Is The Writing On The Wall Again Already?

Our chances of winning the Ashes diminished considerably today. In fact they probably halved. England need to win either this test match or the one at The Oval to wrestle the urn back from the antipodean anti-heroes. And, after two days play in Manchester, it seems as plain as the nose on Gonzo’s face that we aint gonna win this one. In fact, we’ll be lucky to get out of this game with a draw.

Australia’s total of 497-8 is a big one. A really big one. And I’m more worried about England’s batsmen reaching the follow on target than dreaming about a lead. We haven’t scored over 400 for bleedin’ ages. And I can’t see it happening against this quality Australian attack with the pitch already offering some turn. We’re more likely to get knocked over for 80 odd again.

In case you’re wondering why I’m being so pessimistic, it’s half a strategy actually. Writing England off completely at Leeds worked a treat; so there’s no harm in repeating the approach here. There’s just one problem: Ben Stokes isn’t quite as consistent as Steve Smith, so expecting him to pull off another miracle seems more than a tad farfetched. What’s more, he spent some time off the field today and might not be fully fit. I guess it never rains, it pours – especially in Manchester.

So why has it all gone wrong this time? I can answer that question in just three words: Steve Bloody Smith. He’s so annoying that I’m thinking of promoting him to Steve FFS Smith. He looked terrible in the first hour, wasn’t playing the short ball particularly well, yet somehow it still seemed inevitable that he’d score a century. And subsequently, when Jack Leach dismissed him with a no ball in the afternoon, a double hundred seemed inevitable. He doesn’t half make the opposition pay for their mistakes.

I’ve run out of things to say about Smith. I hate watching him bat but one can’t deny that his peculiar method works splendidly. What’s more, his powers of concentration are legendary. He’s like Alastair Cook on Pro Plus. He’s a freak. I just wish his batting was more pleasing on the eye.

In days gone by we’d marvel at the likes of Lara and Tendulkar. They’d take the game away from England, and break your heart, but there was something irresistible about their games. You couldn’t help but marvel at the purity of their strokes. The cricket fan in you would be buzzing even as they twisted that dagger into our England-supporting hearts.

Steve Smith is something worse. Much worse. A patriotic Englishman can derive no joy from watching him occupy the crease for hours like a crab with haemorrhoids. You know you’re watching a monumental talent but it’s almost impossible to appreciate a batsman that makes cricket look less like art and more like a crab dancing a paso doble.

Even watching Jacques Kallis grind out hundreds was infinitely preferable to a Smith ‘classic’. He’s insufferable; he’s painful; he makes my eyes hurt. But what hurts most is that he’s so bloody good. The Aussies must absolutely love him. Not only does he win games but he also winds up the opposition good and proper. Basically he ticks all their boxes.

What was particularly disappointing about this innings is that we all hoped Jofra Archer would sort him out. But alas, poor Jofra was well below his best on Wednesday and Thursday. His pace was down, he couldn’t land his bouncers in the right place, and most worryingly of all he didn’t look like he was enjoying his work at all. I thought his body language was quite poor to be honest.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how little first class cricket Archer has played because expectations are sky high. He’s a great talent, and he might well be tired because he’s not used to bowling such long spells. However, test cricket is full of hard yakka. He’ll need to get used to it. I just hope he can stay the course and won’t be tempted to chuck it all in to focus on the white ball stuff.

England will need to manage Archer very carefully or he might well become the next 10CRIC IPL bet to quit proper cricket prematurely. The schedule for England’s cricketers is quite frankly ridiculous. I just hope he loves test cricket as much as the likes of Broad and Anderson. You’ve got to be a glutton for punishment if you’re a fast bowler playing all forms of the game these days.

Talking about guttons for punishment, what did you all make of Joe Denly’s tortuous innings before the close? Apart from one typically elegant back foot force through the covers he looked totally out of his depth at the top of the order. He was playing and missing balls he could’ve comfortably left, and looked no more of a test match opener than Jason Roy did at Edgbaston, Lord’s, and Headingley.

I feel so sorry for Denly. The decision to swap him with the hapless Roy was completely unfair as neither is an authentic test match opener. Ed Smith basically decided that Denly was expendable in his quest not to be proved wrong about Jason’s red ball credentials. It stinks.

James Morgan

Written in collaboration with Cric 10


  • I don’t expect much play tomorrow – it’s pretty likely to rain all morning, at least.
    I agree that Smith isn’t attractive to watch, but there have been “stickers” who were much worse – could I just mention Gary Kirsten for one?

  • I fear James you may be right re this Test although the pace of the pitch does look slower as so often seems to be the case at Old Trafford. So not all hope lost yet.

    I have decided that I need to write a defence of both Steve and Ed Smith once the Ashes are over !!

  • I do wonder, as we play out the last days of King Bayliss, if several jobs are on the line including Joe Root’s captaincy? I like him, he’s a fantastic batsman, but you have to think the captaincy is affecting his batting.

    Jimmy Anderson will probably only play a “farewell” match against somebody. Broady, currently our best bowler is heading towards the end of his international career too. Overton has added nothing, which for the time being, probably saves Woakes. Joe Denly is done.

    Bairstow is no ‘keeper, and he should swap roles with Buttler or Foakes before the next test series.

    • Absolutely baffled why Foakes hasn’t been given a go. 5 Tests, 10 innings, 1 hundred, 1 fifty, average 41 i.e. better than all the batsmen except Root, and he kept wicket too. Is he from the wrong sort of family?

          • Jason Roy, Sam Curran, Tom Curran following past bizarre selections including Dernbach and Meaker. I live in Surrey, play cricket (at a rather advanced age) and know the lads at Guildford and Normandy clubs. Even they could not believe the Dernbach and Meaker selections as they were not even regarded as the best at their clubs.

  • (Posted on another website)

    It’s September. Cloudy and windy

    The ball swung consistently for two days.
    England didn’t pick a specialist swing bowler despite having two in the squad.
    Australia’s weakness for 15 years has been pitched up late swing.
    Archer and Overton bowling short at 81-85mph is a frickin dream come true for any Aus batsman.
    The selection of Overton is the single biggest raising of the white flag of surrender I have seen since Mark Ealham played Test cricket. Picking absolute medicority to try and put even more pressure on Archer and Broad. Utterly stupid.

    • I’ve seen a lot of people suggest Sam Curran should’ve played in this test. Who would you have picked ahead of Overton?

      • They picked the wrong Overton, Jamie is much faster and bats about the same as his brother. But They both should be helping Somerset to win the Championship rather playing in what is becoming a list cause. Curran maybe should have played although he was poor in his last Championship game. He does tend to make things happen though. I probably would have tried Porter.I
        But look this is generally a poor test side isn’t it, Stokes and Broad aside, with a bad captain, a worse coach and a stuck up ex public schoolboy of a selector.
        Tomorrow, well top order aside in current form the tail starts with Bairstow….at number 6.
        Maybe Roy will surprise us? MMMmm

      • Jamie Overton if he’s fit. He’s faster and still bats a bit. Curran isn’t really in the best of form but he can make things happen. Pity he hasn’t played more cricket. Maybe Porter should be given a chance.
        But is it too late? The tail starts with Bairstow… number 6.

  • *Of Course” England are finished in this match.

    It took a miracle to win last time; because our batting unit *never* score eough runs; but instead of crediting the win to a miracle, we picked exactly the same batters, yet again. If we get to 100 without losing four or survive for two sessions, I will be genuinely surprised.

    The bowling isn’t the problem – England are down their irreplaceable best player, their best bowler for several decades, the only person who might have been able to contain and get-out Smith.

    He is replaced by Overton, a decent county trundler – because all the better bowlers are injured or out of form. (Sam Curran is not better than Overton but worse – expensive and he doesn’t take many wickets per game – he might be a good number six and fourth seamer in a few years, but now? It is a complete mystery why S Curran ever got picked for a Test, and a bigger mystery why is is being considered for more Tests now we know that he can’t perform adequately). I expect Overton could have kept most batters quiet and done a decent third seamer job, but not that man SS.

    Our only realistic hope with Smith to face was for our batters also to be able to score plenty of runs; and either get a draw or a lucky win (with Smith making error/s and/ or one of our bowlers having the game of their lives); but none of England’s batters have been averaging forty aganst decent attacks over recent series – none are actually currently of Test quality (by the standards of England sides under Vaughan and Strauss) from so I guess we will lose, again.

    But it may be for the best. My consolation is that the humiliation of losing the Ashes at home, for the first time in 18 years, (is it?), should be the end of the present incompetent, ignorant, unable-to-learn Test triumvirate (Baylis, E Smith, Root) – and also, maybe, trigger a proper scheduling of first class county cricket – or a premier league, or something.

    Then the rebuilding can begin – but it will take a few years…

    • What sort of supporter are you. You should be ashamed of yourself. Didn’t notice the crowd at Headingly getting depressed during the game, they were like an extra man there, clearly an inspiration to Stokes, or the punters at Old Trafford yesterday. Huge cheers for our runs at the end of the day. That’s proper support! No team is going to be inspired by your attitude. With supporters like you we deserve a shit team.

      • I am addressing Mr Bruce ‘Of Course’ England are finished in this match’ Charlton. That is whose ‘Reply’ I clicked on. Of course this applies to others who concur.
        I’m sick and tired of the tirade of abuse against our current players. If you’re selected for your country you don’t refuse the honour on the grounds you don’t think you’re good enough, similarly with captaincy appointments, as the offers wouldn’t come around again if you did. They’ll all be doing their level best and trying as hard as they can to impress, because if they don’t they’ll be dropped. If they’re simply not good enough that’s not their fault and the Aussies have a very fine all round attack to exploit this.
        All sports are littered with the sad remains of failure and only lightly peppered with those of success.
        We all know the reason we’re struggling with test players is because of recent and continuing neglect of red ball cricket, acknowledged by the authorities, but that’s no reason to have a go at players like Roy, who Root acknowledged is being encouraged to play his natural game. Even Boycott is trying his best to be positive about Roy’s potential. When a team go out onto the field they can only use the personnel they have, those left on the sidelines are irrelevant. So if we are to call ourselves true supporters we get behind our team, even if we believe there are better players out there not selected. We can go on about that in the inquest after the game, not during it. It’s not like Footie or Rugby where if a player is struggling you can sub him during the game.
        It’s no wonder players try and avoid any contact with the press or social media during a game.

  • Time to accept that the current crop of top order English bats are not, and never will be, test standard. We may have limited choices in the medium term but now is the time to look at the current batch of 18-22 year olds, decide who may make a test bat and invest in them. This means giving them 2-3 years in A tours and introducing central development contracts to prevent counties ruining their technique by pushing them to white ball. I am sure many will have names to consider and I will just offer one to start – Rob Yates. 19 years old, first season, decent technique and temperament. But I am concerned that if they are not stopped Warwickshire will risk his technique just as they did with Sam Hain.

  • The question is how did we get Ed Smith as a selector? The Denly experiment lays bare not only his poor judgement but his policy of following his hunches about past pals. In the past Denly would not have been revisited. He didn’t impress. Move on. But Smith likes to play Lady Bountiful. It’s in his power to select Denly and he will. He’ll also keep him in the side even though his struggles are apparent. Is it fair to Denly? No. But it’s even more unfair to someone else who is more promising who didn’t get the chance. The Test side has too many white ball players who are crossing over on the merit of their white ball play. And how on earth doesn’t the Test side include a quality player lik Foakes? The situation has been put on the back burner because of the World Cup. And so we’ve just kept the same side which collapses on a regular basis.
    Root should not be captain. He has no talent for it and it’s ruining his batting. Woakes on the sidelines? Australia do not like batting against him. Yet Root overlooks him for Overton??? The hype surrounding Archer has been foolish. He had no track record to speak of but is expected to deliver miracles. It should take time to develop a fast bowler. When Anderson first got into the England side we didn’t expect him to be a senior bowler straight away.

  • No one’s taken the trouble to mention the fact that we bowled OK in the morning session, making them work hard on a good pitch and after lunch we should have had them 250 odd for 7, with Paine dropped by Roy, his second sitter of the series at slip and Smith hitting Leach straight up in the air for what would have been a simple catch 9 times out of 10, as well as surviving a number of subsequent near misses. We’re all too preoccupied on this blog with the easy target gripes. When things go against you like that most sides would suffer some sort of self belief meltdown. The true test of character comes with how our batsmen respond to what is now a question of batting time to save the game. The pitch is still pretty good for batting and at least the new ball is beginning to wear. Thought Denly batted well for half an hour and was unlucky to be caught off a rebound. Interesting choice of night watchman after Leach’s exploits in that department, but Overton seemed to cope pretty well.
    The Aussies still have to take nineteen wickets and the forecast is not great for tomorrow. Have a little faith!

    • Not sure Denly batted well, he doesn’t like the short stuff and hasn’t opened for Kent for 4 years. A good county pro, but no more. But what a catch, our fielding was pants.
      I’m an England supporter, but this is just a very average test side, Stokes and Broad apart in the series.

      • A lucky catch, really. Great short leg catches are the sort James Taylor took two of without juggling in South Africa a few years a go. It just goes to show the fine line between success and failure really. England have had some outrageous luck this year that has allowed them to win a World Cup Final and the Headingley Test; they didn’t get much yesterday. On another day, Roy catches his rebound, Smith’s skier goes to hand, Aussies are all out for 300 and Wade’s juggle hits the floor. That’s the rub.

      • It doesn’t matter how average the side is, it’s the only side we have at this moment, so get behind it. I’m not asking for irrational over praising of mediocrity, just a bit of morale support for those out there trying their best against a tide of ‘you’re not good enough’ abuse. It’s not their fault they’ve been selected and none of them are going to refuse call ups because they don’t think they are.

  • You are right about Denly and Ed Smith trying to save his bacon. I feel sorry for both Denly and Roy. Roy was asked for too much and as a consequence he failed to deliver. Denly was brought in as a stock player and he tried to fulfil that role, but he was never a test match opening bat. I don’t like to see people discarded like rubbish. Smith should go.

  • ‘Denly batted well’ is indeed one of the more startling opinions I’ve heard for a while. I saw his suffering described elsewhere much more accurately as a ‘charmed four’. Of course he shouldn’t have been there in the first place but that’s another story.
    Makes a nice change to be able to whinge about England’s bowling for once though & in particular Archer – put some effort into it man! England need to offer him a contract which will make him content to spend 90% of his time playing tests if this is how he’s going to perform if slightly over exerted.
    The Ashes are far from lost however as the draw will become odds on at some stage on Friday as the rain comes down.

    • Considering all the circumstances surrounding his ‘promotion’ including the quality of the Aussie new ball attack he shaped up pretty well, as I said ‘for half an hour’. Don’t think Cook would have fared much better.
      Good to see someone with a bit of optimism about the series though, even if it is tempered by the iffy forecast. Hopefully we’ll make the 97 to force them to bat again and that will buy us a couple of sessions. Looks like we’ll be getting 2 full day’s over the weekend though, with 98 overs planned for each day.

  • So why is Roy there, again? He can’t seem to catch anything, he can’t bat up the order, his confidence looks shot and was standing with a dazed look on his face, so Smith sacrifices Denly, who got a 50 in his previous game and is absolutely not an opener, to coddle Roy. Denly gets out for a low score and will presumably be dropped if he does not get a score in the 2nd innings in his new position. This blatant favouritism shown by Smith is really grinding my gears.

      • I think you need to be careful in reaching this conclusion on appearance wearing full cricket gear. All cricketers spend a lot of time in the gym and Roy may be carrying muscle if he focuses on weights. I am 80kg at 1m79, but my fat % is 16%, so not overweight. Appearances can be deceptive.

    • The problem we have with Smith is he believes form is transferable between formats and Roy is undoubtedly one of the best white ball game changers out there. If you believe that you are not going to discard such a player until you’ve explored every avenue for him to succeed. Even the ex test player pundits said are sympathetic to this, including Boycott. Potentially he has the same sort of impact as a Pieterson.

      • It’s like buttler and now Bairstow.. no drama with them bringing someone like Roy in at 5/6 IF.. IF the rest of the top 5 is test class and good enough to cope with such a maverick. This side does not have a solid top 3 for a start so just can’t accommodate such a player

        • You can’t just pluck a solid top 3 put of thin air. The fact is no one is obviously pushing the encumbents. Sibley has been mentioned, but he’s terribly inexperienced to be thrown in against this standard of bowling and failure could irrevocably damage his confidence. At least with experienced pros that’s not such an issue. So what’s the alternative, bringing back the likes of Vince on Ballance?
          Until the administrators have thought out a coherent red ball policy we can’t move forward, so we are left with mercurially talented white ball batsmen trying to adapt to foreign circumstances and losing their form and confidence in the process.

  • “The Aussies must absolutely love him. Not only does he win games but he also winds up the opposition good and proper. Basically he ticks all their boxes.”

    Watching Smith bat as an Aussie is great. Yes he’s great because he scoring runs but his antics, gestures, ridiculous lightsaber pose leaves etc are both hilarious on their own and it’s even more enjoyable that you know such a twitchy weirdo scoring a ton of runs must really piss the opposition off. To top it off he’s not even having to be an archetypical snarling aggro dickhead to annoy them. Just his usual freaky self. In fact he comments positively on the opposition bowing if they send down a good one.

    • Agree 100%. In the past England supporters hated the likes of Matt Hayden because they seemed so arrogant. Smith just seems like a quirky relatively harmless bloke (yes, I know he cheated etc but I’m talking about his demeanour). He’s not the archetypal gum chewing Aussie hard-nosed cricketer. He’s a one off. There are no “get ready for a broken ******* arm” comments “or they look scared” or “that was weak from Trott” etc.

      • I don’t recall a welter of hate against Hayden. Personally I quite enjoyed watching him bat as he always gave you a chance with his positive run getting approach.
        The thing about Smith, apart from the fact that he shouldn’t be playing, is he’s a pretty ugly batsman to watch aesthetically and so it’s very frustrating that he seems to have so much consistent success, when much more naturally talented and aesthetically pleasing batsmen fall by the wayside.
        To me he kind of grinds the enthusiasm out of being an opposition supporter. I guess he’s the nearest thing we have in the modern era to a Bradman who just seems to toy with the bowlers, but not in an entertaining way. I find it hard to be excited by his batting on a purely cricketing level.

  • Denly seems a decent chap; but I don’t really feel sorry for him. He has played seven Tests, when he didn’t deserve one; and he will always now be able to say ‘Of Middlesex… And England’, which is something all First Class cricketers would love to be able to say.

    As a wider point wrt batting: I don’t understand why batters are not played on a ‘horses for courses’ basis, as happens routinely in baseball; which is a fact of life for spinners. In other words, it should Not be a Big Deal to drop any batter for a match, or for a while, when they are out of form or when the conditions or opposition does not suit.

    Batters are treated as if they are fragile tropical plants, easily offended and dismayed; while bowlers (especially spinners) are treated as hire and fire artisans.

    Maybe this is something that should be learned from the IPL (as well as baseball) – the team is assembled for each match according to what is required; and top players are expected to sit on the sidelines until they are needed.

    This makes sense especially for England, where players are worked far harder than in other places.

    But this ‘platooning’ does require really good captaincy – or some other form of direct on-field leadership.

    Like wicket keeping, captaincy is seriously undervalued in the game today – most of the best captains, of winning teams, were only adequate as performers (quite aside from the solid fact that modern England captains who bat *always* decline as a result – so appointing the best batsman is inadvisable from that POV alone).

  • wrt Jack Leach’s bowling Smith off a no ball…

    If the delivery had Not been a no ball, it would have been delivered from a couple of inches further away, and would have landed on a different spot, slightly further from Smith. In essence, it would not have been the same delivery.

    So there is no reason to suppose that the different but legal delivery would have dismissed Smith.

    We must assume that if it hadn’t been a no ball, Smith wouldn’t have been out! – that is why the wicket is correctly disallowed.

  • But it wasn’t a couple of inches, more like a couple of millimetres! I have previously posted that the law is wrong. It should be changed to overstepping the line for bowlers and not overstepping the line for batsmen.
    Why? Because the line can be thicker depending on the groundsman’s paint brush. It is obvious when someone, batter or bowler, is the wrong side of the line but not always quite so obvious when on the line. The law was changed when 2 Oz fast bowlers, Meckiff was one I think, who would almost shake hands with the batsmen before delivering the ball! Before then, the rear foot had to be behind the line. Leach’s ball would have dismissed “Lucky Smith” even if marginally just legal. On the subject of luck, I suppose we used up all of ours in the last test. Denly’s dismissal was a combination of a lucky rebound and a magnificent reaction! Bad luck England, good luck OZ.

    • Indeed. As the rule currently stands, you could theoretically have a little attachment extending backwards from the heel of your shoe that touched the ground and so allowed you to overstep quite significantly. Far better if you just had to keep your foot behind the line. Quite how the hell an international spinner can overstep though is beyond me.

      • This is not the correct way to regard a no ball. The point is that – compared with his *usual delivery – Leach over-stepped by some inches, and the delivery that ‘got’ Smith was therefore a different delivery from usual, with (presumably) the ball released and landing some inches forward from what was usual.

  • Anyone going to defend Roy ?? Anyone who has been claiming he’s such a great player still think he’s even remotely close to being an actual red ball player…. let alone test player !!

    The guy is a walking wicket when it’s not a hitting slog fest

    • Nope. An absolutely shocking selection. His confidence looks shot to pieces, he clearly knows he doesn’t have the technique for Test cricket. I was amazed he got to 20 – I think Hazlewood had 4 balls at him when he came in and I would have bet plenty on him being out.

      • At first sight I assumed the ball that bowled him had cut back sharply but on the replay – no. He just played outside a ball angling in at him, with a huge gap between bat and pad. That can only be an issue of technique.

        • You need to borrow my glasses and take another look. That ball cut back a good 6 inches and would have skittled many better technicians than Roy. Even without a gate you’re plum LBW.

        • Marc’s right it did move, it was a really good ball. However, being lbw due to a good ball is waaaaay better than being cleaned up. Plus, you might get a little feather on it etc etc

          Roy is a white ball biffer .. nothing more, nothing less. Just let him go play 2020’s and have done with it .

    • I’m not defending Roy as a red ball batsman, I’m defending his right to some respect and support as it’s not his fault he’s been selected and persevered with. No player is going to decline a call up because they don’t think they’re good enough.
      Thought he played pretty well for the last few overs last night, for a player who’s ‘confidence is shot’. He’s clearly trying hard to restrain his natural impulse to go after the ball, but that is his strength. When you’re an experienced pro whose developed a successful technique, changing in mid stream is next to impossible, so as long as he’s being selected we should get behind his efforts, especially if we’re at the game. Certainly at Headingly and Old Trafford all his runs have been applauded because the supporters want him to succesd and understand his difficulty adapting to a new format. Like in so many games confidence is key to success and if he constantly feels alienated by the supporters he’s not going to find it. As we saw with Stokes at Headingly the crowd can inspire a player to great deeds and Roy has the raw talent if he can just get a start.

  • Aaaargh. Jonny Bairstow. Again. Why are so many of our batsmen so thick and arrogant that they KEEP getting bowled playing big drives to fast, straight, swinging deliveries?

    • That’s JB’s one day mind talking and controlling his shots, those big booming drives will come off in ODIs, but when the ball is red, and swings like that, then it’s a recipe for trouble.

      • So thick , arrogant and not good enough then…

        Shouldn’t be in the test squad at all

        • He wouldn’t be if there were any alternatives. He averages 26 in Tests since the start of 2018. He needs to knuckle down and adapt, like Stokes has.

    • There are but Bairstow hasn’t performed excluding the odd innings ever since he decided to become a white ball specialist. He’s defended as some great test batter and people have talked him up as a top order batsmen ..


    • You’re right that the following should also be fired never to return



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