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The very obvious way in which England can add variety to their bowling, lengthen their batting and improve their fielding

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Paul Collingwood!

When a bowling attack’s a bit fast-medium, people always hanker after “genuine pace” – but what about genuine medium-pace? That brings variety too.

If Paul Collingwood were to play instead of Jake Ball say, they’d not only benefit from some devastating dibbly dobbly military medium, they could also bat Jonny Bairstow at seven, Moeen Ali at eight and Chris Woakes at nine.

You’re pretty much guaranteed a run-out with Colly as well and as that seems to be the only real way to dismiss Steve Smith, they could probably justify picking him for that alone.

More on the campaign to get Paul Collingwood into England’s Ashes squad here. There’s a petition and everything.

We’re pretty sure we know why Jonny Bairstow headbutted Cameron Bancroft

Jonny Bairstow press conference (screengrab from ESPNCricinfo video)

You can fight hard for a couple of innings, but when all seems lost it can become really hard to summon the enthusiasm and make any real effort. You can’t judge people too harshly on what happens in these circumstances.

You might consider that a comment on England’s later efforts in this match, but it’s actually our way of saying that after several nights of trying to watch live coverage, we didn’t bother denying ourself any sleep for day five.

After all, there were already enough things eating into our eyes-closed downtime: a baby, a cough, someone else’s cough and, most significantly for the purposes of today’s article, the cat.

Monty’s idea of a friendly greeting is a headbutt. It is a friendly act, even if he does for some reason think that 4am is the optimal time to express his feelings. He does it to deposit facial pheromones on us and so reaffirm that we’re part of the Monty Gang.

And so to Jonny Bairstow.

According to Cameron Bancroft, “he says hello to people very differently from most others.”

Apparently he does it with a headbutt. “There was nothing malicious about his actions,” added Bancroft. “He didn’t knock me over. I’ve actually got the heaviest head in the West Australian squad, it’s been measured. There’s an actual measurement for it.”

It seems clear that Bairstow was essentially ‘claiming’ Bancroft using his special smell. It’s worth noting that he caught the opener in the first innings, but couldn’t dismiss him in the second. Something had changed.

Pheromones don’t last forever. They need refreshing. If Bancroft gets a 4am knock on his hotel door, he knows what to expect.

Are England on the brink of defeat or the verge of defeat?

Moeen Ali fails to get behind the fat-arsed line (BT Sport)

Judging by the headlines, this seems to be the main question remaining from the first Test. Brinks are outnumbering verges from what we’ve seen. We’re yet to see a cusp.

Despite fielding fewer bowlers than England, Australia have had a greater number of effective ones in this Test. Chris Woakes and Jake Ball haven’t supported Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad particularly well. Throw in a Steve Smith and the match starts to inch away from you like a relentless and single-minded slug – too slippery to grasp and with no real desire to come back to you of its own volition.

It’s also rare for a team to field only four bowlers and for none of them to let their team-mates down. England’s specialist batting may not be good enough to really impose itself against the solidity of Australia’s bowling attack but the fact that the lower middle order hasn’t managed to perform its routine bail-out act is arguably a more significant symptom of the home bowlers’ all-round competence.

Now onto the traditional taking of positives: there’s no point getting up at 5am tomorrow.

BT Sport are doing a free daily 10-minute Ashes highlights package

It’s Ronseally named The Ashes Catch-Up Show and it’s available on their website from 7pm each day.

10 minutes isn’t exactly life-changing but it’s better than the proverbial kick in the teeth and far, far better than a literal kick in the teeth. It’s also a very dense, action-packed ten minutes, so it’s decent value. Pretty much all you get is a barrage of the day’s boundaries, chances and wickets with only a very quick word at the start and end.

A certain strand of fans is annoyed that this year’s Magellan Ashes (movement rate of all ships is increased by two) is on a slightly different subscription TV channel. They will doubtless also be unhappy that this highlights package is relatively brief. However, we’re going to go out on a limb here and say that it isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Genocide is definitely worse than a well put-together 10-minute highlights package of a day’s cricket.

You may also be able to subscribe to BT Sport for less than you thought (no promises).

Steve Smith named man of the series as Australia fans laud captain’s attacking approach

Steve Smith (via BT Sport)

Fans and pundits alike are agreed that Steve Smith will be the difference between the two sides in this year’s Magellan Ashes (movement rate of all ships is increased by two). He has therefore been named man of the series, even though we’re barely halfway through the first Test.

Some may feel that Smith is merely an extremely good player who put in the most recent strong performance, but there is a wider feeling that the future is known and the Poms might as well pack up now and go home for a nice Christmas with their families.

Australia fan Mitchell Frappuccino, who attended the third day in Brisbane, summed up the feelings of many when he put Smith’s clear superiority down to his innately Australian attacking mentality.

“You know you see these Pommy batsmen and they just prod and poke and leave it half the time. They’re happy to score at about three an over. It’s almost like they don’t want to win.

“But Smudge, you know, he just has this aggressive watchfulness about his play. His strike-rate was 43.25 today. That’s over 43 runs per 100 balls. I think their bowlers were just intimidated.

“That’s the way we go about our cricket over here. We play to win. If our batters can intimidate the opposition with some well-judged leaves, well that’s all part of the game isn’t it? It’s mental disintegration; bullying them with patience, restraint and a certain amount of caution.

“These Poms just don’t know how to handle it. And wait until we get to Melbourne. It’ll be even slower and lower there.”

When it was put to Frappuccino that 43.25 was pretty low as strike-rates go, he countered: “Well that’s down to the Poms’ defensive fields, isn’t it? There’s only one team playing to win here.”

For his part, Smith (quite genuinely) said that his hundred “meant everything”. This presumably means he’ll now be utterly devoid of motivation for the rest of the Magellan Ashes (movement rate of all ships is increased by two), which could prove an issue.

Steve Smith erodes delight

Steve Smith (via @CricketAus)

Steve Smith is a very boring batsman these days. There’s so little jeopardy about his play that it’s hard to feel interested. For much of the latter part of the day, events progressed along a railroad with no possibility for detours. Some would say he’s the best batsman in the world.

As AP Webster put it in the comments earlier: “This morning, I saw that Australia were 80-odd for 4, had the excitement of that, and then the rest of the morning has just been a slow chipping away of that excitement.”

Even perennial Test yo-yo, Shaun Marsh, let us down. He very rarely gets past four, but on the few occasions he does, he tends to make a score. Soon enough he’d breached the threshold and made five and England had missed the window.

The thrills we were left with were Jake Ball temporarily leaving the field of play to deal with a troublesome toenail and Joe Root’s attempts at funky captaincy.

This particular field setting was underpinned by a distinctly syncopated rhythm.

All the while, Smith marched on – a staccato march that first sees him shuffle in front of his stumps before popping the ball somewhere and flapping to the other end. Only at the point of contact are his limbs ever correctly arranged. Before and after, they do as they please.

Not since Graeme has there been a Captain Smith who has so reliably combined ugliness and effectiveness. Rumour is that this one’s still out of form in the nets though.

Massive weaknesses and massive strengths – the first few pages of the story of James Vince and Australia’s bowling attack

James Vince drives using the middle of his bat (BT Sport)

On the first day of the first Ashes Test, James Vince made what Reese described to us as ‘a daddy 30’.

No-one expected Vince to make 83 and what’s so marvellous about that is that it undermines a number of pre-series certainties to leave us all watching a nice, unpredictable sporting event.

Well, maybe not watching. Not unless you have BT Sport or whatever.

The gist of it is this: if Vince can score runs against this attack then either he’s better than everyone thought or Australia’s fearsome pace attack is slightly less fearsome than we’d been led to believe.

Let’s go for a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

Vince was solid. We know this because having got up just in time to see Mark Stoneman dismissed (literally the first ball we saw) we then got to hear the commentators talking about what we’d missed at great length. England’s subsequent mediocrity then inspired us to spend a great deal of time dwelling on what had preceded it. (Ashes Tests can be very personally vindictive in what they present to part-time viewers on the opposite side of the world – we’re not inclined to calculate our own personal ‘cricket viewed’ mini scorecard.)

On the plus side, we did get to see Australia’s four-man attack at the end of the day, allowing us to gauge the impact of one whole day of Test cricket on them.

As relentlessly aggressive pace attacks go, they seemed to spend an awful lot of time pressuring England by cutting off the runs. As we all know, ‘good cricket’ and ‘attacking cricket’ are one and the same thing, so this defensive cricket was therefore impressively attacking.

Pace-wise, they were all utterly unspectacular. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins hovered just below the 90mph threshold above which we’re finally willing to deem a bowler ‘fast’. Josh Hazlewood opted for Jimmy Anderson pace and everyone pretended it was quicker because he’s younger and Australian.

An alternative take on the day is that the pitch is shunting the play runwards, in which case James Vince is the same and Australia’s bowlers are amazing because they’ve dismissed Alastair Cook and Joe Root for almost nothing.

Watch the highlights

Shaun Marsh’s back

Shaun Marsh (public domain by Dave Morton)

We’re so glad we went with Shaun Marsh is back last time around because now that he’s suffering a back complaint we can use a totally new headline.

Totally new.

Marsh may or may not be fit for the first Test, but the development still has the potential to muddy Australia’s crystal clear selection policy.

Early in the season, the selectors were looking to youth. This led to last season’s New South Wales top-scorer Ed Cowan being omitted from the state side in favour of some young lad no-one’s heard of. The decision was made on the grounds that Cowan is 35 and his replacement has milk teeth and so Non-Cowan Boy therefore had a better chance of playing for the Test team.

Fast forward five minutes or so and Australia implemented a brand new selection policy that favoured ‘experience’. 32-year-old Tim Paine came back, thanks to his 2006 batting form, and 34-year-old Marsh was also given another chance.

All well and good. But if these old boys are going to start complaining of back ailments, dizzy spells, rheumatoid arthritis and general confusion, maybe the selectors will feel they have revert to championing youth as they did so convincingly for one part of one squad announcement about a year ago.

The best policy would probably be to alternate between favouring youth or experience for each individual selection they make. That way every state player can be equally perplexed about what the hell is going on and the selectors themselves can put forward justification for their choices even if they didn’t in reality employ any kind of reasoning that would stand up to scrutiny.


Pace and sustained pace – Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins are half an attack

The Ashes at the MCG (CC licensed by Drew Douglas via Flickr)

As the pre-Ashes war of words hits a dizzying peak of meaninglessness, it’s worth reflecting on something said long after a previous series had finished.

Reflecting on the team’s modus operandi during The Mitchell Johnson Ashes, Peter Siddle said: “The key stat for us is maidens. The more maidens you bowl, the more pressure builds, and obviously the more back-to-back maidens you can bowl – that plays a massive part. Then they’re looking for that quick single or pushing at one they normally wouldn’t because they want to get off strike.”

As we observed in the linked article, some aspects of a team’s ‘brand of cricket’ will always command more attention, even if other aspects may be equally important.

Same again this time around. Australia are apparently fielding a ‘fearsome’ pace attack that may well blow England away but may also find itself blowing in the red-faced, hands-on-knees, rasping lungs, leaden legs sense.

Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins are ‘strike bowlers,’ which sounds really scary until you remember that it basically just means that they get tired quite quickly. This isn’t always such a problem, but when you only field four bowlers, it certainly can be – and even if some of England’s specialists leave something to be desired, they do still have a long batting line-up.

Will Starc and Cummins still be ‘taking the pitch out of the equation’ in the evening session or will they be bowling at the same pace as England’s fourth seamer by then?

It’s evident that Australia will be looking to Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon to bowl plenty of overs. When it comes to shouldering workload, this is Plan A and they have no Plan B unless Steve Smith’s going to bring his flapping chicken dance bowling action out of semi-retirement. (Here’s hoping.)

England will be aware of this and they will know that their batsmen have three very obvious options.

  1. Preserve wickets and force Starc and Cummins to come back for more and more spells
  2. Hit Nathan Lyon out of the attack and force Starc and Cummins to come back for more and more spells
  3. Get out and lose the Test match

Presumably they’ll be looking to go for one of the first two. We’ve no idea which is the better option, but the decision might shape the first Test.

Books to read at the cricket? Herding Cats: The Art of Amateur Cricket Captaincy by Charlie Campbell

Wormsley Cricket Ground, ‘Words and Wickets’, Actors v. Authors, 2014
The steward in hi-viz races towards me in disbelief as I stroll towards the pavilion in vest, shorts and flip-flops. His disapproving roar has blown over the deckchairs reserved for bums clad in mustard cords.

Edwardian writes

Charlie Campbell is the captain of the Author’s XI. I’ve seen these roosters a couple of times at the Wormsley ‘Words and Wickets’ festival.  In 2014 there was a tent displaying the latest Jaguar cars and the food was provided by Jamie Oliver. I marvelled at the burgers which were about half the size of a cricket ball. We brought our lunch with us.

Campbell’s book is an entertaining foray into the joys and headaches of captaining an amateur side.  I thought about an in-depth review then thought better of it.  While leaning on Brearley’s book, there are many funny anecdotes involving the Authors.  Campbell side-steps names until the end of the book but his XI have featured Sebastian Faulkes (you know the chap, he writes in French for the hell of it then transcribes it all back into English and apparently has time for cricket), Ed Smith, Tom Holland and other scribblers.

Maximilian Hilderbrand favourably reviewed Herding Cats in Literary Review but mentioned from his own experience a batsman who scored a ‘sumptuous half-century’ while high on magic mushrooms. I’d like to hear more from Max. The review in The Cricketer was a bit more guarded.

I enjoyed the book a lot.  It’s a great insight into managing the Authors.  However, I have to say that a part of me wondered whether the book would have been published at all if Campbell wasn’t a literary agent and connected to all the right people. Despite Campbell’s occasional protestations at how difficult it all is, the acknowledgements could be summed up by John Le Mesurier, “It’s all been rather lovely.”

Herding Cats on Amazon.

Have you tried to read summat while at a cricket match? Let us know how it went at

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