England’s search for instant success has damaged long term options

The way in which England have disposed of their opening batting options in the short term has made it difficult to reselect them in the longer term without unbearable pressure.

The main credentials needed to fill the poisoned chalice has been a good record in domestic cricket, and who can argue with that convention in theory.

Yet, one only has to look at the returns to realise that all have been inadequate. 

Only Nick Compton managed more than one century, and with the exception of Joe Root who averaged 37 in the role, all others averaged 31 or below. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 23.47.09

They all have similarly disappointing records because they were all picked and dropped with a similarly impatient attitude and unreasonably unbearable weight of expectation.

Even those with moderate success, such as Michael Carberry who scored 281 runs in a disastrous tour to Australia, were dismissed. 

Indeed, invincible Joe Root, who had the best least worst time, was taken out of the position. 

They were all removed because they didn’t translate their county runs into international runs, instantly. 

There was a plethora of reasons as to why:

Sam Robson showed frailty on both edges.

Despite being second top run-scorer for England in the 2013/14 Ashes, Michael Carberry continuously failed to convert starts to fifties. 

Nick Compton got tangled with mental and technical knots and Adam Lyth looked as if he lacked control outside off stump.

Almost like a frankensteins monster of openers problems – they all had frailties. 

But problems can be solved. 

All of the players were expected to have an instant success, and when they didn’t were got rid of, only for the next to be expected to do the same. 

In reality, this process was ill-thought, because none of these openers are really any better than the other. 

They are all successful domestically. They all scored runs, all had a shot at the big time, all failed, all dropped, all re-integrated back into domestic cricket, all scoring buckets of runs once again. 

If these openers are ever reconsidered, which judging by Alex Hales performance in South Africa may be likely, there needs to be a clearer message as to expectation.

It would be unreasonable to re-select a player for example, for the exact same reason as before (good domestic form), with the hope of immediately translating that on to the international stage.

England need to say why a player should be re-selected; such as a technical improvement, but they also need to be more patient. Sometimes batsmen do struggle when they first emerge, especially in such a high-pressure position. 

By the position’s every nature, openers are exposed right away to the toughest conditions. If an opener fails they leave virtually no impact on the game. 

The way England exhausted their options so rapidly has made the position taboo.

England have given an unreasonably small margin of error for failure, and even smaller room for improvement in the role. 

Reselecting any of the discarded openers must come with a clear message of faith in ability or improvement. 

Why we shouldn’t ‘move on’ from Gayle’s comments, until other players get the point

Sexism in sport, especially in ‘the gentleman’s game’ can be subtle, and hard to identify and root out.

It is especially hard to crack,if it is played down, justified or outright denied as having happened when it occurs. 

As a sports journalist, Mel McLaughlin was interviewing Chris Gayle about an innings he had played.

The response she received was contempt for her capacity as a reporter, as Gayle asked her out for a drink, before telling her ‘not to blush’; ignoring the cricketing question. 

Banter? Or disrespect? One thing is for sure, he thought he could get away with it.

As it was live on air, everyone saw it. It led to the West Indian opener being fined $10,000, and making a grovelling apology.

There was real no malice in the comment, but at the same time his apology is somewhat hollow.

He said it was ‘a simple comment, a joke’ that “wasn’t anything at all meant to be disrespectful or offensive”, showing he doesn’t understand that what he did was unprofessional at best, and sexist at worst.

There is a time and a place for flirting, and it isn’t during a live interview. I dread to think what he thinks he’s entitled to do off-air. 

Mel followed by accepting his apology, adding she wants to ‘move on.’

At which point, many took the opportunity to continue to play down Gayle’s comments. 

BBL commentator and ex-England star Andrew Flintoff began proceedings, by calling Gayle ‘a bit of a chop.’ 

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.14.37

Before it’s time to ‘move on‘, nothing to see here.

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.14.26

Other public figures trivialised the matter too.

Ireland’s Niall O’Brien said Gayle ‘asked a lady out for a drink live on TV’, whilst Paul Nixon, retweeted a comment that it was just ‘humour’ adding that people should ‘move on.’

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.23.17Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.11.58

Then Aussie Hockey star Georgie Parker, and Piers Morgan, were both retweeted by Northants batsman, Josh Cobb.

Parker, instead of saying it’s wrong whoever does it’, ultimately says it’s better to try it herself out next time herself, to prove it’s OK when a woman does it too. 

Whilst Piers Morgan dismisses Gayle’s total lack of respect for a female journalist as ‘being a bit cheeky’.

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.26.45

Following Parker’s comments, England women’s legend, Clare Connor, contributed something a little more thoughtful, outlining alleged double standards, which Parker was referring too.

Instead of just saying ‘I’ll do it too’, she raises the question of whether it’s right. 

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.24.16

Cobb, then adds that he needed a little explanation.

Maybe he should get in touch with Clare Connor for a lesson?Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.26.27.png

Ex-England allrounder Adam Hollioake said ‘you can’t have it both ways’. Chris Gayle is a bit of a character, therefore it’s OK for him to be unprofessional and ridicule a woman interviewer.

I guess women should just put up with this type of humiliation? It’s just banter after all.. move on, move on,

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.18.04

What he doesn’t get, is that it isn’t about a lynchmob baying for justice.

It’s about other professional cricketers saying ‘this isn’t acceptable’,  and setting an example.

Like the ever-reliable Chris Rogers, who said:

“From my time at the Thunder [with Gayle] I was very disappointed with his attitude and his behaviour, and I’ve not been a fan since.

People see these one-offs, but this is a pattern of behaviour. If you know the guy, you see it over and over. To defend it, I think, is not right at all.

I listen to that and I don’t think it’s funny at all – he says it’s just a joke, well it’s not just a joke, is it?

And Waqar Younis and Shoaib Malik:

Screenshot 2016-01-09 14.46.07

Screenshot 2016-01-09 14.46.23

And ex-Kiwi bowler, Iain O’Brien:

Whilst it may be the case that what Gayle said was nothing demonstrably spiteful, the lengths others are going to excuse it is baffling, as it’s ultimately the root of the issue.

For that reason, Gayle should not be made a scapegoat. He shouldn’t be banned, and a fine was a both symbolic and a pittance. 

There needs to be a more fundamental approach that challenges a culture in a male-dominated sport. 

The wise head of Harsha Bogle perhaps summed it up best:

Screenshot 2016-01-09 14.53.31

Why England should consider recalling Kevin Pietersen for the World T20

Kevin Pietersen has been in the international wilderness since 2014, but there are sound reasons to give him one last hurrah.

In 2016, the ICC World T20 will be held, and it would be a perfect opportunity to both patch up relations with England’s highest run-scorer, whilst squeezing that last bit of juice out of him.

On a basic level, it’s no secret that Pietersen has experience and quality that would be beneficial for England.

He is not only England’s leading run-scorer in all formats combined , but in T20 cricket, he is England’s second top run scorer.

Of course, it would be odd if someone with that quality wasn’t already selected.

The reasons he was omitted from the side still remain somewhat a mystery. But, what is clear, is that issues which were the cause, have largely been removed or changed.

The coach is different, various players who had friction with him have retired. And, If Pietersen were to return, it wouldn’t be long term thing anyway.

He wouldn’t be back to the Test or ODI side. It would be a short-term deal to help England at the World T20, which when England won in 2010, he was the man of the tournament.

Another important factor, is that it’s in India, not only because of his time at IPL, which he has been a part of in 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2014, but also because of his success there for England.

He has played nine Tests in India, including four in 2012, in which he scored two incredible and match-winning centuries.

He knows the conditions, how to attack and score runs against spin, and the crowds like him too, which is something that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Unlike most opposition batsmen who receive a deathly silence and an empty stadium, Indians flock to see KP, because he is an entertainer.

That would help England.

These factors add to the benefit his overall knowledge of the format would bring.

In 2015 alone, he played in the Ram Slam in South Africa in which he was the second top run scorer, the Caribbean Premier League, in which he was in the top 10 run scorers, the Big Bash, in which he was third top run-scorer, and which he helped his side get to the final. He recently signed up to the Pakistan Super League too.

So, why would he fit back in just this once?

England have a new coach. Andy Flower is gone, and the new man, Trevor Bayliss is a Pietersen-type coach.

He has given ‘Ben Stokes a licence to play his natural game‘ which is in the vein of KP’s, whilst also moving the aggressive left hander back up to number six, after time spent at seven and eight.

Bayliss is also more of a background coach. He isn’t a pencil pusher and clipboard-holder, a dictator.

In October, Alastair Cook credited Bayliss for his improvement as England captain, saying: “He’s a really relaxed guy, he lets the captain run the side and that is one of the big differences from the other guys.”

And, Bayliss’s recall of James Taylor, Nick Compton, Jonny Bairstow, Garry Ballance and selection of Adil Rashid, all shows a willingness to try something different, whether new or old.

England’s T20 side is jam-packed with young players, who lack experience.

 In 2015, in the overall list of run scorers in T20 Internationals, the highest England run scorer was Eoin Morgan at number 38. This is due to such a low number of games (just four) played by England internationally.

They need someone to shepherd them. There are very few senior leaders, or players with the experience and hunger that Pietersen still has. Reselecting him for one last time could be a stroke of genius.

He could marshall a young side, in an unfamiliar format, in foreign conditions and with nothing to lose.

There’d be no prospect of a long term impact on the side or interference in other formats. It’s a cricketing one-night-stand.

More than anything, as a fan, this could ensure that one of England’s greatest ever batsmen does not depart the game with the bitter taste of regret, but the sweet one reconciliation and perhaps even success.

And, it sounds like he’s up for it…

https://twitter.com/JackMendel4/status/685396514311696384

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.

India must find balance between home advantage and good Test cricket

India’s use of home advantage isn’t unfair, but it does produce one-dimensional and turgid cricket that nobody would want to watch. 

If Test cricket is to survive, it must be embraced by India, in such a way that makes people want to watch it. 

The most recent series between India and South Africa, blunted the Proteas usually explosive batsmen.

On the one hand, it was a brilliant assertion of Indian home advantage, as India won 3-0. But it also turned me off watching.

As a neutral, I found the cricket as I would expect too.

A little bit predictable, almost scripted, and very dry.

It was a series, engineered to be dominated by certain players.

Spinners, and by Indian batsmen who can play spin.

Neither of these facets, South Africa have in abundance.

When sides tour England, the pitches help seam bowlers and batsmen who can leave the ball.

There is, one cannot stress enough, nothing wrong with preparing pitches to suit a home side. 

But, there has to be a contest generated, or else it stops being entertainment, and begins to be a foregone conclusion. 

In the most recent series’, of the top six run scorers, five were Indians.

Only two South African fifties were scored in the duration (both by Ab de Villiers), with only one South African averaging over 30 (again, Ab de Villiers).

Screenshot 2015-12-16 00.11.36

The top two wicket-takers in the series, were the Indian spin twins Ravi Ashwin and Jadeja taking 31 and 23 wickets.

Nobody else in the Indian attack passed seven wickets.

Following the 3-0 victory, India should have been triumphant. But, all the conjecture was about the pitches.

Not necessarily because they were ‘bad pitches’, but because it produced boring cricket. 

In the first Test, both sides made a turning pitch look a lot worse than it was. Four low-scoring innings of 201, 184 200 and 109 suggest an inability to play the surface, as the match finished in three days. 

The second Test was of course washed out.

The third Test at Nagpur however, was rated as a ‘poor’ pitch by the ICC, whilst the final Test produced a block-a-thon.

In that final Test, in the fourth innings, Amla scored 25 off 244 balls, De Villiers 43 off 297, with the overall team going at under one run per over for 143 overs.

When asked about the state of Indian pitches during the series’, Indian spinner Amit Mishra said: “We also get seaming pitches when we go out of India. We also adjust. We don’t complain. They need to adjust.”

To an extent, he is right. But on the other hand, he is also missing the point: The brand of cricket these pitches produce is exceptionally negative.

No pitch curator would dream of creating such a surface for a T20 or ODI match, in which there is a desire to produce exciting cricket. 

The droll cricket in this series may be something one can appreciate. Especially if you’re sitting behind a screen looking at a scorecard years down the line, admiring the resilience of AB de Villiers.

But in reality, every cricket fan hopes that a block-a-thon, never happens if you’re in the ground yourself.

I would certainly be angry if I turned up at Lord’s and saw 143 runs in 143 overs. 

India need to find that balance between home advantage and producing good cricket.

At the moment, they are experts at the former, and failing miserably at the latter.

 

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.

The reasons behind Michael Clarke losing his mojo

Australia’s captain is putting on a brave face, but to everyone that has watched him over the last few weeks, he looks like a broken player mentally, physically and technically.

For the last few years, his runs, his hundreds and his average have peaked and dropped dramatically. In 2012 and 2013 he struck over 1,000 runs in each year, and nine of his 28 career hundreds, averaging 106 and 47 respectively.

He declined, averaging just 35 and 24 in 2014 and 2015, with only two tons in 2014, and not even a 50 this year, so far.

With just 94 runs in this Ashes series’, of which he is losing 2-1 with two to play; it is clear that there is clearly something wrong. A player with over 8,500 runs doesn’t just stop being good.

Here are a few reasons as to why he could have lost his mojo. Some of the things can be remedied, others can’t.

As he walked off the pitch at Edgbaston after a crushing eight wicket defeat in the Ashes, he told Mark Nicholas, his team were playing with 10-men. When a captain feels like he is not part of the side, it will bring the whole side down.

He needs to find a way of bringing himself back into the forefront of the side, and not being shy about it. He needs to bat in the place he will score the most runs, firstly.

Currently batting at number four, he has had a miserable time. He is not a number four. He flourishes at number five, with 70 of his 113 Tests at five, 20 of his 28 hundreds and 20 of his 27 fifties, in the position. At five he averages over 60, which is double that of what he averages at number four [just 30.89]

Not wishing to reduce Clarke’s problems to a quick move down the order, it would certainly seem sensible to put your most experienced and arguably best batsman where he is most likely to score runs that the team needs.

Clarke is not in great form lately, so it would be understandable if he was shy about asserting himself. But he has too. He has nothing to lose, because at this rate, he will be out of the side. 

Michael Clarke is no more the golden boy. The number one Test ranked batsman is Steve Smith, the new number three with the swanky average of 50, and he is clearly seen as the heir to the captaincy. 

As Michael Clarke has watched his role as the primary batsman in the side, captain, leader, and man people look to in order to take responsibility disintegrate before him; he must feel under increasing pressure. The next generation is already in the side and pulling weight, and it’s only inputing more pressure. 

It is with regret that this needs to be written at all, mainly because it’s hard to substantiate. But sometimes in sport you have a gut feeling. When Phillip Hughes tragically died, Michael Clarke wore a very heavy burden. He was clearly personally and emotionally affected in a way that will never go away. 

In an instance, he became not just the captain of Australia reacting to a tragedy of a team mate, but he spoke on behalf of millions of cricket fans all over the world, about a close personal friend.

He addressed press conferences and his memorial, being reduced to tears. He became the dignified voice of cricket mourning, and no doubt had huge emotional energy sapped from him.  

As the captain, he has to hold it in. Every time he faces, every time there is a bouncer, every time someone gets hit. It would be impossible to prove that this is a factor for his decline, but this is a player that will surely always be affected, and will never recover from this tragedy. 

Lastly, when a player has to manage persistent injury, it affects them psychologically.

It’s on their mind, restricting one’s natural game.

He spoke about his rigid fitness regime, and level of professionalism. It would seem he is working harder than ever to ensure this injury does not flare up. But where is the room for enjoying the actual cricket, when there are additional pressures too? 

His back, his form, his captaincy his responsibility; are all building up in a pressure cooker. Not only because of questions of fitness, focus and drive to play the game, but at 34, he won’t have that much time to turn it around one would think.

Michael Clarke is obviously a fine player, but for a culmination of factors has fallen away rapidly in the last year. Australia need a captain that leads by example, so it may be time to address these concerns head on, or move on. 

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.