Hope in Despair? Day Five at Sharjah

Well, we all knew it was coming. Most of us knew it was coming from the moment the tour was announced. England just weren’t good enough. There’s no point sugar coating it.

The saving grace, however, is that few teams are good enough to compete with Pakistan in the UAE. Losing to this opposition, in these conditions, is no disgrace.

Pakistan duly wrapped up their series win this morning in emphatic fashion. Only Alastair Cook, and for a short time Adil Rashid, offered any resistance. Our middle order was blown away like a tumbleweed in the desert.

There will be plenty of analysis in the coming days – rumour has it that a certain Maxie Allen will be making his EMS! debut tomorrow – but for now I’ll give you my lasting impressions of the series …

Essentially this tour has taught us relatively little. It was interesting enough in the end – it was fascinating to watch a team of young all-rounders try to compete against a battle hardened unit of specialists in alien conditions – but what have we actually learned?

Everyone knew England’s deficiencies before the series: a lack of quality spinners, a brittle middle-order and a Strauss-shaped void at the top of the order. It’s no surprise these vulnerabilities have bitten us in the buttocks.

England remain very much a work in progress: we’ve just slipped to sixth in the world rankings, and we’ve now lost more test matches than we’ve won since the Ashes whitewash in Australia twenty two months ago.

On the one hand, it’s possible to argue that England still haven’t made any progress at all. There’s still no opening partner for Cook; we haven’t adequately replaced Trott and, dare I say it, Pietersen.

Bell’s form has also gone down the plughole. In fact, we’ve probably got more problems now that we had two years ago. We don’t even have an established wicket-keeper these days.

However, there are reasons to be optimistic too. England might have lost this series 0-2 but at least we made Pakistan work for it. We probably shouldn’t compare ourselves to Australia all the time, but Misbah has revealed that Pakistan found England a much harder nut to crack than our antipodean chums.

This England side might have glaring weaknesses, but it has some promise too. Cook and Root are still scoring runs – although obviously they need some help – and for the first time in a long time we boast some promising young cricketers with both talent and attitude: Stokes and Taylor certainly have that all important air of confidence.

The one area that has definitely improved is our seam bowling depth. Anderson and Broad have taken more test wickets than anyone else in the world this year (although England have played far more games than anyone else); they look like they’ve got plenty of juice left in the tank.

Meanwhile Stokes and Wood are feisty change bowlers who give the seam attack more spark and aggression than its had since 2005. Plunkett and Finn, two decent bowlers with some experience, are waiting in the wings should injury strike.

Improvements have also been made off the field. Bayliss is a huge upgrade on Moores, Gibson seems to be doing a better job than Saker, and Strauss is to Downton what a Mercedes is to horse-drawn carriage (even if they share similar outlooks).

Consequently I see the current England test side as something of a conundrum wrapped up in a riddle. There’s a lot to deplore – but also a lot to like.

I have no idea what to expect when we go to South Africa. I can see us getting hammered; but equally I can see us turning them over if, through collective effort and lower order runs, we can put competitive totals on the board.

All we can do is enjoy the ride.

James Morgan

2015-11-05T12:57:19+00:00November 5th, 2015|News, PakvEng2015|30 Comments


  1. Nigel November 5, 2015 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    I think it was Boycott this morning who diagnosed the problem – there really aren’t any obvious solutions out there for the selectors. If there were, one of the umpteen openers tried recently would have established themselves. Instead, we have a bunch of players who are there or thereabouts, but not clearly outstanding.
    We need to pick who we think might be best in the problem positions, and develop them.
    Just sending the discards back to county cricket and hoping for the best isn’t going to do it.

    (nb, that doesn’t mean giving Moeen an extended run as an opener, though !)

    And, meanwhile, just to remind us what we might be missing…

  2. BigKev67 November 5, 2015 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    I think in some ways series are easier to watch when you know you’re not good enough. Expectations are lower and you take pleasure in smaller things – individual performances and signs of progress.

    • BigKev67 November 5, 2015 at 3:19 pm - Reply

      Hmm…. Case of premature posting! Sorry 🙂
      I loved our spirit over all 3 games. We could have won the first from an impossible position. We could have saved the second from an impossible position. And we made Pakistan work hard for the third one. There’s a gutsyness to this England side that I really like. It’s not enough to cover up for the skill shortages right now but it’s a great place from which to start.
      I think we’ve learned a few things. The first is that we should pick our best bowlers – and if none of them are spinners then so be it. As much as I like him it’s becoming clear that Moeen’s India series was an exception rather than a rule. He should be told he’s a batsman first and foremost, who bowls a bit of off spin and he should be picked – or not picked – on that basis.
      Rashid is a conundrum. I don’t see any county cricket out here in Oz, so this is the first extended time I’ve seen him and I can’t believe how many bad balls he bowls. There’s at least one an over, sometimes more. You can’t set a field. You can’t gain control. All you can do as a captain is gnash your teeth and wait for the wicket taking ball to come. I wasn’t so much fussed by the lack of wickets because it’s his first series and Pakistan are bloody good players of spin – but one buffet ball and more per over at Test level makes him a luxury you can’t afford IMO. Especially when there are seamers who could take the same number of wickets but do it cheaper.
      That said – he did take his five-for and I thought his batting showed real promise so there’s plenty to like. I admit I may be being harsh in my assessment – but I just don’t see him getting enough good players out to be a front line bowler.
      What else? I think we learned that Taylor is ready for test cricket. His 76 was a fine innings, under pressure, in tricky conditions. I like his temperament, there’s a certain calmness to his batting that suggests to me that he might be the answer at # 3 – and that’s where I’d put him for SA.
      Bell underperformed again – but not egregiously enough to drop. I’d be inclined to do so anyway, with grateful thanks for outstanding service – but I don’t think we will. If he plays, I think he should revert to five, where he appears to be most comfortable.
      I think we can get a drawn series in SA. There are plenty of question marks in their batting order too, not least the openers. Steyn isn’t the bowler he once was, and spin – our bête noire – shouldn’t be much of a factor.
      2-2 over 4 tests? I think it’s possible – but I’m an optimist!

      My team for Durban:-
      Cook, Hales, Taylor, Root, Bell/Ballance, Bairstow, Stokes, Wood, Broad, Finn, Anderson

      • James Morgan November 5, 2015 at 3:29 pm - Reply

        Hi Kev. It’s a difficult one re: Bell because asking anyone else to bat 3 is a big ask imho. I’d rather blood a new player at home. Even asking Taylor to bat 3 is a little unfair I fear. I think we should soldier on with Bell until the end of the South Africa tour. It’s not like there are a number of replacements banging the door down. Statistically, Bell was our 3rd best batsman after Cook and Root on this tour (discounting Broad with his not outs).

        Just a quick word on Ballance. They mentioned on TMS that the selectors and management are not particularly enamoured with him at the moment. Apparently he was asked to go away and work on his technique, but he denied this was necessary. He thinks his batting is fine. Probably not a wise political move!

        • BigKev67 November 5, 2015 at 4:15 pm - Reply

          Wow! If that’s true then he’s pretty stupid. Stevie Wonder could see that his technique was far from fine. It’s been quite the fall.
          In some ways I think there’s more pressure on someone playing at home. We’ll be expected to win for a start – whereas I’m sure most people think we’ll lose in SA. Conditions will be tougher but expectations lower. Six of one and half a dozen I suppose. Taylor bats 3 for Notts though, doesn’t he?
          I suspect you’re on the money about what will happen though. Here’s hoping for one last hurrah from our resident top-order Villa fan.

          • James Morgan November 5, 2015 at 4:36 pm - Reply

            Taylor normally bats 4 in the championship for Notts, but he has batted at 3 in the limited overs sides. Don’t mention the fact that Bell is a Villa fan. People will inevitably draw comparisons about them both going down without a fight!

      • MM November 5, 2015 at 7:07 pm - Reply

        we should pick our best bowlers – and if none of them are spinners then so be it

        I love this. Just how right is this comment? We pick sub Test class spinners because we must have spinners. Did WI pick spinners when they toured Asia in the 70s and 80s? OK, they were all-time great fast bowlers, but they played to their strengths and that was pace.

  3. SimonH November 5, 2015 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    Deserved win for Pakistan who are clearly the better team and enjoyable viewing after the first four days of the First Test.

    In the longer term, there are hints emerging of more worrying changes at the ICC. Tim Wigmore has written this:


    The two division idea has been floating around for a while but this six-and-six format is quite new. Wigmore stresses the plusses like revenue-pooling and increased opportunity for Ireland but what he only hints at is that the second division are likely to restricted to one-day formats. Essentially, on current rankings, SL, WI and Bangladesh would be stripped of Test status.

    • James Morgan November 5, 2015 at 3:06 pm - Reply

      Oh wow. That sounds quite disturbing. Whatever will make the most money for India, England and Australia will come to pass. Sigh.

      • Hungerpang November 5, 2015 at 4:11 pm - Reply

        Apparently they’re investing millions in Women’s cricket in China though. So that’s all right.

        • James Morgan November 5, 2015 at 4:38 pm - Reply

          Lots of money to be made in China. A good supply of cheap tea for MCC members too 🙂

          • Hungerpang November 6, 2015 at 9:13 am - Reply

            Sad and infuriating in equal measure to hear Garry Sobers almost in tears at the state of WI cricket and the ICC’s “Head of Global Brown-nosing and Pocket-lining” on TMS blithely warbling on about developing the game in China in the same week.

  4. Hungerpang November 5, 2015 at 4:10 pm - Reply

    Unusually, I’m not particularly despondent about this result. England were very, very close to getting something out of this series. We came within a whisker of winning the first test, and surely would have but for a millimetre of Broad’s boot on a first innings no-ball that cost about 200 runs. We lost the toss 3 times, Stokes’s injury was cruel and the decision to overturn Hafeez’s caught behind was decisive in the final Test. Given the burden of evidence that is required to overturn an umpire’s decision on an LBW (it has to be a real howler), I thought this was a poor call. The umpire gave it out and all of England’s close players (Bairstow excepted) went up in unison. I agree the pictures looked like he hadn’t hit it, but so did several in the summer when there was no sound, no hotspot but a feather on snicko. The same might have been the case here, and without the technology I think the umpire’s decision should have stood.

    Anyway, onwards and upwards. The selectors have got themselves in a right pickle for SA. The opening experiment was always going to be a disaster, both for the team and Moeen’s confidence. Just nonsense (and frustrating to hear Sir Geoffrey being so critical now, having bizarrely been an advocate of it as a stop-gap in the summer). “Nigel” in these comments is spot-on here – we need to develop the best we have. That’s why I’ve been banging on for months about Adam Lyth, and how he should have been given a gentle intro in the WI, all the summer and this series at least. 5 Tests in your first 7 vs the 2 Mitchells is not a far run to judge someone against. Good bowlers work out batsmen’s weaknesses over the course of a series, the test is whether the batsman can develop, rectify them and score runs in the next. England’s openers in recent years haven’t been given this chance. We’ve been spoilt with openers like Tresco, Strauss and Cook, but usually the step up to opening at Test level takes longer to bridge. Mohammed Hafeez is a great example of this. He’s made 9 hundreds in 90 test innings, but 4 of them (and two 90s) are in the last 17. He’s getting better. It takes time.

    England made a similar mistake with their spinners in this series. In the summer, we belatedly realised we had to play to our strengths, produced some grossly unfair seaming wickets and mugged a superior Aussie side for the Ashes. For the UAE, we fell into the “it’s the sub-continent, spin will play a big part” trap. It won’t if you don’t have any decent spinners. Pakistanis are good players of good spin, and will simply milk poor spin as we saw. It allowed them to just block the seamers in the 3rd test and take fewer risks against them in the first two. As James points out, we have strength in depth in the seam bowling and should have used it to bore them out.

    My take on the team for SA is that they should add some experience to all the “young bucks”, rather than chuck people (like Alex Hales) in at the deep end where they are doomed to fail. Mike Carberry for opening perhaps. And if they want a steady spinner, James Tredwell, who’s never let anyone down, is reputed to be a decent team man yet had never been given much of a chance. Above all though, I’d go with 4 seamers and Moeen. I’d have all those bloody backroom guys who cost the ECB a fortune working like hell with Lyth, Rashid and Gary Ballance (remember him…?) to iron out their technical flaws. Ballance has played 15 tests, usually batted out of position, made 4 hundreds, 6 fifties and averages about 48. England, naturally, dropped him like a stone the moment he had a bad trot.

    Last thing is I’d discard Bairstow. I thought he’d earned his recall but was amazed to see he’d done nothing to correct the hitting across the line flaw that prevented him being successful at the start of his career. I don’t think his keeping is as good as Buttler’s either. I’d play Buttler but bat him at 8.

    1st Test team : Cook, Carberry, Bell (just), Root, Taylor (could bat at 3 with Bell at 5), Stokes (if fit – he’s really a 7 but with a good 7 and 8 we might just get away with it), Moeen, Buttler, Broad, Wood, Anderson.

    • James Morgan November 5, 2015 at 5:06 pm - Reply

      My side for SA would be:

      Cook, Ansari, Bell, Root, Taylor, Bairstow (w), Stokes, Rashid, Broad, Wood, Anderson.

      I’ve gone with Ansari because he was in the touring party for Pakistan before his injury. I’ve seen him live a couple of times and been really impressed. He’s quite stylish and has a good temperament.

      However, and this is a big BUT, it very much depends on what kind of person he is. Is he likely to thrive under pressure or will he fold? It’s up to the management to decide. Presumably they picked him in the first place because they identified something special.

      I’ve long been of the opinion that England just have to take a punt on someone. Forget the first class averages, and just back their judgement. Trescothick didn’t have a great county record before he was plucked from Somerset (ditto Vaughan actually) but they had the right attitude to do well, plus the natural talent of course.

      However, Ansari might not be that person. I’ve only seen him a couple of times. If it’s too much of a risk (and I’m happy to concede the point to someone who follows Surrey more than myself) then I’d just go for Carberry. At least we know he can stay in against good fast bowling. It would be a stop-gap measure, but perhaps it’s all about getting through a dangerous tour. It’s up to the selectors whether they want to play it safe. I think Carberry is a better player than Compton.

      • Hungerpang November 6, 2015 at 9:05 am - Reply

        Ansari opening against on debut against Steyn and Morkel on his way back from a serious thumb injury? Are you ok James? 🙂 Then again, he clearly comes “from the right sort of family” and has a double-first (whatever that is…so good they named it twice, like Jay Jay Okocha?) from Cambridge, so I’m sure Cookie would love to open with him…

  5. Jamie November 5, 2015 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    My thoughts, in no particular order:

    1) Opener issue isn’t solved in any way and in retrospect the Ali experiment was unwise – you shouldn’t mess around with such a fundamental position in the team and it should have gone to a specialist opener. I suppose Hales is next in line but I think he really needs to get a run beyond the SA series because it appears there really is no one else in line at this stage.

    2) The seamers were excellent and it was particularly nice to see Wood exceed expectations. England need to bowl with four seamers in SA.

    3) On a related note – the spinner conundrum. Really for a spinner to merit a place, they either need to take wickets or build pressure to support the seamers. This was possibly one of the most spinner-friendly environments and as such I have serious worries in that none of our spinners seemed to achieve either objective. Granted two of them had very little England experience so I would give them slight benefit of the doubt, but Ali has had long enough and he just doesn’t seem to be capable of being a front line spinner. On the basis that his batting isn’t worthy of a place in the top 6 in my opinion (harsh as it may be) I think he should be dropped.

    Rashid I would persist with as I think he has more potential, has had less time and opportunity, and has shown in the first Test that he does have that higher level which I think Ali can’t reach. I think Ali has been messed around a bit by England but they need to think bigger picture, and I honestly don’t see where he fits in.

    Rashid needs a run of I think a year in the side to develop. We have to like or lump the fact that he may be really poor at times but it’s worth it as he has the most potential of any English spinner and frankly he’s the most promising option we have at the moment. If it doesn’t work out we need to give Kerrigan another go as he wasn’t given anything like a reasonable shot in retrospect and may be the most deserving based on his record. If he doesn’t work, we don’t try and force in a spinner until / unless someone shows the requisite standard, particularly as we have other seam options.

    4) Taylor is here to stay and is the future. I think it’s better for England not to throw him in at 3 due to Bell’s issues; the latter I think has to perform or get dropped after SA and we cross that bridge when we come to it. If Taylor is thrown in at three to try and fix a short term issue I think we risk more in the long term.

    5) Cook really is key to the side especially when there’s a need to dig in – the only other player I think who has a similar approach to batting is Ballance. I would consider bringing him back in but lower down the order where he’s more comfortable – I really think batting at 3 and 5 are very different beasts and it seems harsh on Ballance that he was thrown in straight at 3.

    6) I actually thought after all that while there are unresolved issues, England exceeded expectations and ran Pakistan close, with only a couple of key moments deciding the results of the tests.

    My team for SA would be:

    Cook, Hales, Bell, Root, Taylor, Stokes, Bairstow, Rashid, Wood, Broad, Anderson

    with Finn to come in for Wood if he has an injury. If Stokes can’t play, I would start with Finn and shift everyone up one in the batting line up.

    • James Morgan November 5, 2015 at 8:02 pm - Reply

      Although I’m his biggest fan, and like the bloke enormously, I tend to agree re: Mo. In SA it will come down to either Mo or Rashid, and I think the latter deserves a longer run. However, on the flip side Mo’s stats from this tour are actually noticeably better than Rashid (average of 47 plays 67 from memory). I know it’s a bit like choosing between hepatitis and gonorrhea, but we can’t ignore the relative stats entirely.

      • Jamie November 5, 2015 at 8:30 pm - Reply

        Yes – for me I can’t help but feel that Ali has had a good run and we’ve probably seen the best of him. It’s not his fault, I just don’t think he’s quite up to Test standard. England shouldn’t have moved around the batting order so much but otherwise they have to be fair given him plenty of opportunity.

        Rashid on the other hand I don’t feel we’ve seen enough of to make the same judgment – he may go the same way but also he may have serious potential and we will only find out for sure by giving him a similar number of tests that Ali has had to learn his craft at Test level. England really missed a trick by not giving him game time in the West Indies. I say roll the dice and invest in him until / unless a significantly better option appears.

        All this said if Ali does play in SA, I would love to be proved wrong though.

      • Metatone November 5, 2015 at 8:44 pm - Reply

        Also Rashid’s average for the tour is blighted by his first innings, which shouldn’t be ignored completely, but also perhaps shouldn’t be used to write him off.

      • BigKev67 November 5, 2015 at 10:17 pm - Reply

        I’m playing devil’s advocate a bit here but… are we really saying that Liam Plunkett wouldn’t have done better than 8 wickets at 70 if he’d been picked? If we’d picked Footitt, would we be saying that 8 wickets at 70 was acceptable? I doubt it.
        I do understand the rationale for a balanced attack – but we’re picking bowlers who, from what I’ve seen, wouldn’t be in the top 20 bowlers in county cricket. And they’re getting games ahead of better bowlers just because they’re spinners? That’s daft.
        Anderson and Broad have proved that you can bowl effectively on sub-continental pitches as seamers. The whole “balance” thing was the expressed reason that we promoted Mo to open, and everyone’s rightly commented on how it didn’t work for Mo. It also didn’t work for the side, because the spinners that we shoehorned in didn’t deliver. So we lost out from both a batting and bowling perspective.
        SA pitches won’t spin much and besides which – as Bob Willis said so brilliantly on The Verdict – De Villiers will hit Rashid into the ocean.
        Pick your best bowlers and teach them to bowl in all conditions. If none of your best bowlers are spinners, then so be it.

        • Jamie November 6, 2015 at 1:33 pm - Reply

          I agree with the sentiment entirely, I just feel there is also a separate objective to see if Rashid can be that player and without rolling the dice and giving him an extended run we won’t find out for sure.

    • Metatone November 5, 2015 at 8:43 pm - Reply

      I think this tour has really damaged the idea of Moeen as a front-line spinner, which is significant because he was “the man in possession” & is still seen as the default option by much of the press. Mind you, I’d back Misbah to give many spinners in today’s game some tap.

    • SimonH November 5, 2015 at 9:15 pm - Reply

      Couple of points on Kerrigan:

      1) I’ve read he’s missing the spinners’ part of the EPP in the winter because of a stress fracture.
      2) There was some speculation on a Guardian thread not long ago that he may leave Lancs with Notts a possible destination. This seemed to be based on the facts that he hadn’t signed a new contract and was thought to get on well with Moores.

      Anyone know more about either of these?

    • Nigel November 5, 2015 at 9:56 pm - Reply

      I agree with pretty well all that, except a suspicion that Hales, for all his qualities, isn’t going to make a test opener.

      And unless Warne was taking the piss, then Rashid does have real potential. Frankly, it’s remarkable that he’s got this far give the paucity of knowledge and opportunity for leg spinners in England.
      Whether England can or will give him the time and support required – and whether he has the wherewithal to become a match winner – is going to be interesting to watch.

      • Jamie November 6, 2015 at 1:31 pm - Reply

        Who would you open with?

        In my heart of hearts I don’t hold a great deal of hope out for Hales (particularly against SA) but I think he’s worth a shot. Who knows, he could be another aggressive Trescothick-style opener who exceeds expectations at international level despite not standing out at first class level.

        Optimistic I know…

        • Nigel November 6, 2015 at 7:03 pm - Reply

          Carberry (or Compton second choice).

          Either could do the job for the next couple of years until one of the young county hopefuls forces his way into the team… or Lyth scores 1000 runs in May.

  6. Steve November 5, 2015 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    Really not too bad a performance from England. Lost all tosses, close to winning first test and competitive for much of the last one. Misbah is right about it being a much tougher fight than Aus put up but I do think Aus in that series had just put everything into beating SA at home just prior and had just lost Harris, had Glen Maxwell batting at 3 and weren’t really anywhere near their best.

    I said during the Ashes than Moeen was a great asset for the team on seaming pitches when you could rely on the fast bowlers to pick up most wickets, having such a deep batting order was a real asset and you just need a holding spinner but I wasn’t convinced he was a solution when you really needed a spinner to take wickets and I think that is born out here.

  7. Jamie November 5, 2015 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    Another problem for SA is that effectively three seamers (Wood, Finn, and Stokes) are going through injuries at the mo. If two of them aren’t fit who would they bring in?

  8. Exiled Yorkie November 5, 2015 at 10:12 pm - Reply

    James/Kev, you make some great points but as Kev and I were debating this morning, I see little or no progression with this side. I’m at a bit of a loss how this side can be progressed.
    We are still almost entirely reliant upon four players and have seen minimal progress. We beat an appalling Oz side through four players, we lost albeit competed at times with four key players.
    I find it incredibly disappointing that with over 200 professional players available and the amount of cash sloshing around the game at the expense of its future that these are the best 11 players. This is either in terms of skills/talent and just importantly the mental capacity to develop and overcome challenges.
    So many questions:
    How have we not identified a spinner knowing Swann would quit soon?
    Why did we dump two openers with little opportunity compared to others? Comp and Carbs didn’t pull up trees but didn’t embarrass themselves.
    People are now talking about Hales being the next to get a go who to me is a bloke yet to crack international level at either t20 or odi which is his supposed strength. To consider him a test opener is utterly baffling.
    How long can Bell keep a place after a run of 23 innings and average of 20?
    Taylor is now the new hero after one knock who replaces the last new hero Ballance?
    How can Bairstow not have improved in four years? Still playing round his pad and trying to knock the cover off everything. Is this lack of coaching ability or too much fresh air between his ears despite his obvious core talent?

    Where do we go from here?
    The four are now certs, and then a case of punting someone or keeping faith.
    Cook, Carbs, Comp, Root, Taylor, Stokes, Butler, Rashid, broad, Finn, Anderson
    I’d try and solidify the batting- 3 openers at the top. I’m afraid Bells time has come to an end despite a career of defending him. Taylor can have a shot at 5.
    Stokes and butler should be told to find a beach, chill out and come back fresh. It could be a make or break for them in conditions that should suit them.
    Rashid needs backing but they need to find a “guru” to help him
    3rd seamer is tough but out in SA I do wonder if Finns height may be useful. Although it may be horses for courses with wood.

    Some left field selections and not a perfect side but the cupboard feels empty. Long term I hope existing youngsters step up and Lees come back strong again next year,

    • James Morgan November 5, 2015 at 11:32 pm - Reply

      England really the need the likes of Lees and Vince, the two best English players in county cricket under the age of 25, to have big years next season. Both are good looking players with something about them, but they didn’t seem ready for test cricket in 2015. I’d also like the very young Sam Hain to keep progressing. There’s talent out there, but it hasn’t come of age yet.

Leave A Comment