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.

page separator

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.

page separator

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.

page separator

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.

Mankading For Dummies – Law and Spirit

Confused by Mankading?

Is all you get when searching it this man?

Don’t worry. I will explain everything.

“What is it?”

Good question. It’s really simple. Mankading refers to running out the non striking batsman.

Before the ball has been bowled, the non striker backs up [runs a few yards extra]; to get a head start for a run. This means they often leave their crease early, and can thus be run out.

Other cricketers don’t go as far as actually doing it, but merely taunt the batsman to know they can do it. Thanks Chris..

Thanks Chris.

Is it legal to do this?

Kind of yes. Oh allright, completely yes.

The ICC’s playing regulation 42.11, which replaces Law 42.15 in international cricket, states:

“The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker.”

The ICC essentially run the game’s playing regulations, although the MCC are of course responsible for making the actual laws and spirit of the game. The MCC states the run out attempt must come before the bowler enters his delivery stride.

In other words, according to the ICC it must be before the action is completed. According to the MCC before the stride has started.

If we play by the laws of the game made hundreds of years ago, Mankading should be hard to do, but if by the current playing regulations, it should happen lots and lots.

The ICC [who run the modern playing regulations, like fielding restrictions etc] allow it to come any time before the bowler completes his “delivery swing”, whatever that means.

So what’s the problem then!?

Well you see there is this mystical thing called the spirit of cricket.

It’s kind of like the ghost of christmas past; except it actually does have a tangeble effect on how players play.

The spirit of cricket implies sportsmanship, and a way to play the game.

For some, Mankading is against the spirit of cricket, because the batsman leaves the crease inadvertently. They aren’t trying to steal a run. Except they are. That’s exactly what they’re doing.

This is going through your head now?  [Via  ]

BpRQmiiCMAA5IG5[1]

It basically allows the batsman to have a head start for a run, whilst the bowler is not allowed a to overstep. And it is presented as sportsmanship NOT to run them out.

Maybe we have just been getting it wrong all along? [Via  ]

BpRDqAgCEAEouk3[1]

In reality, it has been going on for a long time.

In more modern terms, it was ignited as an issue of ‘sportsmanship’ when India toured Australia in 1947 and the man at the top [Vinoo Mankad] did it to Bill Brown.

Don Bradman defended him.

In his autobiography, Don Bradman said the following:

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why [the press] questioned his sportsmanship. The laws of cricket make it quite clear that the nonstriker must keep within his ground until the ball has been delivered. If not, why is the provision there which enables the bowler to run him out? By backing up too far or too early, the nonstriker is very obviously gaining an unfair advantage.”

But some, such as Piers Morgan says that it is not a legitimate way of dismissal as it is against the spirit.

So.. who’s side are you on?

The Don? Or Piers Morgan

Michael Clarke was certainly happy to say that it is a legitimate dismissal:

Although England’s captain, Alastair Cook continued to moan and groan:

Bearing in mind things like playing leg side shots, bowling bouncers, and even bowling over arm, back in the day; were once considered as ‘unsportsmanlike’, maybe it’s time to move on?

Maybe it should be used more widely, and made a more conventional way of getting a batsman out. If batsmen insist on running down the pitch and getting a head start, it should be at their own peril

England Must not Let Joe Root Become the Next Mark Ramprakash

Joe Root is the icon of a new generation, but his inability to translate potential to success affords an air of disappointment, much like that which surrounds Mark Ramprakash’s legacy.

Nobody can doubt that Joe Root is a special talent; especially if you follow county cricket. It is infact precisely because he is so special that this appeal is going out. He must be safeguarded and allowed to excel.

He was named Wisden’s Cricketer of the Year in 2013, and at 23 years old, has got nearly 4000 first class runs already.

He has a versatility which has delivered him into the England side already, debuting on a tough but successful India tour. Yet, even after his maiden century and Ashes series’, he has been in the midst of a below par year.

He averages just 36 in Test cricket, but since scoring 180 in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s in July 2013, he has averaged only 25, albeit in a variety of positions. 

Whereas nobody expects him to be a fully fledged world class player quite yet, there is a clear cause for concern that such a gifted player is finding life so hard.

This deflation in his stature can be attributed to poor management, and ultimately ‘Mark Ramprakash syndrome’. This entails that his most valuable asset; his versatility, is a downside to his career because he is never allowed to fulfil a clear concrete role.

Ramprakash was a very special player scoring over 100 first class centuries. But in Test cricket, he was regularly selected and deselected. When he was playing, he moved up and down the order, and was very much selected as a condition of filling in.

He was never really allowed to consolidate his place in a position, and gradually wasted away as an unfulfilled talent.

At just 23 years old, Root has batted in every position in the Test batting order from number two to number seven. Instead of backing him in his most natural position; an opening slot, he has been placed into uncomfortable positions and been encouraged to adapt and try to fulfil and un-natural role.

To an extent, this is Root’s own doing, because he outlined that he was willing to bat where the team wanted. This makes his selection somewhat dependent upon batting where the team needs him, as opposed to where he would excel.

It was the case with Ramprakash too; who by the end of his career; had batted in every position from two to seven over the course of a decade; always showing a preparedness to bat in a position for the team’s sake.

In ODI cricket, both Root and Ramps batted at three, four, five and six with regularity, showing a similar attitude, but of course over a different length of time.

Root only debuted in 2012, and in that short time, has been corrupted by perpetual change. In an almost cyclical nature. They go through phases of trying new things, and when they fail, they resort to the previous.

Ramprakash and Root have been selected and dropped, with every recall conditional upon a new role.

They are like a filler, seen as so adaptable and talented that they can go into any role. An unspecialised batsmen, they lose their opportunities to consolidate a role, because they are constant subjects of change.

Now of course, good players are good players. Ramprakash produced just two Test centuries yet 114 first centuries. It’s fairly clear even to the humblest follower of club cricket, that something was lost in translation between Ramps at county level and International level.

Root seems to be stuck in a rut off indecision. Where he bats, how he bats, and what his future holds are all very much open to debate. But there is still a lot of time in his career, despite currently averaging just 36 in international cricket.

England must decide what to do with Root, especially in light of the coaching shifts, and the personnel changes in the top order.

With the emergence of Sam Robson as a genuine option to open, Root may be wise to follow the advice of Australian opener, Chris Rogers, who is Robson’s opener at Middlesex. According to the BBC, Rogers explained that:

“I don’t particularly think Joe Root’s an opener. He plays spin well and he’s better suited to the middle order.”

Root should commit to batting in the middle order in a clearly defined role. He is in limbo, as he is now somewhat a senior player but at the same time, he is not secure with his place.

At 23 years old, he is still learning, he is versatile; but he is trying to set up for the prime of his career. He needs regularity, familiarity, consistency, but most importantly a more rhythmical and clear role so he can settle.

Root’s versatility could easily be his downfall as a fill in role, or he could embrace a position and stick with it and excel. One way or the other, such a talent should not be lost to the Ramprakash syndrome of endless potential unfulfilled.

England’s Superiority Complex

England have some outstanding cricketers, but they have a superiority complex. They blot out their failings with the record of excellence and are beginning to take the process of winning for granted.

Since the 8th July 2009 (1st day of the Ashes in 2009) until the last Ashes series 2013, England have played in 54 Tests and have won 28, with 11 series wins out of 16 [excluding the Ashes 2013/14].

They have a strong overall record under the reigns of Andy Flower, but of late, this dominance has smothered their failings. As their success has tailed off since the series against Pakistan in 2012, the failure has been amalgamated into this period of dominance. It has blended into one when, it is two very distinct periods of success and failure. They need to get over themselves. England proudly present their excellence, but as they do, fans and opponents are realising that is a a mechanism to hide a more sinister insecurity and chronic lack of substance. 

There is little doubt that performances have been disappointing in the last year and a half to two years, particularly due to frailties with the bat. Within a more concise time frame, we can see that it has not been as simple as 11 series victories out of 16, but it has in fact been a curve of success, and a dramatic fall from grace. It has given a deceptive and undeserving confidence to England.

Splitting Flower’s England into two periods highlights this curve of success, with England versus Pakistan in the U.A.E. as the mid-way point.

Between the Ashes of 2009 until the India series in England in 2011, almost exclusively, England experienced victory and dominance. After that four-nil drubbing of India, came the series of Pakistan in the U.A.E. in 2012, which England lost 3-0, up until the Ashes in England in 2013, England looked insecure and struggled. Yet when talking about England in recent years, the situation is presented as a monolithic block of success. 

The record is 15/17 series won or drawn. All hail Andy Flower. 

In the first half of this period eight series’ were contested, with seven victories and one draw. It was an exceptional time to be an England fan, and indeed a cricket fan, as some very high quality cricket was offered. England were victorious in 19 out of 29 Tests (a win percentage of 61.51%), and it took them to the dreamy heights of number one ranked Test nation, including two magical Ashes victories in 2009, and 2010/11, and whitewashing then number one Indian side.

Conversely, and rather worryingly, the next eight series (between Pakistan in the U.A.E. in 2012 and the previous Ashes in 2013), have been much less fruitful.

England have won three of these last eight series’, with just 10 Test victories out of 25 Tests (a win percentage of just 40%). There have been seven lost Tests, compared to just four in the previous block (despite the previous period having four more Tests), and England lost their number one ranking. 

It is adequately clear that the current England side is a long shot from that England side between 2009-2011, yet the myth that is perpetuated is that it is the same. The reliance on this fabulous record or having only two lost series in the last 16 is deceptive, because it glosses over their failings. This myth gives England a certain security, and a certain feeling of superiority, as they basque in their own glory, and draw upon that for inspiration.

This side confident, compact and strong unit, or so we think. It’s built on a record of proven success after all, isn’t it? Yet, when they are skittled out for 136 and 179 in the first Ashes Test of 2013/14 people are surprised, as if England should be doing better based on their talent. This is the side that was number one. Why is this happening?

If one is to go on record, the performances given in Brisbane are a mere continuation of lacklustre and dismal form. Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell have all averaged between 39-42, with just 17 centuries in 178 innings. The top four are scoring a century in only 9.5% of England innings. The simple facts are that England need more centuries, partnerships and scores of over 400, 500, 600 and beyond. It isn’t happening.

Overall figures – 17th Jan 2012- Ashes 2013
Player   Matches Innings N.O. Runs HS Ave   100 50      
AN Cook   25 48 3 1933 190 42.95     6 6      
IJL Trott 25 47 2 1779 143 39.53     3 11      
KP Pietersen 21 38 1 1526 186 41.24   4 8      
IR Bell 24 44 7 1460 116* 39.45     4 9      
MJ Prior 25 40 7 1264 110* 38.30     1 8      
JE Root 11 21 2 763 180 40.15     2 3      

The continued struggle to replace the runs of both Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss has really hit England hard in creating a base for the innings, and consolidating that base later on. This is shown very clearly with relative high scores in the two periods outlined.

Between the Ashes 2009 and Pakistan 2012, England had one score of 700 plus, two of 600 plus, seven scores of 500 plus, and eight scores of 400 plus. Between Pakistan in the U.A.E. 2012 and the Ashes in 2013, England passed 400 in Test cricket seven times, with only one score of 500, and none of 600 or 700. The runs dried up. Runs win matches against high quality opposition. With the last recorded score of 400 plus all the way back in March 2013 versus the West Indies, England defeated Australia in the Ashes, despite not once going past 400.

They were able to win the Ashes in what Andy Zaltzman accurately called a ‘narrow thrashing’, which is essentially an emphasis on winning despite not actually playing particularly well. They were not exposed for their frailties, so the myth of being this compact and successful team, stuck. Their superiority complex covered up their insecurities. 

Who can criticise a team that won the Ashes, when so many grew up in an era in which England were battered time and time again. To reduce success to the opposition being poor, would seem unfair. Nevertheless, it is apparent that England scraped their way past Australia, because they were not called out for their failings, as they were against the South Africans.

It is about time they stopped pretending they are a side that they are not. They are not a superior outfit. They need to begin to look at their performances independent of the previous record of Flower up until 2011.

This is not a winning England side. This side has a mentality that it can overcome others without necessarily playing well, because this side is special, with Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook, Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann. All we need to do is turn up. This side was the number one, this side held the Ashes, this side is now losing. 

Are Bodyline restrictions still relevant?

Bodyline infamously sparked the 1932-3 ashes into controversy, changing attitudes and eventually laws for the fielding side and fast bowling.

This was the notion of the fast leg side theory.

Bowling a particular line and length, aimed at the batsmen’s body, or their leg stump line. This forced Australian batsmen to chose between deflecting the ball to a fielder in the leg side bodyline field, or being hit and injured, as it occurred in the days of no helmets and limited protection for batsmen.

With the Vatican announcing that it wants to play cricket, protection for batsmen has never been a more important issue of course, but to imply that batsmen are at the same level of risk in the 30s, is slightly delusional.

This concept was seen as unsportsmanlike, as it was hostile bowling aimed at injuring batsmen instead of the aim of the game, which was getting them out. Aiming the ball deliberately and hastily at batsmen was essentially intimidation. It embroiled the game in one of its most hotly contested controversies engulfing a single debate:

Is it ok to use intimidation [i.e. trying to hurt the batsman] to take wickets, or is it unsportsmanlike?

It happened a long time ago, during the Ashes series of 1932-33, and much has changed since then. Perhaps what has altered the most is the laws of the game.

In the immediacy of bodyline, amid diplomatic pressures both politically and between the MCC (then the governing body of the laws of the game) and Australia, this tactic was left down to captains and umpires to regulate. It was entrusted in them to ensure that bowling was in the ‘spirit of the game’ and that it was the intention for bowlers to get batsmen out and not to attack their body.

Of course, anyone that watched the West Indies of the 80’s, or Denniss Lillee and Jeff Thomson run in, are perfectly aware that they intended to intimidate quite often, and that the tactic of intimidation is legitimate if it is part of getting a batsman out in a plan.

It was not until 1957 that the law we know of today was established; that being that the fielding side may not have more than two fielders behind square on the leg side. This law was created before helmets, before covered pitches, before the injection that was the innovation of limited overs cricket with bat and ball, before mystery spin and most importantly, before the enfranchisement of more teams.

It is fundamentally a law to quash relations between England and Australia during an era in which fast bowling was genuinely dangerous. Cricket has undoubtably changed, and so should the laws. How do India and Pakistan seriously relate to this law, which they have never engaged with, and are essentially subject to, due to a previous dispute of old enemies.

Helmets have come into the game, as has extensive protection. Covered pitches are now firmly out of use in the Test arena, and a culmination of limited overs technique, and the use of science in sport, makes the game a very different one than it was in 1932-3, or 1957.

Modern cricket is certainly geared to be a batsman’s game, with bigger bats, shorter boundaries, selection of bowlers often on the basis of all-round contribution, and ability to adapt and innovate. Against quick bowlers, the use of reverse and switch hits have revolutionised One day batting, as has fielding restrictions.

Bearing in mind that especially against quick bowlers, batsmen are more protected than ever, the pitches are more benign than ever, and modern batting is more exuberant and innovative than ever, surely it is now time to re think this archaic law that presents a case that only two fielders are allowed in a quarter of the pitch, so the batsman doesn’t get hurt.

Not only against quick bowling is this law seemingly outdated, but against spin it is completely arbitrary. Versus spin bowlers this is an inherently irrelevant law, on the basis that spin bowlers generally are not bowling at a pace that is potent enough to injure. Batsmen would not have to worry about getting hurt, so the fact that two fielders are the limit on the leg side simply doesn’t factor into their decision making.

This law needs re assessment. Fielding sides have a tough enough time as it is with modern bats and modern batting, not to mention protection of batsmen and fielding restrictions, without being chained by further unnecessary restrictions. Bodyline laws were relevant 60 years ago. We must adapt and change in the same fashion that the game has

Little Progress In Defeat – The Bat

In 2011 England went to the top of the world rankings. I thought at the time England’s success although glorious was slightly deceptive. I don’t want to play down the ability of the players but there are some serious flaws. All the way back In 2011 England beat Sri Lanka 1-0. This victory was achieved through a freak collapse at Cardiff in which Sri Lanka were all out for just over 80. This propelled them to a series victory of 1-0 which of course was due to this freak collapse. It didn’t reflect how they had played or the fact they probably should have drawn that series 0-0.

After this, the much anticipated India tour of England took place. India were without Sehwag, Zaheer and Gambhir for the much of the series. Their much vaunted batting lineup did not perform and their bowlers were utterly toothless. India were not a strong or in form side. India lost 4-0 to England and went on to lose 4-0 again to Australia in Australia. India went from number one to losing 8 straight games. Clearly England did not beat a strong Indian side and did not exactly crush Sri Lanka. Although they were the top they had not beaten the best to go to the top.

Into 2012,  the England side came off the back of this summer beating a declining India and have had an awful time. England  have suffered 6 defeats, Despite this, If i told you that In 2012 there are 4 Englishmen in the top 6 of ‘most runs’ and Stuart Broad topped the most wickets column, you would probably say, “What is the problem?” I hope to pick this apart a little bit and show why it isn’t all as rosey as it looks.

Strauss has runs this year thanks to 2 hundreds against a weak West Indies side. It does not mask the fact Strauss continues to fail to perform against the top quality sides though. Not a single Fifty against South Africa. Not even a forty. His average in 2012 is 33.19.

In 11 matches Cook has 3 fifties and one Hundred. In the light of his prolific last few years, Cook has had a relatively poor year. Against the Proteas Cook scored one Hundred and no fifties.  Limited contributions.

A shocking leave

However, with an India tour looming, it surely isn’t a good time to drop the England opener and captain . It would be a bad time to drop a new captain in and arguably a tough time to start a new batsmen off. England aren’t even sure who to would pick. I suppose Root and Denly are the Heirs to the throne, but it would be hard to just kick Strauss out. The big pressure decision of course is that If Strauss does not go, England will not be playing Pietersen in the foreseeable future.

Just to reiterate the bad form of Cook and Strauss, In 2011 against India India Cook hit a magical 294 but scored just 54 runs in the other three tests and Strauss made it past 50 once and made a 40. This is a  deeply set , long term top order failure.

Trott has not scored a hundred in over 8 test matches now. Over 15 innings. Trott has not had a disaster in 2012 with 1 hundred and 5 fifties has failed to kick on.

Ian Bell on the other hand is having a disaster and England are paying for his failings. In 2012 has not scored a ton. Bell has 6 fifties and an average of 31.25 which is b not good enough. Bell looks good even when out of nick. Perhaps this is a reason why so few people have spoken about it. Bell doesn’t look out of nick so a score doesn’t look far away.

 Pietersen is at the top of most runs for England with two tons and two fifties. Pietersen takes games away and can score runs against literally anyone. However i won’t dwell on the Pietersen fiasco in this blog. We all know why his success is irrelevant for tours in the foreseeable future. Pietersen has been dropped.

Powerful Pietersen left out. How long will it last ?

Against South Africa England were outdone by superior opposition quicks. It was apparent that throughout 2012 England’s batsmen are struggling against simple planed out attacking bowling. Steyn and Philander bowled immaculate lines and lengths and forced batsmen to play time and time again. Especially with the New Ball they forced the game their way. Morkel was expertly was used to remove the left handers with angles. Most telling of all was how they dried up the runs and created pressure simply by having discipline.  It was planned to perfection and implemented well.

A positive could be Tahir being innefective averaging 47 in the series whereas against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, everyone struggled against Ajmal Rehman, Randiv and Herath. Then again this could just be the mediocracy and un-imaginativeness of Tahir.

The main positive with the bat has been Matt Prior. Prior scored consistent runs in the South African series simply by innovating and being natural and aggressive. Prior doesn’t get as much of a chance to bat whilst coming in at 7 so it’s understandable why Prior hasn’t got as many runs. If Prior isn’t even making the One day squad, surely there needs to be a reason ?

England’s most natural and free flowing batsmen. Selfless and aggressive

Bresnan this year has scored 81 runs in 6 tests averaging around 20 with a 30 strike rate. Not good enough for a number 8 picked on all rounder status and supposed Batting credentials. Likewise Broad only has one fifty this year. Swann has not got any fifties this year. They both played with certain freedom and fluency at Lords but that was in a chasing and losing cause. We do not see it often enough.

With the Exception of Cook in the first test and the deposed Pietersen, there were no hundreds from Strauss Trott Bell, Bopara, Taylor, Bairstow and Prior. A serious lack of hundreds. In India we need to turn this around. The pitches are flatter and big totals play big totals. We need bigger runs, more hundreds, Bigger hundreds and bigger partnerships. Amla style !

England need to try and get back to an attitude of hitting bigger scores through top order partnerships and having more patience against good line and length bowling. Too often Strauss and Cook got past 20 and 30 but failed to kick on. Too often Bell and Trott got past 50 and failed to kick on.

This has been the end of my look at England’s batting over the past year. Check part two for bowling and fielding !

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