Fluffy Pillow Or Guava Fruit?

After England’s run glut on day one of their warm up match at Whangarei it was the bowlers’ turn to get stuck in on Wednesday. Unfortunately, however, they got stuck rather than stuck in.

It was an all too familiar tale when England travel overseas and the bowlers are handed a Kookaburra ball. The opposition changes but the result is frequently the same.

This time it was three Kiwi kids with just a handful of first class games under their belt that made us blush – 19 year old opener Jakob Bhula, whose previous best score was just eighteen, 21 year old Sandeep Patel, whose Cricinfo profile suggests he hasn’t played a professional game for almost a year, and 20 year old Finn Allen, who’s played 8 first class games and currently averages all of 22.

Although Allen in particular is highly rated and has played for New Zealand U19s on several occasions, England should be very worried indeed that a player of such limited experience can cruise to 104 off just 130 balls against an attack featuring four nailed-on starters for the first test. This might be just a low intensity warm-up game, and perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into proceedings, but if I was an international bowler I would’ve been too proud to let these perceived upstarts amass 285-4.

At the end of play England’s struggles in the field were explained in familiar terms: the pitch offered little assistance and the Kookaburra went soft after thirty or forty overs. But is this really enough of an excuse? After all, this is exactly what happens every time we tour the Antipodes. We should’ve expected conditions like this.

The bottom line is that England should be building a team that can compete when the ball doesn’t swing. It’s slightly concerning, therefore, that the main debate surrounding the makeup of the Test team is whether Sam Curran or Chris Woakes will be chosen as our 3rd seamer.

Unfortunately neither of these bowlers have encouraging records overseas: Woakes averages over 60 and Curran over 100. They’re both useful bowlers in English conditions, and they’re both fine all-round cricketers, but they don’t really have the pace or bounce to be successful with a Kookaburra ball.

I hate to say it but choosing between Woakes and Curran is like deciding whether to go into battle against a well equipped army with either a fluffy pillow or guava fruit as one’s weapon of choice. Neither is going to do any damage.

The problem, of course, is that England don’t really have any alternatives at the mo. Although I believe Ed Smith now recognises that England need pace and high quality spin to take twenty wickets in benign conditions, injuries have deprived the squad of Mark Wood, who made such a difference in the Caribbean earlier this year, Olly Stone, who impressed against Ireland but seems destined to spend the best part of his career on a treatment table, and indeed Jimmy Anderson who has the skills and accuracy to threaten on most surfaces.

Woakes or Curran it is then.

It was also slightly frustrating that England’s spinners had a day to forget. Jack Leach usually offers both wicket-taking potential and control but bowled 15 wicketless overs whilst conceding over 4 runs per over. Meanwhile, Matt Parkinson struggled to extend his promising performances in the T20s into this game. He’ll need time.

At least, however, England’s batsmen will be feeling pleased with themselves. After Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley filled their boots on Tuesday, Olle Pope, Jos Buttler, and Ben Stokes all made scores in excess of 30 as England set up their declaration.

One thing that hasn’t helped England’s bowlers in recent times is a lack of scoreboard pressure. If we can finally start posting large totals in the first innings then the bowlers’ job will become a lot easier. This game is a bit different, of course, as a result was never likely in just a two-day fixture.

Let’s hope for a better performance in the field when the next warm-up starts.

James Morgan

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  • Is this just a matter of a very flat pitch helping the batsmen but not the bowlers? Will the pitches be like that for the two Test tour? NZ seem keen on more sporty pitches. If they’ve got any sense that’s what they will prepare.

    • Even if it’s a flat pitch I’d still expect an attack that includes 3 or 4 first choice Test bowlers to knock over a team full of unproven kids. That’s what’s worrying. Just because a pitch is flat doesn’t mean a batting side is guaranteed to score runs.

      The pitches in the Test matches may offer a little more swing but we still need to learn how to take wickets on benign surfaces eventually. It’s one of the big steps we need to take as a team if we’re to climb up the world rankings.

  • Couple of bits of CC news – The Times reckons transfer fees are imminent and the Mail gathers that the CC schedule next year is being re-drafted to scrap that last round of fixtures scheduled to finish on Sept 30th. The transfer fee would come in just after Yorkshire snaffled Malan who had 2 years on his contract – who’d a thunk it?

    As for NZ, I’d point out their pitches have changed quite a bit in recent years with more use of drop-ins. It’s still a bit of a graveyard for visiting spinners though – the records of some of the best are pretty dreaful there this decade (only Maharaj was much of an exception).

  • Without Broad and Anderson, our mainstays of recent years, the cupboard has been looking bear for a while. The Currans are massively overrated in red ball, Parkinson is stilll a novice and Woakes seems to have been struggling for some time now.
    I agree about us putting together decent first innings totals, but where do twenty wickets come from against any half decent batsmen. Archer and Stokes can’t do it all and with all the injury problems the rest of our quickies seem to go down with, who’s to say they will stay fit.

  • Not often I disagree with you, James, but….

    I think you’re making far too much of day 1 of a warm up game. Stuart Broad spent the first half of the summer bowling for Nottinghamshire, keeping it tight but not taking many wickets. One observer (er me) thought he should never be in the test team if he couldn’t get wickets in the championship. But when the time came he bowled better than ever and kicked poor little Davie Warner from Leeds to London. Similarly Joffra Archer might have looked at his 2020 diary and decided a warm up game was just that.

    I also don’t see the attack lacks variety. That Archer fellow seems quite quick to me. Broad is hardly a stereotypical English seamer and Stoakes brings, weird action pace and swings the ball. Woakes is more an average seamer but Curran gives left arm variety and Leach is a decent, though I accept not exceptional, spinner. You’re also (as ever) underestimating the brilliance of Ed Smith who has reached into Lancashire twos to add variety to the squad. Alongside Matt Parkinson’s donkey drops we have Saquib Mahmood who alo bowls in a way the New Zealand batsmen won’t have seen before in test cricket. All bases covered.
    And its a straight pernicious stats red card for using Sam Currans overseas average, based on a sample of 4 games, as if it meant something.

    • Archer will be a difference maker for sure. He was used sparingly in this innings and had by far the best figures. Had it been a test match then I’m sure he would’ve had a real go at Finn.

      The article was mainly referring to the inability of the other bowlers to take wickets – particularly Curran and Woakes. Yes Curran has only played 4 games but the point remains whether I actually quote his average or not. He’s been very unsuccessful in his 4 overseas outings and it’s perfectly fair to raise this. He’s taken 19 wickets in 7 games at home, but only 2 wickets in 4 games away.

      For what it’s worth I think Curran should get the nod simply because his left-arm provides some variation. However, I wouldn’t get too excited about Mahmood. He was well down on pace in the T20s, looked pretty innocuous, and let’s not forget that he only averaged 30 in div 2 of the championship last summer. He’s got talent but I don’t think he’ll be a difference maker yet.

      Overall I do think England could field a decent attack if everyone is fit and firing but this was not a good performance.

  • What I don’t quite understand – surely the pitches for the Tests will have to have more in them otherwise their attack will be even more toothless than ours? Southee and Boult are top-drawer swing bowlers but would struggle on a totally flat deck just as much as Woakes and Curran, and they don’t have a Jofra (unless you count Ferguson, who is unproven at Test level). Of course last time we came here it hooped round corners in the first Test and we got totally demolished, so you’d hope for a surface reasonably similar to that. Obviously Curran has been fairly average abroad so far but if there’s one place that you’d think should work for him it should be the green(ish) pitches of NZ….


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