Another bore draw eh. I can see why this test cricket lark is dying. Ahem.
The Lord’s test might have started as a damp squib, with five sessions and an hour ruined by the weather, but it turned out to be an absolute classic. Both sides had a legitimate chance to win the game heading into the final day, and there was drama and controversy aplenty.
There was just one problem: I missed the whole bloody thing. I’ve been on holiday for the last week (I’m back today) so I could only follow on Cricinfo and Twitter. This basically involved crafty looks at my phone in between my Mrs giving me disapproving looks for not giving the kids my full attention.
Consequently this ‘report’ comes with the enormous caveat that I literally haven’t a clue what I’m talking about. I suppose it was ever thus! You might have to help me out by adding / correcting my analysis in the comments.
The first thing that struck me about this test match is how genuine pace influences proceedings. Who’d have thunk it. I’ve been banging on about England adding some pace to their attack for donkeys’ years.
Nothing unsettles good batsmen like the risk of physical danger, and nothing’s more likely to knock over the tail. Just ask anyone who watched the 2013 Ashes whitewash down under. Mitchell Johnson was unplayable.
After six years England finally got their own back at Lord’s. Jofra Archer was brilliant by all reports. I’ve seen some of the highlights and it looked like proper old fashioned West Indian style chin music. In fact, Archer officially delivered the fastest over ever bowled by an England bowler in test cricket (since speed gun records began). The Aussies should thank their lucky stars that Mark Wood wasn’t playing in tandem. Wood bowled even faster than Archer during the World Cup.
Obviously the specific moment that changed the game was the ‘flooring’ of Steve Smith. I’ve seen it from many angles on YouTube and it looked horrific. I’m so glad there should be no long-lasting effects. However, two things struck me. A) Why wasn’t old Smudger wearing a neck protector? and B) how terribly, appallingly actually, he played the delivery.
I’ve been trying to work out how such a class batsman could’ve played that particular ball so badly. I think a player who stays predominantly legside of the ball (like Jonny Bairstow) might have simply swayed out of the way. However, Smith walked right into it, and then compounded his error by taking his eye off the ball. It was weird.
Perhaps Smith got himself into a tangle because he likes to work balls outside off to leg (so his weight was naturally falling away to the off-side), or because he’d previously pulled Archer to the boundary and was trying to repeat the dose; therefore self-preservation and defence wasn’t really on his mind?
Either way it was a shocking incident and I do think it will have a psychological impact for the rest if the series. Australia’s kingpin was knocked out of the game, and the other Aussies batsmen will have taken notice big time. It’s hard to feel confident about your work when your team’s best player – someone a lot better than you – can’t cope with the barrage. Kudos to Marnus Whatshisface for surviving for so long after suffering a blow to the helmet himself.
The other thing that struck me about this game was obviously the batting of Ben Stokes. I know it was only the World Cup, which is totally different environment to test cricket, but I thought the seeds of his hundred yesterday go back to the Sri Lanka and Australia group games, plus the final itself. Heck the seeds might even go back to the Bristol incident.
Ben has batted with a lot more maturity of late. And with Root horribly out of form – he now averages considerably more at 4 than 3 rather than significantly more – Ben looks like our best batsman. I think he could bat anywhere from 3-6 and not look out of place on current form.
The thing I like about Stokes as a batsman, and this was apparently from his maiden hundred in Perth, is that he simply doesn’t get flustered by either the opposition of the match circumstances. He also has a sound technique, which can’t be said for many of our other batsmen. As he bowls less and less (which seems inevitable as he gets older) I expect his batting to take centre stage and eventually average over 40. He’s definitely good enough to achieve this.
As for England’s other specialist batsmen the less said the better. The Jason Roy experiment is going the way many of us expected it would go – he looks completely out of his depth – but we can’t be too harsh on the guy because it was always going to be a steep learning curve and their are few alternatives out there.
I remember writing a month ago that opening with Roy was a shit idea but probably the least shit option available. Yes the selectors could call up Sibley but there’s no way an ego as large as Ed Smith’s is going to admit that he got this one horribly wrong after a couple of tests. After all, Joe Denly is still in the team!
There was also some murmuring on Twitter yesterday that the knives are starting to come out for Jos Buttler. I find this extraordinary really. Before Lord’s Jos was the only player in the squad to average just under 40 over the last year. Root was next on 32. Why on earth would you drop someone who’s been your best player in recent times?
Although I have still have a few doubts about Buttler – I’m not at all surprised that a short ball proved his undoing yesterday – he’s done much better than I expected since ‘earning’ a test recall. He looks a better player now than he did 3 years ago, and he’s officially played more innings longer than 100 balls than any other player in the world over the last 12 months. That’s a fact. So all those accusing him of being a mere white ball wonder can go hang. He IS developing the mental side of the game.
What’s more, it’s hardly like England are blessed with alternatives. If you dropped Jos who would you replace him with? And would that replacement average more than 40 over the next year? Personally I severely doubt it. England supporters have to accept that we live in imperfect times – yeah, thanks for that ECB – so we have little alternative but to back the incumbents for now.
Yes Buttler has struggled against Pat Cummins; but Cummins is a world class cricketer. He sorts out most batsmen. To drop Buttler now would be ludicrous.
The last England player I want to mention is Jack Leach, who bowled rather well yesterday evening from all reports. I like Leach because he’s a bit like Monty Panesar and Phil Tufnell i.e. he’s not your prototypical international athlete but he can definitely bowl a bit. Players like this often become part of English cricketing folklore and we love them for their flaws as much as their talent. I hope Leach plays many times for England. It’s good to have a proper real life human (someone like us!) in the team.
Although England are still 0-1 down, the series is set up rather nicely now. With Smith likely to miss the 3rd test – I’m no doctor but as a rugby and NFL fan I know that concussion protocols usually take at least a week to pass – England will never have a better chance to level the series. If we can seize the initiative and actually get a decent total on the board I think there’s a good chance the Aussies will buckle quickly.
Before I sign off, however, I’d like to ask why the Aussie doctors allowed Smith to carry on his innings on the 4th day? This seems like sheer stupidity to me and someone should probably lose their job. Imagine if he’d been hit again. From all reports he didn’t look right after resuming his innings.
We shouldn’t forget that Stuart Broad never recovered from a nasty blow to the head. Smith is obviously a much better batsman than Broad, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith wears the mental scars for some time. He is, after all, human. And I wouldn’t blame him if he did.
Finally, I simply don’t understand why cricket should allow concussion substitutes. I know this has only very recently come into play but I raised an eyebrow (before the game) when I read about this rule change. It seemed like cricket jumping on a bandwagon to me. Yes they allow concussion replacements in other sports, but these tend to be sports where they already allow substitutes for other injuries e.g. rugby union. Correct me if I’m wrong.
I have to admit that this is just a knee-jerk reaction, and I’m yet to really think about this issue, but why should cricket allow substitutes for concussions but not for broken fingers or, to employ some Ashes vernacular, a ‘broken fucking arm’ or jaw? It seems like a fundamental shift in the way the game approaches injuries to me.
Teams soldiering on with ten men – like England had to do at Edgbaston – has been part of the game for decades. So why tinker with the laws now? And if you are going to tinker with the rules then why not allow subs for all injuries?
I’m guessing (off the top of my head) that the authorities want to allow concussion subs because they want to encourage players to ‘own up’ when they feel groggy, and discourage them from playing on. Well, if that’s the case then didn’t work at Lord’s did it! Smith went out bat again anyway.
Hmmmm. As a famous Jedi master once said “meditate on this, I will”.