England’s failure to reclaim the Ashes in a home series for the first time in almost two decades can in part be put down to unhelpful pitches, according to the team’s senior fast bowler James Anderson. While a calf injury limited Anderson’s involvement to bowling just four overs in the first Test at Edgbaston, he suggested that the playing surfaces have better suited Australia’s attack and said local groundsmen might consider being “a little bit more biased” towards England in future.
Defeat on Anderson’s home ground of Old Trafford last week left England 2-1 down in the Specsavers Test series and unable to prise back the urn from Australia. While Anderson gave a nod towards Steven Smith for his “phenomenal” batting – in three Test appearances Smith has scored 671 runs, almost twice as many as anyone else – he said England had been disappointed by the pitches served up and that more could be done to exploit home advantage.
“I think they’ve probably suited Australia more than us,” he said. “I would have liked to have seen a bit more grass but that’s the nature of the game here. When you’re selling out – like Lancashire selling out five days of Test cricket – it’s hard not to produce a flat deck but, you know, that’s one of the frustrations from a player’s point of view. We go to Australia and get pitches that suit them. They come over here and get pitches that suit them. It doesn’t seem quite right.
“I thought they were good pitches here against India [last year]. I thought they weren’t green seamers but I thought they suited us more than India. We as a country don’t use home advantage enough. When you go to Australia, go to India, Sri Lanka, they prepare pitches that suit them. I feel like we could just be a little bit more biased towards our own team.”
Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, in particular, have led the way for Australia, taking 24 wickets at 17.41 and 18 at 16.88 respectively – separated only by Stuart Broad (19 at 26.63) for England. It has been a bowlers series in general, with only two Australians (Smith and Marnus Labuschagne) and three Englishmen (Ben Stokes, Rory Burns and Joe Root) averaging above 30 with the bat.
In contrast to Anderson’s lugubrious take, Australia coach Justin Langer was perhaps unsurprisingly full of praise for the “bowler-friendly wickets” on which his team had prevailed in their mission to retain the Ashes.
“It’s most important for the health of Test cricket moving forward that you’re playing on competitive wickets,” he said ahead of the final Test at The Oval. “Great players make runs, games always moving forward, you’re on the edge of your seat. I think the wickets this series have been fantastic for that.”
Anderson’s frustrations have been compounded by being forced to watch from the sidelines after suffering from a persistent calf problem that saw him hobble through the first Test at Edgbaston, having being declared fit, then suffer a recurrence while going about his rehabilitation with Lancashire.
There is little doubt that not being able to call upon the most-prolific Test fast bowler in history has hurt England’s chances – despite the resurgence of Broad and a potent display from Jofra Archer in his debut series. However, Anderson has quietened any expectations he may be contemplating retirement, writing in his newspaper column that he intends to try and play on until he is 40.
He proclaimed himself “open-minded” to making changes to his diet and lifestyle in order to prolong his career; perhaps a chat about the benefits of veganism with old Ashes foe Peter Siddle is in order following the conclusion of the series?
“When I start this rehab, I’m going to try and investigate every possible avenue of what do I need to do at my age to keep myself in good shape,” Anderson said. “I feel in really good condition. I feel as fit as I ever have. It’s just the calf keeps twanging.
“I’m going to look at every possible thing I can to make sure I can play for as long as possible. I’ll look at how other sportspeople have done it throughout their careers to keep going into their late 30s. Whether there’s anything specific I can do, diet, gym programme, supplements, whatever it might be. Because I’ve still got a real hunger and desire to play cricket. I still love the game and still feel like I can offer something to this team and still have the skills and can bowl quick enough to have a positive effect.
“It’ll be an ongoing process through the rest of my career. I still feel like I can be the best bowler in the world. So as long as I’ve got that mentality I’m going to keep pushing myself. Keep trying to improve my skills with the ball, work hard at my batting, and try to find every possible thing to help me stay fit.”
“We as a country don’t use home advantage enough. When you go to Australia, go to India, Sri Lanka, they prepare pitches that suit them. I feel like we could just be a little bit more biased towards our own team”
Anderson’s first goal is to be available for the two Tests in New Zealand towards the back-end of November, after which comes a tour of South Africa. His desire to keep playing means he is set to feature under a fifth different England coach – depending on when the successor to Trevor Bayliss is appointed – and he suggested the new management needed to map out with Joe Root a pathway to rebalancing priorities between Test and limited-overs cricket.
“Going forward, it’s important whoever takes over has got the same sort of vision as Joe as captain, on how the team moves forward. Obviously the last four years has been a real focus on one-day cricket, trying to win the World Cup. We’ve now done that.
“I think we need to find a good balance. We’ve kind of been one or the other. In my career, it’s been Test priority in the first bit and then this last four-year cycle has been a push for the white-ball stuff. We need to find a balance, it’s as simple as that. We’ve got to try to give equal attention to both.”
Whether or not he develops a craving for bananas, Anderson’s appetite for cricket remains strong – though he grimaces wearily at the idea of resuming battle with Smith once again in 2021-22. There is an acceptance that he won’t go on forever, an understanding that one day, perhaps not too far in the future, he will be able to inspect a flat pitch with a shake of the head before heading towards the media facilities rather than the dressing rooms.
“I’m realistic. If I’m not good enough and feel I’m detracting from the team and I’m too slow, or whatever it might be, then I’m not going to embarrass myself or drag the team down. I’ll only keep playing if I think I can be one of the best bowlers in the world and if I think I can help this team win games of Test cricket. I’m not just blinkered thinking I’m going to just drag out as many possible games as I can.”
James Anderson was speaking on behalf of ‘The Test Experts’ Specsavers, Official Test Partner of the England cricket team ahead of the final Test of the Specsavers Ashes Series at The Oval
‘World Cup or IPL?’ – Quinton de Kock clarifies
During the World Cup earlier this year, Quinton de Kock created a mild furore by saying the atmosphere during his IPL 2019 win with Mumbai Indians was more emotionally intense than the one during South Africa’s semi-final defeat in the World Cup in 2015. Blasphemy, cried those who support international cricket over leagues, national flags over similar-looking jerseys. Blown out of proportion, said those who had heard the question, which related to emotional atmosphere at a ground and not the value of a tournament or a match.
A couple of months later, on the eve of South Africa’s T20I against India in Mohali, de Kock was given an opportunity to clarify what he meant.
“What must I say?” It is the biggest thing I have won so far. I haven’t won a World Cup,” de Kock said as a matter of fact. “So obviously once I win a World Cup, if I do, that will be the biggest ever thing I have done in my career. So far it is an IPL. I had played for a couple of teams but had never made the play-offs before. I played for Mumbai, we made the final and we won. So obviously it is a big achievement for any cricketer. There are so many things that cricketers these days want to be part of. They want to win IPL finals. They want to be part of World Cup finals and win them. Personally it’s different for everyone. Everyone has their opinions. My opinion is mine. Their opinion is theirs. For me that’s the biggest thing I have achieved so far.”
The IPL final could not be accused of being dull. Played in front of a raucous crowd, the match involved a successful defence of eight runs in the final over. De Kock was in the thick of him: taking a catch, effecting a run-out, but also conceding four byes off a Jasprit Bumrah hand grenade. The World Cup semi-final was a similarly close affair, but New Zealand beat South Africa in that heart-breaking finish. As a wicketkeeper, de Kock was in the thick of it again, taking a superlative catch to send back Ross Taylor but missing the run-out of Grant Elliott, who eventually took New Zealand home.
Recent Match Report – India A vs South Africa A 2nd unofficial Test 2019
Vernon Philander, Lungi Ngidi and Senuran Muthusamy, three bowlers who could line-up together in the XI for South Africa’s first Test against India in Visakhapatnam, had to go through the grind on the first day of South Africa A’s second four-day fixture against India A in Mysuru. They managed just one wicket between them in 35 overs as the Indians got to a healthy 233 for 3 in 74 overs before bad light forced early stumps.
Shubman Gill, who is unlikely to feature in that Test but is part of the India squad, provided yet another reminder of why he’s rated so highly. Opening the innings, he struck a 137-ball 92, courtesy 12 fours and a six, before becoming the third Indian wicket to fall. Karun Nair, the man with whom Gill forged a 135-run third-wicket stand, continued his good form from the Duleep Trophy to remain unbeaten on 78. His first-class scores for the season before this one read: 20, 90, 166* and 99.
When play ended for the day, Nair was batting alongside India A captain Wriddhiman Saha, unbeaten on 36. Rishabh Pant’s Test position isn’t yet under scrutiny, but with a potentially tough examination coming up against South Africa, Saha, who has been named the second wicket-keeper in the Test squad, will have an opportunity to further press his credentials.
Abhimanyu Easwaran, who opened alongside Gill, and Priyank Panchal, who came in at No.3 with Gill opening, scored 5 and 6 respectively. Abhimanyu, coming off a match-winning 153 in the Duleep Trophy final that potentially set him in line for a Test call-up, was the first to go lbw to Ngidi in the sixth over. Panchal followed 11 overs later when he was out to Wiaan Mulder’s medium pace.
From there, Gill and Nair drove home the advantage before Gill fell eight short of his fifth first-class century, shortly before the tea interval. In his 15-match first class career, the 21-year-old now has two centuries and two double-centuries, the last of which was an unbeaten 204 against West Indies A in a second innings, which lifted India A from the pits of 14 for 3 to set up a declaration and eventually push for victory.
Match Preview – Bangladesh vs Zimbabwe, Bangladesh Twenty20 Tri-Series 2019, 4th Match
Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have been no match for Afghanistan in the T20I tri-series so far, so the game on Wednesday is one neither side can afford to slip up in. Both have not produced noteworthy moments so far, with both sets of senior players going through a rough time, though Bangladesh hold the advantage of having won the first encounter between the two.
The hosts’ problems against Afghanistan have resulted in wholesale changes in their squad for the remaining league matches, although only Soumya Sarkar’s axing was courtesy his performance or lack thereof; Mahedi Hasan, Abu Hider and Yeasin Arafat were all dropped without playing a game.
Bangladesh must arrest the top-order slides that marred their first two matches. Seniors Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah have not made important contributions, neither have the likes of Liton Das and Sabbir Rahman. Among the bowlers, only Mohammad Saifuddin has stood out with wickets.
Zimbabwe have plenty to gain if they can manage to beat the under-fire home side. Much like in the case of Bangladesh, their senior batsmen – Brendan Taylor, Hamilton Masakadza, Sean Williams and Craig Ervine – must be desperate for decent contributions. On the bowling front, Neville Madziva has at times shown some skills with his slower bouncers and Kyle Jarvis has at times tested with pace and bounce, but Masakadza will probably rely on his spinners to slow things down.
It will be interesting to see if both team managements feel some of their younger players can be tried out in their top orders. For Zimbabwe, that could mean breaking up the Taylor-Masakadza opening pairing, but one of them can add a handy bit of meat and experience down the order.
Bangladesh: LWLWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Since his breakthrough 94 against West Indies in the World Cup, Liton Das hasn’t crossed 33 in eight innings across formats, culminating in a duck against Afghanistan in the previous game. Some of Bangladesh’s batting woes will go away if he finds form.
Ryan Burl has been something akin to Zimbabwe’s surprise package in this tri-series, having made a rapid, unbeaten fifty against Bangladesh in the first game, and a run-a-ball 25 against Afghanistan. His side would hope for consistency from him in the rest of the series.
With Soumya Sarkar axed from the squad, Bangladesh may look to hand a T20I debut to Mohammad Naim, the lanky opener who has impressed recently in domestic cricket. If they are willing to be a little adventurous, legspin-bowling allrounder Aminul Islam could be a possible replacement for Sabbir Rahman.
Bangladesh (probable): 1 Mohammad Naim, 2 Liton Das, 3 Shakib Al Hasan (capt), 4 Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), 5 Mahmudullah, 6 Sabbir Rahman, 7 Mosaddek Hossain, 8 Afif Hossain, 9 Mohammad Saifuddin, 10 Taijul Islam, 11 Mustafizur Rahman
Zimbabwe can try out Chris Mpofu and Richmond Mutumbami who are yet to play on this tour. Tony Munyonga, the 20-year-old allrounder should get another opportunity as he neither batted nor bowled in his debut against Bangladesh on September 13.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Brendan Taylor (wk), 2 Hamilton Masakadza (capt), 3 Craig Ervine, 4 Sean Williams, 5 Tinotenda Mutombodzi, 6 Ryan Burl, 7 Regis Chakabva, 8 Neville Madziva, 9 Kyle Jarvis, 10 Ainsley Ndlovu, Tendai Chatara
Pitch and conditions
There is a slight possibility of a shower in the evening.
Stats and trivia
Asghar Afghan is now the second Afghanistan player to appear in 50 consecutive T20Is for his country. Mohammad Shahzad tops the overall list with 58 appearances in a row.
Mustafizur Rahman is one wicket short of becoming the second Bangladesh bowler to take 50 T20I wickets. Shakib Al Hasan is the overall leader with 90 wickets.
Sabbir Rahman is 55 short of becoming the fifth batsman to reach 1,000 T20I runs for Bangladesh.
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