England v South Africa – 3rd Test Preview – Unlucky Breaks

England have won five Tests so far this summer and are looking to make it six, but will have to do so without their top scoring batter this summer. Jonny Bairstow slipped whilst walking to the tee at his local golf course and sustained an injury which requires him to undergo surgery and sees him unavailable for both this Test and the upcoming T20 World Cup.

It is a hammer blow for Brendon McCullum and the Test team. The success of Bazball has been built around Bairstow, who averaged 75.66 at a strike rate of 96.59 in Tests this summer. It was a freakishly excellent run of form which battered the opposition bowlers into submission and helped transform England from perennial losers into dominant winners.

The unenviable job of replacing Bairstow falls to fellow Yorkshireman, Harry Brook. He’s certainly in good form himself this year, scoring 967 runs in just eight Division 1 matches, but Test cricket is a big step up from the bowling he will have faced before. He has been heavily hyped in the lead up to today, which makes me fear that there is too much pressure on the young cricketer.

Brook is the only change to the England team from the previous match, with Ollie Robinson and Stuart Broad preferred over Potts and Overton whilst openers Alex Lees and Zak Crawley manage to exceed expectations by finishing the season. Averaging 25.00 and 18.26 over the six Tests, I feel that both players should be batting for their place in the winter tours. Whether that is actually the case with Crawley (First-class batting average: 29.42), who has a very strong supporter in England Director Of Cricket/Head Selector Rob Key, remains to be seen.

Another outcome of Bairstow’s injury has been the return of Alex Hales to the England fold. It had been heavily hinted that Rob Key wanted Hales in the white ball teams, saying in his first press conference in charge that the batter had ‘served his time’ away from the team, but Hales wasn’t included in the initial squad for the T20 World Cup. Things changed rapidly after the squad was announced, with news of Bairstow’s injury following almost immediately after. England suddenly had a need for an aggressive, experienced player in their middle order, and Hales was called up.

Hales’ inclusion is not without its controversies. He has a history of bad behaviour which includes his night out in Bristol which led to Ben Stokes facing affray charges and at least one failed recreational drug test. More recently, he was named in Azeem Rafiq’s testimony regarding allegations of racism within English cricket. Former captain Eoin Morgan seemed adamant that he should never play again, and one significant part of Ben Stokes’ public rehabilitation after Bristol appears to have been completely separating himself from the ‘bad influence’ of Hales.

However, sport is not a moral pursuit. No more so than politics or business, both of which cricket often resembles. The ECB clearly feels that the England team are more likely to win the T20 World Cup with Hales than without him, and that’s all that matters to them. Whether this damages the unity within the dressing room, and whether that has any effect on the performances on the field, remains to be seen.

If you have any comments about the match, banning cricketers playing golf, or anything else, please leave them below.

England v South Africa – 2nd Test Preview – Peaks And Troughs

It’s easy to fall into the trap of hyperbole when considering where the England Test team stand right now. In the last Test match, they lost all ten wickets for fewer than 200 runs in both innings. In the first half of the English season, they won four consecutive Test matches against two of the top teams in the world. Before that, they went 16 months without winning a single Test series.

It seems like there is no middle ground for this team. They seem unable to grind out a close win, or lose a tightly contested arm wrestle. They will either blow their opposition away like a hurricane hitting a matchstick factory, or collapse like… Well, like an England Test team.

England have announced a single change to their lineup, with Ollie Robinson replacing Matthew Potts. It is precisely what you would expect from England. Dropping a bowler after the batsmen embarassed themselves is textbook ECB practice from the last decade. Zak Crawley is visibly struggling, as is Alex Lees, but let’s instead get rid of the bowler who took more wickets than Anderson in the first Test. Classic.

At the same time, it would be foolish to discount England’s chances of drawing level in this series. South Africa are not a great Test side, and none of their batters currently have a Test average above 40 (unlike England’s Joe Root). It really wouldn’t take much for England to win by almost as big a margin as they lost the last game. If they had an X-factor bowler such as Jofra Archer, they’d possibly be favourites.

In other news, it has been announced that several Test grounds will host women’s internationals in 2023. This is a huge step forward. Since the sold-out 2017 Women’s World Cup final at Lord’s, the ECB have only played a single match (a 2018 ODI at Headingley) at one of the eight largest cricket grounds, in the seven largest cities in England and Wales. You might remember that the ECB’s reasoning for The Hundred included the idea that holding it in smaller grounds, smaller towns, would limit its potential growth and profitability. The logical extension of that would be that they were actively attempting to sabotage women’s cricket in this country by refusing to let them play in the largest markets. It is perhaps no coincidence that this announcement only came three months after Tom Harrison quit.

If you have any comments about the Test, women’s cricket, or anything else, please leave them below.

England v South Africa Preview – Bazball, Bazball, Bazball, Bazball, Bazball

As England prepare to play Test cricket in August, perhaps for the last ever time, there is only one word on people’s lips. Coined by Andrew Miller, ‘Bazball’ is used to describe England’s freewheeling attacking style under new coach Brendon ‘Baz’ McCullum which has led to the Test team winning all four matches under his leadership so far.

I don’t personally like the term Bazball but, when both Baz and the entire South African cricket team seem to loathe it, my contrarian side insists that I use it as much as possible. South Africa’s coach, Mark Boucher, has even said that any cricket journalist using the term “has to” have a shot of tequila which he will supply. For free. Surely this demonstrates such a poor understanding of human psychology (particularly amongst the English cricket media) that he isn’t anywhere near qualified to lead an international cricket team?

Whilst I have enjoyed the ride, I’m unconvinced that the England Test team is much better than they were four months ago. Since August 2020, England have won a grand total of 1 match in which Joe Root didn’t score a century, and even then he got 86 not out. The key difference between now and last year is that he has received some support from Jonny Bairstow.

Since the start of 2021, England have scored a total of 21 Test centuries. Joe Root was responsible 11 of them. Of the remaining 10, 4 of them have were achieved by Jonny Bairstow in the past 4 Test matches. The significant improvement in Bairstow’s form seems to be the only real dissimilarity between McCullum and Silverwood’s England teams. Whether McCullum was responsible for that, or simply the lucky beneficiary, remains to be seen.

The conditions in England have also been unusually conducive to batting up until now. Hot, dry weather, Dukes balls which have become relatively lifeless after a few overs. Pitches which have stayed hard and true for a full five days. This is not what you would expect in an English summer and, given the rain forecast through part of this game, seems unlikely to be the case this week. To borrow a phrase from football: But can they do it on a cold, rainy day in St. John’s Wood?

England have not, in my opinion, given themselves their very best chance of winning by picking Zak Crawley as opener again. Crawley averages 26.71 in his 25 Test matches. Twenty five. Christ…

Anyway, that’s less than Dom Sibley (28.94), Joe Denly (29.53), Rory Burns (30.32), Mark Stoneman (27.68), Alex Hales (27.28), Sam Robson (30.54), Nick Compton (27.80) and Michael Carberry (28.75), just going through the list of openers who England have discarded for not scoring enough runs, and who (apart from Burns) all had far fewer chances to demonstrate they deserved their place.

It’s not even like he’s improving year on year. This summer, he has a Test batting average of 17.75 from 4 matches for England this summer, and 24.25 in 8 Championship games. It’s frankly a little odd that Kent are still picking him.

I don’t envy professional/degenerate gamblers like InnoBystander going into this series, because I frankly have no idea what is going to happen. England crushing South Africa and England being crushed by South Africa seem equally likely to me. Both teams have a fragility to them which means things could go very wrong, very quickly.

All that said, having predicted England losing every Test this summer, even the possibility of winning this series seems like a miracle to me. Long live Bazball!

If you have any comments on the game, or anything else, please leave them below!