Surrey won the championship title yesterday after beating luckless Worcestershire at New Road. As a Worcs fan it makes me sad, as we’re probably headed back to the second division despite playing well at times this year. However, one has to admit that Surrey are worthy champions. What’s more, they’ve done things the right way. Yes they’ve brought in the likes of Elgar and Morkel, but they’ve also got several young homegrown cricketers. And that’s what overseas players should be: class acts there to pass on their expertise to the next generation. Personally I think Surrey have got things spot on. Well done them.
With the champions crowned and the weather slowly turning nippier, the season is finally coming to a close. That means it’s time to dust off the TFT briefcase, unpack our star chart and cane, and give England’s test players their end-of-term grades. The series against India was a humdinger in the end, but also somewhat bizarre because England managed to win comfortably 4-1 despite the teams looking pretty even at times. In fact, had it not been for one of Surrey’s emerging young players (a certain Samuel Curran esquire) playing a vital innings at Southampton, the series result might have been very different.
Anyway, without further ado, let’s get stuck in and award some grades. Who has emerged as this summer’s star pupil, and who is facing capital punishment and possible expulsion?
Alastair Cook – Yes everyone loves Alastair. But unfortunately he didn’t show up until the series was done and dusted. And when he did finally register a century it was when the pitch was flat and slow (which allowed three other batsmen to register hundreds), and his nemesis Ishant Sharma (not to mention Ravi Ashwin) was watching from the stands. It was like Melbourne all over again when Starc was missing. Although the team will miss Alastair he’s generally been poor for the last two years and it’s time to move on. Thanks for the good times, Chef. But you’re only avoiding detention this year because you’re the teacher’s pet. Grade D.
Keaton Jennings – This report card can be summarised in three words written in block capitals in red ink: MUST DO BETTER. But can he do better? It’s really hard to see what Ed Smith sees in Jennings. He’s statuesque at the crease, doesn’t move his feet, can’t judge what to leave, and looks weak outside off-stump. One could say he doesn’t have a lot going for him. However, because Keaton is obviously a swot, and can recite American philosopher Henry David Thoreau to Ed Smith at will, he’s somehow passed the year and ‘earned’ himself a spot on the school tour to Sri Lanka. One can only assume his parents are lining the bursar’s pockets with generous donations. Grade F.
Moeen Ali – How lovely it is was to see Mo enjoying his cricket again. He batted with guts (and a smidgeon of fortune if we’re being honest) and his bowling bloomed at the Rose Bowl. He’s a marvellous pupil, keeps his head down, and never gets into trouble on Saturday nights when the disruptive lads are out getting pissed on cheap cider. The problem with Mo is homesicknesses. He’s full of confidence in school grounds but goes to pieces whenever he has to step on a minibus. Consequently it’s hard to know what the future holds for him. He can fill in at No3 this winter but the big uglies from the ‘needs improvement’ school up the road will be targeting him next summer. And they’ll probably cheat. Grade B+
Joe Root – The head boy didn’t enjoy a particularly good summer. His grades were down, he failed to finish a few classes after starting them brightly, and he didn’t always set the best example. He did, however, finally manage an A-star at The Oval, but by that point his house had already won the intramural competition. The head boy’s apologists (which include me) argue that he’s better off sitting in the 4th row in assemblies. However, I suspect this analogy is my weakest yet so I’ll end this particular report card abruptly and move on. Grade C-.
Dawid Malan – Poor Dawid was expelled after the headmaster caught him getting rogered by some fast bowlers behind the bike sheds. His feet were obviously stuck in clay so he couldn’t run away. Grade E.
Jonny Bairstow – Started the term promisingly but soon fell away badly. He broke his pinkie, lost his favourite pair of mittens, and ended up crying when the teacher made him sit a desk nearer the front of the class. It was all a bit of a shame. Some believe he’s the third brightest kid in the school. However, when asked to specialise in one particular subject his IQ sinks like a conker in semolina. Grade D
Ollie Pope – It’s not the headmaster’s fault that young Ollie struggled this term. He only awarded him a place at the school. The headman had no idea that his useless underlings were going to give Pope a nosebleed by placing him in set 4. Ahem. Grade D
Ben Stokes – ‘Acquitted’ himself reasonably well after an independent education tribunal cleared him of bullying. However, he’ll never be a teacher’s favourite because he always turns up to class smelling of cigarettes. He’ll be on detention if he’s caught lighting up on school premises. Having said that, the school rebel did occasionally manage to apply himself in class. He’s scholarship material if he ever fulfils his potential. Grade C+
Jos Buttler – Has made rapid progress since being controversially transferred from a neighbouring academy. Indeed, one could argue that young Jos was the star pupil this term. Although he occasionally required a leg-up from the opposition, who dropped him early in his innings each time he made a half-century, he really applied himself thereafter. He certainly exceeded this teacher’s expectations. I just wish he would stop hiding at the back. He should give Jonny his mittens back (for good) and swap places with him in the order. Grade A-
Chris Woakes – Every time young Chris seems to make progress he misses a few classes with flu. It’s a real shame as he had oodles of ability. It was good to see him win the batting prize at Lord’s but he struggled at Trent Bridge and was soon out of the side. On the plus side he’s a model pupil, never has a hair out of place, and his shoes are the shiniest in class. Grade B+
Sam Curran – Performed admirably after being promoted from kindergarten somewhat prematurely on a maths scholarship. It turned out, however, that he was better at English. Indeed, his maths might struggle if he can’t swing a calculator into his exams over the winter. Having said that this pupil seems to have something about him. He’s a lot more talented that his big brother. Grade A-
Adil Rashid – Apparently a child of many talents. Thus far, however, truancy seems to be his greatest ability. I only recall seeing him in class a couple of times. Although many disapproved of Adil being granted a place at our first class school after walking out of his last one, he at least made a few contributions in class. One suspects this winter will be crucial in his development. Grade C
Stuart Broad – A decent term but nothing particularly special from Stewpot. Taking his wickets at 30 in a series when ball dominated bat was somewhat underwhelming. However, as usual he was able to turn it on when the teachers gave him a rocket. Mr Vaughan in particular has the ability to press Stuart’s buttons. Grade C.
Jimmy Anderson – Once again our eldest pupil lead by example. His 24 wickets at 18 were a joy to behold. In fact, he probably taught the teachers a thing or two at times. Thank heavens young (or should that be old?) James is so reluctant to graduate. However, he won’t be making the golf team anytime soon. Let’s finish off by watching that infamous video one more time … Grade A
James, there is a second division battle as well with a tense finish going on. We know the ECB has no time for the county championship and, despite comments to the contrary, the selectors do not care a fig about the professionals that play there but it would be good if someone in the media actually reported on it. You could be the first you know!
I’m going to be tied up for the next couple of days so won’t be able to comment on Div2. Thought it best not to bring it up if I couldn’t follow through later :-) Feel free to discuss in the comments though. Sorry!
It will be interesting to see if Jennings sticks with his current county if they’re in Div 2. I did like your comment last season that he found moving counties easier than moving his feat ! I have repeated that on several occasions (but always attributed to you !).
Sorry ‘feet’ not ‘feat’.
Azaro, I think Sky are showing a Div 2 match next week now the title has been decided. Not sure what one though.
What a game at Worcester and finish yesterday. It was quite an emotional experience to be there. I’m a Surrey man, but you know Worcester never gave up and played really well. It’s somewhat ironic that the 2 teams who have given us the most trouble, Worcs and Lancs are the likely one’s likely to be relegated. But what a season for Surrey, largely done it with home grown youngsters, a fantastic SA bowler and the returning Rikki Clarke with over 45 wks, runs and at the age of 37 took one of the best slip catches I’ve ever seen in this match.
But sorry to ramble on, England. Well most of the problems seem to remain except now they need a 1,2 & 3. If Jennings stays then the lunatics really have left the asylum. Burns is the obvious choice except they don’t like his “technique”. Well it’s got him over 1100 runs so far this season. To be honest if he’s not picked I’ll probably give up with Test cricket. I think James has really said everything else.
I can actually empathise with Jimmy’s golf problems there. Been there. Turning to your (somewhat contrived) report card, it’s hard to disagree with most of it. I think it’s worth making a few comments on the India series generally (and, since you don’t seem to be prepared to do it, I will!). Firstly, it’s been a pleasure to see a tough competitive series played in excellent spirit. The Indian team generally (and Kohli in particular) deserve a lot of credit for that. I always thought Virat was a bit of a spoilt brat, but I’ve changed my mind on that. I thought he was a quality batsman too. No change of mind needed there. I also think the games were closer than 4-1 suggests. Joe Root’s double headed coin may have decided a few of them!
In summary, not a great series (too many flaws, particularly in the batting), but a good, and really enjoyable, one (as was the Pakistan series before it). The most disappointing aspect of the summer might be that India and Pakistan didn’t manage a competitive match here (which would have been a sell out).
“Somewhat contrived”?!! I have no idea what you mean ;-)
If the pitch was flat and slow, how come Kholi, the best player in the world, got out first ball,
Because shit happens, regardless of form or the playing conditions. Even the greatest batsman isn’t going to succeed every single time he walks out to the middle.
You were a bit strict on Cook. He did more than his share to win a test match for us. C-?
Dead rubber. Root got a slightly higher mark because he wasn’t batting in his preferred position and had the burden of captaincy. I’m sure Cook will go on to be head boy at his next school :-)
So let me get this right, if the series is dead and buried, the teams might as well go home
Only you have said that.
You really don’t like Cook do you
Got to hold my hand up about Jos – he’s had a remarkable summer. Shows what a bit of confidence can do and he’s a completely different batsman than the one my mate at Lancs used to love bowling to. Will his great summer lead to more white ball specialists being called up? I already see KP is calling for JRoy to open with Burns this winter.
In the absence of red ball proven quality it’s hard not to fall onto the trap of picking, particularly on the batting front, the undoubted white ball talent and experience there is out there, with the likes of Jason Roy, in the hope that they’ll do a Jos Butler and adapt to the circumstances. Apart from Burns, who else is putting themselves forward?
It is the bowling that matters most though, as if we are to win matches we have to bowl the opposition out twice, no matter how many runs we score. Presently we don’t have any bowlers with pedigree outside England. So do we risk an Olly Stone on the thankless tracks of the sub continent, just to offer something different. On the spin front, apart from Leach, no one seems to be being talked about, and after hearing Ed Smith’s latest TMS interview there seems to be little enthusiasm for him, as being a specialist there’s no ‘package deal’. I guess the same applies to Stone. This leaves us with the usual suspects.
However, what is being conveniently overlooked is the spirit in this side. We’ve just beaten, albeit in a closer run thing than the 4-1 margin suggests, the world’s top test team. How many previous England test teams have done similar? To bounce back like that after the traumatic winter with pretty much the same side, is no mean achievement. We cannot regard this summer as failure, even if glaring flaws remain.
How many Test sides? Well the 2011 side who beat India then the world’s top team and became top themselves to claim the mace. The same side who beat Australia 3-1 down under in Jan 2011. Bell and KP were the stars v India but Broad got a hat trick. Dravid got 3 centuries. Cook nearly got 300 at Brum.
The difference with those performances was firstly the margin of victory this season and secondly the fact that we were on the skids after last winter’s trauma. I think I am right in saying that no side rated World no1 had ever been beaten 4-1 since ratings began.
It has been pointed out that Root did win all 5 tosses, but because of the consistently bowler friendly conditions it was something of a double edged sword as we seemed to have the tougher time batting, with the ball doing a lot on first days throughout.
No, just 4-0, when number 1 ranked India were trashed in England in 2011.
Shows the folly of the ranking system, time and again. They should rename it: “who has the most skewed distribution of home and away series” rankings instead.
Apologies, had forgotten about that one. Just shows how the present struggles have pushed past glories into the shadows.
Always thought they should give the rankings to Lord Ted to sort, then they would be so complicated no one would make any attempt to understand them, just like the De Loittus ratings. Have the book, but after trying chapter 1 thought I’d wait till they make the film. Can see it now, ‘The de Loittus Syndrome, an excercise in confusion’. With tag lines like, ‘just when you thought it was safe to go into the reasons’ and ‘in the dressing room no one can hear you scream’
Even the players have trouble with the calculations, captains having to be Einsteins to navigate through those relativities.
Who else is putting himself foward? How about Joe Denly from Kent, either as opener or No.3? He also bowls decent legspin, so it wouldn’t be necessary to pick Rashid.
Just for example:
Denly: 768 at 36.57 from 21 innings [Division 2] (career 36.54) – bats at 3
Hildreth 866 at 42.19 from 23 innings [Division 1] (career 43.26) – bats at 4
I look at Moen Ali and I see a man of great honesty, decency and ability. He displays a true love of the game. I see a gentility in him also. For him to call the Aussie team the one he most disliked, shows that under Lehmann and Smith, Australia had plumbed, even for them, new depths of skullduggery that takes some beating.
Brilliantly funny analogies (especially the contrived ones), loved this article!!
Best bit was Cook retiring to be head boy of Eton
I think Moeen Ali’s batting technique is too loose to bat at no 3. England might get away with Moeen batting at 3 this winter but the Aussie quicks will be licking their lips at the prospect of Moeen at 3 next Summer. Furthermore, Moeen is wasted at no 3 as he is better coming in at no 8 and sending the ball to all parts. Root, with all his batting talent, was very poor this year and was given a masterclass by His Viratness.
In the 5 Test matches they’ve played together:
Butler – as SPECIALIST BAT AT 7 – made 284 runs.
Curran – the 3rd or 4th Seamer – made 292.
Remove the 2nd Pakistan Test, the count becomes 204 to 272.
(Apologies if I miscounted)
I’m not sure how one can possibly justify giving them the same grade.
As Shastri said, Curran was THE factor which won the match for England at Edgasbaston and Southampton. And he’s only twelve – imagine how good he’ll be once he grows up /s
Hi James, good day to be a Worcestershire man eh? Congratulations! Were you there?
The Sky troop seemed really impressed with Moin’s leadership and performance. Hussein paticularly, which is no mean testimonial. Maybe a pointer to our next one day captain. Don’t have Sky, so not able to watch more than snippets on sky sports news, but all 3 matches seemed to be competitive.
Would have loved to have gone, seems a great way to end the season to me, a real festival atmosphere and the weather held. However ticket prices too prohibitive for me without Warwickshire being there, so had to content myself with a trip to St Andrews on Friday night to fill my sporting boots for the weekend.
Cheers Marc. I watched every ball on TV. Was really proud of the lads.