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.