Ashes to ashes?


In the 10 days or so since England announced their Ashes squad for the winters trip to Australia a lot has either been said, or taken place. Jonathan Agnew has referred to it as one of the weakest squads that’s ever left these shores whereas, in total contrast, Andrew Flintoff has described it as the ‘best team we’ve ever had.’ It’s probably worth looking into that claim. Compare these two sides:

England 2005 Ashes Series

England 2017/2018 Ashes Series

Marcus Trescothick Alistair Cook
Andrew Strauss Mark Stoneman
Michael Vaughan James Vince
Ian Bell Joe Root
Kevin Pietersen Dawid Malan
Andrew Flintoff Ben Stokes
Geraint Jones Jonny Bairstow
Ashley Giles Moeen Ali
Matthew Hoggard Chris Woakes
Steve Harmison Stuart Broad
Simon Jones James Anderson

Hmm… I know which team I’d back if they were to face each other. Part of the issue with the 2017/18 team is that we don’t actually know if some of those names will play. Is Vince – as rumoured – actually going to bat at 3? Will Malan get the nod ahead of Ballance (Ballance being a guy Root seems to really rate)? Will it be Woakes (incidentally, someone I rate highly) or will Overton or Ball get a go? Will Stoneman make enough runs?

Don’t get me wrong, there are players in our current group that I’d include in a composite XI (Cook for Trescothick, Root for Bell, Stokes for Flintoff, Bairstow for Jones and Anderson for Hoggard) but overall, the current team can’t hold a candle to the crop of ’05. Why is that? Well, for me it’s purely down to consistency. The ’05 team was setlled; everyone knew their place, their role and what they brought to the XI in ’05. We don’t even know what the XI will be this winter. How can we claim it to be our best ever, when we can probably only put 7 names on the team sheet for certain, particularly as one of them might not even be going to Australia?

I hope England prove me wrong. I hope Stoneman has a great tour. I hope Vince shows he belongs at this level and I hope that Ballance, in his rightful spot of 5, makes the runs he made when he first got in the team. However, I’m not sure I see it. We are so reliant on Cook, Root, Stokes, Anderson and Broad it’s a little scary. Where are the up and coming youngsters – the Anderson and Broad’s of ten years ago – to replace them? Crane, Overton, Ball? Where will our next Alistair Cook come from? We’ve not replaced Andrew Strauss yet – in 12 attempts – so how will we replace both?

There are some very good cricketers in England, some of which – like Worcestershire’s Joe Clarke – haven’t made this squad. Their time will come. I just feel that, after this winter, their time might come a little sooner that we all thought. Yet, this might be a good thing.

Will England retain the Ashes? I hope so but, realistically, I can’t see it.

Prove me wrong boys. Please.


On top of the world

Congratulations to the England Womens Cricket Team, who today won the 2017 Women’s World Cup in front of a sell-out Lords crowd.


It is only fair to put what was perhaps an unexpected victory down to a real team effort. By all accounts the team is pretty much family – not in the way the men’s side has, in the pas, been harder to get out of than it was to get in – but in the way the players work and, in several cases, live together. All the batters made contributions (one, Nat Sciver even invented an incredible new shot; the ‘Nat-meg’) whilst the bowlers all took wickets at important times, none more so than Anya Shrubsole’s incredible 6-fer in the final today.

However, for me, the highlight of England’s triumph has been the return to the side of wicketkeeper/batter Sarah Taylor. Last year she stood down from all cricket due to anxiety issues, giving a brave and honest interview about the demons she faced. One year later she’s back on top of the world. A world champion. What a return to the team. Vital runs (including a big century and important runs in the final) throughout and outstanding keeping throughout. A fit and firing Sarah Taylor is one of the – if not the – best female cricketers in the world.

As someone who has fought their own mental health issues – and continues to do so – I hugely admire what she has done/is doing. Looking back, giving up cricket – although I didn’t know it at the time – was one of the starting points of my own struggles. Although I’ve conquered many demons and I still have a hankering to take up cricket again on some level I have yet to do so, 5 years on. That’s why Sarah Taylor is someone I hold in the highest regard possible.

England are very lucky to have her.

Bits and Bobs…

It’s been over a week since my last blog and things have been a bit hectic. So, now I have five minutes I thought I’d put together a ‘multi-post’ featuring several things I’ve mentioned in previous blogs.

Football Manager
Since I’ve been back at work FM has taken a back seat… thankfully! After guiding Telford to the brink of promotion I was offered the Sheffield Wednesday job and helped them stave off relegation. Having signed Ben Garratt from the Alex to fill their void in nets and Nick Powell to provide ammunition to Fernando Forestieri I started the season quite well. However, their chairman’s itchy trigger finger meant that after a few defeats I got the sack. After this I decided to head back down to the lower leagues and applied for – and got – the Worcester City job. I only played one game with them before the summer holidays ended and haven’t been on it again since. Ah well…

Crewe Alexandra
I blogged about Crewe’s impressive start but mentioned that I thought that I had probably jinxed it by talking about it. Since then they’ve won both games and sit third in the league! Nose-bleed territory!

Derbyshire County Cricket Club
At Derbyshire, things haven’t gone so well. They’ve won something, however it’s the wooden spoon. A few of the better players have signed up to new contracts, a few promising youngsters have done so too and, just today, the club announced that Gary Wilson has joined them from Surrey – something of a coup. Yes, he’s a keeper/batsman and Harvey Hosein – a cricketer I rate extremely highly – is the same, but surely the thinking is that Wilson can play as a batter when Harvey has the gloves and – if and when – the youngster needs a break, Wilson can don the gauntlets. A good signing and hopefully a good winter of recruitment.

Chetwynd Aston
I’m now on ‘Mk II.’ I wasn’t happy with the cluttered feel to the first version so have ripped up a siding and some of the scenery. We’ll see how things progress on this one as and when.

Four quick updates. One blog post. I’m happy with that!

All things Derbyshire County Cricket Club…

Although I’ve blogged about cricket previously, I’ve not really blogged massively about Derbyshire County Cricket Club, my team. The main reason for this is because of the excellent blog that already exists, Peakfan’s Blog by Steve Dolman. However, today I feel a ‘Falcon’s Blog’ is the order of the day.
At the start of the season, there was high hopes about Derbyshire’s chances. Last years short comings, the batting department, had been addressed with the signings of Neil Broom and Hamish Rutherford and, although the departure of Mark Footitt left a big gap in the bowling, the emergence of several quality pace bowlers and the signing of Andy Carter meant supporters were confident of a decent season.
At the start of August the team hadn’t won a game in the 4-day game, had been knocked out of the T20 competition and, barring a bit of a miracle, were going to be knocked out of the 50-over competition today too.
So what’s gone wrong? Well, in many ways there has been good progress. The T20 game saw the team get off to a flier. Injury to Wes Durston saw Alex Hughes skipper several of the early games to great success. Eventually a couple of one run defeats made the difference as, although having one of their better seasons in the format, the team fell two point short of a quarter-final place.
In the 4-day game, the issue has been an inability to bowl teams out twice. Andy Carter failed to make the expected impact, to the extent his two-year contract was cancelled in July and he moved to Hampshire. Tom Taylor, an excellent prospect, struggled with form before picking up a season-ending injury. Tony Palladino has been his usual steady self but, at 33, his best days are now probably behind him. Will Davis has looked a good prospect and Shiv Thakor enjoyed a stellar start to the season but generally bowling teams out twice has been an issue. Despite this, the batting has shown improvement although the returns from Broom and Rutherford have been disappointing. Chesney Hughes has made huge strides this season, Ben Slater has made three 1-day centuries and Billy Godleman and Wayne Madsen have been their usual run-machine selves. 
Add to this the departure of Head Coach, Graeme Welch and things add up to a team that has not had a great year. 
So how do things improve next season? Well recruitment is required. This year, Rutherford was signed as the overseas pro, but his returns – and the lack of wickets taken by the bowling unit – indicate that a strike bowler might be the preferred option. Finding one of course, is a different matter. Take out Rutherford and the batting still looks good. Ben Slater and Billy G are a good opening pair, then with Chesney Hughes, Neil Broom and Wayne Madsen you have a good 3,4 and 5, whatever order they play in. Another wicket-keeper, and one who can contribute with the bat, is a must. After Tom Poynton’s retirement we are left with 19 year-old Harvey Hosein -a fine prospect – but it is unfair to expect him to play every game of every format. Steve Davies from Surrey would be a great addition but finances would be a sticky issue there for sure.
Finally, a new head coach is required. John Sadler has taken over for the rest of the season and done well, however is he the best long-term choice? I don’t know and there are certainly better qualified people than me who will make that call. With Chris Grant, club chairman, at the helm, I am sure the future looks good. It might, though, take a bit longer than all us Falcon fans hoped.

Team England

When I cast my mind back to the dark days that English cricket suffered during the 1990’s, one things leaps to mind; the revolving door policy of selection. Just have a look at some of the names (and total number of tests they played): Mark Lathwell (2), John Morris (3), Tim Munton (2), Jason Gallian (3), Mike Watkinson (4), Aftab Habib (2) and one test-wonders, Alan Wells and Gavin Hamilton. At one point Geoffrey Boycott’s mother was probably close to a call up, as he often proclaimed on the TV.

Then at the end of the decade central contracts emerged. Chris Schofield (!?) was one of the recipients of the first 12 but, more often than not, the selectors have got it right in terms of selection for a considerable period of time. The central contract gives a player time. There is no ‘two failures and you’re out’ atmosphere – which seemed to permeate the 90’s – so players feel more at home in the setup. There seems to be a pathway for cricketers to follow, no horses for courses, no ‘form players.’ Players are picked on ability and results over a long time. Take James Vince. Long ear-marked as a test player since breaking into the Hampshire limited over team in 2009 and earning selection for the under 19 World Cup. This summer he made his test debut. Just three tests in and he has a top score of 35, which would have seen him dispensed with in the 90’s, however he can feel secure that he will get a decent run in the team to make his mark.

However, with Nick Compton taking a break from cricket it opens up a space in the batting order. Today the England squad was named and in it they named Gary Ballance, giving him a recall to the side. Other options that had been mentioned were Jos Buttler playing as a specialist batsman or Liam Plunkett, and the batters moving up one. Now, I’ve nothing against Gary Ballance. However, his selection seems to owe much to the ‘Team England’ tag that follows the England Cricket team. Has he really scored the weight of runs to force his way back in? 17 innings, 585 runs at 36.56. Compared to Scott Borthwick who has made 609 at 55.36 in 13 innings – and who was a lot of people’s pick – it’s hard to argue for Ballance.

I’d like to put another name forward though. Wayne Lee Madsen of Derbyshire. Previously on this blog I have professed my admiration for him but, this aside, look at his numbers; 14 innings, 761 runs at 63.41 and 4 hundreds. How is he not playing for England? Some people will say it’s because he’s playing Division Two cricket. Maybe, but if you look at his record over his career he has end of year averages of 58, 34, 27, 37, 41, 39 and 47 before this year’s current haul. 

Maybe what they say is true; it is harder to get out of the England team than it is to get in it.