Batsmen Blow It Again

B

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.

James Morgan

31 comments

  • James,

    I do agree with almost all of this. May I just comment how much we continue to miss a healthy Jonathan Trott but hope that Chris Woakes is a natural replacement for Jimmy. I think we miss CW for his clear head as well as his considerable skill. Stoneman at 3 for the Oval?

  • If I’m honest I’m totally fed up with this now.
    We can never seem to back up a win , and its usually the batsman’s fault.
    How many times do we have to be nothing for two before things change? To be fair there was not much disgrace in being that yesterday as it was bowling conditions and a high quality opening attack. But somehow we got through to be 140/3 but rather than just bat normally no we decide we have to be all macho and go at 5 an over, its totally the wrong tactic.

    Its time to question Trevor Bayliss. The test team has gone backwards very quickly under his stewardship

  • As a Warwickshire man, once again I mention the likes of Bell and Trott, neither of whom are chancers. Both have plenty of test experience against a moving ball at the top of the innings. They may get out, but not to extravagant shots. Why is there this reluctance to take a step backward until we have the players to move forward. Ironically, I thought Ballance played pretty well and treated the game like a test match, but there are basic technical flaws that you can get away with in county cricket that undermines it as a breeding ground for test players, particularly as a batsmen at the moment.
    When I was learning the game I was coached by a legendary West Indian called Derief Taylor at Edgbaston one of his simple repetitive mantras was ‘Move your feet man’. By the time we were teenagers this was drilled into us so much that even out of form it was still effective, helping us get back into form more quickly. He would stand halfway down the wicket throwing balls for us to play forward to and having skittles for us to knock down from cover round to mid wicket. When you’re young you need this repetitive training. Having other youngsters to bowl at you in the nets doesn’t help correct faults, as they’re not accurate enough. Bowling machines can now do this job, but Derief could shape and seam the ball whislst throwing it, so it was more realistic. If the ball was moving around he’d say things like ‘Play de line man’, ‘Let de ball do de work’ ‘Get your stride in man’ and for back for play, ‘Smell de ball man’.
    I wonder what mantras the modern coach has for the up and comings with the half cock style of play that seems to be the order of the day now, playing with the hands rather than the body. Top bowlers will latch onto this weakness, allowing them to pitch the ball further up with impunity. Root gets away with this because like all great batsmen he sees the ball early. The rest of our batsmen just look vulnerable.

    • The team has still not replaced Bell and all those that constantly criticised him will perhaps begin to recognise the value he added to the team. Neither Trott nor Bell will be recalled and the latter was discarded too early in the dash for dashers lead by the likes of Michael Vaughan who has now changed tack calling for ‘diggin’ approach. We need ‘strong and Stable’, so I’d go for Stoneman to open (which was my pick before the series), with KJ at 3, mo at 5 and another bat in place of the lamentable Dawson. Ballance dropped as he does not have the technique needed despite his county runs. Selectors should see this, as they should have with Vince, Robson, etc. There are calls for Buttler but I just done see it as he struggles against spin at Test level.

  • It’s a tricky one and there are no obvious answers. There are plenty saying that the obvious answer is mark stoneman. He’s a good player and consistent for sure which is why I think he deserves to have already had a test run as since 2012 the selectors have picked players for having outstanding seasons rather than letting players back it up and go through periods of poor form and be better for it. Look at the openers since Strauss, most have had one outstanding season, played for England, had initial success and then struggled. Jennings can I play for sure but shouldn’t be expected to be averaging high 40s straight away. Not many test players are anywhere near their best when they start and I think fans and especially writers ignore this fact. The only thing I’d say re Jennings is that since 2012, stoneman has been better every season other than 2016,(still stoneman was good).
    Ballance is restarting his test career, he was dismissed harshly in 2015 and everyone forgot he was actually good at batting. He should never have been picked last year it was unfair picking him when he was still building up confidence in his game that was destroyed. I think he’s looked good so far but batting him at 3 is daft, really root has to bat 3! Ballance at 4 and then he has to get runs.

    The point re white ball players is true though I think they have picked the obvious 7 best red ball batsmen in the country with Jennings the only one where there isn’t much to choose between him and nearly 10 very good opening options, it’s just none of them are standing out. I think bairstow stokes and Ali will go well in the middle in Australia and ballance could do well at 4.

    They just need runs. Imo root and mo were the only poor shots in top 7. I think most modern players trust their defence less than they trust their stroke play and the ease with which some players defence is beaten is quite obvious. JB and stokes very often beaten by decent balls that nibble a little from a good length though they are dismissive of any poor bowling

  • I think it’s time to really pay attention to the technique of players coming into the side as much as their stats. Comparing the techniques of players like Ballance, Bairstow, and to some extent Jennings, to Vaughan and other players from that era is infuriating.

    Once Anderson, Broad and Cook retire we could very well be looking at the worst England side side the 90’s, if not earlier.

  • Above all, I believe the problems should be being resolved by the coach not us (what do we know?) but it isn’t happening.

    Hard to agree that having to change quickly from white ball to red is a cause of poor performance, since most of our test team don’t get into the white ball team.

    Biggest issue for me is that England don’t know how to develop a team. So much fiddling with individual places. Doubt if Ballance will finally grow into our no 3, pretty sure Dawson won’t be there for long. I felt, when the New Era was trumpeted in 2014, England should have decided not to care about results against SL and India if, at the end of the summer, they had a new settled team for the future.

    So I blame short term thinking as much as anything. I’d have no quarrel if they said to Cook “we’re moving in a new direction and you aren’t part of our plans for the future”. Didn’t that happen once before to one of our top batsmen?

  • Haseeb will be back at some point, he’s class. To be honest, he looked such a good Test batsman in India that there’s a case for recalling him even though he’s only averaging 20 this season. Then Jennings could drop to 3 (or someone like Stoneman have a shot) and Ballance to 5 or 6.

    As for the people mentioning Trott and Bell, the former lost his nerve and the latter, for whatever reason (his eyes?) simply doesn’t make enough runs nowadays. I’m pretty sure that if he’d made even a half decent fist of his return county cricket he’d have been recalled at some point, but he hasn’t. He’s averaging about 28 this season.

    • If you want to make a case for recalling Haseeb, averaging 20, why not Bell. Trott still has the best technique and temperament of any no3 I’ve seen in years, and has publically stated that he would welcome a test recall. Yet we just keep grinding out untried youngsters.
      I don’t personally believe anyone under 25 should be up the order for the England test team unless they are a stand out talent like Root. You need to acquire technical stability, belief in your own game and the confidence of consistent success before you qualify for test honours. All this comes with experience. There is no short cut. Making 50’s into 100’s seems to be becoming a lost art at this level, unless the pitches are flat. This is what the top five in test elevens should be aiming for every time they go out. Play yourself in and set your stall for a long stay. If you listen to the ones who’ve done it they play straight, often restricting themselves the the V between mid on and mid off until they’ve got the pace of the pitch, leaving the tempting wide half volleys and short balls till they’re happy with their foot movement. Quick 50’s at this level are letting the side down. When a wicket falls, restrain yourself for a bit, so you don’t put the side in a position of having 2 new batsmen at the crease. This is simple common sense.
      Bell and Trott have accumulated this know how over the years and understand that cricket is a team game tactically and technically.

      • Where and when has Trott stated that he would welcome a Test recall?? Just finished his autobiography and he sounded pretty finite about his international career…

        • Trott was interviewed at the start of the season about this and stated he was available for test selection, if only in the short term. But with the present lack of quality alternatives I see no harm in playing him, even if it’s just for this summer. Having 3 lefties at the top of the order makes life easier for the bowlers to get rhythm. We saw what happened when Root joined Ballance in the first innings, with South Africa’s line and length becoming ragged during that right/left partnership. Presently in the top 7 only 2 are right handed. Is it a co-incidence that Root and Bairstow are scoring most heavily? I always feel that left handers are more vulnerable to right arm bowlers, bowling accross them and right arm bowlers have always dominated cricket. Good left armers have always seemed few and far between.

      • Interesting point. We don’t seem to have players now, who learn the game over time and develop into test readiness. More “he looks good and has a few impressive performances. Throw him in.” Think it’s too late for Bell and Trott tbh

        • I noticed the comment about “quick 50s’. Ian Bell, while vastly more gifted than many in the upper order at present, made it nigh on an art form for much of his career of making 50 and then getting out carelessly. The guy should have been averaging closer to 50 with 30 test tons and considered a better player than both Cook and Pietersen but he didn’t.

  • I love how people are now finally realising we have a load of white ball players in the test team..

    It’s blindingly obvious and amfew big knocks on roads/feather beds mask the issue

  • Very interesting article indeed! England have been very prone to such collapses for quite a while now!
    Apart form that, the inclusion of Chris Morris has worked wonders for the Proteas! He is a power packed all rounder who can deliver bursts of speed in between your main bowlers and score valuable runs down the order.

  • Let’s start with the basics. The balance of the team is wrong. You don’t need two part time spinners at Trent Bridge. Sorry, but Liam Dawson simply isn’t a test player. He might be an ODI player, but Amla treated him with something bordering on contempt (yes, I know Dawson got him out). England should have had another batsman (Samit Patel would have been a better option if they insisted in a second spinner).
    Talking of Amla, that man (and Faf Du Plessis) is living proof that you can switch from one day to test mode. Both got their heads down yesterday and earned their runs. Cook and Jennings have to do the same this morning. South Africa are clearly a better side than the shambles at Lord’s (where they clearly missed Du Plessis), and Morris improves the balance of the side.

  • That is just a disgusting display – Our darkest day for many a year.

    Mr Bayliss – Do the decent thing and resign.

      • What does Bayliss actually do?
        He doesn’t pick the team
        He doesn’t coach the team
        He watches hardly any county cricket
        He offers nothing but platitudes no explanations in interviews
        Oh and Dawson is our number one spinner

        His record as coach is appalling

        • To be honest that isn’t just Bayliss. At international level to fans the role of coach seems fairly redundant. Though a better knowledge of the county game would be great. The fact Bayliss wanted to pick Buttler for test matches is indicative of that fact being true.

  • Fearless cricket

    Brand of cricket

    Entertaining cricket

    World class performers

    Baylis, please resign

    Strauss.. please resign

  • Team selection is all wrong. Ballance isn’t a three. Dawson isn’t an international. Wood is a white ball bowler. Team is a batsman light

    • I think Root has to bat at 3. I wouldn’t want an untested/inept player batting there.
      Overly optimistic England team for second test
      1. Cook
      2.Stoneman
      3. Root
      4. Westley
      5. Lawrence
      6. Stokes
      7.Bairstow
      8.Ali
      9. Archer
      10.Broad
      11. Anderson

      Some selections there I realise won’t sit well with people but with so many question marks before the ashes it is time to role the dice and instead of dull uninspiring selections lets invest in some of the talent we apparently have

  • How many opening partners has Alastair Cook had since Strauss retired? Root and Cook are the only men who have carried the weight of England batting for far too long now

    • Either 11 or 12. There’s a run down of it on Cricinfo somewhere. There’s no benefit in a settled opening pair, as Greenidge, Haynes, Hayden and Langer will all tell you. Cook seems to be struggling to get beyond a start, too.

  • It’s a shame Stoneman didn’t get the call-up. He’s averaging 58 for Surrey this season and would have been making a debut on his new home ground, which could have helped him settle in. Good luck to Westley. Dawson is lucky to be in the squad still. I hope Mark Wood can rediscover his zip, he seems a bit jaded at the moment.
    I want to see England show some fight at the Oval, where the SA pace attack could be dangerous and the Saffers have all the psychological momentum after the 2nd Test. Cook needs a big score, he doesn’t seem at his best so far. Jennings looks like a walking wicket, but they obviously feel he deserves a longer run in the side after a 100 on debut.

  • I still advocate picking a squad for home series, say 16 players, in the same way as you would for an away series. This way the players know they are not playing for their place all the time and all the selection committee have to do is pick the best team for the conditions out of that squad. The rest of the squad can then go back to their counties till selection for the next game.
    Our selection history is littered with players who have either been dropped almost straight away or had early success and not lived up to it. Too many players with obvious technical or temperamental flaws are being selected.
    Going way back into the 1970’s I well remember Lancashire’s Frank Hayes made a ton on his debut and was hyped up as the new Cowdrey or Graveney. But he had little subsequent success as his basic technique was flawed, especially against pace. He suffered from the failure of the modern age, foot movement, or lack of it. There seem very few players who get a good stride in forward or back. Most play half cock from the crease with hard hands. You can’t select at test level and then start messing with technique. Get it right at county level first.
    With so much white ball cricket played, where shots are improvised and orthodox technique is not as important as forcing the pace, especially with defensive fields giving the batsmen more chance of surviving edges, it is no wonder we are finding ‘correct’ batsmen hard to find. Root is the exception here, but his talent is rare and like all great batsmen he sees the ball early, so can take the odd risk with relative impunity. How can we breed patience into the modern player when he doesn’t get the chance to practice it elsewhere?

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