Cricket: Sorry Andrew Strauss out of tune
BACK in August England completed the 4-0 whitewash of India to become the No.1 Test side in the world. It was the end of a two-year process that involved many victories, both home and away, a lot of hard work and some stellar individual performances.
Since then they have played four Tests and lost every one. So what has changed? Not the hard work, that is for sure. This group of England players are the most dedicated and committed of any that have played. They are also still incredibly ambitious, led by the likes of Stuart Broad, who has now been ruled out with a calf injury, and James Anderson, who has maintained incredible personal performances. Hubris has not weakened them. Instead it has been a combination of very alien conditions, some wonderful opponents and a collective loss of brain by the England batsmen.
It is the last of these that is most concerning. In three of those four Test defeats the bowlers have provided an excellent opportunity to win. But the batting has been woeful – often in the first innings when the game is being defined and set up.
Last week in Galle encapsulated the winter thus far. The bowlers worked manfully to keep Sri Lanka to a reasonable score just over 300 and that total was achieved only because one of the modern-day greats, Mahela Jayawardene, scored 60 per cent of the runs with a wonderful 180.
The England batsmen then refused to follow his method, one that has worked so well in Sri Lanka, bringing him 21 of his 30 Test centuries. Instead they lashed around like a loose fire hose.
There was no calmness nor clinical assessment of the threat of the spinners. If there had been, the England top order would have realised that Rangana Herath was skilled but only as a left arm spinner, not as a mystery spinner. He took six wickets in each innings and at least half were generous donations by thoughtless and clueless batting.
Such gifts will have to cease if England are going to win the second Test, which starts on Tuesday in Colombo.
There is more than just the two-match series at stake – unless England win they will be usurped as No.1 by South Africa and Australia, currently in the West Indies, may even force them down to third.
Another loss will surely bring change. An assessment of England’s batting shows some very worrying areas of weakness. The openers, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, are not functioning as a pair. If Cook gets out cheaply, as he did last week, then England are effectively two wickets down as Strauss has not scored a Test hundred for 16 matches.
An opener and professional run-scorer cannot survive with such statistics and Strauss admitted as much in Galle. How long does a successful captain get to rectify his own poor form? It is a devilishly difficult question for the coach and captain as, by the nature of their roles, they have a close, involved relationship. For most though, once the jungle drums start beating, the game is already up and a change is needed. Jonathan Trott is excellent at first drop and his second-innings century in Galle nearly completed an extraordinary last-innings chase. Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell are the next pair and neither looks comfortable or settled. Pietersen is the most perplexing as he looks imperious at the wicket but has not contributed enough. He was a potential great and it is hard to imagine the domineering Pietersen of five years ago allowing the bowlers to torment him as they are now.
Bell played neatly in the first innings but his winter has been horrible and, with the selectors showing by the dropping of Eoin Morgan that they are prepared to make changes, Bell desperately needs another big score. So, of the top five, those whose job it is to score the bulk of the runs, only Cook and Trott are without question. That is why England are likely to lose their second consecutive series and the No.1 ranking
Yes, sub-continental conditions are tough and, yes, the locals are adept on such surfaces but, to be the best, a team has to win everywhere. That is what Australia did for a decade and West Indies for a decade before that.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West