England commence their long anticipated Test series in Sri Lanka very shortly but their preparation has lacked serious intensity. I appreciate that the climatic conditions have dealt an unfavourable hand but this scenario is nothing new to England’s cricketers.
I have always been in favour of a couple of official First Class matches on tour. These whole squad get involved matches are little more than a glorified net and are not treated as competitive matches. Whilst the individual element may seem like good prep, I strongly believe that an individual playing only one First Class warm-up rather than participating in two exhibition affairs, would be more akin to playing Test Cricket. Had Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings opened in the first of two official warm-up games in the knowledge that Joe Denly was to be presented with a chance in that slot in the second match, the pressure on them to perform would surely be more akin to actually playing Test cricket.
On the subject of Denly, he may well have played himself out of a Test debut with a shoddy performance in the warm-up matches. With mid-series tour matches almost eradicated, how do the likes of Denly or Ollie Pope restate their case for selection in situations such as these? This is a feeling that’s all too familiar to Gary Ballance!
As is often the case with any selection related article that I’ve scripted, either the landscape has changed very quickly or I was just completely misguided in my initial assessment. Surrey’s Ben Foakes now looks a likely Test debutant in the first Test and could really muddy the selection waters ahead of Jonny Bairstow’s return to fitness, by producing a good performance. Imagine if Jos Buttler falls twice to spin for single figure scores!
Somerset spinner Jack Leach also seems likely to return to skipper Joe Root’s XI and hopefully he and Foakes can convert consistent county career contributions to the international stage. England will be desperate to bounce back in Asia following their abysmal attempts in Bangladesh and India a couple of years ago.
Will Pucovski (243) and Josh Phillipe (41 & 104) were amongst the runs in the opening round of 2018-19 Sheffield Shield matches. It was good to see young batsman such as Sam Heazlett and Will Bosisto in their respective state XIs as well, even if they didn’t quite churn out Pucovskiesque innings. Question marks still linger over much of Australia’s batting line-up, what with Shaun Marsh’s inconsistency, Mitchell Marsh batting far too high at times and Usman Khawaja (Now injured) and Aaron Finch both needing to back-up encouraging performances against Pakistan in UAE, Pucovski could well have put himself to the front of the selection queue. With Peter Handscomb having fallen away horribly after a promising start to his Test career and Glenn Maxwell clearly not fancied by the selection panel, the twenty-year-old Victorian’s path to the national XI is being cleared of obstacles.
Another player that peaked interest in the opening round of this year’s Shield was leg-spinner Lloyd Pope. Not all that long ago, Pope terrorised England at the Under-19 World Cup with an eight-wicket haul that went viral. In truth, aside from that match-winning performance he had a quiet tournament. His maiden First Class wicket, trapping Steve O’Keefe LBW, saw him go viral again even though his two wickets cost in excess of a hundred runs. It was extremely alarming however to see the reaction of the Australian media. Labelling Pope as the “New Warne” is surely both unnecessary and unoriginal.
Back to batting and another player who could possibly solve Australia’s batting problems… Meg Lanning. There are some that say there’s no need to suggest women cricketers aim to play in men’s teams and that women’s cricket is a good enough sport on in its own right. I’m not necessarily suggesting that run-express Lanning represent her country’s men’s team but it’s worth pointing out just how good she is. Still only twenty-six, she has in excess of 3000 ODI runs from just 68 matches. She averages north of 53 with twelve tons and eleven fifties. She’s fresh off the back of another hundred against Pakistan in Kuala Lumpur.
It’ll be interesting to see just how much Lanning can achieve in her international career and who lines up for Australia’s men’s team come next year’s Ashes encounter in England.
Here’s some great news from the always excellent Peter Della Penna at Cricinfo…
This brings the structure of world cricket more inline with suggestions that I’ve proposed previously…
It’s a massive step forward to see cricket beyond the Test world having some genuine structure applied to it. Clearer pathways to major or even minor and qualification tournaments should help prevent the sort of early retirements that we’ve seen from some Associate cricketers. Having official status, whether that be international (Test, ODI, T20I) or just domestic (First Class, List A, T20) must really help Associate players feel like real cricketers.
Hopefully before too long we’ll see match-ups between nations such as South Africa and Malaysia or Argentina and Bangladesh. This then presents the opportunity for more epic encounters such as when Scotland hosted England earlier this year!
Here’s my CricketXI fantasy team for Australia’s Sheffield Shield competition this winter (Or Summer if you’re actually in Australia!).
Typically I have Will Pucovski and Peter George in reserve and both performed well in the opening round of matches. George seems unfortunate not to have had more opportunities at both domestic and international level. For the record, 50% of his Test wickets are Sachin Tendulkar! I was surprised to see PG valued as high $56,400 and typically he rocked up on day one and claimed some wickets.
I’ve tried to avoid picking players that will be on international duty and plumped for Gurinder Sandhu off the back of a good One-Day Cup campaign ahead of George.
Will Bosisto is an odd one who I toyed with the idea of picking. He’s listed as a bowler but openened the batting in Western Australia’s first match. Sam Heazlett was in the runs though and my batting line-up seems strong on paper.
I’ll provide an update at the conclusion of the campaign to inform followers how I got on.
One of England’s more complex characters of recent years has bowed out after failing to make a single first team appearance (First Class/List A/T20) for Middlesex last season. That is not meant as a criticism, more an observation that Nick Compton doesn’t appear like a Graeme Swann type one of the lads or to a lesser extent somebody such as James Anderson but that he comes across as an extremely insular character. It seems more a trait of batsmen but not all (Chris Gayle/David Warner) are reserved or appear as intense as Compton.
Compton seemed to thrive on an old fashioned approach: pitch a tent, occupy the crease as long as possible and pretend that the fate of mankind rested on his shoulders… sprinkled with the odd beautiful boundary. He seemed a player who exhausted so much energy, mental and physical, getting into the England team that, particularly second time around, he then had nothing more to give. Flummoxed by Trevor Bayliss’ comments Compton forgot how to be himself. This resulted in some unnecessary dismissals in South Africa and a limp international ending at home to Sri Lanka. He never recovered and took time away from cricket but good on him for going to Sri Lanka and adapting and performing well on their domestic circuit.
I hope that Compdog writes an autobiography. I anticipate it would be far more insightful and introspective than those of many cricketers.
At the start of the year I stumbled upon CricketXI, an alternative fantasy cricket competition. This game focused purely on the County Championship (First Class) campaign.
I selected a team of young guns and as you can see things went really well! It was great to see the likes of Jonny Tattersall, Zak Crawley and Will Jacks develop. Harry Brook, Ben Twohig (Love his name!) and Matthew Carter also made great strides.
Unfortunately Surrey pacer Matt Dunn got injured early in the campaign and disappeared from the professional radar once again. Wicketkeeper Lewis McManus lost his place in the Hampshire First XI. Teammate Asher Hart and Essex spinner Aron Nijjar (Who fooled me by playing in a pre-season university match!) couldn’t get near their respective first XIs. Neither could spinner Sukhjit Singh who was sadly released by Warwickshire at the end of the campaign. Warwickshire clearly have little interest in developing their own young players and much prefer to sign absolutely anybody. While that’s great for players like Will Rhodes and Olly Stone, it’s not for players like Singh and Andy Umeed.
As well as my outfit of kids, I also selected a more ‘serious’ side but following early season injury, Sam Northeast failed to really get going having relocated from Kent to Hampshire and has fallen way down the England pecking order. Disappointingly, Sussex batsman Luke Wells and Nottinghamshire’s Riki Wessels failed to back-up productive 2017 campaigns.
On the plus side, James Hildreth was amongst the runs as ever, meanwhile Tom Bailey, Ben Sanderson and everybody’s favourite ex-England cricketer Jade Dernbach, contributed with the ball.
Well, there’s always next year!
It says it all that my Fifth XI finished the 2018 County Championship campaign as my top team!
Tom Bailey (1912), Ryan Higgins (1819) and Morne Morkel (1636), when he eventually got going, led the way for me. However an overall position of 7454th is nothing to write home about!
As the above graphic displays, Kent’s Kiwi quick Matt Henry, his domestic teammate and potential England Test debutant Joe Denly and Sussex’s former Yorkshire tearaway Ollie Robinson led the way in the overall points scoring. Ollie Robinson, oh look, another player that Yorkshire have either failed to develop or/and allowed to blossom elsewhere (Carver, Rhodes, Lees?)! There’s a theme developing here isn’t there?
Ed Barnard, Tom Bailey, Ryan Higgins and James Hildreth all made my England Ignored XI…
… having been consistent performers throughout the campaign. Please remember that this competition was specific to the County Championship (First Class) and One-Day Cup (List A). The T20 Blast had a completely separate fantasy competition.
My five teams did at least resign my wife and daughter’s XIs to the bottom of the family table. Anyway, there’s always next year!