Dmitri’s Review Of The Year – The Year of Peaceful Antagonism

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It’s not exactly original, I know, but the end of a year brings forth a time to reflect, to review and to write tedious end of year pieces looking forward to the next. Good grief, I know I am guilty of that more than most! Be warned, this is a long one……

How will I look back on 2016? It has been a challenging year for blogging, it has to be said. From a personal perspective I’ve found this year quite tough. I’ve not had the pure motivation of previous years, and for quite lengthy periods have not been bothered to write. That’s probably a product of two things.

  • The first is that with a few glorious exceptions, the authorities have upgraded themselves from Keystone Cops to Dad’s Army, and thus haven’t really pushed the buttons. Combined with somehow finishing the KP for England (in the T20) debate despite none of us thinking it was ever an option they would undertake, the ECB mainly steered clear of self-made obstacles. Then they raised their T20 plans and banished Durham, and they gave us some gifts to work on. However, the ECB had a quiet year (by recent standards) it has to be said. The rumblings of old perennial flowers in the garden may give portents to future growth of enthusiasm.
  • The second is blogging burnout. I have said on many occasions how unprepared I was when How Did We Lose in Adelaide took off. Not just the time and effort to write and write and write, but also mentally how draining it can be, especially on top of a very busy job. The whole thing took a lot out of me. Writing the blog became borderline obsessive. Content, no matter how it was derived, mattered. I started feeling the pace during the 2015 Ashes. Having moved from HDWLIA to the new blog, it had become established and even had a new writer to help out (which greatly undersells what Chris has brought to this blog – but that’s how he worded his first offer, “helping out”), but I was thoroughly pissed off by the cricket, the media, the idiots throwing bricks at us, and probably culminated in the Twitter meltdown with Etheridge. I was knackered. At times during 2016 that has resurfaced. I have a life outside of here and work. I have a lot of other interests. It is time I paid attention to them. But, this is like an addictive drug. It keeps pulling me back. I’m sometimes not sure if this is good or not!

For me 2016 was a year when the campaigning, more vociferous (shall we say) blogging was put a little back in its box. This hasn’t been the year for it, although it may have ended a good deal more tetchily than it was in the middle months. That’s not to say I don’t think Being Outside Cricket is declining in relevance, such as we have. There’s still something on here you will not find anywhere else, and that’s a lot of cricket tragics putting forward angry points of view, without fear or favour. The voice is still heard, if a lot less acknowledged in public, and that we have retained a very healthy hit rate and visitor count despite a decline in the number of articles, in conjunction with a test year which, on paper, wasn’t the most attractive in pure media terms, and a lack of major controversies speaks volumes. At the end of 2016 I feel better than at most parts of the year. I do recognise, though, that the next four or five months are going to be absolutely brutal with a lack of England test matches, and only patchy instances of ODI cricket to sustain us. The one thing learned is that test matches drive traffic. Well that and KP and/or Alastair Cook. With an absence of those factors, all of us here are under no illusions how tough the barren lands of early 2017 will be. In contrast, the next year from May 2017 will be absolutely off the charts.

Outside of Being Outside Cricket, I am sad that people like Maxie (totally) and Tregaskis (to a lesser extent) are not rumbling around as they used to. Both are inspirations to me over the past few years, writing in their own styles, and attacking their foe with precision and not a little flair as well. If they are the guided missiles or sniper’s rifle, I’m a big hefty cannon! Maxie in particular is a grievous loss to our cause and to that of cricket blogging. Maxie drives traffic when he writes. You may not agree with him, but you read him. You may argue with him, but you listen to him. He has that skill to get under the right people’s noses. I have said that he will always have a place to write if he ever wanted to “come back” and that stands. Without him, and with the different direction I think The Full Toss has gone, it does feel quite lonely out here, being angry and keeping the fires burning!

That’s because others who were equally vociferous during the tumultuous times are much less so now. That is the writer’s choice, of course, and I don’t want to criticise them for it. Each cricket writer / blogger has to be true to themselves. I have said, many times, that if I wasn’t true to what I believed in you’d see it a mile off, and I wouldn’t be able to write for any length of time. I have a couple of individuals in mind (and not the Full Toss before people put 2+2 together and make 5), and they need to realise that playing both sides of the fence is taking much of their readership for granted. They are still capable of great things, pieces I read and enjoy. But there are other times I think “are you being, have you been, totally honest with your readers?” That’s for them. Call it friendly advice.

It would not be a review of the year without mentioning the madhouse that is Twitter. Contact with the media has fallen off a cliff this year as obviously we don’t need to be acknowledged as we were post-KP. Now that’s a dead issue the media, those who bothered, don’t need to know how the great unwashed feel. That’s no more evident in the recent Cook incidents. The press don’t need to protect him now, because there’s no combined angry backlash if he was to be sacked coming, other than from a couple of diehard pillocks the world can ignore safely. After KP there was an angry backlash from a number of blogs, new and old, and the reporters had to recognise this. Now there’s nothing to get angry about, there’s nothing for them to worry about. I’d be a little bit concerned, if I was a journo, about some of the key big beasts being put out to pasture. They weren’t, in the main, the ones who had the foggiest idea about “social media”, despite being on it.

Twitter has been a lot less confrontational. The odd arsehole that got on my nerves as always – some who follow KP’s twitter feed to have a pop strike me as particularly “obsessed” – but nothing like the rubbish I’ve had to put up with in the past. After the early issues this year with one, we’ve had a spell where we’ve managed, I think, to not get mad at each other, which suits me. The other one I have had constant issues with showed their nasty side by threatening to out my name in a particularly lovely Tweet, but even if they do, no-one cares. Then there was the remarkably odd parody twitter feed. I’ve blocked that old bollocks. Other than that, it’s all quite quiet, and that can only be a good thing for your health, I suppose.

So to the cricket. What, really? If I must? Let’s focus on England.

The year started with the Ben Stokes blitz in Cape Town. This incredible knock didn’t get England a win, but it did set the tone for some high octane stuff during the year. Almost, but not quite, unnoticed in that innings was the magnificent first hundred for Jonny Bairstow, which would lay the table for his year. England actually finished Cape Town on the back foot after a double hundred by Amla and a century by Bavuma, and a last day wobble, but returned magnificently on top at Johannesburg when the stars aligned for another of those Stuart Broad spells. Joe Root’s masterful century on a surface that Broad made hay on is conveniently forgotten by those wishing to criticise him now, and it laid the foundation for the series win. England then went on to lose a one-sided, we don’t give a stuff test, at Centurion. Funny how, when we lose these matches, we don’t give a stuff because we’ve won the series. I suppose it makes us feel like the 1990s Australian team if we think like that.

The ensuing ODI series with South Africa started with England’s attacking play dominating. The first two matches were taken in some style, before the tide turned, and England’s devil may care approach came unstuck in the decider. If one lesson was learned it was not to say we would win a series 5-0 when we hadn’t actually won the series. Maybe we’ll learn. Also, Adil Rashid dropped a catch and copped a ton of blame. That set a tone.

The World T20 competition was greeted with little hope, given it was being played in India and “we never do well in the sub-continent”. England lost to the West Indies in a Gayle tour de force, but came back to win the rest of their group games, including a phenomenal run chase against South Africa that was a much a trait of our new attitude as the loss in the ODI decider in South Africa had been. People, it’s two sides of the same coin. It just isn’t a tuppence, but a nice shiny new £2 one. England qualified for the semi-final, and overcame New Zealand, and when they got to the Final were relieved to be facing West Indies and not India. We all know what happened then, and we also know how important a moment in the cricket year for attitudes going forward in the media and the blogs that was.

The good feelings from the World T20, despite the tumultuous ending, and the start of the new county season seemed to beckon a bright summer. But the first half was low key, and in many ways just dull. The home series v Sri Lanka, both in tests and ODIs, lacked a certain something. There were exciting moments, none more so than Liam Plunkett’s last ball six in the first ODI, but Sri Lanka’s game approach was not matched by results. England won the test series 2-0, with a rain-affected draw the other “result”, and got through the two limited overs portions of the somewhat less than Super Series unbeaten. It was job done for England, but judging by attendances at the test matches, the level of interest on here, and my own (lack of) attempts to keep up with fixtures while on holiday in the US, it raised a number of very awkward questions about the quality of the product on show. This was the first time I had to listen via Guerilla Cricket. A useful service, but really not my cup of Earl Grey. After that it was Cricinfo (and my first question on Polite Enquiries which was met with George saying “I don’t think Dmitri is being totally serious”.

The second half of the summer was covered in my 5th Dmitri for the year. From England’s perspective it was a series that possibly got away. There was much rancour and discord over the omission of Anderson and Stokes from the first test, which grew when the whispers that they were fit were married up with a defeat at the hands of a vibrant opposition and around the same time Andy Flower broke his “dignified silence”. There was a distinct smack of “good journalism” about it all. The second test at Old Trafford was one way traffic once Cook and Root set about the task at hand, with Root becoming only the second domestic player since 1990 to pass 250 in a test match. England took the wickets they needed within the time allotted for a comprehensive win. A tight third test that ebbed and flowed went the way of the hosts when Pakistan failed to survive Day 5 (heard that one before), but any resting on the laurels was rudely awakened when a lax first innings at The Oval was at least 150 runs short (despite a Moeen masterpiece) and Younis Khan’s double hundred pointed the way to a series levelling victory. In both wins Yasir Shah had applied the bowling coup de grace. Yasir was lethal in London, undone up north.

The ODI series that followed had some magnificent performances, most notably the breaking of Robin Smith’s 23 year old record for the highest ODI score by an England player. Hales had 200 at his mercy but had to settle for 171. That new record might not last 23 months. England also made the highest ODI score of 444 for 3, Wahab recorded figures of 0 for 110 (second only to the legend of Mick Lewis in ODIs), Jos Buttler took 22 balls to reach 50 (an English record) and so on and so forth. We also had a number 11 make a 50 in the response! Pakistan rallied towards the end of the series, winning the last game, and then winning the T20 as well, but overall, sentiment towards the white ball team was in the ascendant. They were/are genuinely fun to watch.

The problem with England, its media, and many of its fans, is that there is too much emphasis placed on “doing what is perceived to be the right thing”. Looming at the end of the series was the trip to Bangladesh, where international teams were less keen to go, especially after the early July terrorist attacks at a bakery in Dhaka that was frequented by overseas visitors. After a very thorough review, itself indicative of the tricky nature of the decision, and backed by a host government prepared to throw a shedload of money at security, the tour was deemed safe to proceed. Players were given, by the ECB, keeping in mind the security issues, a choice whether they would go on the tour or stay. Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales said they did not feel comfortable and withdrew, just as Andrew Caddick did in India many years ago. The results were a widespread condemnation of Morgan, an Oliver Holt expedition so shallow that it barely merited being a puddle of a piece, and the generation of nonsensical heat and light about duty, loyalty, courage and leadership. A 2-1 ODI series win, under some interesting and tetchy leadership by Jos Buttler, was greeted like a huge triumph, and now the same heat and light is on whether Morgan should be in the team on merit, or whether we should just throw in the young guns, like, er, Ben Duckett (that went well in the test team). Morgan is a great captain of an ODI team and keeps his place on merit. Cook wasn’t a great captain of a poor performing test team, and was in poor nick for quite a while, and the press could barely mention it. We are a funny bunch.

Once the ODI series and the all the old cobblers that came with had been got out of the way, so we went into the two match test series. Alastair Cook had come back from the UK after the birth of his second child, and assumed the reins of the team, as they sought to hold back the hosts on some very spicy, spinning wickets. Both tests were filled with drama. Batting was perilous, but England got enough to win by a narrow margin at Chittagong, with Stokes being the difference, but the cracks did not hold at Dhaka, and Bangladesh romped to a famous victory. There was lot of great spin in evidence, with the English representatives coming from the media, and the hosts from the team, and especially the exciting talent that was Mehedi Hassan. The media tried to make it look like this was a valiant drawn series against a talented foe. Most of us thought this was a recipe for disaster with India looming, and no-one was being called for it except the three spinners. Batsmen weren’t to blame, they rarely are (unless you should not have been picked in the first place, Gary Balance). Those of us with long memories will recall the over the top reactions to a hit out or get out 50 by Ben Duckett for a while to come. It took all of two matches for him to become “unselectable” after that.

Then on to India. The result was pre-ordained according to the press and other experts. I’m listening to an old Switch Hit where Mark Butcher basically said that anyone with any cricket knowledge should have known that was going to be the result. I am really sorry, but I am not buying it, will not be buying it, and won’t be buying it any time soon. England were competitive, so they said, but lost key sessions and lost 4-0. Because this was the bar set at the start, then it was almost acceptable for it to be the end result. I was half joking when I said anything other than 5-0 would be painted as a success.

But you know, and I know, that this isn’t really what is going on. For the media to, almost as one, indicate that it’s time up for Alastair Cook suggests he’s not really thought of as totally without blame for this one in the same way David Gower wasn’t for the Blackwash of 1984. The captaincy was abject at some points – and all captains go through abject moments – but he seemed to be unable to rouse anyone, to get them enthused or excited. At times it was going through the motions. Karun Nair has a test triple hundred to his name, for heaven’s sake. Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Dravid, Viswanath, Hazare et al have not made one, but Karun Nair has. Jayant Yadav may be a very talented cricketer, but he has a test ton to his name too. Yet this was seen to be almost “expected”. I’m scratching my head.

England played well at Rajkot, batted with discipline, made a massive first innings total, dictated terms, and played with good sense. The declaration caused some ructions, but I wasn’t overly fussed about it. A decent performance after Dhaka was what was needed. Of course, some went silly over it, and then found out why you shouldn’t when we were handily beaten at Vizag. Kohli’s masterful 167 being the key batting difference, and while some were still saying the signs were really encouraging, most of us thought that unless the bleeding was stopped we were in real trouble. Of course, the toss was “crucial” there, and the result might have been different had we won it. When we won the toss at Mohail, we were promptly dismissed for 283 and dead in the water. Of course, this ignores the fact that India were 204 for 6 in reply and were totally let off the hook, as the tail wagged. A 124 run lead for India was enough. England never got back into the game.

At this point Haseeb Hameed had sustained a broken finger and was out of the rest of the tour, which meant his almost legendary start could benefit more from not playing in the final two test matches. Hameed is a talent, for sure, but I do like to see my talents make massive scores before anointing them as the heir apparent to Kumar Sangakkara, even if that means I’m bloody unreasonable in so doing. English sport is littered with kids built up before they are due, and cast aside when they don’t live up to the hype. Let’s hope HH is an exception to the rule.

The last two test matches followed similar patterns. England won the toss, thus gaining an advantage, but still found themselves batting last as they made on the face of it decent totals, but totally inadequate when you neither appeared to have the clue or the sticky hands to constrain Indian batsmen. Are you really telling me that Mumbai was a 631 wicket? I’ve just heard Mark Butcher call England’s second innings as being inevitably below 200, because the deck was doing everything. Yet we couldn’t get shot of the Indian lower order? They were 34 runs behind us when the 7th wicket went down and walked away with a 231 lead! As for Chennai, that was a road. A road we couldn’t be arsed to stick it out on to get a draw.

Look, I recognise, as someone who has watched the game enough that winning in India is tough. I am not bloody stupid. What got me with this is the almost reticent attitude of those following, who seemed to take more time explaining away our failures rather than getting stuck into players who underperformed, unless their name was Adil Rashid. It was quite strange, having lived through some disastrous tours where the press declared open season, even at times when we were expected to be thrashed (every overseas Ashes series it seemed). Now everyone wanted to be ever so reasonable about it. As the beloved says “beware a change of behaviour”.

The year ends with England, touted as possible world number 1s after their win in South Africa in a state of flux. I think most people, in their hearts, know Cook should go. Some have known it a lot longer than others. There is almost ludicrous expectations on Hameed, while Keaton Jennings may have a debut test ton under his belt, but still appears to have a bit to prove. The batting order is a mess, we are playing a wicket keeper batsman as a batsman, and a batsman wicketkeeper as the keeper. Moeen Ali doesn’t know whether he is coming or going. Adil is on the one hand a fragile, catch dropping liability, and within a fortnight our number one spinner. The seam bowling looked worryingly ineffective once the wickets got flat, and James Anderson appears to be an injury prone, too many miles on the clock, up and down bowler (has he lost that nip) on wickets that don’t help him. That doesn’t even mention the coaching staff. Trevor Bayliss got too much praise when things were going well, and pushed off a day early when they weren’t. He’s either managed the press well, or there is something going on. There are a number of grumblings about his test coaching ability, but nothing serious yet. Maybe there’s a nice herbaceous border around him with lots of pretty flowers? As for Paul Farbrace, who knows? Everyone still seems to be in Camp Farby. Nothing to seems to stick to him. If we are doing well, he gets lots and lots of praise. When they go badly, he gets lots and lots of praise. I’m not entirely sure why! Maybe it’s because he’s a cheeky chappy, chirpy and upbeat, a lovely assistant, creating a good environment. 2017 has many many tests – the Champions Trophy had better go well. South Africa won’t be pushovers, and we might freeze West Indies to death by the end of September, while our players will be on their knees. And then….The Ashes!

So to the media. We’ve seen the loss of some of the behemoths of the reporting game. Stephen Brenkley was dispensed with when the Independent went online only, and now is the home of any jobbing freelancer wanting to sell copy. There’s the case of spreading yourself too thinly as a couple of the hardy perennials of the up and coming crew are doing. While Brenkley wasn’t my cup of tea, and to be fair, I’m not really sure who is, I found him more the unthreatening scribe, clearly in love with what he was doing because of the sport and less because he appeared in love with himself. In some ways I miss Bunkers.

Then there was the well trailed removal of Mike Selvey from the Guardian. It is never nice to see a man lose his job, and it is important that this isn’t jumping on his misfortune, but he needed to read the runes and he didn’t. Like Pringle before he gave off the impression the game owed him a living, and the reverence he received BTL in The Guardian often enforced that. The lachrymose tributes on his demise were OTT. His view of embracing social media was to put what he thought out there and slag off anyone who disagreed. As a newspaper man, you can’t do that. Engage, debate, even try to get to know your accusers. Some have done it and found it, I think, of mutual benefit. For Phil Walker to almost cuddle him on Cricket Writers was the last straw for me with AOC. Selvey had no truck with the likes of us, independent of mind, as acerbic in print as he could be. He didn’t want to read views contrary to his, or at least, he might if you’d played the game at the highest level. But he might ask himself why we have a decent relationship with certain journalists and not him while he sups his pint and pines, of course, for a job lost. There were a lot on here who really liked you Mike. Maybe ask why they ended up being on the other side of that line at the end.

Meanwhile the same old correspondents plod along, touring the world, filing copy, being read by fewer people as the game gradually disappears. It’s a bloody shame. Again, to those who block me, namely Paul Newman and Simon Wilde, ask yourselves why we got so damned angry at some of your copy – well that’s Newman, I don’t have the first clue why Wilde blocked me, I quite liked him – because a number of your colleagues did. Think about how the fans are consuming their cricket writing these days. Think beyond scoring a few cheap hits and stupid BTL twaddle, and more about the sport itself. Try not to use your columns to settle other people’s scores.

On TV the new kid on the block, BT Sport, has made a middling start to its coverage. Speaking for myself I think it has a decent panel, even with the odious Lovejoy on it, and it made a splash with the early prominent names of Ponting and KP, knowing these were for a short period of time. This is a practice run for their Ashes coverage next year. Let me give you a number of pieces of advice based on what I have seen of their test and ODI coverage.

  • A highlights show is to watch cricket first, hear you lot jabbering on later. The amount of actual play shown is laughable. When the Ashes are played next year, more cricket and a lot less bunny.
  • Greg James is a promising host but he appears to be limited in what he knows. Now either he is being constrained by the format and the talking heads, or he is limited in what he knows.
  • As for the live coverage, please stop the silly little inserts during the coverage. It’s bad enough with Channel 9 cramming in their imbeciles, without adding to the number of voices. Let it breathe.
  • Separate the action and the chat as much as possible.
  • If you want any more advice, dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk

I have the week off to follow the Sydney test next week, and might provide some more views. It’s good that there are different avenues to watch, but not so good when you have to pay more. The world will, must, have a dedicated cricket viewing source soon, or else it is going to lose revenue and customers.

There’s a bigger piece on domestic cricket to write, and how it interacts with TV. At the moment we have an almighty mess with the ECB and the counties being accused of all sorts by everyone. Until something truly crystallises – ha ha, playing in Beckenham – it’s all heat and light. And dull to watch.

So a year that began with a bang, ended with a dud. There’s too much here already to give a world view of the game, so maybe that’s something I can look into in the New Year. I’ll also be encompassing another aspect in another of the Dmitris, but for now, with cricket, media and blogging in here, it should be enough to be going on.

Happy New Year. One more piece to come.

 

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South Africa vs England: 2nd T20 Review

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Enter The Cauldron…You Get Boiled!

For reasons which have never been entirely clear, the BBC in their wisdom decide that while Test matches and tournaments are covered on the Radio Four long wave frequency, a T20 like this one isn’t, with them advertising coverage of Sports Extra which is of absolutely bugger all use to most people driving a car at the time as without digital radio there’s no way of listening to it.  It’s a curious policy for the BBC to have – one would think that those who listen to TMS usually would probably also listen to a T20 match, but apparently not.

All of which is by way of explanation that this afternoon was spent driving back from a family engagement, tuning in to try and listen to South Africa’s reply, and being unable to.  Having watched England perform a collapse that was spectacular even by their exalted standards, the final total was unlikely to ever be enough, but the hammering that followed wasn’t entirely expected.

All of which means that this is going to be a short post due to an inability to reasonably assess the defeat, except to say that the collapse was partly bad luck (the run out of Morgan) and partly self-inflicted (the run out of Hales).

What isn’t surprising is that the response concerned it being an inexperienced side and the various excuses therein.  As so often, there may be a grain of truth in it, but at some point those have to stop – with a global tournament next month you couldn’t say England go into it as one of the favourites, no matter how some have tried to big them up.

Over to you to tell me what the hell happened.

 

South Africa vs England: 1st T20 review

If we’re honest, then generally speaking the outcome of an international T20 tacked on to the end of a tour would be worthy of limited comment and response, sometimes we don’t even get round to writing anything about them, which may say more about us than anything else.  It’s the disposable Christmas present of international cricket, that one you look at, smile politely, toy with for a few minutes then put back in the bag never to be seen again.

With the World T20 approaching though, there’s more interest than normal, not least because of how these matches are to all intents and purposes part of the warm up for the competition.  It does have to be said that South African pitches bear no relation whatever to the conditions in India, but as an exercise in seeing how this new, exciting (®ECB) England team perform, then it has merit.

And how did they perform?  Well, for a side whose bowling has been decidedly average in the one dayers, this was a marked improvement.  To nearly defend 134 on a pitch where all the forecasts (for what they’re worth) had suggested 180 was the target was a pretty good effort.  But the reason that pretty good effort was required was down to another batting performance where England lost wickets while trying to be aggressive and stumbled to a modest score.  This is a difficult one, because if England are going to play this way, then there will be days when it all goes wrong, and the worst thing that can happen is for them to be criticised accordingly, while celebrating the days it goes right.  It’s the old “score at ten an over, but don’t take any risks” exhortation.  What can be said is that going hell for leather in all circumstances is not that much of an improvement in terms of consistently winning matches than being overly circumspect in all circumstances.  The very best teams adapt to conditions in a way that at this stage England don’t seem able to.  Given the choice of two limited tactical approaches, this is by far the better, but it would be nice to know that they had a Plan B from time to time.

As an aside, Kevin Pietersen got runs again, and is in his third T20 final of the winter.  There may be no way back, but it doesn’t mean he has to stop embarrassing the ECB.

It does mean that when all goes well they are a thrilling side to watch, and they did at least get some kind of score to defend, thanks to Buttler in particular doing just that kind of adapting.  Unfortunately, we’re still not really sure what kind of side England are, or what they’re capable of achieving.  Imran Tahir taking 4-21 is not a terribly promising sign for next month though, even if many of the dismissals were remarkably careless in nature.

What England did do rather well was squeeze in both the field and with the ball.  Chris Jordan has had a fairly miserable time of it so far on this tour in white ball cricket, but here he was outstanding, taking England to a position where they really should have won the game.  That they didn’t, well poor Reece Topley.  Having dropped Chris Morris first ball, he then had the over from hell, with balls two and three going for four and six; then missing a straightforward run out that would have tied the game and taken the sides into a super over.  The best thing that can be said is that these things do sometimes happen, and better now than in a knockout match in the World Cup.

For South Africa?  It’s hard to say.  They bowled well but made incredibly hard work of what ought to have been a straightforward target.  As ever, it’s a question of whether that was down to England playing well or them badly.  But it’s unlikely they’ll have learnt too much from this one.

It was quite good fun though.

As Easy As ABD…That’s From Me

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From 2008. AB.

You’ve got me. TLG was at The Who last night, and is working(ish) today, so it’s Dmitri for your “sort of” match report.

In the end we were well beaten today. Alex Hales can hold his head high. Reece Topley can do so too. The rest… well we’ll be charitable and say some might look at themselves. However, to use an awful phrase, the direction of travel is still pointing the correct way. Setbacks are natural.

There’s a temptation to view ODI cricket as black and white. England’s previous tactics, exemplified in the World Cup, were out of date, out of time and out of ideas. The new approach is attacking, aggressive, more in tune with the requirements of the 50 over game. The meme today is that the latter is good, except when it doesn’t work.My personal view is that this is exceptionally lazy, and easy, punditry. Laud the excitement, scold them for being reckless. It’s called having your cake and eating it. Nasser Hussain, I’m talking about you.

Too many were bemoaning the England team hitting out and getting out, and not “playing the conditions”. Remember when we scored the 400 at Edgbaston last year – it wasn’t from 200 for 1. The punditerati seem to love this attacking stuff, except when it fails. You have to wonder if they are suffering from ADHD or something. I expect it from professional Yorkshiremen (and shiny toy ones too). You need to work out what is most likely to win. There’s commitment to the plan. That’s not a bad thing, as a whole.

The fact is that these games are of their moment. England won the World T20 in 2010, and have not won an international tournament other than that (I mean ICC of course). These bilateral series scarcely have any relevance. We beat New Zealand in a decider last June, and lost to Australia in a decider in September, but we don’t really recall them (you hear anyone mention Bairstow’s Houdini act in the NZ game?). This is the journey to massive event, and there will be bumps along the way. The only way to win games consistently playing this way is to continue to play this way. I know some will rue the lack of brains (I did) and it’s a fair comment, but this team approaches a game aiming for 300 minimum. I’d rather see them fail in trying than just whimper up to a score.

Well done to Alex Hales for his sensible, well-made hundred. Sure, his partners let him down, but it’s still good to see the tyro opener knuckle down and make a century. This will do him the world of good. He’s had a fine series. Reece Topley’s opening spell opened up the match, but class and experience in AB and Hashim steadied the ship and then took the game by the scruff of the neck. While this is a young England team, it’s also a quite young South African bowling attack, and the differencce in ODI caps, as Simon pointed out earlier, isn’t vast. But experience is married with maturity in the senior pros in the home team, and this was clever, sensible batting chasing a mediocre total.

Lots will be made that we lost a series from 2-0 up. Shrug your shoulders. So what? The next two international tournaments at 50 over level are being played on our fair shores. Let’s get to be the best in those conditions. These overseas jaunts sell tickets for home grounds, get people watching on TV, and can provide some stunning entertainment. But they mean little. We all know that. We know now what we knew before, but with more evidence.

Hales – more solid presence at the top of the order, and now nailed on for his spot after top scoring this series.

Roy – Still more miss than hit. Might find himself under pressure.

Root – World class, the anchor man who scores at a decent lick. Two centuries in losing causes. First batting name on sheet.

Morgan – Disappointing with the bat. Disappointed with him for that interview. Sure it’s a coincidence the series went downhill after that.

Buttler – One magnificent hundred, one impressive closure, then failed. He’s this team in a nutshell. When he’s good, we’re very very good.

Stokes – Absolutely infuriating at this form of the game. Some good contributions but we know there is more.

Ali – Frustrating series. I await the siren calls to get him to open if Roy doesn’t make some strides.

Rashid – You know, I like him. Bowled well when I saw him. He’s not going to be lights out.

Broad – Not really made a compelling case to play in this squad, rather than just save him for tests.

Woakes – The dullest enigma going. Some like him, some don’t. Good squad man.

Willey – Absolutely not convinced he’s international class.

Topley – Made some strides. I’m not convinced he’s the solution, but I’m also sure he’s not the problem.

Jordan – Doesn’t appear to have progressed. Got to be under pressure.

Be interested to hear your thoughts.

AB was majestic after a relatively quiet South African summer. He took his time to get in, and had the luxury of knowing a target in doing so, and timed it to perfection. It was a wonderful captain’s innings. It clinched a series that looked lost. He reminded us of his ability. Appreciate it while it is here.

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Another from 2008

South Africa vs England 2nd ODI Review

In these days of scores approaching 400, there’s something curiously old fashioned about a game where 260 is the target and it goes down to the last few overs. It’s almost a throwback to the 1990s, with Ben Stokes playing the Derek Pringle role by going for six an over and being given out twice, and not out once when he probably should have been for a duck of glorious proportions.

It all meant that after the pyrotechnics of the first match, this seemed relatively low key throughout, where you notice that the Port Elizabeth crowd are not only fond of singing, but offer a rarity at any sporting location of being very much in tune. There’s something rather beautiful about it.

Perhaps South Africa did rather make heavy work of their last ten overs, but at that point a score of around 285 would have been towards the top of their aspirations anyway, so while 262 was disappointing, it is hard to make a case that they lost it just in that short period.

De Villiers’ dismissal to another exceptional catch, this time by Chris Jordan, did come at just the wrong time, but De Villiers was looking to go fully on the attack at that point anyway, with all the risks associated.

Much had been written about the surface being slower and less conducive to hitting, but it still felt at least 30 or 40 short. Of course, the change in mentality couldn’t be better expressed than in the feeling that if the England of a year ago had set that total they’d have walked off to applause from people pointing at their laptops, saying that would win most games historically. South Africa weren’t aiming for a score around that level, it’s simply how it turned out.  In any one ODI, this can and does happen.

In truth England seemed in control for most of the run chase. Alex Hales will bat better than that for many fewer runs, and in some ways those are the most satisfying innings. It was cruel on him to be dismissed one short of a hundred he’d have worked so hard for.

When Hales was dismissed England still needed 61 off 52 balls and with half the side out, surely a tight finish was likely. 20 minutes later it was all over, as IPL bound Jos Buttler, aided and abetted by Moeen Ali, finished the match in a flurry of fours and sixes. He’s in some form.

2-0, and England’s transformation continues.

The Second ODI – South Africa v England

The first thing about this game is why couldn’t they make it a day-nighter, the bounders? I’m off work and don’t want to be getting up at 8am to watch this stuff. Very inconsiderate!

There is one thing we can say about this ODI team. There’s a buzz about them. The attitude change is absolutely magnificent, giving them a greater chance with the bat to protect the weaknesses with the ball. 300 is not a bad score, but it’s not a guarantee of success any more. 350 is now where you feel pretty comfortable, though not always so. I was watching the highlights of the Manuka Oval game between Australia and India, and the 349 target looked totally within reach when Kohli and Dhawan were going at it. But 400 and you can cover a multitude of bowling sins. That England are getting up over 350 is so bloody refreshing it’s like actually realising that this game exists…

I’ve said a number of times on this blog, most notably before last year’s World Cup, that the most difficult task this team has is to make England fans care about ODIs. For too long the travails and failures have been shrouded in the defeatist notion that we simply aren’t any good at this format. It’s nonsense. Now these guys are proving it. I think I’m correct in saying that this ODI team’s batting line-up all made their debuts before the World Cup (except Sam Billings). This unleashing of a new mindset, which, as we all know will have its ups and downs, should mean that when we bat well, we win. That has not always been the case – we’ve settled for 300-320 (and less).

Tomorrow’s match at St. George’s Park is, according to some of the previews I’ve read, going to pose a much different challenge to Bloemfontein. Kepler Wessels, in his column in the Cricket Paper, believes that it might be the surface that helps the bowlers the most – it’s a slow pitch (I’ve seen many critics of the test wickets there). This will be an interesting test of our mettle if this is the case. The upcoming World T20 is going to be played on slow wickets, and adaptability is the key. They showed in UAE that they could tailor their approach to the conditions and still be explosive. It could be a fascinating match. One thing Kepler said in his piece that is clear; these are two batting sides, not bowling sides (although D’Arthez might have more to say on the home team’s selection policy).

It is going to be a keen weekend of cricket. As an appetiser we get the second match between New Zealand and Australia, with the World Champions (minus some key bowlers) given an absolute thumping in the first game. We have the IPL auction, and while I’d imagine most of the limelight will be on how much the great unwanted goes for, it will be interesting as well to see if Jos Buttler is selected (and if any other Englishman are picked up). If he isn’t then I’m really not sure what is going on. We also have the U19 World Cup with England taking on Sri Lanka in the Quarter-Finals. Bangladesh beat Nepal today in the quarters, and when the associate team had Bangladesh at 98-4 chasing 212, might have sniffed a real live chance. Namibia get to play India tomorrow, and reading Tim Wigmore’s piece in The Cricket Paper, the scale of this achievement for the associate team is not to be underestimated. I’m sure the Associates will be firmly backing Giles Clarke in his pursuit of the ICC leadership!!!

I know this preview is a completely different in style to The Leg Glance, who is hob-nobbing it this evening (to be very clear, I mean having a cup of cocoa and bicuits) while I’ve been on the lime and soda elsewhere, but it’s what makes this blog tick. It was the same first Friday in February last year that something quite major happened to this blog, but more of that later…. let the gift keep on giving!

Comments on the game below. Of course. And have a super weekend.

South Africa vs England: 1st ODI

An individual one day international is the equivalent of a McDonalds value meal, it’s appealing in advance, you quite enjoy it at the time, and afterwards you feel a bit empty and wondering why you’d anticipated it all day in the first place.  But enjoying it at the time is no bad thing, though a Super Size Me month might leave the equivalent feeling of sickness.

Given England’s approach to the shorter forms of the game recently, it remains consistently fascinating how they could possibly have got it so wrong for so long.  The team hierarchy of the time persistently denied that they were ever so fixated on statistics as was portrayed, though the less than entirely trustworthy Graeme Swann did claim that to be exactly what happened.  Whatever the absolute truth of it, it is hard to believe that England would have carried on throwing the bat with abandon after their quickfire start in order to reach a total just shy of 400 – more that they would have felt that keeping wickets in hand and a decent score over 300 would have been viewed as satisfactory.

Perhaps that is overly harsh, for received wisdom is a very hard thing to fight against and there’s a tendency to paint failed regimes in the worst possible light, but the reality is that five of England’s seven highest one day international totals ever have come since June last year.  Yes, it is true that the game has changed over the last few years, but it is only in this last seven months or so that England appear to have caught the zeitgeist.

Towards the end of the England innings it actually appeared quite possible that England might be bowled out, yet that didn’t stop them, they carried on attacking and considered being bowled out to be merely an occupational hazard.  For supporters of other teams around the world, this must seem a statement of the most bleeding obvious there can be, but for those who follow England, seeing them play this way is still a startling thing to witness.  There are a few players of recent vintage who would revel in this England approach.

Fifteen sixes were hit across the 50 overs, which is a record for England, and you wouldn’t bet against them breaking that again next time out.  Jos Buttler will rightly get the plaudits, for a blistering century that came off 73 balls, and still represents his slowest one yet.  That in itself indicates the absurdity of the past, and the delight of the present.  For it is bringing the best out of players who when set free can be a joy to watch.  For Root’s 52 off 58 balls to be the slowest innings in the top eight is absurd.

Buttler made the big score, but Roy looked more assured at the top of the innings than he has done before, Hales appeared liberated from the inhibited player in the Test series, while Stokes simply terrifies opponents at the moment.  His catch to remove De Villiers on the boundary had the preposterousness of so many great all rounders of the past, for whom sometimes nothing is impossible.

South Africa’s run chase was ultimately doomed by the rain that curtailed the match and allowed England to win by the not insubstantial margin of 39 runs under Duckworth-Lewis-Stern (let us hope there are no further modifications to this system, it is taking a while to type) and in truth would probably have won the game had it gone to its natural conclusion  But probably is only as far as can be said, for Quinten de Kock certainly had other ideas.  He was on the field every ball of the match, and batted superbly well to be unbeaten on 138 when the weather closed in.  With another 150 needed, and half the side out, it would have been a big ask, but not entirely impossible.

Thus far only batsmen have been mentioned rather than bowlers.  One of many jokes a batsman will lob in the direction of their bowling colleagues is that they are there to serve – and to deal with it.  In Test cricket, the bowlers are the most important members of the side, in ODI and T20 cricket, they really are there to serve.

England go 1-0 up, while South African supporters will lament that the shortened game robbed them of what could just possibly have been a great victory.  There’s been enough in this match for there to be another queue at McDonald’s on Saturday.

 

South Africa vs England: ODI series

Tomorrow, there begins 7 matches – five ODIs and two T20s – against South Africa to finish off the tour.  As is usually the case when these take place after the Test series, there’s a sense of it being a winding down of the trip, as though they were tacked on the end.  Indeed, the Guardian’s preview of the series is entirely with reference to the Test team and what it might mean for that.  Yet, in a month, the World T20 begins, and this series carries far more relevance to that than anything else, particularly for an England team that ought to be in with a shout of doing well in it.

The 50 over game may not be directly translatable, but there are enough similarities for it to be a decent pointer to how the team approaches the one format where England have ever won a global title.  Jason Roy has picked up a back spasm on the eve of play, but assuming he is fit, then the batting line up offers quite some potency all the way down the order.  Whether they come off against a South African team that will pose a stiff challenge is another matter, for while England performed well in the UAE, there’s no sense that it is a settled side.

The core of the team is clearly Stokes and Root in terms of the batting, with the captain Eoin Morgan providing the solidity to the middle order that is now so critical.  Certainly there’s no doubt that shot making is this side’s strength, for of the probable side they bat right the way down to 9 or 10, every one of whom can put bat to ball to explosive effect.

Yet it’s equally true that there’s a brittleness about the line up, with limited experience and form which is essentially unknown.  It makes calling the likely outcome of the series rather difficult, for while England’s approach has been excellent, it’s an open debate as to how much quality is there.

The T20 squad is announced soon, and the 50 over format will be deemed an audition for that.  The notable absentee from the initial squad who could play is Stuart Broad, and while there is logic in managing his workload, it raises the question as to whether he is in their plans at all.  He has been called up as a replacement for Liam Plunkett, but he’s not expected to play the first game at least.

Of course, as far as that tournament is concerned, the spectre of Kevin Pietersen looms large.  The ECB will certainly be hoping that these matches go well, for a hammering will put pressure on them once again.  And so there should be, Pietersen has been a star in the T20 format this winter, and there is simply no getting away from the reality that England would be a stronger side with him than without.  If the ECB were clever, they would select him – and since the exclusion wasn’t on cricketing grounds, the reason it would be clever would also not be on cricketing grounds.  For the Pietersen issue has festered for two years precisely because of the duplicity and ineptitude of the ECB.  Bringing him back for the World T20, in a squad where there are no past issues to be managed, would strengthen the side in a cricketing sense yes, but would also allow a closing of the circle.

Pietersen is highly unlikely to play any more red ball cricket, but making use of his undoubtedly exceptional abilities in T20 would end much of the rancour at a stroke, and allow him to depart the stage with his head held high, and with the bitterness at least partly diffused.  The problem is that the ECB are simply not that clever.  And they almost certainly won’t do it.

And so it is this group of players in the 50 over matches, plus Sam Billings who will probably go into that competition.  Young, unquestionably exciting, and with bags of potential.  Yet with a major challenge ahead of them to win this series, against a very strong side.

South Africa vs England: Fourth Test, day four [Sticky – Other Posts Below]

Providing the weather holds, South Africa ought to win the final Test of the series some point tomorrow afternoon.  For the match has been thoroughly one sided throughout and unless England somehow escape through their own endeavours, which is possible but unlikely, a draw seems most possible only with the help of a thunderstorm or two.

If that were to happen, then perhaps the finger could be pointed firmly at the home team’s captain and coaching staff, for the lack of urgency in building the lead in the second session and after tea was unusual to say the least.  It’s not exactly a matter of batting on too long, more that with a more positive mindset they would have been able to declare somewhat earlier.  Still, with three early wickets already taken South Africa would be disappointed if they failed to finish England off, so the point will probably be a moot one, but just occasionally, this conservatism comes back to haunt teams, as England found on a number of occasions, most notably in managing to lose a series in the Caribbean they dominated, but where sheer timidity cost them two Tests and one collapse ultimately the series.

Certainly South Africa’s reluctance to take risks was justified early on, for with Anderson taking two wickets in an over early on, there would have been some concern even though at 182 ahead for three wickets down, it was hardly disastrous; given the collapse in the last Test, perhaps it was forgivable.  But the lack of acceleration after lunch was less so, as by that point they were 254 runs ahead with four wickets down.  England probably weren’t too upset.  Between lunch and tea they only scored 102 runs in 30 overs, and after tea 65 runs in 15.2 overs – a small acceleration, but hardly putting their collective foot down.

By that point, and with England going through the motions to an even greater extent than they have in the Test is a whole – bowling wide of the off stump and wide of the leg stump in an effort to restrain the scoring and keep them out there, the Test really wasn’t going anywhere, except for a debate as to whether they were intending to let Bavuma score a century.  It was a touch peculiar, and suggested a side seriously lacking confidence, for there was no sign of an imminent declaration.

The rain break forced their hand and with a pretty nominal 382 required in 109 overs, England were left with just a draw to play for.  They didn’t exactly start very well.  Alex Hales did get one that kept a touch low, but that he hasn’t had a great series is plain.  As ever, it needs to be qualified that he’s hardly alone in not having a great series.  The radio report from Jonathan Agnew this evening highlighted that he’s averaged 17 across the Tests, and that is indeed not great.  Yet it is as striking as it always is that this point was followed with saying that Cook was the next to be dismissed, with no mention of him only averaging 23 in the series.

It is tiresome to have to keep writing this, but it does Cook no favours to be treated as the prodigal son all the time.  Yes, he has a very strong record behind him, and yes anyone can have a bad series.  But to specifically, repeatedly and consistently overlook when the chosen one doesn’t do well as though it is of no consequence is failing to properly scrutinise matters.  That does not mean for a second that Cook is or should be in any kind of danger of his place, for he had a decent 2015 after a disastrous 2013 and 2014 and has the fine career as evidence of his skill and ability.  But what it does mean is that he has had a bad series.  It happens.  It’s worth noting.  It’s worth mentioning.  It is something that when totally ignored draws attention to the disparity in treatment.  Sky have managed to skilfully ignore his poor series but still mention that he’s closing in on 10,000 Test runs.  That will be a fine achievement, and worthy of comment as the first England player to reach that mark – though another would probably have done so sooner had his career not been curtailed.  It is also true that he’s not had a great tour.  It is quite astounding how the media will go out of their way to ever mention these things.  Once again, it is not a case of criticising him heavily, querying his position, calling for his removal or any such thing, but it unquestionably is about highlighting how TMS can entirely ignore it, yet tweet a question as to whether Compton has convinced in this series with an average of 30.

For tomorrow, England do have a long batting line up, but assuming a full day’s play of 98 overs, pulling off a draw here would be an outstanding achievement.  Indeed, nigh on impossible though the target might be, with a middle order as attacking as England’s is, it would probably be more likely that England win rather than bat out a draw, and that’s very unlikely indeed.  And if South Africa do win the Test, then Scyld Berry’s point that it would have set up a fifth Test perfectly is ever more apposite.  It was meant to happen, for the ECB promised it would a few years ago. It didn’t.  And while the home team have to approve the scheduling, there has been a remarkable silence on the part of the ECB that their desire for five has been flouted.  Four Tests is at least an improvement on the dreadful three match series in 2012 that was blamed on the Olympics, but five is the best Test format for big series for very good reason – as previous England – South Africa encounters have demonstrated amply.  It’s not being wise after the event, plenty of people who love cricket were disappointed it wasn’t five before the series started.  Apparently, only India and Australia are deserving of this.  The Big Three who have accrued all the power and money to themselves, allowing five match series between themselves.  Try to contain your shock.

England’s repeated defeats in the final Test of a series, dead rubber or otherwise, is beginning to look careless.  Curiously, it isn’t so long ago that they suffered from losing the first Test of a tour consistently.  The series win is a fine achievement, and whether South Africa are quite the side they were doesn’t change that.  But if they do want to be the best side in the world, there’s plenty of work ahead of them yet.

Day Five discussion below.

 

South Africa vs England: 3rd Test, day three

Whatever was expected for day three, it wasn’t this.  England grabbed the moment, and with it the match and the series. The headlines will be all about Stuart Broad, and so they should be.  For he has now taken 5 wickets in a bowling spell seven times in his career, which is remarkable.  I was fortunate enough to see the first “Stuart Broad Day” back in 2009 when he ripped through the Australian batting order to effectively win the Ashes back for England, and there’s something about him when he gets going that makes him irresistible, he goes through batsmen like a knife through butter.

Broad is one of those players who seems to attract as much criticism as praise, and he’s not even close to being one of the best loved of England cricketers.  His demeanour over the years has sometimes irked people, and his tendency to blow hot and cold has often frustrated – as tends to be the case with explosive players, some remember the bad times rather more than the good.  The same applied to Kevin Pietersen of course, where some would choose to deny the match winning performances and point to the failures, as if that meant anything.  Those who make the game look easy at times are cursed to be berated for not producing excellence on every occasion.  Yet Broad’s overall record as a bowler is now a genuinely fine one.  He didn’t have a great start, and his bowling average didn’t dip permanently below 40 until his 21st Test, and only went below 30 after 76 matches.  And yet that average continues to fall and is now at 28.54, which is more than respectable.

Nor is this just a golden spell for him, for his bowling average over the last five years is 25.67, and over the last two it is 23.97.  This suggests not only a player who is of Test class which has been apparent for years, but one who is now world class.  He should now be at his peak, and James Anderson may well be nervously looking over his shoulder as the England record wicket taker, for over the last year or so Broad is just beginning to reel him in.

England have been on the receiving end of games like this often enough, where the team becomes crippled by uncertainty, unable to score, and reduced to resembling startled rabbits, transfixed in the headlights of a rampaging bowler.  And yet few of his wickets were batting errors, they were instead outstanding bowling.  He won the man of the match award for it, and although some felt Joe Root’s hundred the greater contribution, it was Broad who created the result, and perhaps given the name of the award, that is the right approach to it.

South Africa are unquestionably a team in transition, the loss of their great players to retirement and the absence of Steyn and Philander through injury have reduced them to a shadow of the outfit that reached number one status in Tests, but both age and injury are facts of sporting life, and it’s never been an excuse when England have lost, so nor should it be now.  However, there is a strong sense that these are two sides heading in opposite directions.  If this is purely a cricketing circumstance, then for the English it would be a reason for celebration; this England side is one that is full of verve and vigour, playing an attacking and incisive style, and responding to adversity by going after the opposition.  There is much to like about them.

The trouble is that with Test cricket in the state it is, any pleasure from it has to be tempered with real concern about the future.  The ICC stitch up with the resulting loss in relative income means that the potential for South Africa to lose their best players to T20 wealth is high, and if that is so, then building another fine side could prove beyond them.  For the point about Test cricket is that to take the maximum pleasure from your own side winning so handsomely, it must be in the knowledge that in future the tables will be turned.  That is after all why the English and Australians gleefully tease the other, because they know next time they’ll get it back to the same extent.  Success is only special when failure is an option.

England’s win means that South Africa are dethroned as the side at the top of the ICC rankings.  India for now take over, with Australia in second place.  England may well be currently fifth, but with home series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan to come, are more than likely to move up the table quite quickly.  In short order the top three Test sides will almost certainly be India, Australia and England.  Quite the coincidence.

With that proviso, it remains an outstanding feat to win the series, for since being accepted back into international cricket, Australia and England are the only sides to have won series there.  That is perhaps not so surprising as it might seem, for South African conditions are entirely alien to all other sides bar perhaps New Zealand, who you wouldn’t expect to win there often if at all.   Yet those predicting a healthy England win before the series were considered outliers, and understandably so.  England have unquestionably exceeded expectations, the younger players have brought verve and joie de vivre, and the side appears a very different one to the nervous, hidebound and risk-averse outfit under late era Flower and Moores.

Which means praise for Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace in particular – and indeed Andrew Strauss for appointing the former and backing the latter.  Good decisions should always be acknowledged, in the same way that bad ones should never be brushed under the carpet.  The style of Bayliss and Farbrace appears to be to remain in the background, encourage the players to express themselves, ensure the captain runs the side rather than being a cipher for the backroom staff, and to play attacking cricket wherever possible.  What sets them apart is that so far they’ve actually done it, for every coach says these things, but they have managed the ultimate coaching trick of getting out of the way.  Cricket is not football, and prescriptive management isn’t going to work.  Being a support and an adviser is, and early stages though it might be, the signs are excellent.

England aren’t a very good side just yet.  But they might become one.  From the depths of disaster, largely self-inflicted, that’s considerable progress.