Category Archives: England

Cook’s inflated greatness

Alastair Cook is the first English batsman to break into an elite of modern-great players, but his career has been inflated by how much England play.

Without a doubt, England’s captain is one of, if not them greatest English batsmen.

He will no doubt be one of the best Test batsman ever too, by the end of his career.

But, he has had a big advantage, in that he plays more than double the amount of cricket as some of his closest contemporaries.

Of the top 20 batsmen on the ‘most Test runs list’ of all time, only Allan Border, Graham Gooch and Javed Minded retired before the year 2000.

The record books have been redefined in the last 15-20 years, and England missed the boat, with England’s captain one of only two Englishmen in the top 25 top run-scorers ever.

The main reason Cook is viewed with such admiration in world cricket, is not because of his swashbuckling style or awe-inspiring power; but because he’s the first.

He has been playing in the golden age of batting, in the shadows of legends such as Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis, and he’s the first to break into that elite group.

His breakthrough into the top 10 is historic, and is on top of an array of other impressive records he has been piling up.

But he isn’t in the same category of greatness as Lara, Tendulkar or Kallis.

Cook is a grinder, not a genius. Bowlers don’t fear him.

He has this pile of runs, because out of the top 15 Test run scorers in history, Cook plays the most Tests per year, on average.

This is a major advantage when it comes to accumulating:

  • Sachin Tendulkar played 200 played Tests between 1989-2013 = 8.3 Tests per year 
  • Ricky Ponting played 168 Tests between 1995 – 2012 = 9.8 Tests per year 
  • Jacques Kallis played 166 Tests between 1996 – 2013 – = 9.8 Tests per year 
  • Rahul Dravid played 164 Tests between 1996  -2012 = 10.25 Tests per year 
  • Kumar Sangakkara played 134 Tests between 2000 – 2015  = 8.9 Tests per year 
  • Brian Lara – 131 played Tests between 1990- 2006 = 8.18 Tests per year 
  • Shiv Chanderpaul played 164 Tests between 1994 – 2015 = 7.8 Tests per year  
  • Mahela Jayawardene played 149 Tests between 1997 – 2014 = 8.7 Tests per year  
  • Allan Border played 156 played 1979 Tests between 1994 = 10.4 Tests per yea  
  • Steve Waugh played 168 Tests between 1985 – 2004 = 8.84
  • Sunil Gavaskar played 125 – Tests between 1971-1987 = 7.8 Tests per year 
  • Younis Khan played 118 Tests between 2000-2017 = 6.9 Tests per year 
  • Graeme Smith played 117 Tests between 2002-2014  = 9.75 Tests per year
  • Graham Gooch – played 118 Tests between 1975-1995 = 5.9 Tests per year 

Alastair Cook played* 144 Tests between 2006-2017 = 140 Tests  in 11 years = 13 Tests per year.

A mind-boggling amount of cricket.

His 31 Test tons and 55 Test fifties are invaluable to England over the last decade, and makes Cook is a great player, of that there is no question.

But he has had, in some cases, double the amount of playing time as others in the same bracket.

If any other batsman on this distinguished list, with a bigger average (all of them) or a more dominating batting style (all of them), had the opportunity to play 13-14 Tests a year, they’d get a lot more runs.

Not for one moment would I challenge Cook’s right to be in the upper-echelons of cricketing greatness.

But if he ends up at the top of the pile at the end of his career, ahead of Sachin and Ponting and Kallis, it doesn’t make him the greatest.

When looking at ‘the best’, it’s not just about numbers. It’s about how. It’s about the rate at which greats accumulated their greatness.

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.

Taskin should play county cricket, before Tests

Bangladesh produce plenty of talent, but too often it’s squandered and ground into the dirt. With their latest new hope, they should take some time to nurture that potential instead of throwing him prematurely into the lion’s den.

Taskin Ahmed is just 21-years old, but after moderate limited overs success, he is already being drafted into the Banglesh side’s squad for the longest format against England.

He would be an ideal Test bowler. He has good pace, the ability to move the ball and a very economical action. Having had success in limited overs cricket, it’s also clear he knows how to use variations and keep his nerve.

He is reminiscent of a young right-arm Chaminda Vaas in some respects.

The prospect of drafting this young seamer into the Test side has been criticised as having the capacity to ‘destroy‘ him, by Head coach Chandika Hathurusingha.

Hathurusingha says the move would be damaging because Taskin isn’t accostomed to the format, having last played a First Class game in 2013.

If Bangladesh want to see Taskin have a long and prosperous career, which one would assume they do, then airlifting him into Test cricket isn’t a good idea.

I know it’s months away, but the best option for a bowler of his ability and that his stage of his career, is to hone his skills for the long term future.

He should be playing some domestic cricket in more seamer friendly conditions, the UK.

Taskin would be ideal for county cricket, and it would perhaps a watershed moment for Bangladesh, in having an overseas player in England, which isn’t common.

Over the last 20-years, Bangladesh have snatched at young talent.

They’ve smothered their ability to grow, and one once-exciting prospect after another has fizzled away, because they were thrown into the deep end too early.

Taskin is a bowler of immense potential, and needs to be given more time and experience to hone his skills.

I know it is hard to stomach for Bangladesh fans, as they want their star man to be ready now. But he should wait a little longer, and build up both the hunger and skills necessary for longer-form cricket.

All he’d need is a county willing to take on a young enthusiastic bowler, and for Taskin to be willing to travel.

 

Pakistan’s method can’t last in the modern game

Going against the grain of popular opinion is quite a Pakistani cricket ‘thing’, but this current side is actually opposed to having a recipe for success in modern Test cricket.

They’re one-nil up in a series against England but after one-and-a-half Tests, they look shot already. 

This is because the structure of their XI is a little backwards, inflexible and anti-modern.  

In the bowling department they lack options, in the field they lack dynamism, and with the bat, are too heavily reliant on an ageing creaking 42-year old captain and his 38-year old right hand man.

Their side is plagued by rigidity and a lack of options.

They have no allrounders, with Mohamed Hafeez unable to bowl.

Their side is strictly precipitated into bowlers and batsmen, with Wahab Riaz coming in at number eight, giving Pakistan possibly the longest tail in the world.

For some, this isn’t a problem.

Their dysfunction is a crystallisation of Pakistan cricket. And, given their consistent success and production of quality, who can argue in many respects? And, after all, they won at Lord’s. 

But, in truth, their current structure only works if everything clicks, which isn’t every time.

In modern Test cricket, there are higher run rates, lower over rates, flatter pitches and more cricket on the schedule. 

Bowlers are bowling so much more than they were even 10-years ago.

Fatigue and injury has never been more of a factor, and taking catches and fielding in a dynamic fashion to limit run scoring has never been more important. 

This is especially true, because Pakistan are only playing a four man attack. If everyone performs, like at Lord’s, then it it’s not a concern. But more often than not, at least one person won’t perform. Their spinner, Yasir Shah, who took ten wickets in the first Test bowled 54 pedestrian overs at Old Trafford, taking 1-213.

There was not just no plan B, but it didn’t really feel like he had a plan A. England played him very well, because they learned from their mistakes. 

In that respect, whilst it’s true that Pakistan have a lot of quality in their side, and it’s no surprise they won the first Test; it’s also no surprise to now see them faltering.

They are showing signs of tiredness and a lack of enthusiasm. They are running out of ideas, and aren’t able to innovate when things go wrong. 

Compared to England, who have a young top order, bat right down to number 10, with four seam options and a spinner, Pakistan look ominously lagging in depth.

They struck the first blow at Lord’s’, but it seems that in doing so, they used all their gas up. 

England can now overtake them.

England’s search for instant success has damaged long term options

The way in which England have disposed of their opening batting options in the short term has made it difficult to reselect them in the longer term without unbearable pressure.

The main credentials needed to fill the poisoned chalice has been a good record in domestic cricket, and who can argue with that convention in theory.

Yet, one only has to look at the returns to realise that all have been inadequate. 

Only Nick Compton managed more than one century, and with the exception of Joe Root who averaged 37 in the role, all others averaged 31 or below. 

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They all have similarly disappointing records because they were all picked and dropped with a similarly impatient attitude and unreasonably unbearable weight of expectation.

Even those with moderate success, such as Michael Carberry who scored 281 runs in a disastrous tour to Australia, were dismissed. 

Indeed, invincible Joe Root, who had the best least worst time, was taken out of the position. 

They were all removed because they didn’t translate their county runs into international runs, instantly. 

There was a plethora of reasons as to why:

Sam Robson showed frailty on both edges.

Despite being second top run-scorer for England in the 2013/14 Ashes, Michael Carberry continuously failed to convert starts to fifties. 

Nick Compton got tangled with mental and technical knots and Adam Lyth looked as if he lacked control outside off stump.

Almost like a frankensteins monster of openers problems – they all had frailties. 

But problems can be solved. 

All of the players were expected to have an instant success, and when they didn’t were got rid of, only for the next to be expected to do the same. 

In reality, this process was ill-thought, because none of these openers are really any better than the other. 

They are all successful domestically. They all scored runs, all had a shot at the big time, all failed, all dropped, all re-integrated back into domestic cricket, all scoring buckets of runs once again. 

If these openers are ever reconsidered, which judging by Alex Hales performance in South Africa may be likely, there needs to be a clearer message as to expectation.

It would be unreasonable to re-select a player for example, for the exact same reason as before (good domestic form), with the hope of immediately translating that on to the international stage.

England need to say why a player should be re-selected; such as a technical improvement, but they also need to be more patient. Sometimes batsmen do struggle when they first emerge, especially in such a high-pressure position. 

By the position’s every nature, openers are exposed right away to the toughest conditions. If an opener fails they leave virtually no impact on the game. 

The way England exhausted their options so rapidly has made the position taboo.

England have given an unreasonably small margin of error for failure, and even smaller room for improvement in the role. 

Reselecting any of the discarded openers must come with a clear message of faith in ability or improvement. 

Why England should consider recalling Kevin Pietersen for the World T20

Kevin Pietersen has been in the international wilderness since 2014, but there are sound reasons to give him one last hurrah.

In 2016, the ICC World T20 will be held, and it would be a perfect opportunity to both patch up relations with England’s highest run-scorer, whilst squeezing that last bit of juice out of him.

On a basic level, it’s no secret that Pietersen has experience and quality that would be beneficial for England.

He is not only England’s leading run-scorer in all formats combined , but in T20 cricket, he is England’s second top run scorer.

Of course, it would be odd if someone with that quality wasn’t already selected.

The reasons he was omitted from the side still remain somewhat a mystery. But, what is clear, is that issues which were the cause, have largely been removed or changed.

The coach is different, various players who had friction with him have retired. And, If Pietersen were to return, it wouldn’t be long term thing anyway.

He wouldn’t be back to the Test or ODI side. It would be a short-term deal to help England at the World T20, which when England won in 2010, he was the man of the tournament.

Another important factor, is that it’s in India, not only because of his time at IPL, which he has been a part of in 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2014, but also because of his success there for England.

He has played nine Tests in India, including four in 2012, in which he scored two incredible and match-winning centuries.

He knows the conditions, how to attack and score runs against spin, and the crowds like him too, which is something that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Unlike most opposition batsmen who receive a deathly silence and an empty stadium, Indians flock to see KP, because he is an entertainer.

That would help England.

These factors add to the benefit his overall knowledge of the format would bring.

In 2015 alone, he played in the Ram Slam in South Africa in which he was the second top run scorer, the Caribbean Premier League, in which he was in the top 10 run scorers, the Big Bash, in which he was third top run-scorer, and which he helped his side get to the final. He recently signed up to the Pakistan Super League too.

So, why would he fit back in just this once?

England have a new coach. Andy Flower is gone, and the new man, Trevor Bayliss is a Pietersen-type coach.

He has given ‘Ben Stokes a licence to play his natural game‘ which is in the vein of KP’s, whilst also moving the aggressive left hander back up to number six, after time spent at seven and eight.

Bayliss is also more of a background coach. He isn’t a pencil pusher and clipboard-holder, a dictator.

In October, Alastair Cook credited Bayliss for his improvement as England captain, saying: “He’s a really relaxed guy, he lets the captain run the side and that is one of the big differences from the other guys.”

And, Bayliss’s recall of James Taylor, Nick Compton, Jonny Bairstow, Garry Ballance and selection of Adil Rashid, all shows a willingness to try something different, whether new or old.

England’s T20 side is jam-packed with young players, who lack experience.

 In 2015, in the overall list of run scorers in T20 Internationals, the highest England run scorer was Eoin Morgan at number 38. This is due to such a low number of games (just four) played by England internationally.

They need someone to shepherd them. There are very few senior leaders, or players with the experience and hunger that Pietersen still has. Reselecting him for one last time could be a stroke of genius.

He could marshall a young side, in an unfamiliar format, in foreign conditions and with nothing to lose.

There’d be no prospect of a long term impact on the side or interference in other formats. It’s a cricketing one-night-stand.

More than anything, as a fan, this could ensure that one of England’s greatest ever batsmen does not depart the game with the bitter taste of regret, but the sweet one reconciliation and perhaps even success.

And, it sounds like he’s up for it…

Why Test cricket must reclaim its sixes

If Test cricket wants to survive it must claw back its name as a diverse format in which hitting sixes is a vital part of its fabric.

Test cricket has an image problem. It’s image is one of competition with T20, the infant of cricket that’s taking the world by storm.

It has an image problem, because T20 has successfully captured the hearts and minds of young, and indeed older fans as the home of sixes.

People want to see big hits and crashing fours, and will pay big money for it.

This makes the format very lucrative, especially as the games are so short. You can come after work to indulge in a short sharp burst of power.

It draws players towards it, that perhaps would have one day dreamed of playing in whites.

T20 has championed aggressive batting, as crucial to its existence.

The association has become so strong, that as Ben Stokes smashed his way to 258 off just 198 balls, the murmurings on social media was about the influence of T20 on Tests.

Instead of it being seen as a rapid Test innings, some were saying it was fundamentally a T20 knock.

And I’ve heard it before when David Warner has batted like that, or when Chris Gayle or Ab de Villiers have.

It is worrying, because it implies that hitting sixes and batting aggressively is owned by T20. But, Test cricket has been doing it long before T20 was even thought of.

Hitting sixes is as much a part of Test cricket as blocking and leaving is. Some of the greatest opening partnerships ever have been a mixture of aggression and caution; such as Strauss and Trescothick, Gibbs and Smith.

It’s multi-dimensional, and it helps give Tests the subtlety and variance that T20 can lack.

Whether it was Adam Gilchrist down the order, or Sanath Jayasuriya pounding the new ball, Test has always had a place for aggression. They found their niche. It was a strategy, not a necessity.

Most importantly, it was seen as healthy, either as a way to put the side in a strong position or as a way of giving impetus.

Time is rarely a constraint in Test cricket, so the need to bat aggressively is for a purpose.

In T20, batting aggressively is a staple. That’s fine. There is room for both subtlety and brute force within cricket.

The problem, is allowing aggression and caution to precipitate in to T20 and Test.

Big hitting batsmen are becoming associated, or expected to be interested in T20, more than Tests, if not exclusively interested in it. Whilst Test cricket is shepherded onto younger fans and players, as having to compete with T20.

Whether that’s choosing county over IPL bucks, or in a TV revenue sense, the conflict of interest is un-ignorable.

Tests are being shown in both regards as being about playing defensive or ‘boring’ cricket. It’s cricket, minus T20.

One must wonder whether the age of aggression in Tests is over, if some, like Andre Russell and Aaron Finch are unwilling to dip their toe in the pond, and if others like Alex Hales are ignored by their country’s respective selectors for so long.

The horrible question nobody wants to ask, is what would happen if a Kevin Pietersen or Chris Gayle turned up right now?

Would they really, honestly, want to play Test cricket over IPL and Big Bash? It would certainly be a dangling carrot.

Ultimately, if Test cricket starts to lose its aggressive stars, it will lose its subtlety. It will become one dimensional and boring.

If aggression and caution is allowed to separate out into T20 and Test, then Test cricket will become a bland and boring sport that will quickly die out.