September 26, 2011

Mike Holmans

Horrible batting, good outcricket

Mike Holmans
Garey Mathurin takes a catch to remove Tim Bresnan, England v West Indies, 2nd Twenty20, The Oval, September 25, 2011
The fielding from both sides during the Twenty20 international at The Oval was of the highest class  © Getty Images
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England have at last managed to lose a cricket match, and a good thing too: it was getting monotonous. One catastrophic batting collapse is no cause for panic: Sri Lanka managed one in the summer's first Test, in Cardiff, back in May and everyone was suitably amused or embarrassed, but the world did not fall in for them. Similarly, I doubt that England are going to bat quite that badly on any kind of regular basis; there is no obvious reason to consider it as more than a blip.

Nevertheless, one might as well attempt to draw some wider lessons from the loss to West Indies.

First off, England's fielding continues to be high-class. There were a couple of fumbles and a couple of wild throws, so West Indies got half a dozen runs more than they should have, but generally speaking the ground fielding was sharp and the catching first-rate. That fielding was backing up some very satisfactory bowling by a correctly-selected bowling unit.

When Graeme Swann said that Swann the captain would not pick Swann the kid, he was incidentally confirming that it is still the skipper who makes the final decision on which ten allies are going to come out and play alongside him – and leaving James Anderson and Steven Finn on the bench while giving plenty of overs to Samit Patel, Scott Borthwick and Ravi Bopara showed an excellent appreciation of what was required on the Oval pitch on that day. I wonder whether Stuart Broad, the official captain, would have the same nous in either selection or on-field management of the attack.

The batting, though ….

Inexperience is perhaps a partial excuse. Ravi Bopara's 90 previous international caps were more than the rest of those selected primarily as batsmen had amassed together. When he failed, there was no-one with the experience of arresting a slide in the heightened atmosphere of representing the country at a packed ground – even if most of the young guns have done it in domestic games for sides in which their places are basically secure. There was a fair amount of experience lower down the order, though, not that it helped. When Tim Bresnan walked out, I thought that at least here was someone with the common sense to nurdle through at the required run-or-so-a-ball, but it only took him a couple of minutes to heave one unnecessarily down long-off's throat.

But inexperience is an inadequate excuse for being incapable.

Jos Buttler has not yet played an eye-catching innings in an international game, but I suspect it's only a matter of time: with Ben Stokes coming to the party on Sunday (even if he left early), all the other youngsters have proved that they are just as capable of hitting the ball several miles for England as for their counties. However, they also seem to be roughly as idiotic as some of the younger India players, holding to the ludicrous belief that if a delivery can't be hit over the boundary, it's not worth bothering with at all. Some of them will no doubt get chances to play limited-overs cricket for Engand in Asia over the next few months, mostly the 50-over variety where they will at least rub shoulders with senior players who know how to nurdle, from which one hopes they will learn.

But all of them, senior and junior, are less than expert at conjuring even the odd run, let alone boundaries, from balls which don't arrive at a decent pace and don't bounce to an inviting height.

The eventual returns of Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan will improve matters slightly, but I reckon we England fans should watch the winter's ODIs through the tolerant eyes of the early adopters of technology. The first Blackberries or iPads didn't work all that well, but they were fun to get used to for those who didn't mind glitches and understood that they weren't going to get universal network coverage.

Turning to West Indies, they deserve great credit for doing what India couldn't in nine attempts this summer even though they face very similar problems with their own young batsmen, most of whom look even more clueless than the England boys.

But what will give them, and especially their coach, great heart is their superb outcricket, which gave England a very heavy dose of the medicine they have been dispensing themselves all summer: parsimonious bowling backed up by very sharp fielding. Darren Sammy's run out of Buttler was brilliant, but that was merely the star at the top of a bauble-festooned Christmas tree of fine fielding. The bowling was ideally suited to the conditions in terms of pace and length, and that England's top five were all bowled or lbw is eloquent testimony to its accuracy.

Pride, commitment and purpose when in the field is probably the most accurate barometer of a squad's morale and togetherness. That always comes from the leadership provided by the coach and, even more importantly, the captain: unless the players really want to play under them, there is no team – just eleven blokes turning up for something to do.

The turnaround in West Indies' fielding between the first and second games brought to mind the difference when England took the field for the third Test on their last tour of the Caribbean. It is now part of English cricket folklore that after the humiliating defeat in the first Test of that series Andrews Strauss and Flower, both very new in their respective roles, did an amazing job of getting their errant charges to think very seriously about how they were disrespecting the game, the country and themselves and what they were going to do about it.

Going on, Flower and Strauss had the advantage that they had a board and management structure which had been honed into supporting the international side as its top priority over a period of ten years, which is sadly not the case for Ottis Gibson and Darren Sammy. But the partnership they are developing looks to have the potential to do immense good. Let's hope they get to continue.

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Posted by Yuna on (November 10, 2012, 22:31 GMT)

Glastonbury. It was a little out of my way, but Glastonbury Abbey is beutfiual, and has a grave many people assume to be the grave of King Arthur (though others question it). Glastonbury Tor shows an exquisite view of the countryside. Don't miss the Chalice Well and Gardens, the site of a spring many consider sacred, with peaceful and beutfiual gardens. I wish I'd had more time to peruse the town when I was there I would have gone shopping.

Posted by ARad on (October 3, 2011, 18:19 GMT)

When teams reach a plateau that they have rarely achieved (some examples in the past 20 years: England reaching the Test summit now and India a couple of years ago, SL and Pak when they won the ODI World Cup), some of their fans are going to be a bit cocky about it indeed. OTOH, CLASSIER fans (and commentators) should take it all in stride unless they want to look like the 'newly rich' flaunting their wealth. When I watch youtube videos from the past, I see how fans were much more appreciative of the abilities of all cricketers rather than viewing the sports primarily through patriotic lens. Even now, there are many cricket fans who are true fans of cricket but, at least when I browse the internet forums, I see a bit too much of chest thumping which should make any cricket fan sad since we don't want our sports to emulate Football.

Posted by david pk on (October 3, 2011, 18:05 GMT)

so bombay should,they have selected into their side the best of the worlds T20 players. and the bcci have even given them permission to play an additional overseas player in their team. talk about rules for 1 team different for another team. how can pollard a trinidadian not be selected for the country of his birth and similar instants just so the india franchises can win. dpk

Posted by uresh on (October 3, 2011, 2:38 GMT)

england won only bcoz of injuries to our players..i would like to see if they have the accumen to beat us in our conditions even with their best team and against our 'B' team..........our domestic teams(read mumbai)are good enough to beat then any day in india

Posted by IG on (October 1, 2011, 12:14 GMT)

@ Bharat...awww gee mate, there's nothing to be sorry about. There are a lot of people (especially in India) who've lost their minds. I hope for your and your family's sake you recover quickly from the merciless battering India got in England, and is perhaps, quite likely to get in India as well :) Get well soon mate! Cheers

Posted by landl47 on (October 1, 2011, 0:00 GMT)

It's amazing how much is being read into a single T20 game. Don't forget, in the other T20, England won by 10 wickets. Yet to read these comments, you'd think that England's entire cricketing strategy was in tatters. Here is the real skinny: this game meant nothing. T20 means nothing. It's a game of eye/hand co-ordination and defensive bowling with no fielders close to the wicket. Some find it entertaining, but it bears no relationship to real cricket- it was designed to pull in people who don't understand the game. From these comments, it has obviously succeeded.

Posted by Mark on (September 30, 2011, 17:55 GMT)

I notice very few so called fans of opposition team in particular India, Sri Lanka, SA and Australia acknowledge England's achievements in Cricket. Oh well when India has a tough series against England in India. They will wake up and post more fairer less biased comments. Remember England has won in India before against to a very good Indian team in the mid 1984/5. What makes you think they can't do it again under the Captaincy of Andrew Strauss?

Posted by John on (September 30, 2011, 5:16 GMT)

we should all bear in mind that home advantage is probably greater in cricket than in any other major sport. The time to start crowing is when your tea wins away from its home patch. The only two venues where this is less demonstrably true than in the others are West Indies and Australia with broadly simlar conditions at each.

Posted by jitesh on (September 29, 2011, 19:00 GMT)

If winning is the sole criteria, then England also failed to win a single game in India in the 2008 tour(However,they did manage to draw 1 test match..

Posted by Ashok on (September 29, 2011, 18:37 GMT)

If inexperience let them down, the same rule should apply to the squad selected to play in India. I think WI spinners really showed up the England's batting limitations against spin. Can this England team face the spin bowlers on a turning wicket remains to be seen. There have been nasty things said against the Indian team hit by injury so badly as to lose 6 regulars. The Selectors in a panic put together a make shift team which did not include right bowlers. So the Indian batting clicked but the bowling let them down. That was the difference between winning & losing. WI got the right bowlers to negate English Batsmen & Win.

[Mike: I entirely agree about the obvious vulnerability of the English batsmen to spin - at least in limited-over cricket, since they haven't been much troubled by spin in Test cricket for some time. I shall be very surprised if they do well in the ODIs in India: I'm just hoping to see some signs that they are learning how to cope and aren't completely embarrassing.]

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