What a difference a week makes! Last Monday England had just achieved one of their worst performances ever on a cricket field. It would lead to condemnation from the press and Michael Vaughan’s call for Stuart Broad to be dropped. England were at a low ebb. They had been slaughtered by a team ranked seventh in the world and full of players who weren’t even alive when Alastair Cook made his test debut. (Alright bit of artistic license there!) This week? Broad bowled like a man possessed, Jennings proved openers can block and Cook clung onto those hot potatoes. With Bayliss’ tongue lashing firmly in their ears, England proved they can actually play test cricket. Their mantra was etched on Jos Buttler’s bat handle; ‘f**K it. Couldn’t have put it better myself. As long as there’s no ‘up’ we’re all good. The f**k it approach to test cricket has begun!
Relight My Fire
With blonde wavy hair, sparkling blue eyes and cherub like cheeks, Stuart Broad wouldn’t be out of place in Take That. After Vaughan’s somewhat harsh criticism, Stuart’s fire seems well and truly relit. In responding to the ex-England skipper, Broady finished with match figures of 6-56. All that’s required was a little bit of patience as he and Jimmy pitched the ball up, bowling a fuller length and causing the batsmen to drive wildly.
It only took a minute before Imam edged to slip. From there the floodgates opened. After an hour Pakistan were 62-4 and everything had changed from Lord’s. Within two overs 78-5 became 79-7. It’s spells like this which remind us why Broad and Anderson are two of England’s greatest ever bowlers, for in this form they can rule the world. Broad said it all in his post-match interview, revealing he felt Vaughan’s comments to be ‘unfair’ and ‘puzzling.’
Although Broad has disappointed slightly over the past eighteen months, since the winter and a changed technique, he’s bowling more accurately. How deep is his love for England? Enough for him to constantly seek improvements past the age of 30. What a babe. He held up a light to the petrol soaked Pakistani batsmen and caused them to burst into flames. A million love songs have been in the charts since Broad made his debut but on performances like this he’s never forgot where he came from. He proved his doubters wrong. Happy now Vaughany?
Ironically there was a reshuffle in the England card pack this week. With a torn hamstring, Ben Stokes was declared unfit, meaning a debut for teenager Sam Curran. Brother of Tom, Sam’s selection was a bit left field. After two seasons playing for Surrey he’s still developing his game and with a first class average of 27.04 with bat and 30.27 with ball, he doesn’t appear particularly special.
However it’s his character which Ed Smith values. Curran is a combative, aggressive cricketer. He wasn’t afraid to offer field suggestions to Root; which cleverly worked with Shadab hoiking out. When batting he looked at ease and as a developing all-rounder perhaps batting should be his forte. After all, in bowling at 78 mph Curran only threatens with a swinging ball; if it’s docile he’s about as useful as lollipop man with no stick. He’ll be driven out of the attack…
Somebody out of their teens and blossoming into a capable cricketer is Dom Bess, who puts Jimmy to shame in night-watchman role. In fact in his last twenty three test cricket innings Anderson has failed to reach double figures. He’s no longer the best around that goes to Dom Bess. Following on from his debut half century at Lord’s, Bess was comfortable late on the first day. Next morning he was the thorn in the side of Amir making a brilliant 49. This confidence gained from batting was instrumental in his controlled bowling in Pakistan’s second innings picking up three wickets.
Like a toddler on Christmas Day, Bess was giggling with joy as Pakistan gave him defensive hole shaped presents. Add to that a stonking one handed catch and Bess will be top of Santa’s list come December. And hopefully his chimney will be found in Sri Lanka and not Somerset.
Back In Black (Whites – this is test cricket remember!)
Serving up a storm in this test was England’s number six and all-round the wicket hitter, Jos Buttler. After impressing at Lord’s with his steadfast defence, Buttler let loose at Headingley in a phenomenal display which had the crowd cooing like pigeons. Indeed the balls dropping out of the sky onto the heads of spectators were hit with the frequency of a bird releasing its load. And boy did it bring those England supporters luck.
Arriving at the crease during the twilight zone on Saturday, Jos settled over his bat like a preying vampire, sucking the venom from the Pakistan attack. In a display Boycs would’ve been proud of, Buttler displayed patience few thought he possessed. He played the situation with all the calmness of a chef preparing a dish. Leaving the ingredients to stew overnight, ensuring they pack a flavour.
And boy oh boy was there flavour the next morning! Cumin out freewheeling, Buttler cayenned the ball to all parts of the ground. Thyme and thyme again he displayed the aggressive batting Ed Smith has given him the license to unleash. The hooked maximum off Hasan Ali was brutal. The straight six off Faheem Ashraf is possibly the largest Leeds has ever seen. It was chilling to the Pakistan bowlers.
Only running out of partners prevented Jos from completing an inaugural test cricket century. But on this form, Smith can feel justified in his selection, for Buttler has served him well.
The Road To Hell
Where England were rejuvenated, revitalised and ready to rock, Pakistan were piss poor. The old adage of never knowing what Pakistan side will turn up was never truer for in complete opposite to Lord’s this was an atrocious test cricket performance. It was a complete role reversal from last week. Even going down to the actual scores each side managed. Last week England, batting first, made 184; this week Pakistan made 174. The visitors hammered home their advantage with 363 at Lord’s; here England made exactly the same score. Only in the second innings did the pattern change, with Pakistan sinking like the Titanic managing just 134.
Debutant Usman Salahuddin, who is the first player since the 1980’s to make his debut after one hundred first class matches, attempted to defend, yet all around him wickets fell. Skipper Sarfraz is in rotten form; emphasised by missing a straight one from Woakes. Azhar Ali swiped like a drunken sailor fighting and was clean bowled by Jimmy. Shadab’s record of three consecutive fifties disappeared down the drain as he edged to Curran. Whilst Haris Sohail was superbly caught by a diving Dominic Bess. Also in the field the Pakistani’s appeared to have lost their razor sharp mind-set, dropping a couple of catches. Micky Arthur, animated on the balcony, will be extremely disappointed by his side’s inability to carry on their blistering form. As England ascended from devils to angels, Pakistan fell along the prickly road to hell.
So there we go. The first test series of 2018 is over, with two of the most acute role reversals in sport. Sadly we purists have to wait until August for the next batch of red ball cricket, when India visit these shores. The question on everyone’s lips until then will be; which is the real England? The hapless, garden cricket, scared to catch the ball England? Or the robust, test cricket, aggressive in every way England?
If Jennings has oiled out his creaks, if Buttler mixes humility with power, if Root reaches three figures, then f**k it, we might not be too bad!
We shall see.
At least this week England have proved that if they get knocked down, they can get back up again.