Saturday, 6 January 2007

Unbearably brilliant

All I ever hope for is that some significant part of my life coincides with a period in which my national team are the best in the world at my favourite sport.

Football fans of my generation will sympathise with that sentiment, I am sure. We have been nearly-rans in World football since 1986 and with such a fabulously talented squad of players.

When you think you are nearly there, a thrashing like this is quite unbearable. Worst of all, it is the sort of ‘video nasty’ you just have watch.

Another “worst” aspect of this debacle was the fact that deep down, you knew we were on the receiving end of something very special. I wished I could have been neutral and been able to enjoy it for what it was – cricket history and the swansong of two of crickets living legends. Shane Warne is the first sportsman whose career and mastery I watched as it happened and who will still be talked about in 100 years. He is my Pele, my Mohammed Ali, my Bradman. I should have enjoyed it more. I should have seen him live.

Since an inquiry into England’s loss is soon to commence, and they will almost certainly consult this blog for views, I really had better provide some.

England were whitewashed the day the Aussie squad AGREED to partake in a boot camp last year. It told me everything I needed to know about their seriousness, their humility and their commitment to each other. I, and now they, understand the monumental importance of a shared hardship in building the team. I come from a culture of “train hard, fight easy” and the Aussies approach to this series is its epitomy. I emphasise the word ‘agreed’ because in England, even if such an idea made it to first base, it would have been laughed out of Court. Go on, suggest it now – see what happens.

England were whitewashed because our BOWLING was atrocious. Batting may be the glorious face of cricket but bowling is the only aspect that matters. You see the ONLY way to WIN a test match is to bowl the opposition out twice. You can score a thousand runs, but if you only take 19 wickets, you draw. It really doesn’t matter how good your batsmen are (and ours really are pretty good), if your bowlers let the opposition back into the game at every turn, confidence wanes, fluency departs, runs dry up and the old middle order collapse becomes endemic. In the crucial 2nd Test, our batsmen scored a massive 1st innings total, only to watch their bowlers throw the advantage away. Its like pouring water into a bath with the plug out – pointless and demoralizing.

England were whitewashed because we didn’t have a Captain. Flintoff may be an incomparable all rounder, he may be a talisman, he may be capable of turning a game, but he is not a leader and he is not a Captain. He cannot even spell the words and must be sacked immediately. I am pretty much alone in this observation. The TV pundits won’t touch him but he is to blame. The Captaincy quite obviously suffocated his own game and his strategies were hopeless. But worst of all, Flintoff doesn’t have the courage to stand apart from the team. He tries to lead by having pals, which of course means that your team splits into two camps and falls apart under pressure. He was powerless to help the floundering Harmison and he wouldn’t fire Jones or Giles until the Ashes were lost because they are all best mates. Just remember, this is the man who was received by our Queen completely pissed. How we laughed.

In summary, I believe that:

Giles, G Jones (wkpr), Mahmood and Anderson should not play for England again.

Harmison and Trescothick must be put in last chance saloon and asked to find their own way back to the top. Only then will we know if they really want it. Is Harmison a tough Durham miner or is he a wet, Essex lady-boy?

Dogged though he is, Collingwood must make way for Vaughan, who must play at number 6 initially.

Flintoff must hand the Captaincy back to Vaughan and return to the ranks where he is most effective.

Strauss must be Vice Captain at all times.

The search for a strong wicket keeper / batsman goes on, but trust me every candidate under the age of 23 knows exactly what they have to do, and will stop at nothing to achieve it. One of them will make it.

The ECB must face up to their error and pay any price to bring Troy Cooley back as our bowling coach.

Young bowlers such as Lewis, Tremlett, Plunkett and Broad must square up for the two places available in support of Hoggard, Flintoff and Panesar.

Our batsmen must be reminded that scoring runs is a matter of pride under any circumstances and regardless of how crap everyone else around you is. Cricket may be a team game but at the crease, you are on your own and should be as selfishly determined to succeed as Tiger Woods or Roger Federer.

Strauss, Cook, Bell, Pietersen, Flintoff, Vaughan, Wicketkeeper, Panesar, Hoggard, fast bowler, fast bowler. That’s the order and we have three un-named spaces. Go for your lives this summer, boys. Fight for it. The others all have.

We really do have a fantastic (and young) team here, but it must be lead properly, it must have ruthlessly disciplined and effective bowlers and it must live and breathe as one through thick and thin. It must also know that success comes from greatness, and greatest is not borne on the back of winning one perilously close Ashes series.


Middle & Off said...

I will agree with you on most of this, however, I will defend Mahmood. Whilst he hasn't had a very good series (who did?), he is potentially a real talent. His action is good and he is certainly one of a handful of quick bowlers who run in naturally. By that I mean that he does not force himself but remains relaxed until the point of delivery.

The WK role is vital and there are many candidates for the position. Both Jones & Reed suffered at the hands of a poor selection policy and when Jones was dropped Reed had to step in without any real preparation. This was unfair on him and I think that was reflected in his batting performance. But when it came to his wicketkeeping I marked him down as almost faultless and therefore I would perservere with him for the immediate future and until a suitable understudy can be trained.

I'd like to see Stuart Broad in the side as a future replacement for Hoggard. Harmison has never proved any consistancy and therefore should be dropped. His younger brother may prove to be a suitable replacement!

Richard Bailey said...

Mahmood threw a tantrum in the press and then produced crap. All cocky mouth and no trousers. He is out for me along with Anderson. They had their chance.

Totally with you on Reed. I didn't really give that enough thought. I too would stick with Reed for the whole of this coming summer and let his batting develop. We must stop comparing our keepers with Gilchrist.

Richard Bailey said...

And another quick comment.

Finally Pietersen's arrogance has been matched by performance.

He was terrific in this series. His dual with Warne was sublime and we should all regret that their careers did not coincide more fully.

His post series interview was also supreme. He openly acknowledged the excellence of the bowling strategy against himself. He stated where everyone had gone wrong and should learn lessons.

I would prefer to see him as Captain ahead of Flintoff anyday and quite possibly ahead of Strauss.

His "take no prisoner" attitude is just what England needs right now.

Good man, Kev.