One wicket was all that separated England from a win at Lords. It would have been vindication for dragging the cricketing public through a bad soap opera over the past 6 months or so. Everything seemed to be going their way. Even Hearth was walking when not out. A gesture of goodwill.
England was back.
But the final wicket never came. 17 lost overs due to slow play didn’t help. It was England’s 7th Test in a row without a result in their favour.
However, their tails were up and Headingley beckoned.
What happens next usually only occurs in nightmares.
The captain, under quite serious pressure to hold his title and possibly even his spot in the team, won the toss. That’s a great sign.
However, his decision to bowl was not.
Most great leaders, when faced with situations where boldness is required, jump straight into the fire. To try and fail is one thing. To get to the starting line and baulk at the first challenge is simply weakness.
Cook chose to bowl.
In doing so, he avoided maybe 10 uncomfortable overs as an opener. More tellingly, he had declined the invitation to lead. He chose, at that moment, to let others control how this moment of need would play out.
The ECB establishment watching from the stands must have at this stage been second guessing their decisions. They backed Cook over Flower and KP.
The man from the right kind of family, unfortunately for the ECB, doesn’t have the right kind of skills to do the job.
But this is an easy call to make. What if we delve deeper?
Let’s start with the English batting. It is stuck. The top order looks rather flakey.
Cook is out of form, Robson is brand new, Ballance has clear weaknesses, Bell is too hot and cold to be relied on and Root is being mishandled worse than a Fifa corruption enquiry. Ali shows promise, but one does not rely on the number 6 to win Test matches.
The selection of Moeen Ali requires further analysis. He works at number six if you require a batting all rounder who can hold up an end with spin. However, England require a full time spinner. Given the debacle which was Borthwick’s debut in Sydney, the selectors chose not to pick a specialist. Ali would be their man.
Unless you are the 1980’s West Indies, there is little sustained success attainable without full time spinner. Even then, they had Carl Hooper later in that decade.
Ali’s bowling is a nice to have. It is not a foundation stone.
This truism is amplified when your pace attack is lacking.
Broad is the only genuine strike bowler in the team, yet he is playing hampered by injury. Anderson’s single trick of early swing is not threatening as it once appeared to be. Jordan, for all the hype, appears to be an up and down bowler of little penetrative ability. This is ok if he is played as third seamer in the mould of Peter Siddle perhaps? Plunkett has had the best returns in this two Test series, but it’s only two Tests. Ben Stokes had a great start too, but where is he now?
Selection appears to be a major issue for England, even though they have sold themselves on the fact that they have made sweeping changes. The criticism lies in the fact that the changes made are not necessarily the correct ones.
Compton should never have lost his opening spot to Carberry. Carberry shouldn’t have lost it to Robson.
The wicket keeper roundabout of Prior, Bairstow, nearly Jos Buttler and back to Prior is a mess. Only Buttler has serious claims on that role moving forward.
The bowling selections are the most confusing. It starts back with David Saker being the only coach of any department being kept on post the Ashes. This is despite his key students all going backwards. Finn, Ranking and Tremlett are all worse bowlers under his stewardship.
It is easy to be critical of England’s decisions, but the facts are that at almost every junction recently, they have the wrong turn.
- They backed Cook. Wrong
- They sacked the best batting and spin coaches in the country in Gooch and Mushtaq. Wrong
- They haven’t chosen a front line spinner, nor do they know who he is. Wrong
- They have rewarded Prior for no reason, after we was dropped for form. Wrong
- They discovered Stokes but won’t play him. Wrong
- They have recycled a head coach. Wrong
- They have cycled through opening partners for Cook when it wasn’t necessary. Wrong
- They have played a public media war against Kevin Pietersen and lost dismally. Wrong.
Against all odds, England have now taken a bad situation and made it worse. Their tactics against Sri Lanka at Headingley have been deplorable. Angelo Matthews, to his credit, has been good enough to take advantage.
This Sri Lanka tour will be remembered for Cook pleading for the criticism to stop, for mankads, for bowlers being reported for chucking and for the plucky Sri Lankans having a crack.
It was meant to be the series that saw the new England.
Instead, we saw more of the same.
England will lose 1-0 at home to a team that has no rights to defeat it. It has already lost the ODI and T20 series.
It will drop to 5th in the Test rankings. If the proposed ICC Test Championship was played now, England would not feature. As an aside, this threat of England’s non appearance is one of the key reasons it was dropped as a concept. England have now proven that those fears were correctly founded.
It next faces India at home in a five Test series. Under Dhoni, India will take the game on. England currently don’t know how to do that.
The subsequent World Cup in Australia will amplify the issue if nothing is done.
England need to start making the correct decisions. Who can captain this side for the next 5 years? Who are our openers? What does the middle order look like? Who is our spinner? Who are our best three seamer? Who is our keeper? Was Moores the right choice as coach?
Make these decisions and then stick to them. Not for one or two tests, but for a whole series. Avoid the temptation to tweak at the edges or fiddle with batting orders. Injuries will naturally allow you to do that.
More than anything, this team needs an on field leader. He doesn’t have to be the best player, but he must know how to gel his men. It cannot be left to the coach.
Stuart Broad is the only option. Ian Bell would be a mistake.
Broad is strong, a match winner, full of heart and fearless.
Make the change and then watch the change.
The only thing stopping it is if Giles Clarke values saving face higher than he does having a successful cricket side.
It is not a difficult fix.