Dean Elgar speaks. “Not the greatest Test Match,” he says in that understated way of his. Asked what went wrong after Lord’s, went back to the runs they made there. “First innings runs are so crucial in the UK and we fell way short.” On selection, believes they made tough calls they thought were right but didn’t work. “But I’ve got to give our bowlers a lot of credit for running in and doing what was asked of them but it boils down to our batting, which just wasn’t good enough.” Asked how tough it is made for him as Test captain not to have any cricket outside of the Tests? “I’m an advocate for Test cricket, I’d like to see a lot more around the world not just for us. So, hopefully the calendar can ease up and we can get more fixtures. It is frustrating that we aren’t exposed as much and it’ll be a bit less now… it’s a tough one, but that’s mind of out of the players’ hands.”
South Africa’s player of the series. Kagiso Rabada gets the gong, which was decided by Brendon McCullum. “It seemed like every game was decided from the toss. We won at Lord’s and things went our way but in hindsight, we’ll take a lot out learning out of this. A young team, we have a lot to take. And moving forward we need to look to get better.” He’s glad that his ankle came up for that First Test, where he was outstanding at Lord’s. “Overall as a team there’s a lot of talented individuals but it is about coming together as a team now.” Butch probes him on the lack of match preparation they had for this final Test (remember, they opted for golf over a two-day game following Manchester). Doesn’t really answer the question.
Player of the match is Ollie Robinson. 7/89 match figures and one of the best spells I’ve ever seen in England to start the Test on Saturday morning. “The experience over the last few weeks has been really enjoyable and it is great to be with the lads again,” he tells Butch, who then asks him, among other things, about his fitness. “It’s nice to get to where I am at the moment but I don’t think I am the finished article. We have a tough winter ahead so I’ll keep pushing on.” On the dressing room, he says it is “a great environment to thrive,” adding that “everyone is having a great time.” Enjoyed the honesty of the conversations that Stokes has with him when he took over, which gave him the boost to do what he needed to reach this point.
Test Player of the Summer is Jonny Bairstow. He’s not here to collect the trophy.
England’s best result – six wins – since 2004. They’ll enjoy a fun day in South London. There’s no better time for a Test to finish really, from that narrow perspective! The players are making their way back out for the presentation. Player of the match, has to be Ollie Robinson. The series, surely Ben Stokes.
Very good point from Will. A lot of low-waged casual workers were dealt a tough hand with football’s suspension. The big upside of play finishing today, as he says, is that they get paid and a few more people get a look. That’s fine with me.
“Hi Adam.” Jimmy Evans, g’morning. “What an extraordinary summer! One of the most remarkable I can recall in 30 years of following England. It seems to me that there was a bit of sniffiness about the new regime at first. A sense that they were coaching by ‘vibes’ and were going to get found out eventually. It still might fall in a heap of course (because This Is England) but I’m amazed by the difference that mindset can make. We could never have achieved some of those run chases in the past, because we simply wouldn’t have attempted them. And I’ve rarely seen a happier group of players. It’s an incredible transformation.”
I don’t think Jimmy would mind me relaying a brief chat I had with him at some point where he said something along the lines of wanting to play for as long as Brendon McCullum is running the show. Of course, that’s unlikely (if he does four years), but it gives you a sense of how this man has, quite sincerely, changed the way these people think. Considering most of them a battle-hardened and heard it all on the way up the pyramid, that takes some doing. Timing is everything, I suppose.
I’ll keep the blog open for a while here, through the presentations and so on. Gives us a chance to hear from Brian Withington – one of the nicest men in the entire world wide web. “Another summer of English Test cricket draws to a close with you at the helm of the OBO – it should be no other way. I was watching Michael Atherton interviewing a couple of the England performance analysis guys before the start of play, which was fascinating. My quick take-away from the ‘depth chart by age’ was that in batting terms it’s really time to find another moniker for YJB, who is now very much the elder statesman. In Prince style, maybe he could just sport a natty logo and be referred to as ‘the batter formerly known as YJB’? Best wishes for the rest of the year and of course for the birth of Winnie’s partner in crime.”
Thank you, mate. I’m sure every member of the OBO community is endlessly frustrated by others trying to turn this into Yorkshire’s Johnny Bairstow. Of course, it will always be Young and always has been Young and was probably invented by Smyth. That’s all I have to say on the topic. Let’s keep up the good fight in correcting the record whenever we see someone on twitter claiming otherwise. Deal?
Crawley 69 from 57 balls with 12 boundaries. Goodness me he looked good. Struggling to think of a cricketer who has a bigger gap between their best and their worst? I suspect we’re going to be confused and compelled by him for the next decade or so. In the short term, he’ll earn himself a national contract on the 1st of October and will open in Pakistan. From there, who could possibly predict.
22.3 overs: England 130-1 (Crawley 69, Pope 11) Target 130. A missed reverse sweep (!) hits Pope on the lid. What a way to finish the Test summer that would have been; the perfect introduction for every colour writer. He’s given a once over and takes a single. With a no-ball in there too it leaves Crawley the chance to finish the job with a boundary and so he does, another punch through point, beautifully done. 11:26am.
22nd over: England 124-1 (Crawley 65, Pope 10) Target 130. Crawley gives the strike back to Pope early in Rabada’s over, who in turn gives it back when pulling a three in the direction of the Peter May Stand. Crawley’s turn again to finish the over and he unfurls a beautiful square drive. DID YOU KNOW THE SQUARE IS ALL THE WAY ACROSS AT THE OVAL? It wouldn’t have mattered here, timed so sweetly, it was four on any ground. Rabada has overstepped too, but Crawley leaves the spare delivery. Six to win and Pope is back on strike – bound to (try and) finish it with a big one.
“Morning Adam.” Colom Fordham, nice to have you here. “If ever there was a bowler who deserved a wicket, it was Rabada. He could’ve reasonably hoped for a five-fer if his teammates had clung on to their catches. And it would have made the end of this match more exciting, not to say it’s been a bad match. And, of course, if Dean Elgar had reviewed the LBW decision, we could’ve had a different match on our hands. Oh, the what-ifs!” Given away plenty of runs but he remains the man most likely.
21st over: England 115-1 (Crawley 60, Pope 7) Target 130. “For the first time,” says Vic Marks on TMS, “Ollie Pope is nailed on as England’s number three.” And so he looks when taking on Jansen’s short ball, hooking it over backward square like it’s not even a thing, into the rope in front of the Bedser Stand where the indoor nets are where he’s been practicing since he was a boy. I’m almost relieved to see Pope looking the goods at this level. Having watched so much of him at domestic level, it felt wrong when he was made to look daft in Hobart earlier this year. Indeed, speaking earlier about the Baz/Ben summer, his progress the most important.
20th over: England 109-1 (Crawley 60, Pope 1) Target 130. A big response for the local star Ollie Pope as he sprints to the middle, keen to get in on the act with 22 runs to win. And he’s off the mark from his first ball, the one remaining in Rabada’s successful over, turning him to square leg to retain the strike.
“Beamish Boy.” Bob Wilson, who I’ll try and drop down to see in Paris in my window between cricket and, well, cricket. “Down with your modesty. Let the praise ring out. If people like your stuff, they’re allowed to say so. Everyone who takes the wheel at the OBO has their fans, their schtick and their particular rhythm. I think I’ve just worked out why. You do the OBO like a quick bowler. You put a lot into the run-up/preamble. You try to keep it terse and spritely and then every six or seven overs, you scramble the seam and out comes the comedy/philosophy nostalgia email that gives you a blow or lets you change ends. The OBO-writing spinners and batters are pretty easy to spot but the quicks are visible from space. In the same way that Mike Selvey’s prose could only ever have been written by a swing bowler.”
Been doing this for a fairly long time now and that’s the nicest email. Thank you.
Given not out on the field by Umpire Menon, Rabada goes straight upstairs. On the review, it shows Lees beaten on the inside edge from around the wicket, hit on the back pad and, yep, that’s hitting leg stump. Overurned. Nice delivery. Lees was a lucky lad at times through his stay but he’s been there for the bulk of the work in this chase, so a nice way to finish the summer having struggled against the Proteas.
19th over: England 108-0 (Crawley 60, Lees 39) Target 130. Another edge! In fairness, Keegan Petersen is not a tall man and he did put his hand up at third slip but the ball doesn’t hit his mit and runs away for four. If he was the height of the fella bowling from my Vauxhall End, Marco Jansen, he would have been in business. In saying that, it was Jansen who put Lees down – a most straightforward chance at fourth slip – from the first ball of this chase. If England are one down first ball hunting 130, well, it might be a different morning. Instead, we drift the natural conclusion – a leg bye puts Crawley back on strike for the final ball of the over and he leave it alone.
“Thanks as ever for the OBO coverage.” My pleasure, Stephen Connor. “Regarding the future of cricket – As the IPL inevitably expands I wonder when teams will start demanding exclusivity for players as happens with football? So e.g. Liam Livingstone would only play for Punjab and England. At least then at least the other tournaments would know where they stand. They could continue as the franchise circuit and act as salary add-ons for non-IPL, state/county contracted players.”
It’s already happening, Stephen. I mentioned Will Smeed earlier. Well, consider Dewald Brevis, the ‘Baby AB’. During the white-ball component of this South African tour he was in England… taking part in a Mumbai Indians development tour.
18th over: England 103-0 (Crawley 60, Lees 35) Target 130. A run from the first ball, Crawley clipping away to the man at fine leg just around from my OBO position. Lees follows suit, square driving for a couple from his first ball, collected by the sweeper racing around from deep third. And that’s the 100 partnership, England’s fastest for the first wicket. Did I hear that correctly from Andy Zaltzman on TMS? I think I did. On dear, another dropped catch behind the wicket for South Africa with Verreynne putting Lees down. It was moving prodigously after kissing the edge but the wicketkeeper really should have taken that. That is, Zaltz notes, South Africa’s third drop in 14 balls after a couple in the penultimate over last night. All happening, then.
Speaking of TMS, I went on a stats splurge with Daniel Norcross on The Final Word podcast last night summing up just how bad the batting has been in this Test/series.
Zak Crawley to face, resuming on 57 from 44 balls. Rabada has the ball at the Pavilion end. Play!
The bell rings at The Oval. Free entry here today, of course. I’m not good at estimating the size of crowds when not at the MCG but I reckon there are somewhere between 5000-10,000 who’ve rocked up for South Africa’s ten wickets. Or England’s 33 runs. Jerusalem time. Ever wondered why they play it? In 2016, found out.
“Thanks for your commentary – always entertaining.” Thank you, Simon Campbell – a pleasure, as ever. “I wonder if we could combine this test squad with the one day and split out the T20s. May provide better balance and One Day’s could be tagged onto a test tour. That is before they inevitably dwindle. I was at T’Oval on Saturday and it was magnificent.Have a great break.”
How interesting that we now think of Tests and ODI to now be far more natural bedfellows rather than tacking a T20i on the back of an ODI series, as it was until about five years ago. And if you thought a lot changed in the last five years…
As for a break, well, not to much. A huuuuge couple of weeks to end the season. Personally, I’ll be on the telly box for the England/India Women ODIs and doing the Surrey stream back here next week as they try and win the comp against Yorkshire. Then the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy back at Lord’s. Soon after that, to Australia for the World Cup and a few Tests there before Christmas, then back here to London ahead of our second baby! Let’s see if I can be scheduled on an OBO on the day they arrive, as it was on Valentine’s Day in 2020 when Tim de Lisle kindly stepped up!
A nice upbeat note from Simon Law. “A big thank you to KMS (Keys, McCullum and Stokes) and the whole Eng setup for their beautiful, bright, fearless approach to the 5 day game. Long may they prosper!!” Well said.
And Gary Naylor is with us too – he was sat next to me in The Oval outside press tribunes – the best place in the world to watch cricket – over the last couple of days. He’s jumped across the river this morning to watch the champo. You can follow that too, by the way, well after this Test wraps up. Tanya Aldred is on the tools.
Back to Gary: “I found one or your fellow Australians best summed up Ben Stokes’ captaincy yesterday.” This is where Frankie Valli takes over:
‘We take the pressure, and we throw away
Conventionality belongs to yesterday
There is a chance that we can make it so far
We start believing now that we can be who we are’
“I think the summer revolution has been interesting,” begins Ali Gordon. “Essentially, it’s the same squad. I can recall Root, while still captain, saying we’re not far away with this group of players. Turns out he was right. They just required managing in a different way. I never understood the decision to drop Anderson & Broad fir the tour of the West Indies. That was a low point for me. Players looked miserable; the cricket ranged from antsy to ugly to embarrassing. I’m full of admiration for how Root has just cracked on with what he does best, batting. And whilst I’m still not convinced by our openers you can see tremendous progress. Add Jofra Archer to the squad, develop a world class spinner in Leach or (a.n.other)and this is a daunting squad. The future feels very exciting.”
Part of the fascination in all this to me is that, as you say, it’s broadly the same crew of cricketers. As Anderson has said a number of times though, it feels so different in the dressing room that it might as well be another sport. Given all he’s seen across two decades, that feels noteworthy. But I disagree on Jimmy/Broad and the West Indies. Or, rathter, privately I suspect they wouldn’t now mind how it all played out. That trip might’ve ended them. Instead, across the summer, Broad finishes up with 29 wickets at 27 and the old man of world cricket took 27 at 17.6. As you do, lads.
“Hi Adam, keep up the good work on the OBO!” I probably didn’t need to keep in the second half of that sentence but it’s the final day of school, what ya gonna do? Hello CJ on twitter, and thanks. “What do we feel is in the ‘in-tray’ for Baz and Ben? I’d like to think we should always be looking to improve; a bit of extra pace? the spinner? opening bat?”
Having spent a month in Pakistan with Australia’s Test tour there earlier this year, I’ve seen up close the concrete surfaces that are certain to await them in Rawalpindi, Karachi and Multan. Due to its proximity to India, the lazy assumption is that pitches there will rag. From what I’ve seen, they don’t. You play multiple spinners to control tempo and play on batters’ patience. What’s lethal is movement with the old ball – reverse swing. To bowl that, as a rule, you need to be an absolute master (James Anderson) or enjoy express pace (someone like Mitchell Starc). It’s a grind.
So in the very short term, given England’s next assignment, I think they need to get their selection bang-on for Pakistan with a high degree of difficulty given they aren’t going to have Jofra Archer or Olly Stone. There’s an outside chance Mark Wood gets through the T20 run well enough to play there but you couldn’t bank on it.
My smokey for that trip is Tom Helm. Gets generous movement with the old ball and looks (to the naked eye) a yard quicker than most of when you see in county cricket. He’ll have a chance to prove the latter point in Pakistan on the T20 trip.
Right, I’m in at The Oval now. Cloudly but lovely, would be perfect for a chase of 200ish on the final day, which is how it looked at lunch on Sunday before South Africa lost 6/77 in the middle stanza. There are many stats from this series, which I’ll run through as we go, but the fact that there were only two innings over 200 throughout speaks to the extent the ball has dominated middling batting lineups.
“Good Evening from Brisbane,” writes Phil Withall. Hello to you. “The financial impact of the various T20 competitions cannot be ignored. A cricketers career is a finite thing, who could blame them for securing their financial future.”
There’s a lot to this and I don’t want to start in an overly effusive/chippy manner on here today. But consider the lot of Will Smeed. Will it ever be in his interests to accept a national contract, which will deny him the chance to earn life-changing sums of money without any restraint? I suspect not. So the real question becomes how the ECB (and how most boards) find a way to still tap into the talent coming through when it matters most, acknowleding they won’t be available often.
Remember that this has already started for South Africa with a number of their biggest stars, including Kagiso Rabada, picking the IPL over a home Test series against Bangladesh just a few months ago. This is the world we’re moving into.
Four months ago, it looked like England’s men had an awful summer ahead of them. Over the winter, their thrashing in Australia was the worst in a bad bunch over the last 20 years. In the Caribbean, after a mini-reboot, it was little better. Joe Root said enough. There was no coach, let alone assistants. Off the field, the chief executive was a lame duck (and would subsequently step down) and there hadn’t been a chair since the previous summer. No high-performance boss. No selectors. Every genuine fast bowler injured. No batter averaging 40 since Root’s debut a decade earlier.
New Zealand were first up, who had hammered England when they were in town during the previous summer before going on to win the World Test Championship final, also in this country, against India. A couple of changes since they lifted that trophy but essentially the same team. Then India, to complete their strange series, returning with the same bowling lineup that ruined England routinely in 2021. Then South Africa, a Test team quietly on the rise under Dean Elgar with a fast bowling group who looked born to play on sporting surfaces. The whole thing was so grim.
As the county season started, at the peak of all this flux and still a couple of months away from the Tests, I advanced the view that, given all of the above, the best move would be for Stuart Broad and James Anderson to take over as caretaker skippers of sorts. The argument ran that given they were likely to be smashed, don’t ruin the next captain and let this be one of the veterans’ parting gifts – help England get through without having their pants pulled down quite so embarrassingly.
Well, we know what happens next. A series of inspired appointments, from Rob Key to Brendon McCullum to Ben Stokes, all in the space of a couple of weeks in May. Days leter, they started their staggering run of four successful chases in a row, all record-breaking in their own ways. And this morning here at The Oval, within about 20 minutes of resumption on this third/fifth morning, they will finish the season having won six of seven in emphatic fashion. There’s probably a book in it.
So that’s where we’ll begin our conversation in the time that we have together on the final day of the Test summer. Of course, there’s shade as well as light – there’s an argument that this is the least competitive series, in terms of balance between bat and ball, we’ve ever witnessed between bigger nations. This isn’t good, nor is it that South Africa doesn’t return to England through the entirety of the next Future Tours Programme period. The fears for their medium-term Test future, acknowledging the extent to which they are about to be influenced/funded by IPL owners, isn’t without justification. Anyway, let’s crack on while we can. Drop me a line or a tweet.