“We really ought to be hearing that the England coaching staff are prioritising close catching training, including analyses of position, stance and reactivity,” says John Starbuck. “Catches have always gone down at times and doubtless more will do so, but giving yourself an extra edge by having tip-top slips and other really close fielders should be imperative. On which note, I saw Haseeb Hameed take a couple of snorters at very short square in Notts’s last match. Has anyone ever been sacked/brought in for their close catching alone?”
Alan Oakman wasn’t picked for his ability at short square leg during the 1956 Ashes – but it helped. Derek Randall might have edged a 50/50 selection because of his fielding, though I don’t know of any examples on record. And though close catching isn’t the reason for his immortality, it would be remiss to post this entry without using the words Gary and Pratt.
Twenty-five years ago today, two of Britain’s most popular pop groups released singles. Thanks to Gavin Monks for this particular nostalgic rush.
Jos v Jonny v Ben v Jos v Jonny
“Morning Rob,” says John. “Am I alone in thinking that despite his innings to help win the match last time out – for which Buttler DOES deserve to have kept his place – he had another really poor day behind the stumps yesterday? He was moving back when Burns shelled the slip catch and should have been in place to take that, plus he failed to stop two or three down the leg side. Maybe I’m being unfair, but I guess I’ve just run out of patience, and I would bet money that he will never get his batting average up to 40. He’s just not good enough.”
I can see all three sides of this debate. I was strongly in favour of Buttler’s recall in 2018, and he batted really well for the first year. His innings the other day was extraordinary, too. He’s in a strange position in that, if all three contenders are in top form, Bairstow is the best batsman and Foakes the best keeper. But Buttler has unique ability and last Saturday could/should empower him so much.
The keeping doesn’t bother me as much as it probably should, especially when the ball is wobbling, though it will probably cost England in Asia. I thought Foakes was treated appallingly last year, but at this precise moment in time I think Buttler deserves to keep his place. The only certainty is that we will be having this conversation in one form or another in pretty much every Test for the next 3-4 years. And it’ll become even more complicated when Bairstow rams 327 off 307 balls for Yorkshire this week.
(Incidentally, I think an average of 40 is a red herring. Batting has become so difficult in Test cricket – the toughest I can remember since the mid-90s – that 35 is the new 40. If Buttler averages 35, pulls off the occasional miracle victory and keeps competently, I think England will be very happy. But my gut feeling is that, come the first Test in Brisbane in 15 months’ time, Bairstow will be keeping and batting No7.)
It’s grim down south, and I’d be surprised if we get any play before lunch.
England don’t really draw Test matches any more: just five in the last 50 and two in the last 29, stats that deserves their own Cliff Richard song. But if they want to maintain a mood of result positivity over the next few days, they could face a race against time. Thunderstorms and bad light meant only 45.4 overs were possible on the first day at the Ageas Bowl, with Pakistan struggling to 126 for five against some challenging bowling. The forecast is equally moody for the rest of the match.
The good news is that, when the players are on the field, the game should rattle along at a decent pace. There was swing and seam for the England bowlers yesterday, so Mohammad Abbas in particular should enjoy himself when the time comes. Might be today, might be tomorrow; it’s beyond our control.