Cheer Up Misery Guts

Some might call TFT and its readers pessimists. And to be fair they’re probably right. There’s been a lot to grumble about in recent years, from the ECB’s marginalisation of the championship to their irritating and elitist tendency to hire yes men or men cut from a certain kind of cloth (you know what I mean) to top off-field jobs. This makes me a tad cantankerous. And because I’m in a bad mood generally I have a habit of looking at events through a somewhat cynical lens. 

Sometimes it’s easy to get carried away, however. England did, after all, win impressively in St Lucia this week. And that’s got to be a good thing, right? A 0-3 whitewash against a team ranked as low as the Windies would have been unthinkable. So at least the team has partially atoned for its abysmal performances earlier in the tour. Going into an Ashes series after a whitewash against a team packed full of fast bowlers would’ve been an extremely bad omen.

Although I still feel that England have had a poor winter – we’re still no closer to solving the team’s main problems – I’m beginning to accept that these problems simply cannot be solved. After all, it’s impossible to find a competent top 3 when you play so little domestic first class cricket on good pitches at the optimum time of year; consequently I’m beginning to moderate my expectations somewhat.

What’s more, the two things that are solvable – the occasional incompetence of our management team (which misread conditions so badly at Barbados) and Ed Smith the nutty professor’s penchant for all-rounders – were revealed for all to see in the Caribbean. And now they’ve been exposed, one hopes they can be put right.

And that, I guess, is some form of progress. At least it only cost us a series against a likeable team everyone wants to do well, rather than a team everyone loves to hate. A team like, you know, Australia.

So in the spirit of optimism – a perspective I admit doesn’t entirely feel comfortable to me (!) – I’m going to pass you over to Alex. As someone younger than me i.e. someone who didn’t grow up watching cricket in the late 1980s and early 90s, his views are considerably less jaundiced. And as such he’s far better qualified to put a positive spin on England’s victory in St Lucia (and the tour in general) than I. So here’s his take …

England won the Third Test in St Lucia because everything clicked together.

The bowlers – in particular Mark Wood – bowled well. The batsmen – in particular Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes in the first innings and Joe Root, Joe Denly and Buttler again in the second got it right, too.

While the catching still left plenty to be desired (Buttler and Rory Burns need to have a long hard look at themselves after their spills on Tuesday), England played well and won convincingly.

And yet, everyone is still fuming.

“Why couldn’t they play like that in the first two Tests?’ they ask.

Yes things broke England’s way in this game. The fact that Holder was banned for the Windies’ slow over-rate, and Paul got injured mid-match leaving his team a bowler short, definitely helped us. But England did play better, too.

Joe Root dug in instead of throwing his bat at just about everything, and the others showed more application as well. Root’s hundred was a (bit of) an answer to the critics, and certainly made the sunburnt masses out in Caribbean smile.

Then, of course was the bowling. People might ask “Why wasn’t Mark Wood brought on the original touring party?’ but I think it was understandable. Here’s my take.

Before his amazing spell in the first innings, which combined beautiful bowling with German Autobahn-speed, Wood had struggled for wickets, control, and fitness during his England career. Consequently, when fellow speedster and probable debutant Olly Stone dropped out with injury before the first Test, England were faced with a conundrum. Yes they made a mistake by going in with three spinners (and it cost them) but they did immediately try to put things right in Antigua.

But instead of bringing in the Geordie Flamethrower straight away, they turned first to Stuart Broad. This was an impeccable decision. Broad got virtually no reward (Buttler dropped an easy one in that Test, too) but he bowled extremely well. Wood was also nowhere to be seen partly because England – after a disastrous collapse in the first Test, opted to keep Sam Curran in the XI and bolster their batting. This was understandable as Wood can’t bat to save his life and his test career with the ball up to this point had been unspectacular.

In the dead rubber, however, it was more logical to bring Wood in. England had nothing to lose, and Wood had everything to gain. The Geordie Flamethrower burnt the Windies in an amazing first-innings, four-wicket spell that sent player upon player scampering back to the pavilion. They were much safer in there rather than facing the music in the middle.

Supporters can be extremely fickle sometimes. Everyone now sees Wood as our Ashes saviour. Sam Curran, on the other hand, has gone from golden boy to “not good enough to play Test Cricket”.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Wood could indeed be the man to give David Warner and Steve Smith some chin music this summer. And I agree we need some firepower to combat Starc, Hazelwood and Cummins, who undoubtedly will make the ball sing (hopefully without adding sugar, as Stuart Broad might say). But it’s important to keep expectations realistic.

Being England fans, we always get too high after a win and too low after a loss. And we’ll probably always try to find things to moan about. But my view is this: cheer up! Because – as someone told me on Twitter (@viewfromamerica, by the way) – 2-1 is a lot better than 3-0.

Yes problems remain. But most team have problems. And that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying a rare test win away from home.

James Morgan & Alex Ferguson


  • There are a number of problems with the optimistic analysis. The series had been lost. We used to win one Ashes test per series in similar circumstances. The West Indies had a key player missing. England got their selection right (and there is little prospect of that being repeated). I think the problems we have seen will reappear in the Ashes given the minimal amount of red ball cricket between now and then.

  • Great let’s all rejoice that we beat a very ordinary team after the series had gone and the intensity of the Windies had dwindled to next to nothing. I always remember England winning the last test at the Oval or Sydney after the series had been lost, along with the ashes and the Aussies were either on Bondi or the plane home (metaphorically).
    We were awful in the first 2 test and if the Aussies click with Warner and Smith back then we could be on the way to losing a first home ashes series since 2001.

  • Just 166 days between Test matches….

    (Seriously, I wouldn’t mind if this was a WC one-off or even a sign that there was a recogntion that scarcity can increase value. But we all know that’s not what’s going on here…. )

  • I don’t know whether it makes me a pessimist, an optimist or just a realist or but I find It difficult to disagree with Sir Geoffrey’s analysis of our top order problem :

    ‘Let us be frank; if you mix Jennings, Burns and Denley together you would still not make one good player.’

  • Well there is plenty of 4 day County matches between now and the Ireland Test. So providing players are not told to “rest” there’s no excuse for not playing in some of them. Certainly in 3 or 4 before all our one day “all rounders” are off for the 50 over stuff. Trouble is that’s nearly all the Test squad.

    I suppose 2/1 looks okish, but the 2 loses were spectacular thrashings so it has to be taken in contex. Maybe if it had been 0/3 changes might have been made, now I doubt it.

  • Sorry Alex – yet again you have mixed up the Curran brothers. I’m beginning to think that it’s deliberate!

    • Once again it’s his bloody editor that’s the problem. I’ve been having a really bad day. Totally unable to write / think / talk for toffee. Sorry Alex. I’ve put it right.

  • We will probably start the Ashes with a top three (whoever they are) who don’t have a Test ton between them, but at least 8,9 & 10 (Ali, Woakes, Broad) do. Also we have a number 5 who has only scored one hundred in 31 tests.
    I believe that James is being overoptimistic!

  • “Yes they made a mistake by going in with three spinners (and it cost them) but they did immediately try to put things right in Antigua.”

    They went in with two spinners. And I can’t help but feel that the gravity of this selectorial mistake is overlooked by the writer. You simply cannot afford to give the opposition a head start in a three match series on their own turf.

    “Everyone now sees Wood as our Ashes saviour. Tom Curran, on the other hand, has gone from golden boy to “not good enough to play Test Cricket”.

    And this is just a gross over-exaggeration. There are certainty some who subscribe to these views, but it’s definitely not everyone. Hopefully most will have the same hopes and fears for Mark Wood and Sam Curran as before… i.e. excited about the point of difference that Wood’s extra pace brings our attack, and concerned that Curran doesn’t have the speed or bounce to prosper away from home (especially as an opening bowler).

  • “Don’t get me wrong, I think Wood could indeed be the man to give David Warner and Steve Smith some chin music this summer.”

    No! Please. No! On English wickets a bowler like him is better off bowling a consistent line and length.

    • Point taken but what if the pitch is flat? That’s the time England need a bit of pace to rough up and unsettle the opposition batsman. That’s where Wood comes in. Not every surface will suit Jimmy Anderson.

  • It is impossible to be optimistic with the following;

    * a top 3 that includes a man with a fatal technical flaw against seam(!) in Jennings; a man who batted well in his second test (Denly) but looked club 2nd XI standard in his debut, and another test novice (Burns).

    * a selectorial fetish for a medium pace swing trundler (Curran)

    * a selectorial preference for a county standard keeper (at best – Bairstow, or worse, Buttler) over a world class keeper.

    * a belief that one performance by Mark Wood somehow makes him a test bowler despite a test average approaching 40.

    * a first choice spinner (Moeen) with a test bowling average also in the high 30s and an appalling economy rate in tests of 3.6.

    Oddly enough, my one area where I would go with the selectors is a focus on all rounders. The fact is that Stokes and Woakes are both our best bowlers (bar Anderson) and our best bats (bar Root and, possibly, Bairstow). So why not pick them. This argument is, of course, ruined by the selectors even stronger focus on only picking from the ‘right counties’. thereby banishing Woakes to the fringes.

    God help us – we will need it.

    • I don’t think that Bairstow has enhanced his reputation as “England’s second best batsman” in this series.

  • I like being optimistic. I’m under no illusion we were crap in the first two Tests. We were.
    But we won this one, and that is reason for me to be happy.
    And also: What’s your solution?

  • Maybe the success of Wood will have some effect on Smith. Maybe he will begin to appreciate the advantages of specialist players and a balanced side. Maybe he, NO! stop this now, it’s no good living in cloud cuckoo land, must try to be realistic. The power of positive thinking has its limits.

  • Burns, Gubbins, Root, Bairstow, Buttler, Stokes (rfm), Foakes+, Wood (rf), J Overton (rf), Stone/Z Chappell (rf), Leach (sla).

    Tell me where I’m wrong.

  • Burns, Gubbins, Root, Bairstow, Buttler, Stokes, Foakes+, Wood, J Overton, Stone/Z Chappell, Leach.

    Tell me where I’m wrong

      • A fairly long list I am afraid;

        * Gubbins has as many technical flaws as Jennings. The best option would be to ask either Hildreth or Bell to open – but they won’t do it.
        * None of the suggested bowlers have any claim to a test place except Leach, who is our best spinner by a country mile. Wood has had one good test in helpful conditions. Overton is vastly overrated, being a banger with no control. Stone has pace but, like Wood, very little movement. Zak Chappell has only played a handful of FC games in 4 years and shown little sign of being England class.
        * Woakes is the only potential successor to Anderson (as a pace bowler – quicker than Anderson or Broad – who can move it both ways).
        * For a pure pace bowler (or even 2) Archer and/or Brookes are head and shoulders above the alternatives. Archer has pace (95mph) but, again, little movement (and he can bat). Brookes bowled at 90mph last year age 18 and moves the ball much more than the other high pace bowlers.

        I would say something about Buttler but I fear James would disapprove. :)

  • Burns, Hildreth, Bell, Root, Foakes, Stokes, Butler, Sam Curran, Wood/Stone/Overton, Leach Anderson.
    Wood won’t last 6 Tests hence, Stone or J Overton if fit.
    But they won’t pick the above.
    Burns, Vince, Denley, Root, Butler, Stokes, Bairstow, Ali, Wood, Broad, Anderson.

  • I would kill for Bell at 3, and I don’t understand why people want to leave out Stuart Broad, who bowled beautifully out in the West Indies and wasn’t terrible for England and he was (again) unlucky with some drops. Anderson is still excellent. I want to see Woakes to return, and I like the Sam Curran idea (I KEEP GETTING IT INTO MY HEAD HE’S CALLED TOM – SORRY!). Doees anyone think that Hildreth/Gubbins have a prayer, or are we going for sweet-stroking, stupid-shots-to-get-out Vince?

  • A win is a win, even if everything went in our favour this time. Even though I’m obviously biased, I’m still scratching my head to understand why Curran (who will never be a threat with the ball outside England) was preferred to Wood on Caribbean pitches which were prepared to suit the Windies’ current strengths. Wood bowled the quickest spell I’ve seen from an England bowler for years, and is far from the rabbit with the bat you think he is – the challenge as always will be to keep him injury-free over a whole summer. He also needs to be used properly by Root rather than instructed to bowl the ludicrous Bodyline stuff we saw in NZ

    The selectors made their minds up on Hildreth years ago, when Taunton was flat as a pancake rather the Ciderabad it is now. Difficult to see who they could bring in from outside the current group, so I think they’ll go for the following : Burns, Denly, Bairstow, Root, Stokes, Buttler, Ali, Foakes, Broad, Wood, Anderson.

    • Hi Garreth. I’d put money on Wood getting injured in the World Cup thus making him unavailable for the Ashes.

      • Wood will strain something or other, Stone will be suffering from gym fatigue, Broad will break a finger whilst using a baseball glove and Anderson will crack a metatarsal playing footie before the 1st test.
        We will open with the Curran brothers, who will both score 50’s but take no wickets.Butler will break a finger dropping another slip catch, Stokes will be barred pending a court case for road rage, however we still win. Bairstow will open, score a double hundred and take 5 catches in each innings and have Warner and Smith both stumped off Moin, who also scores a ton and takes 5 wickets in each innings.
        If Leicester can win the premiership at 5000-1 why not?

  • I think whoever make up the top three, they should be told to make it to 100 and then leave it to the middle order power batting to get us up to 350 +. When Root et al, comes in with plenty of runs on the board, they look like world beaters

  • I like both Wood and Woakes but the problem is both are very injury prone and are in and out of the side like a yo yo. I doubt either would last 2 Tests let alone 5. If firing though I would probably change Curran S for Woakes.

    • I would change Curran S for any one of at least half a dozen other seamers, including any of the 3 Warwickshire bowlers – Woakes, Stone or Brookes. If Curran cannot command a place in the Stokes role of a batting all rounder he should not be in the side because he is medium pace.

  • It’s like some of the fiction of my youth. England faces destruction at the hands of an evil enemy (e.g the Scots, the French, the Spanish, the Hun) but just when all appears lost, up pops plucky Billy Bobsleigh (family motto: never say Di) and leads us all to a memorable victory

    I see the lack of love for Mo is still evident, even though his 2 in 2 provided the start of the Windies Ist innings problems, and that Bairstow’s keeping is also maligned. For much of my life the England keeper was not technically the most proficient but the one who could bat. Why doesn’t Buttler get slammed for abysmal catching? Right sort of family (or something)?

    • To be fair to Buttler (not something I often get accused of), he does not get slammed for his catching because – until this series – his catching as an outfielder has been outstanding. I am not sure what happened in the Windies, but I would be tempted to suggest an eye test when he gets home.

      • Might not be a bad idea. I used to be a talented short leg but couldn’t catch a thing in the deep. Then I went to specsavers and got some glasses to fix my inadequate long sight. I notice Monty now wears specs. Wonder if he’d have been a better fielder if he’d worn them earlier.

  • England back to being world class again.. the ‘great’ root.. stokes the legend.. buttler ‘oh Watta talemt’.. Bairstow ‘second best batsmen and can bat anywhere he’s so goo’
    Curran ‘oh how great is his hitting.. legend in the makkng’

    This team beat a woeful Sri Lanka…. and just lost to a woeful WI… winning the dead rubber when WI couldn’t be bothered…

    It’s ok though, get some more one day players in the side and everyhting will Be rosey ..


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