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.