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Does this England side lack the ruthlessness needed to dominate World cricket?

by Neil Burns

England’s error-strewn performance at The Oval began with their team selection. In rewarding Craig Overton with selection in back-to-back tests for his good work at Headingley, England’s bowling looked ‘toothless’ on a flat pitch especially in the latter stages of both of India’s innings. It cost them dearly.

Assuming Mark Wood was available for selection, it was wrong to leave him ‘resting and waiting’ for the final test at Old Trafford when England had a chance to go 2-1 up in the series.

Fast pace changes the psychology of batsmen – especially lower order players – and Wood could have blown away India’s tail. Instead Thakur was able to violently attack any threat posed by the Anderson/Robinson/Overton/Woakes/ 80mph attack.

England’s bowling was far ‘too samey’, with bowlers unable to move the ball in the air or off the pitch – thus highlighting the value of having at least one ‘express’ bowler in your seam bowling attack to give opposition batsmen ‘the hurry up’ and test their physical as well as their mental courage.

Despite reducing India to 127 for seven on the opening day, they were unable to capitalise on a first-innings lead of 99, and then allowed the tourists’ last four wickets to add 150 on the fourth afternoon.

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THIS ENGLAND TEAM LACKS THE RUTHLESSNESS NEEDED TO DOMINATE WORLD CRICKET. Catches go down too easily, batsmen (other than Joe Root) don’t make big scores once they ‘get in’, and the bowling attack lets tailenders ‘off the hook’. It all adds up to a worrying mix before Old Trafford’s series decider and for the winter tour to Australia.

My major concerns for Chris Silverwood and Joe Root, two honest hard-working Yorkshiremen doing their very best to help England be successful, is that the limited talent pool to select from means their top three batting positions remain an ongoing concern. Hameed, Burns, Malan, may work – but if they don’t perform in Australia, do they return to Crawley, Sibley and Vince as replacements?

If Ollie Pope doesn’t mature into a top quality top order batsman, then he joins the crush to bat at number 5 alongside Jonny Bairstow/Ben Stokes and arguably Dawid Malan (who in my opinion would perform well in test cricket if he wasn’t positioned at number 3. And what of Jos Buttler’s future? Is he a keeper/batsman? Or is he a batsman/keeper? Or maybe a middle order batsman/fielder? Or maybe Jos is busy deciding if he wants to prioritise white-ball cricket now that he has an extended family, and is not available for the Ashes tour to Australia. If that is the case, will it mean he retires from test cricket altogether?

With Ben Stokes’ return to the England team looking unlikely for some while, it means that Chris Woakes return to form and fitness is vital. It will also mean that Sam Curran will need to mature as an all rounder quicker than seems to be the current rate of development.

Curran looks a gifted cricketer, capable of game-changing performances, but his inability to be able to ‘do a job’ with the ball on a consistent basis positions him as a batsman who bowls as opposed to a bowler who bats. But, crucially, he doesn’t make enough runs and gets dismissed early in his innings too easily, because of a suspect defensive technique to be regarded as a front line batsman. He is currently a very good ‘bits-and-pieces’ test cricketer, but test cricket requires individuals to be ‘masters of their craft’ if the individual is to succeed over time, in all conditions against the very best opposition.

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Moeen Ali’s return to the England test team was under-whelming. His inability to bowl accurately enough to tie down one end hurt the England team at The Oval. However, his ability to take wickets (especially the wicket of Virat Kohli) means he is a very handy bowler to have at the captan’s disposal.

But, can he be the front line spinner England need? Too much evidence suggests, Ali is happiest playing as a free-scoring middle-order batsman who bowls.

Is Jack Leach the better option as a front-line spinner, despite offering less with the bat? His record for England suggests he has been unlucky to be left out of home tests so often.

With Ben Foakes due to return to cricket after injury, I think it would be wise to give him the gloves and back his all-round cricketing skills to excel as a specialist behind the stumps who is capable of making test match runs in the top 6. Before his injury, the exclusion of Foakes in favour of Buttler was an error in my opinion. He is a class act behind the stumps.

If Archer, Broad and Anderson are fit, England has an excellent seam bowling attack to take on Australia. And, if Stokes returns to the test team fit to bowl, then Joe Root’s England will have a potency and a diversity of angle of delivery, and difference of pace, that was lacking at The Oval.

Having your best cricketers fit and firing for test matches and especially the Ashes Tour requires good planning and sensible management of workloads.

The current schedule is ridiculous.

It seems destined to ‘break’ cricketers and rob the public of being able to witness elite performers playing at (or near) their peak. Something must give – it should be the schedule, but unfortunately, I think it will be the all round health of the cricketer.

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