Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 12, 2018

England Test Match Report Card – Summer 2018

Impressive figures

Alastair Cook (444 runs at 37; 16 catches). Grade B-

The figures hardly tell the story. After a summer spent missing too many balls when set, tension in the body, fatigue in the mind, suddenly, gloriously, preposterously, it all melted away in the warmth of a crowd, a team, even an opposition who loved him – a glorious sunset at The Oval. That said, the plain fact is that England won the series without much from their senior pro, whose timing of his hand-eye-foot movement was so awry that I felt he was sighting the ball that millisecond later than he did in his pomp. None of that matters now, with a future on the farm, enjoying a growing family, and with a season or two on the county circuit as a symbol of a game run as many of its supporters prefer, all to come . And, if he does want to put his feet up in the village pub when he’s done with all that, he’ll never have to buy a drink for himself. Vale Chef! Thanks for the runs, the Ashes and plenty more series and, most of all, the decency.

Keaton Jennings (192 runs at 19; 0 wickets; 4 catches). Grade D-

There were times when the best place to watch him bat (or field) was from behind the sofa, his hideous form just too much to bear. The yips can affect bowlers and golfers, but can they affect batsmen too? The brain seemed to know what to do (a club cricketer would know what to do) but the hands and feet appeared to rebel, leaving him horribly exposed to almost any delivery. Bizarrely, he seems close to a certainty to go to Sri Lanka – one presumes in the cause of some continuity at the top of the order – but surely there must be better options? I’d prescribe a winter playing grade cricket in Australia or South Africa to get the feel of bat on ball embedded back into the muscle memory, and then extended periods at the crease in the county game.

Mark Stoneman (13 runs at 7). Grade D

Dumped in the old school style, as new National Selector, Ed Smith, flexed his muscles after England’s dismal display against Pakistan at a damp Lord’s. Still rebuilding form and confidence, but doesn’t feature strongly in lists of potential successors to Alastair Cook and, at 31, his time may have passed.

Moeen Ali (119 runs at 30; 12 wickets at 21; 1 catch). Grade B

Recalled where he bowls best (in England, behind a “first spinner”). Perhaps (and I know this is ridiculous) we have to consider him and Joe Root as a combined Number Three and Number Four since, although he looks too loose and not likely to bat beyond a session or so in Jonathan Trott’s old bailiwick, Root’s productivity is so improved as a result that maybe 90 or so runs regularly coming from those two positions, is a sufficient payoff. His bowling has regained its rhythm without sacrificing its priceless ability to provoke errors from batsmen as they seek to attack it, though he deserves more than such faint praise when he rips it out of footholes at a pace that makes it risky for batsmen to prop on to the front foot, pad outside the line. Expectations will be high in Sri Lanka, which will be a stiff examination of his all-rounder credentials.

Joe Root (436 runs at 36; 0 wickets; 6 catches) Grade B-

Always busy at the crease, he toppled into something more akin to anxious freneticism, as he, too often, attempted to work the ball from off stump across his pad into the legside, the head falling over, the precious balance all batsmen need sacrificed in the pursuit of quick runs. With the series won and, for once, able to bat in the slipstream of a colleague, it clicked at The Oval where he looked, once again, the class of the field. Still feels more like a bouncy, positive lieutenant rather than a scheming general, but it’s early days yet as a captain. Spent far too long out of the cordon (replaced by far inferior slippers) and needs to do a lot more homework on reviewing – though when’s he going to have time for that? Got the calls right when Rishabh Pant and KL Rahul were taking the game away from England at The Oval and has the knack of rebuilding Adil Rashid’s confidence when it dips.

Dawid Malan (74 runs at 15; 6 catches). Grade D

Heavy footed at the crease and fallible in the field proved not to be a good look, and he walked on to Ed Smith’s sword after the Edgbaston Test. More comfortable on bouncier pitches with the ball coming on, he seems a very unlikely candidate to tour either Sri Lanka or the West Indies, although a positive start to the 2019 county season and potential havoc from the expected barrage of short stuff from Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood and Stanlake might see him return for The Ashes.

Ollie Pope (54 runs at 18; 2 catches). Grade C

He’ll be back. A little green at 20 for Test cricket, the naivety of his second innings dismissal at Trent Bridge, chasing a very wide one when a backs-to-the-wall, bat-time effort was required, rather sealed his fate. When he does come back, he will not be the first to have a stuttering start to a Test career that subsequently blooms.

Jonny Bairstow (277 runs at 23; 19 catches). Grade C

Injured in the Third Test, he looked off the pace as a specialist batsman at Ageas Bowl and short of form on either side of the stumps at The Oval. Though his 93 was crucial in setting up the crushing win at Lord’s (and the 2-0 scoreline that made an Indian comeback close to impossible), his ever-changing position in the batting order (he batted at 4, 5, 6 and 7 in the seven Tests) and a heavy workload, playing all three formats, is surely taking its toll. Whisper it, but Jos Buttler, no Alan Knott himself, looked tidier with the gloves on in the one Test in which he had them.

Ben Stokes (247 runs at 25; 17 wickets at 28; 2 catches) Grade B-

As ever, the numbers do not tell the whole story about England’s game-changer. Batted with patience and classical technique when others were too keen to present something less than the full face, and bowled with real pace at times, often with a swinging, ageing ball. He did produce the pivotal moment in the summer, dismissing Virat Kohli on the fourth morning at Edgbaston when India were within an hour or so of going one-up in a series that was far tighter than its eventual 4-1 scoreline suggests. His trial for affray and subsequent acquittal appears to have made him less obviously aggressive in the field, the mouthy stuff much less prominent – but let’s see how that goes in the heat of Colombo and in the pressure cooker of the World Cup and Ashes.

Jos Buttler (510 runs at 46; 6 catches). Grade B+

With barely any red ball cricket since, well, forever it seems, he finishes the summer with the most runs on his side with only the peerless Indian captain ahead of him amongst opponents. Had he not perished in a Gilchristian pursuit of selfless runs, those numbers might have been even higher, so his catapulting from the IPL’s showbizzy, slogging and smashing to the somewhat sedate environment of a Lord’s Test against Pakistan, can be counted as something of a masterstroke. For all that, I am sceptical about how he will go when the catches nicked to second and third slip go to hand and the analysts insist that captains post a gully, all day, every day. He doesn’t line the ball up, preferring to reach a little for it, feet largely static, and can come across the ball with a leading edge or get done with an outside edge as a result. That said, he wouldn’t be the first batsman in the game’s history with a non-textbook technique that delivers (at last) consistent first class scores.

Chris Woakes (166 runs at 55; 12 wickets at 20; 1 catch). Grade B

He loves playing at Lord’s, where his record would make Garry Sobers blush: 131 average with the bat; 10 with the ball. Though he did his bit in the other two matches he played, particularly with the ball in the series squaring win against Pakistan, his 137 not out in the second Test, having arrived at the crease with England wobbling on 131-5, was as close as you can get to a match-winning knock in the second innings of three, demoralising India who had fought hard to get a foothold in the series only to see it taken away in a blaze of boundaries, underpinned by good sense. His injury record has not been good in recent years and he now has the new young bowler who bats, Sam Curran, eyeing the Number 8ish slot.

Sam Curran (292 runs at 37; 13 wickets at 23). Grade A-

Hard to recall another England player who made the transition to Test cricket look so mundanely everyday. Having shown that he was no mug with bat and ball on debut against Pakistan, he really arrived as a player to be reckoned with when he shot out India’s top three in a couple of overs of swing and seam at Edgbaston and then got England from 86-6 up to 180 all out to give the bowlers something to work with, his coolness under pressure as impressive as his high elbow in defence and the crisp sound the ball made off his flashing blade. Just to show it was no fluke, he was at it again with 78 and 46 in the 60 runs win at the Ageas Bowl, adding the wicket of Kohli to his scalps. Some say that he lacks the pace you need in Test cricket but, left-arm, he swings the ball in almost all conditions and can work batsmen across the crease before pinning them in front or sliding one across to catch the edge. It’s a formula that has served the player he most reminds me of quite well – Vernon Philander has 205 wickets at under 22 and nearly 1500 runs at 25. There’s your role model Sam.

Dom Bess (111 runs at 37; 3 wickets at 40; 1 catch). Grade C

Another young gun picked by Ed Smith who came good, though not quite as expected, his batting outshining his bowling. What caught the eye most was a fine temperament that stayed on the right side of cocky – which is where a spinner wants to be if they are to succeed.

Adil Rashid (119 runs at 20; 10 wickets at 31; 1 catch). Grade B

Another player whose white ball work got him a gig in the five day format. Rashid is an old school leg spinner – infuriating and captivating, often in the same match, sometimes in the same over. Expecting him to block up an end while the seamers have a breather, ain’t gonna happen – he might go for a run a ball with long hops and full tosses hit anywhere and everywhere, or he might spin the leg break square or the googly through the gate. If the runs after the fall of the sixth wicket have been the key difference in the India series, Rashid did his bit, bamboozling the late order batsmen without the concentration to watch his hand closely, nor the skills to play the revving ball off the pitch. Sides with so many all-rounders can look imbalanced, but it does allow Root to save Rashid for the latter stages of an innings – a luxury, but a price worth paying on the evidence of a 4-1 win over the top ranked team in the world.

Mark Wood (11 runs at 6; 2 wickets at 41; 1 catch). Grade C-

Looked literally and metaphorically off the pace in his one Test, which is not good news because Wood is an authentic fast bowler – if he’s not beating the batsman for pace, he’s not beating him at all.

Stuart Broad (89 runs at 9; 23 wickets at 27; 3 catches). Grade B

What a difference it makes when Broad runs in hard and bowls at 85mph+! To do so, he has to be fit and finding the rhythm that can promote another of “those” spells, one of which sent India from 35-2 to 61-6 at Lord’s, his victims the experienced quartet of Rahane, Pujara, Kohli and Karthik. His bowling, especially to left-handers round the wicket when he would shape the ball away in the air and off the seam, was often better than his figures suggested, both he and Mohammed Shami beating the bat repeatedly all summer long. Though Jimmy Anderson’s pursuit of Glenn McGrath’s 563 victims was the major bowling subplot of the summer, Broad’s climb into the top 8 on the all-time list (just one behind Kapil Dev) has garnered little attention, but is still an extraordinary achievement, a testament to his consistency and conditioning.

Jimmy Anderson (20 runs at 10; 33 wickets at 18; 1 catch). Grade A

A modern wonder, with an action as grooved as any pacers in history, a bad spell is almost unimaginable, even a bad ball comes as a surprise – and the good ones, inswing, outswing, wobble seam and cutters, keep coming until the batsman succumbs. (All except Kohli of course, their duel a magnificent match within a match that the Indian captain won – but only just and only because he is so brilliant himself, the two champions bringing out the best in each other). Since January 2014, at an age when an opening bowler should be losing his pace and fitness, he has 224 wickets in 52 Tests, at an average of 21 and an economy rate below 2.5. These are the kind of numbers put up (albeit over a career) by the fast bowler whose skills perhaps most closely mirror his own – it sounds like sacrilege, but Anderson may well be England’s Malcolm Marshall.

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Responses

  1. Hope Jimmy doesn’t talk about Kohli vulnerabilities anymore like he did after the Vizag test. Kohli has proved now he’s the king in all conditions.

  2. A nice seven Test appraisal Gary. Little to disagree with, except Jennings. Maybe he is mentally shot, but doesn’t England have a team psychologist (yet)? He has a month in which to get it together and I’d rather we had someone in Sri Lanka who has scored a century as opener in India, than two new guys.

    • I can’t see him rebuilding his game that quickly, but I take the point.

  3. You make a good point regarding Moeen enhancing Root’s performance even if Mo isn’t JT.

    I read that KJ averages 1.33 against deliveries that are on target with the stumps!!!

  4. Interesting comment about keeping. You thought Jos was better in the previous match? Presumably ignoring the overthrows, the 2 reachable catches he didn’t bother going for and the ball he parried for 4 runs. Fair enough he took one catch. At the Oval, Jonny dropped a difficult catch, but managed to catch the other seven and orchestrated the run out. He was also asked to stand up to the stumps for Jimmy and Stuart – not an easy task. He did have a bit if trouble predicting where Adil’s magical spin would take the ball, but then so did everyone, including Jos and Ben standing behind Jonny! Jonny did look out of sorts with the bat towards the end of the series, so let’s gloss over the 70, 28 and 93 he scored in the first two matches and give him the same grade as Bess and Pope. Oh how many did Jos score in those matches er …. 0, 1, and 24! So not quite so stellar as we may wish to imagine.

    • “Tidier” isn’t the same as “better”. YJB is a much improved keeper, but he is so untidy, the ball bouncing off him, the throws from the deep stopped but, often, not caught. It all seems a huge effort for him that leaves him drained – or less able to bat long after keeping.

      Buttler isn’t a natural either, but it does look like it comes easer to him.


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