Rooted!

Why is Joe Root so comfortable walking out to bat at three for England in ODI cricket but so reluctant to do so in Test cricket?

If Root were willing to operate at three in Tests, it would make it so much easier for England to accommodate a promising middle order player… or James Hildreth!

It’s the sort of inconsistency that irks me and talking of things that irk me… I wish that England were playing a Test tomorrow and Jason Roy was playing because I can’t stand all these ‘clever’ sods claiming that Roy could be our saviour in red ball cricket any longer. I CAN understand the logic if he scores over six hundred runs at the World Cup and the England management want to go with the flow but after all the talk of needing batsmen to reign in their attacking instincts, people want a feast or famine white-ball dasher who is at best a First Class number five to open in Tests against Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Lyon!

Oh and the Mark Wood bubble has burst already… 7-0-49-0!

Sorry, I’m being cynical (Or just joking) which is the reason why I stopped following 95% of all the other cricket blogs on WordPress!

Back to the Future

There have been many great batsman who didn’t crack Test cricket first time… or even second time!

Could any of the players pictured above force their way back into England reckoning?

Gary Ballance 1498 Test runs @ 37.45

Possessing by far the best Test record of any of the batsmen listed, it seems unlikely that Ballance will get another chance. Being Joe Root’s ex-flatmate helped him before but won’t again. He’ll have to score an insatiable amount of runs to make a case and combine that with having eradicated perceived technical deficiencies.

Ben Duckett 110 @ 15.71

In contrast to last winter, it’s been a hugely encouraging time for Ben Duckett recently. He was recalled to the England Lions squad and returned to the scene of the crime in India. He’ll be looking for a fruitful campaign with his new employers Nottinghamshire to get back into the full England side.

Keaton Jennings 750 @ 25.86

The most recently jettisoned on this list, it seems highly improbable that Jennings will line up against Australia this summer. Come England’s next tour to Asia however and even if it be as back-up/sub-fielder then he could come into contention.

Dawid Malan 724 @ 27.84

Malan wasn’t happy to be axed and he has been hard done by after a record-breaking start to his T20I career. He couldn’t really argue with his Test termination however. He’s not set the world on fire since, neither in county cricket or in various T20 competitions so has a lot to do to earn a recall.

Mark Stoneman 526 @ 27.68

A potential recall for Stoneman isn’t actually that outlandish. If he prospers alongside Rory Burns at Surrey in the early days of the county campaign then he could yet force his way back in. He could do with improving his fielding though.

James Vince 548 @ 24.90

Vince has performed superbly in the latest edition of the Big Bash and maybe white-ball cricket is a more likely route back in for him. Such is the competition for places though, that it won’t be easy.

Of course all the players detailed above may now be labelled damaged goods so we may see some Test debuts before we witness recalls for any of the above.

Where are the Women?

The 2019 Official England Cricket calendar is on sale now and at first glance it appears to have the same layout as recent editions. There is one obvious omission though… women!

Surely it’s about time that the calendar featured England’s women cricketers. It’s arguable that they’re different teams and should have their own calendars and I can understand such a stance but… aren’t the men’s Test, ODI and T20I teams separate entities? Should we have separate calendars for each?

I think that it’d be great to see the captains on the front, Heather Knight centre stage flanked by messrs Root and Morgan.

There could be a move away from individual profile pages and more of a team presentation. There could for example be a wicketkeeper’s page featuring shots of Sarah Taylor, Ben Foakes, Amy Jones, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow. Action shots would be good but admittedly the page is only so big. The five players could be lined up alongside each other with for example Foakes at the front and centre, the ladies either side and slightly behind him with Buttler and Bairstow further back forming a V formation.

There could be pages that feature only the men or women but again let’s move away from individual player images. Months could feature two batters at the crease or the team celebrating a wicket or series victory.

Possibly the best performances of the previous year, a player registering a double-hundred or nine-wicket haul or alternatively a breakthrough or retiring player could earn a solo page. Another nice addition might be a legends month where players from years gone by takes centre stage.

Ultimately, men or women, England’s cricketers are there to inspire all. This wouldn’t be a token move for the times but a change accurate with equality and sense. It would be right and should be perceived as normal not groundbreaking. The fact that I’m saying this and that it hasn’t happened means that it’s still not!

Edit (An Important one!): I’ve since opened the calendar (!) and five women’s players do feature alongside men in an ensemble page at the centre with male players who didn’t earn a month of their own. It’s not a month of the year page though, so you’d have to hang it up as a poster and wake up not knowing what month it is! Still, great to see the likes of Anya Shrubsole and Nat Sciver in there.

Preparation Stagnation

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.

Frustrated Foakes!

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Surrey’s Ben Foakes spent last winter warming the bench during a lengthy Ashes tour and could now be set to do the same in Sri Lanka. Since last winter, Jos Buttler has returned to the side not only as a specialist batsman but also as second choice wicketkeeper. As a result, even though Jonny Bairstow injured himself playing football, former Essex-man Foakes remains unlikely to play in the first Test. If Bairstow is anything shy of 100% fit then based on his attempts at playing when injured during last summer, he should be nowhere near the XI. The England management need to be brave enough to make the sort of calls that Italy’s football coach Arrigo Sacchi did with star player Roberto Baggio during the early stages of World Cup USA ’94. England also have Foakes’ Surrey teammates Ollie Pope and rather less likely, uncapped opening batsman Rory Burns as alternative wicketkeeping options. That’s just the five glovemen in the squad then!

Based on what we saw last winter, it’s quite possible that England’s XI in the third Test may be rather different to what we see in the first encounter. With little game time under his belt, Somerset spinner Jack Leach may be unlikely to start the series but if England fall behind then he may well be called upon. It may also be the case that the delicate Olly Stone benefits from not playing though you’d think some overs under his belt would be helpful.

Much maligned opening batsman Keaton Jennings missed out in his only opportunity on tour so far as did Joe Denly. Though Denly’s return to England’s T20I side went romantically well, the nature of the game means that he was able to claim wickets without bowling at his best. That is unlikely to be the case in the Test series. It’s tough to call but with rumours that Stuart Broad may be rested and Sam Curran’s left-arm variety useful, particularly if Leach is omitted, could England’s line-up in the first Test look like this?

Rory Burns

Keaton Jennings

Joe Denly

Joe Root (c)

Ben Stokes

Jos Buttler (w)

Moeen Ali

Chris Woakes

Sam Curran

Adil Rashid

James Anderson

If the weather allows, England basically now have a one-day game before the first Test. Wickets for the likes of Broad and Leach or runs for Pope or Foakes could yet have a bearing on the make-up of England’s XI. Of course if Buttler were to get injured during a Test, it’d be perverse if Foakes and Pope were sat on the bench alongside Bairstow whilst Rory Burns assumed the gloves on what would turn out to be a heck of a demanding introduction to international cricket for the Surrey skipper.