Gradually Slipping – Day 2 at the SGC

Well, I enjoyed the first session. It was possibly the most entertaining passage of play all series. England’s tail knew they wouldn’t be able to survive for long, so they basically threw the bat at everything and hoped for the best. The fact we almost scraped up to 350 was a minor miracle. It’s just a shame that we used up five days worth of luck in the process.

But can one really call it ‘luck’ when Australia fielded in such comic fashion? After Steve Smith flew to his left and caught Malan one-handed at second slip – a brilliant effort – the Aussies dropped two catches most village third XI players would snare. Cummins dropped a dolly at mid-on, which was bad enough, but then Hazlewood dropped an absolute clanger at mid-wicket. He didn’t even get a hand on it. He looked like a blind seal vainly flapping at a wet fish.

Fortunately Tom Curran and then Stuart Broad were able to capitalise on the hilarity – the bizarre nature of which must have had cynics wondering about spot fixing. Curran played a number of impressive shots and proved he has some talent with the bat. He’s not quite a test number eight but there’s something to work with. Broad, meanwhile, was waiting for the short ball and managed to plunder a few boundaries.

Overall, however, I felt that England’s 348 was about one hundred runs short of par. It was fun while it lasted but one sensed that Australia were always in the driving seat. The fact they finished today on 193-2, with the pitch looking very flat, seems ominous. England will be disappointed that Usman Khawaja, of all people, is approaching a hundred. After Mitchell Marsh scored a hundred at Perth, a ton for Khawaja here would really rub salt in the wounds and raise question marks about England’s attack.

Before I sign off I’d quickly like to mention England’s two spinners. What did you make of Mason Crane? From what I’ve seen he bowled a few bad balls but overall looked comfortable enough on the big stage. He got the ball to turn a bit too, which is good to see after the buffet diet served up by Mo this winter.

If England give Crane a run in the side now – and that’s very possible with games against New Zealand, India, and then Sri Lanka and the West Indies to come – could this be the end of Mo’s test career? Unfortunately I think it could.

I’ve been Mo’s biggest supporter over the years. I reminded everyone on Twitter that he look 24 wickets at 16 against South Africa last summer. Plus I worked out a few months ago that Mo’s strike rate was briefly better than Graeme Swann’s after his man of the match performance at Lord’s in July. However, we cannot afford to keep picking a spinner who only performs at home.

Moeen averages a respectable 33 in England, but 65 in India, 49 in South Africa, 49 in the UAE, and 152 in this series thus far. That means he’s let us down four winters in a row. It’s all very well chipping in at home, but the team needs a reliable spinner abroad more than they do on England’s greenish pitches (when there’s more assistance for our seamers).

I’ve heard it argued that England have nobody better, so Mo must keep playing. But the ‘there is no alternative’ argument doesn’t stack up for one simple reason: unfortunately Mo hasn’t improved one bit in his four years as an international bowler. Indeed, one could argue that his best series performance came back in 2013 against India at home.

As a result, England need to invest in someone new – someone who might actually improve. When Australia first picked Nathan Lyon he wasn’t particularly effective but he’s gradually grown into a top quality international spinner. Perhaps Mason Crane is that viable alternative prospect we’ve been hoping for? Or perhaps it’s Jack Leach or Dom Bess?

Mo’s batting has also been really disappointing on this tour and I no longer believe he’s capable of holding down a spot as a batsman alone. His innings yesterday was quite frankly embarrassing. it was one of those when it might have been better to get a golden duck (because getting out early can happen to anyone). Mo is a sitting duck against the short ball, and his shot selection has never been particularly good.

I’ve watched Moeen at Worcs since he was a nipper, and I always thought he was brilliant to watch but ultimately too loose to be a consistent performer at the highest level. It’s why his first class average is only 38.

It pains me to say this, as Mo is occasionally capable of playing superbly, but if he’s not good enough to get in the side as either a batsman or a bowler, is he a luxury the team can afford? It might be time to look for someone with less style but more substance.

James Morgan


  • It’s the old adage again. Jack of all trades, master on none. At test level I feel you should always go for the best specialists. England have gone for iffy bits and pieces cricketers for decades, a defensive tactic at best and one of the main reasons they win so rarely. You have to bowl a side out twice to win. The problem is with the dominance of white ball game now there are so few specialists to choose from. Players are encouraged to be versatile, a euphemism for functional. This even applies to fitness. So many players, especially bowlers, seem to have issues getting through a test unscathed these days. Cricketers use muscles not often used in other activities. Batting is an unnatural form of hitting and bowling of throwing. Too much time in the gym and not enough in the nets, urged on by fanatical personal trainers who can’t see any downside to their activities as they bulk out in the wrong places, so they can hit the ball further, like modern day baseball players. In my view no training should be done without either bat or ball. I hate seeing a team play five a side as warm up for a days play. Use cricket equipment!!!

  • I agree about Ali, and have been saying it for a while.

    In England he’s fine. He can be the all-rounder at 6 (where 33 is a perfectly acceptable average for someone who can bowl a lot of overs), or play the Giles role at 8. Spinners don’t, often, win you matches in England. As an all rounder he allows you to play 4 quicks, which is England is great.

    But away from home England need a match-winning spinner, and for whatever reason, Ali has only once (Bangladesh) been able to conjur up decent bowling performances.

    The mystery is how he can serve up such a brilliant bowling performance against South Africa. Last time a spinner took 25 or more wickets for England in a 4 Test series was the great Mr Wardle in 1956!

  • James, a minor detail: Crane is so far wicketless after 17 overs, with a worse economy rate than Moeen. That could change, of course, but no matter how good he looks it’s extremely early days and he’s yet to deliver a performance.
    You’re right up to a point about Moeen. He should certainly be dropped on the simple basis of poor form – the argument that doing so would weaken the batting just doesn’t stand up at the moment – but I’d still be reluctant to write him off for ever and a day, at least not quite yet. Dropping him after this game would probably be a kindness though as he clearly needs an opportunity to sort himself out to whatever extent he can. His overseas form is definitely iffy, but this must be the worst series of his career and I suspect the main issue at the moment might be as simple as burn out. Given the schedule over the last couple of years it was almost inevitable that one or more of the all format players was going to buckle under the strain.

  • I love Mo as a character but I find it telling that across tests in UAE & subcontinent his bowling record is basically the same as Rashid. If we’d have given Adil the same amount of faith & bowling time, what might have been? (Mo has more potential than Rashid as a batsman, but that’s no way to select the main spinner IMO.)

    • Not to mention that leggies tend to do better in Oz than finger spinners. Plus Rashid did well on Australian pitches in the Big Bash … yes a completely different game but it shows he can cope with the crowds and get joy from the surfaces. Apparently, however, the management thought Rashid was too soft mentally to cope with the Ashes though.

    • No. His (Ali’s) record is inferior.

      I’d take the additional runs Rashid conceded for the wickets he took (38 vs. 30). England need 20 wickets to win Test matches and take 20 wickets far too infrequently.

      Ali has Test tons. He’s more than good enough to knuckle down and bat at 5. Problem is Malan is at 5. If there was a space at 5, and he (Ali) had some time away to recharge, I’d have him in at 5 in a heartbeat.

      • Ali is nowhere even close to being good enough to even be considered for a test match batting slot. This is why englsnd will continue to fail, people over rate these players.

        He scores runs when it’s flat and crap.. when it’s hard he goes missing. If you want to keep rewarding such mediocrity then so be it

  • I think Moeen could go back to the role he played at Lords in 2017 Vs SA where he is the second spinner but pick a more rounded spinner bowler than Dawson like Leach or continue to invest in Crane. It would mean Malan or Root going to three and the Stokes, Bairstow, Moeen axis starting at five rather than six its not ideal but it allows Root more bowling options and keeps Moeen who has four hundreds in the last two years.

    Its disadvantage is losing a specialist bat at five which could be used to blood a new player but England using all rounders to play more batsmen hasn’t worked at blooding anyone. It would keep a player who has been a success and contributor in the side, England will want two spinners in Sri Lanka and Moeen could bat higher in the order that series depends on what happens with the specialists bats in the summer.

    I also have the feeling that Moeen has been let down again by the setup, he needed to be dropped but there is so little cover on this tour he has been required to play. If Rashid or Patel had been here I doubt he would have played at Melbourne, and England picked a spare batsmen in Ballance they are not prepared to play

    • Nick. If Moeen is to justify his place at 5 (in that scenario he’s replacing your number 5 batsman) he has to justify it on the basis of his batting. Picking 6 bowlers is crazy. 5 is ample. 4 plus Malan should be sufficient.

      He’s proven he’s a good enough batsman to do it. But he has to prove he’s in form.

      • Ali hasn’t proven it at all. This over rating of players and not being himest in accepting their failings another reason why we produce poor test quality players.

        Ali is a solid county pro. Nothing more, nothing less. Sod off bakc to worcs and resembles up the cc and prove how poor county Cricket is

        • Ali may not be a test class bat yet, but to suggest he’s nothing more than a solid county pro is ludicrous. I’ve seen him bat a few times and in form, if there’s a sweeter timer of the ball in England I’ve yet to see him. You can’t coach that. What you can the coach is the mental toughness and technique, he currently lacks. He is a special talent that needs some work. Personally, I would encourage him to specialise and drop the spinning. Whenever he is interviewed he comes accross as a serous minded cricketer eager to improve. That is a good start.

  • Thinking about it, the worst thing about this Ashes series is that we knew before it started that the players selected weren’t going to win the series. There was no genuinely quick bowler, the only leg spinner on the tour was a rookie (and I thought Crane caused the batsmen problems), there were worries over the batting selection, and Stokes wasn’t playing (only the last is outside the selectors’ control). OK, no one thought Broad was going to bowl like a drain in the first 3 games (he was one of the few “successes” of 2013/4), we hoped Alastair Cook would be able to score runs when it mattered, we thought Root could make a daddy hundred or 2, we thought Moeen might manage a run or a wicket. The whole thing has felt like the cricketing equivalent of watching Man U play Man City a few weeks ago. Only one side turned up looking like they wanted to win (rather than not lose).

    • Well did we expect the convicts to collapse in a puddle of their own wee just because Broad showed up? He took plenty of wickets when he was bowling high 80s. Why did anyone think he’d be effective when he’s lost pace?

      Granted we didn’t really know he’d lost pace.. Or I hadn’t noticed it anyway, though you’d think all those pointless boffins we employ should have done. If they didn’t then what are they paid for?

      How many boffins does the ECB actually employ?

      There’s been some good things… Well mainly typo. I thought Malan and Vince were mistakes, was only half right. :)

      • I’d almost forgotten what cricket was like on a pitch with some pace it’s been so long.

        The pudding pitches CA have served up this winter have been atrocious.

  • Mo has had a bad tour.

    Personally I didn’t expect him to have a good one with his bowling but I think someone has been meddling with him. 2 coaches 7 different opinions and all that malarky.

    He’s only 30 and will learn from it. Plus there’s no finer batsman to watch than Moeen in full flight. Doubt I’d be taking him down to Australia next time but then again I doubt I’d be looking at many finger spinners, Bess and Leach included.

    Crane had a slightly nervous start. A hint of hooking in his early overs. He’s certainly making chances though Bairstow looks as though he’s never met Crane before never mind kept to him. Which makes me wonder what they’ve been doing in the nets as he looks good keeping to Moeen.Was surprised he didn’t go for the pop up a few yards down the wicket and the edge that went between him and slip would have been in his gloves if he’d gone with the bat.

    Mason is bowling pretty well but… I still think there’s another 20 or 30 percent to come. Nice changes of pace, decent revs but he needs a wicket to settle himself down I think. Like he’s asking permission of the batsmen to get them out rather than imposing himself upon them. I’m being deliberately harsh as I think he’s good enough to rip through a side when he gets it all right. He is bowling against the highest rated bat since Bradman of course! And on a wicket which is pretty darn flat. I’ve seen him bowling a bit quicker and with more action on the ball but as Warne always advised the first job for a leggie is to keep yourself on. And given England’s penchant for sacrificing a young leggy to the journalistic gods it’s a pretty good approach.

    Still the series would have been infinitely more interesting and much closer if he’d played in Brisbane. All of those passages of play where we had to get the set convict out and utterly failed while tinkering with our fourth seamer or worrying about Moeen’s finger. They were all spinning wickets, even the Waca offered reasonable purchase. I doubt Lyon would be the leading spinner in the series had they taken the plunge earlier..

    I’d like to see Malan at the other end in tandem together with at least one more close catcher. He’s a strangely accurate leggy, a bit of a curio. Might well be a good foil. Could be my eyes playing tricks but Khawaja seems to be farming the strike to keep Smith away.

  • “Usman Khawaja, of all people, is approaching a hundred… a ton for Khawaja here would really rub salt in the wounds”.

    A bloke with a Test career average in the 40s and five Test centuries (only one of which can be called a bit soft) can bat a bit. Okay, he’s not Bradman – but he’s not Karun Nair either!

    • I hope our Australian cousins have the ‘pleasure’ of watching him bat for a decade yet. And I mean an actual decade, not just how long it feels whilst he’s in the middle. :)

  • Hello everyone. My name is Parsnip Wanken-Walsh. I’m English, although I was born in South Africa. I am a huge fan of the English cricket team.

    I don’t mind being beaten. In fact, I’m going to spend the next month explaining why being beaten doesn’t even matter. After all, we’re still better than the convicts, regardless of the result.

    Everyone knows the Ashes isn’t about who plays cricket better. It’s about administrators. I don’t care about the actual playing of cricket when we lose to Australia. I just talk about the administrators. Forget what happens on the pitch. Forget the actual sport. It’s the administrators that really get me going!

    Some Australians say Australians are just better, on average, at cricket. I don’t accept that. I blame the ECB.

  • Ghastly colours, ghoulish themes, a graveyard to bowl on. Sickening sentimentality meets soporific virtue signalling.

    The Ashes were meant to represent the death of English cricket, maybe we’re watching the death of test cricket instead?

    Dead pitches, dead boring, dead predictable and some dead lass who married some fast bowler or other. If Bill Lawry was a corpse with pads on then Khawaja is his dead ringer.

    Course the Indians and Saffers are ripping it up elsewhere so there’s life in the old dog yet. Not here though.

  • England would do a lot better if Loughborough spent more time teaching people to bowl behind the line. Crane’s almost caught and bowled would have also been a no ball by even more than the almost lbw.

      • I’m starting to think that Tom is the ECB’s fault.

        No interest or knowledge of the cricket, seems to post seconds after James puts up a new post, repeating his mantra constantly.

        Only, indeed, interested in defending the hapless ECB. Which if you think about it is rather an odd thing for a supposed convict to do. As indeed is it for a supposed convict to search out an English cricket blog.

  • Crane far and away a more dangerous bowler than Mo. While they both only took a wicket each Crane generated lots more plays and misses and near chances.

  • A few words about Mo, a Worcester player and a very fine bloke. He’s a very co-operative guy, moving up and down the order at the whim of England’s management, who still seem unclear as to what they want from him. Not content with destroying his confidence, England allowed the spin bowling coach to return home after only 2 Tests. Who does Mo turn to for advice? I don’t know. He ‘s played in all formats and is no doubt knackered. To add to his problems, Steve Rhodes, with whom Mo enjoyed a close relationship, has left Worcester. Mo can be an inspirational player but also careless and lacking in steely determination. It’s very frustrating. If his England career is effectively over, we will at least see more of him in Worcester colours.
    But don’t for one moment imagine that Mason Crane, who sounds like something one would fine on a construction site, is the answer’s to England’s prayers.

    • Moeen always seems to bowl better when there’s a spin bowling coach around. Yet he always goes home after a few weeks on tour. It’s a ridiculous state of affairs.


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