South Africa Series Wrap

So what did you think? If you had a ticket for the Rose Bowl game I imagine you’re feeling as smug as Donald Trump when he puts his arm around Melania. You saw an absolute classic on Saturday and the result even went the right way too. Shame everyone else missed it because they were glued to the FA Cup final.

If you went to Lord’s, on the other hand, and splashed out £95 quid for England’s horror show, then I imagine you’re feeling as sick as a parrot with bird flu. I don’t really know how to describe England’s abject performance. There were far too many loose shots – I’ll hit the next person who excuses daft cricket by saying “that’s the way we play” – and we wasted the new ball too. England clearly had their minds elsewhere.

Overall though we should consider the series a success. South Africa are a very good side, with possibly four of the best six players on either side – De Villiers, Amla, De Kock and Rabada – and I sense that the Lord’s result might be the wakeup call all sides need from time to time.

My only real concern is that England bat well when the pitch is good for batting, but don’t engage their brains when the going is somewhat tougher. Yes Rabada and Parnell bowled very well at Lord’s, but there were too many loose drives for my liking. Sometimes you’ve got to play the situation and knuckle down for a bit. I doubt the pitches will be true and the skies blue all the time in the coming matches.

Although England’s batting line-up is excellent in white ball cricket, it does have its weaknesses. With the exception of Joe Root and possibly Ben Stokes, none of our batsmen have particularly good techniques.

Roy obviously has his flaws, and looks hopefully out of form, but Hales and Buttler can also struggle when exposed to quality fast bowling on spicy surfaces. And Morgan and Moeen aren’t exactly brilliant against the short ball. England might come unstuck if the pitches require a bit of application.

The first game at Headlingley was most notably for the skippers excellent 107. It was Eoin at his best – an innings reminiscent of the old Morgan (which was ironically the young Morgan)! I thought he looked balanced and confident at the crease – something that hasn’t always been the case over the last few years – and showed that he’s still a very talented guy.

I used to love the old Eoin Morgan. But I really disliked the one that crouched at the crease, looked hesitant, and couldn’t play spin for toffee. It’s good to see the Morgan I rated so highly return to the fold. He’s a world class player when he’s on song and I was wrong to doubt whether he’d ever recover his mojo.

The second game at The Rose Bowl, as I mentioned earlier, was awesome. Usually we associate brilliant finishes with sixes being whacked left right and centre (think Braithwaite versus Stokes) but it’s just as dramatic when a bowler turns the screw and the dot balls mount up.

Mark Wood’s performance at the death was sensational – you’ve got to love the bloke – and I think we might have finally found our second death bowler. This might make a huge difference in the coming weeks.
The real star of the show, however, was the world’s most expensive cricketer – Ben Stokes. He’s obviously grown in stature since the IPL and his 101 off 79 balls was destructive enough to live up to the considerable hype. Alongside his Virat-ness, Stokes is probably the most marketable cricket star in the world right now. Isn’t it great that he’s one of ours?!

I won’t dwell on the third game too much as I’ve complained enough above. The changes to England’s side suggested complacency and so it proved. The only real positive was Jonny Bairstow who showed, yet again, why England must find room for him in the side.

Although it’s difficult to find room for all of England’s match-winners, anyone with eyes – which I assume includes Trevor Bayliss and the selectors – can see that Jonny is the second best batsman in the country. And he occasionally looks just as composed and talented as Root.

Last year George Dobell wrote that Bairstow had probably become the most destructive batsman in county cricket since Graeme Hick. I scoffed at the time, mainly because Jonny hasn’t yet broken the records Hick amassed, but I’m beginning to reconsider my position now.

Jonny looks so comfortable in all conditions these days, and the uncomplicated way he whacks bowlers around the ground is certainly a little reminiscent of Hick in his heyday. There’s just something about the purity of his stroke-play. There are no unnecessary flourishes of the wrist; there’s just a simple swing of the bat and a glorious sound as the ball whistles away to the fence.

Because Jonny is one of the few players able to build an innings in different circumstances and adapt to the conditions, England need to be practical and pick him. The team wouldn’t have made three figures without him at Lord’s.

With the Champions Trophy about to commence, England are undoubtedly in a good spot – despite Monday’s debacle. With Woakes to come back in, and Wood providing some much needed fire-power, even the bowling looks better than it has for a while.

It probably won’t matter that Jake Ball looked a bit out of his depth at the Rose Bowl because he probably won’t play. Neither should Steve Finn nor David Willey (unless it’s going to swing around corners). An attack of Woakes, Wood, Plunkett, Stokes, Rashid and Ali is probably just about good enough for England to win the thing.

As for the batting, the only real concern is Jason Roy. He has so much talent but his technique looks terrible right now. Perhaps that’s why his domestic record is relatively modest too? Everyone else managed to get some runs and should feel pretty confident when the Bangladesh game comes. Moeen, Hales and Buttler all made impressive half-centuries over the course of the series.

Will England win the Champions Trophy? I rather fancy our chances if we play well. And the bookies make us favourites too.

So I guess that means we’re going out in the group stages.

James Morgan


  • The difficulty with fitting Bairstow into the team is the result of playing six bowlers. It seems to me that we have three possible choices:

    1. Stick with what we’ve got & leave Bairstow out.

    2. Drop Roy, bring in Bairstow and move Moeen up to open the batting.

    3. Sit down and have a serious think about whether we really need six bowlers. Especially when Root often gets to bowl too. Either Moeen or Rashid could drop out.

    • On current form Mo wouldn’t be any worse than Roy. It’s a tough call though. Roy is clearly talented, and might come good again, but you can’t keep picking out of form players indefinitely when someone as good as Jonny is knocking down the door.

    • Why would Ali be the next best option to open? Really can’t see the logic in that one. I think Bairstow or Root would be preferable.

      Today’s performance was truly awful but taking the last 10 / 20 matches into account it seems that bowling, and not batting, is the concern which would suggest having options is beneficial. Also if Stokes is being counted as one of those six then it would be riskly to assume he’ll bowl his ten the way things stand.

    • Drop Roy for Bairstow. It’s straightforward swap which does everything to strengthen and nothing to weaken the team.

  • And, on a separate point, why did we keep Rashid in the team today when conditions weren’t right for spinners? If Root or Cook made this sort of selection error for a test match they’d be torn to pieces. Didn’t we have a similar sue in that 20/20 final when we picked two spinners and one of them never got to bowl?

  • This “the way we play” nonsense has to stop. It’s ok to have an attacking game plan but jeez you have to know when to reign it in.
    People say Morgan wants them to play this way but he doesn’t, he was quite sedate at Southampton and was one of the only ones to get out to a good ball today.

    The champions trophy is basically a knock out tournament and if you go gung ho all the time you will fall flat on your face and get knocked out.

    Our best XI is excellent and has a real chance, but we do need to grow a brain or two, I suppose it will come down to Root & Morgan and maybe Mo

      • It was the way he behaved rather than the way he played that ended his England career.

    • I don’t have a problem with ‘The way we play’ – until we lose two early wickets for net to nothing, and don’t react to the conditions.

      And one of the benefits of dropping Roy for Bairstow is that you’d have an opener whose shown he knows how to adapt to the conditions.
      And I can’t see how that weakens the team in any way; Bairstow has every bit as much destructive potential, and is a man in form.

  • I felt that today showed the arrogance of the English set up at its worse. OK chaps we have won the series, so it does not matter what happens today. We will give a rest to some of the players and bung in those of you who have been sitting round in the dressing room and feeling bored by it all and if you do OK that is fine, but if not, well it does not really matter.

    Smug smug smug and no thought for the paying customers (or should that be the stakeholders?) who had forked out a large amount to be there and were reduced to watching tip and run by a bunch who could not give a s**t. They should all be ashamed of themselves but I doubt it very much.

    The final nail in the coffin was when Sky proudly announced that Director Comma was going to be interviewed in the lunch break at which stage I hastily turned over to Eurosport and watched the tennis until it was safe to return. I would be quite interested in what Andrew It is a Matter of Trust Strauss had to flannel on about but I have a rather lovely new TV and I want it to last for a while. I might have put my foot through the screen if I had watched that two faced creep

    Sorry for the rant….

    • Think most of the changes were due to injuries / to avoid exarcerbating niggles?

  • Fearless brand of cricket… 300+ or ao for <170

    Pros are obviously better and more consistent but it's just the way modern win lose formats make the game. look through the amateur leagues, teams rack up 280+ scores and quite often the other teams aren't even close.

    And people call draw cricket Boring..

    • Sigh…

      England have hit 300 all out 10+ times in the last six / 12 months and how many batting collapses have there been?

      Not to excuse the shot selection (and inability to switch to a plan B early enough) today but if they target 280 they won’t be winning the tournament that’s for sure – it would be a step backwards for sure.

  • Awful performance today but it is a series win against the number one ranked side (although the manner and timing of the loss, last match before the start, is not ideal).

    There is a real case for Bairstow as he seems to have a number of gears to his game that a flexibility to play to the situation that a few of the others do not have, as well as having the attacking instinct and capability. But do any of the incumbents deserve to be dropped? A string of 300+ scores confirms that the batting is in rude health.

    There is a case for switching Roy out but it would not be like for like and I think would be harsh on him (Roy). I would back him initially to come good based on his performances to date. If there is no evidence of improvement as the tournament progresses I’d switch Bairstow in at that stage.

    This one-off performance shouldn’t obscure the fact that it is the bowling and not batting which is the more significant issue but I think a step forward has been taken in that regard, with presence and absence of performances helping give a clearer view of the best line up.

    As such I think the strongest XI would be: Roy, Hales, Root, Morgan, Stokes, Buttler, Ali, Woakes, Rashid, Plunkett, Wood. Plenty of batting and bowling options.

  • Bairstow is too valuable a player to leave out. He needs to be fitted in somehow. It’s a problem, because we tried selecting Moreen Ali as an opener before and it was a disaster. Similarly Root, in test cricket. I can’t think how to do it. I look to the selectors for inspiration. ?

  • I don’t think it’s difficult to get Bairstow in the side. Buttler or Bairstow to keep wicket? Either would probably do a good job. Buttler or Bairstow to come in at 230-4 with 10 overs to go? Once again I’d take either. If England are 95-4? Bairstow all the time. So, for me, Bairstow wins one and draws two.

    • Personally, I couldn’t leave out Buttler but I can see the sense in what you are saying.

      • That seems logical on the face of it but Jos is still one of our best batsman – and possibly our best finisher; therefore they should both play imho. Someone else should make way.

        The Indians and Aussies would probably ask Root (as the best player) to open in ODIs – thus making room for JB somewhere (with Roy left out). I would probably do this myself but fear it’s too close to the tournament to change now.

        • Would still love to see Stokes open the batting. Better technique than Roy or Hales. Bairstow better down the order.

          Agree it’s too late to make a drastic change for the CT but not sure who the back up opener is? Least disruption would probably be Root up 1 – he’s been used to batting early recently!

  • It’s cricket. Every now and again against good bowlers in favourable bowling conditions, you’re going to get rolled over cheaply. Of course England could and should have been more circumspect and batted as though the aim was 280 rather than 350, but I haven’t seen anything so far that causes me to change my mind that SA will win the Test series because in Rabada, they’ll have the outstanding bowler. This kid is very, very good.

    • Rabada is a top personality too. Seems confident without arrogance, and he’s obviously level headed and intelligent too.

      • Dale Steyn might be biased, but he knows a thing or two about fast bowling, and he clearly rates Rabada.

  • Leaving Bairstow out is nonsensical. He should replace Roy. The batting order can be flexible but I would open with Hales and Root putting Jonny in at 4 after Morgan. The reminder of the line up should stay as it was for the first SA game.

  • I think Jason Roy has enough credit in the bank to at least get the Bangladesh game to find some form. On his home ground against the “easier” of the attacks we will face.
    If he’s still struggling, then Mo to open – because he’s the most able to replicate Roy’s dash in the opening overs – and JB to bat 5.

    Did anyone else think that Morgan’s whingeing about the pitch yesterday was a load of old tosh? It nibbled a bit, but nothing extravagant. England batted badly because they refuse to alter their game plan when conditions don’t quite suit. I would hope that behind closed doors Morgan is focusing on that rather than demonising a perfectly good pitch.

      • Exactly! Hopefully Morgan was only trying to take some pressure of his batsmen with the party line, and doesn’t actually believe it.

        • True enough, though I think you have to add that Rabada is a better bowler than any of the England quicks. Parnell had one of those days where he bowled straight (they don’t happen very often). I think the pitch was fine, but the atmosphere helped early swing, which makes Lord’s a far trickier pitch to bat on (a fact that England should have been well aware of).

  • Jason Roy is an interesting one – my instinctive reaction is to stick with him, but not sure the stats back that up.

    If you go back through his recent series, you *could* draw the conclusion that he shouldn’t play in seam-friendly conditions or teams with a strong seam attack (Run (BF)):

    SA 2017 (H): 1 (6), 8 (16), 4 (5)
    Ire 2017 (H): 0 (5), 20 (33)
    WI 2017 (A): 13 (22), 52 (48), 17 (19)
    Ind 2017 (A): 73 (61), 82 (73), 65 (56)
    Ban 2016 (A): 41 (40), 13 (21)
    Pak 2016 (H): 65 (56), 0 (2), 15 (19), 14 (11), 87 (89), 41 (40)
    SL 2016 (H): 3 (10), 112* (95), 5* (7), 162 (118), 34 (34)
    SA 2016 (A): 48 (35), 14 (13), 20 (23), 6 (16), 8 (15)

    I would say both SA series, Ireland and Pak are seam friendly – of those, you could only say Roy did well in the Pak series.

    India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka – all conditions which are not seam friendly and/or teams without top seam attacks. Much better record there.

    There was also an absolutely astonishing stat from TMS on Saturday morning about how Roy’s average absolutely plummets against left arm bowling (seam and spin), compared to his performance against right arm bowling. It can’t recall the precise figures – did anyone else hear it? – but I think his average and strike rate fell by about 50% against left armers.

    This is all a bit broad brush, but you can make an argument that Roy is a flat track bully of right-armers, and not so hot otherwise. If that were borne out by more detailed analysis, then it should be a no brainer to replace Roy with Bairstow in seam-friendly conditions – and May/June vs Australia and NZ certainly tick those boxes. Would be very harsh on Roy though, when he’s been such a key part of the mentality change that has transformed the England limited overs sides.

    Interesting that Bayliss was much more circumspect than Morgan about backing Roy.

    • I think Roy is always going to be hit and miss, a player to enjoy when he comes off but a bit of a luxury.

      The question he will always face is should we afford him the luxury, when you have Bairstow, Billings & Duckett waiting in the wings.

      • I don’t think so.
        Man out of form; man in form – and the guy in form is every bit as good a batsman.
        If he’s as good as his advocates believe, he’ll rediscover his form and win his place back in due course.

  • England are not as good as they think they are. Smug Morgan epitimises that. Yesterday was dire rubbish. Anyone can win a ODI tournament, England are no more favourites than AU’s, SA, NZ or India. On yesterday’s form they won’t even beat Bangladesh.

  • I made the right choice in skipping Lord’s and going to the Rose Bowl, which was a cracking game to witness. I disagree that Ball looked out of his depth. Yes, he bowled a couple of bad balls that got hoicked near the end, but overall he did well. He also got through his overs quickly, not allowing batsmen too much time to settle.

    Stokes’ hundred got all the plaudits, yet he should have been out first ball and very nearly second and it was hardly a faultless knock. I know it sounds trite to criticise a hundred, but it wasn’t the fluent performance the hacks suddenly agreed it to be because he’d passed three figures. Then again, Buttler was at the other end having a truly awful time for the most part.

    One advantage of Stokes being injured was that he couldn’t bowl at the death. Yes, he is a remarkable cricketer, but I do worry that both player and pundits think he can do it every time, when he just doesn’t have a cool enough head. The T20 disaster could happen to anyone, but he punched a locker after a lean spell and put himself out of action. I’ve seen him run himself out in Cape Town because he assumed a skier to mid-on would be caught. It was dropped, but he was nowhere near his ground when the throw came in. And if someone is going to go for glory and shy at the stumps when the batsman is only an inch away from the crease, thus incurring needless overthrows, it will be Stokes.

    Roy is an exciting cricketer, but if he fails in the first match, then Bairstow has to come in, although I would prefer Bairstow in the side now, given how well he has played whenever he’s had the opportunity.

    As for who will win it, I am optimistic England will lose in the final. I just hope it’s not to Australia.

    • Hmmm, having seen Ball’s performance today, I might need a rethink…

  • If only captains were honest and prepared to say that the team played badly, rather than blaming the pitch, the light, the weather, the lunch, the tea, the umpiring….
    Apparently the Champions Trophy squad will not be changed, so where is the pressure to perform – or any encouragement for other players to force their way into the side.

    • Overpaid players and administrators, too few games.

      The English model is vastly superior from both a fans and an economic point of view.


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