Woakes wows in Wonder Test.

This was another compelling and enthralling Test match which has to convince anyone who cares, that this game must never die. England somehow managed to snatch victory from Pakistan after they had been outplayed for three and a half days.

England bowled well in the morning of day one, with Anderson in particular passing the outside edge on numerous occasions. Pakistan had just passed 50 at lunch for the loss of two wickets. The afternoon session was very different, with an insipid bowling display gifting the Pakistani batsmen far too many boundaries, and Bess unable to offer any control.

The poor session was compounded by Buttler missing two chances from Masood when he was on 45, off the bowling of Bess. Masood went on to compile a brilliant 156, alongside 69 from the impressive Babar Azam, to help Pakistan to a first innings total of 326. It was easy to think that Foakes would have taken those chances, and Buttler was clearly under pressure.

In reply, England were only able to reach 219 due to excellent bowling from Pakistan. They have a beautifully balanced attack. With a young tearaway quick, a tall fast bowler, an accurate seamer in the mould of Philander and two dangerous leg-spinners, they have all bases covered.

Pakistan then proceeded to give England a glimmer of hope on day three when they crashed to 137 for 8, thanks to a heroic four overs from Ben Stokes. With Pakistan threatening to build an unassailable lead, Root threw the ball to a half fit Stokes, who had an immediate impact, finishing with figures of 2 for 11 off 4 overs.

Several partnerships were needed by England and they got off to a reasonable start with Sibley and Root contributing 78 between them. Quick wickets followed, however, to leave England reeling on 115 for 5. Stokes and Pope were both dismissed by unplayable rearing deliveries and Pakistan were rampant and noisy.

Something special was clearly needed and it was provided by the unlikely pair of Woakes and Buttler. Having seen the way Pope was dismissed and with the new ball imminent, they decided to go on the attack. Both batsmen drove confidently through the off side, while sweeping and reverse sweeping the spinners successfully. Gradually, the fielding side grew quieter as an England win looked increasingly possible. The one day scenario seemed to release the shackles for both men.

Obviously there had to be a late twist, which came when Buttler was out LBW to Yasir Shah with 21 still needed. Broad was sent in ahead of Bess and helped England to within 4 of the target. Woakes then hit the winning runs via a leading edge through the slip cordon to complete an epic victory.

After the match, Root told the press that his team always has belief, after the incredible achievements of the World Cup Final and Headingley 2019. The character of this side is undoubted. Some questions remain though, looking to the future : Will Leach replace Bess in the next Test? Will Wood come in for Archer or Anderson? Will Crawley come in at 3 again, in the absence of Stokes?

I believe that if Archer is in the side he should be used sparingly as a strike bowler. At the moment he seems unable or unwilling to consistently bowl above 85mph, which is frustrating for everyone. I also think that Buttler has earned himself a reprieve, after making amends for his mistakes behind the stumps with his stunning knock. The selectors will be considering the classic wicket keeping conundrum. Foakes may have taken the chances Buttler missed, but would he have been able to score the runs?

Wisden Winners

It was another tremendous performance by England to win the third Test by 269 runs and claim the Wisden Trophy. There was another race against time and the weather as England sped across the finishing line, while the West Indies appeared to run out of steam.

Another decent first innings total was achieved thanks to an encouraging partnership between Pope (91) and Buttler (67). Pope is beginning to fulfill the potential so many saw in him, while Buttler, and those that believe in him, would’ve been grateful for this overdue score, particularly with Foakes and Bairstow in the wings.

It was a rather tired bowling display from the West Indies. Gabriel in particular was grimacing and clearly labouring, sending two deliveries straight to first slip in his opening spell. He was still bowling with pace, though, and claimed the important wickets of Pope and Buttler.

None of their batsmen were then able to get past 50 in their first innings total of 197, as a fired up Broad ran rampant with 6 wickets. He seems to almost be getting better with age, particularly now that he is consistently bowling a fuller length and bringing the stumps into play more often. His shortened run up should ensure he is taking wickets for England for a few years yet.

After another solid opening stand between Burns and Sibley, England did well to accelerate the scoring, aware that time was of the essence. Root quickly reached another half century, while Burns fell ten short of a century in pursuit of quick runs, leaving twenty minutes for Broad to steam in again and remove Campbell and the nightwatchman Roach.

It wasn’t long before Broad claimed his 500th Test wicket amongst four others in the second innings. He was ably supported by the impressive Woakes, who also bowled a full length and took 5 second innings wickets, which may now place him above Archer in the pecking order. Joffra seemed to be struggling for rythm, but England are currently in the beautiful situation of being able to rotate a large stable of quicks.

The West Indies meanwhile hastened their demise with a few rash shots, in contrast to the diligence they had displayed in the first Test particularly. These lapses seemed especially injudicious when the heavens opened after the final wicket went down, and stayed open. Just a few more minutes of concentration from their batsmen could have salvaged them a draw and retention of the Wisden Trophy. No doubt they were exhausted. It must have been a hard few weeks in a strange cricket bubble and England owes them a huge debt of gratitude for making the series possible.

England, however, seem to be finding a winning formula : Substantial opening stands, a large choice of bowling options and a middle order starting to fire. Time and the Pakistan series will tell if this formula is robust enough to challenge down under. Bring on Pakistan!

Series gets Stoked

England needed to bounce back and level the series after a typically slow start, and they produced an almost perfect performance to do just that. It would not have been possible, though, without another awesome display from Ben Stokes.

England desperately wanted a big first innings total and they achieved it thanks to centuries from Sibley (120) and Stokes (176). The champion all-rounder played a similar innings to his historic innings at Headingley, patiently defending and leaving balls before accelerating. Sibley’s effort should not be underestimated either. England had lost the toss and helpful bowling conditions made batting far from easy with the ball frequently passing the outside edge. It was exactly the type of innings England have been yearning for and it is hard to understand why some were criticising his slow scoring rate. Leave Sibley to do what he does!

Roston Chase bagged another 5 wickets in England’s first innings, though it cost him 172 runs. The rest couldn’t really have bowled much better and were perhaps unlucky, but soon wilted under the onslaught from Stokes. The lower order then helped England reach 469.

The West Indies only managed 287 in reply thanks mainly to excellent bowling from Woakes and Broad who claimed 3 wickets each. It was pleasing to see Broad immediately back in the groove, bowling a fuller length and proving the selectors wrong. The bulk of the runs were provided by Brathwaite, Brooks and Chase. The latter is surprising everyone with his consistent scores, though the West Indies will doubtless be disappointed nobody was able to reach 3 figures.

Having lost an entire day to rain, England needed to score quickly in their second innings. Once again, step forward Ben Stokes to open the batting and smash 78 off 55 balls, almost single handedly helping England to a lead over 300 with enough time to then take 10 wickets. At 37 for 4 it looked as if the West Indies might capitulate quickly, before a partnership between Brooks and Blackwood gave them hope of salvaging a draw.

Stokes, of course, was having none of it. Having chased a ball to the fence to try and prevent a boundary off his own bowling, he proceeded to bounce out Blackwood on the stroke of tea, just when it was needed. If you need a big innings, a fast innings, accurate swing bowling, or an enforcer to give you a barrage of bouncers, just ask Ben Stokes. It seems he can do almost anything and we are witnessing a supreme all-rounder at the height of his powers. ‘We are in the presence of greatness’, said Joe Root at the presentation after Stokes was awarded man of the match. The frightening thing is he might even get better!

All the bowlers contributed in the final session, with Dom Bess also impressing with 2 important wicket that enabled England to win with an hour to spare. But the match belonged to one man, who has now overtaken Jason Holder as the number one all-rounder in the world, and who will hopefully be England’s talisman for many years to come.

Windiest one up.

Hello again readers after a prolonged absence. So cricket is back with us, and what an entertaining first Test it was, reminding us all of the absorbing and centering qualities of Test cricket, even without the added excitement of an emotional crowd. A huge debt of gratitude is owed to the West Indies for making this series possible in the current climate. They have not only come to the country when they didn’t have to, but they have seriously come to the party in a fashion not exhibited in recent times.

They were on top for most of this first Test, after England won the toss and elected to bat in bowler friendly conditions. In hindsight this was probably the wrong decision, as was leaving out Stuart Broad. Once again England made a slow start to a series and failed to post a decent first innings score. The West Indies then constructed a first innings lead of over 100, thanks to disciplined innings from Braithwaite, Chase and Dowrich. Archer and Wood only managed one wicket between themselves. It was left to Stokes, Anderson and Bess to take the wickets.

England batted much better in the second innings, compiling 313 and leaving the West Indies 200 for victory. A solid opening stand, followed by a typically turgid 29 from Denly was built upon by the impressive Crawley and Stokes. The latter was perhaps guilty of trying to accelerate the scoring too early when he was caught behind trying to play across the line to a Jason Holder delivery. An extra 50 runs might have made all the difference.

As it was, the West Indies won with 4 wickets remaining, despite at one point being 27 for 3 due to 3 quick wickets from Archer. At this point an England win looked very possible, but they were denied by a determined innings of 95 from Blackwood. Wood was wicketless in this innings, and for me, bowled too short.

The lessons learned from this loss are firstly that pace isn’t everything. The best bowler on display was Holder with his pitched up dobblers and Archer only got it right briefly. In terms of the batting, Crawley has surely put down a marker ahead of Denly. The older batsman has surely had his last chance with another Ashes series looming.

Now to the second test in Manchester. England are in a good position, but the weather has deprived them of an entire day. Why hold a ‘behind closed doors’ Test in Manchester? Apparently it’s one of the only grounds alongside the Ageas Bowl to have a convenient hotel nearby. Will England have enough time to play for a win? Watch this space.

Test Series Triumph

So after the almost inevitable slow start, England finally won a test series away from home. England batted and bowled poorly in the first test even though there were extenuating circumstances. Having both Broad and Archer in bed with a virus for the preceeding four days is not ideal preparation. Almost half the team were also stricken with the bug before and during the game. Furthermore Anderson was returning after injury, and doubtless not fully match fit.

We fared much better in the second test. Crawley and Sibley provided the solid opening stands England have long been craving, with the latter producing an impressive century in the second innings. Half centuries from Root and Stokes helped to set up the declaration.

The bowling department was also much improved. With Leach unable to participate, Bess filled his shoes admirably. Denly chipped in with a couple while Anderson looked almost back to his best. When Stokes was finally thrown the ball, he quickly ended South African resistance with three quick wickets. It highlighted what a priceless all-rounder he is after his quick fire 70 in the second innings.

Another solid start by England’s openers in the 3rd test, enabled Stokes and Pope to capitalise. Both compiled impressive centuries, with pundits heralding the latter a star who should shine for years to come. Mark Wood injected extra menace off an extended run up, while Bess bowled beautifully in tandem with Root, the former claiming five first innings wickets.

English momentum continued in the 4th test. Sibley and Crawley produced the first opening stand over 100 for years, enabling England to post 400 in their first innings. A rekindled Wood proved too hot for the South African batsmen, with five wickets in the first innings and nine in total. Van der Dussen provided most of the resistance and fell victim to Wood, two short of a maiden test century.

It was a triumphant series for England which included many positive and encouraging elements. Chris Silverwood appears to be exerting a refreshing influence, enabling Root’s captaincy and batting to bloom simultaneously. The bowling department also seems to be in good hands. Into the future, the main concerns are Root’s conversion rate, Buttler’s form with the bat, and how to extract the best from Archer. I believe that Buttler should be given licence to bat in one day mode, as he currently seems confused as to how to bat. Root’s consistency is of more importance than the amount of hundreds he scores. Archer’s recent injury and dip in form appears to be the result of overload.

I believe that Archer needs to be given a lighter workload and a clearer role to get the best out of him. If instructed to bowl short hostile spells he could prove to be half of a highly effective pace duo with Wood, come the Ashes. Thanks for reading cricket fans, here’s hoping!

Problems and Solutions?

Hello again fans. Occasional readers? Anybody? Apologies for the long absence from blogland. I have been trying to console myself following recent results for England and the most recent result for Somerset. Both country and county seem to be so close to, yet failing to achieve glory. It would seem that just a few tweaks here and there would dramatically change things for the better.

England’s recent tour of New Zealand was disappointing, even though it contained reasons for encouragement in the form of a Root double hundred, ongoing grit from Burns and a contribution from Pope. This would seem to suggest that Root can still score big runs as captain, though I am not convinced. Personally I would like to see Buttler or Broad as captain, both of whom I think would thrive in the role, leaving Root to concentrate on making consistent runs.

I feel our strongest batting lineup is close to being cemented. Burns, Root, Pope, Buttler and Stokes are certainties. Bairstow is also a highly likely insertion into the middle order. The other gaps to be filled would seem to be determined by the form of Denley, Sibley and possibly Crawley in the upcoming series in South Africa. Obviously victory in South Africa is highly desired, but a settled lineup for the Ashes is paramount.

A strong bowling lineup for both South Africa and Australia is going to take some planning and some luck. The return of a fully fit James Anderson would be a massive bonus, as would that of Mark Wood and Olly Stone. Adil Rashid or another attacking spinner would be also be a desirable compliment to Jack Leach. Joffra Archer is clearly indespensible, though he needs to be managed well. At present he seems unclear as to his role and not fit enough to bowl long hostile spells. I would like to see him used in short spells, with the bouncer used as a surprise, rather than a stock ball.

It was also concerning how ineffective England’s bowlers were on flat pitches with the Kookaburra ball in hand. They struggled to take any wickets or extract any movement off the pitch or through the air. New Zealand’s bowlers all managed to find a small degree of sideways movement on the other hand. Clearly a lot of practice is required with the kookaburra ball!

Closer to (my) home, and Somerset were again denied a Championship title by the smallest of margins. This year the weather played a large and frustrating part. Now we learn that we have been docked 12 points before the next season has even begun due to a pitch that was adjudicated to be substandard for lasts season’s final two games. Will we ever win the Championship? The wait continues.

Indian Summer

So the summer is drawing to a close, with September typically providing some glorious cricket weather. Somerset have regained their position at the top of the table after a resounding 298-run win over Yorkshire at Taunton. They are now 8 points ahead of Essex who they will host for the final game of the season.

A well attended county ground saw Somerset reach 199 in their first innings thanks largely to 66 from Tom Abell and a useful 40 from Jamie Overton. Keshav Maharaj was the pick of the Yorkshire bowlers, taking 5 for 54.

Yorkshire struggled in reply, with only Gary Ballance (35) and Adam Lyth (21) making notable contributions in a total of 103. The wickets were shared between Davey, Gregory, Bess and van der Merwe.

Somerset batted far better in their second innings. Abell and Hildreth both passed 50 and there were useful runs from Banton, Bartlett, Gregory and van der Merwe. A target of 426 proved way beyond the reach of Yorkshire, who could only reach 127. Josh Davey claimed 5 wickets for 21 on a pitch well suited to his bowling. He was well supported by Overton who took the important wickets of Gary Ballance and Jonny Tattersal either side of lunch. Yorkshire then lost 3 wickets with the score on 94, with Dom Bess skillfully running out Tim Bresnan with a direct hit from backward point.

So now The Holy Grail of a first championship title is tantalisingly within Somerset’s reach. It would be wonderful way to round off the summer and say farewell to Marcus Trescothick, who has done so much for the club.

At the time of writing this, England’s summer is coming to an end. They are just one wicket away from drawing the series with Australia. While the Ashes may have gone, 2-2 is a respectable end to a successful and memorable summer.

Planning for the next Ashes campaign has already begun and if I were a selector I would be looking for another fast bowler to partner Archer. I would also be keen to find a world class spinner, while moving Roy down the order to 6 or 7 to assist Buttler in accumulating quick runs with the tail. Much to look back on therefore, and much to look forward to. Well done England! Let’s have it Somerset!

The Final Countdown.

So The Ashes are almost upon us. Fill the fridge full of piss, strap yourself into your favourite armchair and unplug the phone because by jingoes have we got some action coming your way! Before that though, I feel I have to comment on the Test against Ireland that preceeded it.

England probably needed a warm up game prior to the Ashes, though one certainly got the impression that many of the players were tired and would rather be somewhere else. Such is the schedule though in a World Cup summer. However it was an important game for Ireland who did their cause no harm at all in the first two days. For England to be bowled out for 85 on the first day was still shocking.

Murtagh did what Murtagh does and England’s batsmen did what they often do. They went through the motions and played in one day mode, too far out in front. This will hopefully have served as a wake up call if nothing else. Jack Leach showed everyone how to bat in the second innings. From England’s perspective the most encouraging thing would have been the potency of Woakes and Broad, and the full lengths they bowled.

So, then, to the Ashes. I believe it will be a very close series with the ball dominating the bat. Both sides have strong bowling attacks and fragile batting lineups. Home advantage may not count for much due to the fact that many of the Australians have been here since before the World Cup. Myself and several other expert pundits think that a lot will depend on the success of both teams in surviving the new ball. So the form of Warner, Smith and Bancroft versus Root, Stokes and Buttler will be crucial.

I am predicting 2-2, with a drawn test. Hopefully I am wrong and England will edge it. What do the readers think? Let battle commence!

Title Blow

Somerset suffered a setback to their quest for a first championship title at Headingley yesterday. They may have lost their two leading wicket takers in Leach and Gregory to England Lions duty, but they were thoroughly outplayed by Yorkshire. Somerset gained just one point as they were beaten by an innings and 73 runs, meaning Essex now move 4 points clear, having beaten Warwickshire.

Somerset won the toss and elected to bowl. Yorkshire compiled 520 on the back of centuries from Ballance, Kohler-Cadmore and Brook, effectively sealing Somerset’s fate. Dom Bess was the leading wicket taker for the visitors with 4.

Somerset could only manage to reach 196 in their first innings, the top scorers being Hildreth (37), Davies (37) and Overton (52). On being asked to bat again only Banton and Abell passed 50. This now means that when the two sides next meet on September the 23rd it could be a title-deciding fixture.

It does seem unfortunate that England Lions fixtures have to coincide with vital championship ones, as well as the fact that the World Cup Final coincided with the Wimbledon Final, the British Grand prix and multiple championship matches. Let’s hope Somerset can crown what has already been a fabulous season of cricket, and that England win the Ashes!

Champions of the World!

Unbelievable. Staggering. Nerve-shredding. Iconic. Wonderful. Glorious. Unforgettable. Just a few of the words that could be used to describe yesterday’s crazy final at the home of cricket. We are no longer the nearly men. We have achieved what we set out to do four years ago, but only by the skin of our teeth.

Our bowlers performed admirably to restrict New Zealand to 241. It looked as if it was going to be our day, but that was to discount the brilliant New Zealand bowling attack, the overhead conditions, the tricky wicket and that thing called pressure.

Roy and Bairstow did well initially to weather the storm as the ball swung and seamed around. It was not to last though as Henry found Roy’s edge, Bairstow chopped on a delivery from Ferguson and Root nicked a wide one in frustration.

It was left to Stokes and Buttler to rebuild the innings and take things deep. They batted sensibly and courageously, running twos and picking up boundaries when possible. A promising situation with England ahead on the win predictor suddenly became perilous when Buttler was dismissed, closely followed by Woakes, Plunkett and Archer. The win predictor swang the other way and I was joining many of the crowd in desperate prayers.

Then Boult caught Stokes on the boundary only to tread on the rope and turn it into a six. If that wasn’t dramatic enough a throw from the deep ricochets off Stokes’s bat to turn two into six. As the cliche says, you just couldn’t write the script. Stokes could only manage two off the final ball to tie and usher in the super over.

Even after the super over the scores were tied, England just winning on a superior boundary tally as Buttler ran out Guptill. Huge respect should go to Stokes for never giving up and the way Archer bowled the super over. It was perhaps fitting that the hero should have been born in New Zealand, while the bowler entrusted with the final over was the guy controversially picked at the last minute.

This victory was made all the more glorious by the epic drama of this match and the way in which England recovered after almost being knocked out in the group stages. Now it seems as if it was almost written in the stars. My prayers and those of thousands more were answered yesterday. We did it the hard way but ultimately that made it all the sweeter.

Even now there is some controversy over whether the overthrows off Stokes’s bat should have counted as he and Rashid hadn’t crossed when the ball was thrown. It is reminiscent of Harmison’s late wicket in 2005 that brushed a glove not attached to the bat. Such fine margins. Now we can all breathe again and celebrate. A special mention should go to New Zealand who were gracious and uncomplaining in defeat despite having given everything and being left devastated.