That Was the Tour That Was

And a very warm welcome to my first guest post for Eat My Sports! Thanks for dropping by.

It’s quite an interesting experience, actually – returning to the backbenches after so many years at the despatch box on The Full Toss. Once lord of the manor, I am now a mere footman. Thankfully, James has allowed me in through the servants’ entrance with a delivery of miscellaneous thoughts about the Pakistan v England series.

The close series that, er, wasn’t

FICJAM, commenting on TMS yesterday morning, made an interesting assertion. If there were any “sporting justice” in the world, he suggested, England would win the test and square the series. And by general consensus, England played too well to deserve a 2-0 defeat – or in fact, a defeat at all

Really? England did not lose by a whisker. The margins of defeat were 178 runs (in the second test) and 127 runs (in the third). Hardly a knife-edge. In fairness, England fell only a few runs short of winning the first test – but found themselves in a match-winning position almost by accident after Pakistan’s unexpected second-innings collapse. When the visitors replied with 598 to Pakistan’s first-innings 523, they batted with a pace and approach aimed (not unreasonably) at drawing the test – not winning it.

Of the six highest-scoring batsmen in the series, five were Pakistani. As Mike Selvey (sic) pointed out, the hosts scored five centuries and nine fifties, while English batsmen compiled merely one hundred (albeit a great-granddaddy), and six half-centuries.

FICJAM made another remark:

England’s effort has been outstanding all trip. It is simply against spin that their batsmen have struggled, and their spinners haven’t been able to exert any control.

His words bring back memories of Glenn Hoddle’s reign as England football manager, when his post-match interviews invariably took the form of “we played very well, apart from the six goals we conceded”.

But speaking of spinners…

Call the spin doctor

The figures make ugly reading. England’s three spinners between them took twenty wickets in the series, at an average of 57.6 and an economy rate of 4.01. Pakistan’s equivalent trio claimed thirty five wickets at, respectively, 29.23 and 2.56.

But the extensive criticism levelled at Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, and Samit Patel, is unfair on all three individuals. Moeen and Patel are essentially batting all-rounders, yet were expected to run through Pakistan’s batting on the strength of their secondary skill. Rashid, meanwhile, was a debutant (and Patel was playing only his sixth test).

Alastair Cook could have done worse than throw the ball more often to Joe Root, whose career economy rate (2.98) is nearly a whole run better than Moeen’s (3.9)

In the cases of both Moeen and Patel, England are in grave danger of falling victim to the Irani Folly: the selection of an all-rounder who’s neither good enough at batting nor bowling to merit a place on either suit alone, but you cross your fingers and hope it will somehow work out. The same might also apply to Ben Stokes, who contributed five wickets and 76 runs in two-and-a-quarter matches.

Returning to Moeen, though – one way or another, he’s being mis-cast, mis-used, and messed about. In nineteen tests his batting average has stalled at 31.2, with four fifties and a sole century (made seventeen months ago).

Captain adequate

Say what you like about Alastair Cook (and we certainly used to, at the old site), he is a peerless operator in Asian conditions – where his strongest assets (stamina, powers of concentration, and keen ability to play spin) come most richly to the fore.

In the UAE, he made 450 runs at 90, compared to Root’s 287 at 57.4, and James Taylor’s 78 at 39 from two innings. Bell was the only other recognised batsman to average more than 30.

Cricinfo’s S Rajesh fished out some telling stats.

[In eight series in Asia, Cook] has averaged more than 50 five times, and over 60 four times. His aggregate of 2252 is the highest [for an overseas player] in Asia, almost 200 runs better than the next best. Cook has [become] the first non-Asian batsman to face 5000-plus deliveries in the continent. In this series alone he played 950. In the 2012-13 four-Test series in India, he faced 1285 balls, scoring 562 runs in eight innings.

In 21 Tests in Asia, Cook’s average is 60.86, which is among the best for non-Asian batsmen who have scored 1000-plus runs in the continent. His average outside Asia is 44.54 in 101 Tests, which is similar to his home average of 43.51 in 68 matches, but in Asia he has taken his batting to another level, and he has done it consistently, series after series.

India 2012, to my mind, was Cook’s finest hour. As Tregaskis recently observed, question marks linger over the contribution Cook’s runs make to the winning of test matches, or even whether he bats with that objective firmly in mind.

And what about Cook’s captaincy in the Emirates? The 2015 Ashes spawned a received wisdom: Cook had metamorphosed into a simulacrum of Mike Brearley and Erwin Rommel. But any skipper looks good when his excellent fast bowlers are tearing through a flimsy batting order on helpful pitches.

Cook is a competent helmsman while things are going well. He struggles, though, whenever (a) the batsmen are in complete control or (b) taking wickets is difficult. In such situations he generally stands around looking clueless and hoping Stuart Broad will think of something.

From where I was sitting, Cook’s captaincy in the Emirates oscillated between the apathetic and the misconceived. If I’m wrong, call me out on this in the comments below.

SimonH said here the other day:

Misbah on nought lobbed up a catch to short leg off Anderson – but there wasn’t a short leg. Hafeez in the 110s edged Broad through second slip at catchable height – but there wasn’t a second slip. Those two missed opportunities cost 80 runs.

I’m afraid that Cook’s supposed transformation into captain adventurous melted in the Sharjah heat. Who, really, is surprised? It’s one thing to keep the field in when you’re at home and on top and another to do it abroad and when the game is very tight.

Do you think they could’ve done more to improve the ER of the spinners? Not with Rashid perhaps but with Ali and Patel here?

I’m thinking of Nasser Hussain captaining Ashley Giles in India. Hussain was determined to keep control when Giles bowled and was willing to go to a 7-2 legside field to achieve it. I’m not necessarily calling for that precise tactic to be repeated but I’m sure Nasser would have been more pro-active about trying solutions to what has a major problem all tour.

Batting quandaries

Geoffrey Boycott, in the Telegraph today, nails it.

Finding a replacement for Andrew Strauss as Cook’s opening partner has been a lottery. England have tried Nick Compton, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson, Jonathan Trott, Adam Lyth and Moeen. They bring in any kid who has played well in county cricket but when he fails they sack him and throw him on the scrapheap.

In South Africa it will be Alex Hales. When he fails he will go and they will move on to the next one. It is a farcical situation. There are not that many good cricketers playing county cricket so you have to make a judgement on a couple of them and work with them.

When these guys were selected they were considered the best players in England at the time. But did anybody work with them to help make them better?

For me the guy who did the best job was Carberry in Australia. He faced Mitchell Johnson, who destroyed England with real pace, and a fantastic seamer in Ryan Harris. Carberry had a good defence, batted time, hung around and showed courage against one of the best bowling units you will see, but he was unfairly dropped for the next series against a weak Sri Lanka attack.

He had the first requisite of an opening batsmen. You have to have a good defence and be able to stay in against the new ball bowlers. All England had to do was to teach him how to rotate the strike, score singles and take the pressure off himself. We should have worked with him instead of dumping him.

In the 2013/14 Ashes, Carberry survived for twice as many balls as Alastair Cook, outscored him by 35 runs, and averaged 28.1 to Cook’s 24.6. So what happened to his prospects? This did.

Carberry was also England’s second highest scorer on that tour, after another player who was summarily discarded. You’ll groan when I say this, but say this I must. Kevin Pietersen has still not been replaced in the England middle order. Gary Ballance didn’t work out. Jonny Bairstow probably won’t work out. And James Taylor may work out. Six series after incurring an entirely self-inflicted problem, the ECB have yet to devise a solution.

The power of home

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that home advantage is making test cricket ever more predictable. While highlighting England’s shortcomings in the UAE it’s also worth reminding ourselves of Pakistan’s record there. In eight series, they have won four and lost none, with only three defeats in 21 tests.

Can any current test side be truly competitive away from home? England assuredly are not. Since the 2010/11 Ashes, their overseas record is P23, W4, D6, L13.

The irony, of course, is that Pakistan weren’t even at home. Their UAE residence is depriving the nation’s public of cricket while condemning the side to play in empty stadiums. While safety trumps all other concerns, six years have now passed since the terrorist attack against the Sri Lankan team in Lahore. Isn’t it now time for a full review of the security situation, with the sincere aim of restoring Pakistan’s host status at the first feasible opportunity?


  • As Vaughan alludes to in the Telegraph, the other problem for spinners is that the incentives to prepare pitches in county cricket (a result being the imperative) are diametrically at odds with those in test cricket, where the intent is a pitch which helps the match last the full five days.

    Kevin Pietersen has still not been replaced in the England middle order
    It would be fairly astonishing had he been so; players like Pietersen do not appear every season.
    For me, the failure to help prolong his career is one of the biggest indictments against Cook as a captain.

  • It was close in the sense that each Test gave us a little bit of hope of England salvaging something. it was bound to be a false hope, but gave us a bit of interest nevertheless.

    Let’s hope that Cook, Root, Broad, Stokes, Anderson and hopefully Wood can keep the South Africa series slightly interesting too

  • Good post.
    Feels like the false feeling of closeness is making people overvalue the good bowling figures from Broad and Anderson.
    Pakistan had a strategy and picked on the other bowlers. Some of that is because they found the spinners easier to pick on. But if we’d played all seamers, they would have been picking on the lower quality seamers too. (And let’s not pretend that the alternates are as good as Broad and Anderson.)

    • I think that would account for their low run rates, but their wicket taking suggests it’s they were still a major threat. I think if they had played Wood, Finn, and Stokes they may have “picked on” one one of the others but I don’t think they would have been nearly as successful.

  • Who is FICJAM? I think his comments about England may have been slightly over the top (“outstanding”) but I agree about the spinners and to be fair it was only a few key moments that seem to have accounted for the outcomes of the Tests; perhaps a bit like Australia felt when they dropped Root at the beginning of the Ashes and he went on to get a century and win the match.

    Interesting about Carberry, in retrospect yes he probably was cast aside too quickly. What has form been like since then?

    With Ali, I think whilst his shifting around the batting order hasn’t done him any favours, I wouldn’t hold his poor performance as an opener against him – it was always going to be a bit unfair to throw him in a stop-gap. We know he’s good for useful mid / lower order runs. Rather, it’s ultimately his bowling on which I think it’s right to judge him – for me he hasn’t done enough to stay in the team.

    On the middle order I think it’s a bit harsh to say Ballance didn’t work out – his record was actually pretty good and I’d fancy him to come back strong as he’s still early in his career, but we’ll have to see on that front. Taylor I think is promising. If Pietersen were playing, I honestly don’t know that he’d do better (although I know others would disagree). I just feel that at this stage in his career he would be a very short term option at best, and I’m not sure what his form has been like in the last year or two?

    • FICJAM is “essayist” Ed Smith, in honour of his peerless Cricinfo columns. Only there can you read: digressions on The Prisoner’s Dilemma, when the same (laboured) point could have been made by referring to lowbrow quiz show Goldenballs; the use of Greek to explain what a silo is and how it relates to management; references to Eric Hobsbawm in pieces about pink cricket balls; and all-round mastery of pretentious condescension.

      F**k I’m Clever Just Ask Me.

      Best of luck with the site James!

    • Carberry scored about 800 runs in 2014 from about ten games in div 2. In 2015 he scored over 1000 runs but didn’t make a century in Div 1.

  • Good to see you back Maxie but are you suggesting that Alistair Cook goes out to bat with his eyes more on his stats than on playing his role in winning games for England? Because, if you are I think it’s an outrageous slur on his character.

    I don’t believe that in their batting England initially set out to draw the first test. They had a large score in front of them and to stand any chance of winning it had to be equalled at least and preferably exceeded.

    Cook’s role is to play his game. To see off the new ball, and to compile runs in his way. There are other more naturally free flowing players in the team who could have been expected to be there in support and to move the score along. That didn’t happen.

    He had been four days in the field. Is it not understandable that he might have have lacked the stamina to push the score along at a faster rate towards the end of his innings?

    In his batting Cook did what he is selected to do. It would have been great if everyone else had managed to come good in the same way but unfortunately it was not to be.

    In the field he is not the greatest tactician and I doubt that he ever will be but he does seem to be improving. Sometimes bowlers set their own fields. Who knows the rhyme or reason behind the missing short leg and second slip. There might have been a different plan afoot.

    I do have to agree that when things are not going well he does stand around looking a bit clueless. What else can you do when you have tried everything you can think of?! It can happen to the best of them.

  • Nice to see you back Maxie and I hope you’re able to still post periodically. I’m pleased to see Cook’s captaincy is still on the agenda. For me, he’s simply moved to “barely competent” from “hopeless”. As you point out, as usual, in the First Test, he failed to read the game and push things on when there was a clear chance of victory from tea on Day 4. I’ll be fair to him personally and not say he should have accelerated himself (pretty tough after 14 hours in the most stifling heat!), but the victory was probably lost after he was out. Cook was 7th out at 549, with England leading by 26. By this point, they couldn’t lose, yet they used up a crucial 16 overs thereafter scoring 49-2. A shrewder captain would have told the tail to hit out or get out. If they’d scored (say) 30-3 in 5 overs (hardly a riot), they’d have still led by 50-odd with a crucial extra 10 overs left in the match. If they scored 0-3 in 3 balls it wouldn’t have mattered, they’d have still had their draw, and been able to have a couple of overs at Pakistan’s openers on the 4th evening. Instead, as ever, Cook just plodded on, rather than seizing the initiative. As Boycs has pointed out many times, Cook simply doesn’t have a cricket brain.

    • He certainly does not have the best brain as a captain in the field but as a batsman he is clever. Very clever. Just listen to Boycs on his podcasts if you are not best placed to hear his commentary. On compiling his World 11 Boycs would put Cook down as number one on his list. Not saying Boycs would make him a captain and neither would I.

      • There’s not much competition for those world opener spots at the moment. I can’t remember a period so utterly devoid of class openers. Who would the majority choose? I imagine it would indeed be Cook and probably Warner. I would definitely choose Cook if the match was in Asia! If it was in England I’m not so sure. But who would the other options be? Erm ….

        The captain of the world XI would also be tough. One might argue that McCullum is the best pure captain, but he wouldn’t get into the side as a bstsman! So we’re left with Steve Smith, Misbah (hmmm maybe), Kohli, Angelo Mathews or Amla. No definite winner there imho.

        • You are right James. Not many opening star fish on the beach at the moment! Probably Misbah as captain with Cook as the next best bet! He is a magnificant batsman and an honest captain. Not the best but we could do worse.

        • “Probably Warner”.

          Probably? Just scored two hundreds in a match for the third time! Nobody else currently playing has done that even twice.

        • I think McCullum is streets ahead of all other Test captains. Probably have to force him to keep wicket to get him in the side. That said, I remember Lancashire played David Hughes as captain during their very successful period in the 1980s when he didn’t bowl and rarely batted! I think Jason Holder has the makings of an excellent captain, too – he has a bit of the Graeme Smith about him – but he’s nowhere near “World XI” standard as yet.

  • Interestingly Cook has a lower batting average than all those guys except Kohli. I’ve not yet seen enough of Amla’s captaincy to judge, but I’ve always quite liked Mathews.

  • Do you have a list of their averages and number of innings played? I would be interested to see it. I’m surprised that Cook is not higher but then he has had more than one run of bad form. Are there many ‘not outs’ amongst the others?

    Angelo Matthews is pretty good.

    • On openers, Murali Vijay seems to be perpetually underrated – averages nearly 42 (after a run of 17 away Tests) and looks solid in both temperament and technique. Tom Latham averages on the cusp of 40 at the age of only 23 and made two centuries in the UAE.

      Test captain batting records:
      Smith 56.3 (63 innings, 13% not out)
      Amla 52.5 (142, 9%)
      Mathews 51.4 (93, 18%)
      Misbah 49.9 (106, 16%)
      Cook 47.5 (218, 6%)
      Kohli 45.1 (66, 6%)

      • Thanks Simon. Very interesting. Looking at the table and taking everything into account I think Amla stands out. A large number of innings played to even things out and not high on the not outs either.


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