Chris Woakes with the old ball, Mark Wood for his third Test in three weeks – dissecting England’s latest omission of a spinner for a day/night Test match

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There is no right answer when it comes to England’s Test team selection right now. But there are different types of odd decision. The omission of a spinner for a day/night Test is the most predictable one.

England picked five right-arm fast-medium bowlers and no spinner for the day/night Test in Adelaide. That went so well that they picked three, plus a tired fast bowler and again no spinner in Hobart.

Once upon a time, working for a local newspaper, we spotted a weird result in a vegetable growing competition. One of the categories had a second-place but no winner. There was no third place either. It turned out the judges felt that despite Barbara’s kohlrabi not having any rivals, it was of insufficient quality to be handed first place. This is how she she came to finish second in a field of one.

No doubt the kohlrabi was fine with this, but you can’t imagine Barbara was delighted. Maybe she was furious and went away and grew the best fucking kohlrabi that had ever been grown. But maybe her sense of self-worth took a knock too.

While vegetable growing is pretty mellow and forgiving of uncertainty, bowling in Test matches isn’t really like that. Confidence is more than just an asset for a Test bowler; it’s an entry requirement. It’s hard to see how repeatedly being deemed second-best to no spinner at all has helped Jack Leach over the last few years.

Day-night Tests, in particular, seem to be an irresistible invitation for his team to put all their eggs in the Plan A basket with all subsequent letters utterly scorned. If it’s a day-night Test, England drop their spinner. The one thing you’ve got to credit them on is their conviction on this matter.

In Ahmedabad, in February 2021, Leach did actually get a game, but as England’s sole spinner. India, in contrast, picked three and they shared 19 wickets as England were bowled out for 112 and 81. Leach took four wickets in India’s first innings and Joe Root took 5-8 – a performance that kind of distracted from the crazy surplus of seam bowlers.

That was a bit of a freakish match though with extra skid combining with variable spin to make life really hard for the batters on both sides. England duly filed it away under “doesn’t count” and turned up in Adelaide with an attack comprising James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes.

Despite this line-up, five of the 18 Australian wickets to fall in that match went to spin – three to Root and and two to Dawid Malan.

Denied the new ball, life was particularly tough for poor Chris Woakes. He took 1-103 in the first innings and went at 4.35 an over, plus a slightly more economical 0-46 off 12 in the second. Woakes is a really good bowler, but give him an old Kookaburra ball on an Australian pitch and even a beard isn’t going to save him.

So obviously he came back into the side for the next day-night Test in Australia, but this time as part of a four-man attack that also featured Mark Wood, a fast bowler who was rested when he wasn’t tired but who was being retained now that he’d a put a couple of serious shifts in.

England started the match well.

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22 comments

  1. Woakes is the victim of Broad and Anderson not retiring at a normal age. He should have had the new ball 4 years ago. He takes shed loads of wickets in ODIs, with the Kookaburra ball, home and away at the same average, as he gets the new ball. Conditions at Hobart, in the first hour, were made for him. Instead, as is usual, he gets chucked the ball after 15-20 overs when the shine has gone. His ODI figures improved dramatically after he got the new ball. They would do the same in Test cricket, if England could get past their Anderson/Broad obsession. Imagine having a strike bowler who averaged 25 with the ball and 34 with the bat (as he does in first class cricket). Most other teams would base their team around him. Not England. He should go to the West Indies as they use the Dukes ball.

    1. Agreed. He has been profoundly temporally unlucky.

      And England’s understanding of old ball bowling overseas has been poor.

      His batting has almost been a hindrance. It’s often seen him picked when he otherwise wouldn’t have been and thus inflicted another bout of old ball bowling on his record.

    2. Agreed. And test cricket might suddenly get a lot easier for England when Broad and Anderson are gone, and they’re picking Woakes, Stokes and Robinson/Overton for their bowling attack, meaning that they can pick two bowlers who aren’t right-arm fast-medium without having to think about their batting. Then again, losing your two highest all-time wicket-takers might be a bad thing. It’s possible that I just want England to pick Parkinson and I’m over-thinking it.

    1. And surely Barbara should have gone for Broccoli in any event, and left the Kohlrabi to people called Virat.

      Virat Kohlrabi
      Lentil Simmons
      Leek Ronchi
      Yam Curran

  2. So who would you have picked then? Given Anderson apparently wasn’t fit and Stokes can’t bowl. You mention Wood was tired.

    Presumably Woakes, Broad, Robinson, Leach?

    I don’t think no spinner is a bad option with only a 4 man attack. Agree we should have picked Leach in the previous day night test when Stokes could bowl.

    1. The same attack actually became more coherent today with Woakes taking the new ball and Robinson the old.

      But they still have no Plan B once the seamers can’t move it off the straight. It is tough to be the spinner in a four-man attack but if they hadn’t spent the last few years regularly failing to pick one in a five-man attack, maybe they’d have someone better able to do the job.

      Selection for this Test isn’t really the issue so much as previous selections for many of the Tests that preceded it.

  3. England really should hire themselves out to new parents struggling with prams, pushchairs, and car seats; there is quite simply no situation on which they cannot be relied upon to engineer a collapse.

    1. So, here are some semi-coherent thoughts about What We Could Do About This Sort Of Thing:

      Split the County Championship into three divisions with promotion and relegation

      Use the space freed up in the domestic calendar to play games throughout the season in different conditions and with England players available for more matches

      Allow teams in the top division to have an additional overseas player or two, partly subsidised by the ECB, raising the standard and providing a potential financial incentive (in the form of ticket sales) for teams to gain promotion

      Make The Hundred an ‘every other year’ event, scheduled for a time that doesn’t clash with a T20 World Cup or the IPL

      Play either the domestic T20 competition or the domestic 50 over competition in the ‘off’ year only

      Account for all of the above in a new financial agreement with Counties that guarantees their survival as long as they meet certain criteria (including in their internal governance).

      Set a maximum on the number of ODIs and T20Is played in a tour at 3 each, and schedule at least one ‘proper’ warm-up game before each Test series.

      Every time a Test team is selected without a recognised spinner, those responsible for the selection have to spend 24 continuous hours listening to, alternately, ‘Baby Shark’ and Australian press conferences about ‘Elite Mateship’.

      1. All excellent ideas, APW, but I fear that few if any of them will see the light of day. At one time KC wrote a dystopian fantasy series about an ECB gone MBA/marketing strategy berserk. Presumably still available on this site if I tried hard enough to find it. Sadly, dystopian fact has overtaken dystopian fiction in the Tom Harrison instantiation of the ECB.

  4. I have just received a message from my Australian (second) cousin’s partner, Graeme, suggesting that we have a chat about The Ashes some time soon.

    For the benefit of King Cricket readers beset by similar difficult correspondence from the Antipodes, here is my reply in full:

    “My understanding is that the series starts this coming week, Graeme…. https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/women-s-ashes-2021-22-1263566
    …unless you are by chance talking about men’s cricket, in which case the series is not due until the summer of 2023. 😎”

  5. Excellent title for this piece KC.

    I hear the Women’s Ashes is now called The Washes. Does this mean we’ve just finished The Mashes?

      1. In the Monster Mash, the corpse rises from the bed in the lab and does a groovy dance. England’s men just fell off the bed.

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