Lamentable Lions

Snow. It used to mean carefree days off school and sledging in local parks. These days it means relentless childcare and having snowballs chucked in your face. Sigh. However, at least I’m having a better time than the England Lions. They’ve just been thrashed 0-3 in their ‘test’ series against West Indies A. That’s the West Indies A side of 2018, not 1978, by the way. Many people assumed this tour would be a breeze. Instead it’s turned into a winter hurricane.

We might be feeling a tad cold back in Blighty at the moment, but the Lions batsmen totally froze on this tour. Andy Flower has tried to put a positive spin on proceedings, pointing out that the Windies side contained quite a few players with international experience, but nobody is buying this nonsense. This humiliating defeat is extremely worrying and suggests that the players coming through the ranks aren’t nearly as good as some would have us believe.

Although the tour started off on a relatively positive note with a draw in the warm-up game against a Jamaican XI, this was the only real highlight of the tour. Indeed, the wickets taken by Jamie Porter and Toby Roland Jones, and the runs scored by Keaton Jennings and Joe Clarke, provided a completely false sense of optimism heading into the test series. In fact, Jennings’s century was the only first class century recorded by a Lions batsman all tour. Oh dear.

The first test was actually quite competitive. England made 252 in the first dig, with Jennings, Nick Gubbins, and Paul Coughlin making good half-centuries. It might not have been a huge total but the Windies replied with a similar score. However, it all went pear-shaped in the second half of the game when the ball started to rag like a Delhi dustbowl. The Lions struggled to 132 all out, and the home side narrowly chased the runs down despite a spirited performance from Jack Leach who claimed 5-26. The man of the match was slow left-armer Jomel Warrican, who blew England away with 7-33 in the second innings. More about him later.

Unfortunately the second test was anything but competitive. England were on the receiving end from the word go. Warrican did his damage on the first day this time, blowing the Lions away for just 145. He claimed an amazing 8-34 (an amazing feat for a spinner on day one) with his spin twin Rahkeem Cornwall picking up the other two wickets. I can’t remember the last time all ten wickets fell to spin on the first day of any match. Only Joe Clarke offered any resistance with a useful knock of 56.

Sadly England’s spinners were unable to follow Warrican and Cornwall’s heroics. Jack Leach again performed admirably, claiming 6-138, but he was unable to stop the home side scoring over 400. Jahmar Hamilton, who only averages 26 in first class cricket, scored an excellent hundred. England’s main seamers, Porter and Roland Jones, took just one wicket in 21 combined overs and conceded nearly 4.5 runs per over. Mason Crane was basically anonymous, and was out-bowled (not for the first time) by Liam Livingstone’s part-timers.

Facing a first innings deficit of nearly 300 runs, England’s batsmen were bowled out cheaply once again. It was all getting rather predictable now. Only Liam Livingstone impressed with the bat – although his 48 wasn’t quite the major innings the Lions desperately required. The other batsmen succumbed meekly to spin once again, with Warrican and Cornwall sharing 8 wickets this time. The result was a miserable innings defeat.

If you’ve been following the recently completed third test you’ll know that things didn’t really improve. England played around with their team selection (Sam Northeast replaced the injured Livingstone and Saqib Mahmood also got a game) but the result was depressingly familiar: the Windies made 236, Warrican and Cornwall skittled the Lions for a paltry 102, and the game was basically up. Haseeb Hameed showed some promise with a painstaking 48, but the others folded like Britain’s transport network in the face of a few inches of snow.

After the Windies made 273-9 in their second innings (which was plenty in the circumstances), the Lions never looked remotely like chasing their target of 408. The most frustrating thing was that eight batsmen made starts and scored 14 or more runs, but nobody reached more than 26! How utterly depressing. Once again our batsmen had no answer to Warrican, who picked up another five-fer. He must have been bowling like Bishan Bedi and a Bangalore Bunsen. A defeat by the decisive margin of 212 runs seemed about right.

The main thing we can take from this disastrous tour is that English batsmen (particularly our young batsmen) are still absolutely hopeless against spin. If anything the situation is probably getting worse. No wonder Ben Duckett looked so horribly unprepared for test cricket in India last winter. I imagine any of the batsmen on this Lions tour would’ve struggled in precisely the same manner.

With the lack of quality spin bowling in the championship (and the height of summer increasingly reserved for white ball cricket) it’s hard to know how England can improve in this area. Andy Flower argued that this ‘learning experience’ would be good for our young players but I’m not so sure. I mean, how much can one learn from getting absolutely hammered? It’s not like many of the batsmen actually improved (and slowly figured things out) as the tour progressed.

Although the likes of Jennings, Hameed, Clarke, Coughlin, and Livingstone all had their moments, none of our batsmen showed any consistent ability to cope. In fact nobody averaged more than 28. I still think that a couple of these batsmen have the talent to succeed in international cricket (Clarke has all the natural talent in the world and we all know that Hameed has the temperament) but one senses they’re not quite ready to step up to the test team yet.

It’s hard to find many positives when a team loses 0-3 (with two of the defeats absolutely hammerings), however there were a couple of encouraging performances by the bowlers. Jack Leach was clearly the star of the tour. He took 18 wickets at 21 in the series and thus demonstrated, yet again, how mentally feeble and totally unprepared he is for international cricket. Ahem. Dom Bess also impressed in his only outing and took 5-112 in the third game.

The biggest disappointment of the tour was Mason Crane. If he was anywhere near a test quality leg spinner at this point then he surely would have enjoyed more success – especially as the conditions suited spin bowling. Instead Crane had a bit of a shocker, and picked up just one wicket in 26 overs at an average of 115. In fact, it was quite apparent that captain Keaton Jennings had a lot more faith in Livingstone’s leg-breaks. When the game was on the line in the first test, and England were defending a small total, Livingstone bowled 12 overs whereas Crane was only trusted with 2. That kind of says it all really.

It’s always fascinating to follow Lions tours, and work out which players might be next in line for a test call up, but I’m afraid that this tour has taught us very little. In fact, in many ways it’s made the selectors look rather foolish too. When England stroll out to play New Zealand at Eden Park later this month, Joe Root’s spinning options will be Mason Crane and Moeen Ali. How on earth can that be right?

James Morgan

2018-03-02T16:14:02+00:00March 2nd, 2018|England Lions|28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Hungerpang March 2, 2018 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    I don’t think the motivation is there for youngsters any longer. It’s hardly surprising. The choice is between working really hard and playing lots of long matches for little money, or developing the ability to hit 50 off 20 balls one innings in four and making a fortune. I know which I’d have been aiming for as a kid!

    Typical of Flower to be whingeing about how the WI squad included players with International experience when England’s squad included Jennings, Haseeb, Roland-Jones and Crane. He’s years past his sell-by date and should be fired after this debacle.

  2. Nick March 2, 2018 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    The Lions is an odd beast part development side, part England second team.

    Jennings, Gubbins and Hameed have not scored the runs in the last 12 months to suggest they are some of the best 10 batsmen England could select they must have great personalities because they haven’t scored any runs since 2016 baring Jennings debut Test ton. England are putting a heavy investment into they guys but it will take a big reversal in their returns for it to pay back as early as next winter.

    With so many holes in the Test team then it would be nice if they focus was a little more short term. The four highest English runs scorers in Div 1 last summer who aren’t in the First team or retired were Burns, Browne, Ballance and Alex Davies but they were nowhere to be seen and Northeast who have been racking them up in div 2 had to wait for two injuries.

    Its nonsense that Leach isn’t going to NZ, England are far too early on Crane international cricket is not a creche and they prevented him from having a winter in Grade Cricket and now he will sit on the sidelines and watch in NZ and watch at Hampshire.

  3. James March 2, 2018 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    Hmm. I doubt a spinner would have been the bowling star had we been playing the West Indies A of 1978* (my money would have been on Sylvester Clarke or Wayne Daniel, neither of whom were known for flight and subtlety). Warrican seems to have been the star, taking 31 wickets (which is impressive in a 3 match series). And yes, Warrican has played test cricket (4 tests, 11 wickets at 46 each). So have several of the Lions (Hameed, Jennings, Roland-Jones, Crane), so it’s hard to know why Flower mentioned it. Judging by England’s last tour of India, playing spin is not a skill set that gets taught in the development programme, so it’s not surprising the Lions can’t do it either. The most positive way to look at this, perhaps, is that recent results suggest that West Indies cricket is on an upward curve at last. This England supporter, at least, was delighted to see them win at Headingley last year.

    *The “West Indies A of 1978” is actually a slightly odd concept, because they were playing tests as West indies then, due to Packer, but never mind.

  4. lionel joseph March 2, 2018 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    I watched a lot of the Nagico Super 50 series and while Kent and Hampshire struggled with the alien conditions early in the tournament, there were real signs improvement throughout the tournament. A few of the batsmen worked things out, particularly Bell-Drummond and Zak Crawley.
    So perhaps it’s not that our young batsmen are categorically hopeless against spin, perhaps we do have some real talent, but perhaps, just perhaps, it only goes pear shaped when it’s placed under the tutelage of england’s most overrated coach, a man who massively underachieved with an outstanding squad when he coached the big boys, and whose advice for batsmen against spin seem to be limited to instructions to sweep, and then sweep some more.

    • AB March 2, 2018 at 3:21 pm - Reply

      “advice for batsmen against spin seem to be limited to instructions to sweep, and then sweep some more.”

      I went to a coaching workshop on how to coach batting against spin, and this is the useless advice coming down from the ECB hierarchy. Its like its 1995 and they’ve just heard about this new shot that Dermot Reeve is playing.

      • AndyB March 2, 2018 at 4:10 pm - Reply

        The difference with Dermot Reeve was that his advice to his Warwickshire team was to sweep and reverse sweep, but never to play the same shot twice in a row. He was the master of mixing it up and confusing the opposition, which was never more true than in his bowling when I am fairly sure he had no idea what he was going to do before his final stride……..so there was no chance the batsman knew.

  5. AB March 2, 2018 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    “English batsmen (particularly our young batsmen) are still absolutely hopeless against spin”

    Probably the first time a lot of them will ever batted on a pitch that turned. If they’ve gone through the usual private school, county age-group, academy system, they will have played entirely on plush, highly manicured wickets you could eat your dinner off, combined with plenty of indoor nets.

    You’d get better results picking a bunch of club players.

    I bet they’d stuff the West Indians in a game of “who can look best against the bowling machine” though.

  6. Metatone March 2, 2018 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    I’ve said this before re: the Test team, but while I’m not Duncan Fletcher’s biggest fan, one thing he did well was take a bunch of players (esp. tail enders) who you would expect to be mesmerised by a great spinner (Warne) and teach them how to cope, by giving them an approach and plan for batting to the spinner.

    That in itself won’t fix all problems and likely wouldn’t have saved the series for England, but it’s long past time we asked questions of coaching staff (looking at Mr Flower re: Lions) who don’t attempt to do this kind of simple thing.

    • Benny March 2, 2018 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      Players in exile have returned to Zimbabwe now that Mugabe has gone. Hint, hint Mr Flower.

  7. Lord Ted March 2, 2018 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    First of all thanks for speaking up on this, it is, & has been, blindingly apparent for some considerable time that the ECB’s development programme is an abject failure. Any sensible Board of any commercial organisation would look at the performance of England junior teams over the last several years & ask itself “where is the return on our investment?” The Lions are only part of the problem; look at the pitiful performances of the U19s in the World Cup over the last decade. When David Graveney took responsibility for the junior elite player development process he publicly boasted that England expected to win the next U19 World Cup; well,that was 4 competitions ago, during which time England haven’t made a final, let alone seriously competed to win.

    The Lions squads are effectively selected by the ECB brains trust who take little note of County performances, simply choosing to stick with the players who are on their ludicrous “international pathway”. It is obvious to all but the most blinkered that many of the players selected for the current tour were either hopelessly out of form, lacking in any domestic track record, not fully recovered from injury or just plain old not good enough.That is what happens when you cede control of the development of players to the likes of Graveney & Flower; faithful time servers of the ECB, with less than stellar track records & tired outmoded strategies whom the organisation has neither the balls nor the wit to remove.

    Here are a couple of (not very) radical suggestions for the ECB to consider for the future, should they ever develop the ability to listen to anyone but themselves;

    1. Limit the Lions squads to a maximum of no more than 3 players over the age of 25.
    2. No player who has played less than 10 FC matches on the previous season to be eligible for selection if it is an FC tour;
    3. In addition to the international pathway players select the the 4 players, in the age group, with the best bowling or batting numbers from the previous FC season.
    4. Adopt the Australian mentality of selecting young, home grown talent always ahead of foreign players who having been selected for their home country’s development programme, failed to make the grade, for whatever reason.
    5. Appoint coaches with the credibility & track record to positively influence & inspire young players (at the U19 CWC our team was prepared by an ex marine with moderate credentials; India were led by Rahul Dravid; enough said.)

  8. AndyB March 2, 2018 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    The problem can be neatly identified by looking at just one player, Sam Hain, who has been called up for the white ball games. As an 18 year old in his first season in Championship cricket Hain looked a world beater and batted with a technique and temperament which was reminiscent of Lord Boycott of Flat Earth at his most obdurate.He became Warwickshire’s youngest scorer of a century, and then of a double century. Wind forward 4 years and he has not been able to buy runs in red ball cricket for the last 2 years. Warwickshire have coached him to become better at baseball and, in the process his technique has suffered in red ball and he no longer looks to bed in for an hour before chasing runs. And this is happening at all counties. If it can ruin a bat like Hain it can end the red ball careers of lesser talents. And that is what we are seeing with the batsmen taken to the Windies. I absolve only Hameed (who I doubt anyone would even try to turn into a white ball player).

    • Cricketcricketcricket March 2, 2018 at 5:01 pm - Reply

      Sadly the ecb and lancs coaches tampered with hameed and told him he had to ‘expand his game’ and ‘increase his intensity’..

      Result… hameed hasn’t scored a run for 12 months now..

      Yet again, coaching and white ball affecting things but hey.. thy have ecb coaching quals a pond a few degrees so know whatnot their talking about right.. oh and done a bit of kids stuff at ‘county’

    • Lord Ted March 2, 2018 at 6:18 pm - Reply

      You make an excellent point. It’s also worth pointing out that he is a former Australia Age group player, as Jennings was for South Africa. It is a fact that were a former England U19 to rock up in Australia they would struggle to be selected for State cricket, let alone work their way into the national set up. Put simply, if pointedly, if they can’t hack it at home, what makes you think they are gong to be any better here?

      • AndyB March 3, 2018 at 9:15 am - Reply

        Except that Hain chose not to make it in Oz, and they were furious. He is Hong Kong born (with a UK passport) of English parents whose job took them around the world, including Australia. He came to school in England when he was 14 and was spotted by Warwickshire but, quite reasonably, accepted selection for Australia U19’s as a 16 year old as he was not on England’s radar at that time. Not a typical country swapper background.

        • Lord Ted March 3, 2018 at 11:46 am - Reply

          I bow to your superior knowledge on this of course; however why would he accept an invitation to play for Aus U19 when he was already in the UK? Either you are an English player with ambition to play for England or you are not, irrespective of whether you are on the “ radar”.

          • AndyB March 4, 2018 at 10:56 am - Reply

            He was 16 and I think most of us would have grabbed international recognition at that age. The unfortunate thing is that he then played in the World U19 tournament age 17. If he had only played in U19 tests it would not have impeded his England qualification. But playing in the worlds as an U19 does set the clock on qualifying.

  9. SimonH March 2, 2018 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    On selection – just to pick one example, why on earth was Nick Gubbins (2017 CC average 24) selcted ahead of Rory Burns or his own county opening partner?

    On the coach – it needs to be said again, Flower has never shown any talent for recognising or nurturing young talent. His coaching skill has been in squeezing more out of established players. Some of the guff he comes out with in that Guardian interview is laughable: “Selection is not down to me” (funny how players he’s backed like Vince and Dawson get selected); “most reasonable people understand results are not always connected to resources” (yeah, Leicester won the Premiership once but 19 times out of 20 a moneybags’ lot win); “we have lost on big turning pitches and batsmen haven’t coped” (I love the way he manages to phrase things like this as if it has nothing to do with him); “people underestimate them [WI] and denigrate them but they are proud performers and have a lot of talent” (people like the ECB chairman?). Isuppose e should be grateful the Guardian managed one article on the tour because the rest of the UK media have ignored it completely.

    Meanwhile, in Durban a fantastic Wasim Akram-esque display of reverse swing by Mitchell Starc, ably backed up by Nathan Lyon, has put Australia on top in the First Test there.

    • lionel joseph March 2, 2018 at 5:04 pm - Reply

      Just remember it’s never ever Andy Flower’s fault. Ever. Even when the forecast rain comes in the morning of the final day of a Test at Headingley exposing the previous day’s setting of a total as being moronically conservative, it’s the groundman’s fault for not getting the cover’s off quickly enough. Not Andy’s. Ever.

    • Cricketcricketcricket March 2, 2018 at 5:06 pm - Reply

      Against a SA team falling apart and about to lose all their only half decent players to retirement…

      Red ball is in trouble and no one is willing to admit it or change things… 2020 all the way seems to be the message… win lose Cricket

  10. Marc Evans March 2, 2018 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    Maybe we should go the footie route, with under 17, under 19 and say an under 25 with a couple of over age players, as a sort of second X1, which used to be a common age group, There was an under 19 limited over tournament in the 70’s which gave opportunities to the likes of Gower, Gatting and Botham.
    I know cricket is more specialist than footie, but if we bring in the right coaches maybe we could address the twin problems of spin and express pace which seem to be fading out of the game over here.
    Ultimately we need to produce good cricket wickets and play the longer formats when these wickets are at their most responsive, so spin and pace have some incentive for youngsters to take up. The more competition there is the higher the standards should be, both bowling it and batting against it.
    On a more international note it I still good to see the beleaguered West Indians producing a player or two. They have been in the doldrums far too long. For any spectator who witnessed their succession of greats in the 70’s and 80’s, unrivalled in the modern game, the international scene has become a poorer place for their demise.

    • Cricketcricketcricket March 2, 2018 at 5:04 pm - Reply

      How are you going to identify the right coaches ?
      What is the right coach?
      Assuming all the leagues move to win lose Cricket.. where will youngsters learn to bat long ?
      Where will spinner learn to be attacking AND be able to bowl dry if they are only ever playing limited over slog fests
      How do you change a system where the people in it believe they are the best and believe in the qualifications they have

      • Marc Evans March 2, 2018 at 6:14 pm - Reply

        The right coaches are those with a successful international record. The problem is so many of them have been seduced by the easy option of a media career. However there are plenty of successful retired red ball players taking up coaching options, so it is a question of providing them with a more alluring contract than sky. I don’t care what nationality they are as long as they’re willing to make a commitment to help the national side.
        Look at the immediate impact Steven Gerard is having with the Liverpool youngsters. It would have been easy for him to go down the Shearer route. Surely cricket can find similar.

        • Cricketcricketcricket March 2, 2018 at 7:28 pm - Reply

          Sir Alex Ferguson
          Jose mourinhio
          Klopp
          Wenger

          Shearer
          Giggs
          Pep
          G.neville
          Keane

          Some top international players there.. some crap.. which made the best coaches ?

          • Marc Evans March 4, 2018 at 11:58 am - Reply

            It is different in cricket, where specialist technique is key to impart. In footie it is more about attitude, motivation and tactics, being more of a team game. How many players do we see looking great playing in one system and ordinary playing in another. Cricket coaching doesn’t have this problem.
            The reason I mentioned Gerard is here was is a top player who chose a low profile route, which coaching always is compared to a media career.
            Of course the best players do not always make the best coaches, as they are often self motivated individuals who have little interest in actively helping others, as you have to be patient with those less talented than yourself. However there are always those who do and get pleasure out of bringing the best out of others.

      • Ab March 4, 2018 at 10:58 am - Reply

        There’s plenty of scope for batting long in win lose cricket. A lot of 40 or 50 over cricket has long passages where the scoring rate is like a test match as teams look to build a platform against a good bowling attack with attacking fields

  11. Comte March 2, 2018 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    I’ve previously made no secret of my dislike of Flower. When it comes to assessing the value and potential of young players I would rather trust the judgement of many cricket fans (usually county members) who have followed the game for years and recognise and good thing (or a bad thing) when they see one. Unlike Flower, they haven’t a well remunerated role in the bloated England set-up, so don’t have to rely on (vocal) spin to justify their existence.
    On paper the Lions squad looked promising but they really haven’t made the most of their opportunities. Life is about grabbing the chances that come one’s way, something which most of these guys have failed to do.
    I’m especially disappointed in Joe Clarke, who I’ve seen a lot of . On his day he looks superb but he fails to consistently deliver for England. Is it a mental thing? I really don’t know. And he’s not alone.
    The ranks of county cricket are littered with guys who failed for the Lions, often because the coaches messed with their actions/batting techniques. We can neither bowl spin nor play spin. That is a problem to which I can see no answer given the way in which the ECB are trying to structure the game. Flower must go – now. Other than that I was quite taken by some of the suggestions in Lord Ted’s post.

  12. James March 5, 2018 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    Hi James. Don’t know if you’ve seen this. Aggers is firmly against moving the timing of the championship.

    = no spinners. = no fast bowlers. = 4 dobbers. Won’t win the Ashes.Jonathan Agnew added,
    Edward Bevan

    @EdBevanCricket
    County Champ games in April/Sept= no spinners= England Lions routed by unknown spinner in Jamaica.
    43 replies 31 retweets 230 likes
    Reply 43 Retweet 31

  13. Cricket-Now March 10, 2018 at 9:19 pm - Reply

    Stupid cricket all around

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