Cricket 19: Humbled at Home!

In our attempt to fight back and record a series draw in the ground breaking Trans-Channel Test series against England, we made three changes to the playing XI for our historic first Test match on French soil. Gabin Sauvage, Patrick Pierre and Mehdi Qadri were the unlucky trio to miss out with Youssef Rizvi, Paco Georges and Louis Martin the beneficiaries. As much as we would’ve liked to present the jettisoned personnel with another opportunity we felt that it was necessary to freshen things up and present England with opposition that they hadn’t become familiar with.

Captain Xavier Le Tallec won the toss and chose to bat. The decision to bat or bowl was in the balance but we felt trying to put runs on the board first up was the right thing to do.

Put runs on the board is exactly what opening duo Jean-Luc Chevalier and Enzo Petit did. Having compiled 77 in the second innings in London the pair picked up where they had left off at Lords. Now In Brittany they constructed foundations of 49 for the first wicket. It required England’s leading wicket taker of all time James Anderson, rotated in at the expense of Stuart Broad, to make the breakthrough. The erstwhile Lancastrian found Chevalier’s (14) edge to present a slip catch to Rory Burns. Gilles Smith joined Petit and the latter soon reached his second-consecutive Test half-century. It was actually Petit’s (55) fourth fifty in five innings in First Class/Test cricket but on none of those occasions has he reached 60. He’s basically the French Mark Stoneman! Petit’s dismissal had an air of familiarity about it in that it came just two balls before a beverage break (An unhealthy habit that we’ve developed!) but at least both batsmen to fall had been ‘Got out’. In Petit’s case Jofra Archer was the bowler responsible. 86-2 were the numbers at rehydration respite.

Post thirst quenching Youssef Rizvi (5) didn’t last long on debut. To only his seventh delivery the right-hander played an audacious pull off Archer that resulted in him being caught by Stokes at slip. Smith (41) and Pitko (25) steadied the ship with a stand of 38 before both succumbed to first Test spin nemesis Dom Bess. Neither batsmen were out playing silly shots mind as the batting unit maintained their enhanced application and contribution that had been displayed in the second innings at Lords. When wicketkeeper Marwan Leroy joined Zidane Thomas at the crease the score was 152-5 but both combined defence and run-scoring finesse to lift us to a more than respectable 182-5 at lunch on day one. Whilst our players dined on soup de jour the Bretagne faithful soaked up the rays!

In the second session Thomas et Leroy continued their procession taking the partnership up to 68. Unfortunately the combo came to a halt in freak fashion! Archer got a delivery to strike Thomas in the undesirables and with the batsman losing his bearings he back heeled the pink orb onto his stumps. Cue more pink in the form of the zing bails and Thomas’ (40) knock as well as the partnership was over. It was such a sorry way for an excellent effort to be brought to its conclusion.

Soon after Thomas’ demise Leroy (38) tried to turn an Archer delivery to the leg-side but a leading edge was collected by a grateful Dominic Sibley scampering forward from mid-on. Paco Georges (0) then wafted first ball on debut and as a result of Buttler’s safe hands Archer had a five-wicket haul. Archer (6-60) didn’t stop there as Le Tallec (7) was suckered into a pull shot and 220-5 had become 244-9 in scenes all too reminiscent of the first Test.

Last men standing Alexandre Riviere (12) and debutant Louis Martin (9*) dragged the innings on past drinks before the former fell to Bess (3-20). The innings curtailed at 255. Having been 152-4 that was a hugely disappointing total but still there were contributions throughout the order providing innings for our batsmen to build upon in the future. We can take huge confidence from the way our batting unit saw off James Anderson (0-66) and Sam Curran (0-51).

In only the third over of England’s reply Riviere trapped Rory Burns LBW courtesy of a superb piece of deception. Riviere delivered a painfully slow yorker that had Burns all at see but DRS saved the Surrey left-hander by a matter of millimetres. Burns then pulled for four before being struck on the pad again. This time the finger didn’t go up but Le Tallec opted to review. Sadly for us it was not out once again. After all that drama we’d lost a review but England hadn’t lost Burns.

England had progressed to 32 when we did eventually make the breakthrough. In a repeat of the first innings of the first Test Sibley (16) was out caught Pitko off the bowling off Riviere. In truth it was not a shot that a batsman of Test calibre should be getting out playing, certainly not when opening the batting. England were 52-1 at tea when the lights came on.

In the first day’s final session Joe Denly had a reprieve on 11 when Leroy grassed an edge off Paco Georges. He failed to capitalise though, falling to the always in the action Pitko for 25. As with Sibley’s shot it simply wasn’t good enough and Riviere repaid the earlier favour by holding the catch. Not content with batting and catching well in this series, Pitko had promptly rocked up and commenced his spell with a wicket maiden!

Burns brought up back-to-back Trans-Channel tons and with his captain Root had lifted England to 177-2 at close, still 78 runs behind but with eight wickets in hand.

Riviere and Martin failed to make a breakthrough early on day two but captain Le Tallec needed less than three overs to send Burns packing. Again Pitko was the catcher and again, as was the case in the first Test, Burns (139) rather threw the chance of a gargantuan score away. Le Tallec’s spin had made the breakthrough and then it was the turn of pace in the form of Paco Georges. The tall express left-armer angled one past Joe Root’s blade to send the illuminated stumps flying in all directions. The wicket of Root (48) was a prize maiden Test scalp for Georges (1-106) as England stuttered from 226-2 to 235-4 bang on beverages.

Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope steadied the visitors with a stand of 51 (A lead of 31) before Thomas became the fifth bowler in the innings to claim a wicket. The right-arm slinger trapped Stokes (25) LBW and though there was a hint of leg-side about it Stokes opted not to review thus becoming Thomas’ belated first Test victim. Shortly after that the session concluded, a session in which we’d claimed a more than respectable 3-113.

The new ball had the desired effect with our opening duo both getting among the wickets. In his first over with the new pink cherry Louis Martin had Ollie Pope (51) nonchalantly caught by his captain. For Martin, who’d kept things tight up to that point, it was a fully deserved first Test wicket to join Pitko (1-16) and Thomas as christened wicket takers on the second day. As for Pope, like in the first Test he got to fifty but got out, a little like our own Enzo Petit! Riviere (2-123) then had an out of sorts Curran (3) feather an edge to Leroy but our gloveman was slow to react to a nick off Buttler soon after. Martin (2-86) wasn’t to be denied though as Bess (2) perished next ball with Le Tallec snaffling another catch at about fourth slip, this time courtesy of an excellent dive to his left. England had crashed from 332-5 to 357-8 but Buttler and Archer weren’t to be easily removed. Despite both being beaten occasionally the pair batted superbly to lift the score to 397-8. With one session left in the day and the floodlights switched on, the visitors held the aces to the tune of 142 runs.

Sadly the day’s final session was a torturous one for our players as Buttler and Archer took their partnership all the way to 137. The excellent Archer (58) eventually edged to Leroy off Thomas (2-76) but Anderson (10*) reached the close alongside Buttler with England on 517-9.

Our captain Le Tallec (2-77) did at least knock over Buttler’s (138) stumps in only the second over on day three to dismiss England for 524. To have bowled out an established Test nation is something that we should be proud off but we required 269 to avoid an innings defeat.

Chevalier and Petit continued their trend of producing solid starts by compiling 42 for the first wicket in the second innings on the third day. The breakthrough for England came when Petit (27) was caught and bowled by Curran having presented a leading edge to the Surrey left-armer. Gilles Smith (1) was emphatically bowled by Archer resulting in debutant Youssef Rizvi joining Chevalier at the wicket. Having scored only 5 in the first innings it would be an understatement to say that Rizvi looked all at sea early in his innings. To his credit though he somehow survived and soon grew in confidence to display some strong stroke play. By beverages the pair had hauled us from 43-2 to 99-2 with an encouraging half-century stand.

Resuming after rehydration it took only two deliveries of spin to bring our progress to an abrupt halt. Rizvi (32) was comprehensively beaten and bowled by Bess (Bodes well for the tour of India!) before Pitko (5) was a little unlucky to nick behind via his pad off Curran’s (2-44) left-arm seam. Zidane Thomas (15) attacked Bess (2-17) but was only at the crease for a fun time not a long time. Despite using a review he fell LBW to the Somerset off-spinner. A promising position of 109-2 had become a disappointing 139-5 but Leroy dug in alongside Chevalier who brought up a maiden Test fifty in the over before the interval. 156-5, 133 in arrears the details at 4pm.

Our knight in shining armour Chevalier (51) was gutted to be caught at mid-on when uppishly toe-ending a full delivery from Anderson. Then in a horrible sense of deja vu, Leroy was bowled through his legs by Archer. Thomas had suffered a similar fate in the first innings and this time it was Leroy (9), who’d applied himself maturely for 42 minutes, who saw the ball (Or didn’t!) deflect off the bat, go in between his legs and clip high on the stumps.

Le Tallec (1) was LBW to Anderson (2-34) despite a review. Our captain’s batting efforts in our maiden series read 0, 1, 7 and 1 which is a great shame provided how well he bowled, fielded and led the side. Alexandre Riviere (3) was then outrageously caught and bowled by star man Archer (4-25) to put us in peril at 167-9. Paco Georges (6) resisted temptation for a while but gave into playing a big shot and was phenomenally pouched by Buttler. Having been 42-0 and 109-2 a total of just 172 was disappointing but wasn’t the result of a series of awful shots. We succumbed by an innings and 97 and 2-0 in the series. In general though I think that we can be hugely proud of our efforts against an established and professional Test side in our first two Tests. There’s a lot to build on.

Look out for news on our future series soon!

Cricket 19: Fourth Umpire… If Only!

Three days ago at Lords, eleven men became France’s first ever Test cricketers. Captain Xavier Le Tallec called heads but it was tails that faced skyward when the coin settled on the ground. On a frighteningly verdant deck, home skipper Joe Root had no hesitation in opting to bowl.

Left-handed batsman Jean-Luc Chevalier had the honour of facing the first ball in France’s Test history and immediately grasped the honour of scoring the team’s first ever run. Unfortunately soon after that he had another honour… that of being the first France wicket to fall in the history of Test cricket. Chevalier (5) pushed a little too hard at an over the wicket delivery from Stuart Broad (1-29), got turned inside out and edged to wicketkeeper Jos Buttler who gleefully snaffled the catch.

Fellow opener Enzo Petit, fresh from fifties in each innings against Middlesex on the same ground, was joined at the crease by Gilles Smith. The pair repelled the England attack until DRS drama intervened to shatter French dreams. In his first over, Jofra Archer successfully appealed for an LBW against Smith. It looked out but after some deliberation Smith opted to review, seemingly in hope more than anything. Replays soon confirmed however that the right-hander had actually hit the ball prior to impact with his pads. It might’ve been the back of the bat and barely a scrape but it was enough to merit a reversal. A stunned crowd audibly gasped when Smith (19) was given out once again on the big screen. He pleaded his case with the umpire and though we understand the fine dished out and the reasons why, we remain disappointed by it, as I know that many in the cricket community are. It wouldn’t be our last occasion in the match to be underwhelmed by the standard of officiating!

All-rounder Gabin Sauvage (8) survived alongside Petit (30) until the final delivery pre-drinks when the latter edged a beauty of a delivery from Ben Stokes (1-17) to Buttler… who dropped a pretty regulation chance! I’m sure that the beverages tasted better at 59-2 than they would’ve another wicket down.

Buttler’s butterfingers mattered little however as a promising beginning only led to an embarrassing collapse of epic proportions! 68-2 became 104-9 as our batsmen found all manner of ways to get out, namely playing unnecessarily attacking shots as the application we’d applied up to that point evaporated. Included in those dismissals were Zidane Thomas, run out for a third ball duck and captain Xavier Le Tallec, who had his stumps castled first ball by spinner Dom Bess (4-33). To say that those dismissals were an inglorious start to their Test careers would be an understatement. Last men standing Alexandre Rivière (11*) and Mehdi Qadri swung handsomely to at least ensure that we avoided the ignominy of being bowled out before lunch on our first day of Test cricket. 133-9 were the specifics come salad serving.

One ball after the interval and our first innings had reached its conclusion, Qadri (17) wildly edging to slip off Jofra Archer (2-9).

Rivière had the honour of claiming our nation’s first Test wicket when an unconvincing Dominic Sibley (5) edged an unplayable delivery to Zvonimir Pitko at Gully. The muscular Pitko displayed agility and rapid reflexes to execute a stunning catch. Joe Denly (16) played a couple of glorious shots but was run out courtesy of sharp work by Marwan Leroy behind the stumps. As our players appealed for LBW against Rory Burns, Denly scurried to the other end. Replays suggested that he’d completed the run but maybe the umpires were evening things out when they flashed ‘OUT’ on the board, much to Denly’s chagrin.

Despite regular edges that just wouldn’t carry, England progressed from 51-2 all the way to 203-2 courtesy of Burns and captain Joe Root. In the final session we turned to spin and after Qadri had bowled a promising premier over, with only his third delivery skipper Le Tallec rapped Burns on the pads. The left-hander was on 99 as the ball ricocheted off his pad, clearly hit his bat and was expertly caught by Leroy running forward. Burns didn’t move and the decision went upstairs. An LBW decision was rejected by the third umpire. Fair enough but what about the catch? The officials blatantly ignored it and as with the Smith decision in our innings we were left aghast. Our players had dug deep to find a breakthrough. Our captain had stepped up with a clever tactical change by introducing spin with Burns on 99 but the system or/and the officials had failed us and the sport as a whole.

Despite his reprieve it would be spin that extinguished Burns’ night. In truth the Surrey stalwart played an inexplicably poor shot that was swallowed by Sauvage at square leg. Burns fell for 110 and England were on double nelson three wickets down.

Surprisingly spin continued to dominate at Lords. Le Tallec (1-13) got the wicket he deserved when he forced Ben Stokes (7) to drag onto his stumps. England recovered from the departure of the Durham man and reached 240-4 at the close, 107 runs to the good. Root and Ollie Pope elevated England to 315-4 when the latter, on 41 at the time, should have been run out. Mehdi Qadri (1-52) inexplicably failed to break the stumps from just inches away. After the pair had compiled 112 in each other’s company, Alexandre Riviere required only three deliveries with the new cherry to induce Pope’s (52) edge and Leroy claimed a good diving catch.

Sam Curran (27*) was promoted ahead of Jos Buttler and alongside Root (177*) raised England to 405-5 come the declaration. Riviere (2-62) was the pick of the bowlers but messrs Pierre (0-67), Thomas (0-90) and Sauvage (0-88) endured tough Test initiations.

We commenced our second innings effectively -272-0!

By the time the first wicket went down that deficit had been reduced to 195 as Chevalier and Petit restored French pride. The duo constructed a hugely encouraging opening stand of 77 before Chevalier (18) was bowled by Ben Stokes. I have huge sympathy for Chevalier because such was Enzo Petit’s dominance of the strike that it wasn’t easy for an instinctive stroke player like him and he just lost his rhythm a little. At the time the left-hander was bowled by the 22nd delivery that he received (He didn’t score off his final four) Petit had faced 49 balls, more than double Chevalier. Still, the pair had put on 77 for the first wicket to plant seeds of optimism for the future of French cricket.

Frustratingly Petit (56) was caught behind in the final over of the session. He seemed surprised by the removal of Archer from the attack and change of ends and angle for Curran. You could debate over the choice of shot let alone the execution of the pull but Petit deserves nothing but praise for his efforts both in the warm-up matches and our first ever Test. 100-2 still 172 runs behind was the scenario at tea and scones on day two.

After the interval Sauvage (3) soon succumbed to Curran, caught off a leading edge that ballooned to mid-on. Shortly after Sauvage’s demise Smith (27) naively fell to Bess’ first over of spin, caught on the boundary by that man Curran when a score of substance seemed on the table.

We’d slipped to 114-4 but Zvonimir Pitko and Zidane Thomas began building a partnership that soon had even the home fans on their side. The duo showcased their discipline as well as array of stroke play and had added 142 when Thomas was plumb LBW to Bess’ first ball of a new spell. It was typical that Thomas’ (65) run-a-ball knock ended with him trying to defend when he may have been better attempting to score.

Leroy (1) fell in the same over bringing Le Tallec to the crease. The skipper avoided the ignominy of a pair on Test debut but nicked to the slips off the returning Curran (3-48) to be outstandingly caught by his opposing number Root for just a single.

Patrick Pierre (1) was foolishly run out before Alexandre Riviere smashed back-to-back maximums straight up off Bess. Those strikes ensured that England would have to bat again and we’d avoided an innings defeat (With a little help from a declaration!) on our Test bow.

Bess (5-51) got sweet revenge when Riviere fell for 25 off only eight deliveries before Pitko (73) was out next ball. To avoid an innings defeat was a superb effort from the team but 289 was a disappointing score having been 256-4. England required 18 runs to win the first Test. After limiting the score to just 3-0 from one over we did at least take the game into a third day.

Despite a few LBW shouts and an edge through the slips England won by all ten wickets.

We started well with the bat but lost our way. We stuck to task with the ball then committed as a unit with the bat second time around. Yes we collapsed in all too familiar fashion in both innings but three of our top six recorded fifties and we had two partnerships of real substance. That bodes well for the immediate future. Next up we host England for out first ever Test match on home shores. Gabin Sauvage and Patrick Pierre may be sweating over their places as we look to square the series. I’d like to provide players with plenty of opportunities but it may be necessary to freshen things up. We’ll take a look at the surface before making a decision. We can’t wait to entertain a home crowd who will have had their appetite wetted by a brave display at Lords.

Cricket 19: Caught in the Middle… sex!

For our final preparation ahead of our Test debut we had a big decision to make…

Do we play our best team, providing those players with the opportunity to gain valuable experience of playing at Lords and spending more time together on the field as a unit?

Or…

Do we wrap our best players up in cotton wool, breed competition and answer some questions regarding the one or two places in the team still up for grabs?

We chose the latter. Our team was as follows:

Enzo Petit, Omar Sissoko, Youssef Rizvi, Gabin Sauvage, Timothee Clement, Zvonimir Pitko, Maxime Bernard (C&W), Paco Georges, Phillipe La Roux (2) Louis Martin (1), Mehdi Qadri

After a shower sprinkled the field of play Maxime Bernard won the toss and without hesitation chose to bowl. Debutant new ball pair Louis Martin and Phillipe La Roux were licking their lips at the lush green deck provided to them. By the time lunch arrived both players had made a case for Test selection. La Roux trapped Sam Robson (A Test centurion don’t forget!) LBW for 17 having already had an appeal incorrectly rejected.

Martin then accounted for Nick Gubbins (3) via a brute of a delivery that Bernard held comfortably.

A period of frustration ensued before Paco Georges got in on the act when he bowled Stevie Eskinazi (34) off his pads. The enthusiasm for wicket-taking was infectious and soon Gabin ‘Jacques Kallis’ Sauvage shattered Martin Andersson’s (2) stumps.

Batsman Timothee Clement (1-20) did his chances of a Test call-up no harm by tempting John Simpson (7) to inside edge onto his stumps in his first over… in First Class cricket… at Lords! That made it five wickets by five different bowlers.

Max Holden and James Harris then survived numerous scares particularly from leg-spin demon Mehdi Qadri. Middlesex reached 257-5 (A partnership of 90) at close of play with the new ball imminent.

With his first delivery on the second day La Roux toppled Harris’ (35) stumps and Martin (2-48) soon accounted for Roland-Jones (3) in a high-quality display of new ball bowling. Tim Murtagh resisted alongside Holden however. The experienced Irishman benefited from a dolly of a drop by Bernard off the luckless Sauvage. It was in 1640 that Nicolas Sauvage opened the first taxi company. Gabin Sauvage (1-39) may well have wanted his stand-in skipper to flag one down for him when he saw the ball fall from his gloves and hit the turf!

Paco Georges responded to Holden’s upping of the tempo and boundary filled batting by forcing the opener to nick to Sissoko at slip. It was a sharp catch by Sissoko to terminate Holden’s magnificent knock of 193. Frenchman Phillipe Kahn invented the camera phone and spectators click click clicked on their devices as Holden soaked up the crowd’s adulation.

The following delivery Georges (2-103) enticed Sowter to edge through the slips and that brought with it the end of the session with the lord of the manors on 314-8. At first we thought the hosts were declaring but that wasn’t the case.

After the resumption Qadri (26-7-41-1) bowled fellow leg-spinner Sowter (14) with a stunning googly before La Roux, having claimed a wicket with his first delivery of the day, struck in the first over of a new spell to end Murtagh’s (35) vigil and conclude the innings. La Roux’s debut figures of 19.5-0-71-3 were an encouraging if slightly expensive start to his career.

Having reduced the home side to 167-5 to concede 363 and be out in the field for so long was frustrating. Their tactics of continuing to bat in a rain-affected three-day fixture was disappointing both for us but particularly for entertainment-seeking fans.

Our opening duo of Enzo Petit and Omar Sissoko negated two overs unscathed so that we reached tea on day two with all ten wickets in hand. You sensed that the last thing Sissoko needed was a break in play and so it proved. The cluttered mind that had been so pronounced in recent innings reared its ugly head and to the first ball of the day’s final session, a short pitched delivery, an attempted pull went predictably and familiarly wrong. A score of 12 was enough to put an end to a run of five consecutive innings without reaching double figures but not sufficient to secure a Test debut. By the time drinks came Petit and debutant Youssef Rizvi had propelled the score to 83-1 and put their Test aspirations in far more promising positions than the serially struggling Sissoko.

Post pause Petit and Rizvi progressed to 106-1 before Petit got giddy having despatched spinner Sowter into the stands for a maximum.

The right-hander was ingloriously bowled through his legs for 58 the very next delivery. He’d applied himself superbly though and almost certainly cemented his place in the line-up for our inaugural Test match. Sadly Petit’s demise prompted an all too familiar middle order collapse as 106-1 slumped to 116-6, a collapse of 10-5! Rizvi (36) was beaten by a good delivery but Sauvage (5), Clement (0) and Pitko (2) all failed to cover themselves in glory. Bernard (12) and Georges (17) entertained briefly but Sowter (6-38) continued to claim wickets with alarming regularity. Having subsided to 152-8 La Roux (16*) and Martin (17*) lifted us to 180-8 at the second day’s end. At best the pair were competing for one bowling spot in the team so a significant batting contribution could’ve been vital to their chances of making the XI when we revisit Lords to take on England.

Yet again it had been a sense of deja vu and with rain delaying the start of play for a third consecutive day our batsmen were left sweating as to whether or not they would get another opportunity… so we declared… and were made to follow-on! Middlesex were obviously trying to win the game but we appreciated them refraining from being awkward.

With less than one over of our second innings on the scoreboard need I tell you what happened?

Sissoko (3) presented a leading edge to bowler Tim Murtagh (1-68) and his Test dreams were extinguished… for now at least.

Rizvi (6) pushed hard at a delivery from Roland-Jones (2-48) to be caught in the slips and Sauvage (12) played down the wrong line resulting in his stumps being rearranged. It was a disappointing showing with the bat in this match for Sauvage having performed well against Yorkshire.

Petit picked up where he left off in the first innings and Clement avoided the ignominy of a king pair on First Class debut.

The duo batted with a hint of swagger to rescue the score from 36-3 to 93-3 at lunch on the final day. We still required another 90 runs to make Middlesex bat again.

Far too predictably spin soon proved our downfall. Just when he was pushing his case for Test selection, Timothee Clement (24) nicked behind off the first ball he faced from Sowter (4-49). Zvonimir Pitko steadied the ship but Enzo Petit (59) could only go one better than his first innings score. Petit had set the standard for other batsmen to follow though.

Bernard (10), Georges (16) and La Roux (20) all made contributions of sorts as we chalked up 217-8. With one session remaining the lead was 34. Could we hold out for a draw?

Pitko (58) and Martin (4*) battened down the hatches and the overs ticked by before the former fell to the 100th delivery that he faced. Qadri (0) was also bowled next ball by Harris (2-8) to leave Middlesex needing 43 runs to win and plenty of time to do it.

We opened with spin but it was Georges (1-12) and Sauvage (1-11) who accounted for Robson (12) and Gubbins (19). The less said about an all-run 5 to level the scores the better as Middlesex secured an eight-wicket win.

Despite another defeat there were some huge positives for our team. Petit, Rizvi, Clement and Pitko all made contributions with the bat while debutant quick bowlers La Roux and Martin made encouraging outings with the ball. There are some tough decisions to be made in regards to our playing XI for our inaugural Test match.

It’s been one hundred and twenty years since our nation claimed the silver medal at the 1900 Summer Olympic Games. There are 120 deliveries in a Twenty20 match but it’s the limitless possibilities of Test match cricket that await the current generation of French cricketers. Fill the cafetière, butter your croissant and smell the camembert. Fingers crossed that one of our batsman can score 120 against the mighty England at Lords!

Cricket 19: Competition sur la Menu!

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Having now completed five (Winless!) unofficial warm-up matches I’m delighted to announce the details of our first competitive games…

We’ll be playing against England in a ground-breaking two-match binational multi-geographical Test series. Eleven French cricketers will make their Test debuts at the historic Lords cricket ground in England. We’ll then host the second match, our first ever home Test in our new stadium located in Brittany. Our newly constructed Stade de France Cricket is a modest but inviting stadium in keeping with our nature and philosophy. All energy is renewable, all food packaging on sale is bio-degradable and all staff are paid above the national living wage.

The team are extremely grateful to the England squad for agreeing to be our premier opponents at the highest level and are eagerly awaiting the challenge. A fourteen-man squad for the trip to London will be announced following the completion of two final warm-up matches. The first of those matches is against Yorkshire and will be staged at Stade de France Cricket and the second will be against Middlesex at Lords. Both these matches against English county sides will have First Class status. It’s free entry for the friendlies but limited entry while tickets for both Tests are on sale now. There’s 20% off all merchandise at the team website for this week only, so grab your shirts and get ready to support Les Cricket Bleus!

Our squad for our First Class debut is: Jean-Luc Chevalier (V-C), Enzo Petit, Gilles Smith, Gabin Sauvage, Christophe Martinez, Zidane Thomas, Marwen Leroy (W) Xavier Le Tallec (C), Patrick Pierre (2), Alexandre Riviere (1), Mehdi Qadri, Paco Georges (12th man)

Omar Sissoko simply couldn’t be retained at the top of the order following his alarming loss of form. It’s sad that he’s been on this journey with us but misses out at this stage. It’s also unfortunate that middle-order batsman Timothee Clement drops out after only one match but we felt that it was necessary to recall all-rounder Gabin Sauvage. Despite a frustrating time with the bat so far he provides experience and critically another bowling option. Aymerric Gautier and Anthony Toure also drop out from the side that narrowly lost in New Zealand but their time will come.

Victorious Victoria!

Victoria have comprehensively defeated New South Wales in the 2018-19 Sheffield Shield final. For Vic, it’s a fourth title in the last five seasons!

http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/8043/scorecard/1150138/victoria-vs-new-south-wales-final-sheffield-shield-2018-19

The star studded Victorians were simply too good for Moises Henriques’ New South Wales side. NSW have some good players but are more about the sum of all parts than their individuals. They simply failed to bring anywhere near their ‘A game’ to this season’s final.

I think that there’s real value in a final, ideally a more competitive one and would love to see English county cricket adopt one. My previous suggestion was for three groups of six consisting of ten games followed by semi-finals and a final at Lords. The best runner-up having joined the group toppers in the last four. I firmly believe that it could help bridge the gap between county and Test cricket.

Balbirnie Journey

Nothing endears a player to me more than ineptitude and so Irish batsman Andy Balbirnie’s pair on Test debut made him an instant favourite.

With Test outings for the Shamrock side few and far between, I’m desperately hoping that cricket’s not most famous AB gets another chance to shine. In the meantime he needs to dominate domestic and international white-ball cricket. Today, he did just that…

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.newsletter.co.uk/sport/cricket/andrew-balbirnie-shines-as-ireland-beat-afghanistan-1-8835562/amp

Fingers crossed that the Dublin Dabber gets to at least double his Test cap tally and turn his batting average into an integer… oh, it could be against England, against Jimmy and co. on a seaming green Lords deck!

Disclaimer: It escaped my mind that before they take on England, Ireland play another Test in Afghanistan. It won’t be easy but it will be an opportunity for Balbirnie to get up and running.

Reserved Rashid and Wessels’ Special!

Post all the hullabaloo of Adil Rashid’s recall to England’s Test side, the Yorkshire leg-spinner wasn’t even required to bat or bowl as England annihilated India in the second Test at Lords.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/18018/scorecard/1119550/england-vs-india-2nd-test-ind-in-eng-2018

It’s all well and good England’s pace bowlers exploiting home conditions but we’ll be left with the same question as always next time we tour Australia…

Do we retain our swing bowlers or substitute them for out and out pace bowlers who have little experience?

In the meantime, should we risk weakening the team at home by dropping a swinger for Jamie Overton, Saqib Mahmood or Olly Stone etc. so as to provide said pacemen with Test experience prior to our next trip to Oz?

Meanwhile, onto Riki Wessels exploits in the T20 Blast. Last night, the Nottinghamshire opener struck 55 runs from just 18 deliveries against Worcestershire. He didn’t hit any fours but struck nine sixes. That equates to 54 from nine deliveries plus one single, so eight dot balls. Ridonculous!

http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/8053/game/1127556/worcestershire-vs-nottinghamshire-north-group-vitality-blast-2018

If Wessels were from a number of other nations, he would surely have won white-ball international (ODI/T20I) recognition. He’s been a consistent performer on the English county (First Class, List A and T20) circuit for a number of years. Some ambiguity regarding his international allegiance early in his career and younger more fashionable options at present, mean that Wessels will likely remain forever uncapped.

Cricket Captain 2018: Cook Serves Another Feast!

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My first series as Coach and Selector of the national side and it’s a thumping series win for the boys. Victory margins of 199-runs and ten-wickets confirm our dominance. Both victories were built around the monumental batting of stand-in skipper Alastair Cook. Chef followed his 160 not out at Lords with an epic 198 in Leeds.

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Pakistan actually won the toss and chose to bat but soon regretted it. Opening batsman Sami Aslam’s 24-ball duck was absolute torture. To their credit, the tourists recovered from 111-6 to a respectable 335 all out. As was the case at Lords, this was again in the main courtesy of their leader Sarfraz Ahmed. The wicketkeeper-batsman made his second ton (117) of the series.

We then posted 476 to gain a healthy first innings advantage. As well as Cook’s monster 198, James Vince again looked good for 66 and Joe Clarke made a magnificent 80 in only his second Test. Mohammad Amir was the pick of the bowlers though still expensive. He finished with analysis of 4-154.

Pakistan then made only 151 second time out. Again Ahmed top scored but this time with only 39. The in-form Mark Wood claimed Test best figures of 4-31.

Haseeb Hameed, recalled at the expense of Mark Stoneman (7 not out) and Dawid Malan (4 not out) then knocked off the mammoth victory target of eleven without loss. Hameed made only 17 in the first innings but batted for 99 minutes in compiling 50 with Alastair Cook. Having made only one in the first innings at Headingley, then it is Dawid Malan who’s place seems most vulnerable should Joe Root return to full fitness. Of course questions will be asked about the captaincy given Cook’s splendid showing in this series.

For the immediate future it’s the white-ball (ODI/T20I) affairs for the team. Next up is a one-off ODI against Scotland in Edinburgh. We may use the opportunity to rest senior players and explore our strength in depth.

Cricket Captain 2018: Start as we Mean to go on!

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I’m delighted to announce that my England side have commenced the summer with victory in the first Test against Pakistan at Lords. With captain Joe Root unfortunately unavailable through injury, the sensible option to entrust experienced former skipper Alastair Cook with the armband was one that I made without hesitation. Worcestershire’s twentyone-year-old right-handed batsman Joe Clarke was provided the honour of becoming the 685th England Test cricketer.

After fifties in the last Test before my tenure, the second Test in New Zealand, batsmen Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Dawid Malan as well as pace bowler Mark Wood, all retained their places. Despite playing no First Class cricket this term, Ben Stokes IPL form was enough to earn him selection provided the quality batting and bowling options around him. The uncapped duo of Lancashire leg-spinner Matthew Parkinson and Nottinghamshire left-arm quick Mark Footitt also made the squad. Parkinson was rewarded for outstanding form in the County Championship whilst Footitt’s left-arm pace provides the squad with a point of difference.

Alastair Cook won the toss and we opted to bat but were soon in trouble at 17-3. Cook himself was first to go, clean bowled for one. Mark Stoneman made eight and unfortunately debutant Clarke was caught at point without scoring. James Vince (89) and Dawid Malan (49) repaired the damage with a fantastic partnership, both justifying their retentions in the team. Malan was frustratingly run out when trying to reach his fifty however, a single that was optimistic at best and foolish at worst. Jonny Bairstow made a brisk 44 and Ben Stokes cracked some boundaries late in the piece before falling for an excellent 92. That helped lift us to what we thought was a par score of 307.

Maybe 307 was above par however as Pakistan succumbed to 209 all out. The visitors’ skipper Sarfraz Ahmed made a magnificent 104 from number seven. The next highest score was just 23! Mark Wood (4-63) led the way but their were contributions from throughout our bowling attack.

In our second innings, stand-in skipper Alastair Cook produced one of his masterclasses, batting throughout the entire innings and finishing undefeated on 160. Cook weathered the tempest when Stoneman (Again!) and Vince fell in single figures. Joe Clarke made a counter-attacking 28 to get off the mark in Test cricket and with Joe Root still injured, will likely keep his place for the second Test. Jonny Bairstow rapidly caught up with Cook and surpassed him to register the first Test ton of my tenure as selector/coach. Jonny B fell for a crowd-pleasing 111 before all the bowlers chipped in around Cook.

Pakistan set about their chase of over 500 well but when the second wicket fell their batting line-up collapsed like a deck of cards in a full force gale! Somerset spinner Jack Leach was entrusted with lots of responsibility and finished with Test best figures of 3-94. Yet another example of a player justifying his selection. There were even maiden Test wickets for Dawid Malan and James Vince, to compliment his Test best batting effort and supreme fielding display.

All that equated to a thumping 199-run win for us and we look forward to the challenge that Pakistan will respond with in the second Test at Headingley. Surrey’s Mark Stoneman may have some sleepless nights, what with Haseeb Hameed breathing down his neck.

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Vince’s Riposte!

When National Selector Ed Smith paused or possibly terminated James Vince’s England career, he said the following of Vince: “His cricketing history has not produced the runs he should have done. He has not defined enough matches…”. Well Vince defined the One-Day Cup semi-final against Yorkshire yesterday. His magnificent innings of 171 meant that the visitors were never really likely to get close to the home side’s mammoth total.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/8335/scorecard/1127836/hampshire-vs-yorkshire-2nd-semi-final-royal-london-one-day-cup-2018/

Remember that when Vince was dropped by England at the start of the summer, he had just made 201 not out in a First Class fixture against Somerset.

Will Vince ever again be presented with the opportunity to prove his worth at the highest level? Another ton on the big day at Lords will surely increase the Hampshire skipper’s chances.