Same old problems for England

The harrowing 340 run defeat for England on Monday, being bowled out by an inspired South African attack, demonstrated the limitations this England side has faced over the past 18 months.  A loss after a victory is something that we as England fans have become accustomed to and it would not surprise many fans and pundits alike if England bounced back at the Oval before again demonstrating the inconsistency which continues to hold back this side in the final test at Old Trafford.

The transformation of the England ODI side since the 2015 World Cup and the appointment of Trevor Bayliss has been nothing short of spectacular and England are now rightly viewed as one of, if not the best ODI teams in the world currently.  However, the test side has not had the same success.  On its day, this side can be world class, evidenced by a great series win in South Africa in early 2016, something which must not be underestimated and the hammering at Lords only a few weeks ago.  However, the constant up and down nature of their performances is something that cannot be ignored.  Despite this potential, 8 defeats from the last 12 test matches demonstrates that, on paper, this could be the worst England Test side for a long time.

Going back to the beginning of the 2016 season England’s Test run of form goes as follows: lwlllldlwlwwldww.  This demonstrates the lack of consistency in the side and although they did include winter series in Bangladesh and India, both very tough tasks, the amount of times a loss has followed a win is very worrying for a side that cannot seem to maintain any consistency.  Instead of criticising the team in other ways that have been seen over the past few days such as Michael Vaughan arguing that the batsmen have no respect for test cricket, or that the defeats which include a major batting collapse can be argued to be due to the changing nature of the whole game with the increased focus on T20 cricket and all these major international leagues, I am going to focus on the personnel that have been picked.

In terms of the 11 that played at Nottingham, I would argue that seven are very good test players.  At the top of the order, Alastair Cook is England’s all time greatest run scorer, Joe Root is arguably the best batsman in the world and is rightfully talked of in the same bracket as the likes of Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson.  Jonny Bairstow is a fine keeper and his batting has come on fantastically, which is shown by has 54.91 average in Test Matches since 2016. In the previous 21 matches he only averaged 28.38. Ben Stokes is a world-class all-rounder, evidenced by his MVP status in the IPL and being the most expensive overseas player. His talent has been evident with the bat, ball and in the field throughout his test career.  Moeen Ali again is another fine player, and recently became the fifth fastest player ever and the fastest Englishman to 2000 runs and 100 wickets in test matches.  In terms of the bowling, Jimmy Anderson, as England’s all time leading wicket taker with 477 wickets and Stuart Broad’s 373 wickets is remarkable.  Both their records speak for themselves and they will go down as two of England’s greatest greatest ever seam bowlers.

This brings me on to the four other players in the team that I believe are letting the team down.  To begin with Mark Wood; this is slightly harsh as he has shown his potential across all three formats but he is out of form at the moment.  He is averaging 197 with the ball in this series and his pace is way down.  However, this third seamer position is something that probably has the least priority.  Chris Woakes has proven his credentials over the last year and his return to full fitness will boost the side massively.  Similarly, other bowlers such as Jake Ball and Toby Roland-Jones look ready for action.

If we move on to Liam Dawson, I do not believe that he is good enough for Test Cricket.  Averaging 33 with the bat and 37 with the ball in first class cricket is not good enough.  Moeen is a much better bowler and Dawson’s batting in this series of 0, 0, 13 and 5* show that he is not good enough for number eight.   It would make much more sense for England to pick another seamer or an extra batsman and drop Moeen down to number eight or even pick a specialist spinner.  This is something which is further baffling with the selection.  Middlesex won the championship narrowly over Somerset last season and something which they both had was a successful spinner.  Jack Leach of Somerset picked up 65 wickets at 21 and Ollie Rayner of Middlesex picked up 51 wickets at 23.  Yet neither of them made the plane to Bangladesh or India and still don’t seem to be in the reckoning.  I am not saying that they will have an amazing test career, I am just arguing how can you justify picking Ansari, Ali, Rashid, Batty and Dawson ahead of them?

In terms of the batting, Gary Ballance has struggled again.  He looks to have the same old problems with his technique where he doesn’t get forward at all and is vulnerable bowled, LBW and caught behind when he gets pushed back.  With his and Jennings’ struggles, the strength of Morkel, Philander and Rabada, three of the best seamers in the world must be acknowledged.  However, Ballance has only averaged 27 since 2015 after a fantastic breakthrough year and it does demonstrate the problems of the gap between Test and county cricket when he has been the best English batsman in the County Championship this season on paper averaging 101.88.

With Jennings, it is very early days in his test career and he did score a ton on his debut, despite the fact that he was dropped on 0.  However, the problem of an opening partner for Alastair Cook is still ongoing.   11 options have been utilised since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012 and no one has unfortunately grabbed the role by the scruff of the neck.  It looked as if we had solved it for years to come in India with Haseeb Hameed at two and Keaton Jennings at three.  Injury in India and poor form with no scores over 50 this season for Hameed has halted this.  Nevertheless, one must acknowledge the positives of the successful England Lions with potential prospects such as Tom Westley, Mark Stoneman, Dawid Malan and when he regains form, Haseeb Hameed, all looking ready to make an impression.

Overall, this England test side is suffering with a fair few problems at the moment.  On their day they are world beaters, but can also be abysmal at certain points.  However, with a good core of seven top quality players, if they can manage to strengthen and bed in players in the four areas that I have mentioned there is no reason as to why this side cannot shake of this inconsistency and become one of the great England sides.

Will Pickworth

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