England vs Ireland, One Off Test – The Wrap

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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England v Ireland, One Off Test*, Day 2 – Same Old Shit, Plus Jack Leach

Wally Hammond. Herbert Sutcliffe. Sir Len Hutton. Jack Leach. Just four of the 28 English batsmen of all-time to have Test career averages above 45 as opener, and Leach is the only one to do so since Strauss’ retirement in 2012. Scoring 92 runs from 162 balls, the opener from Somerset has almost certainly secured his place in the side for the forthcoming Ashes series.

Jason Roy also showed some of his one-day form in this innings, having been demoted to three. Smashing 72 from 78 balls is an impressive feat in Test cricket, and showed how he was probably always better suited for the middle order. England’s issue is that they only have one capable top order batsman in Leach, and seven or eight who would be best suited batting at five.

Not that this should be any excuse for what happened after their talismanic opening bat lost his wicket. When Murtagh finally tempted Leach to edge one to slip, the ball was 45 overs old and the Irish had been fielding in sweltering conditions for half of the day. It was a huge opportunity for England’s aggressive batsmen to annihilate the tourists in great conditions, and instead they folded like a cheap deckchair. From 182/3, they slid to 249/7. Bairstow bagged a pair, although at least he got his pad in the way of one instead of being clean bowled this time. Denly had a comedy run out, although he wasn’t laughing. Moeen Ali edged a short ball to the wicketkeeper. Root failed to convert his promising start into a fifty. It was deja vu all over again.

And so, for the umpteenth time, it fell to the bowlers to put a respectable face on proceedings. The 8th, 9th and 10th wicket partnerships have added 65 runs so far, taking England’s lead to 181 runs. That is already a tough task for Ireland, having been restricted to 207 in their first innings. If Broad and Stone were able to add another 20 runs for the final wicket tomorrow then you might say England were favourites to win.

The day ended prematurely with thunderstorms and rain, which has the pleasant side effect of ensuring a decent amount of play tomorrow (weather permitting). Sean ( @thegreatbucko ) and Chris ( @thelegglance ) both have tickets for day three (although not seated together), so there will likely be in-depth match reports from them in the coming days. Once the hangovers wear off, at least.

Ireland have a real shot of a famous first Test victory at Lord’s tomorrow, and it could well be an exciting climax. No doubt the opportunity to do it against England will make it even sweeter for the Irish.

If you have any comments on the game, or embarassing pictures of Chris and Sean in the stands tomorrow, post them below.

England v Ireland, One Off Test*, Day 1 – Same Old Shit, Just A Different Day

Tim Murtagh is a good but unremarkable county bowler. He has a career first-class bowling average of 25.33. He does not have magical powers relating to the Lord’s pitch. He bowls a medium pace delivery with minimal movement which international batsmen, particularly when they’re being paid what England’s batsmen are being paid, should be able to handle if not absolutely dominate.

All of which is to say that I was both surprised, and yet at the same time totally unsurprised, when Murtagh tore through England’s top order like Ian Austin through a free buffet. England have had a long run of giving thoroughly ordinary bowlers their best career figures. The first example which springs to mind is from a few months back, when Roston Chase took 8/60 on a pitch which was not turning in the slightest. Even after that innings, Chase’s Test bowling average remains well over forty.

There is an undeserved arrogance which England seem to project when facing what should, on paper at least, be weaker opposition. Most of today’s team haven’t played a game in this year’s County Championship, meaning their last game with a red ball was either in the West Indies in February or 10 months ago in the previous home season. The compressed schedule to fit in the World Cup and a five-Test series meant here was no time to add in any warmup games. Not that this mattered to the ECB and the England team, because they (and much of the English media) have treated this Test match as a warmup for the Ashes.

This is not a new phenomenon either. Last year, England played an ODI against Scotland as a precursor to their series against Australia. With no warmups or team practices before the game, the highest ranked ODI team and current World Cup-holders were smashed to all parts of the ground by the Scottish batsmen. England’s Test team are considerably less able relative to to their ODI counterparts, and yet still the expectation that they can rock up to a full international game against a ‘weak’ opposition and win without any preparation whatsoever remains.

The most worrying thing about this batting performance by England is that this is quite possibly their first-choice top five. Buttler and Stokes were rested after the World Cup, but they bat at 7 and 6 respectively. All of the batsmen seemed to play miles away from their pad when driving, both to the front and side. It was absolutely terrible technique. These five batsmen scored a total of 36 runs between them, with their team having won the toss and whilst playing in rather benign conditions. Joe Denly was the best of the lot, contributing 23 runs, but by no means was he good enough.

Since the start of the 2018 season, only two English batsmen in the top five average over 30: Alastair Cook, and Joe Root. Root averages 33.76 in that time. During Cook’s struggles as opener, his continued selection was excused by people declaring that there was no better alternative to take his place. This now seems to apply to every member of their batting unit, including the captain. Ten years ago, an average of 33.76 would have seen any batsman dropped. Now, such a thing would be inconceivable.

Such selection niceties don’t extend to the bowlers, despite their consistent good work with the bat and ball. Olly Stone and Sam Curran took three wickets each plus were the second and third highest-scoring batsmen in the first innings, and yet both are likely to be dropped to make way for the rested Ben Stokes and injured Jimmy Anderson. It is a consistent thread in recent times that England’s bowlers pay the price for the batsmen’s failures.

That England are in this game at all is thanks to their bowlers. Restricting any Test team to 207 runs in their first innings is a great achievement, particularly on what is a flat (if somewhat slow) pitch. They are 122 runs behind, but that is not an impossible margin to recover against a fragile opponent.

England might have been in a worse position at the close of play if there had been 98 overs in the day, as there was supposed to be. Being a four-day Test, the sessions have an extra half hour added. Instead, the day finished with 12 overs lost. This was not, I hasten to add, England’s fault. Ireland were about ten overs short in the first session, in large part due to the rapid succession of English wickets. Because the rules regarding over rates are extraordinarily lax, it is also unlikely that either team will face any penalty for this. Allowances are made for drinks breaks (of which there were six rather than the normal three due to the freakishly hot weather) and short innings such as England’s effort are also given due consideration. We do bang on about it, but this a consistent problem which cheats paying fans out of their money.

England have made one much-needed change to their batting lineup: They have replaced Jason Roy as opener. Jack Leach seems infinitely better equipped to open the Test batting, as shown by his ability to face six deliveries without giving the opposition a chance to take his wicket. Such a solid foundation might help England’s middle order produce a few more runs than they managed in the first innings. I can only assume that Roy will be batting at 11.

If you have any comments about today’s play (and boy, do I bet you do), please make them below.

England vs. Ireland, One Off Test* – Preview

After all of the euphoria of England winning the World Cup, we are back to the nuts and bolts of cricket and the format I love the most. Whilst if you’re English, the recent World Cup will live long in the memory of England finally winning a 50 over trophy, the truth be told that it was a format which was long and often tedious, not overly helped by pitches resembling that of a swamp, which made viewing on the dull side. So with the nation supposedly re-energised in their love of the game, cricket once again slides behind a paywall which only the privileged few are able to watch. The ECB showing once again that they deserve no credit in England’s recent white ball tournament victory.

So on the 24thJuly, a time which has seemed to last forever in many people’s eyes, we are finally greeted by our first Test Match of the summer – at least that’s what those at the ECB will try and tell you. The reason why I put an asterix next to the word ‘Test’ in the title is that whilst Ireland will treat it as a historic occasion and they rightly should, the England camp have barely shown their disdain for this match by making it a four day affair and appear to be at best treating it as a warm up for the Ashes and at worst are treating it as a beer match. Unfortunately for anyone who has followed cricket for some time, this will surprise no-one. The ECB along with their fellow accomplices that make up the big 3 have shown nothing but contempt in their treatment of the smaller Test playing nations and of the Associates. This might be the first time England have played Ireland in a Test Match, but history has shown us time and time again how England viewed playing against their neighbours during one day games in Malahide by sending a few token international players alongside those that should be playing for the England Lions instead. This occasion is no different. England have pretty much picked a second XI for this game except for the inclusions of Bairstow, Root, Broad, Burns and arguably Woakes and as a result, this team looks the weakest team on paper that I have seen for a long time.

The batting looks paper thin unless Burns, Root or Bairstow click or unless Jason Roy is able to transfer his white ball batting skills into the Test arena. I also must admit that thought of Denly batting at number 3 in the Ashes frightens the living daylights out of me. There is an over-reliance on all-rounders with Moeen likely to be asked to bat at 6, even though his batting has deteriorated dramatically over the last 2 years and there is a good chance that Curran and Woakes will be batting long before they would have hoped they had to. As for the bowling, I’m quite surprised that England have included 2 spinners, when the Lords pitch rarely deteriorates, unless England know something that we don’t. I am looking forward to see Ollie Stone bowl though, as it was clear he was highly thought of in the England camp with his call up to the Sri-Lanka tour before injury robbed him of the chance to play (an English quick bowler getting hurt, who’d have thought it!). It will also be interesting to see how Broad leads the attack in English conditions without his long-time partner in crime Sir Jimmy of Burnley, who might be quite glad his calf hasn’t fully healed just yet looking at the weather forecast.

As for the Ireland, whilst this will be a momentous occasion, it will probably be tinged with a bit of sadness that their application to play Test cricket has come when the side is on the downward path. The Ireland side of four years would have given England a real run for their money with Joyce, the O’Brian brothers in their prime and Trent Johnson opening the bowling alongside a fit Boyd Rankin; however this team is a mixture of experienced campaigners who are edging towards 40 rather than in their prime, a handful of decent youngsters and a few county stalwarts who have been phased out in favour of youth. Of course, those at the ICC and ECB will protest that they are protecting the value of the Test Match game and that both Ireland and Afghanistan should be thankful to get Test cricket at all, but as we know these are just white lies, as England certainly would rather just face Australia and India every summer and every winter to cash in. This match is likely to be tokenism in every word as we have seen by the absence of any build up to it on Sky and is likely seen more as an annoyance by the ECB rather than a chance to give our near neighbours the opportunity to develop their game.

As for the match itself, I would imagine that it will pretty much be a batsman’s paradise despite the green tinge on the pitch that George Dobell tweeted about earlier. If the skies are blue at Lords, there will be precious little swing or seam for the bowlers and with temperatures likely to be in the mid-30’s on Wednesday and Thursday, the Irish team might have to spend a fair bit of time in the field if they don’t win the toss tomorrow.

As ever, feel free to share your thoughts on the game below. TLG and I are both at Lords on Friday, though in separate stands I believe, and I’m at least hoping for some sort of competitive game even if the ECB couldn’t care less.