Disaster in Durham: day one at Chester-le-Street

How to explain that?

For a start we need to go back to the ridiculous hype which followed Lord’s. Even at the time, all the self-satisfied talk of ‘ten-nil’, of the Aussies’ woefulness, and our assured Ashes dominance in perpetuity, sent a foreboding chill down my spine.

Far too many observers and supporters were glib and complacent, and from that moment on it became inevitable that Australia would come back at us hard.

Not that the players themselves were complacent, as some have suggested. From where I’m sitting,  they are all desperate to win, and trying their hardest – the reasons they’re not delivering are more complex than that.

From 107-1 and 149-2, what happened next was heart-breaking, especially as according to the script, yesterday should have been so different. What was supposed to have happened was this: we were going to prove that Old Trafford was an aberration, show who was boss, and put paid to our batting blips via centuries from our two out-of-form batsmen, Cook and Trott.

Well at least that last part half came true – the pair scored exactly 100 runs between them, and although they should have progressed further, it was ironic that our most maligned two batsmen, of late, both played well, amid such a debacle.

The real tragedy was that we’d done all the hard work. There was no 30-3 this time – instead, the new ball weathered, and a solid platform built, Cook and Trott were well on top, and the Australian bowling looked flat.

Even at the time, I could feel in my heart that Trott’s dismissal was not only a grievous blow, but would probably change everything . He had been playing almost flawlessly until then and looked nailed-down for a century. His downfall came out of nowhere and completely against the run of play.

What happened next was made even more galling by the fact the Aussie bowlers were less sharp or effective than they had been at Old Trafford. Some commentators were full of praise for them yesterday, but to my eye both Harris and Siddle were down in pace and off their lines and lengths.

There is no single explanation for our disastrous collapse. A team of batsmen are a group of individuals who play independently of each other, and whose fortunes are only indirectly linked.

So I get irritated not only by glib blandishments such as ‘England batted poorly today’, but also by exorbitant anger towards batsmen for failures. No test batsman on earth wants to lose their wicket; do you think any of our lot yesterday tried to get out or were happy about it?

The disaster began with KP making a misjudgment. Cook’s demise is open to debate: TMS thought it was his fault, while on Sky, Strauss and Gower both thought it was a great ball any left-hander would leave.

Bell was out to a trademark shot which, ill-timed as it was, everyone usually praises him for. That left us in serious trouble, made worse by Prior and Bairstow’s tactics. In one sense, you could say they tried to play unselfishly and sensibly, but the stratagem simply didn’t work. If you just sit there, not playing a shot for over after over, waiting to get out, then eventually you will, as Prior did – and in terms of runs you’ll have nothing to show for it.

The truly calamitous feature of our batting was the way we went from one extreme to the other – either a grossly exaggerated degree of defence, or ludicrously risky shots in a bid to break the shackles, like Bairstow and Broad. Instead, they should have tried to calmly work the ball around for singles and rotate the strike, Graham Thorpe-style.

There was a huge amount of derision and vitriol directed at our batsmen yesterday – and some of it became too bitter and too resentful towards inexperienced individuals, such as Bairstow and Root.

But clearly we have some significant underlying problems with our batting, and these now need some meaningful redress. We haven’t consistently amassed big totals for nearly two years now – what happened to our days of 500 plus?

There is something about the Cook/Trott/KP/Bell core which is not quite good enough, but which element do you change?

The really tricky part of our batting problems is that none of the new, young, players we’ve tried to integrate into the side have really worked out – with the partial exception of Joe Root, who may now need to drop down the order.

It’s very easy to say we have to sort out our batting, and refresh the personnel, but simply chucking a succession of hapless rookies into the side won’t achieve much.

Or is it less about selection, and more about attitude and approach? We have the best players available, but they just need to be more assertive, greedier, and more judicious?

Problems with English batting seem to have been a constant theme in my life for more than thirty years now. Was there ever a time when we didn’t worry about it?

1 comment

  • With the exception of Bairstow, no personnel changes can be made. There are very few talented middle order batsmen around. For me the problem is mental. We are frozen with anxiety (which comes from Cook, who has become a big worrier in recent months – just look at the champions trophy final). The problem is that Flower and Gooch have been entrenched in their positions for so long that there’s nothing they can possibly say that they haven’t already said to the team a million times before. The team looks stale to me. This problem has been going on since the UAE (India excepted) so habits are becoming ingrained. A fresh approach could be needed now as these failures have gone on too long without improvement.


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