Featured

Test-Capless-England XI

How many times have you watched England play test cricket in recent months, even years, and it has seemed like there wasn’t much idea of a plan for their batting? As if all the players after the openers have been told to ‘play their natural game’ with seemingly no awareness for the match? Never? Okay, fine. That’s cool. But if you have, maybe you’ve looked at the performances of some of the county sides and thought they seemed to have more idea as to what they were doing as a team than England? Maybe, after watching another England batting collapse you have in your rage suggested that England would lose to most Division 1 county sides. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe that’s just me. But if you have, I’ve had a neat idea – a county XI of players who have not played test cricket for England that could potentially beat the current England test side.

Despite England having just wrapped up the India test series with a victory in the third test at the Ageas Bowl, they have been far from convincing in this test series. Yes a win is a win, but the manner with which England’s lower order have had to repeatedly bail out the top order has been hardly confidence-inspiring. The same was the case in the test series against Pakistan. Be it runs from Sam Curran, Dom Bess, Joss Buttler or Chris Woakes – it has been too often the case that the individuals getting the meat of England’s runs in these series are coming in below number five. Joss Buttler and Sam Curran are currently England’s two leading run-scorers in this India series for crying out loud. At times it would seem that England’s top order has been suffering from a dangerous mixture of players who seem out of their depth and players who seem to have a seemingly quixotic attitude to batting in test cricket. With regards to potential attitude problems, and whether they stem from the players as individuals or the coach is hard to say, scoring runs quickly can be a fantastic way of turning a game on its head – such as Ben Stokes’ sterling century against New Zealand at Lords in 2015. However England seem incapable of playing a long game against good bowling attacks that demand respect. Words like flaky and unreliable come to mind when thinking of England’s batting. At the heart of this seems to be the ECB’s willingness to pick many batters – Keaton Jennings and Dawid Malan – that most county fans would not say are among the best English players plying their trade in the County Championship. Thankfully, we don’t seem to have the same problems with bowlers – though it looks likely we will in the near future when James Anderson retires. England seem, however, uninterested in developing players like Ben Coad who look a ready-made replacement for James Anderson, and instead are desperately looking for a speed demon like Jamie Overton. In protest of that sort of thinking, I’ve placed a premium on performance for bowlers, rather than imagined ideas of how they could perform.

Before some of you imaginary readers who probably don’t exist start complaining, I thought long and hard not just about players recent performances, but what they had done throughout their careers as well. I believe strongly that you should take judge recent performances against the backdrop of their career overall to get a better sense of the quality of the player.

1. Rory Burns*

Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave SR 100 50
103 177 13 7203 219* 43.92 49.25 14 39

Rory Burns has been one of the most consistent run-scorers in the County Championship for the past five years, and has been the star batter in an unbeaten Surrey side which he has led to the top of the table. He has impressed many this season with the way he has captained Surrey, getting the best out of a bowling attack that have skittled a number of teams, and shown great faith in his young spinner Amar Virdi. It is something of a marvel to many watching county cricket that Keaton Jennings has been given such a long chance opening the batting when he has only really ever had one good season, whereas Burns seems to have been in form for years now (maybe it’s not just form…). One of Burns greatest qualities is his ability to both defend and attack. If you bowl badly to him he can rattle off a 50 in no time at all, however, if the team are struggling, he can be as crabby and scratchy as the best of batters. The only reason that one can seem to find for his non-selection is his somewhat idiosyncratic method of batting where he sticks his arse out and looks at mid-on while the bowler runs in, but then again, Steve Smith looks really stupid when batting. Despite this apparent hindrance, he’s consistently scored runs and shown he can definitely do it against test-quality attacks when he scored a fantastic 100 against a Hampshire attack including Dale Steyn, Fidel Edwards and Kyle Abbot earlier this season (featured in the video above).

2. Daryl Mitchell

Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave SR 100 50
188 339 37 12300 298 40.72 46.33 34 48

Yes, I know what you’re saying – no Nick Gubbins? Well, yes, there is no space for Nick Gubbins in this team, and you know why? Because Daryl Mitchell is an absolute legend. He is the incumbent chairman of the PCA, he has so far represented the views of the professional cricketing community with wit and foresight – particularly in his assessment of the ECB’s plans for the Hundred (boo, hiss, hiss, hiss, boo). Beyond that, and more importantly, he’s been one of the finest opening batter plying his trade on the County circuit for years, and has carried that on this year as he’s piled on the runs for his beloved Worcestershire. He’s perfect for this team really as he’s dedicated a huge amount of time to the county game, never got a look in for the England setup, and would be well up for the challenge.

3. Joe Clarke

Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave SR 100 50
57 97 8 3676 194 41.3 62.38 12 13

Joe Clarke is a name that’s been mentioned as a future England prospect for a number of years now, and in all honesty there’s a strong argument for that future bit being replaced by current. Anyone who has seen Clarke play can attest to the clear talent he has, and should Worcestershire suffer relegation to Division 2 again, there will definitely be a number of counties sniffing around him. He was Worcestershire’s second-highest run-scorer as they won promotion to Division 1 in 2017 and has carried that on this year too, behind the immovable Daryl Mitchell. What helps Joe Clarke’s case dramatically is that he has batted at three for his county. Though he has spent most of his time batting at four, he recently moved up to three as Tom Fell has moved to opener, and Moeen Ali has been selected for England. He has the shots and the temperament to play at three, and it would be a great boost to his England chances if he could cement himself as a number three for his county. I think he can do it, so that’s where he’s going to bat. Got it?

4. James Hildreth

Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave SR 100 50
244 401 30 16171 303* 43.58 n/a 43 70

Is James Hildreth the man most unlucky to miss out on a test call up in living memory? He is without question one of the best batter in the County Championship, and would walk into any batting lineup in the country. Not only would he walk into those teams, you would move other players to accommodate him. Age is definitely against him in terms of getting an England call-up these days, and when it seemed like it was his turn to get the call some ten-ish years ago, he was trying to force his way into the strongest England batting lineup for decades. However, when you consider some of the names who have got a go since then – Dawid Malan and Tom Westley spring to mind – it is frankly bizarre that he’s never been selected for the test side. He gets in this team and there should be no debate about that selection.

5. Sam Northeast

Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave SR 100 50
145 24 18 8874 191 38.58 55.69 20 45

Now, this is where we can start directly comparing this XI, and what each players role in the batting lineup is, with how England seem to do things. Ben Stokes, a bowling all-rounder (yes, he is a bowling all-rounder, I don’t care what you say about his innings against South Africa, he impresses more often and more consistently with the ball, and that is shown by the stats), is currently batting at number five. It would be great if Ben was capable of being picked as both a specialist batter and specialist bowler at test level, but we’re fooling ourselves if we think the former is true. Instead, in this team, we’re going to pick Sam Northeast, an actual batter who is able to play the situation, being capable of both attacking and defending brilliantly. Rather than trying to force someone in at five, I’m going to pick someone who, wait for it, bats at five, and has experienced a lot of success batting at five. he finishes off a top order of batter who make their wicket valuable, who are unlikely to get out as foolishly, or lazily as the England top order seem to consistently do.

6. Liam Livingstone

Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave SR 100 50
40 65 12 2187 224 41.26 57.94 6 100

This position was a slightly tough one and was between two players. I knew that I wanted a player who was capable of scoring very quickly at six. Why? Well, in terms of the balance of the team I looked at Hildreth and Northeast and I thought I had two players there that I was confident could occupy the crease. Players who could stay out there even if they weren’t scoring heavily, and my faith in their ability is what allowed me pick a more expansive risk-taking player after them. The choice was between Liam Livingstone and Jason Roy – yes, Jason Roy. A lot of people are surprised at that one but he’s actually got an exceptionally good record in first-class cricket. However, I went with Liam Livingstone, despite the lacklustre season he’s enjoyed this year. He’s known as one of the biggest hitters in the County Championship, and it’s a reputation that is well-earned. Also, he bowls some quite tight spin so you know, if you fancy it. That’s not why he’s picked okay. It’s not. We’re not going to do a Moeen with him. I promise.

7. Ben Foakes 

Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave SR 100 50
86 131 25 4430 141* 41.79 53.48 8 24

Alec Stewart thinks Ben Foakes the best gloveman in the world – and that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he plays for Surrey, alright? Don’t ‘what’ me you whopper. Anyway. he’s a banging keeper who’s actually a pretty nifty batter as well – he bats at five for Surrey after all. What’s particularly impressive about his batting is how intelligent he is. He seems very capable of playing the situation, and has on numerous occasions played really important innings for Surrey, not just for the runs scored but for the length of time he spends out there. Also, he’s the best looking man in cricket, possibly even sport, so has to be in the team for marketing purposes. The ECB would really be best-advised in forgetting about getting old white eyebrows Ben Stokes signed up for marketing the Hundred, and instead just get Ben Foakes and his perfect teeth.

8. Keith Barker

Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave SR 100 50
109 145 25 3514 125 29.28 58.43 6 16
Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts Ave Econ SR BBI
109 186 17898 8915 341 26.14 2.98 52.4 6/40

The term ‘unsung hero’ is always a something of an oxymoron – once you start calling someone an ‘unsung hero’ they are by definition no longer an ‘unsung hero’. That’s why, just before I say it, let’s bask in it for a moment, this moment, right here. Great. Okay, so, if there is one real ‘unsung hero’ in county cricket it’s Keith Barker. Barker has consistently been Warwickshire’s, if not one of the country’s, best swing bowler for years now, and there are very few teams in the County Championship that have not been torn apart by this left-armed genius. Though you might say he’s at the back end of his career, and didn’t enjoy a great 2017 – then again, who at Warwickshire did? – he’s shown his quality this year again having had a sensational 2016. His ability is reflected in his record and the fact that he’s left arm offers the bowling attack vital variation. Not to mention, he’s actually a pretty handy batter as well, handy enough to be fairly considered a very talented bowling all-rounder.

9. Ben Coad

Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts Ave Econ SR BBI
21 34 3758 1805 88 20.51 2.88 42.7 6/25

It’s somewhat curious that Ben Coad doesn’t seem to get more of a look-in for England selection. After all, since making his debut for Yorkshire he has been quite comfortably their best bowler. This absence of consideration speaks more to the never-ending obsession with pace for the sake of pace than Ben Coad’s ability I would say. Of course, the equation goes that pace = wickets, which is why the fastest bowlers are always either amongst the leading wicket-takers and have the lowest averages or strike-rates. They’re not? But, but, Mitchell Johnson destroyed England a couple of times and he’s really quick wah wah wah. Anyway, Ben Coad is an unfashionable selection for England because he is an out-and-out swing bowler (despite our best bowler being just that) and England selectors have a massive hard-on for quick bowling, regardless of how effective it is. There is no question in my mind however that Ben Coad is one of the most talented bowlers currently playing the County Championship. Sadly it seems that George Garton has more chance of being picked for England than Ben Coad.

10. Jamie Porter

Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts Ave Econ SR BBI
63 113 10630 5987 245 24.43 3.37 43.3 7/55

Jamie Porter will in all likelihood be the next fast bowler to be given a test cap, and with good reason. He was absolutely unstoppable as Essex charged to the 2017 County Championship, and has since shown that behind that form is substantial class. He’s not the fastest bowler, nor are Coad or Barker for the matter, but looks a fine successor to Stuart Broad as he’s shown great ability to move the ball off the pitch and has that uncanny knack of tearing through batting lineups when the mood takes him. Prior to the 2017 season Jamie Porter would have been nowhere near this team, but a lot change in cricket, and now he’s on the verge of an England test selection. There’s still hope for me yet then.

11. Matthew Parkinson

Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts Ave Econ SR BBI
15 25 2130 1144 41 27.9 3.22 51.9 5/49

This selection is more a reflection of the paucity of high quality spinning options available in the County Championship right now who haven’t had a go in the England team. Not to say that Matthew Parkinson isn’t a really talented player – he is – but it’s very early days yet in his career. This was a toss-up between Parkinson, Amar Virdi, and Ollie Rayner. Now, Ollie Rayner was a vital part of the Middlesex side which won the County Championship in 2016, but hasn’t done much since, nor was he particularly brilliant before that. So, in the end, it was between Virdi and Parkinson, who are both very exciting young spinners with rather similar first class records who have both shown they have the ability to get batsman out, rather than batsman get themselves out to them. However, it was Parkinson’s one day record which got him in this team – Virdi hasn’t played one day cricket yet. At the age of 21 Parkinson has established himself as Lancashire’s frontline spinner in all formats and has done that not through the blind faith which England showed in Mason Crane, but through the weight of his performances.

Advertisements

The irreplaceable Paul Collingwood

Paul Collingwood of Durham and England fame has announced that this will be his last year of playing professional cricket, despite only being 42. A short summary to highlight the man’s significance to English cricket would be to say he is still the only man (let’s not lump our great women’s team into that toilet of disappointment) to have ever captained England to World Cup success. Okay it wasn’t the World Cup, it was the World t20 in 2010, but that’s certainly better than anything else we’ve done before or since…sigh…

To describe Paul Collingwood in those terms would, in my eyes at least, somewhat miss what he was truly about and what he represented. To truly understand what Collingwood was about, the most simple thing is to just look at the length of his career. Collingwood made his first-class debut back in 1996, which is 22 years if you can’t count very well. That’s long, really long. To put it into perspective, recent England test debutants Sam Curran and Ollie Pope hadn’t been born when Collingwood made his first-class debut. Speaking of Sam Curran, here’s a fact for you. Collingwood made his first-class debut for Durham in 1996 against a Northants team featuring one Kevin Curran, Sam’s father, now very sadly deceased. It doesn’t just stop there dear reader, no. In that game Paul Collingwood caught Kevin Curran off the bowling of Durham legend Simon Brown. Think that’s it? No, think again. Curran returned the favour by catching Collingwood on 91, in his maiden innings mind you. It would be 20 years before Paul Collingwood would play in a match against Sam, which he managed at Chester-le-Street in 2016, having already played against Kevin’s eldest son Tom earlier in the season. Sam showed just what he could do in that game as he took 7/58 in Durham’s second innings (Collingwood one of those scalps), which are still his best ever figures in a match.

Despite playing 68 tests, and featuring in 304 first-class matches, Paul Collingwood will always be associated with the shorter formats. The reasons for this are myriad – the aforementioned World Cup success and the fact that he was seen as an all-rounder (despite really probably being more of a batsman) have definitely contributed to this perception. He also played in his first and last ODI before and after his first and last test, and he featured (and top scored, along with taking two wickets) in England’s first ever t20I against Australia in 2005. Also, how could anyone forget this catch he took playing for England’s ODI team in that same year against the same opposition. In my mind the greatest catch ever taken. Ever. Nah the IPL doesn’t count.

Just look at that, every bit of it. The reaction of Hayden, the sound of the crowd, the celebration. It all screams as just how stupid that catch was – and that wasn’t his only stunner. However, it wasn’t these things alone that made Paul Collingwood irreplaceable. In truth, I wasn’t sure that Collingwood was irreplaceable when he first retired. In a team surrounded by the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, and Ian Bell, you’d have probably said that Collingwood was the weakest of the six. I have, however, found myself wishing that we still had Collingwood more than I have the other four, though he may be replaced in that by Cook now that he’s retired. Why? Because Paul Collingwood knew his role and had such a fantastic mentality in executing it. He would probably be the first to tell you that he didn’t have the shots of Bell or Pietersen, he didn’t have the hunger of Trott or Cook, but what he did have in absolute spades was grit. The first little indicator of that grit can be seen his strike rate – 46.44, which is really rather slow. Collingwood rarely, if ever, gave his wicket away. There is one innings in particular which sticks in my mind, for which he probably doesn’t get the plaudits he deserves – his 74 off 245 balls in the second innings of the first test of the 2009 Ashes held in Cardiff.

The game is remembered for James Anderson and Monty Panesar guiding England home to the draw. However, there is absolutely no question that the man who deserves most of the credit for pulling England out of a fine mess in that game was Collingwood. When Collingwood came to the crease on the final day, England were 46/4 and it wasn’t even lunch. By lunch they were 70/5. Collingwood was eventually dismissed with 11 overs still to go, having been out there for over five and a half hours. At one point going 44 minutes without scoring a run. As it was, Anderson and one of the only men ever to play for England that was more than a no.11 than him Monty Panesar, along with a little bit of gamesmanship, managed to get England over the line. it has become increasingly apparent over the past few years that, either because of the coaching or player’s attitudes, that the sort of innings that Paul Collingwood managed in 2009 are well beyond any of the players currently in the England team. Rather than going out to the crease and playing with reckless abandon before getting out and saying ‘I was playing my natural game’, Collingwood went out and sacrificed for the team, determined to not make it easy for the oppposition. Since his retirement, England have never really replaced him. Instead, they seem to have forgotten the importance of players like Collingwood. For all the stroke players and gorgeous batsman England have tried, there have been few capable of regularly committing to playing for the team in such a gritty way. As time has gone on, the England batsman who at the time was seen as the weakest, has, in my eyes, become the one we’ve struggled hardest to replace. Mind you I hear Andrew Strauss’ retirement caused us some problems.

It all started with John Cena…

It all started with John Cena. In September of 2016 the ECB revealed to county chairmen that WWE wrestling superstar John Cena was more recognisable to children aged 7 to 15 in England and Wales than then England test captain Alastair Cook. The first of the chairmen to speak on this issue was the outspoken Derbyshire chairman Chris Grant. He voiced how significant he thought the finding was and called it ‘fascinating’ on BBC Radio Derby. The understanding was that this market research played a fundamental role in swaying the counties support for a city-based t20 tournament. The response from members of the media seemed to echo the sentiment of Grant, as this finding seemed to confirm objectively what we had all feared for a number of years – cricket is not as popular as it once was. The green light was given for ECB chairman Colin Graves and his recently appointed chief executive and marketing genius Tom Harrison to do what they thought was needed to ‘save’ cricket. As it was, Chris Grant actually resigned from his post at Derbyshire under six months later, citing a desire to take on a role at the ECB.

Two years later and Chris Grant is not part of the ECB and nor does a city-based t20 tournament seem to be on the cards. Instead the ECB are plowing on with their madcap ‘Hundred’ scheme which seeks to bring cricket, or something resembling it at least, to a brand new audience. Despite fears that they are betting a lot of money on something that might fail to attract new viewers, and may also alienate the existing cricketing community, they have continued to persist with the idea. One thing has stayed the same though I would imagine – Alastair Cook is probably still less recognisable than John Cena. It would be interesting to see new research comparing Mr. Cena against current England captain Joe Root, but I imagine the result would probably be the same. This ‘fascinating’ finding does not get thrown around anymore in the detail it was, but the fear that it seemed to confirm still does. In May of this year Colin Graves said in an interview with BBC Sport that “the younger generation, whether you like it or not, are just not attracted to cricket.”

The reason? “In all the work, surveys and research we have done, the younger generation want something different.”

Different how? “They want more excitement, they want it shorter and simpler to understand.”

Bearing in mind the importance that John Cena played in swaying the minds of the county chairmen, it would seem appropriate that the ECB wish to create a tournament with all the characteristics of John Cena. More exciting, shorter (maybe not), and simpler to understand. Take one look at John Cena and he is definitely more exciting and simpler to understand. There is one issue though, one quite significant issue which the ECB’s allusion to John Cena in their earlier market research reveals – it’s not a fair or useful comparison.

John_Cena_2010
John Cena. More exciting and simpler to understand.

I, like most people who love cricket, was crestfallen and disappointed to hear that the sport I love to watch and play was essentially less popular than a gimmicky stage show. A stage show in which near-naked men and women threw each other in pretend fights around a ring against the backdrop of dramatic storylines – one of which, I shit you not, included a female wrestler being kidnapped and impregnated (potentially raped). This was only resolved by the father of the would-be baby falling on the pregnant mother causing her to have a miscarriage. You have to ask, how in fucks name is cricket ever going to compete with that?

Kane_2016
The father.

After a while though I got to thinking, a dangerous game I know. John Cena is more recognisable to children than Alastair Cook. Of course he is! John Cena was for much of the 2000s the most marketed member of the WWE roster. His entire point as a creation was to get children (and adults) to watch the WWE. The point of Alastair Cook was to captain the England test side in cricket matches. This is not to say that Cook did not have other duties as captain, but his primary job was playing cricket matches. John Cena’s primary job was to be marketable. He is closer to an actor than he is a sportsman – he has actually appeared in numerous films. In what world do the ECB think that Alastair Cook, or any cricketer outside of India, is going to be more recognisable than an individual whose entire job is to be recognisable, and has every single bit of the company he works for driving to that end. John Cena works off a script which ensures he remains at the top of the billing for the WWE. I can guarantee that the Hundred would have to be successful in a way that even its most ardent supporters could never even fathom for any of the cricketers involved to be as recognisable as John Cena, or a number of other wrestlers and actors for that matter.

The whole thing begs the question – why did the ECB compare Alastair Cook against John Cena? It’s clear to me at least that he was never going to be more recognisable. The only reason I can think of is more cynical and calculating than one would like to think the ECB capable of. Cricket has something of a superiority complex and those who play it see it as a game rich in tradition, for those with a refined palate. A thinking person’s game. The WWE could not be more different. It’s tacky and in-your-face; every aspect of it geared towards gaining your attention and lacking in anything remotely like taste – the story mentioned before being proof of that. How on earth could it be more popular than cricket? It’s not even real! There has to be something deeply wrong for something as tacky as that to be more popular than cricket – which is exactly what the ECB wanted the county chairmen and fans to think.

I’m not going to make out that cricket is not in something of a quandary, but I fear that we are being led down a path by individuals who have wantonly fooled us into thinking something might be worse than it is, so we will place even more faith in them as the cure. We need to be wary of who has the most to lose from the Hundred, and whether it will ever achieve the ECB’s dream that cricket could rival the WWE. The movement of cricket back on free-to-air television should play a significant role in getting participation levels up, but one fears that the complications added by the ECB’s insistence on a completely new format my counteract any good that move might do.

 

Alastair Cook: Cricket Embodied

When a famous person dies, or retires, it is the modern way (regardless of what the Kaiser Chiefs may say) to queue up to pay tribute to the individual in question. Such is the volume of tribute paid now that it can be quite astonishing to see how well-loved a person was. If you’re like me, this can breed a somewhat cynical view that people are actually trying to swim in the wake of an individual’s death – trying to make themselves relevant to a significant event in the hope that they might derive some sort of public worth from it. This is one way of looking at it, and I have no doubt that there are the shameless amongst the flocks of mourners and well-wishers that are in it more for themselves than anything else but, in truth, this could be said of all mourning. This approach may be more coloured by how I felt about the deaths of David Bowie, Prince and now Aretha Franklin. I was not a huge fan of any of these musicians, therefore never really spoke to anyone about them, and naturally will always have been surprised at the amount of tribute they received. It’s important to remind yourself of these things. However, on Monday 3rd September 2018, Alastair Cook announced his retirement from test cricket, and though thankfully he’s not dead, and will now be playing more often in my favourite sporting competition – the County Championship – I thought it a good chance to put down in words (eat that Elton) how Alastair Cook embodies almost everything that I love about test cricket.

I can’t quite pin down the moment I fell in love with cricket. It was definitely after Alastair Cook had made his test debut that’s for sure. Whether it was a mixture of playing the game growing up, being taken to plenty of matches by my father as a child, or investing myself in supporting a county like one would support a football team, all I now know is that cricket is now my favourite sport. From a distance cricket appears complex, when explained complexer still – and I’m not just talking about the rules. In a cricket match there a numerous different battles and storylines (pause for vomit) happening all at once, between individuals and with themselves. As a sport, cricket allows greater opportunity than most to objectively prove a single player’s importance within a team. Whether the aim be to achieve personal glory, or more for the success of the team, the outcome is largely the same. Cricket has, for as long as I can remember, generally encouraged sacrifice for the team. Some individuals seem to miss that point, but no one complains if it’s all going well as they’re benefiting as well. Alastair Cook achieved remarkable levels of personal glory during what is a without question a legendary test career, and saddled huge amounts of pressure for the team, particularly while captain. The quantity of runs he scored, and the matches he played is staggering. However, what is even more remarkable was his ability to maintain his natural grace, humility and good humour at all times when in the public eye. I cannot speak to the moments away from the camera and off the pitch, but from the accounts of those who did encounter him in private, it is very apparent that this was the case off the field too.

This was translated to those who watched him play, and it was as if when Alastair Cook won, we all won – just look at the reception his 244 at Melbourne received from all in attendance.

Alastair Cook seems to have been the closest thing to a fusion of the professional and the gentleman in the modern era. He took the game seriously and he played to win, but he never seemed to lose sight of the fact that you started playing the game because it was fun. The enjoyment and fun of cricket is somewhat different to other sports in that there exists an element of mutual admiration. Obviously you take deeper enjoyment from watching the successes of the players of the team you’re a part of or supporting, but there is arguably greater appreciation for the achievements of the opponent than in other sport. In this way cricket encourages conscientiousness and it is this which sets it apart from other sport. Cricket wants you as a player and spectator to appreciate the achievements of everyone and this is all the more easy when a player carries themselves with the honesty and class that Alastair Cook did.

Sportsmanship and honour are in the modern professional world hugely outdated ideas, but they still hold true in cricket to an extent, maybe because cricket is itself outdated. In 2018, the idea that cricket was a game played with a modicum of honour was challenged by the actions of David Warner and Steve Smith when they tampered with the ball in their test against South Africa. They sullied the competitive spirit of cricket and Alastair Cook played the game in a way so departed from their actions, and we should take this opportunity to remind ourselves that cricket is still played the ‘right’ way, and still encourages conscientiousness. Though the likes of Ben Stokes prove that this is by no means a rule (you could argue he is the exception that proves the rule), as lovers of the game of cricket we should be proud of Alastair Cook as an example of what cricket should be about, and what it hopefully is actually about.

Anyway, I believe the video below perfectly illustrates the man that Alastair Cook was and is.

 

Jos Buttler, Dom Bess, Ed Smith – Imaginations Run Wild

On the 15th May, the new England national selector Ed Smith announced his first England squad since taking up the role. In that squad was Dom Bess of Somerset and, more surprisingly, Jos Buttler of Lancashire (insert relevant franchise here). The decision to select these two players has been characterised variously as great, exciting, bold, and imaginative by members of the Nazi media of the UK.

Obviously one retches seeing tweets embedded in an article, but these aren’t randomers in the street okay? These guys have press cards – they’ve been to cricket matches – you wouldn’t believe how much hardcore leather on willow action these peeps have seen. Their opinions, whether we agree with them or not, matter. Particularly when we want to bitch about them. Anyway, back to Bess and Buttler, the new chain of pubs taking over test cricket. We’ll start with the latter.

If you hadn’t heard, that freak Jos Buttler has been biffing big sixes all across India. Name an Indian city and Jos will have biffed a six there. Kolkata? Biffed. Jaipur? Biffed. Delhi? Definitely biffed. Mumbai? Of course he’s had a biff there! Such has been the recent destructive nature of Buttler’s biffage that he’s forced his way into the England test side. It’s hard to argue that Jos is not in form – he’s amassed five 50s in his last six t20 innings. Ed Smith has seen that form, he’s seen it alright, and he’s pushed his imagination to a bold and exciting new realm and said ‘we need a counter-attacking batsman at number 7’. Ben Stokes and his fastest ever 250? Not attacking enough. Nah, Buttler’s the boy. More importantly too, with Moeen Ali out of the team (for the time being one imagines), we need to fill that spot of flaky, can be good but fails more often than not batsman in the lower middle order. You’re meant to think that Bess is the replacement for Leach, who had originally replaced Ali, but really, Buttler’s the long-term replacement for Ali the batsman. England had so much success with that sort of batsman in the lower order, they simply had to return to that model. If imagination and excitement mean doing what was done before, i.e. picking a man we’ve picked before with a penchant for playing aggressively and sticking him down the order to give him ‘licence’, then put away the Tame Impala and hide the acid, we’re in for a hell of ride. Buckle up kids, we haven’t even got to the nitty gritty of Buttler’s consistent failure to actually ever succeed in first-class cricket. The statistics do not make great reading – not for the longer formats at least.

Jos Buttler

Type Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave SR 100 50
Test 18 30 5 784 85 31.36 55.52 0 6
First Class 81 126 12 3593 144 31.51 58.77 4 20
T20 226 205 41 4905 95* 29.90 144.09 0 31

Gotta love numbers in a table. In truth, selecting a man with a test average of 31 at a staggering rate of 55 (stinks of counter-attacking) really is very bold. What’s really exciting though is that his test figures are curiously consistent with his first-class figures, as if those actually have any bearing on how he will play in test cricket. If he hadn’t been picked before it might be imaginative. If England wanted to be really be imaginative and had picked a player who could counter-attack, but hadn’t been tried before, there is one chap they could have gone for – Jason Roy. I mean, he’s only actually had consistent success doing exactly what Ed Smith wants Buttler to do for England.

Jason Roy

Type Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave SR 100 50
First Class 78 127 11 4376 143 37.72 82.22 8 20
T20 172 169 9 4378 122* 27.36 143.72 4 28

It’s interesting to see that he not only has a higher average than Buttler, but that’s also at a much quicker strike rate – not to mention he has twice as many hundreds and as many 50s (in only one more innings too). Too obvious probably. To be fair to Smith though, Dom Bess is actually an agreeable and exciting selection – though it’s still not imaginative. Bess has only been one of the more highly-rated spinners plying their trade in the County Championship over the past year, and was probably the next logical selection after Leach got injured. It’s probably too soon for Amar Virdi, Liam Dawson’s such an excuse, and the cricketing world just isn’t ready for Ollie Rayner. Bess has consistently performed well for Somerset when picked, as reflected in his statistics, and deserves a go (unlike Mason Crane).

Dom Bess

Type Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts Ave Econ SR BBI
First-Class 16 28 2867 1417 63 22.49 2.96 45.5 7/117

Look though, we could harp on forever about how the statistics suggest that there maybe better options than Buttler, and that evidence indicates he’s not equipped to play the test format, but this is a selection based on gut and instinct okay? Forget numbers, we want guys who can biff big sixes. Ignore the different conditions those sixes were scored in. Ignore the batsman-friendly setup of the t20 format. Just wait for Mohammad Amir to bowl full-toss after full-toss in the first test as he attempts to ‘execute his yorkers’ because the fielding restrictions have all but forced him to do it. Buttler will be dispatching him to all parts. Just wait. The imagination runs wild.

The Fear of Momentum in Lewisham East after Heidi Alexander’s resignation

I am a resident of Lewisham (Lee Green to be more specific) and have been since I was born — despite being born just across the border in the warzone that is the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Lewisham East is the only constituency I have ever voted in, I know, I know, don’t be too jealous. Since my birth in 1994 we have only had two MPs — Bridget Prentice and Heidi Alexander, and we have been incredibly lucky with both of them. Both were very visible in the community, stood up for the values of the community, and rarely, if ever, let their constituents down. On the 8th May Heidi Alexander resigned from her post as MP for Lewisham East. The writing had somewhat been on the wall since she resigned from the shadow cabinet in 2016, and has since shown next to no support for current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The main core of Corbyn’s support — Momentum — are seemingly delighted by the fact that she is gone:

 

The reason for their delight is that at the last election in 2017, Heidi Alexander managed to take 67% of the vote, building on the 55% portion she had taken only two years before. This made sense as Lewisham had voted overwhelmingly in favour of Remain in the Brexit vote, and Alexander was a staunch Remainer herself. The size of the majority won by Alexander, and Prentice before her, makes it very unlikely that Labour will lose the seat — it’s also very worth bearing in mind that during the 2018 local elections, Labour increased it’s hold over the Lewisham council by taking all the seats available. It is safe to say, the Labour party will have to do a lot wrong to lose this one and could put up virtually anyone. Not even Momentum, the religious cult of Jeremy, could screw this one up — and that’s where the danger lies.

With Momentum looking to increase their stranglehold over the Labour party, and flood the House of Commons with their acolytes, there is a good chance that a Momentum supporter will be put up for Lewisham East. It’s the sensible thing to do on their part, as Labour should still win. Lewisham East is likely to lose in the long run though. There is every chance that we might be alright –we might get a Momentum supporter who ends up representing the issues of Lewisham East constituents brilliantly, but there is every chance we will get an ideologue. Someone who is there to strengthen Jeremy’s position, not represent Lewisham East. Someone more concerned with other things.

By other things I’m referring to their entrenched dogma which, as a local resident, I would prefer to be secondary to the actual operations of my local services. There is a chance that a far-left agenda may work very well in Lewisham East, it may be what the area needs. The worry is that a Momentum devotee will adhere to that agenda, irrespective of the outcome. They may well be blinded to the result by their unbeatable belief that they are right, and someone or thing must be wrong if what they do does not work. This worry is not borne out of nothing — it was interesting to see responses to the defeat of Momentum members in the recent local elections that seemed to blame the electorate.

From the sidelines, across the way in other constituencies, it’s very easy to say that it would be great to see someone from the BAME community representing Lewisham East — as of 2011 almost half the area was defined as BAME. However, when it’s your views that are going to be represented in the House of Commons, and your issues that need to be discussed, what’s really important comes sharply into focus. If there was one thing that defined Heidi Alexander and Bridget Prentice, it was their competency. You could rely on them to represent you effectively in parliament. It did not matter that Prentice was from Glasgow, and it did not matter that Alexander was from Swindon — all that really mattered was that they knew what they were doing and that they were committed. If someone from the BAME community is elected that’s only great if they are actually up to it, the actual election has the potential to be very harmful if they aren’t capable. With the rise of Momentum, the fear is they won’t be.

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 17.56.49

I am hopeful though that the election in Lewisham East will not become merely an opportunity for Momentum to increase its hold in the Labour party, that the electorate of this area gets treated with the respect and consideration it deserves. They should not take for granted the support that the Labour party has gained in this area. It was won through listening and representing the residents of the area, not dogma.

Rory Burns & Sam Curran – Application and Talent

The BBC commentator Mark Church had it bang to rights as Worcestershire captain Joe Leach sent Surrey’s Sam Curran back to the pavilion for a duck during the second day of their match – “he never really got going”. At the other end of the pitch was his captain Rory Burns, very much going, consistently and patiently accumulating runs as he made his way to his first 150 of the summer. He, like everyone else in the Oval could only watch as the youngster strolled off the pitch having failed to trouble the scorers. The question many regular watchers of Sam Curran will be asking is when will he let himself get going?

Burns and Curran could not be more different as cricketers – Burns is an opening batsman, Curran is an opening bowler. There’s more to their difference though, Burns is a player defined by his application, Curran is a player defined by his talent. Watching the latter, there is little question that he has the shots and he can time the ball as sweetly as anyone in the Surrey lineup, particularly since Kumar Sangakarra left. The former, on the other hand, has to work and work and work at the crease. He remains focused and when he gets in, boy does he look hard to get out. Curran looks very relaxed and plays shots from the moment he gets to the crease. For first-time viewers Burns can look incredibly awkward with his backside jutting out as he cranes his head over to mid-on during the bowler’s run up. Almost all who take a close look will comment on it. Neither at this stage needs to change anything about their techniques, as both seem to work fine. However Curran needs to work out what he wants to do as a batsman. Does he want to play the situation, knuckle down and score, or does he just want to play all those shots he has? It’s matter of showing the same application that Rory Burns shows for almost every innings he plays. If he carries on playing as he does, Sam Curran will not become the all-rounder his talent suggests he should be.

The issues that Curran faces with his batting are even more pronounced in t20 cricket. At the time of writing, Curran has a batting average of 15.48 in t20 cricket, while his older brother Tom averages 17.47. There should be no way that Tom has the higher average, as it is clear that Sam is the more talented of the two with the bat. It is worth remembering that Tom Curran has stepped in as an opener for Surrey on occasion, most notably when Burns suffered concussion against Lancashire in 2015 – Tom played a very resolute innings as Surrey attempted to save the game, and was the last man out having opened. Sam, on the other hand, seems utterly intent in playing as many strange or different shots as he can almost regardless of the conditions, match situation, or the bowling. It’s a huge strength to be able to play shots like the scoop, but there is a time and place. You will struggle to find a batsman more dynamic than Eoin Morgan, but he brings a measured dynamism – it’s mind-games as much as anything. Morgan doesn’t have to play those shots to score runs, the threat is enough to affect how captains will set fields to him. He knows that having all those shots is a waste of time if you’re going to get yourself out playing them without care or caution.

Curran has it in him though, there is no question. Those who saw him play for Surrey at Chelmsford last year against Essex in the County Championship can vouch for that. When the youngster made his way out into the middle the match was 10 overs old and Surrey were 31-5. The man waiting for him was the legendary Sangakarra. When Sam Curran departed, Surrey were 222-6, with the left hander having scored an absolutely vital 90 off 164 balls. His contribution was overshadowed by a 200 from his partner, but all those watching can attest it was an innings of great maturity. He didn’t stop himself from playing his way, still scoring two sixes, but he picked his shots. He didn’t force them. Surrey ended the innings on 369, a fantastic total considering where they were.

It could be said that I’m simply asking Sam Curran to play better more often, which is obviously easier said than done. The issue is that, he’s not currently giving himself a chance of playing as well as he. At the time of writing Curran has failed to score a first-class hundred. If that hasn’t changed by the end of the season, he will only have himself to blame.