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Why wasn’t Captain Hindsight made England coach for this series?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We can’t understand it. It seems such an obvious solution. Captain Hindsight wouldn’t have made all the obvious mistakes that Peter Moores made.

Maybe England’s loss would have been embarrassing if the opposition had been as mediocre as they were infamously branded, but this West Indies side seemed to us to be much better than that. They’ll surely make real progress until their next internecine conflict, at which point all the good work will be undone. They’re not dissimilar to England in that regard.

There are the usual calls for revolution, but England tend to make significant changes after every high profile defeat. There comes a point where it’s change itself which is holding back the side.

Moeen Ali should never have played

Moeen Ali was getting a lot of criticism yesterday. He certainly bowled badly – self-consciously, perhaps – but it’s also true that spinners get harshly judged for failing on a turning pitch in the final innings in a way that an opening bowler failing to exploit the new ball does not. You’re very alone and there’s no chance to make up for poor bowling later on. Moeen is also unfortunate enough to be an all-rounder. An all-rounder gets twice as many chances to fail.

After the match, Nasser Hussain conducted an interview with Peter Moores in which he looked like he was about to drive a broken bottle into the England coach’s neck at any moment. He asked about the absence of Adil Rashid. We’ve been desperate to see Rashid play, but not because we feel absolute certainty that he’d have won the game for England. The question therefore seemed to amount to: “Would you have preferred to have been slagged off for selecting Adil Rashid?”

Give us what we want

As George Dobell said the other day, hindsight is Twenty20. A lot of the people moaning now are those who were previously moaning about the absence of Stokes, Moeen and Buttler – players who are all now in the side. Whenever England lose, the reason, to them, is obvious. But we can never dip into alternative universes to find out what would have happened had things been done differently. Only the coach finds his decisions exposed by reality. Some were good, some were bad, but we at least can’t rouse ourself to outrage. If nothing else, we hugely enjoyed this Test match, last day and all.

Michael Vaughan, the King of Populist Opinion, has expressed an interest in the new director of cricket job. Doubtless he’ll reject it because they didn’t create quite the right job description and will add this to his list of obvious problems with obvious solutions, but maybe England should kowtow to him.

They should give Vaughan the job and let him select the side. He can even put it to a public vote on Twitter to ensure it remains populist enough (“Fav for Plunkett, RT for Wood”). Give him complete control. Let him decide everything so that when England lose we can all agree to stop whinging on, pretending that the solutions were always obvious. Maybe then people can get back to enjoying Test matches, win or lose, without revelling in the latter as being some sort of proof in the flawlessness of their world view.

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Test action constriction and the case for a James Anderson ghola

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Wickets advance a Test match. Yesterday therefore had all the meaningful action of two days’ cricket – 18 wickets – constricted into one.

Jerome Taylor kicked things off, but it was Jimmy Anderson who enjoyed himself to the full with six wickets for 42 runs off 12.4 overs. In the comments to yesterday’s post, we suggested that the ECB might like to start researching ghola technology with a view to opening the bowling with a James Anderson in perpetuity.

The main side effect of wickets being so cheap is the impact on the exchange rate. Runs in this match are becoming more valuable by the second. But how do you get them? The glory of Test cricket is that you can inch along for an entire day like Alastair Cook or slice sixes back over the bowler’s head like Jermaine Blackwood and both approaches are equally valid.

England are 39-5, just 107 ahead. It seems like they need quite a lot more, but who knows, maybe they already have enough. One decent partnership could decide this Test. That fragility and uncertainty is what will make all that follows to watchable.

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Alastair Cook hasn’t made a hundred since yesterday

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Restart the clock.

This may have been all of 10 runs more than he made just a handful of Tests ago, but it rewrites a tired script. Suddenly people can’t fall back on ‘hasn’t made a hundred since…’ and so they’re instead forced to look at the facts. Those facts are that Alastair Cook has been scoring quite a lot of runs in Test cricket of late.

Cook knew that the fifties didn’t really count though. He knew their value would only be seen in the light of a three-figure score. The man has more grit than a resurfaced rural road. Having painstakingly worked his way past fifty five times in his previous eight Test innings, he started again from nought. Again he wrung painfully deliberate runs out of this West Indian attack. Again he put the hours in.

He nurdled, worked and occasionally hoicked it to leg; he ignored the ball when it could be ignored; and when he called a team-mate through for a single that was never there, he ensured it was a homicidal single, not a suicidal single. He did everything in his power to ensure he reached three figures and for once, no-one stepped in at the last minute to deny him.

It meant a lot to him. You could tell. He even let fly a huge, bestial roar.

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Jerome Taylor’s back

As in ‘returned’. He hasn’t got ankylosing spondylitis or anything.

We’ve always liked Jerome Taylor. He tends to bowl quickly, full and straight and that tends to mean more runs and more wickets, which if you think about it is pretty much how a Test match progresses.

If this were a five Test series, we suspect that Taylor would become increasingly bothersome for England, producing that ‘history repeating’ phenomenon where a batsman keeps getting out to the same sort of delivery and starts to question himself, his technique and other important things, such as whether the inclusion of mustard in a recent batch of jerk chicken paste was an accident worth repeating.

But it’s not a five Test series. It’s a three Test series where Taylor missed the middle one. As such, he’ll bowl well and then everyone in England will forget about him and instead obsess about whichever Australian bowler takes most wickets in this summer’s Ashes.

Frustrated with this lack of recognition, Taylor will get himself into a drunken scuffle. But he’s such a class act, he’ll wait until a very, very distant relation has first got the Taylors in credit by winning some sort of award.

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How Sussex took the lead without really batting all that well

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Let’s exploit this gap in England’s Test series to get up to speed with this year’s County Championship and the very top of the table specifically. Currently, that means Sussex.

In their first five innings of this year, the individual members of Sussex’s top five passed 50 just four times between them. Sussex have, at points in their various innings, been 128-5, 71-6 and 171-9. Despite this, they won their first two matches. It is therefore worth taking a look at their bowlers.

Sussex have attracted attention for assembling an intriguing seam attack for 2015. Ajmal Shahzad and Tymal Mills are, respectively, an England reject and an England hopeful. However, both pale into insignifance compared to the might of Indooropilly High School’s finest alumnus, Steve Magoffin, a man who nets County Championship wickets like an eastern tropical Pacific tuna fisherman nets dolphins. Only he doesn’t release them afterwards. He hangs onto them – albeit only in statistical form.

That said, it’s actually Shahzad who’s been leading the way. He has 20 wickets at 18.25, Magoffin has 10 at 33.10, while Mills seems to be attracting column inches for every wicket he fails to take. He has three at 45.00.

Sussex are top by five points, but second-placed Durham have a game in hand and also just beat them. Durham are another seam-centric side and while these early season games are just as important as those later in the season, they do perhaps give a somewhat misleading picture of who the main contenders are likely to be.

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When is an England squad not an England squad?

This is probably the weirdest England squad we can remember. It’s not quite a B-team, but nor is it a real A-Team. It’s a 2010 cinematic rehash A-Team.

Some of the names are about as familiar as that of Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson as well (the guy who was passed off as B.A. in that film). Lewis Gregory has a good record, but quite a low profile for someone just picked for England, while Zafar Ansari is best known for being a Cambridge type who once bowled Kevin Pietersen. We think we missed the bit where Ansari thrust himself into the limelight and demanded inclusion, but he did celebrate his call-up by getting himself run out off the fifth ball of Surrey’s innings today, which certainly hints that he’s got the right stuff to be an England one-day cricketer.

Most of the other additions are the players you were reading about as being potential miracle solutions back when everyone had an opinion about how rubbish England were: Sam Billings, Jason Roy, James Vince and David Willey. It’s certainly a bold, dynamic squad. A crowd-pleasing one. Or at least it is at the announcement stage.

Just three of England’s World Cup squad have been retained – James Taylor, Alex Hales and Steven Finn – and two of those are recent additions who appear rather more at home in the ‘brave new world’ circle on the Venn diagram. Set against this backdrop, Tim Bresnan suddenly appears the most leftfield pick of all.

England’s Incredible World Cup of Unparalleled Shod is just one of the reasons why there are so many surprise inclusions. There’s also the fact that it’s a one-off match scheduled when England’s Test cricketers have been playing in a match on the other side of the planet just three days before. It’s tempting to suggest that Ireland being the opposition might play a part too, but that’s probably not true. The last flicker of complacency was surely extinguished back in Australia.

England’s captain, Eoin Morgan, is missing the match to play in the IPL. It’s tempting to wonder whether this agreement has prevented him from being dropped. The Irishman seems to have benefited from extended media and public goodwill of late simply through his ability to avoid being Alastair Cook. The moral of the story is that if you’re going to be an ineffectual captain who doesn’t score runs, at least be an ineffectual captain who doesn’t score runs who bats aggressively.

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Why we pay no attention to the second division of the County Championship

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Earlier in the year, someone-or-other expressed their reservations about adding three teams to England’s four-day competition and dividing it into three divisions of seven. They said that it would be hard to maintain the quality. We can’t remember who it was, but this comment seemed to us to betray a fundamentally English county cricket attitude to English county cricket.

Despite there being two divisions, some people still see it as all being the same thing, lumping first and second tier statistics in with each other. These people think that adding three smaller teams to a third division would therefore dilute first-class cricket. No it wouldn’t. What it would so is give rubbish third division counties a chance to play against teams who are of roughly equivalent standard. That’s what divisions are. They’re a hierarchy.

On this site, we routinely ignore the second division. It’s not because we don’t care about it – because with Lancashire down there, we most certainly do. It’s just a reaction to the way cricket is covered elsewhere and a means of making an unwieldy competition fractionally more manageable.

The newspapers that still run county cricket match reports pay little heed to the divisions. Most are more likely to cover a Surrey game than any other. Whether that’s because Surrey are a well-supported club, because they feature certain high profile players or simply because the journalist in question lives nearby, it’s the wrong way to report if the County Championship is to be considered a worthwhile entity in its own right. Even Cricinfo, who are generally pretty good about this sort of thing, lump first and second division matches in together in their live scores box in the sidebar.

The county season is also unnecessarily complex and while some will say that complexity is a key part of cricket’s appeal, we’d argue that an already complex sport would benefit from an even more straightforward structure. County cricket hardly need worry about attracting dilettantes.

It is hard for this writer to properly follow the ins and outs of an already complex sport across eight different matches spanning two divisions, particularly when half of the season’s fixtures run at the same time as Test matches. As all of our readers are also possessed of just the one brain, we figure it might be a challenge for them too, so we halve our subject matter by amputating the second division.

Sport is about competition. It seems bizarre to give equal billing to sides regardless of performance. So we don’t.

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Jimmy Anderson makes a delicious omelette

jimmy-anderson

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We stand by everything we said yesterday. We never said England lacked eggs, only baskets. There have always been plenty of oeufs in the new ball basket and Jimmy Anderson is adept at using them. Take three wickets for one run and additional receptacles seem superfluous  – particularly if you then produce three additional eggs, in the form of catches and run-outs. Just don’t ask where he was keeping them.

The most impressive part of the Tour de France doesn’t take place in the mountains with thousands of pissed-up Dutchmen bellowing into the leading contenders’ faces. It takes place the next morning when they set off again. At the top of a climb, faces haggard, breathing ragged, the cyclists are tired but at least have the finish in sight. The next day, they do not. They have hundreds of kilometres to go, perhaps the same sorts of climbs again, and they’re carrying all that fatigue from the previous day’s efforts.

There is something of Jimmy Anderson in this. It’s not just the fact that he roused himself to action with England only a fifth of the way to dismissing West Indies and no guarantee that they’d actually reach their intended destination, it’s also the sheer physical resilience of the man.

Innings after innings he at least matches and usually exceeds the workloads of the other pace bowlers. But then, making use of the fourth new ball he’s had his hands on in this match, he bowls as swiftly and as effortlessly and as skilfully as at any point before, almost as if the first Test and the first 30-odd overs he’d bowled in this Test hadn’t happened. Then he balletically plucks one out of the air during a rest between overs. Then he moves like a cat and throws like the complete opposite of a cat to dismiss someone else. Then yet another catch.

When does he rest? He’ll rest when he’s dead, presumably, and looking at England’s fixture list, the ECB will have executed him by the end of the year. Wherever will England keep their eggs then?

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The pitch may well be unacceptable…

But complaining about it is even more unacceptable. If England didn’t have quite so many eggs in the basket marked ‘steady accuracy’ things might be rather different.

A truly fast bowler would be nice. A leg-spinner going for runs but making the occasional breakthrough would be handy. A bit more right-arm fast-medium over the wicket however is nothing more than equine floggery post mortem.

It’s not like they didn’t have warning. The first Test pitch was a flatty, while the 2009 tour saw three high-scoring draws, including one in which the Windies made 749-9. Such conditions don’t make for great cricket, but nor, arguably, does England’s current modus operandi with the ball.

And to make matters worse, we’ve just used two Latin phrases in one article. How much more boring could things be? The answer is none. None more boring.

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Joe Root makes a hundred on The Day of Inevitable Fifties

Joe Root and a load of grass

For a while it seemed as if no-one would make it all the way – even if it had felt inevitable that several of them would get halfway. Trott was out for 59, Cook for 76 and then Ballance for 77. They were creeping closer and it was Root who added that crucial extra digit.

If you don’t think the third figure matters all that much, ask Alastair Cook, who must continue to endure “hasn’t made a hundred since…” comments even though he made a 95 all of four Tests ago.

The overnight score hinted that there were runs to be had and none of the fifties were a surprise. They were just steady, reliable batsmen on a steady, reliable pitch making steady runs – you could rely on them to do that.

Root, however, is at present even more reliable than your trusty old hammer and somehow achieves this while scoring at a fair old lick. This was his sixth Test fifty on the bounce, a period during which he’s scored at about 70 runs per hundred balls.

Only one thing could possibly have outshone Root and that was an unholy melding of mischief, humour and knobheadery. Step forward Marlon Samuels, who opted to send-off Ben Stokes with an ashen-faced salute, hat clasped to his heart.

This infuriating goading was all the better for the fact that Stokes isn’t really the kind of person who’s at all happy to laugh at himself – particularly moments after picking out a fielder in the deep. He’s more the kind of person to call you a C-word, before calling himself a C-word, before calling some inanimate object a C-word, before attempting to dismantle that inanimate object with his fists. This is pretty much what he did, although now the rest of the team are wise to his punchy rage-venting, they presumably wrapped him in a giant duvet onesie in a bid to prevent self-annihilation.

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