Should they pick the batsman who bowls slippery fast-medium (Ben Stokes), the fast-medium bowler who can bat (Chris Jordan), the faster fast-medium bowler who can bat (Liam Plunkett) or the fast-medium bowler who really can bat (Chris Woakes)?
All are good players, but even an eskimo may from time to time find it unnecessary to distinguish between different types of snow. Sometimes it’s just snow and it ain’t doing a lot.
A mischievous thought – and not an entirely heartfelt one – but might a selector feel a little safer selecting an all-rounder over a specialist, feeling this brought two chances for vindication, not just one. You could consider this the “clearly we picked the right spin bowler – he made a hundred” mentality.
Unarguably, runs and wickets are both important, but taken to the nth degree, would you really expect to win many Test matches with a bowling attack comprised entirely of Andrew Halls?
Perhaps these are the best bowlers available to England, or perhaps we are about to see what you end up with when you place great emphasis on three-dimensional cricketers and ‘the all-round package’.15 Appeals
Over Easter, the Lancastrian nephew-in-law, Escamillo Escapillo (EE) and I schemed to meet up for the Middlesex v Lancashire fixture at Lord’s this year, even if we could only manage half-a-day off during the working week.
In the flurry of subsequent e-mails and texts, I said that I could do day three (Tuesday) and he agreed wholeheartedly that the afternoon of the 12th would be splendid. So we agreed to meet at the Grace Gates at 3.30pm, entirely unaware of our miscommunication.
So, on the Monday afternoon, I was quietly minding my own business when I received a text from EE: “At the gate – where are you?…”
“…elsewhere – we agreed day 3 tuesday, no? – really sorry – cannot get there today…”
“…and I cannot get there tomorrow, might be good for wednesday though – depends on work”
“yes – should be fine for me – try for that,” I texted.
That Monday evening, Daisy remarked that such a diary confusion was a pretty poor show, “coming from two seemingly competent businessmen.” I thought that was a bit rich, given that she and the niece, Lavender, two seemingly competent professional women, are constantly getting their meeting times and locations messed-up.
By good fortune, my working week was, for once, really quite rejiggable. Equally by good fortune, it turned out that we’d have seen little (rain-interrupted) cricket, had we met up on either Monday or Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday, however, was set for glorious weather. By not such good fortune, though, Escamillo texted me on Wednesday morning: “No chance of cricket today – big deal on – see you saturday”.
So I wandered over to Lord’s on my own with a good book and some journal papers to read. I found a very quiet spot in the pavilion for the morning session. Sky had erected its camera platform on the middle balcony slightly to one side, leaving just a few unwanted seats on the wrong side for this match – north – right beside the Lancashire players’ balcony. No-one else would choose to sit there. The book was about the financial/money system and whether alternatives might be better. Given the mess we’re in, “better than the current system” seems a fairly low benchmark, so I think the answer is yes, although some of the suggested alternatives were quite daft.
After lunch, when the shade hits even that north side of the pavilion, I wandered around to the Mound Stand to continue my cricket watching and reading there in the sun. I ran into one of the old diehard fans who used to be a regular “Middlesex Till We Die” (MTWD) reader/contributor back in my day. We chatted a bit – agreeing that neither of us have visited MTWD for years. We also chatted about the internet radio commentary, which the nice fellow said he doesn’t like much because they chat about all sorts and don’t focus enough on the cricket. I thought about recommending the King Cricket match reports to him, but decided against.
I thought about returning to the pavilion as the end drew nigh, but it was so pleasant sitting in the early evening sunshine in the Mound Stand, I decided to stay put and make a speedy exit once stumps were drawn.
Escamillo and I got some serious ribbing from Lavender and Daisy about our temporal mishap, when the young couple came around for dinner shortly after. I tried to get my own back by playing my rendition of And It Stoned Me by Van Morrison on the baritone ukulele, but it must have been a truly beautiful sound because it brought tears to young Lavender’s eyes. Escamillo Escapillo suggested that I try some Oasis numbers instead. Typical.4 Appeals
Over the weekend, Cricinfo published an article of ours about the English hatred of ‘giving it away’ and how it gives rise to a way of batting which is fundamentally unproductive.
It’s called Why so passive, England? and it’s another angle on the whole proactive batting thing we’ve been so obsessed with recently. Don’t worry, we think we’ve got it out of our system now. We’ll go back to doing whatever it is that we normally do now.10 Appeals
Sperm whales have pretty small brains. If you saw one, it would look massive, but they’re small brains in relative terms because sperm whales are massively massive.
In Moby Dick, Herman Melville makes the case that the small brain is compensated for by the whale’s giant vertebrae, the first few of which are almost the same size as the skull and filled with the same brainy gloop. Needless to say, this rather odd argument made us think of the current New Zealand team.
It’s not that the Kiwis are brainless. It’s that they seem lacking up top. For as long as we can remember, New Zealand have struggled to find openers and this has contributed to a batting fragility which for a long time saw the lower order outscoring the specialist batsmen on a regular basis.
It’s reached the point where it just seems futile to hope for much up top, so New Zealand are compensating for this with the first few vertebrae. It’s going rather well for them. In Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum and Jimmy Neesham, they have a cracking spine.
New Zealand have had one or two decent middle-order batsmen in recent years, but having four makes a lot of difference. With four, it seems likely that at least one of them will score in any given innings and suddenly the lower half aren’t being asked to do all the running. Anatomically-speaking, you might think that running ought to fall under the lower half’s jurisdiction, but New Zealand are a sperm while, so they don’t run.
Kane Williamson has made 161 swims without being dismissed in the second innings of the third Test against the West Indies.11 Appeals
A bit of housekeeping. We’ve had some of our articles published on other websites.
First up, The Shire Horse, our fortnightly thing for All Out Cricket. This week’s edition makes fun of some things that England players have said, has a bit about Lancashire’s batting and then there are the regular segments ‘Collapse of the Week’ and ‘Dot of the Week’.
We also didn’t get round to linking to the previous instalment. It makes fun of some things that England players have said, has a bit about Lancashire’s batting and includes the regular segments ‘Collapse of the Week’ and ‘Dot of the Week’. Never let it be said that we don’t plough a furrow.
Over at Cricinfo, we’re looking at England’s new era and pointing out that eras don’t actually have to be good.
Finally, Cricket Badger went out today. You’ve missed this week’s, so sign up now in time to receive next week’s. If you don’t, you’ll be missing out on what critics are calling ‘an email’.10 Appeals
Will Alastair Cook learn his lesson? Most people know that it’s incredibly unwise for the England captain to demand that critics be less critical.
But not Cook, apparently. He recently said that “something needs to be done” about Shane Warne’s relentless criticism of his captaincy.
The headline of Warne’s latest column?
“Alastair Cook’s captaincy was the worst I have ever seen.”
Over to you, Alastair. Which highly inflammable material are you going to use to try and extinguish the flames this time?15 Appeals
Sorry that we keep harping on about that period of play when England got caught in fast-medium purgatory, but it really was when the game got away from England. A number of factors conspired to create the horror. As well as poor bowling and limp captaincy, tiredness played a part. Anderson and Broad, in particular, looked shattered and Liam Plunkett lacked that tiny bit of extra pace which is essentially the sole reason he’s in the side.
Was it a fitness thing?
Not really. Everyone has their limits.
England were bowling last Monday, pushing for a win in the first Test – an intense effort – and then they were bowling again on the Friday at the start of the second Test. By Sunday, they were tired. By Monday, they were spent. Back-to-back Tests are tough and this is why it’s so important to field five bowlers to share the workload.
Only the workload isn’t currently shared. If it’s the new ball, Cook looks to Broad and Anderson. If he’s pushing for a win, he looks to Broad and Anderson. If he desperately needs to break a partnership, he looks to Broad and Anderson. Plan B is to use Jordan and Plunkett and if that doesn’t work, it’s back to Broad and Anderson.
Fatigue is cumulative and Cook steadily invested throughout this series. Day four at Headingley was when it all came back to haunt him.
Spin bowling is a little less physical than fast bowling, so spinners can tolerate greater workloads. That’s really useful and yet how much has Moeen Ali bowled in comparison to the quicks?
Moeen Ali’s bowling workload
Here’s how many overs Moeen Ali bowled versus the seam bowler who bowled the least in each innings over the course of this series.
- First innings at Lord’s: 16 overs versus Chris Jordan’s 27.4
- Second innings at Lord’s: 12 overs versus Liam Plunkett’s 16
- First innings at Headingley: 3 overs versus Stuart Broad’s 15
- Second innings at Headingley: 21 overs versus James Andersons’s 25.5
It’s also worth noting that the last one is totally misleading. Moeen may have bowled 21 overs in the end, but this was only because the quick bowlers were spent. His second over came when Broad already had 16 overs under his belt and his 11th over was the 110th of the innings – even though he had 2-32 at that point.
If Alastair Cook doesn’t trust Moeen Ali’s bowling, either give him a spinner he does trust, or slap him across the chops and tell him to belt up.15 Appeals
The final pole was taken with just a cherry to spare. But just as a snatched draw wouldn’t have erased England’s shoddy cricket from the previous day, so falling short shouldn’t negate the efforts of Moeen Ali and Jimmy Anderson. Jimmy was basically in tears when Mike Atherton tried to interview him afterwards, but he can comfort himself with the fact that most of us will remember his efforts just as fondly as if he’d seen the job out. Sometimes it’s about how you lose.
Jimmy played 55 balls in making the best duck we’ve ever seen. Moeen Ali played 281 and hit a hundred in the process. As first Test hundreds go, it was just about as good as you get.
Moeen batted proactively to lubricate a partnership with Joe Root that would otherwise have seized up, he marshalled the tail and he did it all with such profound unarsedness that you can’t imagine he’s ever been nervous about a single thing in his entire life. To take England from where they were in the morning to within two balls of a draw was immense. If you were wondering how he might respond to pressure, this provided a pretty clear answer.
It’s hugely annoying when people describe cricket in football terms, but in this instance it’s instructive (and also pertinent being as the action played out concurrently with a deathly dull World Cup match).
In football terms, the situation was this. There were going to be 60 more shots on your team’s goal, they had an outfielder between the sticks and if they conceded even once, it was 10 days’ play and 10 days’ efforts flushed down the khazi.
That puts the tension in perspective. In short, it simply could not have come about in ‘the beautiful game’. You might get 10 minutes of tension in football. In cricket, you can get an hour or more. As the minutes tick by, it becomes more and more intense until you start wondering whether it’s even safe to watch; whether there might actually be a physical risk to subjecting yourself to this.
Your hopes could be dashed by any delivery and being as number 11 will always be at the crease in these situations, the fragility of it all is even more pronounced. There are no short cuts to these sorts of finishes and that is precisely why Test cricket can never die.37 Appeals
Just because it’s only a two-Test series, it doesn’t mean you’re playing Bangladesh. This Sri Lanka side is a good one. If anything, it’s their achievements that are being devalued by the quality of the opposition. But they can only beat what’s put in front of them.
In this Test, it’s Angelo Mathews’ hundred that most stands out. Even when you’re only up against an ever-changing cast of toothless fast-medium bowlers, batting with the tail is difficult. It’s an amorphous puzzle where your goal oscillates between singles and boundaries and the field waxes and wanes constantly.
Working out what to do is exhausting if you’re in this situation for even a handful of overs. Angelo Mathews took Sri Lanka from 277-7 to 437-9. If that’s not enough, consider that up until now, Sri Lanka’s tail has been pretty damn wafty and ineffectual.
It was a titanic achievement. Mathews got the better of England for so long and so profoundly that they were beaten in ways we couldn’t even see until they came out to bat. While he was at the crease, we thought he was merely skinning the home team alive. Not so. It turned out the skinning had been carried out one-handed. Out of sight, his other hand had been violently whisking inside English heads, whipping up a veritable brain meringue.
“Mmm, that looks delicious,” said his bowlers.
And verily, they tucked in.31 Appeals
Our worst nightmare was probably the one where we had toothache and when the tooth came out, it turned out to be a kind of keystone for our entire skull. With a groaning, creaking sound akin to falling timber, our entire head split in two – ONLY WE DIDN’T WAKE UP.
Instead, we wandered around like that, noggin cleft in twain. We would occasionally reach up and run our finger across the shards of fractured skull, nervous that we might inadvertently gouge part of our own brain.
Today’s play has been worse than that.
It’s been worse than that because it’s been real. Ever-changing faces bowling the same fast-medium to partnerships that just go on and on and on. We’ve been here before – a long, long time ago – and we hoped never to return. Can you have endless permutations of the same thing? That’s what it’s been. This is why you should always play a spinner.
You could argue that England are playing a spinner, but unless the captain agrees with you, it’s a moot point. Alastair Cook was the very last person at Headingley to feel like maybe it was worth giving Moeen Ali a bowl. Apparently, he had a better plan, which was to just keep on persevering with the same old thing in the hope that finally, one day, something might change.17 Appeals