Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Headingly. Pride before the fall.

The second test arrived without too much excitement, surely all England would have to do to win is turn up?  There is a sub plot here that will probably more interesting than the match.  Which batsmen, if any, can cement a place in the team ahead of the Ashes tour this winter?

England won the toss and elected to bat in cloudy skies; don't they say look up at Headingly?  Were England just a little over confident?  West Indies bowled well with an attack rejuvenated by the return of Gabriel and the captain found his radar too.  Joe Root equaled the record for consecutive matches with a score of at least fifty and Stokes hit a class hundred but England were restricted to 258 and none of the new boys done anything of note, except get out.

West Indies batted and with Jimmy making the ball talk they were soon 35-3.  England had under performed with the bat but it felt like we would get away with it against this opposition.  What happened next was totally unexpected, Brathwaite and Shai Hope put together a fantastic partnership of 246 with both going on to hundreds.  With quick runs from Holder and Blackwood WI took a first innings lead of 169.

At the midway point of the match West Indies were well on top and England's latest batting line up would get a serious test against a confident attack bowling well.  Stoneman passed the test with a solid 52. Westley didn't and simply looked out of his depth during his short stay.  Malan played the longest innings for a hard earned and impressive 61.  These two innings helped the established middle order players; Root and Stokes made good half centuries but WI fought back with three quick wickets.  At 327-7 the lead was 160ish and the match in the balance.  Cue Moeen Ali smashing a quick 82 with support from Woakes with 61* and England are in control with a 300+ lead.

Day five and with a big lead all England need to do is turn up and they will win, right?  How wrong can we be?  West Indies batted all day with 95 from Brathwaite and another ton from Shai Hope and the cruise to a five wicket win.  Wow!  What a match!

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and from here it seems England's decision to bat on the first day was arrogant in the context of this series.  Having decided to bat under a gloomy sky 258 was nowhere near enough runs.  England then seemed a bowler short and hindsight may say TRJ should have been given another game instead of Woakes.  Finally the fourth day declaration seemed a positive move at the time but looking back I don't think England would have done so had they been playing Australia or South Africa.

Throughout the history of English cricket, all of the great batsmen would have batted at Headingly, Bradman himself holds the highest score at the ground with 334.  The ground has been home to the likes of Hutton, Boycott, Tendulkar, Vaughan and Root yet Shai Hope is the first cricketer to score a century in each innings of a first class match at Leeds.  That is some stat when you think about it.

There is a week of rest before the final test of the summer at Lords and everything is set up nicely with the series tied at 1-1.  I expect England will play an unchanged side giving the new batsmen another go to book a trip to Australia.  If I were selector I'd want Roland-Jones back in the side at his home ground because Woakes doesn't seem fully fit and England now know they can't take this West Indies team for granted.  This is now a must win match for England, if they can't beat West Indies on home soil then they cannot expect to win the Ashes down under.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

The Pink experiment

Day/night cricket arrived in England to much fanfare but England won so easily we learnt nothing new.  England batted first on a good pitch, West Indies bowling, fielding and tactics were appalling, the massive first innings seemed inevitable.  With a mammoth from Cook and a ton from Root it was almost predictable.  Although Malan made his first half century we learnt nothing new about the batsmen.  We know this West Indies side is not in the same school as the great teams let alone the same class but the display on day one was inexcusable.  A fit Shannon Gabriel might have made a difference to the duration of England's innings if not the overall result.  Kemar Roach was the only seamer who can walk tall.  Former West Indian fast bowlers sitting in the commentary boxes were seathing.

West Indies' response to 514-8d was to lose twenty wickets for 305 runs, they didn't even pass the follow on target.  Since the great days the majority of West Indian batsmen try to play like the greats; Haynes, Greenidge, Lloyd, Richards, Lara, Sobers, the simple fact is the modern generation of Carribbean batsmen aren't anywhere near as good as those players nor a dozen more I could list.  They have to learn to play proper cricket before they can blaze away like the greats.  Most of the West Indies' home wickets are slow and dead these days, nothing like the fast bouncy pitches of the past which can't have helped.  The wickets were shared around England's bowlers but predictably Anderson and Broad picked up half of the twenty up for grabs.  England won easily in three days by and innings and 209 runs, Alastair Cook was man of the match for his 243.

The must frustrating thing for West Indian fans and indeed all cricket fans, is things could easily be different.  It is said the Carribbean groundsmen are encouraged to make pitches that last five days so the local economy can eke out every last tourist dollar.  There are a great many West Indian cricketers who, for a variety of reasons, are not available or unselected.  As far as I know  the Bravo brothers, Samuels, Gayle, Sammy, Narine and many others are still playing cricket.  Even the veteran Chanderpaul is been scoring runs for Lancashire in recent times.  When will the West Indies board and players sit down and do whats right for cricket?

It was a good idea to try pink ball cricket in England, it has pulled the crowds in Birmingham and I'm sure it will do elsewhere.  It is also good that England have had a taster ahead of this winter when we will play an Ashes match under lights in Adelaide.  Unfortunately the game wasn't competitive enough for the players to gain much experience but its better than nothing.

The second test starts at the end of the week and you'd expect an unchanged side and another comfortable England win, no matter how WI perform.  Should that be the case then why not leave out a handful of test regulars from the last test and try a few new faces?

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Proper cricket and a very good series.

The fourth test was another very good match despite ending up a one sided result, it mirrored the fourth test almost exactly.  The first day was tough and even but Bairstow and the bowlers dominated day two and England were in the ascendancy thereafter.  A brilliant all round display from Moeen Ali finished South Africa off.

England vs South Africa is the most evenly competitive of all international series.  At the end of this one the teams are totally deadlocked.  There have been eleven series since readmission and each side has won four, (two home and two away) while three have been drawn.  Furthermore each team has won fifteen tests over this period.

This has been a really good series where bowlers have dominated but England's batsmen were up to the task and the saffers' were not. Elgar, Amla and Du Plessis all had their moments but most impressive was Bavuma who looks like a test cricketer for years to come.

Whoever takes the field, South Africa have a world class bowling attack and they gave England's top order a proper test.  South Africans that have impressed;  Rabada is young and raw but will become a seriously good bowler.  Philander is excellent when he can stay fit.  On this trip Maharaj looked a really good cricketer and the best South African spinner I have seen, seriously impressed.  Morne Morkel has bowled brilliantly throughout most of the series, he's been the most consistent seamer from both sides and didn't have much luck, if he had...  Who knows?

Despite facing a seriously good bowling attack England managed to get runs on the board.  There were few centuries in this series but England managed to build partnerships, much more so than the saffers.  As we would expect, Cook, Root, Stokes and Bairstow all scored good runs against them; Tom Westley done OK in his two matches and deservedly retains his place, Malan didn't and hasn't looked good enough yet.  If he doesn't make runs soon I'd get Alex Hales in at five ASAP.  Jennings has not looked at home and definitely hasn't scored enough runs so has to go. Hameed isn't in form so Stoneman will get a go at opening the batting for now, I hope he does well.  Jennings may come back a better player, Hameed definitely will.  Another series has gone by and still the England selectors haven't managed to get any closer to getting our best batting line up on the field.

 We know what we are going to get from Broad and Anderson, accuracy, skill and class.  Like Morkel, Broad didn't get the wickets he deserved but Jimmy just keep rolling on.  TRJ done well in his two matches but will probably make way for Chris Woakes sometime soon.  Finally England's man of the series who was brilliant with both bat and ball, Moeen Ali has worked hard and quietly become a genuinely world class all rounder.  He is getting better and better and who knows how good he may become?

This was a very important series for England for if we couldn't beat South Africa on our own home grounds then how could we expect to win in Australia?  This is a similar situation to the last time we beat the saffers on home soil.  An Ashes tour came after that win in 1998 but in between came Sri Lanka who turned out to be a banana skin, winning at the Oval in brilliant style and seriously denting English confidence ahead of the Ashes.  This year we have three tests against the West Indies who are currently performing well against county sides.  England should be far too good for the West Indies but I expect their bowlers will be plenty good enough to test England's latest batting line up and we won't have things all our own way.  England mustn't look to far into the future...

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Oval's 100th Test

So the Kennington Oval is staging its one hundredth test and I can certainly remember so classics here over the years.  Starting with Richards and Holding in 1976, the beginning of fifteen years of dominance by the best test team I have seen.  The Ashes have been secured at this ground in 1985, 2005 and 2009 which is always sweet.  Tufnell spun us to a consolation Ashes win in 1997, Devon Malcolm demolished the saffers in '93 but Murali announced himself in '98.  Personal experience of the ground isn't too good though.  Two days in the cheap seats, baking in the heat while opposition batsmen made massive scores;  Smith, Amla and Kallis then Watson (believe it or not!) and another Smith.

So back to the present and for me England picked a strange team.  With so many batsman why not play two spinners?  Who is Dawid Malan?  Tom Westley is a fair enough choice given his form and Toby Roland Jones has a good first class record and I can ignore any prejudice his name may incur.

England won the toss when they might have wanted to lose it and chose to bat.  Considering the conditions and an opposition attack that suddenly looks world class they done well to close at 171/4 on a rain interrupted day.  Cook top scored and held it all together, who else?  Jennings has one innings to save his place in the team.  Westley done OK, Malan came and went, nothing much has been learned on day one.

Day two started with nerves, especially after Cook went early but Ben Stokes made a brilliant century in tough conditions and with contributions from the lower order England posted 353.  How good would this prove? With South Africa 126/8 at the end of play it seemed very good indeed!  Toby Double-Barrell took the first four wickets and Jimmy a couple as the saffers crumbled.  A day which started with the match even finished with England dominant.

Day three was disappointing due to the weather.  England finished off SA for 175 giving them a healthy lead which had extended to 252 by the time the rain came.  Cook got a great ball from Morkel, for once Jennings had some luck, lots of luck and was unbeaten, as was Westley who continued to impress on debut.

Day four was fun, loads of runs and loads of wickets.  Jennings made a very flukey 48 and Westley looked class in making his first test fifty.  Root scored a quick half century and Bairstow a typical attacking top score of 63.  There were contributions all the way and the Saffers were set 491.  By close England had taken four wickets but Elgar and Bavuma had got stuck in.

The match was over before tea on the fifth day with South Africa falling 239 runs short.  Moeen Ali finished the match with a hat trick, Stokes and TRJ picked up a couple each too.  England had played excellent cricket and were deserved big winners.  Stokes with runs, wickets and catches was the obvious man of the match.

So in a couple of days time the fourth and final test begins and England's squad is the same with the exception of Finn replacing the injured Wood, he will surely only play if there is an injury.  Jennings is very lucky to retain his place, his runs in the second innings were unconvincing and he looked likely to get out at any time.  A word for Moeen Ali who has been playing test cricket for just over three years now and has improved continuously to become an outstanding all rounder.  I've doubted his bowling in the past but his record speaks for itself.  At the moment he, England's no.1 spinner is leading wicket taker in a series that features genuinely great pace bowlers on both sides.  I hope I haven't cursed him!