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?