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English cricket

July 1, 2014

Low ebb? What low ebb?

Paul J Kemp

Jimmy Anderson's tears showed that even England's most seasoned pros care deeply about their cricket - and that's something that resonates with fans like nothing else. 'They' share our emotion © AFP

Let's not beat around the bush here - English cricket has gone through an absolutely shocking period. Since Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell so nearly made it a 4-0 Ashes triumph at the Oval in September, things have gone from bad to worse for Alastair Cook and his boys. A 5-0 demolition back in Australia against the oldest enemy and horrendous one-day defeats against the same opposition; final-wicket partnerships and English collapses snatching defeat from the jaws of certain victories. The coach that got us to No. 1 in the world resigned, our best batsman was sacked, our most resilient batsman retired ill and our best bowler - one of the best spinners in the game - retired injured.

Add to that an embarrassing defeat, nay capitulation, to the Dutch in the World T20 and a first-ever home series loss to Sri Lanka, the latter when we had a 100+ run lead after the first innings of the decider, and it is plain to see the headlines to England's current problems. When looking at in that context, it is easy to see why Giles Clarke was asked if English cricket was currently at its lowest ebb.

Even the most mild-mannered of cricket followers are asking serious questions of Cook's captaincy and the ECB's decision makers. Indeed, at close of play on Day 4 of the Headingley Test, with England a pitiful 57 for 5 against an average Sri Lankan bowling attack, chasing an impossible 350 for victory, there was not a soul who did not think Alistair Cook was under severe pressure and in a position that was swiftly edging towards untenable.

However something happened. Cook rallied his troops and the lower order, showing the mental toughness and resolve that had so often deserted them recently, put in an almighty effort to nearly save the Test match. The fact that they ultimately ended up losing off the penultimate ball of the game probably helped generate a feeling of sympathy rather than hate towards Cook and his team - Jimmy Anderson in tears during his post-match interview exemplified this. It showed even the most seasoned of professionals in this side care deeply about their cricket - something that resonates with fans like nothing else. 'They' share our emotion.

The bottom-line is still that England lost an entire home series to Sri Lanka for the first time ever. This is hot on the back of the Ashes and World T20 debacle, yet it doesn't quite feel like New Zealand in 1999 or the many Ashes defeats from 1989 onwards - the fighting spirit and positivity of that fifth day in Leeds is just one of few bright spots for England since the end of a truly awful winter.

This is a side in transition, senior players have retired, rested or been sacked and since that Sydney Test, we have had six debutants and one returnee from international wilderness. Within those matches we have seen England beat the eventual T20 champions, the best ever ODI innings by an Englishman (a wicketkeeper at that), Test hundreds for three of the new players, a resurgent Liam Plunkett bowling with pace and accuracy, a Test hat-trick for Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson swinging the new ball at Lord's more than he has done since Trent Bridge last summer and the return to form of Joe Root with a double-hundred.

Yes it has been disappointing, yes at times senior bowlers have let us down, Cook's captaincy has been conservative at best, match-losing at worst, and the captain's form is nothing short of abysmal. Wisden, in years to come, will show we have gone eight Tests without a win but there is something there, enough of a silver lining trying to break through this juggernaut of a cloud to make you feel this is far from England's lowest ebb. Without wanting to bow to the soundbyte of an ECB bigwig, this IS a transitional period for English cricket and while I do not personally think Cook and Moores have the required skills to be the best in the world at their respective roles, there are currently not many alternatives that scream out they are any better in the English game.

Once you take the raw emotion and anger of a supporter out of it and look beyond the results, there are enough positives, enough fantastic individual performances since Sydney for us to be able to look forward with more than the slightest bit of optimism for the future. Cook undoubtedly needs to get his form back and the new ball bowlers need to find their consistency as attack leaders. Monty Panesar needs to sort his head out or another frontline spinner needs to step up to the plate but if all these things come together, along with the development of England's young lions, then next summer's Ashes may not be quite so dire.

England's last day fight and Jimmy's emotion showed, ironically, that if you take the raw emotion of being a supporter out of it, this England side is still hungry, still determined, still behind the captain 100% and still not far from being a very good cricket team.

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Paul J Kemp is a 30-something father, partner, Sheffielder and loyal cricket fan. Yorkshire and England through and through, yet exiled in leafy Derbyshire. A bit like Michael Vaughan - though his captaincy skills and cover drives aren't as good. He blogs here.

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Comments have now been closed for this article

Posted by purush on (July 4, 2014, 23:13 GMT)

Well one thing i can tell you, Sri Lanka is will face the reality when Mahela and Sanga and retires, i havent seen anyone bat to their potential in the top order yet. It is undoubtedly going to be difficult. Same case for England now with sudden retirement. But England still have stalwarts in their bowling line up like Anderson and Broad. If they click again then God save India, i believe its the bowling and and not the batting that wins matches, of course runs are needed but bowling is what wins test matches, puts pressure on top order batsmen at the start of the series. Indian batsmen are stoke makers who like to hit boundaries, most of them are pure one day players barring Pujara and Vijay. Virat is a seperate breed. I am sure England will come hard, India has to be mentally tough and set the tone at the start of the series. I have never seen Dhoni this serious before a bilateral series, he is doing a lot of different things.

Posted by Cricinfouser on (July 3, 2014, 19:36 GMT)

Nice to see that there are still people who are capable of ignoring the media herd and thinking for themselves. A well written, sensible article which contrasts sharply with the output of the paid hacks.

Posted by Dummy4 on (July 3, 2014, 18:51 GMT)

Mr. Kemp did a good effort in waking up the English lion's on the hopeful 22 yards starting July 09th, 2014. Hope Mr.Dhoni makes a turnaround with a youthful and promising side who believes in equal opportunities matching the same comfort levels of Mr. Cook with every man on job in the team. My heart is always with India in particular. I would be eagerly being looking forward for excitement at Lords with amazing English summer in the backdrop.

Posted by Dummy4 on (July 3, 2014, 12:44 GMT)

Opening the article by declaring the 2013 Ashes were 'nearly a 4-0 victory' certainly set the tone (I'd say they were about equally close to being a 2-3 loss for England, but whatever) for the ultimate in sunny-side up writing to the extent that it borders on apologism. You can try and lionize the determination of England to not lose on the last day against Sri Lanka, but you can't escape the fact that they had to struggle against Sri Lanka, at home. And the struggle came entirely from the lower order.

Look at Australia, and the doldrums they've been in for years. Their batting from 7 on has been stunning - nearly every number 11 has hit a half-century and one nearly made a ton. Did it win them matches? No. A team needs batsmen that make runs and bowlers that take wickets. It really is that simple. But if the selectors make things difficult by keeping out batsmen who make runs (Pietersen, Taylor) and bowlers who take wickets (Panesar, Finn) things will remain complicated.

Posted by Doug on (July 2, 2014, 10:37 GMT)

It was absolutely the most craziest thing watching a top ranked fast bowler such as Jimmy Anderson cry on camera like that. It was surreal. At first, me and my friend were just looking at each other in disbelief, then we burst out laughing.

Posted by Owen on (July 2, 2014, 9:34 GMT)

Good piece, and I fully agree with the last sentence of Kelum_w's post about Clarke. I am sure it has been said a hundred times before but I really don't think Cook will be able to do with England what Clarke did with Aus. England may keep producing performances of promise from young players, and reminders from senior players of their class, but until Cook goes England will just be treading water. At the moment, I am firmly in the 'Root for skipper' camp, yes he is young and he is not a finished batsman, but when you know that your current leader is not and will not be good enough, you might as well try alternatives.

There was a saying about the British cavalry in the Napoleonic wars: They were the most noble in Europe, but the worst led. This applies to the current cricket team, England have some great talent, and you can't doubt the effort, but.....

Posted by Kelum on (July 2, 2014, 6:31 GMT)

This is as optimistic a piece of writing as there ever was. There was a shimmer of a silver lining yes, I have to agree. And I've been a Eng supporter for over 20 years and have seen periods where there was no silver lining at all. The problem I see is that the current state of promise might just slightly be misguided. It might be too early to call and wait till the end of the 3rd Ind test would be an apt time but the way I see it is all that promise will amount to nothing if Cook doesn't change his captaincy style. What's worse is Cook doesn't have the senior campaigners capable of rallying the troops for him. Angelo Matthews is a gifted cricketer and a decent captain but without Mahela out there in the field he would not have looked this impressive. That's what Cook lacks someone to make things easier for him in the field.Australia had a team that showed promise and Clarke new exactly how to extract that promise. He proved the 5-0 Ashes win wasnt a fluke when they beat SA at away.

Posted by Deepal on (July 2, 2014, 4:05 GMT)

Few Tips to overcome Indian series.... 1. Prepare flat pitches to suite batters as on flatters Indian bowlers are far below county attack. 2. Use Liam Plunket just for short pitch bowling, as Indians don't play short stuff with ease. 3. Rest Stewart Broad for the betterment of himself and English cricket. 4. Bring back Swann. 5. If you happen to win the toss - bat first, if it is conducive to to do so.

Hope you guys do well.


Posted by Android on (July 1, 2014, 17:28 GMT)

Paul Kemp, this is the best and the most well thought out article written on the English cricket fall. But we fall to rise and I don't see a reason why they won't.

Posted by Dummy4 on (July 1, 2014, 16:18 GMT)

Don't worry guys. Indian attack to serve you and bail Cook out. He will come back in form. Indian batsmen will hop and pop against short stuff by Broad & will be clueless against Jimmy.

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