England have been thoroughly outplayed at Nottingham in every department: batting, bowling, and fielding. If there was a food or lingerie department at Trent Bridge, we’d probably have been outplayed in that too.
India have improved immeasurably in this game whereas England have gone backwards. Actually, scrap that, our batting hasn’t gone backwards because it was already at the bottom of Mount Everest with nowhere else to slide. It was just as bad here as it has been all series.
There is, however, one huge positive to take from the game. And this time it’s actually a real positive, not subjective or illusionary bullshit spouted to fulfil monotonous media duties. I am referring, of course, to Jos Buttler’s first test century.
That’s the Jos Buttler, of course, who didn’t deserve his recall; the Jos Buttler who had previously shown zero commitment to first class cricket; the Jos Buttler who questioned whether test cricket would even be around in a decade; and Jos Buttler the one-day specialist who simply didn’t possess the technique or temperament to play a proper, patient, test innings.
According to some idiots anyway. Ahem.
Yesterday Jos Buttler took all the understandable criticism of his selection – well, it was just his fifth red ball century and his first for four years! – and shoved it firmly up the critics’ collective backsides. After a shaky start he played incredibly well. And his defensive technique looked as a tight as an aquatic bird’s bullet hole.
In my opinion Jos currently plays straighter and with better foot movement than most players in the side. I was really impressed by his performance. He looked a completely different player to the one sorted out by Australia back in 2015. Fair play to the guy. I didn’t think he had it in him and I was completely wrong.
No doubt Jos’s critics will point out that he should have been caught for a low score yesterday (Pant’s effort was pants), and they might even point out that he was dropped in single figures on his successful return to the side against Pakistan too. But doesn’t every batsman need a bit of luck now and again? Maybe Jos is simply one of those players who’s a poor starter but incredibly dangerous when set. And there have been plenty of successful test batsmen like that.
Yes yesterday was just one innings. We should remember that Moeen Ali, another recent England No.7, scored five test hundreds before the selectors decided he wasn’t consistent enough to be a test match batsman. False dawns have been ubiquitous in English cricket: after all Graeme Hick made six test centuries, Mark Ramprakash two, Chris Lewis once scored 117 against India at Chennai, and yet all their international careers ultimately ended in failure.
However, there was something about Buttler’s innings yesterday that suggests his story will end differently. It wasn’t like his first innings slog, which contained several horrible hacks. Yesterday’s effort was full of stout defence and elegant cover driving. And as a purist these are the kinds of things I love to see.
Long term Buttler must move up the order now. He’s proved Ed Smith was right to pick him; but Ed Smith was wrong to miscast him as a specialist No.7. Just as he was wrong to miscast young Ollie Pope as a No.4.
As many of us said before the Lord’s test, picking a uber-talented youngster who had never batted in the first fifteen overs of a first class game before at second drop, whilst the vice-captain hid down the order, was utterly ridiculous. Buttler is a good player of spin, so he should do well in Sri Lanka this winter, and he must swap places with Pope immediately.
Thus far young Ollie has shown a great temperament but a less than watertight technique (he often leaves a big gap between bat and pad whilst playing at balls he should leave). In fact, I might be tempted to simply move Buttler to No.4 and recall Sam Curran, thus giving Pope time to work on his game.
The big complication in the short-term, however, is the injury to Jonny Bairstow. If Jonny can’t play in the next test then a more radical rethink might be required. One might even be tempted to give Ben Foakes a game, and then choose between Pope and Curran on the day. I’m not a fan of wicket-keepers batting in the top four or five, so if Jos moves up the order he should focus on his batting alone.
The other option is to bring in Joe Clarke, Moeen Ali, or even Ian Bell for Bairstow, give Jos the gloves, and keep the balance of the side the same. Ben Stokes played a very responsible innings yesterday so at least that gives the batting a little more solidity on paper. No doubt Bell has his admirers, but personally I can’t see England recalling a 36 year old. Moeen scored a double century against Yorkshire yesterday (and took a few wickets) so perhaps this is a more likely eventuality.
What’s clear from the above, however, is that England have plenty of thinking to do. The performance at Trent Bridge has been a shambles and Ed Smith still has many problems to solve. Having finally found a player capable of filling one of the specialist batting spots (whether that’s at four, five, or even six), Ed must now turn to England’s openers. How much longer can Cook and Jennings survive?
Although I agreed that Jennings deserved another go in test cricket I’ve been really disappointed that he hasn’t improved his game. He’s statuesque at the crease and looks an inferior player to Mark Stoneman at this point. And he’s even caught Dawid’s dropsies disease (which is never a good sign).
And then we come to Alastair, who failed yet again yesterday. George Dobell wrote a piece the other day about how Cook has become something of a flat track bully – in other words, he only scores runs in the most benign conditions. This is something Maxie and I used to go on about ad nauseam. I’m afraid it isn’t a new phenomenon. It has just become more apparent as Cook’s career winds down and the miles on the clock ratchet up.
Can you see England’s opening the innings with Rory Burns and Nick Gubbins in the fourth test? It would certainly be funky. Something tells me, however, that Alastair won’t suffer the indignity of being ditched mid-series. He surely has too many admirers in the corridors of power. If he doesn’t score runs in the next two games he might be given a quite nudge and then announce his retirement. Jennings, however, is a very different case.