Burns Eye View

The Train Has Left The Station!

As Joe Root reflects on his excellent century in the 3rd Test of the current series in the Caribbean, he will know that he put his team in a strong position to win the match and come away from the debacle of Barbados and Antigua with some credibility restored for both himself as a batsman and also for his team. However, it is three weeks too late. The train had already left the station as far as England being competitive in the series.

The 1st Test in Barbados was a shocking defeat – bowled out by ‘unknown’ off-spinner Roston Chase. The follow-up ‘response’ in the next Test in Antigua was abominable. It was arguably the most abysmal performance I have seen from an England cricket team in decades. Their batting was ‘spineless’.

But, credit where credit is due, England has played very well in the final Test match. They thoroughly deserve any plaudits that will come their way for a clinical professional performance. It has been underpinned by good, accurate fast bowling from Mark Wood and quality innings from their three most significant batsmen, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, and the captain Root himself.

So where did it all go wrong for Joe Root and ‘his merry men’?

Too much Christmas pudding after a successful tour to Sri Lanka?

Did complacency set in? Was all the talk surrounding the ambition of “wanting to be number one in the world” an unhelpful distraction from focusing on the task at hand? Were the players (despite being highly-paid by ECB as England cricketers) too focused on ‘brand-building’ at ‘The Big Bash’ to enhance individual prospects of a big contract in the IPL and other future offers from the modern day version of ‘the cricket lotto’?

There is no getting away from the reality that England, despite their millions of pounds of investment in players, support staff etc, were unprofessional in advance of the series. It was a failure of management that the time allocated in advance of the 1st Test match was so short. Schedules are the responsibility of the ECB Board and CEO, but there must be input from the Head coach, Captain and Managing Director of Cricket. And the fact that key players were declared unfit – Chris Woakes, Olly Stone were casualties on this trip, does not reflect well on them as individuals or on the medical team.

In regard to selection – it was revealed to be flawed.

The non-selection of Stuart Broad in the 1st Test, it beggared belief. Plus, the make up of the touring party did not include reserve opening batsmen. Joe Denly was the spare batsman and ended up opening the batting for England in a Test match. When a player performs a role for his country that he doesn’t perform for his county team, you know something is awry. But in reality, there are so few options to select (with justifiable confidence) to bat in the top 3 for England. I see it is a failure of both the county system, the county player pathway, the individuals themselves and not exclusively a failure by Ed Smith as National Selector.

If there is any residual guilt from ECB’s leading administrators about the schedule and the lack of tour preparation, and a ridiculously limited (and limiting!) pre-Test series preparation in Barbados, I doubt it will surface publicly. I expect to hear comments such as “it’s time to move on, and look forward to a great year ahead…” Such nonsense doesn’t change the future. Only through rigorous process of deep reflection and through the establishment of newly-developed processes does change occur.

In February, ‘the Test match train’ left the station - and the England team wasn’t on it in the West Indies.

No excuses. It was unprofessional. And the standard of the batting is a major concern ahead of the Ashes this coming summer. Strong leadership needs to be displayed – no more ‘T20 jollys’ in advance of major Test series is my recommendation. England’s travelling supporters and the millions back home deserve better. FAILING TO PREPARE IS PREPARING TO FAIL.

Neil Burns


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