West Indies v England, 2nd T20, Barbados March 10, 2014

An age-old problem for England

England will probably make at least two changes to their team for the second T20 against West Indies, but it may be a case of papering over cracks
13

It says something about the disarray in which England find themselves that, just days before they depart for the World T20, they are likely to go into Tuesday's game against West Indies with a new captain, two debutants in this format and a man who has not played a T20 match at any level for more than three years. What should have been the culmination of two years of planning is instead being thrown together at the last minute.

To some extent, they have been unfortunate. Certainly the injuries to Stuart Broad and Joe Root should be viewed that way.

But England are not the only side beset by injuries. West Indies, to take one example, are without Kieron Pollard and Kemar Roach. The whole point of picking a squad of players is to cover for such eventualities.

So it is intriguing that England have called Ian Bell into their T20 squad. As a decent player of spin with experience around the world and a wide range of strokes, it is a selection that makes sense. But it does beg the question: if England rate him so highly, why have they not picked him in T20 cricket for the last three years? Indeed, why did they not include him in their 30-man preliminary squad for the World T20?

Bell could yet end up as captain. Broad is expected to have recovered in time for Bangladesh but, when an injury requires a fourth injection, it becomes clear there is a long-standing problem. Meanwhile Eoin Morgan's knee is taking longer to improve than was anticipated and there is a growing concern that, despite the player's protestations, it may be more serious than originally thought.

More than that, though, England have been confronted with a perennial problem: their batsmen do not play spin well. It is not a new problem but, until there is a fundamental change in the way in which spin bowling is viewed at every level of recreational and domestic cricket in England, it is a problem which will go unsolved.

Until it is accepted that England are putting themselves at a disadvantage to other nations by taking an unnecessarily hard-line on unorthodox actions - see the example of Maurice Holmes - and penalising counties (such as Hampshire in July 2011) who prepare turning pitches, developing English players will not have the chance to develop their games against the turning ball and will go into international cricket unprepared.

Such solutions require long-term action. But Graham Thorpe, England's batting coach on this tour, has to work in the short-term. He has, in a couple of days, to transform a team that played spin like novices into one that can compete in Bangladesh. It is an almost impossible task.

It was telling that the players were given a day off on Monday. While Thorpe and the other coaches could have been forgiven for ranting at the team after a wretched display of batting on Sunday, they have instead attempted to restore their battered confidence and encouraged them to unwind on the beach or the golf course. In truth, it is too late to do anything else.

"It's about remaining upbeat and confident," Thorpe said. "We want the guys to be positive. We need to be positive in our play if we are going to do well in the World T20.

"We're certainly not going to panic, but we're not going to stand here and say we played spin well on Sunday. We didn't.

"That was a poor day with the bat. But let's give ourselves a bit more time and look to select better when we go for those big shots.

"We mustn't fret about it. We must just improve. We have to identify those players who are capable of going to Bangladesh and actually having a gameplan and the skill to be able to perform. We have to be bold; we have to hit boundaries and be able to manoeuvre the ball around against quality spinners; maybe bowlers we don't read as well.

"We don't face a lot of spin. We don't have heaps of it in county cricket. In terms of our development of playing it, it is harder when you don't face much of it in the domestic game. We have trips abroad with the programmes that have existed beneath, but the fact is the volume they play against is limited to playing with an international side travelling to the subcontinent. It is always going to be an issue.

"It took me a while, until I was 27 years old, until I had a real understanding of the method of playing spin. And that was in Test cricket when we had time to pad a few away."

One potential solution would be to allow England players to appear in the IPL. While Thorpe agreed that exposing players to different pitches and bowlers might be beneficial - "It would do them no harm. The more T20 cricket you play the better you are going to get at it" - there is the consideration of what it might do to England's overall cricket.

The English domestic game has already been weakened by the absence of quality overseas players, the best England players and even Kolpak and other experienced cricketers. Allowing more of them to play in a foreign domestic league during the home season would seem a perverse method of improvement, surely causing as much damage as good.

A change of team is inevitable ahead of the second match in the series. The spinners Moeen Ali and Steven Parry are both likely to return, with Broad out injured and Luke Wright clinging to his place by the skin of his teeth. He has failed to reach double-figures in his last eight international innings and has looked at sea against spin. Ben Stokes is not certain to survive, either, underlining that fact that, with only days to go before the tournament, England have yet to find a settled team.

"I think we misread the pitch in terms of the spin option," Thorpe admitted. "I think we received 10 overs of spin and lost 6 for 46, so we will have to look at that selection for the next game.

"Luke hasn't scored as many runs as he would have liked. So we have to help him through that period. We have to keep him confident.

"We come back to the fact we have four games to go before the World T20 and I couldn't tell you what the batting line up is going to be. We must work out which personnel are going to fit into the slots. In the next four games, we hope it will become clearer and players will stand up and perform.

"At the T20 World Cup, we have a puncher's chance if we get things right. I think that's realistic. If we can get through that group we've done very well. We will only do that by being bold and upbeat about our performances and not getting too down when we do get beat."

England will travel, it seems, more in hope than expectation.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Speng on March 11, 2014, 17:56 GMT

    As I recall the pitches in England for the Champions Trophy and the Ashes were decent decks for spinners so grounds across the country can prepare balanced pitches that spinners can work with but England it seems refuses to develop attacking spinners. It seems Swanny came up against the odds and I can't recall a decent leggie. This despite any number of good spin coaches being employed in England the players end up being innocuous dart throwers. Badree and Narine are decent twirlers but they're not (at this stage in their careers) world beaters. If the pitches in England next summer are even slightly decent for spin England face a rough test against India.

  • Manxmuppet on March 11, 2014, 12:10 GMT

    It certainly seems that the World T20 is going to be a bit of a car crash for England. Personally, I don't see that as a terribly worrying prospect as I think we need to put T20 into perspective.

    I am more worried that England are risking promising players (Stokes, Ali, Jordan, etc) who could perform at Test level. Why change the way they play to fit the short format when these are the players that need to work on focus and application to help us get back to the top of the test tree.

    Bish, bash, bosh cricket needs bish, bash, bosh cricketers not ones who should be gearing towards Test level.

  • on March 11, 2014, 11:00 GMT

    I'd be shocked if England won a game. Terrible squad and they are in real trouble. This is the Fail Windies we're talking about here.

  • on March 11, 2014, 10:27 GMT

    Excellent comment about Hampshire being penalised by the ECB for preparing a turning track. The match lasted until the very last delivery on the final day and was a very tense draw - great you'd have thought for spectator entertainment and for testing players skills against the turning ball - nope. 8 points deducted and for the next home match a road was prepared when Carbs and Mckenzie put on 523. Now the England players look completely clueless against just decent - not great like Warne or Murali - spinners. As a coach for a colts team about 10 years ago it was depressing the lack of young spinners coming through - I doubt if it has changed much recently either

  • on March 11, 2014, 10:14 GMT

    The English game 'does not encourage spinners with unorthodox actions'? I'll take that to mean that we don't like people that throw the ball, as many so called mystery spinners seem to do on a fairly regular basis. Oh sorry, they are allowed to straighten their from 15 degrees now. How on earth has this been allowed to happen. Australia is also very strict on this, much to the credit of the ACB.

  • dunger.bob on March 11, 2014, 6:02 GMT

    @ jb633: Some good points there mate. The only way to get on top of good spin bowling is to have a plan and hopefully that entails some controlled aggression. I'm not talking about hitting them out of the attack but at least spreading the field a bit. To do that, you need to play against good spinners regularly I'd say. .. So, your idea of encouraging attacking spinners at all levels of your domestic game makes sense to me. .. Ps, our blokes (Aus) have got similar problems and might consider doing something like your suggestion as well.

  • scarrule on March 11, 2014, 5:51 GMT

    England team is gonna get upset big time when there team will get out of tourney in group stage and week later kevin will be piling up runs in ipl. Then they will think about should , could have.

  • on March 11, 2014, 3:13 GMT

    feel pity looking at the England team situation.... all the best England....

  • on March 11, 2014, 3:10 GMT

    England is slowly but surely turning back into the England of the 90s where they come up with bits and pieces solutions rather than long term planning. Its been 18 months since the last T20 WC, and they are nowhere near ready for this one. Squad not finalised, keep loosing games and worst got rid of their best player. I think the ECB should be made accountable for this type of poor planning.

  • jb633 on March 10, 2014, 23:45 GMT

    Agree completely about the need to view spin bowling in a different light. Having played regional cricket as a youngster myself I understand exactly that the way our coaches treat spinners is rubbish. At a young age spinners are always told to keep it tight and not go for over three an over. We therefore breed countless average finger spinners who can land it on the dot but don't do anything with the ball. Until we encourage spinners to take wickets and spin the ball big, at the expense of accuracy at a younger age, I can't see a) how we will ever produce a top class mystery/ leg spinner b) how our batsmen will ever be able to play a top class spinner. If they are brought up facing guys who just bowl darts they are going to be clueless against guys like Narine/Warne/Ajmal etc on every single occasions. The ECB need to address spin bowling before any other asset of the game.

  • Speng on March 11, 2014, 17:56 GMT

    As I recall the pitches in England for the Champions Trophy and the Ashes were decent decks for spinners so grounds across the country can prepare balanced pitches that spinners can work with but England it seems refuses to develop attacking spinners. It seems Swanny came up against the odds and I can't recall a decent leggie. This despite any number of good spin coaches being employed in England the players end up being innocuous dart throwers. Badree and Narine are decent twirlers but they're not (at this stage in their careers) world beaters. If the pitches in England next summer are even slightly decent for spin England face a rough test against India.

  • Manxmuppet on March 11, 2014, 12:10 GMT

    It certainly seems that the World T20 is going to be a bit of a car crash for England. Personally, I don't see that as a terribly worrying prospect as I think we need to put T20 into perspective.

    I am more worried that England are risking promising players (Stokes, Ali, Jordan, etc) who could perform at Test level. Why change the way they play to fit the short format when these are the players that need to work on focus and application to help us get back to the top of the test tree.

    Bish, bash, bosh cricket needs bish, bash, bosh cricketers not ones who should be gearing towards Test level.

  • on March 11, 2014, 11:00 GMT

    I'd be shocked if England won a game. Terrible squad and they are in real trouble. This is the Fail Windies we're talking about here.

  • on March 11, 2014, 10:27 GMT

    Excellent comment about Hampshire being penalised by the ECB for preparing a turning track. The match lasted until the very last delivery on the final day and was a very tense draw - great you'd have thought for spectator entertainment and for testing players skills against the turning ball - nope. 8 points deducted and for the next home match a road was prepared when Carbs and Mckenzie put on 523. Now the England players look completely clueless against just decent - not great like Warne or Murali - spinners. As a coach for a colts team about 10 years ago it was depressing the lack of young spinners coming through - I doubt if it has changed much recently either

  • on March 11, 2014, 10:14 GMT

    The English game 'does not encourage spinners with unorthodox actions'? I'll take that to mean that we don't like people that throw the ball, as many so called mystery spinners seem to do on a fairly regular basis. Oh sorry, they are allowed to straighten their from 15 degrees now. How on earth has this been allowed to happen. Australia is also very strict on this, much to the credit of the ACB.

  • dunger.bob on March 11, 2014, 6:02 GMT

    @ jb633: Some good points there mate. The only way to get on top of good spin bowling is to have a plan and hopefully that entails some controlled aggression. I'm not talking about hitting them out of the attack but at least spreading the field a bit. To do that, you need to play against good spinners regularly I'd say. .. So, your idea of encouraging attacking spinners at all levels of your domestic game makes sense to me. .. Ps, our blokes (Aus) have got similar problems and might consider doing something like your suggestion as well.

  • scarrule on March 11, 2014, 5:51 GMT

    England team is gonna get upset big time when there team will get out of tourney in group stage and week later kevin will be piling up runs in ipl. Then they will think about should , could have.

  • on March 11, 2014, 3:13 GMT

    feel pity looking at the England team situation.... all the best England....

  • on March 11, 2014, 3:10 GMT

    England is slowly but surely turning back into the England of the 90s where they come up with bits and pieces solutions rather than long term planning. Its been 18 months since the last T20 WC, and they are nowhere near ready for this one. Squad not finalised, keep loosing games and worst got rid of their best player. I think the ECB should be made accountable for this type of poor planning.

  • jb633 on March 10, 2014, 23:45 GMT

    Agree completely about the need to view spin bowling in a different light. Having played regional cricket as a youngster myself I understand exactly that the way our coaches treat spinners is rubbish. At a young age spinners are always told to keep it tight and not go for over three an over. We therefore breed countless average finger spinners who can land it on the dot but don't do anything with the ball. Until we encourage spinners to take wickets and spin the ball big, at the expense of accuracy at a younger age, I can't see a) how we will ever produce a top class mystery/ leg spinner b) how our batsmen will ever be able to play a top class spinner. If they are brought up facing guys who just bowl darts they are going to be clueless against guys like Narine/Warne/Ajmal etc on every single occasions. The ECB need to address spin bowling before any other asset of the game.

  • dunger.bob on March 10, 2014, 23:10 GMT

    I'm going to show my ignorance of English cricket here, but has England got a domestic T20 competition? - I don't think you need to send players to all corners of the globe to get experience if you've got a strong, competitive T20 comp. at home. The IPL is a good place to get game time but places for o'seas players are limited and keenly sought after so you can't really say 'let them play IPL' and expect it to be a magic bullet. Not everyone is going to get a gig is what I'm trying to say.

    Build your own league - allow a few foreigners in to boost it a touch and then watch the players grow. You'll get quite a few Aussies and Saffa's interested in it I can almost guarantee you that, given that it'll be in the southern off season.

  • on March 10, 2014, 22:39 GMT

    I'll tell you who'd have been a good addition to the squad... KP!!! Sacking him was the dumbest thing english cricket has ever done... Especially before a world T20.

  • voyrison on March 10, 2014, 22:17 GMT

    England still don't select their best team for T20s. Unlike all the other countries. Why isn't Anderson playing for example - at least Bell has now been allowed to play. Cook should be able to play at this format. It's as if Test players mustn't be exposed to T20 - a bizarre policy for some years now.

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  • voyrison on March 10, 2014, 22:17 GMT

    England still don't select their best team for T20s. Unlike all the other countries. Why isn't Anderson playing for example - at least Bell has now been allowed to play. Cook should be able to play at this format. It's as if Test players mustn't be exposed to T20 - a bizarre policy for some years now.

  • on March 10, 2014, 22:39 GMT

    I'll tell you who'd have been a good addition to the squad... KP!!! Sacking him was the dumbest thing english cricket has ever done... Especially before a world T20.

  • dunger.bob on March 10, 2014, 23:10 GMT

    I'm going to show my ignorance of English cricket here, but has England got a domestic T20 competition? - I don't think you need to send players to all corners of the globe to get experience if you've got a strong, competitive T20 comp. at home. The IPL is a good place to get game time but places for o'seas players are limited and keenly sought after so you can't really say 'let them play IPL' and expect it to be a magic bullet. Not everyone is going to get a gig is what I'm trying to say.

    Build your own league - allow a few foreigners in to boost it a touch and then watch the players grow. You'll get quite a few Aussies and Saffa's interested in it I can almost guarantee you that, given that it'll be in the southern off season.

  • jb633 on March 10, 2014, 23:45 GMT

    Agree completely about the need to view spin bowling in a different light. Having played regional cricket as a youngster myself I understand exactly that the way our coaches treat spinners is rubbish. At a young age spinners are always told to keep it tight and not go for over three an over. We therefore breed countless average finger spinners who can land it on the dot but don't do anything with the ball. Until we encourage spinners to take wickets and spin the ball big, at the expense of accuracy at a younger age, I can't see a) how we will ever produce a top class mystery/ leg spinner b) how our batsmen will ever be able to play a top class spinner. If they are brought up facing guys who just bowl darts they are going to be clueless against guys like Narine/Warne/Ajmal etc on every single occasions. The ECB need to address spin bowling before any other asset of the game.

  • on March 11, 2014, 3:10 GMT

    England is slowly but surely turning back into the England of the 90s where they come up with bits and pieces solutions rather than long term planning. Its been 18 months since the last T20 WC, and they are nowhere near ready for this one. Squad not finalised, keep loosing games and worst got rid of their best player. I think the ECB should be made accountable for this type of poor planning.

  • on March 11, 2014, 3:13 GMT

    feel pity looking at the England team situation.... all the best England....

  • scarrule on March 11, 2014, 5:51 GMT

    England team is gonna get upset big time when there team will get out of tourney in group stage and week later kevin will be piling up runs in ipl. Then they will think about should , could have.

  • dunger.bob on March 11, 2014, 6:02 GMT

    @ jb633: Some good points there mate. The only way to get on top of good spin bowling is to have a plan and hopefully that entails some controlled aggression. I'm not talking about hitting them out of the attack but at least spreading the field a bit. To do that, you need to play against good spinners regularly I'd say. .. So, your idea of encouraging attacking spinners at all levels of your domestic game makes sense to me. .. Ps, our blokes (Aus) have got similar problems and might consider doing something like your suggestion as well.

  • on March 11, 2014, 10:14 GMT

    The English game 'does not encourage spinners with unorthodox actions'? I'll take that to mean that we don't like people that throw the ball, as many so called mystery spinners seem to do on a fairly regular basis. Oh sorry, they are allowed to straighten their from 15 degrees now. How on earth has this been allowed to happen. Australia is also very strict on this, much to the credit of the ACB.

  • on March 11, 2014, 10:27 GMT

    Excellent comment about Hampshire being penalised by the ECB for preparing a turning track. The match lasted until the very last delivery on the final day and was a very tense draw - great you'd have thought for spectator entertainment and for testing players skills against the turning ball - nope. 8 points deducted and for the next home match a road was prepared when Carbs and Mckenzie put on 523. Now the England players look completely clueless against just decent - not great like Warne or Murali - spinners. As a coach for a colts team about 10 years ago it was depressing the lack of young spinners coming through - I doubt if it has changed much recently either