World Cup Match 7: Afghanistan v Sri Lanka

Today sees the game which might, just might, sort out who finishes 10th in the competition. Yes, it’s a bit early to say that, but given their performances on Saturday, worthy though Afghanistan’s was, there is a sense that neither of these two teams will be in the shake up when the group phase ends in about a month or two’s time. The game is being played at Cardiff, and the rain radar looks less than great, so it may be that this is all for nought in anyway. Let’s hope not. Afghanistan look a particularly intriguing team, and in many ways are the poster child for all those, very vociferous, advocates of a larger World Cup (in terms of participants, not games).

Comments, as always, below.

As for yesterday’s events in Nottingham, it was always going to be interesting to see how England fans and media (and soon to see also how the players) would react to the first reverse. It was always going to happen, but maybe it was envisaged that it wouldn’t be this early in the competition, and that the early loss, if there was to be one, would be against South Africa (who may also be scrapping for 10th place if their form is maintained!). The immediate response, judging by Sky and some of Twitter, is that this was a freakishly bad fielding performance, that England will need to improve, but we really are very good at this format and so no worries fellow travelers.

As Lee Corsey on College Game Day (obscure US reference) would say “Not so fast”. Now I know a fellow writer is more sanguine about the loss, but I didn’t get to this point in my blogging life without knowingly under-reacting, and in truth I genuinely don’t think I am. I think the ability of this England team is under question because it has not won the massive game. That’s because they have, really, only had one, which was a semi-final against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy. I might let you have Australia in the opening game of that tournament, if Australia were ever that bothered about the Champions Trophy, which they hadn’t been much previously. I thought, last night, about England football team’s qualifying performance in the lead up the 2010 World Cup, and how we won 4-1 and 5-1 against Croatia, and dropped points in a game that really didn’t matter because we’s already qualified. We then made a horlicks of the main tournament.

It’s always a bit arrogant to say England try their hardest in routine ODIs, and other teams don’t really care that much, but maybe there is a small case to say this is true here. After all, the pressure was put on in 2015 when Andrew Strauss said we would focus more on white ball cricket, and that has certainly been the case – other nations don’t make it so blindingly obvious. The media have, by and large, got on board with this, and perhaps explaining away or excusing some issues with the test team as if there is a trade off for the white ball team’s success. And it has been successful. England have been an entertaining batting side to watch, while the bowling leaves a little to be desired. Indeed, if ever the team plays to a less than full audience on these shores, some of the key media figures exhort the host to lose fixtures because they won’t pay exorbitant prices to watch “the greatest England ODI team ever” (a title I will not anoint them to until they match what the 1992 team did).

There’s always a problem commenting on a game I haven’t watched. But I knew from the outset of the run chase that chasing 349 to win in a World Cup isn’t like chasing it down in the 3rd ODI of a tedious five match series where each squad is chopping and changing its players. The jeopardy of defeat is much, much higher. If you are thinking you can lose just three games to be certain to qualify, England will need to beat two out of India, Australia, New Zealand, and I am going to throw our kryptonite, West Indies, into that mix. And that’s taking for granted Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, which may be foolish. This isn’t a bump in the road, but a clear warning sign. England played tightly against South Africa, but had enough to beat them. They got lured into a pace attack and bouncer strategy by Pakistan’s atrocious first game. By the time the messages appeared to get through, Pakistan were off to a decent start, and 348 was possibly reining them in a bit. There’s a lot of positives taken from Root and Buttler making hundreds, but the supporting cast did not step up and that’s a concern. Given the nature of pitches and boundaries, this won’t be the last time we could be chasing 350. It’s not easy, and perhaps the sin of this team is that they’ve made it look like it during the cricket equivalent of the “qualifying campaign”.

Pakistan are a walking cliche for unpredictability, and so losing 11 in a row and then beating the “World Champion Elect” seems like a Ruiz felling Joshua. But it really shouldn’t be. They have talented batting, and the bowling can never be taken for granted. Sometimes they lose their minds, sometimes they put it together. It makes them eminently watchable, and a dangerous foe. For all the beatings England have administered to them in bilateral series, they’ve now played them, as New White Ball England, twice in major competitions and lost. It’s when the game is played that really matters.

So yes, I am concerned for England. Contrary to the views of people who hate this format, this loss does matter. With ten teams, a 5-4 win loss record could be recorded by the 5th and 6th place teams if one or two of the countries fail to raise themselves if they know elimination is certain. England have Bangladesh up next, on Saturday at Cardiff, and then face the West Indies the following Friday in Southampton. We will have a feel for how the qualification is going by then, and if England sit at 2-2 in the win-loss column (and let’s definitely not take Bangladesh for granted) then the alarm bells will be ringing.

One last note. I have to say it. While I’ve made most of my peace with England’s cricket team (as if they give a stuff), the whole long-term problem with what happened in 2014, and what Harrison is doing now, is that these defeats don’t sting like they used to. An England football defeat stings much more, especially under this Southgate team. This doesn’t. They seem decent players, hell, I like quite a few of them. But it doesn’t matter that much to me. We had a word with a media guy a few months ago who thought that if England got on a roll, the country would go mad for this tournament. I said that how could they? They won’t be able to watch it if they don’t have Sky. And some cricket fans like me are so cheesed off with the suits who pick the boots, that we’ll see any victory marred by the ECB patting themselves on the back for coming to the conclusion that the 2015 World Cup was a bit embarrassing. Because we know that this would give Citizen Kane Harrison even more fuel for his ego-driven campaign to destroy English domestic cricket as it exists now. (Oh yes, we saw the Standard article, where Harrison is bathing in overwhelming support none of us have noticed). So while Buttler makes hundreds, Joe Root plays the anchor as the others hit around him (a run a ball hundred is an anchor role these days), and the entertainment is there, the suits have ruined it.

Actually, while I am here, I have one last note. Notice how Australia have seamlessly assimilated Smith and Warner back into the fold, with the media it appears massively behind them, despite them “shaming the nation” and in the case of Warner, reports that he’d been “ostracised” and “made to dine alone by the team” and being the outcast blamed for the sandpaper incident. Notice how prime outlets like ABC are confident enough to have articles using these two to have a pop at England fans for understandable wind-ups (and calling England fans boorish). Notice how the “abuse” is seen as a positive for Warner, that it will make him play better. Notice that picture of Warner taking selfies with Aussie fans? I have. Perhaps our suits, perhaps our hierarchy should stop babbling on about culture and trust, and pick our best players on every occasions. It seems other nations just try harder and don’t hang themselves on managerial and coaching gods, but on players. Who play. And yes, I am talking about Pietersen. Of course I am.

OK, enough from me. Comments below on today’s action…..

Dedication’s What’s You Need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remarkable.

 

South Africa vs England: 1st T20 review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was quite good fun though.

South Africa vs England 2nd ODI Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2-0, and England’s transformation continues.

South Africa vs England: 1st ODI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

One Day We’ll Fly Away

England win the ODI series 3-1, and did this in varying styles. We dug a game out from a troublesome position, we set a middling to good total and bowled well, and we smashed a massive total which was never really under threat. That’s probably the most pleasing point from this series, and lets leave aside just how good, or not so good, the opposition might have been, and shows there isn’t just one way this team can win.

Having said that, our batsmen are going to win many more games than our bowlers. I’m sure that’s not an exclusive revelation, but the bowling is still capable of going for plenty. It did against New Zealand, to a lesser degree (and that might be down to the change in regulations) against Australia, and it may well do again when the human cyclone that is AB DeVillier reaps his storm.

To quote the mystics from May “there does not appear to be any vacancies in the batting line-up” at present. Don’t worry, pearl clutchers, I’m not mentioning him. With Hales and Roy at the top, Root at three, Morgan at four, Taylor at five, Buttler at six, Stokes at seven and Ali at eight (with Rashid maybe at nine), that is an exciting batting line-up. It could do serious, serious damage. If either of our spin bowlers could become regular wicket-taking threats, we’d be in a really solid position.

What you will get with this batting line-up, as you probably will with most, is brittleness. I’ve seen Jason Roy enough, as have most of you now, that he will go early quite regularly. I’ve compared him many times not to you-know-who, but to Ali Brown. If England had stuck by Brown, took the rough with the smooth, and not bowed to the usual staid and boring methods, we’d have had a winner. I’m convinced. I saw him play enough when I was a Surrey member, in county championship and one dayers, to see it. Roy is a talent. But even yesterday, he started a bit dodgily, with two inside edges flying past his stumps. He was out second ball in the first match. It will happen. We need to stick by him. It was brilliant to see a Surrey man make a hundred for England. Not counting who I can’t name, it might be the first international hundred by a Surrey man since The Thorpe in 2004 at Durban. I think!

At the other end Alex Hales also made his first ODI hundred, and without it we might have been in strife in that game. Hales is again going to be hit and miss, but his hundred was pretty mature in many ways. He got himself in then let himself go. Hales is likely to open, we think, in Durban next month in the test team (though I still remain to be convinced they’ll take this mighty plunge) and we should see what happens (although we might not like the answers). It’s tough to get a huge feel of a series I could only watch on highlights shows, but Hales seems to be finding his way. It still beggars belief that we haven’t had that faith in him for longer. But that’s history now. What I would say is I thought the reaction of the England camp afterwards was a bit OTT. Hales has a long way to go, he’s not there yet, but the upside is phenomenally exciting.

Jos Buttler’s hundred yesterday was amazing, even on highlights. Good grief, what a talent. Some of those shots are played only by the true greats of ODI cricket. That reverse sweep when he barely moved his feet and just belted it behind backward point was staggering. Also, when he got the free hit, he just took a look at the ball, and guided it behind square for four when many others would have looked to belt a six. Brilliant shot selection, awesome power, so many weapons at his disposal, a calm head, what on earth is there not to like. It’s lazy to compare him to Gilchrist, just because they are keepers who can bat. I’ve not really seen anyone like him to be honest. The travails at test level are mystifying, but I pray he gets through them. My real fear, and I hope it is not going to happen, is that he’ll be pigeonholed as an ODI player now white ball cricket is a priority. No-one doubts that Bairstow is most likely to keep in Durban.

The other batsmen weren’t needed so much, although Root was his usual solid self with half centuries, and Taylor won the sort of game we’ll need him to win, where his ability to manouevre the ball around with what looks a more solid technique, is going to be important. He’s no slouch when you need to get a move on, but he’s not the unleashed havoc of Roy, Hales, Buttler and Morgan.

The bowling coped without Finn, Wood or the two senior bowlers who may have played their last ODIs (although neither have retired). It remains to be seen if Willey and Topley are the answer, but they aren’t letting anyone down at this stage. Moeen Ali is still such a promising talent, able to make ODI hundreds and to bowl his share of overs that you can’t imagine the team without him at this stage. Rashid is going to be a daisy player. Some days he will go well, some days he will go far. South Africa will be a real test. Woakes seems like a squad player to me, but others really rate him. It’s nice to have a decent player like him in the wings (a little unfair to compare him to a bit and pieces player), but you can’t discount that he can bat (same as you can’t do that with Willey).

It’s promising, it’s pretty exciting, it’s the coming through of new one day talent, meshed to those who show aptitude for the format already. It is important that this is allowed to settle, but also not to be a closed shop. Bairstow is a fine ODI player in my opinion, especially when on form. I am intrigued by Billings, and would like to see him given a go in an elevated batting position (I think he might be the long term answer at test level – just a hunch based on the limited amount I’ve seen).

But, despite all this, I don’t get that sense of excitement that compares any way to test cricket by people out there. Sure, no-one can be anything but enraptured by Buttler’s hitting, and our two openers making hundreds, but it’s a fleeting thing. That was the point of the two pieces over the previous weekend on white ball cricket. No doubt if this team continues to perform like this, there will be a lot of excitement, and perhaps the new ODI team will capture the imagination. It’s probably sad, but true, that this team will face a firm examination in 2017 when the Champions Trophy returns to these shores, and a failure at that will have much wailing. England and its media don’t particularly like stability. Thus far stability has paid handsome rewards, as Strauss’s backing of Morgan shows.

The test squad raised some comments, and if time permits, I’ll be commenting on that. But well done to the ODI team, there’s something to hang on to, they’ve beaten what was put in front of them, and that’s all they can do. That it’s an exciting batting line-up (and I’m biased towards batting) is something to look forward to. See them all again in January.

Sharjah Day 1 – And Bits Of Other Stuff

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So we move to the Third Test of this fascinating series. Both the first two tests have gone down to the wire, both in unlikely circumstances. In the former, the spinner derided by the journo who tells us know-nothings what’s what, nearly won us a game, and in the latter the spinner derided by the journo who…., nearly saved us when all seemed lost.

But we are where we are, 1-0 down. There’s stuff about we deserve to be level, etc. but that’s just the stuff of hopes and dreams. Winning a test match, as the Pakistanis found in Dubai, is about sealing the deal, closing the match, and sometimes it is bloody hard to do so. Clearly, a win in Sharjah by this team would be up there with Mumbai 2006, Colombo 2001, Karachi 2000 in the pantheon of great, unexpected, away wins. I don’t include either of the two in India in 2012 as that was an experienced, road-tested, England team out there, great as those wins were.

England will make changes. One is forced – Mark Wood’s ankle problems are being managed (and please God, not by another cortisone shot…) and so he steps down. While the wickets column isn’t totally his friend at the moment, he is developing rapidly as a test bowler and has tremendous promise. I fear for his injuries. Fingers crossed for him.

Also, widely trailed, is the “resting” of Jos Buttler. The replacement keeper will be Jonny Bairstow which, in my view, is cripplingly unfair to both of them. Bairstow has shown a bit of stickability in the middle order and is trying to nail down a place. Having to do that while keeping wicket in a one-off test is ratcheting up the difficulty level. Also, will dropping Jos Buttler do him any good? There’s a school of thought that he’ll get his confidence back in the ODIs – that didn’t happen in England.

James Taylor may well be getting the nod for this game, but I’m also seeing others floating someone else opening (Bell – WTF?). I’m pretty sure they’ll stick with Ali for this test, but who knows? Bayliss doesn’t seem the type to chop and change without due thought and process. With the press confirming that Taylor and Bairstow are playing, we have to believe that with Plunkett for Wood, we have our XI. If this tweet is anything to go by, it’s looking good for James. All the best to him.

KP isn’t happy at the dropping of Jos. His article is very insightful though on how to come to terms with spin bowling, and for that, I think it is well worth a read. Haters will hate, though.

Pakistan are without Imran Khan. Will Azhar Ali come into the team? Will we solve the Yasir conundrum? A fascinating contest is in store.

Some statitude….

There have been 15 test centuries in Sharjah. Brendon McCullum’s 202 is the highest. Mohammed Hafeez (197) and Kane Williamson (192) made the next two highest scores in the same test match in November 2014. The next hundred by a Pakistani will be the 10th by a “home” player there. Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Younus Khan (2) all have hundreds there.

New Zealand’s 690 there in 2014 is a major stat outlier which will be tough to beat. The next best innings total is 493 by Pakistan in 2002 v West Indies.

Of 7 test matches played in Sharjah, there has been one draw.

In those 7 tests, there have been hundred partnerships for each of the first 7 wickets. Most vulnerable? 125 for the 4th by Misbah and Mohammad Hafeez? 116 for the 3rd by Taylor and Williamson for New Zealand? Record partnership is for the 2nd between Williamson and McCullum.

Mark Craig has the best ever bowling figures at Sharjah in tests; 7 for 94. Other five wicket hauls have been from Shoaib Akhtar, Shane Warne, Chanaka Welegedara and Rangana Herath.

England have made 20 hundreds in away test matches against Pakistan. Cook has the two highest scores for English players in the UAE – 263 and 94.

Elsewhere we’ve seen the conclusion of the day-night round of the Sheffield Shield. All three matches ended in results:

Tasmania v Western AustraliaScorecard here. Double century watch – Michael Klinger made 202 not out in the first innings

Victoria v QueenslandScorecard here. Including a massive performance by Travis Dean who was on the field for the entire match (unless he nipped off for a call of nature, of course)

South Australia v New South WalesScorecard here. Steve Smith and Ed Cowan with hundreds. Mitchell Starc with 8 wickets.

Of course, double hundreds for Aaron Finch (288*) and Ryan Carters in the warm-up match were buried under the stories over the pitch. Australia are getting a bit of a rep for preparing stupid surfaces for warm-up games. Going to be an interesting test series. My mate in Adelaide has been saying there has been a ton of complaints, but this seems to indicate batsmen can make scores, and bowlers can take wickets. A balance is important. There have been a few 150s, and some decent bowling performances. There will be more news to come.

Some house news. You will note we’ve changed the domain name. Using the old domain still works, but it might be best to update your bookmarks. beingoutsidecricket.com is ours……

Sad to see The Full Toss reaching the end of the road. We were aware something was in the wash as Maxie has a new baby and freelance work to get to grips with and had said to us over a beer in the summer that he thought he would step down after the Ashes. James has a hell of a task widening his remit on the new venture, but we wish him all the best. It may be that we get even more attention than before, now that Maxie, who was increasingly becoming a punchbag for certain posters, will now not be available to have a pop at. Us sinister lot!

On the matters of yesterday, where according to the usual supsects I was part of some conspiracy with Maxie, I am gobsmacked. I had no part in it other than to say to Tregaskis that he still had “it” and saying I was watching while munching popcorn! To be honest, I knew nothing about the golf game, who played with who, or why. Frankly, I don’t care. I’ve been on the end of hospitality before, and I’m not influenced other than I like people who have done it. If they ain’t VFM in what they supply, they don’t have a chance. I think that goes anywhere. I thought the reaction was more interesting than the substance, to be fair. I spoke to some of the contributors during the day but barely touched on the golf. I’m just too busy at work, and enjoying myself with mates after work to be conducting some grand plan. Some people need to look at themselves, frankly.

OK. Test cricket. Sharjah. Game on. Comments below.