The English cricket team is in disarray, with what can only be described as its winter of discontent capped by a 10-wicket loss to the West Indies on Sunday that sealed a fifth straight series defeat. That came after a 4-0 thrashing by Australia Down Under in the Ashes.
A “red-ball reset” — as it has been branded by the England and Wales Cricket Board — is underway, apparently. It’s clearly needed given the team’s hasty decline in a format that was once king in the English game but now might be something an afterthought given the riches that lie in white-ball cricket.
But where does the ECB start? There’s so much wrong with the English test team that surely more pain is coming this summer, when New Zealand and South Africa visit for three-match series either side of India returning to complete a five-match series it led 2-1 last year before the final test was postponed for coronavirus-related reasons.
Here is what’s in the in-tray for English cricket’s embattled leadership:
Joe Root showed no indication he was ready to give up the captaincy after losing the series to the West Indies — “I’m very passionate about trying to take this team forward,” he said Sunday — but that might be taken out of his hands.
While every leader around him was losing their job after the Ashes debacle — coaches Chris Silverwood and Graham Thorpe were released, Ashley Giles departed as director of cricket — Root stayed in his role and has now led his country 64 times, which is a national record. But, heading into his sixth year in charge, does the team need to hear a new voice?
That might be the choice of the new director of cricket and head coach once they are appointed, though the alternatives are virtually non-existent. At least the captaincy hasn’t affected Root’s form with the bat: two more centuries in the Caribbean took him to a remarkable eight since the start of 2021.
Well, the decision to drop senior pacemen Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad for the tour of the West Indies really backfired, didn’t it? Eschewing a combined 1,177 wickets and 34 years of test-match experience in an effort to look to the future never looked a great idea to begin with.
Because the problem is, on the field, they remain the most likely source of wickets and an inspiration to their younger teammates, especially the backup bowlers who can feed off any early gains made by the two veterans. Surely they return for the English summer, especially given the fitness issues surrounding Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood.
Fast bowler Jofra Archer would be a welcome sight in the team, too, after his nagging injury problems that have robbed him of any test cricket in more than a year. Looking at the positives, with Archer, Anderson and Broad back available, it’s hardly a bad position for any reset to begin.
A major ongoing concern is the flakiness in England’s batting lineup that was so pronounced during the Ashes and returned in the decisive third test against the Windies when Root’s team slumped to 90-8 at one stage in the first innings and then 120 all out in the second.
Take away Root and England’s batting is a shambles, falling apart amid the slightest pressure or faced with a testing pitch. Getting an opening partnership worthy of the description seems an impossible task — you have to go back to Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook (2006-12) for the last decent one — though Alex Lees at least demonstrated in the Caribbean, where he was playing his first test series, a technique that could stand up to scrutiny.
But the statistics are worrying: In 2021, there were 50 ducks made by England batters while the average runs scored by England batters was 24.80.
It’s becoming increasingly clear the domestic red-ball is not fit for purpose, especially since the introduction of The Hundred and the fact that the prime summer cricketing months of county cricket — July and August — are dedicated to the white-ball game.
Put simply, English cricket’s obsession is no longer test cricket, so producing players with the characteristics suited to the longer format — patience, a solid technique, an unflustered temperament — is no longer the aim.
Strauss, who has temporarily replaced Giles as director of cricket, recommended a full independent review into the domestic English game but don’t expect that to be a quick fix, or for that to suddenly churn out batters equipped to deal with test-match intensity when the money on offer around the world in Twenty20 cricket is so lucrative.
The process of hiring a permanent replacement for Giles as the overseer of men’s cricket in England is underway and needs to be the priority. Only then can a head coach — or head coaches, one for test team and one for the limited-overs teams — be appointed and a decision be made on Root.
This has to happen before England’s next test series, against New Zealand starting 2 June.
/ 1 year ago
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