Thursday 16 June 2011


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Tuesday 14 June 2011

Time For A Change

England named their squad for the third and final test with Sri Lanka yesterday morning, and it contained no surprises with Jimmy Anderson for Jade Dernbach being the only change from the drawn test at Lord’s. It seems fairly clear that Steve Finn will be the one to miss out, despite having been top wicket taker last week.

Anyone who’s watched any England matches on Sky since Adelaide in December will have almost certainly heard a Michael Holding rant about how bowlers are picked to take wickets. Finn has done that and should therefore still be in the team. His point becomes more persuasive with every passing game. The Middlesex paceman became the youngest ever England bowler to 50 test wickets during the Lord's test, and seems to have the happy knack of taking wickets without bowling particularly well. If the team were picked purely on a bowler’s contribution to the wickets tally, it’s difficult to argue that Finn should be the man to go.

Equally, it’s just as tough to make a case for Chris Tremlett to fall victim to the selector’s axe. Since his re-introduction to the side in Australia, Tremlett has provided an excellent foil to Anderson and seems to have mastered the balance between back of a length bowling, forcing the batsman back into his crease, and fuller yet still bat-jarring deliveries that create uncertainty about playing forwards.

So that leaves one man in the firing line, assuming the management team isn’t going to go back to the four seamer, five man attack they tried with such disastrous consequences at Headingley two years ago.

That man is Stuart Broad. It's been a long time since Broad bowled a genuinely match changing spell – tearing through the South African middle order in Durban was probably the last such occurence - and he's appeared rusty so far this season. He has the look of a bowler who would benefit from some time back on the County circuit.

Since it’s (in theory at least) a straight fight between Finn and Broad, let’s have a look at their respective records since Finn first broke into the team:

Finn – 50 wickets in 12 matches at 27 apiece (strike rate 41)
Broad – 28 wickets in 10 matches at 36 apeice (strike rate 73)

No contest.

As our player reviews of the second test pointed out, Broad’s batting will probably save him for now but do England really need runs from number eight? Of course it’s a bonus, but is it worth weakening the bowling to strengthen a batting line up which doesn’t really need strengthening?

The answer is no. At present, England’s strongest bowling attack does not include Stuart Broad. That is not to say he should be ditched forever, but his situation is quite similar to that of Jimmy Anderson a few years ago. Both were picked very young, and Anderson only became the bowler he is today after he was able to develop away from the international spotlight. Maybe Broad requires the same break if he is to fulfil his potential.

Right now it isn’t clear what type of bowler he wants to be or what type he is most suited to. Clearly he is not a swing bowler in the Anderson mould, but he also doesn’t have the powerful action to be a genuinely fearsome pace bowler a-la Tremlett. On top of that, for a tall man his pitched-up deliveries seem remarkably ‘floaty’ and unthreatening. There have been signs of him becoming a line and length merchant, only for those spells to be followed by him completely losing his radar and banging in a whole load of half-track pies, the likes of which Australia cunningly fed Kevin Pietersen during his double hundred in Adelaide. Until he himself has worked out where his true strength lies it’s difficult to see him becoming a consistent wicket taking threat.

It’s understandable for England’s selectors to want to give Broad time, their patience with Alastair Cook whilst most of the cricket world was calling for his head has been rewarded quite spectacularly, but this time there is a genuine alternative banging on their door. Steve Finn’s figures do not warrant him being left out of the side. It’s time for the new T20 captain to take a break.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Selecting The England Team The Old-Fashioned Way

It's a generally held consensus that one of the reasons for England's excellent results in Test cricket over the last couple of years has been their consistency of selection. To reuse an old saying about the Australian team, it's harder to get out of the team than it is to get in. There was a lot of talk about Alastair Cook losing his place last summer but the two Andys had none of it, with fairly defnitive results. Similarly, the entire winter was spent discussing whether Paul Collingwood should be replaced. Again, he kept his place and, well, it turned out okay in the end.

The two Andys: consistent

But what if we had a throwback to the good old days, when a couple of decent performances in the County Championship would see journeymen cast into the role of England's latest saviour? What if the failure to beat Sri Lanka at Lord's led to the selectors going back to square one? How would the England team actually look, based purely on performances this season?

There's only one way to find out....fight!*


Marcus Trescothick - Somerset (978 runs at 81.50 with four hundreds)
Varun Chopra - Warwickshire (726 runs at 55.85 with two hundreds)

Two very different stories here. While Chopra is very much one for England's future, Trescothick is very firmly in the past. His mental illness issues are very well documented (incidentally we highly recommend the TMS podcast from last week about depression in cricket - genuinely moving stuff) and it's long been clear that it's best for everyone to just move on. But England's loss is very much Somerset's gain.

Chopra, on the other hand, is a name to watch. There's currently a dearth of opening batsmen for England to choose from so an opportunity could be just a broken finger away. The recent Lions game saw Jimmy Adams and James Taylor open, suggesting that the selectors want to see Chopra perform over a longer period than just this breakthrough half-season.

Number three:

Gordon Muchall - Durham (566 runs at 43.54 with one hundred)

With Jonathan Trott continuing to plunder runs at almost Bradman-esque levels, the number three position is probably the position least up for grabs. And there's a real lack of contenders in county cricket to put any pressure on. Gordon Muchall is the leading scorer from number three, just ahead of Somerset's Nick Compton, but at 28 and with a first class average of just above 30, it seems unlikely that he'll get an opportunity at a higher level. Let's just move quickly along.

Number four:

Ben Stokes - Durham (609 runs at 55.36 with three hundreds, plus 17 wickets at 33.00)

Now we're talking. There's certainly a vacancy in the England side for a genuine allrounder and Stokes fits the bill perfectly. At just 20 years old, time is very much on his side but (injury permitting) there's every chance he'll make an appearance in the ODI setup at some point this summer. Plus he was born outside of England, although in New Zealand rather than South Africa, so he really does tick all the boxes.

Number five:

Jonathan Bairstow - Yorkshire (749 runs at 68.09 with two hundreds)

Another youngster seemingly destined to play full international cricket, Yorkshire's young wicketkeeper/batsman has really blossomed this season, finally making his first hundred at first class level (after passing fifty 17 times). His main problem will be that Matt Prior is only 29 and may well have another five or six years as England's first choice behind the stumps. Bairstow will need to score a serious weight of runs to persuade the selectors to give him an opportunity. Again, a way in via the ODI side may be more likely.

Number six:

Tom Maynard - Surrey (560 runs at 56.00 with one hundred)

Still early days for Matthew's son, who has benefitted from a fresh start at Surrey after the madness at Glamorgan. He still has a very long way to go before he he makes it into the selectors' plans but at least he's unlikely to do as poorly as his father at test level (just 87 runs in eight innings over six years).

Number seven:

Chris Woakes - Warwickshire (262 runs at 52.40 with one hundred, plus 24 wickets at 18.54)

An adept batsman (and a remarkably clean hitter) as well as a pretty decent bowler, Woakes is already a part of England's ODI and T20 setups. Assuming he stays fit, he's unlikely to be out of the reckoning for quite some time. The real question is whether he can force his way into the test side with such competition for places.

Number eight:

Jon Lewis - Gloucestershire (316 runs at 31.60, plus 28 wickets at 20.93)

Lies, damned lies and statistics. England have shopped around for one-day bowlers over the past few months but are unlikely to ever go back to Jon Lewis. But at county level he continues to turn in decent performances for Gloucestershire.

An oft-forgotten fact: during England's famous first ever T20 game, the 2005 victory over Australia at the Rose Bowl, it was Jon Lewis who was the chief destroyer, taking 4/24 to rip the heart out of the Australia batting lineup.

Number nine:

David Masters - Essex (85 runs at 7.73, plus 8 wickets at 21.37)

A 33 year old county journeyman bowling medium paced dobblers in English conditions? We'd have to be mad not to pick him!

Number ten:

Steve Kirby - Somerset (53 runs at 5.89, plus 31 wickets at 25.00)

Another one for whom the chance of international cricket has surely long gone, Kirby has nevertheless enjoyed an excellent first half-season at Somerset. Plus he's something of a character. Selecting players because they're good for the dressing room is perfectly acceptable at international level these days (in some countries).

Number eleven:

Gary Keedy - Lancashire (45 runs at 6.43, plus 34 wickets at 22.35)

Fittingly enough, 36 year old Keedy is exactly the sort of player that the old England would call up for the final test of the summer at The Oval. Following a decent performance in an irrelevant victory he'd then earn the right to spend the winter being launched into the upper tier of the MCG by various Australians before never being seen again. At 51allout we actually miss those days. Young cricket fans today don't even know they're born.

So what has all this shown us? Mainly that you can't pick a team on statistics alone. Well you can, but you'll end up with a odd mix of (too) young batsmen and (too) old bowlers. It's still a worthwhile exercise though and, given England's current strength in the seam bowling department, it bodes that there are actually some young batsmen making serious inroads in domestic four-day cricket.

We'll be looking at England's next generation in some more detail over the next few days.

*other ways to find out are available