Why England should play six batsmen

Stephen Vagg Roar Guru

By Stephen Vagg, Stephen Vagg is a Roar Guru

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    I’m not English and don’t follow English cricket that closely, but I can use a computer and the internet and read things called statistics, and I can’t help wonder how on earth England settled on their current batting line-up.

    Maybe there are factors I’m unaware of – if there are, I’d love to hear them, especially from any keen followers of the English domestic scene who happen to read this – but from this distance it seems England’s selectors have really bent over backwards to help Australia win the Ashes this summer.

    Let’s take the last Test. England’s batting line up was:

    1. Alastair Cook
    2. Mark Stoneman
    3. James Vince
    4. Joe Root
    5. Dawid Malan
    6. Moeen Ali
    7. Jonny Bairstow
    8. Chris Woakes
    9. Craig Overton
    10. Stuart Broad
    11. James Anderson

    I think most cricket followers acknowledge the skill of Cook and Root. They average 45 and 53 at Test level. Cook is clearly not what he was, but he’s still done better over the past few years than anyone else England have tried.

    I also think few would quibble with Bairstow as a keeper batsman. He averages 39 at Test level, which is very nice – though it’s less than his first-class average of 46.

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Broad and Anderson aren’t really expected to bat now even though Broad went through that weird period where people insisted he was an all-rounder. Some Aussies are trying to do the same thing with Pat Cummins now.

    I like Ali and Woakes as bits and pieces all-rounders. Ali averages 34 with the bat and 40 with the ball at less than three wickets a Test, but he was nicely counterbalanced at eight by Ben Stokes at six. Stokes averages 35 with the bat, 33 with the ball at less than three wickets a game.

    Woakes at nine meant a strong lower-middle order – he averages 29 with the bat, down from 35 at first-class level, and 31 with the ball, up from 25 domestically, at less than three wickets a game.

    But Stokes isn’t in the side and England didn’t replace him with a like-for-like player; they added another bowler. Craig Overton averages 22 with the bat and 26 with the ball at first-class level. They’ve swapped a player who averages 35 with one who averages 22 – and before Overton they picked Jake Ball, who is a genuine tail-ender.

    I don’t know why they didn’t replace Stokes with Samit Patel (FCA of 37 with the bat and 38 with the ball) or Adil Rashid (FCA of 33 with the bat and 35 with the ball).

    Actually, yes, I do – it’s because they’re both spinners and everyone knows you need pace to win in Australia. Just like those pace-dominated English attacks of 2006-07 and 2013-14 which helped England lose five-nil.

    Anyway they’ve replaced Stokes with a specialist bowler, so they’ve weakened the batting there.

    (AAP Image/Darren England)

    Adding to the pain are Stoneman, Vince and Malan. These players did okay in the first Test, so there was some high-fiving at their selection among the English, but a cursory look at their records indicates that they are not giants of the domestic scene.

    I’ll go off first stats because they’re all still relatively green at Test level – Malan is 30 years old and averages 37.34, Stoneman is 30 and averages 35, and Vince is 26, averages 38. Those aren’t great numbers. England’s top six features four batsmen who average less than 40 at first-class level.

    Maybe they were the only options, then? Let’s look at who wasn’t picked on this English side and their first class stats:

    • Liam Livingstone: 24 years old, averages 48.75 with the bat (only 31 first class games admittedly) and can bowl a little too;
    • Rory Burns: 27 years old, averages 42.17 with the bat after 92 games;
    • James Hildreth: 33 years old, averages 43.32 after 234 games;
    • Dan Lawrence: only 20 years old, averages 42.89 after 40 games; and
    • Ben Duckett: 23 years old, averages 41.77 and has played four Tests.

    In the tour squad there’s also Balance, who averages 48 at first-class level and 37 in Tests but who no-one seems to think is any good at Test level; and back-up keeper Foakes, who averages 41.84 at first-class level.

    Maybe you can forgive an opener who averages under 40, but not middle order batsmen – not when other options are available, and I’d love to know why Malan and Vince got the nod ahead of them. Better catchers? Better team men? I have this awful feeling the answer is ‘prettier stroke-makers’, but I could be wrong.

    Foakes and Balance are in the squad but don’t seem to be in the running for Test selection. Lawrence, Burns, Duckett and Livingstone are in Australia with the Lions team; I don’t know why they’re not with the actual team.

    (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

    What to do for the third Test, though?

    First, England need to rectify the Stokes situation – there is no like-for-like replacement, not with Rashid and Patel in England. England’s batting is fatefully weak.

    So faced with that I would play six batsmen and Ali at eight. Ali’s not a great specialist spinner, but he’s still better than the squad’s back-up spin option, Mason Crane, who has 75 first-class wickets from 29 games at 43.98. I don’t know why they took Crane instead of Jack Leach, who has 167 FC wickets at 26.

    I’d drop a bowler for an extra batsman. I’d also get rid of Vince, whose batting practically screams ‘enigma who will always let you down’.

    If bringing in Lions players is an impossibility – I don’t know why it would be, but I recognise there might be political considerations here – I’d go:

    1. Cook
    2. Stoneman
    3. Root
    4. Balance
    5. Malan
    6. Foakes
    7. Bairstow
    8. Ali
    9. Woakes/Overton (take your pick of whoever you think will get more wickets)
    10. Broad
    11. Anderson

    I know, I know – that’s only four bowlers. But England won the Ashes in 2010-11 with just four bowlers and got whitewashed in 2006-07 and 2013-14 with five bowlers – though they did play only four in the first Test in 2013. And, yes, Ali isn’t as good a spinner as Swann, but is weakening the batting line-up going to compensate for an extra bowler?

    (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    That’s a side capable of putting on 500 runs and of putting Australian bowlers under real strain and causing Australian batsman to panic – which is, apart from the selection of Mitch Marsh, England’s best way of winning two Tests.

    If they’re worried about Ali’s bowling, then play Jack Leach. If they’re worried about Foakes playing as a specialist batsman, pick Livingstone. If they’re worried about Cook’s form, pick Burns. All are in the country right now.

    If Lions players were available, I would go for the following side

    1. Cook
    2. Stoneman
    3. Burns
    4. Root
    5. Malan (over Lawrence because I don’t think too many players should debut in the one Test)
    6. Livingstone
    7. Bairstow
    8. Ali/Leach
    9. Woakes/Overton
    10. Broad
    11. Anderson

    I know England are feeling down after 2-0, but they are still in with a chance of retaining the Ashes, especially if Australia pick Mitch Marsh at six – Australia had to be bailed out by their number six in the last two Tests, and now they might be picking their worst number six in history.

    But they have to strengthen their batting first. They’ve chosen the squad poorly, but solutions are available.

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    The Crowd Says (49)

    • Roar Rookie

      December 10th 2017 @ 8:49am
      DJ DJ said | December 10th 2017 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      Just like we do here in Australia, no doubt a number of the English players would have been picked based on potential, promise, being a “team man”, being “great in the dressing room”, being a great competitor…. and having the right connections, going to the right school et etc etc…. all to the detriment of the team.

      • December 10th 2017 @ 9:10am
        George said | December 10th 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

        Pretty much. Probably happens in other countries too.

      • December 10th 2017 @ 9:46am
        Stephen Vagg said | December 10th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

        I’m completely sympathetic to considering that if players are otherwise equal i.e. picking the one with the best temperament – but in this case there seems to be a real gap

    • December 10th 2017 @ 9:09am
      George said | December 10th 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report

      With you on Leach and Rashid and Vince, probably Malan too. England selectors are too stubborn, play favourites like Australia’s. Which leads me to…. I hope M Marsh plays the next three Tests (shocking Test player despite what Freo will tell you through JLT stats).

      By contrast I think Stoneman’s Test call up was overdue – when looking at first-class averages, the fact he played most of his cricket in seamers’ paradise Durham makes 35 quite good.

      • December 10th 2017 @ 9:47am
        Stephen Vagg said | December 10th 2017 @ 9:47am | ! Report

        I think Stoneman will be the one positive out of this tour. He’s going to need a partner soon though bc I can’t see Cook sticking around much longer.

        • December 10th 2017 @ 6:15pm
          Jameswm said | December 10th 2017 @ 6:15pm | ! Report

          Cook will be there for years

    • December 10th 2017 @ 10:04am
      paul said | December 10th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

      Prior to yesterday’s tour match I thought Foakes should have been a shoe-in to bat at 7 in the Perth Test and possibly Balance to replace Vince but neither made any runs.

      You might be right, Stoneman might become a good Test opener but is still learning the trade right now. Vince is not a number 3, Root is, but doesn’t want to bat there. Bairstow is probably the best player in form apart from Root but can he bat higher if he’s also keeping? Malan is equally not good enough to bat 5, but who can replace him?

      It’s been clear since this side was selected, that batting was going to be the Pom’s achilles heel because they have no quality replacements for guys picked in the side. Your suggestion they need 6 batsmen is right, but they have no-one good enough to pick.

      • December 10th 2017 @ 10:23am
        Stephen Vagg said | December 10th 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        I think it’s worth rolling the dice purely on the basis of first class form.

        Root probably should be at three but I’m sure he’s thinking “if they get me and Cook early we’re cactus” so he’s put himself down the order one. If England had a really strong option at say number five it might be different. I think Australia’s middle order wobbles over the years have inspired Steve Smith to play at four.

        Batting is weak – yet I listened to lot of cricket podcasts and read pieces on England’s team and it all seemed to be about whether Wood should come into the side and not about the batting. Foakes and Balance don’t seem to be discussed.

        England have enjoyed far greater success in recent years with six batsmen rather than five but they don’t seem to notice, remember or care.

        • December 10th 2017 @ 1:08pm
          paul said | December 10th 2017 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

          They gave away having 6 quality batsmen that’s because they fell in love with their 3 supposedly world class all-rounders. The jury’s out on Stokes for obvious reasons, but Ali’s been found out with both bat and ball, while Bairstow is the only one who’s played to form to date.

          Not going back to the 6 batsmen, 4 bowlers and keeper formula will hurt England, in the same way it will hurt Australia to go away from that if they select Mitch Marsh this Test. It’s worked a treat for us so far.

          • December 10th 2017 @ 4:20pm
            Stephen Vagg said | December 10th 2017 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

            I don’t mind playing all rounders if they balance each other – Ali and Stokes balanced each other nicely. They two of them have teamed v effectively for England – they both played key roles in the 2015 Ashes. But without Stokes the team is lopsided, at least with the current team.

            But generally yes I believe in six batsmen and four bowlers. It’s a formula that we do best with and I can’t believe we’re going away from it.

      • December 10th 2017 @ 11:16am
        Scooby said | December 10th 2017 @ 11:16am | ! Report

        Batting at no

    • December 10th 2017 @ 11:14am
      Matting wicket said | December 10th 2017 @ 11:14am | ! Report

      Whilst I have little interest in what England do, my view has always been, that Bairstow is batting way too low. He’s too good a player to bat behind Ali. In every innings so far in the series, he has batted with the tail and has not been in a position to exert any pressure on the bowlers.

      As Cook appears to be on the decline, Bairstow is now the second best bat in the side. So what to do? Drop Malan, Root to 3, Bairstow to 4, Vince 5, Ali, give Foakes the gloves.

      I think it’s time for Root and Bairstow to stand up.

      • December 10th 2017 @ 11:40am
        George said | December 10th 2017 @ 11:40am | ! Report

        Totally agree. Batting is not good enough for Bairstow to be a keeper.

      • December 10th 2017 @ 4:21pm
        Stephen Vagg said | December 10th 2017 @ 4:21pm | ! Report

        I’d still be included tolet Bairstow keep – I think he enjoys it and it takes the pressure of him as a batsman. But yes if they insist on keeping the same team (which Bayliss is sounding like he wants to do) I’d shift up Bairstow above Ali at least.

    • December 10th 2017 @ 11:18am
      Mark said | December 10th 2017 @ 11:18am | ! Report

      I want Stokes back in the side so the card can read
      Stokes
      Foakes
      Woakes

    • December 10th 2017 @ 2:17pm
      Bakkies said | December 10th 2017 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

      Duckett is not in the squad as he was dropped from the test side.

      They also had a player who partnered Cook retire from Cricket altogether after a couple of tests.

      • December 10th 2017 @ 6:08pm
        Stephen Vagg said | December 10th 2017 @ 6:08pm | ! Report

        After what happened with Duckett it seems he is one player who might have non-cricket-field related reasons for not being picked.

        Having said that i only just realised today there’s another player I overlooked who’s out here with the Lions – Joe Clarke who is averaging 43 after 44 first class games.

        Why do they keep picking sub-40 averaging batsmen?

        • December 10th 2017 @ 10:47pm
          Bakkies said | December 10th 2017 @ 10:47pm | ! Report

          ‘Why do they keep picking sub-40 averaging batsmen?’

          There have been theories out there in regards to Root picking his mates. I don’t know about that, in reality England have had gaps since 2013-14 they had to be filled. Like Australia over the years this occurred at the same time. They picked blokes like Ballance who started well but got found out (he has batted well in County Cricket), Tremlett, Plunkett, Bresnan, etc who they gave matches, performed then lost form and/or got injured. They filled these roles with all rounders who could make up the runs and wickets. However it didn’t sort out the top and middle order. You still need players to open the batting and come in at number 3. Unlike Australia their top players don’t step up. KP, Bell and Root have refused to bat there so they have put a test rookie in there. Madness.

          ‘After what happened with Duckett it seems he is one player who might have non-cricket-field related reasons for not being picked’

          Watch the analysis from Bob Willis, etc they pulled him apart back to square one for the lad. Yes he may have a need for an attitude adjustment, however they need to give him something to work for. These Lions tours are all well and good however it is going the way of Rugby where there are a limited amounted of A level matches.There was an A tour to SA schedule but was called off due to the industrial action. No hint of rescheduling.

          The Australian XI aka Australia A no longer play the touring side. The real A side where the likes of Sayers, Lehmann, Maxwell, Burns, Nevill, etc should be playing not the dev. sides the low performance unit puts out in Townsville. The Lilac Hill match against the real Chairman’s XI doesn’t occur anymore and the PM’s XI had players who were out to prove themselves.

          • December 11th 2017 @ 10:57am
            Stephen Vagg said | December 11th 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report

            England have struggled with their batting in recent years – they can’t seem to find people who stick. I wonder why they don’t like Hildreth.

            Mind you Australia went through that period where they seemed to prefer batsmen who averaged in the 30s to the 40 plus brigade – Quiney, Cowan, Bailey, Doolan (though Cowan and Bailey now average over 40). They didn’t pick Voges and Rogers until very very late in the day and never picked David Hussey at all.

            I’d love for England to be playing a proper first class match against a strong Australian A side – maybe Renshaw, Weatherald, Bailey (c), Maxwell, Lehmann, Pattinson, Carey/Wade/Neville, O’Keefe, Sayers, Bird, Mennie… lots of great options

            • December 12th 2017 @ 1:26am
              Bakkies said | December 12th 2017 @ 1:26am | ! Report

              Like most things these days they expect people to hit the ground running which doesn’t often happen in test Cricket.

              Most test players have been dropped even McGrath and Warne got dropped. Gilchrist is probably the only player that wasn’t chopped early on his international career or during a form slump.

              This is where the draw structure needs to change. If a player gets dropped to work on his game and there are no first class matches for two months like the break that will occur for the Base Ball League how is that player going to get his form back. That’s insane and the biggest downside for creating these plastic teams for that competition with players playing outside of the states they are contracted too. The Shield competition will resume after the squad for SA has been announced. That is insanity and leaves players in the lurch.

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