England’s reactive batting

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Twice last May, we wrote about England’s overwhelmingly reactive batting approach. First we described Kevin Pietersen as being England’s only proactive top order batsman; the only one prone to trying to set the field while at the crease. A week later, Pietersen wasn’t playing and Jonny Bairstow took on the role.

Even then, we were concerned that the batting was a bit one-dimensional. If that was the case, what do we have now? Sam Robson’s another steady opener and Gary Ballance is pretty meat-and-potatoes, three-an-over as well. Cook, Root, Bell – all are more likely to respond to what they’re confronted with than to really try and take the initative.

This isn’t about one approach being better than another and nor is it about having some lunatic coming in to try and hit sixes. It’s about having a balanced batting line-up. There’s a simple reason why teams look to field a balanced bowling attack and batting is no different. There are times when one approach doesn’t work, in which case it’s good to have summat else up your sleeve.

All the best sides have had batsmen who complement each other. We worry that England’s Test batsmen are all a bit samey and that the side’s still courting one-dimensionality.


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  1. I dont want to bag on the selectors too much before we have even played a Test, but this picking a load of samey batsmen and no spinner isnt exactly the exciting brand of cricket I was expecting when they announced it. It’s almost like they said they were going to go for a very English team, then brought in an Australian, a Zimbabwean and a West Indian.

    As a little aside, my favourite current cliche in the media is that England have picked two “half-spinners” to provide the spin options as if that adds up to a proper spinner. I’m sure Bell, Ballance, Cook, Robson and Prior are all about a fifth of a bowler each, so actually there was no need to pick either Ali or Root.

    1. Oh and for the record, I dont have an issue with England picking whoever they like if they are qualified. It just seems like an odd statement looking back.

    2. The general state of world cricket would be more interesting if Ballance was playing for Zimbabwe and Jordan was playing for the West Indies. The County Cricket system seems to be the only first class domestic circuit that, to a significant extent, sucks in talent from around the world then “converts” them to domestic Test players. I appreciate that players moving around and even shifting nationality is as old as Test cricket itself, but the counties seem to be a kind of catalyst for it.

      Say what you like about the IPL, it’s not a carefully disguised attempt to steal KP so he can play for the Indian national T20 side. Or is it?

      It reminds me of time I spend in hospital, surrounded by Nigerian and Zimbabwean nurses. Personally I’m very glad they’re there, it works for me, but I can’t help feeling guilty that they’ve been stolen away from doing good work in a place that needs them rather more.

    1. No, that’s partly our point. These are all perfectly logical selections in themselves. We’re just not sure the end product works all that well.

      We’ll just have to wait and see.

  2. I think you’re being very harsh on Ballance and Robson.

    ‘Another steady opener’ and ‘pretty meat-and-potatoes three-an-over’. Surely steady is exactly what you look for in an opener. And just how many runs per over would you like a batsman to score? If he gets a century at three an over I’ll be quite happy.

    You seem to be grumpy for no discernible reason lately. Time of the month?

    1. He just misses Pietersen, and is finding new ways to express disappointment at his exit.

      We need to help him get through this. I suggest gin and samosas.

  3. Not wishing to put words into KC’s text-editor, but I think KC’s beef is not so much with the selection “per se” as with the ECB claim that this is a fresh start with a more dynamic or exciting brand of cricket. Which clearly it isn’t.

    Personally, I have less of a problem around balanced batting than balanced bowling for test matches.

    A balanced bowling attack is essential in tests because batsmen can get used to samey bowlers and your ability to somehow take 20 wickets can quickly erode and with that erosion goes your chances of winning the match.

    With the batting, as long as you are somehow getting to competitive totals, the additional time taken by a bunch of 3-an-over-plodders is often an irrelevance, as long as you have the bowling capable of taking 20 wickets, the scoreboard pressure creates opportunities to win. Five days is a long time.

    Example – New Zealand have plodded themselves to a mighty fine position against the Windies this week. In Kingston Jamaica. In June.

    1. To be fair, Ged, that pitch at Sabina Park is ridiculous. It was a raging bunsen early on day 3.

    2. Since when did being fair have any part in the comments section of this site, Sam?

      But in any case I think my example still holds and will hold for unbunsen-like Lord’s. The lack of a front-line spinner in the England set up is more of a worry for me than the batting line up.

      If Moeen & Joe take the odd wicket or few and we manage 20 Sri Lankan wickets, then I’ll be placated. But the last couple of times the Sri Lankans have visited we have consistently been “treated” to tame draws.

    3. Joe looks like he’s 12 years old!

      Moeen is Asian and has got a big beard!

      What can possibly go wrong?

      Join us next week for the latest episode in their crazy adventures…

    4. No, it is a bit more than that actually. We’ve no issue with any of the individuals – all of whom are worth a Test place. What we don’t like is their similarity to each other.

      In the winter, two England batsmen would play ‘responsibly’ and their progress would be stymied. Then one would get out and the next batsman would try and play in exactly the same way, for some reason expecting different results. There are times when you need a different approach. With this England side, we don’t really see that happening until five wickets are down.

      It’s quite a passive batting line-up. Again, we’ll repeat that there’s nothing wrong with any individual playing in that way – it can certainly work. The problem arises because all eggs are in the passive, reactive basket.

      It all comes back to that stupid English mentality where ‘not giving it away’ is for some reason valued above all other batting attributes.

    5. Difference? Are you mad? You can’t have different people in a test team, that would never work. Apart from all the many, many times when it has worked, it has never worked. You can check if you want to. No, absolute sameness is what all the great teams have strived for and achieved. Consider the following scorecard:

      Cook 13
      Cook 13
      Cook 13
      Cook 13
      Cook 13
      Cook 13
      Cook 13
      Cook 13
      Cook 13
      Cook 13
      Anderson 14 no

      Total 144

      What could be better than that? Eleven players, all bar one with suitable families, and not a rash shot anywhere to be seen. No-one in the crowd is going to get injured from a massive six, at least in part because there’ll be no-one to hit. Besides, there simply isn’t anyone, anyone at all, who could provide any difference. Every single available (*) player is exactly the same, which is just an accident of our times.

      (*) From the New ECB Dictionary
      Available (adj.) – Exactly like Alastair Cook

    6. I think the desire of attacking batsmen is predicated on the problems we’ve had recently. The only option open to England has been to counter attack. Should the top order do its job, there would be no need to counter-attack, only to keep plugging away.

      I don’t want to sound as though I would advocate a sturge-a-thon, but should we bat first, 300-2 at the close of play today would be grand (that’s 3 1/3 an over, maths fans).

  4. That is quite exciting, only the 4th time since 1894 that all 11 English players have managed double figures in an an innings.
    Cook seems to have an unlucky number, you don’t say many time he was run out backing up.
    I checked ‘available’ in my dictionary and it says
    ‘One who gets no poon ever and is constantly looking for a lover’

  5. Alistair Cook (Calling across various parts of the outfield) : Spinner! Bowl the first and only over of spin in the morning session if you please. We really need a John Emburey style innocuous maiden of 6 nothing arm balls to fill in 90 seconds before lunch.

    Enter Moeen and Joe racing keenly forward full tilt from opposite directions towards the same crease. Pulling their jumpers off over their heads as they run, they are unaware of each other: Yeah of course skip! …..

    With hilarious consequences

    Mo and Jo Series 1 : Episode 1 . Scene 1

    1. Joe puts a wig on his chin, pretending to be Hashim Amla. David Warner shows up out of nowhere and punches him. Moeen asks what happened to his face and Joe doesn’t want to tell him.

      Hilarity ensues, presumably.

    2. Hilariously sophisticated stuff.

      I can hardly wait for the Moeen and Joe Standup Tour. I think we could be talking stadiums here, not mere arenas.

      Or should I say “stadia, not mere arenæ?”

  6. KC, it sounds to me as though England’s batsmen just don’t work very well as a unit right now.

  7. So, we’ve been put in on a green track. This is the perfect opportunity for a team lacking in batting confidence to regain that confidence. I predict that we’ll be 95 for 0 at lunch, 205 for 2 at tea , and 322 for 4 at close.

    Sorry, did I say “predict”. I meant “don’t think there’s a cat in hells chance”. Slip of the fingers.

    1. Which is better than Robson, who has just made the selection of Carberry for the Ashes look like a bastion of sanity.

  8. My lunch prediction has died, as has my tea prediction.

    But my stumps prediction is still alive, and if not kicking, at least twitching occasionally.

  9. Can I be the first to say that at the moment England have got their MoJoe working?

  10. KC is posting comments on cricinfo under a different name now:

    James The Score: “Root can accumulate but he doesn’t dominate. He’s not going to cause teams a rethink like, for example, a KP would do. Credit to Root for battling it out though – he’s playing his game.”

    1. Curioser and curioser.

      ItsNotJustCrick: “All this talk about dominating and batting fast is ridiculous. New Zealand just steamrollered the Windies and they batted under 3 an over for most of the 1st innings. Big scores intimidate teams, not fast scoring! England need to concentrate on accumulating.”

  11. There you are folks, that doesn’t look too bad at all.

    Good launch pad for two days at Lord’s for yours truly.

  12. the revival! it begins here… corner turned… next stop, world number one ranking and all that.


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