I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Yesterday’s batting collapse, like our performance in most of the second test, was utterly abysmal. Perhaps vomiting is the best response? The only highlight for England was Ben Duckett who played the ultimate ‘screw this I’m going to have a hit’ innings.
What’s particularly galling is that the result wasn’t even a surprise. There’s been nothing between these sides throughout the series, and batting last was always going to be a tall order – especially when ineffective spin bowling and poor catching enabled Bangladesh to post a target of 273.
On the positive side it was a fantastic result for Bangladesh and a good day for test cricket in general. The hosts are finally improving as a test nation, and although they might not prove competitive outside of the subcontinent, they’re certainly a good side in their own conditions. Whenever Australia decide it’s safe to tour Bangladesh, they’ll probably get beaten too.
There’s obviously a lot of blame flying around at the moment and rightly so. Let’s start with the senior players. Alastair Cook had a very poor tour as both a batsman and captain. Joe Root also failed to live up to expectations. Let’s hope they’re both saving their runs for India.
Our spinners were also generally subpar (although we all expected that) and neither Duckett, Ballance or Moeen provided the runs we needed. I’d like England to look at Duckett at four, because he’s obviously very talented, but he doesn’t have much of a defence. His innings yesterday was full of improvisation and lusty blows but he had to take lots of risks to reach his half-century. If only we had another Graham Thorpe waiting in the wings – someone who can both defend, rotate the strike, and attack when needs be. Unfortunately Duckett will have to learn on the job.
Although it’s tempting to throw individual players under the bus at this point, I don’t have the appetite to kick guys like Ballance when they’re down. We all know certain players aren’t up to standard, so there seems little point covering ground we’ve already covered a hundred times before. Instead I’d like to focus my wrath on two broader issues.
Firstly England lost this test, in part, because of the ridiculous schedule the ECB (in cahoots with those who shape the Future Tours Programme) have created. Whoever decided that playing seven tests in eight weeks was acceptable needs to be shot, disembowelled, or preferably both.
Although I criticised England’s rotation policy before this game, I can actually understand why they did it. With Anderson injured they wanted to wrap Broad up in cotton wool before India, and they also felt the need to exclude their only specialist spinner, Gareth Batty, in order to ‘have a look’ at Zafar Ansari.
The whole situation is a nonsense of course. Every test is an event in itself. It should never be used as a ‘warm up’ for another big series. Unfortunately however, the schedule gave England’s management little choice. Who knows, if England had played their strongest XI in Dhaka the result might have been different. A Stuart Broad spell can often change the momentum of a match.
Secondly, and this probably won’t come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog, I’d like to give the selectors another massive and well deserved kicking. They really are bloody useless. They were the only people in the entire world who would’ve picked Ballance for this tour.
The selectors also omitted far and away the best English spinner in county cricket for unfathomable reasons. How ironic that our selectors ignored Jack Leach (a 25 year old) on the grounds that he’s immature, when a boy who’s just turned 19 bowled us out.
What really grinds my gears is that there’s very little England can do to improve the situation before India. There’s no time between the tours, so we’ve been forced to name exactly the same squad, and there are no potential lifesavers within the existing group.
It’s exasperating that people are clamouring for the return of Jos Buttler, a player who averages less in first class cricket than both Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid, simply because he’s right handed. Few pundits are optimistic Buttler can succeed against India’s spinners (given that he struggled against Nathan Lyon in the 2015 Ashes) but the need for another right-hander in the top six is so great that they’re prepared to give anyone a go.
Why isn’t there a proper right-handed specialists batsman in the squad to give the management a legitimate option? Whilst there aren’t any standout candidates, surely recalling Ian Bell or giving someone like James Hildreth a chance is better than picking a wicket-keeper with just four first class hundreds to his name (Rashid has ten by the way).
Perhaps the best thing the management can do is to give Hameed his debut, slot Duckett in at four, and then pray that Ashwin has an off day and can’t fathom DRS. After all, he’ll be licking his lips if England’s middle-order comprises of Duckett, Moeen and Stokes (with Ansari and eight). That’s four left-handers with just Jonny Bairstow to separate them. Whatever England do, we’ll be damned.
The other option, of course, is to promote Bairstow to five and also think about moving Woakes up the order. Both are right handers and neither would look out of place if they were batting one or two places higher. England will need to split up their left-handers somehow – even if it is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.