And so it came to pass that England lost to the lowest ranked major test nation on earth by six wickets, inside three days, after being bowled out for a pitiful 123 on a pitch that wasn’t so bad after all. It’s beyond pathetic.
Had it not been for an inspired spell by our 32 year old seam bowler on the fifth day of the second test – a bowler who probably won’t be at his peak for much longer – we would’ve lost the series.
And yet some people tell us, with a straight face, that this team is making progress. Pull the other one.
Since Peter Moores took over England’s test and ODIs teams, he has lost four series, won just one, and overseen a disastrous and utterly humiliating world cup campaign. Although I hesitate to use the word ‘campaign’ as a military term like this implies some level of fight.
There will be those who argue that the test team is separate to the ODI team (as if World Cups hardly matter) and that performances in test cricket alone have been encouraging. These people are kidding themselves. If you think beating India at home in test cricket is a major achievement, I suggest you speak to their long suffering fans.
These are the naked, indisputable facts: in test cricket alone, Moores’ new team have played a combined ten matches against the three lowest ranked major nations in the world – Sri Lanka (6th), India (7th) and the West Indies (8th). We’ve failed to beat two of them, and stuttered to an overall record of won four and lost three.
If you think this record is good enough, I politely suggest your expectations are too low. Heaven help us when play the good sides. Recent series were supposed to be warm up exercises for the Ashes and South Africa – instead the side is still in a state of turmoil and transition. Next up we play New Zealand, another side ranked below us in the world rankings. They’ll seem like a veritable juggernaut compared to the bleedin’ West Indies.
I don’t really have the appetite for an autopsy of the third test. I’m more concerned with the broader context. However, I will say a few things …
Firstly, I think it’s something of a red herring to look for specific reasons why England lost in Barbados. You could argue we picked the wrong team and got the tactics wrong, but the bottom line is that we didn’t play well enough. Indeed, I’m actually going to surprise everyone here by sticking up for Moores and Cook for a bit.
Although selecting poor Jonathan Trott as an opener hasn’t worked out, I can understand why they did it. Cook is not a natural leader. He wants to surround himself with other senior players he can rely on. Take the review England wasted yesterday: Cook was unsure whether to challenge the decision until Trott trudged up from the outfield and shouted out ‘it has to be either glove or bat’. Cook immediately called for the third umpire without hesitation. Trott was wrong. Cook looked stupid.
When it comes to the opening partnership, Cook had been in poor form for almost two years. Any other player would have been dropped. Selecting Trott was a comfort blanket for him. Cook has played some of his most productive innings with Trott at the other end – maybe his batting would suddenly ‘click’ if he could rekindle some good memories with his old mate. It was a forlorn hope, but I can understand the logic.
Unfortunately, having selected Trott to play in the first test, they had to give him all three games. Cook had endured poor form for two bloody years. To drop Trott – who has a test record just as good as Cook (in fact, Trott’s average against the best teams is actually better than the skipper’s) – would have been hypocrisy of the highest and most obvious order.
Secondly we come to the Adil Rashid issue. This is the issue that has most people fired up. The truth is that Rashid probably should’ve played in hindsight. But captains and coaches don’t have the benefit of hindsight.
Had they dropped Stokes for Rashid in Barbados there would have been uproar. Meanwhile, Chris Jordan had a good game. His catching kept England in the hunt.
I like Rashid as a cricketer, but they often say you’re a better player when you’re not in the side. I’ve followed Rashid’s career very closely and he’s had a bit of a rollercoaster.
The bottom line is that Rashid has never really fulfilled his potential. He has sometimes been Yorkshire’s second spinner, and was dropped from the first team altogether not so long ago. His first class average is 35 and his economy rate 3.5. These are not good statistics.
I saw Rashid bowl twice last season. The first time he was very good; the second he was absolutely appalling. Given that he bowled terribly in the warm-up game at St Kitts, it’s hardly surprising that England didn’t trust him.
There will be those who say England shouldn’t have picked Rashid in the squad if he wasn’t going to play. This is overlooking an important point. The selectors pick the squad. The captain and coach then choose the final XI from that squad. While the selectors obviously rate Rashid to a certain extent, Moores and Cook do not. And that is up to them.
It’s also worth noting that a key member of England’s brain-trust, Paul Farbrace, has known Rashid for a long time having coached him at Yorkshire. He knows more about the guy than you and I; therefore while I can understand the criticism coming England’s way, I do not think the Rashid issue is as clear cut as some think.
Having said all that, do I believe that Moores and Cook are the men to lead our team forward? Absolutely not. Neither is up to the task. I’ve said all along (since about 2007 in fact) that Peter Moores is out of his depth in international cricket, and that Alastair Cook is far from being the alpha male swooning journalists pretend he is.
My issues with Moores and Cook are long term, not short term, and yet another episode in which they ultimately made the wrong calls (even if they were for the right reasons) doesn’t alter my opinion of them one bit. It simply reaffirms what I’ve always thought: that they’ll make decisions that ultimately prove to be poor ones more often than not. That’s why both should go (not that I expect them to).
From where I’m sitting, neither Cook nor Moores seems to have the charisma, dynamism or cricketing IQ required to lead international cricket teams. When was the last time you heard them say something insightful when interviewed?
Ask yourself this: would you follow Alastair Cook and Peter Moores into battle? I’d certainly fight alongside them – superficially they both seem like decent blokes – but would they inspire you to great deeds? Would you jump out of the trenches and into no-man’s at their behest? Would they fire you up and make you believe in a cause? Vanilla doesn’t have that effect on me I’m afraid. I doubt it fires up England’s players either.
Whilst there is an argument that test matches are won by players – and that a coach is only as good as his players – I think this argument is simplistic. Look at the way Darren Lehmann transformed Australia’s ailing fortunes. Look at the way Tim Sherwood has put the fire back into Aston Villa. It’s a coach’s job to make everyone better. Peter Moores is making everyone worse. It’s happening all over again.
When it comes to Cook, some people will argue that his position is safe. He scored a hundred and therefore everything’s ok. Rubbish.
Cook’s batting and his captaincy are different issues. Cook’s century does nothing more than simply justify his place in the side at long last. As a leader he is failing. Peter Moores says he’s still learning. What?! He’s 30 years old; he’s played over 100 tests; he’s captained England almost 30 times. How much longer does he bloody need? How much slack are we going to cut this bloke?
The problem with sacking Cook, however, is that I don’t trust him to relinquish the captaincy with good grace. Would he really return to the rank and file with goodwill?
Cook has come across as extraordinarily self-entitled in recent months. He believes the side is his – and his by birthright – and he’s incredibly indignant when his role is questioned. By backing him to the hilt, and mollycoddling him through the years, I fear the ECB has created a monster.
Maybe, just maybe, Cook’s presence in the team would hurt whoever takes over as captain. There’s a reason why captains often walk into the sunset when their tenure comes to an end.
Consequently it might, might, be better to retain Cook as captain until he’s a busted flush as a batsman – something that could well happen by the end of the Ashes. One century against a team that predominantly bowled spin at him (Samuels came on in the tenth over) does not prove his ability to play top class fast bowling. The problem is, keeping Cook as captain might damage our Ashes hopes. This England team needs a culture shift – which is why the impending arrival of Andrew Strauss as MD is such utterly depressing news.
When it comes to finding a replacement for Moores, I’m afraid I’m not on the Gillespie bandwagon. I’m sure he’s a good coach; but then again, Yorkshire have some very good players. I might also add that Dizzy’s stint as a summariser on Sky during the Ashes whitewash didn’t reveal a particularly sharp cricketing mind. For what it’s worth, the best points were usually made by Mark Butcher and Marcus Trescothick.
The main reason I’m against Gillespie though is very simple: he’s an Aussie. Would you want Jurgen Klinsmann to be England’s football coach? It just wouldn’t feel right. Asking one of your bitterest rivals to rescue you seems like an admission of cricketing defeat. It’s not a matter of xenophobia for me; it’s a matter of pride.
So where do England go from here? The future is very uncertain. A brief glance at the papers and social media reveals the usual crap: depending on who you read (or listen to) England’s defeat is all down to either Moeen Ali or Colin Graves. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the only people who lose their jobs are Trott and Mo.
When it comes to Trott, I’m afraid he just doesn’t look like an opener. Lyth must play against New Zealand or any sense of meritocracy will be lost. As for Mo … well it’s complicated.
Moeen didn’t bowl well. He’s clearly out of form at the minute. But he’s not the first spinner to disappoint on day five of a test match. James Tredwell was just as ineffective Antigua. Monty blew it on a number of occasions too. And Swann wasn’t perfect all of the time either.
What’s more, England aren’t exactly blessed with quality replacements. Four seamers with Root and Mo is probably the best we can do right now. South Africa’s test team has survived without a quality spinner for what … about twenty years now? We need a bowler of genuine pace just as much as we need a quality spinner.
Even though he’s bowled badly in the West Indies, Mo has taken 28 wickets at 29.5 in his first nine test matches. That’s not a bad return. What’s more, he might very well have scored a century in the first innings had he not been run out by his skipper.
Is Moeen the long-term answer for England? Only time will tell. And it would be unfair to deny him this time when others have been granted it in bucketfuls. I was extremely disappointed by Ian Botham’s emotional post-match comments. Someone with his Worcestershire connections should have been more sympathetic.
The final point I’d like to make is this: how on earth is all this Colin Graves’ fault? Some people amaze me. The Windies won the third test, not the first. Were Graves’ comments relevant when the Windies collapsed in a heap in the second test? Thought not. So why are they suddenly relevant now?
The truth is that Graves only said what us fans were thinking. He probably shouldn’t have said what he did – it’s not becoming for a chairman of any cricket board to comment on the opposition – but to blame Graves for the defeat is scraping the barrel somewhat.
The problem is that some journalists have backed Cook and Moores to such an extent – and have so much invested in them after the Pietersen furore – that they simply cannot accept it when their darlings fall flat on their faces. Other scapegoats have to be found.
One wonders whether Cook would be idolised in the same manner had these journalists not crowned him as the new messiah back in 2005 and 2006. Having hyped someone up to the heavens, it doesn’t look good when said talent turns out to be something less than extraordinary. It’s better to keep pretending eh.
It will be interesting to see how long Ian Bell gets if he fails against New Zealand. Although Bell and Trott have more or less identical test records to Cook, it looks like poor Trotty is already out on his arse.
Everyone is assuming that Trott has suffered a recurrence of his mental illness, but this isn’t necessarily the case. It will be interesting to see if Trott goes back to Warwickshire after this game or takes another extended break from the game. For his sake, I hope he’s ok and the problems we’ve witnesses on this tour are technical not mental.
Either way, if Jonathan Trott doesn’t play for England again, then we wish him all the best. He’s been a great servant for England and it’s sad to say goodbye.
And if this really is the end then there’s a broader significance to Trott’s departure. It’s a reminder that times change and people move on – people who were once portrayed as indispensible. Maybe there’s a lesson there for everybody.