The Ashes 2019: Could Morgan be a Brearley?

 

 

A great win to Australia but was it by 251 runs or simply a matter of millimetres?

 

I’ve been doing a bit of social media and emailing lately.

 

Last Thursday I tweeted – to few followers – that the Ashes might prove a reprisal of 1989.

 

After our comeback from 8-122 to 284, I tweeted the following day a 4-0 series win to us.

 

Yesterday I emailed a couple of English friends: ‘You’d be hoping for your Watson and your Bailey of long ago.’ It was a dual reference to the Francis Thompson poem ‘At Lord’s’ which ends

 

As the run-stealers flicker to and fro.
To and fro:
O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago!

 

and the defensive partnership by Willie Watson (109) and Trevor Bailey (71) which survived most of the last day at Lord’s in 1953. That stand was made against an Australian attack of Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, Bill Johnston, Alan Davidson, Doug Ring and Richie Benaud – superior to ours yesterday – to force a draw and (ultimately) a series win.

 

Yesterday I also responded to a Facebook post by an Irish-based Australian friend that if England scored 385 on the last day they deserved to win with the following:

 

‘They’d need someone to play the innings of his life like Mark Butcher did for 173 not out at Headingley when Gilly set a tough target in 2001, or Ben Stokes when he smashed the South Africans to smithereens in his 258 at Cape Town in 2016.

 

No Butcher was on hand at Edgbaston, nor was Stokes in that sort of mood.

 

There was certainly no Watson or Bailey either, that’s for sure and, in fact, it could well be argued that the best English batsman in both innings was Chris Woakes at number nine.

 

What happened to Stokes, Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and Jos Buttler, whose confidence was soaring only a fortnight ago, that they should perform so ineptly? Ability can surely not dissolve so rapidly and the difference between what is demanded of the one day game and the five day version is not that acute.

 

Let’s consider the millimetres.

 

The lbw appeal by Stuart Broad against Steve Smith (34), which was given out and overturned on DRS, was certainly unlucky for England as he was hit low, not playing a shot, and the ball was deemed to miss the off stump by a whisker. And Peter Siddle’s good fortune in not being dismissed from any of the first three balls he faced from Woakes did not predict a long tenure at the crease. Yet they survived and turned the game around. If Australia had been out for 150 in the first innings it was most likely game over.

 

From then Smith batted sublimely as though he was in a different league and (in the second innings) showed his capacity to inspire his team-mates.

 

It cannot be said that luck did not go England’s way.

 

Rory Burns can be congratulated on his first innings ton and batting on all five days of a Test but I doubt whether he’ll make many more centuries at the top level. He must’ve been beaten playing and missing outside off stump at least 40 times in the 400 plus minutes he spent at the wicket.

 

Root, too, had extreme good fortune playing and missing at James Pattinson when on 9 in the first innings, the ball shaving the off stump without the bail falling on its way through to the keeper. Root seemed to be running into form when he reached the nervous fifties – he falls there too often – but then offered a soft shot back to Siddle for a caught and bowled.

 

Stokes batted well on the second afternoon but the third morning saw Australian pressure fully applied and England offer such a spiritless response that Burns only added 9 runs in more than an hour, and Stokes fell to a catch behind to probably Cummins’ worst ball of the session. Only the 65-run ninth-wicket partnership by Woakes and Broad revealed any enterprise.

 

Our four main bowlers certainly backed each other up as a unit but there was no attempt by the batsmen to be ‘proactive’ (as Mark Taylor would have it) to knock them off their length.

 

One could imagine Bailey (the commentator of old) bemoaning the approach to Siddle who bowled admirably straight at the stumps. I can hear the ‘Barnacle’ now: ‘He’s just a good honest toiler.’ It ought to be remembered that Siddle was playing only his third Test in three years and was probably fourth-choice pace man for Victoria last summer after Chris Tremain, Scott Boland and Pattinson (following his return from injury).

 

Test cricket is a brain game. Success in all top-level sport also demands confidence. The pitch was variable in bounce but it was far from unplayable so why should there be such a difference in the performance of off-spinners Moeen Ali (with previous Test figures of 180 wickets at 36) and Nathan Lyon (around 340 wickets at 32) on days four and five. The former takes 2 for 130 from 29 overs and the latter 6 for 49 from 20 overs.

 

The newcomer Jofra Archer might make a difference for Lord’s but it’s a big ask to expect too much from a lad on his Test debut.

 

Of greater concern is Root’s form both as captain and with the bat. His leadership on day four seemed strangely awry – not bowling Woakes at all in the pre-lunch session and only seven overs for the day – and giving 14 overs to part-time leggie Joe Denly. With the bat he looked nothing like one of the top four batsmen in the world – along with Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson – so it could be well worthwhile relieving him of that responsibility.

 

Ed Smith is one of the brightest intellects to ever play for England – perhaps only equalled by Mike Brearley and CB Fry. As a selector he has revealed his ability as a lateral thinker and made some bold moves.

 

We now look set to control the series – especially given our pace reserves of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood – so for England desperate times demand desperate measures.

 

Mention of Brearley rekindles thoughts of 1981, his restoration as captain, and the amazing impact it had on the form of Ian Botham and the team as a whole.

 

So I’d now like to offer Ed Smith a challenge.

 

Eoin Morgan’s aggressive approach with the bat, and tactically, transformed England’s limited-over game. Make him Test captain, bat him at six, and see whether he can revive his World Cup stars into a proper competitive outfit.

 

Do little and we’ll bolt in.

 

 

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About Bernard Whimpress

Freelance historian (mainly sport) currently writing his 20th book. For the previous 15 years was Curator of the Adelaide Oval Museum and Historian for the South Australian Cricket Association. Will accept writing commissions with reasonable pay. Most recent books - The MCC Official Ashes Treasures and The Greatest Ashes Battles.

Comments

  1. Dave Brown says

    I think England could do worse than bring Morgan in, Bernard. Tactically, Root seems unimaginative and he may just be able to find some form with the bat if relieved of captaincy duties. Perhaps it was always such but I wonder if the obsessive levels (Williamson excepted) that the top batsmen in the world now bring to their craft means they are increasingly unsuited to captaincy.

  2. George Laslett says

    Excellent observations Bernard; yes millimetres is the margin; Root’s failure to bowl Woakes was unintelligent, unless Woakes had an injury; but he batted with pluck and confidence; A great comeback by the Australians against a wearing pitch; the Duke; unprecedented heckling of 3 key players; and a confident England, Down but not out comes to mind. In cricket, as in life, there is always hope while you are alive. Back to the gardening. I think Archer is the real deal

  3. Bernard Whimpress says

    Thanks Dave and your final point is interesting about leading batsmen being unsuited to captaincy. Perhaps bowlers will finally get a go at the job.

  4. Bernard Whimpress says

    Thanks George. I don’t believe Warner and Bancroft’s failures were due to the heckling and would be surprised if Warner didn’t turn things around for a big series. I despise the yobs at sporting events in any country including our own.

  5. Bernard agree sport in general is a game of millimeters,Is it confirmed that,Woakes was carrying a injury.
    Morgan agree does seem to be more aggressive and much more of a natural captain than,Root
    ( the stupidity of Anderson playing is another reason )
    Interesting perspective thank you

  6. I am not convinced re Morgan, but it might be worth a shot. For Joe Root is most unimpressive as a skipper. No imagination or forethought whatsoever.

    Regarding luck: it could be argued that England in fact had more than Australia.

    I thought the bowlers bowled well as a group.

  7. Bernard Whimpress says

    Thanks Rulebook and Smokie
    Our bowlers certainly superb as a group, maintaining pressure, but absolutely no pressure was put on them by the bats on the third morning when England was in a position to build a substantial lead. Stokes had batted well the night before but after his dismissal their display was terrible until the late stand of Woakes and Broad.

  8. Luke Reynolds says

    Bernard, agreed that Morgan would be a great choice, captain or not. Apart from Root and Stokes, his batting is surely at least equal to the others in the England batting lineup. He has scored 2 Test centuries which can be forgotten.

    I’ve thought of Morgan while watching all three of Ireland’s Tests so far. He would have been pretty handy at Lords a couple of weeks ago, maybe the result would have been different had he been wearing an Irish cap.

  9. Bernard Whimpress says

    Thanks for your comments, Luke.

  10. Morgan is Welsh, is he not? Archer is West Indian. So clearly just a continuation of that great tradition of the Foreign Legion in English teams.

  11. Bernard Whimpress says

    To answer the query Bucko, Morgan is Irish. He has played 16 Tests for England but represented both England and Ireland in ODIs. Yes, Archer is West Indian but has an English father and has qualified for England under after a mere three years residency – reduced from previous seven year qualification. How much more successful might Graeme Hick have been if he’d been picked when making mountains of runs at a young age? Yes, England is often a foreign legion but in an era of big money in the IPL and comparison with other sports (soccer, particularly) it is no wonder player movement between nations is freer. While cricket selection in Australia has been more honorable several Russian women have appeared at short notice in our tennis ranks. Going back to the 80s, of course, there was that time in our sports history when we were boasting of Aussie Kepler, Aussie Hana and Aussie Joe.

  12. Peter Crossing says

    Interesting thoughts Bernard. England will make changes but I don’t think that the captaincy will be one of them – even though it seemed a glaring error that their best performer Woakes was kept out of the attack for so long. The selection of Anderson in the first place was also poor, given that he was under an injury cloud. It is a game of small margins but played over the long haul of five days. Joffra Archer may make an immediate impact but can it be sustained for the whole Test? Agree that it is a brain game so Roy’s fade in that respect was spectacular, particularly after, as Nassar H told us, Root had just pointed out the fielding changes made that cut off the slog sweep. I used to play shots like that!

  13. Bernard Whimpress says

    Cheers, Peter. I guess the best that can be said for Roy’s shot is that he showed intent although I reckon that’s a weak remark that has crept into the game. It was the sort of stroke that made me think his card should be marked for life. I don’t expect big changes though Leach will probably come in for Moeen. I don’t think England have got much in the way of replacement batsmen. The young player, Ollie Pope, who debuted last year has had a shoulder injury and only just returned to the short forms of the game. I don’t think he’s had a first-class innings this summer. It will be interesting to see Archer in action in the Tests but it will be a tough assignment.

  14. I was only partly stirring with my original comment, Bernard. The reduction to 3 years is interesting I reckon. Do you think more player movement is a good idea? I can understand why players would do it, but I cannot see it being good for the weaker sides. History shows cricket players will usually only move to a stronger national team. Money in the IPL has made a bit of a mockery of national sides as blokes can be mates one week and at each other’s throats the next. I reckon the residency should be 5 years.

    The tennis situation is a bit of a joke, with people coming from all manner of troubled Eastern European states to get an Australian passport

  15. Bernard Whimpress says

    Good questions, Bucko. In principle we like to see Test cricket as being between national sides but one feels there might be a bit of flexibility if players are surplus to requirements. Back in the late 1990s we could field four batting teams who were good enough to represent Australia – guys like Maher, de Venuto, Cox, Hills, Moody (at that stage) and Siddons, for example, would have been in the fourths. There was some talk of Stuart Law qualifying for England when he was 38 but by that time they had begun to put together a good side. I always had a soft spot for Stuey MacGill because he was a world-class bowler who could have had 500 Test wickets. But probably the one Australian whose story I like was Brendan Nash, a moderate player for Queensland, who at the age of thirty moved to the West Indies, played 20 odd Tests and then with success for Kent in his late thirties for what must ended up a satisfying first-class career.

  16. Morgan has a better test batting average than Brearley. Adding to that his two test centuries were two more than Brearley scored.

    I’m happy for England to retain the bulk of the defeated first test side. If we can do a 1989 it will be great to watch.

    Yes the point about Australians claiming others as ours like Hana Mandlikova and Keppler Wessels, the most recent example of that is ‘Dasher; FFS is Daria too hard to say?

    Glen!

  17. Bernard Whimpress says

    Thanks Glen
    Aussie Joe was Joe Bugner. Aside from Gavrilova there have been several other Russian girls but none have made much impact. As for me, I prefer close series.

  18. Correct Bernard, ‘Aussie Joe’ was Joe Bugner the British heavyweight who fought Ali. Luckily he only had a few bouts under the nonsensical moniker of ‘Aussie Joe’.

    Yep there’s been a few girls from the former ‘Eastern Bloc’ who have competed under the Australian banner. But how hard is it for the fanatics, or whatever bogans to say : DARIA?

    Glen!

  19. Bernard Whimpress says

    Pretty hard I’d say. I’ve only met one ‘Fanatic’ who I was sitting behind at a New Zealand v England Test at Wellington. As he was the only one there he seemed a good bloke. Tennis is the worst offender as we’ve had the habit of adopting other nationals when locals crash out of the Open. Not so bad when Aussie Kym was dating Lleyton but Aussie Marcos was a bit of a stretch!

  20. Bernard it is arduous. Correct about giving the Aussie prefix with Clisters when she and Hewitt were a pair.

    I’m happy for any of these players to take on board Australian citizenship to represent Australia, but we need to pay them due respect.

    Mandlikova, Bugner were here in their twilights. But Garilova, respect her, call her her baptismal name not some thing made up by who knows who ?!

    Glen!

  21. Ashley Hornsey says

    A great thought-provoking piece backed by sound research. The writer is without doubt one of our finest historians and his gift for remembering and immortalising the great moments in cricket at all levels of the game, both in Australia and abroad, is hard to beat. The idea of making Morgan captain is meritorious but it is unlikely the current England selectors will emulate Alec Bedser’s bold decision to recall Mike Brearley in 1981.

  22. Bernard Whimpress says

    Generous remarks Ashley, I’m blown away. Of course (like you) I expect there’ll be a conservative approach by the English selectors when picking the next team. Morgan played no first-class cricket in 2016 or 2017 and only a handful of games in 2018 but that’s not the point. He may not be available and simply say, ‘Thanks for asking’. But then if the call came …

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