England Victorious On The Field. But Defeat Off It Still Likely.
Hi folks. It’s been a while since you heard from me, your elusive editor, so I thought I’d quickly give my thoughts on the current situation in English cricket. Big thanks go to Billy, Rob, Chris, Thomas, Jon, Sam and Brian for holding the fort in my absence.
Firstly, it was great to see England bounce back so strongly at Old Trafford after an abject display in the first Test. I was particularly pleased for Ben Foakes, who has now scored the same amount of hundreds in 16 Tests as Jos Buttler managed in 57. Their averages are level-pegging as well. Obviously this debate is now settled. So let’s see how Foakes develops while Jos sticks to what he does best: smashing white ball bowling to all corners whilst keeping the short form advertisers and marketers happy.
As for the nature of England’s victory, I’m not quite sure what to make of this series to be honest. I can’t think of too many series where fortunes have oscillated so dramatically, so quickly. It’s bizarre that one team can win by an innings one week and then lose by an innings the next. My obvious thought, therefore, is what this says about the merits of the two teams? Are they mercurial outfits capable of brilliance or just two teams with incredibly flakey batting line-ups (with bowling attacks good enough to exploit those weaknesses if conditions suit)? I’m inclined to think it’s the latter.
Consequently, although I’ll probably sound like a crusty old codger when I say this, I’m worried that the standard of Test cricket simply isn’t what it used to be. After all, when conditions dictate that the batting sides needs to sit in, fight, and weather a storm, they simply don’t know how to do it anymore. We shouldn’t be seeing so many games ending within three days.
Although I wasn’t able to watch too much of the game – I was keeping in touch on Flashscore where I follow all the live cricket scores when I’m at work – it seemed to me that South Africa got their decision badly wrong at the toss. Their batting simply wasn’t able to cope with Anderson, Broad and Robinson (who are all more than handy in seaming conditions). However, neither do I believe that England’s brittle batting would’ve coped any better had we batted first.
Basically, England clearly got the best of the conditions. Some venom had certainly disappeared from the surface by the time that Stokes and Foakes were amassing their match-defining partnership. Maybe England would’ve been 0-2 down at this point had South Africa inserted them rather than taking the bold / foolhardy decision to bat first themselves? It could be that I’ve got the wrong end of the stick here, as I’ve become more of a casual observer this year, but that was my impression from afar.
My other observation is that the intensity of this series seems much lower (or rather the stakes just don’t seem to be as high) as they were in past titanic struggles between England and South Africa. Therefore, I haven’t found the action anywhere near as absorbing. Although it’s great watching Rabada bowl to Joe Root, the hairs on the back of my neck don’t stand up like they used to when Allan Donald was running in to Mike Atherton or Andrew Flintoff was bowling to Jacques Kallis. Something just doesn’t feel the same.
The problem, I suppose, is that the current crop of batsmen on either side (Root aside) just aren’t particularly good. Both batting line-ups are possibly the worst they’ve ever fielded in Test cricket. This is clearly because Test cricket is no longer the priority for either the ECB or SA Cricket. And that, my friends, is another reason why this series just hasn’t grabbed me.
Test cricket used to be the pinnacle of the game – I bet most TFT readers still wish it was – but it’s hard to pretend this is still the case when neither country’s boards are prioritising the format. Surely, something can only ever be the apex of a sport if both participants are channelling everything they can into actually being successful in the format?
Test cricket used to be the ultimate battle between two national systems vying for supremacy. But now it’s not. That’s why there were so many shrugs when England got thrashed in the Ashes last winter. The ECB weren’t even trying to win (as evidenced by their complete lack of effort after the last thrashing). And this, belatedly, brings us to Andrew Strauss’s so called High Performance Review.
The naïve amongst us probably believe that Strauss’s brief was to create a structure designed to make England the No.1 Test team in the world. But sadly, in reality, the high-performance review is essentially a damage-limitation exercise to mitigate the inevitable negative effects that The Hundred will have on both our Test and ODI sides while somehow (probably futilely) trying to limit county member’s anger so they can get some of the proposals through.
Just think about it. If you really were trying to make England the No.1 Test team in the world, the very first thing you’d do is bin the Hundred. But instead, the Hundred is the one sacrosanct aspect of the calendar that Strauss isn’t allowed to (or doesn’t want) to touch – even though it’s slap-bang in the middle of August when pitches are driest and spinners and exponents of reverse-swing should be coming into their own.
If the ECB were really serious about Test cricket then they’d actually be ring-fencing August (or much of it) for the County Championship. But they’re not. They’re rather let Rome burn than admit that The Hundred is unnecessary (or a problem of any kind whatsoever). As a result, it’s hard to take either Andrew Strauss or his review seriously.
So this is where English cricket currently stands:
A. They’ll move the domestic 50-over competition into April, where the ball will move around so much that it will be impossible to play shots. The result? Our world champion 50-over team will probably be the worst in the world in four to eight years time.
B. They’ll cut the number of first class games to 12 or even 10 with most of them still scheduled for May and September when medium pace bowlers will ‘use the facilities’ and batting will be a lottery. We’ll therefore surrender one of England’s key advantages over rival nations (playing more red ball cricket) whilst limiting our young batsmen’s ability to face good spin bowling and reverse swing before they step up to Test level.
As Strauss knows this is a massive problem – he’s not stupid, after all – apparently he’s suggested another red ball tournament to run alongside The Hundred. But we all know this is a futile idea. Any red ball competition played simultaneously will be just like the current Royal London One Day Cup: a devalued development tournament containing many 2nd XI cricketers.
Although there are some statistics doing the rounds that England’s best red ball players don’t actually play in the Hundred, ask your this: who are the next cabs off the rank for Test selection? Brook, Clarke, Vince, and Lawrence immediately spring to mind. Well, guess what? All of them play in the Hundred (as do all the best middle-order players). Any bowlers with pace will inevitably be playing in it, too. Basically, therefore, this idea might benefit Dom Sibley and, erm, that’s about it.
So there we have it people. The situation in English cricket isn’t very pretty: the arguments on social media are relentless, the spin from above is still all-pervasive, and the ability of some cricket supporters to swallow whatever propaganda the ECB puts out there never ceases to amaze.
Therefore, for the time being at least, I’m still very much out. I just hope that incoming chairman, Richard Thompson, can reverse some of the damage.
Help us Obi-Wan Thompson. You’re our only hope.
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