Cricket 19: NWHTC – Dropsy Turvy!

In our final league stage match of the inaugural North Western Hemisphere Test Championship Netherlands called correctly at the toss and to the surprise of no one inside Headingley elected to bat first.

Four balls later they lost opening batsmen Shaun Mortier (2) when he lazily inside edged to wicketkeeper Jos Buttler off the bowling of James Anderson.

Fellow opener Darren Toonen stayed at crease for much longer than his partner, ultimately compiling 58 with the sublime Bradley Claessens.

Toonen occupied 63 deliveries for his 17 before he too inside edged to Buttler, this time off the impressive Ben Stokes.

Captain Warren Beelen (Top score 19/Average 9.12 from 9 Tests) spent ten deliveries being beaten ball after ball by Stokes (1-56). Somehow though he survived to eventually get off the mark with a glorious off-drive for four followed by a few more exquisitely executed boundaries. Then came the moment! Young debutant left-arm fast bowler George Garton had bowled well and the crowd were enjoying his duel with a talented Claessens. One four by Claessens, a flick on to the leg-side that nearly carried for six was a magnificent shot but with not long to go before lunch he (On 56) edged a snorter from Sussex’s Garton. For a split second everybody assumed that the young bowler had a maiden Test wicket but having already snaffled two victims in the match it was third time unlucky for Buttler… and Garton!

The fact that Buttler didn’t have to move may have actually hindered him. Having been far too hot for an on his toes Claessens to handle, the ball was still burning when it thumped Buttler’s gloves (That had vitally got in the way of his face!) a split second later. It was to be hoped that both he and Garton could put the disappointment behind them. The Dutch reached lunch at 97-2 after an excellent session of competitive Test match cricket.

In the second session we leaked a few runs before Jamie Porter stepped up to claim the prize scalp of Claessens (66) LBW via a full inswinging delivery. It was an important breakthrough and a welcome one for the Essex man in only his second Test. The drop before lunch fortunately not proving too costly.

Bryan Long (1) hadn’t been at the crease for long when James Anderson trapped him LBW in similar fashion. The erstwhile Anderson then had Beelen caught at third slip by Root for a Test best 25 as the Dutch crumbled from 109-2 to 124-5.

With the final ball before beverages Porter should’ve had a second wicket having lured Maxwell Rabe into an edge but Dawid Malan shelled a relatively straight forward chance at slip. Our bowlers were bowling extremely well but our fielding was failing to scale such heights. For the second successive break in play we assembled having done well but tinged with disappointment.

After thirsts had been quenched Rabe and Pluto Schmidt applied themselves well to lift Netherlands to 163-5 before Garton bowled a beautiful inswinger to Schmidt. Once again the left-armer seemed set for his maiden Test wicket but the right-handed batsman got a tiny inside edge to avoid being LBW. The ball ballooned into the air though but there was hesitation between stumper Buttler and Malan. With both players having already dropped a catch they clearly didn’t want a repeat but ultimately Malan spilled another opportunity. For poor Garton, his first ever wicket at Test level went begging once more. The Dutch had reached 175-5 when tea was taken.

It was left to Anderson again to curtail the Dutch courage as he tempted Schmidt (40) to nick behind and this time Buttler held on. Alongside Engels though Rabe rallied and brought up a half-century via some overthrows. The visitors were 234-6 when the new ball was taken under lights and beneath a glorious setting sun in Yorkshire.

Late in the day and with a brand new cherry in hand Porter continued to go from strength to strength, firstly by claiming the key wicket of Rabe for 63. Rabe was deceived by a slower ball and a review only confirmed what we already knew…. out! Porter then beat Shane Snater with an outswinger before bringing the next delivery in to illuminate the dangerous batsman’s zing bails. Netherlands closed on 260-8 after an attritional day of Test cricket with a five-wicket haul eluding Anderson despite him bowling late into the night.

After a period of frustration first thing on day two Anderson trapped Engels (42) LBW courtesy of a full inswinging delivery to end a good knock from the Dutch gloveman. Anderson (5-93) thoroughly deserved his first NWHTC five-wicket bag. There then followed further frustration as the visibly growing in confidence Fred Klassen passed fifty with the stoic Paul van Meekeren for company. The pair had lifted Netherlands from 280-9 to 339-9 at lunch with the wicket of Engels the only one to fall in thirty overs of play.

As the day elapsed our frustration grew and grew and we promptly wasted both our reviews on consecutive deliveries. Our LBW appeals were misguided and the last wicket pair brought up a century partnership soon after. Quite fittingly given our fielding effort they reached the figure courtesy of yet more overthrows.

Eventually Porter (4-97) pierced van Meekeren’s defence and with the crucial aid of an inside edge toppled the number eleven’s stumps. van Meekeren (24), who had faced 112 deliveries was as crestfallen as Klassen who was cruelly left stranded on 96 not out. Even the local fans openly wanted Klassen’s superb batsmanship to be rewarded with a Test ton but it just and only just wasn’t to be.

Huge respect to the Dutch who recovered from 124-5 to post 387 with lots of contributions, fine batting and a bit too much assistance from our fielders. That was a particular shame provided the standard of our bowling and especially unfair on Garton (0-73) who ended wicketless on debut. The Dutch had kept us in the field for a gruelling 132.3 overs.

Come our turn to bat openers Dawid Malan and Haseeb Hameed experienced contrasting first deliveries with Malan being dropped first ball by van Meekeren off his own bowling but Hameed hooking Klassen for six. The pair had demonstratively compiled 130 but it required only three balls of spin before a breakthrough. Malan (68) edged behind to Engels and the Netherlands had an inroad. Dominic Sibley saw out the session with Hameed who was up to 996 career Test runs.

Hameed (Passed 1000 Test runs) and Sibley strolled on with the partnership soon passing fifty. Lancashire’s Hameed moved onto 99 under a setting sun in enemy territory Yorkshire but Sibley (37) nicked behind off off-spinner Darren Toonen (1-39) the very next ball. Once again Warwickshire’s Sibley showed huge promise but failed to post a score of substance and would need a score second time around to secure a place in the final.

After captain Joe Root had achieved duck avoidance Hameed notched a second Test/NWHTC ton with a riskyish single. It was a great way to repay the faith as Hameed is the only England player to have featured in all ten NWHTC matches. Frustratingly Hameed (102) was then run out but at least it came courtesy of an outstanding throw from Bryan Long rather than a farcical debacle between the wickets. Hameed’s demise brought debutant Harry Brook to the crease on his home ground to join his captain and county teammate, #special.

It didn’t take long for Brook to look right at home and either side of liquid refreshments he enjoyed a partnership of 79 with his skipper. Sadly Root (24) made a mess of an attempted pull off Klassen to fall caught and bowled and finally give the bowler something to celebrate. Ben Stokes (30) and Jos Buttler (11) both fell to spinner Schmidt having played all too familiar entertaining but unsubstantial innings that would be more at home in T20 cricket. For Buttler especially, having already been dropped once, to be caught in the in-field so late in the day was foolish. All the while as the day drew to a close Brook marched towards a Test ton and was 90 not out alongside Rob Keogh (2*) at stumps.

Come the third day little time had eluded before Brook brought up a historic hundred in front of his family and devout white rose faithful. He did however survive a controversial run out opportunity not long after celebrating his century. There was little appeal from the Netherlands players but replays suggest that Brook didn’t appear to have grounded his bat when the bails were dislodged. The zing bails failed to light up immediately and by the time they did Brook was touching a single blade of grass at best. He survived though and had put on 83 with Keogh when the latter tried one shot too many and was caught and bowled by van Meekeren (2-113) It was disappointing for Keogh (45) to not reach fifty but he finally had a score of note at Test level under his belt and had helped us gain a first innings advantage.

George Garton, luckless with the ball on debut, swashbuckled his way to 12 before being expansively bowled by that man van Meekeren. Jamie Porter made 5 before left-armer Klassen (2-172!) finally displayed his class by angling a ball across the right-handed batsman and finding the edge for Engels to pouch.

Having terrorised the visitors with the ball James Anderson then did so with the bat. Alongside the immovable and indefatigable Brook, Anderson smashed van Meekeren for consecutive sixes and ultimately the pair added 55 for the final wicket. Anderson (34) finally fell to a sharp catch from Klassen at leg-slip off the bowling of the sound Schmidt (4-80). As for Harry Brook, the young Yorkshireman finished 149 not out on a debut that will live long in the memory of many. That last wicket stand raised our collective effort to 519 and put the Dutch 132 runs in arrears.

Before tea James Anderson and Jamie Porter released eight overs of high quality seam and swing bowling to dent the Dutch deficit even further. Darren Toonen (0) failed to make it through even one Porter over as Buttler claimed a sharp catch off a pacey delivery. For Toonen (193 runs @ 10.16, 84 of which came in one innings) his torturous tournament with the bat was at an end.

Soon after the resumption Ben Stokes found the inside edge of Claessens bat and Buttler pouched another victim. Captain Beelen narrowly survived an LBW appeal the very next ball.

After the dropped catches off his bowling in the first innings and narrowly missing the stumps on numerous occasions early in his spell in the second, debutante George Garton finally claimed a thoroughly deserved first Test wicket. Bowling over the wicket he got a ball to swing back into Beelen and classically clip the top of off stump. Beelen fell for 10 to finish the inaugural NWHTC with an average of exactly… 10.00.

Despite the loss of his leader, Mortier marched on with Long for company and by tea on the third day their partnership had stretched to 75 with the former left to stew on 98 at the interval.

In the first over of the final session Mortier reached a much deserved ton then blasted Ben Stokes (1-86) over the ropes for a maximum. The partnership swelled to 119 before Long (24) was trapped LBW by the part-time leg-spin of Dawid Malan. For Malan (1-45) it was a first Test wicket to end 89 balls of resistance from the dogged Long. Mortier would later bring up his 150 with a six off the same bowler and breed fifty plus with the reliable Rabe to put the Netherlands 110 runs to the good at stumps.

After a good sleep Mortier and Rabe in particular went from strength to strength with their partnership soon totalling 81. Almost inexplicably the monstrous Mortier (178) edged behind to Buttler off the very first ball bowled by the innocuous looking off-spin of Dominic Sibley (1-11). Credit captain Joe Root for chucking the Warwickshire man the ball and like Garton and Malan before him, Sibley claimed his maiden wicket at Test level in this very innings. The knock by Mortier had been an innings for the ages scored by a man without a fifty going into his side’s final innings (His 20th) of the competition. Those who were there, regardless of which team was theirs were humbled to have witnessed such a supreme knock.

With the old ball still in hand Garton, luckless in the first innings, lured Pluto Schmidt into playing away from his body and Buttler made no mistake to give Garton (2-47) his second Test wicket.

Then in the first over with the new ball James Anderson (0-67) lobbed a flat bat from Rabe (46) at the stumps and despite the batsman’s foot being on the line the umpire raised his finger. 266-4 had all of a sudden become 289-7 for the Dutch.

There then followed another solid partnership, this time between Engels and Snater that took Netherlands to 343-7, a lead of 221 at lunch on day four and us struggling to make use of the new ball.

After the partnership had reached 92 a bowling change did the trick as Jamie Porter defined plumb LBW to discharge Engels (54) from the batting theatre. Having compiled 42 in the first dig it was another more than handy batting contribution from the tourists’ gloveman. Before the over was complete Essex’s premier paceman Porter had the other set batsman, Snater (42), caught behind by a swift Buttler. Then in his following over, despite the obligatory review, last man van Meekeren couldn’t repeat his first innings heroics and fell for a four-ball duck as Porter (4-52) feasted on Dutch tail. That meant that first innings hero Klassen was left stranded on 8 not out.

390 was the sum total of the Netherlands’s effort, only three more runs than their first innings but this time slightly less spread around and primarily built around Mortier’s magnificent 170. 259 was the target for us to claim victory.

Despite the loss of Malan (5), instinctively and superbly caught and bowled by Klassen, we were soon acing our run chase. Haseeb Hameed, having scored a ton in the first innings and Dominic Sibley, for the first time in Test cricket, both passed fifty. At tea on the fourth day the usually stoic pair had fluidly taken us to 146-1, just 112 runs away from victory and seemingly on course to seal the deal with a day to spare.

Maybe Hameed (90) didn’t get enough nutrients inside him during the interval because after dispatching a couple more deliveries to the ropes he was distraught to be caught off Klassen (2-78) when centuries in each innings seemed a certainty. After that combination had compiled 137 the next pair put on an undefeated 107 to take us to a hard fought eight-wicket win.

Promoted to number four at the expense of and by his captain, Rob Keogh crossed the Test fifty mark for the first time. Having endured a difficult baptisimal phase in international cricket Keogh (59*) looked the part, with the bat at least, in this match.

Meanwhile at the other end Sibley followed a couple of starts with an assured 105 not out in only his second Test and hit the winning runs under a darkening sky.

We were pushed hard in this match by a Dutch side who continue to develop fast at this level. We dropped catches in the first innings of the match but aced our run chase in the last. The performances of newcomers such as Sibley, Keogh, Brook, Garton and particularly Porter who had been recalled for only his second outing were hugely encouraging. Said performances provide a real selection headache for the hugely anticipated final against Scotland who eased past Canada in the final league match by ten wickets.

For the record, Scotland topped the table with 9 wins, we won 8 beating everybody twice but losing to Scotland in both matches (Making for a tasty final!), Ireland won 6, Canada won 5 and lost 5 whilst USA and Netherlands claimed a solitary win apiece… against each other!

USA batsman Stuart Trujillo (1041) currently tops the run charts and so in-form Haseeb Hameed will require 139 runs in the final to overtake him… or Moeen will need to score 283! Meanwhile Scotland have in their line-up the only two batsmen to have scored three NWHTC centuries. Mortier’s 178 toppled Trujillo’s best by one run to be the league stage’s top knock.

Scotland spinner Mark Watt has 55 wickets so far and it’s near impossible for him to be caught. Fellow spinner Martin Law has 43 and it’s that dual spin threat that we’ll have to contend with at Sophia Gardens in Wales in the final. Sam Curran has an England best 37. Klassen’s 8-42/11-62 remain the best BBI/BBM.

England’s Spin Dearth Myth

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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)

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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!