Mark Stoneman had been scoring runs at such a prodigious rate in county cricket that it was become irresistible to ignore him. Unless you’re the head coach of England.
Trevor Bayliss made this staggering admission, about the country’s highest-scoring, England-qualified opener ahead of selection for the first Test of the summer: “To be honest, I haven’t seen him play. He’s done some hard yards up at Durham.”
Let’s give Bayliss a smidgeon of credit. He had been busy preparing and coaching during the Champions Trophy – although he is hardly a hands-on presence – and was out in Abu Dhabi to watch the domestic North v South series between England hopefuls.
At that time he told The Guardian that he would spend the first three rounds of the season ‘driving around having a look’, yet he clearly did not even get as far as south west London.
By week four of the County Championship, Stoneman, inspired by his move south from Durham, had cracked two centuries with Surrey.
Meanwhile, the awkwardly upright Keaton Jennings had been bowled three times down in the bowels of Division Two for the team that Stoneman had left.
Now maybe Jennings did indeed deserve another chance after making a century on debut against India last year, and you’d have hoped that contact time with England would have helped iron out his deficiencies.
But for Bayliss not to have at least done his homework on the domestic game is surely a failure of a key part of his remit.
If he could not have gone to The Oval for a day or two, why not ask for some film and splice together the footage of when Stoneman was on strike? All in an afternoon’s work.
Maybe then Bayliss could offer more than platitudes such as ‘he’s scored a lot of runs’ and ‘he’s done his time’, the type of commentary that is mindlessly rattled off in pundits’ chairs the world over.
If Bayliss does not have at least a working knowledge on the next men to potentially step up for England, then he has no business in a selection meeting.
The Australian had never coached in the country before accepting the role of head coach and his last two jobs had been in T20 cricket. Maybe, just maybe, one of his first tasks should have been to catch up in the red-ball department.
Two years later here England are, still scrabbling around for top-order answers after just 11 Test victories from their last 28 – including the 3-2 Ashes victory over Australia, two years in the books.
Let’s be clear: Bayliss has had a positive effect on English cricket. He has taken the most talented limited-over players England has ever assembled and given them space to breathe, no matter how pitifully their Champions Trophy campaign finished.
The evidence, though, is that he is inflexible in his approach between white-ball cricket and Test cricket, from which a positive mindset can lurch dangerously towards the reckless.
Since Trevor Bayliss took over as England head coach England have defended 28% of their deliveries v pace - the fewest by any team. #EngvSA— The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) July 17, 2017
And if the players he is familiar with continue, time and time again, to fail in the longer format then he must step outside of that bubble and figure out how the personnel and play style can be fixed.
Chopping and changing players is not necessarily the answer, as the next man to open the batting will be the 12th that is stepped out alongside Alastair Cook since Andrew Strauss’ retirement in 2012.
But an appreciation of county cricket, the talent funnel with all of its oddities, strengths and flaws, would be a starting point for understanding the problem.
If all this sounds an overreaction to a Test series finely poised at one victory apiece, I warned – alongside numerous others – that the cracks in the batting order at Lord’s would likely be exposed again.
No team, certainly not with the resources that English cricket have, should be bowled out twice at home inside 97 overs and defeated by a margin of 340 runs.
Bayliss called the performance a ‘shocker’ but it was all too depressingly familiar, and it is high time for England’s head coach to show a little more desire to get to the root of it once and for all.
In a match worthy of a final let alone a semi-final, the English eves narrowly overcame the South Africans by two wickets with three deliveries to go on Tuesday.
England emerged victorious in a fiercely contested ICC Women’s World Cup semi-final played in Bristol to book their berth in the tournament’s finale.
Winning the toss, the South Africans chose to bat first and would have felt they were around 40 runs short finishing at 218 for the loss of six wickets.
While England did manage to just cross the finish line, there were many twists and turns along the way.
Here, we look at the three key turning points in the evenly contested semi-final.
The South African batting pair of Laura Wolvaardt and Mignon du Preez had rebuilt the innings nicely after the loss of two early wickets.
With the score at a healthy 125 for the loss of two wickets at the end of 33 overs, English skipper Heather Knight brought herself on to bowl her slow right-arm off breaks.
With just her second delivery, Knight clean-bowled the well-set Wolvaardt as she tried to make room to slap a straight delivery through the covers. The fifth delivery of the over brought further misery for the Green and Yellows when du Preez took off for a sharp single after slapping the ball to the left of Anya Shrubsole at cover.
Shrubsole was sharp and had no hesitation in throwing to the keeper’s end leaving the diving Marizanne Kaap inches short of safety. The double blow took away all the momentum the South Africans had built.
The English eves were motoring along nicely at 139 for the loss of two wickets at the end of over number 32 with star player Sarah Taylor looking threatening with a well made half century.
However, disaster struck in the very next over when skipper Knight took off for a single with a push to the left of her opposite counterpart Dane van Niekerk. The Proteas skipper was lethal and affected a brilliant direct hit to run out the well set Taylor with a direct hit.
The next over was even more eventful when the slow legbreak of Sune Luus bore two huge wickets. Knight swatted an inviting full toss straight into the hands of Wolvaardt at square leg while Natalie Sciver was clean bowled attempting a sweep.
From a strong position of 139 for the loss of just two wickets at the end of 32 overs, the English were down to 145 for the loss of five wickets at the end of over number 34.
When Katherine Brunt was bowled by South African pacer Moseline Daniels, England was in a precarious position of 173 runs for the loss of six wickets at the end of 43 overs.
In walked experienced hand Jenny Gunn who then went on to score an unbeaten 27 runs at run-a-ball to guide the English eves over the finish line despite some last over jitters.
She formed an invaluable partnership of 40 runs with Fran Wilson before tail-ender Shrubsole hit the winning boundary in the final over to book England’s place in the summit showdown at Lord’s and broke South African hearts in the process.
England slumped to their seventh defeat in their last 10 Tests after South Africa thrashed them comprehensively by 340 runs in Trent Bridge to level the four-match series at one apiece.
Chasing a world record 474 runs in their second innings, Joe Root’s men could only muster a paltry 133 runs in reply. The fact that they lasted only 44.2 overs on a track still good for batting has invited further criticism for their aggressive approach.
With two crucial Tests to come at the Oval and Old Trafford, there are several players in the English contingent who will feel that their spots are under threat.
Here’s a look at the three players facing the axe come the third Test.
The Yorkshire batsmen has been given a third chance to prove himself in national colours with his selection for the series after being dropped twice from the squad before. Good mate and Yorkshire teammate Root has pointed out that Ballance was very much his selection.
With scores of 20, 34, 27 and 4 in the two tests so far, the left-hander playing the crucial position of three down would definitely be facing uncertainty over his role.
The Zimbabwe-born cricketer has failed to convert three solid starts in the series. A finger injury sustained in the second Test might just make up the minds of the England think tank.
The South African born opener had a dream start to his Test career with a century on debut against India last year. Lately though, things haven’t been rosy for Jennings with a high score of 33 in the four innings he has played this series.
The fact that he has scored a combined total of just 11 runs in the other three innings further illustrates the opener’s vulnerability at the top of the order. With Alastair Cook’s struggles at the other end, Jennings will have to come good soon to justify his place at the top.
Having picked up one solitary wicket in a combined 197 overs bowled in the two Tests so far, the Durham pacer’s struggles are for all to see. While he has had some troubles with his left heel, Wood has not been able to generate any sort of rhythm so far in his return to the long format after two long years.
Playing the crucial role of the third seamer in the English setup, the 27-year-old has failed to back up the efforts of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad and come the third Test, it would be a surprise to see him line up against the Proteas.