Category Archives: England

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.

 

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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.

 

 

Why England should beat a wounded South Africa

If England cannot beat a bruised South Africa, we will be able to see just how far behind they are against the world’s best team.

Despite a disappointing 2015 for the Proteas, major similarities still exist between the two sides.

Out of the seven Tests South Africa have played this year, they have only managed to win one, versus the West Indies.

More pressingly, the main reason for this is a lack of top order runs.

In 2015, only one Test century has been scored by a South African batsman, Ab de Villiers. The star man is languishing at number 38 on the international Test runs list for the year.

Whatever the averages on paper, it’s just not sufficient to maintain their space on the rankings.

South Africa have lost many players due to retirement and injury over the last few years, and this has placed a huge burden on de Villiers and captain, Hashim Amla.

It’s clear they are struggling, but is their position strong enough to overcome England?

In some respects, the same issues exist for England, but in a different way.

There is an over-reliance on two key batsmen for the touring side, but unlike the South Africans, these two have hit form, so the issue has not been as exposed.

Over the last year, the world’s top two run-scorers have been England’s Alastair Cook (averaging 59) and Joe Root (averaging 61).

Contributions from elsewhere have been few and far between, with the only other centuries coming from Adam Lyth and Ian Bell (both dropped), Gary Ballance (unsure as to whether he’ll play) and Ben Stokes.

So in the touring party, it really is two batsman from either side pulling the weight.

If England want to win they must press South Africa’s major pressure points, better than South Africa do to England.

South Africa, unlike England, don’t have a weight of runs behind them, and the introduction of inexperienced players will exacerbate this problem.

South Africa have uncharacteristically selected a lot of new faces. These include Dane Piedt, Rilee Rossouw, Stiaan van Zyl, Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott and Dean Elgar. None have played England.

Of course, England have selected new faces too. But they have played South Africa before, or at least, have had experience and some success in Test cricket before.

James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow, have faced the South Africans, whilst Nick Compton, Garry Ballance and Moeen Ali, are all in their mid to late 20s, with some Test success.

England and South Africa are both in no means good form. They both lost their immediate last series. In many regards, they face similar challenges, but the home side are feeling it more acutely.

Without runs on the board, the two sides’ bowling attacks; which have a mix of experience and pacey youth, will be under more pressure.

Whoever gets more runs on the board will give their bowlers a greater opportunity to have an impact towards winning Tests.

This could be England’s best chance to overturn the South Africans at home for a decade.

The Proteas side may have the advantage of reputation and playing at home, but England are about to play a wounded beast, and they really should win.

If they can’t overcome them, it will show that even a resurgent England cannot beat a weakened and bruised South African side, which goes some way to highlighting the gap in quality between the two.

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.