South Africa v England: 3rd Test, Day 2 – The New Pope

At the end of Day 1, this game was in the balance. 224-4 was a solid foundation, but one we England fans have seen the team collapse from several times in recent years. Instead, Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope both made impressive hundreds as England took charge of this game and potentially the series too.

The day began later than normal, after a rain shower delayed the start of play. The South Africans probably wish the rain lasted quite a bit longer though, as Stokes and Pope absolutely dominated the bowlers. The pitch seemed better to bat on than the previous day, as perhaps the rain had left the pitch a little quicker whilst still not generating any movement from the pace bowlers. Even so, it was a very impressive batting from the pair, and they made it all of the way past Lunch before Stokes eventually hit one in the air to point.

Stokes’ batting in the past year has been absolutely tremendous. Since the start of 2019, he is England’s top Test runscorer with 1060 at an average of 50.47. Not only that, he looks like a ‘proper’ Test batsman when he’s at the crease. Confident and assured, making smart decisions, and being able to play both a counter-attacking and dominating innings depending on the situation. His bowling is, at this point, basically a bonus. In this innings he passed 4000 Test runs, and you wouldn’t necessarily bet against him doubling that in his career.

If Stokes has had a great year in the Test team, the next batsman in has had an anus horribilis [sic]. Jos Buttler came in, scored one run and then chipped the ball tamely back to Maharaj for a simple caught and bowled. Since the start of 2019, Buttler has scored at an average of just 24.13, playing in 8 of those 12 Tests as a specialist batsman rather than wicketkeeper. This marks a huge drop off from his initial comeback in 2018, where he averaged 44.70 from 10 Tests. I have no idea what might have caused such a huge drop in form, but it’s increasingly difficult for him to justify his place in the side for the next series in Sri Lanka.

Fortunately for England, the tail weren’t as loose as Buttler with their batting. Helped by the tired bowling and older ball, not to mention Pope’s batting, Curran and Wood both added quickfire 40s which really crushed the hopes of a South African win. Wood’s innings in particular was a joy, with him being given out caught before being reprieved by Rabada being shown to have overstepped the bowling crease in the delivery.

What made this even more delightful for English fans and neutral observers is that Root declared on the fall of the wicket, before rescinding his declaration when the dismissal was reversed. As some have pointed out, this technically would be against the laws of the games which clearly state that: “A captain shall notify the opposing captain and the umpires of any decision to declare or to forfeit an innings.  Once notified, the decision cannot be changed.” Not for the first time in the past year, England have been fortunate with umpiring going in their favour.

Pope and Wood added another 31 runs before South Africa finally managed to dismiss Wood. On a day of milestones, perhaps the most important will end up being Ollie Pope’s 135*. His first Test century, this innings also pushes his career Test average to 51.85. This makes him the only English batsman with a Test average of over fifty since Ken Barrington’s last game in 1968. (Joe Root’s average fell below fifty in the West Indies last year, and sadly doesn’t look in danger of regaining that milestone on recent form) It’s obviously ridiculously early for such comparisons, but this innings by Pope was impressive for someone so young.

England’s spell in the field field did not start well. Stuart Broad and Sam Curran both failed to make any chances with the new ball, and it wasn’t until Dom Bess and Mark Wood came in that the South African batsmen seemed in any peril. Wood’s quick bowling caused real issues for the South African batsmen, causing edges and blows to the body, but Bess took the wickets. First a caught and bowled by Malan, followed by a bat and pad to short leg by Hamza.

The day ended a little early due to another shower, with South Africa still 439 runs behind on 60/2. It’s been a hugely impressive performance by the English batsmen, and now England have to hope that the rain stays away long enough to take the 18 remaining wickets they need.

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

South Africa v England: 3rd Test, Day 1 – Flat

Pancakes. Flounders. Spare tyres. None of these things are as flat and soft as the pitch this Test is being played on in Port Elizabeth.

The bounce has been slow, restricting both scoring and wicket-taking opportunities, and there’s been virtually no sideways movement to trouble the batsmen. All of which made Joe Root’s decision to bat after winning the toss this morning a very simple one. You do have to feel sorry for du Plessis though, because this marks the sixth consecutive toss he has lost for South Africa. With the ability to bat first often being crucial in Test cricket, it’s no surprise that South Africa are on such a poor streak of form.

The first two sessions were a pretty turgid affair, like the pitch. South Africa were mainly ‘bowling dry’ *shudder* whilst England were slowly accumulating runs. Sibley and Crawley both eventually fell to mistimed clips which were caught by leg slip/gully, but losing just two wickets before Tea is still a welcome sign of progress for this England Test team. They are normally well into their tail by then.

Things livened up just after Tea, with Denly and Root falling in relatively quick succession. Root’s wicket in particular will interest England’s bowlers, because he was bowled by a ball which appeared to stay noticeably lower compared to other deliveries on a similar length. Stokes weathered a spell of strong bowling from Rabada and Maharaj, including several unsuccessful appeals, before settling down with Pope to see out the day with England finishing on 224-4.

One thing which has been enormously fun to see on Twitter is the suggestion (by idiots and trolls, mostly) that England’s top order have been scoring too slowly. This is very much a luxury problem, because English batsmen in recent times typically haven’t been at the crease long enough for people to worry about such things. To put this in context: This winter, England have lost their fifth wicket in their first inning for over 200 runs three times in the last five Tests. That’s the same number as they managed in the previous fifteen Tests over three seasons. This England top order, since the dropping of Roy and Bairstow, has been consistently scoring runs.

The key word here is ‘consistently’. Whilst it has been frustrating to see so many English batsmen fail to reach fifty, there have been far fewer collapses this winter than we England fans have become accustomed to. This has been especially important since England’s tail, particularly their non-Stokes allrounders, haven’t been scoring heavily with the bat recently. In 2019, England’s batsmen from 7-11 collectively averaged 13.96. That’s the first year since 2013 in which they’ve averaged less than 20, and their lowest average since 2006. England can no longer rely on their bowlers bailing them out with the bat, and so I think that this new-found cautious approach from the specialist batsmen is both warranted and welcome.

On our usual side note, South Africa actually managed to bowl all 90 overs in a day. With so few wickets and boundaries, and spin bowler Maharaj bowling a third of the overs, they actually managed to finish a few minutes early.

90 overs bowled, England comfortably batting out a full day. I could get used to this…

As always, comments on the game or anything else you fancy are welcome below.

South Africa v England, 2nd Test, Day 3

One of the things I’ve found when writing match reports here is that it can get pretty difficult not repeating yourself after a while. This has certainly been the main issue I’ve had, with the repetitive nature of England’s problems with the bat. All of which made it an incredibly pleasant surprise to watch a day’s play without England’s top order collapsing in a heap and leaving Stokes, Pope, or Buttler with the job of rescuing the game.

The day began with England needing two wickets to clean up the South African tail, and Anderson did so within a few overs. This efficiency is also uncharacteristic of England’s recent performance, with opposition teams scoring just over fifty runs on average against them fpr the last three wickets in the past two years. This was hugely important in the context of the game, because it allowed England a first innings lead and meant that England’s top order wasn’t stuck in the field through the morning session waiting for their chance to bat.

When England did come out to bat this morning, something truly incredible happened: A competent Test batting performance from an England batting unit. Honestly, it was simply a better version of the first innings performance. The batsmen all got starts, but Dom Sibley applied himself and got a well-deserved 85*. When Crawley and Denly did lose their wickets, an Englandbattingcollapse didn’t immediately follow. It was not the most hostile conditions for batting, and the bowling seemed quite tame at times, but England’s batting has been so chaotic in recent years that this seems like definite progress.

A particular point of improvement over England’s past batting has been their performance against South Africa’s spinner Maharaj. Whilst not hitting him out of the attack, England’s batsmen did manage to keep the scoreboard ticking over when they were facing him and have yet to gift him a wicket in this innings.

With the recent proposals by the ICC to change the default format of Tests to four days, I’ve seen the argument made that today’s play would support that idea. A day with few wickets and little drama does nothing to make Test cricket more attractive and profitable around the world, some people have suggested. There is certainly something to this point of view. We’ve all seen flat pitches leading to boring draws which sap the will to live of anyone unfortunate to be watching.

The thing I like most about Test cricket, when compared to ODIs and T20s, is the lack of artificiality. More often than not, the better team in the conditions wins a Test match. Great bowlers are allowed to bowl as many overs as they are able, and place their fielders with few restrictions. Batsmen can typically bat to the farthest limits of their abilities, both mental and physical, rather than swinging wildly at a few deliveries and calling it a day. Allrounders can demonstrate their skills in both phases of the game to the fullest extent. Everyone bats, in every game.

England have been by far the better side in this game, in particular with their bowling which has been able to extract bounce and movement from this pitch. Therefore, it seems absolutely fair to me that they should be able to put themselves in a virtually unassailable position with this innings if they are able to. If this Test were shortened to four days, then they would be not be able to fully establish a winning position due to time pressure and would either have to declare early on day 4 or risk gifting South Africa an undeserved draw. This would not seem fair to me.

On the topic of four day Tests, there were another 4 overs lost from today’s play due to the bowling teams’ lethargy. On a day where South Africa’s spinner bowled almost 30 overs. If you think international teams will be able and willing to consistently bowl 98 overs in a day, then I’ve got a Nigerian uncle who want to get in touch with you about an exciting business opportunity…

Comments on the game, four day Tests, or anything else are welcome below.

South Africa vs England: 1st Test, Day 3

Why is an England away Test performance like a Christmas cracker joke?

Because the grim inevitability of disappointment has become so deeply ingrained that it would be infinitely more surprising if they were even remotely good.

One of the hardest things about writing an England match report here is trying not to repeat what you or the other writers have written in past posts. Days like today make this task so much more difficult as England, not unlike an 80s rock band, wheeled out all of their greatest hits.

The day began with South Africa reeling on 72-4, so naturally England’s bowlers all bowled short so that there was virtually no chance of hitting the wickets. It was only when they started bowling full, just before Lunch, that England actually managed to dismiss any South African batsmen. Unfortunately for the tourists, that adjustment was too late and they were already 300 runs behind.

After Lunch, England just had to dismiss the tail in order to chase their high and still-increasing target. So, obviously, they bowled anywhere but at the stumps and let the tailenders add another 98 runs for the last three wickets. This will not be a surprise for anyone who has followed England recently, as they have the second-highest Test bowling average (behind Afghanistan) when bowling for the last three wickets this year.

The third stage of the archetypal England performance, after a feeble batting collapse and a toothless bowling display, is the hope. Against all experience and reason, we still think England can pull off a miraculous rearguard and somehow win the game. Burns and Sibley played well, and put together the highest England opening partnership since Cook and Jennings in 2016. Sibley gave his wicket away with some gentle catching practice to Maharaj, but that was the only wicket the visiting team lost all day. From an impossible target of 376, England now need ‘just’ 255 runs with nine wickets remaining.

It really is the hope that kills you.

Comments welcome below.

The Graves Who Stole Cricket

Graves1

Every fan down in Taunton liked cricket a lot.
But Graves, who lived in the cave above Taunton, did not!

Now Graves hated cricket! The whole cricket season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be, perhaps, that his ties were too tight.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.

Or that he couldn’t fathom something you couldn’t buy in a store.
That cricket, perhaps, meant just a little bit more.

But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

But, whatever the reason, his heart or his ties,
The fans of cricket were who he did truly despise.

Staring down from his cave with a sour, Gravesy frown
At the warm lighted windows below in their town,

For he knew every fan down in Taunton below
Had a cricket game coming to which they planned to go.

“And they’re happy and joyful,” he snarled with a sneer.
“Tomorrow is cricket! It’s practically here!”

Then he growled, with his Graves fingers nervously drumming,
“I must find some way to keep cricket from coming!

For, tomorrow, I know, the fans all around,
Will wake bright and early. They’ll rush to their ground!

And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
There’s one thing I hate! All the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!

They’ll sit close together, in tens and in twelves.
They’ll sit in the stands, enjoying themselves!”

And the more the Graves thought of this cricket fan crowd,
The more the Graves thought, “This can’t be allowed!

Why, for seventy-one years I’ve put up with it now!
I must stop cricket from coming! But how?”

Then he got an idea! An awful idea!
The Graves got a wonderful, awful idea!

“I know just what to do!” The Graves said with a hoot.
“I’ll just make a quick ECB tie and a suit.”

So he went to the ground, suitably dressed,
And the foolish cricket bigwigs were very impressed.

Graves said , “There are people who aren’t yet cricket fans,
And to convince them, I have some very cunning plans.

The problem, you see, is that cricket’s too long.
You’ve been playing for centuries, but doing it wrong!

The people think that too much cricket is played.
So the less you play cricket, the more you’ll be paid!”

So Graves sold his idea. Lesscricket, he called it.
And he explained to the bigwigs how they all could afford it.

“There’s less balls, less games, less teams and less players!
But more money!”, Graves added, to answer their prayers.

For the cricket bigwigs all had the same small, slight flaw.
Whatever they had, they still wanted more.

They wanted their hands on all they could get,
Including the bank’s money, so they were all in huge debt.

Graves promised them riches, he promised them cash,
And so the bigwigs did something quite rash.

They gave Graves their key to the players’ room,
Not knowing that Graves meant to cause them their doom.

Graves snuck in to the ground later that night,
With his Gravesy bag and his Gravesy light.

He saw all the Taunton players, all in a row.
“These players,” he gravesed, “are the first things to go!”

Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room, and he took everyone present!

It was quarter of dawn. All the fans still a-dream,
All the fans still a-snooze, when he packed up their team.

He went everywhere that night, to Hove and to Kent,
Taking all of the players from wherever he went.

Graves stroked his chin, he was lost deep in thought.
“Where can I hide all of these players I’ve caught?

Perhaps where there are no fans of cricket?
That would be the perfect place to stick it.

No cricket fans to make their horrible noise,
No happy children, no girls and no boys.”

So Graves took them all to Cardiff in Wales,
And he told all the players some incredible tales.

Graves told them, “Ignore the empty stands,
You’ll all make more money without those pesky fans!”

Graves laughed as he returned to the scene of his crime,
As the fans down in Taunton reached waking-up time.

“Pooh-pooh to the fans!” he was gravesily humming.
“They’re finding out now that no cricket is coming!

They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!
Then the fans down in Taunton will all cry boo-hoo!

That’s a noise,” grinned the Graves, “that I simply must hear!”
He paused, and the Graves put a hand to his ear.

And he did hear a sound rising over the hills.
It started in low, but was giving him chills.

But this sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded mad!

Every fan down in Taunton, the tall and the small,
Still somehow liked cricket without players at all!

They were angry, and upset, and looking to blame,
The person responsible for taking their game!

He hadn’t stopped cricket from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

The fans all gathered, in their clubs and their porches,
Then went looking for Graves with pitchforks and torches.

Graves, being clever, turned tail and ran,
And he hid in his cave, as only Graves can.

This really wasn’t going the way that he’d plotted.
Graves was really quite sad until something he spotted.

The children in Taunton weren’t playing cricket at all.
They looked puzzled if you gave them a bat and a ball.

With no team to love, no players even near,
Those kids would be fans of something else this year.

Perhaps tennis, or rugby, or hockey, or netball,
But cricket won’t enter their young minds at all.

“Eventually there will be no new fans of cricket,” Graves foresaw,
“The few fans left, I can easily ignore!”

The Graves was so happy. He had cheated and lied,
And now got to watch as cricket slowly died.

His grin was enormous, and some people say,
That his heart grew three sizes that day.

For cricket’s demise filled Graves with great joy,
As he started to think what was next to destroy.

The moral, dear children, is to guard what you hold dear,
And don’t believe all the promises you hear.

Because every single person in an ECB suit and tie,
If their lips are moving, is telling a lie.

 

Merry Christmas from Dmitri, Chris, Sean and myself!

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.