Woakes Goes From Villain To Hero

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I have some momentous news to bring you. I’m delighted to report that the England cricket team has finally won a game against India. It only took eight attempts.

Yesterday’s win was brilliant. I don’t care that it was a dead rubber. India were desperate to notch a seventh straight victory against us in all forms – and complete an ODI series whitewash – but our batsmen were just too good for them (and our bowlers were just about good enough not to screw it all up).

I have to admit it was a touch and go for a while though. After posting an impressive 321, in which Roy, Bairstow and Stokes made very useful half centuries, it looked like England might canter to victory. However, an impressive partnership of 104 between Yadhav and Pandya kept India in the hunt until the death.

At one point it looked like Chris Woakes was going to blow it. Although he’d been the most expensive bowler in the game, he was forced to bowl the last over because of an injury to David Willey. India needed 16 to win.

Woakes’ first delivery disappeared over extra cover for six. The next went in a similar direction for four. Suddenly the hosts only needed 6 off the last 4 deliveries. It looked a simple task considering that Woakes’ last 14 deliveries had gone for 34!

However, the world’s sixth most decorated Aston Villa fan – after Prince William, Tom Hanks, David Cameron, Nigel Kennedy and Ian Bell – did something a Villa player never would: he kept his head beautifully and pulled victory from the jaws of defeat.

His final four balls went dot, dot, wicket, dot. Victory was ours … and I couldn’t quite believe what I’d seen. Well done Chris.

When the dust settles England might claim this series was something of a success. I guess we were relatively competitive in the first two games and finally got across the line in the third. A 1-2 ODI defeat in India isn’t the worst result in the world I suppose.

However, although I’m still very excited about our batting depth – Billings and Bairstow both did well in the absence of Hales and Root – I still can’t help but feel nervous about our bowling. We really lack the ability to take wickets once the shine is off the ball and it almost cost us the game yesterday.

Between innings yesterday Sky showed a very revealing statistic indeed. England’s batsmen have scored more runs per over (on average) that any team in world cricket over the last 12 months. More than India, Australia, South Africa …. everyone.

Unfortunately however, England’s bowlers have conceded the most runs per over (on average) than any side in world. That’s more than Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and even Ireland. This means we’ve got statistically the best batting line-up in the world but the worst bowling attack. Can you actually win international tournaments with this formula?

Although studio expert Paul Collingwood poured cold water on the suggestion that England’s bowling attack is the worst around (and I do agree to some extent) his explanation made no sense whatsoever. Colly claimed that England’s bowlers are so expensive because the opposition have to go hell for leather chasing our batsmen’s huge scores.

Of course this works both ways. What about the occasions when England chase? And one could argue (in theory) that England’s batsmen score so quickly because they’re always chasing the enormous totals our bowlers give away!

Either way Sky’s statisticians have certainly given us food for thought. England really need to find a good death bowler and someone capable of taking wickets in the middle of the innings. Woakes kept his head beautifully yesterday but his performance before that was erratic.

I’d like to know what you would do. Would you stick with the players we’ve got and hope they improve, or would you go back to someone like Chris Jordan? Or do you think we should recall Stuart Broad?

If Mark Wood can get himself fit I’m sure he’d add some potency in the middle of the innings but I don’t necessarily see him as a death bowler.

Or perhaps you’ve spotted someone in county cricket who you think can do a job? I’m not convinced myself but I know Luke Fletcher has his admirers.

James Morgan

22 Comments

  1. I do have sympathy with the likes of Woakes and Stokes as they have been on the go since last October with only a couple of weeks rest back in England between Christmas and New Year. Is it really a shock that they have hardly been at their best in that time? Woakes also looked out on his feet during the test series in India and I completely see why. I hope neither of them go to the West Indies, let these guys rest and recharge and there is no point at all sending them to a series that is only for the ECBs ‘financial model’ and not a benefit for the England side, let alone much for the Windies. I wouldn’t send Root either.

    I have no faith in the England management paying any heed to that idea. We are indeed very poor in terms of quick bowling depth in ODIs. It is all very well hoping Mark Wood gets fit but I can’t see where we go from here. One lad who looks quite good, who may be worth a go should he stay fit and have a good start to the season is the Yorkshire fella Fisher. England are going to have to think outside the box this year because the schedule is idiotic and if they don’t come to terms with it things could look very desperate indeed long before the Ashes squad gets selected.

  2. I’d say the biggest difference was the wicket taking of Ashwin. England lack a strike bowler, someone you’d throw the ball to when the captain needs to break a partnership. They’re all steady enough but can also all disappear when a batsman’s got his eye in

    • I’d agree with that to some extent, but it’s worth pointing out how well Ashwin and Jadeja dovetail together. It’s not just the left/right combination. Jadeja’s accuracy ties batsmen down, and they start taking risks against Ashwin’s flight.

  3. "IronBalls" McGinty on

    I suppose it all depends on how we view things that sets the direction in the way we want to travel?
    The England team ethos is attack…no recriminations for getting out to an attacking shot, and full support from your team mates for your contribution, and thus, generally, play without fear.
    I would say that the bulk of cricket fans, particularly the purists, simply cannot, or are incapable of, buying in to this philosophy, and thus we get all the angst, doubts, and criticism we see above and below the line?
    All the young up and coming batsmen are well schooled, and have, or are developing all the shots. Many of our current batsmen are honing their skills and temprement in the IPL/BBL etc…I do not view them as “mercenary” at all, just improving their craft.
    Short form craft is what, I feel, our bowlers lack. Somehow they need to get more exposure to the global leagues. The ECB have utterly failed to generate this kind of exposure in UK based league, and every obstacle put in the way of our players getting this exposure abroad. The upcoming ODI’s with Ireland in the middle of the IPL is a case in point..an utterly meaningless fixture…other than a bit of cash for somebody.
    If we are serious about winning global titles, then we must be serious as to how to go about it!

  4. I think they were too quick to discard Rashid. One bad ODI and dropped. Did well in Bangladesh ODI’s and he really should have played the second ODI as surely any bowler can be forgiven a bad day?

  5. I always tend to feel our spinners do not look up to the job, and am easily persuaded to drop Rashid, every time he bowls a long-hop. But it is our pace attack that hasn’t got the craft to control the scoring of the other side. Our spinners are not world-beating, but they are competitive; Rashid has a marginally better strike rate than Ashwin, although he is pretty expensive; Ali is definitely more economical than Rashid, but doesn’t take enough wickets. An average 20 overs per ODI from the pair of them produces 107 for (not quite) 3. Scaling that up to 50 overs, would give the opposition a middling score of about 270 for about 7, which is usually not a winning total. Of course, this doesn’t make allowance for the favourable impact on the spinners’ relative stats of the ebb and flow of fielding restrictions and exposure of other bowlers to the death overs, but it does indicate that our greater problem is the pace bowling. I would find a place in the side for Jordan, in preference to Ball.

    • Tend to agree with both of the above comments regarding the spinners – and it doesn’t get much tougher for them than ODI in India.

      Broad could easily be the strike bowler we currently lack, and might well be so in the world cup, but can be no more than a short term expedient.

      (Also note, if we could maintain the record of winning one game in three in India, it would be more than twice as good as our record over the previous couple of dozen games. We’re not that bad, and have a realistic chance this year.)

  6. I don’t understand the logic of praising the batsmen who are belting the ball on a pitch and in a game and with huge bats with wide edges designed for batsmen. The current set up of ODIs is designed for big scores. The MCC – as was pointed out by Indian commentators – could change this overnight by reducing the side of edges on bats. Then scores would drop below 300 in their opinion. It would take more skill to score and the bowlers would have more of a chance.

    Meanwhile the bowlers are heavily criticised for taking part in a game which favours batsmen! Getting any wicket requires an enormous amount of skill and craft. Jason Roy has the biggest bat of the lot. But the pitches could also be addressed. And also the small boundaries. The change happened not when batsmen suddenly became cleverly ultra aggressive but when the ODI was tinkered with to get a belter’s finale similar to the last five overs in T20. Defensive techniques only become more valuable when pitches are more difficult to bat on.

    Despite the grass it wasn’t a difficult pitch – nothing like say batting on a Durham pitch in an easterly – although Billings made it look a mine field. It could be said he took the pitch out of the equation he played and missed so many times. Only someone who is looking at scores and not at the batsman could describe him as doing well. He could have been out 14 times. But he has a tick against his name so that’s all right then.

    But the upshot is if the MCC finally wants to see a better balance between bat and ball those edges will be reduced. Then that will sort out the sheep from the goats. The goats being of course the canny batsmen.

    • It’s a fair point that the bowlers are getting unfavourable stick, but they did also profit for a number of years from the middle over drudgery where it seemed any spinner that could tie up an end was useful for the middle overs. Something’s not right though when a match that has nearly 650 runs is described as a friendly pitch for the bowlers. I wouldn’t expect much to change however, the people in charge of the game will follow whatever the commercial departments tell them. Runs and big shots are more sellable to them than economic, restrictive bowling

      • A couple of changes might help even the field (and make life interesting). First change the short ball limit to 3 per over. I see no reason why batsmen should be able to do anything they want whilst we deprive quickies of a potent weapon. Secondly, change the leg side wide rule so that it has to be a meaningful way down leg before it is called. This is not to encourage wide negative bowling but rather to encourage bowlers to make use of the short ball change by targeting the batsman rather than bowling the off stump bouncer. I bet some big shot bats would be found out. They don’t like it up ’em! 🙂

    • The bat thing is a myth. You could swap current bats for bats from 20 years ago and average scores wouldn’t go down by a single run.

      • Not so. I now use a 2lb 8oz Kookaburra Blade. I still have my bat from the late 80s (they were similar in the late 90s), a 3lb 2oz Newberry. The ball goes further and harder off the Kookaburra than it ever did off the Newberry – and that was the best bat I ever found in those days (having tried many).

        • All psychological, I assure you. No bat hits the ball any harder than any other – the MCC did extensive testing and no difference was found between modern bats and bats of the 1980s.

        • Madaboutcricket on

          The differences between bats now to before are varied. The main differences are that willow is now dried far more consistently with a lower moisture level (typically now 12-18% where as before it was higher).. the more moist the bat, the less it pings and the heavier it is.

          Anyway, pro bats like Warners for example are over dried so would be a really low moisture level, say five percent.

          Meaning, you get more wood available so you not only get more mass behind the ball but you also get a larger hitting area.. this means off centre shots will still go. Old bats had a middle that if you found it would go as far but anything not in the middle.. yeah wouldn’t go.

          Modern edges are just a symptom of the above and bat makers create bats with larger edgers as people see big bats on tv and want one.. what people forget is the illusion of concaving… I could go on about bat making.. love it

          • The other big difference I notice is in the handles. It may be psychological (as AB says) but I find the modern oval handles give a more natural feel, especially when playing square of the wicket – and anything which feels better usually helps performance, even if it is just a mind effect.
            I also take the point about big edges. But this is not a factor with my assessment of the Kookaburra. The Blade is their lightest bat and is very much old fashioned in that respect.

            • Madaboutcricket on

              Blade is a higher middle. Higher middles mean it picks up lighter. 2.8 low middle will feel heavier than a 2.8 high middle.

              Hence why people use counter weights, multiple grips etc etc

  7. I have said it before but…..I would have Woakes focus on red ball with limited ODI and no T20. He is our first pick for tests given the recent injury records of Broad and Anderson and his 2016 record. But he is being overworked and his style (line and length bowling, steady batting) is red ball anyway.
    As for alternatives. I agree that Jordan should get a chance given his record of death bowling. I also think we discarded Tredwell too soon from white ball. An economy rate of under 5 over 40+ ODIs would have been gold dust in India and there are no obvious alternative spinners in this form of the game, but perhaps it is too late for him (as he does not play for Surrey 🙂 ). There are two seamers who spring to mind; as a Warwicks man I cannot understand the neglect of Keith Barker whose record in domestic cricket is superior to many who have been picked ahead of him. And Jamie Overton, subject to fitness, needs to be encouraged – a talent that should not be lost by neglect.

  8. Echo the comments above. I just can’t fathom why Rashid was dropped. He goes for a few but he tends to take wickets, and that is the key in modern ODI’s as you can’t restrict anymore.

    We also need a wicket taker from the quicks in the middle overs. It was Finn but who knows what’s happened there? We seem to have also give up on Jordan.
    Obviously Wood is a big loss.
    Could Broad be tried again especially with the next two tournaments in England.

    Can Tymal Mills only bowl 4?

    Seen a theory that David Willey could open the batting in order to sneak another bowler in? Harsh on Hales but maybe worth thinking about.

    • Think England would be foolish to drop Hales or Roy, they have both done really well in the last 18 months. Willey has done a job opening a Yorkshire when they were short on batting and he didn’t go that well, its not that hard to close down his strength of hitting over cow corner and then he struggles to even rotate the strike.

      If England could get 5 bowlers they were confident about then they could play the extra batsmen although with Stokes and Buttler needing to bat in the top 6 its not a great gift for a Bairstow or a Billings to be a specialist bat at number 7

      • Yeah, there’s no way I’d be dropping either (especially for Willey)
        It seems Willey is guaranteed a place as they are sweet on a left arm option and Topley has gone out of the reckoning.

  9. England have certainly played on some batting paradises since the 2015 World Cup so I am not surprised they are high up on the RR for both batting and bowling. The personnel is fairly fluid

    I don’t understand the dropping of Rashid If England have decided that with the next two global tournaments in England they don’t need two spinners? If so they have chosen the wrong spinner for me.

    There are plenty of options for swapping up the attack, I could see Plunkett going if he can’t sustain his pace. Broad did OK at the big Bash but his numbers don’t really stand out from his teammates. Jordan did pick up wickets but his habit of going at 9 an over no matter the surface was present again and was dropped for Sodhi. Mark Wood adds something different but his bowling average of 48 shows he hasn’t been the cutting edge England need at this level.

    I agree with what people are saying as well, Its a batsmens game now. Basically restricting the runs and hoping the top edges don’t go for 6 is about all a bowlers can hope for some days.

  10. 2-1 seemed a very result in the end. The gap between the sides isn’t that large and 3-0 would have been an injustice.

    India’s quality as an ODI side can be overstated. They were without their second best batsman (Rohit) and probably best seamer (Shami). Their seam bowling isn’t that good (although Bumrah and Pandya are both 23 and have potential) and Ashwin isn’t as effective as he is in Tests. They aren’t a particularly good fielding side. I suspect Yuvraj and Dhoni’s ages could start to show against a really top quality bowling attack. Their opening partnership misfired all series (the selection of Dhawan was an odd one) and Jadhav is quite inexperienced at this level. They had won 5 and lost 5 of their home ODIs before this series which shows SA and NZ could beat them.

    India have a good record in tournaments and have been drawn in the easier group so I expect them to make at least the SFs in the CT. Assuming SA get their usual tournament jitters, India will probably top their group so England would play them in the SFs if they come second in their group.

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