England’s tactical ploys to dismiss the world’s greatest batsman have been so embarrassingly ineffective thus far that the thought of sandpaper must surely have crossed Joe Root’s mind.
After desperately trying on numerous occasions to suggest the ball had gone out of shape and with Joe Denly as the most promising wicket-taking option, poor Joe must’ve thought to himself, ‘it’s only cheating if we get caught right? What would my crying look like on national television? They’d only ban me for a year wouldn’t they?’
Similarly despondent, the Barmy Army amongst other fans (not including those who say they only like T20) also pondered strategies. Brainwave after brainwave emerged and then, when all hope was seemingly lost, a statistical discovery surfaced:
’Smith is statistically worse against left-armers.’
This was it, the chance to finally disrupt that irritating trigger movement, the chance to prove that Steven Peter Deveroux Smith is actually human – the chance to win the first Ashes test-match of the summer! Only problem being, they decided not to pick a left-armer…
In all honesty, Smith’s average against left-arm seamers is still 65, compared to 67 with right-armers. Not bad for someone who looks as though they’re playing French cricket and fidgets more than Alex Hales in a WADA testing room. Looking at the figures in this way does not necessarily fill one with hope, but ultimately a left-arm option is something England have yet to try and therefore picking one represents no real risk. After all, Smith can’t bat any better can he? Surely?
This is where Sam Curran comes in. England have named a 12-man squad for the Second Test at Lords on Wednesday, with Jack Leach replacing Moeen Ali at long last and Jofra Archer in line for his test debut after Anderson was forced out through injury. Essentially it appears as though the final spot for next week will be between Curran and Joe Denly, yet the choice should really be a simple one.
Curran represents England’s best left-arm option by some distance. He naturally swings the ball inwards towards the right-hander, has previous experience of opening the bowling in Test match cricket and more crucially perhaps- he has dismissed Steve Smith before. Granted, this was only in an IPL encounter earlier this year, but nonetheless, it is something for England to hold on to.
In comparison, Denly’s leg-spin was surprisingly not horrific in the first test, and at least he didn’t bowl beamers over the batsman’s head. Yet the realisation that he is no more than part-time eventually began to show and Smith pounced on anything that was remotely off-length.
But Denly can bat some people may claim. Who will bat at number four otherwise? Both valid points to some extent, though ultimately it is evident that the series will be won or lost depending on whether England can dismiss Smith. In this way, England have to pick the strongest bowling line-up possible and this unquestionably includes Curran.
From a batting perspective, Stokes is easily good enough both technically and mentally to succeed at number four. Added to this, people are quick to forget that Sam Curran is actually an exceptionally gifted batsman. In the T20 blast recently, Curran has been promoted to bat at three, and averages over 70 in his last three games. Even if he does not succeed with the ball, he can contribute more than enough with the bat, and has done so at Test match level in the past.
At just 21 years of age, Curran is only the second player ever to record three test-match half-centuries this young. He was England’s man of the series against India in 2018, saving the side multiple times after the inevitable batting collapses ensued. He performed well on the sub-continent last winter, has a better batting average than Woakes, Ali and Denly not to mention a better bowling average than Woakes and Stokes, England’s two main all-rounders.
He may be young, but Curran has arguably been England’s best red-ball player in the last year and is more than ready for an Ashes challenge. He may not be regarded as a mainstay of England’s test team at the minute, but he is certainly playing like someone who should be. England still have every chance of winning at Lords next week, but if they don’t pick Curran, then they are setting themselves up to fail.