England v India, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 3rd day July 11, 2014

Lack of leaders a hurdle to England revival

In a batting order containing four or five relatively inexperienced cricketers, it is not obvious who in the dressing room can revitalise England

Play 04:44
#politeenquiries: Why has Binny been picked?

If you were the sort of driver who kept colliding with bollards, the sort of sailor who kept hitting rocks and the sort of pilot who kept crash landing, you might conclude, eventually, that you are not very good at driving, sailing or flying.

A similar conclusion might be sinking into the seasick sailors of English cricket. Beaten like a snare drum, by Australia, Sri Lanka and Netherlands among others, the England team would be better served acknowledging their failings than hiding behind poor fortune. Only fools and losers continually bemoan luck as the cause of their failings.

Yes, at least one England player was the victim of an umpiring error. But so was at least one India player. And Murali Vijay looked in better form than Matt Prior. And yes, a ball change at the end of the 54th over did appear to precipitate England's collapse, though a mildly reverse-swinging ball at this pace should hardly have caused this level of bother.

Instead, England should reflect that, if they play across straight deliveries (Alastair Cook), if they poke at wide deliveries (Ian Bell), if they lose balance at the crease (Gary Ballance), if they play back when they should be forward (Sam Robson), they are not the victims of bad luck. They are guilty of poor batting.

This is hardly the first batting collapse they have experienced in recent times. Indeed, the 6 for 68 they suffered here on a slow pitch and against a modest attack, compares well against the 5 for 18 they suffered in the previous Test at Headingley, the 5 for 23 and 4 for 8 they suffered in Sydney, the 6 for 53 and 5 for 6 they suffered in Melbourne, the 6 for 24 in Adelaide, the 8 for 54 and 7 for 49 in Brisbane or the 6 for 37 here last year. If something keeps happening it is not an aberration; it is a problem.

They might also reflect on what sort of surfaces they do like. Because, in recent times, they have struggled on pitches offering spin, struggled on pitches offering bounce, struggled on pitches where the balls skids, struggled on pitches where the balls swings and struggled on pitches like this where the ball does very little of anything. Until Test cricket is played on ice, they are going to have to learn to manage a bit better on at least some of those surfaces.

The sight of James Anderson reverse-sweeping boundaries and Stuart Broad driving on the up through the covers just underlined how poorly England's middle-order played. There is nothing to fear in this slow, low surface and, decently though India bowled in the circumstances, little to fear against an attack that, by the standards of Test cricket, remains modest. Batting at this level will rarely be this comfortable and this England side contains a record nine men with Test centuries to their name.

One of England's enduring problems is that the majority of their players do just enough to justify their continued selection. But "just enough" does not win Tests and England require more from Bell and Co if they are to end their current malaise. Nobody doubts Bell's ability and his place is, quite rightly, secure. But, five Test innings into the new era, he is averaging 32.40 and struggling to provide the leadership and inspiration his side requires.

It may be that leadership and inspiration are the key missing ingredients in this England side. For as this malaise continues - and, barring a miracle, they will have extended their winless run to nine Tests by Sunday night - so the belief is draining from this England team. With Anderson and Broad seemingly resigned to endless spells on dead wickets, Cook and Prior currently struggling to lead from example and a batting order containing four or five relatively inexperienced cricketers, it is not obvious who in the dressing room can lead the revival.

English cricket is bursting with men who never offend, or shock or rock the boat. Men who have paid their dues and do not disrupt the dressing rooms or committee rooms to which they serve. Men who will disappear without leaving much of a trace.

But sometimes you need characters who ruffle and question and offend. Sometimes you need characters who have the arrogance and aggression to change what appears an inevitable course. Sometimes you need the sort of player a mild-mannered former England captain might describe as "an absolute c***".

There may be knock-on effects to England's shortened innings. By forcing Anderson and Co into the field once again so soon after their draining first innings efforts, they sustain a vicious circle that could compromise England's efforts throughout the series. Still jaded by their first innings efforts, they are likely to be less effective - the harsh might say even less effective - the second time around. And with only three days between Tests, they may still be feeling the effects by the time the match at Lord's starts.

It was the same story in Australia. Though England fairly often claimed the first four or five wickets relatively cheaply, Australia invariably recovered through Brad Haddin as Anderson and Broad tired. Until the batsmen support the bowlers better, it will continue to happen.

In normal circumstances, England should still be able to hang on for a draw. The pitch will hardly deteriorate; it will just become ever more funereal in pace. And, had it not been for the Indian tenth-wicket stand, England would already have a lead. Even more pertinently, MS Dhoni may have a tricky decision to make regarding a declaration.

But normal circumstances no longer apply. England's batting collapses have occurred too often to retain even a hint of complacency.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rajesh on July 14, 2014, 1:33 GMT

    Dobell: written from the heart, and written by a big heart that knows its marbles; has researched them; 'intuits' more about said marbles than the average 'harsh-it-all' can ever fantasise about; cares for said marbles ... but written by someone who cares even more about truth and fair play.

    As a fellow journo, I am archiving this one as an object lesson. Well done, thanks, and cheers.

  • Peter on July 12, 2014, 17:36 GMT

    They need wholesale changes at the top. Captain Cook's Endeavour sank at the end of the Sri Lankan series after the Aussies mortally wounded the old Bark.

    Any landlubber or seasoned sailor can see that yet the selectors choose to play turtle

  • sabarinath on July 12, 2014, 17:34 GMT

    @ScottStevo. No! Root, currently the best English batsmen put together a partnership with Jimmy Anderson a partnership of 198 on the very same pitch where the Ind No 10 & No 11 put together a partnership of 111. So, if you are calling Ind bowling attack modest where does that Eng Bowling attack - age group cricket bowlers?

  • Scott on July 12, 2014, 13:24 GMT

    @rick333, don't you just wish you could take that back now! Calling them even modest right now is being exceptionally courteous...

  • Cameron on July 12, 2014, 11:44 GMT

    I disagree entirely with comments about Swann being a big loss. He was unquestionably a great bowler and a massive plus for England but he never quite got it back after elbow surgery and retired at the right time. They are right about a lack of leaders but that is true of the setup off the field too. Poor hopeless England.

  • Martin on July 12, 2014, 10:09 GMT

    Great article. The only disagreement I have is the unquestioned inclusion of Bell who seems an integral part of any collapse and has not made any scores for about a year. At least Cook can't be blamed for collapses as he is usually long gone by the time of any middle order collapse. While some blame must be laid at the previous regime for the lack of foresight and planning you have to wonder what Moores is doing. If you contrast this with when Lehman took over Australia it is frightening. They had a poor run & he had about 10 days notice to prepare for the ashes. They lost but at least noticeably improved immediately an then given some time to prepare they were lethal. 3 months on, we seem to have gone backwards.

  • Ed on July 12, 2014, 9:28 GMT

    Ballance has made a score in every Test so far this summer. Not bad, for someone who's batting out of position and is new to Test cricket. Its the sort of reliability we used to look to Trott for. Yes, once the video analysts around the world home in on Ballance playing within his crease he'll have to adjust. But getting after a guy averaging near 50 in his first four Tests, in the context of a team struggling to compete, is surely a little glass-half-empty. The point about leadership is well made though. I was probably with a lot of people when Bell scored 3 tons in the 2013 Ashes thinking 'this is it - this is when he develops the mental grit to go with his fantastic technique and timing and becomes England's Jayawardene.' Not so. His shot selection isn't tight enough - especially (and disappointingly) when a collapse is on. All batting orders lose two quick wickets sometimes. Senior players are there to make sure setbacks don't become routs.

  • Dummy4 on July 12, 2014, 8:28 GMT

    I don't think Prior should last the series. How about restoring Jamie Foster who is currently keeping beautifully. As for the current match, England have the momentum, and the brave thing to do is declare immediately and try to cash in on that while the bowlers are fresh.

  • Sundar Raman on July 12, 2014, 7:56 GMT

    Not totally surprised by Mr. Dobell column. 1) They always intimidated by ausi pace attack and rest of the attack in the world are just ordinary to them. But most batsmen lost their wicket to swing and seam than pace. 2) They always think they are the best team in the world at home. But their win loss ratio is below India's at home. 3) They think their bowlers always bowls near to 90mph and rest of the bowlers only slow medium or gentle pace. But their bowlers always lower in the pace as the match progress, Broad bowled around mid 70mphs from 5th spell onward which is much lower than binny's average speed. Last ashes revealed, Anderson or Broad become just ordinary if they had to bowl more than 20+ overs in an innings. The basic difference between ausi and english is ausi respect and credit to every cricketer opposing team including Bangladesh as equal as they are and even after they white wash the opponent.Them refers to English media who are nothing but xplayers and current players

  • rob on July 12, 2014, 7:38 GMT

    @ Nutcutlet: The England side was hit with a torpedo when you lost Swann. I think you miss him as much, if not actually more, than we missed Warne. Quite apart from the wickets he got one of the major things he gave your side was breathing space. He could bowl long spells of normally high quality spin so he wasn't just giving your fast bowlers a rest, he took the baton off them and continued to pressure the opposition. .. Also, everyone talks about KP but what about Trott. He was, for a time, one of the most dependable No 3's going around. He piled on some impressive numbers for a while there. .. Anyway, I'm not sure it's fair to put the blame entirely on Cook. A lot has happened and the old grey mare, well, she ain't what she used to be. It's not necessarily the jockeys fault she can't run too well these days.

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