Sunday, 16 September 2018

The end of summer

So England somehow managed to win a series against the world's No.1 test team but did so without ever looking like a world beating team themselves.  How on earth did they manage it?

Before the series it would have been reasonable to expect it would be a battle between England's formidable (in home conditions) bowling attack and India's batting superstars.  As it turned out the bowlers from both sides dominated and had India batted with anything like the success they manage in Asia then they could have won comfortably.  India's seam bowlers were very impressive and were every bit as good as our own.  If their batsmen can learn to score runs away from home then India could dominate world cricket for years to come.  Despite this series defeat the future looks bright for India.

Can the same be said for England?  The batting has been weak for several years now and with the retirement of Cook we really need to get things sorted out quickly.  Twelve months from now we'll be reflecting on another Ashes summer and mid way through this series I looked forward without much hope, thankfully England's catching improved and in the last test so did the batting.  Things don't look so bleak now.

The series was a really good advert for test cricket, exciting and competitive with two matches that could have gone either way and only Lords was one sided.  There were lots of memorable individual performances too, with players from both sides contributing.  For India Kohli stood out, he was brilliant but all of their bowlers come away with credit.

Alastair Cook announced his retirement just before the end of the series.  He holds all the batting records for an Englishman and deserves all the accolades he has received.  Not only has he been a great batsman he has always come across as an absolute gentleman.  In truth his form has declined in recent years, his place in the side has remained secure because there has been nobody knocking on the door to replace him.  I wonder if not having a regular opening partner has heaped more pressure on him, had the selectors been able to find another opener maybe Cook's career would have been extended.  He leaves international cricket at the age of 33, in other circumstances he may have had another five years in the side?

But what a final match he had! 71 in the first innings then an emotional 147 in the second.  He was applauded onto the field and applauded off.  I must admit to having a lump in my throat but I'm sure I'm not alone, then on the final day of the summer Jimmy had me choking again.

The players this series and other waffle.

The openers

Keaton Jennings only managed a top score of 42 this summer but in context, in a low scoring summer he may have done just enough to hang onto his place.  Especially as we now have to find two openers.  Who else is there?  The leading run scorer in county cricket is Rory Burns who has been consistent for Surrey for several years.  Then there are two from England's successful ODI team, why not give Jason Roy a chance?  I've said it many times, Alex Hales is far too good a cricketer to not make the grade in test cricket.  Also waiting in the wings is Haseeb Hameed who was very impressive for England on debut but seems to have gone backwards in his county career.  He is still a young man who may well come back strongly in the future.

The batsmen

Joe Root started the series batting at three but by the end was back at his favoured four.  Root has had a poor series by his standards but this is no big worry, form is temporary, class is permanent as he proved at the Oval.   At the beginning of the summer I thought his captaincy was poor but to be fair he seems to be improving.  I say "seems" because a winning captain usually looks good.  He does make some strange decisions though, I think he tries too hard...

If Root doesn't want to bat at three then who will?  The latest name in this position is Moeen Ali who did OK at the Oval and clearly wants the job but is he really up to it?  I like Moeen, he is a very good all round cricketer but outside England I'm not sure he is good enough to secure a more permanent place in the team.  On TMS Sir Geoffrey suggested Ben Stokes for the job as he has the best technique and seems to struggle to be fully fit enough to bowl.  Maybe batting at three and bowling a few overs here and there is the future?  If either of these players bats at three it will free up a spot in the middle order for one of the many all rounders we have queuing up to get in the team.

I liked the selection of Ollie Pope but it seemed strange batting him at four when he had never batted above six for his county.  In a difficult summer for batsmen Pope was on a hiding to nothing but hopefully he can come back a better player in the future.  From memory I think Malan played at some point...

In Bairstow and Buttler we have two fine, attacking batsmen/wicket keepers but I'm not alone in thinking they are batting out of position.  For me it's simple, whoever has the gloves should bat at seven and whoever doesn't bats higher, somewhere.  Buttler has enjoyed a brilliant summer since being recalled scoring big runs often in difficult circumstances.  Bairstow's series with the bat started well but declined, his keeping stood up, especially in comparison to Pant.

All rounders

Following Botham's retirement Flintoff was the only world class all rounder we've been able to pick, now we have  Stokes and three more very good ones in Ali, Woakes and Curran.  The problem is getting them all in the side.  Stokes had a solid series all things considered and he will always be first choice.  As for the others, all three picked up 'man of the match' awards, the sensible choice is to pick them on a horses for courses basis but who do you leave out.

The bowlers

Broad and Anderson are class.  They have been class for a long time, they were class this summer and will be class for a few years yet.
Adil Rashid was a controversial pick but I like him.  He was under bowled by Root and out bowled by Ali but still did OK and I think he's a match winner on the right wickets.  Dom Bess done well in early summer.

In a few weeks England will be travelling to Sri Lanka and should expect to play on low, slow, dust bowls that turn square.  England have not won a series in Asia since 2012/13.  Sri Lanka must start as favourites.

The selection guessing game.

First test in Sri Lanka XI
Jennings - Just about done enough for Ed Smith at least.  He's playing for his career.
Burns - The best opener in county cricket, he probably has six tests to nail down a spot for next years Ashes.  Could he be England's version of Chris Rogers?
Ali - Done well in India before and allows an extra bowler to be picked. But he shouldn't be batting at three against Australia next year.  He must take wickets on this tour too, it's time to step up.  Love Mo, hope he does!
Root (c) - Bats at four, end of.  I'm still not convinced by his captaincy.
Stokes - Good enough to bat at five so why not?
Buttler - On current form our best batsman
Bairstow (wk) - Because the keeper MUST bat at seven.  Think Gilchrist.

Now the tricky bit, in the expected conditions we should pick third spinner or Root will have to bowl.  On the other hand we have an inform left arm swing bowler on form and confident.
Curran - Because he's a left armer. Or Bess - Because he looked class when he had the chance.
I think they'll pick Curran.

Rashid - Match winner but now is the time to prove it.
Broad - Because.
Anderson- Because.

Who else makes the squad?
Leach as another spinner.  Woakes - all rounder.
Batsmen - Pope seems to be next inline and Ballance, a batsman who, like so many, has been in/out of the side in recent years but has far better stats than all the others.

Realist, Sri Lanka win 2-0 
Optimist  England have learnt from experience and win 2-1

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