NZ vs England: Second Test, Day Three – England Ascendant (Not An April Fool)

You might be forgiven for treating any news this morning with suspicion. It’s traditional for most news outlets nowadays to have at least one ‘joke’ story for April Fool’s Day. Therefore, when I awoke to see England had managed to build a lead of 231 runs with seven wickets remaining, the first thing I did was doublecheck the scorecard on another website. Especially when it suggested that Vince was the top scorer so far in England’s second innings.

The day started with 5 overs remaining until the new ball and New Zealand’s batsmen Watling and Southee took full advantage, smashing 27 runs off Wood, Stokes and Leach’s bowling. The match turned when England got the new ball, with Anderson quickly managing to swing the ball past Watling’s bat and into the wicketkeeper’s stumps. Broad followed up in the next over by taking another wicket when Ish Sodhi fenced at a ball outside off stump and edged it to Bairstow.

Tim Southee made it to 50 before Anderson bowled him, when the batsman was looking to hit him for six. Anderson was then hit out of the attack by Wagner, who managed 12 off Jimmy’s next over. This left the final wicket up for grabs, and Broad grabbed it by drawing Boult into a hook which he top-edged to Malan at fine leg.

England’s innings started with the customary early wicket, and as you might now expect the victim was Cook. It wasn’t an unplayable delivery, just a ball outside off which Cook prodded at and edged to the New Zealand keeper for 14. At this point, even people Inside Cricket are speculating that Cook might retire or be dropped this summer. He averages 33.25 this winter, which is remarkably low considering his top score of 244*. Other than his mammoth innings in Melbourne, he hasn’t managed an innings of even 40 runs whilst on tour.

The former captain’s quick departure left Stoneman and Vince at the crease. Not typically a sentence which inspires confidence in England fans, but both batsmen applied themselves to the situation.Both accumulated runs steadily, with Stoneman surviving a caught behind after his DRS appeal showed that the ball had hit his shoulder rather than the bat’s. Stoneman had more luck when Ross Taylor dropped him at slip on 48, and again when he sliced the ball just beyond the slip to bring up his half-century. A few overs later, Stoneman was dropped a second time in the slips by Southee. Proving that third time’s the charm, Stoneman edged the ball again and this time Watling caught it.

Vince followed not long after, a loose drive edged to Taylor at first slip. This honestly might be his trademark shot. Root and Malan steadied the ship, and saw England through the remaining hour of play until the day ended due to bad light. The tourists have a lead of 231 runs, with seven wickets still remaining.

This game is some players’ last chance to impress the new England selectors (whoever they will be) and cement their places this summer. Both Vince and Stoneman have good reason to worry, and their performance today might just be enough to save them. Their partnership of 123 runs in this innings has given England a significant lead, and crucially allows their middle order to avoid facing Boult and Southee with a new ball.

Stoneman might feel harshly treated if he is shown the door. In the 18 innings he has played for England, Stoneman has outscored Cook in 11 of them. That said, a Test average of 30.17 from 10 games hardly suggests a promising future. Of course, Stoneman’s career stats look amazing when compared to Vince’s Test batting average of 24.90. In truth, both batsmen must hope that the new selectors look primarily at their last innings rather than their entire body of work.

This game has also thrown up an unusual stat. So far, all 23 wickets have been taken by the opening bowlers. Southee, Boult, Anderson and Broad. That it has happened to both teams might suggest that it’s difficult to take wickets with the older ball. Equally, it might be an argument that the first change bowlers for both teams don’t match the quality of their teammates. Leach and Wood haven’t been particularly good in this Test so far, although in Leach’s defense spinners typically don’t prosper on day 2 of a game.

So, that’s it. England are 231 runs ahead, and there is virtually no way for them to lose the game. I have no doubt that they will smash New Zealand out tonight and finally win a game this winter.

Just kidding. They’re obviously going to find some way to screw this up. Happy April Fool’s Day!

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And The Beat(ing) Goes On – 2nd Test Introduction (and Live Blog)

Well hello. Another couple of quiet days in the lead up to the second test of a two match series. Nothing has happened in the cricketing world, everyone is getting along just famously, and there’s nothing to get hot under the collar about. The sniff of county cricket is in the air, there are no problems with the running of the game anywhere in the world, everyone’s now satisfied as the World Cup line-up is finalised, and journalists and administration walk together hand in hand, as the sunlit uplands of England summer 2018 beckons. Drink it in. It’s lovely.

A lot of pieces I write have personal slants thrown in. How I feel, what it means to me, what I see right or wrong. I know that goes down well with some, and not so well with others. I think the personal reactions, rather than what I think goes down well for visits and hits is what this blog was built upon. I am an emotional person and no-one is going to confuse me with stable approaches to this, or to life. I have packed the blog in on a number of occasions, only to come back and write. I had a meltdown in writing after the reaction to Cook’s 244 not out, when I couldn’t believe (or actually could but couldn’t take) the reaction as if this was some amazing feat, not a career saving knock of little importance. I stayed off writing for a couple of months, which is a long time for me, and still wonder if I should continue. Days, or a week, like this actually doesn’t clarify much. I’m going to have to take positions to defend. Defending the way I do can appear aggressive, when I don’t mean it to be. I then analyse what people might think of me, and there becomes a vicious circle or rage and doubt. Writing a blog isn’t good for the soul, and yet it’s something I love. Like a form of self harm for the brain. If watching England was therapeutic, I’ve gone to the wrong clinic. But their incapability isn’t making me angry any more. It’s making me bored. And being bored and writing blogs is not a good mix.

Yes, I’m rambling along, because to write a blog requires the fuel. My fuel is anger at the game. So by rights, coming into this second test after a lamentable display in the first, I should be firing on all cylinders for the second test. But I’m not. How can you be? England’s test team is like an aged pop/rock band looking for a comeback single to kick start their careers again. The lead singer, Root, still has the songwriting talent, but he’s rather forgotten to put the melody with the tune. Stokes is the mad drummer, who might end up getting everyone out of rhythm. Mooen Ali has forgotten to tune up his guitar, Anderson and Broad just sing backing vocals these days, while Stoneman is lobbying for a place as the triangle player. Cook, the keyboard player, is handing over the duties to the pre-programmed inputs, only putting in the big ones when the new album contract is up, but fooling his public that he’s instrumental to the band. Others are hanging around hoping for a deal, and to get on the next stadium tour, but instead resigned to years of singing in the pub with a put together band hoping for stardom. This isn’t exciting, it’s actually quite sad and dispiriting.

Yep, England have that end of the road feeling, and the last gig, in picturesque Hagley Oval is the chance to recreate the old hits, or do a crappy cover version of Every Loser Wins. James Vince may return on bass, as Woakes forgot to turn the amp on last time out. Jack Leach has a new guitar, but he may not be able to take it out of its case. Mark Wood may bring in a new brass section to replace Craig Overton’s tambourine, but there’s plenty chance it won’t fit in with the band concept, and the…. oh just pack it in. There was a joke about rust, which I won’t go near. This analogy is as tortured as the routine Steve Smith was forced to go through this morning.

I doubt New Zealand will make many changes. If any. There are analysts who say that Hagley is not a place for spinners, so that may see Leach left out. Vince coming in is just nonsense, but what can you say any more? This England team are on their last test of the winter, we have a pretty crappy record in last tests, the confidence is shot, the attitude is of survival and despair, the team conveys no swagger (not that that is always a good thing), the bowlers can’t bowl teams out, the batsmen can’t put two decent innings together, the stalwarts are ageing with no replacements, the new guys are struggling, and England is in a mess, with the hope that coming home will cure all ills.

Now, as this game starts at a reasonable hour we might do some live blogging on the site tonight. No promises that it will go on for ever, but please join us if you can for at least the first couple of hours. We enjoyed it during the Ashes, and it’s not as if there isn’t much to talk about.

We’ve spoken a lot about the Australian Ball Tampering Crisis. The events of today have been well chronicled in the comments to Chris’s post below. From a personal standpoint, and referring back to the earlier comments about emotions, I felt gravely uncomfortable that Steve Smith was put through that as some sort of punishment beating on the road to rehabilitation. Your emotions, your mental wellbeing cannot be made better by that. That wasn’t cathartic, it was punishment. On a human level, I felt badly. On a cynical level, I felt sick. There’s no one size fits all for making things better. Smith felt he had to do it. I wish he didn’t feel that way. If Australia felt that was necessary, then I feel for them. That’s not right.

OK, enough of that. We have some international cricket to watch before we go off to the ludicrous, thoroughly clean, never tainted IPL, and the opening game between the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Cheats, so let’s make the most of it. We’re resigned to the spike in hits dropping off after this, so let’s go out with a bang. Comments below, and the Live blogging will also follow this tired old missive. Maybe there’s a comeback hit for us to enjoy. Maybe.

UPDATE – Might have to put the live blogging on hold tonight. Bit of (well massive) eye strain and migraine-type headache. Looks like a darkened room for me. Night all.

UPDATE – A couple of strong tablets, an inability to sleep, pain gone, I will do some updates on the play.

11:25 – I missed the Cook dismissal live, but in slow motion it looks like a man woefully out of form. Good piece of bowling, but that’s bread and butter for an opener. Getting cleanly castled is never a good look early on. Stoneman looks like he’s batting with a white stick. Good luck James Vince. 8 for 1.

11:30 – REVIEW. Looks high. Is high. Not even an umpire’s call, so a review lost. Vince has played a couple of sweetly timed shots so far. Not really a stroke of luck this, but maybe it’s James Vince’s day.

11:35 – 20 up. Vince and Stoneman both on 9. The sense is that a wicket is imminent, but that may be based on history and general pessimism. Boult completes his over, and it remains 20 for 1. Cook’s scores since start of home West Indies series… 243, 11, 23, 10, 17, 2, 7, 37, 16, 7, 14, 244*, 39, 10, 5, 2, 2. Don’t let him get to 40.

11;40 – Southee over goes for a run and a leg bye and it’s 22 for 1. Meanwhile I have half an eye on the Red Sox trying to cough up a 4 run lead with their dodgy old set up men. 2 runs gone and bases loaded. Stoneman gets two with an iffy looking prod that squirted through point. And the Rays have just gone 5-4 up. 25 for 1.

11:48 – Vince given out caught. Being reviewed. If he’s hit it, Vince is a moron for reviewing. He’s not so he isn’t. Good review, and is this Vince’s day?

11:53 – Vince and Stoneman, without looking secure, have seen off Boult, it looks like. A neat clip through mid wicket for Vince makes it 28 for 1.

11:57 – De Grandhomme with a maiden, doing a passable impression of Nathan Astle with the ball. A man who Bumble once said “if he’s a bowler, my backside is a fire engine”. Or something like that. 28 for 1.

00:01 – Glorious shot down the ground from Vince. Lovely shot, six off the over so far. It’s the frustration with him, isn’t it. He looks like a player. 34 for 1 at drinks, Vince 18, Stoneman 13.

00:06 – Flashy, well, flash by Stoneman nets him three more off Charles de Gaulle, who is bowling in the mid 70s. Stoneman flashes a drive and misses with some swing and movement from the big man. End of the over and it is 38 for 1.

00:10 – REVIEW. Vince nailed in front by Southee. Reviews it. It’s doing a bit, but not sure it’s missing leg stump totally. It’s hitting enough of leg stump and Vince has to go. A promising start undone, and he Vince goes for 18. 38 for 2.

James Vince – LBW Southee 18 – 38 for 2

00:12 – Not sure of the music to accompany a sad faced Vince. Joe Root to the crease now. Off the mark first ball with a clip down to long leg. The replay shows the ball for Vince’s dismissal is just clipping the top of leg. Might be a touch unlucky, because the commentators said it was aided by Vince “falling over”. Whatever, it’s out. 39 for 2.

00:17 – Root adds a single from his second ball as CdG is getting all sorts of movement with his dibbly dobblers, getting me all nostalgic for Gavin Larsen. Bowls a filthy wide one Stoneman can’t put away. 40 for 2.

00:21 – Root sconed, but seems ok. Hit him flush on the badge, it looked, but no harm done. Hopefully. Southee still getting pace and bounce in his 8th over. HELLO SANTIAGO, CHILE, whoever you are! Maiden for Tim and it remains 40 for 2. Hello Coral advert.

00:26 – Stoneman pulls one round the corner for a couple to get his score moving. CdG bowling all sorts of toilet in between the odd decent ball. Stoneman played and missed at another wide one, then keeps out a straight one. Last ball of the over and a delightful late cut down to third man makes it 46 for 2.

00:29 – Root squirts one down to third man for 2 more. Someone drug test Southee as it is 9th over now! 2 more off the fifth ball with another glide down to backward point. 50 up. Trumpeter plays Bullseye them tune. Good grief.

00:33 – Still no sign of Wagner. CdG swinging it. Lovely cut shot from Stoneman off the third ball, and it is 54 for 2. Stoneman on 26. Just the four from that over, and it remains 54 for 2.

00:36 – Here comes Wagner. Root faces his first ball, a juicy half volley he doesn’t put away. Maiden. 54 for 2. Hello Coral again….

00:41 – Stoneman pulls another ball down to deep backward square – on to 27. Root gets to face CdG now. Root cover drives for 3 off wide fourth ball of the over. End of the over 58 for 2. Hello Mark in Brazil!

00:45 – Root plays through the covers off the back foot for a couple and moves on to 11. Classy shot. Next ball he gets on the top of the bounce from Wagner and puts it throug backward point for 4. Short ball next dealt with well. Another short one ends the over, six from it, 64 for 2.

00:49 – Ish Sodhi, who has been on and off the field, and is in good domestic form, starts his spell. He bowled 82 kph the ball before the 79 kph one, so he’s around Adil Rashid pace. Stoneman takes a single off the last ball and it is 65 for 2.

00:54 – Wagner to Stoneman for the first time. Given Auckland, he’s not seeing one in his own half. First four balls short. Wagner comes round the wicket. Meanwhile on Twitter Dennis is going up against Barney Ronay. Should be entertaining. 65 for 2. Thought Stoneman played it well.

00:57 – Sodhi to Root. Probably the penultimate over. Glorious Vince-esque drive for four by Root to make it 69 for 2. Whips the next one through mid-wicket for a single, takes Root for 20, and it’s 70 for 2. ’twas the googly.

00:59 – Last over before lunch. Our danger zone. A maiden full of short pitched boredom means lunch is taken with England at 70 for 2. Root 20, Stoneman 28. Cook pinged over early, Vince off to a promising start before being trapped in front. That’s all for me tonight, and hope you enjoyed it!

“Rain” – New Zealand v England – 1st Test, 2nd Day Review

After what must be considered their worst day of the whole winter (and they have plenty to choose from), the England team probably weren’t hopeful about getting any kind of result from the game. The one thing which might help undeservedly rescue them is the weather, and that was what happened today.

The first session started on time after rain showers earlier in the day, but lasted only 10 overs before the downpour began. New Zealand made steady progress and Williamson completed his 18th Test century, but little else of note happened.

The heavy shower passed fairly quickly, and play restarted just over an hour later. This session coincided with the second new ball for England, and both Anderson and Woakes (with Broad only getting two overs before being pulled) got quite a lot of movement with it. An Anderson inswinger did for Williamson, hitting him plumb in front, and the traditional captain’s DRS review failed to save him. Whilst the swing challenged the other New Zealand batsmen, neither gave up a clear chance and after just 13 overs the rain came down again.

And thus ends what is by far the shortest and easiest match report I’ve ever had to write. The forecast for tomorrow looks even worse than today, which might leave England the faint hope that they can rescue a draw. Meanwhile, with a lead of 171 runs New Zealand must be considering a declaration sooner rather than later.

As always, comments welcome below.

New Zealand vs. England: First T20I Preview

In our latest post celebrating the blog’s third birthday, metatone suggested in the comments that we could put up an “Open Thread” post for England’s T20I and ODI games. Whilst all of the regular writers (and many of our audience) don’t pay as much attention to the shorter formats as Tests, it would allow those sad souls who find T20s “fun” to comment on the site in a thread just for them. As our Dear Leader said just over three years ago, “Let’s see how this one goes.”

England’s tour of Australia has finally come to an end, and it has been a mixed bag. They were dominant in the ODIs, and yet verging on the pathetic in both the Tests and T20Is. The inadequacies in the Test team are laid bare for everyone to see; the bowlers were incapable of taking wickets in challenging conditions and the batsmen were unable to survive the barrage of quality fast bowling and off spin.

The T20I team’s struggles are more puzzling to me. On paper, the squad is a good one. The majority of the players were in the team which took England to the final of the World T20 less than 2 years ago, as well as dominating Australia in the ODIs through January. England are 4-7 in T20Is since the 2016 tournament, compared to 28-7 in ODIs over the same period.

Of course, one thing which these figures demonstrate is that England plays a lot more ODIs than T20Is and perhaps that’s part of the problem. It’s a small sample size, and so maybe it would be wrong to read anything into these results. The T20 format is also more volatile in nature, meaning that a poor team might have more chance of winning than if a similar quality team was playing an 50 over game or Test.

But these issues aside, England’s T20I team does seem to be struggling. The ECB hired Bayliss as a limited overs genius and he has delivered (to an extent) in ODIs. With just over a year to go until the next World Cup, it seems like England are undeniably favourites to win that competition. For the World T20 in 2020 however, I wouldn’t bet on them even reaching the knockouts right now.

So what needs to change? Well there could be a case for a few players being dropped. Since the 2016 World T20, no player in the world has scored more runs than Joe Root at a lower strike rate. Likewise, Eoin Morgan and (surprisingly) Jos Buttler have scored their runs at a relatively sedate strike rate of 120. These scoring rates might be fine if you’re targeting an average score of 150, but I fear that’s not enough in today’s game.

Or perhaps a change in coaching would be enough. The majority of players in England’s current ODI team also played in the disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign. The greatest difference between then and now is the mentality and aggression of the team. They don’t settle for a target of 270, instead trying to put the game out of reach of the opposition. The T20I team appear to be unable to muster the same levels of ruthlessness.

All of which is to say that I’m not hopeful about England’s prospects against New Zealand tomorrow morning. England need to win both remaining games against the co-host to make the final, and nothing they’ve shown in the last two games would suggest they’re capable of that.

As always, comments are welcome below.

England vs. New Zealand – Champions Trophy 2017

On a cool, windy, damp day in Cardiff, England beat New Zealand by a massive 87 runs after dismissing the antipodeans with 33 balls remaining. This result means that England are the first team to qualify for the semi finals, and will also finish at the top of Group A. This is because the first tiebreaker after points is games won, and whilst Australia could potentially match England’s 4 points they couldn’t match their 2 wins.

New Zealand won the toss and chose to field first, perhaps thinking that showers would shorten the game and give an advantage to batting second. The game started cagily, with New Zealand bowling tightly to restrict England’s openers, eventually forcing Jason Roy to take some risks to get the strike rate up. Unfortunately he isn’t in great form and was bowled behind his legs after stepping too far into the off side. From this point to the end of the match followed a very simple pattern: England would score roughly a run a ball, and New Zealand would take regular wickets which stopped England gaining any momentum or accelerating.  Fifties from Hales, Root and Buttler helped England reach 310, typically a pretty high target, but somehow it seemed a touch below par.

In the previous game against Bangladesh Jake Ball conceded 81 runs and took 1 wicket, and several people (myself included) wanted him out of the side. Instead he opened the bowling and managed to bowl Ronchi on his fourth ball. This brought in world-class batsman Kane Williamson, who with Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor built a solid foundation for the New Zealand innings and dealt well with a slightly slow pitch, strong winds and a few instances of uneven bounce. After 30 overs, New Zealand were 156/2 and seemingly cruising towards England’s total. It took a cross-seam delivery from Wood which reared up on Williamson and glanced off his glove to dismiss New Zealand’s talisman. From that point, England’s bowlers took a firm grip on the game and never let go. Bowling with impressive economy, the bowlers forced New Zealand’s batsmen to play increasingly risky shots just to keep up with the required run rate. New Zealand finished 87 runs short of their target after their tail collapsed playing big shots with little success.

The notable thing about the second innings for England was that there wasn’t a single weak link in their bowling unit, something which we probably haven’t seen in a while. Each of the 5 bowlers used took at least one wicket, had an economy rate below 6.00 and gave Eoin Morgan no reason to call on either Moeen Ali or Joe Root. In the first time for a few years, I would say that England’s bowling was better than their batting. Jake Ball won Man Of The Match, but the other 4 bowlers had almost equal claims to the title.

With England topping the group, they can potentially rest players in their game against Australia at Edgbaston on Saturday and keep them fresh for their semi final in Cardiff on Wednesday 14th. Alternatively they might not want to disrupt a winning side, which is certainly what New Zealand and Bangladesh will hope for as their future in the competition relies on Australia not winning their final group game. England’s bowling performance in this game will certainly worry the other teams, because if their bowling becomes as strong as their batting has been over the past two years then England might be virtually unbeatable.

On a sidenote, New Zealand finished bowling in the first innings 28 minutes after they were supposed to. This was very close to the 4 hours Sri Lanka took to bowl against South Africa, an over rate which saw Sri Lanka’s stand-in captain Upul Tharanga summarily suspended for two games. Several people have commented that Kane Williamson was lucky to escape a similar punishment, as he was given a fine and warning, and it certainly seems to show that banning a captain has not acted as a deterrent for other teams. Hopefully the ICC or MCC will look at other ways of guaranteeing innings finish on time in the future.

Around The World – Part 2

In part 1 of the World View I looked at the fortunes of the three teams up there with England at the top of the World Rankings. In this part I’ll be looking at those in the mid-division and having a peek at their future series and where they might be going in the next year. This, I must stress, relates to test matches, not other international cricket. It was also written earlier this week, before the conclusion of the South Africa v New Zealand test. Hope you enjoy it.

South Africa

The Proteas were the top dogs of test cricket for quite a while (since 2012?) without ever seeming to have that aura of a dominant team. That was amusing because whichever way you looked at it, the 2-0 win in England to take the top slot was mightily impressive. It is hard to fathom that England have ever been more soundly beaten in a test match at home as they were at The Oval in 2012. South Africa’s reign at the top was assisted by the fact they rarely lost away from home, so that when they did lose at home, as they did to Australia in 2014, the away wins kept them top (along with the inconsistency of all the other nations).

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The South Africans fortunes have waned recently, culminating in a horror winter of 2015/16 when they lost at home to England and were thrashed in India on what one might call some interesting surfaces. As they did so their cracks became clear. The first is at the top of the order. Walking into an England series with Elgar and Van Zyl looked like it was asking for trouble. Elgar is a solid citizen, and played well for a century in Durban, but he’s no Smith or Gibbs. Van Zyl was a middle order test player stuck up the order and did not produce. The middle order solidity of Amla, Du PLessis and DeVilliers let them down in the two series, and when that was breached, problems in other areas got exposes. DeVilliers in particular is sending out warning signals about his workload that some Saffer fans are not too happy about. DuPlessis did not score as heavily and his average dropped down to the low 40s. Amla cannot go on forever. Cook coming into the top order (some saying long after he should have been) added some strength and Bavuma has a lot of promise, but this doesn’t strike you as World Number One batting. What they seriously must hope is that Quentin de Kock is going to work as an opener. He’s great to watch in the one day matches and the South Africans would love to see him do that for them. He’s opened in this recent match, made an 80, but you suspect this is a Hales like experiment. Probably doomed to fail.

Where the cracks are really showing is in the Proteas’ main strength; their seam bowling attack. They simply can’t get their top four pacemen fit at the same time. Imagine an attack of Steyn, Morkel, Rabada and Philander in England next Summer? That is all we will do because Steyn is breaking down more than a 40 year old Trabant, Morkel is rickety, Philander has been out for quite a while and only just back, and Rabada is shouldering a large workload. South Africa have little spin threat, although Dane Piedt isn’t bad, but that’s something they are used to. The bowling just below test level is unproven – as it is most everywhere – but this doesn’t seem to be at the depth of England’s for example.

South Africa’s winter is a bitty one. They play this series against New Zealand, and look like they might win the test at Centurion, then play a five game ODI series against Australia at home. They then travel to Australia for a three test series in Perth, Hobart and then a day-nighter at Adelaide. Given Australia’s recent travails in Sri Lanka, that looks a potentially exciting series. Sri Lanka visit South Africa for three tests starting at Port Elizabeth on Boxing Day (followed by Cape Town and Johannesburg).and then a whole host of limited overs bilge. Then South Africa jet off for a series in New Zealand, playing copious amounts of ODIs before settling in to a three test series starting in early March in Dunedin – the other two matches are at Wellington and Hamilton.

With that workload their chances to get to England with the four pace bowlers intact looks limited. 11 test matches I make it, and bundles of hit and giggle. Those people sniping at AB for the workload comments (and yes, that is rich when you make the IPL your be all and end all) may need to revisit it. South Africa are at the crossroads, like so many, with younger players not really establishing themselves in blocks, but with enough green shoots to be tantalising for the future. They need to eke out as much as they can from AB and Amla before they ride off into the sunset. That may not be far away.

Sri Lanka

The legends are bowing out, one by one. Holes in the test team need to be filled. By common consent, from what you read, the authorities running the game in Sri Lanka are beyond the ECB in ridiculousness. There are perennial financial crises. The nation that brought  us Murali, Vaas, Kumar, Mahela, Sanath, Aravinda et al looked firmly on the downslope of their test match fortunes. They seemed the poster children for the travails of the test game worldwide. They played a frankly miserable series in early summer England (and I use the word summer with due poetic licence) where they lost 2-0, may well have lost the final one but for rain, and all seemed doom and gloom.

Then Australia visited Sri Lanka and all hell broke loose. Suddenly, a month later, they had whitewashed the supposed World Numbe One team (and when have we ever seen a number one team thrashed like that in Asia. That never happens) despite batting weaknessess that have been opened up wherever they go.

The reasons for the Sri Lankan demise, if that is what it is, is that maybe in this modern era of test cricket, having oven ready longform players is not going to be the norm. These players are going to take time to adjust, to gel, to form decent careers. In many ways this means selectors and senior pros are going to need to take time and not a little skill to identify who the top prospects are. Sometimes they will thrill you, play the innings of their life and give you a glimpse of their ceiling, but that is just what it is, a glimpse. We’re not talking about a James Vince cover drive in a dashing 30, but a matchwinning, Mark Butcher 173-esque zone of a lifetime knock. A Chandimal. A Kusal Mendis. A Dananjaya De Silva.

For Chandimal, who also keeps wicket, that’s not such an issue, but Kusal and Dananjaya have given us a tempting look at the future. All around there is uncertainy, save for the trojan captain Angelo Mathews, who can’t go on forever. The fleeting sights of a Karunaratne ton are outweighed by maddening inconsistency. Kaushal Silva shows flashes of brilliance. There seems no shortage of those flashing lights, but they aren’t as world savvy as their predecessors, and aren’t coming into a team protected by the genius bowling of Murali. And while Herath is a lovely bowler, a joy to watch, and of full of width as your author (actually, I wish), he isn’t Murali and we can never hope to see another.

That 3-0 win was a shot in the arm for test cricket. In each test they won the scraps. When it got tight, they got out of it. In each match they exposed the visitors’ weaknesses and held sway. In doing so they threw Australia into crisis. The spin bowling was brilliant, and although the seam bowling, despite Sanath’s cries, is not the best in the world, it has enough going for it. Will it be worldly wise enough to carry them through the next few years? Only time will tell. But watching Sri Lanka will be fascinating going forward. I think they are the bellwether for tests (along with the West Indies). When Sri Lanka’s production line is strong, then there’s warmth in my heart for tests.

This winter Sri Lanka seem to have no test cricket until December when they travel to South Africa for the three tests mentioned above. They outstrip England for a stupid tour (our’s to the West Indies for 3 ODIs) with one to Australia for three T20 internationals in February. And that is it. There is nothing on Cricinfo suggesting they will be going anywhere else. Are they going to Zimbabwe? Their future tour programme shows a massive blank up until five tests at home after the Champions Trophy (2 v Zimbabwe, yeah right, and 3 v India).

So how can you develop with a patchy program like this? So those that shout from the rooftops that Sri Lanka’s win against Australia vindicates test cricket, should look at the bigger picture and wonder why they are spread so thin this winter? Sri Lanka are one of those teams to nurture, not shun. We won’t be any further forward in knowing what we have in 9 months. Staying strong in South Africa would be an achievement, and then…. we may have quite a wait.

New Zealand

With those two series defeats, home and away, against Australia, together with the retirement of their talisman, Brendon McCullum, it really looks like an end of an era for New Zealand. Such as it was. The most patronised of international cricket teams might still be ultra competitive in the shorter forms with their explosive, brutal batting, but in tests the flaws are too great for them to march forward, and you don’t sense a production line of Kane Williamsons are there to keep them afloat.

The upcoming winter, if you include this series, sees New Zealand play 12 test matches, which is a considerable number compared to recent years and probably going to test them well. Two in South Africa, (well one given what happened in Durban) is followed by a series in India with three tests (see India section in previous post for venues). Then New Zealand host Pakistan in a two test series, have South Africa at home in three, and according to the FTP, Bangladesh visit as well with two tests in Wellington and Christchurch in January.

Of course, as English-centric as we are, we can only refer back to the last series between our two teams as a marker. Some have claimed it to be the most important series of test cricket played in recent years, which is lachrymose nonsense. It was a two test series contested between two evenly matched teams, and the cricket reached very good quality at times. It produced excellent performances, and it also contained some absolute nonsense (Day 4 at Headingley again…). The key message should have been that a two test abomination at the start of a summer treated a good team with contempt. Instead it was Stokes and Cook.

So what do we have with New Zealand now? In common with pretty much all test teams (India aside?) there are problems with openers. Latham and Guptill don’t seem to be that secure but they don’t appear as though they are going to be left out. The replacement is Rutherford, I presume. The next two batsmen are plenty solid enough – Kane Williamson is in the top echelon of players, and as I write he’s the only one not falling apart against South Africa. Ross Taylor has had some top innings in the past year, and is a major player. After that we have promising players, unproven players and insecurity. That is except BJ Watling, who is one of the most unsung cricketers I’ve ever seen. I’m a huge fan, and it is always a sense of consternation to me that his innings at Headingley is hardly ever mentioned. He’s a total pest to shake off when he is in.

Then there is the bowling. Trent Boult and Tim Southee are a good opening pair, and there is back up in the seam department with Wagner, Bracewell, Henry and Milne. The spin bowling is taken care of by Santner at the moment, but like many others, the lack of mystery spin, or even a Swann-type hinders many teams these days. New Zealand are no exception. Will we have any more idea where New Zealand will be in the next 12 months? There is a feeling of a slightly managed decline, with the odd top performance being countered by continued problems against foes they struggle against. Pakistan at home for two games, and South Africa for three look to set the tone for the next couple of years.

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The Final Part will be around in a week or so, dealing with West Indies, Bangladesh and England. Zimbabwe? Why bother? Who knows when they play?

1986 – Nightmare At Nottingham – Part 1 of 2

You know I love a good anniversary, and you also know I love my nostalgia. So while Sky make a very decent and informative programme about England in the 90s, which, of course, coincided with Sky covering cricket, some of us have some more than poignant memories of the 1980s, when, at times, England were, truly, awful. You might remember I did a series of pieces on the Blackwash in West Indies in 1986, and yes, I never did quite wrap it up but it does stand another view if you’ve not seen it. August signifies a less heralded low point, but a low point nonetheless. In the early part of that month England took on New Zealand at Trent Bridge in the second test of a three match series. The first, at Lord’s had been a bit of a dull bore, livened up only by Bruce French being sconed, and replaced, for a short while, as keeper by Bob Taylor. The test hardly got going.

The second, though, was a different beast entirely. England had been without Ian Botham all summer after his admission to smoking some Moroccan Woodbines (that’s from Only Fools and Horses) and incurring the wrath of Denis Compton who wanted him banned for life. While Botham was a diminishing force anyway, the England team had not recovered from the annihilation in the Caribbean and had been easily defeated at home by India. David Gower was removed from the captaincy in favour of Mike Gatting, but the first test of the Middlesex man’s leadership regime was an annihilation at Leeds. Gatting made a massive ton at Edgbaston, but it looked like it wasn’t going to be enough until the weather ruined the final day of the third test when it looked more likely that India would win than the home team. Rain may have saved us from another clean sweep.

Bob Taylor

England were in disarray, and yet there was just a blithe assumption that we would beat New Zealand. These were not your pushover Kiwis any more. Richard Hadlee was a brilliant, utterly brilliant bowler – the Jimmy Anderson of his era only, and you might disagree here, much better. Martin Crowe was coming to the fore, not quite the great he would become, but a decent old presence in the middle order. At opener was the sturdy John Wright, doughty, a fighter but bloody good on his day. Ian Smith was the keeper, decent with the gloves, a nuisance with the bat. They had beaten Australia in Australia the previous winter and were simply not to be underestimated, but it felt like we did.

In that first test we gave a debut to Martyn Moxon, a consistent run-scorer at the top of the order for Yorkshire, and a man with a classical technique to match. Moxon had made a decent impression in the Lord’s test, making 74 in his first test innings. One run more than Joe Root made in his first innings in tests! Moxon was opening with Graham Gooch who had made the game safe in the second innings of the test with a score of 183. At three for England was Bill Athey, who at this point had not made an impression in tests, and seemed to be betwixt and between. It wasn’t until the following winter that he got a firm place in the team, and not until the next year he made his only test ton. He seemed made for test cricket, but seemed to be in the team due to a 142 not out he made in the second ODI (which I remember he avoided what looked a plumb LBW when he was near his hundred). At four was David Gower, not in great form, still getting over the captaincy, but still a class player on his day. Shame for England was he wasn’t having many of them.

At five was captain Mike Gatting, He’d made that 180-odd at Edgbaston, but he’d not shown signs of turning the ship around, and with an Ashes winter coming up, panic was beginning to set in. Panic may have been induced by the presence of Derek Pringle at number 6. Now, we’re not fans of Degsy here, but he wasn’t a bad player. I think even Pringle might admit that number six was probably one, and more likely two places too high for him in a batting order. A man who made one test half century shouldn’t be that elevated, and that indicated issues. Number 7 for England was John Emburey, who was a more than useful spinner and handy lower order batsman, and at 8 was his Middlesex spin partner, Phil Edmonds. Both had survived from the previous year’s Ashes series, in their own ways. Note that England had no hesitation in playing two spinners at home in those days. Batting at nine was Glamorgan quickie Greg Thomas, who had an in and out career, which didn’t last too long at the international level. Number 10 was Bruce French, the keeper – and yes kiddywinks, we thought nothing of having a keeper batting at 10! Number 11 was Gladstone Small, the Warwickshire seam bowler, who whenever I saw him play at county level, looked a handy old bowler. But it took him some years to get in the team. He made his debut in this match, joining Thomas, who had made his debut in the Blackwash series, and the military medium of Pringle. Yikes. We had to hope it turned!

The New Zealand team lined up as follows. John Wright opened with Bruce Edgar. That partnership had seemed to be in place for years! Both were doughty players, using that word again, but Wright just had that something extra. In at three was Jeff Crowe, who never seemed to make the scores required of him, but following him at four was his younger brother, the late, great Martin. In the foothills of his career, he’d shown his promise and played some crucial innings. He would become one of their greatest players in the fullness of time. Once the Crowes were out of the way there was Jeremy Coney, the skipper. A redoubtable player, a total annoyance, and a dibbly dobbly bowler of some awkwardness. Coney had a legendary relationship (or lack of) with his gun all rounder, Richard Hadlee, who batted at 7 (compare Hadlee, who made test tons batting 7, and Pringle batting 6 for England). In between Coney and Hadlee was Evan Gray, a spinner/batsman bits and pieces all rounder. Number 8 was John Bracewell, a spin bowler and handy lower order player (not giving much away to the uninitiated here!) and following him at 9 was Ian Smith (let it not be forgotten that in 1984, Smith had made a century against England, and here he was at 9!!!!). The number 10 was Derek Stirling and 11 was Willie Watson, two seam bowlers of honest toil, but limited repute.

Game on.

The B&H Yearbook, for those of you who don’t remember it, was a more pictorial, more acerbic, record of world cricket, than the Almanack of the time, and their introduction to the review of the second test is a belter…

“In the fortnightly search for a fast bowler, England brought in Gladstone Small for his first Test Match and Greg Thomas for his first Test match in England.”

Jeremy Coney won the toss on a wicket that looked a little greener than the previous years strip. The Trent Bridge test in the 1985 Ashes was a festival of runs, as Gower made a huge hundred for England (166?) and Australia replied with a big total of their own thanks to tons by Wood and Ritchie. This strip, according to Wisden, was not that different, but whereas the previous year’s match had been played in glorious weather for much of the contest, the day, according to B&H was mainly cloudy and very windy.

A sub-plot to this test was whether Graham Gooch would make himself available for the upcoming Ashes tour. Botham had missed the 1984/5 India tour, and while many came home from the West Indies the previous winter, missing tours was seen as a pretty drastic thing. Now, I must confess, although I know Gooch wasn’t there for the Ashes, I never really recalled why. Sidesplittin’ in the comments to a previous post said it was because he had had twins (he thought). B&H describes the decision as “hanging over English cricket like the Sword of Damocles”. Anyhow, Gooch began the test with an assault on Hadlee (18 off 18 balls) before the Kiwi, playing on his home county ground, trapped him LBW. Moxon, after his promising debut, was bowled shortly thereafter for 9 and England were 43 for 2. Bill Athey and David Gower took England to lunch, where the total had reached 102 – a really decent clip in any test, but bloody good in that era. It was described as one of England’s “rare shafts of light of the summer” according to B&H.

Athey was dismissed for 55, with the score on 123, LBW to Watson, having played with “pleasing assurance if not total confidence”. Gower marched serenely on, showing the “effortless grace which makes him the most attractive of batsmen” until offering no shot to a ball from Evan Gray that turned sharply from outside off and been given LBW. 170 for 4 became 174 for 5 when Gatting was bowled through the gate by Hadlee, a dismissal B&H thought had “some sense of inevitability”. “The England captain had played an embarrassing shot” it moaned. Arron might have applauded. Did you write it, sir?

20160727_234209-01.jpeg
Picture by Adrian Murrell – “enhanced using Snapseed”. I think this is a wonderful snap, just for Richard Hadlee. Evan is giving it the two hands. Smiffy is directing traffic. Wright Jeff Crowe is Saturday Night Fever. Coney looks like he’s in need of the facilities. And then there is Hadlee… Fabulous picture.

After a brief rain delay, Hadlee packed off the Middlesex spinners in one over, both falling to catches that rose sharply and moved away late, and these wickets moved Hadlee into third place in the wicket-takers list behind Lillee and Botham, and completed a 27th five wicket haul, then a record. Pringle, batting at a nose bleeding six, survived a drop before falling to a hook shot. B&H said

“….the failure was more one of confidence than technique. The Essex all-rounder seemed frightened to hit the ball in his old manner.”

As he’s never read the blog, nor is likely to, he won’t comment on that.

England’s innings meandered to the close, finishing 240 for 9. Thomas had played some “spirited shots” before falling to Hadlee. England added another 16 the following morning, with the aid of some dropped catches (B&H lamenting the slip fielding). The previous year 400 played 500, so this instinctively felt short of a decent total.

Thomas opened the bowling and was “fast, but wild” which could have been the summary of his brief career, but he succeeded in making the opening breakthrough, having Bruce Edgar LBW via a fast yorker for 8. Jeff Crowe joined John Wright and solidity was enforced. The pace was dilatory, but it took until the afternoon session to remove John Wiright, who “seemed in total command” and Jeff Crowe, caught behind, both off Gladstone Small to provide the Warwickshire man with the first two of his 55 test victims. Small became a bit of a fan favourite, and I’ll break off this test review to just share a piece of Matthew Engel’s pen picture on Cricinfo…

he was always a whole-hearted tryer, a committed team man and a delightful guy. Australia’s discomfiture was increased by Small’s strange build: seemingly without a neck, he walked around as though he still had a coathanger inside his jacket. He came to England from Barbados just after his 14th birthday, the cut-off date for automatic qualification. However, the combination of his looks and his then-pair of nerdish specs made the Lord’s registration committee think he had no chance of ever playing Test cricket anyway, so they let him through.

Anyway, we interrupt this message to ask, what did he have in common with Derek Randall, Les Taylor, Alastair Cook and Mike Gatting?

20160727_234220-02.jpeg
Another pic from Adrian Murrell. Small captures his first test wicket, it says being Jeff Crowe, but the piece reckons Wright was his first victim. Quite hard to tell from here. Perhaps one of our New Zealand friends can make the definitive ID?

Back to the test and at 92 for 3 England had got themselves back into the contest. Martin Crowe was joined at the crease by Jeremy Coney, and they set about rebuilding again. Having put on 50 for the 4th wicket, and with both looking untroubled (although Coney had been dropped at slip) “disaster struck in the last over before tea”. Martin Crowe called for what was in the view of B&H an “unwise short single” and Coney hesitated, before perishing. The wicket before tea looked worse when straight after the break Crowe turned Emburey into the hands of Phil Edmonds at backward square leg and New Zealand were 144 for 5, still 112 in arrears. However, the New Zealanders had a more formidable lower order, and it was now their time to shine….

England v New Zealand – 1st Test, Day 3 – Open Thread

New Zealand 303-2 (Williamson 92*, Guptill 70, Latham 59, Taylor 47*) trail England 389 (Root 98, Stokes 92, Buttler 67, Moeen Ali 58 – Boult 4/79, Henry 4/93) by 86 runs with 8 first innings wickets remaining.

Dmitri doing the match update stuff today, so maybe this won’t be to everyone’s tastes!

The events of the past 15 months have seen my attitude to cricket change considerably. I had been a truly passionate supporter of England, and while I always appreciated the great players around the world, I would get to dislike some of them based on the fact that they weren’t from my team. You can’t help who you are. Now, with the nonsense of the past 15 months, with no sign of any meaningful contrition, I watch the matches with a more neutral perspective. This time a couple of years ago the performances this evening of Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson would have driven me mad. Instead I watched as a man struggling with his body, and to some extent his game, in Ross Taylor battle gainfully, fighting hard, grafting. I love that in a player. Then there was the almost too perfect Kane Williamson, looking every part the true class batsman he is. It was almost inevitable he made runs, looking totally in tune with his game, and rarely, if ever, looking threatened. I’m preparing the next instalment of Century Watch for the inevitable… (that’ll curse him). It’s early days, I know, and this will be just two tests, but do you remember how, in the mid 2000s, every time Mohammed Yousuf came to the crease, you knew he’d score runs? I felt like that with Kane today.

A lot of comment both here and on Twitter was focused on the Cook captaincy. It’s a default setting we have, that if things go wrong, it’s our beloved captain who is to blame. We knew what we were getting when we appointed him. Solid opening bat (at the time) with a penchant for run gluts, but also technically based, and vulnerable to flaws. The appointed vice-captain who had the label “not a natural captain” when he deputised for Strauss in Bangladesh. This is not a surprise, and I save my ire for Headingley Day 4 disasters rather than today. Those of us at The Oval in 2012 saw just how a pedstrian, out of sorts, bowling attack can struggle whoever is captain. Even his attempts at tactical changes, such as the leg trap and bowling round the wicket are almost by-the-numbers. I’m at the stage that having a pop at his captaincy isn’t worth it. He’ll have his days (Grenada Day 5 wasn’t just Jimmy Anderson) but he’ll have a lot of bad ones. This wasn’t in the same league as those that actually lose tests.

The match is set up well. England’s score was brilliant considering we were 30-4, and I thought it was more competitive than it looks right now. I was watching the Brisbane test on the flight home on Tuesday and saw how smug we were to have bowled out the Aussies for 280 odd, because it was a flat deck and the tail had put the runs together. We know what happened next. This score looked better because we scored quickly and there was a view that the pitch has something in it. New Zealand batted well, some chances were missed (rare is the game where every chance is taken), and they are pouring it on. Yes, if Wood’s over-stepping hadn’t been caught, the day might have been different, but that’s the game. The perceived weakness in the Black Caps, the supposed flaky opening partnership, put on a really decent platform (admittedly, I was catching up with sleep for most of it – still suffering) and now everyone is worried about McCullum. I’d be more worried about the bloke who is 92 not out and has a big double to his name in the very recent past.

For added reading today, have a laugh at Martin Samuel’s Daily Mail column – this is a football writer (and I despise him for that) trying to justify his varied sport portfolio and he spent yesterday bemoaning people going on and on about you know who, and wrote a whole column, it seemed, on you know who. I’m no fan of Newman, but when you have him and Lawrence Booth on your books, what’s the point of Samuel just showing up and writing this stuff? I’ve not read Selvey, so will go and look at it. I got a whiff of Simon and Smiffy at lunchtime on TMS, and FICJAM was in marvellous condescending form. I also had plenty of fuel to my anti-Lord’s fire with the constant looks at the spectators there today – I’m sorry, if you dress like that for a sporting event, there’s something up – and if you chucked, or allowed, a champagne cork on a football ground in this country you’d be banned for life (first for smuggling it in).

Lastly, from Vian and I, many thanks for the visits and comments. It’s the 22nd of May and this blog has had more hits in a calendar month than any here on BOC, or HDWLIA. This is, of course, down to the new writer, who is now outshining me at every turn 🙂 . I’m going to get The Analyst to write a piece like this on him any day now. Seriously, it’s been brilliant how his style has been received here and I know he’s going down really well. It’ll be his turn tomorrow night/Sunday morning…..

Cheers all, and looking forward to tomorrow’s play.

Comments below.

@DmitriOld

@blueearthmanagement

@OutsideCricket

2015 World Cup Final – Australia v New Zealand

Well. The Final.

I’m not one for previews, as I think the hype of these things gets too much. Too many people getting far too carried away, with silly press, silly angles and me being world class Mr Grumpy.

I want New Zealand to win. It’s anti-big three, the Aussies need something like this in their own back yard to go spectacularly wrong (with apologies to my Aussie mates), and well, the Black Caps appear to be nice guys playing above themselves.

But the Aussies are going to win. Just feel it in my bones. They needed to be got shot of before the Final for me, and they never really looked like being defeated in the knockout phase.

Comments as and when. I’ll be on, I’m sure, in the morning. Good luck New Zealand.

2015 World Cup Semi-Final – New Zealand v South Africa

The first semi-final will send a new team to the World Cup Final. Will it be Dmitri’s tip for the championship, South Africa, or will it be everyone’s darling team, New Zealand.

Needless to say, I have a job to hold down and need to sleep, so won’t be watching much. But you can comment away downstairs….