Disappointment; a feeling all of us will experience at some point in our lives. The pattern that leads to it never changes – there is an overhyped build-up that promises of plenty of rewards and elicits a lot of excitement but ultimately the end product is distinctly average and leaves all parties feeling largely underwhelmed. Sound familiar? If you’re a follower of any of England’s national sporting teams, in particular the men, you will know exactly what I mean.
Before every major tournament we, the fans, seem to forget any notion of logic and common sense and suddenly believe that the players we spend most of our time slagging off with friends, family and even the neighbour’s dog are capable of beating the best the rest of the world has to offer. Not that there is anything wrong with a bit of national pride, but this is England we are talking about. The nation famous for being the perennial runner-up in the sporting world; the country that most others point and jeer at. If there is one thing that will be almost certainly guaranteed with an English sports team, it’s abject failure on the international stage.
However, there has been one sport in which this trend looks to have changed. After a poor Test series draw against a distinctly mediocre West Indies side followed a frankly humiliating 2015 World Cup, the England and Wales Cricket Board finally took their heads from out of their own backsides and realised they needed to do something to stop their side from becoming a laughing stock. English cricket had got stuck; batsmen and bowlers alike were more than happy to sit back and patiently wait for the opposition to make mistakes from which they could capitalise. This may have been fine in the ‘70s and ‘80s but in an age of crash-bang-wallop cricket such an approach was alarmingly outdated, as the results across all formats were proving.
The solution? Bring in an Aussie. The appointment of Trevor Bayliss as head coach may not have necessarily been the most popular with the fans but he has certainly done the job England desperately needed and they have been a joy to watch since he took over in May 2015. Ben Stokes in particular has caught the eye; not only did he blast two of the most memorable centuries ever seen – words cannot describe how good his 258* against South Africa was – but he has also produced some remarkable spells with the ball and taken some outrageous catches, including that grab during the 2015 Ashes. He is not the only one to have shone, but the Durham all-rounder is the epitome of the new, all-action, explosive England side.
This isn’t necessarily always the right approach to take however, especially in the Test arena, as proved in last week’s series opener against Pakistan. Many of the batsmen gave their wickets away playing rash shots when the situation, especially in the second innings, demanded calmness and a bit of resolve. There was no tempo in either knock and, in short, it was all a bit chaotic. Only the ever-reliable Alastair Cook and Chris Woakes really looked comfortable against a Pakistan attack that, whilst talented, should not have been able to dismiss England for under 300 on a flat Lord’s pitch.
James Vince was especially culpable in both innings for getting himself out whilst trying to score runs too quickly. The end of his first innings was poor, trying to force for runs leggie Yasir Shah before he had picked what deliveries he was bowling, but it was the second dismissal just after lunch on the fourth day that was the most frustrating. Before the interval the Hampshire man had played some gorgeous shots and finally looked at home in the Test arena.
Yet just a few balls after play resumed he was gone, wafting loosely at a wide ball 8 runs short of a maiden fifty. Whilst Vince undoubtedly has the talent to succeed, his head is all over the place. He looks like he’s trying too hard to fit into the new template outlined for English batsmen instead of concentrating in a manner that has brought him so much success in the county game.
If Vince is a source of frustration, then fans must be tearing their hair out watching Joe Root at the moment. The most complete batsman in the England side isn’t exactly experiencing a lean spell but he has only scored one century in his last 22 innings. In that same length of time the Yorkshireman has notched 7 fifties and looked at ease against all bowling attacks he has faced, yet not managed to convert these starts into big scores. What is infuriating most about Root though is the way he is getting himself out. Rarely is he dismissed by a good ball. Instead, he keeps finding new ways of gifting his wicket to the opposition, the latest of which was pulling a long-hop to deep square leg. Like Vince, England’s vice-captain seems to be taking the desire for attacking cricket too far. Not every ball has to go to the boundary; it’s ok to give a bowler a maiden over every now and again. All he needs to do is play his natural way whilst adapting to the situation of the game and refrain from playing silly shots that may give his wicket away.
Whilst this new attacking brand of cricket may be exciting to watch, if England are going to really challenge for the title of best Test team in the world then they are going to need to temper this and only employ it when appropriate. This is much easier said than done and a lot of the team are still finding their feet at the top level but they need to learn sooner rather than later, otherwise their enormous talent may never be fully realised.