2019 Cricket World Cup, Game 32, Australia v EnglandContinue reading
2019 Cricket World Cup, Game 32, Australia v EnglandContinue reading
We were originally going to present this article as being the views of Captain Hindsight, but when we started to write it we realised that half of England’s problems were actually fairly easy to see in advance.
So while some of what follows comes with the benefit of knowing how things panned out, that’s not true of all of it. Whether or not the sum of all these things would have made any difference to the end result is of course another matter.
Moeen Ali is a player of top innings rather than being a top batsman. Even before this series, his Test average was only 34.66. That’s pretty good for someone who bowls, but not really enough to warrant a place in the top six, which is where he found himself come the first Test.
Based on what followed, Moeen would have been batting a place too high had he come in at number nine. Craig Overton and Tom Curran averaged more than him, Stuart Broad managed a higher score, and you can’t imagine Gary Ballance would have bowled any less effectively.
We love Moeen, but things wouldn’t have turned out much differently for England had they instead picked a specialist fielder.
Michael Vaughan said Ben Stokes had been given ‘strong warnings’ about his lifestyle even before that night in the cells. It wasn’t like England should have locked him in his room each night, but could they not at least have persuaded him to refrain from going out on the lash in the middle of a series?
Who knows whether some other incident might have happened subsequently, but even a slight change in behaviour might have been enough to avoid the Bristol incident.
Our article about Toby Roland-Jones’ Test debut was essentially a veiled question: ‘Why have you picked a right-arm 80mph bowler when we’re touring Australia this winter?’
Plenty of similarly pedestrian right-armers followed. We’d sort of assumed that there was a minimum pace requirement for young seam bowlers, as this seems to have been an unstated part of the job description for as long as we can remember. When did this cease to apply?
People watch Jimmy Anderson bowling at 80-85mph and hope that younger bowlers operating at a similar clip might gradually develop his skills. But that isn’t the way it worked for Jimmy. He could bowl at 90mph in his first few seasons. The increased skill has compensated for the decrease in speed. He never entered a Test match with neither.
Craig Overton, Tom Curran and Jake Ball are about a tenth as skilful as Jimmy Anderson and don’t really have much to make up the shortfall. Overton and Ball have height, Curran has a slower ball, but England’s attack is so monochrome, this really isn’t enough.
Faster English bowlers do still exist. Either they’re not sufficiently valued or not especially well-managed.
England were never going to play Mason Crane until the series was already lost. When they did, he performed about as effectively as you’d imagine a 20-year-old debutant leg-spinner would.
It’s great that England seem to have identified him as one for the future and that they’re keen to invest in him, but they also identified Adil Rashid as one for the future a long time ago and despite his being top wicket-taker last winter, they ceased investing in him immediately before this Ashes series.
You have to try and recoup investments. Test experience is a finite resource. This whole thing just seemed so wasteful.
A flirtation with run-scoring in the first Test might have encouraged some to think otherwise, but this really isn’t hindsight, is it?
It was so obvious we actually titled September’s Ashes squad post England to win the Ashes via airy off-side drives.
James Vince’s first stint in the Test team ended because he didn’t score any runs and kept edging behind. Having underscored the fact that his record in the first division of the County Championsship is really rather mediocre through his efforts during the 2017 season, the selectors brought him back at number three for the Ashes.
He didn’t score any runs and kept edging behind.
If you’re England in Australia, chances are you’re going to lose anyway. You are not going to improve your odds by spending the years leading up to the series doing a load of things that everyone in the world can see are manifestly wrong.
It had to happen eventually. Today was the day James Vince finally managed to avoid edging one to slip.
And it was so easy to avoid. All he had to do was persuade an opposition bowler to aim a 90mph delivery about a foot wide of leg stump only for it to hit some sort of chasm which would persuade it to chart a new course for off stump.
He did his best though, did Jimmy the Nick. Presented with this heinous crime against physics, our boy presented the full outside edge of the bat. Alas, for once he couldn’t make contact.
We all have our limits.
ICYMI: The ball of the century
Mitchell Starc’s ridiculous delivery from EVERY angle ????
— The Ashes on BT Sport (@btsportcricket) December 17, 2017
The most significant question ahead of the Waca’s final appearance as an Ashes venue was not whether or not it would recover the pace of old – because it clearly wouldn’t – it was whether or not the ball would turn.
The Waca is Australia’s most over-hyped pitch and the pace of the home attack is its most over-hyped quality. Nathan Lyon is the man. Spin is what’s shaping this series.
England have left-handers at one, two, five and seven and Lyon has been hoovering up their wickets with ease. The tourists’ best hope has been that the dust of their demises might eventually clog his filters.
Lyon might have struggled to make much impact, but so did everyone else. With the old ball, in particular, nothing happened. The Kookaburra’s behaviour became as unremarkable and predictable as the Nullarbor Plain that keeps Perth safely detached from the rest of Australia.
Wickets don’t look easy to come by and there was no obvious theme to the dismissals. Cook was near-yorked, Joe Root suffered legside strangulation (it’s not unlucky – either middle it or leave it) while Mark Stoneman gloved a lifter.
You can guess what happened to James Vince.
According to Cricinfo, James Vince’s unbreakable addiction to nicking the ball behind has to be weighed against the fact that he scores 37 per cent of his runs through the covers. We disagree. All this statistic says to us is that Vince is a compulsive driver who will keep on lashing out at deliveries outside off stump until he’s invited to leave the field of play by the umpire’s raised finger.
Dawid Malan is the man no-one particularly wanted to see picked in the first place but he’s also the man no-one has since wanted to drop.
Like Vince, he hit a few nice drives. But then, just as crucially, sometimes he didn’t.
On the first day of the first Ashes Test, James Vince made what Reese described to us as ‘a daddy 30’.
No-one expected Vince to make 83 and what’s so marvellous about that is that it undermines a number of pre-series certainties to leave us all watching a nice, unpredictable sporting event.
The gist of it is this: if Vince can score runs against this attack then either he’s better than everyone thought or Australia’s fearsome pace attack is slightly less fearsome than we’d been led to believe.
Let’s go for a little from Column A and a little from Column B.
Vince was solid. We know this because having got up just in time to see Mark Stoneman dismissed (literally the first ball we saw) we then got to hear the commentators talking about what we’d missed at great length. England’s subsequent mediocrity then inspired us to spend a great deal of time dwelling on what had preceded it. (Ashes Tests can be very personally vindictive in what they present to part-time viewers on the opposite side of the world – we’re not inclined to calculate our own personal ‘cricket viewed’ mini scorecard.)
On the plus side, we did get to see Australia’s four-man attack at the end of the day, allowing us to gauge the impact of one whole day of Test cricket on them.
As relentlessly aggressive pace attacks go, they seemed to spend an awful lot of time pressuring England by cutting off the runs. As we all know, ‘good cricket’ and ‘attacking cricket’ are one and the same thing, so this defensive cricket was therefore impressively attacking.
Pace-wise, they were all utterly unspectacular. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins hovered just below the 90mph threshold above which we’re finally willing to deem a bowler ‘fast’. Josh Hazlewood opted for Jimmy Anderson pace and everyone pretended it was quicker because he’s younger and Australian.
An alternative take on the day is that the pitch is shunting the play runwards, in which case James Vince is the same and Australia’s bowlers are amazing because they’ve dismissed Alastair Cook and Joe Root for almost nothing.
We’ve been trying to provide some sort of pithy and insightful summary of the Test series for 24 hours now, but it’s not really happening. We’ll instead content ourself with a vague collage of observations. If these are our workings-out, maybe you can provide the conclusion yourself.
If you need someone to bat at seven or bowl right-arm fast-medium, England are spoilt for choice. However, if you want a specialist batsman, a fast bowler or a spinner, you’d be better off looking to the tourists.
England had more batsmen, but fewer effective specialist run-scorers. Despite greater numbers, they also had less diversity in their bowling attack.
Moeen emerged from the series with a better strike-rate than almost all the specialist bowlers. Blind yourself to the rate at which he concedes runs and he’s a very effective spinner. His stellar batting is an excellent distraction, but not quite blinding.
We don’t normally take claims that bowlers have ‘lost their nip’ too seriously because pace often varies from one match to the next. The difference with Anderson is that he said himself that he was down on pace in the second Test and then didn’t really seem to recover it. If he can retain a viable bouncer, he’ll probably be okay. Pace isn’t everything – but it is something.
Younus Khan’s had it. Look at him. Look at the state of him.
Yasir Shah hasn’t posed a threat since Lord’s. He doesn’t spin it. England have worked him out.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul could have told you that, but James Vince has been trying to prove it from the opposite direction. We feared for Vince’s chances before he played and we haven’t seen a huge amount to reassure us since then. Nor has anyone else. County cricket’s who-saw-a-future-England-player-first-and-championed-his-cause-the-most competition will have to forget about this and move on. Do yourselves a favour though – don’t claim that a player ‘looks good’.
The last time Pakistan toured, cricket fans were left feeling sick and unenthusiastic about the game. Pakistan themselves were left a fractured mess. This time they leave with fans more enthused about the game and with a level of solidity to their cricket that it is hard to remember their ever having had before.
Misbah-ul-Haq is an alchemist who can turn middle-age into youth and chaos into order.
James Vince wasn’t going to be caught in the slips driving today. Oh, no, no. Today he had other ideas.
He announced his intentions early on by edging a sort of half-defensive shot, half-leave. Vince was going to make damn certain that when he was caught in the slips, it was while playing with a complete lack of intent.
The only question was how many runs he would make before that happened. Would it be 37? Would it be 39?
It was 39.
The shot, when it came, was the indeterminate prod. Younus Khan took the catch and gave everyone a few more opportunities to assess Vince’s interminate prod techique when he floated the possibility that the ball maybe didn’t carry. It did carry though. Of course it carried. It was an edge off Vince’s bat while he was in the thirties. If it hadn’t carried he’d have had to have repeated the shot before he reached 40.
The ‘James Vince edging to slip’ montage extends still further. How many more chances will he get? We’d give him at least another innings what with his already having been selected for this Test and all.
We had a first look at James Vince in Test cricket and weren’t much impressed – but we did add the proviso that we don’t ascribe much value to debut performances anyway. We’ve had a few more looks now and we’re still not particularly impressed.
We generally find people’s decisiveness about relatively new players unsavoury and hasty, so let’s just say that we’re politely awaiting an innings that will persuade us of his worth. We hope it arrives. Don’t keep us waiting too long, Jim.
So with our non-judging position established, this is nevertheless the situation as it stands. After five innings – which is very few – Vince is averaging 14 in Test cricket. More worryingly, this fits a trend where he seems to average less in higher standards of cricket.
In 2013, Vince averaged 64 in first-class cricket. Very impressive. In 2014, he averaged 61. In both of those seasons, he was playing in the second division.
In large part thanks to those 2014 performances, Hampshire were promoted. Last season Vince averaged 33 in first-class cricket.
To be fair to him, this year he’s averaging near enough 40 in the first division (although he’s only actually passed 50 the once).
Moral of the story? How about three?
We have a general belief that a player’s first Test appearance is near-worthless in terms of evaluating his quality. It therefore seemed to make perfect sense for us to start documenting players’ debuts. This is the first of those pieces.
We said we had faint misgivings about James Vince ahead of his Test debut. It’s not that we don’t rate him, because we don’t know him. We had however heard that he was stylish and we always think that style is a strong indicator of a poor Test debutant.
Our reasoning is thus: stylish batsmen look good and have to do less to win people over, so all other things being equal they will be worse than shonky-looking batsmen who have to be way more effective to break into the Test team.
Batting-wise, Vince hit two fours and then edged to slip trying to hit a third. It was a shame that he himself wasn’t the fielder, because he also dropped a couple of catches – one of which was pretty straightforward.
So far so rubbish, but Vince’s match was completely salvaged by his magnificent bowling. He didn’t just bowl medium-pace. He bowled an over of medium-pace bouncers, one of which almost took a wicket. Short-pitched medium-pace is such a colossally contrary way of trying to dismiss Test batsmen that we feel sure it will reap great rewards.
On this evidence, James Vince is now our equal-favourite bowler in the world, along with Gary Ballance.