The background to this post is the not unexpected early finish to the first test in Australia for the England Team. Well I say not unexpected, and I am pretty sure I speak for the majority of fans when I say this, but I am not so sure the ECB and the England Management see it the same way. Still that is probably to expected when your head is stuck in the sand and you stubbornly refuse to see what is in front of your face.
Hopefully the extra day and a half we have all gained thanks to yet another woeful performance from the boys will give you time to read this, but in the spirit of saving time if you think the current process of picking the best performing players from the County system is the right approach you can stop reading now.
Of course that means nobody at the ECB or on the England Management team will read this, which probably makes it all a mute point, but as I said one thing supporting England Cricket gives us is time and an audience who care passionately about the game and want to see an end to the inevitable “sod all for three”, and a all over by the third or fourth day.
My start point is an acceptance that the County System has been broken by the ECB and whilst it could be restored relatively quickly should they so wish, it will take a generation to recover and to provide good enough players to ensure England compete at the top level. Put simply we are not producing good enough players, which is different from saying the players are not capable of being good enough players.
This is an important point in my theory: the players are not the issue. They are capable of being good enough but they are not actually good enough.
As to what to do about it let me start with a big looping full toss of a statement: if the County Game doesn’t produce good enough players then stop playing the County Game!
Before you all pile on me let me expand: I am not in any way saying the County Game should be done away with, far from it. The County Game needs more investment, better prioritisation and acceptance that whilst it may not be the most exciting or profitable form of the game, it is the foundation that should produce the most exciting and profitable version of the game Test Cricket. Maybe those running the game would do well to consider for how long they can expect huge financial contributions from a game in decline.
With this current cohort of players I would start with determining if they were white ball or red ball players, with only justifiable exceptions playing both: Butler, Bairstow, Ali, Livingstone – white ball. Root, Crawley, Pope, Hameed, Lawrence, Malan – red ball. As far as the batters are concerned (I am less concerned with the quality of bowlers we produce although I would not be against a similar approach) I would accept Stokes as a red and white ball.
I am not talking for ever, but as was proven with the 2019 Word Cup intense focus brings results and I really do not think the players or coaches have the ability (yep a generalisation) to concentrate on both. Not until the foundation of County Cricket is challenging enough to produce quality red ball players.
I would tell this group of players that for twelve months they were the team, and what their batting position was: Hameed, Crawley, Pope, Root, Lawrence, Stokes. I would back the experts who think they have seen enough in these players to “have what it takes”. I would accept they have the ability, but not necessarily the aptitude and I would work non stop on that. I would allocate them all a mentor with proven success in their batting position – even Root and Stokes with a proven Captain and All Rounder helping them. Their training and practice would be focussed totally on the physical and mental skills required, and this would include practicing getting used to batting for days at a time. Leave no stone unturned with the preparation. Of course they will need to play some red ball cricket, “time in the middle” and all that, but be creative as to how this is achieved and only do it on pitches and conditions that fit in with the plan.
Mad. Unworkable. Unrealistic. On the other hand which do you think would produce the better opening batter a) 10 overs over 4 days on a pudding of a pitch against mediocre bowling with one man and his dog watching, or b) 2 6 hour sessions in June on a good quality University pitch against an array of academy and aspiring bowlers who would give it their all because it might just lead to a contract?
Well a) has failed so really there is little to lose and plenty to gain with Plan B