Thursday, 26 June 2014

A new England?

On this site in recent weeks, I have been particularly scathing about the England side. Not everyone agreed with me, so I have asked people to feel free to e mail me with their views. This succinct and intelligent piece came all the way from Uganda by guest blogger Tim Grover and throws up an alternative view. However, it is well worth a read and a good review of the whole series and where we are as a team. Have a read on as Tim, like Billy Bragg doesn't want to change the world, he's just looking at the new England...

The crowd at Headingley

Test series, albeit short ones don’t come better than this with the first test going down to the last ball and the second test the penultimate ball. In the words of Sir Ian Botham “test cricket is alive and well here in England”.

Ultimately this new England team and administration will be disappointed to lose to a team who nine months ago they would have been viewing as a warm-up to the India series later this summer. Sri Lanka are after all a bit of an old fashioned side with bowlers who bowl and batters who bat. They are however blessed with arguably the best batsman of the modern era in Sangakkara and the vastly experienced and equally prolific Jayawardene. Their seam attack on paper lacks bite, but bowled very well on wickets that at Lord’s would have seemed familiar to them and at Headingley suited them.

The thrilling finishes in both tests, and the seesaw nature of them throughout makes the poor attendance at Headingley all the more disappointing. Add to that the fact that Yorkshire had three of their own playing and it becomes baffling. Is it, as some say because of England’s allegedly attritional brand of cricket (although what wouldn’t we have given for some of that in Australia as batsman after batsman got caught on the legside taking them on!)? Unlikely at the home of G. Boycott and B. Close, in a county that admires stubborn determination above anything else. Is it that the team doesn’t feel English? Well did it ‘feel’ English with Strauss, Pietersen, Lamb, Smith, Greig, D’Olivera etc etc etc etc? Arguably this team feels particularly English with its ethnic diversity in an English city with a similar ethnic diversity. Is it the lack of “star names” as others have suggested? If those people mean that South African bloke then who is going to pay to watch him embarrassed by an ageing left armer before he reached double figures and then tell us “it’s the way I play”, then no, it isn’t. Given that Lord’s had decent crowds we should probably be looking at a long term decline in attendances in the north, the World Cup and ticket prices for miserly Yorkshiremen. I hope it’s not because England were thrashed by Australia over the winter, because otherwise grounds would have been empty between 1990 and 2009!

Jimmy...perplexingly bad record at Headingley

Having inserted Sri Lanka England’s go to bowlers were poor with the new ball. Jimmy Anderson has a perplexingly bad test record at Headingley and him and Broad were tight but unthreatening as they failed to pitch the ball up. After finally making the breakthrough they required England chipped away at Sri Lanka’s batting line up with only Sangakkara riding his luck throughout, particularly against in impressive if luckless Chris Jordan in only his second test. Prior, after a universally applauded comeback at Lord’s, dropped Sangakkara in a bizarre fashion once he had seemed to have clung on to the chest high edge. Broad then chipped in with his once a series burst of wickets that keep him his place in the side. In fact it was a hat trick but neither he nor the watching press noticed at first. Perhaps this is symptomatic of the disarray and constant changing with the wind in the British media at the moment.

England’s openers, one in need of a return to form and one in need of showing he is capable at the highest level, saw England through to stumps calmly. After the early loss of Cook (I’ve read this phrase a lot-even with another players name in place of Cook!) the next day, England’s new boys batted superbly to put England in a seemingly unassailable position. But from here on in it was all Sri Lanka. In the tail only Prior and Jordan offered anything as Sri Lanka’s medium pacers made the most of conditions keeping England’s 1st innings lead to just over a hundred.

With the field set for pitched up swing bowling England’s opening pair of Anderson and Broad banged it in and were totally ineffective. It was left to Plunkett and some imaginative field settings as it had been in the first innings and at Lord’s to make inroads but still the classy trio of Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Mathews first edged Sri Lanka into a lead and then, with the less classy but doughty Herath, extended that lead into a daunting one.

The Beard that's Feared...gutsy display

The top of England’s batting order collapsed in a familiar fashion, albeit with different personnel and really only Ballance can say that he got a really good delivery first up. This gave Moeen Ali the platform to display a good technique and even better temperament as he tried to save the series aided by Jordan and at the end Anderson. If the previous evening batting had been gutless, this was a truly gutsy attempt by those three which lasted until the penultimate ball when Anderson failed to get out of the way (or wear) a well directed short pitched ball from Eranga.

So Sri Lanka won a just about deserved series victory in England for the first time, but where does this leave England and particularly their beleaguered captain? We were, apparently, promised a new England and the ‘new boys’ Ballance, Robson, Moeen and still wet behind the ears Root all got tons and pretty big ones too. Plunkett was the pick of the bowlers and Jordan troubled Sri Lanka’s best and batted very well too. Priors return, despite the bizarre dropping of Sangakkara, was also a success and Jimmy Anderson, after his first proper run out with Lancashire in years looked fresh and lively, up in the high 80’s again even if he didn’t perform well at Headingley. Bell, having just been awarded the poisoned chalice of England player of the year, has looked as pleasing on the eye as ever when batting but will never be the darling of the crowds for some reason (ginger?). It’s rather too soon to write him off though, given that he almost single handedly beat Australia less than a year ago. Cook’s batting form continues to trouble us all-bowl half volleys outside off peg and wait for him to nick it. I know an old team mate that could and did do that (although my hands in the slips didn’t guarantee a wicket!) We know he is class-over 8,000 test runs don’t lie. Is it the captaincy holding him back? Maybe, though he did score tons in his first five tests as captain, so then again maybe not. If it is, it is caused by the constant undermining of him and his captaincy by certain members of the media.  Of his captaincy it is certainly right for the media to examine it, but some of the fields set in this series were very interesting and even worked-Bell at leg slip, Root at fly slip for example. The team also looked happy and settled, which is a remarkable feat with so many new faces in the changing room. Should he have introduced spin earlier at Headingley? Probably, but Moeen is no Herath and Herath only got three wickets in the test to Moeen’s two.

England in fact have a lot of positives to take from this series. With some reservations, the new look batting line-up has the potential to be around for years.  The two ‘new’ bowlers were impressive and we still have Stokes, Finn and the like to put pressure on Broad, who continues to flatter to deceive.  England cannot adequately replace Swann it seems until Panesar sorts himself out and people forget how awful Kerrigan was on debut. And even then Swann was among the very best finger spinners in the DRS and chucking era, and will not be replaced.

Swanny....hard to replace

Cook deserves the chance to continue for at least the rest of this summer with victories away in India and in the Ashes already under his belt. As for making changes to management and coaching staff two matches into a new regime, that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Even a premier league manager gets more time than that.

Finally, what if that last ball at Lord’s had carried and Jimmy’s gloves had cleared Herath? We would be talking about a new England winning their first series, that’s what!

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