Thursday, 14 February 2019

Test Series Post Mortem

How can England be so good in Sri Lanka but so poor in West Indies?

Mindset - In Sri Lanka England knew they would be underdogs and have a tough fight in difficult conditions.  They rolled up to Barbados as favourites thinking all they had to do was turn up and they would win.

Selection -  The squad picked for Sri Lanka was good, the teams selected for each match were excellent, the captain had options and the players delivered.  To pick an unchanged squad for West Indies can be understood, especially as spin had played a big part in Caribbean cricket in the last few years.  However over the last couple of seasons groundsmen have been encouraged to produce pitches with a bit more pace and bounce.  Did Team England not do their homework?  
In hindsight we needed more tall fast bowlers.  Even so a far more potent attack could have been selected for the first test from the players available.  The omission of Stuart Broad for the first test was one of the worst selection decisions I can remember.  Picking two spinners was a selection based on history, not the pitch in front of them.  Sam Curran is a cricketer of obvious talent but should be seen as a batting all rounder, he was never likely to take more wickets than the seamers he was picked ahead of.  The team for the third test had a much better balance but Foakes was unlucky to be left out, we can only assume he is not in England's plans going forward which is a shame, he's the best keeper I've seen for a long time.

Captaincy - I do not rate Joe Root as a captain.  Yes he done well in Sri Lanka but then we had the media talk of "This is Root's team now..."  How much did this influence the awful selection for the first test?  The omission of Broad in particular, Root feels undermined as captain when both Broad and Anderson play.  Why did it take 50+ overs before Anderson got a bowl from the Ambrose end at Antigua?  How can Root feel qualified enough to over-rule fielding positions for bowlers who have over a thousand test wickets between them?

Fielding - England clung onto some blinding catches in this series but they also dropped far too many, some were tricky but others were anything but.  The fielding in Sri Lanka was excellent but standards dropped on this tour.

Batting - England's long time Achilles heel has been the top three.  Bairstow had come in at number three and done well enough to keep the job for some time, then the selectors changed their minds again.  We are still struggling for openers and we have to put up with Team England saying something along the lines of "If the top three don't make the runs, somebody else will..." This is total bollocks.  We need to find a couple of decent openers, of the players that have come in in recent years Compton and Hales have done better than most.  Given that most of England's problems have come at the top of the order why was their no reserve opener?  Of the top three that took to the field for the third test both Burns and Denly have probably done enough to earn selection next summer, provided their county form is up to scratch.  Who will be the next player to be tried in the top three?  That's anyone's guess...

All rounders - We have at least four decent all rounders but trying to force more than two into the side at a time is weakening both the batting and the bowling.  Curran is a good player but is not suited to bowling in the West Indies and there are definitely better wicket takers available.  Ali is a good player but is he a better spinner than Leach?  Maybe, maybe not but he has been in decent form this winter so should be considered our number one spinner for the time being.  He should be picked as a spinner and bat at no.8, any runs he gets from here will be seen as a bonus.  Stokes is assumed to be a world class all rounder but has been so inconsistent.  He looked better batting at no. 6 in the last match and should be seen as a fourth seamer and have a work load to suit.

Bowlers - The attack for the third test was very good and this should be the model going forward.  Broad and Anderson must play if fit.  With Stokes and Ali we have bowlers that will contribute with the bat too.  Mark Wood bowled brilliantly in the last match but can he hit 90mph consistently?  If he can't then we need to find bowlers that can.

West Indies always seem to raise their game for England which leaves me thinking they've turned a corner and are a team on the up, sadly this never seems to happen.  Their bowling attack is right up there; their fielding was excellent but the batting looks shaky.  They shouldn't try to bat like the great players of old.  England are a better team than West Indies and should not have lost this series.  However in test cricket, more than any other game, the best team wins and 2-1 was a fair reflection of the cricket played.  But for an England supporter it was bloody frustrating!

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Third test - Day Four

Work again so I follow the cricket online for the first session at least.  England come out swinging and add a few quick runs but when Root is out for 122 the captain decides to declare.  This is a sensible decision but with Stokes at the wicket and with  Bairstow and Ali to come it could have been an entertaining hour of batting...  The score is 361/5 and the lead 484.
West Indies bat and Jimmy is all over them, soon reducing the home side to 10/3.  Mark Wood comes on and picks up a fourth wicket and at lunch the score is 35/4.

I'm in my seat for the first ball after lunch and it all looks very sedate with Chase and Hetmyer accumulating, they look in no trouble at all.  Then a bit of sloppy running combined with excellent fielding from Denly and Bairstow sees Hetmyer run out 76/4.  Dowrich joins Chase and again it all looks easy as they push the score past a hundred.  Then Ali finds the edge, Stokes haqngs on at slip and its 110/6.  This is a strange day of cricket, the game is all over bar the shouting and England will win comfortably but there is very little excitement.  I feel frustrated, had England started the tour with this XI and this intensity we would have had a different outcome.  Meanwhile Chase passes fifty and it's been a decent knock in tough conditions.

After tea it looks like the wickets just have to fall but they don't.  Wood isn't bowling as quickly as he did on Sunday but it's still exciting viewing.  Roach offers good resistance but the ball is flying off his bat, (especially off Wood) and just about avoiding the fielders.  Then he chips a delivery from Ali to Burns who drops a dolly and I'm thinking it's going to be one of those days.  A couple of overs later he does it again off Ali but Mark Wood hangs on and that's the seventh wicket.   Joseph comes in and after a few sensible shots starts hacking, the ball is flying up in the air but avoiding the fielders, it's all good fun though.  Chase has batted well but misses a straight one from Broad and is given LBW but no DRS finds an edge and he is reprieved!  Joseph keeps hitting Mo for six and the partnership passes fifty but two balls later he slogs once too often and Mo has his man, 212/8.  With Keemo Paul injured we should be one wicket from victory now.  Gabriel manages to hang in with Chase who is playing well and is up to 98 before Gabriel edges Stokes to the keeper.  236/9 and the injured Keemo Paul comes to the wicket, I can't help hoping Chase gets a century and then that last wicket falls quickly!  Chase gets a well deserved ton in tough conditions, Paul slogs a couple then hits one up in the air and it's all over.  England win by 232 runs.

It's been an entertaining match but with England well on top not a particularly emotional or exciting one.

Monday, 11 February 2019

ST. Lucia - Day Three

Monday, back to work.  I haven't taken the radio in because Talksport's coverage, say no more...  Instead I'm following the match on Cricinfo via the phone and a sneaky look at the BBC website.  This isn't ideal but at least I know what's going on.  By the time I tune in Burns is out, to the first ball of the day!  The bowler is Paul but he soon pulls up with a torn muscle and West Indies will be a bowler light for the rest of the session.  Jennings and Denly consolidate and the partnership passes fifty before Keaton manages to find a way to play on... 72/3 at least the top three have done there job in this innings at least.

I get home and park my arse in the armchair in time for the afternoon session with Root and Denly together.  Gabriel is bowling fast but is spraying it a bit and the runs are flowing.  Denly is looking good, he actually seems comfortable and makes his first test fifty.  Root is crawling along but looks solid.  The partnership passes fifty, Denly is keen to cut but edges Gabriel behind and he's out for 69.  This is a shame as it looks like a ton was there for the taking.  This brings Buttler to the wicket and he too looks in no trouble.  Running up to the break WI are bowling two spinners and I have a feeling England could push on but they don't.  At tea both batsmen are set and the lead is way past 300.

Dinner here is a spicy chicken curry, there is no spice in the depleted West Indies attack and both batsmen cruise past fifty, the partnership tops 100, a rare thing lately.  The new ball brings a great period of cricket with Roach and Gabriel bowling well, Buttler gets an unplayable delivery from Kemar and is gone, bowled for 56.  Stokes comes to the wicket to resume his series long battle with Gabriel, it's great to watch, there is banter but no nastiness.  These two batsmen survive the tricky new ball spell and push on, Root passes 100, his 16th century which has looked inevitable for some time.  At the close both are unbeaten with Stokes on 29 and we have another fifty plus partnership, the score is 325/4 and the lead 448.

It's been a strange day of cricket in as much as it's been a normal day of cricket.  Yesterday a balanced bowling attack with added bite skittled WI and today a more solid looking batting line up has ground West Indies into the sandy turf.  It's been enjoyable, relaxing cricket because for a change England have dominated.  We now need to push on and make sure we win this test match, from here I can't see any other result.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

ST. Lucia - Day Two

I only care about one football team and they lost today.  I will forget that and immediately switch the cricket on so I can enjoy watching two attacking batsmen stretch England's lead...
It didn't really go to plan.  West Indies quartet bowled superbly, England lose 6/46 to find themselves all out for 277.  This seems a decent score on this pitch (but it should/could have been much better!), how good it is remains to be seen, over to Broad and Anderson, will they cheer me up?

Meanwhile, at Twickenham England are 30-8 at half time against France.  At least one sport out of three is going well!

Three overs before lunch are tidy but England don't seem to carry the same threat.  There is an exchange caught on TV where Jimmy is positioning the fielder but Root keeps over ruling.  Why doesn't our puppy dog captain let England's greatest bowler set his own field???

Back after lunch and the West Indies openers are looking comfortable, Campbell is making it look easy...  I have to go out for a couple of hours and follow the cricket on my phone via Crincinfo.  What do I see?  Ali is bowling with a relatively new ball?  WTF?  This I can't understand??  However Ali takes two wickets in as many balls and both openers are gone 57/2!  What do I know? Mark Wood comes on at the other end it seems he is bowling seriously rapid, 95mph!  He then takes two in two and WI have fallen to 59/4!!!!  Before I get home Wood adds another wicket and the stats say he is the quickest bowler on either side.  At tea West Indies are 74/5.  For all the skill of England's senior bowlers, it's the raw pace of Wood that has turned this match in our favour!

Back home for a delicious roast dinner then back in front of the cricket.  Wood removes Bravo for his fourth wicket.  Keemo Paul is wafting the bat but he can't last, Ali has him stumped 107/7.  The game meanders for a bit, Dowrich is batting well and Roach is keeping England out.  Then Broad comes on and traps Dowrich LBW with a brilliant leg cutter.  Broad is in the action soon after with a brilliant one handed catch off Ali and West Indies are nine down.  Wood is brought back and with his second ball cleans up Gabriel to finish with test best figures of 5/41 and West Indies are all out for 154, the lead is 123.  What a day of cricket!

With sixteen wickets falling so far it's hard to imagine England's dodgy openers surviving a tricky evening session but somehow they do, in fact they look more comfortable in this session than any other so far this series.  The day ends at 19/0, England lead by 142, that was a good day!

Saturday, 9 February 2019

3rd Test St. Lucia - Day one

Two hours before the start of play...

 England have named the team and it's looking like Mark Wood will play, this will be interesting, how will his 'extra pace' compare to the West Indies bowlers?  Ben Foakes will miss out and is very unlucky to do so, that said we can't keep trying to stuff all these wicket keepers and all rounders into the team.  The way he bats, maybe he could find a spot at no.3?  But if he plays then he's the best keeper by far so shouldn't bat at 3.  Either way he's unlucky and Bairstow knows he has to fight to keep his place.  Talking of JB, if he's keeping then he should bat at 7, no higher, no lower.  But should he be keeping?  He is one of our best batsmen so surely England should have persevered with him at 3?

  Curran is in the squad but it looks like he will only play if Stokes is deemed unfit.  Stokes should bat no higher than 6, yes he looks the part but pushing him up the order just hasn't worked.
That just leaves the top three which will be Burns, Jennings and Denly, probably in that order.  Jennings is lucky to get another go and all three are playing for their future test careers.  If by some miracle England's first innings finds itself 350/1 then the selectors will be happy but probably not as happy as the Australian bowlers...  Looking at it in simple terms, we have put Jennings in the team and left out Foakes who looks a solid enough batsmen to give it a go at 3 even if it was just for one match???  I'm as confused as the tour selection committee.

As much as England got things right in Sri Lanka I think they have got things badly wrong from day one on this tour.  Atherton on TV is saying the team is better balanced and I think he's right but it just goes to show how wrong it was earlier on.

West Indies have won the toss and put England in...  Stokes is fit so Curran drops out and rightly so.  West Indies have had to leave the brilliant Holder out due to an over rate punishment.  This is bollocks, surely there must be a better way of punishing the team?

Game on, England batting and I sit with no emotion, at this point I almost feel impartial, does this England team represent me?  I want them to do well, of course I do!  But if they don't then I'll feel little pain.  Maybe it's because we are playing the West Indies, like many people I have a lot of affection for the great WI sides of old.  However there's a good chance I could be watching us being hammered at home by Australia in a few months time...

Meanwhile Jennings and Burns are both off the mark.  Last ball of the fifth over and Jennings wafts at a wide one, luckily it falls short of slip.  A few balls later it's fucking raining!  Does that mean we have survived a session?
We're back on.  West Indies bowling OK, England watchful...  Roach bowls an excellent over at Jennings, could have had him twice but somehow he survives.  Even if he gets a score from here the flaws in his technique are glaring and we are still no further forward.   At the other end Burns is looking solid and starting to get the scoreboard slowly ticking over.  The opening bowlers have been seen off but Jennings edges the first ball from Keemo Paul to slip with his normal waft outside off.  The score is 30/1, Jennings has the second innings then a long time in county cricket, I doubt we'll see him again.  Denly comes in and survives till lunch, without looking like a test class batsman.  46/1.

For half an hour after lunch England tick over, Burns looking solid and Denly more fluent but you have the feeling a wicket could fall at any time.  Then Burns misses a straight one from Paul and his gone LBW for 29, which isn't a bad contribution for an England opener in the context of this series.  A few minutes later Denly is LBW to Gabriel and it's 69/3 all of a sudden.  Tension; Root and Buttler can't get a run and WI are bowling well.  Buttler goes for a wide one, its a horrible shot but the slips put each other off and he gets away with it.  Next over Root edges one which doesn't quite carry, West Indies are bowling well and England don't look good enough.  Just easing towards tea with the batsmen starting to look comfortable, Root is caught behind off a piss poor shot, 107/4.  Stokes comes in and England limp to tea at 114/4.

Where do we go from here?  200 all out or a counter attack and 250/6 at close??  Dare England counter attack?  England's batsmen are looking terrible.  Is it because they just haven't had a chance to play themselves into any form or are mentally shot so they don't know when to defend or when to attack.  Are they thinking too much and not playing naturally or instinctively?  On the other hand the West Indies four man pace attack has been consistently excellent, a throw back to the great sides of years gone by.

Straight after tea, Stokes survives a close LBW appeal and then nearly plays on.  He manages to get a few runs though, has our luck changed?  The runs start to come, Stokes is looking more fluent with a few drives flowing, Buttler is looking solid but still there is something in the pitch and neither looks set.  They manage to put together the first fifty partnership of the innings and if they can keep together we might just get something out of the day.  Stokes passes fifty and is looking good but is out soon after to a very good caught and bowled from Joseph, 193/5 but no!  It's a no ball!  Stokes is reprieved!  Buttler passes fifty and the partnership is a hundred!  England's first century partnership of the series, that says it all...  They push on steadily and the day meanders to the close with both batsmen unbeaten and the score 231/4.  Probably England's best day of the tour! 

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Second Test - Day Three

Twenty five minutes before play, how do I feel?  Optimistic - If we can bowl out West Indies without the lead getting insurmountable...  If we can dig in and bat well...  A lifetime of following England cricket, I have to be an optimist.

Half an hour of play passes and WI have only added nine runs, even with the help of some sloppy fielding and questionable captaincy.  Then Jimmy strikes and Holder is gone!!  Followed soon after by Roach, to Jimmy again.  We're not out of this yet!

The eighth wicket brings Alzarri Joseph to the wicket, bravely playing cricket the morning after the death of his mother.  Fair play to a brave young man...  He's out to Stokes first ball of the day but the lead is inching higher.  Bravo reaches 50 but is stumped off Ali soon after, West Indies all out for 306 which is a lead of 119.  

Now it's up to England's batsmen, if they can play with skill and guts and match the West Indies total then we still have a chance...  Burns and Denly make it to lunch unscathed and that's England's session.  Perhaps only the second we've won in this match?

Back after lunch, Denly is riding his luck but Burns is looking solid however it's the latter that plays a poor shot to get caught at slip with the score on 35, just at the point where I was starting to relax.  Bairstow comes and goes with a dozen to his name.  The game is right in the balance now and the tension is palpable in my living room at least.  Root comes and goes, the captain is having a piss poor series with the bat and with his decision making.  Not long after Denly leaves a straight one and 35/0 has become 59/4.  Holder and Joseph have two each and are bowling brilliantly and then Stokes is put down at slip.  England need a miracle.

Elsewhere in the world of sport my football team, propping up the table lost to a 90th minute goal.  I keep checking the Rugby where against the odds England are winning in Dublin but my superstitious self daren't watch the match in case I put a curse on them.  England hang on to win, is the day changing?

Back after tea with Buttler and Stokes at the crease things seem a little bit calmer.  Ian Bishop on commentary is talking about when the last time West Indies won a series against a major team and I'm thinking a hundred partnership here and it might be a while longer.  Then Stokes plays on from a flashing drive FFS.  That sums up watching England play test cricket, just when you feel a bit of hope creeping in, England lose a wicket.  While I was typing that sentence Ali is bowled for 4 and it's 96/6.

Foakes and Buttler play a few nice shots and we are approaching parity, a spark of hope threatens to kindle but both fall in quick succession and it's now 118-8.  Which soon becomes 125-9.  I keep concentrating on England and yes there are obvious problems with England's team but West Indies four pace men have all bowled brilliantly.  A few minutes later England are all out for 132 and West Indies need just 14 to win, it takes 2.1 overs.  

At the start of this series if anyone had said the series would be over after seven days of cricket it would have been inconceivable that West Indies would be the winners but to be fair they have been the better team all round.  England have been papering over the cracks too long, the wins against India and Sri Lanka were due to the bowlers, we need to find some proper batsmen.  I started the day with optimism but finish it worried for the English summer ahead.

Antigua - Day Two

Day two and desperately need wickets but they aren't coming.  Anderson is tidy without looking his best but Broad is brilliant and is all over Campbell in particular.  We think he has him caught but DRS shows it came off the arm.  Then Buttler shells one at slip !!!  Not long after a top edge goes skyward but drops into no man's land.  It looks like a wicket could fall at any time, just like yesterday.  Are West Indies lucky or are they giving us a lesson in proper test match batting?  There are a couple of instances this morning of the fielding reflecting the body language of a beaten team.

Just when it feels like nothing will ever go our way Stokes finds Campbell's edge and this time Buttler clings on, 70/1 but that was a good opening partnership.  Curran comes on, despite his obvious talent I do not think he is  good enough for test cricket yet and definitely not the right bowler to be picked for this wicket.  Nothing he does this morning changes that opinion.  Ali bowls a few overs, he's tidy but not the slightest bit threatening.  The Brathwaite/Hope partnership passes fifty, West Indies batting is putting the match into context and also the bollocks talked by Team England along the lines of "If the top three don't get runs someone else will..."  At lunch it's 126/1, it's frustrating viewing but not as painful as I expect, I feel we are doomed so just enjoy the cricket.

Straight after lunch Moeen Ali is still bowling, Root generously allows the batsmen to get their eyes in again after the interval...  But just as I say that he gets Brathwaite caught at short leg for 49!  At least Broad is at the other end bowling well and at last he gets the wicket of Hope for 44!  Are we clawing our way back into this?  Chase come in, edges his second ball through the slips for 4 but Broad bowls him with the third!!  155/4 Will this become one of those famous Broad spells?

Just when the cricket is looking really interesting it's time to go out.  The purple Princess and I head north to pick up my daughter from university then drive to our favourite pub in the heart of Broadland where we celebrate Maddie's nineteenth birthday.  Good beer, fantastic food, love and laughter.  It's a lovely evening but I can't pick up any internet on my phone so cricket is forgotten.  We arrived home just before midnight and I check the score; West Indies have sold their wickets dearly and ground the scoreboard round to 272/6.  They will have a decent first innings lead for sure, it looks like the series is slipping away.