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Anderson Saves England’s Blushes

He’s pretty good, isn’t he. Jimmy Anderson, England’s best cricketer for years, proved once again that age is no barrier in professional cricket. I would say it’s no barrier in life in general, but judging by the way my hangovers seem to get worse and worse every year, I think that would be stretching things – almost as much as my middle-aged paunch is stretching the fetching tracky bottoms I’m currently wearing.

Of course, I’m a mere mortal compared to Jimmy. The bloke is incredible. Laymen used to laugh if you suggested that cricketers were ‘athletes’ back in the 1980s – thanks for that Gatt – but Jimmy very much reflects the new generation, even at the age of 36 and a half. He’s still amazing in the field and as fit as a fiddle. What’s more, his bowling hasn’t declined one bit. Sometimes I think he’s still getting better.

Without Jimmy Anderson and Ben Stokes – who bowled half England’s overs yesterday – the team would’ve been up the creek. In fact, we still might be up the aforementioned narrow sheltered waterway if the Windies bowlers, who have a little more pace than ours, hit their straps. This pitch looked pretty flat on day one but the occasional ball took off and really carried to the keeper. Gabriel and Joseph might make things interesting.

Of course, the fact that the team’s elder statesman and an all-rounder who isn’t supposed to bowl much sent down half the overs yesterday demonstrates just how badly England misread this pitch. Where the hell was Stuart Broad? You know, that bloke with over 400 test wickets? Broad is our tallest seamer and clearly would’ve suited the conditions.

Instead England preferred Sam Curran, who unfortunately bowled like a drain yesterday, and Adil Rashid. It was a curious decision indeed. The home side picked 3 specialist seam bowlers and no frontline spinner. England only picked the one specialist seamer and went into the game with two spinners. I wonder who knows conditions best at Barbados?

But on reflection perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by England’s team selection. Although Bayliss and Root decide the match day XI, the National Selector Ed Smith decides the overall selection philosophy and shapes selection meetings. And as we all know, doing things the conventional way is far too simplistic for the great philosopher.

Smith has made it clear in the past that he wants to get the best XI all-round cricketers on the park. Consequently, the all-round package provided by Sam Curran, who is a very promising batsman, makes him preferable to an out-and-out bowler like Broad. This has led to some strange comments from the management. This is what Joe Root said before this game:

We’re going to balance the team up to suit conditions. We’re not necessarily going to play our XI best players.

Only England could come up with a statement so bizarre. Of course, preferring Curran (and Rashid) to Broad might make sense if England were looking for a No.7 or No.8 in the order, where scoring runs is quite important, but Curran is slated to bat No.9 with Rashid (who has a first class batting average of 32 with the bat and 35 with the ball) as absurdly low as 10. So why on earth should scoring runs be a factor? Everyone knows that you need to take twenty wickets to win a test match.

It’s infuriating that England can’t keep things simple. Sam Curran is a cricketer of immense promise, and Adil Rashid surely has an important role in the squad, but preferring them to a guy with immense skill and experience – a bowler who has averaged 25 in test cricket over the last 12 months and looked excellent in the warm-ups – is downright silly.

I believe the decision is a symptom of Ed Smith’s warped thinking. He’s trying to be too clever by far. Sam Curran was included in England’s XI yesterday because he’s one of the best 3 all-rounders in the country. But I doubt he’s in the top ten pure seamers. One could argue that Jimmy, Broad, Woakes, Porter, Overton J, Overton C, Stone, Wood, Finn, Roland Jones, and possibly even young Ben Coad and Josh Tongue are all better. They’ve all got better first class records anyway. One could even cruelly point out that Sam doesn’t even have the best first class average in his family. Tom Curran averages 28.6 for Surrey compared to Sam’s 29.04.

Yes averages aren’t everything, and Sam is useful to have because he’s a left armer, but England shouldn’t have a guy with a first class average of 30 bowling at 78mph opening the bowling in a test match – especially when a guy of Broad’s quality is on the bench. It’s just stupid. In fact, Ed Smith’s whole strategy of packing the side with all-rounders is daft. Anyone less eloquent would’ve been assassinated in the media for proposing such an unconventional formula.

Anyway, back to the action on the field. Yesterday also showed what flawed opposition the West Indies are. As we said earlier in the week they’re very talented but their batting has an underbelly softer than a melting Babybel. They were in a good position at 240-4 but let things slip badly in the last hour. Part of that was down to Jimmy’s brilliance, of course, but it all felt a bit too easy and, if I’m being honest, a little inevitable. Once Brathwaite, Hope, and Bravo had been dismissed one sensed the end was nigh.

Having said that, I thought the half-centuries made by Chase and Hetmyer were quite encouraging. The latter in particular looks like a promising young player. He’s only 22 years old but showed good maturity. If he can lift the Windies total to 300 then they might fancy their chances in this game.

One senses that the destiny of the test might become apparent in the first hour when the Windies bowl. Will Gabriel, Roach, and Joseph get more out of the surface than England’s seamers? If our batsmen are hopping around and find life difficult then England could be in for a struggle.

On the other hand if the pitch looks just as sedate as it did for most of day one, then I expect our batsmen to build a lead. We might not get there the conventional way of course – Sam Curran might prove his worth by digging us out of trouble again – but this will only beg two further questions. A) Why is England’s top order so crap, and B) Why isn’t Sam up the order and playing primary as a batsman?

James Morgan

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Anderson Saves England’s Blushes


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