It can be hard to read your own words. We don’t mean because of the quality of your handwriting (our penmanship has atrophied to the point that we’re reduced to using block capitals now). We mean that it’s impossible to read something you’ve written for meaning; to see the words with fresh eyes, without being aware of all the invisible thoughts that weren’t expressed.

This is why we have editors. They keep you honest. They point stuff out. This site doesn’t have an editor, of course. Instead, the role’s kind of fulfilled by those who leave comments. This is actually hugely useful in helping us clarify ideas which we may then use for pieces written as ‘work’, so thank you.

Lack of clarity

As a rule of thumb, if absolutely no-one know what the hell you’re going on about – that’s your fault, not theirs. Such was the case with our recent post about England’s reactive batting.

With hindsight, we made two major mistakes in that article. We described Gary Ballance as being “pretty meat-and-potatoes, three-an-over” and we also referred to Kevin Pietersen. Combined, these probably gave the impression that we wanted some reverse-sweeping six-hitter in the middle order, but that isn’t really the case.

Reacting to restrictive bowling

The thing we’re concerned about with England’s current batting line-up is that almost all of them are predisposed to playing the ball on its merits. This is almost universally regarded to be ‘a good thing’ when it comes to Test batsmanship, but it also results in passive, reactive batting.

This is okay, up to a point, but if the opposition adopt a restrictive bowling approach, it can lead to the kind of stagnation we frequently saw over the winter. Every ball is played on its merits and every ball merits either a leave or an honest, respectful defensive stroke.

Memories of the winter revolve around Mitchell Johnson’s assaults, but that’s largely because Mitch is a lot more fun to talk and write about. The rest of the time, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Shane Watson and Nathan Lyon all adopted an essentially restrictive approach. It takes a very good attack to deliver such a thing properly, but when achieved, it ties a passive, reactive batsman down and, being as he is reactive, he will remain tied down until the bowlers change tack. If few runs are being scored, this might never happen.

Taking the initiative

This stagnation doesn’t happen against all sides, because more often than not, the opposition can’t rely on every single one of its bowlers – there’s usually a weak link. In such times, you can field 11 passive batsmen and still make a score. However, against better bowling attacks or against mediocre attacks on good days, every partnership can seem like a dead end.

The problem is that the only kind of counterattacking people seem to understand these days is the kind that involves huge swings of the bat. Against tight bowling, that’s a terrible approach. The runs are drying up precisely because these sorts of shots are high risk. What you need is a batsman who can find a way of scoring that is unlikely to result in the loss of their wicket. It still involves playing the ball on its merits, but with just a little bit less respect.

Some examples

Sticking with the Ashes, Brad Haddin tends to play proactively when wickets had fallen. However, Haddin’s approach is far more weighted towards chancing his arm for a period before settling down once the field is spread.

Ordinarily, his English counterpart, Matt Prior, is a proactive batsman. However, his approach is perhaps better suited to upping the run-rate, turning ones into twos and so forth.

Paul Collingwood fits the bill to some extent. He would often continue scoring singles even when supposedly better batsmen were struggling to get the ball off the square. However, he also become synonymous with the non-scoring rearguard for many people and so isn’t perhaps the best example.

The best example

That’s when we thought of Graham Thorpe. To us, he epitomised the proactive batsman. Crucially, he was not a slogger, so there can be no misconceptions that we mean ‘counterattacking’ in the narrow, modern sense.

Instead, when a partnership showed signs of stagnating, Thorpe would look to take the initiative using one of the approaches outlined above. He would seek out scoring areas, he would run hard and, if he thought it made sense, he could also spread the field with some big hits. The bowlers would be forced to change their approach and the partnership between Thorpe and his more passive partner would emerge from the cul-de-sac unscathed.

When we criticise England’s current batting line-up, these are the qualities we feel it is lacking. It’s not a weakness that will always be apparent (and perhaps one of the players will yet show that they have it in them to play proactively). However, when these shortcomings do become apparent, you can bank on a collapse.