With an Ashes series just around the corner, the media hype will soon start to intensify. Australia demolished England 5-0 in the last series, having themselves lost the previous series 3-0. That defeat, however, marked the start of a new Australia with a new, aggressive approach. England’s defeat, however, has not had quite such a profoundly positive impact.
For all of the praise lavished on England after their First Test victory over New Zealand at Lord’s, there were times when England captain, Alastair Cook erred far too far on the side of caution. England’s second innings non-declaration was a moot point; had James Anderson, inexplicably sent out to bat at number 11, managed to bat for 20mins, it is most likely the game would have been drawn. Had New Zealand managed to chase down 345 on the final day, then sometimes you just have to doff your cap to your opponent.
England’s conservatism is not in keeping with the direction in which cricket is headed, as was emphatically highlighted at the World Cup, albeit in a different format. New Zealand have shown the way through 2014 in Test cricket, with blistering attacks leaving their bowlers sufficient time to get results out of even the drabbest of wickets. As they showed at Lord’s, they are willing to risk defeat in order to taste victory.
This recalls the last Ashes match played in England in 2013 when Michael Clarke, the Australian skipper who wholly subscribes to an attacking, aggressive ethos, declared Australia’s second innings on 111 at The Oval to leave England to chase 227 for the win. He hoped that England would attack the total and that Australia would be able to pick up enough wickets to snatch an unlikely win.
It was balls-out stuff. It was immensely enjoyable, too. The game was coasting to nothingness when Clarke made something of it. Kevin Pietersen nearly guided England to victory, only for bad light to halt the victory charge.
Can you imagine Cook doing anything like that?! Make sure you can’t lose, then chase the win. It’s a negative attitude that risks throwing away dominant positions. Deploying a third man when the opposition are 2/2 in a near impossible chase defies logic, too, as Cook did at Lord’s last week. There is little that is cavalier about England’s captain.
For all the talk of a new era in England cricket, the leadership is stuck with a hangover from the hugely successful Andy Flower/Andrew Strauss coach/captain combo that led England to be the best team in the world. That success was borne out of conservatism. That worked then, but will not work now. The game has simply moved on.
Trevor Bayliss has a big job on his hands when he comes in as coach ahead of the Ashes. There are exciting young players in the England ranks, but they need exciting leadership and an aggressive philosophy that is in tune with modern cricket if they are to thrive and succeed.
Compare the following quotes:
“The normal inclination is to go with the same team because you like to give people the confidence that they are not always playing for their place. You get stability when you’re winning and everyone knows their role in the team.”
Alastair Cook speaking about England’s team for the third Test in the Caribbean this year.
“We’ll wait and see what they give us in the middle and then we’ll make a plan from there… I don’t think it’d be fair on any of the players to make that decision today just with how the wicket is. I think there’s still a lot unknown; it’s still quite wet, they are watering it a few times a day, so it looks very different to the two we’ve trained on.”
Michael Clarke speaking ahead of Australia’s First Test in the Caribbean in Dominica this year.
There is flexibility in Australia’s outlook. There is no room for reputation and no one is guaranteed a place in the XI. Australia look to play their best XI at any given time and they are always playing for their places. Unlike England’s players.
England wasted a chance to take a punt on Adil Rashid during their Caribbean tour. You can guarantee that, if faced with similar conditions to those posed to England, Australia will not hesitate in getting a Baggy Green atop Fawad Ahmed’s head on their Caribbean tour.
So we are left with two contrasting styles of leadership to savour during this year’s Ashes series. Which will prevail? The bookmakers have cast their vote; they comprehensively see England as outsider’s on their own soil.
By Miles Reucroft