Selection Quandary

England’s winter record in test matches for 2017-2018 makes pretty grim reading.

Played 7. Lost 5. Drawn 2.

Go back further and England have failed to register a test match away win since the 1-1 series draw with Bangladesh in 2016.

That’s one win in 13 away test matches.

England showed signs of improvement in the 2nd test against New Zealand.

Stuart Broad bowled with great rhythm and control, and at a decent pace too.

In the first innings, Jonny Bairstow registered his 5th test match century with great support from Mark Wood, who although picked for his bowling, registered an entertaining and well crafted maiden test match 50.

In the second innings, Stoneman and Vince showed glimpses of their potential, similar to the 1st innings at Brisbane at the end of November, however failed to kick on and reach that elusive century.

Root and Malan registered decent half centuries, however Root once again failed to convert that into three figures.

Leach bowled with good control on debut, if not a little full at times, but one feels with more game time at the highest level and a chance to prove himself, he could be the solution to the front line spinner conundrum.

However England’s inability to finish a team off when they are on the ropes again came back to haunt them, as New Zealand batted out, fairly comfortably in the end, for the draw.

England’s tactics were dubious at times during the New Zealand 2nd innings.

Why did they persist with the bouncer tactic, having watched Broad collect his wickets bowling a fuller length?

What have England learnt from this Winter?

Judging by some of the performances not a lot, however selection going into the Summer fixtures against Pakistan and India is not going to be easy.

Cook looks terribly out of form.

The good news as far as England fans are concerned is that he is free to play for Essex in the CC fixtures.

Judging by last year’s performances he looks odds on to score a bucket load and play himself into good touch.

Stoneman and Vince registered half centuries to leave lingering doubts with the selectors.

Whilst looking at their overall contributions at test level would give you indication to look for alternative options, I personally do not feel the England selectors have the ruthlessness about them to drop them for the first test.

That said, they will know their spots are by no means safe, and the message should be loud and clear to these batsman.

Go back to your counties and score big runs before the first test on 24th May at Lord’s.

Root, consistent as ever, just needs that break and three figures.

Interestingly, his average as captain is higher than non-captain, and I feel in part that due to the lack of confidence in the England top order, there is even more pressure on him to score big runs.

Malan should be persisted with and left in his best position of five.

Stokes at 6 is a shoo-in however, as a pure batsman will have to produce a lot more.

I’m sure once he’s back to full fitness we will see the best of him again.

Bairstow is currently world class and talk of him playing as a specialist batsman and introducing another keeper should be quashed.

His glove work is now top notch and there isn’t a better number seven in the world.

Would I like to see him up the order?

Yes I would, but only as high as five.

The alternative there would be to have Root at 4, Bairstow at 5, Malan at 6 and Stokes at 7.

To have him open or bat at three I think would effect his game, and as we’ve seen with a few of his dismissals, potentially leave him open to cheap dismissals.

At 8, I still think England should pick Chris Woakes.

Stuart Broad no longer has the technique or mentality to bat any higher than 9/10/11 in my opinion, and despite Chris Woakes’ performances abroad, he is a great competitor, skilled bowler and highly competent batsman.

Broad and Anderson are guaranteed picks which then leaves the selectors with the difficult decision to go for an all out seam attack, or a front line spin option.

Personally, I feel that a specialist spin option is vital in all conditions, so my pick would be Leach.

Go with Wood and you’re reliant on the part time spin of Root and Malan to tie down an end and hopefully snare a few wickets.

That then means Mark Wood misses out, but if Ben Stokes is fully fit and bowling, his absence shouldn’t be felt too badly.

Plus there are still question marks over Wood’s fitness and his ability to play a sustained amount of matches.

You can always vary the attack accordingly dependant on conditions.

Back to solutions then and what can England look at should Cook, Stoneman and Vince all have bad starts to the season.

If England wanted to keep an additional spin option as back up to Leach, one potential solution would be to have Moeen Ali at 3.

This wouldn’t be my personal preference however, that is his permanent position for Worcestershire and he was batting there when originally selected for England.

In terms of possible openers there is Duckett and Jennings, who have course have had a small run in the team but couldn’t take their opportunity.

Both players are of high calibre and a strong start to the season may see the selectors take note.

There’s been lots of talk about Sam Northeast and Daniel Bell-Drummond, whilst at three, Dan Lawrence of Essex is another option.

There is also Livingstone, part of the squad but overlooked in favour of Vince, Gubbins and Robson, both of Middlesex, and also fellow Lancashire team mates Alex Davies and Hameed.

Daryl Mitchell of Worcestershire is another option and consistent CC run scorer, plus Burns of Surrey.

Interestingly, Wisden magazine ran a detailed article on Jason Roy and his test cricket ambitions.

In cahoots with his ODI and T20 exploits, you only have to look at his record for Surrey when batting at 6 to see how talented Roy is.

I think it would be a case of fitting Roy in and moving people around, rather than him being a direct replacement.

Ultimately, there are people in positions paid a lot of money to make important decisions.

I for one am not adverse to change, although one feels the first test will be much of the same.

Let’s hope that a number of players stick their hands up so high at the start of the season, that they will be impossible to ignore.

 

 

Advertisements

England’s latest selection conundrum

Many people, myself included, were calling for significant change following England’s 4-0 loss to Australia.

The selectors had the perfect opportunity to implement that change for the two match test series in New Zealand.

Looking at the selection and the result from the 1st test match, in which England were not only beaten but thrashed, it is clear to see the selection issues are still there.

I admire England’s loyalty in that they now give players a longer opportunity to establish themselves in the team.

A far cry from the 1980’s and 1990’s where players often only had one or two tests at the most to put forward a case to remain in the team.

I do however think that their loyalty, is now proving at great detriment to the team.

Moeen Ali’s form, and the inclusion of James Vince in the touring squad to name a few.

Ultimately, there are two key facets to England’s five day game which are causing them great problems at the moment.

Number one, they are simply not posting big enough totals, particularly in the first innings, which would give them greater control in the match and allow them to apply scoreboard pressure.

Number two is there inability to take 20 wickets in a test match.

Some will claim that the two are linked; and whilst Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad aside, England’s bowling figures aren’t great, I personally feel it comes from the lack of runs on the board, which in turn allows the opposition to bat time and negate England’s opening pair.

The other issue is the variation of the England attack.

The lack of variation and back up provided to Anderson and Broad causes England great problems in that if neither of them run through a batting line up and make numerous early inroads, you often struggle to see how England are going to bowl their opponents out.

Even when England have made early breakthroughs, the back up bowlers and lack of quality spin option, have resulted in their opponents making a recovery, resulting in any momentum England may have gained being lost.

One of the biggest topics for conversation during and following the Ashes series, was for England to add pace to their attack.

Mark Wood, who came through the ODI and T20 Series’ relatively unscathed, was then overlooked for the first test in Auckland.

What did England resort to?

Four medium/fast pace bowlers, all reliant on swing and seam movement.

Arguably, New Zealand conditions favour this type of bowling however, when the ball isn’t doing much, as it wasn’t for long periods during the first test match, England had nothing different to turn to as a Plan B.

With Ben Stokes playing as a specialist batsman, surely there was an opportunity for the inclusion of Wood, even if he was managed in short sharp bursts of four/five over spells?

Plus, with Moeen Ali’s confidence and bowling at a serious low, why wasn’t Leach considered for the first test.

With Ali not taking wickets, his job as front line spinner has to be to apply pressure and tie up and end.

At the moment, he is incapable for managing this.

Moving on to England’s batting and it was the same old story of no one willing to dig in and do the hard graft before kicking on and making that vital big score.

The first innings was an utter shambles and whilst the second innings showed signs of improvement, you have to question the players’ mentality at the moment.

Both Stoneman and Root batted well for their half centuries, but then proceeded to get out immediately after.

Stoneman has yet to convert any of his four half centuries into triple figures and only has a highest test score of 56, which is surprising as 21 first class hundreds would evidence his ability to kick on.

Root passed 50 for the 51st time in tests, however only 13 of those have been converted into a coveted test match hundred.

Whilst he is England’s best batsman, he cannot expect to be compared to Smith, Kohli or Williamson until he considerably improves his conversion record.

Interestingly, out of Joe Roots 13 test match centuries, only one of these has been scored in England’s 2nd innings, when incidentally he opened the batting alongside Alastair Cook in 2013 home Ashes series .

Speaking of Alastair Cook, his form and desire to produce in the test match arena is for me an area of concern.

Cook has recently stated that during the most recent Ashes series, he was questioning whether he had the mental strength and capability to perform.

Remove his double centuries against the West Indies and Australia and I think even he would admit his performances over the last 18 months or so, are not what we would come to expect from a player of his calibre.

If Cook does decide he is no longer up for the rigorous schedule of International Cricket, it leaves England in a very difficult situation.

Finding Cook’s partner has been a very long process of trial and error, and you feel even Stoneman isn’t fully in control of that spot.

Finding Cook’s replacement however would cause England a different problem altogether, particularly with the upcoming home series against India on the horizon, whom seem to have shaken off their inability to perform overseas, and have a quality bowling attack which appear to be potent in most conditions.

For the upcoming test however, England need to make some decisions, which may not only impact on the squad selection for the two home series against Pakistan and India, but also the Winter tour of Sri Lanka.

Jack Leach must be considered and given suitable to time to prove his worth, particulaly with the away trip to Sri Lanka in mind, where he should find conditions favourable.

Liam Livingstone, a man who appeared to be the best batsman in the warm up matches, must also be looked at.

Disappointingly, he has been overlooked for the 2nd test in favour of James Vince!

Why?!

Are England scared to implement new blood?

It will be interesting to see who England finally go with for tomorrow’s test, however nothing but an England win, will restore a slither of confidence in the fans.

Credit to the Barmy Army, they have been the best and most consistent performers this Winter.

Whatever happens, it is more apparent than ever that England’s thought processes in playing and selection are very much scatty, and a serious rethink to the shape and structure of this side is needed in order for England to succeed this Summer.

 

 

Michael Vaughan. Great Captain. Great Pundit?

England’s issues on foreign soil are a consistent problem, as highlighted by their terrible record in overseas series since their last away Ashes success in 2010-2011.

Many will use Ben Stokes’ indiscretion as one of the main reasons England lost so heavily.

The simple fact of the matter is, not even a man of his mercurial talent would have reversed the 4-0 scoreline.

Jonathan Agnew made the excellent point in his most recent BBC article that England cannot keep sweeping these heavy losses under the carpet; and he is absolutely right.

Whilst this isn’t just an issue for England, as proven in the recent test at Cape Town between South Africa and India, the world’s current number one ranked test side, action must be taken to ensure England are better prepared to not only compete, which they did briefly in Australia, but to win and win well.

How can England prepare better and what can the ECB do?

Michael Vaughan OBE, ex England Ashes winning captain of 2005, made the excellent suggestion that a number of County Championship matches should be played overseas to help develop players’ skill sets.

A brave but innovative suggestion that not only holds a lot of meat to the bone but shows thought and initiative.

When ex-professionals enter the media world of punditry or journalism, a lot of them run the risk of becoming unpopular.

Log on to twitter and you will witness copious amounts of keyboard warriors using the popularity of a high profile figure, such as Michael Vaughan, to get across their irrelevant and often abusive views.

Now don’t get me wrong, when Vaughan first ventured into the commentary box in 2009, I for one was certainly not a big fan of his punditry.

Memories of his excellent captaincy and man management skills prior to and during the 2005 Ashes were quickly being forgotten due to his, what I felt, critical and unfair assessment of England’s performances.

The root of this opinion was strongly linked to the fact that Vaughan, a well respected and excellent servant for England, was now commentating on a side, still littered with players from his time as captain.

In my opinion this often led to biased and undue criticism of a number of England’s players, which is the sole reason I currently ignore all of Graeme Swann’s analysis.

A shame really as this is a man who’s initial impact on the commentary team was the equivalent to a breath of fresh air.

Unfortunately his stock is in rapid decline, as he somehow manages to divert all topic of conversation towards himself, with an air of unnecessary and unfounded arrogance.

Vaughan’s skills clearly lie in his ability to capture an audience.

Couple that with his motivational prowess and history will show that it’s no coincidence Vaughan was in charge during one of England’s most successful periods of test match cricket.

I for one have been fortunate enough to witness this first hand.

Vaughan himself may not recall this memory, but I certainly remember it well.

It was 6th April 2012 and my previous club Corley, a small village cricket club in the heart of Warwickshire, were lucky enough to win a competition sponsored by Natwest titled, ‘The Biggest Little Cricket Club’.

The prize, a visit from Michael Vaughan to assist with the annual Natwest Cricket Force day.

A day where volunteers and club members across the UK, attend to their clubs ground to complete pre-season jobs and ground work.

Whilst Vaughan’s first priority was to enjoy the breakfast options available, founded by the fact that he asked me where the brown sauce was kept, he was more than happy to muck in and help out during the time he was there.

It was the brief 5 minute talk that Vaughan gave in the middle of the cricket square that really demonstrated his leadership qualities.

Although the details of that speech are somewhat hazy, his audience were invested, hanging on to his every word.

If he imparted only a small percentage of those qualities onto each and every one of his players, it’s not hard to understand why England performed so well during his captaincy reign.

As time’s worn on, Vaughan’s punditry has become more refined.

Both critical and honest, his views are fair and unbiased.

Regularly supported by suggestions on how to help England improve.

That’s not to say that I agree with everything Vaughan says.

His latest comments about James Vince are a good example of that.

He does however go a long way to doing what the majority of pundits do not do.

Offer an alternative.

His ideas will either be successful or unsuccessful, however the outcome will never be discovered if we aren’t willing to embrace them.

My initial views of scepticism in 2009 have certainly disappeared and whilst I know that his views are now capturing a positive audience, there is one specific audience I hope are taking note.

The ECB.

 

New Beginnings

As an avid fan and keen amateur cricketer, the sport has become an extensive favourite of mine since I failed to recover from an ACL injury suffered at university in December 2008, playing rugby.

Whilst rugby was ultimately my first sport back then, I had always been a keen follower of cricket with my interest in the sport back dating to memories of Andy Caddick bowling that mesmerising four wicket over against the touring West Indies.

Cricket coverage was definitely more accessible back then as Channel 4 held exclusive rights to air every England home test series.

Those rights ended of course with the infamous 2-1 Ashes victory of 2005.

Nowadays there are numerous channels fighting to host the world’s most popular tournaments, with the winner often being the highest bidder; however, that is cause for debate at another time.

Back to the present and many of you may question the significance of the title New Beginnings.

For me it bears two meanings.

A new beginning as a ‘blogger’ and a new beginning for England in the wake of their very recent 4-0 Ashes defeat.

Even before the infamous Ben Stokes incident outside a Bristol nightclub, back in September 2017, you sense a nervousness existed within even the most optimistic of England fans and not just because we had lost our talismanic all-rounder.

Since the excellent 2010-2011 Ashes series victory in Australia, England have suffered a number of humbling away series defeats.

Their ability to adapt to away conditions has been a constant cause for concern.

Since retaining the Ashes in 2010-2011, England have only managed two series victories away from home.

The first, a brilliant 2-1 victory against India in 2012-2013, is sadly remembered more for the ‘reintegration’ of maverick batsman Kevin Pietersen, than for its on field performances.

More recently in 2015-2016 saw another 2-1 series victory, this time in South Africa, where Ben Stokes launched himself into the limelight with a record-breaking 258.

However, delve deeper and you will find that these victories were simply a welcome distraction from the brutal fact that England were, and still are, inept overseas.

Take the pulverising 5-0 Ashes whitewash in 2013-2014, a 3-0 and 2-0 loss away to Pakistan and a 4-0 loss to India.

All four series’ highlighted England’s deficiencies against both raw pace and spin.

Add in the numerous draws against perceived weaker test match opposition in Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies and Bangladesh and you will see not all is rosy when England go on their travels.

In addition to the above there has been the ongoing saga to find Andrew Strauss’ permanent batting replacement at the top of the order, the fallibility of the middle order since the retirements of Trott, Bell and Pietersen and the inability to find a world class front line spinner since the retirement of Graeme Swann, who in my opinion, is now in danger of being more renowned for his biased punditry views than his bowling exploits.

Couple that with the heavy focus on England’s white ball cricket since their humbling at the 2015 World Cup and ask yourself the following question – is it really a surprise that England lost?

The ECB will no doubt conduct an in-depth performance review, however now more than ever could be the perfect opportunity for new beginnings.

How the ECB go about this is in their hands.

The short-term focus will be on a tough, yet more accommodating, tour of New Zealand.

But the long-term focus should be getting England to replicate their dominance on home soil in matches overseas.

The inability to adapt to foreign conditions now appears to be a common struggle for all travelling sides.

If the ECB implement the necessary foundations now, one would hope it would stand England in good stead for the future.