Why Test cricket must reclaim its sixes

If Test cricket wants to survive it must claw back its name as a diverse format in which hitting sixes is a vital part of its fabric.

Test cricket has an image problem. It’s image is one of competition with T20, the infant of cricket that’s taking the world by storm.

It has an image problem, because T20 has successfully captured the hearts and minds of young, and indeed older fans as the home of sixes.

People want to see big hits and crashing fours, and will pay big money for it.

This makes the format very lucrative, especially as the games are so short. You can come after work to indulge in a short sharp burst of power.

It draws players towards it, that perhaps would have one day dreamed of playing in whites.

T20 has championed aggressive batting, as crucial to its existence.

The association has become so strong, that as Ben Stokes smashed his way to 258 off just 198 balls, the murmurings on social media was about the influence of T20 on Tests.

Instead of it being seen as a rapid Test innings, some were saying it was fundamentally a T20 knock.

And I’ve heard it before when David Warner has batted like that, or when Chris Gayle or Ab de Villiers have.

It is worrying, because it implies that hitting sixes and batting aggressively is owned by T20. But, Test cricket has been doing it long before T20 was even thought of.

Hitting sixes is as much a part of Test cricket as blocking and leaving is. Some of the greatest opening partnerships ever have been a mixture of aggression and caution; such as Strauss and Trescothick, Gibbs and Smith.

It’s multi-dimensional, and it helps give Tests the subtlety and variance that T20 can lack.

Whether it was Adam Gilchrist down the order, or Sanath Jayasuriya pounding the new ball, Test has always had a place for aggression. They found their niche. It was a strategy, not a necessity.

Most importantly, it was seen as healthy, either as a way to put the side in a strong position or as a way of giving impetus.

Time is rarely a constraint in Test cricket, so the need to bat aggressively is for a purpose.

In T20, batting aggressively is a staple. That’s fine. There is room for both subtlety and brute force within cricket.

The problem, is allowing aggression and caution to precipitate in to T20 and Test.

Big hitting batsmen are becoming associated, or expected to be interested in T20, more than Tests, if not exclusively interested in it. Whilst Test cricket is shepherded onto younger fans and players, as having to compete with T20.

Whether that’s choosing county over IPL bucks, or in a TV revenue sense, the conflict of interest is un-ignorable.

Tests are being shown in both regards as being about playing defensive or ‘boring’ cricket. It’s cricket, minus T20.

One must wonder whether the age of aggression in Tests is over, if some, like Andre Russell and Aaron Finch are unwilling to dip their toe in the pond, and if others like Alex Hales are ignored by their country’s respective selectors for so long.

The horrible question nobody wants to ask, is what would happen if a Kevin Pietersen or Chris Gayle turned up right now?

Would they really, honestly, want to play Test cricket over IPL and Big Bash? It would certainly be a dangling carrot.

Ultimately, if Test cricket starts to lose its aggressive stars, it will lose its subtlety. It will become one dimensional and boring.

If aggression and caution is allowed to separate out into T20 and Test, then Test cricket will become a bland and boring sport that will quickly die out.

 

 

Why England should beat a wounded South Africa

If England cannot beat a bruised South Africa, we will be able to see just how far behind they are against the world’s best team.

Despite a disappointing 2015 for the Proteas, major similarities still exist between the two sides.

Out of the seven Tests South Africa have played this year, they have only managed to win one, versus the West Indies.

More pressingly, the main reason for this is a lack of top order runs.

In 2015, only one Test century has been scored by a South African batsman, Ab de Villiers. The star man is languishing at number 38 on the international Test runs list for the year.

Whatever the averages on paper, it’s just not sufficient to maintain their space on the rankings.

South Africa have lost many players due to retirement and injury over the last few years, and this has placed a huge burden on de Villiers and captain, Hashim Amla.

It’s clear they are struggling, but is their position strong enough to overcome England?

In some respects, the same issues exist for England, but in a different way.

There is an over-reliance on two key batsmen for the touring side, but unlike the South Africans, these two have hit form, so the issue has not been as exposed.

Over the last year, the world’s top two run-scorers have been England’s Alastair Cook (averaging 59) and Joe Root (averaging 61).

Contributions from elsewhere have been few and far between, with the only other centuries coming from Adam Lyth and Ian Bell (both dropped), Gary Ballance (unsure as to whether he’ll play) and Ben Stokes.

So in the touring party, it really is two batsman from either side pulling the weight.

If England want to win they must press South Africa’s major pressure points, better than South Africa do to England.

South Africa, unlike England, don’t have a weight of runs behind them, and the introduction of inexperienced players will exacerbate this problem.

South Africa have uncharacteristically selected a lot of new faces. These include Dane Piedt, Rilee Rossouw, Stiaan van Zyl, Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott and Dean Elgar. None have played England.

Of course, England have selected new faces too. But they have played South Africa before, or at least, have had experience and some success in Test cricket before.

James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow, have faced the South Africans, whilst Nick Compton, Garry Ballance and Moeen Ali, are all in their mid to late 20s, with some Test success.

England and South Africa are both in no means good form. They both lost their immediate last series. In many regards, they face similar challenges, but the home side are feeling it more acutely.

Without runs on the board, the two sides’ bowling attacks; which have a mix of experience and pacey youth, will be under more pressure.

Whoever gets more runs on the board will give their bowlers a greater opportunity to have an impact towards winning Tests.

This could be England’s best chance to overturn the South Africans at home for a decade.

The Proteas side may have the advantage of reputation and playing at home, but England are about to play a wounded beast, and they really should win.

If they can’t overcome them, it will show that even a resurgent England cannot beat a weakened and bruised South African side, which goes some way to highlighting the gap in quality between the two.

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.

England’s opening roundabout is due to legacy

The problem England have is not going to be solved by dropping people – if the replacements aren’t much better. They’ve already shown with Moeen, that sometimes picking modesty can work out well, if you know their limits – and stick with them for a while. 

Since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012, England have tried to fill his enormous void with a number of modest replacements. 

Of course, external issues have played their part on the side’s performance, but nobody can escape the inexcusable roundabout that has been in full swing at the top of the order. 

In order, these replacements were Nick Compton, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson, Jonathan Trott, and the most recent spare part; Adam Lyth. 

All were picked on perfectly good merit. They are all fantastic batsmen, churning out hundreds, and occasionally thousands of runs a year. They were inignorable. 

So far this is how they’ve turned out opening the batting for England: 

  • Nick Compton – Tests: 9, Runs: 479, Hundreds: 2, Fifties: 1 – Average31.93
  • Joe Root:  Tests: 5  Runs: 339, Hundreds: 1, Fifties: 1  – Average: 37.66. 
  • Michael Carberry: Tests: 6 , Runs: 345, Hundreds: 0, Fifties: 1 – Average28.75
  • Sam Robson: Tests: 6 , Runs: 336 , Hundreds: 1, Fifties: 1  – Average: 30.54 
  • Jonathan Trott:  Tests: 4, Runs: 155, Hundreds: 0, Fifties: 2 – Average: 19.37 [Trott also opened in 2010 during a tour to Bangladesh]
  • Adam Lyth*: Tests: 3, Runs: 193, Hundreds:1 , Fifties: 0 – Average: 32.16

The average lifespan of a makeshift England opener since 2010 is:  

Tests: 11, Runs: 307, Hundreds: 0.83 , Fifties: 1 – Average: 30.06

Ironically, in that time, Alastair Cook’s run scoring drought also occurred. Not that there is any hard proof that correlation equals causation. Except it probably does, because he is a bloody good batsman and something must have thrown him off course. 

The fundamental message here, is that England keep trying batsmen out that are really no better than each other at the job. 

They refuse to settle and just back one man to do a job – so they pick a different man; only to be led to the same disappointment. 

Compton, Carberry, Robson and Lyth are all very solid county opening batsman – but they are not world class Test openers.

So what should England have done?

From the Twitter-sphere at least, there are two general outcomes. 

Either, they should have just stuck with the first cab off the rank – Nick Compton, who got the longest shot of the lot [so far] with nine Tests. *OR*, England could have kept up with ‘Golden Boy’ Joe Root, who opens for his county.

What is clear, is that with the ball, they did something which has worked. They picked one person, and backed them, and Moeen Ali has not just settled, but flourished..

Picking Moeen Ali as the spinner in this side has been somewhat of a coup for so many of the cynics out there.

What he has done, is grown into a very difficult role – he hasn’t complained, at all. He has tried exceptionally hard and just got on with it. 

There is full awareness, he is not Muttiah Muralitharan. [If he was, England probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway.

But, simultaneously, nobody is demanding him to be that. He is a batting allrounder that bowls quite well. It’s solid and steady and England know what they’re getting. 

So why have England continued to go round and round with their openers – arguably causing instability at the top of the order, which is where the base for the innings is laid; but they have not messed around with the spinner? 

The reason – is legacy. 

England have produced many fine opening batsmen over the years. Just to name a few – Graham Gooch, Herbert Sutcliffe, Geoff Boycott, Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Michael Atherton, Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Marcus Trescothick, John Edrich and Michael Vaughan. And I’m sure there are many more.

England fans expect something great from our openers. Fans expect great England openers, full stop. At the very least – there is an expectation, that the openers will turn into something great. 

England don’t expect great spinners. There is satisfaction with defensive spin bowling. That’s England picked Ashley Giles in 2005. It’s why they were so ecstatic when Graeme Swann emerged. We’d never seen anything like it. 

England need to stop this roundabout, searching for a great opener. 

England don’t have one at the moment. 

Back someone – run with them for a prolonged period of time. They won’t produce greatness, but at least it will be something to work with. 

Why England’s new talisman should heed the warnings of the past

When Ben Stokes picked up the man of the match at Lord’s on Monday, the names Flintoff and Botham were being thrown around, but it wasn’t just for the cricketing comparison. 

When we think Botham and Flintoff, there is a attachment to their individual success, and to them as characters.

It transcends generations, to the point that even young fans that never saw one or either of them, make the comparison.

In other words, they become sporting icons in a theatre of dreams.

With Freddie especially, there was always another side to these sporting heroes.

Yes we saw them as having superhuman powers, but we also saw them as just ordinary blokes. They were fun, fallible, human and when they made mistakes, we kind of understood a little more. 

Importantly, when they made mistakes, they could always make up for it in sheer ability. 

No matter how bleak the situation, Freddie would get us out. Beefy would find a way, and then they’d hit the pub. 

Compared to Andrew Strauss who could have been a member of Parliament, or Kevin Pietersen, who perhaps could have been in a boyband – ‘Freddie’ was just your average a ‘fat lad’ from Lancashire.

Now, It may seem trivial, but it is also highly important not to underestimate the value of ordinariness. It was not only his batting and bowling that won Test matches, but his personality was hugely enfranchising. It got people on side. 

It got people watching, playing cricket, queueing up for hours to get in, and most importantly; it got it onto the front and back pages.  

Cricket became popular, because it was something people could tap into.  

Ben Stokes walks out onto the field with spiky ginger hair, he is tenacious, clearly absurdly talented – but also a bit of a hothead. Nobody is quite sure whether he’ll smash an 80 ball century, pick a fight with the opposition, or be dismissed in the silliest of ways. 

And that is why people watch sport. 

It was commented upon by numerous observers during the last Test, just how hard this guy hits the ball. It is almost like he is using a slab of marble. That is the spine of the Flintoff comparison on cricketing criteria. But when he gets the ball, he also seems to try his heart out. 

He bowled exceptionally well in the first innings at Lord’s but was wicketless. Come the second innings, his two  wickets in two balls, Williamson and McCullum; took England on to another level. Twice in the game, he changed its course, and it put the team on cloud nine.  

He is a kind of player that makes things happen, but like Freddie, it will never just be about ability. He latter will of course be remembered for his Ashes displays, but also for his fallible human antics, including his drinking, for the pedalo incident, for his early career slacking, and no doubt other misdemeanours. 

If one casts their minds back to 2013, Stokes’ misdemeanours have already begun, and we all look on at this rising star, as a potential new Flintoff in this regard too.

He was sent home alongside Matt Coles from an England A tour, for consistent late night drinking. 

In 2014, Ben Stokes broke his hand after punching a locker, putting him out of the World twenty 20.

In the West Indies, he was consistently the one player that was being confrontational with the opposition – and in particular Marlon Samuels; which was never nasty, but noticeable. 

Nobody wants dour cricket played by ECB prototypes 1-11 – but there must be a recognition that a talismanic and highly individualistic and exciting player, will sometimes be hard to control. 

Despite being only 23, he has already taken risks – on and off the pitch.

He has already stunned crowds and won matches. 

He is on a learning curve and will no doubt, just like Flintoff, continue to cross swords with authorities. But there is no doubt that his talent should lead to to substantial success.

Stokes needs to find that crucial balance between being a talisman on the pitch, whilst not letting it get the better of him.

Flintoff managed too nearing the end of his Test career, and it eventually even led to captaincy. 

Stokes is a phenomenal player with the capacity to lift and even carry his team. But he is also a flight risk, if he can’t handle his own ego. 

Alastair Cook can hold his head high

As we draw closer to the end of the year, Alastair Cook can relax, safe in the knowledge that he has held himself together with dignity, and he has given what was presented to him with his best shot. 

Nobody likes getting sacked. 

He persevered, and did not give up. The cold plain hard facts however, are that he was just not that good at the format. He was being picked as a captain, and not as a batsman, and he was certainly no Mike Brearely. 

Instead of dwelling upon his sacking over Christmas, he can perhaps instead reflect upon the phenomenal achievement of scoring the most Test runs of the 2010’s. 

He has outscored Kumar Sangakkara, Hashim Amla, Ab De Villiers, and many others. It has barely even been registered. 

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It is undeniable that England’s Test captain and leading century scorer has had a torrid time in the last 12 months for a number of reasons, but he can ultimately hold his head with dignity.

He hasn’t blamed others. He hasn’t complained. He hasn’t made excuses. 

However, he has had to be a lapdog. He has had to be a yes man. He has ultimately had to deal with the fallout of a five nil Ashes whitewash, a coach and management changeover, and the departure of Kevin Pietersen this year (in addition to impact of the autobiography.)

You need a strong leader to handle these things, one that isn’t going to boil over. 

It has been a tough ask, but ultimately Cook was too timid. He is a captain that was chosen specifically because he was seen as someone that could be swayed. 

He was not firm enough with regards to dealing with these crises, nor was he a overtly strong on field captain, to compensate for his weakness in handling external situations. 

It would have been a tough ask for Michael Vaughan, or Andrew Strauss, so rest assured, it was a tough ask for Cook. 

On and off the field, he has been subject to change and turbulence that would prevent any cricketer from excelling. Admittedly, some of this turbulence is self inflicted, perhaps due to technical issues whilst batting that has seeped into his mindset. Nevertheless, the captain needs to lead in more than one regard.

Ricky Ponting was not the greatest tactician, but sure as hell he could bat in a One Day game. 

When Cook first took over the captaincy, his ineptitude as a ODI skipper was covered up in part by strong form. Less questions were asked because less questions needed to be asked. 

Since 2010, he has the most Test runs (4769 runs) including 15 hundreds and 18 fifties, in less than 60 Tests. He deserves some credit for that, in addition to the tidal wave of comment about his sacking. He deserves to be acknowledged for the positives that he has contributed. 

As the New Year comes in, Alastair Cook will be popping a bottle of champaign open,  because for the first time in ages, there is not going to be any controversy, 

There are no disruptions in terms of personnel, and he is no longer in charge of the ODI side; which will be a welcome relief. He won’t have the pressure of proving himself in something he is uncomfortable in, nor to prepare for the world cup. 

With the next England test months away, he can in effect, take a break. He can get himself right.

He can finally get back to doing what he does best. 

Scoring a lot of runs for England in whites. 

The cricket world wants Alastair Cook back to his best. 

Someone rescue Alastair Cook before it’s too late.

Alastair Cook is the England captain, and a phenomenal batsman, but the captaincy that he has been saddled with is crushing the team, and him, and its too heavy a price to pay any longer, especially when he just isn’t that special with captaincy.

He is currently being held to ransom. Unable to escape due to the criticism he would come under for shelling it, Cook is waiting for someone to pull the trigger. Cook is putting on a brave face. He is trying to improve his captaincy.

He is trying to cope. But, like an injured animal that tries to get back up; he is just not able too.

One could understand persevering with Alastair Cook as a captain if he was Mike Brearley. But he isn’t. In holding captaincy across Tests and ODI teams, he is placing so much unwarranted pressure on his batting, that it is causing him to fail.

He is holding his primary attribute (his batting) hostage.

As the captaincy causes him to buckle under pressure in the middle, his runs have dried up due to his mind being elsewhere.

As his runs dry up, he can no longer justify his place alone on runs, and in a horribly dynamic fashion, his captaincy comes under even more pressure as a result.

Yet, even through bad form, the talk is not really about dropping him. It is about getting the old Cook back. 

As Test captain, his runs have remained broadly the same as a captain, and as not captain; as he averages around 45. It’s very steady. Taking the captaincy away, may help his batting by allowing him to refocus.

But, the statistics would suggest he can probably do it both ways. Removing the captaincy would be done more to assist the team’s handling, than Cook’s form.

He is a world class player, and needs no lectures on how to bat.

As ODI Captain, he has scored 4 out of his 5 hundreds as captain, albeit not for two years has he actually produced one.

Unfortunately, these runs are in vain, when one considers that In the last two years, both his form has slowly deteriorated, and the team has suffered as his morale has been projected onto the overall unit.

In Tests, since the start of 2013, he has averaged around 33 for both 2013 and 2014, and has just 9 fifties and 2 centuries to his name. In terms of his personal record, it is pedestrian.

As Cook has dropped off, so have England, winning just eight out of their 22 Tests since the start of 2013. Not for one second would I suggest that his bad form is the reason for England’s. There are many many factors as to why; but it certainly would help to have a rock solid opener at the top of the order, that isn’t perpetually thinking about the pressure he is under due to external factors.

In the coloured kit, he has scored just over 900 runs in the last two years in ODI cricket, with just six fifties in 35 innings.

Similarly to the Test arena, just 19 out of 45 ODIs have been won under Cook since the start of 2013,  with just 3 wins in 2014.

Cook is like a really valuable ornament, that is currently being used as a doorstop. A valuable ornament would probably make quite a good doorstop, provided it was heavy.

But, nobody in their right mind would place such a valuable piece in such a potentially damaging position.

Alastair Cook needs to be protected for his primary role. Batting. He is not a dreadful captain, but it is certainly not worth jeopardising his primary attribute for his secondary attribute.

Let’s get him out before it’s too late, especially in One Day cricket. Please.

Why the ECB Should Recall Paul Collingwood for the World Cup

As the turmoil surrounding England’s ODI side unravels, a final throw of the dice could be to recall England’s most capped player, and former captain, Paul Collingwood.

There are many very valid reasons why this ODI legend deserves one last go. In an era of England being rubbish at ODI cricket, Collingwood was a gem in a sea of mud.

He holds a bucket of English ODI records.

Collingwood played 197 ODIs for England, which is the most by an Englishman in ODIs.

In those 197 ODIs, he scored 5092 runs, which is the most by an Englishman in ODIs.

If this wasn’t enough, he took 108 catches, which is the most by an Englishman in ODIs too

Infact, he was so good at catching, that 108 is 44 more than the 2nd place. He once took this stunner:

And this:


But not only that.

Collingwood also surprisingly holds the best bowling figures by an Englishmen, with 6-31 against Bangladesh.

In total, he took 111 ODI wickets, placing him at number 7 on England’s all time list.

Not bad for a batsman.

Essentially Paul Collingwood would offer experience of the ODI game, useful overs, still sharp fielding, and canny captaincy.

He is no Kevin Pietersen. He won’t strike fear into the opposition, nor will he dominate them. But he will fight.

That is what England lack right now.

FIGHT.

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Ok, so he has a good record. But he’s old and that was ages ago. What else could he give?

Well, he has pretty good captaincy experience. He was England’s captain during their ONLY ever International limited overs trophy, the World T20.

Infact, he even hit the winning runs.

And then he got to lift the trophy, which is not something many England captains have ever done. Oh go on. No England cricket captain has ever done that.

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What’s more, when he captained in those 25 games in ODI cricket, he maintained a batting average of 35.50, which is close to his overall career average of 35.36, so his batting clearly does not affect his ODI captaincy.

As a skipper, Collingwood won 11 out of 25, which is not as good a ratio as Cook; granted.

But, realistically, if Cook was being picked on the merit of his batting right now, he would not get in. Nor, most would hesitate to add, would Cook get into the ODI side on his captaincy.

England are clearly looking for someone to lead them, and score some runs.

If you needed another few reasons, Collingwood has an excellent record down under.

He scored three of his five ODI centuries in the 2006/07 Tri-Series, and averages over 40 down under. 

Again, granted, that was a long time ago.

But realistically, Cook has scored one fifty and no centuries in 10 matches against Australia, averages 29.83 in ODIs in 2014, and has scored just two ODI fifties since June 2013.

Recently, Alastair Cook outlined that he thought success at the World Cup was a bit far fetched, yet simultaneously adamantly says he won’t stand down as ODI skipper, saying ‘At this precise moment, I’m still hungry to do it.’

Cook is not in form, and is a drab and uninspiring limited overs captain.

Everything from the non selection of James Tredwell and Gary Ballance, to the structure of the order; having power hitters so low down that they are ineffective, defines Cook as a poor tactician and captain.

He is strong when he can lead from the front with the bat, but his career to date also suggests he struggles to do that, unless a more aggressive player can take off pressure.

England simply cannot turn up at the World Cup with captain Cook, and except anything other than humiliation and an early exit.

So what’s the alternative ?

Although Collingwood is a bit older, probably not as quick between the wickets or as athletic in the field, he offers calm.

He offers something that Cook will never have, and that is desire in ODIs.

Cook is not a natural ODI player. He clearly doesn’t enjoy or excel at it as much as Tests. Collingwood is the opposite.

Collingwood may be a risk, but Cook is a death sentence for World Cup prospects.

If England expect to lose under Cook anyway, then what is there to lose really?

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.

The Strength of Flower and Fletcher discouraged a Generation of Leaders

As critics of Alastair Cook’s captaincy circle like vultures, the unfortunate reality is that there are very few immediate options that could replace him, and this is a direct result of a generation of authoritarian management.

Nobody can doubt that in the last decade, England have had unprecedented success, mixed in with hints of disaster to keep them honest.

In reality; we talk about a new era today, but the new era began when Duncan Fletcher united with Nasser Hussain, and later, Michael Vaughan. England were rock bottom, and they formulated a new plan to bring them to the ascendency.

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This plan was heavily focused on senior players. Tall fast bowlers that were aggressive. Dynamic and athletic fielding, and most importantly, ‘professionalism’ and image. Duncan Fletcher’s reign as coach saw England reach dizzy heights, and once more become the talk of the nation.

But unfortunately, when you rise up high, the fall is just that little bit more turbulent.

The new era became dominated by media interviews and toeing the team line, building a team identity of united-ness and ending the endless factionalism that had prevented England from being a dominant side for so long.

Training was no longer optional. Players that were ill disciplined were dealt with. Selection was made on both fitness and talent, as well as attitude and ‘hunches’ of Fletcher. Image and style was as important as ability and natural talent.

Perhaps it was a little vain, but as England roared against South Africa and beat the Australians for the first time in a very long time, in 2005, it seemed to be working. Something seemed to be working.

This approach left very little for the individual.

It was insular, with Fletcher, the captain, and a small in circle of senior players making the big decisions, and all those smaller players; over there, practicing, and not being involved actively in the team.

Some players had more lives than others.

Some players were more equal than others.

In the longer term, it laid the seeds of its own destruction; because as time went on, players moved on, and those not in that senior circle were left behind. There was a residue of formerly secondary players in the shadow of a great legacy. Fletcher’s steam ran out at this point, and the baton passed; first to Peter Moores, and then to Andy Flower in 2009.

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Andy Flower built upon this notion of senior players, and aggression and dynamism, and in built some new features.

He conditioned this highly skilled unit built up by Fletcher with a ruthless efficiency, dominated by statistics and data.

The back room staff at some points outnumbered even the players, in a horribly stifling, dehumanising environment. Players were no longer humans. They were machines that produced results.

There is a distinct lack of individualism in a team that boats a greater number of staff telling players what to do, than players actually acting themselves. The old saying ‘too many cook’s spoil the broth’ albeit a cliché, comes into great usage here.

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England in red – the back room staff in blue.

This is was cricket by numbers, and although success came thick and fast for some time; when it fell away, it was horribly disenfranchising.

Flower won the Ashes three times, including an emphatic away series in Australia. Under his guidance, England whitewashed India at home, and won in India. They won the T20 world cup, and topped all three format rankings at various points.

But, like with Fletcher, good things do not always last. What we have just witnessed in 2013/14 during these ashes is a combination of failures from Fletcher’s and Flower’s legacies.

The Fletcher legacy collapsed when the inner circle was hollowed out, as senior players lost their form and eventually retired. The team buckled under the pressure of its the great exceptions that it could not meet, but had been built up by Fletcher’s legacy.

Fletcher’s reliance on an inner circle of senior players left a vast vacuum of leaders, and an attitude that captaincy was more an implementation of pre worked plans than an on field innovator.

As for Flower, his stifling mechanised and robotic style of management crushed the individual, and especially when England began to lose after 2012, became a thoroughly drab and unattractive style of cricket.

The natural successor to Andrew Strauss as captain was seemingly his opening partner; Alastair Cook. Despite no captaincy experience, he succeeded the throne, because he was a senior player, and because after all; what he was going to do was just implement plans.

That is the measure of the post Fletcher and Flower era.

The criteria to captain was based upon Fletcher’s notion of the image and attitude of the team being led by a senior player, regardless of little experience. This was mixed with Flower’s doctrine of not having to think, but merely just run through plans and calculations.

Cook is the product of bygone eras. He is not fulfilling what these doctrines want, because he isn’t a natural captain, and doesn’t have the initiative to think outside of the box when teams are countering plans.