First of all, apologies about the length of time that I have been absent from writing, I have been absolutely snowed under at work and at times, much to my chargrin, writing does have to take a back seat on such occasions. TLG and Danny (who assures me that he has returned to normal sleeping patterns) have both covered the fall-out from the Gabba Test in some detail and as a result, I don’t want to cover in too much detail that which has already been written. That being said, it is unavoidable at these times not to touch on the events in Brisbane as this could well prove to be a pivotal Test in the series.
As TLG so succinctly put, it only takes one glance on Twitter or in the media to see that many fans are divided into those who think that we’re going to collapse to a catastrophic 5-0 defeat or those that feel it is but a blip and this ‘new and young’ English team will turn it around spectacularly. I must admit that I am more on the pessimistic side than the optimistic side and have been ever since the Test squad was announced, though this is also probably due to experiencing 2 whitewashes out of the last 3 Ashes series in Australia. As someone said who is much wiser than me “it’s not the losing that hurts, I can deal with that, it’s the hope that kills me”.
From the little bits that I have read in the media, the main gripe of many of the journo’s has been around the batting, which is undeniably weak. Indeed many of Katie Price’s numerous marriages have looked less flimsy than our middle order at times. This however, is not exactly a surprise, we have had the same issues since the expulsion of a certain famous South African born batsmen, and no matter how many times Director Comma may have tried to gloss over this, very few people are fooled any more. Alastair Cook has been in what feels like terminal decline for the last 3 years. Root, although without doubt England’s best player, has seen his conversion rate from 50 to 100 decline alarmingly over the past 18 months. Moeen and Jonny B are just as capable as scoring a quick ton as they are getting out cheaply to a ropey slot. James Vince has spot at second slip with his name on it and Stoneman & Malan are pretty new to International Cricket. As I have mentioned, this has been mentioned many times before, so shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone and as such I want to move the focus away from the batsmen and over to the bowling unit.
The bowling is where myself and TLG differ in terms of our assessment of our bowling attack. For me, the English selectors (and they merit a lot blame here) have got this horribly wrong again. The folly of choosing 5 right hand over, medium pace seam bowlers on pitches that historically don’t tend to swing is right up there with picking 4 very tall, sometimes quick but not very good fast bowlers as England did in 2013/4. The bowling attack looks anything but balanced, it looks slow, ponderous and pretty predictable. Now I’m fully aware that there might be the odd howl from individuals that these are the best bowlers that England have and we don’t have any other options, and I agree to an extent in the spin department (although I really wouldn’t have picked Mason Crane); however I think they’ve again missed a trick with regards to our fast bowler make up. It can be rightly argued that Jimmy, Broad and Woakes are the best overall bowlers that England has, but this again misses my point as only Stuart Broad has a decent record in Australia, if you remove the 2010 Ashes series, which any bowler worth their salt would have made hay against that particular batting attack. Jimmy struggles when it doesn’t swing and Woakes has looked pretty toothless in all his Test matches away from home. As for Curran and Jake Ball, they are the A-typical English medium pacers who have limited success in anything but helpful swing conditions. It confounds me massively that one of our quickest bowlers in Liam Plunkett, seems to have been to consigned to the dustbin that is white ball cricket, when he is someone with the pace to trouble what is a mediocre Australian batting line up once you take away Steve Smith. This would not certainly be a long term pick, but it fits in with my personal opinion that it is vital to have a balanced attack in Test Cricket (be it a left armer, a pace bowler, a swing bowler and someone who hits the pitch hard) just to add some variety to the attack when the ball isn’t swinging.
I also feel it is quite pertinent to ask why an older Liam Plunkett (and a young lad from Sussex who has only played a handful of County games) are the only true fast bowling options that we have in our system right now? Do you remember when Steven Finn could bowl fast before David Saker got his hands on him? Or Mark Wood before the England medical department got their hands on him? Can you remember anyone else who has been in contention in the last few years that has been a truly quick bowler? I’m struggling. So what is it that is preventing our system from developing quick bowlers that aren’t of a certain type – is it Loughborough? Is it the counties who would prefer to play a medium pacer on a stodgy pitch? Is it the pitches in England, as the two historically quick cricket pitches at Old Trafford and the Oval are anything but quick these days. My guess that it is a mixture of all three. I wouldn’t trust the guys at Loughborough to make a cup of tea let alone manage our new crop of fast bowlers, which combined with a horribly long county season (which is about to get even longer) means that there is a very real issue of burnout and injury for anyone young quick pounding in and bowling at 90MPH. The ECB also have to take a fair share of the blame too. There have been too many occasions where either a green seamer has been prepared for Test Matches to provide England with the competitive advantage or a road of a pitch with little bounce has also been prepared to ensure the Test lasts 5 days (yes Mick Hunt, I’m looking at you). The result of this? Well you can see it in our bowling attack for the first Test Match at the Gabba, a group of hardworking individuals who are great in English conditions but do not have either the skill or the know-how to bowl effectively on different wickets were completely out-bowled by a far superior Aussie bowling unit.
I hadn’t actually meant for this piece to be that negative, so apologies for this, but I absolutely feel that this will be a recurring theme until something is done about it. I believe that in a series where both teams have flakey batting line up and which I believe would be decided with the ball prior to the series beginning, the England selectors have once again not learnt from their previous mistakes.
It might turnaround in Adelaide, where the ball should certainly swing under lights and where perhaps the English bowling attack has the best chance to make inroads into this Aussie line up; however if we end up losing in Adelaide this could be a long and painful series. Something we have all endured before…