England vs Australia: 2nd Test, Day Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


England vs Australia: 2nd Test, Day Four

For England to win this match, they probably need to be bowled out sometime around the middle of tomorrow, for the chances of them declaring with any kind of reasonable target are minimal, particularly given their position 1-0 down in the series.  It is fortunate then that the batting line up did their part to remove the possibility of a tricky decision by (yet again) getting out early.  So much has been written about the flaws in the order, and the second innings was little more than a rinse and repeat of the first – Roy getting out early, Burns looking the part as a Test opener without going on to a big score, Root struggling at number three, Denly getting in and getting out again.

Buttler and Stokes arrested the slide batting to the close, but with England just 104 ahead and with only six wickets in hand, posting a challenging score is going to be difficult. As to what would offer a passable chance of victory, anything around 200 would be likely to be less than easy to chase, because although it is really only a two and a bit day pitch, there will be the added pressure of a run chase. Yet it is by no means certain England will get there, it is going to require some support from the tail, and at least one of the remaining batsmen to make a significant contribution.  If more than one does so, then the chances of a definitive result will start to recede, but these are wild fantasies given the batting performances so far, even if the lower order have done well.

Undoubtedly the biggest talking point of the day was Jofra Archer’s duel with Steve Smith.  It was a riveting, thrilling passage of play, with Archer’s speed rising into the mid-nineties and Smith for the first time look genuinely discomfited.  First the blow on the arm, which eventually resulted in Smith going for an X-Ray (fortunately showing no break), and then a sickening blow to the neck which left Smith on the ground, to retire hurt, and then to return for a frantic brief stay at the crease.

There are so many issues arising from this – firstly that Test cricket is testing, and that a fast bowler intimidating batsmen is entirely part of the game, and those who complained about that part are simply not worth listening to.  The next element was the reaction of Jofra Archer, based on he and Jos Buttler smiling and sharing a conversation a good five minutes after the event, but while Smith was still being treated some distance away.  Archer’s reaction was deemed in some quarters to be showing a lack of care, a lack of interest in the welfare of a player hurt.  This is unfair and presuming knowledge of the inner thoughts of another person.  It’s also something to which I can relate to some degree.  Some years back I hit a straight drive back which hit my batting partner (who wasn’t wearing a helmet) flush on the side of the head.  I can recall my reaction to it all too well – yes, absolutely I went to see if he was OK, but I was also utterly bewildered and confused by it.  That initial reaction was not so much to rush to his aid (as it undoubtedly is when a bystander rather than the perpetrator), but a confused one, denial that it had happened, and absolutely nervous laughter and attempts at humour.  It is entirely normal to be so uncertain in terms of reaction, and not to behave in the way that those on the outside might imagine someone should.  The mind in those circumstances is a maelstrom of conflicting thoughts and emotions.

As my batting partner left the field to go to hospital, I carried on batting, entirely on auto-pilot.  I lasted about 5 minutes before the dawning terror of what had just happened came through, and at that point the cricket field was the last place I wanted to be.  I spent much of the rest of the afternoon with a rising sense of concern and became progressively more upset.  I have no idea what was going through Jofra Archer’s thoughts, but I do absolutely recall my own state of mind when something not too dissimilar happened, and I am not prepared to act as judge and jury because someone didn’t react in the way that the court of social media wanted them to do in the moments following a genuinely sickening incident.

The ground did go completely silent as it happened, as grounds do when there is shock and concern, but when Smith came back on to resume his innings, a largely supportive crowd gave a standing ovation, but the ground also contained a few who booed.  Those who did are idiots, but it doesn’t take very many to do it out of a crowd of 30,000 to be extremely noticeable.  And while they might be idiots for doing that, there have been enough instances in Australia, England and elsewhere of related fools to forestall any attempt at claiming the moral high ground by anyone.  That’s not to defend in any way those at Lord’s who booed a brave and fine batsman, it is to acknowledge that morons exist everywhere, and selective outrage either in England or Australia when some in the other country are guilty of it remains endlessly tiresome.  More than that, it operates as a feedback loop, and doubtless there will be some in Australia next time around using that as an excuse to berate English players.  And so it carries on, with some pretending they are the good guys and the opposition supporters are not, with no grounds whatever for such a view.

Those present at the ground reacted with some surprise at the strong reaction on social media, suggesting that the boos that were clearly audible through the TV speakers probably were not indicative of a wider response within the ground.  Either way, it was unedifying and didn’t reflect well on those who did it.

As a passage of play though, it was utterly beguiling.  And there is the additional point about what it means for the remainder of this series.  Extreme pace makes any batsman, no matter how good, uncomfortable.  Smith has looked to be playing on a 25 yard pitch thus far this series, so much time has he had to play the ball.  For the very first time, he looked in trouble, and that means that he’s going to get a whole heap more of the same for the remainder of the series, which is no different at all to the way England players have been targeted by short pitched bowling by Australia, and something Smith himself will both expect and be up for the challenge set.  It means it’s going to be exciting, and intimidatory, and entirely within both the laws and the spirit of the game, just as it was the other way around.  When England were being bounced out by the likes of Mitchell Johnson, the frustration was that England didn’t play it better, not that there was anything at all wrong with the tactic.  In Archer, England have a weapon of not just pace, but extreme pace.  Given the number of overs he bowled this innings, the danger is in him being overbowled rather than used as a strike bowler, and his 25 overs in Australia’s innings ought to be a concern.

Smith aside, England had chipped away at the Australian batting order all day.  Archer was explosive, but Broad had been his usual efficient self with the ball, and collected four well deserved wickets.  Broad continues to be somewhat underappreciated, despite his 450 Test wickets, but his enforced rest over the winter gave him the opportunity to work properly on his bowling, and the results seem fruitful.  At 33, and without quite the athletic physique of his long term opening partner James Anderson, he may not be too far from the end, but his attempt to prolong his career reflects well on him – even his batting appears a touch more confident than it has been, albeit a long way from the days when he was verging on being a genuine all rounder.

Tomorrow might be a depressing day, a dull day or a thrilling day.  And the 98 overs scheduled will have to be bowled, which will make a delightful change.

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….

Same old: England vs Australia, 2nd Test, Day Two

To the surprise of no one, England posted a modest total having been put into bat by Australia.  In itself, being inserted might have been a slight surprise, in that both teams said they would have bowled first, and perhaps reflects more on the fragility of both batting orders than the conditions in which this match is being played, for there appears nothing wrong with the pitch.

Bowling a side out on day one having put them in is always the hope, if not the expectation, and even if the surface offered some movement, it wasn’t one to cause palpatations in a decent Test batting line up.  The trouble is that England don’t have a decent batting line up, and haven’t done for some years.

Sure, there were some mildly promising knocks – Burns looks at home in Test cricket now, with the mental aptitude for the scrap.  His innings of 53 wasn’t without luck, being dropped twice before a superb catch from Bancroft at short leg sent him on his way, but he did at least look prepared to bat multiple sessions.  At this stage in his career it would be overly harsh to expect him to be the bedrock of the England batting order, but the reality is that if it’s not him, who else would it be?  Roy went in the first over, another poor shot from a player being asked to do a job to which he isn’t suited.  Roy has talent in abundance, but he’s not a Test opener – it’s not just that his technique isn’t particularly tight against the new ball, it’s that his mentality at the crease is that of a one day opener.  There’s nothing particularly outrageous in having someone who looks to attack at the top of the order, Warner and Sehwag made successful careers out of it, but while their own techniques have been questioned at times, their shot selection tended to be far better than Roy’s at this stage of his career.  He’s been given a poisoned chalice, made particularly acute by having him opening while Denly bats at four.  Whether Denly is worth his place in the team is a separate question, but he’s surely better equipped to see off the new ball than Roy is.  It’s a confused batting line up that doesn’t get the most from the talent at its disposal.

Root came and went, and with him disappeared England’s chance of a significant total.  Root attracts much comment because he is so far and away England’s best batsman, but he’s shown little sign that he’s more comfortable at number three this time than he was the last attempt at pushing him there.  It’s easy enough to say that anyone who can bat at four can bat at three, but they are slightly different roles, and some players are simply more comfortable in one position than they are the other.  Compromising the best player to compensate for the shortcomings elsewhere is a strange way of getting the most out of the batting order.

Buttler and Stokes didn’t last too long, and while the latter has plenty in the bank and looks the most technically adept player in the side, Buttler is struggling.  Again, this is only partly a matter about him, for Buttler coming in at 250-3 – or even 180-3 in this side – is a slightly different prospect to him coming in at 92-3 with the pressure on.  It’s just not really his game, and highlights the confused thinking concerning what is being attempted.  It’s not to say that he shouldn’t be able to adapt, but it is to point out that England are hardly likely to see the best of him when he’s permanently coming in in a crisis.

At 138-6 the writing was on the wall – that Australia recovered from an even worse position in the first Test is neither here nor there – but England did recover to some extent.  Bairstow often looks freed by having to bat with the tail, compiling a well made fifty thanks to sterling support (again) from Woakes in particular.   Australia reverted to the short bowling tactic, which worked well enough, for England do seem peculiarly vulnerable to short pitched bowling.  Bairstow was the last man out, trying to get some runs against Lyon with just Leach for company.  He got some criticism for his dismissal, but trying to hit fours in those circumstances is surely what he’s meant to do – fiddling around with a single at the end of the over won’t take anyone very far.  Execution certainly can be questioned, but runs were needed, he was trying to get them.  Blaming him for being the tenth wicket to fall seems harsh, irrespective of Leach’s last innings at Lord’s.

Hazlewood and Cummins were the pick of the Australian attack, bowling with pace and accuracy, but again England didn’t make them work overly hard for their wickets.  Siddle had two straightforward catches dropped off him – enough to drive him to a burger this evening – while Lyon extracted significant spin considering it is a first day pitch.

If 258 doesn’t remotely look a par score, it does look a par score for this England team.  They simply don’t have the batting currently to expect much more, and tend to be reliant on the lower order even to get them to that kind of total.  And scores in the 200s don’t win many Test matches, unless the bowlers do something special.

Broad did his best to do exactly that, removing Warner for the third time in three innings.  Warner looks somewhat all over the place with his batting presently, head falling over and bat coming down at an angle.  Smith’s preposterous return to Test cricket has made it look as though a year out shouldn’t have an effect, but both he and Bancroft look rather out of sorts, and it’s understandable.

Archer opened the bowling with Broad, and certainly showed pace, regularly clocking over 90mph.  He had the crowd with him too, for little in cricket is quite so box office as a genuinely quick bowler in a Test match.  Whether that is converted into wickets is, naturally, the big question, but he does have all the attributes.  It is to be hoped he is used in short spells as a strike bowler rather than ground into the dirt as a stock performer.

The last hour of play England did look dangerous, suggesting that they are by no means out of this match.  But they are once again reliant on their bowlers dragging them out of the mire, something they do reasonably often, but cannot do all the time.  It remains to be seen if they can perform the miracle tomorrow, but with this England batting order, a lead of 100 is needed before even a modicum of confidence is there that England can press for a win.

As the saying goes, the first session tomorrow is crucial.  Because it is.

Finally, the day finished five overs short.  This is a constant factor, but if the authorities care little normally, to do nothing about it when an entire day has already been lost to the weather is nothing other than abrogation of responsibility both to the spectator and the game itself.  We’ve lost 58 overs already this Test match.  Losing five more through tardiness is beyond careless.




England vs Australia: 2nd Test, Day Two (ish)

After yesterday’s washout, we should get underway today at last.  The match is reduced to four days, with the follow on target down to 150, and with 98 overs scheduled for each of the remaining days.  Obviously, in terms of the latter, they won’t get 98 overs in, but that’s de rigeur these days, and no one cares about it anyway, but even so if the weather stays fair then there is a reasonable chance of a result.

England made it pretty clear yesterday that Jofra Archer was going to play, and while they could always change their minds, there’s no reason to assume they will.  Pattinson is certainly out, rested, for Australia, while Hazlewood replaces Starc.

Other than that, it’s pretty much as you were – England are fretting about how to get rid of Steve Smith, who has moved from world class batsmen to batting God in the space of a Test, and will doubtless provoke wild celebrations just by showing signs of human weakness at any point.  The two batting orders still look fragile, the two bowling attacks still look like they might run through the opposition.  Australia have the upper hand largely because of Smith, but there is no reason at all England can’t skittle their visitors – the problem is the lack of confidence in the England batting order taking advantage of it.

There was some talk in the media about replacing Denly with Curran, drawing a furious response from Nasser Hussain about what that implies about the England batting order.  He was right too, either England choose batsmen or not, and selecting a bowling all rounder on the basis of more runs would be a savage indictment on the selection process.  Yet the wider issue is that even the suggestion of it already is that savage indictment – the possibility that an all rounder might contribute more to the run scoring than a selected batsman.  And that it might well be true.

Let’s hope we have a full day’s play today, not least for those who have paid the £150 a ticket for their inadequate seating and the privilege of seeing on social media how the chosen people get to enjoy the dining options.

Comments as always below.

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!


The Ashes Panel – 1st Test Aftermath

There are losses, and then there are humiliations

Welcome back to the Ashes Panel, and the comments of some of our regulars, and not so regular, correspondents on the events of Edgbaston. There are five guests, and given I will be in a bunker interviewing people for the next two days, before jetting off to a work assignment in New York in 12 days time, I thought I’d vent too.

Usual format, five questions, answered in differing styles, differing lengths and with their own views by five guests (the five who sent their responses to my hotmail account!). If any of you have sent responses, please let me know and I will add them. The five guests are The Bogfather, who loves this so much he writes poems about it; MM, a former regular commenter, who is either living under another pseudonym, or is so royally peeved with the sport that he can’t be bothered to rant on the comments anymore; there is Growltiger, a great name, and some really good comments too; Alex, who was incredibly keen to get on here, and thanks so much that he did. This is his Jason Roy opening stint, and let’s hope he can grow further from a high base. Finally there is Gareth, who has done this before, and I hope will do it again.

Then there’s me, who has one man in his sights, and he’s not a player.

As always, I’m fair game, so have a pop at me all you want. You’ll lose. For the others, remember they aren’t regular bloggers, they did this in their own time, they are cricket lovers like all of us, I’m sure they can fight their corners, but I for one am absolutely humbled that they take the time to do this, that they feel enough for the blog and what we are to put the effort in, and before I get too soft, and I’ve not been drinking, it brings a little lump in the throat that we get these inputs into the blog

So off we go…..

australia-celebrate-the-ashes-whitewash_10piscrajeyf61qj64a1ovgr5r (2)
It’s KP v Swann on Genius…. Never Forget The 5-Nil……

Question 1 – A brief summary of the first test. Most importantly, they key moments England lost the game?


Gareth – Disappointing from an England perspective, but certainly an engrossing Test Match. It was one where the strengths and failings of English cricket were realised over the course of five days. Helpful conditions and a motivated Broad/Woakes saw Aussie down to 122-8 and then lack of options, poor captaincy and brilliant batting saw Aussie get back into it. Day 3 also swung when England’s much-vaunted middle-order sloggers failed to deliver and it was left to Broad and Woakes to scrape together a lead. Finally on Day 5, onlookers were astounded when a batting unit that has collapsed repeatedly…erm…collapsed.


Alex – Two key moments for England were Jimmy Anderson’s injury and Ben Stokes’ first innings dismissal. To lose your bowling talisman and still one of the best seam bowlers after they bowled four overs is huge. He probably would have finished Australia off earlier in the first innings and challenged them more early in the second.

As for Ben Stokes’ dismissal in the first innings. He had just reached 50 and he and Burns had the game in their hands and then he edges a cut and then Bairstow and Ali are exposed and potentially a 100+ run lead is gone and perhaps more pressure on the Australian top order and Smith.

Overall, England had the game in their hands twice only to have it taken away superbly by Smith twice. Given the circumstances with Anderson that is probably to their credit but they needed the remaining ten players to all step up and two or three of the rest just didn’t get going at all.


MM – As soon as Siddle got to 40 I thought ‘it’s 1993 again’. In my heart I didn’t think we’d get a lead, so I was surprised by that. But I never doubted we’d struggle in the fourth innings. Like you said, draws are a dead entity.

I was very angry about Anderson’s injury. Whether it never healed, has reoccurred, or is a fresh injury, surely someone has to play a competitive match prior to a Test. That’s gotta become a necessity henceforth.


Growltiger – The match was always likely to end with a rearguard action on the fifth day, given the pitch.  This was dry, slow, with a bit of variation in bounce to be expected with wear.  So the toss was important, and Australia won it.   Selection was also important, although mainly negatively;  England decided to play Anderson, who broke down after bowling four overs. They also dropped Leach while retaining Moeen Ali  as their main spinner.  On the fourth day, this selection looked extremely ill-advised, as Ali bowled without control and without threat. As a result of the Anderson selection, they were down to four bowlers,  the same number as Australia had chosen to go with, but on the fourth morning this appeared to be an overestimate, as Woakes  did not bowl, although officially uninjured.   Other poor selections (as seen from before the start) were Denly, Bairstow and (arguably) Buttler.


Surprisingly,  England started well, reducing Australia to 120 for 8 before the wicket flattened out on the first afternoon.  Broad and Woakes bowled well  (and, in the case of Broad, significantly faster than against Ireland at Lord’s).  However, once the underlying character of the wicket had emerged, gritty batsmanship got decent rewards on both sides, including the Australian tail in their first innings, and the underrated but eccentric Rory Burns in England’s.  Burns succeeded in batting from the end of the first evening well into the morning of the third day,  an innings of unusual durability compared with recent England openers, and some character.  It was, though, not entirely a surprise when a promising and careful start to the innings translated into a lead of less than 100, even after some pleasing runs from the tail.  Not for the first time, the fabled England middle order delivered very little, and did it very unimpressively.


Even at this stage, it seemed likely that the lead was insufficient to compensate England for having to bat on the fifth day pitch.   Smith’s second 140 of the match made it morally certain that this would be the case, enabling Australia to declare seven wickets down and setting a massively impregnable target.  With runs to bowl at, Paine (in the field a sort of sock-puppet for Smith) was able to set attacking fields and allow Lyon to bowl for the inside edge.  There were, in fact, no turning points in the England innings, except, possibly, for the very short bouncer that failed to rise and cramped Burns for room, thus taking the first wicket.  Roy was berated for launching himself at Lyon, but this was not a pivotal moment; getting himself dismissed playing an ambitious shot was predictable, although the fact that Roy had batted longer than any of the rest was not (and not much noticed by the press).



The Bogfather

Our one-day wonders wandered into a wonderland at tea on day one…
Before being cast asunder by the Smith from down-under, twice bar none…
Our batting a mess, few balls to caress, game-plan undressed, sans Anderson…
Mo’ was plundered, his Spedegue’d myth a blunder, Roy swung for fun.

Dmitri – Letting Australia get 280, or whatever, when they were 122 for 8 was the big moment, and utlimately kept Australia in the game. Chasing down anything near 200 was always going to be a challenge, so when England’s 260 for 4 became 320 for 8, the writing was on the wall. This isn’t a test match batting line-up, it’s a mad scientist’s experiment. Sure, losing Anderson was massive, but let’s not just assume Jimmy has to turn up and wickets are bound to fall. I also suspect, for the series, letting bang average players like Matthew Wade make runs is going to be soul destroying.


Question 2 – Jason Roy has copped a lot of stick for being Jason Roy. Your views on the selection of opener, and what would you do for this, and the next few tests?


Gareth – For my money he shouldn’t have been picked as an opener in the first place, so it’s harsh to throw too much shade his way, daft though his dismissal was. They’ve put too much stock in him in now for him to be discarded so soon, and as he has never batted for two sessions in his FC career (stat from BBC) he is very much learning on the job. I don’t see his short-term future being as an opener, nor his medium-term future involving red-ball cricket. I wonder if this selection, more than any other, becomes the one that will define Ed Smith’s approach to selection.


Alex – It would not be where I pick him, but I understand why they have gone for it. They clearly don’t feel there is another opener out there ready for the step up now, particularly as its now the middle of T20 season and think it is better to pick someone who could turn one or two sessions in the series in their favour.

I think he is probably better at 4 or 5 if he has a long term Test future but wouldn’t be surprised if he finishes the series as an opener and then they re-evaluate over winter.


MM – I ain’t a Surrey fan so I know little about him. I understand he’s not a red ball player recently? But I love watching him in limited overs. If Jos Butler gets to play in Tests then Roy shouldn’t really be denied. I think he’d be better off down the order.  Probably in Butler’s spot to be honest.


Growltiger – The elevation of Roy to the Test team was bound to happen at some point, and his role in winning the World Cup dictated that it would be now.  He is a fine player, with devastating power of attack.  In white ball cricket,  where the ball doesn’t move and the fields are defensive, his contribution has probably been maximised by getting him to open.  The partnership with Bairstow has been a remarkable success – the heaviest scoring and fastest opening partnership in the history of ODIs.    But it was always a leap of logic to view him as any sort of solution to England’s post-Strauss opening vacuum (Burns now being, at least for the present, our solution to the post-Cook vacuum). Unfortunately for Roy,  the selector saw that there was a gap and decided that it gave him an opportunity to play Roy. Roy worked hard on his defence to the quicks in this game, but hasn’t the soft hands or the compactness for this to be a rewarding use of his talent.  He deserves some sort of run in the team, and perhaps can be retained if Buttler or Bairstow or Denly are not.   But we need to find another actual opener to partner Burns.  None of those already tried merit another look, including Denly.  Perhaps Dominic Sibley has done enough, as a red-ball opener who plays long innings regularly, to be given a look at the post-Strauss slot.


The Bogfather

Let’s get Ed funky
Find another opening flunky
While wearing the coolest of shades
Our white ball heroes
May swing and get zero
Or a ton, so let the blades
Of Roy and YJB flow
(there’s worse ideas, I know…)


Dmitri – Rod Marsh once assessed Scott Newman on an England A tour. It is reported he said “you won’t be an international player while there’s a hole in your arse”. While Jason Roy is no Scott Newman, obviously, he’s a man with a thin first class record. To stick him in as an opener and hoping he’s Sehwag or Warner is not the move of a thinking Chairman of Selectors, but, frankly, a chancer. Because he played a dicey shot to get out in the second dig is neither here nor there, he’s not a test match opener. Sure, he’ll have the talent to make a score one day, but he’s not a test match opener. Just in case you are in any doubt where I stand, Ed Smith is a fucking chancer, and Jason Roy is being messed about because he’s not a test match opener. You might as well stick Jos Buttler there. How about playing an opener that was in form a month ago when we had county games on – like Sibley. It’s checking the averages and picking a player, but it makes more sense than the up himself imbecile currently pretending to have a strategy about selection.


Question 3 – Nathan Lyon was very very good on the fifth day. Great skill, or bad play?


Gareth – Combination of both. I have two Aussie buddies who are perpetually amused at how England always play Lyon like he is bowling grenades, but that ties in to just how poor English batsmen are at playing spin. It’s either poke around in defence, or charge down the wicket and take absurd risks. Who is the best English player of spin? It’s not beyond the realms of common sense to say the man batting at number nine looks better than most. Lyon has a significant edge over both Jos Buttler (in 2015) and Moeen Ali (in this life and the next).


Alex – Hard to be too critical in the circumstances. Yes Roy’s dismissal was bad but otherwise on that pitch on the final day Lyon was always going to be a handful. Damage was really done on Day 4.


MMHe’s an international spinner on a wicket that helps spin. He’s pretty much just doing his job. You’ve got to bowl well nonetheless, and he did so. That doesn’t excuse a capitulation, and it was a capitulation. As was the first innings, in part. So, to answer the question, I’d go 50:50… I think!


Growltiger – [Nathan Lyon] …is a decent international spinner, but no genius.  The truth is that he is pretty good at putting the ball on his chosen spot, and spins it enough (although not a lot).  The tendency to overspin gives  him dip rather than drift,  so on slow wickets he can be played off the pitch.  I doubt if he would have got Smith in either innings of this match, even if he bowled 100 overs.  Unlike Moeen, though, as the pitch got older he did what it said on the tin.  It was decent bowling, making decent use of the predicted conditions.  It wasn’t great batting, but mostly not completely incompetent either.   If Australia had lost the toss, Lyon would not have appeared in the role of match-winner, although he would surely have done better than Moeen in the third innings.


The Bogfather

We played into the Lyon’s den
Let him settle, Roy swung, and then
The rest of our mix of goldfish and gazelles
Decided to be divided as their wickets fell
Rather than apply their minds, were divest within
They fell farther into blindness at his best spin


Dmitri – Nathan Lyon was talked up and talked up. As I pointed out, he wasn’t exactly a proficient matchwinner, but he’s taken a stack of wickets. But sure as apples are little green apples, he rolled his arm over, got a few to turn, and our Frankenstein batting order shorted out, as if asked to translate Esperanto into Swahili. Lyon bowled well, but then we fell over in a heap to Roston Chase a few months ago, something the media don’t really seem to recall when bigging up someone for dismissing this line-up of Ed Smith’s follies.


Question 4 – Steve Smith is being portrayed as a run-making machine. A product of his environment, as test match cricket diminishes in quality, or a freak of nature, who would have thrived in any era?


Gareth – Again, combination of both. I wonder as to whether he would have been afforded the opportunity in previous ages, and certainly if we go back to Boycs “uncovered pitches” heyday then I’m sure he would have struggled. That being said you just have to marvel at his application and appetite, whilst praying to whichever deity you hold dearest that he just bleeding nicks one.


Alex – He may have been less successful on uncovered pitches (like most) but if you look at his fundamentals, his hand eye co-ordination, temperament and technique then you have to say he probably would have succeeded in any era. That said, the pitch did negate much of England’s seam attack in the second innings and Moeen was no threat so perhaps some bigger tests lie ahead patticularly if Archer plays.


MM – Steve Smith was at Worcestershire a few years back. He weren’t much cop at all, from my admittedly-poor memory. Wasn’t he just a leg-spinning allrounder back then? He’s batting like Border, Waugh, and Ponting all rolled into one right now. So what is freakish to me is his transformation. Has he modified his approach at the crease or has he undergone some kind of mind-transferal? Jeebus. As a Worcestershire fan, I thought he was almost as duff an import as Shoaib Ahktar was, some years earlier, and Brett Lee’s brother years before that. I still can’t believe what he has since become. Can someone become a freak of nature, having been really rather average? If yes, then there’s hope for us all.


Growltiger – Steve Smith is not pretty,  but he is the most impressive run-maker  of the age.  He has now been doing this for so long, on so many different types of wicket, against very variety of attack,  that it is has to be accepted he is very difficult to get out.  Period. He would have given Bradman a run for his money, statistically (and it would be fascinating to even out all the environmental factors, mostly favouring the Don, I would guess; nobody bothered to save the fours in his day, for instance).   Smith’s judgement of length and angle is such that he never has any difficulty keeping the board ticking over.  Of course, he has statistical soft spots.  It would be sensible to get one or two left arm bowlers into the side, and also to favour swing against sheer pace (his stats degrade quite badly when there is movement, but pace means nothing to him).


The Bogfather –

He knows his game, his limitations too
He’s come through shame to become the glue
That can’t be erased by sanding sheets
His concentration and play is unique

Because he has the will and desire
To be the best, he’ll ever aspire
So in those days of vastly better attacks
He’d work out a way to improve what he’d lack
It’s not the quality, nor the way he plays
He’d probably thrive in most era’s anyway.

Dmitri – I so want him to be a product of his environment, so that the reason he makes all these runs is because the bowling is nonsense. I imagine what the great West Indian line-up would have done to him, wonder what Waqar and Wasim would have dealt with that dainty dancing in front of the stumps, wonder what Hadlee would have done with his brilliant late movement. But Smith is undeniably a freak. And he’s living inside our heads, rent free, and the media reinforce his invincibility so we’re talking about “if” we can get him out. He’s human, he’s fallible, and he will make mistakes, but he’s also damn good, and a cut above anything England can offer in this mad scientist’s LSD trip of a team.


Question 5 – Your England team for the second test. Your changes and why?


Gareth – Ah. Well I just don’t know. People are clamouring for Sibley/Crawley but I haven’t watched either bat. I think Burns has pencilled himself in for the series (your mileage may vary on how much of a positive that is) and they are unlikely to dispense with Roy.
My theory on Denly is that he’s there because Ed cannot pick himself, and I imagine he will get another go. Buttler and Bairstow need runs but are both high-profile enough to avoid the axe for now. I would drop Bairstow and bring Foakes in but I believe he also has a niggle. I personally like Woakes and his record at Lords and a decent performance at Edgbaston should keep him in the side (I often wonder how he would fare if he dropped bowling and focussed on batting).
Archer will surely feature and I would drop Moeen for his own good at this point.

My team then:-

Bairstow (wk)

Really not a lot of excitement there!

Alex – No surprises and don’t think the batting order will fundamentally change and Leach for Ali and Archer for Anderson are probable. If I was being adventurous I would consider Curran for Denly with Stokes up to 4 as strengthens bowling without hugely weakening the batting but can’t see England going for it.




  1. Sibley
  2. Burns
  3. Root
  4. Roy
  5. Bairstow
  6. Stokes
  7. Foakes
  8. Woakes
  9. Archer
  10. Broad
  11. Leech


Proper openers; Roy down the order to attack an (ideally) older ball; a real wicketkeeper to allow Bairstow to concentrate on batting alone; 3 players in the middle whose names rhyme (only joking); a frontline spinner. I’d be telling Bairstow he’s gotta knuckle down. This is Test cricket and he’s done enough of it now.


Growltiger – Some of the principles of my selection for the second Test have already been stated:   the balance of our attack at Edgbaston was wrong (four right arm medium pacers would have been better then three, but was not the right balance anyway);  our batting needs an overhaul;  we need a proper opener.  In addition to this, we are carrying a number of players who are being asked to perform roles for which they are not suited, or are deeply out of form.   On grounds of form, we need to drop Moeen (although he is one of my favourite recent England batsmen, and I say this with regret), but this gives us an opportunity to play a left arm spinner – Jack Leach – against Smith.  Bairstow is a hopeless wicket keeper, and seems incapable of batting in Tests nowadays with any sort of calmness or effect;  he should be dropped, with the gloves going to Foakes (if fit) or Buttler.   Denly was selected to open, and should possibly be given one more go at this, but otherwise should be dropped in favour of Sibley.  Roy can drop down to four or five (perhaps ideally coming in below Stokes).  If Foakes is fit,  I would drop Buttler, who seems generally quite ineffectual in Tests, thus making room for Curran, who brings left-arm swing, and is generally someone who ought to be in the side on guts.  Archer comes in for Anderson, so long as his outing for Sussex 2nds hasn’t sprung another injury. Broad and Woakes stay in the team (subject to Woakes actually being fit, otherwise Stone).   So my line-up,  which will not be the one selected by Ed Smith,  is:

Burns, Sibley, Root, Stokes, Roy, Foakes, Curran, Archer, Woakes, Broad, Leach.

Frankly,  I don’t see Root as any kind of captain, but the drama and tears of that can wait until the Ashes have been lost.

The Bogfather –


My team in batting order, and if they must continue to flirt
Is this list of ECB/Sky/MSM, with 1 to 11 on their shirts


  1. Empty Suit – let him feel the heat of the boos
  2. Andrew Strauss – for his personal trust abuse
  3. Shiny Toy – Once a Captain, now just crap refrains
  4. Joe Root – because he wants and should bat four again
  5. Paul Newman – for his agenda so often bitter
  6. Ben Stokes – our fiery street-fighting hitter
  7. Jos Buttler – to compose and swing our late order song
  8. Lovejoy – banter for those who wing it in a thong
  9. Jofra Archer – our killer of 2nd XI bowlers and batters
  10. Barmy Army – trumpets, dire songs and mad hatters
  11. Stuart Broad – for comedic appeals and being Aggers mate
  12. Selfey – the loneliest ex-swinger in town…that must grate?
  13. Giles Clarke – let him run out with towels, bats and gloves
    …then field at short leg and feel a hard ball in his, with all our love…


Dmitri – This utter buffoon allowed to indulge his whims as England selectorial genius – he is just ask him – has got us into a position where there are so many problems, I don’t know where to start. I will hate any team I pick because it is a product of the environment we are in now – a god awful mess, made by a moron, who listens too much to pundits and their hobby horses, and his own voice inside, probably from the classical era. Anyway, if you struggle for a three, pick an opener. Two of them might work. So in the absence of evidence and thought, let me do just as crap a job as the charlatan with the shades, and come up with this.


Burns, Sibley, Roy, Root, Stokes, Buttler, Foakes (Bairstow needs to sit), Woakes, Archer, Leach, Broad.


Denly’s possession of the number four slot should be enough to get the stripey-tied fop sacked without a moment’s thought, but in looking at this team, I think Root needs to play where he feels comfortable. Roy at three is a compromise. Buttler at six is borrowed time. Sam isn’t quite good enough at either discipline to merit a place. I would think Northeast should be the next cab on the rank, but they’ll go some other way, no doubt. Crawley looked half decent when I saw him. Foakes is the best keeper to replace Bairstow who needs to sit. The rest are on borrowed time.


OK. That’s the first Ashes Panel of the summer. If you want to have a go, please let any of us know. It will be a quick turnaround between Lord’s and Headingley, so you will need to answer the questions we set within 24 hours or so, because it is a horror to format this! (I had the responses in all pretty colours from Word, and it’s not bloody worked). But once again, many thanks to all who contributed. Sean will be doing a test preview tomorrow, so we are back in the saddle for more content.

I’m not content, but then I never am. Ed Smith out. FICJAM, Foxtrot Oscar.

Number of times the camera pans to Ed Smith in the crowd over the 2nd Test? 20 if there are four days.

Nurse! I need a lie down.

Listen To The Propaganda, Listen To The Latest Slander – My First Test Review

For an Ashes Panel update, please go to the end of the post. This is my first take on the last Ashes test, but I do want to set up the Panel for a preview post for the Lord’s test which starts next Wednesday. Questions are at the end of this. Please do not answer them in the comments. Please. Now, on to my very long first thoughts……

There’s a lot less cricket coverage “free to air” these days. The Telegraph and Times are behind paywalls, and I can’t be bothered with the Mirror’s website because it acts as though it hates its customer. So the first three articles I read on yesterday’s debacle were from George Dobell on Cricinfo, Martin Samuel of the Mail (I hate my eyes and my brain) and Paul Newman of the same parish. Dobell critiques the results of yesterday as an inevitable consequence of the first class cricket strategy from the ECB over the past few years. That if you have desperate selections, desperation is probably the likeliest result. That if you pick a player for attacking intent, that when he attacks and gets out, you shouldn’t be that surprised. That Denly was a walking wicket because he knew he couldn’t defend Nathan Lyon. That this team isn’t made to save tests, they’ve given that aspect up. This is going down in flames or winning in a blaze of glory. There’s not been a drawn test for many years in England.

So while Dobell was as measured, but in his own way very damning of where England are now, let’s sample some of Samuel and Newman. For them, this was on Jason Roy.

Martin Samuel goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on….

Few minds scramble as fast as those of England batsmen under Antipodean pressure on day five. Any number of vignettes could represent how swiftly hopes of survival faded: Rory Burns losing his wicket with the score on 19; Joe Denly’s ludicrous review when the entire ground could have told him he’d hit it. Yet Jason Roy summed it up. Roy by doing exactly what his detractors suspected he would; Roy by conforming to stereotype; Roy by refusing to bend to the demands of the match.

Roy epitomised the reason there was so little hope for England, once it became obvious the weather wasn’t going to come to a flaky batting side’s rescue. He went, clean bowled by Lyon for 28, just at a point in the game when even those who had suspected his temperament as an opening Test batsman were beginning to remark on his discipline.

Yet Roy’s dismissal was desperate. He was not so much outwitted as undone, dancing down the wicket, needlessly looking to knock the spinner into the confectionary stand, and bowled through a gap of the type more usually reserved for delivery drivers.

It summed up an English malaise in these condition, the confusion of purpose and intent. Roy has been encouraged to play his normal, white-ball game. And that involves taking risks.

Yet those risks are calculated, shaped to the situation. Roy has to move the scoreboard along, yes. But that doesn’t mean he swings at the first ball of the day; or the next one; or the one after. He plays the game, as necessary, and Monday’s game demanded patience.

So to try what he did against Lyon was more than foolish. That he almost hesitated before breaching the dressing-room door after it had happened suggests he knew this, too. The argument is that Roy might one day win England a match playing in this manner, but that isn’t true. No batsman wins a game going completely against the demands of the situation. Even those who advocate aggression from the openers – and Trevor Bayliss, England’s coach, certainly does – appreciate the need to balance that with the state of play. Roy didn’t.

No, he’s not finished…

He treated the task as if England were chasing victory, which they were not – at no time was there an attempt to post the 398 required – or that the mission was the same as on day one.

Had Roy got out this way in England’s first innings, it would have been frustrating and his critics would have been furious, but those who supported his selection would have understood. That’s what you get when you pick an attacking opener: attack.

The least that can be hoped, however, is that the same opener recognises when the best, the only form of attack is defence. It wasn’t just that Roy played a lousy shot for Test cricket.

No, still some more to go…

It would have been a shocker in any form of the game: 50-over, Twenty20, it might not even past muster in The Hundred, unless runs are awarded for the breadth of swing plane when missing the ball. And don’t put it past them until they’ve focus-grouped it.

Yet it precipitated one of those middle-order collapses that are as English as cream tea, motorway roadworks or the proroguing of parliament. England lasted two and a quarter hours during that horrid spell and were 86 for nine.

So it is to Paul Newman we look to for a moment of sanity, a cricket writer’s perspective, a calmer head rather than a football writer (and a crap one at that, in my view) guesting on cricket for reasons not known.

When Jason Roy came charging needlessly down the wicket in an attempt to hit Nathan Lyon out of Birmingham and instead missed a wild slog, it became clear England were going down floundering rather than fighting.

Yes, Roy has been chosen for this Ashes on the big-match temperament and attacking game that has made him one of the most destructive batsmen in white-ball cricket.

Those were paragraphs 2 and 3. Jason Roy. All Jason Roy’s fault. He “set the tone”. It was, as always, much worse getting out playing to score runs, to try to dominate, than it is to have your technique undressed. A man playing his second test plays a horrible shot, and it’s on him. A shot we all knew, deep down, Jason Roy was going to play. At some point. You lot wanted him, now you lot bury him? It’s fun watching this press and media corps, it really is.

And, yes, if England are going to put their faith in him in the ultimate form of the game they will have to put up with some overly positive shots and brain-fades made in the name of imposing himself on Test cricket.

But not this. Not such a reckless and headless slog that it offered Lyon the first of his six wickets in England’s woeful last day collapse not only on a plate but gift-wrapped and labelled ‘To Garry, with love from Jason.’

At that stage of this fifth day England had lost only Rory Burns and could still entertain realistic hopes of at least making Australia work hard for their victory on a ground where they had not won since the halcyon days of 2001.

Yet once Roy had departed, running off the pitch and away from the scene of his crime almost in embarrassment, an England team that appear to be struggling to recover from the mental and physical exertions of winning the World Cup, crashed spectacularly.

Be positive, be attacking, don’t get out. Jason Roy didn’t need to be told it wasn’t a good idea, but as always, if that wild slog had netted him a four, a six, or even a harmless squib out to leg, no-one would have remembered it. But it’s always worse getting out when trying to hit out, we know that. We also had a clue that Jason Roy wasn’t or isn’t a test opener, and he certainly isn’t when you need to get out of jail on a turning fifth day pitch, or to defend. It’s like picking Lionel Messi for your football team and sticking him at centre-back against a team who like to lump it high and long. If he gets caught dribbling it out of defence, or playing an ambitious pass, would you slate him? OK, Roy isn’t Messi, but it’s sort of the same thing. It’s the selection that’s the problem, not the player.

Meanwhile, Paul, the man you worshipped Ed Smith for selecting, Jos Buttler, had another horror game against Australia. He averages 12.8 against them. I know many said last time out that the Aussies played on his weaknesses, tying him down, making him take risky shots, but as much as I like Jos, he’s averaging in the mid 30s in his career, and he doesn’t look like a test batsman, as much as I really, really want him to be. You aren’t going to get Paul supporting that case when there’s a Jason Roy to berate. Instead, although Roy played in the World Cup and has no excuses, Bairstow, Buttler and Moeen (who didn’t play every game) are shot.

I don’t think we need to talk about Joe Denly. I said he looks to be a bloke who has turned up to an event, and no-one is quite sure why, and it would be rude to ask him to leave too early.  But if you don’t think he’s test class now, and you haven’t for the majority of his career, what’s the point. The England team is not supposed to be a supper club. Look at the county championship, look at who has made a persuasive case to be given a go, whether he has played Lions cricket or not, and do it. Give him five test matches if you must, you’ll have a good idea after three. (Rory Burns didn’t disgrace himself in Sri Lanka, played a decent knock in the Caribbean and scored a hundred on an iffy-ish pitch against a very decent attack here). Those men are Sam Northeast – 815 at 62.69 – and Dominic Sibley – 940 at 62.67. They may benefit from some nice surfaces, but they have played long innings and made good runs in the First Division. One of them is an opener, the other is a middle order bat. But, I suspect, that’s too vanilla for Ed Smith. It took them long enough to pick Burns, trying virtually everybody else, and then they have the gall to go straight to Smith on the cameras when Burns brought up his hundred as if the selection was a masterstroke.

Australia clearly have the best batsman on either side, but we knew that. Joe Root is much closer to the third best (arguably Warner) than he is to Smith at the moment, and we all know that. He is also incredibly hard to get out, and we know that too. However, talk of Bradman, talk of his immortality, of it being pointless trying to get him out, of just hoping he will make a mistake is folly. He can, and will fail. There are always ways to get him out, and many times he’ll make runs. I look back to the 2001 team, for instance, with a line-up of Hayden, Slater/Langer, Ponting, Mark Waugh, Damien Martyn, Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist. These are all players who averaged well over 40, some over 50, back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. A murderer’s row. Imagine starting the day out against that lot. Here we have an opener who can hit form, a solid number 3 who finds ways to get out when going well (Khawaja must be so frustrating as an Aussie fan), a number five who is game, with potential, and Matthew Wade at six. Come on. Don’t be scared. If you give in, mentally concede ground, do you think that will work. Did the great Aussie sides see Sachin, or Lara, and especially Kallis, and say “no, we can’t get them out”. Smith is in blazing form, has been for ages, but he is human. We’re treating him, talking about him as if he is not.

I’m nearly 2000 words in (many of them the Mail’s) and yet I still can’t quite understand anyone in authority’s thinking. There’s so much wrong, that I can’t quite get to the point where we need to start. It’s a team full of muddled thinking, with a pretend genius at the helm. Merely speaking of prioritising red ball cricket isn’t enough. We have a coach looking at other job applications having met his main performance objective, and knowing he’s leaving. We have a guardian authority taking the plaudits for the World Cup and acting like messiahs, while ignoring the core support in England over the lack of red ball cricket in the summer months, the new franchise competition set to dominate the landscape during test season next year, and downgrading the format we are world champions in. It’s hard to think of a bigger muppet show. But Tom did his lap of honour with the media on Day One, and I doubt will be seen again this year if this goes even more pear-shaped.

This is a team put together by a mad scientist. It manages to be much less than the sum of its parts. It flogs its best players to exhaustion, then puts its hand up and says what else can we do? (How about scheduling three test tours the winter after this summer, that should work) It has a team with one opener, and a one day opener, a captain who doesn’t want to bat three, but then does. It has a number four who was picked to bat three, but was deemed not to be good enough there, so he can fail at four. Our number 5 can’t buy a score against Australia. Our number six is run into the ground bowling, but you suspect is the best of the bunch at the moment. The number seven is a wicket-keeper batsman who rails against the slightest thing that demotes his status, and as he’s not part of Phoenix, you know who will steam right in. The number eight is a spinner / batsman on a lousy trot, who needs to go back to county cricket to recover his form, only to have to return to the T20 Blast until September, by which it is too late. Our number nine, who had a good match, is a bad bowling spell away from being labelled benign, and yet doesn’t appear to be as exhausted as the batsmen, who, you know, don’t have to run steaming in 100 times a day. Our number 10 has probably had his one good spell, and one decent innings of the summer. And our number 11 turned up recovering from injury, got injured, is out injured for the next game, and probably the one after that, and yet we still believe in our medical staff.

I might have more on this later in the week.

Finally, I want some volunteers for an Ashes Panel* in the lead up to next week’s test. PLEASE DO NOT POST ANY ANSWERS TO THESE IN THE COMMENTS. Please e-mail dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk or any of the e-mail addresses in the “contact us” tab above with your answers. I will need to have them by close of play on Sunday.

  1. A brief summary of the first test. Most importantly, they key moments England lost the game?
  2. Jason Roy has copped a lot of stick for being Jason Roy. Your views on the selection of opener, and what would you do for this, and the next few tests?
  3. Nathan Lyon was very very good on the fifth day. Great skill, or bad play?
  4. Steve Smith is being portrayed as a run-making machine. A product of his environment, as test match cricket diminishes in quality, or a freak of nature, who would have thrived in any era?
  5. Your England team for the second test. Your changes and why?


*An example of an Ashes Panel post can be found here. I do it as a full blog post. The first five, presuming I get five, will be published, and possibly more. You know you want to….

I feel like I’ve left a lot to say on this previous test, so may be back later this week with some more comment. Any comments on this are welcome. The Ashes mean so much to so many that defeats leave an out of proportion sense of anger and despair many times. But this one feels bad. We were conditioned, at least some were, to expect a stuffing Down Under last time so that some journalists and pundits who should have known better allowed a free pass because the team wasn’t whitewashed. Now it’s the World Cup hangover as a reason / excuse. Didn’t stop £100 tickets being charged. Didn’t stop players raking in large salaries. Didn’t stop coaches staying on for one last hurrah/raspberry. Didn’t stop the ECB from shoehorning an Ashes after a World Cup, when having one before a World Cup was deemed as counter-productive to a successful campaign.

While Newman and Samuel pull their swords out and thrash at Jason Roy, George Dobell finishes his article with the words that should really resonate… less the grinding of axes, more the finesse of true swordsmanship.

But cracks are appearing up and down this England side and it feels, for perhaps the first time, as if instead of building toward something, they are starting to crumble and fall apart. Nothing that happened at Edgbaston was a surprise. And that should worry England.

Indeed. See you later.

Same Game, Different Bat – 1st Test Defeat

In the build up to the series, there was little doubt that England’s batting fragility was going to be a factor in the outcome of the series.  Australia’s too for that matter, though while the quality of Smith was well known, it might not have been factored in that he’d score nearly 300 runs in this Test.  The difference between the two teams can in no small part be put down to his performance.

Coming into the final day, it might well have been the case that there was no reason England couldn’t bat the day to save the game, but that didn’t mean there was any confidence they would do so.  The batting line up of a few years back would specialise in rearguard actions, and while they didn’t always succeed, they gave it a damn good go on most occasions, and pulled it off more times than their fair share.

Not this lot.

Hardly anyone can have had confidence England could bat a full day, just based on recent history.  The number of batsmen who can be counted on to graft session after session is very few, and one of the most likely candidates can be found down at number nine in the order – and in the event was top scorer.  The moment the first wicket went down, the sense of inevitability was already there, while Jason Roy’s skip down the track and abysmal hack at the ball was indicative of the inability to play traditional Test cricket.  Four down by lunch, all out mid way through the afternoon session.  It wasn’t even close.  It didn’t threaten to be close at any stage.

While Australia (or Smith, specifically) deserve huge credit for digging themselves out of the mire at 122-8, England still had a chance to put themselves in a powerful position when they were 282-4.  Their eventual lead of 90 was useful, but not overwhelming, and it should have been more.  It only got to that many because of Woakes and Broad, and England’s collapse otherwise presaged what would happen in the second innings.

There will be the usual handwringing about what went wrong, and why it went wrong, plus the calls for selectorial changes.  Moeen Ali will likely be dropped, as much for his own good as anything else, so shorn of confidence did he look.  Denly too might be removed, but it won’t alter the fundamental problems that apply, and which can be laid squarely at the door of the ECB and their determination to sideline first class cricket to the margins of the season.  Not only is it that a focus on white ball cricket leads to a white ball cricket style of batting, it’s that those who do play red ball cricket are playing in conditions that don’t suit long innings.  That’s not to say it’s a direct cause of a collapse today, but a line can be drawn from it to a diminishing number of players who might be deemed specialists in long form cricket, and the subsequent selection of white ball cricketers to play in the Test team.  Roy and Buttler are fabulous players on the attack, not so much in today’s circumstances, or indeed the circumstances Australia found themselves in the second innings where they too needed to grind down the bowlers rather than play as many shots as possible.

Root afterwards said that England had been got out today rather it being a poor batting display, and while that’s true to a degree, England certainly didn’t sell their wickets especially dearly.  Lyon bowled well on a fifth day pitch that played as a fifth day pitch should, taking spin, and even had England batted well, it might have proved too much to resist.  But England batted only half a day here – 45 overs.  Even in challenging conditions, against a good bowler, it’s pretty poor.  And it’s not even an outlier.  Would it be expected that England would have done so even if the pitch hadn’t been taking spin?  Not really.

Root himself seems to be suffering from declining performances – from an admittedly very high level to a still good level overall – whether due to the captaincy, due to the batting fragility around him, or some other reason.  Bairstow can barely buy a run currently, nor can Moeen.  Only Stokes and Woakes appear to have the nous to bat long in the middle order.  Rory Burns at the top showed he could do it and if he manages that a couple more times this series, that at least will be one position filled.  Cook never did manage the fourth innings saviour act in his career, but at least you thought he might do.

It’s hard to be angry about a batting collapse several years in the making, and repeated on a regular basis.  This is where England are, and if they are to get back into the series at Lords, it will likely be on the back of Australia being every bit as flaky, bar one player.

Defeat is disappointing.  The entirely predictable nature of it irritates.

Day 4 of the 1st Test – Hush My Darling, Don’t Fear My Darling

I’ve been watching this game long enough to know when people are talking in hyperbolic tones. Nathan Lyon is a really, really decent test spin bowler. He has 343 test wickets at an average of 32. He has 14 five wicket hauls in 86 tests. None of them have come in England. None of them have come against England. A wicket has a little bit of turn, and suddenly this is akin to Murali at Galle. Nathan Lyon is a fine bowler who could well be the key tomorrow, but the way some press/media/TV are talking about him, you’d think this is Warne on a viper’s nest tomorrow.

The fact is that this is a pretty normal, old school fifth day wicket coming up, and England should bat out a draw. Australia showed there were few demons in the wicket. Moeen Ali was set up to take a ton of wickets, and he didn’t. Given he’s the whipping boy at the moment, the failure to do so is reason to pick someone else. Remember back in 2009, when on Day 4 Swann spun one through Ricky Ponting and knocked him over? The hyperbole went out, our great offie only had to turn up next day to make it 2-0, and yet, and yet. I don’t think he even took one on Day 5. There’s too much made in the media of having to be in front of the game, make a statement, build them up.

That little rant over with, and it’s the first and possibly last time the great Tight Fit will be lyric-checked in a title, let’s take the day’s play in context. Australia started effectively at 34 for 3. Smith, as I have called him in the pre-amble to Day 5 (to be posted at 9am tomorrow), is the Keyser Soze of batting. He has persuaded everyone that his unorthodox technique, his snake-like eye, his miraculous hand-eye co-ordination, has made him invincible. The bowlers believe it. They talk and act as though they can’t get him out. Smith makes them fear bowling to him – not in the way the Laras, Kohlis, Richards of this world did and getting pasted – but that there is no way through his armour. Commentators talk as if this is a superhuman at the other end. Sport is played largely in the head, and Smith is living rent-free in ours. He’s an amazing player, no doubt, but people are speaking as if we should just give up.

His interview at the end of play was fascinating. Ward was trying to get all technical, and trying to get Smith to admit how he views batting is a little complex, but he said “I know where the field is, and then I watch the ball”. It was genius and yet so simple. So Ward tried again. Smith shrugged. “Where do you think they want to bowl to you with this field” asked Ward. ” I don’t know…. I just watch the ball”. All that technical shit, and Smith was having none of it.

Smith had just become the fifth Australian to make a century in each innings of an Ashes test. The last was Matthew Hayden in 2002 – I was there – and the previous one in England was Steve Waugh at Old Trafford in 1997. Smith had burnished his legend. England looked scared from moment one. Smith would rotate the strike (Ward asked him if this was a key to his batting, and Smith basically said it didn’t really matter), never really tied down. This was exemplified by his attitude on 99. England gave all indications they were going to throw it out wide of off stump and hope Smith wore out of patience. After the first ball, Nasser, I think, said “they are going to make him wait.” Next ball, a wide ball outside off, and Smith just smacked it through the offside field. As easy as ABC. Rent free? England are paying him to stay in their heads.

I was out and about for large parts of today but I saw that. I saw Head look quite solid, and he is not to be underestimated. I missed most of Wade’s century, which looks the bargain bucket variety, but it’s one more Ashes hundred in England than Alastair Cook made (I know, I know…petty). The wheels fell off at the end, with Pattinson smacking England to all parts. England saw out the last 7 overs with few alarms – well Jim Maxwell did his best off the last ball to shit the life out of me while I was driving home – and go into tomorrow with 10 wickets in hand and a match to save. The last time England batted out a full day to save a test was Auckland 2013. It was that long ago. We used to be good at this, but not so much these days. I guess we might need rain.

The Ashes are special, and so the reactions are always augmented, but there are some really strange things going on. The strangest for me, honestly, is what is Joe Denly doing in this team. Is he really our best middle-order batsman who is not called Joe Root? I had an exchange with a journo today to say this dates back to Ed Smith being his team-mate and thinking him to have special qualities. He’s batting in our prime spot – number 4 – and yet no-one seems to care. He’s like the party guest who you think you all know, but can’t quite place, and you’re not sure who invited him. He bowls filthy spin, plays an occasional drive, and I don’t see anyone questioning his place. Not like they are people with track record, like Moeen, or complete rookies in test cricket like Roy. In fact there’s a case to say those two (Roy and Denly) should swap places and it would make more sense. But what must batsmen like Hildreth and Northeast be thinking? If only we bowled filthy legspin?

Today the commenters focused on Joe Root’s captaincy. Again, it’s noticeable that the rumblings aren’t against him. Woakes did not bowl before lunch, and we were told after play that he wasn’t injured. If that is the case, what the hell was he thinking? There wasn’t much in the way of positivity, up and at ’em body language, and instead there’s a hang-dog look and a resignation to fate. It’s one game, but this does not hold out hope.

So, we have a batsman inside our heads, are told to be frightened of a spinner who has taken four wickets in an innings twice in England, and lost both those matches, and with a batting line-up that gives the definition of disjointed, and just looks plain odd. Following England is rarely boring, often odd. It’s even more strange that this will be the sixth successive Ashes test to go to the fifth day. England face a really important day. It was said before today that only one side could afford an indifferent session. They didn’t mean England. In Steve Smith, the force is strong. Whether it’s strong enough to get a result tomorrow, then the Ashes are halfway back to Aussie (It has been pointed out that the Ashes already are with Australia – so let me correct. If England lose tomorrow, the outcome of the series is likely to be seriously skewed in favour of the visitors, who only need to draw the series to return home with the “Ashes”). England face a massively important test.

See you tomorrow.