England are a team utterly without breadth

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England are a limited batting side. Most of the players have plenty of shots and they’re seemingly limited to a style of play where they use them all.

This article isn’t going to be a paean to the blocker. It’s about a lack of flexibility; a lack of range. England are a side whose ‘brand of cricket’ is incredibly narrow and this makes for a team who look great on their day, but who don’t enjoy all that many days.

England were asked to bat for two days. They failed to bat two sessions. If they’d instead fallen just one ball short, the match result may have been exactly the same, but at least there’d have been signs that their cricket had some breadth.

There was no shame in failing to secure a draw through their second innings efforts, but here was an opportunity to show that a different style of cricket was within their capabilities. What they instead showed was their sole dimension with searing clarity.

Lights flashed, klaxons sounded, aeroplanes trailing coloured smoke wrote ‘this is what we’re shit at‘ in the sky.

The mistake is to see the rearguard as a distinct style of cricket rather than an extended spell of a style of play that is a key part of everyday Test cricket.

On this occasion, England needed to spend two days avoiding high-risk shots, identifying dangerous deliveries and coming up with ways to nullify them. On another day, they might need to adopt a similar methodology for a shorter period, against one particular bowler, or for one particular spell.

Sometimes things aren’t in your favour and all you can do is try and improve your odds enough that you’ve a chance of surviving until something changes. A two-day assignment is deflating and dull, but it is also a magnificent opportunity to hone this kind of decision-making.

England were bowled out for 133 in 44.2 overs and the only guy who got past 30 was the one guy who didn’t really need to worry about this facet of the game anyway. The longer they’d batted, the less time they would have wasted.

22 comments

  1. I’m not quite sure I buy this narrative that they’re all reckless cowboys teeing off at the first sign of trouble.

    Moeen, Bairstow and Broad played stupid irresponsible shots. The rest were bowled out by a very good SA performance.

    Ok you can argue about the techniques of Ballance & Jennings. But it’s not like they were dancing down the pitch and aiming over cow corner.

    Let’s not get carried away. It’s 1-1.

    1. It’s not necessarily just about being reckless. It’s about finding a way – a different way. For example, Ballance is still back on his stumps, regardless of the situation or the bowler. We’re not inclined to the view that this is always a terrible thing – but sometimes it is.

      And are you honestly telling us that when Cook’s out in these situations, you don’t just assume that’s it for England? We do, and that’s a pretty damning indictment in itself.

      1. Yes, absolutely. I just think the media is overreacting a bit. Agnew is losing the plot, saying it was the worst collapse he’s ever seen and calling them ‘champagne cricketers’.

        A few years ago England were being slammed for going into their shells when battling to save a match (see Adelaide 2006). Everyone said they need to put pressure back on the bowlers. This is right. Continue to play positively. Just don’t hit it to the fielders.

  2. This (not being able to bat for a draw) is not an England problem, this is an international cricket problem. Sure one can point to a couple of SA blockathons in the recent past, but I’m willing to bet good money that any other team wouldn’t have fared much better.

    1. Without disagreeing, England strike us as being particularly inflexible and particularly poor at second innings batting regardless of the specific aim.

  3. The thing that annoys is that they seem to give off this air that this kind of thing is somehow beneath them. I’m sure that’s not how they feel, but it’s how it looks to a lot of people. And they seem unable to read and adapt to match/pitch conditions.

    It comes across as an ego thing – we are too good to be dominated even for a short period. Hmm, not really.

    Frustrating.

    1. That’s a pretty good way of putting it. They also seem unable to accept that starting slowly and getting quicker is perfectly valid. Scoring 30 off 80, then realising the pitch is a bit flatter than you thought and putting your foot down to catch up is infinitely preferable to scoring 20 off 30 and realising the pitch actually has a bit more in it than you thought as you are walking back to the pavilion.

      Complaining about Jennings, Ballance and Dawson is fair, but how many of these collapses are Cook, Root, Stokes, Ali and Bairstow going to be involved in? These 5 “nailed on” batting picks have got to start taking the responsibility for these things. Even Root has a pretty awful record in the second innings compared to the first.

      1. Having a crack at this stats business, but operating at the very edge of my comfort zone here (like most of the England batsmen, eh readers?) so please forgive any obvious errors (unlike the England batsmen, eh?). Let the subtle ones go, though:

        Inns 1/2 test runs/ave | inns 3/4 test runs/ave | overall test runs/ave

        MM Ali 1514@42.05 | 552@24.00 | 2066@35.01
        JE Root 3305%64.80 | 1570@39.25 | 4875@53.57
        JM Bairstow 1734@45.68 | 823@32.92 | 2557@40.58
        BA Stokes 1261@37.08 | 716@27.53 | 1977@32.95
        AN Cook 6524@46.26 | 4650@46.03 | 11174@46.17
        GS Ballance 936@40.69 | 562@33.05 | 1498@37.45

        ME Trescothick 3811@50.14 | 2014@35.33 | 5825@43.79
        AJ Strauss 4394@44.38 | 2643@36.20 | 7037@40.91
        MA Atherton 4458@39.45 | 3270@35.54 | 7728@37.69
        AJ Stewart 5003@39.70 | 3460@39.31 | 8463@39.54
        GP Thorpe 4085@43.00 | 2659@47.48 | 6744@44.66
        KP Pietersen 5456@53.49 | 2725@38.38 | 8181@47.28
        G Boycott 4795@45.66 | 3319@51.06 | 8114@47.72
        MP Vaughan 3386@42.32 | 2333@40.22 | 5719@41.44
        IJL Trott 2348@46.03 | 1487@41.30 | 3835@44.08
        N Hussain 3519@38.67 | 2245@35.07 | 5764@37.18
        M Butcher 2407@34.38 | 1881@34.83 | 4288@34.58
        A Flintoff 2457@34.12 | 1388@28.32 | 3845@31.77
        MJ Prior 2788@42.24 | 1311@36.41 | 4099@40.18
        MR Ramprakash 1549@32.27 | 801@21.07 | 2350@27.32
        G Hick 2061@32.71 | 1322@29.37 | 3383@31.32

        Short of any in-depth analysis beyond ‘having a quick look at the numbers’, it does seem that, while most players as expected fared worst in second innings, the gaps are in general larger for the current crop, notwithstanding Cook. Looks like the rot started with that Pietersen mug.

        Some players however are just a model of consistent class:
        RWT Key 470@31.33 | 305@30.50 | 775@31.00

      2. Oooh, the system hated those @s. Please don’t try to email any of them, folks – there’s a fair chance the mailboxes will be unmanned.

      3. Great work, Mike, and thanks for including all those other players for context as well.

        Root suffers largely for his first innings brilliance, but that’s a huge difference.

      4. Great statting.

        Cook aside, that is pretty abysmal really from the current crop.

        Also, the actual state of Thorpe and Boycott in the second innings of a match.

      5. How exactly would you have played the ball that dismissed Root in the second innings at Trent Bridge?

      6. Gooch got better as well (although all his not-outs were in the 3rd or 4th innings).

        Massive difference for Bell – 48.28 vs 34.41.

        I am reminded of how good 3rd and 4th innings Caddick was.

        131 wickets at 37.06 vs. 103 at 20.81.

      7. Thanks Daneel, and obviously I’m sorry for the obvious omission! (As the England selectors should be, of course).

  4. Tense finish to the Women’s Semi-Final, No 10 batter hitting a 4 from the antepenultimate ball (and the first she had faced) to win it.

    (Insert South Africa choke in Semi-Final again reference, but in an ironic way, yeah?)

    1. They didn’t come anywhere close to choking. Before the tourney I’m willing to reckon nobody gave them a chance. They’re easily the least wealthy women’s team of the semi-finalists. They looked out of it at the halfway stage, both in the match and in England’s innings. And they pushed England almost all the way there.

      …but yep, South Africa, major tourney, so obviously they choked right?

      (NB Not for a moment implying that you actually believe it, Herr Webster. Others will.)

  5. Hmmm…

    … oh go on then. Given that KC is himself such a stickler for correct English, I am compelled to be a pedantic “doos” and highlight a grammatical error in his third para above: to wit, the mistaken application of the modal auxiliary *may (present)/might (past)*. Admittedly this is a very very VERY common error these days, and for some reason is particularly favoured by professional journalists, but… I didn’t expect to read it here.

    Now, as for the cricket… I agree with whoever it was (erm… think it was a guy onTalksport, plays cricket himself at club level – Andy Jacobs?) who said today that the most worrying element in all this was Rooooooot’s utter disbelief at being “betrayed” by Michael Vaughan. The latter said nothing unreasonable, and nothing that most of us watching – between our fingers – weren’t already thinking; it really does seem as if, having finally dragged their ODI team into the modern era, England are now mentally incapable of playing any other way. The match was really lost in the first innings, and yes, the Saffers bowled very well, but… really? – those batsmen could not possibly have played those bowlers better than they did? This is supposed to be a wonderfully deep batting line-up; Philander is a clever bowler but hardly all that quick, and Morris would not even be in the test squad, never mind the playing XI were it not for injuries and defections etc. It must have been *possible* to play better – they just didn’t. And yes, the end result is that it looks as if they didn’t even try.

    I mean, Moeen Ali… seriously… I can only assume he didn’t even notice the trap which had been set. In his mind that ball must have been heading straight to the boundary, rather than straight down the throat of the fielder placed at square leg (earlier in the same over) for precisely that shot: that’s an attitudinal problem, not a technical flaw. (Bairstow is the one everyone was talking about, but Graeme Swann made a very good case on TMS for that dismissal being brought about by the very tight bowling leading up to it: when JB was finally presented with a ball to hit, it was just a reflex to hit it, but that wasn’t because the batsman was only looking to play aggressively. So yes, that’s an example of a really well-executed bowling plan. Mooen fell right into a very obvious trap at the very first time of asking.)

    Hmmm

    1. Yes – it was a bit odd that they couldn’t seem to fathom why everyone thought they’d come across as completely reckless. Which game were they watching?!

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