England: ‘No more room for excuses as India and Australia loom large’

What goes around comes around.

Promises must be kept, debts repaid and faith honoured.

Which brings us to the England cricket team, who for most of 2021 have been asking us to trust them implicitly because everything will be all right in the end.

The miserable eight-wicket defeat by New Zealand at Edgbaston, one that saw a seven-year unbeaten record in home Test series surrendered, is pushing that trust to breaking point.

It was going so well, too.

A year that began with three successive Test wins in Sri Lanka and India has spiralled into five matches without a win, four of which have been lost.

Whether or not that is a direct consequence of the way England have handled – or perhaps mishandled – their players is open to debate, but some facts are inescapable.

England have failed to win a single Test since Jos Buttler last played. Chris Woakes will have gone almost 12 months between Tests when his next chance to play comes around in August.

Yes, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer were injured for the two Tests against in New Zealand, but neither would have played anyway.

Still, the slide from a magnificent win against India in Chennai in February – one of England’s most impressive overseas victories in recent memory – to the loss to New Zealand in Birmingham is alarming for the performances of the players that have remained in the team during the age of rest and rotation.

Ollie Pope has gone eight Tests without a half-century, while Dom Sibley has passed 16 only twice in 11 innings. Zak Crawley made 17 in the second innings at Edgbaston, his second-highest score in 12 Test innings.

More slack can be given to Dan Lawrence, with only seven caps to his name. However, even he sandwiched an 81 not out with two ducks and is averaging less than 30.

It has left captain Joe Root not only leading a side whose dressing room has a revolving door of players, but also with the responsibility of holding together a batting order that has all the structural solidity of a wet tissue.

Options for change are limited, mainly because so many from county cricket have been tried over the past decade, but also with opportunities between now and the Ashes fast running out.

Whoever England opt for in the first Test against India in the first week of August will need backing, especially given coach Chris Silverwood has repeatedly said he does not want a player to have to make his debut in Australia.

Even if changes are made, the next in line seem to be Haseeb Hameed and Dawid Malan, both of whom have been tried before.

England v New Zealand: Cook critiques England batting line-up

“They are going to have to look at themselves and be honest in the next five or six weeks because they are going to be put under the same pressure against India,” Alastair Cook, England’s all-time leading run scorer, told BBC Sport.

“That’s what Test cricket is – cricket under pressure, and they are going to have to find a way.

“There won’t be big changes. These are the guys who have scored runs in county cricket. That’s why they’ve played. It’s down to them, it’s not the coaches. They’ve got to front up.”

Tests Runs Average Centuries
Rory Burns 25 1,529 33.23 3
Dom Sibley 20 985 30.78 2
Zak Crawley 14 704 29.33 1
Joe Root 105 8,714 48.68 20
Ollie Pope 19 882 31.50 1
Dan Lawrence 7 329 29.90 0
James Bracey 2 8 2.66 0

If batting is the main area of concern, then there are decisions to be made elsewhere.

England have made a conscious and admirable decision to play home Tests on flat pitches, in order to replicate the challenges they will face abroad.

However, in neither Test against New Zealand were they able to take 20 wickets (admittedly, in the second they barely had the opportunity).

It is curious that on both occasions England reverted to type, selecting four right-arm seamers. What does that say about their faith in spinner Jack Leach? If, for example, Graeme Swann had been in the England squad, you can be certain he would have played.

And, in those flat, dry, hot conditions, is there still space for both of those magnificent warhorses, Stuart Broad and James Anderson?

Even if Stokes is available for the first Test against India, England will probably still need a bowling all-rounder like Woakes, Sam Curran or Ollie Robinson at number eight.

If they want pace, that means Mark Wood or Olly Stone. Surely they would not pick five seamers, so Leach should return.

That means only one place for either Broad or Anderson. Broad has been magnificent against New Zealand, the pick of the England bowlers.

Only a fool would dismiss the enduring skill of Anderson, England’s all-time leading wicket-taker and most capped player, yet he did seem below par against the Black Caps.

These choices depend on the players England will have at their disposal.

On the one hand, the rest-and-rotation policy employed this year is understandable. England play more and travel further than any other team. Covid has brought unprecedented challenges and it is right that the wellbeing of the players is at the forefront of the decision-making.

Even the protection given to a players’ right to feature in the Indian Premier League (IPL) can be swallowed when you know that permission to take those lucrative contracts was granted before England signed up for the two Tests against New Zealand.

However, it does stick in the craw for Buttler, Woakes and Moeen Ali to be playing county cricket when England are being thrashed all around Birmingham.

Not only that, but New Zealand managed to get their IPL contingent to take part in this series. England’s recent trend of getting a full-strength squad out for Twenty20 matches will continue when they meet Sri Lanka this month too.

“After 2019 we got told by the ECB that the next thing on the agenda was winning in Australia,” former England captain Michael Vaughan told BBC Test Match Special.

“I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen the eggs in the basket of the Test team. I’ve seen them in the basket of the white-ball team.

“Fundamentally, if you muck about with Test cricket it brings about inconsistency, and that’s what we’re seeing.”

Root was adamant after the New Zealand defeat that he expects to have his first-choice XI available to play against India.

When it comes to Test cricket, five matches against Virat Kohli’s men followed by a tilt on the Ashes in Australia are as big as it comes.

England have assured us there is a plan and the Test side will be ready for the marquee series.

They have asked us to trust them because they know what they are doing.

There is no more room for excuses. The time to prove they deserved that trust is almost here.

Around the BBC iPlayer bannerAround the BBC iPlayer footerLink to Original Story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.