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Is Stuart Broad back and is that necessarily a wholly good thing for England?

Stuart Broad appeals (via Sky Sports)

The future’s here. The future’s even more of Stuart Broad bowling with the new ball. You might think that sounds suspiciously like the past and you’d be right. Sometimes things don’t change all that much.

Actually one thing’s changed. Whether it’s enthusiasm, rhythm, a minor technical tweak or a combination of all three, Broad appears to have recovered some effectiveness.

Between his mostly insipid Ashes performances and now, Broad renounced video analysis and started training on feel and this wilfully primitive approach appears to have proven beneficial. He has regained some pace and just took a bunch of cheap wickets against New Zealand.

Is this resurgence a good thing?

Yes, obviously it’s a good thing

England have had precisely one wicket-taking bowler for most of the last year – James Anderson. Broad’s resurgence means they now have two. This means there’s a good chance they’ll lose Tests by much narrower margins when the batting utterly collapses. Losing by much narrower margins is a very legitimate and reasonable goal for England away from home at the minute and one we fully support.

There’s also the fact that Stuart Broad is an immensely enjoyable cricketer. Many people hate him, including a surprisingly large number of England supporters, but that isn’t the same as not enjoying his presence. Whether you feel affection or not, who doesn’t feel a twinge of some emotion or other whenever he appeals? And who would honestly claim that he isn’t the most watchable batsman in world cricket?

What’s less clear is what this apparent rejuvenation means long-term.

Mark Wood is not Neil Wagner

Wagner has carved out his very own niche as an attritional short-pitched fast-medium bowler. It really shouldn’t be a thing, but somehow it’s been working for him – not least because it is a role he has committed to in a manner that would put Daniel Day Lewis to shame.

You need someone to bowl 10 overs on the bounce at the batsman’s armpit? Neil Wagner will give you 12. Neil Wagner is no dilettante. Neil Wagner is going to pummel that armpit to Hades if the batsman doesn’t get bat, gloves or arm consistently in the way.

Wagner gives New Zealand a unique avenue to explore. He is one egg in a very different basket. This load-spreading egg transportation policy is one that England are currently looking to mimic.

Unfortunately, Mark Wood is not Neil Wagner. This is not at all how Mark Wood bowls. While he does have a bouncer, it is not his stock ball and yet the Wagner approach is largely how he has ended up bowling for England upon his return to the side.

Because who else will?

No-one, that’s who

Sometimes this is the price you pay for being the quickest bowler. Remember when Broad was England’s “enforcer” and how woefully ineffective he was when he had the job?

Wood can, in theory, be sawn, sanded and reshaped, but you do end up with a very different thing after doing all of that, even if it’s’ still made out of the same raw material. That’s all well and good, but what Mark Wood started out as – a fast bowler aware of the existence of the stumps – is a very fine and desirable thing indeed.

Without Full-Pitched Broad, Wood might perhaps get to bowl how he normally would. Without New Ball Broad, maybe Chris Woakes would have taken a few more wickets this winter.

What you are describing is really just displacement – you can’t blame Stuart Broad for England’s main bowling problem, which is their inability to find a half-decent way to get something out of the Kookaburra ball once the shine’s worn off

Yeah, okay, the exact approach of one of England’s only two effective bowlers and when he gets to bowl are pretty low on the list of England’s concerns at the minute.

However, the very top of that list runs something like this.

  1. Find a middle order batsman
  2. Find a top order batsman
  3. Find any sort of Test cricketer whatsoever because seriously it’s been absolutely bloody ages since anyone new secured a place long-term

Point three is where Broad has an impact because new ball bowlers and quick-bowlers-who-pitch-it-up are two things England really should be able to find even when they’re otherwise shit at cricket. The fact that Broad and Anderson have rendered both of those  ‘things the team absolutely does not in the least bit need’ for the last however-many-years means that an obvious route into the side has closed.

Seriously, England need to find someone – anyone – soon

Moeen Ali was dropped for this Test. While that doesn’t negate all of his many wonderful performances, it does mean that all of the stalwarts in the team started playing international cricket a really, really long time ago.

It’s the very nature of stalwartcy (not a word) that such a player is of course likely to have been around a fair while, but at some point teams have to find new players who are going to be solid, regular picks and there is no sign that this is happening. Not one sign. Not anywhere in the team. (Even Dawid Malan’s apparent solidity pretty much hinges on other people being slightly worse. He’s currently averaging 29.85 in Test cricket.)

When we wrote on this subject in January, we pointed out that Moeen was the man to have most recently become a mainstay. Moeen made his debut in 2014. Hopefully he gets back into the side, because his batting is slightly magical. His absence also means that the player whose name has most recently made the move from pencil to pen is Ben Stokes who debuted in 2013.

Churn

We used to work for a company where we eventually stopped attempting to learn new colleagues’ names because they would quite often not last a week because the company was rubbish and dying.

Stuart Broad’s resurgence is great and fun and pleasing, but you do feel that England could find a replacement new ball bowler more easily than they could find a middle-order batsman and it would be nice to have at least one newish player in the team whose name might be worth committing to memory.


Why did Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft think that cheating using sandpaper was worse than doing the exact same cheating using something that wasn’t technically sandpaper?

Sandpaper (via Sky Sports)

When we first saw Cameron Bancroft tampering with the ball using sandpaper, we thought to ourself: “That is sandpaper” – and so did everyone else.

We were therefore very much surprised when he later claimed that it was not in fact sandpaper but something akin to home-made sandpaper.

“We had a discussion during the break and I saw an opportunity to use some tape, get some granules from rough patches on the wicket to change the ball condition,” he explained.

It has since turned out that no, actually it was sandpaper all along because of course it was.

This revelation both made sense and also entirely didn’t make sense.

It made sense because the main thing sticky tape sticks to is itself, so it would have been a hell of a feat for Bancroft to keep it in his pocket all flat and rigid like that.

It didn’t make sense because why did Bancroft say that it wasn’t sandpaper? It was such a pointless distinction it literally didn’t even occur to us that it might not be true.

Bancroft and Steve Smith were in that press conference admitting what they’d done. Yet at the same time as coming clean, they also decided that they would tell an outright lie about that one specific detail. How did they hit upon that particular course of action?

Smith: We’ve been caught in what was clearly a premeditated attempt to alter the condition of the ball using sandpaper. What the hell are we going to do? What shall we say?

Bancroft: Let’s mostly confess but then say that we didn’t use sandpaper. Let’s say it was tape that we sort of made into sandpaper once we were out there on the field of play.

Smith: Yes, that’s an excellent idea. That should entirely negate everything we’ve done and ensure we sidestep any and all criticism.

Seriously, why would you lie about it? The question demands some scrutiny.

In that initial press conference…

1. Smith and Bancroft admitted ball-tampering. The nature of the material used to carry out the ball-tampering did not negate this, so this cannot be the reason why they decided to lie.

2. Smith and Bancroft admitted planning to tamper with the ball. They said they’d come up with the idea in the break. They weren’t claiming this was a spur of the moment thing, so this cannot be the reason why they decided to lie.

3. Smith and Bancroft admitted using something very much akin to sandpaper to tamper with the ball. The primary aim of rubbing the hypothetical sticky tape in dirt was to create a thing with a coarse side which could then be used to rough the surface of the ball – so basically sandpaper. The nature of the thing cannot be the reason why they decided to lie.

4. Smith and Bancroft did not admit to sourcing actual sandpaper. This is the only difference between what happened and what they said happened. It would seem that for Smith and Bancroft the threshold for wrongdoing lies at the very specific point between ‘making sandpaper’ and ‘purchasing or otherwise acquiring sandpaper’.

Conclusion

This no doubt sounds very much ridiculous to you, but it’s the nature of ‘ball maintenance’ that everyone has a slightly different but very precise idea about what is okay and what is not okay.

For example, a lot of people feel that sucking a sweet and then taking the resultant sugary spit from your tongue to shine the ball is okay, but that taking sugary spit directly from a sweet on your tongue and using that to shine the ball is not okay. For these people there is a critical ratio of sugar-to-saliva beyond which you become a massive great cheat.

You will probably have your own opinion about where exactly the threshold lies. That opinion will no doubt be mental.

Darren Lehmann has another opinion again. We don’t know what that opinion is, but it is so radically different from Smith and Bancroft’s that the poor man has had to resign from his job as Australia coach due to the extraordinary weight of disappointment he is currently feeling.


Has David Warner really ‘gone rogue’ and if so, why? Let’s examine the evidence

Absolutely the best recent headline about Australia’s ball tampering is the one on Fox Sports suggesting that David Warner has ‘gone rogue’.

The evidence for David Warner’s rogue-going is that (a) he was sitting on his own at one point and (b) he drank Champagne with friends who weren’t cricketers.

Based on this, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we have also gone rogue, because (a) sounds rather lovely while (b) is definitely something we’ve done at weddings and female birthdays.

What is however stated less explicitly is (c) a general vibe that Warner is distancing himself from the team and is also kind of furious. Unnamed players have warned that there could be an ‘incident’ (which, admittedly, could just mean that one or two of them want to lamp him) and there’s a sense that throughout the tour he’s been gradually drifting further and further into Davidwarnerland where David Warner makes the laws and David Warner enforces the laws and everyone else is somehow in the wrong.

If you’re reading articles elsewhere today, there’s a good chance you’ll come across a sentence along the lines of “there’s a growing feeling that Warner was the ringleader” and this probably feels fairly credible to you.

Let’s bulletpoint the circumstantial evidence.

The third of those is probably the only one that’s truly of relevance because we all know there are plenty of arseholes who don’t tamper with cricket balls.

Several UK newspapers have run a story that Warner told England players how he used the strapping on his hand to knacker up the surface of the ball a bit during the Ashes.

Here is a picture of Warner’s hand during the Port Elizabeth Test (thanks to Darryl for pointing this out to us).

Warner’s hand (via Twitter)

This image raises three important questions in escalating order of importance:

  • Does David Warner really need that much strapping?
  • David Warner puts his wife’s name on his bandages?
  • What the hell does it mean that David Warner puts his wife’s name on his bandages? That means something, right? There’s no way that doesn’t say something about their relationship. (His kids’ names are also on there, but very much as afterthoughts.)

It’s important to point out that Warner is right-handed, so he shouldn’t have required assistance writing the names. (Several of you will no doubt feel that he probably did require assistance writing the names anyway.)

There has also been a suggestion that Cameron Bancroft only became Ball Management Guy after a dressing room attendant spotted Warner putting sandpaper in his strapping during the second Test at Port Elizabeth. This claim has the general air of being not enormously true based on the vagueness of the source, but we mention it anyway because you never know. We certainly wouldn’t bet big money against it and not just because we already have a lot of outgoings and to do so would therefore be somewhat irresponsible as well as juvenile.

The most compelling case for David Warner as ringleader has been put forward by journalist Geoff Lemon. He thinks Warner’s smarter than he’s generally given credit for (which, in all honesty, isn’t actually all that hard given the public perception of him) but he says he’s also prone to wild mood swings and high aggression. Even never having met him, those qualities just seem instantly and 100 per cent believable.

Lemon doesn’t think Steve Smith can control Warner and instead just tries to accommodate him. He thinks the South Africa experience has got to Warner and that he’s increasingly been driven by what he perceives to be righteous rage. Under a weak captain and an indulgent and protective coach who lacks perspective and self-awareness, you can see how that kind of an attitude might lead Warner towards ever-darker parts of the grey area and incrementally on from there.

An alternative view, which we’ll put forward for balance, is that David Warner is a very convenient and beautifully appropriate fall guy.

We were in a police line-up once. It was when we were at university. We can’t remember exactly how it came about, but we think that someone from the police came onto the campus and said that they needed young men with short dark hair to make up the numbers. So we went down to the station along with a bunch of other short-dark-haired middle-class students and stood next to a lad from the estate with somewhat longer hair and then the person came in and said it was the lad from the estate and we all got a tenner and went and bought ourselves ten pints.

The point is, take almost any conceivable combination of current Test cricketers, line them up alongside David Warner and then ask people to guess which one’s been a dick. Doesn’t even matter what the crime is – who are people going to pick? People are going to pick David Warner because he’s a dick.

The idea that Australia did something wrong and that Warner was 99 per cent responsible is an easy thing to accept because it just seems so fundamentally plausible.

Warner too will be aware of this. He’s spent most of his career feeling like everyone’s got it in for him and while there’s a dash of paranoia and a soupçon of insecurity in that assessment, it’s also pretty much fully accurate and correct.

The man himself, you feel, will have a strong sense of the way the wind is blowing this week and might therefore have concluded that he might as well ‘go rogue’ before he’s officially banished. Why wait?


Australia have been caught ball-tampering. But what was the worst aspect? And what was the funniest?

Excuse making (all images via Sky Sports video)

Well this is very much hilarious but also reprehensible because saying the second bit is part of the unwritten contract we have all entered into as cricket fans.

Australia have been caught ball-tampering, a simple statement that doesn’t really do justice to all that’s happened and how people have reacted to it.

Australia planned to tamper with the ball, tampered with the ball, attempted to cover-up tampering with the ball and then, once they were flat out of options, admitted tampering with the ball and claimed it would never happen again (good luck taking 20 wickets in your next home Test match, lads).

It’s all a bit sordid. Let’s try and work out which was the worst bit (and also which was the funniest).

Altering the condition of the ball

The kind of cheating where you subsequently have to be incredibly skilful for it to actually have an impact is not, in our eyes, the world’s greatest crime.

The written law is that cricketers can only polish the ball. The unwritten law is pretty much: “Just don’t get caught, okay, because then we all have to feign outrage.”

Different people are happy with different things when it comes to ball “maintenance”. There will never be agreement, so the unwritten law becomes the pragmatic solution. Vithushan Ehantharajah wrote a truly excellent piece about reverse swing for The Cricket Monthly that features many of the common techniques. (In the lower leagues, a team-mate of Special Correspondent Dad’s used to apply lip balm to his trousers so that shining resulted in a sort of veneer.)

Surreptitiously altering the condition of the ball is like the ‘sticky bottle’ or ‘magic spanner’ in cycling, where a rider gets assistance from a team car under the guise of doing something else. There are circumstances where these things are considered okay and circumstances where they’re considered not okay. You do them at your own risk and if you cross the line, you just have to accept that everyone’s going to rip into you.

Verdict: Not the worst bit.

The rank incompetence

We don’t know whether it’s the worst aspect of this incident, but the Australians’ ball-tampering incompetence is certainly the funniest aspect. We’ll say that now. No real need to compare it the others.

Let’s first deal with the methodology. This is what Cameron Bancroft used on the ball.

Looks like sandpaper, doesn’t it? Looks pretty much exactly like sandpaper. That’s certainly what everyone instantly assumed.

But, no, it was not sandpaper. According to Bancroft: “We had a discussion during the break and I saw an opportunity to use some tape, get some granules from rough patches on the wicket to change the ball condition.”

Cameron Bancroft did not bring sandpaper onto the field of play to use on the ball. What he did was infinitely stupider than that. What Cameron Bancroft did was bring some raw materials onto the field of play with which to manufacture some sandpaper and THEN he used it on the ball.

Compounding this, he added: “Obviously it didn’t work, the umpires didn’t see it change the way the ball was behaving or how it looked or anything like that.”

So to run through the whole thing: Australia went to incredibly great lengths to try and alter the condition of the ball by manufacturing homemade sandpaper in full view of about 100 cameras and then they used it in full view of about 100 cameras and it didn’t work.

As risk-reward goes, that is not a great ratio.

Verdict: Not the worst bit.

The cover-up

Footage of an incident of cheating has been played on the big screen at the ground and obviously also broadcast around the world. Darren Lehmann thinks he’s probably the only one who’s spotted it though so he gets a message to the player responsible and lets him know.

Bancroft sneaks the offending material into his pants.

Now no-one will ever know!

‘Yes, yes, it was definitely this completely different bit of material that I was using,’ he told the umpires.

After he later came clean, Steve Smith said the plan was hatched by “the leadership group” but also informed the press that he was “not naming names.”

Verdict: Pretty bad.

The hypocrisy

Australia have in recent years very much positioned themselves as the moral arbiters of the game. As a rule of thumb, everything they do is fine and anything anyone else does crosses the line.

Darren Lehmann, in particular, has been roaming the world like some sort of sporting morality consultant, delivering lectures on what is and isn’t acceptable in cricket. More than that, in fact – like a judge, handing out verdicts and recommending sentences.

The whole time he’s been doing this, he – and everyone else in the team – has been going on and on and on about how the team plays hard but fair. There are so many quotes making reference to ‘the line’ and Australia’s respect for it that we honestly can’t pick out a favourite.

Verdict: This is probably the worst bit. It’s like the Team Sky thing, if you’ve been following that story (here’s a breakdown of it if you haven’t). If you set yourselves up as whiter-than-white, as moral arbiters of the sport, you will be judged against that standard.


Let’s celebrate that magnificent Rabada v Warner thing without at any point expressing support for all the stuff that gave rise to it

Rabada and Warner (all images via Sky Sports video)

Here at King Cricket, we’re not at all in favour of unnecessary on-field aggro: fielders over-celebrating dismissals, bowlers getting right up in the batsman’s face and all that.

However…

We are HUGELY in favour of adrenaline-fuelled cricket – particularly when it involves a true fast bowler and a batsman who comes across as maybe being a bit of an arsehole.

It is just such a tremendously watchable feature of cricket. In what is ostensibly a team sport, you have two guys who hate each other basically going head-to-head, the guy with the bat making the guy with the ball hate him more and more and more until finally there’s a moment of catharsis.

And you know what? Sometimes all that bad stuff that we totally don’t approve of actually helps give rise to this kind of thing.

So let’s entirely overlook the cause and instead celebrate the effect because David Warner and Kagiso Rabada had a thing today and it was very much amazing and fun.

Rabada began by hitting Warner on the arm. It was his second ball and already we had the physio on.

Strapping in place, Warner promptly popped Rabada for four next ball.

The ball after that was a leg-bye and he got off strike.

The next Rabada over, Warner was facing again. First ball he nearly chopped on and got a single. Back on strike, this is where things really went up a notch because he hit the final three balls of the over for four.

The first was a legitimate cover drive, the second was a definitely-going-after-this-guy-no-matter-what scythe thing and the third one was off his pads.

And it continued.

The first ball of Rabada’s next over was, as you might imagine, short.

It went for six.

We’re not sure exactly what you want to read into this, but Rabada’s next delivery was a no-ball.

That also went to the ropes.

So that’s Rabada v Warner, five boundaries on the bounce. What would you absolutely 100 per cent most definitely want to see happen at this point?

Just stop and think. Imagine that you know in advance that this is the last ball you’re going to see. Things aren’t going to build up any more that this. This is the finish. What do you want to see?

Cartwheeling stump! The finest sight in sport.

After that, Usman Khawaja walked out and everyone felt a bit deflated and a load of people switched off.

Honestly, this might just have been the most perfect passage of cricket there’s ever been.


When was the worst moment to tune in on the day England were 58 all out?

Ben Stokes (via Sky Sports video)

England were 58 all out today and New Zealand didn’t even have to stoop to a bowling change. Being as play largely took place during the UK night, England supporters will have first seen the score at all sorts of different points, depending on bedtime, alarm time and bladder size.

When was the worst moment to start following events?

0-0 in England’s innings

There’s a case for saying that those who were there from the beginning got it worst. We disagree. Even though it occurred at hellish pace, seeing a collapse unfold gives more time to come to terms with what’s happening. There’s greatly reduced shock value.

18-3

This probably gets our vote. At 18-3, the score is already bad enough to provide an unhelpfllu sleep-denying burst of adrenaline in the middle of the night. You would then have seen the score become 18-4 and then 18-5 and then 18-6.

Six wickets is a lot of wickets, while 18 runs is very few runs. 18 is the score at which the situation officially moved from ‘gravely troubling’ to ‘hugely disastrous’.

58 all out

A horrifying score, but yet you’ve missed the light relief of Craig Overton’s forlorn late sally and now have to endure the protracted drip-drip erosion of hope via Kane Williamson’s bat. This is not a good moment at which to tune in.

123-3 in New Zealand’s innings (England 58 all out)

We just felt like we should include a mid-New Zealand innings option. This seemed the best/worst. At 123-3 and England 58 all out, the situation is already full-on dogshit and there will be precisely nothing else to cheer for the whole of the rest of the night/day.

175-3 in New Zealand’s innings (England 58 all out)

The full and complete horror, all in one go.


Six very important things to watch out for as New Zealand take on England in Big Man Cricket

Stuart Broad (via Channel 5)

Hat-tip to Marlon Samuels for coining Big Man Cricket, a term that really does sum up the might and majesty of the longest format rather well.

1. The Great Neil Wagner

First and foremost, make sure you watch The Great Neil Wagner, whether on live coverage or via the tiny five-minute highlights packages that get put out after each day’s play. England don’t play New Zealand very often – and even then not for very long – so this will be one of the few opportunities you will get to see him – and let us tell you that The Great Neil Wagner is full-on fascinating in every conceivable way.

2. England’s opening bowlers

There are whispers that Stuart Broad might not come on for the second over and may instead appear for the seventh. This is of earth-shattering significance because ‘opening bowler’ is a key part of a cricketer’s identity. The corollary of such a move would be that someone else would of course have to bowl the second over. Who would that be? It seems a bit high profile for Chris Woakes, even though it would definitely be Chris Woakes.

3. Will Mark Wood play?

Odds are that he won’t, but if Ben Stokes’ minor key back-knack keeps him from bowling then either Wood or Craig Overton may get a game. Hopefully Wood gets in because as we keep saying, he may never get another chance.

4. Stuart Broad’s general competence as a bowler

Stuart Broad reckons that walking around Trent Bridge indoor school listening to music has made him a good bowler again. We may be deliberately omitting some of the crucial aspects of this practice time, but the crucial question remains whether it was well-spent or not. For what it’s worth, he genuinely sounds like he might be quite enthusiastic about cricket, which would seem to us to be a good thing.

5. James Vince, if he plays

We’ve actually reached a point now where we secretly want England to keep picking Vince and for him to keep edging to slip when seemingly well-set. Obviously it isn’t that fiercely-held a secret because we literally just wrote it down in the expectation that other people would read it.

6. Tim and Trent

New Zealand’s opening bowlers know what they’re doing. What they will mostly be doing is almost exactly the opposite of what The Great Neil Wagner will be doing.


Let’s see if we can sum up Kevin Pietersen’s entire career by looking at one innings – but no, not by using that one

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Terry’s been with the firm for 30 years, but he’s not retiring; he’s going part-time. A couple of years down the line Terry reduces his hours further and then a bit later still he says that he’s going to be available for jobs he’s already done a bit of work on but that he doesn’t want to start anything new. One day you suddenly realise that you haven’t seen Terry in a very long time.

So it is with cricketers these days. They just fade away. Other than grainy Twitter clips of him striking boundaries for the [insert city name] Sunbadgerers, we honestly can’t remember the last time we saw Kevin Pietersen play cricket. But he’s definitely retired now.

As we see it, there are two main ways you can go about covering a player’s retirement. (1) You trawl through the archives, pick out his finest innings and try and do a comprehensive career retrospective. (2) You sit down with a coffee and see what first comes into your head as being the peak moment.

The issue with taking the first approach for Kevin Pietersen is that as well as all the great innings, the task also entails wading through a whole heap of stuff about him falling out with people. We once described his feud with the ECB as being exactly like a soap opera because it never ends.

Our view of that thing is increasingly that it was a situation where fairly small stuff grew to seem like big stuff for a bunch of coaches and cricketers who had to spend morning, noon and night together. For context, in one of the more accidentally enlightening passages in his autobiography, KP said: “We are on the road for 250 days a year, we wear our England kit on most of these days … It never, ever ended.”

You don’t have to like the guy to read that sentence and sympathise a bit.

The other problem with the ‘some of his best innings’ approach is that, even cut short, Pietersen’s was a long career. It took in 104 Tests, a slightly greater number of one-day internationals and a World T20 win. You can’t really do a functional summary of something that sprawling, which leaves us with option two: you go with the moment you were most excited about and just sort of hope to hell that it speaks of some greater emotional truth that somehow crystallises his entire career.

Having made a coffee and consulted our head, the thing that we thought of as being the peak Kevin Pietersen moment was his first Test innings.

2005 KP (via YouTube)

We’d guess that somewhere around 99-100 per cent of you will disagree with that. Even those of you who picked something from the same year will probably go with his “series-winning” hundred at the Oval.

History, by The Verve, is a more powerful song than Bittersweet Symphony. However, you will almost never hear History played on the radio. This is an example of a phenomenon where a band earns attention for one song only for the following one to be wrongly identified as the more significant one in the long-term simply on the basis that it sold more. Eventually the big single becomes so all-pervasive that no-one really remembers the first one because that memory is never refreshed.

You can probably think of more and better examples. All we’re saying is that the 2005 Oval Test is an example of this in sport. Plenty of people think that Pietersen’s hundred defined the series and while it was of course hugely important, the series had to a great extent already been defined by then – there had already been four-and-a-half Test matches, after all. Pietersen’s was probably the key moment that was seen by most people, but that is not the same as being the best moment.

We’ve written before about how we found that whole fifth Test a slightly maudlin experience. Pietersen’s was an autumnal knock, both literally but also in the sense that if there was still much to look forward to in terms of his own career, it was already pretty clear even at the time that the zenith in terms of memorable summers was already drawing to a close.

The first Test had a different vibe. There’d been a hell of a preamble in terms of a crazy volume of adrenal one-day cricket, but Lord’s was where the posturing ended and the important stuff began.

But let’s go even further back, because we need to provide Kevin Pietersen’s back story.

Just before his Test debut, KP had a slight reputation for being awkward, but it wasn’t really thought of as being an insurmountable problem. Andrew Strauss would not at this point have called him a cunt. His personality was really just a background thing; something almost wholly overshadowed by his batting.

Back when there were no Lions in England in 2003-04, Pietersen toured India with England A and scored four centuries. Matt Prior did reasonably well on the same tour and pretty much no-one else emerged in credit. In terms of working out who England should pick to bat in the middle order in coming years, it was a pretty successful tour.

In 2004, the full England side played one-day series in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Kevin Pietersen was from South Africa and South Africa didn’t much like him.

Five innings into his one-day international career, Pietersen had been dismissed once, for a golden duck, and was averaging 234, scoring at near-enough a run a ball. In the fifth match against South Africa, Pietersen made his second hundred – an even 100 not out off 69 balls in an England defeat. In the seventh match (different times), he made 116 out of 240 and England lost again.

Presumably they were feeling magnanimous in victory, but the South African fans who had been giving him relentless shit throughout the series were also giving him a bit of applause by this point.

Forget everything that happened afterwards for a moment: this is the character who came to the crease at Lord’s in 2005 and he did so when England had been losing the Ashes for as long as anyone could remember. They had also been losing wickets to Glenn McGrath for as long as anyone could remember.

England’s score shortly after Pietersen emerged was 21-5 and Glenn McGrath had 5-7. All notions that maybe things were different this time around had been inserted into the bin.

England lost that match, but with his first (and second) innings in Test cricket, Pietersen reached into the bin, extracted those hopes, wrapped them up in clingfilm and said: “Let’s not be hasty. I think we can make something out of these yet.”

He made just 57 runs, but those 57 runs contained a lot of information and KP did three important things.

  • The first important thing that KP did was pretty much fuck-all. After 41 balls he’d scored nine runs. He faced McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee and pretty much just ignored them. He made it look like it was possible to not subside to 21-5.
  • The next important thing that KP did was he smashed Glenn McGrath for 14 runs in three balls. This was simply not a thing that happened to Glenn McGrath in any circumstances, let alone (a) against England and (b) when England had pretty much already collapsed.
  • The final important thing that KP did was he hit Shane Warne for six. Warne had barely bowled by this point and also dismissed KP with his very next delivery, but given KP’s one-day record at this point, hitting Warne for six definitely implanted the idea that Warne being hit for six might happen again and if Warne being hit for six by an England player could happen again, what the hell else could happen?

Pietersen’s second innings in that match was really just him elaborating on these three points. He hit Brett Lee for six, he hit Warne for six again. He made 64 not out as England were bowled out for 180. He said to his team-mates: “It is possible to hammer these bowlers and if it’s possible to hammer them then it’s definitely possible to just sort of hang around working the ball about making steady runs.”

He also said the exact same thing to the fans, which was even more important because the people in the stands were the batteries that powered that England side. That England side redefined what England fans thought their team could do and also how people thought they would go about it.

Kevin Pietersen sent out that message early and as a bonus he also gave the impression that he might play one or two innings that would be worth watching in the future.


Should England drop Chris Woakes for Mark Wood?

Mark Wood and Chris Woakes (via YouTube)

Chris Woakes is a very good and admirable cricketer. He didn’t have the best of time in the Ashes but has since bounced back in the shorter formats. If he were to play the two Tests against New Zealand he would almost certainly take a whole bunch of wickets. Nevertheless, England should drop him for Mark Wood, who may or may not perform as effectively, but probably on balance not.

Now the first thing to say is that we like Chris Woakes very much. We believe he will play plenty of Tests for England and it stands to reason that this also means that we believe he will take many Test wickets and consequently bring us a great deal of Test joy.

He is also widely perceived to be a very nice man. If in thirty years time our daughter were to tell us that she was going to marry Chris Woakes, we’d say: “Chris Woakes is almost 60. This age gap is unseemly.”

However, if by the magic of time travel he was the exact same age as her, we’d say: “This is evidence of real actual time travel. This is incredible.” But once we’d dealt with the seismic technological development (and really, what else is there to say?) we’d say that on balance, given some of the other historical figures she could have ended up with, Chris Woakes is an adequate and acceptable choice.

Although actually, now that we think about it, isn’t Chris Woakes married? Maybe we’d be concerned about why he was running away from his own time period given that he had a wife and a burgeoning international cricket career back then.

Anyway, the point is that Chris Woakes is an agreeable-to-likeable man. With hindsight the whole ‘would you be happy for him to marry your daughter’ thought experiment was a bit of a misstep on our part given their respective ages.

(Also, a quick note to say that we’d rank Mark Wood slightly above Chris Woakes on the likeability scale because he can be genuinely funny – and really, what other worthwhile quality would you ever look for in a person?)

(Another quick note. No matter what else he does, likeability will always be something of an uphill struggle for Craig Overton because he will always retain the air of someone who maybe once did a racism.)

(Yet another quick note. If he ever stops to think about it, Jamie Overton will probably  resent the fact that he faces a slightly shallower uphill struggle for likeability because of the tarring-by-association that comes with being a twin.)

(Final quick note. We’ve just thought how Jamie Overton can easily avoid this. He should cast Craig as “the bad twin” which would of course make him the good twin, ergo likeable.)

Here’s the thing about likeability: at no point did Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath slow their wicket-taking as a result of our feelings about them during their playing days. Likeability and Test performance are not really connected and when you’re picking a team, it’s 100 per cent about how effective you think the player is going to be. (We’re going to be honest here, we’re going to flatly contradict this point a little later in the article.)

So what does Chris Woakes actually do? Let’s take a look at England’s bowlers to see what each of them offers and let’s do it according to Steve Harmison’s Theory of Units because that is something we fundamentally agree with.

Swing bowling: Jimmy Anderson is pretty much the best swing bowler there’s ever been.

Tall bowling: Current form notwithstanding, Stuart Broad has been a very good tall bowler.

Reverse swing bowling: Wiser men than us might disagree, but from what we’ve seen we feel like Ben Stokes has a legitimate case to be considered England’s best reverse swing bowler. Certainly, most of the occasions when he ‘makes things happen‘ seem to be occasions when the ball is also reverse swinging for him.

Spin bowling: Moeen Ali is the man who makes the ball bounce a bit funny by spinning it with his fingers.

So what does Chris Woakes add to the palette of things? Does he do anything different to the people listed above? Does he do any of the things listed above better than the people listed above?

Not really. In contrast, we could also add…

Fast bowling: Mark Wood.

Now, we can’t help but concede that Mark Wood is not always a fast bowler. Sometimes – perhaps even a lot of the time – he is just as fast-medium as everyone else. In fact it is not all that uncommon for him to bowl less quickly than Chris Woakes, who we would generally categorise as ‘brisk’.

But Mark Wood can bowl quickly. This is a thing that he is capable of doing and on the occasions that he manages it, he adds an extra thing to the bowling attack, which improves as a consequence.

When Mark Wood bowls quickly, he is electrifying. Chris Woakes is not electrifying. This is not meant as criticism of Chris Woakes because the truth is that very few players are ever electrifying. Being electrifying is a rare and valuable thing and that is why whenever you have a choice between a player who is possibly electrifying and one who definitely is not electrifying, you should always pick the possibly electrifying player even if there’s a more than reasonable chance that he will actually not perform as well as the other guy.

Cricket is meant to be fun and those rare moments when you think to yourself ‘something is happening’ are the most fun of all. Andrew Flintoff’s career record is famously nondescript, but he will always retain a warm place in our heart for all those occasions when he made us feel like something was happening.

There is also the small matter of retaining Mark Wood as a Test cricketer. Not so long ago we wrote at length about how these two Tests against New Zealand pretty much represent the final chance for him to have a career in the longest and most memorable format of the game.

Chris Woakes has been in the England Test team enough recently that we’re pretty confident he will be picked again. Wood, on the other hand, is running out of opportunities to do the kinds of things that will make people feel like they can actually pick him in Test cricket.

He should be picked and then hopefully something magical will happen and we can all stop worrying about the game fracturing into pieces for a day or two.


Frankly, you might as well open the bowling with Mark Wood

Mark Wood (ECB)

The big news from England’s warm-up piss-take of a match against a New Zealand XI is that they’re thinking of having Retired Hurt open the bowling. Accounting for three batsmen, he was England’s most successful bowler after Jimmy Anderson, who took 4-56.

Root deployed just the nine bowlers and even fewer of them actually opened. Mark Wood got three overs with the brand new ball and frankly, England may as well persist in doing that.

We’re aware that opening the bowling is meant to be some huge great deal and that making Stuart Broad come on first-change would put his mental health at grave risk – but if his replacement’s only going to bowl a three-over spell, as Wood would, it isn’t necessarily a monumental disadvantage in any real meaningful sense.

Fresh from his new and exciting experience, Wood also had some helpful advice for the Hamilton groundsman: “I think they should burn that top end, so I don’t have to bowl from there any more.”


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