The Cricket Wheel of Fortune

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You are selected to tour with England. You get injured so miss the tour. The following year you are again selected to tour with England. You perform well in a tour match but in the Tests things don’t really go your way. You’re dropped and many perceive your international career to have been and gone but hopefully you’ll be better for the experience, will perform solidly on the county circuit and knock the door down for a recall. Your county however spend big bucks on some new players and come the first match of the county season you’ve lost your place to another spin bowling top order batsman. Step forward messrs Zafar Ansari and Scott Borthwick.

Of course Borthwick himself is one of many that has made his way through England’s selectorial revolving door and who ultimately has reinvented himself and re-locationed himself in order to knock the international door down again.

That’s cricket’s wheel of fortune ladies and gentlemen. Another example and another Surrey / Durham one at that: Opening batsman Rory Burns gets injured. Opening batsman Arun Harinath comes in and hits some hundreds but a year or so later Durham opening batsman Mark Stoneman heads south and Harinath joins Ansari in the Second XI.

Will the omitted players respond by making and taking runs and wickets galore in the second XI or will they go all Fabian Cowdrey on us and we’ll next see Zafar Ansari playing piano on The Voice? (Not as ridiculous as it sounds, honest!)

Could Ansari pop up at Sussex next year or Harinath at Leicestershire?

Of course I myself have suggested that Mark Footitt should make England’s XI (Before his 6-14 against Warwickshire I might add) but he left both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in order to keep another ex-England man Stuart Meaker out of the Surrey team. Michael Carberry is another example of a player who moved counties and who without doing so might not have donned the Three Lions jersey.

Anyway back to the point. In the space of less than a year Zafar Ansari has gone from being bridled with joy at being selected for England to presumably being a bit peeved at losing his place in the Surrey team. The problem for Ansari is a lack of cricketing identity. He’s tended to bat between numbers one and four but only has three First Class centuries. Those are great achievements, that’s three more than a lot of people but not good enough for a top order batsman with 115 innings under his belt. His bowling average of 35.18 is respectable enough but comes at an average of less than two wickets a match. This actually suggests a lack of responsibility rather than ability. Question marks linger over Ansari’s desire but when any professional sports player suggests that their game isn’t the be all and end all it can sound worse than it should. Some players immerse themselves in their profession to such an extent that it limits them but for others, getting away from the game can help them to relax and prepare for competition so long as they haven’t completely abandoned practice.

It will be interesting to see where in a decades time Zafar Ansari sits in the history of English cricket. Maybe he’ll be the next Gareth Batty!

Dawson to Debut in Chennai?

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Silly Point told you that Haseeb Hameed would debut in Rajkot…

https://sillypointcricketsite.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/hameed-to-debut-in-rajkot/

… and then did the same when Keaton Jennings was summoned for Mumbai…

https://sillypointcricketsite.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/jennings-to-debut-in-mumbai/

… well not wishing to put the mockers on things for Liam Dawson but the Hampshire spinner could become England Test cap number 676 in the fifth and final Test in Chennai that commences tomorrow. Aside from Silly Point jinxing things for the slow-left-armer, the aftermath of cyclone Vardah, namely a damp pitch might also cost ‘Daws’ his becoming a Test cricketer.

If Dawson does debut tomorrow, he’d probably be quite content if he claimed first innings figures of 4-134, ala the last Dawson to debut for England, former Yorkshire offie Richard ‘Dick’ Dawson (In 2001) but would prefer to finish his Test career with a not so Dawsonesque (Richard) bowling average of 61.54 which in itself is reminiscent of another former Yorkshire offie and is therefore almost a Battyesque 60.93!

International Duck Watch!

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India sealed an inevitable Test series victory against England with a comprehensive innings and 36-run victory in the third Test in Mumbai earlier today.

During England’s pitiful second innings 195 all out Chris Woakes joined yesterday’s ducklings Keaton Jennings and Moeen Ali in the bar at The Duck Club.

The teams now head to Chennai for the fifth and final Test and it’ll be interesting to see if England squad members such as Ben Duckett and Steven Finn (Both omitted from the limited overs squads) as well as the likes of Gary Ballance, Gareth Batty and the uncapped Liam Dawson are presented with a chance to salvage, or in Dawson’s case start their Test careers. You would imagine that captain Cook will want his strongest team available though as England attempt to save face and gain a consolation victory and for Cook, save his future.

International Duck Watch!

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Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz (Again!) and Imran Khan all get a mention in today’s International Duck Watch. The Pakistan quartet faced a grand total of seventeen deliveries between them as the tourists collapsed from 131-0 to 230 all out in the second Test against New Zealand. The result sealed a 2-0 series victory for the hosts.

Like Pakistan, England also find themselves 2-0 down though they still have two Tests in which to restore parity. Ha!

Having survived last night, nightwatchman Gareth Batty fell for nought and fellow spinner Adil Rashid soon joined him. Indian opener Murali Vijay also failed to get off the mark as the hosts (Patel 67 not out) knocked off the runs for the loss of two wickets. A special mention to nineteen-year-old Haseeb Hameed (59 not out) who despite a tour ending finger injury managed to outscore all but one other batsman (Joe Root 78) in England’s second innings.

Is Ansari the Answer?

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Gareth Batty waited eleven years for an England recall and duly recorded figures of 4-116 to aid England’s victory in the first Test in Chittagong.

His reward?

He’s been dropped, sorry, I mean rotated. Whether or not he’ll have to wait another eleven years, by which time he’ll be fifty, for another England turnout will remain to be seen.

Batty will be replaced by Surrey teammate Zafar Ansari for tomorrow’s second Test in Dhaka. Ansari claimed 22 County Championship Division One victims at 31.41 apiece last term to earn a place in the squad ahead of Somerset’s Jack Leach. Leach had taken 65 wickets at 21.88 but Ansari can play the piano and has a degree which the England management believes will serve him well when he makes his Test bow tomorrow! Whether or not they consulted Leach regarding either his musical ability or his university qualifications is unclear. Of course unlike Leach, Ansari provides something with the bat too. He has three First Class centuries to his name and has often opened the batting for Surrey. He was of course due to tour with England last winter but broke his thumb whilst playing for Surrey on the day the squads were announced. The twenty-four-year-old claimed figures of 4-68 in one of England’s warm-up matches on this tour and as well as Batty performed in Chittagong it actually makes sense for the tourists to select Ansari, a slow-left-armer alongside leg-spinner Rashid and off-spinner Moeen. By replacing off-spinner Batty with Ansari, England’s bowling attack now possesses the full compliment of spin actions. Ansari will also gain valuable experience of playing in front of large crowds and in demanding conditions ahead of any potential further opportunities in India.

Ansari will be England Test cricketer number 673 when he takes to the field in the Bangladeshi capital. Silly Point wishes he and his England teammates the very best.

Bangladesh Broken by Batty & Co.

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Congratulations to Bangladesh England on defeating England Bangladesh in a thrilling first Test Match at Chittagong. The hosts have only ever beaten West Indies and Zimbabwe in the longest format of the game but had seemed on course to go 1-0 up in the series for much of this game. England had other ideas though.

Of course only in England can the side win a hard fought Test Match in alien conditions and still get criticised. In the aftermath of the 22-run victory the BBC’s Jonathan Agnew and Ebony Rainford-Brent have suggested that captain Alastair Cook might not have faith in Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid’s abilities. Which is strange given that Moeen bowled more overs than anybody else in the first innings and in the second he opened the bowling whilst nobody bowled more overs in the second innings than Rashid.

Are they seriously suggesting that Cook shouldn’t have thrown the ball to Ben Stokes on the final morning?

The England management seem to have been extremely keen to get Gareth Batty into the side for the first Test but when England really needed a wicket in the fourth innings Cook appeared reluctant to turn to him. When he eventually did it was the county veteran that made the breakthrough having seemingly been underused after taking two earlier wickets. ‘Nora’ recorded figures of 1-51 having opened the bowling in the first innings and 3-65 in the second. Maybe Cook’s perceived reluctance to turn to the Surrey stalwart was actually just an acute sense of when he would be most likely to strike, aka great captaincy.

Captain Cook didn’t play in the warm-up matches and contributed scores of just four and twelve at the top of the order for England having attended the birth of his second child. Had England lost this Test Match such preparation might well have come into question. As it is he deserves tremendous credit for captaining his side to victory against a much-improved Bangladesh side.

Despite victory one or two questions remain regarding the make up of the England XI, namely Gary Ballance’s presence at number four. Come the second Test could Batty’s Surrey teammate Zafar Ansari, who took 4-68 in one of the warm-up games be a straight swap for short-leg specialist but run shy Ballance or could Jos Buttler come in so high in the order despite having played such little First Class cricket in recent times?

Batty has surely done enough to prevent Ansari from being a straight swap for him so could England’s Test Player of the Year Chris Woakes even find himself carrying the drinks?

At the top of the order the England management have surely backed them selves into a corner by not selecting teenage opening batsman Haseeb Hameed for the first Test. Having persisted with Ballance it would seem odd to drop Ben Duckett to four after just one match.

Will Ballance’s three second innings catches provide him with one last chance?

We’ll find out in Dhaka on the 28th.

England’s Selection Scrabble

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With just over twenty-four hours until England take on Bangladesh in the First Test at Chittagong, let’s hope that the England selectors get the balance right when narrowing the 16-strong party down to the final XI.

Haseeb Hameed and Ben Duckett seem likely to make their Test debuts whilst Zafar Ansari and Jake Ball will also hope to make their bows during the tour.

Thirty-nine-year-old Gareth Batty’s last Test Match was against Bangladesh in Durham, way back in 2005 and he looks set to smash fellow Surrey stalwart Martin Bicknell’s record of 114 matches between Test Match appearances. England have played a whopping 142 Test Matches since Batty last donned England whites. He’ll be looking to haul that bowling average of 66.63 down a bit too!

England’s Spin Dearth Myth

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English cricket often seems to be accused of having a dearth of talent when it comes to spin bowling. The national team’s first choice spinner in all forms of the game, Moeen Ali, is a batsman who bowls and 39-year-old Gareth Batty (Test Match bowling average: 66) has just been recalled to the Test squad. Such things contribute to the assumption that there are no genuine quality spin bowlers on the English county scene. Silly Point assesses whether or not such an assumption is a fair one.

Moeen is England’s first choice spinner in all forms of the game but averages in excess of forty in both Tests and ODIs. England’s second choice spinner Adil Rashid also averaged in excess of forty in both forms of the game before dragging his ODI numbers down during an excellent series for him personally in Bangladesh this month. In doing so he might now be considered England’s number one spinner at least in ODIs. The next couple of weeks will determine whether or not that will, for the first time be the case in Test Match cricket as well. Liam Dawson has made only a couple of international appearances and averages thirty-five plus in First Class and List A cricket. His value to Hampshire is primarily with the bat. James Tredwell, no longer required by England, averages below thirty in both Tests and ODIs! All these players are considered all-rounders and their ability with the bat plays a crucial role in getting them into the team. If we explore the other options available to England in the county game we’ll quickly see that England’s perceived dearth of spin talent is a myth. Ollie Rayner, though no mug with the bat and Jack Leach might not be expected to contribute the volume of runs that the likes of Moeen and Rashid might but if they were to take international wickets at fewer apiece than England’s current incumbents are they not more worthy of a place in the team?

This is not to belittle the likes of Moeen and Rashid both of whom have a lot to offer England in all facets and all forms of the game but England’s reluctance to select specialists and or explore alternative options can be frustrating.

Let’s start with off-spinner Rayner who to be fair can bat a bit (First class average 22.00 including two centuries) The German born thirty-year-old has 254 First Class wickets to his name at a more than respectable average of 32.74. That’s about two runs less per wicket than Rashid (34.70) and nine, yes nine runs less than England’s first choice spinner Moeen (41.62)! Moeen’s Test average is even higher at 42.03 but he compliments this with more than handy batting figures of 1,454 runs at 34.61 including three centuries. In 2013 Rayner recorded analysis of 15-118 including 8-46, both career bests, against Surrey at The Oval. In 2016 Rayner’s best effort was 6-79, one of three five-wicket hauls as he finished Middlesex’s victorious County Championship Division One campaign with 51 wickets from thirteen matches at just 23.57. His age, thirty, is no reason to dismiss him. He could be primed to put together all that he has learnt during his domestic career and take it on to a five-year plus international one. If not for England then surely he can get a game for Germany!

Only seven players took more County Championship Division One wickets than Rayner last term. The only English spinner to do so was Somerset’s slow-left-armer Jack Leach. The twenty-five-year old accumulated 65 wickets at 21.88 including five five-wicket hauls as Somerset pushed Rayner’s side for the title ‘til the very last day of the season. For the record only Jeetan Patel took more County Championship Division One wickets than Leach last term. 2016 was Leach’s breakthrough season as he more than doubled his career First Class wicket tally, now 107 at 25.68. Maybe he needs to show that this season wasn’t a one-off before he gets the England call and his Somerset captain Chris Rogers’ less than ringing endorsement can’t have helped his international chances. On the batting front however the likes of Haseeb Hameed and Ben Duckett were picked for England on the back of one good season though both have spent time with England Lions or underage sides. Leach hasn’t and Simon Kerrigan’s introduction to Test cricket means that the England selectors like to get a close up of their potential international players first so that they can judge their character let alone their ability. Leach joins Rayner in the England Lions squad this winter.

On the subject of Kerrigan, he has 305 First Class victim to his name and his First Class bowling average of 30.05 is lower than Rayner (32.74) another forgotten man in Danny Briggs (33.70) current Bangladesh tourist, Zafar Ansari (34.45) Rashid (34.70) Scott Borthwick (35.75) Liam Dawson (37.47) Samit Patel (39.39) and of course Moeen (41.62). Ravi Patel, Josh Poysden, Stephen Parry, Adam Riley, Rob Keogh, Graeme White and Jack Taylor also all average a lower than Moeen sub forty in First Class cricket. Last year Kerrigan took 35 County Championship Division One wickets at an average of 37.89. Not brilliant but by no means a disgrace. He’s still only twenty-seven-years-old. It was a chastising international debut (8-0-53-0) against Australia at The Oval in 2013 for Kerrigan but where as many England supporters thought that the national team had progressed from a time where players were written off after one poor performance Kerrigan seems to have been well and truly left behind. Last year on Test Match debut and on spinning terrain, Adil Rashid recorded record-breakingly bad figures of 34-0-163-0. Of course unlike Kerrigan the Yorkshire leg-spinner got a second innings chance and on a worn pitch took 5-64.

Back to Leach’s Somerset. It was another Taunton man, nineteen-year-old Dom Bess that topped the County Championship Division One bowling averages last season (See previous post: Six to Watch for more about the England Under-19 International)

https://sillypointcricketsite.wordpress.com/2016/10/10/six-to-watch/

The off-spinner only made two appearances in the County Championship but his performances courted plenty of attention. He recorded figures of 6-28 against Warwickshire on debut before taking 5-43 against Nottinghamshire, both at Taunton. Former England batsmen Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Michael Lumb just some of his victims in those two matches. As a result of his 2016 performances Bess has 13 career wickets at 20.30 per victim.

Bess isn’t the only youngster tearing down the spin dearth myth. Kerrigan’s Lancashire’s teammate, nineteen-year-old leg-spinner Matthew Parkinson exploded onto the scene in 2016, recording figures of 5-49 against Warwickshire on debut. Like Bess, Jonathan Trott was among his debut victims. Parkinson’s First Class stats currently read 10 wickets at 36.30.

Another nineteen-year-old leggie is Hampshire’s Mason Crane. 31 wickets at 45.45 with a best of 3-19 in 2016 may seem a little underwhelming but to gain that experience in County Championship Division One at such a young age will only have helped his development. His career figures currently stand at 45 wickets at 40.75 apiece. These are early days in the careers of Bess, Parkinson and Crane so of course there statistics are a small sample size.

Having focused primarily on First Class and Test Match cricket lets switch our attention to the short stuff. In limited overs cricket it is expected that a player’s bowling average will be lower than in First Class cricket. It’s also more understandable that batting credentials might come into the equation. Liam Dawson averages 32.38 with the bat in List A cricket and 35.84 with the ball. He’s next in line in the pajama stuff after Moeen (26.16 and 44.34 in ODIs) and Rashid (27.25 and 35.17)

Northamptonshire’s Graeme White averages 25.79 with the ball in List A cricket, Gloucestershire’s Jack Taylor averages 28.03 and 24.25 with the bat, Surrey’s Zafar Ansari 31.97 and 34.12.

If we consider a broader spectrum, amongst the other Test playing nations, do the likes of Australia’s Jon Holland and Steve O’Keefe, New Zealand’s Mark Craig and Ish Sodhi, South Africa’s Dane Piedt and Simon Harmer, West Indies Sulieman Benn and Devendra Bishoo or Zimbabwe’s Graeme Cremer or John Nyumbu leave English spinners in the shade?

Of course there are less players from smaller populations representing fewer teams in most of the other Test nations mentioned than in England’s eighteen team First Class structure but the quality spin representation at domestic level is proportional.

As for England, the players are out there. Some can bat, some can’t. Some are in their teens, some are in their thirties. Some have played for England before, some haven’t. Some may have already produced their best, some haven’t.

When there’s eleven players in the team and the aim of the game is to score as many runs as possible, somebody’s got to keep wicket, the climate is accommodating to and the pitches are tailored to suit fast bowling then there are only going to be so many spinners around, some of which will be better than others. There may not be as many quality spinners as there are grains of sand on a beach but there are enough diamonds in the rough!