This game was supposed to be the Ben Stokes show. He is the world’s leading all-rounder after all. But is he? We’re all forgetting the bloke who’s actually the world’s best all-rounder according to the rankings. His name? Jason Holder.
It’s easy to see why Stokes gets all the attention. He rises to the big occasion and he’s an extremely aggressive cricketer who makes things happen. What’s more, he plays for one of the ‘big three’ wealthy nations. That always helps.
However, statistically there’s very little to separate him from the Windies captain who averages less with the bat (33 opposed to Stokes’s 37) but gives his team far more with the ball – an admirable average of 26. That’s a smidge better than Jimmy Anderson let alone Ben Stokes.
Holder is a contrasting cricketer though. He’s lower profile, less aggressive, but extremely erudite. Rather than making things happen with the ball he puts the cherry in the right areas and waits for things to happen. Although perhaps this does him a disservice. After all, he’s extremely skilful. He knows that relentless accuracy, movement off the seam, and his ability to make the ball bounce off a length is a fantastic recipe for wickets. Who needs a golden arm when you can out-think or out-last the batsman?
Also a fine leader and role model, Holder’s 6-42 yesterday put his team in pole position to win this Test match. England really needed more than the one wicket on day two. The weather is set fair for the next few days so batting should be a lot easier. If the Windies can bat solidly – and I admit this is a big ‘if’ – then they should compile a match defining lead. England will need something equally special from one of their bowlers to keep them in the game today.
England’s collapse yesterday from 48-1 to 157-8 was a stark reminder that we’re exactly the same side we’ve been for the last few years. The lockdown didn’t change anything. We just sort of, erm, forgot. In fact, the pitiful performance of England’s top order felt reassuringly familiar in a way. The new normal seems remarkably like the old normal.
So where did it all go wrong? Holder was brilliant but once again we hardly helped ourselves. When conditions suit the bowlers as they did on day 2 – I don’t think we have to worry about the Dukes ball swinging in a saliva-free environment anymore – England’s batting looks hopeless.
If we examine the individual wickets then a number of players contributed to their own downfall. Sibley left a ball that hit his off peg, Burns stepped across his stumps a tad too much, Denly was bowled neck and crop (a terrible look for any batsman), and Stokes nicked a good ball but his bat came down slightly crooked. It’s also worth mentioning that the temporary skipper was dropped twice after playing bad shots. One could say his 43 was actually 43-3.
The only batsmen who didn’t contribute to their own demise were Pope, who was undone by a beauty, and Buttler. The latter played positively for his 35 – which should be enough to keep him in the team for the next twenty or thirty years.
The only other bright spot in the batting was young Dom Bess, who’s rapidly turning into something a fan’s favourite. He batted with a lot of determination and gave England’s total some respectability. I think Bess shows a lot of promise with the willow. He’ll be a very handy Test number eight.
After being bowled out quickly, England needed a hatful of wickets while conditions stayed overcast. Sadly, although we bowled decently, we failed to make the requisite breakthroughs. Jimmy Anderson swung the ball well, and displayed many of his trademark skills, but only picked up the wicket of Campbell. Meanwhile, Wood and Archer bowled rapidly but found little assistance from the sluggish surface. Who’d have thunk it?
I wonder what Stuart Broad made of their performance? Somehow I think Broad might have thrived in the conditions yesterday. But England’s management knows best.
The decision to bat after winning the toss also looks like a potential error now too. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course, but if the Windies bat decently under sunny skies today then we could be in a spot of bother. Fortunately, however, batting last won’t be easy if there’s inconsistent bounce around.
Unfortunately, I feel we will be batting last, as I fear/predict the West Indies will amass a 200+ lead
Archer and Wood have the pace but as often bowled too short. They didn’t learn from his the Windies bowled. Personally I would have not played one of them and picked Woakes who also strengthens the batting or Broad either of which would be more suited to this wicket. With 9,10,11 being Archer, Wood and Anderson yogurt effectively got three number 11’s. Archer number 9? Never, but all in all its pretty meaningless and hollow really.
No test side should be picking anyone at 8+ to ‘strengthen the batting’.. if the best bowler can bat great but pick your best or most suitable to the conditions bowler.
Woakes r broad should be playing as conditions don’t suit out and out pace but they are now obsessed with pace
Horses for courses, guys, horses for courses. I keep hearing about how Old Trafford will be better for Wood and Archer, so why play them both at Southampton? Broad should have been there in place of one of them. And Woakes, or even Sam Curran, in place of the other, with all that rain leaving a bit of moisture around to make the ball swing.
Right now it feels like if we were to play in Sri Lanka tomorrow we’d go in with a bowling attack of Anderson, Broad, Archer and Wood. With Moeen in place of Denly if we wanted a spinner to “hold up one end”.
And don’t get me started on Buttler. I really wanted him to fail miserably yesterday for the greater good. I’ll be nice and say it’s because he’s the most destructive limited overs batsman in the world and should therefore be that squad.
I’ve been itching to see Wood and Archer in combination for England. They were excellent during the World Cup, and I think they could give us the cutting edge we’ve often lacked overseas. However, I didn’t think now was the right time for them to play together. With the overcast skies, and home advantage, you really need the bowlers best suited to exploiting very specific conditions. Broad should have played – especially when one factors in the injury clouds above Archer / Wood. It would’ve made more sense to pick one out-and-out quick for each game and rotate them.
Holder was superb yesterday, and yes, a few of the England batters were culpable as well. The England pacers need to get into their heads that this is a pitch on which they must bowl a fuller length than normal. Crawley and Denly both need big scores in the second innings – I would have picked Dan Lawrence at no4 in this game anyway, dropping Denly, and my inclination if Crawley fails to deliver the goods second time round would be to opt for two new caps in the next match, bringing in both Lawrence and James Bracey for the two Kent batters. Certainly if Denly, whose test average has now dropped below 30 and who is already 34 years old, does not produce something big second time round the axe must fall on him.
Two bad decisions by England – to leave out Broad and to choose to bat. I’d say the latter, given the weather conditions on Wednesday & forecast for Thursday, would have raised eyebrows if some other teams had done this in the past!
The key thing for me about yesterday was the way the WI bowlers maintained their discipline, focus and went back to basics when Stokes and Buttler were beginning to get on top of them. I can think of a few WI sides in recent years who would have started to look a bit ragged especially after Stokes had been dropped twice. Holder must take much of the credit for that, along with Simmons who as his primary task is doing exactly what Fletcher first did with England : making his side more difficult to beat.
They don’t have that sheer raw ability of many WI sides of yore, but coach and captain have got them playing as a cohesive unit.
Unless the conditions are obviously well in favour of bowling I would opt for the Ritchie Benaud philiosophy every time. ‘If you win the toss, think about fielding, then bat’. Batting last is always going to be more difficult than batting first.
James, please stop using stats to justify ability. Without context they are a dubious reference at best. Are you really saying that on a general level you would pick Holder in preference to Stokes in any team. A brave man if you would.
Can’t believe folk on this blog are considering dropping players already. We’ve had 1 innings in difficult batting conditions against a decent attack with dodgy preparation. Does anyone really believe some young Turk is going to appear from nowhere at this level and produce hundreds, just because he looks the part at county level. Give the present crop a run. At present Denley’s time spent at the crease is as valuable as a big score, as apart from Burns no one looks as likely to blunt an attack. I don’t hear anyone getting at Pope for his iffy effort yesterday.
Not suggesting that I’d pick Holder over Stokes at all. I was merely pointing out that Holder’s abilities are often overlooked.
I didn’t use statistics to ‘justify’ any argument. I said Stokes offers more with the bat and Holder more with the ball. The stats support this very obvious observation but they’re hardly needed to make the argument. It’s as plain as the nose on Bill Lawry’s face.
I published an article last week which argues that stats aren’t everything and they undervalue Ben Stokes. However, stats can be a useful guide and they’re still the only thing cricket analysts have other than purely subjective opinion.
Stokes isn’t under valued at all. He’s got better with the bat recently which is in contrast to his average but Lets not pretend he would get in thr side as a bowler (unlike Flintoff etc) and that his batting before the last little while has been anything other than mercurial .. an average of 35 ish is earnt after all.. just like the great undroppaboe Bairstow
Agree Stokes isn’t undervalued, most opposition captains see him as our key player, above Root or the in vogue Archer. Flintoff, towards the end of his career became a class act with the ball, but he would never have got into the side as a batsman, so in that sense he and Stokes are very similar, it’s just a different discipline they’re best at. Oh and for the record Stokes is a much better all round fielder too.
To me Holder did very little special with the ball to get his 6 wickets. Obviously being 6″ taller than Stokes helps him create more bounce, but even as a bowler Stokes is capable by sheer force of personality, a lot like Botham, of making things happen. I would dispute Holder is that sort of Cricketer. On a flat Batsmans track with no swing or seam I’d rather have a Stokes in the locker any day.
I’m a fan of Holder and what he’s done with the new Windies set up is a great achievement, but I still say he’s a bowler who bats and not a genuine all rounder, whatever the stats say.
Agree with this on denly and pope etc. Denly has shown a willingness to dig in which is missing from 99% of cricketers and Is what is required in test cricket. A flashy dasher isn’t required.. we have that in root, Stokes, Pope at 4/5/6.
Pope was dire so if we are going to throw bats under the bus.. let’s throw the fan favourites too!, no duel standards please.
Stokes is a different player to holder .. the same as shakib is to totally different to them both
I’d much rather you used statistics–which, whatever the drawbacks of some uses of them, are merely a way of codifying ability–than relied on the “he’s better because I think so” approach. That quite often says more about the national loyalties of some cricket watchers than it does about the players concerned.
I’m still not really sure WHY you think that Holder is so obviously inferior to Stokes, Marc. You seem to suggest that the statistics have been taken out of context–but what, then, is the context? You’ve posted elsewhere that Holder’s batting average is distorted by his double-hundred in Bridgetown–but so is Stokes’s by his Cape Town innings: if you take each of these away, Holder still has a better average differential than Stokes.
You’ve suggested elsewhere that Holder is more a good bowler who can wield the long handle–but his strike rate in tests is almost the same as Stokes’s, so does the same apply to Stokes’s batting?
You seem to be implying that Stokes is more a player for a crisis or a really tense situation (actually, I think I have that impression too)–but is that actually borne out by their performances or is it the result of an England-centred focus on a few occasions where Stokes has done that?
Anyway, it’s all a bit academic outside the context of Eng-WI matches because the real best all-rounder is still twiddling his thumbs and contemplating his stupidity/naivety in not telling the ICC that dodgy match-fixing types were sniffing around him!!