Should England drop Chris Woakes for Mark Wood?

Mark Wood and Chris Woakes (via YouTube)

Chris Woakes is a very good and admirable cricketer. He didn’t have the best of time in the Ashes but has since bounced back in the shorter formats. If he were to play the two Tests against New Zealand he would almost certainly take a whole bunch of wickets. Nevertheless, England should drop him for Mark Wood, who may or may not perform as effectively, but probably on balance not.

Now the first thing to say is that we like Chris Woakes very much. We believe he will play plenty of Tests for England and it stands to reason that this also means that we believe he will take many Test wickets and consequently bring us a great deal of Test joy.

He is also widely perceived to be a very nice man. If in thirty years time our daughter were to tell us that she was going to marry Chris Woakes, we’d say: “Chris Woakes is almost 60. This age gap is unseemly.”

However, if by the magic of time travel he was the exact same age as her, we’d say: “This is evidence of real actual time travel. This is incredible.” But once we’d dealt with the seismic technological development (and really, what else is there to say?) we’d say that on balance, given some of the other historical figures she could have ended up with, Chris Woakes is an adequate and acceptable choice.

Although actually, now that we think about it, isn’t Chris Woakes married? Maybe we’d be concerned about why he was running away from his own time period given that he had a wife and a burgeoning international cricket career back then.

Anyway, the point is that Chris Woakes is an agreeable-to-likeable man. With hindsight the whole ‘would you be happy for him to marry your daughter’ thought experiment was a bit of a misstep on our part given their respective ages.

(Also, a quick note to say that we’d rank Mark Wood slightly above Chris Woakes on the likeability scale because he can be genuinely funny – and really, what other worthwhile quality would you ever look for in a person?)

(Another quick note. No matter what else he does, likeability will always be something of an uphill struggle for Craig Overton because he will always retain the air of someone who maybe once did a racism.)

(Yet another quick note. If he ever stops to think about it, Jamie Overton will probably  resent the fact that he faces a slightly shallower uphill struggle for likeability because of the tarring-by-association that comes with being a twin.)

(Final quick note. We’ve just thought how Jamie Overton can easily avoid this. He should cast Craig as “the bad twin” which would of course make him the good twin, ergo likeable.)

Here’s the thing about likeability: at no point did Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath slow their wicket-taking as a result of our feelings about them during their playing days. Likeability and Test performance are not really connected and when you’re picking a team, it’s 100 per cent about how effective you think the player is going to be. (We’re going to be honest here, we’re going to flatly contradict this point a little later in the article.)

So what does Chris Woakes actually do? Let’s take a look at England’s bowlers to see what each of them offers and let’s do it according to Steve Harmison’s Theory of Units because that is something we fundamentally agree with.

Swing bowling: Jimmy Anderson is pretty much the best swing bowler there’s ever been.

Tall bowling: Current form notwithstanding, Stuart Broad has been a very good tall bowler.

Reverse swing bowling: Wiser men than us might disagree, but from what we’ve seen we feel like Ben Stokes has a legitimate case to be considered England’s best reverse swing bowler. Certainly, most of the occasions when he ‘makes things happen‘ seem to be occasions when the ball is also reverse swinging for him.

Spin bowling: Moeen Ali is the man who makes the ball bounce a bit funny by spinning it with his fingers.

So what does Chris Woakes add to the palette of things? Does he do anything different to the people listed above? Does he do any of the things listed above better than the people listed above?

Not really. In contrast, we could also add…

Fast bowling: Mark Wood.

Now, we can’t help but concede that Mark Wood is not always a fast bowler. Sometimes – perhaps even a lot of the time – he is just as fast-medium as everyone else. In fact it is not all that uncommon for him to bowl less quickly than Chris Woakes, who we would generally categorise as ‘brisk’.

But Mark Wood can bowl quickly. This is a thing that he is capable of doing and on the occasions that he manages it, he adds an extra thing to the bowling attack, which improves as a consequence.

When Mark Wood bowls quickly, he is electrifying. Chris Woakes is not electrifying. This is not meant as criticism of Chris Woakes because the truth is that very few players are ever electrifying. Being electrifying is a rare and valuable thing and that is why whenever you have a choice between a player who is possibly electrifying and one who definitely is not electrifying, you should always pick the possibly electrifying player even if there’s a more than reasonable chance that he will actually not perform as well as the other guy.

Cricket is meant to be fun and those rare moments when you think to yourself ‘something is happening’ are the most fun of all. Andrew Flintoff’s career record is famously nondescript, but he will always retain a warm place in our heart for all those occasions when he made us feel like something was happening.

There is also the small matter of retaining Mark Wood as a Test cricketer. Not so long ago we wrote at length about how these two Tests against New Zealand pretty much represent the final chance for him to have a career in the longest and most memorable format of the game.

Chris Woakes has been in the England Test team enough recently that we’re pretty confident he will be picked again. Wood, on the other hand, is running out of opportunities to do the kinds of things that will make people feel like they can actually pick him in Test cricket.

He should be picked and then hopefully something magical will happen and we can all stop worrying about the game fracturing into pieces for a day or two.

Frankly, you might as well open the bowling with Mark Wood

Mark Wood (ECB)

The big news from England’s warm-up piss-take of a match against a New Zealand XI is that they’re thinking of having Retired Hurt open the bowling. Accounting for three batsmen, he was England’s most successful bowler after Jimmy Anderson, who took 4-56.

Root deployed just the nine bowlers and even fewer of them actually opened. Mark Wood got three overs with the brand new ball and frankly, England may as well persist in doing that.

We’re aware that opening the bowling is meant to be some huge great deal and that making Stuart Broad come on first-change would put his mental health at grave risk – but if his replacement’s only going to bowl a three-over spell, as Wood would, it isn’t necessarily a monumental disadvantage in any real meaningful sense.

Fresh from his new and exciting experience, Wood also had some helpful advice for the Hamilton groundsman: “I think they should burn that top end, so I don’t have to bowl from there any more.”

When and where is AB de Villiers at his best?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

AB de Villiers is very good. We’re pretty sure most of you will agree with that insightful assessment. But where do we  see him at his best?

We can think of five immediately obvious environments in which AB de Villiers might be seen.

  • In a music video
  • Just sort of milling around in public, at an airport say
  • In T20 cricket
  • In one-day cricket
  • In Test cricket

Let’s quickly run through each of these to try and work out where AB de Villiers is at his best.

Because if you want to see a thing renowned for its very-goodness, ideally you want to stand a reasonable chance of having the very qualities that define that very-goodness displayed to you, otherwise what’s the point?

In a music video

In a music video is a place in which AB de Villiers appears to be a below-average person. In a music video does not show AB de Villiers at his best. (More on this subject here.)

Just sort of milling around in public, at an airport say

AB de Villiers may well attract a certain amount of attention when he’s just sort of milling around in public, at an airport say, but we’d argue that this is merely residual attention resulting from his feats in other environments. AB de Villiers is no better at just sort of milling around in public, at an airport say, than anyone else. In fact he’s arguably worse, because he no doubt has a tendency to flee back indoors what with all the attention and whatnot.

In T20 cricket

AB de Villiers will often make slightly more runs than other people playing in the same T20 cricket  match and he will generally make those runs slightly more quickly. AB de Villiers looks very good in T20 cricket.

In one-day cricket

We would argue that AB de Villiers looks slightly better in one-day cricket than he does in T20 cricket. Given more time to make runs, the difference between himself and other batsmen playing in the same match will generally become more apparent.

In Test cricket

In Test cricket, with no real time constraints, batsmen can go about making their runs however they damn well choose. They needn’t feel rushed into playing shots they don’t necessarily feel comfortable with. They can play how they want.

Despite this, there are times when even mere survival is beyond most batsmen when AB de Villiers not only survives, but also scores runs, and not only scores runs, but does so at a rate utterly beyond most people even on a day when survival is not a seemingly unattainable goal.

We would therefore argue that ‘in Test cricket’ is the environment where AB de Villiers is at his best.

You’ll never dismiss Jonny Bairst- oh…

Jonny Bairstow had made 104 runs off 59 balls when this happened.

Jonny Bairstow (via Sky Sports)

Two things to note.

One, the bail is illuminated. Two, the position of Bairstow’s back foot.

Pondering the former with reference to the latter, you might like to consider the path his bat took.

Still, the job was done by this point. Bairstow had helped England secure a breathtakingly impressive 3-2 series triumph and so averted a woeful 3-2 series catastrophe.

Recalibrate your forecasts. England should now attain overconfidence at some point this summer, meaning the traditional World Cup self-immolation will most likely occur at some point the following winter rather than during the tournament itself.

Having missed this final match, Ross Taylor took his own private series 2-1.

Two reasons why squad rotation in county cricket is a very bad thing

Ravi Patel (via County Championship Twitter)

County cricket doesn’t get enough media coverage that it can get away with resting players. That’s the two-second version of the point I’m making over at Wisden.

Whether they say as much or not, counties rotate their squads. There are two problems with this.

1. It makes teams shitter

There are currently too many matches for a county to have its best XI playing at its best every game. Players need time off and when the best players are given time off, the matches they miss become of a lower standard. Cricket also has few big names and pitting eleven blokes no-one’s heard of against eleven other blokes no-one’s heard of doesn’t help win people over.

2. Players end up specialising

The triple format nature of cricket means that in practice player rotation tends to equate to specialisation, whether the player wants to do so or not. There is already far too much of this shit. Enough.


There should be way fewer county matches such that it becomes physically possible to play and perform in every match in every format.

You can read a longer, better-argued version of this here.


Breaking down David Warner and Nathan Lyon’s run-out of AB de Villiers – one of the most disrespectful dismissals in recent memory

AB de Villiers (all images via Sky Sports video)

Many things happened during Australia’s first Test win over South Africa. Some of them were cricket, some of them were David Warner falling out with people. The thing that interests us the most – AB de Villiers’ second innings run-out – fell somewhere in between.

Let’s break the moment down, because it’s really quite something. We’re struggling to think of a more disrespectful dismissal.

The context

The South Africans were near enough 200 runs behind on first innings and had then found themselves chasing 417 to win.

They quickly fell to 39-3 and so had basically lost. You wouldn’t think there was much left to get het-up about at this point, but then you’re not David Warner.

David Warner is, you suspect, the kind of man who snaps the remote in half in fury when the batteries start to get a bit low.

The run-out

Nathan Lyon dobbed one down the leg-side and South Africa opener Aiden Markram nurdled the ball towards David Warner.

As Warner scuttled round to get it, AB de Villiers set off down the pitch before doing a big U-turn when he looked up and saw only Markram’s back.

Sadly for de Villiers, he’d gone sufficiently far that the run-out was never in doubt. Warner was grinning even as he threw the ball.

At the bowler’s end, Lyon enveloped the ball with his Mekon hands and duly broke the stumps.

Nathan Lyon’s bit

What we didn’t mention was that AB de Villiers was on nought, having only faced one ball. Now here he was lying on his face, run-out in a match his team were about to lose.

Being run-out is always rubbish because to some extent it’s always self-inflicted. It’s worse still when you end up literally lying on your face in the dirt at the moment it happens.

Here’s AB de Villiers literally lying on his face in the dirt having been run out for a duck in a match his team is about to lose.

What happened next was that Nathan Lyon saw AB de Villiers literally lying on his face in the dirt having been run out for a duck in a match his team is about to lose and thought to himself: “This isn’t quite humiliating enough. I think I need to ramp this up a bit. I need to really emphasise the fact that AB de Villiers is literally lying on his face in the dirt having been run out for a duck in a match his team is about to lose.”

So Lyon ran past, looking down at him, and to emphasise that de Villiers was both literally and metaphorically fallen, he dropped the ball near him.

You’ll note that we italicised ‘nearly’ in that last sentence. As you can see, Lyon is looking directly at de Villiers even having passed him and is dropping/flinging the ball as he does so. You could maybe, if you so chose, argue that he dropped the ball at de Villiers.

David Warner’s bit

Lyon could not have executed his run-out and ball-drop without the assistance of David Warner. Warner too was hugely keen to emphasise the fact that his team was winning the Test match.

Presumably feeling that the surviving batsman had escaped lightly, he chose to convey his team’s supremacy to Aiden Markram.

Australia wicketkeeper Tim Paine said at stumps that there “wasn’t too much aggression” during Warner’s send-off (which technically wasn’t actually a send-off because Markram wasn’t going anywhere).

Here is Warner’s Hatred Face midway through said send-off. We’re pretty sure we have never been this angry with anyone about anything in our entire life.

Now we want you to understand something at this point because it doesn’t really come across in stills. Warner is aiming this face AT Aiden Markram. Aiden Markram is the subject of the hatred.

All of Warner’s team-mates came and mobbed him for doing the run-out throw and yet he physically struggled with them to ensure he retained a direct line of sight to Markram.

A direct line of sight to Markram was important to Warner because he didn’t want there to be any miscommunciation about just how much he hated him

It doesn’t really need stating explicitly, but obviously as well as making the face, Warner was  saying things at Markram.

And yes, ‘at’ is the right word here. David Warner was most definitely not saying things to Aiden Markram; he was saying them at him.

Define ‘dibbly-dobbly medium pace’

Paul Collingwood bowling (via YouTube)

We all feel that we know it when we see it, but what exactly is dibbly-dobbly medium pace?

Is it just non-spin bowling of a certain velocity (less than 75mph, say)? Or is it something more specific than that.

When we asked people to identify the greatest dibbly-dobbly medium-pace bowler of all time on Twitter, the vast majority of suggestions were batsmen who bowled a bit.

These players were, almost by definition, not particularly effective, so it struck us that there were perhaps two distinct aspects to greatness in this particular field: (a) being the purest example of such a bowler, and (b) being the most effective practitioner.

You might think that being a part-timer is a key aspect of dibble-dobblery, but that doesn’t mean the player can’t still be effective. And at the same time, isn’t there something fundamentally awe-inspiring about a player able to carve out a successful career solely off the back of medium pace bowling?

Bowlers who fall into the latter category also raise another important question: does a surfeit of skill render you ineligible for inclusion in this category? Can a talented swing bowler like Praveen Kumar truly be considered dibbly-dobbly purely on the basis that he doesn’t unduly trouble the speed gun?

As you can see, this is an open-ended sort of question. Feel free to have your say.

A second Kane Williamson would have been handy

Kane Williamson (via Sky Sports)

“This game is not over until you get Kane Williamson out,” said Nasser Hussain when the New Zealand captain reached his fifty.

Entirely untrue. England never did get him out, but still won.

Kane Williamson scored getting on for a quarter of the runs in the match. No-one else passed 50.

Kane Williamson was Lord Megachief of Gold once.

Andy Flower’s review of the England Lions tour

Andy Flower (via YouTube)

“The Tour has allowed us to learn a great deal about the players….”

That’s good. Learning is good. Knowledge is power and all that.

“… but the results are obviously extremely disappointing.”

Imagine how you’d feel having Andy Flower express his disappointment in you.

Andy Flower strikes us as being a man who is highly capable of conveying his disappointment in a person.

The UAE briefly looked like they were going to beat the West Indies (and other stories) – mop-up of the day

It’s only a warm-up match, but it seems that like much of western Europe, the West Indies still have plenty of warming to do. They’re so cold that you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they’ve suffered a burst pipe or two once they actually thaw.

They were bowled out for 115 by the mighty UAE today. Their path to World Cup qualification is covered with ice.

Update: After we risked deploying a headline implying they were likely to lose, the West Indies won by 32 runs. Of course they did.

England Lions don’t look smart

Apparently lions are the only big cats that can learn by watching others. We saw a thing the other day where they asked one lion to learn about opening a door towards herself to get some food. It took her a bit of time, but when they gave an onlooker lion a go at the same challenge, she immediately aced it.

England Lions should maybe spend more time watching each other bat. (Either that or less time because they’re only learning what not to do. We’re not sure.) They’re about to lose a long format series (they’re not Tests) to West Indies A.

It’s going to be 3-0; a 3-0 defeat to the guys who aren’t good enough to lose to the UAE.

Australia are playing South Africa

You’ll probably already know a more recent score than the one at the time of writing and you may have something to say in the comments section.

To be honest, we only mention this in a bid to prevent at least one “in other news…” despite knowing full well that stating this ambition explicitly is only likely to draw a greater number of such things.

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