When the ECB decided to diminish the county championship by moving most games to April, May, and September, what did they think was going to happen?
When the ECB appointed Ed Smith, a man whose philosophy is to pack the side with all-rounders and pluck players from white ball cricket, what did they think was going to happen?
When the ECB’s chief executive officer asks the team to play attacking cricket and be prepared to lose a few games in the pursuit of exciting victories, what did they think was going to happen?
And when the ECB declared that a lucrative new competition called The Hundred would take centre-stage in the English cricketing calendar, thus turning the heads of all young English players, what did they think was going to happen?
I think you can see where this one is going. The ECB are reaping what they sowed. They planted a bunch of flamboyant swashbuckling cricketers into an XI – not that they had much choice because our domestic system simply doesn’t produce good red ball players anymore – and now we’ve got the most brittle, one might say outright pathetic, top 6 in the history of the England test side.
And this assertion is surely correct, isn’t it? The current England top 6 is THE WORST in the team’s long history. I can’t think of a worse one. Can you?
We used to laugh about the England test side in the 1990s but that top six was head and shoulders above the current one. How we’d kill for an Alec Stewart, a Mike Atherton, a Nasser Hussain, or a Graham Thorpe now. Personally I’d kill for someone like a Mark Butcher too. He’d walk into one of our vacant openers spots and be an immediate upgrade.
I know I’m in severe danger of repeating myself ad nauseam here. I’ve been banging on about the erosion of the county championship for years, and warning about the consequences of Ed Smith’s selection strategies for months, and there’s no easy way to say “I told you so” without sounding like an obnoxious know it all.
All I can say is that I take no pleasure whatsoever in being proved right. Many of us saw the writing on the wall long before the team walked into it and broke its nose. If you foster a system that’s all about producing attacking players, and even your captain ends up talking a load of bollocks like ‘we’re not necessarily going to pick our best players’ and ‘you only win test matches by being positive and putting runs on the board’, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise when the batting unit can’t occupy the crease and shows about as much backbone under duress as a baby jellyfish floundering on dry land.
But this is where English cricket is at. We can win at home on green tops when the opposition are underprepared and medium pace trundlers can take wickets with a swinging Duke ball, but as soon as we go away from home we’re screwed. And to be honest I think the ECB are probably quite happy with the current state of affairs. As long as we keep winning at home they can pretend that everything in the garden is rosy and they’re doing a good job – whilst surreptitiously focusing on profits not cricket.
It seems apparent to me that the ECB have no ambitions whatsoever to make England a better test side abroad. They might say they do, but we all know you should judge a person or organisation by its actions not its propaganda. And everything the ECB have done in recent years suggests they’ve prioritised the white ball teams and put first class cricket at the bottom of the agenda.
How is this going to help our test side produce proper batsmen capable of knuckling down and playing proper test innings?
And how does playing white ball cricket (almost exclusively) at the height of summer help us to produce good spinners for example?
Adil Rashid isn’t my favourite cricketer but one can see why he turned his back on the red ball game not long ago. Who wants to be a leg-spinner in Yorkshire in April or September?
In fact, what young player coming through the system wants to score 1,000 runs in the championship when they can make a lot more money in a hell of a lot less time by prostituting themselves to a shiny new Hundred franchise from next summer onwards?
The whole situation stinks to high heaven. The fact our test team and ODI teams are now very similar speaks volumes. When England were successful under Andrew Strauss’s captaincy our top 3 of Cook, Strauss and Trott were very much test specialists. And scoring runs in test cricket was their priority.
The ODI side had a very different vibe and the personnel was quite different too. Thanks to the madcap philosophies of Ed Smith, and the fact there are so few proper cricketers coming through the system, our test and ODI batting line-ups are now very similar. We rely on the same engine-room of Root, Bairstow, Buttler, Stokes and Moeen. And we keep hearing that the next opener England are going to try in test cricket is Jason Roy!
It won’t be long before these guys are completely worn-out. And even the jewel in our crown Joe Root, who is our only genuinely world class test player, has started to struggle since he decided to play Big Bash cricket rather than focusing on what he’s best at. I can hardly blame Joe, as he needs money to support his family and secure his long-term financial future, but it doesn’t do the England team any good whatsoever.
What grates is the way people like Ed Smith pretend that it’s good for England that Root and his colleagues are playing in big T20 events. They pretend that T20 cricket is great, that it’s the only future, and that the switch hits and reverse sweeps our cricketers refine in white ball leagues around the world hones their skills and increases their chances of success in test cricket. Indeed they even celebrate how T20 skills have brought more excitement to test cricket in general.
They’re talking bollocks.
And this lamentable defeat to a likeable but limited West Indies team – the 8th ranked nation in the world that had actually just lost 0-2 to the 9th ranked nation before England arrived in the Caribbean – proves it.
Stokes, Bairstow and Buttler etc can all play switch-hits, ramp shots, and reverse sweeps like demons. But collectively they’re struggling to bat for as little as two sessions in a test match. They’re not test batsmen. And they probably never will be. Until we can find some red ball specialists to complement them our batting order will always be inconsistent.
But where are these players going to come from? I’ll tell you where. Nowhere. They’re not going to emerge. Because the ECB have seemingly given up on the system that once produced decent test players. And until that changes we’ll have to put up with humiliating defeats like the one we’ve just suffered in Antigua.
And when will this change? I doubt it ever will. Not while the likes of Graves and Harrison are ruling the roost. They seem too busy dreaming up new bastardisations of white ball cricket that they can trademark and eventually flog to other countries around the world. At least that’s how it looks.
Maybe I’ve got them all wrong? Maybe I’m completely wrong? I’m no mindreader after all. Maybe the ECB do care about first class cricket? Maybe they’re good men doing their best to try and modernise the game and keep it relevant? It’s possible I guess.
But I just don’t see any evidence that this is the case. After all, name me one thing – just one thing – they’ve done to help the county championship and create a more effective production line of quality red ball players.
And then name all the things they’ve done to help our white ball sides.
See what I mean?