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Cleaning the J’s out of England’s Test closet

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Cleaning the J’s out of England’s Test closet

England’s success in the 3-1 win over South Africa means that everyone (not you, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow) put their hands up and outclassed the away from home. The bowlers overshadowed the batsmen in their triumph over the Proteas in a series that was muddled by the on-field controversies.

The writing was on the wall for South Africa after punching beyond expectations in the first Test of the four-match series. Like a hammer hit on the nail against an ageing wall, the visitors took the home side out for a walk like a dog. Joe Root’s captaincy was under threat, so was England’s record after the dismal show against New Zealand away from home. For Root, the series was more than a place to pile up on his personal accolade, a series where pride was on the line. And, boy-oh-boy, did he not perform, scoring 317 runs for the tourists and made the right changes when it mattered. He reversed roles with his bowlers, after picking up four wickets in the third Test where South Africa crumbled like a papered wall. One J down, bring on the others! 

The English bowlers got the threshold over the home side, with the ball you think right? Contrary to that, they outperformed the wagging South African tail (or you could read as the top-order) with the bat. Mark Wood, Stuart Broad and Sam Curran’s batting were far more solid in South Africa than the home side’s top-order trio of Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Pieter Malan. However, the series was perfect in papering over the cracks for the English lower-order. 

“Just a feeling I've got, like something's about to happen, but I don't know whatIf that means, what I think it means, we're in trouble, big trouble.”

In an alternate universe, South Africa out battered England at home 4-0, thwarted Broad for boundaries and pulled off miraculous heists after another. In the very same universe, the duo of Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow proved the world that they are world-class. Coming back to reality, the duo looked muddled in the middle like a young toddler during his first-time with a play-doh. The extremely messy kid and their play-doh’s will have a better shape than the two J’s in South Africa. 

The duo just like ‘Music to Be Murdered By,’ lasted only five days at the Centurion. In only six balls in the first innings, Bairstow managed to tangle himself up in a comical fashion giving Anrich Nortje his first wicket. Luckily, there was a second innings for the right-hander and so was 365 runs for the visitors to chase. Walking in at 204/4, with the Barmy Army on their last hurray of songs, a wounded Bairstow arrived, barely. And, soon, found his momentum when he struck Keshav Maharaj for a boundary wide towards covers. 

Dwayne Pretorious-Maharaj and a Bairstow block set the tone for a lazy afternoon as nervousness started creeping in for the home side. However, everything was thrown out of the picture, the bowling partnership, the nervousness and Bairstow, his wicket. If he had focused on the pitch as much as he did after his dismissal, he would have taken England closer to a draw, with victory out of question. That set-off the Proteas fire as they wrapped up the tail in quick succession. Too many thoughts to ponder, decisions to make, players showcasing a masterclass in inconsistency, England had to do it all. The effect was immediate. Ollie Pope entered and the rest (and you, Bairstow) were history. 

The duo had to be separated from the team, like Machine Gun Kelly and Eminem following their spat. Thus ended Bairstow’s redemption test, as Buttler’s began. It took seven innings and an eighth in the final innings for the selectors to realise that Buttler is yet another white-ball specialist forced upon by the management in Tests. Incidentally, it took them ten innings to find out that Jason Roy was out and out, a white-ball player. 18 average in 5 games, against Australia and Ireland. Guess who has lower numbers than the ‘dropped’ opener, his friend from Taunton, Somerset, Buttler. One difference, however, between them is the opener had a high score of 72, a score that the keeper saw three years ago. Buttler’s biggest contribution in the series was to ‘out-sledge’ the opponents, including dropping the ‘F’ bomb more times in a minute, more even than the real Slim Shady. And like the rapper’s songs, Buttler only lasted for 6 minutes before he walked off the crease. 

To add salt to the wound, England’s wagging tail looked more threatening than the J’s. Well, for the English fans and Barmy Army, the sight was more familiar than the sun that Billy Cooper had seen his entire life in England. The real deal for England, for the future, the answer to every question that they have asked since last summer, Ben Foakes is waiting in Surrey. “You were just what the doctor ordered.” 

The smiling-faced assassin’s who short-jabs the ball sounder than the senior veterans is waiting with an average of 41.50 in England’s whites. His first boundary was a hoick over the mid-wicket as England were fighting back after being reduced to 122/5. Buttler and Foakes were toiling hard as runs came hard by. 164/6 and Buttler was sent back, with Sri Lankan players in a huddle and the visitors in a muddle. 

Foakes and Sam Curran had to salvage something for the British pride, and they did it in some style, taking out the spinners for a boundary ride while blocking the tough ones. Drinking tea, having fish and chips, Foakes keeping well in the game, happens every day in England. It exactly picks up from where the duo left, wicketkeeping. The J’s have struggled, irrespective of the country, the opponents, the conditions, the match-situation. Inexperienced Foakes offers all of that, more than that, packing the missing punch for the English side. In First-Class, the right-hander has piled up 5474 runs, averaging 38, scoring nine centuries after moving to Surrey. Like his Surrey teammate Curran, it is only time before he gets a look-in for Root against Sri Lanka. 

One J that got away from the criticisms, Joe Denly, the man who was once looked as the limited-overs specialist, batting ahead of skipper Root averaged exactly 30. An average of 30, Denly’s fidgety batting show has never got the limelight. If England really wants to step up their selection, they will have to find an able replacement for the right-hander, who’s conversion rate has been average, just like his batting. Wait, didn’t he start his career with the white-ball? 

“If you had One shot, Or one opportunity, To seize everything you ever wanted, In one moment, Would you capture it Or just let it slip?” It all goes back to England’s selection of limited-overs specialist, and the selectors have to start it from scratch. 

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