Rare Ascendancy

Oh what could have been. That’s my overriding thought at the moment. England bowled really well today and we should win the 5th test from here. The holes in the Australian batting line up seemed wider than Kings Canyon in Northern Territory. If only we’d got our collective act together earlier in the series.

A lead of 78 with all ten wickets in hand is nothing to be sniffed at. And unless there’s a Steve FFS Smith miracle I wouldn’t fancy the Aussies to chase much more than 250 batting last on a pitch that generally looks like a good cricket wicket. It’s decent for batting but doing enough to keep the bowlers interested.

Let’s start today’s report by looking back at England’s 294. It wasn’t great, was it. But you should never judge a pitch until both modern batting line ups have had a chance to collapse on it. Now a score near three hundred looks pretty useful. Runs on the board etc.

England’s innings was the usual curate’s egg. The skipper’s contribution summed it up really. He scored a reasonable looking 57, which most batsmen would be reasonably happy with, but as always the scoreboard didn’t tell the whole story. Yes he played some lovely shots as usual, but he was dropped three times, and failed to convert his fifty into a hundred.

This was the 9th time in a row that Root has made a half century against Australia but failed to turn it into 3 figures. And he hasn’t scored a test century (against anyone) for two years now. What the hell is going on, Joe? If it’s the captaincy then give it up. You’re not a difference maker as a skipper anyway. But you should be as a batsman.

The other two batters who impressed in our first dig were Burns, who’s now scored 374 runs in the series at an average of 41, and Jos Buttler. Let’s talk about the Surrey opener first.

I think Burns has been one of the few positives of the test summer. He’s not always pretty – who cares about that when Steve Smith has been damaging our retinas for weeks? – but he’s got guts, can occupy the crease, and knows his red ball game. We need more players like him! I’m hopeful he can become a reasonably successful and respected test opener. A bit like Sir Andrew.

Did you know that Burns has now scored more runs in this series than Alastair Cook ever managed in a home Ashes summer? Plus he’s got that priceless Ashes century too – another feat Cook never managed on home soil. I like Burns. He’s done fine. it’s just a shame about his haircut.

And now to Buttler. To be honest I didn’t know what to make of his innings. If you want him out of the side then you probably thought it was a bit of a slog. And if you love him even more than people used to love Cook (and there are plenty of Jos fan boys around) then you probably think the innings confirmed his ‘truly special’ status.

Personally I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t think Jos gets enough credit for his unexpected ability to occupy the crease. People call him a white ball specialist but this completely ignores the number of times he’s batted for over 100 deliveries since his recall. He’s done it a lot. More than any other player in the world over the same period. He can clearly get his head down when needed.

However, although Jos also plays some lovely shots, I still think there’s something missing. I can’t put my finger on it but he still looks somewhat out of place. His dismissal this morning summed it up really. It was a horrendous shot. He got his feet into a terrible position you usually only see on a village green when a fat slogger tries to launch another Exocet missile over cow corner and misses. And yet, most of the time – and especially in defence, -Jos looks pretty sound technically.

Personally I think Jos has just about done enough to earn a longer run in the side. But it’s close. The main problem is where he bats. In my opinion he has to bat 5 (with Stokes at 6) because England can’t yet afford luxury players in the lower middle order. And there’s lots of competition for places in that particular area.

The other issue is what we do with Ollie Pope, who most observers agree is the best talent in county cricket by some distance. Pope’s best position may also be No.5. In which case, the selectors need to stop philosophising and decide which player is the future of English cricket: Buttler or Pope? The answer is probably the latter in terms of longevity and red ball pedigree. It’s a tough one.

So now let’s get to the good bit: Australia’s pretty grim batting performance today. Wasn’t it great!

Jofra Archer and Sam Curran were excellent. It’s pretty clear that Jofra is going to be a world cricketing superstar (if he isn’t already). His 6-62 was pure class. His pace and intent were back and he was too much for Australia’s lesser lights (i.e. most of their batsmen) to handle.

However, the player I’d like to focus on today is Sam Curran. He bowled very nicely indeed. Fair play to the lad.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m not the greatest fan of young Sam’s bowling. And for good reason too. He’s pretty innocuous when it doesn’t swing, and I can’t see him playing a major role overseas.

However, this test match is in England. Good old Blighty. The land of Neil Mallender, Martin Bicknell, and Toby Roland Jones. Pace isn’t everything in the land where Darren Stevens has become a demigod. And Sam Curran has some skill.

Curran’s spell immediately before lunch had Steve FFS Smith in all sorts of trouble. He looked genuinely clueless for the first time this series. And it all made so much sense. If a batsman jumps across his stumps like Smith in such a decisive and ungainly fashion, the last thing he needs is a left arm  seamer pitching the ball up and swinging it back into him.

Some of the positions Smith got his feet into were terrible against Curran. It almost looked like he was playing croquet or French cricket at times. Had Root stuck with Sam after tea I think we would’ve got Smith out sooner. But once again captaincy by numbers seemed the order of the day.

One wonders whether Curran should’ve played earlier this summer? His left arm does provide variety and he might even have gained half a yard of pace since we last saw him in England colours. The problem moving forward is where England might find room for him? He’s only playing in this test because Stokes can’t bowl. And he’ll probably always be a fourth seamer rather than a first change or opening bowler.

So how do you see the rest of the game shaping up? I’m feeling very confident tonight – although I’m slightly fearful that Ed Smith and the ECB will use any consolation victory to claim that everything in the garden is rosy and changes aren’t really necessary after all. A 2-2 result does rather open the doors for the spin doctors, even though Australia have clearly been the better side this summer and should really be leading 3-0 or 3-1 at this stage.

I’d also be interested to know if you think the Aussies have taken their foot off the gas somewhat in this game? They’ve dropped a lot of catches. When the hapless Marcus Harris put down Denly in the final over – a very routine catch at test level – it summed things up really. Do they seem as intense and focused as normal?

James Morgan


  • England have put themselves in a very good position, though it is one they still perfectly capable of fouling up. I have to say that for someone playing as a specialist batter Buttler’s returns have not been adequate at test level, his 70 in this game notwithstanding. I also think that a win here will be bad for England because the selectors will use the 2-2 scoreline as an excuse for inaction. We did see one absolute miracle today – Steve Smith plain and simple MISSED A STRAIGHT ONE (and by his standards, with 80 to his name he had barely even warmed up). Given the series we have had so far I am confident of only one thing: there are still plenty of twists and turns before we are done.

  • I can already tell that Sam Curran will finish his tests career with a bowling average that doesn’t reflect his ability. He’s great in English conditions but not so good abroad: not fast enough in WI or Australia and, not being a spinner, too fast in India and Sri Lanka.

    So what do we do with Sam? If we played him all through the Summer and gave him winters off he’d finish with a bowling average between 25 and 30. Instead, he plays in the last home test every year, does well, gets selected to tour on the basis of his performance in England, play a three or four tests, does badly, gets dropped, doesn’t get picked for the first four home tests in the basis of poor performance abroad, finally gets selected in the last test, does brilliantly, gets selected to tour because of it,…. Rinse and repeat and he ends up with a bowling average of 35.

    Compare this to how we tend to treat our second choice spinner, only playing one India or Sri Lanka, never anywhere else. Or Neil Mallender, only picking him at Headingley, not even anywhere else in England.

    • Such are the eccentricities of our selection process that you may well be right. It is not obvious he isn’t fast enough. Yesterday, there was a graphic showing his speeds through a maiden over (I think to Smith) where every ball was 80+ and top speed was 88. Roughly 10mph faster than Overton, last week.

      • That 88 mph was his hat trick ball. It was a lot faster than the other balls he bowled. Bit of a freak wave.

        I think Sam bowled a little quicker than he did last year. It was consistently in the low 80s i.e. 81-84 mph. I’d say that’s about the same as Overton. What made him effective imho was the swing into the right handers from left arm over. That’s always a dangerous delivery to any batsman. The swing is the key. Hoggard lost a bit of pace as he matured – people forget that he was a fast-medium when he burst onto to scene – but was still effective in the low 80s because of the swing.

  • Good stuff, James, but cut Joe Root some slack, if only because he appears to have aged five years in five weeks and has been undone by a wonderful Australian pace attack. His conversion rate may be poor, but he did manage a rather classy 125 against India at the Oval last September. Yes, Sir Alastair’s valedictory knock attracted all the plaudits and media attention, and nobody really noticed what was happening at the other end. Jim Maxwell on TMS this afternoon described how a similar thing happened to Arthur Morris at the Oval in 1948, which everyone knows was Bradman’s final innings: bowled second ball for nought by an Eric Hollis googly. Years later, Morris was asked whether he’d been playing in that Test and had witnessed this historic moment. “Yes, I was at the other end”, he replied. “Make any runs?” Morris: “Yes, 196.”

    • Same as the “Matthews final’ 1953 Blackpool v Bolton Wanderers. Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick. The only one to date. Never really mentioned. Except by Sir Stan who always gave credit to him when asked about the final. Apologies talking football on here….

  • Curran should have played at Old Trafford; 4 right arm seamers made no sense. Aussie batting is atrocious – Smith aside, I actually think it’s worse than ours. Harris is dreadful. Wade not much better. Marsh did the normal thing for a modern batsman – make a nice 20 then brainlessly whack one up in the air and get caught on the boundary. Above all though, brilliant as he is, how does FFS always play and miss rather than EVER nicking behind?
    Final thought is how grateful Rory Burns must be for DRS! He’s had 2 absolute shockers in this test, both overturned. The look of disgust on his face for the one this evening was a picture. In olden times, those sorts of decisions could cost batsmen their careers.

      • Think you are forgetting the number that occur to every one else. No one has played and missed as much as Burns and Denly. Burns had 40+ on the way to the century. Pretty sure that’s at least 3 times smiths tally for the series.

        But for me Joe root’s having a quick bowler hit the stumps at 85 mph visibly move the stump and not dislodge the bails takes the cake for the luckiest player of the series.

  • Slight advantage England. Look we all know they could be all out for 120 so I hardly think it’s a banker yet.
    Of course you step off the gas a bit when you’ve secured the main prize, its a natural reaction. Remember 1993 and 1997? England won both the last tests at the Oval after they’d lost the Ashes. Surprised they left out Starc though. Yes Curran should have played from day 1, he offers a bit of bowling variety as seen today.

  • It’s certainly a chance to win and level the series as long as we don’t grasp defeat from the hands of victory.
    Aussies have a two batting attack and everyone else has looked pretty weak. Labuschagne has been their find of the summer. We know about Smith. Cummings and Hazelwood have been good. Not picking Starc and choosing to field. I’m sure they’ll be something said when they get back home if the series is drawn.

    I personally wouldn’t have picked Stokes for this game. If he’s injured and can’t bowl then it shouldn’t be trying to bat either. Probably a controversial point i’m Sure you’ll let me know.

    Root as captain hmm not sure he’s a leader. Miss quoting Brian Clough “stick to batting young man”

    I like Curran he’s had a great day hope he can put a decent together. Archer is good let’s hope we don’t bowl him to the ground. I’d take Butler to NZ & SA see how he gets on. I wouldn’t be taking Anderson though. Time to look to the future

  • James, concerning Root, what you meant to say was that Root hasn’t scored a 1st innings century for 2 years. He scored 2nd innings centuries against India last summer and Sri Lanka last winter. I agree that apart from Steve FFS and Labushagne, Australia’s batting has been poor. I am surprised that Warner hasn’t copped more stick for his appalling shot today and more generally, his woeful batting in the whole series.

  • Still don’t get Curran. Had Smith in trouble by doing very little. Says more about Smith’s odd shuffling around at the crease. Swung the odd ball a bit but most of the deliveries I saw were unremarkable for a left hander.
    Cant help feeling the Aussies had a bad case of the after the Lord Mayors show. Cummins bowled pretty well, but their catching was off the pace and it took Matsh, who’s out to impress on a rare outing to change the course of our innings after tea yesterday and today their batting was loose to say the least, even for them. Warner looks like he’s on the plane home already.
    If we’re going to continue with Butler, he has to bat higher, so he’s not constantly batting with the tail and has a chance to play a long innings at proper pace. Yesterday he just played another white ball knock.
    Could have easily lost both openers in the four overs tonight, so no ones counting their chickens for tomorrow. Where your, we should win the test from here, comes from I dont know James. Root looks shot and Stokes, our other mainstay batter, seems to be struggling to hold his concentration together since his Headingly heroics. We have a long tail with Woakes a shadow of his normal self.

  • I did enjoy seeing Smith ‘in trouble’, repeatedly, from Archer and then Curran – looking mostly very poor, but still scratching his way to a decent score.

    Curran is very much a fourth seamer/ fifth bowler at Test level (and not much better at First Class – look at the numbers) – but like Marsh in this match, he will have his days from time to time. But TC should therefore be batting in the top six (you can’t play your fourth seamer at eight, nor specialist batters at seven – it’s madness!); and needs to average about 40 (and get some hundreds) to be worth picking – so at present he ought not to be playing tests.

    England need, more than anything, a top six of proper red ball batters and then a wicket keeper. The bowling is not a problem (the fact that they can’t get-out Smith is not really relevant – it seems nobody can get *him* out).

    Thhere has been plenty of superb bowling; but the problem is that these teams have both poor batting units. Both teams looking like Zimbabwe in the Andy Flower days (i.e. one real batter – although Root in present form at number three looks merely adequate).

    I wish people would stick to what they are good at, and not ruin it by trying to be something they aren’t!… Root was looking like a great of all time – even better than Peterson at number 4, until he became captain, then a number three (coming to the crease in the first few overs). Bairstow looked like a useful middle order biffer until he tried (and failed) to keep wicket and stopped scoring runs. Stokes (from his numbers – mid thirties average) is a number six or preferably seven; Not a top order batter. (That he is generally regarded as our ‘second best batsman’ is true, but a sign of our weakness, not his strength.)

    The root of the problem is that the white and red ball games are further apart than ever, and still diverging. There is no reason why England can’t be good at both – but not if we use the same selectors, coaches etc. for both forms. Baylis has shown himself, over his entire tenure – to be clueless about the red ball game; the problems date from his era, and have worsened the longer he stayed.

    The captain is very important in both red and white ball cricket – and that job needs to be made a specialist appointment. (Except, maybe, where a team is so full of talent as hardly to need a captain.)

    I am coming to hate Root’s captaincy – the way he overbowls Archer is almost criminal. Seven overs on the reel to start, then straight on again after lunch – this is like using a Ferrari for off-road driving. Captaining a seriously fast bowler isn’t rocket science – but Root seems to think that he has some magic dust which converts Archer into a perpetual motion machine that will bowl at 93 mph all day every day – through wind and rain – without rest.

    New Coach, New Captain and… New Selectors for the Red Ball team; then 18 months of rebuilding.

    • Bruce I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, but don’t you think that Baylis was brought in to win the World Cup and that probably the ECB took him aside and said, don’t bother with the red ball game Trev, stick to the white that’s why your here?..

  • As an Aussie, I think everyone’s a bit hyper critical. It’s been a great series and while there are no world class bats there except Smith obviously, (sorry Joe) it’s nice to see the ball dominate for once. Cummins/Hazlewood v Broad/Archer, well worth the admission price. Two tests each is a fair result with Smith the slender difference between both teams with Stokes close to being the counter point. With Australia 8/120 in the first test, any single delivery over the next session could have led to an entirely different outcome. These sides are two and three in test ratings, maybe the batting both ways is sub par but it’s been a gripping contest.

  • James – this is a cricket blog so let’s keep to cricket. Your comments re Burns’ hair style is unnecessary, demeaning and simply not appropriate. Please apologise.

  • James, good article. I think the Aussies have taken their foot off the throttle a little but even more worrying is that I think England play better once the expectation has gone. I have concerns that this will result in 2-2 and then we can make some great excuses for being thoroughly outplayed over this series and continue with this hogwash of an administration.

    I don’t expect too many new faces on the plane and they may be the best we have but surely we have to accept that we just haven’t got enough pressure for places and need to widen the talent pool. How do we get more kids playing cricket to a decent standard and to overcome this particular problem they have to be boys?

  • “And he hasn’t scored a test century (against anyone) for two years now.”

    Didn’t he score one in St Lucia earlier this year? Or did I hallucinate that?

  • Is it just me or is Michael Vaughan is becoming really irritating with his pontificating after the event. His latest red rag to a bull for me was bemoaning how the picking of Curran was a trick we missed earlier in the series. Like Bairstow with the bat he played a few decent shots and got himself out, consistently leaving gates as he stuck his foot up the line of off stump and threw his hands at the ball, as he always has done. His good eye gets him out of trouble on decent tracks but when the balls swinging or seaming he’s just another white ball accident waiting to happen. As for his bowling, I’m sure Vaughan would have been rubbing his hands if he came in to face that. I think I’d rather see Derek Pringle back. He swung.a few deliveries but nothing like Mitchell Marsh was doing all game and he’s just another bits and pieces man.


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