Ain’t That A Hole In The Boat? – The Second Ashes Panel

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Round 2

Dmitri – Good day. By the time you will be reading this three of the four members of the writing council will be in the midst of an editorial board meeting. So we have left the Second Test Ashes Panel with you for your delectation. We’ve lost Danny from last time, which might be just about forgivable if he’d stayed up to watch the end of Day 4 (only joking, he was a stalwart throughout), but we have six of the remaining cast members, including more poetry from the Bogfather. So thanks to Silk, Sri, Ian, Scrim, MiaB and TheBogfather (no space) for their contributions, their rapid responses, and excellent and varied insight. Really enjoyed it people.

 

Question 1 – So now the Brisbane result is in, what has it shown you about the relative strengths and weaknesses (and some perhaps not highlighted by the mainstream media)

Silk – I’ve not seen anything the media haven’t seen. Though Handscomb’s weakness against Anderson was unexpected (to me). Australia’s batting looks a lot less weak after Day 4 than it did in the middle of Day 2, with Marsh proving a good selection and Bancroft in the runs second dig. Worryingly, Hazelwood appears to have dusted the cobwebs off his bowling after a poor day one. Khawaja and the keeper aside, all looks rosy is Aussie world.

England’s batting was a lot better than I thought it might be. The bowling as ineffective as I feared it might be. The problem is, for England to win I thought we had to knock Aus over, cheaply, repeatedly, as our batting, while capable of 300, didn’t look capable of 500. On this display, Aus have nothing to fear.

Sri – I think the assessment that Oz batting is still Smith and Warner is still true. Likewise OZ bowling was expected to be good and it has proven to be good. 

However, Lyon’s impact was underestimated by me and maybe by the english mainstream media as well. He made a big difference by getting critical wickets. Seems to have improved significantly and with England’s Moeen who seems to have been injured a bit, the gap in this department and due to under performance of woakes, OZ could negate the advantage England had when they started their second innings. Lyon makes the OZ bowling stronger and if Moeen continues to struggle with injuries England will be weaker. 

However, the problem for England is really the support bowling and I certainly didn’t expect woakes especially to be so ineffective.

I still think England can outbat Oz. Their batsmen have got starts except cook and anyway my expectation was that cook would score around 210 runs if he plays all the tests. 

Scrim – Bowling depth seems to be England’s problem, not Australia’s as was (and still is) claimed by many in the media. Depth both in terms of quality, and diversity. There is no feeling that any Australian bowler is weaker than another, and between them they have tools at their disposal that England didn’t: genuine pace, a left armer, some reverse swing, and a spinner bowling brilliantly.

Despite having an omnipotent deity coming in at 4, there are still some question marks over the Australian batting line up. Khawaja and Handscomb will be desperate for runs.

MiaB – We knew already. Brittle batting. A pair of good batters on each side but Smith and Warner comprehensively did for Cook and Smith. The English bowling is useless without a Selvey green seamer track 

Ian – Weaknesses in both teams but more in the England team.   Steve Smith who is used to the pressure of captaincy is able to not let it affect him whilst of course the change bowling is a big strength for Australia too.

Rhyme Time from TB…

But the ‘roos fought harder than team Root

Was it battle plans pre-scored or radical idyllic thirst

A close shave became full beard fear, however hirsute…
Lack of forethought and testing preparation
Sent England to an eventual slaughter
A Stokesless fire, soon died in chilled perspiration
Spent pop-gun attack, enduring hid injuries, became pure plasticised mortar…

(Don’t know what he did with the formatting, but I’m not messing about with it after midnight)

 

Question 2  Adelaide at night? In favour of day-night in the Ashes, or are you a reactionary old fuddy duddy?

Scrim – 100% in favour of day-night tests. Given the importance of getting bums on seats and high TV ratings, both commercially and because ultimately cricket is played for spectators, it makes perfect sense to play when people aren’t at work. Can you imagine the Premier League scheduling Chelsea vs Arsenal at 1pm on a Thursday afternoon?

I love that they are being played at my home ground, Adelaide Oval. I haven’t been home for a day-night test yet, but from what mates tell me, the atmosphere is amazing. The evenings are usually beautifully balmy in Adelaide in December, as opposed to oppressively hot during the middle of the day.

In terms of the on-field action: as long as there is a statsguru filter for it, who cares? Test cricket is played in all sorts of weather conditions, with all sorts of different balls, on all sorts of surfaces and that is one of the most fascinating things about it. Artificial light isn’t that much of a stretch. The best players will exploit and adapt, as they would to any other playing condition.

MiaB – As reactionary as they come. Only on a 1938 Durban track or 1930 west Indies track do you want dew to influence the result. 

Ian – I like the concept of D/N test cricket but more as a television viewer than somebody attending the test.  Depending on your timezone I think its great to get home from work and have a few hours test cricket to watch.  Although I wouldn’t be massively keen on attending a test in the UK or Australia that didn’t finish until late evening.

Silk – Fuddy duddy, if it changes the balance between bat and ball. The toss is already too big a factor in Tests. If day/night makes it more of a lottery, well, effectively you’ve got 2nd tier tests, which no one ‘properly’ wins, because of the lights.

If it’s just as easy to play under lights as it is without them, I’ve no problems with it.

Sri – In Favor. Loving T-20 can’t call myself a fuddy duddy 🙂

TB with the formatting nonsense, in prose..

My reaction is nary a thought now considered

As Test cricket is left to seek a reason for being
By the moneyed moguls of short-term, cash-cowed, highest-bidders
Bereft of history, a cleft wreaked by the me, me, me, unseeing
And once pink balls become coloured clothing
I will lose my true love, be in complete loathing.

Not a clue what he’s done..

 

Question 3 – Put that Steve Smith innings into context. Tell me an Ashes ton you thought was better.

MiaB – Maybe Greg Chappell’s 112 at Lords in 1972, the Massie match. Or Cowdrey’s 102 at Melbourne in 1954. Both innings head and shoulders beyond what anyone else managed.

Sri – Mark Taylor’s performances in England especially the century he made in the second innings in a losing cause when everyone had given up on him because of his poor form which then turned the ashes around.

Silk – The 235* was very, very good. England were under the hammer, and it needed fight. On every other tour we’d have lost that Test by tea. But the pitch was very very flat that day, as the other batsmen showed. Smith had batsmen falling around him, and stood tall.

Obviously for sheer panache, history, soaring while everyone around you stutters, etc., the 158 was remarkable.

Ponting at Old Trafford (158 I think I recall) was brilliant. I saw all of that one live. England bowled with genuine threat that day, and Punter saw them all off until very near the close.

Smith’s is up there with KP and Ponting of the ones in Tests I’ve followed. Butcher’s 173 doesn’t really count, does it? Dead rubber and all that.

Ian – Great question,  I’m trying to think of similar hundreds in similar circumstances where somebody batted the whole way through to finish unbeaten or was last out and the best I could come up with was Trott’s debut hundred.

Scrim – Maybe Ricky Ponting’s matchsaving 150 in 2005 at Old Trafford, falling just a few overs short of stumps and leaving Lee and McGrath just a few overs to bat out to keep the series level? I almost cried when he was given out.

It’s hard to put Smith’s innings into historical context just yet. It was brilliant. But it might not even be his best century this year – his 2nd innings in Pune still edges this one, I think.

TB – The formatting alien…

Relatively dismissive except for Steve Smith’s missive
To bat, to score, to crush and endure
He may not remotely excite the eye
But his results are team and Test batting so pure.
Now for an Ashes innings you ask
Such a flashback of winning memory task
I could go for Botham, either ton in ’81
Or KP 158 in ’05, edge of seat fear and fun
Yet my longest standing memory of a ton v Aus
Was not in an Ashes, but the Centenary Test, because…
Twas my first experience of radio under the bedcovers

McCosker, jaw-strapped and bold, daddy Marsh ton as game did unfold
Randall 174 v Lillee, Melbourne ’77, e’er since been a TMS lover
From doffed cap and backward roll to Knott lbw and 45 run loss, 100 year story told…

 

Question 4 – Lots mentioned that Alastair Cook’s form may be in decline. What are your thoughts on this Damascene conversion?

Ian – I have thought it for a while and your 7 in 110 or whatever it is highlights this.

Silk – It’s obviously in decline, as I think you, and some others, may have mentioned once or twice previously. That it’s being mentioned now as because (a) it’s too clear to pretend away now and (b) pretty obvious to continue throughout the series. What isn’t being said is that he’s only once had any sort of form in Australia, so this is hardly a remarkable turn-up for the books. No punter with any knowledge would have bet on him averaging more than 35 in this tour, even if on form.

MiaB – My TIMA method showed it quite clearly. Just glad that folks are catching up with the new cricket guru

Sri – Reality cannot be staved away for too long. Even hardcore supporters have to comprehend that cook is great against pace attacks that are mediocre but not against genuine pace and swing. Can’t blame the fans much. The english media? the less said about media the better. Most are highly biased and have their own pot to stir.

Scrim – Unsurprisingly, mainstream Australian opinion on Cook is rather different to  mainstream English opinion. We remember English players pretty much solely on Ashes performances, and apart from one two month period in his career that we all try to forget, he has been a walking wicket vs Australia, home and away. My thoughts on the change of tune? I wouldn’t mind if he is there in 2019, can’t they keep blowing his horn a bit longer?

TB – Poetry causing mayhem..

I do believe we’ve heard this somewhere before? (here, and how!)

Tho’ unbelievably, never from the MSM floor (until, vague hints, now…)
We’ve discussed this and been cussed by those insiders so devout

Perhaps the ECB web weaved now sussed, as Cookie hooks or snicks, so all will be out?

 

Question 5 – I was quite underwhelmed by the Aussie pace attack for much of the test match, yet now they “blow teams away”. What were your thoughts?

Scrim – It wasn’t the 13/14-style carnage that was promised, but on what was a slow pitch by Australian standards, I thought they did really well. They bowled them out twice for a combined 500 (with a fair bit of help from Lyon). Once the pitch quickened up a bit, the last 15 wickets fell for 250 runs, including 10 from short or shortish bowling. Hazlewood, in just his second first class game back from injury, found his rhythm in the second innings. Cummins was a constant threat. Starc struggled a bit, but still picked up wickets and did actually blow the bottom half of the English team away twice, and rocked Root with one in the grill. There’s more to come.

Silk – Starc is over-rated. He’s impressive, but he likes tail-enders, not batsmen. But Hazelwood is just an excellent bowler, not relying on pace, so he’ll be dangerous at any stage (as he showed against Root), and Cummins has something about him. Able to raise his game suddenly, just as it seems England might get away.

You can’t turn off. And England, Cook aside, switch off far too much. Ali does. Bairstow does. Root’s poor conversion stats show he does. Vince did, first innings. Say what you like about Cook (I’m not a fan of the man, though I don’t think he’s an awful person) but Cook the batsman stays switched on, once in. That’s his greatest strength, I think.

Plus, Australia have Lyon, and I told Mike Selvey, when Moeen Ali came on the scene, that he was not the answer to England’s loss of Graham Swann. He ignored me, but I had my say. For once, I was actually right. If you’ve got a spinner who can keep you in the game, you are, well, in the game.

Ian – It isn’t a vintage attack but its certainly good enough to do the job.  Hazlewood will take more of the top order wickets whilst Starc can finish the tail quickly.

Sri – Good attack given the poor quality of bowling attacks in the world now but not great. With Lyon, Starc, Cummins and Hazelwood they have a great balance and have to be one of the better attacks around. On their day, any bowling attack can blow teams away at home. India have often done so. The test for the Oz attack to be considered great would be away in England or India.

MiaB – The opening bowlers ripped out the English top order in both innings. They fulfilled the job description. 10 out of the 20 went to them. Compare the English attack.

Unaligned Bogfather..

The mind games were set by the press beforehand both there and here
The Aus attack was at last fit to blast as one, so Eng did fear
And even tho’, the pitch was slow, their plan did unfold
Stifle the upper order, bounce the tail into disorder, so over did England roll….

 

Question Six – If you have BT Sport – what did you think of their coverage. Try not to focus on Lovejoy.

Sri – No clue. I like Swann’s bowling but never liked his character off the field. Considered him a big hypocrite.

MiaB – Pass

Silk – Nup. TMS only for me. (I like Tufnell. In small doses, at least. Am I weird?)

And to those who watched it…..(Ed)

Ian – I made do with watching BT sport on the app and thought it was ok    Pleased to hear Ponting but I wish that they showed a bit more originality in their choices because of how many commentators they share with TMS.   If I’m bored of TMS I want to turn on the TV to hear somebody else not somebody I heard 5 minutes ago.

Scrim – Pretty good for a first try. It was good to have an even balance of Australians and English to keep cheerleading in check, and to commentate from the perspective of both teams. They picked three good Australian commentators. This was the first I’d heard of Alison Mitchell and she was really good. I don’t think Vaughan is as bad as many here think. Swann was unbearable at times.

I don’t like Boycott, never have. He has some good insights, but as one BOC reader perfectly put it, he always sounds like he’s in an argument with a neighbour. He also didn’t seem to appreciate having to commentate with a woman (or maybe it is because Mitchell isn’t a former player). He commentated together with Mitchell on day 1. It seemed quite awkward. Boycott was disagreeing with her at every turn, and I don’t remember them paired together again after that. Maybe Danny or someone else who watched a lot can comment on whether they did and whether they improved together.

Finally, TheBogfather

No BT, but am thankful for their choice
Of LoveJoy and ShinyToy, expending their voice
Leaving TMS with only occasional interruptions
Of their verbal self-loving commentary corruptions…

 

That’s all folks. We will run a panel for the third test, which will also be a little more relaxed as I think there is a small gap between the two tests. Apologies if the formatting is a little awry – it did not scan over to Word as well as the previous panel. There are a couple of numerical errors which I’ve not totally rectified, so be gentle with the respondents who reacted to these questions in a remarkably short time. My heartfelt thanks to the contributors. We will no doubt delight in the responses at the quarterly Editorial Board meeting this evening.

Comments below, as always…

Death of an Ashes Panel – The Final Goodbye To A Much Loved Collective

Not, no more....
The Last Time We See This…..

The final panel of the Ashes summer is upon us. My thanks, as always, to all of you for your help, both in writing the answers, and in commenting on the posts. The Ashes already seem to be quite distant in the rear-view mirror, as I think many have realised after the warm afterglow they felt in victory, that both the Oval performance and the future tours in front of us are a little bit concerning.

But that’s for the commenters here, and for me and TLG later, so let’s get this final panel on the road.

Six questions, splendid respondents.

  • Our man from the land of unpronouncable names, Paul Ewart (PE)
  • Our man in a land far far away, via Barbados, Colonel Blimp (AKA David Oram) (CB)
  • Our man in somwhere I’ve not determined, but a CricketJon he is (CJ)
  • Our man in Oz, our man who supports that lot in the East of London, Martin Payne (MP)
  • Our man in Yorkshire, so listen to what he says, Metatone (Meta)
  • Our man in Birmingham, and if he isn’t, he’s a liar, AndyinBrum (AiB)
  • Our man who had been abroad, Oscar de Bosca, who wrote his stuff in the air (OdB)

So, with apologies for the tardiness, here we go.

1. There’s been a noticeable divide – those that have said “stuff it, it’s the Ashes” and those who’ve gone “It was a woeful series”? What’s your view? Is it an either / or?

ODB – It’s the Ashes, beating Australians at anything is great so I am happy to win.  However there is a big but (I like big butts and I cannot lie) the series was terrible, as both an advert for test cricket and a competition.  So much so that for the first time in 15 years I am considering downgrading my Sky subscription and removing the sports (football has left me cold for about 5 years and cricket appears to be going the same way, everything is hyped up to the extent that your expectations are never going to be met). Only at Cardiff was the result in doubt going into the 2nd day, in every other match it was obvious after day 1, which team were going to fold like a cheap suit.

It’s test cricket Jim but not as we know it.  We knew our batting had frailties, guessed that Australia had less, but they were much, much worse, once you dismissed their top 3 you knew you were not more than 100 runs off the end of their innings.  At least we had Ali and Broad.
It is neither either or, but both, yay we beat the Aussies, but it wasn’t difficult and both sides when they were bad were absolutely abject.
In 2009 the tension started in Cardiff and ended after a dismal headingley showing with a tense match at the Oval where Broad had one of his great Ashes spells (and the Aussies moaned about pitch doctoring (plus ca change) whilst stupidly forgetting to pick a spinner).
2013 Trent Bridge and Durham were close (the Aussies should have won after the start Rogers and Warner gave them in the second innings at Durham) and at Old Trafford we were fortunate (but it still could have been a draw).
A test match should be difficult, adversity needs to be faced and overcome, but both sides almost gave up after one innings.  I remember Strauss and Trescothick scoring 200+ in a second innings rear guard in South Africa (Durban I think),  I don’t think either of these teams could contemplate this, and the fact that neither team could last 3 days shows that we are appearing to lose the raison d’être of Test Cricket, which is that it is (excuse my French) supposed to be a fucking test.
CB – It is certainly not an ‘either’/ ‘or’. It also depends on your definition of the word ‘woeful’.

 

I think if we accept that the quality of cricket (mainly the batting) was of a very low standard – and that is what is suggested by ‘woeful’ – then I think it would be hard to disagree. But it is all relative to who the spectator is! 
For the one-eyed supporter, it is rarely about the quality of the match, just the outcome: 
“It’s not the taking part, it IS the winning’. 
Any of us who’ve ever gone to watch our football team in a FA Cup Final will concede that they couldn’t give a stuff if it was a ‘feast of football’ as long as ‘our boys won’. 
“I’d rather an awful, scrappy, comfortable 3-0 cruise to victory than a thriller with a late-winner for the oppo. Great for the millions of armchair fans at home, comfy in front of their TVs – but bollocks to them! We haven’t traveled all this way to go home empty-handed. Look in the record books – it says we won. Who cares if it was a crap game. No-one will remember.” 
That of course is what many of us feel as England cricket fans right now. Not all, but I dare say most. Neutrals will have been disappointed – but oddly enough more at the lack of 5 day contests – but excited by the thrill and spectacle of Australia’s cataclysms, while the Aussie fans will want to forget the whole experience – and are likely to be haunted by memories of that first morning in Nottingham for the rest of their lives. 
The corollary to all of this of course is that the VERY BEST way to win is to triumph inspite of thrills, spills and setbacks along the way. That’s partly why the 2005 win was such an incredible, memorable victory – because it was a roller-coaster AND because this was against not just the best cricket team in the world, but possibly the BEST CRICKET TEAM IN THE WORLD EVER. 
This time around the opposition were fair, and we were only slightly better, but it was the Australians who were well-past their ‘best before’ dates – and some were on the verge of their ‘use by’ dates. So the win was satisfying, but not as fulfilling as 2005. 
But it, the 2015 series itself, was not woeful – merely some of its cricket played was. But I bet you that 10, 20, 50 years from now this series (certainly Edgbaston & Trent Bridge) will still remain sharply in the memory far more clearly than 2009 (which is already fading) and 2013 (all but forgotten!). 
This was a series of crap cricket at its scarcely believable best/worst that none of us will ever forget.

PE – Well I didn’t watch as much as usual, to be honest. A combination of living in Finland and a complete sense of disenchantment with the ECB, Cap’n Cook, Sky, the media and all the usual stuff discussed here. It does seem to have resembled two bald men fighting over a comb but you still have to beat the team in front of you and I don’t think any of us expected England to do that this summer. So congratulations are in order, but the usual overreaction by our friends in the media is not. I wish the youngsters a bright future and have no beef with Bayliss and Farbrace who seem to be doing a good job. Cricket’s been complicated for me, sadly. What was once a simple, uncomplicated joy has been tarnished.

CJ – For me an 80/20 that it’s still the Ashes but with an increasing eye on the decline in quality, the overfamiliarity of the teams lining up against each other and the attitude of the SkyComms over selling its authenticity, the same authenticity they have a hand in diminishing.
MP – I don’t think this series will live long in the memory for most. Whilst I’m pleased we have won the Ashes back both teams have major flaws that need correcting if either are to become a side to be reckoned with. Despite the series not being of the highest quality I will never tire of seeing the Aussies dismissed in the manner of Trent Bridge.
Meta – It was a woeful series – but I’m happier winning 3-2 than losing 3-2 because I remember a lot of years of Aussie dominance. And, to be undiplomatic, my years living in Aus didn’t endear the typical Aussie sports commenter to me. However, as much as I’m relieved that we didn’t crumple as I feared, the one-sided nature of the games adds up to a woeful series. That’s all I can say. Others have said plenty in the comments to the last panel about just why it should be classified as woeful.
AiB – Both, it’s been brilliant in its utter batting ineptitude but also it feels unsatisfactory because of how poor the batting has been. Still, 60 all out, snigger
——————————————————————————————-
2. A lot of focus has been on England winning on the wickets that did something, but getting hammered on those that didn’t. Any explanations?

OdB – Yep, see most of Metatones posts for the past year.  Broad aside (who bowled well in Australia, and bowled well in the UAE last time we were there) our main strike bowlers aren’t quick enough and rely on movement in the air to take wickets.  County cricket pitches apparently (not a massive follower but I read what other people who’s opinions I respect say (but not wctt)) are not conducive to spin, and encourage medium pace swing bowling.  Well that’s great for county cricket but most wickets worldwide (apart from a few) require more than that, and an 80mph swing bowler is not going to take international batters wickets.  we don’t have a Fraser, or a Hoggard line and length bowler (Hoggard was more than that, but when it didn’t swing he knew how to bowl the right lengths for the pitch) to keep the runs down.  Anderson did it in Australia in 2011 but reverted to type in 2013/14.  We seem to lack variety, and apart from Harmison I don’t ever remember England having a genuine pace bowler (a la Johnson, who isn’t even that quick compared to the great West Indians).

So to sum up we don’t have many spin bowlers in CC, we don’t seem to ever produce genuine pace bowlers, and don’t get me started on what the ECB do to ‘mystery’ bowlers, Rashid is being briefed against, there was a chap (can’t remember his name and am in Napoli airport without wifi, but Google ‘Dobell espn mystery spin and ECB’ and the sorry tale of his exclusion will appear).  I think it is too easy for CC bowlers to take wickets on green tops and therefore we don’t have bowlers ready for flatter wickets.  Rant aside, on both flat wickets our batters should have done so much better.  As I alluded to above on question 1 when Australia got a big score our batters seemed to think crikey we can’t make that, oh well give it a whack.  Test cricket should be hard, and require application, as the Australians (didn’t) learn at both Edgbaston and Trent Bridge if you apply yourself in the morning, it gets easier in the afternoon and after tea even easier (assuming weather conditions are consistent).  We should know this, but I don’t think Cook and Root aside we do, Lyth was trying to play shots way too early (sorry Adam you aren’t Brendan McCullum).  Unless a major sea change in attitude occurs we will struggle in the UAE and SA if the pitches are flat.

CB – Even the so-called experts have been struggling to make sense of this series. Very view could see anything other than a hefty Australia win in the series, and even now are unable to come to terms with the outcome. 

It’s been like a science experiment where 90% of the professors are standing with their jaw hanging to the floor because they couldn’t possibly conceive of the results. 
But then again these are the same twits who before we went down under in 13/14 said the result of that was a foregone conclusion too. We really shouldn’t listening to these people – most of the time they just guess anyway. The fact they played 100+ Tests does not make them more prescient than you or I – it just means they are paid thousands/millions for their opinions which we have to listen to. 
The narrative of this series was always likely to include the relative upward/downward age curve of the two sides (as it did down under last time) – and on both occasions this was a huge factor (though not the decisive one) in deciding the winner of the Ashes. THE greatest factor was home conditions – and the ability to exploit them (bowlers) or counter them (batsmen). In Aus the hard, fast pitches were expertly utilised by a rampant Johnson and a brilliantly persistent Harris who both bowled at their peak. Their performances were GREAT. England’s batsmen were not up to the task (to put it mildly), and the aging side did not have the stomach for the fight.
Here in England, Broad in particular made the most of those pitches which offered a great deal of lateral movement, supported at various times by Anderson, Finn, Wood & Stokes. Australia’s batsmen were not up to the task, and the aging side did not have the technique for the fight.
Where that deviated from the norm was Lord’s and The Oval. The Lord’s pitch was a disgrace to cricket – and thank Heavens Australia had some genuine pacemen to make something of that benign surface. I know we batted spinelessly, but I think without Johnson & Starc’s extra ‘zip’ we’d have seen a high-scoring bore draw. Day 1 I was there – it was the most boring cricket I have ever seen.
The Oval was an aberration. We didn’t turn up. I’m not saying we would have won if it’s been 2-2, but we would have ‘switched on’. 
And let us not undervalue the importance of the toss in this series. 
Many have said we should give the option to the visitors each time. What nonsense! 
The toss in this series PROVED the value of it – if only because of the eternal likelihood of skippers (and pundits) getting it wrong! 
In the 1st Test (an important toss to win) Cook got it right and batted. In the 2nd Test (a vital toss to win) Clarke got it right and batted. In the 3rd Test (a crucial toss to LOSE – they’d have both batted) Clarke got it wrong and batted (Cook would’ve done the same – probably with similar results). In the 4th Test (an important toss to win) Cook got it right and fielded (though I doubt very much we’d have seen the same ’60 all out’ outcome if Clarke had won the toss). In the 5th Test (an important toss to LOSE) Cook got it wrong and fielded. Clarke would have done the same. This was the biggest nonsense of them all. The Oval is ALWAYS a bat first ground. And yet even the well-paid pundits said ‘field’. I doubt very much there was a single knowledgable Surrey member at the ground that morning saying anything other than ‘BAT!’ But both sides had got carried away by the first innings of the previous two Tests. But then this was a series in which ‘good cricketing practices’ were either largely forgotten or disregarded.
To answer the question: the pitches were important; and so was the toss in each case; but ultimately it was the two sides’ ability to master the prevailing conditions. If we’d had 5 hard, flat pitches we’d have been thrashed. But then again, if the Aussies had provided nicely watered grassy surfaces 18 months ago we might still be watching Trott, Swanny & KP in an England shirt.

PE – It’s all been said hasn’t it? I’m no fan of doctored pitches. If there is an explanation then it has to do with pace. England aren’t very good against it, and we don’t have bowlers who can bowl with it, hence the greentops that ruined England’s competitiveness in the 70s and 80s.

CJ – There are international teams other than England that know how to bowl on flat wickets. There are some that struggle where there is lateral movement and Australia is amongst them. The irony is that it is the Big Three teams with the least variety and application.
MP – More down to the woeful Australian batting for me. The biggest surprise of the series has been the rank ineptitude of the Aussie middle order, I thought their batting line-up was far superior to England’s pre-series when in fact it has been worse. Only on flat wickets have they been able to muster up a decent total.

Meta – We have two bowlers great in seaming conditions. Stokes is also much better when the ball moves. Wood and Finn have more about them on flatter pitches, but didn’t show it that well. Ali is still developing. Throw in that the Aussie batting style has gotten hardened into a less flexible one and we win in those conditions.

When the conditions look more like Australia – well the Aussie batsmen piled up big runs. Not only is our bowling weak in that situation, their batsmen perform better. I’d throw in that we’re weak under scoreboard pressure.
All this fits a pattern that goes back to the last time we were in the UAE, and the “text gate” tour of England by SA. We’re a side very dependent on conditions. (Shows through in our old “win a low score game” philosophy of ODIs that came unstuck so badly at the WC.)

AiB – Australia seem to think anything that moves off the straight is UnAustralian & against the spirit of cricket. Therefore they never usual face those pitches, the atmospherics or skilled bowlers, let alone all three at the same time.

At the oval Aus managed not to edge balls they had the last 2 games, they could have been easily 4 down by lunch.
As for England on flat pitches, lords showed their bowlers need some assistance & the batsmen couldn’t cope with accurate, confident quick bowling after 5 sessions in the field
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3. The next Ashes is over two years away, thank heavens. How do you feel this series will link in to that one? Do England have the makings of a good side?

OdB – Hmmm, I have considered this over 2 days and I still don’t know.  I think Australia have a lot of work to do (but I don’t know the state of their game well enough to comment on who may come in, they need at least 5 new players over the next few years, however England also need some major surgery in my opinion).  Cook has improved as a captain and he is a proper opener, if we can find him a suitable partner and start getting 50-100 runs on the board then a platform is set.

I love Root, think Stokes is worth persevering with (he seems better than Freddie was at a similar stage in his career), Broad should still be around.
I think Anderson and Bell will be gone, Ali needs to improve either batting or bowling, Buttler needs to rediscover his game (hopefully the upcoming ODI series will remind him how he needs to bat) and Wood if managed well could be the quickest bowler we’ve had since Harmison.
I’m not convinced about Bairstow, I think Finn is hope rather than expectation, Lyth hasn’t the temperament for test matches.
We need therefore to find an opener, two batters, a strike bowler and a spinner (if Rashid doesn’t meet our expectations).  For Australia away we have the time to do this, but some harsh decisions need to be made, and I personally think Anderson should not be picked for the UAE and I think SA may be his last away series.

CBBut the scars of previous encounters will be there for both teams. England do have a young and exciting side, and many from this series may well make the journey, while some may not – but will be replaced by other youngsters. Hales is surely likely to be part of the set up sometime soon and other emerging names may well make the trip. Of the current team you’d think that Cook, Root, Stokes, Ali, Broad, Finn and Wood are certainties, fitness allowing. I’m not so sure about Buttler, or Bairstow – though one of them will doubtless be there. 

As for Australia, only Warner, Smith and Mitch Marsh look to be part of the continuity in the batting – but their bowlers will give us the hurry up again – and I think they have a group of quicks with the potential to be awesome: Starc, Cummins, Patterson, Hazlewood – plus Coulter-Nile, Bird etc. England do have the makings of a good side but if those Aus seamers stay fit and mature as cricketers then I think they will beat us over there and come back to England and beat us for the first time in the UK since 2001.

PE – I can’t see a link to be honest, unless it relates to psychology: Australia won’t hold any demons for the younger players. As for the second question: hard to say, really. Root looks world class, Buttler and Stokes look to have real potential. Bayliss and Farbrace seem to have instilled a positive attitude. But there’s a lot of holes to fill and Buttler and Stokes will need careful management if they’re to fulfil their potential.

CJ – Australia will be a pretty different side. What Bayliss makes of this “group of players” in England remains to be seen. I now hear Bell isnt retiring but the fact that it was under consideration tells me it will be very much sooner than later (sadly as I am a fan).
MP – Yes, I’m thankful we have a bit of a break to the next one. By the time it comes around Australia will virtually have a new side so it will be intriguing to see who comes in in the next few months. As an Australian resident I will be watching more of their upcoming Tests than England’s so will be observing with interest their development. As for England I think they have the nucleus of a good side. Their problems are well documented – a lack of a decent spinner and a long-term opener are their immediate questions to answer.
Meta Not sure I even want to think about the next Ashes. England of course have the makings of a good side. Root, Broad have shown top class performance, Finn, Stokes, Buttler and Ali all have talent and could develop into very assured performers in two years. On the other hand, that leaves 5 slots still open to question. So they could equally be a team that goes Down Under and loses 5-0 again… All the more so because the England setup and CC seems to have specific weaknesses for Aussie conditions.

AiB – I can see Cook & broad being the only survivors of the glorious 2010/2011 tour, but I can see the rest of the team doing well, ballance will be back & better, Stokes & butler should be well ensconced & know their game & hopefully Rashid will be allowed to play.

England have the chance to be a very good side, I’m not sure Aus will have the batsmen, but they’ll have plenty of excellent quicks, but no Johnson
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4. What was your favourite moment of the series?
OdB – Brad Haddin dropping Joe Root, we all thought it and it was true, he dropped the Ashes.  He was the glue in Australia in 2013/14 and he is an Australian of the Hayden/Warner mould (I.e. Unlikeable). Couldn’t happen to anyone more deserving. (I am sure he is a lovely man, and I respect him putting his daughter first, but he is an Aussie therefore in a purely sporting sense I am gloating).
CB – Unquestionably the first morning at Trent Bridge. Those 18.3 overs will be with all of us for the rest of our lives.
PE – Churlish I know, but I did enjoy Cook’s failure to make a century. Finn’s comeback was a highlight as he seems such a decent fellow.

CJ – Michael Clarke in a response to Jimmy Andersons injury at Birmingham, something like “obviously you dont want to see a player get injured”   Excuse me but where does this rainbow end? This will be the same Michael Clarke of course that said with one wicket remaining at Brisbane in November 2013 “get ready for a broken ****ing arm”

Clarke would have known at the Gabba that the stump microphones were only inches away and the fact that it was with one wicket remaining. This was nothing to do with a Gabba victory, the match was already won. It was a thinly veiled message for the rest of the series and a message for his success hungry fans to hear that he was the man for this fight. The press have done a fine job of attempting to deconstruct the myths about Clarke in the last month but I feel looking back that was a deliberate attempt by him in Nov 2013 to let the fans know he was the big man, the fair dinkum Aussie that they constantly feared he wasnt.

Dont get me wrong, Im not keen on our captain as you know but I rather go out for a pie n mash with Ponting than Clarke and that says it all.

(Lets not get confused either with the Phillip Hughes aftermath. That was LIFE, I am talking about SPORT the usual stuff. Of course he handled that with dignity but only hours earlier he was facing an apex with Cricket Australia)

As for on the field, need I say more than 8 for15. Its value increases as each day passes. Thank God I took the day off work that day.

MP – Stokes’s catch at Trent Bridge to dismiss Voges and Broad’s reaction to it. Fantastic stuff.
Meta – Can’t go past Broad at Trent Bridge. I’m not actually in favour of big batting score games – I much prefer bowlers to dominate. This was gripping stuff. Honourable mentions go to Root’s centuries and some of Ali’s rearguard action.

AiB

Courtesy of AiB
Courtesy of AiB
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5. Your chance to pick the England team for the first UAE test, and any changes you might make for the first South Africa test? (Note that answers were given before squad announcements)
OdB – Cook, Compton, Asari, Hales, Root, Stokes, Buttler, Ali, Broad, Rashid, Wood
Cook:  probably captain for the foreseeable future, part of me is glad that Root hasn’t been burdened with this, but he is at best a workmanlike captain.  Bayliss has seemed to loosen the shackles and he has improved, but it was from such a low base that a blind singing monkey may well have done better than what was loosely referred to as his ‘captaincy’ during the Ashes in Australia and summer 2014.  Still a very good batsman (a great accumulator of runs to damn with faint praise).
Compton: was poorly treated (apparently he was hard to get on with ffs).  He did well in India, plays spin well, and you never know we may reach 30 before losing a wicket.  Plus he scores slowly (the job of an opener is to take the shine off the ball for the middle order dashers).
Asari: has got 39 wickets this season and is an opener, it is a Trott style punt, but a spinner that bats might be a good thing, he can’t do any worse than Bell did in the UAE last time.
Hales: deserves his chance but I think he is too flighty to open in test cricket, I also think he will do well in SA.  I think he will blossom at 4.
Root: can bat anywhere but I like him at 5
Stokes: needs to be 6 as above is too high, and 7 is too low.
Buttler: needs to go back to how he batted before, but he is a great prospect and as long as the UAE doesn’t destroy his confidence he should prosper on the true pitches of SA.  Bairstow as backup keeper (he should be able to keep to Rashid well)
Ali: looks good at 8, his bowling needs to improve but with two other spinners it isn’t all on his head.
Broad: man of the series for me this summer,  think he will excel in both UAE and SA. FEC (as if they would let a chippy bowler be captain)
Rashid: we should have seen him by now, if we don’t see him in this series then Selfey et al and their snide campaign is victorious.  I think he will do well in Test cricket if given a chance.
Wood: If he is fit (and the schedule isn’t back to back tests, probably is but I can’t check and hope springs eternal) he is fast and will hopefully cause the Pakistani batters (and subsequently SA batters) difficulties.  Finn as backup, he will do well in SA and we need to think of the future.
For SA I would bring back Anderson for either Ali or Ansari (depending on who played best in the UAE). Would also have James Taylor on standby, because we always do!

CB – Funnily enough my team to play Pakistan would look something similar to the one I picked for this panel for the first Test in the Ashes. I advocated then picking 6 bowlers and batting Moeen at 5 to accommodate Rashid – and do the same now:

1. Cook
2. Hales
3. Bell (last chance!)
4. Root
5. Moeen Ali
6. Stokes
7. Buttler (or Bairstow)
8. Rashid
9. Broad
10. Finn
11. Anderson
I wouldn’t be looking ahead to the make-up of my side to face South Africa until the UAE tour is over.
PE – They’re different teams, surely? I’d be minded to give Hales a run as Cook’s latest victim/patsy. I wouldn’t change much else. Pietersen would obviously improve the middle order but it won’t happen. I’d like to see a quick decision on Buttler. Imagine how many runs Kumar and Brendon would have scored if they’d given up the gloves earlier.

CJ – Cook, Carberry, Bell, Root, Ballance, Ali, Stokes, Buttler, Rashid, Broad, Finn       Squaddies: Footit, Anderson, Bairstow, Wood, Hain (to get used to all that dressing room banter and acclimatise to Wardys interviews)

If Bell has a bad UAE tour, he might not make the SAF trip but apart from that the only change will be one spinner not two. Maybe Woakes will get a gig.

MP – For the UAE, Hales deserves a chance at the top of the order and Rashid should play. Longer term, if Bell doesn’t come good James Taylor must be in with a shout. As a Kent supporter would love to see Daniel Bell-Drummond in an England shirt at some point but probably not for a few years yet!

Meta – So which team would I pick for the first UAE game?

Compton, Hales, KP, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler, Ali, Broad, Rashid, Finn.
Logic: I’m choosing to rest Anderson and Wood to try and prolong their careers, so that makes the seam attack: Broad, Finn, Stokes. This is 2-spinner country, so Ali and it’s time to give Rashid a chance. I once calculated that Rashid has spent over a year of cricket carrying drinks for England.
Batting: It’s for me to choose, so I choose KP to come in at 3, since Bell may retire. (I think KP is the obvious choice for a problem 3 position.) Cook would refuse to play with him, so I’d bring in Compton. Hales is the obvious current choice to try for the other opening slot. Root is the banker. Bairstow I’m almost inclined to drop, but he deserves a couple more Tests to show some quality.
If Bell isn’t retiring I’d have to rethink.
In SA I wouldn’t play 2 spinners. I’d be guessing Anderson comes in – and Wood’s chances depend on how well Finn is bowling.

AiB – Cook, Hales, Root, Bell, Ali, Stokes, Butler, Rashid, Broad, Jimmy/Wood, Wood/Finn

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BONUS Question
6. You could make one change to the current England set-up. Management, players, administration…. What would it be? Again I’ll open that one out to all the readers as well.
OdB – (Two things both related), One I would renegotiate the Sky deal to allow at least two home test matches a year on free to air TV.   This coverage will be an extended advert for Sky as they will still be the host broadcaster and provide the commentary and analysis but it will be in terrestrial TV. This will reinvigorate the game amongst our youth. At Edgbaston my mate commented that when we saw Steve Waugh’s Aussies in 2001 we represented the average age of the crowd, in 2015 we were still about the average age.  This is a ridiculous situation.  The second thing (which is related to the first), all tickets for under 16s for any day of an England test will be £10, one adult accompanying the under 16 will be able to purchase a ticket for £25, and at least 10% of tickets will be available under these terms.  The cost will be underwritten by Sky and they will be able to retrieve this by what they sell the live test matches to the free to air broadcaster for.  Everybody wins!!
CB I honestly don’t know. There’s so much that needs changing, but you give me ‘only one’. I think to make any REAL effective change we’d need a genie to grant us three wishes. And that still wouldn’t be enough. If I could make one change, it would be for the UK government (of whichever political persuasion) to ‘nationalise’ our national sports. They should be governed as a service industry to the British people, and that SERVICE should be the over-riding principle – not profit, nor even a commitment to international growth of the game. The commitment should be to us. And out of that should come a dedicated BBC ‘free-to-air’ National Sports Channel, which would broadcast those events which are part of our lifeblood, heritage and national psyche. And that of course would include Test cricket. And by that I mean uninterrupted ball-by-ball coverage. No pissing off to the 4.10 from Chepstow when the England captain is 299 not out! Or ‘heading to the newsroom to join Moira’ 2 overs before lunch on the first morning of the Test. God that used to fuck me off!! (Calm down, just think of Broad’s face at that Stokes catch). Ah, that’s better! 🙂
PE – What New Zealand did. Out with the old, in with the new.
CJ – Whittaker has been lucky to survive but it is more about continuity now after the Trott, KP, Prior, Swann period ending and Flower/Moores “seamless handover”  Saker has now gone thank God. No – lets assess things in 18 months.
MP – The removal of the odious Giles Clarke from anything to do with the ECB or the ICC would be my choice, although that’s unlikely to happen. The Big Three carve-up was a disgraceful decision with serious implications for the long-term future of the game and his bullish response to any questioning of that decision makes my blood boil. Getting some form of cricket on FTA TV is another must. Would also like to see England playing more games against associates in an attempt to grow the game – a Four Nations style tournament biannually with Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands would be great, in my opinion.
Meta – Not sure where the line is drawn between administrators and management. But assuming management is Bayliss for sure and maybe Strauss, then as much as I’d like to get rid of Strauss,  it’s the admin that really is the long-term problem. We need FTA coverage, we need better pitches in CC (the Durham strategy of green result pitches is a good way to avoid draws, but does nothing to develop true pace or spin), we need improvements in the calendar, we need better grassroots engagement (not just Sport England money!) etc. etc. Admins for the chop!

AiB – Other than Giles Clarke being publicly humiliated, striped of his position & hopefully arrested for crimes against suits, or having them apologise about KP & the outside cricket stuff.

I’d like the ECB to make a concerted effort to make cricket a game for the fans & players again. Both nationally & internationally, some FTA games, lots more Internet streaming of none televised games & reducing prices for internationals.
Oh and to leave T20 finals day a fucking lone. It’s a great day & great value for money

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That is that. Thanks to all who contributed in the latter half of the summer. It has worked brilliantly and the responses have covered a wide range. It’s been great fun.
Thanks also for many of the nice words written by you on the e-mails. It has been a pleasure. Sorry this has been a little late in coming. It is, in some ways, better that way…
Dmitri

The Ashes Panel – Picking The Bones Out Of That

Not, no more....
Not, no more….

I reconstituted the Ashes Panel for one last go around. The first set will give their immediate responses, and the second set, which I’ll send out in the next couple of days, will have had a little longer to contemplate.

Once again, thanks to everyone for the spirit they entered into this, the excellent contributions and the success of this format. I think it’s worked really well, and we’ve also encouraged a couple of the panel members to write pieces (see Chappers piece below on batting, which had me and TLG debating last night over copious Krusovices).

The panel is large, the answers are large. So for this airing we have Mr North London, Sean B; the Batting Guru, Chappers; the quickest off the draw, Dr. Melf; one of the limited number on here to have met me, KeyserChris; Our Man on The Cote D’Azur, Rooto; and the Agent Provocateur, the meltdown Man in a Barrel. We may be joined later with some poetry from The Bogfather….

This time I asked five questions, with a bonus one that was voluntary. I’d actually like all of you to comment on the last one if you can. It paints a picture.

So, fire away, with six of the best answering six of the best.

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1. First up, your reaction to the series as a whole. What do you think of the five tests played?
Dr.Melf – A truly extraordinary series, but not in a great way. It’s like the two teams agreed who would win each match in advance (possibly through paper-scissors- stone) and made little effort to make it look like a context thereafter. On the whole games were won by who played least badly, rather than most well. We got the Ashes back but there was little to drive engagement with Test cricket. There was more excitement in two tests with the Black Caps than this whole series. Poor stuff.
Chappers – This has been the hardest panel to answer.

Much like the Pointer Sisters, when it comes to an Ashes series, or any test match series, I prefer a slow hand and for it not to come and go in a heated rush.
Frankly the tourists were terrible for three tests and we were pathetic at Lord’s then suffered from dead rubber syndrome at the Oval.
We performed without an opening batsman and a keeper who looked muddled as to his role with the bat. No number 3 and Joe root digging us out of hole after hole.
Hard decisions need to be made with our batting. More on that below.
The bowling has some talent, but I worry about the lack of pace in some of the later spells from both Finn and Wood – for that I have very little answer, although I am not sure how much cricket they will get in the UAE.

Rooto – I’m very glad I didn’t pay any money especially to watch them. I can appreciate the thrill of lesser-quality, rollercoaster cricket when I’m reading, listening to or streaming it for free, but I feel a little sorry for anyone who handed over hard-earned folding stuff expecting to revel in the thrill of Test battles. It was more thud-and-blunder than blood-and-thunder. Conclusions: First, forget Sky, and stick to TMS and insightful writing where I can find it (particularly here). Second, don’t expect many 4 or 5-day pitches in future summers.

KeyserChris There’s been one “normal” Test – Cardiff, won by Root’s ton. The rest of the series has been some below-par cricket punctuated by a handful of good innings & some brilliant bowling spells. I won’t be rushing out to buy the DVD…
Sean B – I think my overwhelming feeling is one that includes a little bit of antipathy, a little bit of hollowness and a lot of ‘meh’, England may have come out on top and won the Ashes, but these were two average sides each showing their clear weaknesses for all to see; indeed this was not a series that was anywhere near high on quality and will probably go down as one of the poorest “close series” in recent times. Compared to what was on offer in 2005, which I believe was the pinnacle of Ashes cricket, and to a lesser extent in 2009, where England squeaked through despite generally being outplayed in most of that series, this series rather resembled two portly men arguing over the last sausage at a BBQ. I’m still not quite sure why neither team were unable to rouse themselves when they were up against the wall or to at least launch a rear guard defence and show some fight, but what is undeniably true, is that the team who were able to exert pressure in the first innings went on to easily win the match. Naturally, I’m happy that we won the Ashes and there were sterling performances by Root and Broad, but my first feelings about this year’s Ashes are that this has been a case of complete overkill, purely designed to feed the ECB coffers, with this being the third Ashes series in the last 3 years; Indeed I think the phrase “over-familiarity can breed contempt” was made for this series. This is something that I seriously worry about in future (now that the big three have carved up international cricket between them) that test series’ will be played not for sporting endeavour or for any attempt to spread growth and equality in the game, but instead series being played purely for the financial gain of the big three. Now that is a truly depressing thought.
MiaB – It was a mediocre series.  I  normally think a series is mediocre when the bowlers on both sides dominate the batting but you tend to get some batsman who can handle things, which makes for interesting viewing.  However, there has been very little quality batting on display – some resolution from Rogers, some class from Smith, Root and Ali, some enterprise from Johnson, Broad and Starc, and in the case of Warner, someone oft-derided as a one-day player, a serious attempt to fashion a method of handling the conditions.  If the English attack had bowled against England’s batters, how would they have fared?  The only one with a reasonable return is Root.   I hate greentops because they destroyed English cricket in the 60s and 70s….any bowler can bang the ball down just short of a length and get unplayable movement.  I remember how Peter Lever, Mike Hendrick, Chris Old, Geoff Arnold and co would seem unplayable in England and then get whacked all over the place in Australia and West Indies.  I still carry the scars.  If Mohammed Asif, who got movement on Pakistani pitches, had been bowling at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, what would his analyses have been? 
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2. The clear narrative is that England have a young team that will have its shares of ups and downs. Pretty much everyone believed we’d lose this series. Should there be such worried noises?
Dr. Melf – It’s a young talented team who will make errors as they learn their craft.  With the right guidance and leadership I think they have the potential to be really exciting. Experience will temper their current bursts of over-excitement. I would really like to see our best ex-players involved in coaching and mentoring.
Chappers – We need a team of consistent hardened performers. That won’t happen overnight, but it will help of we can get some batting which is less flaky and gives our bowlers more time with their feet up. This is vital. Selection and time will help this. Choose the right players and persevere with them. Buttler, Stokes and Root are, Bell and Lyth are not, I don’t know about Bairstow. Rashid is a colossal gamble.
Rooto – I think the ECB and England Team Fans should be delighted. Enough of them have performed above expectations, or been allowed to overperform – no not overperform, justoutperform the Aussies – this series. Job done, rejoice, nothing else to see here. There is still potential for growth and for a bit of dead wood to be removed (BTW that’s not wishing any harm on Wood, in case of deliberate misunderstanding by some…). 
We, Supporters of Cricket, are the ones who should be worried, by how easily the media narrative has been infantilised, dissenting views attacked without scruple and wider issues swept under the carpet – issues which will grow to an unsightly lump under the carpet in the coming years. Short-term, the ECB can celebrate ‘the beginning of a cycle’. Long-term, they’ll go down with the rest of the ship.

KeyserChris – Yes. Opening is still a major issue. Cook had two good knocks, but yet again his partner has failed. Ali replacing Lyth is a cute solution, but only for the UAE. It doesn’t fix the issue for SA & beyond. The middle order needs to improve, but doesn’t need personnel change necessarily. Buttler needs to improve, but the fast bowling is OK. In terms of spin, we are still nowhere. Ali should only be a secondary spinner at best

Sean B – Yes there should, and although we won, it was hardly a glorious victory and this is highlighted by some of the batting and bowling averages which show we should not kid ourselves into thinking we’re a top team yet. We beat an Australian team who were not as good as they thought they are, made some terrible selection errors and couldn’t bat on swinging/seaming pitches (after all, they thrashed us both times the pitch didn’t offer any lateral movement). We can’t keep relying on Root to score runs by the truckload or for Jimmy or Broad to blow away the opposition batsmen, especially away from home where sides will look to play on our weaknesses. The truth is we can’t find an opener for love nor money, our number 3 (who used to be our number 4) may be in terminal decline and may retire and we don’t have an international class spinner (Moeen, for me, is still a batting allrounder). Add this into the fact that Bairstow hasn’t been convincing, Buttler has been in terrible nick and Captain Fantastic isn’t pulling up any trees (nor has he for the past few years), means more than a headache or two for Mr Bayliss & Co, in the face of two very challenging away tours. If I look on a more positive front, I think the seam bowling attack has good potential, Root is a world class player and I do think Buttler will come good, but I think we are at best a mid-table team in the grand scheme of things at the moment.

MiaB – The strange thing is that this young team could not handle the good conditions at Lords and the Oval.  The bowling lacked penetration and imagination – look at what Siddle achieved compared with Finn and Stokes.  The batting lacked application.  If you take Root and Ali out of the series, the England batting was terrible.  Only three times did they get more than 300 runs in an innings and Australia were  not much better.  The problems that we had at the start of the series have not been solved.  The openers are an issue – I think the reason why Cook wants to continue as captain as that is the only way he can rely on being picked.  His batting returns are not so remarkable, especially if the guy batting with you is scoring even less than you.  However, if he can be an opener averaging 37 then Bell should be allowed to continue at #3, averaging 36.  The middle order batting is an issue.  perhaps Ballance should come back in at 5, because I do not think Bairstow is the answer.  He does not look significantly more robust technically than he did when he was dropped.  It is worth sticking with Stokes.

The spinner is still an issue – neither Ali nor Cook have much idea what to do when the opposition target him other than to take him out of the attack.  He is unable to take on the holding role even when he is not targeted.  The lack of a holding seamer – the Mike Hendrick, Matthew Hoggard, Angus Fraser kind of bowler – is a real issue given that Anderson, Broad and Wood all need nursing because of age or chronic injuries.  Management of injuries is a real issue for me.  I know some deranged people think I want Wood to be injured but I am extremely concerned about his long-term health, since he is only 25 and already had at least one cortisone.  I think the current ideas are that you should only have 3 such injections in your lifetime.   I really do not want him to get to the age of 30 and be unable to walk properly because his ankle has been turned to chalk.  Obviously guys like Broad and Wood want to play all the time but, in baseball, they rotate the pitchers to ensure that they are not overworked and injured.  Unless England go down that path – a strict rotation policy – then I am very concerned that we will end up with a bunch of limping wounded who are unable to bowl properly, given the schedule that the team faces.  Wood’s effectiveness was markedly reduced by the time of the Oval – he got 9 wickets in 4 innings against New Zealand and 10 in 7 against Australia.

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3. What was your highlight of the series?
Dr.Melf – It’s a toss up between the true emergence of Joe Root as a world class player or Cooky taking one in the nuts. On balance? I go nuts.
Chappers – In reality it was Stokes’ catch at Trent Bridge and the look of astonishment on everyone’s face.

But I want special mention to go to Ali Cook learning how to captain in the field. For three years he has been dismal, Farbrace and Bayliss have said the right things to him and well done them. Doesn’t reflect well on Flower or Moores.

Rooto – Broad and Finn in the wickets. Ali outscoring most of those batting ahead of him. Listening to Blowers losing all sense of proportion, again, at Trent Bridge.Other elements that pleased me to a greater or lesser extent: Cook revealing doubts and humanity in a couple of interviews; no snotty, in-yer-face behaviour on the pitch – despite the press informing us that the Aussies weren’t capable of behaving themselves; Ed Smith eating “derrière sur une assiette”, served à la Kimber, for lunch on day 1 at Trent Bridge.

KeyserChris – Broad’s 8-15. Sensational bowling.

Sean B – There were a number of highlights worth mentioning, Root maturing into a world class player, Broad learning to pitch the ball up with the rewards that come from it, the atmosphere at Edgbaston on the final day (best atmosphere I’ve ever witnessed in England) and of course laughing at Shane Watson being caught LBW (again and again); however my own personal highlight, and this is very much through my Middlesex tainted eyes, is the emergence of Steven Finn as an international test cricketer again. At the end of the last Ashes series, Ashley Giles commented that Finn “was simply unselectable” – not that I attach any blame to Ashley, the real perpetrator has thankfully left these shores since, hopefully for good. I remember when Finn burst onto the scene in 2010 against Bangladesh and Pakistan and there was genuine excitement that we had a bowler who could bowl at 90MPH with the height to trouble even the most adept of batsmen, so to then hear that he had been reduced to bowling throw downs at a single stump was extremely worrying. Indeed I heard through the grapevine that it had affected him so badly that he was thinking about chucking it in at that stage, so to get off the canvas and be able to not just play test match cricket 2 years later, but to contribute as he did, is testament to both Finn and to Richard Johnson, who has worked tirelessly with him throughout the last couple of years through the good and bad (I will give a small amount of credit to the ECB and Raph Brandon for helping him with his run up, but in the main it should go to the Middlesex team). Finn seems like a very approachable and likeable individual and I genuinely think 99% of the cricketing public had a smile on their face when he got that “five-fer” at Edgbaston, yes there are improvements that can and will be made, but I’m genuinely chuffed for him that he is back playing test cricket again.

MiaB – Either the Stokes catch at Trent Bridge or Mitchell J’s bouncer to Bairstow at Edgbaston.

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4. And, also, what annoyed you the most about this Ashes series?
Dr.Melf – The complete absence of any tension. Every game was so one-sided that no drama or excitement was created. It’s great that England won and the young players know the feeling of beating the Ozzies, but it was pretty boring stuff.

Also have to mention anyone suggesting that winning back the Ashes justifies the total ‘arsehattery’ the ECB made of running English cricket for the last two years.

Chappers – Two things: 1 is Ian Bell not scoring any runs. We are used to it now. But rubbish. I wouldn’t take him to the UAE where he averages 8.5. Give him the tour off and see where we are for SA.

The second things are (!) people being patronising about Nathan Lyon who is a very fine off spin bowler and people slagging off Moeen for not being as good as Swann, give him a break. He is as good as we have and won’t ever be as good as Swann, he is also a quality batsman, which Swann was not.

Rooto – That what we heard on TV and read in the newspapers bore increasingly little resemblance to what we saw.

KeyserChris – The crap batting, Simon Hughes taking any opportunity to spruce his book on batting (the sheer chutzpah), any attempt to make hype the quality of the series up, but the award goes to Ed Smith on TMS. An unbelievably smug, sanctimonious self-proclaimed know it all who turns listeners off in droves.
Sean B –  I again could point out a number of things – the MSM lauding the team as world beaters one day and then clueless the next day (see the same for Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss without the balance of any form of negatives), the dimwits on Twitter who see this blog and any individual that refuses to swallow the ECB rhetoric as the whole truth, as an Anti-English curse that must be rid for good; however I’m going to comment on this from a purely cricketing point of view. My biggest annoyance is that in a series of 5 games, with two supposedly excellent cricket teams, that we could not produce a single match that was in anyway close or genuinely exciting (some of the cricket was exhilarating yes, but not genuinely exciting, that comes from an intense session of high quality cricket where bat vs ball is an event in itself). I don’t want to repeat what I have said in question 1 in any great depth, but this series was not a patch on the New Zealand series earlier on in the summer that displayed all of the traits of a fantastic series, with the added bonus that both teams genuinely had great respect for each other (surely the days of giving NZ a two test series at the start of the summer must be addressed ASAP, though the ECB won’t make as much money, so they probably won’t).
MiaB – Two things really.  First, it would have been great for Bell and Lyth to make a statement at the Oval on a good pitch.  They both failed in their usual ways, which makes it hard to justify their re-selection.  Second, media coverage – the bizarre gloating after Cardiff, the way Simon Mann, Botham and Hussain kept harping on about Smith’s technique (he scores runs, boys), everything written by Ed Smith or the words from him that I had the misfortune to hear on TMS, the fact that Cook was praised to the skies for scratching his nose or putting in 4 slips on a green pitch, Nasser Hussain’s belief that the series victory was Cook’s redemption.  Redemption from what?  He has not proved anything.  He scored no runs to speak of in the victories and he needed some inspired spells of bowling.  What did he do to inspire them? 
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5. What would be your test team for the first test match in the UAE?
Dr.Melf – I assume you mean with current ‘banishments’? I also think Bell will rightly call it a day, so it will be slightly changed line up.

Hales
Cook
Ali
Root
Bairstow
Stokes
Buttler
Rashid
Broad
Anderson
Finn
Chappers – I have gone for a bit of a horses for courses team – based on the likely pitches. Anderson and Broad were both fantastic in UAE last time – I worry about their longevity. I have ignored the merits of having an experienced player with SA heritage in the team with 100 + caps because he just wont get picked so it isn’t worth any further breath. He would play otherwise at 4 in my team. 

Cook
Hales – should have been playing for the last 2 years. A much better foil for Cook.
Root – man up and bat at 3.
Davies – experienced county player who has toured with England. Currently the next best batsman in our game (not just Surrey bias I promise).
Ali – not an opener and not a number 8. 5 is his best spot, regardless if “he bats well with broad” which is a BS argument – he has been poorly treated.
Stokes – going to be better than Flintoff let him play. I really hope he can play spin mind or this will be a chastening tour for him. More likely to do well in SA.
Buttler – going to be better than prior.
Ansari – best spinner in county cricket at the moment – also a foil for all the dashers in the team with the bat
Rashid – can bat and field and offer something with the ball. Not a first spinner, but in this team there is room.
Broad
Anderson/wood
Yup 3 spinners and 3 seamers – a balanced team for the UAE. Also batsmen who can play shots and batsman who can bat time. I can see the request to get Ballance back in the team, but I wouldn’t, he has said he isn’t going to change the way he plays. So he isn’t going to score runs against decent fast bowling. Yorkshire (adopted) stubbornness is rubbish sometimes.
Also batsmen who can actually play spin – Root, Davies and Ali are all excellent against spin bowling, as is Cook. Hales, if he can get in will do a decent job – so long as he is allowed to play himself in and doesn’t try to smash everything first up.
Harsh on bairstow, but he can’t play spin, but I would take him on tour as a back up keeper, other tourists are Finn (and Wood above) and another spinner, no idea who.
Rooto – My team is:
Cook, Hales, Compton, Root, Ballance, Ali, Bairstow(+), Rashid, Plunkett, Broad, Anderson. (squad members: Stokes, Wood, Taylor, Buttler, Bell, Ansari.)

Or is this a trick question, and I’m meant to say “Pakistan” ?!

KeyserChris – Cook Hales Bell Root Ali Stokes Bairstow (wk) Rashid Anderson Broad (10 men, we’ve only got 10 men – Ed.)

Sean B – Team I think they’ll pick – Cook (c), Moeen, Bell, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler, Woakes, Broad, Tredwell, Anderson. Team they should pick (IMHO) – Hales, Cook, Moeen, Root, Ballance, Stokes, Buttler, Rashid, Broad, Wood, Anderson. A caveat I would add is that this team is for the UAE only, naturally I wouldn’t have Moeen batting at 3 in South Africa, but we need to find a way of shoehorning 2 spinners into the team without running Jimmy into the ground on unresponsive pitches.
MiaB – I think Lyth has to be dropped so I would punt on moving Ali to open – hoping that he can handle the pace on a UAE track.  Cook is obviously there because of his great record in the UAE.  Rashid to come in.  Maybe Footit or Willey in place of Wood or whoever the bowler most in need of rest is.  If Bell decides to call it a day, then Taylor.  Bairstow needs to make a score in the next match or else I would bring back Ballance.
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THE BONUS QUESTION
6. If 1 is so outside cricket you want the opposition to win, and 10 is this England team and set-up are bang on, where would you put yourself on the scale, and why (voluntary answer question)?
Dr. Melf – Mmm? There is lots to like about this current team. The new crop of players have a great attitude. Cook has improved his approach. Not much (still) to like about the ECB though. Lots not to like about certain elements of media. Personally? Their attitude & approach and makes it harder to be excited about England. It’s a 6 from me.
Chappers – I get unreasonably upset when England lose. which puts me at an 8 as a supporter (not a 10 because I don’t go to every day of every test match I can) however I am knocked down a few points because I am fed up and remain fed up with the way the game is run – not helped by Aggers tweeting that because of Government Cuts the BBC may not do as much TMS (note to Aggers, BBC is funded by a licence fee which wont get cut and which we all have to pay. TMS given the size of audiences as well as the County coverage is more important than either F1 or athletics so should be a priority for the BBC sport)

Final score a 7.
Rooto – I’m more interested in what you or others think I am. How others see you is often more accurate, if they’re paying attention (and not malevolent). But that would involve reading through all my inane postings, so I’ll save you the trouble and say 3.33 recurring.Positive feelings towards the players in the team? Generally, Yes.

Support for the body they represent and promote? No.

Belief in their methods and leaders? No. I fist-pumped Cook’s wicket, but not the others.

Empathy with those around you? No comment. Depends who I’m talking to, so I’ll call it 1 out of 3.

KeyserChris – Probably about 4.

Sean BFive out of Ten – I would never willingly wish an England team to lose despite the clowns running English cricket; however I have genuine anger at the way the ECB has run cricket over the past few years and trampled over those individuals who are genuine fans of the game of cricket whatever their views on the game (KP gate, Outside Cricket comments, the increasing cost of being able to support my country and deciding to plough ahead with the most selfish, egotistical and genuinely harmful reform of the game in known history with the carve up of international cricket between the big three to name just a few). These are all topics that have been discussed to death both here and on Twitter, and they are still as divisive as they were 2 years ago and hence I’m not going to repeat many of the views that have been elicited; however this has definitely contributed to my current slightly hollow and disenfranchised attitude towards the current England team. Dave Tickner managed to express my exact thoughts on this subject on Twitter, when responding to a BBC poll on cricket myths, and naturally in a far more eloquent way than I ever could – “England winning the Ashes justifies any or all of the assorted ECB clusterfucks in the last two years. #cricketmyths“. Perfect.

MiaB – About 4.  The main reason is Cook and the media/ECB narrative around him.  He is doing a job which he is not particularly good at and he doesn’t enjoy but he stubbornly persists in doing it.  The runs he is capable of scoring would be a lot more valuable than his captaincy – I cannot think of any close games where his captaincy has been vital to the result and he does not seem able to coax performances out of bowlers who are struggling.  He just purses his lips and puts on Joe Root.  I can see that so why do Sky and TMS insist on trying to proclaim him as a world-beater and insist that he is a really nice chap?  
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My thanks to all who contributed to this panel. It’s full of really interesting, and sometimes contrasting views. Feel free to comment below, and as usual, keep it polite. These folk give up their time, and quite a bit of it.
The final, final panel will be up within the week, so keep ’em peeled.

Ashes Panel #010 – Bucko Kicks My Arse… I Am #StayHumble

australia-celebrate-the-ashes-whitewash_10piscrajeyf61qj64a1ovgr5r (2)

Sean B, aka the Great Bucko, kicked my arse on Twitter last night. Feeling a bit sorry for myself, he prompted me to raise an Ashes Panel #010, and despite the shortness of time, a number of you came through for me, and here it is. A million thanks, people.

We have Sean B, Hillel (big thanks, I know how busy you are), PGP Chapman (sans end of piece rant – I’m sad), Paul Ewart and Colonel Blimp (David Oram). And at the last knockings, it’s Man In A Barrel too!

We put this together at short notice, so forgive errors and maybe the questions, but let’s play ball….

1. Michael Clarke’s form? A permanent dip or just temporary? And do you think it is the difference between the two teams?
Philip – Firstly England have bowled very well at Clarke in this series. Secondly, class is permanent and as we have seen from Ian Bell, it only takes one really good innings to turn it around. What I would say is that he is more upright in his stance than previously (seems to be a bit of a current trend) and while this is fine and symptomatic of a player with a bad bad – think Athers in his later career, it means that his head is starting from a marginally different position, which through the delivery will a batsman’s alignment with the off stump. This is emphasised by the moving ball – the way to counteract this is by moving guard across half a stump – but for an experienced player that may also feel a bit wierd. I also suspect he is trying a bit too hard. Who knows what is going to happen – but I don’t believe he is the difference between the sides – actually I think that is Moeen – who is quietly bowling ok and scoring lots of important runs with the tail in a way that is demoralising the Aussies. In most cases Eng have also cleaned up the Aussie tail pretty well – which we have struggled to do in the recent past.

Clarke clearly also has issues with the teams he is being given – I am not sure that is because he doesn’t get on with Lehman or the selectors or what that is all about – that is hurting his (and the team’s) mental state.

Hillel – Michael Clarke’s dip in form is certainly temporary; it is flippant to suggest a batsman of his calibre has been found out, and neither (as with Tendulkar’s eyesight) does there seem to be a sign that he has lost his touch. His two vital 50’s in the World Cup is testament to the latter. Let us also not suggest he is by any means the difference between the two teams, for if Australia have been hosting an out-of-form batsman in every Test this Ashes, so too have England in the form of Adam Lyth. Nonetheless, I worry for Clarke: he looks morally beaten by years of being underappreciated by so many of his country for his efforts. There is also evidence that even if he recovers, the Australian selectors may not see a future in which he plays a part. I fear that even though this is a temporary dip in form, Michael Clarke’s time is up.

David – Hard to tell. But Clarke’s lack of runs is a symptom not a cause of the Australian ague. Form and fitness oscillate for all cricketers, and he may yet reach the heights again. I just hope not in this series! Interesting how sharply he is reputed to have rebutted the question about his ‘hunger’. Methinks the lady doth protest too much! Isn’t it amazing though how in a short period, and after a couple of bad results, the man’s entire playing and captaincy career is being reevaluated? A great batsman can become a bad one overnight if he’s out of form or unfit – but career wise we’ll always acknowledge he was a mighty fine player. But a great captain can’t become a poor one overnight. The point is Clarke’s only ever been a decent one, good not brilliant, with a few innovative field placings, and some bloody awful bowling changes. And he never completely had the dressing room. Wins in the next two Tests may yet elevate his status even higher than those who have previously (unrealistically) lauded his ‘genius’ – but defeat and I think his time, and maybe even his legacy, could well be done.
Paul – Who knows? It feels like he’s coming towards the end but I’d imagine he’s still got a couple of good innings in him. Big game players tend to come good even when their body’s giving up on them. Remember Steve Waugh’s one-legged century? I’m not sure it’s the difference between the teams. This has been a crazy series. I wouldn’t single Clarke out: what about no’s 5 and 6?
Sean I think it’s semi permanent now, which despite not liking the guy, is sad because he was a very good batsman (though I wouldn’t say he was one of the greats). It’s been clear for sometime that he has been hampered by his back and this has affected both his movement towards the ball and ability to sway the short ball. His footwork also seems to be hesitant, which is another reason why he has struggled this Summer. It reminds me a bit of when Vaughan returned after his knee injury – he still knew what he wanted to do but didn’t have the body to do it. I’m not sure it’s the difference between the teams as some of our batsmen aren’t exactly pulling up trees, but a fit and in form Clarke would add value to any side; however don’t be surprised if he pulls himself together for one last hurrah.
Barrel – I hope it is a temporary dip simply because he is such a graceful batsman to watch when on song.  If he were in form, the Aussies would surely be well ahead by now because we know that he has the skill and determination to graft on a difficult pitch against an attack which is short of true greatness.
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2. I can’t abide discussions on pitches, but popular demand suggests we need to talk about it. What do you think we’ll get at Trent Bridge?
Philip – I think it will have some grass on the pitch – so similar to Edgbaston. here’s hoping for a similar result!!

I think it will be a good toss to lose on Thursday (much like in the previous game).

Hillel – England seem to have realised that swinging pictures work to their advantage, especially with an in-form Steven Finn returning to the attack. To change the formula that won England the last Test would be dangerous, not to mention highly unnecessary. Furthermore, the momentum (dare I breathe the word) is with England, and even the ECB will realise that to prepare negative pitches now (pitches that detriment Australia, rather than advantaging England), will be inexcusable. The pitch will a traditional English pitches, Trent Bridge will swing as usual and that should suit Mark Wood perfectly.

David – Not so keen on pitch discussions myself! I’ve never ever met or seen on TV someone who genuinely could read a pitch accurately ahead of a game. And once the game is underway many experts still manage to make the wrong guess. “This’ll take turn on days 4 and 5” and it doesn’t.  “This pitch will deteriorate” and it flattens into a road. Likewise groundsmen. I’ve thought for over 30 years that Mick Hunt is an appalling preparer of cricket pitches, but does manage a beautifully maintained lawn. He has no idea what sort of track we will eventually get for a Test, regardless of whatever the weather has done (but never fails to use it as a handy excuse) but occasionally ‘Mike’ does get lucky – but mostly it’s crap. I have just as much faith in the other Test grounds. I hope Trent Bridge is something similar to Edgbaston because Rogers apart, they are hopeless against the moving ball.
Paul – Talk is it’ll be like Edgbaston. As long as there’s something in it for both bowling attacks I’m happy. I don’t like doctored pitches and Cardiff was doctored.
Sean – You’ve discovered my real bug bear, as I on the other hand, hate to see doctored low and slow wickets designed to nullify the opposition rather than play to your own strengths (I could go on all evening about this, but fear not, I won’t). They would literally be batshit crazy to produce another wicket like the one against India last year, as then it’s a win the toss, win the game scenario and I also think Stuart Broad would spontaneously combust! I think the wicket will have a bit in it, especially if there’s cloud cover overhead but equally it’s not going to be a raging green seamer either. If the pitch is similar to Edgbaston then that would suit me fine.
Barrel – I guess it will be a slow Trent Bridge pitch with a bit of grass on it to appease the journos, Nass and Strauss(y).  It won’t have the bounce of Edgbaston so it will just be a tricky pitch which doesn’t help anyone really.
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3. The loss of Anderson. A crucial blow or one we can get over?
Philip – Well he will stop playing at some point. So we have to get over it. Yes we will be fine. If Finn hadn’t bowled so well in the last game I would be much more nervous, but we will be fine (if I tell myself enough times we will be fine, I will eventually believe it). Whether Wood, Plunkett or Footitt play they all have extra pace and will do well at Trent Bridge – what we do need is smeone who doesn’t go at 5 an over to bowl with broad – we have to accept that Finn is likely too as is Moeen, so who ever plays has to be able to do the dot ball holding roll.
Hillel – On the surface of it, a terrible blow – despite all of Finn’s heroics, Anderson played a huge part in victory at Edgebaston. However, scratch a bit deeper and England should (the famous last word) be alright. Broad has been bowling superbly, and has until now gone largely unrewarded for his efforts; it is almost certain wickets for him are imminent. I need not go into detail about just how well Finn is bowling at the moment. There is room to suggest Mark Wood’s record at Trent Bridge means that he can replace Anderson there as well, despite the fact that he is not a like-for-like replacement as someone like Jack Brooks might have been. Where England will be hurt is if Anderson remains injured for the final Test; with England unlikely to go with the experience of Jack Brooks, they could find their attack rather depleted.
David – Yes and yes. It may well be fate that Finn has come of age just as Anderson has acquired his free pass bus. We only see the pivotal moments for what they are in the rear view mirror. I hope Jimmy comes back at The Oval, but we really need to be thinking hard about life after Jimmy. How all that effects this Test though is anyone’s guess. And we’ve all been doing a hell of a lot of guessing in this series!
Paul – Could be a McGrath moment, could be nothing of the sort. I’ve given up predicting anything in this series. It’ll give the Aussies a boost, that’s for sure, but it’s up to them to take advantage. I’d expect them to bounce back but, like I say, it’s a crazy series.
Sean – It’s a massive blow if the pitch has something for the swing bowlers (but not if its a featherbed). We don’t have another bowler like Anderson in county cricket that doesn’t bowl at late 70 mph (Rushworth as a prime example). I think they’ll go with Wood if fit and he does have a good record at Trent Bridge in his first class career, so I’m taking some solace in that. The unknown is how much of a boost that has given to the Australian dressing room knowing they won’t have to face Jimmy on one of his favourite grounds.
Barrel – I suspect it will be crucial.  Although Broad is bowling well, Finn is only one match into his “comeback”, Stokes is variable, and it looks as if Wood has had a cortisone.  Given that you should only have 3 cortisones in your career – learned from Simon Jones’s memoir – this is a very bad sign.  I suspect Wood will struggle in this match to fill Anderson’s workload.
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4. I’m a bit concerned about Jos Buttler’s batting. Are you? 
Philip – Yes I am concerned, but I think Jos is a massive superstar and will score runs. At the moment he doesn’t seem to have a clear plan of how to play, plus, I suspect, he is lacking some form. Personally I would swap him and Johnny B in the batting order and play him just as a batsman (as said previously) and tell him to treat the match as if it was a one day game. Focus on the ball and not the match situation.

Jos, like Root and Moeen is just one of those players you have to back.

Hillel – Not particularly. Jos Buttler did score good runs against New Zealand (only three Tests ago!), and stick with him for long enough, he’ll do so again. It’s worth mentioning as well that whilst Jos should be performing, England’s success will not (or should not) be decided at the number 7 position.

David – Very. He’s looked a hapless shadow of himself. And his thinking has been wobbly too. Not reviewing (however OUT he thought he was, it was an obvious tactical necessity with his LBW with only the tail to come) was schoolboyish. If there hadn’t been more obvious guys to drop he might have been axed by now. Get out and play your natural game Jos. Hit the bloody thing!
Paul – Not especially. Better judges than I say he’s the real deal. If so he’ll work it out. It might be that he should be moved up the order in the longer term.
Sean – Yes it’s a concern, like a number of our other batsmen, though he has been noticeably better with the gloves. They’re not going to dump Jos (yes Ian Healy, that’s Jos not Josh) as he has been identified as the heir apparent and without doubt is a talented batsman (his test batting seems to mirror his county batting in that he blows hot and cold) but I still think we’ll see a significant score from him before the series is out. One thing I’d be tempted to do would be to send Moeen in ahead of him, as Moeen has looked in form with the bat this series and it seems a waste to have him continuously batting with the tail.
Barrel – Yes – he hangs his bat out to dry when there is any pace directed at him.
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5. Your prediction for this match coming up?
Philip – England to win – no idea why. probably in 4 days. England play well at Trent Bridge and it is Broad’s home ground – he is due a hot streak and I think he will be MoM
Hillel – I’m not sure even the Oracle of Delphi would dare voice a prediction on the next Test, in light of how the previous three have gone. At a push, I’d suggest England.
David – Defeat. It’s obvious isn’t it?
Paul – I’d be surprised if Australia don’t bounce back at Trent Bridge: they’ll be hurting. I can’t help feeling that they have a deep well of confidence that England sides, 2005 excepted are unable to match. That may, however, be nothing more than mental scarring as a result all those defeats in the 90s and the subsequent whitewashes in Oz.
Sean – Seriously, who knows, such has been the inconsistencies of each side during the series. My heart says England due to the dreaded M worded being bandied about by the pundits, but head says Australia will get it together and perform well at Trent Bridge. I do think whoever bats the best in the first innings will win the game as neither side’s batting line up has been able to cope with scoreboard pressure. On the other hand I am hoping for a number of Celebrappeals, a terrible Broad review in his first over, Mitchell Johnson to injure his ankle by stepping on a cricket ball and Moeen to mankading Michael Clarke, but that just might be me…
Barrel – Draw – rain-affected
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Thanks to the contributors, once again, and to Sean for unknowingly rising me from a bit of a stupour. Great answers, showing that this gang aren’t some sad pathetic bunch, but passionate about the game. I might be a broken record on this, but until those arrogant little —— think that cheerleading is not the only way to follow this sport, and actually stop and read some of this stuff, then I’ll keep banging the drum. Well done all. Of all the things I’ve put on this blog, getting you to participate in the panels is one of the best. I thoroughly enjoy them!

Dmitri.

Ashes Panel #009 – Through Tired Eyes, And Scrambled Brains….

australia-celebrate-the-ashes-whitewash_10piscrajeyf61qj64a1ovgr5r (2)I hope you appreciate this. A quick summary. At mid-day yesterday, I developed an awful headache. Pain right behind my eyes. Had them before, and they take a couple of days. I’ve been popping pills and at the moment I feel OK. But my job incurs a lot of laptop time, and the eyes don’t recover and the pain returns. At the moment it is tolerable. I’m sticking up the Ashes Panel results for the latest round.

Due to my limitation on laptops during the evening, I won’t be pursuing the remainder of you not in this loop for a panel session until after the Trent Bridge test now. If those of you who are on the panel (and those who haven’t volunteered) and would like to answer the five questions then feel free in the comments, or you can e-mail me them at dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk .

I sent the latest out to seven panellists, and I think I have a full house. I have Oscar De Bosca, Andy In Brum, CricketJon, Metatone, MD Payne (ironic name given how I feel), Dr Melf and Keyser Chris. As always, many thanks for their time and effort. There are some superb answers coming your way….

1. What the hell is going on? Your views on Edgbaston 2015.
Dr. Melf – No idea! This series is playing out like the Rocky films. Expect an enormous Russian to be prominent in the next test.
MDP – It was certainly the most unpredictable Test match I can remember. I’ve been surprised at the ineptitude of the Australian middle order and Michael Clarke being a walking wicket at the moment. Very pleased for Steven Finn after his well-documented troubles and Jimmy Anderson proved that in the right conditions he is very hard to handle.
Meta Oddly enough, in some ways the insanity fits a long-standing pattern. Very few Ashes Tests are close results. Somehow whoever wins seems to do so by quite the margin. Possibly due to the psychological pressure of the contest. (Although the pattern is also increasingly evident in other Test matches too.) Still, gratifying for an England fan of my generation that for once it wasn’t England doing the batting collapsery. It was weird just how bad Steve Smith looked after looking so good at Lords. I guess lateral movement really is a foreign country. Also weird (but gratifying) is that Johnson and Starc couldn’t do an Ambrose & Walsh and pull the game back after being let down by their bowlers. Again, this was a home pitch and the Aussies didn’t look comfortable…
Andy Brum – 2 very weak batting line ups, with England having 4 batsmen who got some luck & played conditions better, and England’s 3 main seam bowlers bowled better & used the conditions better.

Plus edgbaston has an atmosphere conductive to supporting England, not the smug up its own arse Lords. That’s due to the type of fans who go & also I think the ground is fantastic when it comes to keeping & reflecting sound in the ground.
Keyser Chris –  Absolutely no bloody idea! It seems more down to individual form (or lack of) from both sides, as opposed to bad tactics & captaincy. I still don’t think the pitches have had anywhere near as much impact as is being made out. Edgbaston was good, but really only a bog standard English seamer, nothing more.
Cricket Jon – Firstly what a wonderful advert for entertainment. After all, we are, are we not in the entertainment business? (This reminds me of Downton stating post WC that he was not aware of social media. Stop and imagine the Chief Executive Officer of Disney Pixar et al uttering the same? ) I digress but not for an impetinent reason. The last knockings of Flower, Saker, Cook,Bowling Dry, Big Cheese and all that have been exposed. Firstly before this summer and now even more so during this summer.

It was a great Test match in that the crowd genuinely gained the team some home advantage. Birmingham Tests are unique in that it is the only insight for an Australian cricketer to see how it is for England players at ALL five venues in Australia. I have lots to say about the game but I shall confine it to the following for this queston – in most circumstances you do not come back from 136ao after winning the toss.

Oscar

Madness.  My one test a year live and I get those first two days (we genuinely thought when Warner went that we may see the denouement within 2 days).   Two bald men fighting over a comb springs to mind..

There are issues with both sides, our openers cannot seem to put on more than 50 exposing the #3 too early, but we have a middle order prepared to (or forced to by circumstance) counter attack and each member (barring Buttler) has put their hand up so far and responded well.  Their top 3 is excellent but their middle order is woeful.

I thought their bowling was better before the series, but Starc appears to be the same Starc that was dropped in 2013 after Trent Bridge, and whilst his ODI form is excellent, he appears to lack the consistency for the longer format.  Hazelwood looks like he could be a great bowler, but appears to be a bit too slow to trouble batsmen in form.  Lyon is excellent.  Johnson was worrying me until day 3 at Edgbaston, where he appeared to let the crowd get to him…More of that please Trent Bridge crowd.

Our bowlers appear to be equal (or a little better) in our conditions, Broad has bowled excellently since the start of the NZ series, none of this faux ‘enforcer’ nonsense, good lengths, good pace, the occasional short ball.  I was worried about Anderson (see last Ashes panel), but that was because I felt he had lost a bit of his nip, his brain remains the same, and that pitch with those conditions shows that you don’t need to hoop it round corners, just a smidgen of movement one way or the other and you create doubt.  Finn was a revelation, before he took his first wicket I noted to a friend in the stands, how smooth he looked coming into the crease, and his action seems nicely geared (and more importantly repeatable).  Ali has regressed to bowling darts (or at least 3-5 mph too fast), we were behind him on Thursday, and I noted that not one delivery got above the batters eyeline, so whilst he gets good spin, it doesn’t seem to be in the air enough to drift and subsequently grip.  However he is a batsman who bowls, and he just needs to gain more experience bowling (so that he worries more about taking wickets than conceding runs).  It was a great game of cricket, but it didn’t seem like a test match until day 3.

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2. Ian Bell to three has been a move many have been crying out for. Is this a semi-permanent feature or just a blip before loads of people turn on him again?
Dr. Melf – I think it’s now number 3 until he retires or is dropped. I liked his aggressive approach at Edgbaston and I hope he can continue this for the remainder of the series. Even though his scores were not huge, he had a big impact in both innings.
MDP – I would hope it’s semi-permanent. His positive intent in the second innings took away any lingering doubts of defeat and hopefully his performance in the match will be the start of better things.
Metatone – I hope it’s a feature for at least a year. Bell looks a better bet than Ballance and he has the experience too. What’s not to like? Still, people will turn on him the moment the going gets tough – he’s too prone to strange concentration lapses for that not to happen – not to mention that he’s a convenient target for the “Cook above all” brigade to point to when things aren’t going well for the Deer Hunter. That said, I think England has gone too far with central contracts – Bell might well have gotten more out of being in CC than in some Tests this year. We’ve made “being dropped” too big a thing and there’s no way for players to get the game time to get back into form.
Andy Brum – The sledgehammer of internal justice, I Ron Bell, is a giant amongst men, however, he does get out to stupid infuriating shots, so yes he’ll always get the brickbats, but we’ll miss him when he’s gone
Keyser Chris I think he is at 3 for a while now, certainly until the start of the series in the UAE. And he should be. I hope he doesn’t get turned on, but if Cook doesn’t score many more runs & we lose the next two Tests, I can see unnecessary pressure being heaped back on him in the press (if you know what I mean…!)
CricketJon – I am still seeking clarification as to whether Bell actually did volunteer for no3 after Trott went home from Brisbane. For all the criticism he attracts, he seems to comes up trumps when his place is at stake. Whether he was a tad down after losing the vice captaincy and it affected his form, that is in the past and he responded here with the responsibility. I respect the way he took the attack to the Aussies in both innings. There is positive and there is reckless and he was positive. I think he will always have critics until he hangs his boots up but as a Midlander and an appreciator of his technique, I know I shall miss him. A bit like Gower, you cannot have scored c8000 runs if you are not uber tough (we are talking the top 0.1% of professional sportsmen) although to be fair Gower faced better attacks, had a better record and was burdened with captaincy in very difficult series.
Oscar – Bell should have been at 3 since Trott retired.  He wanted it, he deserved it and he is probably the ideal player for it.  He has a lovely technique, complete range of shots and knows how to defend as well as counterattack.  He will also always get out playing silly shots, for me the classic Bell dismissal is a chip to cover and him then looking at the bottom of the bat.  To steal a Jarrod Kimber line, Bell is the beautiful woman who you know you shouldn’t love as she’ll let you down.

I think we have to accept that it is ‘just the way he plays’, I accepted that regarding another England #4, I will accept it with our new #3.  I am glad to say that I was wrong regarding his eyes, and it was just a run of form as it was quite dark even with floodlights on day 1 and he seemed to see everything (apart from the fielder when he mishit off Lyon).  Ironically Bell at #3 would allow a ‘Compton’ like opener (if Lyth were to be dropped for the next series), as the problem with Compton and Cook is that they took so long to score, you could be 20/1 after 15 overs.  Bell at 3 negates that concern.

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3. Who do you think should come in for Jimmy Anderson, and by the time you reply to this you’ll probably know who has, so what do you think?
Dr. Melf – I think Wood has to come back. It would knock his development and confidence if he was replaced.
MDP – I think the replacements chosen were probably the correct ones. Footitt has been knocking on the door for a while so his inclusion wasn’t unexpected. I’d be surprised If anyone other than Wood is picked, though.
Metatone – Wood is apparently coming in – and if he’s fit I think it’s the right choice. Once upon a time Onions might have been the correct replacement, but we never really gave him a proper chance. We’re crap at developing bowlers. Test cricket is a step up and Wood has at least a bit of experience to come into this match with. He bowls faster than Jimmy, but does get some shape. Of course, as in so many positions, we failed to use the WI series to look at alternatives (Footitt springs to mind) so really we don’t have much choice.
Andy Brum – I’m guessing wood as he’s next off the rank. I haven’t followed County cricket enough this year to make an informed decision on Footit and woakes would be my first choice if he’d played one or two more CC games, he’s very very good at red ball bowling, plus more batting,
Keyser Chris – My first thought was Onions as he deserves the shot (caveat – I haven’t a clue if he’s getting wickets or even fit at Durham at the moment. I know Rushworth & Stone were getting plaudits though). If not Onions, then pick the best opening bowler in the CC, so Finn can be left as first change. A bit of pressure for that player, but try to keep replacing like for like should be the thinking. As it stands, Footit & Plunkett have got the call. Plunkett seems to be selected on pace. I’m guessing England are hedging bets in case Trent Bridge is low & slow yet again. Footit I am glad to see. Left-armed & in form. About time a lesser county player in that form was looked at. But it will be Plunkett.
CricketJon – Wood for me. Lets not get funky. There’s two Tests to go in a critical series and there will be plenty of opps for the newbies in due course unless Moores comes back(!) There is less swing thesedays at Notts (post new stand) and we need bowlers of international class even if they dont swing it as distinct from hoopers at county level who may freeze at the opportunity when TB doesnt swing. Let the Lehmann/Sutherland/Conn axis who continue to attempt to hold the moral compass propogate the funky stuff and then they can fly home without the urn uttering whatever they like. We aint falling for the 2013 media campaign this time, well, I hope not.
Oscar – Wood if he is injury free, otherwise Plunkett (with the proviso that they tell him not to bowl short and to forget every conversation he ever had with David Saker).  I don’t watch enough/any CC to know whether Footit is the answer, but I heard Woakes mentioned, and my first thought was ‘If Woakes is the answer, the question must be, which bowler would Australia most like to see bowling at them?’.  It appears that Anderson will stay with the team at Trent Bridge and that can only be a good thing, it is unfortunate timing, but we always had to see what an Anderson-less England team would be like, and now we have the chance.  If we win at Trent Bridge, I would like to see Rashid given his chance (in a dead rubber), however my solution would be to drop Bairstow for Ali which would be unfair on Bairstow but we would have potentially 6 bowlers to choose from, which can only be good for a captain.
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4. Are these just two really poor batting teams, with the less poor one as a result of home advantage?
Dr. Melf – I think both teams overall have weaker batting lineups than previous years. This weakness is compounded with some players who are woefully out of form. To go back to the Rocky analogy, it feels like each team is just going for the knockout punch and is willing to be smacked in the face. Time to try some jabbing….
MDP – Sounds about right to me. Both teams certainly are having problems with the bat. England’s batting line-up is looking the stronger at the moment, despite Cook, Lyth and Stokes not in the greatest form. The Australians look in trouble the moment they go two wickets down – their middle order look devoid of confidence and their back-up players don’t instil much fear, either.
Metatone – I think it makes sense to look at Lords and Edgbaston as two tests where conditions heavily favoured one team. In each case the “home conditions” team dominated with the ball. The difference is that in dry conditions if you don’t dominate with the ball you concede 600. At Edgbaston if you’re under the cosh you concede about 280-300. However, in each case the “home conditions” bowlers scrambled the minds of the opposition. The Aussies did it with pace and we did it with lateral movement. As such, while both sides are flaky and prone to collapse, I wouldn’t call them “poor batting sides.” Rather, given the teams involved, each pitch was a poor pitch to make a contest…
Andy Brum – Yes, plus advantage of not being full of over 30’s who haven’t won a series in England.
Keyser Chris – Quite possibly. England have got their wins with their bowling, plus crucial runs from the Middle order. Australia used weight of runs & extra bowling rest to blast us at Lord’s. How Mitchell Johnson didn’t keep the bombardment up on day 2 at Edgbaston may have cost them – he won’t make that mistake again. Get the chest guards out, England! Australia seem to have the better openers & tail, England have a better all round bowling attack & middle order. Home advantage will probably just get us over the line at the Oval.
CricketJon – In a word yes. Both teams appear to have no more than two batsmen who apply themselves and the rest is like a random-numbers-generator. Interestingly the 2009 series was a 3-2 victory to Aus in “batting collapses”. Aus collapsed at Lords, Brum and Oval whereas Eng thankfully confined their two collapses to one Test, the infamous defeat at Leeds.
Oscar – Yes, see answer to 1.  Australia have a great top 3 and nothing else, England have 3 top players (Cook, Root and Bell) but the capacity for the others to improve (Stokes, Ali and Buttler).  Not sure about Lyth, whilst I agree with LGL regarding his dismissals being nothing to do with technique, I think some players have the character/mental strength for test cricket and some don’t.  I fear Lyth is more Hick than Trescothick, he may be excellent in CC, but his shot selection belies scrambled thinking.  Only M. Marsh and Nevil are young enough to improve for Australia, Rogers is retiring, Clarke appears shot, and Voges has done nothing to suggest he will be there for a long time.
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5. So, to Trent Bridge. I’ve given up trying to guess what might happen. Help me out here……
Dr. Melf – For no understandable reason Australia will win by a huge margin. Everyone who played well previously, will have a shocker. Those who have yet to show up, will have an absolute blinder. It may be done and dusted in a day, or maybe not.
MDP – The loss of Anderson is huge for England, his control will be badly missed. I wouldn’t expect the Aussies to bat so poorly two Tests in succession, Smith will come back strong and Voges, Marsh could be due a score. I wouldn’t mind betting England’s win/lose sequence will continue, leaving the series all square going to the Oval.
Meta – I started banging this drum from before the series, but events since then have only confirmed my belief – I can’t tell you what is going to happen until we see the pitch.

The Aussies will come back strong, they are not a team who is going to lay down and die because they are 2-1 behind. Add in that England’s other bowlers didn’t look very scary in the period where Anderson had gone off injured. Add in the way England under Cook seem to lose concentration after every win – the WLWL pattern. All that points to an Aus victory.
And yet the result depends on whether the pitch favours bounce or brings lateral movement. If it’s a good seamer I’d be prepared to bet on a close England win. (Close because of the upheavals in the bowling attack.) If it’s dry and flat, Aus will win by a big margin, bouncing us out along the way. But it’s hard to see either team mastering the other’s conditions in time for this Test.

Andy Brum – A pitch more shitter than the Indian test.
Keyser Chris -Trent Bridge will be low & slow for the 3rd year running, especially if they haven’t insured against loss of earnings. Surviving the Johnson bombardment & keeping Smith and Clarke out of the runs will be the likely route to victory. I think one of those two will get big runs though, and we will sorely miss Anderson’s great record at TB. Australia to win by 3 wickets… So it will be down to a nail-biter at the Oval.

 (disclaimer: I have Oval day 5 tickets, so this may cloud my thinking…!)
CricketJon – I havent the faintest idea now! Winning the toss and, separately, having the momemtum appear to be dismissed now as peripheral advantages so all I can say is lets wait and see. What will add some extra spice is the scrutiny of the “lose to win” propoganda that Aus media were trumpeting as they went nearly 4-0 down in 2013. Clarke could be under a lot of pressure. Personally, I cannot wait.
Oscar – Who knows, as long as we don’t get the same pitch we had last year I will be happy.  I don’t believe in momentum, it is a concept that hacks in the media use to describe something that they don’t comprehend fully enough to analyse and explain.  England now know that on a flat pitch, the current bowlers will struggle against the Australian top 3, they also know that on a more ‘traditional’ English wicket that has movement off the seam, the Australians will be all at sea, so that should give them confidence if the pitch suits.  For Australia this was a crushing defeat (made worse by the manner in which Bell and Root cruised to the total), they know that they could have lost within 2 days, but England were abject at Lords, so Australia should be able to pick themselves up.  A lot of talk about the loss of Anderson being a 2005 McGrath moment…hmmm in 2005 England had lost at Lords (but had crucially taken 20 wickets), and were 0-1 down in the series, here we are 2-1 up so whilst the loss is crucial, I would back Finn, Wood, Broad and Ali to take 20 wickets if we have a good test wicket.  For the series (and the sequence of WLWLWLWLW) an Australia win would be great, however I don’t give a shit about the series, I want to win 4-1 if possible.

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Ashes Panel #009 is in the books. With that. Good night.
I won’t be around tomorrow as I’m participating in my office Fantasy League competition and it’s auction night. I used to be the champion manager, but lost my way, and now doing this for sentimentality’s sake for one year. It’s great, because I despise the Premier League.
Hopefully I’ll feel better and we can do some previews for the 4th Test. Or maybe just the one.
Cheers all.
Dmitri, Lord Canis Lupus or just plain stupid…..

Ashes Panel #008 – Jonny Be Good, Chris Be Well

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First of all, I’d like to echo TLG’s tribute to Clive Rice. The 1980s were my formative time when it came to cricket, and Clive Rice’s Nottinghamshire loomed large on the scene. As someone put on the comments, he used to win those all-rounder competitions that were the rage in the 80s if memory serves. He was a fine cricketer and that’s all I need to know.

It’s been another funny day. Lovejoy has been on Aussie media doing a no doubt hilarious impression of Kevin Pietersen. I’ve read the transcript and I’ve just got back from A&E to sew up my sides. Needless to say, those who adore to hate Mr Pietersen think it’s really funny and that we don’t get the gag. I’ve been here before. We’re as mad as the moonies. Classy.

So, on to the main business, and that is Ashes Panel #008. First up an apology to Dr Melf from Twitter land as I left him out in error (and I wasn’t well yesterday so didn’t e-mail him the questions) while asking the Great Bucko to go twice. If Sean would like to contribute that would be fine by me.

So who do we have? We The Bogfather for the poetry, we have Rooto, we have Oscar da Bosca, we have Colonel Blimp (David Oram) and paulewart. Legends all, panelists to be revered, and comments to read. As always, my huge thanks for their participation, and for the time and effort they put in, including waking up before the kids to contribute their efforts. It’s seriously amazing. A bit like the Moonies!

Fire away:

1. I’ve asked all the panelists so far, so why not you too? Your reactions to the 2nd Test result and the way the match went.
Colonel – Awful. I was there for all 4 days, and being an unrepentant one-eyed English optimist it was painful – but I also thought it was a poor advert for cricket. The first day was the most mind-numbing I’ve witnessed in person since Day 1 of Nottingham 1989 (Aus 301-0). Subsequent days were more interesting and I enjoyed our fightback for the most-part of the first 2 sessions on the Saturday. Sunday’s capitulation was abject, although not boring in the way the Thursday had been. I had a super time at the Test catching up with family and friends and boozing heartily, but the cricket was a major disappointment. Australia were thoroughly professional; England weren’t. I hope they’ve got it out of their system quickly like a dodgy biriani and return to the rude health of Cardiff.
Oscar – Awful, just awful, I work from home and tend to watch the first hour or two of the test before the guilt takes over and I start working with TMS on (and the SKY feed handily a few seconds later so that I can turn and watch the delivery)… I watched for about 6 overs.  Rogers tried to hit the cover of everything and looked vulnerable, but the bowling was so ordinary from Anderson that any pressure from Cardiff was gone in an hour.  Broad bowled well throughout the match, but was the only one of 5 bowlers to do so.  Warner gifted his wicket in such a manner that it showed the placid nature of the pitch and only a mistake was going to get a batsman out.  Smith has clearly decided to milk Ali which doesn’t help as no pressure is created by him if the fast bowlers are bowling well at one end….
That said, if England had won the toss I am not convinced that Australia would have done much better in terms of runs on that day, (but probably for 5 or 6 wickets).  Scoreboard pressure is real, and the collapsibility of our top order just adds to the pressure on a decent middle order.  It was abject, but this England side post no 1# status has shown they are capable of really abject matches let alone sessions or days.

Sometimes they collectively appear to give up….Perhaps a captain should be a leader of men and capable of inspiring with words as well as deeds, it would appear that if the deeds aren’t done by either the captain  or the FEC at number 5, then the rest of the batters give up.   The bowling is more complex, whilst I don’t agree with Metatone completely, we do struggle on flat pitches as we haven’t ‘mystery’ or pace (although I think Wood has potential, but he clearly cannot maintain his pace over back to back test matches).

PaulEwart – Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The ECB press and their acolytes look more and more foolish by the day. If Captain Dimwit identifies a pattern before you do, then you really are in trouble. How can anyone take these people seriously?

The 1st Test was a pleasant surprise, but I fully expected a snarling response from a wounded Australia and they didn’t let me down. The selectors identified a weakness and rectified it without ceremony as I suspected they would Talk of a crisis in the camp was, as usual, overplayed. I found the contagion here more perplexing: some of you lot engaged with it! Happily normal service was resumed last week both on and off the field.

As for the match itself, well it was a pretty spineless performance wasn’t it? And the media’s response to our best player was predictably mean-spirited. I’ve got a bad feeling about Ben Stokes’ future given how every misstep is scrutinised by relentless churls, curmudgeons and deracinated medium pacers.

The only worry, from an Australian perspective is Pup’s form. Then again Steven Smith’s record as captain’s none too shabby. I’d expect a more competitive England this week, but I’d still expect Australia to win and if the pitch has any pace in it, it could turn nasty. Strauss’s e-mail shenanigans suggest that all may not be well in paradise. Let’s hope the nauseating honeymoon’s over. I’m still not comfortable with either his role or his ubiquity. There’s a real sense of lines being crossed/blurred at the moment.

Rooto – The second test unfolded predictably (for a pessimist). I was pleasantly surprised by … no, sorry, nothing there. On the other hand the second innings collapse was less surprising, and showed how little Rodders has managed to instil any steel core into the team. He really does captain for himself. I’m inclined to be indulgent about the under-performance and say “these things happen with young teams”, which perhaps helps to explain the over-performance in the first test a little bit too. The team doesn’t have to be so young, but that’s not the players’ fault.

Poetry Corner With The Bogfather…

Trampled underfoot from day one

Caught in the pace-place headlights

Crumpled in a heap, as pressure won

Fraught thinking, courage an oversight

Rankled with me, so tactically undone

Day four, no resistance, no fight…

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2. Ballance paid the price, and the second panel had their say in #007. Let’s look at his replacement. Any thoughts on Jonny Bairstow’s selection and views on how he would do?
Colonel – Bairstow should have been picked from the start of the series. THE form batsman in England, with the renewed confidence of his match-winning ODI innings behind him should have played ahead of one of the 3 passengers in our top 6. I hope he will succeed in the 3rd Test, but this will be as much a test of his character as his technique. I think he’s up to the task – but we shall see.
Oscar – We are paying the price of Cooks awful form last year and the decision not to blood Lyth in the West Indies.  We are also doubly paying as if Trott was going to come back into the side it should have been in his position at 3.  A lot of judges better than I thought Ballance had a technical issue last year, and that better bowlers would expose it.  This has happened since the WI tour and the decision to drop Taylor just before the WC and rely on Ballance at 3 in an ODI side without any form whatsoever is now biting us.

We may have known whether or not Lyth has the temperament for Test cricket.

We would have had an experienced no 3 (who may or may not have done well, but we ended Trott’s test career in the WI by making him open).

We have a problem with the top order but we are bringing in another middle order batsman.

I hope Bell succeeds at 3, but I fear his eyes may be going (it may be form, but he reminds me of Vaughan’s last days, lovely strokeplay, but missing straight ones).  As for Bairstow, well I would have bought in a more experienced no 4 (with a great record against Australia) and left Root where he is, however I wish him well, he is scoring bucket loads in the county championship and probably deserves his another chance (particularly after that innings in the ODI v NZ).

PaulEwart – I haven’t seen enough county cricket to comment (don’t tell wctt), but in KP’s absence he seems to be the next cab off the rank. He, like so many others, has been treated shabbily by England thus far. Let’s hope he’s ironed out his technical difficulties and can make a go of it. Whilst its always good to see successful county cricketers rewarded, I do sometimes yearn for Duncan Fletcher’s left of centre hunches (though he had a much better record with batsmen than with bowlers!). I liked what Jason Gillespie had to say about Bairstow, but am reminded of Geoff Boycott’s noting that he saw himself as a wicket-keeper batsman rather than a frontline batsman. Time will tell. It may be that he and Jos Buttler swap roles in the long term.

Rooto – I’m happy with the batting rejig, as I’m a Bellophile. I remember getting up at 3 just to watch the last rites of the Perth test 2010, purely because Bell was still in overnight. Of course he got out straight away. I think this Bellophilism may be closely connected to my pessimism. Anyway, Big Johnny B. I wanted him in the team, as I’ve followed the county scene from afar, and he is without doubt its star this year. I hope he will walk out with enough confidence to belligerently turn around any 30-4 situations, in much the same way as Stokes has done twice already this year. If he can’t thrive now, at the top of his form, no-one can. I’d be interested to see if a successful Bairstow puts pressure on Buttler to score more runs, too. (And if there’s pressure, how he responds to it).
Poetry Corner from The Bofgather –

To pick a player in form is so rare

Yet to replace a 3 with a 5 shows panic

With Bell promoted to next man hanging

Selectorial nonsense seemingly manic.

.

Where is the middle order solidity?

If Root fails at 4, where’s the glue?

Will Bairstow dig-in’ for a day?

Or will we still swing without a clue?

.

Shifting the deckchairs is not a plan

Nor is it fluid or organic

Captain Cook may seek his Bounty

But sadly he skippers the Titanic…

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3. I really worry about the way Jimmy Anderson has started the series. Do you share my concerns, or should I just relax?
Colonel – Absolutely! Anderson has been a shadow of himself for 18 months. I entirely agree with those who felt that mammoth performance in the 1st Test of 2013 was the final drawing from his well of quality, and if he can’t raise his game in the last 3 Tests than his time has come to retire. Having said that, he bowled with more purpose, zip, fire etc in the 1st 2 overs of the 2nd innings at Lord’s than I’ve seen in a while. Viewing from a mid-on angle at the ground, he briefly demonstrated an extra yard of pace and energy. England had had a quite intense huddle as the took the field 2nd time around and were busy and purposeful – they were clearly determined to give it a ‘real go’ – which disappeared immediately when until Adam Lyth dropped that catch. It was the 2nd time in 2 innings that abysmal cricket from Lyth entirely deflated the whole team. With the debilitating effect Lyth’s 2 moments had on England’s mindset I’m surprised he wasn’t dropped. But I think his card is marked.
Oscar – Nope, whilst I admire Dennis Loves Cricket I think the arrant nonsense that he has spouted about Jimmy for the past few years was undeserved.  I am not so sure it is anymore as something has gone awry, he seemed to lurch towards 400 wickets (I am sure they were talking about it when India were playing last year, but that might be my memory).  He seems to have lost a bit of zip and doesn’t seem to gain the swing he used too.   Hopefully the wicket at Edgbaston will suit him.  I fear that he was (alongside Swann) bowled into the ground during the last years of Flowers regime and we are now paying for the 4 bowlers “give it to Swanny/Jimmy” mentality of those years.  People commented on this at the time, people commented on this after the fact… we are now seeing what 3 years of a ridiculous schedule with only 4 bowlers does.
PaulEwart – He’ll succeed if conditions suit, he won’t if they don’t. He may have lost the capacity to threaten without the right conditions. Wasn’t Selvey grumbling about his being down on his speed in the Caribbean? It could be the dreaded “loss of nip”. Again, time will tell. It’s not as though anyone’s banging at the door.
Rooto – The acid test is coming for Jimmy. Edgbaston and Trent Bridge should suit him more, or at least people expect them to suit him more. Therefore if he doesn’t get the wickets, there will be media pundits and fans wanting him to make The Oval some sort of swansong. But he’ll play all three tests. I can’t comment on any technical problems, as I’m mostly just listening.

Poetry Corner With The BogFather…

The slow decline continues

No longer able to lead the attack

Still carrying an injury?

A slight action change, stiff backed

Becoming a one trick/track pony

Without a plan B, he lacks

The pace to worry a batsman

Or the skills to thrill, alack.

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4. Both test matches have surprised in the gap between the two winners. Do you see another one-sided match or is this going to be closer (let’s ignore the weather reports for now)?
Colonel – God knows. I’d hazard a guess at a closer contest, but after the relative unpredictability of the first 2 games it’s anyone’s guess. I suppose most will predict another emphatic Aussie victory – so I’ll be contrary and predict an England win. But if I were putting a bet on it would be a rain-affected draw.
Oscar – I think that Australia are the stronger team both on paper, however I do think if England bat first in any match and score 400+ it allows the bowlers to create pressure and Australia’s middle order is slightly suspect for me.  Voges and Marsh remind me of Marcus North, good players but not frightening, and if Clarke continues to score 30 and then get out we can win matches.  The problem is if Australia bat first and do the same thing I think the pressure will get to us more.  I do think that the series is evenly balanced in that a coin toss may decides the destination of the Ashes (especially if we get more flat pitches).
PaulEwart – I can see Australia dismantling England if the pitch has any life in it. They opened some old wounds at Lords, despite what Moeen may say. I can’t see England doing the same, the 1st Test was just the kick in the pants Australia needed. Let’s just hope we’re competitive after the mauling at Lords. Still, we are a very odd team at the moment, and Root, Stokes and Buttler can take the game away from any team. I don’t think they will, though. The Aussies have rediscovered their collective mongrel/ticker (delete as appropriate). A draw is the best we can hope for.
Rooto – I feel that England’s chances will depend on the performance of the pitch. We have seen that Australia have brought out their best game, and can take 20 wickets inside 2 days of bowling. England will need some assistance to do the same, so (assuming not more than 1 day lost to weather), if it’s flat, it could be a similar style of result to Lord’s – not necessarily of the same magnitude – but if it’s spicy then we have a puncher’s chance, and the match will definitely be short enough to reach a finish.
Poetry Corner from The Bogfather

We don’t do close anymore

As the results since ’06 show*

So the gap is no surprise

Winning margins continue to grow.

Is this first day initiative?

Or just a period in time

Or perhaps it’s just because

They’re no longer able to bat time…

Has ODI and T20

Led to a loss of application?

It seems a world problem

Not just for these two nations.

Yet the quality of bowling in general

Is lower than 20/30 years ago

So when true pace or spin arrives

Technique is the first thing to go…

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5. Chris Rogers would be a great loss to the Australian batting line-up, wouldn’t it? Do you think it might potentially cost them dear?
Colonel – Yes and maybe. But then again in the medium term Australia will have to move on from Rogers, so why not now? Many England supporters were delighted to see the back of Harris, Haddin and Watson – but then look at how well Hazlewood, Nevill and Mitch Marsh have done. Shaun Marsh is unlikely to match up to Rogers’ runs, but I think the injection of younger players into their side, even though enforced by injury, are actually working in the tourist’s favour. A few fresh faced Pikes in place of seasoned soldiers like Corporal Jones, Frazer and Godfrey is bringing Dad’s Army renewed energy.
Oscar -Ireally like Rogers, he is a perfect counterpoint to Warner (who knew a dasher and someone solid as an opening combination would put pressure on the opposition??).

I think potentially he could be a big loss, because whilst Warner will probably get a lot of runs, his style makes him suspect to getting out early.  Marsh is an odd one, great heritage, but he has been knocking on the door for a long time and I think he is in his early 30s.  To me, given that Watson has opened, Warner was picked in 2012/3 from T20 with very little FC experience, I have to presume he isn’t the answer long-term for Rogers.  On a good pitch (with a good toss lost!!) they could be 30/3 before they know it and suddenly under pressure.  That’s why cricket is such a brilliant game, because 30 minutes in 6 hours of play can turn a game.  I still remember sitting at Edgbaston behind the bowlers arm with Freddie bowling to the greatest allrounder the game has ever seen (Kallis – I thought I would stir a debate btl that isn’t Ashes related J).  For a two over spell the game almost stopped and became just a duel between two men, the atmosphere at the ground was so intense it was eerie.   Plus Collingwood got a place saving century with a 6 (Pieterson was criticised the previous day for trying to do the same (plus ca change)), I also like to forget that Graham Smith batted for the whole of the last day to save the game.

Enough digression, Rogers is a big loss for Australia, their middle order’s suspect…what could possibly go wrong (I am betting it is called Mitch).

PaulEwart – He would, he’s in sparkling form. But so is Shaun Marsh. The middle order is looking a little vulnerable with Clarke and Voges yet to catch fire, but Mitchell Marsh looks promising and Mitch, Warner and Neville look in good touch. He will be a loss, but I expect a strong performance from an Aussie side on a roll. It must be that ‘deep momentum’ or is it that mysterious but vitally important ‘luck’ thing…….

Rooto – Warner’s been surprisingly quiet so far. Rogers’ form has put him in the role of junior opener. He was warming up at Lord’s, though, and if he becomes senior partner to Shaun Marsh, then this could be a big influence on the match. Aus would miss Rogers, but there could be compensations. Boom!
Poetry Corner from The Bogfather –

A player well versed in our conditions

Providing solidity at the crease

Who bats for the team and his partners

Allowing them freedom and release

He’d be a loss to any team

And though It pains me to say

I hope he’s passed fit and well

And is able to play…

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So, there you have it. TLG’s excellent match preview, an Ashes Panel, and tomorrow, weather permitting, Act 3 in the 2015 Ashes.

Ashes Panel #007 – The Spectre of a Skyfall, No Quantum of Solace

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You knew I’d do that with the title, didn’t you?

Before we start, a little cross-promotion. On the Extra Bits, I’ve added another ten pics from the Lord’s Test. Click here.

The seventh edition of the Ashes Panel has taken time to reflect on the result and consider some of the events of the week. We have an esteemed panel, and a sad absentee. We have Hillel, a major tweeter under the EoinJPMorgan label, Man In A Barrel (MIAB) who has been on this blog for a long old while, our Hammer overseas MD Payne, and Philip Chapman (PGP). Sadly, the other invitee, our very own Bogfather has been unable to participate this time around, so I’ve decided I’ll step into his shoes, if not with poetry, but with passion instead….

So, off we go…..

1. We’ve had a few days to digest the result from Lord’s. What was your initial reaction and has it changed?
PGP – Genuine surprise at how poorly we batted. I was at Lords for about 2 hours on Thursday and the pitch was so flat I fancied a bat against our attack. The thing about our team is that it is mentally weak. So they don’t have the mental strength to say “it doesn’t matter what the opposition scored, I am going to bat for as long as I can and go big”. The Aussies bowled significantly better but it was the wickets that Marsh got that hurt us the most.
Hillel – I am rather ambivalent on the Lord’s debacle, as horrified as I was at the time (and remain so) to see the lack of fight that we put up in the second innings; there are correct ways to lose. Lord’s, in the long run, will not be as terrible as many pundits are suggesting. It was not, as we have seen before with England, the revelation of some horrific endemic problem that faces us, but rather an accumulation of far too many relatively minor mistakes which added up to cost us dearly. The pitch clearly favoured swing and pace over seam which massively advantaged Australia; it seems strange that England are the only country which won’t doctor all of its pitches to suit their bowling attack. Even if one disagrees with the point that the pitch favoured Australia over England, it was clear that whichever team won the toss had as good as won the Test. Additionally, England’s batting lineup are on the whole horrifically out of form and one cannot expect Cook and Root to be able to save us every innings. We have to learn to rest Wood as well. Overall however, I don’t feel that disappointed and think overreactions, whilst plentiful, remain futile.
MDP – I live in Australia so went to bed at tea on the 4th day and my emotion was one of ‘same old England’ again. Waking to find we had capitulated in such fashion was a bit of a shock, though. I would at least have expected them to take the game into the final day. Since then fear has crept in that we are looking at another heavy series defeat.
MIAB – Frankly I was overjoyed at the win.  I find it difficult to support England anymore and so any team that beats us so resoundingly feels like another small crack in the self-satisfied carapaces of Clarke, Strauss, Cook etc.  Eventually they will be gone.
DO – I confess, I was wavering. I thought Australia were sending out some real distress signals with their machinations over Haddin and Watson. This was a time to go in for the kill, but Day 1 put paid to any of that over-used cliche “momentum” to take effect. Smith’s 215, Rogers 173. Once that happened it was almost inevitable, as this team of our’s doesn’t seem to react well to scoreboard pressure – they aren’t alone in that. So once we slumped to 30-odd for 4 while I was there I thought anyone with a Day 5 ticket was in trouble.
My initial reaction was one of feeling stupid that I doubted an Australian team’s mental strength, relief I hadn’t indulged in the hyperbole that followed the win in Cardiff, and a bit of affirmation in the trend we have of following up a win with a defeat. Since then I’ve just watched an England team talking a good game for Edgbaston, and wondering if these are the deluded rantings of condemned men, or real belief. I’m really not sure.
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2. I’ve seen a lot of pundits saying “it’s still 1-1” and “stop being fickle”. I’m certainly not a fan of the last one. But it doesn’t feel all square, does it?
PGP – See the above after we won the first game the emotions were running high, we took the foot off the gas, as we have done loads recently. So a feeling of frustration as much as anything.
Hillel – It certainly does not feel square, and saying that the score is level is a gross oversimplification. All professional sportsmen (or women) will easily be able to tell you that sport depends a great deal on confidence and momentum, which is undoubtedly with Australia at the amount. Nonetheless, as guilty as the eternal optimists are the eternal pessimists. It is foolish to proclaim this series done and dusted whilst there is still much to play for and, as Australia showed at Lord’s, momentum can swing (pardon the pun) round in an instant: It will all depend very much on how England carry themselves, and whether they are able to dust themselves off and move on or wallow in self-pity. I’m pleased to say it seems likely that this new England side under Bayliss are more than capable of shrugging off a large defeat, returning to play positive cricket, and win the series (or at least give the Ozzies a run for their money).
MDP – No it doesn’t. My mind keeps returning to the 1997 series, when England won the first Test convincingly and it all went downhill from there. Can’t see anything coming from the camp to suggest it won’t happen again.
MIAB – It certainly does not feel like 1-1.  Look at the trajectories of the 2 teams – Australia are improving and England got wiped out.  Look at the opening partnership: Australia have made 52 and 19, 78 and 114.  These are impressive figures, especially when you consider that Rogers was deemed too old by certain pundits and that Warner was supposed to be technically fallible.  For all his loathsome personality, he is actually a smart cricketer.  His footwork is quick and his batswing is straight i.e. he has a good technique, certainly much more technically correct than Cook.  He is playing more cautiously than he normally does but he is getting used to the pace and bounce and movement of the ball in English conditions.  He is going to make a big score at some point.  The way that he and Rogers took on the English attack in the 3rdinnings at Lords was superb.  Their certainty of shot, the lack of fuss demoralised the opposition:  you could see confidence draining out of them.  Smith is in good form and he is very impressive technically.  For all his fidgeting, at the point the ball is bowled his head is still.  His backlift is impressively vertical.  He moves calmly into position without any fuss at all and then hits the ball.  He is as orthodox as say Sobers or Cowdrey once the ball is bowled.  Now that he has decided to milk Ali, as he did so successfully in the World Cup, rather than attempt to smash him out of the attack, there is no reason not to expect him to keep scoring big hundreds.  Clarke is getting into something approaching good form.  Nevill and Marsh seem a cut above Watson and Haddin – although it was unfortunate that Watson received 2 such shocking lbw decisions.  The bowling is also getting better and Johnson found his mojo after his 77 in Cardiff.
Looking at England, all you can say is that Stokes is batting well and Broad has remembered how to bowl.  The Aussies seem able to dry Cook up.  Root is about to get the working over that will show whether he really is world-class, as all the pundits have been telling us for the last 2 years.  Wood is unfit.  Ali cannot keep control – there is a rank long hop or full toss every other over – and if the Aussies just keep milking him for 5 singles per over, Cook cannot keep bowling him unless he takes wickets.  There really are not many positives.  Can Cook motivate his team after that debacle?  That will be the acid test of his captaincy.
DO – Anyone who has had the “pleasure” of being in an Aussie cricket stadium when we are getting humped will be used to the chant “Look at the Scoreboard”. Edgbaston is going to be an absolutely fascinating test match, because we need to come out with intent. Someone needs to make a statement of resistance, and play out of their socks. Joe Root did it at Cardiff, but it needs to be more than him. But thinking this is more like 1997 is not being fickle, it’s being realistic. Australia were arguably caught a bit cold at Cardiff, and they showed true colours at Lord’s. England batting first might be a good start. This doesn’t feel like Perth 2011 to me.
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3. Gary Ballance paid the price for the Lord’s debacle. Fair or not?
PGP – Fair, although I have no idea why his technical issues haven’t been sorted at some point in the last 2 months. Reflects poorly on the eng coaches.
Hillel – The axing of Gary Ballance is a pathetic yield to public pressure of which England should be ashamed. To set the record straight, the man has not been found out; he is out of form. There are those who will point to his technique and the fact that he doesn’t move his legs, and yet forget that Sehwag didn’t use to move his legs much either. Marlon Samuels barely moves his. It is not technique that matters, but the ability to churn out runs and Ballance has already proven he can do so at international level. The other side to the proffered argument is that Ballance is only being dropped in order to rediscover his form, as of when he can return to the team – the flaw in this argument is obvious, for then why is Bell given the opportunity to rediscover his form in the team, and not be dropped? It is not fair at all to drop Gary Ballance, especially when he is not even being directly replaced by a fellow number 3.
MDP – I think it was inevitable – he has just looked so vulnerable against pace bowling. His technical deficiencies have been exploited by Johnson and Starc and I feel keeping him in the squad any longer could have done long-term damage to his confidence. There certainly are others who were fortunate to escape the chop, mind you.
MIAB – Someone had to pay the price.  I feel sorry for Ballance as he has actually scored more runs this series than Bell and Lyth but the latter deserves a few more matches and dropping Bell would effectively end his career, I would imagine.  So many members of the team have not contributed significantly that something had to change.  Bairstow for Buttler was one possibility but that seems to have been ignored.  It might have been more sensible.
DO – I’d never bought the Ballance ticket, as you know. It’s not personal, because mentally I think he’s the real deal, but I got to see that batting stance and trigger movement in the flesh from side on at Lord’s, and it’s alarming. I’m not a technician, and therefore people may think I’m talking nonsense, but it was always on my mind that when the skill level of the bowlers went up, he’d struggle. That said, the sharks of the media were very keen to circle him, and it seemed rather prescient that they were suggesting he was in the most danger compared to Ian Bell who has been in an even more shocking rut. I also thought we were backing young, fresh talent over older lags if the choice prevailed. So I understand it, but can’t help thinking that this is a little panic measure.
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4. Ian Bell’s promotion to number 3 is intriguing. Any logic you can see behind it?
PGP – Bairstow is the form player and has earned his place. He isn’t a number 3. Root won’t do it. Stokes isn’t the right guy. Who is left? Dropping 2 of the top 4 is not a sensible play so bell it is.
Hillel -Once again, England’s fantastic logic is at work: Bell is not scoring any runs at 4, so perhaps moving him to 3 (laughably actually greater exposing him to the new ball) will cause him once again to plunder hundreds for the country. This also points to a wider problem: England have dropped a number 3, and decided to replace him with a number 5, only then to actually worry about who is going to fill the number 3 role; the poor tactical planning in this is so ludicrous it’s actually laughable. It matters not how well Jonny Bairstow is batting if he’s not replacing anyone. Thus it feels less like Ian Bell is intended to be a number 3, and more that he a victim of a team reshuffling to accommodate a number 5 batsman. Furthermore, if we assume if we lose Lyth and Bell early again (for there is no reason to assume we won’t), we are falling into the same trap of asking Joe Root to save the innings, simply at 30-2 instead of 30-3. How helpful.
MDP – Not much, borne out of necessity rather than anything else to accommodate Bairstow. Being first drop when on a bad run of form is a huge gamble. I feel reluctant removing Root from 5 too.
MIAB – I Imagine that the “logic” would be that he wanted to bat at 3 in the Ashes down under when Trott went home but the gig went to Root instead, so let’s bat him at 3 now when he is in terrible form and apparently lacking confidence.  Does he thrive on responsibility?  I don’t really think so.  He seems to prefer it when he is under the radar, out of the spotlight and things are not expected of him.  However, who else can bat 3?  Can you realistically put Ali there the way he is playing at the moment?  Root seems happy at 5 and is one of the few batters to have scored any runs.  Maybe Stokes, but that would be more of a gamble than Strauss and co could take.
DO – I saw Ian Bell make his test best 235 at number three in 2011. I was there, loved every minute of his partnership and thought he made a point. When the chance came to give it to him after Trott’s departure in 2013 from the Ashes tour, they did not change and put Root in to his place. Now this is a decision based on necessity and desperation. They couldn’t drop both Ballance and Bell, because people might question our mighty selection committee’s infinite wisdom, so we come up with this dog’s breakfast. They are flying by the seat of their pants.
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5. You are the lucky panel that get the KP question? You are the selector. Yes or no AS OF NOW (i.e. he’s not played first class cricket for a few weeks).
PGP – Yes I pick him. He is one of the top 4 batters we have.
Hillel – We know KP has the class. We know he is still fit enough to play long innings. We know the world won’t explode (nor the dressing room implode) if he returns the team. I may not love the man dearly, but for goodness’ sake, let’s grow up and just select him on merit.
MDP – My position on this is straightforward, is he in the top 6 batsman in the country? If so, he should be picked. I think it’s open for debate whether he is but my feeling is his experience would be invaluable for the challenges ahead. So I’d say yes.
MIAB – Yes.  He has been playing cricket recently after all and I am not entirely convinced that playing for Surrey would be of any great value in preparing to face the Mitches.  I suspect he would do what Nasser used to do after his innumerable broken fingers on tour – set up net conditions and practise as if it were a real match.
DO – When the ECB did him over (and I’m utterly convinced, as I’ve been for a few months now, that this is Giles Clarke’s work) and basically packed him off to T20 humdrum, they cut off an option. An option they should have left open. It isn’t the ECB’s team, it’s our team. The fact that a talent who COULD make a difference, who had just mashed a 355 not out (and stuff those who diminish it), and yes, who would go out there with something to prove, a chip on his shoulder, a passion to make people sit up and notice, would have been an option. But no. We go all prissy about a load of old twaddle, in the old English way. I say no, he shouldn’t be in the team under current circumstances because he’s not played first class cricket for perfectly understandable reasons (a point those who are totally against him ignore), but if he’d stayed here, given a hope to play, and piled on the runs, why wouldn’t you want that option?
We know the answer to that last question. Idiots.
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As is his wont, PGP has had a lovely supplemental comment which I think I should share with you…
I really need have a rant about James Whittaker.
Pre Duncan Fletcher selection was typically chaotic. When Fletcher was in charge we had a vision. Steady 3 dimensional bowler, swing bowler, 90mph bowler and a bouncey bowler. Then a mixture of stroke players and hard working players.
With Moores v1 we had a transaction of players to the successful group which flower and Strauss made blossom (sorry). What both these coaches did was identify the type of players and back them. In most cases it worked.
At the end of the Flower reign when Whittaker took over we have seen no coherent selection strategy. No identification of new players other than just picking the current form player. The only exception is Root.
Where is the Strauss, Trescothick or Vaughan? Players picked for the mental strength rather than the run scoring.
I also don’t see how have two full time coaches is a successful approach for selectors.
We have seen multiple players ruined, the treatment of Hales is borderline masochistic. The over bowling of Anderson and Broad is insane. Any reader can have their examples.
Something has to give. Whittaker should have stood up for KP and Carberry in selection rather than just doing as told.  Pathetic. A man with morals would have resigned.
And that was me being gentle.
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As usual, my thanks to the contributors, who put in a ton of time and effort and they are great for doing so.
Ashes Panel #008 will probably be sent out in the next day or so and will focus a little more on Edgbaston.
Thanks all. Have a good weekend.

Ashes Panel #006 – Lord’s A Mercy (Mitchell Collapse Mix)

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A little plug – put up 10 more pictures on The Extra Bits from Lord’s on Friday. Have a look, hope you enjoy them. Part 1 is here.

It’s a few days after the disaster at Lord’s and there have been recriminations-a-plenty. So, striking while the iron is hot, and loading up my laptop without opening the piece of crap that is ITunes (which crashed my laptop TWICE last night), here are the latest Ashes Panel responses.

The drill was, as I have ten days between games, to have an immediate reaction, a considered reaction in #007 and a look-forward to Edgbaston for #008. Five questions, responded to at varying lengths by…. Andy In Brum (Andy), My fellow Friday at Lord’s man Keyser Chris (Chris), my fellow Southeastern Sufferer, The Great Bucko (Sean), Cricket Jon (Jon), and our resident Yorkie (Metatone)….

These were sent out on Sunday night and I had all responses by middle of yesterday. Gold stars, and huge thanks, to all.

1. That was an annihilation. Bad day at the office or something more deep-seated?
Andy – If I said both, would that make sense, yes it was a bad day, we’ve proven we’re better than that at Lord v NZ & Cardiff last week. Unfortunately, the flaws that have been bailed out by the middle order & an inspired bowling performance creating a batting collapse.

Our top order is flaky & our bowlers lack penetration on flat decks. Losing Rashid was a massive blow. Even if he would have got spanked, he’d have got wickets.
Jon – I think it is a matter of sustainability. In conditions that suit ( and the evidence is overwhelming that the Lords pitch doesn’t suit our seam attack) and where we have a chance to apply some scoreboard pressure, our guys can keep up from time to time with the best of them. But even in circumstances where, for instance, Darren Bravo is on his way to a match winning knock such as he was against England just three months ago we “go for a walk” in terms of competitive intensity. The heads drop.
It isn’t surprising. One banner you can expect to get rolled out over the next few weeks is that they are halfway through a long campaign in the Test arena and it is affecting the players. Well no shit Sherlock, whose Board agreed to this schedule? I hope the MSM are reading this because if they roll the fatigue banner they will be pooing on their own doorstep ( by virtue of them being the extended media arm of the ECB). In short, it’s a bad day at the office that has a recurring theme. [ I shall now remove the splinters from my backside].

Meta – I feared a humping when I saw the weather forecast. We don’t have the bowling attack to prosper on Chief Executive pitches. We’ve been reliant on Joe Root to get big scores, he was bound to have an off day sooner or later. Aussie bowlers were bound to bowl a bit better than in Cardiff. We’re not good against real pace. Certainly not “a bad day at the office” – this defeat sits in line with the failures against a touring SA and of course the drubbing we had Down Under. Very little has actually changed since then. Surprise, surprise! Sacking KP didn’t make much difference – a cynic might wonder if actually he wasn’t the problem.

Chris – In isolation, an aberration. But it’s not in isolation, given England’s recent performances. Anyone who follows me & Dmitri on Twitter knows we were at Lord’s separately on Friday. Separately we straightaway saw the Aussie bowling in the flesh was a step above in that last Friday session compared to us, even accounting for the extra rest Rogers & Smith gave them. It was sensational. And on an allegedly duff pitch. Losing by 400+ at home, at Lord’s, with the sun mostly out? Oh my. England have a bad recent habit of collapses, and it’s under Cooks watch even when he gets (blood-soaked apparently) runs. There has to be some ministerial responsibility on that front.
Sean – It was a complete annihilation and probably one of the most embarrassing performances that England have put in for a long time; however it shows why most people on the blog didn’t embrace the musings of the national media, who had made Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss the saviours of all cricket. We are ranked number 6 in the world and that accurately reflects where we are in international cricket. We haven’t had a front line spinner since Swann retired and a reliable opener since Strauss himself retired as well as a middle order that is consistently inconsistent. The fact that the national media decided to throw eulogies around as if it was going out of fashion and had written off the Aussies, shows how far up the ECB’s backside they all are. I predicted at the beginning that the series would be a tight one and i still think it will be, but we need to sort the top 4 out as Root can’t always be there to dig us out of 40/3 hole.
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2. Focus is on the batting, that undoubtedly did not do well – we’ll come to that. But that’s two deeply unimpressive test matches from James Anderson. Reason to be worried?
Andy – Yes, he doesn’t appear to get the ball to move anymore, either normal or reverse swing. That’s very worrying.
Jon – It is understandable that as he gets older Anderson will become less effective on these types of pitches. So yes we have reason to be worried. For this is not a time for change in Planet ECB. This is all about maximising inflow of funds for the Paymasters so my delight at a 180 plays 210 plays 210 seeking 180 shootout, the best type of a Test you could ever see, is something of a sporting fantasy and flies in the face of the modus oppo of these dreadful people who run our game. (Mind you I thought he bowled well in the 2nd inns at Cardiff).
Meta Post 2011 (where he was excellent) Anderson has been neutered when the pitch doesn’t swing. I’ve gone all the way to saying England should have looked at the pitch at Lords and the weather forecast and not picked him. That’s probably a bit of 20/20 hindsight because you couldn’t know it would never swing across the 5 days. Yet at the very least he shouldn’t be using the new ball if there’s no swing… Worried? Yes I am, because if we get 2 more flat pitches, well hard to see how that’s not the series lost…
Chris – Lyth needs more time. We all know that, rightly or wrongly. Bairstow is in sensational county form, and has to play especially given the way he’s been messed around on previous tours. Every stat backs that up. It’ll be for Ballance, because you can’t drop 3 & 4 at the same time, plus Root has to stay at 5. Apropos of nowt, Cook opening but not facing the first ball & leaving it to Lyth is just wrong, hiding behind the captaincy pressure thing to avoid it – just wrong. Cook primarily is an opener. Open.
Sean It’s a concern and has been for a while. Anderson now seems to only be able to perform on those pitches that suit his bowling and provide him with some swing and seam movement. Granted the two pitches we just played on offered nothing for the quicks (unless you happen to be tearing it down at 90+ MPH) but it was a horribly toothless display from our attack (Broad excepted) and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Finn given a go at Edgbaston, though as a Middlesex fan who has watched a lot of him this season, I’m not sure it’s the right call. I think we have to understand that we have bowled Jimmy into the ground over the past few years and it looks like he has lost his nip (or that it has been blunted from years of bowling on flat pitches) and that Father Time may be catching up with him. He may come back, if Edgbaston and/or Trent Bridge offer some sideways movement replicating what happened against India last year, but unfortunately i think we are seeing the gradual winding down of a top drawer test bowler.
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3. I confess, I saw none of the 337 for 1 first day. What went wrong?
Andy – Shit dead pitch, good batting, bowling not that penetrative, but it wasn’t bad.
Jon – Nothing much. Australia just applied themselves.
Meta – I didn’t see the whole day. From what I saw we had a bit of bad luck in the morning session, and shelled a couple of chances. And good players on a reasonable batting pitch took advantage. And yet… Jimmy didn’t threaten and Wood looked a bit tired. And Ali was bowling with an injury. Stokes didn’t get it together. Basically we didn’t have enough threat on this kind of pitch. It’s the usual story – real pace or mystery spin takes wickets when the going is tough – and we have neither. As I say above, this is an issue going back to 2012 at least.
Chris – Primarily, 337-1 happened (from what I saw on telly whilst, erm, working) because Rogers & Smith batted really really well. They earnt it. Ignore the bad pitch guff – those runs still had to be scored. Anderson going wicket less is a real worry this early in a series. 4 Tests ago I would have Broad dropped for his terrible scared batting; he bowled terrifically this Test. Anderson needs a question or two raised about him so he ups his game. It’s been a while since that was necessary, but needs must. We may need to think about Mark Wood alternatives later this series as well (not necessarily for the alleged fitness issue – more him slowly being found out? Unless he digs out an imaginary alpaca!)
Sean – I worked from home that day and watched some of it on the TV. The main thing that went wrong was we lost the toss on a flat, flat wicket. Australia batted very well and i thought Rodgers and Smith batted very intelligently (and Davie Warner showed us again why his score outweighs his IQ); however It wasn’t our performance on day 1 that lost us this test, it was the batting on the evening of day 2.
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4. What changes would you make to the batting line-up, if any?
Andy – I’m a massive bell fan, but he’s so far out of form, he’s down with Downton looking up at those fishes with lights. So Bairstow for him & Root to 4.
Jon -Remove GB, his runs against poor attacks such as SL, India and WI count for little once you face NZ and Australia. I wouldn’t make any other changes. These are the guys the Paymasters want in the team so let’s lie on the pillows we spent two years plumping. However to not remove GB would be stubborn and I think his replacement should be Compton ( although it won’t be).
Meta – It is still 1-1 and we actually lost this match bowling, long before the batting f!cked up. Hence, I’d give Lyth another chance – also I’m having trouble saying that Carberry or Compton would do better – yet they are the prime candidates in CC at the moment. I’d send Ballance back to CC and pick either Taylor at 3, or promote Bell to 3 and pick KP. Ballance has clearly been worked out and is all over the place. It’s kind of odd as a Yorkshire fan to not pick Bairstow, but he’s not cut out to come in at 3 or 4 – and he’s not clearly better as a package than Root, Buttler or Stokes.
Chris I think move Bell to 3 & play Bairstow at 4. It keeps the changes relatively minimal. Hales should be looked at as well, but maybe not for a Test or two. Firefighting is the order of the day right now. Post-Ashes then we look at the longer term, even considering the third straight potential “difficult winter”… It really is all too predictable this situation. Honestly Dmitri, bet you regret not “piping down” now!
Sean – It’s a difficult one, because a) i don’t think chopping and changing the batting works and b) there is no one (Bairstow excepted) who looks like they could fill one of the problem child spots. I think they will make one change and that will be Bairstow for Ballance (who if he tried to bat any deeper in his crease, would be standing at first slip) with Bell at 3, Root at 4 and Bairstow at 5 – now whether i agree with that decision is a mute point, i just can’t see the management dropping Bell. On a side note, I still believe that we have to give Lyth the whole series before we decide whether he is good enough (I think Bob Willis giving him a 0/10 and calling him out of his depth, was an extraordinary statement for a batsman who has played 4 tests and scored one hundred). I also couldn’t name another opener in the county game at the moment that isn’t out of form or could do a better job again the Mitchells.
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5. 103 all out on a featherbed. Can you think of a worse England Ashes batting performance. Go let it out……. pick one. (Not allowed to pick Adelaide 2006).
Andy – Sydney 2013
Jon – There was one in the Boxing Day 1990 Test at MCG where we were 100ish for 1 on top of a lead of 50 and from nowhere 9 wickets fell for 50 runs meaning they within the space of a session only had to chase 200 in a day (which they did). A bit like Melbourne 2013 but without the team meeting.
Meta – Worse batting performance? Hard to choose in my lifetime – Headingley 1989 probably hurt me the most, because it feels in retrospect like a precursor to so many more. Melbourne 1990 being the obvious next one. But in the end, surely the one I have to tag, because it so represents how this team is still Cooky’s is Brisbane 2013…
Chris – Damn you. You knew I would go for the 2006 “Scottish play”… Score-wise, these don’t really compare, but Melbourne & Sydney in 2013/14 and Headingley 2009 spring to the top of my head. Most of those were rescued by an individual or twos scores (“him” twice in Melbourne, Swann & Broads humpty at Headingley ’09); but mostly abject. There have surely been worse – I just can’t bring myself to statsguru those dark places in my soul!
Sean – I’ve been watching English cricket for the past 20 years and unfortunately have seen more English collapses than i’ve eaten hot meals; however the one that sticks with me is the 51 all out at Sabina Park in 2009 in part 1 of the glorious Peter Moore’s reigns. This again was no minefield off a pitch and the West Indies attack was hardly a mirror of the one from 15 years previous led by Walsh and Ambrose (I remember the 46 all out debacle as well), yet we succumbed in such a weak and gutless fashion, so much so that my partner at the time decided to go for a long walk to get away from all of the expletives that I was hurling at the TV (I was in a mood for about a week after that performance). Salt was then rubbed in the wound by the fact that we couldn’t beat a mediocre West Indies side in the remaining games of the series and went down to a 1-0 series defeat, which i still believe should have cost Peter Moores his job first time around. Mind you, England’s collapse against the short ball last Summer in the second innings at Lords against india was pretty rage inducing too. (er…..Ashes, Sean…. still this was too good to leave out.)
As always, some terrific responses, and some decent insight from these outside cricket muppets! Keep an eye out for #007 (no James Bond question) in the next few days!

Ashes Panel #005 – My Lords…..Poetry and Positions, Regrets and Decisions

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As an aperitif to the main event, the social event of the cricketing calendar, the Ashes at Lord’s – also known as England’s second test venue – we have the fifth instalment of the Ashes panel. Same format, five questions, of varying levels of banality, tackled head on by willing volunteers. Because we had such a short turnaround, I increased the number of people questioned, and once again, as with Panel #004, we have more than four respondents.

So, to introduce them, there is…

Philip Chapman (PGP); Oscar da Bosca (OdB); CricketJon (CJ); GraemeCr (Graeme); Metatone (Meta) and the inimitable poetry of The Bogfather (Bog). Hillel (EoinJPMorgan) was gracious enough to send his apologies for being unable to contribute this time around, but will be back soon.

Thanks one and all, and with all hope for the formatting not being completely horrendous, here we go….

1. We’re on the brink of the Lord’s test. Do you think this will suit Australia more than Cardiff?
Meta Lords will suit Australia more. It probably won’t be as fast and bouncy as they would like, but it will play to their bowling strengths more than Cardiff. On top of that, the forecast is fine weather and that usually blunts the swing there. That brings an advantage to Warner and Smith.
CJ – I think we are entering the realisation ( that the MSM haven’t yet done) or point of recognition that Australia perform with the Kooka on fast pitches and we perform with the Duke on slow pitches. To me it really is as simple as that. England are in a better place for sure but we will know much more about them after Lords and Brum.
PGP – Given that Mick Hunt the Lord’s groundsman has significant previous at preparing “home” pitches, I suspect the pitch will be slow but with better carry than at Cardiff. Will it suit the Aussies more? I am not sure that matters at this point – It will be a flat batting track. Lord’s has significant development work in progress and a full house on day 5 will be helpful.
OdB – As ever it will depend on what the groundsman serves up.  Lords can be a road, but as last year against India shows, they can give us a green seamer.  I think the Aussie batsmen will enjoy it more, it is a quick ground so good shots are rewarded.  I think that their bowlers may struggle, Johnson had issues last time with the slope, and I think that’s where his song was first heard, Starc was dropped in 2013 and will have to learn quickly how to deal with the slope, Hazelwood if he gets it right may be a handful, but they have to get used to it quickly.  They didn’t really seem to cope with Cardiff too well and took an innings to work out the lengths and areas to bowl, if England bat first again and they don’t acclimatise quickly they could be looking down the barrel after 2 days.
Graeme – The Lords pitch is always difficult to predict.  For a number of years in the noughties, the tracks used to have life for 2 days and then suddenly die, enabling some amazing feats of batting endurance from the likes of Sri Lanka.  Mick Hunt now seems to have cracked the art of creating a pitch that lasts for 5 days.  Last year he produced a green-top for the India match, which Broad and Anderson bowled appallingly badly on, but it turned into a good batting surface and retained enough pace and bounce on day 5 for Ishant to bowl India to victory.  I think this year’s pitch will be fairly similar given that he has had a period of hot dry weather, followed by some cool, damp days.  If there is bounce, then Australia will be a handful and Brad Haddin might even be able to catch a ball.  He really struggled when the ball was round his ankles at Cardiff – the Aussie technique of taking the ball at your side does not work so well when there is unpredictable bounce.  Rogers knows Lords well.  Clarke averages 47 there, however, which is a touch below his total average and Smith had a rough time in 2013.  A lot will depend on the toss and which set of bowlers uses the conditions better.  I favour Australia slightly because this is one pitch in the UK where raw pace might count for something and I wonder whether Anderson and Broad can keep their discipline for 2 matches on the trot?
Poetry Corner from The Bogfather…

I’m sure we expect a more even contest there

With even bounce across sloping square

The Aussie bats will like this consistency

I fully expect Smith to make hay at three.

.

A little damp below, but with more lift and rip

Hazlewood will love it when an opener gloves to slip

But if England’s eyes alight on a short of a length strip

Then we’ll see if our beloved leader can keep a grip.

.

Whether Mitch J can swing it the right way

Will be very important periods of play

Clarke will lead his wounded hordes

To a series equalling win at Lords.

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2. Brad Haddin’s drop of Joe Root was pretty important, yet it is his batting that is really a concern. How long do you think he should be given? [Note – some responded to the question before the news of Haddin’s issues were made public.]
PGP –  I would drop him now and get Neville in – as we have seen with England last year over Matt Prior, you get fresh energy from a new young keeper. That won’t happen as he is one of Clarke’s only mates on the pitch. Which is good news for us.
Meta – As an England fan, going by the stats, I’ll be hoping they give Haddin at least until the end of the series. I expect Lehmann to pick him for the Lord’s game, but if he has another bad game I would think they will pick someone else – particularly if they go 2-0 down. Now if I’d seen more of the alternatives, I might be keener to drop Haddin.
OdB – The remaining 4 tests…..Seriously I am surprised he is still playing with an average of about 14 since Sydney 2014.  Perhaps Brad is a magic name like Alistair that allows selectors to ignore form and look at the other values he brings to the team.  I have never been a fan of his keeping and I think his batting is typically Australian so he will always struggle on English wickets (lots of back foot play).  I think both he and Watson will be retained for Lords, Lehman’s ‘just a blip’ describes how they view themselves and England and changing the team would be seen as a backward step.  I also think both he and Watson will be dropped by the 3rd test.  The problem with dropping them is that once you do it is the end of their careers so it is not an easy decision to make.
Graeme – I would not be surprised if Haddin were dropped.  Unless Broad and Anderson bowl short to him, he appears to be totally unable to play a moving ball.
CJ – We appear to be overtaken by events. There may be other forces in the background but apart from that I am surprised at such a downturn in form at 37. Bob Taylor was still a class keeper at 40 to 42 between 1981 and 1983 albeit in a very different era.
Poetry Corner from The Bogfather…

A single dropped catch happens

His keeping has become leaden-footed yet

If he fails and Australia lose this one

He’ll be replaced for the Third, I’d bet

No longer a danger to make the tail wag

Time to put gloves away in his kit-bag.

.

(Update)

It seems that Brad

Will miss the game

For personal reasons

And that’s a shame

Like him or not

To be unable to play

Such a pity to miss

The match in this way.

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3. Are you at all concerned about our opening partnership, which, one stand at Headingley apart, appears to be going the way of other recent pairings?
Graeme The English opening partnership is a real concern given that Cook is impregnable.  I think Lyth should be given more time but, thanks to Moores’s safety-first (I need good results so I will stick with the guys I know) approach, he did not get a run in the Caribbean and has been given a difficult baptism against a lively New Zealand attack, even if it was not firing on all cylinders, and now the Aussies.  He seems a decent batsman but, let’s face it, he is doing no better than Carberry who was dropped presumably for having the temerity to outscore Cook down-under.  The worry is that the Aussies seem to be able to tie him down quite easily and he does not know how to rotate the strike…and nor does Cook seem to understand the importance of trying to bat WITH his partners rather than against them.  When things got bogged down, you would often see Strauss try something to break the deadlock, risking his wicket in the process.  Cook will never be unselfish enough to do that even if he had the ability, which I doubt.  For all his faults, Boycott had the ability to pinch a single and play from the other end.  I wish he could pass this know-how to Lyth.
Meta – Very concerned. You can’t keep losing openers quickly and still win matches. If England are to win the series they’ll need one of the openers to stand up. As a Yorkist I’m also particularly concerned that unless Lyth comes good very quickly he is likely to be the fall guy, even if he is outscoring Cook.
OdB – No, I think Lyth got a good ball in his first innings and moved the game on really well in the second (I still can’t believe how naïve the Australians played on Saturday afternoon, just bat a session and a half on a slow pitch and walk away with a draw (only about 2 hours play maximum would have been possible on Sunday)).  Cook just needs to continue his form against NZ, dancing down the pitch twice to Lyon was bizarre, however not as odd as seeing an off spinner bowling the 7th over of a first innings.  Unfortunately the Trott debacle hasn’t let us see enough of Lyth and Cook, but I like the cut of Lyth’s jib and I think he will last the summer and beyond.
CJ – Far too early to say although there is form with Compton, Robson, Root (temporarily) and Trott being experimented with. Lyth was found out on day 1 trying to force to leg when he should have been playing straight. This brings me to the point about being aggressive. There are times to do this, it will not always be appropriate against the new ball. Fwiw I think Lyth looked pretty good in that busy period with Ian Bell last Saturday.
PGP – I think I have said before that my gut instinct is the selectors picked the wrong Yorkshire opening batsman when they went for Lyth – although I would have picked Hales. Lees is a more talented player who can also read a game as his Captaincy of Yorkshire has proved (better than Cook and Root…!) However, he score a ton recently and as he has been picked on weight of runs he should be given more time. Cook scoring some runs will be helpful.

Poetry Corner from The Bogfather…

Who would accept the poison-chalice ?

Of opening with Our Leader

Just as likely to be abused by Alice

And fed into the farm animal food feeder.

.

If so daring to outscore or upset

He who must be eternally lauded

Tho’ if one of them were to run him out

I for one, will have applauded.

.

In truth our top order

Is in need of some vigour

For e’en a small partnership

Can seem like mortis (rigor-).

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4. Despite a wonderful team performance, there are murmurings that Root should bat at three. Do you agree, and if so what do you do about Gary Ballance?
OdB – Madness, he averages 90 odd at 5 in the past year why move him?  I have concerns about Ballance, I think his average was inflated by mid-range bowling last summer, however they clearly see something in him and I admired his nuggety 60 at Cardiff.  It looked awful, but runs are runs, however you get them.  Bell is more of a concern, his first innings was all the collar up, bristling with intent bollocks that he thinks makes him look like a better batsman, to me he looked like he was going to get out at any minute, and the dismissal against Johnson in the second, backing away a la Clarke v Broad leaving all stumps visible.  Like Haddin and Watson, if he gets dropped it’s the end of his career, and I can’t think of any attacking no 4. batsman eligible for England with a good record against Australia who could replace him….
Graeme – Root looks good at 5 so why move him?  In his earlier days, Sobers batted all over the place, even opening during the Tied Test.  However, once Worrell put him at 6, he stayed at 6 for the rest of his career, even though he was the best batsman in the team/world.  You can influence a lot of matches from 5.  Ken Barrington played a lot at 5.  As for Ballance, while his recent performances have seen a tailing off from last year, he should be given a few more games.  However, if it becomes clear that he has an issue against the short ball, as appeared possible at Cardiff on that pudding of a pitch, then he should be replaced…and I would favour James Taylor rather than Bairstow.  I am not a great fan of Ballance, his extraordinary trigger movement seems to render him a sitting duck for the full, straight delivery but his record – admittedly against attacks without much in the way of threatening quick bowling – is good.  I would rate him on a level with solid county pros of yesteryear such as Luckhurst, Tim Robinson, Kim Barnett, David Lloyd.  He will score against normal bowling. 
PGP – In the second panel discussions I said I felt that Root should bat at 3, I still think that – but with Ballance’s first innings runs at Cardiff and Root’s apparent desire to stay at 4 or 5 then this is a bit of a moot point. As an interim, I think we would be doing a favour to Ballance if he was pushed to 5 with Bell at 3 and Root at 4. Alternatively Bairstow has been ripping the door down to get into the team. Then there is the option of putting Ali at 5 and playing Rashid.  Technically Ballance is in a bit of a mess – although the time at the crease last week will have been a huge help for him. His head position is key and he needs to get his head moving towards the ball earlier – but that takes confidence, so his issue is a little chicken and egg.

My belief is that the England batting order is a little odd with three blockers up to, then Bell, then Root – then a series of stroke makers in Stokes, Buttler and Moeen. I would prefer to see the order a bit more evenly spread personally.  I also feel that Buttler should be relieved of the wicket keeping shackles, give the gloves to Bairstow, this would give my ideal world order of Cook, Lyth (I would have Hales but that is for another day) Root, Buttler, Bell, Stokes, Bairstow, Ali. Yes I know Buttler is at 4 – but I think he should be given the KP role. He is going to be a superstar, it is time to let that happen – and it evens out the batting order somewhat. Please don’t say “it is too early” rubbish, now is the time.

Meta – I can’t see the benefit at this moment to shuffle the order. Ballance scrapped hard in the 2nd innings and got a bit of reward. Why risk Root’s purple patch when Ballance could be coming back into form? Of course, one might argue Bell may be a better bet at 3 (stronger technique, balance out the R/L a bit more as well.) Or one could call up KP. (As if.) Anyway, realistically, Root is the golden goose and you don’t touch him.

CJ – Ballance at 3 for me, Root at 5. Make the most of the talents you have. A classic case of symptom and cause being mixed up. I think Australia would have been well served leaving Smith at 5 even if it made Watto at 3.
Poetry Corner from The Bogfather…

Nooo! Leave our Joe

To take Root at five

He works so well

With 6/7/8

Giving our innings drive

So there should be no debate.

Perhaps at four in times to come?

When Bell has left the crease

Then Ballance at five

May be where he’ll thrive

And all this conjecture will cease.

Then perhaps Hales could cement

A spot at three to raise the pace

Maybe Bairstow or Taylor too

To provide competition for every place.

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5. As is our media’s trend, we are going overboard about the new management set-up of Strauss, Bayliss, Farbrace and Cook. I’m a notorious curmudgeon and think this is giving them too much credit. What do you think?

CJ – This is more about the absence of Moores. you could almost see he and Cook looking at each on the balcony for inspiration. Farbrace and Bayliss appear to have advised him to take responsibility. There appears to be a welcome embargo on Broad and Anderson ruling the roost ; it is quite possible someone has had a little word in their ear. Their bowling was the difference for me during the Cardiff gig.

Meta – Well Strauss didn’t do anything remarkable. Neither did Cook. So the first pile of nonsense from the media is trying to include them in the halo. Bayliss & Farbrace did do something amazing – they got Broad and Anderson to bowl a proper length – which was in recent times beyond Flower, Saker & Moores. (Who for all their faults are not the worst coaches out there.)

That said, it’s easy to imagine Australia winning the toss at Lord’s, Warner and Smith hitting big scores, England beaten by an innings and FCBS (Farby, Cooky, Bayly & Straussy) looking a lot less clever.

Graeme – Something has happened because they are not playing the way they did last year or earlier this year.  The bowlers are no longer testing the middle of the pitch; the batsman are trying to take on the opposition bowlers;  catches are being held; there is less of the Andersonian adolescent petulance.  Obviously the credit does not belong to Cook because he has been there all through.  You have to wonder what has changed.  Saker and Moores must be prime suspects.  Can you credit Cook for the field placements at Cardiff – the guys waiting for the drive?   This is not Cook’s method.  Something must have changed behind the scenes, somebody must be giving him good advice, supporting his fragile ego, winding back the stupidity and obstinacy of Broad and Anderson.  I wonder if Strauss is not being active behind the scenes….

PGP – Farbrace and Moores were at significant odds during the last 6 months, from what I have heard. The way the Odi team was turned around and the way the test team batted in the Cardiff test suggests a much happier mood around the England teams. Farbrace has to take a huge piece of the credit for this – I also think that Root may be a catalyst to this too.  This is probably a question to ask at the end of the summer. or may be after the trip to Pakistan/UAE or maybe after the trip to SA.  Our next few months of test cricket is bonkers. One of the advantages of playing a young team now is that however the next six months go their group experience will set them up for a long time. I am also worried about Broad and Anderson – as we will miss them when they are gone…

OdBI discussed this with a friend (who attends a test with me each year), he thought that we have had a potentially good test team that just needs direction, and that the ODI narrative has been usefully transferred to the test team.  I think Giles Clarke is a see you next Tuesday who has had a malign influence on this team, was behind various sackings and useless appointments, and I still rail against the ‘outside cricket’ jibe.   It doesn’t help when people like Selvey describe bringing on a spinner for the last over before lunch (a tactic as old as the game itself) as ‘the instinct that gave Moeen the last over before lunch on the final day in which he claimed Warner’s wicket and kick-started the Australian slide to defeat’.  Sorry I thought it was standard practice and a poor shot by Warner who should have gone forward rather than back.  It is clear that Bayliss has had an influence on the fielding and the manner in which we approached the second innings was a breath of fresh air, particularly Lyth and Bells’ counter attack of 49 in 5 overs.  A Flower / Moores side would have been batting on the Saturday morning and got to a 450 + lead by lunch (possibly declaring for 6).  That would not have been enough time to win the match, so I think there is a positive influence.  Strauss is a tough one, I liked him as a captain until the whole twitter/texting nonsense.  He overreacted to texts and ignored potential bullying (whatever Broad says, someone was clearly feeding KPGenius from the dressing room).  Calling someone names on live TV he was unfortunate to be heard, it is the gloating reaction of the MSM that is distasteful not a private conversation overheard by accident.  As for his actions since becoming Director, Cricket; sacking Moores was great, not rehiring KP was always going to happen as he wouldn’t have been given the job otherwise, but retaining Morgan was a brave (and correct) decision and he has reaped some immediate rewards for this.  He is establishment but you have to be to join the ECB, I will wait and see over the next year before I make my mind up on him.  I believe Cook has already retired as captain, they will remember to tell us at the end of the summer.  It looks like Root’s team already, and if Cook gets another home series win under his belt good luck to him, shame about the last 18 months of ordinary performances, was it the previous coaches, or Cook, or both?

The problem is, until we win at Lords (or don’t lose), then it is a bit new coach, same old fallibilities, win one test convincingly, lose the next poorly.  Headingley day 4 (pick a year, any year) is fresh, and if Australia put us under pressure how will Cook cope?  I think we have a potentially good test team (see how we do against SA and Pakistan later on this year to see whether there is the potential to be great), and if Rashid is brought in at 8 and Ali moved to 4 (when Bell retires/is sacked due to media pressure) then we have a team that covers all bases.  Wood has been a revelation, he bowls fast, and a good length, almost like Harmison used to do twice an over.

Poetry Corner from The Bogfather

Early days, lazy days

Of media puffery

Just a new phase

Of ECB bluffery

We’ve been here

So many times before

Near every write-up

A predictable bore.

.

It does seem that

The coaching team

have brought about

A new regime

Yet we outside

Must still press

For it’s our England

Nothing less.

Even the Captain

Seems to have read a new book

Though I think Bayliss

Spells out the words for Cook

And as Our Leader can’t think for himself

Farbrace helps him pick one from the shelf

As to leave Alastair in wonderland

Is unfair on someone so dim

So keen is he to please Strauss’s band

He’ll do anything they say at a whim

So no need to tell you all to keep an eye

As like Dmitri, a proud curmudgeon am !.

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Where else do you combine analysis and poetry? A tremendous effort by all concerned. As always, happy to see plenty of comments but please keep the first day’s play’s comments on the relevant thread.
My thanks to all of you for your time and effort. It’s a cracker!

Ashes Panel #004 – Surprise Surprise For The Dad’s Army….

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Here is the 4th in our series of panels, and with one glorious exception, they seem to go down well. As I could run just two before the Lord’s test, I’ve expanded the invitation list and secured a new contributor to boot. So, without further ado, let’s introduce our guests..

We have Keyser Chris (KC), David Oram (DavidO – the man behind Roland Butcher’s Hook), Steven Melford (SM), The Great Bucko (SeanB), and Paul Ewart (PaulE – a regular round these here parts). We also have newbie, Martin Payne (MP – who I’ll let off being a Hammer for now), who is a debutant and I’m sure we’ll make him welcome.

So, off we go… Fire Away. Apologies if we lose the formatting, it always happens!

1. Well, that was a surprise. Or was it?
KC – Yes, that was a surprise. I had a sense this team could play like that, but didn’t expect it to actually happen. Just goes to show that simple things like pitching the ball up with fielders on the drive works. Who knew…
SM – The question for me was always could England carry the aggressive mind-set kindled in the New Zealand ODIs into the tests. The answer was yes. I was worried this would be choked. For for too long we’ve had a team that was ‘less than the sum of the parts’. That’s no longer the case and we have a team playing to their full potential. The fact that these players at their best can challenge the Australians is not a surprise. The fact we’ve turned the approach around so quickly is a surprise. And not a great reflection on the previous ‘leadership’.
DavidO – Of course it was. But isn’t it amazing how many people, subsequently, now say they could ‘see it coming’ after the event? Those are the people I’d want to hear from about what will happen next at Lord’s!

Pre-series, on these panels, and in the wider print and broadcast media, the consensus was ‘more of the same’ from down under 2013/14. I have a personal sense of cosy smugness right now as one of the few believers backing an England series win in Ashes Panel 3 – but I am realistic enough to know that Australia may come bouncing back and still stuff us. But I am thoroughly enjoying the moment! I can go to Lord’s next week knowing the worst I can see is Australia level the series.
PaulE -Yes. I didn’t expect England to play so well or Australia to play so badly. Hats off to Farbrace and Bayliss, it just goes to show how much untapped potential there has been in this poorly led team.
MP – Very much so. I came into the series thinking the worst (a built-in mechanism for me when it comes to the Ashes) and both teams have surprised me. Australia perhaps are not as strong as I gave them credit for, although I expect them to bounce back at Lords. England have carried on their attacking intent from the NZ one-dayers which is good to see. Could have been very different if Haddin had taken that catch though…

SeanB Well Watto getting out LBW twice and then referring was a pretty nailed on certainty. I’m not sure if it was a surprise or not, mainly because i couldn’t really call the series before the start (think i went for 2-2 in the end), that said, it was a very encouraging result for England and we played some really positive cricket. I think the Australians were caught cold by the pitch and spent most of the first innings banging it in halfway down (something England generally aren’t immune to doing), but i think my main concern would be their batting unit as it crumpled in a heap twice in the test with some very ordinary shots. We all knew that they would try and attack Mooen, but some of the shots were just outright slogs, so i think they will need to reassess how they play him for the rest of the series. I think England winning the first test is what the series needed as i would have been worried about old wounds reappearing had it been the other way round.

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2. A lot of conjecture about the pitch, which I’ve heard more than a few complain about. What were your feelings about it (presuming you saw the game)?
KC – I don’t think the pitch was anywhere near as bad as made out. Last years at Trent Bridge was far worse. It seemed like the media getting excuses in really early on day one by going on about that. 300-350 seemed par for the wicket, which is good for result cricket – it was Roots ton that slanted the game massively in our favour.
SM – So Australia would prefer a pitch that plays more to their strengths? Who knew! 40 wickets fell; one team scored over 400; one team scored their runs at over 4 runs an over; spinners and seamers took wickets. It was fine.
DavidO -It was a poor pitch on which excellent cricket was played. Scorecards do not always accurately reflect the state of the pitch. We’ve all seen days when twenty wickets fell on a shirtfront in three sessions. But this was not the horror track some attributed to it e.g. Boycott and George Dobell. It IS a bad thing to have balls bouncing in front of the wicket-keeper on the first day – but let’s be honest, we do not want to produce fliers for Johnson and Starc! Surely we were all jumping for joy when we saw the pair of them dig it in early, and it scuttle through to Haddin on his knees!? They did still manage to get the ball around the ear-oles on occasion, so they weren’t entirely neutered, but the pitch did reduce their potency.

Jarrod Kimber was spot on in his assessment – home advantage is an important part of the game, and visitors SHOULD find it hard to adapt. And they didn’t. Uneven surfaces and indifferent bounce make for far more interesting cricket matches than ‘roads’. But ultimately, an England Ashes win is of far more importance to me than ‘bright’ cricket. And yet, despite the sluggish track, we had both! More pitches like this will try the patience, but I want the Aussies to come back to England next time still never having won an Ashes series here since 2001.
PaulE – Don’t like it. If the rumours about groundstaff brushing the wicket are true then it’s doctoring, pure and simple. I wouldn’t mind so much if we didn’t whine quite so much when ‘shifty foreigners’ do it. Play up and play the game and all that.
MP – I think the description of the pitch as turgid is probably a fair one, but still the Test failed to reach a fifth day so perhaps some of the criticism has been over the top. It seemed like a fairly typical Cardiff wicket to me..

SeanB – Pitch wasn’t great in fairness, although it did just produce a result in 4 days as a caveat to my first statement. I’m slightly old fashioned in that i like to see something there for the quicks and when someone bowling at 90mph can’t get it above head height in the first morning, then it’s a little bit disheartening. It was an obvious ploy, that as England felt the Australian bowling unit is their main strength and hence ensured that the pitch would be fairly slow and low to negate this. We were never going to see a green seamer or a quick bouncy wicket, just as we would never see a raging turner at the Gabba; however it does mean that it will be harder and harder for away teams to win away series when the pitches are doctored to suit the home side in such an obvious way (i can’t remember the last truly quick wicket produced in England). I would suggest we will see similar pitches throughout the series

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3. Are you of the view that this test goes to show that Australia are an old team and this could get messy in a hurry for them?
KC – I reserve all judgement until after Australia have played on the pace and bounce of Lord’s. They may be ageing, but there is also a lot of experience in english conditions in that side. I thought their bowling looked slightly undercooked as well; in two weeks that’ll change. That’s not to say I wasn’t a little smug overnight to my Australian friends.
SM – I think they have at least one crumbly too many and it’s time for change. We now have definitive proof (again!) that the Watson experiment is not working. Not sure Haddin is justifying his place. There were also other things didn’t come together for Australia in this test. Harris being ruled out; Starc not at full fitness; Johnson and Warner not firing. I think they will come back fighting & pose a much tougher challenge at Lords.
DavidO – Yes, and yes. Though it is more likely they will rally, ‘dig deep’ etc. and be much tougher at Lord’s – including bringing out the old bad mouthing etc. I suspect they’ll win the 2nd Test – but that they haven’t got enough in their legs and aging bodies for the full five Tests. But of course I would love to see them unravel again like they did at Lord’s two years ago. As I said before, a good team on paper is capable of folding.
PaulE – Could do but as well as they bowled at Cardiff, Jimmy and Broad(y) aren’t Mitch and Rhino. I expect a snarling response. Let’s remember, had Haddin not dropped Root we’d have been in a sorry state. Fate, gossamer threads and all that.
MP – Not really. I would expect them to play a lot better at Lords. I would expect Johnson to have a more productive time on a presumably faster wicket and if Starc regains his fitness in time that will be a boost for the Australians. I can’t see Smith and Clarke going too long without big innings either. I think the main question is can England continue to play at the same intensity that they showed here.
SeanB I think this test shows that Australia also have weaknesses if Warner and Smith don’t fire, but to write them off at this stage would be foolhardy as they have had a lot of success over the past 18 months. I do think it is a series too far for Haddin and for me Watto is the epitome of wasted talent (though i find his continued struggles with the straight ball sidesplittingly hilarious) and i’m not sure they have got the right balance to their team – it looks like Harris could be a bigger miss than we all thought it would be. I would expect Mitchell Marsh to come in for Watto next game and maybe Siddle to get a game if Starc pulls up lame, but i still expect Lords to be a closer game and i think this series will ebb and flow. I might be wrong, the wheels might come off and England might hammer them, but i just can’t see it.
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4. Joe Root was man of the match, and it was hard to argue against that. Who would have been your runner-up?
KC – Goes against the grain, but Chris Rogers is certainly worth a mention. And for pure comedy value, Shane Watson. Why Australia still persist with him is bizarre (sorry, but any chance to have a dig at Shane will be gleefully grasped by me…!)
SM – Broad and Moeen both had strong tests. After a tough time, Mooen proved critics wrong with both bat and ball. Broady just edges it though because of the comedy value of 1) getting Watson to review an LBW decision and 2) for ‘walking’ only to be recalled to the crease. Root’s hight point for me was being in utter stitches when Cook took one to the plumbs. Future captain material for sure.
DavidO – Moeen Ali. Had a super game, and he proved he can take quality Test wickets, despite bowling his fair share of rubbish, and still bat like a Test top order player from number 8. England are blessed with having three proper ‘all-rounders’, men who are genuine top-6 batsmen, who also bowl or keep wicket. Add Root as a more than useful bits-and-pieces bowler and we have so much more depth in batting and variation in bowling options than we had a year or two ago. If we were brave enough to add Rashid instead of Lyth, Bell or Ballance (and bat Moeen in the top 5) we’d have even more bowling options, and I’d back Rashid at 8 to still score quality runs. We have some super cricketers, who proved how good they can be when they play to their potential – but in our euphoria let’s not forget that they have already previously proved to us just how crap they can be too.
PaulE – Stuart Broad or Moeen Ali, vital wickets at vital times. Too close to call when you consider Ali’s runs.
MP – I would go for Moeen Ali. An important innings to get England over 400 in their first innings and chipped in with some vital wickets, particularly the Warner LBW.

SeanB – Broad for me was very close to being man of the match and it was the best i’ve seen him and Jimmy bowl in tandem for a long while. Their bowling on the morning of day 4 was brilliant and although they didn’t get the wickets they deserved, i thought it set the wheels in motion for the afternoon. Broad for me, is a painstakingly frustrating bowler, sometimes looking like a world beater and sometimes looking like a clown, but one thing we know is that he has periods when he goes on a hot streak and takes wickets galore, which is something i’m hoping will happen over the next 4 games. One other point on Broad was that he spoke very cogently to Ian Ward at the end of the test around the game plan they had for the Aussie batsman and how he struggles to bowl full and straight as it sometimes comes out too floaty but realised bowling wicket to wicket was the answer in this pitch. I think the England bowling coaches have really done their work on the bowlers, now that David ‘bang it halfway down the pitch and look hard’ Saker has since thankfully departed and it shows in the fact that all the bowlers have been more consistent this summer.

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5. Do you think this marks a vindication of sticking by Alastair Cook as captain of England?

KC No. This looks far more like a continuation of the change in thinking in the ODI team, with added Bayliss. Alastair Cook doing things right is automatically deemed “innovative” by certain sections of the press. The real reason England won is because the bowlers pitched the bloody ball up. But that won’t suit the narrative.

SM – No. It was his best test as captain but I’m reminded of the saying “even a broken watch tells the right time twice a day”. If I’d captained England for what seems like a decade,  I’d have had one good day at the office! Cook’s captaincy is much better when the team is well on top. When we are up against it, he is poor. Let’s see what happens when things are not going so clearly our way.

DavidO – Vindication is a horrible world. It’s too near a relation to vindictiveness for my comfort. I wish we’d all get away from this situation where everyone seems to have some point to prove about Cook/Pietersen/ECB etc. What’s done is done (and it was a disgrace) but I want to focus on the cricket now please.

Cook captained well – but let’s not get carried away. He will have good and bad games in the future, like Clarke has always done. I’ve never agreed with the received wisdom that Cook is a bad captain, and Clarke a great one. They both have had their moments! Clarke is undoubtedly better tactically, but he is not Bobby Fischer or Julius Caesar. Neither is Cook George Custer or Lord Cardigan. Besides, many past captains have agreed that the on-field stuff is the easy bit. Well, we seem to only compare Cook and Clarke in that arena. Having the players ‘with you’ is something in which Cook has hugely out scored Clarke, in both good times and bad.
Cook has not been an especially good, or especially bad captain – but as the incumbent he is certainly the best-man for the job right now. Root may prove to be a superior successor, but he would not be better NOW at this moment in time unless he’d already had 6-12 months behind him. This may yet prove to be Cook’s last series as Skipper, and I like the idea that we may win the Ashes, and he stands down as leader anyway. He might see that as VINDICATION, but personally I have no interest in either petty self-absorption or brick-batting.
PaulE – No. Whilst its heartening to see someone learning after 115 test matches, England could and should have been playing like this for quite some time. The recent improvement merely highlights how much time and potential has been wasted under Cook’s craven stewardship. This is Joe Root’s team, if you’re still in doubt read Jason Gillespie’s piece today: Yorkshire tactics, Root and Farbrace.
MP – I probably have a more favourable view of Cook than most on this blog but I don’t think so. He’s had some shocking moments over the last 18 months and has certainly received more second chances than captains of old. Having said that I thought he got most things right in this Test and has certainly improved as a captain but one swallow does not a summer make.

SeanB – Hmmm – not sure how to answer this one. I have been a bigger a critic of Cook’s captaincy as anyone on here – I think i called for the Investec Zebra to be given the gig at various points last summer. Credit where credit is due, Cook has his best game as England captain (though some runs would be nice too) and he tinkered with the bowling and the field and it paid off big time. My biggest criticism of Cook is that he lets games drift and after plan A fails, plan B involves trying to bounce out the opposition and plan C – well there is no plan C, but this wasn’t in evidence in this game. Could this be the input of Farbrace and Bayliss? Is this a new Alastair Cook, trying to get England playing an aggressive style of cricket? Only time will tell, but it has been a positive start and also means the Root can concentrate on his batting (and we are massively reliant on him) rather than being constantly linked with the captaincy this summer.
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So, there you have it. My thanks to the contributors, who, once again, have put a lot in and gave up their time. I’m also thinking of five more questions to put to the next round of the panel, so look out for the e-mail later tonight. If I could have responses for Wednesday on those, then I’d be really grateful.

As usual, be gracious in your comments, even if you disagree. I thought the chaps put in a great show and I want them back!!!!!