Posted by: nestaquin | August 4, 2008

Denial, Delusion & Incompetence

Although not literally correct, the popular proverb “the fish rots from the head” is entirely appropriate in the case of English cricket. Perennial failures, for reasons hotly debated and yet seldom solved, England are the masters of making the simple difficult.

In a remarkable turn of events the day after Graeme Smith’s heroics in the Third Test at Edgbaston, England became the first cricketing nation in history to have two captains voluntarily retire simultaneously and separately. Test captain, Michael Vaughan and Limited-Overs skipper Paul Collingwood both resigned their posts leaving the nation without a captain four days prior to the final Test of the summer.

Vaughan’s press conference was a study of a man under enormous personal and professional pressure who continually stated that his “mind wasn’t right”. His actions both on and off the field of late have proved that assumption painstakingly obvious and absolutely correct.

He admitted that he had made his decision on the tour of New Zealand and negligently didn’t organise a smooth transistion for his replacement. Consequently, England’s new captain will be forced to learn on the job rather than serve a short introduction and apprenticeship under England’s most statistically successful leader. That is, to put it bluntly, poor management and a selfish decision.

The ECB is multi-million pound organistaion that represents the nation throughout the Commonwealth and to not have definite plans in place for Vaughan’s abdication, especially in light of his recent form, is astonishing. If the men in charge of English cricket cannot even forsee the inevitable departure of their ailing captain, there MUST be many other aspects of English cricket that are suffering due to the administrations failings and negligence.

Vaughan didn’t advise all his team-mates of his decision and the few he did inform were telephoned only hours before the press conference. This was the most alarming thing I witnessed while watching his resignation. How could you share the emotional highs and lows of representing your nation and then walk away without even a handshake?

Either Michael is an incredibly selfish and aloof human being or as he said often, “my mind isn’t up to it” and he is struggling to make wise choices. Not knowing the man personally I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and accept that he is mentally unfit and therefore unable to carry on as England’s general.

In another terrible choice in light of the dead rubber approaching, Vaughan has excused himself from the Oval Test where, if he had been available, he would have skippered the team for the last time and received a hero’s farewell. Something he and the cricketing public deserve. Instead through his own unfathomable actions, Michael Vaughan, in some eyes England’s greatest ever cricketing leader, will slink off to obscurity with no public send off or acknowledgement. That is regretable.

Clearly in denial about his ability to peform at international level, Vaughan’s final decision as captain was to give himself a few weeks off before playing for Yorkshire towards the end of the season and getting himself ready to tour India in the winter. He said and I quote, “I really believe that the next few years will be the best of my career.”

Michael Vaughan appears a confused, deluded and unhappy man and hopefully he can ressurrect his cricketing career. However, I doubt that “a few weeks off not picking up a bat” will reverse his decline. Playing against weak County attacks may give him false hope but I doubt that he’ll ever be as successful as he was before his stint as captain.

The press is overflowing with the news that Kevin Pietersen will be England’s new skipper. If reports are to be believed it would appear that he is the only player who wants the job. There is logic in selecting Pietersen as captain as he is an automatic selection in every England team, however, there are risks involved and doubts remain about Kevin’s motivation.

Many men fine men, some with exceptional leadership qualities, have been damaged by the pressure of leading England including recent greats like Gower, Gatting, Gooch, Atherton, Hussain, Flintoff, Trescothick and now Vaughan. Pietersen’s batting and demeanour suggest that he does not possess the mettle yet his appointment should force him to be more circumspect when compiling an innings. For example, although he batted well during the last Test, his second innings dismissal on 94 was terribly irresponsible especially when you consider that another 50 runs may have put the match out of South Africa’s reach.

One thing is certain, with Pietersen at the helm English cricket will always be controversial, however, there is no critical reason to believe it will be more successful.

The same administration and support staff are present and the men who could not create a simple mature transition for the next captain are still pulling the strings and signing the cheques. The playing personnel will in all likelihood remain untouched and at every level the harsh painful lessons taught during the last Ashes series are still to be accepted, contemplated and understood.

Make no bones about it, the next year will be tough for the new England skipper. The Champions Trophy, a series in India, another in the Caribbean, followed by home Tests against Sri Lanka and Australia with a T20 World Championships squeezed in between. He’ll need his fair share of luck to win any one of those contests and it will not surprise to witness another England captain quitting his post in 12 months time.

Hopefully, when that resignation inevitably occurs, the ECB will have brushed up on simple modern management technique and have a succession plan in place for the incumbent.

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Responses

  1. in amongst all this hoo haa, is the simple law that batsmen have a use by date stamped on them, because bowlers suss them out. Very few great batsmen last the long distance, Lara, Hayden, Ponting, Tendulkar, Jaya, et al,.. all unique and all with the capacity to surprise a bowler.

    Same with bowlers.. only the very rare greats retain the capacity to surprise and outrage the batsman, over a long period of time.

    Vaughan is not one of these greats. A good batsman, a showy batsman, but not a great bat. Neither is Collingwood, Strauss, or Pietersen. Or Cook, I regret to say. As the years pass, their scores reflect this immutable and unarguable phenomenon. Every bowler knows what can get them out.

    Vaughan of all people must have known this, why he was allowed to go on and on is a complete mystery.

  2. Everywhere I go I see naysaying of Pietersen. The guy is fantastic and deserves to be captain. Toots will agree with me.

  3. Few sides outside Aus enjoy the luxury of a seamless transfer to the heir apparent. India’s captaincy is an ongoing Bollywood movie, Pakistan’s similar, who knows who is WI’s captain right now, Fleming got guillotined and who is Smith’s heir (Prince is vice-captain, but Amla is surely the long-term successor).

    The Flintoff captaincy was a disaster, but I supported it at the time. Strauss was the chosen successor, but his series since 2005 have been:

    vs Pak 11.00
    vs Ind 39.50
    vs SL 31.20
    vs Pak 63.42
    vs Aus 24.70
    vs WI 24.00
    vs Ind 35.16
    vs NZ 45.66
    vs NZ 66.50
    vs SA 23.20.

    Pietersen is the best England batsman I have seen – to complain of his foolish shots is reasonable, but if he were to cut them out, his average would be nearer Bradman than Pollock, so it’s harsh to complain that someone isn’t Bradman. His speed of scoring is also critical to a team that needs that kind of push.

    That he is the only candidate is true: that he might be the right candidate may also be true.

  4. You’ll be pleased to know David, that the coronation is complete and KP is the new England skipper. He has a tough job ahead of him and time will tell if it is a wise move.

    If he is allowed to build a team in his image and style; bold, confident and strong, he may well succeed beyond expectation. However, if the status quo remains, it will be a tough gig. He is after all, only human.

  5. That’s a glowing endorsement Toots. The best English batsman you’ve ever seen! I’m interested in the criteria for such a bold statement. Is KP really a better batsman than David Gower? How? Why?

  6. On numbers:

    KP has an average of 50 at a strike rate of 63. Averages against Aus 53 and SA 62.

    Gower averages 44 at a strike rate of 51.
    Averages against Aus 44 and WI 44.

    So KP wins out on that. But he also wins out on dominating bowlers and making it easier to score at the other end.

    The only English batsmen close to KP are Gooch (who dominated and scored big runs at crucial times) and Thorpe who didn’t score big runs too often but played vital knocks. Tresco at his best is KP in normal form.

    He really is outstanding as a bat despite the flaws.

  7. Gower was similarly flawed and like KP his deficiencies were also between the ears. Comparing players is always a naturally subjective fun activity and when statistics are introduced with the speculation I cannot help to think of Benjamin Disraeli.

    In Gower’s defence statistically, he had to hit the fence to score four and to have a 6 on his scorecard he had to hit the ball over it. That is worth ten runs an innings on average and if you believe Dean Jones, twenty. (I wonder if David could solve that riddle?)

    Additionally, Gower had to play the West Indies in their punishing pomp with a 20th Century bat on pitches that were consistently juicier than today’s fare.

    As good as the Australian attack is, the 2005 & 2006/07 bowlers were not nearly as strong as the West Indies of the 1980’s. I’ve no stats to back it up but it seems a reasonable assumption.

    Anyway, I’ve little doubt that KP can bat. He has wonderful skill, keen eye and belief. I’m still to be convinced that he is a great batsman. Being selected captain will give him ample opportunity to prove it.

  8. Nesta – you’re right of course and that’s why it’s never possible to “prove” much with stats.

    I would say that they didn’t dive about much on the boundary in those days so I think there’s a bit of swings and roundabouts.

    Few (who don’t object to him on other grounds) would argue that KP isn’t one of the best England batsmen of the last 30 years and maybe that’s as much as we can say.

  9. The regular comment about ropes and fences is a peculiarly Australian one – other countries have had ropes for many decades.

    The overall average for the top six batsmen this decade is up about 8.5% on recent decades, in part because of ropes, and I suspect mostly because of the bats these days.

    If you naively take off 8.5% from Pietersen’s average he stays a bit ahead of Gower, but it’s within error bars.

    But as Toots points out, KP scores big against really good opposition. The way I adjust for this is to weight runs by the overall average of the bowling attack (this also adjusts for era – if run-scoring is easy, bowling averages are high, and batsmen’s runs are scaled down accordingly). Unfortunately I won’t get onto my computer with the cricket data until tomorrow night, but I’ll post a comment with KP’s and Gower’s numbers then.

    I can almost guarantee that KP will be well ahead – he was in the top 25 all-time when I last ran the numbers (I think before any of the NZ-Eng Tests), and Gower was a long way down.

  10. Rightyo, adjusted averages, weighting runs by the average of the bowling attack they were scored off. In general I like this measure a lot, but it does throw up some curious results.

    KP 48.6
    Gower 42.6

    For comparison (and the curious of the results – I don’t know how Tendulkar comes out so low):
    Bradman 90.1
    Lara 50.3
    Ponting 50.2
    Kallis 48.7
    Sehwag 48.1
    Tendulkar 47.6

  11. That’s excellent Dave. Much appreciated and good to see Lara’s genius second only to the non-pareil (in this list anyway). KP at 48.6, with power to add, is about right for me too. He is very good, especially when the going is tough.

  12. Agree with Toots, fantastic and amazingly swift results David.

    I’d be interested in the numbers for five players, Sunil Gavaskar, Allan Border, S.Waugh, M.Waugh and Doug Walters.

    And to make it public and transparent, never did I say that Gower was superior, I just thought he was a past player who had similar skill to KP. Saying that I’d still pay more to watch a Gower century than a Kev special.

  13. Gower was beautifully languid, an artist rather than a bludgeoner.

    KP is more interesting than most to watch, less for the aesthetics, more for the sheer force of personality and the unpredictability. He’s more Sehwag than Gower, but even KP doesn’t score as quickly as Viru!

  14. Gavaskar 47.2
    Border 47.7
    S Waugh 45.8
    M Waugh 38.9
    Walters 46.2

  15. The history of Test cricket is that of English failure, preferaby against all odds.

    The Ashes were invented to celebrate such failure and Australians rightly revel in each juicy turn of the screw as this blog shows.

    I just find it surprising that anyone should expect anything different. The moment we find a successful strategy to beat the best (2005) it is abandoned with a healthy dose of ill-luck and bad judgement to re-inforce it. 2006 brings a record hammering a we go back to introspection for a couple of years.

    Now KP has made a decent start as captain I expect England to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory, it’s the English way.


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