England named their test and ODI squads for the Caribbean yesterday. There were no real surprises. This means there’s actually very little to debate. All we can do is nod in agreement (smug in the knowledge that the team have just triumphed 3-0 in Sri Lanka) and scratch around for stuff to talk about.
Everyone expected Ben Foakes to make the cut after doing so well in his debut series and so it proved. The only slight surprise was the omission of Ollie Pope, who many see as England’s next big hope. Instead Ed Smith has decided to back Joe Denly, who didn’t have the opportunity to impress last month.
I guess this decision is logical. England generally like to give a batsman one game too many rather than one game too few. So dropping a batsman before he’s actually played seems more than a little harsh. Denly didn’t exactly cover himself in glory in the warm-up games before the test series began but it’s difficult to hold this against him. They were rather bizarre contests. What’s more, conditions in Sri Lanka are quite unique.
Although it’s a little disappointing that Pope will have to wait for his turn, the fact remains that England’s middle order is more congested than spaghetti junction at rush hour. Denly’s ability to open or bat 3 obviously worked in his favour. No doubt some will argue that it’s regressive to persevere with a thirty-something when there’s a young gun with an incredibly high ceiling waiting in the wings, but personally I’d rather not damage Pope’s long-term prospects by exposing him up the order too quickly.
I’m also slightly relieved that Jason Roy was overlooked. Being a traditionalist I don’t like it when talented but technically frail batsmen get talked about as potential test openers or No.3s. It didn’t work with Alex Hales and I suspect it wouldn’t work with Roy either.
Now don’t get me wrong. I like Roy as a cricketer. I think he’s an incredibly talented lad. But he’s often looked technically all at sea during his ODI career, and proved especially vulnerable to balls moving back into him. Unless he’s tightened up his technique big time over the last few months I feel his selection would’ve been bold but foolish.
The other thing about the squad that interested me was the retention of three spinners in Moeen, Rashid, and Leach. Obviously the pitches in the Caribbean aren’t as quick as they used to be, and spin will inevitably play an important role on the tour, but I still thought there was a chance that England would revert to type now they’ve left Sri Lanka.
Instead the selectors have kept faith with a very balanced squad with plenty of variety: right arm fast (Stone), right arm fast-medium (Broad and Woakes), right arm swing (Anderson), left arm swing (Curran), off-spin (Moeen), left arm spin (Leach), and leg-spin (Rashid). How convenient that England are finally blessed with cricketers that boast contrasting talents. Not long ago we had to rely on a diet of conventional right arm seamers that made the watching John Major look radical.
The other talking point regarding England’s squad is when Jofra Archer is likely to make an appearance. Thus far Ed Smith has played this subject with a straight bat. Archer isn’t technically available quite yet (it all depends how many days he spends in the UK over the coming weeks) so in theory it’s a non issue. Smith has also quite wisely backed the players already in the squad. It can be distracting when individuals who have put in the hard yards over the last few years have to start looking over their shoulders.
The problem is, however, that nobody doubts Archer is in England’s thinking. A talent this exciting simply has to be. Although England have suggested that time is running out, and he might not have many games to prove himself, I’d be amazing if England didn’t pick him for the games against Pakistan in May.
Archer’s other route into the squad might be as an injury replacement. This would suit most parties politically. England nearly always pick up a significant injury in the run up to major tournaments. It’s the law of sod. But this time it might actually suit the management if someone pulls up with sore ankle, ahem, Mark Wood.
In other news, India won the first test against Australia in Adelaide in what turned out to be an entertaining fixture. India looked set for a relatively comfortable win until the Aussie tail wagged towards the end. This caused Kohli a few anxious moments but overall the visitors clearly deserved to win.
The man of the match was good old Cheteshwar Pujara. I really like old fashioned players like him. Watching Pujara takes me back to golden age when ‘occupation of the crease’ rather than reverse sweeps and switch hits were all the vogue. Seeing him grind the fearsome Aussie bowling attack into the dirt made me come over all nostalgic. Good on ‘im.
It’s just a shame that the match was somewhat overshadowed by umpiring controversies. Basically the on-field umpires didn’t seem to be watching the bowlers’ front foot line at all. Ishant Sharma claimed the wicket of Aaron Finch, which was overturned for over-stepping, but then continued to bowl a plethora of no-balls without the umpires having a word.
I’m a little bit torn on this one. On the one hand I have little sympathy for bowlers who keep overstepping after carelessness has cost their team a wicket. However, I also know that no-balling isn’t always an easy thing for bowlers who sprint to the wicket to solve. It can affect their rhythm, and they often rely on umpires warning them when they’re getting close.
Nobody doubts that umpires have a tough job. But is it right for them to ignore the bowler’s front foot and rely on technology to bail them out? DRS and the third umpire are surely there to assist rather than completely take over one important aspect of their role.
If I was an umpire I’d be too proud to rely on technology completely. What’s more, I’d feel stupid if I missed something as basic as a no-ball. It would make me feel incompetent.
Simon Taufel recently gave a candid interview to Betway Insider in which he discussed how the role of modern umpires has changed. He argued that technology makes their job easier in some respects but also puts them under greater pressure. And this can take its toll:
You hear your decision dissected in your ear piece, in front of millions of people, and then, after 90 seconds, two minutes, you have to publicly change your decision and somehow regather your thoughts.You can feel a bit embarrassed and humiliated. It’s really tough to move on and focus on that next delivery.
When it comes to LBW decisions, or faint edges that brushed either bat or pad, one can easily forgive umpires for making a mistake. They’re human after all. However, calling no-balls should be one of the easiest aspects of their job; therefore it seems strange to me that some of them are passing the buck to the third umpire so readily.
I recommend you give that Taufel interview a read. He makes some interesting points about the role of modern umpires and how he prepared for games. He also gets onto sandpapergate, the spirit of cricket, and how umpires can set an example for the players.
He also mentions how he used to appeal for absolutely everything when he was a player. Of course he did. He’s an Aussie.