I’m writing this a little sheepishly to be honest. Why? Because I don’t want to write this any more than you probably want to read it. One of the reasons why I write so infrequently these days is that my passion for English cricket has diminished considerably. To be frank, I’m almost past caring.
However, someone’s got to write a ‘reaction’ to our limp 1-3 surrender in India. So here I am. Somewhat begrudgingly. And I’ll start by simply embedding one of my tweets from yesterday.
England got hammered the last time we toured India. What have we done in the intervening period to improve our chances? Nowt. We made things worse by hindering the devt of spinners in 1st class cricket. So this result isn’t a surprise. They accepted it was always likely #INDvEND
— The Full Toss Blog (@thefulltoss) March 6, 2021
This tweet made a simple point but it’s worth repeating. The ECB didn’t want England to lose this series 1-3. They wanted to win it. But equally they probably knew that all the decisions they’ve taken over the last few years made defeat extremely likely if not inevitable. They simply had other priorities.
Getting hammered by India can therefore be seen as collateral damage – a price they were perfectly willing to accept – in order to pursue other strategic goals: winning the World Cup, setting up The Hundred, and continually running down the county championship into a second class competition that they’d probably prefer to cancel altogether because, due to a variety of factors that aren’t all the championship’s fault, it doesn’t make any money.
So my question to you is this. What else did the ECB expect? What else did you expect? Those who have being paying attention would’ve seen this result coming a mile off. Our domestic competition doesn’t produce spinners or spinning wickets; therefore our batsmen can’t play spin. I almost felt sorry for them at one point. Poor Ollie Pope looked so out of his depth that it was almost unfair.
Now normally, after a comprehensive defeat, there would be calls for reform so that a humiliation like this never happens again. But I’m afraid that change simply isn’t going to happen. I doubt anyone will even bother calling for it as these calls will inevitably fall on deaf ears.
The truth is that the direction of travel is well and truly set. If you think they’re going to start prioritising the county championship any time soon then you probably believe that the moon is made of Emmental.
Instead, what we’re going to see is the actual opposite of what’s required to help England compete in India. The ECB’s priorities are simply incompatible with this goal. When England started resting players during the most important Test series for some time, so that they could play a full part in the subsequent T20s and the IPL thereafter, it was obvious that the game was up.
But I don’t just mean this game or this series. By ‘game’ I mean the whole shebang i.e. Test and first class cricket in general.
The following quote, from England’s lightweight head coach Chris Silverwood, who was inexplicably preferred to Gary Kirsten (who knows a thing or two about Indian cricket) on the basis that he did a better PowerPoint presentation at interview, finally confirmed what we all suspected last month. Here are his comments when questioned about England’s rotation policy in this series:
I can understand [that frustration] but I’m at peace with where we are at to be honest. Test cricket is something Joe Root and I are very passionate about. We prioritise Tests and T20 equally … I can guarantee that we are not prioritising anything above Test cricket.
This quote probably seemed innocuous to some. But it meant everything. It was probably, in my humble opinion, the single most significant piece of information ever disclosed by a significant figure in English cricket.
It revealed (or rather confirmed) that Test cricket – the traditional priority of the ECB and the England cricket team – is no longer considered the priority, or the pinnacle of the game. The honest Silverwood – who has gone from picking 5 seamers in some Tests to essentially just 3 specialist bowlers in Ahmedabad – had revealed too much. Ooops. He’s as hapless at this media business as he is at reading pitches and balancing XIs.
Fifteen years ago, when England won the 2005 Ashes after beating Australia in a solitary T20 at the Rose Bowl, the idea that T20 could ever be considered as important as Test cricket would’ve been considered heresy. But that’s where exactly where we are now – confirmed by England’s head coach himself. It’s devastating to me.
Silverwood’s comments showed that we have lost. The game I fell in love with is up – sacrificed by the very people who pretend they’re the custodians of it. Test cricket is slowly dying and all we’ve got to look forward to in another fifteen years from now is an endless diet of IPL, The Hundred, probably an annual World T20, and maybe the occasional ODI if we’re lucky. There might be an Ashes series but the standard will be greatly reduced because the batsmen won’t have the techniques to take the game into a fifth day (that’s if Tests haven’t become four day affairs by then).
So what does this all mean in practical on-field terms for England’s Test team? I’ll tell you what. It leads to a top six like this:
Sibley (test average 30)
And then there’s Jonny Bairstow, who ruined his technique in order to win white ball honours, averaging 34 in reserve, followed Jos Buttler, a man with just 7 first class hundreds in 115 games at average of 33 to follow.
I don’t want to have a go at Jos, because he seems like a decent guy who has at least shown signs of improvement over the last 12 months, but England’s obsession with him just about sums things up for me.
Buttler is probably the best England white ball player I’ve ever seen. But he’s also one of the most indulged and overhyped red ball players. Everybody acts like he’s some kind of Adam Gilchrist. But he’s not even as good as Matt Prior or Alec Stewart, let alone someone like Alan Knott. Jos has just one stumping in thirty Tests as keeper and made just two hundreds in 87 innings with the bat. Prior scored two tons in his first 25 innings. But who is / was the superstar?
So that, my friends, is why India absolutely crucified us. It’s because Joe Root is our only good Test batsman; our only player who averages over the 40 benchmark. Ben Stokes is a world class all-rounder but he’s not a world class batsman.
Just ten years ago we had a whole squad of players averaging over 40: Cook, Strauss, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Collingwood. That’s how fast and how far English first class cricket has fallen. At one point Pietersen, Cook and Trott even averaged over 50.
So well done, India. You thoroughly deserved your victory. But please also note that our disingenuous board – the people who run our game – didn’t take this series seriously. Not really anyway. It’s just wasn’t a priority. They didn’t care and so why, therefore, should we?
Not everybody likes Virat Kohli but I’ll say this about him. He cares about Test cricket. And his public support for Test cricket keeps it relevant in his country.
As for England, well, our inept performances were simply a consequence of the decisions the ECB have very consciously made over time. It was, in some respects, all part of the plan. Ignoring the fallout, and doing precisely nothing until the next time we travel to India and get demolished, is all part of the plan too.
We’ll probably be competitive in the white ball games though. Sigh.