Headingley And Humble Pie

So England are back on track. At least until the next game. This win at Headlingley was ridiculously easy. We were as good here as we were lamentable at Lord’s. And the same could be said of Pakistan, but the other way around of course.

Lot’s of people will be very happy with the win, and justifiably so, but I’m quite bemused by it all to be honest. I haven’t the foggiest what to make of this England team. I suspect we’re still pretty flawed in most areas, but it seems ridiculous to say that when they’ve just won by an innings.

Looking back at the game as a whole I think Pakistan’s decision to bat after winning the toss was absolutely crucial. It was a real sliding doors moment in my opinion. Had England been inserted on that track with cloud cover around then I think it would’ve ended a few England careers – not least Trevor Bayliss’s.

I’m positive that England would’ve struggled mightily had they been inserted. The ball moved around that much. Instead it was Broad and the English seamers who exploited the prodigious movement and the whole momentum of the series shifted.

The other sliding doors moment of the game was when Jos Buttler was dropped (an absolute dolly) when he was in single figures. That moment effectively closed the door on any Pakistan revival and gave Ed Smith the opportunity to look like a genius.

Had Jos been dismissed, it would’ve been two horrible dismissals in three innings and I could’ve written this post like a cricket blogger who still retained a smidgeon of credibility. Instead I’m currently wearing a bib with an assortment of condiments lined up next to me. Mustard goes really well with humble pie.

They say that it’s better to be a lucky manager than a good one and thus far Smith appears to be in former category. I’ll never like Smith because of his criticism of Death of A Gentleman on TMS (when he basically stuck up for the big three coup and challenged the film’s central thesis like the good old establishment chap that he is). However, in his wisdom he might have found England a couple of players, despite the muddled thinking that led him to select these players in the first place.

For starters, Jos’s success has obscured how nonsensical it is to deploy a specialist batsman at 7. I bet Duckett, Hales and all the other so called white ball specialists wish they’d had the luxury of playing with licence down at 7 against an old ball. What’s more, let’s not forget that Smith picked Dom Bess as a bowler, and yet he’s suddenly somehow unearthed the nation’s new batting sweetheart. And don’t forget Sam Curran either. He’s been picked as a seamer two years too early despite those closest to him believing he’ll become a batting all-rounder. Well, I guess it doesn’t matter how England find players as long as we find them somehow!

A word about Bess before I tuck into my steak and ale. I thought he batted really well and people have possibly been a bit too quick to dismiss his bowling. Although he doesn’t look like the second coming of Saqlian Mustaq quite yet, I thought he at least looked better than Moeen Ali. What’s more, at only 20 years of age, he might do something that Mo (much as I love him) never did – and that’s improve over time.

In some ways it will be a shame if Bess is dropped when Jack Leach is fit again, especially as he batted better than most of the so called specialist batsmen we’ve tried over the years. I was surprised that Pakistan didn’t bowl shorter at him though. I guess this is because their attack is handicapped by a chronic lack of pace – something Jos was able to exploit deliciously. It obviously didn’t help them that Amir could hardly turn his arm over due to injury either.

And so, inevitably, we come to my bête noire (just kidding!) Jos Buttler. I’m afraid I still can’t approve of his recall as I think it was a kick in the pants for championship cricket and I think it’s ridiculous to have a specialist batsman at 7. I also fear that every time he makes a score the ECB will use it to justify their criminal neglect of first class cricket. Why should they invest more in first class cricket when blokes (well, a bloke) turns up after a month at the IPL and smacks it everywhere? Having said that, I can’t deny that it has worked in this series. And it’s been bloody enjoyable too! That’s why I’ve temporarily changed our Twitter name to ‘The Full Jos”.

In all seriousness though, there’s actually still some way to go before Jos proves this particularly grumpy blogger incorrect. After all, I always asserted that he’d do well against the lesser sides. My question is how well he’ll play when the top class attacks arrive. I’d like to see him try walking down the pitch (like he did every ball in this game) against the likes of Mitchell Starc. He’s likely to get killed.

It’s worth remembering that Jos’s first crack at test cricket began in exactly the same fashion. His first ten innings in test cricket produced scores of 85, 70, 45, 0, 59*, 13, 35*, 67, 14, 10 and 73 against a lacklustre Indian side, the Windies and New Zealand at home. This hugely promising start was then completely undone by subsequent scores of 27, 7, 13, 11, 9, 12, 1, 42 in the Ashes when Starc, Hazlewood and Co ate him alive. His foot movement was particularly poor and he looked like a walking wicket every time he strode to the crease. This poor run also ended up affecting his white ball form too – something that concerns me with a World Cup around the corner.

The fact is that England have produced plenty of batsmen who can succeed against mediocre sides – just think about the centuries that Gary Ballance, Ravi Bopara, and even Moeen Ali made. The question is whether batsmen can make runs consistently when the bowling increases in pace and intensity. It’s worth remembering that Moeen had plenty of days like Jos had today. And he did so against attacks better than this Pakistan one too. Although Abbas has skill (if not pace), it’s worth remembering that Amir could hardly bowl due to injury and the other two seamers looked very average to me.

Having said that, Jos has exceeded my expectations so far. Apart from his horrible hack early on, he’s shown the admirable ability to knuckle down and play the situation accordingly. I really didn’t think he had this in him. And he’s actually shown some of the other most established batsmen (who should know better) how to do it.

Consequently, Jos has temporarily earned his place and as a result he should move up the order and play a proper specialist batsman’s role. This means moving ahead of Stokes and Bairstow, who are all-rounders with greater physical burdens, and asking him to score hundreds up front like every other specialist batsman is expected to do. What’s the point in hiding him down at 7 if he’s as special as everyone hopes he is?

However, in many ways all this talk of Buttler is irrelevant. The direction of travel in this game was effectively decided before Jos arrived at the crease – which is why the decision to make him man of the match was a little odd. The real MOM for me was Stuart Broad, who finally pitched the ball up and absolutely devastated Pakistan’s inexperienced batting order. I also thought Jimmy also bowled better than some observers gave him credit for. In fact, England only really needed three bowlers in this game. Woakes also played his part.

I’ll be fascinated to see how the rest of the summer unfolds from here. Although this win will save some ECB blushes, it actually sets up the India series rather nicely. I haven’t seen a lot of India recently – mainly because their players have been up to their eyes in the IPL – but the last time England played them it looked like they’d found a few decent seam bowlers. If the likes of Mohammed Shami are fit and firing, and guys like Kohli and Pujara find some form, there’s a real chance that England could lose that series. And then all hell will break loose again.

James Morgan


  • So one test against a bang average team and buttler is suddenly a inspired pick and doubters proved wrong.. yeah right

    Still.. this has papered over the cracks yet again. Oh well

    • I guess he can only perform against the opposition in front of him. Doubts will remain until he can perform against the best teams but I have to confess it’s a promising start … and it’s a good thing too because we desperately need to find some quality batsmen! I really hope he can prove me wrong.

  • I really didn’t think this 2 match series proved anything. I won’t call them tests because both games were a thrashing inside 3 days. Hardly a rest match. England never turned up at Lords and needed a good kick up the arse to look like a half decent side at this one. Their supposed test cricketers who shouldn’t need that and the likes of Broad and Anderson who need to learn to accept criticism.
    To make it worse no 3rd test decider but some 50 over thrash series against a severely depleted Australia. Daft. And for good measure no test cricket till August! Are England improved? As James says no real way of telling.

  • Butler is a world class batsman in good form with plenty of confidence. How many of these do we have at our disposal? You cannot dismiss what he did in this years IPL as irrelevant. He may not be ideally suited to test cricket but he is keen to cement his place in the side and learn to abapt his game. Personally I would have played him at 4 or 5, where you traditionally put your best strokeplayers, dropping Bairstow to 6. Even when the clouds came over and Amir was bowling he looked as solid as anyone. I agree in the grand scheme of things what happened at Headingly is no barometer for our Indian summer, but at least its stopped the rot and gives us something to build on. Right now if we had to play India next I think we have a decent side:
    Cook, Jennings, Root, Malian, Butler, Stokes, Bairstow, Woakes, Bess, Broad, Anderson.
    If no young player is forcing their way into contention, which is disturbing, go with experience.

    • Sorry, but world class batsmen do not have a FC batting average of 31. Until he demonstrates an ability to do the job game after game, and against the best teams, Buttler will remain no more than a white ball slogger who will come off in red ball occasionally. Vernon Philander would be drooling at the sight of Buttler coming in to face him.

      • Let’s just move him up the order, tell him that he’s got to make consistent runs and hundreds (like all other specialist batsmen are expected to do) and settle the debate once and for all. Put him at 4 / 5 and let’s see how he does. If he cracks it then brilliant! We’ve finally found ourselves a batsman. And if he fails then the hype is over and we move on. Simples. I’m not optimistic this plan would work but we need to find out and I’d be delighted if proved wrong.

        • “he’s got to make consistent runs and hundreds (like all other specialist batsmen are expected to do)”. OK. So, which other England batsmen do this? Cook, possibly (though not much recently). Root generally falls short. The rest …

      • World class is not dependant on stats and never has been in any sport. ‘There’s lies, damn lies and statistics’. There are plenty of plodders who have top stats by eliminating risk, but who rarely change the course of a game and are distinctly unmemorable. Butler is none of these and showed himself capable of playing legitimate shots, not slogs, with the sort of effortless timing Gower used to show. World class to me revolves around the ability to change a match single handed and these players are usually mercurial talents who misfire as often as they succeed over a career; Botham, Flintoff and Pieterson typified this, but are important to the confidence of any side, knowing there is someone who backs himself to wrest the initiative. He showed as much skill coping with Amir as any or our top order batsman, including Root, who seemed to lose his bearings with the ball coming accross him. Butler’s innings was a patient considered red ball one for the most part, Bess and Curran outscoring him some of the time. It only manifested itself into white ball hitting when he was left with Broad and Anderson. This shows he has the capacity to think on his feet as a test batsman, reigning in his natural instincts.
        I’d back Butler against Philander any day at the moment. He’d take guard a foot outside the crease to nullify front foot LBW’s and certainly relish the lack of pace.
        I know he’s not the finished article, but he’s obviously relishing the opportunity to adapt his game, having never expected to get another chance at this level and I fully expect him to show what he’s made of higher up the order against India. Where are the realistic alternatives?

        • I agree that stats are not everything – but they do inform matters and dreadful stats (as opposed to marginal ones) rarely lie. I take the point about the ability to change games, such as Gayle and Gilchrist – but they had FC batting averages in the mid 40s (not low 30s) and similar in tests.Pietersen’s was near 50, and Botham and Flintoff took over 300 and 200 wickets respectively so they were not judged just on their batting (which would not have merited a place on its own, despite them having similar FC and test batting averages to Buttler.
          As for Philander? Best bowler in the world who can make you play at 5 swinging balls per over. I know where my money would lie. You do not keep averaging 21 runs per wicket in tests, despite all the noises about lack of pace, unless you are something very special indeed.
          The one positive for Buttler in this test was that he did show he could graft. But can he do it test after test? That is the mark of a red ball bat.

  • It was a bit unfair to describe the dropped catch off Buttler as a “dolly” – it was travelling, and the catcher didn’t have time to get his hands to it; just the tips of his fingers.
    One of the Pakistani quicks (Abbas?) has a poorly-coached action – no back involved, with him leaning forwards throughout the delivery. Would it be too late for him to be able to correct this?
    Whatever one might say about Buttler’s right to be in the side, he is the most exciting international batsman to watch now that AB has retired.

    • There’s a touch of Alastair Cook syndrome going on here. Jos seems to have a following of zealous supporters who think he’s the best thing since sliced bread and don’t accept anything less than the highest praise. Most entertaining batsman in the world? There are probably two in the England side alone i.e Root and Stokes. And I’m sure the likes of Kohli, Warner and Williamson might have something to say about that too.

      When I suggested on Twitter that Australia would never pick Maxwell as a specialist test batsman at 7, several people felt indignant and argued that Jos was a far, far, far superior player. It didn’t seem to matter than Maxwell averages considerably more in every single form of domestic cricket, T20 internationals, and he has a test century too.

      As I said in my article above let’s no go over the top with Jos. English supporters always seem to do this. There’s a danger of building people up to then knock them down when they can’t meet impossible expectations later on. I expect he’ll have some good days and some bad ones. As long as the general curve is upwards I’ll be happy.

      • In the last test of the India v Australia series in 2017, Maxwell was picked as a specialist batsman and
        batter at number 5 in the first innings and at number 6 in the second. (He also bowled 2 overs for the match).

      • I said “exciting”, not “entertaining”, James. Warner and Stokes can be exciting, but I wouldn’t ever use that term to describe the batting of Root, Kohli or Williamson (McCullum, yes – but he’s retired too). “Elegant” would be a better word for that trio.

        • Fair enough. Bloody semantics. Exciting / entertaining … it’s all the same in my simple mind :-)

        • I would! I guess it is each to his own. Kohli is by far the most exciting batsman in the world and Williamson second. Root has a way to go yet. Why are they exciting in test cricket? Because they can use their skills to read the game, adapt to the conditions in front of them, play the most beautiful shots to penetrate the field and bat for more than a couple of hours. Batting for long periods against changing conditions is he pinnacle of test batting and since it is an infrequent experience these days I find it exhilarating when mastered.

          This tests has proved a couple of things. Modern batsmen generally cannot play (a) the moving ball (b) do not have the patience and skill to leave the ball outside the off stump and (c) do not have the temperament to bat for two days. If Root had bowled in the first test and Safraz had bowled in the second test the series result would have been the same, just a reversal of who won what!

          Sadly, test cricket will be dead within ten years. Probably buried in a plot next to the county championship.

          • I think I mean something different by “exciting” than you (or James) do, Chris. Williamson is an absolute class batsman, but he accumulates runs (very effectively!) rather than playing excitingly. Kohli has a bit more pizazz, but neither has the wow factor for me.
            “Why are they exciting in test cricket? Because they can use their skills to read the game, adapt to the conditions in front of them, play the most beautiful shots to penetrate the field and bat for more than a couple of hours.” Masterful, but not exciting!

      • Butler certainly has the X factor for power and timing in a way probably only Stokes has for England at present. KOhli and Williamson are more reliable but not any more naturally talented.
        With the worrying lack of young talent in this country surely we should be looking to use a player of Butler’s class in all forms of the game. He seems to be relishing the opportunity to knuckle down.
        It reminds me of the way we wasted footy talent in the 70’s, when the like of Marsh, Bowles, Currie, Hudson, Worthington, Francis and George were discarded as luxuries we couldn’t afford, often being played out of position when a manager was reluctantly pressured to pick them. No sustained attempt was ever made to integrate them either.

  • Essentially, both matches in this series were decided by questionnable decisions after the winning the toss and the inability of the team batting first to cope with the conditions. You could argue also that Pakistan were better prepared going into the Lords game, but hampered by injuries at Headingly (Ben Stokes having already “accounted” for Babar Azam). Result? two three day Tests, won and lost by huge margins with the two teams taking it in turns to have a nightmare. Is it me, or haven’t there been a number of series in England in recent years that have followed this kind of pattern? Not really a great advert for Test cricket.
    Whereas Lords didn’t prove that Pakistan are suddenly the best side in the World, Headingly didn’t demonstrate – despite the result – that England have done very much to deal with their frailties and long term issues (it took a 20 yr. old rookie spinner, effectively batting at 4 having gone in as night watchman, to inject some unexpected resilience into the top order: QED). Role on India…

  • Such lopsided Test matches put England on a par with Pakistan. Very dependent on making the right decision at the toss. Very exposed to swinging conditions. Fielding poorly can cost the game. Headingley is harder to bat on than Lords though. It’s far to early to assess Buttler. Jennings hasn’t yet got a score to prove anything. Malan is looking vulnerable. The trouble is that the atmosphere in the England side is a bit toxic. The new players are good enough to be given a chance but none of them are really outstanding. Buttler obviously is an outstanding T20 player but hasn’t yet proved his Test credentials. He is going to have to work very hard because all the Test bowlers will now be studying his action. If the move succeeds it will be the exception that proves the rule like Warner was for Australia. But too early to tell. One Test does not a summer make.

  • Put into context, this mini-series was between two lowly-ranked sides. The results of neither game mean much in the broader context. Buttler – MOM? a joke.
    I had a day in the sun watching my county side.

  • I think this series was a “contest” between two teams with decent bowling attacks (in English conditions) and fragile batting line ups. It’s worth noting that there were no centuries in the series (the only one in 3 tests being Kevin O’Brien, which would have been long odds). If (as i would expect them to) India arrive with a decent seam attack (Kumar, Shami and Yadav?) and good batsmen I would expect them to beat us. They seem to be taking this series more seriously than the last couple (Pujara – the “new Dravid” – has been playing county cricket, and a number of his team mates are coming over to do the same). I’d say Buttler has batted pretty well in both tests, and according to the situation (certainly, no one else can shift gears the way he did when the eighth wicket fell).

  • Let’s give England credit for getting something right (not Buttler – the fact he had one of his odd good games does nothing to change the fact he had done nothing to get in the team and has an appalling red ball record). In this match, completely differently to the first game, England picked a bowling line up for English conditions. This meant that when Jimmy Anderson completely lost his radar in his first spell (everyone can have one bad spell) they had a third seamer to exploit the conditions and get wickets. By all means pick Wood (or Stone or any of the young pure quickies) on a hard, fast track with no cloud cover (probably in Oz or SA), but do not pick pure pace which does nothing with the ball in English conditions. Here you need bowlers with lateral movement. (But even I would draw a line at picking a 19 year old swing bowler who is barely above medium pace and has little or no variation).

    • Butler may not have done anything to be an obvious choice but neither had anyone else, including Malian, the fact remains he has more class than any young pretender and is in confident form. This means a lot in terms of both his own attitude and what rubs off onto others. He had no winter baggage to weigh the team down with and I am sure was a popular selection with the rest of the team. Even at Lords he seemed confident.
      There’s a lot more to selection than promise when there’s so little around to get excited about. He is clearly a better player than he was when last selected and as such I have no qualms about going back to previous choices, even if they were dropped for repeated failure.

  • Buttler played well enough, but it is too much to say you should be eating humble pie. The specialist batsman at #7 is a moronic selection and Buttler is only covering up for failing top order batsmen. 350 runs is now considered a big England innings.

    They can squeeze Buttler in the test side because of Bairstow. Bairstow’s form with the bat is not as good as it should be due to him having the wicket keeping responsibilities – he should be entirely focussed on batting. It’s an absolutely crazy situation where Buttler is ODI keeper while Bairstow sticks to batting in that format

    • Given that Bairstow is average county standard with the gloves, and Buttler no more than top club standard, they have a better solution in Foakes who is a top gloveman and has a better FC batting average than either of them – and better than Malan and Stokes for that matter. Bairstow (or even Buttler, taking the challenge of James above) playing as a specialist bat at 4/5, with Foakes as keeper (and better bat) at 7 would represent a much more balanced team.

      • Foakes does not have a higher FC batting average than Bairstow. Where do you get that idea? And if you don’t count tests, Bairstow’s is much higher. Also, Foakes entirely unproven on test level and I think Bairstow is still out of form even though he made two hundreds in the winter, and he shouldn’t bat at 5 unless and until he can get his form back.

        • My apologies; I swapped Bairstows test (38) and FC (45) averages – compared to 42 for Foakes. The other comparisons stand. However I am not suggesting dropping Bairstow; I think he is a very decent bat and much more suited to tests than Buttler. I would bring Foakes in for Buttler and give Foakes the gloves so Bairstow can focus on his batting. I would back Foakes to bat well in tests and I reckon he would be worth 5-10 runs per innings compared with either Bairstow or Buttler (possibly more compared with Buttler) when taking account of catches/stumpings/byes.

          • Oh, I didn’t think you suggested that, and my last sentence was only very vaguely related to your post. As for Foakes, we won’t know until they try, but seeing as it’s all Buttler now, barring injuries or something that might take a while.

  • Buttler, 80*, ran out of partners. So if this match is justification for his being in the team, it’s surely also evidence that he should be batting higher.

    Moeen Ali both bowled and batter well last summer. Having persevered with him during most of the winter in conditions where he wasn’t doing so well, it seems harsh to drop him for matches back in conditions where he had success.

    Today (Monday) was supposed to be the 5-year-old’s first experience of live cricket, on a conveniently timed Baker Day. He’s been reading online scores and listening to TMS since the second test in Bangladesh, and was sad to hear England win yesterday, meaning he wouldn’t be going. I’m trying to persuade him that England winning a match is actually a good thing, and that it’s really Pakistan’s fault for not electing to bowl first …

  • “Steak and ale”? You wish!

    “umble pie, a pie filled with the chopped or minced parts of a beast’s ‘pluck’ – the heart, liver, lungs or ‘lights’ and kidneys, especially of deer but often other meats.”

  • Courtesy of George Dobell on cricinfo, the statistics rather well demonstrate that our senior bowlers did indeed react to what was not unreasonable criticism after the first test:
    …Broad’s new-ball spell in the first innings was the fullest of his Test career and Anderson’s, in the second innings, was the third fullest opening spell of his career. And, when Anderson bowls full, he has taken a wicket every 30 balls in the last 12 months. And a wicket every 75 balls when he bowls short….

    • Good stats! Yet Jimmy apparently got all touchy about the criticism. He obviously listened after all despite thinking “I’ve got 500 test wickets so I think I know what I’m effin doing” :-)

  • The one cheering aspect of Smith’s work so far is that he’s trying something different. For those of us frustrated by Whittaker’s same old, same old, this makes a nice change. I wouldn’t care if we lost every test match this summer, provided we settled in 2 or 3 new performing players. Felt the same in 2014’s “new era”.

    I don’t want to get on Malan’s back but I don’t see him as a future star. Joe Clarke might be. Get him in, let him flounder and hopefully come through.

    For humble pie, I suggest Swedish fermented herring

  • 100% agree with James’ tweet about no Test cricket until August. Ripping red-ball cricket out of the heart of the summer gets us ready for Harrison’s T16.66. Is there any football on?

    For those desperate for some Test cricket, SL are playing in WI shortly and there’s Afghanistan’s debut Test coming up. SA tour SL in July – it’s only two Tests, SL cricket is under a big cloud and there’s no ABDV, but apart from that…

  • Tim De Lisle posts an article that could have been considered moderately critical of Cook (it wasn’t really).

    A few days later he posts something fawning over Ed Smith. Did someone have a word?

    • Simon H
      Consider that, in a parallel universe, it could have been even worse. It could have been Andy Bull fawning over the inspired selections of one Mike Selvey….


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