If England’s top three sets the tone, exactly what tone is it setting?

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Starts are important. Starts set everyone’s mood and so shape everything that’s to come.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Abattoir Blues album starts with two bars that sound like the climax of an encore. Nick then forcefully instructs us to, ‘get ready for love,’ and by 12 seconds, there’s a full gospel choir and the Bad Seeds have everything turned up to 11.

Cave can go in two very different directions and this opening tells us this isn’t one of those albums where he’ll only be doing the ballads.

Or how about the opening shot of the original Star Wars?

The Star Wars saga has become a sprawling labyrinthine thing where people talk about what is and isn’t ‘canon,’ but really this single shot sets up the whole central premise.

An unimaginably big scary thing is pursuing a helpless smaller thing. We instinctively sympathise with the vulnerable party and so the tone is set.

Starts matter.

What does England’s top three tell us about England’s Test team?

England’s best top three of recent times – if it even counts as ‘recent times’ by this point – was Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott. We’re not even going to bother saying anything about the way that trio set the tone because you’ve already thought it.

England’s current top three (at the time of writing) comprises Rory Burns and Dom Sibley – one of the all-time great aesthetically displeasing opening partnerships – plus Zak Crawley, a man whose last 15 Test innings feature 10 single-figure scores and one knock of 267.

They’re a weird mix, but also in other ways a samey mix. They’re three very different players who have all hit one Test six and who all average between 28.34 and 32.22.

The least experienced (Crawley) has the lowest average and one hundred to his name; the next most experienced (Sibley) has the middle average and two Test hundreds to his name; while the most experienced (Burns) has the highest average and three Test hundreds to his name.

The two openers have really good first-class records and England want them to do the same in Tests. Crawley has a poor first-class record but England feel he has the potential to transcend that.

Crawley has often looked the best but is definitely the least reliable. Burns is the most reliable but has arguably displayed his mediocrity over the longest period. Sibley bats for longest but otherwise achieves very little.

What does all of this say to the opposition and also to the England batsmen who are still to come?

There’s almost a supplementary factor here too in that they are all being included together. To pick one relatively inexperienced batter who averages about 30 could be characterised as either a punt or an investment, but to pick three tells us something deeper.

Does it say the England Test team is desperate? Does it say the England Test team will settle for middling returns?

England’s top three is probably setting the correct tone.

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  1. I think it’s mainly setting the tone of the noise a landline phone makes when you’ve left it off the hook – a sort of ‘something’s wrong here’ tone, but with a tinge of nostalgia for a simpler time when life didn’t move so quickly.

  2. Between these three, Dan Lawrence and Ollie Pope (and even Bairstow and Buttler in their own ways) England have an entire batting order consisting of players averaging in the mid-30s who have demonstrated some aptitude but not any great talent. As you said, it’s alright having one of them, but six or seven?

    It’s also difficult because all of these players have enough individual highlights to keep them in the team. Burns just made a hundred against New Zealand, Crawley has his 267, Dan Lawrence looks quite good sometimes and Buttler has two Test hundreds (and those wrists). On an individual level, dropping them might seem harsh or premature – not to mention the fact that it’s quite hard to agree exactly which of them to drop.

    Which is probably why they’re all still in and around the team, despite the fact that any of them making a decisive contribution looks like a distant dream at times.

  3. I’m guessing that KCs erroneously predicted runfest for Trent Bridge is now a nailed-on certainty for Lord’s this week.

  4. Does Joe Root scream “Release the bats” when the opening pair leave the pavilion? I doubt it.

    Footnote, this is an obscure Nick Cave reference intended to show how cool I am.

    1. I have never “got” Nick Cave.

      I can do dark – heck, Joy Division were simply amazing, Leonard Cohen cheers me up and I most certainly do get Nick Drake.

      But Nick Cave has always left me cold.

      It’s me rather than Cave, I realise that.

    2. Stagger (Brett) Lee
      Red Right Hand Bat
      Dig in, Lazarus, Dig in
      Straight (Drive) to You
      (Flipping) Murder(ed ‘Em Ballads)

      1. Messed up my last parenthesis there, it should of course be:

        (Flipping) Murder(ed ‘Em) Ballads



    Sakib Al Hasan is representing the Bangladesh under-19s at the moment. He’s 16 (or 18 – it’s never simple) and he’s a left-handed, top order batsman and left arm spinner. He was out for 20 off 16 balls against Uganda under-19s this morning, so this isn’t the most timely of tips, but he is good. Really good.

    He got the top four Pakistan batsmen out in Bangladesh’s first match of the Under-19 World Cup. He also took 3-39 and then scored 100 off 86 balls against Sri Lanka in the final of an under-19 tri-nation tournament before Christmas.

    He’s also helping the under-19s in their bid to field at least three Hasans in every match they play.

    As a footnote to this, we do now know what Sakib looks like because we found a picture on cricinfo. We were going to steal it, but the warnings about stealing it are a little bit too clear, so instead we’re going to make do with pointing out that cricinfo think that he’s a medium-fast bowler when he isn’t.



      Australia were bowled out for 62 – their lowest Twenty20 score – as they slipped to a 60-run and 4-1 series loss against Bangladesh.

      Matthew Wade’s side were all out in 13.4 overs – their shortest innings in 144 years – with only the captain and Ben McDermott making more than four.

      All-rounder Shakib Al Hasan became the first player to take 100 T20 wickets and score 1,000 runs in claiming 4-9.

      The BBC negligently refused to mention that the scorecard included three Hasans (Mahedi Hasan opened, Nurul Hasan kept wicket) in keeping with the fine tradition endorsed by Yer Maj so very painfully many of your Earth years ago…

  6. I’d argue the tone of the England innings was a sort of muted, plaintive horn in the distance, warning inchoately of a coming danger in the midst, and occasionally slipping into slapstick farting noises every time the ball was around the top of off-stump/nipping back into the pads/available to be panic-flapped into an unsuspecting fielder’s hands. In which case the top three set the tone perfectly. Nothing prepares the mind for the sight of white-ball specialists and tail-enders looking bewildered by Test bowling like the top order playing like white-ball specialists and tail-enders bewildered by Test bowling.

    (In fairness, Crawley showed a few glimpses of fluency, it was good to see Bairstow full of Hula Hoops and Celtic fire again in an England shirt again, and India’s attack looked menacing from the first step of Bumrah’s angry-supplicant runup.)

  7. Shove it up your Brydon, you Manchester Orifices (or whatever you are called)…London Spirit are the best cricket team in the whole world.

    I can’t spake.

    1. Yesterday I was wit someone who was talking about the Birmingham Pentatonix, the London Shipits, and the southeast bravers.

      The Hundred is on another level in terms of the educational factor.

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