Month: May 2018 (page 1 of 2)

Sam Curran is almost the right choice

Sam Curran (via YouTube)

If Sam Curran could bat a bit better or bowl a bit better, he would definitely be a good addition to the England team.

If that sounds dismissive, it’s only because it made for a better opening sentence. Scurran is close. He’s just not quite there.


  • Left-armer
  • Swings it
  • Only 5ft9in – (if all the other bowlers are 6ft-plus, this provides variety)
  • Bats a bit


  • The usual fast-medium sort of pace
  • Doesn’t have a spectacularly good career record (but it’s very good this season (but that comes with the obligatory early season asterisk (although The Oval has been less seamer friendly than most grounds)))
  • Only bats a bit

If Sam Curran plays instead of Ben Stokes, England’s batting becomes a hollow nightmarish thing.

If he plays instead of Mark Wood, the attack starts to look a bit fast-medium (but at least they’d have a left-armer).

We guess his opportunity could be instead of Dom Bess if Stokes can’t bowl and England want four seamers. But that scenario would mean England aren’t playing a spinner.

All in all, we’d quite like him to play but don’t like any of the circumstances in which he would play.

England’s batsmen are insecure and complacent

Ben Stokes (via Sky Sports)

England’s batting is bad. England are bad at batting. Bad batting is a thing that England’s batsmen generally do.

Before we get into the ins and outs of the badness, let’s contextualise it with the players’ career Test averages because that way we can really get a sense of the exact strength of the current of this river of badness.

  • Alastair Cook – 45.65
  • Mark Stoneman – 27.68
  • Keaton Jennings – 24.50
  • Joe Root – 52.34
  • Dawid Malan – 29.04
  • Jonny Bairstow – 38.60
  • Ben Stokes – 34.85
  • Jos Buttler – 32.03

Those are mostly bad averages.

What exactly is going wrong?

In the headline, we’re claiming that England’s batsmen are insecure and complacent. Is it actually possible that they can be both of those very different, seemingly contradictory things?

Yes, they can, because England’s batsmen are different people.

You will have heard a lot of broad, sweeping explanations for England’s bad batting. Upon witnessing universal badness, it’s of course tempting to assume there’s one root cause that must be applicable to all involved. This fails to account for the sheer mind-blowing breadth of the badness being exhibited by England’s batsmen.

England’s batsmen are being bad in all sorts of colourful exciting ways – often veering from one extreme of bad batting to the opposite within the same innings.

So what’s the ‘insecure and complacent’ thing?

It’s kind of a… well, it’s not a joke exactly. It’s two generalisations that highlight contrasting problems while still being generalisations themselves. Basically, we’ve tried to sum up the specifics and generalised ourself.

Let’s generalise!

The way we see it is England’s batsmen fall into one of three categories.

  1. Relatively new specialist batsmen
  2. Established batsmen with other jobs
  3. Alastair Cook

Let’s look at what might be going wrong for each of these categories of batsmen while simultaneously holding in the back of our minds the very true knowledge that this sort of generalising is not really a very good way of critiquing slightly broader generalising.

Relatively new specialist batsmen

Everyone knows who’s most likely to get dropped from the England batting line-up. It’s the new guys who don’t make runs and England have had such an extraordinary run of new guys who don’t make runs that it almost seems to have become a self-sustaining thing. It’s as if whoever’s picked instantly takes on that identity and loses all confidence and competence.

Stoneman, Malan and Jennings have often seemed tense and uncertain. They’ve mostly needed to chill out and think calmly, but the closer they edge to the exit door, the less that’s likely.

We have no idea what these players are being told by the coaching team, but it probably shouldn’t be the same thing as the…

Established batsmen with other jobs

Tell you who’s not likely to get dropped any time soon: Joe Root, the captain.

Tell you who else: Jonny Bairstow, the wicketkeeper.

Tell you who else: Ben Stokes, the all-rounder.

These guys have double safety cushions (what’s a safety cushion?). One is the fact that they have an additional role in the team, but the second and larger safety cushion is that there are even shitter batsmen who are going to get dropped before they do.

Complacency is a grandiose and damning word, but maybe the solidity of these players’ positions means they’re a little too carefree at times.

If the coaching team are telling these guys to relax and loosen up, maybe that’s the wrong message.

Alastair Cook

England’s opener hasn’t been the worst opener in this team for quite some time, so no matter how badly he plays, he’s never in any real, actual danger, despite what someone-or-other may have written in some column somewhere-or-other.

It would be hard, however, to accuse Alastair Cook of complacency, or of playing loose shots, or of feeling too confident in his position or anything like that. There is no possible combination of sounds that a human being can make that would dissuade Alastair Cook from his lifelong obsession of accumulating runs in a low-risk manner.

Alastair Cook is impervious to emotion and as a coach there’s no point saying anything to him really. You just leave him to it and if he asks you a specific thing about bat grips or his stance, you can maybe provide an answer.

Alastair Cook is the exception

And so is Jos Buttler at the minute. Maybe he’ll score loads of runs and become super-confident and then complacent. Maybe he’ll have a run of low scores and start feeling jittery. Those are two obvious paths he could take. Anything could happen really.


England’s batsmen are rattling around doing all sorts of crazy stuff. They should probably avoid listening to all the criticism and nebulous advice and overarching philosophies and instead find some sort of nondescript middle way of going about things.

Who was your favourite ineffective opening partner for Alastair Cook?

If we were to ask, ‘who has been your favourite England Test opener since Andrew Strauss retired?’ the answer is obvious. If you say anyone other than Alastair Cook, you are either (a) a contrarian hipster (b) not an England supporter or (c) mental.

That’s an easy one. A far more interesting question is who was your favourite opening partner for Alastair Cook after Andrew Strauss retired, because here we have a veritable smorgasbord of very similar options.

  • Maybe you’re a Nick Compton man
  • Maybe you admired Alex Hales’ flakiness and emotional fragility
  • Maybe you’re all in for Haseeb Hameed
  • Maybe you can distinguish between Adam Lyth and Sam Robson
  • Maybe you were paying attention that time Ben Duckett opened and actually remember that
  • Maybe you want to stick with Mark Stoneman
  • Maybe you enjoyed one of Keaton Jennings’ stints

There were a bunch of others too. All-in-all, none of them were much good, which makes this a very challenging question to answer.

Who was YOUR favourite ineffective opening partner for Alastair Cook?

What the hell is up with Hasan Ali’s hand?

We honestly haven’t got much left to say about England’s batting, so let’s instead turn our attention to Hasan Ali’s hand and whatever the hell is up with it.

Here’s Hasan Ali’s hand midway through delivering the (apparently) fiendishly tempting wide one that did for Joe Root.

Hasan Ali strapping (via ECB)

Strapping is a form of injury treatment/management that has always mystified us and this might just be the most mystifying example of all.

What the hell is wrong with Hasan Ali’s hand that he needs two bands of elastoplast around his hand at the top and base of his palm?

To be clear, this isn’t some coded attempt to accuse him of Bancroftian nefariousness because every cricket team is about eight per cent strapping anyway. Strapping is everywhere. The only thing striking about this strapping the way it’s been applied.

What is happening with Hasan Ali’s hand that this is necessary? Is it constantly trying to explode? Is the left of it being tethered to the right of it so that they don’t part ways? Did he trip while playing trains and brace his fall by planting his hand on the miniature track?

AB de Villiers finally picks a cake

Photo by Sarah Ansell

AB de Villiers spent rather a long time desperately trying to engineer a cake monopoly. He wanted to retain and eat The Cake of International Cricket; he wanted to retain and eat The Lucrative Cake of T20 Franchise Cricket; and he also wanted to retain and eat The Cake of Having a Little Bit of Time Off.

Sometimes a man’s desires are impractical and AB finally seems to have accepted that the world isn’t organised how he wants it to be. He’s therefore taken the decision to forego The Cake of International Cricket.

It seems odd timing with a World Cup not so far away. Maybe David Warner and Nathan Lyon broke his spirit.

What proportion of Mohammad Amir will play the Tests against England?

Photo of Mohammad Amir from way back when by Sarah Ansell

We were a tremendously big fan of Mohammad Amir even back when he was called Mohammad Aamer. Things have not always been smooth since then. There have been blips.

They say that prison changes a man. We ourself have never been incarcerated. One time we accidentally ran a red light late at night because a cat was crossing at the junction. We slowed to a stop and watched it safely cross, but when we looked up again, we found that the lights had changed and we’d rolled a few feet beyond them.

Bang in the middle of a deserted junction, we had to choose between pointlessly reversing or simply driving off forwards. We went for the latter. Unfortunately, all of this took place immediately outside a police station and a cop car pulled us over and it was terrifying. It was about this point that we concluded that we probably weren’t equipped to do serious time in the slammer.

So we’re not 100 per cent clear what they mean when they say prison changes a man. As far as we can tell, it fractionally dulls outright cricket brilliance, because while Mohammad Amir remains a very, very fine bowler, the extraordinary gasp-inducing, match-turning moments seem to have come less frequently during Act Two.

He seems very slightly eroded. We’re interested to know what proportion of him remains and whether we can express that as a percentage of his former self.

Before and after

Amir entered Feltham Young Offenders Institution with 51 Test wickets at 29.09. Since he emerged, he’s taken 49 at 34.91.

His one-day international figures tell a very similar story. The synopsis for that story would be “not quite as good, but similar” which is not exactly the kind of tale where people will be rushing to buy up the film rights.

Maybe this isn’t about the stats.

The moments

The most captivating cricketers are generally those who give you very specific memories. We are struck by those whose manic peak form transcends everything else we see, even if there is also a depressive compensatory period afterwards. We’re pretty sure Mohammad Amir fits into this category.

Sadly, Cricinfo does not record the number of times a player makes you say “holy shit!”

Maybe this is something CricViz or someone could look into. The general sense though is of holy shits arriving with reduced frequency.

The good news

They can still happen. For all the jaded, stubbly, not-quite-as-pure-and-joyous-as-he-wasness about Amir Mark II, he still has it in him to do things other bowlers cannot.

Not many people can bowl deliveries that would dismiss Virat Kohli in a one-day international. Fewer still can bowl two in a row. The only real disappointment was that the second one was caught, denying Amir a sort of Kohli moral victory hat-trick.

He should also be a bit better prepared for bowling in England than last time around. He played for Essex last summer and speaking to Wisden Cricket Monthly, wicketkeeper James Foster said something along the lines of: ‘He was getting crazy mad swing, the likes of which I’ve never seen before even though I’m old.’ (This is not a direct quote.)

Three things Foster literally said:

  1. “He’s the most skilful bowler I’ve ever kept to”
  2. “He’s as good as I’ve seen”
  3. “[One particular spell of bowling] was basically impossible to face”

So what proportion of Mohammad Amir will play the Tests against England then?

This is difficult. We’re absolutely regretting floating the idea of expressing this as a percentage because it doesn’t make sense. But you can’t just scroll up the page and delete stuff, can you? No, you can’t. Not in this day and age. You have to try and deliver what you suggested you might deliver, even when it’s impossible.

Amir himself says he’s learned new skills, but at the same time, he’s a bit more chronic knee problemmy. Let’s write those developments off against each other because then we can just concentrate on the original Amir and whether there’s been any reduction there.

The stats say there has been a reduction, but the Essex performances say otherwise (he averaged 13.50 in three Championship matches and was their most economical bowler in 13 T20 matches).

Conclusion: Maybe, if last year’s spell reminded him how to bowl in England, we’ll get somewhere around 95-100 per cent of the old Mohammad Amir (only without the propensity to make huge, life-changing mistakes).

The Hundred is not going to be a big deal, people aren’t going to talk about it and it won’t attract a new audience

T20 Blast Finals Day (ECB)

Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer. After that, build a whole stupid thing around the stupid answer and then pin all of your hopes for the survival of your sport on how well the stupid thing fares.

The ECB are going to launch this 100-ball competition and they don’t give a shit that pretty much every existing cricket fan thinks it’s a bad idea. This is because they’re after a “new audience”.

Over at Wisden, we’re saying that this stance is moronic and completely misses the point about how people latch onto a sport in the first place.

Pondering how to attract a new audience, the ECB asked people who don’t like cricket what they would like to see. These people entirely unsurprisingly told them that they would like to see something that differs from the sport that they don’t currently like.

They have asked people who don’t understand cricket to identify cricket’s flaws and make it better. These people don’t profess to be expert sport designers, but their collective voice has given rise to something new anyway.

Surely a smarter way of going about things would have been to ask existing fans how they first came to the sport. These are the people who have gone from not liking cricket to liking it, after all. They therefore provide some sort of template for how people are typically won over. Identify the themes and you can maybe identify areas where you could be doing better.

A few weeks ago we asked people on Twitter how they were won over. Pretty much everybody was influenced by friends or family. That’s how people get hooked – through their interactions with other people.

Even if there was one defining moment that finally tipped the balance, they’d normally been worn down by the sport for a long time beforehand. Maybe they always heard it on the radio. Maybe they played in the back yard with a parent. Free-to-air coverage may well have played a part, but seeing the action alone is not enough.

If you’re immersed in a cricket environment, you’ll probably get into cricket. That’s generally the way it works. A cricket environment is not just what’s on the telly, it’s what people around you are talking about. The conversation matters. Get enough people talking about something and it becomes a big deal and when something’s a big deal, it makes headlines.

If existing fans hate a tournament, they aren’t going to enthuse about it and if existing fans aren’t enthusing about it, that oh-so-vital conversation is stillborn.

Here’s the link to the Wisden piece again.

Is it right that Jos Buttler won a Test spot without playing first-class cricket?

Let’s take a look at how Test teams are picked and whether runs in other formats are relevant.

We’ll begin with a quick bit of background.

A quick bit of background

Doing well at one-day cricket for England used to be a common way of getting into the Test team. Players like Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss did well in coloured clothing and then effectively got promoted. Somewhere along the line, things changed.

Broadly coinciding with the IPL getting bigger and more influential, cricket in England seemed to factionalise. The value of white ball runs declined as far as England Test selection went and at some point seems to have come to be seen as wholly irrelevant.

Red ball runs

There is certainly logic in picking your red ball side based on red ball performances, but it’s a question of emphasis. Practically speaking, if red ball performances are all you consider, then you’re effectively ruling out many of your most skilful cricketers.

England’s top one-day players simply don’t get to play much Championship cricket (in large part because they’re busy playing for England). We wrote about Mark Wood earlier this year, who is currently torn between two worlds, skiving off his IPL commitments to cram in a four-day game for Durham in the hope of keeping his Test place. He’s almost in limbo at the minute and at some point you feel he’ll have to prioritise one colour of ball.

The way the national side has been selected means that even those who don’t explicitly pick a format have effectively been asked to do so. Play white ball cricket if you want to play international white ball cricket and play red ball cricket if you want to play Tests. There isn’t really time to do both.

The problem for England’s Test team is that with more one-day caps up for grabs and more white ball opportunities worldwide, the short format choice is the more logical one. The Test selectors have therefore been picking from a greatly reduced pool of players. You could call it the dregs, if you were feeling unjustifiably brutal.

So Jos Buttler’s Test selection is striking

Whether you think he’ll make a good Test player or not, we’d argue that Buttler’s selection is good news as it softens the boundaries between the three different formats. We know others disagree, but it’s all cricket in our eyes and the longer the sport can remain whole, the better.

No format is an island; they lie on a continuum – so if T20 runs are inevitably worth less when trying to gauge Test ability, they are not irrelevant.

Jos Buttler has won his spot with cricket runs and the resultant implication that a whole bunch of other talented England cricketers haven’t been annexed by the white ball sides strikes us as being a broadly positive development.


What’s it been like watching Ireland’s first Test, against Pakistan at Malahide?

Kevin O’Brien’s hundred (via @IrishCricketers Twitter video)

Chuck writes:

With my Aged Parent heading towards 83 not out this summer (a superb innings), I decided it was time to introduce him to the pleasures of Test cricket by bringing him to his, and Ireland’s, and indeed my first men’s Test match, against Pakistan in Malahide. Well, day three of it, anyway.

Coming as we were from different sides of the city, we arranged to meet far too early in the city centre (it’s a genetic thing) and then had to kill an hour while we waited for our train. We went to a café and had a coffee, even though they seemed to be serving beer at 9am to some of the customers. The Aged Parent thought it might be non-alcoholic beer, given the early hour, but that didn’t seem to reconcile.

There was a lot of good humour and banter on the train to Malahide and on the short walk up to the cricket grounds one gentleman told me, without any introduction or invitation, that Ireland were now unique in being the only Test nation to have had their first day of Test cricket lost completely to the weather, and I told him that weather would no doubt play a large part in many of Ireland’s Test records in the future. That sort of good humour and banter.

I had always suspected that a large part of the draw for my Aged Parent in accompanying me to the cricket was the day-long access to the bar; he managed to stave off the thirst pangs until just after midday, after which hour of course everybody knows it is respectable to start laying in the drink.

He took himself off to the bar on our joint behalf and returned sheepishly a few minutes later to tell me the Gardai (that’ll be the police) had ordered the bar to stop serving and to only begin again at 12.30pm, which is the official start time for alcohol sales on a Sunday. (I know, crazy.) He went back down again at around 12.25pm; you have to admire his restraint. He was delighted that local pub Gibneys, which was running the beer tent, was selling its own-brand porter, which he pronounced to be very satisfactory.

After that, we followed the traditional lunch and tea breaks for food and other refreshments (a very so-so burger and chips for lunch (it wasn’t me, the AP wanted ‘something with chips’); beer; an excellent speciality wood-fired sour dough pizza for tea; beer). It was a busy afternoon as we were also tracking developments in the soccer and Gaelic games arenas throughout the afternoon, so we needed sustenance.

We met all sorts, as I suppose you do, ‘at the cricket’: one very depressed Sunderland fan; one Australian to whom I displayed remarkable elite mateship by not mentioning ball tampering; and another gentleman who told a very long story about the Irish ambassadorial residence in Tokyo, the details of which I won’t go in to here. Actually, we didn’t need to meet this gentleman; he was seated around seven rows back, but we caught every detail and eventually we just moved seat rather than disturb his flow.

We made the obligatory visit to the Irish cricket team’s new sponsor’s tent and got as much free gear as we could get away with without actually committing ourselves to anything or signing up to their mailing list or anything like that (although we had prepared a story and a fake email address, just in case: my Aged Parent was to say he did not have email, and my email address was to be I think the only thing we didn’t try was the ice cream van, which was doing steady business given the weather, which was really pretty good for Ireland in May.

By 5pm, my Aged Parent was a little tired of the cricket and so we wandered down the town for a ‘proper’ pint or two in a proper glass, i.e., a glass. Obviously, we were nice and early for our train ride home.

Send your match reports to If it’s a professional match, on no account mention the cricket itself. If it’s an amateur match, feel free to go into excruciating detail.

We’re mostly talking about Ollie Pope again this week, with maybe a dash of James Hildreth and a soupcon of Keaton Jennings

Ollie Pope (via ECB)

A combination of (a) the current state of the England cricket team and (b) the nature of early season cricket means that we’ve almost exclusively been talking about batsmen so far this summer.

This isn’t actually all that great for those of us who consider batsmen necessary impediments to the progress of cricket matches. Maybe later in the year, we can focus on fast bowlers and spinners. Please let that happen.

But priorities are priorities and England need people who can make runs, or at the very least avoid edging to slip while someone else makes runs from the other end. (Hard to justify having excessively lofty standards at the minute. We’d definitely settle for prolonged runless crease occupation from a number three.)

A few weeks ago, Ollie Pope made a hundred for Surrey and we took notice because not very many people have been making hundreds, let alone children. (How High by The Charlatans came out a year before Pope was born. We still think of How High as being one of the “new” Charlatans songs. (We went to the same school as Tim Burgess, incidentally, although he is quite a bit older than us.))

This week Ollie Pope made another hundred. In fact he made 158 not out in Surrey’s 414 all out against Yorkshire. That is a good knock – and not just because three of Kevin Pietersen’s first six Test hundreds were 158.

Oddly, just as it did last time, Pope’s hundred again coincided with one from James Hildreth, who made 184 for Somerset.

Finally, Keaton Jennings made 126 in Lancashire’s innings victory over Nottinghamshire and that too seems significant.


Nope. Draw your own.

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