England April 1, 2012

Ditch the plans, England

Watching England win Tests had up until recently become my profession
38

Watching England win Tests had up until recently become my profession. I’ve seen them win a couple of Ashes, and defeat Pakistan, West Indies, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. All up close and personal. It’s meant that I’ve been an often reluctant watcher on their journey to No.1. Their gritty, well-planned effectiveness has played out in front of me so many times you start to see the reasons why it exists.

To become No.1, England have done a bunch of things right.

They hired Andy Flower who is a brilliant cricket coach. He’s even got the face of a cricket coach, someone who can only smile for seven seconds a week. I can’t see how England would’ve made it to No.1 without him in charge. Anyone who doesn’t believe cricket coaches do much after watching Flower scruff this team and hurl them to No.1 is trying to stay in the dark days.

While no one was paying attention, England became the most professional side ever in cricket. Off the field they are No.1 by a distance whether it be their coaching, fitness, analysis and even their administrators. Every box is ticked in preparation. They probably have a person whose job is just that. Names like James Avery and Richard Halsall may not be known to many cricket fans, but they are the best at what they do, and when you continue to hire the best in the business off the field, it can only help those on it.

They call their bowlers, like so many do, their bowling unit. But for this team it’s probably better to refer to them as a bowling pack. They stick close together, give little away and stalk their prey. Their plans are simple and workable, do enough with the ball in all conditions, have good variety, more than one capable back-up and the ability to play allrounders when required. There are few eight-wicket hauls from a bowler on the rampage. Generally the wickets come in clusters at both ends because of the pressure and how hard it is to score off them.

Andrew Strauss is a natural leader of this team. He’s not showy, or unorthodox, he just forms plans with the coaching group and senior players and keeps the team calm. He’s not Stephen Fleming or Douglas Jardine tactically, but this team makes sense with him there.

Their fielding is athletic and well drilled. Their catching very safe. And if someone does something good half the team will race over to make sure he knows it was appreciated. It’s an unconfirmed rumour that they have a manual on when it is the correct time to pat a team-mate on the bum.

Their batting can be monumental. It is all built around their top three. Stoic men in no rush. The perfect men to slowly choke the life out of any new ball by either defending or leaving it alone. The opposition bowlers have to bowl to them. Then when the new ball is seen off, these three men, or if they let any other batsman come in, can cash in between the 25th and 80th over. When the second new ball does come, England will have set batsmen facing it and probably have one batsman eyeing a big score.

It’s not revolutionary. Sure, in money ball there is talk of seeing more pitches to tire out the pitchers, but seeing off the new ball has always been a pretty sound cricket theory. Tired bowlers with an older ball is what batsmen dream of.

England have just done it better than most, and they also bucked the trend of selecting players like Virender Sehwag, David Warner and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Perhaps it was a plan built around having the right three men, rather than something Flower always believed in. But in the right conditions, say Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa, it works perfectly. These are generally new ball countries where seam or swing is extremely effective. If you can see off the first new ball, and your batsmen below are quality players, you can up the scoring rate later on and make very big scores that intimidate the opposition.

The problem is that in the subcontinent this game plan doesn’t work.

When the ball loses its shine on a low and slow turning wicket, it can get harder to score. England’s batting plan was tested by Pakistan and it failed, and now it has failed in Sri Lanka as well.

In some ways, England have already changed from their solid top-order plan. In Pakistan the batsmen stood at the crease waiting for Saeed Ajmal to beat them. Against Sri Lanka they were far more attacking and at times a little bonkers. Andrew Strauss’ decision to come running down the wicket like a seven-year-old in a beach game was completely out of character for him. He’s more like the person who would spank a child for playing that shot.

Jonathan Trott’s hundred was England’s ray of light. Trott played Trott cricket. It was sensible, played to his strengths, and only premeditated when Sri Lanka were trying a 15-man legside field. According to Trott, England’s batting is so bad the team may have to call in an exorcist.

To stop that in future it might be best if they just forget about the plans. I know it’s tough, because England is a plan-heavy team. But it’s not like their batsmen are poor, young, or stupid. They’ve been around and some stuff, and this is no-one’s first trip to the subbie. Let them all work it out on their own. Now, maybe only two or three come good. But two or three an innings would still be a vast improvement on what they have at the moment, which is very occasionally one.

Now there are more reasons than their batting template for why England is struggling in these conditions. Strauss is not making runs, with everyone else in form that mattered little, with no one in form that matters a lot. They seem to trust the sweep shot more than an NRA member trusts his rifle (even though they’ve shot their own toes off with it many times). And they don’t really use the crease that well, either forward or backwards.

At the moment England batsmen are little more than targets who occasionally throw in a gut-wrenching premeditated sweep.

Before this series, like I did before their last against Pakistan, I thought Flower would come up with the appropriate game plans for England to conquer these wickets. So far he hasn’t.

Yet, I continue to believe in Andy Flower. The ‘man with the plan’ has to become the man who lets his players play. Just let go of the scruff of their necks and see if they land on their feet. Blocking, slogging and sweeping haven’t worked. Perhaps batting will.

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricket lover on April 17, 2012, 5:10 GMT

    the only player who scored some runs is NOT an englishman (Trot)..pieterson, well he is hybrid not an englishman!

  • The hammer on April 16, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    Interesting article---I believe Andy Flower mastered the sub-continent when playing for Zimbabwe. Was he not ranked as the worlds best batsman for two years following tours to the sub continent? Food for thought!

  • Arunraj on April 3, 2012, 4:03 GMT

    Awesome!!! Nice analysis about ENGLAND team and their approach. Sometimes let the players do their work by themselves helps in learning even if dont work.

  • Girish on April 3, 2012, 1:05 GMT

    Good article but disagree in belief in Andy Flower. He checks the box on non-subcontinent pitches but doesn't on subcontinent slow pitches, one day cricket and T20. Thus several boxes left unchecked so far. Not that much different from Duncan Fletcher's record with England.

  • de Alwis on April 2, 2012, 21:34 GMT

    Future of entertaining cricket is going to be in sub-continent. So it best that England adapt quickly.

  • Aftab Qureshi on April 2, 2012, 18:16 GMT

    Balming captain, coach or strategy will not help. The team is in a downturn because of lack of confidence. Hire a psychotherapist to drive the demons away from their minds and all should be OK. OK because no one can deny the enormous cricketing talent that exists in this team that is also the world's best in terms of skill, variety and balance.

  • Danish on April 2, 2012, 13:11 GMT

    This is no doubt a good advice. They'll have to change the plan

  • mirza ahmed on April 2, 2012, 13:05 GMT

    england were defeated by pakistan in uae and this time srilanka will defeat them

  • Essar on April 2, 2012, 12:16 GMT

    The above logic (trying to explain England's defeats) is abysmal. You have batters like Kevin Pietersen who can be explosive on his day - just as Sehwag or Warner. It comes down to inability to play in hot conditions, playing quality spin (actually make that average spin), and pitches with different bounce than they are used to. Same thing happens to subcontinent teams when they tour England - they are forced to play in cold and wet conditions, pitches with a lot of grass, and quality fast bowling. England are no better than subcontinent teams - they are no number one (or number two) side. Australia is no longer the dominant force it once was, so beating it is not an indication of being a number one side like it was 5 years ago.

  • The-Empire-crumbles on April 2, 2012, 12:02 GMT

    A shameless post from Jarrod. After taking great delight in seeing India's batsmen struggle in both England and Australia, how convenient of Jarrod to not have similar harsh words for England's batsmen, who have proven to be totally inept at handling spin. Just as India came unhinged when they had to prove themselves in England and Australia, England have similarly come completely unhinged in their latest travel to the subcontinent. They have never played spin well and this time is no different-- throw the record books of Pietersen, Cook, Strauss, Bell to the bonfire. Get ready for another "brownwash". And Jarrod will hopefully learn to eat humble pie.

  • cricket lover on April 17, 2012, 5:10 GMT

    the only player who scored some runs is NOT an englishman (Trot)..pieterson, well he is hybrid not an englishman!

  • The hammer on April 16, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    Interesting article---I believe Andy Flower mastered the sub-continent when playing for Zimbabwe. Was he not ranked as the worlds best batsman for two years following tours to the sub continent? Food for thought!

  • Arunraj on April 3, 2012, 4:03 GMT

    Awesome!!! Nice analysis about ENGLAND team and their approach. Sometimes let the players do their work by themselves helps in learning even if dont work.

  • Girish on April 3, 2012, 1:05 GMT

    Good article but disagree in belief in Andy Flower. He checks the box on non-subcontinent pitches but doesn't on subcontinent slow pitches, one day cricket and T20. Thus several boxes left unchecked so far. Not that much different from Duncan Fletcher's record with England.

  • de Alwis on April 2, 2012, 21:34 GMT

    Future of entertaining cricket is going to be in sub-continent. So it best that England adapt quickly.

  • Aftab Qureshi on April 2, 2012, 18:16 GMT

    Balming captain, coach or strategy will not help. The team is in a downturn because of lack of confidence. Hire a psychotherapist to drive the demons away from their minds and all should be OK. OK because no one can deny the enormous cricketing talent that exists in this team that is also the world's best in terms of skill, variety and balance.

  • Danish on April 2, 2012, 13:11 GMT

    This is no doubt a good advice. They'll have to change the plan

  • mirza ahmed on April 2, 2012, 13:05 GMT

    england were defeated by pakistan in uae and this time srilanka will defeat them

  • Essar on April 2, 2012, 12:16 GMT

    The above logic (trying to explain England's defeats) is abysmal. You have batters like Kevin Pietersen who can be explosive on his day - just as Sehwag or Warner. It comes down to inability to play in hot conditions, playing quality spin (actually make that average spin), and pitches with different bounce than they are used to. Same thing happens to subcontinent teams when they tour England - they are forced to play in cold and wet conditions, pitches with a lot of grass, and quality fast bowling. England are no better than subcontinent teams - they are no number one (or number two) side. Australia is no longer the dominant force it once was, so beating it is not an indication of being a number one side like it was 5 years ago.

  • The-Empire-crumbles on April 2, 2012, 12:02 GMT

    A shameless post from Jarrod. After taking great delight in seeing India's batsmen struggle in both England and Australia, how convenient of Jarrod to not have similar harsh words for England's batsmen, who have proven to be totally inept at handling spin. Just as India came unhinged when they had to prove themselves in England and Australia, England have similarly come completely unhinged in their latest travel to the subcontinent. They have never played spin well and this time is no different-- throw the record books of Pietersen, Cook, Strauss, Bell to the bonfire. Get ready for another "brownwash". And Jarrod will hopefully learn to eat humble pie.

  • Naren Gogna on April 2, 2012, 11:44 GMT

    I always knew no 1 statsu was only 1 season away from being taken away. England would be lucky to save the next game and Srilankans, struggling themselves as a batting unit, would provide a rank turner. If england wouldn't have played so many time with the same team (mostly australia) they mighn't even have reached the pinnacle. Anyways it would be a struggle ahead especially at the end of the year. They may just beat West Indies who haven't got a proper cricket team at test level.

  • Jay on April 2, 2012, 11:11 GMT

    Oh what an awesome fall for the English team, from the dreams of beginning a 10 year period of dominance to losing 4 straight Test matches in a row immediately after reaching the No.1 ranking on the back of a 4-0 series win on tailor-made home pitches. It is funny how the chickens are coming home to roost. I can still remember the gloating about how the Indian team are tigers at home and pussycats abroad and you see Engerland wasting no time in following that same script. I am beside myself with amusement at how quickly Engerland's grandiose dreams have so spectacularly unraveled. Go Inglund!

  • Nihan on April 2, 2012, 11:00 GMT

    This was one of the funniest articles I've read so far. Loved it. Concerning England's batting however, I still truly believe, after seeing so many games between countries from Asia (Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India etc.) & those of England, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, that there seems to be a fundamental technical batting difference between these regions that whenever they play against each other, on their respective home turfs.....the visiting team just seems to struggle just a bit more than the home side. I can only reason it out as something to do with one another's genetic make-out. The asians just seem to be a lot more wrist in their stroke-play, which helps them to play better on turning surfaces, while the other's play well on faster, bouncier wickets because they use 'straighter' technique, which helps them to deal with those conditions a lot better. I doubt I will ever witness the Sri Lankans goign to England and beating them badly & vice versa.

  • Ian Pyne on April 2, 2012, 10:12 GMT

    A trenchantly expressed viewpoint, Jarrod. I too believe in Andy Flower, but I am concerned that once Strauss's tenure as skipper comes to an end Flower won't have quite the same rapport with Cook as he has with AS. Flower may take the view that he's taken England to #1 (with AS) and the job's done & done well. He's Zimbabwean, not English, after all. That conjecture aside, I wonder if Graham Gooch is "the best [batting coach] in the business". I have strong doubts - for one thing, he scored heavily off the sweep, knowing that A big pad thrust down the track virtually excluded an lbw in his playing days. With DRS, things have changed radically and his MO here is downright self-destructive. Back-foot play, breaking the wrists to accommodate the turning ball - that was never his method - yet it is a vital component of successful batsmen on the subcontinent. How can he coach what he does not know? That's my overriding question. Nothing I have seen yet, Trott apart, tells me different.

  • Oshan on April 2, 2012, 9:48 GMT

    England are the best in giving excuses too. This is to hide the fact that England are unable to win in most cases when they are touring Asia

  • Shantanu on April 2, 2012, 9:46 GMT

    Terrible article, just like the rest of them on this blog....sorry, but I don't know what you're thinking if you call this comedy

  • anuradha_D on April 2, 2012, 9:34 GMT

    Well identified Jarrod, The situation in subcontinent is beyond what can be controlled through a micro-detailed plan by Flower....... because inspite of his micro-details....there are many variables that are not factored for in his plans...hence leaving English batsman to play naturally.......is the best thing to do....I only hope under a regime of "every-thing-planned-to-the-minutestdegree-of-detail"...the free thinking capability of the English batsman has not become dormant

  • Sukrit on April 2, 2012, 9:28 GMT

    Interesting article. Hope for more like this from Mr.Kimber

  • Rajul Pant on April 2, 2012, 8:58 GMT

    Andy Flower's tactics may backfire in the long run simply because the burden of being the No.1 team cannot be borne 24 x 7. At some stage, after establishing his credentials, he should have ensured, the English team enjoys its new position. Despite the severe criticism from all, when India became No.1 they were not 'ticking boxes' but enjoying their elevated position, gaining confidence from every match they won and learning from the ones they lost. This enabled them to hang on to the No. 1 position for a much longer period than what everyone had expected them to. In fact India were able to do better against stronger teams and were average against teams like BD and Zimbabwe. I would expect India to give this English team a torrid time once they tour India, as they are yet to avenge the 4-0 drubbing in England last year. The 5-0 whitewash in ODI last year would also play on English minds.

  • JB77 on April 2, 2012, 8:47 GMT

    'While no one was paying attention, England became the most professional side ever in cricket. Off the field they are No.1 by a distance whether it be their coaching, fitness, analysis and even their administrators. ' You're kidding, right? Reading this you'd think that England came up with all these ideas. They've used the same system of specialist coaches and support staff that made Australia a powerhouse for nearly a decade and they're suddenly the most professional side EVER? I think the Australian sides that beat all opposition and went unbeaten in all games for two world cups might have something to say about that.

  • Nuxxy on April 2, 2012, 7:57 GMT

    The funny thing is that Andy Flower was excellent against spin. As was batting coach Graham Gooch. So maybe they are looking at their charges and wondering what all the fuss is about. Maybe they should get someone like Graham Thorpe who actually went through the "let me figure this subcontinent batting thing out" to help the team, rather than guys who never really struggled.

  • Hassan ul Banna on April 2, 2012, 7:55 GMT

    I am not sure that their are any bitter flaws in Eng batting, its just their mental approach toward playing spin. They have shown in past that they played spin beautifully.. Flower have to work on mental conditioning of batters when they are in sub continent....

  • Darshan on April 2, 2012, 7:48 GMT

    Ironic that such an organized team can be taken to the cleans by the most unorganized teams (behind the scenes) Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Good luck in the next game.

  • charith on April 2, 2012, 7:12 GMT

    well written article but what everybody is missing is the fact that sri lanka played better cricket than england.honestly can anybody imagine an england batsman playing a better innings than mahela on that wicket.

  • Coconut Donkey on April 2, 2012, 5:34 GMT

    Do you know something the rest of us don't to go as far as to state 'Just let go of the scruff of their necks and see if they land on their feet'? Seems like an oxymoron in that, if a shade of it reflected the true nature of Andy Flower's approach, there's no way England would have reached No. 1. Seems like a pretty absurd thing to say unless you have some evidence to back this up which you clearly haven't in the article. Just speculation. Don't think this piece will contribute anything towards bettering England's fortunes in the subcontinent.

  • Maurice Winston on April 2, 2012, 4:32 GMT

    Very true jarrod, all the batsmen in the team have to bat to their strengths. The problem with the English are that when they come to the sub-continent and a guy turns a ball, they are all at sea. Take a leaf from the book of Mahela's innings. Perhaps without sending the likes of Varun Chopra (who batted very well over here in the 4 matches he played and Moeen Ali (who too did well) and a few others who failed miserably, they should have sent guys like Bell, Pieterson, Bopara and Patel to work out the gremlins in their batting and also Monty to get to the varieties he will need to take wickets over here. Cheers

  • rahul bose on April 2, 2012, 4:22 GMT

    Please pull up the batting records of England lineup in Asia. Its very easy on stasguru. These guys have never batted well in these conditions. It is amazing how few Engands fans or journos bother to check the stats.

  • Xander Bid on April 2, 2012, 2:53 GMT

    First!

    Great article Jarrod. I hope so. I hope so...

  • SSPrash on April 2, 2012, 2:38 GMT

    Looks like in 21st century we just cannot have an all-conquering teams of 20th century. Everyone seems to relish and shine in home conditions. Take them away to alien conditions, that's it the bubble bursts right on the face!!...Its like we cant play seam you cant play spin. Honestly this is the trend am seeing going down the future. You come to my home and I'll beat you, I'll come to your home and you can beat me. Pretty dull template for an international game.

  • Anand on April 2, 2012, 1:56 GMT

    Classic "burying your head in the sand and nothing is as wrong as it actually is" syndrome. England will never develop so long as they are in this farcical and illusion driven mind set. They need to grow up. That`s what can be said!!!! Learn from the past masters Windies in glory and to some extent the Aussies in their prime. They did not have this silly reasons. They were just good in whatever they did wherever!!!! England doesn`t deserve to be No 1 in the first place. Their fans need to learn to live with it.

  • stephen kissoon on April 2, 2012, 1:49 GMT

    lovely piece, agree with every word :)

  • Don Miller on April 2, 2012, 0:33 GMT

    Good stuff Jarrod. I thought that the middle-east would have caused England to come up with a new plan against spinners, but it doesn't seem to. To me it is inevitable that if you stay in the crease and let quality spinners bowl ball after ball at you, sooner or later they will claim your wicket. Plan B urgently required.

  • PDTM on April 1, 2012, 23:21 GMT

    Isn't premeditated sweeping and Andrew Strauss trying to sneak a bye off Herath a plan that clearly isn't working? As a dejected Australian, I refuse to believe that the English top six is anything but robots who follow plans to the letter and don't suffer moments of mental weakness (Prior is evidently not a robot, being both sensible and bearded). Or... the English love being the underdogs, and are lowering expectations before the next Ashes. Crafty, Flower.

  • Jones on April 1, 2012, 23:03 GMT

    Sweeping would have worked if Flower was batting for England(Doesn't ECB have a good working relationship with the ZCB mate?) :D

  • Kaza on April 1, 2012, 22:27 GMT

    England's team knows that they are not good at playing spin, its a lack of skill issue. Plans or no plans, they have to learn to play better in the subcontinent. That has not changed since a long time.

  • bill on April 1, 2012, 22:24 GMT

    you have got to use your feet in the subcontinent english batsman wont leave their crease end of story

  • Jehan Ariyaratnam on April 1, 2012, 20:33 GMT

    England just have no clue against the spinners. They have got to number 1 built on home advantage because opposition teams dont know how to play sideways movement anymore. 2 hopeless batting collapses cost Australia the 09 ashes because they couldnt handle the conditions. They have perfect blockers in Trott and Cook to bore bowlers out in those conditions. Their only away win of note was in Australia where again they were able to bowl first in helpful conditions in 3 matches. Apart from that their away wins include NZ and Bangladesh. Couldnt even beat the west indies. If they want to know how to play the spinners they should watch how Mike Hussey batted against Sri Lanka recently. They have to learn to use their feet, and come down the wicket. And that doesnt mean charging aimlessly and hoping for the best. They need to pick the fligt of the ball and then decide to come down. Basics of playing spin......

  • PeterRobinson on April 1, 2012, 20:05 GMT

    Pretty accurate and insightful piece. The bum-patting schedule bit took me back to the bit in Australian Autopsy, which reminds me, has Alistair Cook been seen to sweat yet?

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • PeterRobinson on April 1, 2012, 20:05 GMT

    Pretty accurate and insightful piece. The bum-patting schedule bit took me back to the bit in Australian Autopsy, which reminds me, has Alistair Cook been seen to sweat yet?

  • Jehan Ariyaratnam on April 1, 2012, 20:33 GMT

    England just have no clue against the spinners. They have got to number 1 built on home advantage because opposition teams dont know how to play sideways movement anymore. 2 hopeless batting collapses cost Australia the 09 ashes because they couldnt handle the conditions. They have perfect blockers in Trott and Cook to bore bowlers out in those conditions. Their only away win of note was in Australia where again they were able to bowl first in helpful conditions in 3 matches. Apart from that their away wins include NZ and Bangladesh. Couldnt even beat the west indies. If they want to know how to play the spinners they should watch how Mike Hussey batted against Sri Lanka recently. They have to learn to use their feet, and come down the wicket. And that doesnt mean charging aimlessly and hoping for the best. They need to pick the fligt of the ball and then decide to come down. Basics of playing spin......

  • bill on April 1, 2012, 22:24 GMT

    you have got to use your feet in the subcontinent english batsman wont leave their crease end of story

  • Kaza on April 1, 2012, 22:27 GMT

    England's team knows that they are not good at playing spin, its a lack of skill issue. Plans or no plans, they have to learn to play better in the subcontinent. That has not changed since a long time.

  • Jones on April 1, 2012, 23:03 GMT

    Sweeping would have worked if Flower was batting for England(Doesn't ECB have a good working relationship with the ZCB mate?) :D

  • PDTM on April 1, 2012, 23:21 GMT

    Isn't premeditated sweeping and Andrew Strauss trying to sneak a bye off Herath a plan that clearly isn't working? As a dejected Australian, I refuse to believe that the English top six is anything but robots who follow plans to the letter and don't suffer moments of mental weakness (Prior is evidently not a robot, being both sensible and bearded). Or... the English love being the underdogs, and are lowering expectations before the next Ashes. Crafty, Flower.

  • Don Miller on April 2, 2012, 0:33 GMT

    Good stuff Jarrod. I thought that the middle-east would have caused England to come up with a new plan against spinners, but it doesn't seem to. To me it is inevitable that if you stay in the crease and let quality spinners bowl ball after ball at you, sooner or later they will claim your wicket. Plan B urgently required.

  • stephen kissoon on April 2, 2012, 1:49 GMT

    lovely piece, agree with every word :)

  • Anand on April 2, 2012, 1:56 GMT

    Classic "burying your head in the sand and nothing is as wrong as it actually is" syndrome. England will never develop so long as they are in this farcical and illusion driven mind set. They need to grow up. That`s what can be said!!!! Learn from the past masters Windies in glory and to some extent the Aussies in their prime. They did not have this silly reasons. They were just good in whatever they did wherever!!!! England doesn`t deserve to be No 1 in the first place. Their fans need to learn to live with it.

  • SSPrash on April 2, 2012, 2:38 GMT

    Looks like in 21st century we just cannot have an all-conquering teams of 20th century. Everyone seems to relish and shine in home conditions. Take them away to alien conditions, that's it the bubble bursts right on the face!!...Its like we cant play seam you cant play spin. Honestly this is the trend am seeing going down the future. You come to my home and I'll beat you, I'll come to your home and you can beat me. Pretty dull template for an international game.