Sometimes I Love, Sometimes I Hide – A Review of 2019

There used to be traditions around here. I used to do a readers’ poll.  I used to give out Dmitris to those deserving of praise, and opprobrium. I used to do a media review. I used to do a lot of things on this blog, and now I don’t. It’s part evolution, part necessity, part the way the cricket world is shaping. I thought in 2014 that the attitude of the ECB was alarming to people like me. Now everything I’ve seen since has convinced me I am right. I wrote with anger fuelling me at it. Sometimes it burns stronger than other times. The quiet periods on here reflect a lack of anger, an unwillingness to say the same thing many times over, and time. Lack of time. My job is intensely busy at times, and the blog takes a back seat. It has to. One has to stay relatively sane, and this blog has driven me mad many times. Far fewer this year, it has to be said.

One tradition is I don’t write short posts. So this one isn’t, but covers, I hope, a lot of ground.

2019 On Being Outside Cricket

As I have written over those nearly six years now, I have seen friends come and go, posters surge in their intensity, and then leave to either take their disenchantment with them, or to go to other places where the heat may be less intense, or there may be more comfort in presenting there. I have seen blogs I like die (particularly sad for 51 all out’s demise, as they were a real inspiration at the start of this long run), and others become something I hoped they wouldn’t. At the end of the day you have to make your own choices, based on your own aims and desires for your blog, and any career. I don’t have to like what you do – but then, increasingly like cricket itself, a curmudgeonly blogger, with an angry streak rarely suppressed, wailing at the dying of the light of the game he love(s)/(d) is not the target audience any more – but it doesn’t mean I’m right and you are wrong.

On preparing for the review of the year one thing did really surprise me. We wrote more posts in 2019 than 2018 – 165 to 140 if you include this post. While comments are down, and hits down a little, we have had many more individual visitors – almost up to peak 2015 levels – which indicates that more people visit, but stay for less interaction. I think a lot of the interaction is taken up by our massively increased follow rate on the Outside Cricket feed, which started the year at around 400, and is now at nearly 2000. Much of this increase fed around one post that resonated beyond belief, and is by a long way the most hit post on this blog in its history. More on “Clubbing A Seal” later.

We passed 1 and a quarter million visits this week, in the middle of the test. While test cricket drives the engine of the blog, and our reviews seem really well received, I think some of the other work, outside of “Clubbing A Seal” has more lustre for the writers. We are usually the worst judge of our own perceived best work, but there seems to be specialisms in all four of your writers here that work to a certain audience. Danny’s madcap Hundred Things Wrong With The Hundred is out of this world for diligence, content, thought process and sheer, utter, madness. Sean’s scoop to get Nick Compton’s pieces, and the sheer agony you have to go through to make those things a reality, as well as his rage at stupidity and injustice add fire and brimstone when it is needed. Chris is the sharper, laser implement, written with elan and reason, and without sounding like a fanboy, I’m dead envious. But I know I can’t write like that, even if I wanted to, which I do. I’m me. Slightly unhinged, extremely thin-skinned, moody and insecure, and yet utterly convinced in what I write, and yet willing to accept I’m wrong. I’m also bloody protective of this blog.

So while Chris wrote so brilliantly about club cricket, while Danny tore the Hundred to shreds, and Sean got Nick Compton to open up, my “finest” hour was arguably the time when I got Russell Jackson, Andy Bull and Mike Selvey to slag me off all on the same day – having got Jim Maxwell to tweet approvingly of the same post. It showed I could still do it, if “it” is getting under the skin of journos. I also still do rage, and following this England team, and this administration, and this media, and this attitude of the collective, then there is no place else for me to go.

On The Field

England won the Cricket World Cup and didn’t lose the Ashes series, although they never looked realistically like regaining them. The World Cup was an oddity. England went into it as firm favourites, with our main fear really being the silly collapse game our high-risk tactics sometimes threw up (see one of the ODIs in West Indies as a prime example). What happened was a seat of the pants end to the group stages, where one defeat in the last two group games against India or New Zealand would have spelled trouble, seemed to focus the mind and two impressive wins were posted. The fear that the final four would be England, India, Australia and one other (probably out of New Zealand or Pakistan) manifested itself, but I know I’m in a minority here, I enjoyed the format. There was enough jeopardy here for England, especially.

The Semi-Final was a joyful romp, and the Final. Well, enough has been written about it and talked about it, that I can’t usefully add to, other than, that, my friends, is sport. It had the occasion, it had the tension, it had the thrilling conclusion, and it would have been great on any stage, but to happen in the Final. Well. You can’t bottle it and release it when you want. It happens. Congratulations to Eoin Morgan and his team, and commiserations to New Zealand. Indian and Australian fans…. you need to get to the Final before complaining about formats. 🙂

The test team have been a bit of a joke, albeit a not very funny one. The first series of the year in the West Indies was laughable, going two down with two shocking displays, and then winning a dead rubber when some of the batsmen decided to turn up, and the West Indies didn’t. The four day test against Ireland was a farce – bowled out for shirt buttons by Tim Murtagh on Day 1, a nightwatchman making 90-odd, and then the visitors being skittled for 38, wasn’t a great advert for test cricket. Sorry, not interested in that sort of cobblers.

The Ashes were entertaining, but in the end we did not make home advantage tell. The first test was classic England. Australia were repeatedly let off the hook, the player we feared took us apart, and then we made an abject effort at batting out time. The second was even-steven until Jofra put the wind up Steve Smith, and Stokes/Buttler made batting look comfortable on Day 5 to ensure the draw, and then a potential win. The lost day’s play will be rued. It should also be an example to the cretins talking about four day tests about how a day’s washout would ruin the games. The third test saw England skittled again for shirt-buttons, just about cling on, and then relied upon a miracle knock, and some keystone cops fielding, reviewing and umpiring, to fall over the line. Theatre of the highest order, test cricket at its best. Sheer, gut-wrenching, gnawing excitement. T20 can’t replicate it. It just can’t.

That result levelled the series, but Australia steamrolled England at Manchester, with Smith taking another double hundred off us. The bowling was relentless, and although England did fight hard, Australia won. The fifth test saw a good England win, but it was a bit after the Lord Mayor’s Show, and still does give us the fig leaf that we haven’t lost at home to Australia for 18 years, even though losing the chance to regain the Ashes should feel like a loss to all England fans, because given form, the next series out there is going to be a whitewash unless something strange happens.

England picked a more progressive looking side for New Zealand, and handed out debuts! The first test was again classic England – let the home side off the hook, let the bottom half of the order run rampant against woeful bowling, and then unable to bat out time to save the game. The second test was hampered by rain, but again, we weren’t really looking like winning it. The first test in South Africa again followed the Edgbaston/Bay Oval formula – get the oppo in trouble, let them off, bat well, then collapse, let the oppo get too many, subside woefully to lose.

I award a Dmitri to the England player of the year, and it’s not a tough choice this summer. Ben Stokes played the two miracle innings, he gave his all, he is the only England player within a sniff of being in a World XI (Root, no). He’s clearly the next captain, he’s the talisman of the side, and I suspect if he were leader his batting would fall of a cliff, he would bowl himself into exhaustion and we’d be wanting him out within two years tops.

You have read my thoughts on the test team, but I’ll leave it at this. We went for a cheap option to replace Bayliss, and he’s looking like a poor imitation of Peter Moores in these early days. Joe Root is not an England captain while there is a hole in my backside, but he’s too important to upset. The decision to prioritise test cricket is a funny one, given it forms the backbone of the TV deal just signed, and the one just concluded, if I were Sky I’d ask why it hadn’t been a priority before (given Australia seemed to balance the two well when they ruled the test world and won three World Cups). 2020 sees us play three more tests in South Africa, two in Sri Lanka, two home series against West Indies and Pakistan, a T20 World Cup, and a tour to India.

The Hundred

I warned you the ECB were like this. I warned you. Convinced of their own magnificence, mistaking diktat for “leadership”, and consensus appears to be if Graves and Harrison agree with each other. Many words have been written on what is wrong with the competition, but that is the red herring here. The issue is your governing body does not give a flying flock what you think about the game. They are evangelical, convinced od their own brilliance, and you, my dear men and women, are mere peasants. You need to be shown the light. That that light will be sponsored by a savoury snack company, will upend the laws of the game, and spend money on advertising that could be going into the grassroots that they are so concerned about, is neither here nor there. This is a power grab by people I wouldn’t trust to turn on a light. The same ethos that ejected Pietersen, popped Cook on a pedestal as a lightning rod, that marginalises the first class game while pretending to revere the sanctity of test cricket, is now selling YOU a pig in a poke, and if it goes wrong, it will be YOUR fault for not buying it, and YOU will be to blame if the game collapses in on itself. Which brings me to Dmitri Number 2….

Harry Gurney

Yes. If I could award a bellend of the year gong, he’d win it. First of all, he’s funny. Just ask him. Secondly he’s right, because he can throw down a few left arm slower balls, and you’re wrong because you want to be him. Thirdly, and this will come as a relief to Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins, your tweet opinions and views are more important and correct because you have more Twitter followers than the person you are arguing against. Fourthly, what Harry writes as a man earning in his bread from T20 and his left arm slower balls, and needs sustaining to maintain his worldwide lifestyle (and fair play to him – if you get paid, go for it) is definitely NOT propaganda, but views from fans who quite like the long-form game, or club cricketers who don’t want to play T20 each weekend is! I mean, you have to get a long way down the periodic table to find something more dense than that proposition.

While being called a muppet by Michael Vaughan was one of my yearly highlights (alongside Andy Bull telling me how it is), and Vaughan is bellend emeritus for his Shiny Toy, Which Way Is The Wind Blowing, Phoenix Insights, Gurney has had a spectacular year. Harry Gurney gets a Dmitri for being himself, his twitter feed is an example of self love, and he thinks pissing off fans is a long-term strategy. Note how many likes I got for a Tweet highlighting Mitch Marsh taking him apart got. Speaks volumes. It wasn’t many for Harry, but it was a lot for me.

Other Dmitris

A Dmitri is an award for being notable, annoying, the best, the worst, or something that hit a nerve. It can be a person or an event, a team or a concept. We have the Mount Cricketmore for permanent residency (semi-permanent as you can be voted off), so I try to make things new, so we don’t have repeat winners of the media and cricketing awards.

This year I have the following Dmitris:

Overseas playerRohit Sharma, who played superbly in the World Cup, and has established himself in the test team, albeit at home against less than the best, but it is pleasing to see. He has young tyros nipping at his heels, but for now he is the man in possession. His batting is also sublime on the eye. As much as Steve Smith was our nemesis, and Shakib-al-Hasan was a beacon in the World Cup (but not so much afterwards), I think Rohit deserves it for his form in both red and white ball cricket.

Best JournoNick Hoult – Another new recipient. Now, cards on the table, I’ve met him twice this year and he’s a really decent chap. Really decent. He is also a damn fine journalist, and I can’t award it to George and Andrew Miller again because I like to mix it up. He gave us cracking insight into the end of the World Cup for press folk, which actually made me have 1% of sympathy for them rather than zero. So good stuff, and an example of how conversing with us, and being open to it, can pay dividends, we hope, to both sides of the coin without either side “giving up their thing”.

Worst Journo – Christ, this is tough. Here’s who it isn’t. Paul Newman. Not this year. I don’t read so much of the stuff put out now, so it is hard for me to call out too many, and the behemoths of Selvey and Pringle are out to pasture, relatively speaking. As Sam Moreshead of the Cricketer knows, when he gets my monthly DM, I despise everything about the Michael Henderson column in The Cricketer, and I learned this weekend, the old bastard is writing a book. I can’t give it to Andy Bull because he at least came on and had a pop. Simon Hughes made an awful faux pas over Sean Abbott, and is a pretty dreadful journo, but I just don’t have the heart. I’m not a fan of Ronay and Liew, but it’s not the cricket writing per se that gets me there. So, I’m going to cop out and not award it unless I get help from you lot. This one is open.

Kusal Perera’s 153 not out – Those who know, know. The innings of a lifetime, and thrilling to watch as a neutral. It may even be beyond Stokes’s effort because it was away from home, although Stokes has the more difficult attack to face. But in itself this innings should never be forgotten, because it was test cricket at its excrutiating, painful, lovely and artistic best. Power and grace as only left-handers seem to be able to do.

Clubbing A Seal – Self reverential maybe, and maybe slightly embarrassed Chris might be, but stuff it. This was important – this post  holds the record for most hits ever on Being Outside Cricket. There were a number of reasons. It was brilliantly written. It struck a nerve with club cricketers across the country (our Twitter follower surge, and feedback proved it). It answered the ridiculous twaddle coming from Harry Gurney and others, eloquently and powerfully. Club cricket isn’t theirs to mess around with, the recreational game isn’t for pros to sneer at. It is there for people to enjoy the game in whichever way they choose, and for the varied people who want to play to get out of the game precisely what they want, with all specialisms (sort of) catered for, which the T20 format just does not allow. Many good parts from it, but this struck a chord.

“The central theme of Gurney’s argument that all club cricket should be T20 or Hundred provoked a strong reaction, and one that he first tried to defend, and then became progressively more sneery about contrary opinion while stating it was just a view. But what it did highlight was a complete lack of connection or empathy with those who play the game for pleasure, and an inability to separate his own career from the wider game. This isn’t terribly unusual, sportsmen who have reached a professional level often have a sense of superiority over those amateurs and a lack of awareness that cricket may not be the central activity in another person’s life – or to put it another way, success in cricket isn’t more important than success in life just because it is their life. It is an odd social phenomenon, and hardly a new one, but the belief that this extra ability allows both greater insight and a position of authority is downright weird. “

In the words of Carly Simon, Nobody Does It Better.

Tom Harrison – It takes a special kind of person to enrage me to such a degree that I record his interviews on TV to enable me to undergo a 15 minute hate session to prep me to write articles on here. I’m only half joking. He’s an evangelical, self-centred, preacher, a man unable, it appears, to brook no counter-argument, no factual evidence to the contrary. If Tom believes it, then it will happen. And if it doesn’t, well we just didn’t understand. If there was one moment that summed up my rage it was the “Well, Wardy” start to a set-piece interview. In two words we knew a number of things. This was going to be soft toss stuff, and Wardy being on nickname terms was intended to show that Wardy had ECB approval to ask the questions. You knew who wore the trousers from then on. Secondly, Harrison knows he as to soften down the rough edges for media consumption, but he can’t stop meaningless management gobbledygook, about pathways, culture and other third rate bullshit. It’s not new. He’ll do it again. He’ll carry on doing it. Graves is stepping down as the boss this year, so let’s hope the new boss gets shot of the CEO, or whatever the hell he is. The Hundred is his folly. He may win the audience war, but was it worth the bad faith, the ignorant besmirching of existing loyal fans to do it? Only time can answer that.

This is more than enough for you to be getting on with, so it leads me to the end of this piece. As usual I would like to thank all those who comment on here, unless they don’t listen to friendly advice, who make the blog what it is. I know fewer of you comment, and it can seem our output is a little bit more sparse, but we all remain committed to write while you read what we say. That’s why we aren’t so discouraged by the hit level, when we see the number of unique visitors each day. I have said many times that I write because I enjoy it (not all the time, but mostly) and that there are people who want to read it. I used to namecheck you all, but I just don’t have that time any more. So thanks to all of you, and hope some of our long lost friends, or those who now comment only on The Full Toss, return.

On that note, and I received an email from him this morning, thoughts out to our commenter in Hawaii, Tom, on the loss of his partner of 21 years. Tom, take your time to grieve mate, and we’ll still be here. It is a sense of pride that we can reach the other side of the world with our posts, and I hope my best wishes (and those of all of us here) can reach too. Take care, mate, and I’ll get back to you on e-mail. I hope you don’t mind, but this was the best way of letting others who have conversed on here with you know.

My thanks also to all the contributors this year, those who wrote guest posts, or who signed up to our Twitter feed, or who just lent us support. I think we still matter, if we ever did. I don’t know how we’ve done nearly five years on here, six including the kick-off with How Did We Lose In Adelaide, but we have. Content drives it. My thanks go to Sean, Danny and Chris. We might not agree on much. We might not like doing that night’s report on the test match. We might wonder why someone else isn’t writing. We may even fall out from time to time. But we keep going, and proud to call them friends and colleagues. I still think we’re the best blog out there, and while I do, I’ll still keep on going on.

So, finally, best wishes for 2020. I’ll do the best of the decade stuff at the end of next year, because that is the end of the decade. We will keep trying until we have no more to give.

Paradise (Not Quite) Regained – By Maxie Allen

I’ll get straight to it. Full disclosure. I’ve stopped hating England. I no longer support their opponents. Over the course of this summer, I even found myself wanting them to win, and was glad when they did.

At the grave risk of sounding self-regarding, I’ll quickly remind you of the backstory. I wrote a piece for this site a couple of years ago explaining my contempt for the England cricket team and why I both exulted in their defeats and cheered on their opposition. That was the position I’d found myself in after three decades of loyal support. It was because of Things That Happened in 2014 – which left me angry, alienated, and betrayed.

And then all of a sudden, early this summer, and after five years of that alienation, I began to feel differently. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Nor was it because of a specific performance, or player, or passage of play. It was before any of 2019’s standout stories unfolded. There was no fairy-tale epiphany after watching Stokes or Archer. It crept up on me. It was something I noticed and then realised must have been there for a while, like hair-loss or a suspicious lump.

What I do know is it began with the World Cup, even though I’ve never been wildly interested in white-ball cricket. But it wasn’t because of England winning the world cup. Success, in itself, didn’t win me round and never has done. No, it was because of England trying to win the World Cup. The distinction is important. England had lost three times in the final but never won the tournament. They were at home. They were favourites. Would they fulfil their elusive destiny? It was a good story. And that story slowly but inexorably reeled me in.

The thing I’ve always loved most about cricket is its narrative arcs. The twists and turns. The sub-plots. The drama with an unwritten script. And England’s World Cup campaign crafted itself into a narrative I found too seductive to quite resist. They started brightly, messed up, bounced back, and, well, you know the rest, but the point is, I began to sense I had personal equity in the outcome.

I found myself going out of my way to watch the final group games against India and New Zealand. I was on a family holiday abroad, but managed to get an iPad to hook up to Sky Go by the pool. I couldn’t face missing the games. What startled me – maybe even disappointed me – was that I realised I wanted England to win. I feared them losing. A feeling I hadn’t experienced for five years.

It was an unsavoury sensation, and hard to come to terms with. I didn’t want to want England to win, because I’d hated them so much, and for good reason. But there it was. And then came the final, with one of the greatest narratives of all, and when Buttler broke the stumps from Roy’s throw and I could see Guptill hadn’t made his ground, I yelled and screamed and leapt around the room. Which I almost felt ashamed of doing.

I suppose I’d never felt quite as much contempt for England’s white-ball side as their Test counterparts. They felt vaguely like a separate entity and less tarnished by what happened five years ago. So the ODI team were the soft underbelly of my enmity, a gateway drug which led me into the hard stuff. Because when the Ashes began a fortnight or so later, I still found myself not hating England. Found myself sucked into the narratives of the Edgbaston test. Found myself at the mercy of their fluctuating fortunes and having to admit to myself that I wanted them, not Australia, to prevail.

This persisted and consolidated itself through the course of the series. I was disappointed by their setbacks, pleased at their comebacks. Again, it was unconscious, and again, it wasn’t because of individual flashpoints. I didn’t warm to England because of good things the team did, because it wasn’t bad things the team itself had ever done which had put me off them in the first place. I had spent thirty years watching England lose and that had never made any difference then.

I categorically did not return to England because of Stokes and Headingley. But that match did have a significance. I spent the Saturday afternoon on parental duties at a splash park, but found myself compulsively checking my phone to monitor the Root-Denly partnership. I slipped back into my superstitious habits of old, such as deliberately not watching or checking for fear of triggering an England wicket.

When Stokes got England within fifty, I stopped looking at the score, for that specific reason, and just hoped my phone wouldn’t buzz with the dreaded wicket notification. When I caved in, checked, and saw just eight were needed, only then did I actually start watching again. Those reawakened neuroses, once more. A year ago I would have been enraged by England stealing an outrageous victory. But there I was, feeling the exact opposite. And at that moment, I knew that this was the way things were going to be. I had to give up the fight and accept that I wanted England to win again.

All of which is a bit like a Celtic fan waking up and thinking “You know what, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Rangers”. It was the reluctant acceptance of something I didn’t want and felt uncomfortable with. But the only alternative would be to force myself to hate England and pretend I still wanted them to lose, which even for me seemed a bit silly.

So what happened? I’ve already mentioned the stories, and the power of those. When the Tests began, the fact it was an Ashes series played a part. The history and heritage – the unique magic of the urn – proved seductive. More broadly, the sheer heft of my previous life as an England supporter exerted its gravitational pull. Perhaps it was inevitable that in the fullness of time that thirty years of good things would outweigh one year of very bad things.

The biggest factor, though, is that Alastair Cook has gone. That may sound petty and vindictive and bitter, but I don’t care. I would always hate England when he was in the side, captain or not. With Strauss also departed – for tragic reasons of course, but the fact remains that he left – virtually none of the culprits survive apart from Graves. The absence of Anderson also helped. Here was a new and relatively blameless generation.

Some things will never be as they once were. I can’t imagine supporting England in a patriotic way, if that makes sense. Supporting England purely because they’re England and I’m English and the other side happen to be from abroad. I still think of England as ‘they’ or ‘them’, not ‘we’ and ‘us’, and I doubt that will change.

I’ll never be remotely jingoistic about England, as I was before, or take pleasure in mocking and taunting their opponents, as I once did. Neither will I revel in an opponent’s failure or humiliation, or begrudge them success when deserved. I won’t hope that an opposition player will fail or embarrass themselves just for the sake of it. The last few years have taught me how ridiculous those attitudes really are. This summer, I enjoyed watching Josh Hazlewood bowl and admired Steve Smith for his achievements. In the past I would have loathed both those things.

I will never forget or accept what happened in 2014, because nothing has changed, or forgive those responsible, because they have no desire to be forgiven. That includes not just the administrators but also the large number of England supporters who displayed such ingratitude, ignorance and bigotry – and it was those “fans” who alienated me almost as much as anything else.

What I have done is something all my friends have told me to do for years, which is to suspend disbelief and separate, by a few degrees at least, the cricketers on the field from the governing body in whose name they play. Many splendid cricketing things have happened in England this year, and not one of them happened because of the ECB and how they operate. Whatever is good about English cricket is good despite them, not because of them.

And this is how I reconcile myself with a softening attitude to England. For five years I thought supporting England meant supporting the ECB. I saw it as an act of capitulation. I was wrong. It’s an act of defiance. I hated England because they’re the ECB’s team. I was wrong again. The ECB only claim it’s their team and to play along is to give them what they most want: ownership. And validation of their proprietorial sense of entitlement. They can degrade professional cricket, trash the fixture list, bully supporters, and lock cricket behind a paywall, but one thing they cannot do, however much the ECB crave it, is to steal the team or steal the game. They belong to everyone.

England vs Australia: 5th Test, Day Four – Win, Lose And Draw

Today was an odd one. Both teams were celebrating at the end, with each claiming their small victories. England had denied Australia a series win on their home turf whilst Australia had retained the Ashes for the first time since 2001. Neither victory seemed particularly satisfying to me. For Australia, they spurned several golden chances to complete a historic away series win, only to bottle it like a South African cricketer in a knockout game. From England’s perspective, they were unable to take advantage of Australia’s continued weakness against swing whilst inexplicably giving Roy six opportunities too many in the team.

The day began with England leading by 382 and so the result was already virtually inevitable. It would take an unlikely, Stokes-esque innings from Australia to even come close. Australia wrapped England’s tail up within 20 minutes, setting their target at 399 runs to win and bringing their openers to the crease. And, very soon after, the two openers left the crease for the final time too.

It’s really saying something that Australia have the worst openers of the two teams (since Roy was dropped, at least). In this series, Cameron Bancroft was the best-performing Aussie opener with a sky-high average of 11.00. Compare that to Burns (39.00) or Denly (41.25 in his two games as opener). I still don’t feel great about England’s top order, as I haven’t for a few years now, but I could see Burns sticking around. Even Denly could potentially fill a role until someone better hopefully emerges, if he can maintain the defensive focus he showed in the last couple of games. For Australia, none of the three openers chosen in the squad showed a single sign of wanting to bat out the new ball. Or, quite frankly, being capable of batting out the new ball.

Labuschagne and Smith were next in, and that was when the nerves began. The logical side of you knows that 399 is virtually unreachable, and so can’t fathom why you’d worry. The side of you which has watched England play cricket over the years knows better, particularly having watched Smith rack up centuries for fun this summer. As it turned out, neither were able to hold out for long against the English bowling attack. Labuschagne was stumped from a good piece of work by Bairstow, whilst Smith finally fell into the trap England have been trying on and off throughout the series of glancing a ball to leg slip.

At that point, the game was over. At least, everyone apart from Matthew Wade assumed it was. The full time shit-stirrer and part time batsman and wicketkeeper has taken Warner’s mantle of least-pleasant member of the Australian team and made it his own. Given Paine’s batting struggles this series, there’s every chance that Wade will be behind the wickets during the Australian summer. If that happens, the home broadcaster will have to find a volume level below ‘mute’ for the stump microphones to prevent a constant torrent of abuse streaming into every Australian home and offending their delicate sensibilities every time he’s standing up to the wicket.

Wade took the novel (and arguably suicidal) approach of winding up 90mph fast bowler Jofra Archer once he was in the middle. What predictably followed was a barrage of short balls, which the Australian batsman managed to avoid for the most part. Throught it all he was accumulating runs, but wickets kept falling at the other end. Tim Paine’s wicket was a real treat for the home fans, with the Aussie captain reviewing a plumb LBW from Jack Leach. Shane Watson has (quite rightly) had the reputation for being one of the worst users of DRS reviews in their short history, but Paine might have surpassed him. It’s genuinely very impressive. It was Joe Root who took eventually Wade’s wicket with a stumping and it was all over as a contest. Leach wrapped up the final wickets, thanks to two fine catches by Root, and England had tied the series.

I don’t really know how to feel about this result. Had England lost a home Ashes series, there might have been more impetus within the ECB to make changes with regards to emphasising the longer formats as a top priority. Whilst I don’t generally want England to lose, and I especially never want Australia to win, I am prepared to accept a loss which leads to an overall strengthening of the game. Right now, England and Australia are fourth and fifth respectively in the ICC Test rankings. Considering the wealth and traditions of both countries, that should be totally unacceptable for either team.

Today’s Test marked the end of Trevor Bayliss’ stint as England coach. His record in ODIs has been incredible (62-24), his record in Tests (27-25) and T20Is (19-14) less so. He will probably be remembered for winning England their first men’s ODI World Cup as coach, but overall I think I’d consider him as being distinctly average in the role overall. I don’t know that anyone could have done much better though, the job seems too big for just one person. England’s schedule is so packed that no one, player or coach, should be expected to handle every game in every format nowadays.

Thanks for reading our posts through this long and historic English summer, and for all of your comments. If you have any comments about anything at all, please make them below.

England vs Australia: 5th Test, Day Three

This is rather a strange Test match.  England are now hot favourites to square the series, barring a ridiculous Smith innings, which given his performances this summer only a fool would rule out entirely.  With the Ashes gone, the question of this Test being a dead rubber or otherwise is a fair one, but it is somewhat surprising to see how shoddy Australia’s performance has been at the Oval, given the series wasn’t won.  Catches dropped in the first innings, some poor bowling in the second, and while England’s problems haven’t gone away, they’ve played with by far the greater intensity of the two teams in this one.

Joe Denly was the star of the day, falling 6 runs short of a maiden Test century – his disappointment at getting out plain for all to see.  He has been perhaps the most interesting of the players tried in the England top order; he certainly hasn’t been a runaway success, but he has delivered more and more as the series has gone on. His technical flaws outside off stump were beautifully highlighted by Ricky Ponting, but he has been flashing at the wider ball on fewer occasions and seen his run returns improve as a result.  At 33 years old, he has set an example to some of the other – more experienced – players about how to learn and improve, rather than just repeating the same errors innings after innings.  He had some luck – being dropped last evening and getting away with an lbw not reviewed by Australia – their dire DRS performance continuing – but he earned it.  In the latter part of his career, he may not be considered a long term enough player for winter selection, but short term selections to fulfill a role – perhaps at 3 allowing Root to drop a place – aren’t necessarily bad in themselves.  Either way, his innings at Headingley gave England an outside chance of a win, his innings here has put England in a position where they should win.  It’s more than most in the top order have done.

Stokes and Buttler provided the most support.  The former looks to be the best batsman in the England side at present, given Root’s technical struggles.  Stokes has an uncomplicated technique, allied with ferocious power, and a concentration level that perhaps might not be expected of such a destructive player.  But while the sixes were still hit, this was a disciplined, focused innings in partnership with Denly that took England from a position of mild peril to one of strength.

Buttler capitalised on the foundation with a breezy knock taking England’s lead past 300.  He’s a funny one, he’s not had a good series overall, but has batted relatively well in the last couple of innings.  His defenders advance the case that to see him at his best the side need to lay a platform for him so he can play his shots, and while that’s probably true, if he’s in the side as a batsman then his job is to bat in all circumstances, not just to press an advantage home, or he’s simply a luxury player in a team that doesn’t have that freedom to select one.

Cummins and Hazlewood were again the pick of the Australian attack, without getting the rewards due, but Mitchell Marsh, given his first innings efforts, was curiously underbowled, and got more movement through the air than most others when he did.  Siddle picked up a couple of wickets, but was highly expensive, while Lyon was targeted early on by Denly and proved unable to fully contain the England batsmen thereafter.

As for tomorrow, England have a couple of wickets in hand, but are unlikely to add too many more runs, meaning Australia are likely to be chasing around 400 on a surface that’s still good, but offering a little more turn for Leach to exploit.  It is a measure of the fear Smith has instilled that England aren’t considered nailed on to win this.  Should they do so – and they really ought to, a 2-2 draw would represent something of a success in many ways – not in pure terms, but given how they’ve played.  Failing to regain the Ashes, certainly, but for much of this series the England batting order has been a mess, to the point that dropping a batsman for a bowling all rounder represented a strengthening of the order.  It would also be something of a failure for Australia not to win the series.  They’ve been the better team in three of the matches, denied by a freak performance from Ben Stokes.  Retaining the Ashes might have been the primary aim, but not winning a series that they really should do is falling rather short.

Lastly, the mandated number of overs to be bowled yet again weren’t.  Only two short today, but the running total for this Test now stands at 17 unbowled due to tardiness.  It remains unacceptable.

England v Australia – 5th Test, Day 2 – Jofra Was My Son And Today Is His Birthday

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Welcome to Camp Blood.

I am going to try something, writing the piece as I go along and then summarising the events at the end.

Ten minutes in and the Aussies appear to have slept in late and not had their coffee. Buttler and Leach both with impressive boundaries on the offside, and then a massive five wides as Jos outjuked Pat. It took 20 minutes for Cummins to get himself alive, before he bowled Jos Buttler for 70, with a combination of inside edge, pad and puffs of dust before hitting the stumps. Marsh then took his fifth by bowling Jack Leach, who is the current media darling, to end the innings on 294. I was 19 out DLP.

I’m a messenger of God. You’re doomed if you stay here?

So. David Warner. What you got? Answer was a prod for one, a nick through the slips for a boundary and then an edge from a wide one off Archer. This edge being a cause of some consternation. I was about to go on a rant about wasting reviews on edges that not even the bowler or keeper were keen on, when after an age snicko revealed a slight noise. The ball looked to have passed the bat with a fair gap, but we are looking at this in 2 and not 3 dimensions, but still. Technology trumps sight. Warner left for 5. Harris didn’t last much longer nicking to Ben Stokes at second slip, off the bowling of Archer. 14 for 2.

Kill Her Mommy! Kill Her!

And out walked Steve Smith. A batsman that has made us lose our collective minds. It’s not unprecedented. I remember how Mohammed Yousuf had us on toast for a couple of series. But there are clever people who need clever lines to disseminate to their clever readers to prove how clever they are. Smith was kept in check, with Sam Curran providing a different challenge. Labuschagne gave a quarter chance through the slips, but Australia lunched at 55 for 2.

I took time out during the afternoon to sort stuff out with the cricket on in the background. Labuschagne was the first to depart, with Archer the bowler, as he was given LBW – stone dead. Matthew Wade was the next man in, and it was Sam Curran this time around. A lot of time was taken over the decision, but he was given. Wade reviewed and the tracking element did not say the ball missed (is that the technically correct description). It felt a little like a gift, but hey, not one England would turn down.

Tea came with Smith building another of those inexorable innings. It’s the equivalent of the construction of a skyscraper. The early iffy moments where you hope the foundations and groundwork are conducive to a large superstructure, and then an utterly tedious process until you get to the impressive conclusion. All the aesthetic beauty of a building site, a style only his mother and hipsters could love, got to be slightly mad to watch it, and participate in it (imagine being a crane operator on top of one of them things) but at the end, there are big numbers and we aren’t really sure how they got there (how do they get those massive cranes off the top of those buildings).

I digress. Mitchell Marsh came in, and the commentators blabbed on about love and diets. Tea came at 147 for 4.

Either That Or It’s A Very Short Clone

During the tea interval David Gower had some shill from Cricket Australia on for a chat. Within a couple of minutes, it was stakeholders this, lessons learned that, culture here, and mums there. It was like a cross between Tom Harrison and Dame Edna. I have no idea what this waste of oxygen was doing with his load of old twaddle, but he was there long enough to opine on the Hundred, and that was enough. Having done his part for Sky, this oxygen thief can go back to Australia and opine about how everyone in Australia was beside themselves with excitement that the final stages of the BBL will be with five teams not four. Imagine, all those games to eliminate THREE teams.

The Crocodiles Are In The Cabin

After tea Mitchell Marsh, no doubt eschewing the cream cakes, lost his place and flopped a ball down to fine leg from Jofra, and Jack Leach held the catch. No doubt some fraud mentioned KP and laughing stock on the Twitterverse, but I’m not looking. Still Smith ground on, but two in two balls from Sam Curran, nicknamed PLC by my Middlesex supporting friend – the middle word is Little – turned the tide. Captain by default Tim Paine, and I am laughing at the thought that Aussies popped at us for picking Brearley, nicked off, and Pat Cummins was nailed bang in front for a first baller.

Commentary went into hyperdrive, about what Smith would do, but after a couple of shots, and ensuring a modicum of strike, he missed a straight one from Chris Woakes, and he was out for 80. Australia were 187 for 8. Surely England had Australia on toast. Steve Smith is carrying more passengers than Queensland And Northern Territory Arial Services.

Calm down Sam.

Warne has remarked that Archer is bowling at a decent average. 87 mph is just 1mph faster than his slowest, and 1 mph slower than his fastest. He’s babbling nonsense on his birthday.

It’s 5:45 as I write this and there are 18 overs remaining. We bang on and on, and I even like Innocent Bystander’s idea of a counter of how much of people’s money they are being robbed of. So let’s assume they bowl another 10 overs tonight. They will be 8 overs short, which is 8.89% of the day’s play. Let’s assume that there are 24500 customers, which is the capacity, but let’s take an average ticket price of £100 – which is incredibly charitable. £217k, multiply that by 4 for say, four full days at each test, discount 5 days off for weather issues (this isn’t scientific) and early finishes, and we are looking at 15 times that number. Let’s say this is costing English cricket fans £3 million for the pleasure of the players taking their time. Turnover for the ECB is £170m. I know they don’t get all the revenue from tests, but this amount is unearned.

Now the perennially annoying Nathan Lyon is having his fun. Jack Leach has just dropped him. Can KP fans now quote the laughing stock tweet in the interests of fairness?

Archer collected his fifth wicket with a cunning act of deception to dismiss Lyon. This gives Jofra his second five-for in four tests. Four tests in where he’s done us proud with the ball, but already been accused of not being up for all fights at all times, of relying on natural ability, and only bowling quick when he fancies it. He has just taken his sixth as Rory Burns takes an amazing catch to dismiss Siddle with a a dive to his right in the gully. Jofra finished with 6 for 62, his second six wicket haul (Ponting says it after me!)

Stats – 31st time a bowler has taken 6 wickets in an innings at The Oval in Ashes cricket. Jofra’s is the 24th best. Best by an English bowler is 7 for 36 by George Lohmann.

Australia were dismissed for 225, and England hold a lead of 69. The openers came out at 6:10 pm, and there are 12 hours remaining in the last 20 minutes of play. Burns glances one off his body for four leg byes second ball, and the third hits Burns on the helmet. I’m sure England will investigate the structural integrity of this helmet in minute detail, and then go through the concussion protocol, with a potential new helmet needed to be purchased from the club shop, and oh my, it is creeping on to 6:30.

No. Same helmet, same silly strands of hair. Cummins keeping the short stuff going. Tension. England in front. David Lloyd being a muppet. He’s not funny. The first over took 6 and a half minutes.

Well Hi, What Are You Doing Out In This Mess (Pamela Stabs Him)

Joe Denly, fresh from fatherhood (congrats to all concerned), has to face Hazlewood (he of the moody child face, the big old sourpuss).

I am interrupted by a certain commenter who has linked a piece for me. I don’t know about you but this intro is not good for blood pressure:

Ed Smith, England’s chief cricket selector, has been irritatingly over-blessed by the gods: brainy, courteous, a former England batsman, admired author and well-dressed man. This morning he strides into a King’s Cross café in sunglasses and a wound scarf that scream Saint-Tropez, 1963. But hang on: today is day four of the fourth Ashes test. Shouldn’t he be in Manchester watching England-Australia? “Ninety-five per cent of the time I’m at the ground. When you’re at the game, you’re at an event, which improves your behaviour. When you’re at home you’re just a middle-aged man shouting at a television.”

Ed Smith, a man who sounds intelligent but blatantly thieved a least one piece, looks like an upper class twit. It screams pretentious plagiaristic ponce. He watches cricket, picks the team, and virtually everyone in a normal pay or education group thinks he’s a muppet.

I’ll read the rest later. Burns survives Cummins over, and Denly has the last one from Hazlewood. Off the third ball, Denly nicks, it goes to gully and Harris missed the catch – by missed, it split the webbing on his hand because the hands were not in the correct place. Marcus Harris not having a great tour. Denly takes a single, Burns nudges a four after the penultimate ball. Dharmasena gives Burns LBW out off the last ball – Hazlewood celebrappealed. Did it pitch outside leg? Is it slightly high? It pitched outside, as I thought and the day ends at 9 for 0. The series in microcosm.

The day ends with England nicely in front, wickets in hand, an Aussie team not on their mettle, an incentive to post a challenging total, and having got Smith out for fewer than a hundred. England have the upper hand, and tomorrow they’ll need to capitalise. It was a decent day’s entertainment, Jofra and Sam bringing youthful verve to proceedings. The fielding wasn’t faultless, but it was good enough. We go into Day 3 with England in the ascendant and not a lot to rage about.

You Know, You’re Beautiful When You’re Angry Sweetheart.

This has been Friday the 13th at the Test Match on Being Outside Cricket. I am Dmitri Old and it has been my pleasure to serve. And Sky accompanies the ending with a musical montage. A perfect day.

Comments on tomorrow below…..

England vs. Australia, 5th Test, Day 1

“In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

-Douglas Adams

In a similar vein, Australian captain Tim Paine decided to bowl first after winning the toss this morning. The conditions seemed pretty good for batting, and all it would take was a solid batting performance from England to put the tourists under pressure and potentially rescue a drawn series.

It started relatively well. Burns and Denly put together a partnership of 27 before Denly edged a wide ball to Steve Smith at second slip. This does not sound particularly impressive, and objectively it isn’t, but 27 still represents the highest opening stand achieved by either team in this series. A statistic like this demonstrates that Australia haven’t been an entirely dominant force, regardless of the scorecards. They are by no means a complete side, and it is therefore massively disappointing that England haven’t been able to come close to competing with them despite all of the advantages a home team possesses in Test cricket.

Burns and Root steadied the ship with a partnership for 76 runs, although Root was somewhat lucky to survive three dropped catches through his innings. Burns lost his wicket with a miscued pull shot which was caught at mid on. What followed was, rather than their typical collapse, a slow and inexorable decline into an inevitable defeat. Each batsman seemed to get a start, look somewhat comfortable and get out.

England have a habit of making mediocre Test bowlers with career bowling averages over 40 look like world-beaters. Roston Chase’s eight-fer in the West Indies is a real England lowlight for me. Mitch Marsh was the most recent beneficiary, finishing the day on 4/35. I sometimes wonder how many bowlers in world cricket have their best bowling figures against England, because it must be significantly above average.

Following the quick dismissals of Woakes and Archer, England were 226/8 and staring down the barrel of losing this Test in three days. Fortunately for them, one of their more useful batsmen was coming to the crease to join Jos Buttler in the form of Jack Leach. Leach is not by any means a good batsman. What he is though, is seemingly quite good at not getting himself out. It is an underrated talent, which the specialist batsmen might want to get his advice on. In the six innings he’s batted so far in this series, he’s been out twice. Moreover, his average number of balls faced per dismissal is currently 62. That’s better than Denly, Bairstow, Buttler and Roy. If he lost his wicket early at Headingley, as might be expected of most tailenders, England would be losing this series 3-0. Had he fallen for the same traps as many of the more experienced and skilled batsmen ahead of him today, England would have almost certainly posted a first innings score below 250. It seems like no exaggeration to say that England are in with a shout of drawing this series only because of Jack Leach’s application with the bat.

Which is not to undersell Buttler’s performance today. He was in the Stokes role today, farming the strike and scoring boundaries almost at will. He finished the day on 64*, which is already his highest score of the series, leaving England on 271/8. It’s not a bad total if you look solely on the basis of England being put in to bat after losing the toss, but conditions seemed fairly helpful for the batsmen and most English fans seem disappointed with such a low total.

Buttler will be keen to post a big score and make a statement to selector Ed Smith tomorrow, because his batting has been poor in this series so far. You’d think that his current series average of 24.25 wouldn’t be enough to keep his place in the side, but Bairstow (25.00) and Denly (24.22) aren’t faring any better and England seem oddly reluctant to make significant changes to a losing team.

The day finished eight overs short. It keeps happening, and we’re going to keep talking about it. Trust me, it bores us as much as it bores you.

As always, we look forward to your comments on the game and other stuff below.

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.

Why England Should Drop Everyone

England have now failed to win a home Ashes series for the first time in 18 years. Something clearly needs to change. Throughout the four Tests, England looked at least four batsmen short of even an average Test batting lineup, and their best bowlers were blunted by Smith’s annoyingly effective technique.

England’s reaction to failures in the past has been both incremental (changing only one player at a time even if several underperformed) and arbitrary (dropping a player whose face doesn’t fit rather than someone who did less well). As this series has proven, this flawed incrementalism has not worked.

With Bayliss leaving next week, now is the ideal time to make wholesale changes to what is currently a very poor team. If England don’t have a competitive Test side by the time they visit South Africa in December, they may well have to kiss any chance of success in the new Test Championship goodbye. So here is my reasoning, player-by player, for why no one should keep their place in the side:

Rory Burns – Why not start with the most controversial? He averages 40.37 in this Ashes (although just 28.86 in all Tests), and so has almost certainly assured his place in the side for the next year. The question the ECB really need to answer is who will be his partner. The quickest way to find another opener would be to try two candidates at the same time  in a few games and picking the best one.

There is an argument that England should field their strongest team, which would certainly include Burns at the moment, for the final Test. England can still draw the series and gain some Test Championship points, after all. I would argue, if the Test Championship is made a priority like the World Cup was four years ago, that this is the perfect opportunity to try new things in the team. Because the same number of points are divided up for each series, regardless of the number of Tests, a further loss at The Oval (Where you can only win or lose almost half the points available if it was a game in a three Test series) will have little impact on the league table. The next two Tests in New Zealand are not part of the Championship at all. This is, I would argue, the perfect time to try some new players in the team.

Joe Denly – This is perhaps a bit harsh, having just scored a valiant 53 in a losing cause, but he isn’t going to be England’s opener for the next two years of the Test Championship. He has demonstrated some application in the last two games, which is more than many others can say, but it feels to me like we’ve seen him reaching his potential in Test cricket and it still isn’t good enough.

Joe Root – The England captain’s batting average in 2019 is 28.56, which is perhaps good enough for England (he’s the third-highest runscorer this year behind Stokes and Burns), but far below what he is capable of. He has been on the England treadmill for the last five years, playing a key part in the Test and ODI sides, not to mention the burden of captaincy. All of which might suggest that he is burned out, and in need of a rest. Hopefully that is the case, and his poor performances aren’t the result of something more serious, and harder to solve.

Jason Roy – Played 5 Tests. Batting average of 18.70. I was honestly surprised it was that high.

Ben Stokes – England’s player of the series (and summer), but reportedly carrying an injury. Given his importance to the team, I don’t think England should risk him for the relatively meaningless next few games. Anderson’s series-ending injury in the first Test of this series shows the folly of playing a talismanic player when they aren’t fully fit. It would be better for England’s chances in the Test Championship if he comes into the South Africa series this winter without any lingering health issues, and well-rested.

Jos Buttler – Averages 22.00 with the bat in 2019. As a specialist batsman. Enough said, really.

Although I will add that Jos is an unbelievable T20 batsman. We have all seen what has happened to England’s best Test batsmen when they’ve attempted to adapt to ODI and T20 batting. Cook, Root and Bairstow’s Test batting techniques all seemed to suffer as a result of incorporating a more aggressive style. I worry with Buttler that the opposite might also be true, that batting in Tests might blunt his awesome power hitting.

Jonny Bairstow – Averaging 20.56 in 2019. Also not as good a wicketkeeper as Ben Foakes.

Craig Overton – 2 wickets at an average of 53.50 in his first game after a recall is hardly a ringing endorsement. Nor is his career Test bowling average (from only four games) of 44.77. George Dobell, who has probably seen quite a few Somerset games, actually rates his brother Jamie as the bowler more likely to succeed for England. Despite having the better first-class bowling average of the two, Craig might not even be the best bowler in his family (as Jimmy Ormond might say).

Jofra Archer – Whenever the ECB stumble upon a quality bowler, they typically have one of two responses. First, they seek to improve them by tinkering. This doesn’t seem to have worked once in the past few years, but they try anyway. The second thing they do is to grind any promising Test bowler into dust by overbowling them. This is clearly what is happening to Archer right now. Despite being the quickest bowler available to England, and only playing three Tests, Archer is only behind Broad (who has played four Tests) in terms of overs bowled in this series. He desparately needs time off, before England turn him into just another fast-medium bowler.

Stuart Broad – 33 years old, and has bowled by far the most overs of any English bowlers in this series. Without a rest, and soon, this story only ends one way…

Jack Leach – Perhaps the hardest player to drop of the XI. A series bowling average of 30.37 is pretty good for a spinner in England, although an economy rate of 3.29 per over is probably a touch higher than he’d be happy with. Crucially, there aren’t a lot of players who could take his place. Rashid is injured, Moeen has only played one first-class game since been dropped, and the rest haven’t consistently shown the ability to step up to Test cricket. Not to mention, Leach’s batting has been quite useful for a tail ender. I have to admit, I may have made a mistake dropping all eleven. He can stay.

Any thoughts about who you’d pick for the final Test, or on any other subject, are welcome below.

England v Australia – 4th Test 5th Day – With A Slack Jaw, And Not Much To Say

I am starting the report of the day with England just having lost Jack Leach, and the start of the last hour. The NFL season starts today (although my team are going to do well to win 2 games) and there is plenty else going on. But England have fought, and fought hard today, in direct contrast to their performance at Edgbaston, for example. It has been gritty and doughty, and everything that the first test wasn’t.

Starting this paragraph and there are 14 overs remaining. England started the day with two down, and while Roy, in particular, did not look to be suggesting permanence, as Chris put on the Twitter feed, Joe Denly, for all his faults, sold his wicket dearly. Jason Roy stuck at it, got to 30, then got undone by another beautiful ball by Pat Cummins. I thought last night, that if Roy got out to a similar ball to the one that got Root, would there be such understanding. Answer was, of course not. Of course there are differing circumstances, differing careers, and yes, differing agenda, but Root can be excused for losing his wicket three times for a duck this series.

And as I write, Overton has been given out LBW to Hazlewood. He’s reviewed it, but it looks out. There’s a pause for ball tracking, and it’s three reds. It’s all over.

There went the Ashes. Australia retain the Ashes. They’ve won by 185 runs.

Let’s run through the rest of the play. Stokes nicked behind, didn’t wait for the decision and walked. A review would have given him out, but there’s no guarantee Australia would have called for it! Not with their form. But well done Stokes for not hanging around.

Denly went soon after lunch, Bairstow hung around a while before being nailed LBW. Buttler and Overton then dug in, with Jos batting over 100 balls. England just seemed to be two wickets too many down at any time, and although the Somerset boys worked really hard, Jos leaving a straight one wasn’t in the script. Jofra didn’t last long, falling LBW to Lyon and things looked truly hopeless.

Enter Jack Leach. Again Somerset stood between England and losing the Ashes. Again there was resistance, but just too many overs to face. Paine rotated the bowling, brought on the leg spin of Marnus, and he got one to bounce a little more to Leach, who gloved it to short leg. A couple of overs later, Overton was pegged LBW, and it was all over. Just under 14 overs from saving the game. They fought hard, but that’s the minimum expected. This is an Ashes series, if not lost, has seen Australia retain the urn.

Warne babbled some old nonsense at the end that these were two evenly matched teams, but that is patent nonsense. Australia are a much better team than England. Their world class, historically so, number 4 has been the massive difference. Stokes has played well, and Burns has done the best of a bad sextet of openers, and Archer has some promise (no doubt) but the Australian bowling is good, has good replacements, and the rest of the batting (Labuschagne being a real find in these conditions) has done enough. England missed their chance by not cashing in at Edgbaston when they had the Aussies where they wanted them after two days. England missed a chance due to weather at Lord’s, but that was sort of known a long way out. England took a chance, with a little luck, at Headingley, but as I posed at the start of this match would we have momentum from a miracle win, or would relying on a miracle really be a fools errand. The latter applies.

What’s the point in being angry? The collective media didn’t give a toss when we lost 4-0 Down Under in 2017/18. They were more pleased that their hero batted out a boring test match to prevent a whitewash, and just said it was utterly inevitable that we would lose – no biggie. Then this Ashes were a lower priority than winning the World Cup. While Australians would throw their hands up at this either/or attitude, this is seen as perfectly acceptable for England fans. Now there’s been a bit more chippiness from media sorts, but what did they expect? This is a madman’s idea of a batting order, which he’s stubbornly refused to change the personnel. George Dobell called him Ed Myth. He’s going to face some attention.

Then there is Bayliss, who is off in very short order. His test management has not been one to savour. We await his replacement, who I presume is going to be in place before the New Zealand tour next month. Heaven only knows who is going to take his place.

Root’s captaincy should be up for scrutiny. He’s not the batsman we once knew, as his average is well below 50 now. He’s not impressed, but one wonders how else he could captain this exercise in stupidity imposed on him by a selector in love with himself. I presume the next skipper is Stokes, and I’m not sure that’s a great idea either.

We can take a look at the rest of the team in the days ahead. But in a summer where England won a World Cup and then went straight into an Ashes series, and then face 8 test matches before the end of the winter, including two against New Zealand, with the first on 20 November (we have a ton of T20s before that), before rolling in to a four test series in South Africa, there’s no rest. I watched The Edge last night (it’s included with Prime) and the focus in the second part of the film is of the breakdown of the team. It was clear burnout. The Jonathan Trott retirement piece was tough watching. It showed how much it took to get to the top, and how the toll is immense. (I hope Vaughan saw that part).

The hierarchy in this country give not one shit about this. It’s why we have the Ashes back-to-back like 2013-14. It’s why we have the Ashes straight after the World Cup. It’s why we have a brand new competition that the top players are going to need to promote. It’s why the test schedule is ridiculous, and yet the format has been neglected. It’s why the County Championship is marginalised to the cold ends of the season. It’s why Tom Harrison is still in his position despite alienating core support and angering pretty much every fan in the country.

As the support at the Ashes shows, if they put it on, at any cost, people will turn up. They are counting on that same blind loyalty for the Hundred next year. I hope the fans turn their back on it. Only when they do, will the ECB get the bloody message. Stop pretending that test cricket is the prime format, when you neglect it. Don’t run premature victory laps. Losing the Ashes to our greatest foe, who played well enough, but hardly the greatest team to visit these shores, is not necessarily the worst thing, but it hurts. It makes the next series even more important. It’s hard to tell how England get good enough, quickly enough, to compete down under in a couple of years time, but the time should be spent wisely.

Instead we’ll have all manner of distractions. That’s where we are.

I’m not angry. I’m disappointed. What’s the point of losing your rag with this team, this organisation, and hell, the media and the know-it-all social media paragons? It’s not my place any more to be Mr Angry. What’s the point?

Congratulations Australia and Steve Smith. This has been the Fag End Ashes, an adjunct to the main event. We are World Champions. Enjoy the rest of the summer. Priorities and all that.

England v Australia – 4th Test Day 4 – Wows Are Few, Frustration More Common

 

What can I say?

I’m not surprised, let’s be honest. I’ve said during the summer that this is a mad scientist’s experiment of a cricket team, and while a freak compound came together for a day and a bit at Leeds, as I said many times in the past few years, pretty little half centuries, or grinding 70s aren’t going to win test matches. Double hundreds on good surfaces that decline do. So while we raised Steve Smith’s pedestal yet further, we see Joe Root pale in comparison. Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes must be absolutely livid at what they are seeing. Both are near, or close to, the top of their game, but we persisted with this twisted, mangled wreck of a batting line-up and the rewards are shown for all to see this evening.

Tomorrow Australia will wrap up the Ashes for another couple of years, and given we travel about as well as English wine, probably another four before we get a crack again at our old foe on home soil. That would be another crack at test cricket, because Australia are over here next year for some hit, giggle and white ball contest again. It’s what we want. An hors d’oeuvre for the Hundred.

Back to the start of the day, and England started on 200 for 5. Bairstow got cleaned up pretty early on, and it’s hard to argue with the reaction of one of this parish…

Stokes couldn’t repeat the miracle of Headingley, nicking off to slip, and Archer did not detain us for too long with another low score. Dobell is getting a little impatient, thinking Jofra should bat at number 11. Stuart Broad did his best, which is far from what his best used to be, but he’s bloody trying, and stuck with Jos almost up to the follow on mark, before some blows got England past the follow-on, but not much more. Jos has not yet made 100 runs in 7 digs for England in this series and is played as a specialist batsman. Not much use when he’s coming in at number 8, due to the nightwatchman, but hey, I’m not a Dean of Sports History, so what the hell do I know?

Broad and Archer bowled superbly to start with, removing Warner for a duck, Harris soon after, and then Marnus for fewer than 50 for the first time this series. Head didn’t last too long. But despite looking more vulnerable than nearly any time in this series, Smith wasn’t out, and he accelerated the pace of the innings in an 82 that allowed Australia to declare and set England 383 to win. Or more reasonably a full day and a half an hour to bat out time and take the series to the Oval.

BOOM! Cummins induces a poor legside shot attempt from Rory Burns and the ball skewed off the leading edge to mid-off. Third ball, 0 for 1

CRASH! Root gets a decent one first up and has his off stump pegged back by Cummins. His second first ball duck of the series. Root’s average drops to barely above 48. After a dodgy spell captaining after tea, where he clearly needed to balance bowling workloads, but allowed Smith to get free, is his captaincy under pressure? It should be.

Jason Roy (and I wonder what would have happened and what the comment would have been if he’d had fallen to Cummins ball to Root) came in at 4, in the first over. He’s faced his first ball later in the innings opening the batting! He and Denly saw out the day and the game finished the day with England 18 for 2.

We won’t bat out tomorrow. I’d be surprised if England get to tea, and not be surprised if they are done by lunch. They took the momentum from Leeds, bowled and fielded poorly, lost it to the human spirit sapper Smith, and found themselves in their area of weakness, chasing a big score. England can’t make these without miracles aligning, and so they proved, scraping over 300, which is a rarity these days, so I suppose it was a success of sorts.

England’s test cricket is unfathomable. It can align and beat India 4-1, it can unravel, and but for miracles and mis-steps, it should really be 3-0 tomorrow. All through it I’ve watched as much as I can, taped as much as I can, reviewed as much as I can, but the spirit isn’t there. This is ADHD test cricket and I’m not a fan. Paul Hayward, a journo who should really know better, was eulogising how this series has transcended sport, but to me it is a crap series, with one man dominating, and when he didn’t play, we got an extraordinary finish. One great theatrical contest. The third test was Highlander, the rest has been Highlander II. I’ve just not been into it at all. I wasn’t that keen to write tonight’s opus.

So, onto tomorrow. The Inevitable End, as Royksopp named their final album. I hope we put up a fight, but the two in at the moment have been almost walking wickets, and then we go to the expansive all rounders and their gates and swishes. We’ve got a slightly longer tail as well. If they survive….. oh stuff it. Don’t get your hopes up.

Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust. If the hope is there, well I admire your trust.

And we were 13 overs short. Who gives a shit that the paying public, probably shelling out £100 for a ticket, get 15% of their play taken away because the players don’t give a stuff about getting a wiggle on. We can go on about this, but no-one gives a shit in authority. No-one.

Comments below on the final farce.

Dmitri