No Easy Root Back!

img_2659

England Test skipper Joe Root has been dropped by England for what is essentially a final in the T20I series at home to India today.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/18018/game/1119545/england-vs-india-3rd-t20i-india-tour-of-ireland-and-england-2018

This is a brutal and decisive but perfectly logical call by the England hierarchy. It’s delightful that they’ve had the guts to do it when in the past Root would surely have been persevered with. England stuck with the likes of Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell for too long in white-ball cricket but finally opened their eyes and made changes, bringing in the likes of Jason Roy and Alex Hales at the top of the order. The game is evolving at such a pace that Joe Root, a man who in the grand scheme of things has played so little T20 cricket, hasn’t been able to keep up. He’s a quality player, capable of adapting his game and coming back stronger but at the moment he simply doesn’t merit selection. Hopefully this will make him determine to excel in the red-ball arena for England and prove himself to be England’s best Test batsman of a generation.

Telegraph Fantasy Cricket: CC/ODC 2018

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 15.22.07

The above is my first XI. It’s in the all-rounder roles that I’ve gambled with Rhodes and Rawlins. Rhodes has moved from Yorkshire to Warwickshire so should see increased game time and will be keen to show what he’s capable of. Rawlins made an impression in the North v South matches and this should be his breakout season. Simpson is a reliable wicketkeeper and I think there is real logic in the stumper being captain. I’ve plucked for a possibly slightly under the radar bowling attack and expect Mennie and hopefully Hutton to contribute runs too. I’ve very deliberately selected batsman that will at least occasionally bowl and should get opportunities in both formats of the game.

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 15.22.24

For my second XI, I’ve gone for the two all-rounders that I consider guaranteed runs and wickets. I’ve opted for a reliable batting unit and expect Fell to return to form this year. Though my bowling unit may not be guaranteed outings in both codes, Coad and Footitt are wicket takers in the First Class format. Mahmood is coming into the campaign off the back of impressive performances in North v South and Nijjar, a useful spin bowler, has been opening the batting for Essex pre-season. What happens to Alastair Cook with England may determine Nijjar’s opportunities. If Roderick is available throughout the season, he should be steady away behind the stumps and with bat in hand.

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 15.22.45

Have I ever mentioned that I like Ben Duckett?

Mitchell is as consistent as they come and bowls too. Smith has returned to Durham and I expect plenty of runs from the experienced head back up north. Alongside him, Brook is primed for his breakthrough campaign after debuting last term. Kuhn may not keep wicket but is a solid performer at domestic level. My bowling attack may receive England and England Lions call-ups but have runs as well as wickets in them in both formats. Bresnan is as solid an option as Patel and Bopara and van der Merwe is a destructive player.

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 17.44.56

In my fourth XI, I’ve gone Warwickshire and England veteran heavy in my batting line-up, messrs Trott and Bell leading the charge. Bell-Drummond will be looking to kick-on and fingers crossed for a run-filled renaissance from Nick Compton. Like Kuhn, Pope may not always keep wicket but will be playing regularly and in the runs this year. Berg is as reliable as anyone with the ball and Procter prospered last term having relocated to Northamptonshire. I want a bit more from Barker and Rayner this year. Fletcher is back from injury and if Overton, rated 3!, can stay fit then he’s a shrewd selection.

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 15.23.20

In my fifth XI are the other players that I like who I couldn’t squeeze into my first four teams. Northeast has moved to Hampshire but is as reliable as they come with the bat. Wells is solid in the First Class game as is Burns. Dent is an under rated player too. McManus gets the gloves with the experienced Clarke, back at Surrey, and less experienced but quick Chappell in the all-rounder roles. Hopefully Norwell has shrugged off any injury niggles. Ball will be left to play county cricket this term whilst Patterson is another of my reliable picks. Qadri made an impressive debut last year and will look to back it up.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve avoided selecting players that will be on England duty. It’s steady away county pros that you need sprinkled with one or two yet to be discovered gems just primed to be this year’s Ben Coad.

Let me know what you think about my teams and which one is likely to win me the massive cash prize of……….. £3,000!

https://fantasycricket.telegraph.co.uk/county

Disclaimer: I’ve since been tinkering away, so my teams don’t look quite the same as above. I’ll keep you up to date once the campaign commences!

Graeme Fowler: Absolutely Foxed Book Review

IMG_3990

I never saw Graeme Fowler play cricket. He was just a little before my time but I knew the name and had heard a little about his contributions to the game and his life, so I picked up a copy of his book with my bookshop gift card that I received for Christmas.

The book focuses on three main things, they are Fowler’s playing days, his work with the University based Centres of Excellence and his mental health.

Fowler comes across as a person who backs his own opinion, a man you wouldn’t want to argue with. At the same time he’s brave enough to be incredibly open about his depression. Like any autobiography, you would hope that the protagonist would avoid ironing out the bad and only offering the good. Fowler does that.

The Lancashire native touches upon the suggestion that some have put forward, that he was fortunate to play for England when others were out of the picture for one reason or another. To that, I say “It’s not about how you get your opportunities but about what you do with them”. However fortunate he was to get the opportunity at the highest level, Fowler scored in excess of one thousand Test runs and recorded three centuries in the process. There are a lot of players who have had the chance and not grabbed it to the extent that he did. Yes there are those that have done even better but to average 35.32 in Test cricket is no disgrace.

As with the examples of other former cricketers such as Marcus Trescothick, Michael Yardy and Jonathan Trott, providing exposure to the mental health issues of international sportsmen, Fowler’s contribution can only help further people’s understanding of mental health, whether it be their own or somebody else’s.

I’ve detailed on my blog before how I think that universities could help breed competitive cricket in England, in the same way that college sport provides budding professionals in USA. Fowler has helped develop cricketers for England through the Centres of Excellence and clearly possesed an indisputable passion for his efforts.

I’m providing Graeme Fowler’s ‘Absolutely Foxed’ with an innings of:

82 not out

A Dark Day for Cricket

img_1416

Do I even need to mention the subject?

I can understand Rilee Rossouw’s frustrations. He can’t get in the team because black players (And by black we mean at least two black Africans and four non-whites) such as Temba Bavuma and Jean-Paul Duminy, get selected ahead of him even if (When!) they fail, fail and fail again. This is not to say that Bavuma will not be stronger for his struggles and go on to have an outstanding career or that Duminy hasn’t had his moments. Oh and Rossouw claims this had nothing to do with his relocating but that he “need(s) to buy groceries”!

http://www.cricketcountry.com/news/kyle-abbott-rilee-rossouw-retire-from-international-cricket-sign-kolpak-deal-with-hampshire-564091

For Kyle Abbott the scenario seems somewhat stranger as he is currently in the South African Test XI (Or was) though admittedly full fitness to one or two others might have relegated him to 12th man duties. In recent times Simon Harmer, Stiaan van Zyl and Hardus Viljoen have also joined English counties on Kolpak deals.

Of course we can strip it right back and say that South African national sport teams should be full of black players but by that rational then all black and Asian players need be removed from England teams and Australian national teams would definitely be struggling for players.

Regarding the signatures of Abbott and Rossouw, exactly what message does this send to young cricketers in the county of Hampshire?

For youngsters that aspire to play for their home county, they are now likely to think that their county doesn’t want them and that they’d rather sign experienced South African pros. There will be young English Hampshire players sat in the pavilion or at home when their South African infused team take to the field in 2017.

With the new English domestic season approaching at pace, we are surely headed for another Leicestershire v Northamptonshire episode where most of the players aren’t even eligible to represent England, and on that note…

… I recently wrote an article about the possibility of Darren Bravo playing for England…

https://sillypointcricketsite.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/bravo-for-england/

… in truth, the qualification period is now seven years, so this should allay any fears of Abbott and co. gatecrashing the England team anytime soon at least. I previously addressed my understanding of the way that people move around the world these days and how it is not always as straight forward as some people would like to label a person with a nationality but I sincerely hope that the capped South African players arriving in our game this year never don the Three Lions shirt. Luke Ronchi and Ryan Campbell provide recent examples of players that have switched international allegiance post being internationally capped. Imagine if Wayne Rooney retired from international football then moved to the MLS but in five years time became eligible to represent the USA, did so and played against England at the World Cup! If anybody feels that this is xenophobic on my part then so be it. These situations differ dramatically from those of Pietersen, Prior or Trott, or of Robson, Shah and even Joyce but I’ll repeat my comment from my Bravo article that once you’ve made your international bed you must lie in it.

Are you listening Johan Botha?

Jonathan Trott: Unguarded, My Autobiography Book Review

img_2840

I know what you’re thinking…

This book was released a few weeks ago so why is Silly Point only reviewing it now?

Well as much as I’d like to ‘big-up’ my blog, I’m not yet at a stage where publishers are sending me copies of cricket related books pre-release. The South American rainforest were originally charging £15.99 so I waited a week or two ‘til the price dropped to a more like my batting average £7.99!

If I were only allowed a single word to sum up Jonathan Trott’s autobiography it would be ‘honest’. Unless of course he’s not being in which case he fooled me. This is my blog though so I’m not only allowed one word, I’m allowed a century of words or even a Len Huttonesque 364 words if I like.

If you’re expecting some lighthearted memoir about playing bat ‘n’ ball you won’t get it here. Trott’s mental health is a constant in this book and he deserves credit for being brave enough to put it all out there. Many members of the general public may think that professional sportsmen and women have it easy and that to work a shift alongside them in the docks, at the station or on the line would teach them a thing or two about hard work. Most employees get to return home at the end of every day though. That’s not the case for cricketers. Even when playing at home players can be away for a week at a time and when on tour they can be away for months on end. On top of that every action, every decision and every learning curve is seen, analysed and reviewed in the public domain. By the time Trott’s international career came to an end all this was on his mind too much for him to be the run machine that he had been when immersed in what he refers to as his ‘bubble’. He makes valid points about the seemingly premature end to the international careers of Graeme Swann, Matt Prior and of course himself. He also makes some not so subtle hints to the England management about the necessity for ‘proper’ warm-up matches before Test Match series. Advice that Silly Point thinks the ECB would do well to heed.

As you read Unguarded you gain a sense of how competitive the author is. Of course you’d expect a professional sportsman to be competitive. Trott clearly believes that he and Kevin Pietersen benefited from their tough schooling in South Africa rather than having played sport at a young age in England.

The book isn’t exactly in chronological order and the likes of Alastair Cook, Andy Flower, Ashley Giles, Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Strauss and Trott’s wife Abi all had plenty of homework to do as their written contributions regularly complement Trott’s writing. If anything there is a little too much of this early on which hinders the reader from finding fluency.

It just occurred to me as I’m writing this, in the words of New Radicals, “I hope I didn’t just give away the ending”. Presumably if you’ve picked up this book you have a reasonable idea of how Trott’s career played out and this read provides a brave, honest and passionate insight into the mind of a man that churned out 6792 international runs across all formats for England. It’s great to see him piling on the runs for Warwickshire again at domestic level. We don’t do 5 stars or marks out of ten ratings here at Silly Point. We have a far more complex scoring system.

Jonathan Trott: Unguarded scores…

82 not out

England’s Spin Dearth Myth

img_1465

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!