Tag Archives: Cricket

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.

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Why England’s new talisman should heed the warnings of the past

When Ben Stokes picked up the man of the match at Lord’s on Monday, the names Flintoff and Botham were being thrown around, but it wasn’t just for the cricketing comparison. 

When we think Botham and Flintoff, there is a attachment to their individual success, and to them as characters.

It transcends generations, to the point that even young fans that never saw one or either of them, make the comparison.

In other words, they become sporting icons in a theatre of dreams.

With Freddie especially, there was always another side to these sporting heroes.

Yes we saw them as having superhuman powers, but we also saw them as just ordinary blokes. They were fun, fallible, human and when they made mistakes, we kind of understood a little more. 

Importantly, when they made mistakes, they could always make up for it in sheer ability. 

No matter how bleak the situation, Freddie would get us out. Beefy would find a way, and then they’d hit the pub. 

Compared to Andrew Strauss who could have been a member of Parliament, or Kevin Pietersen, who perhaps could have been in a boyband – ‘Freddie’ was just your average a ‘fat lad’ from Lancashire.

Now, It may seem trivial, but it is also highly important not to underestimate the value of ordinariness. It was not only his batting and bowling that won Test matches, but his personality was hugely enfranchising. It got people on side. 

It got people watching, playing cricket, queueing up for hours to get in, and most importantly; it got it onto the front and back pages.  

Cricket became popular, because it was something people could tap into.  

Ben Stokes walks out onto the field with spiky ginger hair, he is tenacious, clearly absurdly talented – but also a bit of a hothead. Nobody is quite sure whether he’ll smash an 80 ball century, pick a fight with the opposition, or be dismissed in the silliest of ways. 

And that is why people watch sport. 

It was commented upon by numerous observers during the last Test, just how hard this guy hits the ball. It is almost like he is using a slab of marble. That is the spine of the Flintoff comparison on cricketing criteria. But when he gets the ball, he also seems to try his heart out. 

He bowled exceptionally well in the first innings at Lord’s but was wicketless. Come the second innings, his two  wickets in two balls, Williamson and McCullum; took England on to another level. Twice in the game, he changed its course, and it put the team on cloud nine.  

He is a kind of player that makes things happen, but like Freddie, it will never just be about ability. He latter will of course be remembered for his Ashes displays, but also for his fallible human antics, including his drinking, for the pedalo incident, for his early career slacking, and no doubt other misdemeanours. 

If one casts their minds back to 2013, Stokes’ misdemeanours have already begun, and we all look on at this rising star, as a potential new Flintoff in this regard too.

He was sent home alongside Matt Coles from an England A tour, for consistent late night drinking. 

In 2014, Ben Stokes broke his hand after punching a locker, putting him out of the World twenty 20.

In the West Indies, he was consistently the one player that was being confrontational with the opposition – and in particular Marlon Samuels; which was never nasty, but noticeable. 

Nobody wants dour cricket played by ECB prototypes 1-11 – but there must be a recognition that a talismanic and highly individualistic and exciting player, will sometimes be hard to control. 

Despite being only 23, he has already taken risks – on and off the pitch.

He has already stunned crowds and won matches. 

He is on a learning curve and will no doubt, just like Flintoff, continue to cross swords with authorities. But there is no doubt that his talent should lead to to substantial success.

Stokes needs to find that crucial balance between being a talisman on the pitch, whilst not letting it get the better of him.

Flintoff managed too nearing the end of his Test career, and it eventually even led to captaincy. 

Stokes is a phenomenal player with the capacity to lift and even carry his team. But he is also a flight risk, if he can’t handle his own ego. 

Afghanistan’s Calypso Cricket must be shelved to progress

‘Everyone loved us, we were the Calypso cricketers – we would do the entertaining and they would win’  –  Mohammed Nabi.  Well actually, the quote is by Deryck Murray, ex-West Indies cricketer, but it could very well be the former.

The ‘calypso cricketers’ of the world, are amicable, popular and fun to watch, but ultimately losers.

Historically attributed to the West Indies before their domination began – the terms represents a side which is given only tokenistic respect out of their trying. But everyone knows that if things got serious, the pressure can be turned on. 

Afghanistan is an emerging force of Associates cricket, but they have also has fought long and hard to be recognised in cricket terms, and not just for their legitimate tale of emerging out of the ashes of a war torn country. 

Afghanistan are also in quite an awkward transitionary period, between being the best of the rest, or the bottom of the elite pile.

This transition is being made during a turbulent time for Associate nations, whereby the World Cup is going to be reduced, and opportunities to play Test playing nations are few and far between. 

The reality for the Afghan side, is that since 2009, they’ve played 51 ODIs, and have won 25, but only 15 of those 51 ODIs have been against Test playing nations. Only three of those games have been wins (against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.)

Their opportunities for exposure are few and far between, and when they do arise, Afghanistan seemingly resort back to their happy go lucky attitude. 

Against non-Test playing nations, they have won 22 out of 36 games, which is well over half. But it is not going to really inform their progress beyond that stage. 

They are comfortable and cruising, until they face tougher opponents.

Since 01 January 2012, Afghanistan have hit a staggering 40 sixes in 12 matches against Test playing nations (3.3 a game), compared to Ireland’s 18 sixes, in 7 games (2.5 a game).

Ireland have hit three hundreds in that period to Afghanistan’s one, and Ireland average more per batsman. 

Ireland are cautious and concise. Afghanistan are kamikaze and gun hoe. 

Screenshot 2015-03-19 22.55.18 This dosn’t mean that Ireland don’t hit sixes of course.

They do. But instead of walking in to the room and shooting in the air at random, they chose their opportunities. 

Kevin O’Brien’s century against England in 2011 was the fastest in World Cup in history, off just 63 balls. But, it was mature and calculated.

It was not slogging the ball up in the air.

Against the U.A.E. Kevin O’Brien, (50 of 25 balls) and Gary Wilson (80 off 69 balls) similarly took Ireland from a position of mire, to victory through precision. It was brutal at times, but it worked. 

Gary Wilson said in post match interview: “I just poked it for one and he [Kevin O’Brien] hits it out of the ground. It was great” There is a plan.

Ireland now have three of the top 10 highest successful run chases in World Cup history: 328 against England in 2011, 307 against the Netherlands in 2011, 305 against the West Indies. And, for good measure, their successful 2015 World Cup chase against the U.A.E. is in the top 15. 

Ireland are intent on at least trying to win. They don’t panic and just try to blast the ball up in the air. That is why people love to watch them. 

Because Associates get such a minimal opportunity, there is no margin for error. As William Porterfield, Ireland’s captain, pointed out in another post match interview against the U.A.E:  “We need fixtures. We’re crying out for that.. We’ve talked about World Cups and they’re four years apart. We’ve played nine games against top-eight teams since 2011. Nine games in four years is nothing really. We need to be playing more.”

Afganistan without a doubt, use sport as a form of expression, but unfortunately there isn’t much room for emotive cricket, if you’re losing.

In a recent article on ESPN Cricinfo, Afghanistan’s Hamid Hassan was said to have came off the ground crying, during a division three match.  He spoke to the Documentary maker Leslie Knott, (Out of the Ashes) who asked him why. Hassan replied: “I have seen people die and I have not shed a tear. But there is something about cricket that gets me here [pointing to his heart]. Cricket is our chance.”

They clearly don’t fear a game of cricket. They certainly don’t fear getting out or getting hit, given the World Cup is scheduled to be reduced to 10 teams, perhaps they do have something to fear. 

Afghanistan’s fearless emotive cricket is certainly exciting to watch but, it is also potentially blinding them to what they really need.

What do they need?

It is somewhat indefinable. How can one go about methodising injecting patience and consistency? Ultimately it is a team that is poorly funded and has increasingly jeopardised opportunities facing quality opposition? It’s not an easy task. Unlike Ireland’s top order, who all have the option of County cricket, which they take up, Afghanistan don’t. 

Afghanistan needs opportunities to build their abilities domestically to play more games Internationally.

Most importantly however, batsmen need to foster a greater sense of collective responsibility to the team. Calypso cricket will never bring them much success beyond being admirable losers.