Category Archives: Australia

Jack Leach’s simplicity and specialisation is vital for England’s balance

Amid all the loud noise of a World Cup-winning Ashes summer, a back-to-basics approach is needed to help an England side violently swinging from meteoric highs to hysterical lows.

Watching England can be bad for your health. 

This summer, I’ve sat through a World Cup final and super over, seen England bowled out for 85 and 67. I’ve watched Jofra Archer arrive, Ireland bowled out for 38, and THAT Ben Stokes century at Headingley. 

There doesn’t seem to be a bridge between horrendous collapses and supernatural individual brilliance and it’s completely unsustainable.

It’s the result of a lack of concentration and focus.

Major elements of the Test side that played in that World Cup team, have struggled, bar Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer. 

Jason Roy’s selection has been a catastrophe, with just 57 runs versus Australia.

Joe Root, has scored two ducks and two unconverted fifties while Jonny Bairstow is averaging 20.50 in 2019, down from a below-par 30.45 last year. 

Jos Buttler has been practically non-existent in this Test side, averaging 19.41 this year, down on his already poor Test record of 32.90.

It’s almost like importing ODI stars into Test cricket won’t work if they can’t adapt their games in a short space of time. 

What has worked, has been Rory Burns, a Test specialist scoring a century in the first Test and a fifty in the second. 

Ben Stokes decided not to play against Ireland, but took a break to settle his mind, and scored two back-to-back tons. 

Archer didn’t face Ireland either, or play in the first Test of the Ashes, and everyone can see his impact. 

What has worked also, is Jack Leach, a 28-year-old who has never played a T20 and has only 16 List A games to date. 

He has focussed on being England’s Test spinner, and has helped give composure for the format.

The reality, is England have been looking for a ‘proper’ spinner since Graeme Swann’s retirement. 

Moeen Ali has been the custodian with 181 wickets at an average over 36, which isn’t terrible. But so far, in seven Tests, Leach has 25 wickets at an average of 25. 

England fans have been screaming out for someone like Leach. 

And what’s the first thing that happens after Headingley? He is dubbed a ‘village cricketer’.

 He responded to the ‘village’ remark, saying it was: 

“… probably because I look like a village cricketer out there in my glasses, the bald head – maybe people think ‘that could be me!’ All the others look pretty professional.”

Fans know he isn’t a superhuman athlete, as he cleans his glasses between deliveries. We know he doesn’t have 15 variations or an unusual action that bamboozles people. 

Leach is an Orthodox spinner that will do a job, and as a specialist, he can hone his game in the format and become more refined and effective. 

Every team needs a mixture of mavericks and workhorses, and in Jack Leach, England may have the perfect counter-balance to the crash-bang-wallop of Stokes and lightning pace of Archer.

A pinch of ordinariness to keep the immortals in check. 

The Root cause of England’s problem

Originally posted on my Tumblr

While Joe Root is indisputably one of England’s best batsman of the last 20-years, the captaincy is clearly impacting upon his consistency, and it’s not a price England should be willing to pay. 

Step back, and you see an overall record which is consistent, well-rounded. 

After 82 Tests, he has 6803 runs at a solid average of 48.94, with tons against every side he’s played, bar Bangladesh.

Yet of late, something is not quite right. 

He comes in, he gets in, and before you know it he’s on 30.

He has a nice partnership, gets past fifty, and then gives it away.

The batsman who has been England’s spine for years, capable of rebuilding or consolidating, has gone from being Mr Consistent, to Mr Consistently Inconsistent. 

In the last two years, he has scored just three hundreds, averaging 29.50 in 2019 (before Lord’s) and 41.21 in 2018. 

Since assuming the captaincy, his record has transformed. 

While a rank-and-file batsman, he averaged 52.80 with 11 tons and 27 fifties. 

While in charge, he has just five centuries and 15 half-centuries.

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His average is down, his conversion rate is down and it is this inconsistency, which is a part of England’s problem. 

Joe Root used to be in a bracket with Kane Williamson, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli, as the four elite batsmen in the world. 

As ESPN Cricinfo highlights; that since January of 2017, Root’s record should just about put him in the top seven:

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Perhaps one of the strangest things to happen with Root’s recent Test career, is his flip-flopping in the order. 

Despite clearly performing best at number five in the order, with six hundreds and eight fifties in just 18 Tests, he moved to four and then ahead of the Ashes, offered to bat at three, seemingly to ‘solve’ England’s order crisis. 

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The reality is, Root’s inconsistent form and inability to convert 50s into centuries is the crux of the problem. 

Him moving to three isn’t going to solve the issue, unless she himself starts cashing in with big hundreds, instead of 50+ scores. 

The problem England have had of late, has been around the opening combination. The inconsistency of Joe Root in that respect has been put into perspective of much bigger problems. It’s almost a ‘nice’ problem, that a batsman keeps getting 50s. 

While it’s obviously preferable a batsman gets 50+ than a duck, it’s also the case that the overall jigsaw of England’s batting will only start to come together when Root himself starts to take responsibility, and the team can bat around him, and rely on him. 

What does he need to do? 

Either he needs to ditch the captaincy and try and find his form of old, free from that burden. 

Or he needs to get back to number five; a position where there is less exposure to the new ball, and hopefully more of a platform.

Joe Root being saddled with the captaincy has an air of deja-vu about it, from his predecessor, Alastair Cook.

As if the best batsman just takes on the captaincy like a hereditary monarchy.

Yet, Root, like Cook, isn’t the world’s most inspiring captain. 

Indeed, at Birmingham on TMS there was plenty of criticism of him over field placings for Moeen against Smith. 

It’s not his forte. He has taken on this work-in-progress role, and the opportunity cost is his strength: runs. 

England need Root the run-scorer more than they’ll ever need Root the tactician. 

Let someone else steer the ship, you can be the engine. 

Stuart Broad would be England’s first Australian captain

Following the resignation of Alastair Cook, the possibility of Stuart Broad succeeding him has surfaced, which would inject a very Australian feeling into England.

Stuart Broad is hated by Australia so much, that one wonders if they’re just a bit jealous.

The Aussies can dish out hard talk and aggressive cricket, and Broad can take it, and give back the same.

They don’t like him because they see a bit of them in him.

Before even thinking about his performances, the single moment etched into the Old Enemy’s minds when it comes to Broad, will be an infamous incident at Trent Bridge in 2013.

Broad hit the ball to slip, but stood his ground as the Australians celebrated his wicket. The arrogance, watch the ball carry, but just stand there as if nothing had happened.

In many ways, a new love-hate relationship was sparked.

Australians have always mocked the English. Indeed, the Ashes was born after a mock-obituary of English cricket was published in a British paper, The Sporting Times.

Mocking the English been the cornerstone of the relationship, and when the Aussies are losing, they target those who don’t fit that mould of polite bumbling ‘Englishness’.

In 2005, they used to target Kevin Pietersen, with his ridiculous hairstyle and supposed playboy lifestyle. And it spurred him on. When he smashed Glenn McGrath onto the Lord’s pavilion, he gained respect. When he saved the Oval Test with 158, he gained respect, with Shane Warne walking him off the pitch.

In 2013/14 down under, they went for Broad.

The Courier Mail refused to print his name.

When ‘The 27-year old medium pace bowler’ as he (Broad) was referred to, had a good tour taking 21 wickets, amidst a crisis for England,  he won respect.

Broad won respect not only because he bowled well, but because he showed doesn’t get wound up by the opposition’s sledges, or the press.

Indeed, during that 2013/14 series’, he even walked into press conferences with a copy of the Courier Mail, to show that he could take the piss too.

With ball in hand, on number of occasions throughout his career, he has virtually single-handedly won games in a spell.

No more so was this show, than when he took 8-15 against Australia in Nottingham to win the game, or the 10-wicket hall in Durham, to win the game, or 5-37 at the Oval in 2009, to win the game.

Stuart Broad’s 8-15 at Nottingham:

Stuart Broad’s 5-37 at the Oval:

Whether it’s Broad ability to get under the opposition’s skin by being unflappable, or his knack of bowling out Australia on his own, he has shown he can both take it and dish it out.

Now of course, if he were to become Test captain, a lot of things would need to be worked on.

He’d need to manage his own bowling workload, which is always difficult for a bowling captain.

He’d certainly need to rethink his use of reviews and the frequency of his appeals.

But in general, a Broad captaincy would be a breath of fresh air from five years of robotic, grinding predictable Alastair Cook.

It would be a more Australian flavour of English captaincy.

Let’s stop this race to the bottom

If poor quality cricket is seen as more entertaining then good quality cricket, then all that will happen is the degradation of the sport.

Last week two Tests concluded.

Australia lost to South Africa, after being humiliatingly bowled out for just 85 in 32.5 overs.

England drew with India, after two mammoth totals were unable to separate the teams.

If a martian landed on earth, and had the option of watching cricket for the very first time, I have little doubt which they’d chose.

They chose the calamitous collapse down under, not the hard grind in the sub-continent.

Fortunately, Test cricket’s popularity is not determined by extra-terrestrial beings, but by fans of the sport.

In the concluding day of these two test matches, a martian seems to have written an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald however.

This particular being, known locally as ‘Malcolm Knox’, claims that “While Australia destroy themselves, England destroy the game”.

He writes in his article, “…while Australia are lambasted for playing their own way, a feckless younger generation putting entertainment ahead of survival, Cook cruises like a stately zeppelin towards his fifth Test century in India, more than any other visitor.

As he did so, televisions were switched off across the subcontinent, and left on only in places where the only alternative was to look at the rain”.

His logic, is: ‘Sure Australia were bad, but at least people watched it’. It’s is the kind of lowering of standards, that does long term damage. It’s the kind of attitude that encourages people to say “what’s the point of Test cricket..”

What’s more, India and Australia have fairly similar win records at home. The difference, is Australia lose a lot more, because they are more gung-ho, or perhaps more willing to take risks.

Since 2007, when a number of Australian greats retired and the IPL was set up, India and Australia have fairly similar records for home test wins.

Out of 52 home Tests in Australia since, 33 have produced home wins (63%). India have won 28 out of 45 home Tests (62%).

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India’s home record since January 2007

The difference, is Australia have lost 10 Tests, India have lost four.

Australia think results are key. 82% of home Tests have produced definitive results. Yet, India know how to draw. They have produced 13 of them (28%).

Malcolm Knox may consider a draw to be ‘boring’, but one needs to look at the bigger picture.

Most teams would rather draw in the short term to win in the longer term. You’d rather be 0-0 in a series than 1-0 down. Right?

If a batsman, or a team is capable of holding out, then fair play to them. Right?

England, and indeed Alastair Cook, certainly showed this during his 235* at the Gabba, Malcolm?

This simplistic view that Test cricket must produce results or else it’s boring, is exactly the type of attitude that will kill the game. It’s selling the game’s soul for a cheap illusion that it’s exciting.

The entire point of Test cricket, is that it tests you. It’s supposed to be an endurance race. A long game, and sometimes, an indecisive dead-heat. Indeed, some of the best Tests ever seen have been draws.

Sometimes it can be frustrating to watch Alastair Cook.

But, he did exactly what was required of him, leading a side that just slipped up against Bangladesh.

They served a moral victory in many respects.

Whilst every team wants to win matches, forcing results for the sake of it, and branding it ‘entertainment’, is a lowering of everyone’s standards.

It’s a race to the bottom that Test cricket just doesn’t need.

Why we shouldn’t ‘move on’ from Gayle’s comments, until other players get the point

Sexism in sport, especially in ‘the gentleman’s game’ can be subtle, and hard to identify and root out.

It is especially hard to crack,if it is played down, justified or outright denied as having happened when it occurs. 

As a sports journalist, Mel McLaughlin was interviewing Chris Gayle about an innings he had played.

The response she received was contempt for her capacity as a reporter, as Gayle asked her out for a drink, before telling her ‘not to blush’; ignoring the cricketing question. 

Banter? Or disrespect? One thing is for sure, he thought he could get away with it.

As it was live on air, everyone saw it. It led to the West Indian opener being fined $10,000, and making a grovelling apology.

There was real no malice in the comment, but at the same time his apology is somewhat hollow.

He said it was ‘a simple comment, a joke’ that “wasn’t anything at all meant to be disrespectful or offensive”, showing he doesn’t understand that what he did was unprofessional at best, and sexist at worst.

There is a time and a place for flirting, and it isn’t during a live interview. I dread to think what he thinks he’s entitled to do off-air. 

Mel followed by accepting his apology, adding she wants to ‘move on.’

At which point, many took the opportunity to continue to play down Gayle’s comments. 

BBL commentator and ex-England star Andrew Flintoff began proceedings, by calling Gayle ‘a bit of a chop.’ 

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Before it’s time to ‘move on‘, nothing to see here.

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Other public figures trivialised the matter too.

Ireland’s Niall O’Brien said Gayle ‘asked a lady out for a drink live on TV’, whilst Paul Nixon, retweeted a comment that it was just ‘humour’ adding that people should ‘move on.’

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Then Aussie Hockey star Georgie Parker, and Piers Morgan, were both retweeted by Northants batsman, Josh Cobb.

Parker, instead of saying it’s wrong whoever does it’, ultimately says it’s better to try it herself out next time herself, to prove it’s OK when a woman does it too. 

Whilst Piers Morgan dismisses Gayle’s total lack of respect for a female journalist as ‘being a bit cheeky’.

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Following Parker’s comments, England women’s legend, Clare Connor, contributed something a little more thoughtful, outlining alleged double standards, which Parker was referring too.

Instead of just saying ‘I’ll do it too’, she raises the question of whether it’s right. 

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Cobb, then adds that he needed a little explanation.

Maybe he should get in touch with Clare Connor for a lesson?Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.26.27.png

Ex-England allrounder Adam Hollioake said ‘you can’t have it both ways’. Chris Gayle is a bit of a character, therefore it’s OK for him to be unprofessional and ridicule a woman interviewer.

I guess women should just put up with this type of humiliation? It’s just banter after all.. move on, move on,

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What he doesn’t get, is that it isn’t about a lynchmob baying for justice.

It’s about other professional cricketers saying ‘this isn’t acceptable’,  and setting an example.

Like the ever-reliable Chris Rogers, who said:

“From my time at the Thunder [with Gayle] I was very disappointed with his attitude and his behaviour, and I’ve not been a fan since.

People see these one-offs, but this is a pattern of behaviour. If you know the guy, you see it over and over. To defend it, I think, is not right at all.

I listen to that and I don’t think it’s funny at all – he says it’s just a joke, well it’s not just a joke, is it?

And Waqar Younis and Shoaib Malik:

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And ex-Kiwi bowler, Iain O’Brien:

Whilst it may be the case that what Gayle said was nothing demonstrably spiteful, the lengths others are going to excuse it is baffling, as it’s ultimately the root of the issue.

For that reason, Gayle should not be made a scapegoat. He shouldn’t be banned, and a fine was a both symbolic and a pittance. 

There needs to be a more fundamental approach that challenges a culture in a male-dominated sport. 

The wise head of Harsha Bogle perhaps summed it up best:

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England’s approach to building a team is the problem

England’s problem is not just who they’re picking – but the fundamental approach they have to building a balanced side. 

The malaise of English cricket in the last 12 months stems from a culture of short term fixes for fundamental problems. 

A lack of reliability has resulted from players not knowing how to play in a particular situation, because they haven’t been there before.

The problems are, as everyone is all too aware, at the top of the order both with a lack of opener and number three, in the lower-middle order at five, six, and seven, and in the spin department. 

They are underlying issues. A hangover of a poorly managed transition after a spree of retirements and sackings.

Starting with Andrew Strauss’s departure in 2012, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Graeme Swann, Matt Prior, and two coaches, have all not been properly replaced.

England have gone for quick fixes, over long term solutions. 

Whilst successes are clear, namely; Alastair Cook, Joe Root, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, the failures are too big to be compensated for, by this. 

Even when England have won in this period, they have done so due to the successes of those major players, in spite of lacking of support from others.

In the Ashes of 2015, only two English centuries were scored, both by Joe Root. The reason England won, is because Australia were arguably poorer.

Despite scoring three centuries – the Aussie side imploding after the second Test cost them the series’, ultimately.

England lost against Pakistan, because their brand of cricket was not sufficient to beat an opposition playing well.

The refusal to acknowledge a problem with Ian Bell, who averaged 33, 41, 34 and 25 in the last four years, offers an insight into why England as a whole are not performing as strongly, and are only able to win when others play equally poorly. 

It seems there is always one more chance for Ian Bell. Despite just 215 runs in the five Tests in the Ashes, Bell was selected for Pakistan, and only today, England coach Trevor Bayliss said: “”Ian has obviously got a lot of experience which the team needs at this stage”, in a hint that he will be included for South Africa. 

Why is it that Ian Bell, will carry on playing despite a clear decline in form over four years, but the plethora of openers, for example, are not afforded chances.

Are established players ‘too big to fail’, or are incoming players just not worth working on?

Finding an opener has not been hard, they just haven’t been good enough.

But at the same time, Nick Compton and Michael Carberry were not more reputable than the Sam Robson or Adam Lyth. They all scored the required domestic runs to make the grade. They  couldn’t step up, so were scrapped.

The problem at the top of the order is presented as a running problem, but an independent one. But, it is directly linked linked to the issues in the lower order. 

Having an aggressive lower middle order is fine, if the top order is firing, and if they know how to play in that situation.

But Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow consistently coming to the crease after early wickets have fallen is not ideal.

At best, it’s not fair, and at worst, it is jeopardising their international futures, by undermining their roles from the word go. 

In the U.A.E, like in the Ashes, only one batsman produced a century. Pakistan scored five, in three Tests. 

Moeen Ali scored just 84 runs on the tour as a makeshift opener, whilst Ian Bell hit just one fifty at number three. 

As these lack of runs exposed the middle order, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes averaged 22 and 14, and Jos Buttler just 8.5. 

Now of course, they do have to take responsibility. I’m not seeking to absolve them of that. 

But at the same time, they are thrust into unfamiliar positions, exposed to harsh conditions, and then scalded as the problem when they fail. Whilst Bell is penned in for South Africa, Buttler was dropped. 

It’s hardly a good process to blood new players, and ensure they flourish in the future.

England’s problems may stem from unresolved crises of the past, but they have been exacerbated by an unwillingness to solve them.

A policy of unconditionally backing established players has been adopted, at the cost of new and fresher players, who are seen as disposable. They can be exposed to unfamiliar situations, and conditions, and if they fail to step up, just chuck them out. 

This is an unsustainable approach and needs to be fixed with a more holistic and permanent solution. England’s problems are linked together, and cannot be solved by just reshuffling the pack every single series.

The reasons behind Michael Clarke losing his mojo

Australia’s captain is putting on a brave face, but to everyone that has watched him over the last few weeks, he looks like a broken player mentally, physically and technically.

For the last few years, his runs, his hundreds and his average have peaked and dropped dramatically. In 2012 and 2013 he struck over 1,000 runs in each year, and nine of his 28 career hundreds, averaging 106 and 47 respectively.

He declined, averaging just 35 and 24 in 2014 and 2015, with only two tons in 2014, and not even a 50 this year, so far.

With just 94 runs in this Ashes series’, of which he is losing 2-1 with two to play; it is clear that there is clearly something wrong. A player with over 8,500 runs doesn’t just stop being good.

Here are a few reasons as to why he could have lost his mojo. Some of the things can be remedied, others can’t.

As he walked off the pitch at Edgbaston after a crushing eight wicket defeat in the Ashes, he told Mark Nicholas, his team were playing with 10-men. When a captain feels like he is not part of the side, it will bring the whole side down.

He needs to find a way of bringing himself back into the forefront of the side, and not being shy about it. He needs to bat in the place he will score the most runs, firstly.

Currently batting at number four, he has had a miserable time. He is not a number four. He flourishes at number five, with 70 of his 113 Tests at five, 20 of his 28 hundreds and 20 of his 27 fifties, in the position. At five he averages over 60, which is double that of what he averages at number four [just 30.89]

Not wishing to reduce Clarke’s problems to a quick move down the order, it would certainly seem sensible to put your most experienced and arguably best batsman where he is most likely to score runs that the team needs.

Clarke is not in great form lately, so it would be understandable if he was shy about asserting himself. But he has too. He has nothing to lose, because at this rate, he will be out of the side. 

Michael Clarke is no more the golden boy. The number one Test ranked batsman is Steve Smith, the new number three with the swanky average of 50, and he is clearly seen as the heir to the captaincy. 

As Michael Clarke has watched his role as the primary batsman in the side, captain, leader, and man people look to in order to take responsibility disintegrate before him; he must feel under increasing pressure. The next generation is already in the side and pulling weight, and it’s only inputing more pressure. 

It is with regret that this needs to be written at all, mainly because it’s hard to substantiate. But sometimes in sport you have a gut feeling. When Phillip Hughes tragically died, Michael Clarke wore a very heavy burden. He was clearly personally and emotionally affected in a way that will never go away. 

In an instance, he became not just the captain of Australia reacting to a tragedy of a team mate, but he spoke on behalf of millions of cricket fans all over the world, about a close personal friend.

He addressed press conferences and his memorial, being reduced to tears. He became the dignified voice of cricket mourning, and no doubt had huge emotional energy sapped from him.  

As the captain, he has to hold it in. Every time he faces, every time there is a bouncer, every time someone gets hit. It would be impossible to prove that this is a factor for his decline, but this is a player that will surely always be affected, and will never recover from this tragedy. 

Lastly, when a player has to manage persistent injury, it affects them psychologically.

It’s on their mind, restricting one’s natural game.

He spoke about his rigid fitness regime, and level of professionalism. It would seem he is working harder than ever to ensure this injury does not flare up. But where is the room for enjoying the actual cricket, when there are additional pressures too? 

His back, his form, his captaincy his responsibility; are all building up in a pressure cooker. Not only because of questions of fitness, focus and drive to play the game, but at 34, he won’t have that much time to turn it around one would think.

Michael Clarke is obviously a fine player, but for a culmination of factors has fallen away rapidly in the last year. Australia need a captain that leads by example, so it may be time to address these concerns head on, or move on.