Burns Eye View

England’s Series to Lose

India’s fight-back in the 3rd Test of the five match series has enabled them to potentially draw level if they win at Ageas Bowl, Southampton, next week. If the series is still alive going to The Oval for the 5th and final Test, it will be England who will be most vulnerable to a likely series defeat.

To throw away a 2-0 series lead, especially after winning the toss and bowling first at Trent Bridge in the 3rd test, is surely unimaginable.

England’s big problem is their batting. But, I think it was their bowling on Day 1 of the Trent bridge Test match that hindered their progress to gaining a strong foothold in the game, and ultimately led to defeat once they were bowled out in a single session for the third time in the last two years. Prior to this, England hadn’t faced the ignominy of such a humiliating performance of losing all ten wickets in a session for almost 80 years!

Despite James Anderson’s experience and excellence at Lord’s, plus Stuart Broad’s intimate knowledge of how to bowl on his home ground, England’s attack did not deliver enough deliveries in the right area. Chris Woakes, fresh from a superb all-round performance in the previous Test at Lord’s, was unable to locate the right line and length either, while Ben Stokes looked what he was – a player under-prepared for a Test match having spent the previous week in court defending himself on a charge for affray.

Sam Curran, despite being man-of-the match at Edgbaston and having a good match at Lord’s, found himself out of the starting XI.

And, in terms of spin bowling, Adil Rashid, despite dismissing Virat Kohli (albeit for 97!) looks increasingly like a second spinner to me, rather than a front-line bowler who can bowl differently in each innings. Unable to contain in the first innings of a Test match, Rashid’s effectiveness in the team will be questioned once again if England fail to win the series.

Another defeat at Southampton, and the question of whether Moeen Ali is a better option than Rashid will recur. Is he a better bowler? Perhaps? But, one thing is for sure - Moeen is definitely a better all-round cricketer.

England’s top-order batting is ordinary. Too few players get consistent ‘starts’, and when they do, very few go on to make a century, let alone a big one, or even get close to making more than one century in a series. Alastair Cook’s feast or famine run of form is becoming a burden to the team. The fact that so few realistic options outside of the team present themselves as candidates for selection, has meant Cook has been able to be indulged by the selectors. In strong cricketing nations, the senior players have to perform, or they soon learn that their careers are cut short with a rare brutality.

Australia’s selection panel have been known to be ruthless when it comes to ‘the changing of the guard’. I particularly remember Ian Healy was mercilessly culled in favour of Adam Gilchrist – this despite the fact that Healy remained a world-class all-round keeper/batsman.

England seem to be unsure of the quality of their emerging players in the past, and under James Whitaker, too many ‘one-cap wonders’ came and went. It suggests a lack of judgment form those charged with the key role of talent identification. And, too many batsmen have been selected who barely made the team after one series of indifferent performance.

Ed Smith has been bold as National selector in giving youth its’ head, but fundamentally, if players aren’t ready, they will be exposed in the highest form of the game. This may be the case with Ollie Pope right now, but I sense the gifted young Surrey batsman may still produce a vital knock in this series to announce his talent on the big stage. He needs to, and soon, for both his own good and for the team to make positive strides in the right direction in advance of the winter tour selection meeting.

Keaton Jennings is another player under fire, but Cook’s difficulties may mask his own lack of runs. Jennings may be given time to develop in the role based on his qualities as a young man, and the team’s need to eventually replace Cook too. The return on investment in Jennings may come down the track, in series to come if he can just do enough to keep earning more opportunities to grow his experience base.

I acknowledge the consistent form of dismissal that Keaton Jennings is experiencing has become a major talking point in the media.

But, for the player himself, just because it is happening regularly doesn’t mean he is unaware of the problem or unable to consider corrective measures. But, mid-season, mid-series, it is easier said than done. However, India’s batsmen have proved it is possible.

Re: selection, I think there is great merit in supporting a player through 'the struggle'.

And, if there were seriously good options queuing up to replace out of form players, then I would make changes mid-series, but it rarely works that a changing batting line up (and order) is a successful one. Of all the young cricketers I have played with/against or coached and observed, I have found Keaton Jennings to be one of the hardest-working, and is one of the most humble learners too. These attributes stand a player on good stead - whether it be in the face of adversity, or in dealing with the emotional highs of success. I wish him every success - as I do all the players selected.

I enjoy Nasser Hussain as a pundit and broadcaster, but his recent comments about Alastair Cook having ‘earned the right to decide when he exits the international stage’ bothers me.

I find the notion that Alastair Cook has 'earned the right' (as to when he should call time on his career), a troubling one . If he scores runs, he plays, if he is in poor form, he gets supported based on his 'credit in the bank' and few alternatives, but if the run of low scores continues for too long, then the Selectors axe must fall, surely? I hope he can make a score in the next Test at the Ageas Bowl (I remember him doing so v India previously, when in poor form and under serious pressure for his place) but I find it absurd that a player has 'earned the right' to decide when his time is up.

If fit, and if feeling in good form, and if he is scoring runs - then he plays. If not, he doesn't. Simple. Surely?

Much as I admire Alastair Cook, as both a cricketer and as a man, I don't feel the sentiment expressed by Nasser here is correct. Is the England cricket team a private club with exclusive levels of membership for certain individuals? Or is it selection, game by game, series by series, to represent your country in Test cricket?

England have much to prove at Southampton, both to themselves, the selectors, the public, and to their opposition. If they come up short and lose this 4th Test match, and if the openers fail to make runs in either innings, then England’s cricket faces a major crisis. I thought it was bad in March when England got bowled out for 58 in the first session of the Auckland Test match, but it seems few lessons have been learned since then. One-Day cricket tactics have taken over the approach to Test match batting, and if their most experienced batsman cannot make runs, then how can we expect the likes of Keaton Jennings and Ollie Pope to be ‘the answer’?

The clock is ticking for Alastair Cook – can he do it at venues where he has rescued his career twice before? I think so, and I hope so. The man is made of a rare inner strength. Time for a big performance from the Essex and England legend. If not, I fear for England. Kohli and his men look like they are hungry for more success.

Neil Burns


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