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Proud home record ends as years of neglect cause England's dam to break

Joe Root fronts up, but ECB is to blame for end to seven-year home record

George Dobell
George Dobell
England players make their way off after losing the second Test against New Zealand, England vs New Zealand, 2nd Test, Birmingham, 4th day, June 13, 2021

England players make their way off after losing the second Test against New Zealand  •  Getty Images

There was to be no miracle. Even before the clock on the Thwaite scoreboard at Edgbaston had ticked round to 11 o'clock, England's second innings had been ended. And a target of 38 in a minimum of 177 overs was never likely to test New Zealand.
Before noon, they had completed their first Test series win in England since 1999 (and their third in all) and England had succumbed to their first home Test series defeat since 2014. New Zealand were, indisputably, the better side. India and Australia will be, figuratively at least, licking their lips.
It is inevitable at such a moment that we will look for quick fixes. And it's true that the form of senior players such as Joe Root (whose top-score was 42) and James Anderson (who took three wickets in the series; none of them with a new ball) did nothing to help. Equally, a well-balanced side would no doubt have included a spinner. But that's not what cost England in this match.
No, England's problems are more substantial than that. And they basically come down to this: if you take one brick out of a dam it will probably hold. If you take two, three or even four it might well hold. But when you start removing foundations, you risk the viability of the entire structure. Eventually, the dam breaks.
That's what's happened in England cricket. Instead of nurturing and protecting our County Championship, we have squeezed it into the margins of the season and robbed it of many of its best players. We have played it in conditions which bear little relation to Test cricket in the rest of the world and in circumstances where spinners and fast bowlers become close to irrelevant.
Meanwhile, we have pushed a generation of experienced county performers into premature retirement by introducing incentives for young players; we have encouraged the government to end the Kolpak influence and we have made it ever more difficult to make overseas signings. Our best Test players have been encouraged to pursue opportunities in T20 cricket ahead of sharing their wisdom in county cricket or working at their games against the red, moving ball
At the same time, we've given the prime weeks of summer to limited-overs tournaments and prioritised white-ball success. Young batters have been encouraged to learn short-format skills and excel at performing in conditions where the pitches are perfect and the white-ball hardly leaves the straight. They can afford to be mediocre in the first-class game. Attack has been prioritised over defence.
Technical coaching has been replaced by something very close to cheerleading - correcting a player's technique is believed to undermine their confidence, though less than failing at international level, you would have thought - and a scouting system has been introduced which has led to such gems as Jason Roy opening and James Bracey keeping in Test cricket. Really, whoever thought those were good ideas needs to be in a different line of work.
English cricket might have been able to withstand one or two of these errors. But in combination, they have decimated the competition which develops Test players. For it's not one or two top-order batters who have failed. It's a generation of them. And when that happens, you have to look at the system. Finally, the dam has broken.
England has, in the past, masked some of these issues with an ability to utilise home advantage. For just as only very fine teams win Test series away in India or Australia, it has tended to be only very fine teams who win away in England.
But the current management have decided to try to do things differently. In an attempt, essentially, to prepare for the Ashes, they have challenged their players to perform in conditions where they can expect far less assistance from the Dukes ball and seaming surfaces. They have basically unpicked something that works in the hope of building back better.
That is not by any means an unreasonable tactic. It may even be viewed as brave and ambitious. But there is not another country in the world who would spurn home advantage in the same way. England are becoming terrifically generous hosts.
It was telling that it was Root who appeared before the media after this defeat. Just as it was telling that it has been Root (or other members of the playing and coaching staff) who has been obliged to answer questions about the Ollie Robinson affair, a rest-and-rotation policy over which he has little control, or a million other issues.
Root was in an impossible position here, really. But he defended his team, he took responsibility for underperforming personally and he refused to hide behind excuses. Some will never take to Root's style - his soft voice, his refusal to roar and his inclination towards consensus- but there are different ways to lead. Root really wasn't dealt a fistful of aces with this team.
And that's relevant. For while Eoin Morgan is about to have his strongest squad - injuries permitting - for a second successive T20I series, Root has probably not had his strongest squad available to him since the first Test of the series against Pakistan at the start of August. That's 11 Tests ago. England's priorities are very clear.
In contrast to Root, Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, hasn't given an open press conference this year. For any National Governing Body, that seems odd. For one which is currently introducing a new format of the game; contesting allegations of institutional racism, and wrestling with the issue of historic social media posts which demonstrate the sexist and racist attitudes which pervaded in the past, it feels inappropriate. Now is the time for some accountability in English cricket.
So let us not quibble over whether Jack Leach should have played at Edgbaston or whether England's slip cordon is standing at the correct angle. The problems go far deeper than that.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo