Saturday, August 10, 2013

After yesterday's inept batting The Ashes are at risk this winter.

My reputation as a modern day Nostradamus is on the line - in respect of England's cricket anyway. In my previous Blog on this site I confidently predicted that if they got a good start in their First innings (after losing three wickets for zilch all too often in this Ashes series) they would go on to a big score and dominance. In fact their good start ( hundred up for one down) presaged a batting performance of such ineptitude that after one day Australia is comfortably in charge of this match. England may bounce back today of course and even if Australia do get a handy first innings lead they could still lose - as they did, just, in similar circumstances in the First Test at Trent Bridge. We shall see - but what is clear is that England's batting is in poor shape with no consistency and even less confidence. And I suspect that I was not alone in shouting at my television "What the hell is going on?" rather too frequently yesterday. And I didn't say "hell" either.

There are many shots or individual innings I could point to to illustrate the point that England is up the creek without a paddle at the moment. Jonny Bairstow's appallingly unambitious and painful stay at the crease for example. Or Cook's inexplicable misjudgment. Or Trott's improbable lack of defensive technique when batting really well. But two shots in particular showed that there are some problems with the team which go beyond technique or basic ability. First we had Pietersen playing a huge careless "Wahoo" to the first ball he received. He mishit the ball and got away with it but it was a shot of such ineptitude that you had to wonder what was going on in his head, and why. The second was Ian Bell's dismissal - a lofted drive at the beginning of his innings which defied belief. Bell has had a good series and he is chalk to KP's cheese. He just doesn't do these things - not often anyway and not in his current guise as the instrument of England's recovery after early wickets have fallen.

So "What's Up Doc" ? Is there trouble in the England camp that suggests that all is not well and is this affecting some, even all, of the players? Monty Panesar's recent moment of madness may have pissed away his cricket career - but would he have really have done this if his involvement in the squad in the last two Tests had convinced him that Flower and Cook believe he has a future? And what about Jonathan Trott interviewed yesterday on the BBC at the end of the day? Trotty gave a good honest interview. He was asked about the decision to bat after Cook won the toss. His answer (I paraphrase) was that he wasn't involved in such decisions that were made solely by Andy Flower and Alastair Cook. Really? Are there no team chats on the morning of the match about what to do if they win the toss? Are the bowlers also not consulted? Do Jimmy and Swanny not have a say? 

I thought that England's patchy cricket in the first three Tests was due to Ashes nerves and that a relaxed team would give us something really to enjoy at Durham and The Oval. Well on the evidence of yesterday I was wrong and The Ashes look to be at risk. Not in this series, of course, but certainly in Australia in the winter. ECB Cricket's agreement to back-to-back Ashes series always looked foolish - perhaps they thought that the momentum of a good Series win this summer would carry England on to a good defence down under? Maybe there was a touch of arrogance in this as well as the obvious commercial benefits? For arrogance and bombast has characterised ECB Cricket this summer. The preposterous "#RISE" slogan and its cringe-making accompanying video and the "Jerusalem" overkill are bad enough. The addition of even more faux-patriotic songs at a wholly inappropriate moment of the final day in the tight Trent Bridge Test was vomit-inducing. The accessibility of England's players to the media, except in carefully stage-managed moments hasn't endeared Flower to the cricket writers either. 

There were nerves aplenty on show from England's batsmen yesterday just when you thought (sorry, I thought) that we could expect some class and some fun. Were they the victims of control-freakedy and of an over-instructive leadership from Flower and Gooch? Surely they need to relax more and show us what they can do. Otherwise it might not just be Monty who who shows his unhappiness and gets himself out of order. People do funny things at times - especially if they are looking for an arm around the shoulder and they get a slap in the face. 

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