Rubbish At Red Ball, Wonders At White Ball

Hear that horrible grinding noise in the background? It’s the sound of England supporters collectively gnashing their teeth as we digest yet another predictable red ball debacle in the Caribbean. We all warned it would happen when the ECB started to neglect the county championship a few years ago. And here we are with our worst Test team in living memory.

However, it’s not all bad news. It’s not like we’ve suddenly become inept at cricket per se. In fact, England’s white ball cricket is currently in the best shape it’s ever been. Those much-maligned 18 counties keep churning out a remarkable amount of talent. So much so, in fact, that English cricketers who are very much on the fringes of the international side (or in some cases nowhere near it) are dominating in franchise leagues around the world. What’s more, we’re currently ranked No.2 in both 20-over and 50-over cricket. That’s a better combined rating than any other country.

Although I’m very much a Test cricket aficionado, and red ball cricket will always come first in my book, I do like T20s and ODIs, too. Therefore, I have enjoyed our white ball triumphs over the years. The World Cup in 2019 was an obvious highlight. We got lucky in the final but only the most churlish would deny that we’d been the best team in the tournament up to that point.

However, today I’d like to pay attention specifically to our T20 prowess. After all, England have enjoyed a lot of success in the format. We won the World T20 back in 2010, reached the final on 2016, and looked dominant last year before losing a crucial toss and bowing out in the semis. We’re also amongst the favourites for this year’s edition.

Our historic record in T20 internationals is also pretty good: we’ve won 55% of all our games. This is better than Australia (54%), New Zealand (53%), Sri Lanka (45%), and double World T20 champions West Indies (45%). Our cricketers are also the best in the world at 100-ball cricket – although that’s because no other country is stupid enough to play it. Ahem.

What strikes me, however, is that England’s T20 cricketers seem to be somewhat underrated despite their excellent records. One wonders whether this is because English cricketers haven’t always participated in the IPL? After all, whenever there’s a conversation about ‘the best T20 players ever’, very few England players ever get a mention.

There’s an interest conversation about the best T20 players ever on the Betway Blog this month. They asked a panel of Aakash Chopra, Ian Bishop, Kevin Pietersen, Lungi Ngidi, and Rassie van der Dussen who they consider to be the best batsman, best six hitter, best bowler, best mystery spinner, and best fielder ever? The answers, and the explanations they gave, all made sense:

Batsman: Virat Kohli – simple, classic technique but also explosive

Six Hitter: Chris Gayle – the universe isn’t my cup of tea but it’s hard to think of someone more destructive

Bowler: Lasith Malinga – fast, skiddy, yorkers… this one sounds fair enough

Spinner: Sunil Narine – not completely convinced about this choice but he did once bowl a maiden in a super over

Fielder: AB de Villiers – well, he definitely deserved a mention somewhere

Overall, it’s hard to argue with any of these picks individually. And am I convinced that any England players were better than these guys? Probably not. However, the official ICC all time (best-ever) rankings of T20 international players begs to differ.

Is the best T20 batsman ever really Virat Kohli? Nope. The ratings say it’s Dawid Malan. The Indian super star is actually third. Meanwhile, the universe boss is positioned in a not quite so out of this world 14th position.

As for Lasith Malinga, the Lankan legend comes as low as 39th in the bowling rankings. The real number one is Umar Gul, which is actually a decent shout in my book. Narine is fifth.

What interests me, however, is that there are four England batsmen in the top 10 – far more than any other nation. There’s Malan at 1, Kevin Pietersen at 5, Eoin Morgan at 6, and Alex Hales, a player the selectors seem more than happy to ignore, at number 7. What’s more, these rankings are based on career best ratings; therefore they’re based on actual performances rather than reputation.

Where English white ball cricketers do suffer, however, is in the bowling department. Our highest all-time ranked bowler is Graeme Swann at 18, closely followed by Adil Rashid at 19. Our best ever ranked seamer is Stuart Broad down at 40th. This would probably explain why we haven’t dominated as much as our batting prowess suggests we should.  

So my question to you is therefore this: are England’s T20 cricketers somewhat underrated (especially the batsmen)? Although Jos Buttler gets his plaudits – although he’s ranked down at 60th in the best ever list – and Kevin Pietersen also had a stellar reputation, the likes of Eoin Morgan and Hales never seem to get their props.

And as for poor old Dawid Malan, well, he’s even under-appreciated in his own country. In fact, a lot of people think he shouldn’t even be in England’s team. If only he played sexy cricket like Kohli.

James Morgan


  • Not my cup of tea so I really have no interest. I haven’t watched a full T20 game for about 6 years. Why? Got fed up with the boring predictability of it. There is only so much slogging one can take.
    Not my thing, but the 50 over is ok. Although you wouldn’t think so now the domestic game is regarded as a second team “development” competition. We are World Champions, well almost, after all. With the WC next year they’ll suddenly realise we’ve ditched it for the 100 and get in a panic. A 50 over “reset” perhaps?

  • I’ve always found T20 3.2 overs too long myself….

    England’s T20 side is showing some signs of decline (although the WC was so toss-dominated it’s difficult to be too certain). Is there a danger of them aging together and no fresh talent being blooded? Other countries seem to use T20s outside of ICC tournaments mainly for this whereas the ECB care more about winning to justify their beserk mismanagement.

    I’m more concerned about the reported plan to split the CC into a 12 team First Division and a 10 team Second. A while back, Harrison made a strange statement about increasing the number of CC teams and it would seem it was this he may have been referring to. It’s long been a flaw of the current system that teams could bump along at the bottom of D2 for years and not suffer any consequences. I can remember Devon being better than several counties but talk of them joining the CC never came to anything (I don’t follow minor counties now to comment on what’s going on there). Anyway, it looks like giving with one hand while taking away with another – D1 teams would be down to 11 f/c fixtures a season and that’s the real agenda. The other crucial issue is what status would D2 have? Is this the pathway into semi-professionalism?

    • I was also disturbed at this completely nonsensical 12 team premier league plan – which actually expands the top division and actually dilutes the quality i.e. the very opposite thing the ECB say they want to do. However, I’m hoping that it’s just a rumour. Last time I looked it was only being reported by the Telegraph. I think the ECB would be absolutely slated if this went ahead. I’ve not heard one person say anything positive about it.

      • I completely agree James, but I also think this presents an opportunity to the Domestic game to wrestle back some control of its own destiny. As I understand it the ECB would require 12 of the 18 counties to vote in favour of such a proposal. It’s hard to see who, outside of the Test ground clubs, could support the measure without fear of not making the cut for the “Super League”.
        Quite what the lame duck CEO & acting MD of an organisation with no Chairman, no men’s national team head coach or clarity over selection policy, thinks they are doing instituting a wide ranging strategic review of the game, is beyond me & would be beyond arrogant were it not so farcical. My advice to the county chairmen would be to play along with the charade (if it’s for real) until they can vote it down, en masse, raise a vote of no confidence in the governing body & bring the whole rotten edifice crashing down.

      • The ECB are clearly immune to slating though….we’ve been trying for years!

  • The problem with white ball is that it’s a great leveller. Look at countries like Bangladesh, Ireland and Afghanistan at the last World Cup, giving established test playing countries a game.
    Test cricket is still acknowledged as the supreme test in the game by players and supporters alike but not apparently by the game’s administrators as they chase more money making gimmicks or by the coaches who try and produce versatility instead of specialisation. It’s difficult to see an end to this cycle so things are not likely to improve on the red ball front a while yet, it all depends on the long term direction of the game. I’m sure we can find a better balance, but is there the political will to change course.

    • Why is being a great leveller a ‘problem’? Surely if it gives the smaller nations a sniff of competing with the big boys that is a positive in terms of the development of the game?

      • The problem is it shows few of the qualities needed to succeed in red ball apply in white, which acts as a sabotaging of red. It doesn’t help the development of better test cricket atall. 20-20 particularly, which seems to be the direction the game is heading, is a slog fest where anyone with a decent eye can make runs against a ball that hardly swings or seams atall. All that white ball has improved is the ground fielding, certainly not close fielding, as there are no close fielders.

  • That’s the way it’s going. Administrators following the money and coaches following the trends.
    Only when we get a balanced administration who care about cricket as a game rather than the latest gimmicks, will red ball get a fair crack of the whip. All the players acknowledge test cricket as the ultimate form of the game but without public support it’s difficult to see a future forcred ball. The millenials want instant gratification and a 4 or 5 day draw doesn’t fit the bill. It’s about the event not the game itself.
    All this makes no difference to the amateur game however so you and I can play as before.

    • It’s pretty much inevitable that administrators will try and give the public what (they think) the majority wants, and coaches will adapt their coaching accordingly. Coaching T20 batting is very different from coaching test batting. The BCCI seems to manage the balance much better than the ECB.

      I have watched a lot of the IPL this year (a combination of living alone and recovering from an operation). There’s plenty to like, and plenty to dislike (the latter mostly around the incessant advertising, and the inane commentary). Clearly, the IPL hasn’t adversely affected the Indian team. Some of this, I think, is down to Virat Kohli, who has been vocal about the primacy of test cricket.

      The commentators often suggest that the IPL helps emerging Indian talent. There may be something in this (though probably not as much as the commentators suggest). For example, Sunrisers Hyderabad have a young Indian quick called Umran Malik, who is seriously quick (the speed gun puts his fastest delivery at 157kph, quicker than Lockie Ferguson or Anrich Nortje). He’s being mentored by Dale Steyn, which can only help his development. It’s also notable that Indian players are only allowed to play “domestic” T20 in the IPL.

      I don’t think there needs to be the stark divide that currently seems to exist between red and white ball cricket in England. It should be perfectly possible to play both (Kohli, Markram, Cummins, Warner all do, for example). I think the problems with the England test team aren’t T20 as such. The issues are more around timing of the County Championship (if you’re never allowed to practise under test conditions, how do you expect to improve), and exhaustion.


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