And a very warm welcome to my first guest post for Eat My Sports! Thanks for dropping by.
It’s quite an interesting experience, actually – returning to the backbenches after so many years at the despatch box on The Full Toss. Once lord of the manor, I am now a mere footman. Thankfully, James has allowed me in through the servants’ entrance with a delivery of miscellaneous thoughts about the Pakistan v England series.
The close series that, er, wasn’t
FICJAM, commenting on TMS yesterday morning, made an interesting assertion. If there were any “sporting justice” in the world, he suggested, England would win the test and square the series. And by general consensus, England played too well to deserve a 2-0 defeat – or in fact, a defeat at all
Really? England did not lose by a whisker. The margins of defeat were 178 runs (in the second test) and 127 runs (in the third). Hardly a knife-edge. In fairness, England fell only a few runs short of winning the first test – but found themselves in a match-winning position almost by accident after Pakistan’s unexpected second-innings collapse. When the visitors replied with 598 to Pakistan’s first-innings 523, they batted with a pace and approach aimed (not unreasonably) at drawing the test – not winning it.
Of the six highest-scoring batsmen in the series, five were Pakistani. As Mike Selvey (sic) pointed out, the hosts scored five centuries and nine fifties, while English batsmen compiled merely one hundred (albeit a great-granddaddy), and six half-centuries.
FICJAM made another remark:
England’s effort has been outstanding all trip. It is simply against spin that their batsmen have struggled, and their spinners haven’t been able to exert any control.
His words bring back memories of Glenn Hoddle’s reign as England football manager, when his post-match interviews invariably took the form of “we played very well, apart from the six goals we conceded”.
But speaking of spinners…
Call the spin doctor
The figures make ugly reading. England’s three spinners between them took twenty wickets in the series, at an average of 57.6 and an economy rate of 4.01. Pakistan’s equivalent trio claimed thirty five wickets at, respectively, 29.23 and 2.56.
But the extensive criticism levelled at Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, and Samit Patel, is unfair on all three individuals. Moeen and Patel are essentially batting all-rounders, yet were expected to run through Pakistan’s batting on the strength of their secondary skill. Rashid, meanwhile, was a debutant (and Patel was playing only his sixth test).
Alastair Cook could have done worse than throw the ball more often to Joe Root, whose career economy rate (2.98) is nearly a whole run better than Moeen’s (3.9)
In the cases of both Moeen and Patel, England are in grave danger of falling victim to the Irani Folly: the selection of an all-rounder who’s neither good enough at batting nor bowling to merit a place on either suit alone, but you cross your fingers and hope it will somehow work out. The same might also apply to Ben Stokes, who contributed five wickets and 76 runs in two-and-a-quarter matches.
Returning to Moeen, though – one way or another, he’s being mis-cast, mis-used, and messed about. In nineteen tests his batting average has stalled at 31.2, with four fifties and a sole century (made seventeen months ago).
Say what you like about Alastair Cook (and we certainly used to, at the old site), he is a peerless operator in Asian conditions – where his strongest assets (stamina, powers of concentration, and keen ability to play spin) come most richly to the fore.
In the UAE, he made 450 runs at 90, compared to Root’s 287 at 57.4, and James Taylor’s 78 at 39 from two innings. Bell was the only other recognised batsman to average more than 30.
Cricinfo’s S Rajesh fished out some telling stats.
[In eight series in Asia, Cook] has averaged more than 50 five times, and over 60 four times. His aggregate of 2252 is the highest [for an overseas player] in Asia, almost 200 runs better than the next best. Cook has [become] the first non-Asian batsman to face 5000-plus deliveries in the continent. In this series alone he played 950. In the 2012-13 four-Test series in India, he faced 1285 balls, scoring 562 runs in eight innings.
In 21 Tests in Asia, Cook’s average is 60.86, which is among the best for non-Asian batsmen who have scored 1000-plus runs in the continent. His average outside Asia is 44.54 in 101 Tests, which is similar to his home average of 43.51 in 68 matches, but in Asia he has taken his batting to another level, and he has done it consistently, series after series.
India 2012, to my mind, was Cook’s finest hour. As Tregaskis recently observed, question marks linger over the contribution Cook’s runs make to the winning of test matches, or even whether he bats with that objective firmly in mind.
And what about Cook’s captaincy in the Emirates? The 2015 Ashes spawned a received wisdom: Cook had metamorphosed into a simulacrum of Mike Brearley and Erwin Rommel. But any skipper looks good when his excellent fast bowlers are tearing through a flimsy batting order on helpful pitches.
Cook is a competent helmsman while things are going well. He struggles, though, whenever (a) the batsmen are in complete control or (b) taking wickets is difficult. In such situations he generally stands around looking clueless and hoping Stuart Broad will think of something.
From where I was sitting, Cook’s captaincy in the Emirates oscillated between the apathetic and the misconceived. If I’m wrong, call me out on this in the comments below.
SimonH said here the other day:
Misbah on nought lobbed up a catch to short leg off Anderson – but there wasn’t a short leg. Hafeez in the 110s edged Broad through second slip at catchable height – but there wasn’t a second slip. Those two missed opportunities cost 80 runs.
I’m afraid that Cook’s supposed transformation into captain adventurous melted in the Sharjah heat. Who, really, is surprised? It’s one thing to keep the field in when you’re at home and on top and another to do it abroad and when the game is very tight.
Do you think they could’ve done more to improve the ER of the spinners? Not with Rashid perhaps but with Ali and Patel here?
I’m thinking of Nasser Hussain captaining Ashley Giles in India. Hussain was determined to keep control when Giles bowled and was willing to go to a 7-2 legside field to achieve it. I’m not necessarily calling for that precise tactic to be repeated but I’m sure Nasser would have been more pro-active about trying solutions to what has a major problem all tour.
Geoffrey Boycott, in the Telegraph today, nails it.
Finding a replacement for Andrew Strauss as Cook’s opening partner has been a lottery. England have tried Nick Compton, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson, Jonathan Trott, Adam Lyth and Moeen. They bring in any kid who has played well in county cricket but when he fails they sack him and throw him on the scrapheap.
In South Africa it will be Alex Hales. When he fails he will go and they will move on to the next one. It is a farcical situation. There are not that many good cricketers playing county cricket so you have to make a judgement on a couple of them and work with them.
When these guys were selected they were considered the best players in England at the time. But did anybody work with them to help make them better?
For me the guy who did the best job was Carberry in Australia. He faced Mitchell Johnson, who destroyed England with real pace, and a fantastic seamer in Ryan Harris. Carberry had a good defence, batted time, hung around and showed courage against one of the best bowling units you will see, but he was unfairly dropped for the next series against a weak Sri Lanka attack.
He had the first requisite of an opening batsmen. You have to have a good defence and be able to stay in against the new ball bowlers. All England had to do was to teach him how to rotate the strike, score singles and take the pressure off himself. We should have worked with him instead of dumping him.
In the 2013/14 Ashes, Carberry survived for twice as many balls as Alastair Cook, outscored him by 35 runs, and averaged 28.1 to Cook’s 24.6. So what happened to his prospects? This did.
Carberry was also England’s second highest scorer on that tour, after another player who was summarily discarded. You’ll groan when I say this, but say this I must. Kevin Pietersen has still not been replaced in the England middle order. Gary Ballance didn’t work out. Jonny Bairstow probably won’t work out. And James Taylor may work out. Six series after incurring an entirely self-inflicted problem, the ECB have yet to devise a solution.
The power of home
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that home advantage is making test cricket ever more predictable. While highlighting England’s shortcomings in the UAE it’s also worth reminding ourselves of Pakistan’s record there. In eight series, they have won four and lost none, with only three defeats in 21 tests.
Can any current test side be truly competitive away from home? England assuredly are not. Since the 2010/11 Ashes, their overseas record is P23, W4, D6, L13.
The irony, of course, is that Pakistan weren’t even at home. Their UAE residence is depriving the nation’s public of cricket while condemning the side to play in empty stadiums. While safety trumps all other concerns, six years have now passed since the terrorist attack against the Sri Lankan team in Lahore. Isn’t it now time for a full review of the security situation, with the sincere aim of restoring Pakistan’s host status at the first feasible opportunity?