England v India, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 5th day July 13, 2014

Burnout worries after deathly slog

The opening Test ended with the levity of Alastair Cook taking a Test wicket in a match where his captaincy showed encouraging signs but England should be assisted more by their system rather than hindered

Play 01:49
Extraordinary match, unique pitch - Cook

A few years ago, a Test at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium was abandoned and the game re-scheduled for the Recreation Ground a few miles down the road. Despite the ground having fallen into partial disuse - football was played there and goats grazed upon the grass - it still produced a passable Test wicket and an exciting finish.

So a herd of hungry goats produced a better wicket than the monstrosity on which England and India played the first Investec Test at Trent Bridge. The sight of Gary Ballance and Alastair Cook bowling in tandem as five days of cricket proved inadequate to finish even the third innings underlined the futility of this game. The pitch was unbeatable; cricket was the loser.

The match ended in light-hearted manner as Cook indulged himself with a spell of bowling and took the wicket of Ishant Sharma while doing an impression of Bob Willis.

But amid the smiles, there is growing frustration at the obstacles the home team have to endure.

The system is broken. Instead of all facets of the English game pulling in the same direction, the counties are forced to compete to hosts Tests and, having won the right to do so at great expense, are obliged to make the matches last as long as possible in order to maximise tickets and concessionary sales.

Meanwhile, instead of the ECB helping the England team with a manageable schedule and sympathetic pitches, they are instead hampering their ability to perform at their optimum with a relentless schedule designed only to exploit every last pound from broadcast revenue. When you add in the drainage issue, you have a recipe for little other than tedium.

Cricket should not be this way. It is not meant to be primarily a test of perseverance and endurance. Eventually, spectators and players will tire of being fleeced for such poor entertainment. Just as Elvis Presley, who allegedly shot his television after paying for every possible channel and finding there was still "nothing on," found, more does not always equate to better.

And the pitches will go on being awful until someone at the ECB is strong enough to bring the counties and the groundsmen to heel. A better system of allocation and centrally contracted groundsmen would solve many of these problems in an instant.

"That pitch was unique," Cook said diplomatically afterwards. "The only one I can remember that was similar was that Nagpur pitch where we batted out for the draw in 2012.

"Both sides will say you can't read too much into it until we get back to some English conditions where it bounces above knee height. The lads were brilliant. They never once got angry or frustrated about playing India in these conditions.

"The groundsman has put his hand up and said he got it wrong. We asked him a-week-and-a-half ago for a pitch with some pace in it. You're not asking for excessive movement. You just want some pace in it like a good Trent Bridge wicket."

The result stretches England's winless run to nine Tests in succession. While it is nowhere near as long as the bad old days of the 1980s - England went an eye-watering 18 Tests in succession without a win between January 1987 and August 1988 - it is their worst run since 1992-93 when they went 10 Tests in a row without a win.

Yet, between the obvious concerns about the captain's form, another batting collapse, the wicketkeeper's fitness and the ability of Moeen Ali to fulfil the role of lone spinner, there were some encouraging signs in this game for England.

Stuart Broad was impeccable with the ball and impressive with the bat, while James Anderson showed that, given even a hint of assistance from the conditions, he can test a batting line-up that, on the final day at least, appeared timid against the moving ball and under cloudy skies.

Most of all, Cook enjoyed arguably his best game as captain. While his batting form remains a concern - not since May 2013 has he registered a Test score as high as Anderson's here - he fiddled with his field and managed his bowlers impressively in difficult conditions. Many of his problems will melt away once the runs return and, aged 29 and with 25 Test centuries behind him, they surely will.

"I know I need to start scoring runs," Cook admitted. "I haven't done it for a year now and I need to do it. I have to believe that the wheel will turn at some stage. If you suddenly change everything, you are not being true to yourself.

"I've had a couple of chop-ons and been bowled off the thigh pad. It is a testing game and these things happen when you're not in the best of form."

After three Tests on low, slow wickets, England will have only three days to rest and prepare before the next Test starts at Lord's. Anderson and Broad contributed 113 overs in this game and Broad, who left the field an hour before the end, has a long-standing knee problem. Chris Woakes, who was omitted from Warwickshire's Championship team to play Durham on the ECB's order, and Chris Jordan stand by.

Simon Kerrigan will also be withdrawn from Lancashire's game at some stage to ensure he is relatively fresh and could play at Lord's. Moeen has bowled in desperately tough conditions and shown, at times, that he can be a dangerous spinner. But he continues to concede around four-an-over and England may be tempted to trust Kerrigan to give them more control in the field. He is certainly a far better bowler than he showed on his Test debut at The Oval though the pitch at Lord's in unlikely to offer much assistance.

In the longer run, the ECB must look at the conditions in county cricket which are hampering the development of young spinners. Squeezing the first half of the County Championship season into April and May is the most obvious problem, as it allows sides to operate seam-heavy attacks and exploit green pitches.

They may also reflect on the policy of providing new balls to sides after 80 overs, another rule that makes spin increasingly superfluous, and the preponderance of specialist limited-overs 'spinners' who will never threaten in the longer formats.

As with the scheduling and the pitches, the system that is meant to help build a successful England team, is often its greatest impediment. Whoever becomes the ECB's next chief executive - and the likes of Gordon Hollins, Wasim Khan, Steve Elworthy and Richard Gould will be among the most attractive candidates - will have plenty of work ahead of them.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • t on July 16, 2014, 11:01 GMT

    if anderson showed timidity of indian's only when there was "assistance from the conditions" what did indian bowlers who took 6 wickets in no time under tough conditions on a dead pitch reveal about the english batsman?

    & if a bowler (moeen) who's taken to the cleaners & only picked wickets out of sheer disdain shown by the batsman is termed "dangerous" then ishant sharma is more dangerous than a curtly ambrose/mitchell johnson hybrid

  • Ashok on July 15, 2014, 15:00 GMT

    @Chris-P: I agree that it was a dead pitch tailor made for drawn matches. But the bowling of both England & India was below par too! If England believes in Broad, Anderson & Plunkett to do the job, how come they could not even take out the #10 & #11 Batsmen? On the flip side, India did manage to get the England team down to 202 for 7 & then could not get the tail enders out either. The tail enders outscored the top 7 by 92 runs. The same was true in the Indian second innings where #'s 8 &9 batsmen were the top scorers for India. This was way more than the pitch being just bad. Quality bowling gets the job done irrespective of the pitch. England had just Broad & Anderson with wkt. taking ability & India had just 3 seam bowlers who were half decent. It is imperative both India & England get 2 more good bowlers- pace or spin! Ashwin is needed vs. 6 LH bats for India + Aaron for pace since Yadev is missing from the squad. England need someone like Finn or Tremlet of good pace+ Panesar.

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2014, 11:21 GMT

    I think England are going to need to play Kerrigan or this bowler burnout is simply going to snowball. They also need to play their very best keeper, because right now they are having to create 22 or 23 chances per match, when you account for dropped catches, I know Prior is not the sole guilty party, but he stands out, less than ideal from a seamers perspective. With Moeen and Stokes at 6 and 7 or vice versa you could afford a slightly lesser batsman to be behind the stumps. England really need to identify their strengths and mould a team around them, this is one of them. It still leaves the predicament however of Broad and Anderson as being your only frontline seamers in the team, assuming you do play Kerrigan and for me England will continue to find it hard running through teams while this is the case. I just don't think they are potent enough on their own to form the basis for a world class attack. Finn, Plunkett or Onions, anybody really, needs to be firing alongside them.

  • t on July 15, 2014, 10:48 GMT

    england media/players moaning about their team being overworked should take a glance at the workload of indian team who dont have any time off & are playing the entire year.

  • Jason on July 15, 2014, 8:58 GMT

    @Cricketfan11111, we wont know until the morning of the test, but expect a pretty standard lords pitch, possibly the same as we had for the SL game.

    @Chris_P, completely agree about the pitch, its one of the worst I've seen since the late 90's in England, when Edgbaston used to break up so bad there were a number of 3 day tests, or tests only just getting into the 4th day, on that sticks out was England vs WI's 95 and 2000

  • vas on July 15, 2014, 7:32 GMT

    Any information on Lords pitch?

  • Ashley on July 15, 2014, 6:40 GMT

    I reckon you need a test wicket like this every so often to highlight how cricket needs to think of its fans. There was nothing at all interesting about this match and that fact that Anderson can hit a test 80 should be a real concern. It's almost as bad as Dizzy Gillespie hitting a 200 a few years ago. It cheapens the sport. I can only hope that Lords can provide a wicket that gives hope to batsmen and bowlers and that skill decides the result of the match rather than a flat,dull wicket.

  • Cam on July 15, 2014, 4:54 GMT

    I'm not sure he's test quality, not because of his terrible debut, just that he looks a very plain off spin bowler. It's small margins though, if Watson had miscued one of his many and massive sixes off his bowling early on and gave up an early wicket who knows what might have happened. England don't really have a spinner at the moment though I reckon Ali could be pretty good, I think he's being judged too quickly on non spinning wickets and he's a rarity with the bat in an England side, he can bat.

  • Anver on July 15, 2014, 4:46 GMT

    Change in Roles... from a Batsman to a Bowler, Cook is in poor form & he don't score much runs these days, instead he can take wickets for Eng !!!!

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2014, 2:34 GMT

    These guys gets hundreds of thousands of dollars for playing cricket.... for five days max at a time and then a days off in-between... Half of the five days which you spend sitting in the 'hut' and doing as you please... getting massages, eating well, watching like the crowd pay to do, to relax and unwind and have fun..... Some people are dying of poverty, hunger; some work 80 hour weeks in mines, some are vagrants, some are sleeping rough and would kill to get a normal wage and play cricket 360 days a year and never leave the field of play to avoid returning to their Favela, slum, shanty town or cardboard box. Get a grip big three and the media, and get some perspective? You are embarrassing yourselves. They are the privileged few. If they want to have a break, I will happily take their place and never, ever relinquish my spot. Only a spoiled brat would...Go figure its Eng/India.