The Wednesday Whelk: Dead Rubbers, Adil Rashid, and Ian Bell

There’s a lot of ground to cover today so like two singles on a Tinder date I’ll get straight to it.

First up there was England’s T20 series victory over the Canary Yellows. It was an entertaining series which England could’ve won 3-0 had we fielded our best XI in the dead rubber last night. Instead the Aussies’ consolation victory might fool them into thinking they could’ve / should’ve won the series too – if only they hadn’t imploded so spectacularly (and amusingly) in the first game.

To be honest I was quite underwhelmed by the Aussies. They arrived as allegedly the best T20 side in the world (according to the rankings) but they have too many bang average players in my humble opinion. England were the better side on paper and in practice.

It’s easy to get a false impression when you don’t watch every Australia game – which sadly I don’t – but the likes of Stoinis , Zampa, Richardson, Wade, and Agar aren’t really top class. I’m sure they’re useful on their day, a bit like Chris Jordan and David Willey, but they don’t exactly strike fear into the opposition.

As for England I think we’re developing nicely. It speaks volumes that Dawid Malan probably won’t play when the T20 World Cup comes around, presumably because the management think he starts too slowly compared to the other batsmen available.

Malan is a class white ball player, don’t get me wrong, but who on earth would we leave out to accommodate him? It’s an embarrassment of riches really. No wonder the management can afford to get all preachy and moral high-groundy over Alex Hales. They just don’t need him like they did in the past.

England’s bowling isn’t quite as strong as the batting but there’s still enough experience there. Wood and Archer are a fantastic pairing, just like they were in the ODI World Cup, and Rashid seems to have recovered from his shoulder problem. He was excellent last night.

Adil’s form has inevitably started a debate over whether he should go to India for the Test series. After all, we’re likely to play two or even three spinners out there. However, my personal view is no. He’s a very handy bowler to have up the captain’s sleeve, and he’d definitely add variety to the squad, but several factors go against him:

Firstly we must mention that Adil’s Test record is poorish. He’s played 19 Tests (a big enough sample size) and he’s taken just 60 wickets at an average of 40. What’s more, these games have often occurred in spin-friendly conditions.

Some observers wonder whether Rashid bowls too slowly to be effective in Test cricket. Hmmm. I’m not generally a fan of generalisations (!) but I do understand the argument. Does he need the batsmen going after him to be effective?

The sense persists that patient batsmen can simply defend Adil’s good balls and wait for the inevitable poor deliveries. It’s not exactly rocket science, and most leg spinners that aren’t named Shane or Anil will inexorably bowl the odd long hop or full toss, but sadly this is the story of Rashid’s Test career to date.

The final reason to exclude Adil is both practical and political. He hasn’t played red ball cricket for over a year and a half. He doesn’t even have a red ball contract with a county. This alone, in my opinion, should exclude him from consideration because (a) we don’t know how his shoulder will respond to the additional workload, and (b) his inclusion would set a terrible precedent.

If the selectors are going to select a player outside of the domestic first class system then this player should at least be exceptional. I could understand an argument for someone like a Kevin Pietersen but Adil isn’t worth the fuss and resentment his selection would inevitably whip up. That’s my 2p anyway.

The other news story that’s caught my eye in recent days was the retirement of Ian Bell. I guess we all knew it was coming. He’s now 38 years of age and he hasn’t scored prolific runs for a while now. The Duke Of Bellington made a modest announcement in which he said it was time.

I’ll miss Ian Bell. Although we got off on the wrong foot – I still think it was dead wrong to jettison Graham Thorpe before the 2005 Ashes (both Thorpe and Pietersen should’ve played ahead of Bell) – as a purist he grew on me enormously over the years.

To say Bell was a pleasure to watch is like saying Chateauneuf-de-Pape is a top drop. It’s so obvious it’s hardly worth saying. However, no ‘Goodbye Belly’ would be complete without a reference to aesthetics.

Quite simply Ian Bell was the most stylish batsman England have had since Gower. His cover drives were absolutely text book, his cutting precise, his timing off his legs sublime, and his defence (the odd aberration excepted) was also orthodox and pleasant on the eye. I still show my young lad Ian Bell clips on YouTube in the hope that some of it sinks in.

How good was Ian? I’d say he was very good. Somehow his average of 43 doesn’t seem a fair indicator of his talent. However, sometimes I sense that aesthetics were also his weakness in some ways. He made batting look so easy that people always had the highest (possibly unfair) expectations.

It’s amazing how Ian Bell can average 43 and be considered something of a frustrating player, whereas Sir Alastair Cook can average 45, just two runs more, and be remembered as a titan of English cricket and some sort of saint or deity. It’s bizarre.

Maybe it’s because we all admired Cook’s stiff upper lip, stubbornness and resilience, whilst realising that he was maximising every atom of his natural talent and somewhat dodgy technique. Bell, on the other hand, always looked like a Ferrari at the crease. So when he inevitably got out it often looked a tad flakey or soft.

Personally I’d rate Bell in exactly the same bracket as Cook and also Jonathan Trott – three very fine Test players who served their national teams with distinction. They were a class above Strauss and Collingwood (who were good but not quite worldies) but perhaps a notch below their contemporary Kevin Pietersen who often stole the limelight.

Either way, Bell was an integral part of England’s best Test batting line-up this millennium. How we’d all kill for a lineup of Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, and Collingwood today? Add Matt Prior to the mix at 7 and is it any wonder that we reached the top of the rankings?

Enjoy your retirement Ian. Up the Villa!

James Morgan


  • Regarding Adil Rashid your political/practical reason is the one that I’ve been citing whenever I’ve been asked about this at work. If he really wants to play test cricket (and as ever it doesn’t really seem to be the player who’s pushing this but rather the selectors/coach much like with Jason Roy opening in test cricket) then the route to take is simple. Get a first class contract with a county, play some matches and impress. Until that happens it beggars belief that he’s even being considered.

    And, yes, happy retirement to Ian Bell. The Sherminator will be missed :)

  • Not watched a ball of the T20s. It feels like even if an asteoid hit planet Earth the two boards would find a way to schedule a meaningless white ball series in the middle of it. Australia’s Test success is built on batsmen (specifically Smith and Labuschagne) who can occupy the crease for lengthy periods of time. Smith isn’t that good a T20 player. Maybe it’s just the luck of the talent pool but it feels like it’s also a reflection of the priorities of the governing bodies. Would you rather win the Ashes or a T20 bilateral series – and what would the ECB rather win?

    I’ve seen some of the press articles suggesting a recall for Rashid for India. It’s difficult to expend too many brain cells on it until the tour seems likely to take place. However it did rather feel that the media had started to think of England’s probable shellacking in India and wanted to resort to their trusty “let’s blame Rashid” when England are losing. They’d rather do that than question how this summer didn’t advance England an iota in finding an attack that can win in Asia. Then maybe seamer-friendly pitches, Duke balls and picking medium pacers won’t look so clever – but hey, what does it matter if they can kick Rashid for not being Warne while some of the sainted ones find reasons to mysteriously go AWOL when conditions don’t suit? Good ol’ Adil can bowl 29 consecutive overs again and we can wonder why his career stats aren’t great while others put their feet up.

  • I remember Gideon Haigh (surely the best modern cricket writer around) also comparing Bell and Cook some years ago, saying that when each player was dismissed, aesthetically it ‘looked’ as if Bell got out despite his technique and because of his temperament, whereas the perceptions of Cook were the exact opposite. Hence why Bell was always implored to toughen up mentally and Cook encouraged to improve his footwork / weight transference and develop his range of shots. Don’t know nearly enough to say whether this is the simple truth or not, but I imagine an England batsman who possessed both Bell’s technical skill and Cook’s concentration / focus would be some player!

    Who would be the closest to that hypothetically dreamy combination? Pietersen maybe? Joe Root once upon a time, pre-captaincy? Outside of England, I’m guessing Williamson and Kohli would be the contemporary front-runners…

  • Well said re Belly. I suppose eventually England might find a replacement and Pope looks the most likely option but he’s got a way to go yet. The game is poorer for the loss of stylists like IRB and, for me, the game doesn’t hold the same attraction without the expectation of a Bell innings.

  • If we were playing against Australia I’d certainly play Rashid, as they looked vulnerable against him, but the Indians won’t be so gullible out there especially. Problem is the lack of decent alternatives. There’s nothing in the cupboard or on the horizon to suggest we’re going to produce either. So I guess if he’s amenable to giving it a go it’s no time a bad idea.
    As to Bell, sorry to hear he feels the time’s right for retirement. As he’s no longer on the England radar I was looking forward to having him available for Warwickshire for a year or two, where I think he’s still a lot to give. Still you’ve got to respect an athlete knowing his own mind. However if Covid wasn’t about to disrupt proceedings would he reconsider? Great batsman though, probably the most pleasing right handed on the eye in the modern era. For me his perennial weakness was like so many shorter players he was caught on the crease playing half cock too many times, not capable of a big stride. However for all that will miss him hugely. I still feel he’s an u serrated talent outside of his county.

  • James Morgan reveals his hand on Bell by making him an afterthought in his post about Rashid. Not quite what we have come to expect from a writer who has defended so often the traditional game.

    It’s a shame because Bell deserves more from this blog and he certainly had heavyweight articles in The Times (two) The Guardian and The Telegraph and quite a few tributes on social media.

    It’s interesting because the wheel of fashion has been turning in favour of old school technique and classical batting and appreciation of Bell’s artistry is rising. It’s not that T20 has lost its support but that support has never left Test cricket. The consummate skill of building partnerships and having the ability to accumulate, save a game and also step on the gas is more Bell’s line than KP’s who was a specialist in the limelight and explosive innings. Each to his own. KP couldn’t save a game and Bell did it several times by batting for hours and hours on end defying some of the world’s best bowlers. They both lent to the England team an aura of brilliance. KP by his aplomb and audacity, Bell by his superb stroke play.

    Watching Bell in his final innings getting 90 for Warwickshire there was no sign of anything less than immaculate batting and carving beautiful boundaries out of thin air. Only missing was dancing down the wicket to the spinners. A groin injury held him back and slowed running between wickets. I remember KP saying that he could only play his last games of ODI because he decided to retire from the format. Both players for different reasons were permanently criticised in the media. Both accused of throwing their wickets away. It seems preposterous now.

    I think the media has improved towards cricket players. But it did go through an era of constantly sneering at players, scorning a team which is now highly esteemed. I remember the Guardian actually decrying England’s Ashes victory in 2010-11. Saying, wait until they play the world champions (then India) but when that team trounced Sri Lanka before doing the same to India in 2011 the Guardian claimed that India was “tired”.

    England held the mace and Bell had his best year in 2011 starting with his first century against Australia, and then starring against Sri Lanka (they only got him out once) and then two brilliant centuries against India, including a fairy-tale partnership with KP at the Oval when Bell got 235. His average was 112 for the year.

    The runs came but not the appreciation. Media attention was turning to big hitting and short games. Even Bell’s 2013 Ashes is only now being shown again on Sky. But his artistry was unique and video clips tell the story that was missing in reports. For those who want to check out beautiful batting to stir the senses, they check out Bell.

    • I would’ve loved to write something more substantial about Bell but I’ve been really struggling with work at the moment. Extremely busy. It’s good news, as the lockdown period was very quiet, but not such good news for The Full Toss. It’s been hard to find the time in recent weeks.

      The order of this post was reverse chronological really. The T20s finished last night, the Rashid debate seems current too, whereas Bell announced his retirement a few days ago. I thought I’d missed the boat. However, I didn’t want his retirement to go unmentioned.

    • To my perception, Jackie’s unnecessarily snide comment says much more about her obsession with Ian Bell than it does about your writing, James!

      I too wish him a productive retirement and a hundred in his remaining T20 game. He comes across amongst other things as a nice, down-to-earth man.

      To answer your question about Bell and Cook however, James: sure there was some curious hagiography in relation to Cook, especially in the last part of his England career. But there’s also a good statistical reason for the difference in perceptions. Bell in many ways was a good batsman who had one purple period (Christmas 2009 to 2011), plus a purple periodette in the 2013 Ashes, and a lot of times when he frustratingly underperformed.

      Even just taking out the first of these periods leaves him with a hundred tests, give or take, where he averaged well under 40 (36.56) with a hundred every seven games. Aside from the 2013 Ashes, after 2011 he played 44 tests and barely averaged 30. He was really thoroughly lucky to continue being picked for as long as he was.

      If you conduct the same exercise with Cook (take out his best period), he still averages over 40. If you take his long, slow decline (similar to the long slow decline that Bell had, where he averaged 34 over almost 50 tests), he still averages over 40. Cook had a way of chiselling out runs even when he looked (or was!) in terrible form that only really deserted him in his last year of test cricket–and his purple period was two-thirds longer than Bell’s. That’s the difference to me, regardless of how hagiographied Cook became.

      I think people are often overrate rather than underrate Bell because he was so beautiful to watch–but to paraphrase one of Britain’s chippier ex-cricket correspondents, if style ensured greatness then James Vince would be one of the best batsmen England have produced!

      • It is a very reasonable assessment there, Marek. I always remember being hugely frustrated with Bell from around late 2006 to early 2009 when many a time he would get in, look really promising and then get himself out when the job was done. There was no doubting his ability, there was a question around his performance level in relation to that said ability when he was far from a newbie.

        I also take your point about his later career and that he had many periods where he didn’t perform to the standard that he might have expected of himself, let alone others. That said, Joe Root has struggled massively to turn 50s into hundreds over the last five years to a point where his conversion rate is actually inferior to Bell’s at this moment in time, 17 tons to 49 fifties. I think a very reasonable thing to say is that for all that some of us might think that Bell didn’t necessarily do himself full justice in test colours, he is clearly a much better player than many who have followed.

        • Interestingly, the thing about recent Root in comparison with late-period Bell is the same as with Cook: even in the last three or four years with an inability to convert, he’s averaging 38 or 39–or four or five runs higher than late-period Bell even with the 2013 Ashes.

      • To my perception, Jackie’s unnecessarily snide comment says much more about her obsession with Ian Bell than it does about your writing, James!

        I agree !

    • As James pointed out in his article Bell suffered in terms of recognition after being picked too soon for England, where he undoubtedly struggled against Warne and McGrath. This wasn’t his fault and with Thorpe and Pieterson both available during that series it could have been avoided. However this is hindsight logic and who knows he might have come off and had an even longer test career.
      Like Gower his penchance for keeping the scoreboard moving made him more vulnerable against test class bowling and his 43 average is I think a fair reflection of his impact on the game at the top level.

  • If we’re asking (and I know it was a somewhat rhetorical question!) who England would leave out to accommodate the world’s no. 1 batsman in their T20 side, then it strikes me as the wrong question!

    I can see the argument for not picking Malan in the ODI side–although the place of Jason Roy is probably safer than it should be in both sides. But T20? At the moment, he’s surely streets ahead of any of his rivals except maybe for one player who England will never pick as long as Morgan is captain. The top seven would then be Buttler, Bairstow, Malan, Roy, Morgan, Stokes, Ali with Banton as reserve.

    • Banton was doing fine until we messed about with the batting order and as so often happens in those circumstances, even in the white ball game, fortunes change immediately as roles are interfered with.
      That said Buttler has shown how important it is to have players comfortable going the ariel route during the power play in T20. Together with Roy and Bairstow we now have choices for the top 3. I don’t think Malan is destructive enough for a top order spot here, being more of an accumulator. If you’re going to win T20’s you need a fast start to give you momentum for a big score.

  • James, I can’t believe you are questioning Malan’s place in the next T20 World Cup. my top six would be Roy, Bairstow, Buttler, Malan, Morgan and Stokes. What a batting line up and difficult to see them being beaten. Sadly, Root has had his day and Banton is one for the future.

    • I wrote last week that Malan is a must! But I’m conflicted because I also rate Roy, Bairstow, Buttler, Stokes and Morgan highly in T20. That would leave Malan as a No.6. Not sure he’d be effective there. Basically England could pick any of those guys in any order and I wouldn’t have an issue.

  • Rashid seems to want to pick and choose whether he wants to play red ball or not. I’m not a stats man, but he looks decidedly ordinary to me in red ball and a 2 fours an over man.
    Bell, a great player agreed. Played on too long in Tests? Probably not in my view and maybe should have been brought back more recently when the top order kept imploding.
    As for T20, don’t really like it and haven’t been to a game for years. Never considered it proper cricket rather than McDonald’s compared to the gourmet meal. But it has it’s place. A Roy? No his days are gone. Banton is far better and doesn’t look as though he’ll get out 5 times out of 6 in the first over.

  • Some context on the “Rashid averaged 37 on the last tour of India so wasn’t much cop” line of argument (not to argue that he should go this time, just to put the record straighter);

    1) It wa very high scoring series. Even Ashwin had to concede a lot of runs to take his wickets and how did the other England spinners do? (Answer: Ali averaged over 60 for his wickets and the figures of the combined third spinner are too embarrassing to recount – as are some of their names).
    2) Rashid took four four-fors. England’s other bowlers in the series took one between them (by Broad).
    3) After three Tests Rashid had 18 wickets at 28.7. In other words, he really suffered in the last two Tests when a whipped team were trounced. At least he turned up for those games – Broad sat out both, Anderson sat out one and Stokes didn’t bowl much.

    One of the subtexts to this whole nonsense is that Silverwood and Root clearly can’t rate Leach for reasons that remain obscure.

    • The problem is lack of alternatives. Do you really want to rely on Leach and Bess out there, neither of whom turn the ball much. Root has as much chance of taking wickets, as he proved this summer.

      • Leach has a Test average of 29 after his first ten Tests. That’s a hugely promising start to a Test career. His current statistics are better than Graeme Swann! He had one bad game in New Zealand and suddenly everyone is writing him off. It’s very unfair.

        You don’t always need to turn the ball miles to be successful in India. Anil Kumble took 600 Test wickets. I think Leach spins it enough – it’s not an issue in my book – but on turning wickets it’s just as important to get the ball to land in the rough consistently. Jadeja isn’t exactly a prolific spinner of the ball either.

        I keep hearing comments like ‘Rashid is our only attacking spinner’ and ‘he’s our only spinner that turns it’. If that’s a correct assessment, how come Leach has a better Test strike rate (as well as a far superior average) to Rashid?

        • All I can say is when I was watching Leach I never felt the chance of a wicket was imminent. With Swann I did. He seemed to cause good batsmen trouble in the way Leach doesn’t.
          It’s another case of relying on stats for an argument. You get a feel for a bowler’s effectiveness watching them, especially with the kind of fields a captain sets. Swann was invariably attacking, Leach seems more containing. Bess, although I’ve yet to be convinced, seems an attacking bowler, eager to use variations, though he does seem to bowl quicker when he’s struggling for wicket taking deliveries, which negates his spin.
          Kumble took a load if wickets in India because he was tall and got bounce. Bess and Leach won’t do this as they’re relatively short. As to Jadeja he’s got the X factor in every aspect of the game, a brilliant fielder and mercurial batsman and bowler. He’s a match winner at his best. Leach and Bess have both had the opportunity to bowl or wearing tracks and haven’t looked impressive. Leach’s batting has got more publicity than his bowling and Bess seems to be viewed as a Mr Ed bits and pieces man, expected to make decent lower order batting contributions as much as take wickets.

  • First cashless sports’ stadium in the world opens in the USA:

    This is going to be part of everyone’s ‘new normal’ sooner rather than later. Getting rid of cash has been one of the aims of the coronavirus crisis from the get-go, hence all those nonsense stories about how physical money carried “the virus”.

    No cash means your every economic transaction can be surveilled, logged and potentially stopped (let alone hacked). It’s also a stepping stone to a global currency and the replacement of cards with implanted chips.

  • Re Rashid – I agree with your reasons for not picking him. Also visiting leg spinners rarely fare well in India – even Warne paid dearly for his wickets there, so one should not be looking to find ways to include a leg spinner who does not play regular red ball cricket (I would be willing to take a chance on Matt Parkinson if he was fit and available for that tour).

    • “Not playing regular red-ball cricket” could well be one of the big issues in picking spinners for this winter.

      Apart from Rashid not having played a f-c game since January 2019, Ali and Parkinson haven’t played one since the end of last season, that is for over 15 months before the tour starts (Parkinson at least has played a few non f-c red-ball games, Ali has played one in which he bowled pretty poorly); Leach will have played two (plus three non f-c) in over a year; and for that matter even Test Match Spinner Liam Dawson will only have played one. To add to that, Parkinson often doesn’t seem to be in Glen Chapple’s first-choice side.

      It’s going to be a tricky selection, and thought also needs to go into how the India tour (especially as regards players who are likely to spend several weeks not being selected in the final XI) dovetails with any Lions tour. I would send Parkinson and Virdi on the Lions tour just so that they get some competitive cricket. I can see a case for picking Ali (particularly) or Rashid as the third spinner just so a younger player doesn’t waste several more weeks being a drinks waiter.

      But one of the bottom lines with Rashid is that they really need to be sure that he’s up to playing however much cricket they’re suggesting he play. It would be unutterably stupid to bowl him out of three one-day world cups so that he can play a series in India where they may or may not need him.

  • I wish we could go back to the old normal when the most annoying thing about Michael Holding was that he thought there should be ten slips all the time.


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