Neglect and Decay

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Nine and a Half Years Ago…..

There is a programme being trailed at the moment on Sky about England in the Nineties. Leaving aside that for one glorious Ashes tour, and a freak of nature in 1981, the Eighties were probably more rank than the Nineties, there is something else that is absolutely striking about comparing then to now. The paucity of great teams.

The 1990s had the dying of the West Indian light, but still brought us Lara, Chanderpaul, Ambrose and Walsh. India had Sachin, an emerging Dravid, Anil Kumble entering the scene, and Sourav Ganguly making hundreds in his first two tests. South Africa had emerged onto the scene, with Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Jacques Kallis, Gary Kirsten and a host of quality players. Pakistan were stocked with batting talent (Inzy, Ijaz Ahmed, Saeed Anwar) to augment Wasim, Waqar and Mushy. Sri Lanka were emerging as a force, with Murali and Jayasuriya leading the way. Zimbabwe had some players to reckon with, New Zealand were no mugs and then there was the might of Australia, with one all conquering side about to turnover into another.

Now look at test cricket. It’s a shambles. While I see the word “context” bandied about as a reason for the struggles in the format, I don’t see that as much as a problem as the sheer lack of quality in test cricket. These teams of today may be fitter, they may be able to hit the ball further, and they may make lots of runs on lovely wickets, or take lots of wickets when the surfaces help them. But one look at Ashes 2015 should tell you all you need to know about where the game stands now. If England hadn’t won, we’d be looking back on the series as two flawed teams battling it out with the home team winning. Tests ending in four days or less as routine. While some welcome this as “exciting cricket” I thought it was just designed to see if we could get results.

Look at the state of test cricket now:

Australia – While they may be best in the world at the moment some of their displays last summer highlighted that they in no way should be confused with their peers of 10 years earlier. Warner is solid at opener, but the other slot is still a bad run away from Burns from being open. Smith is the heart of the line-up, Khawaja is showing some form, Voges is in the stratosphere with his average harvested on flat decks against popgun attacks. The bowling is consistent without having a star presence now Mitchell Johnson having gone (and Starc not doing it so well in tests that he has the aura of his other Mitch). Nathan Lyon is a worthy spinner, but will always pale into comparison with Shane Warne. Australia of the mid to late 90s was formidable – Taylor, Slater, M.Waugh, S. Waugh, Martyn, Healy/Gilchrist, McGrath, Warne, Gillespie….That team would slaughter anything around now.

Bangladesh – It’s been 16 years and still we wait for this nation to pull up any trees in test cricket. If we were being objective here we really should draw the conclusion that if you believe test cricket should be the highest quality and a fair contest, that Bangladesh are the poster child for not bringing countries into the fold. At first they seemed to exist purely to allow countries (and Ian Bell) to post impressive statistics against them. In 2001 it reached the nadir when people actually stopped batting because of the lack of challenge. Here we are now in a distinctly non-virtuous circle. Bangladesh don’t play the so-called top teams away from home at all, and at home very infrequently, so they don’t get to test themselves because they are not competitive, but will hardly get competitive if they don’t play these teams, even if by doing so, the home boards lose stacks of money. The hope was that they would be this generations Sri Lanka. They are more like this generations Zimbabwe. A couple of star players, but not a lot else to write home about.

England – We have a decent team that is talking about being World #1. The actual World #1 team of just four years ago had flaws, but wasn’t anywhere near as flawed as this team. This current team has no world class spinner, a wicket-keeper position in a little state of flux (love or hate Prior, he was a key player in that team), an open door at #2, a hole at number 3, a hole at number 5. I don’t think this team would compete with the 2005 model, and in many ways who would you put your money on in a match up against our 90s best? I don’t think it would be a slam dunk win for this team that aspires to greatness. If it gets to the top it will be through the failure of others, and I think that was shown in the two test series against Australia and South Africa. Also, is it going to win against spin anywhere – it looked pretty bereft in two tests in UAE with India to come later this year. That such a flawed team should be competing for top dog status speaks volumes.

India – You really have no idea what they are doing half the time. A smackdown of South Africa on their own turf followed some lacklustre results away, with it being particularly difficult for us to forget their last two tours to England where they pretty much quit when the going got tough. The demolition job on spinning tops in India of South Africa highlighted a couple of obvious points. First, India will have no objection to creating pitches that will spin from the start. We’ve had that debate but it lends itself to abuse and that can’t be good for test cricket. Second, it proved how fragile the current number 1 was because they’d lost a few players to retirement and injury. India have some world stars, especially Kohli, but does this model compare to the mid noughties vintage of Sehwag, Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman? Ashwin wouldn’t have made that team – Harby and Kumble would have kept him out. Yet they’ll be challenging for number 1 status.

New Zealand – For all the plaudits over how well they’ve played and what a great team they are to watch, they do rather avoid the “winning thing”. Having lost two series against their closest rivals over the winter and lost their talisman BMac, they find themselves in an interesting position. Kane Williamson is a star, no doubt, and the bowling is fine when fit and on fire, but it still looks a team of talented bits and pieces players scrapping above their weight. This team would barely have merited a look-in in the 90s. Now they are everyone’s favourites because they play cricket in the same manner as a drunk fighting. Keep on swinging. When it comes off, the world rejoices. When it doesn’t, the world patronises. But with McCullum retiring to spend more time with T20 cricket, the alarm bells should be ringing.

Pakistan – In many ways I think Pakistan are the bellwether for test cricket. That they play no games at home is a disaster for the game. They produce raw talent that isn’t honed until it gets to test cricket, which is why the two younger batting stalwarts, Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali have taken time to come to the boil, and the stability and rigidity of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq are still so precious to them. I hope they have a great tour on what is sure to be their last test match visit here (thinking about it, is it Misbah’s first?). We can argue all day long about Mohammed Amir’s rights or wrongs, but he’s a prodigious talent and so is Wahab, but compared to what we’ve seen in the 90s and early 2000s it isn’t really the same. Test cricket needs a strong Pakistan and a strong West Indies. When both are struggling, we’re in for a lot of trouble.

Sri Lanka – In their pomp they had a top order to truly fear. Attapatu and Jayasuriya; Mahela and Sanga. They had Murali and the much under-rated Vaas. All the while their governing body was protected when they had these stars on display. Now they’ve all gone and what do they have? Game players, maybe, but outside of Mathews and Herath, test class? Eranga and co may come good on some wickets, and there’s no doubt still talent about but where and how is it going to improve at test level when there’s far fewer opportunities to do so. England lost at home to them in 2014 and are now openly talking about beating them 3-0 this time around. No Sanga, no Mahela, and the confidence rises because succession is tough. No doubting this is as weak a Sri Lanka team as there has been for 20 years.

South Africa – Although the world’s #1 team for quite a while, the behemoths that got them there are falling away. Graeme Smith got old too quickly. Jacques Kallis bowed out at the right time. Dale Steyn is falling apart. Is Vernon Philander even playing… So while the new breed of African cricketer is raising some pulse rate, the team still needs Amla and DeVilliers to shoulder the burden given the openers aren’t really vintage test players. The bowling looked shot against us, other than Rabada, with Morkel really not bowling well too often. Again, you can’t help but feel that their top batsmen are on the other side of the hill, with AB really not at it in the past two series, and giving off more than a few distress signals about his attitude to tests, and that darker days are ahead. Another quality team falling away. It’s a familiar story.

West Indies – A shambles. I can’t even write about it. At least in their decline they had people like Lara. Walsh. Ambrose. Now we have triers and flailing wands. Bowlers without menace playing on pitches as dead as dodos. What the hell happened here, and why is it being allowed to happen? Does anyone actually care?

Zimbabwe – In 2000 they had us worried at Trent Bridge. Murray Goodwin and Andy Flower were strong batsmen. They’d got a half decent bowling attack. Heath Streak was an under-rated cricketer. Now look at them. Don’t play test matches. Disappearing from view. Is this the template for new test nations?

You can see from my run-through test teams, albeit briefly, that the level of play is not good enough. While I see the breathless squeals over the big four “young” batsmen in the world game at the moment – Kohli, Root, Williamson, Smith – you think to yourself that this was about the quality of Australia’s middle order in its pomp, not the world game as a whole. Some will point to T20 cricket as a drain on test cricket’s resources, and in some ways I think you are right. The bowling in test cricket has been drained by the additional workload the bowlers get, and the spin bowlers bowling to contain more rather than seek wickets. There’s a lack of pacy wickets around the world that lend themselves to better cricket, but also there is such a paucity of spinning wickets outside the sub-continent that going to India and Sri Lanka is now seen as a journey into the unknown.

It was said by Lawrence Booth after a certain individual was oft-cited as finishing the Ashes tour with the most runs for England as being like Usain Bolt celebrating a win at a school sports day egg-and-spoon race. Yet we’ll see media meltdown should we hold all nine bilaterals. England, should they make it to number 1, will be beating this lot above. It isn’t a game in rude health, but the achievement will be lauded as if it is the greatest thing ever. Instead of cheering success, maybe we need to look at the state of neglect test cricket is in. Money makes the world go round, and although players may say they all want to be test greats, being a T20 star pays the bills, and what would you concentrate on? Test cricket might need context, whatever that is (could someone please explain) but this generation of stars, as good as they may be, can’t carry the overall lack of depth. You think Voges would be averaging what he is in any other era?

We carry on in our own parochial little bubble. Cook is going to get to 10000, the England team is on the rise. Sri Lanka are being given a real tussle by Leicestershire’s 1st and 2nd XI mixture. Pakistan are coming here for the first time in six years. All will be right in the world. There will be humming noises about winning all seven tests this summer, emulating Vaughan’s team of 2004. Will anyone stop to think precisely what we are beating here, if we do?

So if you catch the Sky programme, watch it and weep for the standard. I’ll bet that ain’t the message that will be portrayed. It wouldn’t be the done thing to do down what is happening now. Sky and the ECB wouldn’t want anyone to be actually thinking about this, would they?

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71 thoughts on “Neglect and Decay

  1. Philip Chapman May 15, 2016 / 11:16 am

    Bah humbug.
    I think the sands of time are putting rose tinted glasses on your view of some of the older teams.
    There are some tremendous players coming through in a number of countries, despite the system.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LordCanisLupus May 15, 2016 / 11:27 am

      Maybe some rose tinting, Phil, but really. Test cricket standards now are down and it is down to the lack of bowling coming through. That and the pull of the money of T20.

      I think there are less great players coming through in test cricket. A lot less.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Mark May 15, 2016 / 11:46 am

      There are no rose tinted glasses on me when I look at the Australian team of the 1990s. Or the opening attack that Pakistan had. And both of these teams had leg spinners who ENGLAND struggled against.

      Donald and Pollock for South Africa. Walsh and Ambrose for the WI, with a certain Brian Lara in the batting. And never mind a certian Sri Lanka spin bowler who got 100s of test wickets. The up and coming Indian batsman of that time. We’re they all brilliant? Of course not.

      But if I was Mike Atherton or Alex Stewart or Mark Butcher or Mark Ramprakash or G Hick I would be looking on at all this fuss about a certain modern day players 10,000 runs as a lot of fuss about nothing. I doubt Cook would have made 5000 runs in that era.

      Liked by 1 person

      • GeneralZod May 15, 2016 / 12:12 pm

        I guess we can just dismiss KP’s record as well seeing as his career occurred at pretty much the same time as Cook.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Mark May 15, 2016 / 12:51 pm

      Drinking game bingo! I do so love it when our opponents bring up KP. Because it is only us who are obsessed apparently.

      As for dismissing his record, your side of the argument has done that relentlessly for 4 years so pardon me if I laugh out loud if you now suddenly want to resurrect his reputaion. Oh the irony, to make Cooky look good, they now have to praise KP. Too funny.

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      • GeneralZod May 15, 2016 / 1:05 pm

        I actually think both players have been great for England.

        “Oh the irony, to make Cooky look good, they now have to praise KP. Too funny.”

        My first comment is trying to make a very similar point. Maybe I could have written it this way:

        “Oh the irony, to make KP look good, they now have to praise Cooky. Too funny.”

        to make it easier to understand for you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • rpoultz May 15, 2016 / 1:22 pm

        You cannot compare the two batsman in terms of style, how they made their runs and also what quality of attack they made runs against. You can only make runs from what is put in front of you so to speak but that still doesnt take away from the point of this article that test cricket, an in particular, its bowling standards have dropped. Englands best will be facing a Sri Lankan attack that has struggled against Essex and Leics 1/2nd team. So whichever way you slice it this isnt going to be warne/mcgrath or even Vaas/Murali.

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        • LordCanisLupus May 15, 2016 / 3:57 pm

          No you can’t, of course you can’t. I’m also not going to sit here and tell you “Cook is crap” or “Cook shouldn’t be in the team” nor say to you that 10000 runs isn’t a mighty achievement. He’s been among the best England openers I’ve seen, but you cannot deny that he’s doing this against slightly weaker oppo than his predecessors. Of course you can only play against who is put up to oppose him.

          But it’s shit like this by Newman that I can’t abide.

          The ECB came under attack for backing Cook when Pietersen fans were at their most vitriolic in the wake of his sacking, but it was certainly the right thing to do.

          English cricket will recognise that when the captain who has proved all his doubters wrong reaches 10,000 Test runs this week.

          It wasn’t just Pietersen fans at their most vitriolic. It was a ton of people. Journalists, pundits et al thinking he’d had it and should step down. Do not rewrite fucking history to make it sound it was a rump of people who don’t have a clue. Nor did we believe he was finished – we did say two years without a ton might start raising eyebrows if it was anyone else up until Bridgetown. Again, was that so out of line?

          Newman can get prissy and block people who don’t share his view. Fine. But don’t let your Cook fanboy, and yes
          I’ll use that hugely derogatory term that’s thrown at me, to blind you to what happened and tell us we were wrong to think the way we did. There are reasons we don’t like what happened, and one of them is you blatantly write as his mate, and disparage those who disagreed with the KP sacking. I respect what he’s done. I don’t need to like him to do that.

          Liked by 1 person

      • jennyah46 May 15, 2016 / 3:36 pm

        I think you are feeling a bit over sensitive today. It was a fair point.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mark May 15, 2016 / 4:57 pm

        “It was a fair point.” No it wasn’t Jenny.

        It was a pathetic attempt to use KP (a man who their side of the argument have attacked, ridiculed, belittled and booed even) to try and big up their great hero.

        We are constantly accused by these people of being obssesed (see the snide remarks only a few days ago when Dmitri wrote a piece about the anniversary of the KP sacking by Strauss. And how we should stop writing about him for a couple of weeks.) Who brought him up today? Not us.

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      • sidesplittin May 15, 2016 / 5:34 pm

        Sorry, Frank Doberman, it’s “snide” to post a comment that disagrees with the blog line, but it’s fine for you to accuse others of deception and having multiple profiles in posting here ?

        It must be a fcuking marvellous view atop your high horse.

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      • GeneralZod May 15, 2016 / 6:25 pm

        “You cannot compare the two batsman in terms of style, how they made their runs and also what quality of attack they made runs against”

        “Of course you can’t”

        Errr….well, you can compare the quality of the attacks actually because they were playing the exact same bowlers in the exact same match…

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        • LordCanisLupus May 15, 2016 / 6:33 pm

          As we’re in to precision here I’ll give you a nod Zod. I was looking at the comparing of styles and how they made their runs (and thinking in particular about the times they made them – both have pluses and minuses) while you point out in my “of course you can’t” picking out the one I’d assume you’d know I know but quite rightly I hadn’t made the distinction.

          And to be clear, when I talk about predecessors, I’m talking about the 90s and early 2000s players.

          We’re all in grumpy old moods today, aren’t we?

          By the way, welcome General. I am outranked as a mere Lord!

          Like

      • SimonH May 15, 2016 / 6:32 pm

        The greatest attack they faced at the same time was in Australia in 2006/07. They were both playing their first away Ashes.

        Pietersen averaged 54, Cook averaged 27. Not saying that makes Pietersen twice the player but I think it’s strong evidence of who, when the chips were as down as they were ever going to be, who was the better player.

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        • LordCanisLupus May 15, 2016 / 6:36 pm

          I’m going to give Cook a bit of a shake here. As someone who sat through a gritty, horrible hundred at Perth where he was fighting his own game, his own inexperience and a hopeless situation, I give Cook a bit of a break here. He scrapped like hell.

          I’m a bit cheesed off that this has turned into Cook v KP. I really had no intention of this. I wanted it to be 2016 v 1996 and how two series that could be hugely anticipated in the mid-2000s now seem to be a summer to get out of the way before India. It’s because of quality (perceived or otherwise) and lack of visibility. The former is arguably more worrying than the latter.

          Like

      • jomesy May 15, 2016 / 7:31 pm

        LCL – agree but you should have included the last sentence too when you quoted the Daily Fail/Newman article:

        “The ECB came under attack for backing Cook when Pietersen fans were at their most vitriolic in the wake of his sacking, but it was certainly the right thing to do.
        English cricket will recognise that when the captain who has proved all his doubters wrong reaches 10,000 Test runs this week.”

        WTH is that last sentence? All his doubters? Not this one. “English cricket”? WTH is English cricket? “When the captain … reaches 10,000 Test runs this week.”

        Personally I hope he gets a fucking pair for entitlement, severe lack of leadership/self awareness (has their been a worse captain – I’m still waiting for his explanation over the KP sacking when he asked for “patience” … I’ve given plenty and he’s said nothing, his shit captaincy (it’s improved but he’s still shit compared to being truely awful, hopeless/abject, a complete fucking liability), this sort of shit journalism.

        I also hope he significantly out scores Compton simply because of the journalist shit thrown at him this week….especially after Co*k gobbled off saying people were playing for their places when he had ANOTHER shit series.

        Oh, and if I hear about Alice again….. FFS

        (Sorry for swearing)

        Liked by 1 person

      • SimonH May 15, 2016 / 8:23 pm

        I sat through it too (on TV) and he did fight hard in as tough a circumstances as one is going to get. Bell played like a dream for his 87 as well which is often forgotten. My point was only about bowling attacks. I’d say Ricky Ponting was a better player than Justin Langer but that doesn’t mean I’m saying Langer was a poor player or I didn’t respect what he achieved. I’d also say I would prefer to watch Ponting bat but that’s my sense of style (and I preferred to watch Damien Martyn over both of them).

        The low profile of Test cricket at the moment is a worry. SL have done brilliantly to be so successful for so long on such meagre resources that the only surprise should be that they’ve taken so long to have a lean spell. Hopefully things will pick up with Pakistan. Their bowling is something to look forward if their batsmen (who have had precious little experience outside Asia in recent years) can give them something to work with.

        A Test Championship does feel sorely needed. Hopefully an announcement is imminent and it won’t be botched. It won’t solve everything of course. There’s no substitute for great players – all administrators can do is provide the best stage but it counts for little if the play is no good. The game has lost a large number of great players in the last couple of years (Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Pietersen, Swann, Chanderpaul, Kallis, Smith, probably Steyn, Clarke, Johnson, Harris, BMac, Vettori). That’s a lot to replace.

        Barney Ronay wrote an interesting piece a while back arguing that we had just lived through a golden age but didn’t appreciate it. We’d seen players who’d learnt their craft in the longer form and then grafted T20 skills on to that technique. What we see now is the start of an era where players learn T20 skills and try to graft longer format skills on to them. It’s a simplification, of course, but I suspect he may have been on to something.

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      • Burly May 16, 2016 / 9:34 pm

        To be fair, Zod, when comparing Cook to KP you first have to do KP a huge disservice and ignore his ODI and T20 feats. That’s a huge part of his value to England cut out of the argument straight away.

        Cook doesn’t deserve legendary status because of the vast majority of times he’s faced an excellent pace attack he’s been mediocre to downright terrible. Against attacks that are struggling – in Mitchell Johnson’s case, struggling to hit the cut strip – he’s made hay. But given the paucity of top quality pace bowlers it says quite a bit that he’s struggled so often against the few that are knocking around. Hell, remember how bad he was against Amir and co right before *that* Ashes series?

        Cook drags it back by being a player who almost never fails to cash in when the conditions suit him, which is a strength in itself, but also being one of England finest players of spin for a very long time. It’s that strength, which weirdly never gets talked about, that makes him hugely important to England, but IMO his problems elsewhere mean that his record to me is primarily one of longevity in the face of extended dry spells and a fairly weak set of opposition bowlers.

        KP’s own problems came against slow left armers, where a slightly daft theory seemed to become a genuine problem – possibly a psychological one – and his arrogance at dealing with what he thought were the “lesser” bowlers in a side who were still worthy of respect meant he got out a few too many times to rash approaches. Of course, he also embodied the spirit of 2005 by giving world class bowlers an absolute pasting, ably assisted at the time by Tresco and Flintoff, but he was so much better than those two it’s not even funny. Given that he was a core part of England’s three separate disciplines, had a few bad injuries, and dealt with a management team that banished him from international cricket twice, his record stands up far better to the idea that he’s one of England’s finest ever batsmen. His approach to the game had such a huge impact on English cricket. It was Flintoff with talent.

        Cook is one of those players who is superb by English opener standards. However, our standards there for the last god knows how many years have not been high, particularly when you look at the best openers from other teams over the last few decades. He would not supplant many of those overseas players, if any. KP? He’d make most overseas teams. He’d not have been out of place in THAT Australian side. Cook wouldn’t have got a look-in.

        Cook’s record is so strange once you start analysing it. Heaps of runs. Huge weaknesses in his game. Periods of absolute mediocrity. Periods of impossibly high run scoring. I cannot think of another batsman quite like him in modern cricket. He’s the opener’s version of Mitchell Johnson. I don’t hate him and I’m very glad he’s playing for England, particularly when he’s in good form, but like most people who post on this blog I find his deification in the press to be a hard thing to swallow. But it’s very rare to find English people who will listen to criticism of him and be even-handed; people either despise him or think he’s incredibly. I find foreign cricket fans tend to be a lot more measured in their approach, probably because they support teams who’ve had better openers than him not so long ago.

        Liked by 3 people

        • LordCanisLupus May 17, 2016 / 8:14 am

          Great comment Burly. It’s an interesting point re the Aussie team. You don’t think Cook over Langer? I’d suspect many Cook fans would.

          I genuinely think a lot of the praise is because he was good when young by our standards.

          I have a piece in my head about this so keep an eye out.

          Like

      • pktroll (@pktroll) May 17, 2016 / 9:11 am

        Some very perceptive comments/posts regarding Cook. My take on this is that he had 25 centuries in 92 tests on completing that ton in 2013 versus New Zealand at Headingly. That was a top class effort, and although he had done his fair share of bashing weak attacks it would have been wrong to say that he never scored runs against high class pace attacks (Durban 2009/10) . Had he continued on a similar path he would be up near 35 + tons now and he would have a realistic shot at the 51 ton record by the time his career finishes. That would be a record of an all time great.

        BUT his overall record since and the 3 tons extra scored in that time have taken a further 34 tests including the nigh on 2 years without a ton. My regard for Cook waned a whole lot over the back to back Ashes series and that is even without the captaincy attributes, or lack of, he showed in that period. Let alone what has transpired since and the idiot fawning that we’ve had over him regarding his leadership or otherwise, and I still think it is far from brilliant now although improved.

        An analysis that had taken this into account from the main journalists be it on screen or in print would have my respect many times greater than the guff that they usually provide.

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      • Burly May 17, 2016 / 1:16 pm

        I think they’d have taken Langer over Cook in Aus. Not least because they’d spend a lot of time facing good quicks on Aussie surfaces, both in domestic cricket and for Aus, and Cook would not look anywhere near as hot there.

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  2. metatone May 15, 2016 / 11:31 am

    I’m actually (perhaps foolishly) optimistic about Bangladesh, they seem to me to be on the verge of becoming very competitive in limited overs and if they could find 1 more bowler, even starting to shake up Test cricket.

    However, that mention of bowlers is key. While it’s true we’re not in a purple patch for batting (but then, maybe talents like Lara and Tendulkar don’t come along in every era) the key thing is it’s hard to say that any team can *reliably* put out with 2 top class Test bowlers.

    Why is this? Some of it is about youth development, but to me it’s crucially about injuries. And cricket isn’t alone here, it’s a problem showing up in football and rugby and athletics. We’ve entered a period where all the off-field training can get athletes to higher peaks than ever before – but it seems along the way they become that bit more fragile.

    Like

    • Benny May 15, 2016 / 3:17 pm

      Can’t help wondering about the injuries too. In my long memory, I can’t recall so many injuries and I do go back to the times when bowlers got fit and improved simply by bowling, together with the odd beer at the end of the day. If you check your old Wisdens, you’ll find that bowlers like Trueman used to get through a number of overs in a season that would frighten today’s bowlers and he likely never entered a gym in his life.

      Also agree that once upon a time, most teams turned up with at least a couple of class bowlers. With my rose tinted glasses on, I (just about) recall Lindwall & Miller, Trueman & Statham, Hall & Griffiths and that’s for starters. At the same time, there were some extraordinary batsmen.

      This is a good topic. Reckon those most responsible for where we are today are the administrators. We never used to have any.

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    • d'Arthez May 15, 2016 / 4:51 pm

      All of Bangladesh’s away assignments since the start of 2011 have been in the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. All of 7 away Tests in 5.5 years. It is hard to have great bowlers in alien conditions, if you never ever get to play in them.

      I expect Mustafizur, if he remains fit, to play less than 4 Tests in England over the course of his entire career. Unless, they strike gold somewhere in Bangladesh, and that members of the BCB are running the mining company, because then Tom Harrison won’t know how quickly he has to arrange a 18-Test series.

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  3. Mark May 15, 2016 / 12:37 pm

    It’s the timing of this show that makes me suspicious. Sky do have a commentary box stacked with players from this era…..Mike Atherton, Nasser, Mark Butcher, Dominick Cork. So they have a host of people on tap to contribute, and they have all the footage from the foreign tours. (Keeps it cheap too.)

    But how much will this be about the quality of the teams ENGLAND faced? What we are being served up now is Fools Gold. This is not the modern day players fault. It is not his fault that the quality of test match player is on the decline. They can only play and beat what is put in front of them. The English cricket media do them no favours by pretending they are super men.

    If you want an example of this then look at the Ashes 2014. ( the tour that has been air brushed away) In that series ENGLAND faced a genuine fast bowler, in form, who could bowl 90-95 miles an hour, and the England batsman (so lauded for many years were blown away.) They simply couldn’t deal with short pitched, accurate fast bowling. It wasn’t that they had never seen this bowler before. In fact he was seen as a bit of a joke. “He bowls to the left he bowls to the right.” He was wayward, and not reliable. But when he got it bang on the money England’s finest melted like snow in the sunshine. As I say, I don’t blame the modern players. I blame the idiot media who hype them up into something they are not.

    Like

  4. SimonH May 15, 2016 / 12:41 pm

    On this “holding all the trophies” thing that has suddenly become so significant, SA performed the feat all of two years ago in 2012/13.

    They had beaten England (away), Australia (away), West Indies, NZ and Bangladesh in the last series they had played those teams. They had drawn their last series in UAE against Pakistan but beaten them in the one before that at home. They had drawn three consecutive series against India but won the last one that produced a result in 2006/07 .

    Did they get praised as the greatest team in the universe? Did any of the English media even notice this achievement? Or was it all “they can’t win in India, they choke at WCs, that Kallis is a bit boring, Steyn isn’t that skillful, England will beat them 2-0”, etc etc. And then avoid playing them for five years?

    Liked by 1 person

    • SimonH May 15, 2016 / 12:43 pm

      Missed out SL who SA had beaten in 2011/12.

      Like

      • LordCanisLupus May 15, 2016 / 12:45 pm

        I mean, they are rubbish and all that, but it’s a bit hard to lose a trophy when you don’t play Zimbabwe for over a decade!!!!

        Like

    • Mark May 15, 2016 / 1:01 pm

      This is all new to me. I have never heard of this idea about how many “trophies” we hold at one time. It was series victories, not trophies, and I never remember them being counted up like houses on a Monopoly board.

      Smacks of a certain ex Chelsea manager who counted the Charity Sheild as a trophy won.

      Like

      • SimonH May 15, 2016 / 3:02 pm

        When England beat India in 1974, the team held “all the trophies” until their appointment with Lillian Thomson during the winter. England had beaten WI, NZ and India in their last series. They’d drawn the last Ashes with Australia but won the one before that. The last two series against Pakistan had been drawn but England had beaten them in 1971. SA were of course suspended and SL didn’t have Test status.

        Does this mean Mike Denness was an all-time great and whoever has head of the TCCB (or whatever it was called at the time) was some sort of genius?

        West Indies held “all the trophies” from 1984/85 when they beat NZ for the next decade until 1994/95 when they lost to Australia. Maybe Stuart Broad’s dad could tell him about how good they were as Broad junior thought only peak Australia might have achieved it?

        Like

  5. fred May 15, 2016 / 3:08 pm

    Not totally convinced by this post, but I need to cogitate a bit before I respond. However there is one point which I think is way out of line:
    “Nathan Lyon is a worthy spinner, but will always pale into comparison with Shane Warne.”

    Is that really all you have to say about him? Everyone will pale in comparison against Warne. Lyon is Australia’s leading offspin wicket-taker of all time. He’s come into the team quite late, he’s been subject to a very inconsistent and stupid selection policy, he both defends and attacks, he fields well, he bats very well for a #11 (England never dismissed him in 10 innings in 2013), and although I’m cautious about character judgements, he generally seems to be a decent guy.
    He’s taken 195 test wickets with an average of 32.8 and economy of 3.14.

    As far as I’m concerned, Lyon is ascending into legend status.

    Liked by 2 people

    • LordCanisLupus May 15, 2016 / 3:29 pm

      This is not a Nathan Lyon piece – of course pretty much anyone would pale into comparison – but where is this generation’s Shane Warne or Murali anywhere? Lyon? Ashwin? I say that he pales into comparison, you agree anyone does, but I’m “way out of line”? I’m not sure I follow.

      The point of the piece was to reflect on how there are less “great” players around and the fact that test cricket is waning. I think that’s pretty undeniable. Concentrating on a throwaway line about Lyon isn’t really the point, Fred.

      Like

    • Mark May 15, 2016 / 4:29 pm

      “Nathan Lyon is a worthy spinner, but will always pale into comparison with Shane Warne.”

      Nope, can’t see a problem with that statement. And to be fair Fred you agree because you said……

      “Everyone will pale in comparison against Warne.”

      That’s kind of the point. There are no Warnes out there at the moment. As Dmitri says this is not an article on the merits of Nathan Lyon or indeed global off spinners generally.

      Good luck to Mr Cook getting his 10,000 runs, and he can only get them against the current crop of bowlers. But they are not a patch on what went before. It’s also not Cooks fault that he has an idiot cricket media who keep telling everyone who will listen that he is a kind of John the Baptist figure.

      Like

      • AB May 16, 2016 / 12:44 pm

        Lyon is a decent spinner, but qualitatively, I wouldn’t put him ahead of Tim May, who had a similar bowling average. The difference is that May only played 24 tests.

        Like

    • d'Arthez May 15, 2016 / 4:58 pm

      Lyon is a good offspinner, but not an all time great. Warne struggled in India, but he was bowling against some of the best batsmen against spin that the game has ever seen. Now you have a poor series in India as a spinner when you average 30.

      Like

    • fred May 15, 2016 / 5:10 pm

      I know, I picked a tiny point out of the whole post and responded to it. I probably overreacted. I just think Lyon is an unsung hero.
      If I had written the post I would have said “The Australian team has been nothing more than solid lately etc etc…although Lyon has proven to be the best offspinner in the history of Australian cricket”.
      It’s a minor point in the context of the post, but one I wanted to make.

      Like

      • LordCanisLupus May 15, 2016 / 5:11 pm

        I also responded during the Millwall play-off game, which probably wasn’t the best time to get a rational answer!

        🙂

        Like

      • fred May 15, 2016 / 6:55 pm

        I wouldn’t know Millwall from a bar of soap, but I’ve researched it and discovered that “Millwall came from behind to defeat Bradford City and take control of their League One play-off semi-final.” so I guess congratulations are in order! I’ll raise a glass tonight in honour of Millwall.

        Like

      • Mark May 15, 2016 / 7:07 pm

        For what it’s worth Fred I agree with you about Lyon. I think he is understted, and does a good job for Australia. But he is not in the same league as Warne. And when you add in Murali who was about at the same time, there is nothing like them today.

        Like

      • fred May 15, 2016 / 7:32 pm

        Mark
        well thanks. But you still included the “But he is not in the same league as…” No one is! Bloody Warne, he’s spoilt it for everyone.
        Bugger it, I’m going to go raise yet another glass to Millwall.

        Like

      • Mark May 15, 2016 / 8:27 pm

        I don’t think he ruined it for everyone Fred. ( and I say that as an Englishman who he ruined many a test match for) But sometimes I think we just have to be glad we got to see someone with a special talent.

        I thought that there would be an army of blonde bombshells all coming of Bondii beach bowling leg spin by now. I thought all those kids who grew up with him would be lining up to play for Australia. The fact there aren’t any suggests he was rather unique.

        Like

  6. SimonH May 15, 2016 / 9:22 pm

    On what feels wrong about world cricket at the moment, I thought this was one of the few attempts in the UK MSM to address some of the issues:

    https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2015/dec/11/t20-cricket-ram-slam-super-smash

    This section in particular felt like it was on to something:

    “Perhaps, from the playing side, we have already had the golden age of T20, that moment where a generation of meticulously schooled, genuinely top-drawer Test players were allowed to expand into unorthodoxy, like the classically trained modernists who produced the great experimental art of the 20th century, before everybody forgot how to draw and just made a pile of Lego bricks or a video instead”.

    The only problem might be that it’s too narrow – that what is meant about T20 batting also applies to bowling and Tests as well. Players now learn T20 skills first and try to graft longer format skills on afterwards. T20 batting is where the big bucks are so only those who can’t do it want to bowl – and only those who can’t do either want to specialise in the longer game. Maybe it’s just cyclical and new Test talents will emerge – but I’m less confident about that than at any stage in my watching career.

    Like

    • fred May 15, 2016 / 10:34 pm

      No surprise it’s from Ronay. He’s not a specialist cricket writer but he reflects more deeply on the game than some of the “specialists” bother to.

      Dave Warner, the man who started his career in T20 and moved on to tests, undermines your argument. I guess we can take him as an exception.

      I have deep sympathy with the view, but I’m wary of the “it was better in my day” syndrome. It seems to me, although I’m not an expert, that the skill level in cricket has increased over the last decade. I would think that the representative worlds best of 2016 would beat the representative worlds best of 2006 easily.

      I gave T20 some serious attention for the first time in the recent world cup. Interesting to see how effective classical batting technique was. For every Maxwell there is tying himself in knots, there is an Alma or Kholi simply caressing the ball to the boundary. Classical technique works just fine in T20.

      There are many troubling matters in cricket at the moment, and I don’t know how the tension between T20 and Tests will play out, but I don’t think technique or skill is at risk, in fact quite the contrary, I’ve never seen such talented and versatile teams take the field.

      Liked by 1 person

    • nonoxcol May 16, 2016 / 10:48 am

      Although there was that time when he thought England would be “playing to their strengths” by omitting Panesar (16 wickets at 25 in his most recent three Tests, in the UAE and Sri Lanka) in favour of Tim Bresnan (three wickets at 94 in his most recent three Tests, all in England) in Ahmedabad, India, 2012. Something to do with bowling dry and obtaining reverse swing later, I understand.

      When you can advocate such patent nonsense on stilts, even though you have always clearly admired such a top-class spinner, it just goes to show what a powerful hold Flower commanded really.

      Like

  7. SimonH May 16, 2016 / 12:05 pm

    Prasad’s out of the First Test at Headingley where he bowled SL to victory in 2014. His modest overall Test record shouldn’t mask what a fine bowler he now is. He’s taken his wickets at 25 in the second half of his Test career. SL are making noises that they hope he’ll be fit for the Second Test but he’s been ruled out so early it doesn’t look too good.

    England have had a run of considerable good fortune with opposition strike bowlers getting injured in the last couple of years. Ishant Sharma missed three Tests in 2014, Trent Boult missed most of the 2015 ODI series, Ryan Harris missed all the Ashes, Yasir Shah and Imran Khan both missed a Test in the UAE (and the former’s knee sounds dodgy for their tour), Steyn and Philander missed the whole SA series.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LordCanisLupus May 16, 2016 / 8:36 pm

      Apart from that egregious showing off, thought this was OK from his Ed-ness.

      Until this…

      Ed Smith is the Course Director of an MA in the History of Sport 1800-2000. @edsmithwriter

      Like

    • nonoxcol May 16, 2016 / 3:25 pm

      “the central question the book poses is just why England performed so badly in that decade. One answer is that they didn’t: the quality of Test cricket has never been stronger than it was in the Nineties.”

      #TeamTim (and Dmitri)

      “Between the spring of 1993, when the 14-year-old Emma’s obsession began with the arrival in Britain of Allan Border’s Australians, and 2000 England won just 17 out of their 78 Test matches.”

      And between the spring of 1986 and the spring of 1993, England won only 12 of their 74 Test matches, the same number of series (4), and the same number of five-Test series (1).

      There was, and is, nothing uniquely terrible about English cricket in the 1990s. The counter-argument is one of the most (low-key) annoying cricket tropes in existence, sustained (it seems) almost entirely by a group of writers under 40.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Mark May 17, 2016 / 9:20 am

    I think the 2006/07 ashes is a very interesting comparison for KP vs Cook. So I went and dug up a few stats. This was another tour from hell, although it wasn’t air brushed away like 2014. The back story of course was that the Aussies were furious to lose 2005 and they were up for revenge. Also, it was the end of McGrath and Warne. This was their goodbye to their fans. Both England batsman were in good order. Cook was young but had made a good start to his career. KP was in his prime.

    Tests Innings No. Runs Hs. Av
    KP 5 10 1 490 158 54.44
    Cook 5 10 0 276 116 27.60

    Cook was newish to test cricket but it was also when many of his supporters claim he was at his best. KP scored twice as many runs, and had an average double Cooks. And this was against a much better bowling attack than the one in 2011 that the media make such a fuss about.

    It wasn’t just KP that beat Cook. Collingwood average 48.11 Bell 33.10. Even Flintoff with an average of 28.22 was better than Cook, and he was the captain under huge pressure. Cook did manage to beat Strauss 24.70, so that’s something.

    Like

    • Mark May 17, 2016 / 9:26 am

      That table didn’t come out vet clear. See if this is any better…..

      Tests Tests. Innings No Runs Hs Av
      KP 5 10 1 490 158 54.44
      Cook 5 10 0 276 116 27.60

      Like

      • Mark May 17, 2016 / 9:31 am

        Nope, it doesn’t like my numbers table. The English cricket elite probably have a bug in the system to hide the facts they don’t like.

        More like operator error on my behalf though. Older people and technology is not always a good combination. Certainly in my case.

        Like

      • d'Arthez May 17, 2016 / 12:05 pm

        SImon,

        Comparatively good, being only about 10 runs worse on average (45.38 vs. 35.53)?

        Like

      • SimonH May 17, 2016 / 12:24 pm

        Good point! As I said, I didn’t get very far in checking it.

        I thought KP didn’t have a great record against SA – but now realise I’d confused it with Pakistan. Cook had averaged 40+ against SA but that last poor series has lowered his figure.

        Like

      • Mark May 17, 2016 / 12:34 pm

        Nasser has jumped the shark on Cook. I would like to put it down to the Essex Mafia, but he used to be more balanced in his views. He did once upon a time criticise Cook. But that was before the ECB and Sky went to deathcom 5.

        The constant need to puff him up has actually become highly comical. There is no reason to do it anymore. KP is gone for good, Strauss is hailed as a genius. They don’t need to keep up the propaganda. It’s unfair on Cook as well, because he is not being judged in a fair and balanced way. It just makes people have more scorn for him and his over rated record.

        Like

      • d'Arthez May 17, 2016 / 12:52 pm

        You must have confused those two then. Though even in the 2012 series against South Africa, in which Cook averaged 32.50, that was mostly based on a Day 1 ton of the first Test, and not doing anything of substance afterwards. He made 81 runs for 6 dismissals if we discount the opening day of that Test.

        Actually, Cook’s first series against SA was the best. He averaged 47 then (who was captain then?). Next series it was 41, then 32.5 in England. Last series he averaged 23.

        Pietersen does have a poor record against Pakistan. He was dismal in 2012 in the UAE (11.16). Cook was better, but not great (26.50).

        We must not forget that in the one innings in which Cook actually scored runs in the UAE recently, it was on not exactly the toughest pitch – Shoaib Malik made a double ton too. Because Cook never got out of first gear, England could not capitalise on the Pakistani batting collapse in the third innings. Oh, and Cook did not even bat in the second innings, presumably because his first gear batting would not have helped much in chasing down the target. A great player is able to adapt to such challenges.

        Interestingly, Cook had been in a similar situation before. In 2012, in the second Test against SA. With as opening partner Kevin Pietersen. England had to chase 253 from 39 overs (roughly 6.5 / over). Pietersen went for his shots and perished (12 of 8), and barring Prior (7 of 5) none of the other England batsmen was close to even keeping up with the rate. And a combination of Strauss-Cook (with Strauss coming in at #3) did not exactly scream “we’re going for it”. And when Strauss was dismissed, he was replaced by Trott. Not exactly a dasher either.

        Now, why did England even get a chance of chasing anything down? Why, was it not Pietersen’s mesmerizing innings of 149?

        Liked by 1 person

    • d'Arthez May 17, 2016 / 12:02 pm

      Well, it won’t be mentioned in the mainstream media but:

      Even Atherton had a better average as a captain versus Australia (33.24 vs 29.41) than Cook. Both made over 15 matches. Atherton played in a poor side, and was having issues with his back too. Against better quality attacks.

      Cook is barely ahead of Anil Kumble (28.62) and WG Grace (28.33). One of those played as a bowler. The other played more than a century ago; certainly a good bat, but the pitches were not exactly conducive to high averages.

      Of the 76 captains to have captained against Australia for 5 or more Tests, Cook’s high score of 96, is only 41st in the list. And it is not like he had only 3 innings or so to score runs – in fact only 5 captains have played more innings against Australia.

      The only English opening captains to have worse averages than Cook vs Australia (as captains) are: Jardine, the aforementioned Grace, Brearley, and a few others who have captained for just a few Tests, all of which were played before the Great War.

      Like

  9. Tregaskis May 17, 2016 / 1:05 pm

    I did a bit of stats mining as well, just to see how Cook compared with other notable English batsman after the same number of career matches. I got a bit bored in the end, so only did a handful:

    Player Matches Runs HS Average

    H Sutcliffe 54 4555 194 60.73
    A Cook 54 4138 173 44.97

    J Hobbs 61 5410 211 56.94
    A Cook 61 4666 235 45.30

    W Hammond 85 7249 336 58.45
    A Cook 85 6912 294 49.37

    K Pietersen 104 8181 227 47.28
    A Cook 104 8125 294 45.90

    On a like-for-like basis Cook is inferior in each of these comparisons. While it might be a reasonable proposition to dismiss this on the grounds that it is notoriously hard to compare players from different generations, the triumphalism of some of Cook’s media supporters show that they are all too ready to make cross-generational comparisons. As such, it is only fair that their claim is put under scrutiny, as the good folk here have been doing.

    It goes without saying that Cook is an excellent batsman. When he gets them, 10,000 runs will be a terrific achievement. But Cook is second best to a number of other outstanding batsmen on most metrics, apart from longevity. He may score the most Test runs for an English batsman and reach this and other milestones, but, at this point in his career, proclaiming him the best ever is not just a stretch, it is ludicrous.

    Liked by 2 people

    • SimonH May 17, 2016 / 1:59 pm

      ” cross-generational comparisons”.

      This is always a tricky one but two points about it:
      1) Nasser Hussain (in the article I linked in earlier) calls Cook the greatest “ever” but then only mentions other players since Gooch. This is classic Sky-mentality – it only counts if it happened since they started broadcasting it. Football fans see it from them all the time. They play the patriotic card while wiping out the country’s deep and rich history. It’s nauseating hypocrisy.
      2) Ferriday & Wilson in ‘Masterly Batting’ studied Test history and found that the runs/wickets balance has remained remarkably stable since WW1. It seems that all the changes that have favoured batsmen (covered wickets, ‘big’ bats etc) have been cancelled out by ones favouring the bowlers (like DRS). Cross-generational comparisons are thus quite reasonable.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Mark May 17, 2016 / 2:34 pm

        But they are not just calling him the greatest English batsman of all time, they are also claiming he is England’s most significant player of all time. (Bowlers included) Oh,and Nasser also claims he is England’s most mentally strong player ever.

        Really? REALLY? How long before he England’s greatest captain? This is just nonsense and idocy. The English cricket media has gone to the la la land.

        Shame really because he has been a good opening batsman, but they have elevated him to levels of deity. It just makes him,and them look absurd. Far from making me respect him it just makes me laugh at the stupidity.

        Liked by 1 person

    • GeneralZod May 17, 2016 / 4:19 pm

      Guys- it might help you to calm down if you re-read the Hussain article. At no point does he say Cook is the greatest ever.

      Like

      • SimonH May 17, 2016 / 4:53 pm

        I meant the greatest ever for mental toughness (which Hussain clearly does say – twice). I thought that was clear in the context of an ongoing discussion but apologies if it wasn’t.

        Reading the article again, I see Hussain does go as far back as Boycott so I did him a slight dis-service there. However Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond and Hutton still never happened. Perhaps they needed names that would scan more easily into promo-songs?

        If we’re looking at Hussain’s article again, what about this line? “He has had tough times in career but always responded, including against Pakistan in 2010 when he was almost in a last-chance-saloon situation ahead of The Ashes and scored a hundred”. For my sins, I’ve read ‘Driving Ambition’ and in it Strauss says Cook would have been selected for Australia whatever had happened against Pakistan. The “last chance saloon” is pure myth.

        Like

        • LordCanisLupus May 17, 2016 / 5:45 pm

          How’s do you measure mental toughness. Can’t be intensity. Compton. Can’t be slow play. Atherton. Can’t be match winning innings under intense pressure. Thorpe. Can’t be eff you innings. KP. Can’t be brilliance in all formats. Root. So what is it? Building the best slow behemoth knocks?

          Because don’t give me the KP aftermath because he had the unequivocal open ended backing of the ECB in tests. And he wilted under that.

          Mentally strong. Please.

          Like

      • Mark May 17, 2016 / 5:28 pm

        From Paul Newmans Mail piece last week……

        ““The contrast in Alastair Cook this week to the last time he faced Sri Lanka at Headingley could not be greater as he approaches the most important milestone yet in what is becoming the most significant career of any England cricketer.”

        The most important milestone yet? Really? I thought personal landmarks were frowned upon in this new era of Trust and team.

        The most significant career of any ENGLAND cricketer? Really? I mean REALLY? Has Newman gone insane?

        Except Test cricket has become a joke, and the time to be very good at it was 15- 20 years ago when the standard was much higher. Cook has got to be King of the hill, when the hill is a sandcastle.

        Cricket journalism has become a joke at the same time.

        Like

      • Nicholas May 17, 2016 / 9:00 pm

        Re. Simon: “However Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond and Hutton still never happened. Perhaps they needed names that would scan more easily into promo-songs?”

        I say this with tongue firmly in cheek, as I agree with your point, actually. But Sky’s promo song last year did begin with the words: “Walter Hammond, Peter May, at the Oval, final day”. So they can do it when they want to.

        Like

        • LordCanisLupus May 17, 2016 / 9:03 pm

          You’ve bought the MP3, Nicholas. Come on, admit! “Batted Chef”

          Like

  10. Burly May 17, 2016 / 1:23 pm

    The fun one to do for Cook is to work out the average score for the innings/match (minus his score) vs the score he got in the innings/match. It’s a good one to see how often he scores big when no-one else can.

    Like

  11. d'Arthez May 18, 2016 / 11:06 am

    So, it seems that Dale Steyn may defy CSA and play for Glamorgan in the Blast. Has nothing to do with the weak Rand, the terrible politics of South Africa (which in turn affect the players, due to selection and management issues – how many would take Charl Langeveldt over Allan Donald?), or the wonderful way in which the ICC takes care of the global game. Right?

    Like

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