Is It An Horrific Dream, Am I Sinking Fast – The 4th ODI

Another ODI, another piece masquerading as a preview. We’ll get to the 4th ODI later, to be played at the home of English international cricket (accept no substitutes, there can only be one first venue). We need to consider other matters before then. So first, a list.

Gary Ballance

Alastair Cook

Mark Stoneman

Rory Burns

Liam Livingstone

Ben Foakes

Ollie Pope

Tom Westley

Jason Roy

Dan Lawrence

Nick Browne

Sam Robson

Alex Davies

Jonathan Trott

Dawid Malan

Jimmy Adams

Steve Davies

Ian Westwood

Stevie Eskinazi

Ian Holland (An Australian born in America but with a British passport)

 

All of the above have, at the beginning of this set of fixtures have better averages than James Vince, who has suddenly become the consensus pick for the Ashes squad. Obviously some are already in the squad, while others are a bit on the young side, and not obviously overseas players. James Vince averages 34.82 in the CC Division 1. But there’s more. Good players play in Division 2. The standard is lower so….

Let’s give the cut-off point at least 5 runs per innings more in Division 2, so basically anyone over 39.9. Those in bold average 10 runs more than Vince.

Luke Wells

Samit Patel

Joe Denly

Sam Northeast

Daryl Mitchell

Riki Wessels

Paul Collingwood

Alex Hales

Chris Dent

Chris Cooke

Darren Stevens

Joe Clarke

Cameron Steel

Steven Mullaney

Ben Duckett

Andrew Salter

Jack Taylor

Jofra Archer

Matthew Critchley

David Payne

James Weighell

Billy Godleman

 

I might need to check a couple of those to check they are England qualified. It’s a long list, and with some test reclamation projects and multi-faceted cricketers in there.

According to Nick Hoult, James Vince has earned his place because “Trevor Bayliss likes him”. James Vince is our Marcus Trescothick. James Vince is our Michael Vaughan (and no, let’s not go there, although you sometimes wonder). Our punt in the dark. Which would be great, except we’ve seen him before and it wasn’t all that. A flashy little cameo and night night outside the off stump. Vaughan showed resilience in an iffy first series, Tres hit the ground running. Vince did neither.

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Back again – but with four more test centuries and a CC1 batting average than James Vince

I’ve heard it said, by pundits and outside cricketers alike, that the Ashes is no place for rookies. Those wet behind the ears would be shark bait for the baying Aussies, the partisan crowds, the pressure that comes with it. Pity no-one told Ben Stokes that last time down under, eh? Sure, it would be lovely to have a settled team, and with pressure for places based on form and run accumulation. But we seem to be really keen on the magic beans approach to picking players. How Haseeb Hameed has been talked up when making just 513 runs at 28.50 this season, and that’s an improvement due to a couple of late season half centuries. But James Vince hasn’t even had the test career Hameed has had, where at least the young lad’s temperament and innings building had international quality. Hameed is a better punt than Vince, even if they play different roles. The selections, almost 20 years ago of Vaughan and Trescothick are always held up as examples of outside the box thinking. It’s like an inveterate gambler, always telling you about the big wins, and not the mass of losses he incurs day in, day out.

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Better CC1 average than James Vince

By the time the 4th ODI starts at The Oval, the Ashes squad will have been announced. I’m actually quite excited for it, and want 23 November to come around pronto  (that is also Thanksgiving which means I get a day off! We might do an OBO that night, for at least the first session) as I still love test cricket and I think we’ve had a nice two years without an Ashes series. The teams are interestingly matched, both with flaws, but with home advantage it is going to be tough to beat Australia. I think, weather permitting, we’ll get five results. The selection will dominate talking points while the fag end of the English season plays out with two ODIs that I’m not even sure the players care too much about.

So what is there to say about this series that Sean hasn’t already said in his third ODI preview, or I have banged on about in the past few days? This is not cricket with context, it is cricket to fulfil a contractual obligation. It is cricket to give a channel something to show, that they have paid for. It is cricket to perhaps buffer your stats, and with little consequence in failure (although Eoin Morgan might not be a secure as he thinks – the ECB don’t forget Eoin). It is cricket for cricket’s sake, and there is no bad impacts on defeat for England. You’ll have to ask the West indies about their commitment to the cause.

You have to laugh at the double standards of many of those commenting in our media etc. If an English player treated fielding and running between the wickets like Chris Gayle we’d be seeing “good journalism” all over the place, “his cards being marked” and “disinterest” in abundance, and yet he’s treated like a deity and a clown by those interviewing him and commenting on his play. Jimmy Anderson, in his commentary stint, wasn’t standing for it, and for that he gets a plus mark from me.  Aren’t the West Indies supposed to have the same standards as England? Gayle is a brilliant batsman – two test triple hundreds, remember – and while at the crease a fearsome presence, an amazing talent. But off field behaviour is nothing now. On field lack of commitment is part of the circus. I’m not going any further. You know where I’m going and I can’t have those old timers rolling their eyes and saying “not him again”.

So enjoy the 4th ODI, if you like that sort of thing, We’ll be back to take you through the Ashes squad, with a couple of guest pieces, and all sorts of other things in the run-up to the end of November. Oh, I forgot, and something for the 5th game at Bransgrove Dome. On finishing 28 hours from October. It’s progress. It’ll be a four day test in October before you know it.

(Song lyric title – honestly, the next song on the Ipod Shuffle as I was writing this).

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Better average than James Vince

And after I put this piece to bed, packed off, completed and scheduled for publication, the news broke about Ben Stokes. Instant reactions are not much of a help, but you do have to wonder what happened to the “no dickheads” rule, eh? I’ve just stuck Sky Sports News on and they’ve said he will be packed for the Ashes. Fine, and no problem with that, but I don’t want to hear any moral high ground stuff from the ECB or Team England in the future. They might do something meaningless but moral in stripping him of the vice captaincy, showing some “strength” but it’ll just be funny watching Comma squirm.

Oh – and it’s funny how that story never broke, eh?  Shows they don’t leak when they don’t want to.

Comments on the game below which gives Jason Roy a chance in place of Hales. Good luck Jason.

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I Don’t Talk In Terms Of Sense – The Second ODI

Nottingham Weather Forecast:

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That’s hopeful.

With the faint hope that West Indies would need to qualify for the World Cup if they won this series 4-0, or something like that gone, now (yes I know it is a 5 game series) any relevant motivation on the context scale is gone. Attention turns to a ground where runs flow, big innings ensue and the real meaning of ODI cricket is on show. Heck, if it’s not raining it might even start on time. Will the visitors come out blazing and set a massive score if they bat first, or will they rely on just one or two gun batsmen to do the work (assuming Universe Boss can be arsed)? Thinking of putting a random quote from “Six Machine” every day until the end of the series. Opened the book and came to this…

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Obviously not a reader of the Andy Flower Cook Book. (Yet again – I got this book for 1p plus p&p from Amazon. I have not read it yet. Just by the size of the font, I don’t think it is going to take long. Tom Fordyce of the Beeb ghosted it. Interesting.)

Back to tomorrow. England will probably be unchanged – Bairstow now has that top slot nailed down. I think the next name on the list to face a challenge might be David Willey – I really don’t think he’s international class – but that would be being picky. And late September is not a time to be overly bothered. We rarely play this late in the year, and there is nothing for it but to watch what we see, and yearn for two months time and the Ashes.

Comments below. Got things to do tomorrow on my week off, so may not be around for the whole of the game. Or I might with this forecast!

Too Much Of Anything, Is Never Enough – The First ODI

Can you believe we are STARTING an international series on 19 September. I haven’t seen anything so stupid since the T20 series against West Indies in 2011. Look it up. England open up their ODI campaign against the Caribbean Select XI at Old Trafford with the four subsequent matches at Trent Bridge, Bristol, The Oval and finally BransgroveDome. The international series ending in the dark at the home of the ECB stooge who kept his team up and filled it with Kolpaks. I find that fitting.

Of course we are building towards the 2019 World Cup and not, absolutely not, trying to squeeze the fruit so hard the pips squeak. When is too much just too much? Are Sky really demanding that we have to resort to Autumn Internationals? Is this nonsense absolutely necessary. Where are the players complaining that this series comes around one month before we travel to Australia for the only series that seems to matter to anyone these days? Where we define our status in world cricket, regardless of whether India are number one, or anyone else for that matter. Win the Ashes and you erase everything else for a while. But no. Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes will be dragged around England, risking injury on cold damp evenings to satiate television’s need for any form of international cricket to prevent their newly devoted channel being just masterclass, cricket’s greatest, endless repeats of their lunchtime features and a couple of ICC tournament reviews.

I think this is disrespectful to the visitors, the paying spectator, who is just expected to keep turning up for this (and they do) and the cricket fan. The County Championship has been decided so we aren’t in the embarrassing position where a TV company that has exclusive rights to the sport in this country for another 2 years is forced to ignore the conclusion when it was most likely to happen. Talk about catch a break. But then, who really cares about country cricket except the diehard cricket fan who is now treated like some circus freak show by the powers that be and that paragon of integrity (#39 in top arslikhan form) Empty Suit.

But we have a series to comment on, and this blog tries to keep up with all that is happening. I don’t really have a feel for who is playing, and what England are up to. Will Roy reclaim his place at the top of the order after a disastrous Champions Trophy and a first baller in the T20, or will Jonny keep the slot. Can Hales maintain his run of white ball form that has him among the most dangerous players in world cricket at the moment? Whispers are circling about Eoin Morgan – certainly at T20 level – and you know he has no capital in the bank with the ECB or media – those three ODI tons this year will soon be forgotten. Will Rashid be the ODI force he is now limited to? Can the bowling keep the scores down? And possibly most importantly, will England still play with the same ethos which makes them a good team to watch which, given the world’s predilection for meaningless, context-free, here today gone tomorrow T20 should be all that matters, right? It is, after all, the “entertainment business”. Who cares about winning when it’s the entertainment that matters. That’s what TV stations pay for. That’s what YOU want. Stop dragging out dull 280s. Only 350-400 matters now.

This is just the second ODI played between England and the West Indies at Old Trafford since the Viv Richard’s tour de force in 1984. I know many of our readers are of a certain vintage and will have no trouble recalling the greatest ODI innings I have ever seen, and will be ever likely to see, but for those that aren’t, you are the unlucky ones. So instead of going into an in-depth preview of an ODI game most of you on here don’t give a flying one, let’s indulge some nostalgia and enjoy…

People who say to me that the game has moved rapidly forward have a bit of a point, but only a bit of one. Watch the shots Viv plays in this innings. These are long boundaries, these are not the bats used in the modern game, and there weren’t fielding restrictions like today. This 189 was made on the back of a horrendous West Indies collapse, where Viv not only had to keep a decent pace up, but also had to marshall the tail. When Joel Garner was 9th out, the score was only 166. With this magnificent effort they got to 272 in 55 overs. With modern bats, possibly shorter boundaries, and the inability to put the field exactly where you want, this could have been well over 200. Yes, I know he had 5 overs more than the modern game, but still. Note – a three game series, played as an appetiser for the tests, in the height of summer.

Viv was the scariest batsman I have ever seen. I remember, vaguely, his double hundreds in 1976, and yet he scored just two test hundreds after that in four subsequent tours. This 189 was a gem, but once he’d made his 100 in the first test in the Blackwash series, he never made another international century in England. It didn’t matter. He was the masterblaster, the man you absolutely positively had to get out. He made yo want Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes to stay in for fear of what he might unleash. If Lara is the best I’ve ever seen (when on top form, I’ve seen nothing like him – so can it Sachin fans) then Viv is the one I’d most like to see in this era. I’m truly frightened what he could have achieved.

So while I indulge in nostalgia, it’s funny to compare the eras. The 1984 team, intent and completing world domination with a fire so strong, that no-one came close to putting it out for a number of years, compared to the current crop of traveling mercenaries run by a board so incompetent, Birmingham City are asking them for tips. Viv Richards was their icon, Chris Gayle this. Yes, Gayle has two test triple centuries, but you do have to wonder what Viv thinks about Universal God, or whatever it is he calls himself these days. Viv went off to Packer, that’s true. But his legend lives on, while Gayle’s is as a T20 gun for hire. In the interview with Sky on Saturday you did get the hint that Gayle still might regret slagging test cricket off, recognising that he might need to go back to that format. For that’s where true legends are made. Legends like Viv.

Makes the international gravy train, with its more is less culture seem rather puny to me. Enjoy the game. I’ll be online for most of it. Too much of anything is never enough. Not for the powers that be.

Comments 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.

India vs. Pakistan – Champions Trophy 2017

The most hyped contest in this year’s Champions Trophy ended in a damp squib with Pakistan never seriously challenging India at any point in the game. It was certainly damp, with three interruptions caused by the rain in Birmingham. There are many fans around the world asking why a country with England’s climate is hosting an international competition at all, and particularly in June and not August.

Having won the toss and chosen to bat second, Pakistan were outplayed virtually from beginning to end. The game started promisingly, with Pakistan only conceding 15 runs from the first 5 overs. After that point, unfortunately for Pakistan’s fans and most neutrals, India never looked like losing the game for a second. Pakistan’s bowling was abject, with Wahab Riaz taking particularly heavy punishment. Only teenage legspinner Shadab Khan and former Portland Young Offenders Institute resident Mohammad Amir finished the innings with respectable figures. They certainly weren’t helped by the Pakistan fielders, who dropped two clear chances and were generally poor in their ground fielding.

It’s often said that teams can only beat what’s put in front of them. India certainly did this with a dominant batting display. Rohit Sharma laid the foundations with a slow and steady 91 from 119 balls whilst Dhawan, Kohli and Yuvraj all contributed quick-fire fifties to take India’s score well over 300. This was a really strong team batting performance which will worry a lot of teams going forward in the competition.

If the first innings was bad for Pakistan, the second was somehow even worse. Whilst Azhar Ali did a reasonable job providing the platform like Sharma did for India, at the other end it was slow-motion carnage. India’s bowlers did a great job keeping the Pakistan batsmen’s scoring below their required run rate, eventually making them go for risky shots or suicidal runs. If one thing might disappoint the Indian team, their fielding was the equal of Pakistan’s and that is certainly not a compliment. They dropped two relatively simple chances, and their ground fielding was also very poor. Of course these mistakes weren’t punished by Pakistan, but they will want to improve before facing any stronger teams.

If anything, only losing by 124 runs (adjusted by DLS) is a result which flatters Pakistan who were never competitive. The massive Net Run Rate differential from this game makes it seem like it’s virtually impossible for Pakistan to make the semi finals, and virtually impossible for India not to. The ICC will no doubt breathe a heavy sigh of relief that India seem destined to make the knockout stages and will keep all the Indian TV viewers (and broadcasting companies) happy.

Elsewhere, England have announced the replacement in the squad after Chris Woakes was sidelined by a side strain. His place will be taken by Steven Finn, which always seemed the most likely choice the ECB would make after revealing it was a three-way contest between Finn, Toby Roland-Jones and Tom Curran. If Roland-Jones or Curran were to actually play, it would be their second and first ODI caps respectively. With 69 ODIs under his belt, Finn is clearly seen as a safer choice.

Of course this puts an end to the rather amusing speculation that Stuart Broad would be brought into the team. To put this into context, the last ODI he played in England was against India in the 2013 Champions Trophy Final. To say that his selection would be seen as a panicked move by England’s selectors would be an understatement, and it’s not really clear how the groundswell of support for the idea in the England press box might have started.

As always, comments are welcomed and appreciated. It’s my first official post on the site after two guest appearances, so be nice! Or don’t. I’m pretty sure I can delete comments and ban people now.

England v South Africa – 3rd ODI Intro

It was a good game on Saturday. England made what looked like a par score, or maybe that’s me just assuming we are going to make good 300+ scores these days. The visitors lost their key men with the winning line a little way away, but Morris and Miller brought them close before the curious / brilliant final over. England took the series, found a death bowler, and then pronounced injury worries.

I’m not going to go into a massive preview as the main event starts in a few days time. We will welcome any comments on the game tomorrow, as we always do, below, but realise that the interest is not there for ODIs. We hope it comes back for the Champions Trophy and the test matches. Great games, like Saturday’s, will not be remembered long. As I said, I hear the stuff about test matches lacking context, but an ODI series like this is so context-lite that it barely exists.

Here’s where I am these days. Work is busy. Life has limited spare time. There is a ton of sport out there. And I feel as those of us as cricket diehards are pretty unappreciated right now. Maybe there is a chance to enjoy the cricket for itself, but it’s hardly likely. It’s great we have a fresh pair of eyes to write more regularly for us, and a formal welcome to Danny from me, but I can’t even be bothered to read the press these days. Well, I do a bit:

Newman:

There was a time last winter when Morgan, who refused to lead his side in Bangladesh because of security concerns, was under pressure. But he has responded in style. This was his third one-day century in eight innings, after he had gone 24 knocks without one, and Morgan will go into the Champions Trophy at the top of his form.

Just how long is he going to go on about this?

OK. Enough. It’s late on Sunday, and I want to take the dog for a walk. Have a good one, and any comments on the game, leave below.

England v South Africa – 2nd ODI – Preview of Sorts

 

We’re hot-desking in the office at the moment, which means as a relatively late starter I have all the fun of the fair in securing a desk. On Wednesday I sat next to a cricket supporter. Not a die-hard by any stretch of the imagination, but someone, ideally, who should be following the game. As Eoin Morgan completed his hundred, and Moeen Ali was attacking the Proteas, I turned to him and said “Morgan’s got another ton for us”. He looked at me in a facade of confusion. “What are you talking about?”.

He had absolutely no idea England were playing an ODI against the World’s Number One team. They say test cricket lacks “context” but this series is being played in advance of a major tournament as some form of glorified warm-up. England aren’t messing about with anyone at this time, and I am no doubting that their intensity is necessary, but this is a series with preparation in mind. England won’t, and can’t, make many changes in the next week and nor will South Africa. England are getting decent reps from the pundits, but there’s still this nagging doubt that the batting will collapse into a heap, or their bowling won’t staunch the runs. We might have a lot better prospects than the “puncher’s chance” of 2015, but it’s important not to peak too early.

But back to the visibility of this series. We know on BOC that ODI doesn’t FYB. But it is an important part of the ECB’s Mission Statement, and Strauss has a lot riding on this Champions Trophy and the 2019 World Cup. It’s certainly an impressive trick of the light to be able to charge £89 for Compton Upper tickets on Monday for what is a preparation event, but should we be worried that floating cricket fans had no clue this series was on? In a slightly related development, BBC were announced as the Champions Trophy highlights channel, which will improve some visibility, but not a knockout one. The game is drowning in ignorance, and it is doubtful a long run in the Champions Trophy is going to halt that.

One sage is not convinced the BBC will help the visibility at all…

You have to laugh. On so many levels.

Tomorrow sees the second ODI at Castle Greyskull, the international venue in England that is about as inaccessible as could be. That it’s a Bransgrove hosted event is also particularly lovely. There’s not a lot of love on here for him. The game itself is important only to see if England can maintain the momentum. It’s been a very high scoring ground in the past for ODIs and if the threatened storms don’t materialise, it should be tomorrow too. Jason Roy could do with a hit, Mark Wood needs miles under the clock, and Jos also needs to show a little form. But these are minor quibbles. England are playing an ODI on FA Cup Final day. On Rugby Union Premiership Final Day.  The PGA Championship is on at Wentworth. It’s a Bank Holiday weekend.

Will anyone notice another ODI with this talented exciting team? Another one of my colleagues is off to the Sponsor Bowl tomorrow. So I suppose people are. But enough of them?

You tell me.

Comments below.

England v Ireland – The Opening ODI

Welcome to 2017’s international cricket season. Welcome to the longest international season any of us will remember here in England. Welcome to the summer that really matters for 50 over white ball cricket. It’s the Champions Trophy at the beginning of June, and we’ve put half our chips on this one. The other half we’ll hold back until 2019. Building. Always building.

Now I know that the 50 over game doesn’t exactly float the boats of all of the punters on here. Sometimes I feel the same, but for all that, I still prefer this to the fluff that is most of your T20 cricket. There are all sorts of games of 50 over cricket, and although it gets a bad knock now because of its youthful, more irritating little brother, there are always things to watch. At least I hope so.

Tomorrow we kick off against Ireland in Bristol (now I know why Lawrence was moaning about a quiet carriage this morning) with, what I believe, is our first ODI v Ireland in England. We’ve been over there a couple of times, lost hilariously in the World Cup in India to them, and there was a game in the West Indies World Cup which, according to some wags, is still going on. There’s plenty of feeling as Eoin Morgan plays against the country of his birth while Ed Joyce plays against the country he once made an ODI ton for. The weather appears to be OK, if a little on the cool side, and there should be a full match. England are without Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes. Sam Billings has come back from the IPL and appears to have caught some sort of ailment where he’s speaking twaddle, but he’ll keep wicket, and there are rumours Moeen Ali may well be left out.

I could go on, but I’m trying to watch a dreadful play-off match with my team in it, and really it feels like a bit of a pre-season friendly, but no doubt any good England performances by a “fringe” player will get lauded beyond the stars, and any loss to Ireland, or even a duff performance, will be over-analysed.

Here on BOC we’ll try to set up and report on each day’s play this summer, but it’s a difficult task for us to do with three of us. If anyone fancies doing it for us for some of the days this summer, please let us know.

So, in the age old, time honoured tradition on BoC…..

COMMENTS BELOW!!!!

Dedication’s What’s You Need

Since the first one day match nearly 50 years ago England have had a rather troubled relationship with the format.  Despite protestations to the contrary over that time, it has taken a clear second place to Test cricket in both the affections of English fans and the ECB itself. Where the horse and the cart are located is an open question, but despite reaching three World Cup finals it’s a poor record compared to any of the other major nations. The World T20 win in 2010, propelled by He Who Must Not Be Mentioned remains the only global title England have ever won, a shockingly poor return.

England have had periods of some success of course, but always with the feeling that they were carrying an extra load on their backs.  The innovation came from from others, England last showing signs of thinking differently when they pushed Ian Botham up to open the batting in Australia in 1987.  The 1992 tournament turned out to be something of a high water mark meaning that for a substantial proportion of followers England have been dreadful their entire lives.  Of course that’s a slight exaggeration, there have been times where they’ve put in good performances, won series and reached finals ; likewise there have been players who have been good performers in both 20 and 50 overs, and yet although individual players were considered dangerous – Pietersen most notably recently – it never amounted to a side who would ever truly scare the opposition.

With the invention of T20 at professional level, it moved to a different plane, as all the major sides upped the ante.  Where scores of 300 were regarded as exceptional, they now became the norm, with 400+ now not even proving a safe score as Australia found in South Africa.  But not for England.  Stories abounded of them being hidebound by computer modelling, of aiming for “competitive” scores that the data told them they would win with, only to be battered.  Graeme Swann has rarely proved to be a reliable witness but his stories of England’s tactical thinking seemed all too plausible.

The nadir came at the 2015 World Cup, where England failed to get out of their group, something that takes a considerable degree of effort considering the determination of the ICC to try to render the group stages to be as meaningless as possible, except financially.  They left to derision from the cricket world, and contempt at home, a path their football and rugby equivalents would follow soon enough.

And yet.  With hindsight perhaps the first glimmers of a new approach came at around that time.  The removal of Alastair Cook from the side, to his clear and very public disgust, was long overdue – not because he isn’t a good player, but because his style of batting is simply obsolete in short form cricket. His replacement Eoin Morgan’s clearly stated dissatisfaction with the method England were employing became ever more obvious during the disastrous performances in Australia, while the omission of Ben Stokes from the squad and refusal to pick Alex Hales seemed symptomatic of a setup that simply didn’t appear to understand one day cricket, thinking it a contraction of Tests not an expansion of T20.  For the first time though, the players were showing the smallest hints of rebellion, and the appointment of Paul Farbrace to the England coaching staff seemed entirely at odds with a side approaching the game in such a conservative fashion.

The removal of Peter Moores as coach appeared to be the catalyst for finally attempting to play the game as the rest of the world had been doing for some years, and the bonus of New Zealand being the first visitors post World Cup forced the change in concept, both in one day cricket and Test cricket.  England have a lot to be thankful to their teachers for.  Andrew Strauss’s decision to retain Morgan as captain was, if not a brave one as such, certainly not what was expected.  Farbrace’s determination that England play with freedom wasn’t remotely the first time it had been said, but it was the first time anyone had ever meant it.  The old line about scoring at ten an over but don’t take any risks which was unquestionably the way England thought gave way to a more forgiving environment where taking risks was encouraged, and failure in that pursuit forgiven.  This is perhaps the biggest, most important change England ever made.  Freeing up players to express themselves is only truly possible if those players do not feel a presence looking over their shoulders in the event that they fail.  There are endless buzz terms to describe that, but it still amounts to accepting that failure is the price of success.

The impact was immediate, England going over 400 for the first time in a series where they scored at least 300 every time except in a rain affected D/L win.  Whereas before 300 was the upper limit of England’s aspirations, they were suddenly viewing it as the bare minimum.  The second match, a defeat, perhaps best expressed the remarkable change in thinking.  New Zealand had scored an impressive 398-5, the kind of total England couldn’t ever have hoped to try to chase down.  They fell short alright, but only by 13 runs.  For the first time, there was a feeling that England might actually be developing the kind of side to seriously challenge large totals.

New players were being brought in, not because they were being analysed for a Test place, but because they were outstanding one day prospects.  Jason Roy had a slowish start but was kept faith with; Ben Stokes was brought back; Alex Hales was no longer kicking his heels and carrying drinks but opening the batting and being told to play the way he can.  From an era where England relied on the middle order to try to raise the tempo from a solid start, they were suddenly going at it from the off, with those below tasked with maintaining the momentum, not rescuing a lost cause and aiming for respectability.

A series defeat to Australia followed, and the flip side of the determination to attack showed itself in the decider, where England collapsed to 138 all out and were thrashed.  This perhaps proved to be the most important test, for rather than retreating into their shells they instead, under new coach Trevor Bayliss, reaffirmed their determination to play in the same way and to consider such failures as nothing other than an occupational hazard.  There’s an irony here – for so long asserting that high risk approach as being the way a player or a team does things has been used as a stick with which to beat them.  Grasping that risk is part of the equation has always seemed beyond a certain, very English kind of mindset.

A comfortable series win in the UAE against Pakistan showed that England could play more than one way under different conditions, for that kind of away series offered different challenges and different upper limits in terms of scoring.  It also marked a change in bowling approach to stop simply using the Test bowlers – not for the sake of it, but because there were better one day options available.  Jason Roy too finally showed what he is capable of, and with Jos Buttler rapidly becoming a player to genuinely fear, for the first time in living memory England had a top five or six where every single one of them could seriously damage opponents.  One player not mentioned so far is Joe Root, and it could be said that he is performing the kind of role given in previous years to Cook or Trott – the conventional player around whom the others would bat.  The difference being that Root is a true modern cricketer, multi-dimensional and capable of all formats.  A run a ball as the base minimum is not at all bad when others are scoring even faster.

England lost the subsequent series in South Africa, but not before once again approaching the 400 mark and not before once again overreaching and falling short in two matches to cost the series. That caused the first criticism from the press of how England were playing, that they needed to learn to lower their sights.  Although never being explicit about it, the message that came back when reading between the lines was to reject that kind of thinking completely, that bad days given the nature of the format were inevitable and that if England were truly to become the best, then this was the only way they would achieve it.

It is of course impossible to assess a wider view on how that response was received, but at least anecdotally, English supporters appeared to be fully behind it, and much more willing to accept the bad days than the media were.  In most sports, supporters tend to be more forgiving of failure if they have faith in the approach.  And this one was exciting – reaching for the stars is more thrilling than simply aiming to get off the ground, even when it doesn’t quite work out.

Which brings us to yesterday.

Given the history of England in one day cricket, the very idea that England would break the world record total was perhaps one of the most laughable that could be conceived.  Perhaps only Bangladesh or Zimbabwe of the full members would ever be thought less likely to do such a thing, and undoubtedly eyebrows will be raised around the world that it was England (“What, England?”) who set the new target.  But it’s been coming.  While results have been a little up and down, the likelihood that England would give a bowling attack a right royal pasting has been increasing all the time.  Pakistan may not be at the level they have been, but their bowling is their strong suit, and yesterday they were simply destroyed.

Perhaps symptomatic of England’s troubled history is that their national record for the highest individual score had stood for over 20 years, and while Robin Smith’s 167 is a fine score in any era, that it barely crept into the top 40 of highest individual scores – with the best ever nearly a hundred more – was as good an example of how badly England had been left behind as you could find.  Smith’s record may have stood for 23 years, but there are no guarantees at all that Hales’ new mark will stand for as long as 23 days.  Jason Roy came close only recently, and Jos Buttler, Joe Root or Ben Stokes look capable of beating it every time they come out to bat, while Eoin Morgan is hardly ruled out.

Further down the order hitters are prevalent too, indeed only Mark Wood resembles a tail ender in any way – Liam Plunkett at ten has shown himself capable of striking the first ball he receives for six in the past.  If that is the batting, then the bowling attracts less attention, but as much as anything this is merely how one day cricket now works.  It is all about the batting, and bowlers, to their chagrin and the delight of batsmen the world over, are reduced to nothing more than feeding the batters and trying to keep the run rate under control.  Perversely or not, this makes bowlers who do take wickets even more valuable, and it is in that discipline that there is a little less certainty with regard to England.

While Hales rightly got the man of the match, it was Buttler who caught the eye even more.  He simply terrorises the opposition – while he is in, anything is possible.  Even so, while he reached his 50 off 22 balls, Eoin Morgan was only two balls slower to his, yet passed almost unnoticed such was the headiness of the striking.

England are now at the point where they strike fear into the heart of opponents.  By making such a statement they are ensuring that no team will ever be sure they have enough runs, that no total is ever impregnable.  It may not be that England are the best team in the world, but they are not far from it and they are still developing.  Next year sees the Champions Trophy held in England, and perhaps for the very first time England will go in to a tournament not just with hopes of winning, but realistic aspirations that they should.  Quite simply, there is no team, not India, not Australia, not New Zealand, who can compete with England’s batting power and depth.  That in itself does not make them the best, for different conditions will bring different problems and highlight specific weaknesses, while other teams will play far better than Pakistan have.  But what it does do is cause every other nation to cast nervous glances towards a side who are beginning to demonstrate that they are something a little bit special.

For any England fan, this is truly remarkable.  The country that showed little interest except during World Cups where they stank the place out has set down a new standard.  For the first time, perhaps ever, it is England who are causing the rest of the world to consider how to catch up.

Remarkable.

 

England v Pakistan – ODI #3 – Preview and Comments

Now. I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to tomorrow’s game with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. I’d be lying if I said this was the number one thing on my agenda tomorrow. I’d be lying if I said this series had gripped me by my lapels, shaking my pent up excitement like a pair of maracas. The first two games have been unutterably dull.

This may be the case of after the Lord Mayor’s Show, given the excitement and verve of the recent test series. It might be that Pakistan are outmatched with a dodgy batting line-up, while England have a murderers row all the way down to Adil Rashid at number 10. The bowling is more even, but England haven’t had massive chases to test how much the visitors might bend. It’s been routine so far, and that’s not what we like to see. ODIs need the touch of the extraordinary or they become extra ordinary. A bad ODI, an uncompetitive one where the first score is low is no recipe for future enjoyment. I sat through Saturday’s game and I was phenomenally bored. I fell asleep for 45 minutes during our chase – part older age, part not caring as much, part the dullness of the game.

This much is true. (cue Spandau Ballet) 18 months ago we were garbage at ODI cricket. Absolute unmitigated rubbish. Now we (I) get bored when we win routine matches. Yes, I sound like an entitled Manchester United fan fed up that we aren’t winning in style. I get this. Except there’s not a lot of fandom, other than dearly hoping Jason Roy or Jos Buttler go off. I don’t mind Hales or Root play very well either. Less enamoured of Morgan, ever since the “that’s from me” macho bullshit, and Stokes really needs to justify his white ball place with performances rather than “I want to bowl because I’m bored” stuff, even if that was tongue in cheek. This isn’t unconditional fandom at all. But you knew that!

Tomorrow the match takes place at Trent Bridge. A couple of months ago there was a thrilling game where England got out of jail with a tie when Liam Plunkett hit the last ball for six. It was the sort of ODI that gets your attention. England, through Buttler and most notably Woakes, gave us a thin chance, and then got the rewards. Last year New Zealand made 349 and England chased them down with six overs, yes six, remaining. Eoin Morgan made 113, and yet not much more than a year later there are whispers that he should not be in the team, He made a half century on Saturday, so maybe that clamour has receded. Just mentioning those two matches show how the landscape has changed, and probably why the last two matches have been dull in comparison.

In my opinion, and I said it on Saturday, Joe Root should be given a couple of weeks off. He plays all three formats, has hardly had a break, and got a knock on Saturday. We do push our players to extremes at times, and I think he’s earned a break. No doubt Joe won’t want one, and no doubt the medical and management staff know better. But it looks to me as if there is no harm in doing so. Maybe, if we clinch the ODI series tomorrow, we can take a more pragmatic line, whether we are placing equal weight on ODIs and tests or not. It’s not as if there isn’t some exciting young talent behind the scenes. Duckett, Billings, Bell-Drummond et al. I know we are building a solid team for the Champions Trophy next year, but health has to come into it.

Comments on the game below. Come on now, you WILL enjoy it.

As a reminder, it’s 12-8 in the Super Series.

DID YOU KNOW? Kevin Pietersen played 5 ODIs at Trent Bridge, but batted just twice? 41* and 0. Why now? Just trailing the upcoming look at his test hundreds