51.5 Overs

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.

James Morgan


  • Nail on the head James and the parallel with the Windies is particularly acute. Or as Warren Buffett has it – you only know who’s swimming naked when the sea goes out. Once we wave goodbye to Jimmy, Stuart and Joe we’ll see it clear. But as you have it – this is a system failing and our own governing body are responsible.

  • Anyone remember all the flak Pujara and Rahane got for grinding India back into the match on Day Four? The English cricket establishmen have come tot hate attritional batting. They’ve lost any concept that the fun of Shami and Bumrah has to be earnt by some hard work first. The orchestrated attack on Sibley is the thin end of a very long wedge. It wouldn’t be surprising if he and Curran are the only ones to get the chop for this.

    BTW who noticed the 16.66’s chief spokesman among non-suits tipping a team to win it that had already been knocked out? Is he not actually following it – or are the rules too complicated?

  • Excellent as usual James. Telling it like it is. Only the laughs were missing and they would be out of place in these dire circumstances. I have nothing else to add. You have said it all. Thank you.

  • Same story as before – Buttler should be captain; much more tactically aware than Root.

    I don’t go along with “Stokes to the all round rescue”. He’s England’s second best batsman, but his bowling is rather like Sam Curran’s – usually ineffective, except for some occasional match-winning spells.

    • Muffin
      I don’t think Buttler should be in the side, let alone captain. His keeping is not Test standard and he can’t justify his place as a batsman. If you’re going to play Bairstow, which Root clearly wants to do, better off giving him the gloves and dropping him down the order, as he’s batting too high at the moment.

      • I would also give Bairstow the gloves and drop Buttler. Jonny was a good keeper / batsman and he has a significantly better record than Jos in that role. They should never have taken the gloves off him to begin with imho.

        • Stumpings soften tell an interesting story at Test level :

          Bairstow 13

          Buttler …………… 1 !!!

          (Foakes : 5 in 8 Tests !!!)

          • So do Test centuries
            Foakes-2 in 8 tests
            Buutler-2 in lots
            Bairstow-more in 75 tests.
            But who is the best keeper by miles?

  • Great piece James. Sum’s up perfectly the nightmare shambles that is English Cricket. As I’ve mentioned before I do not support England any more, if anyone New Zealand who do everything better than us.
    There is a load of Member’s around the country fed to the teeth with not just toxic England, but that in some cases 75% of their best players are symphoned off to the hit and giggle. At Surrey, my club, there are many who probably won’t renew next season, if the scheduling goes on like this. At least with a depleted side we got to the semi finals of the ODC today, at what has been a great competition despite being shoved into the shadows by the shit. Next World Cup 2023. Yes well.
    If I were Joe Root I’d be sorely tempted to tell them to stick it, do an Alistair Cook and go back to Yorkshire. It doesn’t matter who England pick because no one is playing red ball and the team is in tatters. But to be frank though at least James Vince would get you a cultured 30.
    Best thing would be for all the counties, or at least the big ones, to break away from the ECB and form their own governing body. This is war, minus the shooting, at least for the moment.


    • In the circumstances I would probably pick Vince too. Attractive 30s are better than hopeless ducks. And at least he won’t look out of his depth.

    • Your last sentence is not as daft as some may think. Some of the Counties – led by Surrey – have already done that with women’s T20. There is big conflict of interest in that the 100 revenue goes to the ECB, yet the Counties provide (having recruited and developed) the players, whereas the lion’s share of the Vitality competition (and the Royal London) goes to the Counties.

  • In a masochistic way I’m rather glad we didn’t sneak a win as it shows the difference in class between the sides that Root’s batting has papered over so far this series. Couldn’t believe Atherton’s interview with Harrison where once again an ex test class player let the marketing suit get away with some pure bullshit.
    Couldn’t believe Root’s tactics once we’d got Pant, using Wood to bowl short at tail-Enders as some sort of revenge for Bumra’s attack on Anderson, when a Yorker would have sufficed. Bone-headed or what?
    Don’t blame the players, they’re doing their best outside of their comfort zone. When will our batsmen start to learn that going hard at the ball ensure edges carry, something you rarely have to worry about in white ball.

  • At the start of the year, looking at series against India, NZ and Australia must have seemed so exciting, albeit feeling nervous about the challenge. The potential for so much great cricket, featuring so many great players.

    At the end of the year, could it be England’s worst ever? It’s not quite that bad, is it, not yet at the level of being ranked worst team on the list?

  • Excellent analysis as always from James but if England had won this match, Root would have been hailed as a great captain and leader. The margins between success and failure can be very thin. Let’s make the final judgement at the end of the series. There is still a lot of cricket to be played

    • I don’t think so, 3E. There’s been a general acceptance for some time that Root is without doubt a world class batsman but a below par on field captain. The Lord’s Test was simply confirmation of that.

  • Silverwood on plucking players out of The Hundred or RLC:
    “It’s not ideal, but equally we don’t live in an ideal world at the moment with Covid and everything else that’s been thrown at us. I don’t think there’s an ideal process out there”.

    The schedule is virtually identical to the one planned for 2020, pre-covid. It’s complete nonsense and just covering the arse of his employers. And how’s that Graham Thorpe comment on how good The Hundred would be for Test batsmanship looking now?

    Oh, and the only batsman named for the chop in the Pigswill, sorry I mean Guardian, is Sibley. What a surprise.

  • The sad thing, James, is that it’s looking increasingly unlikely that there is a way back for red ball cricket. Only three countries can stage financially viable Test series, and they are finding it increasingly difficult to produce Test cricketers. Once you have a situation that Test cricket only involves those three playing one another, the game is dead. There hasn’t been a five match Test series which didn’t involve either England or Australia for two decades.

  • Sadly Root is a clueless tactician and his dismissal of this defeat was breathtaking. Buttler should be nowhere near a Test team and give the gloves to someone who can actually keep or a proper keeper/batsman like Alex Davies. Giving them to Buttler or Bairstow is besmirching the tradition of wicket-keeping. And bringing Hameed back now has probably damaged him beyond repair. Shambolic.

    • 100% agree about Hameed – his recall is probably at least a year too soon and may be really damaging to him.

      If the ‘brains trust’ really wanted to recall a former England opener who’s had a decent season, they could have gone for Robson or Lyth! At least Robson had a test average of 30!

      I hope the governing bodies of other test playing nations take their stewardship of the 5-day game more seriously than the ECB.

      • Maybe not Lyth.

        He might come under fire in the finally proven to be existent racism report from Yorkshire CCC. And after the Robinson fiasco, I think it would even be beyond the ECB to shoot themselves in the chest twice in the span of 3 months.

  • Absolutley spot on James. You have summed up exactly how I feel about the England team at the moment. I feel so conflicted watching them because I’ve spent my whole life supporting English cricket so it feels unnatural not to but I know if England win it will make it look as if the ECB are doing a good job and get them off the hook.
    I would liken it to a football club with a terribel owner eg. Mike Ashley, you know that the more your team loses the more likley you are to get rid of them.
    If it takes the near collapse of the England team to get rid of Harrison then, provided we can build it back afterwards, it might be a price worth paying

  • As an Englishman now living in the US working as a resource manager for an Indian outsourcing IT company, I quickly learnt that my morning meeting was not fun “Lets start guys, but first can you ask Shami to stop batting?”.
    I have always loved Test cricket; grew up listening to the BBC on my crystal set during winter tours. I don’t know who would be my heroes if I was starting out today. Probably be called Lukaku, or Jack, or Harry; maybe Joe, but then…?
    The balance of this team is just horrible. I could rattle off my choices for the drop, but what is the point, they would just be replaced by another set of white-ball-what-is-test-cricket guys.
    So sad.

  • Too much white ball and Mickey Mouse cricket .
    How many four day games has Jos Buttler played this year for Lancashire for example ?
    Are they still being paid by their County when they can not play County matches because they are paid even more to play “cricket” for a team not connected with that County ?
    Once upon a time we used to know more or less who would be playing in the Test Team .
    We knew which Counties they played for.
    Now since they rarely seem to play for their Counties I haven’t a clue which County most of the players are connected with.

  • “Joe Root is filling the Brian Lara role – a lone superstar amongst inadequates – the best he can.”
    I can’t agree more.


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