The Definition of Madness

So hands up if anyone here thought England were going to chase that 4th innings target down? Anyone at the back? Anyone at all? Nope didn’t think so. Jonathan Liew tweeted that England have been set over 350 to win 15 times in the past (now 16) and haven’t got within 100 of these targets on every occasion, so with a flimsy batting order against the 2nd new ball, this was always going to be make-believe.

Danny & Chris have done a fantastic job of reviewing the last few days of the Test and once again, I am going to try and come in with a different angle around our performances at Adelaide and Brisbane. For me, it seemed a little strange in seeing all the hope and fervor in England’s performance on the evening of Day 3 and throughout Day 4, when we had been comprehensively outplayed at Brisbane and for the first two days at Adelaide. Indeed throughout Twitter and all over my timeline, there were people commenting how this performance would give England confidence in the series moving forward and how we had the Australians rattled and as I read all this, my main emotion was ‘well that’s a load of complete horse crap’. Sure England did play well for a day and a half, but they lost because they played poorly for the first 2 days and you simply can’t afford to do this if you hope to win Test Matches, especially away from home. If we go on to lose 5-0 or even 4-1, no-one at will remember that great bowling display in Australia’s 2nd innings nor will they remember some gritty batting by some of the top order in the face of a good Australian bowling attack (and whilst this isn’t the attack of 2013, it is still a highly effective attack, especially with Pat Cummins bowling as well as he has done over the first 2 games). They’ll simply look at the final score and reflect on another embarrassment and from lessons not being learnt from past tours.

I wrote a piece last week, slating the selectors for the bowling attack that has been selected for this tour and for the neglect that they hold the County Championship in, which has lead to England producing the same sort of bowler 100 times over or for the bods at Loughborough to destroy the confidence of any up and coming quick bowler. As a result, I don’t think that this needs to be reflected on again. My issue instead, is the lack of planning and accountability that has been allowed to fester within the English camp during Bayliss’ and Chuckles the clown’s (Farbrace) reign. It’s almost if unwittingly we have lurched from the complete right, where players had to ask permission to have a piss under Andy Flower (the Lions are lucky enough to have that now) to the complete left, where there is no accountability for the players on and off the field. I made a point about praising England’s 2nd innings performance and I have no doubt that the powers that be and certain parts of the media will be peddling that line until we get to Perth; however why aren’t the coaches and players coming out and telling the truth, that by the time this happened the game was already lost due to our massively below average performance in the first innings. A lack of accountability perhaps?

Instead of patting each other on the back for a decent innings performance, why aren’t the coaches bringing the bowling heat maps to Messer’s Woakes, Anderson & Broad and asking them why they decided not to bowl full in the first innings and that even though they have over 900 Test wickets between them, why does it need a kick up the arse from their coach’s to do something that everyone at home was screaming at them to do. Why aren’t the batting coach’s bawling out the likes of James Vince for playing a wafty, piss-poor shot in the first and second innings that gifted his wicket away. Surely these players might actually learn something if Bayliss was to say that if you bowl/play that shot, you will be dropped from the next game until you learn what the game of Test Cricket is. Then again, why England are picking players that have shown they don’t have the technique (and haven’t changed anything) in the first place, but that’s a different matter entirely. I very doubt however that there were many critical words said in the dressing room this time as there probably hasn’t been for the last 2 years. ‘Oh well bad luck mate, go and play your natural game next time’ even if your natural game is entirely unsuited to the Test arena. On paper there aren’t many too many differences in the make up of each side, though it can be easily argued that Australia has the better bowling attack; however the difference in these 2 Tests is that the Australian bowlers have got their lengths right from the start and that one of their batsmen (Smith in the first Test and bloody Shaun Marsh in the 2nd Test) have assessed the pitch and conditions and changed their technique accordingly to make match winning 100’s. The excuse that I have to play my own game only washes with me if a batsman averages of over 50; otherwise I’m very much of the opinion that ‘your game’ isn’t working in the Test arena. This doesn’t even cover the laughable events that have taken place off the pitch that has confirmed the lack of accountability within the current squad. I certainly don’t mind the players having a drink and unwinding, but when that results in players head-butting each other or breaking other people’s skulls, then surely alarm bells should be ringing? Just imagine if that had been a certain South African born batsman who used to play for England, then I’m sure Director Comma wouldn’t have been so accommodating and willing to sweep things under the carpet.

Australia are without doubt the better side at the moment, but England have shot themselves in the foot once again. As someone far wiser than me said ‘the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result’ and that is without doubt what England have continued as their modus operandi. For the poor few souls who believed the rhetoric that 2014 was a new start for the England cricket team, then more fool them.


Australia vs. England, 2nd Test Preview (ish)

Well, I believe we’ve covered the extensive fall out from the Brisbane Test, so much so, that I think there is very little to add on that front. In the build up to tomorrow mornings very early Test, we’ve had the shy waif that is James Anderson, complain about bullying and intimidation from the Aussie bowlers, because naturally butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth (just ask Ravi Jadeja). It also gives the Aussies a little more motivation to bowl short at the tail, so cheers Jimmy, way to go. We’ve also had the fun and games of the YJB alleged friendly headbutt, not that any of us has been remotely interested, in what was a complete non-story (save watching Director Comma squirm a bit).

There are rumours that Moeen might not be able to bowl with his finger injury, which being reported by the media, means he’ll be a batsman only and that spinning duties will be handed to Joe Root, which rather begs the question around why Mason Crane was called up in the first place. Still it sounds like he should come back with a nice tan at least. As for the make up of the bowling unit, I’d still be surprised if Overton replaces Ball. England are praying and hoping this day/night game allows ample opportunity got the ball to swing even if it’s the kookaburra ball. If not, and the pitch is predicted to be as quick as the Aussies say so, then England’s hopes of an Ashes victory could evaporate before our eyes.

As for us, I’m afraid there won’t be much of a live blog, unless Danny is mental enough to get up at 3:30am to lead the charge. We may well try to post in the morning if any of us fancies an early start on Saturday.

For those watching the game, please do comment below and hopefully one of us will be up early enough to add our own views….

The English Attack? I’m not that bowled over

First of all, apologies about the length of time that I have been absent from writing, I have been absolutely snowed under at work and at times, much to my chargrin, writing does have to take a back seat on such occasions. TLG and Danny (who assures me that he has returned to normal sleeping patterns) have both covered the fall-out from the Gabba Test in some detail and as a result, I don’t want to cover in too much detail that which has already been written. That being said, it is unavoidable at these times not to touch on the events in Brisbane as this could well prove to be a pivotal Test in the series.

As TLG so succinctly put, it only takes one glance on Twitter or in the media to see that many fans are divided into those who think that we’re going to collapse to a catastrophic 5-0 defeat or those that feel it is but a blip and this ‘new and young’ English team will turn it around spectacularly. I must admit that I am more on the pessimistic side than the optimistic side and have been ever since the Test squad was announced, though this is also probably due to experiencing 2 whitewashes out of the last 3 Ashes series in Australia. As someone said who is much wiser than me “it’s not the losing that hurts, I can deal with that, it’s the hope that kills me”.

From the little bits that I have read in the media, the main gripe of many of the journo’s has been around the batting, which is undeniably weak. Indeed many of Katie Price’s numerous marriages have looked less flimsy than our middle order at times. This however, is not exactly a surprise, we have had the same issues since the expulsion of a certain famous South African born batsmen, and no matter how many times Director Comma may have tried to gloss over this, very few people are fooled any more. Alastair Cook has been in what feels like terminal decline for the last 3 years. Root, although without doubt England’s best player, has seen his conversion rate from 50 to 100 decline alarmingly over the past 18 months. Moeen and Jonny B are just as capable as scoring a quick ton as they are getting out cheaply to a ropey slot. James Vince has spot at second slip with his name on it and Stoneman & Malan are pretty new to International Cricket. As I have mentioned, this has been mentioned many times before, so shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone and as such I want to move the focus away from the batsmen and over to the bowling unit.

The bowling is where myself and TLG differ in terms of our assessment of our bowling attack. For me, the English selectors (and they merit a lot blame here) have got this horribly wrong again. The folly of choosing 5 right hand over, medium pace seam bowlers on pitches that historically don’t tend to swing is right up there with picking 4 very tall, sometimes quick but not very good fast bowlers as England did in 2013/4. The bowling attack looks anything but balanced, it looks slow, ponderous and pretty predictable. Now I’m fully aware that there might be the odd howl from individuals that these are the best bowlers that England have and we don’t have any other options, and I agree to an extent in the spin department (although I really wouldn’t have picked Mason Crane); however I think they’ve again missed a trick with regards to our fast bowler make up. It can be rightly argued that Jimmy, Broad and Woakes are the best overall bowlers that England has, but this again misses my point as only Stuart Broad has a decent record in Australia, if you remove the 2010 Ashes series, which any bowler worth their salt would have made hay against that particular batting attack. Jimmy struggles when it doesn’t swing and Woakes has looked pretty toothless in all his Test matches away from home. As for Curran and Jake Ball, they are the A-typical English medium pacers who have limited success in anything but helpful swing conditions. It confounds me massively that one of our quickest bowlers in Liam Plunkett, seems to have been to consigned to the dustbin that is white ball cricket, when he is someone with the pace to trouble what is a mediocre Australian batting line up once you take away Steve Smith. This would not certainly be a long term pick, but it fits in with my personal opinion that it is vital to have a balanced attack in Test Cricket (be it a left armer, a pace bowler, a swing bowler and someone who hits the pitch hard) just to add some variety to the attack when the ball isn’t swinging.

I also feel it is quite pertinent to ask why an older Liam Plunkett (and a young lad from Sussex who has only played a handful of County games) are the only true fast bowling options that we have in our system right now? Do you remember when Steven Finn could bowl fast before David Saker got his hands on him? Or Mark Wood before the England medical department got their hands on him? Can you remember anyone else who has been in contention in the last few years that has been a truly quick bowler? I’m struggling. So what is it that is preventing our system from developing quick bowlers that aren’t of a certain type – is it Loughborough? Is it the counties who would prefer to play a medium pacer on a stodgy pitch? Is it the pitches in England, as the two historically quick cricket pitches at Old Trafford and the Oval are anything but quick these days. My guess that it is a mixture of all three. I wouldn’t trust the guys at Loughborough to make a cup of tea let alone manage our new crop of fast bowlers, which combined with a horribly long county season (which is about to get even longer) means that there is a very real issue of burnout and injury for anyone young quick pounding in and bowling at 90MPH. The ECB also have to take a fair share of the blame too. There have been too many occasions where either a green seamer has been prepared for Test Matches to provide England with the competitive advantage or a road of a pitch with little bounce has also been prepared to ensure the Test lasts 5 days (yes Mick Hunt, I’m looking at you). The result of this? Well you can see it in our bowling attack for the first Test Match at the Gabba, a group of hardworking individuals who are great in English conditions but do not have either the skill or the know-how to bowl effectively on different wickets were completely out-bowled by a far superior Aussie bowling unit.

I hadn’t actually meant for this piece to be that negative, so apologies for this, but I absolutely feel that this will be a recurring theme until something is done about it. I believe that in a series where both teams have flakey batting line up and which I believe would be decided with the ball prior to the series beginning, the England selectors have once again not learnt from their previous mistakes.

It might turnaround in Adelaide, where the ball should certainly swing under lights and where perhaps the English bowling attack has the best chance to make inroads into this Aussie line up; however if we end up losing in Adelaide this could be a long and painful series. Something we have all endured before…

Trust – it’s a two way street Mr. Director


We are in middle of an ODI series between England and the West Indies with all the fun and joy that entails (clue, it doesn’t), but if you don’t mind, I will skip over today’s proceedings as there are one or two other things that take precedence in my mind. If I may, I would like to take everyone back to the heady days of the February 2014, when a certain well known ex-captain was asked about a certain well-known soon to be ex-player about his role in the team:

“Without trust, the team environment is stillborn, It is for this reason that Kevin Pietersen’s international career had to be brought to an end. The media have been searching for a ‘smoking gun’. Everyone is looking for disciplinary problems, bust-ups and character clashes, but they are looking for the wrong thing. The smoking gun is the total absence of trust.”

“What happened in Australia from November onwards, when the heat of the furnace was fixed on the embattled side, was that old grievances came back to the surface. Past history weighed too heavily. Trust still did not exist. His relationship with English cricket has been like an illicit affair. Full of thrills and excitement, but destined to end in tears.”

To the surprise of no-one this well known ex-captain was made Director, England Cricket in May 2015, formally ending the disastrous reign of Paul Downton. As a brilliant subtext to all of this, the well-known player that Director Comma had referred to was told to score runs and lots of them to have a chance to force himself back into England contention and of course, as we know, he scored 355* of them in one innings. This was not enough to sway the new Director though, who once again took the fold to confirm that trust rather than talent was the thing that was the most important thing to him:

“He [Pietersen] been phenomenal for England over a long period of time and he should be very proud of that record. But over a period of months and years, the trust between himself and the ECB has eroded. There’s a massive trust issue between Kevin and I. Because of that, we’ve told him it’s not in the best short-term interests of the side for him to be in the team. I’ve let him know he’s not part of our plans for the future, and I can’t give him any guarantees beyond that, but he’s not banned from the side, no one knows what’s going to happen in the future.”

There have been many words and many articles about Kevin Pietersen in the last few years (many by us) and I’m not sure I can say anything that hasn’t been said previously without being jumped on the by the ‘pearly gates brigade’ who like to think of Alastair Cook as a god and KP as the devil with no room for any opinion in between and quite frankly I cannot be bothered to rehash an old weeping sore. For me it is the lack of heat that Director Comma has received that is of most interest to me. Those that have got to know Strauss both as a player for Middlesex & England and now with his role with the ECB (although please don’t ask me exactly what it is as I have no idea what he does – more of that a little bit later on), know that Strauss is the ultimate pragmatist, happy to spew out words about ‘trust’ & ‘team bonding’, but also happy to cozy up to the dark side when it suits him and provides him with an opportunity to further his own career. There have been a number of instances where Director Comma has not just turned the other cheek (rooming with KP in the build up to the 2010 Ashes or making lots of unfulfilled promises to Owais Shah after he picked up the Middlesex captaincy from the poisonous Ed Smith) but also happily thrown his teammates under the bus (see Strauss’ backing and then quick turn of face with KP over the Peter Moores affair). To say that Andrew Strauss is a trustworthy individual is like saying Tom Harrison has cricket’s best interests at heart, which as we know is utter jackanory, yet the media have bought this and so have the one-eyed ‘inside cricket’ fans. Strauss goooood, other people baaad (sorry, a poor Animal Farm reference) seems to have been the memo leaked by the ECB and by god, his associates have thoroughly embraced this mantra. This makes it even more laughable when Strauss portrays himself as a bastion of society, a man bound by his virtue rather than being portrayed correctly as a man bound purely by his hypocrisy.

So why bring this up now some may ask, well the Ben Stokes ‘BristolGate’ has quite rightly opened up this so called Trust debate. As we all know, Stokes whilst being a wonderful player, has had a fair few colourful incidents away from the cricket field, with the latest one surely being more serious than looking out of a window, whistling when getting out or falling out of a pedalo after more than a few sherberts. Here was a chance for Director Comma to pin his colours to the wall, that trust is more important than on the field success (no-one could argue that England were weaker without their supremely talented number 4) and that they would rigidly stick to the ‘no dickhead’ rule when it comes to England selection. To say that the Director, England Cricket fluffed his lines on this is an understatement on a massive scale – no punishment, no criticism, instead ‘Stokes needs our support during this difficult time’ and that ‘selection will be made on form and fitness grounds only’:

Well this is certainly a change in tack from previous years isn’t it? Perhaps if KP or those others who’s face didn’t quite fit such as Compton, Carberry and Robson had been given the ECB’s support, then things might have turned out rather differently perhaps. Now I want to be perfectly clear, I do not care what Stokes gets up to in his own spare time, nor do I think he should be dropped or have the vice-captaincy stripped (it’s a nothing role in any case); however the ECB have made their bed through the treatment of other England players whose offence is arguably not as grave as Stokes, yet poor old Ben seems to have had endured nothing but a slapped wrist. This is what grinds my gears, Strauss is doing precisely what he has done throughout his career yet no-one has called him out on it, he is providing one rule for one and another rule for another. Basically if you can provide Director Comma with the opportunity to further his career then he is happy to turn his cheek, however once you have ceased being useful to him then expect to be classed as an outsider and tossed on the heap like everyone else that has outlived their use. Now I don’t know the in’s and out’s of this case nor that much detail in the other mis-demeanours that Stokes has supposedly committed; however what I do know is that apart from a few mumblings from the media about how he has been stupid and needs to learn his lessons, there hasn’t been a whiff of an over-reaction. Where is the smoking gun? Where is the often mentioned and quietly compiled ‘dossier of mis-demeanours’ that is leaked to the media? Where is the whisper campaign saying that Stokes is a bad egg and not a team player? Of course, there isn’t one, the ECB never leaks when it suits their own purposes and having Ben Stokes as an integral part of the England team is the number one priority for the ECB’s paymasters.

You see we all know that Director Comma, despite having a grandiose title and being pushed out in front of the media to spout general hyperbole about ‘trust’, ‘teamwork’ and ‘exciting’, is a figurehead and nothing more. The ECB have in essence their perfect glove puppet, someone who believes he has the power, someone who has been built up to be important in his eyes and someone who will of course tow the company line (after all the ECB has never had an issue with doing a u-turn when it might help them out of a tight spot or enhance them financially). This whole trust thing is a façade, something to keep the chuntering masses away from digging a little further down the rabbit hole, and Strauss is the perfect foil for it! A well spoken, well dressed ex England Captain, who has no issue with being ruthless and isn’t likely to make the type of media gaffes that Paul Downton was prone to making with hilarious regularity ticks every box in the ECB’s eyes. This is the perfect ruse for the real power holders at the ECB, you know the chaps who have their hands in the till and appear once or twice a year with Aggers to utter something meaningless that they have scripted beforehand which fits in with their objectives (lets face it Aggers is hardly Jeremy Paxman and isn’t going to be asking them the difficult questions that England cricket fans actually want to hear).

It is Graves and Harrison that are calling the shots behind the closed door, I can’t work out whether Graves is some kind of evil mastermind or just some bumbling old fool who has bitten off more than he chew; however Harrison is the money man, he is the one calling the shots and anyone or anything that jeopardises the TV deal or the flow of sponsors money will be eradicated. Strauss is the go-between, something that he is perfectly suited too, but Harrison is the Mafia boss, he is the one that says what will happen and what won’t happen to the England cricket team. So back to Ben Stokes, lets make no bones about it, Stokes is absolutely vital for the ECB moving forward, not just through his performances on the pitch but also through his exposure and pulling power across multiple markets, i.e. those markets that can make the ECB more money. Harrison isn’t about to kill the golden goose, so you’ll quietly see this brushed under the carpet whilst Director, England Cricket makes noises about supporting his players and the trust they’ve built up over the past few years. Welcome to the New England, same as the old England.

So lets just revisit this whole trust piece once again shall we? When I first got into cricket I trusted the England board (no matter how archaic it was back then) to at least do the right thing. To ensure that we had a team that was picked on merit, to ensure that we were a fair and proper contributor to the game via the ICC, ensuring that we could grow this game that we all love, to ensure fair and proper access to the sport and too invest it’s money back into the game to ensure that it is preserved for future generations. Instead what have we got, a board that despises its own fans, a board some obsessed with making money that they will happily destroy the Test arena to make a quick buck through some more T20’s, a board that has massively reduced the access that the every day fan has to the sport by charging huge prices for entry to the ground and has all it’s live coverage behind a paywall. Finally a board, where talent doesn’t count anymore as long as you come from the right family, can prove to be a good marketing asset or have some high profile ex-captain who just happens to run a sporting agency, start calling the shots (more on that in a later post). Trust and loyalty aren’t in the vocabulary of Graves, Harrison and Strauss, so surely there must be others apart from us that are willing to call them out before they bury the game for good? Sadly I feel that we are in the minority and will be until it’s too late.

So the next time an ECB Director tells you its all about trust, let’s take it, tell them where to stick it and run a mile, as after all trust is earned both ways and the ECB have shown time and time again that what they say and what they do are two completely different things altogether. Incompetence I can live with, down right lies, I cannot. The ECB has somehow in its infinite wisdom managed to become a master of both.

As a side note, England have won the 4th ODI through the Duckworth Lewis Stern calculations and go into an unassailable lead in the series. Not that anyone apart from the ECB bigwigs remotely cares.
UPDATE: I wrote this before the Stokes video appeared online – From first view, it looks like the first guy launches at Stokes with a bottle; however the 2nd incident really doesn’t look great at all. The be all and end all is that Stokes really shouldn’t be putting himself in this sort of situation in the first place.

The ‘is this damn series still going on’ preview

For those of you expecting a long and detailed preview of the next ODI between England and the West Indies, then as the title may suggest, you’d probably be better off searching elsewhere. I fully admit that I haven’t seen a single ball of the white ball series as I have been manic at work, having to travel to glamorous places like Frankfurt for dull financial conferences alongside the fact that I really couldn’t care less who wins. Dmitri has done a fine job of manning the fort whilst TLG gambles all his money away in Macau and whilst I have also been unavailable and hence I don’t want to cover the same points that he has made; however this is proving quite difficult as all I can think is ‘why hold a sodding one day series in late September?’. The fans don’t care, the players probably don’t care, all they want is to try and preserve their health ahead of a manic winter schedule (more on that a little later) yet the ECB mandate remains that you MUST enjoy the wonderful battle between two heavyweights that they have put on. As we know, they’re kidding nobody.

The fact that I haven’t seen a single ball of the series so far along with my complete and utter lack of interest makes writing a preview of the game a slightly difficult affair. I believe Jonny Bairstow scored a great century in the first ODI meaning Jason Roy will have to wait his turn this time, Chris Gayle is more than likely out of the series through injury, the West Indies can no longer automatically qualify for the World Cup, oh and it rained a lot last week (who would’ve thought that would happen in late September in England??.) I’m not aware of the current England squad for this series but one would hope that the England management team might have one iota of intelligence and rest Root, Stokes & Ali for the engagements in the upcoming winter; however this is the England management team, so no doubt they’ll all play and one of them will get a serious injury ruling them out of the Ashes. It’s a familiar tale that has a habit of repeating itself time and time again.

Speaking of injuries and our ‘world class’ medical team, I was particularly sad to see that Toby Roland Jones has suffered a season ending injury which will likely rule him out of the Ashes. I fully admit that I’m a diehard Middlesex fan and hence my views may well be somewhat biased, but I think it’s a massive blow not just to TRJ but also for England. I have seen people elsewhere question on how useful TRJ might have been on hard Australian wickets and he was far from a shoo-in for the final XI; however people tend to forget that you don’t always have to bowl at 90+ MPH to be effective in Test Cricket. Glenn McGrath bowled around the early 80’s for most of his career and no-one doubted his success in these conditions, so does Vernan Philander, who is probably a bit slower than McGrath but also has a good record in Australia. Now I’m not saying that TRJ is in the same league as these two, but I did find it rather puzzling that certain parts of the media were questioning his potential effectiveness on these wickets. I guess what we need a 4 tall fast bowlers who can bowl at 85+ MPH as that tactic served us so well on the last tour over there. So with TRJ probably ruled out and Mark Wood also struggling with injury, then England look like turning back to one of their ex’s that they know they should move on from but can’t properly say goodbye to. I would love to be able to write a piece on how Finn has regained his potency, but I just don’t think he will ever find that again at Test Level. No matter how well Finn bowls in the County Championship, and he has bowled very well over the past month, I always believe that he lacks the mental fortitude to be successful at Test Level; sure he can still be very good on his day, but as soon as he loses a bit of confidence, then his head drops, his pace goes down and he looks like a pretty average county bowler. Finn should have been the find of the century and should have more than 300 Test wickets under his belt by now, the fact that he hasn’t still rests at the shoes of the god-awful David Saker, a man so tactically inept that Donald Trump is thinking about hiring him.

On another point, the County Championship winds up this week and whilst not everyone on here is a massive fan, it looks like it’s going to be a dogfight to see who stays up in Division 1. I’m just glad we have a dedicated cricket channel that can cover this as it goes to the wire. Oh wait, hang on, our dedicated cricket channel is instead showing another AB De Villiers master class and how the World T20 was won instead of showing any live cricket. The thinking behind this is absolutely mind boggling, I mean imagine if Sky showed the 1995 Premier League years instead of the North London derby for instance, there would be an absolute uproar; yet for cricket, the county game is viewed as a mere annoyance, something that can be quickly glossed over for another meaningless ODI series. The fact that Sky has also lost the Ashes this winter means their so-called Cricket channel is becoming more of a white elephant by the day.

For those of you who to choose to watch the ODI tomorrow, then please feel free to comment below, I’m off to watch the NFL at Wembley instead….

England vs. West Indies, 3rd Test, The finale

At around 4pm today, England’s Test Summer finished in a rather anticlimactic yet wholly predictable way. The West Indies, unable to repeat their astonishing batting performance at Headingley, were simply blown away by England’s bowlers on what was a pretty good deck, once the overhead gloom gave way to bright sunshine. This of course, is not to take anything away from England’s bowlers who bowled fantastically in both innings, with Stokes in the first innings and Jimmy in the 2nd innings, producing wonderful spells of old fashioned swing bowling. If the English bowlers had one wish, they would probably like to take those overhead conditions, wrap them up and take them on tour with them to Australia!

Much will be made of Jimmy Anderson’s achievements, and rightly so, he has been a brilliant servant for English cricket over the last 14 years or so and to take 500 wickets is an absolutely phenomenal achievement (I remember attending his Test debut at Lords in 2003 and watched him destroy a fairly ordinary Zimbabwe side, yet even back then, you tell he was a proper talent). There will always be a heated discussion around how world class Jimmy actually is, with some in the pro camp pointing towards the number of wickets that he has taken and the fact that he has led the England attack for 10 years plus; however there are also plenty more (mainly Australian is has to be said) that point to his record away from England and feel that he is simply overrated. I’m not going to get into this discussion myself, but what I do know that in English conditions with a duke ball in his hand, he is one of the best English bowlers I have seen in my lifetime. England’s bowling attack will look much less potent when Jimmy finally decides to hang his boots up.

As for the game itself, Broad’s little cameo with the bat on Day 2 probably was the main difference between the two sides. In what was a low scoring game, a lead of 70 was always going to priceless, especially given the overhead conditions last night and England’s potency with the new ball. It was somewhat disappointing to see the West Indies cave in this morning, as the pitch looked pretty flat when the sun came out; however sometimes you also must give credit to the bowlers, with Anderson in particular bowling some absolute jaffas (who knows, after the shenanigans and arguments with Marais Erasmus last night, Anderson might have found the end better suited to his bowling at Lords after all these years.) With the West Indies skittled for a pretty sub par total, all that remained was for England to knock off the 107 runs required without any scares if possible. Despite losing Cook to a decent ball from Bishoo, Stoneman and Westley knocked off the remaining runs in super quick time without any further scares. Whether this was enough for either player to secure his seat on the plane to Australia remains to be seen; my hunch is that Stoneman will go and Westley will not, but that is just my personal opinion, though quite who is out there to replace him is a very moot point.

So with England victorious in both series this summer, there should be a feel good factor for the winter ahead, yet I genuinely don’t see this from anyone but the most ardent one-eyed English fan. The same questions that have haunted England for the past few years have all raised their head this summer. Where can we find a decent opener, number 3 and number 5 from? Will Moeen be able to produce good spells of spin bowling consistently rather than being great one day and atrocious the next? Will there be a series when England don’t get complacent for a game and then get their asses handed to them, normally after a big victory? It certainly feels like we’re in some sort of Groundhog Day movie, as these things have consistently been a thorn in our side for the past 3 years. The selectors have tried round pegs, square pegs even triangular pegs, yet the same issues still remain and looking forward to a winter away with half a batting line up doesn’t exactly fill me with joy. As for the West Indies, there are a few chinks of light amongst the doom and gloom. Shai Hope looks like a proper Test Match player, Brathwaite looks like an obstinate figure at the top of the order and a fast bowling attack of Holder, Gabriel and a fit again Kemar Roach will cause difficulty for most international batting line ups. Yes the West Indies are still miles away from climbing up to the Summit that they once proudly owned during the 70’s & 80’s, but equally they aren’t in the death. Spiral that many of us thought coming into the series. Every cricket fan around the world yearns for a strong West Indian team, perhaps in the years to come, we might finally get to see it.

So with the Test Summer done and the Ashes on the horizon, we naturally move on to a meaningless 5 ODI and 1 T20 series stretching to the end of September. I’m not sure about anyone else, but this doesn’t enthuse me in the slightest. I more than got my fill of the white ball stuff with the champions trophy earlier in the Summer, yet the ECB have coffers to fill and players to break, so we have to pretend that this is anything but worthless. I’m waiting with baited breath for Director comma to revive the Super Series on account of it’s success last time! For those on here that do enjoy the white ball stuff, then I hope the series is what you were looking for, as for me and some of the other editors, then i’m not sure how much we’re going to cover of it, as site views tend to shoot through the floor once the main event is over and none of us are massive white ball fans.

As ever, any comments on this Test or the English summer are welcome below..

England vs. West Indies, 3rd Test – Preview

After the Test match at Edgbaston, the last thing that I thought I would be writing about would be around a series decider at Lords; however this is exactly what we have got in store for us, thanks to a mixture of a gutsy and skillful fourth innings batting performance from the West Indies and a pretty woeful performance with the ball from England throughout the last Test. It would have been extremely churlish to undermine the West Indian performance at Headlingley, especially after all the criticism that they have faced over the past couple of years and I thought TLG amongst others were rightful in their focus on congratulating the West Indian team rather than focus on England’s shortcomings in the immediate aftermath of the last Test. That being said, I have been quite surprised that there hasn’t been some sort of backlash against an England team that consistently takes 1 step forward and then 1 step back against both good quality opposition and those that they should really steamroll (especially when you take into account the pure cricketing resources that the English team has access to).

Now I must admit that I watched very little of the last Test (life and family got in the way of that) and as a result my thoughts must be tempered on that proviso, however it feels I could be writing a review of any series that England have been involved with over the past few years, obviously apart from the last Indian series when we were quite simply blown away. It’s true that England on their day have a decent batting line up – Cook is a good international cricketer with a ton of runs behind him, Root is obviously world class and we have a number of high quality all-rounders such as Stokes, Moeen, Bairstow and Woakes. In terms of the bowling, we have 2 vastly experienced fast bowlers with over 800 wickets and 200 appearances between them and a spinner that bowls wicket taking deliveries; yet after every series that I end up reviewing, we seem to have the same gaps and weaknesses as before and a complete inability to put our ‘A game’ together on a regular basis. We still don’t have a settled opener, a number 3, a number 5 and a consistent spin bowler that will challenge the best teams and comfortably beat the poorer teams, which the West Indies are, in all fairness. I didn’t watch the last day at Headingley, but I understand that Moeen was toothless, Woakes looked half fit and Anderson & Broad decided that pitching the ball up was a luxury option, this combined with what was a pretty headless first innings performance from our batsmen (Ben Stokes aside) meant that we got we deserved. Another defeat. And guess what if we do the same at Lords, we could well lose again.

So much for the mediocre side coming across to get a hammering from a superior side in both batting and bowling departments! England have shown that they can look just as mediocre and clueless as any other side when they don’t decide to turn up or conditions aren’t in their favour. Now Australia are hardly pulling up trees at the moment, but in their home conditions and with an English batting line up that is at best inconsistent and at worst is decidedly average, then I must admit I have some well entrenched fears when it comes to the Ashes tour this winter.

Naturally though, there is still one game to go in this series and England better have their mind on the West Indies rather than the upcoming winter, as otherwise an embarrassing blip could turn into a pretty horrific series loss with plenty of finger pointing and ramifications as a result. It wouldn’t surprise me if England kept with the same XI despite the fact that Woakes looked very short of match practice, as a change of heart and a tip towards Roland-Jones would surely confirm that they made a mistake in their selection for Headingley (which they did). There are also a number of English batsmen either drinking in the last chance saloon (Westley) or desperately trying to secure their plane ticket for the winter escapades (Stoneman, Malan). Now a big score doesn’t guarantee that these players will score big runs in Australia; however another failure against what is nothing more than a pop gun attack by international standards could be terminal for certain individuals’ international ambitions.

As for the West Indies, it’s almost like tossing a coin as to which team will turn up, the one that fought so excellently at Headingley or the one that so meekly collapsed at Edgbaston. There may be a skills gap between the two sides, but it was heartening to see a young man in Shai Hope harnessing his raw talents and producing the two innings of his career so far to guide the West Indians to victory. There were also key contributions from Brathwaite, Holder and Gabriel alongside Shai Hope in this Test victory which shows that on any given day, The West Indies can rally and that it might not be all doom and gloom in the future for our Caribbean friends. As TLG wrote in his last piece, the romance of the underdog winning in Test Cricket might be in short supply these days but it is great when it does happen, even at the expense of England. Now it may be too much for the West Indies to replicate this level of performance at Lords, but if they do and England are slightly off the boil, then there is absolutely an opportunity for them to really upset the apple cart. From Colin Grave’s point of view, that ‘mediocre’ comment that he made a couple of years must be seriously wrangling with him now and still could yet come back and bite him on the arse! See there is a silver lining in every cloud.

Oh and a final thought, I have noticed that Starsports have ‘won’ the right to pay over $2.5 billion dollars to host the TV rights to the whiter than white IPL for the next 5 years, with the equivalent of every ball during the event costing around £22,500 pounds per televised delivery. Obviously from this we can see why India were so desperate to screw over the associates and other smaller international nations for an extra $100 million slice of the international revenue rights. I’m waiting for the ‘BCCI crowdfunder’ campaign to kick off in earnest so we can all help those poor little mites at the BCCI survive on a day to day basis. As ever, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the fans are the ones who end up paying for it out of their own pocket. Plus ca change.

Anyway, as ever comments on the game below and let’s hope the rain stays away from Lords over the next few days (unless it involves the flooding of the members pavilion):

England vs. West Indies, 2nd Test Preview (and a bit of rant)

After Dmitri’s short but brutally accurate report of the last Test, I’m not too sure about what more can be said that hasn’t been already. Let’s make this clear, this is a colossal mismatch between one team who are the have’s and another team who are without doubt the have not’s. It’s like signing up to watch Anthony Joshua fight Big Mick from the local pub, people aren’t necessary going for the entertainment more for the morbid spectacle that they know that this will become. It is of course, very easy to blame the West Indies for the mess they are in. The WICB is so corrupt and incompetent it makes the ECB look like the model of sobriety, as not even the ECB has managed to alienate every single decent player in their domestic scene;  as we know the ECB just alienate those that whistle when they get out and aren’t from the right type of family. It is of course, easy to blame the WICB for the calamitous position that the West Indies finds itself in and of course a decent proportion of the blame must be attributed to them; however I think it would be fair to say that outside factors have also played a major part in the West Indie’s sad demise.

If you haven’t read Tim Wigmore’s excellent piece in the Independent then I would strongly suggest that you do – Now the West Indies might be a special case here; after all, they haven’t won a Test away in England since circa 2000 and have won precious few elsewhere away from home (the last major away game they won was against SA in 2007 – thanks D’arthez). However if we delve a little further into the poison pit that is International cricket, then it’s not just the West Indies who are desperately clinging to a sinking raft. If I were to ask you which team have either got better or stayed particularly competitive since 2014, what would your answer be? India, Australia, England – anyone else?? Oh and why do I ask this question, well as we know 2014 was the year that the Big 3 decided to carve up cricket’s finances between themselves to ensure their survival at the expense of every other cricket nation, so I think you might know where I’m going with this. If we place England, India & Australia in Tier 1 (as at least they haven’t got appreciatively worse, though it would be fair to argue that none of these three has made massive strides), then if we look at Tier 2 (those who aren’t yet in perpetual demise) and Tier 3 (those that have fallen off the lifeboat into the choppy ocean), then I think that this gives us a more rounded view of where International Cricket actually is:

Tier 2

  • South Africa – Still competitive, but under threat as their fast bowling unit is getting old and they have lost too many players to Bransgrove’s Kolpakshire amongst other predatory counties
  • New Zealand – Still punching above their weight, but losing McCullum as captain was a massive blow. Still able to surprise the big 3 from time to time, despite big quality gaps in their batting order.
  • Pakistan – Can still put together brilliant performances on their day, but I fear for their batting having lost Younus & Misbah.
  • Bangladesh – Best side they’ve had since they became full members, but no-one wants to play them, which is a real shame.

Tier 3

  • West Indies – See above. Their best batsman is 43 and playing for Lancashire. This team would struggle in Division 2 of the County Championship
  • Sri Lanka – Currently being smashed around by India, they also recently lost to Zimbabwe. The days of watching Sangakkara & Mahela bat as well as Murali bowl, must seem like a lifetime ago now.
  • Zimbabwe – Hardly ever play, still as corrupt as ever.

As you can see this is far from a pretty site, yet the ICC still continues to re-arrange the deckchairs whilst the Titanic is sinking. Who cares about 4 day Test matches or pink balls when in a few years time the only ones playing it will be England, Australia and India as Test Cricket will have died everywhere else. Apologies that this is a little gloomy, but this is the reality and it’s clear that the ICC can’t even manage this decline effectively! Still there’s always the 50 or so T20 leagues that you can watch if you really want to see the same hit and not too many giggles cricket.

Ok slight rant aside, as for the next Test itself, England will naturally go into this as massive favourites. In a slightly strange and I do feel a very harsh move, they have dropped TRJ for Chris Woakes. Now I’m absolutely not advocating that Woakes doesn’t deserve a spot in the line up as he has been extremely consistent over the past year and is highly talented with the bat and the ball; however with a packed winter ahead and facing a weak opposition, surely it would have made more sense to give one of Broad, Anderson or Stokes a blow. Now of course, these players might throw a little tantrum about being dropped when there are easy runs/wickets on offer, but surely we learn nothing by having these bowlers face a paper thin batting line up; however such is the England way, they let the fear of a backlash from certain untouchable individuals within the team cloud their judgement on what is the right decision with the squad for the Ashes in mind.As for the West Indies, they must surely hope that the Headingley pitch is some kind of minefield to bring the two teams closer together, because if it plays like it did at Edgbaston, then I can’t see anything other than another 3 day Test.

Oh and one last thing, as Colombo might say, I had an extremely interesting exchange with a certain individual who was clearly a fan of the ex-England captain, on Twitter last Thursday. Now I’m not going to give this individual any further publicity, as I’ve regularly seen some fairly sane individuals turn into rage’oholics who froth at the mouth the moment anything remotely critical of Cook is written by anyone. I’ll leave these here for your enjoyment:

‘I’m astonished that some whose blogging career is devoted to skewing Cook’s stats is calling a plain stat skewed’ (For the record, it was highly skewed stat based on a certain batsman over circa 10 games, 3 years ago)

‘Go back to trying to prove Alastair Cook’s useless whilst he sleeps on a big pile of runs’

    ‘Imaging devoting an entire blog to hating Alastair Cook.’

    ‘I’m planning a big BOC subtweet when Cook reaches his double ton’ (he didn’t, I guess he didn’t find any to back up his position)

      So now we’ve progressed from being a bunch of KP fanboys to being accused of spewing hateful bile about Alastair Cook, I wonder what will be thrown against us next. It’s BOC’s fault that Test Cricket is dying? It’s our fault that global warming is ruining our world? It’s our fault that Brexit happened? The possibilities are just endless. Perhaps if the media did their job and took an objective view of Cook i.e. putting his achievements into some sort of perspective and instead stopped writing meaningless hagiographies, then we wouldn’t have to be the lone voice of sanity in a world where this is rarely so.

      So as I read it, those of us that have the temerity to question Cook’s place amongst the International elite are now classed as Cook haters, with nothing else to do but spew angry bile about him! Does this also apply when I question or criticize other England cricketers? I have written critical stuff about Root, Moeen, Broad, Anderson & Woakes amongst others in the past, but I don’t generally get people screaming at me on Twitter when I do. Of course, there are those that point out that we write about Cook more than others and yes it’s true, because people are interested in reading about him (much like a certain individual a few years ago), after all if I spent most of my time writing about Chris Woakes, it’d be a pretty dull blog (I don’t care if I upset Chris Woakes as he has already blocked me on Twitter for some unknown reason). The sad thing is that the schism that Dmitri wrote about in early 2016 is still very much prevalent in 2017, but of course we are the ones with an ‘agenda’. For the record, I posted this on Alastair Cook a while back and nothing has happened to change my personal opinion since then – I’m not sure it screams incandescent hatred, but I’ll leave you to decide on this….

      Anyway, I’m bored about writing and going over the same things about Alastair Cook, so I’m simply going to refer ‘people’ back to the above article when the next brain dead moron suggests that our whole editorial policy is based around our hatred of Cook.

      And with that nonsense out of the way, feel free to comment on the game below:

      England vs. South Africa, 4th Test, Day 3

      Today was the sort of day that many of us Test enthusiasts love, a day where bowlers had the sort of conditions that actually gave them the upper hand and where the batsmen had to fight for every single run. Yes today was a bit of a grind and I must admit that the Old Trafford surface hasn’t been great, but I would rather see a proper fight between bat and ball than 600 play 650 on a flat, bowlers graveyard of a pitch. The day ebbed and flowed, with South Africa battling to stay in the match and England trying to eek out enough runs to feel comfortable in defending on a deteriorating pitch. By the end of the day, England managed to emerge on top; however it was tough going, which Test cricket is absolutely meant to be.

      England’s batting was a tale of the downright poor and one absolutely superb innings. I think it’s safe to say that England’s top order still has more holes than a watering can, with the top 3 all getting out to woeful shots and Malan, although 2 Test’s into his England career, looking nervous and out of place in the Test arena. It would be harsh to drop Malan after only 2 games, but sometimes a player just doesn’t look international class I’m afraid. As for the Top 3, I’m afraid it looks like game, set and match for Keaton Jennings. He came out with some credit from his performance in the 2nd innings of the Oval Test, but has looked woefully short of form all summer. This is absolutely not helped by the fact that his feet look stuck to the crease, his head position is too upright on connection with the ball, which means that he doesn’t seem in control of the ball when it hits the bat and of course he genuinely doesn’t seem to know where his off stump is at the moment in the face of good, patient bowling. I think his reaction to his dismissal said a 1,000 words, he realises that its now back to Durham to try and work on his technique and to score some big runs. The opener cab rank is starting to look extremely bare.

      Westley and Cook also both got out in the same way, launching ill advised flashes outside the off stump in what were very bowler friendly conditions. Westley is still learning the international game and whilst I worry about his ability against deliveries pitching outside off stump, I’ve seen enough of him in the last couple of Tests to give him the benefit of the doubt. The same can’t be said for Cook. I’m afraid that Cook looks to be in terminal decline, unable to fathom out how to score big runs now international bowlers have truly found out his weaknesses. A number of us have pointed out that he is now 50 not out since he last scored a century against either Australia or South Africa and indeed having done a little bit of digging (Nonoxcol had the same idea) it now reads that Cook has an average below 30 against these teams going all the way back to 2012 (some 26 Test matches). These cold hard facts may be difficult to swallow for those that have chosen deify Cook, but it is a fact that Cook really has been a flat track bully over the past 5 years. I will again reiterate again that I’m not advocating that Cook should be dropped, far from it, we can’t find one opener let alone two at the moment, but the fact that Cook is still easily the best opener in England is more a terrible reflection on county cricket, than it is a reflection on how good Cook actually is at the moment. Oh and just to annoy the Cook straw men on Twitter that’s 5 in 98 now.

      With the dismissal of Malan and with England 77-4, with only a lead of around 200 ahead, there seemed to still be life in this Test, as whilst the pitch was doing a fair bit, if South Africa could limit the chase to fewer than 275, they still had a chance. Root played very well before getting a ball that kept low. One may be nitpicking and argue that he should have got forward to it; however equally you don’t generally expect the pitch to have demons in it on Day 3. Stokes and Bairstow both came and went, with the former getting a good delivery, which he nicked off to slip and the latter looking uncharacteristically out of touch. So enter the hour and enter the man. I admit that I’ve been particularly harsh on Moeen in the past winter, as I could see all the talent in the world, but couldn’t see any growth in his game. He has proved to be excellent with the ball in this series with 20 wickets and an innings to come and today he showed his class with the bat. England were still in a little bit of strife when Moeen came in, but boy did he play this innings to perfection. He was positive rather than being reckless, something that hasn’t always been the case, didn’t allow the South African bowlers to settle into their line and lengths and then launched a perfect counter attack with the bowlers tiring. Moeen’s counter hitting was truly a sight to behold, though Elgar will be kicking himself for dropping him on 15; however this cameo has firmly turned the dial in England’s favour. I would be amazed if South Africa can muster a batting performance on this pitch to win it from here. It is also worth noting that Moeen’s tally of 20 wickets and over 200 runs is the first time that this has been achieved since a certain Freddie Flintoff achieved it in a rather special Ashes series. Now I’m not going to try and compare apples and pears, but if Moeen can keep this level of play up in the next couple of series and beyond, then England have another true all rounder.

      As for the South African bowlers, they can hold their heads up high. Morkel, Rabada and even Olivier, who looked a club bowler in the 2nd Test, bowled extremely well in conditions that suited them. They consistently made England’s batsmen play and miss and on another occasion could have easily wrapped up the England innings for under 150. The only bowler who will be slightly disappointed will be Maharaj, though whilst he looked dangerous bowling into the rough, especially against the left handers, he will be disappointed that he only took 1-92 in pretty helpful conditions, although he could do little whilst he was being smashed round the park by Moeen.

      So onto Day 4 and barring a miracle or persistent rain, England should wrap up this game and the series 3-1 in the next day or so. Whether we have learnt anything more about the England line up however, is an extremely moot point.

      Thoughts and comments on Day 4 below.

      England vs. South Africa, 4th Test, Preview

      So we go into the last Test at Old Trafford with all to play for and though the scoreline on paper at 2-1 looks like it has been a closely fought series, it actually feels that it has been a slightly anti-climatic series with both teams clearly looking like they are in transition. Chris alluded to this in his wrap up of the third Test, that although the series is hanging on a knife-edge, especially without Director Comma’s ‘super series’, that none of the games have been particularly close. As I thought about it a little more, it has been a long while since England have been involved in a series where both they and the opposition have played consistently good cricket in each game of the series. The Ashes in 2015 was an example of a number of wide margin victories as was the Pakistan Test series last summer, where whoever gets on top after Day 2, normally ends up dishing out a bit of thrashing. Now whether this is particularly true just of England (I don’t think it is) or whether the fact that the T20 batting style has crept into the game, resulting in the batsmen failing to put a high price on their wicket, I’m not sure; however most Test enthusiasts amongst us yearn to see another up and down series like the New Zealand Tests in 2015. Whether or not that happens in the near future, I do have my doubts.

      From an England point of view, the best thing that they can do is not to think about the dreaded word ‘momentum’. This seems to lull them into a false sense of security as the 2nd Test of the summer showed and instead concentrate on doing the basics right as they did at the Oval. Cook and Stokes played wonderfully contrasting innings in England’s first knock, which resulted in them being around 75 runs above par in tricky batting conditions and all of the bowlers (perhaps with Jimmy excepted) all bowled magnificently. From then, the game was won. It has been particularly interesting to see the reaction of the Media to Toby Roland-Jones’ performance with one or two high profile names already clamoring that he doesn’t have the pace to threaten the Australian batsmen in their home conditions. I find this particularly strange when they have quite rightly been gushing in their praise for Vernon Philander, especially as TRJ bowls around the same speed as Philander and relies on accuracy and a bit of movement to eek good batsmen out (for the record Philanders’ average in Australia is a touch under 30). Now I’m fully aware that most of the media and written press don’t sully themselves with watching county cricket, but if they had, then they might have realised that TRJ has consistently been getting wickets at an average of circa 27 on what is the flattest deck in the country, still I guess that this either doesn’t fit their rhetoric or that they are too lazy to do any research! For me, TRJ has to stay in the team for the rest of the summer at least.

      It was also interesting to see Bayliss say that England don’t need 8 batsmen, especially when the English batting line up has a regular habit of falling in heap. Now it is clear to most that Malan hardly had a stellar debut (it happens), but using this as a logic to try and shoehorn Dawson, the very essence of a bits and pieces player, back into the team is just crazy in my opinion and smacks of a certain ‘mood hoover’ having a little word in his ear. For me, England should name exactly the same team for Old Trafford unless the pitch resembles something a bit like the Wankhede! I was also surprised and a little disappointed to see Finn called up as cover for Mark Wood. Now as most on here know, I am a great Finn supporter; however his performances over the past 2 years haven’t backed the selectors faith in having him around the squad; indeed he has been pretty mediocre even in county cricket, which pains me to say. I personally think that Craig Overton or even Jake Ball would have been a better choice as cover; however unless one of England’s main fast bowlers suddenly breaks down tomorrow (I’m writing this on Wednesday evening), then I would simply be amazed if they don’t go with the same seam attack as they did at the Oval.

      As for South Africa, they do seem to have some standout players, some players who are probably not up to Test Cricket (yes Heino Kuhn I’m looking at you) and some players with talent who are absolutely frustratingly inconsistent. As for the batting attack, Dean Elgar has to be one of the best openers in the world at the moment, sure you wouldn’t pay the entrance fee just to watch him, but he is someone who has true grit and is able to get the most out of what is a somewhat limited technique. If I was the England batting coach, I’d be making Cook watch his innings at the Oval on repeat, as that was the sort of inning that Cook made his name from in the past. It would also be surprising if both Du Plessis and Amla bat as badly as they did in the 3rd Test, so it would not be a shock to see their batting line up roar back in the 4th Test, England certainly can’t approach it as if the job is done. The seam bowling line up on paper is also one of the best line-ups in the world with Philander (if you can keep him on the pitch), Rabada and Morkel all capable of running through the side. Morris for me, is the wildcard of the South African attack, capable of bowling brilliant spells followed by a spell of utter trash; he sort of reminds me of Andy Caddick, not through looks or bowling action, but that both could be a match winner when they were fully switched on, yet on other days when they simply didn’t fancy it they’re prone to send down a succession of floaty half volleys asking to be hit. South Africa will certainly hope the focused Morris turns up on Friday.

      Dmitri, Chris and myself are at the Oval on Friday night getting down with the beered up T20 massive (do say hello if you plan to be there yourselves), so Danny will be on the decks on Friday for the Day 1 report.

      As ever thoughts and comments below are always appreciated.