I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. So I’ll do neither. I’ll rant instead. What a horribly lacklustre and lamentable start to the summer by England. Our batting was quite frankly pathetic. It was a continuation of the winter’s woeful succession of train wrecks. There were far too many poor shots and a complete inability to knuckle down.
But before lay into the usual culprits let’s start on a positive note. I thought Alastair Cook played excellently. There was no sign of indecision or technical foibles. His game looked in fantastic working order. His feet were moving well, and for the first time in a hell of a long time he was transferring his weight forward properly.
As a result he looked like a bonafide world class opening batsman – something I’m afraid he frequently does not. He drove the ball magnificently (yes, Alastair Cook drove the ball magnificently) and until Amir produced a very good ball that would’ve dismissed most left-handed batsmen, he looked sound in defence too. I really don’t think Alastair is ready for the scrapheap just yet. And it’s a good thing too because this team needs him.
The other thing I liked about Cook’s innings was that he showed the others exactly how they should bat in testing conditions. It didn’t bother him when the ball flew past his outside edge, he just knuckled down and only tried to hit the bad balls. I bet some people regard Alastair as something of an anachronism in today’s white ball dominated world. Well sod them! He currently looks like our only batsmen capable of playing properly. The test team needs more players like him if we want to regain the Ashes. What we certainly don’t need is more happy hitters … more about that later.
So now it’s time for the bad. And we’ll start with the skipper. What the hell was that? On one level I don’t want to criticise Joe too much because I got out in exactly the same fashion at the weekend. I saw a wide half-volley and thought ‘this is a bad ball so I’m going to twat it”. However, Joe is the England captain and I’m a rank amateur. What’s more, he was playing in a test match and I was playing in a limited overs game and we needed eight an over to win. In the circumstances it was an extremely poor shot. And as we’ve seen so often, the captain sets the tone.
Next up on the hit list is Dawid Malan. He just didn’t look confident and when he lamely prodded at a ball and nicked it behind I really wasn’t surprised. Malan looked good in Australia, where conditions suited him, but he looks anything but a test No.4 in English conditions. It’s no coincidence that his first class average is very, erm, average. I think Malan has talent but he’s batting too high up the order.
The other batsman whose innings depressed me – and I bet you knew this was coming – was Jos Buttler’s. He hit a few crap balls from the spinner for lusty boundaries (and everyone got excited) but then he got out swishing at a decent ball outside off that was never there to be crunched. How utterly predictable. This is exactly why he is not a good first class batsman.
Obviously some people tried to excuse Jos by laughing off his dismissal: “it was a great catch” and “he probably hasn’t seen a second slip for months” but the bottom line is that it was an unforgivable dismissal at the worst possible time: Ben Stokes had been dismissed the over before and circumspection was required. There’s still time for Jos to make a success of his test recall. It was just one innings and we can’t write him off yet. However, he’ll need to learn from yesterday and fast.
The three guys I’ll go easy on are Mark Stoneman, who got a good ball, Jonny Bairstow, who knuckled down pretty well until he too received a good ball, and Ben Stokes. I was pretty impressed by the latter. The fact he’d come straight from the IPL but was able to play a good red ball innings shows his class in my opinion. Not too many players can do that.
My final thought on England’s miserable total is that I think Ed Smith has actually succeeded in making the batting order weaker – if that’s actually possible. I was no fan of James Vince, but moving everyone up a spot in the order and shoehorning Buttler into the XI looks extremely misguided in my opinion. If you’ve got a number of batsmen who are struggling, why move them up a spot and makes their lives even harder? Personally I think everyone in our top / middle order is batting a place too high.
I know that many will disagree but I still don’t think that Root is best at 3. He averages more the lower down the order he goes for a good reason: he plays with quite an open face, and defends and drives a lot of deliveries between point and gully. Root has developed into a fantastic positive player who can take the game away from the opposition but he’s no opener; therefore he’s not a great fit at 3 either.
I’ve already had my say on Malan. He’s not a test four and I’m quite disturbed that Ed Smith, who should’ve seen him play lots for Middlesex, thinks that he is. Next up is Bairstow. I like Jonny a lot but I think he’s best utilised as a pugnacious middle-order player. I don’t think five is particularly high for him but I’d rather my keeper bats at six.
As for Stokes, as an all-rounder I think he should bat at six or seven – thus enabling us to pick a proper specialist batsmen (i.e. not Buttler) at five or preferably three if Root goes back to four. People keep saying that Jos can be our Adam Gilchrist but I think Stokes could do this role just as well if not better. After all, he’s a superior player.
A quick word on the state of the game: despite batting like raspberry tarts England aren’t out of this game yet. If it’s overcast in the morning then Jimmy and Broady can still do some damage. However, they’ll need to bowl a bit fuller than they did yesterday evening. I find it remarkable that two bowlers with such a wealth of experience frequently bowl too short in conditions they should know like the back of their hand. It’s bizarre really.
“it was an unforgivable dismissal at the worst possible time: Ben Stokes had been dismissed the over before and circumcision was required”
Jesus! I agree it was poor cricket but that sounds like an over the top punishment!! Leave the poor chap’s poor chap alone.
I spotted that typo on my first read through! It disappeared faster than a foreskin on a chopping block. I did, of course, mean circumspection!
I thought you meant he was for the chop!
Might be a way to motivate them. :)
You must not and cannot blame Buttler.
go to 04:28.
If a white ball player is told, no, en-fucking-couraged by the chief selector, coach and captain, to play white ball cricket in a test match, then the blame squarely lies at their door, not Buttler’s.
It is fucking staggering that the three of them fail to see what’s wrong with our side at the moment, namely a complete lack patience, application and caution when the game is in the balance or if we’re on the back foot.
sorry – not intended as a reply. should have been a standalone comment.
Yep. Can’t disagree with that. Jos is one of the best ODI and T20 players in the world. He’d be better off sticking at what he’s good at. The last time he was struggling in test cricket it affected his white ball form too.
It’s difficult to ask any cricketer to change their approach once they’re in the team. If they’re been picked for playing a certain way that’s what they should try and do when they’re in the team. Otherwise it’s unfair. Imagine asking Haseeb Hammed to play attacking innings when everyone knows he’s a blocker. It just wouldn’t be right.
Half agree. I think you can ask a naturally attacking batsman to tone it down or to put certain shots away – lots of history there. For a period of time in an innings at least. What I don’t think you can do is to ask a naturally defensive batsman to open up. I think that wrecks them, and I actually suspect that was a significant factor for Cook when he turned to shit. Opening in ODIs made him want to play straight and early in an innings and that corrupted his judgement around balls round his off stump.
Had to laugh when I read Jonathan Agnew on BBC website saying what a good preparation the Pakistanis have had, playing a test match and a couple of county games and how important this is for touring teams. And yet he was one who applauded the recall of Buttler who probably couldn’t have had a worse preparation for playing a test match in England in May. Another bizarre one.
And on the bowlers, I have only played beach cricket so maybe some of you who have played at a decent level can explain this, and it’s really a reiteration of James’s point above. I don’t know how many times I have heard commentators etc saying that England bowled too short. We are told that Broad and Anderson are world-class bowlers yet they never seem to change, even when they had the shining example of the Pakistani bowlers yesterday who were bowling a terrific length all day (I don’t think there was a single bouncer) and took 10 wickets So is it difficult to change your length? Why can’t they? Seems a classic example of doing the same thing and hoping for a different outcome.
I think it could come down to the fact that Jimmy and Broad have played so much cricket under Strauss and Flower. They don’t like to concede runs so they’re sometimes reluctant to pitch it up and get driven. The old philosophy was to bowl dry (more or less) build pressure and wait for a mistake. Perhaps this mindset still persists a little, even if it might be subconscious or engrained in the muscle memory.
Not to defend Buttler too much, but I think his position in the order betrayed the muddle of his selection.
At some level he was clearly put down there and told “you can play your natural game” – now of course he should have had the presence of mind to adjust – yet at the same time he hadn’t had much practice time.
Really I blame the selection – we needed a direct replacement for Vince, not pushing everyone up the order to make room for a potential gamechanger who needs a solid base to work from.
I wouldn’t have had such a problem with the Buttler selection if there were 6 reliable players above him in the order. The idea of Jos coming in at 7 to flay a tiring attack with England on 300-5 is a mouthwatering one. The problem is that we’re more likely to be 30-5 than 300-5 these days; therefore I really didn’t see the logic.
Agree, the logic is broken and the Cheif Selector and Statwasher needs to take the blame IMO.
I understand your point, but that’s exactly why he shouldn’t be in the side. “Just play your game” is not how you become a test #1 side. Players need to adapt to the situation and play accordingly, especially when selected as a specialist batsman
Very disappointing and deflating, just feels like we have seen this day so many times. Looking at a green wicket with perfect overheads for bowling and choosing to bat was a error England make time and time again. We keep hearing how great Broad and Anderson are but England don’t seem prepared to use them as a weapon.
I was surprised how many called his a new era when Ed Smith recalled a guy who had played 18 Tests and picked an injury replacement for Leach. He could have gone back to Moeen Ali so there is a tick there for investing a cap in a young talented spinner.
I find the lack of any progress much worse than poor performance, but it doesn’t matter because after these back to back games we don’t play another Test for ages and half of them seem to be in September so it isn’t just the CC in the Margins
Still early days in this test and the summer plenty of time to find form and rhythm. I’ll keep my judgment in reserve.
I do agree with Aggers re: the prep though, Pakistan have played a number of red ball games, as a team, in the past few weeks (including a test match) and look to be hitting the ground running.
Doubt it would be possible with the scheduling but perhaps England should play a 4 day game against an ECB XI a week or so before the first test of the summer?
Ireland have said they would play four day Tests if it helped them get fixtures and it would be a good money game for them even if it wasn’t the full XI. The ECB won’t do that tho because helping out those in the lower half of the rankings hold no interest for them.
I suppose it would depend on the reaction of the IPL players, it would mean coming back earlier making it more difficult to get a deal. Those player who don’t get IPL deals say Root and Bairstow would just play one less CC match
A one off test against Ireland in early May may well get rained off but at the very least our test XI would be sharing a dressing room for 5 days.
The selection of Buttler in this line-up, and the reshuffle it has necessitated, has echoes of our football team back in the mid-2000s under Eriksson. Gerrard, Lampard, Beckham and Scholes were all “too good to leave out” even though as a group they gave us an unbalanced midfield. Ed Smith has done the same – picked “the best players” (in his opinion) because they are “the best players” not because they can do the job required of them within the team framework.
If Alf Ramsey had picked “the best players” would Nobby Stiles have been in the 1966 World Cup Final team? In any team sport it’s a question of balance, of having people in the right place on the pitch or in the batting order, people who know their roles in any given situation, and play to that situation.
Huw Turberville in his Cricketer column today mentions Ian Botham scoring 51 off 209 balls to save a Test v Pakistan in 1987. THAT is playing the situation, even if it’s perhaps against your natural game. An instinctively attacking, aggressive player like Botham had the technique to play an innings like that when needed, because he had match after match of grounding in the County Championship playing “proper cricket”. He didn’t come out and give it a wallop every time, before chuntering about “the way I play” at the end of a crushing defeat.
But that’s unfashionable these days isn’t it.
Except that Buttler, under any reasonable definition, is not too good to leave out. He has a FC batting average of 31, which seems a better indicator than even his test record given the number of games he has played. Even Woakes averages 35 in FC. Buttler is not, and never will be, a test bat. He is a white ball slogger who cannot get away with those shots against a test field with slips, and test boundaries which are often 20 metres longer than in T20.
Oh I agree. I thought I’d put enough subtle caveats in there to make it clear I was imagining Ed Smith’s rationale rather than putting forward my own opinions.
I have to admit I felt a warm nostalgic glow yesterday. A good old fashioned England batting collapse! The only thing standing between England and a hammering is the Pakistan batting (which is often a formidable hindrance to Pakistan). I thought the Pakistan bowlers were excellent particularly Abbas and the underrated Hasan Ali. I fear that Ed Smith’s selections significantly weakened an already fragile batting line up. Moeen has been a good option in England over the last few years.
Bring back Vince !
Not much to add, its just a continuation of the winter with players who are out of form and/or not really good enough. Likely part of the ECB’s master plan to destroy Tests like they are trying to do with the Championship to fill the schedule with wall to wall T20/100 ball rubbish. Proffesional cricket in this country needs a complete clear out from the top down, from the EC B destruction, through selection, captaincy and players. I don’t blame the players for being picked, not their fault if some of them are duffs, but this is now showing the results of the ECB wrecking havoc with English cricket. Give us back out summer game!
George Dobell was good on yesterday’s PoliteEnquiries. He basically said the ECB keep pretending that test cricket is their priority when it clearly isn’t. He might even have used the word ‘liars’ although I can’t remember 100%.
WIll have to watch. If Dobell’s already being sued he may as well get some extra shots in …
“… an enduring lie …”
Interesting to see Pakistan have been told off for some players wearing watches on the field – I presume in the modern “smartwatch era” it’s possible for bookies to message players on them …
I have a better solution. Create a Farady cage around each test ground. Not only would it prevent the risk you mention, it would also deal with those objectionable yobs who insist on conducting phone conversations in the stands.
I was listening to 5 live at work yesterday and in between the innings they were talking to a number of ex players, who were all saying as long as England take a leaf out of Pakistan’s book and pitch the ball up we could cause their fragile batting major problems.
I have to say I’ve always thought Broad was a bonehead when it comes to his own game and Anderson has a reputation for being reluctant to take advice, so I was not surprised when Pakistan finished 1 wicket down with the best of the new ball gone. I find it difficult to imagine tactics were not to pitch the ball up and get them on the front foot. However, our opening bowlers always seem reluctant to do this early doors, presumably as it gives the batsmen greater opportunity to score. How long is it since we had an opening bowler capable of consistently bowling a full length? Even going back to the 70’s triumverate of Old, Hendrick and Willis. The complaint there was they all pitched too short with the new ball. We seem to have been having the same issue ever since, To me the player offering the best example is Glen McGrath. How many of his wickets were either bowled, LBW or caught behind? A sure fire sign of full straight bowling.
I cannot say anything that has not already been said. I just sit and watch with a sense of complete hopelessness because you just know what is going to happen. And it always does
A coomenter on the Guardian thread nailed it when he wrote that it’s not often you see the home side looking unfamiliar with the conditions and undercooked.
By the way, the TV stats showed Pakistan bowled 85% of the time on a full or good length and took 9 of their wickets with such deliveries. Anderson pitched it up twice this morning, got driven for four and promptly switched tactics. The comms have also picked up quickly that Broad’s wrist position makes it nearly impossible for him to move the ball both ways.
There’s been some going over the top about how good one day means Pakistan are. They don’t have one bowler with 50 Test wickets under 30. This may turn out to be a very high quality attack – maybe Mohammad Abbas is some new wunderkind – but it’s too early to say. They just bowled sensibly in very helpful conditions backed up by good fielding and helped by poor batting. Bumble had a graphic that showed, like in NZ, the England batsmen were getting caught on the crease rather than going properly forward or back.
Generally a very fair assessment James, but you missed out on the very first (and biggest) mistake made by England. It is a green wicket with conditions made for swing bowling. So what do England do? They leave Woakes on the bench despite these being his perfect conditions and despite him being the England seamer most likely to pitch the ball up and allow the ball to swing (his natural length is fuller even than Andersons – ignore the shorter length in Oz which was demanded by the idiot coaches, despite him only ever being given a worn old Kookaburra to use).
So who should Woakes be displacing in the side? I actually thought Wood bowled decently (reasonable pace – although not lightening, and a decent line). But he barely moved a ball an inch. At this level pace is rarely enough, and if it is to be enough it need to be 93/94, not 88/89. But an even stronger case can be made for Woakes in place of Buttler. You are too generous to Buttler. He is a pure white ball player with a FC batting average of 31 (compared with 35 for Woakes). His dismissal said everything you need to know about him. It was a shot he would play in T20, and get away with because there would be no slips. His mindset is T20 (and cannot change), and he relies on his eye, lacking the technique or discipline of a test bat.
Based on this simple selection disaster we have been blessed with an idiot who makes Whittaker look like Einstein.
On batting alone one could make a case that Woakes is a better pick than Buttler. As you say, he averages more in first class. Plus he has 9 hundreds in 198 first class innings. Buttler has 4 in 126. Plus I wager Woakes has been batting lower in the order too. Woakes has a good batting technique and plays pretty straight.
Woakes the bowler? I have mixed feelings. As you say he’s very good in England. But is that good enough to invest in someone long term? I’m conflicted. A big part of me wants us to develop an attack that can do well everywhere in the world.
But it is difficult to say how good he could be overseas with the ball. In Oz he was repeatedly given a beaten up old Kookaburra after Broad and Anderson had wasted it, and asked to bowl back of a length against batsmen who had been set by our ‘opening’ bowlers. I will reserve judgement on what he can do until he is given a ball with some shine in better circumstances (such as in Perth).
One thing to note – it was frequently pointed our prior to the Ashes that the 6,7,8,9 of Stokes, Bairstow, Ali and Woakes frequently got the top order out of trouble.
With that little lower order now comprehensively dismantled, the top order failing are far more flagrant.
With regards to not investing in Woakes over the long-term – fair enough, but I’d put more stock in him than Mark Wood who remains a world-beater in all the games he doesn’t play.
Well, who’s surprised by any of this?
The image of Flower sitting at the back of selection meetings asking Smith “challenging” questions is priceless (almost as much as imagining Smith’s answers).
I can’t read the whole story but it involves fixing the pitch of the First Test of the winter tour in SL so it’ll produce a result. The idea that anyone needs to fix anything to prevent any chance of England drawing an away Test is slightly amusing.
Still, the ICC’s procedures to handle match-fixing are fit for purpose and, while there have been stories about SL for a long time, the fact that wrong-doing has been detected yet again in a smaller ICC member while nothing ever happens in one of the BIg Three…. wait a minute….