Six very important things to watch out for as New Zealand take on England in Big Man Cricket

Stuart Broad (via Channel 5)

Hat-tip to Marlon Samuels for coining Big Man Cricket, a term that really does sum up the might and majesty of the longest format rather well.

1. The Great Neil Wagner

First and foremost, make sure you watch The Great Neil Wagner, whether on live coverage or via the tiny five-minute highlights packages that get put out after each day’s play. England don’t play New Zealand very often – and even then not for very long – so this will be one of the few opportunities you will get to see him – and let us tell you that The Great Neil Wagner is full-on fascinating in every conceivable way.

2. England’s opening bowlers

There are whispers that Stuart Broad might not come on for the second over and may instead appear for the seventh. This is of earth-shattering significance because ‘opening bowler’ is a key part of a cricketer’s identity. The corollary of such a move would be that someone else would of course have to bowl the second over. Who would that be? It seems a bit high profile for Chris Woakes, even though it would definitely be Chris Woakes.

3. Will Mark Wood play?

Odds are that he won’t, but if Ben Stokes’ minor key back-knack keeps him from bowling then either Wood or Craig Overton may get a game. Hopefully Wood gets in because as we keep saying, he may never get another chance.

4. Stuart Broad’s general competence as a bowler

Stuart Broad reckons that walking around Trent Bridge indoor school listening to music has made him a good bowler again. We may be deliberately omitting some of the crucial aspects of this practice time, but the crucial question remains whether it was well-spent or not. For what it’s worth, he genuinely sounds like he might be quite enthusiastic about cricket, which would seem to us to be a good thing.

5. James Vince, if he plays

We’ve actually reached a point now where we secretly want England to keep picking Vince and for him to keep edging to slip when seemingly well-set. Obviously it isn’t that fiercely-held a secret because we literally just wrote it down in the expectation that other people would read it.

6. Tim and Trent

New Zealand’s opening bowlers know what they’re doing. What they will mostly be doing is almost exactly the opposite of what The Great Neil Wagner will be doing.

Let’s see if we can sum up Kevin Pietersen’s entire career by looking at one innings – but no, not by using that one

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Terry’s been with the firm for 30 years, but he’s not retiring; he’s going part-time. A couple of years down the line Terry reduces his hours further and then a bit later still he says that he’s going to be available for jobs he’s already done a bit of work on but that he doesn’t want to start anything new. One day you suddenly realise that you haven’t seen Terry in a very long time.

So it is with cricketers these days. They just fade away. Other than grainy Twitter clips of him striking boundaries for the [insert city name] Sunbadgerers, we honestly can’t remember the last time we saw Kevin Pietersen play cricket. But he’s definitely retired now.

As we see it, there are two main ways you can go about covering a player’s retirement. (1) You trawl through the archives, pick out his finest innings and try and do a comprehensive career retrospective. (2) You sit down with a coffee and see what first comes into your head as being the peak moment.

The issue with taking the first approach for Kevin Pietersen is that as well as all the great innings, the task also entails wading through a whole heap of stuff about him falling out with people. We once described his feud with the ECB as being exactly like a soap opera because it never ends.

Our view of that thing is increasingly that it was a situation where fairly small stuff grew to seem like big stuff for a bunch of coaches and cricketers who had to spend morning, noon and night together. For context, in one of the more accidentally enlightening passages in his autobiography, KP said: “We are on the road for 250 days a year, we wear our England kit on most of these days … It never, ever ended.”

You don’t have to like the guy to read that sentence and sympathise a bit.

The other problem with the ‘some of his best innings’ approach is that, even cut short, Pietersen’s was a long career. It took in 104 Tests, a slightly greater number of one-day internationals and a World T20 win. You can’t really do a functional summary of something that sprawling, which leaves us with option two: you go with the moment you were most excited about and just sort of hope to hell that it speaks of some greater emotional truth that somehow crystallises his entire career.

Having made a coffee and consulted our head, the thing that we thought of as being the peak Kevin Pietersen moment was his first Test innings.

2005 KP (via YouTube)

We’d guess that somewhere around 99-100 per cent of you will disagree with that. Even those of you who picked something from the same year will probably go with his “series-winning” hundred at the Oval.

History, by The Verve, is a more powerful song than Bittersweet Symphony. However, you will almost never hear History played on the radio. This is an example of a phenomenon where a band earns attention for one song only for the following one to be wrongly identified as the more significant one in the long-term simply on the basis that it sold more. Eventually the big single becomes so all-pervasive that no-one really remembers the first one because that memory is never refreshed.

You can probably think of more and better examples. All we’re saying is that the 2005 Oval Test is an example of this in sport. Plenty of people think that Pietersen’s hundred defined the series and while it was of course hugely important, the series had to a great extent already been defined by then – there had already been four-and-a-half Test matches, after all. Pietersen’s was probably the key moment that was seen by most people, but that is not the same as being the best moment.

We’ve written before about how we found that whole fifth Test a slightly maudlin experience. Pietersen’s was an autumnal knock, both literally but also in the sense that if there was still much to look forward to in terms of his own career, it was already pretty clear even at the time that the zenith in terms of memorable summers was already drawing to a close.

The first Test had a different vibe. There’d been a hell of a preamble in terms of a crazy volume of adrenal one-day cricket, but Lord’s was where the posturing ended and the important stuff began.

But let’s go even further back, because we need to provide Kevin Pietersen’s back story.

Just before his Test debut, KP had a slight reputation for being awkward, but it wasn’t really thought of as being an insurmountable problem. Andrew Strauss would not at this point have called him a cunt. His personality was really just a background thing; something almost wholly overshadowed by his batting.

Back when there were no Lions in England in 2003-04, Pietersen toured India with England A and scored four centuries. Matt Prior did reasonably well on the same tour and pretty much no-one else emerged in credit. In terms of working out who England should pick to bat in the middle order in coming years, it was a pretty successful tour.

In 2004, the full England side played one-day series in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Kevin Pietersen was from South Africa and South Africa didn’t much like him.

Five innings into his one-day international career, Pietersen had been dismissed once, for a golden duck, and was averaging 234, scoring at near-enough a run a ball. In the fifth match against South Africa, Pietersen made his second hundred – an even 100 not out off 69 balls in an England defeat. In the seventh match (different times), he made 116 out of 240 and England lost again.

Presumably they were feeling magnanimous in victory, but the South African fans who had been giving him relentless shit throughout the series were also giving him a bit of applause by this point.

Forget everything that happened afterwards for a moment: this is the character who came to the crease at Lord’s in 2005 and he did so when England had been losing the Ashes for as long as anyone could remember. They had also been losing wickets to Glenn McGrath for as long as anyone could remember.

England’s score shortly after Pietersen emerged was 21-5 and Glenn McGrath had 5-7. All notions that maybe things were different this time around had been inserted into the bin.

England lost that match, but with his first (and second) innings in Test cricket, Pietersen reached into the bin, extracted those hopes, wrapped them up in clingfilm and said: “Let’s not be hasty. I think we can make something out of these yet.”

He made just 57 runs, but those 57 runs contained a lot of information and KP did three important things.

  • The first important thing that KP did was pretty much fuck-all. After 41 balls he’d scored nine runs. He faced McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee and pretty much just ignored them. He made it look like it was possible to not subside to 21-5.
  • The next important thing that KP did was he smashed Glenn McGrath for 14 runs in three balls. This was simply not a thing that happened to Glenn McGrath in any circumstances, let alone (a) against England and (b) when England had pretty much already collapsed.
  • The final important thing that KP did was he hit Shane Warne for six. Warne had barely bowled by this point and also dismissed KP with his very next delivery, but given KP’s one-day record at this point, hitting Warne for six definitely implanted the idea that Warne being hit for six might happen again and if Warne being hit for six by an England player could happen again, what the hell else could happen?

Pietersen’s second innings in that match was really just him elaborating on these three points. He hit Brett Lee for six, he hit Warne for six again. He made 64 not out as England were bowled out for 180. He said to his team-mates: “It is possible to hammer these bowlers and if it’s possible to hammer them then it’s definitely possible to just sort of hang around working the ball about making steady runs.”

He also said the exact same thing to the fans, which was even more important because the people in the stands were the batteries that powered that England side. That England side redefined what England fans thought their team could do and also how people thought they would go about it.

Kevin Pietersen sent out that message early and as a bonus he also gave the impression that he might play one or two innings that would be worth watching in the future.

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.

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