Sunday, 8 February 2009

What a grand debacle

Of all England's humiliations - and heaven knows, there have been a few over the years - their innings humbling by the West Indies must certainly figure prominently. This is rapidly becoming the ultimate Winter of Discontent. England have still not won an international fixture since they jetted off for the Stanford Series.

Australia may have slipped sharply of late, but England are increasingly the laughing stocks of world cricket; this was, of course, their first Test since they managed to rid themselves of a captain and coach simultaneously.

Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower said all the right things about increased player responsbility for match preparation, but yet again deeds failed to match words. There are few things more dispiriting in sport than the England batting collapse; here, England produced another timeless classic. It was at once unbelievable and inevitable, just as when they were bowled out for 81 in Sri Lanka 14 months ago. Considering the differences in the opposition, and the fact they finished 30 runs adrift of even that paltry total, this was in a different level alltogether. A collective failure of spirit? Or, perhaps more worryingly, of skill?

England have won only two away Tests in three years - both against a depleted New Zealand side (and even then after being thrashed in the opening Test, scene of another collapso special). A year ago, the bowlers took the blame for a batting collapse, as Harmison and Hoggard were ditched. Whilst it is clear that the bowling of Monty Panesar has become as cliched as Shane Warne's line about him having played the same Test 30-odd times, and his spark has vanished, the seamers essentially performed well enough. Graeme Swann must play in the next Test but the bigger faults, as for so long, lie in the batting departement.

Those projected mainstays of the England batting line-up for the next half-dozen years, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, have regressed horribly in the last twelve months. Cook is a particularly problematic case; he is barely 24 and has already scored centuries in Australia, India and Sri Lanka, yet appears fatigued and incapable of capitalising when he gets in. But England have no other options in the Caribbean. Bell's is a different case, however. He has played 46 Test matches - and is he any better now than before number one? If Warne's line on Panesar is increasingly becoming the definitive word on the left-arm spinner, so Stuart Law's words on Bell - "that timid little creature" - ring true too. Time for England to send Bell back to county cricket, a season of which could yet toughen him up. Owais Shah, outstanding for England in recent ODIs, should have been handed a run in the side away to Sri Lanka - but now is better than never.

Excuses will be made in the shape of the dressing-room politics at the turn of the year. Yet the reality is England had this coming to them, just as they did in Hamilton 11 months ago. A few changes will help, and England must establish they are prepared to be ruthless with batsmen as well as bowlers. Strauss will need all his captaincy skills to get England out of this one.


Nick Gammons said...

Tim, I think England's humiliating defeat at Sabina Park says much more about their attitude than their ability.

It is true that the team have too many average players and some of those who had great starts to their careers have faltered in the last year or so. However, I don't see many top players knocking on the door. Swann is an average spinner and I don't see him doing a better job than Panesar. Warne's much quoted jibe at Panesar is patent nonsense and was said more to upset Panesar than as a sensible comment on him.

In fact, Panesar's case sums up the malaise that has gripped England. He started under Fletcher, a top quality coach with genuine vision, albeit coming to the end of his tenure, and thrived. When Fletcher left England lost direction under the pathetic reign of Moores. Those quality players that they did have began to lose form and belief, especially when faced with tough or resilient opposition. Only players with huge egos, talent and confidence, such as Pietersen and Flintoff, have shown any kind of consistency in the last year and a half. The rest look lost and bereft of ideas.

You only have to look at The west Indies to see what a strong coach with vision and a guiding hand can do. Dyson has far less quality to work with than England, but he has begun to drill his players and many are responding. Whether West Indies will play well consistently remains to be seen, but it is clear that they are on the upward curve.

Without some leadership and ideas England will continue to drop down the rankings, no matter what perceived ability there is in the team.

It is not tinkering that England need but a new direction and someone who can inspire the current team and bring in some new players who understand what it is to perform consistently.

Having said all that I believe that dropping Bell must happen. It should have happened some time ago as he is too weak for Test cricket. His talent serves only to infuriate as he meanders from one lame dismissal to another. Shah may fail as well at Test level, but he certainly needs to be given a chance.

Rob said...

The players don't have ability... their records show that. Cook, Bell and Collingwood would struggle to get in the WI side -- and that is saying something.

England took 16 people to the the WI ... of the 5 who did not play in Jamaica only one is a batsmen (Shah) -- a deliberate decision to ensure the entrenched batsmen cannot be left out.

Cook and Bell must be dropped but at most only one can be and even then I doubt they will.

David Wiseman said...

Maybe this isn't the worst thing which could have happened to them. It highlights to them the problems with the team and what they have to address.
They are definitely missing Michael Vaughan and should consider bringing him back. He could take Bell's place.

Richard Lake said...

As you know I was a little more forgiving than most after the India tour, where I thought we showed character in difficult circumstance and were unlucky not to come out with a result.

This match couln't have been more different.

It wasn't just the getting out, but the manner of getting out that was the problem. To be honest, only Andrew Flintoff comes out of the match with any credit with both bat and ball. Cook, Pietersen and Collingwood all got out to awful shots in the first innings (KP is horribly culpable in this - 97 runs means he was in form and should have been looking to push on not throw his wicket away). Bell was equally at fault in the 2nd innings.

Shah now has to come into the team for one of Bell, Cook or Collingwood (probably the former), and it's a pity that Ravi Bopara isn't around to ensure that more than one of the batsmen can be dropped.

I just hope that this is finally the performance that gets the team to have a hard look at itself after two years of treading water. Otherwise it's going to be a miserable summer.

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