Hello again! (And thoughts for the first Test)

Looking at the most recent post (before this) two things stand out: first is that it begins with an apology for not writing and the second is that it is eleven months old. So apologies again. In my defence, I spent those elven months first moving house, then starting grad school and preparing to do research in astrophysics. It has been a touch busy. And there is nothing to really suggest that it will get markedly better, but we’ll see how things play out. I did actually watch sport over the winter though and have some thoughts on the winter of discontent going into the international summer.

First off is that England probably made the right choice as far as a new head coach goes. It would have been better if Andy Flower had not left, but having done so it was down to Mike Newell or Peter Moores for me. I was hoping Newell so that Moores would stay at Lancashire, but there is no doubt in my mind that he will do an excellent job. This of course ties into the big story over the winter of Kevin Pietersen. I don’t want to drag that up again too much; I made my feelings very clearly known on Twitter and I’ll only go into detail if his fanboys find some fresh stupidity.

The biggest issue going into the summer is the uncertainty regarding the actual positions. There is one spot at the top of the order free, two in the middle order (assuming that Ben Stokes plays at six in the long-term even if he is not fit for the first Test), the spinner’s role and the third seamer all up for grabs. I am not including the wicket-keeper as vacant because I do not at all think that Matt Prior was dropped for anything other than an experiment; if he is fit he will keep wicket for the first Test.

The opener’s spot is probably the most straightforward: it should go to Sam Robson. He had an excellent year last year, has started well this year and has stated an ambition to bat for England. Give him a shot. The only other option would be Nick Compton and whilst I do think he was harshly dropped he has not done as much as Robson since then. He would be the reserve choice, however.

For the middle order, Joe Root is the incumbent in one of the spots and probably will get another go at five. If he is picked, hopefully he stays there most or all of the summer; he has not had enough time to settle in to any one spot properly and that cannot have helped him. At the same time, however, he did struggle for much of last year and cannot be said to have nailed his spot down. It is mostly due to his potential that he still seems to be a fixture in the side. The other spot is more open. Gary Ballance is technically the man in possession, but as with the wicket-keeper’s spot above I am very reluctant to take the selection late in the winter too seriously. However, he earned his callup with an excellent 2013 and he has started this year well. The same is true of Moeen Ali, however, and his weight of runs has certainly pushed him into the frame. Those are the most likely options but James Taylor, after being so harshly discarded in 2012, has batted well both for Nottinghamshire and the Lions and Jonny Bairstow is technically in the current XI. I don’t see either as particularly likely candidates though. I actually would prefer to see both Ballance and Ali bat in the middle order; I think they have both done more to get the spots than Root has. If Stokes is not fit then I would have Root at six, but otherwise I would let him bat with Yorkshire for at least the series against Sri Lanka.

For Graeme Swann’s replacement, it seems like every spinner in the country has been mentioned at least once. The realistic candidates are Scott Borthwick, Simon Kerrigan, James Tredwell and Monty Panesar. I am biased, of course, but for me it has to be Kerrigan. He only bowled a handful of overs in his previous Test and simply cannot be judged on that. More importantly, none of the other candidates have come close to matching his first-class record over the past few seasons. Kerrigan is, without question, the best spinner in the County Championship and that has to make him the front runner for the vacant England role.

There is one way Kerrigan could reasonably be left out of the first Test against Sri Lanka, however, and that is if England field an all-seam attack and there is a decent argument for doing so. Steve Finn, Graham Onions, Tim Bresnan and Chris Jordan all have cases, but this is possibly the oddest of any of the contest for a place. Just judging on first-class form Finn and Onions have to be the front runners and I think they probably are. But Finn’s mechanics were apparently completely hopeless in Australia and he fell well out of favour. Meantime, Onions did everything anyone could have asked last summer and never seemed to even be considered. Bresnan looks a shadow of his former self and although Jordan looked excellent last year it was the first time he has done so.

This adds up to Bresnan probably being the longest shot; I’d like to see him bowl for Yorkshire and maybe fight his way back into the reckoning, and I think he could be quite good again, but right now he looks a long way from Test quality. There is not a lot to pick between the other three, however, which is why I think picking an all-seam attack against Sri Lanka may be the way to go. Finn and Jordan are probably the best two choices; they are similar styles of bowler and it is a style which probably fits best behind Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. In the longer term, however, I would like to see England be more willing to go ‘horses-for-courses’; if a pitch calls will suit the swing bowlers more then play another one in Onions. If more pace is needed, then supplement the attack with Finn or Jordan.

At least right now (and it is still a month until the first Test, so this may change) my XI for Lord’s would be:
Alastair Cook*
Sam Robson
Ian Bell
Moeen Ali
Gary Ballance
Ben Stokes
Matt Prior†
Stuart Broad
Chris Jordan
Steve Finn
Jimmy Anderson

LV=CC week six roundup

Another heavily rain-affected week in the County Championship last week finished with only one positive result. That result was in a contrived match at Bristol where Yorkshire managed to chase 400 in just over a day. There was very nearly another, however, as Surrey were forced to follow-on at New Road before managing to set the hosts 260 to win and reducing them to 150-8. There was not quite enough time for a memorable victory, however. There was also a contrived match at Leicester with the hosts nine down when time time ran out. The full results:

Sussex drew with Lancashire
Durham drew with Somerset
Nottinghamshire drew with Middlesex
Worcestershire drew with Surrey
Essex drew with Kent
Yorkshire beat Gloucestershire by four wickets
Hampshire drew with Derbyshire
Leicestershire drew with Northamptonshire

Naturally, there has not been a great change in the table this week with only one result. The fact that Notts played and Warwicks didn’t has put the former on top of the division one table, but given that Warwickshire have two matches in hand I don’t think they will be worried. Yorkshire’s contrived victory in the second division has seen them fly up to second in the table. It is an interesting indication too of just how big of a difference even two victories can still make and one which will probably not be lost on Lancashire or Durham.

Whilst there was not a lot of time, there were still some very notable performances. Standing out, of course, are the centuries for Phil Jaques (160) and Gary Ballance (121*) in Yorkshire’s improbable victory at Bristol. That match also featured 111 for Kane Williamson and 5-81 for Tim Bresnan in Gloucs’ first innings. The match at Trent Bridge saw 162 from Michael Lumb countered by 143* from Ollie Rayner as the match never came close to a result. Not nearly as large, but still notable was the unbeaten 43* for the England Captain in the second innings. Surrey’s escape/near victory at New Road naturally included some very impressive batting performances in the second innings, including 115 for Rory Hamilton-Brown and 143 for Tom Maynard. Smaller, but again notable, was KP’s 69 after coming in with Surrey on 11-2 after following-on. Kent’s first innings at Chelmsford saw five ducks and nine single digit scores. And 119 for Darren Stevens. He and Geriant Jones (88) put on 196 for the sixth wicket after coming together at 9-5. The main destroyer for Essex was Charl Willoughby who took 5-70 and four of Kent’s top five batsmen. Derbyshire retained their spot at the summit of Division Two in a tame draw at Southampton. Their first innings of 403-9 featured centuries from Wes Durston (121) and Dan Redfern (133). This was after Hants skipper Jimmy Adams scored 122 in the first innings.