The fall out and recriminations following England’s surrender of the Ashes to Australia will continue for a while yet. Ashes battles are each nation’s barometer of the health of their domestic game and following another chastening experience in Australia, all eyes will be on how England plan to improve on their appalling recent away form.
Whilst the futures of Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad and Alastair Cook will be debated at length, it’s becoming clearer that fault, or blame if you will, lies among the upper echelons of the ECB. With county cricket taking a backwards step this summer to accommodate the ever-increasing lust for a T20 competition to rival the IPL and Big Bash, the future of the red ball game in England looks bleaker now than it has done for a long time.
And who is to blame for much of this? England’s own governing body.
Ever since the 2015 World Cup fiasco, the ECB have been on a mission to win the 2019 World Cup. Victory must be achieved at all costs. A four-year plan is in play. It’s what the Australian’s do and they’ve done okay, so it must be the best thing to do. England must proceed.
Entrusted with this task, Andrew Strauss moved quickly to appoint Trevor Bayliss as the head coach; a man with a proven track record of delivering white ball success. Immediately after his appointment the return Ashes series arrived and in 2015 England won the series 3-2 and with that, the wrongs had been righted and everything was good in the English game. Defeat against Pakistan away followed, but the Australians had lost more heavily than England, so that was okay.
Next, England went on to South Africa and won – proving yet again that English cricket was as strong as it could be. Never mind that Vernon Philander or Dale Steyn barely featured.
A win at home against Sri Lanka followed by a drawn series against Pakistan set the side up for what posed at the time a very competitive tour of India. That ended four zero to the home team but again we were told, and stats backed it up, that it’s always tough to win away from home. Last summer saw South Africa and the West Indies beaten at home and even I found myself being reasonably confident about England’s chances ahead of this latest Australian tour.
How have they hoodwinked me and almost everyone else? The evidence has been suggesting this defeat the entire time. Bayliss and Joe Root were sent into a gun fight with a swiss army knife. The sad truth is that English cricket currently lacks the type of players needed to do well in Australian or Indian conditions in red ball games.
Meanwhile, over with the white ball, English cricket has been improving. England win a few series now and perhaps might manage to get through the next World Cup without being a laughing stock, which for so long has been the default setting of English ODI teams. Bayliss’s leadership style has allowed the squad to relax and play their best cricket which in turn has resulted in a change of fortunes. However, defeat to the West Indies in the final of the World T20 and failure to win the Champions Trophy last summer suggests that winning the World Cup in 2019 is far from a certainty. If England don’t win it, what happens then?
With domestic red ball cricket being shunted to the very beginning and very end of the summer the ECB are putting the future of the Test team in danger. The short-sighted nature of the money that domestic T20 tournaments can bring has clearly impinged their decision making and vision for the growth of the game in England.
Interestingly, as a side note, there is always a focus on the enjoyment of women and children at the Big Bash in Australia. My experience of T20 in England is lots and lots of drinking followed by less and less interest in the cricket. Clearly Tom Harrison and Strauss prefer to fleece drunks rather than provide a family spectacle or quality cricket.
Last winter suggested problems with England’s red ball game and this winter has hammered it home. Winning at home may well be all that the ECB need to do to keep them in their little bubble, but sport should be about being the best and sadly England are a very long way from that at this moment in time. Whilst they focus solely on the World Cup next summer they are taking their eye off everything else and thus English cricket is in a bit of a sorry state.
Most of the issues surrounding behaviour and performance can be addressed internally and hopefully improved upon but if the people running the game are not providing the platform for players to succeed then the issues run far deeper. The England team are not excusable for the surrender of the Ashes but the platform they are being provided with is eroding. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I’d rather beat Australia and be number one in the Test arena than win a white ball World Cup. It’s just a damn shame nobody at the ECB cares.
By Andy Hunter