Cricket fans of Ingerland, recalibrate your heart to the joys of orchid or vetch-watching and give a warming phenomenon a chance. For one of the loveliest things about the natural world is the seemingly illogical blooming of wildflowers on wasteland. Thus you residents of Croydon or of Barry – or Dublin, Jo’burg or Harare, come to think of it – in your bland estates, need only import a 50 tonnes dollop of subsoil (not topsoil) and hurl it round the gaff before the tiddly gems appear, free of competition from nettle or from ryegrass. Hopefully. Hopefully this works.
The worldly wise may counsel for strategies plural, however, amidst the trauma of ahem… overwhelming events Down Under.
Therefore I wholeheartedly offer both Wildflower Innoculation Therapy and, as a Plan B, in this clunkingly deflating instance, for the restoration of national pride, the following; the defiant public bellowing of ‘Darkling Thrush’ by former Gloucestershire quickie, Thomas Hardy, featuring mainly a psychotically trilling bird – a bird trilling against the cruel universe, a bird whose pain we might know.
Because we’re smashed, smashed and bewildered too, right? And something has to be done or said, or screamed hysterically to the heavens.
Gor blimey. Just re-listened to Sir Geoffrey on Five Live; really hurting. Whatever you think of the bloke his umbilical link to the game visibly/audibly remains intact, his views carry both the weight of genuine experience and well… love actually. The man cares as well as spouts. He felt the final day’s Ashes Capitulation was possibly the worst he’d ever seen from an England side, unsurprisingly, making this Pink Day a kind of remarkable low point.
So what’s to do? Who has to carry the can or step aside or go back to their county and re-earn the right? In a case so extreme – one where a side of ours is so unrelentingly battered by a worthy but hardly majestic opponent – it’s not just that weird vengeance thing that cries out for change. Even the steadiest of us can barely contain our rage and disappointment. What’s to do? Here’s a few scattered thoughts from another scrambled brain…
We’ll agree on very little, no doubt, my friends (and that’s fine – great fun, even) except that the most immediate and arguably most central issues are those over captain and coach(es). This team have failed so utterly against a decent rather than exceptional side that falling upon swords by the alleged ‘leadership group’ – zoiks, they probably do describe themselves that way! – has to be/to have been considered. One way or t’other, material changes in coaching and playing staff are unavoidable.
Head Coach Flowers has been one of the world’s best for several years but for him to preside over a tour where energy, brightness and morale as well as decision-making of all sorts has been so consistently, dispiritingly poor or vulnerable suggests some fundamental reboot is necessary. Hard to know how much his personal mojo has deserted him and how much is down to players failing to execute; in either case the dearth of motivation and professional focus is a huge grubby mark against the Flowers record. If he survives, he is lucky – but I could live with that.
Batting Coach Graham Gooch fits even more snugly into the stolid, anti-inspirational mould than his ultimate boss. For me this means he goes. Players have evidently stopped listening; he goes.
Cook has had such a lousy tour and is so patently not a Test skipper that the only thing that can keep him in place is the lack of a viable replacement. He is a bland man and a historically tremendous batsman who must clearly stay in the side to re-groove his run-making habit at the top of the order. Folks might follow him in that order and indeed the record books but crucially they ain’t truly gonna follow him. He lacks charisma, he lacks a captain’s wit, he lacks spunk (actually.) What’s to follow?
There is no-one in this group with the class, invention or implacable will to step in and replace Cook; hilariously, Broad is probably the closest we have to the spirited ideal. But given that Pietersen and Bell – other crypto-contenders? – are too cheesy and too chalky respectably, who is there and where is he at?
This surely is what most fans are wondering , if indeed they are sufficiently engaged after this horror show to think or talk England Cricket? Should there be a county skipper out there who is strongish and spiky and can bat middle order he may well be in contention. May that conversation continue, eh?
In terms of who stays in the side on merit, we’re looking at Stokes and um… Stokes, I suppose. The stats say Pietersen has done okay and the pro pundits all seem to idolise his talent but I do wonder where we would be if he had been dropped (permanently?) for his arrogance and subversion late in the Strauss era?
We could not possibly be any worse off right now and it could be somebody like Root might perchance have exploited that KP void whilst a happier, better expressed Swann might still be twirling away. (And yes, I probably am making a case for a KP-less England being a chirpier, more holistically-sound unit. Less eggshells to walk on, more team-aware/state-of-game-aware batting too, quite likely, as players actually listen to the gaffer rather than ‘play their own way’.)
Pietersen’s work in Australia has been mixed. One or two mildly shocking outbreaks of grit and application in the usual matrix of ‘confident’ expression; by which I mean the reach for dominance. Mostly again, in my view, he was a prize rather casually gifted – look at the dismissals and who got him out. Team spirit is really big in team sport – just look at the Aussies now they’ve sorted theirs. KP remains an island in solitary, slightly fading pomp.
Carberry is a fascinating one. I wondered aloud re-Ashes about his scratchiness but hoped his apparent coolness/rootedness as a bloke might see him through. Arguably, it did but it may be deemed a too significant failure that he made all those starts and never went on. Expect him to be victim of the inevitable and justifiable culling and ‘rejuvenation’.
Bell had a tour he will wish to forget. He crumbled, something a technically robust and generally temperamentally sound and experienced international must not do. He will barely believe some of his dismissals happened to him.
Root was a big disappointment but looks likely to benefit from the longer-term view; Ballance may get another shot at it; Bairstow may too but his keeping and batting were ordinary and Prior will surely return?
The bowlers were forever playing catch-up but they were rarely up to it. They wilted, generally, in a way that surprised and disappointed me more than the batting debacle. Selection, strategy and execution were equally as shambolic. God knows these guys have enough information about where and how to bowl at particular players – the famous ‘plans’ – and what is likely to happen under the various conditions across the Oz continent. I know I’m not alone in suspecting that this may even be part of the problem – bamboozlement and overcoaching. Too many ideas, too little focus and no execution. Certainly our bowlers lacked what we might call, with some hesitation, mental strength.
At junior levels we think of 2 or three things only to guide a player through. Could it be that the 42 objectives coursing through the brains of our bowling attack only served to increase the level of befuddlement?
If there was a word that encapsulated England in these Ashes it was ‘scrambled’. Bowlers too; they lacked threat then became directionless – often literally. They were humiliated every bit as much as the batsmen. OK, the injury to Broad didn’t help, but the feeling arose very early and then persisted that we didn’t know either our best bowling attack or how to take on the Australian batting.
Look we have to credit the Aussies for a pretty complete performance throughout. But even or especially at elite level, the non-negotiables – playing with spirit, bowling line and length, batting watchfully – mean you are at the very least always competitive. What hurts Boycs and me… and probably you the most is that England were never competitive. Never.
Find the wildflower in that desert.