Sack Or Back? England Player Report Cards

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With the series in the books, and the Basil D’Oliveira trophy in the bag, it’s time for a gentle fireside chat about each individual player ahead of the winter. Think of me as Franklin Roosevelt (not Donald Trump), and TFT as an old fashioned homely wireless. I can almost hear the wood crackling away … and it’s getting far too difficult to resist a ‘you’re fired’ pun.

Alastair Cook – 268 runs at 33.5 – Back

Not quite at his best I’m afraid. We’d hoped that relinquishing the captaincy might have liberated Chef. Instead he came up against a fired up Morne Morkel and struggled (as usual) against Vernon Philander. Things might have been worse had Philander’s Mum not issued her ailing son with an abundance of sicknotes.

I’m not entirely surprised that Cook struggled a bit. He’s never been the best player of quality fast bowling – his career records against South Africa (35) and Australia (39) obviously point to a player who’s more comfortable against medium pace and spin. However, Cook did make a crucial 88 at The Oval that in many ways set up the win. If the situation calls for stickability and resilience, Alastair is still one of the best around.

I’ve said for a long time that Cook will be a key man (if not the key man) in Australia this winter. He’s capable of scoring heavily if the pitches are good and the Aussies aren’t quite at their best, but some will worry that the hundreds are drying up: just two in 47 inns since his double hundred on that featherbed in the UAE.

Keaton Jennings 127 runs at 16 – Sack

I think we know how this story is going to end … or at least the most recent chapter in the Jennings radio soap opera.

Although I still think young Keaton deserved his chance after scoring a century on debut in India, it’s pretty clear he needs to work on his technique. Mark Stoneman is waiting in the wings and I’ll be amazed if the Durham deserter doesn’t get selected against the Windies … although some Surrey fans might argue that Rory Burns is just as deserving.

I feel a bit for Jennings though. He has a good temperament, interviews well, and is apparently quite well liked in the dressing room. The problem is that he’s modelled his game on Marcus Trescothick, who was also very upright and didn’t move his feet that much. Playing this way necessitates an absolutely brilliant eye (which Trescothick had). Unfortunately I’m not sure that Jennings does.

Tom Westley – 122 runs at 30.5 – Back

Westley looked pretty good at times, although a big score eluded him. He plays very nicely through the leg-side, has a decent defense, and appears to have a decent head on his shoulders too.

England’s coaches will have to work hard this winter to prevent Westley’s strong bottom hand coming into play too much. He’ll need to be very careful in Australia. Having said that, the pitches are usually pretty true down under. Steve Smith gets loads of runs working everything through the leg-side, so that bodes well for Tom.

Gary Ballance 85 runs at 21 – Sack

The amazing Gary Balance made perhaps the finest 85 runs of the summer. Surely enough to earn a fifth chance in international cricket whenever his finger heals?

Joe Root 461 runs at 58 – Back

He’s quality isn’t he? Although his conversation rate still isn’t the best, I guess nobody’s perfect. He scores quickly whatever the conditions, always seems to have loads of time, and combats spin and pace equally well. The only problem is that he becomes his own worst enemy at times. It’s almost too easy for him. I’m convinced that he gets himself out because he simply gets bored and loses focus.

It will be interesting to see how Root performs down under where the pitches are usually quite bouncy. If there’s one area he might get exposed it’s outside off-stump. Sure, he’ll score a lot of runs playing through point, but I also think the extra bounce might be his undoing occasionally.

If I was Steve Smith I’d set a field with a point, a gully or backward point, and a man sweeping on the cover / point boundary too. They’ll either get Root out or get him off-strike.

Dawid Malan 35 runs at 9 – Who knows?

We haven’t really seen enough of Dawid to judge. He’s never in for long enough! I still can’t make my mind up about him. Is Malan just a very good county player or is he a late developer with the potential to turn into England’s Mike Hussey?

One thing’s for sure, runs against the Windies will not provide a definitive answer. Then again, if he doesn’t score runs against one of the weakest attacks in world cricket, the selectors will probably move on. Basically poor Dawid can’t win.

Ben Stokes 299 runs at 37, 7 wickets at 43 – Back

Is Stokes the new Flintoff? Jack Mendel will be discussing this very subject later in the week. I think it’s an interesting comparison because most people will assume that Stokes had an amazing series based on his exploits at The Oval. The truth is, however, that series averages of 37 with the bat and 43 with the ball aren’t particularly special.

What does make Stokes special, however, is his ability to seize the moment and play a special innings (or bowl a special spell) just when the team needs it. And there’s nothing more Flintoff-esque than that.

Stokes will be absolutely key for England in Australia this winter. He’s probably the team’s talisman these days, and I expect him to perform really well in front of those mammoth Australian crowds. Cometh the man …

Jonny Bairstow 330 runs at 41 – Back

Jonny is rapidly becoming one of my favourite cricketers. His keeping has improved and his batting is still very good. I’m struggling to think of a better keeper-batsman in world cricket to be honest. Quinton de Kock might look more elegant but Jonny out-pointed him this summer.

Although Jonny’s technique isn’t perfect, it probably doesn’t need to be if he’s coming in at six or seven. He’s rapidly becoming a banker for England, and he’s good enough to either tough things out or score freely.

Moeen Ali 252 runs at 36, 25 wickets at 16 – Back

 Is this the high-point of Mo’s career or the beginning of something special? You never know with Mo. And I bet he doesn’t think about it too much either. He just takes things day by day.

Moeen is so relaxed that I sometimes wonder whether he’s awake. And can anyone think of a cooler cricketer than Mo? He’s probably world cricket’s biggest dude since Viv Richards.

I’ve talked at length about Mo in recent weeks so I won’t repeat it all again here. Let’s just say that Australia will be a challenge for him. The bouncy pitches will test his batting against the short ball, and his spin bowling (which hasn’t been at its best abroad) might not be so effective.

However, if Mo can come through the tour with a modicum of success, his status as a world-class all-rounder will be assured.

Liam Dawson 18 runs at 6, 5 wickets at 34 – Sack

Whereas Mo is a real fans’ favourite, nobody seems too fussed about poor old Liam Dawson. It’s because nobody can quite work out why he was playing in the first place.

Dawson isn’t a bad cricketer at all – his batting and bowling are both useful – but one wonders whether he’s remotely good enough at either suit to warrant a place in England’s test squad.

I’d like to say that time will tell. But I’m not sure that it will. Would anyone be surprised if Dawson never plays for England again?

Toby Roland Jones – 10 wickets at 22 – Back

Good old TRJ must be in dreamland. He’s played county cricket for years without a sniff of international cricket and then, at the age of 29, and in the middle of a championship season in which he’s struggled for form, he suddenly takes five wickets on his test debut. It’s a remarkable story.

Although I’m not sure how effective TRJ will be in Australia, I am certain that he’ll be on the plane. I’m also certain that I like him as a character a lot: he plays with a smile and there’s nothing pretentious about him at all.

He’s a good old fashioned and whole-hearted cricketer, and perhaps he’ll keep on surprising people? Stuart Clark didn’t play for Australia until he was 30. And Clark wasn’t particularly quick either. But he did have a very productive international career while it lasted. Perhaps idiotic bloggers (like that James Morgan bloke) shouldn’t write him off so quickly.

Mark Wood – 1 wicket at 197 – Back (if fit!)

Although I rate Wood highly, and still think he could be a key man down under this winter, the bottom line is that he didn’t bowl very well at Lord’s or Trent Bridge, he didn’t bowl particularly quickly, and he still can’t keep himself fit.

I’m beginning to fear that Wood will become England’s version of Shaun Tait: a more than handy white ball performer whose body can’t stand up to the rigours of five-day cricket.

Wood was excellent in the Champions Trophy. He looked like one of the best bowlers in the whole tournament. But as soon as he’s asked to get through a test match it all goes pear-shaped. Perhaps he should stick to ten overs per day? It’s a shame. He should only play tests if he’s fully fit.

Stuart Broad – 11 wickets at 32 – Back

I thought Broad bowled quite well without quite getting the rewards he deserved. Although he wasn’t always at his best, there were times when his legs were pumping, his rhythm was good, and his speed was up. And when he’s in this kind of mood he’s a very good test bowler indeed.

I sense that Broad will be another key man this winter. He might have to lead the attack (as Anderson’s record down under isn’t great) and I just hope he can last the tour this time.

It’s amazing to think that Broad has now played 106 test matches. I sense we’re going to miss him when he’s gone.

Jimmy Anderson 20 wickets at 14 – Back

Talking of missing people when they’re gone … how on earth are we going to replace Jimmy when he finally hangs up his boots?

Anderson is still a sensational bowler in English conditions and still absolutely brilliant to watch. He obviously has all the skills, almost seems to be improving (in some ways) with age, and the way he sets up batsmen is fantastic.

I just hope that Jimmy doesn’t struggle in Australia, when the Kookaburra ball tends to do sod all, and then decide that test cricket is too much like hard work for a 35 year old …

I still think that Anderson could play for another two or three years (especially at home). And if he does so, his total of 487 test wickets might well creep past Glenn McGrath’s 563. And if he can get past McGrath, he’ll become the top wicket taking fast bowler in test history. Now that would be one hell of an achievement.

James Morgan

13 Comments

  1. There is no arguing with any of this James. We are in full agreement. Pleased to see you have come to love TobyRJ as much as we do at Middlesex.

    There is nothing more to add. You are right on the money here. We could do with you on the panel of selectors. 🙂

  2. I’m going to make an early and possibly unfair call about Malan, and that is sack. There must surely be a better pick, although I’ll need a few days to come up with names.

    • Agree. Since Test cricket is a Big Step Up from championship, if Malan fails against WI, England will have missed an opportunity to let someone else settle in a bit under less pressure before the winter.

      Bairstow is a star batsman. I find it ironic that the highest accolade given to an England keeper, for years, is “improved”.

      Very apprehensive about Wood (and generally how they assess “fully fit”). Even Andy Flower might now admit that taking dodgy fast bowlers to Australia doesn’t work

  3. Agree with all of your assessments. No mention of Woakes who must surely be included in the touring party. If he is fit to come back and bowl for the West Indies matches, it will be interesting to see who is dropped; TRJ or perhaps they will rest either Anderson or Broad. Alternatively they could play drop a batsman and have Woakes at 8 with the three all-rounders all moving up the order.

  4. Would love to see joe Clarke play.
    Hope hameed comes back.
    Wouldn’t be totally against hales for a bit.
    Woakes will come back, could maybe shift middle order up one but not sure they need to.

  5. Mason Crane instead of Liam Dawson; he undoubtedly has stardust although having only played twenty odd FC matches difficult to guess at what else, if anything, the selectors have seen.

    If he gets to play in one of the tests and does ok he might well get a plane ticket.

  6. Reading this after the squads been selected.
    A pretty fair assessment, I only disagree with Mark Wood. I’d give up on him with the red ball and wrap him up in cotton wool so he can win us the 2019 world cup.

    The squad is interesting, Stoneman seemed nailed on but I don’t know what more Alex Hales needs to do, I’d try him at 5, he has to be a better bet than Malan.
    Crane is in so they can get a look at him in the nets. I reckon him and Dawson will both be on the plane to Oz

  7. No one mentions Liam Plunkett. Is TRJ a better bet down under? Surely we should be looking to pick the strongest side available now. The ashes to me isn’t about potential or the future, it’s about winning now. Plunkett hits the deck, has genuine nip and has played out there before. If he played for a southern county he would surely be in contention.
    Can’t believe people are talking about not taking Anderson. He is a class apart from any other seamer we have, whatever the conditions.
    Rashid is not being talked about either. Mason Crane cannot be considered a better bet now, surely. Crane’s control was certainly impressive for a youngster in his one outing but Rashid is a proven match winner.
    The interesting selection might be Bairstow’s understudy. We should be looking at the best keeper and not, as seems the present trend, a wicket keeper-batsman. It is a defensive mind-set and deserves to win nothing.
    England’s selection aberrations are littered with trying bits and pieces cricketers like Dawson. We have enough all rounders and batting depth.

  8. Giles Falconer on

    Has there ever been a specialist bowler with a poorer 1st class cricket record selected for Test cricket than Crane? 70 wickets @ just under 42…. Against the West Indies (who looked to be somewhat similar to a county 2nd XI at Canterbury this week – outplayed by a Kent team with only 2 regular players), Crane may do well. Against Smith et al?

    I’d also agree with the comments about Plunkett for a tour place – especially if Wood is unfit. We need a properly fast bowler in the party ‘down under’.

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