We Really Are A Miserable Lot

When England crushed Australia mercilessly at Trent Bridge last summer, England fans celebrated ecstatically. The tourists just couldn’t cope with our rampant pace attack. Stuart Broad put in a career defining performance. Everything was rosy.

Although it wasn’t the strongest Aussie team of all time – they showed no fight and appeared more yellow than canary yellow – nobody really gave a damn. The Aussies has been slaughtered and that’s all that mattered. So why has England’s win against Sri Lanka at Headingley over the weekend been met with such a collective ‘meh’?

I suspect it’s because we all quite like the Sri Lankans. They’re generally inoffensive and there’s no great historical rivalry. When the Aussies are vanquished, we party hard because we remember the 1990s when gum chewing punks like Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting relished sticking it to us. They were arrogant, aggressive and vulgar as well as being bloody good.

Routing Australia last summer was both payback and a sort of therapy – a collective exhalation of pent up resentment. Nobody really gives two hoots that we’ve murdered Sri Lanka because we feel sorry for them. We’re a little embarrassed by our victory at Leeds. It was all too easy. “Not good for test cricket” a lot of people (including myself) have said.

However, perhaps it’s a little too easy to downplay England’s resounding win at Leeds? Maybe it’s too easy to shrug one’s shoulders and claim the result had more to do with Sri Lanka being absolutely terrible than England being good. After all, it takes two to tango. The fact of the matter is that Sri Lanka have just suffered their heaviest ever test defeat (in terms of deliveries faced). England have therefore made a little bit of history. It’s no mean feat.

Although Sri Lanka showed less backbone than a raspberry jelly, it shouldn’t disguise the fact that England’s bowling attack is historically good – by England’s standards at least. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are two of the best seamers in home conditions we’ve ever had. They might not be quite the same force overseas, but neither are fine bowlers like Ravi Ashwin once their home advantage is negated. Nobody is claiming that Broad and Anderson are all time greats of the game. But they are very, very good bowlers. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

What we saw at Headingley – and what we saw last summer too – is that England’s seamers make us a very good side at home. We’re not a complete team because our batting is still very much a work in progress, and we don’t have a quality spinner, but you have to be a very good side to beat England in England – just like you need to be a good team playing very well to beat India in India.

Considering where we were two years ago – and where we were for much of the 1980s and 1990s – I’ll happily take that. England have never had the best team in the world (not since I’ve been watching cricket any way) so I’ll happily take the positives for now and hope that we can find that elusive spinner and a couple of quality batsmen in time.

Consequently, rather than picking holes in England’s performance, and pointing out that the team still has weaknesses – after all, we all know what these are – perhaps it’s more constructive to celebrate Anderson and Broad’s achievements. They’re not my favourite England bowlers of all time, but they’re too good for most teams that visit our shores.

Maybe, just maybe, it was our bowlers that made Sri Lanka look utterly hopeless. They made Australia look hopeless last year, and our historical rivals have dominated just about every series they’ve played since last summer. Surely that tells us something?

What’s more, I have no doubts whatsoever that Broad and Anderson, ably supported by the impressive Finn and Stokes, would’ve been far too much for our batsmen to handle if roles were reversed. Do you think the likes of Hales, Compton and Vince would’ve fared much better against Jimmy on that pitch? I don’t.

The starting point for any test cricket team, or indeed any team in any sport, is to win your home games. The next step is to win them well. Only then can you realistically think about winning on the road regularly, lifting championships and creating a legacy.

At the very least England are doing the first two things right. Although I don’t agree with everything the selectors are doing (or not doing) – I’m worried they’re desperate to win in the short term to justify poor decisions in the past – it seems churlish to grumble when the team has just won by an innings inside three days.

Yes, recent progress has been built almost entirely around our skilful pace attack, alongside the brilliance of Joe Root, but it’s rare for cricket teams to have it all. I don’t remember too many England fans picking holes in the West Indies team when they relied exclusively on Curtley Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Brian Lara.

After years of being humiliated by our opponents – I remember Murali making complete mugs of us in the Sri Lankan heat on many occasions – I’m just glad the boot’s on the other foot for now. So why is everyone so thoroughly unimpressed with England win? Perhaps being unhappy is the only thing that makes us happy.

James Morgan


  • The reason I say “meh” is I remember South Africa in 2012.
    It seems in reality that “home conditions” is actually “home conditions in a wet summer.”
    (We’ve looked much less clever against Aus at home whenever the weather got dry, too.)

    Now I can cheerfully admit that most summers are plenty crap in England, but the fact remains, it’s entirely possible to get 2 dry Tests in, which is enough to lose us a series.

  • All you say is true, and another thing must be that the conditions were almost ridiculously rigged in our favour (no criticism of the team or selectors intended). May tests are an ECB/Sky idea, and I wonder if it’s time to discard or postpone them. The weather is always awful, and the games are one sided. Playing them later would also allow players to play IPL.

    • I definitely would like to see the schedule looked at. Even when it doesn’t rain it’s often just too cold to enjoy Test Cricket in Leeds/Durham/Manchester at this time of year as a spectator.

      I must admit I thrilled to Broad’s amazing Trent Bridge performance. There is something about the Aussies which means beating them at tiddlywinks in a rigged game still satisfies.

      I don’t think that’s true of any other team though and I did raise concerns through that entire series that once again we were coasting on the back of conditions and that damages our player development and thus our chances in other conditions.

    • May Tests are a ridiculous idea and are almost certainly going to be scrapped in 2019. There were reasons why England had never played them up until 2000 when the ECB decided it knew better than over a century of history.

      I do think, however, that the importance of the time of year has been overstated in the result of this last Test. The match reminded me of the last three Tests against India in 2014 and they weren’t early in the year.

      • May is frequently a really nice warm month, and June is often cold and damp.

        That’s the thing with the English summer, you know there will be some decent weather at some point, you just don’t know when its going to be.

        Personally I think the spring bank holiday weekend is the ideal time for a first test match of the summer.

    • You say that but in 2015 England had two brilliant Tests against NZ and in 2014 they lost to Sri Lanka…

  • You don’t think Anderson and Broad are all time greats? I do!

    Anderson only has Walsh and McGrath above him in the all time fast bowlers list and Broad isn’t far behind. Given the choice of any recent test new ball attack in the world, I’d take those two above anyone, including Steyn/Morkel and Starc/Johnson.

    I couldn’t begin to count the amount of times they’ve got their batsmen out of holes. They are a captain’s dream and we will sorely miss them when they retire. I just hope they can carry on for a few years yet and that we prepare adequately for a post-A/B world.

    And I also disagree that we haven’t had the best team in the world in your time watching cricket. Although the Strauss/Flower era might be remembered (particularly by me) for the KP saga, you can’t deny they were, for a little while at least, the best in the world.

    • I think the averages can’t be ignored. Anderson has a lot of wickets through longevity but much as I love him, he’s not in the same class as Walsh, Hadlee, Ambrose, McGrath etc.

      Flower’s team that reached No.1 in the world was a very good side – a real military style disciplined unit – but their reign at the top was very short lived. A matter of weeks? As soon as they got there they were thrashed by Pakistan 0-3. I don’t think we can say they dominated world cricket. Although they were a very good side. The closest we’ve had for sure.

      • You are correct beyond dispute in saying those you name were far superior bowlers to Anderson and Broad (and add Marshall, Holding, Waqar, Wasim etc). All these had averages of 20-23 compared with 28 for our two – and, in many cases, they played more of their tests on wickets not suiting seam. However, I would even take issue with any suggestion that Anderson is our best bowler of his type in the last 50-60 years. Ignoring the claims of Trueman, Willis and Tyson (who all relied more on pace and aggression than control and movement) I would place Mike Hendrick ahead of Anderson. A bowler who was appallingly treated by selectors despite getting his wickets at 25 in tests. And he mixed the accuracy of a spinner with the ability to move the ball off the seam and in the air. This is not to deny Anderson who is a very fine bowler, but time is always a factor in overrating the most recent players.

        • And yet never took 5 wickets in an innings. Didn’t win too many matches. He also didn’t find it easy to adjust length to conditions. Fine bowler but…

          • Given that he rarely got the new ball, being used as a change bowler, it is hardly surprising that big hauls were missing. The real surprise was that he could take wickets at 25 and maintain an economy rate of 2.2 despite being deprived of the best bowling conditions. And all without cheap wickets against the likes of SL, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, who were not test nations at the time. OT; are you the Mark Eldridge from Lancaster University in the 70s?

            • Not sure if it true but the rumour in his playing days was that if he started the over with a few dot balls then Hendrick would spear a couple down the leg side so he could get a maiden over. Botham claimed that in the nets Hendrick pitched the ball up and could be a nightmare to face. Then in a match he would ball short of a length and not be as dangerous.

        • About time some-one remembered Trueman and Willis! I also rate John Snow very highly (based almost entirely on the 70/71 Ashes)

          I admire both Broad and Anderson but I don’t consider them as all time greats because their records away from home are mediocre. (Anderson 145 wickets at 35 with a SR of 66; Broad 106 wickets at 34 with a SR of 67).

          • I saw Snow bowl for Old England about 2000 in Chichester. He would have been about 60 at the time. His action had not changed even slightly and his pace was still enough to carry a long way to a rather rotund Geoff Humpage. Even more impressive was the Old England captain, Tom Cartwright, still wheeling away at nearly 70.

        • From memory, I don’t think Hendrick’s fitness even began to compare with that of Anderson. Which might have had something to do with the number of tests he played ?

        • He also had a certain diffidence when playing – in sharp contrast to Anderson on field.
          But like Anderson, when the conditions suited, he could be a tough proposition.

        • If you want an underrated bowler, try Joel Garner. 259 test wickets at under 21 each is the same average as Ambrose and Marshall, but he’s never mentioned in the same breath. He also holds the ODI career economy rate (3.09 runs per over) despite bowling a lot at the death. Absolute nightmare to face. If I ever tried to compile an all time ODI XI, I’d probably have Garner and Akram to bowl the death overs.

          • Big Bird underrated ?
            Not by me. He was an integral part of the West Indies best attack – who were the best because there was no respite, no slightly weaker link.

            And on a completely different plane from Hendrick.

  • There are a number of very good reasons to regret the one sided test at Headingly. The first and most significant is that it presents the selectors with an excuse to persist in thinking Hales is a test standard opener. Given Whitaker standards, one decent innings against a weak seam attack in foreign conditions should be enough to cement his place for the summer rather than encourage the selectors to do what their job description requires – that they look for an adequate partner for Cook. Secondly, it may encourage them to give Ball a game in the second test now that Stokes is out. Why is this wrong? A tail of Broad (8), Finn (9), Anderson (10) and Ball (11) can only be used against weak opposition – and England should not be planning and testing for such opposition, but rather for more usual test attacks.

    I completely agree with the post above regarding May tests, especially in the North. If we must have May tests schedule them in the South and keep Northern tests for July/August. It’s not rocket science (or bias against the North). It is just common sense – which may explain why the ECB have done the opposite.

    • Thanks for your agreement. However, as someone who lives in Manchester, and is looking forward to watching the likes of Amir and Wahab steaming in on a quick pitch (I imagine England’s batsmen aren’t so enthusiastic!), I’d just prefer not to have May tests. It would also mean the test schedule accommodates the IPL, which is (or should be) a win for both the players (particularly the T20 players) and the selectors.

  • I’d hate to think what would have happened to our batting line-up if facing Broad and Anderson in those conditions and bowling like that

    • They’d have failed becUse modern players can only really play on flat tracks !

  • Hales deserves great credit. I thought Sri Lanka bowled pretty well and bowled enough good balls to get players out. The more miserable will never be convinced by him as they had made up their mind about him even before they saw him play a red ball match. Watched him for years at TB, brilliant prospect, especially for overseas tours.

    • Did you miss the numerous play and misses and the nicks that luckily weren’t caught? Or is a white ball player all we now aspire to produce in test cricket?

      • To paraphrase Graham Norton….maybe, just maybe, current cricket isn’t for you. It seems to bring you no pleasure whatsoever and you appear to find no positives at all – have you considered watching darts, instead?

        • I find pleasure when it’s tough, when I see quality test cricket being played. Sadly, it’s very rare in the modern game though as white ball techniques and mentality has taken over and people like yourself will be the death of test cricket .

          Hales is a white ball player, not a test batsmen and certisnky not a test match opener. Still, I accept that tests are dead but it doesn’t mean I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and crow about how skilled it is, how great it is when it isn’t.

          • ‘people like yourself will be the death of test cricket .’
            I’m well into my 7th decade – but I’m still flexible enough to recognise that times, and ways of playing, change. Far from being the death of Test cricket, I actively support it and go to 12 or so days of Tests every summer.
            I take great pleasure from seeing the team win & young ones come through and establish themselves. I’ve taken that same pleasure in wins for 60 yrs, but I’ve supported England through good times AND very bad times. If people don’t take pleasure in wins, then what’s the point?

          • Lot of sensible comments here.
            Couldnt muster the enthusiasm to either go to the test nor watch much on the TV. This was not a contest and therefore was rather dull.
            An average batting side (at best) against a poor inexperienced bowling side.
            Followed by an out of depth inexperienced batting side horribly exposed by two veterans in perfect conditions for them.
            Yes Eng won but what did we learn? Very little and if anything just yet again gave the selectors an excuse to paper over the cracks.
            As for northern tests in May, it’s a joke. Why not give the Oval a May test and Head/Durham an August test? Or Lords mid May test? Yes I know why…

            • To be fair Yorkie. Lords normally is the 1st test of the summer – last years test v NZ started on May 21st.
              Not sure why they’ve changed it this year.

          • Then you will wince if you care to think back and remember fielding standards from a few decades back.
            There were notable exceptions (Derek Randall, for example), but generally they would have shamed a decent county side today.

      • Boycott, who can seem almost as jaundiced as you at times, and who is arguably a more qualified judge of these matters, said that the best batsmen of any era would have struggled on that pitch against Anderson.

    • I totally agree, Hales was very good indeed in this Test and gives me real hope for the future.

      • Hales is a very good white ball bat with an excellent eye. But to be a test opener is about technique, concentration and shot selection. One innings does not demonstrate these qualities which need to be judged over a period, and Hales longer record in red ball raises questions. This does not deny Hales has ability, just that it may be more suited to a different form of cricket where bowling and field restrictions mean less risk when he plays the wrong shot to a decent ball. To see what I mean just think back to the best opener I have ever seen – Jacques Kallis. It was all about temperament and technique.

  • I hope they bag mo at 6 next week. Clearly is affected by batting so low and has looked brilliant at times for Worcestershire this year. Woakes too has had a good start to the season and though his test appearances have looked uninspiring to date, a breakthrough innings it spell could do a world of good. I’d personally like ball to play though, he is bowling like a dream and will hopefully push Finn to raise his game who never fails to frustrate. He really needs to become more consistent, he’s been playing for a while now and soon new faces will bring real pressure on him, like mark wood did last year.

  • You say no one gave a dam about bearing the Aussies in similar fashion.. I beg to differ, pretty sure I on here said it was hollow as the quality of batting was just so poor.

    As per normal, the ECB hacks and fan boys only care about winning

  • I am not that energised by Anderson and Broad position in the all time ranking. Clearly they are the best two English bowlers at present and their names go automatically onto the team sheet.

    It is the batting which concerns me and the strange persistence with Compton who has not been in good county form. At the same time we have an experimental opener in Hales and a rookie test player in Vince. If Stokes’ injury rules him out for the next test the number 6 slot will also have to be filled. We need Bell back!

    • Hi Neil. I started watching cricket in the late 1980s (I’m 40 now). My favourite England bowler of all time is ….. < drumroll > ….. Mr Darren Gough.

      Loved his enthusiasm, aggression, ability to swing the ball (great in swinging yorkers) plus he was pretty sharp. I remember seeing him bowl really quickly at times. He was also very good in all conditions around the world. I also loved Flintoff and Simon Jones :-)

      I only caught Botham at the end of his career, in his Worcs days, and my memories of Bob Willis only involve old TV footage unfortunately.

      • Yeah I’m from the same era and loved Goughie too , he became rather the folk hero.
        Freddie is probably my favourite. Bowler of 3 of my favourite spells/passages ever. Edgbaston on the Saturday afternoon in 05, the overs to Kallis also at Edgbaston in 08 and Lords 09.

        I think Jimmy is just getting there though. At times he seems to have the ball on a string and his skill level just seems to keep improving.
        I see the criticism of his average but he did take a long time to find himself in test cricket. Do you know his average since he became the leader of the attack (say 2010)?

        • My favourite bowlers of those now retired….Fred Trueman, Bob Willis and *ahem* Andy Caddick. Yeah, I know…..inexplicable ?

          • I was also a fan of Caddick though like many I was frustrated by the difference in his average between the first and second innings. He should have played more tests though I gather he was not popular in the dressing room. Hmm, where have I heard that before?

            • I got into cricket when I was very young (late 70s and I’m 42 now. Weirdly my first favourite was Bob Willis and I never really liked Botham’s bowling, (it wasn’t fast enough!) and preferred his batting. My favourite batsman at that time was Geoff Boycott!

  • The problem with calling Anderson and Broad in the list of all time greats is simple. Their Averages lie in the range 20-25 wheras the averages of Anderson and Broad lie in the range of 28-30.
    Allow me to add a few current players with similar bowling averages
    Morne Morkel avg 29
    Mitchell Starc avg 30
    Trent Boult avg 29
    Tim SOuthee avg 32
    Junaid Khan avg 31

    you dont see anyone clamouring to put the above in the list of all time greats now do you?

    You could say that Broad/Anderson have more wickets, but that due to the fact that they have played more tests. If the rest had played more tests they would have roughly the same amount of wickets as their averages indicate.

    • I think you also need to consider strike rates when you rate a fast bowler as their job is to take wickets and thereby win matches. If I was to say that Mitchell Johnson is an all time great fast bowler then most people on this blog would probably piss them selves laughing. However, he took 313 wickets at an average of 28.2 with a strike rate of 51.1. That’s the lowest SR of any Australian bowler with more than 150 wickets. (Better than DK which is almost a hanging offence in these parts) Over the period of his career, no one won more man of the match awards than Johnson (9).

      I think my biggest cricket regret is not seeing Trueman play: 307 wickets at 21.5 with a strike rate of 49.4. Now that’s a fast bowler.

      • No argument about Johnson from me. At his best he was one of the best. The worst you can say about him is that you never knew which Johnson you would get. He only loses out (amongst similar bowlers) to the RH Jeff Thomson. I find it hard to rate any bowler as more terrifying than one who can hit the sightscreen behind the keeper on the full with a bouncer, as Thomson did. I have faced circa 85 mph and that is bad enough.

        I saw Trueman bowl at the end of his career and in the early sunday games (when I was still a child). Probably unfair to judge him on that time when he had lost pace but still had great control. More than any other bowler I wish I had seen Barnes. 75 mph leg breaks would be interesting.

    • Boults avg will shoot up again now he seems to have lost a bit of pace, has t been a force for a while now.

      As you say, none of the above are even close and neither is broad or Anderson

  • Just to add a little fuel to this debate (and to contradict myself slightly) it’s no surprise that bowling averages are a little higher in the last ten years because batting averages are also higher! There are some bloody flat decks out there and the kookaburra ball used in some parts doesn’t help. Perhaps Jimmy is entitled to the off ten wickets in friendly conditions when you consider some of the roads he’s endured over the years.

      • I think that says more about Steyn really. Just an excellent bowler. To average as low as 22 in this era is remarkable and not something many bowlers have achieved. I’m not totally sold on Philander. He’s a good bowler but lots of his 30 tests have been in favourable conditions and I don’t think he’ll sustain that level of performance. Personally I think Jimmy is a better bowler. Not that Philander isn’t very good!

  • The problem is that “greatest” can mean anything you want it to. Fastest, meanest, most accurate, most swing or seam movement, best strike rate all have more meaning.

    I suggest that only someone with a memory of the past 140 years of Test cricket can give an accurate assessment.

    Oh yes, I vote for Trueman!


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