A big welcome, and Happy New Year, to The Great Bucko (aka Sean B) for another one of his think-pieces. As usual, food for thought, and interesting to read. Fire away with the comments…
Take it away Sean….
9th May 2015. The date which most of the mainstream media credit as the day when English cricket finally pulled itself out of the doldrums. To be fair it’s an easy narrative for them to create, the “messiah” Andrew Strauss had ridden his chariot into the offices of the ECB to join forces with our “brave young captain” Alastair Cook to pick English cricket up by it’s shoelaces and turn them into the young warriors who would sweep away the invading Australian hordes from the hallowed gates of the Home of Cricket. The disastrous world cup would be a distant memory, the inability to beat the worst West Indian team in living memory now forgotten and oh yes, Paul who?
Of course, I’m being slightly glib here and it would be wrong of me to let me my own personal feelings about Andrew Strauss cloud my judgment of the fact that he has done a pretty decent job since being made Director, English Cricket (see Andrew, it’s actually beneficial not to let one’s personal agenda get in the way of sound decision making – I present Mr. Kevin Pietersen as my first offering to the jury). The decision to sack Peter Moores and appoint Trevor Bayliss was a shrewd move and although the way it was carried out was just horrendous (another fine PR show from the ECB), it was the right decision and one that should have been made 18 months earlier. Dmitri has covered the Peter Moores era in his review of the year, so I don’t want to go over old ground, but it is safe to say that I’m in agreement that Moores, whilst an honourable man and certainly someone who didn’t deserve the shabby treatment he was afforded when being removed of his post, was never cut out for coaching at an international level (my argument was that he should have been made the Lions coach, as he did have a skill for unearthing good young talent). I also applaud Strauss’ thoughts around affording more focus for the one-day and T20 teams, with players like Willey and Rashid encouraged to play in some of the worldwide T20 tournaments to hone their skills and gain experience (perhaps he has read KP’s first book after all). Of course, there was the Ashes victory too, which allows Strauss to justify all his decisions in the lead up to the series and to proclaim England are on the up, even if it was against an average Australian side on doctored green seamers.
However, in my opinion, the 2 biggest reasons why there has been progress from the England side, both on the pitch and just as importantly off the pitch (in the eyes of the paying public), were 2 decisions made before Strauss’ tenure had actually begun. Paul Farbrace, though whisper it, who was appointed under Paul Downton’s reign of calamity, has been a vital cog in the new England set up (though I refuse to give Downton any credit, as I believe it was Moores’ who pushed for his appointment). Bayliss and Farbrace dovetail extremely well, and from all the reports coming out of the dressing room, Farbrace is an extremely well liked and respected individual who has played a major part in uniting the dressing room, allowing players to play their own game and promoting a positive brand of cricket (totally alien to that in which we were playing under Flower and Moores). He has sometimes been referred to as the “silent man” but every cricket fan can understand the skills and expertise he has bought to the England set up. Farbrace has undoubtedly been a big cog in England’s success; however the most important decision that the English Cricket team has made in my opinion, came with relatively little fanfare. The date I will remember as being the most important for English cricket in 2015, was 26th March 2015. The date when a certain Ottis Gibson was bought back into the England fold as bowling coach for a 2nd time, although a lot of credit also has to go to the Melbourne Renegades, who somehow saw fit to hire David Saker as head coach (that’s worked out well hasn’t it??)
This decision, again in the final death throes of Peter Moore’s reign (they had worked together previously in Moores’ first stint as England coach) was arguably the most important decision made by the ECB last year (although some credit has to go to Strauss for extending his contract). Gibson is the exact antithesis of Saker, an individual who isn’t desperate to be in the limelight (I can’t remember seeing an interview with Gibson since his appointment), an individual who is happy to do his work behind the scenes and let the bowlers take the credit when things go well (it always seemed more than a mere coincidence that Saker would appear at the end of a day when England had actually bowled well) and an individual who has more than one tactical plan when Plan A isn’t working. These character traits dovetail excellently with Bayliss’ and Farbrace’s style of management. I must admit that I almost jumped for joy when I heard the news that Saker was leaving England. This was a man who had made a career living off the glories of one great Ashes series in 2009/10 against an Australian side in complete disarray with an English team who were close to their pinnacle. David Saker generally had one plan and one plan only, let the opposition “have it up them” whatever the conditions – bowl short, bowl hard and show them how aggressive you are (no wonder there were divisions in the English dressing room between the batsmen and the bowlers, Saker probably actively encouraged it). For series after series, England bowled too short at opposing teams with the nadir being reached against the Sri Lankans at Headingley in 2014, where England’s bowling tactics were some of the most brainless I’ve ever witnessed on a cricket field; the macho “let’s show these Lankans who’s boss by letting them have it up them” ensured that we lost the game from a position of strength and without doubt showed David Saker’s limitations for the whole world to see. It wasn’t just that Saker was tactically poor, that was his probably his best quality, it was also the fact that he made all of our bowlers consistently worse and nearly destroyed one of them. Jimmy seemed to lose the ability to swing the ball, Broad was told that he had to be the destroyer alongside Plunkett and then we get to the case of a certain Steven Finn. At the end of the 2013/2014 Ashes series, Ashley Giles commented that Finn “was simply unselectable” – not that I attach any blame to Giles, the real perpetrator without doubt was David Saker, who had tinkered and toyed with Finn’s action so much that he simply didn’t know what to do anymore. I remember when Finn burst onto the scene in 2010 against Bangladesh and Pakistan, there was genuine excitement that we had a bowler who could bowl at 90MPH with the height to trouble even the most adept of batsmen, so to then hear that he had been reduced to bowling throw downs at a single stump at the end of the 2013/14 Ashes series should have prompted some thorough soul searching amongst the ECB hierarchy. This was all on David Saker’s watch, how could one of our most promising bowlers been left in such a situation? Why wasn’t Saker’s part in this heavily scrutinized unlike the batting failures that cost Gooch his job? Oh yes they were too busy throwing our best batsmen under a bus to worry about little things like this. The fact that Finn is somewhere back to his best (I thought he was the pick of the bowlers in the first two tests against South Africa) is testament to both Finn and to Richard Johnson (as well as Raph Brandon for helping him with his run up) and highlights what a simply terrible coach David Saker is.
Ottis Gibson, on the other hand, seems to do the all of the basics well and without doubt has the full respect of the English bowlers, many of whom he would have worked with at the start of their career. Aside from the West Indies series where we bowled like drains and to be fair to Gibson, he had only just taken up his post a couple of weeks before, England have consistently bowled better than they had done for the four years previous. Anderson (who many including myself, thought might be coming to the end of his career last summer) is consistently swinging the ball again and bowling better lines both at home and away. Broad has suddenly realised that you’re likely to pick up more wickets by pitching the ball up (gone are the macho “enforcer” passages of play thankfully) and as a result is also bowling far more wicket taking deliveries and also with a far better economy than ever before. Stokes and Finn have been allowed to play their natural games and hunt for wickets and not worry about being dropped for not “bowling dry” as they would have done in the past. Moeen also seems to have improved over the past couple of months and he again was very complimentary about working with Gibson – http://www.espncricinfo.com/south-africa-v-england-2015-16/content/story/956105.html. The bowling of the white ball side (Woakes, Willey, Topley and to some extent Jordan) has also improved dramatically.
And how have we needed our bowling attack to perform as well, most of England’s victories over the past year have revolved around an excellent bowling performance that has allowed our batsmen to play without pressure (and we have seen what our batting performances can be when suddenly the pressure gauge is switched, the 2nd innings at Cape Town was a perfect example). England’s batting line up still has many holes in it, with only one world class batsman (Root), one other proven international class batsman (Cook) with the rest being talented cricketers (Taylor, Compton, Bairstow, Stokes etc.) either trying to find their way in international cricket or are striving to become more consistent (if Stokes can regularly bat anywhere near to the ability he showed at Cape Town, then we will have a superstar). As a result, for England to be successful in the short term, we need to find an opener (still), get the batting unit to fire more often and pray that the English bowling attack can continue to carry our somewhat stuttering batting line up.
This for me is why Gibson’s appointment was the singularly most important news of 2015. We have always had a good bowling attack on paper for the past few years, but 90% of the time we were never sure which version would turn up, the one that bowled out Australia for 60 at Trent Bridge or the one that allowed Sri Lanka to score 457 in the 2nd innings at Headingley? It was a conundrum that neither Moores nor Saker could solve. It is still early days in Gibson’s tenure as bowling coach, and there will be some bad days as well as good, but the omens appear good. We appear to now have a bowling attack where each individual knows the role in which they have to play in it and as a result of this, it has become far more consistent and threatening in a variety of conditions.
Strauss and Cook may well get all of the credit in the mainstream media (wrongly in my opinion) and naturally there must be a hefty dollop of praise to both Bayliss and the “silent man” Paul Farbrace who have been instrumental in England’s improvement, but for me the most credit has to go to the individual that has received the least credit publicly since his appointment, one Ottis Delroy Gibson – the silent man’s silent man.