Posted by: nestaquin | August 12, 2008

England 2008 Test Review

It was a surprise and a relief to find another fine article in the inbox from our man in the north, The Tooting Trumpet, who in the following piece analyses the form and future prospects of the England and Wales Test team after their recent battles with a plucky and depleted New Zealand and a confident South Africa.

England’s 2008 Test Season

In a summer in which cricket might have been expected to have held centre stage (England’s football team having failed to qualify for the European Championships and The Olympics barely started as the Tests were completed), cricket has not loomed large in the national consciousness.

Early tourists New Zealand (more accurately, New Zealand Seconds) was not a side to set the pulse racing and South Africa do charisma-free cricket better than anyone. So while the extraordinary Ajantha Mendis was bowling to the dazzling Virender Sehwag on the sub-continent, in England Iain O’Brien bowled to Alastair Cook and Paul Harris bowled to Andrew Strauss.

With the weather as dull as the cricket, it was hard for any player to develop momentum, so hard and fast conclusions should be treated with trepidation. Nevertheless, running the rule over England’s seven summer Tests substantiates long-standing criticisms and offers some (well just one) hope for the future.

England’s batting infuriates fans and selectors with its endemic inability to set up match-winning situations, whilst offering no irrefutable argument for root and branch reconstruction. It’s like being dealt 16 repeatedly at the blackjack table – you know you should stick, but you long to twist in the hope of getting a five. Up top, Alastair Cook constructs good knocks without ever reaching the Sehwag / Hayden standard in terms of runs or strike rates. Too talented to drop, but very soon, he’ll need to shape innings to his will or drop down the order.

Andrew Strauss is horribly scratchy, but his experience is – suddenly – crucial. Ian Bell can look immaculate in defence and attack, can make big scores on good wickets, and can battle on poorer strips and yet everyone doubts him (including him). Never has the adage that a batsman only has to make one mistake been more apposite, but Bell is nailed on for the team for the foreseeable future. He’s like Damien Martyn without the spine-stiffening exile and the run-hungry return.

Paul Collingwood has looked a walking wicket most of the summer, with technical deficiencies leading to a crooked presentation of the bat to the ball and an anxiety-driven bottom hand appearing, like Thing in the Addams Family, just when you don’t need it. His renowned ticker saved him with a truly remarkable hundred on his recall for the Third Test versus South Africa.

Ticker isn’t something that English players abound in and it’ll keep Colly in the side. Michael Vaughan? Hard to see him getting a winter tour, so that could be the end for a fine, occasionally brilliant, batsman and a fine, occasionally brilliant, captain.

Amongst the all-rounders, we must now classify England’s captain, Pietermaritzburg’s Kevin Pietersen. That’s no cheap jibe at the man (or is that The Man?), because his very outsiderness is a huge strength. Nearly four years after he announced himself as an international cricketer, the English are no more able to judge this big man than they were when first they clapped eyes on the ear-ring and the skunk hair-do. His leadership is now as critical as his batting (hence the all-rounder status) – and both will be fuelled by a self-belief so strong you feel you should be able to touch it. His batting this summer has been occasionally foolish, often brilliant and always critical.

Frankly, whatever the ECB pay him, it isn’t enough – England’s hopes for the immediate future are almost entirely reliant on him. Andrew Flintoff has returned from long term injury as a slightly less intimidating bowler and a late order slogger – whether he can recapture the extraordinary hostility of 2005 and the solid batting of 2003-4 remains to be seen, but neither seems likely. 75 percent of the 2005 bowler and 50 percent of the 2005 batsman is still plenty good enough though.

The other all-rounder is the keeper – after Matt Prior handed the gloves to Phil Mustard for the NZ ODIs in the spring, Tim Ambrose took the gloves for the summer Tests but hands them back to Matt Prior next week for the ODIs. All you need to know, right there.

England’s bowling has lacked penetration when it mattered but, unlike the batting, appears to be moving forwards. Jimmy Anderson is re-established as a quality swing bowler; Ryan Sidebottom is in his right place as a squad bowler; Stephen Harmison is a strike bowler, but only when he has had the fullest possible preparation; Andrew Flintoff is a strike bowler, but used as a stock bowler because there’s nobody else; Stuart Broad, like the Aussie blond bombshell, Shane Watson, is a de facto project player, so we can’t expect much yet and Monty needs to expand his repertoire – “My way” is a good song, but he needs more tunes. Simon Jones lurks menacingly – nobody else does.

Overall, a disappointing Test season for England – perhaps rightly, the biggest question marks are over a coaching set-up that is not improving the players. That India’s grand old men are in poor form, the West Indies in leadership meltdown yet again and Sri Lanka unlikely to field its IPL players gives England ten months or so of relatively low pressure Test cricket. The coaches will find plenty of positives in that period. The juggernaut that awaits them at the end of those ten months will tell us if those positives are real or illusory.

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Responses

  1. Have to agree Toots. I’ve not been this underwhelmed by a summer’s cricket for a very long time, probably 1999.

    Although we haven’t plumbed anything like the depths of that Prince-song monikered year, I still find myself in a state of anomie about the national set up. Probably due to the complacent nature of the batting line-up; no matter how mediocre their performances they are simply not being dropped. I mentioned in my piece the other day about who could replace Vaughan, but you could perm that to any or all of Strauss, Bell and possibly Collingwood.

    An interesting winter awaits. And by interesting I mean probably painful and definitely deflating.

  2. Why not just drop Strauss, Bell, and Collingwood, and see what happens?

    Sometimes boldness is called for. It might work, or it might not.

    It may be worth the gamble.

  3. Hard to disagree with much of this. I do think that Sideshow’s days are numbered however and given that Simon Jones is on a long road to recovery still we need to be bringing some other quicks into the squad reckoning at least.

    Kabir Ali perhaps?

    Part of the problem is that Jimmy A is still unreliable. But Sidebottom’s “control” is threatless against quality batsmen when the ball is not swinging much.

    On batting, this India series is make or break for Strauss I reckon. He has to carry some form through. The squad needs another opener in it regardless. If Strauss or Cook break a finger, who opens? Of course I also hope that the competition will sharpen them up.

    I’m well known for being harsh on Ian Bell and he did score 199 at Lords. But the selectors lost that game on the bowling side. So to quote a Tooting favourite “what’s his record in winning Tests”? ;-)

    I don’t really know what to do about Bell and Collingwood. Each brings something good, but at the same time, underperformance without being dropped has meant that plausible replacements have had no chance to make a case.

    Ideally Colly would have been rotated out much earlier, giving us a chance to see what Bopara and Shah could do. As it is, Bopara is in the squad I think? but it’s hard to see how he’ll get a game (barring injury) in a 2 Test series.

    2 Test series? Did I type that right? Someone needs to fix that. It’s a joke.

  4. Two Test series is a joke but it seems dictated by the ECB’s commitment to the players allowing them Christmas at home and the BCCI’s desire for ODIs.

    In the long term, perhaps opener is Bell’s position. If Strauss goes, that’s what I’d like to see opening a slot for Ravi or Shah. I’d definitely give Kabir Ali another go and perhaps Hoggy too. We need seven pacemen to play the volume of international cricket these days.

  5. Considering the current scenario, there is need to take the tough decisions, i think colling wood and bell should be dropped from the squad.

  6. i am gonna show this to my friend, dude


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