Inasmuch as England are in this match at all – and their chances are very slim indeed – is down to the bowlers, who fought manfully to undo the damage caused by yet another abject batting performance and try to drag their side back into contention. Stokes in particular, in a marathon spell that yielded two wickets and deserved far more epitomised a bowling attack attempting to pull off the impossible given what happened in the morning. It isn’t going to happen, not without a batting display entirely out of kilter with everything that’s gone on recently, but if nothing else it showed heart and desire.
England have batted 13 times this year, and of those 13 innings they have been skittled out for under 100 on three occasions. On a further three it’s been under 200, while only three totals have been over 300 and none have reached 400. So when hands are thrown up in horror just because it’s happened against Australia, and because the Ashes are probably gone about as early as was possible this series, let’s not pretend for a moment that anyone should be surprised at this. It’s routine, it’s normal, it’s exactly this England side.
When assorted bloggers, tweeters, fans, hell, people down the pub have been able to spot what was coming, it remains extraordinary to witness the wilful blindness from those who use their positions of influence to talk up their awareness of the game while ignoring the bleeding obvious staring every single cricket follower full in the face. There have been a few, a a noble few, who have pointed out at every stage what the direction of travel was going to lead to, but so many have simply existed in the moment, suggested the deckchairs be moved around a bit, and reacted with amazement at the latest capitulation of a team comprised of white ball specialists and players out of position.
The Hundred is merely the culmination of a deliberate strategy to focus on short form cricket, at the expenses of the longer game. It hasn’t even begun, it can’t be said to be responsible, but it is a symptom rather than a cause. The county championship has been curtailed and shunted to the margins of the season where batting technique is compromised – and let’s not put aside the other likely impacts of that to come in the bowling department – all the while pushing the case that shorter is better. Fine. The aim was to win the World Cup, and that’s been achieved, albeit with a plan to immediately scrap 50 over cricket as a top level domestic competition to make way for a 16.4 over thrash-fest. But the cost of that single minded pursuit of limited over cricket has been the Test game, the one that the ECB repeatedly state to be the most important form while doing everything in their power to undermine it.
There is no point being angry at today’s abject batting capitulation. The damage has been done over several years, deliberately and pointedly, in favour of enriching the game at the top at the expense of the rest of it. Blame the England batting line up for their performance today, don’t blame them for the structure that got us here. Half of them are batting out of position, or being asked to do something to which they aren’t suited. Some are simply not good enough but have been selected anyway by a chief selector who was happy enough to talk to the media as a leftfield cricketing guru (despite reservations even at the time even when things initially came off) but has skulked away into a corner the moment the strategy of ignoring 150 years of cricketing history in favour of funkiness began to unravel.
For that might just be the worst part of the way this England team is set up. It’s not just that the batting isn’t good enough, it’s that they aren’t even being given the chance to make the most of what they have. An opener in white ball cricket who has barely done the job in 4 day cricket, let alone Tests is dumped into the team (with the strong and vocal support of so many of the cricketing press and pundits) right at the top of the order and unsurprisingly fails to demonstrate the kind of technique required to do the job. It isn’t just that Roy might never be good enough to be a Test cricketer, for that is a question to be answered by playing him, it’s that he isn’t even being given the chance to prove whether he is or not. He’s a middle order player, and one who only may be of the standard required. Who would ever have suggested that someone like Kevin Pietersen, a much superior player, could go and open? The idea is preposterous.
Root was pushed to bat at three by a baying mob who felt the only response to the failures of others was to compromise England’s best player and then be shocked at the outcome. Root has a reasonable enough record at four, but he was an outstanding one at five. He’s another middle order player, a stroke maker. The captaincy may well be having an effect on him, but probably not as much as the prospect of having to carry the batting order doing a job for which he’s not best suited, which was known perfectly well back when he opened the batting and was moved down because he wasn’t that good at it.
Now, in this England team, batting at one or five doesn’t amount to a whole lot of difference given how they routinely lose early wickets, but there’s the perfect storm of choosing square pegs for round holes, multiplying the errors and causing a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That England have plenty of middle order players is no surprise – they’re geared that way because of that same focus on white ball cricket. Some of them are decent players in Test cricket too, but they can’t overcome the fundamental problems in the top order. Jos Buttler might be considered a luxury player at 7, but he’s one that might well be highly effective if he had a decent platform when he came into bat rather than constantly reaching the crease with the team in crisis. He’s done reasonably in an order where reasonably amounts to a success. He’s just another unable to show his best because of the wider so called strategy.
There are some players around whose game is geared towards the longer game – Sibley and Crawley are the two mentioned most often – but they aren’t the salvation of a structure that actively works against developing such players in the first place, and which is geared ever more to accelerating that trend. Even the obvious Test cricketers like Root have been working hardest to develop their T20 game as the sport heads further in that direction.
This is a global phenomenon, and Australia’s batting order shorn of Smith hardly looks one to terrify bowlers of past and present, but only the ECB have gone quite so far down the direction of deliberately undermining the Test team in pursuit of the short term cash provided by T20 and now the Hundred. Yet they clearly have produced players with a greater Test match mentality than England have, and Labuschagne is a perfect example, having ground out another invaluable knock today.
The bowlers on both sides in this match have performed well. There was a period yesterday when England’s were profligate and even downright poor, but overall they have struggled manfully with trying to rescue a team that is holed below the waterline. Likewise, while Australia have a very fine bowling attack, for England to be bowled out (again) in well under 30 overs was unacceptable however disciplined their opponents were.
It’s not about individual performances at this stage, it’s not about the effort that is being put in. Ben Stokes bowled as fine a spell today as could be wished for, and with the bat shows every sign of being determined to be as good a player as he can. But he’s fighting an uphill battle alongside all of the individuals in a team that has no idea how to approach the Test game and a governing body that barely pays lip service to the concept of generating players who can perform in it. The sound is of chickens coming home to roost, of a structure that has been intended to create precisely the kinds of batsmen that we now have.
Two years ago Tom Harrison unveiled the ECB strategy by stating that England under Root were to play a positive, exciting “brand of cricket” even if they lost a game or two. The rationale stated was that this was how to excite the young and get them into the game of cricket. It’s the same justification all the time from an organisation that never questions its own genius, and responds to every setback or criticism by insisting the answer is more of what they are already doing.
The England Test team is the jewel in the crown of English cricket not because of old farts harking back to a golden age of cricket, but because it is the form of the game that drives the most interest from those who love the game, and which still garners by far the most attention. A weak England side getting hammered by Australia is somewhat unlikely to raise the level of interest in the sport, no matter how many domestic competitions are created.
None of this absolves the England batsmen for their shots this morning. Throwing their hands at the ball outside of off stump is reckless in any Test match, but that it is anything but the first time in recent matches that they’ve done so is why it can’t be approached as though it were a one off team aberration. It’s systemic, and while the entire batting order bar, arguably, Root were out to balls they didn’t need to play at, this remains a consistent mindset in the England team. If it were as simple as them not doing it next time, it wouldn’t keep happening.
England are fighting hard, but they are a team with one hand tied behind their back and with their bootlaces tied together by those tasked to help them make the most of themselves. It isn’t about England not being a particularly good side, for God knows any England fan in middle age has seen that on plenty of occasions. It is that the entire ethos of the sport at the highest level in this country seems determined to make it even worse.
Perhaps it will be that a heavy home defeat against Australia will be the factor that forces action – if not a change in direction, a moderation of the current approach. But successive 5-0 and 4-0 away defeats didn’t do that, and with a World Cup in the bag this summer, the ECB will continue to slap themselves on the back and insist all is going marvellously. Perhaps it might even be that they are right, and that in a decade Test cricket, played over 4 days, will merely be a hangover from an older generation’s desire to wish the game hadn’t changed. But those who love cricket, those who really care about the game, almost universally think of Tests as the apogee, the summit of the game, and so do the players. Going all out to wreck it in favour of the filthy lucre provided by the shortest versions of the game are more likely to drive it to that end irrespective of desires or wants from players or fans.
England’s batting was abysmal yes, but look behind the actions of today for why it is far from a one off.
And lastly, 98 overs were scheduled today, 87 including the two for change of innings were bowled. It’s getting worse.
You see, this is where we miss Ian Bell. After a performance like today, you could always wheel him out for an interview and he’d give an apologetic smile and say it was a bad day at the office.
hahaha – where’s KP when you need a scapegoat?
Taking money under false pretences? If I was Sky I would consult my lawyers. They pay for all forms of cricket, but surely it’s test cricket that is the jewel in the crown? (If it’s not, put it on free to air.)
But you can’t be expected to pay for a product when the product has been devalued by not producing the raw materials. The ECB has taken a flame thrower to country cricket, and now we see the result. This has not happened over night. In Cooks last two years they were trying to find a partner and number three to accompany him at the top of the order. How many did they try? When he retired they were looking for two openers instead of one.
What is scandalous is that the ECB have decided to destroy English cricket to save it. But there is no guarantee that their new product will be any goood. They keep saying county cricket is dying. Maybe it is, but County cricket has been the nursery for talent, and as I say the tv money comes in from the test team. No test talent, surely no test team.
The spivs at the ECB have been allowed by the counties and a dishonest and conflicted media to highjack English cricket, and asset strip it before they flog it off in a new creation that may or may not work. They have decided amongst themselves that making money trumps the love of the game by so many. If the future is 16.4 and shoddy test cricket where you try to sell me over priced tickets, then the game is dead for many of my generation. You may find your new young audience of young kids and mothers who can’t count, but many of us will not be interested.
As to Ed Smith……The lap of honour, and funky town selection has hit the wall.
“They keep saying county cricket is dying”
The ECB would know – they’re the one’s killing it. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The thing about the selection is that it is so disheartening for me as a fan, and I think for other fans too.
I’ve thought for a while that we’re not good enough to win the Ashes.
But I thought home advantage might make us competitive.
Throw in Jofra and I started to hope we might even have a chance.
But no… our batting is pre-sabotaged by the CHIEF SUPER SELECTOR and just like that you can wave goodbye to the game and the series.
I said it elsewhere, but if you’d asked me at the beginning of the year, I would have taken winning the WC and losing the Ashes… but “losing” doesn’t cover what this is. This is a thrashing. At home. So god knows what happens next time Down Under.
For me the selection is as much a symptom of the broken system as all the rest of it. I’m with Dobell here–the real problem is the broken system.
The issue is, what else could Funky Ed have done? Sure there are one or two things, but (especially with Pope injured at the start of the series) only one or two. The only ones I can think of are not abandon the Bairstow-Foakes idea from last winter (which would have had the side-effects of never having Denly in the team and keeping Root at no. 4), and Sibley instead of Roy.
But that wouldn’t provide a Plan B if Burns (or Sibley!) doesn’t work out as an opener–or if Bairstow’s long-form game has become so awry that he’s not a viable specialist batsman. It wouldn’t have covered (say) Buttler getting injured the day before the first Test–the only Test-ready replacement for him that I can see is Pope. It wouldn’t have changed that Stokes and Bairstow were averaging under 30 since the start of last season, and Root not much more.
The fact that so many people, both above and below the line, are seriously suggesting as a possibility RIGHT NOW a 21-year-old player whose career average is 32, mainly in the second division, and who has been outperformed in county cricket by one of the players who isn’t good enough now, says it all. Instead of having an option who has done well in county cricket for two or three seasons (or, like Pope, done outstandingly well in a shorter time), we have someone who’s been around the same standard as those we want to replace and maybe a little bit better for a few weeks.
Zak Crawley might quite possibly be a future England player, but not in the next three weeks or even three months….and possibly not at all: after all, many people were making similar noises about Joe Clarke at the same stage of his career, and look how that’s gone!
That he may well be one of the best options for the problems we have now is a terrible, terrible indictment of the system. No kind of selection, funky or otherwise, can deal with not having viable alternatives.
I sort of agree, but if you’ve followed a minnow team for a while (some of my friends are big Bangladesh fans) then “not really having enough top quality players” and “making the best out of the talent available” are things selectors face and the good ones outperform expectations.
Note – I’m not saying England should be winning this game or series. I’m saying that 67 all out is a sign that we’re not making the best of the talent we have. Many smaller teams make do with an untalented grafter of an opener who rarely makes it past 25. I’d suggest Lyth or Robson might well be someone who could have been that player. And 25 isn’t going to win you many matches, but it and the balls faced to do it, look an awful lot better than what is happening to Roy.
And it’s not Roy’s fault. It’s agonising to watch a player being mentally battered by being asked to do something that just doesn’t fit his technique.
Of course, buried in here is something we can’t admit, which has actually be true for a long while – see the results down under – which is that we’re not a top level Test nation at the moment. And that comes back to the broken system.
I mean, we admit it, but our press and the ECB don’t.
“if you’d asked me at the beginning of the year, I would have taken winning the WC and losing the Ashes”
Didn’t Bairstow say exactly that at the start of the summer? It makes me wonder how many of the players agree with the ECB in prioritizing white ball cricket even if it means the red ball games suffer. Given the amount of money to be made in white ball cricket, I suspect most of the players are happy to focus on white ball cricket. (I don’t blame the players for this, it just makes an old man very sad)
I think it’s a little unfair to make it all about the money.
There’s something tangible about being WC champions which Test cricket – esp. with the crappy scheduling doesn’t provide at the moment. Being no 1 Test team is something, but it feels less tangible b/c the points and scheduling system is how it is.
Also, thanks to the odd scheduling, we’ve had far too many Ashes series in close proximity.
Some of the shine has gone.
I think we have to bare in mind England have never won the World Cup, and frankly haven’t been close since 1992. So I can understand why he said that. Also, the modern player is more drawn to ODI cricket. There is more money, and it’s easier on the body. Bowlers only bowl ten overs a day, and batsman are not surrounded by slips and close fielders. If you get out swinging no one cares,
The ECB doesn’t believe in the longer form of the game over the long haul. Young people are not watching it, and it’s only older types who watch any county cricket, But that was probably true forty years ago as well.
But they have destroyed county cricket as a means of producing any test talent by squeezing it all into April May and late August September.
I have just finished the Pennine Way.
So I am in Scotland.
Currently wondering if I should move up here and get into shinty or something.
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.”
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Can you bat? Just asking…
Does Wainwright’s estate still buy you a drink at the end?
You get a free half pint of Tyneside Blonde at the Border Hotel. I think the brewer stumps up rather than AW’s estate.
Kirk Yetholm to Fort William next year!
Why does Jonny Bairstow always have the “that’s not fair” expression on his face when he gets out to another stupid shot?
In “Death of a Gentleman”, Gideon Haigh posed the question “Does cricket need money to exist or does cricket exist to make money?” The ECB clearly believe it is the latter. This raises a new question, “How much longer are people going to pay money to watch this shit?”
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I’ve tried to like your post but WordPress will not allow it. This mishap has been going on for a long while now. I don’t know what I’ve done to upset them, but I keep trying. A good point.
The governing bodies need cricket to make money because they all want to pay themselves big salaries. The real reason for the 16.4 is they want to channel more of the money under their control.
The Blast is doing very well. I can’t see the 16.4 doing any better, unless the FTA coverage gives it a bit of advertising. If it’s a cloudy, chilly evening no more people are going to want to come.
The ECB has pretended that you can prioritize one day cricket without weakening Test cricket. For the last four years they have lived off Anderson and Broad, lower order ODI batsman, a certain messiah from Essex, and Duke balls. It hasn’t worked away from England, and now it’s not working at home.
The cupboard is bare of raw Test batting talent. The ECB is selling test cricket as a premium product, but it’s a rip off. Yesterday’s batting performance was hopeless. Root got a good ball, but most of them were swinging the bat outside off stump. 27 frigging overs is all it took.
I reckon Lyon will mop them up in the fourth innings if the pace doesn’t do it. If Lyon was English, we wouldn’t play him because he doesn’t bat well enough.
The thing is how wanton England are with any natural talent that, despite everything, shows up. We’re seeing it with Archer. Root’ll probably have Archer on for a 12 over spell before lunch or some other non-sense. Various other players have been ruined going back several years.
It’s a sign of there being no vision or ethic in the management. The whole thing just a series of randoms on their 2-4 year stint in the role.
The frustrating thing about selection is how when something works steps are immediately taken to break it:
Stokes scores an unbeaten hundred at 6 and Bairstow gets runs at 7- move them up a position.
Root does a job at 4- sorry buddy, we need you at 3
Moeen gets moved all over the order until he seems to forget how to bat (and shorn of confidence his bowling falls apart)
These are just the obvious things, the repeated need to turn to Archer and Broad because the relief bowlers fail to apply pressure or hold up and end (although Stokes at least has found a touch of venom at last)
Solutions in the immediate term are probably better than in the long term:
Pay Buttler, Roy (and maybe Bairstow) for every test they don’t play. Give Root a break from ODIs (and maybe international cricket in general) for a few months. Stop picking experienced players who still somehow average only 35 in FC cricket.
Long term? Acknowledge that the English summer is simply too short to have 4 formats. Ditch the Hundred, reduce the number of matches played at all and maybe bring in 3 divisions of 6 to the Championship (which may also free up enough time to make games 5 rather than 4 day affairs and allow the domestic game to better mirror the test one).
Your long term solution is really not that far-fetched. India has 37 FC teams playing in the Ranji Trophy. They do it by dividing the teams in 4 different groups, and then have quarter finals, semi finals and finals (with stronger groups being allocated more QF spots). Thus you could reduce the number of 4-day fixtures by say 3 or 4 (even for the winners), freeing up time in the calendar. And quality can’t be compromised, since it is already a lottery due to weather, courtesy of the ECB scheduling supremos.
Play the competition from (late) May to late July. Put one of the limited overs competitions in April – May (might not be great in terms of racking up 300s for fun, but then again, batsmen might have to face bowling when there is something in the wicket, which is not necessarily a bad thing), and end the summer in August – September with a T20 competition or something of the sort (if you really must play the 16.4). I don’t know when the school holidays are in the UK, but such a schedule can be brought forward a few weeks, if the eye balls warrant it.
That would mean cricketers don’t have to switch formats every other week, that it is easier to sign international players short-term or for a particular competition, ensure that in case of a SNAFU, you can actually red ball specialists if half the batting order can’t be bothered to perform in the Test Arena.
I am sure there is a small price tag to it (reduced attendances for the 50 over competition), but hey, since the rights are worth a billion, I am sure that it can be covered. Besides the increased success of England ought to offset those non-realised profits. (What were Sky thinking when they paid 1 billion for the brilliant England Test performances? Keep posting 67, 85 and all that and the value of rights will eventually crumble).
There is no reason why English bowlers are unable to bowl fast, but there is no point in bowling fast if 75 mph bowling will do the trick. Adjust the scheduling so that gentle medium pace ending with buckets of wickets due to assistance of the weather on the wicket (occupational hazard in April) is mostly a thing of the past.
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Remember the days when during the test match the county scores would be read out?
I wanted to check how much red ball cricket was played in summer after a bit of digging found some old fixture lists to compare.
The stats bear out the fact that championship cricket is vanishing from the summer.
Scheduled days of championship cricket played by Worcestershire CCC in the 3 summer months (Jun/July/Aug)
1980 = 46
2003 = 34 (inaugural T20)
2019 = 24
2020? Unlikely to be more than nine from what we hear, one of which will be on Aug 31st.
It’s 1981 all over again. England lose the first test, draw the second (at Lord’s) and look as though they’ll be beaten in the third (at Headingly!) until the great allrounder Botham (Stokes) scores an unbeaten century and Bob Willis (Archer) takes 8 wickets. History does repeat itself you know! Obviously, this translates to Archer taking all four wickets early in the morning and Stokes heroically scoring a century and winning the test for England.
OK, I’m clutching at straws, but what else do can I hope for?
Thank you Mr thelegglance, you absolutely nailed it. There is nothing in your article with which I disagree.
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359 runs to win at Headingly in the 4th innings? No problem. The openers get us to 100 and then a couple of wickets will fall, but our magnificent middle order will come through. Root and Stokes score centuries, England win and demoralize the Aussies so badly that England win all the next tests comprehensively, and Brexit will go smoothly.
Nurse, where are my pills?
I’ve been impressed with Labuschagne but he does get hit in the head a lot.
Archer bowling with no slips. I hate it when captains do that – has Root given up on trying to get Labuschagne out?
Less than 3 overs in in the second session, and both openers already gone. Not sure what the conditions are for a partial refund, but maybe the England batsmen are actually trying to be considerate to the spectators?
Surprisingly solid batting from England today.
Don’t jinx them.
This is the first chance I’ve had to really watch Denly (his fault), and a couple of things: he really can’t handle Cummins; he’s missed every drive he’s attempted apart from the ones he’s edged. He looks ok playing forward if the ball is on off stump, but he seems to play exactly the same shot if it’s a bit wider (meaning he’s still playing as if it’s on off stump).
He’s probably not good enough to play at Test level – no shame in that, barely anyone is – but he’s working extremely hard today. Credit to him.
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