Déjà vu All Over Again: a Newbie’s guide to England

L and H

We’ve had quite a few submissions from readers over the last few weeks. We’ve chosen to publish this one by Ayelet Haimson Lushkov, an assistant professor of classics at the University of Texas in Austin, because it’s the assessment of someone who has only been following cricket for a while.

It’s amazing how quickly Ayelet recognises the recurring themes of English cricket: disappointment, frustration and finally disillusionment. Welcome to our world mate … another fine mess, followed by yet another fine mess.

I’ve only been watching cricket for about 8 months now. The India Test series, the Sri-Lanka ODI series, the Tri-Series, and now the World Cup. Throw in all the highlights of recent Ashes series as well. But I already know that Graeme Swann was right in September, and he’s still right now: we never had a hope in hell at the World Cup.

This is true no matter how wide the frame: England are knocked out in the group stages as often, if not more than, it progresses. Anything beyond the quarter-finals is the miracle that makes all our fantasies survive just a little bit longer.

Part of it is just being English in sports – it’s not like the footballers do any better. But all of it has an inevitability about it that’s nothing short of infuriating.

Stuart Broad spoke in the summer about slow wide yorkers at the death – which is fantastic, if you have the pace and accuracy. But if you don’t, which England didn’t, why keep at it? Again and again and again, through middle overs and the opening and the death, regardless of how many runs were on the board.

Jordan came in at the last, but where was Tredwell? And regardless of the woeful bowling, it was the batting that really let England down – again and again, regardless of Hales or Morgan or Bell, all of whom were much vaunted but failed to deliver.

James Taylor remains very much the only good thing to come out of this – but even so nothing can quite mask the feeling that while England can theoretically bat, they never really had a sense of how to go about it.

Boundaries are the name of the game these days, but they’re hardly all there’s to it, and England refused, repeatedly, to play to their strength. Nudging and hurdling at a run a ball brings you comfortably to 300 at the end of your innings.

Playing with slips, as NZ have shown, restricts the opposition. There’s so much talk about England prioritising Tests at the expense of all other styles, but we never even got to see that style of play.

It’s fine and well to have a signature style, even if it’s not as showy as Australia or South Africa. But to have none at all? Confusion reigned.

This is where the frustration reaches a fever pitch, especially as an England fan who missed out on the highs of 2005 or 2010, or even 2013, and who very much wants to see us regain the Ashes, or at least not embarrass ourselves this summer. The inconsistency seems almost destructive.

New Zealand and Australia will both come to the English summer on a high, and a richly deserved one. But will England’s woeful one-day form carry overs to the Tests? How can it not?

Cook was mercifully spared this (and how the heart breaks for Morgan, a sacrificial lamb if ever there was one), but several other players will be devastated: will Ballance, who was so important last summer, overcome his demons? Will Finn, a valuable if erratic asset, ever recover his confidence? Can Anderson keep going forever? Will Broad move past his bouncer trauma? How many times will Root dig England out?

None of this is new, and there seem to be few answers forthcoming. The KP debate stirs up old ghosts, but honestly, what does it matter? No single player is greater than the team. Not Hales or Buttler, despite the media support, nor KP, nor anybody else.

If England wants a strong Test side, why drag key players through the ODI quagmire? If they want to win trophies, why insist on tactics that never worked?

It’s clear to lesser cricketing minds what needs doing. Hint: batters who can put on 400 runs or more, bowlers who don’t leak runs, and impeccable fielding. England needs skill and discipline to add to their talent and experience.

What’s more they need a calm centre and a straight bat in a tough situation. Above all, they need a plan, and a sense of purpose. Putting on the whites again might help, but Cook will have his work cut out for him.

Ayelet Haimson Lushkov



  • Hi Ayelet, can I ask why you support England assuming that you are not English (but perhaps you are).

    There are other options and your ‘choice’ dooms you to a lifetime consisting mostly of disappointment. Historically England just aren’t very good at cricket.

    They have their moments and this leads to the over the top celebrations when they achieve a modicum of success; Open top buses, MBE’s, anointing future captains on the basis that they aren’t as crap as everybody else, claiming wins over poor touring sides as the golden moment that things change in English cricket.

    The list really is inexhaustible and that’s before you even get to the management and old boys network running the show.

    Unless you are tied culturally or from heritage to support England perhaps cast your eye a little further.

    Bangladesh might be a good bet.

    • Love your comments. Funny and sadly spot on. The article was so impressive wasn’t it? He’s cottoned on quickly to the hell of English cricket. That’s why he’s a Professor I guess.

    • “They have their moments and this leads to the over the top celebrations when they achieve a modicum of success; Open top buses, MBE’s, anointing future captains”

      Ah, that brings to mind the open-top bus parades and ticket tape that Allan Border’s team received after winning the 1989 Ashes…

      “claiming wins over poor touring sides as the golden moment that things change in English cricket”

      England have won series in every Test playing nation since the turn of the millennium, something not many teams can boast about. They’re the golden moments for most fans.

  • Whilst I agree 100% with the author, what we can’t ignore is that everything comes and goes in cycles. I’m not necessarily saying it’s the players, but if you look at the date this author quotes, 2005, 2010, 2013 the recurring theme is that we were great then and pretty ordinary in between (although the India tour of 2012 is pretty much up there).

    So was it that the ECB and the Directors of cricket were at their best? Was it Duncan Fletcher and the Andy Flower who galvanised England into the best test team in the world and winners of the T20 in 2010? Or was is that we had great players at their peak? Vaughan, Harmison, Flintoff in 2005, Cook Struass, Trott, Swann in 2010, Bell, Root, Anderson in 2013? Oh and of course the constant in 3 of those teams……a certain KP.

    So when will we have to wait for the next cycle? For me, it can only start when we rid ourselves of mediocre Directors of the ECB and downright poor and out of touch coaches.


    • This is the most worrying thing. The lack of future talent, particularly in the bowling. We all had a chuckle when the great Aussie side came to an end in 2007. To lose so many great players in the space of a few years was always going to be tough. But the Aussie system has managed to replace some of them. Not Warne, but certainly in the fast bowling department.

      Gooch made a good point the other night on 5 live when he said most people have never heard of the New Zealand coach. It’s about players and producing future players. That is where the best coaches are needed. Not messing about with established techniques. If you need a coach to either motivate you or fiddle with your bowling action on the eve of an international tournament or match, you should not be playing.

      The American Ryder cup team are making the same mistake. They are desperate to find the Svengali non playing captain/coach. Here’s a hint for you USA. Produce better and more consistent golfers.

      • http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/837471.html

        It might be worth having a look at the book. What it reveals is that Cricket Australia did not handle the post-2007 period well.

        “…Brettig also does well to illustrate the additional self-inflicted wounds; shoddy succession planning, part-time selectors, muddled priorities, player mismanagement, widely panned changes to the structure of domestic cricket, and complacency. They give us a compelling account of the decision-making that blighted Australia’s regeneration.”

        Australia recovered in the end (though that can still be considered a work-in-progress – the next Ashes series will reveal a lot about just how strong Australia’s test team actually is). The question for English Cricket is whether the ECB can manage the same sort of turn-around. Or, how long it will take.

  • “The KP debate stirs up old ghosts, but honestly, what does it matter? No single player is greater than the team. Not Hales or Buttler, despite the media support, nor KP, nor anybody else”.

    Some good points in the article but I really don’t understand this. Who says KP either is or has to be greater than the team? He just has the be one of the six best batsmen. If he is, then he should be selected. That matters – meritocracy is the fundamental principle of sport.

    As for old ghosts, he is 34. I’m fed up of him being discussed like he is Dennis Compton or W.G. Grace. Wheels are in motion for Pietersen to return in the summer:


    Graves and Harrison take over two months today. They can’t change anything before the West Indies’ tour but, unless England annihilate the West Indies (and possibly even then), significant change is a real possibility.

  • I say, I say, you chaps, you’ve got it all wrong, there’s nothing we can’t do, we are a veritable minefield of exquisite tastes and cajones. That is why you are all so ‘outside cricket’ – poor dears. In the old days we’d round you up and throw you in gaol. Now, all we can do is hear your blithering nonsense in the background. Be away with you.

  • Maybe instead of a team song for the world cup the ECB should commission an all purpose dirge to play at the end of competitions —

    la la la
    The lads are hurting,
    They’ve only got pride to play for now
    Don’t wanna be a laughing stock,
    We let the stake-holders down
    la la la

  • Too many counties. The best players don’t play alongside or against each other often enough.

    Australia has just 8 state teams, and they’re a powerhouse in all formats of the game.

      • Good call. I’d forgotten that.

        Well, that makes my argument even stronger! All the best cricketers in OZ competing for just 6 x XI = 66 playing spots.

  • Hello Ayelet, thank you so much for your contribution to the eternal England cricket debate.
    It’s refreshing to have not only someone “outside crcket” but also from the USA, which gives added gravitas from the “outside” point of view?
    In focussing on the players however, you have succintly missed the point of the role of the Administrators and the “English Establishment”
    100 years ago Lord Chinless would have led out the England side, simply because he was ….a Lord! An emminently clubbable chap!! The fact that he scored 20 off 200 balls would only demonstrate his ability to show to the plebs the finer points of cricket! The fact that Albert Grimethorpe, jobbing miner, and professional cricketer would score 167 playing at No 9 would only demonstrate that he’s done what he’s paid to do!!
    Translate that to the retention of Alistair Cook, and others…
    Translate that to Morgan…remember….”No bullshit” who was talking exactly the same bullshit as Moores within a few weeks….there you have the Establishment at work!!

  • I know he isn’t well liked (OK, he’s probably hated) in English circles, but Ponting has made a few observations on the state of England’s ODI squad at cricinfo:


    “The teams heading into the World Cup quarter-finals have all got X-factor type players. But you don’t see that in the England line-up. Ian Bell is a class player but he’s not going to take a one-day game away from you. Moeen Ali has made a reasonable start but he’s in there for his bowling as well. James Taylor played well against Australia in Melbourne but he doesn’t fill opposition sides with apprehension. Joe Root has a lot of ability but even his technique can look rigid for one-day games.

    “Contrast that with Australia’s use of Glenn Maxwell, Brad Haddin and James Faulkner in the middle order, South Africa having AB de Villiers at No. 5, New Zealand choosing Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi, and even India most of the way down their batting order. England’s most explosive player is Jos Buttler, who has often found himself coming in to bat after the dominant theme of the innings has been established.”

    • “after the dominant theme of the innings has been established.”

      You see, this is it. I’m not sure that the present England side knows what a dominant theme is, still less have any idea that an innings has one. There’s a natural feel-it-in-your-bones awareness of the ebb and flow of a game, an instinct for it, that you see in the best players and teams and that seems to be missing in most of our players. Perhaps Buttler has it, I think Morgan used to have it. But the team as a collective just doesn’t.

  • St Paul’s Cathedral
    Today at the Cathedral
    11:00am Afghanistan Service of Commemoration
    A memorial service will take place at St Paul’s Cathedral today to mark the end of the Afghanistan conflict and the cricket continues as if nothing happened. Are the people of Afghanistan our friends now having been bombed into submission for 13 years?


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