Sunday, 9 March 2008

England's new low

England have stumbled from one disappointment to the next post the 2005 Ashes, winning just two series out of eight. But the humiliation by New Zealand in this Test really is something else: a new low for the England side.

New Zealand played very well, without doubt. They batted with immense patience and pugnaciousness, seizing the game with the 150-run stand between Ross Taylor and Daniel Vettori. With the ball, they were relentless in their discipline, bowling cannily and with great skill on a docile track.

But still. This is a side who are ranked seventh in the world for good reason. Their best bowler by far, Shane Bond, has been scapegoated and banned for signing up with the ICL. Their bowling lacks any x-factor; even Dan Vettori averages in the mid-30s. Before this game, no one in their side averaged under 32 with the ball, or more than 40 with the bat, even allowing for a number of games against Bangladesh.

For their part, England were meek and timid. They were overwhelmed by fear with the bat as, save for some gorging on the awful West Indian attack, they have since Adelaide 2006. Scoring at 2 an over over 173 overs in their first innings defies belief in the modern Test game, especially against an attack not unreasonably considered toothless. Yes, New Zealand are perennially written off, but, for all their ODI qualities, they play fewer than half the number of Tests England do. Against South Africa - a side England would doubtless claim they would expect to beat - the Kiwis were twice pulverised, failing to past 200 over four innings in the series.

In the first innings England's batsmen exhibited their all-too-familiar tendency of failing to reach a hundred (or even 70) despite being well set. Crease occupation has been a big concern, but the real problem was their overwhelmingly defensive mindset, paralysed by fear on a slow, low track against an attack that, for all their endeavour, are no world-beaters. In the second, they were simply pathetic, collapsing in time-honed fashion like a pack of cards. On both occasions, judicious batting with a sensible, positive mindset would have insured against alarms. Paul Collingwood encapsulated the depressing timidity, crawling to a 50-ball two.

There seems to be a collective loss of self-belief and conviction, even afflicting Kevin Pietersen, that has engulfed the entire set-up, suggesting 'change for change's sake' may actually have some merit. Michael Vaughan's captaincy - though not his batting - has failed to impress since his return to the side. But on raw skill levels, too, England's deficiencies are increasingly apparent, despite their superlative catching in this game.

With the ball, England were equally pathetic, with Ryan Sidebottom's skill and tirelessness unable to cover up for the lack of incision elsewhere, with even Matthew Hoggard seriously off the pace . Most people have long since had enough of Steve Harmison's little-boy-lost impression on tours, and he has run out of excuses. So, indeed have the side, who have truly hit a nadir.

Yet the same was said when they were bowled out for 81 in Sri Lanka. While Shah, Broad, Tremlett and, especially, Ramprakash and Caddick would be in the ideal XIs of many, the grim truth is that this is more or less the best England have. Don't discount more horrors to come.


V said...

It was Ross Taylor and Dan the man who shared the 150+ partnership in the first innings

Chrispy said...

I am not sure what Colli thinks he is doing in these situations but it is not the way to go. He just adds to the pressure through the staticity of the scoring and sooner or later it gets too much for both him and the guy at the other end. his 20 from 120 in the Adelaide match was just as bad. Bell showed that shots could be played on that pitch and runs scored without taking stupid risks. By playing in such a negative manner the rest of the batsmen encouraged new zealand to surround the bat and the sniff of blood did the rest. KP shouldering arms was the classic example of why they should have played naturally.

Rob said...

There is something bad going on down there. I have a feeling that is has been caused by Moores but we need people to spill the beans.

Tim said...

Yeah agreed about KP; he is a major worry.

Re Moores: he has at least made progress in the ODI game. I give him until the end of the home series v the Kiwis at least.

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Richard Lake said...

Rob, I've just left this comment on your blog, but I think it's worth putting here as well...

Normally when a team is ill at ease with itself, it tells in the fielding first. Bowlers and batsmen like to look after their own figures, but if there is unrest, then the fielding goes to pot.

That clearly wasn't the case in Hamilton as the fielding and catching in particular was outstanding - by far the best part of the England effort. If you can'd be arsed, you certainly don't fling yourslef around in the field.

I just think England misread the pitch and the tactics wrong. We were probably also shocked by the form of Hoggard, who had his worst match for a number of years. The batsmen sold their wickets dearly in the first innings, but froze in the second. The first innings didn't show a lack of fight, but a lack of idea - it's as if they forgot they had to score runs as well as bat time.

Moores and Vaughan need to get it togeher for the next match and maybe play to a less rigid plan than seemed to be in place this time round.