England has been the flag bearer for test match cricket ever since the game started. Even during the 1990’s – when they lacked wins – they still produced quality test cricketers. Under Vaughan’s leadership, England rose to the top with the 2005 Ashes being the peak. The sheer presence of Flintoff, Bell, Peterson, Anderson, Cook, and Harmison made test cricket exciting. This trend continued in the 2010s under the leadership of Strauss and Cook. Their brand may not have been as flamboyant as before but they were a resilient side under Cook. In this blog, we are assessing why England faced a test debacle under their all-time leading Test run-scorer. To say the least, they are a mere shadow of what they were.
Test Debacle: The batting
English test batsmen have seldom been flamboyant. However, they have always been steely, determined, and technically correct. Of the 7 batsmen picked for the first test against India this summer, only Root averages above 35. Many may point out that Stokes is missing, but even Stokes averages only 37. To put it in perspective, his average is significantly less than Angelo Mathews and most people would rank Stokes as a better player.
The Openers’ bogie run
The opening struggles began with the retirement of Strauss have been compounded with the Cook’s last hurrah. Burns and Sibley have barely looked like the test match openers. Hameed was impressed in his debut series and heralded as the next Boycott but injury and poor form kept him out of the side for too long. The glimmer of hope is that he is back in the squad and his recent form is promising.
If the openers are an issue, the #3 position is a thorn. Since Trott’s retirement, the position has never been replaced adequately. The likes of Bairstow, Malan, Crawley, and a few more have failed to live up to the expectations. Crawley looks a decent player but aside from his double ton against Pakistan, he has flattered to device.
The Shining light
Joe Root of the shining light at four and always looks a class apart. Even in the first innings a couple of days ago the difference in class was shockingly clear between Root and the rest of his colleagues. He has carried the batting line up for will over a year, but asking him to do it for a longer period of time may be too much to ask for.
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The rest of the lineup is as fallible and uncertain as the top order. The basic technique seems to have been amiss. For decades English batsmen regardless of quality at least looked correct at the crease. Burns, Sibley, and Lawrence seem to be competing for the award for who has the most awkward stance. To summarize, the opposition bowling sides must be feeling that if they get the number 4 out cheaply, they will win.
The Spinners Web
If the batting stocks are low then the spin cupboard is bare. Leach is the best spinner on the show and his omission speaks volumes about the management’s faith in him. Parkinson is impressive in white-ball cricket, but his red-ball credentials are yet to come under the test. Dom Bess has been thrown into oblivion after a horrendous winter in the subcontinent. After that, there are no names worthy of mention.
Even Moeen Ali can do a job if trusted but the biggest failure of the ECB is not to have persisted with Adil Rashid in his initial years. Rashid is Morgan’s gun spinner in white-ball cricket but has lost faith in red-ball cricket. This is in part due to injury but also a lack of faith shown by the management. This is a problem I cannot see disappearing in the near future or the distant future. There is nobody I can see that can even do the job Giles did for a number of years.
The ECB’s Role in Test Debacle
The ECB has a lot to answer for this rapid decline though. It is an open secret that the ECB has shifted focus ever since the dismal performance at the 2015 world cup. With the results of the white ball team, it’s hard to argue they were wrong. However, it’s one thing to shift focus and completely different to neglect the elite format. The county championship structure and schedules are devised to keep white-ball cricket at the forefront because that’s where the profits are. But that particular decision according to me is the top reason behind the test debacle.
The first-class games are divided into two segments. In the early season – where military medium pace bowlers can look outstanding and batsmen would be lucky to scrape to a 50 depending on the number of rain interventions. During the peak summer, the white ball takes over. Then in the late season, the first-class cricket returns on tired and flat pitches, allowing batsmen to play on the front foot with relatively no jeopardy.
Most notably though the latter part of the first-class season collides with the international schedule. Subsequently, the test players do not participate in first-class cricket. This leaves a scarce chance of ironing out any technical flaws in the techniques.
Questionable Rest and Rotation Policy
The ECB is also to blame for the debacle they made of the prescribed rest and rotation protocol. Though the protocol had the right intentions, the rigidity is simply unexplainable. The players were flying 8000 miles to play one test then, rest the next and play again.
To sum it up, the lack of quality batsmen, the bare spinning cupboard, and the questionable ECB policies have brought in the test debacle, which will take time to repair. Unfortunately, the decline of England’s red-ball team is disheartening not just for the English fans, but even the fans across the world. The force to reckon just a few years ago has spiraled down rather fast.