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Keaton Jennings: first look in Test cricket

We don’t believe you can draw meaningful conclusions from debut performances – but we report on them anyway.

If there’s one thing that county cricket generally doesn’t involve, it’s playing in India. You can probably think of other things it doesn’t involve, but this particular aspect seems relevant to Keaton Jennings’ Test debut because he was asked to play in India.

If there’s one thing that playing cricket in India isn’t, it’s playing cricket in England. Sure, there are similarities – lunch breaks, tea breaks, ferocious inescapable heat – but you’re hardly likely to encounter a full trio of spin bowlers up at the Riverside.

It was therefore interesting to see how Jennings went about his business. The opener’s approach against seamers is all straight and conventional, but against the spinners he seemed hell-bent on scoring via the reverse sweep.

This is hardly surprising in this day and age. The shot is now so commonplace, we move that it be renamed ‘the sweep’ and the conventional sweep rebranded ‘the reverse sweep’ to better reflect the likelihood of seeing each played.

At one point during his innings, Keaton Jennings reached three figures. This, to us, seemed impressive. However, he didn’t look especially angry about his achievement, which leads us to conclude that he may lack whatever it is that allows many high profile cricketers to feel ‘super-psyched’ about reaching such landmarks.

Whether that’s a strength or a weakness is something that could have been discussed in this final paragraph, but wasn’t. Instead, we wrote one sentence that failed to address the matter and then a second purely so that there was no confusion about whether the paragraph in question could more accurately have been described as a sentence.

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Why Keaton Jennings’ Test debut is also great news for Jason Roy

Keaton Jennings will make his Test debut against India and if there’s one aspect of this news that everyone’s talking about, it’s the fact that the Durham opener has two surnames and no first name.

England are not unaware of this and they will no doubt harbour concerns about the balance of the side. The team, as it stands, now contains a surname surplus and a first name shortfall with no immediate solution available.

Long-term, England will no doubt be looking to Jason Roy to fill the void. An enforced name-swap so as to field a Jason Keaton and a Roy Jennings seems unlikely. More likely management will simply be content to weigh all the team’s first names against all of the surnames, dealing with them en masse.

Earlier this year, we suggested that Keaton Jennings would have been One To Watch if we still did that kind of thing. Those who took our implicit advice and opted to track his progress anyway will doubtless feel well-informed about his rise to the England team. Others will just have to trawl through the county cricket category on this website, noting that each time he scored a hundred, we said that he’d scored a hundred.

We don’t believe Jason Roy earned any mentions from us for his County Championship returns this season. This opens up the distinct possibility that England could be profoundly unbalanced for an extended period.

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Trevor Bayliss on batting positivity and batting clarity

Ben Stokes batting

You should have hit it harder. Or less hard. Or not at all. Whatever you did with the delivery that resulted in your dismissal, you should have done something else.

The latest comments from Trevor Bayliss give a bit of an insight into how the England’s coach sees the game. He’s been characterised as an advocate of ‘taking the positive option’ and by extension, someone who will always preach aggressive batting. However, that would appear to be a 2D caricature as we can easily perceive three-dimensionality from his words.

When a number of England batsmen were dismissed playing attacking shots in the third Test, plenty of people concluded that they should have been more cautious. This is the difference between a coach and someone who takes potshots after watching the highlights. The former is obliged to consider the context.

Bayliss said:

“If you look at the batters who scored runs in the first three innings of the Test series, they were proactive, trying to be positive, which means they will defend well. When the opportunity comes we leave and defend well but when opportunity comes along to attack we take them.

“In the last three innings we have changed that mindset so it is more along the lines of survival. And when some of our naturally more positive players try to play that way they were in two minds.

“I thought in the last innings of the last Test we gifted them some wickets when I thought we looked to be in two minds. We looked like we were trying to go over the top once or twice but did not really go through with it which meant we were in two minds over whether it was right approach or not.”

Captain Hindsight would be happy to conclude that a batsman who plops one to an outfielder should have played a different shot. That’s an obvious remedy, but Bayliss is effectively arguing that the batsman may just have played that shot badly due to lack of clarity and conviction.

Which is the bigger threat to a batsman? Erring on the side of positivity when weighing run-scoring against defence – or indecisiveness? Bayliss appears to think the latter.

In the last Test, Moeen Ali played over the top half-heartedly (which is no way to go about it), while Ben Stokes ran down the pitch after scoring three runs off 31 deliveries from Ravindra Jadeja. There was an element of neither-one-thing-nor-the-other about both dismissals.

It’s misrepresentation to say that Bayliss believes that batting aggressively is a cure-all. Instead, he seems to recognise that players approach the game in different ways and the thinking that works for Alastair Cook, for example, might actually compromise the returns of others further down the order.

He knows that encouraging players to play freely won’t result in perfection. What he’s hoping for is a net gain (if you’ll excuse the pun). He believes that some of his batsmen are caught between two approaches and he thinks we will see fewer errors if he can shunt them away from a mental no-man’s land.

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Got some random job that needs doing? Maybe see if Moeen Ali fancies stepping in

Photo by Sarah Ansell

If you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can ask Moeen Ali to do the job.

He’ll probably say yes.

“Hey Moeen, fancy being an international spin bowler?”

“Yeah, all right.”

“Hey Moeen, great bowling. And great batting in the middle order as well – really dynamic. Do you maybe fancy opening in one-dayers?”

“Yeah, all right.”

“Cracking stuff. Really cracking stuff. Thing is – and I feel a bit awkward saying this because you’ve done really well; don’t for one minute think this reflects on you – but do you maybe fancy batting at eight? Don’t take it as a demotion. It’s more that the other guys can’t seem to bat at eight. Yeah, I know how that sounds, but it does seem to be the case. And you’ve been so adaptable – really just coped with whatever we’ve asked you to do, so…?”

“Yeah, all right.”

“Great stuff with the batting at eight, Mo. Great stuff. Now this is a bit of an odd one – we know you’ve never opened in a first-class match before – but do you maybe fancy opening in Tests?”

“Yeah, all right.”

“Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And, er, how about going back to seven and eight for a bit afterwards and then maybe we can ink you in at five for the winter.”

“Yeah, all right.”

“Okay, so obviously we did want to keep you at five for a while, but the thing is there’s been a few injuries and things, so in this match could you maybe bat at four in the first innings and three in the second?”

“Yeah, all right.”

“Great. I mean really great. We don’t want to mess you about or anything. You’ve really coped admirably with everything we’ve asked you to do and we know it’s not fair to keep messing you about. Ultimately, we want to allow you to get settled in one position. Role definition is very important in this England team. One thing though, er – how are you with spreadsheets? I think I’ve mucked up one of the formulas in this one and I can’t work out what I’ve done. You couldn’t take a quick look, could you? There’s also a problem with the central heating at Loughborough if you could check that out at some point? Also we need someone to make a few hotel bookings.”

“Yeah, all right.”

“Great stuff, Mo. We really value your ability to uncomplainingly turn your hand to literally bloody anything.”

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Why have the England players gone to Dubai?

Dubai by night (CC licensed by Crazy Diamond via Flickr)

Dubai by night (CC licensed by Crazy Diamond via Flickr)

England are taking a break. A mid-tour holiday. There’s been a bit of discussion about the fact that they feel they need one and what that might say about international schedules, but there’s been precious little comment about why the holy hell they saw fit to go to Dubai.

We’d be interested to know how our Indian readers take this decision. To us, it sort of gives the impression that England see India as a place to be escaped. Couple of days off? Travel 2,000km to relax because relaxation would be impossible anywhere closer. Maybe they don’t feel that they get enough opportunities for air travel.

And honestly – Dubai? A friend who lives there assures us that there’s plenty to do, yet it’s hard to find a list of attractions which doesn’t list ‘shopping’ fairly high up. Why such a short hop and a skip from Chandigarh if that’s what you’re after? Why not plough on to Manchester for a full weekend at The Traff. Or, you know, India has shops too.

Perhaps this is hypocritical. In our youth we spent 10 days in Sri Lanka midway through a trip to India and it did sort of feel like a holiday. But then we also felt pretty relaxed in any number of Indian coastal towns or up in the mountains or out in the desert.

Someone should tell the England players that the major industrial cities in which they generally find themselves playing cricket aren’t necessarily representative of one of the world’s largest and most culturally varied nations.

For the record, Haseeb Hameed – who went home for surgery, not a holiday, lest we forget – will fly back to India next week to watch the remaining Tests with his family. We’re not sure precisely how many Hero Points he gets for that, but we’re prepared to allocate him plenty.

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Do England play too many all-rounders?

Moeen Ali and Joe Root

The answer is no. But let’s explore the question anyway.

England have just added Liam Dawson to their squad. He joins Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid in one of the most all-rounderly squads England have ever assembled. He also replaces Zafar Ansari, another spin bowling all-rounder.

Dissipation of responsibility

If a team has nine batsmen, the majority of whom are all as good as each other, does any one individual feel that the onus is on them to score runs?

It’s not so much the by-stander effect, where people stand passively by assuming someone else will sort things out. These players are desperate to perform, after all. It’s more to do with the way they go about their business.

It’s often said that the great advantage of being an all-rounder like Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff or Ben Stokes is that it allows a certain freedom. If you’re also a bowler, your place in the side doesn’t hinge on how many runs you score. You can still influence a match, even when you fail with the bat.

This is generally seen as a good thing as it permits the kind of freewheeling innings that a single-bow-stringed cricketer might be loath to even attempt.

Judged solely on weight of runs, the specialist batsman can often be more risk averse and this is perhaps the crux of things. There are times when it is good to take risks and impose oneself and there are other times – such as when conditions are in your favour anyway – when it is better to avoid risk and simply try and cash in to the maximum.

Mass three-dimensionality

So what is the cumulative effect of having a whole raft of players liable to think: “At least I can make up for this failure with the ball”?

Does it cant the side in one particular direction, encouraging just a little too much… let’s not say irreponsibility – that’s a little extreme.

Does it leave the team likely to err on the side of ‘taking the positive option’?


Our view is that even if there is some truth in this, it is surely outweighed by the benefits. If Ben Stokes alone is like having an extra man, then this current England side is incredibly well staffed.

It’s therefore a little dispiriting to think that even with 15 men they’re being totally dominated by India (although on recent evidence, the home team isn’t exactly short-handed itself).

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England get a grip, but India keep a grip

Yet again, it’s one of those win the toss, win the match, if you’re India pitches. The sheer predictability of proceedings only being disrupted when the coin ended the other way up.

There’s an illusion of inevitability when India bat first, but the play is coerced down a certain path simply because the home team can exert control. The players must do long hours with those hand-squeezer thingies because given a slight advantage they always seem able to maintain their grip.

England’s isn’t a wishy-washy limp handshake sort of grip. It’s more of a ‘this is getting a bit heavy, let me just change the position of my hands’ sort of grip. They hoick their burden and try all sorts of different hand positions, but the truth is they just can’t quite take the weight.

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Neil Wagner sacrifices the opportunity to run in for a small fragment of the final session

Pakistan had already lost six wickets in the final session of the match when Kane Williamson brought forth The Great Neil Wagner. Three ducks later, the series was over.

This isn’t going to help Wagner’s reputation one bit. How the hell are you supposed to run in all day when you keep bringing the opposition’s innings to a close.

Maybe that’s why our man waited until right at the death before joining his team-mates in the rampant wicket-taking. He wanted every opportunity to run in for the majority of the day, but with no play tomorrow, he also knew he had a responsibility to deliver a Test win.

Neil Wagner: he maximises his opportunities for in-running, but without compromising New Zealand’s chances of victory.

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Today’s Ben Stokes-induced happenings

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

At one point in the afternoon session, Ben Stokes accidentally spat on his own shirt. You’d think this would be a low point, but he plucked off the deposit with no obvious display of emotion. Perhaps he knew that things were about to get significantly worse.

Shortly after spraying a loose one over his off side, Stokes used the ball to find the edge of a Yadav’s bat. Alastair Cook – a man who we’re confident has dropped more chances for England than any other outfielder in history – duly did his ball-shelling thing.

Stokes looked ever-so-slightly peeved.

Three balls later, Stokes found the edge of another Yadav’s bat. Jonny Bairstow did that thing where he takes a huge step to the left while diving to the right, so that he doesn’t so much stretch for the ball as rotate around a fulcrum somewhere around his navel. The ball passed right by him.

Stokes looked ever-so-slightly more peeved.

But then the wickets came. The next five Stokes deliveries resulted in two wickets and he finished the innings with five scalps and a greater bowling workload than anyone bar Adil Rashid.

Ben Stokes made tiredness and not-quite-so-big-a-first-innings-deficit-as-might-have-been-expected happen.

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Good evening, Mr Kohli?

Before tea, Che Pujara and Virat Kohli, neither of whom had looked too troubled, started to hit a few more fours. It felt predictable and seemed to foreshadow a long evening session for England.

After tea, Pujara – perhaps concerned that he might partially obscure Kohli’s halo – needlessly looped one in Chris Woakes’ general direction. This precipitated change.

Some guy who sort of looks like Ajinkya Rahane briefly continued his attempt to pass himself off as the batsman, before Kohli did Karun Nair with a magnificent piece of absent-minded ambling. The captain drew his partner 15 yards down the pitch for what appeared as if it was going to be a single before lethally withdrawing the offer. The debutant had an excellent view of Jos Buttler’s throw shattering the stumps.

Kohli quite likes everything going horribly wrong because it gives him an opportunity to look serious and deliver something more memorable. Unfortunately, a little while afterwards he for some reason momentarily imagined he was in England and feathered a seamer to the keeper. The bowler, Ben Stokes, made a hand-over-mouth mime happen in reference to yesterday’s reprimand for being a gobby get.

After that, everything went back to normal and everyone put the previous passage of play down to a brief invasion by a parallel dimension.

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