It says a lot about the mindset of English cricket at the moment that the selectors and the coaching staff felt that picking four fast-medium bowlers would be enough to bowl Australia out twice in Perth. And it summed up what many people feel about the English team – sublime at home, woeful away.
England’s latest hammering at Perth underlined several current problems within the English game. And as Joe Root’s men wilted in the field under the Perth sun on days two, three and four, it wasn’t only the bowlers that were being pummelled around the WACA, it was the system.
Perth Thrashing Underlines Problems In English System
For several years now, England have been known as a side only capable of performing at home and it’s easy to see why. In their last eight Tests overseas, England have spent many overs in the field (162 – Rajkot, 129.4- Vizag, 138.2 – Mohali, 182.3 – Mumbai, 190.4 – Chennai, 130.3 – Brisbane, 148 – Adelaide, 179.3 – Perth) due to a lack of pace and penetration in their attack.
Why is this? Why have England been so unable to produce bowlers for all conditions? The answer perhaps lies within the English system.
County Cricket in England is not suiting fast bowlers and the pitches have a lot to do with that. On softer wickets and in mostly cool conditions, bowlers who tend to have the most success in England are ones who bowl with accuracy and can move the ball. The reliance on pace through the air is lessened due to the helpful conditions.
“I think the conditions play a big part in it,” Steven Finn told ESPN Cricinfo last week. “We are trying to develop spinners in this country with the toss rules and not making pitches biased towards fast bowlers, but I do think the slowness of the wickets discourages people from bowling fast. Whether it’s a seaming wicket or a spinning wicket in this country, we struggle to produce quick wickets, which is a shame.
“The quickest wicket I’ve played on in the last few years is Scarborough and it’s an outground, it gets one or two games there a year. Everywhere else has the feeling of being a bit of a pancake because people are scared of losing games of cricket. If we don’t address that issue at some stage it’s going to get worse.”
The knock on effect of such docile pitches and having young bowlers not being encouraged to bowl fast is that there then comes a plethora of medium-fast bowlers and not ones who can deliver the ball at 90mph. The system and County Cricket are encouraging one-dimensional bowlers.
And that is showing in England’s current side. James Anderson and Stuart Broad, fine bowlers they are, were never going have as much impact on the flatter wickets in Australia or anywhere else abroad by bowling below 85mph. The same goes for Chris Woakes and Craig Overton.
By contrast, Australian bowlers playing on such wickets encourages pace through the air and thereby taking the pitch almost out of the equation, hence the success of their fast bowling trio in this series. They all have variety – a key necessity to any attack looking to win around the world.
Another major issue within the England team and the system also is the coaching. Not enough time is spent on focusing a key aspect of the game – technique. The lack of a technical batting and bowling coaching emphasises the ‘jobs for the boys’ mentality within English cricket. The system wants people who don’t rock the boat, instead of ones who can deliver results.
Millions has been pumped into the ECB performance centre but for what? Players who come through the system end up having technical issues with their batting and are too one-dimensional with their bowling. Only a handful of fast bowlers recently have been produced: Olly Stone, George Garton, Jofra Archer, Craig Overton, Josh Tongue and Middlesex’s Tom Barber. Bowlers need to be rewarded for bowling with pace and not discouraged.
The question needs to be asked: Are the current crop of coaches coaching the right things? Are the likes of Mark Ramprakash and Graham Thorpe having enough influence on England’s batsmen both technically and mentally to bat for long periods of time? The evidence would suggest not.
There is a lack of ruthlessness in this England side and that could also stem from the head coach. Since he took charge of England back in 2015, Trevor Bayliss has constantly preached that his side plays a positive, aggressive brand of cricket, refusing to be bullied and instead take the game to the opposition in the process. While this method can be thoroughly entertaining when it works, it also holds back other crucial requirements needed in a side that aims to be world number one in the longest format. As a result of England’s high-risk approach, they have found it very difficult to achieve any consistency in the Test arena. Bayliss’s Test record reads: played 36, won 16, lost 15, drawn four. Only four of those 16 victories have been away from home.
England were embarrassed last winter by Bangladesh and India not only due to the lack of variety in their bowling attack but due to the lack of patience and application with the bat. They are not the first or the last side to be found out in the subcontinent but lessons still haven’t been learned from those tours on what it takes to be successful abroad.
Perhaps having variety and producing players for all conditions will never be top of ECB’s priority list and there may lie the problem. Yet for all the high ticket prices and the money being pumped into English cricket, the one-dimensional nature of the Test team is simply not good enough.
England have spoken for a long time now about aiming to become the best Test team in the world again. Yet the current approach and system is unlikely achieve that.
Major changes to the system are needed. Otherwise, hammerings like the one at Perth are going to continue away from home.