England vs. India: 4th Test, Day 1 – Here We Go Again…

…Same old s*** dog, just a different day.

After watching two of the three sessions today, I’m honestly not sure I can muster the enthusiasm to do my job for today. This is clearly something which I share with England’s specialist batsmen.

After England won the toss and chose to bat, anyone who follows cricket could guess how the day went. England’s top order collapsed, and they only avoided an embarrassingly low total thanks to the efforts of a lower order batsman or two. This time it was Moeen and Sam Curran.

It is amazing to me how much better India’s bowlers seem when they’re bowling at Cook, Jennings and Root. Yes, they’re facing the new ball, but when Buttler and Stokes come in to replace them it seems like they’re playing on a different pitch. What was a minefield instantly becomes a normal, flat, first day surface. What was a hand grenade crossed with a homing missile transforms into an ordinary cricket ball. What was the greatest seam attack since the West Indies in the 80s suddenly resembles a solid but not remarkable Test-quality attack. It’s not the conditions, it’s not the ball, it’s not the opposition. All four remaining specialist batsmen look shot.

Sam Curran obviously batted well to bring England towards an almost respectable score, with the other bowlers chipping in, but that’s not the point. The batting output from 6 onwards is supposed to be the icing on the cake. It appears to be England’s plan to produce, on a very regular basis, cakes which are approximately 90% icing. THAT’S NOT HOW YOU MAKE A CAKE!

There has to be a case now for dropping all of England’s batsmen. This isn’t hyperbole. This isn’t me being a devil’s advocate. I’m sick of it. Game after game, series after series, season after season. Cook has had an atrocious year, Jennings averages 17.57 in his latest run in the side, Root has resolved his problem of not converting his half-centuries in an unfortunate way, and Bairstow is inexplicably still being selected with a broken finger. I fail to believe that England’s batting lineup wouldn’t be improved by picking any four good county batsmen. Not Vince, obviously, but four other batsmen.

Not that I think the blame should solely be placed at the feet of the batsmen. It’s notable that no players who have debuted in the last four years or more have secured their place in the side. Now you could take the view that all 26 (or more, depending where you draw the line) debutants weren’t good enough for international cricket. Honestly, that seems unlikely to me. What seems more likely is that at least a handful could have played at that level, but something went wrong.

There has never really been a culture of responsibility at the ECB, but when you see poor batting, bowling, and fielding in the Test team you have to wonder what the coaches are doing. More importantly, you have to wonder how they can justify their positions. Take Mark Ramprakash, for example. He’s been England’s batting coach for almost four years, culminating in this series where the top order batsmen collectively average below 25. Rather than being sacked, which is the fate for most employees exhibiting this level of failure, he appears to be failing upwards. In light of Andy Flower’s temporary promotion he took control of the England Lions team, and he now is considered a top candidate for the vacant head coach role of Middlesex. Why?

Sam Curran’s exploits have at least given England an unlikely chance of winning this game, but they’ll need to bowl extraordinarily well tomorrow. Maybe they could follow India’s example and bowl at the stumps every once in a while. Or maybe they won’t, in which case it will almost certainly be another embarrassing defeat at home.

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