Joe Root can help solve England top-order problems by swapping places with Gary Ballance

Chris Bailey 12/07/2017
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New England captain Joe Root often saves his side with the bat.

There was no masking the cracks on a sun-baked wicket at Lord’s last week, but England’s own were filled with the exultation of victory.

The scorecard told the story of an emphatic triumph for Joe Root yet the more discerning eye would have noted that a bungling South Africa handed England’s new captain a heap of help.

The Proteas suffered through two wicket-taking no balls, myriad dropped catches and one toss that they would regret losing, with the pitch shedding more flakes than London’s ice cream vans by day four.

This is also a touring side that had been severely weakened by AB De Villiers’ refusal to play Tests, captain Faf Du Plessis’ absence and a rash of Kolpaks over the winter that had robbed them of depth.

In contrast, besides Chris Woakes, the England selectors have picked what they believe is the best Test team from a fully fit and vast pool of players.

But no matter the personnel, the same, huge problems in the top order still persist. Alastair Cook and Joe Root are England’s two pillars of strength – which makes the flimsiness of those who bat between them all the more glaring.

Since the Pakistan series over here in 2015, on just one occasion in 43 innings (Keaton Jennings v India) has an England opener not named Alastair Cook scored a century. Only ten times have players reached a half-century.

It gets worse still for No3s and No4s who do not go by the name of Joe Root. In the same time frame, the other tryouts at those positions have mustered three half-centuries and a ton between them, two of those scores belonging to middle-order maestro Moeen Ali.

So England can celebrate the dawn of a new era, but this brave new world looked mightily familiar as Root’s brilliance and Cook’s doggedness bailed them out in consecutive innings.

The answer to this interminable conundrum partially lies with Root himself. Though he played a major part in welcoming Gary Ballance back to the Test team, he refused to budge from his preferred No4 spot.

Joe Root and Gary Ballance at the crease together for England

Joe Root and Gary Ballance at the crease together for England

Forget Ballance’s past travails in an England jumper – any one averaging more than 100 in the first division of county cricket is worth another go. But he has been scoring all of those runs at No4 for Yorkshire, and as a player who has twice failed for his country in the past, could do with all the continuity he can get.

So in went Ballance after Keaton Jennings met his maker just three overs into the Test match, and a new, seaming ball quickly nibbled away at his newly accrued confidence.

Cometh the first hour, cometh the man, as is so often Root’s wont. There to play the hero yet again with his team in peril.

His play can never be criticised but his rationale for batting at No.4 should. With the (usually brief) opening stand broken Root is best served shoring up an end, taking the shine off the ball, putting out the fire before it becomes an inferno – and most importantly giving a lesser talent a breathing room down the order.

As for Jennings, on the basis of form he should never have been picked to open with Cook. He had not posted a half-century in eight innings – in the second division of county cricket – before a good performance against South Africa A rescued him in the eyes of the selectors.

Instead his berth should have gone to a former team-mate of his in Mark Stoneman, who since moving to Surrey from Durham over the winter has been by far the most consistent opener in the first division.

So as the series rolls on to Trent Bridge, one batsman is faced with playing himself into form while another is chasing comfort.

Doesn’t quite sound like a combination that is about to solve England’s top-order blues, does it?

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Former Proteas bowler Tsotsobe handed eight year ban for match-fixing

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Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

Former South Africa seamer Lonwabo Tsotsobe has been banned for eight years after admitting “several breaches” of his country’s anti-corruption code.

The charges against Tsotsobe related to his involvement in the fixing scandal in the 2015 Ram Slam Twenty20 competition, which has already resulted in a 20-year ban for his fellow former South Africa player Gulam Bodi.

Cricket South Africa announced Tsotsobe’s suspension in a statement on Tuesday.

It read: “CSA has banned former Proteas and Highveld Lions player Lonwabo Tsotsobe for several breaches of its anti-corruption code for personnel.

“Tsotsobe, who has admitted contraventions of the code, has been banned for eight years.”

Left-armer Tsotsobe, who won five Test caps and 84 in limited-overs matches up to 2014, has also played for Essex.

He joins five other players – including internationals Thami Tsolekile and Alviro Petersen – already banned for various lengths of time by CSA following its investigations into attempts to fix matches in the domestic competition two years ago.

The board’s statement added: “Tsotsobe has admitted one charge of contriving to fix a match in the 2015 RAM SLAM; two charges of failing to disclose to the CSA anti-corruption officer the full details of an approach to engage in corrupt conduct; two charges of failing to disclose full details of matters evidencing a breach of the code by another participant; three charges of failing or refusing to co-operate with an investigation (including failing to provide accurate and complete information); and two charges of obstructing or delaying the investigation by destroying evidence and concealing information that was relevant to the investigation.”

CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat, said: “Mr Tsotsobe has ultimately admitted his mistakes in contravening the CSA anti-corruption code – and while no fix actually took place, it is clear that he was active in plans to participate in spot-fixing, and hence the sanction imposed on him.”

Tsotsobe, 33, said: “I wish to apologise to cricket lovers all over the world. I was, at the time, in a very vulnerable financial state and this dilemma too easily persuaded me to participate in spot-fixing.

“There are no words to describe the regret I have in relation to my actions and I hope that the cricket world could consider my apology and understand my deepest feeling of remorse.”

The ban will run for eight years from 24 April 2017, the date on which Tsotsobe was provisionally suspended.

His punishment appears to bring an end to the investigation and disciplinary procedure.

CSA’s anti-corruption unit independent chairman Bernard Ngoepe said: “The investigative team have completed a thorough and far-reaching investigation.

“I am satisfied that all the culprits have been duly prosecuted under the code – and unless we receive or uncover any new or previously undisclosed information, we believe we can now bring this matter to a close.

“However, we must remain vigilant to the continuing threat of corrupt activity in domestic and international cricket.”

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ICC ODI Rankings: West Indies' hopes of direct qualification for 2019 World Cup still alive after Sri Lanka's defeat to Zimbabwe

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Which team will qualify automatically?

West Indies’ hopes of qualifying directly for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup are still alive after Sri Lanka’s ODI series loss against Zimbabwe.

The top eight teams on the ICC ODI rankings (cut-off date – 30 September 2017) will qualify directly for the World Cup, while teams ranked 9-12 will play in the ICC World Cup Qualifier in 2018 alongside six other teams (four from the ICC World Cricket League Championship and two from the ICC World Cricket League).

The number of teams at the World Cup has been cut down from 14 in 2015 to 10.

Sri Lanka are currently eighth with 88 points, 10 ahead of ninth-placed West Indies and both teams have ODI matches scheduled in the near future.

While Sri Lanka are set to host India, West Indies will travel to Ireland and England.

The top seven ranked sides – South Africa, Australia, India, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, and Bangladesh – have already qualified for the tournament as they cannot fall out of the top eight before the cut-off date.

Here are the latest ICC ODI rankings.

1. South Africa – 119
2. Australia – 117
3. India – 114
4. England – 113
5. New Zealand – 111
6. Pakistan – 95
7. Bangladesh – 94
8. Sri Lanka – 88
9. West Indies – 78
10. Afghanistan – 54
11. Zimbabwe – 52
12. Ireland – 41

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