The score 3-1 has a lovely ring to it. It says ‘decisive’ and it says ‘comfortable’. However, whilst some England players have cemented their places for the foreseeable future – which in English cricketing parlance simply means ‘the next series’ – others will be feeling distinctly uncomfortable. Jos Buttler, for example, will sweating on his place. And Matt Parkinson will be feeling uncomfortable because of all the splinters up his bottom. It can’t be easy riding the bench for three months.
Anyway, in time honoured TFT tradition, it’s time to play our usual post-series game of stick or twist. You know the drill by now. If a player deserves to retain his place it’s a ‘stick’. But if he deserves to be jettisoned faster than a shifty looking Huawei employee carrying the Coronavirus then it’s a definitive ‘twist’.
Rory Burns – Stick
After passing his trial by pace during the Ashes, Burns ticked an adjacent box by passing another trial by pace in the first test at Centurion. His 84 was the only bright spot of an otherwise dark few days.
One suspects that the Sri Lanka tour would’ve been tough for Rory. He’s not the best player of spin and struggled somewhat we toured there last year. Missing the trip might therefore work in his favour. More importantly however, he needs to improve his first touch, hold the ball up more effectively, and look for support before shooting hopelessly from distance.
Dom Sibley – Stick
The man-bear passed his South African audition with flying colours. His maiden century at Cape Town was possibly the the most significant hundred of the series and proved that his quirky technique can prosper at the highest level after all. Like Burns, however, he might find Sri Lanka a rather different test.
Sibley obviously favours the leg-side but he’s proved those who doubted his ability to score runs on the off-side completely wrong. As his confidence grew he unleashed some very pleasant cover drives. You don’t score 1,300+ championship runs at an average of 70 if you can only play one side of the wicket. County captains aren’t that stupid.
Zak Crawley – Stick
This lad has talent. He’s not the finished article but there’s clearly something to work with. I’d much rather keep faith with Crawley than recall Keaton Jennings for Sri Lanka.
It will be incredibly interesting to see how fares on the England Lions tour to Australia in a couple of weeks’ time. As far as I’m concerned – and I fully appreciate I have zero say in the matter – Crawley and Joe Denly are now competing for the same spot at 3 long-term. I hate to say it, as Denly has done ok, but if Crawley scores a lot of runs for The Lions (which is traditionally a tall order down under) then he’s definitely in.
Joe Denly – Stick
For now. But not necessarily in the starting XI. Joe’s 210 runs at 30 in South Africa was a typically Denly-espque performance. This guy can play. I don’t doubt that. And he deserves his opportunity to play against lesser opposition to score that elusive Test hundred.
However, international sport isn’t always fair. Just ask Ben Foakes. Careers rise and fall on the fickle judgements of those in charge. Therefore, if England feel that Zak Crawley is the better longterm bet then so be it. if you’d told Denly eighteen months ago that he’d play 14 Tests for England he would’ve bitten your hand off.
Joe Root – Stick
Four ‘sticks’ in a row eh? Well let’s spice things up by suggesting that England should twist on his captaincy.
Although some pundits are claiming that England’s 3-1 win is a vindication of Root’s credentials, I think we all know these are empty platitudes. Joe Root is not a natural leader and he’s not a good tactician either. He’s only captain because there doesn’t seem to be an alternative.
In my view Root is the best England batsman for at least twenty years. But we’re not getting value for money out of him precisely because of the captaincy. He averages 42 as captain with a very poor conversion rate of 1 ton to every 3.5 fifties. This suggests the mental load is simply too much. When he’s just another player he averages a whopping 52 with an acceptable conversion rate of 1 ton every 2.45 innings.
Ollie Pope – Stick
Rejoice! England have unearthed a new boy wonder. So let’s build him up, set expectations far too high, and then bury the poor sod as soon as he has one bad game.
Just kidding. There’s loads to love about Pope so we’ve got to treat this special talent with care. I’d certainly keep him away from England’s white ball teams for the time being because we just don’t need him. What’s more, I’d like to see him remain at 6 for at least a year or two.
Pope plays spin quite well so unlike some of England’s other young players I expect him to take Sri Lanka in his stride. A fixture for years to come? Does the Pope have a balcony?
Ben Stokes – Stick
Averaged 45 with the bat and 22 with the ball. That’s exceptional. I was even beginning to think he could replace Root as captain until he called that South Africa spectator a frightful rotter.
England should obviously stick with Stokes because he’s the best all-rounder we’ve had since Botham. Sorry Freddie. However, we should manage his workload very carefully. If we can keep Stokes, Wood, and Archer fit for the Ashes tour in two years’ time we might actually have a shot at taking 20 wickets down under. Stokes has this invaluable ability to make things happen – even on flat surfaces. Just don’t call him Ed Sheeran.
Jos Buttler – Twist
Enough is enough. We keep hearing that Jos will figure things out, and that his talent will eventually shine through, but he’s getting worse not better. And how many chances does he need for pete’s sake? He’s played 41 Tests, completed 73 innings, and his statistics since his recall are no better than his first stint in Test cricket.
Here’s the naked truth about Buttler. He’s done well against the weaker attacks (India 2014, West Indies 2015, Sri Lanka 2018, West Indies 2019), pretty well against the decent attacks (New Zealand 2015, Pakistan 2015, Pakistan 2018, India 2018) but absolutely horribly against the quality attacks (Australia 2015, Australia 2019, South Africa 2020). There’s a lesson in there. Talent can only take you so far without a sound technique and Test match temperament.
Poor Jos openly admits that he can’t work out how he should play. And that’s clearly not a good place to be. It’s time for Ben Foakes to come back into the side for Sri Lanka.
Jonny Bairstow – Twist
Although I wouldn’t mind too much if Jonny remains in the squad, Sri Lanka could be a good time to look at someone else. After all, there seems little point ditching Jos Buttler only to go back to Bairstow.
I remain convinced that Jonny can still be a good Test player for England. But he needs to work on his technique and actually prove it in some first class games before he earns a recall. Ed Smith needs to give the impression that England’s cricket team is a meritocracy. Jonny’s been living on past glories for far too long.
Rumour has it that Jonny might be asked to bat 3 in Sri Lanka. I don’t like this move because it’s short-term thinking. He’s not a viable No.3 elsewhere in the world because he’s vulnerable against pace bowling (especially when the ball is hard) and desperately needs to tighten up his defence.
Dom Bess – Stick
Although the legend of Moeen Ali grows every day – something I find bizarre and detached from reality – Dom Bess should quite clearly keep his place. He’s a good off-spinner who’s improving rapidly, he’s blessed with a competitive temperament, and he can clearly bat too. His Test and first-class batting averages both exceed 30.
Bess gives England the perfect balance. And his presence would allow England to drop Sam Curran overseas (if that’s what they ever choose to do) without worrying unduly about fielding a long tail.
Sam Curran – Stick
He’s a cricketer who polarises opinion. Some see him as an innocuous medium pacer and overrated batsman. Others see him as an absolute diamond with a rare ability to swing the ball from his left-arm angle and score plenty of runs down the order too. In fact, debate still rages as to whether he’ll end up as a bowling or batting all-rounder. This suggests to me that’s he pretty good at both.
I have to admit that I can see both sides of this argument. Sometimes I think he’s an overrated hobbit who’s only in the squad (let alone the team) because it’s funky to throw in a random youngster now and again. On the other hand I do see flashes of real ability and I don’t doubt that he makes things happen. That’s a special attribute.
Overall I feel conflicted about Curran but he’s done well enough to stay in the squad for sure. He also looks cuddly. And apparently that’s important.
Mark Wood – Stick
Crazy horse is a definite ‘stick’. But whether his body enables him to stick around is the big question. His new longer run up seems to have improved things but only time will tell.
A fit Wood makes a huge difference to the England team. His effervescence reminds me of Darren Gough. He’s all energy and enthusiasm. Every team needs a guy like that.
Jofra Archer – Stick
Being neither a racist nor a twat – ok I admit that the latter is debatable – I recognise that Jofra is a special cricketer. He just needs time and careful management. It’s just a shame that some supporters refuse to give him the former, and Joe Root hasn’t given him the latter.
Archer was clearly over-bowled in New Zealand and it’s no surprise that he’s picked up an injury. However, he remains the most promising fast bowler we’ve had for years.
Although I doubt he’ll ever have the energy and enthusiasm of Mark Wood – everyone’s different after all – I don’t see why this matters. Jofra should be himself, not think too much, and let his talent shine through.
Chris Woakes – Stick
Somehow it’s always easier to write off the steady cricketers. But in the case of Woakes I think England should resist for now. Why? Because there’s nobody better knocking on the door. Woakes is a better bowler than Craig Overton and a better batsman too. Therefore he stays in the squad.
Rather than pretending that Woakes is either a world class operator in the making or a waste of perfectly good oxygen, we should accept him for what he is: an excellent team man, a decent bowler (especially at home), and a more than handy wielder of willow. Overall he’s still a very good cricketer.
Stuart Broad – Stick
Has enjoyed an excellent twelve months in which he’s taken 48 Test wickets at an average of 23.5. That’s superb by anyone’s standards. He’s not quite getting better with age like Jimmy Anderson but he certainly doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
There’s no need to over-analyse this one. Broad has been a very good bowler for a long time, he’s still a good bowler, and there’s clearly more to come. Would I take him to Sri Lanka? Probably yes. We can’t prejudge the pitches too much.
Jimmy Anderson – Stick
He’s still quality. And he’s still adding to his CV (or at least filling holes). Before this tour people doubted his ability to take wickets on South African pitches. After all, he endured a tricky tour in 2016. However, his 9 wickets at 20 this winter has put those arguments to bed. Why did anyone ever doubt him?
When Jimmy is fit I still think he’s England’s best bowler. Yes he might not have long left at the top, and it could well be that the injuries are starting to catch up with him, but it’s far too early to say this with any certainty. He’s picked up two injuries over the last year but so what? He used to get injured when he was a young player too.
Matt Parkinson – Twist
Poor old Parky. Ed Smith picked him – I imagine selecting a young leggie with little championship cricket under his belt sent his funkometer off the charts – but the team management clearly didn’t believe in him. Consequently there’s little point in continuing the experiment.
I like Parkinson, I really do, but if your coach doesn’t think you’re ready then you’re not going to play. End of. Picking him for Sri Lanka would therefore be a waste of a valuable spot. I’m sure he’ll come again though. He’s a talented lad.
So what do you think? Would you throw more players to the wolves or have I got the above just about right? Let us know in the comments.