English cricket has undergone, what probably appears to themselves, quite a remarkable transformation since the 5-0 drubbing handed out by the Australians in The Ashes.
Let’s break it down.
They have almost turned over their entire coaching panel, which included the well respected Andy Flower, Graham Gooch, Mushtaq Ahmed and the not so well regarded Ashley Giles .
In the case of Mushtaq, he was so well regarded that he picked up employment with the Pakistan Cricket Board less than 24 hours after receiving his marching orders from the ECB.
Without any logic that I can see, they have kept their fast bowling coach David Saker. This Australian has overseen the rapid decline of young up and comers in Finn, Tremlett, Rankin and Dernbach. Under his watch, James Anderson has also fallen from number 5 in the Test rankings to a number that rates somewhere in the plodders.
[pullquote]Bairstow has the worst footwork since Michael Vaughan in Dancing with the Stars[/pullquote]
Bringing back Peter Moores for a second crack had the MCC patting themselves on a job well done. It was high fives all round when they pinched Paul Farbrace from Sri Lanka, immediately after Sri Lanka had won the T20 World Cup .
Unfortunately, it was hugs and condolences when Sri Lanka repaid the favour by beating England at home 3-2 in the most recent ODI series, complete with a mankad for extra flavour.
The 7 billion non english cricket fans around the world all had a good chuckle at that one.
The transformation of English cricket also extended into the playing ranks.
KP was sent packing after being labelled a burden in the dressing room. This was after being the first guy to notice Trott’s off field problems and him being England’s leading run scorer in the The Ashes.
In fact, of the full squad that travelled to Australia, 10 members have failed to make it into the 1st Test team against Sri Lanka.
Gone are KP, Swann quit mid series when it all got too hard, Trott is unwell, Carberry appears to have been a failed experiment, the selectors have seen through the Stokes myth, Bairstow has the worst footwork since Michael Vaughan in Dancing with the Stars, Borthwick is clearly rubbish, Rankin wants to play for Ireland, Bresnan is a poor man’s Shane Lee and Monty Panesar is too busy chasing chicks on Tinder.
Alarmingly, two of the three debutantes selected for the 1st Test against Sri Lanka are the non English born in Robson and Jordan. Plunket has also been recalled after a 7 year absence. The sharper minds reading this will note a familiar pattern. Plunder the Commonwealth for talent and when that fails, grab a local who you have tried before.
If Jos Buttler was selected as the wicket keeper as many wanted, he would have been England’s 3rd keeper used in 4 Tests.
So where have we got to?
England has flipped its coaching staff and turned over its Test lineup. However, the elephant in the room still remains.
English cricket’s weakest link is still front and centre.
I talk of the captain, Alastair Cook.
For some reason, the ECB have decided that possibly the most uninspiring man to be found in Britain is the right guy to lead the team through a period of cultural change. In fact, the whole ECB hierarchy has the combined charisma and personality of Prince Charles on prozac. Giles Clarke, Paul Downton, Peter Moores and Alastair Cook are so similar, it is a problem.
Let’s focus on Cook. A leader who presided over the biggest shambles of a tour England has ever seen. Of course, I talk of the most recent Ashes. He lost the confidence of his players, he lost the confidence of his coaching staff, a senior member quit mid tour, he didn’t pick up on Trott’s issues, he failed to comfort Rankin after the first day in Sydney when he left the dressing room in tears, he allowed Borthwick to be slaughtered on debut and the Australian’s blasted him off the pitch and got into his head.
He averages 26 from his last 20 innings (the combined Ashes), where the pressure was it its greatest. it doesn’t get any bigger on the world cricketing stage than The Ashes. Cook didn’t handle it.
His captaincy in the field is stuff of legend, but for all the wrong reasons. His 3-0 win in the UK series disguises over the fact it could just have easily been 1-2 against. Australia’s 5-0 win at home was never in the same danger.
A leader of men he is not. He has broken the confidence and trust of his players after leaking statements from a closed players meeting to the coaching staff. This ultimately ended in Andy Flower and KP leaving the scene. He is not empathetic. He is not leading by example. He is not innovative, nor creative or inspiring.
Most recently, he was outspoken against the Jos Buttler mankad, where he claimed Sri Lanka “had crossed the line.” Rather than have Buttler take responsibility for being stupid, he sullied the integrity of the opposition who played well within the rules. It was a poor move from Cook but reflective of how he thinks. A victim rather than someone in control of his destiny.
The facts are he is now just an average opening batsman. He is ranked 18th in the world and falling.
A lesson needs to be taken from how New Zealand have chosen captains in recent times.
With the exception of Ross Taylor who didn’t really want the job, they have chosen the best leader of men rather than the best player. Fleming, Vettori and McCullum are all people that the cricket world respected for feats committed that did not necessarily involve their personal output with bat or ball. When they did deliver as a batsman or bowler, it had astonishing impact.
Cook is clearly not the man to lead England out of its current predicament.
This begs the question, “then who is?”
Unfortunately for England, this is not an easy one to answer. Strike out Prior, whose form and politicking make him unsuitable. Ian Bell, although a lock to play for a while to come, does not come with any glowing references on the leadership side. It’s clearly not Anderson.
That leaves Stuart Broad. And why not?
No shrinking violet, he is the only man in the whole squad from The Ashes who enhanced his reputation. Both with ball and bat, at no stage did he shirk the fight. He took it up to the Australians and the world has respected him for that. You may not like him, but you cannot deny he showed leadership.
He is also just about to turn 28. With any luck, that will give him another 6 or 7 years of Test cricket.
So all said and done, England are trying to embrace cultural change but have the wrong guy leading it. Whether they got the coaching appointments right or wrong, and whether Robson, Jordan and Ali are the next Warner, Johnson and Lyon is yet to be seen. However, Cook is a square peg being squeezed into a round hole. A bad fit. It physically cannot work.
Until England have the strength to change their captain, this program of change is likely to be a failure.
Do you agree or am I missing something.
Please leave your thoughts, insights and ridicule in the comments section below.
I’ll respond to them all. I Promise