Forget Black Friday. This is the Friday Fudge – an altogether more appropriate name for anything involving English cricket (or indeed cricket in general). You all know the score by now: in posts like this I just ramble aimlessly about a variety of subjects rather than constructing well thought-out separate articles on individual topics. It’s just a cricketing stream of consciousness really.
So where do we begin? Ah yes, the news that Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes have (definitely) been recalled for the 3rd test this weekend. The latter was a no brainer because Stuart Broad is injured. I imagine young Chris will have a point to prove.
It’s also been confirmed that Jos will bat at 7 and play as a specialist batsman with Bairstow keeping the gloves. So there we have it folks, the man many have been pining for – the most supremely gifted athlete in the history of English sport if you believe the hyperbole – is going to bat below the all rounders like Stokes and Moeen. It’s hardly a vote of confidence. I think many expected Jos to bat seven and keep.
When England have picked specialist batsmen at seven in the past it’s always seemed a bit apologetic and somewhat insulting (to both the player in question and the batsmen above him). Teams normally resort to seven batsmen when the management fear another collapse is just around the corner.
And as for the player drafted in – a guy who’s supposed to be a proper batsman – it’s got to be deflating to see six other guys bat before you. It’s a reminder that you’ve failed to convince in previous games and the management don’t really trust you. In this case, the management obviously think that a knackered Bairstow (who’s been keeping wicket) and Moeen (who might have bowled thirty overs) are better bets up the order.
Another prodigiously talented player who dominated in one-day cricket, Graeme Hick, batted at number 7 in ten tests for England. He made 199 runs at an average of 17 in the position (considerably lower than his stats batting in the top six). I used to feel rather sad for Hicky strolling to the wicket at fifth drop when he was used to dominating at number 3 for Worcs. No wonder he felt like a foreigner in the dressing room at times. Another good comparison is JP Duminy, who has played 13 tests batting at number 7. He’s made 360 runs at 24 in the position.
Having said that, I think seven is probably the best place for Buttler. There’s zero chance he’ll be exposed to the new ball and there won’t be high expectations. This should give Buttler the chance to be himself (see ball, hit ball) rather than play like a specialist batsman and build an innings in the traditional way. It might well suit him.
Personally, I’m concerned that every single one-day specialist we’ve tried to turn into a test cricketer (Hales being the most recent example) has failed. Duckett has also looked all at sea despite being insanely talented. It’s normally players with solid orthodox techniques like Haseeb Hameed who succeed first up in test cricket.
However, because our inept selectors persevered with Ballance, who is basically unselectable at this point, the management don’t have any other option from within the squad. We’ll just have to wish Jos all the best, hope he can get a start, and pray that this gamble works. Nobody is denying his ability. Let’s hope he can finally put things together in red ball cricket. I’ll be rooting for him.
The other news is that Zafar Ansari will also miss the game with some form of general malaise (I can’t recall exactly what the problem is). Therefore there will be a third change to England’s XI. The management are going to have a good look at the pitch before deciding whether Jake Ball or Gareth Batty will play. Let’s just say we’re not going to be short of bowling options in this match.
Unfortunately however, I suspect that whatever XI we field in Mohali will struggle. According to the William Hill cricket betting site we’re as long as 3/1 to win, with India huge 4/7 favourites and the draw 4/1. This doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Interestingly Jos Buttler is 7/1 to be England’s top run scorer in the first innings. That’s the same odds as both Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow. I guess this has something to do with the number of people who have backed him. A bit like when people bet on England to win the football world cup: we’ll be third or fourth favourites despite the fact we’ll be lucky to make it out of the group.
In other news the ICC, having abandoned it’s plan to introduce two divisions in test cricket, is now looking at the possibility of two ‘conferences’ instead. Details are a little sketchy – some think it will work in a similar way to American football – but this makes it difficult to safeguard series like The Ashes. What will happen, for example, if England and Australia end up in opposing conferences?
Although we have no idea at this point (at least I don’t) how they’ll select the two conferences – alphabetical order, GDP, number of spanners in sidchrome tool kit? – at least there’s a good chance that teams in opposing conferences will face each other every so often.
Personally I’d go for a northern conference and a southern conference, with the two winners squaring up in a test championship final. The southern conference would comprise Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the West Indies. The northern conference would be, err, England. I think that would work nicely.
The subplot to all this. of course, is that the ICC want to reduce the number of test matches played each year. ‘Quality not quantity’ is the cliche of the week. What do you make of this? On the one hand some test countries do play too much test cricket – England have played 14 this year (or something ridiculous) and the schedule in India is an absolute joke. On the other hand, Bangladesh have only played a couple of games.
I suspect the cynics amongst you might see this as a covert attempt to sideline test cricket – in others words, to cut test cricket to make way for more ODIs and T20s. Although I understand these concerns, I’m prepared to wait and see what happens. I don’t mind cutting the number of test matches slightly if they do actually manage to introduce more context and relevance to games.
Whether this actually happens or not is obviously another matter entirely. Knowing the ICC, with all its conflicting interests, I suspect the final proposals will be a bit of a fudge. A Friday fudge.
Written in collaboration with William Hill