the whole Bazball approach is so extraordinarily fascinating to watch how it pans out over the longer term. England haven’t become radically better as a batting line up overnight, but it is the case that the quite incredible levels of belief flowing through them have raised their level to a degree that’s hard to credit.

There will certainly be bad days, when they fall in a heap and collapse. But they are trying this out from a position where it was hard to see how they could get any worse, with endless feeble subsidence of the batting order under the lightest of pressure. When you’re often 100 or fewer all out anyway, why the hell not? In that they are lucky – because it’s not just that this is thrilling to watch, it’s that they have licence to do it from a supporter base that wants to see something, anything, done to show some sign of life.

Stokes again probably went too far, his last couple of innings were less aggression and more rank slogging. But you can see why and how this happened – he is trying to set a particular tone to the rest of the team that he won’t take a backward step and he wants them to follow his example. That will doubtless be pulled back in to some extent in the months ahead because he’s got a decent cricket brain, and he’s got the buy in from everyone, on and off the pitch to a level he doesn’t need to demand they follow suit. An example of the level of commitment was surely to be found yesterday evening, when the nightwatchman padded up was Stuart Broad. Stuart Broad!

It’s really why this morning and yesterday were so impressive. Although England scored at a preposterous rate, they weren’t going all out for trying to hit every ball to the boundary, it was aggressive, but it was controlled. Jonny Bairstow’s twin hundreds were markedly slower than those against New Zealand, yet still rapid by any standards other than his own. Root’s tempo is little changed, but it suddenly looks like part of a bigger plan than just his own ability, oft mentioned, to score quickly without anyone noticing. The ramp shots though – that is someone not just in astonishing form, but someone who doesn’t fear a bollocking if it goes wrong.

And it will. If there’s a certainty, at some point it will. But there is a difference between it going wrong on occasion due to the high risk/reward equation or doing so on a consistent basis because it’s not sustainable in Test cricket, and it’s that we don’t yet know, and that that will be enthralling to witness. Whether they can play like this away from home, whether they can do it against the likes of Australia (if they’ve done it to India and New Zealand I simply see no reason why not) and so on. But at the moment they are pushing the envelope to see what they can get away with, and it feels dangerous and exciting – not necessarily something people would normally think about Test cricket.

And here’s the biggie: Test cricket has been in real and increasing trouble, as the white ball game dominates the cricketing calendar. If England are to try to play like this consistently, and even more so if other teams follow their lead, then the Test game becomes far more than the one that people have loved for decades, it becomes one to really pull in those younger adherents that everyone is trying to chase after. It becomes an attraction in itself to those who happily go to an ODI hoping to see fireworks. That might not be entirely traditional, in fact it’s rather the opposite. But we have been hoping for a way that Test cricket might not just survive, but even thrive, and who knows, maybe this could be it.

It’s anecdotal, sure, but I’ve had plenty of friends who scarcely pay attention normally talk glowingly about how England have been playing. It is the fours and sixes that do it, and however facile many might find that, it’s not a crime to be practical in the approach to the need for Test cricket to succeed.

It doesn’t mean the challenges have gone away, nor the mismanagement by the ECB. Indeed, it would be a truly delicious irony after the millions chucked at the Hundred if the way to entice people into cricket proved to be the Test team instead, especially as Test cricket is, and always has been, the ECB’s main source of income.

Yet we now have a six week gap to the South Africa Test series as the white ball internationals take over and domestically the Hundred rears it’s controversial head. It’s unfortunate, but we didn’t really expect England’s start to this summer anyway, just the opposite. But let’s put it this way, the England Test team are raising all sorts of questions at the moment. There might not be answers, but they’re really, really good questions. And it’s an absolute blast isn’t it?

30 thoughts on “Daydream Believer

  1. Rob Jul 5, 2022 / 3:58 pm

    Stokes’ couple of innings this test?

    Liked by 1 person

    • thelegglance Jul 5, 2022 / 3:59 pm

      Ach. Quite right. Last couple of innings, I’ll correct.

      Like

  2. Mark Jul 5, 2022 / 4:14 pm

    I can’t tell you how much I hate the idea (in the first week of July) that there is no Test cricket until the middle of August now. And the forecast says July may be getting warmer. We will see. I saw Rob Key say how much he disliked the fact that the hundred and the traditionalists are so dug in that there is no common ground. Sorry Rob, but you have taken away the best part of the summer for something I loathe. There is no compromise. Give me a call in six weeks time. If England s test team keeps playing like this I might even buy some tickets. Something I will never do for the hundred. The blast, maybe, but not this.

    As for this test match, I said I really found the concept of a one off Test a bit silly. We all know of the special circumstances, but whatever the records will now show it will always feel unsatisfactory. India will feel they won 2-1 and then came back a year later for a one off. England get a 2-2 but it feels like a one off win adrift in the middle of the ocean. It wasn’t even played on the same ground. Anyway, The ECB will get some cash and Sky won’t be demanding some compensation.

    What a difference a new set up makes. It’s all attitude and confidence. Essentially it’s mostly the same batsman now performing miracles……where 200 seemed like 500 a few moths ago. It won’t always be like this. There are still questions about the top 3 even with the opening stand in this innings. Crawley is a puzzle which has yet to be figured out.

    I’m not at all sure the emphasis on chasing down bigger and bigger scores in the last innings is healthy. Perhaps put a bit more weight on getting a big first innings score. I certainly hope the captain won’t be winning the toss and putting the opposition into bat all the time so as they can chase in the forth innings. That will be nullified by opposing sides when England travel abroad and face tricky pitches. But you can admire the positivity, and God knows we haven’t seen much of that for years,

    And there is still a nagging doubt about Englands bowling when a big partnership develops. The worry is they can still lose the plot. India really got substantially more than they should have in their first innings after being 100/5. You wouldn’t have to chase down close to 400 then.

    However, this is all for the future. Right now England test fans are in dream land. When the side limped back from Australia in winter followed by a distinctly average performance in the Caribbean this all would have seemed crazy if anyone had predicted what has now happened in such a short time.

    When Rob Key was arguing on the Sky podcast with Nasser and Michael Atherton about positive batting techniques, and supporting dropping Broad and Anderson for the WI tour who would have thought he would become a national hero a few months later? It’s a funny old world.

    Like

    • StaffordshireKnot Jul 7, 2022 / 8:54 am

      Absolutely right………utterly wrong to squander the high summer on white ball cricket.

      Like

  3. Marek Jul 5, 2022 / 10:18 pm

    Playing devil’s advocate for a moment….if this approach makes red-ball cricket really popular, WILL it have survived–or will it merely have turned into a very long, two-innings ODI/T20?

    I ask partly because I don’t find T20 very entertaining. It’s fine for an innings or so, but the lack of subtlety gets to me pretty quickly. And what I like about red-ball is its subtlety and, yes, its slowness. I wonder, commercially successful as it may very well be, whether it’s a bit like the Royal Philharmonic suddenly becoming more popular than Ed Sheeran, but only because they’ve started sampling drill tracks over the top of Beethoven’s Fifth. And whether faster is necessarily better.

    Like

    • Mark Jul 6, 2022 / 9:15 am

      I think the popularity will have a lot to do with how poor England have been playing for many years. This is a completely new attitude and approach. Time will tell if it lasts. And when England try to chase down scores and they fail criticism will return if it happens a lot. At the moment people are just enjoying the ride.

      I suspect there is a lot of spin in all of this. Essentially England have decided to play to their strengths because they can’t play a more defensive form of batting, as they don’t have those type of players.

      For good or Ill England have players who like to play their shots, and so have created a positive platform to encourage the batsman to abolish their fear of failure by believing they can chase down any score. Having now done that in four test matches that confidence keeps rising.

      There is no doubt this approach will be tested when they travel over seas, and could back fire because opposition teams may deliberately create poor pitches where this type of play will be impossible. It could have the result in making test cricket worse as low slow pitches are turned out in spades to stop this approach.

      But certainly at home in the near future England will play this type of cricket, but there is a fine line. As has been said, Stokes batting was reckless in the first innings when they were trying to get close to a big Indian score, and if England start losing a lot of matches that will come under scrutiny.

      Like

    • thelegglance Jul 6, 2022 / 9:17 am

      It’s a valid point. What I would ask is how viable that is in the future. But not every game has to be a thrash, and the subtlety and unfolding story of a Test is what we all love. But maybe this hybrid is something that can work.

      Like

      • Rob Jul 7, 2022 / 1:07 am

        In respect of the largest chase of the four, England did not seem to be thrashing it – rather this was a controlled partnership with a bit of luck between two in form batsmen (the Bradman and Morris in Headingly equivalent).

        Two hundreds in a chase seem to happen very rarely – the last time that happened for England – in that Durban Test – people rather hated it although England came very close to victory (I would recommend John Lazenby’s Edging to Darkness for an account). If blogs were around then I suspect Marek would be up in arms for rather different reasons, the slow approach of the South Africans in their first innings being one – if not the consequences of one poor innings deciding the outcome. Plus ça change…

        (And even for England, there have been few single winning hundreds in chasing, less than I believe 20 in over a 1000 matches – that 4 have come along at once is exceptional. And without hundreds, the chances of successful plus 250 chase are very small – Karachi being the outstanding example whereas most people reading this blog would have witnessed at least seven of the twenty).

        Arguably this last chase was equivalent to Babar Azam and company’s recent efforts at home (a bit of a slow pitch there) if not close to Faf and AB falling just short of a 458 target – though you feel that this England team would have gone for the 15 or so with 3 wickets left in the three or so overs and lost; rather than merely shutting up shop when the last centurion got out. Though I rather suspect that they would have been slaughtered for such an approach – like Broad’s last over against Holland or Knight falling short in 1996 in Harare.

        Hopefully it will be the ODI as the format that gets naturally selected – there is too much dead periods in those games that no limit of rules innovations can solve. While 498 might be a record score, there are only so many ways that that sort of score could be taken down – seeing Broad getting hit for 35 in one over is interesting. Seeing eight overs like that is not, even in a test match (spare a thought for Botham after having taken a six for and his best score against the West Indies going for over a hundred in 20 overs at Lord’s in 1984).

        Rather I suspect that the criticism for this approach always goes back to a lack of faith in the bowling unit, albeit that they have cleared the maximum in four tests so far (a touch of an ironic take on the usual change the bowling unit to make up for batting failures). Much was made of India’s failure to play Ashwin – while neutral on this, certainly Rahane and their new pace find should have been tried. But one does not think that they would be forced to be more aggressive in their selections the way Clive Lloyd was after Port of Spain in 1976. And with Stokes limited in his bowling (i.e. his attacking) resources, maximising the effects of the defensive resources – his batters – seem to be the easy gains.

        The only other point to make is that interest in the format requires broadly equivalent strength teams and a sweet spot of team numbers. An eight team IPL works if there is enough quality on offer – there was just enough this year over three teams – but clearly not enough for a twenty team format they are trying for.

        The Blast is awful in not having quality that is matched around. The Hundred is only a slight improvement without a window in the international calendar, enough money to get Indian players to come, all the while cannibalising the English Summer and the rest of the competitions. Supporters need to kill one of the other formats in the same way they show their love for the Championship.

        Having one good team – the PSG paradox – does not guarantee a great league; in the same way the match ups on offer currently in Tests is rather limited but slightly improved upon the situation over the previous few years.

        Clearly this hybrid approach is to be applauded if it takes out dead areas out of games, particularly the effects of rain – day one and two – if not the bane of slow over rates.

        Like

      • Marek Jul 7, 2022 / 9:55 pm

        Rob–judging from your comment about me, you seem to have read my comment as advocating that every test be played at a scoring rate of below two an over. I didn’t say that and I don’t think it. (I also wonder whether that Durban test match was especially slow for its time: to compare, i looked at the strike rates of the England team in the preceding away Ashes, and none of the batters had a strike rate of over 45 and only one was over 40)

        Re India’s selection: Rahane?! Why?–other than a couple of short series against weak opposition which amount to 10% of his tests in that time, he’s been out of form for six years and he averaged 22 on the last England tour.

        And Malik? The man who’s bowled 58 overs in his f-c career, who goes at almost five an over, went for very nearly 100 in his one List A match and in whose one f-c match against reasonably good opposition he took 1-89 in 21 overs? He might be quite a prospect, but at the moment he’s a T20 specialist who’d be better off in the A team, not being chucked into a test match at the deciding point in the series.

        Like

    • StaffordshireKnot Jul 7, 2022 / 10:13 am

      Not just the lack of subtlety either. T20 and Hundred are forced parties – truly synthetic fun, almost as if ticket-holders have a micro-chip inserted in their heads playing a clip of Michael Vaughan ordering you to have fun……..complete ballix.

      Contrast this with the beguiling mixture of decorum and expectation during the first session of a test match day – which very gradually morphs into galumphing, festive roar throughout the day – culminating in a grateful wander to the exits after eight thoroughly rewarding hours at the cricket

      Like

  4. StaffordshireKnott Jul 7, 2022 / 9:12 am

    After the NZ series, I said the IND match would tell us more

    I re-address the ‘few points’ I made:

    1. Undoubtedly, this summer has rejuvenated Test cricket – and confirmed it as the premier format; and not just because of the manner in which ENG played.

    2. Test cricket is the holy grail

    3. Leach’s tenfor against NZ was certainly NOT an affirmation of his quality – our spin bowling cupboard remains pretty bare. Anderson and Potts have justified another 12 months in the side, but Broad is hanging on by default. The third seamer spot is up for grabs. Well done to Stokes for the energy in his bowling – thought he was in decline as a bowler.

    4. Batting – nice, (or was it a relief?) to see Lees and Crawley in action and amongst the runs.

    5. Fielding – 8/10 against IND.

    6. If NZ are in definite decline, then IND’s bowling looked undercooked. Bumrah and Shami bowled very well in the first innings – looked head and shoulders sharper than ENG……..in the second innings they were milked. Guessing they were too used to bowling 4 or 10 overs NOT 15-25 off a long run-up.

    7. All in all, a great series of wins for ENG……..winning 4 on-the-bounce at home has been rare, winning 5+ times consecutively very rare – 3 tests against SA will be a great challenge to extend the run.

    Like

  5. Miami Dad's Six Jul 7, 2022 / 2:32 pm

    I don’t agree that Test cricket was suffering for popularity in this country. Success, certainly – but popularity? It’s the only format of the game I’m interested in beyond the world cups, same for anyone I know who likes the sport. I know the sample size there is limited, but the crowds at Test matches are always very healthy, and for most I’d suggest that it isn’t just a preference for the Test format, it’s an opinion weighted as strongly that if Tests disappeared, I expect we’d sack cricket off entirely.

    Like

    • Marek Jul 7, 2022 / 10:12 pm

      Test cricket is doing fine in England, but it’s in pretty dire trouble in most other places. And it’s in danger of being killed completely by the administrators (for which also read players, actually, whatever they say on the subject).

      There’s an interesting recent post on Neil Manthorp’s blog where he says that in the next FTP, a lot of teams are looking at (ie have accepted having or rather, have chosen to have),six or so tests a year. That’s not a format which is enjoying huge popularity. We can see it in the schedule: between mid-April and the start of December this year there are a grand total of 15 tests, of which half are in England and only two don’t involve either England or Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, the tests have been pulled completely from all four of the non-FTP series this summer where they were scheduled. Ireland has even suspended its f-c competition because there’s no point running it.

      And the Championship is also in trouble in England. I’ve watched a lot on the live streams this year, and the attendances have been woeful–even on a glorious May Saturday in Leeds for the Roses match. The only game I’ve seen which had a reasonably sized crowd was, ironically, the Leics-Indians game which ended up as a glorified net

      Like

    • Marek Jul 13, 2022 / 10:08 pm

      …and ODIs too judging from today’s news from South Africa. (Although to be fair, it’s been fairly clear for several years that ODIs were going down the pan after the World Cup had been held in India…)

      Like

  6. Metatone Jul 8, 2022 / 9:39 am

    Work has meant I didn’t get to see many of the most exciting passages of play, but credit to England for finding an approach which puts some pressure back on the opposition.

    I think the question is less “can it last” as much as, “can it last long enough for England to fix some of their glaring weaknesses so as to be competitive when Plan A isn’t working.” What’s needed there is players like Lees and Pope to develop their game to deal better with the best bowlers and for a couple of the best injured bowlers to be able to play again. As for the spin situation, I’m not sure if Leach can be the man, but equally unsure how ready the alternatives are.

    If they can scrape through the SA series with confidence intact, there’s a good amount of time (thanks to the T20 WC) for patching up the bowlers. But if the wheels fall off in August it could be a long autumn of recriminations.

    Like

  7. Mark Jul 9, 2022 / 5:30 pm

    Perhaps the Test team batsman should replace the 20/20 batsman….

    Five out of the six wickets to fall today are all caught and bowled. (Rather unusual) The other wicket was bowled. Rather suggests (without seeing any coverage) a lot of full pitched up bowling on the stumps.

    Like

    • Mark Jul 9, 2022 / 6:02 pm

      Make that 7 caught and bowled, (is that a record?) 2 bowled, and a run out. England can’t hit it off the square it seems.

      Like

    • Marek Jul 9, 2022 / 6:32 pm

      In which game? The scorecard I’m looking at doesn’t show any…!

      Like

      • Mark Jul 9, 2022 / 8:45 pm

        I got it from Flashscore. Perhaps they got it wrong or I’m not reading it right. Here is a copy of their England card.

        Roy J. c & b Kumar B.

        Malan D c & b Chahal Y.

        Buttler J c & b Kumar B.

        Livingstone L b Bumrah J.

        Brook H c & b Chahal Y.

        Ali Moeen c & b Pandya H.

        Curran S. c & b Bumrah J.

        Willey D. not out

        Jordan C run out Pandya H.

        Gleeson R. c & b Kumar B.

        Parkinson M b Patel H.

        Like

      • Marek Jul 9, 2022 / 9:57 pm

        Yes, there’s an unnecessary “&” got into every line there I think. They were all caught but not by the bowler.

        Like

        • Mark Jul 9, 2022 / 10:23 pm

          Cheers, that explains it then. Scorecards usually have said the name of the bowler and the catcher if they are different. Perhaps they don’t bother naming the catcher? Who knows? More likely I’m not reading it right. But that is how it was written.

          I thought it a bit strange?

          Like

        • Marek Jul 10, 2022 / 1:00 pm

          Is Flashscore Indian? I think that might be an Indian Internet thing, not including the name of the catcher–I’ve seen it before, although obviously correctly it shouldn’t have the “&”. But I’ve seen, “caught, bowled X”.

          Like

          • Mark Jul 10, 2022 / 8:12 pm

            I notice today all the catchers are named, weird that. Perhaps there was a fault yesterday? Who knows? perhaps someone from their site reads this site!!

            Anyway I’m sure they have always had the catchers.

            Like

  8. Marek Jul 10, 2022 / 12:58 pm

    Meanwhile, in a dogged show of “that’s what test cricket’s been all about for 150 years”, England’s previous coach pursues his policy of big first-innings scores compiled slowly. And is doing it rather well!

    Happy to see Chandimal score a hundred. The next time an England player complains about being messed around by the selectors/board, they could give him a thought..:-)

    Like

    • dlpthomas Jul 11, 2022 / 7:11 am

      Good performance by Sri Lanka, especially after their poor first test. They’re scoring a little more quickly this morning so could be a good finish

      Like

  9. dlpthomas Jul 14, 2022 / 2:28 pm

    Englands white ball form continues to be a bit crap. Buttler needs to find some of that IPL form

    Like

    • dlpthomas Jul 14, 2022 / 2:34 pm

      To give credit where it is due, India’s bowling was excellent in the 20/20’s and has continued into the 1 day series.

      Like

  10. Marek Jul 15, 2022 / 11:34 am

    Am I the only one who’s finding it funny that, while Indian players are not allowed by the BCCI to play in the Hundred, there will now be five in the Royal London?

    Like

  11. Marek Jul 15, 2022 / 9:29 pm

    …and meanwhile on the other side of the irish Sea, have New Zealand just won the closest ODI series ever? One game won by one wicket having hit more than 20 off the last over, another won by one run defending nine off the last over.

    Like

    • Marek Jul 15, 2022 / 9:30 pm

      Bloody keyboard! Irish Sea, obviously…!

      Like

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