Vince Back. And Smith’s Got Cook’s Back

It’s official. Ed Smith is trolling us. Not only has he kept faith with Keaton Jennings and Alastair Cook, possibly England’s least convincing opening partnership since Tim Curtis and Martyn Moxon strode out at Trent Bridge on 12th August 1989 (and made a combined total of two runs), but he’s also recalled everyone’s favourite punchbag: a certain James Michael Vince. I can neither confirm nor deny entirely fictional reports that Joe Clarke muttered the words “Smith you ****” when he heard the news.

If one believes that county championship form should be important when selecting England teams, as I do, then one can hardly grumble at Vince’s selection though. The Hants skipper has been in great form this summer. And he’s even making the big scores rather than pretty 20s and 30s that he was asked to do.

On the other hand, this is James bloody Vince we’re talking about. How many chances has he had? If he plays a couple of gorgeous cover drives and then nicks off behind for an attractive but essentially useless cameo then I might just explode.

The other somewhat controversial decision – although nobody has really picked up on this – is that Adil Rashid has kept his place in the squad, despite the fact that Jack Leach registered innings figures of 8-85 in 48 overs against Essex this week. He has now taken 203 first class wickets at an average of 26. Adil Rashid has taken his first class wickets at an average of 35.

I don’t think Rashid has done much wrong since his recall but Leach’s exploits certainly offer food for thought. It’s also worth mentioning that Moeen Ali took six wickets in an innings in Worcs’ recent win over Yorkshire. Two weeks ago Ed Smith argued that Rashid had been recalled due to exceptional circumstances, as Leach hadn’t had enough bowling. Well, now he’s had plenty. Not that it seems to matter.

It will be interesting to see what XI clever clogs concocts for Southampton. Much depends on whether Jonny Bairstow can bat. The consensus seems to be that he certainly won’t keep. Therefore, all the people who’ve been clamouring for Lancashire’s third choice gloveman (behind Vilas and Davies) to become England’s first choice gloveman can finally rejoice! In fact, many people are saying that Buttler should now become England’s permanent keeper so Jonny can focus on his batting.

Now I don’t want to piss on anyone’s parade, but this is a bad idea for several reasons. Firstly, Bairstow is probably a better keeper than Buttler. Why else would England have kept faith with Jonny for all this time? Smith and Bayliss might have done a few daft things this summer but they’re surely smart enough to know that chances are at a premium in test cricket and you should always give the gloves to the best person. Surely they’ve haven’t been neglecting this fundamental rule all summer?

Bairstow might not be as good a keeper as Bob Taylor or Alan Knott, but he’s done a very good job over the years. He’s been very reliable and missed very little. Why jeopardise this by giving the gloves (long term) to someone who looks no better in ODIs and might make more costly mistakes? It will certainly be difficult for Jos to make less errors than Jonny.

The main argument behind giving Jos the gloves – and let’s pretend Ben Foakes doesn’t actually exist at this point – is that England would be better served by Jonny focusing solely on his batting. Again this is codswallop for two reasons: (a) Buttler is coming off a maiden century in which he showed more application than Bairstow has for a while, and (b) Bairstow averages a lot more with the bat when he keeps than when he plays as a specialist batter.

People forget that Bairstow only started to look like a proper batsman when he took the gloves a few years back. Before that he played purely as a batsmen and didn’t do very well at all. In fact he was dropped. And when he got his second crack at test cricket (in a series in which he finally kept), he immediately played very well and was extremely candid about the reasons why: he said that being an all-rounder took the pressure off.

Many cricket fans talk about Bairstow wanting to keep wicket as if it’s just some kind of meaningless ego thing. But it’s not. There are deeper psychological reasons as to why Jonny wants to keep wicket and why he should. For starters, his father was a keeper, and therefore he feels extremely comfortable (and takes huge pride) in fulfilling this role. This, in turn, helps him to play better.

What’s more, Jonny has spoken about how keeping wicket helps to keep his head clear during matches. In other words, he can’t stop himself from worrying about his batting when he’s twiddling his thumbs in the field for long periods. And this makes him overly anxious when he finally strolls to the wicket. If Bairstow is supposed to be England’s second best batsman, why risk upsetting the routine that makes him successful?

Trevor Bayliss has actually addressed this psychological issue and said that England’s aren’t worried about Jonny’s fixation with keeping – even though Jonny is. This seems naive to me. Cricket is a mental game, and if Jonny thinks it will be an issue then it probably will be. He’s the best person to judge not Bayliss. I bet Bayliss didn’t think that moving Joe Root to No.3 would affect Joe Root’s form either – but it did. Sometimes players have preferences for a reason.

The problem that Bayliss and Smith have, of course, is that the whole batting order is a mess and they have no idea how to fix it. Who does? Therefore they’re groping around in the dark hoping to find a solution. My personal view is to keep things simple. Jos Buttler proved he can bat in the top six at Trent Bridge, so this should be his role long-term. He should be moving up the order not down it in order to take the gloves permanently.

Recently England have developed the strange habit of demoting run scorers rather promoting them. Chris Woakes was moved from 7 to 8 after scoring a century, they’re talking about moving Buttler back to 7 when he scored a ton at 6, and they dropped Sam Curran (and Dom Bess) from the team entirely after making important contributions. It just doesn’t make sense.

It will also be interesting to see where James Vince bats – if indeed he plays at all. Personally I think he should play so he can bat 3 and let Root move back to 4. Then we can have Jonny at 5 (if fit enough), Buttler at 6, and Stokes at 7. This would mean young Ollie Pope missing out but I’m sure his time will come. If Bairstow isn’t fit enough to take the field at all, then Pope will simply replace him. The middle-order in this alternative scenario would therefore be Vince at 3, Root 4, Buttler 5, Pope 6, Stokes 7.

What I would do and what England will do, however, are two very different matters. If I was in charge of English cricket then the championship would be played in high summer, the T20 Blast and some test matches would be on terrestrial TV, and Colin Graves, Tom Harrison, and Ed Smith would be locked up on a wooden galley on a long journey to the south pole. But that’s just me.

James Morgan

2018-08-24T08:09:24+00:00August 23rd, 2018|Eng v Ind 2018, Test Cricket|35 Comments


  1. Smylers August 24, 2018 at 5:36 am - Reply

    I think you should be applauding the new selectors’ bold decision to recall James Vince — completely different to the previous selectors, who would surely have recalled Gary Ballance?

    Personally I’m hoping that Moeen Ali makes the team. Mainly because he’s talking at Ilkley Literature Festival in a few weeks (I haven’t checked, but I’m guessing he’s written an autobiography rather than, say, historical fiction), where for childcare reasons I will have the 6-year-old with me — who might be more interested in seeing somebody who’s recently been playing for England.

    Admittedly, that’s an unconventional approach to selection … but when compared to some of England’s actual selections, I think it’s as good a reason as any!

  2. Kropotkin August 24, 2018 at 8:10 am - Reply

    I’m very glad that Vince is back. It is, as Smylers notes, a bold decision, but hopefully it will be one that pays off. It can’t get any worse, can it…?

  3. princeofporkupine August 24, 2018 at 8:16 am - Reply

    Why not open with Woakes? He’s one of the most correct players in the England team, he’s right handed and gives you the extra bowler (ie. play Mo at 6/7) it looks like the Indian’s are going to pepper him with the short stuff from now on so might as well let them waste the new ball banging it in.

    • Dave August 24, 2018 at 8:38 am - Reply

      This reminds me of an inspired decision I made on a cricket captain many years back (when Broad looked a promising batsman!) of having him open and bowl 2nd change…

      didn’t work.

    • AndyB August 24, 2018 at 9:31 am - Reply

      I hope they do give him the bouncers. I have seen him play for many years and he is better at dealing with them than most of the primary batsmen. I take the 1st innings dismissal at Trent Bridge as an aberration, and the bouncer in the 2nd – you just have to say great ball which would have done almost all bats (it reminded me of the best bouncer bowler of them all – Sylvester Clarke). Having said that, Woakes is a natural no7. He has good technique, but not good enough to bat higher on a regular basis.

  4. James August 24, 2018 at 8:24 am - Reply

    If you’re looking at county form, it’s hard to ignore Moeen’s claim for a recall (219 batting at 3, a 6fer, and 8 in the match). I believe Moeen has batted just about everywhere for England apart from no 3 (where he bats for Worcs). So, why not let him bat 3, move Root down to 4, Pope/Vince at 5 (where both would be better off), Buttler, Stokes, Woakes, Curran/Rashid, Broad and Anderson. If that’s too many bowlers, leave out Curran/Rashid, and play both Vince (at 5) and Pope. 2 openers, 4 batsmen, keeper/bat, 2 all rounders and 2 specialist bowlers.

    Or is that too sensible for Big Ed (who’s no Brian Clough)?

    • Simon H August 24, 2018 at 9:20 am - Reply

      I wish they would pick him at No.3 – just so this argument could be put to bed.

      He looked awful at No.2 and the runs he scored at No.4 were on Indian featherbeds where Hameed, Nair and even Liam Dawson could make plenty of runs. I’m no fan of the England set-up but there must be a reason they haven’t picked him above No.5 outside Asia – like his manifest weaknesses against quality seam bowling with a newish ball on slightly helpful wickets.

      • James August 24, 2018 at 2:20 pm - Reply

        Some fair points, there, Simon, but which member of the England top order doesn’t have “manifest weaknesses against quality seam bowling with a newish ball on slightly helpful wickets”?

  5. marees August 24, 2018 at 8:27 am - Reply

    So you are suggesting that Vince should replace Trott ?
    That’s interesting.

    • jennyah46 August 24, 2018 at 8:48 am - Reply

      Who would have thought of that? Very funky!

  6. Giles Falconer August 24, 2018 at 8:30 am - Reply

    Buttler missed a stumping last evening that a village keeper would have blushed over…and then was, himself, smartly stumped by Sam Billings for a golden duck. As a batsman I don’t have any worries, but if he misses a chance from Kohli before he’s scored, that might just be the Test gone…

    • James August 24, 2018 at 8:36 am - Reply

      Fair point about the stumping. I don’t think Buttler should be a regular test keeper (at least at the moment).

      • AndyB August 24, 2018 at 9:36 am - Reply

        Or a regular county keeper. In fact, he would not be first choice keeper in most top Surrey Championship club sides. I have two simple tests for a keeper. What are they like standing up (I can still keep fine standing back at 63 – standing up is the real test), and what does their handling look like taking outfield returns? Buttler is awful standing up and, unlike any other top keeper I have seen, he fumbles returns on a semi-regular basis (often by not deciding whether to go forward or back to make them easier to take). He is no keeper.

        • James August 24, 2018 at 2:16 pm - Reply

          Jeff Dujon described himself as a batsman who taught himself to keep standing back (which he did pretty well), to get in the WI team. Not much call for standing up to the stumps with that attack!

        • muffin August 26, 2018 at 2:47 pm - Reply

          Neither Bairstow nor Buttler are great keepers. Bairstow is better standing up, but, arguably, Buttler is better standing back. And our premium wicket-taking bowlers are…?

  7. Comte August 24, 2018 at 8:41 am - Reply

    Is that an iceberg, Mr Smith?
    A what?
    An iceberg, Mr Smith. It’s very large and most of it is hidden from you. It’s a real danger to us.
    I can’t see any iceberg.
    Did you hear that loud clanging noise Mr. Smith?
    Yes, so what?
    Well that means we’re holed beneath the waterline and may sink.
    Don’t worry I’ll rearrange the deckchairs.
    Are you completely stupid Mr Smith? No don’t answer that.

  8. Dave August 24, 2018 at 8:41 am - Reply

    YJB’s keeping is tidy, no more. He too often doesn’t go for ones he should, meaning we’re missing chances between keeper and first slip.

    I think it’s also a little disingenuous to compare his returns on his first runs in the side to his second – he completely revamped his technique in the meantime, which surely had more impact than merely keeping. (and also explains his ODI returns in the meantime, where he doesn’t have the gloves.)

    • James Morgan August 24, 2018 at 8:50 am - Reply

      I actually think Jonny’s technique has got worse since he became an ODI star. He stays a bit too legside of the ball now in order to hit liberally through off. The big scores have somewhat dried up since he became a white ball regular.

      I agree that Jonny has made some improvements to his batting over the years, which most players to do. But Jonny hasn’t attributed his success to this. He’s attributed it to wicket keeping.

  9. Stephen August 24, 2018 at 10:14 am - Reply

    Why the fixation with Jack Leach, James? If as you say county form should be very important in the selection of the team, then ten wickets at Taunton, although excellent doesn’t hide the fact that in his other five games he has only taken 5 wickets. Moeen has 16 wickets in two games including two 5-fors…neither of which were at Taunton. (What percentage of Leach’s wickets are at Taunton, anyway?). I have nothing against him, but Moeen, if he has recovered his self-belief is a much better bet in home test matches.

    • James Morgan August 24, 2018 at 10:41 am - Reply

      Hi Stephen. It’s because I’m desperately hoping that England can find a spinner who is reliable both home and away. Moeen is great at home but has bowled terribly on every tour. Leach isn’t the finished article but I see him as the candidate most likely to develop into a bowler who can do a job in all conditions i.e. at least keep the runs down and offer control when it’s not spinning to give the seamers a rest. I don’t think Rashid will be able to do that, although he’ll pick up wickets now and again. I guess it’s about control. As a Worcs man I absolutely love Mo. But eventually I came to the conclusion that we wasn’t quite good enough in either department to be consistent at the highest level.

      • AndyB August 24, 2018 at 4:30 pm - Reply

        There is a fundamental problem in English county cricket. Most sides only have room for one spinner, and with overseas players this means promising English spinners may have their careers aborted before they can even show their potential. At Warwickshire, Sunny Singh looked very promising in 2017 when he debuted – taking 17 wickets at 26. He has not got a game this year (and he is fit and playing 2nds) because Jeetan Patel is an automatic choice. And I remember Matt Critchley coming into the Derbyshire team and looking to have a really good action for a leggie (as well as being a good bat). But Derbyshire have a raft of spinners and he has never developed, although he does bowl (but only in the recent game as a main bowler). Perhaps this problem is why so many English spinners are all rounders (Ali, Rashid, Patel, Bess, Borthwick, Ansari, Dawson et al). It is the only way they can get into most county teams.

  10. Benny August 24, 2018 at 11:14 am - Reply

    A bugbear of mine – it’s been many, many years since England gave the gloves to the best keeper.

  11. John August 24, 2018 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Spare a thought for Porter. Picked for two successive Test squads and dropped on the basis of …….not playing !

    • James Morgan August 24, 2018 at 2:57 pm - Reply

      A bowler always cops it when the batsmen fail!

    • Cricketcricketcricket August 27, 2018 at 8:39 am - Reply

      Well it was the bowlers fault that our ‘batsmen’ unsurprisingly can’t consistnetly score the runs

  12. John August 24, 2018 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    Fair point !

  13. Doug M August 24, 2018 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    Vince has failed at Test level twice, why should he be better this time? Might as well get Balance and Duckett back as well. I won’t be watching it anyway.

  14. Gareth August 25, 2018 at 10:07 am - Reply

    Some pretty valid points James, but I’m going to (respectfully) disagree on the Bairstow/Buttler issue.

    First of all – I don’t disagree that Bairstow has improved his keeping. Fair play to him. But lets focus solely on his batting.

    He averages 38.55 in Tests, respectable by any wicketkeeper-batsman standards. However since the start of 2017 he averages 33. I would argue that someone with his talent should be averaging over 40. Yes, a few technical glitches have crept in, but he looks, to me, far more likely to make the consistent runs and match-defining innings than the talented-but-mercurial Buttler. I just dont think there is anything in Buttler’s record that suggests consistent performance over time, and would argue that he requires the safety net of gloves more than Bairstow does.

    As to James Vince – as I’ve said before I was against him playing in the Ashes because he had done absolutely nothing of merit to support his selection. He did, however, average (slightly) over thirty during his last six-Test spell, an improvement from the 19 in his first stint. I thought hsi 55 in Perth was a fine innings until it was ended by a beauty from Starc. He also registered a fifty in his last Test (the second NZ one) and has made some big runs in the CC since his dropping. Also, and I dont think anyone could deny this, he clearly has talent. If the penny has dropped for him, or England can find a way to harness his talent (and that’s probably a debate in its own right), he could be a significant asset in the short-to-medium term.

  15. Paul August 25, 2018 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    Hi James. As an Indian fan, I would be more concerned if Ali was playing rather than Vince, if Vince still likes to drive, then our bowlers will always be waiting for to nick it to slip. He is talented, but his shot selection leaves much to be desired. Rashid hasn’t done too badly, but he’s not a containment type of bowler, and England probably need one of those. Ali did bowl ok in India, personally I would pick him over Vince. Ishant Sharma will be very happy if Jennings & Cook are still there for the next test.

  16. Marc Evans August 25, 2018 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    Have just got back from a narrowboating holiday where we had no access to TV, have spent this PM wading through the Trent Bridge highlights. Can’t understand why professional sporstmen can’t pick up on things that seem patently obvious to most punters. Jennings, despite his recall has learned little since his last England run. Basic technical flaws any decent bowler will exploit seem to be glossed over by this present regime. He still hangs his bat out to dry. The Bayliss doctrine of letting the players work on things themselves is patently not working yet he retains his position. A lot was made of Butler’s 100 but I thought Stokes was the more technically controlled and his is the innings that needs looking at by other players, including Root. Apart from his self discipline he seemed to play pretty much everything from the under your nose position that most youngsters were taught not so long ago, so his bat covers the stumps. Butler could have been out a number of times chasing wide deliveries. He has the technique but can’t seem to sustain it for long periods.
    I know we had tough conditions to bat under but if a hothead like Stokes can control his instincts why can’t the others? Clearly Pope had talent and confidence, but as yet he’s no test batsman. The Indians have their tails up now and we can’t expect them to do anything but learn from this and be even more of a handful.
    Agree with giving Vince another try as he’s scoring well in the championship and knows something of the test scene. If the county championship is to be used to assess test potential it is the logical selection. We need a test experienced batsman who is happy to play at no 3, allowing Root to return to 4 and Butler up to 5.
    If Bairstow can’t play as a wicket keeper batsman wouldn’t play him atall, risking further injury as a batsman. Certainly his prowess as an outfielder would be tested with a broken finger. It’s no coincidence that the unwritten law is play your best keeper, not a batsman who keeps. We have plenty of batting down to Broad, so why risk missing catches and stumpings.
    Just a thought on slip catching. Why aren’t Root and Stokes, proven in that area, fixtures there?
    Rashid seemed to bowl a real mixture, but does get good players out. Would Moin do similar?
    Would retain Cook as you can see from the way the Indians react to his wicket how key they see him as.

  17. Kenaz August 26, 2018 at 9:23 am - Reply

    I don’t quite understand the Buttler thing. To me, if you are playing somebody as a specialist batsmen, then you play him in a specialist batsmen slot. Formally they were rather plonking Buttler onto the end of the allrounders like a spare part. Now they’re at least playing him at six. Use Buttler as a 3-5 (if you are persevering with Pope you’re probably going to want Pope lower down so we are basically discussing 3-4 here, based around whether or not Root decides he wants to play at 3, unless you go even more radical and play Buttler as an opener!), or hand Buttler the gloves and push Bairstow into the top order, Bairstow who is of course unavailable so I’m projecting here. In fact if you insist on bringing back Vince, you can merely switch Pope and Buttler around. Farbrace was discussing how it was probably ”a bit higher than what was ideal” for Pope ”given that he bats at 6 for surrey”. Well? The solution is evident for all to say as you already have a top five batsmen who is playing too low in the order!

    Nothing makes much sense with this order really!

  18. Cricketcricketcricket August 26, 2018 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    Bairstow avg 30’s
    Stokes avg 30’s
    Buttler avg 30’s

    Jesus people, not one of them is an actual test class batsmen. They are all 6/7’s .. aka wk bat or all rounder .

    Why o why does everyone keep calling them world class and wow.. calling for them to be 3-5 is just crazy.. you realise this is why test cricket is crap now and our side is particularly inconsistent and crap ..

    Odd wonder game or innings and everyone lauds them again.. it’s sad to see people so blinded

  19. Kenaz August 26, 2018 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Well Stokes is an allrounder and Bairstow is a wicketkeeper, so both get a reprieve. I’d also say Buttler is being played out of position. 35 of his innings have been at 7-8 which means he is liable to be batting with the tail.

    • Cricketcricketcricket August 27, 2018 at 8:38 am - Reply

      If you’re going to bat top six you need to be a test quality batsmen !!!! What part of that is so compocated .. if you’re not, then you’re not good enough. Prior batted at 7 but avg 40+ so could have sulked and claimed to bat top six but as the wicket keeper he was/is a 7. Shock horror, England were useful at tests then ..

      Now we have batters who aren’t good enough to be test match batters and everyone just swallows ECB crap and makes excuses foemhem. So if you have all three at say 5/6/7 and they all keep avg 30’s.. England will have the odd purple patch but 89% of that time will be a poor test side.

      Well done on being a ECB stooge

  20. Max Sawyer August 28, 2018 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    Smith is a stats. man, so is it time to go for the full Moneyball approach? given the change in the weather the remaining 2 tests are likely to be played in “English” conditions, so why not select a team based on the current first-class averages (from players who have played 10 or more matches)? Blue touch paper duly lit!

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