LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 27 : Joe Root looks on after England lost the 1st Natwest Test match between England and Pakistan at Lord's cricket ground on May 27, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Philip Brown/Getty Images)

An Australian’s Perspective On English Cricket

Winter is about kick off in Sydney, but does the cricket stop? Never! My cool, winter nights are often associated with watching the England cricket side typically do well on home soil. But this year, with Pakistan and India in town for Tests, it could be a very different story.

England’s poor loss to Pakistan in the first Test highlights three key issues from an outsider’s perspective. Sure, Australia are facing issues of their own, but this is an England side that was swept aside nonchalantly in the Ashes, and a return to Lord’s couldn’t mask the issues in their cricketing system.

I will explore three key reasons as to why England are struggling in Test cricket right now.

What focus is there on county cricket?

Andrew Strauss. Graeme Swann. Two players England just can’t seem to replace. England are also still struggling to find an out-and-out fast bowler.

What does this stem down to?

County cricket is always the same, from an outsider’s perspective. Players are exposed to slow, low seamers that suit 125-130km/h bowlers, providing no encouragement to spinners and genuine fast bowlers. This “sameness” coincides with the National team’s struggle to bowl opposition teams out, due to lack of variety on their attack. The figures, which you’ll see below, are damning.

English top run scorers in Division One so far this season are dominated by keeper-batsmen, including Ben Foakes, who has been a consistent performer for quite a while now. So, while Jos Buttler played very well in the first Test, his inclusion was a big blow for county cricket.
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County cricketers need to be enabled to perform their best, and at the moment, they are not.

England’s rise in limited overs cricket has had an adverse effect on their Test performance

Coach Trevor Bayliss was “almost at a loss” in attempting to describe what’s going on with his team, following their first Test defeat against Pakistan.

I can describe it. England’s poor mindset is a significant cause of their problems right now. Sure, one can say that deciding to bat first on a greenish pitch against a good Pakistan attack was brave and positive, but England’s batsmen simply have not been in it for the long haul, even on flatter pitches.

Since the start of their 2016 Bangladesh tour in which they drew 1-1, England have played 22 Tests. In these Tests, there have been 80 fifty plus scores, with just 16 (20%) converted into centuries (excluding not out/retired ill scores between 50 and 100). This is highlighted the most by their captain, Joe Root, who now has 10 consecutive fifty plus scores without converting (excluding his retired-ill 58* in Sydney earlier this year). England’s batsmen can fight for a little while, but opposition bowlers and captains know a wicket is around the corner. A recipe for disaster.

Conservative, boring approach to bowling

England’s bowling screams “Conservative” with a capital C.

Their obsession with “dry bowling” is catching up to them, which has coincided with their struggle to take wickets, thanks to their focus on dot balls instead of wickets. Heaven forbid they concede more than three an over. This mentality has led to the demise of the likes of Steven Finn, who burst onto the scene in 2010 and looked England’s next big thing. However, because he could not help England maintain an “acceptable” economy rate, he’s been in and out of the team, and the “sameness” in England’s bowling attack is just boring.

Again, the numbers back it up. Since the start of 2016 tour of Bangladesh, England have conceded an average first innings total of 384.95, spending 120.2 overs in the field. In away Tests, this rockets up to 449.36 runs and 140.2 overs respectively. How are they still persisting with their strategy of “economy first, wickets second”?
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One match that comes to mind is the second Ashes Test in Adelaide (D/N Test), where England chose to bowl first. James Anderson and Stuart Broad, two players with over 900 combined Test wickets, bowled at a length which enabled Australia’s batsmen to consistently play off the back foot. Their reluctance to pitch the ball up a little further to the bat is down to a mindset of “saving” rather than “attacking”, and has been a key factor in their Test struggles in recent times.

In addition, they genuinely believed they could win overseas with Moeen Ali as the lead spinner. No disrespect to Moeen, but it’s time England paid more attention to the need for a true frontline spinner. Young Dominic Bess has the role at the moment, and needs to look at bowling with more control in the upcoming second Test against Pakistan.

Attack with the ball, display greater aptitude with the bat

England cricket needs to sort out these three big issues. However, in the short term, their recipe for success has to be based on greater conversion rates, and pitching the ball up further to batsmen.

It promises to be a very interesting second Test, and I can’t wait.

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