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Assessing where England are in Test Cricket

by Justin Rourke

We are prone to an overreaction, both positive and negative so where do we really think England are as a team? We are 2 months into the 12 months that will define the Root, Stokes, Silverwood era and I for one am confused.

On 29th 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. In the future we need to work with the counties on producing future Test players. Our focus has certainly been on white-ball cricket and we need to redress that balance now to try and even things out.”

(source https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/england-to-prioritise-red-ball-cricket-after-world-cup-focus-giles-1196025)

I accept the pandemic has created challenges with bubbles and in particular mental health. However the strategy and selection this winter have not reflected Giles’ words. Root has had to enter arguably the hardest away series he will ever play without his best XI available to him, yet strangely Morgan will have his first choice cast for the hit and giggle T20 rubbish.

Much of cricket is about rhythm and confidence and a tour to Sri Lanka before the stern test of India is ideal acclimatisation. Bairstow and Buttler did ok, but neither were then made available for the full India series. Ben Faokes and Olly Stone’s performances are a miracle given their lack of cricket.

It is not at all surprising that Burns, Stokes, Pope and Bairstow on their return have struggled as they had not preparation. Bairstow and Woods journey back to India was farcical.

I’m not sure I can mange to address the Moeen situation, the Woakes one is just as bad. And how did we go into the 3rd test with three seam bowlers none of whom were the genuinely fast – Wood or Stone when we have Stokes in the side?

I am not sure what will happen in the 4th test but I do know this, England will want ‘pitch revenge’ when India travel to the UK this summer, so I fully expect some very green pitches this summer. Whilst I can see the appeal of this it is short sighted, we might well win but the likelihood is the games will be equally as poor as the last test and over in 3 days.

Burns, Sibley, Crawley, Root, Stokes, Pope, Buttler, Woakes, Archer, Broad, Anderson – is what I expect we will see. And we will sail to Australia in a fog of hysteria thinking we have a chance, but in reality we will have batsmen who can’t remember what a big score is, and are not used to a ball bouncing above waist height. Bowlers who have been used to pitching a duke ball up and … we know the rest.

If Ashey Giles is serious about test cricket, and England are serious about winning away from home much has to change. The county championship needs to be played in the best conditions, and with a kookaburra ball. Make the bowlers work harder for wickets, and the batsman build an innings rather than hit out because ‘one has my name on it’.

I admire Dom Sibley’s determination but there is a technique built to deal with poor pitches and a seaming duke ball. The bowling is generally medium pace and stump to stump and we have a procession of batsmen who are bottom hand dominant and play with a closed bat face.

Ed Smith is another like Giles who is letting everyone down, giving Jos Buttler 50 tests to finally settle in does not make you a good selector. The skill of selection must be seeing the skills and temperament that can transfer to the highest level, think Trescothick’s simple technique, straight bat and repeatable even though his first class record was just ok at the time.

In the most simple terms if you have a number of moving parts it is by definition harder to keep them in sync. Burns and Sibley have shown good temperament and fight but they desperately need time in the middle. What Ed Smith needs to do is look through the stats and identify who can step up. Nick Gubbins and Sam Hain are two players who have a straight bat and a backfoot game, county cricket may not suite them but the better surfaces of test cricket might. They have lions experience just like Joe Clarke and Liam Livingstone … what is the point of the Lions if we ignore the players? Livingstone in February 2017 was exceptional in Sri Lanka for the Lions, scoring a big 100, taking wickets and fielding exceptionally well … a bit like ignoring Foakes who was so good last time out – it makes no sense.

The 3rd test versus India was a poor affair, and the batsmen should have done better but we do also need to ask why Anderson and Broad pulled their length back under the lights? I am sure that is not what Root asked for.

I think England have little to lose (other than the game) in the 4th test so why not give Stokes a go at no3, bring Lawrence back into the middle order and give Stone and Virdi some test cricket as these players might make in impact on conditions outside the UK.

In the summer be brave! Prepare good surfaces, back the excellent Jack Leach and let Wood/Stone/Archer have game time in all conditions. It must be sole destroying getting wheeled out just for the flat pitches.

At this moment in time my XI (I’m not entering the IPL discussion) for the 2021 home summer:

Z Crawley, N Gubbins, B Stokes, J Root*, O Pope, J Buttler, B Foakes+, C Woakes, J Leach, M Wood, O Stone – 12th D Lawrence & J Archer

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