I didn’t watch England’s loss to India in the second Test. Regular readers of this blog will know the reasons why. Let’s just say that English cricket and I have issues at the moment. Big issues.
The problem is, a bit like England’s cricketers themselves, that I just can’t win. I generally wish our players well but I realise that any success they have simply papers over the cracks and gives the disingenuous suits currently ruining English cricket a longer stay of execution. It conceals their crimes rather than exposing them to the world.
It says everything that I didn’t actually need to watch the game to know why things unfolded the way they did. We all know the score. England’s batting regularly gets bowled over in two sessions these days. It’s a regular occurrence and I wasn’t remotely surprised that it happened again yesterday. Indeed, I actually expected it. After all, this isn’t just the worst England batting side in living memory; it’s also the worst prepared. Anything but catastrophe would’ve been a miracle against opponents as skilful as India in these circumstances. Only the weather saved them at Trent Bridge, after all.
The fact that Joe Root nearly delivered this miracle was pretty remarkable. His batting was world class and it’s clear that he’s back to his very best. His game finally looks organised again. And when his feet are in sync, and he’s playing straight enough, there really isn’t a better batsman in the modern game. He’s better than Pietersen ever was. Why? Because Joe has never thrown his wicket away and shirked responsibility by simply shrugging his shoulders and saying “that’s the way I play”. The very, very best players, like Root, would never admit to being one dimensional.
It’s just a shame about Joe’s captaincy! And it’s also a shame that he doesn’t have a head coach remotely good enough to support and advise him. Poor Joe has never been a natural tactician. But he’s still probably got a better cricket brain than the out of his depth and underqualified Chris Silverwood. Oh what Joe would do for a Duncan Fletcher or, dare I say it, a Gary Kirsten to advise him.
Picking a spinner might help too. In fact, they’re pretty good at dismissing the tail when needed. Quality spinners, unlike useful part-timers like Moeen Ali, regularly deceive late order batsmen in the flight and have them caught in the deep.
So where do England go from here? Nowhere is the answer. I see the gnashing of teeth on social media, with people advocating a new opening partnership and recalls for the likes of Malan and Denly, but I’m through with recycled players who’ve failed in the past. In fact, I’m through with English cricket entirely. There simply aren’t any white knights in the shires ready to ride to the rescue. So you’d better get used to it.
When the ECB set a course that undermined the county championship and promoted new vanity ventures like The Hundred a few years ago, results like the one at Lord’s were always likely. They were probably inevitable. The England Test team is simply reaping what its board has sown.
There are no easy answers. And when the amazing Jimmy Anderson finally retires, and Joe Root finally packs in trying to cover his employers’ arses, things are only going to get worse. All the best young players in England are white ball specialists. And they wouldn’t know how to bat two sessions to save a game to save their lives.
The England Test team is now effectively the West Indies of twenty years ago: a once proud cricketing nation that can compete with the best in white ball tournaments but doesn’t have a hope of fielding a competitive Test side again in the foreseeable future because it’s domestic first class structure is rotten to its core.
For Anderson and Stuart Broad, who cut their teeth in the noughties, read Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. And Joe Root is filling the Brian Lara role – a lone superstar amongst inadequates – the best he can.
The only difference with England, of course, is that Ben Stokes will probably return at some point. His hapless and dishonest employers had better hope he returns sooner rather than later. A world class all-rounder can fill two holes simultaneously and immediately transform a very poor side into a just short of average one.
The only trouble is that I’m not sure whether I want Stokes to ride to the rescue. I want the best for him, and I sincerely hope his mental health improves, but I fear only a series of subsequent catastrophic defeats will finally shine the spotlight on what English cricket has become. And the sooner the ECB can no longer conceal the truth, the sooner the genuine healing can begin. At least, that’s the only hope I’ve got.
So I’ll end this disgruntled stream of consciousness there. Although perhaps I should just add a warning. Don’t expect England to come back in this series – although stranger things have happened. Instead I’d advise everyone to brace themselves for back-to-back defeats this summer – surely the first time that’s happened in a domestic summer since Tom Harrison was actually a player himself.
And don’t expect us to be competitive in the Ashes this winter either. Australia have their own problems but they won’t be as dire as England, especially in their own backyard. I’d say that 0-4 or even 0-5 is looking incredibly likely. And that would be four Test series defeats in a row. Unchartered territory.
Just remember who’s to blame if / when all this transpires. It won’t really be the players. They can’t help being not quite good enough. Every Test side is a product of the system that supports it. And ours only cares about 100-ball innings.