New Zealand vs. England, 2nd Test, Day 2

It’s an odd experience, writing a match report for a game I’ve barely seen, hurrying to get it finished before I go to work in the morning.

The story of the New Zealand innings seems to have been one of slow, attritional batting against England’s seamers bowling dry. Probably not a bad one to sleep through, now I come to think of it.

Broad did most of the damage, getting rid of the dangerous BJ Watling and Daryl Mitchell (not that one). Archer, Curran and Woakes combined to take the last few wickets, dismissing New Zealand for 375.

One thing which truly angers me is that Ben Stokes bowled 11 overs today. Stokes is, after Anderson’s injury and Root’s dramatic loss if form, probably the first name in the team sheet for the Test team. Or at least would be, if England didn’t have such a maverick selector. Therefore, and I know this may sound crazy and nonsensical to Joe Root or anyone in England’s medical team, they should STOP TRYING TO FUCKING INJURE HIM. He has what seems to me to be a large amount of strapping on his leg, and frankly I don’t think I would even risk him fielding. He is the only Test-quality batsman England have right now, and losing that to an avoidable injury would be an absolute disaster.

Of course, the normal thing to do when a bowler is injured would be to lean more on your spinners. Leach’s exclusion from the team always made this unlikely though, and in the end Root and Denly only bowled 6 overs between them. It is a consistent thread through Root’s captaincy, and Cook and Strauss before him, that there’s almost never any inkling of long term considerations in their decisions on the field. They will drive a player into dust in order to increase their chances of winning the game in hand, when that player could make a greater impact through the whole season if they were handled with more care. The most obvious example would be the end of Flower’s tenure as coach, when the whole team virtually imploded, but England and the ECB don’t seem to have learned any lessons in the years since.

England had 18 overs to face at the end of the day, and battled through to the end without conceding…

Just kidding. Obviously, England lost two cheap wickets and will have to bat really well tomorrow to have any chance tomorrow of drawing this series. Sibley fell cheaply again, and (admittedly after only 3 innings) he isn’t impressing so far as a potential England opener. Denly, who seems likely to open in South Africa, didn’t do any better. Oddly, Zak Crawley didn’t come out to bat today. The batsman, who was apparently in contention to open the batting for England in this series, is down at 6 in the batting order. I just can’t understand that decision.

As will surprise no one after seeing only 6 overs if spin were bowled, the day ended 4 overs short. Nothing will happen, of course, but we do like to keep mentioning it.

On a positive note, at least we aren’t Pakistan fans, as they are watching Australia absolutely cream them. Smith and Warner have apparently both beaten some of Don Bradman’s records, and it’s looking like a really one-sided bloodbath over there.

If you have anything to add, especially if you actually watched the game last night and can offer some real insight, feel free to comment below.

Game Over – NZ v England, 1st Test, Day 4

Denly, Root, Stokes. Those three batsmen are basically all that stands between England and a crushing defeat characterised by poor batting on a pitch which is frankly every bit as dead as Melbourne in 2017. There is absolutely no reason that this Test should not have been a bore draw, except for England’s ineptitude in the middle.

The New Zealand innings, which lasted for just over two sessions last night, was pretty much a repeat of day 3. Watling and Santner batted through most of the day, with England’s bowlers causing few if any problems. The scoring accelerated after Lunch, with the two batsmen pushing New Zealand’s first innings lead beyond 250 until the hosts declared just after Tea. England’s bowling was flat, but so was the pitch and it doesn’t really seem fair to ascribe any blame to them when virtually every wicket which has fallen has been to a collossal mistake by the batsmen.

Which brings us to England’s innings. They needed to bat out 118 overs in order to save the game. Historically, that is seen as a very tough task. On a dead pitch where New Zealand’s numbers six and eight have just shared a partnership lasting 83.2 overs however, a solid batting lineup should at the very least fancy their chances. Burns and Sibley saw out the first hour from Boult and Southee, and then left-arm orthodox spinner Mitchell Santner came on.

Sibley was the first wicket to fall, edging a forward defensive prod to a ball which was about a yard wide of the stumps and spinning away. Four overs later, with England just three overs away from the end of the day, Burns top-edged a slog sweep which went almost straight up in the air before being caught at square leg by de Grandhomme. The only blameless wicket was right at the end, when nightwatchman Jack Leach was wrongly given out caught behind. A specialist batsman would almost certainly have immediately reviewed the decision, even if they thought there was a possibility they had in fact hit it. Leach, probably aware that the outcry for wasting a review in the England camp would almost certainly outweigh the potential congratulations if it was successful, chose instead to walk off.

Mitchell Santner has never taken more than three wickets in an innings, but seems poised to exceed that by at least a couple more tonight. I think it is remarkable how many mediocre (as Colin Graves might say) spinners excel when playing against England. Of the 24 spin bowlers (a number which includes quite a few part-timers) to have played against them in the last two years, seven made their career Test best bowling figures. New Zealand’s Santner and Astle; Chase in the West Indies; Sandakan, Pushpakumara and Dananjaya in Sri Lanka; Vihari in India. None of these are world-class bowlers who other teams seem to have trouble facing, and yet they run through England like a vindaloo through an incontinent grandpa. This is a consistent, clearly identifiable flaw in England’s Test batting which needs addressing.

There was an interesting conversation on Sky during the Lunch break, following an interview between Wardy and Ashley Giles about the changes the ECB has made recently in coaching and developing England players. In just two minutes, Key absolutely destroys the ECB’s National Cricket Performance Centre as a worthwhile endeavour.

Nick Knight: What about Loughborough? What about the Lions pathway? Ashley [Giles] spoke a little about it there. You’ve been through both those pathways. Have they worked over a period of time? The ECB have invested a lot of money and time in those pathways. Are players now more developed, having come through that pathway than they were before it existed?

Rob Key: There’s two different things there. Loughborough, I’ve always seen as a bit of a waste of money because I see Loughborough as a bit of a glorified indoor school. Where it’s the hub in the middle of Loughborough University. There’s an indoor net facility, a few other things, gyms, all of that type of stuff that I’ve spent many an hour in. Generally, Loughborough itself hasn’t really done anything to help cricketers. But what has, as Ashley Giles spoke there, which is a big difference, which I’m all for, is if someone wants to practice against spin. You’re not going to learn to play spin at Loughborough, but you will do if you get shipped out to Mumbai and you go and practice playing spin out there for three or four weeks. And then you want to play fast ones, they help people go to Australia. So then you can just send the players all around, it’s like a finishing school or it’s meant to be a finishing school, the Lions programme. Like he said, Ben Foulkes going out and playing in Sri Lanka. The Lions tours that they go on are absolutely vital, and they’re really good. The academy trip or the Lions trip I went on, we spent six months in Australia facing Simon Jones, Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison, Chris Tremlett, Alex Tudor. Forget about coaches, you can’t not improve in that sort of environment. But that wouldn’t have been any good just being at Loughborough, in the middle of winter in an  indoor school.

So I have no idea how much money gets ploughed into Loughborough, there’s nothing against the coaches there or anything else. I just don’t see the point in having an expensive facility that pretty much every county has. Probably not as nice, put it that way, but every county has its own indoor school. But the Lions programme I think is actually very good. It gives the opportunity to players that you don’t get in counties, especially in the winter. So they have a whole pathway system where they have Daniel Vettori doing a bit with the spinners out in the UAE and places like that. So that I think is really vital. Loughborough itself… It was a pain having to go up there. Bowlers don’t want to bowl in an indoor school. So you’re going up there, you’re not doing any cricket. You just do fitness testing. That seems like an expensive thing to have for that.

Ashley Giles clearly thinks the problems at Loughborough lie with the staff, as major personnel chances have occurred since he took charge. I agree with Key on this. The core issue is in the concept itself, not its execution. No indoor net, no matter how sophisticated, can replicate the experience of playing overseas. Nor can it simulate an innings which spans more than a few overs. Fitness, whilst obviously important, in no way requires or justifies a multi-million pound annual investment in a specialist facility. County cricketers are, as far as I can tell, as fit as any international players. The main problems with England’s Test team in recent years have been lack of concentration and focus by the batsmen, and frequent spells of ineffectiveness from the bowling attack when overseas. Loughborough can’t and won’t do anything to clear either of these hurdles.

If you want to comment on the game, or anything else, feel free to do so below. Because, unlike Chris/thelegglance, I will never block comments on my posts.

England vs Australia: 5th Test, Day Four – Win, Lose And Draw

Today was an odd one. Both teams were celebrating at the end, with each claiming their small victories. England had denied Australia a series win on their home turf whilst Australia had retained the Ashes for the first time since 2001. Neither victory seemed particularly satisfying to me. For Australia, they spurned several golden chances to complete a historic away series win, only to bottle it like a South African cricketer in a knockout game. From England’s perspective, they were unable to take advantage of Australia’s continued weakness against swing whilst inexplicably giving Roy six opportunities too many in the team.

The day began with England leading by 382 and so the result was already virtually inevitable. It would take an unlikely, Stokes-esque innings from Australia to even come close. Australia wrapped England’s tail up within 20 minutes, setting their target at 399 runs to win and bringing their openers to the crease. And, very soon after, the two openers left the crease for the final time too.

It’s really saying something that Australia have the worst openers of the two teams (since Roy was dropped, at least). In this series, Cameron Bancroft was the best-performing Aussie opener with a sky-high average of 11.00. Compare that to Burns (39.00) or Denly (41.25 in his two games as opener). I still don’t feel great about England’s top order, as I haven’t for a few years now, but I could see Burns sticking around. Even Denly could potentially fill a role until someone better hopefully emerges, if he can maintain the defensive focus he showed in the last couple of games. For Australia, none of the three openers chosen in the squad showed a single sign of wanting to bat out the new ball. Or, quite frankly, being capable of batting out the new ball.

Labuschagne and Smith were next in, and that was when the nerves began. The logical side of you knows that 399 is virtually unreachable, and so can’t fathom why you’d worry. The side of you which has watched England play cricket over the years knows better, particularly having watched Smith rack up centuries for fun this summer. As it turned out, neither were able to hold out for long against the English bowling attack. Labuschagne was stumped from a good piece of work by Bairstow, whilst Smith finally fell into the trap England have been trying on and off throughout the series of glancing a ball to leg slip.

At that point, the game was over. At least, everyone apart from Matthew Wade assumed it was. The full time shit-stirrer and part time batsman and wicketkeeper has taken Warner’s mantle of least-pleasant member of the Australian team and made it his own. Given Paine’s batting struggles this series, there’s every chance that Wade will be behind the wickets during the Australian summer. If that happens, the home broadcaster will have to find a volume level below ‘mute’ for the stump microphones to prevent a constant torrent of abuse streaming into every Australian home and offending their delicate sensibilities every time he’s standing up to the wicket.

Wade took the novel (and arguably suicidal) approach of winding up 90mph fast bowler Jofra Archer once he was in the middle. What predictably followed was a barrage of short balls, which the Australian batsman managed to avoid for the most part. Throught it all he was accumulating runs, but wickets kept falling at the other end. Tim Paine’s wicket was a real treat for the home fans, with the Aussie captain reviewing a plumb LBW from Jack Leach. Shane Watson has (quite rightly) had the reputation for being one of the worst users of DRS reviews in their short history, but Paine might have surpassed him. It’s genuinely very impressive. It was Joe Root who took eventually Wade’s wicket with a stumping and it was all over as a contest. Leach wrapped up the final wickets, thanks to two fine catches by Root, and England had tied the series.

I don’t really know how to feel about this result. Had England lost a home Ashes series, there might have been more impetus within the ECB to make changes with regards to emphasising the longer formats as a top priority. Whilst I don’t generally want England to lose, and I especially never want Australia to win, I am prepared to accept a loss which leads to an overall strengthening of the game. Right now, England and Australia are fourth and fifth respectively in the ICC Test rankings. Considering the wealth and traditions of both countries, that should be totally unacceptable for either team.

Today’s Test marked the end of Trevor Bayliss’ stint as England coach. His record in ODIs has been incredible (62-24), his record in Tests (27-25) and T20Is (19-14) less so. He will probably be remembered for winning England their first men’s ODI World Cup as coach, but overall I think I’d consider him as being distinctly average in the role overall. I don’t know that anyone could have done much better though, the job seems too big for just one person. England’s schedule is so packed that no one, player or coach, should be expected to handle every game in every format nowadays.

Thanks for reading our posts through this long and historic English summer, and for all of your comments. If you have any comments about anything at all, please make them below.

England vs. Australia, 5th Test, Day 1

“In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

-Douglas Adams

In a similar vein, Australian captain Tim Paine decided to bowl first after winning the toss this morning. The conditions seemed pretty good for batting, and all it would take was a solid batting performance from England to put the tourists under pressure and potentially rescue a drawn series.

It started relatively well. Burns and Denly put together a partnership of 27 before Denly edged a wide ball to Steve Smith at second slip. This does not sound particularly impressive, and objectively it isn’t, but 27 still represents the highest opening stand achieved by either team in this series. A statistic like this demonstrates that Australia haven’t been an entirely dominant force, regardless of the scorecards. They are by no means a complete side, and it is therefore massively disappointing that England haven’t been able to come close to competing with them despite all of the advantages a home team possesses in Test cricket.

Burns and Root steadied the ship with a partnership for 76 runs, although Root was somewhat lucky to survive three dropped catches through his innings. Burns lost his wicket with a miscued pull shot which was caught at mid on. What followed was, rather than their typical collapse, a slow and inexorable decline into an inevitable defeat. Each batsman seemed to get a start, look somewhat comfortable and get out.

England have a habit of making mediocre Test bowlers with career bowling averages over 40 look like world-beaters. Roston Chase’s eight-fer in the West Indies is a real England lowlight for me. Mitch Marsh was the most recent beneficiary, finishing the day on 4/35. I sometimes wonder how many bowlers in world cricket have their best bowling figures against England, because it must be significantly above average.

Following the quick dismissals of Woakes and Archer, England were 226/8 and staring down the barrel of losing this Test in three days. Fortunately for them, one of their more useful batsmen was coming to the crease to join Jos Buttler in the form of Jack Leach. Leach is not by any means a good batsman. What he is though, is seemingly quite good at not getting himself out. It is an underrated talent, which the specialist batsmen might want to get his advice on. In the six innings he’s batted so far in this series, he’s been out twice. Moreover, his average number of balls faced per dismissal is currently 62. That’s better than Denly, Bairstow, Buttler and Roy. If he lost his wicket early at Headingley, as might be expected of most tailenders, England would be losing this series 3-0. Had he fallen for the same traps as many of the more experienced and skilled batsmen ahead of him today, England would have almost certainly posted a first innings score below 250. It seems like no exaggeration to say that England are in with a shout of drawing this series only because of Jack Leach’s application with the bat.

Which is not to undersell Buttler’s performance today. He was in the Stokes role today, farming the strike and scoring boundaries almost at will. He finished the day on 64*, which is already his highest score of the series, leaving England on 271/8. It’s not a bad total if you look solely on the basis of England being put in to bat after losing the toss, but conditions seemed fairly helpful for the batsmen and most English fans seem disappointed with such a low total.

Buttler will be keen to post a big score and make a statement to selector Ed Smith tomorrow, because his batting has been poor in this series so far. You’d think that his current series average of 24.25 wouldn’t be enough to keep his place in the side, but Bairstow (25.00) and Denly (24.22) aren’t faring any better and England seem oddly reluctant to make significant changes to a losing team.

The day finished eight overs short. It keeps happening, and we’re going to keep talking about it. Trust me, it bores us as much as it bores you.

As always, we look forward to your comments on the game and other stuff below.

Why England Should Drop Everyone

England have now failed to win a home Ashes series for the first time in 18 years. Something clearly needs to change. Throughout the four Tests, England looked at least four batsmen short of even an average Test batting lineup, and their best bowlers were blunted by Smith’s annoyingly effective technique.

England’s reaction to failures in the past has been both incremental (changing only one player at a time even if several underperformed) and arbitrary (dropping a player whose face doesn’t fit rather than someone who did less well). As this series has proven, this flawed incrementalism has not worked.

With Bayliss leaving next week, now is the ideal time to make wholesale changes to what is currently a very poor team. If England don’t have a competitive Test side by the time they visit South Africa in December, they may well have to kiss any chance of success in the new Test Championship goodbye. So here is my reasoning, player-by player, for why no one should keep their place in the side:

Rory Burns – Why not start with the most controversial? He averages 40.37 in this Ashes (although just 28.86 in all Tests), and so has almost certainly assured his place in the side for the next year. The question the ECB really need to answer is who will be his partner. The quickest way to find another opener would be to try two candidates at the same time  in a few games and picking the best one.

There is an argument that England should field their strongest team, which would certainly include Burns at the moment, for the final Test. England can still draw the series and gain some Test Championship points, after all. I would argue, if the Test Championship is made a priority like the World Cup was four years ago, that this is the perfect opportunity to try new things in the team. Because the same number of points are divided up for each series, regardless of the number of Tests, a further loss at The Oval (Where you can only win or lose almost half the points available if it was a game in a three Test series) will have little impact on the league table. The next two Tests in New Zealand are not part of the Championship at all. This is, I would argue, the perfect time to try some new players in the team.

Joe Denly – This is perhaps a bit harsh, having just scored a valiant 53 in a losing cause, but he isn’t going to be England’s opener for the next two years of the Test Championship. He has demonstrated some application in the last two games, which is more than many others can say, but it feels to me like we’ve seen him reaching his potential in Test cricket and it still isn’t good enough.

Joe Root – The England captain’s batting average in 2019 is 28.56, which is perhaps good enough for England (he’s the third-highest runscorer this year behind Stokes and Burns), but far below what he is capable of. He has been on the England treadmill for the last five years, playing a key part in the Test and ODI sides, not to mention the burden of captaincy. All of which might suggest that he is burned out, and in need of a rest. Hopefully that is the case, and his poor performances aren’t the result of something more serious, and harder to solve.

Jason Roy – Played 5 Tests. Batting average of 18.70. I was honestly surprised it was that high.

Ben Stokes – England’s player of the series (and summer), but reportedly carrying an injury. Given his importance to the team, I don’t think England should risk him for the relatively meaningless next few games. Anderson’s series-ending injury in the first Test of this series shows the folly of playing a talismanic player when they aren’t fully fit. It would be better for England’s chances in the Test Championship if he comes into the South Africa series this winter without any lingering health issues, and well-rested.

Jos Buttler – Averages 22.00 with the bat in 2019. As a specialist batsman. Enough said, really.

Although I will add that Jos is an unbelievable T20 batsman. We have all seen what has happened to England’s best Test batsmen when they’ve attempted to adapt to ODI and T20 batting. Cook, Root and Bairstow’s Test batting techniques all seemed to suffer as a result of incorporating a more aggressive style. I worry with Buttler that the opposite might also be true, that batting in Tests might blunt his awesome power hitting.

Jonny Bairstow – Averaging 20.56 in 2019. Also not as good a wicketkeeper as Ben Foakes.

Craig Overton – 2 wickets at an average of 53.50 in his first game after a recall is hardly a ringing endorsement. Nor is his career Test bowling average (from only four games) of 44.77. George Dobell, who has probably seen quite a few Somerset games, actually rates his brother Jamie as the bowler more likely to succeed for England. Despite having the better first-class bowling average of the two, Craig might not even be the best bowler in his family (as Jimmy Ormond might say).

Jofra Archer – Whenever the ECB stumble upon a quality bowler, they typically have one of two responses. First, they seek to improve them by tinkering. This doesn’t seem to have worked once in the past few years, but they try anyway. The second thing they do is to grind any promising Test bowler into dust by overbowling them. This is clearly what is happening to Archer right now. Despite being the quickest bowler available to England, and only playing three Tests, Archer is only behind Broad (who has played four Tests) in terms of overs bowled in this series. He desparately needs time off, before England turn him into just another fast-medium bowler.

Stuart Broad – 33 years old, and has bowled by far the most overs of any English bowlers in this series. Without a rest, and soon, this story only ends one way…

Jack Leach – Perhaps the hardest player to drop of the XI. A series bowling average of 30.37 is pretty good for a spinner in England, although an economy rate of 3.29 per over is probably a touch higher than he’d be happy with. Crucially, there aren’t a lot of players who could take his place. Rashid is injured, Moeen has only played one first-class game since been dropped, and the rest haven’t consistently shown the ability to step up to Test cricket. Not to mention, Leach’s batting has been quite useful for a tail ender. I have to admit, I may have made a mistake dropping all eleven. He can stay.

Any thoughts about who you’d pick for the final Test, or on any other subject, are welcome below.

England vs Australia, 4th Test, Day 2

There are days where the four writers here fight each other in order to get the chance to write the post at the end of play, and there are days when none of us want to write it. Today was very much from the second group.

The game started with people (particularly in the England team and the English media) suggesting that the Australian players would have been shaken and mentally scarred from Stokes’ heroics at Headingley. After two days, that would not appear to be the case. On the other hand, England’s bowlers and fielders looked tired. Perhaps they had spent the previous week on the lash, celebrating their unlikely win. Or perhaps the cold and wet Manchester weather had sapped any enthusiasm and energy they had for the game. Whatever the reason for England’s performance, it was an absolutely dire day for the home team.

The story was a familiar one. Steve Smith was in, and he stayed in until he put the game beyond England’s reach. England’s bowlers seemed powerless to stop him, bar a delivery from Jack Leach which Smith hit to slip. Unfortunately for England, Leach had overstepped the bowling crease and so the wicket was rescinded by the third umpire. Mitchell Starc and Tim Paine played supporting roles to Smith, each getting a fifty. Australia ended up posting a first innings total of 497/8d, leaving England requiring 297 runs just to avoid the possible follow-on.

Australia’s declaration left England with a ‘tricky 10 overs’ to face at the end of the day. As is traditional for tricky periods at the end of the day, no barrage of wickets fell. Instead, Australia were only able to pry Denly out with a sharp catch at short leg. On paper, Denly’s dismissal for 4 off 24 balls seems like an absolute failure. And, to be clear, it is. Any number of county openers must be looking at the performance of this England team’s top order and wondering if they have wronged any particular deity to be passed over so unfairly. But, compared to Roy’s performance in recent games, it was a defensive tour de force. Of Jason Roy’s 7 Test ininngs as opener, only one lasted more than 24 deliveries (His 28 (58) at Edgbaston). Particularly for an opener, who typically has a responsibility to get through the new ball more often than not, that is a shocking record. Let’s just hope that his Test batting improves when he comes in at five tomorrow.

But, and here’s the problem for me as a writer, what can you write about this game from an England perspective? There were no great performances in a losing cause which deserve highlighting, nor was there anyone who stood out as being significantly worse than their teammates. It was all just uniformly, predictably, mind-numbingly poor from all eleven players. The bowling, the fielding, and (for the 10 overs at the end of the day) the batting were diabolically bad.

It’s not like the ECB are going to sack the coach with just a few weeks left on his contract. Nor is any selector, even Ed Smith – Maverick Genius, going to drop all eleven players from a Test team. I’m genuinely stumped. Barring the rain making a significant contribution to proceedings (and given England have chosen to play in Manchester in September, it’s not an impossible scenario), I can’t see how England can avoid losing this game and conceding the Ashes.

And, for those of you keeping count at home, I think there were 4 overs unbowled today. Presumably, like every other day in this series so far, no punishments will be forthcoming.

Comments on the game or anything else below.

3rd Ashes Test, Day Three: Inconsistent

England’s inconsistency with the bat finally worked in their favour today, with a couple of the batsmen finally showing an above-average Test performance. On a personal level it was slightly annoying, as I had already pencilled in what I was going to write in today’s report, and scheduled stuff to do tomorrow. Joe Root’s decision to actually bat longer than a session was, quite frankly, massively inconsiderate.

The first half of the day showed no deviation from the expected script. England’s tired bowlers struggled to take the final four Australian wickets, with an inadvisable run off a misfield eventually leading to Marnus Labuschagne’s dismissal. Archer was the main strike bowler for the hosts yet again, taking the wickets of two Australian tailenders plus giving Labuschagne’s grill another testing blow, but Stokes and Broad also bowled fairly well.

Puzzlingly, Chris Woakes didn’t get a chance with the ball this morning. It seems an odd choice on paper by Root, since Woakes has taken more wickets than Stokes at a lower average so far in this series. Given the lack of trust shown in his bowling, it seems likely Woakes will be the one expected to make way for Anderson if the veteran seamer is considered fit to return by England’s medical staff. Apart from a series of solid (but by no means amazing) bowling performances in the series, the allrounder also has the third-highest series batting average for England. He’s scored more runs than Bairstow, Roy and Buttler, and yet is more likely than any of those three to be dropped. Life is just not fair. Especially if you’re an English bowler.

England’s batting seemed to be following the pattern of recent games, with two quick wickets at the start. Burns was the first to go, fending a bouncer to the slips. Roy followed a few balls later after being bowled by Cummins after playing down the wrong line.

This left Root and Denly at the crease, with 69 overs left to survive in the day and (even more unlikely) 344 more runs needed to win the game. Denly rode his luck early, being lucky enough to miss the assorted wild drives to full and wide deliveries from the Australian quicks. But, over time, he settled down and made a partnership with Root which somehow lasted most of the day.

Eventually it was a bouncer which did for Denly. The Australian bowlers had targeted his head and body through the day with some success, and he finally fended one with his gloves which looped into the wicketkeeper’s welcoming hands. Having scored fifty runs in this innings, it’s hard to see England dropping him for the remaining two games. On one hand, Denly was under pressure, with many people (including myself) calling for him to be dropped, and he delivered. On the other hand, Australia might well think that he’s vulnerable to the short ball and bowl accordingly.

Joe Root’s 75* was no doubt a huge relief for England’s captain after he had made two consecutive ducks in his previous innings. We all know he’s an extraordinarily capable batsman, once compared to Steve Smith and Virat Kohli, but it’s been a lean couple of years for him. (It’s been even more lean for Smith, of course, due to his ban for cheating) Whatever the reason, his form has declined from ‘great’ to ‘good’, and then again from ‘good’ to ‘good enough for England’. Hopefully this innings will allow him to rebuild his confidence and Test batting, although I’ve seen too many flashes in the pan to be very optimistic on that score.

Root and Stokes were still there at the close of play, with England on 156/3 needing 203 more runs to win. It’s still massively unlikely that they can cause an upset, but at the same time it’s significantly more likely than it was this time yesterday.

It’s the hope that hurts the most, I find.

Finally, we were ‘just’ four overs short today. I think we saw that one coming…

England vs Australia: 2nd Test, Day Five

After the fireworks yesterday, today ended with more of a damp squib than anything else. The rain which removed another seventy minutes of play from the game made the draw seem almost inevitable from the start. Stokes and Buttler made it through the truncated morning session unscathed, which made the possibility of an Australian win vanishingly remote. England then declared on a conservatively high total, meaning nothing less than a miraculous spell of bowling would manage to take ten wickets in the space of just 48 overs.

Archer did rise the hopes of England’s fans early on though, taking the early wickets of Warner and Khawaja with his customary quick deliveries. He followed that by hitting Smith’s replacement Marnus Labuschagne on the helmet with just the batsman’s delivery at the crease. The South African substitute batsman recovered though and, together with Cameron Bancroft, steadied the ship until Tea.

Leach struck in the first over after Tea, trapping Bancroft LBW, but Labuschagne again buckled down and defended well. It wasn’t until the last hour that England managed to break through the Austrealians’ defences, with Leach taking the wickets of Labuschagne and Wade in successive balls. But, even with these dismissals, England simply ran out of time to press for a result.

With the next Test starting on Thursday, all eyes are already turning to selection issues. Jason Roy didn’t do himself any favours by dropping a slip chance which bounced off his chest, but it seems unlikely that England would make a change to their batting lineup at such short notice. Perhaps they could swap Denly and Roy’s batting positions, but that seems like a pretty marginal improvement to me. Archer and Leach both made themselves seem indispensible in the game, which raises the headache for England’s selector about who to leave out if Anderson is ‘fit’.

In truth, most of England’s batting lineup should be in the firing line. Other than Rory Burns, who averages 56.50 in the two games so far, it’s been a lacklustre couple of games for the specialist batsmen. Root (24.75), Denly (21.25), Buttler (12.25) and Roy (10.00) should all consider themselves lucky that the quick turnaround and the fact that county batsmen have been playing T20 for the last few weeks makes it unlikely (but not impossible) that England will ring the changes in Leeds.

For Australia, the situation is more serious. Steve Smith was finally diagnosed with a concussion this morning, which left him unable to play today and unlikely to be available for Australia in the next Test too. There would be no guarantees beyond that either, as concussions can last for an indeterminate length of time. Marnus Labuschagne did a fine job filling in for Smith at short notice, but there is also Marcus Harris and Mitch Marsh vying for the open spot. It would be a huge blow for Australia if Smith wasn’t available though, as he virtually won the first Test single-handed for the tourists.

I have what I acknowledge is an unusual viewpoint when it comes to cricket. Whilst I love watching it, I often view it through the prism of being a workplace rather than wholly a source of entertainment and drama. So, for example, I don’t expect a player to be any more ‘loyal’ to his team and fans than someone working behind the counter at McDonalads would be to that huge corporate machine and its customers. Another, more pertinent example would be the low regard with which teams, journalists and fans often regard the health and wellbeing of players when in pursuit of short-term glory.

I missed most of yesterday’s play, and so I didn’t see Smith’s full batting performance personally, but his dismissal to Woakes and his subsequent review did not seem the actions of a batsman with all of his faculties. There is an attitude in cricket (and many other professional sports) that it is necessary for players to ‘man up’ and play through pain, risking further injury. Those who choose to leave the field of play or make themselves unavailable for selection to seek treatment are called ‘weak’ and ‘not team players’ in the press, and can have their card marked in terms of selection.

Concussion is an incredibly serious condition, one which can become significantly more serious if it recurs soon after the initial blow. I cannot imagine any other workplace in the Western world which would even consider allowing an employee to return so soon after taking a blow like Smith received to his unprotected head. It is a decision which should have been out of his hands, regardless of how much he wanted to get on the Lord’s honours board.

Cricket Australia justified their actions in a press release by saying that 30% of concussions don’t show symptoms until 24 hours later. If that is the case, considering the strength of the blow to an exposed part of the head, why didn’t they wait 24 hours before allowing him back on the field? Cricket is just a game, or a job, and not worth risking someone’s life over.

As always, feel free to comment on the game or anything else below.

In Defence Of Boos – and the updated day two preview

Given it seems to be the hot topic at the moment, a quick additional post to address the matter seemed appropriate.

There has, particularly in light of Steve Smith’s century, been something of a backlash against booing by many people in this game. Some people who purport to be cricket fans, and even a few journalists and commentators, have said that the English crowd shouldn’t boo at all. Or, if they do boo and jeer cricketer, that they shouldn’t do so when that player has just reached a milestone.

A few have even suggested that the people who continued heckling through thick and thin don’t know about or love cricket.

For a start, coming from professional cricket journalists, it might surprise them to learn that their wages come from avid cricket fans such as those who will have paid upwards of £60 to be in the stands at Edgbaston and are the most likely to subscribe to cricket magazines too. They might want to be careful before alienating them. Journalists paid to be there berating those who pay the often extortionate charges within English cricket grounds is rarely a good look.

But, more generally, I think they’re completely missing the point. Fundamentally, practically no one is booing Smith because he’s a great batsman and they want to distract him. I don’t think Kohli was abused by the English crowds last year, and he’s a great batsman. No one is booing Smith just because he’s a cheat. I doubt Faf du Plessis would get the same treatment at Edgbaston, despite his own ball tampering charge. No one is booing Smith just because of his nationality, as shown by the Australians who haven’t been the target of abuse by the Hollies Stand.

Smith and Warner are copping these boos because they are (and I’m moderating my language for the blog here) absolute pricks. They lie, they cheat, they insult, they’re hypocrites, and they’re smug and arrogant about it. They are, as people, almost completely loathsome individuals. And they’re unlikeable when they have zero runs, or two, or fifty, or a hundred, or a hundred and forty-four.

It is, you could argue, not entirely their fault. Jarrod Kimber wrote a long and illuminating ‘essay’ about how Australian club cricket moulds young players coming into the game into abusive, cheating pricks. By the time most Aussie cricketers reach the professional game, the die is already cast. But, even allowing for that, Smith and Warner are stand-out pricks within the Australian cricket team.

Some people try to make Smith and Warner sympathetic, saying they were harshly and punitively dealt with by Cricket Australia. That much is undoubtedly true. But that doesn’t make them not pricks. In fact, it was Smith’s cocky press conference with Bancroft after the end of play at Newlands which likely ignited the furore in Australia over the ball tampering and caused the bans to be so long in the first place. Many Australians don’t even like and respect them, so why should we?

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that booing a player is always acceptable. When it’s based on race, religion, sexuality or some other protected status then I would say that was over the line. An example of that would be when Moeen Ali was abused by a portion of Indian fans for his Pakistani muslim heritage during a T20I in 2014, coincidentally at Edgbaston. I also think that verbal abuse should be moderated to not teach any kids in the crowd any new words which their parents might not approve of.

But beyond that? If you pay for the ticket, I think you’re entitled to express your opinion.

Whether that’s clapping politely or loudly vocalising your dislike, that’s up to you.

And to keep the content of Dmitri’s post last night, here it is replicated in this new post:

Panel Prep

So, to prepare those we are going to ask to be on our panel, we thought we’d give you a couple of questions to opine on before play:

  1. 284 – good, bad or indifferent? Let’s ignore the eighth wicket going down at 122 (alright, don’t) but as play stands now is this a winning score for Australia?
  2. Steve Smith – best test batsman at the moment, or is this bubble going to burst (or both)?
  3. On a level of 1-10, with 1 being chilled, your reaction to your premier bowler getting injured after four overs, having been injured in the run-up to the test?

We won’t be able to live blog today – or if we do, it will be intermittent, but please keep checking in to see if we do provide updates. That said, it was great to see the in-play comments from you, and also thanks to Sean and Danny for all the efforts yesterday. We will try to live blog when the occasion merits it.

Boring Stat Watch

Steve Smith made the joint 99th highest score for Australia in meetings between the two countries. He joins former captains Don Bradman, Greg Chappell and Ricky Ponting in making 144 in Ashes tests. It was the 314th test hundred by an Australian against England.

Stuart Broad took the 254th five wicket plus haul in an innings for England against Australia. These were the joint 207th best figures for England v Australia (Broad has the best figures by anyone not called Laker, of course). Geoff Arnold took 5/86 at Sydney in 1975.

284 is the equal 500th highest score in England v Australia matches. On the five previous occasions the score has been made, the team making 284 has won twice. Australia in 1895, and memorably, England at the MCG in 1982. On the three other occasions, the team making 284 has lost (England at the MCG in 1921, Australia at Lord’s in 1934 – the only time 284 was made in the second innings of the test and England at The Oval in 1972).

In 1982, Australia replied to 284 with 287. In 1972, Australia replied to 284 with 399. In 1934, England had made 440 before Hedley Verity did his thing. In 1921 Australia followed 284 with 389. In the only other time Australia scored 284 in the first innings of the test match against England, we followed up with 65 and 72.

Too Many Tweeters

OK. Statwatch done. Let’s look at ConnWatch…

 

 

Measured.

Now for Shiny Toy…

Hyperbole Watch..

 

Four day tests

Birds of a feather

Did Selfey have anything to offer?

Blocked By Paul, Watching Paul

Paul Newman watch…

If there was any concern the Ashes might for once be forced to play second fiddle this summer to an extraordinary World Cup then we need not have worried.

This was a superb and eventful opening day to the biggest Test series of them all from the moment David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, two of the three members of ‘The Banned’, walked out to the most hostile of Edgbaston welcomes.

and…

There was a totally hapless display from umpires Joel Wilson and Aleem Dar that was only partially rescued by the Decision Review System and, frankly, was simply not good enough for the highest level of the game.

There was an atmosphere like no other at any English ground, with the Hollies Stand loudly but never too nastily taunting the disgraced Australians and their captain in Tim Paine who had goaded them on the eve of this always epic contest.

But, above all, there was the controversial figure of Steve Smith, the captain sacked in disgrace in the aftermath of sandpaper-gate, defiantly and brilliantly rescuing his side from the brink of disaster and inspiring them to what looks like a highly competitive score.

and he’s not letting up…

And at the centre of it was the man who haunted England during the last Ashes with his idiosyncratic but world-class batting before his world fell apart when the poisonous culture that had infected his captaincy unravelled spectacularly in Cape Town.

This was Smith’s first Test innings since that cheating scandal 18 months ago but how he made up for lost time with an exceptional 144, more than half their score, that puts Australia on top in this first Test and could well have set the tone for the whole series.

CHUMPIRES

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/cricket/article-7310845/Cricket-News-Fans-pundits-fume-umpires-make-SEVEN-errors-day-one-Ashes.html

Sadly, no Martin Samuel this time around.

Oh No, Not Him Again

Tom Harrison was on Sky and TMS this lunchtime, presumably because doing the rounds at a mere “warm up” against Ireland to bask in the glow of the World Cup victory wasn’t significant enough. I listened to it this lunchtime, well the TMS bit, and it was every bit as depressing as you would have thought. He did virtually everything he could to avoid mentioning the Hundred by name, but did mention Sky at every opportunity. There will be a massively enhanced partnership next year – I’m not sure what Sky will be doing to enhance it, more repeats of Masterclass? – and somehow in his haze of bigging up Sky, he said 13 million watched the World Cup and of all outlets Sky had the most. Can’t offend the chief partner. According to Tom we will be getting 100 hours of free to air cricket next year. If BBC have 10 matches of 3 hours duration and a couple of other games, where is the rest coming from? Someone tell me. There was more. Much more. But not much new. I saw Gower congratulate Harrison on the World Cup win. We are absolutely stupid. Partners indeed.

So, on to Day 2. Please fire away, please answer the day’s panel questions, please keep the fires burning. It’s going to be an interesting day. I leave you with this on the booing of the Sandpaper Gang..

I was at the Gabba that day. I heard Aussies around me tell him to stop being soft and get up, but then change their tune when he was stretchered off. However, I will never forget the weapons grade bell-end who spent almost the entire day calling Matthew Hoggard a wanker all day. The problem with us being sanctimonious about booing, pretending we’re a moral paragon, is that we’re not. Neither are England fans a bunch of scum, as those who tut tut in the comm box about this sort of thing make them out to be. Like everything, you pays your money, you takes your choice. I feel it is unwise for any ex-pro to criticise supporters on how they support the game.

Enough of that. Hope you enjoyed this mish mash. Comment away on Day 2.

 

England v Ireland, One Off Test*, Day 2 – Same Old Shit, Plus Jack Leach

Wally Hammond. Herbert Sutcliffe. Sir Len Hutton. Jack Leach. Just four of the 28 English batsmen of all-time to have Test career averages above 45 as opener, and Leach is the only one to do so since Strauss’ retirement in 2012. Scoring 92 runs from 162 balls, the opener from Somerset has almost certainly secured his place in the side for the forthcoming Ashes series.

Jason Roy also showed some of his one-day form in this innings, having been demoted to three. Smashing 72 from 78 balls is an impressive feat in Test cricket, and showed how he was probably always better suited for the middle order. England’s issue is that they only have one capable top order batsman in Leach, and seven or eight who would be best suited batting at five.

Not that this should be any excuse for what happened after their talismanic opening bat lost his wicket. When Murtagh finally tempted Leach to edge one to slip, the ball was 45 overs old and the Irish had been fielding in sweltering conditions for half of the day. It was a huge opportunity for England’s aggressive batsmen to annihilate the tourists in great conditions, and instead they folded like a cheap deckchair. From 182/3, they slid to 249/7. Bairstow bagged a pair, although at least he got his pad in the way of one instead of being clean bowled this time. Denly had a comedy run out, although he wasn’t laughing. Moeen Ali edged a short ball to the wicketkeeper. Root failed to convert his promising start into a fifty. It was deja vu all over again.

And so, for the umpteenth time, it fell to the bowlers to put a respectable face on proceedings. The 8th, 9th and 10th wicket partnerships have added 65 runs so far, taking England’s lead to 181 runs. That is already a tough task for Ireland, having been restricted to 207 in their first innings. If Broad and Stone were able to add another 20 runs for the final wicket tomorrow then you might say England were favourites to win.

The day ended prematurely with thunderstorms and rain, which has the pleasant side effect of ensuring a decent amount of play tomorrow (weather permitting). Sean ( @thegreatbucko ) and Chris ( @thelegglance ) both have tickets for day three (although not seated together), so there will likely be in-depth match reports from them in the coming days. Once the hangovers wear off, at least.

Ireland have a real shot of a famous first Test victory at Lord’s tomorrow, and it could well be an exciting climax. No doubt the opportunity to do it against England will make it even sweeter for the Irish.

If you have any comments on the game, or embarassing pictures of Chris and Sean in the stands tomorrow, post them below.