England vs. Australia, 5th Test – The Dead Rubber(ish) Preview

The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result; yet this is precisely what the genius commonly known as Ed Smith has decided to run with in the final Ashes Test at the Oval. Now Ed Smith might believe he is considerably more intelligent than you and I, even if he got caught plagiarising from the Economist, but picking exactly the same squad when we have been comprehensively outplayed by our Australian foes, really does smack of complacency and idiocy. With the Ashes already retained by Australia, surely this was the perfect opportunity to blood some new players who are performing in the county game? An opportunity to put their hands up for the upcoming winter series? But no, not so clever Eddie has decided the best course of action is to stick with those batsmen who have time and time again shown they are either simply not good enough for Test Cricket or who have serious technical faults within their game at the moment.

I certainly remember when Andrew Strauss announced to much excitement from the media, a new scouting set up dedicated to bringing young talent through the pipeline (that’s worked well so far). Indeed Strauss declared at the time:

“[It will mean] many eyes, more time, more sight of players, more often, getting different perspectives to make judgements and assessments on these players to give us a better body of information that stays with us forever,”

Now whether Ed Smith has simply ignored these scouts or whether Mo Bobat has more power than many of us initially thought – https://www.telegraph.co.uk/cricket/2019/02/15/meet-mo-bobat-man-behind-english-crickets-scouting-revolution/. The fact is that the best ideas the England selectors could come up with was a white ball specialist who has never batted for 2 sessions in a game and 34 year old decent county pro, who doesn’t have the skills for Test cricket, is a damning indictment in itself.

Naturally the English management and press are building up this game as a way for England to salvage some pride and to stop the Australians from winning the Ashes, rather than retaining them, which in my opinion makes no difference as the urn will be travelling down under after the series. However, the last few days has shown this to be nothing but a smokescreen as various members of the England management team try to absolve themselves of the blame. It always amuses me how ‘good journalism’ suddenly appears in the national newspapers when various ECB individuals have their jobs on the line or a player to brief against. Naturally the ECB never leaks, it just happens to be a weird coincidence that you can bet on when this ‘good journalism’ will appear time and time again! Therefore it is not surprise that there are mummering’s that poor old Ed Smith is being supposedly being undermined by the England coaches and captain:

Of course, like the sun sets in the sky, our favourite Former Chief Correspondent of the Guardian appears on Twitter to back up these claims:

Mr Selvey, of course, knows who pays the bills at the ECB and it was certainly never going to be Trevor Bayliss. The thing with Bayliss is that he has given the likes of Mike Selvey the opportunity to criticise him by not watching county cricket and not showing that much interest in squad announcements. He has also appeared in this series to be counting down the days until his contract ends. Now I’m not saying he’s on the proverbial plane, but there are rumours his duty free is being delivered to the Oval tomorrow.

That being said, you could argue that he has achieved what he was asked to do by winning the World Cup as part of England’s blueprint set out 4 years ago; England’s Test performances may well have got progressively worse under his watch, but then that also comes with the decision to prioritise white ball cricket over Test cricket and by having a Chief of Selectors who is more interested in sampling the local hospitality than doing his job. It will be interesting to see how history judges Bayliss, a man so relaxed it looked like he might fall off his chair at times; He is certainly no Duncan Fletcher but equally is no Peter Moores either. I suspect he knows that he will cop most of the blame for this Ashes series result, after all it comes with the territory, even if Strauss, Morgan and Harrison tried to unfairly hog all of the platitudes after winning the World Cup, which Bayliss was a key part of. The criticism of Bayliss has been that he is too hands off at times, which makes it hard to believe that he is the type of person who would bang his fists on the table demanding a batsmen who can score at four runs an over. It would be fair to say that the narrative of Ed Smith via various media sources shows that he is desperately trying to wash his hands of this debacle. However he will need to do a hell of a lot more to convince the sceptical English fans that the finger of blame shouldn’t be pointed in his direction. A genius is about the furthest thing away from how he has looked this summer.

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As for the game itself, to me and many others, this smacks of a dead rubber. England may well be motivated to win the game and tie the series and Australia might well be going all guns blazing to win the series, but for the average cricket fan, it is a much of a muchness. The Ashes are gone no matter how much people try to build it up. For England, Ben Stokes looks like he might not be able to bowl, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Sam Curran comes in as a bowling allrounder to replace one of the underperforming batsmen, whilst England might be tempted to replace Craig Overton with Chris Woakes. As for Australia, they might be tempted to give Pat Cummins a rest bearing in mind his workload in this series and his previous injury history. I’m not sure it matters too much, especially if England can’t work out how to get Steve Smith out before he reaches another double century. The weather is set fair and you would imagine that batting conditions should be good for the first 3 days, although you can never judge a pitch until England have collapsed on it first!

As ever, feel free to leave your comments below:

UPDATE: England have dropped Roy and Overton for Curran and Woakes, whilst Australia have bought in Mitchell Marsh for Travis Head.

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Why England Should Drop Everyone

England have now failed to win a home Ashes series for the first time in 18 years. Something clearly needs to change. Throughout the four Tests, England looked at least four batsmen short of even an average Test batting lineup, and their best bowlers were blunted by Smith’s annoyingly effective technique.

England’s reaction to failures in the past has been both incremental (changing only one player at a time even if several underperformed) and arbitrary (dropping a player whose face doesn’t fit rather than someone who did less well). As this series has proven, this flawed incrementalism has not worked.

With Bayliss leaving next week, now is the ideal time to make wholesale changes to what is currently a very poor team. If England don’t have a competitive Test side by the time they visit South Africa in December, they may well have to kiss any chance of success in the new Test Championship goodbye. So here is my reasoning, player-by player, for why no one should keep their place in the side:

Rory Burns – Why not start with the most controversial? He averages 40.37 in this Ashes (although just 28.86 in all Tests), and so has almost certainly assured his place in the side for the next year. The question the ECB really need to answer is who will be his partner. The quickest way to find another opener would be to try two candidates at the same time  in a few games and picking the best one.

There is an argument that England should field their strongest team, which would certainly include Burns at the moment, for the final Test. England can still draw the series and gain some Test Championship points, after all. I would argue, if the Test Championship is made a priority like the World Cup was four years ago, that this is the perfect opportunity to try new things in the team. Because the same number of points are divided up for each series, regardless of the number of Tests, a further loss at The Oval (Where you can only win or lose almost half the points available if it was a game in a three Test series) will have little impact on the league table. The next two Tests in New Zealand are not part of the Championship at all. This is, I would argue, the perfect time to try some new players in the team.

Joe Denly – This is perhaps a bit harsh, having just scored a valiant 53 in a losing cause, but he isn’t going to be England’s opener for the next two years of the Test Championship. He has demonstrated some application in the last two games, which is more than many others can say, but it feels to me like we’ve seen him reaching his potential in Test cricket and it still isn’t good enough.

Joe Root – The England captain’s batting average in 2019 is 28.56, which is perhaps good enough for England (he’s the third-highest runscorer this year behind Stokes and Burns), but far below what he is capable of. He has been on the England treadmill for the last five years, playing a key part in the Test and ODI sides, not to mention the burden of captaincy. All of which might suggest that he is burned out, and in need of a rest. Hopefully that is the case, and his poor performances aren’t the result of something more serious, and harder to solve.

Jason Roy – Played 5 Tests. Batting average of 18.70. I was honestly surprised it was that high.

Ben Stokes – England’s player of the series (and summer), but reportedly carrying an injury. Given his importance to the team, I don’t think England should risk him for the relatively meaningless next few games. Anderson’s series-ending injury in the first Test of this series shows the folly of playing a talismanic player when they aren’t fully fit. It would be better for England’s chances in the Test Championship if he comes into the South Africa series this winter without any lingering health issues, and well-rested.

Jos Buttler – Averages 22.00 with the bat in 2019. As a specialist batsman. Enough said, really.

Although I will add that Jos is an unbelievable T20 batsman. We have all seen what has happened to England’s best Test batsmen when they’ve attempted to adapt to ODI and T20 batting. Cook, Root and Bairstow’s Test batting techniques all seemed to suffer as a result of incorporating a more aggressive style. I worry with Buttler that the opposite might also be true, that batting in Tests might blunt his awesome power hitting.

Jonny Bairstow – Averaging 20.56 in 2019. Also not as good a wicketkeeper as Ben Foakes.

Craig Overton – 2 wickets at an average of 53.50 in his first game after a recall is hardly a ringing endorsement. Nor is his career Test bowling average (from only four games) of 44.77. George Dobell, who has probably seen quite a few Somerset games, actually rates his brother Jamie as the bowler more likely to succeed for England. Despite having the better first-class bowling average of the two, Craig might not even be the best bowler in his family (as Jimmy Ormond might say).

Jofra Archer – Whenever the ECB stumble upon a quality bowler, they typically have one of two responses. First, they seek to improve them by tinkering. This doesn’t seem to have worked once in the past few years, but they try anyway. The second thing they do is to grind any promising Test bowler into dust by overbowling them. This is clearly what is happening to Archer right now. Despite being the quickest bowler available to England, and only playing three Tests, Archer is only behind Broad (who has played four Tests) in terms of overs bowled in this series. He desparately needs time off, before England turn him into just another fast-medium bowler.

Stuart Broad – 33 years old, and has bowled by far the most overs of any English bowlers in this series. Without a rest, and soon, this story only ends one way…

Jack Leach – Perhaps the hardest player to drop of the XI. A series bowling average of 30.37 is pretty good for a spinner in England, although an economy rate of 3.29 per over is probably a touch higher than he’d be happy with. Crucially, there aren’t a lot of players who could take his place. Rashid is injured, Moeen has only played one first-class game since been dropped, and the rest haven’t consistently shown the ability to step up to Test cricket. Not to mention, Leach’s batting has been quite useful for a tail ender. I have to admit, I may have made a mistake dropping all eleven. He can stay.

Any thoughts about who you’d pick for the final Test, or on any other subject, are welcome below.

England v Australia – 4th Test 5th Day – With A Slack Jaw, And Not Much To Say

I am starting the report of the day with England just having lost Jack Leach, and the start of the last hour. The NFL season starts today (although my team are going to do well to win 2 games) and there is plenty else going on. But England have fought, and fought hard today, in direct contrast to their performance at Edgbaston, for example. It has been gritty and doughty, and everything that the first test wasn’t.

Starting this paragraph and there are 14 overs remaining. England started the day with two down, and while Roy, in particular, did not look to be suggesting permanence, as Chris put on the Twitter feed, Joe Denly, for all his faults, sold his wicket dearly. Jason Roy stuck at it, got to 30, then got undone by another beautiful ball by Pat Cummins. I thought last night, that if Roy got out to a similar ball to the one that got Root, would there be such understanding. Answer was, of course not. Of course there are differing circumstances, differing careers, and yes, differing agenda, but Root can be excused for losing his wicket three times for a duck this series.

And as I write, Overton has been given out LBW to Hazlewood. He’s reviewed it, but it looks out. There’s a pause for ball tracking, and it’s three reds. It’s all over.

There went the Ashes. Australia retain the Ashes. They’ve won by 185 runs.

Let’s run through the rest of the play. Stokes nicked behind, didn’t wait for the decision and walked. A review would have given him out, but there’s no guarantee Australia would have called for it! Not with their form. But well done Stokes for not hanging around.

Denly went soon after lunch, Bairstow hung around a while before being nailed LBW. Buttler and Overton then dug in, with Jos batting over 100 balls. England just seemed to be two wickets too many down at any time, and although the Somerset boys worked really hard, Jos leaving a straight one wasn’t in the script. Jofra didn’t last long, falling LBW to Lyon and things looked truly hopeless.

Enter Jack Leach. Again Somerset stood between England and losing the Ashes. Again there was resistance, but just too many overs to face. Paine rotated the bowling, brought on the leg spin of Marnus, and he got one to bounce a little more to Leach, who gloved it to short leg. A couple of overs later, Overton was pegged LBW, and it was all over. Just under 14 overs from saving the game. They fought hard, but that’s the minimum expected. This is an Ashes series, if not lost, has seen Australia retain the urn.

Warne babbled some old nonsense at the end that these were two evenly matched teams, but that is patent nonsense. Australia are a much better team than England. Their world class, historically so, number 4 has been the massive difference. Stokes has played well, and Burns has done the best of a bad sextet of openers, and Archer has some promise (no doubt) but the Australian bowling is good, has good replacements, and the rest of the batting (Labuschagne being a real find in these conditions) has done enough. England missed their chance by not cashing in at Edgbaston when they had the Aussies where they wanted them after two days. England missed a chance due to weather at Lord’s, but that was sort of known a long way out. England took a chance, with a little luck, at Headingley, but as I posed at the start of this match would we have momentum from a miracle win, or would relying on a miracle really be a fools errand. The latter applies.

What’s the point in being angry? The collective media didn’t give a toss when we lost 4-0 Down Under in 2017/18. They were more pleased that their hero batted out a boring test match to prevent a whitewash, and just said it was utterly inevitable that we would lose – no biggie. Then this Ashes were a lower priority than winning the World Cup. While Australians would throw their hands up at this either/or attitude, this is seen as perfectly acceptable for England fans. Now there’s been a bit more chippiness from media sorts, but what did they expect? This is a madman’s idea of a batting order, which he’s stubbornly refused to change the personnel. George Dobell called him Ed Myth. He’s going to face some attention.

Then there is Bayliss, who is off in very short order. His test management has not been one to savour. We await his replacement, who I presume is going to be in place before the New Zealand tour next month. Heaven only knows who is going to take his place.

Root’s captaincy should be up for scrutiny. He’s not the batsman we once knew, as his average is well below 50 now. He’s not impressed, but one wonders how else he could captain this exercise in stupidity imposed on him by a selector in love with himself. I presume the next skipper is Stokes, and I’m not sure that’s a great idea either.

We can take a look at the rest of the team in the days ahead. But in a summer where England won a World Cup and then went straight into an Ashes series, and then face 8 test matches before the end of the winter, including two against New Zealand, with the first on 20 November (we have a ton of T20s before that), before rolling in to a four test series in South Africa, there’s no rest. I watched The Edge last night (it’s included with Prime) and the focus in the second part of the film is of the breakdown of the team. It was clear burnout. The Jonathan Trott retirement piece was tough watching. It showed how much it took to get to the top, and how the toll is immense. (I hope Vaughan saw that part).

The hierarchy in this country give not one shit about this. It’s why we have the Ashes back-to-back like 2013-14. It’s why we have the Ashes straight after the World Cup. It’s why we have a brand new competition that the top players are going to need to promote. It’s why the test schedule is ridiculous, and yet the format has been neglected. It’s why the County Championship is marginalised to the cold ends of the season. It’s why Tom Harrison is still in his position despite alienating core support and angering pretty much every fan in the country.

As the support at the Ashes shows, if they put it on, at any cost, people will turn up. They are counting on that same blind loyalty for the Hundred next year. I hope the fans turn their back on it. Only when they do, will the ECB get the bloody message. Stop pretending that test cricket is the prime format, when you neglect it. Don’t run premature victory laps. Losing the Ashes to our greatest foe, who played well enough, but hardly the greatest team to visit these shores, is not necessarily the worst thing, but it hurts. It makes the next series even more important. It’s hard to tell how England get good enough, quickly enough, to compete down under in a couple of years time, but the time should be spent wisely.

Instead we’ll have all manner of distractions. That’s where we are.

I’m not angry. I’m disappointed. What’s the point of losing your rag with this team, this organisation, and hell, the media and the know-it-all social media paragons? It’s not my place any more to be Mr Angry. What’s the point?

Congratulations Australia and Steve Smith. This has been the Fag End Ashes, an adjunct to the main event. We are World Champions. Enjoy the rest of the summer. Priorities and all that.

England v Australia – 4th Test Day 4 – Wows Are Few, Frustration More Common

 

What can I say?

I’m not surprised, let’s be honest. I’ve said during the summer that this is a mad scientist’s experiment of a cricket team, and while a freak compound came together for a day and a bit at Leeds, as I said many times in the past few years, pretty little half centuries, or grinding 70s aren’t going to win test matches. Double hundreds on good surfaces that decline do. So while we raised Steve Smith’s pedestal yet further, we see Joe Root pale in comparison. Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes must be absolutely livid at what they are seeing. Both are near, or close to, the top of their game, but we persisted with this twisted, mangled wreck of a batting line-up and the rewards are shown for all to see this evening.

Tomorrow Australia will wrap up the Ashes for another couple of years, and given we travel about as well as English wine, probably another four before we get a crack again at our old foe on home soil. That would be another crack at test cricket, because Australia are over here next year for some hit, giggle and white ball contest again. It’s what we want. An hors d’oeuvre for the Hundred.

Back to the start of the day, and England started on 200 for 5. Bairstow got cleaned up pretty early on, and it’s hard to argue with the reaction of one of this parish…

Stokes couldn’t repeat the miracle of Headingley, nicking off to slip, and Archer did not detain us for too long with another low score. Dobell is getting a little impatient, thinking Jofra should bat at number 11. Stuart Broad did his best, which is far from what his best used to be, but he’s bloody trying, and stuck with Jos almost up to the follow on mark, before some blows got England past the follow-on, but not much more. Jos has not yet made 100 runs in 7 digs for England in this series and is played as a specialist batsman. Not much use when he’s coming in at number 8, due to the nightwatchman, but hey, I’m not a Dean of Sports History, so what the hell do I know?

Broad and Archer bowled superbly to start with, removing Warner for a duck, Harris soon after, and then Marnus for fewer than 50 for the first time this series. Head didn’t last too long. But despite looking more vulnerable than nearly any time in this series, Smith wasn’t out, and he accelerated the pace of the innings in an 82 that allowed Australia to declare and set England 383 to win. Or more reasonably a full day and a half an hour to bat out time and take the series to the Oval.

BOOM! Cummins induces a poor legside shot attempt from Rory Burns and the ball skewed off the leading edge to mid-off. Third ball, 0 for 1

CRASH! Root gets a decent one first up and has his off stump pegged back by Cummins. His second first ball duck of the series. Root’s average drops to barely above 48. After a dodgy spell captaining after tea, where he clearly needed to balance bowling workloads, but allowed Smith to get free, is his captaincy under pressure? It should be.

Jason Roy (and I wonder what would have happened and what the comment would have been if he’d had fallen to Cummins ball to Root) came in at 4, in the first over. He’s faced his first ball later in the innings opening the batting! He and Denly saw out the day and the game finished the day with England 18 for 2.

We won’t bat out tomorrow. I’d be surprised if England get to tea, and not be surprised if they are done by lunch. They took the momentum from Leeds, bowled and fielded poorly, lost it to the human spirit sapper Smith, and found themselves in their area of weakness, chasing a big score. England can’t make these without miracles aligning, and so they proved, scraping over 300, which is a rarity these days, so I suppose it was a success of sorts.

England’s test cricket is unfathomable. It can align and beat India 4-1, it can unravel, and but for miracles and mis-steps, it should really be 3-0 tomorrow. All through it I’ve watched as much as I can, taped as much as I can, reviewed as much as I can, but the spirit isn’t there. This is ADHD test cricket and I’m not a fan. Paul Hayward, a journo who should really know better, was eulogising how this series has transcended sport, but to me it is a crap series, with one man dominating, and when he didn’t play, we got an extraordinary finish. One great theatrical contest. The third test was Highlander, the rest has been Highlander II. I’ve just not been into it at all. I wasn’t that keen to write tonight’s opus.

So, onto tomorrow. The Inevitable End, as Royksopp named their final album. I hope we put up a fight, but the two in at the moment have been almost walking wickets, and then we go to the expansive all rounders and their gates and swishes. We’ve got a slightly longer tail as well. If they survive….. oh stuff it. Don’t get your hopes up.

Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust. If the hope is there, well I admire your trust.

And we were 13 overs short. Who gives a shit that the paying public, probably shelling out £100 for a ticket, get 15% of their play taken away because the players don’t give a stuff about getting a wiggle on. We can go on about this, but no-one gives a shit in authority. No-one.

Comments below on the final farce.

Dmitri

England vs Australia: 4th Test, Day Three: Snakes and Ladders

It was all going so well.  Surprisingly well, albeit if two batsmen in the top order were going to get set, settled and score runs, Burns and Root were by far the most likely.

Overton was an early loss, but while having him hang around would have been a bonus, he’d done his job last night.  The bulk of the day was all about the partnership of 141 which, if not comfortable, certainly looked in relative control.  It wasn’t easy, Cummins in particular bowled with pace, aggression and plenty of skill, while having very little luck.  But the two batsmen took England to the point where wild fantasies dreamed of a total decent enough to take England to some kind of position of safety.  Should have known better.

If nothing else, it demonstrated for the second innings in a row a greater level of batting responsibility from the England batsmen since the shambles of Headingley first time around.  To that extent, credit is due to them, for if 200-5 at the early close forced by bad light is some way of being a triumph -it did at least offer a relatively responsible example of batting at Test match pace, against challenging bowling.  It is to praise without context, for the times when England might be expected to respond to a big total by posting one of their own are receding rapidly into the past.

The late flurry of wickets, with both set batsmen departing and Roy joining them back in the pavilion wrecked a lot of the hard work that had been done, and with just 6 overs to go until the new ball, the possibility of a full blown collapse in the morning is distinct, but England’s first target of avoiding the follow on, which will take some time out of the game at least, is less than 100 away, and failing to get at least that far would represent a failure and a let down of the batting work done today.

Having been utterly dire yesterday, the problem England have is that they can’t afford a bad half hour for the rest of the Test, and that’s exactly what they suffered late after tea.  No one threw their wicket away, Burns and Root were both got out by excellent bowling, while Jason Roy had looked vastly more at home in the middle order than opening, before being undone by his technical looseness against a high quality Test match bowler. Perhaps if he’d been asked to bat in the middle order from the beginning, he’d have had a chance of getting into Test cricket, but his defence looks far too loose to allow him to stay in long enough to capitalise on his undoubted stroke making skill.  Even so, that he might never have been good enough to hold down a place is one thing, it is another altogether to select him as an opener which undermined fatally any chance he might have ever had.  There’s no disgrace in getting out to the ball that did for him, but how he got out, utterly beaten with stumps splayed everywhere wasn’t a good look.

Root will be picked up again for failing to convert a fifty into a hundred, but both he and Burns probably deserve credit for how they batted today more than criticism for not going on.  Losing them together was a huge blow for England’s chances of an escape, but the pressure had been increasing for some time, with Hazlewood, Cummins and Lyon turning the screw ever tighter.  For once, England’s predicament is less about the batsmen, though the flaws inherent in the order make handling facing a big total more daunting than it was and than it should be.

It makes tomorrow a designated Big Day for the destination of the Ashes – England are going to have to bat out of their skins to get remotely close to Australia’s total, and bat long enough to take sufficient time out of the game to put pressure on Australia to try to force the win.  But it’s hard to see England having to bat less than a day second time around at minimum in order to get a draw, and by the time day five rolls around, on a surface that’s taking ever increasing amounts of spin.  Rain and bad light might yet intervene, and provide England with a salvation that they will scarcely deserve, for although they are battling hard, and doing about as much as might be expected of them with the bat, they are looking a doomed team.  The performance of Smith has been the difference between the sides, and England are wilting in the face of the repeated pummeling.  Bairstow and Stokes are still at the crease, and given the latter’s preposterous predilection for pulling off the impossible, all hope is not lost, but it’s not just uphill from here, it’s getting steeper by the minute.

Late on today came the announcement of the sad death of Abdul Qadir, swiftly followed in the rugby world by that of Chester Williams.  Two sportsmen who were iconic in different ways, the latter an icon of the rainbow nation that won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the former for carrying the banner of leg spin bowling at a time in the 1980s when it appeared virtually extinct, especially in England.  Shane Warne a decade later would gain the plaudits for being truly extraordinary, but for a certain age group, Abdul Qadir was leg spin bowling – a man who would demonstrate something that was sufficiently rare and exotic as to send a thrill through the observer in an age where pace bowling dominated.   His record is a fine one, but his impact around the cricketing world can scarcely be underestimated.

 

England vs Australia, 4th Test, Day 2

There are days where the four writers here fight each other in order to get the chance to write the post at the end of play, and there are days when none of us want to write it. Today was very much from the second group.

The game started with people (particularly in the England team and the English media) suggesting that the Australian players would have been shaken and mentally scarred from Stokes’ heroics at Headingley. After two days, that would not appear to be the case. On the other hand, England’s bowlers and fielders looked tired. Perhaps they had spent the previous week on the lash, celebrating their unlikely win. Or perhaps the cold and wet Manchester weather had sapped any enthusiasm and energy they had for the game. Whatever the reason for England’s performance, it was an absolutely dire day for the home team.

The story was a familiar one. Steve Smith was in, and he stayed in until he put the game beyond England’s reach. England’s bowlers seemed powerless to stop him, bar a delivery from Jack Leach which Smith hit to slip. Unfortunately for England, Leach had overstepped the bowling crease and so the wicket was rescinded by the third umpire. Mitchell Starc and Tim Paine played supporting roles to Smith, each getting a fifty. Australia ended up posting a first innings total of 497/8d, leaving England requiring 297 runs just to avoid the possible follow-on.

Australia’s declaration left England with a ‘tricky 10 overs’ to face at the end of the day. As is traditional for tricky periods at the end of the day, no barrage of wickets fell. Instead, Australia were only able to pry Denly out with a sharp catch at short leg. On paper, Denly’s dismissal for 4 off 24 balls seems like an absolute failure. And, to be clear, it is. Any number of county openers must be looking at the performance of this England team’s top order and wondering if they have wronged any particular deity to be passed over so unfairly. But, compared to Roy’s performance in recent games, it was a defensive tour de force. Of Jason Roy’s 7 Test ininngs as opener, only one lasted more than 24 deliveries (His 28 (58) at Edgbaston). Particularly for an opener, who typically has a responsibility to get through the new ball more often than not, that is a shocking record. Let’s just hope that his Test batting improves when he comes in at five tomorrow.

But, and here’s the problem for me as a writer, what can you write about this game from an England perspective? There were no great performances in a losing cause which deserve highlighting, nor was there anyone who stood out as being significantly worse than their teammates. It was all just uniformly, predictably, mind-numbingly poor from all eleven players. The bowling, the fielding, and (for the 10 overs at the end of the day) the batting were diabolically bad.

It’s not like the ECB are going to sack the coach with just a few weeks left on his contract. Nor is any selector, even Ed Smith – Maverick Genius, going to drop all eleven players from a Test team. I’m genuinely stumped. Barring the rain making a significant contribution to proceedings (and given England have chosen to play in Manchester in September, it’s not an impossible scenario), I can’t see how England can avoid losing this game and conceding the Ashes.

And, for those of you keeping count at home, I think there were 4 overs unbowled today. Presumably, like every other day in this series so far, no punishments will be forthcoming.

Comments on the game or anything else below.

England vs. Australia, 4th Test, Day 2 open thread

Well unfortunately none of us we were able to watch the first day’s play yesterday, hence the lack of a post, in the hope that maybe one of us had seen the highlights. Alas, to say it wasn’t a great day of cricket is an understatement. The weather conditions meant that the teams were on, then off more than an opinion from Michael Vaughan.

England lost the toss and were made to bowl first on a pitch that seemed to give little assistance to the bowling team. They did though make early inroads with Broad first taking the wicket of David Warner, who has become his walking wicket during this series and then picking up Harris on reviews. After that, the pitch seemed to flatten out and not for the first time in this series Smith and Labuchagne made England’s bowlers toil in unhelpful conditions for a surprisingly tame England attack.

Craig Overton picked up Labuschagne towards the end of the day, after bowling pretty innocuously for the most part of the day. Steve Smith is still at the crease (of course he is) and if I had a pound for every time I’ve highlighted that England need to get him out early to restrict the Australian total, then I’d probably be living in a castle somewhere in Umbria at the moment.

The weather doesn’t look great for today, cue the why are we playing the Ashes at Old Trafford in Manchester debate, but fingers crossed that we might get some more play today. Equally it would also be quite refreshing if Steve Smith could trip over his stumps in the first over of the day; unlikely sure, but probably as likely as a full day’s play.

Feel free to comment on the game below.

England vs Australia: 4th Test Preview

Yesterday’s preview that wasn’t a preview rather removed anything that’s not a preview from this preview.  Or something.

Anyway, here we are, 1-1 in the series, a genuinely epic conclusion to the last Test match and everything to play for. England have replaced Woakes with Craig Overton, continuing the glorious English tradition of making a bowler pay the price for the failures of the batsmen to score enough runs.  Woakes was used sufficiently sparingly in the last couple of Tests to cause speculation about him having an injury.  That England insist he’s fit rather makes it worse – as it means Root didn’t bowl him through choice.  Overton is clearly intended to come in and be the workhorse, which is all very well as long as he keeps it tight and looks mildly threatening sufficiently to allow Broad and Archer to not be ground into the dirt.  Nice plan, let’s see if it happens.

The other change England are making is to swap the positions of Denly and Roy, a tacit admission that despite the insistence that being a white ball opening batsman is sufficient preparation and similarity of role for doing so in Test cricket, they’ve got it wrong.  Who could possibly have seen that coming?  Roy has plenty of talent, that much isn’t in doubt, but a refusal on the part of the selectors to accept the differences in the roles gave him little chance of succeeding.  Whether he has the technique to bat at four is equally in doubt, but England’s insistence on defining attacking cricket as being able to smack the ball around in a limited overs contest means that short of an open admission that the selection was entirely wrong, this was likely the only change they could make.  It looks a touch more stable at the top, albeit it now places Denly at a disadvantage, but his innings at Headingley did at least show he was more likely to last the first five overs than Roy.  Denly’s innings in Leeds was needed for his own sake, and while he likely isn’t quite good enough for Test level (few are) he is at least approaching his innings with a desire to occupy the crease, something in perilously short supply in the England order

Australia have responded to their bowlers failure to defend 359 by dropping a batsman, which would be rather more amusing were it not for being an obvious necessity in order to bring the returning Smith back into the batting order.  Khawaja is the unlucky one, and in his case it might be that he really is unlucky.  He’s not shone this series, but nor has he been a particular failure either – he’s certainly looked the best of the top three to date – Australia’s reluctance to drop Marcus Harris after one game being the primary reason for sitting him out of this one.  Marnus Labuschagne has taken his chance expertly enough, but there’s something a little strange about making Khawaja captain for the tour match and then dropping him for the Test.

Pattinson is rested for the fourth Test, presumably for Peter Siddle to return.  Australia are in the pleasant position of having sufficient stocks of fast bowlers that Mitchell Starc still hasn’t appeared in the series, and few of the journalists are suggesting he will in this one.  Maybe a surprise will happen.

Smith’s return does set up the prospect of he and Archer renewing hostilities, and there’s little doubt that England will look to target him with the short ball utilising Archer’s extra pace.  Smith would be less than human if he weren’t a little apprehensive about that, but the bigger danger for England is in over-doing a tactic and forgetting that a good ball is a good ball, whoever it is bowled at.  It will still be pure theatre when they face off against each other and he will be more than aware of what is coming.

As for the way the game will unfold, the return of Smith is undoubtedly a boost for Australia, but other than that not a huge amount has changed in terms of the weaknesses of both sides.  The top orders still look exceptionally brittle, the middle orders still get exposed too early, the bowling attacks still look to be on top.  But England are level in this series because of a completely outrageous performance from one player.  They have looked second best in the series for the majority of the time, and relying on Stokes to pull off the ridiculous doesn’t seem a strategy likely to yield consistent results.  Australia will certainly be wary of a player who can do that kind of thing, no matter what the match position, it’s just that it’s asking far too much for him to do it on more than an occasional basis.

Australia should be the favourites, both for this match and for the series, based on what we’ve seen so far.  But England can certainly play better than they have, even with a flawed batting line up.  They’ve had a lifeline, a hail Mary of a win – whether they can use that to raise their game collectively is a different matter.  But a finish as good as the last one, that would indeed be welcome.  Already, as is the wont of those who delight in the clickbait, some are suggesting this series could be as good as 2005.  To put it mildly, the last two Tests would have to be extraordinary for that to be the case, even discounting the standard of the two sides in this one compared to 14 years ago.  It’s silly, it’s always silly.  But it carries on, for that is the journalistic world in which we now live.  A decent game, that goes the distance, that’ll do here.

Comments, as ever, below.

There’s No Getting Over You – Not Really A Preview, But A Preview of the 4th Test

In the words of a song by Bob Moses, “let me tell you about a little situation, that’s been testing my patience”. I’ve had my patience and faith tested this past week or so. Unlike the song, it isn’t about being led astray by a taken woman, but it is how, after five and a half years of cricket blogging, when the day came that could be the culmination of all my work, the crescendo to end the varied, rambling musical piece that this blog, or my contribution to it, has been, I was absent. And I mean totally absent. I played no part, was not engaged, was adrift. In this multimedia, connected world, I was cut off. You lot had a life experience, a sporting drama to match few others, and I got to experience it like a dream sequence in a bad soap opera. Imagining the pain, terror, hope, outrage, excitement, fear, wonder, and any other emotion you care to mention, that undoubtedly that final hour brought with Ben Stokes swinging from the hip. Indeed, what the lead up to it brought to you. Remember YOUR feelings. Remember how YOU watched or listened to it. Then imagine not being able to. At all.

Imagine that. Imagine being a devoted cricket fan and missing it all, every effing ball of the final day. I didn’t get to experience sport in its most visceral form. I didn’t get to scream at the sixes, go ape at the failed run out, laugh hysterically at the LBW review because they’d blown it the over before. I didn’t get to holler that massive YES when Stokes got the winning boundary and let out his own scream. I wasn’t a participant. I wasn’t even a watcher. I was cut off, flying over the northeastern United States, with no access. Like a non-Sky subscriber who never knew what cricket was, is, will be. I missed it ALL.

Yet Chris asked me write the preview to the next test! He’s a cruel one.

A brief aside as to why I didn’t see it, as if any of you give the combination of a single you know what about that. On Saturday I was due to fly to New York with work. Yeah, yeah, yeah, first world problems. I was on the plane, enjoying my drink, when the stewardess snatched it off my tray. “Oi!, I hadn’t finished that” I exclaimed, I got the drink back, necked it, and passed it back to the stewardess. Before I knew it, there were announcements, acrid smoke in the back galley, dumping fuel, circling and emergency landing at Shannon. There were examinations of aircraft, milling around in a mostly closed airport, a flight back to Gatwick, various Keystone Coppery at 2am, transfer to Heathrow at 3am, a 1 and a half hour stay in a hotel, and back on the 9:35 flight the following morning. When I landed at JFK at 5:15pm UK time, I switched on the phone and saw the result. I exclaimed a little “yes” and then concentrated on cultivating the migraine from lack of sleep and flight terror into a 4D yodel in the taxi to the hotel. I wasn’t exactly in great shape. At least that aeroplane lunch had been actively recycled.

But hey, this is a preview of the next test, right? Well how can I comment on trends and shit when I missed the best thing in English test cricket for quite a while – probably 2005. I get to miss out on the “greatest ever” debates I find absolutely immensely tedious at the best of times. I get to not share on the “how great was this….” that all of you who got to watch it live shared. I feel like I did when Charlton signed Allan Simonsen and I got a ticket to one of his first games, only to get in to the Valley and be told he would be replaced by Dave Mehmet. Now I liked Dave (as he was a Deptford Park alum) but it’s not European Footballer of the Year material. Disappointment haunted all my dreams.

Watching the whole thing on Friday was watching a great mystery thriller and knowing the ending. Who Shot JR after the great reveal a few months later? No radio. No TV. No internet. Nothing. Just a migraine and misery. The blogging equivalent of spilling your recycled lunch over the hotel lobby floor – a trick that endeared me to the reception staff on 47th Street. My travelling companion was a German fellow, who kept banging on about tennis. Nice guy, but no-one English to talk the whole damn show through with.

What I did see of the 3rd test was not pretty. I left home for the ill-fated leave the oven on flight at 1pm, and we had just bowled out Australia to leave us wanting the record total. Ouch, that hurts. I missed a record as well. Roy and Burns had just seen off a couple of overs before lunch, before both wickets were lost by the time I had boarded the Piccadilly Line. I sat in Heathrow Airport as Denly and Root ground out the partnership, with Denly sounding all at sea but perfecting the art, until 50, of not getting out. I settled in to my aircraft seat, not realising food would be elusive for another 15 hours, with England whatever it was for 3. Needing 200 more. I hate British Airways.

This test now becomes very important. Instead of the Ashes being done and dusted, we have more mentions of Momentum than post-2017 Labour General Election readouts. Instead of England Brexiting the Ashes, very much on a no-deal, no-good basis, we are poncing about, hoping to remain. And that’s all the politics we are allowing here. They’re more tiresome than the ECB. Spend a week in Trump World, and you might even believe Tom Harrison is a paragon of truth and virtue.

So after all that, and what threads I have are cast into a Dorian-like maelstrom, I conclude that after the drama wot i did not see, the next test can be looked at two ways:

One – England are carrying such momentum that Australia are broken by being so near and yet so far from retaining the Ashes on English since, topically (from my viewpoint) and sadly, there were two towers in lower Manhattan and not the very photogenic one that has replaced it. That Australia’s errors of judgement and execution have so destroyed them, that there remains a hulking carcass, broken and dismayed, flayed of emotion and drive, casting themselves to the inevitability of the upcoming few weeks. England have crushed their spirit, and all that remains is good weather and an inevitable triumph over an emotionally vanquished rag tag and bobtail outfit; or

Two – It takes a miracle for England to win. And miracles may happen twice in a season on big occasions, but three times, or even four, is asking too much. Isn’t it?

This England team, and it is unchanged save from taking the hammock from around the swimming pool, and the deck chair from underneath the mock palm tree (I’ll let you decide which one is Roy, which one is Denly), unless someone makes a change (Curran for Woakes? I really don’t see it, but by the time this goes up, the England brains trust will do something), got bowled out for 67 10 days ago. And not for the first time this year has it been bowled out for a dismally low total in double figures. It’s a habit not usually coinciding with victorious outcomes, even though England have somehow managed to turn the last two sows ears into silk purses. I wouldn’t create a long-term pathway to success.

Jofra Archer may have had a rest, but he’ll be over-bowled, Stuart Broad is no spring chicken and while his bowling may seem to emanate from the fountain of eternal youth, his body is doing well to hold together. Old Trafford can benefit pace and spin, and Leach may well need to come to the party. It’s all very well being the Graham Dilley to Ian Botham role, but Dilley didn’t make the next test match, and Leach needs a defining bowling performance to cement his place. The batting may well benefit from a Root stay at the crease at Leeds, but it needs Jos Buttler to deliver on his promise, and not promise to deliver. England are a deeply flawed team, and Ben Stokes won’t be there every time.

Australia may fiddle with their bowling – I would presume James the Tats Pattinson is most vulnerable to recalling Siddle or Mitchell Starc – and Steve Smith will return to the number four slot, with all sorts of batting decisions spinning off from that, and they will know that they’ve had the whip hand for 75% of the series so far. They know that they are the better side, I think even England might know that, but that doesn’t always translate to success. I have a feeling that they will be on their game here, and England may need to bowl them out cheaply on Day One to get on top. I can’t see England’s batting setting an imposing total. Let’s see.

I’ll be found in my chair, rocking back gently, muttering to myself about the day I missed. How I would have kept up with it in NYC, I won’t know, but I would have. I think the phone bill might have been higher. It may be karmic justice that for all the anger and opprobrium I have spent on the England cricket team meant when there was something to watch to get me out of my seat, I was stuck in Row 13A. The check-in guy even asked me if I was superstitious. I’ll have that rancour of the man who bought all the seats for the Ashes 2005 test at the Oval and being passed over for the Day 5 ticket that remained. We’re still friends.

This isn’t a preview. Who gives a stuff about team news and that nonsense anyway? You want pain and anger, and I have it. You want me to rant at all those who ran to the social media and TV outlets proclaiming “greatest ever”, when arguably there was a better knock earlier this year by Kusal Perera and half the numpties who ran for the superlatives wouldn’t have know who he even played for. It’s the Ashes and it’s just better, so there. A team bowled out for 67 can’t hide the lack of quality.

The Ashes exists in this febrile environment. The KSL finished yesterday and will be replaced by a competition the women don’t want, and yet those who hail the brave new Hundred world were extolling test cricket’s virtues like converted TV evangelists. Don’t be in a rush to donate them your life’s savings. There were tedious moans about DRS, but the debate begins and ends with “don’t waste your reviews on total utter f***wittery”, which, marvellously, was effectively how the great Ricky Ponting summed it up. We had Nick Compton talk us through what’s wrong with the game, how he would address it, and even some spice on his playing days, and it was good to see the media react to it as if we never exist. We know you read us chaps.

I’m in a fury, and it’s not my fault. To English cricket, the media, the ECB and those enabling sycophants who deride people like me as pensioners and stick in the muds, know that missing last Sunday was painful. Really painful. A knife to the shoulder blade, kick in the nuts painful. I turn to Bob Moses (it’s a band not a person) for closure:

I’m trying to tell your intention
when you lie, you’re tearing me up
If you don’t want my affection
you won’t mind, you’re tearing me up

Cricket. Test cricket. F*** you. I loved you, and you did that to me. Let my critics laugh away.

Play starts on Wednesday. No Ashes Panel. Sorry. Let’s try after this one.

Comments below.

The England Test Opener From A Different Era – An Interview With Nick Compton – Part Two

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In Part One, which can be found here if you somehow might have missed it, I discussed with Nick the key challenges that our batsmen of this generation and the next are facing when it comes to playing for England at Test level. We also discussed how the level of coaching has somewhat diminished across the board as well as the need for younger players to broaden their horizons.

In this Second part, I wanted to dive a little deeper into Nick’s own career as an England Test batsman, the challenges that came on and off the pitch as well as some reflections on his own career.


 

Sean: You had a pretty classical technique, did the guys at Loughborough try and tweak it? God only knows what they would have done to Steve Smith if they’d seen his technique as a kid?

Nick: “Not hugely. I mean they try to question you in terms of whether you get a bit better here or there, but they didn’t do too much with me. I think when I came in, I had come up the hard way through county cricket; I had scored loads of runs at county level and was an older and more established player. I had played on the England A tour and for the Under 19s too during my career, so no one really tweaked my technique too much.”

Sean: I have been a big critic of the pitches at county level, which encourages teams to play slow wicket to wicket bowlers, what are your thoughts having had a long career?

Nick: “Absolutely, I think the pitches are by and large substandard these days, with even Lord’s being one of them because it’s so dry and slow. When I was a kid you arrived at a game at Lord’s licking your lips – not just because it’s at Lord’s but also because you’re playing on prime surface – almost a work of art really. At times there are club wickets I’d genuinely rather go and bat on these days. It can appear patchy and it’s dry underneath, and all because they’ve got these underwater drainage systems beneath that suck the life out of a pitch, meaning they have to patch it up with extra grass to try and make it Test Match worthy. It’s not an excuse, but I really struggled with motivation the last two or three years I played there. I’d be fielding at backward point and the first ball of the game would drop in front of the wicketkeeper and I can remember thinking that this is going to be a very long four days.   The ball didn’t come on to the bat, and it doesn’t make for exciting cricket. My game was all about timing the ball, so I always wanted some pace in the pitch so it came on to the bat.  Slow pitches like that make it tedious and dull.

“Obviously that doesn’t affect some other players – a Ben Stokes can just hit the ball out of the ground, but it wasn’t my game and it didn’t suit me. It also leads back to the point I was making about the lack of fast bowling in our game – why bother when pitches are like that?  Now we are facing the Australians who have some real pace and our top order is struggling because they don’t face it in county cricket much. The reality is that these pitches encourage medium pacers and it doesn’t help anyone prepare to face bowling of the level and speed of Pat Cummins or Mitchell Starc. It really isn’t complicated – in county cricket you just don’t see those types of bowlers because you’re facing a trundler who bowls 73 miles an hour on a wet green dog of a pitch. In the end it affected my enthusiasm, especially in the early part of the season, because it was just so boring – medium pacer after medium pacer. I did a job as a professional and I had the extra motivation that I wanted to play for England, so I worked it out, but it’s always leave, block, leave, block when trying to get in on those pitches. Even then, no matter how hard you focus, you’ve got someone like Darren Stevens, all due respect to him, ambling in and bowling wicket to wicket.  In those conditions he can make you look silly, and that’s county cricket.  But then players go to Australia or South Africa where the ball is whistling past their ears and it’s no wonder our players struggle.  I was lucky, that’s what I grew up with.”

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Sean: If you don’t mind me asking, I was pretty shocked when you were dropped from the England set up in 2013. Do you think that’s because you weren’t an attacking opener?

Nick: “Yes, I’ll admit it’s a real sore point for me because I don’t think I should ever have been dropped. Was it my approach to batting? Perhaps, however I felt that I had forged a good partnership with Cook both statistically and in person and there really wasn’t a need to change things; however it shows how fickle and tough sport can be at the highest level.  In my final game at Headingley [against New Zealand 2013] I hurt my rib and couldn’t field on the last day which was originally diagnosed as a hairline fracture but eventually diagnosed as heavy bruising, but still meant I was unable to take the field. There was some scepticism from England’s management team at the time about the injury as they were under a lot of pressure and I knew I was under pressure from certain quarters. It was pretty tough to take as I was an opening batsman who had forged his identity through facing some of the fastest bowlers in the world and seemed to excel in some of the toughest conditions. Naturally, I wanted to contribute in the field so that we won the game and it was incredibly frustrating not to be able to do so. I know Andy wasn’t in a great space at the time and I gave the management an opportunity to look elsewhere by not playing my best at the time. Whether that contributed to being dropped from the Ashes series, I simply don’t know. I do know that I wasn’t given a chance to play again for England under him as head coach.

“Things like that are hard sure, but I have to hold my hands up, had I played really well then I wouldn’t be saying this. I also really don’t think it was the pace that I batted though, more to do with the fact that the England management team felt Cook, Trott and myself were a bit samey. But I’ll say it again, that in my experience that you need three opening batsmen with proper techniques to be successful in England at Test level. I’m of the strong opinion that in this Test series, if England had three top players who could get through the new ball, that middle order would be scoring a hell of a lot more runs than they have been recently, irrespective of what happened on Sunday. The top order need to survive the new ball, if they can last for an hour and a half then they’ve gone a long way to doing their job – and they can go on to a decent score and the middle order have half a chance of succeeding. But it’s not fashionable to approach it that way, and as a result they can’t do it, they don’t want to do it and their techniques aren’t potentially up to it.  Full stop.”

Sean: That must have a terrible blow, was that your biggest regret in the international arena?

Nick: “Yes, I would swap everything to have been able to play in the Ashes against the 2015 Australians because if there was ever a time that I could have excelled, that was it.  It wasn’t against Sri Lanka and similar teams like that, it was against the fastest bowlers. I truly think that’s where I could have offered a point of difference. I wasn’t the kind of player who would have stood out from the crowd against medium pacers but against for example, Mitchell Johnson, I believe my technique and experience against facing the quickest bowlers in the world in similar conditions would have meant that I had a better chance of succeeding than most; however I never got the chance to prove it and that’s a big regret as I do feel I was a better player than my Test average reflects.”

Sean: I remember Ricky Ponting at the time being shocked that you had been left out of the Ashes team after your performance at Worcester against the touring side.

Nick: “Yes, I played well in that game and they were all running in at 90 miles an hour too.  I couldn’t have felt more at ease with my batting than I was against them, it’s when I felt at my most confident and I just wanted that chance at the top level as I’m a different player against the fastest and best. I came alive against Dale Steyn in the game at Durban and felt completely comfortable because that’s what I grew up with and that was my main talent. But the problem was that I felt my card had been marked the first time around as someone who was too intense and didn’t bat with enough aggression. I remember a game at Uxbridge in 2014 for Somerset against Middlesex and I got 98 and 88 not out and played out of my skin saving a game against a strong Middlesex team featuring Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones who were all bowling really well. And I remember John Inverarity, who was the chairman of Australian selectors at the time and a fabulous cricketing individual telling my mentor that although I’d played very well, I still wouldn’t be selected, because the England selectors just didn’t want players who played like me.”

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Nick Compton looks at a picture of his Grandfather in the Long Room at Lords. Photo by Phil Brown

Sean: Did you feel that you were treated somewhat unfairly by the media?

Nick: “Yes at times I did. I felt I had to fight harder and harder as my career went on, because I didn’t feel there was a wave of backing for the way I played and the qualities I had – it wasn’t sexy enough for them. Of course there were some good players coming through as well, one by the name of Joe Root, who didn’t turn out all that bad! Given what was written in the press, I felt I had to bang my own drum to get any recognition at all but it also gave me a greater source of hunger for much of my career to prove them wrong.  At the time I started to wonder if I was losing it, but looking back now, and given what’s going on with the England batting currently, I realise I wasn’t losing it at all, it’s just my style of batting supposedly didn’t fit with what England wanted retrospectively.  I am still deeply disappointed how the likes of Michael Vaughan and those others in the media who would pontificate about how Compton was batting too slowly, portrayed me back then. Joe Root scored 12 off 80 balls the other day but nothing negative was said about him – just the opposite.  Now they bemoan the inability of the top order to occupy the crease, but it’s not what they were saying at the time when they were more interested in who could clear the boundary rope.  So why was that? They are supposed to know the game after all; Yes, it would have been easier for me if my batting average had been higher so I could have put those murmurings to bed, but I still felt that I was being singled out a bit at times when as a player all you want to be left to do what you’ve done before and will do again. The difference of course is that in international cricket it’s about time and there isn’t a lot of it due to the unique pressures you face in the international arena.  I’ve read that it was maybe how I came across in interviews, but personally I don’t think that was the case, I just felt I was focused and professional and that I gave it my all every time I went to the crease.  Perhaps it was the Compton name that made me a target, but whatever it was, I could just never understand why I was always in the firing line.”

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Nick Compton who is never far from his beloved camera. Jonny Bairstow in the background with a fantastic handle-bar moustache

Sean: Perhaps people saw you as a bit of an easy target? There was the whole Nick Compton doesn’t fit in, which baffled me.

Nick: “I know, and that hurt me because I’m pretty sure I’m a decent bloke and got on well with the players in the dressing room. Sure I was a defensive batsman but then so was Jonathan Trott and so was Alastair Cook. I felt it was unfair and to be honest I didn’t really understand where it came from. I know that they didn’t like the fact that Kevin Pietersen was a big mate of mine, but I also made sure that I didn’t take sides in the fall out [Pietersen being dropped from the England side] and that was entirely deliberate.  I think all of the boys saw I gave 100% percent whether out on the field or in the nets, during the game or in practice. If I had to answer back to the media, it was perhaps that I’m my own person, an individual, and maybe a little more outward looking than some of the rest of the guys in the team. I have a huge passion for photography, I absolutely loved exploring new places when we were on tour and I’d go and do things that perhaps the other members of the team weren’t as interested in, visiting art galleries in New Zealand for example. Most of the guys preferred to stay in the hotel and play on the PlayStation, which is fine, but that wasn’t me – I didn’t want to stay in the hotel playing on a games console when there are other things to do and new experiences to have.  Does that mean I didn’t fit in? No, It was a ridiculous agenda, with no foundation to it. It’s not like they mentioned that I was really good mates with Alastair Cook, that was ignored. So, yes, it really upset me because it was my one shot and my career they were playing with.”

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Sean: Did you get any support from any of the former pros in the commentary box?

Nick: “Absolutely not. Never. Michael Vaughan has never met me in my life, Nasser Hussain has never met me in my life and I still find it strange that they made no effort to do so.  If I had their history as captain or top order player for England I’d be keen to talk to a new player and suggest a coffee and a chat about what’s involved – pass on my experiences or be there for advice if it was wanted. That would have made a huge difference to me, and I’m certain it would make a huge difference to those in that position now. These are former players we grew up watching. If having done so and then afterwards they then wrote a less than favourable article about me, then that’s fine, it’s their job, but the point is they never bothered to meet me or find out about me. They then still wrote certain things about me that were blatantly untrue. I knew the emergence of Joe Root and the calls to get him in the England side meant that I was a bit of a target, and obviously Michael Vaughan’s affiliation with Root added to that, so it felt like I was always in the firing line.”

“I’m very passionate about the way people are treated, and of course I was hurt by all the criticism I received; but I want to stand up for myself and talk about it because I believe in what I say and don’t see that as a negative thing at all. I want to help not hinder young players, especially those coming through into the England set up, so perhaps they might be able to learn from what I went through.”

The last question I was going to ask, was whether you’d take up a role on the selection panel if offered as I believe you’re uniquely qualified?

“I am actually on the selection panel. I’m only a scout at the moment and I have been tasked with scouting some young players and reporting back. Unfortunately, I don’t get any say on who is picked and who isn’t picked, that’s purely down to Ed Smith and his senior team. Perhaps one day.”

Sean: Once again, thank you for your time and your thoughts Nick; it’s been a real pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to you about your thoughts on cricket in such depth.

Nick is an ex professional cricketer who played for England, Middlesex and Somerset during his career. Nick can be followed on Twitter via his account @thecompdog. Nick is also a passionate photographer and his collections can be found here: https://nickcomptonphotography.com.

As always, it would be great to hear your comments on the above article below.