Friday, 20 February 2009

Forgotten how to win

Have England simply forgotten how to win? It has now been over five months since they won an international game, during which time they have been humiliated by the Stanford Twenty20 (now more than once), crashed to a 5-0 ODI defeat in India and been beaten by an innings by the West Indies.

After establishing a position of such overwhelming superiority in this game, what prevented England from finishing the job off?

Clearly Ramnaresh Sarwan (perhaps in the form of his life) and Shivnarine Chanderpaul are two exceptional batsmen with the skill to save games against considerably better attacks. While some thought the pitch would break up, it did no such thing, and remained excellent to bat on throughout. And the West Indies have finally developed real disciple and resilience. There is no better indicator of this than Daren Powell. His shot selection in England in 2007 was appalling; here he batted with immense responsbility and great powers of concentration in both innings.

As well as West Indian skill, England were hampered by bad luck. Had the referral system been in place, Ryan Hinds would have been dismissed for a duck in the first inning, rather than survive for an-hour-and-a-half. The injury to Andrew Flintoff was also unfortunate in the extreme. But it does not look like his Test career can conceivably extend far beyond the next Ashes series. And since his return, for all the talk of him being a perennially unlucky bowler, his statistics make for sobering reading. He averages 24 and 32; but the wrong way round for a Test match number six.

More would have been hoped for from both James Anderson and Steve Harmison. There must be a temptation to draft in Amjad Khan for the next Test, with his ability to reverse-swing the old ball. With hindsight, England would probably have won this Test had they had Monty Panesar in place of either Anderson or Harmison.

In the end, it fell to the two least experienced bowlers (in terms of Test caps) to valiantly try and enforce victory. Both Stuart Broad and, especially, Graeme Swann were exceptional. Few areas of their side are currently functioning, but having Broad and Swann at eight and nine in the next Ashes could be a source of great strength for England. Swann, bowling with all the off-spinner's tools bar the doosra, has surely consigned Panesar to second in the England spin queue for the foreseeable future.

England puffed and they huffed but ultimately they weren't quite good (or lucky) enough. They are a team who have forgotten how to win.


Rob said...

... and a Test series loss to India.

Tim said...

Indeed - although a hard-fought 1-0 defeat was considerably less disappointing than the other embarassements of their winter!

Richard Lake said...

I mentioned this in my review of the India series. It is a cliche I've never understood, but the idea that winning is a habit and once you get out of that routine, further wins become difficult. England are certainly in that position and would have won the India series if they still had that killer instinct.

Also, I think it was Simon Barnes in today's Times who makes the point that the WIndies haven't been given enough credit for their part in the escape. That test was good for world cricket, if not for England.

It will be interesting to see what happens for the next match. Bopara is likely to come in for Flintoff and possibly Rashid for Swann if he is unfit. Both are high risk cricketers but the potential in both is enormous. Khan may be a further risk too far, but I'd expect Sidebottom to come back (if fit)

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