England’s win at Cape Town was hugely satisfying. It was like finally kissing that girl at school you’d fantasised about for months. And if, like me, you never actually got to kiss that girl because you were far too shy (and not quite good looking enough) then fear not. Beating South Africa at their spiritual home feels better than a sloppy snog and a drunken fumble ever could. I finally got a girlfriend at university and found that young love was overrated anyway. And the girl subsequently turned out to be a lesbian (true story)!
But now that the dust is settling we need to work out what England’s win actually meant. Was it a one off or have the team finally turned a corner? We’ve been here before remember. Everyone assumed our series victory in Sri Lanka was the start of a brave new world … until that world came crashing down in the Caribbean a few weeks later. The sober reality is that England are probably just an infuriatingly inconsistent cricket team. And part of being inconsistent is that you do occasionally pull off a great win.
This time, however, it feels slightly different. Not hugely different but a bit. England now have two promising openers and a half-decent number three for starters. In fact, we haven’t had a reasonable top 3 since my ex-girlfriend decided she preferred Janes to James.
Dom Sibley’s century therefore brought me considerable cheer. If he can continue this form and nail down a spot then England will have their first respectable opening pair since Cook and Strauss. Yes the jury’s still out to some extent – it’s worth remembering that Sam Robson, Adam Lyth, and Keaton Jennings (twice) all scored hundreds before getting worked over and worked out – but these guys didn’t score their hundreds against quality fast bowlers away from home. Sibley therefore achieved something quite significant in England’s win at Cape Town.
Joe Denly also continues to play well. He’s no superstar – although I do think he’s more talented that some people give him credit for – but he’s doing his job. His top class fielding and ability to pick up wickets with his leg-spinners is another bonus.
Whilst a Test average of 31 after 12 Tests is clearly nothing to shout about, again it’s worth pointing out that Denly has scored his runs against the toughest opponents around. If he can average 31 (whilst looking solid and eating up a lot of deliveries) against Cummins, Hazlewood, Philander, and Rabada then one hopes he’s good enough to cash in (and improve his average) when he comes across the weaker teams. Do you know how much Alastair Cook averaged in South Africa? 31. Exactly.
The emergence of Ollie Pope also feels good. Young players with excellent domestic records have been over-hyped in the past and fallen flat on their faces. However, none of these had as many admirers as Pope – good judges really do think he’s special – and none of them have actually looked as classy as young Ollie at the crease.
I like Pope’s game because he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. He’s compact, plays in an orthodox way, and seems to have a first class work ethic and an unflappable temperament. Yes there will probably be bumps in the road. Most players experience bad patches at some stage as international bowlers look at the tape and work them out. However, Pope is a thinking cricketer who has both the gumption and wherewithal to counter these plans and evolve into a top class player.
Then we come to the heart of the team – the skipper and vice-captain. Joe Root isn’t quite back to his best but we all know he’s a class act. At worst he’ll continue to be one of the top ten batsmen in the world. At best he’ll get back into that elite big three (or four) conversation. Joe’s captaincy might occasionally display the strategic erraticism of Donald Trump and the common sense of an aubergine but you can’t have everything. England captains have to learn on the fly because they get little to no preparation for the job in county cricket.
The bowling is also shaping up a little better than it did a month ago. Stuart Broad is proving that he can still crank it up. Sam Curran is developing nicely and possesses more skill than we originally thought. Mark Wood and Jofra Archer are on the mend – which means that pace and firepower shouldn’t be a problem like it has been in the past. And Dom Bess and Jack Leach have more potential as bowlers than Moeen Ali ever had.
Sorry Mo. I know your stock has risen since you were dropped – England players are usually perceived as better cricketers when they’re out of the side – but your golden arm was always somewhat compromised by your inability to provide control (an economy rate of 3.6 is too high, as is your average of 37). The spinner’s job on days 1-3 will always be to tie up an end and let the seamers rest. Bess can do that (economy rate 2.6) and Leach can do both (economy rate 2.8, average 29). The pundits ignore this equation when they’re pining for your return.
And then there’s Jimmy Anderson. As good as ever. We await news of his injury with baited breath. A side strain could rule him out for a couple of months but let’s not automatically attribute these injuries to old age. He picked up injuries when he was young too. I hope and pray that he still has a couple of years left.
At this stage, I’d wager that the only first choice player with a question mark above his head is Jos Buttler. But nobody in their right mind would suggest that England’s wicket-keeping cupboard is bare. There’s also Jonny Bairstow, Ben Cox, a host of competent county stumpers who could do a job if asked, plus the best option of the lot – a certain Ben Foakes esq. Maybe Jos’s travails will finally push England in a direction they should’ve embraced long ago.
Speaking of Jos, did you see the footage of him swearing at Vernon Philander in England’s win at Cape Town? It’s safe to say that his halo temporarily slipped on Tuesday – although I’m slightly disappointed that his best shot was “you’re a f**k**g k**bh**d”. A full on rendition of Spitting Image’s I’ve Never Met A Nice South African would’ve been far more entertaining.
After Jonny Bairstow was fined for swearing at himself when he was dismissed a few weeks ago, I imagine that Jos will find himself in even hotter water for swearing at an opponent. Although, to be fair, he was spot on for subsequently pointing out the copious nature of Vernon’s paunch.
Overall it’s amazing what difference a victory makes. England’s win in Cape Town has changed the lens through which all events are filtered. A week or so ago England were a bunch of losers. Teeth were being gnashed and supporters wanted to rupture the players’ spleens. But now it’s all change.
Yes English cricket still has considerable challenges. And yes the governance of our wonderful sport still fills me with dread – how ironic that the ECB have just appointed a bloke called Snowball to fulfil the brief from hell.
However, even us cantankerous and disillusioned England’s supporters deserve the occasional day off to be, well, happy for a change.
Just hearing that Anderson has a rib injury and will miss 6-8 weeks so he’s out of the tour. That feel good factor didn’t last long eh! Oh bollocks to it. We can still be positive :-)
All I could think of was the Jos/Vern incident was a sad way to mark the end of the Test careers of two men. But at least Vern has a world class record and his dignity.
Jos looked to be sh*tting himself?
Well done England and good luck for the rest of the series. I do seem to remember reading articles like this not too long ago though …
You’re not wrong. We always oscillate from over confidence to utter despair. It’s all part of the deal of supporting England.
I don’t think anyone can take anything more out of the last game than ‘WE’VE BEEN SAYING PLAY TEST CRICKET SYTLE FOR YEARS… LOOK WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DO’
rather than the ‘we play our way’ or ‘brand of cricket’ or ‘positive cricket’ crap they’ve been playing since the 2013-4 side were dismantled in Oz.
This side is very very likely to be blown away currently vs this formidable Australian attack unless they can actually knuckle down and play red ball style cricket consistently.
Your comment re Anderson is bad news indeed. However with Archer due to return and Wood possibly to come in as Port Elizabeth may suit him less badly than our other pacers (it has a history of not suiting any bowlers) Anderson’s enforced absence reduces the chances of England sacrificing the spinner because they cannot decide which seamer to leave out. Personally I would go with Curran, Broad, Archer and Bess backed up by Stokes, though I could also accept Curran, Wood, Archer and Bess if both the out-and-out speedsters are definitely fit.
I’m genuinely surprised that Joss Butler – who is a prince of one day cricket, one of the greats; is prepared to bother with establishing beyond all doubt (39 matches) how mediocre he is at Test cricket.
It’s like Usain Bolt insisting on appearing in the Olympics running the 1500 metres.
It seems so humiliating – plus, I assume he could earn a lot more playing the T20 leagues.
The analogy with Usian Bolt. Is bollocks.
Now come on Paddy. Keep it civil :-)
In terms of Buttler’s batting it may be stretching an analogy, but it is right on the ball (no pun intended) as far as Buttler’s keeping is concerned.
I was disappointed in Buttler. That wasn’t him.
I thought the Philander worship at the end of the game over-the-top sentimentality. But that’s what the Saffers sometimes do. Remember all the black armbands at Lord’s after Jacques Kallis’s dad died ?
The milking the crowd by Philander delayed the presentations. The party stood around like lemons waiting for Big Vern, Mrs Vern and Baby Vern to finish parading around. Boring !!
Jos is on the cusp. He’s bright, talented and personable. And a very good cricketer. My guess is he’ll make it big time in Test cricket. But he won’t do that by being a Poundshop Paul Nixon – now there’s a man who would have given Big Veen an appropriate send off…
Oh dear Paddy. How unsporting. Big Vern has the perfect right to say goodbye to his own fans on his own ground in his own country. The Barmy Army showed how to respond by standing on their feet and applauding. Cricket is a game where we give credit where it is due to the opposition. Hence the applause to Sibley and Stokes from the crowd not just England fans. Let’s keep it that way!
You didn’t think Vern deserved a send off?? And yet… You heap praise on Jos like he’s achieved something in cricket? ‘make it big time in tests’….. WHAT…
Seriously… what are you smoking.. What has given even the slightest incling that he’s going to ‘make it big time’ ?? He will be a mid 30’s player who plays the odd spectacular innings.. that isn’t a good red ball player.. that’s a white ball player playing red ball cricket
as for the ‘sledging’.. disgusting. I think they SHOULD have the stump mic’s turned on and up at all times in games to clean the game up. The game is losing players at an alarming rate and yet people still think it’s appropriate to abuse people they don’t know, will never know and who do not like them in the name of ‘it’s part of the game’..
It’s not part of the game adn it’s what happens when you lose your cool or simply don’t think you can win by skill alone.
Sledging needs erradicating and that starts at the pro level and then at the amateur level. I hope he’s not just given some meaningless fine/de merit point and given something to keep him out of a game so he loses his place etc.
Carry on like that James and I’ll be able to cancel my subscription to Mills and Boon…
I didn’t tell you what happened when James, Jane, and my ex all got together at once :-)
I’m just kidding … unfortunately.
I fear the Grand scheme of things will not be altered one jot by this marvelous advert for the red ball game, as the ECB are too far down the line to back off, especially as their ‘efforts’ to promote the game have been recognised in the New Years honours.
All of us who love the more subtle side of the game where drama is played out much more intensely than the instant white ball scenarios, will continue to be ignored by the game’s hierarchy, as will the players, who all seem to view test cricket as the pinnacle of achievement. The ECBs persuit of the new audience just waitng out there for the Hundred to explode upon the scene. Then, like the pied piper, children and their doting mothers will be tempted out of their homes by the shrill tones of their masters voice.
They will get into their cars, not quite knowing why, and drive as if drawn to a destination they do not know, until they arrive to watch their flannelled fools on the green sward. If you build it they will come.
Key question James is who was the girl at school!?😉
Closely guarded state secret.
again, I don’t get the ongoing beat up on Moeen Ali…150 + test wickets will prove to be twice what the current two cobble together. I’d prefer to watch Joe Denly rolling them out of the back of the hand. Time for Jimmy to bow out, best remember him as the game breaker, not as the game broken…
A good article James as always but I have to disagree on a few things..
Wood – Has only ever performed in what.. One Innings?? One innings of sheer pace and the rest… Not high pace and very meh.. oh and he doesn’t move the ball at all
Curran – Golden arm indeed currently but so was Moeen Ali and look how that turned out.. ‘But he can bat a bit’…. so could Moeen.. only Moeen did it at 3 for Worcs where as Curran simply can’s (sorry, hasn’t). Take a look at Curran’s batting in Tests.. after a Bairstow like purple patch start vs India… what are his returns?? He’s a bits and pieces white ball playeer and we are building him up into something that he simply isn’t. Sure he ‘MIGHT’ develop but that development should be in county cricket.. NOT TESTS.
Woakes – The man was told to put on a yard of pace.. he did (and a slight cost to accuracy/nibble).. He’s done a good job. He is no Anderson and sadly probably never will be but he’s the best we have. He does however, had a Chronic Knee injury which seems to have broken him over the last 12-18 months… His batting is a worry as at one point he looked like a high quality number 8 (miles ahead of Curran for example)
Spinners – Just got to keep picking the best spinner and if that is Leech/Bess then so be it. Do not go back to Moeen now, that sad ship has sailed.
Buttler – He’s done well over the last 12-18 months since coming back in to be honest and he is at the very least generally TRYING to play red ball cricket. Sadly, unless we start batting like we just did in the last test match CONSISTENTLY… he should be dropped for Foakes (Yes, Bairstow should also never grace an England shirt again). He just isn’t good enough a batsmen to play anything other than a white ball innings consistently and that’s what we need in our Wk/Batter… consistency
Lovely to see the top 3 bat time and not care about Strike Rates etc etc.. that isn’t their role!! Just bat long and leave the scoring to the middle order.
All in all though.. a really really enjoyable test match and probably the best for 3-4 years.
As for the ECB.. this was all in spite of them and in spite of Ed Smith and co. Do I expect this trend to continue however?? No, sadly not. This team has shown in the past it is capable of good games/innings but what it has failed to do for years now is show consistency of play, consistency of approach. Until that happens… nothing will change so I won’t jump on the bandwagon for at least 10 more tests.
The team has as many questions as it has over the last 5 years.. the only difference is they have shown once or twice that they do actually know how ot play test innings.. they just seem to have many many many brain farts of white ball mentality
Pleased to see someone else making the obvious point that Woakes is country miles better than Curran. I would not worry about his batting. He has had a thin last year because he has hardly had any batting practice and, when called on, it has usually been in circumstances where he cannot have a decent look at the ball for a few overs (what we want of any test bat). But because Curran is shining Root’s boots and is part of the cricket establishment (Surrey and daddy) he will continue to be picked over a much better player.
oh, I don’t give a crap about Woakes batting.. he’s there as a front line bowler so any batting is purely a bonus. IF MY TEST top 7 Batters can’t do the job then the game needs to find better ‘TEST’ batsmen.
Curran is vastly over rated and the constant talk about him being a test player and a ‘quality batsmen’ or ‘Could be top six bat’ is jsut mind blowing.. he’s literally not shown ANYTHING to suggest that is the case.. He literally came off ONCE … since then… literally bugger all..
He’s a golden arm granted but are we seriously basing a test front line seamer on ‘being a golden arm’…. If so.. that’s laughable for the ECB and the England set up
A piece of advice James. Respect for the opposite sex will make you more popular with them! Taking time out of a cricket report to have a go at a few exes is not the path of a gent. Just saying. Agree with your enthusiasm for the win but we’ve been here before. Test cricket is all about being tested and that’s only just begun. We’ll see. Many are called. Few are chosen.
Jackie. It wasn’t my intention to have a go at an ex – I’ve edited the line in case others get the wrong idea. I was simply making a joke at my own expense that a girl I used to date, who broke my heart terribly by the way, turned out to be a lesbian later in life. The fact our relationship didn’t work out is no slight on her at all. I’ve got no beef with her or any other girl I’ve ever dated. My wife regularly takes the mickey out me that an ex-girlfriend ended up marrying a girl. She says it was probably me who turned her off men! It was just a joke and I severely doubt anyone who knows me will twig who the girl is anyway.
Well the ECB have just published the prices for the 100. County Members get priority booking! Yipee! And its free for all those under 5’s that are champing at the bit in mum’s arms. So much for the ECB’s enthusiasm for test cricket.
Wood won’t last a five day test, he’s a walking injury. Overatted unless he bowls flat out which he’s done maybe twice. Otherwise can’t move the ball. I’m not convinced Woakes is fully fit but despite the Curran dis-likers he offers something different, left arm. To me a good number 8. And don’t forget Tom Curran, as good a bowler as Woakes, bats at 9 and rarely gets injured.
will they pay me £1000 to attend?? If not.. absolutely not interested
The issue with Curran is that he bowls at an average of circa 78mph and has only two balls – the inswinger and the one that holds its line; no swing the other way and never a seam movement. Sometimes you have to look beyond the luck and at the ability. When Woakes averaged over 80mph and could swing and seam it both ways he was told to add speed. Ask yourself why this does not apply in Curran’s case. As for Tom Curran; a good county seamer, but nothing more. If we want to select a medium pace seamer I still prefer Porter of Essex to either of the Currans. I agree about Woods; just like Stone he has injury issues and, if a bat is not intimidated by pure pace (and Woods has dropped 3-4mph) he has no other weapons. I am not sure what the issue is with today’s fast bowlers when past quickies were so much less prone to injury. Over training possibly – something which is a recognised risk in athletics.
James; such an astute article ……. apart from your opening about the social side of university being overrated. Never had so much fun. I met my wife at uni and just had our 39th wedding anniversary. Same for many of our friends. And I still recall Trinity Hall, Cambridge being labelled ‘The Marriage Bureau’. Much as I enjoy an England win I would never rate it above the good times at uni. :)
Thanks Andy. I actually loved university. It was a very happy time of my life. I was just kidding!