Dropping The Ball! – Day 5 At Hamilton

Imagine this. You’re an England bowler. You’ve bowled a massive 82 overs in the space of ten days. You’ve taken just two wickets at a cost of 105 runs each, your captain has questioned your effort in public, and you’re part of an attack with the worst collective series strike-rate in the history of the England team.

And then this happens off your bowling – click here. Was it the biggest dolly of all time? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Although I have great sympathy for the bowler, I also feel incredibly sorry for the culprit, Joe Denly. It was one of those moments when the ground swallowing you up just doesn’t cut it. I would’ve run straight off the field, packed my bags, made a dash for the airport, burned my cricket kit, changed my identity, and never left the house again.

What’s worse, Denly is normally a fine fielder. In fact, he’s bloody brilliant. He’s taken several stunning catches in the past, including the one that dismissed Tim Paine in the Ashes, plus this brilliant effort below …

It would be such a shame if poor Joe is remembered for this one aberration at Hamilton in a bore draw. Let’s just hope he has a sense of humour, shrugs it off, and this embarrassing moment doesn’t affect his confidence.

Speaking of bore draws, it’s pretty hard to get a draw that was more boring than this one. England never looked liked forcing an unlikely win on day 5 – although there might have been a few jitters in the home dressing room had Pope caught a routine catch down the leg-side early on.

I really despair for Test cricket sometimes. It’s by far the best form of the game overall, but when it’s played on dud surfaces, and the Kookaburra balls offers precisely no seam movement or swing (either conventional or reverse), then the cricket is as dull as dinner in Doncaster with Phillip Hammond.

At least, however, a surface so bereft of life gave Root a chance to score some runs, Pope a chance to acclimatise to Test cricket with the bat, and Rory Burns a chance to boost his average. Our batting options do look a little more promising now.

It has been a chastening tour for the bowlers though. The decision to play 5 seamers at Hamilton was absolutely absurd and we’ve learned nothing whatsoever. All this tour has revealed is something we already knew – that conventional English medium-fast bowlers struggle to take wickets overseas on flat pitches.

At the very least Saqib Mahmood should’ve been given an opportunity to play the final test instead of Chris Woakes (who is very much a known quantity at this point in his career) or indeed Sam Curran. What’s more, we’ve wasted a great opportunity to learn more about Jack Leach and Matt Parkinson.

I’ve been quite disturbed by the negative comments about Leach in particular. So many people on social media have written him off on the back of one bad game at Mount Maunganui. Even Rob Key was doubting his credentials on Sky’s The Debate programme this morning. This really surprised me.

I apologise for going on about this but Leach has taken 34 wickets at 29 apiece in his short Test career to date. And this includes 12 wickets at 26 in the Ashes when he out-bowled Nathan Lyon (who took his wickets at 33). Therefore all those people who put his success down to bunsen burners in Sri Lanka simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

I find it even more disturbing when people start advocating a recall for Moeen Ali who averages 37 (with the ball) in test cricket and a subpar economy rate of 3.6. Leach’s economy rate is 2.8 which demonstrates his ability to keep things tight as well as pick up wickets.

We know exactly what Moeen is at this stage. He’s a very handy but erratic bowler who has endured multiple barren spells in his 60 Test matches. This is a big enough sample size to make a judgement.

Leach, on the other hand, has made a very promising start to his career and has only played ten games. Dropping him now, after one bad game, whereas Moeen has suffered several bad stretches of multiple games, makes no sense. This is nothing personal against Mo, as I’m Worcestershire man and I love the guy to death, but he’s never been consistent enough in my opinion.

It’s interesting that some people want to move on from Dom Sibley too. Again I find this strangely impatient and draconian. He’s only played 3 innings. Give the poor bloke a chance. England have persevered with Joe Denly, whose first Test scores were 6, 17, 20, 69, 23, 10, 18, 11, 30, 26, and now they’re reaping the rewards.

It can take time to adapt to Test cricket so Sibley should be given an extended run. If it doesn’t work out then England can either give Crawley a go or possibly think about moving Denly back up to open. But to get rid of Sibley now would be as absurd as dropping Leach for Moeen.

Unfortunately, however, we live in a world where the preposterous and the surreal coexist quite happily in English cricket; therefore absolutely nothing would surprise me. Over to you General Melchett, I mean Ed Smith.

James Morgan


  • Admirable summary.

    The saddest thing for me was that this was a dull series. I had been really looking forward to it – but the whole atmosphere lacked intensity (the ‘crowds’ were tiny!), and lacked charm too.

    Following a generally lacklustre Ashes (apart from the most exciting end of match I’ve ever seem at Headingly) – and with the indifference about the first class game from the ECB – I am really beginning to fear that Test Match cricket is on a road to… well, if not extinction, then perhaps to a situation where it becomes a rare treat, and a much lower standard.

    With South African cricket following the West Indies into decline (and irrevocably, assuming that the race preference issue continues to dominate) – I can imagine a future in a decade or so when there is just the occassional one-off (or maybe three match) Ashes test… and nothing much else.

  • Do you think the decision to play without a spinner was linked to Ollie Pope being wicket keeper ?? They didn’t want to expose him to having to stand up to the wicket for long periods ??

    • That’s an interesting point Paul. It’s possible. Perhaps they wanted to play Parkinson but decided that a leggie would be too tough for an inexperienced keeper? Having said that, I imagine that keeping to an orthodox finger spinner like Leach would’ve been ok.

    • (Sorry – pressed the wrong button!)
      As an old friend and mentor of mine often used to remark in such circumstances, when in doubt, assume incompetence! Let’s go and play Test matches on the other side of the world, oh yes, I know, let’s take 14 players and no first class wicketkeeper. What can possibly go wrong ? ?!!!

  • Everything you say is right James. It’s all too depressing.

    About our keepers. Ollie Pope deserves a run at 6. He is showing good promise and to drop him, or change his order of batting would be a travesty of selection. This means that no way can Buttler come in at 6 with Foakes keeping.

    It seems that Bairstow is being warmed up for selection in South Africa. Having spent all this time getting Buttler into the way of red ball cricket, it would be mad to drop him. I’m not sure where that leaves us, unless Buttler is being seriously considered to replace Morgan as white ball captain.

    I hope Sibley is given a real chance and Denly should stay at 3 where he is doing well in the role.

    Keep on sending the daily notifications. I appreciate them.

    • Thanks Jenny. It’s a hard balance to strike because traffic is significantly higher when I sent out the notifications, plus I think most readers have got used to them and rely on them to know when there’s something new to read (as opposed to when I’m having a day off).

      However, having researched this a bit online it’s always best to give people an option so you don’t alienate anyone. The new system will hopefully keep everyone happy and I’ll keep in touch with less frequent readers who might otherwise have drifted away.

  • England can have no complaints about the result of this series – they have been very obviously second best for most of it. As for the Denly drop, yes it was an absolute shocker, but England would have needed a miracle to win the match from there anyway, so it likely did not cost anything. Given the rate at which NZ scored on what there was of the final day I had begun to wonder if given decent weather they might have declared at the tea interval saying to England “OK have a go at it if you dare”. Neither of the two pitches produced had any life or bounce, and if there was any turn it was not really noticeable (Santner’s three quick wickets on day 4 of match 1 notwithstanding), which meant that the series was not much of an advertisement for test cricket. Here’s hoping that the pitches in SA are better for cricket than these were.

  • I wonder if the whispers about a recall for Ali are a result of memories of him doing well last time? However that was mainly at Durban and the SA Board in a rare moment of competence have not scheduled a Test there.

    I thought Taylor outbatted Williamson. The latter gave three chances (run out on 97 was the third) and looked oddly uncomfortable against short stuff (not a good idea when you’re playing Cummins in Perth in 10 days). Taylor’s another eternally underrated cricketer although the decline in his catching is a worry.

    The series has been pretty mediocre TBF. Only the last day of the First Test will live much in the memory. Two turgid pitches haven’t helped but they’re not the only reason. It’s difficult to see why the tour took place except to fill up Sky schedules and perhaps to pay NZ back some sort of favour.

    • Maybe it was some sort of NZ “payback”Simon. After all the WC Final result remains contentious with many people. Also for some reason this “series” does not count in the Test Championship. I’ve never seen the point of two match series anyway.
      Happy to still have the daily updates James.

  • Just another point on the Moeen vs Leach debate. The only time the two of them played together was in Sri Lanka last winter. It became clear that Leach was the better bowler. They both took 18 wickets in exactly the same conditions but Leach did so with a noticeably better average and economy rate.

  • James
    Whilst a weekly summary is a great idea, I’m quite happy to have daily bulletins during Test matches and others whenever you want to send them. I’m sure everyone appreciates the effort that goes. Into them – keep ’em coming as far as I’m concerned !

  • Quite happy with daily updates, if I have a “I just don’t care anymore day” I can always not read.

    Agreed with most of what you say but not this bit “At the very least Saqib Mahmood should’ve been given an opportunity to play the final test instead of Chris Woakes (who is very much a known quantity at this point in his career) or indeed Sam Curran. What’s more, we’ve wasted a great opportunity to learn more about Jack Leach and Matt Parkinson.”

    I’d say this match taught us (or reminded us) of three things about Chris Woakes.
    1) He’s got a new beard which I think rather suits him.
    2) He’s a handy bowler. People bang on about his overseas average vs home average and … maybe that’s relevant. Or maybe it proves if you take a sample and split it into two smaller samples you reduce the value of the information. You might find Woakes averages 10 on weekends and 75 on a week day and conclude you shouldn’t pick him for a game that starts on Monday.
    3) Joe Root doesn’t rate him.

    In my opinion picking Parkinson or Mahmood would be treating the test as a warm up for other things. There would be lot’s of people saying it’s disrespectful. Hopefully both players will improve and play tests one day, but neither is anywhere near test standard at the moment, in my opinion.

  • A point about test pitches in general, as they tend to favour the home side, it being a real challenge to win abroad, especially with increasingly cramped international itineraries allowing little acclimatising.
    With the county championship now marginalised to the wet and worn ends of the season and with little hope trends will change in the near future, why don’t we invest some time and money into developing artificial surfaces, where we can get some form of standardised surface that gives batsmen and bowlers a chance to develop their red ball skills and get a realistic reward wherever they play in the world. This would give the test world championship more meaning. You will still get climatic conditions providing unpredictability and some home advantage, so it wouldn’t make things too samey for the punters. As long as one country’s conditions differ so markedly from another’s development opportunities of the necessary skills to win matches abroad will be limited. It would also minimise the effect of playing red ball on wet and worn wickets.
    Surely with use of specially cultivated and synthetic pitches during the Packer era there must be some starting point for development. Test cricket needs a future that doesn’t shoot itself in the foot and isn’t reliant on the variable skills of groundsmen. We need consistently well maintained surfaces that give all 3 results as equal a chance as possible in order to keep interest going in the format. Only committed test cricket fans could have found this series remotely interesting. Attracting new punters would have been a non starter.

  • Very good article by Jonathan Liew about Amazon Prime’s coverage of football (especially his comments on how viewers are supposed to not even notice what’s happening).

    I’ve seen the future and it stinks.

  • Nasser Hussain uses his column in the DM to stick it to Root’s captaincy. The main charges are that Root hasn’t stamped his personality on the team and the choice of attack for Hamilton showed a lack of forward planning (not that the series was lost in itself). Some of this would be fair if one has amnesia; some is fundamentally misconceived.

    The lack of imprint has some truth to it. However when the same was true of the previous incumbent, what were the likes of Hussain singing then? He’s still learning (after 30 Tests)! The team isn’t “his” because it has too many faces from the old regime! He’s back to his best with the bat! Root gets the benefit of none of this. Hussain makes no link between Root’s lack of personality and the command-and-control regime the team’s been run by since Root’s been in it.

    The lack of forward planning trope is even more of a mess. Firstly, Hussain is seeing everything through the Ashes’ prism rather than wanting to win this series. Secondly, he’s obsessed with this “mystery spin and pace” line and wanted Saqib and Parkinson to play. I’ve already pointed out how there is no evidence that mystery spin wins in Australia. To fit reality into his pre-conceptions, Hussain gave Mason Crane 8/10 for the last Ashes’ tour when Crane took one for nearly 200 in the one Test he played. The three away Ashes Enland have won in my lifetime were won by key bowlers Hendrick/Miller/Emburey (78/79), Dilley/Botham/Emburey (86/87) and Anderson/Bresnan/Tremlett/Swann (10/11). At a stretch Dilley and Tremlett might be regarded as pace and there’s no mystery spin. The best bowlers adjusted to Australian conditions (helped by Australian weakness). Thirdly, Hussain doesn’t hestitate to bring Anderson back for SA. How does that fit in with forward planning – or with Root stamping his imprint on the team? One could argue Anderson is one of the best bowlers to win the series in SA which is fair enough but those were not the goalposts Hussain had been aiming at.

    Certain favoured people are judged by one set of rules; the rest by another. Root has never quite been in the favoured club for reasons I don’t understand.

    BTW, anyone else noticing how the Morgan 16.66 captaincy announcement just happened to be released the day after a series’ defeat. In ECB world, this is considered a big enough distraction and probably rates more important than a mere overseas Test series defeat.


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