Thursday, 30 April 2015

Safety first?

Thursday, 30 April 2015
It isn't exactly news to say that English cricket is, on the whole, very conservative. We saw it at the World Cup, we've seen it in test matches; we often see it in the way they play, and in the team selections. There's generally that fear of something different, the reason why we could never see someone with the technique of a Malinga come through the system; or why when we get an exciting young player, an instinct usually prevails that they are 'not quite ready' to step up to that next level.

We've seen this instinct in full force during this series against the West Indies. I will try my best not to keep harping on about it and repeating myself, but it was another instance where England had the chance to try something new and inject some fresh blood, and went for the safe option instead. I have nothing against Trott being back in the team, I am a big fan - but this series could have been an opportunity to go for something different and look to the future with Adam Lyth, have a look at him ahead of the Ashes later this year. And it would have provided something a bit different, a contrast of tempo to Alastair Cook. It's a similar story with Rashid and Tredwell - the steady, reliable option winning the battle rather than that extra touch of adventure, though Rashid is still said to be in contention as a second spinner for the final test. The safe option is understandable given that neither Cook or Moores' jobs have never been entirely secure and they won't want to risk too much, but why not just give it a go and throw them in?

On the field the safest approach usually wins out too - we rarely see an attacking declaration, going that extra mile to secure a draw before thinking of the win; the batting can lack aggression, or at least opportunities are taken as late as possible; when they're in the field, there's often too much hesitation, not enough initiative. Even as England won the Ashes 3-0 in 2013, it just wasn't the most inspiring cricket - a strategy more of grinding the opponent down rather than necessarily exciting the fans. Of course they shouldn't be completely gung ho and completely forget about defence, it just might be nice to see a bit more edge, a bit more fun. It's finding that balance between being entertaining and achieving the results they should. The problem though hasn't been exclusive to Cook's captaincy, more a legacy of conservatism following the team as they go.

The problem isn't just in test cricket. Of the many complaints whilst England struggled through the World Cup, this was one we heard again and again. Part of the problem is the traditionalism of the English game, test cricket always remaining the priority. Whilst test cricket is my favourite format, and probably is too for the large majority of English supporters, it doesn't mean that the others should just fall by the wayside. Tests - and most particularly the Ashes - remain our number one, whilst Australia prove themselves more than capable of managing all three. In the short forms, England just haven't kept up. The thought is still to build a platform, have that solid base to begin with. It can help in England, where the ball does more early on - but it's not always the way forward when they're travelling, or even all the time they're home. Plus there's that constant focus on statistics and the par score, playing to a plan rather than adapting to what's in front of them. It's a conservative way of play, a safe option in formats where there isn't room for one.

England do have young, exciting players, but when they're a bit different from the established norm it seems to strike fear into the hearts of management. Alex Hales scores a brilliant Twenty20 century, puts himself firmly up there with the best in the world and surely becomes a shoo-in for the ODI team, but a new series comes around and the opening pair is Cook and Bell. By the time Hales' chance came round, he was being played out of his preferred spot in the order and the confidence wasn't quite there. Jos Buttler scored an incredible ODI century, one of the best there's been for England - but straight away he's told he's not 'quite ready yet' to be given a go in the test side. Now he's in there, playing well, you wonder why we had to wait.

It's part of the reason why the squad announced for England's trip to Ireland looks so exciting. Hales, Vince, Roy - all have been the names everyone's been talking about over the last year, the new generation to get the fans going. I do have slightly mixed feelings about the squad as a whole - Ireland have a right to feel aggrieved, it being very much a second string side and another marker of England's lack of respect - but it will be interesting to see how some of these players go on their first taste of international cricket. Maybe it's a sign of things to come. But it's a culture problem as much as anything, so it will still be a long - but safe - road ahead.

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