England v India, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's 5th day July 21, 2014

Hapless England victims of failing system

Previous England inadequacies were masked by a handful of excellent players but now the national side are showing the results of an environment too cosy for those whose faces fit and one that ostracises the rest

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It was probably fitting that defeat should be sealed with a run-out: it summed up a hapless, helpless display from an England side full of panic and littered with self-harm and basic errors. Every time it seems they have reached a new low, they find a pot-hole to fall down. England are now winless in their last 10 Tests and have lost seven of the last nine. The plummet, the pain, seem endless.

There are times in sport when a team can be simply outclassed by a superior rival. And that is no disgrace. The England side that was thrashed by West Indies in 1984 found themselves in a battle between men and superheroes. They could not win.

That is not the case here. England, not for the first time this summer, have been outplayed in their own back yard by a side from the subcontinent. A side who had not won a Test away from home for more than three years.

But India's bowlers utilised the conditions better; their batsmen left the ball better. England were bounced out by an Indian seamer - as they were at Headingley by a Sri Lankan seamer - for perhaps the first time in history. An Indian bowler who came into the game with a Test bowling average of 37.79. And it happened on a tailor-made green pitch when they won the toss.

It used to be said that a player never recovers from a disappointing Ashes. And it is true that history is littered with examples of players who, once exposed in Australia, have never been quite the same again.

It looks increasingly as if that is the case now. The majority of those - Joe Root is perhaps the only exception - who were thrashed in Australia have struggled to recover (Jonathan Trott, Boyd Rankin and Steven Finn might be even better examples of players damaged by the tour), with a weakness against the short ball having developed like an epidemic within the team. Call it shellshock, call it post-traumatic stress, but to lose one batsman to a reckless pull stroke might be considered unfortunate, as Oscar Wilde so almost said, but to lose three? To lose five batsmen to short deliveries within an hour? England are in denial if they fail to accept they have a problem.

In truth, they are in denial on several issues. It might be the only way Peter Moores and co. can face getting up in the morning. For Moores was not dealt a handful of aces when he was appointed England coach. Indeed, had it been a hand in a game of poker, he might have folded.

Moores inherited a beaten, broken, mentally exhausted side. He has inherited a failing system whose inadequacies had been masked by the performances of a handful of excellent players and he has inherited an environment too cosy for those whose faces fit and one that ostracises the rest.

How else to explain the post-match support for Matt Prior? Prior has undoubtedly been a fine player for England but, after equalling the record for the most byes conceded by an English keeper in a home Test for 80 years, he fell to a pull shot for the second time in the game as obligingly as if providing catching practice.

This is in stark contrast to the criticism of Kevin Pietersen following his dismissals in the Ashes. Whereas Pietersen was labelled selfish, Prior was informed by Alastair Cook that it was "up to him" if he wanted to continue playing. There is more than a sniff of hypocrisy about such inequitable treatment. But whereas "Matty" is one of the boys, Pietersen was an outsider. Merit hardly comes into the equation. The decision to dispense with Pietersen, England's highest runscorer in the Ashes, remember, remains weak and damaging.

Moores might also reflect on how it has come to pass that, in a nation with 18 first-class counties, all with well-financed academies, a Lions team and age-group teams at county and national level, that there are so few realistic options for an alternative captain, spinner or wicketkeeper.

He might reflect on the lack of leaders in his side, the lack of tactical awareness of his bowlers and the lack of flexibility he is allowed to make to the captaincy in a system in which the ECB's chairman and the England team managing director have backed Cook so resolutely that to sack him might be politically impossible.

And he might reflect on why it is that several of those who have come into the side and held their own - Gary Ballance and Sam Robson - developed, at least in part, in other countries. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the English system is not producing in the quality or quantity it should be.

Moores has done little to suggest he is the man to turn the tide but it is mistakes made long before his time that are harming England now. The decision to squeeze the first half of the County Championship season into April and May - a decision made largely to make time for a T20 window that no longer exists - limited the opportunities for spin bowlers, while the emergence of free-thinking leaders was stunted by a system that seems to view such characters as trouble.

It was, after all, in a team meeting in Australia in which the problems with Pietersen came to a head. Pietersen, asked for his opinions on the failings of the team, gave them only to find they were unpalatable to the sensitivities of some of those around him. And in English cricket, rocking the boat is a far worse sin than losing. Nick Compton was dropped as much due to the fact that a coterie of senior players did not like him as anything to do with his form; senior players who did nothing to make new faces feel comfortable and increased their fear of failure.

So it was that few of the current side developed the leadership skills they might have done. They learned long ago that they would progress more smoothly if they kept their mouths shut. The dominance of Andy Flower stunted the development of several in the England dressing room and instead of players learning to think for themselves, the relationship became prescriptive. More like teacher-pupil or parent-child. There is no place for free-thinkers like Pietersen or Compton.

Equally, England have developed a generation of coaches who distrust flair and who prefer reliability to genius. Coaches who look smart in blazers, fill in spreadsheets attentively and never threaten the positions of those above them. Any player who emerges through the academy in England does so in spite of it, not because of it. Why else would it be that fast bowlers involved in the England set-up drop pace by the month - just look at Steven Finn or Liam Plunkett - or that batsmen fresh to the team are out-performing those who have been established for years?

With three Tests remaining in the series, England have a chance to turn things around. But to do so they will have to defeat not just an improved India side, but their own history, their own tired bodies, jaded minds and broken system.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 23, 2014, 21:13 GMT

    bring back Kevin Pietersen! he's got class, style and skills all of which England's batting lacks at the moment

  • Mark on July 23, 2014, 20:36 GMT

    @VillageBlacksmith, very well put. The delusion around KP, mainly from non England fans even extended to him being the main reason we won the 2005 Ashes. My down to earth opinion is a certain Lancastrian all rounder and some quality pace bowling had much more of an impact over all 5 Tests.

  • R on July 23, 2014, 15:18 GMT

    @Land147… Totally agree, there are some great new prospects coming through (Lyth, Lees, Vince, Jordan to name a few) and the recent new players in to the Eng test team have outperformed the senior players, and that's a scoreboard fact George. The preoccupation with KP is strange, he led his IPL team to last and his test average was plummeting, plus he hardly ever played short form cricket any more as Eng bent over backwards to be nice to him, even after textgate…. It really is time to move on from old has-beens with such a promising crop of youngsters coming through and to focus on… It would be slightly more interesting to read about what possible solutions there are and the exciting new players coming through rather than eternal doom and gloom and kp testimonials!!

  • Ashok on July 23, 2014, 14:30 GMT

    Yes, with 3 Tests remaining England still have a chance to turn things around. At the same time these Tests are on spin friendly pitches of Southampton, The Oval & Old Trafford. The first 2 were supposed to be Pace friendly.India will go for 2 spinners in the rest of the 3 Tests. In addition, as we progress to the 5th test, the fatigue & endurance become a factor. How good are the bench strengths of the 2 teams - an issue. India has players like Ashwin, Rohit Sharma, Aaron & Gambhir on the bench. England needs to find their bench strengths as well to replace some of the tiring bodies like Anderson+Broad. Age & Fitness also need to be considered. Both he teams are young so fitness, Fatigue & endurance come to the fore. This is the first time in history that 5 Tests have been scheduled in 42 days. The team that has paced itself well will be ahead. England can still pull up some of the guys who have been shelved & gain some inspiration thru them. So it is a wide open series!

  • Jason on July 23, 2014, 12:17 GMT

    @Andrew Jon Dodds, I agree about KP is not as if hes scored mountains of runs in the CC this year to even justify a re-call. At best you might recall him for T20 but that's it.

    In terms of Buttler agree his not nearly developed enough. Bairstow is the better gloveman of the two. However loathed though I am to suggest it Read at Notts might have been a better solution, as he has captaincy experience and is a very good gloveman.

    The main concern is a lack of SPIN options being looked at. Moeen is a good batsman but poor spinner at international level, if you want occasional spin then look at Rashid/Borthwick who can both bat, or Danny Briggs who did well at Sydney.

  • Dummy4 on July 23, 2014, 9:27 GMT

    I'd be very worried about bringing KP back now, never mind the practical question of who goes to make way in the middle order.

    On the other hand there are plenty of potential replacement openers, most of whom could average more than 20.

    Bell as captain - may inspire his batting a bit as well. Broad needs a break, replace with Finn?

    I actually worry about bringing Buttler in right now. A possibly toxic environment, a few low scores and we could end up shattering his confidence.

  • Dummy4 on July 23, 2014, 1:27 GMT

    Some how agree with the writer. One needs to resolve the problem rather than sacking a player. I didn't understand why Compton was dropped. He had a sound temperament of an opener. Just because other players didn't like him? I don't understand why Moores is back? Why not looking for a new coach? What are reasons behind not hiring coaches that help to develop not only the tactics but also the basic skills and temperament. I read Finn's interview on the other day, he was so low. He admitted that there was no one to help him develop the skills rather than tactics. He had the problem and should have been worked out in the first place. Such a promising young fast bowler and struggling to get back to his best.

  • Mark on July 22, 2014, 21:07 GMT

    @Yevghenny, it wasn't merely KP's disruption that I was getting at but his actual cricket form coupled with his long standing well documented knee problems and constant complaining about too much cricket unless it was IPL time. I am the first to admit the current England regime is a mess, but as I alluded to in my unposted comment adding one more non performing senior player in KP to the mess alongside the current lot would have denied one of the new batsmen a test place and would have compounded the problem even more.

  • ESPN on July 22, 2014, 18:48 GMT

    Why this obsession with kp as the messiah? He captained and batted badly in the IPL remember ? And he hasn't batted well for Surrey. He was a very good player but he is past his best as well. He is not the future. dobell and other one eyed kp fans look at the realities please. Even he describes himself as a clubbie now.

  • David on July 22, 2014, 18:48 GMT

    Agree with George Dobell, and I blame the administrators much more than the players. It is tragic how many personal and self-serving agendas got in the way of picking a new coach, so that we were then left with the inadequate Peter Moores again. We tinker and we over-complicate and we find so many ways to destroy any possibility of sustained success in the English team. The reason Australia have been so good since Darren Lehmann took over was not down to any great tactical genius - it was simply that he identified the best 11 players in Australia, and gradually got them into his side, irrespective of perceived difficulties in their personality or fragilities in their confidence. He then did what a manager is meant to do - he managed them. He dropped Cowan, a very good team man, and resurrected the careers of the far less amenable Warner and Johnson; the current England regime would have done the exact opposite.

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