Losing to India was all part of the plan

I’m writing this a little sheepishly to be honest. Why? Because I don’t want to write this any more than you probably want to read it. One of the reasons why I write so infrequently these days is that my passion for English cricket has diminished considerably. To be frank, I’m almost past caring.

However, someone’s got to write a ‘reaction’ to our limp 1-3 surrender in India. So here I am. Somewhat begrudgingly. And I’ll start by simply embedding one of my tweets from yesterday.

This tweet made a simple point but it’s worth repeating. The ECB didn’t want England to lose this series 1-3. They wanted to win it. But equally they probably knew that all the decisions they’ve taken over the last few years made defeat extremely likely if not inevitable. They simply had other priorities.

Getting hammered by India can therefore be seen as collateral damage – a price they were perfectly willing to accept – in order to pursue other strategic goals: winning the World Cup, setting up The Hundred, and continually running down the county championship into a second class competition that they’d probably prefer to cancel altogether because, due to a variety of factors that aren’t all the championship’s fault, it doesn’t make any money.

So my question to you is this. What else did the ECB expect? What else did you expect? Those who have being paying attention would’ve seen this result coming a mile off. Our domestic competition doesn’t produce spinners or spinning wickets; therefore our batsmen can’t play spin. I almost felt sorry for them at one point. Poor Ollie Pope looked so out of his depth that it was almost unfair.

Now normally, after a comprehensive defeat, there would be calls for reform so that a humiliation like this never happens again. But I’m afraid that change simply isn’t going to happen. I doubt anyone will even bother calling for it as these calls will inevitably fall on deaf ears.

The truth is that the direction of travel is well and truly set. If you think they’re going to start prioritising the county championship any time soon then you probably believe that the moon is made of Emmental.

Instead, what we’re going to see is the actual opposite of what’s required to help England compete in India. The ECB’s priorities are simply incompatible with this goal. When England started resting players during the most important Test series for some time, so that they could play a full part in the subsequent T20s and the IPL thereafter, it was obvious that the game was up.

But I don’t just mean this game or this series. By ‘game’ I mean the whole shebang i.e. Test and first class cricket in general.

The following quote, from England’s lightweight head coach Chris Silverwood, who was inexplicably preferred to Gary Kirsten (who knows a thing or two about Indian cricket) on the basis that he did a better PowerPoint presentation at interview, finally confirmed what we all suspected last month. Here are his comments when questioned about England’s rotation policy in this series:

I can understand [that frustration] but I’m at peace with where we are at to be honest. Test cricket is something Joe Root and I are very passionate about. We prioritise Tests and T20 equally … I can guarantee that we are not prioritising anything above Test cricket.

This quote probably seemed innocuous to some. But it meant everything. It was probably, in my humble opinion, the single most significant piece of information ever disclosed by a significant figure in English cricket.

It revealed (or rather confirmed) that Test cricket – the traditional priority of the ECB and the England cricket team – is no longer considered the priority, or the pinnacle of the game. The honest Silverwood – who has gone from picking 5 seamers in some Tests to essentially just 3 specialist bowlers in Ahmedabad – had revealed too much. Ooops. He’s as hapless at this media business as he is at reading pitches and balancing XIs.

Fifteen years ago, when England won the 2005 Ashes after beating Australia in a solitary T20 at the Rose Bowl, the idea that T20 could ever be considered as important as Test cricket would’ve been considered heresy. But that’s where exactly where we are now – confirmed by England’s head coach himself. It’s devastating to me.

Silverwood’s comments showed that we have lost. The game I fell in love with is up – sacrificed by the very people who pretend they’re the custodians of it. Test cricket is slowly dying and all we’ve got to look forward to in another fifteen years from now is an endless diet of IPL, The Hundred, probably an annual World T20, and maybe the occasional ODI if we’re lucky. There might be an Ashes series but the standard will be greatly reduced because the batsmen won’t have the techniques to take the game into a fifth day (that’s if Tests haven’t become four day affairs by then).

So what does this all mean in practical on-field terms for England’s Test team? I’ll tell you what. It leads to a top six like this:

Sibley (test average 30)

Burns (31)

Crawley (34)

Root (49)

Stokes (37)

Pope (32)

And then there’s Jonny Bairstow, who ruined his technique in order to win white ball honours, averaging 34 in reserve, followed Jos Buttler, a man with just 7 first class hundreds in 115 games at average of 33 to follow.

I don’t want to have a go at Jos, because he seems like a decent guy who has at least shown signs of improvement over the last 12 months, but England’s obsession with him just about sums things up for me.

Buttler is probably the best England white ball player I’ve ever seen. But he’s also one of the most indulged and overhyped red ball players. Everybody acts like he’s some kind of Adam Gilchrist. But he’s not even as good as Matt Prior or Alec Stewart, let alone someone like Alan Knott. Jos has just one stumping in thirty Tests as keeper and made just two hundreds in 87 innings with the bat. Prior scored two tons in his first 25 innings. But who is / was the superstar?

So that, my friends, is why India absolutely crucified us. It’s because Joe Root is our only good Test batsman; our only player who averages over the 40 benchmark. Ben Stokes is a world class all-rounder but he’s not a world class batsman.

Just ten years ago we had a whole squad of players averaging over 40: Cook, Strauss, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Collingwood. That’s how fast and how far English first class cricket has fallen. At one point Pietersen, Cook and Trott even averaged over 50.

So well done, India. You thoroughly deserved your victory. But please also note that our disingenuous board – the people who run our game – didn’t take this series seriously. Not really anyway. It’s just wasn’t a priority. They didn’t care and so why, therefore, should we?

Not everybody likes Virat Kohli but I’ll say this about him. He cares about Test cricket. And his public support for Test cricket keeps it relevant in his country.

As for England, well, our inept performances were simply a consequence of the decisions the ECB have very consciously made over time. It was, in some respects, all part of the plan. Ignoring the fallout, and doing precisely nothing until the next time we travel to India and get demolished, is all part of the plan too.

We’ll probably be competitive in the white ball games though. Sigh.

James Morgan

49 comments

  • I reckon after the last test selection we should be looking very closely at Silverwood and Smith. You have to take 20 wickets to win most tests, it doesn’t matter how many runs you score. Can’t believe Root was responsible for the Bess fiasco after his comments a couple of weeks ago for him to go away and work at his game. He’s come back as predictably poor as before. In contrast Stokes was a lion, bowling those overs in that heat, largely because Root hadn’t the confidence to put Bess on. What’s the point playing substandard spinners over decent seamers whatever the conditions. How many times has this got to happen before it sinks in how futile it is. More Mr Ed bits and pieces philosophy.
    Hadn’t heard the interview where Silverwood admitted he practices twenty twenty as much as test cricket. It certainly is an eye opener. Have always thought we needed separate management teams for red and white ball. That way the squads could be separated and there would be no prioritising. Silverwood in fairness has done pretty well so far before this series. You can only beat what’s put in front of you. However I think pretty much everyone expected Kallis to get the job originally. Maybe he’s too much of an abrasive character for the ECB, they need more of a yes man.

    • The team selection for the last Test was extremely worrying. It showed a complete lack of cricketing intelligence. One can only speculate that Joe Root started fancying himself as a bowler and considered himself a legitimate 5th bowler.

      England went into that game with Anderson (whose workload needs to be carefully managed at his age), Stokes who hardly bowls anymore and is known for picking up niggles, Leach, and a young spinner in Bess who was considered unselectable the week before.

      It really boggles the mind. It’s right up there with picking 5 seamers (which I think Silverwood has done twice). Smart people who understand the game simply wouldn’t consider such a boneheaded strategy for a second.

  • As an afterthought. How can Kholi care about test cricket when he doesnt speak out about the pitches, but blames lack of technique over everything, even though his batsman are struggling too. Pitches like these kill test matches. What Kholi cares about is winning and improving his captaincy record.

  • Absolutely spot on James. Best analysis I’ve read for a while.
    Interestingly, since Channel 4 picked up the series, the posts daily in the BBC HYS have been 2000+. When it was on Sky, 600 was about par. So there is still great interest in Tests from the public it seems. An HYS on the NZ vs Australia T20 series conversley has achieved a mighty 35 posts.

  • Very well said. Unfortunately the truth is very hard to swallow. As an MCC member, I’m embarrassed that MCC seems to voice no independent voice anymore and just supports whatever wind blows out of the ECB and ICC.

  • I read, today, that Nasser Hussein considers the ECB to have done everything they can to help support and develop Bess, as a spin bowler. He’s had sessions with Herath, along with other spin bowling coaches. Everything, that is, except THE most important thing: encourage spin bowling in county cricket. All the advice and mentoring in the world won’t help unless he gets to practise what he has learnt, on a regular basis, in match conditions.
    England’s inexperience and inadequacy against quality pace bowling was exposed in the last two Ashes tours – to go with two batterings against the spinning ball in India – yet nothing, structurally, is being done to reverse this.
    The ‘army’ of medium/medium-fast swing bowlers will, no doubt, be preeminent again this ‘summer’ in the CC.
    Ho hum

    • Absolutely! When India decided that they wanted to compete abroad in unfamiliar conditions after the away test drubbings post the 2011 world cup ago as the fab five wound down, there was a mandate passed down in domestic cricket that a certain level of grass on the pitches was mandatory. Consequently seamers now take more wickets in Indian domestic cricket than spinners. Although India now has an incredible seam attack I do wonder if this has also made their batsmen not as proficient against spin as they used to be.

  • Only a few years to retirement and I was quite fancying heading down to Canterbury in the height of summer for a leisurely day of first class cricket. If it’s only going to be The Hundred, I think I’ll stay home instead and watch Tipping Point all day.

  • Excellent article James. The point about the spinners is very well made. What was the point of bringing Bess on tour if you weren’t going to play him? He doesn’t look like the finished product but it can hardly help if he’s dropped every time he has a poor performance. The other point is that Root has covered over the huge failings in England’s batting line up. Again chopping and changing your opening batsmen isn’t a recipe for long term development, in my opinion. Crawley doesn’t look like an opener and I’d have Dan Lawrence batting higher up the order.

    • As a Kent supporter who’s seen Crawley play a lot, I’d say opener or No. 3 IS his best position; on this tour most of his dismissals have been by spinners.

  • Well put. The combination of official phobia of turning pitches (witness the punishment of Somerset) and the fact that domestic FC cricket is played largely at the start and end of the season, the worst times for spin bowlers, means that we have vanishingly few spin options and as you pointed out in the post most of our batters cannot handle quality spin. Also, while the Silverwood quote is devastating, the truth is even worse, as clearly illustrated by the fact that Eoin Morgan will be taking the field with what is as near as dammit a full strength T20 XI, whereas England have not fielded a full strength test XI for any of the six matches they have just played.

    • Agreed. In order to play spin our young batsmen need to grow up playing it. This can only happen in the first class system. We need to play more games in high summer and encourage the development of young spinners. They’re just not going to get a bowl in April or September. I’d also, in an ideal world, encourage counties to invest in overseas spinners when possible. Then we might see them prepare dry pitches for them. Dan Lawrence seemed to play the spinners better than the likes of Pope and Crawley. This must be because he’s used to playing against Simon Harmer in practice and the nets at Essex.

      • Which basically means, that due to poaching South Africans have not had the opportunity to play against Harmer for quite some time. And South Africa have lost what? 11 Tests on the trot in Asia (maybe with a couple of draws against Bangladesh, albeit that the second draw was a washout) ? Thank you English cricket.

        • Crucial distinction here. I wasn’t advocating Kolpaks (hasn’t that stopped due to Brexit anyway?) I was advocating bona fide overseas players i.e. guys that don’t make themselves unavailable for international cricket.

          I was citing the benefit of having Harmer around, not advocating that we poach other players like him! Perhaps I should have used a different example, like Jeethan Patel at Warwickshire or when Shane Warne went to Hants. I wanted to use Harmer as the example because Dan Lawrence has obviously just scored some runs.

          • Brexit has stopped the Kolpaks. But it is too little and far too late for South Africa in particular. Not just due to Kolpaks though.

            I am just highlighting how damaging the whole Kolpak thing has been for countries like South Africa. Because if it is a South African teaching Englishmen how to bat against spin (from your example), that also highlights why South Africans can’t play spin if their life depends on it. And well, the results since 2014 are 10 losses, 3 draws – of which two were (almost complete) washouts. – in Asia (two tours in India, one in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and in Bangladesh).

            All the money in English cricket, due to the television deal, has hollowed out many other nations, and I am not sure if that was a price worth paying, just to cover for the incompetence of the ECB (scheduling-wise; their efforts have made it extremely easy for England to beat West Indies and South Africa in particular).

            • Probably didn’t help that Smith, Kallis and most importantly Dale Steyn had either retired or faded away. Hopefully now that Kolpak has ended SA can slowly rebuild the team from the ground up. SA has always been one of the stronger sides from the time they got reintegrated and their decline has made me quite sad.

              • You can forget about that. Don’t be surprised if they are going to even a worse spell than the West Indies in the last 25 years.

  • James, thank you for your searingly honest article which I understand and can agree with almost in its entirety. We both love Test Match cricket as the ultimate of our game. Yes the ECB no longer have it or the first class game as its sole priority and in reality that has been the case for some time.

    I remain hopeful and aim with this reply to encourage you James to stay with the game for all the pleasure you no doubt get from it. There are many reasons to be cheerful. I feel in the last ten years the love of Test Cricket has increased in India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as well as the new Test nations of Afghanistan and Ireland. I am not sure about South Africa and the West Indies (the latter I worry about most) but they are still playing. England and Australia seem to share the flame as much as ever. Attendances at Tests are still excellent in England particularly compared to those barren years of the 1980’s and 90’s when we were often the laughing stock of world cricket.

    I believe our team is developing and promising and we have at least 3 batsmen who are showing signs of being capable of reaching that bench mark 40 average you highlight. Crawley, Pope and Lawrence. All from the county game. Yes they failed in India but not completely and have time to develop their skills hopefully with away series in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka before we next go to India. In the next 12 months though they can build on their promise in the seven home tests and then we hope in Australia. We also have the most promising pace attack I can recall with Wood, Stone and Archer to compliment Anderson, Broad and Woakes. If we can take all six of these fully fit to Australia we have a real chance.

    With Anderson, Broad, Root and Stokes all being in the top band of world cricketers we have team to enjoy. The challenge this summer is immense with the top two teams in the world visiting but we can beat them both in England and I hope we do.

    Spinners and openers is a challenge but when have we ever had a perfect team? Not in my memory.

    On Jos Butler I agree that he is overrated for Tests and I would play Foakes who is top class as he gives us another line of attack with our one decent spinner at present Jack Leach. Jack is not a world-beater (although I always hope for late development like Graeme Swann) but he matches Ashley Giles in skill and he was a key part of the 2005 team. Keep giving him overs and he will get better. Dom Bess has promise, just over promoted too soon and I hope his switch to Yorkshire will give him a chance to develop this summer in the Championship.

    The championship starts in a month and we can attend from mid-May. Seven Tests to look forward to also. I am as optimistic as I have been for many years, despite the losses in India, about Test Cricket. The love of the ultimate form of Cricket will shine out because it is such a great game.

    Keep the faith.

    • Thanks Michael. All valid points.

      By the way, I do enjoy white ball cricket too. So my enjoyment of the game isn’t completely going. However, I am extremely concerned about the future of Test cricket. Multiple boards don’t really want to play it anymore, and when the ECB (one of the boards that actually gets good crowds and makes money from Test cricket) starts to prioritise other stuff then it’s a big, big worry.

    • “We also have the most promising pace attack I can recall with Wood, Stone and Archer”.

      Archer averages 43 with the ball in Tests since his debut series. He’s not been well managed but it looks to me that his method is one that cannot be sustained in the longer form of the game (because he generated his pace by a hyper-extension of the elbow).

      • Not everything is about the Ashes, but the promising attack comment is fair in that context – essentially, England’s chances run in lock step with how much of the series is played with Wood and Archer fit. If it’s all or most of the series, England have a real chance. Control from Leach and Anderson and some overs from Stokes, and that’s a good attack in Australia. On the other hand, if you’re looking for most of your wickets from Anderson, Broad and Woakes or similar, it’s unlikely to be much different from the last couple of times.

      • Bumrah has hyperextension in the elbow. So did Akhthar and Malinga. Bowlers with hyper mobile joints do have to be extra fit to not get injured. Probably do all kinds of strengthening. There was a lot of talk when Bumrah went from T20 to tests that test cricket would break him. But I suppose the support staff has a much better understanding of these things today.

    • While I agree we have a promising pace attack on paper, my concern is that Stone and Wood are walking injuries, Woakes is injury prone and Archer apart from a recurring shoulder problem, doesn’t seem capable of bowling flat out anymore which makes him almost redundant. He also doesn’t look interested. Broad and Anderson are relatively injury free, but neither is getting any younger, and at 38 going on 39 one bad injury could see the end of Jimmy. Apart from this last Test where Root flogged him into the ground because he had nowhere to turn, Stokes rarely bowls more than a very few overs. But being positive if we take them all maybe it’ll be enough. Still reckon the Aussie pace attack at home will come out on top though.

  • Great article. In my opinion we need more red ball cricket played throughout the season, not at its bookends. Chances of this happening? About as likely as me going to watch ‘The 100’. I think you can guess how likely THAT is!

  • Very good analysis. The only thing I’d disagree with is that Silverwood’s comment isn’t the most important by someone managing English cricket, it was Strauss’s prioritising white ball cricket back in 2015. All Silverwood is doing is carrying on a trend already set.

    Test cricket will stumble on for a bit while they can still make money out of the Ashes. However the trajectory towards shorter and shorter games is one I can’t see being reversed (it has nothing to do with “modern life styles” but that acts as convenient cover). Even worse is the determination for franchises to take over from national and genuinely regional/local teams.

    I watched nearly every ball of the last Indian tour, I’ve watched barely a session of this one. I might still go to a bit of county cricket – if I can, which I seriously doubt (because some form of vaccine passport is almost certainly going to be required to get in).

    • Yes realise that Silverwood is just following a strategy that was implemented by higher ups long before he arrived on the scene. However, as far as I’m aware, Strauss etc never actually admitted in public that Test cricket was no on a par with T20. They might have thought about it / discussed it in private though I suppose.

  • It’ll all be worth it when England win the World T20 though, James…:-)

    I think your argument largely hits the nail on the head, but the one portion of it has gone awry: Buttler (and, for that matter, Smith) are an easy target but the wrong one. Of course, two hundreds in a 50-game career is nowhere near good enough, but sadly there’s a very easy explanation for Buttler’s continued selection: he’s one of England’s best batsmen. Since he was recalled he averages more than any other available specialist batsman than Root (I’m not counting Stokes here), with only one player within four runs of him–and if you leave out that player’s one highest score in 20 innings then he averages under 22. In the last year it’s the same, and one other comes within 22(!) runs–take away that same innings and that player averages 19.

    I’ll say that again: Buttler (f-c average 33, two centuries in 50 tests) is one of England’s best two or three red-ball batsmen by some distance, and has been for three years. THAT’S the damning indictment of the system that you’re talking about–which means that England are essentially selecting players for the test team (notably Crawley and Lawrence, but Curran and Bess of the bowlers too) who are no more than county players with potential at the moment, and who in the past would have been playing for the Lions at this stage. As an example, everyone lauds Sibley–but he’s had one good county season in the last five: he’s very far from the finished article, and in past years he’d have been nowehere near the side at this point.

    I think you’ve also missed out two groups of people who’ve contributed substantially to this defeat. One is the coaching team: yes, some of the England players have been selected out of necessity, but it’s interesting to see the difference in performance between Gill, Sundar, Siraj and Patel (none of whom had played a test three months ago) and Crawley, Bess and Archer, or between Pant and Pope who are test contemporaries.

    The second is the players, for their attitudes to money. Of course IPL money is silly money that it’s difficult to turn down, but a contracted red-ball player gets over £600K, a white-ball player around £230K (or roughly seven times the median wage), and someone in the England side who’s not contracted will probably have a county contract over £100K. They’re not poor–and therefore T20 leagues don’t have to have the same magnetism that they might for a player from many other countries. It’s not only the board who are quite happy to put white-ball money over (or at the least equal to) Test matches, it’s the players.

    • Yes it’s a fair comment. Buttler has improved. But I also think he’s been indulged. He played as a specialist batsman at 7 for a while (just to shoehorn him into the side) and then when he didn’t score enough runs to justify his place they gave him the gloves rather than dropping him – thus lowering the threshold of what an acceptable return would be. Other players would’ve simply been dropped. What’s more, in this desperate move to retain him, they took the gloves away from Bairstow who had performed pretty well up until that point. Jonny hasn’t really been the same since.

      Buttler was also recalled to the Test team for no reason when Smith came in and hadn’t done anything to justify getting that opportunity. Basically, I think he’s had far more chances, and a longer rope, than anyone else in the squad – all based on potential. I hope he can continue to improve because we’ve invested so much in him.

      Re: the T20 world cup. Of course, we’ve actually won it before! And we did so at a time when Test cricket was still the No1 priority in English cricket. Interesting eh.

      • Hi James, sorry to bore you with stats again, but in the West Indies away series in 2019, where Bairstow regained the gloves from Foakes, his series average (having played the first two as a bat and last as wicketkeeper) was 22.00. Buttler’s as bat only was 29.67.

        Bairstow then played the next test against Ireland, where he scored two ducks. He then played in the home Ashes, where his series average was 23.78. Buttler as bat only wasn’t much better at 24.70 but significantly, he produced a match-winning performance in the final test to help England draw the series 2-2.

        After that, they swapped them around and gave Buttler the gloves and selected Bairstow for the South Africa tour as specialist bat. He played the first match, but unfortunately, only averaged 5.00 and was subsequently dropped.

        Buttler didn’t do much better either since his series average was 16.43. However, he retained his place -because who was better? Bairstow was even worse, and Foakes had been dropped during the West Indies tour because his average in the series was worse than Bairstow’s!!

        So there’s no evidence of favouritism here, only of the selectors picking the bloke they thought was the least worst option!

        That’s the problem with our test team. There are no better options out there not being given a chance. We simply don’t have good enough test players coming through the system, and that’s a structural issue, not an individual one.

        • One thing slightly overlooked there is how good they are as keepers. At the point at which Buttler took the gloves, Bairstow was probably (in my opinion) the slightly better keeper. Yet Jos had the gloves and Jonny was walking around the field wondering why they’d been taken off him. Buttler’s keeping has improved slightly now but Jonny rarely let England down.

          Bairstow has also traditionally scored A LOT more runs when playing as keeper, as he’d gone on record saying that he felt under less pressure when playing as an all rounder. As a keeper-batsman, batting at 6 or 7, Jonny was a very decent package indeed. He averages 38 with 5 hundreds as keeper. This is markedly better than Buttler’s record.

          It’s Jonny’s record as a pure batsman that’s poor. But England conveniently forgot this because they were absolutely fixated with Buttler.

          I don’t have much sympathy left for Bairstow to be honest, but in this regard I do.

          • I take your point. I do think it’s a classic case of having two players with similar attributes competing for one spot. Neither cut the mustard as specialist bats; both only offered value with the gloves.

            In the end, Jonny Bairstow’s slightly better keeping lost out to Buttler’s perceived better batting in difficult situations, and Bairstow was left to flounder as a specialist bat.

            It would be so much easier for everyone if we could just have a stand out player in most positions to save on all the arguments!

  • 1) England lodged no formal complaint about the pitches.
    2) The ECB are desperate for the BCCI to allow their players to play in the 16.66.
    3) England players want juicy IPL contracts.

    No connections here…

    BTW it’s probably reasonable to argue that no Ed Smith decision made much of a difference to the result of the series (it’s not like some past defeats when someone was crazily left out). However it’s also reasonable to point out that Smith wasn’t exactly shy of taking credit for some series’ wins where his decisions didn’t make much of a difference to the result either.

    • Re the decisions: the other point is that none of the decisions that came closest to impacting the series are likely to have been Smith’s alone, or possibly even at all. On-tour selection (the three seamers and eight batsmen; dropping Bess) is at the very least done in consultation with the captaik and coach, without whose approval it’s a non-starter; and the rotation policy is likely to have had as much to do with Silverwood, Giles and the medical (or HR!) staff as Smith.

  • Hi James
    A couple of years ago I would have tried to come up with something positive to set against your downbeat assessment, but now I’ve (pretty much) abandoned hope. You’ve only got to see what the ECB has done to the women’s game where 20/20 is the long format to realize what their vision for the game is.

  • Well written article James. It is shameful that the ECB didn’t priortise the India series but rested players for what is probably the 2nd most important contest for England. The first, of course, is the Ashes. However, I don’t think we have the players at the moment to challenge the likes of Ashwin and Patel so not sure it would have made such a difference.

    Just a quick word about the pitches, I thought the 1st and 4th Test pitches were good wickets but the 2nd and 3rd Test pitches gave an unfair advantage to the Indian spinners.

    Finally, it is a good job that of India’s revered top 6 only Rohit and Pant turned up. It could have carnage if Pujara and His Viratness had been in form.

  • Perhaps some of the England should consider transitioning and seeing if they can beat India’s Women.

    I’m only being semi-facetious, this is already happening in US sports.

  • It is very easy to say that there is a lot wrong with the Test team, because well, there is so much wrong with the Test team!
    Where to begin – Root is not a great captain, let him bat without the shackles of captaincy and England will be stronger, the best batsman gets better, start there!
    Good spine of Crawley, Pope and Lawrence but Burns and Sibley are not the answer as openers. No idea who would be, but Crawley is a better 3. Saying that, he generally is the opener coming in at 3!
    Stokes is batting too high at 5 (many disagree, I know). You talk about imbalance, if you put Stokes in at 6, that gives the extra batting spot and let’s face, when England are 4 down, the number 6 is coming in early anyway.
    Agree about Buttler, the obsession is bizarre. Foakes a better option.
    Archer is a defo NO – everybody loves the Archer hype, but seriously he cannot play Tests, he isn’t interested. Can Archer bowl 5 overs of searing pace and unsettle a batsmen on day 1? Absolutely. Can he bowl long spells in a partnership, in hot placid conditions over 5 days, back to back Tests? No. Is he going to give you one of those Dennis Lillee, Ben Stokes momentous spells late on day 5 in the heat that wins you a Test match? No. He’s soft and unreliable. Morgan, he’s all yours.
    Speaking of spinners and the lack of support at grass roots and County levels, have a think about this – we know many England players have gone to Australia in their summer to play grade cricket. They have all loved it and have come back as better players (interestingly is seems be more batsmen then bowlers….), so why don’t any promising young spinner go and spent a season in India? I accept you won’t get the dust bowls here, but they will learn the craft, the art of spin bowing. They will become street smart and get to understand the dark arts of their craft. If you want to become a great Test bowler, what’s one season out of your career?

    • It’s all very well being critical of Root’s captaincy but who would you replace him with? Stokes? So you would burden him with the captaincy instead and expect him to bat and, in his case, bowl too?

      If not Stokes, the only other candidate is Buttler and you wouldn’t even have him in the team!

      I don’t doubt that Root’s captaincy could do with improving, but there are no obvious alternatives so surely we are better off looking at areas he can improve rather than calling for him to step down.

  • The Guardian’s player ratings for the series are an utter joke…. a specialist batsman can average 17 and get B- while a bowler can take no wickets, average 5 with the bat and get a C? Unsurprisingly there’s a jibe at Root’s captaincy which, while not untrue in itself, was the sort of thing never written about the previous captain.

    It’s truly a rag – yet somehow, despite a hugely dubious business model, it doesn’t go out of business.

    • They’re magnificently random! I particular liked the different grade for two batsmen who both batted in the same position, had the same average and didn’t bowl; and the batsman who averaged two runs more and also didn’t bowl getting a lower grade than either of them.

  • Good summary from Liew of how England have treated Bairstow in recetn years:

    “Since the home series against India in 2018, Bairstow has changed batting positions 14 times in 18 Tests. In the same period he played one Test with the gloves, then one without, then one with, then three without, then seven with, then five without. In the same period he was left out and recalled on four occasions. It is four years since he batted an entire series (of at least three Tests) in the same position”.

    However all Bairstow gets is “he’s the captain’s mate” while Moeen Ali has people queuing up to make the same “they’ve messed him about” excuse (and Ali is now being presented as one of the successes of the tour who should be back in the team come the summer rather than the taker of 8 expensive wickets on a pitch tailor-made for his bowling and the slogger of a desperate 40).

    The problem for Bairstow, Ali and others is England have had too many players who want to be in positions 5-7. With Stoke and Buttler seemingly cemented in two of those positions when they want to play the options are now severely limited, a problem exacerbated by Stokes not being able to bowl enough to be one of a four-man attack. Dan Lawrence is likely to be the next victim of the problem – it’s no coincidence Lawrence made runs lower down the order but he’s already earmarked to fill the No.3 spot again. Otherwise we’re left with the media again haranguing Root to bat at No.3 – or recalling Joe Denly!

    • I thought it was a terrible, very poorly-argued article.

      His point about the gloves fails to acknowledge that the first two occasions in the list where he “lost” them were due to injury, their restoration to him was apparently because the management backed him up in not accepting not having them, and their subsequent loss was because he’d averaged less than 25 for well over a year (imagine the reaction if Foakes, who’s a much better keeper, did that).

      The whole article (and it’s not the first on this theme, which makes your idea of people criticising Bairstow while praising Ali to the roof seem a little odd) is based on the idea–which I’m very sceptical of–that there’s a absolutely fundamental difference between batting at 5, 6 and 7.

      His use of Bairstow’s average ignores the fact that when his batting position was changed–which I think was unnecessary–he had hardly averaged any more in the previous 15 months than Buttler had when he was dropped in 2015.

      Yes, he’s been moved around a bit in the last couple of years, but I think that’s a sign of how much they rate his potential as much as anything. He simply hasn’t scored enough runs to justify a longer period in the role he was playing–or even to have it in the first place, since when he was picked as keeper in 2015 he was a failed no. 5 or 6 batsman at a time when there were better options as keeper.

  • I think one of the major problems with debating who should bat where in the order is that apart from Root who is miles ahead, no one else in the current Test set up averages over 36 of those from batting from 1 to 7 (do correct me if my stats are wrong). Whatever your view of particular players that is not really good enough for a Test side. So is there anyone else out there who is, or could do better? The other question is how many have the temperament for Test cricket? Who has the patience? Who can handle a pressure cooker situation best? Not many it seems to me. And I think conversly that’s almost as important as what your average is. I’ll give you one example from the not too distant past: Mark Ramprakash scored buckets of runs in County Cricket for years, but aside from a couple of major innings just did not cut it at Test level. Yet his technique was one of the best ever in my opinion. Yet Gooch, equally a heavy scorer in the County Game was one of our best post war test players. No real easy reason why to my thinking. And certainly 6 England “specialist” coaches seem to do little apart from further muddy the waters in the current set up.
    You can argue the now rather boring adage that “they play too much white ball cricket” but again it seems to me most other countries handle the different formats better than us. So it goes back to how those running the game see it, and I think if we want the best in Test cricket the whole perception of what cricket should be needs a major rethink.
    ECB anyone?

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