English cricket in crisis

Rewind to six months ago, the Ashes were lost and English cricket thought it had a crisis. They were wrong.

That crisis was simply a state of manufactured panic following the loss of a single series – an affliction Australian cricket suffered through on several occasions in recent memory.

England’s solution, having already lost senior players Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann mid-Ashes, was to jettison the coach and their two leading run scorers for the series, Kevin Pietersen and Michael Carberry.

Now they’ve been bounced out of the second Test against the Indians, plus they’ve already lost a series to Sri Lanka earlier in the English summer. The crisis has not been resolved.

Alastair Cook is in the worst batting slump of his career, he’s had 27 innings without a century, averaging just over 23 during that time. If he weren’t captain he would have been dropped.

Worse for England is that his ongoing struggles with the willow are clearly affecting his confidence and ability as captain. Issues with his captaincy have been well documented, covering things such as bizarre bowler usage, odd field settings, and general negative tactics.

He has said he’ll stick around as long as needed, but at what cost to his batting and the English side?

Cook’s form aside, what other captaincy options do England have? Stuart Broad has the reigns at T20 level and Ian Bell is vice-captain and the next most senior player but, like Cook, not in great touch with the bat.

Some have Joe Root as a candidate, especially if they want to make a long-term change, however he’s young and one of only a couple in some sort of form. Do you want to throw the responsibility of captaincy at the risk of taking that glimmer of form away?

Post-match, Cook supported Matt Prior as the “best wicketkeeper batsman in the country”, a couple of hours later Prior stepped down for the rest of the summer. Officially it’s due to injuries that are hampering his performance, but it does feel a little like ‘jump before you’re pushed’.

He has taken 26 catches so far this English summer, but he’s probably dropped or missed half that many again. Then there are the 36 byes he let through in the last Test.

Jos Buttler, who has played for England in the shorter formats and was in the squad as cover for Prior ahead of the first Test, seems most likely to be behind the stumps when the third Test starts next Sunday.

In the lead-up to his maiden century there were discussions as to whether Ben Stokes, one of the few positives for England in last year’s Ashes, was a batting or bowling all-rounder. Since mid-January, Stokes’ scores in English colours have been 0, 5, 5, 4, 0, 4, 0, 0, 0 and 0 for an average of 1.8. With that you’d say he’s currently a bowling all-rounder, or not deserving of the all-rounder tag at all.

His seven wickets aren’t making up for it, if you’re in the side as an all-rounder you need to be making runs, Stokes clearly can’t do that for England at the moment. Being not born in England he’ll probably end up having a long career for England, but for now the selectors need to send him back to Durham and wait until he hits consistent form.

Another issue is the lack of a front-line spinner. Moeen Ali, who is more spinning-all-rounder than front-line spinner, has been doing a reasonable job and his ability with the bat has been useful.

Simon Kerrigan was added to the squad before the second Test, but his previous outing in the Ashes a year ago saw him only bowl eight very expensive overs, which made most question why he was picked at all. Kerrigan can’t force Moeen out of the side just yet, but maybe they could play alongside each other.

Depending on the pitch, Simon Kerrigan, Chris Jordan or Chris Woakes should be in line to take the fourth bowling spot from Stokes, allowing Ali to slide into the all-rounder spot. Given how they’ve struggled to wrap up innings quickly with the ball when they get themselves into a good position, and the indifferent form of the majority of the team, they need to change something, anything, if they are to remain in the series.

On top of all this you’ve got the one hour scenario that played out after lunch on day five, when the bottom half of England’s line-up were bounced out by Ishant Sharma in an embarrassing display of batting from all involved.

India will be wishing they’d taken to that tactic in the first session, England may not have even made it to lunch.

Ajinkya Rhane, Murali Vijay, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja and Sharma all played well for the Indians, but they were undoubtedly helped by some seriously inept cricket English cricket.

And as Ravindra Jadeja strolled in to bowl what would be the last ball of the Test, Peter Moores and Alastair Cook were shown in conversation on the Lord’s balcony.

I couldn’t help but wonder…

“Do you think we can blame this one on KP?”