The Friday Fudge

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.

James Morgan

Written in collaboration with William Hill


  • I can only agree with you on the Buttler front that it’s a bit of a fudge. I mean, how can you have a specialist batsman coming in at 7? Given the keeping skills of Jos and Bluey are more or less equal, why not play Bairstow as the specialist batsman up the order and have Jos behind the stumps? Leaves the Yorkie to concentrate on batting and no change in wicket keeping skills?

    Here’s one from left field. We had a number 4 back in the summer who was given a few tests, kept getting out to drive balls and was dropped. James Vince may not be everyone’s cup of tea but he would be a better bet that Duckett against the spinners and would get precious few drive balls to worry about.

    • I think it’s because Bairstow has worked incredibly hard at his keeping and the selectors believe he’s now markedly better behind the stumps than Buttler. He’s also more familiar keeping to our spinners after 4 Tests on the sub-continent.

      • Reading the doubts that both Ramrakash and Cook have about Buttler’s imminent conversion to test cricket having lacked any recent first class games, I imagine they figured that giving him the gloves as well, was too big an ask.

        There is also his workload to consider. After his Christmas nibbles he’ll be back in India playing white ball, then over to the West Indies, followed by The Championship trophy.

        Between the selectors and the scheduling we have found ourselves in a right pickle.

        You spoke of Bairstow being “knackered”. Is this an assumption of have you heard it on the grape vine? Mind you, George Dobell wrote that they all arrived in India looking knackered.

        I’m looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings. For starters, lets hope Cook gets the toss right! :-)

          • I would have been happy if they had dropped Hales down the order and tried him there. Not good enough to open but maybe being down the order would have worked for him. Worked for Root.

  • Eh… Since when have Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the West Indies been in the southern hemisphere, James? Spot on with everything else though!

    • I have no idea why I wrote ‘hemisphere’ initially. I even have a globe sitting on my desk! My excuse it that I’ve had rugby on the brain this morning :-)

  • On England’s batting order, if Moeen bats at No.4 as seems the idea, won’t that mean he’s batted every position Nos.1-9 except his regular county slot of No.3? The highest score by an England No.7 is Ranji’s 175. The highest I’ve seen was Derek Randall’s 164 in NZ in 1984. He was batting at No.7 so Botham could bat at No.6. England only had four bowlers including Botham and predictably couldn’t bowl NZ twice (Coney made a big ton).

    On the ICC conference plan, I’ve read the idea is to select teams by alternate positions in the rankings. One problem is that India won’t play Pakistan (India’s women have just forfeited points for not playing Pakistan which has led to another unnamed BCCI source ranting about Manohar in the Indian press and threatening yet again to pull out of the Champions Trophy). A greater problem is that everyone will want to be in India’s conference as their tours make the money (unless an alternative revenue-sharing scheme can be agreed – good luck with that one!).

  • ah the ‘if we play less tests it’ll mean more and raise quality’.. I don’t have any doubt’s that it’s simply about money. This way, they can fudge in more 2020’s and odi’s and more 2020 competitions and extort more cash out of people.

    As for quality.. it’s dropped enough already let alone making it even more obvious that white ball is king nad players in even bigger numbers simply not caring to develop correct techniques.

    sad times. I would like Buttler to do well because England will need him too BUT I have no doubt in wanting that, people will crow about how good he is… so.. sad to say that I rather hope he fails because at least then we don’t get any crowing even though he isn’t suitable for test cricket

    • I briefly switched on the NZ v Pak test last night and I’ve seen more spectators at the Ageas Bowl on a cold April morning on day 4 of a nailed on draw with Derbyshire! It’s no wonder they need to do something with test cricket as it’s only Eng and Aus who can fill grounds these days.

      • The weather forecast was for heavy rain in the afternoon which duly arrived.

        Tests in NZ can be well-attended if they are scheduled for good weather and the opposition are attractive.

  • Pitch looks like another turner – and I don’t mean the misty river scene sort. Dry, cracked and the best whoever loses the toss can hope for is almost certainly a draw.

    • Better than it being a road (although remember the last game when the media whipped up a Bunsen friendly when it was perfectly fine).

      This is test cricket and is supposed to test you out.. Unlike white ball where it’s simply who smashes the most runs on a flat deck

      • I have no problem with India preparing turning pitches but I just pray they’re like the ones in Bangladesh. Those pitches turned from day one so there wasn’t much of an advantage for the team that won the toss and batted first. What I hate are pitches that are complete roads for a day and a half (so whoever bats first gets 400-500) and then disintegrate on day three and make it impossible for the side batting last. I’ve always disliked ‘win the toss, win the game’ surfaces.

        • The last pitch didn’t turn until day 5 – the problem was the shocking low bounce that started on day 2.

          It really wasn’t a pitch fit for professional cricket.

          • Yes the variable bounce was the killer. It’s made worse by DRS nowadays firing out batsmen LBW who get way forward, which historically has been the best way to negate it.

            • A fair point but the getting way forward was usually accompanied by hiding the bat behind the pad and pretending to play a shot (you still see it in club games). At least that has been reduced.

      • Can’t be helped! I have been watching cricket in India for the last 25 years and whinging about the pitch never goes away. ‘Win the toss, win the match’ is always brought up. As I always say – That would be a ridiculous approach from a home team. What is the point of home advantage if the away team can simply win the game by winning the toss? Like I’ve mentioned before on this blog, India would always back themselves to flip the tables by bowling the away team out for around 300 and batting huge in the first innings and finishing the game then and there. This is also quite a conventional template for victory in the subcontinent. And when they fail to do this they will still back themselves to hold the draw. It should require an extraordinary team or an extraordinary effort to break this home advantage. Anyways, I’m done with this rant. Here’s some cold hearted numbers I found on the Guardian BTL –

        India has lost the toss 22 times in the last 10 years. Of these matches. They’ve lost (hold your breath) a whopping total of 1 (ONE!!!!!) match.

        Of the 22 matches where they lost the toss, India won 15 matches, and drew 6.
        Of the 24 matches where India won the toss, it has lost 3 matches, and won 14.
        Of the 22 matches where the opposition won the toss, they ALL batted first, and only SAF won once (thanks to the peerless Steyn) in Nagpur in 2010.

        • I’m not whingeing about it, at least not until I’ve seen it played on. I expect India to prepare turners, and being able to compete on them is the skill visiting sides have to learn, in the same way tourists have to handle greater lateral movement to compete in England. I did whinge about the previous pitch though because it produced a rubbish spectacle by being very difficult to score on from lunchtime on Day 2 – something like 450 runs in the first 4 sessions and only 600 in the remaining 9. Slow, with variable bounce, it was Day 4 quality by Day 2.

          • Did you even read my comment? I was specifically talking about the myth of the ‘win toss win match’ bullshit that is bandied about each time a non-subcontinental team comes here. And bullshit it as the numbers clearly demonstrate. It’s hardly a ‘win toss win match’ scenario if it only applies to one of the two teams. ‘Rubbish spectacle’? Really? There were several passages of riveting and beautiful play. I particularly savoured Jimmy, Broad and Kohli in the second innings, the Cook Hameed blockathon and a fine debut of a promising young ‘un. Joe Root was rubbish for about thirty minutes and Cook the captain for most of the game;) Like I stated in my previous comment, it can’t be helped. This has not changed in twenty five years. Do whinge away.

  • I think 14 test matches per year is absolutely fine. Its just 2 short series and 2 proper series.

    Its the pointless bilateral ODIs and T20s that they need to cut back on.

  • I agree that Duckett need to be taken out for his own good in the same way Buttler was in the UAE. The selectors will want to ruminate on how a situation has come about that we are selecting a guy without a view to a long term role.

    England are unlikely to want to continue selecting a specialist bat at 7 and there is a burnout issue with Buttler should Bairstow play so well at 5 that it is deemed he is more important as middle order batsmen than keeper and Jos take the gloves back. England tried this in 2015 and Buttler had to miss ODIs that summer which would seem to be a bad use of resources.

    England will complete 16 Tests this year, I think its too much and am interesting in what the ICC is planning as they are also talking about something similar for ODIs. Series that are three Tests, would allow allow allow a league of 6 to play 5 Series over a 2 year period. 7 1/2 Test a year isn’t enough for me but playing everyone twice is 15 is too many so that leaves plenty of space for extra Tests like those for the Ashes series and other big three money spinners.

  • I would be pretty sure the latest proposals are one more step to killing test cricket.

    I have been looking into the future (with the aid of this years must have presents – the Bumble Ball and Old Boycotts Almanac) and see only a developed form of T20 in a few years time. It will be played by hulking steroid drenched Neanderthals with guts hanging over their trousers. Play will be speeded up by banning bowlers run ups. To ensure action a batsman will be out if he fails to score from 3 successive balls. All players will be required to chew gum (or tobacco) at all times (presumably to work on the ball). And any players struck by a ball from the bowler will immediately break down in tears and demand the umpire send the bowler from the field.

    Hang on…….sounds awfully like baseball.

  • I remember watching the John Player League from the 70’s. Seeing the bowlers run in from 12 yards max. You saw who could bowl quick then. I have never understood why they have not reintroduced that. Would definitely speed up over rates.

  • In Buttler’s last twelve Test innings, he was dismissed by spin 7 times (Lyon 4; one each for Zulfiqar, Shoiab and Yasir). His scores were 27, 7, 13, 11, 9, 12, 1, 42, 23, 4 (on the slog in a runchase to be fair), 0 and 7.

    His selection might come off – in the same way that loading a six-shooter with five bullets and winning Russian roulette will happen sometimes.

    • I’ve never thought Jos was a good player of spin. He can smack boundaries but I’ve rarely seen him manipulate the strike and milk singles with good footwork and placement. I really fear he’ll come a cropper but we just have to trust that the management know what they’re doing. I’ve not seen him bat in a first class match (or test) for so long that it’s quite possible he’s improved.

      • I think Buttler batting at seven while not keeping wicket is going to make it very difficult for him to make a significant impact on the game. On the one hand, if the top order manage to put together some partnerships and post a decent total then the heavy lifting should by rights have been done by the time he comes out to bat. The best he can hope for in that scenario is to play an entertaining, but not crucial, cameo. Even if he has time and makes a decent score it will have been under little pressure and may not prove very much. If, on the other hand, Ashwin & co have us (say) five down for 150 on a raging bunsen then Jos is far less well equipped than either Stokes (batting above him) or Woakes and Rashid (batting below him) to mount the usual rescue mission. It’s hard to see how he will have improved in red ball cricket as he just hasn’t had the opportunity for so long. I really do wish him well though.


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