Telegraph Fantasy Cricket: CC/ODC 2018 – Because it’s Never too Early!

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It’s never too early to start planning any fantasy team. Preparation is key. The English county cricket season will commence in April, so it’s important to have by then identified some possible composites of your side.

Assuming that the format will remain the same, that’s one amalgamated competition for First Class and List A cricket with a completely separate one for the T20 blast, I’m going to focus on potential selections for the four-day and 50-over formats for the time being.

Here are my key tips to remember when selecting a team:

  1. Don’t select players that will be on international duty.
  2. Select players that will play in both forms of the game.
  3. Select batsman that bowl and bowlers that bat.
  4. Don’t pick the same players as everybody else.
  5. Identify potential gems amongst the ‘hardly picked by anyone’ players.

Let’s start with batting. Re: tip one, there’s absolutely no point selecting Joe Root, Mark Stoneman or Jonny Bairstow. They’ll be representing the national team.

England discard Tom Westley could be a shrewd shout. He’ll be keen to push for a recall to the England side, though I think it’ll likely be a vain push. The Essex man is a decent operator in both formats and occasionally contributes some reasonable off-spin.

Another England reject worth a possible punt could be Keaton Jennings. He’s relocated from Durham to Lancashire, opens the batting in both forms of the game and made regular contributions with the ball when at Durham. Whether or not Alastair Cook remains in the England side could of course determine if KJ is a smart selection. It is worth noting that both players I’ve mentioned so far could find themselves representing England Lions and missing a game or two because of such. That’s why in this game, it’s the county pros who you need to select.

Somerset’s James Hildreth is a decent shout, a little more productive in one-day cricket than some people realise and if he can perform to his potential in the four-day matches then he’ll contribute plenty of runs. Worcestershire’s Joe Clarke is a good call but again he’ll be knocking on the door of the England team. Clarke may be listed as a wicketkeeper. Northamptonshire’s Ben Duckett will likely be listed as a batsman but does keep wicket from time to time. He’s well and truly fallen out of favour with England and could contribute significant scores at a decent strike rate (There’s points for that!).

Following his move to Warwickshire, Dominic Sibley is definitely a player worth considering. He’s keen to prove to Surrey that he should’ve been a regular fixture in their team. He’s a destructive batsman in one-day cricket but has the ability to make big scores in the longer format. Don’t forget that he can provide more than useful part-time spin too!

In the all-rounder stakes, Nottinghamshire’s Samit Patel (Clearly no longer required by England) is possibly an essential selection. Re: tips four and five, it’s important to not just select the same team as everybody else. You need to identify the ‘hardly picked by anyone’ players that will make the difference. You do however need some reliable core players in your team. Having Harry Kane isn’t going to win you fantasy football but not having him will guarantee that you don’t win. Patel bats, bowls and plays both formats. He’ll be as hungry as ever to demonstrate to the England hierarchy that he merits further opportunities so may well deserve a spot in your XI.

Hampshire’s Gareth Berg is no spring chicken and not the most fashionable name on the county scene but with the ball, he’s a consistent wicket-taker as well as being in the habit of contributing useful lower order runs. He’s one of those players that will pass a number of fantasy players by, so sneaking him into your team, he could well prove an asset.

On the bowling front, Sussex’s Jofra Archer isn’t qualified to play for England yet. Last year he was listed as a bowler but could potentially be listed as an all-rounder this year. Either way, he falls into the Patel category of being an almost necessary selection.

Jake Ball? No seriously, I’m serious. He’s surely fallen down the pecking order at international level and the opportunity to play regularly at domestic level could well be what he needs. If he can perform like he did to first earn international recognition then he could be worth a pick. Brett Hutton has departed Ball’s Nottinghamshire side and headed to Northamptonshire. He’s another of these potentially underrated players who could now prosper in a new environment where he’ll hope for extra responsibility. Re: tip three, it’s great to find players that offer something with bat and ball but essentially you do need to select players that will, if they’re a batsman, score runs and if they’re a bowler, take wickets… duhhh!

I could go on and maybe I’ll do a follow-up post consisting of some more names. I’ll probably end up selecting a team that contains none of the above players whatsoever but as a starting point for planting the seeds of fantasy cricket team selection, this is just the beginning.

A Change is Gonna Come

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Prepare to be shocked!

Forgot my ‘Pick ‘n’ stick’ selection policy, it’s time for change. It’s just so predictable that England will wait to go 3-0 down in the Ashes before making changes rather than doing so at 2-0. Okay okay, they replaced Jake Ball with Craig Overton for the second Test but Alastair Cook, Moeen Ali and maybe even Jonny Bairstow, your time is up! I back these guys to come good in the third Test, that’s just who I am but meritocracy combined with necessity tells me that they should make way.

At the top of the order, I’d bring back the left-handed Ben Duckett. I think he should have been persevered with throughout the summer following his mid-winter axing. I like his positive approach and alongside the contrastingly stoic right-handed Haseeb Hameed long term, could be ‘Warneresque’ for England. Forget who’s officially in the squad, it doesn’t matter because the England Lions are shadowing the full side anyway.

On the spin front, Moeen Ali isn’t even fit. He’s cut his finger yet England won’t dare entertain the idea of picking someone else. I’d prefer the left-arm variety of Jack Leach to Mason Crane and really don’t understand this attitude of selecting Crane if he’s only to be trusted as a second spinner on maybe one ground. Chris Woakes is capable of more with the bat and this isn’t the time for worrying about the length of the tail.

As for the glovemen, Jonny Bairstow doesn’t seem to be in the right place, so let’s throw caution to the wind and welcome Surrey’s Ben Foakes to the XI.

Cook, Moeen and Bairstow, I love these guys but now is the time for ruthlessness. It doesn’t have to mean the end of their careers and some may call it panic but the current side has left us 2-0 down. A change is gonna come… or not, probably not, definitely not!

Ashes Extras

It’s been a while since the last Extras post but here’s an Ashes treat. It’s a kind of quiz question special!

Bye: Should Peter Handscomb make way for Glenn Maxwell?

Handscomb looks jittery at the crease while Maxwell is performing well in the Sheffield Shield. There’s an old adage that ‘You shouldn’t change a winning team’ and with Oz 2-0 to the good, this could be a good opportunity to let Handscomb ride out the tempest. Some however may argue that you should make changes when you’re winning if those alterations strengthen the side.

Leg Bye: Should England drop Moeen Ali?

He’s probably not fully fit, looks ineffectual with the ball and limp with the bat. His potential to score runs though makes a straight swap with Mason Crane seem unlikely.

No Ball: Can Dawid Malan convert starts?

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Malan seems to be winning over some doubters with his effort and application but teens and twenties won’t keep him in the Test side forever. The Middlesex man will be seeking at least a half-century in Perth.

Wide: Would Jake Ball be better off with England Lions?

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If JB3 is now only around to serve beverages then he may as well get some game time with the back-up brigade. If any of the senior bowlers trip up on the morning of a Test, is Ball next in-line anyway?

Goodness Gracious Jake Ball’s on Fire!

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Well he might be if he plays in the first Test of the 2017-18 Ashes series but one can’t sit on a headline that good!

It seemed as though Craig Overton had displaced the injury stricken Ball for the first Test but JB3 is now fit for selection and primed to return. Overton’s wicketless display in England’s final warm-up game combined with his three ducks in a row when he could have pushed his case mean that Ball may be presented with the opportunity to shave his Test bowling average of 114.00!

Back to Overton, there have been recently written articles about the Somerset man in relation to an incident that happened two years ago. There are some that believe Overton to be racist. Does ‘that’ one comment make him a racist? Has he made any other similar comments in any walk of his life? Was he actually raising an astute point regarding a non-English/non-international cricketer not classed as an overseas player taking up the place of local talent? Of course if I approached a Pakistan-born man on the street and advised him to “F^*k off back to your own f^*king country” then I’d be charged with racism, no doubt about it!

Onto the cricket, it’s brewing nicely. England have had a decent pre-series workout with the likes of Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan registering First Class hundreds (That’s First Class not 15-a-side nonsense!) and James Vince recording some very James Vince-like scores! Australia on the other hand have made six changes to their team and upset a few people in doing so but if they win the Ashes then the selectors will be considered ruthless and shrewd geniuses.

We’ll see how it all plays out soon…

Something About Burned Wood!

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So ‘The Ashes’ are nearly upon us. (I mean the real one not just a computer game!) At the risk of sounding detached and lacking enthusiasm, I guess that I should write something about the impending contest.

Despite being an England fan I’m actually quite confident. Not all that long ago the Australian side were accused of using the national team as a development squad. That accusation was levied at them by one of their own, Cameron White none the less. When it comes to fast bowling at least (In fact spin bowling too!), England appear to be following a similar trajectory. Ignore any notion of getting proven county vets like Steve Patterson, Keith Barker or Liam Norwell (Not that old!) into the side or even recalling Tim Bresnan but call up the ‘potential’ instead, the likes of Tom Helm and George Garton. Things are eerily parallel to the current makeup of the national football team.

I have huge respect for the likes of Helm and Garton and back them to have successful international careers but it must be frustrating for proven players such as Chris Rushworth and Joe Leach to see ‘raw talent’ selected ahead of them. That’s not to say that I think England or anybody should hold back someone that’s good enough, just like they did with Haseeb Hameed and should’ve done with Sam Curran.

This post isn’t really going where I’d intended. I wanted to buck the general consensus and say how I believe England can do well this winter but I’ve just ended up having a whinge. It’s so unlike me!

Attempting to return to the point, I’m backing Stoneman, Vince and Malan to pile on the runs. I’m expecting Alastair Cook to find form. I’m backing whoever the bowling line up consists of, whether it be Ball, Overton or Crane to come good, or at least be better for the experience. Australia have some good players. They also have some lesser players who may step up to the plate and they may introduce some new players who commence their international careers with a Peter Handscombesque start. England however can go head to head (Or toe to toe) with them. I envisage a competitive series with a 2-1 or maybe even 2-2 result.

Will England cook the Ozzies? Will Stoneman rock? Will Vince be invincible? Will Ball be on the ball? Will Crane reign? Will England find the root (Route) to victory?

We’ll find out soon…

Robbed!

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At the commencement of the 2017 county campaign, Leicestershire ruthlessly decided that they wanted opening batsman Angus Robson out of the First XI. They opted to pair young Harry Dearden with not so young Paul Horton at the top of the order and so Robson departed in rather unceremonious fashion. Leicestershire appear to have since given up on Dearden, temporarily at least. They’ve snapped up Surrey stalwart Arun Harinath on loan. No disrespect to Harinath but that doesn’t really add up does it?

The early season headlines seemed to suggest that Robson had joined Sussex but it soon became clear that it wasn’t quite so straight forward. Robson had joined the Hove outfit but only on a season long Second XI trial. If anything that was probably a bit embarrassing for a determined twentyfive-year-old with just shy of 3000 First Class runs. Anyway, it looks as though Robson might get a chance in the Sussex first team in 2018, possibly at the expense of Chris Nash. Nash has been a good servent to Sussex but hasn’t hit his straps this year when opening alongside young Harry Finch. Bermuda born Delray Rawlins is also part of the equation now.

Back to Robson, his recent outings for Sussex 2s have been pretty productive:

97, 15*, 34, 31*, 0, 66, 70*, 63*, 110*, 35, 59*

That first score of 97 may confirm why he finds himself in his current predicament. In the First Class game he has 27 half-centuries but only two hundreds. That’s possibly the difference between his average of 31.52 and maybe 35 plus. To be fair, reviewing those Second XI scores shows us that he’s finished undefeated on quite a few occasions as well as registering a century.

We’ve recently seen his brother Sam get back into the England Lions fold, hopefully next term we can see little brother Angus can regain a place on the First Class circuit.

Also at Sussex, former England paceman Ajmal Shahzad has left the club. I met Shahzad earlier this year outside of cricket and he was kind enough to ‘talk cricket’ with me. Hopefully he’ll find a new home, stay fit and have three of four years racking up the wickets.

Could he go to Surrey?

I’ll admit it, I’ve given up hope of Mark Footitt playing for England. Going to Division Two won’t help his chances though to be fair, returning to Nottinghamshire he’ll be surrounded by internationals. With Luke Fletcher out for the season and Stuart Broad and Jake Ball in the England reckoning as well as James Pattinson’s future uncertain then Footitt will have a part to play. Hold on! Surrey are well stocked with quicks so could Shahzad even return to Notts?

English county cricket becomes more like the Premier League everyday when it comes to transfers. Maybe Footitt and Shahzad could be opening the bowling at Trent Bridge before the summer is out!

Will England Take the Plungekett?

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England head to the Land of Oz for the Ashes later this year and if past expeditions are anything to go by then the selectors are sure to stock the plane with plenty of pace bowling options. James Anderson and Stuart Broad will go, as of course will Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes.

But who else?

Jake Ball, Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones are contenders as are the Curran brothers, Tom and Sam. Mark Wood is surely one that the England selectors will be keen on and Mark Footitt is an outside bet. He’s erratic but he does take wickets (As I’ve banged on about (Campaigned) in previous articles!). A name that doesn’t seem to come up often when it comes to Test squad discussions is Liam Plunkett. Remember that the England selectors won’t be looking or needing players that have to stay fit for five Tests. The back up pacers will slot in for a Test or two at a time in order to rest senior members of the attack and to catch the hosts by surprise. But for Afghanistan’s teenage spin sensation Rashid Khan’s seven-fer against West Indies yesterday, Yorkshire’s Plunkett was the leading ODI wicket taker in the last year. He actually did well when he returned to the Test side in 2014 before incurring injury. England have the opportunity and possibly the necessity to view alternative options in this summer’s home Test series’ against both South Africa and West Indies. With injury concerns present regarding both Anderson and Woakes then surely it’s worth England having a look at the likes of Plunkett and Footitt in the red (Or pink) ball arena.

Here’s my squad come England’s first Test of the summer with Plunkett and Footitt providing cover if Woakes and Anderson aren’t fit:

Alastair Cook

Keaton Jennings

Joe Root (Captain)

Gary Ballance

Moeen Ali

Ben Stokes

Jonny Bairstow (Wicketkeeper)

Adil Rashid

Chris Woakes / Liam Plunkett

Stuart Broad

James Anderson / Mark Footitt

Here are the players to add to the squad come the Ashes:

Haseeb Hameed

Jos Buttler (Reserve Wicketkeeper)

Liam Dawson

Mark Wood

Hameed’s domestic form, an equation of three into two for the opening slots, Ballance’s demanding of a recall, Moeen’s desire and merit to bat at five and Rashid’s time to lead the spin bowling attack equates to Hameed missing out at the start of the summer but making the tour. I’m happy with Root captaining the side from three ala Australia’s Steven Smith as Ballance has been so productive at four this year at Headingley. Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone could also come into the equation but that would balloon the party to eighteen. LL was England Lions standout performer last winter and presumably the back-up brigade will be waiting in the wings if England need to call for reinforcements. Of course Dawson and Buttler will already provide genuine batting cover. Dawson bats at five for Hampshire and Buttler will be in the squad as second choice gloveman.

Regarding spin, Mason Crane could return to Oz after playing First Class cricket there last winter but needs to really set the word alight in the County Championship from this point on. Alternatively England could turn to Somerset’s Jack Leach but you get the impression that the selectors aren’t convinced and that Dawson will do seen as it’s Australia not Asia.

Of course if Jennings averages 15.00 against SA, Broad breaks down injured playing for Nottinghamshire and Rashid goes at 6.00 an over against WI then the Ashes squad could have a completely different complexion to the one presented above.

You’ll have to excuse me. The article headline suggested that it would be all about Liam Plunkett but has descended into a general England squad predictor/requestor. I definitely think that Plunkett and Footitt would be great weapons in England’s attack for three to five Tests each in our next three series.

We’ll see what happens…

Toby Rolls In!

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I’ll admit that TRJ’s latest call-up to the England squad on the eve of the third ODI against South Africa had passed me by, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a thoroughly deserving county stalwart’s name on the scorecard when I got home from work yesterday. It eased the pain of the scorecard as a whole.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/1031429.html

Toby Roland-Jones made England’s Test squad last summer but not the XI. He performed admirably with bat and ball for the Lions in the winter and has been a consistent performer on the domestic circuit for a number of years. He played a huge part in Middlesex’s final day County Championship title clinch last season and possibly the fact that Middlesex haven’t played a match this week and that the third ODI was at his domestic home ground of Lords probably helped he and Steven Finn make the squad. England had niggles to the likes of Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali and clearly decided not to take any risks with their other fit but injury prone first choice pacers. Liam Plunkett and Mark Wood were rested. Liam Dawson, perennial 12th man was also added to the squad but not surprisingly provided the greenness of the pitch, he again failed to take the XI. Jake Ball responded to his figures of 0-81 in the second ODI by claiming two wickets at Lords and back to Roland-Jones, he came out swinging (Not slogging!) to hit a run-a-ball 37 not out on debut after England had been 22-6 inside five overs! TRJ also took his and England’s first wicket. Hashim Amla is not a bad maiden international victim. It says bowled in the scorebook and mentions nothing about playing on!

Credit the ECB that have some good pieces on their website. It won’t let me post links to the specific video pages but only the main page. Have a look at the post match interview with TRJ and the match highlights that are a decent nearly six minutes long and available soon after the match conclusion, providing the frustrated fan with some action in an era of no bat ‘n’ ball on free to air television. Hopefully that’s about to change!

https://www.ecb.co.uk

Ahead of the Ashes this winter, England seem likely to experiment with their squad come the ODIs against West Indies later this summer and will probably rotate their seamers before taking plenty of them Down Under. Roland-Jones could yet don the full England kit again soon.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/england/content/player/370535.html

Don Bradman Cricket 17: England v Namibia Test Match

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After our battering at the hands of the Scots north of the border, we were grateful to return to home comforts when we entertained Namibia in Arundel. Tom Curran and Jack Leach were dropped from the XI, with Jake Ball recalled to the side and Toby Roland-Jones handed a Test debut.

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Toby Roland-Jones snapped up his first Test victim.

Such was the unrelenting quality performed by the opening bowlers, Roland-Jones had to wait until after lunch for his opportunity but soon claimed his first Test wicket. In truth however, it was his Middlesex colleague Steven Finn (5-34), man of the match against the Scots, who really shone, ably supported by the returning Jake Ball (3-24).

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Aneurin Donald (16), was unlucky to be given out LBW in the first over of the final session.

After restricting the visitors to just 110 in their first innings, for the second match in a row Kent opener Daniel Bell-Drummond held things together before being run out for 46. Stumper Jonny Bairstow (35) and fellow Yorkie, captain Joe Root (30), both innings consisting of just twenty deliveries, complimented DBD to lift us to a slightly underwhelming 173 all out but a vital lead of 53.

Jake Ball (4-31) led the way as we made early breakthroughs in Namibia’s second innings. Hampshire spinner Mason Crane (2-36) struck in the first over of the day and was a constant threat whilst debutant Toby Roland-Jones (2-45) looked like taking a wicket at any point before eventually doing so, claiming two more victims on Test debut. Namibia recovered well from 67-5 but Keith Barker (11-5-31-0) built pressure with his economical and consistent line before Steven Finn (2-42) removed both the African side’s top scorers, Bagel (69) and wicketkeeper Gardiner (32). After they were gone, Namibia collapsed from 176-6 to 189 all out. The number of maidens that we bowled was a vast improvement on past efforts as was our catching, only letting ourselves down on a couple of occasions late in the piece. Credit must also go to skipper Joe Root, his bowling changes or even non changes and tactics as a whole, were outstanding.

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Sam Northeast (55 not out) recorded a maiden Test fifty and in doing so, led his country to victory.

Ben Duckett (0) and Aneurin Donald (5) were amongst those soon back in the hut as we slipped to 59-4 in pursuit of 127 for victory. Despite strong performances in the field, their Test futures now hang by the finest of threads. The fact that it may be fair to stick with a winning side will possibly, possibly save them. The likes of Liam Livingstone (12th man in this match), Alastair Cook, Nick Compton and Scott Borthwick to name a few, wait in the wings should we opt to make changes. Number three Sam Northeast showed how it should be done, as he put on a fifty partnership with Warwickshire’s Keith Barker (28) to alleviate any fears of an England slip-up. Barker was needlessly run out before Jonny Bairstow (8 not out) clobbered the winning runs. It was Kent batsman Northeast’s composure though, in striking a maiden Test fifty (55 not out) in only his second Test match to lead the side to victory, that can provide an example beacon to others in England’s batting line-up.

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A five-wicket win was a welcome response to the Scottish episode. Though some places in the team are still up for grabs, many players have really placed two hands on their position in our strongest XI.

Don Bradman Cricket 17: Double Dutch!

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When you’ve posted 324 in your first innings and have the opposition 7-3, you don’t really see a five-wicket defeat coming!

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Stuart Broad made 64 from number nine but offered little threat with the ball.

Captain Joe Root led from the front in Amstelveen with a half-century, though come the end of the match we would reflect on the controversial run out of Keaton Jennings as a crucial moment in the match. Looking well set having reached 40, Jennings, the non-striker at the time, was dismissed after being blocked by the bowler when England attempted a sneaky single. The ruthless Dutch showed no mercy and Jennings had to go.

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James Anderson, in making 55 not out and 10 not out, made it through the entire match without being dismissed… but was it his last Test?

Stuart Broad (64) and James Anderson (55 not out) put on 98 for the last wicket to propel us to a respectable 324. With said players rested after their batting exploits, Jake Ball opened the bowling with spinner Adil Rashid and both struck early with three Netherlands batsman back in the hut having each made just one run. With the Dutch deep in trouble at 7-3, we were contemplating whether or not to enforce the follow-on. Stephanus Myburgh (173) and Peter Borren (94) had other ideas however, as they constructed a double century partnership. The latter had a lifeline in the sixties, dropped on the boundary by Sam Curran after captain Joe Root cannily rolled his arm over, the first over of a new session. Jake Ball recorded impressive figures of 6-72 but senior bowlers such as the likes of Anderson and Broad struggled for effectiveness as the hosts accumulated 413.

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After a difficult first half of the match, teenager Sam Curran came to the fore with bat and ball to offer a glimmer of hope for England’s international future.

We then lost too many wickets before eradicating the defecit, Ben Duckett the unfortunate victim of a PS4 button malfunction that resulted in him standing at the crease like a tree, happening to receive a rare straight ball and despite the most optimistic review, being dismissed LBW for what looked like a strongly laid platform of 15 runs, the whole affair pretty much summing up his international career!

It was left to teenager Sam Curran (67) to show his teammates the application required to score runs at Test level, only a belligerent Ben Stokes (46) offered any other resistance as we scraped past 200.

The Dutch were left needing 138 for a shockwave sending victory and soon reached fifty without loss. Sam Curran then came to the party however, dismissing opening bat Michael Swart (19) with the penultimate ball of the third day (Yes that’s right, we actually managed to take a match into a fourth day!). Myburgh then nonchalantly struck the last ball of the day for six but having being bogged down by Adil Rashid the following morning, threw his wicket away to the Yorkshire leggie for just 7. Curran then sent Ben Cooper (1 & 0) back to the pavilion, caught behind by Jonny Bairstow, the very next delivery. The Dutch steadied themselves and despite some much improved bowling from James Anderson who dismissed opener Rahil Ahmed for 53 and the needless run out of Borren for 35, the hosts ran out comfortable winners.

Credit to the Dutch for an excellent victory. Though some may consider it sour grapes, we look back on the controversial and unsporting run out of Jennings with much ire and realise that we have many selection issues to ponder throughout both the batting and bowling elements of our side ahead of our next Test in Scotland.