Just read last week’s Wisden piece again with this innings in mind.
Jason Roy played five first-class matches last season.
Just read last week’s Wisden piece again with this innings in mind.
Jason Roy played five first-class matches last season.
OK, hold onto your hats. I can now reveal the result of the latest Ashes Bet between me and my Aussie mate. The result is…
Yeh alright, since the bet is on the outcome of the series this has been known since December, but why should that stop me making such an exciting announcement? Besides, it gives me an opportunity to fill you in on some more amazing Ashes Bet Facts.
The place was Whakatane, a small town on NZ’s Bay of Plenty Coast. The date was late 2002, the time, about midnight. The situation was a bar, too many drinks, and a loud-mouthed Aussie (or “an Aussie” as they’re also known) going on about the upcoming Ashes series Down Under.
In that drunken haze of annoyance and a thorough lack of understanding of the situation in world cricket, the Ashes Bet was born. Three months later I’d lost a dozen bottles of red wine and was faced with a similar bill every two years or so for the foreseeable future.
But then came 2005. Enough words have been written about that series to convey the drama, the emotion, the sheer unalloyed delight of it all, but perhaps I might be permitted to add a few of my own. “In your face, Aussie, now where’s my fucking wine.”
That was the turning point. The next turning point came in the following series, when we lost 5-0. But then there was a turning point, and we won again.
Really, when you look at it, it’s just been one turning point after another, a curve based around the following formula – whoever is at home, wins. Since 2002 there has been only one exception to that rule, the glorious 2010/11 series.
I have to say that this was cricket at its most enjoyable and, I might add, this website’s palmiest day. We had Trott, and Swann, and relentless Cook, and the Through The Night Thread, and the Mitchell Johnson Song, and the Sprinkler Dance, and Boxing Day, and graphs, and Venn Diagrams and so much more. And we (specifically me) had a dozen bottles of finest Australian red wine out of sequence.
So, where do we stand. Well, the score in Tests since than night in NZ is Australia 23, England 14. The score in wine bottles is Australia 48, England 60. Who on Planet Earth would have thought that 15 years ago? Not my Aussie mate, that’s for sure. Not me either, it had to be said. So I’m happy to pay up, to provide the Barolo, Nuit St George and Fleurie so richly deserved. Because I know that I’ll be getting it all back in 2019. Let’s face it, they can’t drop Shaun Marsh now.
We were originally going to present this article as being the views of Captain Hindsight, but when we started to write it we realised that half of England’s problems were actually fairly easy to see in advance.
So while some of what follows comes with the benefit of knowing how things panned out, that’s not true of all of it. Whether or not the sum of all these things would have made any difference to the end result is of course another matter.
Moeen Ali is a player of top innings rather than being a top batsman. Even before this series, his Test average was only 34.66. That’s pretty good for someone who bowls, but not really enough to warrant a place in the top six, which is where he found himself come the first Test.
Based on what followed, Moeen would have been batting a place too high had he come in at number nine. Craig Overton and Tom Curran averaged more than him, Stuart Broad managed a higher score, and you can’t imagine Gary Ballance would have bowled any less effectively.
We love Moeen, but things wouldn’t have turned out much differently for England had they instead picked a specialist fielder.
Michael Vaughan said Ben Stokes had been given ‘strong warnings’ about his lifestyle even before that night in the cells. It wasn’t like England should have locked him in his room each night, but could they not at least have persuaded him to refrain from going out on the lash in the middle of a series?
Who knows whether some other incident might have happened subsequently, but even a slight change in behaviour might have been enough to avoid the Bristol incident.
Our article about Toby Roland-Jones’ Test debut was essentially a veiled question: ‘Why have you picked a right-arm 80mph bowler when we’re touring Australia this winter?’
Plenty of similarly pedestrian right-armers followed. We’d sort of assumed that there was a minimum pace requirement for young seam bowlers, as this seems to have been an unstated part of the job description for as long as we can remember. When did this cease to apply?
People watch Jimmy Anderson bowling at 80-85mph and hope that younger bowlers operating at a similar clip might gradually develop his skills. But that isn’t the way it worked for Jimmy. He could bowl at 90mph in his first few seasons. The increased skill has compensated for the decrease in speed. He never entered a Test match with neither.
Craig Overton, Tom Curran and Jake Ball are about a tenth as skilful as Jimmy Anderson and don’t really have much to make up the shortfall. Overton and Ball have height, Curran has a slower ball, but England’s attack is so monochrome, this really isn’t enough.
Faster English bowlers do still exist. Either they’re not sufficiently valued or not especially well-managed.
England were never going to play Mason Crane until the series was already lost. When they did, he performed about as effectively as you’d imagine a 20-year-old debutant leg-spinner would.
It’s great that England seem to have identified him as one for the future and that they’re keen to invest in him, but they also identified Adil Rashid as one for the future a long time ago and despite his being top wicket-taker last winter, they ceased investing in him immediately before this Ashes series.
You have to try and recoup investments. Test experience is a finite resource. This whole thing just seemed so wasteful.
A flirtation with run-scoring in the first Test might have encouraged some to think otherwise, but this really isn’t hindsight, is it?
It was so obvious we actually titled September’s Ashes squad post England to win the Ashes via airy off-side drives.
James Vince’s first stint in the Test team ended because he didn’t score any runs and kept edging behind. Having underscored the fact that his record in the first division of the County Championsship is really rather mediocre through his efforts during the 2017 season, the selectors brought him back at number three for the Ashes.
He didn’t score any runs and kept edging behind.
If you’re England in Australia, chances are you’re going to lose anyway. You are not going to improve your odds by spending the years leading up to the series doing a load of things that everyone in the world can see are manifestly wrong.
White bread, brown bread, sourdough, rye or ciabatta? Faced with an unexpected question after reaching the head of a long, long queue, Mason Crane would not be rushed into a rash decision, you feel. Everyone can wait.
As dozens of pairs of frustrated eyes tried to bore holes in the back of his neck in the hope of somehow rupturing a major artery, Crane would calmly mull his decision over. Bread decisions matter. You have to get them right.
Similarly, if Crane doesn’t want to bowl the ball, then he’s not going to. And you can’t make him.
Some bowlers develop a fear of letting go of the ball, but Crane’s recurrent aborts instead smack of his having the bravery to hold onto it.
Even if 50,000 people are going to be pissed off with him, Crane’s not releasing the thing if he doesn’t feel like his body’s in sync. He’s going to cling onto that ball, do a go-around and try and ensure he comes in at the right trajectory on his next attempt.
And if that doesn’t happen? Well, shut your faces, because he’s going to do exactly the same thing again.
We rather like this. It’s kind of, ‘what I want to do is more important than what you want me to do’.
No-one got anywhere in life by paying any attention to other people. We’re pretty sure of that.
We don’t believe you can draw meaningful conclusions from players’ debuts – but we report on them anyway.
Bowling on the second day with the pitch most likely at its flattest, Mason Crane spun the ball hard enough that it drifted, landed most of his deliveries in pretty much the right place and created the odd half-chance. Pretty good.
The great thing about playing a leg-spinner is that as a fan, they are ever-graspable straws. There’s no guarantee that a leg-spinner will take a wicket, but unlike fast-medium bowlers, there’s never a guarantee that they won’t either. There are times when you’re glad of that.
At the age of 20, Crane has several England leg-spinner career phases to look forward to. The next one will probably be ‘omission because conditions don’t suit’ followed by ‘omission on grounds of economy rate’ or possibly ‘omission due to inability to offer something with the bat’.
There will also be brief moments when he’s considered a saviour before he’s finally discarded for good at 26 – the age at which his mentor, Stuart MacGill, took the first of his 208 Test wickets.
Adil Rashid had to wait until he was 29 to be dumped from the Test team because he made a later start.
Time is meaningless. Although the sooner a cricketer can appreciate that, the better – so maybe time isn’t meaningless.
The fifth Test moved forward almost as much in the last eight deliveries of the day as it had in the previous 483. England will have finished with a sense that they put in a decent shift today, but as the post-stumps minutes wore on the reality of the scorecard will have begun to impose itself on their consciousness.
Three wickets in almost-an-entire-day is not the same as three wickets in an entire day. Spread ’em out how you like – England lost five wickets.
Right from early on, Joe Root seemed all set for a score between 50 and 99. He’ll be disappointed to have left 16 runs out there, but his dismissal did give Jonny Bairstow the opportunity to edge behind for five – an opportunity he gratefully accepted.
Moeen Ali will be at the crease first thing on day two, despite having been dropped from the team several days ago. Playing as the second spinner and basically just keeping a spot warm for someone else, he’s almost certain to make a double hundred.
As in ‘returned’. He hasn’t got ankylosing spondylitis or anything.
Technically, he hasn’t been away. It just rather feels like he has. Like stumps and grass, you take for granted that Alastair Cook will at least be present for England Tests – that’s a given – however, you also expect to see an awful lot of him.
Cook is not a batsman for memorable cameos. He is a batsman who appropriates entire matches, claiming far more than his fair share of screen time. When in form, he has a tendency to monopolise play.
Christmas is a time of traditions and what could be more familiar than seeing Alastair Cook repeatedly cycle through the cut, the pull, the work to leg and the punch to off?
They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but we don’t feel contemptuous of our bottle opener or our central heating. When something does the job for which it is intended efficiently and without fuss, we’re perfectly happy with that.
England have heard that definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – but they apparently believe they can counter it with another saying: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
England’s bowling strategy hasn’t exactly been tearing the home team apart thus far, yet they still appear to believe that a fourth right-arm fast-medium bowler will somehow make the difference.
In need of a knife and with none in the cutlery draw, they remain fiercely committed to plucking near-identical spoons from the adjacent compartment. Broad, Woakes, Ball and Overton apparently encouraged the notion that Tom Curran would be a good pick.
Not only is Curran part of a whole ineffective series lineage, he is also the fourth right-arm seamer in just this one attack. ‘More of the same,’ the team concluded. ‘The fourth guy’ll be the tipping point. Definitely.’
There were, admittedly, excellent arguments against each of the alternatives, but there was also something hugely, exasperatingly depressing about the sheer predictability of the scorecard at the end of day one. It’s a feeling that arises when you feel like your team plumped for a bowler on the basis that he was likely to bowl a greater number of overs en route to taking 0-44. By all means fall short, but at least aim a little higher. We’re begging you.
We read all sorts of odd arguments for the inclusion of Curran. One was that it would be a risk to go into the match with just three seamers, as Australia did when they won the first two Tests. Another was that he was bowling some good right arm fast-medium in the nets – a fact that seems almost entirely irrelevant when England’s biggest bowling problem is a samey attack.
But what are they to do? Mark Wood’s pace waxes and wanes according to what phase of the injury cycle he’s currently in, while they remain terrified that Mason Crane will have his career detonated at the outset. It’s as if the legspinner was picked in the dark and only come the dawn did they realise what he was. Maybe they could have picked someone else.
It’s only day one though, so let’s quickly rip through the ceremonial taking of positives. At this stage the MCG pitch would appear to be absolute dogshit; a low, slow, ironed pancake*. Maybe in keeping things pretty tight, England have done okay and the decisive phase of the game will come when the two teams come to bat a second time. Maybe Tom Curran will take a five-for tomorrow. Or maybe it’s so flat, we might actually see a draw.
*Let’s see how long that impression lasts…
Everyone was weirdly fine with Adil Rashid’s omission from England’s Ashes squad, even though he was England’s only consistent wicket-taker on flat pitches last winter. Considering England have spent much of this tour looking decidedly fast-medium, it seems a fair time to revisit the decision.
We took a look at Rashid’s record compared to his fellow bowlers for Wisden.com and have since found ourself wondering whether England’s current Test captain may have made the call. Intriguingly, a Wisden tweet of the story, saying “Adil Rashid is yet to play a Test under Joe Root” was subsequently retweeted* by Yorkshire’s Azeem Rafiq.
It has to be said that building pressure by bowling in a consistent area hasn’t really helped England of late. A lad who turns it both ways and who also has first-class hundreds to his name might have come in handy.
Go and read the Wisden piece. Someone somewhere might at some point call it a ‘doozy’.
* And later deleted.
We’re not generally enamoured with apps, as they often seem to make the absolute least of storage space and processing power to deliver much the same content that can be found on the equivalent website.
However, as a result of the televisual shenanigans that have seen BT broadcasting this Ashes series, we have uncharacteristically seen fit to take the plunge with the BT Sport app. And we rather like it.
Phone screens don’t make for the finest viewing experience, but the way the app is set up is great for matches where half the day’s play takes place before you wake up.
Various little video snippets showing major wickets and quirkier events are presented in the cricket section of the app, but the big advantage is being able to scan the whole day’s play to watch a far greater number of meaningful events.
One of the things we hate most in the entire universe is the assumption that people want to watch videos instead of reading articles. The reason for this is that you can’t scan a video. You just have to sit there and tolerate it while the information drips out at a brain-aggravatingly slow pace, like olive oil from one of those dribbly pourers.
The BT Sport app though? The BT Sport app has an annotated timeline.
In all honesty, a furious ongoing attempt to ‘get through the stilton’ means this comparison isn’t quite as complimentary as it was when we started writing this article a few days ago. But even so, the annotated timeline is unequivocally ‘a good thing’.
Maybe it’s the same on other apps, but we’re a huge fan of the smear of iconry down at the bottom of the screengrab above. It lets you pick out boundaries, wickets and chances, but also little mini highlights montages and chunks of punditry.
As you wake, bleary-eyed, it’s easy to pass a good little while catching up with cricketing events while you try and summon the will to emerge for the three hours of twilight that pass for daytime at this point in the British winter.
We’re going to give the BT Sport app a score of 9/10 because while we can’t think of what else we’d like to see, that’s only because we haven’t actually given the matter a great deal of thought.