Anderson Saves England’s Blushes

He’s pretty good, isn’t he. Jimmy Anderson, England’s best cricketer for years, proved once again that age is no barrier in professional cricket. I would say it’s no barrier in life in general, but judging by the way my hangovers seem to get worse and worse every year, I think that would be stretching things – almost as much as my middle-aged paunch is stretching the fetching tracky bottoms I’m currently wearing.

Of course, I’m a mere mortal compared to Jimmy. The bloke is incredible. Laymen used to laugh if you suggested that cricketers were ‘athletes’ back in the 1980s – thanks for that Gatt – but Jimmy very much reflects the new generation, even at the age of 36 and a half. He’s still amazing in the field and as fit as a fiddle. What’s more, his bowling hasn’t declined one bit. Sometimes I think he’s still getting better.

Without Jimmy Anderson and Ben Stokes – who bowled half England’s overs yesterday – the team would’ve been up the creek. In fact, we still might be up the aforementioned narrow sheltered waterway if the Windies bowlers, who have a little more pace than ours, hit their straps. This pitch looked pretty flat on day one but the occasional ball took off and really carried to the keeper. Gabriel and Joseph might make things interesting.

Of course, the fact that the team’s elder statesman and an all-rounder who isn’t supposed to bowl much sent down half the overs yesterday demonstrates just how badly England misread this pitch. Where the hell was Stuart Broad? You know, that bloke with over 400 test wickets? Broad is our tallest seamer and clearly would’ve suited the conditions.

Instead England preferred Sam Curran, who unfortunately bowled like a drain yesterday, and Adil Rashid. It was a curious decision indeed. The home side picked 3 specialist seam bowlers and no frontline spinner. England only picked the one specialist seamer and went into the game with two spinners. I wonder who knows conditions best at Barbados?

But on reflection perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by England’s team selection. Although Bayliss and Root decide the match day XI, the National Selector Ed Smith decides the overall selection philosophy and shapes selection meetings. And as we all know, doing things the conventional way is far too simplistic for the great philosopher.

Smith has made it clear in the past that he wants to get the best XI all-round cricketers on the park. Consequently, the all-round package provided by Sam Curran, who is a very promising batsman, makes him preferable to an out-and-out bowler like Broad. This has led to some strange comments from the management. This is what Joe Root said before this game:

We’re going to balance the team up to suit conditions. We’re not necessarily going to play our XI best players.

Only England could come up with a statement so bizarre. Of course, preferring Curran (and Rashid) to Broad might make sense if England were looking for a No.7 or No.8 in the order, where scoring runs is quite important, but Curran is slated to bat No.9 with Rashid (who has a first class batting average of 32 with the bat and 35 with the ball) as absurdly low as 10. So why on earth should scoring runs be a factor? Everyone knows that you need to take twenty wickets to win a test match.

It’s infuriating that England can’t keep things simple. Sam Curran is a cricketer of immense promise, and Adil Rashid surely has an important role in the squad, but preferring them to a guy with immense skill and experience – a bowler who has averaged 25 in test cricket over the last 12 months and looked excellent in the warm-ups – is downright silly.

I believe the decision is a symptom of Ed Smith’s warped thinking. He’s trying to be too clever by far. Sam Curran was included in England’s XI yesterday because he’s one of the best 3 all-rounders in the country. But I doubt he’s in the top ten pure seamers. One could argue that Jimmy, Broad, Woakes, Porter, Overton J, Overton C, Stone, Wood, Finn, Roland Jones, and possibly even young Ben Coad and Josh Tongue are all better. They’ve all got better first class records anyway. One could even cruelly point out that Sam doesn’t even have the best first class average in his family. Tom Curran averages 28.6 for Surrey compared to Sam’s 29.04.

Yes averages aren’t everything, and Sam is useful to have because he’s a left armer, but England shouldn’t have a guy with a first class average of 30 bowling at 78mph opening the bowling in a test match – especially when a guy of Broad’s quality is on the bench. It’s just stupid. In fact, Ed Smith’s whole strategy of packing the side with all-rounders is daft. Anyone less eloquent would’ve been assassinated in the media for proposing such an unconventional formula.

Anyway, back to the action on the field. Yesterday also showed what flawed opposition the West Indies are. As we said earlier in the week they’re very talented but their batting has an underbelly softer than a melting Babybel. They were in a good position at 240-4 but let things slip badly in the last hour. Part of that was down to Jimmy’s brilliance, of course, but it all felt a bit too easy and, if I’m being honest, a little inevitable. Once Brathwaite, Hope, and Bravo had been dismissed one sensed the end was nigh.

Having said that, I thought the half-centuries made by Chase and Hetmyer were quite encouraging. The latter in particular looks like a promising young player. He’s only 22 years old but showed good maturity. If he can lift the Windies total to 300 then they might fancy their chances in this game.

One senses that the destiny of the test might become apparent in the first hour when the Windies bowl. Will Gabriel, Roach, and Joseph get more out of the surface than England’s seamers? If our batsmen are hopping around and find life difficult then England could be in for a struggle.

On the other hand if the pitch looks just as sedate as it did for most of day one, then I expect our batsmen to build a lead. We might not get there the conventional way of course – Sam Curran might prove his worth by digging us out of trouble again – but this will only beg two further questions. A) Why is England’s top order so crap, and B) Why isn’t Sam up the order and playing primary as a batsman?

James Morgan


  • Given the way the pitch played, Curran was probably a reasonable pick, and Rashid should have made way for Broad. I think, though, that the pitch has something in it (Jimmy was getting help with the new ball), and Roach and Gabriel are a good opening pair.

    • That’s fair. I too would have preferred Broad over Rashid. But once the decision to pick two spinners had been made I think Curran should have made way. If you’re only picking 3 seamers in an XI they really ought to be your best ones. If you’ve got two record breaking opening bowlers then you really ought to pick them. The batting shouldn’t really come into it.

      • “If you’re only picking 3 seamers in an XI they really ought to be your best ones”. I think that’s the most sensible sentence I’ve seen written on this selection dilemma.

  • Hetmyer reminds me a little of Keith Arthurton.

    I wonder if the Rashid pick was a case of “fighting the last battle”? He definitely should have played on this ground on the last tour but so far this looks a very different pitch. Exactly what sort of a pitch it is though remains something of a mystery. It looks like the sort of surface where the bounce might become quite uneven (in which case England will need a decent first innings’ lead).

  • Listening to Darren Gough on talkSport, he was equally perplexed by Broad’s omission but seem to feel playing 3 wicket keepers was wrong. Arguing that although Foakes played well in Sri Lanka, he could have been left out with either Jos or JB taking the gloves and Broad in at 10. Seemed a good call given the pitch and the ball being used.

  • Who is putting the words into Root’s mouth and does he believe what he’s saying? Apart from the bit about not necessarily selecting the 11 best players he had earlier said that he wasn’t bothered about who scored the runs. Well, I beg to differ. I expect our specialist batsmen to score the runs, but, given that we haven’t a settled order, I would hope that others could cover shortcomings. The selection of Curran over Broad was plain stupid and the former could not be trusted on the day. Of course Curran may score a lot of runs but having been picked as an opening bowler in a 3 man seam attack, his primary job is to get wickets.
    Sadly I think the Windies are a fragile side who will lose to any side that England field from their squad. Oh that it wasn’t so. For the greater good of Windies cricket and the game as a whole I’d love them to compete well and provide good opposition to England.

    • I raised my eyebrow at the ‘it doesn’t matter who scores the runs’ bit too. I get the argument that it’s all about batting as a unit, but it really is the responsibility of the specialist batters to make big hundreds.

    • WI may be a “fragile” side, but they do have talent. If they can get up to (say) 300, and England are 30/3 (as normal) their confidence will pick up.

  • I see today’s selection as a bit of a hangover from the Sri Lanka tour where England effectively played Curran as a batsmen at 8 who bowled a couple of overs with the new ball every innings and not much and in this role he had more effect on the series than either Anderson or Broad. In the West Indies he was always going to need to bowl more as the pitches will offer seam more and England dropped their holding spinner

    As soon as the West Indies cleared the first new ball spells without losing a wicket Stuart Broad’s reputation increased by exponentially so I hesitate to start claiming he would have pulled up trees yesterday but for me the extra pace and hight would have been the better pick in these conditions. This side has Ben Foakes at number eight, If they need Sam Curran to bail them at nine then those higher up should lose their places

    • Agreed.

      I should have mentioned Leach in my article. He was the best spinner in SL – he’s the only spinner who offers both control and a wicket taking threat – so I find it strange that he was left out. Is this another example of the all-rounder bias? After all, he doesn’t bat as well as Mo or Adil.

      • Leach doesn’t have media champions so his dropping goes almost without comment on the TV and Radio Broadcast. Woakes has fallen from 137* at Lords to not even discussed although perhaps he will be England next number three?

        Its the great frustration of this side that all of them seem to be able to play well at 6/7/8 but can’t translate that into anything higher

        • But Stokes, Woakes and Curran all seem to be able to produce batting performances in the lower middle order (or middle for Stokes) which are equal to the specialist bats. It is not that they cannot translate it into anything higher – it is that they are not being given the opportunity to show they can.
          Having said that I do think their techniques are more suited to 6-8 (including Stokes who is over promoted at 5). The answer is to drop a bat, make Buttler bat higher if he is to keep his place and replace a weak bat with a strong seam bowling all rounder.

  • Even before Smith, England’s selections have been influenced by their fear that the top order are unreliable. If the current team bat well, England should post 600, which is probably more than they’d need. Because they could well be 30 something for 4, Smith would like to have another dozen batsmen queued up if he could. Nothing to do with balance, as some pundits have suggested. It’s about getting enough runs, somehow, anyhow.

    I’d have preferred Broad and Curran in the team. If the top 5 were to do their job, I’d suggest there is no place available for Buttler (OK I’m brave). England don’t need a specialist no 6, if the rest do their job.

  • Every ex player I’ve heard commenting on this team selection thinks it’s a mistake. They all say tall quickies are the best bet out there. It certainly shows Root is essentially a defensive captain, eager to shore up a vulnerable batting order. Smith has his poodle and there is no reason to think this tried, tested and failed policy of ‘bits and pieces’, which is not forward thinking or clever, will not continue. Agree totally that giving the new ball to an ordinary county bowler at this level is ludicrous. Everything that we feared about his inclusion came to pass yesterday despite the end result. If Curran is to bat at 9 how long will he be in before Anderson comes out to join him and he has to start playing 20-20, so limiting the effect he can have in that department. I’m not a huge fan of Broad but I’d be fuming if I were him and would have certainly made my feelings known to Root.
    It’s the oldest cliche in the book that however many runs you make you still have to take 22 wickets to win.

  • I think Smith packs the side with one day all rounders is because we still haven’t got a settled top order: Burns is finding his feet, Jennings just isn’t good enough and at 3 you just try uncle Tom Cobley and all. When we are usually 80/4 the middle/lower order bails us out most of the time. But I totally agree bowlers win matches, Broad probably should have played but I think he’s passed his sell by date. Either of the Overtons or Porter would have done well here. Rashid is only playing because of his batting otherwise if you need two spinners, which you probably don’t on this wicket, Leach is the obvious joice. You need runs to give bowlers something to bowl at, but you also need to take 20 wickets. If the Windies quicks get it right they will fancy their chances here.

  • An excellent post and I all round agree with most of the comments regarding selection. Of course Broad should have played but I’m not sure at whose expense. Probably Rashid, but then I have to confess to having a soft spot for Curran. Definitely not as a test match opening bowler but more in the way that he was used in Sri Lanka. We need to bring him on when we see an opportunity but I’m not sure this was the right time. His place in the batting order is nonsensical.

    I was baffled by Joe Root’s pre match comments. I find it difficult to believe that he meant what he was saying. I do hope that he is more than a yes boy. This does not bode well with Giles lined up to take over.

    Elsewhere I’ve seen Foakes’ selection questioned, given that we have the luxury of three good and competent wicket keepers. There was a suggestion that he might have been dropped for Broad. To my mind never. He is the most fluent keeper that I have seen in a very long time. Barring unforeseen circumstances his selection should be automatic.

  • The problem was not Curran (although he bowled like a county 2nds seamer – cricinfo had him averaging less than 80mph in his first spell). The problem was Ed Smith. His selection philosophy and bizarre personal favourites game left England one, and perhaps 2, seamers short on a wicket for seamers. There seems to be a belief that you have to substitute Broad for Curran or Rashid, which is nonsense. You could have played Woakes instead of any one of the four keeper/bats (Foakes, Buttler, Bairstow, Burns) without weakening the batting one jot whilst providing the extra seamer.

      • Not if they are no better with the bat than Woakes (and the numbers suggest it is marginal – too marginal to sacrifice our second best seamer on a seamers paradise.

        • If it’s a Dukes ball I would pick Woakes every time. He would’ve bowled well on this pitch too.

  • Problem with Woakes is that he’s be coming injury prone, but Foakes is a better test bat than either him, Butler or Bairstow in my view, but then I’m a Surrey man!

    Jennings just out for 17 by the way. What a surprise.

    • More of a surprise is that Jennings is the top scorer for England so far. 48/6. Sir Geoffrey marking out the long run as we speak.

    • But none of those others can bowl. It was ludicrous to go in with 2 seamers and Curran at sub 80mph (according to the average quoted by cricinfo)

  • When are England going to open the batting with Anderson, Curran and the other bowlers, to end the innings with specialist batsmen at 5 though 11? They can’t do worse than the specialists can they?

    48/5 and yet another omnishambles.

  • “Anderson Saves England’s Blushes”. Your headline. He needs to do it again. 17 needed to avoid the follow on with 1 wicket in hand, and the chin music playing.

  • Jennings has to go
    Burns has the tour and ashes
    Bairstow is a 6/7
    Root is fine
    Stokes is a 6/7
    Buttler either needs to bat at 5 or be dropped
    Foakes needs to get runs
    Curran.. the guy jut isn’t good enough and is being raved about.. he’s a bloody bits and pieces player again
    Ali.. time to accept he can’t bat
    Don’t care about 8+

    Top six score runs, rest take 20 wickets.. that should be the only consideration. I’d you feel you need more batting your problem is that your batsmen aren’t good enough

  • I suppose looking on the bright side, it opens the series up nicely. We sure know how to be dramatic. Our collapses have a style all their own. Strange how this has been a feature of our cricket for decades. The depressing thing is that apart from Root we don’t have any Batsman out there or in the pipeline that looks made for test cricket. The old adage of purse and sows ear comes to mind. Interesting too that we lost the toss for the first time in ages and will have to bat last. This team isn’t too used to doing that.
    I guess we all need to get on the old prayer mat for some good old Caribbean stormy weather.


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