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.

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Responses

  1. Not much to argue with there. The worrying thing with Root is the gap between his batting in wins versus in losses, as discussed in another place. He appears not to be the absolute best bet with his back to the wall.

    • He’s not a Lara or Tendulkar – but if we can find one or two players to hang in there as well, he’s a fine player who can be part of plenty of England victories.

      • Oh, I agree he’s good, and like any young player he has room to improve. He does need to be playing with better batsmen around him, though.

  2. Think the seam attack figures have to be seen in context of a Pakistan strategy to play defensive against seam and attack against the spinners.

    • 31 wickets between them given that strategy is pretty impressive.

  3. Your comment about Jonny Bairstow’s batting method in South Africa has proved to be astute ! Mind you, have you read the articles in the current “Nightwatchman” about the mechanics of Bradman’s closed face and backlift towards second slip ?


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