On This Day – 1986

15th November…

We like (well I like) a good anniversary and I thought I’d share this one with you tonight. 30 years ago we saw a brilliant individual performance by Ian Botham. It would be his last test hundred…

England resumed the first test at Brisbane on 198 for 2 against Australia. On the infamous “can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field…” tour England were decided second favourites but a very good Day 1 had them believing. However, Day 2 did not get off to an auspicious start. Allan Lamb and Bill Athey, the two overnight batsmen fell, and this brought David Gower and Ian Botham to the crease….

The entire England innings highlights are here…

I may have lost a lot of my regard for Sir Ian in his life as a commentator, but this was pure gold and showed why we were big fans of his playing days.  Merv Hughes was vaunted as a new leader of the attack. Botham put him to the sword. Add to that the mental impact this had on the series. Hell, who knows if the 30th anniversary had a subliminal impact on Australia in Hobart this morning! We also got DeFreitas making 40 on debut, a half century for Gower and England went on to win the match.

Here’s a report by Tony Lewis on the day’s play:


Happy memories of the Gabba, prior to it being turned into a soulless concrete bowl!

14 years ago today Dmitri was in Port Douglas, and England were in Hobart playing Australia A. It was a lovely Friday morning, and we were fresh off our journey to the Barrier Reef the day before (one of my great lifetime experiences) and Sir Peter and I were readying ourselves for a drive up to Cape Tribulation. Before we left we say Martin Love blatantly smack the cover off the ball when on about 7, the bent Aussie umpire had his deaf aid switched off, and Love went on to make 201 not out.


The match reporter showed the usual Aussie disregard for matters trivial..



I’ll be returning to these tours post Christmas, when we have a large void to fill in the run up to the English summer, but any memories you have of 1986, let me have them….

The Pataudi Panel – Pre-Series

As we did with the Ashes, and prompted by The Bogfather pressing me on an earlier idea, here is a hastily put together panel to discuss the series coming up against India.

To introduce the panel:

  • Man In A Barrel
  • PGP Cricket
  • Martin Payne
  • The Bogfather
  • Cricket Fan Bob (from Twitter)
  • Matt Hallett
  • David Oram

They were posed five questions and the answers are below:

1. How do you think England sit as an international team after the 1-1 draw in Bangladesh? Glass half-full or half-empty?

MH – Much like previous series, we’ve come out of it with as many questions as we started the series with. Which is obviously very frustrating – despite the reputation this blog gets, I want England to win and for all individual players to succeed, but we’re still half a side which means when we’re good, we’re very good and when we’re bad can be very bad. Stokes’ bowling was a big plus and bodes well for the future (I was a little worried that he would unbalance the side by not being quite good enough in either discipline in these conditions), but overall we’ve moved backwards with questions remaining over batting positions and the spin bowlers.

Bob – About where they did before really, we’re not that bad, nor are we that good. We saw spinners clearly out of their comfort zone, but all trying hard and performing to one degree or another. As is often the case, the batting fails but there’s more questions about the bowling which seems a bit strange. In a funny kind of way, we didn’t learn much at all about England. Ben Stokes is still some consistency away from being a world beater. Oh, and Bangladesh are quite good…

PGP – Difficult to say. Eng played a not full strength side in the second game and paid the price. Not picking Batty was batty. Picking Finn was also daft.

Finn needs to go away and have his bowling action rebuilt or give up on international cricket.

The lasting issue of lack of top 4 runs has really come back to bite us, there is no simple solution. Plus when you are in a spin induced collapse it is much harder for the excellent middle order to battle back.

More on this for questions 3 and 4…!

But in reality, I think the result will help England in the short term as it will make them think longer about how they rotate players, which they will need to do.

Martin – Certainly an inconsistent side. Persistent problems in the middle order and yet to find a truly settled team. Difficult to place the Bangladesh result in context until they have played more Test matches, especially at home. Would say England’s current ranking is about reflective of where they are at the moment.

MiaB – For me, England are a very average team amongst a whole set of average teams – beaten badly by Pakistan in UAE, winning convincingly in South Africa, drawing against Pakistan in England and Bangladesh. The top-order batting is unconvincing. The middle and lower order is stuffed with people averaging mid to low 30s. The sheer depth of the batting will tend to mean the team makes some kind of total but you would not bet on them making 400+ on a regular basis. The seam bowling looks good on a green seamer but lacks penetration on anything else. The slow bowling is inconsistent but intermittently good. Glass half-empty. There are plenty of places for someone to win by putting in good performances over more than one match.

David – Definitely glass-half-full. I still think England sit very near the top of world cricket. But their arrogance at believing so, and taking their foot off the pedal in the last Test in successive series v Pakistan and Bangladesh – thinking they merely had to turn up to deliver the coup de grace – has been their undoing. Good sides don’t just give up when they are a match down in a series (which England expected their opponents to do having taken the lead with one to play) – likewise I don’t believe England will give up if they go behind early in this 5-Test contest.


Come fill my glass…

Such half-arsed preparation,

Shows no class,

By any intimation,

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail,

But it’s away, on foreign soil,

Oh! the heat, the sweat (not our Cookie), the toil,

E’en the taunts from Taunton pitched,

Have not scratched the ECB bloodsucking no Leach itch,

Sadly, the term International no longer exists,

It’s home money spun riches, that Boards kiss,

As they send their ‘products’ away,

Go do as we say…

Pour me another one, this won’t be fun.

2. Ravichandran Ashwin? All time great, or product of the current environment?

MH –  Still only 39 Tests into his career. He’s a very effective bowler and should be the leading wicket taker this series. Yes he’ll struggle outside the sub-continent but many very good non-sub-continent bowlers struggle there, it’s just the way things are. In an earlier era, I think he would still be very good, just not one of the world’s best. Can bat too – a 6/7/8 of Ashwin/Saha/Jadeja could provide some stubborn partnerships.

 Bob – Not yet. He’s only played seventeen tests outside of India, and his record outside of the sub-continent is at best unestablished. That being said, there are few bankers in test cricket quite like Ravi Ashwin in India these days, particularly given how many left handers England have. No doubt many people who don’t watch much outside of England tests will only be convinced when he does it in this series, but the big surprise would be if he walks away with fewer than 30 wickets in this series.

 PGP – Not sure it matters, he will be more than a handful on his home patch. I think too much time (however fun) is wasted worrying about who is great or not.

What we know is that he is in form and a high class act.

Martin – On the way to being an all-time great. Formidable in home conditions. His record of 21 5 wicket hauls in 39 Tests is very impressive. Handy batsman too.

MiaB – It’s hard to judge Ashwin. He has more wickets at a better average than Prasanna in 10 fewer matches but 70% of his wickets have come in India (and 22 of his 39 matches). His record in England and Australia do not look like anything special. I guess it is too early to tell.

David – All-time ‘very, very good’. I suspect he would be a genuine asset in any era in Test cricket, but he shines more brightly in the current firmament because fine spinners are not plentiful. These are not rich days of Warne & Murali; or Underwood & Bedi; or Laker & Benaud; or Verity & O’Reilly etc.


There’s nothing wrong with being on song to harvest home,

On pitches laid with panicked strokes played, he roams,

For SimonH, he’s really ‘Into The Valley’, sending us into Skids,

Of ‘Fields of Fire’ as we sweep, we’ll weep as each batsman is rid,

In A Big Country, he’s larger than life,

e’en more so than Alice, Cookie’s wife…

3. Three seamers or three spinners for England? How would you go?

MH – Current paper talk is that England are thinking of going 4+2 rather than 3+3 with Broad joining Finn rather than replacing him. But given his recent showings, I can’t see Finn warranting a place over any of the spinners. Ball maybe, but he wasn’t given much of a go during the warm-ups so he’d be picked on the basis of a (very good) ODI series. Ansari offers the left arm angle and though he hasn’t been tight enough he has been creating chances – albeit with a number of dropped chances both in the Test and the warm-up games. And who knows, maybe something will click for Rashid. So I’d be inclined to stay 3+3.

Bob – If I was sitting on the fence I’d say it depends on the conditions. People were highly critical of England in both Bangladesh tests with their spinners but I’m not sure they bowled that badly – the three in the first test took the majority of the top seven wickets. I wouldn’t play four seamers though, three often felt redundant in the Bangladesh series so unless there’s a compelling case I wouldn’t do it. That being said I’m not sure I’d play six bowlers at all, if it’s a three spinners pitch then you shouldn’t need three quicks too, particularly with England’s batting issues.

PGP –  Both, if we could! The real question is Rashid or Ansari. (Moeen and Batty have to play). I have never been a Rashid fan, but plenty are.

Whoever you pick having big runs on the board is vital.

I would go with 3 and 3.

Which begs the question of what should our team be… (going to give an answer next)

Martin – Three spinners to start with. I expect once Anderson regains fitness for England to revert to type.

MiaB – I don’t think that 4 seamers is the answer for England. From memory, English fast-medium bowlers get about 2-3 wickets per innings in India – with a few exceptions such as Botham and Geoff Arnold once each on juicy pitches and J.K. Lever with the innovative use of strips of paper smeared with Vaseline all over his forehead, allegedly to divert sweat from his eyes. For all the hype about Anderson (was Dhoni just talking him up?), his figures are 22 wickets in 13 innings in India with a best match analysis of 6/79. In that sense, if you can rotate 4 seamers who all take 2-3 wickets then you can bowl India out. The question is how many runs India will have on the board by then and how many overs it will have taken. I would not be surprised if India took counter-measures to discourage reverse swing. And as well as a poor history of success in India with 4 quicks, there has to be a question-mark over Anderson’s fitness – so basing a 4 seamer attack round him seems a gamble too far to me. Spin is generally more of a wicket-taking threat. Rashid and Moeen will pose an attacking threat but they will need some proper captaincy. I do not know whether Ansari or Batty is the answer as the “holding” bowler or whether the quicks will be employed in that role. The key though will be for the batsmen to score some runs.

David – Three spinners. With a plethora of all-rounders England can afford to select a side covering both seam and spin – and Finn was a waste of space in Bangladesh. As was Ballance, who must be replaced – Bairstow or Ali can bat at no. 4. My own side would be: Cook, Duckett, Root, Bairstow, Ali, Stokes, Buttler, Woakes, Rashid, Broad, Batty.


For tis not the numbers tis the numbness of captaincy shown,

Where ‘trust’ is thrown away, as runs on the board are grown,

Captain clueless, placing fields blind of mind,

Needs putting down, and that’s being kind,

Yet Broad will lead averaging 144 (that may have changed…)

Pick players for purpose, not for perpetuity, that’s just deranged.

4. Do you think Ben Duckett has a future as a test match opener / middle order or no long-term future at all?

MH – Duckett’s had a phenomenal year and deserves his place in the squad. I think he could have a future. A different format, but I saw his 160-odd at Cheltenham and was impressed – thought he picked up length well (he’s a tad short so can pull balls others can’t) and found the gaps with ease. Ideally he would have first division cricket experience but given the number of batsmen who have failed to make the step up, we can’t exactly be too fussy. I wanted England to pick both him and Hameed for Bangladesh, even though it would have meant a slow opening pair, but England wussed out and have now made things more difficult for themselves. Whoever replaces Ballance, it will require a batting order shuffle and they will be short of match practice.

Bob – Who knows? Opening in test cricket is bloody hard and few places moreso than in India. I’d stick with him at the top and back him to become a David Warner type opener. If he makes it through the series with credit in hand, then more power to him.

PGP – The upside and ability of both Hameed and Duckett are huge. We are lucky to have both. So I think both have a huge future. They also have excellent techniques. Much much better than the previous selection of opening batsmen.

For India I would stick with Duckett and Cook up top because we need a dasher and Duckett has vast talent. Long-term, 5 may be a better slot for him. We just need to make sure we don’t break him. Let him settle into the team and hopefully get some big scores in India and the West Indies.

Next to look at the elephant in the room, who bats at 4. Ballance should not have been selected for either tour and he was a ridiculous pick in the summer when he was out of sorts and his technique is still terrible.

I think Bairstow should bat at 4. He is our best batsman after Root. It means he loses the gloves but, we need a number 4 and we have lots of keeper batsmen. Buttler is the reserve keeper, which means he plays, although I think that is mad. The other option is Hameed at 4. I think this would be better for him than opening with Cook. I realise this is a slightly odd suggestion, but two blockers up top in India (or anywhere in my view) is not the way to go. Starting your career in the middle order is much the better option for a teenager.

My team for the first game would be the below. But note we have 6 lefties in that team so Ashwin will be happy…!












Martin – Only in the middle order. Feel it was a mistake for him to open in Bangladesh – would have preferred to see Hameed open with Duckett batting at 4. Certainly has potential, unsure of his temperament.

MiaB – There have been batsmen who have scored lots of runs with unusual techniques but Duckett seemed to score most of his runs from premeditated shots and needed a healthy dose of luck.

Whatever pitches India produce will probably make those kinds of shots more than ordinarily risky. Mark Butcher was quite scathing about his defensive technique – Lord knows what Sir Geoffrey would have been saying about it. I don’t think that Ted Dexter would be too impressed with his foot movement and strange body positioning. But all that counts are runs, in the end. I cannot see him making runs on a regular basis but at least if he does fire he should score fast. So I would play him as opener, to try and get some pressure on the opposition attack while the ball is hard and there might be some bounce.

David –  Yes, he has a definite future as either. He clearly has technical issues with a gate wide enough to get a Boeing through; but his county scores indicate immense potential. He may not look like he’s going to succeed with those flaws – but who on Earth would have predicted that Steve Smith would still now be scoring big runs with his wafting bat and feet when he first appeared? Hand-eye coordination is far more important than text-book defence.


No opener has hope until Cookie retires,

And unless his holyness finds form, real form soon, his time will expire,

Be it Duckett, be it Haseem, (or even Buttler has been in someone’s wet dream), To open, still handicapped by press pressure will be hard,

Not playing Has in Bang, keeping 4 so unBallanced, hoist by ECB’s own petard,

I hope we may yet have another Ben to bow down to

Unless the bill from the Flowerpot man is another p!ss pot full of little wee-d blue.

5. Finally, what do you think the series score will be and why?

MH – I don’t have much hope. Given that India have an injured depleted batting line-up and we do have some very good individual players, I think we can win a Test. So if the weather holds (and I have no idea if that’s expected or not), a 4-1 loss. Last time around, we started very badly but Cook showed what a solid method could do, Pietersen provided the inspiration, Anderson offered something no other fast bowler on either side could, and Swann/Panesar out-bowled their Indian counterparts. I think Stokes, Woakes and Broad can do a good job for us, like Anderson last time, but the rest of the side concerns me.

Bob – 5-0 India seems the obvious shout, but five tests is a long time and I don’t think India are that good, nor do I think England are that bad. I think England’s spin bowling will be pretty predictable, but if the seamers can turn up (particularly if Anderson is fit later in the series) and England’s batting can turn up when they get the opportunity to bat first (if we can win a toss or two) I don’t forsee a whitewash. I’ll go 3-1 India.

PGP – I think the series will be closer than expected. India’s batting is brittle and their bowling is good without being mind blowing.

England remain mentally fragile, although they have improved in this regard. They have lots of batting and high quality seam bowlers who can reverse the ball. The spinners will blow hot and cold, but the Indian batsmen will look to take them on so they will give chances.

We will be playing all 5 games on result dust bowls so I think 4-1 India.

Unless England win the first game in which case we are in for a cracking series which Eng could pinch.

India using DRS will also be a thing too.

Here’s hoping to a really good series with not too much needle. I am expecting a decent series with lots of strops and bitching about drs!

Martin – Would be staggered if England win the series. A bad start and I could see a whitewash. Very susceptible to batting collapses against spin. Think they could sneak one Test but that’s about all. 3-0 or 3-1 India.

MiaB – 3/1 to India with 1 draw. There are too many holes in England’s line up to say otherwise. Yes, someone other than Root or Cook might, out of the blue, score a daddy hundred, but who? I suspect that England will go with 4 seamers and, sadly, that Anderson will break down. India have some in-form batsmen. England don’t. England’s catching was awful in Bangladesh. Ashwin will also have the benefit of DRS. Somewhere along the line, England will click and manage to sneak a low-scoring game but, as long as India don’t go overboard with pitch preparation, they should win.

David –  I think England has a far greater chance than they are being given credit for – but I do expect them to lose. In the subcontinent the toss plays a great role – first innings is a big advantage. If Cook is lucky, we may be able to really compete – if he’s not, then I think we’ll be stuffed. I reckon if India win more than three tosses they’ll win 5-0. For England to win the series, I reckon they need to win at least 4 out of 5 tosses. I’m predicting India to only win the toss 2 in 5 – but prevail in the series 3-2.


Not a clue, it won’t be 5 zero

There’s enough In our team to find a hero

But realistically, I expect India the series

Not easily, nor completely imperious

So here I say 3-1, but if Eng win the first, oh what fun!


My thanks to all who participated, and feel free to answer the questions yourself in the comments.

England vs Pakistan: 3rd Test Day One

The trouble with day one of a Test is that unless one side has had a truly grim day every summary at the end of it revolves around it being too early to say whether the score is a good one, the toss decision is a good one or if the pitch is favouring one side in particular.  There are only so many ways to say that it’s in the balance and that after tomorrow we will know more.

Pakistan’s decision to bowl first certainly caused some raised eyebrows, but having bowled England out in a day will have viewed that call as being vindicated.  England’s score of 297 is right in the zone of being enough to be in the game but anything but a good score.  It could become a good score, if England were to bowl Pakistan out cheaply tomorrow, or it could be a bad score if they go past it – self evident of course, but still how it is.  The trouble is, saying as much isn’t about sitting on the fence, there’s nothing but uncertainty around how it will develop from here.

So perhaps the only indication is the relative happiness of the two sides – England trying to convince that it’s not a bad score at all, Pakistan reasonably content with their day’s work.  If that is an indicator then Pakistan could be said to have had the better of the day, and instinctively that feels about right, but not so much so that England are at this stage in any kind of trouble.  Likewise the strong criticism towards Misbah for electing to bowl had dissipated somewhat by the close, again suggesting that decision had – thus far at least – been vindicated.

Certainly England will be a little disappointed with the total, as much due to how many players got in and then got out again as anything else.  Cook started with rare fluency, and while Root’s dismissal was ascribed to overconfidence perhaps the same can be said of the captain.  He appeared in outstanding form, and that is so often when the mistakes come.  No matter, these things do happen, and all cricketers know the frustration of being back in the pavilion having made an error on a day when they felt they could do as they wished in the middle.

Vince again got in and got out, and again it was his flaw outside off stump that did for him.  His 39 was the opportunity to go on and make a meaningful contribution, and he didn’t.  He looks good, then he gets out, and while looking good tends to buy a little more patience (unfairly so, of course, but true nonetheless) than for less attractive players, at some point the chances run out.  Vince needs a good innings urgently, and he’ll be as aware of that as anyone.

Ballance is the antithesis of the stylish player, yet his 70 was the mainstay of the innings.  He scores runs, and while the 142 he’s scored in four knocks he’s since his recall won’t make too many headlines, he looks a far better player than the one dropped last year.  What is interesting there is that the technical adjustment appears minimal, and by some accounts he’s proven entirely resistant to attempts by others to tinker with it.  Confidence and faith in one’s own game is often far more important.  His dismissal was one of those often felt somewhat unlucky, taken down the legside off Yasir Shah by the rather impressive Sarfraz.  It was a good catch too, legside catches standing up are always prized by wicketkeepers – more so than stumpings much of the time.  The angle did allow that rarity when up to the stumps, time to adjust, but it was a significant deflection, and he will be pleased with that one.

Bairstow pushed too hard at a ball that wasn’t really there to drive off the back foot, and Woakes was probably due a failure.  Thus it was Moeen who was principally responsible for getting an unquestionably sub-par 224-6 to a perhaps adequate 297.  There may be better batsmen than Moeen around, but there are few as delightful to watch as he is.  He has that languid (and frustrating style) that is rather reminiscent of David Gower.  One item worthy of note here is that Moeen was today batting at seven.  Helped rather substantially by his unbeaten century against Sri Lanka, his average when batting in that position is now over 80.  The sample remains far too small to draw conclusions either way, but he wouldn’t be the first player to respond to being in the lower order by batting like a lower order player instead of the batsman that he is.

For Pakistan, the man of the day was quite clearly Sohail Khan – a 32 year old playing only his third Test and his first in nearly five years.  His time in the limelight may yet be brief, but there is a special pleasure to be had in seeing an unlikely successful comeback.  That he is a right arm bowler may have worked in his favour, after two Tests with solely left arm seamers for England to negotiate.  But he bowled well, deserved his success and his evident pleasure (and press ups) leaving the field couldn’t help but raise a smile.

The weather forecast for day two isn’t particularly great, and the England bowlers will hope to make the most of the leaden skies. Yet the England total is not big enough to prove decisive barring something extraordinary.  We may well have another good match on our hands.

And finally, the last England wicket fell with five minutes of play remaining, and 86 overs bowled.  Once again the required number of overs in the day fell short, even with the additional half hour, and once again nothing will be done about it.  Given that, we can assume that the ICC approves of literally shortchanging their paying customers.  It remains unacceptable, it remains disgraceful.

Day two comments below

Guest Post “40 Years On – England v West Indies, 3rd Test 1976″…by Simon H.

Gordon Greenidge – 1984. Although the post deals with 1976, Gordon needs to be in colour!

One of our loyal commenters has offered up his first main cricketing memory for a piece. SimonH, international governance monitor, statistics maestro, memory man for the game has put together this piece on his first test match memory.

I’ve decided to cut it into two pieces, with the first part the build up to the game and the events of Day 1. The second will finish off the game report, and the aftermath of the match.

As always, I’d love to get pieces from you out there on your cricketing memories, or on anything that catches your eye or you want to talk about. We don’t take anything, as it has to be within the blog’s remit (don’t ask me to define it), but we do certainly like pieces like this.

So, SimonH…. this is your test!


We all have matches that are particularly dear to us. Some of these are dear to most fans because the game is such an obvious classic – Headingley ’81 or Edgbaston 2005 spring to mind. But others are more personal. Often it’s a first that sticks in the memory. My first ‘live Test was bloody awful. England lost to India at Lord’s under leaden skies.

However the first Test I can remember specific moments from watching on TV has stayed with me and it’s a shock to find it was forty years ago this month that it took place……


Cricket and me – I had been hooked on cricket the previous year by the first World Cup and my father’s love of the game. It was a love  that dare not speak its name at school though (a West Sussex rural comprehensive) where football was king and cricket was seen as dull and posh (if it was noticed at all). This eleven year old was desperate for the game to show it was pretty cool. I’d watched some of the 1975 Ashes but can’t really remember any of it if I’m honest. I don’t remember the first two Tests of this series either (although I do remember watching the ‘Grovel’ interview on ‘South Today’). The Third Test at Old Trafford is the first Test I remember watching – and it turned out to be a game with everything the sport has to offer, except a close finish. It was also one of the most significant games of the modern era, marking the formation of a dynasty that would rule the cricketing world for two decades.

England – England had been the dominant side of the early 70s in world cricket, at times holding all the trophies (TM). What had seemed a settled side inherited by Mike Denness from Ray Illingworth had capitulated in the original ‘difficult winter’ of 74/75 and I got a clear impression from my father that English manhood had somehow been found wanting. Tony Grieg had taken over the captaincy in 1975 and the side recovered some pride as David Steele stood up to Lillee and Thomson. Although Boycott was in self-imposed exile, the team had Edrich’s reassuring presence at the top, SPOTY Steele at No.3, Bob Woolmer fresh off 149 against the Aussies and the new Cowdrey we were told in the middle order, Greig and Knott to halt any collapses at six and seven and plenty of bowling options that seemed to cover all eventualities (pace from Snow and some bloke called Willis if only he’d stay fit, plenty of English type seamers, spin was in the capable hands of Underwood). There was no winter tour 1975/76 so the team was somewhat unproven but there was little sense that this was a team heading for the slaughter.

West Indies – West Indies had been through a rocky patch after 1967 when the great 60s side started to age. From 1967-74 their only great series’ win was in England in 1973 but around that were some poor results. The middle order batting (with Kanhai, Sobers, Lloyd and new bloods Kallicharran and Rowe) and the spin department with Gibbs still looked strong but (ironically, given what was to follow) they had no reliable opener to partner Roy Fredericks and the pace bowling had lacked any real speedster. It all started to come together for West Indies on the 1974 tour of India as new batsmen Greenidge and Richards established themselves and the attack found a new spearhead in Andy Roberts. However that appeared a false dawn as the team went to Australia in 75/76 and were mauled, both on the pitch by Lillee and Thomson (Kallicharran vomited on the pitch after being hit on the head by one bouncer, Bernard Julian had his hand broken by another) and off it by some crowd behaviour that shocked some of the younger players who’d never encountered such blatant racial taunting. West Indies tried to fight fire with fire on that tour and kept losing wickets to hook shots that reinforced the stereotype of ‘calypso cricketers’ who couldn’t knuckle down under pressure. New captain Clive Lloyd, one of the few to sustain his personal performance on that tour and now able to put his stamp on the team with the Sobers-Kanhai-Gibbs generation departing, was determined to change all that.

Cricinfo recently interviewed some of the participants here:


GROVEL – had there been any previous series more famous for what was said to the media more than any of the actual play? And has there been a more infamous line by a Test captain than Greig’s:


Greig’s choice of words, and his delivery in that unmistakable accent, hung over that tour. The fact that there was some reasonable thinking behind it was obliterated by his crassness. West Indies had just lost 5-1 in Australia. England had beaten them on the 73/74 tour by hanging on in a series of draws until West Indies collapsed, apparently under pressure and to Greig’s own bowling, in the final Test. Greig himself had been involved in the controversial run out of Kallicharran and seemed to thrive on confrontation. My memory of it at the time is that it was controversial but more for Greig’s brashness and impoliteness than for its racial sensitivity. That only became clearer (at least to a white schoolboy in rural Sussex) as the summer unfolded.

What few had noticed was that in their last series before coming to England, West Indies had taken on India at home. Some fellow called Richards (mainly up until then famous for his fielding in the 1975 WC Final) had scored a stack of runs at No.3. The last Test seemed to have some odd goings on with half the Indian team marked down as ‘absent hurt’. There were accounts of fearsome pace from new bowlers Holding and Daniel – but then hadn’t India been bowled by England for 42 only a couple of years earlier by Old and Hendrick? Perhaps Holding and Daniel were as quick as those two? India had also chased a then-world record score to win the Test before Kingston – so it looked at worst as if the West Indies were still crazily inconsistent. Nothing too much to worry about……

The West Indies played warm-up matches against all bar one of the counties on that tour. Win after win didn’t set many alarm bells ringing. The few who saw them thrash a strong MCC side at Lord’s (including a century for Richards and seven wickets for Holding plus putting Denis Amiss in hospital) warned this was a formidable team. Still, Yorkshire had come within 19 runs of beating them and Chris Balderstone had nearly scored two centuries off them for Leicestershire.


Given what was about to happen, it’s still slightly surprising to realise that the teams went into the Third Test after two draws. Not only that – the matches had been quite even. West Indies had the best of the first game after Viv Richards made 232 (I think I remember him saying that was the best innings of his career) but England held on for the draw relatively easily. Steele and Woolmer made runs which seemed to show their performances against Australia were no one-off. England had the better of Lord’s with Underwood skittling the tourists in the first innings and West Indies had been only four wickets from defeat at the end. The match had ended with Greig resisting Lloyd’s call to call things off early and with England fielders clustered around the bat.

However….. West Indies had not been at full strength for either game. Holding and Daniel had missed the First Test and Richards the Second Test. At Old Trafford, they had everyone fit. England, on the other hand, had problems, especially with the bowling. Snow and Old were injured (possibly others too) so England’s pace attack lacked a cutting edge. However, West Indies had collapsed against spin at Lord’s, had collapsed against spin in 73/74 and OT had a reputation for turning compounded by rumours that, as the hot summer of ’76 took hold, the pitch was dried and cracked. England went in with two English-style seamers in Hendrick and, on debut, Mike Selvey, two support seamers in Woolmer and Greig and two spinners in Underwood and Pocock. There was an issue in the batting too – the openers at Lord’s hadn’t convinced (Mike Brearley had looked out of his depth, Barry Wood had been injured by Roberts) so 45 year old Brian Close (who had top scored at Lord’s) was pushed up to open and local hero Frank Hayes (who had made a debut century against 1973 West Indies) was called up. There were promising young batsmen emerging on the county scene like Gooch, Graham Barlow and Randall but the selectors held off picking them (perhaps remembering Gooch’s tough baptism against Lillee and Thomson the year before). Randall was made 12th man which was one of the few times in his career the selectors did him a big favour.


DAY ONE – Clive Lloyd won the toss and batted. That was what you did in those days. It was the right decision – and made precious little difference. The start of that day is etched on memory. In his first over, Selvey bounced Roy Fredericks who hooked it straight down Underwood’s throat at long leg. Fredericks falling on his wicket in the WC Final hooking was my first cricket memory and now Fredericks getting out hooking was my first Test memory. I’ve never seen Selvey explain why he bowled that bouncer. In his next over, Viv Richards played his trademark walking on-drive to a big in-swinger, for the only time in his career that I can remember missed it and was bowled. Almost immediately , Kallicharran (who like Lloyd and Rowe was never in any great form on that tour) played on. Lloyd was soon caught at slip off Hendrick and West Indies were 26-4.

What followed was one of those times when you know you’re watching something special. When it’s one of your heroes doing it, it’s something even more. As a young Hampshire fan (although I lived about 800 yards over the border in Sussex I was born in Hampshire, all my family were from Hampshire and there was only one team I was ever going to care about), Richards and Greenidge were my heroes. Greenidge in particular was one of ours. With Greenidge and Roberts playing for West Indies and considerable resentment that Hampshire players (despite the team winning the CC in ’73 and coming second in ’74) were ignored by England, I could feel nothing but enjoyment at what Greenidge was doing. A lifetime of not seeing England as ‘us’ and the opposition as ‘them’ was born. West Indies were more ‘us’ than England to me. I liked him because he hit the ball hard. Very hard. And he had the coolest of cream pads. Later the pleasure would be deepened by discovering Gerenidge had not had an easy upbringing and was a complex and at times difficult man. But mostly he hit the ball hard. When the bowler pitched up, Greenidge waiting on the back foot, would throw his whole weight into the drive in a way that wasn’t textbook, and would get him out sometimes, but was mighty thrilling when it came off. Even better when bowlers pitched short, he took it on. If it was wide, he’d cut – and what a cut! If it was straight, he’d hook – and it very seldom seemed to get him out. No ‘high to low’, no rolling the wrists – he’d try to hook it out of the ground and he usually did. He was everything I wanted to be, but wasn’t. If I couldn’t be it, I could damn well appreciate it in others.


In bald stats, what Greenidge did that day was score 134 out of 211 (193 while he was at the crease). He gave no chances – the nearest he came to dismissal was a top-edged hook that landed between Knott and Underwood. Only Charles Bannerman in the very first Test had scored a higher percentage of his team’s runs at the time (three more have since):


Not only was it a lone-hand but he scored his runs at a phenomenal rate by the standards up to that time:


It wasn’t quite Roy Fredericks in Perth – but it would do. Greenidge’s main support came from one of the great unrealised talents in West Indies’ cricket, Collis King, who on debut reined himself in to make a handy 32. King would only play nine Tests but would have his moment in the 1979 WC Final when he eclipsed even Viv Richards for a time. He never seemed forgiven after Packer and ended up a banned SA tour rebel. These days he’d have made a fortune in franchises.

England ended the day on 37-2 with Close and Steele out. Batting had looked tough but the match seemed evenly poised. The next day saw a power-shift in world cricket that would last two decades…..


The second part will be put up in the next day or so. My thanks to Simon for all the effort put into this. I don’t remember this test myself, but do recall Viv’s 232 at Trent Bridge and 291 at The Oval.

England vs Sri Lanka: 1st Test, day one

Unless the team batting first has an absolute horror then the first day invariably leaves the spectator unsure of where the match is going, even more so if a session is lost to the weather.  171-5 is not a great score, that’s certain, but as ever with Headingley the context of the overhead conditions and the pitch may mean it is better than it first appears.  Equally however, the movement off the seam and in the air was anything but prodigious – enough to keep the bowlers interested and the batsmen wary, but no minefield.  Therefore conclusions are entirely impossible to draw except to say that both teams will probably be fairly content with their work overall.  Sri Lanka have dismissed half the side and will hope to wrap up the rest reasonably quickly, while England have recovered well from the parlous position of 83-5.

That they did so was down to one player batting against type and another who is finding Test cricket rather easy at the moment – with the bat anyway.   Alex Hales found himself in the probably unfamiliar position of having to hold the innings together, and as a result batted cautiously throughout.  Without his knock England would have been in dire straits.  And yet it is to be hoped that Hales doesn’t see this as his role in future, for there are much better defensive openers in the game than him, and in the South African series he appeared to be struggling to try and play a game different from that at which he excels.  He does have technical limitations, but so does David Warner, and it isn’t a problem there because his role is to be the dasher.  When in, such players are devastating, but they can be knocked over cheaply by quality bowling.  Today Hales had little choice and deserves immense credit for battling his way through, but it would be a waste of what he is capable of if that is to be how England see him batting, for it is hard to see how he can succeed over the longer term.  But as England’s David Warner, well it might still be a long shot to be as effective, but it’s probably his best chance.  Today however, it was just right.

Jonny Bairstow is either in the form of his life or has thoroughly found his feet at the highest level, and perhaps something of both.  Middle order players who can turn the tide are invaluable, and England have a couple in the shape of him and Ben Stokes.  Ah yes, Ben Stokes.  It didn’t take long for the knives to come out concerning a poor shot.  As needs repeating time and time again, Stokes plays this way.  You cannot stand and cheer if the ball he was out to had gone just out of reach of the fielder and sped away for four – same shot, different outcome.  When Stokes is batting well, he chances his arm and gets away with it, the margins are that narrow, and it is as it always was, two sides of the same coin.  The glory of run a ball double centuries come with the disappointment of poor shots for not very many, it really cannot be something people have both ways.  His overall performance is the key, because there will be glorious highs and abject lows.

Naturally, the pre-match build up and the rain breaks were dominated by the whole story around Alastair Cook approaching 10,000 Test runs.  Sky went as preposterously over the top as they always seem to with all things Cook, offering an interview that was about as incisive as a This Morning chit chat, with unquestioned adoration of the Great Man throughout.  Cook did say that he just wanted the whole thing over with, and that would be quite understandable, for the use of him as an icon by broadcaster, media and the ECB is not his fault.  They have successfully turned what is undoubtedly going to be a fine achievement into something that has created serious irritation at the nature of the idolatry.  It’s quite an achievement, and it is to be strongly suspected that Cook is uncomfortable with the circus.  It’s a great pity, for achievements should be celebrated, instead they are having to be qualified because of the excessive claims.  Cook will get to 10,000 and he will and should be extremely proud of himself for it.  He’s been a fine player with power to add.

For Sri Lanka the man of the day was clearly Dasun Shanaka, who received his first Test cap before play began, and then came on as the fifth bowler just before lunch and promptly removed Cook, Compton and Root in the space of eight balls.  As debut victims go, that’s not bad at all.  He lacks pace, and bowls the kind of line and length that should have county coaches purring, and the ECB grinding their teeth having so recently announced the death of such bowling in the English game. Headingley has often rewarded bowlers of this nature, being the only ground where (back in the days they actually got more than the occasional Test) the phrase “horses for courses” would routinely make an appearance pre-selection.

One final thing to note, in two sessions of play only 53 overs were bowled.  It is unlikely this would have speeded up in the final session, and quite clearly the ICC no longer care, for fines for slow over rates appear to be a thing of the past, let alone suspensions.  It is of course one day, and one curtailed day at that.  But the pattern has been in place for quite some time.

My flight tomorrow is at 16:05 from Heathrow, so that is it from me for this Test and this series, though I daresay something will annoy me enough to post over the next month.  I’ll probably add some travel observations to my travel blog (I’ve already put up an intro for this trip – and if you’re interested in Myanmar, there’s plenty there from the last one), which is http://www.thelegglance.wordpress.com if you feel so inclined to say hello, otherwise, back in mid June!

Enjoy the rest of the Test – oh and day two comments below.


A New Hope

One of the elements of the notorious description used by the ECB (and PCA) which provided the name of this site was the implied attitude towards those who at amateur level played the game, or who watched, bought tickets or paid television subcriptions.  It was a perfect demonstration of their opinion of the plebians who merely provided all the revenue to allow those either within cricket administration, professional players or indeed journalists or broadcasters to earn a living.  It remains one of the most despicable statements ever used by a sporting body towards those upon whom a game relies, and that statement is still carried on the ECB website, and no apology or even acknowledgement of it has ever been made.

But on its own, in isolation, it could perhaps be seen as the botched missive of an idiocracy which most people could brush off and laugh at.  Except the trouble was that this attitude was pervasive, and not just within the ECB, it went through every level of the international game.  Indeed, the attitude of the ECB was carried forward into the highest echelons of the international game.  The film Death of a Gentleman outlined the perspective that supporters were merely there to be monetised in detail, and the ECB were not just complicit, they led the way alongside India and Australia in attempting to grab as much filthy lucre as possible.

The power grab by the Big Three (one suspects that rather than hear the dripping contempt of that phrase, some within will view it as a badge of honour) was largely about increasing power and increasing the revenues to those boards, entirely at the expense of everyone else.  The remaining Test nations would be worse off, the Associate nations might as well give up, and for a nation like Ireland, the possibility of Test cricket had receded into the distance and has little appeal to it even if they were to achieve it.

Dmitri yesterday wrote a piece about the anniversary of the removal of Kevin Pietersen as an international player.  Even back then, people were told to “move on” and naturally enough, those who always seem to back the ECB no matter what were quick to repeat it.  But as so often, they miss the point.  Pietersen is one tiny part of a wider jigsaw, and in the grand scheme of things, one of the least important.  But what that episode did demonstrate above all was the utter contempt for those who are Outside Cricket not just by word, but by deed.  That attitude, irrespective of whether one is a fan of Pietersen the player or not is precisely the reason the ECB, and Giles Clarke in particular, had no compunctions whatsoever in behaving the way they did, and the reason it was so important is that it highlighted the naked greed and lack of any interest in the consequences so demonstrative of that arrogance.  It was not just that they abrogated their duty of care for the game, they showed they didn’t care about the game at all, merely their own narrow self-interests.  The expression of lofty superiority by authority was echoed in similar ways across the globe, and while Pietersen had his own problems and was to at least some extent the architect of his own downfall, the lack of interest in the game itself reached the point where players were not turning out for their national teams, preferring instead to play the T20 leagues, and the captain of South Africa – South Africa no less – was openly debating giving up Test cricket. Different circumstances, entirely different situations, yet it was possible to draw a direct line between all of them on the basis of the lack of interest the governing bodies had for the integrity of the game.

The Big Three carve up had the consequence of drawing the vast majority of the game’s revenues to themselves, impoverishing the remainder of the Test playing nations and killing any prospect of the game expanding beyond its rather narrow boundaries.  Cricket became the first sport in history to deliberately reduce its footprint on the planet.  It went further, with Clarke’s flat rejection of the idea of T20 cricket being an Olympic Sport, mostly on the grounds that it wouldn’t make his board any money, whatever he said, while slashing the development funds to non-Test playing nations and turning even the Test playing nations outside India, Australia and England into nothing other than vassals.  The three countries took complete control of the ICC, ensuring that all ICC events were to be held solely in their own territories over the following ten years (though no one expected that to change at the conclusion of the agreed period) and challenging all the others to simply lump it or face being excluded from the kinds of tours that would allow them to survive as cricketing entities.

Some journalists objected, and objected vociferously.  In Australia Gideon Haigh was scathing as only he can be, in England Scyld Berry broke ranks from his colleagues to condemn it outright, while Wisden in the form of Lawrence Booth sounded the alarm for cricket as a game.  Since then Nick Hoult at the Telegraph has frequently written about the machinations both within the ECB and beyond.  Cricinfo too raised the matter, with Jarrod Kimber impressively furious and of course along with Sam Collins making Death of a Gentleman, while Tim Wigmore has repeatedly castigated the powers that be for their duplicity and selfishness concerning the wider world game.

From others.  Silence.  From the Guardian, nothing – really nothing.  At the time of writing, there is still nothing on the ICC meeting today.  From Mike Selvey, their chief cricket correspondent, absolutely nothing at any point on the whole topic.  This is no surprise, for Selvey is known to be close to Giles Clarke to the extent that a paper that has prided itself on investigating injustice has appeared to be an echo chamber – indeed a direct hotline – for the views of the ECB.  Selvey’s first response on TMS to the potential for major change in favour of the richest boards was to profess ignorance of the whole matter and regard it as unimportant and when Death of a Gentleman came out he refused to watch it.  As far as anyone knows he still hasn’t.  It is shameful that newspaper has ignored the matter, it is despicable that they have made no effort whatever to cover it, preferring instead to imply approval of Giles Clarke’s claim that no-one is interested in administration, apparently even when it fundamentally changes the nature of the game.  Colleagues such as David Conn may have views on that. For cricket lovers who have adored the Guardian’s previously excellent coverage, it is a dereliction of duty that they will find very hard to ever forgive.  That it requires blogs like this one to point this out, and to try, in our own small way, to back up the work of those excellent journalists in asking questions and making criticisms is unacceptable.

Unless there is some kind of statement to the contrary, the assumption must be this is deliberate policy, for it is rather hard to believe a journalist of the quality of Ali Martin is purposely ignoring the whole subject.

Today the ICC held a meeting which largely reversed the changes made a year ago, the status quo ante prevailing.  This can be viewed as progress of a sort, though Tim Wigmore wrote an excellent piece on Cricinfo pointing out the limitations of what has happened.  It is well worth reading:


Wigmore is completely correct, and points to Lord Woolf’s scathing assessment of the ICC at the time, to which we now more or less return.  And yet even this does provide some grounds for hope, and perhaps practicality dictates that in one board meeting the only possible immediate means of rolling back the changes was to re-instate the previous constitution.  The ICC under the jackboot of India, Australia and England would have in short order killed at the very least Test cricket as we knew it.  The West Indies, already in crisis through their own administrative ineptitude have reached the point where they are uncompetitive against almost anyone, their best players preferring instead to play the shortest form of the game as hired hands – and who can blame them?  The battering received in Australia was greeted with sadness in some quarters, and with outrage amongst those who have delved rather more deeply into the wider problems.  It was only going to get worse, the alarm bells were well and truly ringing when AB De Villiers made his statement about giving up Tests.  The clear revenue increase to the majority that applies now at least buys a little time.

The ICC statement from today is worth reading in full:


It is a curious thing when an ICC statement provides some degree of cheer for the cricket fan.  The removal of N. Srinivasan back in November when the BCCI withdrew support and the subsequent installation of Shashank Manohar as ICC Chairman provided the first glimpse of the possibility that the theft of the world game by an avaricious few might just come under scrutiny by those with the power to change it.  The other Test playing nations, suddenly aware of their position as turkeys who had voted – or been forced to vote – for Christmas, had raised objections to their diminished status, but the constitution gave them virtually no prospect of changing anything.  It required the BCCI in particular to take the lead.  Manohar was swift to demonstrate things could change, saying upon his appointment:

“I don’t agree with the revenue-sharing formula, because it’s nice to say that India (BCCI) will get 22 per cent of the total revenue of the ICC, but you cannot make the poor poorer and the rich richer, only because you have the clout.  Secondly there is another angle to it which nobody has thought of. India generates money because the other countries come and play in India. If you do not have a fierce competition, the broadcasters are not going to pay you and the sponsors are not going to sponsor your events.”

He went on:

“I don’t agree with the three major countries bullying the ICC.  That’s my personal view, because as I have always said, an institution is bigger than individuals. You cannot guarantee which individual will occupy the top position in either of these countries. And, the ICC constitution, as it stands today, says that in all the major committees of the ICC, these three countries will be automatically there. So all the financial and commercial aspects and the executive committee will be controlled by the representatives of these three countries which according to me is wrong.

“You should have the best man, whether he comes from Zimbabwe, or West Indies, or even from an associate or affiliate to work on a committee, who will promote the interests of the ICC.”

Simple statements of truth, but it garnered attention because it was entirely at odds with everything that had gone before.  Premature it may be, but there is at least a hope that the new man at the top actually gives a shit about the game.  From today’s press release, one line stood out in particular:

“No Member of the ICC is bigger than the other”

Others have been quick to point out that as currently constituted, this is not true, for India in particular have the power that no one else does, and as the major driver of revenue in the game, that is certainly not inherently wrong by any means.  And yet the statement has been made, and while they are merely words, they are good words.  And this is where ideas begin.  At long last there is at the very least a statement of first principles that he and the ICC can be held to.  This is some small progress.

Another item was that the chairman of the ICC could not hold office with any of the boards.  This has direct consequences for Giles Clarke, as President of the ECB.  He has long aspired to be ICC Chairman, but to do so he will have to give up his role at the ECB.  And yet the indications are that despite previously appearing very likely to get it, the change in structure has crippled his prospects.  Australia and South Africa have already made it clear they won’t support him, Sri Lanka are reported to be reluctant.  Given Clarke’s unpopularity in much of the ECB, it would be an irony if the English were the only ones in favour, and it is tempting to wonder if they are even more in favour if it means ridding themselves of him at the same time.  Either way, there will be few in mourning for the dissolving dreams of a man associated with the carve up of the world game like few others.

Other elements from the press release include conducting a review of the T20 leagues and their impact on the world game.  T20 is a reality, and could – and should – be something extremely good for the game, as it raises the profile, popularity, and yes, the revenues of the sport.  That we are in a position where it constitutes a threat to Test cricket and international cricket more generally is not inevitable, and never was.  To review this is again progress, with the tantalising prospect of providing a context for Test cricket in particular, as the form of the game most under threat.

Is it an answer?  No.  Is it even the outline of the answer?  No.  But does it provide the smallest semblance of hope that international cricket, and Test cricket in particular, has a future?  Just the smallest.  It is a start.  If it goes no further, then the downward spiral, which has been paused today, will resume.  But nothing is inevitable, and with the right people at the helm, things can improve.  Today is a good day, the despair is slightly lessened, and maybe, just maybe, Mr Smith has gone to Washington.


South Africa vs England: ODI series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post – Great Bucko.. “The Silent Man’s Silent Man”

A big welcome, and Happy New Year, to The Great Bucko (aka Sean B) for another one of his think-pieces. As usual, food for thought, and interesting to read. Fire away with the comments…

Take it away Sean….

9th May 2015. The date which most of the mainstream media credit as the day when English cricket finally pulled itself out of the doldrums. To be fair it’s an easy narrative for them to create, the “messiah” Andrew Strauss had ridden his chariot into the offices of the ECB to join forces with our “brave young captain” Alastair Cook to pick English cricket up by it’s shoelaces and turn them into the young warriors who would sweep away the invading Australian hordes from the hallowed gates of the Home of Cricket. The disastrous world cup would be a distant memory, the inability to beat the worst West Indian team in living memory now forgotten and oh yes, Paul who?

Of course, I’m being slightly glib here and it would be wrong of me to let me my own personal feelings about Andrew Strauss cloud my judgment of the fact that he has done a pretty decent job since being made Director, English Cricket (see Andrew, it’s actually beneficial not to let one’s personal agenda get in the way of sound decision making – I present Mr. Kevin Pietersen as my first offering to the jury). The decision to sack Peter Moores and appoint Trevor Bayliss was a shrewd move and although the way it was carried out was just horrendous (another fine PR show from the ECB), it was the right decision and one that should have been made 18 months earlier. Dmitri has covered the Peter Moores era in his review of the year, so I don’t want to go over old ground, but it is safe to say that I’m in agreement that Moores, whilst an honourable man and certainly someone who didn’t deserve the shabby treatment he was afforded when being removed of his post, was never cut out for coaching at an international level (my argument was that he should have been made the Lions coach, as he did have a skill for unearthing good young talent). I also applaud Strauss’ thoughts around affording more focus for the one-day and T20 teams, with players like Willey and Rashid encouraged to play in some of the worldwide T20 tournaments to hone their skills and gain experience (perhaps he has read KP’s first book after all). Of course, there was the Ashes victory too, which allows Strauss to justify all his decisions in the lead up to the series and to proclaim England are on the up, even if it was against an average Australian side on doctored green seamers.

However, in my opinion, the 2 biggest reasons why there has been progress from the England side, both on the pitch and just as importantly off the pitch (in the eyes of the paying public), were 2 decisions made before Strauss’ tenure had actually begun. Paul Farbrace, though whisper it, who was appointed under Paul Downton’s reign of calamity, has been a vital cog in the new England set up (though I refuse to give Downton any credit, as I believe it was Moores’ who pushed for his appointment). Bayliss and Farbrace dovetail extremely well, and from all the reports coming out of the dressing room, Farbrace is an extremely well liked and respected individual who has played a major part in uniting the dressing room, allowing players to play their own game and promoting a positive brand of cricket (totally alien to that in which we were playing under Flower and Moores). He has sometimes been referred to as the “silent man” but every cricket fan can understand the skills and expertise he has bought to the England set up. Farbrace has undoubtedly been a big cog in England’s success; however the most important decision that the English Cricket team has made in my opinion, came with relatively little fanfare. The date I will remember as being the most important for English cricket in 2015, was 26th March 2015. The date when a certain Ottis Gibson was bought back into the England fold as bowling coach for a 2nd time, although a lot of credit also has to go to the Melbourne Renegades, who somehow saw fit to hire David Saker as head coach (that’s worked out well hasn’t it??)

This decision, again in the final death throes of Peter Moore’s reign (they had worked together previously in Moores’ first stint as England coach) was arguably the most important decision made by the ECB last year (although some credit has to go to Strauss for extending his contract). Gibson is the exact antithesis of Saker, an individual who isn’t desperate to be in the limelight (I can’t remember seeing an interview with Gibson since his appointment), an individual who is happy to do his work behind the scenes and let the bowlers take the credit when things go well (it always seemed more than a mere coincidence that Saker would appear at the end of a day when England had actually bowled well) and an individual who has more than one tactical plan when Plan A isn’t working. These character traits dovetail excellently with Bayliss’ and Farbrace’s style of management. I must admit that I almost jumped for joy when I heard the news that Saker was leaving England. This was a man who had made a career living off the glories of one great Ashes series in 2009/10 against an Australian side in complete disarray with an English team who were close to their pinnacle. David Saker generally had one plan and one plan only, let the opposition “have it up them” whatever the conditions – bowl short, bowl hard and show them how aggressive you are (no wonder there were divisions in the English dressing room between the batsmen and the bowlers, Saker probably actively encouraged it). For series after series, England bowled too short at opposing teams with the nadir being reached against the Sri Lankans at Headingley in 2014, where England’s bowling tactics were some of the most brainless I’ve ever witnessed on a cricket field; the macho “let’s show these Lankans who’s boss by letting them have it up them” ensured that we lost the game from a position of strength and without doubt showed David Saker’s limitations for the whole world to see. It wasn’t just that Saker was tactically poor, that was his probably his best quality, it was also the fact that he made all of our bowlers consistently worse and nearly destroyed one of them. Jimmy seemed to lose the ability to swing the ball, Broad was told that he had to be the destroyer alongside Plunkett and then we get to the case of a certain Steven Finn. At the end of the 2013/2014 Ashes series, Ashley Giles commented that Finn “was simply unselectable” – not that I attach any blame to Giles, the real perpetrator without doubt was David Saker, who had tinkered and toyed with Finn’s action so much that he simply didn’t know what to do anymore. I remember when Finn burst onto the scene in 2010 against Bangladesh and Pakistan, 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 at the end of the 2013/14 Ashes series should have prompted some thorough soul searching amongst the ECB hierarchy. This was all on David Saker’s watch, how could one of our most promising bowlers been left in such a situation? Why wasn’t Saker’s part in this heavily scrutinized unlike the batting failures that cost Gooch his job? Oh yes they were too busy throwing our best batsmen under a bus to worry about little things like this. The fact that Finn is somewhere back to his best (I thought he was the pick of the bowlers in the first two tests against South Africa) is testament to both Finn and to Richard Johnson (as well as Raph Brandon for helping him with his run up) and highlights what a simply terrible coach David Saker is.

Ottis Gibson, on the other hand, seems to do the all of the basics well and without doubt has the full respect of the English bowlers, many of whom he would have worked with at the start of their career. Aside from the West Indies series where we bowled like drains and to be fair to Gibson, he had only just taken up his post a couple of weeks before, England have consistently bowled better than they had done for the four years previous. Anderson (who many including myself, thought might be coming to the end of his career last summer) is consistently swinging the ball again and bowling better lines both at home and away. Broad has suddenly realised that you’re likely to pick up more wickets by pitching the ball up (gone are the macho “enforcer” passages of play thankfully) and as a result is also bowling far more wicket taking deliveries and also with a far better economy than ever before. Stokes and Finn have been allowed to play their natural games and hunt for wickets and not worry about being dropped for not “bowling dry” as they would have done in the past. Moeen also seems to have improved over the past couple of months and he again was very complimentary about working with Gibson – http://www.espncricinfo.com/south-africa-v-england-2015-16/content/story/956105.html. The bowling of the white ball side (Woakes, Willey, Topley and to some extent Jordan) has also improved dramatically.

And how have we needed our bowling attack to perform as well, most of England’s victories over the past year have revolved around an excellent bowling performance that has allowed our batsmen to play without pressure (and we have seen what our batting performances can be when suddenly the pressure gauge is switched, the 2nd innings at Cape Town was a perfect example). England’s batting line up still has many holes in it, with only one world class batsman (Root), one other proven international class batsman (Cook) with the rest being talented cricketers (Taylor, Compton, Bairstow, Stokes etc.) either trying to find their way in international cricket or are striving to become more consistent (if Stokes can regularly bat anywhere near to the ability he showed at Cape Town, then we will have a superstar). As a result, for England to be successful in the short term, we need to find an opener (still), get the batting unit to fire more often and pray that the English bowling attack can continue to carry our somewhat stuttering batting line up.

This for me is why Gibson’s appointment was the singularly most important news of 2015. We have always had a good bowling attack on paper for the past few years, but 90% of the time we were never sure which version would turn up, the one that bowled out Australia for 60 at Trent Bridge or the one that allowed Sri Lanka to score 457 in the 2nd innings at Headingley? It was a conundrum that neither Moores nor Saker could solve. It is still early days in Gibson’s tenure as bowling coach, and there will be some bad days as well as good, but the omens appear good. We appear to now have a bowling attack where each individual knows the role in which they have to play in it and as a result of this, it has become far more consistent and threatening in a variety of conditions.

Strauss and Cook may well get all of the credit in the mainstream media (wrongly in my opinion) and naturally there must be a hefty dollop of praise to both Bayliss and the “silent man” Paul Farbrace who have been instrumental in England’s improvement, but for me the most credit has to go to the individual that has received the least credit publicly since his appointment, one Ottis Delroy Gibson – the silent man’s silent man.



South Africa v England: 1st Test, day five and match review

South Africa in disarray, England exultant.  No doubt the word “momentum” will be used.

Taking four wickets for seven runs (including du Plessis last night) probably wasn’t the expectation of anyone, with the game effectively done and dusted within half an hour of the start.  But on reflection it probably shouldn’t come as that much of a shock, from the start of the fourth day South Africa seemed almost resigned to defeat, with only the brief passage of play at the top of the second innings suggesting some degree of fight.

It was Moeen Ali, named man of the match, who did the damage, removing AB De Villiers with the third ball of the morning.  Moeen hasn’t had an unquestioned role in the side, not helped by being shunted up and down the batting order and a lack of clarity about what his role is meant to be.  He isn’t one of the six best batsmen in the country, though he is one of the six best to watch, so his primary role has to be as spinner, with his batting complementing that.  There has been considerable development in his bowling since his debut, and it’s now time to start thinking of him as much much more than the part-timer he was then called.  It wasn’t an unreasonable description either at the start, but by all accounts he works harder than anyone and is keen to learn.   The fruits of that are starting to show, though how much further he can develop is an open question.

His Test bowling average isn’t anything special, though in recent historic terms for England it’s not bad either – Swann is an outlier amongst English finger spinners – but after 20 Tests his statistics are starting to become meaningful.  The one that reflects well on him is his strike rate, with a wicket every 56 balls.  That is actually better than Swann, though no one would argue he’s remotely the equivalent as a bowler, for Swann was vastly better at the defensive role.  But Moeen does have the knack of taking wickets, and just as with Finn, this is a skill that the England are finally starting to pay attention to; “bowling dry” is unquestionably a part of the game and England’s ability to strangle sides into submission was impressive.  But the ability to take wickets out of nowhere is more impressive still – the holy grail is to have both of course, but if it was that easy every side would do it.

Therefore it could be argued that 18 months into his Test career, Moeen is actually underrated.  It is his batting where he is underperforming somewhat which is slightly ironic.

He would have had more wickets in his career had numerous stumping opportunities been taken, so Bairstow will have been delighted to get Bavuma, particularly after missing De Villiers last night.  And here we need to talk about wicketkeeping, because it is the one area of the game where people who have played at the highest level and can talk with wisdom and experience about cricket have no knowledge or understanding except in a couple of very obvious cases.

The stumping this morning was an easy one, because it went past the outside edge of the bat.  That means the keeper is following the line of the ball all the way down and the hands are automatically in the right position.  It’s therefore straightforward unless there is excessive spin taking it beyond the reach of the gloves.  The difficult ones are those that go between bat and pad.  Bairstow, just like Buttler, is a part-time wicketkeeper, and that creates a number of issues.  The taking or missing of a particular ball can’t be seen in isolation.  More than anyone else on the field, more even than the batsmen who get to switch off to some extent for half of their time out there, the wicketkeeper is involved in every single ball of the game. Concentration is an obvious requirement, but it’s about more than that – or rather it’s only part of the story – it’s about expecting the ball to miss the bat and come into the gloves.  When it goes between bat and pad there is an expectation that it will be hit, and the eyes follow the line of the bat rather than the ball.

This is not a technical issue as such, Bairstow is more than capable of taking it, and so is Buttler; the difference between a good full time keeper and a talented but part-time one is the automatic expectation that the ball will continue on its path and not be intercepted by the bat.  The best keepers do this, and it’s why in the case of either Bairstow or Buttler they will learn it should they continue to keep over the longer period.  That doesn’t mean they then become good keepers, for there are technical flaws in both of them compared to the best, but it is to explain why that one was missed, and why in itself it shouldn’t be a concern – those kinds of stumpings will come.  Prior in his first incarnation also missed them regularly for example, in his second having focused on his keeping much more, he would take them.

Still, Bairstow took the opportunity today well enough, and will certainly gain confidence from it, which also is part of the equation.

From there it was something of a procession, Finn producing one that moved away just a fraction off the seam and was frankly wasted on Dale Steyn,  Moeen again got bite and turn to account for Abbott while Woakes finally got a wicket, which was the least he deserved – he has bowled well without reward this Test.

Fittingly, Stuart Broad delivered the coup de grace to give England a thumping win by 241 runs.

This is a remarkable margin of victory having been sent to bat in difficult conditions with England finding themselves 12-2 and then 49-3.  South Africa’s abundant problems will be much discussed in consequence, but there is always the danger of underplaying England’s wins and overplaying their defeats.  Too often England only win because the opposition were rubbish, and lose because they are rubbish.  It isn’t particularly fair, they won this game and won it well.

The first innings total of 303 is what set up the game.  It’s not a huge score but given the conditions and a pitch where run scoring wasn’t easy, it was a decent one.  Taylor and Compton can reflect on  their performances in that crucial period and be very satisfied with it.  As a combination they batted beautifully, and Graeme Swann’s bizarre and consistent criticism of Compton for batting too slowly gave something of an insight into the environment of the England team during his first spell in the side.  Compton did an outstanding job here, and deserves high praise not snide dismissal.  Had Alastair Cook done the same thing, he would have received considerable plaudits for it, for it was every bit a Cook type innings in pace, style and above all importance.  Rightly so too when Cook does it, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Swann is blinded by favouritism rather than what is going on in front of him.  It is distasteful.

If Compton had a case for being man of the match, so did James Taylor.  Doubtless Kevin Pietersen’s view that he wasn’t good enough for Test cricket in 2012 will be thrown back at him, but firstly Taylor is a better player now than he was then, but also Pietersen’s view at the time was quite clearly echoed by the selectors, who didn’t pick him.  Here he was busy at the crease, and turned the pressure back on to the bowlers.  As a combination with the doughty Compton, it worked beautifully.

That the man of the match award wasn’t an easy one to choose is evidenced by Broad being the fourth player who must have felt in with a shout.  He took fewer wickets than either Moeen or Finn, but the timing of his was the key, breaking the back of South Africa first time round, and ensuring England had a big lead at half way.  Broad is becoming a very, very fine bowler indeed.  And he seems to have got his batting back to at least some extent.  It’s going to be a big few years from him.

Lastly Finn himself can count himself a trifle unlucky to be overlooked too.  Having written about him yesterday there is no point repeating it, but he is looking in fine fettle.

England do have the nice problem of finding a place for Anderson, and Woakes seems certain to make way for him.  Harsh on Woakes if so, but it’s hard to criticise bringing back England’s record wicket taker.

Whither South Africa?

The first thing here is that a side can be comprehensively beaten in one match and gel in the next.  Even those without long memories ought to know that from the last Ashes series where the teams took it in turns to batter the other.  With that said, they do look in some disarray.  The injury to Steyn looks highly likely to keep him out of at least the second Test, but the rest of the attack – and Morkel in particular – compensated admirably here.  Their problems were not in the bowling.

De Villiers’ less than subtle hint about his workload appears to have been listened to, with de Kock being brought in to the squad for Cape Town and seemingly certain to play.  Overloading the best batsman in the side always seemed a peculiar approach, but it’s not in and of itself a reason for how this Test unfolded.  Yet for all the talk about Bairstow behind the stumps it shouldn’t be overlooked that De Villiers had a poor time with the gloves in this game anyway.

Elgar had an excellent match, looking solid and but for being on the losing team probably was the outstanding performer on either side, while Van Zyl in the second innings could well have played himself back into some kind of form without going on to make a substantial score.

The captain is clearly a concern, but Amla is a high class player and has been for a decade.  He was all at sea in the first innings, but much better in the second.  Anyone writing him off does so at their peril, for he will come good, and when he does England will suffer for it.

The immediate response to their performance has a hint of overreaction about it; England are not that good and South Africa are not that bad.  It’s one Test, and South Africa’s difficult tour of India notwithstanding, they have not become a bad side overnight, but they are clearly very low on confidence.

Newlands is a fortress of South African cricket, and while England will go there with confidence, suggestions that they are favourites to win based on this game are a triumph of hope over experience.  South Africa will probably not play as badly as they have done in Durban – if they do they are indeed in real trouble, and at that point a reassessment might be in order.

This isn’t going to stop some getting carried away, and it will be the same people who usually do so.  C’est la vie.


South Africa v England: 1st Test, Day Four

By no stretch of the imagination could this Test be called a classic, for one thing England have been edging ever further ahead in it over the course of the game, but to go into the final day with all results (just about) possible is indicative of a match that has been fascinating throughout.  The most likely outcome remains that England will go 1-0 up some time tomorrow afternoon, but South Africa showed admirable grit in their second innings; had they done so in the first innings, it could be argued they wouldn’t have been in such trouble.  Yet ironically enough, they finished the day with a near identical score to that they had at the close on day two.  Perception is a funny thing.

England appeared relatively untroubled by the loss of wickets in the morning, a lead already approaching 300 tends to limit any sense of panic after all, and it was Bairstow who was the undoubted star of the show.  On a surface that started slow and is edging towards the turgid as we approach the conclusion, fluent run scoring has proved difficult, yet Bairstow merrily thrashed his way to 79 at better than a run a ball.  England do have an abundance of strokemakers, but they also require the latitude to play that way, both in terms of the match situation and the allowance from the captain and management above.  The signs are positive that coach Trevor Bayliss is keen to allow the players to express themselves, a welcome change from the years of rigid game management, but it still requires the groundwork done by others – Compton’s 85 and 49 are not going to win any awards for entertainment, but a team requires different kinds of batsmen who play in their own way to to bring out the best in the others; he did exceptionally well, and while no judgements can be made going forward on the basis of a single game, it can be said he played the role of the perfect number three here.

England’s long batting order also demonstrated its value, as first Moeen Ali and then Chris Woakes provided competent support, with South Africa merely looking to limit the damage.

Indeed the approach from the hosts was quite instructive.  The new ball was already available when Taylor was dismissed to leave England 224-6, 313 ahead.  It wasn’t taken.  What this betrayed was that South Africa didn’t truly believe they could win the game; for a side that did would surely have wanted to grab the new nut, knock over the tail and set off in pursuit of 330, with a belief it was possible.  Sure, England would have been strong favourites to win still, but it would have by no means been out of the question.  Equally of course, the new ball could have gone around the park, but not to take it was extraordinarily defensive given from there South Africa could still have won.  It is hard to credit that the view of Amla and/or the coaching staff was that their best chance of doing so was to retain the old ball, it seemed purely about being content to stay in the field as long as possible to avoid batting, and that is fair enough if the opposition are already 450 ahead, but not when they are only 300 and a bit on, with six wickets down.   A few things about this South Africa outfit seem rather muddled.

The debate then turned to the timing of any declaration.  Once again though, there was so much time left in the game.  As it happened, England were dismissed before it became an issue, but with a target of 416 and the best part of 150 overs remaining, it was by no means a pressing matter.  Put simply, if South Africa batted the remainder of the match – and no rain was or is forecast – they wouldn’t be too far away from that target.  Therefore England weren’t going to be losing potential overs that might be needed to take a last wicket or two.  Had they gone on much longer, then yes, it would have become a topic of debate, but it didn’t arise.

In the customary manner, South Africa batted much better second time around initially.  Van Zyl in particular started off exceptionally positively, to the point one or two who had been questioning England for not setting about 350 actually queried whether they should have (if they could) gone on longer to make the game safe.  Sometimes there is a desire to have it all ways.  For let’s put it simply, if South Africa were to achieve the second highest run chase in Test history, then you simply doff your caps to them and say they deserve it.  If they instead manage to bat out the game for a draw, then you may wonder why they didn’t get close enough to win in the time available, but you still doff that cap.  The target was exceptionally challenging, the time remaining extensive.  England and Cook did nothing wrong, however it turns out tomorrow.

After that strong start by the Proteas, and with a ball that resolutely refused to swing or seam to any great extent, it was Stokes and then Finn who made the difference.  Firstly, patience is always needed in these situations, for the wickets will usually come, and secondly you need to have a strike bowler who takes those wickets.  Earlier in his career Finn was criticised – and then dropped – for leaking runs, but he takes wickets.  His strike rate is the best of any England bowler with 100 Test victims, at an outstanding 47 balls per wicket.  This is a serious weapon.  Who cares if he goes for a few runs when he can do that?  So does Dale Steyn for that matter, and while his economy rate is a little better than Finn’s, it’s hardly impressive either.  Trying to force the square peg of potent strike bowler into the round hole of line and length operator consistently missed the point about the attacking wealth offered by him.  When he comes on to bowl it’s quite clear he will drop the odd one short and get hit to the boundary.  It’s also equally clear there is a decent prospect of sending one or two opponents back to the shed.  Leave him be, let him do what he’s excellent at – England have other bowlers to tie an end up.

And on that particular matter, Broad is becoming nigh on unhittable in Test cricket these days.  Indeed an economy rate in this innings of 2.27 probably represents something of a disappointment to him.  Add to that that he takes wickets, as his record over this calendar year shows only too well, and it is time that it was more widely acknowledged that he’s a fantastic bowler, one of the best England have had in a long time.  Appreciation of his skills (if not his DRS expertise) is overdue.

Standing in the way of England emerging victorious is one AB De Villiers.   England did have a chance to get him, Moeen Ali’s beautifully flighted delivery turning sharply through the gate with De Villiers out of his ground, only for Bairstow to miss the stumping.  England are choosing wicketkeepers who are primarily batsmen, and the reality is that while they do so, stumpings like this are going to be missed.  The same applies when it’s Jos Buttler doing the job.  In both cases they tend to miss the stumpings when the ball goes between bat and pad.  The eyes follow the bat rather than ball, expecting it to make contact, and by the time the ball has passed the bat, it’s far too late to adjust.  This certainly isn’t to excuse an error that Bairstow himself was in despair over, but it is to explain how it happens and why.  The very best wicketkeepers don’t make that kind of mistake because they always follow the line of the ball instinctively.  It’s a much much harder skill than might be supposed.

With Du Plessis and De Villiers at the crease, memories of their monumental match saving rearguard against Australia were well to the fore, but Finn returned just before the end to produce one that lifted just enough to take the shoulder of Du Plessis’ bat, Cook taking an excellent catch, and England will breathe much easier tonight.

There was still time for two items of note – firstly that Dale Steyn came out to bat as nightwatchman.  There are two ways of looking at that, either surprise at taking such a risk with a key player with the Cape Town Test only days away, or that he’s already ruled out and therefore there is little to be lost.  A slight puzzle though.   Secondly, immediately after Du Plessis was out the ball was changed.  It had been looked at earlier in the over, and the change itself was routine, and nothing need be inferred from the decision.  Just as nothing needed to be inferred from the decision to change the ball when South Africa were bowling.  It is unlikely that those who cast aspersions through innuendo and suggestion in that case will do so here – and that says it all.

A further 280 is required from 90 overs tomorrow.  More realistically, England need six more wickets.  It probably won’t be easy, but it probably will happen.  On the basis of the first four days, England deserve it.