Those of you with young kids might know a cute / irritating cartoon called Paw Patrol. It’s about a band of puppies who solve crimes and generally frustrate the evil machinations of the feline group ‘Cat-astrophe’. One of the puppies is called Chase. And he’s as harmless as wet cotton wool. A bit like Roston Chase’s bowling in fact.
The lesson we can learn from Paw Patrol is that you don’t need to be frightening to succeed. You can appear completely innocuous, lack teeth, yet still destroy a bunch of ineffectual pussies. Just bowl it straight and wait for your opponents to implode.
Yesterday was one of the most depressing days I can recall as an England fan. And boy we’ve had a few. To surrender 8 wickets to a part-time spinner is humiliating. And all supporters have a right to be angry.
How did embarrassment happen? I guess it was a combination of fatigue and ineptitude. However, there’s one mitigating factor to consider. Although it was Chase who picked up the wickets, many of these should be attributed to the ferocious fast bowling of Shannon Gabriel, and to a lesser extent Roach and Joseph, at the other end. England’s batsmen were probably so relieved to escape the firing line that they relaxed too much when the part-time slow bowler came on.
This is so excuse though. England were absolutely woeful yesterday. With the exception of Rory Burns, who made a very pleasant and highly encouraging 80 odd, we were simply crap. Jonny Bairstow was a bit unlucky to get strangled down the legside but the others were pathetic.
Joe Root was roughed up and then guided the ball to slip (what the hell was he thinking?), Jos Buttler casually chipped the ball to mid-wicket, and Moeen Ali irresponsibly decided to give slip some catching practice. It was a deplorable shot that any self respecting international cricketer should be ashamed of. Most specialist batsmen would be dropped after that.
But perhaps I’ve inadvertently hit the nail on the head there. Any ‘specialist’ batsman would indeed be dropped after playing a shot like that. But England don’t have many specialists. We have Burns, Root, and then a bunch of all-rounders – guys who don’t have it in them to compile match defining innings very often unless everything is in their favour. The best they can do with any regularity is ‘chip in’.
At one point yesterday I even began to challenge whether England’s ‘all-rounders’ should be defined as such. After all, a true all-rounder is traditionally defined as a player who’s good enough to make the team as either a batsman or a bowler (like Ian Botham or Imran Khan). The sad truth is that only one of England’s ‘all-rounders’ belongs in this bracket: Ben Stokes. And then he should be batting at 6 or 7 rather 5 (especially after bowling so many overs).
This presents England’s braintrust with a bit of a problem. If the likes of Moeen, Rashid and (at this early stage of his development) Sam Curran cannot be called ‘all-rounders’ then what are they? I’m afraid the only recognised term in common usage I can think of is ‘bits and pieces cricketers’. And test cricket is no place for bits and pieces cricketers – no matter how much Ed Smith and England’s management pretend it is.
So where does the team go from here? England have two options. We either keep picking guys who aren’t good enough to be consistent – there’s a reason why England’s performances oscillate wildly you know – or we go back to basics, stop being cute, and pick the best specialists available. And that means immediate recalls for Stuart Broad and Jack Leach. Ben Stokes is the only all-rounder we need to balance the XI. How many bowlers does a side need for heaven sake?
The problem, of course, is that our batting cupboard is looking a tad threadbare. My solution therefore would be to tell the likes of Buttler that they’ve got to stop hiding down the order, pull their weight as a specialist batsman by scoring the centuries any specialist batsman should be expected to make, or make way for someone who can. And this applies to Bairstow at 3 too. If he can’t hack it at first drop then England have to make some tough decisions and choose between Jos OR Jonny at 5. At the moment we’re shoehorning players into the side even if this means forcing square pegs into round holes.
The big question is whether England are brave enough to admit they’ve got their overall philosophy wrong – a philosophy that can only ever result in an erratic and unpredictable side. Unfortunately I don’t think they are. I just can’t see Ed Smith and Co admitting that they’re not so clever after all. They’ve invested too much in certain players. What’s more, they can always shrug their shoulders and point to that bare cupboard.
However, if they were to do the latter then at least they might stop pretending that packing the side with bits and pieces cricketers is some sort of genius ploy. They’ll finally have to admit that it’s actually a highly inconvenient necessity because our domestic system simply isn’t producing the quality red ball specialists it used to. And at that point the ECB will have to explain why.
We all know the answer to that, of course. But the wider public may not. And they should.