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Sep 192015
Ashes 2015 review: Memories of a golden summer of cricket

England players celebrate their Ashes victory on Sunday, with the next defence in 2017-18 to be shown on BT Sport

Lord’s was under a state of siege. The game seemed to be in meltdown. England had clumsily sacked the coach and controversially ended the international career, again, of their most illustrious player.

A few days earlier the team had returned from a Test tour of the Caribbean with their tail between their legs. The 1-1 draw that they contrived against a weak West Indies followed a World Cup in which they plumbed new depths of mediocrity.

To suggest that cricket was a laughing stock probably underestimated the seriousness of the matter. Some people might have been splitting their sides, all right, but too many others had ceased to care.

This was the backdrop to that second Tuesday in May. It was officially the unveiling of the new director of cricket, Andrew Strauss, by the newish chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Tom Harrison. Unofficially, it was the opening of the inquest into the slow, lingering death of the team and possibly the game. Cameras, microphones, tape recorders, notebooks were assembled in force and it was possible to tell how significant it all was by the number of them belonging to non-cricket media.

How the Australia wickets fell on the first day of the Fourth Test

The setting, in the pavilion at the ground which still provides cricket with its heartbeat, made it the sadder. Or simply embellished the farcical nature of it. Anyone suggesting this was the precursor to a golden summer in which bridges were not so much burned as put through an incinerator, then rebuilt to Isambard Kingdom Brunel levels, would have been seen as a poverty denier.

Both Harrison and Strauss were impressive that day. Preposterously young men by the normal standards of cricket administration, they spoke with conviction and passion.

Harrison apologised for the woeful fashion in which the dismissal of Peter Moores, an estimable coach and a dignified man who happened to be in the wrong job, had been handled. Strauss explained authoritatively why there was no place for Kevin Pietersen in the England team. Their performances disguised the shambles rather than eradicated it.

Yet less than a fortnight later a spellbinding Test against New Zealand – it had to be at Lord’s naturally – provided the key to a spiritual revolution. By the end of the summer not only had the Ashes been regained and the limited overs team reborn as a fully paid up member of the 21st century but the nation had begun to fall back in love with cricket.


Stuart Broad celebrates

It enabled Paul Farbrace, the ebullient assistant coach who was instrumental in engineering the transformation in those far off spring days, to say last week: “If at the start of this summer somebody would have said that we would draw the New Zealand Tests, beat New Zealand in the one-dayers, win the Ashes and be going into the last game locked at 2-2 heading to Old Trafford we would have snapped their hand off. And probably walked away saying ‘whatever they’re drinking, I’ll have a pint of that.’”

In the past few months, starting with that opening Test, it is as if the players have been set free. They have trusted their instincts partly through circumstance, partly encouragement. The regime change helped.

When Trevor Bayliss, the newly appointed Australian coach, came along just in time for the start of the Ashes, almost his first words in referring to his operating method were: “Very laid back. I keep things simple. At the top level it’s about creating a good environment.

“Yes, at times you have to be working on technique but at the top level it’s more about environment. If you’ve got a good environment, an honest, hard-working environment where they enjoy what they’re doing, it allows the players to go out with less pressure and show the skills they’ve got. Rather than the opposite where they can feel under pressure from off the field as well.”

It is worth noting that the contribution of Moores should not be and was not overlooked in all this. Strauss was unequivocal in his assessment that Moores was not the man to take England forward, though mortified he should become aware of his dismissal via reporters on social network sites. But on the day the Ashes were recaptured from Australian hands, the captain, Alastair Cook, who had been given Strauss’s backing on that tumultuous Tuesday at Lord’s, paid deliberate and considered tribute to Moores’ work.

The day the Ashes were recaptured: in many ways it still seems too much to grasp. What happened in 2015 will come to be ranked with those other magical occasions on English soil: 1926, 1953, 1977, 2005, 2009. But this time it was done with a match to spare in a series where the ebb and flow became a tidal wave constantly altering direction.

If this was the centrepiece it was not alone in containing valiant acts and breath-taking moments, riveting passages of play in both forms of the game. The contribution of New Zealand, the first tourists of the season, to everything that happened was undoubtedly significant. The way they played was contagious and they came along at exactly the right time for an England team that recognised it had to evolve at the speed of light, or else face derision and apathy.

New Zealand were led by Brendon McCullum, a man for the age. He recognised the simple truth that cricket had to be entertaining if it was to be worth the candle. He preached it in a quiet but persuasive manner and ensured that his team practised it ebulliently and perpetually.

After the Lord’s match McCullum, a man patently at ease with himself, said: “It doesn’t matter what you say does it? It’s what you do. I think the cricket we play is aggressive without the rubbish.” McCullum and his fellow Kiwis were perhaps the catalyst for what ensued and it was McCullum who prodded England.

“What is their style that they want to be known for as a team heading forward?” he asked. “Was their last performance how they want to play the game, or was it more of a case of stumbling on it? It’s the challenge for them to work out, a challenge we had to go through not long ago.”

On the first morning of the first Test – the latest Pietersen imbroglio still rumbling, Strauss looking for support and being given it only because of his unimpeachable reputation, Bayliss still not mentioned as a viable prospect – England were 30 for 4. By the close they were 357 for 7, the recovery launched by Joe Root and Ben Stokes.

On the fourth day, Stokes thumped 101 in 92 balls, the fastest hundred at Lord’s. It was like being in on a life-saving operation. On the fifth day it became more uplifting still. The patient got out of bed and ran.

Reflection has not dulled the significance of that last day. MCC virtually threw open their doors – advance tickets not being sold in great number for a fifth day so often not needed – and people came who had never before either visited Lord’s or watched a Test. They loved it and they cheered it to the echo as England made rapid inroads and again when Stokes was irresistible with the ball in the afternoon.

Something happened to England then and to their captain, Cook. They went on to lose the second Test to New Zealand, gloriously rampant, in Leeds but the mood was set now and it never changed again.

Cook knew he had been affected but also retained caution in discussing it. “There is a balancing act. Maybe I have been too conservative in the past,” he said. “Sometimes I haven’t got it right, sometimes I have. That’s not for me, that’s for you guys in your columns.”

He had gone for a rest for the one-day series, no longer part of this particular team. In the first match, England scored 408, their highest total in ODIs. Three hundreds for Root and, more dazzlingly on this occasion, for Jos Buttler. People were suddenly talking.

And the series continued on this wonderful way so that it was 2-2 with one to play. What an anti-climax was threatened in a rain-marred match in Durham. England were set 192 in 26 overs to overhaul their opponents’ 283. When they stumbled in the dank air to 45-5 it was all up. There was no Buttler now.

Enter Jonny Bairstow, Buttler’s replacement. Together with Sam Billings he dragged England back into it, astonishingly, thrillingly. They won with an over to spare. And the Ashes had not even begun.

Australia still came as red hot favourites. For as long as the Ashes exist one single moment will be talked about from the 2015 contest.  Cardiff: first morning, first Test, England 43-3, another lousy start. The score had not moved on when Root, on nought, flicked late at a full ball outside off. Australia’s veteran, widely admired wicketkeeper Brad Haddin spilled the chance to his right. Root went on to make a score of 134, England won the match, Haddin never played another Test. 1-0.

England lost heavily at Lord’s on a belter of a pitch. 1-1. They won at Edgbaston on a green one. Never has a Test crowd in England been more continuously enraptured by events. Two passages of play endure: the partnership of 87 between Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad which put daylight between the sides and may have been the most crucial of the summer, and the rapid bowling of Steve Finn, effecting a personal renaissance by taking 6-79. 2-1.

And then there was Trent Bridge, the apotheosis of this imperishable summer. At the end of the first over Australia were 10-2.  By lunch they were 60 all out, Broad had 8-15. Amidst a welter of incredible occurrences one stood out: the catch by Stokes diving full length and arching his back to remove Adam Voges. Broad, who should have been accustomed to the improbable by then cupped his face in mute disbelief. The improbable was one thing, the impossible another. 3-1.

Cook merely reiterated what legions of others had proclaimed. “I didn’t think we were quite ready to win the Ashes at the beginning because I thought you needed a group of players who were match-hardened.

“But the guys have surprised me. We have won really critical moments and the players have really stepped up which shouldn’t surprise me but it has. They have made big steps from guys with little experience to match-winners and hardened professionals and players for England.”

It was not quite over. England were hammered out of sight at The Oval. 3-2. There was a one-day series which itself had merit. England came from 2-0 down to 2-2 before folding. It was almost as if they could not believe all that had gone before, that all passion was spent.

There is still a crisis in English cricket. Heaven knows where the domestic game is heading with the counties resisting essential change. They may find that by embracing it there is a whole new world out there that can bring immense reward. England did. It has been miraculous.

Sep 152015
England take bold option with Alex Hales and Zafar Ansari included in squad for Pakistan Test series in UAE

Zafar Ansari suffered an injury scare just after his England call-up, hurting his left thumb playing for Surrey against Lancashire

Of all England’s difficult assignments this year, none is more taxing than their imminent tour to the desert. There will be times in the United Arab Emirates while playing Pakistan when they will fondly recall the Ashes as a cakewalk and look forward gleefully to facing the world No 1 might of South Africa.

The squads announced for the next leg of this relentless year of Test series (almost all intermingled with the compulsory limited-overs appendages) indicated that the selectors are willing to be bold. Two uncapped players have been picked, along with a third who made the second of his two Test appearances three years ago.

They are Alex Hales, Zafar Ansari and James Taylor. Until recently Hales has been viewed exclusively as a one-day specialist, an opinion reinforced after the 2013 season when he averaged 13.94 in first-class matches. But he has worked hard since then to develop a workable method in the longer game and the selectors decided to ignore his moderate form as an opener in the recent one-day series against Australia.

“I’ve been really happy with how my four-day game has gone in the last couple of years,” said Hales. “It will be my first Test tour, a new environment for me. I’ve got to stay true to myself, keep trusting my technique and keep believing that the changes I’ve made are going to be successful in the international arena.”

It is probable, though not certain, that Hales will become Alastair Cook’s seventh opening partner since the end of his long alliance with Andrew Strauss. There is no place in the touring party for the sixth, Adam Lyth, who had miserable time in the Ashes. Moeen Ali is also a possible contender for the berth, as is, more fancifully, Zafar Ansari.

The selectors have chosen Ansari primarily as the third spinner in a party of 16. He has taken 44 Championship wickets for Surrey in the Second Division this season but has also established himself as an opening batsman in the last two summers and is becoming an authentic professional all-rounder.

Ansari, the younger son of Professor Humayun Ansari, one of the country’s leading researchers into the experience of Muslims in British society, first entered the cricketing conscience in 2011. He was playing for Cambridge University then and dismissed Kevin Pietersen on one of Pietersen’s frequent comebacks.

It was only Ansari’s second wicket in first-class cricket, and since his first had been Cook earlier that season, he was clearly destined for great things. However, the 23-year-old had little time to relish the call. Attempting to take a catch in Surrey’s game against Lancashire at Old Trafford, Ansari injured his left thumb and had to go to hospital. According to Surrey director of cricket Alec Stewart: “It didn’t look good. He was in quite a bit of pain. Fingers crossed for him but seeing him in the dressing room it’s certainly a concern.”

The spare batting place in the party has gone to Taylor, who edged out Gary Ballance after prolonged discussion. While the feeling undoubtedly remains that Ballance will eventually score more Test runs, Taylor deserves this latest opportunity to prove myriad doubters wrong.

“The Test arena is a place I have been desperate to get back to, it is the pinnacle of the sport,” he said. Taylor will be vying for the No 5 position in the Test side, at present occupied by Jonny Bairstow, who is also for now the second wicketkeeper. But Bairstow will also challenge Jos Buttler as first-choice wicketkeeper.

The squad is a little top heavy with pace bowlers – five plus Ben Stokes – but there is the question of gelling for South Africa later in the year. The Test squad will be counselled by Mahela Jayawardene, the superb former Sri Lanka batsman, who has been on England’s radar for a while and may have a trick or two up his sleeve about how to play on turning pitches.

Stokes has been rested for the limited-overs section of the tour after playing in all England’s home matches this summer. There is no place in the short-form parties for either Jimmy Anderson or Stuart Broad.

England leave on 30 September and will need to make all they can of the two warm-up games. Pakistan are not quite impregnable in the UAE. They lost the most recent Test against New Zealand last November but it was only the third defeat in 22 Tests there since it became their enforced home five years ago. In 2012 they beat England 3-0.

England had 17 Tests scheduled between last May and next January. So far they have played 10, won five, lost four, drawn one and if they are still in credit after the UAE, things will definitely be on the up.

Test squad AN Cook (capt), MM Ali, JM Anderson, ZS Ansari, JM Bairstow (wk), IR Bell, SCJ Broad, JC Buttler (wk), ST Finn, AD Hales, LE Plunkett, AU Rashid, JE Root, BA Stokes, JWA Taylor, MA Wood.

ODI squad EJG Morgan (capt), Ali, Bairstow (wk), SW Billings (wk), Buttler (wk), Finn, Hales, Rashid, Root, Roy, Taylor, RJW Topley, DJ Willey, CR Woakes, Wood.

T20 squad Morgan (capt), Ali, Billings (wk), Buttler (wk), Hales, CJ Jordan, SD Parry, Rashid, Root, Roy, Topley, JM Vince, Willey, Woakes, Wood.

Test dates

13-17 Oct 1st Test, Abu Dhabi

22-26 Oct 2nd Test, Dubai

1-5 Nov 3rd Test, Sharjah CC

Limited-overs dates 11 Nov: 1st ODI, Abu Dhabi; 13 Nov: 2nd ODI, Abu Dhabi; 17 Nov: 3rd ODI, Sharjah CC; 20 Nov: 4th ODI, Dubai; 26 Nov: 1st T20, Dubai; 27 Nov: 2nd T20, Dubai; 30 Nov: 3rd T20, Sharjah CC

Sep 152015
England vs Pakistan: Alex Hales and Zafar Ansari named in squad to tour UAE as opener Adam Lyth is left out

England have selected uncapped pair Alex Hales and Zafar Ansari for the forthcoming Test series against Pakistan.

Both men have been named in a 16-man squad for the three-match series in the United Arab Emirates, which begins next month.

Nottinghamshire opener Hales has been picked ahead of Adam Lyth, the Yorkshire batsman who played all seven Tests this summer but struggled badly for form during the Ashes, while Surrey all-rounder Ansari offers a third spin-bowling option alongside Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid.

The England and Wales Cricket Board also confirmed the appointment of former one-day captain Paul Collingwood and recently retired Sri Lanka great Mahela Jayawardene in consultancy roles.

Jayawardene will work with the Test batsmen until the end of the first Test against Pakistan, while Collingwood returns to the set-up to work with the limited-overs group in the UAE and will also work at next year’s World Twenty20.


Adam Lyth has been dropped after a poor Ashes

Hales will compete with Moeen for the chance to head the innings alongside captain Alastair Cook, and has been selected despite a lean run in the recent Royal London series against Australia.

His county colleague James Taylor fared rather better in those games and has been rewarded with a return to the Test squad, having played his only two matches against South Africa in 2012.

Taylor’s selection proved bad news for Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance, who was dropped two games into the Ashes but had been tipped for a swift comeback.

Elsewhere, Ben Stokes has been rested from both white-ball formats having been an ever-present in all forms this summer.

Reflecting on the new arrivals in the Test squad, national selector James Whitaker said: “The challenge we face against Pakistan will be very different and the composition of our squads reflects the conditions we expect to encounter in the UAE.


Zafar Ansari is in line to make his England debut

“Zafar Ansari’s potential excites us and he will provide strong competition for Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali in the Test squad after enjoying an excellent domestic season with both bat and ball for Surrey.

“Alex Hales has scored heavily for Nottinghamshire in first-class cricket this season, has shown he can play match-winning innings for England in white-ball cricket and fully deserves an opportunity to compete for a place at the top of the order in our Test side.”

Whitaker also explained the decision to take Stokes out of the firing line for the latter part of the Emirates trip.

“In line with our recent decision to rest Joe Root for the Royal London One-Day Series against Australia, we have opted not to include Ben Stokes in our One-Day or T20 International squads,” he said.

“Ben has been an outstanding performer for England this summer and this decision reflects a desire to manage his workload across a busy winter period in all three formats of the game. He will come back into contention for the white-ball format when we consider the make-up of our squads for the tour of South Africa later in the year.”


Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss during their England days

The backroom additions bear the fingerprints of ECB managing director Andrew Strauss.

Having made the decision to sack Peter Moores and install Trevor Bayliss as head coach earlier this year, he has once again moved to bolster the support team.

His long-time team-mate Collingwood previously assisted Ashley Giles at the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh and always appeared likely to return in some capacity, but Jayawardene represents a major coup.

The 38-year-old retired in August with an enormous legacy in Sri Lankan cricket, having scored 11,814 runs in 149 Tests.


Mahela Jayawardene has joined the backroom staff as a consultant

His primary task will be to impart his knowledge of sub-continental conditions and batting against spin on England’s players.

Strauss said: “We are delighted that Mahela and Paul will be joining the England management team, supporting our existing specialist coaches in this area.

“Both will bring a vast wealth of cricketing knowledge and expertise to the team, and in Mahela’s case, extensive experience of batting in the sub-continent which will be invaluable as part of our wider preparations for the UAE tour.”


England squads to face Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates:


A Cook (captain, Essex), M Ali (Worcestershire), J Anderson (Lancashire), Z Ansari (Surrey), J Bairstow (Yorkshire, wkt), I Bell (Warwickshire), S Broad (Nottinghamshire), J Buttler (Lancashire, wkt), S Finn (Middlesex), A Hales (Nottinghamshire), L Plunkett (Yorkshire), A Rashid (Yorkshire), J Root (vc, Yorkshire), B Stokes (Durham), J Taylor (Nottinghamshire), M Wood (Durham).


E Morgan (captain, Middlesex), M Ali (Worcestershire), J Bairstow (Yorkshire), S Billings (Kent), J Buttler (Lancashire, wkt), S Finn (Middlesex), A Hales (Nottinghamshire), A Rashid (Yorkshire), J Root (Yorkshire), J Roy (Surrey), J Taylor (Nottinghamshire), R Topley (Essex), D Willey (Northamptonshire), C Woakes (Warwickshire), W Wood (Durham)


E Morgan (captain, Middlesex), M Ali (Worcestershire), S Billings (Kent), J Buttler (Lancashire, wkt), A Hales (Nottinghamshire), C Jordan (Sussex), S Parry (Lancashire), A Rashid (Yorkshire), J Root (Yorkshire), J Roy (Surrey), R Topley (Essex), J Vince (Hampshire), D Willey (Northamptonshire), C Woakes (Warwickshire), M Wood (Durham)


Sep 142015
County round-up: Zafar Ansari lifts Surrey title hopes with timely 99

Zafar Ansari fell just short of a century for Surrey on the day the England selectors were meeting

While the England selectors were meeting to pick their squad to face Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, Zafar Ansari yesterday chose a timely moment to underline his case for a call-up, missing out by just one run on what would have been a second century of the season as Surrey advanced their attempt to pip Lancashire to the Second Division title.

The 23-year-old all-rounder is a contender as both a third spinner and an opening batsman after enjoying a fine season in the Championship, in which he has scored 771 runs and taken 44 wickets.

In difficult conditions at Old Trafford against a Lancashire attack boosted by the inclusion of England’s James Anderson, Ansari survived a chance on 33 when he was put down at second slip off seamer Tom Bailey.

Otherwise, he played superbly in an anchor role after Anderson had dismissed Kumar Sangakkara for nine and was unlucky to be out on 99 when he confidently drove a ball from Steven Croft in fading light only for Anderson to demonstrate the quality of his fielding by taking a brilliant one-handed catch at extra cover, diving to his left.

Nonetheless, Surrey closed a truncated first day in a strong position at 262 for 4. Both are already promoted, but having edged ahead of Lancashire in the table in the last round, Surrey would be strong favourites to go up as champions with a win in Manchester.

In the four-way battle to stay in the First Division, Sussex are on top against Somerset, with both sides seeking the win that would ensure they avoid relegation. Mike Yardy, the 34-year-old former England all-rounder who is playing his last match at Hove before retiring, is unbeaten on 60 after he and fellow all-rounder Ashar Zaidi (90 not out) added 132 in an unbroken partnership as Sussex recovered from 171 for 6 to end the day with three batting points.

Worcestershire, who are bottom of the table and must beat Durham to have any chance of avoiding relegation, finished on 223 for 4 at Chester-le-Street after Tom Fell was run out for 83. Hampshire, one place above them, are similarly placed against champions Yorkshire at the Rose Bowl.

No play was possible between Warwickshire  and Nottinghamshire at  Edgbaston.

Sep 142015
England tour to Pakistan: Trevor Bayliss hints selectors will stick by Adam Lyth as opener

Adam Lyth scores a four against New Zealand in the second Test at Headingley in May, when he made a century opening the battling for England

The England squads for the autumn tour against Pakistan will be named today. When the selectors met last night there was probably little time for congratulating themselves on jobs well done in regaining the Ashes and rebuilding the one-day team.

There was too much weighing of options to be done for the challenges ahead in the desert states of the United Arab Emirates, where Pakistan are forced to ply their trade these days. The main cause of angst in the Test party was the identity of one of the opening batsmen.

If that took most of the meeting to decide, there was also the matter of a third spinner and perhaps a reserve batsman. That was before the panel got down to considering who to leave out of a one-day squad for which they have given themselves a multitude of choice.

In the three years since Andrew Strauss retired, Alastair Cook, with whom he opened 117 times in Tests, has had six opening partners. The most recent, Adam Lyth, played throughout the summer but was generally decreed to be doomed after scoring only 115 runs in nine innings in the Ashes.

Ashes Second Test in pictures


However, as the selectors found during their discussions, there is hardly a burgeoning queue for the place and Lyth may be saved by that and the selectors’ belief they cannot simply keep jumping from one player to another. Lyth was given reason to hope his international career will be extended by the England coach, Trevor Bayliss.

He said: “One of the things is there’s no one out there who’s putting their hands up and saying, ‘I’m definitely the player to pick’. Now there are a number of good players that have had an OK season but I don’t think there’s anybody who’s made five, six, seven hundreds. If someone could do that you would be putting them in the team almost straight away, wouldn’t you?”

It was by scoring seven centuries last year that Lyth persuaded the selectors he was worth a shot. He is not the first player to find that Test batting is a different game but Bayliss offered another lifeline.

“He will be spoken about as well,” Bayliss said. “It was a tough season to come in. He played it well against New Zealand, so he can obviously play, and there aren’t many better bowling attacks in the world than Australia’s during the Ashes.”

But enough seasoned observers have cast doubt on Lyth’s credentials at the highest level – it was not that he got out, it was the way he got out – to suggest his position is precarious. Among those vying for his spot is Alex Hales, though his mediocre limited-overs series against Australia was unfortunately timed. Mark Stoneman of Durham may be a reliable option.

There is a move towards asking Moeen Ali to do the job in the UAE, but that is wrong-headed on two counts. Everyone agrees that Moeen could probably not open against South Africa later this year, given their pace attack, so the decision is merely being delayed. Of more immediate concern is that it would be folly to expect Moeen to open the batting in a series in which he will be the side’s main spinner and may have bowled 30 to 40 overs in an innings.

If there is a spare batsman then James Taylor, so often in the frame, has done himself little harm these past few weeks in the one-day internationals. Gary Ballance will probably be recalled with Jonny Bairstow, still underrated, going as reserve wicketkeeper and specialist batsman.

The third spin option may be resisted. If not, then the leading English slow bowler this summer in terms of wickets is Surrey’s Zafar Ansari, who also bats promisingly. At 23, this may not be quite the time to blood him on a full tour but it may be a case of needs must.

The one-day squad may again have to take account of resting players with the South Africa tour in mind. Meanwhile, the announcement of the 10 or so central contracts to be awarded will be delayed until next week.

Sep 062015
England vs Australia: George Bailey doubts Eoin Morgan's sporting claim

Far from seeking to deflect the heat from fledgling Australian captain Steve Smith, former one-day skipper George Bailey has fanned the flames by questioning England captain Eoin Morgan’s insistence that he would have withdrawn the appeal.

Bailey, who led Australia in 28 Twenty20 internationals and 29 ODIs before losing his place ahead of the World Cup, also poked fun at Morgan for taking the moral high ground, questioning whether he would be so sporting over other contentious dismissals.

“It’s a big call for Eoin to say that,” Bailey said. “I assume any time a batter nicks one onto his pad and get given out lbw, or gets wrongfully given out caught behind, he’ll call them back as well.”

READ MORE: Smith was wrong but he should have been saved from himself

Bailey backed Smith and fast bowler Mitchell Starc over their stance at Lord’s. Stokes was given out “obstructing the field” after his hand prevented Starc’s attempted run-out hitting the stumps, despite arguing – with support from batting partner Morgan – that he had acted instinctively to save himself from injury.

“I think the correct decision was made,” Bailey said. “I don’t think the ball was going to hit him. The ball was going to hit the stumps and he was out of his crease. I don’t think there was any need for him to defend himself.”

Morgan, meanwhile, has not allowed England to escape criticism for their performance after subsiding to a 64-run loss to go 2-0 down in the series.

Insisting the Stokes furore could not be blamed for the result, Morgan said his players need “to learn a bit quicker” to avoid a heavy series defeat.

“We could have been hitting better lines and lengths. More often than not  we bowled a bad ball, which is disappointing,” he said.

“With the bat, we made the same mistakes we did at the Rose Bowl. I’d like us to learn a little bit quicker.”

Jonny Bairstow will replace the rested Jos Buttler in the England side for the remainder of the one-day series.

Australian all-rounder Shane Watson, who will miss the rest of the series with a calf strain suffered while batting at Lord’s, has announced his immediate retirement from Test cricket. Watson, 34, won the last of his 59 caps in the opening Ashes Test at Cardiff.  He scored 3,731 Test runs and took 75 wickets.

Yorkshire’s Aaron Finch has been called up to replace David Warner, who broke a thumb at Lord’s.

Sep 062015
England vs Australia: Steve Smith was wrong to appeal for Ben Stokes dismissal but he should have been saved from himself

Of course, he should have been saved from himself at Lord’s on Saturday by either the on-field umpires or the third umpire, Joel Wilson, who made the historic decision to recommend that Ben Stokes be given out for obstructing the field. It is and may remain a mystery how Wilson could be certain that there was enough evidence to suggest that Stokes was deliberately preventing the ball from hitting the stumps as he turned to regain his ground with the second one-day international intriguingly poised.

Perhaps he deduced it from the look in his eyes combined with the movement of an outstretched arm.

Maybe Stokes would have been better advised to try to duck Mitchell Starc’s bullet-like throw, but self-preservation is instinctive. He acted, as did Starc, in the heat of the moment. The field might not have been obstructed. Justice was.

Certainly, the television commentators were bemused at what was happening. There was not the semblance of a thought initially that Stokes’ action was deliberate. Replays seem to demonstrate that the fact that he was facing the oncoming missile as his hand shot out served as significant evidence.

Stokes is struck by the ball as he dives for the creaseStokes is struck by the ball as he dives for the crease (AP)  

As with most, though not all, of these unusual dismissals in the modern era there were several opportunities to ensure that it went no further. Smith, early in his tenure and eager as a boy scout to impress, might have been advised not to proceed with the appeal but, after he had done so, the umpires might have saved him from himself. The law is pretty unequivocal, stipulating that a player must have made “a wilful attempt to obstruct or distract the fielding side”. If Starc, Smith, Wilson and the on-field umpires, Kumar Dharmasena and Tim Robinson, were certain of that there will be other arcane dismissals where this one came from.

The news travelled fast. Watching a club game some 250 miles away it took seconds for someone to ask what on earth obstructing the field meant. Not this, as it happens.

The captains agreed to disagree afterwards. But no one should doubt that England’s captain, Eoin Morgan, meant it when he said that he would not have allowed a batsman to be dismissed in such circumstances. Another way of looking at it is that he will always have to observe such proprieties from now on.

It may be a forlorn wish that the incident will not have a festering effect on the rest of the series. It may be as well if the captains have a quiet word with each other at the toss in Manchester tomorrow, when England will have the devil of a job to prevent Australia winning the series with two matches left.

And what of the main protagonist in the proceedings? This was conclusive evidence of one thing. Controversy and incident will stalk Ben Stokes throughout his career. He is simply that kind of personality, that lovely type of player. It will be fun.

Sep 052015
England vs Australia match report: Ben Stokes dismissal sparks controversy but home side struggle as they slip to second defeat

The first such incident in an international in England for 64 years came in the 26th over of England’s reply as they chased 310 to win.

With England 141 for 3, ahead of where Australia had been at the corresponding stage of their innings albeit with two fewer wickets in hand, Stokes drove the ball back down the pitch and set off for a run.  Mitchell Starc, the bowler, managed to field it and hurled the ball towards the stumps at the striker’s end, intending to run the batsman out.

Spinning round and diving towards his crease in an attempt to recover his ground, Stokes threw out his left hand and in doing so prevented the ball from hitting the stumps. 

The question was whether Stokes had wilfully obstructed the field or was trying to protect himself.  Starc appealed, umpires Kumar Dharmasena and Tim Robinson conferred, consulted with TV umpire Joel Wilson and ruled that Stokes was seeking to save his wicket rather than himself, upholding the appeal.

The decision was greeted with consternation by the Lord’s crowd, and the talk on social media was that Australia captain Steve Smith should have withdrawn his appeal.  England captain Eoin Morgan and Smith exchanged words and Stokes dragged himself towards the pavilion as boos rang around the ground.

Morgan said: “If a guy throws a ball in your direction from five yards all you can do is flinch, you don’t have time to think. I think it would have been a lot different if we were fielding.”

When asked if he would have withdrawn the appeal, he replied: “yes”.

Jonathan Agnew said on Test Match Special: “If it creates any sort of precedent where a bowler thinks he can hurl the ball at the batsman and there’s a chance the batsman can be given out, that’s wrong.”

 It was a blow from which England never recovered.  Despite Morgan’s 85, they were all out for 245, failing to complete their overs in a match reduced to 49 per side after a delayed start.

The only other such dismissal in international cricket on English soil befell Len Hutton in the second Test against South Africa in 1951 and there have been only seven instances in international cricket history.

Australia’s win was achieved despite opener David Warner having to retire hurt only two balls into the match with a fractured left thumb and all-rounder Shane Watson failing to take the field in the Englanf innings. Warner was injured fending at a hostile bouncer from England fast bowler Steven Finn and appeared at first to be just the start Morgan had been looking for when he deemed that morning rain and residual cloud cover was the signal to bowl first.

Yet the setback was brushed away by the Australians, who lost only one wicket in the first 28 overs of their innings after  Smith and George Bailey had both made half-centuries and then benefited from the hitting power of their lower middle order in adding 115 runs in the last 11 overs to post a total of 309 for 7.

Smith, who made a double century at Lord’s during the Ashes series, was his side’s top scorer with 70 and Bailey made 54 before Watson (39), Mitch Marsh (64) and Glenn Maxwell (49) punished lacklustre England bowling to swell Australia’s total to the fourth largest on this ground in one-day internationals.

Bailey completed his first ODI half-century since the World Cup as he and Smith added 99 in 19.1 overs after Warner’s injury, which is expected to rule him out for up to six weeks.  A replacement will be drafted in for the rest of this series.

Adil Rashid, who took four wickets in Thursday’s opening match at Southampton, could not make the same impact this time and it took the introduction of Moeen Ali to break the partnership, bowling Bailey with his second ball.

It was an off-spinner’s dream ball, pitching outside off and hitting leg, and heralded a period in which the England spinners seemed to be fighting back. Rashid dismissed Smith, albeit with an ordinary ball that the Australian captain sliced to point.

But Australia’s firepower could not be contained. Maxwell drilled Ali for consecutive sixes over long-off then swept a full toss for four before Finn had him leg before, but Morgan left Ali exposed to Marsh and Watson, who between them hit him for three sixes in five balls..

Alex Hales and Jason Roy gave England’s reply a flying start, putting on 37 in 5.5 overs before Smith held a fine catch at extra cover as Hales drove on the up.  Roy, missed by substitute Ashton Agar at deep backward square off Marsh, was caught behind driving but James Taylor maintained England’s momentum before he was caught behind for 43 trying to run the ball to third man.

Then came the dismissal of Stokes, after which England’s conviction sapped away and wickets fell quickly, Jos Buttler failing again before Ali, Chris Woakes and Rashid also fell cheaply.   For all Morgan’s fight in hitting four fours and four sixes, there was no preventing an Australian victory, leaving England’s one-day renaissance facing a testing examination.

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