In the aftermath of defeat in the second Ashes Test against Australia, it is arguably too soon to discuss the things that need to change in English cricket if their fortunes are to improve. However, the title of this piece was penned in July after England were thumped by South Africa in the second Test of that series and sadly, five months later, it seems that nothing has changed.
There now seems a great need to discuss Trevor Bayliss’s tenure as England’s Test coach and whether he has a future after the Ashes.
Every England supporter knows the recent history and how Bayliss’s arrival was intended to advance their white ball skills with the aim of winning an International tournament (and avoid humiliating exits like the one witnessed in 2015). What is often forgotten is that it was also his objective to improve the Test side and compete for the number one ranking and establish England as the best Test side in the world. As we witnessed in the early hours of Wednesday morning in Adelaide, this seems a long way off.
When this piece was initially written, Bayliss’s record as head coach of England’s Test team was played 29, won 12, lost 13 and drawn 4. After defeat in Adelaide it stands at played 35, won 15, lost 16 and drawn 4. A win percentage of 41% in July has marginally improved to just under 43% but there remain a further three Tests in this series and if they pan out as badly as feared, that average could be down to 39% by the end of the series (assuming they lose all three).
Is this good enough?
There is no doubt that under Bayliss, England’s white ball cricket has improved. No longer are they unable to post or chase imposing targets and they now possess the destructive capabilities that they lacked a few years ago. Even though they have missed two golden opportunities already to win International tournaments (losing to West Indies in the World T20 final and being defeated by Pakistan in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy) the feeling is generally positive. It would be hard to argue that he has not delivered in two of the three formats.
It is Test cricket, however, that remains the ultimate form of the game and the one in which most coaches and players are judged most scrupulously, and it is in this format that England do not seem to be able to improve. On their day they have the skill and ability to overcome any of the current International sides, but they seem to be having too many days where they underachieve now and despite the seemingly revolving door of players the ECB are using, the results are not changing.
If this was football, the media would have been screaming for months about the coaching and the backroom staff, but it almost appears like Bayliss has a free pass in Andrew Strauss’s regime.
Following England’s tour of India last winter, where they were annihilated in the Test series, the summer presented Bayliss and the senior management with a chance to find solutions to the following problems: an opening partner for Alastair Cook, Joe Root’s conversions of 50s to 100s isn’t good enough and these contributions don’t win games, numbers three and five in the batting order, who is the best spinner and can Mark Wood be the X-Factor bowler England have needed for a few years?
Sitting here after Adelaide, it is difficult to say if any of these have been answered.
One of the fundamental attributes for a coach at International level is the ability to extract that extra one or two percent out of a player. Getting that little bit extra out of a performer, in any sport, is what defines the great coaches from the also rans. By the time they get to this level, players shouldn’t need any more coaching as such. Sure, they might need something technical ironing out but it is the basics that have got them this far and certainly at elite level it is those minor percentiles that make all the difference. Where has Bayliss improved England as a Test team?
Playing with a smile on your face and enjoying your team mates company is great in any sport and it is always pleasing to see someone playing to a high level and enjoying it. This can very much be seen in the ODI and T20 formats where playing with freedom allows expression and with some of England’s players this will enhance their performance. Test cricket requires more concentration, skill and inner grit, though.
Sometimes a pat on the back isn’t enough at Test level to spur you on to better performances. The great Steve Waugh used to not only sledge the opposition but sledge his own team mates to make them more determined. The softly-softly approach is clearly not working and after 35 games and a win rate of under 43%, it is approaching the time to consider another option.
Quite whether Bayliss could continue as white ball coach and someone could come in and take over coaching the Test team, I don’t have the answer for now. What is becoming incredibly clear though is that England have most of the ingredients to make a good International side but they don’t seem to be able to come up with the correct quantities on a consistent basis. Whilst there were certainly a few players playing in Adelaide who remain unlikely to cut it at this level, much of the squad has more than enough ability to compete and taste success.
Bayliss has been hugely important to England’s recent improvements but at Test level it is time to pass on the baton. The next few months will see significant changes at the ECB if this tour descends into chaos and it is time to start looking at those behind the scenes, as well as those on the pitch, and it needs to start from the very top.
By Andy Hunter