A new summer was meant to bring new hope. All the painful travails of the winter for England’s Test side in Australia and New Zealand, for however worrying they were, needed to be forgotten. The first Test at Lord’s against Pakistan was a chance to regain some confidence and start again.
This should have been a safety net for England. Sure, Pakistan are a high-quality side on their day, as we have seen, yet they have known to struggle away from home. And as poor as England have become away from home, they haven’t lost a home Test series in four years. Their home form has been seen to mask their away woes.
For all the flaws within the system of English cricket, the home record of the Test side has been able to give those responsible some breathing space. Yet, now after the embarrassing first Test defeat to Pakistan, the light is beginning to shine on the real problems in English cricket.
After the Test woes of the winter, the ECB made several changes on and off the field. Out went James Whittaker as National Selector and in came Ed Smith as his replacement. In addition, a greater ‘scouting system with designated discipline-specific scouts’ had been implemented to identify County Cricket’s star performers more quickly and accurately. Meanwhile, on the field, Jos Buttler returned to add some ‘x-factor’ to the middle order and Dom Bess, a man with an impressive first-class record was brought in for the injured Jack Leach.
Yet, England are still struggling. Joe Root’s side have lost eight of their last 15 and 20 of their last 44 Tests and appear to have regressed in the longer format since the appointment of Trevor Bayliss as head coach in 2015. Such form includes series thrashings in India and Australia and embarrassing Test defeats to West Indies and Bangladesh. It is a major slide that seems to be getting worse before it gets better.
The ECB have made changes in order to arrest this slide but it’s becoming clear they are not having a positive effect, not yet anyway. Are they making the right changes? After several selection blunders during this barren Test run, a change of national selector made perfect sense, as did a better focus on the form of players in County Cricket. However, it seems the ECB are either forgetting or refusing perhaps the real issue in English cricket – coaching.
The ECB take pride in their specific method of coaching and bringing through players, particularly at Loughborough but such a slump in England’s Test form, along with continuous technical faults that are not being addressed, suggests that the methods are as ineffective as they are outdated. Yet, nothing seems to be done by the ECB to fix this problem.
There seems to be a serious issue with the batting coaches, especially. Mark Ramprakash and Graham Thorpe were two superb batsmen in their playing days but being a great player does not necessarily make you a good coach. Both have been known to just throw balls down to players instead of offering them valuable advice, both technically and mentally. The question remains: what are they offering to England’s batsmen? The answers seem to be out on the pitch – not a lot. In the last 22 Tests, England have been dismissed for less than 300 on 24 occasions.
Are the ECB scared to ring the changes in this department? There seems to be a ‘jobs for the boys’ mentality in English cricket, in which big names get the nod in top coaching jobs instead of coaches who may have a better knowledge of how to improve a player technically and mentally. Such a mentality possibly explains why those such as Ramprakash and Thorpe have not been at least held accountable for England’s batting woes.
The absence of a technical coach, both for batting and pace bowling, remains a mystery also. Such coaches help players find better ways of coping with what challenges the opposition bowlers offer, and consistent grooving and practice of that technique is vital. Given the technical flaws in England’s batting over the past two years, the refusal to address such a problem is confusing.
As mentioned before, the alarming lack of quality coaching is being repeatedly exposed, especially away from home. At home, the same problems appear, though England have usually been able to paper over the cracks through the excellence of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and, last summer, Chris Woakes. However, now, after the hammering at home to Pakistan, England and the coaching staff are running out of places to hide and excuses to make.
Another poor performance at Headingley and it may finally be time to look at coaching as the real issue rather than the players because, at the moment, the current system is proving nowhere near good enough.