Tag Archives: ecb

England’s approach to building a team is the problem

England’s problem is not just who they’re picking – but the fundamental approach they have to building a balanced side. 

The malaise of English cricket in the last 12 months stems from a culture of short term fixes for fundamental problems. 

A lack of reliability has resulted from players not knowing how to play in a particular situation, because they haven’t been there before.

The problems are, as everyone is all too aware, at the top of the order both with a lack of opener and number three, in the lower-middle order at five, six, and seven, and in the spin department. 

They are underlying issues. A hangover of a poorly managed transition after a spree of retirements and sackings.

Starting with Andrew Strauss’s departure in 2012, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Graeme Swann, Matt Prior, and two coaches, have all not been properly replaced.

England have gone for quick fixes, over long term solutions. 

Whilst successes are clear, namely; Alastair Cook, Joe Root, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, the failures are too big to be compensated for, by this. 

Even when England have won in this period, they have done so due to the successes of those major players, in spite of lacking of support from others.

In the Ashes of 2015, only two English centuries were scored, both by Joe Root. The reason England won, is because Australia were arguably poorer.

Despite scoring three centuries – the Aussie side imploding after the second Test cost them the series’, ultimately.

England lost against Pakistan, because their brand of cricket was not sufficient to beat an opposition playing well.

The refusal to acknowledge a problem with Ian Bell, who averaged 33, 41, 34 and 25 in the last four years, offers an insight into why England as a whole are not performing as strongly, and are only able to win when others play equally poorly. 

It seems there is always one more chance for Ian Bell. Despite just 215 runs in the five Tests in the Ashes, Bell was selected for Pakistan, and only today, England coach Trevor Bayliss said: “”Ian has obviously got a lot of experience which the team needs at this stage”, in a hint that he will be included for South Africa. 

Why is it that Ian Bell, will carry on playing despite a clear decline in form over four years, but the plethora of openers, for example, are not afforded chances.

Are established players ‘too big to fail’, or are incoming players just not worth working on?

Finding an opener has not been hard, they just haven’t been good enough.

But at the same time, Nick Compton and Michael Carberry were not more reputable than the Sam Robson or Adam Lyth. They all scored the required domestic runs to make the grade. They  couldn’t step up, so were scrapped.

The problem at the top of the order is presented as a running problem, but an independent one. But, it is directly linked linked to the issues in the lower order. 

Having an aggressive lower middle order is fine, if the top order is firing, and if they know how to play in that situation.

But Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow consistently coming to the crease after early wickets have fallen is not ideal.

At best, it’s not fair, and at worst, it is jeopardising their international futures, by undermining their roles from the word go. 

In the U.A.E, like in the Ashes, only one batsman produced a century. Pakistan scored five, in three Tests. 

Moeen Ali scored just 84 runs on the tour as a makeshift opener, whilst Ian Bell hit just one fifty at number three. 

As these lack of runs exposed the middle order, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes averaged 22 and 14, and Jos Buttler just 8.5. 

Now of course, they do have to take responsibility. I’m not seeking to absolve them of that. 

But at the same time, they are thrust into unfamiliar positions, exposed to harsh conditions, and then scalded as the problem when they fail. Whilst Bell is penned in for South Africa, Buttler was dropped. 

It’s hardly a good process to blood new players, and ensure they flourish in the future.

England’s problems may stem from unresolved crises of the past, but they have been exacerbated by an unwillingness to solve them.

A policy of unconditionally backing established players has been adopted, at the cost of new and fresher players, who are seen as disposable. They can be exposed to unfamiliar situations, and conditions, and if they fail to step up, just chuck them out. 

This is an unsustainable approach and needs to be fixed with a more holistic and permanent solution. England’s problems are linked together, and cannot be solved by just reshuffling the pack every single series.

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Three Things That Peter Moores Has Got Absolutely Right

Whilst wading the through long grasses of mockery around the #newera, it’s important not to allow the successful parts to pass over our heads un-noticed.

In his short stint as England Coach [part II], Peter Moores has made a concerted effort to stamp his method of coaching on this team.

But notwithstanding factors like the shadow of the bygone era, and in spite of the criticism which has flowed like a mighty stream since his appointment; he has done plenty of things which have worked.

Being consistent in decision making and selection

The  most important thing that Moores’ has done right is maintain consistency with decisions and selection; and not buckling under criticism.

When building a team, under the banner of a #newera; critics look for the slightest hint of disharmony. They even look for any tell tale sign that the team isn’t working.

Chopping and changing, inconsistency and U-turns shows that decisions were wrong in the first place, and the management is weak and not in control. Yet, not changing course when something is clearly wrong shows stubbornness.

He hasn’t flinched at all, backing his decisions and gaining a return in quick time, which shows he made the right calls so far on many decisions.

At Lord’s, England were thrashed.

But, only a minor change due to injury [Plunkett] and a second change due to poor performance occurred [Stokes]. In the third Test the faith, repaid. A captain under fire felt backed; scored runs, and captained well. A near complete team performance ensued, as England drew the series with two to play.

The #newera is only going to work if an identity and a style of play is built, and from what has been displayed thus far; this is what Moores is creating. A new brand of cricket, which backs players and gives them a fair chance, on his watch.

Backing Counties

It is no surprise to anyone that follows county cricket, that a long time county coach is picking reliable county stars, and has faith in them.

Flower never really coached county cricket. He went on gut, and sometimes that worked.

More often than not however, it was mature and established players that did it for him, with the exception of Graeme Swann and Jonathan Trott; who were his selections through and through. The core of the team was not drawn from recent County success though. Moores has literally built this team up, and given it an identity. 

This summer has seen the selection of a number five and a number three to bat in the opposite positions, in addition a 29 year old bowler that was on the scrap heap, an Australian opener, a fiery fast man from Barbados, and Steven Finn.

Gary Ballance has been a revelation; translating his county form to the Test arena, striking three centuries and two fifties in 10 innings this summer. Liam Plunkett’s recall, is something I promoted when he was performing very strongly in County Cricket, here. His return to the Test side has been successful, offering pace, and heralding 18 wickets in his four Tests, and a fifty.

Even when Moeen Ali, Sam Robson and Chris Jordan have struggled, he has backed them fully, with no hints of them being dropped or replaced.

Moores has sent a large flare up into the air to signal that England’s selectors is watching you; County Performers.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Fight hard, and you’ll get through, because this #newera recognises you.

Learning from mistakes

After the Lord’s catastrophe, England could have reacted violently, and scrapped the course they were on.

Cook’s head was in the chopping block. The excessive hooking was under scrutiny, and the perpetual short pitched bowling which yielding such little success was under the spotlight too.

Even England’s fielding was a low point, as catches went down and defensive  unimaginative captaincy dominated.

But there were no panic stations or flashing lights. As England turned up to the third, and now fourth Test; it’s clear that something has clicked into place.

They are pitching it up. Taking their catches. Cook’s captaincy is not as reactive, with much greater trust invested in Moeen Ali’s spin bowling, to the extent that Moeen took a 6 wicket hall at the Ageas Bowl.

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There has been a strong desire to justify decisions made, by ironing out faults and dealing with issues; as opposed to scrapping plans and trying something new; pushing those failures under the carpet

It’s refreshing, and Moores deserves credit for not dragging England back through the 1990s style selection and despair.

It has been; and will be, difficult; but there are plans there, and there is a definite direction that these plans are being plotted.

As an England fan, it’s nice to finally be stable again.

Examining Alastair Cook’s Future and a Potential New Captain

The dire performance of England’s team specifically on day four of the second Test, was matched by the uninspiring vacuum of captaincy. Cook needs to re-assess his role in the side, and get back to his primary role of scoring runs.

Being reduced to 57/5 after just 26.2 overs whilst chasing 350 ate into every single England fan watching. In anticipation for what could be a painful summer that includes five Tests against India, it was the first sign that the winter was going to continue long into the summer.

Alastair Cook’s captaincy leaves a lot to be desired. He his not a natural tactician, nor is he seemingly attacking. He was happy to sit back and not attack Mathews on day four, over bowling his main seamers so they became ineffective, under bowling Moeen Ali, and generally lacking thrust.

Cook outlined very boldly in the last three years, he is no tactician. George Dobell described Cook as a tactician, as:

‘More mouse than Strauss; more phoney than Dhoni’, on ESPN Cricinfo

That is not flattering.

He is a strong captain arguably when he is batting well, but in the last year or two that has massively declined.

After averaging 84.27 in 2011, his runs in 2012 were at an average 48.03 and then down all the way to 33.92 in 2013 and around 15 this year so far.

Strangely before this Test at Headingley, England had played 23 Tests since South Africa in 2012, winning just seven, losing eight, and drawing eight.

It’s not good enough, and quite frankly, a significant portion of the blame must rest on the captain. England can no longer hide behind this being the new era. Cook has been in the job for a number of years, and has shown only in India, that he is a capable batsman and captain simultaneously. He needs to let go.

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We want our old Alastair Cook back please

At Headingley, Cook passed Geoff Boycott for all time English run scorers. He is around 60 runs behind one Kevin Pietersen.

This is a batsman that knows how to bat. But as outlined, his average has been steadily declining under the captaincy.

As his runs have dried up, so too have the teams results.

England must look at this situation and ask a question.

He is a once in a generation batsman, so why are we compromising his clear ability with captaincy, especially if he isn’t that good at captaincy.

The fact is, that when a sub continental side comes to England and teaches the home team how to bowl and captain on their own decks, there needs to be a serious assessment of tactics.

Cook is a nice person I’m sure. He is a sensationally talented player, nobody doubts it. But as a captain, he is about as inspiring as a lump of stale bread, and about as innovative as a plank of wood. Let him bat.

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Who could take over then?

In Eoin Morgan, England have both an attacking batsman and an inventive Captain.

Dropped from the Test side because he was unable to translate his ODI and T20 performances into the Test arena; he has come back much more strongly in First Class cricket.

Now at 27 years old, he was told to go back to County cricket and get some form. He did it. Morgan prioritised; skipping the IPL for Middlesex; scoring two centuries in this season already, including an enormous 191. As a captain, he struck a century against his former side, Ireland; in addition to handling a broken and shattered team down in Australia.

He may not be as technically sound as Ian Bell, or as gritty as a Alastair Cook, but his clear determination to place himself back in contention is admirable. His unorthodox technique makes him an appealing offer of variety for a stagnating England team too, although his main uphill task is to get back into the team.

Currently, the top order is jam packed with new talent, and plenty more is awaiting; such as that of James Vince, James Taylor and many others. Morgan’s runs are going to have to be thick and fast, and particularly in limited overs cricket, he needs to assert himself for England as the flair player.

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Other candidates could be Ian Bell, who is the natural successor to a deposed Alastair Cook as one of the few remaining senior batsmen. He has captained England under 19s, and Warwickshire before, and does lead from the front in the middle. He was England’s player of the year in 2013, and has now matured into one of the most aesthetically pleasing batsmen in the world.

One final option could be to give it to either Stuart Broad, Matt Prior or Joe Root. Matt Prior used to be a vice captain, but after his form drastically fell away, and he was temporarily dropped. He is a risk as he does not have an assurance of long term selection.

Stuart Broad unsuccessfully captained the T20 side, losing embarrassingly to Holland recently, and not showing anything particularly outstanding as a captain. He has no Test experience captaining, and has suffered numerous injuries lately also.

Joe Root could be a Graeme Smith type selection; young, massive potential, versatile and popular, he could take on the role in a shorter term capacity until a more long term prospect emerges. It may of course be too much responsibility.

What is absolutely clear however is that Cook needs to either improve his tactical awareness as captain, get back into the runs, or quit the captaincy before it’s too late.

Politics of Pietersen

An England side with KP is undeniably a better side than one without him. However, it is important to look at how and why the events that have unfolded have placed him in his current ridiculous and almost entirely self made predicament. I will look at the timeline of events in the ‘Pietersen VS ECB’ fiasco to appreciate the lunacy of the situation and explain why after reading lots of articles and watching lots of interviews. It’s the only possible outcome to see him unfortunately dropped.

The debacle began on the 31st May when Pietersen out of the blue decided to announce he has retired from ODI cricket, citing the “intensity of the schedule”. Shortly after this KP says he will carry on playing T20, which was not an option as the ECB reject this due their  policy on selection. A player must be available for both ODI and T20I in order to play either. It is totally irrelevant that this is an arbitrary and pointless policy,the fact is, that is the policy and Pietersen  thought he could take the ECB on and failed .

The second installment in this soap opera came between the 13th -18th July  when Pietersen hit a brilliant double hundred in a rare appearance for Surrey. He used this as a platform to show his talent that could be missed, but after not being named in the ECB’s provisional 30-man squad for the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka he is devastated. He back-peddles and tries to get his foot back in the door but states he ‘would only play on the condition that scheduling issues are addressed.” He reasserts his desire to play “in all formats” and simultaneously says he wants scheduling changes which one can only assume are loaded with more retirement threats if not met. Utterly confusing and unstable for the team

Not only is this a not consistent with the ECB central contract regarding availability for all forms but is also completely incompatible. Either he wants to have a break from the schedule or he doesn’t. He can’t ask for a break and go to play more. What else could the ECB do other than say stop trying to dictate to us and assert their authority ?

Pietersen’s magnificent 200 for Surrey

Part three came between the 4th -6th August  with Pietersen’s most dynamic stunning and match saving knock of 149 on day three of the second Test match against South Africa at Headingley. Clearly still seen as stable enough to pick and comfortable enough to perform. Despite this, It was a very obvious nudge in the stomach to the selectors. ‘Pick me or you will will miss this’ kind of knock. The fact is the ECB could have already dropped him but didn’t. They were lenient and although Pietersen’ts antics were unsettling thus far, it’s clear that his talent was still more important than his silly comments and outrageous demands.

Part four  – After opening the batting in a short attempted run chase in the aftermath of his breath taking century, Pietersen gave a inexplicable interview to TMS. He hinted that he could retire from Test cricket  and ‘he could not confirm whether that innings would be his ‘last test innings’’. He voiced his anger that details of his meetings with the ECB have been leaked to the media and said issues within the dressing room need resolving. KP being abrasive and aggressive selfish and egotistical were completely centered around his own interest. He is clearly now harming the balance of the side by personalizing the fiasco, talking about the dressing room outside of the game. His hundred is one thing but his comments are another

Between the 8th-16th  August, after his ton and comments he had a rant about a parody Twitter account – @kevpietersen24. This humorous mocking incident was overshadowed by the subsequent revelation.  Texts   to members of the South African team during the Leeds Test by Pietersen had purportedly spoken ill of captain Strauss and coach Flower. Despite his talent with the bat and form he was in, it would be inexcusable to keep him in the side until the exact details of the messages were revealed and there was clarity over his England future.

KP clawed back dignity when he published a video on YouTube on the 11th of August  in which he reiterates commitment to the England team. He once more changes his mind and claims that he is now available to play for England in all three forms of the game. He also apologized for his behavior and says he must reign himself in.

Between the 12th -14th August  the apology and confirmation of commitment (which was not cleared by the ECB) still led to him being  dropped from the England squad for the third Test at Lord’s.

I know a lot of people such as Piers Morgan looked past his antics and said pick him anyway but The ECB were clear and justified with their dropping of KP. They say he was ‘unable to clarify that the text messages he sent to South African players were not disparaging about his team-mates or the ECB management’. This is a fair reason both due to upsetting other members of the dressing room and the chemistry of the side. Furthermore when the captain says he feels ‘let down’ and  the ECB say there is a ‘trust issue between Pietersen and other players’ the day before a test there is no way he can play. Regardless of his obvious natural class, Pietersen cannot find a way back.

Pietersen walking off at Headingley unknowing of the drama to unfold

Pietersen called a press conference in whcih he apologizes but essentially he had still put himself in an awful situation. The conference was largely saying how he would reveal more after the 3rd test. Little did he know by that point that  the only real option the ECB have was to drop him. He had done just about everything that a player should be dropped for. He has retired and unretired on the basis of personal gain, Slagged off players and coaches in addition to being dis loyal to England wanting to quit international cricket to play IPL.

He has said he will reign himself in. If he does then fine. Get him back. Until that he needs to cool down. I’m sure sooner or later England will need him again and this could be short lived anyway

Eng v SA – 1st test – match review

Suntanned and satisfied after a beautiful summers day at the Oval on day five, as a cricket fan i am delighted with what i have seen. Unfortunately along with the other one hundred thousand that went to the Oval over the course of the five days, i am bitterly disappointed with England’s loss. From a Day one end with Cook rollicking along past his 20th century, it looked as if the Proteas had not turned up. It is clear however that the only players that didn’t turn up were England’s.

The fact is that as Michael Vaughan correctly asserts ‘England have been hammered and it is not often they get hammered at gome.’ England were a frail and disjointed mess. The first day was marred by rain delays and lackluster bowling from all the South African quicks which meant it was also sprinkled with class of Cook and endurance of Trott. Unfortunately  once Cook had compiled his fantastic ton, over the course of day two,  England capitulated. They  made 118 runs and lost 7 wickets. After Cook had come and gone, the score shockingly was transformed from a respectable and steady base position of 251-3 to 313-7 which is essentially England throwing away their entire middle order.  They had a severe batting collapse and the torment began.

Cook’s magnificent 115 was painstakingly slowly compiled but hard fought. Essentially in vain

I’ve heard a lot of ‘reasons’ .. or some would say excuses why this collapse has happened. The pitch,  The conditions, the quality of the bowlers all factors. But i cannot but think that perhaps these wickets were due to indiscipline as well as the good bowling. Cook chopped on to his stumps instead of just defending or driving straight. Trott played a drive ball on the up and got caught behind. Pietersen kept pulling and was brilliantly set up by Kallis caught down the leg side. Bopara completely gave it away trying to turn into a helicopter i can only presume and Bell of course was bowled by Kallis. There was a lot of laziness and indecision and not enough patience to get in, especially with Pietersen.

The fact is that first innings runs are absolutely crucial. England got 385 of 125.5 overs. This is a poor run rate. Even though South Africa on the first day didn’t take many wickets, they had control. it was not a run fest. Come day two, there was not a huge base and the collapse occurred meaning a far below par score. Looking at England’s score relative to South Africa it is clear just how out of depth England are, not just in terms of not scoring enough but in relation to getting bowled out twice.

I think despite Cook’s ton, the most successful innings was Prior as he was able to score some much needed runs, which is of course the best way of making the bowler change their plans and put them off. Regardless, England’s failure with the bat meant they were all out by the start middle of day two, with South Africa batting solidly for 3 days more or less.

The careful, deliberate and highly skillful compiling of an agonizing 637 for two off 189 horribly exposed the fact that England were missing a cutting edge, a Partnership breaker and a bowler to hold pressure. Baring in mind Petersen fell for zero, there were two main partnerships Smith and Amla from 1-1 to 260-2 and Amla and Kallis from 260-2 to 637-2 dec. It couldn’t possibly be clearer that the difference between the two sides 1st innings is that the South African batsmen were determined to get in and compile a huge score through partnerships whereas England were a bit of a freeforall.

Smith scoring a 100 in his hundredth test was a typically gritty and dogged innings from the Saffers captain. He is not elegant or fluent but perhaps that is irrelevant when you average 50 and can claim to have never lost a game in which you have scored a ton.

Amla, Smith and Kallis all valued their wicket in a Steve Waugh type ‘over my dead body’ fashion. ‘ It was relentless for England’s shoddy and ineffective bowlers, especially the danger men, Anderson and Swann. There was not only no respite from the batsmen, but there was no desperation or urgency to stop the runs from the bowlers. The bowling was perpetually too wide outside off stump to make Smith play and too short to Amla at an un threatening pace. Both pounced on anything too straight, but the fact is that England should have been bowling a 4th stump line instead of a wide outside off stump line or shorter length.

Amla’s 311* was possibly one of the most elegant innings i have ever watched. I have seen plenty of Vaughan, Sangakarra, Tendulkar and Bell tons on the Telly etc.. but this was right up there. Extremely pleasing on the eye, and exactly what his team wanted and needed. Valuing his wicket like gold.

In 12 games in England  Kallis had an average of 29 with 1 ton and 3 fifties. He now has 2 tons and an average of 38 in England. A far cry from his career average of a wapping 57 but it is closer for sure. He is truly a sensational batsmen, and a hugely valuable one with bat, ball and in the field, not to mention helping Smith now Boucher is not in his ear. Lets not forget that few 36 year old batsmen are able to bounce out Kevin Pietersen.

I swear he didn’t have a beard when he started the innings !?

I am a Stuart Broad fan as in last 12 months he has been phenomenal due to being able to adapt through slightly lowering his pace and extracting from conditions. He was totally impotent and not sticking to his lines well enough. I don’t think he was test quality in the Oval test. Was very poor and i think should be in contention for replacement should England so wish to bring in Finn or Onions. Anderson was unlucky in the sense he bowled good lines and lengths for a lot of the time, but arguably did not have as much discipline when bowling with the new red cherry.

I wasn’t really sure what to think of Bresnan. In the one sense he took a wicket, but in the other sense, he was under bowled i think. Not trusted with the ball at crucial times. Maybe i’m in a minority, but i am still unconvinced of his supposed golden touch with the  team. He is a steady bowler but not an outstanding bowler in the way Anderson or Steyn is. As far as i’m concerned, Steven Finn would offer more pace, bounce and height. Bresnan can of course bat and field well, so there is a little dilemna still pending.

I went to day 5 to see England’s second innings. I tried a rain dance to encourage some clouds over Kennington. It clearly didn’t work as my arms got browner and browner in the mid July 28c heat

My view from my seat on day 5 – My rain dance did not work !

England’s second innings was utterly dreadful. Cook and Trott got a complete Jaffas, but apart from that i would say wickets were handed away.  Pietersen the obvious culprit being bowled by Morkel. Bell played well on the 5th day but it was arguably in a hopeless task with a South African win very likely. 

Strauss at the post match interview said something on the lines of ‘ It was a flat deck and not good for the bowlers.’ Thats undoubtedly true. BUT one has to ask does this say something about the England batsmen? Surely if it was a bad pitch for bowling the South Africans would have not been able to take twenty English wickets? It seems a bit of a lame excuse by Strauss.

Steyn gets 5 – A true master

Dale Steyn in the fourth innings bowled some of the best fast bowling i have seen in England for a very long time. His lines and lengths were exemplary. He got just enough movement to trouble the batsmen. The obvious difference between the quality of Steyn in this test and the Mediocracy of England in my opinion was pace and zip.

Maybe statistically most bowlers were around 81 or 82 consistently, Steyn always had that energy and bounce and the threat of a short ball or a swinging ball. he is the compete modern Fast Bowler and his number one ranking is fully deserved.