Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Review of the 2nd Test v Sri Lanka

So England managed to contrive to lose the second Test in Headingley by a stunning margin of exactly one hundred runs from a position where they should have won. Despite the efforts of Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson was bounced out to the penultimate ball, and with it Sri Lanka took the series. The 'new era' promised to us by Paul Downturn and Peter Less, imploded here in Leeds almost as fast as the one by a certain Brian Clough in this city in 1974. At least Cloughie lasted for forty four days. This was an absolute bloodbath in many ways. Surely it is not a kneejerk reaction to ask Alastair Cook to stand down? His captaincy was shockingly bad, England are in the abyss, and Headingley was the nadir hopefully. Surely it can't get any worse can it?

Headingley...empty seats a plenty
England went in unchanged whilst Sri Lanka brought in Chandimal for the stumper Jayawardene, who had broken his finger. Headingley looked a picture, but where as Lord's was a full house last week, the Yorkshire people voted with their feet and stayed away. Tickets started at £32, and is it because there is a World Cup on, is it because Sri Lanka aren't the sexiest of opposition, is it because the English public feel massively disconnected with this side, is it because there are no star names who will get the public out to watch the national side, that they stayed away? Or is it because England play a tired and attritional, outdated, shit brand of cricket? Or as one person put forward, does this team really feel English with a Zimbabwean, a Bajan and an Aussie in it? I don't know but so frightened were the Yorkshire folk to turn out, it was more like a case of ebola than a lack of a slow bowler. And you can't blame them after this shocker.

Like the situation in Iraq at present, the cricket public in England are divided and in turmoil. This game may have been played in Sunni weather, but the performance was Shi'ite. Instead of ISIS, just add a C and an R to the front of the word and that is what this England team are in.

Alastair Cook won the toss and chose to field. If this game was about the vastly differing fortunes of the two skippers (more about that later) then the Sri Lankan innings was about the vastly differing fortunes of the two keepers. Underpinned by a classy 79 from Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka moved on to 228-5, whilst England's Matt Prior had a shocker. He may have dropped a few catches over the years, but in this city of five letters, he kept like a man who had dropped LSD and a couple of E's.

Prior...a poor match

Plunkett, one of the few England performers to come out with any credit from this Test bowled with some serious wheels, and picked up a Michelle. Sri Lanka couldn't cope and Stuart Broad picked up a hat trick that he didn't even know about. Maybe it is indicative of the confused thinking running through this side at present? Sri Lanka amassed 257.

England then batted and lost the skipper early but Robson and Ballance showed heart. Robson will never be the prettiest bat but showed good technique by getting his foot to the pitch of the ball and bags of concentration. Ditto Ballance, but then the aesthetic Bell came in, flashed a fifty and got out again. Still you'd have thought that at 278-2 with a lead of twenty one and eight wickets in the bank, that a side shouldn't get complacent. Especially one that hasn't won a Test match for nearly a year, had been on the losing side in six out of the last seven tests, or one who lost to the might of Holland recently hey? However, when you have this lot who are about as much use as Anne Frank's drum kit, they imploded as they ended up on 365 all out.

Now let's get down to business. At the start of Monday the match, the series and the careers of a number of the England players were in the balance. Sri Lanka were 214-4 with a lead of around a hundred. The whole day was an absolute disgrace and England showed about as much clarity in their thinking as the financial advisor of this city's football team did back in the early millenium. Angelo Mathews batted brilliantly for his 160 and a good, honest, solid, nuggety cricketer he is as well. However Don Bradman, he ain't. England chose to bowl instead at Herath, and even towards the end of his innings saw the rotund left armer thrash them about. Jimmy lost his temper and Angelo made England look as if there was a serious lack of Brotherhood of Men.

Stylish Mo...nothing comical about this Ali

England bowled too short, too wide and in their own innings Prasad showed them the virtues of bowling line and length by pitching it up and nipping it about. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that is how you get wickets at Headingley. The leading wicket taker in England in Division One is Jack Brooks of Yorkshire, and he puts the ball up there. Yes you may get hit now and again, but you will get the batsmen to nick off to slip like Sam Robson or nip one back through the gate a la Ian Bell. Prasad showed England how to bowl in English conditions.

Plunkett is getting a lot of stick for the shot he played as night watchman but he is one who has shown a bit of character in this game and he shouldn't be the fall guy. If the batsmen had shown as much heart he wouldn't have been out there in the first place. In a part of the world which will be hosting the Tour de France soon, the top order were merde. Le grande fromage Cook, used to be formidable. Whilst he might be a nice bloke, and by all accounts he is, captain's cannot be made. Some people are born with great captaincy skills and I don't think that Cook was. Besides, we need his runs.

On the final day, England tried to grind it out. Root took some fearful stick from the Sri Lankans with the umpires getting involved with Mathews at one point. Root does seem to wind people up, and interestingly the chirp was reserved only for him, with none for Ali. Root then got pinned, and the Sri Lankans laughed at him. Ali batted beautifully and a stylish left hander he is too. He reminds me of Stephen Fleming with a languid approach, although effortless shots still zoom off to the boundary rope. He is great to set an example to other Asian kids coming through the system and if they copy him and want to play for England, then all the better. Surely expanding the game past the elite ten per cent in this country is in the ECB's interest?

Jimmy and Mo in happier times

Finally, with two balls remaining, Jimmy got bounced and instead of ducking it or weaving, he tried to play at it. It got big on him, and it ballooned into the air meaning that the Test, and the series went to the visitors. This was only their fourth overseas series win, the others coming against Zimbabwe twice and New Zealand. They fully deserved it. England didn't deserve to draw.

If England had a poor game, then so did Billy Bowden. Some of his decision making was appalling and he was over turned more times than an England midfield in posession, or the English pack in New Zealand last week. Yes it has been one of those weeks for us England fans.

For months in these columns we have been questioning the captaincy material of Alastair Cook and now it is time for him to go. Moores on this showing is not far behind, and Downturn for appointing him has had a shocker. You can't go into a Test match without a proper spinner. Cook had absolutely no trust in the off spin of Moeen Ali, and he didn't let the Worcestershire man float them like a butterfly until after fifty odd overs. However, Ali doesn't exactly sting like a bee either but he would be a seriously useful addition to the attack backing up a proper spinner. Surely a left armer such as Kerrigan or Panesar in tandem with Ali would be great to watch?

Chef...time is up

England were shocking. The captaincy was dire, their reviews were awful, they bowled too short and too wide, their tactics in bowling to Mathews were shite, the batting lacks heart and they still drop too many chances in the field. There is no star quality here. It is out dated, turgid rubbish. The winter was really hard to be an England fan but in a way, this feels worse. To see England capitulate to Sri Lanka in front of about 3000 fans at Headingley tells a story of how we all feel at present. I have witnessed some bad days; the four captains of 1988, the tour to India in 93, 51 all out in Jamaica (common coaching denominator anyone?) but this feels worse. It is Sri Lanka at home for fucks sake. Australia, West Indies back in the day or even India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka away have all seen England get a decent shoeing, but this is at home and feels like a kick in the balls.

I'm fed up. Broad and Jimmy look absolutely knackered, Jordan doesn't do enough with the ball at this level, Bell in his hundredth Test match has to start to play match changing innings, the need for a specialist gloveman as pointed out in these pages a few weeks ago was shown to all and sundry here, and playing a spinner that the skipper hasn't got the confidence to use, is a decision that has to be a fault of the coaching team. It cost us a win at Lord's and quite possibly here. The public aren't happy and the team don't look happy. Something has to change. Another real issue is that our bats cannot play the short ball. This is a serious flaw and something needs to be done about it, and sharpish.

So Sri Lanka took the series 1-0 and fair play to them. Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have been fine servants to their island and are wonderful cricketers. They have a decent spinner, and they have seam bowlers that stick to the principles of line and length. They are a decent outfit, well led by a skipper who thinks about it and they fight for each other. They are everything England are not.

On this form, India are going to cane us. We have to change tactics, and we have to change our selection policy or it is going to be more of the same. Over to you Downturn?

This was more Headacheley than Headingley.


  1. Good review. Only disagree with the line "India are going to cane us". India will be a little circumspect after the disastrous tour to England last time around. Should be an even contest.

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  3. Jimmy Anderson should have dropped his bat and taken one for the team off that penultimate ball.
    Obviously not from Yorkshire.

  4. Agree with most of this, certainly the despair. It's difficult to know which bit was the worst, batting, bowling, fielding or captaincy. The first two days (or up to the last drinks on the second day) was pretty good. At that point we were 277-2, 20 ahead with 8 first innings wickets in hand. That is, or should be, a virtually impregnable position. You should be looking at 500-550. Instead, England collapsed in a heap, and were all out for 365.

    Sri Lanka then come out to bat and are served up a diet of short wide stuff which allows them to get a start (this happened with both new balls). Whatever chances came our way were dropped. England began the 4th day bowling at Mahela and Angelo with 7 overs till the new ball. Cook set defensive fields, and allowed the batsmen to get away to a flier. Later defensive fields allowed Mathews to dictate terms, which he does brilliantly. Sri Lanka make 457, which is far too many. Then England's top order, "lead" by Cook, collapse in a heap again (Plunkett shouldn't have been out there, and would not have been but for the failings of the top order). By end day 4, England have lost 13 wickets for 145, which is less than Sri Lanka's 8th wicket pair managed. At that point, the writing is on the wall, despite a heroic last day effort by Moeen and the lower order. But it should never have got to that point. Not only were England playing dull attritional cricket, they were playing it badly (they did better when they were attacking).

    That leaves 2 issues: Cook and Downton (and the sacking of KP, which has to come into this).

    Cook doesn't seem to me like a natural leader (he's not going to make Churchillian speeches), or a good tactician. Therefore he has to lead by example, meaning runs at the top of the order. He did that in India, and England won. Whether he's lost form, or the cares of captaincy are getting to him, he's not doing it now. His whining about Shane Warne suggests it's the captaincy, and Warne has certainly never regarded it as part of his mission to spread "positivity" about the England team.

    Downton appears to be totally out of his depth, and will continue to do so at least until we hear the full story on KP. Certainly, his claim that KP "looked uninterested and isolated" during the Sydney test could almost have applied to any one of 11 players on the field (clue: none of them were Australian). I suspect that a lot of this goes back to the "clear the air" meeting in Adelaide, with no coaches/authority figures present, where players were invited to speak freely. I fear he may have spoken too freely, and those comments got back to those in authority (how is an interesting question). If that's correct, England can never have another "clear the air" meeting under the current regime.

    England cricket is currently a shambles. The only good news is that Giles Clarke is too busy hob-nobbing with cricket's answer to Sepp Blatter, N Srinivasan (and if the answer's Sepp Blatter, you're asking the wrong question) to stick his oar in.

  5. Just read Shane Warne's piece in the Telegraph saying Cook's captaincy was the worst he's ever seen. Much as I hate to admit it, I think most of what he says is right.