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.

Duckett’s Despair!

Hello loyal followers.

Please find my latest audio cast regarding one of England’s forgotten men and a little about the upcoming ODI against Scotland right here…

http://www.espncricinfo.com/england/content/player/521637.html

Ashes Cricket (PS4): Global Test League – Like a Rash!

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After our sensational victory over India at Lords, we traversed seas for the first time in the Global Test League and headed to Malahide to take on Ireland. Our hosts would push us hard in a high class day/night affair.

Again, we made one change to our side. Yorkshire spinner Adil Rashid was recalled at the expense of Chris Woakes. We were surprised to find the Irish terrain look so spin enticing and so included the leg-spin of Rashid to compliment Moeen Ali’s off-spin. It was Ireland’s spinners who would prosper first though. In our first innings, George Dockrell recorded cracking figures of 6-96 backed up by the part-time turn of Andy Balbirnie (2-27).

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In-form opening batsman Keaton Jennings was dropped behind on 92 and went onto register his maiden competition century (116). Up to this point KJ had made three fifties in four innings but this time (With a little help!) went onto post three figures. Our middle order was blown away by the left-arm hurricane Dockrell and only a counter-attacking knock of 74 from wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow lifted us to 313-9 before a cheeky declaration in the final session of the premier day’s play.

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James Anderson picked up 2-35 with the pink ball in Ireland’s first innings including the prize wicket of opener Ed Joyce. Joyce was peppered by back-to-back short balls before nicking behind when wafting outside off at a slower and fuller delivery. It was a well executed tactic by the head of England’s attack. Anderson’s ten wickets in three matches put him top of the wicket-taking charts for England.

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Adil Rashid returned to England colours with a point to prove and how he proved it. Many were surprised to see Rashid walk out to bat at number six but scores of 49 & 58 were vital to England’s cause. Rashid wore a heavy workload in Ireland’s first innings, bowling a total of 29.1 overs he returned figures of 3-88 followed by 3-54 in the second innings. Admittedly some of his wickets were courtesy of debatable umpiring decisions and it’s true that fortune favoured England throughout this match. Rashid built pressure though and deservedly won the ‘Player of the Match’ award. The contributions of Keaton Jennings (116 & 46) and Toby Roland-Jones (1 & 73, 1-58 & 2-62) in particular, the latter making a crucial double breakthrough in the hosts’ second innings, shouldn’t be underestimated however.

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Having made 99 against India at Lords, Moeen Ali defied the earthquaken like pitch and seemed set for immediate redemption in Malahide but fell to a poorly executed shot when on 98. A severe case of Michael Slateritis for the Worcestershire all-rounder!

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For England’s eighth wicket, Moeen put on 150 with Middlesex man Toby Roland-Jones in what turned out to be a vital second innings partnership. Disappointingly T R-J through his wicket away when on 73 and will surely rue a golden opportunity for a Test ton that went begging. His vital second innings wickets when Ireland were well set at 112-1 but slipped to 133-3 in their pursuit of what would have been a record breaking 520, combined with his batting contributions mean that Chris Woakes isn’t guaranteed an immediate recall to the side. As well as claiming key scalps at crucial moments in the match, that’s fifties in consecutive Tests for Roland-Jones.

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Gloveman Jonny Bairstow was good, bad and darn right ugly behind the stumps. In the first innings he dropped this sitter off the bowling of Roland-Jones. Dawid Malan couldn’t believe what he was seeing!

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Just when Roland-Jones thought his luck had changed after picking up a couple of wickets, remember he was robbed of some against India, Bairstow promptly dropped this dolly that ballooned into the air on the leg-side. Whether or not it was the pink ball, the poor light or just a lack of concentration from JB is unclear. His first innings knock of 74 was crucial to England’s success in this match but he was needlessly run out when seemingly destined for a century and his rather kamikaze second innings knock of 12 from four deliveries in England’s second innings wasn’t really what the team needed. Most crucially though, his butter fingered performance with the gloves mean that Ben Foakes will come into serious consideration ahead of the visit of New Zealand.

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In the end we won by 160 runs having declared both our innings. This was despite Paul Stirling’s stirling knock of 120 not out! Our second innings was a solid effort full of contributions throughout the order and we had enough runs on the board to not get too anxious when Ireland built some partnerships. The recalled Adil Rashid (6-142) led the way with the ball. We can’t deny that Ireland gifted us some silly run outs and the umpires were generous with some of their decisions. We missed a couple of run out chances and dropped easy catches too. No disrespect to Ireland but more experienced Test nations won’t be so generous. We did however improve dramatically with the bat against spin (Mark Stoneman aside) and witnessed not overly experienced bowlers claim vital scalps when required.

We currently sit atop the Global Test League but entertaining New Zealand at Birmingham won’t be easy.

What Now?

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This is not the time for fancy headlines. Where does English cricket go from here?

Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad will surely score runs and take wickets in England for years to come but having been found wanting in Australia and with thoughts of our next trip to Oz, is it time to move on?

Many questioned the selections of England’s ‘newer’ players but it is the likes of Stoneman, Vince, Malan and Overton who whilst not doing brilliantly, have exceeded the performances of senior players such as Cook, Root, Woakes and Moeen not to mention Broad. Anderson has at least taken some wickets.

Regarding Australia’s selections, for a side that was in selectorial chaos just one year ago, their selectors deserve huge credit. The decisions to call-up Cameron Bancroft, Shaun Marsh and Tim Paine have been rewarded. Each player has made a significant contribution on at least one occasion in this series and though there are no guarantees that they’ll back it up, they’ve played their part in Australia’s Ashes success. At 2-0 to the good, it would’ve been easy to have persisted with a winning team but the hosts dropped Peter Handscomb and recalled Mitchell Marsh. Like the aforementioned players, he has contributed significantly. Looking back, none of the players that Australia called up one year ago, Matt Renshaw, Handscomb or Nic Maddinson played in the third Test but Australia were proven right in their selections. Even if Paine etc don’t last, if Oz keep rotating guys that come in and contribute and the team win then they’re doing something right.

Back to England, Steven Finn has suggested that the county grind is to blame for the absence of serious pace bowling options available to England. That’s why I’d bring to attention again my suggestion to restructure the English First Class game. The structure would be as follows:

Three divisions consisting of six teams

Each team plays the five other teams in their group both home and away

A total of ten games per side

Group winners and best 2nd place qualify for semi-finals

Final at Lords

Maximum twelve matches for any one team

Increased importance and more Test like matches

I’ve written before about the fickleness of the England fan, longing for the new but quickly turning against damaged goods. They want Crane but when he’s 0-100 on debut they’ll want Leach. They want Clarke but when he’s out first ball they’ll want Lawrence. They wanted Malan gone and dismissed his progress and potential to do better, then he scored a Test hundred!

I’ve also written before about Mark Wood. Only ever semi-fit and one wicket in two Tests this year, is he really the answer? Well maybe given that the Ashes are gone and the Ozzies might just switch off. David Warner hasn’t been at his best at the top of the order so could be vulnerable but may now just go hell for leather. In regards to our batting, I’d prefer a right-hander to partner Stoneman at the top of the order but it’s Jennings and Gubbins who are playing for the Lions.

How about this XI for the next Test:

Stoneman

Jennings

Vince

Root (Captain)

Malan

Bairstow (Wicketkeeper)

Woakes

Curran

Wood*

Anderson

Crane

*Assuming Craig Overton is unfit.

Moving Woakes up the order might bring out the best in his batting. Might?

How about this one at the start of next summer:

Stoneman

Bell-Drummond/Hameed

Root

Malan

Bairstow

Stokes

Foakes (Wicketkeeper)

Woakes (Captain)

Overton.C

Curran

Leach

This is of course dependent on the performances in the Australia matches. If Keaton Jennings comes in and scores four Ashes hundreds then I’m not suggesting he gets dropped. There’s a good right-hand/left-hand mix in the top six of my above composition. Bairstow above Malan is however an option. James Anderson and Stuart Broad don’t have to necessarily be banished forever and their experience could still be useful in home conditions. England might like to rotate in order to limit injury to the likes of Overton and co. I’d like Liam Livingstone to be there or thereabouts too.

Can English cricket’s phoenix rise from the ashes?

Disclaimer: I rather inconveniently forgot that there’s a post Ashes tour of New Zealand but maybe one opening batsman aside, my team for next summer needn’t be that far off.

Ashes Cricket (PS4): Global Test League – Malan of the Match!

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Following the disappointing defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe at Old Trafford in the opening round of Global Test League fixtures, it was essential that we upped our game against India at Lords and register our first championship points.

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Records tumbled on day one as our batsmen recovered from a precarious position of 12-2 to make hay against an insipid India attack. No less than six willow wielders passed fifty but it was Dawid Malan who stood tallest on his home ground. The Middlesex man reached his maiden Test hundred before eventually being dismissed for a grand 133. Having made scores of 8 and 32 at Old Trafford, Malan seized the opportunity of playing on familiar ground to cement his immediate future in England’s middle order.

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The hosts had been 198-6 when Moeen Ali joined Malan at the crease but the pair combined to construct a mammoth partnership of 176 to deflate the Indian players. Moeen was cruelly denied a Test hundred, courtesy of a fantastic slower ball from Jasprit Bumrah that trapped the Worcestershire man in front. It was a rare piece of intelligent and well executed bowling from the away side. Bumrah, for his batting as much as his bowling, was one of the few Indian players to walk away from this match with their reputation enhanced.

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By the end of first day, we’d been dismissed for a mighty 536 and still had time to bowl a few overs at the visiting batsmen. The opening over, bowled by James Anderson as the sun set over London, was a sublime display of swing bowling. Having seen their side total a record breaking opening day score, the home fans had already received their money’s worth but were treated to Anderson’s torrid torture of India’s top order. Swinging the ball like no one before him, Anderson was close to claiming another two LBWs in his first over on top of trapping the dumbstruck Shikhar Dhawan. Dhawan would later fall to Anderson in the second innings, caught on the boundary in one of the most embarrassing displays of an international cricketer running scared ever seen!

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Registering scores of just five and three, Chris Woakes clearly had a disappointing match with the bat and the experimentation of him batting at number six may have to come to an end. The Warwickshire man made a solid contribution with the ball however, collecting match figures of 25-8-64-3 and easing the burden on messrs Broad and Anderson.

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Seamer Toby Roland-Jones, called into the side at the expense of spinner Liam Dawson, joined Middlesex colleague Malan in making a positive impression on his home ground. Having recored a maiden Test half-century (61) in England’s epic first innings, T R-J claimed three catches as India’s batsmen were suckered into the same trap time and time again. With his international career still in its infancy, the county veteran finished with match figures of 25.4-10-62-3. Like Woakes, Roland-Jones confirmed that England’s back-up brigade of pace bowlers are blessed with plenty of skill and wicket taking nous.

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Though we were keen to enforce the follow-on, a miscommunication (A bug!) with the officials resulted in us having to bat again. Provided the rapid nature of our first innings batting and as a result, the amount of time left in the match, we weren’t too concerned about having to do so. Of all the England players, only opening bat Mark Stoneman (7 & 8) will walk away from the match disappointed but fellow opener Keaton Jennings (73 & 51) made fifties in both innings. That’s three in four in the inaugural GTL for the new Lancashire recruit. Hampshire’s James Vince made an attacking 92 before Dawid Malan, not content with one Test century on his home ground, promptly made another. There are many great players never to have made the honours board at Lords but Malan etched his name twice in the space of a couple of days. He fell soon after as England presented the undeserving Hardik Pandya (3-55) with three cheap (And I mean very cheap!) wickets in one over, as thoughts turned towards a declaration. Despite there being ample time left in the match, it was felt unnecessary to have our bowlers exert energy whilst batting. There’s another twelve rounds of Test fixtures and the workload of the pace bowlers in particular must be managed accordingly.

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Few would have thought that James Vince would lead the way with the ball in India’s second innings but with captain Joe Root letting senior bowlers, the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad take it easy in the field, Vince followed up his batting exploits with figures of 2-40 from ten overs. Freakishly, India were dismissed for 208 in both innings. In truth, it may only have been England’s decision to rest senior bowlers second time around that allowed India to ascend from 98-8 and total that many.

This was a truly emphatic and utterly dominant display from England. The 455-run margin of victory was the sixth highest in the history of Test cricket. Our first innings total of 536 was the highest ever score reached on the opening day of a Test match and the second most runs scored on any day in Test history. There were contributions from throughout the side and standards have now been set extremely high. There’s excitement amongst the players as they seek to be the leading run-scorers or wicket-takers respectively in the Global Test League. Malan currently sits third on the overall batting charts and Anderson leads the way for England with the ball. That friendly competition is good for the team and the tournament as a whole. After a disappointing outing against Zimbabwe, it will be pleasing for captain Joe Root to have made 55 in the first innings but even more pleasing to see all those around him perform so productively.

Our next match sees us voyage overseas for the first time, not far though, just a short traverse of the Irish Sea to take on Ireland in Malahide. We’ll review conditions prior to confirming any amendments to the squad.