Stoking It Up

How’s your hangover? Mercifully mine has finally dissipated. Sunday night was one hell of a party and I spent most of Monday wondering whether the damage to my liver would be permanent. Luckily, however, I survived. And I’m slowly beginning to digest what happened. So after my somewhat dazed and confused post 48 hours ago, this article will try to make sense of it all and assess where the series stands now.

Let’s start with the positives. Ben Stokes has almost single-handedly kept the series alive. Without his bowling on Saturday the Aussies would’ve piled up more than a 358 run lead. While the other bowlers somewhat wilted, and heads in the field started to drop, Stokes bowled a mammoth spell that kept England in the game. Foolish bloggers like yours truly had already given up. Stokes hadn’t.

Without Stokes the bowler, Stokes the batsman wouldn’t have been able to win the game. A lot of people have missed this point. And when it was finally his turn to bat, he played probably the best test innings I’ve seen by an Englishman since Graham Gooch carried his bat against the West Indies at Headlingley in 1991.

Stokes’s innings had everything: patience and stoicism at the start and then explosive shotmaking at the end. He even manipulated the strike well when batting with the tail. It wasn’t quite as good as Gooch’s masterpiece, which came on a difficult pitch against Ambrose, Walsh, Marshall and Patterson, but it was bloody close.

The obvious question, I suppose, is why Stokes can’t bat like this more regularly? His test average is still just 35. However, I think his career record is very acceptable for an all-rounder who also exerts himself physically and mentally in the field. He averages more than Botham and Flintoff, and his average is climbing towards Imran Khan levels.

It’s also important to remember that Stokes has to practice two disciplines. He can’t just devote himself to batting. But I’m sure if he did then he’d soon average over 40. His technique is sound, his method quite simple, plus he has ice in his veins. What’s more, statistics can be misleading. They don’t take into account the quality of the opposition or the match circumstances.

The cliche “it’s not how, it’s how many” has always seemed incomplete to me. A more appropriate expression would be “it’s not how, it’s how many, and when“. Stokes rises to the big occasion, and like Kevin Pietersen he raises his game against the very best opponents. This counts for one hell of a lot.

Although Stokes rarely makes average-boosting double centuries against modest opposition at home (in front of half-empty stadiums), he produces his best batting performances under extreme pressure when his team really needs him.

I’d rank his maiden century at Perth, his miracle at Headlingley, plus his performances in the World Cup (when he was frequently the only England batsman to keep his head) much higher than Alastair Cook’s 294 at Birmingham against India, his 263 in Abu Dhabi, his 243 against the Windies at Birmingham, or his 244 at the MCG. I’d also rate Stokes’s efforts above Gooch’s 333 at Lord’s in 1990 which was somewhat like taking candy from a baby. ‘How many’ isn’t always the most important consideration when adjudicating greatness.

What’s more, Stokes’s batting has been maturing for a while now and his career average will only improve. After his brilliance at Headingley I imagine England’s opponents might fear him even more than Root now. The captain makes a lot of pretty fifties but how many times has he converted these into big hundreds and won his team a game?

But after all the celebrations must come the reality check. Not necessarily for Stokes, but for the England team in general. This was a brilliant win that’s another shot in the arm for English cricket – I was inundated by messages from non-cricket loving friends who were drawn into the action – but unfortunately the same old problems remain. Cricket is dying out because performances like Stokes’s are invisible to most of the population. Meanwhile, the test batting line-up and the first class game in general are also at a very low ebb.

Take Root and Stokes out of the equation, and the rest of England’s top seven made an abysmal 141 runs for the loss of 12 wickets at Leeds. And fifty of those were scored by everyone’s favourite punchbag, Joe Denly, in the second innings. In many ways Stokes’s brilliance has simply papered over increasingly large cracks – crevices that Tony Greig could shove one of his Julius Marlows into. I hate to say it, but Stokes’s heroics have spared the ECB the humiliation of an abysmal series defeat in little over 3 weeks.

What’s more, let’s take ourselves back a week. Before the Headlingley test an England win was very much on the cards. It was almost expected. Steve Smith was missing due to his Archer induced concussion and everyone said this was our big chance to get back in the series.

And we very nearly blew it.

As Stuart Broad so articulately expressed after the game, England’s performance at Leeds was abject at times. They allowed Australia to get too many runs in helpful conditions, and the batting failed yet again. Stokes’s sensational performance can’t hide the fact that we’ve been bowled out for under 100 three times this year. If you’re relying on miracles to win games then you’re not going to get much further than a tortoise wading through a quagmire of molasses.

What’s more, although momentum is a funny thing in sport, and it might seem like England have the wind behind them now, Australia still have the slighter stronger team on paper. Plus they don’t actually need to win the series to retain the Ashes.

With Steve Smith bolstering their batting, and Marnus Labuschange likely to join him in the middle-order, the Aussies suddenly have a much stronger looking line-up. What’s more, they have rotated their bowlers skilfully and they’re likely to be fresher than ours come Old Trafford. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mitchell Starc plays to create some rough for Nathan Lyon.

England also have several selection dilemmas to chew over ahead of Manchester. The team is clearly in flux. Roy Burns has started to struggle against the short stuff, Jason Roy looks out of his depth, Joe Denly scored a brave 50 at Leeds but has generally struggled, and Jos Buttler’s form is a big worry. With Jimmy Anderson likely to return (if he proves his fitness) England might have to consider three or four changes to a ‘winning’ side – a curious situation indeed.

Personally I would make two changes: Dom Sibley for Roy and Anderson for Woakes. I would retain Denly because it’s unfair to drop him after his battling (and rather crucial) innings alongside Joe Root at Leeds.

Some have suggested swapping Roy and Denly around but this makes no sense to me. There’s no guarantee Roy would fare any better at second drop – he’d still need to know where his off-stump is wherever he bats – and it would be totally unfair to move Denly now that he’s finally found some form. He should be given the chance to consolidate rather than being moved back into the top 3 where he’s struggled in the past.

I would also retain Jos Buttler until the end of the series. Although I was against recalling Buttler last year because I feared he may get found out against the very best opponents – which is exactly what happened during his first stint in test cricket – he’s done a lot better than I expected over the last year.

Before the Ashes, Jos was averaging 40 since his recall (more than any other England player during the same time period) plus he’d played more innings of 100+ balls than any other player in the world; therefore it’s clear that Jos can knuckle down. I still have doubts – he’s clearly struggled against Pat Cummins & Co – but it’s only fair to see if he can come through this difficult spell. If he can’t then I’d drop him at the end of the summer and ask him to focus exclusively on T20s and ODIs again.

What changes would you all make to England’s XI? And should Jimmy Anderson be a shoo-in? I’ve heard some people suggest that his fitness is too much of a risk even if he comes through that Lancs second XI fixture.

James Morgan


  • Burns
    Borthwick (ok I know, but he’s got limpet like qualities to hang around and see off the new ball)

  • I agree with most or all of that. It’s interesting that, of the batsmen, Roy, Root (by his standards) Bairstow and Buttler are all having a lean time this series (as are Woakes and Archer with the bat). Denly, I would argue, isn’t quite up to test standard. All of those played a lot of white ball cricket, and I think the mental adjustment required is difficult. Particularly for an opener, where you have to change from “what can I hit to the boundary?” to “what can I leave?”. Clearly, this doesn’t explain Stokes, but what can!

    It seems apparent that Roy isn’t a test opener, so he needs to play down the order, if at all. If England had a top 4 of (say) Strauss, Cook, Trott, Bell (who all averaged over 40), Roy would fit neatly into the KP role at no 5. But we don’t, so I’m afraid I think that experiment has to end.

    Assuming Anderson is fully fit, I agree he has to return (especially at Old Trafford), and it looks like Chris Woakes to make way (assuming Jofra is fit). That does leave England with quite a long tail (even ignoring the “tail starts with the openers” jibes), which may not be great.

    Personally, I’d like Ben Foakes to get the gloves from YJB too, but that’s mainly because I think he’s a better keeper and batter than YJB (at present).

  • I see the usual calls for Woakes to drop out at the first opportunity. Roy, Denly (and even the likes of Cook and Broad in recent years) can fail in game after game and retain their places. Woakes fails in a game (or even succeeds in the past) and he is dropped. No wonder the stories at Edgbaston about faces fitting.

    Being more positive. There is an obvious answer to the Roy (or Denly or Burns) dilemma. I am not sure about Sibley, but I would have no problem bringing in Foakes in place of any of those 3 and playing with 3 keepers (ok – two and a half taking a realistic view of Buttler’s skill behind the stumps). Obviously you should then give the gloves to Foakes and if Bairstow throws a tantrum show him the door. Foakes is massively the best keeper available, would not have dropped Labuschagne and gives confidence to his slips.

    And coming back to Woakes. I see no problem with dropping any of the 3 white ball bangers and retaining him even if Anderson is fit. He generally looks better than them with the bat and it is only one test previously that the radio commentary team were suggesting he had the most correct batting technique in the side.

    • I’m a fan of Woakes, and I like his batting a lot, but someone has to miss out. Sadly he didn’t bowl or bat his best at Leeds in conditions that should have suited him. That’s why he makes way in my preferred XI. Denly played decently in the second inns, so I don’t want to drop him at this point, and Buttler should offer more potential with the bat in a team that has plenty of bowling options already.

      • “Sadly he didn’t bowl or bat his best at Leeds”

        My point precisely. Unlike others Woakes only requires one bad game to get dropped. Denly averages 24 in 6 tests at age 33 – not exactly one for the future.No problem with keeping Buttler as a bat (as long as we never let him within a mile of the gloves!).

        • Woakes has competent alternatives competing for his place. The batsmen don’t really.

          • Foakes. Averages more batting than Denly or Roy in both FC and tests (and you can add a further benefit of, say, 5-10 runs per innings for his superior keeping.

      • You are probably too much of a gent to agree with me on the following Mr. Morgan. But karma really delivered up it’s last choice dish in Lyons. After his rant in Brisbane on the last tour, talking about ending careers, having to push Pommy batsmen forward from leg slip etc. So for him to miss the run out and not having a review for his plumb lbw, it, how can I put this, Well watching him collapse to the turf when Stokes hit the winning runs give a warm glow. Oh yes, whilst sampling large quantities of falling down liquid whilst watching the highlights, I found myself stoping the action as he fell on his rather sloping back. By the way am I the only one who thinks he bears a strong resemblance to Mr Burns in the Simpsons.

    • It’s not so much a question of face fitting but clearly Woakes is struggling for consistency with bat and ball, largely due to his workload this summer. To me he needs a break, as his intended one after the World Cup never materiased he having to play against Ireland with Anderson injured. He’s looked off the pace ever since and I’m a Warwickshire man and big fan of the bloke. However if Anderson is fit he must play.
      I don’t see the selectors bringing in much in the way of new blood. I have heard the possibility that Denly maybe promoted to open with Roy dropping down the order. The problem with Foakes, especially if Woakes is dropped, is that his batting has fallen away this season and I thought Bairstow kept pretty well this test.
      Stats aren’t the issue here it’s about morale and our ability to win a test, not just draw it, so the selectors will probably keep their potential match winners despite lack of form. We might just as well go down 3-1 as draw the series 2-2. Either way we lose the Ashes and I’m sure after Stokes efforts we’ll be looking to win 3-1.

  • Burns

    Not gonna happen, and it does give a long tail.

  • I would have Foakes in my preferred XI if I was starting from scratch. However, I haven’t considered this above because I don’t think there’s a cat in hells chance of it happening imho. England aren’t going to drop Bairstow now.

    • I am still flabbergasted that Foakes’ performances in Sri Lanka didn’t buy him the foreseeable future in the team – his 100 on debut coming in at 100-5 was fantastic character, his 60-odd in another test on that tour were tough runs when the team needed them. Beggars belief but I agree they’re not going to swap him out now.

    • Alec Stewart is on record as saying Foakes is not only the best keeper in England, but the world. Bairstow should just concentrate on batting and being a quite brilliant fielder. But it won’t happen. Maybe the new coach will ring the changes. But to score a ton and a 60 and keep brilliantly and not get a run in the side is still amazing

  • My fear is that the ECB will carry on regardless, spouting it’s usual ‘why change a winning team’ philosophy, when the truth is the polar opposite. I expect one or maybe two changes when in actual fact three or four are needed. Anyway, no more experimenting. If he wants to continue seeing ‘what happens if…’ send Smith home with a junior chemistry set and a one-way ticket to a ski resort.

    However lacking (in many departments) the County Championship might be, it is the only Test-like thermometer we have and so we must listen to what it’s telling us and pick those performing well, regardless of whether they’re too young and inexperienced, they’ve never been to public school, played in the IPL or represented Kent. If you’ve already scored 1000 runs or thereabouts in the |Championship, then you should be on the radar (except Gary Ballance of course).

    It’s the system that’s broken and not the players.

    Anyway, I would hope that the Old Trafford squad looks something like this.

    Anderon (if fit, otherwise Porter)

    In the longer-term (i.e. after the Ashes), I would make some wholesale changes to redress the Limited Overs / Test imbalance, starting by getting Ed Smith to grab his Mini-me (James Taylor) and go and play James Bond games somewhere else. My new coaching staff could look something like this.

    Head Selector – Andrew Strauss / Marcus Trescothick
    Test Coach – Gary Kirsten or Mickey Arthur
    Test Batting Coach – Jonathan Trott or Ian Bell
    Test Bowling Coach – Chris Silverwood
    Test Fielding Coach – Paul Collingwood
    ODI/T20/Coach – Paul Collingwood
    ODI/T20 Batting Coach – Graham Thorpe or Kevin Pietersen
    ODI/T20 Bowling Coach – Simon Jones
    ODI/T20 Fielding Coach – Paul Collingwood

    • I’d be interested to know how many current county players (and England players for that matter) went to a public school. Does anyone know if it’s a high percentage?

      • You might be interested to know that it’s said to be half and half. However some private schoolboys receive sports bursaries which hide the fact that they are sponsored by cricket clubs or other parties interested in their futures. Bell for example as an 11 yr old. His brother went to a local comp. Incidentally Stokes went to a state school before being spotted and invited into Durham’s Cricket Academy as a 16 yr old. Cook won a scholarship as a chorister. So backgrounds are more mixed than they seem,

      • Historically the class system enabled public school amateurs to be represented beyond what their ability would otherwise merit, but in more recent times it reflects the facilities available and the competitive ethos as much as anything

  • Interesting selection, but the tail looks far too long. It was too long even at Headingley, and playing three genuine number 11s, all of whom are worse than every Australian batsman, is crazy. Plus (some, at least) of the analytics guys are very dubious about Sibley, and I think there’s a reason that he’s not really being talked up.

    I worry that senior players are allowed to do what they want, and order the captain around. Has there ever been a good side where that’s been the case? Root has said that Bairstow insists on keeping wicket, Anderson certified himself fit for the first test, and “you couldn’t get the ball off” Stokes in his mammoth spell in this test. I know the last one’s a bit tongue in cheek, but it’s not something I can imagine Morgan saying.


    Anderson will not be properly fit, will be a risk, and shouldn’t be considered. Stokes is fourth seamer, and will bowl short infrequent spells unless all of the other seamers are injured. And even then Root should seriously consider bowling himself instead. Check with Rashid if he’s really unfit, or just doesn’t want to play for Yorkshire. Consider dropping Leach for Ali if Ali plays well for Worcestershire (don’t even know if they’ve got a match).

    • I politely disagree that my suggested England team has a long tail or three No.11s. Let’s compare it to the legendary 2005 side for example.

      For starters England are playing a specialist No.7 batsman. This should make up for a longer than usual tail. Jos Buttler is a much better player than Geraint Jones.

      At No.8 we have Jofra Archer who is a better batsman than Ashley Giles. Archer’s first class average is 30 whereas Giles averaged 26 (and just 20 in tests).

      Our 9 and 10 would be Jack Leach, who scored 90 odd earlier in the summer, and Stuart Broad, who can still bat a bit. Only the Burnley Lara is a bonafide No.11. Besides, it’s up to the top 7 to score the runs. I’m not going to sacrifice what I think is our best 5-man bowling attack for slightly more batting at No.8.

      I don’t think this leaves England exposed. It’s hardly Caddick, Giddins, Mullally, Tufnell :-)

      • I suppose the counter-argument would be that the 05 side picked GO Jones for his batting and Giles wouldn’t have been picked if he hadn’t been able to bat. Plus they had Flintoff and S Jones.

        Broad is now a bad batsman, and a terrible one against pace. Leach is a county number 11. Archer has just supported Stokes by trying to hit three boundaries in four balls. Anderson is Anderson.

        That scares me! The 05 side compromised on its bowling and wicket-keeping in order to shore up its batting. We’re lucky we only have to compromise on the bowling – but our first choice non-Stokes bowlers are so bad (or, in the case of Archer, raw) that I think compromise is essential, particularly where the do in quality of bowling to Woakes isn’t that great.

        Alright, it’s not as bad as literally the worst tail end we’ve ever had, but I still think it’s bad enough!

        • Boycott was joking that Leach should open :-) Yes ideally I’d like a stronger 8/9 but I’m not too concerned. We’ve got to pick our best bowlers to get rid of Steve Smith. Woakes is a good batsman, and normally a very good bowler at home, but I thought he was poor at Leeds and sadly I don’t think Root has much faith in him at the moment. The other option, of course, would be to pick Sam Curran. But it’s hard to leave out Anderson, Broad, Archer or Leach. That’s the problem really.

          • Fair!

            On Anderson, is any medic really going to be able to say he’s got very little chance of breaking down? We already know he can’t be allowed to self-certify again. He’s in his mid-thirties, won’t have played a first class game in over a month, and broke down in his (third?) over the last time he played a test. I don’t think the risk/reward calculation makes sense

            • He’s not in his mid 30s. He’s 37. But he’s always been fitter than most bowlers and should be judged by the criteria of his current availability. Science tells us that we age differently according to our genetic makeup and lifestyle.

      • Archer’s done nothing with the bat this summer to justify any promotion in the order. He doesn’t look any more likely than Broad to either hang around or score runs. I’d rather have Leach at 8 any day.
        Giles opened the batting for Warwickshire on a number of occasions and made a few runs. Archer couldn’t open a can of beans with the bat at present. If we can’t score the runs with 7 batsmen how will an extra bit of all round ability help? So I have no problem with specialist bowlers of the standard we have available.
        I hope Australia go for a win as well and pick 5 bowlers. How can they continue to leave Stark out?
        With Laburschane and Smith both likely to play their middle order looks a deal stronger so surely they can manage without Wade. His was always a negative selection despite his hundred at Edgbaston.

      • The point there is that England 2005 had genuine test batsmen in the top 6, the only one out of his depth being Bell (who was a genuine test batsman in the making, just that he wasn’t ready to face great bowlers in 2005). So comparing the late order isn’t relevant because the 05 Side didn’t need the tail to bail them out. Imagine if in these Ashes England’s top order had contained a Strauss, Trescothick and a KP, or from other times a Thorpe and a Trott.

  • Burns
    Anderson (Curran if not fit)

  • We do need to make some changes but it’s far from ideal that we’re talking about positional changes rather than just replacing players who are struggling with form with better replacements.

    Before dropping Woakes I would need absolute surety that Anderson is 100% fit and firing, we cannot allow him to find form in this test match.

    I would then replace Roy with whichever youngster suggests good defence, maybe Sibley, it’s a risk but it will be difficult to do worse than Roy.

    The real issue with this position is that management have failed appallingly..

  • The factor that none of us can know is how much the players have in the tank, the core group has played a lot of Cricket this summer. I’m a fan of Chris Woakes but is he fully fit? With Curran raring to go England don’t need to keep someone who is struggling.

    Has Jos Buttler come to the end of what he can offer before a chance to recharge, I agree with James I wouldn’t have picked him but compared to some of the others he has credit in the bank. England should be having an honest chat about if he misses the next to and come back into the mix for NZ

    I don’t really like the Roy at 4, I agree that while it might be easier its still a punt on someone who has never been an above average red ball player at a time. Australia can’t bounce him that gives him and edge over some of the others, I don’t fancy Jonny higher up either, he doesn’t have the game for it, too streaky and loose. At this stage England should either pick him at six or drop him

  • Some interesting combinations here. But I wouldn’t play Bairstow at 3 or indeed at all. Northeast would be much better. If your going to play Foakes, his batting has gone to crap with Surrey recently and your left with a tail starting at 7. I don’t see anything in Archers batting I’m afraid either. Butler is right out of form and Curran would be a better bet. Anderson is too much of a risk at aged 37.
    I think we all agree that Roy must go, but I reckon they’ll play the same 11

  • Stokes is papering over Ed Smith’s cracks. Wonderful innings from the Durham player who learnt to battle and occupy the crease on the bowler friendly pitches of the Riverside.

    Spotted by the Club as a Cumbrian schoolboy and invited to join their Academy at nearly 16. He was nurtured by our brilliant coach Geoff Cook and had his championship debut at 19. He stood out in his first season but he couldn’t have joined a better club with Colly, Harmison, Onions, Mustard, Plunkett, all locally trained with England credentials. Durham kept winning Trophies. In the making of Ben Stokes there is a lot of underdog Durham grit and never say die. The Club broken by the ECB to smooth the path of the Hundred. How ironic that a Durham player is now doing more to popularise cricket than all their contrived plans!
    Sibley may not be ready. He has lost form recently. I wouldn’t select him. He averages 36. Is this good enough for a Test player prospect? Root is the only top order batsmen with a decent technique. I would give Bairstow a chance to shine at 4 or 5 but drop the gloves. Being in Foakes. Start bringing in quality players and not whims of Smith. Drop Roy.

  • The main reason Sibley and others have lost form is because there has only been two rounds of the Championship since July. 7th! That’s the problem but Sibley averages over 60 this season and even losing form has got to be a much better bet than Roy.
    Bairstow seems to have developed into a white ball player to me, is a second best keeper and throws tantrums if he doesn’t get his own way. I’d drop him and play Northeast at 3 and Root at 4 where he should be, but I know many will disagree.

  • I’ll start at the bottom. There’s got to be a concern that Anderson will be fully fit. I personally wouldn’t pick him. I won’t be eating Boycott’s hat if he gets 6 – 40 though. I heard they had invented a game to allow him to prove his fitness so I’m sure they’ll do their utmost to get him in.

    As been said by all above Roy looks totally out of his depth at this level. I’ll leave it to others to decide who takes his place. Due to me living in Scotland and unable to attend CC games it’s difficult for me see who out there playing well.

    All the players seem to be unable to stop themselves chasing a good/ bad ball and playing daft shots. Do you think we will see 100 – 1 again or is 52-3 the new norm.

  • There’s a lot of left field selections here. There’s not a chance they’re going to make wholesale changes.Despite only winning at Headingley, they actually got themselves into pretty strong positions in both the first two tests before they blew the third morning at Edgbaston and were thwarted by weather at Lords.I don’t think you can drop players with little or no experience into the last two tests of an Ashes series and expect anything substantial.

    I would absolutely have Foakes in my first choice side but they won’t. I actually think Denly has a sound technique and has mainly struggled making the transition from 2nd division county attacks to the best bowlers in the world. He seemed to be working it out at Headingley and taking the score from 15-2 to 140+ chasing 359 was a top effort and definitely deserves another go. He needs to sort out how he leaves the short ball but

    The only one that is shot is Roy and needs taken out of the firing line. I haven’t seen anything of Sibley to make a judgement and would be very skeptical about bringing a new cap in at this stage of an Ashes series. The only other realistic option is moving Denly up and bringing in Pope. I am torn as neither is ideal.

    They have to be 110% about Anderson but if he gets enough overs in his legs in this 2nd XI game, I’d play him. It’s a gamble to leave out Woakes as Archer at 8 is dubious, but Jimmy’s ability to move the ball in the air is massive.

  • “Buttler has credit in the bank “. He has one century in 33 or so tests. How is that credit in the bank?

    • I agree. He looks too easy to get out. Targeted by good bowlers in Test cricket. Can’t see him surviving except on a very batsmen friendly pitch.

  • “He averages more than Botham and Flintoff, and his average is climbing towards Imran Khan levels”

    All 3 of those guys were bowling all-rounders. Stokes is a batting all-rounder. We should comparing him to Tony Greig and Shakib al-Hasan, not Botham and Flintoff.

    • Botham’s stats were ruined by his last 5 years where he was a shadow of his earlier self as both batsman and particularly as a bowler.

      After 55 tests (same as Stokes), Botham averaged c38 with 11 centuries and had taken 250 wickets with 20 five-fors.

      Botham still England’s best ever all-rounder, based on the number of times he won matches with bat or ball.

      • Botham was the best swing bowler I have ever seen. Prior to his injury he was an awesome bowler. I must admit I am surprised by the batting stats you quote as I always considered him a bowler who could bat when the force was with him. I was wrong again!
        Stokes is a seriously good player who could develop further, my fear is that like Flintoff he may burn brightly for a short period then fade.

        • I watched Botham throughout the late 70s and 80s (I was a marketing manager for Cornhill so got to go to the tests!). As has been said, he was a different bowler in the first half of his career, but even at his very best he was not in the same class as Vernon Philander as a swing bowler. As an all rounder he was a fine player but lets not pretend he was ever the best – Kallis and Sobers were head and shoulders better. Sometimes nostalgia distorts our views.

          • With Botham it was his presence on the field when his gander was up that made him special. He could undoubtedly swing the ball prodidgously in favourable conditions and put bat to ball against anyone, but I would agree not with the consistency of a Kallis or Philander, but neither of them had anything approaching his dominant personality which made up for his inconsistencies.
            Everyone at the top in any sport has talent to burn, so it’s about being able to bring it out on the big occasion when your back’s to the wall. The greats can perform under pressure by sheer force of will as much as anything else. Botham at his best was more affective as a match winner than Kallis or Philander.
            Sobers was the best all rounder I ever saw by a street as he had more strings to his bow than any other. He could bowl with genuine pace, swing, seam and spin as well as having the quickest feet I can remember of any batsman. I would never try to compare anyone I’ve seen since with him.

            • Like you I saw Sobers and he was a genius, but I rate Kallis higher. A batting average over 55 batting 3 or 4 is worth more than Sobers 57 (bearing in mind Sobers usually batted 5 or 6). And Kallis bowling figures are at least as impressive. Sobers only wins on variations (you forgot to add his occasional wicketkeeping!), but even there his spin was more a variation than a major option. I saw him bowl spin several times and had the chance to compare him (albeit LA v RA) with the consistency and effectiveness of Gibbs, who I watched as a junior member at Edgbaston. Gibbs was a far superior spinner.
              But it is a bit like comparing Einstein and Maxwell. We should be grateful for both.

              • I never saw Sobers behind the sticks and would certainly agree Gibbs was a superior spinner, the best I ever saw for Warwickshire, but Sobers could mix it up in the same Over and had an insanely quick slinging arm action that could spin the ball at medium pace. Tony Grieg was the only other cricketer I can remember seeing mix up overs like this with seam and spin, so cutters and spinners came down off the same run up.

    • It was a surprise to me to look up Greig’s record and find he averaged over 40 with the bat (just). Leaving out the surreal finale to last week’s game, I would say that Stokes impresses me as having made himself into a much more solid and classical batsman than I remember Greig having been, and would expect his average to rise a notch or two by the time he finishes. On numbers, nothing to choose between them with the ball; Greig’s versatility enabled him to bowl long spells of off-breaks, but Stokes is far more threatening at pace.

  • I would not be surprised if England makes more than one change. However that’s not good enough for me.
    Roy – out. Buttler -out. Anderson – not in. And a huge punt to include Tom Banton who will walk on water before this summer is out.

  • Wonder if anyone remembers the All Rounder competitions of the 1970’s. Held in places like Hong Kong if I remember rightly. Botham was competing against the likes of Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Richard Hadlee, Eddie Barlow, Clive Rice and even Dermot Reeve for the title of World’s best in a kind of double wicket format.
    Wonder if the present media obsessed generation would be interested in revamping the idea. It would be interesting to speculate who would qualify to challenge Stokes. Certainly Jadega, Jason Holder, Jimmy Neasham and the Bangladeshi guy I can never remember who apparantly rates as the world’s best.


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