Quite a lot has happened this week. There’s been some on-field developments, with England thrashing Pakistan in the first ODI, plus some significant individual performances in the county championship too. There’s also a couple of off-field talking points we should sink our teeth into as well.
We’ll start with England’s win at the Rose Bowl. Basically England were too good for Pakistan in all departments. This wasn’t really a shock. Although Pakistan have some very good players (particularly in the bowling attack) they just can’t seem to get things together in 50 over cricket. England, on the other hand, look a thoroughly modern and dynamic side.
What struck me most was Pakistan’s approach to their innings. It seemed so old fashioned and pedestrian. It was like watching England under Ashley Giles or Peter Moores: their blueprint was to bat cautiously at the beginning, keep wickets in hand, and then try to accelerate towards 260 or 280 at the death.
I’m really surprised that a team coached by Micky Arthur appeared so anachronistic. Have they not been paying attention? 300 is now a par score in ODIs. One could argue it’s 320 or even 350 when the pitch is good (as it was on Wednesday). England’s attacking batting order was never going to be seriously challenged by a score requiring less than a run a ball.
England’s ODI side look in really good shape at the moment. They didn’t field brilliantly but they still won at a canter. Jason Roy played a superb little knock (some of his shots are completely unique to him, which is somewhat reminiscent of another South African who used to play for England), while Mark Wood’s bowling gives our ODI attack a cutting edge it’s lacked in recent times. Unless Pakistan can raise their game, and find a way to take wickets regularly, this series might end up being rather one-sided.
The race for England test places, by contrast, looks like it will go down to the wire. There are so many batting places up for grabs, and so many batsmen competing for these places, that the race for the championship has a very intriguing subplot indeed.
The pot was stirred earlier in the week when news broke that Ian Bell has been offered a contract to play for the Perth Scorchers in this winter’s Big Bash. This has brought the ‘Bell for England’ issue to a head, as he’ll need to give Perth an answer before England’s winter tour squads are announced.
Because Bell is obviously facing a bit of a dilemma, the Warwickshire skipper had a one-on-one meeting with Trevor Bayliss a few days ago. Apparently England’s head coach wanted to assess his appetite to return to test cricket.
Although this is an intriguing development, one wonders how meetings like this go? Presumably Bayliss says ‘fancy playing ahead of James Vince in India, Belly?’ to which not-so-young Ian either replies “on your bike you Aussie git, I’m still sore that you dropped me in the first place”, or “yes please Mr Bayliss, sir”.
I can’t imagine for a second that the meeting would’ve gone ahead if Bell was going to say ‘get lost’; therefore the exercise will surely become one of eye reading. Bayliss will have to decide if there’s a glint in Ian’s eye and fire in his ‘Belly’.
Unfortunately for Bell, he’s never been the most animated of players, so he’s probably at a slight disadvantage. He could be as passionate as hell about playing for England again, but possibly end up giving the impression that he’d rather be sunning himself on a sun-lounger down under while the Freemantle Doctor gently blows though his quasi-ginger locks.
The best place for Bell to do his talking, of course, is on the pitch. So how did he do in Warwickshire’s first innings against Durham? Well, he did what’s he’s pretty much been doing all season: looking good for 45 before getting out. This was something of a trend for England candidates this week: James Hildreth made 40, Daniel Bell-Drummond made 65, and Haseeb Hameed got in twice but also failed to make a big score.
Thus far, the big loser this week has been James Vince, who was dismissed for a duck. It never rains; it pours eh James. The big winner, on the other hand, has been Gary Ballance, who put his failure in Yorkshire’s first innings behind him to register an unbeaten century in the second dig. Well played Gary. There’s hope for you yet.
The two main stories off the pitch are controversial in different ways. The first big story is that England’s tour to Bangladesh will indeed go ahead. Apparently the PCA’s David Leatherdale and the ECB’s John Carr, who visited the country last week, are satisfied with the security arrangements and believe our players will be safe.
Sending Leatherdale was a particularly shrewd move as he’s a dead ringer for Mr Bean and consequently gets mobbed wherever he goes. It bodes extremely well that Leathers made it back to Blighty in one piece … although apparently he lost his shorts while jumping into a swimming pool and had considerable difficulty putting them on at the beach.
On a more serious note, it’s interesting that the ECB have given players permission to skip the tour if they feel uncomfortable about going. On one hand I applaud Andrew Strauss for this. After all, it’s a sympathetic approach that shows empathy. On the other hand it sends slightly mixed signals: either Bangladesh is completely safe or it isn’t. If I was a player, I’d be somewhat confused.
Finally, it has been revealed that Warwickshire, who seem to be one of the more experimental counties, want to play their championship match against Lancashire in late September under lights with a pink ball. It’s all part of their plan to stage the first day-night test in England when the West Indies visit next year. The Bears obviously want to use the Lancashire match as a trial run.
Apparently they recently staged a second XI fixture at Edgbaston under lights to see if the idea was feasible. Both teams made over 300 in the first innings, so it wasn’t a complete farce, although the teams were slightly unhappy that the pink ball scuffed up very easily and was impossible to shine. Maybe they’ll need to use a different ball at each end like the do in ODIs?
It will be interesting to keep an eye on this story. Personally I have my doubts whether day-night tests are viable in the UK’s climate. The weather has been particularly good recently but this isn’t always the case. We rarely get prolonged spells of balmy weather, when it’s fun to be outside outside after 9pm, so the idea might well fall flat on its face. What do you think?