Revolution? The England Cricket 2018 Story

engvssri

 

In cricket, an over can occasionally change the complexion of a test, or even a series. Sometimes, a match can also prove a decisive turning point. It is rarely the case, however, that a year can transform a team from the depths of failure to a feared and ferocious force. Whilst Virat Kohli’s batting has been the centre of attention this year with his exploits often making him appear unbeatable, Joe Root’s captaincy has proved to be the unexpected miracle of 2018, dragging England from an Ashes thrashing to beating the worlds best and securing a whitewash in Asia for the first time in years!

 

If we rewind to the first test match England played in 2018, the last test of the 2017-18 Ashes, England had badly lost the Ashes within just 3 tests and, despite a record-breaking 244* from Alastair Cook ensuring we didn’t have the embarrassment of a second successive whitewash in Australia, we still appeared many miles away from even competing with this Australian team. The fifth test against the Aussies was most notable for English people as it gave us the first glimpse of a young leg spinner and, for once, a leg spinner we wished to succeed. Mason Crane saw a fair amount of criticism prior to the test. The fact that England had called upon a twenty year old leg spinner with an average of over 46 in First Class cricket, as opposed to a more experienced spinner with a better average (such as Jack Leach) rifled a few people’s feathers. The doubters may argue that they were right as Crane picked up figures of 1/193, yet I don’t think his figures did him justice. While the rest of the England team found it difficult to even create chances against Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith and the Marsh brothers, Crane created chances throughout the Australian innings and showed enough promise in the test to suggest he has a future at the highest level. Unfortunately (and frustratingly), an injury in the warm up game in New Zealand ruled him out for the entire summer. It will be interesting to see England’s moves with Crane when he is fully fit, but, with the success of Leach, Ali and Rashid in Sri Lanka, it will be a tough task for Crane to force his way back to international level.

 

The first test against New Zealand saw the return of Ben Stokes after… well I’m sure none of us want to go over it again! James Vince lost his place to make up for Stokes and Craig Overton returned from injury. I remember waking up in the morning, checking the score and throwing my phone… England’s sixth lowest test score greeted me and four, yes FOUR, ducks from middle order players. With centuries from Williamson and Henry Nicholls putting New Zealand in the driving seat, the damage had been done and, despite a much improved second innings, England still lost by an innings and 49 runs. The second test proved to be much more promising. Firstly, the inevitable soon became a reality when, after a disastrous winter, Moeen Ali was dropped. Vince and Wood returned and Jack Leach made his test debut. Whilst the batting was a vast improvement on the first test, Colin de Grandhomme, Ish Sodhi and Neil Wagner survived 368 balls to force a draw and secure a New Zealand series win.

 

So, a winter to forget for English cricket. A record of 5 losses and two draws probably summed up England’s winter: they were far from beating anyone outside of England. The winter also saw the end of James Vince for the time being, although rumours emerged in the summer that a 4th test call up would be on the horizon.

 

The first test of the summer against Pakistan at Lord’s did little to raise the hopes of the nation. With an injury to Jack Leach, the ever problematic spot of first choice spinner opened once again. This time, Leach’s Somerset teammate Dom Bess made his test debut. With Bess, Crane, Tom Curran and Craig Overton’s selections over the year, Ed Smith was evidently investing in youth and preparing for the future of English cricket. Jos Buttler also made a return to the test arena, although solely as a batsman. England could only muster 184 in their first innings of the summer, with Alastair Cook providing the majority of the resistance with 70. As Pakistan amassed 363, England’s batsman failed again, with resistance only coming in the form of half centuries from Root, Buttler and the debutant Bess. Pakistan sealed the 9-wicket win and it seemed that the winter of woe would continue into a solemn summer for England. However, the story of the following 6 months would prove to be drastically different to the previous six months. Whether coincidence or not, this gap coincided with the debut of a teenaged all-rounder: Surrey’s Sam Curran. In his seven tests to date, England have won all seven of them and his left arm pace and counter-attacking approach to batting gives England a much needed variation in both departments. My blog has talked about Curran quite a lot in honesty, but that is simply because he’s been an unexpected superstar of English cricket in their recent success.

 

The second test was a must win test for England in order to tie the series with Pakistan and they got of to a flying start, dismissing Pakistan for 174 with only Shadab Khan providing proper resistance, scoring a brilliant 56. England’s quicks were exceptional in claiming all ten of the wickets to fall, with Anderson, Broad and Woakes all taking 3 wickets. Khan was the last wicket to fall though as he skied a ball to Jennings to give Curran his first test wicket. England then amassed 363 in an (almost) record breaking innings. Only Jos Buttler passed 50 in the innings (he scored a belligerent), whilst 8 of the top 9 surpassed 20. Pakistan proceeded to fail again, managing only a mere 134 with Bess taking his first test wicket and taking 3 in the innings. An England victory by an innings and 55 runs gave England there first test win in around nine months… but it soon proved to be the beginning of an exciting ride for English cricket, as they revolutionised under Root’s captaincy, surprising because the next visitors were the world number 1 ranked team: India.

 

The first test against India saw Adil Rashid make his return to the test side after showing good form in the ODI series, including an absolute gem to dismiss the great Virat Kohli. I’m still unsure about Rashid’s place in the side, however, and personally, I would rather play Leach, Ali or both of them instead of Rashid. This is because Rashid is capable of the odd ‘magic ball’ but he is more likely to throw down more bad balls than many other successful spin bowlers in test cricket. Therefore, I would play Leach as a left arm spin option (similar to Keshav Maharaj) to accompany Ali or make the spin position his own. It would be a weight off England’s shoulders if he performs in 2019 and confirms his place as our leading spinner!

 

Nevertheless, Jennings led the way with a gritty 42, before Bairstow and Root (off the back of some good ODI form) both made 50s. I’m sure Root would have gone on to make his first century of 2018 had it not been for Kohli’s brilliance in the field, running the England skipper out and mimicking his mike-drop celebration. Ashwin did most of the damage, picking up 4-fer as England accumulated 287. The Indian openers then shared an almost effortless fifty partnership, before Sam Curran made his first significant contribution in an England shirt, dismissing India’s top three within nine runs. He would go on to take 4-fer, but Kohli’s brilliant 149 dragged India to within touching istance of England’s score. When Kohli is on song (as he usually is) it often seems almost impossible to dismiss him. Then, a familiar sight befell the eyes of the England fans as the top order failed again and England were stranded on 87-7. That was before Curran led a Masterclass in how to bat with the tail, scoring 63 off 65 balls and adding 93 crucial runs. This only managed to scrape England to 180, but it proved enough as Ben Stokes showed us why he’s the best all-rounder in the world, ripping the heart out of the Indian batting line up, including the dismissal of Kohli after he seemed set on 51. India ended on 162 and, although for a while on the fifth day the England supporters were on the edge of their seats, the victory set up a competitive series.

 

After the thrill of the Edgbaston test, the Lords test proved to be remarkably one-sided with rain affecting much of play over the first few days. With Stokes missing out due to his court hearing and Malan failing in England after such a promising winter away, Ollie Pope came in to make his debut and Woakes took up the empty all-rounder slot. When overcast in England, however, only one thing is a certainty… and as we could have guessed before the days play, Jimmy led the way, picking up 5 Indian wickets. None of the Indian batsman really got going and so India crumbled to 107. If you track back to my first blog post, you will know what happened next. Despite the top three failing again and Pope making a promising, although not game changing 28, Chris Woakes (accompanied by Jonny Bairstow) smashed the Indian bowling attack to all parts in scoring his first test century and surpassing 1,000 test runs. Bairstow’s 93 and a quick-fire 40 by Curran to set up a declaration supported Woakes’ brilliance and England declared 7 down on 396. India then failed to adapt to the swinging Dukes ball again and limped to 130, giving England the victory by an innings. In the meantime, Anderson became the first bowler to take 100 wickets at the Home of Cricket and the second player in the history of the game behind Murali.

 

2-0 up in the series, England then suffered a very hard selection decision. Curran, Woakes and Stokes had all made match-winning contributions to the series thus far, yet one of them seemed doomed to miss out. The unfortunate news befell Sam Curran who, just 2 tests after his man of the match display, became (some would argue) the scape-goat to the problem at hand. So, a seam attack bolstering Anderson, Broad, Woakes and Stokes faced up to an Indian batting line up including the returning Pujara. With notable scores of 80+ from Kohli and Rahane, India scored 329 with Anderson, Broad and Woakes all taking 3 wickets. England’s middle-lower order then (for once) couldn’t get them out of a precarious situation and England slumped to 161, after a promising opening stand of 54 between Jennings and Cook. India then piled on 352 and declared 7 wickets down with 72 from Pujara, 52* from Hardik Pandya and 103 from Kohli, giving him 200 runs in the match. Despite a 169 run partnership between Stokes and Buttler, who hit his 1st test century, England couldn’t make the runs required and, although the tail wagged in the form of Rashid and Broad, England could only make 317. India took one back, leaving the series at 2-1.

 

With injury forcing Woakes back out of the side, Curran rightfully regained his place and with Pope not cementing the number 4 role, Bairstow was promoted up the order and Moeen Ali finally returned as the number 7 and second spinner. Before accumulating 246, you’d be surprised if I told you that, at one stage, we were 86-6 with Moeen Ali and Sam Curran at the crease. A partnership of 81 ensued as Moeen Ali scored a patient 40 on return, before Curran showed his talent in batting with the tail again, scoring 78 and putting on a further 79 with the help of Rashid, Broad and Anderson. A century from Pujara proved he was back in form after being short of runs for Yorkshire in the county championship and led India to a total of 273. In response, England scored 271, Joe Root scoring 48 (again a run out stopping him from reaching a half century or further) and Buttler continuing his good form in scoring 69. A 4-fer from Ali, proving the bad form he suffered in the Ashes was only temporary, then led the way for an England win as India could only muster 184 with 50s from Kohli and Rahane.

 

The aftermath of the 4th test, firstly, saw serious questions being asked of the Indian batting line up and their capability against the swinging ball as Kohli, more often than not, was largely the reason why India managed to reach respectable scores. England had won the series in just 4 tests against the number 1 ranked side in the world, some 8 months after an ashes loss and failure in New Zealand. I’m sure every England fan remembers where they were (I was at the barbers) when they heard the next bit of breaking news… Alastair Cook, after playing 157 tests for England, was going to call it a day after his 158th and record 156th consecutive test match! Despite his form being inconsistent over the past year or so, I (and many other England fans) still felt somewhat shocked and downcast as the record breaking English opener prepared to walk out for England for one final time… at the oval with the series already in the bag, a full and expectant crowd awaiting him. He didn’t disappoint…

 

Winning the toss, a rare opening partnership of 60 greeted the expectant fans as Alastair Cook showed us why he was one of England’s best openers, grinding out a gritty 71, before a gem from Bumrah left Chef with only one test innings left to play.  Fifties also came from Moeen Ali (scoring his in attempt to cement the number 3 position as his own) and Jos Buttler, whilst Broad played a useful cameo down the order. England piled on 332 with Jadeja, returning to the Indian side, picking up 4. India debutant Hanuma Vihari then scored a promising 56 after grafting hard early on his innings and, along with Jadeja’s 86 not out, helped India to 292. The wickets were shared amongst all the English bowlers as we prepared to watch the rewriter of many English cricket record books bat for the last time for England… in another record breaking innings. In a score of 423/8 declared, a welcome, yet fairly rare sight for England fans over the year, England’s two most experienced buccaneers scored swashbuckling centuries and Cook bowed out of test cricket the same we he began. Other notable batsmen who scored 100s in there final test match include: Jacques Kallis, Greg Chappell and Brendon McCullum and Cook firmly deserves a place amongst such great names. Whilst the last few years saw inconsistency and frustration, Cook has been one of the best opening batsman the game has seen. Opening in England is arguably the hardest place to open in the world with the ball swinging around corners, and Cook has proved to be a true soldier, grinding down the opposition attack whilst scoring at his own pace. I would argue, however, that Cook is probably the ideal idol for any aspiring young batsman, showing outstanding focus, patience and character whenever he played. Forgive me for prolonging this praise of Cook, but I’m not going to be able to do it again and I think Cook often gets more stick than he deserves after an undoubtedly brilliant career. Anyway, Cook and Root’s centuries gave England a mammoth lead, yet centuries from the struggling Lokesh Rahul and the promising Rishabh Pant stalled the victory celebrations. But, with the last ball of the series, Anderson rearranged Shami’s stumps and thus surpassed Glenn McGrath’s record wicket tally for fast bowlers, a fitting way to end the series, especially with Jimmy’s fellow talisman retiring. After 12 years of playing together, the special relationship they had was evident as Jimmy couldn’t stop the tears from flowing during his interview.

 

Nonetheless, a remarkable series win for England against Kohli’s number 1 test team! Sam Curran deservedly scooped up the man of the match award, for both his counter-attacking batting and his important wickets that frustrated the Indians throughout the series.

 

So, for the first time in around 12 years, England were going to be Alastair Cookless for a test match. His replacement was the County Championship winning captain Rory Burns, the most consistent opener in the England First Class competition. Ben Foakes was the other Surrey debutant, replacing Jonny Bairstow in the team, and was actually a late addition to the test squad. But, experience or no experience, he certainly arrived with a bang. With the previous test seeing a batsman at the end of his career scoring a farewell 100, this test saw a fresh face scoring a debut 100 and another Wicket Keeper batsman amongst the English ranks. His century was accompanied by 40s from Curran and Jennings as England piled on 342. Dilruwan Perera took 5 and Herath began his final test match with just the one wicket. In response, Sri Lanka managed 203, with only Angelo Mathews really troubling the England bowlers. Moeen Ali took 4, showing that his away game curse is just a myth and Curran and Anderson took one wicket a piece, the only wickets they’d take in the entire series! This isn’t saying that they bowled badly, but just that the conditions didn’t suit them and our spinners bowled fantastically! The second test then saw Jennings score just his 2nd test ton, an unbeaten 146* and Stokes passing 50. Rangana Herath took 2, his last wickets in test cricket, ending on 433 test wickets. Another 50 from Mathews and 45 from Mendis couldn’t stop the spin triplets of England as Leach, Ali and Rashid took 9 of the 2nd innings wickets as England won comfortably.

 

The second test saw the second of three number 3 batsman given a chance at first drop: Stokes. Batting first, a quick 50 from Buttler and a more patient 50 from Curran took England to 290 as Perera continued his good form and took 4. In response, the ever reliable Karunaratne scored 63, accompanied by 59 from Dhananjaya de Silva and 85 from Roshen Silva as Sri Lanka compiled 336, taking a first innings lead as the tail frustrated England for over 25 overs! A first test 50 from Rory Burns and another selfless knock of 65* from Foakes helped England to 346, but it was the skipper who was the star of the show as he scored 124, arguably his best ever and most important century for England. Again, 50s from Karunaratne and Mathews were good, but not enough to prevent England from taking the series, with Leach picking up his first 5-fer. Looking at this scorecard, claiming England had problems in picking a spinner was laughable as they took 19 out of the 20 wickets in the test. Two convincing wins reflected England’s dominance in the series thus far and problems were seeming to evaporate rather than appear during them.

 

A further problem was also (touch-wood) solved in the third test as Bairstow came back from injury to be the 3rd English batsman to bat at number 3 in the series (not including Jennings when Leach opened as night watchman!) 110 from Bairstow gave the England fans hope that they have found a long tem number 3 and 57 from Stokes led England to 336. Sri Lanka then came up around 100 short with Karunaratne and de Silva again scoring 50s. This time Rashid took the 5-fer, whilst Stokes took 3 with his out-right pace bowling, the only effective pace bowler from either side throughout the series. Another 50 from the ever consistent Buttler set England on course for a score of 230. Ed Smith was definitely rewarded by keeping his faith in Buttler as he scored 760 runs in 2018 at around 44. Despite a better score from Sri Lanka in the second innings, with the promising Mendis scoring 86, they couldn’t stop Ali and Leach taking 4 a piece again and England from achieving a historic series whitewash.

 

So, after a torrid start to the year, where Australia and New Zealand in particular exposed the large errors in the England team, series wins against India and Sri Lanka and 8 wins in 9 tests have put England second in the ICC Test rankings, just behind Virat Kohli’s India. Questions have been answered greatly this year, with England now possessing quality spinners, a promising opening batting duo and (touch-wood) a number three batsman. It will be interesting, however, how England do treat the younger players who got a taste of test cricket this year, without cementing their place in the team. Players like Tom Curran, Craig (and potentially Jamie) Overton, Mason Crane, Dom Bess and Ollie Pope have all got promising futures ahead of them and they may well be in the test team before too long. With Jimmy and Broady in the latter stages of their careers, spaces for pace bowlers might soon be opening up, with the likes of Tom Curran, the Overton twins and Josh Tongue (to name a few) all in contention to take these spaces.

 

Looking forward to the West Indies test series, I would prefer to play 1 or 2 spinners on there tracks and, personally, the spinner to miss out for me would be Rashid. I am unsure, however, whether Leach or Ali should be first choice spinner. Also, if Olly Stone is seen as a future pace bowler for England, I think he should be given a chance in the West Indies where the pitches will no doubt help his style of bowling. Bar that, I wouldn’t change the batting line up much after the 3-0 win in Sri Lanka. Therefore, my XI for the first test against the West Indies would be:

  1. Rory Burns

2. Keaton Jennings

3. Jonny Bairstow

4. Joe Root

5. Jos Buttler

6. Ben Stokes

7. Ben Foakes

8. Moeen Ali / Jack Leach

9. Sam Curran

10. Stuart Broad

11. James Anderson

(If Leach was picked instead of Ali, Curran would bat 8!)

 

Again, this is my personal opinion regarding the year for England test cricket and the upcoming test series. Apologies for it being longer than my recent posts and apologies for the inconsistent uploading of my posts, but I have to factor it around other work. Please feel free to leave your thoughts below. I’m open to criticism!

 

 

 

 

 

England Vs Sri Lanka Test Series Preview

Joe Root celebrating

With England having already won the ODI series against Sri Lanka 3-1 and the sole T20 taking place as I write this, the attention has turned to the test series with everyone wondering how England will fare after there dominating win against India in the summer. With the retirement of Alastair Cook leaving a hole for the taking at the top of the order, this could be the start of a new looking England team with Ed Smith seemingly keen to give younger players a chance, such as Sam Curran, Ollie Pope and Dom Bess this summer. Overall, however, the test squad that travelled to Sri Lanka this week is a mix of all the talents and could be seen as the start of planning for the Ashes in England next summer.

 

Firstly, a major blow for England came in the form of Jonny Bairstow injuring his ankle whilst playing football in a warm up. Despite not being totally on song with the bat this summer, over the last few years he has transformed himself into, arguably, one of the best international Wicket Keepers playing at the moment. His batting will still be a loss though, as he averages the third most out of any Wicket Keeper ever to score more than 2,500 test runs. However, this does give a chance to Ben Foakes who has been called up for the test series. Having yet to make his debut, despite being included in the Ashes squad last winter, he has been seen as, probably, the best Gloveman in the County Championship over the last few years. He is also very capable with the bat with 4,552 First Class runs to his name, at an average of 40.64. Whilst this might warrant his place in the starting XI, I think it is unlikely that Ed Smith and the selectors will give him much of a chance, due to Jos Buttler’s sparkling form with the bat this summer and his own capabilities with the gloves.

 

Another interesting inclusion in the test squad this winter is the Warwickshire paceman Olly Stone. Stone certainly deserves his place in the side with 43 wickets in division 2 this summer at an average of just 12.21, and may even be the out and out fast bowler England have craved for for a long time. If the ODI series is anything to go by, we can expect pace, aggression and uncanny bounce from the 25 year old. He certainly would be an important asset to this England side if he succeeds at this level, but there is a dilemma in the fact that England will want to pick at least 2 spinners in every test this series. 2 spinners plus Anderson and Broad, plus Ben Stokes and Sam Curran doesn’t leave a place for him. Personally, I think it’s important we play Stone this series, even if it means leaving out Broad or Anderson. A problem would also arise though if the selectors decide to play 3 spinners in the forms of Ali, Rashid and Jack Leach. If this was the case, unless Ali bats at number 3 (which is frowned upon by many ex-players) we would still have one to many bowlers in the side. Unfortunately, if this happens I can see the selectors taking the easy option and using Sam Curran  as scape goat again, despite his man of the series performance against India.

This also then beckons the question of who will bat at number 3, a position that England have struggled to fill since Jonathan Trott’s retirement. Although Joe Root occupied this position over the summer, he didn’t perform to his full capability and seemed to only bat there to suit the team as a whole. He has expressed before his preference to bat at number 4 and, when batting there in the last test Vs India, scored his first test century of 2018. Moeen Ali filled this position for the last test and did score a 50, despite his usual elegant approach to batting being replaced by a more gritty approach. However, with England’s recent opening woes and two batsman trying to establish themselves in test cricket at the top of the order (Jennings and, most likely Rory Burns), I think we should have another opener batting at number 3. This would therefore give Jennings, Burns and Joe Denly all a chance to cement their place in the side. This would also, hopefully, provide more resistance to the Sri Lankan bowling before Root and the middle order are exposed. With Root, too often over the last few years, being exposed earlier than the team would have liked, this would hopefully give him more shielding from the new ball. As well as this, Denly’s useful spin could occupy the role as a third spinner, allowing an extra batsman or all-rounder into the team.

 

Lastly, a seemingly on-going debate by all ex-players, commentators and fans is regarding Joe Root as captain. Whilst some argue that it has had an affect on his batting, with only 3 centuries to his name as captain, others suggest he doesn’t have the tactical quality that all good captains tend to have. This debate, however, seems to have reached a verdict after the win against India, where Joe Root really showed his potential as test captain, leading England brilliantly over the entire series, a consequence of which was much praise from cricket pundits all over the world. In addition, questions were raised at the start of his captaincy regarding the team’s loyalty to him and to what extent he would lead and motivate the team, many of whom are older than him. However, these are questions of the past now, with many players mentioning the quality of his leadership over the summer and how all of the team respected him immensely. Hopefully, the test team will cement under his leadership and he can lead this England team to Ashes victory next summer.

 

Whilst this is supposed to be a preview of the test series between both teams, I confess I know very little about the Sri Lankan team. However, an announcement that came out last week (22/10) was that the Sri Lankan spinner Rangana Herath is set to retire from international cricket after the first test against England. With 92 tests to his name, 430 wickets and a bowling average of 27.95, he truly has been a servant to Sri Lankan cricket. Nevertheless, at 40 years old, the demands of test cricket might be too much for him now. He will no doubt go down as one of the legends of Sri Lankan cricket and cricket in general, as he sits, at present, 10th in the all time list of wicket takers, and has the 4th most wickets by any spinner. Despite this being his last test, he will no doubt still cause England a lot of problems in the first test.

 

In addition to this, it has been seen that, in recent years, Sri Lankan cricket has been on he decline, with such greats as Jaywardene, Sangakkara, Dilshan and Muttiah Murlitharan all retiring in the past 8 years. Despite this decline, however, an upcoming young star, who Sri Lankans will hope can carry their team forward in the near future, is Kusal Mendis. The 23 year old already has 2060 test runs, at an average of 36.78, including 5 test centuries and a high score of 196. Sri Lanka will be hoping that he can go on and do bigger and better things, however, and ideally lead Sri Lanka with plenty of runs this series and in years to come. Whilst other 23 year olds are trying to pave their way in international cricket, he has already started off brightly, and now needs to go on to realise his full potential if this team is going to succeed in the future. Another young gun who will also be hoping to start and make an impact this series is Lahiru Kumara. Whilst not as set in the test side as Mendis, he already has 40 wickets in 12 matches at an average of 36.87. Plus, he has a good bumper, great control and often pushes the 145kph barrier, although Sangakkara cautions that he needs to learn ‘when to bowl at 145-plus and when to tone it down.’ If he plays though, his pace will no doubt be an issue to the new England top order.

 

So, whilst I can’t make a judgement on the Sri Lankan team as much (as my main focus is on the England cricket team), my England XI going into the first test would be this:

  1. Keaton Jennings
  2. Rory Burns
  3. Joe Denly
  4. Joe Root
  5. Ben Stokes
  6. Jos Buttler
  7. Moeen Ali
  8. Sam Curran
  9. Adil Rashid
  10. Olly Stone
  11. James Anderson

 

Please feel free to disagree with this XI and leave a comment regarding your team for the first test or anything else regarding the series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.