MARTIN SAMUEL: Test shambles is the ECB's greed coming home to roost
MARTIN SAMUEL: Test cricket shambles is the ECB’s greed coming home to roost… they undermined the format for the Hundred and their complacency after failing to plan out an effective fixture list is staggering
- The way the ECB have gone about England’s white ball approach is destructive
- They have undermined and disregarded the Test format in favour of the Hundred
- Now England’s top order is in disarray and there is quite literally nowhere to go
- If England lose again, this is the ECB’s defeat and the complacency is staggering
White-ball cricket alone does not produce the Test result England had at Lord’s against India.
It is the way the ECB have gone about England’s approach to the white-ball game, the way it has been allowed to overwhelm the summer schedule, that is so destructive.
If white-ball cricket was a problem India would be suffering, too. No country has developed T20 like India, no country has made that format so powerful and financially rewarding.
White ball cricket alone does not produce the Test result England had at Lord’s against India
The Indian Premier League is the envy of world cricket – certainly of the ECB. The Hundred was invented solely in the hope it would come to rival the IPL, with the ECB as well-rewarded stakeholders.
Yet the ECB have undermined and disregarded Test cricket for The Hundred in a way the BCCI have not for the IPL.
Now England’s top order is in disarray mid-series there is, literally, nowhere to go. Between June 6 and August 30 – so, in essence, summer – the domestic cricket schedule has had room for six days with the red ball.
If Zak Crawley is to refine his game and his long-form technique with his county, Kent, how or when is that supposed to happen? Kent’s next red-ball fixture ends after the fourth Test has started, unless Crawley wishes to get involved in a second XI game against Hampshire at Folkestone.
England’s top order is in disarray after their latest defeat and there is literally nowhere to go
And even if he did, how is that any preparation or indication of readiness to face one of the finest bowling attacks in world cricket?
How can that provide a challenge mirroring the mental resolve required to face India?
The complacency of the ECB this summer has been staggering and, like so many bad companies, they make Covid the excuse.
Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, was mealy-mouthed admitting his administration had got it wrong.
‘We understand there have been real issues with the schedule,’ he said. ‘We do have to remember that this year and last year there has been a Covid overlay on everything.’
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison was mealy-mouthed admitting the administration’s mistake
And it has affected intellectual capacities? How does Covid impact on the ability to plan a consistent, effective fixture list?
How does Covid persuade administrators that red-ball Tests do not require red-ball preparation?
England have good white-ball teams and will be one of the favourites for the T20 World Cup even without Jofra Archer and, possibly, Ben Stokes.
Yet no cricketing country can be deemed successful if it keeps losing Test matches. West Indies have won the T20 World Cup twice and reached two semi-finals. Yet they don’t get five Test series’ against England anymore.
The IPL clashes with what used to be the Caribbean touring season and when The Economics of Cricket paper argued that touring teams should get 20 per cent of revenue, to help struggling nations like West Indies, it was swiftly dismissed.
England will still be one of the favourites for the T20 World Cup even without Ben Stokes (seen)
West Indies success with the white ball has not altered how they are perceived by the modern game. For all its faults and weaknesses, Test cricket still matters.
It is in Tests that the best players, the strongest nations, are judged.
And the ECB seem to have forgotten that. It can be argued that technical weaknesses in the top order are down to individuals, that the second Test was lost by tactical lapses, too.
Yet what prepares players for those challenges? What convinces a batsman that his approach to the game must change, what trials the wit of a captain?
Test batting is not learned on the job, any more than a professional footballer could be plucked from five-a-side games.
In 2014, when England convincingly defeated a touring Indian side, opening batsman Sam Robson still featured in 11 matches and batted 20 innings for Middlesex, despite being a Test player all summer.
West Indies have won the T20 World Cup twice yet they don’t get five Test series against England
Dawid Malan, summoned to the rescue of the current England team, has played a single match and batted one red-ball innings for Yorkshire in 2021. What could possibly go wrong?
England have time to rethink and regroup before the third Test at Headingley, but it is too late to correct the mistakes that brought us to here, too late to give Malan adequate preparation, too late this summer to direct Crawley down a path conducive to Test cricket, let alone an Ashes tour.
If England lose again this is the ECB’s defeat. They have mismanaged a huge year for English cricket and all to advance their status as paymasters and powerbrokers.
White-ball cricket in itself is not to blame but greed, not Covid, is the virus.
England have time to rethink and regroup, but it may already be too late to correct the errors
NO FOND SPURS FAREWELL FOR HARRY KANE
Harry Kane was always going to lose the public relations war with Tottenham. Players invariably do. The bottom line is that fans support clubs, not players. In battles between the two, they will always side with their first love.
Ultimately, unless the club want to sell, the player will not be able to maintain a good relationship with supporters, and get his wish to move.
Kane may have basked in being one of Tottenham’s own but, if he leaves, it will not be on good terms. Tottenham have seen to that – because it is the only way they will be forgiven for selling, if Manchester City eventually meet their price.
WHY GO TOE-TO-TOE WITH KOHLI IN GRUDGE MATCH?
England’s madness engaging with Virat Kohli is foreseen in Michael Atherton’s autobiography. Some players want a war. It is what drives them, what they feed off.
Steve Waugh was the same. According to Atherton he wanted to engage in a verbal battle at the crease, and would almost seek it out. By the time he came to Old Trafford in 1997, England were prepared.
‘We decided not to sledge Waugh or engage him in any way,’ Atherton recalled. ‘We felt he revelled in a hostile atmosphere and sledging merely fuelled his adrenalin. He arrived at the crease and soon realised this. ‘OK, you’re not talking to me, are you? I’ll talk to myself then.’ And he did, for 240 minutes in the first innings, and 382 in the second.’
Going toe-to-toe with Virat Kohli didn’t work in England’s favour and made it a grudge match
The first century, 108, Atherton says, kept Australia in the game; the second, 116, took it away from England. There is no guarantee Kohli’s captaincy would have been any less effective. Even if England had shied from confrontation, they could still have lost.
Yet, inarguably, going toe-to-toe with Kohli did not work in England’s favour and the game drifted away when Joe Root chose to make it a grudge match. But where were his counsellors at this time? Where were those who should have advised that a short ball barrage at Jasprit Bumrah was counter-productive?
Root even left the field in the middle of this doomed mission and it continued after his return. Where was Chris Silverwood, the coach, in all this? England have gone from passing secret messages using numerical codes during T20 matches, to being unable to communicate efficiently man-to-man during Tests.
Unless Silverwood thought this was the right strategy, of course, which is even more worrying.
SHORT-TERM GAINS FOR PSG IF MBAPPE GOES
Paris Saint-Germain’s business will be the envy of many rivals this summer, not least cash-poor Spanish clubs and some among the Premier League elite.
In terms of transfer fees, Lionel Messi came for nothing; so did Sergio Ramos, Georginio Wijnaldum and Gianluigi Donnarumma. It is fabulous business given that Manchester City paid £100million for Jack Grealish, and may substantially increase that for Harry Kane.
Arsenal’s new goalkeeper, late of Sheffield United as opposed to the European Championship winners’ podium, will cost roughly £30m.
And Donnarumma, aged just 22, is a brilliant acquisition. He could be PSG’s goalkeeper for the next 15 years, and maintain his position among the best in the world throughout.
If Kylian Mbappe moves as a result of PSG’s business, it represents a significant loss for them
Wijnaldum, however, will be 31 in November. Messi is 34, Ramos 35. Last season Ramos played fewer games than in any season of his professional career.
Of course, this is France, meaning PSG’s squad can be nursed through, their best saved for the most important games and rested for those considered readily winnable. Even so, despite the value, this resembles the days when Premier League clubs would swoop up players embarking on their second best careers.
They can still be effective – Thiago Silva did an outstanding job for Chelsea last season – but in Europe certainly the leap forward for English clubs only occurred with the development and acquisition of players in their prime.
If Kylian Mbappe moves on as a result of PSG’s business this summer, it represents a significant loss. Whatever Messi and Ramos bring short-term, Mbappe should be PSG’s future.
NO WONDER THE SPOTLIGHT IS ON OSAKA
Not much point working for a newspaper called the Enquirer if you can’t ask a question. And the one posed to Naomi Osaka by the columnist from the Cincinnati Enquirer did not seem unreasonable.
Indeed, he had a point. Osaka has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, the Japanese edition of Vogue and Time in recent months.
It is not as if IMG Tennis, her agents, are shielding her from the spotlight. So a high media profile will inevitably create higher media interest, which will inevitably bring Osaka into the public arena where she feels least comfortable.
As addressing that inconsistency clearly makes Osaka upset, maybe IMG can explain why Osaka isn’t left alone to just play tennis.
We can presume she isn’t the one negotiating herself on to the covers of magazines.
WE OWE THE TRUTH TO DENIS LAW AND CO
Denis Law is 81. There are many reasons a person of that age may suffer from dementia, whether vascular or Alzheimer’s disease, both of which now affect him. It may be coincidence.
Yet by the end of his career, Law was ducking out of heading practice in training because he sensed it was harmful. He said he used to get headaches as a young player after repetitive heading drills.
And Law headed the ball a lot. He was never a target man in the conventional sense, but there is plenty of photographic evidence of his mighty spring for a man of only medium height.
Denis Law and other dementia sufferers gave us happiness and we must confront the truth
Sir Matt Busby called one goal he scored, at Everton, the most courageous he had ever seen. Sir Bobby Charlton swung in a near-post corner and Law took the ball off the flying boot of an Everton defender with a diving header, displaying zero concern for personal safety.
That is the player he was. So as the legends of the game – including two of Manchester United’s Holy Trinity, commemorated in a statue outside Old Trafford – succumb to brain illness, the need to continue pushing for greater research, for more funding, for better information, for change, increases.
Difficult choices may one day have to be made. But these men gave great happiness to us all. It is the least we can do to confront the truth as they sadly must.
CITY’S NEW KIT REMINDS THE WORLD WHO THEY ARE
The alien nature of football kits is such these days that it seems perfectly understandable that Manchester City’s third change should have the name of the club in capital letters across the chest. How would we know it was them, otherwise?
The loss of identity is such that some first-team strips may soon have to jog the memory, too. Newcastle with one big, black stripe? Watford in yellow and black hoops? Away kits have long stopped offering a clue. And having destroyed the visual identity of football so completely, there really is no alternative.
How sad that having worked so hard to get to the pinnacle, Manchester City must now remind the world who they are.
THOSE WHO BOO MUST APPRECIATE PLAYERS’ POSITION
As manager of Millwall, Gary Rowett, is troubled by taking the knee. It has been a point of contention between his players and a significant number of the home crowd.
His players do not kneel, but stand instead. Some raise fists in solidarity. Opposition players do kneel, however, and when Millwall played Fulham in midweek, they were booed.
‘We need help to find a more positive way of taking action,’ said Rowett. ‘We need the authorities to help clubs out with a better way to unify people.’
Millwall manager Gary Rowett (pictured) expressed his concern over the taking of the knee
Except this isn’t about the authorities. It’s about players, and what they want to do. Millwall’s are in the minority. Meanwhile, we are getting good at making excuses for offensive behaviour.
We fondly told ourselves that much of the racist abuse directed at England players came from outside this country until Twitter pointed out that ‘by far’ the greatest number of problematic posts were generated within the United Kingdom.
So it isn’t up to the authorities to find resolution here. It is for those who boo to appreciate why the players still feel their stance is important. Millwall are not the exemplars and need to solve their own issues.
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