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A lesson from Kane and co

by Justin Rourke

In 1999 England were booed off the pitch after losing a test series to New Zealand. There was no booing today, which is a sign of respect as the New Zealand side are superb, but also an acceptance that we are not a good test team and worse still the powers that be don’t seem to care.

In July 2019 Ashley Giles said “Has Test cricket suffered a little bit? Well, perhaps a little bit. We need to do that in red-ball cricket now. Whether it’s the World Test Championship or not, Test cricket is really important to us in this country. We haven’t neglected Test cricket for white-ball cricket, but focus has definitely been more on that side and we just need to redress that balance now.”

Here we are in June 2021 and test cricket is still suffering. The pandemic has played a part, but not all of Giles failings can be placed at that door. It is well known that England have a lot of white ball strength, the pandemic provided an opportunity to have a red ball bubble and a white ball bubble. The latter would have been led by Morgan with experienced players like Bairstow and Rashid playing alongside Joe Clarke, Sam Hain, Matt Crichley, Will Jacks etc. In turn Buttler, Stokes, Root, Wood, Woakes, Archer would be prioritised as test cricketers.

The yo-yo journeys of Bairstow and Woakes in the winter, the pre-determined rest of Buttler in India are more examples of weakening a test side. On top of that Giles has been silent throughout the mishandling of Dom Bess, Jack Leach, Bairstow and most recently the awful decisions around James Bracey.

On top of that, what has the director of cricket got to say about his role in the lack of due diligence in the selection of Robinson and C Overton.

I have seen Silverwood, Root, Anderson, Thorpe all face up to the media about various off field issues but never Giles. In fact, I have only ever heard him quoted on selection or non-selection of players, which is odd as he gave Ed Smith’s job to Chris Silverwood!

Giles must be held accountable for his role in the horrific mess in which England cricket finds itself.

Since Silverwood was appointed coach, we have seen a number of bowlers perform well. Anderson and Broad lead the way, but I do wonder what Woakes/Wood/Archer/Stone might have achieved with the new ball too. My heart says they are legends and we should cherish them, my head is just starting to say its time for the next group to lead the attack. Of those 4, Wood and Woakes are already past 30 years of age.

However, the batting, fielding, wicket-keeping and tactics have been very muddled. To start with the batting, as Nasser Hussain has said its odd that these guys suddenly think the bottom hand across the line cricket is a better way to bat than the proven success. I think the pitches in county cricket have not helped as players are 1) trying to keep the low bounce out 2) have no desire to build an innings, they play on the basis of hit it before I get a bad one.

That said there are some good players in county cricket, generally they come from the sides that have decent batting pitches like Surrey and Somerset. Players like Tom Abell and Nick Gubbins have good technique, can play off the back foot and have been around long enough to know themselves and their game.

The reality is that too many have been picked out of position, Root is a no 4 and Stokes a 5 or 6. Burns (who gets into an excellent position at release) has earned the right to open. That means they need a 2, 3 and 5 so let’s pick people who play there.

The wicketkeeper position has been handled abysmally from the start of Silverwood’s reign as coach. To have Pope keep in a test and Bracey in two is ridiculous. Ben Foakes is probably the best keeper in the world, he should play when fit. Buttler kept well in Sri Lanka but was very poor last summer with the gloves, quite why Buttler or Bairstow didn’t keep in this series is beyond me. I guarantee you both would’ve bitten your hand off to do so.  The selection of Bracey as a keeper is up there with the treatment of Bess in the winter. We talk a lot about mental health, these two young men have been thrown under the bus by this management team.

The England hierarchy have no respect for the role of wicket-keeper and they treat spinners with a similar contempt. How Root and Silverwood could enter these two tests with no spinner is beyond me, that is a serious mistake. In Leach they have a spinner who can bowl long spells and let the3 seamers rotate from the other end. However, Root clearly is not comfortable captaining a spinner, the spells are so short and then he takes them off again. Leach takes his test wickets at under 30 runs and a strike rate under 60.

There are some good cricketers in England but batting, bowling and keeping requires rhythm and all of this predetermined resting is not helpful to the players, it is disrespectful to the opposition and fans too. You must pick your best XI at all times, how crazy that Buttler and Woakes can play vitality T20 but not a test match?

Th reality is since Silverwood took over only Root and Stokes average more than 40 – then Burns at 38 and Buttler at 36. There have been 20 tests in that time and Stokes has played 14, Burns 13 and Buttler 14 – why?

The fielding too is abysmal, especially the slip catching. Perhaps that is indicative of not picking your best keeper but either way fielding is something that can be put right. Its largely about attitude.

We can kid ourselves, but this set up is sleepwalking into a loss against India and Australia – why wait to make changes. Get tough and get serious now.

The excuses offered by the England coach about an inexperienced team and one lacking its allrounders is pathetic. Let’s face facts, you chose not to pick your best team – only Stokes, Foakes and Archer were injured.

All-rounders are a bonus, but the basics of the game are built on picking your best 6 batsmen, your best keeper, your best spinner and 3 seam bowlers. Field well and put a price on your wicket.

R Burns
N Gubbins
T Abell
J Root
B Stokes
J Buttler*
B Foakes+
C Woakes
M Wood
O Stone
J Leach

12th: O Pope, J Archer.

That’s my team, but how anyone is meant to find form in the T20 Blast between tests is beyond me. We are 4 very tough tests away from the Ashes … who in their right mind wants to be rested with these two series coming up?!

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