The Headingley Test

Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, England would often travel to Leeds trailing in test series. We’d draft in someone like Neil Mallender, who would swing the ball around corners, and we’d win inside three days – thus keeping Ted Dexter or Mickey Stewart in charge for another few months. Headingley’s cloud cover was like a huge comfort blanket in the sky. Our opponents simply couldn’t cope with the prodigious swing.

And so it came to pass, thirty years or so later, that Headlingley has come to the rescue again. But it could have been oh so different. Had Sarfraz not been duped into thinking it was a batting day then it could, and I suspect would, have been England who were bowled out cheaply in two sessions. There’s no way our batsmen would have coped with the ball moving around as much as it did. With Malan at 4 and Buttler as high as 6 in this game, our batting line-up looks even thinner than it did back in the dark old days. It’s absolutely shocking to be honest.

Fortunately, however, Pakistan got everything wrong on day 1. They batted poorly, although they did receive a few jaffas, and their bowlers were unable to dig themselves out of a hole. England had all the luck, and crucially we took our chances. There was only one dropped chance that I can recall.

The hero of the day was probably Stuart Broad, who bowled much fuller than he has in the recent past, and therefore suddenly rediscovered his ability to take wickets. He bowled very well in the conditions and I enjoyed his interview with Ian Ward at close of play. When asked whether he’d been fired up by suggestions that he should be dropped < cough > Michael Vaughan < cough > he cuttingly said that some pundits seem more interested in promoting their own columns that being fair. Ouch! Some would say he has a point.

Jimmy Anderson and Chris Woakes also had decent days with the ball too. The former’s record at Headingley isn’t as good as it might be, but he bowled better in his second spell and picked up a few wickets. Woakes also looked good on his return. He’s a completely different bowler in English conditions and a Duke cherry in his hand.

And then there was young Sam Curran, included in the side as an injury replacement for Ben Stokes. What did you make of his performance? Although Sam is obviously a very talented lad, an exciting prospect, and he’ll doubtless take lots of international wickets one day, I was left with the impression that at this stage of his career he probably doesn’t really look international class.

Had someone like Harry Gurney or Mike Smith run in to bowl at 80 mph and struggled to take wickets, then I’m sure words like “trundler”, “pies”, and “not international standard” would’ve been somewhat harshly thrown around. However, because he’s just 19 and has an interesting back story, he’s considered to be a sexy pick.

I really hope he isn’t playing simply because Ed Smith want to build a reputation as Mr Funky. I’m sure there are lots of stalwarts in county cricket who must be looking on enviously wondering whether young Sam has actually deserved this call up.

Having said that, I have seen quite a lot of Curran and been pretty impressed. I saw him for England U19, and of course I’ve seen him play for Surrey too. On those occasions he did bowl a little bit quicker, so perhaps he was a little nervous today and just trying to land it on the strip rather than letting rip? Either way he’s definitely one for the future. My doubt is whether he’s one for the present . I guess time will tell.

After dismissing Pakistan so cheaply, it was crucial for Cook and Jennings to get England off to a good start. If they could do so, then the game would effectively be won. Thankfully they survived a few early alarms and played pretty well.

I was quite impressed with Jennings actually. I admit my expectations were quite low, but he seems to have tweaked his backlift, and he didn’t seem so statuesque at the crease. He also played a couple of gorgeous shots that had a real stamp of authority: a fluent drive through the covers and a lovely cut through point. He certainly looked better than Stoneman.

It’s just a shame that his innings ended in familiar fashion: he was stuck on the crease a bit, hung his bat out, and nicked it to the keeper. I hope that doesn’t convince people that he hasn’t worked on his game because by all reports he has … unlike Gary Balance who apparently either refused or was unable to adapt his technique.

I also thought that Alastair Cook played pretty well again. However, unlike the old days, when he seemed to have an air of permanence, these days he seems to lose his wicket out of the blue. Today he was strangled down the leg side as he attempted a pull. It was undoubtedly a bit unlucky, although Pakistan could argue that their ‘go short, go pull, go short’ strategy to Cook seemed to pay off.

With Root still at the crease tomorrow morning, we should be able to put the game out of Pakistan’s reach tomorrow (weather permitting). We’ve had a dream day today, spirits in the dressing room should be high, and hopefully the likes of Malan, Bairstow and Buttler will be able to cash in if they come to the crease with England in a strong position. It wouldn’t that make a nice bloody change.

If Jos manages to make some runs I look forward to his interview with Ian Ward at the end of the day. No doubt he’ll say: “some bullshit bloggers talk crap just to promote their own sites”. And I’ll feel as daft and sheepish as our 2005 Ashes winning captain must have felt today.

James Morgan



  • I agree with just about everything you say, James. In particular, about 5/6s of the way through Jennings’s innings I was thinking “He looks much more organised than last year” – leaving the ball well and defending with bat and pad much closer togther. Then he had a few swishes, and eventually edged one – what a pity.
    I think Sam is a better prospect than Tom – a left armer for contrast, and I think a much better bat (though Tom isn’t all that bad).

  • Bowled full, now that wasn’t so hard was it? Looks like someone has put a rocket up Broads bum. Headingley almost always does a lot on the first morning. Had we batted no doubt would have been the same result.

    Not convinced with the openers, Cook seems to get out at the end of the day somehow. A couple of wickets early and Pakistan are by no means out of it.

    Oh and Vaughan’s a bigger twit that I thought.

  • (btw, going back to Gower and “left handers always look more elegant”, could I just mention, Edrich, Gary Kirsten, Chanderpaul and (heaven forfend) Cook?)

  • Hi James,

    First comment on your blog although i have been reading it for some time. A dlightful combination of the insightful and the irreverant. Love the Self deprecation. I hope Vaughnie has sorted out his personal security. Stuart Broad is a big lad.

    Buttler is undoubtedly box office and in a way he is probably a bit unluky that Jonny is a better keeper and an equally good bat.

    The only thing I disagree with you on is that you seem convinced England’s batting line up is permanently awful. Yes, we are the world’s number one day side and we do get our runs quickly in all forms of the game (even if sometimes there are not enough of them) but to say that the likes of Malan, Bairstow and Stokes(no relation) are not test class is something I can not subscribe to. Yes, we are an opening bat short and personally I believe Root should bat 4 but for how long have England begged for a world class number 3. it is a pivotal position and allows a class player to set up the rest of the game for the team. At the moment we do not have a Cowdrey, Dexter or Gower. we don’t even have a Trott who in my view was a remarkably undervalued member of the England set up when you had Pietersen (is that a swearword here) Bell and Flintoff in next.

    What would we have given for Viv Richards to have been English. Probably would have solved the number 3 debate for all time. That is how pivotal it is.

    In the most jovial tone I can imagine I really do hope Jos makes you eat a very large humble pizza tomorrow and deep down i know you will secretly be royally entertained by a Buttler ton. Here is to England getting 500 and winning by an innings

    Enjoy your Saturday all.

    Len Stokes

    • The point about Buttler is that pretty much every keeper in the county championship is a better keeper (not just Bairstow) and that not only Bairstow, but also Foakes (the best gloveman) are better red ball shown by their FC averages (Buttler 31, Bairstow 38, Foakes 42). Buttler is the one player in the side who simply cannot be justified, even if he scores a double ton in this game. White ball cricketers who turn up for the odd test (performance wise) have been England’s problem for the last 3-4 years. If I was Foakes I would be wondering what sort of pictures Buttler has of the selectors.

      • Hi Andy. Buttler has the 11th best first class average of all available keepers in the championship. I think he’s obviously very talented, and I’d love him to prove me wrong, but he’s a luxury. We’ve got too many batting problems without selecting someone at 7 who is a specialist counter-attacker and player of entertaining cameos. He’s also got it bloody easy. James Vince etc would kill for the opportunity to bat down at 7 against tiring attacks and an old ball! Not sure Buttler has earned this opportunity and I think his selection sets an awful precedent. Have I said all that before? ;-)

      • Bairstow’s first class average is 46, not 38, and if you don’t count tests, it’s over 50. That said, he doesn’t seem to bat anymore like he used to, and I think that started last year, when the ECB in their infinite wisdom decided that the best way for their most reliable batsman of 2016 would be to spend the first half of the year mostly carrying drinks or resting from carrying drinks in between. He seemed out of form in the one county game he played in April 17, but no one took notice, because he was doing well in the white ball stuff. It’s not that he didn’t get many runs, it’s how he did it that made me worry back then. He used to come in and start running. He doesn’t do that anymore. I don’t know why, maybe he just doesn’t find the gaps like he used to. Yesterday he hit an awful lot of balls to fielders. And I don’t know how significant those stats are, but back when he was doing really well, in 2016, in tests, he got 43% of his runs in boundaries. Since the start of 2017 it’s been 56%, and this season so far 67%, and he was in for a while in both first innings, so it’s not that he just hit out and got out.

    • Hi Len. Thanks for joining the debate. I think that Bairstow and Stokes are definitely test class, but obviously the latter isn’t playing in this game. I’m not convinced by Malan in home conditions. In an ideal world I’d like to see Bairstow and Stokes at 6/7 with a new No.2, No.3, and No.5. Then I think England would have a properly balanced team. I think it’s a lot to ask all-rounders to bat at 5/6 because they have a bigger workload, plus I think it’s one place too high for them anyway.

      I’d like to see England field the following XI at home: Cook, ?, ?, Root, ?, Bairstow, Stokes, Woakes, Broad, Leach, Anderson. I’d rotate Wood and Woakes depending on the pitch.

      Obviously England’s problem is to find those 3 missing batsmen. I’m not sure who they are but we desperately need to find them, and if we can’t find at least two it reflects extremely badly on English cricket. The currently strategy of trying to paper over the cracks by promoting batsmen one place to high, and relying on all-rounders who often play in all forms of the game, isn’t working imho. The selectors do have a very hard job at the moment though.

  • So why oh why didn’tbthey play like this the first time? They are so bloody infuriating

    • Probably because this time they had a first change bowler suited to the conditions who could maintain the momentum. Idiot selectors.

  • Nasser Hussain had a good stat – in the first 20 overs in Tests in England since 2010, England have bowled the second fewest percentage of full-length deliveries (only Bangladesh bowled fewer; NZ had bowled the most which is probably why they’ve not been asked back).

    By the way, nine of the Pakistan wickets fell to full-length deliveries.

    • He followed that up with a stat on slip catching success since 2015 and New Zealand topped that list as well with 88%. England was 9th with 71%.

      • I read that Cook (who is one of our key slippers) only catches 70% of his chances. That’s too low, and it goes a long way to explaining why our team stats aren’t good enough. The problem is that Alastair isn’t very athletic in the field, so there’s nowhere else to hide him.

        • I saw a figure of 68% but wasn’t sure if that was for his whole career or just more recently.

    • Nasser followed that stat up with one that showed Broad’s bwoling in this Test was actually the fullest he has bowled in a single match in his entire career. The message has seemed to get through at last and the bowling attack may be on the way to becoming un-Sakered at last.

      By the way, I’m well aware that bowling full isn’t, on its own, the be-all and end-all. Some occasional short stuff still has a role to play and one of Pakistan’s weakness was that they didn’t have anyone who could do that (Hasan Ali tried at Lord’s but isn’t up to it). It’s one reason why the batting of Jennings, Buttler and Bess – promising as it was here – is still very much unproven against attacks with some pace or bounce.

  • I think Sarfraz was a bit unlucky with the toss. The cloud cover arrived after it and changed the pitch. That aside it was good to see England take advantage of the conditions. Jimmy was short in his first spell but improved. Broad and Woakes were very good. I agree about Curran. He probably needs to add a yard of pace. My only concern is that tomorrow morning may be cloudy and the ball might swing so there is still time for an England batting collapse. We need a decent lead and we’re not there yet.

  • I agree with most of your assessment, although I do think we need to see if the Jennings habit is repeated, because no matter how much better he may look a run of 29s or similar would not be what is needed. As for Sam Curran; living in Surrey I have also seen him several times, and seen him bowl much better than he did. I do not think the question is whether he can bowl, it is whether he is even the best available of his type of bowler (medium quick swing, left hand). As was pointed out when Ed Smith got the job, his precious stats clearly show Keith Barker (a medium quick left hand swing bowler) to be the FC overperformer in the last few seasons, taking batsmen averaging over 40 for 24 runs per wicket. It seems stats are not the answer………or at least only a convenient line when it suits.

    • Agreed. But it’s neither sexy nor funky to pick a county journeyman like Barker. Ed loves the funk. And I imagine, with a brain as big as his, that he loves to project the image of a fresh thinker. And that’s why we end up picking a teenager two years too early.

  • Can’t agree that England had all the luck. It was a good batting wicket and if we’d had that much luck we’d have been batting before lunch. Don’t know how Pakistan managed 174.
    We batted, bowled and fielded like test cricketers. Why we can’t apply ourselves like this regularly I don’t know. It seems to take a criticism of a bad performance to goad us into action. We looked nervous at Lords after our winter of discontent. The body language was much better today though early wickets helped.
    Agree about Curran though, he looks a pretty ordinary trundler at this level, however as he’s only in as a temp for Stokes, as long as Pakistan continue to go hard at the ball we’ll only need the 3 seamers to finish them off. Considering how little bowling Woakes has had recently he bowled pretty well.
    Tomorrow will still be a tester though as Pakistan know a bad day for them will gift us this test match. If they get Root early who is going to knuckle down and make big runs?

  • Just another thing about selection. Choosing Curran was a completely unnecessary move. It was Ed trying to be too clever by half. The simple thing would have been to replace Stokes with Woakes. This wouldn’t have weakened the bowling and it only weakens the batting fractionally. I think Wood would have bowled well on this wicket. There was good carry.

    As Mark Butcher pointed out on Sky’s Debate programme, England seemed to pick their team on the basis of having a No.8 who can bat! This is beyond silly. I think Wood was very unlucky not to play. He’s no muppet with the bat himself, and there’s no guarantee that Curran will score more runs than him anyway.

    • Surely you want a number 8 who can at least bat a bit, otherwise it’s a very long tail.

      Trouble with Wood is that he relies on express pace, which seems to have left him. He also doesn’t move the ball so becomes the test version of Stuart Meaker to a large extent.

    • My main concern with Curran is that if he can’t play in a day night match because stumps would be 2 hours after his bed time.

    • When are we going to stop picking Wood, who has never had any success. Who is he sleeping with to continue as a viable option. Has there ever been a more Inoquous bowler repeatedly selected? Blooding one for the future (even if he’s not ready yet it’s only for one game) has to be a more positive move than picking a has been who never was. Wood is and always has been straight up and down and not that quick. His run up’s too short to generate real pace and he’s injury prone. Take a leaf out of Southgate’s fitness book.

  • Some thoughts on: catching at slip: the ball does not stop swinging after passing the wickets obviously: but depending on the bounce it can also swing up and down as well as left and right. At Lord’s right behind the bowler’s arm it looked as if Cook dropped a dolly but watching the TV replay you could see the ball ‘drop’ viciously in the last meter or two before reaching him.

    Does this happen more now than in the past? Well people are more expert at working on the ball so probably yes.

    On Jennings: good to see that the brains trust behind him has worked hard and that he has taken their advice and worked on that advice. But a key factor in his tactics here was standing well our side the batting crease. Is he good enough to do this at +85 mph and if not what then? Sobers could and did. Sobers he ain’t. One innings does not a summer make. Good to see him trying to play late.

    Another Flower Power character. Not seen as much of him as others but I was there when Hales took him apart in the white ball final last year. Yes England need an angle variation but 80 mph and swing that starts the moment it leaves the hand is the type of bowler Test batsman play themselves in to.

  • An altogether better day for England as you say James & I agree that it is important to give credit where credit is due; excellent use of the conditions by England’s opening bowlers, particularly Stuart Broad; enormously improved fielding effort on the ground and in the air; reasonably solid batting display with much less fragility on display than a week ago; thoughtful captaincy from the skipper, whose bowling changes and field settings contributed strongly to a good day; well done boys.

    That said, I’m afraid I won’t be joining the chorus of approval for the born again Keaton Jennings; I don’t think he should be anywhere near this England team for numerous reasons; the decision to omit the pace of Mark Wood in favour of the medium pace gentle swing of the younger Curran was inexcusable. Curran has neither earned nor does he have the capability to deserve his call up & that was laid bare for all to see yesterday.

    My only hope is that those who have been eagerly parroting the output of the Alec Stewart propaganda machine in the media & elsewhere might in future just take a closer look at some of these players before swallowing the bait whole.

    • I have some sympathy for the “Don’t pick Jennings” argument but who do you pick instead? Hameed is the obvious long term choice but is woefully out of form. Jennings at least has some county runs behind him.

  • Regarding CurranS, I reckon he’s better than CurranT, and one day he may make a decent Test player. But his inclusion for this Test is astonishing. Broad – great to see but I’d like him to follow up by carrying out some dental work on Motormouth Vaughan’s teeth.

  • Speaking as a Kent supporter, a really funky choice for Headingley would have been Darren Stevens, even though he is of great age. But then he wouldn’t have been taking 6 Surrey wickets for Kent in the one day cup on a great batting wicket at Beckenham, would he?

  • Agreed Mike. I’m a Surrey man and Steven’s invariably bowls us out most times we play one day. Not sure if he plays the longer game now though?

  • Stuart Broad’s response to criticism was embarrassing and childish. It ties in well with the bubble these players live in though, where they think past achievements mean they are beyond any form of criticism. You highlighted yourself that he bowled much fuller in this test and got wickets as a result. He deserved criticism, and there isn’t a single person who has ownership of a place in the England side who only lose it when they decide they’ve had enough – that’s an awful place to be in for an international side in any sport

    But these players have all responded like this to criticism, funny how it takes a news article calling them out for them to get fired up and respond, rather than simply be fired up from the beginning.

    • Agreed wholeheartedly.
      Anyone would think it the duty of commentators to ignore a run of mediocre performances…

    • How dare you criticise the great I am?

      Suspect this pretty much sums up England’s problems. I suspect Root doesn’t either.

  • In answer to Doug’s question, Darren Stevens plays all formats for Kent. His enthusiasm for cricket at 42 years old is impressive to see!

  • I see England are suddenly world class again.. all rosey again now PK are playing utter tripe and England will walk the game. See, nothing to worry about.

    Buttler inspired

    Currans the next big things

    Couldn’t be better

    • To be fair I don’t think the comments here say anything of the sort. We know there are problems with the team and selection. We can’t agree about how to solve them but that’s what a debate is for.


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