Essex v England, LV= Challenge Match, Chelmsford, 3rd day

England practice descends into farce

The Report by George Dobell in Chelmsford

July 2, 2013

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England 413 for 9 dec and 217 for 3 (Cook 82, Trott 79) lead Essex 278 by 330 runs
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Graeme Swann was back bowling on the third morning, Essex v England, 3rd day, Chelmsford, July 2, 2013
Graeme Swann returned to bowling duties after needing an X-ray on his right arm on the second day © PA Photos
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England's pre-Ashes warm-up match against Essex had descended into farce long before the decision was made to rescind its first-class status.

On a deathly slow wicket that bears little comparison to those expected in the Test series, England's batsmen were progressing with facile ease against a medium-pacer who is some way past his best and two part-time offspinners when it was decided that more benefit would be gained from the match if the Essex side was supplemented with higher-quality bowlers.

By the time that the England management started talking to the ECB about bringing in replacement players, Essex had lost David Masters (to an Achilles strain) and Tymal Mills (hamstring). When one of the part-time spinners, Tom Westley, was also forced off the pitch with a dislocated finger, it was decided to draft Boyd Rankin and Reece Topley into the Essex attack without further delay in order to provide more competitive bowling for the England batsman. The ECB, Essex and Warwickshire, Rankin's team, were all consulted and acquiesced.

On one hand that was a shame. Not only did it mean that all the admirable personal achievements from earlier in the game - such as Tim Bresnan's first first-class century since 2007, Tom Craddock's five-wicket haul and Joe Root's career-best figures - were obsolete, it also meant that any intensity this match had possessed was dissipated in a moment. It was not hard to understand the underwhelmed response from the full-house crowd.

But, bearing in mind that the entire point of this game was for England to gain competitive match practice ahead of the Ashes, it was a decision that had some merit. The sight of Westley and Owais Shah bowling from one end and Sajid Mahmood, now a shadow of the fast bowler he once promised to be, operating from the other had rendered this a pointless occasion and, for all the ensuing loss of meaning that followed the decision, England's batsmen did, at least, have to work harder against Rankin and Topley.

England had first looked at the possibility of bringing in replacement players on day two. Fearing for Graeme Swann's participation after he sustained heavy bruising after he was hit on the arm when batting, they began consulting with Essex and the ECB about the possibility of bringing in another player - probably James Tredwell. As it was, Swann recovered and England were keen not to dilute the intensity of the match by downgrading its status.

England had originally requested that Topley, along with Mills, play in this game. They requested that Ben Foakes keep wicket, too, with a view to monitoring his progress. But Topley was deemed in need of a rest after playing regularly of late and, once Mills and Masters limped out of the attack, there was little being gained by Jonathan Trott and Alastair Cook moving towards the most undemanding centuries of their careers and they made the decision that bringing in replacement players was the lesser of two evils.

As it was, Trott and Cook retired after withstanding a decent spell from Rankin, who generated decent pace from a surface that has slowed to a funereal pace and will have done his chance of a Test call no harm. He drew an edge from Trott, on 37, that flew through vacant second slip and hit the bat hard and high.

But if Trott and Cook enjoyed some batting practice, there was little opportunity for Ian Bell or Jonny Bairstow. Rain intervened 20 minutes after tea to limit their time in the middle while Kevin Pietersen, who it was decided needed less time in the middle than Bell or Bairstow, may well go into the first Test having had only one first-class innings, for Surrey, since his return from injury.

Earlier in the day Swann eased any injury concerns by returning to the field for the end of the Essex innings. Swann sustained a blow on the right forearm on the second day and subsequently went to hospital for a precautionary X-ray. While the scans showed no fracture, Swann was unable to take any further part and was clearly in some pain.

But any thoughts that he might be unable to bowl in the rest of the game were banished when he wrapped up the Essex innings with his ninth ball on the third day.

Things did not go exactly as he would have liked, though. Swann's first eight deliveries were plundered for 19 runs, with Mills - a No. 11 in the old-school, slogger mode - thrashing his first ball for four and then slogging successive sixes as part of an Essex tenth-wicket stand of 47 in nine overs with Craddock. Mills was finally bowled by a looping offbreak from Swann, but not before he had recorded what was, before the status of the game was changed, a career-best batting effort. Essex conceded a first-innings lead of 135.

Mills also inflicted a bit more physical pain on England. Having struck Swann on the arm and Tim Bresnan on the grill of the helmet, he also thumped a pull into Bell's knees at short leg off the bowling of Steven Finn. Bell did not sustain any serious injury.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (July 3, 2013, 16:27 GMT)

@JG2704,I agree, but there has to be a balance, and the old system was too swayed to seeing bowlers/batsmen regularly break down due to injury especially in the 90's where Caddick and Ggough would play a county game then roll up to a test match having only 1 or 2 days rest, or not be available due to a shin splint, pulled back becasue the county had wanted more work out of them.

However now its too much the other way, where I like you dont think they get enough games, I would like to see all the england players released for 2-3 games at the start of the season, and the last couple of games in september if they are fit.

There might also be a case for some 4 day games between the first and second test series of the summer.

Posted by Yevghenny on (July 3, 2013, 15:52 GMT)

It might give the players physical practice, but it doesn't prepare them at all for the mental challenge of top-level competition ==

Nothing will other than actually playing a test match. They still have blokes bowling at them at over 90mph in this match! So often on tour these matches end up with about 15 players playing during the game, this is the first time I've ever heard any criticism about doing it.

Posted by Optic on (July 3, 2013, 15:47 GMT)

@ScottStevo Even with KP missing cricket due to injury, I personally don't have a problem letting the likes of Bell and Bairstow get time in the middle. At the end of the day even with time away, KP has just smashed a run a ball 177 not out against the best attack in Div 1 and a quick 49 here. He looks easily the most in form England player even after a few months away, whereas Bell & Bairstow don't.

Posted by JG2704 on (July 3, 2013, 14:26 GMT)

@ScottStevo on (July 2, 2013, 17:56 GMT) I'm not sure, I think KP possibly only played one inns since his return and scored a big hundred. Maybe they feel others are still out of touch and need the practice more

@MB40 on (July 2, 2013, 16:16 GMT) What about a mixed match? One side comprising of the Eng batsmen and the fringe Eng bowlers and the other Eng bowlers and fringe batsmen. You'd then have the fringe players having a better chance to stake their claim

Posted by trav29 on (July 3, 2013, 14:26 GMT)

@yorkist in reality what difference does it make to the spectator whether it is an official first class match or not though ? I am only watching on TV but it was more meaningful watching it after rankin and topley came on rather than watch England bat away against a series of part-timers after the injuries Essex had.

Posted by JG2704 on (July 3, 2013, 14:24 GMT)

@YorkshirePudding on (July 3, 2013, 9:55 GMT) I think there has to be a balance and I personally feel Eng overdo the resting. Botham (and I'm not always in agreement with him) said about the best way of building up strength and stamina is by playing. Some at Sky argued that ITBs career was shortened due to overdoing it but we also have to bear in mind that ITB probably didn't live the life of an athlete the way modern day players do and in his time they were often playing 6 and a half days a week on top of Eng duty. These days the schedules are so much lighter anyway , even if you played all the cricket that was available Also you look at KP - how busy was he with his cricket when he last got injured? Look at Broad , has resting him so much helped him avoid injuries?

Posted by landl47 on (July 3, 2013, 14:05 GMT)

I've never liked friendlies with nothing at stake and the rules bent all the time. It might give the players physical practice, but it doesn't prepare them at all for the mental challenge of top-level competition and test cricket is at least as much about mental readiness as physical and technical skills- these guys can all play, it's who can bring it when the pressure is on.

County cricket would be better than this and might also give the guys a bit of a refresher after spending a lot of time in each other's company. Team unity is great, but even the closest families need some time apart now and then.

Posted by yorkist on (July 3, 2013, 12:43 GMT)

Essex marketed membership on the basis of this first class match and offered free admission if you booked by a certain date. England allegedly wanted a crowd. On Sunday and Monday it was the only first class cricket in the country. Never mind dropping the admission to £10, people who paid on days 1 & 2 to see first class cricket should be reimbursed. The ECB keep surveying us with questionnaires that exclude "none of the above" - this sharp practice is why people stop watching. I suspect some will have gone to Fenners to-day instead.

Posted by PACERONE on (July 3, 2013, 12:22 GMT)

The whole idea of England playing Essex was from the start a farce.How did all the previous England teams get match practice? The English players should of been playing for their respective counties all along.The ECB has gone over board with preparing England for the Ashes.

Posted by sockington on (July 3, 2013, 11:53 GMT)

what a farce - if England players want practice they play county cricket - like they used to

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