Category: England cricket news (page 1 of 145)

“Our bowling is an area of concern”

Katherine Brunt leathers a six (via BBC)

So said South Africa captain Dane van Niekerk after her team had conceded a world record 216-1 in a T20 against New Zealand and then a few hours later conceded 250-3 against England.

“An area of concern” is a great way of putting it. “An absolute liability” is just that little bit too straightforward, while “absolute dog toss” isn’t a very diplomatic way of rating the performance of your team-mates.

“We spoke between games about what we wanted to do, but did the complete opposite,” she added.

She didn’t say why.


Are England the ultimate flat pitch one-day side?

Alex Hales (via YouTube)

England took the Australia bowling attack apart as if it were a giant Lego penis and grandma was coming over. The dismantling was rapid, efficient and utterly comprehensive.

We strongly disagree with the idea that people want to see more boundaries, but there’s no harm in having the odd one or two of these front leg clearing festivals from time to time – and if they’re held against Australia, so much the better.

Honestly, if you’re tired of Australians being on the receiving end of world record totals, you’re tired of life.

Meaningless?

There’s a temptation to almost write off these sorts of totals because they’re so ridiculous, but no matter how flat the pitch and no matter how short the boundaries, this sort of innings requires huge ambition and consistent execution. The Australians gave a sense of how difficult it is to pull off when they batted.

In contrast, England are good at this, in no small part because England are built for this. They’ve been conditioned to start hitting early and to keep on hitting throughout an innings. It is a very specific skill and they are probably as good at it as any one-day side has ever been.

A flat pitch bowling attack

England also have a bowling attack that is honed for high-scoring matches. This is a thankless and undervalued art and we want to quickly pay tribute to it because it is something that is almost wholly overlooked.

Some days you restrict the opposition to 350 and that is a very good effort – a fact that is currently acknowledged somewhere around zero per cent of the time. (Then the batsmen saunter past that target and everyone gushes about what they’ve done.)

England’s bowlers are at their best when the ball is flying to all parts. It’s counter-intuitive, because all people see are the boundaries, but the bowlers are very, very good at shrugging off the blows while unleashing occasional rapid stiletto stabs.

Bowlers should only be judged against what could have been scored on any given day. If every other side in the world would concede eight an over and you concede seven an over, that is literally match-winning.

Adaptability

A lot of people think that one-day cricket is all about flat pitch mega-totals these days because the only time they pay attention is when there’s a flat pitch mega total.

However, we only have to go back two matches to find a winning total of 218-7. The big concern is supposed to be whether England’s batsmen will be able to adapt on days when runs are likely to be less plentiful, but we’d argue the bowling is a bigger concern.

England’s one-day bowling strategy is all about variety. They currently field a left-arm swing bowler, a right-arm new ball bowler, a leg-spinner, an off-spinner and a bang-it-in pace bowler.

Variety is ideal when you want to ask the batsmen lots of different questions. It’s less good when conditions favour one particular type of bowling. When that happens in a 50-over game, all you really want to do is ask the exact same question as many times as possible, and that’s much harder to do when you have your eggs in so many different baskets.

If England have a weakness, this is it. This is where they will be beaten.


It didn’t always seem so obvious that Liam Plunkett wasn’t Sajid Mahmood

There was a time when Liam Plunkett was spoken about in much the same way as Sajid Mahmood. Then there was another time when Liam Plunkett was spoken about in much the same way as Sajid Mahmood. It seems safe to assume that it won’t happen a third time – other than in this article.

This article looks back on the first two occasions when Liam Plunkett was spoken about in much the same way as Sajid Mahmood.

First, a reminder

This is Sajid Mahmood.

Sajid Mahmood (photo by Sarah Ansell)

To many of you, Sajid Mahmood’s face will be a very familiar face, but it occurs to us that some of you may never have even seen him.

Saj hasn’t played international cricket since 2009, which is one thing – but he hasn’t even played first-class cricket since 2014.

Four years is quite a difficult time gap to appreciate. Four years ago feels roughly the same as the present day, but at the same time it also seems poised to stroll through to an era where you can legitimately reminisce.

Four years ago, the most recent Star Wars film was shit. Four years ago, you hadn’t heard Uptown Funk even once.

Point is, Saj’s cricket career isn’t currently at its zenith.

The first time people spoke about Liam Plunkett in much the same way as Sajid Mahmood

In 2004, England picked Sajid Mahmood for their one-day international (ODI) side. In 2005, they picked Liam Plunkett for the Test team and then almost immediately for ODIs as well. Early in 2006, Sajid Mahmood made his Test debut.

These were exciting times and these were exciting bowlers. They bowled quickly and they were both in their early 20s. As it became increasingly apparent that Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Simon Jones maybe weren’t the kinds of bowlers who would venture far into their thirties, Liam and Saj were (briefly) viewed as The Future.

The second time people spoke about Liam Plunkett in much the same way as Sajid Mahmood

By the end of 2007, Liam Plunkett had 23 Test wickets at 39.82 and Sajid Mahmood had 20 wickets at 38.10. Both were run-conceding machines. Plunkett was going at 3.57 runs an over and Mahmood was going at 4.04.

They played two Tests together and while the second one went quite well, both their reputations were bound to the Idol of Many Hands and thrown off the dock into the sea by the first one. It was the one where Sri Lanka made 537-9 following on and Andrew Flintoff tried to bowl himself into a debilitating bout of rigor mortis.

Their one-day records at this point also encouraged the notion that the two of them were basically the same shit player. Plunkett had taken 37 ODI wickets at 34.05 with an economy rate of 5.85. Mahmood had 29 at 38.89 and was conceding runs at the exact same rate.

That rate seems unspectacular nowadays, but let us tell you this was still a time when commentators would spend 10 overs talking portentously about the moment when the required run-rate would finally exceed a run a ball.

Whenever anyone said something about Liam Plunkett or Sajid Mahmood in 2007, they said it in a sort of groaning sigh and what they said, every single time, was: “Why do they keep picking him?”

Act II

In The Secret of Monkey Island, the character you play, Guybrush Threepwood, can hold his breath for ten minutes. When he is thrown off the dock tethered to the weighty-looking fabulous idol, you have these ten minutes to escape.

All Sajid Mahmood managed to do was slowly turn green, but Liam Plunkett at some point hit upon the solution. The solution is that you pick up the idol, pocket it, and climb out of the sea. (This analogy doesn’t actually extend to the solution – we only mention it because the solution is a very wonderful and funny thing.)

Plunkett is the elder statesman of England’s one-day bowling attack these days and he has become the quick bowler they absolutely rely upon for wickets when the opposing batsmen start to take flight.

Plunkett bangs in the short one; he bobbles in the short one; and he sometimes spears it or bobbles it at the stumps. He bowls all of these things reliably and he cycles through them until one works – and generally one does.

Where things stand today

Liam Plunkett now has over a hundred ODI wickets at under 30. And let us tell you about his economy rate, because this is so marvellous and we are so happy with these numbers.

We took the end of 2007 as being the end of Act I of Liam Plunkett’s career because while he played the odd international after that point, they were very occasional and he’d definitely fallen into the “only if we’ve suffered plenty of injuries” category.

As we said before, at the end of 2007, Liam Plunkett’s ODI economy rate was an eye-watering 5.85. As the world has reshaped itself around him, his economy rate has dropped from to a more-than-handy 5.84. (Isn’t that great?)

So, okay, not all of the numbers properly tell the story of how Plunkett has gone from “why do they keep picking him?” to World Cup linchpin. You can comprehend it better by looking back on matches like the one on Saturday when he beasted four wickets and secured an England win.

(Quick late digression: One of the umpires for that match was Alex Wharf, who was England’s very next ODI debutant after Sajid Mahmood. Alex Wharf’s debut went well. He was man of the match.)

While he might be knocking on a little, Liam Plunkett’s cricket career is pretty much at its peak.

In contrast, Sajid Mahmood was last seen literally pretending to be a bowler in a TV advert for a betting company.


Why aren’t the big teams embarrassed about losing to smaller teams?

Scotland beat England (via Sky Sports)

Scotland’s obvious delight at beating England at the weekend was in no way matched by the anger of the England fans or the embarrassment of the players. It’s not an exact mathematical thing, but normally in sport you’d expect similar sorts of weight on both sides. Why was that not the case?

If you could boil the England fans’ reaction down to a jus, it would taste something like: “Bit disappointed, but happy for Scotland – it’s great for them.”

This is in no way appropriate and absolutely 100 per cent not what anyone from Scotland wants. Those guys want tears and this sort of phlegmatism really undermines their celebrations.

As for the opposition, when the final wicket fell, Trevor Bayliss stood up and flattened out the pocket of his hoodie. You could argue that by Bayliss standards flattening out the pocket of his hoodie pretty much amounts to dropping to his knees and roaring at the heavens, but we’d argue that it more accurately amounts to flattening out the pocket of his hoodie.

Eoin Morgan said: “It’s not the end of the world for us. It was a really good run out and good to have a practice coming into the series against Australia.”

That pretty much sums up the whole problem: There’s nothing riding on it. There are no consequences. Scotland’s big game is just a warm-up for England. The two sides viewed the game completely differently.

England’s one-day side hasn’t been together recently, yet they only met up the day before the Scotland match. They barely practised. The match was their practice.

That is dismissive and insulting and if you think that being beaten will make them act differently in the future, think again. It is a get-out. So long as games against Scotland are viewed as warm-ups, defeats can be shrugged off.

“Onwards to the proper stuff – we’ll be playing properly come the proper stuff,” will be the gist of any comments after a defeat.

Scotland are of course not invited to the one Proper Stuff event that is supposed to be about celebrating and encouraging the spread of the sport. The ‘world’ cup is currently a closed shop reserved only for the made guys.

People do seem to be a bit sick of this and we get the distinct impression that the 10-team format of the 2019 World Cup will be a one-off. Nevertheless, even when Scotland did get a World Cup invite, the format was generally rigged to the extent that there were still no real consequences unless the big teams suffered a whole series of poor results.

There have to be consequences. Consequences are what piss losing fans off. A guarantee that one way or another there will be a whole bunch of pissed off fans makes any cricket match infinitely more exciting.


Will Jos Buttler prove that the best Test teams contain the best T20 players?

That’s a terrible headline. It labels Jos Buttler a T20 player when a key aspect of the point we’re about to make is that players shouldn’t be categorised.

Over at Wisden, we’ve picked up almost exactly where we left off earlier in the week, arguing that England’s Test team would do well to draw on a wider range of experiences.

Take a look back on most of the recent Test debutants and first-class performances have generally been trumping international white ball performances as a selection criterion. The team has become more specialised and more focused and while that may seem like a positive, we’re saying that it also makes it homogenous and that homogenous means worse.

In recent times, adaptability and innovation have come to be seen as being synonymous with ramp shots and reverse sweeps because these things are ‘new’ and easy to identify.

But that’s not the case. Flexibility, improvisation and lateral thinking are not the sole preserve of T20 cricket. The truth is that the shortest format is the one in which players face the narrowest variety of conditions and match situations, whereas Test cricket is the one in which they must adapt the most.

Successful Test teams need people who can come up with solutions to problems on the fly and if all the free thinkers are drifting towards T20, Test teams would do well to try and reclaim a few of them.

Here’s the Wisden link again so that you can read similar sentiments expressed in a greater number of words.

 


How Jos Buttler has brought a bit of culture to England’s Test team

We’ve always said that Jos Buttler seems much, much safer at the crease – and a far more reassuring presence for England fans – when he’s just standing there spanking sixes, all bionic eyes and adamantium wrists.

We wrote about this in 2015 and Buttler himself seems to have been paraphrasing us all week when explaining his recent Test competence.

Bat like Buttler

Buttler’s unique selling point is surprisingly reliable irresponsible batting. For most batsmen, risk increases exponentially with every attempted step up in scoring rate, whereas for Buttler, the relationship appears to be more linear.

When Buttler scores twice as quickly, he is perhaps twice as likely to get out. If anyone else tries to do the same, they’re about ten times more likely to get out.

Jos Buttler’s version of risky batting isn’t really all that risky when weighed against the likely returns, so it’s best if he feels that it is a legitimate and acceptable option.

“Fuck it”

During the last Test, TV coverage gave us a glimpse of the message “fuck it” on the top of Buttler’s bat handle.

We can already sense the meaning of the message being subtly twisted as people hear about it second and third hand.

What the message isn’t: Jos Buttler is not a carefree T20 specialist who doesn’t give a shit, expressing to the world how little he cares.

What the message is: Jos Buttler cares slightly too much and the message is a reminder to himself that only when he feels liberated can he give a proper account of himself.

(The ‘fuck it’ thing has been covered in loads of place this week. Our favourite piece was Ali Martin’s, because starting a mainstream media article with ‘Fuck it’ really unbalances any readers who don’t know why you’re saying it. An article that starts ‘Fuck it’ could go in a very surprising direction. Every time we’ve read ‘fuck it’ in one of these articles, we’ve heard it in a John Goodman voice in our mind’s ear. It’s funny to imagine that the full message might be ‘Fuck it, dude. Let’s go bowling,’ because bowling is one cricket thing that Jos Buttler has very rarely done. (Career record: two overs, no wickets for 12 runs.))

No, really – bat like Buttler

The other thing that happened in the last Test was that other people started batting like Jos Buttler.

That isn’t to say that Alastair Cook started ramping yorkers through his eyelashes. It was just that everyone started batting way out of their crease to negate the Pakistan bowlers’ swing and seam.

The results were ostensibly unspectacular, but most batsmen got some runs – which isn’t something you’ve often been able to say about England in recent times.

It strikes us that having a diverse batting line-up is very healthy as it means the team as a whole has access to a wider variety of ideas about how to score runs in any given set of circumstances.

As the divide between England’s red and white ball teams has become more pronounced, the Test team in particular has become a sterile monoculture of first-class specialists. Test cricket is the format in which you must be most adaptable and having different voices and different ideas within the team cannot be a bad thing.


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.

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

  • 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.

Conclusion

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’s been 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’s been your favourite opening partner for Alastair Cook since 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

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’s been 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?


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