December 12, 2013

Champs today, chumps tomorrow

In separating sportsmen into two distinct categories - tough men and cowards - we not only miss the subtlety, we miss the whole truth
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Alastair Cook's dismissal in Adelaide may well have been a statistical inevitability following a long sequence of (mostly successful) hook shots
Alastair Cook's dismissal in Adelaide may well have been a statistical inevitability following a long sequence of (mostly successful) hook shots © PA Photos

Gutless, spineless, clueless, cowardly, stupid, scrambled minds, send them home.

I am, of course, referring not to players but to those critics who think that every mistake that happens in sport reveals a cowardly soul lurking underneath. Sport is more complicated than brave men against weak men.

There has been a rush to explain England's disastrous two Test matches in Australia in terms of morality. That is the easy way of talking and writing about sport. Retain the adjectives, just swap over the proper nouns. Here is a template. It is easy to adapt, and can last several decades of use with a little tinkering around the edges:

"The fractured, divided and self-absorbed Australia/England team (delete according to whether you are discussing this Ashes series or the last one) have proved woefully incapable of showing the guts, fortitude and will power to match the ruthless, united and courageous team spirit of England/Australia. Sadly, England/Australia give the impression of being more interested in money, glory and fame than in putting their bodies on the line for their country. There is a clear lack of leadership from Clarke/Cook, and one senses that old wounds have not properly healed between key senior players. If this is the best XI wearing the three lions/baggy green, then one wonders about the moral collapse and decadence of a once proud old/young nation."

Job done. Save as a Word document and just remember to delete "England" or "Australia" given the state of the series, everything else stands. Sadly, as a casual explanation of why England won 3-0 at home and now trail 2-0, it does not advance the story very far.

Let's start with the charge of moral cowardice. I have increasingly lost confidence in the concept of a "bad dismissal". That is because I am yet to see a "good dismissal". I accept that running down the pitch with your eyes closed, holding the bat by the toe and trying to hit the ball with the handle - well, that is a bad dismissal.

But most dismissals - nearly all of them - only have any meaning when placed in their proper context. And I don't mean the old cliché of "the match situation". I mean the context of the batsman's whole career record of playing that shot. David Gower scored several thousand Test runs playing majestic cover drives. He also got out numerous times doing it. To argue the dismissals were "soft" while believing the runs were "invaluable" is simple contradiction. He could not have scored the runs without risking the dismissals. It's a question - all taken together - of whether Gower playing cover drives was a better bet than a potential replacement doing something else. And, of course, Gower was the right choice.

Moral courage is not revealed in the nature of mistakes but in their frequency - or, more accurately, in the case of good players, the infrequency of mistakes

During his Ashes-winning innings of 158 at The Oval in 2005, Kevin Pietersen played a series of risky hook shots against Brett Lee. In a way, he was forced into it. When he tried to be defensive, he looked like getting out any moment - so defensiveness was not a rational strategy, let alone a brave one. So he took a risk. And top-edged and was dropped. Then he did it again. And the ball just made it over the ropes for six. And then again. Coward/hero, fool/champion, disgrace/legend.

It is the same tribal fan - and the same polemical columnist - who shouts "hero" more loudly than anyone when a six is scored, and then chants "villain" more loudly still when the same shot lands in the fielder's hands. What a champion to take on the bowler! What a fool to take such a risk! The inconsistency here is not the batsman's, it is the spectator's.

Moral courage is not revealed in the nature of mistakes but in their frequency - or, more accurately, in the case of good players, the infrequency of mistakes. Alastair Cook's career average on the hook shot is well ahead of his (healthy) average for all the other shots. Yet, by the laws of statistics, even high-percentage shots occasionally cause dismissals. Yes, it looks bad when you get out hooking. But the wider point is lost: even to save a game, batsmen must play some shots to keep a modicum of pressure on the bowlers. Given that I am not a trained psychologist with access to hundreds of hours of private conversations with Cook, I am not in a position to judge whether his Adelaide hook shot was caused by "the pressures of captaincy" or whether it was a statistical inevitability following a long sequence of (mostly successful) hook shots. But I can guess with some confidence it was the latter.

That brings me to the wider argument. The moral dimension of "bad dismissals" is always invoked. Never mentioned is a subtler moral failing. Imagine a sports match as two old-fashioned armies meeting on a battlefield. Their purpose is to advance. When the front lines engage, the direction of travel will be determined by tiny acts of skill and bravery.

Surveying the melee from the sidelines, it is all too easy to ridicule the errors that catch our eye - the maverick who has broken ranks, the vainglorious solo charge. But the battle is really won elsewhere. Somewhere on the front line, an infantryman inches a foot closer to his ally, hiding his own shield slightly behind his friend's. Hence one man becomes fractionally safer and more protected - but if the action is repeated a thousand times, the army as a whole becomes significantly smaller and weaker. No one individual can be singled out as a hopeless failure. But the whole group suffers a collective diminution.

So it is in cricket. First slip inches behind the wicketkeeper to make it less likely he will drop a catch - simultaneously narrowing the cordon as a whole and making the opposition batsman safer. An opening batsman fails to hit a half-volley for four because he is too cautious: an opportunity missed to be brave because he has failed to exploit an advantage offered to his team. After all, a few good shots could have knocked the bowler off his length. A fingerspinner who doesn't dare to give it a proper rip because he fears being hit for six: he is allowing the opposition army to inch forward every ball. A swing bowler who doesn't attack the stumps but settles for the safe option of pushing it wide of off stump: he is allowing the opposition to settle in and become comfortable on the battlefield.

Critics delude themselves that the only form of bravery in batting is survival. Yes, no batsman ever scored runs from the pavilion. But I have seen countless teams imperceptibly yield an advantage - through timidity, through fearfulness, through the desire not to stand out for the wrong reasons - an advantage that they never subsequently reversed. Once the whole army is retreating, even the bravest soldiers can fail to hold the line.

And so it has been with England on this tour. So in place of "out-fought", "out-toughed", "out-machoed", "out-sledged", "out-hungered", I have a simpler word: outplayed.

I arrived in Australia this week to commentate on the Ashes. I've been chatting to some legendary Australian cricketers of the 1970s - when men were men, moustaches were mandatory, and Jeff Thomson bowled like lightning. These are not the types to excuse softness in anyone. Yet they've told me that Mitchell Johnson has been bowling awesomely fast, by any standards. And the pitch in Adelaide, though placid, was slightly uneven in bounce. Enough to make it very challenging from the perspective of simple technique, let alone bravery. "I wouldn't have wanted to duck due to low bounce," one ex-player told me, "but standing up and playing carried serious risks too. All round - pretty bloody difficult. I'd have rather faced Lillee!"

No one said Test cricket should be easy, of course. But the central truth about this series so far is that extreme pace - as it often has in Test history - has exposed weaknesses that would have otherwise survived unobserved.

It is one of the great themes of history. Ask any real leader - from business, sport or the military - to explain his success. There will be a smile of recognition (assuming he has a brain, that is) and a nod of acknowledgement. He will know that had circumstances become fractionally more difficult, had the enemy been one degree more imposing, then all his best-laid plans could have been blown away.

In separating sportsmen into two distinct and permanent categories - winners and losers, tough men and cowards - we not only miss the subtlety, we miss the whole truth.

For England, one comfort remains. This England team, for all its achievements, has never quite captured the public imagination. When they have won, it has been with measured professionalism not memorable daring. As a result, they have felt more respected than loved.

Well, I have good news for them: turn this one around, and they'll never have to worry about a lack of adulation again.

Ed Smith's latest book is Luck - A Fresh Look at Fortune. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cloudmess on December 16, 2013, 11:49 GMT

    Admirable article as usual - Ed Smith's great gift is in constantly challenging the cliched assumptions which have held in cricket since time immemorial. The only point I would add is: why have Australia played so much better than England in this series? England beat this same side 3-0 a few months ago (and being 'lucky' can only partially explain a 3-0 scoreline). And 3 years ago, most of the same personnel as now met on these same Autralian pitches and the scorecards were completely reversed. The only real explanation for this must be the changing psychologies within each team, both individually and collectively. And it shows what a huge element this must be towards performing successfully. Footballers can succeed largely through talent and hard work alone; but cricketers need something else - a very strong mind to deal with all the excruciatingly fine-margins.

  • on December 14, 2013, 2:00 GMT

    The fourth paragraph reminds me of the famous letter from the army in 'Catch-22'

    Madhu

  • on December 13, 2013, 11:22 GMT

    Ed, Thank you for the well-thought, and highly constructive article. I personally have been watching cricket for many years, seen losing situations turn into wins and visa versa.

    From what I have observed from not just cricket, but any other sport, a true champion is able to examine the current situation, and is able to adjust/adapt to turn things around, make the difference.

    For example, be the one who is the main resistance of a batting team collapse. Or a bowler who makes the key breakthroughs of stubborn batting partnerships.

    Every team needs experienced players who have seen/been through a lot of pain and triumph. Instinct and pure ability is sometimes not enough. You need to take risks of losing in order to gain the advantage (or win). Some competitive games go down to the wire and a simple lapse of concentration is all it take to declare the winner. Sometimes the margin for error is paper thin.

    It is still up to the player to paint the path to destiny and ready to adapt

  • on December 13, 2013, 6:57 GMT

    This is a wonderful piece of writing about the nature of sport which lazy sports writers keep failing to understand or convey. Well done.

  • __PK on December 13, 2013, 2:03 GMT

    Don't agree. You, yourself, used the word "high-percentage" which is the sort of shot Alastair Cook should have been playing to Mitchell Johnson on Day 4 in Perth. He would have survived a high percentage of the time, hence his expected innings life would have been longer. But it was easier and weaker to cling to the belief that you need to play attacking shots to survive - you need to play your own game. Rubbish. He needed to survive. Maybe all dismissals are bad, but some are horrendous and the ones that sap the spirit from your team who're looking to you for leadership are the worst of all. And your "template" piece of trickery would have been much more effective if you'd used it before England started imploding.

  • KPWij on December 13, 2013, 1:02 GMT

    Fantastic article Ed, written by a cricketer and not a journalist. There have been many articles written during the last 7 test matches that England or Australia have been getting "smashed" or "thrashed" due to a lack of fight. This is blatantly incorrect, sure there have been some one sided results but within the games the losing team has had their opportunities early on but did not take them and could not find a way to get back into the game. Looking at Brisbane, England were on top when Johnson walked in and then the following day couldn't find their feet on a quick pitch against exemplary bowling. And much the same can be said of Adelaide, who knows what could have happened if Carberry took that catch when Haddin was on 6 and Clarke's first innings had its fair share of fortune as well. I think what we are observing is actually some of the finest test cricket by two evenly matched sides, with neither side being able to halt momentum within games. Great article Ed :)

  • on December 13, 2013, 0:23 GMT

    Excellent piece Ed Smith and I would like to say that I agree completely with all you say - except that I believe I have detected what I can only describe as a leakage of T20 technique into the longest form of the game so that batsmen are making life considerably harder for themselves than they need to. It would be easy to point to the 5th day of the Adelaide Test and say it was the shot a ball mentality that contributed to the woeful picture we have been left with. Whilst I agree with your point that even in a defensive situation, a batsmen cannot eliminate risk by becoming strokeless, there is a great deal of difference between taking the attack to the bowler for the appropriate ball, and the sort of thing we saw on that final morning. Following a prudent path is easier when the batsman plays from a sideways position, but all too often of late, we find even top order batsmen with their front foot tracking to the leg side. It can't work like that!

  • whensdrinks on December 12, 2013, 23:17 GMT

    Nice article Ed. I would raise another point, that often it is not about toghness, courage or even skill, but rather about cricket smarts. If you know there are 2 men back for the hook shot then your chances of hitting it to them are double if there were only one. It also means that there are gaps elesewhere so perhaps it would be smarter to duck the short ball, find the gaps and force the opposition to move the field.

    Sometimes ego, not courage, leads to poor decisions. KP dancing down the pitch and trying to chip over 2 short mid-wickets is not about courage or skill, it was about ego overruling sense. You may be the best player in the world, but of you do not have cricket smarts about what to play and when to play it then you will have more failures then wins.

  • brisCricFan on December 12, 2013, 22:52 GMT

    @Hitesh Parate; Firstly... get a grip!! What a ridiculous thing to say that the only difference is Mitch Johnson, collectively the batsmen have been better, the bowling much better and the fielding way better... Now Mitch is in fine fettle but I am not sure he is the only contributor in all these areas... Although he is averaging more than most the English with the bat this series and has taken some very good catches already...

    As for saying they weren't expecting such hostility - really?? Why not? A) This is Ashes cricket - the pinnacle of the sport between these two nations hostility is the first ingredient added to the mix, B) These are fast bowlers - thats what they do, bowl fast and hostile, C) This is Mitch Johnson and he has a lot to prove to England and the Barmy Army after his last mediocre performance.

    If they weren't expecting hostility then they really should have just sent the EPP.

  • tamperbay on December 12, 2013, 22:37 GMT

    Great article! "England were outplayed" is a far better assessment than George Dobell's excuses that "England are jaded" or on previous occasions that "England were complacent". That is an insult to the opposition. I think that England look jaded because they are being outplayed in all facets, and they don't have their home crowd buoying them by cheering mightily at every single run scored by their batsmen.

    If England can come back and win or even tie the series, it will change my opinion about their character and real ability. Great challenge for them.

  • cloudmess on December 16, 2013, 11:49 GMT

    Admirable article as usual - Ed Smith's great gift is in constantly challenging the cliched assumptions which have held in cricket since time immemorial. The only point I would add is: why have Australia played so much better than England in this series? England beat this same side 3-0 a few months ago (and being 'lucky' can only partially explain a 3-0 scoreline). And 3 years ago, most of the same personnel as now met on these same Autralian pitches and the scorecards were completely reversed. The only real explanation for this must be the changing psychologies within each team, both individually and collectively. And it shows what a huge element this must be towards performing successfully. Footballers can succeed largely through talent and hard work alone; but cricketers need something else - a very strong mind to deal with all the excruciatingly fine-margins.

  • on December 14, 2013, 2:00 GMT

    The fourth paragraph reminds me of the famous letter from the army in 'Catch-22'

    Madhu

  • on December 13, 2013, 11:22 GMT

    Ed, Thank you for the well-thought, and highly constructive article. I personally have been watching cricket for many years, seen losing situations turn into wins and visa versa.

    From what I have observed from not just cricket, but any other sport, a true champion is able to examine the current situation, and is able to adjust/adapt to turn things around, make the difference.

    For example, be the one who is the main resistance of a batting team collapse. Or a bowler who makes the key breakthroughs of stubborn batting partnerships.

    Every team needs experienced players who have seen/been through a lot of pain and triumph. Instinct and pure ability is sometimes not enough. You need to take risks of losing in order to gain the advantage (or win). Some competitive games go down to the wire and a simple lapse of concentration is all it take to declare the winner. Sometimes the margin for error is paper thin.

    It is still up to the player to paint the path to destiny and ready to adapt

  • on December 13, 2013, 6:57 GMT

    This is a wonderful piece of writing about the nature of sport which lazy sports writers keep failing to understand or convey. Well done.

  • __PK on December 13, 2013, 2:03 GMT

    Don't agree. You, yourself, used the word "high-percentage" which is the sort of shot Alastair Cook should have been playing to Mitchell Johnson on Day 4 in Perth. He would have survived a high percentage of the time, hence his expected innings life would have been longer. But it was easier and weaker to cling to the belief that you need to play attacking shots to survive - you need to play your own game. Rubbish. He needed to survive. Maybe all dismissals are bad, but some are horrendous and the ones that sap the spirit from your team who're looking to you for leadership are the worst of all. And your "template" piece of trickery would have been much more effective if you'd used it before England started imploding.

  • KPWij on December 13, 2013, 1:02 GMT

    Fantastic article Ed, written by a cricketer and not a journalist. There have been many articles written during the last 7 test matches that England or Australia have been getting "smashed" or "thrashed" due to a lack of fight. This is blatantly incorrect, sure there have been some one sided results but within the games the losing team has had their opportunities early on but did not take them and could not find a way to get back into the game. Looking at Brisbane, England were on top when Johnson walked in and then the following day couldn't find their feet on a quick pitch against exemplary bowling. And much the same can be said of Adelaide, who knows what could have happened if Carberry took that catch when Haddin was on 6 and Clarke's first innings had its fair share of fortune as well. I think what we are observing is actually some of the finest test cricket by two evenly matched sides, with neither side being able to halt momentum within games. Great article Ed :)

  • on December 13, 2013, 0:23 GMT

    Excellent piece Ed Smith and I would like to say that I agree completely with all you say - except that I believe I have detected what I can only describe as a leakage of T20 technique into the longest form of the game so that batsmen are making life considerably harder for themselves than they need to. It would be easy to point to the 5th day of the Adelaide Test and say it was the shot a ball mentality that contributed to the woeful picture we have been left with. Whilst I agree with your point that even in a defensive situation, a batsmen cannot eliminate risk by becoming strokeless, there is a great deal of difference between taking the attack to the bowler for the appropriate ball, and the sort of thing we saw on that final morning. Following a prudent path is easier when the batsman plays from a sideways position, but all too often of late, we find even top order batsmen with their front foot tracking to the leg side. It can't work like that!

  • whensdrinks on December 12, 2013, 23:17 GMT

    Nice article Ed. I would raise another point, that often it is not about toghness, courage or even skill, but rather about cricket smarts. If you know there are 2 men back for the hook shot then your chances of hitting it to them are double if there were only one. It also means that there are gaps elesewhere so perhaps it would be smarter to duck the short ball, find the gaps and force the opposition to move the field.

    Sometimes ego, not courage, leads to poor decisions. KP dancing down the pitch and trying to chip over 2 short mid-wickets is not about courage or skill, it was about ego overruling sense. You may be the best player in the world, but of you do not have cricket smarts about what to play and when to play it then you will have more failures then wins.

  • brisCricFan on December 12, 2013, 22:52 GMT

    @Hitesh Parate; Firstly... get a grip!! What a ridiculous thing to say that the only difference is Mitch Johnson, collectively the batsmen have been better, the bowling much better and the fielding way better... Now Mitch is in fine fettle but I am not sure he is the only contributor in all these areas... Although he is averaging more than most the English with the bat this series and has taken some very good catches already...

    As for saying they weren't expecting such hostility - really?? Why not? A) This is Ashes cricket - the pinnacle of the sport between these two nations hostility is the first ingredient added to the mix, B) These are fast bowlers - thats what they do, bowl fast and hostile, C) This is Mitch Johnson and he has a lot to prove to England and the Barmy Army after his last mediocre performance.

    If they weren't expecting hostility then they really should have just sent the EPP.

  • tamperbay on December 12, 2013, 22:37 GMT

    Great article! "England were outplayed" is a far better assessment than George Dobell's excuses that "England are jaded" or on previous occasions that "England were complacent". That is an insult to the opposition. I think that England look jaded because they are being outplayed in all facets, and they don't have their home crowd buoying them by cheering mightily at every single run scored by their batsmen.

    If England can come back and win or even tie the series, it will change my opinion about their character and real ability. Great challenge for them.

  • xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx on December 12, 2013, 19:03 GMT

    @Shamit Bringi Dev on (December 12, 2013, 18:26 GMT) 10 out of 10 and an excellent understanding of the assignment.

    Maybe it's time to apply for a job at ESPN.

  • on December 12, 2013, 18:26 GMT

    "The fractured, divided and self-absorbed Australian team have proved woefully incapable of showing the guts, fortitude and will power to match the ruthless, united and courageous team spirit of England. Sadly, Australia give the impression of being more interested in money, glory and fame than in putting their bodies on the line for their country. There is a clear lack of leadership from Clarke, and one senses that old wounds have not properly healed between key senior players. If this is the best XI wearing the baggy green, then one wonders about the moral collapse and decadence of a once proud young nation."

  • on December 12, 2013, 18:13 GMT

    nice article..

  • on December 12, 2013, 18:11 GMT

    thanks to ed smith for presenting a new idea to england loss:enemy was an inch more imposing.... I thorougly agrees to dis...lets discuss two examples... 1..england was abetter team den pakistan in recent u.a.e series in all aspects except ajmal..wich was more den an inch more imposing and won da whitewash for pakis 2..similatly wat everyone else says..I still bilieve enbland is a more deep and complete team bt dey have to find da answer of mitche johnsn..an imposing threat..if dey could find an answer soon den all dese same analysts will be changing deir adjectives from timid to brave and chumps to champs...

  • Vkarthik on December 12, 2013, 16:33 GMT

    Nail on the head. Australia (2000s), West Indies (1980s) were revered, adored for their enterprising brand of cricket. England is a real boring side even when they are on top. Kevin Pietersen is an aberration in England line up. As far as fast bowling, spin bowling goes it is more methodical than enterprising.Australian when they were at their peak even after collapse they would go at 4 runs an over.

  • mrmonty on December 12, 2013, 16:27 GMT

    Kudos, Ed; for the fresh perspective and steering clear of the cliched reactions that typically follow with one team leading.

  • YorkshirePudding on December 12, 2013, 14:12 GMT

    @jb633, Using 2012 as a reference point is a bad example, as there was a lot of focus on sport in the UK during that time, which probably lead to jump in membership of most clubs. As for the comments about boring, Id rather see england win in a 'boring' manner than lose in a 'frenetic' manner.

  • mike_b on December 12, 2013, 13:45 GMT

    @Hitesh Parate So take Mitch out and England win is that right? Does that mean Swann and Jimmy would suddenly start bowling better and deny Australia scoring 500+? Does that mean Australia would stop scoring 100s and England would start managing to score over 400 which they haven't managed to do for around 10 tests? Does that mean Matt Prior wouldn't get out to Lyon anymore and KP would stop getting out to Siddle? Does that mean Tremlett would suddenly be able to bowl at speeds above 128km and Swann would have far more wickets than just 4 for heaps of runs after two tests? Also I expect Jimmy wouldn't average 50 runs per wicket and the English lads would start holding their catches. Mitch's effect has certainly been far reaching! Get real, grow up and face reality mate!

  • StaalBurgher on December 12, 2013, 13:42 GMT

    Good article. Must better when you stick to cricket rather than political moralizing.

  • YorkshirePudding on December 12, 2013, 13:06 GMT

    @dungar.bob, in 99% of cases the hook (and to some degree pull) is an instinctive shot with a high risk and high reward, if it comes off, the bowler reduces its use, and has to look to other lines/lengths, when it doesnt come off the batsman looks like a chump and the bowler is confident.

    It doesnt help that you have less than a second to make up your mind from the moment it leaves the bowlers hand.

  • KerneelsMerkII on December 12, 2013, 12:38 GMT

    @Rexton87 with respect, cricket is not the only sport which is subject to the conditions. Tennis (grass, clay, hard court), golf (parkland, links), rugby (heavy northern fields v fast southern fields) are all subject to the conditions and inevitably leads to home teams having an advantage. That is what makes tours so interesting. Standardising pitches will make cricket boring.

  • jb633 on December 12, 2013, 12:28 GMT

    This article should receive greater credit as it is not written simply ad hoc but he wrote a very similar one during the last ashes series in which he basically stated that the Aussies were not that bad and the margins were quite fine. Even before the last ashes series I was certainly not one to write them off against England. England were able to prove against all the doubters that in sport (particularly cricket) that in India it only takes 3 guys to have a blinder and a series can be won. In Brisbane it was the same for the Aussies, a bit of luck, lots of skill and you win the game. What would have happened if Bailey had dropped KP at Adelaide for example. There is generally a lot more to losses than meets the eye immediately. Personally i do think the England set up needs a change though simply for the good of the game. Figures have just revealed that participation is down 22 % from 2012 amongst younger guys which I believe can be correlated somewhat to our style of play (boring)

  • on December 12, 2013, 12:27 GMT

    As far as I'm concerned,take Johnson out of the Australian side and you will find the balance shifts towards the England.That is the real story of this two test matches so far and this is something which doesn't always happen in Cricket.So blaming this England side for their failure is very harsh on them as they were not expecting this kind of hostility from the Australian side.

  • dunger.bob on December 12, 2013, 12:08 GMT

    @ taylor1980 & GRHinPorts: You both make good, solid, sensible arguments but here's a couple of counterpoints. Warner hooked the first ball he faced in one of innings. Smashed it for 4. Then there was Clarke with a shadow over him about the short stuff. He did the same thing to his first bouncer. Then there's Ian Chappell, the proverbial compulsive hooker. He says he used to prefer hooking early in his innings and lay off it later. He reckons it not only made the bowlers think twice but he was a better hooker when he was nervy. He said that once he was settled he used to get a bit lazy in his footwork when it came to the hook shot. Nothing else, just the hook. Go figure.

    Anyway, what you guys have said is exactly what the author is talking about I think. You've both criticised Cook because he hooked too early. It sounds like playing by the book and that's over coaching imo. If a bloke is a hooker, only he knows when it's on or not. They should be allowed to express themselves in peac

  • Anurag.Sharma on December 12, 2013, 12:01 GMT

    Very well articulated by Ed Smith. Apart from "out-fought", "out-toughed", "out-machoed", "out-sledged", "out-hungered", "out-played", I would also add "out-egoed" to the list. Having not lost the Ashes from 2009, England were always a confident bunch to came to the shores of Australia for another dominant act, However, this time they were not only been made look frightened by the hostile fast bowling but also look submissive as they are taking all the mid pitch philosophical discussion with the opponents too seriously. The least the Carberrys, Cooks and the Bells can do is to get out in the manner they are best known for.

  • Sandman5five on December 12, 2013, 11:57 GMT

    This after the Trott article. In all the mindless bashing/congratulating your writing comes as a breath of fresh air. Take a bow Ed Smith.

  • dunger.bob on December 12, 2013, 11:43 GMT

    @ Baiju Joseph : "The idea of a level playing field is fading faster than we can imagine ". .. I don't know where you get the idea it ever was a level playing field. It's always been like this. Only the truly great sides can break the pattern and that's why there are so few truly great sides. As it should be.

    I honestly can't see what the point of this latest angle is and even if it is of some significance, which it isn't, what's your solution? Let me guess. All matches should be played in India.

  • Rexton87 on December 12, 2013, 11:31 GMT

    Cricket is the only sport which is subject to conditions. This has been silently going on for decades but has reached a fever pitch in recent years. England used to put touring team to first test in Lords in May with cloud cover and mositure in air and the pitch. Naturally the visiting teams and esp less experienced members were exposed to swinging and seaming balls and would collapse in heaps. Australia used their bouncy and pacy track to good effect to initimidate thier opponents. Sub continnetal teams prepared rough dusty track to negate pace and favour spin which was their strength.This is not equal contest and does not happen in any other sport.Playing conditions and pitches should be standardised although you cant do much about the weather the pitches should be of same quality throughout the world.

  • heathrf1974 on December 12, 2013, 11:22 GMT

    Luck either good or bad happens to everyone. It is what you make of it that determines your success.

  • moBlue on December 12, 2013, 10:29 GMT

    so true! the line between playing safe and risking it all is a fine one, indeed! if the batter is lucky enough to pull it off, he becomes a hero! else a zero, no pun intended, in the eyes of the arm-chair critics!

    two innings i watched come to mind. one was in 2011 when IND were in SA playing a test. steyn bowled fast and wide, presumably a set-up... and sehwag did what sehwag did when he got 194 before tea in oz, or when he blasted a six to get to his first triple hundred! sehwag threw his bat at it! ...and was caught at deep third man! oh, boy, was he vilified!

    the second instance was also on SA - IND were inserted on day 1 of the first test in 2001... and were quickly in all kinds of trouble at 68 for 4 on a superFast centurion pitch. sachin watched with concern from the non-striker's end on a placid, carefully made 20. as soon as the 4th wicket fell - and a debutant, sehwag, walked in - sachin went berserk, risking big with a swoop over the slips. he made a ton and became a hero!

  • Moppa on December 12, 2013, 10:22 GMT

    Interesting article and lots of good observations in there... but is he setting up a bit of a 'straw man' argument? Is anyone really saying that Cook lacks bravery? Or even that his second innings dismissal was particularly poorly judged? The biggest criticisms of England's performances so far I can recall have been for KP and Root's dismissals in the first innings in Adelaide, which had nothing to do with bravery and were just mis-judged, foolish shots. In Root's case, out of character, in KP's case, completely unnecessary and arrogant for falling into an obvious trap. If I were an English fan getting up early in the morning hoping my team would at least make Australia work very hard to maintain its ascendancy in the Adelaide Test, I probably would have gone back to bed after those two!

  • ThinkingCricket on December 12, 2013, 10:00 GMT

    This is a brilliant article, and this point needs to be made till those commentators change their ways. They lack originality and understanding to come up with anything better than "what a poor shot" any time the batsmen is out doing anything but defending, and talk about "constructing innings" and the like, any time a young batsman is out, but then praise the same shots when they go for four.

    The bigger danger for England is that they will fail to win because individual players are under pressure to demonstrate their "commitment" and "courage" by not getting out except in the most orthodox fashion. Expect a procession of tortured 10's 20's and 30's tomorrow or day after depending on the toss.

  • on December 12, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    Brilliant article! Good to see there are a few people who can see the hypocrisy of the "Experts" and the media. Its a sport and sportspersons, however good can be outplayed sometimes. The question of lack of bravery or morality shouldnt even arise. The team was just outplayed, nothing else.

  • ygkd on December 12, 2013, 9:42 GMT

    It is easy in hindsight to believe that what happened was largely inevitable. This principle seems to be applied in all human endeavours. History is full of it, as Ed Smith would know, for what is history other than account provided by the winners? That said, it might have helped England if they had not played back-to-back Ashes series, thus giving Australia a chance to get things right for once. Mind you, the series is not yet over. And yet the fans (not a word I would use to describe deep-thinkers about the game) would have it that all is already lost.

  • o-bomb on December 12, 2013, 9:32 GMT

    This series has seen an incredible turn around in the fortunes of the 2 teams involved. The paragraph near the start of this article with all the delete as appropriate mentions makes the point as well as it can be made. If you were to believe everything you read in the papoers you would end up very confused as to whether the players involved were brilliant or awful or passionate or heartless.

  • Nutcutlet on December 12, 2013, 9:28 GMT

    I'm English. I love cricket. I enjoy a closely contested Test match, even if Eng loses it. There is (in my head) more to sport than simple winning or losing. I can accept that luck, the law of averages, what the captain had for breakfast and a thousand other variables, all unquantifiable, can affect the outcome of any contest. All that's given. There is, moreover, no moral judgement; they're all honourable men. What perplexes me, however, is when there seems to be some sort of collective conspiracy, when the Fates deliver two thumping defeats (unkinder folk might call them humiliations) and rob the matches of any sense of genuine competition at a very early stage(after Eng's first inns). When India toured Eng in 2011 with a side packed with great players, the same 'conspiracy' happened. Those Eng victories had a wrong feel to them. They were bloodless, hollow, because one side (depite the protestations of the capt) wasn't at the races. Underperformance is a malaise & difficult to stop.

  • taylor1980 on December 12, 2013, 9:13 GMT

    Excellent article illustrating the fine line between success and failure. However a balance is required between attack and defense as shown by KP's 2nd innings which reaped the rewards. Attacking shots need to be played at the right time and in the right context.

    Cook's shot in the 2nd over of the 4th day seemed so out of character and at the wrong time. Why try and hook a fresh Mitchell Johnson, why not see him off and attack harris or sidddles short balls, why not play cautiously until lunch and then when the field is spread out and the fielding team worn out play some more expansive shots. On the 5th day the aussies wanted things wrapped up as soon as possible with the minimum of expanded energy without picking up injuries. So what did we do try and attack them and boost our ego's with a few hooks and pulls that ultimately end in failure within an hour.

  • GRHinPorts on December 12, 2013, 9:01 GMT

    I thought this was a good article by Ed Smith and I broadly agree with what he is trying to say but the example of Cook's 2nd innings hook dismissal is the wrong one IMO. Had he played it (and still been caught) after even half a dozen overs into the innings then that would have been fine. For me it was the fact it was Mitchell Johnson's first over, and indeed his first bouncer, of the innings, and that Cook really wouldn't have had any sort of eye in to play the shot, that is indicative of a slightly scrambled mind. I agree England's batsmen have to play the cross bat shots to do well in Australian conditions (this stat about 21/40 leg side dismissals is a total red herring) but of course they do have to play them well.

  • YorkshirePudding on December 12, 2013, 8:48 GMT

    Yet another great article from you ed, though rather than doing afind replace, its most likely a mail merge with tags for best/worst team, hero/villian, etc.

    The general problem is that we as fans are always told by the pundits and media that our team should always win, and the opposition should always lose, even when its never that cut and dried.

    It doesnt help the ex-players critisise from the sidelines, about how much better they where (well except Aggers), never playing rash shots when out of form (boycott), never spilling catches (Nass, Athers, etc).

    Once we accept our team will lose to another team, and at times be soundly beaten, it makes enjoying the wins so much sweeter.

  • on December 12, 2013, 8:43 GMT

    This is exactly what the Indian media had written about the Indian team after the defeats in England and Australia. Though England came with a perfect plan to India in the revenge series, Australia were left licking their wounds after India put in a perfect plan to batter them. Again the Oz media used the same lines to describe their team after that mauling. Two tests down the English media have taken over the bragging rights. In cricketing sense its showing a very bad picture of the kind of cricket being played nowadays. It shows that teams are now more bent on using the home condition as a sharp deterrent to counter the visiting teams. The team which looks like a lion at home lose all its teeth once they go abroad and all countries are susceptible to this problem. South Africa have been the only exception to this anomaly but once Dale Steyn and Co. hang their boots, it would be interesting to see how they fare. The idea of a level playing field is fading faster than we can imagine !

  • dunger.bob on December 12, 2013, 8:39 GMT

    Well, the 'home-track bully' can't seem to see the value in this article but I certainly can. .. If you don't take some risks you will get precious few rewards. Every batsman has to have some shots and every attacking shot has it's risks. .. If it comes off you look like Einstein but if it doesn't you resemble Ronald MacDonald. The hook would have to be right up there on the risk/reward meter and either looks spectacularly dumb or just spectacular.

    If you start getting down on people for playing their natural game you may as well get a new player in there. Curbing a players natural instincts is not only ill advised from a cricketing pov but it also messes with their head in the end.

  • KerneelsMerkII on December 12, 2013, 7:17 GMT

    Wonderful Ed, thank you for that. As a neutral I simply love the ebb and flow of the Ashes, it captivates like very few other sporting events. Whenever my own team plays (ahem...the best Test team. Nudge-nudge-wink-wink) I am simply too invested to enjoy the contest from the sidelines.

    The single most frustrating thing about the Ashes is the 'experts' in the media who seem to try and out-controversy each other.It is enormously frustrating and distracts from the fine cricket contest taking place on the field.

    Regarding KP and his hook shots, you may wish to mention the test against SA last year when he scored that fantastic 150 odd - Morkel was instructed to bowl short and KP just flat-out refused to back down - and played one of his best innings I ever witnessed. I cant help feeling that the hero-villain line mentioned in your piece could have gone the other way that day (had he mistimed even one of those hook or pull shots) and the same can be said for Brisbane or Adelaide...

  • rahulStillHeaded on December 12, 2013, 6:44 GMT

    Finally, some common sense. Hats off Ed !!

  • CamH on December 12, 2013, 6:05 GMT

    Surely it takes more courage to stand up straight and try to hook a ball that is heading straight for your face than to evade it by ducking. In all the criticism of Cook for playing that shot one thing that appears to have been overlooked is how good a ball that bouncer from MJ was on what was ostensibly a pretty flat pitch. The ball pitched at a length that gave Cook the impression that he could comfortably execute the hook shot and he was balanced and in the right position to play the shot. What then happened was that the ball was both slightly quicker and higher than he anticipated drawing a top edge very high on the bat. So he was lured into a shot that takes great courage to play but was deceived by the bowler. Surely this is the essence of cricket and had very little to do with any notion of moral courage. @Nadeem that has to be one of the biggest loads of nonsense ever posted on this site!

  • on December 12, 2013, 3:37 GMT

    this article is wastage of time. when two teams see that they have to play 10 freaking tests in 4 months period then they decide which series to win and which one to lose and they always decide to go for the series which is easy to win like for england it's easy to win at home so they did by displaying great performance and now australia is doing by displaying great play because they knew that it's easy to win for austarlia in their home grounds. What is wrong in this approach i mean we can easily say that in year 2013 both england and australia are going to win ashes and in 50 years from now on no body will know about the actual performances but the facts which the future generation will see are the results of both series.

    It's ecb, australian board and ICC mistake that they put together 10 match ashes series in just 4 months. They could easily made it 5 matches this year and 5 matches next year. then both team were going to perform but not in this condition it bet.

  • on December 12, 2013, 3:36 GMT

    Its nothing to do with courage, fear, none of that. Its home ground advantage. Go to India, even with the best team ever, you'll probably get beaten (as Australia did). Aussies go to England, likely you'll get beat. They come here, same story. Also throw in a pinch of been-there-done-that : you see it in the fight game, a boxer (or MMA practitioner these days) will often lose second time 'round to the same opponent because its a mountain that has already been conquered; and at elite level you need every ounce of motivation and will to succeed. Hence England's flatness, or more like flat out boredom doing the some 'ol thing again. So there's a bit of both in my opinion : home-ground advantage (Mitch is showing this oh so evidently) and lack of motivation.

  • ELsolly on December 12, 2013, 3:27 GMT

    This is such a refreshing article, written with logic and pinpoint common sense.

  • brisCricFan on December 12, 2013, 3:22 GMT

    This article reminds me of the famous fable of the Scorpion and the Frog. A huge fire was raging and a scorpion attempting to flee comes to the edge of the river. As the fire nears and the scorpion that can't swim is waiting doom, a frog swims up and offers to carry the scorpion to safety on its back as long as it behaves itself... The scorpion agrees and climbs on board as the frog kicks off to safety... Half way across the river, the scorpion lashes with its tail and stings the scorpion. As the frog is dying, it says, "you fool now we are both dead, why would you do that?" The scorpion replies, "I had no choice, its in my nature"

    As with these players, asking KP to go meekly and bat out two days is like the scorpion sitting on a frogs back waiting for safety... Its just not in his nature and it is what makes him so dangerous in just about any other situation. That partnership with Root looked dangerous to an Aus fan like myself. Trying to ride it out though was what got him.

  • Chris_P on December 12, 2013, 3:17 GMT

    Wow. Great article, Ed. You're right, Clarke played the hook early in Brisbane, if he had gotten out, he would have been strung up, in the end the risk paid off with a decisive century. Cook plays the hook as well, if not better than most, but you do tend to get out now & then. Unfortunately for Cook, the stage was there for everyone to jump on him. One of the best reads I have seen here.

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  • Chris_P on December 12, 2013, 3:17 GMT

    Wow. Great article, Ed. You're right, Clarke played the hook early in Brisbane, if he had gotten out, he would have been strung up, in the end the risk paid off with a decisive century. Cook plays the hook as well, if not better than most, but you do tend to get out now & then. Unfortunately for Cook, the stage was there for everyone to jump on him. One of the best reads I have seen here.

  • brisCricFan on December 12, 2013, 3:22 GMT

    This article reminds me of the famous fable of the Scorpion and the Frog. A huge fire was raging and a scorpion attempting to flee comes to the edge of the river. As the fire nears and the scorpion that can't swim is waiting doom, a frog swims up and offers to carry the scorpion to safety on its back as long as it behaves itself... The scorpion agrees and climbs on board as the frog kicks off to safety... Half way across the river, the scorpion lashes with its tail and stings the scorpion. As the frog is dying, it says, "you fool now we are both dead, why would you do that?" The scorpion replies, "I had no choice, its in my nature"

    As with these players, asking KP to go meekly and bat out two days is like the scorpion sitting on a frogs back waiting for safety... Its just not in his nature and it is what makes him so dangerous in just about any other situation. That partnership with Root looked dangerous to an Aus fan like myself. Trying to ride it out though was what got him.

  • ELsolly on December 12, 2013, 3:27 GMT

    This is such a refreshing article, written with logic and pinpoint common sense.

  • on December 12, 2013, 3:36 GMT

    Its nothing to do with courage, fear, none of that. Its home ground advantage. Go to India, even with the best team ever, you'll probably get beaten (as Australia did). Aussies go to England, likely you'll get beat. They come here, same story. Also throw in a pinch of been-there-done-that : you see it in the fight game, a boxer (or MMA practitioner these days) will often lose second time 'round to the same opponent because its a mountain that has already been conquered; and at elite level you need every ounce of motivation and will to succeed. Hence England's flatness, or more like flat out boredom doing the some 'ol thing again. So there's a bit of both in my opinion : home-ground advantage (Mitch is showing this oh so evidently) and lack of motivation.

  • on December 12, 2013, 3:37 GMT

    this article is wastage of time. when two teams see that they have to play 10 freaking tests in 4 months period then they decide which series to win and which one to lose and they always decide to go for the series which is easy to win like for england it's easy to win at home so they did by displaying great performance and now australia is doing by displaying great play because they knew that it's easy to win for austarlia in their home grounds. What is wrong in this approach i mean we can easily say that in year 2013 both england and australia are going to win ashes and in 50 years from now on no body will know about the actual performances but the facts which the future generation will see are the results of both series.

    It's ecb, australian board and ICC mistake that they put together 10 match ashes series in just 4 months. They could easily made it 5 matches this year and 5 matches next year. then both team were going to perform but not in this condition it bet.

  • CamH on December 12, 2013, 6:05 GMT

    Surely it takes more courage to stand up straight and try to hook a ball that is heading straight for your face than to evade it by ducking. In all the criticism of Cook for playing that shot one thing that appears to have been overlooked is how good a ball that bouncer from MJ was on what was ostensibly a pretty flat pitch. The ball pitched at a length that gave Cook the impression that he could comfortably execute the hook shot and he was balanced and in the right position to play the shot. What then happened was that the ball was both slightly quicker and higher than he anticipated drawing a top edge very high on the bat. So he was lured into a shot that takes great courage to play but was deceived by the bowler. Surely this is the essence of cricket and had very little to do with any notion of moral courage. @Nadeem that has to be one of the biggest loads of nonsense ever posted on this site!

  • rahulStillHeaded on December 12, 2013, 6:44 GMT

    Finally, some common sense. Hats off Ed !!

  • KerneelsMerkII on December 12, 2013, 7:17 GMT

    Wonderful Ed, thank you for that. As a neutral I simply love the ebb and flow of the Ashes, it captivates like very few other sporting events. Whenever my own team plays (ahem...the best Test team. Nudge-nudge-wink-wink) I am simply too invested to enjoy the contest from the sidelines.

    The single most frustrating thing about the Ashes is the 'experts' in the media who seem to try and out-controversy each other.It is enormously frustrating and distracts from the fine cricket contest taking place on the field.

    Regarding KP and his hook shots, you may wish to mention the test against SA last year when he scored that fantastic 150 odd - Morkel was instructed to bowl short and KP just flat-out refused to back down - and played one of his best innings I ever witnessed. I cant help feeling that the hero-villain line mentioned in your piece could have gone the other way that day (had he mistimed even one of those hook or pull shots) and the same can be said for Brisbane or Adelaide...

  • dunger.bob on December 12, 2013, 8:39 GMT

    Well, the 'home-track bully' can't seem to see the value in this article but I certainly can. .. If you don't take some risks you will get precious few rewards. Every batsman has to have some shots and every attacking shot has it's risks. .. If it comes off you look like Einstein but if it doesn't you resemble Ronald MacDonald. The hook would have to be right up there on the risk/reward meter and either looks spectacularly dumb or just spectacular.

    If you start getting down on people for playing their natural game you may as well get a new player in there. Curbing a players natural instincts is not only ill advised from a cricketing pov but it also messes with their head in the end.

  • on December 12, 2013, 8:43 GMT

    This is exactly what the Indian media had written about the Indian team after the defeats in England and Australia. Though England came with a perfect plan to India in the revenge series, Australia were left licking their wounds after India put in a perfect plan to batter them. Again the Oz media used the same lines to describe their team after that mauling. Two tests down the English media have taken over the bragging rights. In cricketing sense its showing a very bad picture of the kind of cricket being played nowadays. It shows that teams are now more bent on using the home condition as a sharp deterrent to counter the visiting teams. The team which looks like a lion at home lose all its teeth once they go abroad and all countries are susceptible to this problem. South Africa have been the only exception to this anomaly but once Dale Steyn and Co. hang their boots, it would be interesting to see how they fare. The idea of a level playing field is fading faster than we can imagine !