As well as being one of the most spectacular innings of all time, Ben Stokes’ Headingley Nonsense did a sterling job of papering over the many and varied cracks in the England line-up. The question now is what on earth should England do about it in the fourth Test? Who should they pick?
Let’s have a look, starting with the current XI and then those looking to break (back) in…
Averaging over 40 in a series in which no other opener averages 15. Australia have taken to bombarding him with short balls, which is working rather well and would in other circumstances be a bit of a worry. In these specific circumstances, however, it is about 85737295th on the Big List of Problems.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford? Yes.
Ah. England’s Big Gamble was always more likely to end in failure than success. It was understandably irresistible given the sheer majesty of his white-ball dominance and the craptitude of the assorted other openers England have dabbled with for years and years and years and years but it has not worked. Right now he’s basically a turbo James Vince without the pretty 20 or 30.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford? Not at the top of the order and maybe not at all.
Set the platform the Ben Stokes Show at Headingley after back-to-back ducks. Even out of form remains England’s best human batsman. While doubts and concerns creep in over his captaincy and the insistence that Root Must Bat At Three Because Reasons is maddening, England should obviously and definitely pick him at Old Trafford.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford? England should obviously and definitely pick him at Old Trafford.
So, the answer to this question turned out to be Yes. But giving Denly the plum spot at number four is a silliness. Even before his battling 50 at Headingley he had shown the ability to get himself in and use up a few overs. He has made double-figures in each of his last 11 Test innings; none of his team-mates have done it in each of their last two. So, in summary, he doesn’t score all that many runs but has proved himself capable of using up a fair few balls doing so. Where would that skill be most useful and where (see above) have we just created a vacancy? He remains a remarkably fortunate accidental Test cricketer, and if he wants to continue it he’ll have to do it at the top of the order. Is it ideal to have two batsmen with dubious short-ball technique opening the batting? No. Do we have a lot of choice? Also no.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford? At four, no; opening, might as well.
No need to detain ourselves here, there are bigger decisions ahead. Let’s instead consider not just the astonishing performance at Headingley, but the enormous gulf between his first innings and second. In the first, he bowled an enormously awful spell after tea on that damp and gloomy first day and then he played that shot. Then bowled a 210-over spell (subs please check) to keep the target just about within the realms of possibility before playing one of the all-time great innings. Craziness. Anyway, England will probably pick him you’d think.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford? Yeah, we reckon.
Having an extremely weird series on the back of an extremely weird couple of years in which he’s scored three hundreds while averaging under 30. Keeping has grown increasingly erratic and, like many of England’s World Cup heroes, looks really bloody tired. He will hate it, but there is yet again, and based as much on failings of other as much as himself, a case for taking the gloves off him and moving him up the order.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford? Whack him as a specialist bat at number three and tell him everyone thinks he’ll fail and he needs to prove them wrong
Currently averaging less than Jason Roy at a strike rate under 30. Looks even more knackered than Bairstow. Yes, he’s scored more runs than any other England batsman bar Root since his return to the side last year, but all those runs are an increasingly long time ago. We absolutely hate to say it, and it would in no way necessarily spell the end for Buttler the Test batsman, but it might be time for him to have a bit of a rest. Specialist number seven batsmen are an indulgence even when averaging in double-figures.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford? Only if they drop Roy. England cannot have both right now.
A brilliant yet under-rated cricketer who should be dropped. Okay, listen. Yes, only six batsmen in total can better his average in the series to date, and only five bowlers. But, weirdly, he has become an increasingly peripheral figure. Has bowled only 25 overs in Australia’s last three innings. That’s barely one Ben Stokes spell. Is he carrying an injury? Something’s not right when he is bowling so much less than Stokes, and he was out of sorts for one reason or another at Leeds. Were it not for Australia having shown up some alarming frailties against the short ball, Woakes – whose defensive technique is as good as anyone else in the side – would be a contender for the sacrificial opener slot we’ve earmarked for Denly. As it is, it’s hard to see how Woakes stays in the side if James Anderson is fit.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford? Not if Anderson is fit; Woakes doesn’t even have an end named after him at Old Trafford, the phony.
Easy one, this.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford?
— Jofra Archer (@JofraArcher) January 23, 2015
Has spent his whole Test career being overshadowed by Jimmy. Now being overshadowed by Jofra. Actually having a quietly brilliant series, though, arguably bowling better – or at least more consistently – than ever. A noticeably fuller length is reaping rewards, David Warner has not the first clue what to do with him, and only Pat Cummins has more wickets in the three Tests thus far. Increasingly mad to think that his place was under quite serious threat a few weeks ago.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford? Yep.
Hero, comedy sidekick, Ashes-saving single recreator, and on the quiet a potentially series-defining bowler given where the last two matches are being played. Who knows, in a couple of weeks he might even be rivalling Stokes for SPOTY which, as we all know, is the real quiz.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford? Very much so.
In keeping with England policy of playing people out of position, was played out of position for a couple of Tests against India last year. Did that thing of looking the part without scoring any runs but is still only 21 and scored a double-century the other week where he looked like a cross between Root and Ian Bell and simply screamed “Entirely unappreciated 100-Test career”. Was on standby for Jason Roy at Headingley and could well go one better across the Pennines.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford? Next batting cab off the proverbial rank if England decide to ditch any of their top-seven strugglers without a change of keeper; like at least three of his rivals, should really bat at six.
Best keeper in the country. Currently on track to be the last England batsman ever to average 40 in Test cricket. Is very nearly as handsome as Pat Cummins. Is less knackered than either Bairstow or Buttler who have had busy old summers with the World Cup and whatnot.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford? Takes the strain off Bairstow. Would likely score at least as many runs as at least three of England’s current top seven. Would look just altogether less weird at seven than a specialist batsman. It’s a yes from us.
Back from the calf injury that scuppered him and England at Edgbaston. Has famously taken a great many Test wickets in English conditions and was still only getting better with age before the body started to creak. If England and he are confident about getting through five days, he remains a straightforward first-choice pick.
Should England pick him at Old Trafford? Yes, if only because we are absolutely desperate just once to see Anderson, Broad and Archer in the same England bowling attack. Chuck in Stokes and it really is right up there with those nutters from 2005.
Ollie Pope as twelfthers. We’re not particularly sold on various elements of this, but we reckon it does have a few more round(ish) pegs in round holes than England’s recent efforts. Root, having proved whatever point he felt he needed to by batting at three for no good reason, at least scored some important runs there in the last game and should grab this unexpected chance to go back to his proper spot while in a position of at least some vague strength with the series alive. Denly has earned a couple of Tests at the top of the order in the absence of alternatives.
We don’t really mind which of Roy, Buttler or Pope plays at number six, but we are convinced that right now England can only have Roy or Buttler and not both. Roy gets the nod from us because, unlike Buttler, he is currently failing out of position ending his Test career without at least having a look at what he can do down the order seems wasteful. Stat: Roy’s Test average in the middle-order currently stands at a Steve Smith-eclipsing 72. Take your sample-size concerns and sh*t off, frankly.
Foakes comes in with the gloves, while Woakes goes out in accordance with the prophecy that states Stokes, Foakes and Woakes can never all play in the same Test XI. Bairstow will deliver his inevitable f*ck you ton having been forced to surrender the gloves and bat three, Anderson will hoop it round corners while Jofra chips bits off people, Jack Leach will take 10 wickets in the match and hit the winning runs.
The tail is undeniably lengthened by swapping in Anderson for Woakes, but this series is already being played in Bizarroland and we say just go with it. Look at that five-man bowling attack and tell us we’re wrong. Besides, Archer has a better first-class batting average than Tim Paine and the three men below him have Test bests of 169, 92 and 81. It’ll be reet.
Just for fun, here’s our current best guess for the team England actually pick: Burns, Roy, Root (c), Denly, Stokes, Pope, Bairstow (wk), Archer, Broad, Leach, Anderson.
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Joe Root > Don Bradman. That’s just maths.
Changes for both teams ahead of The Oval.
England’s Test-match batting is broken. Time to get back to basics.
The WTC scoring system is stupid, but the fix is easy. Get it done.
The Badger lets off steam.