Thursday, 23 November 2006

Fear of failure

After winning last summer's Ashes largely because of their positive approach to that series, it was sad to see England show their caution and negativity before a ball had even been bowled in Brisbane. To select Ashley Giles ahead of Monty Panesar gave a clear signal that they were afraid of losing, rather than going all out to win.

Panesar has shown in his first 10 Tests that he is wicket-taking spinner, who has such control that he can bowl attacking lines, but can also bowl with great economy. He is a natural talent, who exerts pressure on batsmen, causing false shots and is capable of bowling unplayable deliveries. He is the spinner that England has been crying out for for so many years. Yet, through no fault of his bowling he has been discarded for what would have been the most significant match of his career.

The reasoning behind this decision is that he does not bat or field very well, though he is improving in both departments. His replacement, the ever reliable team man, Giles, is a good number eight batsmen and an excellent fielder, particularly in the gully. Yet, Giles has not played Test cricket for a year and has only just come back after a serious hip injury. Even at his best Giles is not as good a bowler as Panesar and tends to bowl negative lines, frustrating opposing batsmen rather than attacking them.

Granted, Giles bowled quite well on the first day - steady without being spectacular. He managed to induce a poor shot from Damien Martyn, thus claiming one of only three wickets England managed all day. Yet, I cannot help but wonder what Panesar might have done had Flintoff been able to throw the ball to him. What pressure could he have exerted on the flat, but bouncy, Gabba pitch? It was a question which haunted me for the whole day, and one which will remain unanswered forever.

The cautious mind-set which England adopted from the moment they selected their XI translated itself into their play. From the very first ball, when a nervous Steve Harmison bowled a wide to Andrew Flintoff at second slip, England were on the back foot. The Australians, who had spent so much of the last series under pressure, smelt the fear and pounced on their opponents. At times, especially when Justin Langer was in, they scored at 5 plus runs an over. Yet, they were content to end the day having scored at just under 4 runs an over, for the loss of just 3 wickets, knowing that tomorrow they have a great chance to build an unassailable lead.

Fortunately, the current England team have a healthy tendency to bounce back after bad days, so tomorrow will, hopefully, see a better attitude and better results. However, they cannot change their team even if they manage to change their attitude. Batting depth may save them on occasions in this series, but they will only win matches by taking twenty wickets. It is to be hoped that this will be more seriously considered when they pick their team for the second Test.

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Tim Wigmore said...

Good piece Nick, and I agree entirely. I suspect that, for the Second Test, we may see Mahmood batting at number eight, given Anderson's poor bowling, and Panesar ahead of Giles.

Peter E said...

Excellent piece Nick. I know you can't blame a side for not winning the toss, but once the Aussies decided to bat first then any assumed advantages of picking Giles were lost. Watching KP turn the ball quite well didn't help ease the "what ifs" either.
The truth is it doesn't usually matter how good your number eight batsman is, if the top order do not do the business, than it is usually too late to make any real impact. The last ashes series where there were some great close matches was the exception rather than the rule. To beat the Aussies we need to take wickets, that means picking your strongest bowling attack and going for it.
As we all cross our fingers and hope for a draw (rain anyone?) let us hope that the team comes out fighting for the next match, takes some chances and really tries to win it.