As TLG so eloquently covered in his last few match reports, it was very little surprise to see England lose the last Test, the moment that we let India score close to 450 meant that we were always likely to be playing catch up. We had 2 particularly poor sessions with the bat on Day 2 and then on Day 5, where we again capitulated against the spinning ball contriving to lose the last 8 wickets in a little over 38 overs. We can all laugh about Australia’s batting woes and believe me I have, but whisper it quietly, this England batting unit can collapse in a heap just as often. That this has basically been written off as a ‘lose the toss, lose the game’ shows how good we’ve all become at writing off loses in the subcontinent as ‘one of those things’, something to be endured in the travails of English cricket with the result in Rajkot proving to be a nice surprise so that we don’t have to endure another whitewash at the hands of a sub-continental team.
I clearly remember the nadir that was the 1993 India tour, where we weren’t just beaten by India, but absolutely crushed into the dirt and in the build up to this series, I must admit looking at this squad and fearing something similar. The line from the England camp at the end of the Visag test has been the standard ‘take the positives’ and that ‘we’ve competed with this Indian team for 10 days of the tour so far’, yet we’ve got a batting line up that is likely to collapse in a heap as soon as the ball starts spinning. In reserve, we have a woefully out of form batsman who has done nothing to improve his technique since he was dropped and a wicketkeeper that hasn’t played a red ball game in over a year. That I can tell you doesn’t really fill me with immense confidence. The fact that we also have 3 highly inexperienced players thrown into battle against a strong Indian side in both hostile and alien conditions, is also very much something to be concerned about. Australia might be playing tombola with their selection process at the moment but we had four players with under ten caps start for us in Visag.
Now the last thing I want to write is about individual selections for the tour for it’s a well trodden path now that some individuals like Cook and Root thrive when thrown straight into the deep end, others like Bairstow and Woakes struggle at first when thrown into the Test arena but go away, reassess where it went wrong and come back to the team stronger. There are course those that struggle and never see the light of day in England colours, but again that is par for the course, Test cricket is not meant to be easy. However the one thing that really strikes me is the question around why are our young players, who have been identified as the potential players of the future, are not being given experience of different conditions before they’re thrown into the deep end in Test cricket? Scoring a lot of runs in English conditions is about a 1,000 times different to having the technique to score a lot of runs in both the subcontinent and in Australia/South Africa. It would be fair to say that this is where my major gripe lies, with how we are using the England Lions and the complete lack of exposure our next generation are getting to play hard cricket in different conditions before being thrown into the Test arena.
If I gave you the chance to guess how many four-day games the England Lions had played since 2014, what would your guess be? 10? 12? Well actually it’s 3. I mean 3 games in over 2 years, that is simply astounding for a team that is supposedly striving to be number one in the Test arena. Of the 3 four-day games we’ve actually played in the last two and a bit years, 2 of which were against South Africa A away (both draws) and another first class game against another South African team (can’t easily find out which one), with the last one being over 18 months ago. Seriously no wonder the likes of Duckett and Ansari (and you could include Rashid & Moeen in last year’s UAE tour too) have come in and struggled against spinning tracks, as they’ve never been properly given exposure to them before. It would be like promoting an England under 21 footballer to the main team after he’s only played 5-a-side for the past two years, that simply wouldn’t happen in that sport, yet it’s fine for our England cricket team to do something similar with our next generation of players and then wonder why most don’t make the grade. It’s all fine and dandy to give our Lions team more experience in white ball cricket, which they have done a lot of recently, but where has been the exposure to red ball cricket to fill some of the gaping holes we have in our line up (apart from the middle order, as we all know that there are no vacancies there)? Well the Mood-hooverer in chief had this to say:
“The purpose of it is bridging the gap between the county game and the international game,” Flower says. “The county game is an excellent breeding ground for our international cricketers but we believe there is a gap that exists in a number of areas and our purpose is to bridge that.”
“It did mean that we haven’t given them any red-ball exposure,” Flower admits. “In the Test side we know there are a couple of positions up for serious debate in the selections for the winter and in a way, we don’t have the in-depth knowledge that we want because we haven’t exposed these young guys to any red-ball cricket over the last year to 18 months at Lions level. That severely affects our understanding and knowledge of our young red-ball cricketers.”
So even the top brass (and make no mistake Andy Flower is certainly one of them) have realised that this team is at best average, with holes in most positions, but rather do anything about it, they’ve chosen to simply stick there heads in the sand and hope that they can find another Joe Root behind the sofa. Way to go chaps, I can see why they pay you the big bucks, that’s obviously a winning strategy in all types of businesses. Yet what is the answer the brains trust have come up with? Well obviously the first thing to do is to have a nice re-brand with the England Lions now being known as EPP (The England Performance Programme in case anyone is too bothered) because that’s obviously a key to success; this has then followed by a training camp in Loughborough where the England bods can make fatal amendments to our bowlers actions, finally followed by a trip to the UAE with three one-day games against the UAE and a three-day game against Afghanistan thrown in for luck. Seriously am I missing something or somebody at the top having a monumental laugh? The one bit of red ball cricket that the Lions are going to play this year is a 3-day game in Dubai? I bet Afghanistan are mightily pleased too, to be offered one whole 3-day game by their paymasters, another sign of England’s commitment to growing the game!
I would also question, quite fairly I would hope, the reasons why we are going to the UAE in the first place to get some experience of sub-continental conditions. Does Mrs F need a new suntan or some expensive Christmas gifts from the Dubai mall? Perhaps the squad needs to have a nice team-bonding trip by heading up the Burj Khalifa? I ask this because the pitches in Dubai will be nothing like a pitch in Sri Lanka or in India. The pitch in Dubai has always been flat and certainly wouldn’t deteriorate to anywhere near the extent the one in Visag just has (you could have a 8-day game there instead of 3-day game and it would still do nothing), in fact the only reason we lost the Test there last year was from a fantastic session of fast bowling from Wahab Riaz on the morning of Day 3 of the Test, I know as I was there. As you may have worked out, I’m struggling to grasp how this is going to give our batsmen and bowlers the experience they need when the ball turns square from Day 1. I have seen that the Lions are due to tour Sri Lanka in February time, yet the ECB have once again been very vague around the exact number of competitive four-day cricket they’ll play there, only confirming that there will be a ‘mixture of red ball and white ball cricket’.
This brings me onto my final question around how this is meant to have helped our cricketers in this tour of India? I mean this piece of crazy scheduling has been available as part of the FTP for years now (I believe David Collier signed this off when he was still in tenure). Surely it would have made some semblance of sense to organise a Lions trip to India or Sri-Lanka last winter, where we could have looked at some of the players on the fringes of the national team and worked out whether they had both the techniques and skill sets to be successful in this part of the world, just as they should have been sending the Lions this winter to either South Africa or Australia to see how they handle the extra bounce. I fully accept that this may be unlikely to change the results of this series, but then at least you would have had a benchmark as to how certain players can play in these conditions, rather than tossing them into the heat of a Test match and hoping for the best. England have a huge reserve of cash, so where is the issue in offering incentives for other national team board’s to allow us to play us to play their A-teams in their countries over the winter (and we know money talks more now than ever), even Giles Clarke’s lunches surely can’t even eat that much into the £75 million pounds they have got stored away in the coffers.
This is not 1993 anymore, but 2016 and the reality is that there is simply no excuse to not nurture those who have the promise to go on and play for the national team. The fact that we are still suffering from the same old tired excuses around the fact that we’re inexperienced in these conditions shows that the ECB is still the same old one-eyed lot of incompetent fools it always has been, quite simply they are happy with average. As long as the money still comes in and we can still fill Lords on a Saturday with the right type of people, then consistently average is perfectly fine with them. However many of us are getting bored with our national team consistently being average, despite what the mainstream media like to tell us, and I fully hold Clarke, Harrison, Strauss and Flower to account on this, because with these self interested individuals in charge, then this team will never be anything other than an average one; however Andy Flower as you may have guessed puts it a slightly different way:
“How to measure [success] is a challenge. We’ve talked about measuring it against how successful they are initially when they move in, or how successful they are over a long period of time. To be quite frank with you, we haven’t found the answer yet. What we do want to do is to make sure that we are challenging ourselves to be as good as we can be, just like we ask the players to be. Part of that will be getting independent views of our system. Dave Parsons and I have discussed our plan to bring in a critical friend, someone with experience in these areas to assess what we do and to make observations and be really honest about what they see.”
With the ECB team struggling to measure success and Andy Flower bringing in an old mate mate to assess this, then I guess what hope is there for the rest of us? Well i’ll give them a helping hand, how about we win some Test matches away from friendly green seamers, fill the gaping holes in our batting line up, find a spinner, accept that Alastair Cook isn’t the messiah and try and form a team to eventually become number one. It’s not that difficult to measure success surely?? Except if you’ve been promised a job for life because you’re one of us, not one of them, then I would guess success is perhaps a little more difficult to measure. Answers on a postcard…
Absolutely superb assessment, I think that the ‘so called’ prioritising of one-day cricket has revealed fully the other side of the coin, a fairly scant regard for the development of the test team, and the woeful lack of depth of experience of players coming through to be prepared for the challenge of playing there. It almost feels as though Flower is admitting, “my hands are tied” even though he is certainly one of the gurus who is identifying players as those ready to step up. However surely it is the responsbility of the other movers and shakers at the ECB to ensure that the players are adequately prepared for the challenges that they face. On the point of Collier, he was the one who told Cook his job was safe pretty much on his exit from his role as Chief Executive, a disgrace of a decision at the time given the circumstances. Then you had the schedule for this winter, which is as crazy as that for the team back in 2013. He deserves withering contempt for having a role in stretching some fine player to breaking point.
However we come to the present and the clown elsewhere within the management, Graves (where do you want to start), Harrison (another faceless wonder) and let’s have a look at Strauss. With the backlash of thethen recent world cup after his appointment, and accusatory glances made towards the development centre at Loughborough for some time before, surely part of his wider remit is to look at the development of younger players coming through into the scrutiny of the England coaches. Yet here we are and we are finding that players are ill-equipped coming in to senior international cricket. So a fair way into his reign, what has he done with the coaching set-up to review the lack of players coming through successfully? After all when he was captain and when lower was his soulmate of a coach, there was a similar issue with players coming through successfully, particularly in the latter part of his career. So what do they say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?
You know in some respects I want more scrutiny brought on Strauss, should things go t*ts up in the next 3 tests that should be brought on Cook and I think that, that says something They’ve had a fair while to reflect at the flaws of this team, especially given the tour to UAE v Pakistan last winter. Yet againthat loss and the gaps in the team were glossed over , just like they were when the Strauss and Flower side got their backsides handed to them back in 2012……
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Spot on. There just doesn’t seem to be any accountability at the top, little forward planning and a Captain, Lions Coach and English Cricket Director with cast iron job guarantees. The ECB is an old boys club each member with their own vested interest, so I doubt the performance of the team is high up on their agendas.
Interesting point re: Collier, I do wonder if this series was signed off when the ECB was trying to woo the BCCI to help them get a share of cricket’s riches. I wouldn’t be surprised at all, if Giles Clarke was heavily involved in the sign off.
It’s hard to accurately know, but they are going to build in an FTP based around on inking in series v India and Australia first and then sorting out the so called lesser sides afterwards. I must admit that apart the Australian incompetence I am somewhat enjoying the seeming resurgence of the South African side with a few smart tweaks to that team when there was a lot of doom and gloom about their cricket back at the end of the England series.
There were one or two I know amongst the fan sites who, although very much on our side with regards to their loathing of the ECB got rather ahead of themselves with regards to England’s status as a test match side, claiming that they were the world’s best. Let alone a situation where one or two sides are clearly at a disadvantage financially through the rampant greed of the big 3, it still isn’t proven when England go outside their comfort zone.
Despite the far more aggressive looking one day squad, there is still a lot of work there and I am unsure if the bowling line-up that they possess can propel that side to glory in those forms of the game. Then going back to the tests, how much of a reverse would it take to question that the lack of focus on player development of that form of the game has been insufficient and that there is only so much a coach can do in ensuring a player whom said coach can do will only likely see his players when they first rock up to a tour away from home, or at the nets for a home game. That is for the so called strategists, i.e. the senior men.
Oh and I see that the long serving former RFU Director of rugby, Rob Andrew has a role at Sussex CCC after years of botching up England senior coaching appointments. Oh well, nice to know he’s well connected…..
Yep that whole Rob Andrew thing is just weird. He was like the Teflon Don at RFU, so it’ll be interesting to see what he does differently at Sussex, if anything. If I was a Sussex fan, I wouldn’t be holding my breath!
I vaguely remembered that he had a Cambridge Blue at cricket as well as rugby so I thought I’d check to see if he had a cricinfo profile and indeed he does, no less than 17 games. Yet that was 31 years ago that he played his last game for Cambridge. Even so that is more than a little stretch from becoming a chief executive and even more so given that his job as a Director of Sport was hardly a rip-roaring success.
I knew he had played at a fairly decent standard, but as you rightly point out that was a long long time ago. Smacks of a job for the boys and one for the headline makers!
Brilliant Sean. I had no idea how little red ball cricket they have played. It smacks of the whole thing being a giant Jolly for the coach. Nice warm climes, sea breezes, shopping malls, lovely! How much does he get paid again? The ECB is very lavish with its money if you are the right sort of person.
I burst out laughing at this quote ……..
” Dave Parsons and I have discussed our plan to bring in a critical friend, someone with experience in these areas to assess what we do and to make observations and be really honest about what they see.”
British magagement at it’s best!! … ” I get paid a huge salary, but frankly I haven’t got a clue so I will bring someone else in to tell me what to do.” Genius!
And what are these trips to Sandhurst Military base achieving? Do they know how to play spin on a turning pitch? Or what about the Public relations company that Simon flagged up a few weeks ago? Read their pamphlet. It a piece of art. Again no doubt at huge expense.
Mission statements, that’s the ticket. Good job these people don’t run their own business, they would be broke in month. Must say they are very good at spending other people’s money.
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I can just see it now. Andrew, Tom our batting line up has fallen down in a heap again. Right, let’s get our PR team to sort out a rebrand. That should do it!
Very perceptive with the business comparison Mark. In a proper business, a manager has a job description with objectives he is required to achieve when his annual review comes round. Not difficult to work out what success is. Flower’s bafflement suggests he has no meaningful contract and doesn’t get reviewed = no accountability.
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Just to be a pendant, the England Lions are still the England Lions. It’s the EPP which has rebranded, to the Young Lions.
I really like the idea of the Lions and that there is a clear pathway created for young players. To be fair to them, they are experiencing a lot of different playing conditions and often come up against international players. The problem is that many are still finding it tough to adapt to international cricket (mostly technically, though temperament comes into a bit too).
Why is that? Does having that clear pathway make it too easy? If you’re talented, you get picked (which will be early on in your career), and you then (intentionally or unintentionally) skip some of the required hard work?
Is it helpful to unhelpful to Joe Clarke and Sam Curran that at their age they are in effectively the England 2nd XI already? Is it right that, for example, Daniel Bell-Drummond gets picked for the Lions with a first-class average in the mid-30s? Tom Alsop is there atm despite averaging just 31.
I think it’s also important to point out the successes. Players like Root, Stokes, Bairstow, Woakes and Buttler have come through the U19s, EPP and Lions system. Stokes in particular had a successful Lions tour in SA a couple of years ago whilst he was dropped from the senior team, that seemed to come at a good time for him. Taylor played more Lions games than anyone and was looking good before he retired. Roy and Hales have both been successes in the shorter formats.
Of course, these players may well have made it with or without the Lions/EPP system. Who knows.
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What does the ECB balance sheet look like? Are they short of money to send the young ones on longer tours to Asia? Is that because the senior team has to be paid a lot more to keep the T20 leagues away? Surely they must realise that there’s no substitute for experience, so what’s holding it back?
The ECB has around £75 million in reserve, so in theory cash shouldn’t be an issue, however they don’t seem keen on spending it on such fundamentals like giving our players experience in foreign conditions. Make of that what you will..
Very good post Sean.
Accountability – If you read the quotes from Flower you would believe he has nothing to do with this situation…So who does?
PS – Regarding Ducket being at sea: “Duckett’s 131-ball 220 not out was the ninth-highest List A score ever” …Duckett scored 163 not out in a seven-wicket victory against Pakistan A on 19 July ……It was a successful tri-series for Flower’s team, as the Lions beat Pakistan A and Sri Lanka A twice apiece, with batsmen scoring more than 150 in each fixture ….Those guys are very capable of playing international cricket,” said Flower, who now coaches the Lions.
Detail: Games at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence, Canterbury and College Ground, Cheltenham
Not much to add to Sean’s article, mostly because it’s so good but also partly because it’s so hard to find out much about the Lions. There’s little MSM coverage and “our home of cricket” don’t cover them much. It’s odd, you’d think there would be enough interest in England’s next generation. The Lions do have an f/c match scheduled against SA starting June 29th at Worcester (which I’ll be attending if it isn’t some XIV-side abomination).
Early word from Mohali is that it won’t be the seamers’ paradise that the media had been imagining. What a shocker! A slow turner looks in prospect. Batty looks likely to play. Ramprakash sounded more realistic in a press conference about Buttler than some of the stuff that’s been appearing – watch out Ramps, that’s the sort of thing that can be used against you later if there’s some thrashing about for a scapegoat.
Intriguing day in Adelaide. FDP’s record there now:
Not so keen on the declaration though (only the fourth on the first day of a Test in history). Shamsi’s batting was such fun it was a pity to cut it off. Warner did his shoulder throwing in from the boundary – not sure how serious it is yet.
Fun fact about Australia in Adelaide – David Warner is their oldest player. Perhaps the old chap had a spot of rheumatism in that shoulder.
Perhaps they could rub some mint into his shoulder!
Not quite a Shoulder of lamb, and mint sauce.
If you look at the batsmen on the Indian team, in particular Vijay, Rahane, Pujara, I am struck by how technically correct they are. I imagine that Boycott finds little to criticise them for. Now look at the batsmen who have had new caps for England over the period that those players came along- Robson, Lyth, Vince, Duckett, Ballance all have glaring technical issues. Bairstow still struggles against his poor technique, his dismissal at the end of this last Test was a recurrence of his strong right hand problem. Taylor and Root, maybe Hameed, are the only ones I can think of offhand who have or had that kind of technical solidity. The new comers in Pakistan such as Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq also look correct. Is there a fundamental problem with batting coaching in England. We know that Loughborough exists to wreck bowlers. Does it wreck batsmen as well?
WordPress seems to have eaten my previous post on Sean’s article.
Meanwhile, a few weeks seem to have passed without a BCCI threat to boycott the CT, so obviously that couldn’t carry on:
Not sure what happened to your previous comment Simon, I didn’t get any notification about it.
It had a Statsguru link in it which WordPress doesn’t seem to like sometimes.
Been busy today due to Thanksgiving!
so were Duckett and Hameed on the Lions tours? If so, how well did they bridge the gap? Were any other team members on the Lions tours? Is it for real or just a shopping trip for Flower?
Or is it all down to Jos to show that he can play against a high-class spin attack without fielding restrictions? Why does it come down to this?
Back to ball tampering, since the ICC are so good at c***ing everything up:
Dave Richardson, the official waste of space at the ICC, is “disappointed” that du Plessis appeals the verdict. Presumably the case of the ICC (in the person of Richardson himself no less!) does not even want to give the impression of impartiality anymore.
Apropos of nothing, but, this little nugget is very interesting, and informative!
Some “good journalism” has uncovered the details of that Surrey report!
Thank heavens writers like Brettig are covering this because the UK media keep ignoring it:
Richardson’s given up trying to pretend this isn’t about trying to play fewer Tests so that there’s more time for domestic T20 franchises. The inability to achieve any agreement is the main hope to kill it.
If their goal is “around 45-50 Test matches a year” (he gives an even lower figure later) and there are twelve teams in these conferences, then that would seem very little Test cricket per team.
Well, 45-50 Tests per year, is 9 Tests / year for each team, if there are ten teams competing. If it is 12, that goes down to 7.5 Tests / year.
So, that is 8 Tests to divide between South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe every 4 years for the ECB …
So they prioritized white ball cricket for one winter? Well it’s about time if you ask me. They certainly have performed terribly at 50 over world cups in recent times and with a 2019 World Cup in England they seem to think it’s important to perform well there. The rest of the world treats white ball cricket as equally important (if not moreso) than test cricket. England certainly have seen improved results since the last world cup and look well setup for the next world cup.
I’d agree that the test team has suffered as a result. It would have been ideal last winter to have a group of four day openers getting practice in different conditions. However it’s doubtful that Hameed or Duckett would have been in that group given the lack of cricket they had played. Ansari was also injured the whole of last winter, Jack Leach had 39 wickets over the 4 seasons of his career to that point.
There is only so much time over the winter for camps and play. The players have come off long first class seasons and need breaks after and before the start of the next season so playing lots and lots of cricket and being away from home for extended periods probably isn’t entirely beneficial- so they prioritized white ball cricket.
In a parallel universe England’s batting could be looking a lot stronger right now. If James Taylor hadn’t had his unforeseeable health problem then England would have a number 4 bat who was very comfortable in Asian conditions. Here is someone who benefited massively from the lions setup and improved massively – but unfortunately England won’t see the dividend from their investment.
Why UAE and not India? Well after England won in India in 2012 and the performance squad was out there at the same time India got upset and have in effect banned organized England lions camps as I understand it. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/cricket/news/9845947/Indians-ban-30-English-players-following-Test-defeat.html. Hameed went privately to India last winter to work on his game due to his family links. UAE really isn’t a bad substitute. Facilities are meant to be brilliant and they have a range of different wickets and squares to play on and as you say they go off to Sri Lanka in the new year.
I’d also say that England’s struggles aren’t unique. Every team these days seems to be struggling in foreign conditions. Whether that’s because of T20 or shortened tours I don’t know, but England are far from unique in their overseas struggles.
I believe there are plenty of areas of improvement with the lions but this whole article seems like a biased hatchet job about some blokes you don’t like.
On the question of priorities, I remember Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting being asked about this and they said, you just try to win your next game. Everything else is the kind of over-complication that English cricket specialises in as do managers with expensive jobs to justify.
What does prioritisation mean? If it means, for example, that white-ball specialists can win central contracts then no problem. If it means we never really cared about it, and that’s why our ICC tournament record is so poor, then that’s self-deluding. Heck, we moved the Ashes for the last one. England had a run of poor WCs for a whole host of reasons (not good enough players, poor strategies etc) but not not caring. What specific evidence can anyone point to that England weren’t trying to win these competitions?
James Taylor’s health was a personal tragedy – but the idea that he’s some lost wonder-solution to playing spin is unproven at best. England lost in UAE against Pakistan with him – and exited the last WC with him. The point about some candidates having emerged late and so couldn’t have Lions’ experience last winter is valid – but doesn’t explain the lack of Lions’ f/c fixtures during the English summer. The point about India is a valid one.
As for struggling in foreign conditions, England have resources other teams can only dream of. It’s a reasonable surmise that England can spend more on the Lions than several FMs can spend on their Test teams. England won last time in India so it isn’t impossible – and the UAE was presented as some sort of ‘mission impossible’ last year when SA, SL and NZ had all managed to win Tests and draw series there.
Whether it all adds up to a biased hatchet job, well, opinion pieces express opinions and if we weren’t so used to hagiography as the main format of choice in writing about those who run English cricket it wouldn’t seem so very exceptional. Maybe if concerns were taken up in the MSM we’d express ourselves more temperately? You might also ask why some very long-standing cricket followers and some previously very committed England fans (all the regulars here are one or the other – and some are both) have taken a dislike to certain people and try to understand it.
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