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.

page separator

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.

page separator

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.

page separator

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.

Bdt79acIIAA0bEq
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.

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.

5 Reasons why Graeme Smith will be Missed By South Africa

Graeme Smith was definitively tough but unassuming, and ended his career as one of the most successful Test openers and captains.

Surrounded by legends, in an era of of record-breaking greats, his often ugly and unattractive style prevents him from being considered as a truly memorable batsman. He will, however, be both remembered and missed by the team he leaves behind.

He was able to lure unsuspecting bowlers into a trap of thinking he had vulnerabilities, but with 9,265 Test runs, 117 Tests caps (108 of which were as captain), his record is undisputedly one of resilience, determination and consistency, in spite of his many flaws.

Smith helped to redefine what is successful; because he had consistent success in a completely different way to others. He did it on his own terms, and proved that the coaching manual is not the only recipe for triumph.

To celebrate this giant of Test cricket, here are five reasons why South Africa will miss the nation’s greatest ever captain.

page separator

1. He was a tough nut

To play from such a young age of 21, is a tough challenge at any high standard of sport. To be invested with opening the batting at that age, and captaincy of a volatile and highly scrutinised team, seems unreasonably difficult.

Smith did it, and did it well. He took on the challenge and was entrusted with it for his entire career for the Proteas.

South Africa may have a captain to replace him. They may be able to fill an opener slot. But they will never replace his Steve Waugh like attitude. To get Smith out you had to work him out. Even if you hit him or exposed technical flaws, if he was still there, he would contiune. It wasn’t always pretty, but mighty effective.

Graeme Smith had to fight the media, his own team mates occasionally, his mind, his technique but most importantly other teams, and did so admirably on all fronts.

With bat in hand, his bottom handed grip often caused an unsuspecting delivery outside his off stump to be planted with a closed bat face to unintended parts of the field. In reality however, he was the ultimate example of ugly runs being fighting runs, finishing with an average of nearly 50 over 117 Tests. He was a fighter. He battled when elegence and technique was not the answer.

To celebrate his career, here is Graeme Smith refusing to give up, coming out to bat with a broken hand:

page separator

2. His consistency

Few batsman in Test history are capable of unerring consistency across innings, batting first or second, home or away, or over a long period long time.

Smith’s frail-looking technique had a major benefit, in the sense that because he battled himself, he was thinking less about the conditions or the bowler. He watched the ball and applied concentration to the game situation, with full concentration on task.

The application he offered to innings of all kinds meant that he averaged over 50 in the first and last innings of Tests, and never scored a hundred in a losing cause. Whatever the chaos and drama around him, Smith was the one batsman that would be more concerned about staying in than performing the perfect cover drive.

There is a strong correlation between Smith not performing and South Africa failing as a team, which outlines his importance, but also how his consistency contributed to South African consistency. As a losing player, he averaged 25.58, compared to 61.34 as a victorious player and 51. 34 as a player in drawn games.

One could almost say that he is a microcosm of South African success.

To showcase his consistency, here is a clip of Graeme Smith accumulating 259 against just a week after scoring 277. His sheer appetite for runs was staggering.

)

page separator

3. He was the modern leader of South African cricket

South Africa under Graham Smith not just reintegrated itself into the rhythm of international cricket, but re-established its rich legacy and quality. He took the captaincy as a young man, and nurtured his side into one of the best sides in the world.

With the exception of Shaun Pollock who played under Hansie Cronje to, the modern greats; Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini flourished under the fantastic man management of Smith. Truly great partnerships were concreted; with the likes of Jacques Kallis as the rock in the middle, who played 98 Tests under Smith, scoring 33 of his 45 centuries. Ab de Villiers grew into the perfect decoy to the more mature batsmen, such as himself, Hashim Amla and Kallis.

He built a well rounded and compact team, and yes; it had flaws. But so did Smith. Some of the flaws Smith had to manage is that unlike India who had Anil Kumble for so long, and Australia who of course had Shane Warne, Smith never had a genuinely world class spin bowler. He had to learn to handle a team that didn’t always have the neccesary resources. Like his own batting, he got on with it, and managed it to the best of his abiltiy.

Smith represented a generation of striving for change, but striving to achieve the maximum with the ability at hand. Encapsulating this mentality; here is a clip of South Africa dismissing Australia for just 47 after being themselves dismissed for a miserly 96. Whatever they can do, we can do better.

page separator

4. Smith determined his, and his team’s legacy

When he arrived on the scene, people thought he would never last. He was too technically flawed. He couldn’t sweep or play through the offside. He was far too young to understand the subtleties and nuances of Test captaincy.

When he, as the captain, was too young and ‘couldn’t fill the boots of Shaun Pollock’ according to so many, he took charge of his fortune.

He maintained the captaincy for over a decade, steadily growing into his role and finding his comfort zone. Even with retirement, he was not perfect, but nobody pushed him out. At 33, he could easily have continued for at least another year.

But he didn’t. In terms of modern captaincy, he has the most caps as a skipper EVER in Tests, with 109 games, and has a win percentage of 48.62, which is very respectable considering some of the key issues that had to be dealt with, such as a lack of spinner and for a long time a lack of competency against quality spin.

The fact is, that like his batting, his captaincy was a microcosm for South Africa’s attitude towards playing. They didn’t have a Shane Warne or a Sachin Tendulkar. They had their flaws, but they dealt with them, in the same way that Smith worked through a method of achieving something, even with his strange and unorthodox technique.

Here is Smith giving his final press conference as to why he retired; outlining the importance of hard work and resilience over sheer skill and ability.

page separator

5. He liked making England suffer

The only thing worse than seeing England lose for the unsuspecting neutral, is seeing England fans gloat. Graeme Smith dedicated a career to ensuring misery for England fans in Test cricket, with a quite staggering individual record.

In 2003, he scored 277 and 259 in the space of a week, subjugating English bowling to South Africa’s mighty hammer.

He scored two centuries against England in 2008, two in 2010, and incase England were not sick of him, he snuck in a century against England on his hundredth Test, which was the final Test of the series’ and crowned his side as number one in the world. Fitting.

Smith loved scoring runs against England. He put an often arrogant England side in their place, humbling them with inside edges to fine leg, and cover drives that ended up through mid wicket. He frustrated everyone because he always gave an impression of vulnerability, yet more often than not, pulled through with great success.

To enjoy Smith’s resilience against England, here is his magnificent 183 against England in 2010 at Cape Town.

Captain Sammy – Part of the solution or the problem?

Darren Sammy has plugged the West Indies problems as a captain for some time. Whereas he has been relinquished from his limited overs captaincy, his captaincy at Test level has stabilised the West Indies side much like Misbah Ul Haq’s has for Pakistan, but unlike Misbah; Sammy’s role is not worth the drama it causes. He is not there on merit and it’s time the West Indies stopped wasting a place in their side, and gracefully said thank you, and progressed on in Test Cricket.

Turning back the clocks, the appointment of Darren Sammy as captain came after a host of catastrophes. West Indies captains came and went almost as often as Australian off spinners, as both board troubles and internal disputes meant that the likes of Chris Gayle, Ramranesh Sarwan, Dwayne Bravo and others, had short unsuccessful stints as captains. Sammy has won nearly a third of his Tests, despite a thoroughly mediocre individual record, but undoubtably, the fact that he was barely selected before captaincy, indicates why he is in this side.

Selection to captain is a dangerous and wasteful tactic. Mike Brearley is the obvious case, whereby the team recognised his value as a captain, regardless of his ineptitude at Test level as a batsman. But, he was successful, captaining England in 31 of his 39 Test matches, winning 17 and losing only 4. Because he had a clear role, and excelled, the team was willing to carry him.

Sammy has had remarkably little impact with bat or ball, and is unable to lead from the front, yet, out of his 35 Tests, 29 have been as captain, and there have been eight wins within those nine, which is considerable bearing in mind the West Indies terminal decline in recent years. His tenure has included a T20 World cup win also, which crowned the West Indies resurgence. He is a significant part of recent success in limited overs cricket, and certainly represents a scrappy and hardworking attitude, but he is certainly not selection on merit for Test cricket. Nobody doubts his limited overs use.

With the bat, an average of just 21.96 is entirely pedestrian, even at number eight. His first class average of just 23.95, suggests that this Test average is not doing him a dis-service; as he is not a genuine allrounder. Out of his one Test century and five fifties, four fifties have come against Bangladesh Zimbabwe and New Zealand, which are lower ranked sides.

With the ball, his meagre average of 36.01 highlights his mediocrity. Nibbly medium pace, gives the same impression as with the bat; that his position as an ‘allrounder’ encompasses minimal on field value. He barely breaks the 80 miles an hour barrier; which although at times has been ‘steady’, is impotent.

Sammy acknowledges “that my role is to build pressure and be the workhorse of the team”, according to ESPN Cricinfo. The West Indies have so many options, and wicket taking options at that, that it feels like such a waste to continuously select a workhorse, when a bowler that bowls upwards of 90mph, or a recognised world class spinner is forgone. Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul, Jerome Taylor, Shannon Gabriel, and Sunil Narine sit on the sidelines waiting for an opportunity, whilst Sammy impotently probes.

He has done a stellar job given the enormity of the challenge that encompasses the West Indies captaincy. But, he prevents penetrative bowling in the present, and prevents development and gelling of the team in the long term, because realistically, he is holding the job until a more permanent fixture emerges.

His ordinariness as a cricketer does not compensate for his full heart, nor his steady captaincy or workhorse-like attitude. He is not Misbah, because he is not time and time again saving his team. He is perpetuating its insecurity, and it can’t go on like this If the West Indies are a serious Test team.

But is there a better option to captain?

Surely the West Indies have a potential captain that could contribute to the team, and maintain some degree of stability. The West Indies has a number of potential captains, although none of them tactically as strong as Sammy. The obvious options that spring to mind would be senior or established players such as; Dwayne Bravo, who is now the ODI captain. Perhaps Marlon Samuels, although he has been known to have an uncontrollable and often overconfident attitude, which may be a liability. Or Denesh Ramdin, who is the wicketkeeper, and captain of Trinidad and Tobago.

Alternatively, The West Indies could adopt an entirely new captain, such as Kieron Pollard who has recently snuck into the Test squad against New Zealand, after a period of being a limited overs specialist.

It is clear that there are relatively limited stocks of captaincy talent within the West Indies domestic competition, as captaincy in the day four format, is dominated by very experienced, such as Ryan Hinds (Barbados) and Assad Fudadin (Guyana), the weak, such as Jamaica’s Tamar Lambert, or the numerous aforementioned National players who also captain their domestic side.

There is an exhaustion of options, and it would seam a potential new captain would be Dwayne Bravo or wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin, as both are permanent fixtures in the side, and have captaincy pedigree.

Yes, he has captained well, and has been a part of the solution to a greater problem, but he seems to be a part of the problem, far more so than the solution. He encapsulates the West Indies.

Fighting with themselves before they can fight the opposition. Whilst the removal of Sammy may prove difficult in terms of captaincy, having a complete team, with nobody being carried will surely aid long term success in the Test Format.

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. 

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

Australia’s batting woes come into focus

Before the first ODI at Lords between England and Australia, Shane Watson, Australia’s opening batsmen and allrounder, had said England didn’t have enough batting depth and that their line-up with five specialist bowlers (including Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann who can all bat) was too bowler heavy. The comment seemed a little out of place because it is clearly the Australian batting line-up that has some serious issues relating to depth.

Watson and Warner get them off to a solid start, but besides them, only Michael Clarke offers any substantial resistance. In the absence of Michael Hussey, who skipped the tour due to personal reasons, Australia sent Steven Smith, a leg-spinning allrounder who led Sydney Sixers to the Big Bash League title last season, at No. 6,. He can bat in an unorthodox fashion at that position, but having not bowled, he is essentially reduced to a batsman, who has performed poorly with the bat.

Australia need some more batsmen. With the likes of Michael Hussey, now 37, David Hussey (not picked for Test matches anyway) and Ponting getting old, Australia team is losing players who scored in bulk. They have inexperienced batsmen who are not yet ready to fill their predecessors’ shoes. Even Watson and Warner, the supposedly more solid players, are not doing well. Watson has a large number of half-centuries (28) in 154 ODIs, but only six hundreds. In Tests, he has scored only two centuries.

I think it would be more valuable to score a fifty at No. 5 or No. 6 instead of one at the top of the batting order. Watson bragging about depth should drop down the order to give his side some depth. Phil Hughes should come in. Clarke has 52 fifties and just seven tons in 217 games. Despite this he is now ranked eighth in the ODIs and as the leading batsman he is the only genuine solid option. I feel he should be at No. 3, but he is not converting enough starts to hundreds.

Michael Clarke dominating Aussie cricket

Let’s look at some other domestic cricketers. Phil Hughes has been dominant in England. On the other hand he failed to make a century during the last Australian domestic season and seemed to have been worked out. Although, he wasn’t incredible in the Ashes but his domestic first-class record is too good to ignore. The amount of runs he has scored is simply staggering. At just 23, he has 17 hundreds and 5810 runs and ovr 300 runs in the English domestic T20 tournament in which he top scored b y a county mile by the quarter final stage. How can Australia possibly ignore this run machine? Get him in the side, straighten out his flaws and make him a master of his art.

Chris Rogers, who has been in the form of his life playing for Middlesex in all forms of cricket, is a little older and is still waiting, like David Hussey, for a proper chance to play Tests. He has been churning out runs for a long time. In Sheffield Shield trophy this season, he hit 781 runs including three centuries to be among the top run-getters.

Likewise, there is Marcus North who despite already having had a shot at Test cricket was chucked for not being good enough. He is a stylish attacking batsman who can bowl.

Also, seasoned professionals like 32-year old Adam Voges, Michael Klinger and Phil Jacques have all been on the fringes for a long time. Klinger, who was the fourth-highest run scorer in the 2011-12 season, has not been able to break into the side. He scored one century in 19 innings, which isn’t breathtaking for one of the top scorers in the domestic league.

Phil Jacques has become so fed up with Australia selection that he has now said he wants to play for English counties. Rob Quiney and Liam Davis have both scored profusely and but have gone unnoticed. Perhaps Davis’s long-term record is not outstanding, but having scored three of his four centuries in the 2011-12 season including a triple-century, credit should be given where it is due. If a player is successful then he should get some acknowledgement, bearing in mind the alternatives – Smith, Forrest and George Bailey, and no one else really.

The top century makers in Australia’s domestic league were Ed Cowan, Quiney, David Hussey, Forrest, Bailey, Davis and Rogers with three centuries apiece.

Liam Davis 921 runs in 15 innings. Averaging over 60 but still overlooked over the likes of Steve smith

The likes of Usman Khawaja, Bailey and Forrest are all decent players or they wouldn’t get in the Test side, but they haven’t set the world alight and are clearly not ready for international cricket. Who are the fringe players pushing for a spot in the side?

I can’t see anyone who is scoring runs that doesn’t seem to have had a go in the Australian team on some level. Those in the Test, ODI and T20 side are simply not performing to a high standard. I hope Australia soon find a new Ponting or Michael Hussey because at the moment they are an inexperienced side. I am sure in three to four years there will be good players worthy of international cricket, but until then, Australia need some serious runs from some experienced batsmen.

WI put in a hole by batsmen. England dug out by bowlers.

This was written on the evening of the third day of the second test in Trent Bridge. The West Indies managed to limit England to a misely 428 which was just 58 ahead. By the end of Play the Windies were 61-6 i.e. just 3 ahead but 6 down. A few things can clearly be taken from this and hopefully learnt..

Firstly England should have got about 500 or 600 and if it weren’t for the fifty partnership at the bottom between Bresnan and Broad they wouldn’t have even had a lead. Secondly England have a great new ball partnership with strong and first change bowlers that always seem to perform. No doubt the WI have some good bowlers that can keep the runs down and take wickets against the best team in the world but they are fundamentally a hopeless batting unit. Especially when the 37 year old Shiv fails. They need some batsmen (Sarwan, Gayle, Bravo, Pollard etc..)

Firstly then – We all watched Sammy and Samuels, Strauss and Pitersen belt the ball around a flat wicket and a quick outfield. The question we ask is why have in both tests the top order of  the W.Indies order not fired and why didn’t the England middle order fire. It was clearly a batting wicket especially at Trent Bridge. Clearly a placid pitch and incredible sunny warm batting conditions. The likes of Pietersen and Cook could have and should have gone on having got a start. Bell should have not given his wicket away so easily and similarly with Bairstow; Not too mention Prior. There is just a lack of ruthlessness with the bat, almost as if they know the bowlers will do the job. I get the feeling that England should have had a lot more runs on the board, perhaps 550 or 600. We all know how potent and effective England’s seamers are (61-6 proves that..). 600 on the board and skittle them out for peanuts .. surely that is what England tried to do, but the Batsmen didn’t really perform.

It is somewhat hidden away that England’s Batsmen didn’t perform because of the teams overall strong position. The West Indies were effectively six wickets down with a lead of just 3 runs. Arguably if England had got the score they should look for i.e. 550 then the Windies not even ahead because England should still have been batting long into the day and dominating. The new ball bowling partnership of Anderson and Broad is not the quickest or the most experienced but it’s perfectly clear that they are genuinely world class. Anderson in particular i can aliken to Flintoff in the sense he leads an attack, dosn’t have an amazing average or get 5 wicket halls every game but he is  Ever reliable and incredibly skilled in his art . The only bowling partnership to challenge Broad and Anderson are of course Steyn and Morkel and they are only possibly better due to the higher pace at which they bowl. England of course have not only got Anderson and Broad but they have Bresnan coming in at the end and being England’s real ‘Goldenarm’. England arguably have a string of 5 or 6 world class seam bowlers (Tremlett, Onions, Finn etc) in addition to Swann who is the best ranked spinner in the world. The Batsmen have world class bowlers to fall back on, but if England want real ruthlessness then the batsmen get the runs. Bigger and quicker and the bowlers have more rest then do their job.

Rampaull and Roach are potentially a great outfit of opening bowlers in addition to the likes of Edwards and Taylor who  could make a lethal four pronged pace attack. The obvious glaring problem with this otherwise decent international attack is the depth. Where is their first change ? Sammy ?? Really ??? That is like bringing Collingwood or Andrew Symonds on as a first change. It’s just not worthy of an international first change. If Sammy plays he should be at 6 or 7 not 8 especially as he has shown he can score a hundred under pressure. He is a decent batsmen and should take some responsibility. The Windies need Dwayne Bravo to bolster both the bat and ball department and another quality seamers such as .. .. maybe Jerome Taylor, Tino Best, Gavin Tonge.. or spinners like Bishoo or Benn. These bowlers are absolutely quality but the 1st change spot is totally wasted by a part time medium pacer. (Hope the WI Board read this!). With an attack that is led by two good bowlers but not much else after; there is little problems for quality batsmen like Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen.. If they can just survive the opening spell they can cash in which is why i think England should have got a hell of a lot more.

Lastly i think it is perfectly clear that the West Indies are team reliant on a few players. Roach and Rampaull with the Ball to take wickets which they do, and arguably Sammy to keep it tight; which he really dosn’t. It goes without saying that Shiv and Samuels with the bat take most of the flack. It must be seen that Samuels only has 2 or 3 hundreds and Shiv is now 37 and nearly 38. What is going on !? Where are their players that can actually win them games. It’s often said that Batsmen get the runs and the bowlers win the game; well the bowlers did okay limiting England to less than a hundred lead.. but it is the W.Indies top four that yet again failed. Shiv of course had to go up the order on this occasion but Edwards still failed. Barath, Powell and Edwards, look completely out of their depth. Bravo looks good but just hasn’t performed yet. It’s all resting on Shiv and Samuels and it just isn’t going to happen every time. When is someone going to stand up and do the job they are paid to do i.e. hit the bloody ball without it going to a fielder or back on to the stumps. Sort it out !!!!!!

https://www.facebook.com/pages/StumpyCricket/234259719945177

https://stumpycricketallout.wordpress.com/

https://twitter.com/#!/Stumpycricket