The optimum moment to select a batsman is not when he thinks he deserves a place in the side; it’s when he’s completely irritated because he can’t quite believe he isn’t getting a game. This is probably the main difference between James Taylor now and a few years ago.
Taylor himself will probably say that he’s exactly the same player, which only goes to show how people tend to imagine that past versions of themselves had all the attitudes and accumulated wisdom of their current self. For once, we might be better able to judge a player from the outside.
Then and now
The Taylor selected for Test cricket in 2012 was skilful and ineffectual. He looked good at the crease, but he wasn’t even making runs in the second division. He’s gone from there to being someone who makes runs in the first division and who has also had to keep elevating his one-day performances to ever-greater heights simply to earn consideration.
Doubtless you’ll have read it elsewhere, but Taylor has the third-highest List-A average of all-time. (It’s also worth noting that another of England’s fringe one-day players, Gary Ballance, is seventh on that list, while Jonathan Trott is 22nd – one place below Phil Hughes.) Taylor has also made four million runs for the England Lions (you can have that stat for free).
Point is, Taylor’s not the same player and even if he doesn’t consciously know that, his subconscious must. It’s the difference between kneeling, eyes down, to graciously accept your Test cap from the selectors and angrily snatching a set of one-day pyjamas off them with a stroppy ‘about bloody time’. The first guy’s going to be overawed. The second guy’s far too busy grumbling to have time to think what international cricket might mean to him.
The second guy scores more runs.
Earning your place
There’s perhaps a lesson here relating to entitlement, because if lack of support can build an indomitable spirit, there is also a corollary of that. If you build up a particular player – it doesn’t matter who or why – and give him any kind of notion whatsoever that his selection is about anything other than performance, you inadvertently steal away his utter certainty that he belongs.
The player in question might retain a bullish, outwardly confident exterior, but that is perhaps less a manifestation of true confidence and more an attempt to fight back understandable doubts. One of the great things about cricket is that it has little time for people who merely talk a good game. You can’t hear uncertainty in a press conference, but you can easily read it on a scorecard.23 Appeals
His daughter’s called Kemaria.
It’s okay to laugh because she didn’t choose the name herself.
This and more in our latest Twitter round-up over at Cricinfo.24 Appeals
We used to moan about winter. Winter didn’t give a shit.
In fact winter didn’t even know we were there because it was night-time. It’s always night-time in winter. That’s the main thing we used to moan about. After about 15 years of raging against the tilt of the Earth, we realised that we weren’t achieving much and so we resolved to try and make the best of things. Darker beers and Sunday roasts is pretty much all we’ve come up with, but at least it’s a start.
The point is, there comes a point where you just have to accept that things are out of your hands and that you’re only succeeding in making yourself more miserable with your constant complaining. There’s a lot of ranting about Alastair Cook these days; about how he can’t bat at any great pace, how he only ever seems to score 32 runs and how this means England can’t win the World Cup. But you can muster as much outrage as you like – nowt’s changing.
England supporters are beginning to delight in their team’s failures, gathering a big stack of evidence to support their rightness about Cook’s wrongness. But what for? For a massive, gold standard ‘I told you so’ come the World Cup?
We’ve always had a general philosophy that if you’re playing for England, we’ll support you. Sometimes we forget, but we’re going to try and keep that sentiment in mind for the next couple of months. The Cook battering’s kind of become a thing in itself and even if we agree with many of the sentiments, it’s getting a bit tiresome and it’s not really achieving anything.
We like the World Cup, we’d like to see England do reasonably well and Alastair Cook will be the captain, so we’re kind of hoping he finds some mediocre form and can at least do his bit. If you set the bar low enough, you’ll realise there are occasional nice days in winter.16 Appeals
Here’s a joke for you: What do a 35-over a side game in Habantota and a 50-over match in New Zealand or Australia have in common?
Pretty funny, eh?
In the third match of this series, Sri Lanka were positively blown away by England’s tactic of randomly selecting a load of seamers and sacrificing a decent top order batsman who isn’t Alastair Cook. There was also a counterargument to our assertion that Alex Hales and Moeen Ali would constitute a great opening partnership when the two revealed a worrying inability to remain at opposite ends. Boundaries only please, lads.
And boundaries only for Jos Buttler as well. Joe Root’s non-dismissal off a no-ball seemed to precipitate a fourvalanche from the softly spoken pseudo-wicketkeeper (who actually hasn’t done too much wrong behind the stumps).
England’s lower order sloggery has never really been the problem though. Getting into a position where sloggery can be executed has been the problem and you could argue that a 35-over game sees the removal of the 15-overs of nurdlesome proactivity during which England’s batsmen traditionally like to perform seppuku.23 Appeals
This is going to come across as a gossamer-thinly-veiled plea for Alastair Cook to be given the old heave-ho, but it’s not. It’s literally just about Hales and Ali – Cook’s merely collateral damage. In fact let’s say he can bat at three. There’s still a large part of us that would really like him to turn things around because it would be funny.
So Hales and Ali then – why would they make such a good combination at the top of the order? There are four main reasons. Several are mundane and obvious, but taken together they make a decent case.
First of all, both are capable of scoring hundreds at quicker than a run a ball. Like pads and a bat, that ability is something a one-day opener simply has to have these days.
Second of all, both are proper batsmen. Ali has a spectacularly good Test hundred to his name while Hales has recently taken to mincing attacks in first-class matches as well as one-dayers. Unlike some one-day openers (read ‘outright sloggers’) they can cope with the new ball – or, more accurately in 50-over cricket, new balls.
Thirdly, one of them’s right-handed and one of them’s wrong-handed. Always good in a partnership.
Finally, they compliment each other well. “Nice beard,” says Hales. “Nice eyebrows,” says Ali.
No, wait, we mean they complement each other well. Speaking after his hundred the other day, Ali said he was basically happiest rushing to 50 and that he was still working out how best to play after that. In contrast, Hales is a surprisingly slow starter. A lot of pundits see him hitting sixes and note that he’s an opener and claim he’ll ‘get England off to a fast start’ but actually that’s typical scorecard-reading false-assumptionery. It’s not the way he plays. For Nottinghamshire, Michael Lumb provides the impetus and then Hales takes over once he’s set.
Unlike Moeen Ali, Hales becomes ever-more bludgeonny as his innings progresses. Fast-starting Ali will lift the pressure while Hales is getting his eye in and then, if they can stay together, Hales will return the favour when Ali slows.27 Appeals
It has to be. Unable to fly and never allowed to play more than three Tests in a series, it has to adapt quickly if it isn’t to be devoured by cats or beaten by Pakistan.
Captains and coaches always talk about learning from a defeat, but you rarely see any evidence of this. It’s just a thing you say – yet New Zealand appear to have actually improved as their tour of not-Pakistan has progressed.
First Test: Beaten so soundly you might have mistaken them for second-rate tourists, such as Australia or England
Second Test: A very creditable draw
Third Test: Almost certainly a win – and by a huge, huge margin
They even got Younus Khan out for a golden duck. Just think about that.
It’s almost as if it would be worth everyone’s while to have New Zealand play more than six Tests a year; as if having more than three teams in the world might somehow enrich the sport.
Thankfully, this will never happen. New Zealand will play two Tests against England this summer AND THEN IT’S THE ASHES AGAIN. You can’t argue with the law of supply and demand – the more of something you have, the more valuable it becomes.6 Appeals
The ECB media cheat sheet will have been passed around again after today’s performance. All this running talk of attacking batting is understandable, but England repeatedly show a worrying lack of aptitude for walking the full 50-over distance (actually only 45 in this instance). Six times in their last seven matches they’ve been bowled out.
There are many interlinked problems and it goes beyond team selection. That said, we’d actually be tempted to drop Eoin Morgan on recent form. We’ve no idea what’s wrong with him, but he appears to need some form of arse-kick and James Taylor surely needs to get a few games before the World Cup.
As for Alastair Cook, we’re not going to start laying into his batting just yet – but only because it’s a seven-match series and there’s another long one-day series and World Cup to come. Cook ain’t going anywhere, so we’ve got to pace ourself. If we give full vent to our anger now, what are we going to do when he makes a 32-ball duck against Scotland in February?8 Appeals
It’s never easy to cover serious news on a website like this because whatever we write will have to stand alongside something stupid. Our usual way of dealing with this is to just let the serious story completely pass us by. But you can’t write a cricket site and not comment on the death of a cricketer who was killed while playing cricket. Where are you if you start doing that anyway? The modern world is a disconnected, unfeeling place at times. Ignoring a person’s death is not acceptable.
However, the first thing we’ve noticed is that even if people can feel distanced from major events nowadays, the cricket world – and that includes you and us – seems to remain healthily responsive. We’re writing this because it’s a struggle to read. Phil Hughes’ death seems to have rinsed all the cynicism away so that even trite words are making us teary.
That’s one of the things about cricket. A day’s play is six hours; a Test match five days; a tour can last months – it’s a lot of time to get to know someone. We don’t see players in every situation in their life, but we do see a hell of a lot of them. We take in the ups and downs that shape them – ups and downs which can be very personal and unrelated to the fortunes of their team. Cricket’s like a huge, freakish family and when a cricket family member dies, we all feel a sense of loss.
Quite a few of the obituaries are saying that Hughes was destined for greatness, which is the kind of fortune-telling revisionism which often takes place when someone dies at an unacceptably young age. We don’t much care whether he would have been great or not. What we’ll miss is Hughes’s career, however it might have panned out. That was the fascination – in seeing things unfold.
And Hughes was a truly fascinating player. We’d have loved to have seen how things went from here. He could look – and we’ll not mince our words here – outright bad at the crease. He could look like a bad batsman. But he could also look good and more than anything, he could perform in a way that made him impossible to ignore. He bounced between those extremes like no-one else and that is what we’ll miss. All players are unique, but Hughes was a high profile, potentially-alter-your-entire-way-of-thinking unique.
His career seemed to constitute an experiment as to whether really obvious shortcomings could be completely negated by sheer brilliance. Hughes would pick up a whole string of ducks and you’d think it was an open-and-shut case and then he’d score hundreds when no-one else could get off the mark. That was the quality we picked up on in his early days and he only became more interesting when we later discovered that his was a qualified brilliance.
Freakishly heavy scoring is hard to ignore and if Australians still talk about Shaun Marsh as being some great white hope, it’s worth noting that Hughes made over twice as many first-class hundreds despite being six years younger. He was 25. We hadn’t even started this website when we were 25. We hadn’t even thought about doing the thing that we do when were the age at which Phil Hughes has died. We know a sportsman’s career starts and ends earlier than most, but it isn’t meant to end this early.39 Appeals
That’s okay. That’s what these tours are for. Moeen will have learnt from this. From now on, he’ll know that 119 off 87 balls simply isn’t enough and he’ll instead score 180 off 110 balls or whatever.
Other than that, one of the great joys of the first one-day international between Sri Lanka and England was in seeing Alastair Cook being given out three times – at one point off two successive deliveries. Did England’s mighty stuttering captain let this stop him? Did he heck. Well, okay, he let the third one stop him, but he’d already rollicked his way to 10 off 17 balls by then so it really didn’t matter. That’s really not a bad strike rate when you consider that three of those 17 deliveries were dismissals.
Ravi Bopara was the most economical bowler, so he was limited to just four overs. James Tredwell finished his spell with sixes and then outs – a pair of each. Harry Gurney bowled six wides. Sri Lanka also played.18 Appeals
Justin Langer has a philosophy. It’s changed the culture of the Western Australia cricket team and made them successful. Central to his philosophy are the following three rules:
- Use common sense
- Keep things simple
- No mobile phones at training
This revelation comes from within an almost transcendentally nauseating interview. Other highlights include his Christian faith (“I’ve probably got about 15 to 20 sets of rosary beads at home”); how he and his wife dedicate an hour to each other every morning (or at least they do when he’s in town); and his habit of scrawling trite quotes on the walls of what is now his daughter’s room…
“The words on the wall are just scriptures and quotes. They’re just reminders. Every now and then I go up and lie on her bed and just surround myself.”
Try as they might, this current generation of Australian cricketers just can’t quite muster the same level of exceptional loathesomeness as that 2005 outfit.
It’s the same kind of guff that Matthew Hayden comes out with. All this belief, self-improvement and relentless positivity – it’s almost like a cult. “My name’s Justin and I believe in successfulnessment.”
It’s hard not to picture Warnie sat in the corner of the dressing room, gawping at them with a cheese toastie in his hand. The sad fact is, Warne’s actually not much better these days. At some point the fat idiot must have been infected by it all – it’s just that the disease just took a decade to gestate thanks to all the cheddar clogging up his synapses.34 Appeals