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. 

Ashton Agar smothered Australia’s failings and has given a false sense of security

Australia were saved by a teenager. No doubt about it.

Ashton Agar’s 98 and Phillip Hughes 81*, ensured Australia got a slender lead and were saved from the depths of being nearly 100 behind with three and a half days to play. Everyone is talking about the young man, Agar, but it is very important to remember that the Australian top order spectacularly failed, and even with his heroics, it isn’t as if they are bossing the game.

They have some momentum, and they are in a decent position ahead of day three, but they are not dominating.

When Ashton Agar came to the crease, Australia were 117-9, which was 98 behind. If he had got out, England would have been in their second innings on day two, with the momentum. As it turned out, Agar and Hughes’ partnership and put them 65 ahead, and fair play to them. They were spectacularly cool and calm, even if England’s bowling was erratic and ill-controlled.

The fact of the matter is that Australia were utterly defeated at the top by a two man attack.

James Anderson and Steven Finn reduced Australia to 108-5, and Australia then further collapsed too 117-9 with the help of Swann.

It took a freak piece of brilliance from Agar to rescue Australia and it is no good to sugar coat Australia’s performance through Agar. Sure, one can say it is all ok and it turned out fine, but this isn’t going to happen every time and the failings of the top order were a mixture of being outclassed by the pace of Finn and the swing of Anderson, and giving it away.

Ed Cowan and Shane Watson were both out driving, Brad Haddin out playing against the spin, Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers to good swing bowling. Nobody is talking about Cowan or Watson. Nobody is even talking about Hughes’ excellent innings. It’s all about one player.

Australia are sidetracked and have a false sense of securirty that they have been saved. Well they havn’t yet. They are not on top of the game. It has been dragged back from being a catastrophe at 117-9 to being 65 ahead, and now England lead by 15. It’s very much in the balance for both teams.

The innings of a 19 year old saved their blushes and gave Australia momentum. They are not in a great position still, and as we have seen from this England side so often, they fight and let their bats do the talking. Having Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook will really test this Australian seam attack, and will show up their cracks. Currently England lead by 15 runs with 8 wickets remaining but importantly it is only day three.

Cook can bat for a long time as we all know, and Pietersen can tear apart any side, especially spin. He has destroyed much better bowlers than Agar in particular. Any kind of considerable lead, such as 300 plus, and Graeme Swann on day four will be a seriously difficult challenge.

 Australia are riding the wave of  Agar and pretending they are in a strong position, especially after Starc’s two wickets, but it is fairly clear they are still very much in the contest, not on top of it. They have a lot to do before they can relax.

Warwickshire must not do a Lancashire

Warwickshire won the county championship division one title in 2012 in brilliant fashion. They will be very cautious not to fall into the trap of previous champions Lancashire, who were relegated as defending champions.

It is not as clear cut as the football league say, which has consistent and regular winners year on year. No one team dominates. Since 2007, five different counties have won the division one title ; Warwickshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Durham twice and Sussex, so it is clear it’s hard to follow up a win with a second.

Chris Woakes
Chris Woakes

New Warwickshire coach Dougie Brown coach has recognised, before he was appointed as coach, that with winning the title comes a certain status and reputation. he told ecb.co.uk that:

“I don’t for a one minute think that Lancashire were complacent. They were the Champion County, the ones everyone wanted to beat and we need to be very wary that it’s going to be the case with us.”

Brown has been made new coach of Warwickshire, after former coach Ashley Giles has been made the England limited-overs coach. It is a disruptive change, but a forced one. Unfortunately for Warwickshire, so far it is the only real change.

The Bears coach recognised that Warwickshire need to improve and build on the success of 2012 but they could actually be at risk of losing a number of key players without having built on their side.

Although they have secured Jeetan Patel as their overseas player, who took 51 vital wickets in 13 matches, a New Zealand call up will be likely with Daniel Vettori perpetually injured. Chris Woakes seems to be on the cusp of the England ODI side, and could certainly make the Champions trophy squad, not to mention due to the sheer amount of cricket England play this summer, Woakes could find himself with an England cap in any format. So, again, Warwickshire could suffer from losing 2 key players.

They will certainly have limited access to their England stars Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell.

Other stars of last year, Varun Chopra, Chris Wright and Rikki Clarke all remain, hopefully, but there is a risk of falling behind and ‘doing a Lancashire’, if the squad is not sufficiently improved further from last year. So far nothing has been changed.

In the last 6 years, the winning division 1 championship side did not contain the leading run scorer and only twice the leading wicket taker (in 2009 and 2007). This outlines the neccesity of a balanced side, and a team performance.

Last year Warwickshire’s allrounders, Rikki Clarke and Chris Woakes, exemplified just this: Rikki Clarke scored 3 hundreds (joint top in the club for 2012 with Varun Chopra) and amassed 826 runs overall, in addition to 20 wickets. Fellow allrounder Woakes averaged 71.83 with the bat, with 2 hundreds, in addition to 27 wickets in 8 games, again a strong all-round display by junior and senior.

Warwickshire’s frontline bowlers were also exceptional with Chris Wright (62 wickets at 24.06) but interestingly with only 2 five wicket halls, highlighting the fact it was competitive. Keith Barker also took 56 wickets at an average just under 21, both of whom were supplemented by Woakes, Patel and Clarke.

Next year Warwickshire should benefit from Boyd Rankin who returns following a year of turbulent injury. He is exclusively a Warwickshire player now as he has quit Ireland duty.

It is clear that once more Warwickshire will need a well rounded and strong side with lot’s of options.

However, their major rivals have all improved their squads. They all want to beat the champions.

Yorkshire for example have brought in seamer Jack Brookes and Liam Plunkett, Nottinghamshire claimed England seamer Ajmal Shahzad and Aussie opener Ed Cowan, Somerset have secured Alviro Petersen and Abdur Rehman, Sussex Rory Hamilton Brown and Chris Jordan, and Surrey even audaciously captured South Africa captain Graeme Smith in addition to Vikram Solanki.

There are still months ahead of the county championship to change this, but it is noticeable that competitors to the title are already planning the demise of the new champions.

As has been shown, it is not hugely common for one team to win two championships in a row, and Warwickshire are facing strong competition as their main rivals are already building up new improved squads. Although last year Warwickshire won, they need to step up further. They need to add and improve. Not just maintain what they have.

Dougie Brown says they will learn from Lancashire, but so far, not much has been shown to prove that. Few changes are taking place.

The coming months will be crucial.

Follow @jackmendel4 on twitter

Gilo, we need to talk about Jade

By Paul Norris 

It’s Friday afternoon. I’m at work, tired, because I stayed up late for no particular reason, and my boss has gone home. Any kind of distraction is very welcome, but England against India tomorrow seems to be dominating my thoughts.

Jay Dernbach letting fly a fast ball
Jay Dernbach

We’re almost halfway through a fairly meaningless, but nonetheless, interesting series & I’ve chosen to focus my attention on two men I’ve played against: Jade Dernbach and Ashley Giles. Now, that last sentence might make it sound like I’ve played at a very high standard, but it’s worth remembering that Dernbach was a very late starter to the game. He was possibly in his first ever senior season, aged about 15 or 16 at the time.

Predictably, he was nowhere near as good as he is now, and didn’t even stand out in a side who we considered our weaker local rivals. In Gilo’s case, it was football, not cricket, which took us to the same playing field.

For any coach of any team, an ODI & T20 series away in India is a seriously tough first assignment. Given England’s recent ODI history in the country, anything better than defeat in both series could be seen as a credible coaching debut. Add to that mix the fact that the world is watching with keen interest how the split coaching setup will work, and that he doesn’t have arguably his three best bowlers at his disposal, a baptism of fire does not seem like an exaggeration.

Bearing in mind all of the above, the fact that this series is still level at 1-1 should probably be seen as an achievement from England’s point of view. The T20 series result of 1-1 was a decent one as well. It does not, however, paint over certain weaknesses, most notably, with the bowling. James Tredwell has deputised very competently for Graeme Swann, but overall, the weakened pace attack looks exactly that. It could easily have been Tim Bresnan, who has not really looked threatening at any point during his stays in India, but to me, a bigger concern is the Surrey paceman Jade Dernbach.

It’s easy to see why England would want him in the side, especially on the sub-continent: He might not be lightning quick, but has the capacity to touch 90 MPH in between using variations. He might not be a big conventional swinger, but his slingy action does create a hint of reverse. His variations are well-renowned, and he has a more than useful Yorker. What more could you want from a death-bowler?! He has all the tools to be effective, but arguably he doesn’t utilize his skills well.

Well, here’s where the problems lie: Firstly, ‘the Yorker’ has seemingly been banished. Dernbach burst on to the scene with a brutal and effective yorker, especially at the death, yet it seems to have been let go. This is where Giles and Saker should be stepping in and encouraging the likes of Dernbach to attack stumps more. The same could also be said for any of England’s other pace men, so arguably it would be unfair to single out Dernbach alone for this, but he is seen as a specialist. Secondly, he may be a death bowler, but he has been leaking runs both with the new and old ball. It dosn’t seem as if he is an effective new-ball bowler; although Bresnan is not really either, so somebody has to do it, and he was very expensive and innefective at the death in the second ODI.

His control of it has been pretty ordinary and he has neither looked like keeping the runs down, or taking wickets with it. If England had a genuine new-ball bowler to partner Steven Finn this series, it may even be a legitimate tactic not to hand Dernbach the ball until the 30th over & let him do what he does best.

The problem with that is that he’s not been keeping the runs down at the death either. Any death-bowler can go for plenty on a bad day, even without bowling badly, and a certain MS Dhoni is probably the best ODI finisher in the world. This could, however, easily be used as an excuse for the 110-odd runs England leaked in the last 10 overs of the last ODI. I’ve read various comments saying that Dernbach has absolutely hundreds of variations. Arguably he has one, perhaps two, he just uses them far more regularly than most genuinely quick bowlers use theirs. Why would you want to bowl so many variations when you can bowl at 90 MPH regularly ?

Perhaps it is David Saker who needs more attention as to why the coaches have not managed to channel Dernbach’s variations to maximise their effectiveness. It’s well-documented that he specialises in the mental rather than the technical side of bowling, so I’d like to know what he’s been advising Jade to do:

Has Saker not been asking him (and in fact, the other pacemen) to bowl Yorkers? or have the bowlers themselves not got the skill, nerve or intelligence to pull it off at will? Clearly at the death the hardest ball to hit is one of full and straight length. Has England’s bowling coach not considered encouraging Dernbach to bowl more within himself in order to regain some control and confidence? To pick a stock ball and variate around that, or perhaps ultimately could it be the case that Dernbach is actually not International standard yet. Dernbach has shown he cannot use his slower ball to best effect, even though it is one of the best slower balls in the world arguably.

So what could Ashley Giles do to improve the situation? As a short-term measure, Dernbach should be replaced, with Meaker in the squad, despite having looked unimpressive in his T20 outings, Meaker is pacey and has more control. Another option is Danny Briggs, who could offer another spin option, and of course some new blood and a potential future replacement for Graeme Swann.

James Tredwell has arguably been the pick of England’s bowlers this series which is encouraging, and both Samit Patel and Joe Root have kept bowled both economically and bowled intelligent and controlled spells. If the part-timers can do it, why not bring a full-timer in to see if he can do it even more so. This doesn’t necessarily solve the death, or the new-ball problem (unless you give Briggs the new ball?). It would put pressure on Woakes or Bresnan to deliver during the happy-hour, that is the last 10 overs. Both have looked impotent and pedestrian when they have lost their lines or if the ball doesn’t swing (conventionally or reverse)

If the extra spinner is not considered a viable option, Giles and Saker need to promote Dernbach’s consistency and control with stock balls and when to use variation. Currently he is strong at the beginning but falls away nearing the end of an innings.

It’s also possible that people will say I’m being too harsh on Dernbach here: He does, after all, bowl at a time when bowlers expect to go for runs. None of the other quicks have crowned themselves in glory either. He also produced an absolute beauty to remove Gambhir in the last game, and did give even Dhoni the occasional problem.

It’s an interesting conundrum for Giles: One could argue that this is the first big test of his coaching and decision-making skills at this level. England will surely need all of their bowlers to stand up if they are to come away from India with a historic series victory.

Follow Paul Norris on Twitter @noz3112

Why the World T20 can’t get going ..

 

The T20 World cup should be the spectacle of the year from start to finish, bringing in the crowds, brimming with of noise and Sixes. Unfortunately the cricket’s intensity this year has been notably dreary in the first six games. It has been somewhat of a predictable, and monotonous formality, with a major side playing against a minnow in all six initial games.  The empty seats are a testament to the jaded and dry brand of little vs large, one sided cricket on show.

With three teams per group (two major sides and one minnow side), it is set up so the two major sides progress. It is likely this will occur as they are better than the lesser minnow side. If it is likely this is going to be the case regardless of the order the games are played, surely it would be most entertaining to play the match involving the two big sides as the first fixture of the group to wet the appetite? If this was the case, the minnow side would be playing after the big sides have met. One big side would have defeated the other, so the minnow would be playing against a big side which has already lost a game. It would guarantee the game had something riding on it instead of just being a sweeping of the minnow out the way.

Matches between India versus England, and  South Africa versus Sri Lanka of group C,  will have no bearing on who is going through as both have beaten the third side in the group. They will only determine in who finishes top and second.

A few significant games have to be played which could affect the outcome of who advances to the super eight. With the West Indies and Pakistan yet to kick off their campaigns in group B and D. Should Australia beat the West Indies then the West Indies would have to beat Ireland to go through. As New Zealand beat Bangladesh, a second win would seal an advance to the super eight. Pakistan could slip up on Bangladesh however.

The schedule is such that effectively the real competition starts with the super eight. The tournament is only in this primitive stage, yet  is predictable and not catching the public’s imagination.

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 !