Tag Archives: England

Chaotic England Look For Consistency

20 Mar
181899Considering how chaotic their past few months have been, it’s a miracle the England cricket team managed to make it to Bangladesh in one piece.

Some will argue that England have just suffered a temporary blip in form recently, but the fact is that their decline has been much more prolonged than that. Whether or not it is terminal does not hinge on their performance in Bangladesh, but how they play will be a sign of how long the recovery will take.
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Perspective

16 Feb
Mitchell Johnson has more than his moustache to thank for his rejuvenated career

Mitchell Johnson has more than his moustache to thank for his rejuvenated career

In 2012, Mitchell Johnson was at a crossroads in his career. After starting with such a bang he had faded to so much that he had become an international laugh stock. He was humiliated on and off the pitch and for anyone that is a tough spot to be in, but for Johnson – not the toughest mentally who put lots of pressure on himself – it was nigh on unbearable.

Enter Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith. An Australian soldier who won both the Medal for Gallantry and the Victoria Cross for Australia, ‘RS’ saw plenty of action in Iraq and Afghanistan and became a celebrity both in Perth, his home-town, and Australia as a whole. Johnson and Roberts-Smith met two years ago when Johnson was looking to anyone he could for help – and he found what he was looking for. Essentially, Roberts-Smith brought out the mongrel in Johnson that was lurking beneath the surface, and turned the boy who is, by all accounts, a perfectly pleasant person, into the man who has no remorse for the damage he can inflict with the ball. The talent was always there, but it just needed to be coaxed out of him.

Most important of all was the lesson of perspective. By teaching Johnson that there was more to life than cricket, and that there are people who have things considerably worse, the pressure was lifted from his heavily tattooed shoulders, and the burden was gone. This eye-opening realisation can come in various forms.

Stress-related illnesses can take down people in all professions and cricket is no different – so when Jonathan Trott returned home from the recent Ashes tour there was plenty said about the health of someone being infinitely more important than the result of a cricket match. And although the tour was disastrous, the felling of a giant of English cricket in such a way asked new questions of the training regime and intense playing schedule that England undertake. As a result, the coach who implemented the regime left his post, and English cricket is due a major environment upheaval.

Key to that upheaval will be captain Alastair Cook, who was half the cricketer he can be on that tour. Leaving Australia in early 2014, he returned to his farm in Bedfordshire with his pregnant wife. It has been widely reported that he enjoys taking his mind off cricket by lambing and with a lamb of his own on the way he will undoubtedly see that there is more to cricket, even after a tough day on the pitch.

Yet there are times when an incident which should lend perspective fails. New Zealand batsman Jesse Ryder was assaulted following a night out and left in a coma in 2013, a serious attack which threatened his life more than his career. He recovered sufficiently to make his return for the Blackcaps but, on the verge of a Test recall against India and being named in the World Twenty20 Cup squad, he was reprimanded following a late night out in Auckland. Dropped back to domestic cricket and not named in the World Cup squad, Ryder has set his own career back immeasurably after this indiscretion – the latest in a litany of alcohol related issues.

Obviously it is wrong to make assumptions on why Ryder breaks rules and damages his career, but following the attack on him last year he gained a huge amount of support from around the world. It would be disappointing if he can’t back up his talent with the maturity required to make it on the international stage.

Perhaps what Ryder needs is a mentor from outside the world of cricket. Johnson’s meeting with Roberts-Smith, however it came about, was the spark he needed to reinvigorate his career and rediscover his love of cricket. If Ryder and Cook can do the same they’ll be better for it.

England finally find their rhythm

24 Jan

177437After 91 days of misery, and 9 straight international losses, England finally broke their misery. A resounding 57 run victory in the 4th ODI against Australia is scant consolation for the loss of the Ashes and the ODI series, let alone the senior players that are battered beyond repair, but this win will mean a lot to this team – especially considering it is, effectively, a third string line up.
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Australia cash in as England fail again

12 Jan

176539England were thumped in the 1st ODI of the series by 6 wickets as Australia comfortably chased down 270 to win inside 45.4 overs. A century from Aaron Finch and telling contributions from David Warner and Michael Clarke sealed the game, which was set up by tight bowling and fielding during England’s innings. It was almost the perfect performance from Clarke’s men, whilst it was another poor display from England. Starting with their team selection and down to the tactics – this was just not good enough from the tourists.
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5 Reasons England Have Lost The Ashes

4 Jan

_71953834_719538331) Australia have been really good

Much of the talk trying to comprehend this defeat for England has been of how bad they are: should Cook be sacked; should Gooch or Flower go; which senior players need to retire. Australia’s excellent cricket has, for the most part, been overlooked. Mitchell Johnson is the consistently quickest bowler England have faced since Shoaib Akhtar in 2005/06 and Brett Lee on that final sun-drenched evening at The Oval in 2005. He’s consistently bowled bouncers and whilst he hasn’t had quite the impact against the good batsmen at the top of the order, his unwavering radar has caused England to take risks at the other end, and thrown away their wickets. Meanwhile, Brad Haddin has slogged away merrily, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris have been accurate and nagging and all the batsmen but George Bailey and arguably Shane Watson have had really telling innings. Most impressive has been Michael Clarke’s captaincy. He is a fidgety sort of skipper – a style which can look messy and uncertain at times – but he’s looked anything but that in this series. He bowls the star man Johnson in three over bursts, sets the right fields, and knows when to bring on his containing bowlers. He’s been in England’s face since Brisbane, and hasn’t backed down. Talking of England…

2) England have been really badAshes-Memes-If-You're-A-Terrible-Cook-And-A-Dud-Root-Ur-Broad-Will-Cheat-Funny

They’re fairly culpable here. Yes, England haven’t been thoroughly abject just yet, but that’s only because we are judging this soon-to-be 5-0 scoreline on the already exceptionally low yardstick by which we judge English cricket, especially when it’s at its lowest ebb. At the start of the series the batsmen were intent on trying to hook Johnson (which went so well, they all had a go), then they tried to attack Lyon (again, a very successful strategy), and now they just try and survive and wait to be bowled one, which they will leave and be bowled by. And although the bowlers have been slightly better, they’ve also been pretty dire. Constant short bowling to Brad Haddin has been careless at best, totally moronic at worst – and has led to Australia being able to play themselves out of any hole that a good spell of bowling has put them into. James Anderson has been incapable of getting the ball to swing, Graeme Swann was totally ineffectual before his retirement, Monty Panesar was so untrusted by Cook that Joe Root was bowling ahead of him at the MCG and, worst of all, their fielding has been so disappointing. Long days in the broiling Australian sun saps your concentration, but any professional cricket team would struggle to drop as many catches as England have so far.

3) Darren Lehmann’s impact is starting to be felt

He replaced Mickey Arthur about two weeks before the start of the 2013 Ashes series, and the sight of him looking melancholy on the balcony with his Sky commentary earpiece in was a wonderfully amusing one. But behind that grumpy stare was a man with a plan – a plan to change the way Australia were playing cricket. Clearly beset by the whole bag of chips on his shoulder at not playing more Test cricket, he turned his hand to coaching and he has come at the right time. He has been brutal and brash in a time of more sensitive leadership styles. In an era of general uncertainty for Australian sport (their rugby team is useless, they haven’t got a decent tennis player and their cricket team was turning into a laughing stock) he has returned the team to basics. Eschewing the more favoured and analytical stance with an emphasis on psychology (a word that David Warner would struggle to spell let alone understand), Lehmann has returned the Australian national team back to its root, where it is more comfortable. His ‘fags and booze’ approach is something of an act and he is a clinical tactician behind it all. Most relieved are the Australia public, who were growing tired of their cricketers completing (or not completing, if you’re Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja) ‘self improvement assignments’. Instead now they just Pommie bash, a far more palatable national past-time.

4) England are burned out

Also, pretty much all of them have entered the worst phases of their career simultaneously, which would be impressive if it had ended after, say, the second Test. Seemingly only Ben Stokes is immune, presumably because he hasn’t been playing Test cricket long enough to have a bad trot of form, and as such has become the leading man of English cricket. This is all linked in to them being jaded – international cricket is a non-stop jamboree of touring and playing, touring and playing. This is the same for all teams, but England do play more cricket than any other nation. How else could a man play 100 Tests at 28 years of age? England are exhausted. They need a break. There has been an Ashes overload and they need to face some new opposition. The fans need a break too – the prospect of another Ashes series next summer is so unappetising it alarms me.

5) The locals

Stay classy, Australia

Stay classy, Australia

I don’t just mean the Australian players who, whilst tip-toeing the line between professional toughness and over the top histrionics, have been put to shame by the antics of the Antipodeans in the stands, in the press box, or just on the street. Whenever Mitchell Johnson tells a tailender to ‘fuck off’ after dismissing him he is celebrated in this action by the official Cricket Australia digital presence – usually in the form of a short YouTube clip that has a 10% interest in showing the action and a 90% interest in gloating. Then there’s the booing of Stuart Broad (of course encouraged by coach Lehmann) which is all just pantomime stuff – but the way the chip-paper local rag in Brisbane referred to him throughout the 1st Test (‘smug Pommy cheat’, ’27 year old English medium pace bowler’, ‘Stuart Fraud’) was a touch beyond pantomime stuff. And then all the little bits: the lovely David Warner calling Jonathan Trott ‘weak’, days before leaving the tour with a stress-related illness; the PA announcer at Alice Springs with his interesting interpretation of the rules of common decency when introducing Monty Panesar to the crease; the non-stop, tiresome, maddening, classless sledging implemented by Australia and no doubt championed by Lehmann. These have all contributed to the atmosphere of unpleasantness that has surrounded this tour and, along with the imminent 5-0 scoreline, helps me in wishing the series to be over sooner rather than later. I’m not saying that touring should be easy, nor am I saying that England haven’t given a word or two to the Australians. But winning with grace should be instilled in any sportsman from the moment they first play the game – along with an understanding of fair play. There is room in sport for competitiveness and class – and this Australian team have very little of the latter.

Australia seek 5-0 and humiliation

2 Jan

ef5895ef-9292-4d95-bcca-d1d3ced4ce3c_300Australia on the verge of claiming an unprecedented 5-0 sweep; England on the verge of being dismissed as the worst team ever – that wasn’t supposed to happen. England certainly didn’t leave their shores as a terrible team, but with Graeme Swann retiring mid-series, the vice-captain Matt Prior dropped and Jonathan Trott missing the majority of the tour it is fair to say that Australia have broken their arch-rivals in a most undignified manner.
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Flower’s time to go?

30 Dec
Ashley Giles is really sneaky

Ashley Giles is really sneaky

In a previous article, I stated the need for calm following the Perth implosion. And although England need not clear the shelves totally, simply put, there needs to be a culture change within the team.

Watching them at the MCG as Chris Rogers and Shane Watson flogged them it was obvious that England were resigned to their fate. This has been a recurring theme for this English side – they are not strong mentally as those above them. England rarely get beaten, instead they get thrashed.

Andy Flower, as team coach, has brought huge success to England. Under his reign they became the best Test team in the world, won the 2010 ICC World T20 and won three Ashes series. In the last two years and before this current series, they had played 25 Tests, won 10 and lost 7. That was second only to South Africa. Indisputably, Flower’s reign has coincided with great success. But there have also been tremendous lows.

They were hammered by Pakistan in 2011/12 – although this was in Dubai, which is the cricketing graveyard few return from in one piece. Losing the 2012 series against the South Africans meant they lost their No. 1 ranking, which hurt them, and the fact that they went to New Zealand in early 2013 and drew all three Test matches was hugely disappointing.

When England have lost in this period, they have been thrashed. They have lacked the mental resolve of the better teams, such as South Africa, to fight back from losing situations. Only in India in 2012 have this incarnation of the English cricket team scraped back to win a Test series after going 1-0 down. In other situations they have been caned – 2-0 against South Africa (which was far more scarring than the scoreline, and the team itself, lets on), 4-0 versus Pakistan.  When looking at South Africa’s mental resolve, one just has to look at their recent game against India. Set 458 to win, they batted and batted and batted – finishing on 450/7.

Another pressing problem is that there are no brilliant alternatives to Flower. Whilst Ashley Giles is the obvious option as he coaches the ODI and T20 team, he hasn’t set the world alight and his allegiance to Warwickshire players is worrying at best, short sighted and biased at worst. If Giles were currently in charge, Chris Woakes, a Warwickshire player, would have played instead of Ben Stokes. And although ‘there is no one else’ isn’t a viable argument to keep Flowers on, the ECB will be mindful that until a better replacement is found there is no benefit to getting rid of him.

With a change at the very top of the ECB just before this series, it is unlikely that the new MD’s first decision will be to sack the coach. But he needs to have a firm talk with Flower – does he want the job any more; does he still command the same respect in the dressing room; will England bounce back. If he answers yes to these questions then the changes will have to come elsewhere – senior players, ageing players and eventually, the captaincy.