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.