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Series Editorial

‘Flabbergasted’ – Day one declaration ‘could yet come back to bite England’, says Mark Butcher

by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

Former England batter Mark Butcher has labelled England’s declaration on the first day of the 2023 Ashes as “nuts”, suggesting that the decision could yet hurt the home side’s chances.

Ben Stokes sprung a surprise late on the first day, calling in Joe Root and Ollie Robinson with the score on 393-8 after a rollicking three sessions of play. Root was on 118 at the time, and he and Robinson had just taken 20 off a Nathan Lyon over when Stokes signalled from the balcony that he was inserting Australia to face the new ball before stumps.

David Warner and Usman Khawaja safely negotiated that passage of play, and while Stuart Broad struck twice early the next morning, Khawaja carried onto a magnificent century as Australia cut England’s lead to seven runs.


Stokes has made a habit of choosing the bold option. He declared after less than 60 overs in England’s first Test against New Zealand, again opting to hand his bowlers a spell to close out the day, albeit with day/night conditions playing a part in that decision. Against Pakistan, his declaration at Rawalpindi paved the way for one of England’s greatest victories, defying a flat pitch to roar home in the dying moments of day five.

This decision has divided fans and pundits again, and Butcher, while acknowledging that the moment was “great theatre” said he was “flabbergasted” by the call.

“I was absolutely flabbergasted by that [declaration],” he said on the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast. “Great theatre and all the rest of it, wonderful. But how much would England have liked another 50 runs on top of their target as of right at this minute? Playing fast and loose with totals in the first innings when time is very much on your side in Test matches… I understand it in games where you’re trying to put time back in. But at that point on day one of a Test match? Wow, what a decision that is. And that could yet come back to bite England on the backside at some point over the next couple of days.”

Butcher pointed out the justification for other aspects of England’s gameplan, including backing Jonny Bairstow as wicketkeeper despite a difficult innings behind the stumps. But with regards to the declaration, he felt differently.

“The thing that you shouldn’t just throw your hands in the air at and say, ‘that’s just us being on the front foot’, is declaring your first innings closed when you’ve got a bloke on 120 playing like God and there are runs to be made in a Test match with a pitch that is going to deteriorate, that to me is nuts.”

At the end of the third day, England are 28-2, leading by 35 runs, with openers Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett dismissed before rain curtailed play.

You can bet on the 2023 Ashes with our Match Centre partners, bet365.

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