England embrace the modern fashion for innings defeats

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When it comes to meticulous planning, individual excellence and the most admirable examples of team spirit, the cyclists seem to have cornered the market here in Britain. The cricket team has rather folded.

Can no side merely lose a Test match any more? Nowadays, when good teams fall, it always seems to be an innings defeat. India and Australia have both been on the receiving end against England in recent years and now England have been given a chance to feel the same pain after South Africa positively annihilated them at The Oval. Told you they shouldn’t have played in London.

Why are innings defeats for seemingly decent sides becoming so common? Are preparations so specifically targeted that anything outside what’s been predicted results in implosion? Does extreme dominance breed equally extreme complacency? Why should that be any more true now than in the past? It’s baffling.

Maybe it’s a matter of peaking. There are so many different competitions, no side can hope to be at its best for all of them. India peaked for the World Cup. England peaked for India. South Africa have peaked for England.

England should have peaked for South Africa as well, of course. Maybe they have, in which case three Tests will actually be plenty, thank you very much. Or maybe they tried to, but have had some of their focus sapped and their edge dulled by the one-dayers against Australia.

Reasons and excuses. It’s more salient to wonder whether they can address this in time for the second Test. We don’t believe in momentum in cricket, so we aren’t saying it can’t happen. However, we do believe in one cricket team being better than another and in just one Test match we have been provided with quite a lot of evidence that says England won’t win this series.


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  1. Modern day teams are good in certain conditions. As you said yesterday, when the ball is moving England take wickets, but if it’s not they’re stuck. It’s also clear that fierce pace and aggression coupled with decent spin bowling on a dry track are England’s weaknesses. Teams around the world will now be thinking “that’s hjow to do it. Get in their faces, intimidate them.” And also “make sure to only play them at The Oval when there are no clouds in the sky.”

  2. It’s days like this that make me glad I’m not a cricket journalist. At some stage I’d have thrown my microphone or laptop across the room and refused to watch any more (probably around lunchtime on day 2). I can barely prevent myself from turning into Mr Sweary on Twitter when England play this badly. I take England losing Tests so badly that I totally lost any enjoyment I had of the Tour de France or The Open.

    I’m thinking this because I just read Fibber in the Heat (which is actually quite good and worth a read). Miles Jupp is quite an amusing chap.

    England’s only hope for this series is to prepare two awful minefields and hope they can scrape a result that way. I’d still back SA to win comfortably, think 3-0 is coming, and Smith is going to cause a third England captain to resign in shame.

  3. Daneel, I feel your pain. I reckon England will come back into the series – it will swing at Leeds and Lord’s – but wouldn’t be surprised if Strauss were to call it a day at the end of this series.

  4. Do you REALLY want the ball swinging against an attack featuring Steyn, Philander and Morkel? Based on the first test the best you can hope for is to prepare a seriously unplayable pitch and hope you win the toss turning it into a lottery.
    As an Australian I have to enjoy this while I can because in the next 18 months we are playing South Africa once and England twice on our way to the rankings cellar.

  5. It is an odd trend. I did a bit of statsguruing and over the last 3 years, matches involving the top nations have had around 20% ending in innings losses. Whereas 5 years ago it was around 17%. Not much of a difference but it is on the rise.

    I guess teams these days are geared towards playing to Plan A. And like you said a couple of posts ago. Plan B, C are nonexistent. So when the opposition gets ahead they find it extremely difficult to claw their way back in.

    Incidentally, I am not a very good statsguruer, so my stats could be complete nonsense but I believe I have made my point.

    1. That does seem a high percentage, but we’ve no idea how you’d find this out.

  6. England will come back next test – either win or draw – but Strauss’ job should be on the line regardless as he is averaging mid 30s for the past 2 years and his captaincy is as dull as ditchwater.

    Cook can do just as dull a job and he earns his position in the team with the bat.

    1. Who are you going to bring in to replace him ? It’s not as if we’re snowed under with test class batsmen, we don’t even seem to have many in the test team.

  7. England were beaten because on the easiest of batting pitches they batted poorly. After day 1 it should have been straightforward to get to 500, but without a keeper-and-tail rally they’d have been all out for 300. I’m not sure SA did anything spectacular; they just applied themselves better to the job. The second innings failure was a consequence of the first, and once they were 4 down defeat was inevitable.

    England are not the complete team, yet. We have a bowling unit that is as good as any in the world, including the SA one, and it has much better strength in depth and a much better spinner. We have a wicket keeper who does an excellent job. But we only have four world-class top order batsmen. The job of a top six is to provide cover for individual failures, but when two of them are almost constant individual failures, that is so much harder. When KP and Bell went relatively cheaply, as they occasionally will do, there was nothing left. It only needed 100 more first innings runs and this match would have been a draw.

    For all the talk about new batting talent around, the repeated failure at #6 is a big disappointment. Bopara, Morgan, Bairstow, Bopara again… this is a big hole that we don’t seem to be able to fill. And then (whisper it) we need two consistent openers in the team. If anything, this is more important than the #6 place.

    I don’t know who is available to fill these places, but without it a more complete team (as SA is) will win more often than not. If it were me, I’d get radical. If there is a case for maintaining the captaincy – Strauss has done an excellent job – play him at #6 and find a new opener. And if there isn’t a county opener up to the job, use Bell or Trott and shuffle the order. I know this has risks, but the future team needs more than 4 consistent batsmen if they aspire to greatness.

    1. Trott to open is a good shout. Strauss should be given the chance to bow out gracefully on his own terms, but that should surely be at the end of this series.
      Bopara and Morgan both have the potential to cement the number 6 spot. Remember, Bell started at #6 in 2004 and struggled for quite a while, and they gave him a chance.

    2. We’d stick with Strauss. He hit two hundreds against the Windies. Plus we’re in no rush to discover whether Test captaincy saps some of Cook’s concentration.

      We’d stick with Bopara as well. He’s been in and out, Ramprakash-style, but he’s as good now as he’s ever been. He just needs to settle into the side, which might take a few matches, unfortunately.

      We also think that Nick Compton’s displaying the requisite obduracy, patience and fitness to be the next man into England’s top three.

    3. I agree with giving players time, but the one to give the time to should have been Morgan. In the long term he is the better bet, as I think he is the more talented player. Bopara’s trouble seems a bit more mental. His first innings dismissal was insane, attempting a hook to his sixth ball, and suggested a complete lack of control when the job was nowhere near done. I don’t know if he thought his job was to blitz a run-a-ball 70, given that the score was 271 for 4, but if he did he was wrong. Maybe he doesn’t like test matches, and he just gets irritated when they keep picking him. That theory would be entirely consistent with his approach in this match.

      Also, Bopara is way too English, him being English and all that. Having foreigners playing for England irritates other teams, which has to be a good thing. I have no idea whether this has any impact on results, but that surely doesn’t stop irritating other teams being a good thing.

      As for Strauss, maybe he’ll step away at the end of this series. If not, I would still like to see him down the order a bit. Perhaps we could follow the Australian approach and have Bopara or Morgan opening the batting?

      (I’m joking, of course. Nobody would be daft enough to do that. Twice.)

    4. If Strauss plays, he has to be top three. Don’t see the point in having him clogging up the middle order.

      Bopara or Morgan? Pffsh – pros and cons with both. We’d just like them to stick with one for a bit. They’ll probably both be playing eventually anyway. They’re 27 and 25 respectively and even Ian Bell’s in his thirties these days.

    5. I looked that up because I was sure it couldn’t be true. But it is. How on earth did that happen?

  8. England scored close to 400 in the first innings. That might not be match-winning, but it is hardly a score of a team whose batting order needs to be shuffled. They have batted reasonably well to gain the top spot in recent years. IMHO, the reason they failed is not much different from the reasons India and Australia failed in similar circumstances. “A Big Fat First Innings Score” has become almost a mantra these days, and when that happens, the opposition is invariably forced into a defensive mood. Playing for a draw is an art in itself – one that’s been lost in modern era. It doesn’t matter if it’s England or SA or India or Australia. If you score 700 against them and make them bat for anything more than two days, they’re all going to lose.

    1. Adelaide 2006. England 551-6 declared went on to lose the game. It’s about more than a big first innings score – you have to follow it up.

  9. Sorry to interrupt lads but here are the stats I was telling KC about earlier. I think I got it right. Pretty agricultural really – just counted the number of wins by an innings in the total number of results and then asked the Mrs what that was in terms of a percentage. Clever girl.

    Here is a very long link to the results – do not be alarmed by it.

    1. That really is interesting. But I am guessing the reason the top teams feature a lot is because they play each other more than they do against Bangladesh, Zim etc.

      That’s some serious statsguruing there, dasmiths.

    2. We might have missed the point here, but aren’t a lot of those innings victories going the way of the bigger teams? That makes perfect sense. We were talking about bigger teams losing by an innings, which is what’s weird.

    3. Unless I am totally mistaken, there’s a fair number there involving evenly matched teams. Assuming India, Australia, England, SA are evenly matched.

  10. Thanks Deep Cower, I think I am half decent at statsguru because I am Asian. I’m also a wristy batsmen and competent against spin.

    Here is the list redone with just Aus,Ind,SA,Eng playing agaisnt each other in the last 3 years

    It shows 60 results but it has 2 entries for one game – i.e. Eng won, Aus lost, so there appears to be 30 unique games and 14 losses by an innings – 46%. Even if my results are wrong your point is very valid. I will now retire from this post.


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