The Sam Curran Story

Sam curran celebrating.jpg

Most 20 year olds at the moment are off to University or working long hours in their ‘newish’ jobs. Very few ever get the chance to play county cricket, even fewer get the chance to play test cricket and only 1 is waiting for an immanent call for him to be confirmed in the test team Vs Sri Lanka, with a ‘player of the series’ award on his mantle peace, having helped his country beat the number 1 test side in the world… His name is Sam Curran!

 

Sam Curran was first picked to represent Surrey in the county championship at only 17 years of age. Opening the bowling with his brother Tom, it didn’t take long for him to make his mark, as he bagged 5-101 in the first innings of the match, including the wicket of Sam Billings for 99. Since then (and bearing in mind his first two years of county championship cricket was affected by his A Levels), he has 1790 first class runs for Surrey and England, averaging 28.87, including 13 50s and a high score of 96 Vs Lancashire. In terms of bowling, he has bagged 131 victims at First Class level, with 6 5 wicket hauls and an average of 28.88.

 

He also has 1 ten wicket haul in First Class cricket and this was arguably the match which prompted the selectors to give him a test debut against Pakistan in June. On the 11th of May 2018, Surrey played a Yorkshire team which included Root, Bairstow and Pujara at the Oval. After Ollie Pope’s 158* helped Surrey to a score of 414, Sam Curran took it upon himself to dismiss the whole of the Yorkshire side. He picked up figures of 6-54, including the wickets of Pujara and the England captain. His 4-47 in the second innings enabled him to reach his maiden ten-fer… and who could be better to do it infront of than Joe Root?

 

Despite having been called up before for England for the T20s down under, Curran made his debut in the second test against Pakistan, replacing Mark Wood. He picked up his first wicket when Shadab Khan skied the ball to Keaton Jennings and proceeded to score 20 in his first test innings, on his 20th birthday, making him one of the only players to score the same number of runs as their age on their birthday.

 

Whilst he only picked up 2 wickets and scored 20 in his debut test, Curran repaid the selectors’ faith in him with a man of the match performance in the first test against India. After scoring 24 in the first innings, he picked up both openers and KL Rahul after the visitors had (seemingly) cruised to 50-0. Picking up 4-74 to help England bowl out India in the first innings, Curran then showed that he isn’t just a 3rd/4th seamer… When England were toiling at 87-7, he scored a match winning 63 to show that he is a genuine all-rounder! England eventually won a tight test by 31 runs and Curran’s performance not only assured him of the man of the match trophy, but prompted Root to describe him as ‘another Ben Stokes.’

 

In a rain-affected 2nd test, Curran yet again performed with the bat, scoring 40 before an immanent declaration caused him to get out slogging.

 

We all know what happened next and I’m sure there isn’t anyone who understands why Curran was dropped after such a stellar start to his test career.

 

However, he was back with a bang with yet another match winning innings in the fourth test. After England had crawled to 86-6, Curran scored his 2nd test fifty and his second fifty when England needed it the most. His 78 helped England to reach 246, but he wasn’t done there… Yes, he only picked up 1 wicket in India’s 1st innings, but the wicket of Virat Kohli (especially before he had caused too much damage) is probably worth at least 3 wickets! He rounded off the test with another important 46, seeking quick runs in the end with only the help of James Anderson, and the important wicket of Ashwin to win the series for England!

 

After being picked for England as a 3rd seamer and an important left arm option, Curran has showcased his talents with 292 runs at an average of 36.5 for England and 13 wickets at 23.23 a piece. In only 5 tests, he has proven that he can change games at international level, a skill very few cricketers ever possess. Whilst seen as a bowling all-rounder at present, it is strongly suggested that, with time, Curran will adapt more into the shoes of a batsman who can bowl.

 

So, what are your thoughts about England’s 20 year old hero? Will he eventually become more of a batsman or will he have to rely on upping his pace and consistency with the ball? And how do you think he will fare this winter in Sri Lanka?

 

If his first 5 tests are anything to go by, we are in for an exciting time, watching him develop into one of England’s best!

England’s All-rounder Problem

Over recent years, England have had problems in selecting a settled test side with different players coming and going. Most notably, they have struggled in finding a permanent opening batsman to partner Alastair Cook, a spinner capable of ‘tying’ down one end (whilst the fast bowlers are rotated from the other) and a number 3 / number 4 batsman. It is therefore almost a nice problem that we now have 3 capable all-rounders battling it out for only 1 or 2 all-rounder positions in the team. A nice problem… but a problem none the less.

 

Ben Stokes has been England’s number 1 all-rounder ever since his century in the third test of the 2013-14 Ashes series down under. His destructive batting boasts an average of 34.28 in tests, with 6 centuries, including a huge 258 off only 198 balls Vs South Africa. He is also arguably England’s fastest bowler with an average of 32.97 and test best figures of 6/22, which helped England to a series clinching Ashes victory at Trent Bridge. It is therefore justifiable that he is our first choice all-rounder, however two others are out there to either join him or take his place.

 

Chris Woakes has been in and around the England test team since his debut in 2013. Despite only having played 25 tests, he has certainly done his part in helping England to test victories both with bat and ball. With a batting average of 32.25 and a maiden test century at Lords in his last test against India, he has shown that he is capable with the bat and can get stuck in. With the ball, he averages 33.05 with a 10fer against Pakistan at Lords in 2016. After having a brilliant 2016 season, being a regular in the team, he has recently battled injuries and had lost his assured place in the England side.

 

The third of these all-rounders is 20 year old Sam Curran. A bowling all-rounder from Surrey, despite only making his debut against Pakistan this summer, he has already shown that he is more than capable at test level with a man of the match display in only his second test match, taking 5 wickets and scoring a crucial 63 to help England win a thrilling test at Edgbaston. With Joe Root describing him as ‘another Ben Stokes’ after the Edgbaston test, Curran also provides a left arm swing option to the England bowling unit, a different asset to what England have had in the past.

 

So, we have 3 successful all-rounders at test level in the side at the moment… what is the problem?

 

The problem is that somehow, we have to fit all three of them into the team or drop one of them. All three of them have already made a mark in the current series against India, with Stokes taking 4 wickets on the final day to win the first test for England, Curran taking a man of the match winning 4/74 and scoring 63 in the same test and Woakes taking 4 wickets and scoring his maiden test century in the last test at Lords.

 

The two options England have for this upcoming test starting tomorrow at Trent Bridge is either to drop one of them, or play all three of them, but drop another player. England played both Curran and Woakes at Lords, as Stokes had his trial over affray. Coming back into the squad ahead of the third test, with Curran and Woakes having both justified their places in the team, it is Stokes that we have to accommodate. At present, every England fan has their own opinion on whether we should play him in the next test or who he should replace. Reading the Daily Mail this morning, Nasser Hussain had written an article, proposing that England should play Stokes in the place of Ollie Pope as that would ‘hurt Ben Stokes the most.’ Ollie Pope made his debut in the last test at Lords, scoring 28 and taking 2 catches, a brilliant catch at short leg to dismiss Virat Kohli and a catch at leg slip sealing the victory. Whilst I understand what Hussain means by saying that dropping 20 year old Pope after a promising debut would hurt Stokes, I see this as a rather negative idea. Not only does Pope need to have a run of tests to try and cement a place in the team, but should we really be trying to hurt Stokes? At the end of the day, he is our leading all-rounder who has the ability to turn games for England, much like Sir Ian Botham and Freddie Flintoff once did. Yes, he made a mistake in Bristol and has had / will have punishments to follow, but I think it would be the wrong decision to punish him more by dropping Pope just one game into his international career. Whilst I agree with Vaughan that he shouldn’t expect a warm reception at Trent Bridge, I think it is negative to play Stokes at Pope’s expense, just in order to make him feel guilty.

 

Anyway, England therefore have an important decision to make. Firstly, if you were going to drop either Stokes, Woakes or Curran, who would it be. In my opinion, after a man of the match performance at Lords, Woakes should be first name on the team sheet for the test tomorrow. Woakes plays. That leaves us with a choice of our premier all-rounder, or the 20 year old who’s had a great series thus far. At Trent Bridge, Stokes hasn’t enjoyed much success with the bat over 3 tests in Nottingham, averaging less than 6. However, his bowling average is significantly better there than his career average as he averages less than 25. Trent Bridge was also the ground where he took his career best figures of 6/22. Curran hasn’t yet played a test in Nottingham, but averages 42 with the bat and 24 with the ball this series. In such good form, I think it is unfair to drop Curran, unless you assure him that he will play at the Ageas Bowl and the Oval.

 

The other options, in my eyes, are to drop either Pope, Jennings, Buttler, Rashid or one of Broad and Anderson to fit Stokes in. If Broad had not had ‘one of those spells’, that we have seen him have so often in his career, in the 4th innings at Lords (taking 4-fer), it may be Broad that would have missed out at his home ground where he took his career best figures of 8-15. However, the only way I can see Broad or Anderson not playing now is if one of them wants a rest. There has been talk in the media about protecting them both slightly, in order to keep them fit and prolong their international careers, but with Anderson on fire this series and the next test being in Broad’s own back yard, I find it highly unlikely that they will be rested. As I mentioned earlier, Ollie Pope made his debut in the last test at Lords, looking good or his 28. Although he still needs to affirm his place in the side, he needs a run of matches in order to do this. Therefore, Pope should play. Jennings, since returning to the team, has looked better than the batsman who toiled last summer against the South Africans. Whilst he still needs a substantial score to ensure his place, he looked good when making 42 in the first test. If he was going to lose his place, England would have to find another batsman to open in the squad. The most likely player to do this would be Bairstow, however he has been in terrific form with the bat this series and opening could also affect his keeping. Is it worth moving him if he’s performing where he is? For me, Jennings keeps his place. Over the years, Trent Bridge has been a seam-friendly place to bowl. Rashid didn’t bowl at all in the test at Lords so many may wonder why he is playing if he isn’t being used that much. Would it be worth boasting a five seam bowler attack, without playing a spinner? However, cricket pundits think it is unlikely that Root will drop Rashid as a captain can fall back on a spinner when things aren’t going well. England haven’t played a test without a recognised spinner since 2003 and although if he plays he will need to bowl overs to justify his selection, he also spins the ball a great deal. Jos Buttler hasn’t made much of an impact at all this series, having only scored 25 runs so far and dropping a few chances in the slips over recent tests. However, it was only earlier this summer that he had a brilliant IPL campaign and was deemed man of the series against Pakistan, scoring 161 runs in 3 innings.

 

Whilst it is going to be a tricky decision for the selection panel to make, my own opinion is that England shouldn’t play Stokes until the 4th test at the Ageas Bowl. Having only recently been found not-guilty in court, I think England should play both Woakes and Curran and keep the same team they had during the crushing victory at Lords. This gives Stokes time to clear his head and find some form with the bat, before (probably) being pivotal in the final two tests against India.

 

Please leave comments below regarding your own opinion on the Stokes saga and feel free to challenge any of the points I have made. I am open to debate.