A Story of Sir Alastair, Keaton and Rory

If England win this summer’s Ashes or/and World Cup, then we could have a host of new MBEs!

The chances of Keaton Jennings playing in the World Cup are slim. The chances of Rory Burns doing so are… even slimmer!

The likelihood of the pair playing in the Ashes and possibly earning knighthoods will be defined on the Test tour of West Indies. No disrespect to the current Caribbean collective but if you offered an opening batsman an away destination to cement their place in their own team then West Indies would currently be high on most player’s list.

Jennings was previously dropped on the eve of a home series against West Indies. He’ll hope not to be dropped post a Caribbean encounter this time. He played spin well in Sri Lanka and was razor sharp in the field but questions of his ability against pace linger. Based on the evidence and scars inflicted by South Africa, answering those questions against Australia won’t be easy!

Burns performed well in the second Test in Sri Lanka after a disappointing debut. He failed in the final Test however and his aesthetics aren’t to everybody’s pleasure. If he leaves the door even slightly ajar and some young gun plunders runs on the county scene or even Surrey teammate Jason Roy produces a run gluttonous World Cup then Burns will follow another Surrey man, his opening partner Mark Stoneman, back to the county game and with little chance of a Jennings style recall.

Should KJ and RB perform well in West Indies, help England regain the Ashes, go on to score a few thousand Test runs and even captain England (They’ve got experience) then maybe they could yet join Alastair Cook by having a new prefix!

Preparation Stagnation

England commence their long anticipated Test series in Sri Lanka very shortly but their preparation has lacked serious intensity. I appreciate that the climatic conditions have dealt an unfavourable hand but this scenario is nothing new to England’s cricketers.

I have always been in favour of a couple of official First Class matches on tour. These whole squad get involved matches are little more than a glorified net and are not treated as competitive matches. Whilst the individual element may seem like good prep, I strongly believe that an individual playing only one First Class warm-up rather than participating in two exhibition affairs, would be more akin to playing Test Cricket. Had Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings opened in the first of two official warm-up games in the knowledge that Joe Denly was to be presented with a chance in that slot in the second match, the pressure on them to perform would surely be more akin to actually playing Test cricket.

On the subject of Denly, he may well have played himself out of a Test debut with a shoddy performance in the warm-up matches. With mid-series tour matches almost eradicated, how do the likes of Denly or Ollie Pope restate their case for selection in situations such as these? This is a feeling that’s all too familiar to Gary Ballance!

As is often the case with any selection related article that I’ve scripted, either the landscape has changed very quickly or I was just completely misguided in my initial assessment. Surrey’s Ben Foakes now looks a likely Test debutant in the first Test and could really muddy the selection waters ahead of Jonny Bairstow’s return to fitness, by producing a good performance. Imagine if Jos Buttler falls twice to spin for single figure scores!

Somerset spinner Jack Leach also seems likely to return to skipper Joe Root’s XI and hopefully he and Foakes can convert consistent county career contributions to the international stage. England will be desperate to bounce back in Asia following their abysmal attempts in Bangladesh and India a couple of years ago.

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.

The Rise and Fall… and Rise? of Haseeb Hameed

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Less than two years ago and whilst still a teenager, a stoic but adaptable young batsman from Lancashire made his Test bow in India. He promptly made 82 on debut and even made 59 not out when batting with a fractured finger in his last Test. Despite requiring surgery, it seemed as though England had found an opening batsman for the next decade or more. That man was Bolton-born Haseeb Hameed and when Keaton Jennings, Hameed’s injury replacement scored a ton on his debut, it looked as though some competition for the years to come had really been bred. Jennings however has been found wanting at Test level ever since and the same can be said of Hameed, if only at domestic level. Hameed’s performances in the County Championship have been so woeful that you seriously have to question whether or not he’ll add to his three Test caps. Given that England seem unlikely to ever drop Alastair Cook regardless of form, it could be that Cook will still be at the top of England’s order for another twenty years!

In 2017, Hameed totalled 513 runs in 21 County Championship innings, He averaged 28.50 with a top score of 88. After a horrendous start that made him unselectable for the national side, he did at least recover slightly. Unfortunately, he’s gone completely the opposite way during the current campaign. In 17 innings this term, Hameed has compiled a limp 165 runs at a miserable 9.71. His highest score is just 31. This is an opening batsman don’t forget! No matter how many times he returns to the second XI, scores a big ton and comes back (Full of confidence?), he just can’t translate his abilities to the First Class arena. His career average is now only just above thirty at 30.91

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Current incumbent Keaton Jennings has seventeen First Class tons with an average of 34.02 and just look how much he’s struggled in home conditions in Test cricket. It could be that Hameed is, like the oft-used examples of Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan, more suited to the higher level and that it brings out the best in him. In order to be presented with the opportunity to prove that though, he’s going to have to score SOME runs at county level. If Rory Burns can’t get a game given the amount of runs that he compiles year after year then Hameed is a long way from England selection. The romantics will push for his recall however and they’ll point to that Test average of 43.80 (From six innings!).

Will Hameed, in the words of former Zimbabwe player Henry Olonga ‘Rise Again’?

We’ll have to wait and see but let’s hope so.

Cricket Captain 2018: England Squad Announcement

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England Test squad for the three-match tour of West Indies:

Alastair Cook (Captain), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow (Wicketkeeper), Ed Barnard, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Joe Clarke, Mark Footitt, Sam Hain, Haseeb Hameed, Jack Leach, Matthew Parkinson, Ollie Pope (Wicketkeeper), Ben Stokes, James Vince, Mark Wood

Joe Root was not considered due to injury. He is replaced by James Vince who missed the tour of Sri Lanka through injury. In Root’s absence the side will be led by Alastair Cook, as was the case against Pakistan last summer. Jack Leach, having returned to full fitness, replaces Liam Dawson in the only other change from the squad that toured Sri Lanka.

Cricket Captain 2018: Sri Lanka Success!

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The less said about the ODI series the better. We were thrashed 4-1, only winning a match after the series had been lost (We’ll come to why this article is proclaimed a success later!). Quick bowlers Jamie Overton (1-236) and Josh Tongue (2-212) particularly struggled. Warwickshire batsman Sam Hain wasted a golden opportunity to cement a place in the team by being run out twice in five innings. There were positives to come out of the series however. Hampshire’s Chris Wood struck 66 not out from just 42 deliveries in the fourth ODI before Ed Barnard (6-66) stole the headlines in our one and only victory. Barnard then struck 71 not out in the fifth and final match to earn himself a place in the Test squad. Back to Wood, the left-arm pacer was a constant threat, claiming seven wickets in the series and keeping things tight, going at less than a run-a-ball. Moeen Ali, ineffective in the summer, performed well enough enough to earn a Test recall, whilst gloveman Jos Buttler registered three consecutive fifties. Despite the 4-1 loss coming hot off the heels of the India series defeat, somehow we remain top of the ODI rankings. It’s imperative that we get back to winning ways in the West Indies ahead of the 2019 World Cup on home turf.

The one-off T20I encounter was won courtesy in the main because of Jason Roy (65) and Liam Plunkett (4-27).

Then came a truly phenomenal Test series. We lost the first encounter by ten wickets as our top order batsmen looked all at sea in alien terrain. Joe Clarke (113) demonstrated his class in making a maiden Test ton as wickets tumbled all around him. Moeen Ali, recalled in place of the injured Jack Leach, justified my decision with 76. Despite those performances, we were well and truly outplayed and our hosts thoroughly deserved their comprehensive victory.

In the second Test we complied the highest score of my tenure. Alastair Cook (134) and Haseeb Hameed (88) batted for all of the first day before Hameed, having justified his retention in the team, fell without adding to his career best the following morning. Rory Burns, having totalled just six runs on Test debut, then batted for in excess of eleven hours before cruelly being last man dismissed for a epic 199.

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Burns had taken the place of Hampshire’s James Vince who like Leach, missed the tour through injury.

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It was a strange series for Burns however, who either side of his near double ton, scored only another 15 runs. A tough decision lies ahead come the first Test in West Indies. Jonny Bairstow also made 134 in our only innings, meaning that we had three centurions in one innings. Lancashire spin sensation Matthew Parkinson then went on to bowl us to victory with figures of 6-53 in the home side’s second innings.

In the deciding match, captain Joe Root led the way with scores off 119 and for the second time this year, 230. Those performances backed up scores of 23, 98 and 91 in the first two Tests. Jonny Bairstow also made 121. There were contributions all round with the ball as we ran out winners by a mammoth margin of 503 runs.

Let’s not forget the pace bowling trio of Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Ben Stokes, who was only working his way back to full fitness, claimed wickets at vital times in the series to keep us in strong positions.

Worcestershire’s Joe Clarke now averages 41.00 with the bat from ten Tests meanwhile leg-spinner Matthew Parkinson averages just 18.93 with the ball. I’d like to think that these individual performances as well as the team’s success display that I’m performing well in my role as Selector and Coach of our national side. Clearly the ODI performances need to pick up but I’m confident we can do well in all formats against a West Indies side that admittedly were no pushover the last time they toured our land.

Cricket Captain 2018: England Squad Announcement

England Test squad for the three-match tour of Sri Lanka:

Joe Root (Captain), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow (Wicketkeeper), Ed Barnard, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Joe Clarke, Alastair Cook, Liam Dawson, Mark Footitt, Sam Hain, Haseeb Hameed, Matthew Parkinson, Ollie Pope (Wicketkeeper), Ben Stokes, Mark Wood

Jack Leach, Dawid Malan and James Vince were not considered due to injury.

Root Responds/Poysden Plucked!

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In a recent post, I touched upon the subject of Joe Root’s axing from the T20I side and how it could spur him on to a great Test series performance against India. What Root’s dropping has done so far has inspired him to a sensational spell in the ODI team. Having lost the first match of a three-tie affair, Root struck back-to-back centuries to lead England to yet another series victory and enhance their credentials as World Cup favourites. He’s also helped provide England with an edge at the start of the Test encounters.

Yorkshire’s Root has had his critics recently, both for his T20I performances and his consistent failure to convert Test fifties into hundreds. Batting averages of 52.28 and 51.61 in Test and ODI cricket help scoff any suggestions that Root is anything other than a top player. An average of 35.77 at a strike-rate of 128.59 in T20Is are also pretty impressive figures with which to get dropped. He’s got some wickets in him too. Yesterday’s ton was his thirteenth in ODIs which is a new record for an England batsman. Root surpassed Marcus Trescothick who was an essential asset of England’s side in the early part of this century.

Having seen Root go onto make a ton and captain Eoin Morgan get near, James Vince will rue a missed opportunity. As in the first Ashes Test in Brisbane, Vince was run out, this time having laid the foundations for a strong knock. With both Jason Roy and Alex Hales injured, Vince gained an unlikely but merited opportunity. A score of 27 won’t be enough to put the cat amongst the selection pigeons however.

In further Yorkshire news and once again revisiting subjects that I’ve mentioned previously, Yorkshire take on Lancashire in the County Championship soon. It’s a heck of a match for Josh Poysden to be thrown into on a one-match loan deal. Whether or not a one-match loan should even be allowed, I’m not sure. With Adil Rashid excluding himself from the red-ball game and Azeem Rafiq and Karl Carver clearly not filling Yorkshire’s hierarchy with any confidence, they’ve plucked Poysden from Warwickshire’s 2nd XI to spin them to victory. The leg-spinner actually claimed a First Class career best of 5-29 in his last County Championship outing though his economy rate is exactly 4.00. At 26, Poysden really needs to crack on. I mentioned how Yorkshire would be in the market for a spinner and a good show from the twenty-six-year-old could seen him snapped up full-time, playing first division cricket and pushing for England honours.

Rory Burns missed out for England Lions versus India A but it was great to see Scott Borthwick amass 175 not out for Surrey against West Indies A. The former Durham man will need a lot more knocks like that in order to add to his solitary Test cap. Mark Stoneman’s struggles continued however. He made only one in the first innings but did at least hint at a return to form by making 44 second time around. His season to date has been the polar opposite of last year’s glutinous run-fest.

In other news, Zimbabwe were bowled out for 67 in an ODI against Pakistan in Bulawayo today!