I watched most of day 2 on TV. But I popped on TMS for a few mins in the afternoon when I got the car cleaned. I was lucky enough to hear Geoffrey Boycott off his long run. “The England batsmen were awful. Dreadful. They basically lost the game in 4 hours”.
Was he right? Unless something miraculous happens on days 3 and 4 then he probably is. Although the contrarian Ed Smith did his best to excuse their performance by arguing that batting conditions were tricky, three things make me side with Sir Geoff:
1. Four of England’s top eight (so half the ‘batsmen’) got out playing lamentable shots in the conditions – Ballance, Moeen, Dawson, and yes, Joe Root too.
2. Maharaj, the bloody spinner, picked up three of the wickets. He recorded the best figures by a slow bowler in a Trent Bridge test for ten years!
3. Last but clearly not least, England have been prone to this kind of collapse for 2/3 years. It’s like clockwork. As soon as the pitch offers something for the bowlers (whether it’s seam movement, swing or spin) our batsmen generally collapse in a heap.
Once one has identified a long-term trend, it’s pretty hard for excuses to hold any water. Our batsmen seem to have one way of playing – attack, attack, attack – and with one or two exceptions they rarely seem prepared to graft.
The bottom line is that we never learn. We never adapt. It’s almost like they’re shrugging their shoulders and saying “well, that’s the way we play”.
Well, here are the damning statistics: playing this way has resulted in eight defeats (two to Pakistan, one to Bangladesh, four to India, and in all likelihood one to South Africa) in our last 13 tests. That’s pretty much as bad as the 1990s.
The only defence (weak as it is) our players could make is that the CEO of the ECB (who is, after all, their boss) wants them to play this way: “you’ve got to be prepared to lose to win games”. Many might see this as code for “who cares about results as long as we play entertaining cricket and the money rolls in”. Tell that to the accountants at Trent Bridge if they’re issuing partial or full refunds to day 4 ticket holders.
The other thing that strikes me is that the assessment above is deja vu. Weren’t we all saying exactly the same things about our white ball team a few weeks ago: when the pitch is flat we make 350 every time, but when conditions help the bowlers our batsmen play in exactly the same way and crumble like a stale chocolate brownie. There’s clearly a pattern.
I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers. But the obvious theory is that our cricketers are being asked to do something very difficult indeed i.e. make continuous transitions from T20 and uber-attacking ODI cricket to test matches within the space of a few days or a couple of weeks. That’s bloody hard to do.
At one point yesterday I surmised that only the most gifted players, like Joe Root for example, are able to make this transition effectively. However, I’m not so sure that Root changes the way he plays much either:
Yesterday Joe made a beautiful 78 but it came off just 76 balls – in other words, he was still pretty much in one-day mode. His enormous talent just allowed him to get away with it for longer. And let’s not forget that he still got out to a truly awful shot like many of his teammates. I might also mention that his conversation rate remains disappointing for a genuinely top class player.
So what’s the answer? I really don’t know. The only players that can graft, like Alastair Cook, don’t play in our white ball teams. And one could argue that it affected his test form when he did. One solution is to pick specialist (separate) limited overs and test teams. But this seems like a non-starter. How exactly can one justify dropping the likes of Ben Stokes from the T20 team?
Because we’re dealing with an imperfect situation, perhaps we’ll just have to accept that our test team are going to bat like headless chickens every so often. This involves hoping and praying that hard work (and perhaps a different approach from the coaches) enables our batsmen to improve, and learn how to make transitions more successfully.
What’s really annoying, however, is that the so called revolution under Strauss / Bayliss / Harrison (blame whoever you want) was supposed to win us an international white ball trophy whilst not impacting the performance of the test side.
Thus far it’s not working. We might have reached the final of the World T20, and the semi finals of the Champions Trophy (which is worse than we did under Duncan Fletcher in 2004 and Ashley Giles in 2013 by the way) but the bottom line is that the trophy cabinet remains bare.
Meanwhile, the test team hasn’t improved and its future might look somewhat bleak when Anderson and Broad retire. One might even argue that the test team has gone backwards in recent times. We’ve certainly lost a hell of a lot of games.
The silver lining, of course, is that the team is now more attractive to watch. This is particularly the case with our ODI team. But is style really enough? Isn’t sport all about winning?
If the answer to these two questions are ‘yes’ and ‘no’ then we might as well put Kevin Keegan in charge.