England’s batsmen are insecure and complacent

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Ben Stokes (via Sky Sports)

England’s batting is bad. England are bad at batting. Bad batting is a thing that England’s batsmen generally do.

Before we get into the ins and outs of the badness, let’s contextualise it with the players’ career Test averages because that way we can really get a sense of the exact strength of the current of this river of badness.

  • Alastair Cook – 45.65
  • Mark Stoneman – 27.68
  • Keaton Jennings – 24.50
  • Joe Root – 52.34
  • Dawid Malan – 29.04
  • Jonny Bairstow – 38.60
  • Ben Stokes – 34.85
  • Jos Buttler – 32.03

Those are mostly bad averages.

What exactly is going wrong?

In the headline, we’re claiming that England’s batsmen are insecure and complacent. Is it actually possible that they can be both of those very different, seemingly contradictory things?

Yes, they can, because England’s batsmen are different people.

You will have heard a lot of broad, sweeping explanations for England’s bad batting. Upon witnessing universal badness, it’s of course tempting to assume there’s one root cause that must be applicable to all involved. This fails to account for the sheer mind-blowing breadth of the badness being exhibited by England’s batsmen.

England’s batsmen are being bad in all sorts of colourful exciting ways – often veering from one extreme of bad batting to the opposite within the same innings.

So what’s the ‘insecure and complacent’ thing?

It’s kind of a… well, it’s not a joke exactly. It’s two generalisations that highlight contrasting problems while still being generalisations themselves. Basically, we’ve tried to sum up the specifics and generalised ourself.

Let’s generalise!

The way we see it is England’s batsmen fall into one of three categories.

  1. Relatively new specialist batsmen
  2. Established batsmen with other jobs
  3. Alastair Cook

Let’s look at what might be going wrong for each of these categories of batsmen while simultaneously holding in the back of our minds the very true knowledge that this sort of generalising is not really a very good way of critiquing slightly broader generalising.

Relatively new specialist batsmen

Everyone knows who’s most likely to get dropped from the England batting line-up. It’s the new guys who don’t make runs and England have had such an extraordinary run of new guys who don’t make runs that it almost seems to have become a self-sustaining thing. It’s as if whoever’s picked instantly takes on that identity and loses all confidence and competence.

Stoneman, Malan and Jennings have often seemed tense and uncertain. They’ve mostly needed to chill out and think calmly, but the closer they edge to the exit door, the less that’s likely.

We have no idea what these players are being told by the coaching team, but it probably shouldn’t be the same thing as the…

Established batsmen with other jobs

Tell you who’s not likely to get dropped any time soon: Joe Root, the captain.

Tell you who else: Jonny Bairstow, the wicketkeeper.

Tell you who else: Ben Stokes, the all-rounder.

These guys have double safety cushions (what’s a safety cushion?). One is the fact that they have an additional role in the team, but the second and larger safety cushion is that there are even shitter batsmen who are going to get dropped before they do.

Complacency is a grandiose and damning word, but maybe the solidity of these players’ positions means they’re a little too carefree at times.

If the coaching team are telling these guys to relax and loosen up, maybe that’s the wrong message.

Alastair Cook

England’s opener hasn’t been the worst opener in this team for quite some time, so no matter how badly he plays, he’s never in any real, actual danger, despite what someone-or-other may have written in some column somewhere-or-other.

It would be hard, however, to accuse Alastair Cook of complacency, or of playing loose shots, or of feeling too confident in his position or anything like that. There is no possible combination of sounds that a human being can make that would dissuade Alastair Cook from his lifelong obsession of accumulating runs in a low-risk manner.

Alastair Cook is impervious to emotion and as a coach there’s no point saying anything to him really. You just leave him to it and if he asks you a specific thing about bat grips or his stance, you can maybe provide an answer.

Alastair Cook is the exception

And so is Jos Buttler at the minute. Maybe he’ll score loads of runs and become super-confident and then complacent. Maybe he’ll have a run of low scores and start feeling jittery. Those are two obvious paths he could take. Anything could happen really.


England’s batsmen are rattling around doing all sorts of crazy stuff. They should probably avoid listening to all the criticism and nebulous advice and overarching philosophies and instead find some sort of nondescript middle way of going about things.


Mike Gatting wasn't receiving the King Cricket email when he dropped that ludicrously easy chance against India in 1993.


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    1. These days Sam, I think you’d be better advised to release two albums simultaneously, one packed with low-fi acoustic songs of a plaintive tone, entitled ‘Insecure’, and another made up of Kayne West covers, entitled ‘Complacent’. Make the album covers mirror images or negatives of each other, it’s what all the kids are doing these days.

      As regards the batting, I have to agree with KC, although I think the captain has additional responsibility with regard to his team’s overall batting approach. Ed Smith may be to blame for the strange collection of white ball stars, solid but fading stars and not-quite-good-enough-at-the-moment also-rans, but the job of making a team out of them is to some extent, like Althea and Donna, strictly Root’s.

      1. Are you suggesting Sam should rechristen himself as Kayne West and become the Eminem of England? I totally approve.

        Get on with it, Sam.

  1. A couple of things occurred to me when reading this article. The “Established batsmen with other jobs ” section read remarkably like a page from a Mr. Man or Little Miss book. This is unusual, but by no means bad, for an article about cricket.
    Andy Tsege has been released from prison in Ethiopia, giving me a rare pleasant reminder that there is more to life than cricket. Excuse me going so far off topic but I am very happy about this news and am looking for excuses to share it with people.

  2. Really interesting point about double safety cushions, whatever they are. It is the mootest of all the points, but I wonder what the returns would be if you took the captaincy off Root, the gloves off Bairstow and said to Stokes that he was in on batting returns only – if you don’t average 40+, we will pick Woakes to bat at 7 instead and move Buttler/Foakes up to 6.

    The first category of batsman has been crap for ages, but when England are 150/6 again it isn’t because Stoneman, Westley and Ballance all got out twice.

    1. Quite. But what we were really saying is that while everyone’s an individual, there is an argument that the batting has polarised and that this is part of the problem. Maybe some of the senior players are batting worse in part because the junior batsmen are so ineffective.

      1. Oh, I’m fully on board with you. I’m just wondering if fixing the senior batsman might be the way to fix the junior batsmen rather than the other way round, mostly because otherwise England are going to run out of junior batsmen to pick

  3. Back in 1974, England also struggled against a coherent Pakistan side; in fact England failed to win a match against those tourists. But a bunch of intrepid kids on Tooting Bec Common took matters into there own hands:


    Contains some really cute embedded vids – not least the extraordinary Asif Mahsood vid. I have also included a link to my report on the recent Lord’s test, which is almost King Cricket-like in its cricketlessness.

  4. I see Michael Vaughan is getting a bit of stick on Twitter. Laughing smiley face.

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