S.N. Don's blog
Nothing New There Then
Hands up all of you out there who were genuinely surprised that, upon winning the toss, Joe Root elected to bat first in the opening Test match against Pakistan? I had not seen the colour of the wicket in use but I heard how green it was via TMS. London had also had some overnight rain and the overhead conditions were anything but ideal for batting.
Now, I am very much encamped in the old school of cricket. Sir Len Hutton was once asked about what to do upon winning the toss. His reply was along these lines: If the sun is shining, bat. If there is a bit of cloud cover, bat. If you are in any doubt at all, bat! That the Pakistani captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, was as gleeful as anything that Joe Root had elected to bat said it all. If the choice was mine, I would have asked the visitors to have a bat and put the words of Sir Len well and truly behind me.
There was also the team selection that raised numerous eyebrows amongst many observers – paid and otherwise. I much prefer to see teams selected based upon their current form. How many of the squad selected for the first Test had played any red ball cricket this season? The telling statistic before the game was the amount of preparation put in by both teams. England’s starting XI had amassed a total of 80 days play in the County Championship whereas the Pakistani's had amassed almost double with a total of 150 days. One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, is attributed to saying “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. Selecting players on the basis that they have done well in the IPL beggars belief.
It’s not as if Pakistan rolled into town with a bowling attack with the pace and guile of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. There was no mystery regarding the leg spin of Shadab. All of their bowlers showed the discipline to put the ball in the right place and backed up by excellent fielding throughout. Pakistan waited for the England batsmen to get themselves out (albeit with few exceptions). Their batsmen also showed far greater discipline and waited for the inevitable bad delivery from an unimaginative England bowling attack.
We have been roundly spanked in Australia and humbled in New Zealand. We have been comprehensively outplayed in every discipline of the game in a home Test match. The reaction from the Selectors? Replace Mark Stoneman with Keaton Jennings. That’s it! One change. One could change the entire squad for the good, or harm that it would do.
Quite frankly, this is what you get when you neglect the mainstay of English cricket. The County Championship is the birthplace of every England Test cricketer. While the ECB continue to chase the money from T20 and the nonsense that is the 100 delivery, 10 ball over Franchise format, the technique, patience and concentration required for red ball cricket will continue to reduce. Cramming the County Championship into a few weeks at the start and end of each season is farcical. The last red ball cricket that any player would have seen ended a full 13 days before the first Test. The fixture calendar needs to be consigned to the bin.
Why play two Test matches (end of May 2018 and start of June 2018) when there is no red ball cricket played between 11th May and 9th June? How do the administrators expect the best England players to get into any sort of form?
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.