BALL GAMES ALLOWED – Where has it all gone wrong?

by • December 11, 2013 • tf blogsComments (6)933

There is no point in writing reading and reading a match report for the second Test at Ashes4Adelaide.  England were annihilated again and look like they are going to relinquish  our Ashes at the fourth time of asking to what remains an average Australian team, albeit an improving one.

If you need to know what happened in this Test, please re-read my Brisbane report to find details of good English bowling on a flat pitch on the first innings, chances not taken, Australia let off the hook and the rest is history.  For the first three innings of this series England have failed to get over 200 when the pitches have suggested over 400+ totals would be par.  That’s not good enough.

All the talk after the first Test by experts and fans (including me) that England are slow starters and Second Test experts away from home proved to be bluster.  England have problems and have been in a different league to Australia this tour.  We’re two nil down with three to play and not in 80 years has a team turned around an Ashes series in such a poor position.  Not that anyone is hoping for a win, retaining the urn must now be the goal, but Australian pitches are prone to producing results so a 2 2 in this series means that winning three on the bounce is the only option.

So where has it all gone wrong?  This England team is used to winning, used to beating Australia and is filled with more runs and wickets than any England team in our history?  We’re not just losing we’re being humiliated so far.  I’ve listed some points below to try and make sense of it all.

Preparation

Much has been made of England being slow starters of away Test series.  In the last 8 series played away from home England have scored less than 200 runs in one of the innings in their first test match. That is unacceptable.   England’s coaching and backroom set up is one of the best in the world and England are one of the best teams in the world, but this keeps happening.  If we look at this Test series so far and England haven’t got going yet.  Why?  If we look at the preparation and practice matches this may lead us to the conclusion they’ve been royally screwed over by the Aussies.

Each practice match had England playing on slow., low pitches facing bowlers of questionable quality.  Long gone are the days where England teams would face Australian state sides brimming with international class players who couldn’t get in the superb Aussie team.  The Australians have ensured we came into this series as undercooked as possible, make no mistake.  To me that’s criminal.

It’s flattering that they’ve pulled out all of the stops to doctor the practice wickets and teams – they know they’ve had to do everything to beat us, but England should have wised up and done something about it.  Maybe the politics of international cricket won’t allow this but it’s a bit of a disgrace.  England have come into this series not having played Test cricket on bouncing rapid wickets for well over  year, and the whole point of preparation is to help players acclimatise to the pitches they’ll be playing on to create an even contest.

Some people might say ‘fair play’ to the Aussies for doing everything they can to win. I see that point of view but if England were to try a similar tactic against any touring side, it’d be disappointing.

Team Selection

I’ve said in these blogs before that this England team has been  an immense success since 2009 and although the management are bound to make mistakes – they’re entitled to a few.  The decision to discard Nick Compton seems more and more ridiculous by the Test.  His stats weren’t amazing.  Two very handy hundreds in New Zealand and a solid start in India, he struggled at home against New Zealand but his sensational domestic form which got him the call up in the first place should have given him time to play against Australia this summer.  Instead Root was tried at the top of the order and then sent back down after struggling against the new ball.

Carberry, despite an average first class record, has been rocketed into the team and certainly hasn’t let anyone down, outperforming most other batsmen on the tour so far.  However, England have failed at the top of the order since that New Zealand tour. Compton does what no one else has done so far in this series – he occupies the crease.  Even if he doesn’t score runs, he hangs around, allows his partner to build a partnership.  Cook and Compton averaged over 50 opening together, since Compton’s omission England’s opening partnership is less than 30.  I believe had Compton been playing  against the Aussies in the summer and now, Alastair Cook’s form wouldn’t have plummeted like it has and England wouldn’t be in such a poor position.

The other selection issue was picking and playing Chris Tremlett in the first test.  Tremlett was picked after a sensational tour to Australia in 2010.  Since then he has performed poorly domestically and the crippling injuries he’s suffered have clearly affected his pace.  In the first test he bowled between 74 and 78 MPH – occasionally hitting 80.  That is not international class.  Tremlett’s selection did not cause England to lose by 300+ runs or really have much effect on the score – but it’s emblematic of a scrambled selection policy since Andrew Strauss’ retirement. Too often are players picked and dropped again – what’s happened to Woakes and Kerrigan?  Why was Steven Finn – England’s fastest bowler left out for Woakes in that Test then selected for this tour with an ageing, slow Tremlett picked ahead of him?

We’re a long way off from ‘the bad old days’ when we chopped and changed our team regularly but the management seem to be gambling on too many selections – it’s very ‘un-England like’ and it could be harming our performances in the short term and the long term.

Playing Badly but Winning

Remember this from late October 2012.  United hadn’t started firing but a win against West Brom and a draw at Liverpool moved us up to 8th in a tight table.  We’d stunk out the place against Norwich at home as well and played rank at Everton and Reading, picking up points in the process – 9 in fact plus another 3 against Spurs on the opening day.  We were not the better team in any game but picked up 12 points.  We convinced ourselves that playing badly and picking up wins was something to be pleased about, that all the big teams do it and we’d come good.

Well no they don’t.  The teams who titles and other trophies play badly every so often and they scrape through then get back to playing well.  Teams that play badly all the time eventually get relegated/finish well down the table.  Their good fortune disappears and the opposition realise they are eminently beatable.

I don’t want to exaggerate but the same could be true of this England Team.  England were smashed by Pakistan, relied on a genius KP innings to draw in Sri Lanka, lost to South Africa, beat a beatable Indian team, drew and then struggled against New Zealand at home.  We beat Australia, deservedly but Australia were a rabble.

Maybe this team need a reminder they’re not as good as they think.  The lack of competition for places amongst batsmen is an example of it.  Each of England’s top batsmen has struggled for consistency for a while.  Safe places, safe minds & poor performances.  England’s ability to play badly and win against the Aussie’s  has come back to haunt us.

Maybe losing at Trent Bridge or Old Trafford wouldn’t have been such a bad thing in the long run as England would have realised they needed everyone firing on all cylinders to win in Australia.

Luck

It sounds like sour grapes but England have had no luck.  It’s worse than that, the Australian’s had a fair bit of luck.  You may ask how England could have 10 days of cricket against Australia so far to make their own luck and I wouldn’t disagree with that.  However losing both tosses has been brutal on this team.  It may not have changed the results, but I think there’s a good chance it could have.  Both teams are equally as brittle.  Playing two spinners and an all-rounder was a bold selection for Adelaide and the right one. Losing the toss was a kick in the teeth after Brisbane – but it’s part of cricket.

You make your own luck.  Some of the ‘worldy’ catches the Aussie’s have taken have been as a result of England’s own batting.  However there have been several occasions where the Australian batsmen have played mindless cricket and got away with it.  At Brisbane and Adelaide chances have been put down, run outs missed or catches have been tantalisingly out of reach.  It just hasn’t happened for England and everything that could go right, has gone right, for the Aussies.  David Warner’s car crash batting should see him not pass ten in each innings as he comes and wildly swings the bat in the hope of hitting a boundary.  Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin should have both been gone on day 1 of the Adelaide test but they allowed Australia to make 590.  Small margins for England have led to big defeats.

There are lots of things England have to change to miraculously get anything out of the series, but if their luck changes it’ll be made all the easier.

I’m an optimist.  I’ve talked up England’s success and revelled in victory against Australia.   A 2 0 deficit in the series gives England the chance to make history and win the series or at least retain the urn.  I think this team has the quality to do that.  Whether they do it will be another question.

I’ll always remember the second Test in this series, for the wrong reasons.  I stayed up all night watching England collapse.  With Man United and Old Trafford the following day I planned some for sleep on the train down and aided by a few drinks pre-match – 4 hours of kip on the way home.  So when my mate turned up saying he’d forgotten to book train tickets, he couldn’t drive down the only option was for me to do the 6-7 hours’ worth of driving, having not slept in over a day and the trip becoming alcohol free.  Needless to say, after watching England throw away the Ashes on a blameless pitch, I immediately suggested we forget about it and watch the defeat on television.  After some gentle persuasion from him – 7 hours later we were in Old Trafford 20 minutes after the final whistle still singing with 3,000 other Mags.

What a day and the perfect tonic to this shambles being offered up by England.  Thank god I’m not a mackem.

ALEX HURST TF_INITIALS_LOGO

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6 Responses to BALL GAMES ALLOWED – Where has it all gone wrong?

  1. Mark Riley says:

    I agree with the part about preparation, Australia had what seemed like endless games to prepare for the summer in England, where as ours has been completely non existant and i cant understand for a second why our ECCB hasnt done anything about it, the finger points to – not enough time between series ( which i believe has cheapened the Ashes ) and possibly a bit of arrogance on Englands part, which i would be willing to bet money on is the reason why Englands form has deminished.

    As for selection i dont agree, Compton is not good enough, you cant have him and Trott struggling to score. England were dreadful with him opening. Carberry deserves a chance and as you say not let anyone down, that said, its late in his career. Tremlett is a joke, hes should have been man enough to say im done. Finn has had long enough to sort out his woes, he was hammered in the summer, that said, he would have been a better option than Tremlett.

    Unfortunately, no matter what players and pundits say about our illustrious captain, he has technique floors, bad ones. Bad ones that should have been ironed out years ago, its alright scoring double hundreds against no hopers ( Australia included ) Pakistan worked him out first, South Africa and now Australia. The poor standard of test cricket in general only will be his saviour, his average of 500 or whatever is massively flattering. Him and Clarke are the mirror image of each other, both technically floored with huge test averages due to the huge decline in standard. Neither is their fault but the fact remains, s soon as there is any quality – they fail. Compton would not in any way shape or form saved this series, im sorry i do not agree. Joe Root and Carberry are the only glimmers we have. Kevin Pieterson has done well to play as long as he has, i sense resentment towards him and probably jealousy, in fact definately jealousy. Its finally done for him.

    Luck, i suppose there has been an element of luck, but not with the tosses. England were blown away with the bat, what difference does “when” you bat make to that? blown away in the first innings or blown away in the second is still “blown” away.

    All of it seems a bit strange to me aswell, why are these grounds empty? Adelade was EMPTY. I was gob smacked. I sense something amiss. It will come out in the wash what it is, but watch this space. England will definately win the series over in England next time, without doubt and the grounds will be packed to the rafters. Just saying…..

    The sad thing for me is, we have taken years to become a good side and to an extent we are, its not the finished article, and i personally think the new breed of youngsters are better, a lot better. But yeh, the sad thing about this is, we are under cooked losing to a dreadful cricket team, Steve Smith, Shane Watson and …………i cant even remember what the other openers name is, but theyre hoping Phil Hughes takes his place soon…………….dear me, i hang my head in shame

    • Mark Riley says:

      Im only basing my thoughts and opinion about Compton on what i have seen of him, which is all the tests you mentioned. Compton gets stuck and then gets out, against poor opposition. As far as consistancy of partnerships are concerned, i agree. But Carberry should have been picked after Strauss retired. Hes far more positive and would have improved the more he played and given England a more attacking option, which is what the best teams have always had right? ( Hayden, Greenedge blah blah ) not crickets equivalent to “stoppers”, its too late really for Carberry now at 30…odd. Missed the boat. Comptons not good enough, it will be evident in 2 years or so i absolutely guarantee it. Ill ask you a question, how did he get on against South Africa?

      Sorry thats what i meant, Finn should have played, I like Stokes aswell. The future is bright with him and Root, they are plenty good enough. By good enough i mean can compete with South Africa, in my opinion the only world class test cricket team.

      Pieterson is our best player, by a country mile, but in my opinion which is obviously an outsiders one, they have always looked for excuse to oust him, however he is as close to un-droppable as anyone could be, and again in my opinion, they are not far off getting their wish. Guess we’ll have to wait for the auto biography for that.

      Cooks finest moment was in Australia, i thought he had turned the corner. However he still gets out the same as he did 7 years ago, i even heard Atherton once say “dont bowl there at him” ( short and wide ), which is really him saying, Cook is alright against poor bowling, so now…. they dont, since Pakistan hes been poor, in my opinion, worked out. Clarke cant play short, quick bowling, theres no quick bowlers anymore, lucky him. Our medium pacers have done for him how many times? god knows what someone with Johnsons pace would do, medical attention is most likely, in fact, certain. He did alright South Africa against their “quicks” the series they drew. Ill accept that. Its not their fault the standard of test cricket is attrocious, you can only pee with what youve got right? Averages are redundant in my mind, Clarke averages nearly 15 more than Viv Richards, i cant take them seriously with only 4 test cricket playing nations of any sort of quality.

      Point taken on the crowds then, ive been to Australia and its hot. Im not sure what happened when they took the final wicket then, Monty Panasar. It was slightly overcast to my mind, and there was hardly anyone there, or for the interview after.

      Dont want to sound like a total cynic or too reminisent about old test cricket as i really do think our future in Test cricket is very bright, how the rest of the world actually views test cricket is …ominous, but still we live in hope. I also think the new breed are far more talented than this team, fingers crossed they have the Southern hemisphere mindset to dominate.

      As for this series. something is amiss, it will all come out in the wash.

  2. Alex Hurst says:

    Mark I agree with some of what you say but I’ll take you task on the following:

    Nick Compton still averages more in Test Cricket than Michael Carrberry who you say (and I agree) is one of England’s better performers so far….that hardly suggests Compton was no where near good enough. He almost single handly saved 2 Tests in New Zealand and did well in difficult conditions in India – hardly a disaster. Yes he struggled against New Zealeand at home but they were games England walked, hardly a big deal.

    I’m not saying he would have changed the outcome of these two Tests – far from it. But I think Cook wouldn’t have struggled so badly in the Summer and continued the struggle now with Compton as a long term partner. Surely long term stability is far better than this chopping and changing at the top of the order which has harmed us so much?

    I agree about Tremlett but Steven FInn has a Test Average better than Swann Anderson & Broad so hardly a disaster is he and although he goes for runs – he takes wickets. all of England’s bowlers (with the exception of maybe Broad and Pannesar) have gone for big runs this series so would Finn going for runs but bowling 92MPH and taking a few wickets not be better?

    Pieterson has been out of sorts for a while, but there’s no denying he’s constantly been in far too early due to the failure of the top order (another argument for including Compton). He should be coming in ideally after 50 overs and taking the game away from the opposition, not coming in after 10-30 overs trying to see off the new ball.

    I completely disagree with you about Cook and Clarke. If their techniques are sop flawed they must be mighty fine in other areas to score more than 15,000 Test runs between them and have almost 50 Test centuries between them.

    Regarding batting first and being blown away etc I honestly don’t think it’s that simple. If England had batted first then Clarke would not have been able to be as aggressive in the field, men would have to stay back, you can’t keep two men on the hook and pull etc – scoreboard pressure is crucial. When you’re defending 400 or 590 then you can unleash Mithcell Johnson for 5 overs and let him go for 40 runs and take 3 wickets. If you’re 200 for 2 then you bowl more defensivley to defensive fields and wickets are harder to come by. It’s part of the game, but it’s just what I think has contributed to our downfall thus far.

    Also I think you’re a bit harsh on the Aussie regarding the grounds. I despise them (from a sports perspective) as much as anyone – but the first 4 days of wach Test has been sold out. I think you’re underestimating how hard it is to sit in 37C sun and watch cricket. When the sun is up, especially at the front of grounds people won’t sit there and bake, it’s not safe – so each ground has shaded areas behind the stands (or at least Adelaide did) for people to go when it’s so hot and drink etc – so I think the grounds have been full. In addition as the cricket starts at 10am there people often don’t get in until the afternoon session.

    You’re also forgetting they play their cricket in far bigger grounds than us. Our biggest ground is Lords is 36,000 which is the same as their smallest ground which is Adelaide. They get bigger crowds than us so it’s not a question of grounds being empty – I don’t think you canb doubt the Aussie passion for cricket!

    Finally I have to agree with you, it’s a real shame that after 10 years of competitve cricket from England (on the whole) that we’re in this position. Sport is cyclical and you’d expect Asutralia to come back strong after 4 out of 5 defeats but this is being thrown away by England.

    Alex

    • Andy says:

      I cant believe how wrong this whole tour has gone. I think a lot of the blame must go to to the likes of Gooch who dont seem to bring anything to the team. Our batting has been continuously brittle for longer than I can remember. When was the last time 4 or 5 out of the top 6 posted a big score in the same innings. Bell batted better than I thought possible last summer but the likes of Cook, Trott, KP and which ever opener they select continuously fail so what is Gooch actually coaching?

      The bowling has become too reliant on Anderson who I am sad to say seems to be on the way out. Broad is decent but the biggest crime is how the coaching staff have ruined Finn. Yes he was expensive but he took wickets, something Tremlett and Rankin dont look likely to do. I would play this Mills character who is with the academy. He looks rapid which is what our attack lacks. Australia have decided to attack Swann and with less left handers he is nowhere near as dangerous. I dont think he can be dropped as he is too important in the slip cordon but for me at the moment Monty is the better bowler.

      We have made Johnson look like a world beater as Clarke has been able to place attacking fields and there is no pressure on him to keep it tight. I still think their batting looks brittle and if we had taken our chances they were in all sorts of trouble in the 1st innings of the 1st test and it all could have been so different.

  3. Danny says:

    “In the last 8 series played away from home England have scored less than 200 runs in one of the innings in their first test match.”

    Brisbane 2010?

  4. Danny says:

    However, highly inclined to agree as far as Finn is concerned. He got dropped over the summer on the back of a nervy Australia second innings chase, that fortunately Jimmy put a stop to just in time. But he DEFINITELY is worth the runs he concedes, and having a tall lad like him who can hit the 90s would be very valuable at the WACA. We need our bowlers to frighten them the way Johnson has frightened ours, put the fear of God into them, and Finn can do that.