England vs. Australia, 5th Test – The Dead Rubber(ish) Preview

The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result; yet this is precisely what the genius commonly known as Ed Smith has decided to run with in the final Ashes Test at the Oval. Now Ed Smith might believe he is considerably more intelligent than you and I, even if he got caught plagiarising from the Economist, but picking exactly the same squad when we have been comprehensively outplayed by our Australian foes, really does smack of complacency and idiocy. With the Ashes already retained by Australia, surely this was the perfect opportunity to blood some new players who are performing in the county game? An opportunity to put their hands up for the upcoming winter series? But no, not so clever Eddie has decided the best course of action is to stick with those batsmen who have time and time again shown they are either simply not good enough for Test Cricket or who have serious technical faults within their game at the moment.

I certainly remember when Andrew Strauss announced to much excitement from the media, a new scouting set up dedicated to bringing young talent through the pipeline (that’s worked well so far). Indeed Strauss declared at the time:

“[It will mean] many eyes, more time, more sight of players, more often, getting different perspectives to make judgements and assessments on these players to give us a better body of information that stays with us forever,”

Now whether Ed Smith has simply ignored these scouts or whether Mo Bobat has more power than many of us initially thought – https://www.telegraph.co.uk/cricket/2019/02/15/meet-mo-bobat-man-behind-english-crickets-scouting-revolution/. The fact is that the best ideas the England selectors could come up with was a white ball specialist who has never batted for 2 sessions in a game and 34 year old decent county pro, who doesn’t have the skills for Test cricket, is a damning indictment in itself.

Naturally the English management and press are building up this game as a way for England to salvage some pride and to stop the Australians from winning the Ashes, rather than retaining them, which in my opinion makes no difference as the urn will be travelling down under after the series. However, the last few days has shown this to be nothing but a smokescreen as various members of the England management team try to absolve themselves of the blame. It always amuses me how ‘good journalism’ suddenly appears in the national newspapers when various ECB individuals have their jobs on the line or a player to brief against. Naturally the ECB never leaks, it just happens to be a weird coincidence that you can bet on when this ‘good journalism’ will appear time and time again! Therefore it is not surprise that there are mummering’s that poor old Ed Smith is being supposedly being undermined by the England coaches and captain:

Of course, like the sun sets in the sky, our favourite Former Chief Correspondent of the Guardian appears on Twitter to back up these claims:

Mr Selvey, of course, knows who pays the bills at the ECB and it was certainly never going to be Trevor Bayliss. The thing with Bayliss is that he has given the likes of Mike Selvey the opportunity to criticise him by not watching county cricket and not showing that much interest in squad announcements. He has also appeared in this series to be counting down the days until his contract ends. Now I’m not saying he’s on the proverbial plane, but there are rumours his duty free is being delivered to the Oval tomorrow.

That being said, you could argue that he has achieved what he was asked to do by winning the World Cup as part of England’s blueprint set out 4 years ago; England’s Test performances may well have got progressively worse under his watch, but then that also comes with the decision to prioritise white ball cricket over Test cricket and by having a Chief of Selectors who is more interested in sampling the local hospitality than doing his job. It will be interesting to see how history judges Bayliss, a man so relaxed it looked like he might fall off his chair at times; He is certainly no Duncan Fletcher but equally is no Peter Moores either. I suspect he knows that he will cop most of the blame for this Ashes series result, after all it comes with the territory, even if Strauss, Morgan and Harrison tried to unfairly hog all of the platitudes after winning the World Cup, which Bayliss was a key part of. The criticism of Bayliss has been that he is too hands off at times, which makes it hard to believe that he is the type of person who would bang his fists on the table demanding a batsmen who can score at four runs an over. It would be fair to say that the narrative of Ed Smith via various media sources shows that he is desperately trying to wash his hands of this debacle. However he will need to do a hell of a lot more to convince the sceptical English fans that the finger of blame shouldn’t be pointed in his direction. A genius is about the furthest thing away from how he has looked this summer.

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As for the game itself, to me and many others, this smacks of a dead rubber. England may well be motivated to win the game and tie the series and Australia might well be going all guns blazing to win the series, but for the average cricket fan, it is a much of a muchness. The Ashes are gone no matter how much people try to build it up. For England, Ben Stokes looks like he might not be able to bowl, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Sam Curran comes in as a bowling allrounder to replace one of the underperforming batsmen, whilst England might be tempted to replace Craig Overton with Chris Woakes. As for Australia, they might be tempted to give Pat Cummins a rest bearing in mind his workload in this series and his previous injury history. I’m not sure it matters too much, especially if England can’t work out how to get Steve Smith out before he reaches another double century. The weather is set fair and you would imagine that batting conditions should be good for the first 3 days, although you can never judge a pitch until England have collapsed on it first!

As ever, feel free to leave your comments below:

UPDATE: England have dropped Roy and Overton for Curran and Woakes, whilst Australia have bought in Mitchell Marsh for Travis Head.

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England vs. Australia, 4th Test, Day 2 open thread

Well unfortunately none of us we were able to watch the first day’s play yesterday, hence the lack of a post, in the hope that maybe one of us had seen the highlights. Alas, to say it wasn’t a great day of cricket is an understatement. The weather conditions meant that the teams were on, then off more than an opinion from Michael Vaughan.

England lost the toss and were made to bowl first on a pitch that seemed to give little assistance to the bowling team. They did though make early inroads with Broad first taking the wicket of David Warner, who has become his walking wicket during this series and then picking up Harris on reviews. After that, the pitch seemed to flatten out and not for the first time in this series Smith and Labuchagne made England’s bowlers toil in unhelpful conditions for a surprisingly tame England attack.

Craig Overton picked up Labuschagne towards the end of the day, after bowling pretty innocuously for the most part of the day. Steve Smith is still at the crease (of course he is) and if I had a pound for every time I’ve highlighted that England need to get him out early to restrict the Australian total, then I’d probably be living in a castle somewhere in Umbria at the moment.

The weather doesn’t look great for today, cue the why are we playing the Ashes at Old Trafford in Manchester debate, but fingers crossed that we might get some more play today. Equally it would also be quite refreshing if Steve Smith could trip over his stumps in the first over of the day; unlikely sure, but probably as likely as a full day’s play.

Feel free to comment on the game below.

The England Test Opener From A Different Era – An Interview With Nick Compton – Part Two

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In Part One, which can be found here if you somehow might have missed it, I discussed with Nick the key challenges that our batsmen of this generation and the next are facing when it comes to playing for England at Test level. We also discussed how the level of coaching has somewhat diminished across the board as well as the need for younger players to broaden their horizons.

In this Second part, I wanted to dive a little deeper into Nick’s own career as an England Test batsman, the challenges that came on and off the pitch as well as some reflections on his own career.


 

Sean: You had a pretty classical technique, did the guys at Loughborough try and tweak it? God only knows what they would have done to Steve Smith if they’d seen his technique as a kid?

Nick: “Not hugely. I mean they try to question you in terms of whether you get a bit better here or there, but they didn’t do too much with me. I think when I came in, I had come up the hard way through county cricket; I had scored loads of runs at county level and was an older and more established player. I had played on the England A tour and for the Under 19s too during my career, so no one really tweaked my technique too much.”

Sean: I have been a big critic of the pitches at county level, which encourages teams to play slow wicket to wicket bowlers, what are your thoughts having had a long career?

Nick: “Absolutely, I think the pitches are by and large substandard these days, with even Lord’s being one of them because it’s so dry and slow. When I was a kid you arrived at a game at Lord’s licking your lips – not just because it’s at Lord’s but also because you’re playing on prime surface – almost a work of art really. At times there are club wickets I’d genuinely rather go and bat on these days. It can appear patchy and it’s dry underneath, and all because they’ve got these underwater drainage systems beneath that suck the life out of a pitch, meaning they have to patch it up with extra grass to try and make it Test Match worthy. It’s not an excuse, but I really struggled with motivation the last two or three years I played there. I’d be fielding at backward point and the first ball of the game would drop in front of the wicketkeeper and I can remember thinking that this is going to be a very long four days.   The ball didn’t come on to the bat, and it doesn’t make for exciting cricket. My game was all about timing the ball, so I always wanted some pace in the pitch so it came on to the bat.  Slow pitches like that make it tedious and dull.

“Obviously that doesn’t affect some other players – a Ben Stokes can just hit the ball out of the ground, but it wasn’t my game and it didn’t suit me. It also leads back to the point I was making about the lack of fast bowling in our game – why bother when pitches are like that?  Now we are facing the Australians who have some real pace and our top order is struggling because they don’t face it in county cricket much. The reality is that these pitches encourage medium pacers and it doesn’t help anyone prepare to face bowling of the level and speed of Pat Cummins or Mitchell Starc. It really isn’t complicated – in county cricket you just don’t see those types of bowlers because you’re facing a trundler who bowls 73 miles an hour on a wet green dog of a pitch. In the end it affected my enthusiasm, especially in the early part of the season, because it was just so boring – medium pacer after medium pacer. I did a job as a professional and I had the extra motivation that I wanted to play for England, so I worked it out, but it’s always leave, block, leave, block when trying to get in on those pitches. Even then, no matter how hard you focus, you’ve got someone like Darren Stevens, all due respect to him, ambling in and bowling wicket to wicket.  In those conditions he can make you look silly, and that’s county cricket.  But then players go to Australia or South Africa where the ball is whistling past their ears and it’s no wonder our players struggle.  I was lucky, that’s what I grew up with.”

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Sean: If you don’t mind me asking, I was pretty shocked when you were dropped from the England set up in 2013. Do you think that’s because you weren’t an attacking opener?

Nick: “Yes, I’ll admit it’s a real sore point for me because I don’t think I should ever have been dropped. Was it my approach to batting? Perhaps, however I felt that I had forged a good partnership with Cook both statistically and in person and there really wasn’t a need to change things; however it shows how fickle and tough sport can be at the highest level.  In my final game at Headingley [against New Zealand 2013] I hurt my rib and couldn’t field on the last day which was originally diagnosed as a hairline fracture but eventually diagnosed as heavy bruising, but still meant I was unable to take the field. There was some scepticism from England’s management team at the time about the injury as they were under a lot of pressure and I knew I was under pressure from certain quarters. It was pretty tough to take as I was an opening batsman who had forged his identity through facing some of the fastest bowlers in the world and seemed to excel in some of the toughest conditions. Naturally, I wanted to contribute in the field so that we won the game and it was incredibly frustrating not to be able to do so. I know Andy wasn’t in a great space at the time and I gave the management an opportunity to look elsewhere by not playing my best at the time. Whether that contributed to being dropped from the Ashes series, I simply don’t know. I do know that I wasn’t given a chance to play again for England under him as head coach.

“Things like that are hard sure, but I have to hold my hands up, had I played really well then I wouldn’t be saying this. I also really don’t think it was the pace that I batted though, more to do with the fact that the England management team felt Cook, Trott and myself were a bit samey. But I’ll say it again, that in my experience that you need three opening batsmen with proper techniques to be successful in England at Test level. I’m of the strong opinion that in this Test series, if England had three top players who could get through the new ball, that middle order would be scoring a hell of a lot more runs than they have been recently, irrespective of what happened on Sunday. The top order need to survive the new ball, if they can last for an hour and a half then they’ve gone a long way to doing their job – and they can go on to a decent score and the middle order have half a chance of succeeding. But it’s not fashionable to approach it that way, and as a result they can’t do it, they don’t want to do it and their techniques aren’t potentially up to it.  Full stop.”

Sean: That must have a terrible blow, was that your biggest regret in the international arena?

Nick: “Yes, I would swap everything to have been able to play in the Ashes against the 2015 Australians because if there was ever a time that I could have excelled, that was it.  It wasn’t against Sri Lanka and similar teams like that, it was against the fastest bowlers. I truly think that’s where I could have offered a point of difference. I wasn’t the kind of player who would have stood out from the crowd against medium pacers but against for example, Mitchell Johnson, I believe my technique and experience against facing the quickest bowlers in the world in similar conditions would have meant that I had a better chance of succeeding than most; however I never got the chance to prove it and that’s a big regret as I do feel I was a better player than my Test average reflects.”

Sean: I remember Ricky Ponting at the time being shocked that you had been left out of the Ashes team after your performance at Worcester against the touring side.

Nick: “Yes, I played well in that game and they were all running in at 90 miles an hour too.  I couldn’t have felt more at ease with my batting than I was against them, it’s when I felt at my most confident and I just wanted that chance at the top level as I’m a different player against the fastest and best. I came alive against Dale Steyn in the game at Durban and felt completely comfortable because that’s what I grew up with and that was my main talent. But the problem was that I felt my card had been marked the first time around as someone who was too intense and didn’t bat with enough aggression. I remember a game at Uxbridge in 2014 for Somerset against Middlesex and I got 98 and 88 not out and played out of my skin saving a game against a strong Middlesex team featuring Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones who were all bowling really well. And I remember John Inverarity, who was the chairman of Australian selectors at the time and a fabulous cricketing individual telling my mentor that although I’d played very well, I still wouldn’t be selected, because the England selectors just didn’t want players who played like me.”

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Nick Compton looks at a picture of his Grandfather in the Long Room at Lords. Photo by Phil Brown

Sean: Did you feel that you were treated somewhat unfairly by the media?

Nick: “Yes at times I did. I felt I had to fight harder and harder as my career went on, because I didn’t feel there was a wave of backing for the way I played and the qualities I had – it wasn’t sexy enough for them. Of course there were some good players coming through as well, one by the name of Joe Root, who didn’t turn out all that bad! Given what was written in the press, I felt I had to bang my own drum to get any recognition at all but it also gave me a greater source of hunger for much of my career to prove them wrong.  At the time I started to wonder if I was losing it, but looking back now, and given what’s going on with the England batting currently, I realise I wasn’t losing it at all, it’s just my style of batting supposedly didn’t fit with what England wanted retrospectively.  I am still deeply disappointed how the likes of Michael Vaughan and those others in the media who would pontificate about how Compton was batting too slowly, portrayed me back then. Joe Root scored 12 off 80 balls the other day but nothing negative was said about him – just the opposite.  Now they bemoan the inability of the top order to occupy the crease, but it’s not what they were saying at the time when they were more interested in who could clear the boundary rope.  So why was that? They are supposed to know the game after all; Yes, it would have been easier for me if my batting average had been higher so I could have put those murmurings to bed, but I still felt that I was being singled out a bit at times when as a player all you want to be left to do what you’ve done before and will do again. The difference of course is that in international cricket it’s about time and there isn’t a lot of it due to the unique pressures you face in the international arena.  I’ve read that it was maybe how I came across in interviews, but personally I don’t think that was the case, I just felt I was focused and professional and that I gave it my all every time I went to the crease.  Perhaps it was the Compton name that made me a target, but whatever it was, I could just never understand why I was always in the firing line.”

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Nick Compton who is never far from his beloved camera. Jonny Bairstow in the background with a fantastic handle-bar moustache

Sean: Perhaps people saw you as a bit of an easy target? There was the whole Nick Compton doesn’t fit in, which baffled me.

Nick: “I know, and that hurt me because I’m pretty sure I’m a decent bloke and got on well with the players in the dressing room. Sure I was a defensive batsman but then so was Jonathan Trott and so was Alastair Cook. I felt it was unfair and to be honest I didn’t really understand where it came from. I know that they didn’t like the fact that Kevin Pietersen was a big mate of mine, but I also made sure that I didn’t take sides in the fall out [Pietersen being dropped from the England side] and that was entirely deliberate.  I think all of the boys saw I gave 100% percent whether out on the field or in the nets, during the game or in practice. If I had to answer back to the media, it was perhaps that I’m my own person, an individual, and maybe a little more outward looking than some of the rest of the guys in the team. I have a huge passion for photography, I absolutely loved exploring new places when we were on tour and I’d go and do things that perhaps the other members of the team weren’t as interested in, visiting art galleries in New Zealand for example. Most of the guys preferred to stay in the hotel and play on the PlayStation, which is fine, but that wasn’t me – I didn’t want to stay in the hotel playing on a games console when there are other things to do and new experiences to have.  Does that mean I didn’t fit in? No, It was a ridiculous agenda, with no foundation to it. It’s not like they mentioned that I was really good mates with Alastair Cook, that was ignored. So, yes, it really upset me because it was my one shot and my career they were playing with.”

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Sean: Did you get any support from any of the former pros in the commentary box?

Nick: “Absolutely not. Never. Michael Vaughan has never met me in my life, Nasser Hussain has never met me in my life and I still find it strange that they made no effort to do so.  If I had their history as captain or top order player for England I’d be keen to talk to a new player and suggest a coffee and a chat about what’s involved – pass on my experiences or be there for advice if it was wanted. That would have made a huge difference to me, and I’m certain it would make a huge difference to those in that position now. These are former players we grew up watching. If having done so and then afterwards they then wrote a less than favourable article about me, then that’s fine, it’s their job, but the point is they never bothered to meet me or find out about me. They then still wrote certain things about me that were blatantly untrue. I knew the emergence of Joe Root and the calls to get him in the England side meant that I was a bit of a target, and obviously Michael Vaughan’s affiliation with Root added to that, so it felt like I was always in the firing line.”

“I’m very passionate about the way people are treated, and of course I was hurt by all the criticism I received; but I want to stand up for myself and talk about it because I believe in what I say and don’t see that as a negative thing at all. I want to help not hinder young players, especially those coming through into the England set up, so perhaps they might be able to learn from what I went through.”

The last question I was going to ask, was whether you’d take up a role on the selection panel if offered as I believe you’re uniquely qualified?

“I am actually on the selection panel. I’m only a scout at the moment and I have been tasked with scouting some young players and reporting back. Unfortunately, I don’t get any say on who is picked and who isn’t picked, that’s purely down to Ed Smith and his senior team. Perhaps one day.”

Sean: Once again, thank you for your time and your thoughts Nick; it’s been a real pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to you about your thoughts on cricket in such depth.

Nick is an ex professional cricketer who played for England, Middlesex and Somerset during his career. Nick can be followed on Twitter via his account @thecompdog. Nick is also a passionate photographer and his collections can be found here: https://nickcomptonphotography.com.

As always, it would be great to hear your comments on the above article below.

The England Test Opener From A Different Era – An Interview With Nick Compton – Part One

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So there I was, watching the highlights of the Test with a glass of wine in hand and seeing the English batting unit collapse in a heap once again. Many of our parish know that this isn’t exactly a rare occurrence, in fact it is more surprising these days when the English top order actually make some runs. I have my own theories around this as do the rest of the editors on the site, but I wanted to get an understanding from someone who has been there, someone who has not just played at the highest level but also who was renowned for his batting technique throughout his time in the English game. Even more though, I wanted to hear from someone who is still passionate about the game and has some strong views about what is currently going wrong.

So I got in touch with an player who I had seen come through the Middlesex ranks as a youngster and one who I had a number of fond memories of watching when I was still a member of the county and who I felt was cast aside from the England setup far too soon, especially when he was still in his prime: England’s former top order Test batsman, Nick Compton.

I was delighted when Nick agreed to speak even though he was due in hospital on the same day, even if it was for 5 or 10 minutes. I’m lucky that there is a passion that still burns with him and 5 minutes turned into 15 and 15 into nearly half hour. It was great to pick the mind of someone who has seen it all in both the Test and county arenas and I cannot thank Nick enough for sparing the time to speak to me.

The one thing I would ask is for all to read the interview with an open mind, whether you think Nick was discarded too soon or not. He has some great opinions, some strong views and a fantastic cricket mind. With that said, let the interview begin.


 

Sean: As a former Test opener, what are the main flaws that you can see in the English top order?

Nick: “Essentially, I think there’s a lack of the application and wider batting aptitude that is vital to be a successful test cricketer. Really, it begins with patience, technique and above all, an understanding of your game.  That’s how you learn to play the angles and have the ability to survive long enough so that you can contribute with big runs later on in the game.  It’s become fashionable to focus only on scoring shots and taking it to the other team rather than playing the moment and building an innings. It works well enough when the wickets are flat but when the ball is moving around, then it’s absolutely the wrong approach.

“Test cricket has been around for 150 years and hasn’t changed that much in its fundamentals – especially when it comes to batting at the top of the order against a high quality pace attack. Ben Stokes was magnificent of course, but it doesn’t mean the wider problems aren’t there.  Overall in this series the techniques of many of the batsmen on both sides aren’t that special. Of course, it’s easy to carp on from the sidelines and highlight the flaws of others, but I’m talking about a wider issue that affects our game, not pointing fingers at individuals.  There’s a shortage of high-quality fast bowling in our domestic game, meaning those who come through it haven’t had enough exposure to the kind of level they’ll face in Test cricket. So many of the dismissals this series have been poor, both technically and in terms of application. The batsmen aren’t fighting to keep their wicket intact – Test batting in other words – they’re going after the bowling and paying the price.  The standard of Test batting has to be a concern – there are a few really high quality players around, Smith, Pujara and Kohli for example, but the drop off below that group is a bit alarming.  Joe Root is clearly a fantastic player, but I think the whole move up the order to number three has affected his game more than people are prepared to admit. The “second opener” nature of number three isn’t his natural position, he’s better when he can attack, and that’s because he’s a middle order player.

“David Warner got a few in this last Test, but he’s struggling over here because the ball is doing something both in the air and off the pitch, and he’s just not used to facing it because he’s never really had to, especially in white ball cricket. He’s just an example, but countering the moving ball requires a technique that batsmen these days don’t have and can’t instantly apply.  Everyone is trying to score quickly and hit through the line on the up, but they can’t stay in long enough against the best fast bowlers because they take too many risks in attack, their defence isn’t good enough and they struggle to judge what to play, and more importantly what not to play.

“The point is that I’ve played with and against these guys for years in county cricket, and when the ball does something, they’re as normal as the rest of us. On flat tracks like Perth or at the Adelaide Oval, they’re going to out-bat me because that’s what their technique is geared towards, but I can tell you most of the time I’ll survive longer than they will when facing the moving ball. It’s not me boasting, it’s because I spent a lifetime building the qualities needed for that into my game, but the way cricket has gone that kind of approach has become deeply unfashionable.  It’s not they can’t, it’s that they don’t.”

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Sean: Did you see it creep into the international game when you were playing?

Nick: “Yes I think so.  I was a bit startled to see players who have had long international careers suddenly looking out of place. Even Alastair Cook in the last couple of years seemed to have moved away from the highly successful Test approach he’d had all his career, and it wasn’t just a matter of form.  So you pause and wonder how it can be that the most successful opener we’ve had in decades is struggling in the Test arena and playing shots that he’d never have considered in previous years. It’s because the mindsets of the batsmen have changed so much, and I felt that Cook was far looser with his technique towards the end of his career.  His defence was nothing like as tight as it had been, he was far less patient, especially early on and nothing like as watchful during an innings.  I don’t know if he felt some sort of pressure to become a “modern player” and tried to transform his game into this attacking breed of cricket that we’re all supposed to be playing, but I really hope not. In my case, I found as soon as I tried it, I lost the very qualities that made me the player that I was and gained me the success I achieved.”

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The opening partnership that should have been given the time to thrive?

Sean: England’s focus at county level has shifted from red ball cricket to white ball cricket, are we now seeing the results of this?

Nick: “Fundamentally, the powers that be believe that an “aggressive brand of cricket” equals entertainment, and that’s what they want to see. If I was starting out in county cricket now, why would I want to work my backside off to survive a couple of hours for 20 runs when there’s more concern about the strike rate than anything else? As far as developing players for Test cricket is concerned, these are the innings that are the most educational and useful and imbue batsmen with the kinds of qualities best suited for the top level. However players these days just don’t do that, and don’t place as high a value on their wicket anymore, they prefer to try and score quickly when it’s difficult because they don’t feel they’ll last too long anyway.  Patience as part of the art of batting – for the later rewards – is something that’s rather been forgotten these days, as is building an innings.  Instead there’s this desire to dominate, so after an over or two of struggle, you get this big booming drive and a wicket.”

Sean: Do you think you’re a dying breed of batsmen? I look at Trott in his prime and Pujara now for example and see very few else out there whose technique is based around defence.

Nick: “Yes but that’s the point isn’t it?  Given the direction modern cricket is going, why would you want to go to all the effort and work involved to become that kind of player?  T20 has meant that if you can hit the ball a long way and score rapidly, you can make a lot of money from all the T20 competitions around the world. To add to that direction of travel, now we’ve got the Hundred: the players are professionals and need to earn a living and win contracts so how can anyone blame them for developing their game in the way that benefits that? I certainly wouldn’t, I just went left-field a bit and it was a deliberate choice.

“I came to a crossroads in my career when I was 25 or 26, and I remember sitting down with my mentor for a talk about where I was going.  T20 had been going for several years, and a lot of the younger players coming through and some older professionals had either decided that Test cricket wasn’t really their passion anymore or had been found out by the longer form of the game. They saw the money that was on offer in the short form of the game and their heads were turned, so they decided to place all their focus on the T20 competitions. Me though, I did it the other way, I looked at my career and felt that there was a dearth of individuals who could bat for a day around the county game, and even fewer who could potentially bat all day for England. Trott and Cook were the main guys and I decided that I wanted to be the third one, renowned for being able to bat and bat and bat.

“At that time in my career Cook and Trott looked impregnable, and England were making huge totals on the back of them laying the groundwork. I felt I could be a part of that and spent months working on building a world class defence. People say I was slow, but I wasn’t that slow a batsman at all, I just weighed up the situation and played normal cricket. I had all the shots, but a lot of the time what was required for me in all the teams I played in was to take the shine off the new ball and let others bat around me. When I was at Somerset I can clearly remember my coach Brian Rose saying to me “Nick, I’ve got you down here for one reason and that’s to bat; bat all day and every time you think about doing something else, think again and just bat”. He wanted me to do that in all forms of the game and every morning the look in his eye would remind me what my role was. His attitude was that he had Trescothick, Hildreth and Kieswetter to play all the shots, he needed someone who could hold the batting line up order together. That was so helpful to me, if that’s how he wanted me to bat, then that was what I going to do. That kind of backing makes all the difference – I knew what my role in the side was and I was determined to go out and do just that.  And because I had some talent, I would be supremely confident knowing I had that support for the way I was playing. I’d be on automatic pilot much of the time, which is a great position to be in when batting; if there was a short ball, I’d just either duck or put it away, I’d been doing it for 20 years by then anyway.  I didn’t need to practice hitting a ball off my legs or pushing a half volley through the covers because they were my go-to shots anyway and my key strengths, so I wouldn’t have to think about playing them and didn’t need to practice those in the nets – it had just become second nature and low risk. In one day cricket, you’re going after the 50/50 balls because you have to be scoring all the time, and as the format gets shorter, it moves to 40/60 balls or 30/70 balls. This is absolutely fine in those formats of the game, but in the longer one you should be looking to leave those alone or defend them, and they don’t.”

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England’s Nick Compton bats during a practice session at the Basin Reserve, Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/PA Images via Getty Images)

Sean: I remember being coached particularly poorly at club level; do you feel that players are no longer receiving the right sort of coaching to play at Test level?

Nick: “Unfortunately, the standard of coaching is fairly poor across the board at the moment.  A lot of people are spending time throwing balls down at batsmen, so it looks like they’re putting in the hours, but that’s not coaching. You could pay a 16 year old lad on his summer holidays to come and do that, but that wouldn’t be coaching either, it would be practice.  Coaching should be about improving players and helping them get the most out of themselves.  At the end of the season young players need to know where they are and have a full review of their game and what to work on; Instead they’re either told well done or told nothing depending on how the season went. That means they disappear for the winter to do what they want until the start of pre-season when they turn up and do some running around and receive throw downs. How is anything going to have changed in that time?  The off season is such a good opportunity to go away and work on specific things, but there’s no structure around the period when more than at any other time they can make material changes.  What has he worked on? Who has he done that work with? This is the kind of specialist intervention that sets a good coach apart from the rest, but it doesn’t happen anything like as much as it should.  There absolutely are some coaches who do it, but nothing like enough and that’s extremely damaging.

“All players need help and support throughout their careers – even the very best in the world can get into bad habits, but when they do, they go back to their trusted coaches to work out the kinks in their game, and unfortunately much of the time that doesn’t happen for everyone else, even though it should.”

New Zealand v England - 1st Test: Day 4
Nick Compton during day four of the First Test match between New Zealand and England at University Oval on March 9, 2013 in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Sean: Why do you think this is? We’ve supposedly got all the brains in world cricket at Loughborough, why isn’t this cascading down to the county level?

Nick: “It’s a question of accountability and job security. It’s much easier to simply follow the instructions of the county and tick the required boxes so they stay in post rather than take on the responsibility of trying to make a major difference to a particular player. Numbers are also important here, because they’ve got large squads to handle, little time and the kind of one on one coaching of a young player that’s needed requires a huge amount of work and a lot of investment both in time and money. I also believe that there is a fear that if they do coach properly on an individual basis, they’ll get the blame if a young player keeps getting out and decides to blame them for it.  Coaches too want to have a job next year.

“Instead the approach is to deflect it back on to the player; instead of working with them they ask them questions – “how do you think you should be playing, what do you think you’d do in this situation?”. It’s a way of avoiding responsibility – a player who has a concern about their game doesn’t seek out a coach to be asked questions, they go to learn where they’re going wrong and how they can improve their play.  A player is often the least able to understand the mistakes they’re making, and that’s why a coach is so valuable.

“If I listen to what the coach is saying, understand and implement it and still don’t score a run, that’s my fault, not his. It could be that he’s not a great coach, but I still chose to listen, or it could be that I didn’t implement what I was told properly. Either way, that’s still ultimately my responsibility – I choose who to listen to and what to do, but I’d still prefer a coach who gave me bad advice but put his heart and soul into me to make me better than a coach who just stands there and asks questions. If nothing else, my mental state is going to be far better from one who has worked with me in detail and bought into me and what I want to achieve.  If it ends up not working, never mind, we both tried extremely hard and put in huge amounts of work in good faith to make me a better player. It just didn’t work out.

“That’s also where the player responsibility comes in, and partly why coaches are the way they are as it’s definitely also down to the player to play a role and work to make themselves better.   I look around the counties and I see guys who think that they are so much better than they really are. They don’t put the work in, they don’t look outside of county cricket, they do their training session and go home and play on the Xbox thinking that they’re doing their job to the best of their ability. But you aren’t going to become a better player just by playing for your county, any more than a club player will get better just by playing for their club. You’ve got to go and travel, mentally and physically – you’ve got to go to other countries and work on things. You’ve got to get other advice because no coach is perfect, and ultimately it’s about finding what works for you.”


In Part Two, I will be speaking to Nick about his own experience as an England Test Opener and the rigours and challenges that come with it both on and off the pitch.

Nick is an ex professional cricketer who played for England, Middlesex and Somerset during his career. Nick can be followed on Twitter via his account @thecompdog. Nick is also a passionate photographer and his collections can be found here: https://nickcomptonphotography.com.

As always, please feel free to leave your comments below.

England vs. Australia, 3rd Test, Alive and Kicking?

Approximately 24 hours ago, the majority of people I know either personally or through social media were sat enthralled by the action on the 4th day at Headingley. There is no other sport that I know that can have four or five days of action which can then all come down to one session of enthralling action. I was sat on the edge of my seat watching despair turn to hope, then back to resignation finally ending up at disbelief at what I’d seen. I can’t picture the emotions that those in the crowd and even more pertinent, that those in the throes of the action must have felt. The unbelievable batting by Ben Stokes, the resolute defence from Leach, the missed stumping from Lyon and the DRS decision that never was, and this was only the culmination of an amazing Test Match. There is simply no sport that can ever match that type of drama in my opinion and I had tingles down my spine to the rest of the evening trying to recall what I’d seen.

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From some of the twitter reports, Sky Sports recorded over 2.1 million viewers who watched the cricket yesterday afternoon and Test Match Special also recorded over 1.25 million listeners at the same time which is not bad for a so-called second-tier sport. However just imagine how many viewers yesterday’s action would have got on free to air; now this is not meant to have a pop at Sky who have enhanced the viewing spectacle dramatically, more it’s a pop at the ECB who sold cricket to the government as a second-tier sport and thus not worthy of free to air access. That is one thing I will never forgive the ECB for and something that still makes me incredibly angry 14 years on. Who knows, we might have had 8 million viewers had the game been on free to air yesterday?

The headlines have rightly going to Ben Stokes, who whilst looking in great touch all summer, played an innings that probably won’t be bettered by him in his lifetime. Naturally the media have caught the ‘best everitis’ or ‘momentum’ as seems to be fashionable these days with the phrases being thrown around like a politician promises new policies. I’m not personally going to get into the debate about whether this was the best innings ever by an English batsmen but what I can agree is that it was one of the finest innings I’ve seen. Stokes though should not just be praised for his amazing batting performance but also a fine bowling spell on the afternoon of Day two and morning of Day three where he wrestled some initiative back to England, even if then a victory seemed more in hope than in reality. Root and Denly also deserve praise for finally laying a platform at the top of the order which allowed Stokes to play in the outrageous manner he did. Indeed I had a quick chat with a former England International batsman before the Test who bemoaned that the like of Stokes, Bairstow and Buttler were not getting a fair crack of the whip because they were always coming and facing a batting crisis.

Now comes the reality though and most who read this blog regularly absolutely know it was likely to come. England were incredibly fortunate to win this Test Match and still have a chance of winning The Ashes. The type of innings that Ben Stokes played yesterday is perhaps something you may see 10 times in your life if you are lucky; certainly it’s not something that England can rely on for the rest of the series. Let’s face it England, the ECB and Ed Smith lucked out big time, we let Australia get 60 runs too many through poor bowling on day one and the batting performance from England throughout this series has been nothing short of disastrous, if you remove the events of yesterday. England might be one all in the Ashes, but it could have easily been a dead series as we headed to Old Trafford and nothing but a damp squib to end the summer after a historic World Cup win. Therefore, it would be so stupidly foolhardy for England to rest on their laurels, in a series where they have been comprehensively outplayed by this Australian team. In reality, Australia should have the Ashes in the bag and would have done so, if it wasn’t for one player’s quite breath-taking batting performance.

Fundamentally Jason Roy looks nothing like a Test player let alone an opening batsman, Jos Buttler is still being picked on promise rather than results (he has one Test Match century in 34 Test games now), Chris Woakes looks out of touch with both the ball and bat and Johnny Bairstow’s wicket-keeping simply isn’t good enough for a Test wicketkeeper. If England really are going to retain the Ashes, then Ed Smith has got to leave his ego by the door and pick a team more suited to Test cricket. If we stay with the same team going into Old Trafford, then I very much doubt we’ll be lucky enough to find another saviour to save us from the abyss this time. I will leave the selection debate to another time and I’m sure many of the readers and commenters on this blog have their own views on who needs to be dropped and who needs to be selected; however doing nothing is simply not an option in my view.

As for Australia, no doubt they’ll be devastated by the result and will have woken up with the sick feeling in the pit of their stomach; however the return of Steve Smith combined with the emergence of Marnus Labuschagne should give them cause for optimism heading into the Fourth Test. There may be talk of momentum shift by the English press and the England captain; however in my view, Australia are still favourites to win the series and take the ashes back down to the southern hemisphere.

On one last note, there was a wonderfully magnanimous piece written by Greg Baum written in response to yesterday’s play. I often criticise the media on both sides as being slightly ‘one-eyed’ when it comes to their team; however this piece was a true celebration of what the author had seen, irrespective of the result.

https://www.theage.com.au/sport/cricket/we-can-all-die-happy-now-cricket-doesn-t-get-any-better-than-this-20190826-p52knk.html

As ever, feel free to leave comments and thoughts below.

England vs. Australia, Third Test, Preview

So we head to Headingley, with the fallout of the Second Test still ringing in our ears. I must admit that I was not expecting the game at Lords to have been so close with the amount of rain and time lost on the test, but to the credit of each team, they fought to the bitter end. Day Five proved to be a day full of drama with Australia batting out for a draw but the main fallout from the game was naturally that of the Steve Smith concussion and the so-called reaction of Jofra Archer to the ball that fell Steve Smith.

I must admit it did leave a sour taste in the mouth with unfounded accusations and ugly behaviour from both sets of fans. The fact that Smith was booed after he had been hit was utterly disgusting but equally the individual that called Joe Root ‘a cheating wanker’ for claiming the catch of Marnus Labuschange was not exactly an upstanding individual of the game (I’m not even going to bother with the Andy Bichel comments). I’m also keen for us not to sully ourselves with those who question the nationality of certain players on both sides, which for me is a complete nonentity, but sadly common in the modern game now.

It has been a strange series so far, in that the game on the pitch has been played in a hard but fair manner, however the behaviour off the pitch from the opposing sets of fans has been anything but that. I get the tribalism from each set of supporters as the rivalry between England and Australia has gone back since the dawn of time, but at this point it does look like a race to the bottom between each sets of fans with each declaring that the other are more disgusting. I didn’t see the ball from Archer that hit Smith in real time, but I’d have been very surprised if Archer was laughing at the plight of his injured opponent. TLG mentioned in his piece about having a delayed reaction when he unwittingly hurt a player from his own side, with bewilderment turning to shock then then turn into horror. Indeed Mitchell Johnson, a scourge of many a former England Test Batsman wrote this piece in the ‘I’ paper yesterday:

One thing that may have opened his eyes is the dispute around his reaction to his blow to Smith’s head. For me, I just don’t think he knew how to react at that moment. To judge him without knowing the facts and on limited evidence is pretty poor.

Bowling with pace and hostility doesn’t happen without the intent to do so. You need the desire to do it in order to go through all the pain that comes with bowling at extreme speeds. I can say with absolute honesty that I used to run in wanting to take the batsman’s head off when I was trying to bowl a bouncer.

That’s not me saying that I ever wanted to hurt anyone. It was simply a way to trick my mind and get up for the battle.

I didn’t think that I would like Mitchell Johnson, as he took on the role of heavily moustachioed destroyer of England’s batsman in the past, but it has been a nice surprise to listen to his well-informed and erudite commentary, especially as he has past experiences of bowling with pace and venom and hitting one or two players in the process. It’s a shame we haven’t heard more from him as opposed to some other of his compatriots who are far less insightful.

It has now been confirmed that Steve Smith out of the Third Test, which is a great pity for those that want to see the best players playing in the Ashes, even if they are for the opposition. I’m not a doctor and hence can’t provide an informed view of the Smith concussion, but although he did look shaky when he returned to the crease, I am more than willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the Australian medical team and the concussion checks that they no doubt carried out; whether there should be an independent medical team for each Test Match is an argument that is potentially worth having in the future, but for now it’s a moot point and personally I seriously doubt the Australian medics would purposely endanger their own player. It is naturally a huge blow to Australia in losing their best player; however I don’t agree with those who now make England favourites for this match, it’s more the case that both teams are more equally matched now. In my opinion. I can’t see Australia making many changes to their side apart from the enforced change, with Marnus Labuschange likely to come in for Smith, though there could be a possible change in the bowling line up with either Starc or Pattinson potentially coming in for Siddle, who was not at his best at Lords.

As the England it looks like it will be an unchanged side despite the clear deficiencies of the batsmen. As Danny pointed out his last post, the fact that we only have a three day gap between this Test and the last Test and with the other English batsmen in the county set up not having played red ball cricket for a long while, it means that England are stuck with the batsmen they have. They may decide to tinker with the batting order, with Root maybe going down to his preferred position at number 4 with Denly replacing him at number 3, but it’s like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic anyway! One would expect that another failure for Roy or Denly will likely mean changes for the fourth test; however this is Ed Smith and I’m not sure if he has ever admitted that he has been wrong. The one major positive for England has been the performance of Ben Stokes, who looked a top-class batsman in the last Test and is hopefully now beginning to realise the major talent that he has in abundance. Stokes has been the backbone of the English batting line throughout the World Cup and has looked in fine fettle this series and boy do England need him to carry on with his form throughout the rest of the series if they are going to have any chance in re-claiming the urn.

The weather looks set fair for Headingley, which is no doubt a relief for both sets of batsmen as the ball can swing round trees with sufficient overhead conditions. Here’s hoping for another edge of the seat game at Yorkshire, perhaps without the controversy and mudslinging that we saw at Lords. Oh and one more thing, can someone please ask Joe Root to try and not ruin our new fast bowling hope? If i see Archer being given any more 12 over spells, then I might just combust.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts on the game or anything else below.

 

 

 

 

England vs. Australia, 2nd Test, 3rd Day (sort of)

It was a sad yet highly predictable ending to Day 3 at Lords, which after a slightly curtailed morning session in which England took 3 wickets, the weather once again set in and the rest of the day was a soggy disappointment for those fans who had a spare £150 to purchase a ticket. Though I have no sympathy for any of the members or anyone who turned up at Lords today with a bottle of champagne and then proceeded to pop the cork onto the outfield, there’s a special place in hell for the latter group!

The one session of cricket that we had was a somewhat strange affair in that despite England getting 3 crucial wickets (although not the most crucial wicket of them all), they bowled pretty poorly in my view. The first hour in particular was a lesson in how not to bowl at the opposition with helpful overhead conditions, although our learned friend always likes to disagree:

I’m genuinely not sure I could cope without Mr Selvey’s nuggets of wisdom, especially as from first view the England bowlers spent most of the first hour bowling back of length and wide of the stumps to the Australians, but I guess now it must have been some terrific act of subterfuge! Having seen a number of games like this with similar conditions at Lords, the absolute must at this venue is to be bowling a nagging line on 4thstump from a good length, this is why Tim Murtagh has been so successful at Lords over the past several years. Sure I get that you don’t want every delivery to be on a good length so the batsman can plonk his front leg down the pitch, but the law of averages dictates that you’re not going to get much change on this pitch or most other pitches in England, if you don’t make the batsman play. Sure Lord Selvey can point to his experience in bowling at Lords, but I also call what I saw for the first hour at Lords this morning and it was total dross.

When England did eventually get their plans and lines right, they suddenly looked like a different unit. Archer set up Bancroft perfectly with a couple of short balls and then swung one into his pads, Woakes after looking like he’d had 10 pints last night in his first couple of overs finally got Khawaja to nick one that should have been left alone and Broad got Travis Head LBW with one that had to be reviewed despite the fact that it was cannoning into middle stump. Perhaps Aleem Dar had been out on the sauce with Chris Woakes last night? So after a very poor start, England were back in the game before the heavens opened, though not before half of England’s fans nearly wet themselves with a 93MPH delivery to Steve Smith that was left well alone. I do get the excitement of having a bowler who can bowl really fast, but the main difference is that the Australian quicks (and they are sharp) have focused on hitting a line against each batsman, something that Archer will need to learn with time. It’s all good having someone who can chuck the ball down at 90MPH+, but that bowler also needs to make the batsman play or at least fend off, which is something Archer didn’t do nearly enough this morning; Otherwise you may as well pick Mark Footitt in the future. Now this isn’t a criticism of Archer at all, as I think the lad has a terrific future ahead of him in all formats of the game and no doubt it will have taken him time to adjust to the Lord’s slope, but it was just frustrating that one of the senior bowlers or captain didn’t have a quiet word with him about adjusting his lengths with such favourable overhead conditions.

As for Australia, their limpet like ex-Captain is still at the crease and doesn’t look like he plans to go anywhere anytime soon, which is most annoying for those who love watching the art of batting in its purest form and for those who would quite like an England win. There may be small opening should England get Smith out, but we’ve been saying that all summer and he still hasn’t taken the hint! As for the rest of Australia, there must be some real frustration with Usman Khawaja, who looks a class apart when he’s at the crease, but all too often has a brain fade and gives his wicket away. This was never more apparent than this morning, when after playing some wonderful shots square of the wicket, he nicked a ball from Woakes that he should have left alone. It’s almost like he is the James Vince of Australian cricket. Almost.

So we go onto day 4, with the draw looking like the most likely result, which is something that England probably would have grabbed with both hands before the start of this Test especially as their record at Lords against the Australians in dismal. That being said, there is a certain ability to collapse in a big heap by both batting teams, so perhaps we shouldn’t write off a result just yet.

Anyway, I’m off to campaign my local MP to see if I can get Steve Smith deported on the grounds of compassion, so I will leave this here as it made me laugh during a soggy and interrupted day’s play.

As ever, feel free to comment with any thoughts on the game or anything else cricket related….

England vs. Australia, 2nd Test, Preview

So after hope turned into angst and then into despair in the First Test at Edgbaston, England head to Lords 1-0 down in the series and into a game they dare not lose. First of all, the weather forecast for tomorrow in London is atrocious, with Friday not looking exactly great either, so if you are a fan of seeing AB de Villiers’ masterclasses or Alastair Cook’s last England century, then you are likely in a for a treat over the next few days. With more than a bit of indifferent weather around at Lords this week and the chances of play tomorrow looking about as likely as a sensible decision by the ECB, then whoever wins the toss probably on Thursday will want to bat first in what is likely to be an uninterrupted day’s play.

England have named their squad of 12 for the game with Jimmy now crocked and Moeen dropped for more humane purposes, it seems like Archer and Leach will play with a toss-up between Denly and Curran for the final position. I very much doubt that they would want to move Stokes up to 4 to accommodate Curran, so my money would be on Denly retaining his place despite looking in no way like an international quality batsman. Of course, the more sensible thing to do might be to admit that the selectors got it horribly wrong in the First Test by playing Roy as an opener instead of dropping him to number 4 and persevering with Bairstow who is not a great wicketkeeper and looks like a walking wicket whenever he walks to the crease. England though don’t do sensible with Ed Smith and his enormous ego in charge of selection and were never going to admit that they made a complete hash of selections for the First Test, so here we go again, with England facing a potent Australian attack with a paper-thin batting unit. Plus ca change!

The demotion of Moeen is the one sensible thing England have done in my opinion in the last week. His brain has looked frazzled, his batting is probably worse than Stuart Broad’s at the moment and he was shown by a competent spinner at Lords. Moeen does seem to divide people the most in this England team, not only on Twitter, but also between the Editors on this blog. I have never been a massive fan and have always wanted England to invest in a spinner who is a natural master of his art, not one who bats and bowls a bit, but many others quite rightly point to his bowling record over the last 12 months as an argument that he should be persevered with as a front line spinner. My major issue is that when he doesn’t take wickets, he is often unable to tie down an end, often going for 4 runs an over, something which must be incredibly difficult to captain when trying to rotate the quicks from the other end. Some may argue that his demotion is harsh on him after 1 Test against Australia; however I personally think that he needs to get away from the game for a little bit to clear his mind and work on some of the fundamentals. There has been some talk that maybe the geniuses at Loughborough had been tinkering with Moeen’s technique too much, thankfully Mike Selvey was on hand to give a typically insightful and nuanced response:

Naturally it would be preferable for his replacement to have bowled some overs recently in the red ball format, but the England brains trust seem to be lacking just that in preparing their players for the Test Match format.

As for Australia, they have made the slightly odd decision to leave out James Pattinson for the Lords Test, despite him looking pretty threatening in the last Test. It may well be that they don’t want to risk injuring him with 4 Tests pretty much back to back or that they don’t think the Lords surface will suit his bowling, but I’d be a little miffed if I were him. I would expect Hazelwood to replace Pattinson in the team as the only change in their team from Edgbaston with Siddle and Cummins making a pretty potent attack on a pitch that might well do a fair bit with overhead conditions.

On a final note, I see that the ECB are doing their best to not just alienate the fans with The Hundred, but also those English coaches who ply their arts in the county set up, by giving The Hundred coaching gigs to as many international coaches as possible. It hardly seems prudent to be throwing large amounts of cash at the likes of Shane Warne and Gary Kirsten (it’s amazing how a fist full of cash can suddenly change your opinion of something isn’t it Shane) when they are struggling to pay their own centrally contracted players at the moment. The lunatics have generally always run the asylum when it comes to English cricket administration, but this is something else, especially when the saying ‘you can’t polish a turd’ springs to mind with this stupid format. Again, plus ca change!

Anyway feel free to comment with any thoughts below on the off chance that we actually get some play tomorrow. Danny did promise to live blog the day before he saw the weather forecast, so I suggest that we make him stay true to his word! Also if you haven’t had a chance to read the Ashes panel yet, then do so here, there are some really good points made and like Dmitri, I would also like to thank those who took the time out to answer the questions. No doubt there will be some more following soon!

 

England vs. Australia, 1st Test, Day 1 Live Blog

 

 

So here we go then, the first day of the 2019 Ashes series is now upon us and time when all of the talking and all of build up is now in the past and only actions on the pitch actually matter. At least that what it would normally be during an Ashes series, as the build up to the one has been at best muted and worst non-existent. Now whether this is due to the recent World Cup tournament and the euphoria for England in actually winning a 50 ball tournament or the possibility there might be a bit of Ashes fatigue, especially with neither team being as strong a units as they have been previously, it has been noticeable how the build up to this series has been little more than a whimper.

Still here we are, with International Cricket’s biggest rivalry upon us and the players thrust into the limelight at what will be a vociferous crowd at Edgbaston, it remains to be seen what type of hangover either or both sides have after the World Cup. I am going to try and liveblog the action throughout the day, as it is the first day of the Ashes and the opening exchanges could be key to revealing what will happen for the rest of the series. It is just me on my own today and I do need to run a number of errands too, so don’t shout at me if I inadvertently miss any of the action. As a small reminder, we aren’t the BBC and don’t have the technology to refresh automatically, so please manually refresh for updates.

9:30am: England have pretty much gone with the team that most expected them to go with, even if many of us didn’t want them to go with. Jimmy Anderson comes in for Stone and Buttler and Stokes are back after resting for the Ireland Test Match. As for Australia, it looks like they have dropped Mitchell Starc from the team with the main battle appearing to be between Siddle and Hazelwood for the opening bowler slot.

10:15am: Despite the odd cloud, the pitch looks a belter and should be an easy choice to bat first if you win the toss. That being said, does Joe Root trust his opening batsmen not to make a horlicks of this should he win the toss.

10:30am: TOSS – Australia win the toss and choose to have a bat. Bit of a no brainer to be fair. Siddle plays in place of Hazelwood. England need to get the line and lengths right quickly on this pitch.

11:00am: Out come the ‘sandpaper siblings’ to bat. Sir Jimmy has the new ball and more importantly I am armed with a cup of tea. Here we go then..

11:04am: Decent opening over from Jimmy, even if the first couple of balls were on the short side. Maiden.

11:06am: Broad with a wide one going down leg. Bairstow appeals but no-one else seems to be interested but there appeared to be a noise. Oh hello, England should have listened to Bairstow there, ultra-edge shows a tickle behind from Warner. Lucky boy. Will England rue missing that opportunity.

11:13am: Decent opening spell this from the England bowlers. They have often been guilty of wasting the new ball by bowling too short, but they have been full and on the money so far.

11:15am: Broad bowls round the wicket and strikes Warners on the pads. Dar says not out, England review and the ball is missing the stumps by some way. Not a great review at all, seems like a retrospective review from Broad there.

11:19am: WICKET – Warner is the man to go. A far better delivering by Broad, pitched up and swinging. Looks plumb to me and Warner walks off without reviewing. A big big wicket for England there.

11:22am: Haha, Warner should have reviewed. Missing leg stump according to DRS. Sort of makes it even funnier.

11:31am: Couple of loose deliveries from Broad that over and a boundary each for Bancroft and Khawaja. A bit of pressure relieved for the Aussie batsmen.

11:34am: Shane Warne into the commentary box and TV sound is immediately muted. Another probing over from Jimmy who has got his line and lengths right this morning.

11:38am: WICKET – Got Im’. Bancroft pushes at a slightly wide one and edges straight to Root at slip, who pouches a relatively straightforward catch. The Aussies have lost both their openers for not many. Game on. In comes Steve Smith:

11:48am: Jeez, Broad is bowling well. There was some talk in the build up to the Ashes whether he might be the fall man in the English attack. I think this puts this to bed. Quick, hostile and on the money. Piggy Smith struggling.

12:00pm: Woakes hasn’t exactly looked threatening since he joined the attack. Not hitting the pitch hard and too many floaty deliveries. This is the criticism I have with Woakes at times.

12:02pm: Drinks. I’m off the make myself another cup of tea too. England’s morning so far, but could do with removing Khawaja or Piggy before lunch.

12:12pm: Woakes to Khawaja and Woakes thinks he has an outside edge. Root reviews, but that the looks speculative in my opinion.

12:13pm: WICKET: Well what do i know! There’s a tickle behind and England have got the Aussies 3 down this morning. Great review by England this time.

12:19pm: Stokes bowling his second over, but looks particularly rusty with the ball. This really is some dross from Stokes. I’d bring back Jimmy who has only bowled 4 overs so far and can test Head in particular, who can be a bit tentative playing forward early on in his innings.

12:30pm: England are slightly lucky that the umpires don’t particularly want to call a wide as there have been some perfect contenders in this spell. As for the umpires themselves, they have had hardly covered themselves in glory, especially Aleem Dar who used to be one of the best. Meanwhile a poor over from Woakes allows the Aussies to steal some easy runs.

12:36pm: This really is some poor bowling from Woakes and Stokes, both of whom have looked pretty innocuous. This really should be the time for England to exert pressure on the Aussie batting line up, but there are too many poor deliveries. Head hits another 4 off Stokes, who really should be told to have a breather..

12:39pm: Moeen into the attack now and he is taken for a couple of boundaries by Head. Meanwhile, there seems to be growing concern about Jimmy:

12:44pm: This has not been a good spell for England who are undoing all of the good work they did in the first hour. If indeed Jimmy A isn’t fit, someone from the England management team really needs to answer why they’ve risked him for the First Test.

12:52pm: Buffet bowling from England here. Stokes looks as bad as i’ve seen him bowl and there is virtually nothing in the pitch for Moeen. Not great signs.

12:54pm: Meanwhile, Beefy looks like he’s put on a fair bit of timber. No doubt enjoying his vineyards in France during his holiday…

12:58pm: Woakes bought back into the attack, but not much happening. Jimmy back on the field now, but still a huge concern. Can they fit in another over before lunch? Yes they can. Moeen to bowl.

13:03pm: LUNCH. Australia 84-3 off 27 overs (3 short). England without doubt had the best of the first hour but once the openers went off, England’s bowling has been poor. Australia will be quite relieved to head into the pavilion with that score after being 3 down for not many. The biggest concern for England is the fitness of Jimmy Anderson, who has bowled only 4 overs and been off the field for the majority of the session.

I’m also going to go out and find some lunch. Be back in 40 minutes or so.

If you’ll excuse my language. Why the Fucking Fuck have England picked a Fucking injured Jimmy Anderson for the Fucking First Test knowing this could endanger his participation in the rest of the series. Meanwhile there’s a puff piece Harrison interview on Sky if you feel like tearing your eyeballs out of their sockets.

13:40pm: What is with England’s medical team? Time and time again, they pick bowlers who are injured. If Jimmy has re-torn his calf muscle, then England are truly up the creak without a paddle. I’d rather have Dr. Death managing the players fitness. Stuart Broad to open up proceedings after lunch.

13:51pm: Yep of course it is. England’s medical team desperately trying to cover their asses here. Meanwhile, not too much is happening in the middle.

13:54pm: This pitch is starting to look very good for batting. Ball has stopped swinging and England’s attack starting to look a little innocuous. Great straight drive from Head goes for 4.

14:02pm: Broad keeping things tight, but Piggy Smith is starting to look in ominous form. Broad tries the ‘old ball has gotten out of shape’ trick but is quickly dismissed by Aleem Dar.

14:08pm: WICKET – Got Im’. Woakes with a straight ball wrapping Head on the pads. Head reviews but that is hitting off stump. England absolutely needed that.

14:12pm: Did that carry? Stokes is looking pensive. Nope an edge from Wade falls short. Suddenly England’s intensity is back again.

Meanwhile, Tom Harrison’s interview isn’t going down exactly well with English cricket fans:

14:15pm: Broad bowls at Piggy Smith and pins him on the back with no shot offered. Umpire’s fingers goes up but Smith reviews. Not out, missing off stump. Boooo

Meanwhile, it seems that Aggers was offering more loose half volleys to Harrison than even Nasser Hussain managed. They know who pays their wages…

14:20pm: WICKET. The umpires have got another one wrong. Woakes hits Wade’s pads in front of the wickets and then reviews after it is given not out. That was plumb. Australia 5 down now. What a change of fortunes for England this afternoon.

14:23pm: It may have been a mistake for these umpires to have taken advice from S.Ravi in hindsight.

14:29pm: How long can England keep Broad and Woakes on for. With Anderson out of the attack injured, if Australia can survive the next few overs, they can feast on Moeen and Stokes.

14:34pm: The answer is not long. After a brilliant over by Broad, Moeen is bought into the attack. The one thing I am really enjoying is the analysis by Kumar Sangakkara. A brilliant batsmen in his day and someone who knows the game inside out. Far more enjoyable than listening to the rubbish Warne is spouting.

14:40pm: WICKET – can you believe that? Broad bowls one short and Paine picks out Burns at deep square leg. Terrible shot, that he won’t want to see again. England now in charge.

14:44pm: WICKET – Broad has hit 4th and that looked out at first look. Pattinson trapped in front and the umpire gives him out straight away. I’d have probably reviewed that with the umpires in the form that they currently are. Australia are in deep doo-doo here.

14:46pm: Haha, Pattinson should have reviewed it, DRS shows it was missing leg. This has been a day of truly awful umpiring. Broad won’t care a jot mind.

14:51pm: Surely it’s fair to question why Piggy Smith didn’t help his mate there. Probably had the best view of the delivery and would have seen that the umpires are having a shocker. That being said, perhaps he is saving an ego review for himself..

14:56pm: Broad finally takes a breather after a wonderful spell of 8-2-22-2. Can Stokes bowl better than he did this morning, which granted couldn’t be difficult…

15:00pm: WICKET – Stokes does bowl better. Stokes follows a couple of out swingers followed by a booming in swinger which wraps him on the pads. Height may be a question but that looked out to me in real time. Australia in trouble here, real trouble.

15:06pm: Stokes looks like a completely different bowler in this spell. Stokes beats Smith all ends up but there’s a noise and a big appeal. Not out and a good decision from Aleem Dar as Smith seemed to clip his front pad rather than the ball.

15:11pm: Jeez, another clanger from Joel Wilson. Woakes strikes Siddle on the pads and Wilson gives him out, but you could have heard that inside edge from the Hollies. This is a really damning indictment on the level of Test Match umpiring.

15:16pm: 50 for Piggy Smith. Has played well considering the carnage around him. England will want to wrap this innings up quickly (as will those who enjoy the art of batting).

15:28pm: Siddle hunkering down in support of piggy. I suspect that’s what the rest of the Australian batsmen were supposed to do instead of leaving it to the number 10. Intensity has dropped a little as we head to tea.

15:37pm: England have to be careful here. Smith looking like he is going on the counter attack with Siddle locking down the other end. Another 40 or 50 on the board could make all the difference in this Test.

15:40pm: TEA – Australia are 154-8 after 53 overs (7 short). England’s afternoon without doubt especially without their talismanic opening bowler, but whilst Smith is still at the crease, then Australia are still in the game. I’m off to get a brew myself. See you in 20…

15:50pm: We have rain, and looks like plenty of it. Looks like a delayed restart unless it clears very quickly. Meanwhile on TMS:

16:04pm: Well it looks like we are off for the foreseeable future at the moment, whilst the  rain continues at Edgbaston. I’ll be back on air as soon as we have some play again by which time, Danny might also be around to post.

16:06pm: Restart at 4:20pm, providing we have no more rain.

16:14pm: In other news, it looks like this will be both Gower’s and Beefy’s last series in the commentary box for Sky. I’m not terribly sad as both are past their sell by date, but how on earth is Bumble being spared? The guy is more clown than commentator these days:

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2019/jul/31/david-gower-leaving-sky-ashes-cricket

16:19pm: The rain might have done England a favour here as it will have given Broad and Woakes a little longer to recover from their lengthy spells in the afternoon session. Broad to once again open up against Siddle.

16:23pm: Decent opening over from Broad who once again looks lively. Woakes with a real loosener than Siddle puts away for four. In the meantime, Ramprakash doing what Ramprakash does best:

Never one to admit culpability was our Mark, both for his batting and his coaching.

16:30pm: Peter Siddle is one of those annoying tailenders that are really hard to shift. He looks comfortable out in the middle and his technique looks better than most of those in the Aussie middle order. This partnership is becoming a real annoyance for England.

16:31pm: Another rain break. Joe Root not looking particularly happy about it and we are back out again. It’s like the hokey cokey at Edgbaston..

16:34pm: Anyway, Danny is now back from work and is joining me on the live blog. Over to you Danny.

16:37pm: Afternoon everyone. Danny here. What did I miss?

16:42pm: I’ve been watching ten minutes and this partnership is already worrying me. Facing the two wicket-taking bowlers, Smith and Siddle both look pretty comfortable and the partnership has already reached fifty.

16:51pm: England are bowling with a misshapen ball. Sounds painful, and certainly isn’t helping them to bowl these two out…

16:57pm: FFS. Australia are going to win this, aren’t they? We all know what happens after a team’s key bowler is injured near the start of an Ashes series, after all.

17:06pm: Stokes replaces Woakes and is bowling a lot of short balls to Siddle, but it’s not worrying the Australian at all. I imagine England are hoping for some rain so they can start fresh tomorrow.

17:10pm: Smith falls on his wrist following a tight run, and the umpires call an early DRINKS.

17:14pm: Denly has replaced Broad, at least technically speaking. If Denly bowls more than 20 overs in this series, we might as well just give up and give Australia the Ashes urn now.

17:26pm: No news is good news, or so the saying goes. I’m not so sure. Sky is reporting that there won’t be any updates on Anderson’s injury today. As (I think) Botham points out, if it’s an existing injury (as seems to be the case) then England shouldn’t be able to use a fielding substitute under the current laws.

17:31pm: WICKET – Moeen comes in and draws an inside edge from Siddle to Buttler at short leg. That brings to an end the partnership of 88 runs, which could be huge in this game. Australia on 210/9. England might want to take their time, because I doubt their openers will want to face an hour session tonight.

17:43pm: Steve Smith is farming the strike to keep the pressure off Lyon, and it’s worked. Australia have already added an extra hundred runs for their last two wickets. Poor from England, notwithstanding Anderson’s injury.

17:52pm: CENTURY – Steve Smith smacks one through the covers, and is now on 103*. Kisses the badge on his helmet too. God, I want to throw up…

17:57: Honestly, watching him today, I think Smith will more centuries in this series than the England team combined. With England a bowler down in this game, and potentially missing Anderson for the rest of the series too, these are ominous signs for England’s hopes of reclaiming the Ashes urn.

18:04pm: Broad calls for a REVIEW with Steve Smith going across his stumps to a full ball. Live, I thought he’d edged it onto his pads. In fact he had missed it, but it was sliding way past the leg stump. England will have to take their last wicket without a DRS appeal. Given today’s performances by the umpires, that could be an issue…

18:07pm: Apparently, due to rain delays, today’s play can go on to 18:52pm. I didn’t realise this when I agreed to do the live updates to the close. This is what happens when you’re not paying close attention. It’s looking more and more like Smith will bat out the day, although he is going for more aggressive shots now that he’s batting with Lyon.

18:15pm: The commentators are talking about how Joffra Archer could be useful in this kind of situation. Personally I’d prefer Adil Rashid, even on a first day like today. Australian batsmen, even tailenders, are accustomed to pace. Leg spin, not so much.

18:22pm: Chris Woakes bowling 79mph bouncers to Smith. I’m a fan of Woakes, and he’s done well today, but I don’t think that’s going to work.

18:35pm: WICKET – Steve Smith goes for a wild swing and misses a full, straight ball from Stuart Broad. Broad ends up with 5/86 and clears up all three of the players returning from abrasive-related bans. Australia have reached 284 after being 122/8 earlier in the day. England are facing two or three overs today, and I bet they wish Leach was available to call in. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Broad or another bowler acting as nightwatchman though.

18:45pm: Nope, Burns and Roy come in to face the two overs. Cummins to bowl the first over.

18:50pm: First over survived. Roy missing a wild pull though, maybe time to put that shot away for the day, Jason? One more to go.

19:04pm: England reach the close on 10/0, 274 runs behind the tourists. Smith’s huge 144-run stand has put Australia in what might be considered the lead after wickets were falling like dominoes earlier in the day.

We seem to have lost 5 overs today, although that may be due to the short rain delays and excess of DRS appeals rather than England’s tardy bowlers. This is notable because, with this game being the very first in the World Test Championship, teams can be docked league points for being slow in bowling their overs.

Tomorrow’s forecast seems fair, with no rain expected. Good batting conditions, you might think, but England have shown themselves capable of collapsing in even the friendliest of situations. It will certainly be a nervy first session for England fans as they try to post a first innings lead.

That’s me (Danny) and Sean signing off the live blog. Comments on the game, coverage, or anything else below.

England vs Ireland, One Off Test – The Wrap

So after two days of closely fought cricket, yesterday’s play was something of anti-climax as England rolled over the Irish batting unit for 38, the lowest ever score recorded as Lord’s, in under a session.

For those foolhardy enough to attend the game yesterday (not mentioning any names who decided to give it a miss, TLG), it looked like the sort of day that bowlers dream of. Dark, dank conditions with plenty of rain in the air is always a bowler’s paradise at Lords and having attended Lord’s plenty of times as a Middlesex fan, I’ve seen how these conditions can change a fairly flat pitch into something of a minefield. After Ireland removed Ollie Stone with the first ball of the day, just as I was queuing to get to my seat of course, it was clear that the Irish batting line up had to either knuckle down for a couple of hours until the sun was due to come out or pray that Woakes and Broad bowled too short in the way that they did in the first innings. Unfortunately neither was the case, as both Broad and Woakes much to the surprise of most England fans, bowled with good nip and great lengths ensuring that batting against the new ball in these conditions would have been a challenge for any Test side. It was clear early on that one could easily become two and that two could quite easily end up as a horrible batting collapse for a team playing only its second Test Match with a batting line up made up of mainly ex-county pros. That being said, I have often been hyper critical of England’s ability to read the pitch when bowling with the new ball and especially of Woakes and Broad after the first innings, but they bowled quite superbly, giving very little away and could quite easily have done the same to the Australian top order.

A 143-run victory looks good in the history books, even though it was barely deserved as England without doubt had the luck of the green in terms of the conditions (put it this way, I don’t think Leach would have made 90 odd yesterday!), but considering the position England had allowed themselves to be put in at lunch on Day 1, a victory no matter how underserved, saved some serious blushes from the England camp. The one sour note that came from this victory, aside from the batting, was Roots decision to criticize the pitch at the presentation. Now whether this was just an attempt to take away some of the criticism from his own batsmen or just a snide remark, it is hardly fair to criticize the groundsman after having less than week to prepare a Test wicket after the World Cup final. This is especially true of a groundsman who is in his first year of the job. Was it a great pitch, no it wasn’t, but I’d rather have a pitch that offered some assistance to the bowlers than the type of roads that Mick Hunt used to routinely prepare for both England and Middlesex and in my opinion it was a pretty classless thing to say on television. It may also not help relations in the future when England need a specific pitch prepared at Lords. As for Ireland, this may well be the first and last time that some of their veterans get to play at Lords, which is a crying shame. Ireland might not have the most talented group of players that they have ever had, but as always they played with plenty of heart and no less skill and gave England a huge fright in a game that they were treating as an Ashes warm up. I also want to give special praise to Tim Murtagh, who actually is a remarkable county bowler with a great bowling average and someone who has been a fantastic servant to Middlesex. Murtagh was never ever going to be called up by England as he doesn’t bowl the ball at 85-90 mph and is very much an old fashioned swing bowler, but he once again showed that he is a master of his art and in my own humble opinion, no-one else deserves to be on the honours board at Lords more than Mr ‘Dial M’ for Murtagh.

So with the Ireland Test match ticked off, likely for at least another 4 years, England now get to focus on the Australians and the first Test of the Ashes. We have had the announcement of the squad this morning and I must say, it doesn’t fill me with hope. Roy for me is not an opener in the longer format and never will be, though I could get on board with him as an attacking number 3, Burns looks horribly out of form and Denley is no more than a decent county pro who has been thrown into the England Test set up due to a mix of desperation and insipid selection choices. Put it this way, if I was Dominic Sibley, I would be very disappointed not to have been called up, because Ed Smith wants to try something funky at the top of the order by playing a specialist white ball opener (Roy bats in the middle order for Surrey). It was also interesting that during the presentation yesterday, Root was asked whether the batting unit was a cause for a concern, something he categorically denied. Now Root isn’t going to go on TV and admit it’s a bit of a shambles, but that’s what it is at the moment, hence don’t be surprised if we have a fair bit of chopping and changing at the top of the order as the Ashes progresses. It is also slightly unfair that Jack Leach, who won the ball with the bat was omitted. Put it this way, Moeen needs a very good match with the ball at Edgbaston as his batting has regressed at alarming alacrity.

Oh and on one last note, this Twitter post from George Dobell was very revealing last night:

 

I have a lot of respect for George and do think he’s one of the good guys, who is prepared to stick his head above the parapet and comment on what his views are of the game, rather than what is parroted to him by the ECB comms team. It will be interesting to see if we get more and more coming out publicly against the White Elephant that is the Hundred (even Mike Gatting has written to the ECB to pledge against downgrading the 50 over game). That being said, don’t expect anyone from Sky to provide any sort of analysis of the upcoming format, rather than puff piece interviews with Strauss, Clarke, Harrison and anyone else who can blindly bluff their way through why the hundred will be so great. David Lloyd and the rest know who pay their wages and are more than willing to place their morals at the door and keep their mouths shut in exchange for piles of cash. Ca plus change.

As ever, feel free to comment below on the above piece or on any other thoughts you might have. We’ll have a full Ashes preview coming up next week and if you’re tempted, we may start a new Ashes panel if we get enough interest, just comment below if you’d like to be included….