Who’d be a Selector?

WARNING: I’ve become the pessimistic cynic that I used to criticise!

Jason Roy won’t do any worse than those who have been chewed up and spat out before him but is he really going to do any better?

He’ll likely average 27 but is also likely to be more Aaron Finch than David Warner, in Tests anyway. Roy is a player with no recent history of playing First Class cricket let alone opening the batting. He was all at sea against a moving ball in the World Cup final and should he score a few breezy thirties will that really be of benefit? Will he score Test hundreds more often than Keaton Jennings (Once every 8.5 Tests!)?

Yes Ed Smith and co. have gone down this route before with Jos Buttler and credit to both because it’s worked so far. This selection however is even more cavalier. How will Roy approach it? Like it’s an ODI or will he cramp up like Hales and try to play a game he has no recent history of playing?

I consider myself a realistic optimist (Or optimistic realist) when it comes to English cricket but appreciate that I sound pessimistic regarding the selection of Surrey’s Roy. I’ll back nearly everybody who is picked for England but just like I put my head on the line by advocating my proposed selections of players that others would dismiss as preposterous, I’ll equally express my opinion when I’m not convinced by the ones that we have selected. I expect our Selection Panel to be practicing what they preach and analysing every potential selection in extreme detail.

Will Roy pull his hamstring, not be able to field then not be authorised to open the batting meaning that Joe Root has to move up to three anyway? If you’ve spent a career running 100 metre sprints then suddenly try to run a marathon then you’ll likely get injured. Roy has spent a career, or at least the latter part, playing One-Day and T20 cricket and has recently struggled to fulfil those requirements. Now we’re expecting him to last five days!

I sincerely hope that Jason Roy has a long and fruitful Test career averaging forty plus home and away and I’ll be the first to provide an honest assessment and say well done… but he wouldn’t be my pick!

England have also selected Lewis Gregory but what is the Somerset man’s point of difference? His selection seems reminiscent of recent eras where early season form precedes consistency over the years. Gregory might currently be doing a bit better than Ben Coad, Jamie Porter or even Chris Rushworth but is he really a long-term solution, is he really better than those players? It’s the same as picking Mark Stoneman because he averaged 80 one year in a career of averaging 30 but ignoring James Hildreth for only averaging 40 most years. The odd peak amongst troughs wins selection over year on year consistency. The Somerset man’s selection smacks of a token “Yes we value county cricket” by the selectors. They’ve rested the likes of Buttler and Ben Stokes and feel that they can get away with bringing in a bowling all-rounder who’s topping the domestic charts for one-match (Keep county fans happy) against Ireland. Don’t forget that Sam Curran is capable of batting higher than he has done.

Lewis Gregory is a fine player whose all-round abilities can be of use to England but I’m just uninspired by these unoriginal selections. England have also selected Olly Stone. If I’m questioning Jason Roy’s fitness then…

If these players perform against Ireland in home conditions does that tell us that they’re good enough to be Test cricketers? Will the same people that malign Woakes as a horse for a course celebrate these players as the finished article based on a fifty of fifer against a country that has just three domestic teams? What message does these selections send to opening batsman out there or domestic bowlers who perform year on year? They can only beat what’s in front of them!

I’m sorry. I’ve become the negative, cynical hypocrite that I never wanted to be but so be it. That’s what being an England cricket fan will do to you. It’s not by choice!

Will Wood Burn or Flicker?

What do you do when you lose a player from a whole tour due to injury?

You call up a player with absolutely no history of injury ever right?

Err, wait… Mark Wood, IPL star (!), more time on a sickbed than Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient!

To be fair, it’s not as if the two Jamies, Overton and Porter, haven’t attended the treatment table so many times that they got a session free!

Let’s hope that in the absence of Olly Stone, Mark Wood can keep the English fires burning during an Arctic winter… yes I know, the cricket’s in the Caribbean!

A Shame for Stone!

Fast bowler Olly Stone is out of England’s tour of West Indies courtesy of a stress fracture. Stone made his ODI debut against Sri Lanka last year but his chequered history of injuries has come back to haunt him. Jamie Overton, no stranger to injuries himself, could be promoted to the touring party whilst Jamie Porter, who has been a squad member in home Tests, could once again flirt with the opportunity of making his Test debut.

Hopefully Stone can recover and be back amongst the county wickets and international reckoning before too long.

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.

Stone Certainty?

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Warwickshire’s Olly Stone is a player who featured in Silly Point’s Six to Watch feature this year…

https://sillypointcricket.com/2018/01/14/six-to-watch 2018/

https://sillypointcricket.com/2018/09/22/six-to-watch-2018-season-review/

He follows in the footsteps of another player from this year’s selection, Surrey batsman Ollie Pope, to have now graced the international stage.

Coming off the back of a productive domestic campaign, Stone made his international debut for England in the ODI series in Sri Lanka that started last week. Both matches were affected by the rain but after not getting an opportunity in the first (Due to the weather in Dambulla), Stone collected his maiden England wicket in the second match.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/18602/scorecard/1140379/sri-lanka-vs-england-1st-odi-eng-in-sl-2018-19

Stone possibly owes his chance in part due to the hosts flipping of the tour schedule, leaving Liam Plunkett (Wedding arrangements already made) high and dry. If the pictures are anything to go by, high and dry is not something that many Sri Lankan cricket grounds are at the moment. The rain has been of biblical proportions!

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Stone could be a real asset for England come next year’s World Cup and future Ashes tours. He’ll need to remain fit and it could be that another player with a history of injuries, Somerset’s Jamie Overton, could help provide some healthy competition for Stone. Then there are also the likes of Saqib Mahmood, Zak Chappell, George Garton and in time, Jofra Archer.

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Another player that I’m delighted to see get further opportunities in an England shirt is Hampshire’s Liam Dawson.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/england/content/player/211855.html

I felt that he was badly handled during his stint as a Test spinner. He performed admirably against India and South Africa, dismissing Hashim Amla twice but the England management buckled under media pressure and dropped the slow-left-armer. As a fill-in player, he’s been victim to attack when playing limited overs matches for England before but performed superbly in last year’s edition of the Pakistan Super League. He’s a constantly evolving player and England could do a lot worse than stick by him.

CricketXI – County Championship 2018: Season Review

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At the start of the year I stumbled upon CricketXI, an alternative fantasy cricket competition. This game focused purely on the County Championship (First Class) campaign.

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I selected a team of young guns and as you can see things went really well! It was great to see the likes of Jonny Tattersall, Zak Crawley and Will Jacks develop. Harry Brook, Ben Twohig (Love his name!) and Matthew Carter also made great strides.

Unfortunately Surrey pacer Matt Dunn got injured early in the campaign and disappeared from the professional radar once again. Wicketkeeper Lewis McManus lost his place in the Hampshire First XI. Teammate Asher Hart and Essex spinner Aron Nijjar (Who fooled me by playing in a pre-season university match!) couldn’t get near their respective first XIs. Neither could spinner Sukhjit Singh who was sadly released by Warwickshire at the end of the campaign. Warwickshire clearly have little interest in developing their own young players and much prefer to sign absolutely anybody. While that’s great for players like Will Rhodes and Olly Stone, it’s not for players like Singh and Andy Umeed.

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As well as my outfit of kids, I also selected a more ‘serious’ side but following early season injury, Sam Northeast failed to really get going having relocated from Kent to Hampshire and has fallen way down the England pecking order. Disappointingly, Sussex batsman Luke Wells and Nottinghamshire’s Riki Wessels failed to back-up productive 2017 campaigns.

On the plus side, James Hildreth was amongst the runs as ever, meanwhile Tom Bailey, Ben Sanderson and everybody’s favourite ex-England cricketer Jade Dernbach, contributed with the ball.

Well, there’s always next year!

Six to Watch: 2018 – Season Review

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A little premature with the season not quite concluded but here’s 2018’s Six to Watch Review. This year two players from my selection have been promoted to the full England side. One has already debuted and one likely will in Sri Lanka. For the others, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag but should get better.

Tom Fell  (Worcestershire)

Another difficult year for cancer survivor Fell. There were glimpses of his determination and ability but little consistency. Fell has registered only four fifties in 22 innings this term but two of them, including a season best 89, came in the same match against champions Surrey. He’s currently averaging a disappointing 27.82 in the County Championship. Despite an impressive career record in List A cricket, white-ball opportunities have been harder to come by. Fell has only ever played three T20s.

Ollie Pope (Surrey)

So good have been Pope’s numbers (He’s averaging 70.50 in CC2018) that he was fast tracked into the England team. Unlike some sceptics, I think that Ed Smith has got a lot of qualities but his decision to parachute Pope in at number four in England’s Test side was misguided. Pope had never batted higher than six for Surrey! The Chelsea born bat has a good head on his shoulders however and will be better for the experience. This year he’s a Championship winner and breeding that winning mentality can only be good for his development. He’s likely to commence the Sri Lanka tour on the bench but the opportunity to tour will serve him well.

Hamidullah Qadri (Derbyshire)

A frustrating year with limited opportunity and limited success for Afghan born Qadri. Last year the then sixteen-year-old announced his arrival with an outstandingly effective performance against Glamorgan to help Derbyshire win for the first time in… years!

http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/8204/scorecard/1068618/glamorgan-vs-derbyshire-specsavers-county-championship-division-two-2017

This year’s appearances have been fleeting but four more County Championship appearances is more than most for a man his age. He’s claimed eight wickets at 39.88 in CC2018.

Delray Rawlins (Sussex)

Precocious talent Rawlins’ opportunities have been limited to limited overs cricket but his batting caught the eye of many in this year’s T20 Blast. Rawlins made it to the final with Sussex and made starts in both matches on Finals-Day. The Bermuda born bat ended the campaign with 203 runs at 25.38. His strike-rate was 146.04. Little was seen of his bowling however or the red ball this term. Rawlins could be a potentially good draft for a Big Bash or PSL franchise this winter.

Will Rhodes (Warwickshire)

The move from Yorkshire to Warwickshire seems to have worked well for Rhodes. Yorkshire didn’t seem to know what to do with him and have had Harry Brook (Better suited to the middle order) opening while losing Alex Lees to Durham. Keeping and making the most of Rhodes may have been a good move by Yorkshire but Rhodes is yet another talent they failed to fully develop. Warwickshire are grateful to have been the beneficiaries of Yorkshire’s slacking. The Midlands outfit have persevered with Rhodes and former Surrey man Dominic Sibley as an opening pair, even when the runs haven’t flowed. Sibley can be feast or famine but Rhodes’ consistency has meant that he’s been one of the county circuit’s more successful openers this year. The left-hander has compiled three tons plus four fifties, a top score of 137 and is averaging a healthy 41.05. He’s also a viable bowling option.

Olly Stone (Warwickshire)

Rhodes’ Warwickshire ally Stone commenced the County Championship campaign with figures of 8-80 against Sussex, cue lots of calls for him to make the England side. Of course he promptly got injured again! Like his main rival for the speedster’s role, Somerset’s Jamie Overton, Stone has recently taken wickets in T20 and First Class cricket, crucially… he’s been on the pitch at all! The former Northamptonshire man has claimed 37 wickets in just six matches at a mightily impressive average of 12.27. With Liam Plunkett and his wedding arrangements undone by a flip of England’s tour schedule, Stone will go to Sri Lanka with both the ODI and Test side if not the T20I side. He should debut sometime on the tour and will have an eye on the West Indies trip too.

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: Heading North Down South… then Heading South Again!

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I’m delighted to announce that the England cricket team, selected and coached by myself, sealed a magnificent 2-0 Test series win in South Africa.

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Following draws in the first two Tests, our strength in depth, particularly in our pace bowling depths, helped us claim a sensational series win.

In the first two Tests, opposition opening batsmen Aiden Markram (195 in the first Test) and Dean Elgar (251 in the second Test) prevented us from being able to gain anything more than a draw. This was despite Alastair Cook (105), Joe Root (135) and Haseeb Hameed (104) all registering tons in the first match. We were perilously placed at 29-4 in the second Test but again skipper Root (121) as well as Jonny Bairstow (117) ensured we avoided defeat.

In the third Test, we bravely opted to bowl first. James Vince (182) and Joe Clarke (195) both recorded career best performances in a partnership worth 268. Clarke’s innings was particularly satisfying following a lean spell after which he’d been left out of the XI. He performed well in the warm-up match to get the nod ahead of Ollie Pope and after a quiet first two Tests, stepped up to surpass 1000 Test runs.

Olly Stone claimed 3-51 on Test debut before we went onto win by six wickets in the final session of the match. Bairstow (27) and Ben Stokes (4) opened the batting with Joe Clarke (4 not out) and Dom Bess (5 not out) promoted to number six, seeing us to a famous win.

In the fourth Test we again bowled first. Yorkshire’s Ben Coad was recalled and swung the ball prodigiously in claiming Test best figures of 4-40. Hameed (93), Vince (82) and Root (77) led the way with the bat before Jamie Porter, who like Coad was brought into this match for the first time in the series having been extremely unfortunate to miss out in the first three Tests, took 4-57. The old wise heads of Alastair Cook (70 not out) and Joe Root (40 not out) saw us home in a fashion far more comfortable than our run chases sometimes are.

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As the above graphic shows, all our senior batsmen averaged in excess of forty.

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We rotated our bowlers well, making bold decisions to rest players when it would’ve been tempting to stick with them and risk burning them out. James Anderson (14 wickets @ 24.79) continued to defy his age as the younger bowlers ran in hard alongside him. Stuart Broad, dropped after a wicketless first Test, has an uncertain future given that our next tour is just a two-match trip to Sri Lanka. He may come into contention for selection in the ODIs.

Though the young spin duo of Matthew Parkinson and Dom Bess didn’t excel statistically, they stuck to their task hard and will hope to reap the fruits of their labours as we seek another second Sri Lanka away series win during my tenure.

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We’ll need a win to retain third place in the Test ranking. Only three points separate ourselves, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand down in sixth place.

Unfortunately, come the limited overs matches, we reverted to type and lost both the ODI and T20I series by 2-1 scorelines.

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Warwickshire opener Ed Pollock was in scintillating form in the ODIs. He accumulated 251 runs at an average of 83.67. His series contrasted with Alex Hales, who though he scored runs, they were rather laboured innings. The pair compiled back-to-back century stands (153 and 109) in the second and third ODIs.

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Joe Root’s rollicking 92 not out from just 43 deliveries did at least seal us a phenomenal consolation victory in the third and final ODI. Jonny Bairstow (61 not out from 41 balls) also made a welcome limited overs contribution. Disappointingly Stuart Broad went wicketless in two outings having been recalled to the ODI team.

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The T20Is were lost 2-1 having gone 1-0 up. Sussex’s Jofra Archer continued his encouraging introduction to international cricket, as the above graphic highlights. The recalled Jake Ball was in outstanding form. He claimed seven wickets in three matches at just 10.71 apiece. Joe Root again demonstrated why he should be an automatic selection in the limited overs side by striking 84 not out from 59 deliveries… but we still lost.

Next it’s to Sri Lanka for two Tests but no white-ball matches.

Cricket Captain 2018: Caribbean Cruise!

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Another Test series, another victory and a comprehensive one at that. We comfortably saw off our hosts by a whitewashing scoreline of 3-0.

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Having assumed a 2-0 series lead, courtesy in no small part due to Alastair Cook’s mammoth 238, the highest individual Test score of my tenure so far, the opportunity to perform some squad rotation was performed in the third Test.

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In the final match of the series, debuts were presented to Sam Hain, Ollie Pope, Ed Barnard and Dom Bess. Despite the absence of many senior players, our strength in depth was highlighted with yet another victory. Hain hit a magnifienct 195 not out at the top of the order, Ollie Pope sealed victory with 43 not out in the second innings, Ed Barnard made 90 and spinner Dom Bess claimed his maiden Test wicket.

Nottinghamshire’s Stuart Broad led the way with 16 series wickets at just 10.44 apiece. Left-arm quick Mark Footitt also stepped in and claimed 9 victims at 23.22. That’s four consecutive Test series wins  for the team during my tenure.

The ODI series wasn’t quite as successful and ultimately began and finished with frustration. Despite losing only two wickets, we messed up a run chase of just 230 in the first encounter. Well set to assume a series lead, we somehow contrived to only tie the match. West Indies then gained the upperhand before we fought back to lead 2-1. Having posted 314 in the decider, we were confident of sealing a much needed series win. Disappointingly, West Indies knocked off the required runs with consummate ease, leaving the score all square at 2-2.

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A series draw is however a step in the right direction, coming as it was off the back of two series defeats. The left-field selection of Chris Wood continued to prove one of my shrewdest selections to date. The Hampshire left-armer claimed two four-fors in the series and finished with 9 wickets at 28.44. He has been a constant wicket taking threat throughout his short England career so far and provides a point of difference for the team.

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A familiar pattern emerged for Wood’s new-ball partner Jamie Overton however. Once again the Somerset quick started well before falling apart at the seams. Figures of 10-0-96-0 in the final match of the series confirmed that Overton is a player whose workload requires managing. He has claimed wickets since coming into the side though and needs to remain part of the squad even if not playing in every match.

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Worcestershire all-rounder Ed Barnard’s versatile qualities in both multi-innings and limited overs cricket have been a vital addition to our composition. Still only 23, Barnard should bring a lot to our culture in the future.

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Following the ODIs, we emphatically won the T20I series with a scoreline that mirrored the Test series result, 3-0. Alex Hales totalled 214 series runs at an average of 71.33. This included a top score of 116. Middlesex man Dawid Malan returned to the squad following injury and promptly blitzed 60 and 77 not out before being run out for 42. Those runs were achieved at a whopping strike-rate of 182.6! Josh Tongue claimed figures of 4-23 on debut whilst Olly Stone claimed 3 series victims at 15.67 in his international induction. Craig Overton and Yorkshire wicketkeeper Jonny Tattersall also made their T20I debuts.

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The series result was a great one for skipper Eoin Morgan but he has struggled for runs in both the ODI and T20I format throughout the past year. Without an ODI series win in three, the Irishman’s place in the team comes under serious scrutiny ahead of the 2019 World Cup.