Can we be the first to accuse them of that? People reflexively go the other way, accusing losing teams of lacking commitment, determination or heart, but it’s almost always the exact opposite.
As we’ve written before, passion is not a cure-all. Passion drives you to things like losing all perspective, obsessing, never resting and eventually having a mental breakdown.
According to Alastair Cook this week: “Trevor Bayliss is cancelling practice sessions after three and a half/four hours. He’s saying: ‘You’ve go to stop now; you’re wasting energy; you’ve got to save it for the Test.’”
Trevor Bayliss is probably right, but for a certain sort of person (players, coaches and fans) the answer is always more work.
Part of the problem is that there always has to be an avoidable reason for defeat. To not be as good as the opposition in their home conditions is simply not acceptable. Defeats must be the consequence of some major character flaw, like laziness.
However, players fail for different reasons and at any given time more work is just as likely to compound a problem as resolve it.
Players like Cook and Kevin Pietersen are methodical and like to address specific problems with specific drills. Cook himself describes the secret of his success thus: “I try my bollocks off really; it’s as simple as that.”
In contrast, someone like David Gower took a broader, more rhythmic view of batting. His view was that he should spend more time in the nets when he was already in form as this would help him groove good movements and timing. Conversely, he saw practice when out of form as being counterproductive as it would come to make poor habits second nature.
Jonathan Trott is the classic case against ‘practice makes perfect’. Trott essentially lost the ability to switch off. His response to failure was to work himself harder and harder – even though all he was really succeeding in doing was eroding his capacity to work hard.
Some of this England squad will benefit from doing a little more work. A lot of them won’t, but hopefully none of them are guilty of the biggest crime of all.
There is a temptation, in a losing team, to do not what’s best for you, but what’s perceived to be good by others – essentially a reputational damage limitation exercise having already accepted defeat.
It’s unlikely anyone’s going down that road – not least because one person who’d be decidedly unimpressed with the effort is the coach.