I Came Across A Cache Of Old Photos

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Please, No. Don’t let this be the whole of our future (T20 night at The Oval v Glamorgan)

OK. Time to write.

I have had a pretty tough stretch at work, and as is the way with me, when the stress levels hit high, I have to make a choice to cut something out that might cause me some more. So, after a couple of weeks just looking at the comments, reading the posts and making a couple of observations, I thought I should contribute something. Thanks to Chris, Sean and Danny who kept the show on the road.

I’ve been investing the hard-earned on some new furniture, most notably bookcases. I have also been investing in lots of cheaper books to fill them up. I’ve acquired a number of B&H/C&G Yearbooks as they become available cheap on the Amazon secondhand market. I also cleared out some of the old cupboards, and it was there I came across the contents of the title. A load of pictures from the Ashes tour of 2002/3. Most notably the Brisbane pics I’ve not seen for a while (and also from my visit to the Nou Camp, or Camp Nou, that year too). Back then, pre-parents death and with a bit more disposable income, the dreams of seeing great sporting venues filled my head. I wasn’t a little old 20 year old, but a 33 year old cynic! The excitement was immense, even though we knew we’d get stuffed. The photos are a terrific memory. I’ve now located the video Sir Peter made of the whole adventure and laughing at it again. I’m currently ranting about Day 1 as I write.

Mark , in his comments on the piece below this, sort of strikes the current mood. 2002 was pre-T20 and so much an innocent world where no-one seriously questioned the primacy of test match cricket. Now, 15 years on, no series really seems to matter to the English cricketing psyche like the Ashes, as everything that happened this summer seemed to only matter in that context. The T20 world encroaches on the test scene more and more, where a great West Indies test win is buried under the Caribbean Premier League. The people want it. The cricket fan that sustained the game through the last three decades is cast aside.

This has, from my perspective, been a dull summer of test cricket. South Africa were meant to pose a huge threat to the inconsistent England team under a new captain, but instead capitulated poorly in three of the four games (but absolutely slaughtered us in the other). They seemed a team confused with themselves – a bowling line up that worked a charm when it fired, but a batting line-up as fragile, if not more so, than England’s. All this was played to a backdrop of AB de Villiers egging his team on from home, while sitting out the series to rest for some other appointment at some other time in the future. there seemed something symbolic about the state of test cricket. England, a team in flux, with key weaknesses at 2,3 and 5 were easily beating a team that had a great away record, but who had seen their best batsman sit it out because he needs to make money and T20 will do it for him. I might react to his tweets because it seemed like he was having his cake and eat it, but I don’t blame him for making the choice.

Joe Root got his captaincy off to the best possible start with a win and a big hundred. This was augmented by Moeen Ali taking ten wickets in the game, as the Lord’s surface took spin and South Africa’s batting took leave of its senses. The second test was an almost bizarre role reversal, as South Africa took a big first innings lead after one of the most skittish test innings I’ve seen from an England team – as if we were on a time limit. The third test at the Oval saw one of those great knocks from Ben Stokes that we are going to need more and more of, while South Africa fell away (despite a terrific century by Elgar on the last day) and Moeen took a hat-trick to finish the match. The fourth test at Old Trafford went much the same way. South Africa couldn’t nail England down with the bat, but were brought to their knees by good bowling.

The West Indies series was supposed to be 3-0. Good sides, in fact some not so good, would have hammered the visitors 3-0, but England infuriated us again by mailing in a test match at Headingley, and being done by Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite. As someone rightly said, I’m not on the Shai Hope bandwagon just yet. It takes more than taking a couple of centuries off England to convince me he’s the real deal. He looks well organised, he looks to have the temperament, but he also looked at an 18 batting average pre this tour in 11 tests, I believe. Hope, Blackwood and Holder have made all their test centuries against England.

The first test was an embarrassment to test cricket. England piled on a ton of runs against a Division 2 county attack at best. The batting crumpled in a heap. It was over inside three days. That Headingley was a remarkable turnaround, and we could actually watch much of the play over a Bank Holiday weekend (it will never catch on), had some of us reaching for our memories and hoping for the best. But like those old photographs, they are just that. Nice memories. The amazement that the West Indies could chase down 300 in a day at Leeds of all places was a chimera. It was nice to have a pop at idiots who want 4 day test matches, two divisions et al, but those voices are listened to, and ours are not. We go to Lord’s, we get a test lasting 2 an 3/4 days, where a larrup stand between Broad and Roland-Jones made the lead meaningful enough after the Ben Stokes show, and the same old problems manifest themselves.

This is an era missing a great team. This is an era where if you have some level of talent you can accumulate some decent statistics. Jimmy Anderson, who has done superbly to reach 500 wickets, just to last that long to play all those games, was, at the beginning of the year a player who looked in terminal decline. He had pretty much fallen apart on the unforgiving surfaces of the sub-continent, but back home, probably a bit fitter, he made hay. But he wasn’t exactly up against the South Africa of Smith, Kallis and DeVilliers (and I would say an Amla not in terminal decline), nor the West Indies of a Chanderpaul being a constant pain. Jimmy does not need weak batting to feast – he used to have a lovely knack of getting out Sachin – but averaging 14 (?) this summer does seem to indicate the quality he was facing. A great bowler, and he is, feasting on the scraps.

England’s oddly organised team, comprising a brittle top and middle order anchored by the current and ex-captain, need to be rescued by a ton of all-rounders and a lower order that can cause some havoc. In the absence of top order batsmen, it is a plan that has to work. There’s not a lot else we can do. We really are putting our hopes in magic beans, that we can pluck a batsman out of our domestic game who may actually be better at test cricket than he is at the county level. It’s a bit like the alchemy sketch in Blackadder II, or Rodney suggesting to Del that they try to make money out of nothing. As SimonH has pointed out in the comments on the end of the test, there’s not a lot to go on, inspector. I look at the Surrey team, and I hear people say Jason Roy. A man dropped from the ODI team for technical problems. He’s not pulled up any trees in his return to Surrey.

To me, though, the test summer of 2017 will be the season I fell totally out of love with the social media side of the game. By that, I mean Twitter. It’s a very strange medium at the best of times, but this summer it has been rank. Utter garbage. People seem to want to take shots at each other, to be the smartest smart-arse in the room. Some have fully moved on to the journo side when they were fellow travellers not so long ago, and in some instances, forgotten where they’ve come from. Others just wind me up all day long with their need to be clever. I’ve muted more accounts this summer than in the past few years combined. People get irate when I say 5 out of 97 or 6 out of 103, when it’s a fact. People raved more about a 80-odd by Cook, as genuinely good as it was, than the 99 by Bairstow that played every bit as much of a role in a series clinching win. Cook has made one ton this summer. It was a mighty one, a long one, the first player in my memory to make four double hundreds for England. But we need a lot more from him as an all-time great.

There will be more on Alastair later in the piece, as we have an Ashes series coming up, but he is symptomatic of the schism that still, really, exists. It’s moved on now to those who seem to live in a world where 2013/14 never happened, or at least the ECB and its nonsense needs to be forgotten, and those who can’t, or won’t forgive. The former seem to have gone back to being calm, observers of the game, only rising up when one of their own (a fellow England fan) has the gall to question. Blind obedience, or at least a recognition that you need to be in with the in crowd, is more important than critical evaluation. You have a point, and I will listen to it, and discuss. I won’t if you say my blog, and that of the team, has been put together solely to have a go at Alastair Cook. I don’t do blind obedience. I don’t do the “in crowd”. IMVHO, it’s a bit silly.

Instead what do those on the other side of this schism do? We fade away. We post less. We certainly care less about England. We worry about test cricket. We worry that T20 hasn’t come close to maximising its destruction of the long-form of the game. We see no-one giving a crap about what we say. In many ways we, and our ilk had more a voice post-2014 Ashes that got heard. Now we don’t matter, if we mattered at all. Other than a place where we can lick our wounds, remember the better times, and hope for a saviour or two who place the test match at the heart of the sport we love.

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This place has always had something going for it. Never Being Boring. The cache of old photos still bring a smile to my face, as do my rants on Sir Peter’s video (the one about the bloke behind me and the Michael Bevan Asia XI v Whatever XI knock). The sport has given us joy. It still can do so. But it’s tough to love at the moment.

Always leave ’em laughing.

“Someone said if you’re not careful
you’ll have nothing left and nothing to care for”

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England vs South Africa: 3rd Test, Day Three – Wet

The forecast wet weather duly arrived not too long after lunch, and that was that for the day. South Africa had managed to save the follow on, and given the rain that may yet prove to be vital in going to the final match of the series all square. Temba Bavuma deserves all the plaudits for getting his team into a position whereby with some help from on high, it’s just about possible to see a potential escape. He was helped in adding 50 to the team’s overnight score by Vernon Philander, fresh out of hospital, but clearly far from recovered given his repeated trips off the field during England’s second innings. He’s plainly still not well at all. 

Toby Roland-Jones was the man to take the final wicket, and in doing so completed a five wicket haul. Cricket history is littered with examples of players who shone brightly at the start only to fade, and while nothing should be read into his achievement in terms of his international career, if nothing else he will have this match. But he’s bowled well, and certainly added to the potency of the England attack in helpful conditions. 

With no follow on option, it was for England to follow the pattern of the first two Tests and go out in the third innings and build a lead. The overhead cloud still assisted the bowlers and Morne Morkel in particular made life especially difficult, accounting for Cook for the 11th time with a good one that left him and clattered into off stump. At the other end Keaton Jennings was struggling badly against Philander, escaping being caught in the slips via a cordon that couldn’t react in time as the ball flew off the edge. 

That he’s struggled this series is obvious, but all players need a bit of luck, and perhaps that was just what he needed. He also escaped being given lbw on review, but towards the end of the possible play he was starting to look more fluent and more assured. Should he go on tomorrow, on such fine margins can sporting careers be made. 

Tom Westley in contrast has looked like he’s been waiting to bat in a Test match for years. Both in the first innings and today, his stroke making has been notable, his ease at the crease remarkable. Once again, it means little in terms of the longer term, but on brief evidence, he does at least appear at home in the environment. 

With England 252 ahead, a better forecast for the next two days and a pitch still offering some assistance to  the seamers, it’s hard to see much other than England creating a huge lead and then asking South Africa to bat the best part of four sessions to try and save it.  As so often, it might be best if England were bowled out removing the need for a decision, but even if South Africa were to have a great morning, the chances are the target won’t be below 350.

The people most pleased with today will be those with tickets for tomorrow.

The Third Test – Preview And Day 1 Comments

Dmitri (dangerously referring to himself in the third person) goes a little nostalgic and you will all pay…

England v South Africa at The Oval. It wasn’t that long ago that the day before the Oval test started would be a frantic one. Tidying up loose ends in the office, arranging the meeting places for the ticket collection, determining who was bringing what to eat. The day(s) at The Oval were one of the highlights of the year for me – the Oval test put on the calendar, leave booked early, anticipation rising.

But it was England v South Africa in 2012 that was the final straw – my angst pre-dating the Difficult Winter. I had missed the first day, as prices had increased and the purchasing power of my salary had diminished, so it was Friday and Saturday for me. I saw England collapse on the Friday and watched South Africa lose two wickets in the ensuing five sessions. I’d also left my camera battery in the charger for the Saturday, and was, how can I put it, “in a bit of a mood”. It wasn’t helped by England being smashed, feeling terribly uncomfortable all day in the Ryanair seating, and being surrounded in front and behind by people who annoyed the hell out of me, spilled beer over me, and just plain got on my nerves. With 30 minutes to go, and I never left early unless it was heatstroke, I got up and said to my mates #!k this, I’m off home. And I doubt I’ll ever come back. And I flounced. But I’ve never been back for a test match. The prices appear to have risen greatly, the amount of tickets members could purchase has been curtailed (some might think that a good thing) and the customer experience, piled on top of each other, is a joke. Harrumph!

That day, the last I saw, was memorable for the batting of Hashim Amla, who made 311. He never really looked flustered, and the fear is, linking into the upcoming battle, is that Trent Bridge has put him back into the groove. The partnerships between Amla and Smith, and Amla and Kallis were not thrill a minute joyrides, but 12 or so hours of grinding England into paste. They were there to make 380 odd, or whatever it was, look totally inadequate. It almost seems like a different era of test cricket. That ability to bat long in England seems from a bygone age. In fact, presented with a 637 for 2 wicket, in a game completed in 4 and a bit days remember, we’d probably see a ton of complaints about nothing in it for the bowlers.

From that test in 2012 there are precious few survivors. The rigours of international cricket took many a career, inflicted or decided by themselves. But key cogs remain. Amla is there with Morne Morkel, Cook is there with Broad and Anderson. It says a lot about their staying power that they are all very important parts of the teams, maybe even the most important. Cook made a hundred in that match, which is easily forgotten. While Kallis, through retirement, maybe the seminal figure lacking from the team that won, the Oval 2012 should always be about how Dale Steyn tore us apart on a dead wicket. International cricket well served then, and how Steyn has paid for it through injury.

Tomorrow England need to fight back from a defeat every bit as demoralising as the 2012 reverse at the home of English Cricket (the Original venue….), after the mauling they received at Trent Bridge 10 days or so ago. England have been given a thorough beating before, but this time this one seemed to encourage, if that is the word, the scything criticism lacking from more recent defeats. There seems to be more of an open season on the captain, and especially the coach, than before. This reaction, which should not be a surprise, has actually been one. It is as if the media community has found its voice, its teeth. It didn’t seem to give a steaming pile of crap like Chennai as hard a time as they did the Trent Bridge performance. You know I’m not going to get over Karun Nair getting a triple hundred don’t you?

England go into this match with a lot of questions, and now with two debutants. Mark Wood has failed his fitness test and Toby Roland-Jones is going to play instead. Given there’s been other confirmation that Liam Dawson will play, and boy that’s a lightning rod stuck up, right there, it looks very unlikely that Dawid Malan will make his debut (I think that was an odd choice in the first place). Tom Westley will take his place at number 3 (there you are son, bang in the hotseat for you, good luck). While the Essex media are certainly in paroxysms of delight over Tom finally getting the nod, I have to say that I don’t quite know why he was the slam-dunk selection (and no, I’m not carrying a torch for Stoneman either), but there is no harm in trying, and you never know. I will certainly be watching certain journos for double standards reporting on him.

The main criticisms coming out of Trent Bridge was that England had not shown enough respect to the test format, but quite frankly, by the end of it, I’ve no idea what Shiny Toy was up to, and Geoffrey, is well, Geoffrey. This was met by quite fierce return fire by the England team, and Stokes has relit that fuse with his comments. I’m not sure it’s respect for the format that’s the problem, but rather, funnily enough, ability. This just doesn’t look like a very good England team. So if you are going to go down, go down playing your shots, eh? I’m not sure this team can block it out, they certainly couldn’t when they’ve been asked to do it in recent years, and probably with better teams than this. We’ve tried to compensate for lack of true star power in depth (reading Trott’s book at the moment, and we went through a golden spell then with players, so we could accommodate Collingwood, by and large) with the bat. Stokes is a classic. All the talent, inconsistent delivery. I think that’s the message (if you had present day Stokes, and 2005 Freddie, who would you select?). I mean, Shiny Toy thinks this is one of the most talented England teams ever. I don’t.

So if the players are a bit of a moving target, what with all that talent and such, it therefore must be someone else, and now we come to Trevor Bayliss. We interrupt this message to point out that losing at home to South Africa is something Andy Flower did, Peter Moores did, Duncan Fletcher didn’t, David Lloyd didn’t and Ray Illingworth didn’t. Bayliss can be questioned, of course he can. Is he getting the most out of the team? Is he doing enough to find talent, if, indeed, that is in his job description? Can he do more? Can he do something different? Yes. They can all be answered and there can be critical evaluation of it. But in my view, and that’s where this could be really fun, any criticism of Bayliss draws a direct line to the man who appointed him, sets his job spec and acts as his line manager. After all, Comma, shouldn’t be above reproach and if you look at cold, hard, results the 2017 team plays with a lot more verve, but the 2013 team actually got to World Number 1 (Trott mentions this a fair bit in his book). Also, as we are never shy to point out, Farby seems exempt from all this. Good old Farby.

So 1-1. Perfectly poised for the 100th test match at The Oval. I went to quite a few, from 1997 to 2012 I went to at least one day of each test there, and as with the days you select to attend you do hit and miss. Here are five of my favourite days (a bit biased towards England)…

2003, Day 3 – England v South Africa. Thorpe makes a century on his return to the team. Emotional. Trescothick makes his highest test score of 219. Alec Stewart plays what would turn out to be his last innings in an England shirt. And so did Ed Smith! A terrific day from start to finish.

2005, Day 1 – England v Australia. Andrew Strauss plays one of the best innings no-one really remembers. Without him we would have been toast. Flintoff also plays a terrific hand and England finish the day relatively even. It was just the pure tension, the weight of expectation and anticipation of the match that made it a great day.

2011 Day 2 – England v India. Watching a 300 partnership is special, and I’ve seen two. You know who was the common denominator. His 175 was overshadowed by Ian Bell’s career best (completed the following day) but it was total domination against a poor attack. Still great fun to watch.

2009 Day 2 – England v Australia. Days 3 and 4 weren’t bad, but watching Stuart Broad demolish the Australians in one of those spells he is capable of was magnificent entertainment. I still recall, with us 3 down at the end of the 2nd day that we were still talking of how we could lose even though we were nigh on 300 in front.

1997 Day 2 – England v Australia – Nothing like your first day at test cricket. I saw lots of wickets (Tuffers took 7) and a tense battle as England tried to recover from a first day collapse. The atmosphere, the tension, the battle, the action was like no other cricket I had watched in the flesh. Oh to go back to the 1997 me.

 

Just missed out included a glorious Shiny Toy ton in 2002, the infamous walk-off by Pakistan in 2006, Herschelle Gibbs on day 1 of the 2003 test, Steve Waugh’s hundred on one leg in 2001 (just to prove a point), my brief glimpses of Murali and Jayasuriya in 1998 on Day 2, the rain-affected tension of Day 3 in 2000 against the West Indies.

Happy century of tests for the Oval, and as usual, after 1500+ words of waffle, comments below if you have any on the points raised, views on great Oval moments (you have been to, or witnessed – could have popped off another 1000 words) and more importantly on the action tomorrow.

England v South Africa – Day 2 – Oh No! What Have You Done?

South Africa finish the day 205 runs ahead. England made 205. 15 wickets fell on the day. It hasn’t been a great day for the new Root England, but it isn’t, if we are being really truthful with ourselves, a massive shock. England’s batting is brittle. England don’t seem to cope well with any first innings score of 300+ on the board. We can look at how we play, and we can look at reactions under pressure, but this England team seem perfectly fine batting first at home. We don’t seem perfectly fine chasing a game.

What we do have is turbo-charged cricket which seems to be advancing test cricket matches so that it would be a massive surprise if this game goes to Day 5, and less of a surprise if it finished tomorrow. This may give Bungalow Graves and his Empty Suit more encouragement for their Shiny Toy backed idiocy, but where I am sitting, it looks like a massive drop in the quality of play. Batting has become a pursuit of having a good time at the crease, and not a long time. Joe Root, a man for all seasons, set the equal fastest half-century by an England test captain, but his support consisted of a doughty but not ground-breaking 20-odd by Gary Ballance, and a sketchy old knock by Johnny Bairstow.

England’s 205 was pathetic, even given the conditions which assisted the bowlers, but with an attack that saw Maharaj take three wickets on a pitch that does not assist the spinners, Chris Morris and Duanne Olivier looked, for long periods, to be out of sorts, this has to be nothing but a bitter disappointment. Philander and Morkel are a very good opening pair when in rhythm and on a wicket that assists (or with appropriate conditions). This happens too often these days, and while for many years England’s modus operandi was being hard to beat, now it seems to be self-destruction.

And yet the day started so well. The remaining four wickets were taken in very short order and Jimmy Anderson recorded his seventh five wicket haul and 309 for 6 turned in to 335 all out. That was something to put the spring in our steps, and no doubt delight our Antipodean friend who thinks Jimmy is not all his record is cracked up to be.

The momentum, such as it was, came to a shuddering halt in the space of two deliveries. Cook prodded forward to Philander, and while I was wondering if he was LBW, the Proteas were claiming a catch. Cook had indeed nicked it on to his pad, and de Kock had, indeed, held the chance. As if this wasn’t a big enough blow, Keaton Jennings followed the ball after as he nicked off to Morkel. Interesting that the commentators said it was a ball that would have got most out – defensive failings are quite often explained away. That’s four single figure scores out of seven test innings. Early days in his career, but there is no doubt he’s not locked in yet.

Root and Ballance kept South Africa at bay in different ways. Ballance pays for not having a style that is easy on the eye. I’m sure that makes up part of the almost hysterical “he’s not up to it” I see on Twitter. He may not be, but we’d just seen the two openers ripped out in no time, and it’s time to lay it on Ballance. He’s not set at three, but good grief, this isn’t the time to go mad about him. He saw off the attack and then fell after lunch. As I said, no-one is going to pay to watch Ballance play test cricket, but there seem to be a lot of very critical people on his case.

Root’s skittish innings was in large parts genius, and large parts reckless. He seemed to convey an attitude that the only way to get back into the game was to take risks, be aggressive and cash in. He’s a top top player. Joe Root can do that. Mere human cricketers aren’t so good at it. YJB managed to make 45, but it was all over the place. He has that charming knack at this stage of riding his luck and contributing (he did at Lord’s last Sunday) so long may it continue!

When Root was dismissed with the score on 143, the last seven wickets contributed just 62 more. That’s garbage. It was put into some context with South Africa’s 75 for 1 second innings, and trouble is in store. Unless England come up with a miracle, they will be chasing 300+ in the final innings, and we all know how tough that is.

The dismissal that may raise most eyebrows was Moeen Ali’s. A very loose drive, uppish, to a man placed there precisely for that shot, is the sort that infuriates us armchair pundits and some of the media corps. But it is what it is. Moeen is there to counter-punch, and it has worked before. His profligacy was accentuated by the tail contributing next to nothing. It’s how he plays.

I have to say watching Philander bowl was fascinating. He has those virtues of line and length, and the ability to keep a batsman honest. He took just two wickets, but he removed our two most defensive players. He will be a tough man to play in the second innings, and the suspicion is that he is nowhere near fully fit.

So, it looks very much like we will be all square going into the Oval test. If it isn’t, we’ll have a ton to write about.

RIP to the five overs lost today. They will be deeply mourned by the punters pockets, and placed in a communal grave by the authorities who give the square root of fuck all about that.

Comments on Day 3 below. Chris will be on the decks tomorrow.

England vs. South Africa, 2nd Test, Day 1

After such a long wait for the Test Summer to begin and despite all the so-called pomp and glory of Lords, the first Test felt a bit of a let down to me. England were pretty good but South Africa were pretty poor and that led to a fairly one-sided Test. The indications, after the first day’s play at Trent Bridge is that this Test will be anything but one-sided. Today was the sort of day that trumps any form of hit and giggle cricket out there, the game flowed one way and then another and by the close of play both teams would have taken their respective positions at the start of play. In my opinion, it is very hard to judge who has the upper hand, a joy for us slightly long in the tooth cricket followers that Tom Harrison clearly doesn’t value.

South Africa got their selection and tactics spot on today and whilst De Bruyn can feel slightly hard done by, the decision to pick Morris was spot on, especially with fears over Philander’s fitness and durability. One person who can’t feel aggrieved is of course JP Duminy, someone who has been making the team on past glories and so-called potential with bat and ball. As D’Arthez and Prime.Evil have mentioned constantly below the line, he is someone that infuriates all Proteas’ followers, a bit like in the way that the selection of Bopara infuriated all England supporters. Yes they both could bat and bowl a bit, but they both looked out of their depth in the international arena and on closer inspection their figures both suggest that they should both have been dropped long before they were. We might still see Duminy in a Test shirt in future, but to be a bit controversial, I would very much doubt that it would be down to his ability.

So back to the Test and South Africa won the toss on a fairly placid pitch, but one that was aiding the seam bowlers due to the overhead conditions. Both openers did alright without scoring the runs they felt they might have deserved and then Amla and De Kock put together a tremendous partnership once the sun came out and the ball stopped swinging. It was quite amusing to listen to Botham et al panning the South African management for not promoting De Kock earlier in his career; of course forgetting that batting at four after 110 overs in the field is less than practical. Whilst Amla’s innings was slightly skittish, De Kock looked in wonderful touch and it is easy to see why he averages over 50 in Test cricket, the only slight knock being that he got out to a lazy waft straight after tea when a century was looking on the cards. Amla then soon departed even after another reprieve from Cook at slip and once Du Plessis and then Bavuma departed relatively cheaply, England looked like they had an opening to bowl out the Proteas cheaply. The fact that they weren’t able to is of great credit to Morris and Philander, who both looked like bona fide all-rounders, especially when dealing with the new ball and due to some slightly strange bowling tactics from England.

For England, it was a bit of a ‘what could have been’ day. They bowled far too short with the new ball, a criticism that has been leveled at them on numerous occasions and when they finally did get their lengths right after lunch, the sun came out and made batting, which had looked fairly treacherous before lunch, look far more serene in the afternoon. England’s bowlers also had a pretty mixed day, with Stokes and Broad (once he had sorted his length out) being the pick of England’s attack. Jimmy bowled ok though he didn’t look particularly threatening and Mark Wood had a day to forget with the ball mainly down to the fact that he bowled far too short and was unable to bowl one side of the wicket. Wood is a talent and despite a bad day at the office, he should be retained due to the fact that he does have the pace to challenge opposing batsmen when he gets it right. And then we come to Liam Dawson. I don’t particularly take great pleasure in signally out one player for criticism, but Dawson is simply not good enough for Test cricket. He sort of reminds me of the quiet and slightly strange guy from accounts who ventures out for the work Christmas party and then hangs around at the side of the group; Sure it’s possible to make small talk for a while, however you don’t particularly want him to be there and more importantly, he doesn’t really want to be there either. He might well be a good character, but neither Dawson’s bowling nor batting merit a place in the side. It’s almost like England have no idea as to what to do with the number 8 position without Woakes and have hedged their bets on the very definition of a ‘bits and pieces’ player. Surely after this Test, the selectors will see that Dawson isn’t up to Test cricket, then again he’s an Andy Flower favourite, so will probably end up with 50 caps!

So after an intriguing first day, we move on to an equally intriguing second day with both teams having the ability to move themselves into the box seat. If South Africa bat well and get up to 450, then they will surely be favourites to win as Trent Bridge can turn into a minefield batting last; however if England can wrap this innings up for around 350-370, then providing they bat well, they could well be in a position to ramp the pressure up on the Proteas in the second innings. So cancel any plans to go out shopping or to go for a long walk in the countryside and sit back and watch Day 2, it could be a cracker tomorrow.

Thoughts and comments on Day 2 below:

 

England v South Africa – Game Over

It’s been a fun four days. I don’t usually have test matches scheduled around my birthday (it was on Friday but I don’t want to talk about it) as the second series usually starts in mid to late July. So it was nice to watch a lot of cricket as I took time off, didn’t have a celebratory drink and chilled out after another traumatic and hectic week. What I saw was a very good England performance, with flaws of course, but still a resounding start to the Root regime. It was, also, good to see the return of some perennial blog commenters who seemed to have gone into hibernation as the hit rate increases massively in the longer form of the game.

It is often said by the editorial board that we are a “Bad News Blog”. It is true to a degree but that’s because the writers are a dreadful bunch of cynics. One thing we always say is that we should not over-react to a victory, because the team has major flaws. It is a test team that lost 6 out of the last 8 matches, which can be partially explained away, but not totally by alien conditions etc. Any turn in form, and home wins are a good way to start, has to be welcomed.

We started the day with England 119/1 and well on top. There had been a number of comments made about the pace of the response – I think we sometimes become  a little passive when we are on top – but many will also point out that the loss of 19 wickets in a day is justification for the decision to be ultra careful. Whenever the name Alastair Cook is raised, we see the temperature go the same way. Note the return of an old favourite today because I had the sheer gall to mention HIM. Cook’s 69 was, in the end, with the judgement of the scorebook, the match and the day’s play, was vital to steady the ship. Some, not me, think he puts pressure on the team-mates when he does that – the same thing was frequently levelled a Geoff Boycott – but the main evidence is how the game plays out, and without it, we might have been in trouble. Jonny Bairstow, a totally different player to Cook showed you could prosper if you took an aggressive attitude, so it wasn’t one size fits all. I just point out, repeatedly because facts are so damn awkward that:

  • Cook has made 5 hundreds in his last 92 test innings.
  • Cook has converted just 5 of his last 30 half-centuries into hundreds, but yet again Nasser mentioned Root’s conversion rate after the end of the game.

So when Cook was the first to fall, after a nothing sort of shot was well caught by Bavuma, the house of cards fell around him. Ballance nicked off, with Morkel bowling really well, Root was loose with Maharaj and was bowled. Stokes fell LBW to a Rabada delivery, which kept a little low but wasn’t the shooter that the pundits were wibbling on about. Suddenly 131/1 was 149/5 and some nerves were detected. A little stabilisation, with 20 odd runs added on by Bairstow and Moeen stemmed the bleeding, and it was at 180 that Moeen fell. A little tail wagging between Wood and JB took the score past 200 (after Dawson had completed a pair) and England wangled their way up to 233. Imperceptibly, Maharaj had taken four wickets, including the stumping of Bairstow to complete the innings. It was a portent of things to come.

England had set the visitors 331 to win, and it was evident from early on in the piece that they were never going to get anywhere near it. A great legside catch by Johnny Bairstow got rid of Kuhn, and a caught and bowled by Ali did for Elgar. Dawson saw off Amla, and then Moeen pretty much did the rest. South Africa looked like they might not get to three figures, but they did. Moeen took six wickets, for 10 in the match, and Dawson nabbed two.

England ended up winning by 211 runs. But for many of us on the blog, the highlight of the day was JP Duminy holing out at mid-wicket the last ball before tea. Duminy is one of those frustrating characters who appear to have most of the shots, but not most of the gumption. He’s not in the frame to be dropped as I listen to the Verdict (and what the hell has happened to that?) yet one of our number is adamant that he should be. We awaited his response, and it came…..

South Africa have a huge reputation for digging in and fighting. This was an awful surrender. The team looks quite weak in batting on paper. Elgar was dealt an inexperienced hand with no Faf, and with a player who could definitely help giving his committed support to the team, on Twitter! They missed chances, but they also appeared to lack resilience. With no Rabada in the second test, with Faf able to replace about four batsmen in the line-up, and with Philander nursing a damaged bowling hand, the prospects look dodgy indeed.

England must be very happy. A captain making 190 puts to bed early fears about the role affecting his form. Our pundits have memories like goldfish for some things, and like elephants don’t forget others. Root has banished one of the memes instantly. Moeen taking ten is great, adds to his confidence, but this was also the same man who was cannon fodder in India. He’s not as great as today’s figures, and not as bad as the confidence-shot man from last winter. His batting, at 7, is becoming like a mini-Gilchrist, albeit with a velvet smooth swing, for England, with him hitting fast runs to bail us out, or to make us strong. He’s a key weapon. For the rest, this was a pretty nothing test match. Good in parts, proved not very much, but also not done a lot of harm. The media are itching for Ballance to fail (don’t ever give me the agenda crap when this is as clear as day to me).

We’ll have some more considered thoughts in the week, perhaps, but for now England are 1 up, test matches have started, and I feel the season is now in full flow. Isn’t that something to be thankful for.

Finally, congrats to the England women’s team for their World Cup victory over Australia. Well done! Always good to beat the old enemy,

England vs. South Africa, 1st Test, Day 1


Well it’s certainly felt like a lifetime after all the white ball shenanigans, but today, the 6th July, the Test season finally started with the symbolic bell being rung at Lords to mark the true start of summer. Both teams came into this Test with question marks around their batting, with bowlers carrying a niggle or two and two new captains aiming to put their individual mark on their respective teams. I don’t think it would be unfair to summise that the only real highlight of the morning as far as England were concerned was that Root won the toss and quite rightly elected to bat on what appeared to be an absolute belter of a pitch; however England managed to make a complete pigs ear of the first session, which again confirmed everyone’s fears around the make up of England’s top order.

In every single Test played in England, it is always imperative to see off the new ball in the first hour and from there batting often tends to get much easier but England completely failed to do this. Jennings might be a tad unlucky as the ball was shown to be pitching outside leg stump and to be fair, Bairstow got a good one; however there was nothing evident in Gary Ballance’s batting to show that he has made the technical tweaks to cope with international fast bowlers. I can understand why he was picked, after all weight of runs in the CC Division 1 should in theory be rewarded; however it does seem that the selectors weren’t exactly enamoured about his selection, this coupled with the fact that he was asked to bat at number 3, which is a surefire way to have your technique tested out, makes no sense at all to me. The fact that he played around a straight delivery reminded me of all the technical difficulties that were exposed by Australia a couple of seasons ago. It may just be that Ballance, like many before him, is too good for the county game but not good enough at Test level, he will certainly feel the heat the longer he is unable to post big runs. My biggest criticism of the morning however, was the shot that the ex-captain and media lovechild played to get out. It was just a lazy waft at a wide delivery that someone who has 30 Test hundreds (yes we are reminded of that every time he walks into bat) should not be playing. Yet we have seen it time and time again as Messer’s Clark and Harris can vouch for in many an Ashes series. The fact that Nasser described the shot as someone who was just in too good form was even more risible than the shot itself; I expect that to be buried in the national newspapers tomorrow.

So at 76-4 on a flat Lord’s deck, England were in more than a spot of bother when Stokes joined the new (and improved) captain at the crease. There was a real chance of being rolled over for under 250, which would have been a complete disaster in the circumstances; however the fortunes of each side completely turned on their heads. South Africa suddenly looked like they had morphed into Pakistan on the field and England decided to play positive but not reckless cricket. The pitch that England’s top order had made to look a minefield suddenly looked anything but that. Stokes played beautifully I thought and just when I was about to praise him to the high heavens, he then got out himself playing a low percentage, high risk shot. Stokes has a beautiful technique and I have absolutely no issue in him playing with a completely positive mindset, but trying to hook a ball with the realistic result of it being a single at most, isn’t particularly smart. Once Stokes tweaks this part of his game (and he has improved dramatically over the last 18 months), then England will have a hell of a player on their hands. Moeen also came in and played a typical Moeen knock full of dreamy drives and the odd misjudgment; however he did look remarkably improved in playing the short ball than he did in the winter (and that caused me to write a large rant about it). It was the perfect counter attack against a tiring South African bowling attack on a very hot day and hopefully he can push on in the morning.

The main praise of course has to go to Joe Root, who despite riding his luck at times played a sublime innings under pressure. There was of course speculation leading up to the game as to whether Root would be able to combine the pressures of captaincy alongside carrying the England batting, as well as the constant annoyance of us and him at his failure to convert 70’s & 80’s into match winning hundreds. We needn’t have worried. After the early let offs, Root played the type of innings that reminds us why he is one of the top four batsmen in the world. His ability to keep the score ticking over, his ability to dispatch both the good and bad deliveries to the boundary and his ability to score all over the wicket means that he must be a nightmare to bowl to, let alone set fields for. It would have been easy for Root to go into his shell and to try and grind out a score with England’s batting in disarray, but that’s not how he plays nor how he wants his team to play and at times it was special to watch. One swallow does not make a summer, but the early prognosis is promising.

As for South Africa, it was great first session and then a sobering experience for the rest of the day. Philander bowled brilliantly in his first spell, accurately probing England’s batsmen with every delivery and fully deserved of his 3 wickets. The success of Philander in international cricket (average of 23 with the ball) should prove a lesson to England amongst others, that you don’t need to have express pace to trouble international batsmen as long as you have the skill to land it on the same spot 6 times an over. I’ve seen many a decent county bowler being dismissed from England’s thinking because they don’t bowl at 85MPH, yet Philander tends to hover around the 78MPH mark and has been highly successful. This should prove as food for thought for the selectors but somehow I don’t think it will. The rest of the day unfortunately proved to be a bit of a horror show for the Proteas, with a reeling England at 76-4 being able to finish the day at 357-5. The Proteas had their foot on England’s throat and then failed to go in for the kill, of course dropping the oppositions best player twice early on is never a strategy that is worth pursuing. This combined with the fact that they bowled two wickets off two no balls, meant that even the most battle hardened South African is likely to be crying into his Castle Lager tonight. To take one wicket off a no ball is reckless, but to take two with the latter being from a spinner is down right criminal. I’m not sure I’d fancy being in the Proteas’ dressing room tonight.

On a couple of last side notes, I fortunately/unfortunately (depending on your point of view) missed the Empty Suit interview at Tea though I’m guessing that it contained lots of buzz words such as ‘engagement’, ‘family friendly’ and ‘new audiences’ with very little actual content. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. And as a final moan, we yet again didn’t complete the full 90 overs in a day and at one point it seriously looked like we might not get many more than 80. This has been a bugbear of all the editors on the blog; however if I’m paying top dollar for 90 overs, then that is exactly what I want, 87 overs simply won’t do. End of.

So on to Day 2, and to see if England can motor towards 500 or whether South Africa can take early wickets with the new ball. Either way, it feels like the first session tomorrow could be pivotal as to the result of the game. Thoughts and Comments below as always:

Score Settling – A Test Series Intro

Dmitri here. For once.

On Thursday 6th of July England and South Africa will kick off the first test match of the summer. As was stated somewhere or other, this will be the latest start to a test series since 1983, which followed a World Cup and the “test summer” was just four matches long (against New Zealand). The world has certainly changed since then.

To get us all in the mood, we have seven, count them seven, test matches to play before mid-September. You may have missed out early on, but by JP Duminy, we’ll make up for it. Then, if you have forgotten what white ball cricket is like, and frankly, who could blame you, we have a T20 and five ODIs to squeeze in after that. Enough? Be off with you. Added to the international calendar, piling up like the fogbound M4 in rush hour, the lamented and not altogether loved (by the ECB) NatWest Blast will be, well, blasting away in the interim, struggling for attention – not too on purpose. It’s as if the cries of “too much cricket” are received by the ECB, in much the same way as Doug Stanhope thinks the Grand National authorities treat race horses.

“How many horses can this track hold? Well add five more. F*** ‘em.”

Test cricket is a wounded beast, to carry on the Grand National metaphor, and what it needs is a few really good, exciting series, to get the pulses racing. But then, thinking about it, is that enough? Last year’s excellent match-up between ourselves and Pakistan got bogged down in misty-eyed recollections of days of yore with the visitors, and while the matches themselves were keenly fought, no-one really gave a stuff. Losing to the Pakistanis at the Oval may have got them test number 1 status, but no-one really lingered on it. I guess that’s the “context” thing we keep hearing about.

Context and history is important. I joke about, yes, really I do, with a number of my work colleagues about the relevance of the British and Irish Lions, saying they don’t have a trophy to play for, and that it is all just a cynical money-making machine, yet there’s no doubt that the fans, and really importantly, the players still “get it”. Ten years ago, I would have said the same about test cricket on these shores, but I am really not too sure at the moment. Abdicating any real editorial or judgmental logic towards a lame duck captain probably didn’t help. We’ve been saying, and seeing, on here the effects of that treatment. Diehard fans walking away. Cricket’s important advocates rendered impotent by a wretched international governing body, a despicable home outfit, and a media so far over the hill they ought to be in Tibet.

But we persevere. Sometimes, given the other things competing for my time, I wonder why.

South Africa has always been a series that I’ve looked forward to. They aren’t the most exciting team, but they are a formidable one, especially away from home. But this tour will be without Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers from the team that came in 2012, and with Steyn and Morkel in serious workload decline, it isn’t as formidable on paper as past teams. Rabada is a new superstar, but a batting line-up of Elgar, Kuhn, Amla, De Bruyn, Duminy (D’Arthez’s fave!) and Bavuma doesn’t really strike fear, does it? However, you underestimate the visitors at your peril. After all, a highly paid scribe did before the opening test in 2012, and that went well (I’ve not been back to the Oval for a test since).

So while Faf’s away with his new kid, and replacement skipper Dean Elgar hopes for glory in his stead, it is the England team to which I really want to focus. This is the beginning of a new era, as we have a brand spanking new captain, and a selection panel that given the chance to blood new batsmen, played it “safe” and picked someone they knew. One could almost say they eschewed excitement – or as one sage on our comments page quoted, told Tom Harrison to eff off.

So I turn to my old favourite Paul Newman. There have been a litany of baffling decisions made during the Cook era, and yet greenhorn Cook never seemed to cop for them. It was always the selectors that were the issue, or even the players themselves (see Rashid, Adil), but never a leader who seemed to struggle to get the best out of them. Cook, if you recall, because I do, was backed so much he could lose an Ashes series 5-0 and have his position ENHANCED. The decisions to dump you know who were distanced from Cook, and the selection panel were said to have independence from the players. There seemed few occasions when all powerful Ali put out any messages about players he wanted.

But now, according to Newman’s latest diatribe, Root is responsible for Ballance and Dawson being in the squad. I had a brief chat with a prominent tweeter who said “Cook, years of failure given a free role. Root, first squad and Newman is calling him out.” It is very hard to disagree with this assessment, isn’t it? In a week when Root is making his test captaincy bow, we had Barney Ronay writing another puff piece about our now ex-captain. I do really wonder if Cook feels embarrassed by this, because I hope he would. Cook knows that one bad run of form and he’s finished – unless England decide to buck further trends with him (and sorry deers, for using buck and Cook in the same sentence) and say that he isn’t losing his eyesight / motivation / belief / energy / ability now he has passed 32 years of age (Pietersen and Bell were both 33 when dumped. Collingwood was 34 – all were “on the decline” when they were fired/jumped before pushed). There is many a mention of Cook doing a “Gooch” and actually improving as his age goes on. That’s lovely, may happen, but I do prefer the evidence of recent history and his five hundreds in 90-odd innings aren’t a great portent. But our media, and a number of the fans, do misty-eyed hope, and no-one elicits it more than Alastair Cook. Same as it ever was.

What we will see this summer – perhaps we should set up a watch list for it – is for every time Joe Root talks to Cook a commentator mentions how he is “tapping in to the former captain’s experience”. You know, the way Cook never had to (despite Anderson setting all his own fields if rumours are to be believed). We will also be on the lookout for Cook being a better batsman now he’s been relieved of the pressure. Anything good will be because he’s not captain any more. Anything bad won’t be down to the team stagnating under him. I expect Cook to do as he has done the past couple of years. Some solid knocks, a century, maybe two or three if the West Indies are as bad as advertised, and then a tortuous tour of Australia if it goes ahead.

Opening with Cook will be Keaton Jennings. Other openers are in better form, most notably Mark Stoneman, but Jennings has a test ton under his belt, and is the man in possession. I’m not screaming out loud about it, but I’m also not convinced he’s the best bet. That’s me having my cake and eating it. Much has been written and said about Ballance at number three, but he’s caning Division One bowling and averaging over 100. That’s lovely. I seem to recall Mark Ramprakash did that year after year, but we did stop recalling him when we thought he was shot. This is supposedly on Root’s shoulders, which you can read very cynically. The selectors may have indulged in “good journalism” and made it known in a very subtle way that it “wasn’t them, guv”. If it succeeds, they bask in glory; if it fails, well, lessons learned for Joe Root. That’s them having their cake and eating it.

Before turning to the captain, I thought I’d remind you of what I said about Hameed during the India series:

“Hameed is a talent, for sure, but I do like to see my talents make massive scores before anointing them as the heir apparent to Kumar Sangakkara, even if that means I’m bloody unreasonable in so doing. English sport is littered with kids built up before they are due, and cast aside when they don’t live up to the hype. Let’s hope HH is an exception to the rule.”

I don’t know. Remember when people had a pop at me over this? Hameed showed some great aptitude for a kid in India. I really, sincerely, desperately hope he goes on to a great career. But at this point in time, I’m a bit closer to reality than the dreamers. That makes me a miserable curmudgeon. I felt really uncomfortable at the hype, the unreasonable, ludicrous platitudes at the time, and still do. Hameed has had a tortuous summer. He’s young. I hope he learns and comes through. And I hope the next time this happens, people who should know better wind their necks in.

Right. Onwards…

Joe Root hasn’t quite reached “Armchair #5” but I don’t give it long. As it is, he’s batting at four now, which is probably right. A lot is made of Joe Root’s conversion rate from 50 to 100, which is adorable (if you ignore the Bedford Water Deer in the room), but there is a point. Joe is crucial to our ability to post big scores, and we know he is capable of them. The England captaincy has weighed heavily on most skippers since Gooch. Production has gone down, pressure has increased. Joe Root is 26, quite young to have the full time captaincy thrust upon you, and also has a team “in transition” (downgraded from future World #1). There has been no practice run, no ability to discern whether he is up to it (that Middlesex run chase is still thrown at him) on a tactical basis, and in doing so we wonder if it will diminish what we need him for most. This isn’t new. No-one has the first idea how this is going to turn out. As always, I side with pessimism, not optimism. Think John Cleese, Clockwise.

Fan favourite Jonny Bairstow is locked in at five, as he should be. Ben Stokes will be at six, as he should be. The interest with Stokes is whether any dip in form, and it can happen, will be associated with desire now he’s the IPL’s MVP. I’ve been watching international sport for too long to be anything other than cynical. Moeen Ali will be the enigma at 7, scoring enough runs to keep the wolves from the door, taking not enough wickets to have the spinning cognoscenti clucking away. No Woakes means an opportunity for someone. Could it be Liam Dawson, the keen favourite of England’s most important flora, as a second spinning option at HQ? What about home favourite Toby Roland-Jones? Will Mark Wood last the pace? Anderson and Broad are locked in, so perm any two from those three.

This summer is the prelude to the key series – the Ashes. At this time, if all is to be believed, we’ll be playing a Grade Select XI rather than the usual foes. We have seven tests to get a team gelled, ready and firing, and to get a captain embedded. The seven matches will, no doubt, throw up some key issues, talking points and media nonsense. We’ll try to keep the blog running throughout. The tests are always our bread and butter – you lot just don’t seem to get fired up about much else – and I think the South African series is a really good examination of where we are as a team. It is a team that won in Australia, after all. It has its flaws, as does everyone else in the game at the moment, but on form the bowling attack can be fearsome – Rabada is a gift test cricket can ill afford to lose – and if the batting is up to par, it could be one we struggle to win. Look for some lopsided contests, but a key really hard-fought game somewhere that will turn/decide the series. What a shame AB de Villiers considers this beneath him, even at this stage of his career. AB, I note, doesn’t get the selfish arsehole abuse others get. Maybe I’m missing something.

This summer is a big one too for the mystery man Bayliss and the laughing gnome Farbrace. This has been a long honeymoon, but a Champions Trophy failure has taken down their firewall. Or at least it should have, because I’m really not sure any more. Also, it’s big for Comma. His focus on white ball cricket has yielded progress but not silverware, and now the test team have to take over not on a tide of optimism, but on a cautious, perplexed, almost tentative note. Newman is always one to go that extra mile, and his conclusion is probably right, but for the wrong reasons:

“The most worrying thing is this is the second successive year Bayliss has publicly advocated bolder options — last year Jos Buttler, this time Dawid Malan — only for the squad to be greeted by a groan rather than a gasp.

If it is true that England’s Test side has stagnated, then they have to adopt the same methods Bayliss has so successfully employed in one-day cricket.

The clock is ticking towards the Ashes and England cannot afford to waste any time in the seven Tests that Root will have against South Africa and West Indies to settle into the role.

And that makes this selection such a crying shame, whatever happens at Lord’s, where pragmatism will rule over a potential brave new world.”

 

Trevor Bayliss needs to assert his authority. Joe Root needs to assert his authority. England need to assert their authority. Welcome to an interesting summer of test cricket. Hopefully, we’ll enjoy / suffer it together.

Comments on Day 1 below. A day early I know but I’m off to Munich! The wanderer, though, has returned!

England vs. South Africa – 2nd T20 thread

With England winning the first T20 at a canter, it seems like the hugely disappointing performance in the Champions Trophy is already being swept under the carpet. The first T20 was a strange affair as South Africa were truly abject with both bat and ball. The fact that they could only muster 142/3 on that pitch was truly shocking, I for one, have never seen AB de Villiers so out of nick, this coupled with another average performance from the perennially average Behardien, made the English bowling attack look like the West Indian attack of the 80’s! As for their bowling, I think the phrase pop gun would be too kind, they were far worse than that. A truly terrible day at the office for the Proteas and one they’ll need to get out of their system quickly.

This is not meant to take any credit away from England who batted and bowled both professionally and ruthlessly, something England haven’t been exactly renowned for in the near past. Whilst Woods will get most of the acclaim with the ball, it was the two inexperienced spinners that should get the most credit in my opinion as both Crane and Dawson bowled like they were seasoned internationals, not two bowlers who have less than 10 ODI caps between them. As for the batting, Roy got us off to a good start before giving his wicket away and then Bairstow carried England to an easy victory with another brilliant innings. You have to give YJB a lot of credit as whenever he’s picked for a white ball game, he nearly always sticks his hand up with a decent score. It must be incredibly frustrating being the ‘nearly’ man of England’s white ball team and many would’ve displayed a less than positive attitude, but it’s a great credit to Bairstow that he has continued to be upbeat and back his own ability. In my opinion, England simply need to find a way to fit him into the white ball setup permanently.

So we roll on to Taunton, which is hosting its first international game and for a measly £60 you could go and watch it, that is if you’re slightly insane with money to burn. It should be a high scoring game as Taunton is generally a bowlers graveyard and it will be interesting to see what changes both sides make. I still think it would be criminal if Curran, Malan and Livingstone aren’t handed any game time in what is essentially a meaningless series, so it will be interesting to see if and how they slot them in.

In other news, Ireland and Afghanistan have been made full members, which is great news until you realise that they are being funded as Associates who have just lost £40million as part of the settlement to appease the BCCI. You have to give it to the ICC, they are the masters of giving and taking away at the same moment. Then we have the ECB trying it’s best to rinse the media quickly so as to pay off the counties and to swell their own coffers – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/cricket/2017/06/22/ecb-expect-1bn-bt-sport-sky-prepare-tv-rights-bidding-war/. Stuff the cricket, this is the ECB’s number one priority. We’ll try to cover these in a little more depth when we have the time.

Anyway thoughts on the match and other news below:

England vs. South Africa – T20 thread

Anyone else bored of white ball cricket yet? I certainly feel that I’ve had my fill. Yet here we have the token T20 part of this tour, just to make sure you get Empty Suit’s vision of the future, with a bolted on series that I doubt anyone else but the punters can get excited about.

In a way I hope England use this series to blood new talent, as we know the pro’s and con’s of the normal group. I’d definitely like to see Livingstone & Malan given a chance up the order and whilst I think they’ve picked the wrong Curran, I hope Tom gets a chance to bowl as England’s attack is far from potent. It seems like Mason Crane has been inked in to play the series, which I’m excited to see as it’s clear the guy has talent, though how many games he gets to play without being labelled fragile or too expensive by Pringle, Newman et al, will be interesting.

We’ll try to post as many reports as we can, but it’s holiday season combined with the fact that we’re all busy and a bit bored of not being able to see Test Match Cricket.

Anyway thoughts on the game below…