England vs West Indies: First Test, Day 1

In the lead up to today, most of the discussion has been about anything but the actual game. Will spectators and TV audience enjoy a day/night game in England? How will the pink Dukes ball perform? Which players will secure their place for the Ashes? The result appeared to be foregone, even West Indies fans seemed to have given up before a ball was bowled.

At the toss it was confirmed that Roland-Jones would keep his place in the team, with Mason Crane and Chris Woakes missing out. Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat first, which came as no surprise to anyone. Certainly it feels like the bowlers appreciated the chance to see how the new pink balls performed from the pavilion rather than working it out on the field.

The conventional wisdom about pink cricket balls is that they tend to move in the air for a few overs, then become more batsman-friendly after that. All England’s top order had to do was survive the first hour and then they could cash in through the day. To no one’s surprise, this was not how things played out. Alastair Cook’s latest partner, debutant Mark Stoneman, was bowled through the gate in the third over. It was a very good delivery from Kemar Roach which both swung and seamed, but at the same time you’d probably hope that an opener would at least get something on the ball. Westley returned to the dressing room soon after, having being given out LBW via DRS after playing down the wrong line.

This brought together the familiar partnership of Alastair Cook and Joe Root, both of whom have had difficulties converting their good innings into centuries but are still a class apart from the other English batsmen at present. Helped by slow, wayward bowling and flawed, defensive tactics from the West Indies, Cook and Root dominated the visitors past the Lunch interval and through the whole second session. It wasn’t until almost an hour into the third session of the day that the West Indies managed a breakthrough, with Kemar Roach managing to bowl Joe Root, but not before England’s captain and former captain both managed to score their respective deserved centuries. For those keeping count (you know who you are), that means that Cook has scored 100+ ‘only’ 6 times in his last 99 innings. This is more than his respective partners, but still a marked decline from his prolific earlier years. It has also been noted that Cook has struggled against strong pace attacks in recent years, and the West Indies bowling unit is definitely not a strong pace attack.

Root’s wicket brought the third of England’s auditioning batsmen to the crease, Dawid Malan. He rode his luck early on, flashing an edge from Kraigg Brathwaite just past slip, but recovered to finish the day on 28. Having reach double digits, Malan will probably feel better than Stoneman or Westley overnight about his chances of playing the whole series. At the other end, Cook had managed to bat through the whole day scoring a somewhat impressive 153. At the end of play England are 348/3, and seem to be in a great position to put the West Indies out of contention.

As always, feel free to comment below!

England vs. South Africa, 4th Test, Day 1

The game started as most games seem to nowadays for England; with many people having no idea which players would be selected. Bayliss had again expressed his belief that England didn’t need to play 8 batsmen, which seemed to suggest Dawson or Finn would be coming in to replace Dawid Malan. Malan’s performance certainly didn’t fill watchers with confidence in the last game, but then again neither did Dawson. It eventually became apparent that despite the coach’s musings, England would announce an unchanged team. The same was not true of South Africa, who were forced to replace bowlers Philander and Morris with allrounders Olivier and de Bruyn due to injury.

In a shock to many, it was dry and the game started on time. In Manchester. England won the toss, which given the rest of the series virtually guarantees that they will win, but apparently they still had to play a game of cricket first and so they elected to bat. Keaton Jennings fell quickly after edging a delivery from Olivier to the keeper for 17. It feels like this might be the last game for Jennings if he can’t make a score in the next innings, particularly if Trevor Bayliss can see Mark Stoneman play in the next week or two.

Westley came in to partner Cook, and the pair made slow and steady (emphasis on slow) progress to the lunch break and beyond.  The partnership came to a sudden end when Cook got a thin edge on a straight ball from Maharaj after playing a loose drive to a wide ball. As people who read below the line on the preview post will already know, this means that Cook now has 49 innings against South Africa and Australia since his last century.

Three overs later, Westley lost his wicket after hanging his bat well outside the line to a short and wide delivery from Rabada. This meant the fluent Root was joined by Dawid Malan, another batsman playing for a place in the next series. Malan seemed to be in better shape than in the previous game, or perhaps the conditions being less conducive to swing helped him somewhat. Either way, it was an improved but still unconvincing second game with a few loose shots and near-misses before he eventually fell edging a wide drive to second slip just before Tea.

Root and Stokes piled on the runs fairly quickly, but not without some risk. Root in particular was lucky to survive an edge which South African wicketkeeper de Kock watched go past. Fortunately for the tourists, Root only added another 12 runs as he fell for 52 runs to an LBW appeal. Root unsuccessfully appealed the decision, which suggests his judgment of such things is just as poor in front of the stumps as it is behind them. This put England in the familiar situation of having lost their last specialist batsmen for less than 200 runs, relying on their lower order to build an imposing total. Stokes and Bairstow obliged, putting on another 65 runs before Rabada bowled Stokes in the penultimate over of the day. Toby Roland-Jones came in ahead of Moeen Ali as nightwatchman but amusingly didn’t face a ball, leaving England on 260/6 at the end of the day.

All of which leaves the game fairly evenly poised going into the second day. A quick collapse tomorrow and South Africa will be well ahead, if England’s tail can add another 100 runs or more then they will be happy. Either way, perhaps there will finally be a closely contested game in this series. Comments as always welcomed below.

England vs South Africa: 3rd Test, Day Four

With England leading by 250 runs overnight and two whole days left to play, there were only two questions people were asking about the day’s play: “When will England declare?” and “How many wickets will South Africa have lost by the end of the day?”. The answer to the first question was a lot later than a lot of people would like, especially for Australian former leg spinners employed by Sky. England were clearly in no rush to build up their lead, slowly accumulating runs through the day.

Jennings was the first wicket to fall, having added 14 more runs to his overnight total before edging a short ball from Rabada to gully. This brought out Joe Root, who together with Westley batted carefully through to the lunch break. Today’s innings from Westley showed great promise for people looking for a successor to Jonathan Trott at 3 for England. In a position where many pundits and fans would have wanted their batsmen to score quickly to leave more time to bowl out South Africa, Westley scored his 31 runs today at a glacial strike rate of 30. In an innings where he was the top scorer in England’s top 6 and in a game which his team is likely to win with at least a session to spare, Westley will likely be attacked for being too slow. You can’t get more like Trott than that.

After Lunch, England tried to increase the pace with mixed results. Westley added another 9 runs before being stumped after misreading a spinner from Maharaj, quickly followed by Root hitting a slog sweep straight to the man on the boundary and Malan being given out LBW on review after an inswinger from Morris. This has probably been a debut to forget for Dawid Malan, only scoring 11 runs and both dismissals being to similar full inswinging balls which he couldn’t get forward to. Between the three debutants, Malan seems the most vulnerable for being dropped in the next Test.

In a now familiar story England’s lower order outshone the specialist batsmen, scoring big runs and quickly. Stokes, Bairstow, Moeen, and Roland-Jones scored a combined 125 runs in the session from only 119 balls. When Bairstow lost his wicket for 63 just before Tea, England declared with a lead of 491.

With such a massive target, South Africa’s only hope was to bat out the evening session. Those hopes were given an early blow by Stuart Broad, who bowled Heino Kuhn in just the sixth over. Hashim Amla followed soon after, edging a delivery from Toby Roland-Jones to slip. In a remarkable statistical feat, Roland-Jones has dismissed Amla in all 3 international innings he has ever bowled, both innings of this game and an ODI before the Champions Trophy. Bunny doesn’t even begin to describe it.

In the very next over, Stokes took another two wickets from two balls. De Kock was bowled by a quick full ball, whilst du Plessis was given out LBW after not playing a shot for the second time in this game. Elgar and Bavuma negotiated the remaining 21 overs in the day without major incident, leaving England with six wickets to take tomorrow or South Africa with an incredibly unlikely 375 runs to score.

As always, comments on the game (or almost anything else) are welcome below.

The Third Test – Day 1

Before play started it was widely circulated that the injured Wood and Ballance would be replaced by Roland-Jones and Westley. Less certain was the fate of Liam Dawson, who had failed to impress with bat or ball in the previous two games despite being notionally considered England’s “number one spin bowler”. On one hand, the Oval has generally been considered helpful to spinners this season. On the other hand, Lord’s was very helpful to spinners and Dawson didn’t really justify his place in the team there.

That mystery was quickly resolved as Dawid Malan was handed his Test cap by Phil Tufnell in the pre-match huddle. England won the toss and chose to bat first, bringing Cook and Jennings to the crease. Cook started well against Morne Morkel but Keaton Jennings seemed hopelessly out of his depth whilst facing Vernon Philander at the other end. After managing to survive the previous 8 balls, Jennings inevitably edged his ninth ball to Elgar at third slip for a duck.

This brought out the first of England’s three debutants, Tom Westley. He appeared to be more confident and composed than Jennings, perhaps helped by Philander having to leave the field soon after with a “stomach bug”. Content to punish deliveries straying onto his legs, Westley and Cook built a partnership of 52 before a rain shower brought a premature end to the morning session.

Unfortunately after his promising start, Westley fell 4 balls into the session after edging a swinging ball by Chris Morris to du Plessis at second slip. This wicket brought together England’s two most experienced batsmen, Cook and Root. Together they fought against a very strong South African bowling spell, riding their luck at times until Root edged another swinging ball (this was very much the theme of the day) from Philander to de Kock.

England’s second debutant, Dawid Malan, did not seem as confident as Westley did earlier in the day. Malan batted out 14 dot balls before managing a single. Two balls later, he was bowled by a vicious inswinging yorker from Rabada which left Malan sprawled on the floor. Ben Stokes came in at 6, ahead of Jonny Bairstow, and together with Cook managed to last until tea. The tea break was extended due to another rain shower, and after that Cook and Stokes batted out 7 overs before dark clouds and rain brought an end to the day.

So the day ended with England at 171/4 and Alastair Cook unbeaten on 82*, in a prime position to score a vital century for England. Elsewhere in the team, things are looking less rosy. Jennings, Westley and Malan all failed to make decent scores, and will have to bat well in their next three innings to be confident of selection against the West Indies in August. Tomorrow England will hope that Cook, Stokes, Bairstow and Ali can wrest control of the match and take the total over 300, but this was very much South Africa’s day.

As always, please comment below.

Fixing Cricket – Slow Over Rates

We all love cricket here at Being Outside Cricket. Writers and readers, we’re united by our love for the sport. But just because we love something, it doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t change some things if we could. Modern cricket is filled with anachronisms, compromises, and petty self-interest which often leaves fans feeling annoyed and shortchanged. The most frustrating thing is that many of these issues can easily be addressed, it just requires The Powers That Be to spend a tiny amount of time and money on fixing them.

Recently I’ve noticed quite a few overs lost in Tests, or innings overrunning in ODIs. In the two matches so far of the Basil D’Oliveira series between England and South Africa there have been 11 missing overs. This is despite the extra half hour teams have, lowering the required over rate from 15 to roughly 13.8 per hour. Even so, there was no punishment for either team because the game ended within five days and there are generous allowances for the time taken with reviews, wickets, and even boundaries. In the Champions Trophy there were three cases of punishment for slow over rates, even with the ICC’s lax enforcement of the rules.

Does It Matter?

It could be said that slow over rates rarely have an impact on the result. England’s last two Test matches ended with over a day left, even with the lost overs. The Champions Trophy games with slow over rates all had results. Fundamentally, little would have changed if these games finished on time. It’s not about the integrity of the game, it’s about the fans.

Cricket supporters get shafted on an unfortunately regular basis, particularly if they go to see Test matches. They buy overpriced tickets for what usually aren’t great seats, where they can buy overpriced food, washing it down with overpriced beer. On top of all that, due to cricket’s almost unique inability to play in the rain, they often see a lot less than a full game or day’s play without any kind of refund. A quick look at the ECB’s refund policy shows that spectators only get a full refund if 15 overs or less are bowled in a day, and half is refunded is between 15 and 30 overs are played in a day. There aren’t many places where, if you buy something and only get half of what you paid for, you don’t get a full refund. If you pay for a day’s play and only see 45 overs, you get nothing. By almost any measure, that’s poor value.

So it is with slow over rates. If someone pays to see 90 innings and they only see 85, they’re being cheated out of what they are owed. If they’re still queueing for their incredibly expensive food and drink while the second innings starts because the ODI mid-innings interval was cut to 30 minutes, they’re missing out on what they paid for. This has a real long-term impact, spectators who feel ill-treated will go to cricket games less often or stop completely.

Arguably the more important issue is the enjoyment of the game. It is the perception of people who aren’t cricket fans that it is a slow and boring sport where almost nothing happens. When a fielding team are bowling at 12-13 overs per hour, I feel quite a bit of sympathy with that viewpoint.

My Solution

Clearly the current system isn’t working. The umpires have a massive amount of latitude when it comes to excusing slow over rates, and clearly do everything in their power to avoid banning captains. Particularly, if you were being cynical, captains from the ‘Big 3’ nations who largely control world cricket. Even so, 4 captains have received bans in the past year (Misbah-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Masrafe Mortaza and Upal Tharanga), and it still hasn’t in any way acted as a deterrent.

What I believe cricket needs is a clear, strict, unambiguous rule with a punishment which is significant enough to discourage fielding teams from slowing down but also not disproportionate. My suggestion is this: Sessions always finish at their scheduled time (with some leniency for truly unavoidable delays), and the batting team receive 6 penalty runs for every ball lost.

Take for example England’s game against New Zealand in the recent Champions Trophy. England were batting in the first inning and scored a good total of 310 in their 50 overs, but it overran by 28 minutes (or to put it another way, by 7 overs). After some ‘careful consideration’ by the match umpires, this was reduced to only being 8 minutes (2 overs) slow and the New Zealand players received fines but no suspension. I’m not aware of any significant delays in the game which took 20 minutes out of the game, but clearly the officials decided otherwise. If the ICC followed my suggestion, then England would have amassed a total of over 500 runs and the New Zealand players wouldn’t have been fined or at risk of suspension. As for people watching in the stands or at home, they would have had a full hour to enjoy their lunch rather than just 32 minutes.

Which isn’t to say that this would be without problems. I’ve posted my suggestion here in the comments a few times and have had some flaws highlighted. D’Arthez pointed out that ball boys (and possibly the crowd) might delay throwing the ball back to the fielders when the away team is bowling. Certainly there’s also a considerable incentive for batsmen to waste as much time as possible, acting like Stuart Broad trying to bat for a draw. Pulling out of their batting stance, tying their laces, redoing their pads and gloves, feigning cramps, moving the sightscreens, all the old pro’s tricks. Of course this could be prevented by firm umpiring, but if we had that then there wouldn’t be any reason to change from the current rules. But despite this, and other wrinkles that would need ironing out, I think it’s an improvement on the current system.

So that’s my idea. If you have any comments on this, your own solutions, or just general comments on over rates please leave them below.

The New TV Deal – Winners And Losers

Yesterday, the ECB announced who won the broadcast rights to English cricket from 2020 to 2024. To no one’s surprise, the winners were Sky Sports and the BBC. The BBC will have up to 21 live T20 games plus international highlights and both radio coverage and online clips for all English cricket. Sky Sports have the rights for literally everything else to do with English cricket, as they do now. According to the Guardian’s Ali Martin, the new deals are worth around £1.1bn over 5 years or £220m per year, compared to the current deals of around £75m per year.

The Losers

The Counties – Barely two months ago, the counties signed away the majority of their bargaining power in exchange for £23.4m of a projected £40m increase in income from the new T20 league. Now it seems increasingly likely that, had they held off for another few months, they could easily have received twice as much just from keeping the same county structure as before. The ECB and Tom Harrison successfully made the counties so desperate by holding back their money that they voted themselves into pointlessness.

BT Sport – This could have been a massive coup for BT Sport, but the odds always seemed stacked against them. The ECB have a very close relationship with Sky Sports so BT were always at a disadvantage. BT can at least console themselves that they have pushed Sky to arguably overpay for cricket rights, meaning Sky might have less money to spend on other sports in the future.

Channel 5 – The FTA channel which has shown England’s highlights on Freeview for over a decade, they probably have good reason to feel snubbed that they weren’t seriously considered as the home for England’s free coverage from 2020. It’s rumoured that they bid more than the BBC too, rubbing salt into the wound.

The Fans – At the end of the day, every TV and sponsorship deal in sport is about taking money from the fans and giving it to the sport/players with the TV companies and sponsors making some profit as well. If more money is being paid, you can bet that costs will increase for fans somehow.

The Winners

The ECB/Tom Harrison – By almost every measure, these guys won. They achieved almost 90% of their £250m/year target, got the BBC as an active partner in promoting the sport generally and specifically the new T20 league, and they successfully neutered the counties so they probably won’t have to share most of the money with them. Whatever you think about these people (and seeing as you’re on this site, we can probably guess), this is a spectacular victory for them.

Sky Sports – They get to remain gatekeepers of English cricket, although they have paid quite a lot for the privilege. With reports on Tuesday that Sky were looking to rebrand Sky Sports 2 as Sky Sports Cricket (to go with the current Sky Sports F1 and planned Sky Sports Football and Golf channels), it suggested they were pretty confident about winning the rights from the ECB.

The BBC – The BBC got the rights to 21 live T20 games plus TV/online highlights and radio commentary at a fraction of the market value due to their massive reach. They have the most popular UK TV channels, radio stations and news website, and since Sky presumably offered more than enough money the ECB could afford to offer the BBC a discount.

Women’s Cricket – Of the 21 live T20 games the BBC will have rights for, 9 of them will be of women’s cricket; 1 T20I and 8 games from the Super League. The BBC also have the rights to show highlights of England women’s other internationals. Whilst a cynic might suggest that some of these will end up on the Red Button or streaming online, it’s still a massive increase in exposure for this side of the sport.

The Players – With such a massive increase in income, it’s a fair bet that the players will be getting a significant pay rise over the next few years. The relationship between the ECB and the PCA seems very amicable (too amicable, some might say) so a situation like Cricket Australia are having to deal with seems unlikely. That said, if the players don’t think they’re getting a fair share there could easily be a revolt.

Did I miss anyone out? As always, comments are welcome below.

England vs. Pakistan – Champions Trophy 2017

Going into the first semi final, it’s hard to imagine two more different teams being involved. England’s selection and performances since the 2015 World Cup debacle have been incredibly consistent (“Predictable”, some might say) whilst Pakistan can most charitably be called “mercurial”. England rely on their strong batting to counter their weak bowling and win games, whilst Pakistan’s bowlers keep them in games that their lacklustre batting would otherwise forfeit. England sacrificed a little of their consistency in selection for this game, finally replacing Jason Roy with Jonny Bairstow as their opener. For Pakistan, former guest of the English penal system Mohammad Amir was forced to pull out of the game due to a back spasm.

Pakistan won the toss and elected to field first, a choice which surprised many who thought that Pakistan’s spin bowlers would favour bowling last on a pitch which had already being used twice in recent weeks. All eyes were on England’s new opener Bairstow, who was lucky to survive a second-ball LBW shout. He continued to ride his luck through two dropped chances before finally being caught on 43. A useful partnership between Root and Morgan followed, adding another 48 to the total. At the halfway stage, England were 118-2 and looked to be setting a total near 300.

The second half of the innings was dominated by Pakistan. Unable to deal with Pakistan’s tight bowling or the slow nature of the pitch, England’s run rate slowed to a crawl and whenever they tried to accelerate they inevitably lost their wicket. Ben Stokes managed to scrape together a score of 34 runs from 64 balls with no boundaries, but everyone else fell for 11 or less. England lost their last wicket with one ball left to go with a decidedly sub-par score of 211.

The second innings was a complete contrast to the first. Without facing any kind of scoreboard pressure, Azhar Ali and Fakhar Zaman seemed content to play safe whilst punishing the bad balls. They were helped by England’s bowling, which provided enough bad balls to always keep Pakistan well ahead of their required run rate. Unlike when England were batting, there were seemingly no dropped chances or false shots. Rashid eventually managed to get Zaman stumped on 57, but by then Pakistan were already too close to their target. Even Pakistan couldn’t lose from there, and they didn’t. Pakistan reached their target having lost only 2 wickets and with 13 overs to spare, capping a humiliating loss for England.

And so, like after every tournament exit, there will be a post-mortem by the great and the good of English cricket. And also us. Certainly much has been made during the game of the pitch, for which this was the third time it was being used within a few weeks. It definitely seems puzzling from the perspective of the ICC or ECB since you would assume they’d want batting-friendly surfaces which deliver tons of runs and sixes for TV audiences, particularly in the later knockout stages which attract the most viewers. This shouldn’t absolve the England team from blame, though. The conditions were the same for both teams and England just didn’t adapt well enough. It’s hard to see how this might be remedied, with England’s packed schedule there’s no time for many players to spend in different countries learning how to cope on pitches which don’t seam, or swing, or have uneven bounce.

There’s also the matter of personnel. Winning the Champions Trophy would have secured a lot of people’s jobs at the ECB, even if they lost the upcoming Ashes series. Following today’s result, I’d be surprised if Trevor Bayliss could survive losing the series down under this winter. That would in turn increase the pressure on the ECB’s Director Comma England Cricket, Andrew Strauss, as the man who hired him. In the short term Paul Farbrace, England’s specialist coaches and the selectors might be in trouble if the ECB wants to make an immediate change.

As for the players themselves, that’s a tougher one to work out. There doesn’t appear to be much debate about this England XI being the strongest team available. None of them are old enough that they might be out of contention for the next major ODI tournament in 2019 either, so I would guess that England will stick with them all. Certainly this game shows that England players as a whole need to spend more time playing in different conditions. Whether that means letting them play in T20 leagues (and not just the IPL), or more Lions tours, or training camps, something clearly needs to be done.

As always, please comment below.

England vs. Australia – Champions Trophy 2017

Going into the last game of Group A, the situation was clear: If Australia won, they would go through to the semi-finals; If Australia did not win, Bangladesh would progress to the knockouts. Arguably it didn’t matter to England, who had already booked their place in the next round. That said, most observers consider Australia the more dangerous team to face and so there was some value in knocking them out.

England named an unchanged team, with Roy getting yet another chance and no rest for Stokes or Wood. Australia were put in to bat first, and the first innings followed a similar pattern to England’s bowling in their previous game against New Zealand. At the 30 overs mark, Australia had managed to get themselves into a commanding position with a score of 172/3 and Smith still at the crease. Ball, Stokes and Plunkett had all taken a bit of a hammering, and Australia seemed likely to post a score in excess of 350.

Instead, Steve Smith chipped a ‘slow’ (85 mph) Mark Wood loosener to mid off, and the whole complexion of the innings changed. Rashid and Wood, who had both bowled economically in the first half of the game, sliced through Australia’s middle and lower orders like a hot knife through butter. Australia barely managed to stagger to the end, finishing on 277/9.

Even with a score that was decidedly short of what was required, Australia weren’t out of the game (and competition). The second innings started with the familiar spectacle of Roy’s wicket falling, this time to an LBW from Mitchell Starc. He went beyond his now regular performance by going full Shane Watson and wasting England’s only review. Hazlewood was bowling incredibly well from the other end, taking the wickets of Hales and Root in his first three overs. He should have had three wickets, as wicketkeeper Matthew Wade dropped a chance from Eoin Morgan on the leg side from Hazlewood’s bowling. Two balls after Root’s dismissal, the rain started falling with England standing at 35/3 from 6 overs.

The rain moved on, and when England came back out to bat it seemed like a different game. Instead of being on the ropes, England dominated the Australian bowling. Stokes and Morgan seemed able to score at least a boundary every over, and often more than that. They both rode their luck at times, but fortune favoured the bold and they smashed England into a winning position. The only negative moment for them was when Morgan was run out after Adam Zampa lit up the wickets with a direct hit from mid off. Buttler came in and continued the dismantling of Australia’s bowlers, while Stokes cruised to his 3rd ODI century. One ball after Stokes reached that landmark, the heavens opened and the game was abandoned with England 40 runs ahead according to DLS calculations.

So Bangladesh go through at the expense of Australia, a result which I’m sure no one here enjoys immensely. From England’s perspective, they are unbeaten in the tournament but Roy’s form continues to worry many fans and pundits. The most worrying aspect for the ICC and ECB is that rain continues to affect the competition, and I’m sure they’ll be hoping that the erratic English weather suddenly becomes dry for the remainder of the event.

As always, comments on the day’s play or other topics welcome below.

England vs. New Zealand – Champions Trophy 2017

On a cool, windy, damp day in Cardiff, England beat New Zealand by a massive 87 runs after dismissing the antipodeans with 33 balls remaining. This result means that England are the first team to qualify for the semi finals, and will also finish at the top of Group A. This is because the first tiebreaker after points is games won, and whilst Australia could potentially match England’s 4 points they couldn’t match their 2 wins.

New Zealand won the toss and chose to field first, perhaps thinking that showers would shorten the game and give an advantage to batting second. The game started cagily, with New Zealand bowling tightly to restrict England’s openers, eventually forcing Jason Roy to take some risks to get the strike rate up. Unfortunately he isn’t in great form and was bowled behind his legs after stepping too far into the off side. From this point to the end of the match followed a very simple pattern: England would score roughly a run a ball, and New Zealand would take regular wickets which stopped England gaining any momentum or accelerating.  Fifties from Hales, Root and Buttler helped England reach 310, typically a pretty high target, but somehow it seemed a touch below par.

In the previous game against Bangladesh Jake Ball conceded 81 runs and took 1 wicket, and several people (myself included) wanted him out of the side. Instead he opened the bowling and managed to bowl Ronchi on his fourth ball. This brought in world-class batsman Kane Williamson, who with Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor built a solid foundation for the New Zealand innings and dealt well with a slightly slow pitch, strong winds and a few instances of uneven bounce. After 30 overs, New Zealand were 156/2 and seemingly cruising towards England’s total. It took a cross-seam delivery from Wood which reared up on Williamson and glanced off his glove to dismiss New Zealand’s talisman. From that point, England’s bowlers took a firm grip on the game and never let go. Bowling with impressive economy, the bowlers forced New Zealand’s batsmen to play increasingly risky shots just to keep up with the required run rate. New Zealand finished 87 runs short of their target after their tail collapsed playing big shots with little success.

The notable thing about the second innings for England was that there wasn’t a single weak link in their bowling unit, something which we probably haven’t seen in a while. Each of the 5 bowlers used took at least one wicket, had an economy rate below 6.00 and gave Eoin Morgan no reason to call on either Moeen Ali or Joe Root. In the first time for a few years, I would say that England’s bowling was better than their batting. Jake Ball won Man Of The Match, but the other 4 bowlers had almost equal claims to the title.

With England topping the group, they can potentially rest players in their game against Australia at Edgbaston on Saturday and keep them fresh for their semi final in Cardiff on Wednesday 14th. Alternatively they might not want to disrupt a winning side, which is certainly what New Zealand and Bangladesh will hope for as their future in the competition relies on Australia not winning their final group game. England’s bowling performance in this game will certainly worry the other teams, because if their bowling becomes as strong as their batting has been over the past two years then England might be virtually unbeatable.

On a sidenote, New Zealand finished bowling in the first innings 28 minutes after they were supposed to. This was very close to the 4 hours Sri Lanka took to bowl against South Africa, an over rate which saw Sri Lanka’s stand-in captain Upul Tharanga summarily suspended for two games. Several people have commented that Kane Williamson was lucky to escape a similar punishment, as he was given a fine and warning, and it certainly seems to show that banning a captain has not acted as a deterrent for other teams. Hopefully the ICC or MCC will look at other ways of guaranteeing innings finish on time in the future.

India vs. Pakistan – Champions Trophy 2017

The most hyped contest in this year’s Champions Trophy ended in a damp squib with Pakistan never seriously challenging India at any point in the game. It was certainly damp, with three interruptions caused by the rain in Birmingham. There are many fans around the world asking why a country with England’s climate is hosting an international competition at all, and particularly in June and not August.

Having won the toss and chosen to bat second, Pakistan were outplayed virtually from beginning to end. The game started promisingly, with Pakistan only conceding 15 runs from the first 5 overs. After that point, unfortunately for Pakistan’s fans and most neutrals, India never looked like losing the game for a second. Pakistan’s bowling was abject, with Wahab Riaz taking particularly heavy punishment. Only teenage legspinner Shadab Khan and former Portland Young Offenders Institute resident Mohammad Amir finished the innings with respectable figures. They certainly weren’t helped by the Pakistan fielders, who dropped two clear chances and were generally poor in their ground fielding.

It’s often said that teams can only beat what’s put in front of them. India certainly did this with a dominant batting display. Rohit Sharma laid the foundations with a slow and steady 91 from 119 balls whilst Dhawan, Kohli and Yuvraj all contributed quick-fire fifties to take India’s score well over 300. This was a really strong team batting performance which will worry a lot of teams going forward in the competition.

If the first innings was bad for Pakistan, the second was somehow even worse. Whilst Azhar Ali did a reasonable job providing the platform like Sharma did for India, at the other end it was slow-motion carnage. India’s bowlers did a great job keeping the Pakistan batsmen’s scoring below their required run rate, eventually making them go for risky shots or suicidal runs. If one thing might disappoint the Indian team, their fielding was the equal of Pakistan’s and that is certainly not a compliment. They dropped two relatively simple chances, and their ground fielding was also very poor. Of course these mistakes weren’t punished by Pakistan, but they will want to improve before facing any stronger teams.

If anything, only losing by 124 runs (adjusted by DLS) is a result which flatters Pakistan who were never competitive. The massive Net Run Rate differential from this game makes it seem like it’s virtually impossible for Pakistan to make the semi finals, and virtually impossible for India not to. The ICC will no doubt breathe a heavy sigh of relief that India seem destined to make the knockout stages and will keep all the Indian TV viewers (and broadcasting companies) happy.

Elsewhere, England have announced the replacement in the squad after Chris Woakes was sidelined by a side strain. His place will be taken by Steven Finn, which always seemed the most likely choice the ECB would make after revealing it was a three-way contest between Finn, Toby Roland-Jones and Tom Curran. If Roland-Jones or Curran were to actually play, it would be their second and first ODI caps respectively. With 69 ODIs under his belt, Finn is clearly seen as a safer choice.

Of course this puts an end to the rather amusing speculation that Stuart Broad would be brought into the team. To put this into context, the last ODI he played in England was against India in the 2013 Champions Trophy Final. To say that his selection would be seen as a panicked move by England’s selectors would be an understatement, and it’s not really clear how the groundswell of support for the idea in the England press box might have started.

As always, comments are welcomed and appreciated. It’s my first official post on the site after two guest appearances, so be nice! Or don’t. I’m pretty sure I can delete comments and ban people now.