England vs. Pakistan – 3rd Test, Day 3 – Drops

A big day for Buttler, Anderson and England left them in the driving seat in this final Test of the summer. As well as their good play, they were also the beneficiaries of good fortune which really ended Pakistan’s slim chance of saving this Test.

In many ways, today was a mirror image of the day before with Pakistan’s middle order rescuing their team from an abject start. The tourist’s start was even worse than England’s managing to score just 34 runs when their fourth wicket early this morning. Asad Shafiq’s dismissal was also Anderson’s fourth wicket of the innings, and he has very much put to bed rumours of his retirement since his press conference. Shafiq might consider himself very unlucky, because the players left the field immediately after his wicket due to a rain shower.

When play resumed, there was a sense of deja vu as conditions seemed to settle down and favour the batting side like they had on days one and two. The pitch seemed slightly slow, and the ball had relatively little lateral movement once it had seen a few overs. The difference between the two innings of this game so far is that England managed to keep taking wickets at infrequent intervals to hold Pakistan well below the score they need to avoid the follow-on.

Fawad Alam’s fortunes this summer seem to have gone from bad to worse in this series. After 11 years in the international wilderness, he was dimissed for a duck. Today, he was dismissed after edging a ball from Bess which was caught by Buttler. Aside from having Jos Buttler catch something at the stumps, which earlier games have shown is not his forte, it also appeared from replays to have been a no ball which wasn’t detected by either the on-field or TV umpires.

Law 27.3 states that:

The wicket-keeper shall remain wholly behind the wicket at the striker’s end from the moment the ball comes into play [when the bowler begins his run up] until a ball delivered by the bowler touches the bat or person of the striker, or passes the wicket at the striker’s end, or the striker attempts a run. In the event of the wicket-keeper contravening this Law, the striker’s end umpire shall call and signal No ball as soon as applicable after the delivery of the ball.

Here is a screenshot of Jos Buttler, before Fawad Alam hits the ball:

Buttler No ball

Ironically, this particular side-on replay was only shown once during a segment on Sky Sports which was demonstrating how Buttler’s technique at the stumps had improved from previous games. This point is true, and worth celebrating. Whilst I still wouldn’t pick him as wicketkeeper for a tour in spinning conditions, it has shown that he can improve this aspect of his game and hopefully that improvement continues. His adeptness with the gloves continued later in the game with two full-length catches on the leg side.

Whilst Buttler may have improved, England’s catching in the field was more of a mixed picture. Root took two chances in the slips, but Burns, Crawley and Broad all shelled chances. Hopefully these flaws across the England team are addressed before their tours this winter.

Whilst wickets fell at the other end, Azhar Ali played a fantastic innings of 141*. A Crawley-esque innings, you might say. Like Crawley, he has been under fire. Whilst undoubtedly talented, the Pakistan captain had scored just 38 runs in his first two games of the series. Unfortunately for Ali and Pakistan, he didn’t have a Buttler-esque partner to stick with him and Pakistan ended their innings 310 runs short of England’s total. England enforced the follow-on, but the players were taken off the field for bad light before the first ball was bowled. Pakistan might feel slightly aggrieved to have faced the second new ball in such poor light, when the umpires probably ended play in the previous Test under much better conditions.

To go with our observations on Friday about the ECB’s cozy relationship with Sky, it is interesting to consider what Sky’s coverage of Fawad Alam’s dismissal might have been like if Pakistan had taken the wicket of an English batsman with what would technically have been a no ball. Or how a Pakistani  broadcaster would have handled it had the game been played in Karachi. There is definitely a sense that host broadcasters often downplay or completely ignore incidents which might harm the home team, whilst reporting and repeating ones which might favour them. Many people might have opinions about the impartiality (or lack thereof) of the TV companies in India or Australia, but it would be a mistake to think Sky are any better. Despite being asked on Twitter about it by a journalist, and an article being posted on Wisden.com, it was never raised on Sky during play. Maybe, as well as neutral umpires, we could one day have neutral broadcasters as well?

Tomorrow will see Anderson trying to take two more wickets in order to reach the huge milestone of 600 Test wickets, whilst Pakistan have the distant objective of trying to force England to bat again.

As always, please comment below.

England vs. Pakistan – 3rd Test, Day 1 – Scores And Bores

Today was an exceptional day of cricket. An amazing batting performance from Zak Crawley left England very much in the ascendancy after the end of the first day. Rather frustratingly, I missed a large portion of it because I was busy transcribing Colin Graves’ interview on Sky, a long and boring process which took me over two hours to complete.

The day had a mixed start for England, with Rory Burns being squared up by Shaheen Shah Afridi and edging to the slips. This has not been a good series so far for the England opener, who currently has a series average of 5.00. In particular, the left-arm pace of Afridi has taken his wicket three times. That said, I wouldn’t be overly concerned by his form at this moment in time. His average against the West Indies just a few weeks ago was 46.80, and few teams have a high-quality left-handed pace bowler if that is a weakness of his.

Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley saw off the very good Pakistani pace attack with the new  ball, which brought in legspinner Yasir Shah. It had been noted after the first Test against Pakistan that Dom Sibley had the low strike rate against spin bowling of 36.61. What was not mentioned was that his average against spinners in Test cricket was 40.00. His scoring rate was raised during the game in commentary, and afterwards during interviews. During a press conference after that game, Sibley vowed to be “a bit more proactive” against spin. In the two games since that interview, his strike rate against spin has soared to 62.07, whilst his average against spin in those two games is 18.00. Today he was dismissed after being judged LBW after skipping down the pitch to try and hit Yasir Shah out of the ground.

There are two aspects of this that infuriate me. Firstly, since when does run rate matter in Tests? Whilst obviously it might be considered better to score more quickly than not, as it reduces the chances of a draw, I’d much rather have a slow batsmen averaging 40 than a quick one averaging 30. It seems notable that a large portion of those espousing its importance in Tests are those who seem to prefer T20 cricket.

My second, more important issue with this pressure on Sibley to score more quickly is that it seems a wholly predictable result that it will get in his head and lower his average. We saw it with Trott, and Compton, and Ballance. People take their scoring for granted, tell them to accelerate once they’re ‘in’, and it completely screws them up. I want Sibley to be opening for England in five years’ time with a Test average over 40. I think the best way to do that is to leave alone to score at his own pace. England have plenty of batsmen who can score quickly, so they can afford for one or two to take their time. Sibley genuinely seems to me like the real deal, and I don’t want him crashing out of the side prematurely.

Joe Root fell soon after Lunch, edging an unplayable delivery from Naseem Shah which moved sharply off the pitch before catching the edge. With one innings to go, Joe Root has a batting average this summer of 37.33. He hasn’t averaged over 40 in a home summer since 2017. Whilst he is entirely blameless for today’s dismissal, I do think that he could have possibly kept it out in his prime. The same frustrating way that Steve Smith or Virat Kohli just manage to keep an absolute jaffa from dismissing them. I think the time of considering Root one of the ‘Fab Four’ world batsmen, or of worrying that his conversion of fifties was too low, has long since passed.

Pope was clean bowled by Yasir Shah, which left England on 127/4 with Zak Crawley and Jos Buttler at the crease. These are two batsmen who I genuinely don’t rate particularly highly, and so I feared the worst. Zak Crawley’s first-class average is a mere 30.82, whilst Jos Buttler has an average of 32.31 after 46 Test matches with just the solitary century. To my pleasant surprise, they both delivered tremendous performances which took the game completely away from Pakistan and both remain not out overnight.

Crawley’s innings was truly remarkable. Rarely flustered or giving chances, he was scoring at almost 4 runs per over against what is an impressive Pakistani bowling attack. He finished the day on 171 not out, which is also his highest first-class score. He missed two Tests this summer in order to make room for the injured Ben Stokes playing as a specialist batsman. After today, I wouldn’t think that he will be considered England’s most expendable batsman.

There were two notable interviews broadcast today on Sky. Before play, ICC match umpire, Stuart’s dad and former Rebel tourist Chris Broad had a rare interview. Most of it was devoted to the changes in playing conditions for this Test regarding bad light. Essentially, umpires now have the option to start the day half an hour earlier rather than adding the time on at 6.30pm when light is likely to be at its worst. But, after that topic was well covered, the talk drifted to over rates:

Nasser Hussain: In the last five years in England, the over rate has dropped to 13.4 overs. In the last year, it is 12.1 overs when they should be bowling at 15. And yet only two captains have been fined in England by the ICC. Are the over rates at the moment acceptable?

Chris Broad: You talk about this country, you look at the number of crowds, the number of people who come and want to watch Test cricket. If they start falling away, then something needs to be looked at. I feel that there has been some exciting cricket in this series. If there were crowds in here, they would appreciate the fact that there has been some exciting cricket. There have been results in almost every Test match, and I think they’ve had value for money. It’s something that, if you look at stats, they can actually tell a different story. Tell perhaps an unreal story, and the entertainment value of the game of cricket. I think this series, as far as entertainment has been concerned, has been fantastic.

I think one of the most basic things I believe is that you don’t get to choose which laws you follow, or enforce. Unless you’re rich, obviously [/satire]. It is what infuriates me most about slow over rates. I would find it immensely entertaining for Jofra Archer to bowl from 4 yards in front of the bowling crease, if I wasn’t batting, but if he goes a millimetre beyond the bowling crease it’s called a no ball. I think many people just want to watch certain batsmen bat, Stuart Broad for example. But the ICC umpires won’t let him reset the stumps after being bowled while telling the bowler, “They came to see me bat, not you bowl.” Not even his dad.

I also disagree with the contention that enforcing over rates would make the cricket less entertaining. I can’t say for sure that it wouldn’t though, because I can’t recall at any point where it has been enforced. Teams are generally willing to accept the small fines or points penalties that are given and, as Nasser rightly points out, even these minor punishments are rarely used.

The second, more extensive interview of the day came during the Lunch break, with Ian “Wardy” Ward and Nasser Hussain ‘grilled’ outgoing ECB chairman Colin Graves. For your enjoyment, here is the whole goddamn thing:

Wardy: How’s the five years been?

Graves: It’s been challenging, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it to be honest Ian. And when you look at all those highlights, we’ve come a long way in five years both on and off the field. From a board perspective, we’ve now got an independent board which I think is one of the best things English cricket has ever done. It’s been enjoyable.

Wardy really set the tone for the questions here. It couldn’t be a softer delivery if it was a 79-over old Kookaburra being bowled by Jack Shantry.

Wardy: What’s been your biggest challenge?

Graves: I think the biggest challenge certainly was getting The Hundred off the ground. We had all the pushback initially on that. I think people are starting to see the advantages of it now. So that was really challenging, but I still think it is the right thing to be doing and it will be a valuable asset to the ECB going forward. Both from a profit perspective and from a playing point of view as well.

Obviously many of us are dubious about the possible profit The Hundred might generate. I am curious what Graves meant by a “playing point of view” though. Does he believe that a new format will helps English players in the T20 and 50-over games? The English 40-over competition was removed in 2013 to bring it into line with the international 50-over standard, because it was felt that the slightly shorter length didn’t help develop international cricketers. Has something changed since then?

Wardy: Why so much pushback, do you think?

Graves: I think people, certainly in cricket, don’t like change. I think we’ve been set with a number of competitions over the years that everybody seemed happy with and they looked at another competition: “Do we need another competition?” I don’t think they realise we’re trying to attract this new audience, women, children and families, which we’ve never really had coming to cricket. So that was a big message to get across. When we took it to the vote, to the counties, that went through 38-3 so it was fairly unanimous when it came down to it. And it’s just a change, to be honest with you.

Somewhere, there is a PR person from the ECB facepalming so hard they might have broken their nose. Since the disastrous launch by Andrew Strauss two years ago, in which he essentially said that existing cricket fans don’t matter because The Hundred was for ‘mums and kids’, the ECB have toned down that message with every subsequent appearance. At this point, they are saying to people who attend T20 Blast games that is basically the same, except with better players. This is good marketing. You can’t persuade people who don’t know about cricket to attend cricket games. It is impossible. Whilst those now-legendary ‘mums and kids’ or ‘non-cricket fans’ might see The Hundred on the BBC and decide to attend in future years, the only possible live audience in the first season is the exact same people who already attend T20 Blast games.

If Colin Graves is going to keep turning up on TV and radio telling those existing fans that The Hundred isn’t for them but for families instead, they might not buy tickets and turn up. And the ECB might have to deal with empty seats dominating televised cricket for the second season in a row.

As for English cricket fans not liking change, that’s fair enough. They don’t. But I would say that this is mainly because there is so much of it. Here are just some of the changes to county cricket in the past 20-ish years.

2000: The first Championship divided into two divisions, with a reduction of one game per season.

2003: The 50-over Benson & Hedges Cup is replaced by the T20 Cup

2006: The Sunday League went from 45 to 40 overs per innings.

2010: The 50-over Friends Provident Trophy and Natwest Pro40 are replaced by the 40-over Clydesdale Bank 40.

2014: Points for a draw in the County Championship increased to 5. The 50-over One Day Cup replaces the 40-over Yorkshire Bank 40.

2017: Championship Division One reduced to 8 teams, with both divisions reduced to 14 games per season.

2020: County Championship to change to 10 teams in Division 1, , T20 Blast moved to May, the One Day Cup played during The Hundred, and a new 100-ball competition with new drafted teams.

In other words, every three or four years there is a major change in English domestic cricket. I’ve almost certainly missed out a lot of things from this list. At  some point the ECB has to just leave county cricket alone for a period, a decade or so, to really see what is and isn’t working in the long term.

Hussain: You said there “Fully behind it. People are starting to see the advantages of it.” What do you mean by that?

Graves: I think they’re starting to see that the reasons why we’re putting it together is because of this new audience. I think they’re starting to see the  excitement of a new competition. I think they’re starting to see as well we’re attracting a new broadcaster to it as well as yourselves. You’ve covered cricket brilliantly over the last years, it’s tremendous what you’ve done. And I think they’re starting to see all that thing coming  together. Children really getting excited in The Hundred. And I know even some of the countries abroad, India in particular, are looking at The Hundred. They’ve been talking to me about it for the last year on a regular basis. So around the world it’s created a lot of excitement. I’m just waiting to see what happens.

Who are these people that are seeing the advantages of it?

Besides that, I find the idea that the BCCI would pay the ECB to in order to play The Hundred as pretty laughable. They could enforce over rates in the IPL to bring the game running times under control, or choose a different standard like T10. I suspect what has happened is that the chairmen of other boards have found that a very easy way of buttering up Graves before asking him for a favour is to praise and declare an interest in The Hundred.

Wardy: The new broadcast deal is worth £1.2bn. How much of that, can you explain to people, is down to fact that The Hundred is included in that broadcast deal?

Graves: The £1.2bn was the whole broadcasting deal that we got for five years. That brought a fairly large amount of money for that new competition. And that was somewhere approaching £170m for the first five years from the broadcasters. But it wasn’t only that. It brought another broadcaster to the table who have never been interested in it before. And certainly to get back on terrestrial television, at that level, is certainly going to help. And it’s going to help expose cricket even more, which is what we want.

For those of you who have difficulty with maths, that means that over a billion pounds, over £200m per year, is dedicated to the pre-existing international and county games. Being from the horse’s mouth, this should hopefully put to bed the idea that The Hundred was responsible for the massive increase in the TV rights revenue starting this year.

Wardy: Such a shame that, obviously we can’t do it with Covid, that it hasn’t got off the ground yet.

Graves: Well that was a big disappointment to me. My last year as chairman, and I was going to see it take off, hopefully, and it’s not happened. But that was the right decision. There was no point doing it this year, so to postpone it for a year was absolutely spot on.

I disagree. I think it should have gone ahead. Partly because it would have allowed the ECB to keep more of this year’s TV deal rather than paying Sky back, at a time when English cricket needs every penny. More importantly, playing The Hundred could have allowed 18 extra live games of cricket on the BBC at a time when more people than ever will be stuck in front of the TV rather than meeting at the pub or going on holiday. It was as close to a captive audience as the ECB could have hoped for.

Wardy: Fully independent executive board. When you took over the chairmanship, was that one thing that was a must for you to change?

Graves: It needed changing. One thing which I didn’t expect is we would change it so quick and we got that through in two years. When I took over the ECB board, it had fourteen people on the board. It had four county members, two recreational members and the MCC. So 50% of the board were stakeholders, which was never easy to manage, and you had a conflict of interest and everything that went with it. Now we’ve got an independent board, it’s an entirely different ball game.

I don’t think a board, particularly one for a sports governing body like the ECB, should be easy for its chairman to manage. The ECB is responsible for so many different aspects of the game. Men’s professional cricket, women’s cricket, recreational cricket and so on. Every aspect of that should be represented on the board, so that none is forgotten.

I am particularly uneasy about the way that Colin Graves was also responsible for choosing those new board members as chairman of the ECB’s nomination committee until December 2019. At the very least, it raises questions about the independence of those ‘independent’ board members

Wardy: If you have a list of things you wanted to get through when you first started, you sat down at your desk and wrote A, B, C, and D, and if you had four or five points, how many have you ticked off?

Graves: I did have a list, and I think there’s only a couple left and to be honest I’m amazed how much we’ve done in five years. One of the biggest reasons is because we changed the executive in the first year when I took over as chairman. We’ve now got a fantastic executive led by Tom Harrison. But all the way through the organisation now, we’ve brought young people in, professional people in, people from outside the game. So we’ve brought people in from big companies like Heineken with a strong commercial background. And that new executive has helped to drive the game. Andrew Strauss was brilliant. When we brought Strauss in to be head of cricket, and Straussy fit into that team really well. And that whole team have helped change  very quickly.

Well, I would certainly agree that Andrew Strauss fit into the ECB very well. I do not mean that as a compliment though.

Wardy: The advancement of the women’s game. How pleased are you with that? We had that wonderful day at Lord’s when they  won the World Cup. That was the pinnacle, obviously, but in general how do you think that’s gone?

Graves: When you look at five years. I remember the first board meeting that I chaired Clare Connor came and presented to the board about a new competition that she wanted to put together for the women’s game, and we ticked that box that day. And when you look at where women’s cricket has come in the the past five years, it’s phenomenal. It’s moved very quickly. It’s moved very fast professionally. And it needed to. And I think there’s still a long way to go. The ECB need to keep investing in that, women’s and girls’, because it’s a big part of growth in cricket.

Here, I have to give some credit to Graves and the ECB. In terms of investing in women’s cricket, they are probably the second best in the world. It is a long way below the commitment of Cricket Australia, and I don’t think the current structure (with 8 semi-professional development teams) is sustainable or desirable, but it’s still better than virtually everyone else.

Wardy: Any regrets? Some of the things you’ve said?

Graves: Yeah. I’ve said one of two things that afterwards I’ve kicked myself and said “Why did I say that?” People always  say about me, “Mediocre West Indies team”, and all the rest of it. And the mediocre Blast. Those words were taken slightly out of context, but it was meant on the basis of what I thought at the time. But I’ll put my hand up and say it’s fine. I could have said it better.

So it was both out of context and what he thought at the time.

Hussain: At the highest level it’s been a successful tenure. Men’s, women’s, everything about the main England team. What about lower down? What about grass roots? What about participation? What about the structure, the liaising with the counties? How do you feel you’ve done further down?

Graves: When I look back at the whole game, as I call it. When I took over the board, I can tell you, the recreational game was never really talked about. It was a little bit on the agenda that took five-ten minutes and that was it. Coming from the recreational background, which is what I did. I was a recreational player, I was chairman of a recreational club. I’m passionate about recreational cricket because that is to me the grass roots of the future. So I made sure that we invested in recreational cricket properly, supported it with a pathway, and all the other things that we’ve done. And to me, it’s essential. And the one thing the game I believe, if I leave a message when I go, is “Make sure the investment in the game is right across the game.” That’s grass roots, girls’, women’s, boys’, schools’, everything. That is what we need to grow the game.

I would first dispute the premise of the question. Whilst the 2017 Women’s World Cup win was fantastic, and iconic, since then their star is shining a little less brightly. They lost the Ashes series at home last year, whilst they failed to reach the final of the Women’s T20 World Cup after losing a crucial group game to South Africa. On the men’s side, only the ODI side is dominant. The Test side is ranked 4th in the ICC rankings, below India, Australia and New Zealand. That is an improvement from when Graves was first appointed, to be fair.

As for recreational cricket, what investment has it seen from the ECB? Genuinely. I am stumped on that one. I guess All Stars cricket could be making a loss for the ECB, despite the them taking 87.5% of the fees for each child. The websites, scoring apps, etc. available for clubs seem a total mess from my admittedly outside perspective. If there is money coming from the ECB, where has it ended up?

Wardy: That is going to be the biggest challenge for Ian Watmore, who takes over on the first of September. You want to fund all these things and, in these Covid times, money is not great.

Graves: The big challenge that Ian and the board have got. Fortunately we have the new broadcasting deal, which this year is the first year of it so we’ve got four years left of the broadcasting deal. So yes, they’re going to have to cut back, but they’ll need to cut back right across, not just parts of it, because they still need to invest in all those other parts. I think by prudently looking at it, selectively looking at areas, they can still do the investment right across the game.

Wardy: 20% decrease in budgets, I’ve been reading around the place. In a bizarre sort of way, is it a good time to reset and reflect at some of the expenditure and where you could look at reducing that?

Graves: My last call with the county chairmen was last week, and the last message I gave to all the county chairmen was “What you need to do now with the ECB is to sit down and collectively talk and discuss about how you can remodel what we’ve got. Because it’s a time to do that. I think, if they do that properly, I think the game can grow even faster than what we’ve done.

I’m sure the 6 counties who were thinking about getting rid of first-class cricket to save money had some words for the outgoing chairman. I think the more important question Colin Graves’ answer begs is: Has the game grown? Are more people watching cricket now than five years ago? Are more people playing cricket than five years ago? Because (call me cynical) I think if either of those things were true, the ECB would be putting that out in press releases, tweets and interviews at every possible opportunity.

Wardy: How impressed have you been with the way the ECB have managed to get these games up in these strange times, and how thankful are you to the boards of West Indies, Pakistan, Irish cricket and indeed Australia, who arrive on Sunday?

Graves: When the whole Covid thing started, I must admit, we all sat there at the end of telephones and discussions those days, and we all thought the world was coming to an end. But it comes back to the executive, Tom Harrison and his team, and our board. We sat down and looked at what we could do and asked if we could get behind closed doors cricket running. It was a challenge. It was a massive challenge, because nobody had ever done it before. Fortunately we had a guy like Steve Elworthy, who could pull all that together for us and he did a fantastic job. But the determination of the executive and the board. And I think it’s the relationship we’ve got with countries like West India [sic], Pakistan, Australia and Ireland, around the world, that they have come to play in these environments. And it’s been challenging for everybody, it’s been challenging for you as broadcasters but, at the end of the day, we’ve got live international cricket up and running. Which is brilliant, from everybody’s point of view. I was looking at the broadcast and viewing figures yesterday, right across the piece with The Review, the highlights and everything else. Those figures are tremendous. Absolutely tremendous. To me, it shows that cricket is in the right place that, when we do start getting crowds back in, we’re in a superb place to take it even further forward.

Yep, this has been impressive. Fair play. Steve Elworthy was in charge of the 2019 World Cup, which also went well. A possible candidate for the chief executive job if Tom Harrison moves on?

Wardy: On a broader world scale, ECB, Cricket Australia have got lucrative broadcast deals. The likes of West Indies, Pakistan do not. Would you like to see the monetary playing field somehow levelled out so you don’t really get into the situation we’re having now with the haves and the have nots? Particularly if we’re looking to proect Test cricket.

Graves: I think there’s a way to do that. I sit on the ICC board, and have done for the last four years, and I think ICC could look at the way they share the money out from their pots. Because, I’m not being unkind, the ECB, the BCCI, Cricket Australia are not reliant on the ICC pot, They’re reliant on their own pot. And I think ICC could recut that pot in a different way with all those countries to make sure they are sustainable. Because we need all the countries playing if we’re going forward. Everyone.

Wardy: Fancy the ICC job?

Graves: That’s not up to me. The way the election goes, you have to be nominated. So, if I don’t get nominated then I’ll be nowhere near it anyway. When the nominations happen, all I said to everybody, I’ll look at it and see where  I am.

And there’s Colin Graves’ pitch for the top job in world cricket. You would think that sharing the ICC revenue more equitably would be very popular with nine of the twelve voting ICC members, so it seems a smart strategy. Those boards might want to examine his promises to the counties that he made in order to recieve the ECB chairmanship. They might also note how many of those counties are now in such a bad position after five years of Graves’ leadership that they are considering abandoning first-class cricket altogether.

Wardy: Have you enjoyed it?

Graves: I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and I’ll miss it. I’ve enjoyed working with everybody, people like you and the executive, the counties, everybody. It’s been a fantastic job. And if somebody said to me twenty years ago that I’d be chairman of the ECB, I’d have said don’t talk stupid because it’ll never happen. But it did, and the rest is history.

Well at least he’s enjoyed himself.

Apologies for the late post. It’s almost 5,000 words, including the interviews, and it just took a lot longer to write than normal.

As always, please comment on the post, the game, or anything else below.

Another Restructuring Of County Cricket?

There were 10 overs played today in Southampton, as the game drags itself toward what is now a totally inevitable rain-soaked draw. Elsewhere, in what might have a much greater impact on those of you who have an interest in county cricket, there were reports of a potential huge shake up of the domestic game being considered by the ECB and the counties.

This may seem familiar, because there’s usually a restructuring every two or three years. The number of games in a competition, the formats, the time of year it happens in, the groups teams play in. Barely a year goes by without some major change to the domestic structure which we are all told will be a panacea to English cricket and fix everything. And it never does.

If there is one unusual aspect to these proposals, it’s that it doesn’t even give the new calendar which was due to begin this year a chance to fail. A ten-team Division One in the Championship, the T20 Blast shunted back to June and the 50-over competition being played during The Hundred were all innovations which were going to occur in 2020.

The proposals as Tim Wigmore lists in a (paywalled) article on the Telegraph website are:

  • Making the County Championship structure more like that of the Bob Willis Trophy, which has the teams divided into regions with playoffs to determine the overall winner.
  • Creating a 32-team 50-over competition, including the National (formerly minor) counties and possibly representatives from Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands.
  • A reduction in the number, duration and cost of contracts for professional county cricketers.
  • Potentially allowing counties to abandon the County Championship whilst still playing white ball cricket.

These are, as it typical for the ECB, absolute bullshit. So I will go through them one-by-one and explain why.

A Regionalised County Championship

The Bob Willis Trophy has been seen by many as a huge success, and so why shouldn’t the ECB extend it so that it’s played every season? You’re guaranteed to see every local derby every year, any team has the potential to win the trophy rather than possibly having to negotiate promotion the year before, and costs for the teams can be reduced with less travel and hotel expenses required.

For those of you with long memories (a nice way of saying geriatrics), the first two already existed before 2000. The County Championship used to comprise of every county playing each other once a year. Every year had a Roses and London derby, and every team began the season on an equal footing. Not coincidentally, the England Test team was terrible for a lot of that period as well. It was determined that the large number of one-sided games featuring poor teams harmed the development of potential England Test cricketers, and the creation of a two-division structure would mean that the best players were exposed to a more consistent and higher level of competition.

This theory has certainly been borne out by England’s Test performance since these changes came in. In the twenty years before it happened, England won 39% of the Tests they played. Since 2001, they have won 63% of the time. There are undoubtedly other factors, central contracts were introduced at the same time for example, but I think it’s fair to say that the introduction of a two-tier league has done its job. Returning to the best teams playing the worst, just because they’re nearby, risks England also returning to the quality of Test cricketer they developed during the 80s and 90s. No one wants that.

Except Australians, I guess.

More generally, I would hesitate to take what has happened with the Bob Willis Trophy this year as proof that it would be a success in 2021. These are unusual times, and there is both a ton of goodwill and a hunger from most English cricket fans for any cricket game happening anywhere at the moment. I watched the European T10 competitions on Freesports in June for example, which isn’t something I would normally have done. There are also a lot of people who are currently working from home, or not going to work at all, who have the opportunity to watch county cricket streams now but won’t be able to next year. It may be worth mentioning that the improved multi-camera video streams and scheduling games on weekends, which I think are also significant factors in the success counties have seen in terms of viewers, could happen next year regardless of the competition format.

A New 32-Team 50-Over Competition

I can’t say that I have a strong opinion about a competition including amateur and foreign teams. Either the non-major county sides are cannon fodder for the professionals, which would be incredibly boring, or they are competitive, which would be a damning indictment of the quality of player county cricket produces. Neither seems a great outcome to me.

The more interesting aspect of it to me is the contradiction at the core of the ECB’s proposals: That they wish to reduce the overall number of professional English cricketers whilst also demanding that counties play a competition in a window where they lose a minimum of 96 squad members to The Hundred. Sussex had eleven players picked in The Hundred draft last year, which means that they will need a minimum of 25 white ball players in their first team squad next season in order to field a side.

You can have two competitions running simultaneously featuring 26 professional teams (8 in The Hundred plus 18 major counties), or you can cut the number of professional cricketers. You can’t do both.

Reducing The Number, Duration And Cost Of Player Contracts

I honestly can’t see many of the ECB’s suggestions in this area taking place. I am no fan of the players’ union, and they seem to regularly fail their members in several ways, but when it comes to ensuring the players are paid well they are very effective. Whilst there will no doubt be some changes to the agreement between the PCA and ECB to reflect the new circumstances since it was agreed in 2019, perhaps even a significant reduction of wages in line with the money English cricket has lost this year, the more extensive reforms the ECB envisages simply won’t be allowed to happen.

In that regard, the counties could learn a lesson or two from the PCA. The players’ union gets results because they present a single, united front to their employers (the ECB and the counties). The counties, who it bears saying have the power to dismiss the ECB chairman at any time and replace them with someone more amenable, somehow manage to take their unique position of strength in English cricket and throw it away by fighting amongst each other for scraps. Every damn time. It’s incredible.

Allowing Counties To Abandon First-Class Cricket

There are two significant obstacles to this ever happening: Most major counties are beholden to their members, who predominantly favour the County Championship, and it would seem impossible for the ECB to please both potential groups of counties. I would presume that county boards would only consider the option if it left them richer in the long run, with reduced playing staff numbers and less costs in hosting games, but that would ultimately depend on the ECB still giving those white ball counties a significant payment as they do now. Why would the counties who would never even countenance the ECB’s offer allow their rivals the chance to make more money by doing less? Why would counties who would consider the option support it if their yearly ECB stipend was cut?

As an aside, it baffles me how docile the members of the major counties are. Not unlike the counties within the ECB, county members typically have to power to remove their chairmen if they feel they aren’t being well-represented. Given the fury which the introduction of The Hundred received, and the devastation it is wreaking on county cricket, I am amazed that not a single person who voted for it has been forced out. If a  county chairman publicly contemplated leaving the County Championship, I’m not altogether sure that their members would be able to organise an effective opposition in time to stop it.

So, in conclusion, the ECB’s plans for the future of county cricket seem to be unworkable, ineffective, or directly harmful to English cricket.

I guess, in these uncertain times, it’s kind of nice to see that some things haven’t changed.

Any comments about county cricket, the Test which isn’t being played right now, or anything else are welcome below.

England vs. Pakistan -2nd Test, Day 1 – A Day Of Two Quarters

Today’s play has been more a Test of players’ and fans patience, rather than the cricketing skills of the two sides as we hoped. The rain and thunderstorms have meant that our focus has been on the skies, rather than the playing field adjacent to an out-of-town hotel complex near Southampton. In truth, the BBC weather forecast looks depressingly wet for the duration of the game, and so it might be a tough task for the two teams to contrive a result in the circumstances.

England sprang a slight surprise in their selection for this game, choosing Sam Curran over Mark Wood to replace the rested Jofra Archer. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, Curran is probably the bowler best suited to today’s damp and cloudy conditions as well as being a useful lower-order batsman at times. However, both Archer and Wood were selected for the first Test of the summer in a move which was supposed to help England prepare for the Ashes in 2021/22. I love watching Curran bowl in England, but I am very dubious of his effectiveness overseas.

The other change to England’s lineup was Zak Crawley replacing Ben Stokes, who has left for New Zealand due to a family emergency. Joe Root might be a little relieved, returning to his more comfortable sport as number four in the batting lineup, but Stokes’ departure is a huge blow for England. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of Crawley based on what I’ve seen so far. The other recent batting debutants, Ollie Pope and Dom Sibley, just look like Test players to me. Their batting seems largely confident, assured and technically sound. Crawley, who has a first-class batting average of just 30.51 and a Test average of 26.10, doesn’t look ready for international cricket to me. I would personally have preferred to pick Ben Foakes today, as I think that he’s a better batsman than Crawley as wellas a better wicketkeeper than Buttler.

Pakistan only made one change from the previous Test, with Fawad Alam replacing Shadab Khan. Fawad Alam’s return to the team is notable for two reasons. First, there has been a 11-year gap since his last game for Pakistan in 2009. Second, his first-class batting average is 56.78. That is astoundingly high, and begs the question: Why has he not been playing for Pakistan before now? I certainly don’t regard Pakistan as a team of such batting strength that they can afford to leave talent like that on the sidelines for a decade.

Pakistan won the toss, and did what almost everyone does nowadays and chose to bat first. What play there has been today can be divided into two halves. In the first, before a two-hour rain delay, almost everything seemed to go Pakistan’s way. Jimmy Anderson made a breakthrough in his second over of the day, taking the important wicket of Shan Masood and at least starting the process of backing up his fiery pre-match press conference. What followed was a series of spurned chances as Jos Buttler’s case of the dropsies had evidently spread to the slip cordon. Rory Burns and Dom Sibley both dropped clear chances to take Abid Ali’s wicket from Broad and Woakes’ bowling, whilst a fine edge by Azhar Ali was missed by everyone (including the umpire). It was a truly uncanny period of play, where it seemed like there was nothing England could do to take a wicket. Pakistan’s luck couldn’t hold out forever though, and Azhar Ali edged one from Anderson to Burns in the slips who held on this time.

Soon after, the heavens opened and the players left the field for over an hour. When play resumed, Pakistan’s luck deserted them as England took three wickets in the space of twelve overs. Burns and Sibley both redeemed themselves for their earlier mistakes by holding on to catches at slip from Curran and Broad’s bowling respectively. Fawad Alam’s day 11-year wait for a Test run continues too, as Chris Woakes trapped him lbw for a 4-ball duck.

After a frustating start to the day for England, they’d be pretty happy about the situation at the end of the day. Pakistan are 126/5, and it would be an incredible feat for them to  turn that around and win the Test and the series.

During the  Lunch break, I happened to listen to a small part of Test Match Special. I was surprised to hear Mark Ramprakash’s voice, as I didn’t think he had any media aspirations. What didn’t surprise me, although I obviously made a note of it, was his opinions when it comes to selecting batsmen.

Q: “What is it that makes management back somebody, despite the statistics sometimes?”

Mark Ramprakash: “Well it’s all subjective. It really is. A change of coach can mean that there’s a change of emphasis on the lineup. It can happen in any sport, really. The question I’d ask is, if you’re a number five batsman, yes you bring your batting to the team but what else do you bring to the team? Now sometimes there are leadership qualities that we, looking from outside, don’t see. The importance of someone’s presence, the way they speak in team meetings, the way they are around the group. They may add some other qualities other than their batting. There’s always a balance between stability, trying to build some faith and consistency in your players and in your selection, but also there is a fine line before you can become a bit complacent. You do need to have competition for places, I guess that’s the balance Pakistan will be thinking about.”

To remind everyone, Ramprakash was England’s Test batting coach from 2014 to 2019. It is one of the truly baffling thing to me about cricket, and particularly English cricket, where there is so much emphasis on off-the-field attributes when it comes to selection. Players who struggle keep their place because they are ‘hard-working’, ‘well-liked’ or “the way they are around the group” whilst stronger cricketers are cast aside because they are ‘lazy’, ‘distrusted’ and ‘like to look out of windows instead of paying attention to a middle manager waffling on’. You can’t imagine football fans accepting their team fielding a weaker sidedue to one of the players being a bit of a knob, because their fans value victories over everyone in the team having a jolly time and being friends off the pitch. Nor with any other professional sport, that I can think of. It genuinely puzzles me, why this attitude remains in  English cricket and the media.

Hopefully there will be a lot more play tomorrow. If you have any comments, on the game or anything else, post them below.

England v Pakistan, Day Two

England seem to be in the habit of losing the first game of a Test series. I thought that the situation this summer, where England are coming off winning two Tests in a row whilst the Pakistan players haven’t played a competitive game in about five months, could change this. It now appears that my optimism was misplaced.

England and Jimmy Anderson’s second day started a lot better than the first when a full, wide delivery was edged by Babar Azam to Joe Root at first slip in his first over of the day. Broad induced a edge from Asad Shafiq later in the morning, and Woakes did the same to wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan not long later. Pakistan’s issues in the morning were compounded by their slow scoring, managing to score just 48 runs at 1.86 runs per over.

England’s bowlers obviously over-indulged at Lunch, because the Afternoon session all went Pakistan’s way. Bess and Root bowled the first few overs, allowing Pakistan to score freely, until the new ball was available. Once it was, Anderson and Broad wasted it with eight overs of loose and utterly unthreatening bowling which Pakistan took advantage of to score even more. Woakes and Bess tightened things up, but neither looked threatening as Pakistan eased up to almost 300 runs.

Bess eventually made the breakthrough, when Shadab Khan decided to smash him over mid on but instead mis-hit the ball high in the air to Joe Root. That opened the floodgates, with Archer taking a pair (having been left out of the attack for most of the afternoon session) and Broad taking the final two wickets, with Pakistan finishing on 326 all out.

And through almost the entire Pakistan innings, Shan Masood batted. Chris called him “a relatively limited player” in yesterday’s match report, and this is true. Almost every opener is, as the position demands patience and control over other attributes like a flashy technique or a wide range of shots. I must admit that there I really enjoy watching batsmen who don’t score quickly. Cook and Trott, for example. There is just something satisfying to me about a batsman absolutely infuriating the bowlers by refusing to get out. Masood scored 156 runs in total, and hhas put Pakistan in a very good position considering the bowler-friendly conditions at Old Trafford.

Jos Buttler dropped another edge from Dom Bess’s bowling today, after the missed catch and stumping chances yesterday. There’s a lot that’s been written about Jos Buttler’s position in the Test team, and his continued selection frankly doesn’t seem to have much support at all outside the England camp. One thing which might be overlooked is his impact on England’s spin bowlers. Dom Bess created three clear wicket-taking opportunities in Pakistan’s first innings, and Jos Buttler dropped them all. There is a huge difference in how Bess is regarded by fans and the media if he takes one or four wickets in an innings, not to mention the damage to his Test bowling average. Jos Buttler’s inability to catch the ball when up at the stumps could literally ruin a spin bowler’s international career.

Pakistan’s opening bowlers Abbas and Afridi took three wickets in the first few overs, dispatching Burns, Sibley and Stokes in quick succession. All three wickets were from deliveries targetting the stumps, with the first two being lbw and Stokes being bowled. This highlights England’s deficiency in that regard, as they have typically bowled shorter and wider, taking these two methods of dismissal out of consideration. In these conditions, and on a pitch which seems both quick and allowing seam movement, full straight balls which seam or swing can be lethal. Not for the first time this summer, the tourists are showing England how to bowl in England.

Joe Root and Ollie Pope settled things down for a while, but Root eventually edged one from Yasir Shah to the wicketkeeper (who, unlike Jos Buttler, caught the ball). Pope and Buttler saw England through to stumps, but England are in a very precarious position and must do very well tomorrow to avoid a large deficit.

As always, feel free to comment below.

England vs West Indies, 3rd Test, Day 3 – Is Broad Bowling?

England are in a dominant position overnight, and it seems like only the English weather can rescue the West Indies from an inevitable defeat. One man is essentially responsible for England’s ascendancy in this game: Stuart Broad.

The West Indies’ first innings ended pretty quickly, at least once Broad started bowling. He had been held back for the first few overs of the morning, perhaps being saved for the start of the next innings if England had managed to enforce the follow-on. Whilst Jason Holder and Shane Dowrich had a few scares, including Holder being given out before being recalled due to Chris Woakes’ second ever Test no ball, they looked set when Stuart Broad started. Four overs later, Broad had taken four wickets and the West Indies innings was over.

England’s second innings began with two injuries to the tourists. First was captain Jason Holder, who stopped a bouncing ball through the slips with his left thumb and had to leave the field briefly for treatment. The second, and significantly more serious injury, was to wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich. Some late swing after it passed the batsman meant that a quick, short delivery from Shannon Gabriel barely glanced the keeper’s gloves and was instead stopped by his unprotected face. A painful one to watch, and he immediately left the field for medical attention and didn’t return.

Fortunately for the West Indies, ICC changed the rules in 2018 to allow teams to bring in substitute wicketkeepers. Shai Hope stood in for a few overs before reserve keeper Joshua Da Silva came on the field for the rest of the day. He almost made an immediate impact, just failing to stump Rory Burns. Just on the evidence of today, I would say that he looks much more confident in terms of his glovework compared to Shane Dowrich. It’s unclear whhether Dowrich will be available to bat for the tourists in the next innings. One possibility, seeing as it was a head injury, is that he can be replaced in the batting lineup by Da Silva if Dowrich is exhibiting concussion symptoms. Otherwise, Dowrich will either have to face England’s bowling attack or the West Indies will forfeit his wicket.

This England innings represents the tenth of Rory Burns and Dom Sibley’s opening partnerships. When they are batting together at the start of an innings, they score an average of 43.00 runs for the first wicket. This is fantastic. To put this in context, the last England opening partnership of at least ten innings to average more than this was the Compton/Cook pairing in 2012-13. The one before that was Cook/Vaughan in 2007-08. The Cook/Strauss opening partnership of 2006-12 averaged ‘just’ 40.96. There are many people, including journalists and commentators, who are decrying their slow scoring rate. It is certainly slow, only Joe Root’s opening partnership with Alastair Cook in the 2013 Ashes has a lower run rate in recent times, but it is also working. Just last summer, England were averaging 16.66 for their first wicket at home. Since then, England are scoring an average of 43.75 runs before their first dismissal. Good starts are a rare and precious commodity for England Test teams in recent years, and they should not be sacrificed on the altar of playing attacking or attractive cricket.

When Dom Sibley did eventually lose his wicket for 56 (bringing his 2020 batting average to 57.44 from six Tests), the scoring tempo rose dramatically. Perhaps taking his cue from Stuart Broad yesterday, Joe Root went into white ball mode and managed to reach his half-century quicker than a run per ball. Eventually Rory Burns sacrificed his wicket on 90 trying a slog sweep in order to score more quickly, which led Joe Root to declare with England 398 runs ahead.

With Broad taking a six-fer in the first innings, all eyes were on him at the start of the second. He didn’t disappoint, taking John Campbell’s wicket in his first over drawing an edge to first slip. Nightwatchman Kemar Roach followed soon after. Between the end of the West Indies’ first innings and the beginning of their second, Broad took six wickets in seven overs today. It has been a truly remarkable Test for Broad, and he has the opportunity to cap it with a historic milestone as he currently sits on 499 career Test wickets.

Stuart Broad is also the top wicket-taker in this series so far with fourteen wickets so far. An impressive feat, considering the entire West Indies attack (and Dom Bess) have played an extra Test compared to Broad. Of those fourteen wickets, eight have been bowled or lbw. There is often consternation amongst England fans when England’s bowlers bowl short and wide, particularly at home or with the new ball. This series demonstrates why. Whilst some world-class batsmen would punish such a line and length, the vast majority of Test cricketers struggle against a seaming or swinging ball and deliveries going on to hit the stumps bring at least two forms of dismissal into play.

All eyes are on the weather forecast for tomorrow, with many people expecting a washout. In the form Broad is in right now, maybe he can even do something about that.

As always, please comment below.

England vs West Indies, 3rd Test – Preview

Just a few days ago, England looked like they would fail to win the series and regain the Wisden Trophy. Now, you’d have to say they must be considered clear favourites to overcome their loss in the first Test and come out victorious again at Old Trafford.

The key difference between the two teams in this game is their bowling attacks. England have a choice from six pace bowlers for three available slots, assuming Stokes and Bess both play. None of the six have played in back-to-back Tests in this series and so should be fit and raring to go. If anything, there is too much choice for the England camp. Woakes and Broad both bowled superbly in the last game, and so it would be incredibly harsh to leave either of them out, but selecting both would mean only picking one of Anderson (at his home ground) and Archer. The suggestion has been floated that England might forgo playing with a specialist spinner altogether, instead opting for an all-pace attack with Root as a stand-in spin option. I personally can’t see it happening, but it would certainly be interesting to watch.

For what it’s worth, I would pick Archer, Bess, Broad, Stokes and Woakes for this Test, from the announced matchday squad. Broad and Woakes demonstrated their ability in Mancunian conditions last week, taking 11 wickets at a combined average of 16.73. Archer and Stokes are, for me, the most challenging two English bowlers with the older ball. That would mean leaving out Jimmy Anderson (587 career Test wickets, has a stand at Old Trafford named after him), Sam Curran (Makes Things Happen) and Mark Wood (By far the least effective England bowler so far in this series).

England’s batting lineup will continue unchanged from the second Test. This is unsurprising, as they have been very effective so far in 2020. Their top six of Sibley, Crawley, Stokes, Pope and at least two of Root, Burns and Denly have combined to lead England to innings totals over 400 four times in the last eight Tests, plus 391/8 declared in Cape Town. To put this achievement into context: From the 2017/18 Ashes to the 2019 Ashes, in twenty-six Test matches, England managed to reach 400 runs only three times.

For the tourists, the picture is somewhat less rosy. Having chosen to play an unchanged side in the second Test, the West Indies must now either pick a bowling attack which must feel dead on their feet or select their less experienced or skillful backup bowlers. As for their batting, opener John Campbell and scourge of Headingley Shai Hope have failed to impress so far in this series with averages below twenty.

All of which is to say that I think the West Indies have a mountain to climb in this game. That said, England have shown themselves fully capable of shooting themselves in the foot in the past and it would be a fool to underestimate (or call mediocre) any Test team who faces them.  The previous two Tests have developed into last-day thrillers, and it would be wonderful if tomorrow’s game completes that set, whoever wins.

As always, please comment below.

England vs. West Indies – 2nd Test, Day 4 – “One Of Those Spells”

There is a serious danger of this blog becoming a Stuart Broad fan site. For essentially the first five hours of play, this Test match was seemingly drifting towards an inevitable draw. Then Broad took the second new ball and ripped through the West Indian middle order and the game was not wide open, but at least still in play.

The first hour seemed promising for England fans, with at least two clear wicket-taking opportunities going to (and through) the slip cordon. Eventually, it was Bess who managed to dislodge yesterday’s nightwatchman with a sharp catch from Ollie Pope at short leg. England fans hoped that this would start an avalanche of wickets, but that didn’t come to pass. The flow of chances seemingly dried up, with wickets falling sporadically but without the  tourists looking overly troubled as they meandered towards avoiding the follow-on.

England took the new ball with the West Indies on 235/4, apparently set to comfortably bat out the rest of the day. What happened instead was Stuart Broad dragging England back into contention with three wickets in four overs. Two lbws and a bowled show the importance (as ever) of bowling at the stumps, although Broad was certainly helped by the new ball eliciting variable bounce which left the tourists unsure whether to go forwards or back to his deliiveries.

Woakes continued Broad’s good work, taking the final two wickets of the innings, but it was too late for England as perennial thorn-in-England’s-side Roston Chase scored the runs which took the West Indies past their follow-on target, forcing England to bat again.

Ben Stokes left the field apparently holding his side early in the evening session. Given that he bowled an 11-over spell, largely consisting of bouncers, it wasn’t much of a surprise, but fortunately for England it was apparently just indigestion. He returned to the field not long later, and was called upon to serve as a pinchhitting opener when England’s second innings began.

Stokes’s opening partner was Jos Buttler. He was bowled for a duck, getting an inside edge on a short and wide delivery which cannoned into his stumps. Whilst it may be unfair to read anything at all into a Test batsman’s performance in such circumstances, it does bear mentioning that the two situations he faced in this Test are supposed to be his strengths. In the first innings, he came in with England on 352/5. In that scenario, Buttler is supposed to score runs quickly (using his undoubted white ball prowess) and put pressure on the opposition without taking time out of the game. Instead, he scored 40 from 79 balls. Understandable restraint, given that his continued selection has been questionable for a while now and he needs a big score to secure his place in the side, but arguably not what was needed by his team. In the second innings, when he could essentially treat the game like the shorter formats in which he thrives, he simply mishit a short, wide ball from Kemar Roach which was there for the taking. It may beg the question: If Jos Buttler won’t deliver for England in the exact circumstances that he is supposed to thrive in, what is the point of picking him at all?

England’s batting order reset after the experimental opening duo of Stokes and Buttler, with regular number three Zak Crawley scoring a quickfire 11 before being bowled by Kemar Roach. Regular number 4 Joe Root then came to the crease, in the too-familiar situation of England being 17/2. He and Stokes managed to see out the day, with England finishing on 37/2.

This all means that England are currently 219 runs ahead, with 98 overs scheduled for tomorrow because of yesterday’s rain. England need to win the game in order to regain the Wisden Trophy and avoid drawing their second consecutive home Test series and so, if that is a priority, we might expect a fairly early declaration tomorrow. If England managed to score 50 runs in the first 40 minutes, for example, that would leave the West Indies chasing 270 runs in 86 overs at a minimum of 3.14 runs per over. The later England leave it, and the more the West Indies can restrict the scoring rate, the greater the chance of the tourists rescuing (or even winning) this game.

After a rather dull first couple of sessions, Stuart Broad really rescued England and leaves us going into tomorrow’s play with all three results still on the table. Test cricket is great.

As always, please leave your comments below.

England vs. West Indies – 2nd Test Preview

After a great conclusion to the first Test of the summer, England head to Old Trafford in order to try and rescue the series and their chances of regaining the Wisden Trophy. For the West Indies, tomorrow’s Test presents an historic opportunity to win their first Test series in England since 1988. There certainly isn’t a direct financial motive for the tourists, with their series win bonus being reportedly only £1,600 each. It throws the disparity between the two teams’ financial positions into sharp focus, as well as explaining why so many players from countries outside the Big Three concentrate on T20 instead of the longer formats. As might be expected after a game where they outperformed England in virtually every aspect of the game, the West Indies have announced an unchanged squad.

England’s situation is, as is common after a loss, significantly more fluid. It’s been confirmed that Joe Root will replace Joe Denly in England’s top order, which will take no one by surprise. Anderson and Wood have also been rested for this Test, meaning that Sam Curran and Ollie Robinson have been drafted into the matchday squad. This means that there are four bowlers vying for the two open slots, with Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes having missed out last week.

This squad means that Jos Buttler and Dom Bess will be retained, probably for the remainder of the series. Buttler’s issues with the bat have been apparent for a while now and, after his drop of Blackwood in the previous Test, his work behind the stumps will be closely examined too. Since Chris Read’s last game in 2007, no England Test batsman has averaged less than Jos Buttler whilst playing as wicketkeeper. It’s clear that there is a huge amount of faith in Jos Buttler within the England camp, but surely this experiment has to come to a close soon?

With Dom Bess, his continued selection asks more questions about how the England selectors view Jack Leach. After 10 Tests, 5 of which were in England, Jack Leach has a lower Test bowling average than Graeme Swann. Both at home and away. Leach also has a lower Test economy rate than Swann. Leach has even contributed for England with the bat, most notably at Headingley last year, and has a useful Test batting average of 18.33. I’m not saying that Leach is a better spin bowler than Swann was, but he’s not done much wrong and must be asking what more he could have done to earn a place in the team this summer.

Despite all of the uncertainty in selection, muddled thinking and their sloppiness in the field, I still think England should be considered clear favourites to win in home conditions against this West Indies team. Even with all of the mistakes England made in the first Test, they still had chances to win the game in the final day. The West Indies are no mugs, and to underestimate them (or call them mediocre) would be a mistake, but the last game represents only their second away Test victory since the start of 2018. This is largely because they don’t play many Tests, being in only six games away from home in that period. Their squad has talent and potential, and Jason Holder in particular is a remarkable all-round cricketer, but a team with the experience and resources of England should beat them more often than not.

As always, please comment below.

 

 

 

England vs. West Indies, 1st Test, Day 5

What. A . Game.

After watching Wednesday’s turgid rainathon and Thursday’s parade of England wickets, the last thing I was expecting to see on Sunday was a nailbiting finish. But that’s what I got today, with both teams’ strengths and frailties leading to a tense final day.

England’s innings didn’t last long in the morning, with the tailenders adding another 29 runs to their overnight total for the last two wickets. This left West Indies with a target of 201 runs to win the first Test of the series.

There were two main themes to the West Indies innings. One was Jofra Archer, who looked a step above the other England bowlers in terms of wicket taking threat. This went from the start of the day to the end, with Archer bowling 17 of the 64 overs in the day and looking dangerous throughout. He began by hitting John Campbell in the foot with a yorker, causing the West Indies opener to retire hurt in just the fourth over. A couple of overs later, Kraigg Brathwaite inside edged a ball from Archer onto the stumps. Archer’s next over saw the end of Shamarh Brooks’ day, with the Barbadian trapped LBW. In just his first four overs, Archer cut through the West Indies top order and arguably put England in the position of clear favourites.

Which brings us to to the second theme: England throwing away chances with poor fielding and a lack of discipline. In the afternoon session, England missed three clear chances to take wickets and put themselves in the driver’s seat. Zak Crawley fumbled a run out chance after a mixup between Chase and Blackwood left them almost at the same end, and Rory Burns appeared to lose sight of a chance in the slips, but the worst one had to be Buttler spilling a glove down the leg side from Jermaine Blackwood. The West Indian batsman went on to score another 75 runs before being dismissed just before the finish. It is no exaggeration to say that this drop almost certainly cost England the game.

The bowlers weren’t entirely blameless either, or at least the captain. Ben Stokes overstepped the bowling crease twice for wickettaking chances, although the first one was dropped and the second time he took a wicket with his next delivery. Anderson didn’t seem entirely on the ball either, with his bowling being mostly defensive without much sideways movement. Overall, there was definitely an impression that England were not sharp in the field.

The West Indies were deserved winners, but England have to wonder what might have been. There was little to choose between the two teams at the end, and questions about the lineup, the decision at the toss and the quality of their fielding abound. I myself found myself rooting for the West Indies by the end. They bravely withstood a barrage by Archer, with injured opener John Campbell returning in the final few overs to take the tourists over the line. More than that, these people came thousands of miles into the midst of an epidemic, spending weeks in quarantine, just to play us at cricket. It would almost be a shame if they left with no victories for their efforts.

For the next Test, I’m not sure exactly what changes Ed Smith and Chris Silverwood will make. After the selections for this game, I doubt anyone could predict what they will come up with. Joe Root is certain to return, and the consensus is that Joe Denly will be the one to make way in England’s top four.

There’s certainly a very solid argument that Denly has failed to take his chance, with his 29 runs from 70 balls yesterday underlining both his key strength and weakness. He consistently gets in, lasting at least 30 balls in 75% of his Test innings. This compares well to Zak Crawley (62.5%, from a small sample), Rory Burns (64.5%), and even Joe Root (67.9%). The problem for Denly is that he also consistently fails to turn those starts into big scores, which is why he also has the worst Test average of the five likely contenders for the top four at Old Trafford.

It would seem virtually certain that Stuart Broad will return at Old Trafford, unless he is going to be punished for his forthright interview on Sky Sports. Surely only a complete idiot would play Archer and Wood in three Tests over the course of twenty-one days but, between Ed Smith and England’s medical staff, I couldn’t rule it out completely. Chris Woakes and Sam Curran would also be eager for inclusion, particularly if conditions were in any way similar to the first two days in Southampton.

Dom Bess has probably done enough to keep his place in the side for now, with 2/51 at an economical run rate being very useful first innings figures for a spinner in England. Ollie Pope had a poor game, scoring just 24 runs, but has a Test average of over forty since his debut in 2018 and therefore must be one of the first names on the team sheet.

Speaking of players who average over forty in Tests since their debut in 2018: Ben Foakes. The continued selection of Jos Buttler in England’s Test team is puzzling on two fronts. Firstly, the England team is essentially operating with completely separate squads for red and white ball cricket this summer and so it deprives the ODI and T20 teams of arguably their most powerful batsman.

Secondly, it is generally accepted that he is the worst wicketkeeper of the three in contention and that it is his alleged batting prowess that keeps him in the side. Buttler’s  drop of Blackwood in the second innings certainly won’t help him make his case as the best available gloveman. The obvious problem with that is that his form with the bat has been poor for a long time. He averages 23.22 with the bat since the start of 2019. It’s even worse than that though, when you factor in that until last November he was selected as a specialist batsman. Jonny Bairstow was dropped after averaging 18.00 from seven games as England wicketkeeper after succeeding Ben Foakes. Since replacing Bairstow as England’s keeper in New Zealand, Jos Buttler has averaged 18.36 in six Tests.

After three months without cricket (or much else), the next couple of months will be something of a feast for English cricket fans. Between now and the end of August, there won’t be a single break of more than three days between men’s England games. The second Test starts on Thursday at Old Trafford, and I for one can’t wait!

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