Can a left-arm seamer find a chink in Steve Smith’s technique. ©Getty
While all eyes have been on Jofra Archer, it looks like Sam Curran could be the man to step into the fray at Lord’s.
One-nil down with four to play and just two to lose to allow Australia to return home with the Ashes. England aren’t yet ready to push the panic button, even if a number of their supporters are, and the sense at training a day out from the second Test was of high spirits. The hosts tend to bounce back well from defeat, reflective of their erratic ways, and Archer’s extra zip will enhance the bowling artillery. But Curran gives them a lift on numerous fronts.
If training was anything to go by – and this close to a Test, it generally is – the left-hander’s net session alongside certain starters Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes suggests he’s a serious consideration. Given Archer has almost certainly got the nod for James Anderson’s spot, Joe Denly may be having a restless night’s sleep.
Cruelly, though justifiably from what has been seen so far, there is a feeling Curran’s returns with the bat could better, or at least match, Denly’s. Of course, the 21-year old won’t be handed the number four role, instead shoe-horned into the cabal of sixes and sevens that is England’s middle and lower-middle order. That is, after all, where his most heroic cameos have come from – three half centuries (to Denly’s one) along with handy scores of 48 (Sri Lanka), 46, 40 (India) and 37 (Ireland) that came during times when England looked like ceding advantage.
Factor in a left-arm angle that could find a chink in Steve Smith’s armour, having done similar to another seemingly immovable great in Virat Kohli last summer, and the prospect is particularly appealing from an English perspective. “Sam’s a brilliant talent,” beamed Joe Root.
Why that quote is revealing is because the England captain refused to nail any colours to the mast when it came to an XI for this Test. Understandably so: rain is expected to not just interrupt but scupper any hopes of play tomorrow. If that is the case, the toss will take place on day two. A juicier pitch and overhead conditions may deem Jack Leach’s left-arm spin obsolete and lend itself to an all pace attack, which would save Denly’s skin.
But it was on Curran that Root was the most committal. Archer, for example, would no doubt be a grand Test bowler “when he gets his chance”. Surrey’s young phenom, though, well: “He’s got the ability to change the game with both bat and ball, similar to Ben. And his record is fantastic.”
In this stats-driven era, there’s a quality to Curran and effect he has on his contemporaries that harks back to simpler, perhaps misguided times. He may have the frame of a mascot, but he is also regarded sincerely as a lucky charm.
With him in the side, England have won eight of the 10 matches Curran has featured in and, invariably, the boy wonder has aided all eight – simply by being there for a start, but contributions along the way of course. All his fifty-plus scores have come in these eight and he averages 22.35 with the ball. Small sample sizes, of course. But don’t be surprised when we fast forward to the end of his career and find his input in wins are regular and telling.
“His record is fantastic.” Root again, by the way. “He has had a huge impact in most of the games he’s played, and is a very promising talent that I’m sure will play a huge amount of Test cricket.”
It’s not surprising Root puts so much stock in him. Of course, that win rate of 51.7% is impressive, but with those 15 wins are 12 defeats and a real lack of clarity in his captaincy. Curran is a bit like a sticking plaster, but one that not only covers up issues but also gets rid of worry lines and gives you a pleasing head rush. It’s not just the two-in-one cricketer but a sense of excitement which, sadly, the England captain cannot muster himself.
Of course, this may all be moot if Curran does not get the nod tomorrow and if England draw level without him, that facade will disappear quite quickly, and probably for the benefit of the player himself. There is a worry if he is not allowed an extended run in not only Test but Championship cricket will not be able to realise the talent he has to be a top six bat or a new ball bowler.
But for the time-being, in the midst of an Ashes, simply being Sam Curran – this Sam Curran – gives England hope.