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Instead of sticking to first principles and patiently grinding out a match-defining total, England's batsmen misguidedly attempted to assert themselves
George Dobell at Trent Bridge
July 10, 2013
Say what you like about England, they are marvellous hosts. Had they greeted each Australia bowler with a garland of flowers, a basket of fruit and an array of balloon animals, they could hardly have been more welcoming. Indeed, if each of their wickets had been wrapped in shiny paper and tied with a bow, they could not have made better gifts of them.
This was a wretched batting performance from England. It was a nervous, flimsy, foolish performance by a side too experienced to be excused for wilting in the spot light. While the identity of several of the players is different, it was a performance that evoked memories of England's capitulation in the final of the Champions Trophy. Then, as now, they froze under pressure.
The most galling aspect of this display was the self-inflicted nature of England's decline. Perhaps only two of the their wickets - that of Joe Root and, by a generous assessment, Ian Bell - could be credited more on good bowling than poor batting, with some of the dismissals - Matt Prior's and Graeme Swann's in particular - donated so ridiculously that they would have a good chance of gaining charitable status.
The root of England's decline was a combination of nerves and the spurious misunderstanding of what it means to play 'positive' cricket. For England on the first day at Trent Bridge, 'positive' cricket meant attempting to score quickly, attempting to hit boundaries and attempting to assert their authority in the most obvious, unsophisticated way.
So, instead of leaving the ball outside off stump, instead of waiting for the bowlers to stray into safe areas, instead of patiently grinding out a match-defining total, England sought the short-cut to success. They allowed their hubris and adrenalin to get the better of them and they chased deliveries that they would have been well advised to let go.
Even Jonathan Trott and Alastair Cook, batsmen with a reputation for their attritional qualities, were drawn into flashing at balls well outside off stump. Even Kevin Pietersen, a man who has a well-earned reputation for thriving on the biggest stage, appeared to falter through nerves and guided a wide ball to slip and even Prior and Swann, men with a reputation of rebuilding all-but-lost causes, managed to steer short balls to fielders as if providing catching practice.
Trott's frustration upon his dismissal was palpable. He shaped to smash his stumps out of the ground but sensibly checked himself just in time but his frustration was easy to understand. Trott has now passed 27 in each one of his last 12 Test innings but, on nine of those occasions, he failed to pass 56. In short, he has built himself the foundations time after time and failed to capitalise upon it. A loss of concentration has been his downfall on most occasions. A batsman that built a reputation upon a compact technique and looked in the ripest of form, paid the price for being flash. He is, at present, too often trying to be something he is not.
Steven Finn press conference
It was not always aggression that cost England. Some of their batsmen were punished for faulty technique with Bell drawn into playing at a decent delivery, but one he might have left, and Jonny Bairstow bowled - as he was in both innings of the warm-up game in Chelmsford and now has been in five of his 12 completed Test innings - after attempting to whip a straight ball through midwicket.
There was no need for England's aggressive approach. Without the influence of poor weather, draws have become rare in England. The old Test disciplines - disciplines of patience and restraint and denial and stamina - have been all but forgotten amid new fashions to dominate, entertain and 'express' talent. The game may, on the surface, appear more entertaining, but it has also lost a certain dynamic that differentiated it from other formats. There was beauty, maybe not always an obvious but beauty nevertheless, in the steadfastness and defiance of Geoffrey Boycott and Chris Tavare. While the game has changed for the better in many ways, England would be well advised not to forget such qualities entirely.
England could have well done with a player of Nick Compton's old-fashioned virtues. The idea that you have to seize the initiative in Test cricket is a modern myth that has been perpetrated by the impatient and is shown up for its folly by the success of the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Hashim Amla and, in a different time, by Trott and Cook.
Positivity does not have to be expressed in boundaries. It can be expressed in a firm forward defensive, in a refusal to be tempted by deliveries away from the body and by an obvious determination to bat, not just for a session or a milestone, but for a day or more at a time. It was that quality that ground Australia into submission in 2010-11 and that quality England will need to rediscover if they are to prevail on this occasion.
There are some mitigating factors. While the winner of the toss had to bat first - this is a flat but unusually dry pitch that may deteriorate - the atmospheric conditions did provide some assistance to swing bowlers. Australia also bowled pretty well, using the crease cleverly and luring England into false strokes.
But England made life far too simple for the bowlers and Peter Siddle, in particular, can rarely have enjoyed a softer five-wicket haul.
It does not matter that England partially redeemed themselves with the ball. That only goes to illustrate what an opportunity they missed with the bat against an attack that was plainly nervous and included a teenage debutant who, for all his abundant talent and athleticism, looks some way short of the quality required for this level at present and an allrounder who could manage only four overs before injury intervened. Had England shown a little more fight and resilience, they could be resuming their first innings on the second day against effectively a three-man attack.
As it is, England face an uncomfortable wait to see how Stuart Broad reacts to a blow on the shoulder sustained while batting. International cricket is a draining business and its participants, especially fast bowlers, are bound to experience the occasional injury. But Broad, of late, appears to be made of crystal and fairies' wings and is developing a reputation of being injured more often than he is fit. In a three-man pace attack, such attributes are unlikely to endear a player to selectors.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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