This time yesterday there was doom in the air. We’d won the series but been slapped in the face. It was like going back to a different era – a time when McCague and Ilott opened the bowling and our batting had less backbone than a raspberry blancmange. There were far too many schoolboy errors.
Apparently we’ve now lost the last test of a series seven times out of eight. That’s quite an interesting stat. Is it fatigue, as England seem to play more test matches than anyone else, or is it unpalatable complacency? I suppose it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that England have triumphed – although this sweet tasting victory does come with caveats. There’s always a bloody ‘but’ isn’t there.
Even though we won, and I thoroughly enjoyed the victories, we haven’t actually solved any of our pre-tour conundrums. We remain, in effect, a team with six class acts and another five players of dubious (or unproven) quality. It’s actually a bit weird that we managed to win – especially as Cook and Anderson, two of our star pupils, didn’t turn up.
You’ll see below that I’ve tried to add perspective by grading all of our players. The ratings certainly don’t suggest (as Ian Botham has predicted) that an all-conquering English juggernaut is about to emerge. The team definitely has some potential, and it’s exciting to watch, but there’s still work to do. Too many players ‘could do better’.
What’s more there’s some validity in the argument that we’ve been a bit lucky this year – not so much on the pitch but off it. One wonders what difference Ryan Harris might have made in the Ashes, and whether results would’ve been different had Steyn and Philander played for South Africa. If an emerging Proteas side had beaten an England team missing Anderson and Broad, excessive optimism on their behalf would seem a bit naïve.
Anyway, with that in mind, here are The Full Toss final grades. Don’t worry Chris Woakes, we were slightly kinder to you than Bob Willis (who gave you zero out of ten). However, if your name is Alex Hales then you’d better forget about that game of football you had planned after school. It’s detention for you my son!
Overall team grade: B+
Had we shown a little more fight yesterday I probably would’ve given us an A-. Overall B+ is about right. We’ve won away, in enterprising fashion, in South Africa. That’s pretty handy work in anyone’s book.
The Proteas are very much in rebuilding mode, low on confidence and lacking their bowling talisman, but they’re still South Africa. I couldn’t give us more than a B+ because our catching (James Taylor aside) was poor and we got hammered in the last test.
Alastair Cook (184 runs at 23) D
Unfortunately the head boy didn’t pull his weight. He said grace before meals nicely, and always had his hair combed and shirt tucked in, but batting is his primary suit. He led the side pretty well but his homework was disappointing.
When you go to tough places you need your most experience batsman to stand up. Not for the first time in his career, Cook struggled against quality pace bowling on pitches with a bit of spice. After looking much better against Australia’s pacemen in the Ashes, I was hoping he’d turned a corner.
Cook needs to play a bit better outside of Asia, where the slow tracks mask some of his weaknesses. However, he’s still a quality opening batsman, in his prime, and I expect him to have a big summer and be a key man in India next winter.
Alex Hales (136 runs at 17) D-
Had someone said before the series that Hales would score just 48 runs fewer than his captain, I would’ve choked on my jam sandwiches. Unfortunately that statistic doesn’t really say much in the end.
What can I write about Hales that hasn’t been written before? I don’t want to be too harsh but he was miscast from the start. He’s never a test opener. Most people predicted he would be out of his depth, and so it proved.
Normally I’d like to give cricketers a run in the side to show what they can do. However, Hales has looked so poor that I’d simply move on now. Poor guy. Let’s just say he needs some extensive extra tuition. But I fear even that might not be enough.
Nick Compton (245 runs at 31) C
I’ve tried to balance returns via expectations in my grades. I expected Compton to average about 30, and look like exactly the same player that he was 3 years ago, and so it proved.
I worry about Compton’s temperament to be honest. He needs to be true to himself and simply occupy the crease. He looked excellent when performing this role in Durban, but then tried to play like Ricky Ponting thereafter. This suggests he can’t get his head right.
I’m undecided as to whether Compton is an international batsman or not. His technique is pretty good so he could open with Cook in the short term. But why should England bother investing in him when his ceiling is low and he’ll be 33 next summer? What’s more, it’s clear that the head master wants different kind of pupils in the top 3.
** NB. Had Ian Bell scored 245 runs at 31 in this series (which is what he averaged in the UAE) I would’ve given him a D grade. It’s because Bell is a far better player than Compton and has a far higher ceiling. Maybe there’s a lesson in that somewhere?
Joe Root (386 runs at 55) A-
I might have given him a straight A but Joe has high standards. We expect a lot from him these days. He’s clearly our star pupil – he’s already captain of the football team, if not the cricket first XI – so averaging over 50 is all in day’s work.
I think Root is the best player the English system has produced since Gooch and Gower. Plus my Mrs says he looks simply adorable in his school cap and blazer. Butter wouldn’t melt, Sir.
Only slight criticisms are a slight weaknesses outside off-stump (47% of his test dismissals have come caught behind) and an annoying tendency to get out between 50 and 100. I’ll forgive him for that. The little darling.
James Taylor (186 runs at 27) C-
Titch, as his classmates affectionately call him, had a mixed tour. Like Compton he looked good in Durban but a bit crap thereafter. It’s clear South Africa thought they had his number by Centurion.
I really can’t make my mind up about young James. He got roughed up and bullied at times, but we know he’s a fighter and he’s got more potential than both Hales and Compton.
Even if England haven’t found their long-term solution at 5 yet, they’ve at least found a brilliant short-leg. Titch’s amazing work at Joburg bumped his grade up a notch. But the question is this: he a better batsman than Ian Bell? Of course he’s not. Even asking the question is stupid.
Ben Stokes (411 runs at 59 and 12 wickets at 29) A
He’s a tyro that Stokes. He’s not exactly the teachers pet – apparently he swears at Mr Bayliss quite a bit – but he’s a true scholar in the making.
It’s hard to ask much more of your all-rounder. If Stokes broke his hand and couldn’t bat, then he’d be worth his place in the side as a bowler alone. And if he hurt his elbow and couldn’t bowl, he’d get into the side purely as a batsman. England haven’t had this kind of player since Ian Botham in the 1980s. Flintoff wasn’t a consistent enough number 6.
Stokes is really thriving since the new curriculum was introduced. He no longer feels like a naughty boy. And I’m quickly running out of school related analogies.
Jonny Bairstow (359 runs at 72) B
It’s extremely hard to grade young Jonny. He excelled at batting but his keeping was pretty dire. I settled on a B because he’s probably exceeded expectations overall: nobody expected him to score the most runs in a series by an England keeper since 2009, and nobody expected him to keep like Alan Knott either.
Who knows what the future holds for Bairstow. I’m not sure that he moves fluently enough, or whether his hands are soft enough, to become a quality keeper. Only time will tell.
His batting has obviously come on leaps and bounds. He made good runs under extreme pressure at times and his technique looks a lot more compact. However, one wonders whether he can replicate this form batting at 5? This is what he’ll need to do if he ever relinquishes the gloves.
Moeen Ali (116 runs at 29 and 10 wickets at 49) C-
This is a classic case of grading someone based on expectations. If you expected Mo to bowl sides out like Graeme Swann, then you’ll probably give him a E. But if you appreciate that he’s just a stopgap, and a batsman who bowls a bit, then you could argue he did his job.
Personally I think England need to make a decision with Mo. It’s all very well arguing that there’s no alternative, but this isn’t quite true. Adil Rashid is an alternative. I’m not necessarily saying that Rashid would do any better, but don’t you think we should give him a try?
I really love watching Moeen bat. He’s one of my favourite players. But sentiment can’t come into tough decisions. If he keeps going truant in the 3rd or 4th innings of games then expulsion beckons.
Stuart Broad (18 wickets at 21) A-
Stuart performed his role as prefect admirably this term. He cut down on the tantrums (a bit), led the bowling attack well while Jimmy was having a sulk, and reached the summit of the Ofsted bowling rankings.
Although he didn’t make many runs, Stuart’s main job is to look intimidating at the school gates, keep order in the playground, and keep the opposition honest. He achieved that with aplomb.
However, on a different matter, the school board cannot agree with the head master’s decision to keep him at late stay. He should be sent home at 3.30pm, to prevent fatigue, rather than participate in the upcoming ODIs.
Steve Finn (11 wickets at 26) B+
The lanky lad once teased for kicking the stumps over is coming on nicely now. He bowled very well in his three test matches despite the fact he’d just returned from injury.
The competition between Finn and Mark Wood should be an interesting one this summer. Both bowlers have plenty to offer – if they can stay in school. Any more injuries and we’ll be calling them both ‘sicknote’.
Chris Woakes (2 wickets at 99) D-
Just as I’ve started to cut Woakes some slack, as I think he’s a good cricketer who’s worked hard to add an extra yard of pace, everyone else seems to have realised that he’s not particularly good.
I think people are being a bit harsh. No, I don’t think Woakes can excel at international level, but I do think he can play a role. I like his batting – I’m sure he’d score more runs given the opportunity – and the fact he’s improved his ODI bowling proves that he’s committed and can get better.
If you’re one of his critics, and you want him out of the squad altogether, you might be waiting in vain. Woakes is a team player and a bit of a teacher’s pet. He’s always the guy at the front of the class sticking his arm up to answer questions.
Jimmy Anderson (7 wickets at 43) D+
I’m beginning to think that Anderson is the bowling equivalent of Cook. Both have had very fine careers but they struggle against South Africa and Australia when conditions don’t particularly suit them. Having said that, Anderson’s record in the UAE and India, where conditions are really tough for swing bowlers, is good. It’s a conundrum. Jimmy Riddle anyone?
Anderson was one of the biggest disappointments of this tour. Perhaps, at his age, it now takes him longer to rediscover his mojo after injuries. Is it a coincidence that Jimmy finally found his rhythm and zip in the very last innings of the tour?
Summary For Governors
England have become an entertaining team that’s exciting to watch. If we’re not winning spectacularly then we’re capitulating meekly. Something interesting always seems to happen. We don’t draw too many games.
Although we managed to win the series, and send the biltong munchers packing, there are still too many question marks. Neither Hales, Compton or Taylor have done enough to cement places. Perhaps it’s time to end Ian Bell’s suspension? Form is temporary and all that.
There’s also the Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow problems. Although the latter might gradually improve his keeping, I can’t see Mo developing into a frontline spinner. He hasn’t really progressed in 18 months. If he was going to improve I think we would’ve seen real signs by now.
In summary this is a strange report card. The collective earned a good mark but nearly half the team received ‘fail’ grades. Perhaps England are becoming a side where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? We shall watch their progress with great interest.
Now over to the external invigilators. That’s you guys by the way. Thoughts?
I agree with most of your assessment, but not really with the second paragraph on Ben Stokes. Exciting though he is, I think that he is likely to prove even less consistent at 6 than Flintoff – and we have to live with that.
Freddie averaged 31.7 in test with 5 tons in 79 games.
Even though he’s just starting out really, and should get better, Stokes averages 33.7 with 3 test tons already in just 23 games.
I think Stokes is a more talented batsman than Flintoff with a higher ceiling. I think his highs will be higher and his lows probably the same. Fred was great in 2005 but I always thought him better suited to No7. Just my opinion of course. Fred’s batting used to drive me mad!
And I suspect he’ll last longer, too. Freddie was a bit of a shooting star.
Fred had a pretty golden period between 2003-5 if I recall, didn’t he score 8 successive 50’s and most (if not all of his hundreds) in that period. Once that ankle issue took hold, he barely practised batting which of course made it worse.
I enjoyed this James but I think you should have given Stuart an A. If not an A*.
Daft to keep him back and allow him to repeat the term.
He should also be made deputy head boy!
Not sure about Deputy Head. What happens if he’s bowling, the Head’s away and he has to decide on reviews?
A lot of reviews will be going down tube tube! Good point.:-)
I could quibble with individual marks (I think you’re a bit harsh on Moeen), but it’s probably about right. I’m going to have to disagree with your implied “Bring back Ian Bell” campaign, though. The “Sledgehammer of Eternal Justice” (as Andy Zaltzman so brilliantly called him) too often goes missing when the going gets tough. The 2013 Ashes was ONE SERIES. Other points: Chris Woakes, imo, is not a test bowler – doesn’t get the ball to do enough. Good ODI player, though. Finn was missed badly in the final test (and possibly merits A-). With India in mind, you can happily play Moeen and Rashid in the same team.
Doesn’t quite sit with your “too often goes missing” when the last time England were in SA Bell and Collingwood batted for nearly five hours apiece on the last day to help draw a match we looked like losing. Batting to save the game seems a lost art at the moment. Those two were also the leading batsmen of the Series in 2009-10. Bell was also involved in the West Auckland fightback.
I think the last test is always a difficult one to motivate any side for. I lost count of the times we lost 4-1 or 3-1 to Australia back in the nineties/noughties, winning at The Oval of the SCG. Complacency yes, but the other team are motivated more than ever to win one test. Odd thing really to say in either case for professional sportsmen.
Other than that, can’t really grumble with any of your grades. Bell back in the team? I understand there’s this young South African born cricketer who did quite well in the Big Bash…..wonder if Strauss will give him a go ? :)
The obvious batting candidate for the middle order is Sam Hain as soon as he qualifies for England (later this year?). At Edgbaston he is known as Trott Minor due to his technique and tight defence, but fortunately he lacks the mental fragility. Never seen a better teenage bat (he is now 20) and that includes Bell who was a prodigy.
All about right for me (however one might quibble over the odd grade).
My one disagreement is Bairstow. My guess is that he’ll sort out his footwork problems and become a decent keeper – and his batting will be strong enough to keep out better glovemen.
Of course now he’ll prove me wrong…
Pretty accurate ratings, to be honest. Nice that someone has said Cook and Anderson really were hopeless, while Cook himself has deflected attention onto the batsmen and Bairstow’s keeping, an act so undermining of his players it only makes one wonder about his merits as a ‘leader’. Nice summation of Hales – I am amazed that so many ex-players actually feel he is worth persevering with…
Boycott is more the emphatic that Hales’ technique will never be good enough for test cricket.
For an opinionated old curmudgeon, he’s remarkably sensible.
Apart from the fact that his new opinion on Hales is a volte face on his opinion before the series………still, at least he has reached the obvious eventually.
The ability to revise one’s opinion when confronted with the evidence is not exactly ubiquitous in English cricket…
It’s a very, very minor point but no-one else has mentioned it and that’s Joe Root’s bowling.
He bowled enough to concede over a hundred runs across the two tours but didn’t take a wicket. Moreover, he didn’t really look like taking a wicket because the turn he used to get seems to have gone. He hasn’t now taken a wicket since Lord’s against Australia. The days when he seemed a useful partnership breaker (or even a bit of a ‘golden arm’) may have gone.
Perhaps his back condition has taken its toll? There’s a problem here as none of the other batsmen in or close to the team can offer much in the way of a few fill-in overs (Vince bowls a little seam and that’s it that I can think of).
Do I rember Ballance bowling some leggies?
He bowled one good over in the TB draw against India in 2014. However he hasn’t taken one f/c wicket.
Entertainingly written James and hard to disagree with many of the ratings – perhaps a bit hard on Moeen who I’d have more in the C+ / B- level.
Several places up for grabs of course and I think that a lot of the decisions will boil down to who hits form at the start of the season. There are several County games before the next Test and for once, there’s a lot to play for. 2 or 3 early season hundreds could see any of Hales, Vince, Lyth, Lees, Compton or others lining up against Sri Lanka in May. If I was selecting now, I’d probably reluctantly open with Compton and have Ian Bell back at 3. Funny how missing out can sometimes enhance your chances – if Dylan Hartley had been in England’s RWC squad, I wouldn’t mind betting his international career would be over now…
At 5 I’d give Ballance another chance – he’s averaging 47 for god’s sake, and just got found out against 2 demon Aussie bowlers last summer with the new ball. I’ve been a fan of Taylor until now but his performance in the Centurion Test really worried me. His innings was totally inappropriate. It was as though he panicked because he hadn’t made a hundred in the series, and completely failed to realise that a gritty 40 in those circumstances would have been equally valuable. In doing so, he demonstrated serious temperamental flaws for me.
The bowling’s in better shape, though I hope Jimmy plays a few early season games for Lancs to get some rhythm. As for the ‘keeper, I don’t rate Bairstow at all and think his drops are going to more than cancel out his runs. I thought Buttler kept ok until his final couple of Tests when his confidence was shot – I’d prefer him but bat him at 8, with Moeen at 7.
Finally, a word on the “Teflon” Head Boy. He’s averaged 23 in this series. He’s scored 3 hundreds in 63 innings. His ugly dismissal in the 2nd innings at Centurion generated barely a criticism. Outside of Asia, he’s no more than a decent Test opener. He averages almost 61 in Asia but around 43.5 in Tests in England and abroad outside Asia, giving him an overall average around 46.5. Good, but far from special, especially in the context of averages in the last 20 years. If you exclude his ‘miracle’ series against a desperately poor Australia in 2010-11, he averages 37 in 61 innings abroad against Aus, WI and NZ. Pretty ordinary stuff. His captaincy has progressed from incompetent to just about acceptable, but at least he’s from the right sort of family, eh?
I am Sri Lanka. I believe English team is the best test team in the world. They beat both South Africa and Giant Australia
I am on holiday in Sri Lanka. A beautiful country with very kind and friendly people. I love it here.
Ratings seem pretty fair to be honest. I like the team rating too. For the split responsibility players (all rounders / wicket keeping, captaincy), it might be interesting to have two “sub-ratings”.
I’ve always defended Woakes but the last Test was a real opportunity to come in and make a statement and he really didn’t deliver at all. I hope he makes the ODI his own, but sad to say I think I was wrong on this one. Pity as his domestic record is so impressive and he does seem to have all the tools.
I might mark Finn even higher as the above particularly emphasised how much we missed him. My memory of the second test is that he was by far the most threatening (and unlucky not to get the rewards). I see him as the best first change bowler in Test cricket and a little bit of a gulf between him and Wood to be honest (happy to be proved wrong though – it’s a good dilemma to have!).
All things considered to get a first series win away from home in a long time really is something. I feel this England team will give anyone a run for their money at the moment; a few tweaks and we could be there.
Too generous to Bairstow. It is no use being a reasonable bat if you give away the same number of runs due to dropped catches and extras behind the stumps. As a bat he merits a C but his overall is pulled down by an E for keeping (only escaping an E- as that is reserved for Buttler). Woakes is a puzzle. He bowled beautifully in the first test, with no luck at all, but was poor in the last test (admittedly after being inactive for three weeks). He probably rates a C- but with the E being reserved for the idiot coaches and selectors who insisted on the extra pace when he was previously able to generate great movement and take more wickets bowling at the pace which seems acceptable from Anderson and Broad.
I agree his keeping was an issue, but his batting surely merits more than a C? I recall he had a very good series average, up there with Stokes and Root?
With about eleven players to talk about there is a lot that one might say (a temptation I will resist, in part).
Does seem to me that Cook has managed to check his tendency to get caught gully by increasing the risk of being caught down the leg side. Almost more than Compton, he is a player whose justification is in sticking there, because he is almost strokeless. His comments on the rest of the batsmen seemed pretty average sort of leadership, too.
Granted that Moeen is not the new Swann, he deserves better than the C- you awarded. His bowling won us the First Test, and his batting is a joy (which will eventually pay off more clearly in the numbers). I am afraid, however, that D- is generous to Woakes, who really hasn’t got what it takes (and we have now seen quite a lot of him). Similarly D+ is generous to Anderson, and it feels only a matter of time before he has to go.
In the upper order, it should be straightforward to drop Hales (without trace) and open with Compton. Taylor looked increasingly lost as the series went on, but his catching was outstanding, so it is too soon to cast him adrift. Ballance has probably come round to deserving another crack at 3 (he gets a C for not playing).