Mitch Marsh: Can’t bat, can’t bowl, keeps getting picked

Mitch Marsh has scored 50 or more runs in exactly two innings at Test level. He has taken four wickets in an innings once. He has never scored a century or taken a five-wicket haul. He’s currently playing his 19th Test match.

Mitch Marsh averages less than 24 with the bat and more than 37 with the ball. In 12 of his 18 completed matches, he has failed to score 50 runs or take four wickets over the course of the match.

Australia are pretty good right now, and it’s all the more impressive that they’re as good as they are despite carrying an allrounder in Marsh who isn’t good enough to make the team as either a batsman or a bowler. His bowling is ostensibly his better attribute, yet he keeps batting at 6, and also doesn’t really ever bowl all that much or take too many wickets

In recent years, Australia’s home surfaces have been so benign that Marsh hasn’t been required to score a lot of runs, as the Australian top order’s been scoring all the runs the team has needed. But if the less-roadlike surface we’re seeing in Perth is anything to go on, Australia might soon be in a place where they need their no. 6 batsman to score some runs. And if Marsh doesn’t start doing that, his place in the side should be re-evaluated.

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england announced their Headingley squad

The XI looks remarkably similar to what you’d imagine a team coming off a successful tour of South Africa would want their XI to look like for their first Test of the home season. The three first-choice pace bowlers are all fit, Moeen Ali is still the first-choice spinner, and the only change in the batting is as a result of a retirement (in this case James Taylor’s, due to his heart condition).

We all knew Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow would be in the team if they were fit, and Anderson/Broad/Finn has been the bowling attack England have seemed to want to go to whenever form and fitness have allowed over the last four-plus years, so really, the only places up for debate were the second opener (as it ever was and ever shall be), first drop and Taylor’s replacement at no. 5. The selectors, perhaps trying to force themselves to learn a lesson, have persisted with Alex Hales and Nick Compton at the former two positions. Hales’ spot seemed fairly safe all along — he’s been around the side in the short formats for a while, and he hasn’t really seemed out of his depth at international level in any format. Dropping him after four Tests could only be seen as harsh. Compton is a bit more surprising, considering his poor form for Middlesex, especially paired with the outstanding form of his teammate Sam Robson. Robson, lest we forget, is also a discarded England opener, who, like Compton, I thought was done away with a little too quickly. But the selectors apparently have decided that if Compton can’t hack it against Sri Lanka, they can drop him and never have to hear his name again, which, after the frankly unjust way he was treated in advance of the 2013 Ashes and the frequency with which his name was brought up as more and more of his would-be replacements struggled in the Test arena, might be a relief to the selectors.

That leaves James Vince, who replaces Taylor at no. 5. For reasons I can’t quite explain, I decided a while back that Hampshire would be the county I supported, and as such I’ve followed Vince’s progress closely over the last couple years. The scores haven’t really been there, and the averages reflect that, but the game, according to all observers, is very much there. He’s shown an ability to score quickly while playing Test-quality shots in international T20 matches, and most recently he dug in to face over 200 balls against a strong Lancashire attack as Hampshire tried to force a draw. In between, he scored a back-against-the-wall hundred against reigning champions Yorkshire, which was the innings that most likely earned him this call-up to the national side.

The other uncapped player in the squad is Jake Ball, who will likely be the 12th man come Headingley, but has looked like quite possibly the best bowler in England in the early county season. In a Nottinghamshire v Lancashire match, he returned the best match figures and was hailed by observers as the best bowler on the ground. Also bowling in the match were Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. From the scant evidence I’ve been able to see, Ball looks like he can bowl an accurate line and length, swing the ball both ways, move it off the seam, extract uncomfortable bounce, and make the ball reverse swing as it gets old. In short, he can do everything. We’ll just have to wait until the first time he takes 1-110 in a Test match to find out what it is he can’t do.

Sri Lanka announced their squad to tour England

It’s not all that earth-shattering. Cricinfo leads with two new batsmen, capped only in T20 (which: if a lower-order batsman debuts during a bilateral T20 series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, has he really debuted at all?).

The way I like to look at squad announcements is to figure out who’s actually likely to play. Among the batsman Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, and Dimuth Karunaratne are certainties. Chandimal is a wicketkeeper, but I’m putting him in the batsman category because he’s picked for his batting. If I ever do another of these I’ll probably do the same. Much as I wish teams would pick keepers for their keeping, it just doesn’t happen any more. So Chandimal’s a batsman, and Sri Lanka are going to pick seven batsmen. “Six batsmen and a keeper” is an antiquated way of looking at team selection. “Seven batsmen, one of whom must be able to keep to international standard” is the wave of the future.

With those three penciled in, that leaves seven batsmen for four spots. They are: Kaushal Silva, Kusal Mendis, Milinda Siriwardana, Lahiru Thirimanne, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva and Dasun Shanaka.

Siriwardana came out of the New Zealand tour looking like one of the only batsmen in the team who could make runs, and with his useful bowling, he feels like a safe pick. Kusal Mendis is only 21 years old and hasn’t looked entirely out of his depth at test level, so he could keep his spot out of inertia.

That leaves two spots. Kaushal and Thirimanne are the most experienced players, both having had success at test level, but “woeful” is too kind a term to describe Thirimanne’s output in recent memory, and Kaushal has serious questions about his technique, particularly in pace-friendly conditions.

That leaves Dickwella, who could take the gloves with Chandimal playing as a batsman, and the two uncapped players, who I won’t pretend to know anything about beyond the fact they’re both 24 and made some runs in first-class cricket. For selfish reasons, I want to see Kaushal open with Karunaratne, providing some arm-flapping grit and grind to a test arena that seems increasingly infatuated with flash and frenzy. He’s the Memphis Grizzlies of international cricket, and like I love the Grizz, I love Kaushal.

Axed from the squad are Kithuruwan Vithanage and Udara Jayasundera, both of whom I had honestly forgotten were in the last Sri Lanka test squad.

As for the bowlers, things are a lot more straightforward: either Rangana Herath and three seamers will play, or four seamers will play. The interesting thing is Sri Lanka might have four seamers all worth playing in the same match. Shaminda Eranga’s returned and that means someone’s got to leave out one or two of Eranga, Dhammika Prasad, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal, and Dushmantha Chameera. Prasad seems the closest to an automatic pick of that bunch, and Chameera’s the one who you’d think has ability that lends itself to putting in the kind of performance that can win a test match on its own, which is I think what people mean when they talk about “x-factor,” though usually they just mean “lots of pace.” He’s got that, too, at any rate.

My way-too-early XI for Headingley:

  1. Kaushal Silva
  2. Dimuth Karunaratne
  3. Kusal Mendis
  4. Dinesh Chandimal
  5. Angelo Mathews*
  6. Dasun Shanaka
  7. Milinda Siriwardana
  8. Dhammika Prasad
  9. Rangana Herath
  10. Shaminda Eranga
  11. Dushmantha Chameera

Likely changes include de Silva or Thirimanne in place of Shanaka, and Pradeep or Lakmal in place of Eranga, Chameera, or Herath depending on tour match performance and on-the-day conditions.

I’ve mentioned everyone else, so to be fair: Dilruwan Perera is also in the squad. If Herath gets hurt or a groundsman royally fucks up, he might play in one of the matches.

first-class cricket week(ish) in review, 4/13

This is an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while so let’s start doing it, I guess.

Big thing this week is the county championship, which kicked off with one of the games not even happening. Cricket in April is just the greatest. The Sunfoil Series in South Africa technically just ended within the last week, but it’d be weird to jump on that just as it’s ending, so if I haven’t given this up by the fall, I’ll take a look at it then. And there’s the IPL. That’s all I really have to say about the IPL.

Also, James Taylor isn’t playing cricket any more, but he is going to keep living, so I guess that’s a lot more important than England looking for another middle-order batsman.

Anyway:

ENGLAND

Durham v Somerset: Half a match got played before everyone had to go inside for two days because they didn’t want to get wet. Keaton Jennings had a couple centuries for Durham in that half-match, which is remarkable considering nobody else scored more than 45. Lewis Gregory took six wickets for Somerset, and might have had more had the match continued. Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth did what they do in April, which is take wickets.

Hampshire v Warwickshire: Ian Bell takes top honors with his 174. Keith Barker took five wickets. Chris Woakes made a handy 66. Warwickshire stay Warwickshire. Hampshire’s batting crumbled before Ryan McLaren saved them with 85 in the first innings, and Liam Dawson compiled 50 in the second. Reece Topley got his hand broken while batting, which is no good for people who long to see England pick a gangly left-arm quick who can’t bat even a little.

Nottinghamshire v Surrey: Notts blasted 446 in the first innings, led by Steven Mullaney’s hundred at just less than a run a ball. Riki Wessels and Samit Patel made brisk 80-odds. Ravi Rampaul took five, but went at more than five an over. The seamers, led by Jackson Bird, then mowed down the Surrey order for 225, forcing the follow-on. Arun Harinath made a ton, but got little support from anyone not named Kumar Sangakkara, so Nottinghamshire were left chasing just 169. Jake Ball taking five-for also helped. Rampaul and Tom Curran took three and four wickets respectively to make it somewhat interesting, but Notts got home.

Essex v Gloucestershire: Alastair Cook demonstrated why he’s better than everyone else in the second division. Tom Westley also scored a hundred. Gareth Rodericks had two fifties for Gloucs.

Northamptonshire v Sussex: Ben Duckett was 282* through five sessions when it started raining.

 

Top Performers With An Eye To Future Selection (TPWAETFS):

  1. Duckett. Second division or not, that Sussex bowling attack is always tough to face in the early season.
  2. Jennings: Two hundreds is as many as it’s possible to score in one match. That nobody else even made fifty makes it all the more eye-catching.
  3. Bell: He’s still here and he can still score runs.

Honorable mentions: Curran, Ball, Roderick, Rushworth, Gregory.

 

 

on partisanship in cricket commentary

Mukul Kesavan makes several good points here.

Is it going too far to connect the attitudes of Bachchan, Dhoni, and the BCCI toward commentary to the perceived lack of interest in non-Indian cricket among the Indian populace? Is the perceived lack of interest a genuine phenomenon? If it is, is it unique to India?

These are questions worth asking, I think. As an American, I did not come to cricket through an allegiance to one team or another — my fondness for the New Zealand team was a door I chose to enter through, not one that was predetermined by my place of birth — and having never so much as visited India, I am reluctant to cast judgment on the cricket-watching public of such a vast nation. The receptions AB de Villiers received when South Africa toured India last fall, for example, suggest that there may be more to the story than “Indian fans only care about Indian players.”

That said, I think one of the joys of cricket is the variety of skills and styles it offers. I think commentators have a duty to fans to explain the game, rather than cheerlead. I think one’s cricket-watching experience is richer when one can appreciate the fizzing cutters of Mustafizur Rahman just as much as the sheer genius of Virat Kohli. I think that calling the game as one sees it earns a commentator legitimacy in the eyes of the fans, whether consciously or subconsciously. The fan may believe they want to hear praise for their favorite players, but far more rewarding is knowing your favorite players have merited praise, that they have taken part in a contest against players of great skill, and come out in credit. Mandatory cheerleading from commentators creates the perception that greatness is to be expected, not admired, and falling short of greatness is unforgivable.

So when there is great cricket on display, let our commentators call it as such. And when the cricket is subpar, it must be called as such as well. Telling the truth is the only way to earn the trust of one’s audience, and there are few things better in life than a cricket match called by an experienced, trusted commentator.