Friday, 21 December 2007

The England Diagnosis: Batting

In many ways, whether England manage to save the 3rd Test is irrelevant. If they are able to do so, it will be in large part due to the rain that has engulfed Galle, and will not in any way disguise their patent faults. Though they fought on more-or-less equal terms with Sri Lanka for large parts of the first two Tests, ultimately no one can deny they have been out-batted, out-fielded and out-bowled by Sri Lanka (even discounting Murali). They are now ranked fifth in the world. After two series wins out of eight, England must now accept they have regressed alarmingly since their golden run on 2004/05. What can they do to improve, or is it simply a case that the best England have are not good enough?

Excuse me for harping back to my perennial cause celebre, but when Mark Ramprakash was ignored for this tour I wrote that "England are a mid-table Test side; are they really in a position when they can afford to refrain from picking their best XI in the hope of building for some mythical date in the future?" Peter Moores has shown a worrying tendency to support promising 'kids' who have not proved up to the task - Luke Wright during the World Twenty20; and Ravi Bopara here, whose much-hyped 'x-factor' constituted a penchant for being dismissed for a duck.

As Australia constantly prove, the only game you need worry about is the next one, and England's inability to score hundreds is crying out for someone possessing the depths of concentration and capacity for longevity of Ramprakash at the crease. To date, England have scored 10 fifties but no centuries in this series. Even if they go some way to rectifying that, the stat illustrates England have a lot of perfectly competent Test batsmen, but cannot make the big scores that Messrs Sangakkara and Jayawardene batted England out the series with. Curiously for a side in the midst of such a slumber, there is probably only one man - Bopara - for whom the axe is around the corner.

Ian Bell often looks in supreme form at the crease, as he did in the first Test, while failing to really capitalise. As such, he has not yet making the runs to justify batting at three. But with Kevin Pietersen being unfortunate with umpiring decision and snorters alike, and with Vaughan's innings consistently ended by impetuosity, there has been no one to grind the Sri Lankan attack into the dust. Calls for a recall for Andrew Strauss should be laughed off given his form in the past 15 months. That would leave Ramprakash, in an ideal world, to replace Bopara and move up to number three, with Pietersen four, Bell five and Collingwood at six and Owais Shah, once again, next cab-off-the-rank. Most likely, that top six would score big against a Kiwi attack top-heavy with medium-pacers. Whether they could consistently make first innings scores of 400 against the sterner Tests that await, however, would have to be doubtful - but do England have anyone else?


Chrispy said...

I think England should be scoring well against New Zealand (pitch dependent) regardless of who the sixth batsman is. Therefore I'd have to say get Owais Shah in there. Whilst Ramprakash is undoubtedly in the best form of his life, we might as well bed somebody else in who will be there for next winter and allow players like Bell an easy series to grow into their positions and gain confidence. Bopara was picked too early unfortunately. And put Broad in please to mix up the attack and balance the line up for the future. Harmison's paltry aggression has vanished altogether now it seems. We need hunger again.

Richard Lake said...

The Mark Ramprakash to which you refer, Tim, is a mythical beast. The real Ramps has played 50 tests and scored just two centuries. He was the master at scoring a scratchy 30 and getting out. At least teh players we have in at teh moment are scoring fluid 50s and getting out. He may be in the form of his life at the moment, but there is a world of difference between the comfort zone of the Oval and international cricket.

England's main problem in this series was the form of KP. England, much more than other nations relies on everyone making a contribution rather than having one or two big hitters. This means that when one part is not firing, the pressure builds on the rest of the order. Add to this Bopara becoming a bundle of nerves as the series went on, and a long tail (despite Sidebottom), then it's all down to four batsmen and the wicket keeper.

Strauss will be back in the frame for NZ and the 6th batting slot should be a stright fight between him and Shah. Bopara showed enough to suggest he'll be back and we should heve used his bowling more. If Strauss does come in, though, it shouldn't be at the expense of breaking up the opening partnership, which was one of the plusses to come out of the series.