It has been a bit of a surreal few days. England’s ODI series in Asia’s favourite waterpark (otherwise known as Sri Lanka in monsoon season) continued with another washout. And then we had more accusations of spot fixing involving England and Australia players.
I don’t know about you but I reckon Al Jazeera should put up or shut up now. The ICC have asked them to hand over the evidence but thus far they’ve refused to comply. This makes we wonder why? Call me naive but I just don’t see why any England players would get involved in corruption. They’re so well paid these days. Unless they’re being blackmailed or threatened (in which case they can’t be blamed) I just don’t see a motive.
In better news – for England’s batsmen anyway – it has emerged that Rangana Herath is only going to play the first test in the upcoming series. Again this is a tad surreal. I can’t recall another cricketer playing a single test and then retiring mid-series. There have been retirements due to injury and poor form (Graeme Tango Man Swann springs to mind) but these weren’t predetermined decisions.
Apparently Herath is ‘reluctant’ to play in all three tests, and because he’s such a legend the Sri Lankan board don’t mind him bowing out after a farewell appearance at Galle. It’s a special venue for Herath because that’s where he made his debut. It’s also where he’s taken almost a quarter of his test wickets – a remarkable statistic.
I don’t know about you but I reckon this news gives England a much better chance in the series. Herath is Sri Lanka’s best bowler by some distance, and I’m sure that much our pre-tour planning would’ve involved finding strategies to counter him. This plan won’t be needed after Galle.
Instead the pressure will be on Sri Lanka’s other spinners who don’t have such impressive records. Dilruwan Perera is a tidy bowler, and I’m sure he’ll cause a few problems, but he’s not in Herath’s class. Hearth was very much the host’s banker, and it should be a lot easier for our attacking players to get after the other bowlers.
The key to success in this series, of course, will be England’s fragile batting line-up. There’s so much inexperience (at least in international terms) in the side. Burns will be making his debut, Jennings is still wet behind the ears too, and England will have to decide if Joe Denly is going to bat at 3.
Personally I would like to see Denly play because I don’t see Moeen Ali as a viable 3 in next summer’s Ashes; therefore there’s no point in using him as a stopgap this winter. I’d much rather we bed someone in for the longer term.
England will also have to decide if there’s room for another very young player in Ollie Pope. However, I’m not sure there will be a vacancy for the Surrey youngster because no doubt we’ll pick our usual plethora of all-rounders.
The success of our batsmen will depend very much on their mindset. We have to put this ‘live by the sword’ mentality to one side and play with grit and intelligence instead. I might very well spontaneously combust if I see a batsman throw his wicket away and then use the phrase “that’s the way I play”.
The problem is that batsmen simply can’t afford to make any mistakes whatsoever. Shot selection is absolutely key, and I’m not sure any of our players (Joe Root included in recent times) get that all important balance between playing positively but intelligently right.
There’s an interesting interview over at Betway Insider with Steve Bull, who was England’s psychologist between 1997 and 2014. England’s batsmen have definitely been more gung-ho since he’s left.
Bull makes some interesting points about the small margins between success and failure and how, if one does make a mistake, it’s easy to get into negative spirals:
“A slight error of technique and you are out. One mistake. The margin is so ridiculously small, and the consequences of a mistake are so huge. The knock-on effect is that after two or three low scores, the rest of the mechanisms kick in and the confidence starts to go. It can take you into the abyss.”
I often think that England’s batting collapses are partly caused by a weak mental approach. Whenever we’re under pressure our batsmen seem to lash out, which inevitably leads to more poor dismissals, and even more pressure. A vicious cycle is therefore created.
Playing in the subcontinent, and especially in Sri Lanka where it’s often incredible hot, requires immense self-discipline. The heats makes it even more difficult to concentrate; therefore I really think England’s task will be a physical one as well as a mental one. It’s hard to focus if one is exhausted.
I recommend giving that aforementioned article a read. It also includes an interview with Shiv Chanderpaul, who was obviously a master at digging in and playing long innings. One of the problems Shiv raises is that it’s hard to relax and feel confident when you’re new to the side. England’s rookies don’t have career runs in the bank so they’ll be extra nervous.
There are obviously some interesting parallels between Shiv and Rory Burns too. Both have somewhat ungainly (or perhaps I should say ‘unorthodox’) techniques. Players like James Vince are lucky because they look so stylish at the crease. And this can often win them more time to cement their place. When slightly awkward looking players struggle observers tend to write them off more quickly. It’s therefore really important that Burns starts well.
I’m looking forward to seeing how England’s batsmen approach this tour – both as a unit and as individuals. It should be fascinating to watch. That’s if the weather behaves itself.