Magic Mo-ments – Day 1 At The Oval

Now that was one of the most entertaining innings I’ve seen by an England batsman for some time. It wasn’t a brutal seventy ball hundred, full of power hitting and brute strength; it was a study in elegance and panache. Mo, I think I love you.

England were in deep trouble this morning. Alastair Cook won the toss, elected to bat on a pitch that offered a little bit for the seamers, and then watched his batsmen commit hara-kiri. Cook himself played on (he could have been caught at slip a bit earlier too), Hales chipped one to midwicket, Root played an ugly swish outside off, and Vince got a good ball and was caught behind. At 74-4 things were looking decidedly dodgy.

When Gary Ballance edged one to slip shortly after lunch – he got rattled by Wahab’s pace, was pushed back, and looked almost as tentative as he did against Mitchell Johnson last summer – England were in danger of losing the test match already.

Enter Mo. The man for a crisis.

Although he was hit on the helmet first ball, Mo looked completely unflustered. If anything it woke him up. Together with the impressive Jonny Bairstow, he slowly rescued England and earned parity in the contest. 110-5 soon became 200-5. Phew!

When Bairstow was eventually caught behind, Mo was joined by Chris Woakes – who is rapidly turning into a superstar. The Warwickshire man made a beautiful 45 full of classic drives on the up. It was the only time of the day that Mo had a rival in the aesthetics stakes.

Unfortunately however, it was too good to last. Mo was left with the rats and mice. Would he run out of partners? When Broad and Finn were dismissed in quick succession, it was up to Jimmy Anderson, the Burnley Lara (or is it the Burnley Barnacle?), to see England past 300 and Mo to his century. Hearts were in mouths.

We needn’t have worried. When the opportunity came, Mo launched the spinner high and far for six. 95 became 101 and The Oval went mad. I went mad. And my Mrs wondered what all the fuss was about upstairs.

England were finally dismissed for 328. Not a great score by any means but one that looked completely out of reach just a few hours before. When Pakistan lost Sami before the close, the momentum was clearly with England.

When Mo’s head hits the pillow tonight he can reflect on what was his best ever innings for England. He arrived at the crease with his team in trouble, conditions just about favouring the bowlers, and a fired up Wahab steaming in like a man possessed.

Not only did he weather the storm, he played himself in sensibly, showed immense composure, and picked his moments to play all those sumptuous shots that have become his trademark. He looked like a class act. Full stop.

Before I sign off though, I’d just like to mention Pakistan. Once again they let their big chance slip. This time it was their fielding at fault: they dropped Cook, they had Bairstow caught off a noball, and they even dropped Moeen too.

Today could have been a lot different. Being one of their fans must be an even harder gig than supporting England.

James Morgan


  • I couldn’t understand Mo’s tactics when left with Jimmy – who’s hardly a ferret* with the bat.

    *comes in after the rabbits

  • And it came to pass that the beard WAS feared…

    With the top half of England’s batting order so full of holes it seems crazy to have a batsman of Mo’s class coming in at seven. Would his bowling really suffer if he instead batted at six? Short of something very special in the second innings, I really don’t see how Vince can retain his place (in an ideal World Ballance probably wouldn’t either). So why not simply promote Moeen a slot or two up the batting order and make room for a specialist keeper or another bowler? With Chris Woakes finally coming of age as a test cricketer, and Stokes to come back in, we’d still bat very deep but would have (hopefully) a stronger middle order and over all a more balanced team.

    This is all pretty obvious stuff, surely?

    • It’s all pretty obvious from the outside but selectors and management are rarely objective in lots of sports. They back certain players wrongly, and then give them too many games in the desperate hope they’ll turn things around and vindicate the original decision. Ego and pride get in the way. It’s human I suppose.

      We hear that the selectors would rather someone plays one game too many rather than one game too few, but surely the best strategy is to give someone exactly the right number of chances? But that’s just me ;-)

      • We hear that the selectors would rather someone plays one game too many rather than one game too few…

        Which doesn’t seem to apply to leg spinners…

      • Ali is not a test match quality top six batsmen. However, only two of our top six are so tbh, I don’t think it matters who you pick. It’s worrying here and the media by an large seem to either fail to see or are in denial about the poor quality of cricket produced and the complete absence of test class players being produced by a system that has more money in it than ever before.

        I’ll await my inevitable shouting down about how classy mo, stokes, hales, vince, buttler all are but the simple truth is they are not even close to true test quality.

        Think about what a test class top six batsmen should be and boom.. All fail completely.

        Stokes and moeen are 7/8’s , buttler.. Jesus Christ he shoud to ever come close to test cricket!!

        • What makes you think Mo isn’t a number 6 , or even a number 5 I’m the modern era. He’s got all the shots he just needs to tighten his defences.

          I’m personally not here to shout anyone down but I would like to pose this question.
          You seem to set a very high bar when it comes to test cricket. Now I’ve been watching test cricket for 30 years and I’ve seen some very iffy teams, as iffy if not iffier than what’s around now.
          Would you prefer limited batsmen to block, block, block like a Chris Tavare, or play a few shots, take a few chances and get attractive 50’s

          • His defence isn’t upto it, he flashes at way too many good balls to be a test batsmen.

            As I’ve said before though, sadly the quality of bowling isn’t around to show up players like moeen and so they become stars and have stats to rival far superior players .

            Being a genuine test batsmen doesn’t mean you block, it means you only attack when it’s a bad ball etc. Not just flash at anything remotely full aka hales, moeen, stokes, vince

    • A bit harsh on Vince. I have concerns, but technically he looks head and shoulders above Ballance but seems to have a judgement issue. It is particularly harsh to take any account of his dismissal yesterday – he was the only bat to get a real snorter that would have got any of them (except those unable to get the edge!). Having said all that it still seems obvious to me that Bell should be in that slot. And I will repeat what I have said before; if Woakes had been treated similarly to Stokes by selectors England would have had the top rated all rounder in the world for the last 3-4 years.

      • Rashid was never realistically going to come in for this series and they’d always lined him up for the next. I expect them to try something along the lines of what you recommend Oreston.

        I think England have got the right idea approach, which seems to be to give two series to a batsman and less to test a bowler (for what I think are obvious reasons). It’s easy to have a bit of a moan when someone isn’t performing, but no one wants us to return to the chop and change approach of the past, because this pays dividends with someone like Ali who has repaid the faith in the last couple. For the record I don’t think Vince is good enough now but could come good later in his career – it worked for Root, Bairstow, and Woakes.

        Re Vince / Hales etc. it’s further compounded by there not being any obvious standout batting candidates. Fairly sure there they’ll try someone else for Vince after this series anyway but Hales will probably survive for now, perhaps keeping things warm for Duckett / Hameed / Bell-Drummond next year. But I’m certain that if someone emerged like Bairstow with a stupidly high CC average, they would be in.

        Re Woakes; I’ve always liked him and with a more sustained investment of playing time a couple of years ago it’s possible he may have established himself; but I do think he has put on something extra in the last year or two so not completely sure on that one.

        • Hi Jamie. The thing I don’t understand re: Hales is that he’s had far more opportunities than his predecessors (Carberry, Robson and Lyth) despite looking, in my opinion, the worst player of the four. It’s worth remembering that both Robson and Lyth actually made a test hundred too, yet were out of the door quick sharp.

          Robson averaged 31 in 7 tests (11 innings)
          Lyth averaged 20 in 7 tests (13 innings)
          Carberry averaged 29 in 6 tests (12 innings)

          It’s worth pointing out that Carberry and Lyth had the toughest brief by far because 5 of their tests (10 innings) were against the Aussies. I thought Carberry looked pretty organised during the Ashes whitewash against some pretty serious bowling from Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris. He just kept getting out in the 30s.

          Hales averages 28 in 11 tests (20 innings) with no hundreds yet most expect him to go to India too. He’s had almost double the amount of chances yet hasn’t repaid any of the faith in him yet.

          I understand that you can’t keep twisting and eventually you have to stick, but why stick with someone who’s shown the least of all the candidates imho?

          • Carberry was badly treated in the aftermath of the “difficult winter.” I seem to recall the criticism being that although he was a tough customer to dismiss (at least by the admittedly low standard set by England’s batting on that tour) he didn’t score very prolifically.

            But they also got rid of the bloke who scored the most runs across the five tests, so no consistency there…

          • It’s a tricky one, I can’t really fault your logic.

            Of the three you named I really thought Lyth looked extremely vulnerable, even taking into account the opposition, but either of the other two I think showed more promise.

            I wonder though if it’s more a question of luck and timing, i.e. they’ve tried all the options, and as the last one Hales hasn’t done markedly differently to those that came before him? i.e. Rather than seek to chop and change again they’ll continue investing until he either conclusively proves himself, has a run that gets his dropped (appreciate you may think he has) or until someone new impresses sufficiently to have a run or an existing option scores a bucketload in the CC? I don’t think that any of those three names have made a conclusive case that they should be back in the team.

            The situation is rather why I am leaning towards them trying a younger option. I’m generally in favour of the path of incremental steps to the England test team, but at a time like now and with some promise being shown I wonder how much we have to lose with trying someone younger and fast-tracking them straight in? It worked with Cook, and some test exposure at a young age could be a valuable investment in the long run.

  • I agree with the overall assessment of the Mo innings with one exception in the aesthetics stakes – the shot to bring up his century. A charge that did not get to the pitch followed by a hoick across the line; it reminded me of that dismissal in the first test except this time he got the ball, presumably as he had his eye in. But all very entertaining.

  • I think yesterday’s batting performance reinforces my comment yesterday morning that (given how many all rounders England have), you might as well drop one of the batsmen (Vince and Ballance are the prime candidates) for Rashid (or possibly Borthwick) in India, and play 6 bowlers (4 quicks: Woakes, Stokes, Broad and Anderson, presumably, and two spinners). Another cracking day’s test cricket, in what has been one of the most enjoyable test series in recent (post 2005) memory.

    • Agree entirely James. It will be interesting when Stokes comes back too. I can see Stokes and Rashid coming in for Vince and Ballance. We’d essentially end up with a team of all-rounders, but with all of them playing on merit as batsmen. It’s weird.

      • Whilst I understand the thinking I am not sure about the conclusion. The next serious tests will be in India and I suspect Finn (and probably Broad) will be very tame on those wickets. It would seem more rational to leave out Vince or Ballance and one of Finn or Broad. And, picking up the Hales comments above, back to my favourite topic; if Hales is to go bring in Billings and give him the gloves as well.

    • SA 2008? SA 2012? Aus 2013/14? They were pretty good!

      Certainly many many many classes above the calibre of player in this series

      • Those sides had their fair share of dodgy/average players.
        To name a few…

        Ashwell Prince, Paul Harris, Neil McKenzie, Andre Nel, Alviro Peterson, JP Duminy, Jacques Rudolph, Imran Tahir, George Bailey, Shane Watson.

        How much are rose tinted glasses at specsavers?

        • On the positive side, it does remind some of us who are old enough of dear old Trevor Bailey commentating on TMS….

        • Kallis, ntini, Amla, smith, steyn, philander, de villiars, Boucher

          That’s talent in one team alone than pretty much the world right now.

          Typically just shouting down again I see

          2013-14 ashes

          Johnson (sure both aren’t greats but they made some of the best England batsmen (better than this load of clowns) look like school kids
          Can’t remember if hussey was there tbf

          Who do England have to rival hussey? Clarke ? Johnson (we have no one at that pace), Harris

        • Is stokes any bette than Watson?? Wouldn’t or shouldn’t get in for one discipline alone but handy at both. Freddie was as good a bowler as we had and could bat, even he was only number six for a short while at his peak though .

          • MAC , I am not shouting you down. I’m just merely asking you. Was it really as good as you remember?
            We are all guilty of romanticising the past and dismissing the present, I’m reading a lot of stuff doing similar about the Olympics.
            You remember the golden moments and gloss over the dross.

            That 2012 SA team was very good. You’ll get no arguments there. But they weren’t all conquering


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