Note: I am about to do something I rarely, rarely do here at Limited Overs: blog about strategy, team selections, field positionings, and other on the pitch nuts and bolts. I freely admit that I am going to get most of this wrong, because I am just simply so new to the game (only five-plus years now). So, in that spirit, a disclaimer: if I get something terribly backwards and wrong, I encourage you to let me know in the comments; just please be nice about it.
Watching India bat on and on and on against England this week, while simultaneously watching England do the exact opposite against the Indian attack has been incredibly eye opening.
The fact that England took the field on day one with nearly the exact same lineup that we saw against South Africa was one thing, but then they went about their business in the same exact manner: fast bowler after fast bowler, steaming in, again and and again. Their fielders were positioned like it was the Oval, their bowlers were attacking like it was the Oval, and with the exception of Swann, the results were as expected, because they were not playing at the Oval, there were playing on the Sub-continent.
I am of course not the first person to say this: but why exactly they didn’t come out with two spinners is absolutely and positively beyond me.
But beyond just adding a second spinner, I think it is high time that England look into having two separate squads: one for the Sub-continent, and one for everywhere else. Their batsmen, for the most part, simply cannot play spin, which was, again, painfully evident once Dhoni decided to declare and let Ojha and Ashwin and Company wreak havoc on England’s batsmen.
Five English batters ended the first innings with scores in the single digits. FIVE. And only one of those was a bowler. And with the exception of Cook (more on him in a minute) and Prior, they have not fared better in the second innings. Trott: 17 off of 43; Pietersen two off of six; and Patel out for a duck.
It has been said a million times before: England cannot play spin, so why not find players who can, and make them your Sub-continental specialists? Play them in the first class domestic leagues in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and/or Pakistan (if they will have them), or failing that, start a league down there, similar to the instructional leagues in Major League Baseball. Continue doing what you are doing with County Cricket, as it is doing a fine job churning out fast bowlers and superior batsmen, but it is failing otherwise.
I am not sure if this is the right solution, and I am not sure it is even possible much less feasible, but something has to change because I am simply sick of watching teams struggle on the Sub-continent. Not because I am a fan of England, but because I am sick of watching boring cricket.
At the very least, England, employ two spinners. I mean really, India brought mostly seamers to England 18 months ago, why can’t you use a similar tactic when you visit India?
And I know they were playing Bangladesh, but the West Indies had two slow bowlers in their test earlier this week, while they at most used one against England this past summer.
Furthermore, leave guys with loooonnng histories of failure against spin at home.
There just has to be a better way….
Of course, if it was that easy, then that’s would they would probably be doing.
All of that said: Alastair Cook has been phenomenal.
His actual statistical accomplishment requires too many qualifiers (third best score by a captain when having to follow on in India…or something), but England are in this match with a shout for one reason and one reason: Cook stood up and carried the team when they needed him to. This is not meant to downplay Prior’s contribution, but Cook carries the added responsibility of the captain’s armband – which can be a heavy and burdensome yoke.
England fans, no matter what the outcome of the match turns out to be, should be immensely proud of their captain. He has cemented himself in the role for years to come. And it is a real shame that current vice-captain, Stuart Broad, is leagues behind Cook in on the field leadership. They currently do not have anyone else in the squad ready to step in as captain should Cook get hurt. Prior of course is the one exception but he does not play one-dayers and is three years older than Cook anyway.
Summation: The two top priorities for England right now should be: team selection for Sub-continent tours; and the grooming of a proper replacement for Cook.
Been a fun ten days of Test cricket. And it just keeps on coming…