Eng­land should have thrown off the safety blan­ket and played Leach

➤ The Ageas Bowl pitch has repli­cated con­di­tions found on the sub-con­ti­nent – why not hand left-armer a shot?

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Third Test - Sir Ge­of­frey Boy­cott

Eng­land look like they should go on to win this game com­fort­ably, bar­ring many hours lost to rain. But I still think they will be dis­ap­pointed with their lack of pen­e­tra­tion with the old ball yes­ter­day. They went al­most 40 overs with­out a wicket, and did not look par­tic­u­larly threat­en­ing.

You might say, “Oh well, they are go­ing to win the se­ries any­way”. But look at the big­ger pic­ture. Man for man, they are far su­pe­rior to both the teams they have played this sum­mer, and there are tougher chal­lenges to come – par­tic­u­larly away from home.

This sur­face at the Ageas Bowl has been dry and has not of­fered much bounce or pace. In other words, it would not look out of place in In­dia, which is where Eng­land are next due to play Test cricket. Covid-19 pan­demic al­low­ing, they have five Tests wait­ing for them in the New Year.

With that in mind, I would have cho­sen Jack Leach for this match. An attack built around four seam­ers – three of whom are sim­i­lar in style – is what you want for Perth, in the old days when the Waca pitch re­sem­bled a tram­po­line. And then they have gone for Dom Bess – whom I like as a crick­eter – as a twirler who bats a bit.

I can see what the se­lec­tors were think­ing. Eng­land’s bat­ting has been shaky for years. So they wanted a cou­ple of jacks-of-all-trades – Bess and Chris Woakes – to add a bit of se­cu­rity.

For me, the time has come to let go of the safety blan­ket. Eng­land have four good bats­men now – in Joe Root, Ben Stokes (when avail­able), Ollie Pope and Zak Craw­ley – while Jos But­tler as the bats­man-wick­et­keeper is hav­ing his best Test yet.

OK, so the two open­ers need to iron out some tech­ni­cal glitches. But the se­lec­tors should start leav­ing the bats­men to get on with it, and pick­ing bowlers for wick­ets rather than runs.

There may also have been some sen­ti­ment in the de­ci­sion to play Woakes, af­ter his mag­nif­i­cent match-win­ning in­nings at Old Traf­ford.

Yes­ter­day, though, he was too sim­i­lar to James An­der­son and Stu­art Broad. And maybe he is slightly heavy in the legs af­ter play­ing the past four Tests and send­ing down 150 overs along the way.

I still think Leach is the No 1 spin­ner for Eng­land, even though he hasn’t played since he be­came ill over the win­ter.

As for Bess, I like his po­ten­tial, but I don’t think he bowls a con­sis­tent Test-match line. In Eng­land, our off-spin­ners tend to bowl fairly straight at off stump. Whereas I would rather see Bess bowl­ing out­side off stump with loop.

If you get bats­men play­ing to­wards the cov­ers, it brings the gate into play, and then the one that does not turn threat­ens the out­side edge. The Aus­tralian, Nathan Lyon, is the best in the world at that, us­ing vari­a­tions of flight, pace and spin.

Bess has a lot still to learn. In In­dia, though, he could have an im­por­tant part to play, prob­a­bly in sup­port of Leach’s left-arm ortho­dox. Those are the con­di­tions which neuter Eng­land’s tra­di­tional strengths of swing and seam.

My other ob­ser­va­tion on the day’s play re­lates to Jofra Archer. I feel like yes­ter­day was a big im­prove­ment. Even though he did not get a wicket, it was nice to see him bowl­ing with gen­uine pace, and Root us­ing him in short, hos­tile bursts. Much bet­ter than try­ing to bowl longer spells of fast-medium.

The only prob­lem is that there were too many short balls. Even at high pace, the length ball – or some­times the full-pitched ball – is the one that takes the wick­ets. The one that flies through to the wick­et­keeper past the bats­man’s nose looks great, but it gets very few good play­ers out.

When you do bowl short, it is tempt­ing to bang it in, so that it takes off and goes over the bats­man’s head. But you never saw Michael Hold­ing and Mal­colm Mar­shall wast­ing their en­ergy like that. Get it into the ribs, un­der the heart, or in an armpit. Then sta­tion a man at bat-pad and maybe one at leg gully. That is very awk­ward for any­one to play, es­pe­cially a tail-en­der. It is how John Snow got a lot of his wick­ets.

As a man who faced the West In­dian quicks at the peak of their pow­ers, I know what it is like on the other end: highly un­pleas­ant.

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