Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 20, 2015

Ian Bell – A Kind Of Appreciation

Now available for 1D

Now available for 1D

If they still held Christmas Day fancy dress parties for the MCC’s touring cricketers, for the first time in eleven years, Ian Bell would not be digging out his Sherminator outfit and wondering how long Shane Warne’s jibe would follow him around. Metaphorically speaking, he’s now shaking his head, his face reddening with anger under his strawberry blonde hair after dismissal not from the crease this time, but from Team England. A recall seems almost as unlikely as it did after his dozy run out at Trent Bridge in 2011, so unless MS Dhoni replaces James Whitaker as England’s Chairman of Selectors, Bell will bat as a Bear from now on.

So where does he sit amongst his contemporaries? I’ve always found that question a tricky one to answer – aside from 2013, when his feats made “Bell’s Ashes” a perfectly reasonable moniker for that strange series. So I’ve gone to the numbers and they reveal some interesting comparisons – or non-comparisons.

Over the span of Bell’s career, only four men scored more runs in Test cricket than his 7,727. That number alone represents a remarkable feat, a testament to his fitness and a rebuttal to those who claim he was flaky more often than fluent – he irrefutably churned out runs alongside those picture-book cover drives and late cuts.

Those who scored more then Bell comprise one all-time great batsman (Kumar Sangakkara), one on the way to all-time greatness (Alastair Cook) and two who might be a mere notch below that exalted plane (Michael Clarke and Kevin Pietersen). But if you had a spare case of Malbec and invited a few friends round to pick the best Test XI of the first 15 years of this century, those four names would crop up before the first glass was drained (as would the next four on the list, AB de Villiers, Younis Khan, Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting). What about Belly? Well, one might need something more potent and less legal than a very decent red before his cause would be argued.

Nevertheless, aggregate runs are but one metric to assess a batsman’s career (and, for what it’s worth, the most important in my book) – but what about his average? Here we find the kind of company one might expect Bell to be keeping in that wine-fueled discussion.

His handy, but hardly heroic 42.69, leaves him well short of the class of the field (the wide bats of Sanga, Younis, Shiv Chanderpaul and Kallis all average above 56), with Bell firmly positioned in mid-table – 39th of those with 2000 Test runs. He’s in and around likes of Jonathan Trott (44.08) and Paul Collingwood (41.28) – batsmen who were capable of excellent innings, an occasional outstanding series, but whose gifts lie in other aspects of batting (concentration and bloody-mindedness in their cases) than in the hard currency of runs.

So where can we find Bell’s peer buried, maybe obscured, somewhere in cricket’s oceanic volume of statistics?  Well I’m going for a man who did not score anywhere near Bell’s thousands of Test runs (he didn’t play enough matches, though he might have done for any other side in history), but whose average is just 2.33 runs above the Warwickshire man’s. He also scored his runs in great style, but could find ways of getting out that exasperated fans (and, in his case, selectors). And, if it’s not too pseudish a comment to make, as with Bell on a good day, when he left the crease it felt like a fresco painter’s artistry had gone to be replaced by a plasterer’s bish-bash-bosh.

Ian Bell was England’s Damien Martyn.




Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 6, 2015

Pakistan vs England Test Series – Pakistan Report Card

But everyone loves him now!

But everyone loves him now!

Mohammad Hafeez (380 runs at 63) – Got the series off to a fine start for his team with 98 in Abu Dhabi and ensured a good finish too with a second innings 151 in Shajah that ensured that England’s chance of drawing the series was remote. Would have fancied a bowl if not banned, but even that worked in Pakistan’s favour by allowing a route back into the Test team for Shoaib Malik who played one monumental innings and bowled with great wit and craft throughout. For such an experienced player, “The Professor” was always likely to be involved in a run out, the spirit of Inzy not entirely departed from the team with the star on their caps

Shan Masood (58 runs at 15) – Jimmy Anderson sorted him out, a rare failure in Pakistan’s top six.

Azhar Ali (34 runs at 17, 0 wicket for 7 runs) – Brought back in the unfamiliar role of opener to face England’s most effective new ball pairing in history, somewhat undercooked – and it showed. Likely to exact some revenge next summer in England.

Shoaib Malik (292 runs at 49, 11 wickets at 21) – Just batted and batted and batted in Abu Dhabi as he ended a five year exile from the Test XI by carrying forward his white ball form to take his team from 5-1 to 521-7 to put England under pressure that never really abated. If he didn’t get many runs later on, he bowled superbly taking wickets and choking off runs. He surprised everyone by announcing that he has played his last Test, wishing to concentrate on the World Cup 2019 (where he might, of course, be skipper).

Younis Khan (302 runs at 50) – He did not play one of those huge innings that pepper his illustrious career, but did get his customary century and chipped in with handy knocks in all three Tests. Formed a double act with his captain, the two grand old men of Pakistani cricket knowing what to do and when to do it. In at 4, he never left the crease with fewer than 100 posted which, if it doesn’t guarantee a victory, makes it hard for the opposition to forge a win.

Misbah-ul-Haq (352 runs at 59) – As captain was rarely perturbed and never lost his control of the match even when England had a sniff in the gathering gloom on Day Five in Abu Dhabi. That same cold blood allowed him to stick calmly to a policy of blocking the seamers and bamming the spinners, helping him to one of the highest sixes per Test ratios in history – something few would have predicted five years ago. Winning the toss three times was a bonus too. Given what has happened to Pakistan cricket over the last seven years or so, his steering of his country to second place in the ICC rankings is little short of miraculous. And he’s older than Mohammad Yousuf!

Asad Shafiq (326 runs at 59, 0 wicket for 19 runs) – Compact and classy, he seldom catches the eye, but he keeps churning out the runs from Number 6, a more important slot in this team, with its two 10s and two 11s as a tail, than in other Test batting line-ups. Just doesn’t seem to miss out very often with the bat – via the simple expedient of not missing many balls with the bat.

Sarfraz Ahmed (139 runs at 28, 9 catches and 4 stumpings) – Not at his explosive best with bat in hand, his uncharacteristically subdued 27 in the second innings at Abu Dhabi occupied 49 minutes, time that proved vital when the four men below him faced 14 balls between them and England fell just 25 runs (or probably ten minutes) short of going 1-0 up. Looks a manufactured keeper behind the wickets, but serviceable by today’s standards.

Wahab Riaz (30 runs at 8, 8 wickets at 43) – Is that all he did? The numbers don’t tell the full story as his hostility, magnificently maintained, was the catalyst that turned the series Pakistan’s way after England were blown away, losing 7-36 on that horrid third morning in Dubai. The strong lefty loomed as large as Mitchell Johnson in that long spell and, if he didn’t reach those heights again, he had Yasir Shah to do the job for the bowling unit.

Yasir Shah (27 runs at 9, 15 wickets at 22) – A matchwinner. The squat leg-spinner drives through the crease with great energy imparting sufficient revs on the ball to get the in drift before it grips and jumps away from the right-hander’s bat. He possesses a decent googly too and, if not quite in the Shane Warne class, he’s as good as Stuart MacGill with the potential to fill the considerable boots of Abdul Qadir in Pakistan cricket. Like that old magician, he wears his heart on his sleeve – watch the bars empty when he has a ball in his hand come July and August in England.

Zulfiqur Babar (10 runs at 3, 9 wickets at 45)- Another who bowled batter than his figures suggest, looping the ball in from wide round the wicket before turning it for bowled and LBW chances. At 36, he’s yet another player who had to wait his turn behind more celebrated names, but he has the talent and the temperament for Test cricket and might play five years yet.

Rahat Ali (4 runs at 2, 4 wickets at 39) – Bustled in and was never less than a handful with his left-armers that slid mainly away from the bat with the occasional one twisting back in. Not as good as Trent Boult, but a competent performer, who knocked over Joe Root and James Taylor just when England were sensing a big first innings lead in Sharjah.

Imran Khan (o runs at 0, 6 at 25) – Plenty of smarts from the bowler with the famous name, as he wobbled the ball a bit this way and a bit that way to pick up wickets regularly. He might enjoy himself in English conditions in 2016

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 5, 2015

Pakistan vs England Test Series – England Report Card

Another weak middle problem

Another weak middle problem

Alastair Cook (450 runs at 90) – The choirboy stood on the burning deck while all around him, his shipmates were swept aside on wave after wave of flight, bite and spiteful spin. For all the records broken and professed admiration for that preternatural concentration and sweat free brow, the captain’s efforts are thrown into sharpest relief when compared to those of his his colleagues. In Abu Dhabi, he was the seventh man out, in Dubai, the third and second and in Sharjah, the second and ninth. Had just one or two teammates stuck with him for a session or so, 2-0 could have been 1-1 or even 1-2. Most unusually for an England captain, he copped some criticism for showing too much faith in his spinners, but he captained his seamers well, setting appropriate fields when the pitches lost pace and carry and refraining from bowling them into the ground in a compressed three Test series. For all the plaudits that rightly have gone Misbah’s way, had Yasir Shah been available to Cook, surely he would have won the series – but that’s what great bowlers do for captains.

Moeen Ali (84 runs at 14, 9 wkts at 49) – It seemed, at least to some, a good idea at the time, but Moeen failed as an opener – where he batted like a Number 8 – and as a frontline spinner – where he bowled like a partnership breaker. He has bags of talent, but 19 Tests into his career, definitive answers to the questions, “Is he one of the best six batsmen?” and “Is he one of the best four bowlers?” seem to be coming down on the negative side. So the question becomes, “Can he do a job as the spinner supporting four seamers – ie is he our Ashley Giles?” Not going at 4 runs per over (admittedly against some very fine players of spin who were out to get him), he can’t. So, come next summer, is he back to Number 8 sharing the fourth bowling slot with Ben Stokes? And, with Stokes possibly out of the reckoning for South Africa, does he go up to Number 6 and allow David Willey to add seam variety at Number 8? Cruelly, and I hate to write this, it may be that Moeen’s best position in the Test team is Number 12.

Ian Bell (158 runs at 32) – Didn’t bat well and didn’t catch well either, a decade long career felt like it was coming to its end. The selectors have been loyal in the past – not least to Bell himself – but with James Taylor impressing as a mini-Joe Root, all busy pushes for one and striking of the bad ball to the boundary, Bell’s time may be up. One simply gets the feeling that Steyn, Morkel and Philander will be squabbling over the ball to have a go at him in South Africa, whether he’s on 4 or 44, and that’s not what your Number 3 should inspire in opposition bowlers.

Joe Root (287 runs at 58, 0 wicket for 39) – Got in and got on with it the way he does in the first two Tests before failing twice in Sharjah. He swapped places with Steve Smith at the top of the world Test batting rankings and it’s easy to see why when he has a tight defensive technique to all but the left-armer angling it across him towards the slips and plenty of attacking options on the front and back foot. Nearly got England over the line in Dubai’s showdown at sundown, but the feeling persists that he plays too many cameos deluxe and not enough match / series defining innings to be in the rarefied atmosphere of the very best in the world. South Africa will give him chances to do so and one feels that he’ll have to take them if England are to get anything out of the best attack in Test cricket.

Jonny Bairstow (134 at 22, 7 catches) – Did he really score all those runs in county cricket with that bottom-hand, closed-face technique that seems inevitable once he takes up his baseball stance? Actually, that might work in the home of Graeme Smith, but it didn’t with the ball spinning away from him as his three dismissals to Yasir Shah and two to Zulfiqar Babar attest. Looked better than Jos Buttler behind the stumps, but well short of the standards set by glovemen in the days before Gilchrist.

James Taylor (78 runs at 39) – Like Joe Root, a batsman who looks to be busy at the crease using his feet to make the length of a ball his decision and not the bowler’s and scampering quick singles to rotate the strike. Looks at home in white and red ball cricket for England and surely needs to be given a decent run to see if he can emulate his vice-captain, a man less than 12 months his junior.

Ben Stokes (88 runs at 15, 5 wickets at 40) – Played one good innings before eventually bravely going to the crease twice in Sharjah with a bad shoulder. If he is to bat in the top six for the next eight years, he needs to mix up his batting tempo – too much is either “stand and deliver” thrilling attack or ultra circumspect defence that allows bowlers to get into a rhythm against him. Delivered the occasional spell of impressive reverse swing and often bent his back to touch 90mph, but needs a few more bells and whistles to trouble top class batsmen on flat tracks. Might he benefit from talking to fellow Northerner, Matthew Hoggard, who could deliver cutters at will and cause plenty of problems at a speed that Ben Stokes could probably propel the ball even with a wonky shoulder?

Jos Buttler (34 runs at 9, 5 catches) – His technique has pretty much disintegrated – it does happen to young batsmen – so he needs to get his feet moving and his head over the ball and let that whipcrack sound of bat and ball return (and it surely will). The keeping is a secondary issue, but that needed work too, unsurprisingly with everything feeling foreign as even muscle memory faded away. Whether he can get it back in white ball cricket – he may not get the chance of course – he needs to show that he bat for two sessions against a red ball before being considered again for the Test team. Even Bradman was once dropped though, so he’ll be back.

Samit Patel (42 runs at 21 , 3 wickets at 55) – Looked good against spin once he got in, watching the ball and playing it late in an innings that justified his “horses for courses” selection. Probably as surprised as anyone to find himself bowling on the first morning of a Test three years on from his last appearance, but he gave his captain a bit of control, turning the ball away from the right-handers until tiring a little late in a 23 overs day. Looked a handy sixth bowling option, but made some of us miss Monty even more than we already do. Good to see him smiling so much, determined to enjoy what might be a rare outing in Test cricket.

Adil Rashid (103 runs at 21, 8 wickets at 70) – Burst into life to land a few and dismiss a few as Pakistan collapsed in Abu Dhabi to set up England’s forlorn dash to a target tantalisingly just out of reach. He enjoyed lots of help from the pitches, but little from the opposition, as the old heads of Pakistan clambered into his loose stuff (of which there was plenty) and defended the good stuff. It would be lovely to see a future for Rashid in the Test XI, but he’s bowled over 4000 overs in first class cricket (almost twice as many as Moeen) going at nearer 4 than 3, so are the long hops and full tosses simply part of the deal? If so, these might be the only three Tests he plays, which would be such a shame. Showed plenty of technique and heart with the bat, but one couldn’t help thinking of Michael Atherton’s somewhat damning judgement of an earlier England leg-spinner, Chris Schofield – “He’s a better batsman than bowler”.

Stuart Broad (95 runs at 48, 7 wickets at 27) – The figures belie a display full of invention, control and aggression that had Pakistan’s batsmen happy to play out dot balls and wait to feast on spin after the famine of seam. Bowled conventional swing, cross-seam, cutters and reverse swing to an immaculate line and a length that never allowed the batsmen the easy option of pulling or cutting with impunity. He looked like a bowler with over 300 Test wickets – not a bad progression from his “enforcer” days when he often looked like a bowler with none. Biffed effectively down the order and showed that he has plenty to offer with the bat when the ball isn’t rearing towards his grille.

Mark Wood (34 runs at 11, 6 wickets at 28) – Hit a line and length and stuck to it, skidding the ball with a bit off the seam and in the air and, crucially, not trying to bowl too fast and leaking runs as a result. For all of his light-hearted eccentricity, he clearly thinks hard about his bowling and can deliver to a plan. Probably fair to expect him to rotate in and out of the side with back-to-back Tests challenging many fast bowlers around the world – too many some might say.

James Anderson (7 runs at 7, 13 wickets at 16) – Pretty much a parallel bowling performance to his captain’s batting heroics, the attack leader drew on all his fitness, skills and experience to produce spell after spell of crafty, hostile swing and seam bowling that matched the displays of any of his predecessors up to and including SF Barnes (who took his Test wickets at 16 too). For Cook’s lack of middle order support, read Jimmy’s lack of spin support – but that just goes to show how hard it is to win Tests against a well-led, motivated and skillful outfit playing in familiar conditions. Where once there was Good Jimmy and Bad Jimmy, now there’s Good Jimmy and World Class Jimmy.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 27, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 27 September 2015

"Surrey promoted eh?"

“Surrey promoted eh?”

Ball One – Yorkshire’s bowlers deliver again

Congratulations to Yorkshire, whose 11th victory of the season (plus four draws and just the one defeat) brought them all kinds of records in the County Championship’s two divisions era. For a while, it didn’t look like the season was going to end in the way that it had proceeded for so many weeks, but, as has been so often the case, Andrew Gale’s bowlers got in amongst the batsmen and shared the wickets between them to run out easy winners in the end. Yorkshire finished the campaign with their four seamers taking 40 wickets or more, with Ryan Sidebottom’s 41 at 18 and Jack Brooks’s 65 at 23 leading the way. Their frontline spinner (a combined Adil Rashid and James Middlebrook) also took 46 wickets at 27. That’s the firepower a captain needs to force wins and that’s exactly what Yorkshire did to retain the pennant so emphatically.

Ball Tw0 – Hampshire survive with a remarkable late season run of form, as Sussex go down

Yorkshire’s win was merely the icing on their 2015 cake, the title long since secured, but it proved disastrous for their opponents Sussex, who, to most observers’ surprise (including mine), fell through the trapdoor to Division Two after winning just one of their last 11 fixtures. It was a shocking set of results that saw them go from being six points off the champions after five matches to finishing 125 points off them after 16. But perhaps the real story was Hampshire’s Lazarus-like revival. Fidel Edwards’ ten wickets brought them a victory over in-form Nottinghamshire to round off their season with three wins in the last five matches, showing the ticker that goes a long way in cricket. They’ll need to strengthen their batting (just five centuries all season) and find more bowling as Edwards and Gareth Berg (both in their mid-30s) will not be able to carry the same burden next season if they are to avoid another flirtation with the drop. Expect plenty of ins and outs in the close season at the Ageas Bowl.

Ball Three – Surrey hold off Lancashire to win the Division Two crown

In Division Two, draws at The Oval and Chelmsford were enough to hand the title to Surrey with Lancashire settling for the second promotion slot, more than 50 points ahead of Essex in third. Both clubs have called upon international batsmen to steer their way to the top flight, with Ashwell Prince and Alviro Petersen anchoring the Lancashire effort and Kumar Sangakkara and Steven Davies doing a similar job for Surrey. In a year in which the lack of spin options for England has caused much debate, it’s worth noting that each club used spin extensively, Gareth Batty and Zafar Ansari taking 84 wickets between them for Surrey and Simon Kerrigan and  Arron Lilley snaring 67 victims for Lancashire. It’s a different game up in Division One of course, but Ansari and Lilley (two three dimensional cricketers at home in red and white ball formats) will both fancy their chances of continuing their progress in 2016 and, if they do, international recognition will surely follow.

Ball Four – The Final Over’s Young Player of the Season

For all the flash, bang, wallop of the white ball game that puts rather more than half a sixpence in its stars’ pockets, the hardest currency in cricket is still wickets, the key to success in all formats. This column’s Young Player of the Season presented his captain with 105 of them over the season, playing 37 matches, delivering 671 overs to do so. At 20, those numbers, and their importance in lifting Surrey to the top of Division Two, has seen Tom Curran added to England’s Performance Programme where his work will be monitored closely. Like his supremely gifted younger brother, Sam, we will learn more about this nippy seamer who can bat a bit next year, but he will play top flight cricket knowing that he has risen to every challenge put before him so far in his fledgling career.

Ball Five – The Final Over’s Player of the Season

This column, rather like the players I trust, has prioritised the County Championship over white ball cricket and its choice of Player of the Year reflects that emphasis. The honourable mentions include those whose international days are firmly behind them: Chris Read, Luke Wright, and Ryan Sidebottom; those possibly a notch short of international class: Chris Rushworth, James Hildreth and Jack Brooks; and those who still harbour realistic hopes of England recognition: James Taylor, Ben Brown and James Harris. But the award goes to Tim Bresnan, a man who is still only 30 and has series wins over Australia and India, home and away, on his Test record, but who started the season knowing that a recall to his country’s colours was a very long way off. Far from sulking, he got his head down and did what he has done since the age of 16: found ways to contribute to Yorkshire’s cause. With the ball, that brought 45 wickets at a commendable average of 31; with the bat, a superb return of 849 runs at 50; and he also pouched 13 catches as one of only two men who played all 16 matches for the champions. He also contributed to the partnership of the season, joining Jonny Bairstow with the score 191-6, as table-topping Durham scented that their bold insertion would lead to them batting late on the first day. 366 runs later, Andrew Gale declared with Bairstow 219 not out and Bresnan on a career best 169 not out. The subsequent win saw Yorkshire replace Durham as leaders as June turned into July – they never looked back.

Ball Six – A salute to the grand old game

Rather like the stories of PG Wodehouse (whose greatest creation was named after a cricketer), the County Championship, with its rural rhythms and roots in a pre-industrial England all but swept aside by Victorian enterprise, was out of date before it was invented, but, also like Wodehouse, its enthusiasts love it with a passion, albeit often somewhat furtively. We believe that the domestic first class game, like Jeeves, Lord Emsworth and Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps, is an end in itself, an oh so welcome oasis of calm in an ever more turbulent, ever more hurried world. If it doesn’t guarantee an endless conveyor belt of hardened Test players to deliver the national team series win after series win – well, which country’s domestic programme does? And if it’s increasingly ignored by the written press and broadcasters (with the honourable exceptions of the BBC’s internet radio, ESPN Cricinfo and The Guardian’s County Cricket Live Blog), does it matter? We will still find out what’s happening, still track partnerships like the epic Bairstow-Bresnan one above as the records tumble and still dig out the woolly hat, the gloves and the thermos next April. No fan wants to read an abridged Blandings Castle story and no fan wants an abridged 14 match County Championship – let’s hope all play all home and away in 2016.

Thanks to this column’s readers over this season, especially those who have taken the time to comment with a grace and generosity that shines in an increasingly coarse public sphere. I’ll take guard again to bat out the Final Over of the Week again come Spring 2016. ‘Til then – Pip! Pip!



Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 20, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 19 September 2015

How about 304 Galey?

How about 304 Galey?

Ball One – James Vince and Andrew Gale beat the weather to conjure a result

When there were 30 odd three day matches in the season, captains’ contrivances (and declaration bowling) got a bad press – a case of familiarity breeding contempt. I’ve always rather liked the manufactured “equation” though, because such deals breathe life back into matches strangled by English weather. With teams desperate to avoid the drop and Autumnal weather unreliable, the nod and the wink followed by the closed door, the haggling and the handshake is not just an attractive option – it may be the only one. So well done James Vince and Andrew Gale who, after two declarations and an innings forfeit, set up a fourth day battle for 304 runs or ten wickets. It’s the kind of thing that causes grumbling elsewhere, but surely the objective of playing a match is to win it and one’s efforts should be focused on that objective alone? The Champions needed someone to bat well and, as usual this season, someone did – the skipper’s 125 all but seeing them all the way home. Hampshire’s defeat does not quite despatch them through the trap door with one match still to play, but they need snookers now.

Ball Two – Worcestershire sink into Division Two.

Worcestershire were also in double declaration mood for the same reason, but ran into a Durham side grateful to halt a dreadful run of form with a win over the now relegated Midlanders. With Day Two lost entirely, Daryl Mitchell’s men were always behind the eight ball, but their chances avoiding the drop were very thin, as they’ve been outgunned all season with both bat and ball. As the gulf between the two divisions grows, Worcestershire may well find themselves too good for Division Two but not up to a full season in Division One. However, as Lancashire fans know, yoyo-ing like that can lead to plenty of crucial matches and some exciting cricket.

Ball Three – Marcus Trescothick and Michael Yardy please the romantics

Emotional scenes at Hove as Michael Yardy made a century on his last appearance at his home ground and Marcus Trescothick turned back the clock with a double ton, closing the season in the kind of form that harks back to his glory days. Both men played for England, their international careers truncated (at least partially) due to health issues, but both men continued to give their all on the much maligned domestic stage. Both were suited to the white ball game, but both had a touch of the old-fashioned county pro about them too: Trescothick standing tall and hitting it or leaving it and Yardy bowling his flat left-arm non-spinners to hold up an end and chipping in with 70s and 80s just when his captain needed one.

Ball Four – Will Nick Browne may be England’s next left-handed opener from Essex?

Essex were the only team to beat the weather and force a result in Division Two largely thanks to an impressive 151* from Nick Browne. He has been mentioned in despatches by plenty of judges this season, but, at 24, how long can he wait before playing Division One cricket? While a case can be made for aspirant England bowlers showcasing their skills in Division Two (after all, 90mph is 90mph no matter who is batting at the other end and spinners who rip it not roll it always stand out), can the same be said for batsmen? With England’s Number 2 spot still a cause for concern three years after Andrew Strauss’s retirement, a young opener must look to build his case as persuasively as he can.

Ball Five – Jones the Bat (not the Gloves) bids farewell with a fine knock

Geraint Jones’ last innings in senior cricket was an important 50 as Gloucestershire’s batting collapsed around him. With captain Michael Klinger and the other senior pro, Hamish Marshall, mustering just 18 between them, Jones had to dig in with a view to batting through from the 23rd over to the 50th, an objective he fell just two overs short of achieving. He had done his job, but his team mates were off the pace against a fired-up Surrey attack led by resurgent hat-trick hero, Jade Dernbach, and the wily Azhar Mahmood. In conditions as favourable as one could imagine for batting in mid-September, Gloucestershire’s 220 looked at least 40 runs below par.

Ball Six – Surrey pay the price of impatience

But things did not turn out like that because, wait for it, cricket is a funny old game. 221 in 50 overs on a blameless pitch in glorious early Autumn sunshine, with the experience of Kumar Sangakkara and Azhar Mahmood in the line-up should have been, if not exactly a stroll, then certainly a comfortable chase, with little reason to force the pace. Nothing can be taken for granted these days because batsmen seem to have lost the art of patient batting, with relentless attack (fuelled by unorthodox strokes) the only strategy in town. When the great Sri Lankan and the steady Rory Burns surrendered their wickets in the 35th and 37th overs, sensible batting was still all that was required to score 73 runs in 13.4 overs. Cue a fatal run of five soft dismissals: Gary Wilson clipped a full toss to short midwicket, Mahmood was stumped halfway down the track, Tom Curran out having missed a reverse sweep off his fourth ball, James Burke run out without a dive for home and Sam Curran, having played well, caught at long on. Maybe orthodox strokes that kept the ball on the carpet would have been enough – but who wants to play like that any more?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 13, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 13 September 2015

Rob Key and Darren Stevens celebrate Kent's win

Rob Key and Darren Stevens celebrate Kent’s win

Ball One – In 2015, Andrew Gale’s team blew its rivals away

Yorkshire finally squared the mathematics with the evidence of our eyes and were hailed County Champions for the second successive year at Lord’s long before their match was completed and the trophy handed to their captain, Andrew Gale. It was a poignant moment for him, having been under suspension and therefore somewhat pettily banned by the ECB from last year’s presentation. Coach Jason Gillespie has assembled a mix of grizzled pros and fine young players, who bat deep with a good balance of attack and defence and then get to work with seam, swing and spin sufficient to take 20 wickets in most conditions. Despite a number of England calls, the squad is deep enough to rest players when necessary and, as results in one day cricket have shown, it’s the County Championship that matters most to the White Rose. Yorkshire are worthy champions in a season that has lacked the drama (at least at the top of the table) that we have grown used to in recent years.

Ball Two – Nick Compton and Toby Roland-Jones deliver rare defeat to Champions

When the fate of the Championship was still (technically) in the balance, Yorkshire made the most of tricky early conditions at Lord’s shooting out Middlesex for 106 and building a big first innings lead. With intensity levels inevitably dropping just a little, Yorkshire then let Middlesex back into the game conceding a huge second innings in an eerie echo of their last Championship defeat, Middlesex’s Chris Rogers inspired huge chase in 2014. Though Toby Roland-Jones, one of this column’s favourite cricketers, caught the eye, biffing a ton from Number 10 and then taking a fivefer to close out Middlesex’s win, Nick Compton’s knock was the gamechanger, taking his side from 106 behind to 187 ahead. Compton has 1100 runs in Division One and knows how to make Test match centuries – England could do a lot worse when options for the likely spare opener’s slot are discussed.

Ball Three – Nottinghamshire and Durham enjoy contrasting fortunes

Another of England’s forgotten men, Samit Patel, made a century as Nottinghamshire continued their fine form, but it was Brett Hutton’s ten wickets that condemned Durham to yet another defeat as their season falls off a cliff. Hutton (who, as you would expect with a surname like that, was born in Yorkshire) is a “bats a bit, bowls a bit” all-rounder of the type usually more suited to white ball cricket, but he seized his chance well as Nottinghamshire notched their fourth win in a row. For Durham, having started the season brightly, it was their fourth loss in consecutive matches.

Ball Four – Hampshire battle with the bat and gain a vital draw

In the relegation 48 pointer (well, sort of) at Taunton, the draw did not really help either side, edging Somerset 11 points ahead of Hampshire with two matches still to play. Hampshire, having been behind in the match after yet another collapse took them from 146-2 to 176-6, then had to endure Somerset’s top three each score centuries as the home side piled up 630-9d. Faced with over five sessions to bat out the draw (and deny their opponents 11 vital points while registering five themselves) it would have been easy for James Vince’s men to fold again, but Hampshire dug in and made 411-4 in 159 overs, with no batsmen scoring at more than 50 runs per 100 balls. The art of batting time is not dead after all – and it still brings rewards.

Ball Five – Essex impress at Derby

At the end of a long season, and with little for Division Two teams to play for with promotion slots decided and no relegation, there’s always a danger that the wheels might come off somewhere – and that’s what happened at Derby. With Paul Grayson gone, Essex’s perennial under-achievers have the incentive of impressing whoever will take his job, and they did so sweeping aside Derbyshire by an innings and 188 runs. There will be change at both counties in the close season, indeed, perhaps only Yorkshire and Surrey will not be looking to set things up too differently come 2016.

Ball Six – Kent clout Glamorgan

It was a similar story at Cardiff where Glamorgan were hammered by Kent, losing by 316 runs having been set a ridiculous 554 to win. It might not be good for the prospects of the England team, but Kent’s success was largely thanks to a couple of grand old stagers, 36 year old Rob Key who made 94 and 158 and 39 year old Darren Stevens who made 64 and delivered match figures of 32-5-101-7. I hope the younger players watched how two of county cricket’s grand old men went about their work and learned from them. And I hope the much maligned fan of county cricket enjoyed watching them too.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 5, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 5 September 2015

To be continued (in 2016)

To be continued (in 2016)

Ball One – Yorkshire cruising towards a second successive title

Yorkshire’s rush for the finishing line continued with their ninth win of the season, sweeping aside relegation threatened Somerset in little more than two days playing time. The seamers did the damage with the ball, Jack Brooks (what a signing he has been) leading the way with match figures of 25-5-84-7, to give him 55 wickets this season at 20. With the bat, it was gratifying to see three England rejects getting on with life at domestic level. Adam Lyth put his disappointing summer behind him with a painstaking 62 before handing over to Gary Ballance and Jonny Bairstow who each delivered patient 91s to set up a big lead. A successful defence of the pennant is not quite confirmed – but it’s only a matter of time.

Ball Two – Jeetan Patel likes English conditions

Rain spoiled a tight match at Edgbaston, with too much time lost on days one and two for a result to be forced. With Jeetan Patel three parts of the way towards a second fivefer of the match, there was no guarantee that Middlesex would have been able to win and apply pressure on the runaway leaders in any case. Patel is been a superb acquisition for Warwickshire, his off breaks peculiarly suited to English pitches. Since 2011, the Kiwi has taken 218 first class wickets in the County Championship at an impressive average of 26, comparing very favourably with his career average which is a whole ten runs higher. He is 35 now, but plays all formats of the game for the Bears, who will hope to get at least three more seasons from him. English batsmen may disagree.

Ball Three – Hampshire’s survival hopes rest on Fidel Edwards and Ryan McLaren

Hampshire lifted themselves off the bottom, if not quite out of the relegation zone, with a vital win over fading Durham. Hampshire’s batting is still very fragile, but the acquisition of Ryan McLaren and the return to first class cricket of Fidel Edwards augurs well, the overseas pacers sharing 14 wickets in the match, their hostility enough to deliver 21 points. Edwards seems to have been around forever and, having made his Test debut in 2003, in cricketing terms he has, but his slingy action still gets the ball to the other end as swiftly as anyone in county cricket. On his day, he’s a handful, but those days don’t come round so often any more, so Hampshire will be hoping for half a dozen in the three matches left in their hitherto miserable season.

Ball Four – Wright is Mr Right for Sussex, and might be for England too

Sussex, without a win since May, were sleepwalking towards Division Two, before waking up to hammer fellow strugglers, Worcestershire, by an innings. Another ex-England man caught the eye, Luke Wright’s 226* occupying 91 overs and including 28 fours and seven sixes muscled to the boundary from that low-handed grip. Wright has over 100 England appearances in white ball cricket, the last of which was 18 months ago, but he’s still only 30 and has plenty of experience around the world in T20 franchise cricket. Don’t be surprised if, two years on from his last cap, he answers the selectors’ call after a finger or two get jammed on bats in World T20 warm-up matches.

Ball Five – James Burke is one for the future

In Division Two, Surrey were the first to secure promotion (with two games in hand) after demolishing a Derbyshire side who have fallen a long way in the last couple of seasons. Though the old warhorse, skipper Gareth Batty, wrote the headlines with his match terminating hat-trick, the other four bowlers in the Surrey attack were all under 25, something of a changing of the guard from the days of England men, Meaker, Dernbach and Tremlett. Much has been said about the sensational breakthrough season of the Curran brothers and of Zafar Ansari’s progress with both bat and ball, but it’s worth mentioning James Burke too. In his seven appearances, the all-rounder has chipped in with 16 wickets at 22, the best average of any of Surrey’s young guns. Of course, this is Division Two cricket, but these four young men have earned the right to play in Division One next season, when we will find out exactly how good they can be.

Ball Six – Lancashire limp to Division One

A day after Surrey confirmed that they will play in Division One next season, Lancashire joined them after struggling to a draw with Kent, perhaps a reaction to their T20 success of the previous weekend. With rain taking time out of the match, Kent batted on to declare at 570-8, then enforcied the follow-on with more than a day still to play. But it’s hard work going straight back out after delivering 88 overs to get ten wickets and Kent’s five man attack ran out of steam a little on the last afternoon, Steven Croft and Alex Davies blocking out the last three hours before hands were shaken. If the circumstances of promotion were underwhelming, none of that will be remembered when the Red Rose takes on the White in the top flight next season – home and away, if you please.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 30, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 30 August 2015

As hideous as the banks' buildings it resembles

As hideous as the bankers’ buildings it resembles

Ball One – More success for Moores

In a rain affected round of matches in the County Championship, the only positive result came at Trent Bridge, where Nottinghamshire continued their remarkable run of form with a crushing win over Warwickshire. Though the return of captain, leader, legend Chris Read has much to do with the surge that has lifted Notts from the relegation zone to within 16 points of second place, the role of Peter Moores cannot be overstated. He may have failed twice with England, but Moores knows exactly what’s required at domestic level, and he’s weaving his magic again.

Ball Two – Samit feasts on Durham’s middle order

In a busy week for the game, four Royal London One Day Cup quarter-finals were played over three days, with Nottinghamshire maintaining their fine form to bowl out Durham in the gloom at Trent Bridge. Star of the show was England’s forgotten man, Samit Patel, whose canny slow left arm, backed up by scoreboard pressure, destroyed Durham just as they were looking to accelerate. Though only 30, Samit’s international days are probably behind him, but few counties wouldn’t want his nous with bat or ball to call upon in a tight corner. James Taylor’s men travel to The Oval for a semi-final against Surrey.

Ball Three – A last hurrah for a hero of 2005?

Gloucestershire will face Yorkshire in the other semi-final, after chasing down Hampshire’s 217 (34 overs) at Bristol. Though Jack Taylor’s quickfire 34 caught the eye as his team raced for the line, wise old Geraint Jones,  a decade on from those Ashes partnerships with Andrew Flintoff, was at the other end, steering the ship home with 39 not out at just better than a run a ball. Of England’s 12 MBEs, he may have enjoyed the lowest profile of all since 2005, but he’s just one match from a showpiece Lord’s final, an international cricketer happy to graft away below the radar in county cricket these last nine seasons.

Ball Four – Lancashire’s spin twins could do a job for England

Stephen Parry’s slow (sometimes very slow) bowling has already brought him five England caps in white ball cricket and he is well known around the country as one of the canniest operators in the middle overs of a one day match. His left arm spin has been complemented in the last couple of seasons by the off breaks of Arron Lilley, who goes at just over 5 in List A matches and just under 7 in T2os, figures that stand comparison with anyone in the country. The classic left-right combination were at it again on T20 Finals Day, strangling Hampshire in the semi-final with combined figures of 8-0-32-5 and repeating the trick in the final, restricting Northamptonshire with figures of 7-0-43-1. Both field like demons and are no mugs with the bat, which always helps these days. With England scheduled to play a lot of white ball cricket in the next nine months and Moeen Ali’s workload needing to be managed, the spin cupboard may not be as bare as a media (which largely ignores the domestic game) would have us believe.

Ball Five – Fairytales do come true

He may never play in front of so large a crowd again, but 21 year old seamer, Gavin Griffiths, a product Lancashire’s development programme, was thrust into the afternoon T20 Blast semi-final for a debut of fire and played his second match in the evening, with his team in sight of its first one day honours since the 90s. He was even entrusted to bowl the 20th over with the (hideous) trophy not quite secured and surely a heart beating out of his chest. Five minutes later, after a perfectly executed series of six deliveries, he was engulfed by jubilant teammates, the young man doubtless unable to believe it all. That kind of fairytale wouldn’t happen in an eight franchise city based tournament, but it happened on Saturday, so let’s enjoy it while we can.

Ball Six – T20 Finals Day is good, but it could be better

Three ways to improve T20 Finals Day. (i) Schedule it in the Premier League football “blank” weekend, when domestic cricket can be the biggest sports story of the day – next Sunday for instance. (ii) Show it free-to-air – it might even act as a loss leader that sells subscriptions for the late season ODIs, particularly for Sky’s on-demand service, Now TV. (iii) Bring whatever technology is required to ensure that the pitch has pace and bounce and is, as far as possible, a 180 par surface.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 24, 2015

The 99.94 Ashes Report Cards – Australia

Hopefully he won't need to don the traditional outfit of the Australian captain who lost the Ashes when he returns to Sydney

Hopefully he won’t need to don the traditional outfit of the Australian captain who lost the Ashes when he returns to Sydney

David Warner (418 runs at 46, o wkt, 3 cts) – The next vice-captain, a recent father and a much changed man from the firebrand of 2013. This new Warner retains the positive outlook, but knows that not every ball deserves to have the cover smashed off it and sometimes you have to earn the right to bat. Still has a problem with scoring big in the first innings – when every run always matters – and can be cramped for room by the short one under the armpit, but has an otherwise sound game and can look forward to scoring plenty of runs in Ashes series to come. Remains magnificently aggressive in the field but with little of his old tedious sledging evident.

Chris Rogers (480 runs at 60, 1 ct) – Had a bit of trouble against the moving ball – which opener doesn’t – but can call upon all that experience to play through difficult periods and then cash-in with his risk-free punches and prods. It seems somehow unfair for age to catch up with him when he’s in such good form and his country need him so much – especially after spending so much time in the wings (like Stuart Law and many others) when a side of great players pretty much picked themselves. In a parallel universe, he and Alastair Cook are compatriots racking up century opening stands for fun and there are plenty of seats available to watch them!

Steven Smith (508 runs at 56, 1 wkt at 16, 1 ct) – Admitted that his highly individual technique of walking across the stumps to take balls from outside off to midwicket had become a little too extreme by mid-series and that he used the break between the Fourth and Fifth Test to make some adjustments. Australia need their incoming captain to maintain his remarkable output, protecting a middle order in transition. His self-awareness, concentration and big match temperament suggest that Smith has every chance of doing so.

Michael Clarke (138 runs at 17, 4cts) – Everyone knows what a wonderful thing hindsight is, but this was obviously a series too far for a man desperate to avenge 2005, 2009 and 2013. As a batsman, his bad back limited his movement and as a captain, his selectors limited his options. Never threw in the towel and rallied his defeated troops for a fine consolation win at The Oval, but he must be wondering what an attack that read Harris / Starc, Johnson, Siddle, Lyon, M Marsh would have done – especially if his own toes could twinkle as they once did at Number Four. His book (presumably as media savvy a man as Clarke will write one) might have some interesting things to say about this tour.

Adam Voges (201 runs at 29, 7 cts) – Before the series began, Voges looked like a solid Sheffield Shield / County Championship cricketer who had put together a fine set of scores and seized his chance against the weakest West Indies attack in living memory. And so it proved, until too little too late when the jig was pretty much up. With Rogers and Clarke both going, Voges’ experience may get him a few more Tests but the feeling persists that it’s time for Australia to move on and give some emerging batsmen the chance to prove themselves.

Shane Watson 49 runs at 25, 0 wkt, 2 cts) – Did he really play in 2015? He did, but his LBW + review pantomime had run its course and he ceded to one Marsh or the other. Already his Test career seems lost in history, but don’t rule out a return for the Project Player whose project seems to remain incomplete all these years on.

Shaun Marsh (2 runs at 1, 0 ct) – Not good enough for Test cricket. Most judges knew that.

Mitchell Marsh (48 runs at 12, 8 wkts at 19, 1 ct) – Caught the eye in the warm-up matches as a batsmen, but looked much more of a bowler in the Tests, where his close to the stumps high action and nagging line and length was perfect for English conditions. If he misses out on long career in Test cricket (possibly due to Australia’s traditional suspicion of red ball all-rounders), he would walk into any county side in England and do a very fine job.

Brad Haddin (29 runs at 15, 5 cts) – Dropped Joe Root in what proved the pivotal moment in the crucial First Test and then took leave due to family concerns. His non-recall, the selectors favouring Peter Nevill, no spring chicken but eight years younger than Haddin, appeared to sow some discord in the Australian camp just as they needed to pull together to deal with England’s somewhat unexpected skills and fight. A man who often hurt England will not do so again.

Peter Nevill (143 runs at 24, 17 cts) – Slick behind the stumps and an obdurate presence with the bat who showed the patience many of his colleagues lacked when faced with unfamiliar batting conditions. He has staked a claim to be the next Australian wicketkeeper-batsman, but he’ll have Matthew Wade snapping at his heels unless he can convert good starts into big scores.

Mitchell Johnson (141 runs at 18, 15 wkts at 35, 1 ct) – The Terror of 2013-14 was, if not quite tamed, certainly subdued by a combination of pitches giving him less assistance and his peculiar sensitivity to the English crowd’s bating of him. The bark really only turned into bite in that extraordinary over at Edgbaston when he bounced out Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes in double quick time. Other than that, Clarke’s strike bowler had to deliver 56 balls for each wicket – and that’s quite a few for a man who deals in four over spells.

Mitchell Starc (157 runs at 22, 18 wkts at 31, 4 cts) – Jaffas and four balls with not a great deal in between, he may share too much in common with Johnson for both to be accommodated in the same XI. His action can collapse a little in the delivery stride which leads to problems with his line, something that he’ll need to work on when his bouncer – yorker mix isn’t working.

Josh Hazlewood (45 runs at 15, 16 wkts at 26, 1 ct) – Arrived with a big reputation and bowled some decent spells (as his figures suggest) but found himself out of the side when the selectors finally called up Peter Siddle to do the third seamer job to which he is so suited.

Peter Siddle (1 run at 1, 6 wkts at 11, 0 ct) – Ran in hard and gave away precisely nothing in a fine display of seam bowling that proved the selectors were too quick to write him out of the series and that his old-fashioned line and length skills may be a little too subtle to be fully appreciated in this age of crash-bang Test cricket.

Nathan Lyon (47 runs at 12, 16 wkts at 26, 1 ct) – Outbowled his English counterpart by 19 runs per wicket (16-12 in total too) with his mix of sidespin and overspin from a reliable, repeatable action. The ex-groundsman will never carry the threat of Shane Warne, nor entrance the public with the blond one’s sense of drama, but he’s as good an off-spinner as there is in world cricket just now and will add many more wickets to his Australian record for that style of bowler.


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 24, 2015

The 99.94 Ashes Report Cards – England

The Ashes 2015 summed up

The Ashes 2015 summed up

Alastair Cook (330 runs at 37, 9 cts) – Mission accomplished. He led his team to Ashes success, something even he felt was beyond them when the coin went into the air at Cardiff. He also showed that England’s new attitude was no one-off experiment reciprocating Brendan McCullum’s smiling Black Caps’ approach back in May, but a real attempt to loosen up, enjoy the game and re-connect to a public who yearn not just for wins, but for heroes. His young side need to develop some of his own obstinacy when the chips are down and a tough winter lies in store to test exactly that quality, but he has men about him who know how to win Test matches and Test series. His own batting was short of its best, but, after the 18 months he’s been through, we should perhaps be grateful that he knew which umpire to ask for a guard and not quibble too much about his continuing long wait for a home Ashes century.

Adam Lyth (115 runs at 13, 6 cts) – Stayed true to the approach that got him into the Test team, looking to take the attack to the bowlers when the ball was hard and the field was up, but found that international bowlers could locate the edge of his bat more often than those a notch or two below in the county game. Like his predecessor as Cook’s opening partner in England, Sam Robson, he can expect a return to domestic cricket with the prospect of more Tests a rather distant hope. Caught well and seems a decent team man, he may well soon be captain at Yorkshire, a role that might also suit him come England A tours.

Ian Bell (215 runs at 27, 7 cts) – Played only three innings of any substance, but those half-centuries were critical in securing the crucial opening win at Cardiff and the big momentum shifter at Edgbaston, where he rose to the challenge of filling England’s tricky Number Three slot largely against pundits’ and fans’ expectations. Not much though in the other three Tests and. with his remarkable 2013 Ashes campaign now fading in the memory, England’s most enigmatic player finds a growing grumbling about his place in the team that needs to be quashed yet again. But he has five Ashes wins to his credit and his critics (except one, initials ITB) don’t.

Gary Ballance (98 runs at 25, 2 cts) – In the first innings of the First Test, he had 16 of England’s 43-3 when Joe Root took guard. He went on to make 61 as England wrested back the advantage in tricky batting conditions, the Yorkies’ partnership worth 153 runs – but much, much more psychologically. His quirky technique produced three more failures and a return to county cricket, but we have not heard the last of him as a Test match batsman.

Joe Root (460 runs at 58, 4 wkts at 34, 8 cts) – What if Brad Haddin had held on to that edge in the First Test? But he didn’t, and Root did what good players do – took advantage of an opponent’s error, getting on with it straight away to post a brilliant, fearless, tone-setting 134, giving England’s late order the chance to build a platform for the bowlers. Another hundred on that unforgettable first day at Trent Bridge almost guaranteed that The Ashes would be won – and secured his position as the officially recognised best batsman in the world, the culmination of an extraordinary run of form that rescued a career that had stalled in Australia in 2013-14. The new vice-captain, he revelled in the responsibility and the higher profile that came with it, connecting with the fans, the outward expression of a team finally comfortable in its own skin. A worthy successor to the dynasty of ultra-tough England cricketers who learned the game in Yorkshire, he’s a man whose boyish looks and ready smile fool nobody – here is the 21st century version of Boycott, Illingworth, Vaughan…

Jonny Bairstow (118 runs at 30, 0 cts) – Returned to Test cricket on the back of an avalanche of runs in the county game and a brilliant innings in England’s white ball cricket – so his confidence was high. He really only showed that form in a 74 on the first day at Trent Bridge, a good knock barely noticed in the backwash of Stuart Broad’s 8-15 and Joe Root’s century. His baseball stance, and a bat that seems too often to be coming across the ball as he aims into the legside, gives heart to any bowler at the top of his run up, as does a history of finding unusual ways to get out. Still a work in progress, but possibly a talent more suited to white ball cricket (especially as a relief wicketkeeper for Jos Buttler) than the unforgiving cauldron of the Test arena.

Ben Stokes (201 runs at 25, 11 wkts at 33, 6cts) – A man who can raise English spirits by his mere presence, he is becoming this generation’s Flintoff or Botham. Like those titans, he doesn’t have the figures of a Kallis or a Sobers – and never will – but he always threatens to seize a game and shape it to his own ends, with bat, ball or in the field. Chipped in with runs rather than finding a match dominating innings, but his six second innings wickets at Trent Bridge brought The Ashes home. And then there was that catch that provoked that reaction, the series summed up by that face.

Jos Buttler (120 runs at 17, 12cts) – Perhaps fortunate that his dismal form with the bat, born of feet that just refuse to move towards the ball, was largely ignored in the euphoria surrounding England’s unexpected glory, but he knows much more is required of him, his enormous potential still glimpsed at rather than flowering. Curiously, his footwork, especially standing up, has improved significantly when wearing the gloves, where he shows signs of following Matt Prior and Alec Stewart in making the journey from competence to excellence behind the stumps.

Moeen Ali (293 runs at 42, 12 wkts at 46, 2 cts) – He turned the ball and took his share of wickets, especially troubling the left-handers with the off-spinner’s best friend, the DRS, to back him up. But his average and economy rate demonstrate the fact that he sends down too many four balls. If that makes a captain uneasy, what a comforting presence he is at Number Eight, as classy an occupant of that slot since Shaun Pollock – though he needs to develop a better technique to deal with the short ball if he is to realise his full potential with the bat. His temperament is suited to batting with the tail in the crucial role of taking a good score into a winning one or improving a poor score into a competitive total. Nevertheless, he is in real danger of offering too much to the team to drop but not enough to select – as contrary as that sounds!

Stuart Broad (134 runs at 19, 21 wkts at 21, 1 ct) – After barely raising a gallop during the May tour to the West Indies, he came roaring back to his best when spying the Australian crest 22 yards away. Like many a tall bowler, he needs to build the rhythm to get the long levers working in harmony, but when he does, the ball neither sinks into the pitch short of a length nor floats down the track to be driven: it travels far enough to begin to swing, then kisses the surface sufficiently to seam. And that length proved to be catnip to the Australian batsmen who were mesmerised at times, pulled on to the front foot following balls they should have left and leaving balls they should have played. Often bowled superbly without reward but got full value at Trent Bridge where his 9.3-5-15-8 was one of the all-time great spells of Ashes bowling.

Mark Wood (103 runs at 26, 10 wkts at 39, 0 ct) – The Durham man retains his wonderfully uncomplicated approach to the game, getting it down there fast and straight with the ball and hitting it hard with the bat. He didn’t produce a match-turning spell, but kept running in and never made it easy for the batsmen. His infectious, eccentric personality is a real asset for fans tired of the discourse of game plans followed and skills executed and, if he can stay fit and get the ball to reverse a little in favourable conditions, we might be seeing his invisible horse galloping for a few years yet.

Steven Finn (9 runs without dismissal, 12 wkts at 23, 0 ct) – Brought back for Edgbaston and immediately did what he has so often done for England – took wickets. On his latest return, he looked much more at ease, neither searching for rhythm nor appearing to think more about his run up than his action – though he still “takes wickets” with no balls! Might never become the Ambrose or Morkel that he once promised to be, but he has over 100 Test wickets at a very good strike rate and power to add. A big tour to South Africa looms.

Jimmy Anderson (11 runs at 3, 10 wkts at 28, 3 cts) – Did what he does when there’s just a bit of lateral movement available and that was enough for Australia to play him as if he had just landed from Mars. Injury ruled him out of the last two Tests of the series, but by then England were 2-1 up and had the momentum (which really mattered), and Australia’s selectors were forced to go looking for batting options. He wasn’t missed in the extraordinary Fourth Test, but the Fifth might have been a better indicator of England’s future as the bowling unit. shorn of their leader, conceded 332 runs before taking the fourth wicket.

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