Outside Edge: Ben Stokes' thrilling display reminds us that England can have a future without KP

Diary of a cricket obsessive

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England’s first-day comeback was a welcome poke in the eye of the many doom-mongers

The first morning of the summer’s first test is – weather permitting – always a glorious thing. Yesterday there was a greater frisson of excitement than usual, thanks to the ECB’s recent descent into madness and the prospect that KP-gate may haunt England’s performance. After an hour, the signs were as unambiguous as a Pietersen tweet.

That England were able to pull themselves out of a hole was as exhilarating as it was, frankly, surprising. Joe Root has become the team’s most reliable batsman and he looked utterly at ease. More thrilling was an innings by Ben Stokes, which reminded us why he was the only player to emerge from the last Ashes series with reputation enhanced.

Most crucially, Stokes not only made a score, he absolutely bossed it. Hooking and driving with compelling authority, wandering down the pitch to smash the ball through mid-wicket, for 94 balls he made a mockery of the early inroads created by a decent attack. More importantly, he undermined the idea that KP has no rivals when it comes to game-changing, hard-hitting brilliance. More of the same in the next few weeks and the fandango over Pietersen’s non-comeback might finally be brought to an end. Then again…

Even the best batting cannot distract from a fashion faux-pas

Twitter was abuzz yesterday with chatter about England’s new jumpers. Given the prominence of the word ‘Waitrose’, nobody was likely to doubt its intrinsic quality, although it was unclear whether its wearers were entitled to a free coffee on the way home. It was also, surely, an improvement on the ghastly garments of recent seasons, which bore no more resemblance to a cricket jumper than anything you might find in Topman.

Nonetheless, there is something peculiar about England’s new top layer. The cable knit pattern of the lower portion of the sweater is all very well but then it gives way to a smooth, upper panel on which the Waitrose logo and England crest appear. This creates the impression that the jumper has been topped with an antimacassar: it is the sportswear equivalent of the seat-covers in a 1950s first-class train carriage. Thank goodness for the smart red trim.

One wonders what might come next: funky elbow patches on shirts, designer rips in trousers, maybe restyled jock-straps. Mind you, nobody wants to run the risk of creating a “massive truss issue”.      

Mills’ career-threatening injury is a savage blow

The revolving nature of the first-class game is highlighted by the make-up of the Essex XI which suffered defeat  to Glamorgan yesterday. Of those playing in Cardiff, only three – James Foster, Graham Napier and Jaik Mickleburgh – were in the Essex starting line-up for their match against Worcestershire at the same time last year.

Injuries are to blame in part but, even so, it is a sign of the times. Players move clubs with greater regularity, overseas pros come and go, young guns are given a run, while others require a rest thanks to the hectic schedule.

One of those who featured against Worcestershire was Tymal Mills, who moved to Sussex during the winter and seemed on the brink of higher honours. Yesterday’s news that he may have to quit first-class cricket because of a congenital back problem highlights the perilousness of the county circuit: being very much here today gives no guarantee of a long tomorrow.