Guerilla Cricket – You’ve Saved Us!

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Guerilla Cricket won exclusive rights to provide commentary on Ireland’s inaugural Test match against Pakistan and how they’ve put BBC Test Match Special to shame.

https://www.guerillacricket.com

I’m grateful for TMS’s efforts and some of their pundits and commentary team are intelligent and insightful. Jonathan Agnew and Graeme Swann amongst others are not but at least Henry Blofeld has departed. They’ve also lost Ed Smith. I’ve enjoyed listening to Smith’s measured and methodical approach and expect him to apply the same to his new role.

TalkSPORT will be commentating on England’s winter tours and hopefully they too can heighten the competition. I can’t say that TalkSPORT have won me over when I’ve listened to their football commentary, Sam Matterface… please God no!!! Hopefully they’ll be on the ball though.

Having been an excellent and successful player doesn’t necessarily make one a good pundit and maybe that’s where Guerilla Cricket have got it right. For the most part if not the whole part, they don’t seem to be ex-players, They’re one of us. I look forward to listening to more of their commentary. The ECB’s 100-ball idea is nonsense but some people are keen to shove the word innovation down your throat when you criticise it. Cricket is constantly evolving. Guerilla Cricket have some gimmicks so here’s some innovation for you TMS!

Stoneman’s Rocky Patch!

Mark Stoneman

No sooner have you’ve released an audio recording proclaiming that England’s batting options are limited, do all the contenders go big right on cue!

Mark Stoneman’s grip on the England opener’s slot is rapidly slipping from his grasp, literally as he’s just grassed teammate (?) Jonny Bairstow in Surrey’s match against Yorkshire. Of course knowing my luck, he’ll register a double ton in the second dig and cement his place in the England XI. In my audio post I mentioned that Stoneman’s challenge could most likely come from his domestic partner Rory Burns. Burns made 193 in Surrey’s last match and many have wondered how, with a record far superior to Stoneman’s, that Rocky got the gig in the first place.

Middlesex man Nick Gubbins, who batted well in the North v South series has recovered from injury and made 99 last time out for the London outfit. He could be primed for the call. Another left-handed opener, Keaton Jennings, has ticked off a maiden ton for his new home side Lancashire. Stoneman desperately needs runs and soon.

The middle order is a little trickier, unless captain Joe Root will move to number three. Dawid Malan has made a ton and a seventy-odd in his last two County Championship matches but is best served staying at five for England. He deserves to stay in the team following his Ashes hundred, a fifty in England’s last Test (Stoneman and Vince made fifties in their last innings too!) and his domestic form. He may have to move to four though in order to accommodate either Surrey’s Ollie Pope of more likely, Worcestershire’s more experienced Joe Clarke. Both have made two Championship tons this term but neither are batting at number three. If England do select the obdurate Burns alongside Cook (Assuming Cook is in!) at the top of the order then that may save the more aggressive and fluent James Vince at number three, meaning Pope and Clarke will have to wait. If Pope and Clarke don’t get their chance now then they may do so in the future or they could become the next James Hildreth. The Somerset stalwart also now has two County Championship centuries this campaign. That’s just the 43 First Class tons at an average of… 43 for Hildreth then!

Of course picking players on early season form is what England did with Gary Ballance and Stoneman (And Ed Smith!) and look where we are now? When Stoneman hit the ground running last year, so many supposed experts came crawling out of the woodwork claiming that they’d campaigned for Stoneman for England for years. Where are they now? Weren’t they the same people that have been banging on about Hameed? Runs or no runs only serves to highlight how difficult Ed Smith’s job is. It’s so easy to be swayed. It’s not art or science but a little bit of both!

Quite frankly, I give up predicting England’s batting order for the first Test against Pakistan. Let’s just wait and see…

More Footsteps for Footitt!

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Left-arm pace bowler Mark Footitt is on the move once again. Footitt, who came so close to a Test cap on the tour of South Africa two winters ago, only left Surrey to rejoin Nottinghamshire towards the end of last season. Unable to break into a first XI that includes Stuart Broad, Jake Ball, Luke Fletcher and crucially fellow left-armer Harry Gurney, Footitt has rejoined another ex-employer, Derbyshire, on a 28-day loan. If Ball can join Broad in the England XI and finally transfer his county pedigree to international level then Footitt could be required for Notts upon his return.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/england/content/player/13247.html

During the off-season, another very good seamer in Brett Hutton, realised that opportunities at Nottinghamshire would be limited and has made an impressive start to life at new county Northamptonshire.

Back to Footitt, he did represent England in a tour match but was somewhat erratic and the likelihood of him wearing the shirt pictured above (Well not that actual shirt!) seem extremely slim. Still, if Cricket Captain 2018 ever gets released then, in my Ed Smith role, I’ll try my best to present Footitt with an England cap!

Ed at the Head!

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Former Middlesex and Kent batsman Ed Smith seems to have emerged as the favourite to be selected as… selector, the England National Selector that is.

Firstly, let’s address the obvious criticism. Smith played three Tests and there will be those who will suggest that he doesn’t have enough experience at the highest level to be qualified to perform the role. However we’ve seen numerous ex-professional players, extremely good ones at that, fail to transfer their skills to the commentary box and punditry arena. There’ve been many a successful football manager who didn’t have a particularly decorated domestic career but succeeded in management. Smith has immense experience of English county cricket and of observing the international game in his roles as commentator, pundit and writer. I’m of the impression that he’ll make a measured and methodical National Selector and for one will be happy and instilled with optimism for the England side, if Andrew Strauss provides him with the gig.

The Form Cloud

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Player A is 26 years old and averages 42.67 across 86 career matches. This season he is averaging 60.92.

Player B is 30 years old and averages 34.63 across 145 career matches. This season he is averaging 58.54.

Who are England more likely to select?

The answer is Player B. The one with the career average -8.04 runs per innings compared to Player A despite being 59 innings more experienced.

Player A is Surrey’s Rory Burns. Player B is his opening partner Mark Stoneman.

Another example that I’ve touched upon previously regarding an in-form selection is that of Ed Smith for England. Smith’s First Class average finished at 41.79. He was selected for the national side having made six hundreds in as many matches in the early part of the 2003 county season. He made 64 on Test debut but made only 23 runs in his next four innings before being jettisoned. Ultimately Smith’s sample size is too small to judge but here’s a stat: Smith averaged 2.61 centuries per season during a thirteen year First Class career. For the record, Ed Smith is one of my favourite pundits.

What I’m getting at though is that form often clouds the judgement of selectors as well as pundits and fans when consistency is a better indicator of a player’s ability. If you pick a player when their peaking then the only way is down.

Returning to Burns and Stoneman, The Caveman appears unruffled and phlegmatic at the crease. He may now at the age of thirty be applying all that he has learned over a decade long First Class career (As well as playing on a better wicket) and be primed to succeed at the highest level but if national sides are to select players purely on domestic form then there’ll be selecting a different team every week. It shouldn’t be about form but about whether or not that player is good enough for international cricket. What makes the Burns/Stoneman career comparison even more interesting is that Burns is actually averaging more than the much called for Stoneman this season. Burns’ average is elevated by one big score. His season best 219 not out is his sole century alongside six fifties (Consistency?). Stoneman has three hundreds but only one other fifty. He made 144 not out in the One-Day Cup final but was dropped early in the piece.

In the third Test against South Africa, England debutant Tom Westley has recorded debut scores of 25 and 59 but former national captain Nasser Hussain thinks that his game might get picked apart in Australia in the same way that John Crawley’s was.

Shall we drop Westley then?

Westley hasn’t been selected purely on form. His season stats are an average of 53.11 with two hundreds and as many fifties. Westley however has performed well for the England Lions and consistently delivered when playing for Essex against touring Test teams. Another England batsman, opener Keaton Jennings has made 0 and 48 in the same match. By all accounts it wasn’t pretty and he had some luck but if England opt to drop him then what happens if Stoneman comes in and registers scores of 0 and 48 on debut or 15 and 31 for that matter? Will he immediately be dropped?

It is the responsibility of the England selectors to see beyond form and identify true Test calibre. It is also their responsibility not to have their convictions swayed by just one or two low scores. Form shouldn’t cloud judgement.

Please forgive me for repeating some things that I have said in previous posts but I thought these observations and comparisons merited a write-up of their own… or maybe my judgement was clouded!

Malan With a Plan!

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Dawid Malan. It’s now or never, boom or bust!

England captain Eoin Morgan said that all squad players would get a game during the three-match T20I series against South Africa. Following the second match and with just one encounter remaining, Morgan said that there’ll definitely be one more debutant in the third match. This may be a bit concerning for Morgan’s Middlesex colleague Dawid Malan, given that another uncapped player, Somerset’s Craig Overton joined up with the party after the first match.

Surely the England management aren’t  going to turn around to Malan now and say “Sorry mate but we’ve changed our mind. You’re not playing”. Remember that Malan made the squad for the one-off T20I against Sri Lanka last year only to miss out on the final XI.

Malan has performed admirably well in limited overs cricket for England Lions, appeared in the recent PSL final and most notably pummelled runs in the North v South Series thus demanding selection. Malan’s 196 runs at an average of 98.00 at a strike rate of 104.81 with a top score of 109 not out saw him top the run scoring charts. To have omitted him following those performances would have brought into serious question the whole point of North v South.

Maybe Malan hasn’t had that big domestic season but sometimes those 1000+ runs campaigns that a batsman has can be misleading. I’ll always revert to Ed Smith and that one season he had making hundred after hundred but was he good enough to be a Test cricketer? To be fair his Test career is too small a sample size to judge. For the record, Smith did a great job at short leg against South Africa and I really like his insightful and balanced commentary.

Malan bowls useful leg-spin too but if he does play in the final T20I you can’t help but think he either needs a half-century or if he makes late twenties/early thirties then it needs to be struck at around 200% if he’s to ever wear the jersey a second time. A single figure score may well be the beginning and the end of Malan’s international career all in one. At the age of 29 a considerable international career could lay ahead but it’s easy to sense that England felt slightly forced to select him than actually wanting to. Andy Flower has vehemently campaigned for his call-up. That may be unfair on the England management but such is the competition amongst the batting ranks that as much as England want to mix things up selection could almost become convoluted. It’s arguable whether providing players with odd matches is any use at all as Sam Billings’ fill-in the gaps international career displays.

Growing up in the nineties and early 2000s I saw the likes of Mike Hussey and Darren Lehmann have to wait domestic run-glutinous years for a run in the Australian Test side and for Jamie Cox to not get a chance at all.

There’s nothing worse than seeing a batsman get one chance and fall for nought so fingers crossed that Malan at least gets some runs on the board if selected as promised.